Read CHAPTER XVIII of Dulcibel A Tale of Old Salem , free online book, by Henry Peterson, on ReadCentral.com.

Well, What Now?

The crowd drew long breaths as they emerged from the meeting-house. This was the first time that the accused had fully turned upon the accusers. It was a pity that it had not been done before; because such was the superstition of the day, that to have your death predicted by one who was considered a witch was no laughing matter. The blood ran cold even in Mistress Ann Putnam’s veins, as she thought of Dulcibel’s prediction; and the rest of the “afflicted” inwardly congratulated themselves that they had escaped her malediction, and resolved that they would not be present at her trial as witnesses against her, if they could possibly avoid it. But then that might not be so easy.

Even the crowd of beholders were a little more careful in the utterance of their opinions about Dulcibel than they had been relative to the other accused persons. Not that they had much doubt as to the maiden’s being a born witch the serpent-mark seemed to most of them a conclusive proof of that but what if one of those “spectres,” the “yellow bird” or the uncontrollable “black mare” should be near and listening to what they were even then saying?

“What do I think about it?” said one of the crowd to his companion. “Why I think that if he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon, he who abuses a witch should be certain her yellow bird is not listening above his left shoulder,” and he gave a quick glance in the direction alluded to, while half of those near him, as they heard his warning words, did the same. And there was not much talking against Dulcibel after this, among that portion of the villagers.

Ellis Raymond had heard this speech as he walked silently out of the meeting-house with Joseph Putnam, and a grim smile flitted over his face. He felt prouder than ever of his beautiful betrothed. He was not a man who admired amazons or other masculine women, such, as in these days, we call “strong-minded;” he liked a woman to keep in her woman’s sphere, such as the Creator had marked out for her by making her a woman; but circumstances may rightly overrule social conventions, and demand action suitable to the emergency. Standing at bay, among a pack of howling wolves, the heroic is a womanly as well as manly quality; and the gun and the knife as feminine implements, as the needle and the scissors. Dulcibel had never reasoned about such things; she was a maiden who naturally shrank from masculine self-assertion and publicity; but, called to confront a great peril, she was true to the noble instincts of her family and her race, and could meet falsehood with indignant denial and contempt. How she had been led to utter those predictions she never fully understood not at the time nor afterwards. She seemed to herself to be a mere reed through which some indignant angel was speaking.

“Well,” said Joseph Putnam, as they got clear of the crowd, “brother Thomas and sister Ann have wakened up the tiger at last. They will be “afflicted” now in dead earnest. Did you see how sister Ann, with all her assurance, grew pale and almost fainted? It serves her right; she deserves it; and Thomas too, for being such a dupe and fool.”

“Do you think it will come true?” said Master Raymond.

“Of course it will; the prediction will fulfill itself. Thomas is superstitious beyond all reasonableness; and good Mistress Ann, my pious sister-in-law, is almost as bad as he is, notwithstanding her lies and trickery. Do you know what I saw that Leah Herrick doing?”

“What was it?”

“In her pretended spasms, when bending nearly double, she was taking a lot of pins out of the upper edge of her stomacher with her mouth, preparatory of course, to making the accusation that it was Dulcibel’s doings.”

“But she did not?”

“No, it was just before the time that Dulcibel scared them so with the predictions; and Leah was so frightened, lest she also should be predicted against, that she quietly spit all the pins into her hand again.”

“Ah, that was the game played by a girl about ten years ago at Taunton-Dean, in England. Judge North told my father about it. One of the magistrates saw her do it.”

“Well, now, what shall we do? They will convict her just as surely as they try her.”

“Undoubtedly!”

“Shall we attack and break open the jail some dark night, sword in hand? I can raise a party of young men, friends of the imprisoned, to do it; they only want a leader.”

“And all of you go off into perpetual banishment and have all your property confiscated?”

“I do not care. I am ready to do it.”

“If you choose to encounter such a risk for others, I have no objection. I believe myself that if the friends and relatives of the accused persons would take up arms in defense of them, and demand their release, it would be the very manliest and most sensible thing they could do. But the consciences of the people here make cowards of them. They are all in bondage to a blind and conceited set of ministers, and to a narrow and bigoted creed.”

“Then what do you plan?”

“Dulcibel’s escape. You know that I managed to see her for a few minutes early this morning. She has a friend within the prison. Wait till we get on our horses, and I will explain it all to you.”