A/N: Hello, all! This is my first Crucible fanfic- in fact, it's only my second story period on this website. My other story is in the Wuthering Heights fandom (it's called The Heights, so check it out if you're interested in WH).
But, anyway! I've always been a huge fan of the Crucible play (and yes, the movie too). I've also always wanted to write something about it here, I just didn't know what until recently. So, one day I was feeling like procrastinating on my school work, and happened to be thinking about this play, so I just started typing out my thoughts...and this is what came out. This story will for the most part be a rendition/imagining of the events PRIOR TO the events in the original play The Crucible. I haven't decided whether or not I plan on including the actual original story or not. We'll see what the response is to this story, and what my muse feels about it.
If I get a good response to it, then I'll continue. If not, well, I suppose it'll just be a one shot. So...REVIEWREVIEWREVIEW! Not just because I actually want to continue writing this, but because I really do appreciate reviews so very much. Anyone who is reading/reviewing The Heights knows that they really do motivate me to keep writing. I'm not a quitter. So, if this story does well, and gets a good reception, then none of you have to worry about me abruptly dropping it off the face of the earth- I finish what I start, no matter how long it takes.
Okay, I've jabbered on for too long already. Here's the first chapter, enjoy it. Oh btw: if I do end up continuing it, I MAY think about bumping up the rating to M, just because of some mature material that I'm considering putting in. Just a heads up. Peace lovelies,
Chapter One : John
"She's a decent woman."
Abel Proctor stayed bent over his bowl of stew and bread, speaking in between the spoonfuls and hunks of food he shoveled into his mouth. He ate seemingly without relish or distaste, only inserting the food into his mouth as if it were the hay that he forked into his barn; just another act of labor of the other multitudinous labors of a farmer.
"She comes from a good family. Good, moral household. Not a whisper of gossip about her."
The younger man sitting at his right at the table was not eating. In fact he had barely touched his food. He stared down blindly at the table, chewing the inside of his lip, like he always did when he was deep in thought. He looked across the table at the woman sitting at his father's left side, who also not eating her food. His mother also had not eaten, her gaze fixed upon him. She smiled at him encouragingly. Try as he might, he could not return it.
He nodded in reply, "I know that, Father." he said quietly.
"She is not slovenly, or vain. She's kept her father's house in proper order since her mother's death five year ago. To be sure, she's no beauty, but what use is that to you? She'd make you a good wife, John."
He nodded again, "I know that, Father."
And the truth was that he did know it. Everything his father (and mother, when in private) had said and was saying to him was true.
Elizabeth Kilbourne was a worthy and honest woman. She was hard-working, dutiful, church-going. No one had anything to say but good things of her and her family. She had all the makings of a proper, Puritan wife.
Of course, no one also ever neglected to mention the plainness of her appearance. For though it was never said in malice or slander, there was just simply no getting around it. Her father, Josiah, was plain. Her mother, Leah, had been plain. And she had borne him even plainer children- Ephraim and Elizabeth.
The scarlet fever outbreak of 1642 had taken both Ephraim and Leah. Josiah was left to raise Elizabeth on his own. He had never seemed to consider remarrying, seeming to prefer to allow his daughter to take charge of his household when she came of age.
Elizabeth was twenty three now, an age that some would consider outrageous for a young woman to have not married by then. There had been speculation and gossip in the village if Josiah ever intended to arrange a marriage for his daughter, or if he intended to keep her for himself for the rest of his days, ending her an old maid.
Then his friend, Abel Proctor, had proposed a match between Elizabeth, and his only child and son, John. Suddenly, it seemed that Josiah was willing to agree to the marriage.
It did not seem to matter that John was four years her junior, nor that John had shown a visible, yet respectful interest in Mercy, the youngest daughter of the Clare family.
John had a feeling that Josiah had appreciated the potential advantages of a marriage between he and Elizabeth. Although they lived on the outskirts of Salem, in the farming country, the Proctor name was well respected and carried a substantial amount of weight within the community. Their land was vast and plentiful, yielding a harvest that gave ample supply to the entire town. In marrying John, Elizabeth would be marrying into a good, wealthy family- one of the best and most wealthy, in fact.
In marrying Elizabeth, John would be taking a good, honest wife, who would take good care of his house, give him comfort, and no doubt bear him children to carry on the Proctor name and inherit his land.
