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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<< chapter 3 chapter 32 >>

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THREE days after this conversation Gilbert Aderhold said good-bye to the Puritan woman and her son, shouldered a stick with a bundle at the end, and set his face toward the periphery of London and the green country beyond. He had no money. The idea of asking his fellow physician for a loan haunted him through one night, but when morning came the ghost was laid. He strongly doubted if the other would make the loan and he did not wish to ask it anyhow. Since he had been in London he had given a cast of his art more than once or twice in this neighbourhood. But it was a poor neighbourhood, and those whom he had served had been piteous folk, and he did not think that they could pay. He had not asked them to pay. He had no connections in London, no friends. His knowledge of men told him that, for all his tolerance and humanity, the fellow physician might be expected to drop a word of warning, here and there, among the brotherhood. His hope had been that his case was so obscure that no talk would come from Paris. . . . It was not only that the arm of religion had been raised; he had invoked in medicine, too, strange gods of observation and experience; he had been hounded forth


with a double cry. To linger in London, to try to work and earn here—with a shudder he tasted beforehand the rebuff that might come. He would leave London.

He was without near kindred. His parents were dead, a sister also. There was an elder brother, a sea-captain. Aderhold had not seen him for years, and fancied him now somewhere upon the ocean or adventuring in the New World. He remembered his mother telling him that there were or had been cousins to the north. She had spoken of an elderly man, living somewhere in a Grange. The name was Hardwick, not Aderhold. . . . He had no defined idea or intention of seeking kinsmen, but eventually he turned his face toward the north.

It was six in the morning when he stepped forth. Slung beside his bundle of clothing and a book or two, wrapped in a clean cloth, was a great loaf of bread which the Puritan woman had given him. There was a divine, bright sweetness and freshness in the air and the pale-blue heaven over all. He turned into Fleet Street and walked westward. The apprentices were opening the shops, country wares were coming into town, the city was beginning to bustle. Aderhold walked, looking to right and left, interested in all. He was not a very young man, but he was young. Health and strength had been rudely shaken by anxiety, fear, and misery. Anxiety still hovered, and now and then a swift, upstarting fear cut him like a whip and left him quiver-


ing. But fear and anxiety were going further, weakening, toning down. Calm was returning, calm and rainbow lights.

Hereabouts in the street were all manner of small shops, places of entertainment, devices by which to catch money. The apprentices were beginning their monotonous crying, "What d'ye lack? What d'ye lack?"

He came to a booth where there was a raree show. A shock-headed, ragged youth was taking down the boards, which were painted with figures of Indians, copper-hued and feathered. Half a dozen children stood watching.

Aderhold stopped and watched also. "Have you an Indian here," he asked the boy. "I have never seen one."

The youth nodded. "He sleeps in the corner back of the curtain. You pay twopence to see him—" He grinned, and looked at the children. "But it's before hours, and if so be you won't tell master on me—"

"We won't, master, we won't!" chorused the children.

The boy took down the last board, showing a concave much like a den with a black curtain at the back. He whistled and the curtain stirred. "We got him," said the boy, "from two Spaniards who got him from a ship from Florida. They trained him. They had a bear, too, that we bought, but the bear died." He whistled again. The curtain parted and


the Indian came forth and sat upon a stool planted in the middle of the den.

It was evident that he had been "trained." Almost naked, gaunt, dull and hopeless, he sat with a lack-lustre eye. The boy whistled again and he spoke, a guttural and lifeless string of words. The children gathered close, flushed and excited. But Aderhold's brows drew upward and together and he turned a little sick. He was a physician; he was used to seeing wretchedness, but it had not deadened him. Every now and then the wave of human misery came and went over him, high as space, ineffably dreary, unutterably hopeless. . . . He stood and looked at the Indian for a few moments, then, facing from the booth, walked away with a rapid and disturbed step which gradually became slower and halted. He turned and went back. "Has he eaten this morning? You don't give him much to eat?"

"Times are hard," said the boy.

Aderhold took the smaller bundle from his stick, unwrapped it and with his knife cut from the loaf a third of its mass. "May I give him this?"

The boy stared. "If you choose, master."

The physician entered the booth, went up to the Indian and placed the bread upon his knee. "Woe are we," he said, "that can give no efficient help!"

The savage and the European looked each other in the eyes. For a moment something hawk-like, eagle-like, came back and glanced through the pupils of the red man, then it sank and fled. His eyes grew


dull again, though he made a guttural sound and his hand closed upon the bread. The physician stood a moment longer. He had strongly the sacred wonder and curiosity, the mother of knowledge, and he had truly been interested to behold an Indian. Now he beheld one—but the iron showed more than the soul. "I am sorry for thee, my brother," Aderhold said softly.

The boy spoke from without. "Hist, hist! Master's coming down the street."

Aderhold left the booth, shouldered his stick and bundle and went on his way.

