The morning sun was just breaking over Salem Port when Bridget Bishop awoke. Her thick eyelashes gave a tremble and opened to expose clear blue-gray eyes. She sat up with a sigh and an air of surrender as she pulled her heavy mass of bronze hair into a quick knot at the back of her head. As full awareness of the day became readily apparent to her, she began a simple daily ritual that would be her last.
She gradually lifted her nimble 5-foot frame into a standing position and moved toward the door of her prison. She knelt by a heavy, wooden rain barrel that stood just inside the door and, grabbing the dipper, drank generously, her nose automatically shutting out the dank smell that permeated her only water supply. She plunged the hem of her dress into the barrel and carefully removed the dirt that covered her fine boned face in a dusty film.
Letting the dipper fall back into the barrel, she sat and began her morning prayers. The same prayers she had said every daybreak of her life still rang true for her here. She praised God for another morning of life. She prayed for her family, mother, father, each of her four sisters and two brothers, and for her young husband, Michael. She closed her devotions with a new prayer to those of the last weeks.
Although Bridget was not a selfish person, this new addition to her morning prayers was for herself. While the prayer itself differed from day to day, the concept stayed the same. Whatever Bridget had done to offend the Lord, if He would only make it known to her she would repent, and if He should have mercy, her life would be saved.
The idea that witches lived among them in Salem Village was preposterous in itself, but that Bridget could be one of them!?! The idea sent shivers through her bones. Almost all of the Salem residents had known Bridget for most of her life. Salem Village was a small, but prominent town in Massachusetts Colony. Everyone knew everyone else, and there was little serious crime.
Salem Village was a beautiful place to live. The water of the bay sparkled with a shimmering sapphire hue that gave one a hopeless desire to capture it, along with the rich greens and browns of the earth. The colors seemed bright and new against the white clapboard farmhouses that lay in a patchwork of fields and meadows.
Bridget sighed thoughtfully as she thought of her own home in the winter. The wonderfully crafted house had been lovingly built by Michael shortly before their marriage. She had been giddy with the first sight of it. A sitting room bedecked with hand-hewn furniture. A spacious farm kitchen with a full window beside the table, all of which was near the hallway that led to a well-furnished bedroom with a colossal oak chest of drawers. All this was situated on 30 acres of land near the stable that housed their two oddly mismatched horses.
What a time they had enjoyed together, hanging the dainty lace curtains in the windows and stacking the kettles and pots in the cozy kitchen cabinets. They had spent barely six months in the new house before the snow had blanketed it in a new splendor. The newness had worn slightly thin on particularly chilly nights, or when the horses got loose and had to be chased back into the safety of the stable, but Bridget felt pleased with the way things were, or rather, the way things had been.
Bridget sat wearily against a wall among straw that filled the cell, thinking and remembering. She recalled life in Salem Village before rumor and panic had destroyed her life. She could still smell the tart winter air, and hear the soft swish swish of long skirts on the snow. Most of all she remembered the shrieking and shaking of the young children as they trembled uncontrollably in their beds.
Bridget gingerly rubbed the sore place on her wrist where the basket filled with fresh bread had left its red mark. She shuffled quickly up the path until she reached the menacing door of the Parris farmhouse. She choked back apprehension as she imagined tiny Elizabeth sick in her bed. Her father, the Rev. Samuel Parris, had held prayer meetings until late in the day, but they seemed not to help. After nearly a week of suffering, Elizabeth and her playmate, Abigail Williams, were in no better condition.
Bridget's brisk knock was answered by a disheveled-looking Rev. Parris. "I have brought this by for your family. I know Mrs. Parris mustn't feel up to cooking with all the trouble." Her wavering voice was met with a kind sort of half smile by the robust reverend. Alter what must have been days without sleep, Samuel Parris' eyes were bloodshot, and his stern face pallid.
At his beckoning she had entered into the house, which seemed to be in mass chaos. Dirty pots and kitchen utensils littered the kitchen, and rags and soiled laundry were piled in a heap near the hall. Her gift had been set aside on a table that had been cleared of clutter and now held the many baskets of fruit and smoked hams that were symbols of the great generosity found in the villagers.
