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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What were Gervaise's and Lantern's adventures they would hear when they reached The Moon. Their own, throughout this day, led them to no harm. They had been for long in the hand of I11 Fortune; it seemed now that she slept and her grasp relaxed. The first outward happening came quickly, ere the sun was an hour high. They were crossing a heath-like, shelterless expanse, when a sudden Hilloa! halted them. Two men were rapidly approaching over the heath.

"If we can, we will evade them," said Aderhold. "If we cannot and they would keep us by force—?"

"They are not wrestlers nor giants," answered Joan. "If they have no weapon, mayhap we can give them as good as they send—"?

The two ran up, looked at them suspiciously. "What do you here? Who are you?"

"Nay, who are you?" said Aderhold. "We are lookers for a reward."

The opposing pairs stood and eyed each other. The newcomers were two lank and unhealthy-looking, plainly dressed, town-appearing young men.

"Fie!" said one. "We also search, but not for love | | 313 of lucre and silver pounds in purses! We would serve God by stamping his foes into dust!''

"Which way have you looked?"

The more garrulous of the two swept his arm around. "Unless the Prince of the Power of the Air hath held them invisible to the eyes of the Elect, they are not in that direction nor in that! My companion, Only Truth Turner, and I were about to seek in the quarter to which I see you are addressed. Let us, then, seek for a while in company. And what, friends, may be your names?"

"I am Relative Truth Allen, otherwise known as Giles Allen, and this is my brother, Be-ye-kind-to-one-Another.—Four together, is it not so? Three fierce, foreign-looking men, and a short, dark woman."

"We did n't," said Only Truth, "hear them described. But there will assuredly be some devil's mark whereby to know them."

They were now moving together over the heath. Each of the four had a stout stick, broken at some time in their several journeyings. With theirs the two townsmen now and again beat some clump of furze or thorn. Once a hare rushed forth and away, and once a lark spread its wings and soaring vanished into the blue. "Do you think," said the speaker, whose name was Wrath Diverted, "do you think that that hare and bird might have been—? I understand that in the trial the Hawthorn witches all avowed that they became bird or beast at will."

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Aderhold followed the lark with his eyes. "I have seen human beings who reminded me of bird or beast, and I have seen bird and beast who reminded me of human beings. If that one up yonder is a witch, she hath strength of wing!"

The lark disappeared; the hare came not back. "Even so," said Only Truth, "there would be two left. But I hold that those were natural creatures."

They walked through the bright morning, over the high bare world. "We came out," said Wrath Diverted, "to see my brother Another-Pays-my-Debt who dwells at Win-Grace Farm. Yesterday came news of the loosing of Beelzebub. Whereupon many made themselves into bands and went forth even as hunters, and at dawn this morning Only Truth and I also."

"Let us keep our faces seaward," said Aderhold. "You have looked that way and we have looked this."

"Good," answered Wrath Diverted; "but we should examine that dip in the earth I see yonder."

They searched the hollow and found naught to the purpose, which done, they went briskly on, but kept a constant watch to right and left. "This heath," said Wrath Diverted, "will presently fall to tilled lands with roads and dwellings, byways and hedges. Then there will be places to search, but here there is naught—Were you at the trial of the troublers of Israel?"

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He spoke to Joan. "No," she answered. "We heard of it. Everybody heard of it."

