Garn Summer Reads: Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century by David Joseph Kolb
“It was my thirtieth year to heaven,” so begins the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood.” This summer Garn’s Facebook friends are waking up in all sorts of marvelous places, at the shore, high up in mountains — in the U.S. and in countries around the world — leaving the distractions and noise of the everyday that takes the possibility of reading fiction away.
So here we are. It’s August. And we need suggestions for novels that are a great summer read. Garn Press has just what you need — chapters from six great novels beginning with Chapter 11 from Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century by David Joseph Kolb. Get the hardcover, paperback or ebook version and go down to the harbor or into the woods, and sit in a quiet spot and enjoy a great summer read.
Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century
Paperback & Hardcover: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
ebook: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Kobo eBooks
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-942146-23-0
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-22-3
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-24-7
In the dead of night at the height of the 1692 Salem mania, a dying smallpox victim collapses in prison while visiting a witch condemned to hang – Mary Bradbury, the great ancestor of famed writer Ray Bradbury.
A delirious old man, Hopestill Foster, is brought before the Rev. Cotton Mather, the infamous witch-hunter and the most powerful man in ancient Boston, for a very private interrogation. Mather is desperate for answers about Foster’s past because he knows it ties into his own.
Better had he not asked.
Over the course of the prisoner telling his story to the cleric, 60 years of a terrible history unfolds, at the heart of which is a monstrous secret about Mather’s family that must not be allowed to escape the room where Foster is being held.
Hopestill Foster, the novel’s protagonist, a man inured to a lifetime of suffering and one to whom a great wrong was done by him and to him in his youth, ultimately has to decide. Pass on, leaving the wreckage of his life behind, or accept a final deadly mission to make things right.
For Hopestill Foster, there is only one choice.
David Joseph Kolb’s Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century, a thrilling historical adventure in the grand storytelling tradition of Northwest Passage and Drums Along the Mohawk, breaks new literary ground about the very first American century – a nearly forgotten post-Pilgrim past when intolerance, misogyny and ignorance culminated in horrifying outrages against ordinary people.
Yet it rediscovers, too, that hope was never lost, and that heroes were always among us.
Chapter 11: An Insurrection
THE MIDWIFE HAVING DESERTED, Constable Brike tore open the back of Alice Ambrose’s dress. The covering fell easily away since it was mostly open to the air under her cloak. It had been ripped previously in Dover.
Its removal revealed a purple pond that spread across the woman’s back and shoulders and flowed painfully around islands of puffed-up welts and bluish bruises. Alice held fast to the cart’s ramp and drew in her breath, awaiting the fall of the lash.
The constable shook out and disentangled the tails of the long-handled, three-pronged whip. This cruel scourge had been especially designated by Magistrate Walderne for use on the blasphemers.
Constable Roberts nodded to the town drummer, who commenced a loud but mournful tattoo.
With shocking force, Brike struck the woman with the lash, drawing blood at the very first blow from her unhealed, pulpy back. Alice screamed in unfettered agony and slowly sank to her knees.
At the second blow, Alice collapsed full-face into the slop below the wheels of the cart. Still, the constable lashed her again and again, oblivious to her guttural screams.
“Oh, spare, mercy,” wailed Lydia Goodspeed, an onlooker and farmer’s wife. She chewed on her white neckerchief and watched in horror as the heavy whip tails rose and fell again and again and the drum roll increased in its tempo to a mindless cacophony of noise.
“No pity for these wretches!” cried out one Hamptoner.
“Aye,” shouted another voice from the safety of the many. “It is only fair. They have beaten the Gospel black and blue!”
That drew a nervous laugh.
When ten had been counted out, Constable Brike handed the whip over to Constable Roberts, who wiped off the bits of flesh and garment clinging to the knots. Brike delicately dabbed at the sweat from his brow with the back of his wrist. Flecks of Alice’s blood spotted his cheek.
At the men’s feet, the woman groveled hopelessly in the sodden earth of the commons amid clumps of mildewed straw, loose grain, chicken filth and refuse, clawing for escape.
The cavalrymen lifted the wounded Quaker out of the mire. They half-dragged her onto the floorboards of the open cart. Hopestill reached in and spread her cloak over her torn shoulders, tucking her in with it as if she were a child. She moaned with the pain of its touch.
Within minutes, the drumming began anew.
The constable did his duty on both Anne and Mary, neither of whom bore up well under the torture. It was a ghastly scene, three cold, half-naked women brutalized in such a manner. Yet when it was over some in the crowd wanted more.
“Kill them!” one goodwife screeched.
