A/U: I recently portrayed Betty Parris in my university's production of the Crucible, and I've found myself contemplating Betty's role beyond the first scene. In our version, I also participated in the courtroom scene and had a lot of trouble figuring out how much Betty really understood what was going on. And what happened when she realized what it was she'd done, whether months or years later? This is the result of these reflections.
Betty sat on the edge of the mattress, still fully clothed save for her shoes and bonnet, the former tucked under the bed and the latter hanging from her neck by its strings. Sleep was both elusive and undesirable tonight, for it was a night like this that had started it all – the mist lay heavy upon the thawing ground, its earthiness just becoming noticeable in the scent of the evening air. She could recall sharply the pounding of her heart as she followed the shadows to the secret copse, the thrill of the forbidden and unknown, and the terror of their discovery. She still cursed herself for her weakness – both fainting in the woods and letting herself be cowed by Abby.
Abigail. That name had not been spoke in years; yet it sometimes it was there, filling the room with an acrid scent and a bitter taste. Betty avoided her father as much as possible now, and he seemed to do likewise: any time spent together always managed to remind them of the atrocity in which they had played such a large role. But that was nothing compared to the dreams…
Betty could rarely go a night anymore without being visited by one of the victims. Their necks were always red and raw in her dreams, heads sometimes askew. Strangely, fear was never the emotion evoked; oh, but how she wished it were! At sixteen, fear was an easy enough feeling to handle – but not this. Not the soft, pitying looks she always received from them, as if to tell her they did not blame her. It only intensified her guilt, until she would awake with tears freely staining her shift and quilt.
She could not determine which distressed her more – the sad smiles of the dead or the silent, angry tears of the living. The adults had absolved her of most responsibility, saying she was but a child, and could not know to do any differently with a mother gone and a father who had time for naught but his work. But she had known better. Perhaps she had not completely understood everything between Abby and John Proctor, but the rest she had grasped as well as a girl three years her elder. And he knew it. She avoided passing the Proctor house as best she could, but every time Mister Cheever had a parcel for the family – longer breeches for William, a new dress for Elizabeth the younger - the task fell to her. And every time, some avenging spirit made certain that he answered the door, his icy stare shouting to the heavens – no, to hell – that Betty Parris was the reason his baby sister had to grow up without her father.
Betty removed her bonnet and twisted the fabric absently. Although she was Jonathan Proctor's elder by a year, it was his name that she had invoked in the ceremony that night. The crush had not disappeared with the events of the following year, however – simply been horribly tainted. If the tensions between their fathers had made it unlikely that she would ever have the pleasure of calling him husband, then now, well…
It would be easier to raise the dead.
A sharp noise startled the adolescent from her shame-drenched contemplations. A second like it came, and now she realized it was pebbles on the window. Opening it a sliver, she peeked out.
A dozen emotions bubbled over at the sight of the woman standing below, but anger was the most prevalent. The visitor indicated that she wanted Betty to come down and speak with her. Betty was not so sure that she would be speaking with her so much as to her, because she had quite a few choice things to say.
She resisted the strong urge to stomp down the stairs. To do so would not only alert her father, it would be childish. And she was no child.
The door she opened just enough for her to fit her body thorough and then shut it behind her. The other would not set foot in this house if she could help it.
She kept her voice light and innocuous. Let her think she was still the same naïve brat Abby had assumed her to be when she left on the ship. For her part, this woman looked much the same as the devious girl of seventeen that killed twenty and ruined the lives of hundreds – completely devoid of conscience.
"Betty, dear, it's so good to see you again! I do hope you are well." Abby's tone was merely conversational, as though it had been six days rather than six years since she'd fled.
If Abby noticed the flatness in her cousin's response, she ignored it. "Ah, but this brings back memories. Thank goodness you still keep the same room; Uncle's hard enough to stand by daylight, I don't need him half-addled with sleep. I trust he's not changed much – does he still have those golden candlesticks?" She laughed as though this were a clever inside joke. "How are the 'girls'? No, hold. Let me venture a few guesses. Ruth's parents married her off to someone just as wealthy as her father, Susanna got her precious Timothy and is now a complete bore of a mother, and Mary is still the same pathetic craven she always was and is like to die an old maid."
While Abby's first two claims were close to the truth, the last name prompted the recall of another event that Betty would rather forget. "Mary has not been seen nor heard of for near five years."
"Oh?" Abby's interest was only mild, her voice sounding more bored than concerned.
"She disappeared on the one year mark of John Proctor's hanging." Betty put subtle emphasis on the name, casting a side glance at her visitor to see if that might evoke some reaction from her. Abby did not even blink. "Seven months after, Daniel Nurse found some bones in the forest, and nearby a rope that looked as if it had been bound to a branch and bearin' a heavy load. The town still don't know what to make of it." But I do.
