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

Sir William Phips and Lady Mary.

When Mistress Dulcibel Burton, in company with Master Philip English and his wife, arrived at Boston jail, and were delivered into the care of Keeper Arnold, they received far better treatment than they had expected.

The prison itself, situated in a portion of Boston which is now considered the centre of fashion and elegance, was one of those cruel Bridewells, which were a befitting illustration of what some suppose to have been the superior manners and customs of the “good old times.” It was built of stone, its walls being three feet thick. Its windows were barred with iron to prevent escape; but being without glazed sashes, the wind and rain and snow and cold of winter found ready access to the cells within. The doors were covered with the large heads of iron spikes the cells being formed by partitions of heavy plank. And the passage ways of the prison were described by one who had been confined in this Boston Bridewell, as being “like the dark valley of the shadow of death.”

But the jailers seem to have been more humane than the builders of the prison; and those awaiting trial, especially, were frequently allowed rooms in the Keeper’s house probably always paying well, however, for the privilege.

Thus, as Captain Tolley had said, Captain Alden was confined in Keeper Arnold’s house; and, when the party in which the readers of this story are especially interested, arrived late at night from Salem, they were taken to comparatively comfortable apartments. The jailer knew that Master Philip English was a very wealthy man; and, as for Dulcibel, Uncle Robie did not forget to say to his old crony Arnold, among other favorable things, that she not only had warm friends, among the best people of Salem, but that in her own right, she possessed a very pretty little fortune, and was fully able to pay a good price for any favors extended to her.

The magistrates in Salem had refused to take bail for Captain Alden; but Master English was soon able to make an arrangement, by which he and his wife were allowed the freedom of the town in the daytime; it being understood that they should return regularly, and pass the night in the jail or, speaking strictly, in the Keeper’s house.

For things in Boston were different from what they were at Salem. In Salem the Puritan spirit reigned supreme in magistrates and in ministers. But in Boston, there was, as we have said, a strong anti-Puritan influence. The officials sent over from England were generally Episcopalians the officers of the English men-of-war frequently in port, also were generally Episcopalians. And though the present Governor, Sir William Phips, was a member of the North Church, the Reverend Cotton Mather taking the place of his father, the Reverend Increase Mather and though the Governor was greatly under the influence of that dogmatic and superstitious divine his wife, Lady Mary, was utterly opposed to the whole witchcraft delusion and persecution.

Sir William himself had quite a romantic career. Starting in life as one of the later offspring of a father and mother who had twenty-six children, and had come as poor emigrants to Maine, he was a simple and ignorant caretaker of sheep until eighteen years of age. Then he became a ship carpenter; and at the age of twenty-two went to Boston, working at his trade in the day time, and learning how to read and write at night. In Boston he had the good fortune to capture the heart of a fair widow by the name of Mistress Hull, who was a daughter of Captain Robert Spencer. With her hand he received a fair estate; which was the beginning of a large fortune. For, it enabled him to set up a ship-yard of his own; and by ventures to recover lost treasure, sunk in shipwrecked Spanish galleons, under the patronage of the Duke of Albemarle, he took back to England at one time the large amount of L300,000 in gold, silver and precious stones, of which his share was L16,000 and in addition a gold cup, valued at L1,000 presented to his wife Mary. And such was the able conduct and the strict integrity he had shown in the face of many difficulties and temptations, that King James knighted him, making him Sir William.

Now, through his own deserts, and the influence of the Reverend Increase Mather, agent in England of the colony, he was Governor-in-Chief of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and Captain General (for military purposes) of all New England. And he was living in that “fair brick house in Green lane,” which, years before, he had promised his wife that he would some day build for her to live in.

Lady Mary was a very sweet, nice woman; but she had a will of her own, and never could be persuaded that Sir William’s rise in the world was not owing entirely to her having taken pity on him, and married below her station. And really there was considerable truth in this view of the matter, which she was not inclined to have him forget; and Sir William, being a manly and generous, though at times rather choleric gentleman, generally admitted the truth of her assertion that “she had made him,” rather than have any controversy with her about it. One of the first acts of Sir William on arriving to fill his position as Governor, was to order chains put upon all the alleged witches in the prisons. In this order might be very plainly traced the hand of his pastor, the Reverend Cotton Mather. Lady Mary was outraged by such a command. One of her first visits had been to the jail, to see Captain Alden, whom she knew well. Keeper Arnold had shown her the order. “Put on the irons,” said Lady Mary. The jailer did so. “Now that you have obeyed Sir William, take them off again.” The jailer smiled, but hesitated. “Do as I command you, and I will be accountable to Sir William.” Very gladly did Keeper Arnold obey he had no faith in such accusations, brought against some of the best behaved people he ever had in his charge.

