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 8 chapter 32 >>

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ADERHOLD sat in the moth-eaten old chair, in the bare room, beside the bed in which, seventy-odd years before, Master Hardwick had been born and in which he was now to die. The old man lay high upon the pillows. He slept a good deal, but when he waked his mind was clear, not weakened like his body. Indeed, the physician thought that the mental flame burned more strongly toward the end, as though Death fanned away some heavy and dulling vapour.

Master Hardwick was sleeping now. Old Dorothy had tiptoed in to see how matters went, and, after a whispered word, had tiptoed out again. She was fond of Aderhold—she said that the Oak Grange had been human since he came.

He sat musing in the great chair. Four years.... Four years in this still house. He felt a great pity for the old man lying drawn and crumpled there beside him, a pity and affection. The two were kindred. He had this refuge, this nook in the world, this home to be grateful for, and he was grateful. Moreover, the old man depended upon him, depended and clung..... Four years—four years of security and peace. They had been bought at a | | 110 price. He saw himself, a silent figure, watching all things but saying naught, keeping silence, conforming, agreeing by his silence. He thought a braver man would not have been so silent.... Four years—four years of the quietest routine, going where there was sickness and he was called, wandering far afield in a country not thickly peopled, lying musing by streams or in deep woods, or moving upon long bare hilltops with the storm sky or the blue sky, going punctually to church each Sunday, paying to the tithing-man some part of his scant earnings... then at the Oak Grange sitting with this old man, drawing him, when he could, out of his self-absorption and his fears. Aderhold was tender with his fears; that which weighed upon his own soul was his own fear, and it made him comprehend the other's terrors, idle though he thought they were. He thought that from some other dimension his own would seem as idle—and yet they bowed him down, and kept him forever fabricating a mask.

Four years. In the small bare room which was called his and which, through care for old Dorothy, he himself kept and cleaned, there stood an oaken press, where under lock and key he guarded ink and pen and paper and a book that he was writing. That guess at qualities, at origins and destinies, that more or less mystical vision, taste and apprehension of ground and consequence, that intuition of all things in flood, of form out of form, of unity in motion—all that in France he had outspoken, and | | 111 in speaking had like to have lost liberty and life—all that he had not spoken of here these four years, hard-by Hawthorn Village and church—all this he was striving to put there upon paper. He rose at dawn and wrote while the light strengthened; he bought himself candles and wrote at night when all the place was so still that silence grew sound. Four years—

Master Hard wick stirred, opened his eyes. "Gilbert!"

"I am here, cousin."

"How long—?"

"I do not know. You do not fail fast nor easily. Your body is courageous."

He gave him to drink. As he put down the cup Dorothy opened the door. Behind her appeared a man with a black dress, close-cut hair, and a steeple-crowned hat. Although the day was warm he had about him a wide cloak. He was short and thin, with a pale, acrimonious, zealot's face. He carried in his hand a Geneva Bible.

Dorothy stammered out, "Master Clement did not wish to wait, master—"

Clement spoke for himself. "While I waited your master's soul might have perished, for a soul can perish in a twinkling." He put the old woman aside with his hand and came forward from the door to the bed. "How do you do today, Master Hard-wick?"

The old man made a feeble movement upon his | | 112 pillows. "I do as I have done, Master Clement,—I run rapidly toward this life's end."

"Yea," said the minister, "and I fear me that you run toward worse than this life's end! I am come—I am come, Master Hard wick, to wrestle with the Devil for thy soul! I tell thee, it stands in mortal danger of dropping from life's end into that gulf where Dives burns and is mocked from Abraham's bosom!"

Aderhold had risen. Dorothy, having placed a chair for Master Clement, was on the point of vanishing, but the minister called her back. "Stay, woman, and be edified likewise! Or wait! Call also the serving-man and the lad that I saw without. It befits that a dying man, suing for pardon to an offended King, should have his household about him."

Dorothy brought them in, Will and the boy, her nephew. The three stood in a solemn row. Long habit had made them accept old master and his ways, but they did not doubt that he stood in peril of his soul. It was proper that the minister should exhort him. They stood with slightly lifted and exalted countenances. After all, so little came into their lives to make them feel a comparative righteousness, to set them in any wise upon a platform of honour!

