Good evening once again ladies and gentleman and welcome to the fourth episode of The Story So Far! Tonight we answer the question “What would have happened if Goodman Brown had passed his hero’s test?”
The Devil is in the Details
Young Goodman Brown awoke in the woods in the dim morning light. He brushed the moist dirt from his trousers and walked into the streets of the Salem village. He felt as if a weight had lifted from him as his body warmed to the movement of strolling through the village. The good old minister was ambling along the graveyard and imparted a blessing upon Goodman Brown as he passed. Goodman Brown smiled graciously in thanks as he went along his way. Goody Cloyse was catechizing a little girl named Prudence who had brought the elderly woman her pint of milk.
“You best pay good heed to what the lady says. You’ll be thankful one day!” called Goodman Brown in a knowing voice to Prudence. Goodman Brown heard footsteps nearing at a fast pace as he turned the corner by the meeting-house, and he found himself wrapped in the arms of lovely Faith. She had heard his voice and dashed in joy to meet her husband upon his return.
“My dear Faith, you are indeed a blessed angel on earth.” Goodman Brown breathed against his wife’s cap, pink ribbons fluttering in the gentle breeze. He grasped her hand lovingly and led the way back to their home to tell her of all that had happened the night before.
Days passed and life could not have been more peaceful or blissful in the house of Goodman Brown. He did indeed cling to the skirts of his loving wife, and his prayers at church were sent with the highest fervour. Before long, Faith was with child and they were to revel in the birth of their firstborn. One cold evening as Faith was rocking the cradle of their infant son, a knock was heard upon the door. Goodman Brown stood up from the fire to answer and found Prudence at the threshold with tears in her eyes.
“Elder Cloyse has vanished!” Prudence managed to choke out around the sobs. “I could not find her at home for my lesson this evening and none can tell me where she might be!” Goodman Brown ushered her inside to warm herself by the fire and said he would gather men from the village to search for her. The men searched all night until the early hours of morning. They had found signs of Goody Cloyse’s passage through trails in the woods, but old Goody herself was not to be found.
By the lunch hour, a ragged figure was seen hobbling out of the woods and towards the village. Goody Cloyse had returned. Prudence was eager to hear of the news and rushed to the old woman’s aid in getting her back to her home and tended to. At the approach of the young girl, Goody stumbled in her effort to recoil. With an animal gleam in her eyes she snarled at Prudence.
“Do not touch me with your sinning hands, child!” Goody shrieked at the young woman before continuing on her shuffling way back to her home. The once saintly woman now bitterly locked herself away in her home until the end of her days. She no longer took the young ones in for their catechisms. Prudence was heart-broken. She had loved the elderly woman dearly and sat at Goody’s doorstep every morning until she had passed.
Months passed. Goodman and Faith’s son grew, Prudence started smiling again, and more villagers would disappear in the night. One by one over time they went. Every man and woman would return in a similar condition to that of departed Goody Cloyse. They were selfish, greedy, lascivious, and mistrustful among many other dark moods. Sweet Prudence left while she could to seek her fortunes in the untamed west.
Goodman and Faith showed eternal patience with their fellow villagers, giving when others were in need and providing all that they could afford. The possessions in their home became few, but still they were happy. Their son, Ishmael, was growing into a fine man in the community and worked thrice as hard as the rest. The younger children, despite being raised in difficult conditions, were showing promise for the future and they looked to Ishmael as their leader.
One fine summer afternoon, Ishmael told his parents of his intention to go hunting in the woods to find some game for dinner. Goodman and Faith wished him luck and eagerly awaited his return. Evening waned and there was no sign of his return. Night finally fell like a cloak upon the Salem village and Goodman and Faith began to worry. There was no sign of him still as the moon travelled across the starlit sky. Goodman and Faith knew what had become of him, and they could only hope that their son would make the right choice. Faith wept.
In the morning hours, Ishmael finally returned from his trek in the woods. Bundled carefully on his back were the butchered remains of a stag. He knocked upon the door of his parents’ house, requesting permission to enter with his prize. Goodman and Faith welcomed his return warmly. But the bearing with which their son carried himself had changed, almost as if he had aged over night. There was a worldly air about him, and Goodman noticed the change clearly. In his heart, Goodman wept.
The growing peace in the town quickly raged into chaos. Crime upon crime inflicted upon fellow man without remorse. Ishmael, now possessed by the devil himself, was the catalyst. Then the horrors of the witch trials of Salem began.
Faith refused to accept what had happened to her son, even though he had made his own decision that altered his fate. She told Goodman that she was going to speak with the devil herself, and she did not care what the cost might be in order to save her son. The weather was growing cold, and with the crisp autumn winds Goodman could feel the ache in his joints growing as age was wearing upon him. He begged Faith not to go, and she seemed to relent to his wishes. They shuffled to bed, seeking warmth beneath the coverlet and in each others’ arms. In the dead of night, Goodman felt a chill wake him. Faith was not at his side. He stumbled out of bed as quickly as his cold bones would allow and reached for his shoes and coat. He glanced out of the window and noticed an ominous glow in the dark of the night, the orange glow of fires.
The voices of the crowd grew louder to Goodman’s ears as he left his house. But one voice rang clearer above them all, that of his son’s.
“Amongst our ranks we have been harbouring a witch! She has been attempting to work her evil magic upon us through dealings with the devil, and tonight she shall burn for her crimes!”
Goodman could see the pyre in the middle of the crowd, his darling Faith bound to a pole in the centre. Goodman shouted in pained rage and tried to shove his way through the mob. The flames were still working their way up from the bottom, nearly licking the bottoms of Faith’s bare feet.
“Restrain that man, lest he try to free this damned woman!” Ishmael the devil commanded the mob. There was a malevolent gleam in his eyes as he watched the crowd force Goodman to his knees. The screams of pain were finally erupting from Faith as the fire began to swallow her flesh. Tears streamed from her eyes that she had cast heavenward. In between her anguishing cries, prayers could be heard tumbling down from her blistering lips.
Goodman Brown watched his wife burn. His anger swelled within with each crack that sundered his heart. The burly men that had contained Goodman carried him back to his home, as he had exhausted himself trying to fight them all night long. He lay in bed knowing his heartbeats were numbered, heartbreak would send him to his grave. But could he forgive the devil and follow his wife to heaven, or had her selfless act damned her instead? Goodman Brown took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He had made his decision and his last breath shuddered out of his worn body.
Ishmael entered the room sullenly and fell weeping at his departed father’s side.