I was born at God’s mercy.
It was a particularly turbulent night, June of 1636. My mother and father were just a few miles short of reaching home after a long day in town when Mother keeled over unexpectedly and let out a piercing shriek. The horses spooked and nearly overturned the cart, sending my mother flying nearly six feet. Everyone thought I was dead. Father ran for the midwife as Mother lay on the ground, crying to God to save her firstborn.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” Mary, my mother’s housewife, always swore. “I took you for good and dead. But Goody Whittier wouldn’t hear none of it. ‘God will save my child!’ she kept screaming. I didn’t want to look at you, lest I sees my fears be true. But you was alive, wailing louder than the thunder! You was born at God’s mercy, Mercy Whittier, don’t you ever forget.”
As a child, I secretly despised the thought of being saved at God’s mercy, as if I didn’t deserve to live. Had I unknowingly committed such unforgivable sin, even before birth, that I was unwelcome in the world? Why had He chosen to save me?
“Of course He saved you,” Mary chided when I confessed these thoughts to her in my youth. “You be the only child of Minister Whittier! I swear, there be no holier man than Minister Whittier in all of New England. God bless you, Miss Mercy, to be born with the name of Whittier.”
But whether God blessed me or cursed me, I was never certain, as I realized from an early age that I was treated differently than the other children. Once, in a reckless childhood game, I was caught brandishing a stick at Leah Mason and severely punished by Brother Brotham. The sting of the red lashes across my back intensified, however, when I saw Brother Brotham look on in apathy as Elijah Hall continued the fight.
I was different in other ways, as well. It was around this time I began to hear things – unspoken voices that lurked in the shadows and spotlight alike in my everyday life. I realized that I had been hearing these silent utterings my whole life – I just hadn’t yet learned to differentiate between what was spoken and what wasn’t. The first time I was able to clearly discern between speech and thought was in a Sunday worship service just before my sixth year. Sarah Fiske, a sixteen-year-old girl seated beside me, nearly screamed at the pulpit, “Good God! When shall Minister Whittier relieve us of such unending repetition?”
Shocked at Sarah’s outburst, I glanced at the other members of the church. Not one looked disturbed, enraged or even bothered. I glanced fearfully up at Sarah. Her thoughts continued, but her mouth never opened. It was then I realized that I could hear the feelings of her heart. Throughout her long winded nonverbal attack of my father’s preaching, I discovered a talent that would easily condemn me in any colony.
Fearful that God’s wrath had finally convicted Mercy Whittier, the child that deserved not to live, I struggled to oppress my abilities, certain I was in the Devil’s legions. I spent many a fearful night pleading, begging, imploring God to forgive my wickedness and spare my life. It took years to become accustomed to my sinful skill, and to regard it as a gift, not a death sentence. Still, I took great pains to keep my malformed mind a furtive fact, knowing that if I was discovered, I would surely perish.
While I was shrewd enough to conceal my secret, it was difficult at first to obscure my abnormality. Many a time I caught myself answering an unsaid question, or taken aback by a particularly nasty desire of a neighbor or friend. I was privy to the pain and suffering of the selfish heart, as I watched Arabella Daniels yearn for Silas Fairbanks in the constraints of a loveless marriage. I could not help but cry for the condemned as I listened to the hypocritical hearts of the lawyers and judges. Church meetings became most unbearable, however, as I listened to the unspoken commentary accompanying the thundering visions of hellfire.
“Our fate is not in our own hands, but God’s,” my father would bellow in his most frightening voice from the wooden pulpit. “At this very moment, He has the power to snap your life-thread in two and send you into the flames of hell. Only by his grace and his goodness are you continuously living your sin-infested lives, wallowing in the pig’s trough! Rid yourselves of immorality, and …”
…I do hope Martha will return my spare frock, I tore the other yesterday in the garden…the hole is so unsightly, I do wish to craft a new one, thought the Widow Atherton. Perhaps I shall go into town tomorrow and buy a bolt of fabric, if Samson doesn’t object…
…it certainly should be a sin to adorn oneself with such outlandish clothes, thought Prudence Hayward, with a particularly admonishing glance at Abagail Ellis.
