Saturday, 26th. I have spent all of today upstairs among the books in the library, going through volumes bound in crumbling calf, and through Uncle John's old notebook on Salem, which is filled with the notes he took concerning his forebears' — and my own — involvement in the Trials.
I have been buried in these notes, and in the books, going from one to the other in an attempt to piece together a coherent narrative, and it appears I shall have to do the same for several days more.
It would have been easier for me simply to go to the library of one of the colleges in the area, and get some books more recently written. But, though I may make errors, I prefer to go back into the past myself, here in a Putnam house, with my uncle's books and crabbed calligraphy rising up off the desk to envelop me in those days of darkness and folly.
I prefer my own narrative to another's, for I am involved in it, and it is of a piece with this place where I have come to find out who I am, and in what age I am born.
Thursday, 1st. The narrative is finished. I am astonished and sickened by the involvement of my Putnam ancestors in this New England madness at Salem — actually, Salem Village, now Danvers, Massachusetts — in 1692. There has been revelation after revelation, among them being these:
The original American homestead of my many-times great grandfather, John Putnam, was Oak Knoll which, in the 19th century, became the home of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. I own a letter written by Whittier datelined Oak Knoll.
I am a direct descendant, on my mother's side, of Constable "Carolina" John Putnam, who arrested many of the accused witches on warrants sworn out by the Putnams on "spectral evidence" given in to the Court by his aunt, Ann Putnam Sr., and his cousin, Ann Putnam Jr., one of the "witch-bitches," so-called, who threw fits in the courtroom and screamed that the spectres of the witches were tormenting them.
I had thought to paste the story into this journal, just as I lay-in the pages of my novel, so that the many things might lie side by side between covers — past and present aimed along these blue lines filled with emptiness, where I might come to look back and see things clearly at last. But the story of Salem is so depressing, so manic, that I think nothing good can come of that plan. Instead, I will put the story into Uncle John's file folder which I will lock in the safe. Let darkness swallow it.
It has been nearly a week since I have written an entry. The days have been quiet, and at the same time intense, for both Cara and me. I am exhausted. Cara has been busy today with the plant life we gathered in these old Maine fields of Uncle John's last Friday, doing with the herbs, roots, and seeds whatever it is a horticulturist does in the Fall to prepare for gardening in the Spring. The house is filled with the aromas of Autumn, and Cara walks like Ceres among her sere gatherings.
The other morning, while I was working, I heard a car drive into the dooryard and then, a little later, the voice of Rafe Hawkins downstairs visiting Cara. She must have told him I was busy, for they didn't disturb me. Yesterday morning I again heard the Rev. Rafe downstairs talking with Cara. A little while later I heard his car drive away, and I went back to my work. It went very fast, and I stopped around eleven-thirty in the morning for a rest. I leaned back and listened to the house. It was very quiet. I got up, went downstairs, looked into the parlor and livingroom — not even Catch was in sight. I went into the kitchen and called, "Cara?"
She often works outdoors, or goes into the woods looking for plants. I opened the door, but she wasn't in the dooryard. Her car was still there, though. I walked around the house into the riveryard and called, but got no answer. So I went back to work.
Around noon I heard a car pull up outside and a door slam, and then the car drove away. About fifteen minutes later Cara called upstairs, "Want some lunch, Charles? It's ready." I went down to eat and said nothing. She did not volunteer an explanation for her absence.
I wish I could be shut of women for all time.
While I was visiting Old Salem, the weather broke finally, and Vertumnus has come out of hiding to turn the sundial toward another season. It is cool enough now to brave the attic. Tomorrow Cara and I will go aloft and chase out the squirrels that scrabble all night on the ceiling.
Friday, 2nd. When we opened the attic door we found three bats lying dead on the lowest steps. They were the first thing we cleaned up. Cara made a face. "I know it's supposed to be a folk-tale," she said, "but they get tangled in your hair sometimes."
The stairs are narrow, so I went up first; Catch brought up the rear. We found a room at the top where the nineteenth century lay about in old trunks, or stood stacked against the walls, or hung from nails in the rafters.
