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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No Spaniards came to be driven back, had Aderhold been that magician who could do it. It was like a lost island, or the first peopled island, or the last. Day after day they watched a tranquil sea and saw no point of any sail. Time passed. The Indians from the great island ceased to dream of recapture. Joan and Aderhold ceased to dream of being taken, wrenched apart; ceased to dream of the open boat and of the Silver Queen and of the prison and the gallows field. They did not cease to dream of Hawthorn, of Heron's Cottage and the Oak Grange, of Hawthorn Forest, and all the life that lay on yonder side the prison gates. Joan dreamed of her father and of her uncle the huntsman, of the castle and Mistress Borrow and others there, the town as once it had been to her, and of Hawthorn as once it had been. She dreamed of Heron's cottage—of every item there—the well under the fruit trees, the bees under the thatch, the daffodils and every later flower, of her kitchen and the hearth and the old settle, and her spinning-wheel. She dreamed of gathering faggots in Hawthorn Forest. She dreamed of Alison and of Will the smith's son and of Goodman Cole and of many another—the vintner in the | | 363 town, Cecily Lukin and the forester's wife, old Master Hardwick—many another. But all were blended together in a dream world, in a gay and bright picture-book, where if there were witches they were harmless good souls who rather helped people than otherwise, and where no one was persecuted for thinking things out for one's self. In the picture book it seemed almost a laudable thing to do. Aderhold dreamed—and his dream world was wider by his greater range of this life's experience. He dreamed of Hawthorn and Hawthorn Forest and all the roads thereabouts, of the Oak Grange and of Heron's cottage; but he dreamed likewise of a world beyond Hawthorn. He dreamed of his own childhood and boyhood, and they, too, had a picture-book setting, where the rough became only rich and varied, and what had seemed sorrow and harm turned an unhurt side. He dreamed of his first manhood, and of his search for knowledge, the sacred hunger and thirst and the lamp of aspiration in his hand. He dreamed of old woes and scars, happenings many an one, persons many an one. . . . But neither he nor Joan dreamed any more, with a frightful sense of nearness, with a cold start of waking, of sudden, clutching hands, of separation, of dark and deep gaols where neither could hear the other's voice, or if the other's voice was heard, indeed, then heard in a long cry of anguish. Fear spread its dark wings and left them, and took with it intensity of watchfulness and all the floating motes that made its court.

| | 364

They had now great strength and health, Joan's renewed, Aderhold's such as it had never been. They stood erect and bright-eyed, their movements had rhythm, the hand went with precision to its task, the glance fell unerringly, the foot bore them lightly. They bent to life with a smile, frequently with laughter. If life was always a mighty riddle, if at times it seemed a vivid disaster, yet indubitably there were stretches, as now, when it became a splendid possession!

''I have heard talk of bold Robin Hood,
And of brave Little John,
Of Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett,
Locksley and Maid Marian—'"
sang Joan. She wove as she sang, for there was cotton for weaving, and she had learned of the Indian women and greatly bettered their instruction. She saw garments for them both, hanging from the pegs, lying upon the shelves Aderhold had made. She had traded her skill at many things for needles of bone, for the vegetable dyes that the women used, for various matters that she wanted. She was of all women most fit for such a return to a younger world. Sane and strong and skilled, with the artist arisen from the mere workwoman, she turned back some thousand years, and handled savage life with a creative hand. On all sides latent power came forth. A wise trader, she gathered what she needed; a good teacher, she imparted knowledge as she went, without ostentation, insensibly, with a fine unconscious- | | 365 ness; a worker of the best, she did that which her hand found to do with èlanand precision and an assured result upon which to base further results. She lacked not for leisure either, nor for a whimsical, sceptical glance upon her own labours, nor for an ability to let it all slip aside while she sat and brooded upon the open sea.

As for Aderhold, he was and was not the man of the Oak Grange. He was that man freed where he had been bound, fed where he had been starved.

