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How Jonathan Bewitched the Chickens

by Mary Hicks

"Hurrah! hurrah! Now for a long play-day; the school-master's a witch, and we are free;" and some twenty boys came flocking and tumbling out of the school-house door, and went swarming up the street. Not much like the boys of to-day, except for the noise, were these twenty youngsters of nearly two centuries ago, who skipped and ran up the streets of Boston, dressed in their long square-skirted coats, small-clothes, long stockings, and low shoes with their cherished buckles of silver or brass. And very different from to-day were the streets through which they passed as they flocked homeward talking of the master.

"He'll have naught to do but learn of the Black Man now; they do say he rides his ferule and bunch of twigs high up in the air, like Mistress Hibbins used her broom-stick," cried William Bartholomew, the sneak of the school.

"He best have been switching thee with it, then," cried Jonathan Winthrop. "Thou never hast thy share of the whippings—does he, mates?" and frank-faced Jonathan turned to his companions.

"Truly thou and I, Jonathan, need not complain that we have not our share of the fun and the twigs," laughed Christopher Corwin, as he laid his arm on Jonathan's, and shrugged his shoulders at the thought of numerous beatings. For Jonathan Winthrop and Christopher Corwin, with their plots and pranks, were enough to make poor Master Halleck sell his soul to the Evil One, as report said he had done.

"His ferule was sharp as a knife," said overgrown Jo Tucker, the butt of the school.

"Truly," cried William Bartholomew, "sharper than thy wits, we doubt not; or thy knife either, for that was never known to cut aught."

"Keep thy tongue in thy head, Billy Mew; none ever said that was not sharp enough," put in Christopher Corwin.

"I do not believe he is a witch," said Samuel Shaddoe, a quiet boy, dressed in very plain drab clothes, and a wider brimmed hat than the others.

"Oh, doesn't thee?" cried several.

"Thou art but a Quaker thyself, and a Quaker's as bad as a witch any day," shouted Robert Pike.

"There, muddle thy stockings in yon mud puddle for that speech, thou water-loving Baptist," cried Christopher Corwin, as he jostled Baptist Bob in some water by the way.

"Hurrah for the witch, and a long play-day!" cried the boys.

"Peace! peace! ye noisy urchins!" said Magistrate Sewall, as he stepped suddenly from a doorway. "The master has imps of the earth as well as the air, I see. Get ye home less noisily, or we must needs put ye in yonder prison with the master."

The awe of the magistrate's presence had the desired effect, and the crowd broke up in groups of two or three, and each took his way homeward quietly.

"Jonathan, doest thou believe the master dotted his i's and crossed his t's when he signed his name in the Black Man's book in the forest yonder?" said Christopher, as the two boys walked home together.

"Nay, I know not," said Jonathan, absently.

"Verily, I hope the Black Man cracked him across his knuckles, if he did not," said Christopher; and he thought of his own often-aching fists.

"Chris, thou art too wise to believe the poor master's a witch," said Jonathan.

"Nay, how could I be, when the magistrates themselves, and all the wise men of the town, believe it?"

"Thou doest not believe the master stuck pins in Job Swinnerton's stomach?"

"Nay," laughed Chris; "the green apples from Deacon Gedney's orchard were the cause of his pain."

"But, Chris, I'm afraid it will go hard with the master, for all the boys but thou and I seem bent on making him a witch."

"Well, trouble not thyself about it. As Billy Mew says, if the master's a witch, we will have the longer play-day. To-morrow I go to my grandfather's, in Salem, and thou come over with thy father some day; it will be rare fun to see the witch children act."

"Peradventure I may. It will be dull without thee, Chris; and with the rest of the boys making the master out a witch, they'll have no time for play."

"Well, take care of thyself, good fellow, and beware thou doest not provoke Dame Betty too far; she has a rare relish for calling people witches."

"Ay, that she has. There's a pail of water now at her door, and she's talking with our Debby, I doubt not: let's turn the bottom up to dry;" and in a wink the two boys were off for this bit of mischief.

In a few days all were off to Salem—Jonathan's father as one of the judges, the master to be tried for a witch, with those of the children whom he had afflicted as accusers, and jolly Chris to see the fun.

It was very lonesome for Jonathan at home, for he had no brothers or sisters, his mother was always sick, and Debby spent all her spare time talking with a crony across the way of the witch-woman, Bridget Bishop, then on trial for witchcraft.

So Jonathan made playmates of and amused himself with the chickens of the Rev. Deodat Parker, who lived next door. Now these chickens were the source of much pleasure to Jonathan, for the Winthrops had none, neither Jonathan nor Debby being deemed fit to be trusted with them; and Jonathan envied the Rev. Deodat Parker his yard full of staid old fowls and lively young chicks. Early in the spring Jonathan had loved to caress and cuddle up the little rolls of yellow and black down; but now that they were great stalking, ragged fowls, putting on all sorts of airs, they excited his ridicule, and he longed to tease them, and the last year's brood of clucking hens and crowing roosters, that didn't quite know what to make of these new-comers.

Once he would have gone over in the yard to play with and tease the chickens to his heart's content; but Dame Betty having traced the overturned pail and numerous other tricks to his door, he considered her an enemy in ambush, liable to fly out at any moment with a stout broom-stick or hot suds, and so wisely kept at a safe distance.

But roosted on the fence, with a handful of corn, Jonathan's fears were at rest, and he fed the chickens, drove the old roosters nearly wild with long and loud crowing, and sometimes made a hasty jump into the yard to set two ruffled, ambitious roosters fighting.

Now Jonathan teased and bothered the poor fowls so continually that they began to grow afraid of him, and would not come when he called them, much to his indignation. But one day he thought of a plan, and went straightway to work at it.

