ePub 版

to see the trial. 66 Ay, that is seeing enough; is it not, lass ?" replied her father. "Well, run back to your aunt. The fewer there are here the better for Salem. But I must go in. I want to see whether my old nurse hath fair play, and whether these courts are to be managed on principles of moderation or no."

Rachel walked back alone to Deacon Bowson's, encountered at every step by men, women, and children, who were hastening on to the witch assizes. The morning wore away heavily in the kitchen; dinner-time came, and still nobody returned from the court. But, an hour or so after noon, a crowd filled the streets, and Rachel heard people call out triumphantly to the houses in passing: "Guilty! guilty!" Presently her father and uncle appeared at the gate, walking in company, but evidently on terms of the broadest disagreement. "Poor old fool! why couldn't she keep her Irish, old wife nonsense to herself!" What, growled More as he entered. father?" "What was it, brother?" asked Rachel and sister Ann, eagerly. “Gibberish," exclaimed More; "mere babble, doting babble, from old Bridget, and from Deputy Governor Stoughton, as well."

[ocr errors]

"Be gorra, yer honor." broke in Teague Rooney, who had come in at the back door, "ye're jist right there, begging yer honor's pardon. They wor too hard upon the poor old Irish crayther."


Teague, hold your tongue," cried the excited deacon, resolved to govern, at least, the opinions of his own serving


"Go on, Teague. You have as much brains as any of us," said More, looking sarcastically at Bowson. But the Irishman thought best to remain respectfully silent; for the day had not yet come in New England when servants are better than their lords. 66 Hear this now, and tell me if it is not babble," continued More. "Judge Stoughton shakes his empty head at that poor old gammer, and demands, 'Prisoner, have you any one to appear for you?' Whereat Bridget, whose skull is likewise empty, casts her eyes up to the ceiling, and says, 'I have. Then presently she whimpers and mumbles: No; I had a prince, high and mighty, but he is gone. Whereupon a score of other empty heads cry out: 'She means Beel

zebub; she is condemned out of her own mouth.' Is not that babble? I ask you. Are we not all worthy of Bedlam together? They say the Turks worship lunatic people as inspired. If a Turk were to come here, he would be on his knees to every man in Salem."

"Ah, Henry! are we not commanded to speak respectfully of those in authority?" said Mrs. Bowson in a deprecating tone. "But I shall not dispute with you.

You are older and more learned than I. Only I think it would be well for you to say a page of the catechism to yourself before you talk any further on this matter."

"Go to the next trial, sister Ann, and see whether you will come out speaking respectfully of those in authority," was More's reply. He evidently did not choose just now to meditate upon the catechism. Perhaps the recollection of that pamphlet, and of his boyish sufferings in committing it to memory, was rather exasperating than soothing.


Well," he continued, "there sat Parris playing the advocate, and examining the witnesses. There he sat with his witch-books before him, minding me of an old rattlesnake watching her eggs. One thing was ridiculous and contradictory enough. The indictment ran for sorcery and witchcraft upon Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams, whereby they were consumed, pined and wasted away. Now, the brats are as well-conditioned as they were a year agone. Abigail, in especial, is as fat and fair as if Beelzebub had been shut up these thousand years."

"But what say you of Elizabeth ?" exclaimed the deacon, by way of protest against all this skepticism. Is she not lean? Is she not yellow?"

"Wasn't she lean and yellow years before she ever took to this howling?" answered More. "God help us if all the spleeny and bilious people in the world are to have the right of hanging somebody! How would you like to dangle from the gallows because your neighbor's brat was teething? Well, to go on, Elizabeth fell down at the first wink of old Bridget, and squealed like a rat on a pitchfork. I was glad to observe that she severely kicked the fat shins of Doctor Griggs, when he undertook to hold her."


Bedad, yes; she worried that old gintleman's hind quarters powerfully," interrupted Teague.

"And oh what a buzzing, what a groaning, what a crowding to see!" continued More. "The judges leaned forward and rustled their gowns. Sheriff Willard caught hold of Bridget as if he feared she would fly out of the window. And, as for you, brother Bowson, what did you say amen for?"

"I don't know," muttered the deacon, looking foolish as well as angry, and sidling away to another part of the kitchen.


