Lois the Witch
by Elizabeth Gaskell
In the year 1691, Lois Barclay stood on a little wooden pier,
steadying herself on the stable land, in much the same manner as, eight
or nine weeks ago, she had tried to steady herself on the deck of the
rocking ship which had carried her across from Old to New England. It
seemed as strange now to be on solid earth as it had been, not long
ago, to be rocked by the sea, both by day and by night; and the aspect
of the land was equally strange. The forests which showed in the
distance all round, and which, in truth, were not very far from the
wooden houses forming the town of Boston, were of different shades of
green, and different, too, in shape of outline to those which Lois
Barclay knew well in her old home in Warwickshire. Her heart sank a
little as she stood alone, waiting for the captain of the good ship
Redemption, the kind rough old sailor, who was her only known friend in
this unknown continent. Captain Holdernesse was busy, however, as she
saw, and it would probably be some time before he would be ready to
attend, to her; so Lois sat down on one of the casks that lay about,
and wrapped her grey duffle cloak tight around her, and sheltered
herself under her hood, as well as might be, from the piercing wind,
which seemed to follow those whom it had tyrannized over at sea with a
dogged wish of still tormenting them on land. Very patiently did Lois
sit there, although she was weary, and shivering with cold; for the day
was severe for May, and the Redemption, with store of necessaries and
comforts for the Puritan colonists of New England, was the earliest
ship that had ventured across the seas.
How could Lois help thinking of the past, and speculating on the
future, as she sat on Boston pier, at this breathing-time of her life?
In the dim sea-mist which she gazed upon with aching eyes (filled,
against her will, with tears, from time to time), there rose the little
village church of Barford (not three miles from Warwickyou may see it
yet), where her father had preached ever since 1661, long before she
was born. He and her mother both lay dead in Barford churchyard; and
the old low grey church could hardly come before her vision without her
seeing the old parsonage too, the cottage covered with Austrian roses,
and yellow jessamine, where she had been born, sole child of parents
already long past the prime of youth. She saw the path, not a hundred
yards long, from the parsonage to the vestry door: that path which her
father trod daily; for the vestry was his study, and the sanctum, where
he pored over the ponderous tomes of the Father, and compared their
precepts with those of the authorities of the Anglican Church of that
daythe day of the later Stuarts; for Barford Parsonage at that time
scarcely exceeded in size and dignity the cottages by which it was
surrounded: it only contained three rooms on a floor, and was but two
stories high. On the first, or ground floor, were the parlour, kitchen,
and back or working kitchen; up-stairs, Mr. and Mrs. Barclay's room,
that belonging to Lois, and the maid-servant's room. If a guest came,
Lois left her own chamber, and shared old Clemence's bed. But those
days were over. Never more should Lois see father or mother on earth;
they slept, calm and still, in Barford churchyard, careless of what
became of their orphan child, as far as earthly manifestations of care
or love went. And Clemence lay there too, bound down in her grassy bed
by withes of the briar-rose, which Lois had trained over those three
precious graves before leaving England for ever.
There were some who would fain have kept her there; one who swore in
his heart a great oath unto the Lord that he would seek her sooner or
later, if she was still upon the earth. But he was the rich heir and
only son of the Miller Lucy, whose mill stood by the Avon-side in the
grassy Barford meadows, and his father looked higher for him than the
penniless daughter of Parson Barclay (so low were clergymen esteemed in
those days!); and the very suspicion of Hugh Lucy's attachment to Lois
Barclay made his parents think it more prudent not to offer the orphan
a home, although none other of the parishioners had the means, even if
they had the will, to do so.
So Lois swallowed her tears down till the time came for crying, and
acted upon her mother's words:
'Lois, thy father is dead of this terrible fever, and I am dying.
Nay, it is so, though I am easier from pain for these few hours, the
Lord be praised! The cruel men of the Commonwealth have left thee very
friendless. Thy father's only brother was shot down at Edgehill. I,
too, have a brother, though thou hast never heard me speak of him, for
he was a schismatic; and thy father and he had words, and he left for
that new country beyond the seas, without ever saying farewell to us.
But Ralph was a kind lad until he took up these new-fangled notions,
and for the old days' sake he will take thee in, and love thee as a
child, and place thee among his children. Blood is thicker than water.
Write to him as soon as I am gonefor Lois, I am goingand I bless
the Lord that has letten me join my husband again so soon.' Such was
the selfishness of conjugal love; she thought little of Lois's
desolation in comparison with her rejoicing over her speedy reunion
with her dead husband! 'Write to thine uncle, Ralph Hickson, Salem, New
England (put it down, child, on thy tablets), and say that I, Henrietta
Barclay, charge him, for the sake of all he holds dear in heaven or on
earth,for his salvation's sake, as well as for the sake of the old
home at Lester-bridge,for the sake of the father and mother that gave
us birth, as well as for the sake of the six little children who lie
dead between him and me,that he take thee into his home as if thou
wert his own flesh and blood, as indeed thou art. He has a wife and
children of his own, and no one need fear having thee, my Lois, my
darling, my baby, among his household. Oh, Lois, would that thou wert
dying with me! The thought of thee makes death sore!' Lois comforted
her mother more than herself, poor child, by promises to obey her dying
wishes to the letter, and by expressing hopes she dared not feel of her
'Promise me'the dying woman's breath came harder and harder'that
thou wilt go at once. The money our goods will bringthe letter thy
father wrote to Captain Holdernesse, his old schoolfellowthou knowest
all I would saymy Lois, God bless thee!'
Solemnly did Lois promise; strictly she kept her word. It was all
the more easy, for Hugh Lucy met her, and told her, in one great burst
of love, of his passionate attachment, his vehement struggles with his
father, his impotence at present, his hope and resolves for the future.
And, intermingled with all this, came such outrageous threats and
expressions of uncontrolled vehemence, that Lois felt that in Barford
she must not linger to be a cause of desperate quarrel between father
and son, while her absence might soften down matters, so that either
the rich old miller might relent, orand her heart ached to think of
the other possibilityHugh's love might cool, and the dear play-fellow
of her childhood learn to forget. If notif Hugh were to be trusted in
one tithe of what he saidGod might permit him to fulfil his resolve
of coming to seek her out before many years were over. It was all in
God's hands, and that was best, thought Lois Barclay.
She was roused out of her trance of recollections by Captain
Holdernesse, who, having done all that was necessary in the way of
orders and directions to his mate, now came up to her, and, praising
her for her quiet patience, told her that he would now take her to the
Widow Smith's, a decent kind of house, where he and many other sailors
of the better order were in the habit of lodging, during their stay on
the New England shores. Widow Smith, he said, had a parlour for herself
and her daughters, in which Lois might sit, while he went about the
business that, as he had told her, would detain him in Boston for a day
or two, before he could accompany her to her uncle's at Salem. All this
had been to a certain degree arranged on ship-board; but Captain
Holdernesse, for want of anything else that he could think of to talk
about, recapitulated it as he and Lois walked along. It was his way of
showing sympathy with the emotion that made her grey eyes full of
tears, as she started up from the pier at the sound of his voice. In
his heart he said, 'Poor wench! poor wench! it's a strange land to her,
and they are all strange folks, and, I reckon, she will be feeling
desolate. I'll try and cheer her up.' So he talked on about hard facts,
connected with the life that lay before her, until they reached Widow
Smith's; and perhaps Lois was more brightened by this style of
conversation, and the new ideas it presented to her, than she would
have been by the tenderest woman's sympathy.
'They are a queer set, these New Englanders,' said Captain
Holdernesse. 'They are rare chaps for praying; down on their knees at
every turn of their life. Folk are none so busy in a new country, else
they would have to pray like me, with a Yo-hoy! on each side of my
prayers, and a rope cutting like fire through my hand. Yon pilot was
for calling us all to thanksgiving for a good voyage, and lucky escape
from the pirates; but I said I always put up my thanks on dry land,
after I had got my ship into harbour. The French colonists, too, are
vowing vengeance for the expedition against Canada, and the people here
are raging like heathensat least, as like as godly folk can befor
the loss of their charter. All that is the news the pilot told me; for,
for all he wanted us to be thanksgiving instead of casting the lead, he
was as down in the mouth as could be about the state of the country.
But here we are at Widow Smith's! Now, cheer up, and show the godly a
pretty smiling Warwickshire lass!'
Anybody would have smiled at Widow Smith's greeting. She was a
comely, motherly woman, dressed in the primmest fashion in vogue twenty
years before, in England, among the class to which she belonged. But,
somehow, her pleasant face gave the lie to her dress; were it as brown
and sober-coloured as could be, folk remembered it bright and cheerful,
because it was a part of Widow Smith herself.
She kissed Lois on both cheeks, before she rightly understood who
the stranger maiden was, only because she was a stranger, and looked
sad and forlorn; and then she kissed her again, because Captain
Holdernesse commended her to the widow's good offices. And so she led
Lois by the hand into her rough, substantial log-house, over the door
of which hung a great bough of a tree, by way of sign of entertainment
for man and horse. Yet not all men were received by Widow Smith. To
some she could be as cold and reserved as need be, deaf to all
inquiries save onewhere else they could find accommodation? To this
question she would give a ready answer, and speed the unwelcome guest
on his way. Widow Smith was guided in these matters by instinct: one
glance at a man's face told her whether or not she chose to have him as
an inmate of the same house as her daughters; and her promptness of
decision in these matters gave her manner a kind of authority which no
one liked to disobey, especially as she had stalwart neighbours within
call to back her, if her assumed deafness in the first instance, and
her voice and gesture in the second, were not enough to give the
would-be guest his dismissal. Widow Smith chose her customers merely by
their physical aspect; not one whit with regard to their apparent
worldly circumstances. Those who had been staying at her house once,
always came again, for she had the knack of making every one beneath
her roof comfortable and at his ease. Her daughters, Prudence and
Hester, had somewhat of their mother's gifts, but not in such
perfection. They reasoned a little upon a stranger's appearance,
instead of knowing at the first moment whether they liked him or no;
they noticed the indications of his clothes, the quality and cut
thereof, as telling somewhat of his station in society; they were more
reserved, they hesitated more than their mother; they had not her
prompt authority, her happy power. Their bread was not so light, their
cream went sometimes to sleep when it should have been turning into
butter, their hams were not always 'just like the hams of the old
country,' as their mother's were invariably pronounced to be; yet they
were good, orderly, kindly girls, and rose and greeted Lois with a
friendly shake of the hand, as their mother, with her arm round the
stranger's waist, led her into the private room which she called her
parlour. The aspect of this room was strange in the English girl's
eyes. The logs of which the house was built, showed here and there
through the mud plaster, although before both plaster and logs were
hung the skins of many curious animals,skins presented to the widow
by many a trader of her acquaintance, just as her sailor guests brought
her another description of giftshells, strings of wampum-beads,
sea-birds' eggs, and presents from the old country. The room was more
like a small museum of natural history of these days than a parlour;
and it had a strange, peculiar, but not unpleasant smell about it,
neutralized in some degree by the smoke from the enormous trunk of
pinewood which smouldered on the hearth.
The instant their mother told them that Captain Holdernesse was in
the outer room, the girls began putting away their spinning-wheel and
knitting-needles, and preparing for a meal of some kind; what meal,
Lois, sitting there and unconsciously watching, could hardly tell.
First, dough was set to rise for cakes; then came out of a corner
cupboarda present from Englandan enormous square bottle of a
cordial called Golden Wasser; next, a mill for grinding chocolatea
rare unusual treat anywhere at that time; then a great Cheshire cheese.
Three venison steaks were cut ready for broiling, fat cold pork sliced
up and treacle poured over it, a great pie something like a mince-pie,
but which the daughters spoke of with honour as the 'punken-pie,' fresh
and salt fish brandered, oysters cooked in various ways. Lois wondered
where would be the end of the provisions for hospitably receiving the
strangers from the old country. At length everything was placed on the
table, the hot food smoking; but all was cool, not to say cold, before
Elder Hawkins (an old neighbour of much repute and standing, who had
been invited in by Widow Smith to hear the news) had finished his
grace, into which was embodied thanksgivings for the past and prayers
for the future lives of every individual present, adapted to their
several cases, as far as the elder could guess at them from
appearances. This grace might not have ended so soon as it did, had it
not been for the somewhat impatient drumming of his knife-handle on the
table with which Captain Holdernesse accompanied the latter half of the
When they first sat down to their meal, all were too hungry for much
talking; but as their appetites diminished their curiosity increased,
and there was much to be told and heard on both sides. With all the
English intelligence Lois was, of course, well acquainted; but she
listened with natural attention to all that was said about the new
country, and the new people among whom she had come to live. Her father
had been a Jacobite, as the adherents of the Stuarts were beginning at
this time to be called. His father, again, had been a follower of
Archbishop Laud; so Lois had hitherto heard little of the conversation,
and seen little of the ways of the Puritans. Elder Hawkins was one of
the strictest of the strict, and evidently his presence kept the two
daughters of the house considerably in awe. But the widow herself was a
privileged person; her known goodness of heart (the effects of which
had been experienced by many) gave her the liberty of speech which was
tacitly denied to many, under penalty of being esteemed ungodly if they
infringed certain conventional limits. And Captain Holdernesse and his
mate spoke out their minds, let who would be present. So that on this
first landing in New England, Lois was, as it were, gently let down
into the midst of the Puritan peculiarities, and yet they were
sufficient to make her feel very lonely and strange.
The first subject of conversation was the present state of the
colonyLois soon found out that, although at the beginning she was not
a little perplexed by the frequent reference to names of places which
she naturally associated with the old country. Widow Smith was
speaking: 'In the county of Essex the folk are ordered to keep four
scouts, or companies of minute-men; six persons in each company; to be
on the look-out for the wild Indians, who are for ever stirring about
in the woods, stealthy brutes as they are! I am sure, I got such a
fright the first harvest-time after I came over to New England, I go on
dreaming, now near twenty years after Lothrop's business, of painted
Indians, with their shaven scalps and their war-streaks, lurking behind
the trees, and coming nearer and nearer with their noiseless steps.'
'Yes,' broke in one of her daughters; 'and, mother, don't you
remember how Hannah Benson told us how her husband had cut down every
tree near his house at Deerbrook, in order that no one might come near
him, under cover; and how one evening she was a-sitting in the
twilight, when all her family were gone to bed, and her husband gone
off to Plymouth on business, and she saw a log of wood, just like a
trunk of a felled tree, lying in the shadow, and thought nothing of it,
till, on looking again a while after, she fancied it was come a bit
nearer to the house, and how her heart turned sick with fright, and how
she dared not stir at first, but shut her eyes while she counted a
hundred, and looked again, and the shadow was deeper, but she could see
that the log was nearer; so she ran in and bolted the door, and went up
to where her eldest lad lay. It was Elijah, and he was but sixteen
then; but he rose up at his mother's words, and took his father's long
duck-gun down, and he tried the loading, and spoke for the first time
to put up a prayer that God would give his aim good guidance, and went
to a window that gave a view upon the side where the log lay, and
fired, and no one dared to look what came of it, but all the household
read the Scriptures, and prayed the whole night long, till morning came
and showed a long stream of blood lying on the grass close by the log,
which the full sunlight showed to be no log at all, but just a Red
Indian covered with bark, and painted most skilfully, with his
war-knife by his side.'
All were breathless with listening, though to most the story, or
such like it, were familiar. Then another took up the tale of horror:
'And the pirates have been down at Marblehead since you were here,
Captain Holdernesse. 'Twas only the last winter they landed,French
Papist pirates; and the people kept close within their houses, for they
knew not what would come of it; and they dragged folk ashore. There was
one woman among those folkprisoners from some vessel, doubtlessand
the pirates took them by force to the inland marsh; and the Marblehead
folk kept still and quiet, every gun loaded, and every ear on the
watch, for who knew but what the wild sea-robbers might take a turn on
land next; and, in the dead of the night, they heard a woman's loud and
pitiful outcry from the marsh, 'Lord Jesu! have mercy on me! Save me
from the power of man, O Lord Jesu!' And the blood of all who heard the
cry ran cold with terror, till old Nance Hickson, who had been
stone-deaf and bedridden for years, stood up in the midst of the folk
all gathered together in her grandson's house, and said, that as they,
the dwellers in Marblehead, had not had brave hearts or faith enough to
go and succour the helpless, that cry of a dying woman should be in
their ears, and in their children's ears, till the end of the world.
And Nance dropped down dead as soon as she had made an end of speaking,
and the pirates set sail from Marblehead at morning dawn; but the folk
there hear the cry still, shrill and pitiful, from the waste marshes,
Lord Jesu! have mercy on me! Save me from the power of man, O Lord
'And by token,' said Elder Hawkins's deep bass voice, speaking with
the strong nasal twang of the Puritans (who, says Butler,
Blasphemed custard through the nose"),
'godly Mr. Noyes ordained a fast at Marblehead, and preached a
soul-stirring discourse on the words; Inasmuch as ye did it not unto
one of the least of these, my brethren, ye did it not unto me. But it
has been borne in upon me at times, whether the whole vision of the
pirates and the cry of the woman was not a device of Satan's to sift
the Marblehead folk, and see what fruit their doctrine bore, and so to
condemn them in the sight of the Lord. If it were so, the enemy had a
great triumph, for assuredly it was no part of Christian men to leave a
helpless woman unaided in her sore distress.'
'But, Elder,' said Widow Smith, 'it was no vision; they were real
living men who went ashore, men who broke down branches and left their
footmarks on the ground.'
'As for that matter, Satan hath many powers, and if it be the day
when he is permitted to go about like a roaring lion, he will not stick
at trifles, but make his work complete. I tell you, many men are
spiritual enemies in visible forms, permitted to roam about the waste
places of the earth. I myself believe that these Red Indians are indeed
the evil creatures of whom we read in Holy Scripture; and there is no
doubt that they are in league with those abominable Papists, the French
people in Canada. I have heard tell, that the French pay the Indians so
much gold for every dozen scalps off Englishmen's heads.'
'Pretty cheerful talk this,' said Captain Holdernesse to Lois,
perceiving her blanched cheek and terror-stricken mien. 'Thou art
thinking that thou hadst better have stayed at Barford, I'll answer for
it, wench. But the devil is not so black as he is painted.'
'Ho! there again!' said Elder Hawkins. 'The devil is painted, it
hath been said so from old times; and are not these Indians painted,
even like unto their father?'
'But is it all true?' asked Lois, aside, of Captain Holdernesse,
letting the elder hold forth unheeded by her, though listened to,
however, with the utmost reverence by the two daughters of the house.
'My wench,' said the old sailor, 'thou hast come to a country where
there are many perils, both from land and from sea. The Indians hate
the white men. Whether other white men' (meaning the French away to the
north) 'have hounded on the savages, or whether the English have taken
their lands and hunting-grounds without due recompense, and so raised
the cruel vengeance of the wild creatureswho knows? But it is true
that it is not safe to go far into the woods, for fear of the lurking
painted savages; nor has it been safe to build a dwelling far from a
settlement; and it takes a brave heart to make a journey from one town
to another, and folk do say the Indian creatures rise up out of the
very ground to waylay the English; and then offers affirm they are all
in league with Satan to affright the Christians out of the heathen
country over which he has reigned so long. Then, again, the seashore is
infested by pirates, the scum of all nations: they land, and plunder,
and ravage, and burn, and destroy. Folk get affrighted of the real
dangers, and in their fright imagine, perchance, dangers that are not.
But who knows? Holy Scripture speaks of witches and wizards, and of the
power of the Evil One in desert places; and even in the old country we
have heard tell of those who have sold their souls for ever for the
little power they get for a few years on earth.'
By this time the whole table was silent, listening to the captain;
it was just one of those chance silences that sometimes occur, without
any apparent reason, and often without any apparent consequence. But
all present had reason, before many months had-passed over, to remember
the words which Lois spoke in answer, although her voice was low, and
she only thought, in the interest of the moment, of being heard by her
old friend the captain.
'They are fearful creatures, the witches! and yet I am sorry for the
poor old women, whilst I dread them. We had one in Barford, when I was
a little child. No one knew whence she came, but she settled herself
down in a mud hut by the common side; and there she lived, she and her
cat.' (At the mention of the cat, Elder Hawkins shook his head long and
gloomily.) 'No one knew how she lived, if it were not on nettles and
scraps of oatmeal and such-like food given her more for fear than for
pity. She went double, always talking and muttering to herself. Folk
said she snared birds and rabbits, in the thicket that came down to her
hovel. How it came to pass I cannot say, but many a one fell sick in
the village, and much cattle died one spring, when I was near four
years old. I never heard much about it, for my father said it was ill
talking about such things; I only know I got a sick fright one
afternoon, when the maid had gone out for milk and had taken me with
her, and we were passing a meadow where the Avon, circling, makes a
deep round pool, and there was a crowd of folk, all stilland a still,
breathless crowd makes the heart beat worse than a shouting, noisy one.