A door could be heard opening down the hall, and Martha Parris stepped forth from its dark void. As her chubby hand reached for the handle of the door, a shrill scream was registered as issuing from within. Finally having stifled the dreadful noise with a flick of the wrist, the minister's wife shuffled forward, and at the sight of Bridget gave a curt nod, and a sad glance around her at her unkempt home.
Feeling uncomfortable in the ominous quiet that filled the room, Bridget, hoping to start a conversation, spoke up, "Have the physicians not yet found a cause for the awful sickness that afflicts the children?"
Rev. Parris took a moment before answering and was quite thoughtful in doing so, "They are yet to find what ails her." His voice was choked with emotion as he added, almost as an afterthought, "Tis only work of the devil and his followers that could bring wrath like this."
The silence that filled the house then was unbearable until finally, in desperation, Bridget politely excused herself, and with promises to keep them in her prayers, left the house of sickness and distress.
It was an early morning in late February when all hell finally broke loose. Dr. Edmund Lawrence wiped his clammy brow and thought of the previous three days spent at the bedside of little Lissy Parris. The child lay quivering in her bed. Thirteen days earlier she had awoken from the night's sleep feverish and delirious. Her bedside was now littered with poultices of witchhazel and vinegar, all that remained of her parents' efforts to reduce her dangerously high body temperature. Slowly the child's eyes gave a flutter, and she stirred under the heavy quilts so lovingly sewn by her mother.
As Rev. Parris sat across the room, he composed himself to ask the question his daughter's life would forever depend on. "Lissie?" he asked. "Who is it that doth this to you? Who has tempted you, and in doing so, now inhabits your likeness?"
Feeble Elizabeth looked up at her father through deep blue eyes. Her first words were lost in her feverish mouth, but left no mystery as to her intention, "was Tituba that doth it. Tituba Indian, Sarah Osborne, and Sarah Good." Feeling confident that her father understood her, and being exhausted by the efforts exerted in releasing her secret, Elizabeth Parris promptly fell back asleep.
The pattern of kneading had always been something Bridget loved. The sweet smell of yeast and the feel of flour and water between her fingers forever brought her back to the days of her childhood. Hours spent turning and pressing and folding the stiff dough until it was ready to rise and bake were merely fond memories now that breadmaking had turned to such a chore.
A brisk rapping on the front door sent Bridget scurrying, first for a rag and then for the door handle. When the door finally swung open, it unleashed a blast of frosty coldness that gave Bridget shudders. A figure clothed in a forest green coat, slowly stumbled into the entryway of the cozy house.
Woolen shawls and fur mufflers seemed to engulf Bridget, as she helped to free her guest from the imprisonment of her March ensemble. When they were finished at last, Bridget and Camille Gibbons stood amongst numerous yards of fabric and fur. It was Camille who spoke first, "I came as soon as I was able. The examinations took a bit longer then we had expected. The ailing children testified first. Then the minister and physicians spoke their pieces. By the time the judges had deliberated, it was nearly time for the noon meal."
Wrapping her guest's icy cold fingers around a steaming cup of English tea, Bridget replied, "You poor dear! You must be nearly starved. Shall I get you a slice of mincemeat pie while I hear about the court proceedings?"
When her visitor politely declined, Bridget sat back and listened as the boring events of the trial passed by. Camille was dragging out the many small facts of the trial in as much detail as she could muster. Bridget had just returned with a third cup of tea, when Camille concluded her tale. "So Judges Corwin and Hawthorne returned to the court, and began by commanding the defendants to rise.
"Tituba Indian, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne," Camille began in her deepest most authoritative voice. "You have each been found guilty of witchcraft, and will be faced with a sentence deemed appropriate by a panel of his majesty's finest judges." Camille finished her saga with a victorious look in her eye. Bridget slouched in her chair as she mulled over in her mind what had just been recounted to her. She had a feeling this was not the first home Camille had stopped at on her way home, mostly because of the tell-tale cake icing smeared on her dress, and the fact that her ever-hungry friend had never declined food before.
"What other opinions on the examinations have you heard, Camille?" Bridget knew this question would tell her how much of what Camille had said was influenced by the rumors and opinions of others.
Camille's response did not surprise Bridget in the least, "Well, I stopped at the Bachman household on the way over here, and I had lunch with Mary Edmonds and Emily Childs. I was thinking of venturing on toward the Bergen's farm after here."