"For my part," said Only Truth, "I cannot conceive how a man when he hath choice of masters should choose so scurvy an one! Here is a King whom you may serve who, if in this world He seemeth at times neglectful of his servants and niggardly in comforts and rewards, yet, when you have come to the next world which is his true city and court, you have his sign manual for it that you will have honours and titles and riches without end! Moreover, your body will be happy and comforted, and you will not again be sorrowful or tried, nor ever have to work, but only stand and praise.—Not so with that other man, who will not kneel here nor wear this Master's livery! Comes King Satan and claps him, 'You are mine!' Then mayhap he is led to a dance of unlawful and honey-sweet pleasures, or is given a heap of gold, or is dressed in a purple mantle and given a sceptre to hold, or is made drunk with worthless knowledge! But it is all a show and turneth to gall and wormwood. For incontinent he dieth. Nay, oftenest there is not in his hire the honey-sweet nor the gold and purple! For the other King's servant even here triumpheth, and Satan's man dieth a lazar and poor, even if he be not hanged, torn asunder, broken on the wheel, or burned. Then goeth the wicked wretch to his Master's capital and court, even as the good man goeth to his. But the one servant lifteth his feet in haste from burning | | 316 marl and findeth no cool floor to set them on. He swalloweth smoke and flames and findeth no water in all hell. His flesh blackeneth to a crisp, but is never burned senseless. A million years pass, and not one second but he hath felt first pain and terror. Eternity, eternity! and never will his anguish lessen. He looketh about him and seeth those for whom he had affection—for like liketh like—burning with him, and about their feet, creeping and wailing, the unbaptized babes. He looketh up, and he seeth across the gulf the other King's court, and the Happy Servant. And the Happy Servant looketh down and seeth him, and his own bliss waxeth great. Wherefore—"

Wrath Diverted took the word. "Nay! You err, Brother Only Truth, in using the word 'choice.' There is no choice, none!—that is, none on our part. Attribute no merit to us who attain Salvation! Attain it, do I say? Nay, we attain it not, we are lifted into it. Another pays my debt!"

"Nay, I meant it in that wise," said Only Truth. "A babe in the faith knoweth that all are rightly lost and damned. Lost, lost! all are lost. Five thousand and more years ago it happened! One day, nay, one hour, one minute—and all was done and over! Then all souls sank to hell, and all put on Satan's livery. In hell are folk who have burned and howled five thousand years! Lost, lost, all are lost! But the King, because of the Prince's intercession, holds out his sceptre to those among us whom he chooses out. | | 317 But we have no goodness or merit of our own! Miserable sinners are we all, and the due of perdition!"

"Precisely so," said Wrath Diverted. "In Adam's fall, we sinned all. Wherefore they in hell, whether they be pagan or heathen or ignorant or babes, have no reason to complain. But while all are guilty there be some who have added rebellion to rebellion, and sewed the web of disobedience with the needle of blasphemy! They be those who refuse to worship! They be those who will not admire the Plan of Salvation!"

"Aye," said Only Truth. "Apostates, Sadducees, atheists, miscreants, infidels, unbelievers, witches, warlocks, wizards, magicians, and sorcerers! Damned and lost! They howl in the hottest cauldron and burn in a furnace seven times heated!"

So discoursing they came insensibly into a strip of country, green and pleasant with late summer. Before them was a hillside with a parcel of children at play, a dozen or more, and among them a big boy or two. These now gathered into a knot and stared down at the pedestrians. "Four—coming across Blackman's Heath!"

There arose a buzzing sound, half from fright, half from a sense of exciting adventure. One bolder than his fellows called down. "Be you the witches?"


"They be all men—"

"Ho! Satan could make them all seem men! They pray to Satan and he lets them turn what they | | 318 will. Bats and red mice and ravens and horses—"

"So he could! Witches!"

"They be four, and they come running over Blackman's Heath—"

A stone leaped down the hillside. Another followed, and struck Only Truth, who grew red and angry and brandished his stick. The assailants shouted, half in fear, half in glee, and gave somewhat back; then seeing that they were safe, well above the assailed and with the open hill behind them, stopped and threw more stones. Only Truth would have made after them, up the hillside, but Aderhold checked him. "Do not fight bees and children—"

They were presently out of stoneshot. But the children might carry news and set others on their path. "Those escaped are four," said Aderhold to Wrath Diverted, "and we are four. It will not be convenient to be stopped and questioned on that ground."

"I believe that you are right," answered Wrath Diverted. "Moreover, you and your brother are evidently country-bred, and walk more swiftly than is comfortable for us who dwell in towns. Let us part, therefore in amity. I see yonder a road which should furnish easier walking than this growth and unevenness beneath our feet."

"Then," said Aderhold, "we, being as you say, country-bred, will keep on seaward over these fields and downs."

