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

Captain Alden before the Magistrates.

There was an additional magistrate sitting on this occasion, Master Bartholomew Gedney making three in all.

Mistress Ann Putnam, the she-wolf, as her young brother-in-law had called her, was not present among the accusers leaving the part of the “afflicted” to be played by the other and younger members of the circle.

There was another Captain present, also a stranger, a Captain Hill; and he being also a tall man, perplexed some of the girls at first. One even pointed at him, until she was better informed in a whisper by a man who was holding her up. And then she cried out that it was “Alden! Alden!” who was afflicting her.

At length one of the magistrates ordering Captain Alden to stand upon a chair, there was no further trouble upon that point; and the usual demonstrations began. As the accused naturally looked upon the “afflicted” girls, they went off into spasms, shrieks and convulsions. This was nearly always the first proceeding, as it created a profound sympathy for them, and was almost sufficient of itself to condemn the accused.

“The tall man is pinching me!”

“Oh, he is choking me!”

“He is choking me! do hold his hands!”

“He stabs me with his sword oh, take it away from him!”

Such were the exclamations that came from the writhing and convulsed girls.

“Turn away his head! and hold his hands!” cried Squire Hathorne. “Take away his sword!” said Squire Gedney while the old Captain grew red and wrathful at the babel around him, and at the indignities to which he was subject.

“Captain Alden, why do you torment these poor girls who never injured you?”

“Torment them! you see I am not touching them. I do not even know them; I never saw them before in my life,” growled the indignant old seaman.

“See! there is the little yellow bird kissing his lips!” cried Abigail Williams. “Now it is whispering into his ear. It is bringing him a message from the other witch Dulcibel Burton. See! see! there it goes back again to her through the window!”

So well was this done, that probably half of the people present would have been willing to swear the next day, that they actually saw the yellow bird as she described it.

“Ask him if he did not give her the yellow bird,” said Leah Herrick. “But probably he will lie about it.”

“Did you not give the witch, Dulcibel Burton, a yellow bird, which is one of her familiars?” said Squire Hathorne sternly.

“I gave her a canary bird that I brought from the West Indies, if that is what you mean,” replied the Captain. “But what harm was there in that?”

“I knew it! The yellow bird told me so, when it came to peck out my eyes,” cried Mercy Lewis. “Oh! there it is again!” and she struck wildly into the air before her face. “Drive it away! Do drive it away, some one!”

Here a young man pulled out his rapier, and began thrusting at the invisible bird in a furious manner.

“Now it comes to me!” cried Sarah Churchill. And then the other girls also cried out, and began striking into the air before their faces, till there was anew a perfect babel of cries, shrieks and sympathizing voices.

Master Raymond, amid all his indignation at such barefaced and wicked and yet successful imposture, could hardly avoid smiling at the expression of the old seaman’s face as he stood on the chair, and fronted all this tempest of absurd and villainous accusation. At first there had been a deep crimson glow of the hottest wrath upon the old man’s cheeks and brow; but now he seemed to have been shocked into a kind of stupor, so unexpected and weighty were the charges against him, and made with such vindictive fierceness; and yet so utterly absurd, while at the same time, so impossible of being refuted.

“He bought the yellow bird from Tituba’s mother her spectre told me so!” cried Abigail Williams.

“What do you say to that, Master Alden?” said Squire Gedney. “That is a serious charge.”

“I never saw any Tituba or her mother,” exclaimed the Captain, again growing indignant.

“Who then did you buy the witch’s familiar of?” asked Squire Hathorne.

“I do not know some old negro wench!”

Here the magistrates looked at each other sagely, and nodded their wooden heads. It was a fatal admission. “You had better confess all, and give glory to God!” said Squire Gedney solemnly.

“I trust I shall always be ready to give glory to God,” answered the old man stoutly; “but I do not see that it would glorify Him to confess to a pack of lies. You have known me for many years, Master Gedney, but did you ever know me to speak an untruth, or seek to injure any innocent persons, much less women and children?”

Squire Gedney said that he had known the accused many years, and had even been at sea with him, and had always supposed him to be an honest man; but now he saw good cause to alter that judgment.

“Turn and look now again upon those afflicted persons,” concluded Squire Gedney.

As the accused turned and again looked upon them, all of the “afflicted” fell down on the floor as if he had struck them a heavy blow moaning and crying out against him.

“I judge you by your works; and believe you now to be a wicked man and a witch,” said Squire Gedney in a very severe tone.

Captain Alden turned then and looked directly at the magistrate for several moments. “Why does not my look knock you down too?” he said indignantly. “If it hurts them so much, would it not hurt you a little?”

“He wills it not to hurt you,” cried Leah Herrick. “He is looking at you, but his spectre has its back towards you.”

There was quite a roar of applause through the crowded house at such an exposure of the old Captain’s trickery. He was very cunning to be sure; but the “afflicted” girls could see through his knavery.

“Make him touch the poor girls,” said the Reverend Master Noyes. For it was the accepted theory that by doing this, the witch, in spite of himself, reabsorbed into his own body the devilish energy that had gone out of him, and the afflicted were healed. This was repeatedly done through the progress of these examinations and the after trials; and was always found to be successful, both as a cure of the sufferers, and an undeniable proof that the person accused was really a witch.

In this case the “afflicted” girls were brought up to Captain Alden, one after the other and upon his being made to touch them with his hand, they invariably drew a deep breath of relief, and said they felt entirely well again.

“You see Captain Alden,” said Squire Gedney solemnly, “none of the tests fail in your case. If there were only one proof, we might doubt; but as the Scripture says, by the mouths of two or three witnesses shall the truth be established. If you were innocent a just God would not allow you to be overcome in this manner.”

“I know that there is a just God, and I know that I am entirely innocent” replied the noble old seaman in a firm voice. “But it is not for an uninspired man like me, to attempt to reconcile the mysteries of His providence. Far better men than I am, even prophets and apostles, have been brought before magistrates and judges, and their good names lied away, and they condemned to the prison and the scaffold and the cross. Why then, should I expect to fare better than they did? All I can do, like Job of old, is to maintain my integrity even though Satan and all his imps be let loose for a time against me.”

Here the Reverend Master Noyes rose excitedly, and said that the decisions of heathen courts and judges were one thing; and the decisions of godly magistrates, who were all members of the church of the true God, and therefore inspired by his spirit, was a very different thing. He said it was simply but another proof of the guilt of the accused, that he should compare himself with the apostles and the martyrs; and these worshipful Christian magistrates with heathen magistrates and judges. Hearing him talk in this ribald way, he could no longer doubt the accusation brought against him; for there was no surer proof of a man or woman having dealings with Satan, than to defame and calumniate God’s chosen people.

As Mr. Noyes took his seat, the magistrates said they had heard sufficient, and ordered the committal of the accused to Boston prison to await trial.

“I will give bail for Captain Alden’s appearance, to the whole amount of my estate,” said Joseph Putnam coming forward. “A man of his age, who has served the colony in so many important positions, should be treated with some leniency.”

“We are very sorry for the Captain,” answered Squire Gedney, “but as this is a capital offence, no bail can be taken.”

“Thank you, Master Putnam, but I want no bail,” said the old seaman proudly. “If the colony of Massachusetts Bay, which my father helped to build up, and for which I have labored so long and faithfully, chooses to requite my services in this ungrateful fashion, let it be so. The shame is on Massachusetts not on me!”