The chimney piled up through the floor and thrust itself through the roof among old harness, lanterns, picture frames in gold leaf-and-scrollwork. There were boxes filled with collections of buttons and shells, like portions of some baroque seashore caught and held in an eddy of time. Faded dresses and suits stood in racks along the wall. A child's sleigh rode the dust on its deep wooden runners with iron rims.
"There they are," Cara said. In the colored sun that filtered through webs and the husks of trapped flies I saw the mattresses at which she was pointing: a stack of them piled upon an old bedstead. The feathers were leaking out of them, and the holes in the ticking were small tunnels obviously well-used. I felt sorry, for a moment, that we had to destroy such an evidently comfortable squirrel apartment dwelling.
"How am I supposed to get these outdoors without messing up the entire house?"
That's an interesting question," Cara said. She stood beside me, and while I wasn't looking she leaned to peck me on the nape of the neck. She moved closer, and I put my arm around her.
"How about the window in the other room?" I pointed through a doorway beside the chimney where the eastern light broached the gloom through large panes. She nodded, and we went in to see.
The room was where Uncle John had kept the eighteenth century. There was some very old furniture: a rope bed, two spinning wheels, one of them quite large. There was a real cobbler's bench, its surface shredded and pitted and dry. The wood was gray with age. On it, some buttermoulds and candlemoulds. In corners stood wooden churns and sugar buckets, a Puritan flail, a mortar and pestle made of wood.
"What a beautiful old place!" Cara exclaimed. Her eyes, out of that lovely oval face, touched each thing with their glance.
I tried the window and was surprised to find how easily it opened. It simply lifted, and I propped it wide with a cane.
I told Cara to stand aside. "Let me help," she said, but I shook my head.
"Those mattresses are filthy. No use our both getting messed up." So, while I dragged the bedding from the other room t the window, she wandered about considering things and picking them up.
I took each mattress and heaved it through the window. It would flop out, feathers spraying out of it on its journey and exploding out o n impact with a soft, large pluf! There were six of them, and it didn't take long. I had just thrown out the last one when a voice from below called up, "What the hell is going on up there?" Cara and I looked out to see Rafe Hawkins standing in the dooryard by his car. A few feathers were falling out of the air onto his shoulders and head. He picked off the ones he could see.
"Stop using fowl language," I called. Pluck up, you're looking down in the mouth. If you're going to be chicken, learn to duck."
I heard him groan and say, "What, can't you get a goose in there somewhere?"
Cara distributed upon him and me a look of forbearance mingled with slight distaste. "We're cleaning the squirrels out of the attic," she called down.
"Weird looking squirrels," Rafe said, looking up. "All I can see is a pair. Well, have a nice time. I've gotta get to school." He waved and got into his wagon.
"Rafe's taken to dropping in just about every morning, hasn't he?"
"Yes," Cara said, "for coffee. He's a batch, and he likes to talk, so he drops by."
As Rafe drove off we turned to go downstairs. Cara brought the mortar and pestle with her, and a set of candlemoulds.
I got out the tractor and trailer and disposed of the mattresses in one of the gullies that spring across the north fields and fall away to the river. Then I went back up attic to strew mothballs over the floors, hoping to persuade the squirrels that the place was unlivable.
We are beset by animals here. Hardly a day goes by that Catch doesn't present us with a mole or a shrew or a mouse. He's even caught snakes and toads, leaving their carcasses in the year or anywhere in the house. Raccoons get into our garbage pails unless we leave food out for them on the kitchen steps, which we've begun to do regularly. It's much easier than cleaning up after them.
Crickets have begun coming into the house to live, now that the weather is colder. Cara feeds them crumbs, and they sing to each other across the hearth. This evening I was in the living room listening to them when Cara came in. She had two cob pipes, and she handed me one. It startled me. For a moment I was confused, and then I realized what she was doing. Obviously, one of the herbs we had gathered, and that I hadn't recognized, had been marijuana.
I've smoked the stuff very little, because it doesn't affect me the way it seems to affect other people. Back at school, in fact, it had been Cara three or four years earlier who had introduced me to the weed. I'm very leery of anything that touches or threatens my thinking. I drink very little alcohol, even.
