Susannah Morrow: A Novel of Salem
By Megan Chance
Published by Warner Books 
November 2002; 0-446-52953-2; 416 pages

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Susannah Morrow by Megan ChanceChapter 1

Salem Village, Massachusetts-October 22, 1691

I DREAMED THE BABY DIED.

The vision was still with me when I woke, sweating and uneasy, into a night gripped by a shrieking nor'easter. I told myself there was nothing to fear as I lay listening to the pine shakes on the roof clattering and creaking. The boughs of the great oak outside our front door crashed in the wind.

The room was cold, too dark even for shadows. In the trundle bed, my little sister Jude slept on, untroubled. But then, Jude was not like me; she did not hear souls screaming in the wind. She was only six, too young to know the horror a nor'easter could bring: animals lost and shattered houses, men drowned at sea. At fifteen, I knew all these things, and so the storm gave power to my dream.

I did not ignore premonitions. No one I knew did. God sent us signs all the time; 'twas a sin to scorn them. The wheat blight of a few years ago, the scourge of smallpox that raced through our town, a bird not nesting as it should. . . These were marks of His displeasure, and I was a good Puritan girl who knew to pay attention. But I did not know what to do about this one. I crept from bed, shivering as I worked my way by feel and memory toward the bedroom door. I was trying to decide whether to wake my mother, when I saw light come through the seams of the floorboards. 'Twas too early for anyone to be awake.

 

The floorboards were thin-a single layer only, with cracks between that gave a clear view of downstairs. I knelt at the widest of them, pressing my eye close to the floor to see. I saw my mother bending to the fire, and my father sitting at the nearby tableboard, pulling on his boots with hurried motions.

The wind howled, and before I knew it, I was out of the bedroom and hurrying downstairs.

I stopped on the bottom step and stayed in the shadows. My mother's back was to me as she laid a fire in the huge hearth, and my father was not looking in my direction as he protested in a quiet voice, ". . . I don't have time for that now, I'd best go if I'm to make it back today."

"'Tis not dawn yet," my mother said. "We've hours ahead of us." The flames leaped; she straightened and backed away, her huge belly outlined now in the light. She was not in labor, not yet. I sagged against the wall in relief. The baby was not due for another month, and everything was fine. It had only been a bad dream, no premonition.

Then she gasped. One hand went to her belly, the other clutched the mantel. I could not keep from crying out. Horrified, I put my hand over my mouth to stifle the sound. Too late. My parents both looked toward where I stood in the shadows of the stairs.

"Charity?" my mother asked softly. "Is that you, child?"

I hurried toward her. "Oh, tell me 'tis not the babe coming already."

My mother smiled. I knew she meant to be reassuring, but I saw her strain. I saw her hope and her fear. "Aye." She reached out and held me close enough that I felt the movement of the child through her skirt. Her hand rested lightly on my hair, and I closed my eyes, comforted at the feel of it, at her familiar smell-fire smoke and the mint and sugar she burned on the hearth to scent the room. She nodded to my father, who still sat at the table. "Your father's going to town."

I pulled away in confusion. "To town?"

"To fetch your aunt," Mama said gently. "The Sunfish came in yesterday. She's waiting."

I turned to my father. "W-what about the storm? Who's to fetch Goody Way? And the others?"

"You needn't worry about the storm," Father said. "You help your mother."

I felt panicked. "But I had a dream. . . ."

"Hush, hush," Mama said, reaching for me again. When I pulled away, she sighed.

"'Tis only the storm that has you so upset, child. There's no need to worry. Your father will wake Prudence Way before he goes. She'll bring the others. 'Twill all work out. 'Tis good you're awake. You can help with the groaning cake."

I looked to my father. "Can't Aunt Susannah wait another day? At least till the babe's born and the storm's passed?"

Father gave me a look I knew too well, the one that made me flush and stutter and wish I'd kept quiet in spite of my worry. 'Twas not my place to question him, and I looked away again, wanting still to protest, holding back my words.

My mother made a hiss of pain. "Mama," I said, "you should sit down."

"Standing makes the child come faster," she said when she could breathe again, and then she smiled, but she glanced over at my father, and told him, "You'd best tell Prudence to come quickly."

He stopped. "Perhaps 'tis better if I stay, Judith. Your sister will wait another day."

"No, no," Mama said quickly. "Eighteen years have already passed. I'd not have another needless hour between us."

