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

How Master Joseph Circumvented Mistress Ann.

About an hour afterwards, Master Joseph saw one of his farm-hands coming over the fields from the direction of his brother’s house, which was about two miles almost directly to the west of his own house. Going out to meet him, he said

“Well, Simon Peter, I see that you got the rake.”

“Yes, Master Joseph; but they wish me to return it as soon as we can.”

“That is right. Finish your job in the garden this afternoon, and take it back early tomorrow morning. You can go to work now.”

The man walked off toward the garden.

“Wait a moment!” his master cried. The man stopped. “Anything new at brother Thomas’s? Are they all at home?”

“No, indeed! Master Thomas has gone off to Ipswich and little Ann is at Salem town.”

“I could not borrow a horse, then, of them, you think?”

“No, indeed, sir. There is only one left in the stable; and Mistress Putnam means to use that to go to the trial this afternoon.”

“Oh, well, I do not care much;” and his master walked off to the house, while Simon Peter went to his work.

Then, after a somewhat earlier dinner than usual, Master Joseph ordered his young horse, Sweetbriar, saddled; and after kissing his wife “in a scandalous manner” that is, out of doors, where some one might have seen him do it he mounted, and cantered off down the lane.

The young man loved a good horse and he claimed that Sweetbriar, with a year or two more of age and hardening, would be the fastest horse in the Province. As to temper, the horse was well named; for he could be as sweet, when properly handled, as a rose; and as sharp and briary as any rose-stalk under contrary conditions. A nervous, sensitive, high-mettled animal; Mistress Putnam, though a good rider, said it was too much work to manage him. While her husband always responded that Sweetbriar could be ridden by any one, for he was as gentle as a lamb.

Just as Mistress Ann Putnam had got through her dinner, she saw her brother-in-law Joseph riding up the lane. The brothers, as has been seen, differed very widely relative to the Witchcraft prosecutions; but still they visited one another, as they were held together by various family ties, and especially by the old lawsuit against certain of the Ipswich men, to which I have alluded.

Therefore Mistress Putnam opened the door and went out to the garden gate, where by this time the young man had dismounted, and fastened his horse.

“Is brother Thomas at home, Sister Ann?”

“No he had a call to Ipswich this morning.”

“Ah the lawsuit business.”

“I suppose so. But the messenger was so overcome with liquor, that he could not even remember who sent him.”

“Why, how could Thomas know where to go then?”

“Oh, the man managed to say that his employee would be waiting for Thomas at the “Crown and Anchor,” where he usually stops you know.”

“Well, I am glad that Thomas went. I stopped to see if Jehosaphat could do a little errand for me I might have sent one of my own men, but I forget matters sometimes.”

“You will find him at the barn,” replied Mistress

Putnam, a little anxious to cut short the conversation, as she wished to get ready for her ride to Salem.

Going to the barn, Master Joseph soon found Jehosaphat. “How do, Fatty!” this was the not very dignified diminutive into which Jehosaphat had dwindled in common use. “How are you getting along?”

“Fair to middlin, sir. Not as well though as on the old place, Master Joseph.”

“I do not want to interfere with my brother, remember; but if at any time he should not want you any more, remember the old place is still open for you. It was your own fault, you know, that you went.”

“I did not know when I was well off, Master Joseph. I was a fool, that was all.”

“I thought so,” replied Master Joseph pithily. “But no matter about that now can you do an errand for me?”

“Of course I can the mistress willing.”

“Well, I said I wished to send you on an errand, and she told me where to find you.”

“That is all right then.”

“Go to Goodman Buckley’s, in Salem village, and ask him for a bundle I left bring it to my house, you know, you can take the roan horse there. And, by the way, Fatty, if you want to stop an hour or two to see the widow Jones’s pretty daughter, I guess no great harm will be done.”

Jehosaphat giggled but then his face clouded. “But Mistress Putnam wants to take the roan herself this afternoon. The trial comes off, you know.”

“Oh, it is not a trial it is only an examination. And it is all fiddlesticks, anyhow. My sister-in-law is ruining her health by all this witch business. But if she insists upon going, I will lend her one of my horses. Therefore that need not keep you.”

So Jehosaphat, in high glee at having an afternoon’s holiday, with the roan horse, threw on the saddle and mounted.

As he rode at a rapid canter down the lane, Mistress Ann heard the noise, but supposed it was Master Joseph riding off again, and did not even trouble herself to look out of the window, especially as she was just then changing her gown.

Not long after, coming into the family room, who should she see there, sitting demurely, reading one of the Reverend Cotton Mather’s most popular sermons, but the same Master Joseph Putnam whom she had thought she was well rid of.

“I thought you had gone. I surely heard you riding down the lane,” she said in a surprised tone.

“Oh, no, I wanted to speak with you about something.”

“Who was it then? I surely heard some one.”