They were all gazing towards the water, and the maid held me up in her
arms to see the sight above the shoulders of the people; and I saw old
Hannah in the water, her grey hair all streaming down her shoulders,
and her face bloody and black with the stones and the mud they had been
throwing at her, and her cat tied round her neck. I hid my face, I
know, as soon as I saw the fearsome sight, for her eyes met mine as
they were glaring with furypoor, helpless, baited creature!and she
caught the sight of me, and cried out, Parson's wench, parson's wench,
yonder, in thy nurse's arms, thy dad hath never tried for to save me,
and none shall save thee when thou art brought up for a witch. Oh! the
words rang in my ears, when I was dropping asleep, for years after. I
used to dream that I was in that pond, all men hating me with their
eyes because I was a witch; and, at times, her black cat used to seem
living again, and say over those dreadful words.'
Lois stopped: the two daughters looked at her excitement with a kind
of shrinking surprise, for the tears were in her eyes. Elder Hawkins
shook his head, and muttered texts from Scripture; but cheerful Widow
Smith, not liking the gloomy turn of the conversation, tried to give it
a lighter cast by saying, 'And I don't doubt but what the parson's
bonny lass has bewitched many a one since, with her dimples and her
pleasant wayseh, Captain Holdernesse? It's you must tell us tales of
this young lass' doings in England.'
'Ay, ay,' said the captain, 'there's one under her charms in
Warwickshire who will never get the better of it, I'm thinking.'
Elder Hawkins rose to speak; he stood leaning on his hands, which
were placed on the table: 'Brethren,' said he, 'I must upbraid you if
ye speak lightly; charms and witchcraft are evil things. I trust this
maiden hath had nothing to do with them, even in thought. But my mind
misgives me at her story. The hellish witch might have power from Satan
to infect her mind, she being yet a child, with the deadly sin. Instead
of vain talking, I call upon you all to join with me in prayer for this
stranger in our land, that her heart may be purged from all iniquity.
Let us pray.'
'Come, there's no harm in that,' said the captain; 'but, Elder
Hawkins, when you are at work, just pray for us all, for I am afeard
there be some of us need purging from iniquity a good deal more than
Lois Barclay, and a prayer for a man never does mischief.'
Captain Holdernesse had business in Boston which detained him there
for a couple of days, and during that time Lois remained with the Widow
Smith, seeing what was to be seen of the new land that contained her
future home. The letter of her dying mother was sent off to Salem,
meanwhile, by a lad going thither, in order to prepare her Uncle Ralph
Hickson for his niece's coming, as soon as Captain Holdernesse could
find leisure to take her; for he considered her given into his own
personal charge, until he could consign her to her uncle's care. When
the time came for going to Salem, Lois felt very sad at leaving the
kindly woman under whose roof she had been staying, and looked back as
long as she could see anything of Widow Smith's dwelling. She was
packed into a rough kind of country cart, which just held her and
Captain Holdernesse, beside the driver. There was a basket of
provisions under their feet, and behind them hung a bag of provender
for the horse; for it was a good day's journey to Salem, and the road
was reputed so dangerous that it was ill tarrying a minute longer than
necessary for refreshment. English roads were bad enough at that period
and for long after, but in America the way was simply the cleared
ground of the forest; the stumps of the felled trees still remaining in
the direct line, forming obstacles, which it required the most careful
driving to avoid; and in the hollows, where the ground was swampy, the
pulpy nature of it was obviated by logs of wood laid across the boggy
part. The deep green forest, tangled into heavy darkness even thus
early in the year, came within a few yards of the road all the way,
though efforts were regularly made by the inhabitants of the
neighbouring settlements to keep a certain space clear on each side,
for fear of the lurking Indians, who might otherwise come upon them
unawares. The cries of strange birds, the unwonted colour of some of
them, all suggested to the imaginative or unaccustomed traveller the
idea of war-whoops and painted deadly enemies. But at last they drew
near to Salem, which rivalled Boston in size in those days, and boasted
the name of one or two streets, although to an English eye they looked
rather more like irregularly built houses, clustered round the
meeting-house, or rather one of the meeting-houses, for a second was in
process of building. The whole place was surrounded with two circles of
stockades; between the two were the gardens and grazing ground for
those who dreaded their cattle straying into the woods, and the
consequent danger of reclaiming them.
The lad who drove them flogged his spent horse into a trot, as they
went through Salem to Ralph Hickson's house. It was evening, the
leisure time for the inhabitants, and their children were at play
before the houses. Lois was struck by the beauty of one wee toddling
child, and turned to look after it; it caught its little foot in a
stump of wood, and fell with a cry that brought the mother out in
affright. As she ran out, her eye caught Lois's anxious gaze, although
the noise of the heavy wheels drowned the sound of her words of inquiry
as to the nature of the hurt the child had received. Nor had Lois time
to think long upon the matter, for the instant after, the horse was
pulled up at the door of a good, square, substantial wooden house,
plastered over into a creamy white, perhaps as handsome a house as any
in Salem; and there she was told by the driver that her uncle, Ralph
Hickson, lived. In the flurry of the moment she did not notice, but
Captain Holdernesse did, that no one came out at the unwonted sound of
wheels, to receive and welcome her. She was lifted down by the old
sailor, and led into a large room, almost like the hall of some English
manor-house as to size. A tall, gaunt young man of three or four and
twenty, sat on a bench by one of the windows, reading a great folio by
the fading light of day. He did not rise when they came in, but looked
at them with surprise, no gleam of intelligence coming into his stern,
dark face. There was no woman in the house-place. Captain Holdernesse
paused a moment, and then said:
'Is this house Ralph Hickson's?'
'It is,' said the young man, in a slow, deep voice. But he added no
'This is his niece, Lois Barclay,' said the captain, taking the
girl's arm, and pushing her forwards. The young man looked at her
steadily and gravely for a minute; then rose, and carefully marking the
page in the folio which hitherto had lain open upon his knee, said,
still in the same heavy, indifferent manner, 'I will call my mother,
she will know.'
He opened a door which looked into a warm bright kitchen, ruddy with
the light of the fire over which three women were apparently engaged in
cooking something, while a fourth, an old Indian woman, of a
greenish-brown colour, shrivelled up and bent with apparent age, moved
backwards and forwards, evidently fetching the others the articles they
'Mother,' said the young man; and having arrested her attention, he
pointed over his shoulder to the newly-arrived strangers, and returned
to the study of his book, from time to time, however, furtively
examining Lois from beneath his dark shaggy eyebrows.
A tall, largely made woman, past middle life, came in from the
kitchen, and stood reconnoitring the strangers.
Captain Holdernesse spoke.
'This is Lois Barclay, Master Ralph Hickson's niece.'
'I know nothing of her,' said the mistress of the house, in a deep
voice, almost as masculine as her son's.
'Master Hickson received his sister's letter, did he not? I sent it
off myself by a lad named Elias Wellcome, who left Boston for this
place yester morning.'
'Ralph Hickson has received no such letter. He lies bedridden in the
chamber beyond. Any letters for him must come through my hands;
wherefore I can affirm with certainty that no such letter has been
delivered here. His sister Barclay, she that was Henrietta Hickson, and
whose husband took the oaths to Charles Stuart, and stuck by his living
when all godly men left theirs'
Lois, who had thought her heart was dead and cold a minute before at
the ungracious reception she had met with, felt words come up into her
mouth at the implied insult to her father, and spoke out, to her own
and the captain's astonishment:
'They might be godly men who left their churches on that day of
which you speak, madam; but they alone were not the godly men, and no
one has a right to limit true godliness for mere opinion's sake.'
'Well said, lass,' spoke out the captain, looking round upon her
with a kind of admiring wonder, and patting her on the back.
Lois and her aunt gazed into each other's eyes unflinchingly, for a
minute or two of silence; but the girl felt her colour coming and
going, while the elder woman's never varied; and the eyes of the young
maiden were filling fast with tears, while those of Grate Hickson kept
on their stare, dry and unwavering.
'Mother!' said the young man, rising up with a quicker motion than
any one had yet used in this house, 'it is ill speaking of such matters
when my cousin comes first among us. The Lord may give her grace
hereafter, but she has travelled from Boston city to-day, and she and
this seafaring man must need rest and food.'
He did not attend to see the effect of his words, but sat down
again, and seemed to be absorbed in his book in an instant. Perhaps he
knew that his word was law with his grim mother, for he had hardly
ceased speaking before she had pointed to a wooden settle; and
smoothing the lines on her countenance, she said, 'What Manasseh says
is true. Sit down here, while I bid Faith and Nattee get food ready;
and meanwhile I will go tell my husband, that one who calls herself his
sister's child is come over to pay him a visit.'
She went to the door leading into the kitchen, and gave some
directions to the elder girl, whom Lois now knew to be the daughter of
the house. Faith stood impassive, while her mother spoke, scarcely
caring to look at the newly-arrived strangers. She was like her brother
Manasseh in complexion, but had handsomer features, and large,
mysterious-looking eyes, as Lois saw, when once she lifted them up, and
took in, as it were, the aspect of the sea-captain and her cousin with
one swift searching look. About the stiff, tall, angular mother, and
the scarce less pliant figure of the daughter, a girl of twelve years
old, or thereabouts, played all manner of impish antics, unheeded by
them, as if it were her accustomed habit to peep about, now under their
arms, now at this side, now at that, making grimaces all the while at
Lois and Captain Holdernesse, who sat facing the door, weary, and
somewhat disheartened by their reception. The captain pulled out
tobacco, and began to chew it by way of consolation; but in a moment or
two, his usual elasticity of spirit came to his rescue, and he said in
a low voice to Lois:
'That scoundrel Elias, I will give it him! If the letter had but
been delivered, thou wouldst have had a different kind of welcome; but
as soon as I have had some victuals, I will go out and find the lad,
and bring back the letter, and that will make all right, my wench. Nay,
don't be downhearted, for I cannot stand women's tears. Thou'rt just
worn out with the shaking and the want of food.'
Lois brushed away her tears, and looking round to try and divert her
thoughts by fixing them on present object, she caught her cousin
Manasseh's deep-set eyes furtively watching her. It was with no
unfriendly gaze, yet it made Lois uncomfortable, particularly as he did
not withdraw his looks after he must have seen that she observed him.
She was glad when her aunt called her into an inner room to see her
uncle, and she escaped from the steady observance of her gloomy, silent
Ralph Hickson was much older than his wife, and his illness made him
look older still. He had never had the force of character that Grace,
his spouse, possessed, and age and sickness had now rendered him almost
childish at times. But his nature was affectionate, and stretching out
his trembling arms from where he lay bedridden, he gave Lois an
unhesitating welcome, never waiting for the confirmation of the missing
letter before he acknowledged her to be his niece.
'Oh! 'tis kind in thee to come all across the sea to make
acquaintance with thine uncle; kind in Sister Barclay to spare thee!'
Lois had to tell him that there was no one living to miss her at
home in England; that in fact she had no home in England, no father nor
mother left upon earth; and that she had been bidden by her mother's
last words to seek him out, and ask him for a home. Her words came up,
half choked from a heavy heart, and his dulled wits could not take
their meaning in without several repetitions; and then he cried like a
child, rather at his own loss of a sister, whom he had not seen for
more than twenty years, than at that of the orphan's standing before
him, trying hard not to cry, but to start bravely in this new strange
home. What most of all helped Lois in her self-restraint was her aunt's
unsympathetic look. Born and bred in New England, Grace Hickson had a
kind of jealous dislike to her husband's English relations, which had
increased since of late years his weakened mind yearned after them, and
he forgot the good reason he had had for his self-exile, and moaned
over the decision which had led to it as the great mistake of his life.
'Come,' said she, 'it strikes me that, in all this sorrow for the loss
of one who died full of years, ye are forgetting in Whose hands life
and death are!'
True words, but ill-spoken at that time. Lois looked up at her with
a scarcely disguised indignation; which increased as she heard the
contemptuous tone in which her aunt went on talking to Ralph Hickson,
even while she was arranging his bed with a regard to his greater
'One would think thou wert a godless man, by the moan thou art
always making over spilt milk; and truth is, thou art but childish in
thine old age. When we were wed, thou left all things to the Lord; I
would never have married thee else. Nay, lass,' said she, catching the
expression on Lois's face, 'thou art never going to browbeat me with
thine angry looks. I do my duty as I read it, and there is never a man
in Salem that dare speak a word to Grace Hickson about either her works
or her faith. Godly Mr. Cotton Mather hath said, that even he might
learn of me; and I would advise thee rather to humble thyself, and see
if the Lord may not convert thee from thy ways, since he has sent thee
to dwell, as it were, in Zion, where the precious dew falls daily on
Lois felt ashamed and sorry to find that her aunt had so truly
interpreted the momentary expression of her features; she blamed
herself a little for the feeling that had caused that expression,
trying to think how much her aunt might have been troubled with
something before the unexpected irruption of the strangers, and again
hoping that the remembrance of this little misunderstanding would soon
pass away. So she endeavoured to reassure herself, and not to give way
to her uncle's tender trembling pressure of her hand, as, at her aunt's
bidding, she wished him good night, and returned into the outer, or
'keeping'-room, where all the family were now assembled, ready for the
meal of flour cakes and venison-steaks which Nattee, the Indian
servant, was bringing in from the kitchen. No one seemed to have been
speaking to Captain Holdernesse while Lois had been away. Manasseh sat
quiet and silent where he did, with the book open upon his knee, his
eyes thoughtfully fixed on vacancy, as if he saw a vision, or dreamed
dreams. Faith stood by the table, lazily directing Nattee in her
preparations; and Prudence lolled against the door-frame, between
kitchen and keeping-room, playing tricks on the old Indian woman as she
passed backwards and forwards, till Nattee appeared to be in a strong
state of expressed irritation, which he tried in vain to repress, as
whenever she showed any sign of it, Prudence only seemed excited to
greater mischief. When all was ready, Manasseh lifted his right hand,
and 'asked a blessing,' as it was termed; but the grace became a long
prayer for abstract spiritual blessings, for strength to combat Satan,
and to quench his fiery darts, and at length assumed, so Lois thought,
a purely personal character, as if the young man had forgotten the
occasion, and even the people present, but was searching into the
nature of the diseases that beset his own sick soul, and spreading them
out before the Lord. He was brought back by a pluck at the coat from
Prudence; he opened his shut eyes, cast an angry glance at the child,
who made a face at him for sole reply, and then he sat down, and they
all fell to. Grace Hickson would have thought her hospitality sadly at
fault, if she had allowed Captain Holdernesse to go out in search of a
bed. Skins were spread for him on the floor of the keeping-room; a
Bible, and a square bottle of spirits were placed on the table, to
supply his wants during the night; and in spite of all the cares and
troubles, temptations, or sins of the members of that household, they
were all asleep before the town clock struck ten.
In the morning, the captain's first care was to go out in search of
the boy Elias, and the missing letter. He met him bringing it with an
easy conscience, for, thought Elias, a few hours sooner or later will
make no difference; to-night or the morrow morning will be all the
same. But he was startled into a sense of wrong-doing by a sound box on
the ear, from the very man who had charged him to deliver it speedily,
and whom he believed to be at that very moment in Boston city.
The letter delivered, all possible proof being given that Lois had a
right to claim a home from her nearest relations, Captain Holdernesse
thought it best to take leave.
'Thou'lt take to them, lass, maybe, when there is no one here to
make thee think on the old country. Nay, nay! parting is hard work at
all times, and best get hard work done out of hand. Keep up thine
heart, my wench, and I'll come back and see thee next spring, if we are
all spared till then; and who knows what fine young miller mayn't come
with me? Don't go and get wed to a praying Puritan, meanwhile. There,
thereI'm off! God bless thee!'
And Lois was left alone in New England.
It was hard up-hill work for Lois to win herself a place in this
family. Her aunt was a woman of narrow, strong affections. Her love for
her husband, if ever she had any, was burnt out and dead long ago. What
she did for him she did from duty; but duty was not strong enough to
restrain that little member the tongue; and Lois's heart often bled at
the continual flow of contemptuous reproof which Grace constantly
addressed to her husband, even while she was sparing no pains or
trouble to minister to his bodily ease and comfort. It was more as a
relief to herself that she spoke in this way, than with any desire that
her speeches should affect him; and he was too deadened by illness to
feel hurt by them; or, it may be, the constant repetition of her
sarcasms had made him indifferent; at any rate, so that he had his food
and his state of bodily warmth attended to, he very seldom seemed to
care much for anything else. Even his first flow of affection towards
Lois was soon exhausted; he cared for her because she arranged his
pillows well and skilfully, and because she could prepare new and
dainty kinds of food for his sick appetite, but no longer for her as
his dead sister's child. Still he did care for her, and Lois was too
glad of this little hoard of affection to examine how or why it was
given. To him she could give pleasure, but apparently to no one else in
that household. Her aunt looked askance at her for many reasons: the
first coming of Lois to Salem was inopportune, the expression of
disapprobation on her face on that evening still lingered and rankled
in Grace's memory, early prejudices, and feelings, and prepossessions
of the English girl were all on the side of what would now be called
Church and State, what was then esteemed in that country a
superstitious observance of the directions of a Popish rubric, and a
servile regard for the family of an oppressing and irreligious king.
Nor is it to be supposed that Lois did not feel, and feel acutely, the
want of sympathy that all those with whom she was now living manifested
towards the old hereditary loyalty (religious as well as political
loyalty) in which she had been brought up. With her aunt and Manasseh
it was more than want of sympathy; it was positive, active antipathy to
all the ideas Lois held most dear. The very allusion, however
incidentally made, to the little old grey church at Barford, where her
father had preached so long,the occasional reference to the troubles
in which her own country had been distracted when she left,and the
adherence, in which she had been brought up, to the notion that the
king could do no wrong, seemed to irritate Manasseh past endurance. He
would get up from his reading, his constant employment when at home,
and walk angrily about the room after Lois had said anything of this
kind, muttering to himself; and once he had even stopped before her,
and in a passionate tone bade her not talk so like a fool. Now this was
very different to his mother's sarcastic, contemptuous way of treating
all poor Lois's little loyal speeches. Grace would lead her onat
least she did at first, till experience made Lois wiserto express her
thoughts on such subjects, till, just when the girl's heart was
opening, her aunt would turn round upon her with some bitter sneer that
roused all the evil feelings in Lois's disposition by its sting. Now
Manasseh seemed, through all his anger, to be so really grieved by what
he considered her error, that he went much nearer to convincing her
that there might be two sides to a question. Only this was a view, that
it appeared like treachery to her dead father's memory to entertain.
Somehow, Lois felt instinctively that Manasseh was really friendly
towards her. He was little in the house; there was farming, and some
kind of mercantile business to be transacted by him, as real head of
the house; and as the season drew on, he went shooting and hunting in
the surrounding forests, with a daring which caused his mother to warn
and reprove him in private, although to the neighbours she boasted
largely of her son's courage and disregard of danger. Lois did not
often walk out for the mere sake of walking, there was generally some
household errand to be transacted when any of the women of the family
went abroad; but once or twice she had caught glimpses of the dreary,
dark wood, hemming in the cleared land on all sides,the great wood
with its perpetual movement of branch and bough, and its solemn wail,
that came into the very streets of Salem when certain winds blew,
bearing the sound of the pine-trees clear upon the ears that had
leisure to listen. And from all accounts, this old forest, girdling
round the settlement, was full of dreaded and mysterious beasts, and
still more to be dreaded Indians, stealing in and out among the
shadows, intent on bloody schemes against the Christian people;
panther-streaked, shaven Indians, in league by their own confession, as
well as by the popular belief, with evil powers.
Nattee, the old Indian servant, would occasionally make Lois's blood
run cold as she and Faith and Prudence listened to the wild stories she
told them of the wizards of her race. It was often in the kitchen, in
the darkening evening, while some cooking process was going on, that
the old Indian crone, sitting on her haunches by the bright red wood
embers which sent up no flame, but a lurid light reversing the shadows
of all the faces around, told her weird stories while they were
awaiting the rising of the dough, perchance, out of which the household
bread had to be made. There ran through these stories always a ghastly,
unexpressed suggestion of some human sacrifice being needed to complete
the success of any incantation to the Evil One; and the poor old
creature, herself believing and shuddering as she narrated her tale in
broken English, took a strange, unconscious pleasure in her power over
her hearersyoung girls of the oppressing race, which had brought her
down into a state little differing from slavery, and reduced her people
to outcasts on the hunting-grounds which had belonged to her fathers.
