“We are decided then,” he said, but doubts plagued his mind. “You take them, captain. Away from our homes. Away from this place,” Reverend Parris demanded. The six men standing before him nodded.
“We will rid you of the miscreants,” the captain assured him.
“How far is the chosen destination?” Parris asked.
“Far enough,” the captain said.
“And the length of your journey?” Reverend Parris inquired again. He pressed his thin, pale hand to his forehead and clenched his jaw. It would be but a moment until his doubts overwhelmed him.
“We are not sure,” the captain said readily. “We have heard only rumors that we can go so far west. I expect we may return when this winter gives way to spring. At worst, we may return with the summer sun.” He swallowed uncomfortably at the falsehood, his conscience guilty for telling such untruths. None of the six envisioned surviving the journey ahead of them.
Reverend Parris hesitated. Then the governor spoke. “It is far enough that they could never return to Salem. They would die on the journey.”
“If they shall die by God’s hand in the wilderness, then why shan’t we bestow upon them justice ourselves?” the reverend asked. The governor crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. He and Parris both knew it was imprudent to ignore the allegations but outrageous to condemn them all to death.
“Enough is enough,” Governor Phips said in a stern voice, and placed his hand on the reverend’s shoulder. “I will not hang another unless His Majesty says so, and he does no such thing. We are already impugned for our crimes against the other nineteen.”
Parris obliged. “Take them now, captain. Before this night has passed. You take what you need, and you leave now,” he said roughly. He had half a mind to kill each of these children, these witches, himself, before anyone could stop him. He knew in his heart it was the Lord’s way.
They could all sense this. The captain led his team of horsemen out of Parris’s home hurriedly. In the street, thirty-two horses waited: one for each of the six, and twenty-six more, each with an accused witch shackled to it.
The horsemen were as prepared as they could be for the journey ahead. Their only regret was taking so many of the small community’s horses with them, but they dared not question their purpose. To them, it was worth risking their lives. They believed that witchcraft had no place in Salem, that there should be no room for it in God’s world at all. But they were quiet vigilantes, these six, who could remain complacent no longer. They were charged with keeping their town, their religion, from murdering any more than it already had. Many in Salem could not bear to witness the massacre that would result if these children were put on trial, but these six men were motivated not solely by beneficence. Instead, they were driven by purpose, acting as if God Himself had sent the word to them to remove the accused from Salem and bring them to safety.
In the seasons preceding this midnight ride, nineteen souls had hung from the gallows of Salem, accused and convicted as witches, and five more had died in prison. And now, just months after the most recent execution, this mass accusation had arisen. Twenty-six children were believed to be witches. The grievous claim was legitimate and was taken very seriously by more than just the zealous reverend. Alexander Raven, a respected member of the community, had made credible accusations about all twenty-six.
As an act of forbearance, Sir William Phips, the governor of Massachusetts, had decided to exile the accused instead of hanging them, which outraged the Reverend Samuel Parris. But the decision had been made. It had been only one week ago that these twenty-six had been taken from their homes and imprisoned, and now they were shackled, shivering from fear and frost, and certain that they were being marched in some uncommon fashion toward death.
Reverend Parris and Governor Phips stood in the lane, watching as the accused and the horsemen disappeared into the frozen blackness of night.
They headed westward with no plan but to continue on until they had gone far enough. It took a season to reach the point where the men had decided to drop these children, defenseless against the elements.