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

Master Raymond Confounds Master Cotton Mather.

The next day, a little before noon, Master Raymond knocked at the door of the Governor’s Mansion, and was at once conducted to Lady Mary’s boudoir. “The Reverend Master Mather is already with the Governor,” said her ladyship, “and I expect to receive a summons to join them every moment.” And in fact the words were hardly out of her mouth, when Sir William’s private secretary, Master Josslyn, appeared, with a request for her ladyship’s presence.

“Come with me,” said she to Master Raymond; “but do not say anything much less smile or laugh until I call upon you for your testimony.”

As they entered, the courteous Governor handed his lady to a seat on the sofa; and Master Mather made a dignified obeisance.

“I have brought along a young friend of mine, who was with me, and would also like to hear of all these wonderful things,” said her ladyship; and Master Raymond bowed very deferentially to both the high dignities, they returning the bow, while Sir William politely requested him to be seated.

“I was just on the point of showing to Sir William the most remarkable curiosities of even this very remarkable era and he suggested that you also doubtless would like to see them,” said the minister; at this time a man of about thirty years of age. He was a rather comely and intelligent looking man, and Master Raymond wondered that one who appeared so intellectual, should be the victim of such absurd hallucinations.

Lady Mary bent her head approvingly, in answer to the minister. “I should like very much to see them,” she replied courteously; and Master Mather continued:

“In the work I have been preparing on the “Wonders of the Invisible World,” several of the sheets of which I have already shown to Sir William, I have collected many curious and wonderful instances. Thus in the case of the eldest daughter of Master John Goodwin, whom I took to my own house, in order that I might more thoroughly investigate the spiritual and physical phenomena of witchcraft, I found that while the devils that tormented her were familiar with Latin, Greek and Hebrew, they seemed to have very little knowledge of the various Indian dialects.”

“That certainly is very curious,” replied Sir William, “inasmuch as those heathen are undeniably the children of the devil, as all our wisest and most godly ministers agree.”

“Yes,” continued the minister, “it is true; and that makes me conjecture, that these devils were in fact only playing a part; to deceive me into thinking that the red heathen around us were not really the children of Satan, as they undoubtedly are.”

“I think that the most reasonable view,” responded the Governor.

“As to the reality of this new assault by Satan upon this little seed of God’s people in the new world,” continued Master Mather, fervently, “I have now no doubt whatever. Proof has been multiplied upon proof, and the man, or woman, who does not by this time believe, is simply one of those deplorable doubters, like Thomas, who never can be convinced. For my part, I consider Witchcraft the most nefandous high treason against the Majesty on High! And a principal design of my book is to manifest its hideous enormity, and to promote a pious thankfulness to God that Justice so far is being inflexibly executed among us.”

Lady Mary’s face flushed a little, for she saw the drift of the minister’s censure. It was well known in all the inner circles, that she had neither faith in the reality of witchcraft, nor the least sympathy with the numerous prosecutions, and the inflexible justice which the minister lauded. The Governor knew his wife’s temper, and hastened to say:

“Still we must admit, Master Mather, that some persons, with tender conscience, require more convincing proofs than do others. And therefore I was anxious that Lady Mary should see these feathers you spoke of, cut from the wings of one of those yellow birds which appear to be used so frequently as familiars by the Salem witches.”

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten them for the moment.” And putting his hand into his breast pocket, Master Mather produced a small box, which he opened carefully and called their attention to a couple of small yellow feathers placed on a piece of black cloth within. “I would not take a hundred pounds for these spectral feathers,” said the minister exultingly. “They are the only positive proof of the kind, now existing in the whole world. With these little feathers I shall dash out the brains of a host of unbelievers especially of that silly Calef, or Caitiff, who is all the time going around among the merchants, wagging his vile tongue against me.”

Sir William and Lady Mary had been looking upon the feathers very curiously. At last Lady Mary gave a low, incredulous laugh. Her husband looked at her inquiringly.

“They are nothing but common chicken feathers which could be picked up in any barn yard,” she said scornfully.

“Your ladyship is very much mistaken, you never saw chicken feathers like those,” said the minister, his face now also flushing.

“Who was the yellow bird afflicting, when these feathers were cut?” the lady asked.

“A young man was on his examination for witchcraft, Squire Hathorne writes me; but he was found to be himself a victim, and was released which proves, by the way, how careful the worshipful magistrates are in Salem, lest any who are innocent should be implicated with the guilty. The young man began to cry out that an ‘evil hand’ was on him, and that a yellow bird was trying to peck out his eyes. Whereupon one of the by-standers pulled out his rapier, and smote at the spectral bird when these feathers were cut off; becoming visible of course as soon as they were detached from the bird and its evil influence. It is one of the most wonderful things that I ever heard of,” and Master Mather gazed on the feathers with admiring and almost reverential eyes.

“Sir William,” said his lady, “you have, I hope, a little common sense left, if these Massachusetts ministers and magistrates have all gone crazy on this subject. You know what a chicken is, if they do not. Are not those simply chicken feathers?”

“Why, my dear,” replied the Governor, wriggling in his great arm-chair, “I grant that they certainly do look like chicken feathers; but then you know, the yellow bird the witches use, may have feathers like unto a chicken’s.”

