Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

The Witch, an electronic edition

by Mary Johnston [Johnston, Mary, 1870-1936]

date: 1914
source publisher: Houghton, Mifflin and Company
collection: Genre Fiction

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THE inn was small and snug, near Cheapside Cross, and resorted to by men of an argumentative mind. The Mermaid Tavern, no great distance away, had its poets and players, but the Cap and Bells was for statesmen in their own thought alone, and for disputants upon such trifles as the condition of Europe, the Pope, and the change in the world wrought by Doctor Martin Luther. It was ill-luck, certainly, that brought Gilbert Aderhold to such a place.

When he lost hope of any help from Cecil, the evident first thing to do upon returning from Richmond to London, was to change to lodgings that were less dear,—indeed, to lodgings as little dear as possible. His purse was running very low. He changed, with promptitude, to a poor room in a poor house. It was cold at night and dreary, and his eyes, tired with reading through much of the day, ached in the one candlelight. He went out into the dark and windy street, saw the glow from the windows and open door of the Cap and Bells, and trimmed his course for the swinging sign, a draught of malmsey and jovial human faces.

In the tavern's common room he found a seat upon the long bench that ran around the wall. It | | 11 was a desirable corner seat and it became his only by virtue of its former occupant, a portly goldsmith, being taken with a sudden dizziness, rising and leaving the place. Aderhold, chancing to be standing within three feet, slipped into the corner. He was near the fire and it warmed him gratefully. A drawer passing, he ordered the malmsey, and when it was brought he rested the cup upon the table before him. It was a long table, and toward the farther end sat half a dozen men, drinking and talking. What with firelight and candles the room was bright enough. It was warm, and at the moment of Aderhold's entrance, peaceable. He thought of a round of wild and noisy taverns that he had tried one after the other, and, looking around him, experienced a glow of self-congratulation. He wanted peace, he wanted quiet; he had no love for the sudden brawls, for the candles knocked out, and lives of peaceable men in danger that characterized the most of such resorts. He sipped his wine, and after a few minutes of looking about and finding that the cluster at the far end of the table was upon a discussion of matters which did not interest him, he drew from his breast the book he had been reading and fell to it again. As he read always with a concentrated attention, he was presently oblivious of all around.

An arm in a puffed sleeve of blue cloth slashed with red, coming flat against the book and smothering the page from sight, broke the spell and brought | | 12 him back to the Cap and Bells. He raised his chin from his hand and his eyes from the book—or rather from the blue sleeve. The wearer of this, a formidable, large man, an evident bully, with a captious and rubicund face, frowned upon him from the seat he had taken, at the foot of the table, just by his corner. The number of drinkers and conversers had greatly increased. There was not now just a handful at this especial table; they were a dozen or more. Moreover, he found that for some reason their attention was upon him; they were watching him; and he had a great and nervous dislike of being watched. He became aware that there was a good deal of noise, coarse jests and laughter, and some disputing. Yet they looked, for the most part, substantial men, not the wild Trojans and slashswords that he sometimes encountered. For all his physical trepidations he was a close and accurate observer; roused now, he sent a couple of rapid glances the length and breadth of the table. They reported disputatious merchants and burgomasters, a wine-flushed three or four from the neighbouring congeries of lawyers, a country esquire, some one who looked pompous and authoritative like a petty magistrate, others less patent,—and the owner of the arm still insolently stretched across his book.

The latter now removed the arm. "So ho! Master Scholar, your Condescension returns from the moon—after we've halloaed ourselves hoarse! What devil of a book carried you aloft like that?"

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Aderhold decided to be as placating as possible. "It is, sir, the 'Chirurgia Magna' of Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, called Paracelsus."

The red and blue man was determined to bully. "The Cap and Bells has under consideration the state of the Realm. The Cap and Bells has addressed itself to you three times, requesting your opinion upon grave matters. First you deign no answer at all, and finally you insult us with trivialities! 'S death! are you an Englishman, sir?"

"As English as you, sir," answered Aderhold; "though, in truth, seeing that I have lived abroad some years and am but lately returned, my English manners may have somewhat rusted and become clownish. I crave pardon of the worshipful company, and I shall not again read in its presence."

