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

The Reverend Master Parris Exorcises “Little Witch.”

It will be remembered that Squire Hathorne had directed that Dulcibel’s little horse should be handed over to the Reverend Master Parris, in order that it might be brought into due subjection.

This had pleased Master Parris very much. In the first place he was of a decidedly acquisitive turn as had been shown in his scheming to obtain a gift of the minister’s house and orchard and moreover, if he was able to cast out the devil that evidently possessed this horse, and make it a sober and docile riding animal, it would not only be the gain of a very pretty beast, but would prove that something of the power of casting out devils, which had been given to the disciples of old, had come down unto him. In such a case, his fame probably would equal, if not surpass, that of the great Boston ministers, Increase and Cotton Mather.

Goodman Buckley had brought down the little mare, the next morning after the examination. The mare would lead very well, if the person leading her was on horseback very badly, if he were not, except under peculiar circumstances. She was safely housed in the minister’s stable, and gazed at with mingled fear and admiration by the family and their immediate neighbors. Master Parris liked horses, had some knowledge of the right way to handle them, and showed more wisdom in his treatment of this rather perverse animal of Dulcibel’s than he had ever manifested in his church difficulties.

He began by what he called a course of conciliation to placate the devil, as it were. How he could bring his conscience to allow of this, I am not able to understand. But then the mare, if the devil were once cast out, would be, on account of her rare beauty, a very valuable animal. And so the minister, twice a day, made a point of going into the little passage, at the head of the stall, speaking kindly to the animal, and giving her a small lump of maple sugar.

Like most of her sex, Susannah as Master Parris had renamed her, knowing the great importance of a good name was very fond of sugar; and her first apparent aversion to the minister seemed gradually to change into a kind of tacit respect and toleration, under the influence of his daily medications. Finally, the wary animal would allow him to pat her neck without striking at him with one of her front feet, or trying to bite him; and even to stroke her glossy flanks without lunging at him with her hind heels, in an exceedingly dangerous fashion.

But spiritual means also were not neglected. The meeting-house was very near, and the mare was brought over regularly when there were religious services, and fastened in the near vicinity of the other more sober and orthodox horses, that she might learn how to behave and perhaps the evil spirit be thus induced to abandon one so constantly exposed to the doubtless unpleasant sounds (to it) of psalm and prayer and sermon.

A horse is an imitative animal, and very susceptible to impressions, both of a material and a mental character and I must confess that these proceedings of the minister’s were very well adapted to the object he had in view.

The minister also had gone farther but of this no one at the time knew but himself. He had gone into the stable on a certain evening, when his servant John Indian was off on an errand; and had pronounced a prayer over the possessed animal winding up with an exorcism which ought to have been sufficient to banish any reasonable devil, not only from the mare, but from the neighborhood. As he concluded, what seemed to be a huge creature, with outstretched wings, had buffeted him over the ears, and then disappeared through the open window of the stable. The creature was in the form of a big bat; but then it was well known that this was one of the forms which evil spirits were most fond of assuming.

The minister therefore had strong reasons for supposing that the good work was now accomplished; and that he should find the mare hereafter a Susannah not only in name but in nature a black lily, as it were. But of course this could not be certainly told, unless some one should attempt to ride her; and he suggested it one day to John Indian. But John Indian unknown to anybody but himself had already tried the experiment; and after a fierce contest, was satisfied with his share of the glory. His answer was:

“No, no, master debbil hab no ’spect for Indian man. Master he good man! gospel man! debbil ’fraid of him him too much for debbil!”

This seemed very reasonable for a poor, untutored Indian. Mistress Parris, too, said that she was certain he could succeed if any one could. The evil spirits would be careful how they conducted themselves towards such a highly respected and godly minister as her revered husband. Several of her acquaintances, pious and orthodox goodwives of the village, said the same thing. Master Parris thought he was a very good horseman besides; and began to take the same view. There was the horse, and he was the man!

So one afternoon John Indian saddled and bridled the mare, and brought her up to the horse-block. Susannah had allowed herself to be saddled without the slightest manifestation of ill-humor; probably the idea of stretching her limbs a little, was decidedly pleasant in view of the small amount of exercise she had taken lately.

But the wisest plan was not thought of. The minister’s niece, Abigail Williams one of the “afflicted” had looked upon the black mare with longing eyes; and if she had made the experiment, it probably would have been successful. But they did not surmise that it might be the man’s saddle and mode of riding, to which the animal was entirely unaccustomed, that were at the bottom of the difficulty. And, besides, Master Parris wanted the mare for his own riding, not for the women folks of his household.

Detained by various matters, it was not until quite late in the afternoon, that the minister found time to try the experiment of riding the now unbewitched animal. It was getting too near night to ride very far, but he could at least try a short ride of a mile or so; which perhaps would be better for the first attempt than a longer one. So he came out to the horse-block, attended by his wife and Abigail Williams, and a couple of parishioners who had been holding a consultation with him, but had stopped a moment to see him ride off upon the animal of which so many marvelous stories had been told.

“Yes,” said the minister, as he came out to the horse-block, in answer to a remark made by one of his visitors, “I think I have been able with the Lord’s help, to redeem this animal and make her a useful member of society. You will observe that she now manifests none of that viciousness for which formerly she was so noted.”

The mare did stand as composedly and peacefully as the most dignified minister could desire.

“You will remember that she has never been ridden by any one, man or woman, save her witch mistress Dulcibel Jezebel, I think would be a more fitting name for her, considering her wicked doings.”

Here Master Parris took the bridle rein from John Indian and threw his right leg over the animal. As the foot and leg came down on that side, and the stirrup gave her a smart crack, the mare’s ears, which had been pricked up, went backwards and she began to prance around, John Indian still holding her by the mouth.