[ocr errors]

Yes, and there is another thing I would like to know," More went on. "I would like to know whether Elizabeth Parris has not been whipped into this business, as they say Tituba has been. If I have any skill in reading faces, she had no wish to put her hand on the Bible and speak those words: So help me, God!" I thought she trembled in real affright, and looked at her father beseechingly, as if desiring, even at that late hour, to plead off. She is a mischievous, deceitful little monkey; but I opine that she would have been glad to sink through the floor rather than take that oath. No matter; Parris scowled her down, and then drew out of her more idle tales than there are threads in a spider's web. She said it was all of Goody Bishop that she was so tormented and convulsed; Goody Bishop haunted her in various airy shapes; brought her the devil's red book for signature; teased her to join company in witch communions; promised her ease and pleasure if she would list under Satan, and threatened her with all sorts of dreadful brandings, and pinchings, and prickings if she refused. You never heard such babble. And, finally, to prove it all. she once more falls down howling, flounders about like a hen with its head off, and spits two or three pins, which I dare say she moused out of her stomacher. It was the same thing over again when they brought up Abigail and Tituba, and John Indian, and the other afflicted. Parris roused them up when they grew dull; bullied them with God and the devil, and got out of them all the lies that were to be had for cunning questions. It was like running a hayfork into a rotten corn-heap, and starting out the rats and field-mice."

"But what say you to the poppets? What say you to the depositions of the doctors?" exclaimed the deacon in a voice of trembling eagerness; for it cut

the poor man to the heart to hear the court thus derided; and yet he hardly dared utter a word in its defense, so fearful was he of More's superior intellect. Accordingly, as soon as he had propounded his two questions, be grinned deprecatingly, and sidled away with a quivering lip, as if about to burst into tears in some corner.

"What I think is, that the depositions of the doctors and the poppets of old Bridget ought to be burned in the same bonfire," replied More. "You must know, sister Ann, that one sensible juryman inquired whether Bridget were not commonly supposed to be crazed in her intellectuals. Whereupon Parris reads the affidavits of these five doctors, to the purport that they had examined the prisoner and found her compos mentis. For my part, I would as lief have the affidavit of Bridget concerning the five doctors. But Parris nodded his head, as if this settled the matter; and then added, with a spiteful stare at the juryman: I think none but persons of a particular dirtiness of spirit will dispute that evidence.' After which he called for the poppets; and John Willard pulled them out of his pockets. What a hustling of feet there was, and what a stretching of necks to catch sight of those manikins of rags stuffed with goat's-hair! One would have thought that such a thing as a child's doll had never before been seen in New England; nor such a thing as an old woman in her second childhood."

"But how strangely the hag started up at sight of them. And what a dreadful fit Elizabeth Parris was seized withal!" broke in the believing deacon.

"Ay, ay," scornfully retorted More, "about as strange as to see your old mother sing psalms at dinner; and about as dreadful as the yelpings that Frisk gives us thereupon."

The deacon groaned in timid anguish of spirit, and More proceeded with his skeptical comments: "Yes, when Bridget snatched at the poppets, Elizabeth rolled up her eyes and went down on the floor with a squall, which was so easy to do, that brother Bowson here could have done it better."

"But she roared again when she was carried into the entry, where she could not see the hag spitting upon the poppets and stroking them," persisted the deacon, still zealous for the honor of witchcraft.


Why, so she did," answered More. "I allow it readily. But then she is always roaring, and must roar in the right place now and then. Besides, could she not hear that hush of expectation that came over the house, and that loud coughing which gripped Elder Parris just at the right time? Oh, to see how grave and good men can be put upon by fanatics and tricksters! Why, a mountebank does more than we have seen to day; and yet no one believes that he hath dealings with the devil. Then what a shame to hear stout, kindly John Willard bellowing out: Sirs, she is seized!' How much better to use that brave voice of his in hallooing at his oxen! But the vilest thing of all was the charge which Stoughton made unto the jury. One of them had objected that the afflicted were not in any way visibly pined and consumed. Whereupon our second Daniel addresses them thus: Sirs, you are not to question whether the bodies of the afflicted are really pined and consumed as expressed in the indictment, but whether the said afflicted do not suffer such torments as naturally tend to pine and consume them. This, sirs, is pining and consuming in the sense of the law.' That was his very phrase, mark you. After such urgings as that, it is no wonder that the jury presently brought her in guilty. And then, to crown all, my good brother-in-law here must once more cry amen."

"I thought that I ought to give in my poor testimony," stammered Bow


"And very poor testimony it was; as poor as any of the rest," replied More angrily.

