The beginning of act 4 shows how much Salem has changed since act 1. The dark act opens at the jail, where Herrick, who was once proud of his job in the trials, now comforts himself with alcohol, checking in on prisoners Tituba and Sarah Goode. The two ladies have not been heard from since the beginning of the play. Then, they were praised for their confessions and promised they would be set free, since they repented. However, now the women realize their actions have sent other innocent people to death. Cold and depressed, they fantasize about joining the devil in warm Barbados.
Later, Cheever tells the court about the cows roaming the town. While a group of cows seems like a small note, the fact that there is no one left to take care of them, or to tend the crops, demonstrates how far the trials have gone. In an effort to save the town, most of its citizens have been condemned, and many have been sentenced to death.
There be so many cows wandering the highroads, now their masters are in the jails, and much disagreement who they will belong to now. I know Mr. Parris be arguing with farmers all yesterday—there is great contention, sir, about the cows. Contention make him weep, sir; it were always a man that weep for contention.
Even Parris is realizing that the town isn’t embracing the trials as they once were. He points out that when he excommunicated John Proctor, “there were hardly thirty people,” before these services drew larger crowds and more support.
Abigail and Mercy Lewis surely feel this shift in the town and begin to realize their time in power is almost up. If the change in Salem isn’t enough, the rumors are beginning to spread that similar trials in Andover have been turned over and that similar rebellions may occur in Salem.
Reverend Parris reports on the court that the two girls are missing, so their exact motives are not known. He reports the facts: they’ve been missing for three nights and, they’ve taken his money with them to fund their journey.
This be the third night. You see, sir, she told me she would stay a night with Mercy Lewis. And next day, when she does not return, I send to Mr. Lewis to inquire. Mercy told him she would sleep in my house for a night.
Excellency, I think they be aboard a ship. My daughter tells me how she heard them speaking of ships last week, and tonight I discover my—my strongbox is broke into.
Stealing from her uncle is her last desperate move before she leaves. Abigail realizes that she will never have the love of John Proctor, that he will die because of her accusations, and that Salem is no longer a safe place for her; therefore, her only remaining option is to run away with her friend.