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 18 chapter 32 >>

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MASTER CLEMENT sat, tense and straight, spiritually girded to meet Satan and his legionaries. Harry Carthew was standing when Aderhold entered the room, but immediately he came and sat beside the minister, his eyes, deep-set in a pale, fever-wasted countenance, regarding, not unsteadily, the prisoner. He had risen from his bed but a week ago; this was the first time he had ridden to the town. There was something strange in his countenance, a look now vacillating, now fixed and hardened. He held his gloves in one hand and drew them through the other with a repeated motion.

"Give you good-day, Master Aderhold," he said in a controlled, toneless voice.

"Give you good-day, Master Carthew."

The minister's strong sing-song pierced the air. "Thou guilty and wretched man! We have left thee so long to hug thy own mind because there was much work elsewhere to do! To-day we would have thee bethink thyself. Thy sorcery at the Oak Grange and in Hawthorn Forest and elsewhere is wholly discovered! Thy fellows in iniquity are all taken, and sufficient have confessed to set thee at the stake! Why continue to deny—adding so to the | | 247 heat of that hell which awaits thee—thy doings in this nature? What use to say that thou didst not, leaving thy double in the constable's hands, return in the storm upon the Hawthorn road, and by the power of Satan affront and stay and with thy devil-furnished dagger wound Master Harry Carthew?"

"What use, indeed!" said Aderhold. "And yet I say it."

"Then," said Master Clement, and the veins upon his forehead began to swell, "thou art a foolish poor atheist! What! when thou art compact of denial, and will be lost from earth and heaven because of that, dost think that one denial more will serve thee? Come! Thou struckest the blow, we know. What witch had come at thy call and was with thee, standing on the hill brow, weaving and beckoning the storm?"

"What witch?" echoed Aderhold, startled. "Nor I was there nor any other!"

Harry Carthew had not ceased to draw the gloves held in one hand through the other. He sat with downcast eyes, wasted and sombre, more wasted, more haggard, and overlaid with the dull tint of tragedy than Aderhold himself. He spoke now with a flushed cheek. "Let that go by! It matters not what hand struck me in the side that night—" He turned on Aderhold. "That which I must know, and will know, I tell you—" Shaken by passion he pushed back his chair, and rising moved with a disordered step the length of the room.

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Master Clement could not let pass the first part of his speech. "Not so, Harry Carthew! What! Matters not that you should be brought to death's door by the stroke of a wizard misbeliever—"

Carthew again approached the table. "It matters not, I say. Unless—" He stood looking fixedly at Aderhold, the breath coming quickly from between his lips. "It has been confessed that you met these witches and wantoned with them at the sabbats in Hawthorn Wood.... Now, I have been sick and my senses wandering, and I have come but lately back into this enquiry. Much has happened—much has been done—much has been laid bare that I knew naught of. In particular—" He broke away, walked again the length of the room; then returning, stood above Master Clement in his great chair and urged some course in an undertone.

Master Clement first demurred, then, though without alacrity, acquiesced. "Is it well for you to be alone with him? I tell you the Devil hath such wiles—But since you wish it, I will go—I will go for a short while." He heaved his slight, black figure from the chair, and, moving stiffly, quitted the room. The gaoler stood yet at the door, but, at a sign from Carthew, without, not within, the room.

The squire's brother had his own strength. It exhibited itself now. He stilled his hurried breathing, ceased the nervous motion of his hands, indefinably broadened and heightened his frame, and became the strong, Puritan country gentleman, the | | 249 future officer of Ironsides. Whatever there was in him of stanch and firm and good so struggled with what was darkly passionate that, for these minutes at least, there rose on the horizon something that was not the tempest-tossed ship of many months. The masts seemed to cease to bend, the anchor to hold again.