…nasty woman, staring at my husband in such ungodly manner, when her own children sit at her side…As if Silas would even entertain ideas of a woman of her stature, thought Charity Fairbanks, clenching her jaw. I shall show her where his loyalties lie…
…Whittier has used the pig-trough analogy at least a thousand times by now, you’d think with his salary, he’d at least come up with some new visual imagery, scoffed Caleb Hale from his coveted Deacon’s seat.
“The sacred Father is a jealous God, a loving God, a merciful God, but there are seven things he abhors: ‘a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots evil plans, feet hurrying to run to mischief, a false witness who breathes lies, and he who causes strife among brothers’…”
Whittier’s sermons are causing me strife, thought Benjamin Brotham.
I hope Eliza Stanley heard the bit about God abhorring lying, the girl would do well to reign in her tongue; on all occasions, she must speak ill of someone, thought Leah Mason.
A proposal seems too rash, thought Elijah Hall, but a child would send her reputation to ruins … it may be best to court first, however…
It wasn’t long before I began to think of the church service as a hell-hole of hypocrisy, so infested with sin and Satan that I could hardly stand to attend. Week after week I dragged myself to the hated place, knowing I’d spend hours listening to the thoughts and wishes of the uninterested congregation, wishing to be freed from the inescapable madness.
It was a most fearsome night when I resolved to stand no longer for the foolish pride and ruthless judgment of the congregation. Mother was preparing the supper-table, Father was upstairs writing the following week’s sermon.
“Mercy!” my mother called up the stairs. “Mind the potatoes!”
“Yes, Mother,” I replied meekly.
Such a good girl, my mother thought. Shame we never had a boy, Ebenezer always hoped for one to continue in the Lord’s service…well, Mercy has done him just fine, and will marry off nicely, pray she perfects her cooking.
The door flung open, and Mary rushed in, quickly shedding her cloak.
“Goody Whittier!” she cried, with an exhilarated look on her reddened cheeks. “Goody Daniels has been charged with witchcraft and attempted murder!”
“Murder?!” my mother shrieked, dropping her ladle. An upright woman, charged with witchcraft and attempted murder!
“They hath no evidence yet, only Goody Fairbanks’ word,” Mary said. An uneasy feeling began to creep up in my stomach. “She say the woman’s spirit attack her in the most violent way, strangle her in her kitchen! She say…she say Goody Daniels is in love with Brother Silas!”
Mother’s mouth dropped as I began to piece together my recollections. Father appeared suddenly, out of breath from running down the stairs. “What’s happened?” he demanded.
Mother’s mouth became small and tight. “Mary says Goody Daniels has been charged with witchcraft and attempted murder, and that she is in love with Silas Fairbanks,” she said.
A pained look crossed Father’s face. Arabella Daniels, what have you done?
“Her trial’s set to be at first light, in the meeting house,” continued Mary. “She’s convicted for sure, once Goody Fairbanks sets in on her. The way the woman was talking today would strike fear into the heart of the Devil himself.” She shuddered. I’d hate to be Goody Daniels now. The wrath of Charity Fairbanks is nothing to scoff at.
Father sighed. “Such a crude sin,” he said, “coveting another’s spouse. I’d condemn her myself if I could. God’s union is never meant to be broken.”
Save it for the pulpit, Mary thought.
And that was when I could not stand it another minute. “Father,” I said, “have you any evidence that Goody Daniels committed such a sin?”
Father looked taken aback. “Why, only the word of a Christian housewife,” he said.
“Then how can you stand ready to condemn a woman you have so little knowledge about?” I asked, desperately keeping my rage at a minimum. “Accusing a woman of these wicked actions will ruin her, truthful or not. In such a delicate situation, I’d think it best to hold my tongue until I was certain the accused party was guilty!”
Wrathful child! “Why, Mercy, I’ve never heard such a tone from you,” Father scolded. “I think it’s best for you to hold your tongue and know your place!”