Camille continued to chatter on as Bridget's thoughts drifted. "Camille is just spreading the local gossip and further condemning the accused women. I can't imagine what everyone else will think if they only hear other people's opinions repeated and revised."
After a few more moments of irrelevant busy chatter, Camille excused herself saying, "I really must move on. I have a few more people to see before I head home for the evening meal. It was really charming to get to spend the afternoon with you, darling." While the look on Camille's face was a picture of innocence, her voice oozed the insincerity she was hiding. After Bridget had closed the door behind Camille, and put her bread in to bake, she sat quietly thinking for a long time. Nearly an hour later Michael returned home from his day's work. While Bridget greeted him with just as much sweetness as usual, he thought he could see misty tears clouding her nearly perfect blue eyes.
The day had gone as ordinarily as any other. As Bridget pulled the flannel nightdress on over her silken hair and crawled beneath the covers on the heavy wooden sleigh bed, she thought of the turmoil so many of her neighbors had endured. Bridget's heart ached at the thought of innocent folks being unjustly condemned. Was there another possible motive in the minds of those making accusations? Or maybe the first few had been true cases, while out of hand rumors were responsible for the rest.
As Bridget's head rested against the down pillow, she pondered the logic behind the arrests. When Mary Warren had been arrested, the prime evidence had been the cast iron black cauldron kept in her kitchen, and the fiendish one-eyed black cat that lived in her hay loft. John Proctor had been accused of witchcraft along with his wife Elizabeth, less then a year after he had been suspected of adultery. Confused and bewildered, Bridget stifled a yawn, and let her eyelids close.
In the pale light reflected from the full moon, silhouettes of many men could be seen crossing the fields onto the property of Michael Bishop. Slowly the illumination increased its spectrum as a single torch was passed through the mob to light numerous others.
The light on the curtains, and the quiet shuffling of feet was all it took to jolt Bridget from her silent slumber. As she opened her eyes she saw Michael moving toward the door of the room, looking slightly ghoulish in his knitted nightwear. She felt the ice-cold breath of the clammy floor as it assaulted her bare feet. Rushing to Michael's side and following him, she crept down the narrow hallway to the heavy oak door at the front of the house.
With Bridget standing in the shadows behind the open door, Michael advanced onto the porch amidst shouts and cheers. He called out a greeting of, "Who goes there?" Bridget could see many men from town standing menacingly at their doorstep. From her station in the shadows cast by the door, Bridget brushed the sleep from her eyes and tried to wake up. From the sluggish manner in which they moved and by the slurring of their speech, she guessed they had come from the tavern.
"Michael, what is the matter?" She had barely advanced out of the doorway before cheers of "Demon" and "Witch" could be heard rippling through the crowd. With a sudden realization Bridget let out a cry of anguish and backed toward the safety of her home. The mob moved forward then with surprising speed in their drunken state. Before she knew what was happening, she had been engulfed and was being tied with ropes. She was thinking wildly of a way to escape when she felt a sharp pain on the back of her head. The noise ceased and the world turned dark.
She had spent a first fearful night in the mill along with Abigail Hobbs and Mary Warren, and in the morning, she had been examined by Rev. Parris and Dr. Lawrence. Evidence had been collected for her trial, she was told. Her trial would be within the month, unless she chose to confess. The results of a confession were almost too terrible to think of. First there would be the divorce, and then the shunning by the whole town. Besides, she had thought, I have done nothing wrong. With God as my witness and protector, I must be found innocent of this horrible crime.
The days turned into weeks as Bridget waited in the prison. She had managed to maintain her innocence to Michael, but everyone else she knew believed her to be guilty. Chances of convincing the panel of judges that she had done no wrong were very slight. Her only other hope was the letter she had sent by mail to Gov. Increase Mather. If he would grant her a pardon, she could walk free.
Increase Mather was sitting in a red, overstuffed chair and thinking. The red chair was the newest addition to his study, and he had found himself doing some very profound thinking when he was seated in it. In his hand were two letters. The first was a letter from Deputy Gov. Thomas Danforth. Danforth was someone Increase especially disliked. In his opinion, sniveling imbeciles like Danforth were fit only for jobs of extreme unimportance.
