- CHAPTER X IN HAWTHORN FOREST
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IN HAWTHORN FOREST
IT was winter—a mild, bright, winter's day—when, for the second time, he met and spoke to Joan in the forest. She was standing beneath a beech tree, in her hand a dry, fallen bough which she was brandishing and making play with as though it had been a quarter-staff. She was singing, though not in the least loudly,—
And of brave Little John,
Of Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet,
Locksley and Maid Marian—'"
When she saw Aderhold close to her she started violently.
"Good-day," he said. "I meant not to frighten you!"
She looked at him curiously and shook her head. "No.... You did not frighten me. I am not at all frighted."
He smiled. "You say that as though you were surprised at yourself."
She looked at him again with grey eyes half-troubled, half-fearless. "It is n't so hard to surprise yourself.... You did take that cat you gave me from the boys who were stoning her at the burned cot?"
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"Yes," said Aderhold, surprised in his turn. "Why?"
She stammered. "I heard them talking, and though I believe not such things, I—I—"
She was silent for a moment, then faced him with courage. "I have heard talk that you don't believe what other people believe, that you deny things that are in the Bible, and that maybe you practise sorcery there in the Oak Grange.... And—and some one once told me that—that people like that had always familiars which went mostly like little animals such as a cat or small dog, or sometimes a bird or a frog,—and that—and that if they offered to give you such a thing for a gift and—and you took it, you signed yourself so to the Evil One.... But—but I do not believe such things. They are against all goodness and—and good sense."
She ended somewhat breathlessly; for all her courage, which was great, her heart was beating hard.
"You are right," said Aderhold. "Such things are against all goodness and good sense—and they do not happen.... I was going to see a sick man, and passing by the burned cottage, I heard the cat crying, and went and took her from the boys. She's naught but just your fireside cat. And I am a solitary man who has no familiar and knows no magic."
He drew a heavy, oppressed breath. "I did not know that there was any such talk.... It is miserable that there should be."
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He stood leaning against a tree, with half-shut eyes. Old fears came over him in a thick and sickening wave.
"Oh—talk!" said Joan. "There's always such a weary deal of talk." She had regained her calm; at least she was no longer afraid of the physician. But for all that—and for all her comparative happiness this beautiful day and for her singing—she looked older and less care-free than she had done last year. Her face was thinner, and there appeared in her, now and again, a startled, listening air. It came now. "Do you hear a horse coming?"
At no part in the forest were you far from some cart track along which might, indeed, push a horseman. One was here now, leaving the track and coming between the tree boles. Presumably he had heard voices.
Joan rose to her feet. Her eyes were glittering. "No peace—"she said. "He leaves me no peace at all. I wish he were dead."
She spoke in a very low voice, hardly above a whisper, measured, but tinctured with both anger and dread. It was Harry Carthew, Aderhold now saw, who approached. He caught sight of them, checked the roan a perceptible moment, then came on. The great horse stopped within ten feet of the two beneath the beech tree. Carthew sat looking at them, a strange expression upon his face.
127 IN HAWTHORN FORESTmaking for illumination. But his mind was preoccupied with those pale fears which her earlier speech had awakened. He was thinking only of these—or rather he was not consciously thinking at all; he was only gathering his forces forward after the recoil. He answered Carthew's look with a somewhat blank gaze. "Good-day," he said.
"Give you good-day,'' answered Carthew. ''How long have you and Joan Heron been trysting?"
Aderhold's thoughts were still away. He repeated the word after the other, but put no meaning to it. "'Trysting'—"
It was Joan who took it up, with a flame of anger. "Who is trysting, Master Carthew?—Not one of these three—not he with me, nor I with him, nor I with you! God's mercy! Cannot a girl speak a civil word to a chance-met neighbour—"
"'Neighbour,'" said Carthew. "That is true. I had not thought of that. The Grange and Heron's cottage are not so far apart—might be said to be neighbours.—' Neighbours'—it is easy for neighbours to meet—with this dark wood touching each house. "He lifted his hand to his throat, then turned upon Aderhold with a brow so black, a gesture so violent that the other instinctively gave back a pace. "I have been blind!" cried Carthew thickly. "I have been blind!"
128 THE WITCHwords will bear that interpretation,—I will tell you that your bolt goes wide!—Mistress Joan Heron and I chanced to meet five minutes before you appeared before us—and I do think in my soul that it is the second time we have spoken together in our lives! And I know not your right—
"'Right!'" broke in Joan with passion. "He has no right! And I will not have him couple my name here and couple it there! Oh, I would"—her eyes blazed at Carthew—"I would that so great a saint would leave this earth and go to heaven—if that, indeed, is where you belong!"