“Nonsense!” replied Lady Mary. “None are so blind as those that will not see. I suppose that if I were to bring that afflicted young man here, and he were to acknowledge that the whole thing was a trick, got up by him to save his life, you would not believe him?”

“Indeed I should,” replied Sir William.

“Yes, Lady Mary, find the young man, and question him yourself,” said Master Mather. “None are so certain as those that have never informed themselves. I have made inquiry into these marvelous things; I even took that afflicted girl, as I have told you, into my own house, in order to inform myself of the truth. When you have investigated the matter to one-tenth the extent that I have, you will be prepared to give a reasonable opinion as to its truth or falsehood. Until then, some modesty of statement would become a lady who sets up her crude opinion against all the ministers and the magistracy of the land.”

This was a tone which the leading ministers of that day among the Puritans, did not hesitate to take, even where high dignitaries were concerned and Master Mather had the highest ideas of the privilege of his order.

“Then I suppose, Master Mather, that if the afflicted young man himself should testify that these feathers were simply chicken feathers, that he had artfully thrown up into the air, you would not acknowledge that he had deceived you?”

“If such an impossible thing could happen, though I know that it could not, of course I should be compelled to admit that Squire Hathorne and a hundred others, who all saw this marvelous thing plainly, in open day, were deceived by the trick of an unprincipled mountebank and juggler.”

“I shall hold both you and Sir William to your word,” replied Lady Mary emphatically. Then, turning to the young Englishman, who had remained entirely silent so far, paying evident attention to all that was spoken, but giving no sign of approval or disapproval, she said, “Master Raymond, what do you think of this matter?”

Master Raymond rose from his chair and stepped a pace or two forward. Then he said, “If I answer your ladyship’s question freely, it might be to my own hurt. Having had my head once in the lion’s mouth, I am not anxious to put it there again.”

The lady looked significantly at Sir William.

“Speak out truly, and fear nothing, young man,” said the Governor. “Nothing that you say here shall ever work you injury while I am Governor of the Province.”

“What do you wish to know, Lady Mary?”

“You, I believe, were the afflicted young man, to whom Master Mather has referred?”

Master Raymond bowed.

“Was there any reality in those pretended afflictions?”

“Only a bad cold to begin with,” said the young man smiling.

“How about the yellow bird?”

“It was all a sham. I dealt with credulous and dangerous fools according to their folly.”

“How about those feathers?”

“They are feathers I got from the wings of one of the Salem jailor’s chickens.”

Sir William laughed,

“How about the smell of sulphur which Squire Hathorne and Master Mather have detected in the feathers?”

“I think it very probable; as I observed Goodwife Foster that morning giving her chickens powdered brimstone for the pip.”

Here the Governor laughed loudly and long until Master Mather said indignantly, “I am sorry, Sir William, that you can treat so lightly this infamous confession of falsehood and villainy. This impudent young man deserves to be set for three days in the pillory, and then whipped at the cart’s tail out of town.”

“Of course it is a very shameful piece of business,” replied the Governor, regaining his gravity. “But you know that as the confession has been made only on the promise of perfect immunity, I cannot, as a man of my word, suffer the least harm to come to the young person for making it.”

“Oh, of course not,” said the minister, taking up his hat, and preparing to leave the room; “but it is scandalous! scandalous! All respect for the Magistracy and authority seems to be fading out of the popular mind. I consider you a dangerous man, a very dangerous young man!” This last of course to Master Raymond.

“And I consider you tenfold more dangerous with your clerical influence, and credulity, and superstition!” replied the young Englishman hotly. Being of good family, he was not inclined to take such insults mildly. “How dare you, with your hands all red with the blood of twenty innocent men and women, talk to me about being dangerous!”

“Peace!” said Sir William with dignity. “My audience chamber is no place to quarrel in.

“I beg your Excellency’s pardon!” said Master Raymond, humbly.

“One moment, before you go,” said Lady Mary, stepping in front of the minister. “I suppose you will be as good as your word, Master Mather and admit that with all your wisdom you were entirely mistaken?”

“I acknowledge that Squire Hathorne and myself have been grossly deceived by an unprincipled adventurer but that proves nothing. Because Jannes and Jambres imitated with their sorceries the miracles of Moses, did it prove that Moses was an impostor? There was one Judas among the twelve apostles, but does that invalidate the credibility of the eleven others, who were not liars and cheats? It is the great and overwhelming burden of the testimony which decides in this as in all other disputed matters not mere isolated cases. Good afternoon, madam. I will see you soon again, Sir William, when we can have a quiet talk to ourselves.”

“Stay!” cried Lady Mary, as the offended minister was stalking out of the room. “You have forgotten something,” and she pointed to the little box, containing the chicken’s feathers which had been left lying upon the table.

The minister gave a gesture expressive of mingled contempt and indignation but did not come back for it. It was evident that he valued the feathers now at considerably less than one hundred pounds.

“Young man,” said the Governor, smiling, “you are a very bright and keen-witted person, but I would advise you not to linger in this province any longer than is absolutely necessary. Master Mather is much stronger here than I am.”