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

Master Raymond Astonishes the Magistrates.

The examination was to commence at three o’clock in the afternoon, and to be held in the Court House in the town, as being more convenient to Squire Hathorne than the meeting-house in the village.

As Master Thomas Putnam’s house and farm were several miles beyond the village, it made quite a long ride for them to attend the examination. He had arranged with his wife, however, to start immediately after their usual twelve o’clock dinner, taking her behind him on a pillion, as was customary at that day his daughter Ann being already in town, where she was paying a visit to a friend. He had received however a message about ten o’clock, requesting his immediate presence at Ipswich, on a matter of the most urgent importance; and though he was greatly puzzled by it, he concluded to go at once to Ipswich and go from there direct to Salem town, without coming home again, as it would be very much out of his road to do so.

According to this new arrangement, Mistress Ann would take the other horse, and a lady’s saddle, and ride to town by herself. They had still a third horse, but that was already in town with her daughter.

The Court House was but a short distance from the prison; and, as it was a good Puritan fashion to be punctual to the minute, at three o’clock precisely Squires Hathorne and Corwin were in their arm-chairs, and Master Raymond standing on the raised platform in front of them. As the latter looked carefully around the room, he saw that neither Thomas Putnam nor his mischievous wife, nor his own best friend Joseph Putnam, was present. Squire Hathorne also observed that Mistress Ann Putnam was not present; but, as she was usually very punctual, he concluded that she would be there in a few minutes, and after some whispered words with his colleague, resolved to proceed with the examination.

Turning to the young Englishman, he said in his usual stern tones: “Ellis Raymond, you are brought before authority, upon high suspicion of sundry acts of witchcraft. Now tell us the truth of this matter.”

But no answer came from the accused. Then, when all eyes were intently regarding him, he gave a wild shriek, and fell outstretched upon the platform.

“Let me to him!” said Dr. Griggs, elbowing his way through the crowd. “I said a month ago that an ‘evil hand’ was upon him; and now I am certain of it.”

Master Raymond had not been an attentive observer of the recent trials for nothing; and he now gave the audience an exhibition which would compare favorably with the best, even with Mistress Ann Putnam’s and Abigail William’s. His face became shockingly contorted, and he writhed and twisted and turned convulsively. He tore imaginary spectral hands from around his neck. He pushed imaginary weights from off his breast. He cried, “Take them away! Pray, take them away!” until the whole company were very much affected; and even the magistrates were greatly astounded.

Dr. Griggs loosened his collar and unbuttoned his doublet, and had water brought to sprinkle his face keeping up a running fire of words at the same time, to the effect that he knew, and had said, as least a month before, that Master Raymond had an “evil hand” upon him.

“Who is it hurts you?” at length asked credulous Squire Hathorne.

“See, there is the yellow bird!” cried the young man, staring into vacancy. “He is coming to peck my eyes out! Kill it! kill it!” dashing his hands out from his face violently. “Has no one a sword pray do try to kill it!”

Here an impetuous young villager, standing by, drew his rapier, and stabbed violently in the direction of the supposed spectral bird.

“Oh! Oh! You almost killed it! See, there are some of its feathers!” And three yellow feathers were seen floating in the air; being small chicken feathers with which he had been provided that very morning by Uncle Robie, the jailer; and which the adroit Master Raymond rightly thought would have a prodigious effect.

And the result was fully equal to his expectations. From that moment, it was evident that he had all the beholders with him; and Squire Hathorne, disposed as he had been to condemn him almost without a hearing, was completely staggered. He had the feathers from the “yellow bird” carefully placed upon his desk, with the purpose of transmitting them at once to Master Cotton Mather who, with these palpable proofs of the reality of the spectral appearance would be able utterly to demolish all the skeptical unbelievers.

Finding that such an effect had been produced, Master Raymond allowed himself to regain his composure somewhat.

“Mistress Ann Putnam, who is one of the two complainants, unaccountably is not here,” said Squire Hathorne. “Master Jethro Sands, what have you to say against this young man? You are the other complainant.”

“Probably my mother has come to the conclusion that she was mistaken, as I told her; and therefore she has remained at home,” said Ann Putnam, the daughter; who was delighted with the feather exhibition, and was secretly wondering how it was done.

“Well, what have you to say, Jethro Sands?”

The audience looked around at Jethro with scornful faces, evidently considering him an imposter. What did he know about witches compared to this rich young man from over the seas?