Carthew sat his horse, dark as a thunder-cloud, and for all his iron frame and power of control, shaking like a leaf. "I believe neither of you," he said thickly. He looked at Joan. "This is why you will not turn to me."
Her eyes flamed against him. "I never thought to hate a human creature as you have made me hate you!—And now I am going home."
She snatched up the staff with which she had been playing and turned with decision. He turned his horse also, but uncertainly, with his eyes yet upon Aderhold. Black wrath and jealousy were written in his face, and something else, a despairing struggle against total self-abandonment. ''Stay a moment!'' he cried to Joan. "Will you swear by God on high that you and this man have not been meeting, meeting in Hawthorn Forest?"
Joan turned, stood still the moment asked.
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"Master Carthew, shall I tell you what I shall shortly do if you leave me not alone? I shall go with my father to the squire your brother, and to the minister, and to the three most zealous men in Hawthorn Parish, and I shall say to them, 'This holy and zealous young man whom I have heard you, Master Clement, call Joseph, and young David, and what-not—this same Master Harry Carthew, who will speak and exhort and pray with sinners,—this same man has for months made a harmless girl's life wretched to her, offering loathed love and insult—"
Her voice broke; she threw up her arms in a gesture of anger and unhappiness and fled away. Carthew sat like a graven image, watching her go. He spoke to himself, in a curious voice from the lips only. "If ever I should come to hate you as now I—" and again—"She will never dare—" The last flutter of her skirt vanished among the trees. Suddenly he said with violence, "She denied it not!" and turned upon Aderhold as though he would ride him down.
The physician caught the bridle of the roan. "You are mad, Master Carthew! Look at me!"
He forced the other's gaze upon him and a somewhat cooler judgement into his eyes. Each, with his inner vision, was viewing in waves and sequences past relations, knowledge, and impressions. For the first time, general observation and lukewarm interest quickened into the keen and particular and well-warmed. Aderhold saw again Carthew at the Rose
130 THE WITCHTavern, and Carthew upon the road; heard again Carthew's cosmic speculations and Carthew's expressed sense of sin. Four years gone by, and yet that impression remained the most deeply graved. After that came the long stretch of time in this region, and, during it, little speech, few meetings with Carthew. There had been knowledge that at times he was away, often for months, from Hawthorn, and there had been observation at church and elsewhere of the sterner sort in him of Puritan zeal and faith, together with hearsay that the minister and he were like elder and younger brother in the word, and the younger a growing power in this part of England and a chosen vessel. And there had been a kind of half-melancholy, half-artistic and philosophic recognition of the perfection of the specimen Carthew afforded. In look, frame, dress, countenance, temper, and inward being, he seemed the exactest symbol!—Nowhere further than all this had Aderhold come until today.
As for Carthew, with far narrower powers of reflection, and with those concentrated with hectic intensity in a small round, it might be said that in these years he had barely regarded or thought of the physician at all. Such a statement would be true of all sides but one. Master Clement had, within the past year, doubted to him any true zeal in religion on the part of the physician, and had set up a faint current of observation and misliking. It had been nothing much; at times, when he thought of it, he
131 IN HAWTHORN FORESTmarked Aderhold at church, how he looked and demeaned himself; once or twice when he had overheard some peasant speak of the leech, he had come in with his deep and stern voice. "Aye? Can he doctor thy soul as well as thy body?" But the whole together had weighed little. He had the soul of Harry Carthew to be concerned for... though, of course, for that very soul's salvation, it behooved to see that other lamps were kept burning.... Nay, it behooved for those others' salvation—for the warfare of the true saint was for the salvation of every soul alive!—All this was before the past few months. Through these months he had thought but of one thing—or if at all of another thing, then of how his own soul was on the brink of the pit, with the Devil whispering, and the heat of the flame of hell already burning within him.... And now, suddenly, it seemed that the physician living at the Oak Grange was a figure in the sum. He looked at him, and where before he had seen but a silently coming and going learned man, to be somewhat closely watched by God's saints lest mysterious knowledge should lead him astray, he saw now a tall man, still young, not ill-looking, with strange knowledge that might teach him how to ingratiate.... He spoke in a hollow voice. "I have been blind."
132 THE WITCHand to take a strange poison from your mind, I swear most solemnly that that maid and I were chance-met but now beneath this tree; that we spoke most generally, and far afield from what you madly imagine; and that, save for once before as chance and momentary a meeting, never have we been alone together! I swear that I think in that wise of no woman, and no woman of me!"
