Tags: #historical romance, #rainy kirkland, #salem massachusetts, #romance historical, #romance, #salem, #salem witch trials, #romance 1600s
To Bob, Nancy, Jerry, and Lois who
Produced Mike, Chrissie,
Jimmy, Lindsay, and Ashley.
Special thanks to Maryjane Nauss of Venice, Florida, for research and to Bev, Bernadette, Bernice and Lee of Rhapps for their support.
Copyright ©1991 by Rainy Kirkland
All rights reserved.No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
First printing:June, 1991 Second Edition 2012
Table of Contents:
The last rays of the full moon danced in eerie splendor on the snow-covered Massachusetts countryside. Snowcapped pines and ancient oaks with their stark gray branches encased in ice stood at attention as the cock crowed. The bitter wind answered in kind.But as it raced through the tiny village of Salem touching every household with its frigid bite it left fear and apprehension in its wake.
Samuel Wittfield hung the milking stool away, and then turned to face the sleek black cat that sat silently watching him. The cat had arrived at the barn two days ago, and with had come the idea; just a vague notion at first, without form or substance. But this morning, as he milked during the cold gray hour before dawn, Samuel felt the idea germinate and begin to grow. Before him sat the devil’s familiar and the answer to his prayers.
Carefully, he poured some treasured cream into a cracked dish and gently nudged it toward the cat with the toe of his boot. He’d have to be very careful that no one saw the beast until his scheme could be put into motion. Mesmerized, he watched the pink tongue reach out again and again until the dish was empty. The cat sat back and looked up at Samuel expectantly.
“You keep yourself hidden for the next few days and don’t go wandering off,” he ordered. The cat’s ear twitched. “You do this for me and there’ll be more cream than you can drink.”
The cat stretched lazily and then picked out a patch of ground where the sun’s first rays poured in between two cracked boards. It circled twice then curled into a tight black ball to sleep.
“Just see that you stay there.” Turning, Samuel stumbled over the milk pails and hit the ground hard. “Damnation,” he swore, watching the milk spread over the frozen earth. But as he rubbed the sting from his knee and thigh, a slow smile covered his weathered face. He would use this, too, for his advantage. Giving up cream for his morning porridge would be a small enough price to pay for five hundred of the best acres in Salem Village. Gingerly he stood and brushed off his clothing. Then with the side of his boot, he pushed straw and dirt over the puddled milk.
Samuel walked softly to the barn door with an empty milk pail in his hand. These were dangerous times in Salem, and they would suit his purpose well. Massachusetts was without a charter, a colony adrift without direction. Old feuds had begun to surface and three townsfolk had already been arrested as witches. Samuel smiled at the sight of the sleeping cat.
“You just stay there where it’s warm,” he whispered, “and when the hour is at hand, you’ll travel with me to visit little Sarah.” Taking no chances, Samuel carefully latched the barn door behind him then stomped over the snow-covered path to the house.
“Elizabeth,” Samuel bellowed, allowing the door to snap with the wind.
“There is no need to shout, Samuel, and do close the door.” Elizabeth Wittfield bent near the fireplace and lifted the porridge pot from its cradle in the coals. “Come, your breakfast is ready.”
Samuel pulled off his coat and hung it on the wooden peg behind the door. “Sarah was here yesterday, wasn’t she?”
Elizabeth brought the heavy cast iron pot to the table and gave her husband a puzzled look.“You know she was, Samuel, you sat and argued with her at this very table.”
Samuel reached down for the milk bucket, held it over the table, and deliberately turned it upside down. Elizabeth gasped as only two large drops ran out to splash on her plate.
“The cow’s gone dry.”
Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide. “Samuel, what are you saying?”
Elizabeth pressed her hand against her heart, “Samuel, no.”
Silently, he nodded. “And there be two in Salem jail that carry her name.”
“Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne,” Elizabeth whispered, as if saying the names aloud might call forth evil. “Oh, Samuel, no. This can’t be happening to us.”
Samuel sat down at the table, and propped his head in his hands. “I don’t know what to think, Elizabeth. But what I know is that my sister comes to our house and the next day our cows are dry.”
