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

The First Rattle of the Rattlesnake.

One day about this time Master Raymond was sitting in the porch of the Red Lion, thinking over a sight he had just seen; a man had passed by wearing on the back of his drab coat a capital I two inches long, cut out of black cloth, and sewed upon it. On inquiry he found the man had married his deceased wife’s sister; and both he and the woman had been first whipped, and then condemned to wear this letter for the rest of their lives, according to the law of the colony.

Master Raymond was puzzling over the matter not being able to make out that any real offence had been committed, when who should walk up to the porch but Master Joseph Putnam. After a hearty hand-shaking between the two, they retired to Master Raymond’s apartments.

“Well, how are things getting along at Salem?”

“Oh, about as usual!”

“Any more accusations?”

“Plenty of them, people are beginning to find out that the best way to protect themselves is to sham being ‘afflicted,’ and accuse somebody else.”

“I saw that a good while ago.”

“And when a girl or a woman is accused, her relatives and her friends gather around her, and implore her to confess, to save her life. For they have found that not one person who has been accused of being a witch, and has admitted the fact, has been convicted.

“And yet it would seem that a confession of witchcraft ought to be a better proof of it, than the mere assertion of possible enemies,” responded Master Raymond.

“Of course if there was any show of reason or fairness in the prosecutions, from first to last; but as it is all sheer malice and wickedness, on the part of the accusers, from the beginning to the end, it would be vain to expect any reasonableness or fairness from them.”

“We must admit, however, that there is some delusion in it. It would be too uncharitable to believe otherwise,” said Master Raymond thoughtfully.

“There may have been at the very first on the part of the children,” replied Master Putnam. “They might have supposed that Tituba and friendless Sarah Good tormented them but since then, there has not been more than one part of delusion to twenty parts of wickedness. Why, can any sane man suppose that she-wolf sister-in-law of mine does not know she is lying, when she brings such horrible charges against the best men and women in Salem?”

“No, I give up Mistress Ann, she is possessed by a lying devil,” admitted Master Raymond.

“It is well she does not hear that speech,” said Joseph Putnam.

“Why?”

“Because, up to this time, you seem to have managed to soften her heart a little.”

“I have tried to. I have thought myself justified in playing a part as King David once did you know.”

“It is that which brings me here. I met her at the house of a friend whom I called to see on some business a day or two ago.”

“Ah!”

“She said to me, in that soft purring voice of hers, ’Brother Joseph, I hear that your good friend Master Raymond is still in Boston.’ I answered that I believed he was. ‘When he took leave of me,’ she continued, ’I advised him not to stay long in that town as it was often a bad climate for strangers. I am sorry he does not take wise counsel.’ Then she passed on, and out of the house. Have you any idea what she meant?”

Master Raymond studied a moment over it in silence. Then he said: “It is the first warning of the rattlesnake, I suppose. How many do they usually give before they spring?”

“Three, the saying goes. But I guess this rattlesnake cannot be trusted to give more than one.”

“I was convinced I saw your brother Thomas as I came ashore from the Storm King the other day.”

“Ah, that explains it then. She understands it all then. She understands it all now just as well as if you had told her.”

“But why should she pursue so fiendishly an innocent girl like Dulcibel, who is not conscious of ever having offended her?”

“Why do tigers slay, and scorpions sting? Because it is their nature, I suppose,” replied Master Putnam philosophically. “Because, Mistress Dulcibel openly ridiculed and denounced her and the whole witchcraft business. And you will note that there has not been a single instance of this being done, that the circle of accusers have not seemed maddened to frenzy.”

“Yes, there has been one case your own.”

“That is true because I am Thomas Putnam’s brother. And, dupe and tool as he is of that she-wolf, and though there is no great amount of love lost between us still I am his brother! And that protects me. Besides they know that it is as much any two men’s lives are worth to attempt to arrest me.”

“And then you think there is no special enmity against Dulcibel?”

“I have not said so. Jethro Sands hates her because she refused him; Leah Herrick wants her driven away, because she herself wants to marry Jethro, and fears Jethro might after all, succeed in getting Dulcibel; and Sister Ann hates her, because ”

“Well, because what?”

“Oh, it seems too egotistical to say it because she knows she is one of my dear friends.”

“She must dislike you very much then?”

“She does.”

“Why?”

“Oh, there is no good reason. At the first, she was inclined to like me but I always knew she was a cold-blooded snake and she-wolf, and I would have nothing to do with her. Then when brother Thomas began to sink his manhood and become the mere dupe and tool of a scheming woman, I remonstrated with him. I think, friend Raymond, that I am as chivalrous as any man ought to be. I admire a woman in her true place as much as any man and would fight and die for her. But for these men that forget their manhood, these Marc Antonies who yield up their sound reason and their manly strength to the wiles and tears and charms of selfish and ambitious Cleopatras, I have nothing but contempt. There are plenty of them around in all ages of the world, and they generally glory in their shame. Of course brother Thomas did not enjoy very much my mean opinion of his conduct and as for sister Ann, she has never forgiven me, and never will.”

“And so you think she hates Dulcibel, mainly because you love her?”

“That is about the shape of it,” said Master Putnam drily. “That Dulcibel feels for me the affection of a sister, only intensifies my sister-in-law’s aversion to her. But then, you see, that merely on the general principle of denouncing all who set themselves in opposition to the so-called afflicted circle, Dulcibel would be accused of witchcraft.”

“Well, for my part, I think the whole affair can only be accounted for as being a piece of what we men of the world, who do not belong to any church, call devilishness,” said Master Raymond hotly.

“You see,” responded Master Putnam, “that you men of the world have to come to the same conclusion that we church members do. You impute it to ‘devilishness’ and we to being ‘possessed by the devil.’ It is about the same thing. And now give me an idea of your latest plans. Perhaps I can forward them in some way, either here or at Salem.”