He stood within five feet of Aderhold. He had moved so that the table was no longer between them. In doing so, the attitude of advantage and mastership had been lost. The two stood on a level floor, with no conventional judgement bar between them. If in Carthew, beneath murk and tempest, there appeared for the moment something basic, justified, and ultimate, in Aderhold no less character unveiled its mass. He stood in chains, but they seemed ribbons of mist. It was he that was metal and real, and with a sudden loom and resistive force sent back, broken, doubts and fantastic violences of thought and ascription. Though for a short time only, yet for that time, the tattered farrago of superstitions, hanging in Carthew's mind like mouldering banners of wars whose very reason was forgot, shrunk and shrivelled until they seemed but featureless dust. For a time he ceased, standing here, to believe in Aderhold's attendance at sabbats, brewings of poison from baleful herbs, toads, spiders, and newts, and midnight conspirings in the interests of the Kingdom of Satan. Even the acknowledged, monstrous sin, the extravagant, the unpardonable, | | 250 the monarch and includer of all—even the enormity of Unbelief—wavered in his mind, grew unsubstantial. There was a fact of great force before him, a mass, a reality... But if, for one larger, saner moment, he rejected belief in a supernatural bond of evil linking together Aderhold and Joan Heron, he by no means did this with the possibility of other bonds—evil also if they existed between these two—evil to him as wormwood, darkness, and madness!

"In particular," he said, in a voice that thickened as he went on, "I am told that they have taken Joan Heron. I had never thought of that—of her coming under suspicion... I had never thought of that. I do not yet believe her to be a witch—though indeed they bring all manner of accusation and proof against her—but I will not yet believe it... But I will have from thee what has been thy power over her! Tell me that, thou atheist!"

"My power over her has been naught and is naught. I have spoken with her seldomer than I have spoken with you. I have had no association with her. Why she should be in this gaol I know not."

"It is proved that the morning after you were lodged here she came into this square, and stood before this prison, making signs."

"I know naught of that. What does she say herself?"

"She says that she had walked to the castle to see | | 251 one there, and coming back, paused but a moment in the square. She says she made no signs."

"And is it so hard to believe what she says?"

Carthew drew a heavy and struggling breath. "There is a passion, I think, that teacheth all human beings to lie. ... It is said, and loudly, that you came to Heron's cottage by night, and that she went to the Oak Grange by night, and that you were paramours."

"It is false. I neither went so to Heron's cottage nor did she come so to the Grange, nor were we paramours."

"That day I found you together in Hawthorn Wood—"

"Do you remember what I said to you? That was the truth."

"Not one hour afterward I was told that often—oh, often and often!—you walked together in the forest."

"Then you were falsely told. It was not so."

"Was the truth—and 'is' the truth.—You are earnest to clear her from every shadow of association with you. Why?"

"Why?" Aderhold's eyelids flickered. "Why? It seems to me easy to know why. I was not born of so low condition that I would see the innocent dragged to a place like this."

A moment's dead silence; then Carthew spoke with a regathered and dangerous passion. "Others are here—dragged here for their own sinful activi- | | 252 ties, and accused likewise of being your hail fellows and boon companions. There are here a youth to whom it is said you taught atheism, and Mother Spuraway and Grace Maybank and your housekeeper at the Grange and others. Do you grieve for them that they are here?"

"Aye," said Aderhold; "I grieve for them. Piteous, wronged souls! I tell you, I have had naught to do with them, nor they with me!"

Carthew's voice quivered, and he struck one hand into the other. "Words are locked doors, but not the voice with which the words are uttered! 'Piteous wronged souls' that my gentleman born of no low condition feels grief for and would deliver if he might from gaol and judgement—and Joan Heron whom his voice only trembles not before, only caresses not because he would guard her from the ruin of his favour!—What good to loom there against me and thrust that, too, from you? You love her! You love her! And now I will know if she loves you! And when I know that I will know what I shall do!"

"You are mad! Her life and mine touch not, save as this Hawthorn music jangles our names together! I shall presently be dead. I know it, and you know it. Leave her living, her and these others! You have the power. Leave them living!"