A roisterer addressed him from halfway down the table. "We've got a ruling—we that frequent the Cap and Bells. You 're a stranger—and a strange-looking stranger, too, by your leave—and you must wipe out the offense of your outlandishness! A bowl of sack for the company—you'll pay for a bowl of sack for the company?"

The colour flooded Aderhold's thin cheek. He had not enough in his purse or anything like enough. To-morrow he expected—or hoped rather than expected—to receive payment from the alderman whose wife, having fallen ill before the very door of the house where he lodged, he had attended and brought out from the presence of death. But to- | | 14 morrow was to-morrow, and to-night was to-night. He told the truth. "I am a poor physician, my masters, who hath of late been set about with misfortune—"

The red and blue bully smote the table with his fist.

"What a murrain is a man doing in the Cap and Bells who cannot pay for sack? Poor physician, quotha! I've known a many physicians, but none so poor as that—"

One of the lawyers, a middle-aged, wiry man in black, raised his head. "He says true. Come, brother, out with thy gold and silver!"

"When I shall have paid," said Aderhold, "for the malmsey I have drunk, I shall not have fourpence in my purse."

"Pay for the sack," said the lawyer, "and leave the malmsey go."

"Nay," said Aderhold, "I owe for the malmsey."

The red and blue man burst forth again. "Oons! Would you have it that you do not owe the sack? Call for the drink and a great bowl of it, aye! If the host is out at the end, he can take his pay with a cudgel or summon the watch! Physician, quotha? Now, as my name's Anthony Mull, he looks more to me like a black seminary priest!"

Aderhold leaned back appalled. He wished himself in the windy street or the gloom of his lodgings, or anywhere but here. Was it all to begin again, the great weariness of trouble here and trouble there? | | 15 To thread and dodge and bend aside, only in the end to find himself at bay, bright-eyed and fierce at last like any hunted animal—he who wanted only peace and quiet, calm space to think in! He groaned inwardly. "Ah, the most unlucky star!" There came to his help, somewhat strangely, and, though none noticed it, upon the start as it were of the red and blue bully's closing words, the Inns of Court man who had spoken before. He took his arms from the table and, turning, called aloud, "William Host! William Host!"

The host came—a stout man with a moon face. 'Aye, sir? aye, Master Carnock?"

"William Host," said Carnock, "it is known, even in that remnant of Boeotia, the Mermaid Tavern, that thou 'rt the greatest lover of books of all the Queen's subjects—"

The host assumed the look of the foolish-wise. "Nay, nay, I would not say the greatest, Master Carnock! But 't is known that I value a book—"

"Then," said the other, "here is a learned doctor with a no less learned book." Rising, he leaned half-way over the table and lifted from before Aderhold the volume with which he had been engaged. "Lo! A good-sized book and well made and clothed! Look you, now! Is't worth thy greatest bowl of sack, hot and sugared? It is—I see it by thine eye of judicious appraisement! I applaud thy judgement!—I call it a Solomon's judgement.—Furnish the doctor with the sack and take the book for payment!"

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Aderhold thrust out a long and eager arm. "Nay, sir! I value the book greatly—"

"If you are not a fool—" said the lawyer with asperity.

But the physician had already drawn back his arm. He could be at times what the world might call a fool, but his intelligence agreed that this occasion did not warrant folly. He might somehow come up with the book again; if the alderman paid, he might, indeed, come back to-morrow to the Cap and Bells and recover it from the host. When the first starting and shrinking from danger was over, he was quick and subtle enough in moves of extrication. He had learned that in his case, or soon or late, a certain desperate coolness might be expected to appear. Sometimes he found it at one corner, sometimes at another; sometimes it only came after long delay, after long agony and trembling; and sometimes it slipped its hand into his immediately after the first recoil. Whenever it came it brought, to his great relief, an inner detachment, much as though he were a spectator, very safe in some gallery above. Up there, so safe and cool, he could even see the humour in all things. Now he addressed the company. "My masters, Cleopatra, when she would have a costly drink, melted pearls in wine! The book there may be called a jewel, for I prized it mightily. Will you swallow it dissolved in sack? So I shall make amends, and all will be wiser for having drunk understanding!"