Master Hardwick lay awake and conscious but passed beyond much speaking. Aderhold withdrew into the shadow of the bed-curtains, and out of | | 113 this twilight regarded Master Clement. He knew of more than one or two heroic things which this man had done. Moreover, he had heard that years before, when Calvin had by no means as yet tinctured England, Master Clement had stoutly set up his standard and kept strict vigil before it. It was whispered that he had stood in the pillory for "No Pope—and No Prelates!" Aderhold, gazing upon him, was aware that Master Clement would endure persecution as unflinchingly as, indubitably, he would inflict it. Each quality somehow cancelled the other—Master Clement was out of it—and there was left only the gross waste and suffering...

Aderhold had heard priest and preacher, after pulpit cries of human worthlessness, of the insignificance of the soul, of universal and hopeless guilt, of the inflamed mind of God, of the hell which, in the course of nature, awaited every child of Adam, of the predestination of some, indeed, through grace of another, to an unearned glory, of the eternal, insufferable loss and anguish of those multitudes and multitudes and multitudes, who either had never known or heard of that remedy, or who, the Devil at their ear, had made bold to doubt its utter efficacy—he had heard and seen such men, at death-beds, in the presence of solemn and temperate Death, turn from what they preached to Reason and Love. He had heard them try to smooth away the deep and dark trenches in the bewildered brain which they themselves had done their best to dig. | | 114 He thought their conversion the saddest miracle—sad, for it did not last. Death passed for that time from their view, back they went to preach to listening throngs who must die, Inherited Guilt, Inherited, fiendish punishment, an Inherited, fearful God, an Inherited curse upon enquiry, and the humbling, indeed, of an Inherited vicarious atonement.

... He wondered that they never foresaw their own death-bed. He thought that they never truly, bone and marrow, believed what they said, but that the reverberating voices of the ages behind them stunned, went through them, produced an automatic voice and action. To resist that insistence, to breast the roaring stream of the past—he acknowledged that it was difficult, difficult!

Three or four times in these years he had chanced to find himself together with Master Clement at some death-bed. Once he had seen him soften—a child dying and crying out in terror of the Judgement Day. "You were baptized—you were baptized—'' repeated the minister to him over and over again. "I baptized you myself. You are safe—you are safe, my dear child! The Lord Christ will help you—the Lord Christ will help you—" But the child had died in terror.

Today there was no softening in the aspect of Master Clement. This old man before him was a wretched miser hoarding gold, a solitary who in this dark old house as probably as not practised alchemy, lusting to turn lead and iron into gold, and as prob- | | 115 ably as not practised it by unlawful and demoniacal aid. Rarely was he seen in church—too feeble to come, he said; too unwilling, thought Master Clement. He did not give of his substance, he was bitter and misliked, he asked no prayers—Master Clement had many counts against him, and was fain to believe that they tallied with God's counts. He girded himself and came forth to wrestle with and throw this soul, and by the hair of its head to drag it from the edge of the bottomless pit. He wrestled for the better part of an hour.

Master Hardwick lay unwinking, high upon his pillows. Aderhold could not tell how much really entered ear and mind; the old man seemed to be regarding something far away, something growing in the distance. The pity of it, he thought, was for Will and old Dorothy and the boy; they were drinking, drinking.

At last Master Clement desisted. He stared with a fixed face at Master Hardwick who stared beyond him. "Thou impenitent old man—!" He rose and with a gesture dismissed the three in line. Will and Dorothy and the boy filed out, primed to discuss among themselves master's impenitency. "I go now, Master Hardwick," said the minister, "but I shall come again tomorrow, though I fear me thou art as utterly lost as any man in England!"

Aderhold accompanied him from the chamber into the hall. He knew that it was in order to speak with unction of the just closed exhortation; to won- | | 116 der at the minister's fervent power, and deprecate with sighs and shaken head the horrible wickedness of the human heart; to marvel that any could hold out against the truth so presented—how many times had he heard such an utterance and seen the self-congratulation behind—how many times! He knew that the pause which the minister made, unconscious as it certainly was, was a pause for the accustomed admiration. When it did not come he saw that, as unconsciously again, Master Clement's mistrust of him deepened. He knew that, for all his locked lips and eyes withheld from expression, for all his stillness, repression, and church-going, the minister liked him not. The clash of minds came subtly through whatever walls you might build around it.