First he went to his mother's work-basket and got a spool of thread, then to the meal chest for a handful of corn. Sitting down on the door-step, he tied long strings of thread to each grain of corn, then climbed the fence, and commenced what was fun for him, but misery for the poor chickens.

"Chick, chick," called Jonathan; and he threw his handful of corn to the ground. "Now I've got ye, ye disobliging things," said he to himself, as the stout old hens and pompous roosters pushed the young ones aside, and gobbled up the corn.

Then Jonathan gave a sudden jerk to his strings, that caused the poor chickens to feel more uncomfortable in their stomachs than they ever had before, and made the roosters dance, and the poor old hens tumble and bob around in all directions. Mischievous Jonathan sat and laughed until he tumbled off the fence, which broke the strings, and set the poor fowls free.

This mischief Jonathan carried on for a few days, until the wily chicks would not come to get the corn when they saw him, and he had to hide behind the fence until the poor things had swallowed their uncomfortable morsel, and then he would pop up to see the fun.

But Betty had her eyes on Master Jonathan, and one morning, while waiting on table, spoke her mind as follows:

"Master, I know not what's to be done with that brat Jonathan Winthrop; now that his father's away, he behaves more unseemly than wont. The master on trial yonder has made him a witch, and he has bewitched our chickens."

"Why for, my good Betty?"

"Why for? Why, they scream and fly away from him on first sight; and then he bewitches them nearer, and they are filled with pain seemingly, and flutter and fly about as if in great distress."

"Some of his pranks, I doubt not. I'll speak to him. Serve a fowl for dinner, Betty;" and the Rev. Deodat Parker rose from the table, evidently not crediting Betty's story.

Well, the fowl was served for dinner, and the minister and his good wife ate heartily, likewise Dame Betty. But that night the minister had an uncomfortable time of it, for the fowl was a tough old hen, and didn't sit as quietly on the minister's stomach as she would on a nest full of eggs.

"To my thinking, that boy's a witch of the Black Man's own brewing," said Betty, the next morning. "He hath bewitched our chickens, for certain."

"Nonsense, Betty," said the minister and his good wife together.

"Verily, no nonsense," snapped back Dame Betty. "That hen was bewitched I killed and cooked yesterday, as the eating of it has proved to the master. Never hen had such legs, or was so hard to kill; and, hark ye! I could not keep water in the pot," said Betty, mysteriously.

"Verily, this is a matter to be looked into. Thou thinkest the boy a witch?" And the Rev. Deodat Parker, uncomfortable from his disturbed night, was more willing to believe.

And so, I can hardly tell how, in a short time it was whispered around that little Jonathan Winthrop was a witch, and had bewitched the Rev. Deodat Parker's chickens.

One day Dame Betty walked into the minister's study, and said, "Master, come and see for thyself."

So the minister called his good wife, and the three took their station behind a closed blind. And there, sure enough, was Master Jonathan astride the fence, waving his hands in the air, in what seemed to them some dreadful incantation, while on the ground four old hens and one miserable rooster were bobbing and squawking like things bewitched.

Now, unfortunately, the minister and his good wife and old Betty could not see the strings in Jonathan's hands, and so immediately believed him a true witch.

"Deodat, it must be seen to," said Goodwife Parker.

"Yes, I will go at once for a magistrate." And the old gentleman hurried off with unseemly haste, and returned in a short time with two magistrates and a brother clergyman, all considerably out of breath as they took their station behind the blind to see the wonderful manifestations.

And Jonathan was at it yet. Owing to the chickens being so hard to catch, he prolonged the fun when he did catch them. As the solemn magistrates peeped out, Jonathan gave a jerk to his threads that made the poor fowls fly toward him, fluttering and squawking like mad; and as he let the thread out again they ran away with all their might, only to be twitched back by their tormentor, who laughed until he cried at their antics.

The two magistrates and brother clergyman were old, as nearly all men in office were in those days, and their eyes saw no strings either. So they had a long talk, and decided Jonathan had best be arrested and tried, lest he should bewitch people next.

But on that day little Deliverance Parker, the minister's granddaughter, who lived out beyond the town, came to make a visit at her grandfather's, and she was told by Dame Betty that she must not play with Jonathan Winthrop as she used to do, for he was a witch, and had bewitched their chickens. And then Dame Betty showed her, as she had many others, from behind the blinds, Jonathan as he was plaguing the poor fowls.

Now little Deliverance had sharp eyes, saw the strings plainly, and took in the trouble at once; but Betty was so set and stupid she could not convince her, and they would not let her tell Jonathan of his danger.

Fortunately matters came to a crisis that afternoon. The magistrates had been waiting for Jonathan's father to come home; but as he was kept so long at Salem, they took matters in their own hands, and brought Jonathan before quite an assembly in the minister's study.

The poor boy was so frightened at all the stern faces before him that he didn't know what to say to the charge, and grew so confused and flustered, they believed him guilty at once.

But little Deliverance waited until the magistrates had finished talking, and then walked straight before them, and began to speak.

"Verily, he is no witch. He only ties strings to the corn that the poor fowls eat, and by the aid of the strings pulls them about."

"Thou art mistaken, little one; we saw no strings," said the magistrates.

"Yes, but there were;" and little Deliverance was so positive, and by that time Jonathan had found his tongue, and both children explained the affair so clearly, that the old magistrates looked rather foolish, and dismissed the case with a reprimand to Jonathan for wasting his time so foolishly. But some good came of the boy's prank after all. For his father, seeing how near Jonathan came being proved a witch, bestirred himself in favor of poor School-master Halleck, who was set free from prison in consequence.