I held my breath, waiting for my father to remember Mama's other labors, the terrible small graves dotting the thick, wild grass of the burying ground. He will refuse to go. The storm was bad, and Mama's labors were always so hard, and the babe was too early besides. I willed him to stay with all my strength.

"I'll do my best to hurry." He paused at the door, staring out the window as he grabbed his cloak and his hat. " 'Tis as if God put His hand over the sun," he murmured. Then, in a swirl of movement, he was out into the night, and my mother and I were left alone with the fire and the sizzle of rain falling down the wide chimney, while little drafts of wind sent the thin coarse linen of my chemise shivering against my legs.

"Get dressed, Charity," my mother said. "The storm will be over soon, and we've the baking to do."

As the hours passed into morning, and then into early afternoon, neither the storm nor my dread eased. Even when Goody Way showed with the other women from the village-windblown and shivering, soaked through to the skin-I was not reassured. The women gathered around, eating groaning cake and drinking beer from the pewter tankards we'd set on the table, joking and exclaiming over how tall Jude had grown, but for me, a laying-in had long ago ceased to be a celebration, and I wanted them to go home. All I really wanted was for my father to come through that door again.

He should not have gone. We had not been expecting this aunt I'd never met for another two weeks at least; the Sunfish had made the journey from Dover more quickly than we'd imagined, especially for the time of year. It would not have hurt to make her wait.

My mother's pains grew slowly worse; I watched her carefully, waiting for the first sign that something had gone wrong. Experience had taught me that there was always a moment when everything turned, when things went bad, but even as the hours passed-nearly an entire day now, already suppertime again-and my mother's labor grew harder, and we moved into the parlor where the big bed she shared with my father loomed in the corner, that moment had not yet come. Goody Way had not yet started the slow, worried shaking of her head that had grown as familiar to me as the beating of my heart.

It grew late again, and I put little Jude to bed; she was a heavy sleeper, and Mama's screams would not wake her. The storm had begun to ease, and the women drifted away, one by one, fetched by their children or their husbands. Goody Way let them go, because Mama's labor was dragging on and on, and they could do no more good here. Without them hovering around, shooing me out of the way as if I were a small child instead of a woman nearly grown, I could come close to my mother again. I sat down beside the bed, holding her hand. She gripped my fingers tightly.

"The babe is fighting me," Mama said, smiling weakly at me. "It must know the sorrow of the world already."

"It sounds like a good strong boy," I said, hoping it was true. "I should like a brother, I think."

Mama started to smile, and then the pain gripped her, and instead she groaned; she squeezed my hand so hard it seemed my bones would pop beneath her grip. Sweat dripped down her face; her hair was wet and coarse with it.

"Can you walk again, Judith?" Goody Way asked from where she sat at the end of the bed, between my mother's spread legs. "'Twould help."

Mama nodded and grabbed my arm, but the moment she was out of bed, her knees buckled, and I saw the sudden blot of blood color her chemise. I saw her belly ripple and misshape with the strain, and I knew. . . . This was the moment I'd feared. I glanced up and caught Goody Way's gaze, and there it was-the slow shake of her head-and I knew my dream was coming true. The babe was dying. I felt sick for the hope Mama had had for it. I did not know if she had the strength to bury another infant.

I helped my mother back into the bed, and tried to smile. I watched the window and saw only darkness beyond it, and prayed for the shape of my father's shadow. He did not come, and the hours kept passing, quiet save for the rain and my mother's groans.

Goody Way leaned down between my mother's legs, placing her hands hard on Mama's belly. "Try once more, Judith," she said, her voice hoarse with the effort of repeating it. My mother tried, but weakly. Her moan was nearly soundless.

"Please, Mama," I whispered. Goody Way murmured a prayer before she sat back again, wiping her bloody hands on the towel lying at the end of the bed. I stroked back the hair from Mama's face. " 'Twill be all right, Mama." I had already said those words a dozen times. I looked up at the midwife. "Is there nothing more to do?"

"Anything else lies beyond my power, child," Goody Way said softly.

"What could be keeping Father? He's only gone to Salem Town."

Goody Way shrugged. "'Tis a black night. The roads'll be mud to the knee. And he's carrying another person. . . . 'Twill be slow going for his horse."

"He said he would hurry."

"Five miles to town and back again. Won't be much hurrying now, I'll warrant. Your aunt picked a fine time to arrive." Goody Way shook her head. Loose gray curls fell from her cap to shiver against her jaw. "Your papa can ill afford to be gone just now." Mama groaned again. Her belly rippled-this time faintly, as though the babe inside were growing tired of the fight. Mama opened her eyes. "Is your father. . . ?" Her voice was so quiet it was like a breath.