Abby's lips parted in what looked to be shock, and Betty wondered if perhaps there was a soul in that cursed woman after all. But then they turned up in a cruel smirk. "Who'd have thought it? Mary Warren had guts after all."
Betty's eyes widened in horror. She should have known, had known that Abby would show no remorse for the fate of her victims – but to stand there near laughing at the one who'd suffered from guilt so severe that she sought the same punishment that her actions had visited upon others! Venomous hatred bubbled up tenfold in Miss Parris. This visit was over.
"What do you want here, Abigail?" Her voice was sharp and threatening – much the same tone Abby had taken with her and the others when she'd promised a 'pointy reckoning' on any girl who dared betray their secret.
Abby raised an eyebrow. "Why, Betty, I'm hurt. Is that how you treat your cousin who has been so long away?"
"I do when she murdered persons guilty of nothing more than recognizing her for the Devil incarnate that she is!"
Had there been any others witness to this reunion, they would have noticed a sharp contrast between the two young women. Betty, burning with fury and outrage; Abby, cold and indifferent, save vague signs of amusement.
Abby became unsettlingly smug. "So you finally figured it out, then?"
"That everything Proctor said about you was true? We all know now, Abby. You better leave while you can, before I or someone else takes your life as payment for the innocents you killed." Betty nearly spat the words, a temper she didn't know she had making her anxious to make good her threat.
"Innocents we killed."
Betty's eyes flared, and she tried to appear as though it were from indignant anger. The truth was that this one word had struck her as soundly as a hammer strikes an anvil. "No, Abby. You're the one who started the meetings with Tituba, you're the one who conceived that horrid pretense –"
"You're the one who first played the victim. If you had simply wakened, we would have had our whipping and gone on with our lives and I never would have had my opportunity to rid our village of those I hated most."
Betty was finally lost for a comeback. This was when Abby chose to lean in close. Narrowing her eyes, she asked slowly, deliberately, and still with that horrid smirk, "Tell me, Betty. How is Jonathan these days?"
She froze. There was no other way to describe the paralysis that seized her as Abby knifed her in the most vulnerable, most scarred part of her already shattered soul. "You – you -"
"Bitch? Whore? Face it, Betty. There's nothing you can say to me that hasn't been said already."
"Heartless stone of a woman." Betty's voice was empty –she knew these words would have no affect on her callous relative. All the same, it did her some measure of good to say it.
"Admit it. You deserve what fate has given you. This is your just reward for your transgressions."
They were the same conclusions she had come to herself, during those sleepless, haunted nights. "Stop it…stop it…"
"If not for you, Martha Corey would still be alive. Rebecca Nurse would still be alive."
Betty sank, her knees refusing to hold her weight anymore. "No…that was you…"
"John Proctor would still be alive."
Betty bent double, her face completely buried in her apron. "Please…", she whispered, "please, just leave!"
She wasn't sure how long she remained that way, but when Betty finally raised her eyes from the ground, Abigail was nowhere to be found. There was just the cold dampness of the April night, the clacking of the yet bare trees in the forest, and a basket that Betty had not noticed in Abby's hand at the time, but recalled it now. Dutifully, she reached over and pulled it to her, lifting away the thin cloth covering. Too emotionally exhausted to be truly terrified by anything anymore, she did not scream or weep at the sight of its contents. She simply reached in and gently withdrew the tiny body.
No breath came from the infant – a girl - and she doubted any had for quite some time. Whether through neglect or malicious intent, it seemed the child had been suffocated. Despite the girl's condition, Betty found herself stroking the feathery blond hair that was so unlike Abby's once rich auburn. She could not recognize the source of the paternal influence – but it was certain Abby had no attachment to him. Perhaps it was better for the child that she had not lived. The horror of being Abigail Williams' daughter would have been a hard, cruel fate.
At the least, the forsaken infant deserved a proper burial, and Betty knew the place. Wearily, she rose and walked the three miles to that field she had visited often with Ruth – a lonely expanse dappled with small stones, of which seven bore the name Putnam. Finding bare ground and a long-abandoned shovel, she began to dig.
Every drop of perspiration that stung her eyes, every blister that rose and broke, every cut and every scrape – each pain she offered as restitution, a small payment towards the debt that awaited her in purgatory. All that she hated of herself she felt fall away as the skin that was literally scraped off by the rough wooden shaft.
As the sky lightened in anticipation of the coming dawn, she finally released the instrument of torture, left with only sorrow, bleeding hands, and the small body still resting in its basket. The hands she rubbed over her dirtied apron, and the child she wrapped in that same cloth before placing her in the earth and erecting a crude wooden marker.
With sharp stone she etched month and year, followed by the traditional initials. Only when it came time to carve the name did she pause. This was not a single fatality; with this girl lay all the forgotten and forsaken souls of the trial – both the dead and those who sometimes wished they were. And then it was clear to Betty. She knew what Abby had really killed.