The constables would have none of that. They pushed at the people to break them up into smaller groupings. Heavy snow was in the air of the now late afternoon and there was still hard work yet for all.
More importantly, Salisbury lay ahead many long miles down the horrible road.
A weather-beaten barn was procured for the party for the night at the edge of the commons. Refreshments sent for the sake of the Quakers were refused by them, and all visitors and hecklers were rudely turned away for the evening. The women were herded into one corner of the barn and left to fend for themselves.
The guards and Roberts stood watch in shifts. Hopestill, to the constable a notorious Dover personality and Indian lover, disappeared for many hours. From long experience, Roberts knew it was futile to seek him out.
Night fell without the promise of heavy weather fulfilled, but the cold of it made for a long ordeal not conducive to sleep. Also, the straw wasn’t clean.
When dawn finally broke, it was some time before the Quakers could be coaxed up from their agonizing respite. Hopestill, who on his return had nestled deep inside a filthy hay pile like an animal, was the last to rise.
A meal of cold milk, warm oats and black bread for all was brought over by Pastor Seaborn Cotton’s wife and two other equally stern-faced women. It was consumed without words being spoken. When finished, the Quakers were allowed to attend to their morning toilet in a horse stall, then ordered outside and shackled again to the end of the long chain at the cart’s end.
Secured, they were led shuffling like broken dolls behind the dung cart to the jeering of the men, women and village brats of Hampton, who had arrived once more with the breaking of the day because they couldn’t get enough of the entertainment.
The Hamptoners pelted the departing Quaker women with garbage and ran alongside them shaking the scratchy tops of rotting corn stooks in their faces. Neither of the cavalrymen interfered, walking their horses around the tormenters rather than scattering them.
This went on for almost a full mile, after which the mob members melted away, trudging back to the village with the happy chatter of those who have enjoyed a pleasant respite from their ordinary routine.
Hopestill halted the horses, and he and the constable unshackled the women and helped the Quakers to climb back in. The party then rode on in silence for several more dull, freezing miles in the lurching cart.
As the afternoon came on, the sky turned once more uncommonly dark and threatening and Roberts ordered the cart halted. After offering the Quakers water from a wooden keg – ice-cold, as was the air – the constable directed the men to repair to the side of the road to share a light meal of hard ship’s cheese, bread and cider. The Quakers would eat none of the remains, although two of them reluctantly quaffed a few swallows of the cider. They prayed in a huddle, heads bowed.
Sodden snow started to pelt down in the form of heavy flakes, wet and wide as fox eyes. The temperature plummeted. A mile after it began, the carpet of white slush was ankle deep on the road, slowing them down considerably, but not enough to prevent them at the pace they were on from reaching Salisbury before dark.
This was agreeable to neither the constable, Hopestill nor the cavalrymen. Conferring among themselves, it was decided to slow the cart’s pace so it would be after dark when they arrived.
This would spare the Quaker women their day’s punishment, but it would have the beneficial effect of hastening the men’s own supper and bed. That way, in the morning, after the next whipping, as they agreed, they could then drive to Carr’s ferry and cross the Merrimack for the longest part of their journey.
However, over the next several hours, conditions worsened. The snow gave way completely to sleet and the wheels churned with difficulty in the slippery, icy soup of the road.
The women lay soaked and nearly insensate on the blood-smeared wood of the cart’s freezing bed.
Constable Roberts told Hopestill in a worried tone that he feared for the women’s lives. So, as they lurched along, he poked them with his shoe every now and then to console himself with the sound of a healthy moan.
As Roberts was engaged in so doing, Hopestill stood up off his bench seat and, without warning, jerked back on the reins.
The heads of the horses flapped in the air, startled by the stop. In the fading light, a half-mile distant, was a line of men on foot blocking the road into the town of Salisbury. These were augmented by two mounted officers positioned at the ends.
Constable Roberts urged with his feet and hands for the prone women to get up, to get up, to get out, to get out! The Quakers half-rolled to the end of the wagon.
“Quickly, now! Quickly, now!”
The sufferers were propped up in the cold clay of the road and the long chain was again attached to their wrist manacles. Tying their cloaks to their necks, Roberts climbed back in and resumed his seat, fanning himself with his hat. Vapors of sweat steamed off his fat face in the chill air.
“Go on now,” he nervously ordered Hopestill. The cart pitched forward anew, the three women stumbling forward as best they could. Hopestill held the reins tight, strangling the pace to a creep.
“There’s Mr. Bradbury,” he said, a note of expectation in his voice.
“Eh?” said Roberts.
Hopestill, grinning like a fool, indicated to the constable with his switch the shorter of the two men on horseback. This was the one with the cocked hat coming toward them at a canter. Bradbury was a very educated man.