He walked steadily, the sun at his back, lifting through the mist and at last gilding the whole city. He was now upon its northwestern fringe, in the "suburbs." They had an evil name, and he was willing to pass through them hurriedly. They had a sinister look,—net-work of foul lanes, low, wooden, squinting houses, base taverns that leered.

A woman came and walked beside him, paint on her cheeks.

"Where are you going, my bonny man?" Then, as he would have out-stepped her, "What haste? Lord! what haste?"

"I have a long way to go," said Aderhold.

"As long and as short as I have to go," said the woman. "If you are willing we might go together."

Aderhold walked on, "I am not for that gear, mistress."

"No?" said the woman. "Then for what gear are


you? . . . Perhaps I am not for it, either, but—Lord God! one must eat!" She began to sing in a cracked voice but vaguely sweet.

"A lass there dwelled in London town—
'Alas!' she said, 'Alas!' she said,
'Of gold and land
I 've none in hand''

They were coming flush with the opening of a small, dim courtyard. She broke off her song. "Bring your stick and bundle in front of you! This is a marked place for snatchers."

Her warning was not idle. As he shifted the stick a shaggy, bull-headed man made a move from shadow to sunlight, lurched against him and grasped at the bundle. Aderhold slipping aside, the fellow lost his balance and came almost to the ground. The woman laughed. Enraged, the bull-headed man drew a knife and made at the physician, but the woman, coming swiftly under his raised arm, turned, and grasping wrist and hand, gave so sudden a wrench that the knife clanked down upon the stones. She kicked it aside into the gutter, her face turned to Aderhold. "Be off, my bonny man!" she advised. "No, he'll not hurt me! We're old friends."

Aderhold left the suburbs behind, left London behind. He was on an old road, leading north. For the most part, during the next few days, he kept to this road, though sometimes he took roughly paralleling, less-frequented ways, and sometimes footpaths


through fields and woods. Now he walked briskly, enjoying the air, hopeful with the hopeful day. Sometime in the morning an empty cart overtook him, the carter walking by his horse. They walked together up a hill and talked of the earth and the planting and the carting of stuffs and the rates paid and the ways of horses. Level ground reached, the carter offered a lift, and the two travelled some miles together, chiefly in a friendly silence. At midday Aderhold unwrapped his loaf of bread, and the carter produced bread, too, and a bit of cheese and a jug containing ale. They ate and drank, jogging along by April hedges and budding trees. A little later the carter must turn aside to some farm, and, wishing each other well, they parted.

This day and the next Aderhold walked, by green country and Tudor village and town, by smithy and mill, by country houses set deep in giant trees, by hamlet and tavern, along stretches of lonely road and through whispering, yet unvanished forests. The sun shone, the birds sang, the air was a ripple of zephyrs. The road had its traffic, ran an unwinding ribbon of spectacle. There were the walls of country and the roof of sky and a staccato presence of brute and human life. Now horsemen went by—knightly travel or merchant travel, or a judge or lawyer, or a high ecclesiastic. Serving-men walked or rode, farming folk, a nondescript of trade or leisure. Drovers came by with cattle, country wains, dogs. A pedlar with his pack kept him company for a


while. Country women passed, carrying butter and eggs to market, children coming from school, three young girls, lithe, with linked arms, a parson and his clerk, an old seaman, a beggar, a charcoal-burner, a curious small troupe of mummers and mountebanks, and for contrast three or four mounted men some-what of the stripe of the widow's sons. One looked a country gentleman and another a minister of the stricter sort. They gazed austerely at the mummers as they passed. Now life flowed in quantity upon the road, now the stream dwindled, now for long distances there was but the life of the dust, tree and plant, and the air.

When the second sunset came he was between hedged fields in a quiet, solitary country of tall trees, with swallows circling overhead in a sky all golden like the halos around saints' heads in pictures that he remembered in Italy. No house was visible, nor, had one been so, had he made up his mind to ask the night's lodging. The day had been warm, even the light airs had sunk away, the twilight was balm and stillness. He possessed a good cloak, wide and warm. With the fading of the gold from the sky he turned aside from the road upon which, up and down as far as he could see, nothing now moved, broke through the hedge, found an angle and spread his cloak within its two walls of shelter. The cloak was wide enough to lie upon and cover with, his bundle made a pillow. The stars came out; in some neighbouring, marshy place the frogs began their choiring.