I leaned close. "Hush, Mama, hush. He'll be here soon. Save your strength."

"No. . . 'tis too late for that. Is Jude. . . Is she abed already?"

"Aye."

"Don't wake her. Just . . . tell her. . ." Mama closed her eyes. "Tell her what, Mama? Tell Jude what?"

"I fear . . . the babe and I . . . We are . . . both for God." I felt the pressure of my mother's fingers on mine, and I tightened my hold, suddenly afraid to let go. I had known the babe could die, but I had never thought to lose my mother.

"No, Mama. No-"

"Tell Jude. . . be good for your. . . father," she said. "You take. . . care of. . . her."

I tried to keep back my tears, but I felt them now on my cheeks, and my vision blurred. Blurred now, when I wanted so badly to see her clearly. "This is silly, Mama," I said. " 'Tis only a few hard hours. Father's coming. Any moment. He'll have Aunt Susannah with him-"

"He. . . loves you, Charity. You. . . remember that. And God. . . God loves you too. You must. . . cleave. . . to Him. 'If Christ hath. . .'"

If Christ hath no possession of thee, thou art possessed by the Devil.
I heard the words that she was too weak to say. I knew them already without prompting. She had said them to me nearly every day these last months. I twisted her fingers in mine and said furiously, "Father will be here soon. He'll be here soon, Mama. Please."

My mother's groan sent the tendons in her throat into stark relief. Had she the power to release it, it would have been a scream. I looked desperately at the midwife.

Goody Way sighed. She heaved herself from the stool, leaving my mother's legs flung apart and straining. She crossed the room to the front window.

"What are you doing?" I cried. "Come back here."

"'Tis in God's hands now. . . ." She bent to peer more closely out the glass. "Oh, thank the Lord-here they be." She threw the bloody towel to the floor and rushed to the door. Relief made me light-headed. Father was back; nothing bad could happen now. He would not let Mama die.

"They're here, Mama," I whispered. "At last, they're here." Goody Way flung the door open so hard it banged against the wall. "You'd best hurry, Lucas!" she called out, and the wind whipped her voice right back into the room, along with the rain and a scattering of fallen leaves.

Through the front window, I saw nothing but rain. I heard my father's footsteps pounding on the ground outside the house, and another pair too, and then two people were pushing past Goody Way into the room. Outlined in the doorway, against the gray sky, they were shadows clad in dripping clothing that smelled of wet sheep and horse, mud and sweat. I heard the midwife's quick whispers, and I knew what she was telling them-that my mother would die.

"Father," I said, rising to my feet, " 'tis not so bad. I-" He brushed past me; I doubted he even saw I was there. He was soaking wet, his Monmouth hat sending streams of water onto his face, his cloak dripping pools on the floor at Mama's bedside. His gloves were black with rain, but he didn't bother to take one off as he reached for Mama's hand-the one I'd dropped when he came rushing over. "Judith," he said, "I'm sorry to be so late."

Mama's eyes fluttered open. I thought I saw the ghost of a smile on her lips. "Lucas," she said. "My. . . dear. I am. . . not afraid." My father motioned to the doorway, sending water drops scattering across Mama's bedcovers, and there was a desperation in his gesture that matched my fear. "I've brought your sister." Mama tried to turn her head. Her face was shiny with sweat, her gaze dull. "W-where? Sus. . . annah?"

"I'm here, Judith." The voice was low and soft. For the first time, I looked at the woman who had come inside with my father. My aunt Susannah.

In the candlelight, she was only a bundle of clothing: a dark woolen cloak with a hood that covered her head and hid her face, sodden russet skirts that dripped as she moved. She left wet footprints as she came toward us. I could tell nothing about her. She was only shadows and the glisten of candlelight where it hit here and there on her face-a cheekbone, a nose.

She smelled of fish and lemons, molding leaves and rain, and those smells seemed to make the blood scent of my mother stronger. She came up between my father and me, and he backed into the bed curtains to give her room, gave her my mother's hand. Her own were gloved in black so that it seemed Mama's pale fingers floated in the darkness. "Judith," she said. "Judith, I've come all this way. I forbid you to leave me now." She said it lightly, as if nothing were wrong, and I wanted to scream at her, She's dying, can you not see?

But then, my mother smiled, and it was not a feeble smile like the ones she'd given me or my father. It was the first real smile I'd seen on her face since this labor had begun, and with it came a light in her eyes that stunned me, that raised a blinding hope in my own soul. "Oh, Sister," she said, "I have longed so to see you. . . again."