An hour later the two lay in a pit dug long since | | 319 for some purpose and now half filled with old dead brush, while a formidable chase went by. These were mounted men, officers of the law, armed with an accurate description, among them, indeed, a sheriff's man who knew the escaped by sight. They came trampling by; they looked down into the pit as they passed, and thought they saw true bottom and naught there but a litter of dead leaves and twigs; they checked their horses not many yards from the opening and stood conferring. Their voices came down in an indistinguishable hoarse murmur like the sea against the strand. They shook their bridles and rode away.... The two, who had lain half-stifled, covered by the bed of brush, stirred, heaved the stuff away, rose gasping to their knees. Silence and the blue sky. They crouched, eye above the rim of the pit, until sight gave reassurance, then climbed forth and brushed from each other dead leaf and ancient dust.

"That was like a grave," said Joan.

Aderhold stood gazing, his hand above his eyes. "Far off yonder—that is ocean."


They stood in silence. About them was sunny stillness; far off lay the sapphire streak. Tension—action—the mind held to an arduous matter in hand—in the moments between, exhaustion, concern only with rest—so had passed the time since they had crept from the gaol into the black gaol alley. Now suddenly there came a sense of relaxa- | | 320 tion, then of poise, then of time before them. Years—there might be years.... Even that set amount and partition dissolved like a mist. They were going to be together, and their minds placed no term.

They were, the two of them, sincere and powerful natures. Now they ceased to look at the ocean which their bodies would sail, and turned and met each other's eyes.... Another division melted from between them. He had been to her a learned man, of a station higher than her own. She had said "Sir," and "Master Aderhold." He was still, through circumstance, more learned than she, with a wider range of knowledge and suffering, with a subtler command of peace and mind's joy. But she had power to learn and to suffer and to weave joy; there was no natural inequality. The other inequality, the unevenness in station, now melted into air. Given substance only by long convention, it now faded like a dream and left a man and woman moulded of one stuff, peers, unity in twain.

"The ocean!" said Joan: "to sail upon the ocean! What things happen that once you thought were dreams!"

"Aye," said Aderhold. "Long to the height—imagine to the height—build in the ether..."

They moved toward the sea. The country was not populous. Avoiding as they did all beaten ways, taking cover where they might of wood or hillside, they seemed to have come into a realm of security. | | 321 They were faint with hunger. Before them rose a solitary cottage bowered in trees. After weighing it this way and that, they went forward soft-footed, and peered from behind a stout hedge of thorn. A blue feather curled from the chimney, the door stood open, and on a sunny space of grass three young women were spreading linen to bleach. They hummed and chattered as they worked; they were rosy and comely, and looked kind.

Aderhold spoke with his hands on the top of the gate. "Maidens, will you give two hungry folk a bite and a sup? We can pay a penny for it."

The three looked up and stood in doubt; then one ran to the cottage door. An elderly woman, tall and comely, appeared, hearkened to her daughter, then stepped across the bit of green to the gate. "Be you vagrants and masterless men?"

"No,"answered Aderhold. "We are honest folk seeking work, which we look to find in the port. We are not far from it, good mistress?"

"Less than three miles by the path, the lane, and the road," said the woman. "You can see the roofs and towers and, if you listen, hear the church bells."

They were, indeed, ringing, a faint, silver sound. Aderhold listened; then, "We are very hungry. If we might buy a loaf of you we would eat it as we walked—"

"Nay, I'll give you bread," said the woman. "I or mine might be hungry, too, sometime—and what odds if we never were!" She spoke to one of | | 322 the three standing amid the bleaching linen. "Alice! get the new-baked loaf—"

Alice turned toward the cottage. The two others came nearer to the gate. The church bells were still ringing, fine and far and faint. They seemed to bring something to the woman's mind. "They say they've taken the Hawthorn folk who ran from prison."


"Two men came by and told us. A miller and his men and dogs took them last night. They fought with fire and Satan was seen above the mill-wheel. But they took them all, the two men said, and gave them to the nearest constable, and so now the countryside can rest." She stood with her capable air of strength and good nature, looking over the green earth to the distant town. "There must be witches because God wrote the Bible and it cannot be mistaken. Otherwise, of course, there are a lot of things... I used to know Hawthorn when I was a girl. And Roger Heron. More years than one I danced with him about the maypole—for then we had maypoles."

"Roger Heron!" It was Joan who spoke.