“Perhaps it was one of those spectral horses, with a spectral rider. As Master Mather says: These are very wonderful and appalling times!” And the young man laughed a little scornfully.

“Brother Joseph, I do not care to talk with you upon this question. I greatly regret, as do your brothers and your uncles, that you have gone over to the infidels and the scoffers.”

“And I regret that they are making such fools of themselves,” replied Joseph hotly.

“I have no time to discuss this question, brother Joseph,” said Mistress Ann with dignity. “I am going to Salem town this afternoon, very much in the cross, to give my testimony against a young friend of yours. Would that I could have been spared this trial!” and his sister-in-law looked up to the ceiling sanctimoniously. As Joseph told his young wife that night, her hypocrisy hardened his heart against her; so that he could have kept her at home by sheer force, if it were necessary, and at all expedient in fact he would have preferred that rough but sincere way.

“If you testify to anything that throws doubt upon Master Raymond’s perfect innocency and goodness, you will testify to a lie,” replied Master Joseph severely.

“As I said, I have no time for argument. Will you be good enough to tell Jehosaphat to saddle the roan for me.”

“You know that I had your permission to send Fatty off on an errand and he is not back yet.”

Mistress Putnam started and bit her lip. She had made a mistake. “I suppose he will be back before long.”

“I doubt it. I sent him to the village.”

“Well, I suppose I can put on the saddle myself. Your conscience probably would not allow you to do it even if common courtesy towards a woman, and that woman your sister, demanded it.”

“Without deciding the latter point, I should think it almost impossible for me to put a saddle on the roan just now.”

“Why? I do not understand you.”

“Because he is doubtless miles away by this time.”

“Jehosaphat did not take the horse!”

“It is precisely what he did do.”

“He knew I wanted the roan to ride to Salem town this afternoon.”

“He told me you did; but I said that I thought you would have too much sense to go. Still, if you would go, that I would lend you one of my horses.”

“Well, where is your horse?”

“There, at the door. You can take off my saddle, and put on your side-saddle, and, if you are in a hurry, Sweetbriar can do the distance in half the time that the roan could.”

Mistress Putnam could have cried with anger and vexation. Like many people of strong and resolute will, she was a good deal of a coward on horseback; and she knew that Sweetbriar was what the farmers called “a young and very skittish animal.” Still her determined spirit rose against thus being outdone; besides, she knew well that in a case like this, where none of the “afflicted circle,” not even her own daughter, would aid her, the whole thing might fall through if she were not present. So she said, “Well, I will saddle your horse myself.”

Here Master Joseph relented because he now felt certain of his game. “I have conscientious scruples against lifting even my little finger to aid you in this unholy business,” he said more placidly, “but under the circumstances, I will saddle Sweetbriar for you.”

So saying, he took off his saddle from the horse, and substituted the side-saddle which he brought from the barn. Then he led Sweetbriar to the horse-block, and his sister-in-law mounted.

She glanced at his spurs. “You ride him with spurs, I see. Hand me my riding-whip,” she said, pointing to where she had laid it, when she first came out.

“I would not strike him, if I were you. He is not used to the whip it might make him troublesome.”

Mistress Putnam made no reply; but gathered up the reins, and the horse started down the lane.

A singular smile came across the young man’s features. He went back and closed the door of the house, and then started in a rapid walk across the field towards his own home. Neither of them thought it mattered that the house was left for a time unprotected. Mistress Putnam knew that a couple of farm-hands were at work in a distant field, who would be back at sundown; and there were so few strollers at that time, that no farmer thought of bolting up his doors and windows when he went to meeting, or to see a neighbor.

The way home across the fields was a good deal nearer than to go by the road, as the latter made quite an angle. And, as the young man strode swiftly, on he could see in many places his sister-in-law, riding deliberately along, and approaching the forks of the road, where anyone going to his own house, would turn and ride away from, instead of toward Salem.

“When she gets to the forks of the road, look out for squalls,” said Master Joseph to himself. For many had been his own fights with Sweetbriar, when the horse wanted to go towards his stable, after a long ride, and his young master wanted him to go in the opposite direction. Sweetbriar had already gone about twenty miles that day and, besides, had been given only the merest mouthful for dinner, with the object of preparing him for this special occasion.

The next swell in the ground afforded the young man an excellent view. Sweetbriar had arrived at the turn which led to his stable; where rest and oats awaited him; and it evidently seemed to Him the height of injustice and unreason to be asked to go all the way back to Salem again. Mistress Ann, however, knew nothing of these previous experiences of the animal, but imputed his insubordinate behavior entirely to self-will and obstinacy. And thus, as the great globe moves around the sun in a perpetual circle, as the result of the two conflicting forces of gravitation and fly-off-it-iveness, so Sweetbriar circled around and around, like a cat chasing his tail, as the result of the conflicting wills of himself and his rider.