After such tales, it required no small effort on Lois's part to go out,
at her aunt's command, into the common pasture round the town, and
bring the cattle home at night. Who knew but what the double-headed
snake might start up from each blackberry-bushthat wicked, cunning,
accursed creature in the service of the Indian wizards, that had such
power over all those white maidens who met the eyes placed at either
end of his long, sinuous, creeping body, so that loathe him, loathe the
Indian race as they would, off they must go into the forest to seek but
some Indian man, and must beg to be taken into his wigwam, abjuring
faith and race for ever? Or there were spellsso Nattee saidhidden
about the ground by the wizards, which changed that person's nature who
found them; so that, gentle and loving as they might have been before,
thereafter they took no pleasure but in the cruel torments of others,
and had a strange power given to them of causing such torments at their
will. Once Nattee, speaking low to Lois, who was alone with her in the
kitchen, whispered out her terrified belief that such a spell had
Prudence found; and when the Indian showed her arms to Lois, all
pinched and black and blue by the impish child, the English girl began
to be afraid of her cousin as of one possessed. But it was not Nattee
alone, nor young imaginative girls alone, that believed in these
stories. We can afford to smile at them now; but our English ancestors
entertained superstitions of much the same character at the same
period, and with less excuse, as the circumstances surrounding them
were better known, and consequently more explicable by common sense
than the real mysteries of the deep, untrodden forests of New England.
The gravest divines not only believed stories similar to that of the
double-headed serpent, and other tales of witchcraft, but they made
such narrations the subjects of preaching and prayer; and as cowardice
makes us all cruel, men who were blameless in many of the relations of
life, and even praiseworthy in some, became, from superstition, cruel
persecutors about this time, showing no mercy towards any one whom they
believed to be in league with the Evil One.
Faith was the person with whom the English girl was the most
intimately associated in her uncle's house. The two were about the same
age, and certain household employments were shared between them. They
took it in turns to call in the cows, to make up the butter which had
been churned by Hosea, a stiff old out-door servant, in whom Grace
Hickson placed great confidence; and each lassie had her great
spinning-wheel for wool, and her lesser for flax, before a month had
elapsed after Lois's coming. Faith was a grave, silent person, never
merry, sometimes very sad, though Lois was a long time in even guessing
why. She would try in her sweet, simple fashion to cheer her cousin up,
when the latter was depressed, by telling her old stories of English
ways and life. Occasionally, Faith seemed to care to listen,
occasionally she did not heed one word, but dreamed on. Whether of the
past or of the future, who could tell?
Stern old ministers came in to pay their pastoral visits. On such
occasions, Grace Hickson would put on clean apron and clean cap, and
make them more welcome than she was ever seen to do nay one else,
bringing out the best provisions of her store, and setting of all
before them. Also, the great Bible was brought forth, and Hosea and
Nattee summoned from their work to listen while the minister read a
chapter, and, as he read, expounded it at considerable length. After
this all knelt, while he, standing, lifted up his right hand, and
prayed for all possible combinations of Christian men, for all possible
cases of spiritual need; and lastly, taking the individuals before him,
he would put up a very personal supplication for each, according to his
notion of their wants. At first Lois wondered at the aptitude of one or
two prayers of this description to the outward circumstances of each
case; but when she perceived that her aunt had usually a pretty long
confidential conversation with the minister in the early part of his
visit, she became aware that he received both his impressions and his
knowledge through the medium of 'that godly woman, Grace Hickson;' and
I am afraid she paid less regard to the prayer 'for the maiden from
another land, who hath brought the errors of that land as a seed with
her, even across the great ocean, and who is letting even now the
little seeds shoot up into an evil tree, in which all unclean creatures
may find shelter.'
'I like the prayers of our Church better,' said Lois, one day to
Faith. 'No clergyman in England can pray his own words, and therefore
it is that he cannot judge of others so as to fit his prayers to what
he esteems to be their case, as Mr. Tappau did this morning.'
'I hate Mr. Tappau!' said Faith, shortly, a passionate flash of
light coming out of her dark, heavy eyes.
'Why so cousin? It seems to me as if he were a good man, although I
like not his prayers.'
Faith only repeated her words, 'I hate him.'
Lois was sorry for this strong bad feeling; instinctively sorry, for
she was loving herself, delighted in being loved, and felt a jar run
through her at every sign of want of love in others. But she did not
know what to say, and was silent at the time. Faith, too, went on
turning her wheel with vehemence, but spoke never a word until her
thread snapped, and then she pushed the wheel away hastily and left the
Then Prudence crept softly up to Lois's side. This strange child
seemed to be tossed about by varying moods: to-day she was caressing
and communicative, to-morrow she might be deceitful, mocking, and so
indifferent to the pain or sorrows of others that you could call her
'So thou dost not like Pastor Tappau's prayers?' she whispered.
Lois was sorry to have been overheard, but she neither would nor
could take back her words.
'I like them not so well as the prayers I used to hear at home.'
'Mother says thy home was with the ungodly. Nay, don't look at me
soit was not I that said it. I'm none so fond of praying myself, nor
of Pastor Tappau for that matter. But Faith cannot abide him, and I
know why. Shall I tell thee, cousin Lois?'
'No! Faith did not tell me, and she was the right person to give her
'Ask her where young Mr. Nolan is gone to, and thou wilt hear. I
have seen Faith cry by the hour together about Mr. Nolan.'
'Hush, child, hush!' said Lois, for she heard Faith's approaching
step, and feared lest she should overhear what they were saying.
The truth was that, a year or two before, there had been a great
struggle in Salem village, a great division in the religious body, and
Pastor Tappau had been the leader of the more violent, and, ultimately,
the successful party. In consequence of this, the less popular
minister, Mr. Nolan, had had to leave the place. And him Faith Hickson
loved with all the strength of her passionate heart, although he never
was aware of the attachment he had excited, and her own family were too
regardless of manifestations of mere feeling to ever observe the signs
of any emotion on her part. But the old Indian servant Nattee saw and
observed them all. She knew, as well as if she had been told the
reason, why Faith had lost all care about father or mother, brother and
sister, about household work and daily occupation, nay, about the
observances of religion as well. Nattee read the meaning of the deep
smouldering of Faith's dislike to Pastor Tappau aright; the Indian
woman understood why the girl (whom alone of all the white people she
loved) avoided the old minister,would hide in the wood-stack sooner
than be called in to listen to his exhortations and prayers. With
savage, untutored people, it is not 'Love me, love my dog,' they are
often jealous of the creature beloved; but it is, 'Whom thou hatest I
will hate;' and Nattee's feeling towards Pastor Tappau was even an
exaggeration of the mute unspoken hatred of Faith.
For a long time, the cause of her cousin's dislike and avoidance of
the minister was a mystery to Lois; but the name of Nolan remained in
her memory whether she would or no, and it was more from girlish
interest in a suspected love affair, than from any indifferent and
heartless curiosity, that she could not help piecing together little
speeches and actions, with Faith's interest in the absent banished
minister, for an explanatory clue, till not a doubt remained in her
mind. And this without any further communication with Prudence, for
Lois declined hearing any more on the subject from her, and so gave
Faith grew sadder and duller as the autumn drew on. She lost her
appetite, her brown complexion became sallow and colourless, her dark
eyes looked hollow and wild. The first of November was near at hand.
Lois, in her instinctive, well-intentioned efforts to bring some life
and cheerfulness into the monotonous household, had been telling Faith
of many English customs, silly enough, no doubt, and which scarcely
lighted up a flicker of interest in the American girl's mind. The
cousins were lying awake in their bed in the great unplastered room,
which was in part store-room, in part bedroom. Lois was full of
sympathy for Faith that night. For long she had listened to her
cousin's heavy, irrepressible sighs, in silence. Faith sighed because
her grief was of too old a date for violent emotion or crying. Lois
listened without speaking in the dark, quiet night hours, for a long,
long time. She kept quite still, because she thought such vent for
sorrow might relieve her cousin's weary heart. But when at length,
instead of lying motionless, Faith seemed to be growing restless even
to convulsive motions of her limbs, Lois began to speak, to talk about
England, and the dear old ways at home, without exciting much attention
on Faith's part, until at length she fell upon the subject of
Hallow-e'en, and told about customs then and long afterwards practised
in England, and that have scarcely yet died out in Scotland. As she
told of tricks she had often played, of the apple eaten facing a
mirror, of the dripping sheet, of the basins of water, of the nuts
burning side by side, and many other such innocent ways of divination,
by which laughing, trembling English maidens sought to see the form of
their future husbands, if husbands they were to have, then Faith
listened breathlessly, asking short, eager questions, as if some ray of
hope had entered into her gloomy heart. Lois went on speaking, telling
her of all the stories that would confirm the truth of the second sight
vouchsafed to all seekers in the accustomed methods, half believing,
half incredulous herself, but desiring, above all things, to cheer up
Suddenly, Prudence rose up from her truckle-bed in the dim corner of
the room. They had not thought that she was awake, but she had been
'Cousin Lois may go out and meet Satan by the brook-side if she
will, but if thou goest, Faith, I will tell motheray, and I will tell
Pastor Tappau, too. Hold thy stories, Cousin Lois, I am afeard of my
very life. I would rather never be wed at all, than feel the touch of
the creature that would take the apple out of my hand, as I held it
over my left shoulder.' The excited girl gave a loud scream of terror
at the image her fancy had conjured up. Faith and Lois sprang out
towards her, flying across the moonlit room in their white nightgowns.
At the same instant, summoned by the same cry, Grace Hickson came to
'Hush! hush!' said Faith, authoritatively.
'What is it, my wench?' asked Grace. While Lois, feeling as if she
had done all the mischief, kept silence.
'Take her away, take her away!' screamed Prudence. 'Look over her
shoulderher left shoulderthe Evil One is there now, I see him
stretching over for the half-bitten apple.'
'What is this she says?' said Grace, austerely.
'She is dreaming,' said Faith; 'Prudence, hold thy tongue.' And she
pinched the child severely, while Lois more tenderly tried to soothe
the alarms she felt that she had conjured up.
'Be quiet, Prudence,' said she, 'and go to sleep. I will stay by
thee till thou hast gone off into slumber.'
'No, go! go away,' sobbed Prudence, who was really terrified at
first, but was now assuming more alarm: than she felt, if from the
pleasure she received at perceiving herself the centre of attention.
'Faith shall stay by me, not you, wicked English witch!'
So Faith sat by her sister; and Grace, displeased and perplexed,
withdrew to her own bed, purposing to inquire more into the matter in
the morning. Lois only hoped it might all be forgotten by that time,
and resolved never to talk again of such things. But an event happened
in the remaining hours of the night to change the current of affairs.
While Grace had been absent from her room, her husband had had another
paralytic stroke: whether he, too, had been alarmed by that eldritch
scream no one could ever know. By the faint light of the rush candle
burning at the bedside, his wife perceived that a great change had
taken place in his aspect on her return: the irregular breathing came
almost like snortsthe end was drawing near. The family were roused,
and all help given that either the doctor or experience could suggest.
But before the late November morning light, all was ended for Ralph
The whole of the ensuing day, they sat or moved in darkened rooms,
and spoke few words, and those below their breath. Manasseh kept at
home, regretting his father, no doubt, but showing little emotion.
Faith was the child that bewailed her loss most grievously; she had a
warm heart, hidden away somewhere under her moody exterior, and her
father had shown her far more passive kindness than ever her mother had
done, for Grace made distinct favourites of Manasseh, her only son, and
Prudence, her youngest child. Lois was about as unhappy as any of them,
for she had felt strongly drawn towards her uncle as her kindest
friend, and the sense of his loss renewed the old sorrow she had
experienced at her own parents' death. But she had no time and no place
to cry in. On her devolved many of the cares, which it would have
seemed indecorous in the nearer relatives to interest themselves in
enough to take an active part: the change required in their dress, the
household preparations for the sad feast of the funeralLois had to
arrange all under her aunt's stern direction.
But a day or two afterwardsthe last day before the funeralshe
went into the yard to fetch in some fagots for the oven; it was a
solemn, beautiful, starlit evening, and some sudden sense of desolation
in the midst of the vast universe thus revealed touched Lois's heart,
and she sat down behind the woodstack, and cried very plentiful tears.
She was startled by Manasseh, who suddenly turned the corner of the
stack, and stood before her.
'Only a little,' she said, rising up, and gathering her bundle of
fagots, for she dreaded being questioned by her grim, impassive cousin.
To her surprise, he laid his hand on her arm, and said:
'Stop one minute. Why art thou crying, cousin?'
'I don't know,' she said, just like a child questioned in like
manner; and she was again on the point of weeping.
'My father was very kind to thee, Lois; I do not wonder that thou
grievest after him. But the Lord who taketh away can restore tenfold. I
will be as kind as my fatheryea, kinder. This is not a time to talk
of marriage and giving in marriage. But after we have buried our dead,
I wish to speak to thee.'
Lois did not cry now, but she shrank with affright. What did her
cousin mean? She would far rather that he had been angry with her for
unreasonable grieving, for folly.
She avoided him carefullyas carefully as she could, without
seeming to dread himfor the next few days. Sometimes she thought it
must have been a bad dream; for if there had been no English lover in
the case, no other man in the whole world, she could never have thought
of Manasseh as her husband; indeed, till now, there had been nothing in
his words or actions to suggest such an idea. Now it had been
suggested, there was no telling how much she loathed him. He might be
good, and pioushe doubtless wasbut his dark fixed eyes, moving so
slowly and heavily, his lank black hair, his grey coarse skin, all made
her dislike him nowall his personal ugliness and ungainliness struck
on her senses with a jar, since those few words spoken behind the
She knew that sooner or later the time must come for further
discussion of this subject; but, like a coward, she tried to put it
off, by clinging to her aunt's apron-string, for she was sure that
Grace Hickson had far different views for her only son. As, indeed, she
had, for she was an ambitious, as well as a religious woman; and by an
early purchase of land in Salem village, the Hicksons had become
wealthy people, without any great exertions of their own; partly, also,
by the silent process of accumulation, for they had never cared to
change their manner of living from the time when it had been suitable
to a far smaller income than that which they at present enjoyed. So
much for worldly circumstances. As for their worldly character, it
stood as high. No one could say a word against any of their habits or
actions. The righteousness and godliness were patent to every one's
eyes. So Grace Hickson thought herself entitled to pick and choose
among the maidens, before she should meet with one fitted to be
Manasseh's wife. None in Salem came up to her imaginary standard. She
had it in her mind even at this very timeso soon after her husband's
deathto go to Boston, and take counsel with the leading ministers
there, with worthy Mr. Cotton Mather at their head, and see if they
could tell her of a well-favoured and godly young maiden in their
congregations worthy of being the wife of her son. But, besides good
looks and godliness, the wench must have good birth, and good wealth,
or Grace Hickson would have put her contemptuously on one side. When
once this paragon was found, the ministers had approved, Grace
anticipated no difficulty on her son's part. So Lois was right in
feeling that her aunt would dislike any speech of marriage between
Manasseh and herself.
But the girl was brought to bay one day in this wise. Manasseh had
ridden forth on some business, which every one said would occupy him
the whole day; but, meeting the man with whom he had to transact his
affairs, he returned earlier than any one expected. He missed Lois from
the keeping-room where his sisters were spinning, almost immediately.
His mother sat by at her knittinghe could see Nattee in the kitchen
through the open door. He was too reserved to ask where Lois was, but
he quietly sought till he found herin the great loft, already piled
with winter stores of fruit and vegetables. Her aunt had sent her there
to examine the apples one by one, and pick out such as were unsound,
for immediate use. She was stooping down, and intent upon this work,
and was hardly aware of his approach, until she lifted up her head and
saw him standing close before her. She dropped the apple she was
holding, went a little paler than her wont, and faced him in silence.
'Lois,' he said, 'thou rememberest the words that I spoke while we
yet mourned over my father. I think that I am called to marriage now,
as the head of this household. And I have seen no maiden so pleasant in
my sight as thou art, Lois!' He tried to take her hand. But she put it
behind her with a childish shake of her head, and, half-crying, said:
'Please, Cousin Manasseh, do not say this to me. I dare say you
ought to be married, being the head of the household now; but I don't
want to be married. I would rather not.'
'That is well spoken,' replied he, frowning a little, nevertheless.
'I should not like to take to wife an over-forward maiden, ready to
jump at wedlock. Besides, the congregation might talk, if we were to be
married too soon after my father's death. We have, perchance, said
enough, even now. But I wished thee to have thy mind set at ease as to
thy future well-doing. Thou wilt have leisure to think of it, and to
bring thy mind more fully round to it.' Again he held out his hand.
This time she took hold of it with a free, frank gesture.
'I owe you somewhat for your kindness to me ever since I came,
Cousin Manasseh; and I have no way of paying you but by telling you
truly I can love you as a dear friend, if you will let me, but never as
He flung her hand away, but did not take his eyes off her face,
though his glance was lowering and gloomy. He muttered something which
she did not quite hear, and so she went on bravely although she kept
trembling a little, and had much ado to keep from crying.
'Please let me tell you all. There was a young man in Barfordnay,
Manasseh, I cannot speak if you are so angry; it is hard work to tell
you any howhe said that he wanted to marry me; but I was poor, and
his father would have none of it, and I do not want to marry any one;
but if I did, it would be' Her voice dropped, and her blushes told
the rest. Manasseh stood looking at her with sullen, hollow eyes, that
had a glittering touch of wilderness in them, and then he said:
'It is borne in upon meverily I see it as in a visionthat thou
must be my spouse, and no other man's. Thou canst not escape what is
foredoomed. Months ago, when I set myself to read the old godly books
in which my soul used to delight until thy coming, I saw no letters of
printers' ink marked on the page, but I saw a gold and ruddy type of
some unknown language, the meaning whereof was whispered into my soul;
it was, Marry Lois! marry Lois! And when my father died, I knew it
was the beginning of the end. It is the Lord's will, Lois, and thou
canst not escape from it.' And again he would have taken her hand and
drawn her towards him. But this time she eluded him with ready
'I do not acknowledge it be the Lord's will, Manasseh,' said she.
'It is not borne in upon me, as you Puritans call it, that I am to be
your wife. I am none so set upon wedlock as to take you, even though
there be no other chance for me. For I do not care for you as I ought
to care for my husband. But I could have cared for you very much as a
cousinas a kind cousin.'
She stopped speaking; she could not choose the right words with
which to speak to him of her gratitude and friendliness, which yet
could never be any feeling nearer and dearer, no more than two parallel
lines can ever meet.
But he was so convinced, by what he considered the spirit of
prophecy, that Lois was to be his wife, that he felt rather more
indignant at what he considered to be her resistance to the preordained
decree, than really anxious as to the result. Again he tried to
convince her that neither he nor she had any choice in the matter, by
'The voice said unto me Marry Lois, and I said, I will, Lord.'
'But,' Lois replied, 'the voice, as you call it, has never spoken
such a word to me.'
'Lois,' he answered, solemnly, 'it will speak. And then wilt thou
obey, even as Samuel did?'
'No, indeed I cannot!' she answered, briskly. 'I may take a dream to
be truth, and hear my own fancies, if I think about them too long. But
I cannot marry any one from obedience.'
'Lois, Lois, thou art as yet unregenerate; but I have seen thee in a
vision as one of the elect, robed in white. As yet thy faith is too
weak for thee to obey meekly, but it shall not always be so. I will
pray that thou mayest see thy preordained course. Meanwhile, I will
smooth away all worldly obstacles.'
'Cousin Manasseh! Cousin Manasseh!' cried Lois after him, as he was
leaving the room, 'come back. I cannot put it in strong enough words.
Manasseh, there is no power in heaven or earth that can make me love
thee enough to marry thee, or to wed thee without such love. And this I
say solemnly, because it is better that this should end at once.'
For a moment he was staggered; then he lifted up his hands, and
'God forgive thee thy blasphemy! Remember Hazael, who said, Is thy
servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? and went straight
and did it, because his evil courses were fixed and appointed for him
from before the foundation of the world. And shall not thy paths be
laid out among the godly as it hath been foretold to me?'
