JULY 19, 1692
Sarah Goode didn’t open her eyes when they began to test the gallows. Though Procter’s Ledge was a goodly walk from the courthouse where Sarah was jailed, the breeze carried the sound through the bars of the glassless window above her head. It was ghastly. The metallic creeeeak—snap of the lever that opened the trapdoor splintered the night followed closely by the thunk of the burlap bag of sand they used in place of a falling body. The sarcastic guffaws and muffled comments from the men who witnessed the test flitted wasp-like to her through the otherwise silent night.
Beside her mother, little Dorothy stirred on the narrow cot and Sarah stroked the child’s thin back comfortingly. She drew a deep breath, and the taste of rosemary filled her. She held in check the anger she felt at them. Bad enough that they had fabricated a reason to arrest her for witchcraft, but they’d jailed her four-year-old daughter as well because they’d found a fleabite on her little finger—a fleabite!
Sarah had paid attention to omens that warned she was in danger—the raven that had called through her window three mornings in a row—the mandrake roots she’d unearthed that were filled with rot—and especially the rabbit she’d found dead on her doorstep. Sarah had heeded their warning and she had prepared, though she had underestimated how swiftly the town would move against her, or how her own husband would add to the accusations.
Still, she hadn’t panicked until the day Constable Locker appeared at the close-set bars of her jail cell with Dorothy’s small hand in his—and then opened the door and pushed the child in to her mother, saying, “Aye, well, ’tis true. The child confessed to witchery like her mother and showed Satan’s mark as well. So she will abide with ye.” That was the day Sarah knew the town would not overcome the hysteria that gripped it. They would not see reason and allow her or her precious child to go free—and if they did, where would her daughter go? Back to her treacherous father?
Sarah had to get her away.
Creeeeak—snap! Thunk! This time the men’s laughter was punctuated by a smattering of applause.
Dorothy murmured restlessly against her mother’s side, and Sarah hummed a familiar lullaby under her breath while she stroked her back. Normally she would sing to her daughter, but not that night. That night Sarah soothed the child just enough to keep her silent and sleeping. Her main focus—her true intention—was on the sprig of fresh rosemary she chewed slowly, carefully, into a fragrant pulp.
The time was nigh. The testing of the gallows confirmed that it was the night before she, along with four others—Goodwifes Martin, Howe, Nurse, and Wilde—were to be hung at dawn.
Why test the gallows in the deep of the night?
Sarah’s full lips tilted up as the answer filled her mind. ’Tis because of cruelty mixed with their fear. The small-minded men who ruled Salem called midnight The Witch’s Hour—but they knew little else. Their show of bravado was meant to frighten away Satan should he stride into town, forked tongue flashing, to rescue the women Reverend Noyes called Satan’s handmaids. They’d jailed each woman in different parts of the courthouse—to keep them from joining to call their master.
Sarah snorted. Fools—every one of them.
The other four women meant to hang that day were no more witches than Reverend Noyes was a warlock. May that monstrous man’s God give him only blood to drink for the misery he has caused, Sarah thought. And me? If I be a handmaid, it is for the Earth Mother Gaia. Sarah Goode no more believed in Satan than she did in fairies.
Dorothy reacted less to the sound each time it came. She snored softly, her restlessness abating, which left Sarah to focus completely on the spell. She had surreptitiously palmed a sprig of rosemary during the brief trip she and Dorothy had taken to the outhouse to relieve themselves. Sarah continued to silently recite her intent, over and over as she chewed the rosemary.
Unaltered the fragrance aids memory
I muddle—I chew—I alter thee three by three by three
So that befuddled with sleep he shall be …
The cat’s cry sounded just outside the door to the courthouse jail, eerie accompaniment to the macabre gallows music, though to Sarah’s ears the cat’s lament was water to a parched desert. Gently, she shook her daughter’s shoulders.
The child opened her moss green eyes immediately.
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