“Let her go, John,” said the minister; “she does not like to be held,” and he tightened the rein.

John, by his master’s orders, had put on a curbbit; in place of the easy snaffle to which the mare had always been accustomed. And now as the minister tightened the rein, and the chain of the curb began to press upon and pain the mouth of the sensitive creature, she began to back and rear in a most excited fashion.

“Loose de rein!” cried John Indian.

The minister did so. But the animal now was fully alarmed; and no loosening or tightening would avail much. She was her old self again as bewitched as ever. She reared, she plunged, she kicked, she sidled, and went through all the motions, which, on previous occasions, she had always found eventually successful in ridding her back of its undesired burden.

“Oh, do get off of the wild beast,” cried Mistress Parris, in great alarm.

“She is still bewitched,” cried Abigail Williams. “I see a spectre now, tormenting her with a pitchfork.”

“Oh, Samuel, you will be killed! do get off that crazy beast!” again cried weeping Mistress Parris.

“‘Get off!’ yes!” thought the minister; “but how am I going to do it, with the beast plunging and tearing in this fashion?” The animal evidently wanted him off, and he was very anxious to get off; but she would not hold still long enough for him to dismount peaceably.

“Hold her while I dismount!” he cried to John Indian. But when John Indian came near to take hold of the rein by her mouth, the mare snapped at him viciously with her teeth; and then wheeled around and flung out her heels at his head, in the most embarrassing manner.

Finally, as with a new idea, the mare started down the lane at a quick gallop, turned to the left, where a rivulet had been damned up into a little pond not more than two feet deep, and plunged into the water, splashing it up around her like a many jetted fountain.

By this time, the minister, being only human, naturally was very angry; and commenced lashing her sides with his riding whip to get her into the lane again. This made the fiery little creature perfectly desperate, and she reared up and backwards, until she came down plump into the water; so that, if the saddle girth had not broken, and the saddle come off, and the minister with it, she might have tumbled upon him and perhaps seriously hurt him. But, as it was, no great damage was done; and the bridle also breaking, the mare spit the bit out of her mouth, and went down the lane in a run to the road, and thence on into the now fast-gathering night, no one could see whither.

Mistress Parris, John Indian and the rest were by this time at the side of the pond, and ready to receive the chapfallen minister as he emerged with the saddle and the broken bridle from the water.

“You are a sight, Samuel Parris!” said his wife, in that pleasant tone with which many wives are apt to receive their liege lords upon such unpleasant occasions. “Do get into the house at once. You will catch your death of cold, I know. And such a mess your clothes will be! But I only wonder you are not killed trying to ride a mad witch’s horse like that is.”

The minister made no reply. The situation transcended words. And did not allow even of sympathy, as his visitors evidently thought not at least until he got on some clean and dry clothes. So they simply shook their heads, and took their course homewards. While the bedraggled and dripping Master Parris made his way to the house wiping the water and mud from his face with his wife’s handkerchief, and stopping to shake himself well, before he entered the door, lest, as his wife said, “he should spoil everything in his chamber.”

Abigail Williams, when she went to see Mistress Ann Putnam that night, had a marvelous tale to tell; which in the course of the next day, went like wildfire through the village, growing still more and more marvelous as it went.

Abigail had seen, as I have already said, the spectre of a witch goading the furious animal with a pitchfork. When the horse tore down the lane, it came to the little brook and of course could not cross it for a witch cannot cross running water. Therefore, in its new access of fury, it sprang into the pond and threw off the minister. Abigail further declared that then, dashing down the lane it came to the gate which shut it off from the road, and took the gate in a flying leap. But the animal never came down again. It was getting quite dark then, but she could still plainly see that a witch was upon its back, belaboring it with a broomstick. And she knew very well who that witch was. It was the “spectre” of Dulcibel Burton for it had a scarlet bodice on, just such as Dulcibel nearly always wore. They two the mare and its rider went off sailing up into the sky, and disappeared behind a black cloud. And Abigail was almost certain that just as they reached the cloud, there was a low rumbling like thunder.

It was noticeable that every time Abigail told this story, she remembered something that she had not before thought of; until in the course of a week or two, there were very few stories in the “Arabian Nights” that could surpass it in marvelousness.

As the mare had not returned to her old stable at Goodman Buckley’s, and could not be heard of in any other direction, Abigail’s story began to commend itself even to the older and cooler heads of the village. For if the elfish creature had not vanished in the black cloud, to the sound of thunder, where was she?

Joseph Putnam, and his household however held a different view of the subject, but they wisely kept their own counsel; though they had many a sly joke among themselves at the credulity of their neighbors. They knew that a little while after dark, a strange noise had been heard at the barn, and that one of the hired men going out, had found Dulcibel’s horse, without saddle or bridle, pawing at the door of the stable for admission. As this was a place the animal had been in the habit of coming to, and where she was always well treated and even petted, it was very natural that she should fly here from her persecutors, as she doubtless considered them.

Upon being told of it, and not knowing what had occurred Master Joseph thought it most prudent not to put the animal into his stable, but ordered the man to get half-a-peck of oats, and some hay, and take the mare to a small cow-pen, in the woods in an out of the way place, where she might be for years, and no one outside his own people be any the wiser for it. The mare seemed quite docile, and was easily led, being in company with the oats, of which a handful occasionally was given to her; and so, being watered at a stream near by and fed daily, she was no doubt far more comfortable than she would have been in the black cloud that Abigail Williams was perfectly ready to swear she had seen her enter and where though there might be plenty of water, oats doubtless were not often meet with.