"Power!" the other burst forth. "I have no power to save her. She is bound with a hundred cords! Had I not fallen ill I might have—or I might have not—But now it is too late. I can- | | 253 not!" His helplessness was real enough, and it made—if he would not feel it too crushingly—a dark bubbling-up of heat, violence, murky and passionate substance a necessity to him. He gave it way.

Aderhold saw the change, the resurgence. He made with his chained hands a stately and mournful gesture. "As it will be!" he said.

The other burst forth. "Aye, I believe—I believe that you have poisoned and corrupted her, and that there is truth in every word they say! Now as I am a baptised man there is truth! For you are an unbeliever and God's enemy! And is not God's enemy of necessity black and corrupt and a liar to the last particle of his being, to the last hair of his head, to the paring of his nails! More—you have stood there weaving a spell to make me listen and well-nigh believe! Well, your spell will not hold me!—As God liveth I hold it to be true that you met by night in Hawthorn Forest—"

"Look at me!" said Aderhold. "That is as true as that it was I who struck a dagger into you on a Sunday night! Now you know how true it is!"

Carthew gave back a step and went deadly white. There was within him that root of grace that he had risen from his sick bed with his first madness lessened and his mind set on managing a correction in the minds alike of Hawthorn and the commission. In the first wild turmoil and anger, pushing home under the half-moon from Heron's cottage, blood staining his doublet and his head beginning to swim, | | 254 he had seized—he had seized—it coming to him upon some blast of the wind that he must find and presently give a reason for his condition—he had seized the first dark inspiration. It had answered—he had found on stepping from weeks of stupor and delirium that it had answered so well and thoroughly that now—always below the Unbelief and Blasphemy—it was one of the main counts against the physician. He had thought to be able to cast hesitancy and doubt on his original assertion. It was dark—the figure was cloaked—it might not have been the leech. . . . He found that he could corrupt no one's belief that it was the leech—Hawthorn, his brother, Master Clement, the commission, all were unshakable. He knew not himself how to shatter their conviction. He could not so injure his own name and fame, the strict religion, the coming England, the great services which he meant yet to perform, as to stand and say, "I lied." He could see that even if he said it, he would not be believed. They would say, "Your fever still confuses your head." Or they might say, "They are casting their spells still." Or they might ask, "Who, then, struck you?" ... It was impossible. . . . Even did they believe it, what would it alter? Nothing! The apostate and sorcerer was in any event doomed. A straw more or less would make no difference. Surely one out of the circle of God's mercy need not be too closely considered. . . But he paled with the issue thrown so by the man himself between them.

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He paled; then desperately opened the gates to anger the restorative, and jealousy that shredded shame to the winds. Moreover, there flashed into his soul in storm a suspicion. "Who struck me? Knowest thou that? If thou knowest that, then, indeed—"

But Aderhold knew not that. He stood with folded arms and a steady face. It was now to summon the ancient virtue, to play truly the Republican, the free man, now to summon courage for others. Life! Life! And what men and women had suffered would be suffered again. And still the ether sprang clear and time stretched endlessly, and what was lost here might be found there. He looked at Harry Carthew with a steadfast face, and reckoned that the younger man was unhappier than he.

The door opened with a heavy sound and Master Clement reappeared. Carthew flung himself toward him, his face distorted. "Naught—naught! And now I think the worst—I tell you I think the worst—"

"I have always thought the worst," said Master Clement. "Send him hence now, and let us see these others."

. . . Aderhold moved before the red-faced, wry-mouthed gaoler through the dark passageway and down the stair, back to the chill and darkness of his dungeon. Within it, the gaoler made a moment's pause before he should turn and, departing, shut the thick door with the sound of a falling slab of a | | 256 sepulchre. He stood, to the eye a rude and portentous figure, but to the inward vision giving off at times relieving glints.