Dinner, the cold dinner of that day, scarcely tasted, scarcely complimented with a sit-down, was over. The deacon, with his usual kindly attention to his mother's age and infirmities, had drawn her chair away from the table, and the old good-wife was humming some of her favorite melodies, when there came a tap at the door, and Elder Hig inson entered. What a mild, grave kindliness there was in this old gentleman's face; what an outgoing benevolence even in bis manner of saying good afternoon. Nor was his philanthropy all in his visage; a good deal of it came out through his pocket; and he was a second Moses for patience under injuries. He came now, it seems, to offer

the deacon a deed of hospitality, which was beyond the capacities of his own dwelling. "Brother Bowson," said he, "I desire a lodging place for one or two travelers, who must tarry over night in Salem. My house is full, as are the inns, also; so great is the crowd brought upon us by these trials. You know Elder Burroughs, who was pastor of the village a few years ago? Can you give him and another worthy gentleman sleeping room until to-morrow?"

The deacon was of course rejoiced to offer his bed and board to a minister. He hoped Elder Burroughs would stay, not only till to-morrow, but until the court was over; and he eagerly inquired whether the reverend tourist had brought news of any witch discoveries in Wells, his present residence, or otherwheres in that neighborhood. "Indeed I know not," said Higginson. “I have not questioned him on that point. But I should certainly hope that there have been no such woeful discoveries."

"But-but-Elder Higginson-I, I— you, you-have faith in witches, I hope," cried the deacon.


Truly I do not like to pronounce for or against the belief in witchcraft," said the old man. "It may be that there were witches anciently, and none now; just as there were formerly miracles, but none now. But this I know, that in our days men have often been deceived in this matter of sorcery. Persons have been loudly cried out upon for it, who afterwards approved themselves guiltless, and who always had a name, not only for a worthy life, but even for a devout one. There was a virtuous and godly woman in Groton, in Connecticut, who was charged of this sin by one Elizabeth Knap that was possessed; but after the woman had prayed earnestly with and for her accuser, the latter acknowledged that she had been deceived by Satan, and had spoken evil of her good neighbor without a


"Oh, sir, what if Goody Bishop had prayed with her accusers!" exclaimed the simple deacon with his usual inconsequence.

"It is a very appropriate and weighty instance, sir, that story of Knap," observed More. "And now, what think you of the examinations here? What think you of the way in which our witnesses are suffered to go about free and herd together?"

"We must charitably believe that our magistrates do the best they can." replied Higginson. "Only I could wish that the accused might be exposed to a little less noise, and company and openness. And as to the afflicted, I should advise that they be kept asunder in the closest privacy. To that end I have already offered my own house; telling Justice Hawthorne, that in a few days I shall be able to provide accommodation for any six of the witnesses. Unless some such precaution be taken, I fear that we may expect a long train of dismal and bloody consequences. But, thank God, whatever happens in this castaway earth, heaven is safe."

"Oh, Elder Higginson, what a blessed confidence you have! How happy you must be!" uttered Bowson, almost melted to tears by the old man's mild, solemn cheerfulness. 66 Oh, sir, can you not leave some comfortable text to support my fainting spirit? Something to sustain me against the frights of these wicked wretches, who have sold their own souls to the devil, and would fain sell mine also as if it were so much game or broadcloth!"

"Dear brother," said Higginson, taking him by the hand, "of all the texts

[ocr errors]

in scripture, it seems to me that this is the most beautiful and useful: Faith. hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity.""

The deacon looked a little disappointed; the text evidently did not suit his present temper of mind; he would have preferred a smart stinging slap at the witch of Endor; some thundering, terrifying passage of anathema maranatha. But such was the mild scriptural food which the kind old man generally dealt out to his parishioners. He was not an alarming preacher; not even, sad to say, a doctrinal preacher. He seldom discoursed from the Leviticus, the prophecies, the epistles of St. Paul, or the cursing psalms of David. His favorite books in the Bible were the gospels; especially that most sweet, tender one of St. John. He was severe upon usury, rum-selling, sharp trading and other favorite vices of serious society; while election, fore-ordination, special providences, damnation, even, were more neglected by him than quite pleased the "eminent Christians" of Salem. People said that there was a lack of savory doctrine in his sermons; and thus, beautiful as his life was, he had never been a remarkably popular preacher.


TEN years ago, it was the fashion to

praise, almost without stint, this age in which we live. A long peace over all the world, and the multiplication in every land of the resources of human life and human happiness, had put almost everybody into a good-humor with his race. The tone of satire itself was more amiable than in ancient days, and the few Cassandra voices which were raised amid the general hum of satisfaction and anticipation won little attention and less respect from the jubilant, self-confident public.