Master Joseph watched the progress of the whole affair with decided pleasure. “No woman but a witch could get Sweetbriar past that turn,” he said to himself, laughing outright, “And no man, who had not a pair of spurs on.”

At last, getting out of all patience, Mistress Putnam raised her whip and brought it down sharply on her horse’s shoulder. This decided the struggle; for, unused to such punishment, the fiery animal reared, and then turning, sprang up the road that led to his stable at a wild gallop.

His rider as I have said, was not a very good horse-woman, and she now took hold of the horn of the saddle with her right hand, to enable her to keep her seat; and tried to moderate the gait of the horse with the reins and the voice, abandoning all further resistance to his will as useless.

Setting off at a run, Master Joseph was able to reach home just about the same time as his sister-in-law did.

“Ah! I am glad you changed your mind, Sister Ann, about going to Salem. It is a great deal more sensible to come and spend the afternoon with Elizabeth.”

“Very glad to see you, Sister Ann,” said Mistress Joseph, coming out to the horse-block, at which Sweetbriar, from force of habit, had stopped.

Mistress Ann looked offended, and replied coldly, “I had no intention of coming here this afternoon, Sister Elizabeth; but this vile brute, which Joseph lent me, after sending away my own horse, would neither obey the reins nor the whip.”

“You rascal!” said Master Joseph severely, addressing the horse. “You do not deserve to have a lady ride you.”

“Can you not lend me another horse say the one Elizabeth always rides?”

“All the other horses are out at work,” replied Master Joseph; “and before I could get one of them in, and at all groomed up, ready for the saddle, I am afraid it would be too late for your purpose.”

“So I must be compelled to do as you wish, and stay away from the examination?” said Mistress Ann bitterly.

“Oh, if you choose, I will put a pillion on Sweetbriar, and see how that works?” replied Master Joseph with a meek and patient expression of countenance, as of one upbraided without cause. “To be sure, Sweetbriar has never been asked to carry double; but he might as well learn now as ever.”

“That seems to be the only thing that can be done now,” and the expression of Mistress Ann’s face resembled that of a martyr who was about to be tied to the stake; for riding on a pillion brought the lady always into the closest proximity with the gentleman, and she was now cherishing towards Master Joseph a temper that could hardly be called sisterly.

There was necessarily a great waste of time in getting the pillion on Sweetbriar. He never had carried double, and he evidently felt insulted by being asked to do it. Master Joseph glanced at the sun, and knew it must be now full two o’clock. Only by fast riding, would it be possible to get to Salem court-house by three; and the roads, as they then were, did not admit of fast riding except in a few places.

It was no easy thing for Mistress Ann to get on Sweetbriar, for the horse backed and sidled off from the horse-block whenever she attempted it all his sweetness seemed gone by this time, and the briars alone remained. At least fifteen minutes more were lost in this way. But at last the difficult feat was accomplished.

“Hold on to me tightly,” said the young man, “or you will be thrown off ” for the irritated animal began to curvet around in all directions, manifesting a strong determination to go back to his stable, instead of forward towards Salem.

“I think we had better try the other road, and not pass the forks where you had so much trouble with him,” said Master Joseph, as the horse went more quietly, going up the first hill.

“As you think best,” said his sister-in-law, in a sharp tone, “If I had a horse like this I would shoot him!”

“Oh, Sweetbriar is good enough usually. I never saw him so violent and troublesome as he is to-day. And I think I know the reason of it.”

“What is the reason?”

“I fear he has an ‘evil hand’ upon him,” said Master Joseph with great solemnity.

“Nonsense,” replied Mistress Ann sharply.

“He has got the wicked One in him; that is the matter with him.”

“That is about the same thing,” said Master Joseph.

Now they were at the top of the hill, and the horse broke into tantrums again; requiring all of Master Joseph’s skill to prevent his toppling himself and his two riders over one of the many boulders that obstructed the road.

“If you do not hold on to me more tightly, Sister Ann, you will be thrown off,” said Master Joseph, putting back his right hand to steady her. And Mistress Ann was compelled to lock her arms around him, or take the chance of serious injury from being dashed to the rough highway. The young man would have liked to relieve his feelings by a hearty burst of laughter, as he felt her arms embracing him so warmly, but of course he dared not.

They soon came near the main road, running due north and south, and which it was necessary to take, as it led directly down to Salem. Sweetbriar knew that road well and that he never stopped when once turned to the south on it, short of a six mile ride. He remembered his recent victorious struggle at the Forks, and now resolved upon another battle. All of Master Putnam’s efforts or what seemed so could not get him headed southward on that road. In truth, burdened as he was, the young man really could not do it, without incurring too much risk to the lady behind him. Those who have ever had such a battle with a wilful, mettlesome horse, know that it often requires the utmost patience and determination on the part of his rider, to come out victorious. The best plan the writer speaks from some experience is to pull the animal round in a circle until his brain becomes confused, and then start him off in the right direction.

