Salem: Massachusetts (1691)
Inside the small courtroom tempers were rapidly reaching boiling point. Nerve ends tingled with anticipation, and patience was a virtue of the past.
Elizabeth Burroughs stood accused of witchcraft. The mixed, pungent aromas of stale sweat, strong urine and pure fear created a feeling of indescribable terror.
Glancing at her husband, George, she knew what lay ahead. Elizabeth allowed her eyes to circle the room once more.
It was cold and dark and sparsely furnished. To the right of the judge was a grandfather clock. Sitting on a bench in front of the clock were the members of the jury. Standing in the middle of the room were three of her friends, all of whom were also on trial for practicing witchcraft.
The accusations were untrue. The girls had simply taken up a form of fortune telling as a means of whiling away the long winter months. They would crack an egg and drop the contents into a wine glass, using it as a crystal ball... an attempt to foresee future husbands - nothing more.
Of the five witch-hunters supporting the judge, three of them, John Hathorne - without doubt the worst and most feared, Jonathan Corwin, and Thomas Danforth were also magistrates. The remaining two members, Increase Mather and Samuel Parris were clergy.
"Elizabeth Burroughs," said Hathorne, casually strolling toward her. "The people of Salem will not tolerate the crime for which you have been accused. I shall therefore be deemed to ask of you one more time, what evil spirits have you familiarity with?"
Elizabeth had remained defiant for almost an hour, denying all the allegations. Once more she gave the only reply she knew.
"None, your honor."
Hathorne sighed, as if tiring of the game. She felt his dark pupils boring holes into her. He leaned in close and spoke in a menacing whisper.
"Have you made no contract with the devil?"
His foul breath made her cringe and she tried to step back.
"No...sir," stuttered Elizabeth.
Hathorne’s mood changed. His face became a seething mass of red. "Then why do you thus torment these people?"
The level of his voice caused Elizabeth and half the people in the courtroom to jump.
"I do not, sir. It was merely an amusement for the girls and myself, something to pass the time of a long winter’s evening." She wished there was something she could say to alleviate her pressure.
Hathorne crossed the room, drawing his fellow colleagues into a whispered conversation.
Because she could not hear them her tension increased.
After several terrifying moments, he turned to face her, his eyes void of emotion.
Hathorne’s size and appearance though daunting, was impressive. He was tall and thickset, with close-cropped, short grey hair. His face was strong and angular but pockmarked, with a large bulbous nose and a thick, walrus-style moustache that did nothing to mellow his God-fearing expression. When he spoke, his voice was deep and resonant and frightening. All of these features - along with an abrupt manner - he used as a means to manipulate people.
Sweat trickled down Elizabeth’s body. Her stomach had knotted to the point of nausea and her nerves were shot to pieces. She gripped her hands tightly together, trying desperately to stop them shaking.
A deathly silence had descended upon the courtroom.
Hathorne stood to the left of Elizabeth, glaring at her.
"As I have already said, we will not sanction your conduct. Is it not pernicious enough to you alone, without corrupting young, innocent girls?"
Hathorne paused, as if studying his surroundings. He turned toward the three girls first, meeting their tormented glares.
"You three will be taken to the stocks, locked up, and left to the people of the village to decide your fate."
He then confronted Elizabeth. If the scowl and the lull in the conversation had been done for effect, then it was working. She compressed her hands even further, digging her nails into her palms. Her legs were weakening. Her knees were almost knocking.
"We shall deal with you in a more severe manner. As magistrates and men of authority for the community, it is our duty to maintain the law, and to make examples of people who do not wish to follow it."
Elizabeth held her breath...and urinated.
"Your attempt to lead these young girls astray carries fatal consequences. You will be taken from this court to Gallows Hill where you will hang until pronounced dead."
Elizabeth cradled her face in her hands but she was unable to block out her tears.
"It will do no good pleading. See if the devil can save you now!" leered Hathorne.
Elizabeth sunk to her knees. "Please, sir, can I not appeal to your good nature? I am not a witch."
"I am not prepared to listen to your sniveling." Hathorne turned his back on her.
George Burroughs was quickly on his feet. "You’re making a mistake, Hathorne!"
Elizabeth flung her weakened body at the magistrate. "Please, sir..."
As Hathorne turned, the fingers of Elizabeth’s left hand dug into his cheek, drawing blood.
The magistrate hissed and then spun round to face his friends. "Do you not see what she has done? The wench has attacked me...drawn blood!" Hathorne turned to Elizabeth, grasping her hair tightly in his left hand.
Terrified, she stared into those hard eyes. She never saw his arm move, felt only a vicious, stinging crack to her left cheek, which knocked her over.
"No more shall you terrorize this community." He held his head high. "Take her away!"
Elizabeth struggled to her feet, whimpering. "Please, Mister Hathorne, I’m innocent. Please, sir, I beg of you." And then screamed hysterically. "Please...oh dear Lord, don’t send me to the gallows."
George Burroughs added to the protest, but was prevented from reaching Elizabeth. "My wife is innocent. Leave her alone!"
Hathorne glared at Burroughs, ignoring Elizabeth’s complaints. "I shall do as I please, Burroughs."
"You murdering bastards! Take me! I’m the one you want. You’ll pay for what you’re doing to these people."
"Silence!" shouted Hathorne, slapping Elizabeth once more.
Having disposed of her he charged toward Burroughs. "As a member of the clergy I expected better of you." He spoke to the guards. "Apprehend this man. Take him to the stocks."
George Burroughs objected but was quickly dragged to the door.
"One more thing," shouted Hathorne, his domineering voice commanding yet another strained silence. "You would do well to watch your back, Burroughs."