I glanced at Susannah then, to see what it was about this aunt I'd never met that could make my mother smile this way, but the hood still shielded her face. My father gestured to Goody Way, and the midwife scurried over, settling again between my mother's legs, looking doubtful.

"I hear you've a babe waiting to be born," Susannah said. "What think you, Judith? Shall we try again?"

An hour ago, my mother had barely been able to move. Ten minutes before, she had said she and the babe were for God. But now she tried to sit up. My father lifted her, helping her to settle against the bolster. She dug her elbows into the feather bed, and her face contorted, her whole body went stiff. She screamed. I pushed in to help her.

"Charity," my father said harshly. "Go on. 'Tis no place for a child."

"But, Father, she needs me-"

"Your mother has Susannah now. Go on."

I could not make myself go. I could not leave my mother. Hope had settled into me now, but I knew it was a fragile thing. Everything could change in a moment, and I was afraid to walk away. "Once more, Judith," Susannah was saying softly.

I reached out to touch my mother's bared leg; her skin was wet with sweat.

"Leave us, Charity," Father warned. Goody Way looked at Susannah. "You'd best make her hurry, or we'll lose the child-if we haven't already." Susannah leaned close to my mother's face, whispering something, and I could no longer see Mama, only the back of my aunt's head, the water-soaked dark of her hood. I stepped back toward Goody Way because I had to-Susannah was filling up all the space-and the gathered bed curtains draped over my shoulders and against my arm. I thought if I stayed there, I would be half hidden, my father would forget me, but when I looked up, it was into his angry eyes.

"Please don't make me leave her, Father," I said, but just then Mama cried out, and if there had been any relenting in his gaze, it was gone. I stepped away from the bed. "Again!" Goody Way shouted.

Mama's groan sounded like death. I jerked around, ready to run back to her side, but her scream stopped me. Then there was the sound of a baby's cry, thin and breathless, so quiet it was unearthly. The baby was born; 'twas a miracle. A miracle that Mama had lived, that the babe I'd been sure would die was crying in this dark, close room. For a moment, I was dumbfounded. I saw Goody Way lift the child, the jerking of its arms and legs, and praise for the Lord's kindness spilled from my heart in such a rush I could scarce control it. Thank you, Lord. Bless you, Lord . . .

Then I heard the silence. My prayers fell away. I glanced at my father, who wasn't looking at the babe at all, but only at my mother. Mama raised her hand. I was relieved until I saw how weakly she did it, how it seemed the motion took everything she had. In the quiet, her whispered "Susannah" was unbelievably loud. My father turned away. My aunt leaned close to hear my mother's faint words, and suddenly I went numb.

My mother was dying. Everything in the room pointed to it, every little sign and movement. I heard a rush of air-the hush of her spirit passing-and I knew: God had taken her to punish me. It was all I could do to keep from shouting No! when my aunt raised her head.

"She's gone," Susannah said. My father went still; he closed his eyes and I saw his lips move: Dear Lord, bless my poor Judith.

"No," I whispered.

"I'm sorry, Charity-"

I shook my head, stumbling across the room. They stood back for me, but I would have gone through them to get to her. I fell into the bedstead, my eyes too blurred with tears to see anything but shadows, and then I sank to my knees beside the bed. "Mama," I said, choking through my sobs. I fumbled for her hand, and when I found it, I clutched it hard; I held it so she could not leave me.

"Mama." It seemed I cried for only a few moments when I felt my father's hand on my shoulder, when I heard his quiet voice.

" 'Tis enough, Charity," he said. "She was a righteous woman. There was no sin in her. She is with God now." No sin in her.

My body went cold. God had taken her, but the sin was mine. The sin is mine. All she had done was to keep it secret to protect me.

I squeezed Mama's too-thin fingers and pulled them to my lips, tasting the salt of my own tears on her fingertips. Then I laid her hand gently on the bed rug and backed away, my tears for my mother still blurring my vision. I heard her last words to me ringing in my ears-God loves you-and I knew it wasn't true. She was dead, and it was my fault. God did not love me, because if He had, He would have left my mother to prove He could forgive such a stupid, sinful girl. . . .

"She is at last relieved of the misery of this world, Charity," my father said quietly. "Would you cry for such a blessing?"