“Now, do the same to all the other prisoners!” commanded the spirited lady.

“I may as well be hung for a cow as a calf,” said the jailer laughing and he went gravely with one pair of fetters all through the cells, complying literally with the new Governor’s orders.

Of course this soon got to the ears of the Rev. Cotton Mather, who went in high indignation to the Governor. But the latter seemed to be very much amused, and could not be brought to manifest any great amount of indignation. “You know that Lady Mary has a will of her own,” said he to his pastor. “If you choose to go and talk to her, I will take you to her boudoir; but I am not anxious to get into hot water for the sake of a few witches.” The minister thought of it a moment; but then concluded wisely not to go. For, as Lady Mary said to her husband afterwards, “I wish that you had brought him to me. I would have told him just what I think of him, and his superstitious, hard-hearted doings. For me, I never mean to enter North Church more. I shall go hereafter to South Church; Masters Willard and Moody have some Christian charity left in them.”

“I think you are too hard on Master Cotton Mather, my dear,” replied Sir William mildly.

“Too hard, am I? What would you say if those girl imps at Salem should accuse me next! Your own loving wife, to the world.”

“Oh, my dear wife, that is too monstrous even to think of!”

“No more monstrous than their accusation of Mistress English of Salem, and her husband. You know them what do you think of that?”

“Certainly, that is very singular and impossible; but Master Mather says ”

“Master Mather ought to be hung himself,” said the indignant lady; “for he has helped to murder better people than he is, a great deal.”

“My dear, I must remonstrate ”

“And there is Captain Alden he is a witch, too, it seems!” And Lady Mary laughed scornfully. “Why not you too? You are no better a man than Captain Alden.”

“Oh, the Captain shall not be hurt.”

“It will not be through any mercy of his judges then. But, answer my question: what will you do, if they dare to accuse me? Answer me that!”

“You certainly are not serious, Lady Mary?”

“I am perfectly serious. I have heard already a whisper from Salem that they are thinking of it. They even have wished me warned against the consequences of my high-handed proceedings. Now if they cry out against me, what will you do?”

We have said that Sir William was naturally choleric though he always put a strong constraint upon himself when talking with his wife, whom he really loved; but now he started to his feet.

“If they dare to breathe a whisper against you, my wife, Lady Mary, I will blow the whole concern to perdition! Confound it, Madam, there are limits to everything!”

She went up to him and put her arm around his neck and kissed him. “I thought that before they touched me, they would have to chain the lion that lies at my door,” she said proudly and affectionately; for, notwithstanding these little tiffs, she really was fond of her husband, and proud of his romantic career.

But coming back to our sheep Dulcibel not having the same amount of wealth and influence behind her as Master English had, was very well contented at being allowed a room in Keeper Arnold’s house; and was on the whole getting along very comfortably. Master Raymond had seen her soon after his arrival, but it was in company with the jailer; the principal result being that he had secretly passed her a letter, and had assured himself that she was not in a suffering condition.

But things of late were looking brighter, for Master Raymond had made the acquaintance of Lady Mary through a friend to whom he had letters from England, and Lady Mary had begun to take an interest in Dulcibel, whom she had seen on one of her visits to Mistress English.

Through Lady Mary, in some way, Dulcibel hoped to escape from the prison; trusting that, if once at large, Master Raymond would be able to provide for her safety. But there was one great difficulty. She, with the others, had given her word to the Keeper not to escape, as the price of her present exemption from confinement in an exposed, unhealthy cell. How this promise was to be managed, neither of them had been able to think of. Keeper Arnold might be approached; but Dulcibel feared not at least under present circumstances. If brought to trial and convicted then to save her life, Dulcibel thought he might be persuaded to aid her. As to breaking her word to the Keeper, that never entered the mind of the truthful maiden, or of her lover. Death even was more endurable than the thought of dishonor if they had thought of the matter at all. But as I have said, they never even thought of a such thing. And therefore how to manage the affair was a very perplexing question.