The letter from the deputy governor regarded the instances of witchcraft that seemed to have swept the northern part of Massachusetts colony. It seemed that under a certain act passed by Parliament an individual accused or convicted of a crime could be cleared by a letter of pardon from a government official. With a grunt, Increase Mather crumpled the letter and threw it across the study. His face was red with rage as he fumed over the stupidity of his next in charge. As if he didn't have enough to do without dealing with criminals and the like.
He gradually calmed himself down and realized that his knuckles were white from gripping the remaining letter so tightly. He quickly read the contents of the letter, then reached for a piece of parchment. He always felt obligated to respond to every piece of mail. Dipping the quill pen into the ink well, he dated the letter and began to write. . .
Bridget sat calmly in the front row of the meetinghouse. She wore the dress that Michael had brought to the mill for her. The blue velvet of the gown made her look surprisingly beautiful, even in the deep shadow of fate. He had picked the dress out for its innocence, and she looked proud as she wore it.
Bridget heard the sharp intake of breath as the panel of judges entered the room. All eyes were on the black robed men as they made their way to the benches at the front of the building. The courtroom was completely packed as the seven-judge panel began the first official examination of what would in other parts of the world be known as the Salem Witch Trials.
The judges -- Stoughton, Saltonstall, Gedney, Sergeant, Sewall, Winthrop, Richards, Hawthorne and Corwin -- each took their seats, and soon proceedings were under way. Bridget solemnly stood, and then moved forward as her name was read. Judge John Hawthorne rose from the pine bench and began asking questions. The scribe noted that since no confession had been made, the defendant was pleading innocent.
"Is your name Bridget Bishop?" Hawthorne asked the question reverently, and seemed to think it peculiar when she answered that it was.
"Then confess to witchcraft, an act that has been verified by two tormented children to be one committed by your likeness."
Bridget debated only momentarily before answering in a steady voice, "I have not come here to say I am a witch, to take away my life."
"Who is it that doth it if you do not? They say it is your likeness that comes and torments them and tempts to write in the book. What book is that which you tempt them with?"
"I know nothing of it. I am innocent."
"Bridget, do you see how they are tormented? You are acting witchcraft right now before us. What do you say to this? Why have you not confessed the truth?"
Bridget felt tears building in her eyes and choked back a sob, wishing with all her might that the seemingly endless volley of words would stop. Her head was pounding as she gave her answer: "I am innocent. I know nothing of it. I am no witch, I know not what a witch is."
Hawthorne was receiving odd glances from the rest of the panel as he finished up the remaining questions. Bridget swallowed and attempted to compose herself as Hawthorne asked the final question. "Have you not given consent that some evil spirit should do this to your likeness? If so, why do you not confess now, so that the spirit may be cast out of your being, and you may be forgiven if God in his mercy chooses to do so?"
Bridget's answer was calm, ever so much more than the rising terror she felt inside her mind. "I cannot confess to something of which I am innocent. I know of no man, woman or child here that can truthfully say I have committed witchcraft, for I know it to be untrue."
As Bridget looked into the faces of the panel, she saw the distrust in many of their eyes. One of them, however, looked thoughtful as Bridget glanced his way. She, of course, would never know that inside the head of the thoughtful judge, Nathaniel Saltonstall, great turmoil had taken place.
Saltonstall scratched his itching scalp under the heavy wig. He had seen the look of sudden proudness pass over the faces of Bridget and Michael Bishop as she finished her answer. He knew by the look that had passed between them that Michael's faith in Bridget had never failed, and still remained as strong as stone. If her husband could still believe in her, then maybe Saltonstall could too.
Since no other witnesses besides the afflicted and the accused could attest to the charges, the panel of dark robed men now exited the meetinghouse to begin deliberating their final decision.
Nearly an hour later, Michael and Bridget were sitting together in the front row as the panel filed back into the room. The nimble court scribe, 70-year-old Ezekiel Cheever, stood on hand as Judge John Hawthorne handed him the final parchment that would decide the course of Bridget's life.
As the courtroom quieted, Ezekiel stood solemnly and focused on his duties. He stood proudly in his moment of glory, pleased to see that what he had helped start in the dark of the night was finally finished. When he felt satisfied that he had everyone's attention, he began to read, "In the name of God and the king of England, this court of Massachusetts colony has found the following, Bridget Bishop, to be guilty as tried for the crime of witchcraft. Her sentence will be death by the gallows within the week, unless she should choose to confess. Does the prisoner wish to confess?"