Everybody admitted that the moral world was, by no means, purged of evil, but then all the sluices of philanthropy had been opened, and the Augean stable was in a fair way to be cleansed. The material earth had not yielded all her treasures to her lord; but then the magic of machinery was in his hand, and the complete conquest of nature was

but a question of time. There were to be no more wars; pauperism and crime were to be abolished; slavery, in all its shapes, despotism, in all its degrees, were to be obliterated from the very memory of mankind; and the golden age was clearly dawning upon us.

So we talked, ten years ago, in the newspapers and the magazines, from the platforms of the public meeting, and over the tables of the cozy tea-party. We kept up a general chorus of self-congratulation, and mutual encouragement. We compared statistics; we sent committees of inquiry from America to Prussia, from England to France; we inaugurated the most imperial reforms; entertained the most seraphic ideas, and get the most white-winged projects flying over sea and land.

Then came certain tremendous crashes of thunder out of our seeming clear sky, which broke up this universal philan

*Aurora Leigh. By ELIZABETH Barrett BrowNING. New York: C. S. Francis & Co., 1857.

thropic Pickwickian picnic of ail the talents and all the sentiments, and threw the universe again into trepida

tion and confusion.

Ireland starved through a long summer, and then lay down and died in the winter's snow; all Europe blazed from end to end with the fires of war, and trembled with the earthquake of revolution; the ghosts of dead and buried evils arose out of their graves and walked the world again, seating themselves on thrones, stealing into cabinets and the councils of statesmen, haranguing and misleading the multitudes of men. Loudly and fiercely, over the dulcet discussions of the peace societies and the political economists, rang out the terrible roar of the cannon and the cry of tribes, as restless and rebellious as in the earliest times. Thereupon, our talk of the age began to change in tone. From piping we betook ourselves to wailing. The desolate minor domineered in all the symphony of the world. We began to put our faith in Jeremiah alone, of all the prophets. This prosperous age, which had been so praised and flattered, got no mercy now from its fairweather friends. It became the most material, the meanest, the most sordid age that had ever disgraced the decent domain of history. It was an age which ought to go down on its knees in sack-cloth and ashesan age of which every honest and highminded man ought to be ashamed, and in which to be born should be counted the chief of calamities. Cringing in character, tawdry in taste, vulgar in demeanor, false in sentiment, weak in will, abject in aim, what could be expected of such an age by its most sanguine son-what could be done for such an age by its most devoted friend?

Were we wise in our pæan of ten years ago? Are we wise in our lamentations of to-day? Has the sharp experience of recent years so changed the character of the generation to which we belong, or has it only brought into keener and clearer relief the virtues and the vices which distinguished that character from the character of generations past, and happily laid to rest in their moss-grown graves? Here are questions worth pondering, and worth answering by the man who can answer them fitly.

Meanwhile, let us point our readers to one glorious reality in this much-de

bated age, from which they may take good heart of grace for the present, and for the future, too.

Whatever man in these days may be, woman never wielded, in any time, a nobler influence than now, and never won such recognition of her greatest qualities as from the generation which has had to bear the glittering scoffs of the "Princess" and the fiery scorn of George Sand. Since the heroic age of Italian life, and Italian letters, there has been no such crowning of woman as our own eyes have seen. Classes of women, and individual women, have attained great power in different countries, at different times, in virtue of diverse qualities. The willful, witty womanhood of the old régime rated France by fascination and by fear; the ardent faith and the unconquerable hate of her woman's heart, gave to Maria Theresa the strength to save an empire. The story of the last century is starred all over with the names of women conspicuous for the power which they achieved by the extremity of their virtue or their vice. But never, until now, never until this nineteenth century, has it been possible to say that men were approaching a general recognition of the absolute value of the female character, and of female genius; a general, and, therefore, tacit, easy, and unconstrained admission of woman's claim to be a held for a power in the world. While people are quarreling in conventions about "Woman's Sphere," and pamphleteers are doing battle for and against her right to vote, and to hold property, to command steamers, and to preach in churches, and to work mills, and to cure diseases, and to break horses, the growing good sense and advancing appreciation of the civilized world are gradually, but surely, coming to the righteous conclusion of the whole matter. Of course, a great many highly respectable persons continue to be as absurd upon this subject as they are upon all other subjects. You may still meet in polite society with elderly gentlemen, whose views of the female intellect, if not couched in language as surly as that in which Dr. Johnson was given to uttering his oracles, will be found to be quite as silly as those of the dogmatic doctor; and the cathedral excommunication of woman from the loftier themes of human discourse is still not seldom decreed by beardless young pon

« 上一頁繼續 »