He went away; and for a minute or two Lois felt as if his words must
come true, and that, struggle as she would, hate her doom as she would,
she must become his wife; and, under the circumstances, many a girl
would have succumbed to her apparent fate. Isolated from all previous
connections, hearing no word from England, living in the heavy,
monotonous routine of a family with one man for head, and this man
esteemed a hero by most of those around him, simply because he was the
only man in the family,these facts alone would have formed strong
presumptions that most girls would have yielded to the offers of such a
one. But, besides this, there was much to tell upon the imagination in
those days, in that place, and time. It was prevalently believed that
there were manifestations of spiritual influenceof the direct
influence both of good and bad spiritsconstantly to be perceived in
the course of men's lives. Lots were drawn, as guidance from the Lord;
the Bible was opened, and the leaves allowed to fall apart, and the
first text the eye fell upon was supposed to be appointed from above a
direction. Sounds were heard that could not be accounted for; they were
made by the evil spirits not yet banished from the desert places of
which they had so long held possession. Sights, inexplicable and
mysterious, were dimly seenSatan, in some shape, seeking whom he
might devour. And at the beginning of the long winter season, such
whispered tales, such old temptations and hauntings, and devilish
terrors, were supposed to be peculiarly rife. Salem was, as it were,
snowed up, and left to prey upon itself. The long, dark evenings, the
dimly-lighted rooms, the creaking passages, where heterogeneous
articles were piled away out of reach of the keen-piercing frost, and
where occasionally, in the dead of night, a sound was heard, as of some
heavy falling body, when, next morning, everything appeared to be in
its right placeso accustomed are we to measure noises by comparison
with themselves, and not with the absolute stillness of the
night-seasonthe white mist, coming nearer and nearer to the windows
every evening in strange shapes, like phantoms,all these, and many
other circumstances, such as the distant fall of mighty trees in the
mysterious forests girdling them round, the faint whoop and cry of some
Indian seeking his camp, and unwittingly nearer to the white men's
settlement than either he or they would have liked could they have
chosen, the hungry yells of the wild beasts approaching the
cattle-pens,these were the things which made that winter life in
Salem, in the memorable time of 1691-2, seem strange, and haunted, and
terrific to many: peculiarly weird and awful to the English girl in her
first year's sojourn in America.
And now imagine Lois worked upon perpetually by Manasseh's
conviction that it was decreed that she should be his wife, and you
will see that she was not without courage and spirit to resist as she
did, steadily, firmly, and yet sweetly. Take one instance out of many,
when her nerves were subjected to a shock, slight in relation it is
true, but then remember that she had been all day, and for many days,
shut up within doors, in a dull light, that at mid-day was almost dark
with a long-continued snow-storm. Evening was coming on, and the wood
fire was more cheerful than any of the human beings surrounding it; the
monotonous whirr of the smaller spinning-wheels had been going on all
day, and the store of flax down stairs was nearly exhausted, when Grace
Hickson bade Lois fetch down some more from the store-room, before the
light so entirely waned away that it could not be found without a
candle, and a candle it would be dangerous to carry into that apartment
full of combustible materials, especially at this time of hard frost,
when every drop of water was locked up and bound in icy hardness. So
Lois went, half-shrinking from the long passage that led to the stairs
leading up into the storeroom, for it was in this passage that the
strange night sounds were heard, which every one had begun to notice,
and speak about in lowered tones. She sang, however, as she went, 'to
keep her courage up'sang, however, in a subdued voice, the evening
hymn she had so often sung in Barford church:
'Glory to Thee, my God, this night'
and so it was, I suppose, that she never heard the breathing or
motion of any creature near her till, just as she was loading herself
with flax to carry down, she heard some oneit was Manassehsay close
to her ear:
'Has the voice spoken yet? Speak, Lois! Has the voice spoken yet to
theethat speaketh to me day and night, Marry Lois?'
She started and turned a little sick, but spoke almost directly in a
brave, clear manner:
'No! Cousin Manasseh. And it never will.'
'Then I must wait yet longer,' he replied, hoarsely, as if to
himself. 'But all submissionall submission.'
At last a break came upon the monotony of the long, dark winter. The
parishioners once more raised the discussion whetherthe parish
extending as it didit was not absolutely necessary for Pastor Tappau
to have help. This question had been mooted once before; and then
Pastor Tappau had acquiesced in the necessity, and all had gone on
smoothly for some months after the appointment of his assistant, until
a feeling had sprung up on the part of the elder minister, which might
have been called jealousy of the younger, if so godly a man as Pastor
Tappau could have been supposed to entertain so evil a passion. However
that might be, two parties were speedily formed, the younger and more
ardent being in favour of Mr. Nolan, the elder and more
persistentand, at the time, the more numerousclinging to the old
grey-headed, dogmatic Mr. Tappau, who had married them, baptized their
children, and was to them literally as a 'pillar of the church.' So Mr.
Nolan left Salem, carrying away with him, possibly, more hearts than
that of Faith Hickson's; but certainly she had never been the same
But nowChristmas, 1691one or two of the older members of the
congregation being dead, and some who were younger men having come to
settle in SalemMr. Tappau being also older, and, some charitably
supposed, wisera fresh effort had been made, and Mr. Nolan was
returning to labour in ground apparently smoothed over. Lois had taken
a keen interest in all the proceedings for Faith's sake,far more than
the latter did for herself, any spectator would have said. Faith's
wheel never went faster or slower, her thread never broke, her colour
never came, her eyes were never uplifted with sudden interest, all the
time these discussions respecting Mr. Nolan's return were going on. But
Lois, after the hint given by Prudence, had found a clue to many a sigh
and look of despairing sorrow, even without the help of Nattee's
improvised songs, in which, under strange allegories, the helpless love
of her favourite was told to ears heedless of all meaning, except those
of the tender-hearted and sympathetic Lois. Occasionally, she heard a
strange chant of the old Indian woman'shalf in her own language, half
in broken Englishdroned over some simmering pipkin, from which the
smell was, to say the least, unearthly. Once, on perceiving this odour
in the keeping-room, Grace Hickson suddenly exclaimed:
'Nattee is at her heathen ways again; we shall have some mischief
unless she is stayed.'
But Faith, moving quicker than ordinary, said something about
putting a stop to it, and so forestalled her mother's evident intention
of going into the kitchen. Faith shut the door between the two rooms,
and entered upon some remonstrance with Nattee; but no one could hear
the words used. Faith and Nattee seemed more bound together by love and
common interest, than any other two among the self-contained
individuals comprising this household. Lois sometimes felt as if her
presence as a third interrupted some confidential talk between her
cousin and the old servant. And yet she was fond of Faith, and could
almost think that Faith liked her more than she did either mother,
brother, or sister; for the first two were indifferent as to any
unspoken feelings, while Prudence delighted in discovering them only to
make an amusement to herself out of them.
One day Lois was sitting by herself at her sewing table, while Faith
and Nattee were holding one of the secret conclaves from which Lois
felt herself to be tacitly excluded, when the outer door opened, and a
tall, pale young man, in the strict professional habit of a minister,
entered. Lois sprang up with a smile and a look of welcome for Faith's
sake, for this must be the Mr. Nolan whose name had been on the tongue
of every one for days, and who was, as Lois knew, expected to arrive
the day before.
He seemed half surprised at the glad alacrity with which he was
received by this stranger: possibly he had not heard of the English
girl, who was an inmate in the house where formerly he had seen only
grave, solemn, rigid, or heavy faces, and had been received with a
stiff form of welcome, very different from the blushing, smiling,
dimpled looks that innocently met him with the greeting almost of an
old acquaintance. Lois having placed a chair for him, hastened out to
call Faith, never doubting but that the feeling which her cousin
entertained for the young pastor was mutual, although it might be
unrecognised in its full depth by either.
'Faith!' said she, bright and breathless. 'Guessno,' checking
herself to an assumed unconsciousness of any particular importance
likely to be affixed to her words, 'Mr. Nolan, the new pastor, is in
the keeping-room. He has asked for my aunt and Manasseh. My aunt is
gone to the prayer meeting at Pastor Tappau's, and Manasseh is away.'
Lois went on speaking to give Faith time, for the girl had become
deadly white at the intelligence, while, at the same time, her eyes met
the keen, cunning eyes of the old Indian with a peculiar look of
half-wondering awe, while Nattee's looks expressed triumphant
'Go,' said Lois, smoothing Faith's hair, and kissing the white, cold
cheek, 'or he will wonder why no one comes to see him, and perhaps
think he is not welcome.' Faith went without another word into the
keeping-room, and shut the door of communication. Nattee and Lois were
left together. Lois felt as happy as if some piece of good fortune had
befallen herself. For the time, her growing dread of Manasseh's wild,
ominous persistence in his suit, her aunt's coldness, her own
loneliness, were all forgotten, and she could almost have danced with
joy. Nattee laughed aloud, and talked and chuckled to herself: 'Old
Indian woman great mystery. Old Indian woman sent hither and thither;
go where she is told, where she hears with her ears. But old Indian
woman'and here she drew herself up, and the expression of her face
quite changed'know how to call, and then white man must come; and old
Indian have spoken never a word, and white man have hear nothing with
his ears.' So, the old crone muttered.
All this time, things were going on very differently in the
keeping-room to what Lois imagined. Faith sat stiller even than usual;
her eyes downcast, her words few. A quick observer might have noticed a
certain tremulousness about her hands, and an occasional twitching
throughout all her frame. But Pastor Nolan was not a keen observer upon
this occasion; he was absorbed with his own little wonders and
perplexities. His wonder was that of a carnal manwho that pretty
stranger might be, who had seemed, on his first coming, so glad to see
him, but had vanished instantly, apparently not to reappear. And,
indeed, I am not sure if his perplexity was not that of a carnal man
rather than that of a godly minister, for this was his dilemma. It was
the custom of Salem (as we have already seen) for the minister, on
entering a household for the visit which, among other people and in
other times, would have been termed a 'morning call,' to put up a
prayer for the eternal welfare of the family under whose roof-tree he
was. Now this prayer was expected to be adapted to the individual
character, joys, sorrows, wants, and failings of every member present;
and here was he, a young pastor, alone with a young woman, and he
thoughtvain thoughts, perhaps, but still very naturalthat the
implied guesses at her character, involved in the minute supplications
above described, would be very awkward in a tête-à-tête prayer; so,
whether it was his wonder or his perplexity, I do not know, but he did
not contribute much to the conversation for some time, and at last, by
a sudden burst of courage and impromptu hit, he cut the Gordian knot by
making the usual proposal for prayer, and adding to it a request that
the household might be summoned. In came Lois, quiet and decorous; in
came Nattee, all one impassive, stiff piece of wood,no look of
intelligence or trace of giggling near her countenance. Solemnly
recalling each wandering thought, Pastor Nolan knelt in the midst of
these three to pray. He was a good and truly religious man, whose name
here is the only thing disguised, and played his part bravely in the
awful trial to which he was afterwards subjected; and if at the time,
before he went through his fiery persecutions, the human fancies which
beset all young hearts came across his, we at this day know that these
fancies are no sin. But now he prays in earnest, prays so heartily for
himself, with such a sense of his own spiritual need and spiritual
failings, that each one of his hearers feels as if a prayer and a
supplication had gone up for each of them. Even Nattee muttered the few
words she knew of the Lord's Prayer; gibberish though the disjointed
nouns and verbs might be, the poor creature said them because she was
stirred to unwonted reverence. As for Lois, she rose up comforted and
strengthened, as no special prayers of Pastor Tappau had ever made her
feel. But Faith was sobbing, sobbing aloud, almost hysterically, and
made no effort to rise, but lay on her outstretched arms spread out
upon the settle. Lois and Pastor Nolan looked at each other for an
instant. Then Lois said:
'Sir, you must go. My cousin has not been strong for some time, and
doubtless she needs more quiet than she has had to-day.'
Pastor Nolan bowed, and left the house; but in a moment he returned.
Half opening the door, but without entering, he said:
'I come back to ask, if perchance I may call this evening to inquire
how young Mistress Hickson finds herself?'
But Faith did not hear this; she was sobbing louder than ever.
'Why did you send him away, Lois? I should have been better
directly, and it is so long since I have seen him.'
She had her face hidden as she uttered these words, and Lois could
not hear them distinctly. She bent her head down by her cousin's on the
settle, meaning to ask her to repeat what she had said. But in the
irritation of the moment, and prompted possibly by some incipient
jealousy, Faith pushed Lois away so violently that the latter was hurt
against the hard, sharp corner of the wooden settle. Tears came into
her eyes; not so much because her cheek was bruised, as because of the
surprised pain she felt at this repulse from the cousin towards whom
she was feeling so warmly and kindly. Just for the moment, Lois was as
angry as any child could have been; but some of the words of Pastor
Nolan's prayer yet rang in her ears, and she thought it would be a
shame if she did not let them sink into her heart. She dared not,
however, stoop again to caress Faith, but stood quietly by her,
sorrowfully waiting, until a step at the outer door caused Faith to
rise quickly, and rush into the kitchen, leaving Lois to bear the brunt
of the new-comer. It was Manasseh, returned from hunting. He had been
two days away, in company with other young men belonging to Salem. It
was almost the only occupation which could draw him out of his secluded
habits. He stopped suddenly at the door on seeing Lois, and alone, for
she had avoided him of late in every possible way.
'Where is my mother?'
'At a prayer meeting at Pastor Tappau's. She has taken Prudence.
Faith has left the room this minute. I will call her.' And Lois was
going towards the kitchen, when he placed himself between her and the
'Lois,' said he, 'the time is going by, and I cannot wait much
longer. The visions come thick upon me, and my sight grows clearer and
clearer. Only this last night, camping out in the woods, I saw in my
soul, between sleeping and waking, the spirit come and offer thee two
lots, and the colour of the one was white, like a bride's, and the
other was black and red, which is, being interpreted, a violent death.
And when thou didst choose the latter the spirit said unto me, 'Come!'
and I came, and did as I was bidden. I put it on thee with mine own
hands, as it is preordained, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice
and be my wife. And when the black and red dress fell to the ground,
thou wert even as a corpse three days old. Now, be advised, Lois, in
time. Lois, my cousin, I have seen it in a vision, and my soul cleaveth
unto theeI would fain spare thee.'
He was really in earnestin passionate earnest; whatever his
visions, as he called them, might be, he believed in them, and this
belief gave something of unselfishness to his love for Lois. This she
felt at this moment, if she had never done so before, and it seemed
like a contrast to the repulse she had just met with from his sister.
He had drawn near her, and now he took hold of her hand, repeating in
his wild, pathetic, dreamy way:
'And the voice said unto me, Marry Lois!' And Lois was more
inclined to soothe and reason with him than she had ever been before,
since the first time of his speaking to her on the subject,when Grace
Hicksonand Prudence entered the room from the passage. They had
returned from the prayer meeting by the back way, which had prevented
the sound of their approach from being heard.
But Manasseh did not stir or look round; he kept his eyes fixed on
Lois, as if to note the effect of his words. Grace came hastily
forwards, and lifting up her strong right arm, smote their joined hands
in twain, in spite of the fervour of Manasseh's grasp.
'What means this?' said she, addressing herself more to Lois than to
her son, anger flashing out of her deep-set eyes.
Lois waited for Manasseh to speak. He seemed, but a few minutes
before, to be more gentle and less threatening than he had been of late
on this subject, and she did not wish to irritate him. But he did not
speak, and her aunt stood angrily waiting for an answer.
'At any rate,' thought Lois, 'it will put an end to the thought in
his mind when my aunt speaks out about it.'
'My cousin seeks me in marriage,' said Lois.
'Thee!' and Grace struck out in the direction of her niece with a
gesture of supreme contempt. But now Manasseh spoke forth:
'Yea! it is preordained. The voice has said it, and the spirit has
brought her to me as my bride.'
'Spirit! an evil spirit then. A good spirit would have chosen out
for thee a godly maiden of thine own people, and not a prelatist and a
stranger like this girl. A pretty return, Mistress Lois, for all our
'Indeed, Aunt Hickson, I have done all I couldCousin Manasseh
knows itto show him I can be none of his. I have told him,' said she,
blushing, but determined to say the whole out at once, 'that I am all
but troth-plight to a young man of our own village at home; and, even
putting all that on one side, I wish not for marriage at present.'
'Wish rather for conversion and regeneration. Marriage is an
unseemly word in the mouth of a maiden. As for Manasseh, I will take
reason with him in private; and, meanwhile, if thou hast spoken truly,
throw not thyself in his path, as I have noticed thou hast done but too
often of late.'
Lois's heart burnt within her at this unjust accusation, for she
knew how much she had dreaded and avoided her cousin, and she almost
looked to him to give evidence that her aunt's last words were not
true. But, instead, he recurred to his one fixed idea, and said:
'Mother, listen! If I wed not Lois, both she and I die within the
year. I care not for life; before this, as you know, I have sought for
death' (Grace shuddered, and was for a moment subdued by some
recollection of past horror); 'but if Lois were my wife I should live,
and she would be spared from what is the other lot. That whole vision
grows clearer to me day by day. Yet, when I try to know whether I am
one of the elect, all is dark. The mystery of Free-Will and
Fore-Knowledge is a mystery of Satan's devising, not of God's.'
'Alas, my son! Satan is abroad among the brethren even now; but let
the old vexed topics rest. Sooner than fret thyself again, thou shalt
have Lois to be thy wife, though my heart was set far differently for
'No, Manasseh,' said Lois. 'I love you well as a cousin, but wife of
yours I can never be. Aunt Hickson, it is not well to delude him so. I
say, if ever I marry man, I am troth-plight to one in England.'
'Tush, child! I am your guardian in my dead husband's place. Thou
thinkest thyself so great a prize that I would clutch at thee whether
or no, I doubt not. I value thee not, save as a medicine for Manasseh,
if his mind get disturbed again, as I have noted signs of late.'
This, then, was the secret explanation of much that had alarmed her
in her cousin's manner: and if Lois had been a physician of modern
times, she might have traced somewhat of the same temperament in his
sisters as wellin Prudence's lack of natural feeling and impish
delight in mischief, in Faith's vehemence of unrequited love. But as
yet Lois did not know, any more than Faith, that the attachment of the
latter to Mr. Nolan was not merely unreturned, but even unperceived, by
the young minister.
He came, it is truecame often to the house, sat long with the
family, and watched them narrowly, but took no especial notice of
Faith. Lois perceived this, and grieved over it; Nattee perceived it,
and was indignant at it, long before Faith slowly acknowledged it to
herself, and went to Nattee the Indian woman, rather than to Lois her
cousin, for sympathy and counsel.
'He cares not for me,' said Faith. 'He cares more for Lois's little
finger than for my whole body,' the girl moaned out in the bitter pain
'Hush thee, hush thee, prairie bird! How can he build a nest, when
the old bird has got all the moss and the feathers? Wait till the
Indian has found means to send the old bird flying far away.' This was
the mysterious comfort Nattee gave.
Grace Hickson took some kind of charge over Manasseh that relieved
Lois of much of her distress at his strange behaviour. Yet at times he
escaped from his mother's watchfulness, and in such opportunities he
would always seek Lois, entreating her, as of old, to marry
himsometimes pleading his love for her, oftener speaking wildly of
his visions and the voices which he heard foretelling a terrible
We have now to do with events which were taking place in Salem,
beyond the narrow circle of the Hickson family; but as they only
concern us in as far as they bore down in their consequences on the
future of those who formed part of it, I shall go over the narrative
very briefly. The town of Salem had lost by death, within a very short
time preceding the commencement of my story, nearly all its venerable
men and leading citizensmen of ripe wisdom and sound counsel. The
people had hardly yet recovered from the shock of their loss, as one by
one the patriarchs of the primitive little community had rapidly
followed each other to the grave. They had been beloved as fathers, and
looked up to as judges in the land. The first bad effect of their loss
was seen in the heated dissension which sprang up between Pastor Tappau
and the candidate Nolan. It had been apparently healed over; but Mr.
Nolan had not been many weeks in Salem, after his second coming, before
the strife broke out afresh, and alienated many for life who had till
then been bound together by the ties of friendship or relationship.
Even in the Hickson family something of this feeling soon sprang up;
Grace being a vehement partisan of the elder pastor's more gloomy
doctrines, while Faith was a passionate, if a powerless, advocate of
Mr. Nolan. Manasseh's growing absorption in his own fancies, and
imagined gift of prophecy, making him comparatively indifferent to all
outward events, did not tend to either the fulfilment of his visions,
or the elucidation of the dark mysterious doctrines over which he had
pondered too long for the health either of his mind or body; while
Prudence delighted in irritating every one by her advocacy of the views
of thinking to which they were most opposed, and retailing every
gossiping story to the person most likely to disbelieve, and be
indignant at what she told, with an assumed unconsciousness of any such
effect to be produced. There was much talk of the congregational
difficulties and dissensions being carried up to the general court, and
each party naturally hoped that, if such were the course of events, the
opposing pastor and that portion of the congregation which adhered to
him might be worsted in the struggle.