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The idea appealed, the sack was ordered. But the red and blue bully was bully still. Aderhold would have sat quiet in his corner, awaiting the steaming stuff and planning to slip away as soon as might be after its coming. At the other end of the table had arisen a wordy war over some current city matter or other—so far as he was concerned the company might seem to be placated and attention drawn. He was conscious that the lawyer still watched him from the corner of his eye, but the rest of the dozen indulged in their own wiseacre wrangling. All, that is, but the red and blue bully. He still stared and swelled with animosity, and presently broke forth again. "'Physician'! It may be so, but I do not believe it! As my name's Anthony Mull, I believe you to be a Jesuit spy—"

The sack came at the moment and with it a diversion. Cups were filled, all drank, and the lawyer flung upon the board for discussion the growing use of tobacco, its merits and demerits. Then, with suddenness, the petty magistrate at the head of the table was found to be relating the pillorying that day, side by side, of a Popish recusant and a railing Banbury man or Puritan. All at table turned out to be strong Church of England men, zealous maintainers of the Act of Uniformity, jealous of even a smack of deviation toward Pope or Calvin. At the close of a moment of suspension, while all drank again, the red and blue bully, leaning forward, addressed the man of justice. "Good Master Pierce, regard this | | 18 leech, so named, and put the question to him, will he curse Popery and all its works."

It seemed, in truth, that this was Aderhold's unlucky night. That, or there was something in the Queen's declaration, there was something about him different, something that provoked in all these people antagonism. And yet he was a quiet man, of a behaviour so careful that it suggested a shyness or timidity beyond the ordinary. He was not ill-looking or villainous-looking—but yet, there it was! For all that he was indubitably of English birth,"Foreigner" was written upon him.

The present unluckiness was the being again involved in this contentious and noisy hour. He had been gathering himself together, meaning to rise with the emptying of the bowl, make his bow to the company, and quit the Cap and Bells. And now it seemed that he must stop to assure them that he was not of the old religion! Aderhold's inner man might have faintly smiled. He felt the lawyer's gaze upon him—a curious, even an apprehensive, gaze. The justice put the question portentously, all the table, save only the lawyer, leaning forward, gloating for the answer, ready to dart a claw forward at the least flinching. But Aderhold spoke soberly, with a quiet brow. "I do not hold with cursing, Master Justice. It is idle to curse past, present, or to come, for in all three a man but curses himself. But I am far removed from that faith, and that belief is become a strange and hostile one to me. I am no Papist."

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The bully struck the table with his fist. "As my name's Anthony Mull, that's not enough!"

And the justice echoed him with an owl-like look: "That's not enough!"

A colour came into Aderhold's cheek. "There is, my masters, no faith that has not in some manner served the world and given voice to what we were and are, good and bad. No faith without lives of beauty and grace. No faith without its garland. But since I am to clear myself of belonging to the old religion—then I will say that I abhor—as in a portion of myself, diseased, which I would have as far otherwise as I might—that I abhor in that faith all its cruelties past and present, its Inquisition, its torturers and savage hate, its wars and blood-letting and insensate strife, its falseness and cupidity and great and unreasonable pride, its King Know-No-More and its Queen Enquire-No-Further! I abhor its leasing bulls, its anathemas and excommunications, its iron portcullis dropped across the outward and onward road, its hand upon the throat of knowledge and its searing irons against the eyes of vision! I say that it has made a dogma of the childhood of the mind and that, or soon or late, there will stand within its portals intellectual death—"

The table blinked. "At least," said the justice sagely, "you are no Papist!"

But the red and blue man would not be balked of his prey. "That's round enough, but little enough as a true Churchman talks! You appear to | | 20 me not one whit less one of us than you did before! Master Pierce, Master Pierce! if he be not a masked Jesuit, then is he a Marprelate man, a Banbury man, a snuffling, Puritan, holy brother! Examine him, Master Pierce! My name is not Mull, if he be not somehow pillory fruit—''

It seemed that they all hated a Puritan as much as a Papist. "Declare! Declare! Are you a Banbury Saint and a Brother? Are you Reformed, a Precisian, and a Presbyter? Are you John Calvin and John Knox?"

