We reached the outskirts of the town, and turning aside from a street
of tanners and curriers, began to ascend a hill, which at a distance, by its
dark slope and the even line of its summit, resembled a green rampart along
the road. It was less steep than its aspect threatened. The eminence formed
part of an extensive tract of pasture land, and was traversed by cow paths in
various directions; but, strange to tell, though the whole slope and summit
were of a peculiarly deep green, scarce a blade of grass was visible from the
base upward. This deceitful verdure was occasioned by a plentiful crop of "woodwax,"
which wears the same dark and glossy green throughout the summer, except at
one short period, when it puts forth a profusion of yellow blossoms. At that
season, to a distant spectator, the hill appears absolutely overlaid with gold,
or covered with a glory of sunshine, even beneath a clouded sky. But the curious
wanderer on the hill will perceive that all the grass, and everything that should
nourish man or beast, has been destroyed by this vile and ineradicable weed:
its tufted roots make the soil their own, and permit nothing else to vegetate
among them; so that a physical curse may be said to have blasted the spot, where
guilt and frenzy consummated the most execrable scene that our history blushes
to record. For this was the field where superstition won her darkest triumph;
the high place where our fathers set up their shame, to the mournful gaze of
generations far remote. The dust of martyrs was beneath our feet. We stood on
. . . I have often courted the historic influence of the spot. But it is
singular how few come on pilgrimage to this famous hill; how many spend their
lives almost at its base, and never once obey the summons of the shadowy past,
as it beckons them to the summit. Till a year or two since, this portion of
our history had been very imperfectly written, and, as we are not a people
of legend or tradition, it was not every citizen of our ancient town that
could tell, within half a century, so much as the date of the witchcraft
delusion. . . . The young men scare the town with bonfires on this haunted
height, but never dream of paying funeral honors to those who died so wrongfully,
and, without a coffin or a prayer, were buried here.
. . . With now a merry word and next a sad one, we trod among the tangled weeds, and almost hoped that our feet would sink into the hollow of a witch's grave. Such vestiges were to be found within the memory of man, but have vanished now, and with them, I believe, all traces of the precise spot of the executions. On the long and broad ridge of the eminence, there is no very decided elevation of any one point, nor other prominent marks, except the decayed stumps of two trees, standing near each other, and here and there the rocky substance of the hill, peeping just above the woodwax.
. . . We threw, in imagination, a veil of deep forest over the land, and pictured
a few scattered villages, and this old town itself a village, as when the
prince of hell bore sway there. The idea thus gained of its former aspect,
its quaint edifices standing far apart, with peaked roofs and projecting stories,
and its single meeting-house pointing up a tall spire in the midst; the vision,
in short, of the town in 1692, served to introduce a wondrous tale
of those old times.
. . . The ladies. . . consented to hear me read. I made them sit down on a moss-grown rock, close by the spot where we chose to believe that the death tree had stood. After a little hesitation on my part, caused by a dread of renewing my acquaintance with fantasies that had lost their charm in the ceaseless flux of mind, I began the tale, which opened darkly with the discovery of a murder.
. . . With such eloquence as my share of feeling and fancy could supply, I called back hoar antiquity, and bade my companions imagine an ancient multitude of people, congregated on the hill-side, spreading far below, clustering on the steep old roofs, and climbing the adjacent heights, wherever a glimpse of this spot might be obtained. I strove to realize and faintly communicate the deep, unutterable loathing and horror, the indignation, the affrighted wonder, that wrinkled on every brow, and filled the universal heart.
. . . I marshalled them onward, the innocent who were to die, and the guilty who were to grow old in long remorse--tracing their every step, by rock, and shrub, and broken track, till their shadowy visages had circled round the hill-top, where we stood. I plunged into my imagination for a blacker horror, and a deeper woe, and pictured the scaffold---
But here my companions seized an arm on each side; their nerves were trembling; and, sweeter victory still, I had reached the seldom trodden places of their hearts, and found the well-spring of their tears. And now the past had done all it could. . . .