Elizabeth took her place at the table and reached for her husband’s hand. “Sarah is your sister by marriage only husband. Forget not that you carry none of the same blood. Besides, you are a good man, Samuel Wittfield. Surely God would not cast another burden upon your shoulders. You’ve lost your parents and half our land in the same month. So if the cows be dry, then ‘tis witchcraft to be sure.”
“I fear the Lord is testing me, Elizabeth.” Samuel struggled to keep his voice tone weary. “Mayhap Sarah is not the guilty party.”
“But she must be.” Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed with thought. “Sarah is headstrong and willful just like her father. How your mother, God rest her soul, could have fallen in love with that penniless dreamer is beyond me.”
A dark scowl covered Samuel’s face. “Jon Townsend may have acted the dreamer, but he succeeded in getting half of our family’s land to be left to his daughter as a dowry.” Samuel reached for the porridge. “Lord forgive me, but I never liked that man.”
“Little Sarah.” Elizabeth glanced toward the empty bucket then back to her husband. “Samuel, the others accused are old and feeble. Sarah’s just a child.”
“Now listen, wife.” Samuel’s voice went soft and menacing. “For the last time, Sarah’s no child. With that midnight hair and those flashing eyes, ‘tis no wonder the devil took a fancy to her. She’s the most comely female in all of Massachusetts and I’d challenge any man to say different. But facts are facts and now is not the time to ignore them.”
Elizabeth dropped her gaze, her hands clasped tightly in her lap. “What shall we do, husband? I cringe at the thought that one in our very family would consort with the devil.”
Samuel laid a comforting hand on his wife’s shoulder as his plot became clearer. “Mayhap it would do you good to go over to the Widow Tate’s and ask her to pray with you for Sarah. I have business that will take me into Salem Port this morning and I shall not be home till evening.” Samuel placed a fleeting kiss on the top of his wife’s head. “I would not have you be alone this day.”
Elizabeth looked up at her husband with troubled eyes. “Do you really think that Ann Tate can be trusted? You know how she likes to carry tales, and well . . .”
Samuel sat back in his chair and hastily began to eat. “I am sure that you can press her into your confidence, my dear. If you stress how important it is for none to know the circumstances that prevail, I believe she will truly help us to do the right thing.” Samuel offered the porridge, but Elizabeth just shook her head.
“I shall spend every hour in prayer.” she stated quietly.
Samuel rose from the table and reached for his coat. “You just finish your chores and then spend the day with Ann. And Elizabeth . . .” His voice grew hard. “On no account are you to go into the barn today. We know not what other madness might be afflicting those animals, and I’ll not have you placed in danger while I am away. I want your word that you’ll not open the barn door for any reason.”
Elizabeth looked up. How like Samuel to think of her safety at a time such as this. “Have a safe trip, husband.” She smiled weakly. “You have my word.”
* * *
Sarah Townsend clutched her cape more securely around her as she stood in the Salem graveyard. The March wind stung her eyes, bringing tears that were already too close to the surface.
“I miss you both so much.” She reached down and pushed some dead leaves away from the marker that carried the names of her parents. “The snow was bad last Sunday,” Sarah whispered against the wind. “And I attended services at the meeting house instead of traveling over to Topsfield. You would never have stood for such goings-on, Papa.” Sarah shivered. “Some children disrupted the services and the Reverend Mr. Parris did nothing to stop them. I understand now why you disliked the man so intensely.” Sarah rubbed her hands against the cold. “Evil is in the air.” She took a shallow breath. “You can almost taste it.” Her fingers again traced over the cold gray stone. “And Mama . . .” she whispered. “Did you have any premonition of the turmoil you would cause?” A sad smile touched her face. “I didn’t need all that land to know that you loved me. And now Samuel feels that you have betrayed him.” Heedless of the snow, Sarah knelt at the gravestone. “What am I to do, Mama? Samuel will barely speak to me he is so angry, and now George Porter has asked me to marry him. You know that he and Samuel have always been rivals. What am I to do?”
The clouds moved across the sun and the wind took on a sharper bite. Sarah ran her fingers across the stone’s rough surface one last time, then rose and shook the snow from her cape. With the wind at her back her steps quickened as she moved between the carved gray stones. Reaching the gate, she was surprised to find Elizabeth and the Widow Tate huddled near the entrance.