Their domain grew in fitness and beauty. By the time the perfect winter had passed into the languors of spring, and spring into the heats and rains of summer, and summer again into cooler, fairer days, they had achieved about them an Arcadian right simplicity, as far from meagreness as from excess. The large hut, palm-thatched, stood in a well-stocked garden. Great trees gave them shade; a spring of clear water for ever a cooling, trickling sound. Around all they planted a flowering hedge. Within this round sounded the hum of their industries and their own clear voices. Without was the eternal voice of the sea, and in and out and around, the voice of the moving air.

The murmur of the Indian village was likewise there, but it did not come athwart; it travelled equably with the other sounds. They had come to have a fondness for the dwindling village, an affection for this remnant of a remnant of a people. They were poor savages, they had flaws and vices, | | 366 but save that they were less complex, less intertwined with later offshoots, more plain stalk and plain word, their flaws and vices differed in no great wise from those that might be viewed in France or England. At times the village seemed like a village of children, and then again it might seem very old and somewhat wise. Once or twice they had seen it waver toward a village of beasts, heavily swaying toward the animal only. But Aderhold had seen that happen in France and Italy—they might both think that they had seen it happen in England. On the very morrow it was something more than animal. At times it was something much more—something much higher. And they knew that flaws and vices lurked in themselves also—unplucked-out weeds yet living a slow dark life in the backward-reaching abyss. They understood the village, and they tried to help. They did help, and by slow degrees the village came to change affection with them. As for the old chief, every other day he came to see them.

He was of an enquiring and speculative turn of mind, and it was his wont to bring unsolved questions to the vine-shaded strip of bare earth before the hut, and there, seated on a mat with a few followers squatted around, propound them to the two. To most of the islanders all things, outside the narrowest range, were supernatural. The old man's scope was wider, and the daring of his scepticism, proportioned to his environment, would have qualified him for a dungeon in most countries that Ader- | | 367 hold knew. . . . Here upon this island all was as a sketch, a faint model and portent only of what, in seventeenth-century Europe, had become enlarged, filled in and solid. Generically it was the same; it was but a question of degree of intensity and of accretions. These Indians also held for an external deity, so extruded, so external that steps—intermediaries—must be extruded to cover the extruded space between, to reach the extruded Ear and Mind. Moreover, they did not maintain this a flowing process, but continually let the extrusions of remote ancestors dam the stream. They had idols whom certainly not even the old chief might with impunity criticize. They had "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots" which were wise and might long remain so, and those which had been wise and were now meaningless, colourless, making neither for much good nor much harm, and those which might once have been wise but were now hurtful, and those which never had been wise and grew in folly. They had notions, dim, not as yet fearfully positive, of a future life of reward or punishment, where they would do without limit or term—throughout eternity, indeed—that which, Indians upon this island, they most liked to do in this present moment, or would suffer, alike for ever, just those pains which at present they acutely disliked. They placed great merit in belief without question, obedience without discrimination, and a prostrate attitude. They had extruded Authority. Nothing had a proper motion of | | 368 its own, but everything was moved by something else. The disclaimer of responsibility, of generic lot and part, was general. The disinclination to examine premises was supreme. They had found their despot in Inertia.

But the old chief was exceptional. He was wary and paid respect to taboos. That done, he loved to talk. He brought to Aderhold questions such as, at the dawn of philosophy, an intelligent barbarian might have put to Thales or Anaximander. Aderhold answered as simply and well as he might; where he could not answer, said so. Now and then the more active-minded of the old man's escort brought queries. Joan also listened and questioned. Aderhold, answering, taught in terms of natural science and a general ethic—very simply, for that, here, was the only way. . . .

