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

Table of Contents

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THE morrow came and went in heat and tenseness and excitement. The third day arrived and passed with no lessening. The fourth day came and the fever ran more high than before. The Crown, the jury, and the Witch Judge, the throng nodding approval, had now checked off Mother Spuraway, Grace Maybank, Dorothy and her nephew, Elspeth No-Wit, and the youth. It remained on this day to concentrate upon and finally dash to earth the main sorcerer and that one who patently had been his paramour and adjutant—the "maiden" of the wicked crew. There were many witnesses and much wild testimony. Small facts were puffed out to become monstrous symbols. Where facts failed, the inflamed and morbid imagination invented. It was strange hearing to the two who had dwelled at the Oak Grange and Heron's cottage. . . .

They questioned Elspeth No-Wit. "You had a meeting the night before the leech was taken?"

Elspeth laughed and nodded.

"What did you do there?"

"We had a big kettle and a great fire. Everybody dropped what she loved best in the kettle. We played and clapped hands and jumped as high as


the tree-tops. When we clapped our hands, it thundered, and when we ran around the kettle the wind blew our clothes away."

"You were brewing the storm that broke next day?"

"Oh, aye!"

"The leech and Joan Heron were with you?"

Elspeth twisted her body and peered around. "Is that Joan Heron and is that the leech? They ran round thrice to our once, and they kissed the closest, and at last they wandered away."

Will the smith's son was called. "You stopped at Heron's cottage that Sunday evening?"

Will stammered, looking wild, hollow-eyed, and awed. "Aye, I did, please Your Honour!—But I never would have stopped but that it was storming so.—My mother was with me, please you, sir."

"No one means you any ill.—It was dark under the clouds without, but there was a light inside the cottage—a red light?"

"Yes, sir; bright like firelight."

"Hardly, I think, true firelight: a red and strange light.—It was well after the hour when the leech had been taken from this Oak Grange?"

"Aye, Your Honour. 'T was close to dark."

"With the constable and his men, and Master Carthew riding a part of the way, he must then have been upon the Hawthorn road, his face set to this gaol?"

"He must have been so, sir, but—"


"We are coming to that. It is a fact, is it not, that witches and warlocks are able to transport themselves, with their master Satan's aid, through the air—and that so swiftly that you cannot see their flight?"

"Oh, yes, Your Honour," said Will. "They fly in sieves, and sometimes they steal bats' wings."

"Very well. Now you and your mother opened this cottage gate and went up the path to the door, and to reach that you had to pass the window. As you did that, passing close, you naturally put forehead to the frame, and looked within, and the place being filled with that red light—"

"It was n't very bright," said Will. "It was like a faggot had parted on the hearth, and there was now a dancing light, and now it was dark. There was nothing clear, and we heard naught because it was lightning and thundering—"

"And you saw—"

Will moistened his lips. "Yes, sir.—She and a black man were together—yes, please Your Honour, standing locked together—"

"The black man was the leech?"

"We did n't know it, then, sir—How could we," said Will, "when he was three miles the other side of Hawthorn with a guard? But I know it now. It was the leech.—And mother and I went on and knocked at the door, and she opened it—and there was nobody there but Joan—Joan and the grey and white cat."


"You stayed no time in that cottage?'

"No, sir, please Your Honour. There was that that frightened us."

Will the smith's son was motioned down. They set Mother Spuraway again in the eye of the court—Mother Spuraway, wrecked until she was nigh of the fellowship of Elspeth No-Wit. "You have told us that on this Sunday evening you were running in the shape of a hare through field and copse by the Hawthorn road. We have obtained from you that you saw the leech part from his natural body, having by black magic so blinded the guard that they went on bearing with them but a shadow, a double, and yet unsuspecting that cheat. Now tell us what the sorcerer did."

Mother Spuraway plucked at the stuff of her kirtle. "He mounted in the air.014;Storm—storm—break storm!"

"He went toward Hawthorn Wood?"

"Yes, oh, yes! Hawthorn Wood. . . . Rue around the burned cot."

"That is, toward Heron's cottage.—A time passed, and you, crouching then in the hazels by the road, saw him returning.—Now, mark! Was there a horseman upon this same Hawthorn road?"

Mother Spuraway tried to mark, but her mind was wandering again. She preferred, it seemed, to talk of when she was a young woman and Spuraway and she had wandered, hand in hand, in Hawthorn Wood. But one wrenched her arm, and said some-


thing in her ear and brought her back with a shiver. "'Horseman'? Oh, aye, Your Worships! A great, noble horseman."

"You saw the leech coming across the fields from the direction of Heron's cottage, and you saw this horseman riding through the storm toward Hawthorn Village. What then?"