“Whatever are you doing here, sister?” Sarah took Elizabeth’s hand and found it stiff from cold. “ ‘Tis too bitter a day for you to visit the graves. Come, both of you, I will see you warm.”
“Actually, Sarah, we were coming to visit you.” Ann’s voice held a curious tone as they walked briskly back toward Sarah’s house.
Once inside, Sarah quickly built up the fire and put her kettle on. She pulled the high-backed settle close to the hearth to trap the heat and carefully positioned a corn-husk mat for her guests to warm their feet. With a practiced hand she measured spices into the cider and then moved to the dresser to gather her mother’s best earthenware cups. Slowly the warmth of the fire began to invade the room.
“Tell me, Sarah . . .” Ann’s voice was sharp. “Do you spend much time in the graveyard?
Sarah smiled and reached for the kettle. “Sometimes, when I need answers. I find it a restful place to think.”
“So you like doing your thinking in the graveyard?”
Sarah turned a quizzical glance back toward her guest. “My parents are buried there. You know that. And these days,” she thought of the feud between George Porter and her brother, “I find I miss them more than I can bear.”
“And what did you think of Reverend Parris’s text last Sunday?” Ann gave a curious sniff at her steaming cup.
“ ‘Tis fresh cider, Ann,” Sarah said softly. “I drew it just this morning.”
Ann sniffed again. “But ‘tis not plain. What did you put in here?”
Sarah gave the widow a patient smile. “It’s chamomile flowers and sassafras root with a touch of maple syrup.” She handed a cup to Elizabeth. “Your favorite.”
“Sarah . . .” Elizabeth’s voice quivered with uncertainty. “You know how much I enjoy your special brews, but perhaps today,” she glanced nervously toward her companion, “if you have it, plain would be more welcomed.”
Stunned, Sarah reached for their cups. Elizabeth was always after her to share herb mixtures. What had happened to change her so? She watched her guests watching her as she emptied the kettle and poured in fresh cider.
“You didn’t answer my question, Sarah,” Ann commanded. “I wish to know your feelings on Sunday’s service. You and your parents always went to Topsfield and now suddenly you decide to attend our own meeting house. I would know why.”
Sarah sat on a low stool at Elizabeth’s feet. “ ‘Tis no great mystery, Ann. The snow was heavy last week, and rather than miss Sacrament Sunday, I decided to stay in Salem.”
“And how did you find the service?”
Anger flashed in Sarah’s violet eyes. “Most distressing. Never have I seen such a spectacle. You were there.” She looked up at Elizabeth. “You saw the way those children were allowed to behave. And not one word of admonishment was uttered.”
“Dear . . .” Elizabeth’s hand trembled as she hesitantly touched Sarah’s shoulder. “The children are afflicted. They’re not responsible. Surely you could see that.”
“What I saw were five little girls rolling about on the floor, and not even the Reverend Mr. Parris gave reprimand.”
“ ‘Tis said that they are the victims of witches,” Ann announced with authority. “Surely you’ve heard the news about Goodwife Nurse.”
Sarah turned a puzzled look to her brother’s wife. “Has something happened to Rebecca?”
“She was arrested yesterday afternoon.” Ann looked down her thin nose. “The children named her as their tormentor.”
Sarah jerked to her feet and began to pace. “That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I went to visit Rebecca just two days ago and found her too poorly to leave her bed.” She poured fresh cider and handed them the steaming cups.
“It was her specter that did the mischief,” Ann stated as she reached for her drink.
“Sarah, I didn’t know you were spending time with Goody Nurse.” Elizabeth’s face grew pale.
Sarah sat back on her stool and took a deep drink of the hot mixture. “I visit Rebecca often. She’s an interesting woman and has much to teach. Besides, I love listening to her stories.” She gave Ann an irritated glance. “But I don’t believe for a minute that those children are bewitched; and certainly not by Rebecca.”
Elizabeth’s hand visibly trembled as she set her cup back on the table. “But Sarah, Dr. Gribbs stated it himself.”
“Bah.” Sarah pulled her legs up before her and balanced her cup on her knee. “The good Dr. Gribbs is a kindly man to be sure, but he knows only what is written in his book. Those children are no more afflicted than I am.” Filled with righteous anger, Sarah missed the nervous glance exchanged by her guests.