Read CHAPTER XXI of Dulcibel A Tale of Old Salem , free online book, by Henry Peterson, on

A Night Interview.

A few days passed and Master Raymond was back again; with a pleasant word and smile for all he met, as he rode through the village. Mistress Ann Putnam herself met him on the street and he pulled up his horse at the side-path as she stopped, and greeted her.

“So you have been to Boston?” she said.

“Yes, I thought I would take a little turn and hear what was going on up there.”

“Who did you see any of our people?”

“Oh, yes the Nortons and the Mathers and the Higginsons and the Sewalls I don’t know all.

“Good day; remember me to my kind brother Joseph and his wife,” said she, and Raymond rode on.

“What did that crafty creature wish to find out by stopping me?” he thought to himself.

“He did not mention Captain Alden. Yes, he went to consult him,” thought Mistress Putnam.

Master Joseph Putnam was so anxious to meet his friend, that he was standing at the turning in the lane that led up to his house.

“Well, what did the Captain say?”

“He was astounded. Then he gave utterance to some emphatic expressions about hell-fire and damnation which he had probably heard in church.”

“I know no more appropriate occasion to use them,” commented young Master Joseph drily. “If it were not for certain portions of the psalms and the prophets, I could hardly get through the time comfortably nowadays.”

“If we can get her safely to Boston, he will see that a fast vessel is ready to take us to New York; and he will further see that his own vessel the Colony’s rather, which he commands never catches us.”

“That looks well. I managed to see Dulcibel for a few minutes to-day, and”

“How is she?” inquired Raymond eagerly. “Does she suffer much?”

“Not very much I think. No more than is necessary to save appearances. She told me that the jailer was devoted to her. He will meet you to-night after dark on the hill, to arrange matters.”

“Say that we get from the prison by midnight. Then it will take at least three hours riding to reach Boston though we shall not enter the town.”

“Three hours! Yes, four,” commented his friend; “or even five if the night be dark and stormy; and such a night has manifest advantages. Still, as I suppose you must wait for a northwest wind, that is pretty sure to be a clear one.”

“Yes, the main thing is to get out into the open sea. Captain Alden plans to procure a Danish vessel, whose skipper once out of sight of land, will oppose any recapture by force.”

“I suppose however you will sail for New York?”

“Yes, that is the nearest port and we shall be perfectly safe there. Still Jamestown would do. The Delaware is nearer than the James, but I am afraid the Quakers would not be able to protect us, as they are too good to oppose force by force.”

“Too good! too cranky!” said Master Putnam. “A pretty world the rascals would make of it, if the honest men were too good to fight. It seems to me there is something absolutely wicked in their non-resistant notions.”

“Yes, it is no worse to kill a two-legged tiger or wolf than a four-legged one; one has just as good a right to live as the other.”

“A better, I think,” replied Master Putnam. “The tiger or wolf is following out his proper nature; the human tiger or wolf is violating his.”

“You know I rather like the Quakers,” rejoined Master Raymond. “I like their general idea of considering the vital spirit of the Scripture more than the mere outward letter. But in this case, it seems to me, they are in bondage to the mere letter ‘thou shalt not kill;’ not seeing that to kill, in many cases, is really to save, not only life, but all that makes life valuable.”

That evening just about dusk, the two young men mounted their horses, and rode down one of the roads that led to Salem town, leaving Salem village on the right thinking best not to pass through the village. Within a mile or so of the town, Master Putnam said, “here is the place” and led the way into a bridle path that ran into the woods. In about five minutes he halted again, gave a low whistle, and a voice said, a short distance from them, “Who are you, strangers?”

“Friends in need,” replied Master Putnam.

“Then ye are friends indeed,” said the voice; and Robert Foster, the jailer, stepped from behind the trunk of a tree into the path.

“Well, Robie, how’s the little girl?” said Master Joseph.

“Bonnie as could be expected,” was the answer.

“She sends word to you, sir,” addressing Master Raymond, “that you had better not come to see her. She knows well all you could say just as well as if she heard it, the brave, bonnie lassie!”

“I know it,” replied Master Raymond. “Tell her I think of her every moment and that things look bright.”

“Let us get out of this glooming, and where we can see a rod around us,” suggested the jailer. “I like to see at least as far as my elbow, when I am talking confidentially.”

“I will go you stay here with the horses,” said Raymond to Master Putnam. “I do not want you mixed up with this thing any more than is absolutely necessary.”