"Everything goes," he said in a deep and rusty voice, "by looking at more than just itself. In another day in England or in another country to-day, you'd have been racked or put to the scarpines till, when they wanted you, we 'd have had to carry you!"

"That's true enough," said Aderhold. "One should have a grateful heart! . . . True enough—as I know—as I know!"

"It's ten days to assizes," said the gaoler. "It is n't lawful to put folk to the question in England—though if you stand mute, there's peine forte et dure—and of course nobody's going to do anything that is n't lawful! But you know yourself there are ways—"

"Yes," said Aderhold. "Do you mean that they will be used?"

But the gaoler grew surly again. "I don't know anything except that they want your confession. They've got a story that's going to be sold in chap-books all over England—and ballads made—and of course they want all the strange things in. It's like the pictures of George and the Dragon—the more dreadful the dragon, the taller man is the George! The town's all abuzz—with the King writing a learned letter, and the bishop coming and the Witch Judge.—They want a dreadful dragon and the tallest kind of George!''

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"I see," said Aderhold. "Even the dragon, the spear at his throat, expected to flatter!—O Diogenes! let us laugh, if we die for it!"

"Anan?" said the gaoler. "Well, it stands that way."

The door shut behind him, grating and heavy. That it stood that way Aderhold found in the days that followed. . . .

It drew toward assizes. Five days before the time he found himself one late afternoon, after a weary, weary hour of facing the commission, again in the long, dusky prison room where he had seen Joan. He knew now that it was a kind of antechamber, a place where prisoners were drawn together to wait occasions. More than once during these last days he had been kept here for minutes at a time, and sometimes others had been here and sometimes not. But Joan Heron never. One day he had seen Dorothy, and in passing had managed a moment's word. "Dorothy, Dorothy! I am sorry—" Dorothy had gasped and shrunk aside. "Oh, wicked man! Oh, Master Aderhold—" He had seen also the youth with a clear passion for knowledge to whom he had lent books and talked of Copernicus and Galileo. This one had not been fearful of him.

Today he saw neither this youth nor Dorothy. But suddenly, as he stood waiting his gaoler's leisure, he was aware of Joan Heron. . . . From somewhere came a red sunset light, and it followed and enwrapped her as she moved. She was moving with | | 258 her arm in the grasp of a man of a curious and sinister look—moving by the wall at the end of the room—moving across, then back again, across again and back, across and back. . . . Aderhold drew near, and it was as though an iron hand closed hard upon and wrung his heart.

Joan went very slowly, dragging her limbs, more haled by the man than moving of volition. Her form swayed, seemed as if all and only its desire was to sink together, fall upon the earth and lie there with time and motion ended in one stroke. Her head was sunken forward, her eyes closed.

The man shook her savagely. "No sleeping!—When you are willing to tell your witch deeds, then you shall sleep!"

"Joan! Joan!" cried Aderhold. He moved beside the two. The man looked at him but, stupid or curious, neither thrust him off nor dragged his charge away. It was but for a moment.

Joan opened her eyes. "You?" she said. "All I want is to sleep, sleep—"

Her face was ghastly, exhausted. Aderhold uttered a groan. " Do they not let you sleep either? " she said. "Five days, five nights—and I am thirsty, too."

He managed to touch her hand. "Joan, Joan—"

She looked at him with lustreless eyes. "The others have all made up something to confess. But though I die, I will not. They may twist a cord around my head and I will not." A spasm crossed | | 259 her face. "Of their vileness they may set the witch-pricker on me and I will not." Her voice, monotonous and low, died away. The man haled her by the arm, forcing her to walk. She reeled against him. "Sleep . . . sleep. Oh, let me sleep!" A door opened. The man with her looked up, nodded, put his hands on both her shoulders and pushed her toward it. Her eyes closed again, her head sank forward. Together the two vanished, leaving to Aderhold a sense of midnight and the abyss.

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