The first few times I'd smoked, I hadn't been affected at all. Then, finally, at a party, I had gotten quite high. While everyone else seemed to be receiving pleasure from the smoke, I simply found that the top half of my head was where I was — my body was left behind. I became an observer of myself, and I felt very little connection between what was occurring in my brain, and the things my body was doing. It frightened me.
Now, as Cara handed me the pipe, I was taken with a fleeting suspicion of her. Why did she want to mess with my mind? I was about to refuse, but I looked into her eyes and found there nothing but contentment. I told myself she merely wanted to please me, and I think that's true. So I took it, and we smoked. It was pleasant this time. We got a mellow high on, and we talked about our menagerie as we watched Catch's black silhouette against the fire searching for the crickets between the bricks.
We got to laughing. I went upstairs to bring down George Riley's The Beauties of Creation; or, a New Moral System of Natural History; displayed in the Most Singular, Curious, and Beautiful, Quadrupeds, Birds, Insects, Trees, and Flowers..., published by William Young, Philadelphia, 1792; and Jedidiah Morse's The American Universal Geography, Vol. I, Young and Etheridge, Boston, 1793. I read some entries to her: "The Camelopard somewhat resembles the deer in form, without its symmetry. It has been found eighteen feet high, and ten from the ground to the top of the shoulder. The hinder parts are so low, that, when standing upright, it greatly resembles a dog sitting."
Cara began to giggle uncontrollably. I read on, about the Hippotame, Ourang Outang, the Dodo, the greater Butcher Bird. "This one's my favorite," I said; "Riley says of Owls, '...these birds employ the night in devastation....'"
"It would be," Cara said. Her laughter had been growing brittle, and had finally ceased altogether.
"The cock of the Twite species '...is known by a red spot on the rump. Food. Rape and canary; but they like the latter best.'"
There was nothing in the room but strata of smoke lying across the air when I turned to Morse and read Cara about a fabulous animal of Norway: "'The glutton, otherwise called the erven, or vielfras, resembles a dog; with a long body, thick legs, sharp claws and teeth; his fur, which is variegated, is so precious, that he is shot with blunt arrows, to preserve the skin unhurt: He is bold, and so ravenous, that it is said he will devour a carcase larger than himself, and unburdens his stomach by squeezing himself between two close-standing trees....'"
"What?" Cara asked, staring. I read her the last part again, and she said, "You don't want to be standing behind him when he does that." We laughed for a long while.
When we had quieted, I told her I had something else to read her, and I went and got the third letter from Wesley Court, which I hadn't yet read myself.
"Lowell Jan 11 1860
"I received your letter this morning. Was much pleased to here from my old friend. Yesterday there was the greatest accident in Lawrence that ever happened in any the northern states. About four Oclock the Pemberton Mills fell in killing about 500 persons. I will send you a paper containing the whole facts, you can see them better than I can tell you. The cars have run extra trains all day. I had an invitation to go to Lawrence last night but could not leave it is about 9 miles from here. Lowell seems like Frankfort today all the folks have gone to Lawrence.
"You said you had a dance newyears night. I should like to of been there. There is a furnul just passing the store, they are carrying off some there friends. It would bee a good thing if they was all caryed off, for they don't smell good. The irish are worse then the 7 years itch.
I have just been out to get two papers but could not get but half ones.
"I want you to give one to Farther & read the other your self. It is now six O’clock & they have not got them all out yet.
"P.S. I think you boys had better let Albert alone if he has amind to hug a girl, let him do it — poor boy, dont get the chance every day as you do.
"I received a letter from home to day said Louisa has married good on her head & Georges too I am going to be one these days.
"Pleas dont let any one see this for I commenced it just after diner & wrote aword to a time.
"How is it Chas. does Henry to up to Blind mans hill now
"I am going up to Mrs Erskines to night, there is a young lady from Richmond Me there her name is L J ask Henry who it is
"Write oftener or Ile pull your hair when I come home next Fall
Cara and I were both depressed by the time I had finished. I have sat up late waiting for my head to clear. Catch is sleeping with Cara; she says she will call him Wesley from now on, as they are both dark persons. If I sit quietly, I can hear the squirrels still.