Synopsis of The Dumb Shall Sing
At the conclusion of the Pequot War, in which the English settlers decimated that tribe, eight sachems have been condemned to
death by being tossed overboard from the trading sloop Good Hope, owned by Catherine Williams, a wealthy widow and
midwife. She bargains for the life of Massaquoit, the proudest of the eight, demanding that he be turned over to her as payment
of a debt owed by the town for a loan made by her husband to finance the war.
Massaquoit accepts his salvation reluctantly, coming as it does from an English woman, and denying him the opportunity to prove his courage in death. Yet, he is happy enough to be alive. As a condition for saving his life, Catherine agrees to see that he converts to Christianity. He says he will see what the white man's God has to offer, but he won't give up his own. He harbors an enduring hostility toward the English who killed his wife and son during their climactic attack on the Pequot fort.
Shortly thereafter, Catherine sees a crowd heading toward the Jameson house where she had helped deliver a baby boy. She finds a mob confront the mother and father, who is holding the baby, now dead. The mother stands mute. The crowd's suspicions fall on Margaret, an Irish servant girl, who was seen pouring water on the baby and uttering strange words. The crowd, egged on by the baby's father and Ned, his nephew, accuse Margaret of casting a spell on the baby. She is made to do a trial by ordeal by touching the dead infant. It is said to bleed, proving her guilt. Joseph Woolsey, Catherine's friend, and a magistrate, arrives and prevents the mob from doing any violence.
Margaret is in prison. Catherine decides to defend her, as the punishment for infanticide is hanging. The only evidence against her is Henry Jameson's statement that he left his infant son in her hands because Martha, his wife, was too weak to tend to it. It is clear that the girl will be convicted, and so Catherine prevails upon Massaquoit to break her out of jail. He does and takes her to an island off the coast where his wife's mother is in hiding.
Catherine knows two things: that the "red spots" on the babe were berry stains, and that there was a bruise on the baby's neck. She does not believe that Margaret harmed the infant. Since her baby's death, Martha has refused to speak. Catherine gives her a mild hallucinogen, which prompts her to speak a couple of words that will help Catherine unlock the mystery.
The militia track down Massaquoit and Margaret, and despite his best efforts she and his mother-in-law are captured. He sees them led back to Newbury as humiliated captives. He volunteers to continue helping Catherine and finds the blanket in which the dead baby had been swaddled. Meanwhile, Catherine at another birthing gets information about Martha's despair and her anger at both her husband and nephew for their sexual interest in Margaret.
On the night of an eclipse, Catherine confronts Henry and Ned with the blanket. He sees red stains from berries, but Catherine convinces him that it is his child's blood. He confesses that he is the murderer.
Catherine, however, does not believe him and convinces Martha to "sing" the truth.
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