A bitterly cold day, the water freezes in the butts. Three hours at my prayers before break of day with the cold a constant distraction.
The Court has today seen fit to punish two transgressors: Samuel Holditch, Carrier, for lewd and unseemly behaviour in that he did embrace his wife in a public street upon the Sabbath. Sentence: Two hours in the stocks. And Margaret Cotton for going about her house with her arms exposed above the wrist in full view of her servants. Sentence: To stand for one hour in the marketplace without benefit of shawl, her offence inscribed upon a placard and slung about her neck. These are just and measured punishments for those who transgress God’s Holy laws duly enacted by His representatives here on Earth in accordance with His Divine Ordinances, etcetera, etcetera, Amen.
Today also begins my examination of the boy Togol Earle, accused of witchcraft.
This is a difficult case. The background is well-known. Three years ago Elizabeth Earle came to us from the New Settlement where her husband had been cruelly murdered by Savages, her house burned and her community scattered. The good people of Saham, of their charity, took Elizabeth and her four daughters in. They came with their Indian servant boy, Togol, then a child of some twelve summers. The boy had been found wandering among the ruins of his encampment, his own family having been killed in just and right punishment for their wicked crime against the Earles. It is surely a testament to the saintliness of Goodwife Earle that she should have taken pity upon a member of the very Race that hath so treacherously slain her husband.
However, as we all know, Indians are by their nature Devils and it is questionable whether any amount of Godly love can reform them. The boy was a child when first he came here but he is now a man. His disposition as well as his body has begun to change. He has become sullen and morose. Many fear him. Thus far the mutterings have been mute but they are unlikely to be gone until the matter is resolved.
As spiritual leader of our Community it has therefore fallen to me to conduct the preliminary Examination. This I resolve to do in the calm setting of Saham Parsonage away from the disturbed atmosphere of his neighbourhood with only Dr Gillet, the village surgeon, as my aid. Together we will decide if there be sufficient evidence of evil doings to bring the boy before the Court. I hope with all my heart that the claims prove to be baseless, for if indeed Satan has been raised amongst us then no mercy can be shown. To do otherwise would be a blasphemy against God Himself.
Conclusion of the First Examination of the boy Togol Earle in the presence of Surgeon Gillet.
I fetched the boy myself this morning from the house of Goodwife Earle. Except that his colour is different from ordinary Christian folk, he appeared as a normal boy of his age. He did not initiate conversation but responded when spoken to kindly with due deference to my rank and position. Thus far I can find no fault with him.
Dr Gillet was already waiting at the parsonage when we arrived at midday. Having dined and rested from our journey, we retired to my study to question the boy in earnest.
We began with his habits. At what hour did he rise each day? What were his duties? Did he carry them out cheerfully and to the best of his abilities? Was he grateful for all the many kindnesses shown to him by his mistress, Goodwife Earle? To each question he answered satisfactorily. I next challenged him on the more specific accusations – a neighbour's cow gone lame; an apple tree that hath failed to bear fruit; an unseasonable wind. Expecting denial, I paid more attention to the manner of his replies than to the words themselves: I pride myself that with four sons of my own I am able to recognise when I am being dissembled to by young men. Once again he impressed me holding my eye steady without flinch.
Then Dr. Gillet probed him on more intimate matters. He was of an age, the Doctor informed him, where boys begin to have feelings towards the female gender. Was he aware of such feelings in himself? And if so, were they directed towards any female in his household?
Before the boy could answer I interrupted and took Dr. Gillet to one side. Whilst I did not wish to question his expertise in such matters, I could not quite see their relevance in this case. No sexual transgression had been imputed. The Doctor explained that the sexual humours in adolescent young men can have a powerful effect upon their state of mind inducing frustrations that can express themselves in otherwise inexplicable acts of malice. I confessed myself not to have been aware of such violent emotions at his age. That, the good Doctor smiled, was because of my Christian upbringing having passed my youth with the Word of the Lord. Those less fortunate, having been nurtured among pagans, possess no such armour to protect them against the temptations of Satan. That being the case, I pursued, was there not a danger that if the boy did not have such feelings of his own account then to put the notion into his head might be to court the very evil were we trying to avoid? The Doctor conceded the possibility, but added, because of the nature of the household in which the boy now lives, his being the only male among five females, our first duty must be to protect their innocence even at the risk of promoting that which we most feared. Unable to offer a counter argument I permitted him to continue. Nevertheless, I remained fearful for the boy's safety.