'Twas all the grieving I was allowed for my mother, and I tried to pretend it was enough. I wanted to fall to my knees and sob my sorrow and desperation against her cheek---but I was too old for such grief now. My father's hand did not leave my shoulder, and I felt his pride at my reserve and reveled in those few moments of his approval even as I thought I would be sick.

Then my father reached over and folded my mother's hands upon her chest. When he knelt at her bedside, I moved into place beside him. Goody Way handed the babe to Susannah before she joined us, and together we stayed while Father's prayer filled the parlor. "Dear Lord, we have been but lambs in the wilderness, led by this good woman. She has ever been Thy servant in word and deed, and we celebrate her return to Thy bosom and pray that Thou wilt lend Thy servants remaining here on earth guidance. . . ."

I noticed that my aunt was not kneeling beside us, that she had stepped back toward the fire. She was not even listening to my father's prayer. Instead, she was bouncing the baby and fumbling with the blanket Goody Way had wrapped around it, making little clucking noises. Suddenly she threw back the cowl of her cloak, and I saw my aunt for the first time.

I could not look away, even as my father's prayer droned on. Susannah's hair was not covered by a cap, but pinned in a great heaviness at the back of her head. Some of it fell over her shoulders like sooty shadows.

She was beautiful. It startled me. I had expected her to be old-after all, I thought of my mother as old, with her tired eyes and her hair nearly as gray as it was brown-but Aunt Susannah did not seem old. She was so beautiful that for a moment I fancied 'twas not the fire's gold she was reflecting but some light that came from inside her, something so bright that I suddenly knew where my mother had found the will to birth that baby. She had caught some of that spirit in Susannah Morrow's face. I wondered that it had not been enough to keep her alive.

As if my aunt sensed I was looking at her, she glanced over at me. For a moment, our gazes held, and she smiled. It was tender and sad and familiar. It was my mother's smile.

It struck me so hard I had to turn away. In the last months, I had seen that expression whenever Mama looked at me-that terrible, sad smile that only reminded me of how close I had come to damnation, of how all the prayers in the world might yet not bring God's forgiveness.

Copyright 2002 Megan Chance
Reprinted with permission.
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Synopsis

The story of a woman accused, her accuser, and the man who loves them both.

The hysteria and deceit that gripped Salem Village, Massachusetts, and ended the lives of nearly twenty men and women in 1692 was one of the most disturbing and shameful chapters in American history. Now Megan Chance combines drama, romance, and painstaking historical research to offer a fresh perspective on the Salem witch trials in a dramatic new work of fiction...

Only fifteen years of age, Charity Fowler has lost too much: her mother in childbirth and her illusions about love to a young man who broke her heart. Her stern Puritan father has withdrawn from his family; and her aunt, Susannah Morrow, who has just arrived from London, is struggling to find her place in the family.

But it quickly becomes clear that Susannah has chosen the wrong time to be a part of this rigidly religious community. Her beauty, independence, and obvious sensuality challenge its established ways---and when a red bodice, an object of sin in Salem, is found in her trunk, rumors sweep through the village that Susannah has been an actress…or worse. As the suspicions against her mount the fanaticism, repressed emotions, and sexual guilt in Salem explode into a form of hysteria that will make its name infamous and touch everyone she loves.

Her impressionable niece Charity will have to come to grips with or be controlled by her deepest fears. Charity's father will have to choose between his terror of temptation and his feelings for the woman who questions the beliefs at the core of his life. And Susannah herself must face condemnation and the horror of the witch trials.

Peopled by real-life figures including Elizabeth Proctor, Judge Danforth, and the spell-casting Indian slave Tituba; and expertly capturing the rhythms and cadences of seventeenth-century colonial life, Susannah Morrow is both a timeless parable on good and evil and a luminous love story.

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Author

Megan ChanceMegan Chance always wanted to be a writer, but she made a brief detour at Western Washington University, where she received a B.A. in Broadcast Communications in 1983. After several years as a television news photographer, where she found that truth really was stranger than fiction, Megan left broadcasting to write stories of her own. Megan Chance's first novel, A Candle in the Dark, won the 1994 Romance Writers of America's RITA award for Best First Book and received a Member's Golden Choice nomination and a "RomanticTimes" Reviewer's Choice award. Since then, she has continued to receive awards and acclaim.

Ever since she was a young girl, she's had a penchant for historical novels, thus it was natural that she would eventually turn to writing historical fiction, especially since she enjoys immersing herself into the research - "the more arcane, the better."

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Megan moved to Washington State as a girl. She currently lives near Seattle with her husband, a criminal defense lawyer and writer, and her young daughters.

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