But Sweetbriar evidently had a better brain than usual, for when the whirl came to an end, it always found his pointing like the magnetic needle to the north. It had been Master Joseph’s plan to pretend a good deal of earnestness in the struggle which he was certain would come in this place; but he was pleased to find that there was no need of any pretence in the matter. The horse, under the circumstances, the young man having a lady’s safety to consult, was the master. Repeated trials only proved it. Whenever the fierce, final tug of war came, Mistress Ann’s safety had to be consulted, and the horse had his own way. So, as the result Sweetbriar started off in a sharp canter up, instead of down, the road.

“Take me home then,” said his sister-in-law “if you will not take me to Salem.”

“If I will not,” repeated Master Joseph. “I give you my honest word, Sister Ann, that I could not make this horse go down the road, with us two on his back, if I stayed here all the afternoon trying. I should think you must have seen that.”

“No matter. Take me home.”

“Besides, we could not get to Salem before four o’clock now, if Sweetbriar went his best and prettiest.”

“I give it up. Let us turn and go home.”

“If we turn and go back the way we came, I do not think I shall be able to get this self-willed animal past my own gate.”

“Well, what do you mean to do?” said the lady bitterly. “Ride on up to Topsfield?”

Master Joseph laughed. “No there is a road strikes off towards your house a short distance above here, and I think I can get you home by it, without any further trouble.”

“Very well get me home as soon as you can. I do not feel like any further riding, or much more talking.”

“Of course it is very aggravating,” replied Master Putnam soothingly, “but then you know as Master Parris says, that all these earthly disappointments are our most valuable experiences teaching us not to set our hopes upon worldly things, but upon those of a more enduring and satisfying character.”

His sister-in-law’s face, that he could not see, she being behind him, wore a look as she listened to this, which could be hardly called evangelical.

“You wished very much I know to go this afternoon to Salem,” continued Master Joseph, in the same sermonizing tone; “but doubtless your wish has been overruled for good. I think, as a member of church, you should be willing to acquiesce patiently in the singular turn that affairs have taken, and console yourself with the thought that you have been innocently riding these peaceful roads instead of being in Salem, doing perchance an infinite deal of mischief.”

“No doubt what you are saying seems to you very wise and edifying, Joseph Putnam, but I have a bad headache, and do not care to converse any further.”

“But you must admit that your projected visit has been frustrated in a very singular, if not remarkable manner?” Master Joseph knew that he had her now at an advantage; she was compelled to listen to everything he chose to say. His saddle was even better in that respect than the minister’s pulpit you might leave a church, but she could not leave the horse.

“I do not see anything very miraculous, brother Joseph, in a young man like you having a self-willed and unprincipled horse. In truth, the wonder would be if you had a decent and well-governed animal,” replied his sister-in-law wrathfully.

The young man smiled at the retort, but she could not see the gleam of sunshine as it passed rapidly over his face; lingering a moment in the soft depths of his sweet blue eyes. There was no smile however in his voice, but the previous solemnity, as he continued:

“And yet if Balaam’s ass could see the angel of the Lord, with his drawn-sword, standing in the way, and barring his further progress in wrongdoing, why might not this horse who is much more intelligent than an ass have seen a similar vision?”

The young man had begun this speech somewhat in sport; but as he ended it, the assumed tone of solemnity had passed into one of real earnestness. For, as he asked himself, “Why should it not be? This woman with him was bound on a wicked errand. Why should not the angel or the Lord stand in her way also and the horse see him, even if his riders did not?”

Mistress Putnam made no answer. Perhaps now that the young man was really in earnest, what he said made some impression upon her, but, more probably it did not.

He, too, relapsed into silence. It seemed to him a good place to stop his preaching, and let his sister-in-law think over what he had said.

“Thank Heaven we are here at last!” said the baffled woman, as they rode up to the horse-block at her own door. Sweetbriar stood very quiet, and she stepped on the block, Master Joseph keeping his seat.

“Will you dismount and stay to supper, brother Joseph?” said Mistress Ann, in a soft purring tone. Master Joseph fairly started with his surprise, and looked steadily into her dark, inscrutable eyes eyes like Jael’s as she gazed upon sleeping Sisera.

“No, I thank you I expect a friend to supper. I hope brother Thomas heard some good news at Ipswich. Come and see us when you feel like it.” And he rode off.

As he told his wife afterwards, he would not have taken supper with his sister Ann that evening as he valued his life.

And yet perhaps it was all imagination and he did not see that thing lurking in the depths of his sister-in-law’s cold, unfathomable eyes that he thought he did. And yet her testimony against Rebecca Nurse, reads to us, even at this late day, with all the charity that we are disposed to exercise towards things so long past, as cold-blooded, deliberate murder.