"I fear, Master Aderhold," now said the minister, "that you have done little during your residence with your kinsman to bring him to repentance. Surely, in these years of such close communion, a godly man could have done much! Such a man as Harry Carthew would have had him by now day and night upon his knees!"

Aderhold sighed, then dropped the veil, and raising his head, spoke eye to eye. "I would that I could make you believe, Master Clement, that there is in this old man who is coming to die more good than ill. In these years that you speak of, I have seen ' that good grow, of its own motion, upon the ill. Why may it not continue, throughout oceans yet of | | 117 experience, to suffuse and gain upon and dissolve and reconcile unto itself the ill?"

Master Clement drew a sharp "Ha!" of triumph. Here was heterodoxy raising its head, and the man had always looked to him heterodox! "Ha! 'Of its own motion!' Beware—beware, Master Aderhold! I have marked you—I am marking you still! Beware lest one day you be cited for a creeping, insidious doubter and insinuator of false doctrine!"

He went away, striding by the fairy oak in his wide cloak and steeple hat, with a pale, wrathful, intense face. Aderhold returned to the room and his patient. Master Hardwick lay upon his pillows, with a countenance much as it had been. Aderhold, saying nothing, sat beside him, and presently he fell asleep. Outside it was high summer, but cool, with a moving air and a rustling of every leaf. Hours passed, the day waned, the dusk set in. Aderhold, moving softly, made a fire in the cavernous fireplace, where, even in winter, Master Hardwick rarely wasted firewood.

When he came back the old man was awake.


"Yes, cousin."

"I have a feeling that I am going tonight—"

"It is possible."

"Gilbert... you've been comfortable to me these four years. You've been a kind of warmth and stay, asking nothing, not wasting or spending, but giving.... They think I am rich, but I am not. | | 118 I was never very rich.... I ventured in the Indies' voyage and gained, and then I was a fool and ventured again and lost. Since then I have been a poor man. It is the truth.... Give me something to keep me up—"

Aderhold gave him wine. After a moment he spoke again. "There are creditors in the town that you'll hear from. They'll take the land—all but the bit about the house. That and the house I 've willed you—kin to me, and kind as well.... The gold they say I 've buried—I 've buried none. There are twenty pieces that you 'll find in an opening of the wall behind the panel there—" He pointed with a shaking hand that sank at once. "It's all that's left—and you'll have to bury me from it.... A miser.... Maybe, but what I saved only lasted me through with spare living. If I had told them of that heavy loss—my gold gone down at sea, and that, even so, it was not so much I had had to venture... would they have believed me? No! I was a miser—I lied and hid my gold.... Well, I did not tell them.... Do not tell all that you know and empty yourself like a wine skin—"His voice sank, he slept again.

Aderhold thought that he might sink from sleep into stupor and so die painlessly and without words. But in the middle of the night he waked again.


"Yes, I am here."

"What did you think of all that which Master | | 119 Clement had to say?... How much was true and how much was false?"

"There was some truth. But much of it was false. It is false because reason and feeling, the mind and the spirit recoil from it. Whatever is, that is not."

"I never thought it was.... I've been called sour and hard and withholding, and maybe I am it all. But I would not make an imperfect creature and then plague it through eternity for its imperfection.... Gilbert—"


"What would you do?"

Aderhold came and knelt beside the bed, and laid his hands over the cold and shrunken hand of Master Hardwick. "I would trust and hope—and that not less in myself than in that Other that seems to spread around us. I think that ourselves and that Other may turn out to be the same. I would think of myself as continuing, as journeying on, as surely carrying with me, in some fashion, memory of the past, as growing endlessly through endless experience. I would take courage. And if, in my heart, I knew that in this life I had at times—not all the time, but at times—been sour and hard and withholding and fearful, and if I felt in my heart that that made against light and love and wisdom and strength for all—then, as I lay here dying, and as I died, I would put that withholding and fear from me, and step forth toward better things... There is within you a fountain of love and strength. | | 120 Trust yourself to your higher self.... Hoist sail and away!"