John had known that this day was coming for some time. He was not deaf to the conversations that Abel and Miriam Proctor had with one another at night before the fire. Many a time as a boy he had crept out of his bed and sat at the top of the stairs, eavesdropping to their words. It was a habit he continued to indulge in. He'd known for weeks about his father's plans for he and the Kilbourne girl.
He could not help the feeling of hesitation that seemed to weigh down upon him like a heavy coat. Nor could he help the sensation of dissatisfaction that came when he thought of being married to Elizabeth.
It wasn't from any great affection or love for Mercy Clare. Though John did like her, and would have been satisfied with marrying her, he did not pretend to be in love with Mercy. She was a very pretty, sweet sort of girl, to be sure. But she lacked a great deal in substance or any real intelligence. She was just so vastly...typical. So like all the other girls of Salem who were taught and admonished to think and feel nothing besides what they had been taught and admonished to to think and feel by their families and the church. And though that type of thing may have suited most of his male counterparts, including his father, John had never held any regard for it. He was no one's master and he was certainly no one's god. He didn't want a marriage that would allow him to become either to a woman. Since he was to marry (as he knew that he must someday), he at least wanted someone who would be his partner- a part of himself, as the scriptures instructed.
Love was not something he required. It was not typical among most marriages that were formed within the village, and expecting it or desiring it more often than not earned the reproach of elders that were all too often suspicious of lustful thoughts or inclinations. Love and passion were dangerous elements in Salem.
No, John didn't need a woman that was in love with him. But he did want someone that at least could be his friend...
Though the close relationship of their father's had allowed them to exchange brief words with one another, John scarcely knew Elizabeth at all. They might have been strangers. Could he expect such a thing from Elizabeth? Would she be like Mercy and every other girl in Salem? Or could they possibly form something more meaningful between them than the restrained, stiff veneer of cordiality that seemed to exist between nearly every married couple he'd ever met?
Miriam seemed to notice the way he had withdrawn into his thoughts. As if to pull him out of them, she reached out and gently touched his forearm, "John," she said softly, her voice a gentle lull from years of grooming and training to never rise above more than a mere murmur, "Will you not speak, my son?" she asked.
John cleared his throat, "I...I am...aware of Miss Kilbourne's...virtues. She is a good girl, and would a make proper, dutiful wife."
Abel looked up from his food, arching his brow suspiciously, "And yet?" he asked gruffly. He had heard the hesitation in John's voice and was obviously displeased with it.
John's mouth opened and closed stupidly as he tried to grasp for the proper words to say, "W-well...I am not sure...I'm not...that is to say I'm not...not certain-"
His father made a sound of disgust, "Spit it out, will you boy? Speak like a man!"
And suddenly, he was able to find the exact words that were running through his mind, "Father, I simply do not think I would like to be married to her." He let the words linger in the air for a few moments, before hastily adding, "At least not now." as if the caveat would soften the brunt of them.
He could tell by the thick, heavy silence in the room that it did not.
Abel stared at him through narrowed, glaring eyes, "'Like to be married to her'?" he repeated dumbfoundedly, "That is your only excuse, is it?"
"Abel..." his wife broke in gently, attempting to calm him.
It was to no avail, however. "I tell you of a good, hard-working, Christian girl who is in need of a husband- the daughter of one of my closest friends," Abel said, his voice becoming more harsher and impatient by the moment, "And you, you sit there in all your stammers and silences, and tell me you would not like to be married to her!"
John gave a small sigh, "Father, I-"
"Be silent!" Abel shouted, causing both John and Miriam to jump. "Your conduct is inexcusable. And your reasoning!" he scoffed in disgust again, "'Like to be married to her!' What manner of childish, ungrateful response is this! Do you think marriage an adornment for your amusement? A whim you may turn your nose up at?"
"Is there another who suits your fancy? Another girl who has caught your eye? Surely you have not allowed yourself to be tempted by the wiles of Mercy Clare!"
John winced a little, feeling a small stab of guilt as Mercy's face flashed through his mind. He shook his head though, "No, sir."
"Thank God for that, in any case. She's an empty headed girl from an even more empty headed family. Not good for anything but gossip and mischief."
"That was not my meaning at all, Father. I beg your forgiveness. I did not mean to sound ungrateful." He replied, making his voice as humble and contrite as possible, all the while clenching his fists beneath the table.
Seeming somewhat abated by this, Abel sighed heavily, "Then what is the meaning of this hesitation of yours, John?"