Such was the state of things in the township when, one day towards
the end of the month of February, Grace Hickson returned from the
weekly prayer meeting; which it was her custom to attend at Pastor
Tappau's house, in a state of extreme excitement. On her entrance into
her own house she sat down, rocking her body backwards and forwards,
and praying to herself: both Faith and Lois stopped their spinning, in
wonder at her agitation, before either of them ventured to address her.
At length Faith rose, and spoke:
'Mother, what is it? Hath anything happened of an evil nature?'
The brave, stern, old woman's face was blenched, and her eyes were
almost set in horror, as she prayed; the great drops running down her
It seemed almost as if she had to make a struggle to recover her
sense of the present homely accustomed life, before she could find
words to answer:
'Evil nature! Daughters, Satan is abroad,is close to us. I have
this very hour seen him afflict two innocent children, as of old he
troubled those who were possessed by him in Judea. Hester and Abigail
Tappau have been contorted and convulsed by him and his servants into
such shapes as I am afeard to think on; and when their father, godly
Mr. Tappau, began to exhort and to pray, their howlings were like the
wild beasts of the field. Satan is of a truth let loose amongst us. The
girls kept calling upon him as if he were even then present among us.
Abigail screeched out that he stood at my very back in the guise of a
black man; and truly, as I turned round at her words, I saw a creature
like a shadow vanishing, and turned all of a cold sweat. Who knows
where he is now? Faith, lay straws across on the door-sill.'
'But if he be already entered in,' asked Prudence, 'may not that
make it difficult for him to depart?'
Her mother, taking no notice of her question, went on rocking
herself, and praying, till again she broke out into narration:
'Reverend Mr. Tappau says, that only last night he heard a sound as
of a heavy body dragged all through the house by some strong power;
once it was thrown against his bedroom door, and would, doubtless, have
broken it in, if he had not prayed fervently and aloud at that very
time; and a shriek went up at his prayer that made his hair stand on
end; and this morning all the crockery in the house was found broken
and piled up in the middle of the kitchen floor; and Pastor Tappau
says, that as soon as he began to ask a blessing on the morning's meal,
Abigail and Hester cried out, as if some one was pinching them. Lord,
have mercy upon us all! Satan is of a truth let loose.'
'They sound like the old stories I used to hear in Barford,' said
Lois, breathless with affright.
Faith seemed less alarmed; but then her dislike to Pastor Tappau was
so great, that she could hardly sympathise with any misfortunes that
befell him or his family.
Towards evening Mr. Nolan came in. In general, so high did party
spirit run, Grace Hickson only tolerated his visits, finding herself
often engaged at such hours, and being too much abstracted in thought
to show him the ready hospitality which was one of her most prominent
virtues. But to-day, both as bringing the latest intelligence of the
new horrors sprung up in Salem, and as being one of the Church militant
(or what the Puritans considered as equivalent to the Church militant)
against Satan, he was welcomed by her in an unusual manner.
He seemed oppressed with the occurrences of the day: at first it
appeared to be almost a relief to him to sit still, and cogitate upon
them, and his hosts were becoming almost impatient for him to say
something more than mere monosyllables, when he began:
'Such a day as this, I pray that I may never see again. It is as if
the devils whom our Lord banished into the herd of swine, had been
permitted to come again upon the earth. And I would it were only the
lost spirits who were tormenting us; but I much fear, that certain of
those whom we have esteemed as God's people have sold their souls to
Satan, for the sake of a little of his evil power, whereby they may
afflict others for a time. Elder Sherringham hath lost this very day a
good and valuable horse, wherewith he used to drive his family to
meeting, his wife being bedridden.'
'Perchance,' said Lois, 'the horse died of some natural disease.'
'True,' said Pastor Nolan; 'but I was going on to say, that as he
entered into his house, full of dolour at the loss of his beast, a
mouse ran in before him so sudden that it almost tripped him up, though
an instant before there was no such thing to be seen; and he caught at
it with his shoe and hit it, and it cried out like a human creature in
pain, and straight ran up the chimney, caring nothing for the hot flame
Manasseh listened greedily to all this story, and when it was ended
he smote upon his breast, and prayed aloud for deliverance from the
power of the Evil One; and he continually went on praying at intervals
through the evening, with every mark of abject terror on his face and
in his mannerhe, the bravest, most daring hunter in all the
settlement. Indeed, all the family huddled together in silent fear,
scarcely finding any interest in the usual household occupations. Faith
and Lois sat with arms entwined, as in days before the former had
become jealous of the latter; Prudence asked low, fearful questions of
her mother and of the pastor as to the creatures that were abroad, and
the ways in which they afflicted others; and when Grace besought the
minister to pray for her and her household, he made a long and
passionate supplication that none of that little flock might ever so
far fall away into hopeless perdition as to be guilty of the sin
without forgivenessthe sin of Witchcraft.
'The sin of witchcraft.' We read about it, we look on it from the
outside; but we can hardly realize the terror it induced. Every
impulsive or unaccustomed action, every little nervous affection, every
ache or pain was noticed, not merely by those around the sufferer, but
by the person himself, whoever he might be, that was acting, or being
acted upon, in any but the most simple and ordinary manner. He or she
(for it was most frequently a woman or girl that was the supposed
subject) felt a desire for some unusual kind of foodsome unusual
motion or rest her hand twitched, her foot was asleep, or her leg had
the cramp; and the dreadful question immediately suggested itself, 'Is
any one possessing an evil power over me, by the help of Satan?' and
perhaps they went on to think, 'It is bad enough to feel that my body
can be made to suffer through the power of some unknown evil-wisher to
me, but what if Satan gives them still further power, and they can
touch my soul, and inspire me with loathful thoughts leading me into
crimes which at present I abhor?' and so on, till the very dread of
what might happen, and the constant dwelling of the thoughts, even with
horror, upon certain possibilities, or what were esteemed such, really
brought about the corruption of imagination at least, which at first
they had shuddered at. Moreover, there was a sort of uncertainty as to
who might be infectednot unlike the overpowering dread of the plague,
which made some shrink from their best-beloved with irrepressible fear.
The brother or sister, who was the dearest friend of their childhood
and youth, might now be bound in some mysterious deadly pact with evil
spirits of the most horrible kindwho could tell? And in such a case
it became a duty, a sacred duty, to give up the earthly body which had
been once so loved, but which was now the habitation of a soul corrupt
and horrible in its evil inclinations. Possibly, terror of death might
bring on confession and repentance, and purification. Or if it did not,
why away with the evil creature, the witch, out of the world, down to
the kingdom of the master, whose bidding was done on earth in all
manner of corruption and torture of God's creatures! There were others
who, to these more simple, if more ignorant, feelings of horror at
witches and witchcraft, added the desire, conscious or unconscious, of
revenge on those whose conduct had been in any way displeasing to them.
Where evidence takes a supernatural character, there is no disproving
it. This argument comes up: 'You have only the natural powers; I have
supernatural. You admit the existence of the supernatural by the
condemnation of this very crime of witchcraft. You hardly know the
limits of the natural powers; how then can you define the supernatural?
I say that in the dead of night, when my body seemed to all present to
be lying in quiet sleep, I was, in the most complete and wakeful
consciousness, present in my body at an assembly of witches and wizards
with Satan at their head; that I was by them tortured in my body,
because my soul would not acknowledge him as its king; and that I
witnessed such and such deeds. What the nature of the appearance was
that took the semblance of myself, sleeping quietly in my bed, I know
not; but admitting, as you do, the possibility of witchcraft, you
cannot disprove my evidence.' This evidence might be given truly or
falsely, as the person witnessing believed it or not; but every one
must see what immense and terrible power was abroad for revenge. Then,
again, the accused themselves ministered to the horrible panic abroad.
Some, in dread of death, confessed from cowardice to the imaginary
crimes of which they were accused, and of which they were promised a
pardon on confession. Some, weak and terrified, came honestly to
believe in their own guilt, through the diseases of imagination which
were sure to be engendered at such a time as this.
Lois sat spinning with Faith. Both were silent, pondering over the
stories that were abroad. Lois spoke first.
'Oh, Faith! this country is worse than ever England was, even in the
days of Master Matthew Hopkins, the witch-finder. I grow frightened of
every one, I think. I even get afeard sometimes of Nattee!'
Faith coloured a little. Then she asked,
'Why? What should make you distrust the Indian woman?'
'Oh! I am ashamed of my fear as soon as it arises in my mind. But,
you know, her look and colour were strange to me when first I came; and
she is not a christened woman; and they tell stories of Indian wizards;
and I know not what the mixtures are which she is sometimes stirring
over the fire, nor the meaning of the strange chants she sings to
herself. And once I met her in the dusk, just close by Pastor Tappau's
house, in company with Hota, his servantit was just before we heard
of the sore disturbance in his houseand I have wondered if she had
aught to do with it.'
Faith sat very still, as if thinking. At last she said:
'If Nattee has powers beyond what you and I have, she will not use
them for evil; at least not evil to those whom she loves.'
'That comforts me but little,' said Lois. 'If she has powers beyond
what she ought to have, I dread her, though I have done her no evil;
nay, though I could almost say she bore me a kindly feeling. But such
powers are only given by the Evil One; and the proof thereof is, that,
as you imply, Nattee would use them on those who offend her.'
'And why should she not?' asked Faith, lifting her eyes, and
flashing heavy fire out of them at the question.
'Because,' said Lois, not seeing Faith's glance, 'we are told to
pray for them that despitefully use us, and to do good to them that
persecute us. But poor Nattee is not a christened woman. I would that
Mr. Nolan would baptize her; it would, maybe, take her out of the power
of Satan's temptations.'
'Are you never tempted?' asked Faith, half scornfully; 'and yet I
doubt not you were well baptized!'
'True,' said Lois, sadly; 'I often do very wrong, but, perhaps, I
might have done worse, if the holy form had not been observed.'
They were again silent for a time.
'Lois,' said Faith, 'I did not mean any offence. But do you never
feel as if you would give up all that future life, of which the parsons
talk, and which seems so vague and so distant, for a few years of real,
vivid blessedness to begin to-morrowthis hour, this minute? Oh! I
could think of happiness for which I would willingly give up all those
misty chances of heaven'
'Faith, Faith!' cried Lois, in terror, holding her hand before her
cousin's mouth, and looking around in fright. 'Hush! you know not who
may be listening; you are putting yourself in his power.'
But Faith pushed her hand away, and said, 'Lois, I believe in him no
more than I believe in heaven. Both may exist, but they are so far away
that I defy them. Why, all this ado about Mr. Tappau's housepromise
me never to tell living creature, and I will tell you a secret.'
'No!' said Lois, terrified. 'I dread all secrets. I will hear none.
I will do all that I can for you, cousin Faith, in any way; but just at
this time, I strive to keep my life and thoughts within the strictest
bounds of godly simplicity, and I dread pledging myself to aught that
is hidden and secret.'
'As you will, cowardly girl, full of terrors, which, if you had
listened to me, might have been lessened, if not entirely done away
with.' And Faith would not utter another word, though Lois tried meekly
to entice her into conversation on some other subject.
The rumour of witchcraft was like the echo of thunder among the
hills. It had broken out in Mr. Tappau's house, and his two little
daughters were the first supposed to be bewitched; but round about,
from every quarter of the town, came in accounts of sufferers by
witchcraft. There was hardly a family without one of these supposed
victims. Then arose a growl and menaces of vengeance from many a
householdmenaces deepened, not daunted by the terror and mystery of
the suffering that gave rise to them.
At length a day was appointed when, after solemn fasting and prayer,
Mr. Tappau invited the neighbouring ministers and all godly people to
assemble at his house, and unite with him in devoting a day to solemn
religious services, and to supplication for the deliverance of his
children, and those similarly afflicted, from the power of the Evil
One. All Salem poured out towards the house of the minister. There was
a look of excitement on all their faces; eagerness and horror were
depicted on many, while stern resolution, amounting to determined
cruelty, if the occasion arose, was seen on others.
In the midst of the prayer, Hester Tappau, the younger girl, fell
into convulsions; fit after fit came on, and her screams mingled with
the shrieks and cries of the assembled congregation. In the first
pause, when the child was partially recovered, when the people stood
around exhausted and breathless, her father, the Pastor Tappau, lifted
his right hand, and adjured her, in the name of the Trinity, to say who
tormented her. There was a dead silence; not a creature stirred of all
those hundreds. Hester turned wearily and uneasily, and moaned out the
name of Hota, her father's Indian servant. Hota was present, apparently
as much interested as any one; indeed, she had been busying herself
much in bringing remedies to the suffering child. But now she stood
aghast, transfixed, while her name was caught up and shouted out in
tones of reprobation and hatred by all the crowd around her. Another
moment and they would have fallen upon the trembling creature and torn
her limb from limbpale, dusky, shivering Hota, half guilty-looking
from her very bewilderment. But Pastor Tappau, that gaunt, grey man,
lifting himself to his utmost height, signed to them to go back, to
keep still while he addressed them; and then he told them, that instant
vengeance was not just, deliberate punishment; that there would be need
of conviction, perchance of confessionhe hoped for some redress for
his suffering children from her revelations, if she were brought to
confession. They must leave the culprit in his hands, and in those of
his brother ministers, that they might wrestle with Satan before
delivering her up to the civil power. He spoke well, for he spoke from
the heart of a father seeing his children exposed to dreadful and
mysterious suffering, and firmly believing that he now held the clue in
his hand which should ultimately release them and their
fellow-sufferers. And the congregation moaned themselves into
unsatisfied submission, and listened to his long, passionate prayer,
which he uplifted even while the hapless Hota stood there, guarded and
bound by two men, who glared at her like bloodhounds ready to slip,
even while the prayer ended in the words of the merciful Saviour.
Lois sickened and shuddered at the whole scene; and this was no
intellectual shuddering at the folly and superstition of the people,
but tender moral shuddering at the sight of guilt which she believed
in, and at the evidence of men's hatred and abhorrence, which, when
shown even to the guilty, troubled and distressed her merciful heart.
She followed her aunt and cousins out into the open air, with downcast
eyes and pale face. Grace Hickson was going home with a feeling of
triumphant relief at the detection of the guilty one. Faith alone
seemed uneasy and disturbed beyond her wont, for Manasseh received the
whole transaction as the fulfilment of a prophecy, and Prudence was
excited by the novel scene into a state of discordant high spirits.
'I am quite as old as Hester Tappau,' said she; 'her birthday is in
September and mine in October.'
'What has that to do with it?' said Faith, sharply.
'Nothing, only she seemed such a little thing for all those grave
ministers to be praying for, and so many folk come from a
distancesome from Boston they saidall for her sake, as it were.
Why, didst thou see, it was godly Mr. Henwick that held her head when
he wriggled so, and old Madam Holbrook had herself helped upon a chair
to see the better. I wonder how long I might wriggle, before great and
godly folk would take so much notice of me? But, I suppose, that comes
of being a pastor's daughter. She'll be so set up there'll be no
speaking to her now. Faith! thinkest thou that Hota really had
bewitched her? She gave me corn-cakes, the last time I was at Pastor
Tappau's, just like any other woman, only, perchance, a trifle more
good-natured; and to think of her being a witch after all!'
But Faith seemed in a hurry to reach home, paid no attention to
Prudence's talking. Lois hastened on with Faith, for Manasseh was
walking alongside of his mother, and she kept steady to her plan of
avoiding him, even though she pressed her company upon Faith, who had
seemed of late desirous of avoiding her.
That evening the news spread through Salem, that Hota had confessed
her sinhad acknowledged that she was a witch. Nattee was the first to
hear the intelligence. She broke into the room where the girls were
sitting with Grace Hickson, solemnly doing nothing, because of the
great prayer-meeting in the morning, and cried out, 'Mercy, mercy,
mistress, everybody! take care of poor Indian Nattee, who never do
wrong, but for mistress and the family! Hota one bad wicked witch, she
say so herself; oh, me! oh me!' and stooping over Faith, she said
something in a low, miserable tone of voice, of which Lois only heard
the word 'torture.' But Faith heard all, and turning very pale, half
accompanied, half led Nattee back to her kitchen.
Presently, Grace Hickson came in. She had been out to see a
neighbour; it will not do to say that so godly a woman had been
gossiping; and, indeed, the subject of the conversation she had held
was of too serious and momentous a nature for me to employ a light word
to designate it. There was all the listening to and repeating of small
details and rumours, in which the speakers have no concern, that
constitutes gossiping; but in this instance, all trivial facts and
speeches might be considered to bear such dreadful significance, and
might have so ghastly an ending, that such whispers were occasionally
raised to a tragic importance. Every fragment of intelligence that
related to Mr. Tappau's household was eagerly snatched at; how his dog
howled all one long night through, and could not be stilled; how his
cow suddenly failed in her milk only two months after she had calved;
how his memory had forsaken him one morning, for a minute or two, in
repeating the Lord's Prayer, and he had even omitted a clause thereof
in his sudden perturbation; and how all these forerunners of his
children's strange illness might now be interpreted and
understoodthis had formed the staple of the conversation between
Grace Hickson and her friends. There had arisen a dispute among them at
last, as to how far these subjections to the power of the Evil One were
to be considered as a judgment upon Pastor Tappau for some sin on his
part; and if so, what? It was not an unpleasant discussion, although
there was considerable difference of opinion; for as none of the
speakers had had their families so troubled, it was rather a proof that
they had none of them committed any sin. In the midst of this talk,
one, entering in from the street, brought the news that Hota had
confessed allhad owned to signing a certain little red book which
Satan had presented to herhad been present at impious sacramentshad
ridden through the air to Newbury Fallsand, in fact, had assented to
all the questions which the elders and magistrates, carefully reading
over the confessions of the witches who had formerly been tried in
England, in order that they might not omit a single inquiry, had asked
of her. More she had owned to, but things of inferior importance, and
partaking more of the nature of earthly tricks than of spiritual power.
She had spoken of carefully adjusted strings, by which all the crockery
in Pastor Tappau's house could be pulled down or disturbed; but of such
intelligible malpractices the gossips of Salem took little heed. One of
them said that such an action showed Satan's prompting, but they all
preferred to listen to the grander guilt of the blasphemous sacraments
and supernatural rides. The narrator ended with saying that Hota was to
be hung the next morning, in spite of her confession, even although her
life had been promised to her if she acknowledged her sin; for it was
well to make an example of the first-discovered witch, and it was also
well that she was an Indian, a heathen, whose life would be no great
loss to the community. Grace Hickson on this spoke out. It was well
that witches should perish off the face of the earth, Indian or
English, heathen or, worse, a baptized Christian who had betrayed the
Lord, even as Judas did, and had gone over to Satan. For her part, she
wished that the first-discovered witch had been a member of a godly
English household, that it might be seen of all men that religious folk
were willing to cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye, if
tainted with this devilish sin. She spoke sternly and well. The last
comer said, that her words might be brought to the proof, for it had
been whispered that Hota had named others, and some from the most
religious families of Salem, whom she had seen among the unholy
communicants at the sacrament of the Evil One. And Grace replied that
she would answer for it, all godly folk would stand the proof, and
quench all natural affection rather than that such a sin should grow
and spread among them. She herself had a weak bodily dread of
witnessing the violent death even of an animal; but she would not let
that deter her from standing amidst those who cast the accursed
creature out from among them on the morrow morning.
Contrary to her wont, Grace Hickson told her family much of this
conversation. It was a sign of her excitement on the subject that she
thus spoke, and the excitement spread in different forms through her
family. Faith was flushed and restless, wandering between the
keeping-room and the kitchen, and questioning her mother particularly
as to the more extraordinary parts of Hota's confession, as if she
wished to satisfy herself that the Indian witch had really done those
horrible and mysterious deeds.
Lois shivered and trembled with affright at the narration, and the
idea that such things were possible. Occasionally she found herself
wandering off into sympathetic thought for the woman who was to die,
abhorred of all men, and unpardoned by God, to whom she had been so
fearful a traitor, and who was now, at this very timewhen Lois sat
among her kindred by the warm and cheerful firelight, anticipating many
peaceful, perchance happy, morrowssolitary, shivering,
panic-stricken, guilty, with none to stand by her and exhort her, shut
up in darkness between the cold walls of the town prison. But Lois
almost shrank from sympathising with so loathsome an accomplice of
Satan, and prayed for forgiveness for her charitable thought; and yet,
again, she remembered the tender spirit of the Saviour, and allowed
herself to fall into pity, till at last her sense of right and wrong
became so bewildered that she could only leave all to God's disposal,
and just ask that He would take all creatures and all events into His
Prudence was as bright as if she were listening to some merry
storycurious as to more than her mother would tell herseeming to
have no particular terror of witches or witchcraft, and yet to be
especially desirous to accompany her mother the next morning to the
hanging. Lois shrank from the cruel, eager face of the young girl as
she begged her mother to allow her to go. Even Grace was disturbed and
perplexed by her daughter's pertinacity.