The boy seemed at first not to understand the Doctor's meaning and the question had to be repeated in several different forms, each more explicit than the last, until he did comprehend. Once he understood his face coloured most prettily and his eyes lowered to the floor. No, he affirmed, he had not had such feelings for either Elizabeth Earle or her daughters. Painful as this was for me to listen to, how much more painful it must have been for the boy? Had questioning continued in this vein much longer I should have felt compelled to intervene again. But as abruptly as they had begun the questions stopped. Dr. Gillet seemed as satisfied with his answers as I had been with mine.
We concluded with a physical examination of the boy. It is well understood that the Devil places imprints upon the bodies of his creatures to remind them who is their master. Such a "witch's mark" is normally hidden in the secret places of the body and the most intimate of searches is necessary to find them. This is distressing but necessary. Having had the purpose explained to him, the boy obliged us by disrobing and waited patiently with his hands clasped modestly in front of his privities while the Doctor went to work. I observed discreetly from across the room.
As far as I could tell the boy appears strong and healthy. His limbs are sturdy and his chest broad. His body hair is somewhat sparse but it seems this is not unusual among his kind. His genitals are fully formed, his hands, feet, eyes, tongue, teeth, all perfect. Other than a preternatural third teat below his left nipple he is normal in all respects. This, the Doctor assured me, is unusual but not unknown in men even of our own Race. My concern, of course, was that it could be the place where the boy suckles his Familiars. A re-examination was thus agreed at some days distant to ascertain if there be any change to this excrescence. For if, indeed, his Devils did suck him there the teat would surely be inflamed or dry or in some other way altered. This would be sufficient proof of his guilt. No further blemish being found the boy was permitted to dress.
I have here to add a personal note. There is an aura about the boy that troubles me. As the examination progressed I became increasingly conscious of it. Upon meeting his gaze I experienced a certain intensity, I put it no stronger than that. I would hesitate at this stage to say that it was truly the Evil Eye for it did not fill me with dread. Quite to the contrary. And since the Doctor appeared untroubled by it I decided to say nothing for the present knowing how easily a stray word can inflame prejudices already harboured. But each time I think of it I am filled with that same sensation that is at once thrilling and foreboding. Is it the Devils Gaze? I know not. But I will pray for his deliverance before he is tempted to accost me again.
Conclusion of the Second Examination of Togol Earle.
The new year began badly with heavy snowfalls confining most to their hearths. Today is the first that I have been able to leave the parsonage in a week.
I am keen to conclude the matter concerning the boy, Togol Earle, as soon as possible frustrated as I have been in this as in much else by my enforced immobility. The snows for the moment having abated, I seized the advantage and rode early the five miles to Goodwife Earle's house in order to fetch the boy whilst simultaneously sending word to Dr Gillet to meet us as before.
I came upon the boy in the yard chopping wood. Despite the temperature he was bare-chested and perspiring from his efforts. Two of Elizabeth's daughters were with him laughing and teasing him while he worked. Was this not the very danger to which Dr Gillet had referred? Incensed, I rode quickly into the yard and shouted for the boy to cover his nakedness fearful for the girls' safety and of his error. I confess I surprised myself at the ferocity of my outburst. The boy, too, was clearly stunned for he had heard my horse's hooves upon the cobbles and had been raising his hand in friendly greeting only to have it dashed. The disturbance brought Elizabeth Earle from the house and I chastised her forcefully for allowing her daughters to run wild instead of looking to their duties. She appeared confused by my exhortation but nevertheless hurried the girls off to their tasks. Cross more with myself than with the boy, I instructed him to make haste to leave before the weather changed again. For the same reason I declined Elizabeth's offer of a glass of spiced ale and to warm myself by the fire preferring instead to sit upon Balthazar in the freezing yard and wait.
Once upon the open road again I privately cursed my own quick temper but I felt it necessary to maintain at least the pretence of serious purpose. I might have fooled myself but not the boy who saw through my act as clearly as through plain glass meeting my every frown with such a sweet smile that he left me feeling shamed and embarrassed. He has a truly astonishing facility to calm my mood.
Not so, alas, Dr. Gillet who was anything but calm when we arrived back at the parsonage. It seems that with so many taking to their beds he had been planning a full day half of which was already lost waiting upon my return. I offered my apologies but he seemed disinclined to be mollified. Even my wife, usually so adept at smoothing his ruffled feathers, failed to work her magic. In order not to inconvenience him further we foreswore dinner and got quickly down to business.