I struggled to be compliant. “Yes, Father,” I said, fearing a beating.
Still looking at me as if he had never seen me before, my father gave a deep sigh. “Let us sit,” he said, beckoning to Mother’s potato soup. Mother gave a small smile and began to ladle it into our plates. The remainder of the evening was silent on the outside, but inside, I knew it to be as turbulent as a fateful night in June 1636.
The meeting house was stuffy, and packed with churchgoers. There’s gonna be a hangin’! was the exhilarated thought sweeping through the minds of the people awaiting the testimony. I was disgusted at the ecstatic spirit the expectancy of death ignited in the people.
Goody Daniels stood awkwardly beside the pulpit. My stomach turned as the judge, cold and hard, surveyed her like a discarded scrap of meat.
“Arabella Daniels,” he began. “You have been charged, under God and the law, of witchcraft and attempted murder,” he said. “You have been thus charged by Charity Fairbanks, a prominent member of this congregation, and wife of respected deacon Silas Fairbanks. What say you, Arabella Daniels, to these charges?”
“I never! I never!” Goody Daniels wept, wringing her hands. “I never attempted any kinds of witchcraft or murder! I’m a God-loving woman, I am! Never missed a service! I can say my commandments for you! ‘Thou shalt have no other God before me-‘”
“That will do, Arabella Daniels,” said the Judge. “Charity Fairbanks, please rise.”
From the opposite side of the pulpit, Charity Fairbanks stood stiffly.
“Charity Fairbanks, is it true Arabella Daniels has attempted your murder while?”
“Tis true,” she said.
“And is it true that she attempted said murder by means of witchcraft?”
“Tis true,” Goody Fairbanks said
“And is there anything else you would like to add, to aid in the trial of Arabella Daniels?” “Only that she has lusted after my Silas for as long as I can remember,” said Goody Fairbanks. The congregation gasped.
“And you have proof of such sin?” asked the judge.
“Only the profound premonition in my Christian heart,” said Goody Fairbanks. “Arabella’s soul is blackened; her name is in the devils’ book!”
“SHE LIES!” I screamed, scaring even myself. “She lies!”
The audience turned to look at me, I heard a thousand unspoken whispers of what is she doing? Is that Minister Whittier’s daughter? What has brought such an outburst? “Mercy, sit down,” my father commanded, from his place among the deacons.
I shook my head. “No, Father,” I said. “I know Goody Daniels is innocent. I’ll prove it!”
Father looked at me with utter disbelief. “May God punish you ever so severely if you defy me, child,” he said. “A godly child honors his father and mother -”
“‘And thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee!'” I finished in exasperation.
Why hath you cursed me with such a defiant child, oh Lord? my father thought.
“I am no curse,” I said, looking him in the eyes. “I was born at God’s mercy.”
My father gasped and raised a shaken finger at me, mouthing the word.
The congregation, not understanding, but relishing in the emotion, began to literally murmur among themselves. Mercy Whittier!? What be her crime?…Minister Whittier dare not convict his own child without solid reasoning…
“I am no witch,” I said, standing before the congregation now. “It is you who should be on trial! You, Elijah Hall, you womanizing alcoholic! You, Caleb Hale, who has coveted my father’s ministry for years! You, Prudence Hayward, who dismisses anything of positive nature!” I turned to the pulpit. “And most especially you, Charity Fairbanks, who dares condemn an innocent woman to an unfathomable fate for your own satisfaction! We are all sinners! And I, for one, stand before God, ready to defend the accused!”
The congregation stood silent for a moment, and then roared at me. Cries of the word echoed around the courtroom…they did not understand. I knew my fate.
“Thy will be done,” I smiled.
As the members of the church carried Mercy out of the meeting house, she was laughing. “Fools!” she cried. “Ungodly fools!”
Some say Mercy Whittier was born at the mercy of God; that is a lie. In her death, escaping earthly hypocrisies, Mercy Whittier died at the mercy of God.