The night passed, and at dawn Master Hardwick died. Aderhold closed his eyes, straightened his limbs, and smoothed the bed upon which he lay. Going to the window he set the casement wide. The dawn was coming up in stairs and slopes of splendour. The divine freshness, the purity, the high, austere instigation, the beginning again.... The dawn perpetual, never ceasing, the dawn elsewhere when here would be noon, the dawn elsewhere when here would be night—Never, from the first mists upon earth rising to the great sun, had dawn failed, dawn rising from the bath of night and sleep, dawn the new birth, the beginning again, the clean-washed.... Aderhold breathed the divine air, the blended solemnity and sweetness. The light was growing, a thousand beauties were unfolding, and with them laughter and song. The water rippling over the stones came to him with a sound of merriment. The window was clustered around with ivy and a spray nodded, nodded against his hand with an effect of familiarity, a friend tapping to call his attention. From some near-by bush a thrush began to sing—so golden, so clear. "O moving great and small!" said Aderhold; "O thought of all sense and soul, gathered, interfused, and aware of a magic Oneness! O macrocosm that I, the microcosm, will one day lift to and be and know that I am—O sea of all faiths, O temperer of every concept, O eternal permission | | 121 and tolerance, nurse of growth and artifex of form from form!... These children's masks which we lift upon a stick and call Thee, crying, Lo, this is God with the fixed face—"

He rested a little longer in the window, listening to the thrush, then turned, looked again at the quiet figure upon the bed, and going from the room wakened old Dorothy and the boy. Later that day, Will, Goodman Cole, old Heron, and a lawyer from the town being present, he searched for and found the spring that opened the panel Master Hardwick had indicated. Behind was a recess, and within it twenty gold-pieces. He gave them into the lawyer's hands for keeping.

They buried Master Hardwick in Hawthorn Churchyard. Hard upon the end of that, there appeared a merchant and a man of means from the town with a note-of-hand. The farm land, such as it was, would go there in satisfaction. The lawyer produced a will made one year before. Lacking issue and near kindred, Master Hardwick left all that he had, his creditors being satisfied, to his loving cousin, the physician, Gilbert Aderhold. What that was in reality was solely the decaying old house and the few acres of worn garden and orchard immediately surrounding it. The twenty pieces of gold, when all was paid, shrunk to three.

Aderhold dwelled solitary in the Oak Grange as he and his kinsman had dwelled solitary before. The land around went no longer with the Grange, but | | 122 there was no change else. The old tenants hung on; it still spread, poor in soil, poorly tilled, shut off from the richer vale by Hawthorn Forest. Will no longer came to the Grange; Aderhold, old Dorothy, and the boy lived in the place and kept it. There was no other money than the scant sixpences and shillings that the physician gained. To sell the house sounded well, but there was no purchaser. The place was ruinous, lonely, and without advantage, said to be haunted as well. Aderhold, only, had grown to love it, the ivied walls and the wild garden, the oak and the stream, and the room where he took from behind locked doors his book and sat and wrote. All was so quiet, still, secure, there behind the shield of Hawthorn Forest....

But Hawthorn countryside and village refused to believe that the gold was gone. It was known that the dead miser had had a chest-full of broad pieces. Probably he had buried this great store—some said under the house itself, some said under the fairies' oak. Wherever it was buried, certainly the leech must know where it was; or if he did not know yet, he would. If one were to go that way through Hawthorn Forest, and come into sight of the house and see a candle passing from window to window, or hear a digging sound in the orchard or beneath the ill-named oak, that would be he.... A whisper arose, none knew how, that Master Hardwick had practised alchemy, and that his kinsman practised it too; that he knew how to make gold. If he knew, | | 123 then, of course, he would be making it, in the dead of night. Could you make gold alone, unaided by any but your own powers? Alchemists, it was known, did not hesitate to raise a spirit or demon. Then there was little difference between an alchemist and a sorcerer?... There came among the whispers a counter-statement from several cotters and poor folk. Master Aderhold was no sorcerer—he was a good leech; witness such and such a cure! Whereupon opposition sharpened the whisperers' ingenuity. Aye, perhaps the demon helped him cure as well as make gold! Came another counter—he was a good church-goer. So! but Master Clement thinks not highly of him.

How this vortex and whirling storm began, whose breath first stirred it up, it were hard to say. It had moved in widening rings for months, before Aderhold discovered how darkened was the air about him.

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