The excrescence which we had found upon the boy's chest two weeks earlier was unaltered upon inspection today. It could not, therefore, be the Devil's Mark as we had feared. The Doctor is satisfied that all other minor eruptions and perforations on the boy's body are normal injuries for someone accustomed to manual labour.
This is indeed good news. Titus Gillet is an Elder of the Church as well as being our Physician. His opinion carries considerable weight with the magistrates. If he thinks the boy is clean then there is every chance they will agree. And this in spite of his unhappy mood, I therefore hang great weight upon it.
The matter seemingly thus resolved, I ventured at last to broach the subject which had been troubling me since my first meeting with the boy, namely his aura. I did so more from curiosity than controversy having by this stage all but dismissed the phenomenon as a fancy of my own invention. I marvel now at my naivety.
The Doctor listened closely to my description at first professing himself baffled by it. The boy had struck him as a fine-looking male, as he said, for an Indian, but otherwise radiated no particular presence. But as I attempted, clumsily, to translate nebulous thought into solid words I could see Gillet’s face begin to darken, and the further I stumbled along my ill-chosen path the blacker his mood became. Foolishly in my confusion I even mentioned the incident in the Earle’s woodyard. Gillet took a minute to wander about the room with his chin in his hand before responding. Was it not for just such an eventuality, he said at length, that the two of us had been appointed to the case? Him to look into the physical manifestations of inner turmoil, myself to seek out discrepancies of a more Spiritual nature. Clearly something was bothering me about the boy. Being a simple surgeon accustomed to dealing with a man’s physical body Gillet deferred to my keener perception of his Soul. If I said there was something more then he would pay due heed. Maybe he had missed something. It was vital that we should be thorough. Perhaps we should, after all, delay our recommendation until we had a chance to examine the boy one last time, and for this he suggested a week hence. At that time, assuming we still judged the boy innocent, we would be able to discharge him with a confidence that should lay to rest the minds of even the most determined doubters.
I looked at the boy with a sinking heart returning his smile of trust with my own of reassurance which I barely felt. Gillet is right, of course. Knowing that there was to be a second examination today the boy may have instructed his demon to desist until he had been cleared of all suspicion. Absence of evidence is not proof of innocence. He must therefore undergo one more test. I am confident it will exonerate him once and for all.
In view of the continuing uncertainty over the weather I have decided to keep the boy here at the parsonage until his next Examination. It will also give me the chance to study him at closer quarters and watch for any signs of evil-doing.
He seems content to be here, or at any rate, resigned to it. In the meantime I have formed an opinion of his character that differs markedly in substance from that of his neighbours, so much so that I begin to suspect other reasons for their antipathy. Even in a Christian Kingdom dwell the ugly faces of jealousy and malice. What some have described as his sullenness I interpret as no more than normal for an adolescent boy at the point of turning into a man – have I not witnessed this twice already in two of my own sons? I confess I can find little fault with the boy. He is polite to my wife and gets on well with all of my children. Thomas in particular wishes nothing more than to be his friend even though full ten years separate their ages. Abigail tells me that he carries out whatever task she gives him with application and good humour and he seems pleased at any small praise I may have occasion to bestow upon him however trivial.
And yet there remains this curious emanation of his. Far from diminishing, it grows upon him daily. It is there whenever I look at him which I find myself doing more and more. Invariably at such moments should my gaze catch his eye he smiles so readily and so radiantly that I have great difficulty not to smile back. And when he does so I feel a thrill that is pleasurable to behold. But what of the nature of this emanation? If this truly is the Devil's Gaze it is strange indeed. And still I seem to be the only one to notice it. Dr. Gillet's reaction I have already noted. I mentioned it also casually to my wife, but Abigail, too, merely smiles with incomprehension and shakes her head. Am I the only one in the world to see it?
I rose early in order to work on my sermon. My text is Matthew chapter 7 verse 3: "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" There were a few coughs and shuffles among Elizabeth Earle's neighbours, I can say, as I drove home my thinly-veiled rebuke.
