Accused

I look around at the faces surrounding me and I refuse to drop my eyes. Some meet my steady gaze with stony silence and angry eyes, but most let their eyes swing away. They stare instead at the plank floor of the town church and meeting hall.

How can they condemn me without condemning themselves? I have helped most of these families through the illnesses of fever, lung congestion, and the awful coughing sickness that took so many of the old ones. It is also I—with God’s help—who has helped them birth so many of their children.

It was not my will that Goodwife Hannah died. That was God’s decision. I did all I could for her, but the baby was breach and unwilling to come out. Goody Hannah began bleeding—just a little, at first, but soon it came faster than I could staunch it. I used all the herbs and healing techniques that I knew, but to no avail. Perhaps if I could have saved Master Goodwin’s son he would not have accused me of this preposterous and monstrous act. Yet, having lost both his new young wife and the son she tried to give him, his need to lay blame is strong, and I his primary target.

They call me witch now, and revile my name, but my family will not be shamed. Over the heads of those who now spit upon me, I see my husband as he cradles our own young son. They both smile and my heart is again eased.

The questions they ask are ridiculous, but I know I must guard my cynical tongue and answer carefully, but I am tired and my annoyance growing. I have been held now for a week, with little in the way of food or comforts, and all because the fat, old merchant refuses to take back his accusations. I can see in his eyes that he regrets what he said, yet he refuses to recant and set me free. Instead, I must sit here surrounded by those pompous members of the town council as they ask me how many others I have bewitched or enchanted.

“None!” I cry over and over, but they have already made up their minds.

I hear their verdict as though from far away, for I am concentrating on my wonderful husband. What will become of him and my beautiful son? Who will care for them? They will have to move away, I realize, or they will become outcasts.

We are now gathered in the town common, though I never even noticed when we left the church. Three of the burliest men in town hold me pinned to the damp ground, and the irony of it causes me to laugh out loud. Me, who is barely 5 rods tall and as thin as a whip, being held down by three large men—including the smithy. I cannot help myself, the laughter rolls out of me, hysterical and refreshing. Then the witch board is laid across me, covering me from chin to shin, and the laughter abruptly dies.

The other men begin to pile rocks upon the board, and my eyes seek those of my husband. I would tell him so many things, including how much I love him, but the breath will not come. The boulders press me into the hard Earth and I cannot breathe. Another boulder is laid upon the board and I feel my ribs crack.

Again, I seek my husband, but he has turned away. Is he ashamed? Does he believe me guilty? He must believe me; I love him so much…

But I die not knowing whether he believes me innocent or guilty.

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