“And Robert Pike,” Hopestill added of the other horseman, a large, impressive man in breastplate and helmet.
“I dare say,” was the worried answer from the constable when Hopestill pointed them all out. Roberts very much disliked Salisbury men.
Astride his fine chestnut gelding, the officer named Bradbury splashed up to them in a brisk spattering of road mud. He turned his mount smartly, following the cart as it plodded forward to the roadblock.
“Good afternoon, Master Constable. And upon my word, Hopestill Foster! Truly, God is merciful today, is He not?”
Hopestill laughed. Behind him, the shaken Roberts spoke up hopefully, “Assuredly, good Mr. Bradbury. He is always merciful.”
But the constable was extremely unsettled in his mind now. The men ahead, all armed in some fashion, did not move to make way.
Bradbury showed a delighted twinkle in his grey eyes.
“More than we know. More than we know.”
“We are hence to Salisbury with these prisoners,” Roberts shouted across to his new companion above the noise of cartwheels and horse whinnies. His voice’s authority had returned along with a sudden desire to bluff his way through.
“Whoa!” yelled Hopestill and the cart stopped short again. The animals would proceed no farther in the road filled with men. He spoke soothingly to the horses as they shook their bridled heads and stamped impatiently.
Suddenly, ahead of them, the tall, helmeted Lt. Pike burst from the line of men. Putting spur with his fine boots to his black horse, he shot past the cart to confront the two rear-guard Puritan cavalry. These had stopped dead in their tracks a ways back.
The trio conferred for several minutes. As Roberts gaped in astonishment, the cavalrymen then broke away from Pike and passed the cart at a fast clip down the roadside, taking their leave of duty without even acknowledging the slack-jawed constable. Picking up speed, the two riders passed through the roadblock and disappeared around the bend toward Salisbury town.
Pike’s black horse with its rider cantered up to the motionless cart. In the saddle was a tall, impressive soldier, clean-shaven, perhaps in his early 40s, and possessed of an unhappy countenance.
“I am the authority here,” he announced to the now speechless Constable Roberts. “I have taken the liberty of relieving your men and sending them on their way.”
He paused to hear any objections. There were none from the astonished Dover official.
The soldier continued. “They, and you, have no further official business in the good town of Salisbury.”
“May I introduce Lt. Robert Pike, Master Constable?” interrupted Mr. Bradbury, sweeping his cap in deference. “You may have heard of his good service in the late Indian troubles to our brethren in Haverhill?”
The constable stood up hastily, wobbling in the cart.
“Yes, yes, of course!” he insisted. “Upon my honor, sir.”
Pike would have none of it.
“Show me your warrant.”
The constable dived down into his bag and tremblingly brought forth the papers from Dover.
As Pike read them a fire lit his eyes.
“This warrant means murder.”
He crushed the parchments in his fist.
“I won’t have it, sir. No, I will not.”
Roberts shook as he stood in the cart. Hat still in hand, he had no idea what to make of this sudden calamity greeting him from the men of Salisbury.
Bradbury smiled at the constable’s alarm and reached into his coat pocket. Drawing out a clean, yellow sheet of paper, he said, “Fear not, good Master Constable Roberts. Here is your new warrant, drawn up in my exceedingly clear hand. Lt. Pike and his train-band …” He turned and smiled at the men behind him. “… will be taking charge of the prisoners. Pray release them from their chains.”
Without waiting for an answer, Bradbury dismounted and began helping the Quakers. They fell to their knees in the freezing mud, pressing his hand and weeping with relief. He tsk-tsked at their condition and tried to reassure them.
The constable clumsily did what he could to assist.
“But the warrant …” Roberts said anxiously, looking at the wadded up mess of the Dover magistrate’s orders now soaking in the road.
“Your warrant? Here is a newer one. Pray present it to Mr. Walderne with my compliments and those of Lt. Pike and the selectmen of Salisbury, and assure him the prisoners will be well taken care of. This other document …”
Bradbury handed forth a second.
“… shows that I have been deputized in the service of this good order.”
“But this warrant …” persisted the constable, pointing at the crumpled, sodden remains of Magistrate Walderne’s papers.
“… is no good,” replied Bradbury, finishing the constable’s sentence. “Surely you recall passing Boundary House?”
“I do, good sir, I do.”
“Yonder is Salisbury. It is the lieutenant’s charge. You understand, I’m fair certain.”
“Aye. I do. I do.”
At the mention of his name, Lt. Pike drove his snorting horse around the cart and bent his helmeted head to within three inches of Constable Roberts’s face.
