The First New England Witch, continued
angular features half hidden in a stiffly starched white cap, her fingers flying over her knitting-work, as precisely and perseveringly she "seams," "narrows," and "widens." At the old lady's right hand stands a cherry table, on which burns a yellow tallow candle that occasionally the dame proceeds to snuff. There is no carpet on the floor, and the furniture is poor and plain. A kitchen chair sits at the other side of the tablet and in, or on it, sits a half-grown boy, a
ruddy, freckled, country boy who wants to whistle, and prefers to go out and play, but who is required to stay in the house, to sit still, and to read from out the leather-covered Bible that lies open on the table before him.
"But I would like to go out and slide down hill!" begs the boy.
"Have you read yer ten chapters yit?" asks the old dame.
"Wal; read on."
And the lad obeys. He is reading aloud; he is not a good reader; the chapters are in Deuteronomy; but that stint must be performed before evening; then ten chapters after six o'clock, and at eight he must go to bed. If he moves uneasily in his chair, or stops to breathe, he is reprimanded.
The boy was the grandson of the old couple, and resided with them. Under just such restrictions he was kept. Bright, quick, and full of boy life, he was restless under the enforced restraint.
In the neighborhood resided a Yankee school-master, named Caleb Powell, a fellow, who delighted in interfering with the affairs of his neighbors, and in airing his wisdom on almost every known subject. He noticed that the Puritan families kept their boys too closely confined; and influenced by surreptitious gifts of cider and cheese, he interceded in their behalf. He was regarded as an oracle, and was listened to with respect. Gran'ther Morse was among those argued with, and being told that the boy was losing his health by being "kept in" so much, he at once consented to give him a rest from the Bible readings and let him play out of doors and at the houses of the neighbors. Once released, the lad declared that he "should not be put under again." Fertile in imagination, he soon devised a plan.
At that time a belief in witchcraft was universal, and afforded a solution of everything strange and unintelligible. The old shoemaker firmly believed in the supernatural agency of witches, and his roguish grandson knew it. That he might not be obliged to return to the Scripture readings, the boy practiced impositions on his grandfather to which the old man became a very easy dupe.
No one suspected the boy's agency, except Caleb Powell. That worthy knew the young man, and believed that there was nothing marvellous or superstitious about the "manifestations." Desirous of being esteemed learned, he laid claim to a knowledge of astrology, and when the "witchcraft" was the town talk he gave out that he could develope the whole mystery. The consequence was that he was suspected of dealing in the black art, and was accused, tried, and narrowly escaped with his life.
On the court records of Salem is entered:—
"December 3, 1679. Caleb Powell being complained of for suspicion of working with ye