"I would," said Carthew heavily, "that I knew that you speak truth."
"I speak it," said Aderhold. "And in turn I would that you might bring wisdom and better love into your counsel, and leave the maid alone!"
Carthew looked at him. "Is there idle talk. Have you heard such tongue-clatter?"
"Not I," answered the other. "What I perceive you yourself have shown."
"Or she has said," said Carthew. He moistened his lips. "Foolish maids will make much of slight matters!—If I have slipped a little—if Satan hath tempted me and the foul weakness of universal nature—so that I have chanced, perhaps, to give her a kiss or to tell her that she was fair—what hath it been to her hurt? Naught—no hurt at all. But to me.... Nay, I will recover myself. God help me! I will not put my soul in perdition. God help me!" He lifted his clasped hands, then let them drop to his saddle-bow. "I will begin by believing even where I believe not! What hurt to me if now and again you and Joan Heron speak in passing?
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so be it that with your evil learning and your commerce who knows where, you put not the maid's soul in peril... so be it that you touch not her lips nor her hand—" He ceased to speak, his face working.
"You are much to be pitied," said Aderhold. "Have you finished?—for I would be going."
He drew his cloak about him, and made to pass the other.
Carthew did not detain him; he only said, "But I shall watch you," gathered up the roan's reins, and himself rode starkly off in the direction of the village.
Back upon the forest track which he had pursued, and then upon the road that ran between Hawthorn and the Oak Grange, he saw naught of Joan, though he looked for her. She was fleet-footed; by now she was within her own door. But on the road, no great distance beyond the cottage, he came upon another woman, walking toward the village. This was the sempstress's daughter, Alison Inch.... Two years gone by, Alison had spent some weeks in Carthew House, sewing for Madam Carthew. He had been reading aloud that winter to his sister-in-law, who was a learned and pious lady, and Alison had sat in a corner, sewing and listening. The reading done, he had at times explained the discourse or added illustration, encouraging the women to ask questions.—He felt friendly toward Alison, and always, since that time, answered her curtsy when they chanced to meet by a grave enquiry as to
134 THE WITCHher health and welfare, the spiritual being meant rather than the bodily. Today he walked his horse beside her.
"You have been riding through the forest, sir?" she asked. "It is a fine day for riding."
"Yes—I wished to enquire for a man at the North-End Farm."
He rode and she walked in silence, then she spoke in a dry, thin, and strained voice. "I was walking to Heron's cottage to see Joan. But she was not there.—She's not much like others. When she gets her work done, she's off to herself somewhere—maybe to the wood, maybe elsewhere. It's often so that you can't find her."
Now Carthew had found, too, that you could n't always find her. Suddenly his brow grew black again; he had not put that two and two together. "Alison," he said and paused.
Alison, with an air of not looking at him at all, was watching closely. "Yes, Master Carthew?"
He rode a little farther in silence, then he said determinedly: "Master Aderhold who lives at the Oak Grange—"He paused.
"Yes, sir?" said Alison.
"He is a strange man," said Carthew. "I remember when he came to Hawthorn, when I rode with him from the town, I thought him of a strange and doubtful mind.—We have not caught him tripping yet, but Master Clement holds that he thinks perversely, not according to sound doctrine."
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"People say that he makes gold and hoards it," said Alison, "and that he hath a familiar. "She was not interested in Master Aderhold, but she would keep up whatever ball Master Harry Carthew tossed.
"I know not as to that," said Carthew. "It is enough if he setteth up his own judgement and denieth essential doctrines.—It were surely ill for any upon whom he might thrust his company—ill, I mean, for them to be seen with him often and in close talk. In common charity any such should be warned. I dare aver he is often straying through the forest or upon this road."
Alison looked aside. She did not know yet what he would be at, but her every sense was sharpened.
"Have you ever seen," asked Carthew with careful carelessness—" have you ever chanced to see him and Goodman Heron's daughter Joan together?"
Alison walked thrice her own length upon the shadowy road before she answered. It took a little time to get it straight. It was n't Joan's soul that he was concerned about—thought one. He was putting her name with that of the leech—had he seen them together, and now was eaten with jealousy? She knew how it felt to be eaten with jealousy—thought two. If he believed that Joan played him false—put him off for another—it could not but help, his thinking that....
"Oh, aye!" said Alison. "I have seen them a dozen times walking and talking together in the forest. But what a sin, sir, if he should teach her heresy!"
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