As many of you know I am in the midst on writing a novel that takes place against the bloody backdrop of the Salem Witch Trials. Previously I have given you the first seven rough chapters. Without further ado I give you the eigth chapter. As always feel free to tell me what you think of the story thus far.
The days dried out as Grace sat with her back to a wall and her wrists and neck locked in a pillory. Her wrists and neck were chafed and her hair looked as though it were crawling of its own free will.
The frail Mrs. Osbourne sat on one side of her and Tituba on the other. All three women were shackled at the ankles. Mrs. Good hadn’t been seen in the jail for more than a day.
It had taken a couple of days for Grace to sit upright, rather than lay hunched over in her own waste; now, though, she gingerly sat with her back to the harsh stone wall. Mrs. Osbourne and Tituba had managed to move her away from the far wall and closer to the middle of the cell. All three of them may have been covered in their own filth, but none of them wanted to sit closer to the five gallon buckets that their waste was supposed to go in, than they had to.
The tiny cell reeked of human waste and stale, coppery blood that turned black as it dried. There hadn’t been a single soul to visit the jail in the last day. The jailer himself served their dinner – and that was naught but a bowl of stew with stale, crusty bread.
The women sat in silent, miserable camaraderie as the morning sun dimly illuminated the cell. Tituba looked over at Grace and gasped, “Miss Grace, your hair is crawling!”
“I had hoped that the itching was merely my mind trying to escape from this brutal prison,” Grace whispered tearily as the room descended into encompassing silence.
The deafening silence was broken by the steady clank of metal on metal. The hardened voice of the sheriff derisively called out, “Supper time you foul creatures.”
As the sheriff arrogantly strode into view the ladies could see that he was accompanied by a woman who was carrying a loaf a bread and tray with three bowls of steaming stew on it.
The woman that accompanied the sheriff was of moderate height. She had a round oval face. “If you’ll unlock the door, sheriff, I will leave this bountiful meal for them to eat. These bowls won’t be missed overnight,” she serenely stated.
Grace gasped as she heard that familiar, jovial voice. Abraham’s wife, Hope, had delivered dinner this evening!
The sheriff bowed his head at the woman as he replied, “As you wish Mrs. Bacon. Are sure you husbands mother won’t run short of food for her Godly household,” the sheriff inquired.
“She’s the one who sent the food to them all,” Mrs. Bacon informed.
“How does only one of her children turn to the devil’s charms?”
“Abraham is a saint sheriff,” Mrs. Bacon agreed, “So is Nathaniel.”
The sheriff chuckled and complimented, “Hope Bacon, you are indeed a saint to always find the good in even the worst of people.
“Alright, I’ll open the cell for you, after which we’ll tally up what these pathetic creatures owe you.”
“Nonsense, sheriff! Mrs. Bacon wouldn’t dream of charging for such a simple meal. She believes, as all of us do, that even the smallest kindness can cause a person to consider repenting their sins.”
“These creatures deserve no kindness from you,” the sheriff coolly informed as he opened the door to the cell.
Once Hope darted into the tiny cell to lay the bowls of stew at the feet of the prisoners. The sheriff brusquely informed, “I’ll be waiting out front for you Mrs. Bacon.”
“Thank you sheriff, and may God bless you,” Hope answered as she knelt to place the still warm bowls of stew at the feet of the prisoners.
The sheriff shrugged dismissively as he walked back to the front of the jail. The heavy wooden door slammed shut after the sheriff.
“Grace what happened,” Hope exclaimed with eyes the size of dinner plates.
Grace couldn’t look at her sister-in-law, but she could hear the horror in her voice.
“Tis been a long few days, Hope. I refuse to confess to something that I haven’t done,” Grace hoarsely replied.
“This is inhumane! To be lashed for refusing to confess is abominable! As for the pillory there is no reason to shame you.
“As for the cell bars no jail in the colony has those. None would dare to escape,” Hope declared.
Grace snorted inelegantly at Hope’s indignation before answering, “Methinks that our jailors don’t have a worry for our well being; the jailers don’t trust us to meet our fate,” Grace finished grimly.
“Your brother will be extremely upset.”
“Pray that he does nothing rash,” Grace implored.
Hope shook her head and gave all three ladies in the cell a warm bowl of stew. Tituba and Mrs. Osbourne reached for the bowl as Hope attempted to feed Grace as though she were a newborn.
The women ate in silence, relishing the warm stew that was coating their hungry stomachs. Grace was eating with her eyes closed; trying to forget her misery for a moment.
After a few bites Grace asked, “How are mother and father?”
“Your father is stubborn in the fact that if you are accused than you must be guilty. He doesn’t show it, but this is breaking him.
“Your mother refuses to believe that you are capable of such a thing. Nazareth has heard them viciously arguing over the matter. He doesn’t believe these charges other.
“You already know Abraham doesn’t believe them,” Hope quietly informed.
Tears flared behind Graces’ eyelids forcing her to open them and look into the spoon that
Hope held in her hand. Grace gasped sharply causing Hope to question, “What?”
“It’s the stew. It’s black and purple,” Grace exclaimed. Tituba’s face turned ashy and Mrs. Osbourne set her bowl down with a thud.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying Grace,” Hope softly stated.
“St. Anthony’s fire. It’s the reason the children are acting up. The grain crops are rotting with St. Anthony’s fire,” Grace insisted.
“Grace, I’ve never been out of Salem. I literally don’t know what you’re saying,” Hope informed.
Grace took a breath and whispered, “Father and I went to Stamford a while back and there was talk of the grain crops being tainted. They had symptoms just like the girls. They called it St. Anthony’s fire,” she finished desperately as thunder rolled across the darkening sky.