“Oh, I do not care for the risk I like it,” replied his friend.

“Stay, nevertheless,” insisted Master Raymond. And getting down from his horse, and handing the bridle rein to Master Putnam, he followed the jailer out into an open space, where the rocks coming to the surface, had prevented the growth of the forest. Here it was a little lighter than it had been in the wood-path; but, the clouds having gathered over the sky since they started, it was not possible to see very far around them.

“Hold up there!” cried Robie, catching Raymond by the arm “why, man, do you mean to walk straight over the cliff?”

“I did not know any chasm was there,” said Raymond. “I never saw this place before. Master Putnam said it was a spot where we should not be likely to be molested. And it does look desolate enough.” He leaned back against one of two upright planks which seemed to have been placed there for some purpose, and looked at a little pile of dirt and stones not far from his feet.

“No,” said the jailer. “I opine we shall not be disturbed here. I do not believe there is more than three persons in Salem that would be willing to come to this hill at this time of day, and they are here already.” And the jailer smiled audibly.

“Why, how is that?”

“Because they are all so damnably sooperstitious!” replied Robie, with an air of vast superiority.

“Ah! is this place then said to be haunted?”

“Yes, poor Goodwife Bishop’s speerit is said to haunt it. But as she never did anybody any harm while she was living, I see not why she should harm any one now that she is dead.”

“And so brave Bridget was executed near this place? Where was the foul murder done?”

“You are leaning against the gallows,” said Robie quietly. “And that pile of stones at your feet is over her grave.”

Raymond was a brave man, physically and morally, and not at all superstitious; but he recoiled involuntarily from the plank against which he had been leaning, and no longer allowed his right foot to rest upon the top stones of the little heap that marked the grave.

“Oh, I thought you knew it,” said the jailer calmly. “I say, let them fear goodwife Bishop’s ghost who did her wrong. As for me, I favored her all I dared; and her last word to me was a blessing. But now for your honor’s business, I have not long to stay.”

“I have planned all but the getting out of jail. Can it be easily done?”

“As easy as walking out of a room.”

“Will you not be suspected?”

“Not at all, I think they are so mightily sooperstitious. I shall lock everything tight after her; and make up a good story about my wakening up in the middle of the night, just in time to see her flying out of the top o’ the house, on her black mare, and thrashing the animal with a broom-handle. The bigger the lie the quicker they will believe it.”

“If they should suspect you, let Master Putnam know, and he will get you off, if wit and money together can do it.”

“Oh, I believe that,” said the jailer. “Master Putnam is well known in all these parts, as a man that never deserts a friend; and I’ll warrant you are one of the same grit.”

“My hand on it, Robie!” and he shook the jailer’s hand warmly. “I shall never forget this service.”

“I am a rough, ignorant man,” replied Robie quietly; “but I know gentle blood when I see it.”

“What time of night will suit you best?”

“Just about twelve o’clock at night. That is the time all the ghosts and goblins and weetches choose; and when all honest people are in their beds, and in their first and soundest sleep.”

“We shall not be able to give you much warning, for we must wait a favorable wind and tide.”

“So you let me know by nightfall, it will do.”

“And now for the last point what do I pay you? I know we are asking you to run a great risk. The men that whip gentlewomen, at the cart’s tail, and put little children into jail, and sell them as slaves, will not spare you, if they find out what you have done. Thank God, I am rich enough to pay you well for taking such a fearful risk and shall be only too glad to reward your unselfish deed.”

“Not a shilling!” replied Robie proudly. “I am not doing this thing for pay. It is for the old Captain’s little girl, that I have held in these arms many a day and for the old Captain himself. While these bloody landsmen,” continued the old sailor, “plague and persecute each other, Master Raymond, what is that to us, we men of the sea, who have a creed and a belief of our own, and who never even think of hurting a woman or a child? But as for these landsmen, sticking at home all the time, how can they be expected to know anything compared to men that have doubled both Capes, and seen people living all sorts of ways, and believing all sorts of things? No, no,” and Robie laughed disdainfully, “let these land-lubbers attend to their own affairs; but let them keep their hands off us seamen and our families.”

“So be it then, Robie; I honor your feelings! But nevertheless I shall not forget you. And one of these days, if we get off safely, you shall hear from me again about this matter.”

And then, their plans settled, Robie trudged down to the town; while the young men rode back the way they had come, to Master Putnam’s.