Although he was tired enough, he could not sleep at once, nor even after a moderate time of lying there, in his ears the monotonous, not unmusical sound. He thought of what he should do to-morrow, and he could not tell. Walk on? Yes. How far, and where should he stop? So far he had not begged, but that could not last. The colour came into his cheek. He did not wish to beg. And were there no pride in the matter, there was the law of the land. Beggars and vagabonds and masterless men, how hardly were they dealt with! They were dealt with savagely, and few asked what was the reason or where was the fault. Work. Yes, he would work, but how and where? Dimly he had thought all along of stopping at last in some town or village, of some merciful opportunity floating to him, of tarrying, staying there—finding room somewhere—his skill shown—some accident, perhaps, some case like the alderman's wife . . . a foothold, a place to grip with the hand, then little by little to build up. Quiet work, good work, people to trust him, assurance, a cranny of peace at last . . . and all the time the light growing. But where was the cranny, and how would he find the way to it?

Over him shone the Sickle. He lay and wondered, and at last he slept, with the Serpent rising in the east.

Late in the night, waking for a moment, he saw that the sky was overcast. The air, too, was colder. He wrapped the cloak more closely about him and slept again. When he woke the day was here, but


not such a day as yesterday. The clouds hung grey and threatening, the wind blew chill. There set in a day of weariness and crosses. It passed somehow. Footsore, at dusk, he knocked at a cotter's door, closed fast against the wind which was high. When the family questioned him, he told them that he was a poor physician, come from overseas, going toward kinspeople. There chanced to be a sick child in the cottage; they let him stay for reading her fever and telling them what to do.

The next day and the next and the next the sky was greyer yet, and the wind still blew. It carried with it flakes of snow. The road stretched bare, none fared abroad who could stay indoors. Aderhold now stumbled as he walked. There was a humming in his ears. In the early afternoon of his sixth day from London he came to as lonely a strip of country as he had seen, lonely and grey and furrowed and planted with a gnarled wood. The flakes were coming down thickly.

Then, suddenly, beyond a turn of the road, he saw a small inn, set in a courtyard among trees. As he came nearer he could tell the sign—a red rose on a black ground. It was a low-built house with a thatched roof, and firelight glowed through the window. The physician had a bleeding foot; he was cold, cold, and dizzy with fatigue. He had no money, and the inn did not look charitable. In the last town he had passed through he had bought food and the night's lodging with a portion of the con-


tents of his bundle. Now he sat down upon the root of a tree overhanging the road, opened his shrunken store, and considered that with most of what was left he might perhaps purchase lodging and fare until the sky cleared and his strength came back. A while before he had passed one on the road who told him that some miles ahead was a fairly large town. He might press on to that . . . but he was tired, horribly tired, and shivering with the cold. In the end, keeping the bundle in his hand, he went and knocked at the door of the Rose Tavern.

The blowsed servant wench who answered finally brought her master the host, a smooth, glib man with a watery eye. He looked at the stuff Aderhold offered in payment and looked at the balance of the bundle. In the end, he gestured Aderhold into the house. It was warm within and fairly clean with a brightness of scrubbed pannikins, and in the kitchen, opening from the chief room, a vision of flitches of bacon and strings of onions hanging from the rafters. Besides the serving-maid and a serving-man there was the hostess, a giant of a woman with a red kerchief about her head. She gave Aderhold food. When it was eaten he stretched himself upon the settle by the kitchen hearth, arms beneath his head. The firelight danced on the walls, there was warmth and rest. . . .

Aderhold lay and slept. Hours passed. Then, as the day drew toward evening, he half roused, but lay still upon the settle, in the brown warmth. There


was a feeling about him of peace and deep forests, of lapping waves, of stars that rose and travelled to their meridians and sank, of long, slow movements of the mind. The minutes passed. He started full awake with the hearing of horses trampling into the courtyard and a babel of voices. He sat up, and the serving-wench coming at the moment into the kitchen he asked her a question. She proved a garrulous soul who told all she knew. The Rose Tavern stood some miles from a good-sized town. Those in the yard and entering the house were several well-to-do merchants and others with their serving-men. They had been to London, travelling together for company, and were now returning to this town. There was with them Master—she could n't think of his name—of Sack Hall in the next county. And coming in at the same time, and from London, too, there was old Master Hardwick who lived the other side of Hawthorn village, in a ruined old house, and was a miser. If he had been to London it would be sure to have been about money. And finally there was Squire Carthew's brother, also from Hawthorn way. He was a fine young man, but very strict and religious. The company was n't going to stay—it wished food and hot drink and to go on, wanting to reach the town before night. And here the hostess descended upon the girl and rated her fiercely for an idle, loose-tongue gabbling wench—

Aderhold, rested, rose from the settle and went into the greater room. Here were the seven or eight


principal travellers—the serving-men being without, busy with the riding and sumpter horses. All in the room were cold, demanding warmth and drink,—peremptory, authoritative, well-to-do burghers of a town too large for village manners and not large enough for a wide urbanity. In a corner, on a bed made of a bench and stool, with a furred mantle for cover, lay a lean old man with a grey beard. He was breathing thick and hard, and now and again he gave a deep groan. A young serving-man stood beside him, but with a dull and helpless aspect toward sickness. Across the room, standing by a window, appeared a man of a type unlike the others in the room. Tall and well-made, he had a handsome face, but with a strange expression as of warring elements. There showed a suppressed passionateness, and there showed a growing austerity. His dress was good, but dark and plain. He was booted and cloaked, and his hat which he kept upon his head was plain and wide-brimmed. Aderhold, glancing toward him, saw, he thought, one of the lesser gentry, with strong Puritan leanings. This would be "Squire Carthew's brother."