"I ran under the earth,"said Mother Spuraway. "For I was now a pretty black mole, dressed all in velvet and blind—blind—blind—blind—"

It was with a different—oh, a different, different tone that they questioned Master Harry Car-thew and harkened solicitously to what he had to tell. All the crowded place leaned forward and listened, in the hot, slanted gold of the fourth afternoon. . . . Joan saw them all, and saw into their minds prone before the foreknown truth of whatever Master Carthew was about to recount. She sat like carven marble and viewed and knew the world she viewed. She saw Alison and Cecily, Will and his mother, Goodman Cole, the forester's wife, Lukin the carter, the tinker, many others. She saw Master Clement and all the clergy and gentry of the commission, the court, the spectators. She saw the Witch Judge who was going to hang her. And townspeople with whom she had had acquaintance. . . . The vintner who had wished to marry her was here, pale and of a tremendous inward thankfulness. And servants from the castle, and the new huntsman. . . . All here to see her hunted—her and the


others. She felt their tongues go over their lips, and the warm indrawing of their shoulders and nursing of their elbows—felt and cared not.

Carthew was speaking in a hollow, short, determined voice. If a black lava torrent of passion and madness was devastating his soul, few enough knew it of all in that thronged place. ... At no previous time had there been such soundlessness in the hall, such keyed and strained attention. Hawthorn, at least, believed that Master Harry Carthew was to be a great man in England, was to climb high, with the Bible in his hand. For the town, that was of another cast of opinion,—if it conceived of him hardly so highly, if it shrugged its shoulders and waxed bitter over these mounting Puritans, yet it felt in its heart that they were mounting and gave to their personal qualities an uneasy recognition. It, too, marked Harry Carthew for a coming man—though it might not hold with Hawthorn that the fact of Satan's striking through the sorcerer's hand at this life marked a recognition on Satan's part of qualities the most dangerous to his sovereignty. And Carthew was young, and, though yet gaunt and pale and hardly recovered from that felon blow, of a manly form and a well-looking face. All through the long trial he had sat there so evidently poisoned and suffering—urged now by his brother and now by others to leave and take his rest, yet never going—sitting there with his eyes upon this murdering wizard. . . . The throng was ready to make him


into the hero, the visible St. George—standing there now with his spear lifted to give the one last, needed blow. . . . There was the dragon, there! the pale leech and all the wretches with him, and dim and horrible behind him all his train of evil works, and Satan horned and hoofed, spreading enormous bat wings, making the very hall brown and dusky! Full beside the leech, in all minds now, stood that most vile witch Joan Heron.

Carthew's words were few but explicit. "The sky was very dark—there seemed more thunder and lightning than there had been. I was several miles this side of Hawthorn. I was riding without regarding the road, my mind being on other things. My horse stopped short, then reared. I felt the blow. It was given by a cloaked figure that immediately vanished. . . . Yes, it bore resemblance to the leech, Gilbert Aderhold."

The words fell, aimed and deliberate, like the executioner's flaming tow upon the straw between the piled logs. A stillness followed as though the throng were waiting with parted lips for the long upward run of the flame. Then out of it came Joan's voice, quiet, distinct, clear, pitched loudly enough to reach from wall to wall. "Thou liar! Know all here that that man whom Will the smith's son has called the black man and saw through my window—that man"—she stood, her arm outstretched and her finger pointing—"that man was this man who speaks to you! Know all here that for weary months


Master Harry Carthew had pursued and entreated me who speak to you now—that when he turned that afternoon upon the Hawthorn road it was to ride to Heron's cottage and break in upon me there! Know that Will the smith's son, looking through the window, saw him. But he, hearing those two knock, and fearing discovery that would spot his fame, snatched up his cloak and made off through another door. But he hid not far away, and when they were gone and darkness had fallen, back he came, stealing in at night upon a woman alone. Know all of you here that I wanted not his love. Know all that we struggled together, and that I struck him in the side with a hunting-knife. Know all that he rode from Heron's cottage to Carthew House, and to save himself lied as you have heard!"

She stood an instant longer with her arm outstretched and her eyes upon Carthew, then slowly turned, moved past Aderhold, and, taking her place between Mother Spuraway and Grace Maybank, leaned her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand.

The Witch Judge's instantaneous thunder, the clamour of voices, the hubbub in the hall appeared to give her no especial concern. When silence was obtained, and Carthew, white as death, gave a categorical denial, she only slightly moved her shoulders, and continued her contemplative gaze upon this scene and much besides. That if the crowd could have gotten at her she would most likely have


paid with death at once for her brazen mendacity, her measureless vile attempt to blacken one whom the Enemy most evidently feared and hated, appeared to trouble her neither. She sat as still as though consciousness were elsewhere. . . .

The next day it ended—the Hawthorn apostasy-sorcery-witchcraft trial. Judgement was given, sentence passed. The court, the crowd, the bishop, Hawthorn, the town, all seemed well of a mind. Death for six of the eight. For the youth who read too much and for the boy, old Dorothy's nephew, pillory and imprisonment; but for the six, death. Burning for the apostate and sorcerer, the leech Aderhold, though, so squeamish grew the times, he might be strangled first. For the five witches the gallows—though it was said that the old woman Dorothy had sickened with gaol-fever and would not live to be hanged. The sheriff would see to it that the execution took place within the month. In the mean time close prison for the evil-doers, and some thought, maybe, on how the Church and the Law for ever overmatched the Devil.

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