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Ye Lyttle Salem Maide

A Story of Witchcraft

281 pages
Library of Alexandria
Over two centuries ago a little Puritan maiden might have been seen passing along the Indian path which led from out Salem Town to her home. It was near the close of day. The solemn twilight of the great primeval forest was beginning to fall. But the little maid tripped lightly on, unawed, untroubled. From underneath her snowy linen cap, with its stiffly starched ear-flaps, hung the braid of her hair, several shades more golden than the hue of her gown. Over one arm she carried her woollen stockings and buckled shoon. A man, seated near the path on the trunk of a fallen tree of such gigantic girth that his feet swung off the ground, although he was a person of no inconsiderable size, hailed her as she neared him. “Where do you wend your way in such hasty fashion, little mistress?” She paused and bobbed him a very fine courtesy, such as she had been taught in the Dame School, judging him to be an important personage by reason of his sword with its jewelled hilt and his plumed hat. “I be sorely hungered, good sir,” she replied, “and I ken that Goody Higgins has a bowl o’ porridge piping hot for me in the chimney corner.” Her dimpled face grew grave; her eyelids fell. “When one for a grievous sin,” she added humbly, “has stood from early morn till set o’ sun on a block o’ wood beside the town-pump, and has had naught to eat in all that time, one hungers much.” “And would they put a maid like you up for public punishment?” cried the Cavalier. “By my faith, these Puritans permit no children. They would have them saints, lisping brimstone and wrestling with Satan!” “Hush, hush!” cried the little maid, affrighted. “Ye must not say that word lest the Devil answer to his name.” She pointed to where the sunset glimmered red behind the trees. “Do ye not ken that when the sun be set, the witches ride on broomsticks? After dark all good children stay in the house.” “Ho, ho!” laughed the stranger; “and have you a law that witches must not ride on broomsticks? You Puritans had best be wary lest they ride your nags to death at night and you take away their broomsticks.” “Ay,” assented the maid. “Old Goody Jones is to be hanged for witchery this day week. One morn, who should find his nag steaming, flecked with foam, its mane plaited to make the bridle, but our good Neighbour Root. When I heard tell o’ it, I cut across the clearing to his barn before breakfast, and with my own eyes saw the nag with its plaited mane and tail. Neighbour Root suspicioned who the witch was that had been riding it, but he, being an o’er-cautious man, kept a close mouth. Well, at dawn, two days later, he jumped wide-awake all in a minute,—he had been sleeping with an eye half-cocked, as it were,—for he heard the barn door slam. He rose and lit his lantern and went out. There he saw Goody Jones hiding in a corner of the stall, her eyes shining like a cat’s. When she saw he kenned her, she gave a wicked screech and flew by him in the form o’ an owl. He was so afeared lest she should bewitch him, that he trembled till his red cotton nightcap fell off. It was found in the stall by our goodly magistrate in proof o’ Neighbour Root’s words.”