But when the old chief and his followers had gone away from the vine-clad porch, and the murmur of the village came faintly across the evening, when, their day's labour done, they went down to the sea, to the coral ledge or crescent of pale sand, and lay there by the blue, unending water; or when, night having fallen, they rested in the moonlight on the black-and-white chequered ground beneath the palms, they spoke more fully, shared more completely the inner worlds. Love could not rest with them in the physical. Freedom, dilation, redoubling, rapid and powerful vibration, energy, colour, music, all mounted from the denser to the rarer uni- | | 369 verse. Their minds interfused, there came moments when their spirits might seem one iridescent orb. They were one, . . . only the next instant to be exquisitely different . . . then to approach and blend again. At such times they spoke in low tones, with slow, rounded words, of the deepest waters where their souls drank of which they had knowledge, or they spoke not at all, having no need to. ... At other times they talked of the past and the future and the whole round world. Steadily they learned of each other: Joan much from Aderhold, Aderhold much from Joan.

They had lived here a year—they had lived here more than a year. When they had lived here two years, when they, no more than the Indians about them, watched the horizon for any ship, when they had ceased to dream of separation, change, and disaster, when it was fully home, with the sweetness and fragrance of home—then was born their child.

Joan lay upon the clean, woven mats in the bright moonlight. Aderhold put the babe in her arms, then stretched himself beside them. Her grey eyes opened upon him. "Gilbert—Gilbert—I love you so—"

"I love you so—"

She took his hand and guided it with hers until it rested upon the child, wrapped in cloth which she had woven. "Life from life and added unto life," she said. "Love from love and added unto love."

The child was a woman child, and they named her Hope. She grew and thrived and they had great joy | | 370 in her. When the old chief came to see her, he held her in his hands and gave her a musical name of his own. They translated it, Bird-with-Wide-Wings. Henceforward now they called her by this Indian name and now they called her Hope. The old chief grew fond of her, came oftener than ever, would sit in sun or shade quite still and content beside the cotton hammock in which she swung. The days went by, the weeks, the months, and she continued to thrive. She had Joan's grey eyes, but save for this she was liker Aderhold. She lay regarding them, or laughed when they came toward her, or put out a small hand to touch them; she was happy and well, and they were glad, glad that she was on earth.

The hot season came and the rains, and in August heavy storms. Trees were levelled and the frail huts of the village suffered. The sea came high upon the land and the rain fell in sheets. In the dim hut with the door fast closed, Aderhold and Joan and the babe rested in security. The babe slept; the two lay and listened to the fury without.

"There comes into my mind," said Joan, "the black sky and the dead air and the lightning and thunder that Sunday in Hawthorn Church."

"It came to me then, too," answered Aderhold. "Some finger in this storm strikes the key."

There was a silence. Both saw Hawthorn Church again and the congregation, and Master Clement in the pulpit. Both felt again the darkness of that storm, the oppression and the sense of catastrophe. | | 371 In mind again each, the remembered bolt having fallen, left the church and took the homeward road. Joan hurried once more over the sighing grass, past the swaying trees, saw Heron's cottage and the breaking storm. Aderhold passed again through Hawthorn Forest and crossed the stream before the Oak Grange, reached again the fairy oak and the Grange. He was again in Dorothy's kitchen, stooping over the fire—in his old room with his unfinished book beneath his hand—upon the stairs—the door was opening—the men to take him. . . . The blast without the hut changed key. The babe woke, and Joan, lifting her, moved to and fro. When she was hushed and sleeping, the strong echo, the returned emotion had disappeared. They kept silence for a little, and then they talked, not of old things but of the island, of their trees and garden and harm from the hurricane that must be repaired, and then of the village and the children of the village. They were beginning now to teach these.

The storm passed and other storms. There came around again the days of balm, the perfect weather. The child Hope was a year old. Their joy in her was great, indeed. For themselves, they were husband and wife, lovers, friends, fellow scholars, fellow workers, playmates. Their friendship with the Indians was stronger by a year, their service stronger. The old chief came often and often, and the child crowed and laughed and clapped her hands to see him.