'No!' said she. 'Ask me no more. Thou shalt not go. Such sights are
not for the young. I go, and I sicken at the thoughts of it. But I go
to show that I, a Christian woman, take God's part against the devil's.
Thou shalt not go, I tell thee. I could whip thee for thinking of it.'
'Manasseh says Hota was well whipped by Pastor Tappau ere she was
brought to confession,' said Prudence, as if anxious to change the
subject of discussion.
Manasseh lifted up his head from the great folio Bible, brought by
his father from England, which he was studying. He had not heard what
Prudence said, but he looked up at the sound of his name. All present
were startled at his wild eyes, his bloodless face. But he was
evidently annoyed at the expression of their countenances.
'Why look ye at me in that manner?' asked he. And his manner was
anxious and agitated. His mother made haste to speak:
'It was but that Prudence said something that thou hast told
herthat Pastor Tappau defiled his hands by whipping the witch Hota.
What evil thought has got hold of thee? Talk to us, and crack not thy
skull against the learning of man.'
'It is not the learning of man that I study: it is the word of God.
I would fain know more of the nature of this sin of witchcraft, and
whether it be, indeed, the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. At
times I feel a creeping influence coming over me, prompting all evil
thoughts and unheard-of deeds, and I question within myself, Is not
this the power of witchcraft? and I sicken, and loathe all that I do
or say, and yet some evil creature hath the mastery over me, and I must
needs do and say what I loathe and dread. Why wonder you, mother, that
I, of all men, strive to learn the exact nature of witchcraft, and for
that end study the word of God? Have you not seen me when I was, as it
were, possessed with a devil?'
He spoke calmly, sadly, but as under deep conviction. His mother
rose to comfort him.
'My son,' she said, 'no one ever saw thee do deeds, or heard thee
utter words, which any one could say were prompted by devils. We have
seen thee, poor lad, with thy wits gone astray for a time, but all thy
thoughts sought rather God's will in forbidden places, than lost the
clue to them for one moment in hankering after the powers of darkness.
Those days are long past; a future lies before thee. Think not of
witches or of being subject to the power of witchcraft. I did evil to
speak of it before thee. Let Lois come and sit by thee, and talk to
Lois went to her cousin, grieved at heart for his depressed state of
mind, anxious to soothe and comfort him, and yet recoiling more than
ever from the idea of ultimately becoming his wifean idea to which
she saw her aunt reconciling herself unconsciously day by day, as she
perceived the English girl's power of soothing and comforting her
cousin, even by the very tones of her sweet cooing voice.
He took Lois's hand.
'Let me hold it. It does me good,' said he. 'Ah, Lois, when I am by
you I forget all my troubleswill the day never come when you will
listen to the voice that speaks to me continually?'
'I never hear it, Cousin Manasseh,' she said, softly; 'but do not
think of the voices. Tell me of the land you hope to enclose from the
forestwhat manner of trees grow on it?'
Thus, by simple questions on practical affairs, she led him back, in
her unconscious wisdom, to the subjects on which he had always shown
strong practical sense. He talked on these with all due discretion till
the hour for family prayer came round, which was early in those days.
It was Manasseh's place to conduct it, as head of the family; a post
which his mother had always been anxious to assign to him since her
husband's death. He prayed extempore; and to-night his supplications
wandered off into wild, unconnected fragments of prayer, which all
those kneeling around began, each according to her anxiety for the
speaker, to think would never end. Minutes elapsed, and grew to
quarters of an hour, and his words only became more emphatic and
wilder, praying for himself alone, and laying bare the recesses of his
heart. At length his mother rose, and took Lois by the hand, for she
had faith in Lois's power over her son, as being akin to that which the
shepherd David, playing on his harp, had over king Saul sitting on his
throne. She drew her towards him, where he knelt facing into the
circle, with his eyes upturned, and the tranced agony of his face
depicting the struggle of the troubled soul within.
'Here is Lois,' said Grace, almost tenderly; 'she would fain go to
her chamber.' (Down the girl's face the tears were streaming.) 'Rise,
and finish thy prayer in thy closet.'
But at Lois's approach he sprang to his feet,sprang aside.
'Take her away, mother! Lead me not into temptation. She brings me
evil and sinful thoughts. She overshadows me, even in the presence of
my God. She is no angel of light, or she would not do this. She
troubles me with the sound of a voice bidding me marry her, even when I
am at my prayers. Avaunt! Take her away!'
He would have struck at Lois if she had not shrunk back, dismayed
and affrighted. His mother, although equally dismayed, was not
affrighted. She had seen him thus before; and understood the management
of his paroxysm.
'Go, Lois! the sight of thee irritates him, as once that of Faith
did. Leave him to me.'
And Lois rushed away to her room, and threw herself on her bed, like
a panting, hunted creature. Faith came after her slowly and heavily.
'Lois,' said she, 'wilt thou do me a favour? It is not much to ask.
Wilt thou arise before daylight, and bear this letter from me to Pastor
Nolan's lodgings? I would have done it myself, but mother has bidden me
to come to her, and I may be detained until the time when Hota is to be
hung; and the letter tells of matters pertaining to life and death.
Seek out Pastor Nolan wherever he may be, and have speech of him after
he has read the letter.'
'Cannot Nattee take it?' asked Lois.
'No!' Faith answered, fiercely. 'Why should she?'
But Lois did not reply. A quick suspicion darted through Faith's
mind, sudden as lightning. It had never entered there before.
'Speak, Lois. I read thy thoughts. Thou wouldst fain not be the
bearer of this letter?'
'I will take it,' said Lois, meekly. 'It concerns life and death,
'Yes!' said Faith, in quite a different tone of voice. But, after a
pause of thought, she added: 'Then, as soon as the house is still, I
will write what I have to say, and leave it here, on this chest; and
thou wilt promise me to take it before the day is fully up, while there
is yet time for action.'
'Yes! I promise,' said Lois. And Faith knew enough of her to feel
sure that the deed would be done, however reluctantly.
The letter was writtenlaid on the chest; and, ere day dawned, Lois
was astir, Faith watching her from between her half-closed
eyelidseyelids that had never been fully closed in sleep the livelong
night. The instant Lois, cloaked and hooded, left the room, Faith
sprang up, and prepared to go to her mother, whom she heard already
stirring. Nearly every one in Salem was awake and up on this awful
morning, though few were out of doors, as Lois passed along the
streets. Here was the hastily erected gallows, the black shadow of
which fell across the street with ghastly significance; now she had to
pass the iron-barred gaol, through the unglazed windows of which she
heard the fearful cry of a woman, and the sound of many footsteps. On
she sped, sick almost to faintness, to the widow woman's where Mr.
Nolan lodged. He was already up and abroad, gone, his hostess believed,
to the gaol. Thither Lois, repeating the words 'for life and for
death!' was forced to go. Retracing her steps, she was thankful to see
him come out of those dismal portals, rendered more dismal for being in
heavy shadow, just as she approached. What his errand had been she knew
not; but he looked grave and sad, as she put Faith's letter into his
hands, and stood before him quietly waiting, until he should read it,
and deliver the expected answer. But, instead of opening it, he held it
in his hand, apparently absorbed in thought. At last he spoke aloud,
but more to himself than to her:
'My God! and is she then to die in this fearful delirium? It must
becan beonly delirium, that prompts such wild and horrible
confessions. Mistress Barclay, I come from the presence of the Indian
woman appointed to die. It seems, she considered herself betrayed last
evening by her sentence not being respited, even after she had made
confession of sin enough to bring down fire from heaven; and, it seems
to me, the passionate, impotent anger of this helpless creature has
turned to madness, for she appalls me by the additional revelations she
has made to the keepers during the nightto me this morning. I could
almost fancy that she thinks, by deepening the guilt she confesses, to
escape this last dread punishment of all, as if, were a tithe of what
she say true, one could suffer such a sinner to live. Yet to send her
to death in such a state of mad terror! What is to be done?'
'Yet Scripture says that we are not to suffer witches in the land,'
said Lois, slowly.
'True; I would but ask for a respite till the prayers of God's
people had gone up for His mercy. Some would pray for her, poor wretch
as she is. You would, Mistress Barclay, I am sure?' But he said it in a
'I have been praying for her in the night many a time,' said Lois,
in a low voice. 'I pray for her in my heart at this moment; I suppose;
they are bidden to put her out of the land, but I would not have her
entirely God-forsaken. But, sir, you have not read my cousin's letter.
And she bade me bring back an answer with much urgency.'
Still he delayed. He was thinking of the dreadful confession he came
from hearing. If it were true, the beautiful earth was a polluted
place, and he almost wished to die, to escape from such pollution, into
the white innocence of those who stood in the presence of God.
Suddenly his eyes fell on Lois's pure, grave face, upturned and
watching his. Faith in earthly goodness came over his soul in that
instant, 'and he blessed her unaware.'
He put his hand on her shoulder, with an action half
paternalalthough the difference in their ages was not above a dozen
yearsand, bending a little towards her, whispered, half to himself,
'Mistress Barclay, you have done me good.'
'I!' said Lois, half affrighted'I done you good! How?'
'By being what you are. But, perhaps, I should rather thank God, who
sent you at the very moment when my soul was so disquieted.'
At this instant, they were aware of Faith standing in front of them,
with a countenance of thunder. Her angry look made Lois feel guilty.
She had not enough urged the pastor to read his letter, she thought;
and it was indignation at this delay in what she had been commissioned
to do with the urgency of life or death, that made her cousin lower at
her so from beneath her straight black brows. Lois explained how she
had not found Mr. Nolan at his lodgings, and had had to follow him to
the door of the gaol. But Faith replied, with obdurate contempt:
'Spare thy breath, cousin Lois. It is easy seeing on what pleasant
matters thou and the Pastor Nolan were talking. I marvel not at thy
forgetfulness. My mind is changed. Give me back my letter, sir; it was
about a poor matteran old woman's life. And what is that compared to
a young girl's love?'
Lois heard but for an instant; did not understand that her cousin,
in her jealous anger, could suspect the existence of such a feeling as
love between her and Mr. Nolan. No imagination as to its possibility
had ever entered her mind; she had respected him, almost revered
himnay, had liked him as the probable husband of Faith. At the
thought that her cousin could believe her guilty of such treachery, her
grave eyes dilated, and fixed themselves on the flaming countenance of
Faith. That serious, unprotesting manner of perfect innocence must have
told on her accuser, had it not been that, at the same instant, the
latter caught sight of the crimsoned and disturbed countenance of the
pastor, who felt the veil rent off the unconscious secret of his heart.
Faith snatched her letter out of his hands, and said:
'Let the witch hang! What care I? She has done harm enough with her
charms and her sorcery on Pastor Tappau's girls. Let her die, and let
all other witches look to themselves; for there be many kinds of
witchcraft abroad. Cousin Lois, thou wilt like best to stop with Pastor
Nolan, or I would pray thee to come back with me to breakfast.'
Lois was not to be daunted by jealous sarcasm. She held out her hand
to Pastor Nolan, determined to take no heed of her cousin's mad words,
but to bid him farewell in her accustomed manner. He hesitated before
taking it, and when he did, it was with a convulsive squeeze that
almost made her start. Faith waited and watched all, with set lips and
vengeful eyes. She bade no farewell; she spake no word; but grasping
Lois tightly by the back of the arm, she almost drove her before her
down the street till they reached their home.
The arrangement for the morning was this: Grace Hickson and her son
Manasseh were to be present at the hanging of the first witch executed
in Salem, as pious and godly heads of a family. All the other members
were strictly forbidden to stir out, until such time as the low-tolling
bell announced that all was over in this world for Hota, the Indian
witch. When the execution was ended, there was to be a solemn
prayer-meeting of all the inhabitants of Salem; ministers had come from
a distance to aid by the efficacy of their prayers in these efforts to
purge the land of the devil and his servants. There was reason to think
that the great old meeting-house would be crowded, and when Faith and
Lois reached home, Grace Hickson was giving her directions to Prudence,
urging her to be ready for an early start to that place. The stern old
woman was troubled in her mind at the anticipation of the sight she was
to see, before many minutes were over, and spoke in a more hurried and
incoherent manner than was her wont. She was dressed in her Sunday
best; but her face was very grey and colourless, and she seemed afraid
to cease speaking about household affairs, for fear she should have
time to think. Manasseh stood by her, perfectly, rigidly still; he also
was in his Sunday clothes. His face, too, was paler than its wont, but
it wore a kind of absent, rapt expression, almost like that of a man
who sees a vision. As Faith entered, still holding Lois in her fierce
grasp, Manasseh started and smiled; but still dreamily. His manner was
so peculiar, that even his mother stayed her talking to observe him
more closely; he was in that state of excitement which usually ended in
what his mother and certain of her friends esteemed a prophetic
revelation. He began to speak, at first very low, and then his voice
increased in power:
'How beautiful is the land of Beulah, far over the sea, beyond the
mountains! Thither the angels carry her, lying back in their arms like
one fainting. They shall kiss away the black circle of death, and lay
her down at the feet of the Lamb. I hear her pleading there for those
on earth who consented to her death. O Lois! pray also for me, pray for
When he uttered his cousin's name all their eyes turned towards her.
It was to her that his vision related! She stood among them, amazed,
awe-stricken, but not like one affrighted or dismayed. She was the
first to speak:
'Dear friends, do not think of me; his words may or may not be true.
I am in God's hands all the same, whether he have the gift of prophecy
or not. Besides, hear you not that I end where all would fain end?
Think of him, and of his needs. Such times as these always leave him
exhausted and weary, when he comes out of them.'
And she busied herself in cares for his refreshment, aiding her
aunt's trembling hands to set before him the requisite food, as he now
sat tired and bewildered, gathering together with difficulty his
Prudence did all she could to assist and speed their departure. But
Faith stood apart, watching in silence with her passionate, angry eyes.
As soon as they had set out on their solemn, fatal errand, Faith
left the room. She had not tasted food or touched drink. Indeed, they
all felt sick at heart. The moment her sister had gone up stairs,
Prudence sprang to the settle on which Lois had thrown down her cloak
'Lend me your muffles and mantle, Cousin Lois. I never yet saw a
woman hanged, and I see not why I should not go. I will stand on the
edge of the crowd; no one will know me, and I will be home long before
'No!' said Lois, 'that may not be. My aunt would be sore displeased.
I wonder at you, Prudence, seeking to witness such a sight.' And as she
spoke she held fast her cloak, which Prudence vehemently struggled for.
Faith returned, brought back possibly by the sound of the struggle.
She smileda deadly smile.
'Give it up, Prudence. Strive no more with her. She has bought
success in this world, and we are but her slaves.'
'Oh, Faith!' said Lois, relinquishing her hold of the cloak, and
turning round with passionate reproach in her look and voice, 'what
have I done that you should speak so of me; you, that have loved as I
think one love a sister?'
Prudence did not lose her opportunity, but hastily arrayed herself
in the mantle, which was too large for her, and which she had,
therefore, considered as well adapted for concealment; but, as she went
towards the door, her feet became entangled in the unusual length, and
she fell, bruising her arm pretty sharply.
'Take care, another time, how you meddle with a witch's things,'
said Faith, as one scarcely believing her own words, but at enmity with
all the world in her bitter jealousy of heart. Prudence rubbed her arm
and looked stealthily at Lois.
'Witch Lois! Witch Lois!' said she at last, softly, pulling a
childish face of spite at her.
'Oh, hush, Prudence! Do not bandy such terrible words. Let me look
at thine arm. I am sorry for thy hurt, only glad that it has kept thee
from disobeying thy mother.'
'Away, away!' said Prudence, springing from her. 'I am afeard of her
in very truth, Faith. Keep between me and the witch, or I will throw a
stool at her.'
Faith smiledit was a bad and wicked smilebut she did not stir to
calm the fears she had called up in her young sister. Just at this
moment, the bell began to toll. Hota, the Indian witch, was dead. Lois
covered her face with her hands. Even Faith went a deadlier pale than
she had been, and said, sighing, 'Poor Hota! But death is best.'
Prudence alone seemed unmoved by any thoughts connected with the
solemn, monotonous sound. Her only consideration was, that now she
might go out into the street and see the sights, and hear the news, and
escape from the terror which she felt at the presence of her cousin.
She flew up stairs to find her own mantle, ran down again, and past
Lois, before the English girl had finished her prayer, and was speedily
mingled among the crowd going to the meetinghouse. There also Faith and
Lois came in due course of time, but separately, not together. Faith so
evidently avoided Lois, that she, humbled and grieved, could not force
her company upon her cousin, but loitered a little behind,the quiet
tears stealing down her face, shed for the many causes that had
occurred this morning.
The meeting-house was full to suffocation; and, as it sometimes
happens on such occasions, the greatest crowd was close about the
doors, from the fact that few saw, on their first entrance, where there
might be possible spaces into which they could wedge themselves. Yet
they were impatient of any arrivals from the outside, and pushed and
hustled Faith, and after her Lois, till the two were forced on to a
conspicuous place in the very centre of the building, where there was
no chance of a seat, but still space to stand in. Several stood around,
the pulpit being in the middle, and already occupied by two ministers
in Geneva bands and gowns, while other ministers, similarly attired,
stood holding on to it, almost as if they were giving support instead
of receiving it. Grace Hickson and her son sat decorously in their own
pew, thereby showing that they had arrived early from the execution.
You might almost have traced out the number of those who had been at
the hanging of the Indian witch, by the expression of their
countenances. They were awestricken into terrible repose; while the
crowd pouring in, still pouring in, of those who had not attended the
execution, looked all restless, and excited, and fierce. A buzz went
round the meeting, that the stranger minister who stood along with
Pastor Tappau in the pulpit was no other than Dr. Cotton Mather
himself, come all the way from Boston to assist in purging Salem of
And now Pastor Tappau began his prayer, extempore, as was the
custom. His words were wild and incoherent, as might be expected from a
man who had just been consenting to the bloody death of one who was,
but a few days ago, a member of his own family; violent and passionate,
as was to be looked for in the father of children, whom he believed to
suffer so fearfully from the crime he would denounce before the Lord.
He sat down at length from pure exhaustion. Then Dr. Cotton Mather
stood forward: he did not utter more than a few words of prayer, calm
in comparison with what had gone before, and then he went on to address
the great crowd before him in a quiet, argumentative way, but arranging
what he had to say with something of the same kind of skill which
Antony used in his speech to the Romans after Cæsar's murder. Some of
Dr. Mather's words have been preserved to us, as he afterwards wrote
them down in one of his works. Speaking of those 'unbelieving
Sadducees' who doubted the existence of such a crime, he said: 'Instead
of their apish shouts and jeers at blessed Scripture, and histories
which have such undoubted confirmation as that no man that has breeding
enough to regard the common laws of human society will offer to doubt
of them, it becomes us rather to adore the goodness of God, who from
the mouths of babes and sucklings has ordained truth, and by the means
of the sore-afflicted children of your godly pastor, has revealed the
fact that the devils have with most horrid operations broken in upon
your neighbourhood. Let us beseech Him that their power may be
restrained, and that they go not so far in their evil machinations as
they did but four years ago in the city of Boston, where I was the
humble means, under God, of loosing from the power of Satan the four
children of that religious and blessed man, Mr. Goodwin. These four
babes of grace were bewitched by an Irish witch; there is no end to the
narration of the torments they had to submit to. At one time they would
bark like dogs, at another purr like cats; yea, they would fly like
geese, and be carried with an incredible swiftness, having but just
their toes now and then upon the ground, sometimes not once in twenty
feet, and their arms waved like those of a bird. Yet at other times, by
the hellish devices of the woman who had bewitched them, they could not
stir without limping, for, by means of an invisible chain, she hampered
their limbs, or, sometimes, by means of a noose, almost choked them.
One in especial was subjected by this woman of Satan to such heat as of
an oven, that I myself have seen the sweat drop from off her, while all
around were moderately cold and well at ease. But not to trouble you
with more of my stories, I will go on to prove that it was Satan
himself that held power over her. For a very remarkable thing it was,
that she was not permitted by that evil spirit to read any godly or
religious book, speaking the truth as it is in Jesus. She could read
Popish books well enough, while both sight and speech seemed to fail
her when I gave her the Assembly's Catechism. Again, she was fond of
that prelatical Book of Common Prayer, which is but the Roman mass-book
in an English and ungodly shape. In the midst of her sufferings, if one
put the Prayer-book into her hands it relieved her. Yet mark you, she
could never be brought to read the Lord's Prayer, whatever book she met
with it in, proving thereby distinctly that she was in league with the
devil. I took her into my own house, that I, even as Dr. Martin Luther
did, might wrestle with the devil and have my fling at him. But when I
called my household to prayer, the devils that possessed her caused her
to whistle, and sing, and yell in a discordant and hellish fashion.'