“No warrant is good, even though backed by the Crown, for whipping these women in Salisbury,” Pike told the constable evenly. “I won’t have it. It is cowardly.”
“They have been cruelly treated,” Hopestill chimed in from his driver’s seat. He touched his cap to Pike. “Compliments, lieutenant.”
“Mr. Foster,” said Pike respectfully. “Thank you again for your timely warning.”
Constable Roberts now understood in whose camp his driver’s tent was pitched.
“Come, let us all go anon to our good town, Robert, and leave this road,” suggested Bradbury to Pike. “A hot supper and a warm hearth await us in my Mary’s kitchen, a better place than this frigid road.”
He mounted up and smiled at the Quakers, who hugged and kissed each other, and shed many tears.
Lt. Pike called over to Roberts from the other side of the cart. He pointed to the darkening sky. “Time is short, constable. Let us get these poor souls into Mistress Bradbury’s healing hands.”
“The Lord is indeed merciful,” suggested Bradbury to the bewildered, though newly compliant constable. With a look skyward, he added, “But the weather will be wanting in that quality this eve, I fear.”
The contingent of men, cart and Quakers turned up their collars and cloaks to follow Pike and Bradbury. Needles of ice rain blew sideways, stinging their faces. The storm deepened behind them.
Readers of Devil Knows on Amazon
I’ve always loved fictional works dealing with our country’s early history—from Hawthorne to Miller to the recent film ‘The Witch’. David Kolb’s fantastic Devil Knows gave me a deeper appreciation for the forces at work within the colony, as well as the sense of both isolation and possibility that the early residents of Massachusetts must have felt. I also just moved to Boston, so learning about the city’s roots was a real revelation. The fact that there is a statue of Mary Dyer in front of the statehouse says a lot about how our historical perspective has shifted. The tale of the Mather family, in particular, was fascinating. Cotton comes off as a Puritan curmudgeon in the history books, but in reality he was a master of colonial realpolitik, and an impressive scholar as well. The story is well-paced, and the author clearly spent a lot of time and energy on the setting and characters. While you’re reading “Devil Knows”, you temporarily forget about all of the future successes that were to accrue to this nation—you see it as they must have, a small outpost of tenuous civilization, surrounded by an alien and hostile wilderness.
He very skillfully introduces us to an engaging character whose life we travel through as the threads of this intricately woven story unravels. The layers of history that we learn about along the way on this suspenseful journey are both surprising and appalling. I could not put this book down until the last page was turned!
Devil Knows is an intriguing story creatively woven into actual historical events using actual historical figures. The author presents us with insight into the minds of the early New England colonists as well as the Native Americans inhabitants.
What an attention keeper, amazingly written the author writes with suspense, graphics and detail…everyone should read this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Devil Knows and gained a more nuanced appreciation for the infamous events of that period. In fact, I felt knee-deep in it. The central mystery pulled me through the mess of early New England along with characters who are surprisingly understandable when viewed through their historical context. Yet the themes of intolerance and brutality; compassion and bravery speak not just to America’s history. A great story well told.
The author has thoroughly researched an early American period and provided insight into a dark chapter in the history of our country, with enough fiction mixed into keep the story intriguing. Plenty of detail and well developed characters keep the history from being dry, and it is fascinating to learn in the afterward how much fact and how little fiction is contained in the story. I may read it again to apply what I learned later in to book to the earlier chapters to increase my understanding. Great presentation that I highly recommend.
Devil Knows captured my interest on page 1 and kept me under its spell to the very end. Not being much of a history buff I was surprised and delighted to find myself getting caught up in the period, fascinated by the difficult life of our early American ancestors. Hopestill Foster, through whose eyes much of the story is told, was a delightful combination of simplicity and courage, and I truly cared what happened to him. This is the first time I can remember enjoying a story so much while at the same time coming away from a book feeling like I’d genuinely learned something. Part mystery, part history, totally enthralling!
I just finished Devil Knows and it was great! I loved the history, and I have a much clearer understanding of the cultural context of the witch trials. The novel eloquently portrays the conflict of religion and governance, religion and commerce, the Native American Tribes and the tragic arrogance of British and French colonization. Wow! It has everything a good story needs.
David Joseph Kolb, a Pulitzer nominated journalist, has thirteen five star reviews on Amazon for Devil Knows. We expect many more such reviews from enthusiastic readers and end this post with just one more:
An absolutely enthralling book from page one. Kolb knows exactly how to weave a narrative that keeps you turning pages. A truly well-researched book, amazing characters, unique plot and a must-read for history buffs. This is one you don’t want to miss, folks!
At Garn we agree. Devil Knows is a great summer read and we highly recommend it.