"Aye. I was thinking.... He's dead of the plague. And his daughter's Joan Heron, the main witch. Life's a strange thing."

Her daughter brought the loaf of bread and also a pitcher of milk and two earthenware cups. The other girls left the white, strewn linen and drew near. The cottage was a lonely one, and few passed, and | | 323 by nature all were kind-hearted and social. Alice gave a cup to each of the wanderers, and then, tilting the pitcher, filled the cups with milk. Giles and John Allen thanked her and, hungry and thirsty to exhaustion, drank and were refreshed.

But Joan, when she had put down the cup, moved nearer to the mother of the three. "Did you ever see—the witch?"

The woman, who had been listening to the church bells, turned her strong and kindly face. "Roger Heron brought her here once when she was a child. There was no ill in her then—or I saw it not. Roger Heron should not have had an evil child. There was little evil in him."

The middle daughter was more prim of countenance than the others. She now put on a shocked look. "But, mother! That is to deny Original Sin and Universal Guilt!"

The elder woman made a gesture with her hand. It had in it a slight impatience. "I do not mean," she said, "that we have n't all of everything in us. But Roger Heron was a good man."

"Ah!" said the youngest daughter, "how any one can be a witch and hurt and harm, and be lost for aye, and leave a vile name—"

"Aye,"said the second;"to know that your name was Joan Heron, and that it would be a byword for a hundred years!"

"I am glad that Roger Heron died of the plague and waited not for a broken heart,"said the mother, | | 324 and took the pitcher from the grass. " How far have you walked today?"

Aderhold answered. Presently, the loaf of bread in hand, he said that they must go on if they would reach the port before night, and that they gave warm thanks for kindness.... They left the friendly cottage with the sunny spread of grass and the bleaching linen and the kindly women. A dip of the land, a turn of the path, and all vanished as if they had sunk into earth. Before them, fraying the horizon, they saw the distant town.

Aderhold spoke. "You were there when you were a child. Do you remember it?"

She answered. "I remembered at last—not at first: not plainly. I remember the sea."

Her voice was broken. He looked and saw that she was weeping.

He had not seen her so since the last time he had come to Heron's cottage, and she had wept for her father's death. There had been no weeping in prison, nor in that Judgement Hall, nor since. He knew without telling that though she felt grief, she controlled grief. But now, startled by a tide she had not looked for, control was beaten down. All about them was a solitariness, a green and silent, sunny world. She struggled for a moment, then with a gesture of wild sorrow, sank upon a wayside rise of earth and hid her face. "Weep it out,"said Aderhold in a shaken voice; "it will do you good."

He stood near her, but did not watch her or touch | | 325 her. Instead he broke the loaf of bread into portions and kept a lookout north and south and east and west. No human' being came into range of vision. The slow minutes went by, then came Joan's voice, broken yet, but steadying with every word. "All that is over now—I 'll not do that again."

She came up to him and took a piece of the bread. "Let us go on. We can eat it as we go."

They walked on.

"It was Gervaise and Lantern,"said Aderhold,"who told her that tale of a capture at the mill. They are ahead.... I have seen brave men and women, but I have seen none braver than you, Joan.... Life is very great. There are in it threads of all colours and every tone that is, and if happiness is not stable, neither is misery. You are brave—be brave enough to be happy!''

The sun declined, the town ahead grew larger against a soft and vivid sky. Now they could see the harbour and that there were ships at anchor. They now met, overtook, or were passed by people. Some spoke, some went on preoccupied, but none stopped and questioned them. They entered the town by a travelled way, slipping in with a crowd of carts and hucksters. Within, and standing for a moment looking back, they saw coming with dust and jingling the party that had passed them lying in the pit.

They turned, struck into a narrow way that led downward to the sea, and came upon the waterside in the red sunset light. A fishwife crossed their | | 326 path. "The Moon Tavern? Yonder, beyond the nets." They came to it in the dusk, its sign a great, full moon with a man, a dog, and a thornbush on the golden ground. As it loomed before them, Gervaise stepped from the shadow of a heap of timber. "Greeting, Giles and John! George Dragon and I have been here this hour.—And yonder lies the Silver Queen."

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