After a moment, Bridget realized that all eyes were on her. As the meaning of the words sunk in, Bridget answered hurriedly, "I am no witch and I know nothing of it."
Bridget was led from the courtroom then and back to a cell. That night Michael cried for his wife, and all those he had been wrong to pass judgment on. Although Bridget would never know it, Michael would be different forever after, as if part of him was changed irreversibly.
Bridget sighed after recalling the last month's confusion. Leaning against the stone wall, she closed her eyes momentarily as a deep look of emotion passed over her face like a cloud. Suddenly the harsh creak of the cell grate broke into her solitude.
"Get up witch! Your hangin' is in but a few hours. Here are your dying clothes, now get up." Tossing the velvet dress to the floor, the gruff sentinel, Seth Peppered, stormed out of her hall nearly as quickly as he had come.
Slowly she pulled the soft fabric of the dress over her head, and using the hem of her ragged shift, wiped her hands clean from dirt and grime that was everywhere. Finally, Bridget rose from the straw and allowed herself to be shackled and led out of her prison. No letter had come from Increase Mather, and she had been found guilty in a British court. The truth was hard to face, but she knew there was no way out now.
As she was led out into the sunlight, once again in the blue velvet dress, the noisy crowds came to a hush. The parents and their children moved forward behind the procession until they neared the gallows. The onlookers shied away from this place of death, as Bridget was led up the wooden stairs and onto the platform.
At the same time, but some miles away, young Paul Miller had stopped for a rest by a gentle stream. Paul was a courier for Gov. Increase Mather, and had one letter left in his bag. As a courier, his job was to deliver official documents from the governor to his royal majesty's subjects. His faithful horse stood patiently by his side as he opened his saddle bag and carefully removed the next letter to be delivered. The plain envelope was addressed to a resident of Salem Village almost five miles away. Paul knew it must be of extreme importance because of the royal stamp insignia that sealed the envelope. Royal business usually didn't find its way this far north, but as an official courier he knew time was of the essence. Placing the letter back into his bag, he climbed stiffly back onto his horse and began the remaining ride into Salem Village.
Bridget's feet were shaking as she looked down on the crowd from the gallows above. Not far from the front, she could see Michael standing near her family. Her younger brothers and sisters looked shaken and somber, and she wished they didn't have to see her this way. She said a silent prayer for them and for Michael, that he would never forget her love. Then she asked for a quick death. As she finished her last prayer, a single tear trickled down her slender face.
The heavy shackles were being removed from her wrists and ankles, but her momentary relief was soon replaced with pain as the thick ropes on her arms and legs cut into her flesh. She heard Rev. Parris as he spoke to the onlookers and the seven judges witnessing the execution. Her vision was soon obstructed as a rough white cloth bag was dropped over her head and secured. The noose was pulled taut around her neck, and as the minister finished his lecture, Bridget felt the floor drop out from beneath her feet. The rope jerked tightly beneath her chin, and she felt her body swaying slightly. Her shrouded vision began to fade and waver, and her breath tried to expand in her closed throat, as her lungs shuddered and shook until it seemed they would explode.
After a few minutes, Bridget's world went dark. The crowd was done with their dirty work and began to disperse. Michael stood silent, then in a shocked state, fell to the ground just as he felt a tap on his shoulder. Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall stood over him looking inanimate, and after an eternity, thrust a sealed envelope into his hand. Sitting up, Michael slid his forefinger beneath the royal seal, and opened the envelope. His eyes scanned the pages for a long moment, then callused fingers crumpled the paper and threw it to the ground, where it was pummeled with both fists. The tears were rolling freely down his face now, and Bridget's father could do nothing to restrain him, as he ran toward his wife's lifeless form.
His lips twisted into a savage scream, as the raglike body of his wife rested limply in his arms. He stopped screaming, but began to rock her, in a babble of incoherent words and bitter tears.
But Bridget wasn't there. High above, Bridget watched her husband as he was comforted by her family. She could also see young Paul Miller, the courier of news good and bad, riding his horse slowly off into the distance. She had been cleared of no crime, and had regained no dignity in her senseless death, the first of many. Yet the world seemed suddenly brighter, as she moved upward into the light, and away from the gallows of Salem Village.