The balmy days, the perfect weather passed, and | | 372 the spring passed. Summer again with its heats and rains was here. With the first great storm, in the hut with the door fast closed, shutting out the swaying and the wind and the hot, rain-filled air, Joan, playing with the little Hope, keeping her from being terrified by the darkness and the rush of sound, suddenly fell quite still where she knelt. She turned her head; her attitude became that of one who was tensely and painfully listening.

When she spoke it was with a strange voice. "Does it come again to you as it did last year?"

"Yes," said Aderhold; "it comes by force of association. Dismiss it from your mind."

"It comes as close as though it were going to be real again."

"It is the darkness and oppression and the feeling of being pent. It will pass.—Look at the Bird-with-Wide-Wings! She is laughing at us."

The hurricane raved itself to a close; the light came and the blue sky, the sun shone out. There followed a week of this; then, one morning at sunrise, Joan, coming out of the hut into the space beneath the trees, looked seaward and uttered a cry. "Gilbert—Gilbert!"

Aderhold came to her side. "What is it?"

Her arm was raised and extended, the hand pointing. A ship stood off the island.

All that day it was there; it hovered, as it were, it reconnoitred. It sent out no boats, but there was something that said that it had seen the village. | | 373 It came near enough, and the clearing would be visible from the rigging. The Indians' canoes, moreover, were there upon the beach. ... It was a ship with dingy sails, with a bravo air, yet furtive, too. Once it clapped on sail and dwindled to a flake, and those who watched from out a screening belt of wood thought that it was gone. But it seemed that it meant only to sail around the island, for presently the outlook in the tallest tree saw its shape, having doubled a long point, enlarge again across this green and silver spit. When the second morning dawned, there it was again, dusky, ill-omened, riding the deep water beyond the reef that somewhat guarded the shore. . . . Then the air thickened, and there threatened a hurricane. The ship turned and scudded away. While the sky darkened, she vanished, sink ing beneath the horizon to the south.

The storm broke, reigned and passed. When it was over, when, save for the myriad small wreckage and the whitened and high-running sea, there was calm again, then fell talk and discussion enough as to that ship, foreboding enough, excitement enough in the village. The Indians made new spears or tried trusted old ones, sharpening afresh every point. They had bows and arrows, though they put more dependence in their spears, and in short hatchets, headed with bits of sharpened rock. Whatever weapons there were were got in order. That done, all that they could do was done. Their not unhealthful clime, their search for food, their fishing, swimming, | | 374 their games and ceremonial dances kept their bodies, slight and not greatly muscular though they were, yet in a condition of some strength and readiness. Now they had only to wait. . . . They waited, but no ship came back, nor other ships appeared.

The bad season passed, the good days came around again, and still no fleck of a sail showed on all the round of the blue ocean. The Indians ceased to glance up continually from whatever employment they were about. Now they looked not once a day, now they ceased all active expectation, now the matter grew dim, remote, now it faded almost from mind. The old chief, perhaps, still looked seaward, but the village at large had short memories when immediate anxieties were lifted. Life took up again the old, smooth measure.

But Aderhold and Joan could not forget. Subtly they felt that the current was wearing another channel. There were cloud shapes below the horizon. They were happy. Their joy in each other and in the child was, if that could be, deeper—the very shape of fear gave an intensity, a lambent rose and purple, a richer music—made it deeper. Their service to the folk among whom they had fallen was no less. . . . But they felt a threat and a haunting and a movement of life from one house to another.

At last, on a calm and glorious morning, they saw the ship again—that ship and another. The two lowered sail, down rattled the anchors; they swung at ease in the still water beyond the fringing reef. | | 375 Their flags were Spanish; they sent a shot from a culverin shrieking across to the land. It sheared the top of a palm tree; the green panache came tumbling to the ground. Birds rose with clamour and fled away; the shot echoed from a low hill back in the island. Forth from the ships' sides put boats—boat after boat until there were a number—and all filled with armed men.

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