John cleares his throat again, searching his mind for an answer that expressed how he felt but also one that would not further anger his father. It wasn't an easy task. Abel Proctor had always been different from his only child both in appearance and personality. John it seemed, had inherited everything about himself from his mother- from his dark, thick black hair and darker brown eyes, to his mild mannered, reflective nature. He had very little of Abel's abrupt, rough-around-the edges approach to matters that involved little contemplation, and much pragmatism. It had served as the source of tension between him and his father for as long as John could remember.
"Father," he began again tentatively, "I do not mean to say I find the idea of marrying Miss Kilbourne repellent. I only meant that I fear that our...persons may be so far removed and stranger to one another at this time, that we may be incapable of forming an agreeable union together."
Abel still seemed unmoved, "Persons of different natures come together all the time, John. It makes little difference or consequence to their being able to form happy marriages. Look at me and your mother- we had scarcely met above thrice times on the day of our marriage, and yet by the grace of God, we have managed to form a strong and secure union."
John dared to steal a glance at his mother at these words. Miriam's eyes were averted down to her untouched food, her face not betraying a single emotion she might have felt.
His father continued to speak, "Let you remember that you are already ten and nine years of age. You are a child no longer, and can no longer act as one. It is time that you did your duty and found a good and proper wife that will ensure you a good and proper household and an heir to all that I have built here." He jabbed his coarse finger into the wood of the table firmly. "Now, against my own better judgment, I allowed you the luxury of putting forth a choice of your own, a girl that you may have...fancied. But the time for luxury is over- it is your duty and obligation that call upon you now. I demand that you answer."
He put down his spoon and rose up from the table, coming to stand beside John as he placed a heavy hand on his son's shoulder, "So: may I tell Josiah Kilbourne that you consent to the marriage with his daughter, Elizabeth?"
John looked straight ahead stonily, feeling the last of his defiance (and his pride) being sucked out of him from his father's touch. It was useless to argue it further, he knew that now. The battle had been over and lost for him before it had even begun, "Yes, sir." he muttered.
"Good." Abel gave what could have passed as a satisfied smile, "I shall visit the Kilbournes tonight and deliver the message. Let you finish your meal, then be in the fields within the hour."
He put on his hat and went out the front door, leaving John and Miriam alone.
John's mother stood up and began clearing the dishes from the meal, pausing beside him, "Are you finished, dear?" she asked.
John nodded wordlessly, standing up also and going to the front door. He stood in the open doorway, crossing his arms over his chest as he looked out across the seemingly endless fields in front of the house.
"You barely touched your food." she commented. "Was the meal unappetizing to you?"
"Mother, please, I could hardly eat at a time like this!" he said, exasperation thinning his voice. "Between his words," he nodded straight ahead in the direction Abel had gone, "And the thoughts in my mind, I've no room to give attention to my appetite!"
He smiled grimly, "Do you?"
"Yes, I do...despite what you may think." She stacked the dishes into the washing tub for her to take down to the creek later, then came to stand behind him near the door. She reached out her hand and gently laid it on his shoulder, her touch so different from the touch of his father moments ago,
"John... you must try to understand."
"Why? To do his bidding? I don't need to understand him to do it, you know that. He knows it!"
"That is not what I meant. I would wish you to see that what your father wishes for you in this marriage to Elizabeth Kilbourne is more than just your obedience to his will. He has done this for you as well."
"For what he wishes me to be, you mean."
"No," she said firmly, "For you- and for what you are. John, I know that you and your father have never displayed any great affection for one another. I know that there are many times that he has made you cross. But you must believe me when I tell you that this match with Elizabeth Kilbourne is something your father is doing for your own benefit."
"My benefit? To marry someone I scarcely know? Someone so different than myself?"
"You said yourself you scarcely knew her John." his mother said gently, "How is it that you know she is so different from you?"
John sighed, shaking his head, "Mother..."
"Beauty and a lively spirit are not essential things to look for in a proper wife, John." she said, her tone more serious and somber than before.
He glanced backward in her direction sharply, "I never said that I found fault with her looks or spirit-"
"But that is what you find fault with in her, is it not?"
John stared at her in abashed silence, not knowing what to say.
He wished that Elizabeth's Kilbourne's appearance and personality did not contribute to his feelings of discouragement at marrying her- but they did.
She was tall; taller than most women in the village, tall enough to nearly match his own height. Her figure was extremely straight (nearly rectangular) and very thin, without shape or curvature. John had never seen her without the cream colored cap that she kept securely tied at her chin, but the occasional unruly lock of hair had escaped from the cap's confines, and he had been able to see that her hair was a faded shade of auburn that had been dulled from lack of exposure to the sun. Her eyes were a faded hue of gray, yet still unremarkable. She had paper thin lips that pressed into a tight slash of a mouth. The angles of her face were harsh and sharply accentuated the plainness of her features.