As he looked, the serving-man left the greybeard stretched upon the bench, went across to the window, and, cap in hand, spoke a few words. The man addressed listened, then strode over to the chimney-corner and stood towering above the sick man. "Are you so ill, Master Hardwick? Bear up, until you can reach the town and a leech!''


Aderhold, who had not left the doorway, moved farther into the room. Full in the middle of it, a man who had had his back to him swung around. He encountered one whom he had encountered before—to wit, the red and blue bully of the Cap and Bells. Master Anthony Mull did not at first recognize him. He was blustering against the host of the Rose because there was no pasty in the house. The physician would fain have slipped past, but the other suddenly gave a start and put out a pouncing hand. "Ha, I know you! You're the black sorcerer and devil's friend at the Cap and Bells who turned a book into a bowl of sack!"

He had a great hectoring voice. The travellers in the room, all except the group in the corner, turned their heads and stared. Aderhold, attempting to pass, made a gesture of denial and repulsion. "Ha! Look at him!" cried Master Anthony Mull. "He makes astrologer's signs—warlock's signs! Look if he does n't bring a fiend's own storm upon us ere we get to town!"

Very quiet, kindly, not easily angered, Aderhold could feel white wrath rise within him. He felt it now—felt a hatred of the red and blue man. The most of those in the room were listening. It came to him with bitterness that this bully and liar with his handful of idle words might be making it difficult for him to tarry, to fall into place if any place invited, in the town ahead. He had had some such idea. They said it was a fair town, with some learning. . . .


He clenched his hands and pressed his lips together. To answer in words was alike futile and dangerous; instead, with a shake of the head, he pushed by the red and blue man. The other might have followed and continued the baiting, but some further and unexpected dilatoriness exhibited by the Rose Tavern fanned his temper into conflagration. He joined the more peppery of the merchants in a general denouncement and prophecy of midnight ere they reached the town. Aderhold, as far from him as he could get, put under the surge of anger and alarm. He stood debating within himself the propriety of leaving the inn at once, before Master Mull could make further mischief. The cold twilight and the empty road without were to be preferred to accusations, in this age, of any difference in plane.

The sick man near him gave a deep groan, struggled to a sitting posture, then fell to one side in a fit or swoon, his head striking against the wall. The young serving-man uttered an exclamation of distress and helplessness. The man with the plain hat, who had turned away, wheeled and came back with knitted brows. There was some commotion in the room among those who had noticed the matter, but yet no great amount. The old man seemed unknown to some and to others known unfavourably.

Aderhold crossed to the bench and bending over the sufferer proceeded to loosen his ruff and shirt. "Give him air," he said, and then to the tall man, "I am a physician."


They laid Master Hardwick upon a bed in an inner room, where, Aderhold doing for him what he might, he presently revived. He stared about him. "Where am I? Am I at the Oak Grange? I thought I was on the road from London. Where is Will, my man?"

"He is without," said Aderhold. "Do you want him? I am a physician."

Master Hardwick lay and stared at him. "No, no! You are a leech? Stay with me. . . . Am I going to die?"

"No. But you do not well to travel too far abroad nor to place yourself where you will meet great fatigues."

The other groaned. "It was this one only time. I had monies at stake and none to straighten matters out but myself." He lay for a time with closed eyes, then opened them again upon Aderhold. "I must get on—I must get home—I must get at least as far as the town to-night. Don't you think that I can travel?"

"Yes, if you go carefully," said Aderhold. "I will tell your man what to do—"

The old man groaned. "He works well at what he knows, but he knows so little..... I do not know if I will get home alive."

"How far beyond the town have you to go?"

"Eight miles and more. . . . Doctor, are you not travelling, too? You've done me good—and if I were taken again—" He groaned. "I'm a poor


man,—they make a great mistake when they say I'm rich,— but if you'll ride with me I'll pay somehow—"

Aderhold sat in silence, revolving the matter in his mind. "I have," he said at last, "no horse."

But Master Hardwick had with him a sumpter horse. "Will can now ride that and now walk. You may have Will's horse." He saw the long miles, cold and dark, before him and grew eager. "I'm a sick man and I must get home." He raised himself upon the bed. "You go with me—you've got a kindly look—you do not seem strange to me. What is your name?"

"My name is Gilbert Aderhold."

"Aderhold!" said Master Hardwick. "My mother's mother was an Aderhold."

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