In the after noon I break my normal routine in order to visit the home of Mary Cochefort, widow of the papist, John Cochefort. Mary is 80 winters now and infirm. For some months I have been preparing Mary for her Conversion Narrative which she knows is necessary if she is to be accepted as a full member of the Church. It was Abigail's suggestion that I should take the boy along. Mary's example, she thought, would be good for the boy. As always in these things Abigail's wisdom is incisive. How I wish for once I had not heeded her advice.
The visit to Mary Cochefort was a disaster. We arrived at her cabin shortly after midday. She can have had no idea that I was bringing the boy or who he was, and yet from first setting eye upon him something was clearly wrong. I know she has a history with the Natives but I did not think... She was immediately agitated by his presence and became increasingly so as the hour passed. Her legs stiffened and she complained of being pricked whenever Togol went near her. Finally she convulsed in a grotesque fashion, foaming at the mouth, spitting out unearthly names and pointing up to Heaven and at the boy. I admit I was terrified. We had to withdraw. I left her in the care of her Negress servant who mercifully speaks no English, yet I cannot imagine anyone who witnessed the scene did know the source of Mary's distress.
I fear the boy's fate is now sealed. Once news of the widow Cochefort's agony reaches the ears of other Church members he will be condemned, I know it. The good opinion of Dr. Gillet, my wife, myself, will count for nought. I must get him away. My mind is spinning. I know not any longer whether he is innocent or guilty. All I know is without my protection he is doomed.
We are journeying further and further into the forest. The days are so cold but the nights even colder. The boy sleeps but I cannot. I am ever watchful, fearful of the creatures of the night and of riders in the day who I am certain must be following us by now. We left Saham in such haste that we did not think to bring food with us. We have no meat only what the boy manages to trap; no water only the snow that the boy manages to find. We cannot light a fire lest our smoke be detected. I entreat Almighty God to deliver us from this hell praying so intently that blood escapes from beneath my nails. I could return alone to Saham, it cannot be more than a day's ride. But I cannot leave the boy. I cannot.
The horses bolted in the night. The fault was mine, I fell asleep. I expected censure from the boy but received none. I believe truly he is a Saint.
We are resigned to our fate.
We have only each other now.
The boy rises naked from our bed and washes himself before me. Seeing him thus takes my breath away. His aura is stronger than ever. By contrast I grow weaker with each day. What little strength I do have I derive from him. In spite of the danger he has lit a fire for my comfort while he goes off into the forest. When at last I am convinced he will not return he appears, smiling and holding his catch aloft. Why does he not leave me to die alone?
I have a fever. I cannot say how long I have had it for I have lost all track of time. The end cannot be long now. In my lucid moments I scratch this journal in the hope that someone will find it among my bones and give them a Christian burial.
God, this is an awful place!
The boy comes to me with foul-tasting juices to still my shivering. In my delirium I fight with him, but he lies holding me tight using his own body to warm me. I wake in the night and his hand is stroking me. How does a boy so young know such things? He touches me and I respond. I have polluted myself three times. In my fever I call out my wife's name but he holds me and I am quiet.
They came with the morning mist. Five men on horseback. In my confusion I thought at first they were our people and I danced for joy in spite of my weakness. But I could see they were not and I knew it was the end. Togol spoke to them in his own language. So, it was his people who found us first. Of course it was always going to be. But I was wrong again. They were not of his tribe but the enemy of his tribe. They made me watch while they stripped him and bound him to a tree and made me listen to his screams while they burned him. They saw the love – yes I say love - that was between us and knew that witnessing his agonies were worse torture for me to endure than my own. The last word I heard him cry before I collapsed was my name.
Why they spared me I cannot say although I have since heard that madness the Natives perceive as somehow sacred and will not harm those who are touched with it. I awoke in the hospital in Boston town sold, apparently, for two muskets and a barrel of corn. Such is the value of my life. A few days later Dr Gillet came with my wife to fetch me back to Saham.
Now I am back in the loving fold of my Community and good and loving people they are. No matter my protests they will not see events other than that the boy had indeed been a Witch who had enchanted me with his wickedness. How else are they to explain my actions? In time I will recover my old life again, they say, and offer up prayers in thanks for my deliverance. They see me as a latter-day Daniel plucked from the Devil’s grasp by the Hand of God and those five Native horsemen as Instruments if His divine will.
But I see no Hand of God in this. Only His face reflected in that of a fifteen-year-old Native boy. And in that face the face of Another who also loved me and gave His life unconditionally for me, abandoned, stripped naked and hanging upon a tree.