Author's Note: Sorry about the delay in posting. This chapter was a particularly difficult one to write, and I was busy with extracurricular activities, but hopefully you enjoy this installment. Also, as the Puritans wouldn't say, Merry Christmas to all Christians, Happy Hanukah to all Jewish people, and Happy New Year everybody!
Confessions and Confusions
February passed in a blur of silvery whiteness as I largely abandoned my studies and joined much of Salem's populace in the Salem Village Meetinghouse to watch the proceedings in the witchcraft affair. For three days, Tituba's confession went on in the building that should have felt pleasantly warm with the raging fire and the crowd assembled there, but didn't because the screams of the girls and Tituba's bald admittance of guilt were more chilling than a draft of frigid air, and the roaring fire only served to remind me of the flames of hell that seemed to be devouring Salem.
My ears rang hours after Tituba informed the breathless, horrified magistrates and spectators in lurid detail of how red and black cats had come to her and bade her serve them. Then, equally descriptive, she shouted about how a large black dog had ordered her to hurt the afflicted girls.
Her voice swelling over the gasps of the assembly, she continued to explain her sinful behavior with enough haunting details to fuel my nightmares for years to come. As my fingers and toes went numb, she recounted how she had ridden on a broom on the darkest of nights along with Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne. Ignoring how the masses and magistrates alike stirred at the implication that Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne were guilty as well, she spoke of awful winged animals with the heads of women and a little yellow bird that accompanied her on her malevolent missions.
Then, she described in a manner that made me tremble like a hapless leaf caught up in a rainstorm a tall, white-haired man who dressed in black and led a coven of witches in and about the colony of Massachusetts, especially here in Essex County. After that, she went on to explain with an appalling simplicity how she had signed her name in the Devil's book, an action in itself that promised damnation, in order to please this wicked man. Worse still, she said as hysteria rose in me at the very notion that there were more witches than just herself, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne, but, when the magistrates pressed her for their names, she insisted that she could not provide them, since she didn't know the identities of the other witches.
Then, she admitted that she sent spectral shapes into people's homes to torment them, and my jaw dropped when, at the same time, the poor afflicted girls moaned and threw themselves onto the floor, where they thrashed about like fish out of water frantically trying to return to the ocean.
The next few days, when Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne were brought before my father and Magistrate Corwin for questioning, they claimed innocence, but after listening to Tituba's testimony and after seeing how the girls wailed and screamed as they tossed themselves about on the floor while Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne spoke, I didn't believe them. I believed that they were lying, and that they were doubly damned, because they wouldn't confess to their dreadful crimes against God.
By early March, Father and Magistrate Corwin had finished interrogating Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne, and, on March 7th, they sent the three women to jail in Boston to await trial. When the three of them were taken to Boston, I prayed that, even though Tituba had stated that there were unknown witches still roaming about Salem, the witchcraft affair would be essentially over in Salem.
However, it transpired that was a waste of a prayer, for at supper on March 19th Father announced that Abigail Williams had accused Rebecca Nurse of being a witch and Ann Putnam had accused Martha Corey of being one.
"Rebecca Nurse?" Mother echoed, shocked, her fork clanking on her platter after it slipped from her limp fingers. "She is the last person one would think would be named."
"Evil can be deceptive," answered Father grimly. "I'm sure that even God in His infinite wisdom thought Lucifer was one of the purest of all the angels up until the hour before he fell."
"But, sir, Rebecca Nurse is staunch of spirit, kind of heart, learned in the Scripture, she keeps a spotless house, and she is the mother of eight children," I protested numbly. I didn't care that much about Martha Corey, because she was a sharp-tongued gossip, but it mattered to me a great deal what happened to a woman who shone with an inner light as Rebecca Nurse did. "Nothing about her actions suggest that she is one of the damned."
"It's not actions that determine whether someone is of the elect or not, and you know that, Johnathan," Father reminded me. "Who is to be damned and who is to be saved was determined when the world was created."
"I know that, but actions provide an indication of whether or not someone is of the elect, Father," I pointed out.
"Actions can also lie, son," Father countered, his voice tight, since he never appreciated any of his children disputing with him.
"Even you can't see into someone's heart and mind, Father." I shook my head as I ate my stew. "As such, actions must be the only way to judge a person."
"Rebecca Nurse has been accused of being a witch along with the others, and she will be arrested," Father declared, glowering at me. "Magistrate Corwin and I will examine her. If we determine that there is sufficient evidence to bring her to trial, then she will be taken to the Boston jail to await trial along with the others."
"There won't be sufficient evidence." Again, I shook my head vehemently. "Such a good woman can't be a witch, Father."
"It's best not to be too naïve in matters of witchcraft, son," Father warned. "You might be surprised at what ugly secrets are revealed about people when they are questioned by us magistrates."
"I want to attend her questioning, sir," I announced, my eyes narrowing.
"You have attended all of the examinations thus far, Johnathan, and I am not about to prevent you from attending Rebecca Nurse's questioning. However, be warned that I will not tolerate a display like this one at her interrogation." Father's voice and eyes had hardened into their most severe magistrate ones. "If I were you, I wouldn't worry so much about Rebecca Nurse, though, and I would concern myself with the state of my own soul. Your words suggest to me that you should be praying fervently that you are one of the people God selected to show His endless mercy by saving rather than one of those He chose to show His noble justice by damning."
I shuddered, as my eyes flicked over to the candles burning in the center of the table, and I had the terrifying sensation for a moment of the flames licking away at my limbs in Hell. With an effort, I regained control over myself. Father was exaggerating the danger to scare me into good behavior, as he had done ever since I was old enough to remember. His comment now was no different than when he took the other children and me to see hangings, whippings, and people locked in the stocks and pillories. I wasn't going to roast in Hell any more than I was going to be hung. I had to remain calm, since I would be a weak ally to Rebecca Nurse if I didn't.