“Tell him you find you were mistaken also,” whispered Leah Herrick.

“After seeing what we have seen, I withdraw my charges, Squire. I think that Mistress Putnam and myself must have been visited by the spectre of somebody else, and not by Master Raymond.”

“I hope that next time you will wait until you are quite certain,” replied Squire Hathorne gruffly. “Do you know that Master Raymond can have his action against you for very heavy damages, for slander and defamation?”

“I certainly am very sorry, and humbly beg Master Raymond’s pardon,” said Jethro, very much alarmed. He had never thought that the affair might take this turn as indeed it did in many cases, some six months afterward; and which was a very effective damper upon the spirits of the prosecutors.

Then the magistrates could do nothing less than discharge the prisoner; and Master Raymond stepped down from the platform a free man, to be surrounded by quite a circle of sympathizing friends. But his first thanks were due to Dr. Griggs for his professional services.

“Doctor, those things you did for me when in the convulsions, relieved me greatly,” and he took out his purse. “Yes, Doctor, I insist upon it. Skill like yours is always worth its recompense. We must not muzzle the ox, you know, that treads out the corn.” And he put a gold piece into Dr. Grigg’s palm which was not often favored with anything but silver in Salem.

Dr. Griggs was glad that he had been able to render him a little service; and said that, if there had been the least necessity for it, he would have gone on the platform, and testified as to the complete absurdity of the charge that that excellent woman, Mistress Ann Putnam, evidently in mistake, had brought against him.

Then the “afflicted circle” had to be spoken to, who this afternoon did not appear to be in the least afflicted, but in the very best of spirits. They now felt more admiration for him than ever; and greeted him with great cordiality as he came to where they were standing. “When are you going back to England?” was a frequent question; and he assured them he now hoped to go before many weeks; and then, smiling, added that they would be certain to hear from him.

As the crowd thinned out a little, Abigail Williams called him aside; “and did you really see the yellow bird, Master Raymond?” said she archly.

“The yellow bird!” replied he dreamily. “Ah! you know that when we that are ‘afflicted’ go into trances, we are not conscious of all that we see.”

“For it seemed to me,” continued the girl in a low tone, “that those feathers looked very much like chicken feathers.” Then she laughed cunningly, and peered into his face.

“Indeed!” replied the young man gravely; “well, a chicken’s bill, pecking at your eyes, is not a thing to be made light of. I knew of a girl, one of whose eyes was put entirely out by her pet canary.”

And as he moved at once toward the rest of the group, the quick-witted and precocious child was compelled to follow.

The magistrates had left the Court House, with the majority of the people, including Jethro Sands, when who should come in, walking hastily, and his face flushed with hard riding, but Thomas Putnam.

“Am I too late? What was done?” he said quickly to Leah Herrick, who was standing near the door.

“Oh, the charge broke down, and Master Raymond was discharged.”

“Ah! Where is my wife?”

“She did not come. It was said by your daughter, that she probably found she was mistaken in the person, and stayed for that reason.”

“I do not believe it she would have told me. What did Jethro Sands do?”

“Oh, he withdrew the charges, so far as he was concerned. There was a great deal more danger that Master Raymond would prove him to be a witch, than he Master Raymond.”

“I see it is a case of conspiracy!” exclaimed Master Putnam hotly. “Had you any hand in this, Master Raymond?” turning to the young Englishman, who had drawn near, on his way to the door.

“Ah, Master Putnam, glad to see you. You did get here early enough however to witness my triumphant vindication. Here is learned Dr. Griggs, and young Mistress Williams, and your own gifted daughter, and handsome Mistress Herrick, and half-a-dozen others of my old friends who were ready to testify in my behalf, if any testimony had been needed. Make my compliments to Mistress Putnam; and give her my best thanks for her noble course, in confessing by her absence that she was mistaken, and that she had accused the wrong person.”

The cool assurance with which this was uttered, quite confused Thomas Putnam. Could his wife have stayed away purposely? Perhaps so, for she was accustomed to rapid changes of her plans. But why then had he been lured off on a wild-goose chase all the way to Ipswich?

While he was standing there musing, his daughter came up. “I think, father, you and mother, next time, had better take my advice,” said that incorrigible and unmanageable young lady; just about as opposite a character to the usual child of that period as could well be imagined. But these witchcraft trials, in which she figured so prominently had utterly demoralized her in this as in certain other respects.