At this very instant, a shrill, clear whistle pierced all ears. Dr.
Mather stopped for a moment:
'Satan is among you!' he cried. 'Look to yourselves!' And he prayed
with fervour, as if against a present and threatening enemy; but no one
heeded him. Whence came that ominous, unearthly whistle? Every man
watched his neighbour. Again the whistle, out of their very midst! And
then a bustle in a corner of the building, three or four people
stirring, without any cause immediately perceptible to those at a
distance, the movement spread, and, directly after, a passage even in
that dense mass of people was cleared for two men, who bore forwards
Prudence Hickson, lying rigid as a log of wood, in the convulsive
position of one who suffered from an epileptic fit. They laid her down
among the ministers who were gathered round the pulpit. Her mother came
to her, sending up a wailing cry at the sight of her distorted child.
Dr. Mather came down from the pulpit and stood over her, exorcising the
devil in possession, as one accustomed to such scenes. The crowd
pressed forward in mute horror. At length, her rigidity of form and
feature gave way, and she was terribly convulsedtorn by the devil, as
they called it. By-and-by the violence of the attack was over, and the
spectators began to breathe once more, though still the former horror
brooded over them, and they listened as if for the sudden ominous
whistle again, and glanced fearfully around, as if Satan were at their
backs picking out his next victim.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mather, Pastor Tappau, and one or two others were
exhorting Prudence to reveal, if she could, the name of the person, the
witch, who, by influence over Satan, had subjected the child to such
torture as that which they had just witnessed. They bade her speak in
the name of the Lord. She whispered a name in the low voice of
exhaustion. None of the congregation could hear what it was. But the
Pastor Tappau, when he heard it, drew back in dismay, while Dr. Mather,
knowing not to whom the name belonged, cried out, in a clear, cold
'Know ye one Lois Barclay; for it is she who hath bewitched this
The answer was given rather by action than by word, although a low
murmur went up from many. But all fell back, as far as falling back in
such a crowd was possible, from Lois Barclay, where she stood,and
looked on her with surprise and horror. A space of some feet, where no
possibility of space had seemed to be not a minute before, left Lois
standing alone, with every eye fixed upon her in hatred and dread. She
stood like one speechless, tongue-tied, as if in a dream. She a witch!
accursed as witches were in the sight of God and man! Her smooth,
healthy face became contracted into shrivel and pallor, but she uttered
not a word, only looked at Dr. Mather with her dilated, terrified eyes.
Some one said, 'She is of the household of Grace Hickson, a
God-fearing woman.' Lois did not know if the words were in her favour
or not. She did not think about them, even; they told less on her than
on any person present. She a witch! and the silver glittering Avon, and
the drowning woman she had seen in her childhood at Barford,at home
in England,were before her, and her eyes fell before her doom. There
was some commotionsome rustling of papers; the magistrates of the
town were drawing near the pulpit and consulting with the ministers.
Dr. Mather spoke again:
'The Indian woman, who was hung this morning, named certain people,
whom she deposed to having seen at the horrible meetings for the
worship of Satan; but there is no name of Lois Barclay down upon the
paper, although we are stricken at the sight of the names of some'
An interruptiona consultation. Again Dr. Mather spoke:
'Bring the accused witch, Lois Barclay, near to this poor suffering
child of Christ.'
They rushed forward to force Lois to the place where Prudence lay.
But Lois walked forward of herself.
'Prudence,' she said, in such a sweet, touching voice, that, long
afterwards, those who heard it that day, spoke of it to their children,
'have I ever said an unkind word to you, much less done you an ill
turn? Speak, dear child. You did not know what you said just now, did
But Prudence writhed away from her approach, and screamed out, as if
stricken with fresh agony.
'Take her away! take her away! Witch Lois, witch Lois, who threw me
down only this morning, and turned my arm black and blue.' And she
bared her arm, as if in confirmation of her words. It was sorely
'I was not near you, Prudence!' said Lois, sadly. But that was only
reckoned fresh evidence of her diabolical power.
Lois's brain began to get bewildered. Witch Lois! she a witch,
abhorred of all men! Yet she would try to think, and make one more
'Aunt Hickson,' she said, and Grace came forwards'am I a witch,
Aunt Hickson?' she asked; for her aunt, stern, harsh, unloving as she
might be, was truth itself, and Lois thoughtso near to delirium had
she comeif her aunt condemned her, it was possible she might indeed
be a witch.
Grace Hickson faced her unwillingly.
'It is a stain upon our family for ever,' was the thought in her
'It is for God to judge whether thou art a witch, or not. Not for
'Alas, alas!' moaned Lois; for she had looked at Faith, and learnt
that no good word was to be expected from her gloomy face and averted
eyes. The meeting-house was full of eager voices, repressed, out of
reverence for the place, into tones of earnest murmuring that seemed to
fill the air with gathering sounds of anger, and those who had at first
fallen back from the place where Lois stood were now pressing forwards
and round about her, ready to seize the young friendless girl, and bear
her off to prison. Those who might have been, who ought to have been,
her friends, were either averse or indifferent to her; though only
Prudence made any open outcry upon her. That evil child cried out
perpetually that Lois had cast a devilish spell upon her, and bade them
keep the witch away from her; and, indeed, Prudence was strangely
convulsed when once or twice Lois's perplexed and wistful eyes were
turned in her direction. Here and there girls, women uttering strange
cries, and apparently suffering from the same kind of convulsive fit as
that which had attacked Prudence, were centres of a group of agitated
friends, who muttered much and savagely of witchcraft, and the list
which had been taken down only the night before from Hota's own lips.
They demanded to have it made public, and objected to the slow forms of
the law. Others, not so much or so immediately interested in the
sufferers, were kneeling around, and praying aloud for themselves and
their own safety, until the excitement should be so much quelled as to
enable Dr. Cotton Mather to be again heard in prayer and exhortation.
And where was Manasseh? What said he? You must remember, that the
stir of the outcry, the accusation, the appeals of the accused, all
seemed to go on at once amid the buzz and din of the people who had
come to worship God, but remained to judge and upbraid their
fellow-creature. Till now Lois had only caught a glimpse of Manasseh,
who was apparently trying to push forwards, but whom his mother was
holding back with word and action, as Lois knew she would hold him
back; for it was not for the first time that she was made aware how
carefully her aunt had always shrouded his decent reputation among his
fellow-citizens from the least suspicion of his seasons of excitement
and incipient insanity. On such days, when he himself imagined that he
heard prophetic voices, and saw prophetic visions, his mother would do
much to prevent any besides his own family from seeing him; and now
Lois, by a process swifter than reasoning, felt certain, from her one
look at his face, when she saw it, colourless and deformed by intensity
of expression, among a number of others all simply ruddy and angry,
that he was in such a state that his mother would in vain do her utmost
to prevent his making himself conspicuous. Whatever force or argument
Grace used, it was of no avail. In another moment he was by Lois's
side, stammering with excitement, and giving vague testimony, which
would have been of little value in a calm court of justice, and was
only oil to the smouldering fire of that audience.
'Away with her to gaol!' 'Seek out the witches!' 'The sin has spread
into all households!' 'Satan is in the very midst of us!' 'Strike and
spare not!' In vain Dr. Cotton Mather raised his voice in loud prayers,
in which he assumed the guilt of the accused girl; no one listened, all
were anxious to secure Lois, as if they feared she would vanish from
before their very eyes; she, white, trembling, standing quite still in
the tight grasp of strange, fierce men, her dilated eyes only wandering
a little now and then in search of some pitiful facesome pitiful face
that among all those hundreds was not to be found. While some fetched
cords to bind her, and others, by low questions, suggested new
accusations to the distempered brain of Prudence, Manasseh obtained a
hearing once more. Addressing Dr. Cotton Mather, he said, evidently
anxious to make clear some new argument that had just suggested itself
to him: 'Sir, in this matter, be she witch or not, the end has been
foreshown to me by the spirit of prophecy. Now, reverend sir, if the
event be known to the spirit, it must have been foredoomed in the
councils of God. If so, why punish her for doing that in which she had
no free will?'
'Young man,' said Dr. Mather, bending down from the pulpit and
looking very severely upon Manasseh, 'take care! you are trenching on
'I do not care. I say it again. Either Lois Barclay is a witch, or
she is not. If she is, it has been foredoomed for her, for I have seen
a vision of her death as a condemned witch for many months pastand
the voice has told me there was but one escape for her, Loisthe voice
you know' In his excitement he began to wander a little, but it was
touching to see how conscious he was that by giving way he would lose
the thread of the logical argument by which he hoped to prove that Lois
ought not to be punished, and with what an effort he wrenched his
imagination away from the old ideas, and strove to concentrate all his
mind upon the plea that, if Lois was a witch, it had been shown him by
prophecy; and if there was prophecy there must be foreknowledge; if
foreknowledge, foredoom; if foredoom, no exercise of free will, and,
therefore, that Lois was not justly amenable to punishment.
On he went, plunging into heresy, caring notgrowing more and more
passionate every instant, but directing his passion into keen argument,
desperate sarcasm, instead of allowing it to excite his imagination.
Even Dr. Mather felt himself on the point of being worsted in the very
presence of this congregation, who, but a short half-hour ago, looked
upon him as all but infallible. Keep a good heart, Cotton Mather! your
opponent's eye begins to glare and flicker with a terrible yet
uncertain lighthis speech grows less coherent, and his arguments are
mixed up with wild glimpses at wilder revelations made to himself
alone. He has touched on the limits,he has entered the borders of
blasphemy, and with an awful cry of horror and reprobation the
congregation rise up, as one man, against the blasphemer. Dr. Mather
smiled a grim smile, and the people were ready to stone Manasseh, who
went on, regardless, talking and raving.
'Stay, stay!' said Grace Hicksonall the decent family shame which
prompted her to conceal the mysterious misfortune of her only son from
public knowledge done away with by the sense of the immediate danger to
his life. 'Touch him not. He knows not what he is saying. The fit is
upon him. I tell you the truth before God. My son, my only son, is
They stood aghast at the intelligence. The grave young citizen, who
had silently taken his part in life close by them in their daily
livesnot mixing much with them, it was true, but looked up to,
perhaps, all the morethe student of abstruse books on theology, fit
to converse with the most learned ministers that ever came about those
partswas he the same with the man now pouring out wild words to Lois
the witch, as if he and she were the only two present! A solution of it
all occurred to them. He was another victim. Great was the power of
Satan! Through the arts of the devil, that white statue of a girl had
mastered the soul of Manasseh Hickson. So the word spread from mouth to
mouth. And Grace heard it. It seemed a healing balsam for her shame.
With wilful, dishonest blindness, she would not seenot even in her
secret heart would she acknowledge, that Manasseh had been strange, and
moody, and violent long before the English girl had reached Salem. She
even found some specious reason for his attempt at suicide long ago. He
was recovering from a feverand though tolerably well in health, the
delirium had not finally left him. But since Lois came, how headstrong
he had been at times! how unreasonable! how moody! What a strange
delusion was that which he was under, of being bidden by some voice to
marry her! How he followed her about, and clung to her, as under some
compulsion of affection! And over all reigned the idea that, if he were
indeed suffering from being bewitched, he was not mad, and might again
assume the honourable position he had held in the congregation and in
the town, when the spell by which he was held was destroyed. So Grace
yielded to the notion herself, and encouraged it in others, that Lois
Barclay had bewitched both Manasseh and Prudence. And the consequence
of this belief was, that Lois was to be tried, with little chance in
her favour, to see whether she was a witch or no; and if a witch,
whether she would confess, implicate others, repent, and live a life of
bitter shame, avoided by all men, and cruelly treated by most; or die
impenitent, hardened, denying her crime upon the gallows.
And so they dragged Lois away from the congregation of Christians to
the gaol, to await her trial. I say 'dragged her,' because, although
she was docile enough to have followed them whither they would, she was
now so faint as to require extraneous forcepoor Lois! who should have
been carried and tended lovingly in her state of exhaustion, but,
instead, was so detested by the multitude, who looked upon her as an
accomplice of Satan in all his evil doings, that they cared no more how
they treated her than a careless boy minds how he handles the toad that
he is going to throw over the wall.
When Lois came to her full senses, she found herself lying on a
short hard bed in a dark square room, which she at once knew must be a
part of the city gaol. It was about eight feet square, it had stone
walls on every side, and a grated opening high above her head, letting
in all the light and air that could enter through about a square foot
of aperture. It was so lonely, so dark to that poor girl, when she came
slowly and painfully out of her long faint. She did so want human help
in that struggle which always supervenes after a swoon; when the effort
is to clutch at life, and the effort seems too much for the will. She
did not at first understand where she was; did not understand how she
came to be there, nor did she care to understand. Her physical instinct
was to lie still and let the hurrying pulses have time to calm. So she
shut her eyes once more. Slowly, slowly the recollection of the scene
in the meeting-house shaped itself into a kind of picture before her.
She saw within her eyelids, as it were, that sea of loathing faces all
turned towards her, as towards something unclean and hateful. And you
must remember, you who in the nineteenth century read this account,
that witchcraft was a real terrible sin to her, Lois Barclay, two
hundred years ago. The look on their faces, stamped on heart and brain,
excited in her a sort of strange sympathy. Could it, oh God!could it
be true, that Satan had obtained the terrific power over her and her
will, of which she had heard and read? Could she indeed be possessed by
a demon and be indeed a witch, and yet till now have been unconscious
of it? And her excited imagination recalled, with singular vividness,
all she had ever heard on the subjectthe horrible midnight sacrament,
the very presence and power of Satan. Then remembering every angry
thought against her neighbour, against the impertinences of Prudence,
against the overbearing authority of her aunt, against the persevering
crazy suit of Manasseh, the indignationonly that morning, but such
ages off in real timeat Faith's injustice; oh, could such evil
thoughts have had devilish power given to them by the father of evil,
and, all unconsciously to herself, have gone forth as active curses
into the world? And so, on the ideas went careering wildly through the
poor girl's brainthe girl thrown inward upon herself. At length, the
sting of her imagination forced her to start up impatiently. What was
this? A weight of iron on her legsa weight stated afterwards, by the
gaoler of Salem prison, to have been 'not more than eight pounds.' It
was well for Lois it was a tangible ill, bringing her back from the
wild illimitable desert in which her imagination was wandering. She
took hold of the iron, and saw her torn stocking,her bruised ankle,
and began to cry pitifully, out of strange compassion with herself.
They feared, then, that even in that cell she would find a way to
escape. Why, the utter, ridiculous impossibility of the thing convinced
her of her own innocence, and ignorance of all supernatural power; and
the heavy iron brought her strangely round from the delusions that
seemed to be gathering about her.
No! she never could fly out of that deep dungeon; there was no
escape, natural or supernatural, for her, unless by man's mercy. And
what was man's mercy in such times of panic? Lois knew that it was
nothing; instinct more than reason taught her, that panic calls out
cowardice, and cowardice cruelty. Yet she cried, cried freely, and for
the first time, when she found herself ironed and chained. It seemed so
cruel, so much as if her fellow-creatures had really learnt to hate and
dread herher, who had had a few angry thoughts, which God forgive!
but whose thoughts had never gone into words, far less into actions.
Why, even now she could love all the household at home, if they would
but let her; yes, even yet, though she felt that it was the open
accusation of Prudence and the withheld justifications of her aunt and
Faith that had brought her to her present strait. Would they ever come
and see her? Would kinder thoughts of her,who had shared their daily
bread for months and months,bring them to see her, and ask her
whether it were really she who had brought on the illness of Prudence,
the derangement of Manasseh's mind?
No one came. Bread and water were pushed in by some one, who hastily
locked and unlocked the door, and cared not to see if he put them
within his prisoner's reach, or perhaps thought that physical fact
mattered little to a witch. It was long before Lois could reach them;
and she had something of the natural hunger of youth left in her still,
which prompted her, lying her length on the floor, to weary herself
with efforts to obtain the bread. After she had eaten some of it, the
day began to wane, and she thought she would lay her down and try to
sleep. But before she did so, the gaoler heard her singing the Evening
Glory to thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light.
And a dull thought came into his dull mind, that she was thankful
for few blessings, if she could tune up her voice to sing praises after
this day of what, if she were a witch, was shameful detection in
abominable practices, and if not. Well, his mind stopped short at
this point in his wondering contemplation. Lois knelt down and said the
Lord's Prayer, pausing just a little before one clause, that she might
be sure that in her heart of hearts she did forgive. Then she looked at
her ankle, and the tears came into her eyes once again, but not so much
because she was hurt, as because men must have hated her so bitterly
before they could have treated her thus. Then she lay down, and fell
The next day, she was led before Mr. Hathorn and Mr. Curwin,
justices of Salem, to be accused legally and publicly of witchcraft.
Others were with her, under the same charge. And when the prisoners
were brought in, they were cried out at by the abhorrent crowd. The two
Tappaus, Prudence, and one or two other girls of the same age were
there, in the character of victims of the spells of the accused. The
prisoners were placed about seven or eight feet from the justices and
the accusers between the justices and them; the former were then
ordered to stand right before the justices. All this Lois did at their
bidding, with something of the wondering docility of a child, but not
with any hope of softening the hard, stony look of detestation that was
on all the countenances around her, save those that were distorted by
more passionate anger. Then an officer was bidden to hold each of her
hands, and Justice Hathorn bade her keep her eyes continually fixed on
him, for this reasonwhich, however, was not told to herlest, if she
looked on Prudence, the girl might either fall into a fit, or cry out
that she was suddenly and violently hurt. If any heart could have been
touched of that cruel multitude, they would have felt some compassion
for the sweet young face of the English girl, trying so meekly to do
all that she was ordered, her face quite white, yet so full of sad
gentleness, her grey eyes, a little dilated by the very solemnity of
her position, fixed with the intent look of innocent maidenhood on the
stern face of Justice Hathorn. And thus they stood in silence, one
breathless minute. Then they were bidden to say the Lord's Prayer. Lois
went through it as if alone in her cell; but, as she had done alone in
her cell the night before, she made a little pause, before the prayer
to be forgiven as she forgave. And at this instant of hesitationas if
they had been on the watch for itthey all cried out upon her for a
witch, and when the clamour ended the justices bade Prudence Hickson
come forwards. Then Lois turned a little to one side, wishing to see at
least one familiar face; but when her eyes fell upon Prudence, the girl
stood stock-still, and answered no questions, nor spoke a word, and the
justices declared that she was struck dumb by witchcraft. Then some
behind took Prudence under the arms, and would have forced her forwards
to touch Lois, possibly esteeming that as a cure for her being
bewitched. But Prudence had hardly been made to take three steps before
she struggled out of their arms, and fell down writhing as in a fit,
calling out with shrieks, and entreating Lois to help her, and save her
from her torment. Then all the girls began 'to tumble down like swine'
(to use the words of an eye-witness) and to cry out upon Lois and her
fellow-prisoners. These last were now ordered to stand with their hands
stretched out, it being imagined that if the bodies of the witches were
arranged in the form of a cross they would lose their evil power.
By-and-by Lois felt her strength going, from the unwonted fatigue of
such a position, which she had borne patiently until the pain and
weariness had forced both tears and sweat down her face, and she asked
in a low, plaintive voice, if she might not rest her head for a few
moments against the wooden partition. But Justice Hathorn told her she
had strength enough to torment others, and should have strength enough
to stand. She sighed a little, and bore on, the clamour against her and
the other accused increasing every moment; the only way she could keep
herself from utterly losing consciousness was by distracting herself
from present pain and danger, and saying to herself verses of the
Psalms as she could remember them, expressive of trust in God. At
length she was ordered back to gaol, and dimly understood that she and
others were sentenced to be hanged for witchcraft. Many people now
looked eagerly at Lois, to see if she would weep at this doom. If she
had had strength to cry, it mightit was just possible that it
mighthave been considered a plea in her favour, for witches could not
shed tears, but she was too exhausted and dead. All she wanted was to
lie down once more on her prison-bed, out of the reach of men's cries
of abhorrence, and out of shot of their cruel eyes. So they led her
back to prison, speechless and tearless.
