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

The Rattlesnake Makes a Spring.

It was a Thursday afternoon, and the “afflicted circle” was having one of its informal meetings at the house of Mistress Ann Putnam. At these meetings the latest developments were talked over; and all the scandal of the neighborhood, and even of Boston and other towns, gathered and discussed. Thus in the examination of Captain Alden in addition to the material charges of witchcraft against him, which I have noted, were entirely irrelevant slanders of the grossest kind against his moral character which the “afflicted girls” must have gathered from very low and vulgar sources.

The only man present on this occasion was Jethro Sands; and the girls, especially Leah Herrick, could not but wonder who now was to be “cried out against,” that Jethro was brought into their counsels.

It is a curious natural instinct which leads every faculty even the basest to crave more food in proportion to the extent in which it has been already gratified. In the first place, the “afflicted” girls no doubt had their little spites, revenges, and jealousies to indulge, but afterwards they seemed to “cry out” against those of whom they hardly knew anything, either to oblige another of the party, or to punish for an expressed disbelief in their sincerity, or even out of the mere wantonness of power to do evil.

Mistress Ann Putnam opened the serious business of the afternoon, after an hour or so had been spent in gossip and tale-bearing, by an account of some recent troubles of hers.

“A few nights ago,” said she, “I awakened in the middle of the night with choking and strangling. I knew at once that a new ‘evil hand’ was upon me; for the torment was different from any I had ever experienced. I thought the hand that grasped me around the throat would have killed me and there was a heavy weight upon my breast, so that I could hardly breathe. I clutched at the thing that pressed upon my breast, and it felt hard and bony like a horse’s hoof and it was a horse. By the faint moonlight I saw it was the wild black ‘familiar’ that belongs to the snake-marked witch, Dulcibel Burton. But the hand that grasped my throat was the strong hand of a man. I caught a sight of his face. I knew it well. But I pity him so much that I hesitate to reveal it. I feel as if I would almost rather suffer myself, than accuse so fine a young man as he seemed to be of such wicked conduct.”

“But it appears to me that it is your duty to expose him, Mistress Putnam,” said Jethro Sands. “I know the young man whose spectre you saw, for he and that black witch of a mare seem to be making their nightly rounds together. They ‘afflicted’ me the other night the same way. I flung them off; and I asked him what he meant by acting in that way? And he said he was a lover of the witch Dulcibel; who was one of the queens of Hell I might know that by the snake-mark on her bosom. And she had told him that he must afflict all those who had testified against her; and she would lend him her ‘familiar,’ the black mare, to help him do it.”

By this time, even the dullest of the girls of course saw very plainly who was being aimed at; but Mistress Putnam added, “upon learning that Master Jethro had also been afflicted by this person, I had very little doubt that I should find the guilty young man had been doing the same to all of you; for we have seen heretofore that when these witches attack one of us, they attack all, hating all for the same reason, that we expose and denounce them. I may add that I have also heard that the young man in question is now in Boston doing all he can in aid of the snake-witch Dulcibel Burton; and representing all of us to Lady Mary Phips and other influential persons, as being untruthful and malicious accusers of innocent people.” Here she turned to one who had always been her right-hand as it were, and said: “I suppose you have been tormented in the same way, dear Abigail?”

Ann Putnam, her daughter, however, that precocious and unmanageable girl of twelve, here broke in: “I think my mother is entirely mistaken. I was treated just the same way about a week ago; but it was not the spectre of Master Raymond at all it was the spectre of another man whom I never saw before. It was not at all like Master Raymond; and I, for one, will not join in crying out against him.”

In those old times, parents were treated with a much greater show, at least, of respect and veneration than they are at present; and therefore Mistress Putnam was greatly shocked at her daughter’s language; but her daughter was well known to all present as an exceptional child, being very forward and self-willed, and therefore her mother simply said, “I had not expected such unkind behavior from you, Ann.”

“Master Raymond has been very kind to all of us, you know has given us pretty things, and has promised to send us all presents when he gets back from England; and I have heard you and father both say, that the Putnams always stand up for their friends.”

This reference to the promised presents from England, evidently told all around the circle. They had nothing to gain by “crying out” against Master Raymond, they had something to gain by not doing it; besides, he was a very handsome young man, who had tried to make himself agreeable to almost all of them as he had opportunity. And though Dulcibel’s beauty went for nothing in their eyes, a young man’s good looks and gallant bearing were something entirely different.

And so Abigail Williams, and Mary Walcot, and Mercy Lewis, and Leah Herrick, and Sarah Churchill, and Elizabeth Hubbard all had the same tale to tell with suitable variations, as young Ann Putnam had. They were certain that the face of the “spectre” was not the face of Master Raymond; but of some person they had never before seen. Mercy Lewis and Sarah Churchill, in fact, were inclined to think it was the face of Satan himself; and they all wondered very much that Mistress Putnam could have mistaken such an old and ugly face, for that of the comely young Englishman.

As for Leah Herrick, she did not care in her secret heart if Master Raymond were in love with Dulcibel so that he would only take her out of the country, where there was no danger of Jethro’s seeing her any more. All her belief that Dulcibel was a witch was based upon jealousy, and now that it was utterly improbable that Jethro would ever turn his thoughts in that direction again, she had no hard feeling towards her; while, as she also had reason to expect a handsome present from England, she did not share in the least Jethro’s bitterness against the young Englishman.

But although Mistress Putnam was thus utterly foiled in her effort to enlist the “afflicted circle” in her support, she was not the woman to give up her settled purpose on that account. She knew well that she was a host in herself, so far as the magistrates were concerned. And, having Jethro Sands to join her, it made up the two witnesses that were absolutely necessary by the law of Massachusetts as of Moses. The “afflicted circle” might not aid her, but it was not likely that they would openly revolt, and take part against her in public; and so she went the very next morning in company with that obedient tool, her husband and Jethro Sands, to the office of Squire Hathorne, and got him to issue a warrant for the arrest of Master Ellis Raymond, on the usual charge of practicing witchcraft.