But Aderhold kept a quiet forehead. "A brother to any in the sense you mean—no. A saint—not I! A Calvinist?—No, I am no Calvinist."

"Not enough! Not enough!''

Aderhold looked at them, bright-eyed. "Then I will say that Calvin burned Servetus. I will say that where they have had power to persecute they have persecuted! I will say that—"

Outside the Cap and Bells arose a great uproar. Whether it were apprentices fighting, or an issue of gentry and sword-play with—in either case—the watch arriving, or whether it were a fire, or news, perhaps, of the old Queen's death—whatever it was it behooved the Cap and Bells to know the worst! All the revellers and disputers rose, made for the door, became dispersed. Aderhold snatched up his cloak and hat, laid a coin beside the empty malmsey cup, sent one regretful glance in the direction of the volume lying beside the great bowl, and | | 21 quitted the Cap and Bells. In the street was a glare of light and the noise of running feet. The crowd appeared to be rushing toward Thames bank, some tall building upon it being afire. He let them go, and drawing his cloak about him, turned in the direction of his lodging.

He had not gone far when he felt himself touched on the shoulder. "Not so fast! A word with you, friend!—You've put me out of breath—" It proved to be the lawyer who had befriended him. They were standing before some church. Wall and porch, it rose above them, dark and vacant. The lawyer looked about him, glanced along the steps and into the hollow of the porch. "Bare as is this land of grace!—Look you, friend, we know that it is allowable at times to do that in danger which we disavow in safety. Especially if we have great things in trust.—I marked you quickly enough for a man with a secret—and a secret more of the soul and mind than of worldly goods. Hark you! I 'm as little as you one of the mass-denying crew we 've left. What! a man may go in troublous times with the current and keep a still tongue—nay, protest with his tongue that he loves the current—else he'll have a still tongue, indeed, and neither lands nor business, nor perhaps bare life! But when we recognize a friend—"He spoke rapidly, in a voice hardly above a whisper, a sentence or two further.

You take me," said Aderhold, "to be Catholic. | | 22 You mistake; I am not. I spoke without mask." Then, as the other drew back with an angry breath. "You were quick and kindly and saved me from that which it would have been disagreeable to experience. Will you let me say but another word?"

"Say on," said the other thickly, "but had I known—"

The light from Thames bank reddening the street even here, they drew a little farther into the shadow of the porch. "I have travelled much," said Aderhold, "and seen many men and beliefs, and most often the beliefs were strange to me, and I saw not how any could hold them. Yet were the people much what they were themselves, some kindly, some unkindly, some hateful, some filled with all helpfulness. I have seen men of rare qualities, tender and honourable women and young children, believe what to me were monstrous things. Everywhere I have seen that men and women may be better than the dogma that is taught them, seeing that what they think they believe is wrapped in all the rest of their being which believes no such thing. Both in the old religion and in the Reformed have I known many a heroic and love-worthy soul. Think as well as you may of me, brother, and I will think well of thee—and thank thee, besides,—"

"Cease your heretic talk!" said the lawyer. "I held you to be of holy Mother Church—" With suddenness, in the darkness, he put forth his foot and swung his arm, at once tripping and striking the | | 23 physician with such violence that he came to the ground with his forehead against the stone step of the church. When he staggered to his feet the lawyer was gone. Around him howled the March wind and far above the church vane creaked. He stood for a moment until the giddiness passed, then gathered his cloak about him and, hurrying on through the nipping air, reached his lodging without further adventure.

That night he slept well. The next morning, as he was eating his breakfast, that was spare enough, he heard a loud and formal crying in the street below. He went to the window. A crier was approaching, at his heels a mob of boys and of the idle generally. "The Queen is Dead!—The Queen is Dead!—The Queen is Dead!—Long Live King James!"

chapter 32 >>