But rest gave her back her power of thought and suffering. Was it,
indeed, true that she was to die? She, Lois Barclay, only eighteen, so
well, so young, so full of love and hope as she had been, till but
these little days past! What would they think of it at homereal, dear
home at Barford, in England? There they had loved her; there she had
gone about, singing and rejoicing all the day long in the pleasant
meadows by the Avon side. Oh, why did father and mother die, and leave
her their bidding to come here to this cruel New England shore, where
no one had wanted her, no one had cared for her, and where now they
were going to put her to a shameful death as a witch? And there would
be no one to send kindly messages by to those she should never see
more. Never more! Young Lucy was living, and joyfulprobably thinking
of her, and of his declared intention of coming to fetch her home to be
his wife this very spring. Possibly he had forgotten her; no one knew.
A week before, she would have been indignant at her own distrust in
thinking for a minute that he could forget. Now, she doubted all men's
goodness for a time; for those around her were deadly, and cruel, and
Then she turned round, and beat herself with angry blows (to speak
in images), for ever doubting her lover. Oh! if she were but with him!
Oh! if she might but be with him! He would not let her die; but would
hide her in his bosom from the wrath of this people, and carry her back
to the old home at Barford. And he might even now be sailing on the
wide blue sea, coming nearer, nearer every moment, and yet be too late
So the thoughts chased each other through her head all that feverish
night, till she clung almost deliriously to life, and wildly prayed
that she might not die; at least, not just yet, and she so young!
Pastor Tappau and certain elders roused her up from a heavy sleep,
late on the morning of the following day. All night long she had
trembled and cried, till morning had come peering in through the square
grating up above. It soothed her, and she fell asleep, to be awakened,
as I have said, by Pastor Tappau.
'Arise!' said he, scrupling to touch her, from his superstitious
idea of her evil powers. 'It is noonday.'
'Where am I?' said she, bewildered at this unusual wakening, and the
array of severe faces all gazing upon her with reprobation.
'You are in Salem gaol, condemned for a witch.'
'Alas! I had forgotten for an instant,' said she, dropping her head
upon her breast.
'She has been out on a devilish ride all night long, doubtless, and
is weary and perplexed this morning,' whispered one, in so low a voice
that he did not think she could hear; but she lifted up her eyes, and
looked at him, with mute reproach.
'We are come' said Pastor Tappau, 'to exhort you to confess your
great and manifold sin.'
'My great and manifold sin!' repeated Lois to herself, shaking her
'Yea, your sin of witchcraft. If you will confess, there may yet be
balm in Gilead.'
One of the elders, struck with pity at the young girl's wan,
shrunken look, said, that if she confessed, and repented, and did
penance, possibly her life might yet be spared.
A sudden flash of light came into her sunk, dulled eye. Might she
yet live? Was it yet in her power?
Why, no one knew how soon Ralph Lucy might be here, to take her away
for ever into the peace of a new home! Life! Oh, then, all hope was not
overperhaps she might still live, and not die. Yet the truth came
once more out of her lips, almost without any exercise of her will.
'I am not a witch,' she said.
Then Pastor Tappau blindfolded her, all unresisting, but with
languid wonder in her heart as to what was to come next. She heard
people enter the dungeon softly, and heard whispering voices; then her
hands were lifted up and made to touch some one near, and in an instant
she heard a noise of struggling, and the well-known voice of Prudence
shrieking out in one of her hysterical fits, and screaming to be taken
away and out of that place. It seemed to Lois as if some of her judges
must have doubted of her guilt, and demanded yet another test. She sat
down heavily on her bed, thinking she must be in a horrible dream, so
compassed about with dangers and enemies did she seem. Those in the
dungeonand by the oppression of the air she perceived that they were
manykept on eager talking in low voices. She did not try to make out
the sense of the fragments of sentences that reached her dulled brain,
till, all at once, a word or two made her understand they were
discussing the desirableness of applying the whip or the torture to
make her confess, and reveal by what means the spell she had cast upon
those whom she had bewitched could be dissolved. A thrill of affright
ran through her; and she cried out, beseechingly:
'I beg you, sirs, for God's mercy sake, that you do not use such
awful means. I may say anythingnay, I may accuse any one if I am
subjected to such torment as I have heard tell about. For I am but a
young girl, and not very brave, or very good, as some are.'
It touched the hearts of one or two to see her standing there; the
tears streaming down from below the coarse handkerchief tightly bound
over her eyes; the clanking chain fastening the heavy weight to the
slight ankle; the two hands held together as if to keep down a
'Look!' said one of these. 'She is weeping. They say no witch can
But another scoffed at this test, and bade the first remember how
those of her own family, the Hicksons even, bore witness against her.
Once more she was bidden to confess. The charges, esteemed by all
men (as they said) to have been proven against her, were read over to
her, with all the testimony borne against her in proof thereof. They
told her that, considering the godly family to which she belonged, it
had been decided by the magistrates and ministers of Salem that he
should have her life spared, if she would own her guilt, make
reparation, and submit to penance; but that if not, she, and others
convicted of witchcraft along with her, were to be hung in Salem
market-place on the next Thursday morning (Thursday being market day).
And when they had thus spoken, they waited silently for her answer. It
was a minute or two before she spoke. She had sat down again upon the
bed meanwhile, for indeed she was very weak. She asked, 'May I have
this handkerchief unbound from my eyes, for indeed, sirs, it hurts me?'
The occasion for which she was blindfolded being over, the bandage
was taken off, and she was allowed to see. She looked pitifully at the
stern faces around her, in grim suspense as to what her answer would
be. Then she spoke:
'Sirs, I must choose death with a quiet conscience, rather than life
to be gained by a lie. I am not a witch. I know not hardly what you
mean when you say I am. I have done many, many things very wrong in my
life; but I think God will forgive me them for my Saviour's sake.'
'Take not His name on your wicked lips,' said Pastor Tappau, enraged
at her resolution of not confessing, and scarcely able to keep himself
from striking her. She saw the desire he had, and shrank away in timid
fear. Then Justice Hathorn solemnly read the legal condemnation of Lois
Barclay to death by hanging, as a convicted witch. She murmured
something which nobody heard fully, but which sounded like a prayer for
pity and compassion on her tender years and friendless estate. Then
they left her to all the horrors of that solitary, loathsome dungeon,
and the strange terror of approaching death.
Outside the prison walls, the dread of the witches, and the
excitement against witchcraft, grew with fearful rapidity. Numbers of
women, and men, too, were accused, no matter what their station of life
and their former character had been. On the other side, it is alleged
that upwards of fifty persons were grievously vexed by the devil, and
those to whom he had imparted of his power for vile and wicked
considerations. How much of malice, distinct, unmistakable personal
malice, was mixed up with these accusations, no one can now tell. The
dire statistics of this time tell us, that fifty-five escaped death by
confessing themselves guilty, one hundred and fifty were in prison,
more than two hundred accused, and upwards of twenty suffered death,
among whom was the minister I have called Nolan, who was traditionally
esteemed to have suffered through hatred of his co-pastor. One old man,
scorning the accusation, and refusing to plead at his trial, was,
according to the law, pressed to death for his contumacy. Nay, even
dogs were accused of witchcraft, suffered the legal penalties, and are
recorded among the subjects of capital punishment. One young man found
means to effect his mother's escape from confinement, fled with her on
horseback, and secreted her in the Blueberry Swamp, not far from
Taplay's Brook, in the Great Pasture; he concealed her here in a wigwam
which he built for her shelter, provided her with food and clothing,
and comforted and sustained her until after the delusion had passed
away. The poor creature must, however, have suffered dreadfully, for
one of her arms was fractured in the all but desperate effort of
getting her out of prison.
But there was no one to try and save Lois. Grace Hickson would fain
have ignored her altogether. Such a taint did witchcraft bring upon a
whole family, that generations of blameless life were not at that day
esteemed sufficient to wash it out. Besides, you must remember that
Grace, along with most people of her time, believed most firmly in the
reality of the crime of witchcraft. Poor, forsaken Lois, believed in it
herself, and it added to her terror, for the gaoler, in an unusually
communicative mood, told her that nearly every cell was now full of
witches; and it was possible he might have to put one, if more came, in
with her. Lois knew that she was no witch herself; but not the less did
she believe that the crime was abroad, and largely shared in by
evil-minded persons who had chosen to give up their souls to Satan; and
she shuddered with terror at what the gaoler said, and would have asked
him to spare her this companionship if it were possible. But, somehow,
her senses were leaving her, and she could not remember the right words
in which to form her request, until he had left the place.
The only person who yearned after Loiswho would have befriended
her if he couldwas Manasseh: poor, mad Manasseh. But he was so wild
and outrageous in his talk, that it was all his mother could do to keep
his state concealed from public observation. She had for this purpose
given him a sleeping potion; and, while he lay heavy and inert under
the influence of the poppy-tea, his mother bound him with cords to the
ponderous, antique bed in which he slept. She looked broken-hearted
while she did this office, and thus acknowledged the degradation of her
first-bornhim of whom she had ever been so proud.
Late that evening, Grace Hickson stood in Lois's cell, hooded and
cloaked up to her eyes. Lois was sitting quite still, playing idly with
a bit of string which one of the magistrates had dropped out of his
pocket that morning. Her aunt was standing by her for an instant or two
in silence, before Lois seemed aware of her presence. Suddenly she
looked up, and uttered a little cry, shrinking away from the dark
figure. Then, as if her cry had loosened Grace's tongue, she began:
'Lois Barclay, did I ever do you any harm?' Grace did not know how
often her want of loving-kindness had pierced the tender heart of the
stranger under her roof; nor did Lois remember it against her now.
Instead, Lois's memory was filled with grateful thoughts of how much
that might have been left undone, by a less conscientious person, her
aunt had done for her, and she half stretched out her arms as to a
friend in that desolate place, while she answered:
'Oh no, no you were very good! very kind!'
But Grace stood immovable.
'I did you no harm, although I never rightly knew why you came to
'I was sent by my mother on her death-bed,' moaned Lois, covering
her face. It grew darker every instant. Her aunt stood, still and
'Did any of mine ever wrong you?' she asked, after a time.
'No, no; never, till Prudence saidOh, aunt, do you think I am a
witch?' And now Lois was standing up, holding by Grace's cloak, and
trying to read her face. Grace drew herself, ever so little, away from
the girl, whom she dreaded, and yet sought to propitiate.
'Wiser than I, godlier than I, have said it. But oh, Lois, Lois! he
was my first-born. Loose him from the demon, for the sake of Him whose
name I dare not name in this terrible building, filled with them who
have renounced the hopes of their baptism; loose Manasseh from his
awful state, if ever I or mine did you a kindness!'
'You ask me for Christ's sake,' said Lois. 'I can name that holy
namefor oh, aunt! indeed, and in holy truth, I am no witch; and yet I
am to dieto be hanged! Aunt, do not let them kill me! I am so young,
and I never did any one any harm that I know of.'
'Hush! for very shame! This afternoon I have bound my first-born
with strong cords, to keep him from doing himself or us a mischiefhe
is so frenzied. Lois Barclay, look here!' and Grace knelt down at her
niece's feet, and joined her hands as if in prayer'I am a proud
woman, God forgive me! and I never thought to kneel to any save to Him.
And now I kneel at your feet, to pray you to release my children, more
especially my son Manasseh, from the spells you have put upon them.
Lois, hearken to me, and I will pray to the Almighty for you, if yet
there may be mercy.'
'I cannot do it; I never did you or yours any wrong. How can I undo
it? How can I?' And she wrung her hands in intensity of conviction of
the inutility of aught she could do.
Here Grace got up, slowly, stiffly, and sternly. She stood aloof
from the chained girl, in the remote corner of the prison cell near the
door, ready to make her escape as soon as she had cursed the witch, who
would not, or could not, undo the evil she had wrought. Grace lifted up
her right hand, and held it up on high, as she doomed Lois to be
accursed for ever, for her deadly sin, and her want of mercy even at
this final hour. And, lastly, she summoned her to meet her at the
judgment-seat, and answer for this deadly injury done to both souls and
bodies of those who had taken her in, and received her when she came to
them an orphan and a stranger.
Until this last summons, Lois had stood as one who hears her
sentence and can say nothing against it, for she knows all would be in
vain. But she raised her head when she heard her aunt speak of the
judgment-seat, and at the end of Grace's speech she, too, lifted up her
right hand, as if solemnly pledging herself by that action, and
'Aunt! I will meet you there. And there you will know my innocence
of this deadly thing. God have mercy on you and yours!'
Her calm voice maddened Grace, and making a gesture as if she
plucked up a handful of dust of the floor, and threw it at Lois, she
'Witch! witch! ask mercy for thyselfI need not your prayers.
Witches' prayers are read backwards. I spit at thee, and defy thee!'
And so she went away.
Lois sat moaning that whole night through. 'God comfort me! God
strengthen me!' was all she could remember to say. She just felt that
want, nothing more,all other fears and wants seemed dead within her.
And when the gaoler brought in her breakfast the next morning, he
reported her as 'gone silly;' for, indeed, she did not seem to know
him, but kept rocking herself to and fro, and whispering softly to
herself, smiling a little from time to time.
But God did comfort her, and strengthen her too late on that
Wednesday afternoon, they thrust another 'witch' into her cell, bidding
the two, with opprobrious words, keep company together. The new comer
fell prostrate with the push given her from without; and Lois, not
recognizing anything but an old ragged woman lying helpless on her face
on the ground, lifted her up; and lo! it was Natteedirty, filthy
indeed, mud-pelted, stone-bruised, beaten, and all astray in her wits
with the treatment she had received from the mob outside. Lois held her
in her arms, and softly wiped the old brown wrinkled face with her
apron, crying over it, as she had hardly yet cried over her own
sorrows. For hours she tended the old Indian womantended her bodily
woes; and as the poor scattered senses of the savage creature came
slowly back, Lois gathered her infinite dread of the morrow, when she
too, as well as Lois, was to be led out to die, in face of all that
infuriated crowd. Lois sought in her own mind for some source of
comfort for the old woman, who shook like one in the shaking palsy at
the dread of deathand such a death.
When all was quiet through the prison, in the deep dead midnight,
the gaoler outside the door heard Lois telling, as if to a young child,
the marvellous and sorrowful story of one who died on the cross for us
and for our sakes. As long as she spoke, the Indian woman's terror
seemed lulled; but the instant she paused, for weariness, Nattee cried
out afresh, as if some wild beast were following her close through the
dense forests in which she had dwelt in her youth. And then Lois went
on, saying all the blessed words she could remember, and comforting the
helpless Indian woman with the sense of the presence of a Heavenly
Friend. And in comforting her, Lois was comforted; in strengthening
her, Lois was strengthened.
The morning came, and the summons to come forth and die came. They
who entered the cell found Lois asleep, her face resting on the
slumbering old woman, whose head she still held in her lap. She did not
seem clearly to recognize where she was, when she awakened; the 'silly'
look had returned to her wan face; all she appeared to know was, that
somehow or another, through some peril or another, she had to protect
the poor Indian woman. She smiled faintly when she saw the bright light
of the April day; and put her arm round Nattee, and tried to keep the
Indian quiet with hushing, soothing words of broken meaning, and holy
fragments of the Psalms. Nattee tightened her hold upon Lois as they
drew near the gallows, and the outrageous crowd below began to hoot and
yell. Lois redoubled her efforts to calm and encourage Nattee,
apparently unconscious that any of the opprobrium, the hootings, the
stones, the mud, was directed towards her herself. But when they took
Nattee from her arms, and led her out to suffer first, Lois seemed all
at once to recover her sense of the present terror. She gazed wildly
around, stretched out her arms as if to some person in the distance,
who was yet visible to her, and cried out once with a voice that
thrilled through all who heard it, 'Mother!' Directly afterwards, the
body of Lois the Witch swung in the air, and every one stood, with
hushed breath, with a sudden wonder, like a fear of deadly crime,
fallen upon them.
The stillness and the silence were broken by one crazed and mad, who
came rushing up the steps of the ladder, and caught Lois's body in his
arms, and kissed her lips with wild passion. And then, as if it were
true what the people believed, that he was possessed by a demon, he
sprang down, and rushed through the crowd, out of the bounds of the
city, and into the dark dense forest, and Manasseh Hickson was no more
seen of Christian man.
The people of Salem had awakened from their frightful delusion
before the autumn, when Captain Holdernesse and Ralph Lucy came to find
out Lois, and bring her home to peaceful Barford, in the pleasant
country of England. Instead, they led them to the grassy grave where
she lay at rest, done to death by mistaken men. Ralph Lucy shook the
dust off his feet in quitting Salem, with a heavy, heavy heart; and
lived a bachelor all his life long for her sake.
Long years afterwards, Captain Holdernesse sought him out, to tell
him some news that he thought might interest the grave miller of the
Avonside. Captain Holdernesse told him that in the previous year, it
was then 1713, the sentence of excommunication against the witches of
Salem was ordered, in godly sacramental meeting of the church, to be
erased and blotted out, and that those who met together for this
purpose 'humbly requested the merciful God would pardon whatsoever sin,
error, or mistake was in the application of justice, through our
merciful High Priest, who knoweth how to have compassion on the
ignorant, and those that are out of the way.' He also said that
Prudence Hicksonnow woman grownhad made a most touching and pungent
declaration of sorrow and repentance before the whole church, for the
false and mistaken testimony she had given in several instances, among
which she particularly mentioned that of her cousin Lois Barclay. To
all which Ralph Lucy only answered:
'No repentance of theirs can bring her back to life.'
Then Captain Holdernesse took out a paper, and read the following
humble and solemn declaration of regret on the part of those who signed
it, among whom Grace Hickson was one:
'We, whose names are undersigned, being, in the year 1692,
to serve as jurors in court of Salem, on trial of many who were
some suspected guilty of doing acts of witchcraft upon the
of sundry persons; we confess that we ourselves were not
understand, nor able to withstand, the mysterious delusions of
powers of darkness, and prince of the air, but were, for want
knowledge in ourselves, and better information from others,
prevailed with to take up with such evidence against the
as, on further consideration, and better information, we justly
fear was insufficient for the touching the lives of any (Deut.
xvii. 6), whereby we fear we have been instrumental, with
though ignorantly and unwittingly, to bring upon ourselves and
people of the Lord the guilt of innocent blood; which sin, the
saith in Scripture, he would not pardon (2 Kings, xxiv. 4),
is, we suppose, in regard of his temporal judgments. We do,
therefore, signify to all in general (and to the surviving
sufferers in special) our deep sense of, and sorrow for, our
errors, in acting on such evidence to the condemning of any
and do hereby declare, that we justly fear that we were sadly
deluded and mistaken, for which we are much disquieted and
distressed in our minds, and do therefore humbly beg
first of God for Christ's sake, for this our error; and pray
God would not impute the guilt of it to ourselves nor others;
we also pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by
living sufferers, as being then under the power of a strong and
general delusion, utterly unacquainted with, and not
in, matters of that nature.
'We do heartily ask forgiveness of you all, whom we have justly
offended; and do declare, according to our present minds, we
none of us do such things again on such grounds for the whole
world; praying you to accept of this in way of satisfaction for
offence, and that you would bless the inheritance of the Lord,
he may be entreated for the land.
'FOREMAN, THOMAS FISK, &c.'
To the reading of this paper Ralph Lucy made no reply save this,
even more gloomily than before:
'All their repentance will avail nothing to my Lois, nor will it
bring back her life.'
Then Captain Holdernesse spoke once more, and said that on the day
of the general fast, appointed to be held all through New England, when
the meeting-houses were crowded, an old, old man with white hair had
stood up in the place in which he was accustomed to worship, and had
handed up into the pulpit a written confession, which he had once or
twice essayed to read for himself, acknowledging his great and grievous
error in the matter of the witches of Salem, and praying for the
forgiveness of God and of his people, ending with an entreaty that all
then present would join with him in prayer that his past conduct might
not bring down the displeasure of the Most High upon his country, his
family, or himself. That old man, who was no other than Justice Sewall,
remained standing all the time that his confession was read; and at the
end he said, 'The good and gracious God be pleased to save New England
and me and my family.' And then it came out that, for years past, Judge
Sewall had set apart a day for humiliation and prayer, to keep fresh in
his mind a sense of repentance and sorrow for the part he had borne in
these trials, and that this solemn anniversary he was pledged to keep
as long as he lived, to show his feeling of deep humiliation.
Ralph Lucy's voice trembled as he spoke:
'All this will not bring my Lois to life again, or give me back the
hope of my youth.'
Butas Captain Holdernesse shook his head (for what word could he
say, or how dispute what was so evidently true?)Ralph added, 'What is
the day, know you, that this justice has set apart?'
'The twenty-ninth of April.'
'Then on that day will I, here at Barford in England, join my prayer
as long as I live with the repentant judge, that his sin may be blotted
out and no more had in remembrance. She would have willed it so.'