John had accompanied his parents on visits to the Kilbourne household on several occasions, and he of course had seen Elizabeth in church. He allowed his mind to reminisce upon these meetings, trying to remember her behavior and demeanor at each of their sightings of one another.
She said very little to nothing to anyone, even in conversation, speaking only when spoken to and when necessary.
She looked over her father and his guests soberly, as if she were a servant, rather than the daughter of the master of the house.
John didn't think that he had ever seen her laugh. Or smile.
Many of the women her age were married with children, and he didn't know if any of them were her friends or not. He did know however, that she was a great favorite of Rebecca Nurse, Francis Nurse's wife. The old woman often visited Miriam, and somehow always managed to mention Elizabeth Kilbourne in some way,
"Such a good girl," she always said, "So calm and steady and true. She will make someone a good wife one day, mark my words."
If John had happened to be in the room, Rebecca would smile in his direction at her last words. Because he liked Rebecca, and did not wish to offend her or his mother, John would always smile indulgently back at her.
But that had been before, when his smile had been solely given in indulgence, when he would have never dreamt Elizabeth Kilbourne as a real prospect of a bride for him.
Now, he was not dreaming, and Elizabeth Kilbourne was to be his bride- and soon, if he knew his father well. Abel didn't believe in long engagements. A hard-working, abrupt man, he preferred to get his business done and completed as soon as possible. And that's what this marriage would be to him; another piece of business to be attended to and gotten out of the way.
"John," Miriam was saying to him, "I know you think that you know yourself better than your father and I. Perhaps you are right in certain respects...but you must believe that I am in earnest when I say that the kind of wife you desire...the type of companion that you covet...she would not suit you, John. She would not."
John sighed in heavy, but silent objection, folding his arms over his chest and stubbornly looking down at the ground.
"Recall the Proverbs, dear. 'A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her, and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. ' It is a wife of noble character that brings these things, John. Not of great beauty or spirit. Those are tools that the Devil makes far more use for than the Lord."
Normally, John loved his mother's voice. It had soothed and comforted him many a time when he was child through stormy nights and ill days, and against the worst of his father's tempers. But now, as he sat listening to her talk of marriage and wives, he wanted none of her dulcet tones and scriptures.
He suddenly felt the need to shout, to scream. To run across the expanse of his father's fields until he was panting for breath and sweating like his horse- away from here, away from Salem and all its expectations, customs, practices and demands.
And even- yes, even away from this girl, this Elizabeth Kilbourne who now either stood to gain or lose depending upon the outcome of this impending arrangement. And she did stand to lose much.
Elizabeth was already twenty three- in the minds of many, that was an ancient age for a woman not to be married and settled with her husband with at least one child in her household. She'd had no serious prospects of marriage, either.
There'd been a rumor that the doddering old widow, Thaddeus Ferguson had briefly spoken to her father about a marriage proposal, but the talk among the village was that Josiah had turned it down. Everyone knew that althoughThaddeus was wealthy, he was also a cruel, selfish brute. Even worse, he sparingly attended church and was reputed to be a private drunkard.
John believed it was only his exorbitant tithing to the church that kept the village fathers from publicly reprimanding him.
Public punishment and reprimand could be bought away in Salem for a high enough price.
But besides Ferguson, no other man had shown an interest in Elizabeth Kilbourne. And at her age, without any great fortune or property to recommend her, it was unlikely that any other man ever would.
If John did not marry her, there was an excellent chance that she would be doomed to the life of an old maid.
Even worse still- John knew that even though it had never been publicy made known, it was probably still common gossip in the village by then that Abel Proctor had entered into talks of marriage for his son with Josiah Kilbourne's homely daughter. Word and news like that always spread like wildfire- as it would also if John were to be defiant and refuse to marry Elizabeth. That kind of a rejection would be like a slap in the face- for both Josiah and Elizabeth.
She'd be humiliated, an object of ridicule and derision within the village for the rest of her life.
And it would have been all John's fault..
John shook his head, as if to speak to himself.
No. He didn't want something like that on his conscience. Especially when he stood to lose very little in capitulating.
She was a good woman. She would make a good wife.
What more, after all, could he really ask for? What more could he possibly want?
"Very well." he said, his voice quiet but firmly resolute, "I will marry her."