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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CHAPTER XXIX
THE SPANIARDS

THE slave-seekers, one hundred and fifty armed men, struck a flag into the earth before the village and demanded a parley. Their leader or captain was a tall, black-bearded person, fierce and fell of voice and aspect. He came to the front and shouted to the Indians in a mixture of Spanish and Indian words. Also he made friendly-seeming gestures. "No harm meant—no harm meant! Friends friends! Your kindred send you messages—from a happy country—much happier than here where you live! Let us come into your village and talk.—We have beads and scarlet cloth—"

But the village kept silence. At Aderhold's instigation, immediately after the ship's first visit, it had digged around itself a shallow ditch and planted in part a stockade of sharpened stakes, in part a tall and thorny hedge. Within this manner of wall were gathered some four hundred souls, counting men, women, and children. Besides the infants and the small boys and girls there were the old and infirm and the sick. All were naked of other defence than this one barrier and the frail, booth-like walls of their huts. They were armed only with primitive


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weapons. The word "Spaniard" meant to them ogre and giant.

If they were not truly ogres and giants, the slave-seekers were yet active, hardened, picked men, trained in cruelty, practised in wiles, fired with lust of the golden price. When the village held silent, the leader tried again with blandishments; when there came no answer but the hot sunshine and the murmur of wood and sea, the company lifted its flag and advanced with deliberation. From behind the wall came a flight of spears and arrows. A Spaniard staggered and fell. Some savage arm, more sinewy than most, had sent a spear full through his neck. There arose a roar of anger. The men from the ships, the black-bearded one at their head, rushed forward, came tilt against the stockade and the thorn hedge. . . . They had not believed in the stoutness of any defence, nor of these Indians' hearts. But driven back, they must believe. Carrying with them their wounded, they withdrew halfway to the sea and held council.

In the village they mended the gaps in the wall of stakes and thorny growth, and that done, watched and waited. The sun rode high, the children went to sleep. . . . The old chief—the fighting men, the women gathered around him—talked with high, ironic passion of days gone by in this island, in this island group. "They came, and our fathers' fathers thought they were gods or men like gods! They had their wooden cross, and they planted it in the


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sand, side by side with their flag that says 'Slay!' They said that both were pleasing to the Great Spirit, and that they were his favoured children. They went away and our fathers' fathers thought of them as gods and their country as the house of the Great Spirit. . . . They who had been children when they came grew to be men. There were men and men, then, in this land, men and men! Then the Spaniards came again. They told our fathers that they came from heavenly shores. They said that there, would our fathers only go with them in their many ships, they would find their dead again! Find them living and bright and always young. Find them they loved. Find their forefathers whom the Great Spirit loved and kept always about him. Find all they dreamed about. Find happiness. . . . They were weak of mind and they believed! They went into the Spaniards' ships—hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. Next year the Spaniards came again and they brought what they said were messages from the red men who had gone last year to the heavenly shores. It was truly where the Great Spirit dwelt and where the dead lived again and all the red men who could should come. . . . And they whose islands these were were weak in judgment and listened and believed and went. The Spaniards carried them away in their ships—men and men and men and women and children. They loaded their ships with them as though they were nuts or fruit or fish they had caught, or the gold that they are

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always seeking. They carried them away, and next year they came for more. They took these too. And now this country was growing as it is today—trees where once there were people. But at last one escaped from the 'heavenly shores,' and after long toil and suffering reached these islands and told the truth. So at last when the Spaniards came the people fought them. But they were strong and the people were weak. And more and more trees grew where once there had been men! Now"—said the old chief—"I will tell you about those heavenly shores, for I, too, have been there. I will tell you of what we from this country do there, and what is done to us." He told, circumstantially, a tale of fearful suffering.

Many of the Indians, men and women alike, determined to die rather than be taken. But many, and perhaps the most, were neither strong nor stoic, and there was a doubt, Aderhold and Joan felt, and the old chief felt. . . . Neither that day nor that night did there befall another attack. The Spaniards camped upon the shore, but the watching village saw boats go to and fro between the land and the ships. The night was dark and they saw moving lanterns. With the dawn one of the ships slowly felt her way farther into the crooked channel; when she anchored again she lay much nearer than before, and her row of culverins grinned against the village. Moreover, three lesser pieces had been dismounted and brought ashore. In the nighttime they had


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made a platform and mounted these falcons or sakers.

As the sun rushed up, they sent a broadside against the wall and the huts beyond. The flame and thunder terrified, the iron shot wrought havoc. They sent another round, tore a great gap in the hedge, then with a shout charged, the whole company, across the open strip. . . . The bravest of the village fought desperately, but the breach was made. Many of the assailants were partly mailed. The Indians' weapons turned against steel headpieces and backs and breasts. The Spaniards' pikes and cutlasses had advantage; their strength and ruthless practice had advantage; their name, their face, their voice carried terror to these forest people. Yet they fought, the braver sort striking twice—for themselves and for those whose joints were as water. The old chief grew young again. His eyes breathed fire; he fought and he cried his people on with a great, chanting voice. ... A turn in the confused struggle brought the black-bearded Spaniard facing Aderhold and Joan. "Mother of God! What's here? White skins leading these devils and fighting against us? Flay you alive—"

Men drove between. There was a great noise, a panting heat, a rocking and swimming of all things before the eyes. A crying arose. Unlooked for, suddenly, there had been sent ashore from the ships the final numbers of their crew and company. Thirty fresh assailants poured with shouts and lifted


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weapons through the broken defences. . . . The fearful among the Indians, and those who thought slavery better than death, threw down whatever weapons they bore and made gestures of submission and entreaty. Others were overpowered. There were many who could not fight—the sick, the infirm, and aged, many children. The terror of these and their wailings weakened the hearts of those who did fight. Moreover, the Spaniards knew what to do. They took a child and threw it from pike point to pike point, and found Indian words in which to threaten a like fate to every babe. The Indian mothers cried out to fight no more.

The slave-seekers came in mass against those who yet struggled. They cut down the old chief, fighting grimly; they ran him through the body with a pike and slew him. Aderhold and Joan with others, men and women, fought before a hut in which had been placed a number of children. A Spaniard came behind Aderhold and struck him down with a blow upon the head. He lay for a minute stunned; when his senses cleared all was over. All were beaten down, cowed, disarmed. Hands would have seized Joan. She fought them off, sprang into the hut and caught up her child, then, with her in her arms, came back to Aderhold's side. . . .

The victors were accustomed to victory. The fighting over, the business conducted itself according to custom. This affair differed only from many others in that there had been a resistance of unex-


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pected firmness. Victory had not been without hurt, without, even, the loss of Spanish lives. Business, reacting, conducted itself therefore with something less of contemptuous and careless disregard of pain inflicted and something more of vindictive willingness to inflict it. The conquered were driven together and stripped of every belonging which, by any ingenuity, might be converted into a weapon either against their masters or their own now wretched lives. The black-bearded captain told off guards, and beside pike and cutlass the lash appeared. . . . The ships were to be furnished fruit and cassava cakes and the casks filled with water. The already slaves were set to the task. Graves must be dug for the Spanish dead, and these the slaves dug. Their own dead went unburied. The black-bearded man walked in front of the rows of captives and with a jerk of his thumb indicated the too badly wounded, the sick who would not survive the voyage, the too old. These they put away with sword or dagger or pike thrust. The children were to go—healthy children had value. At last he came to Aderhold and Joan. He stood still before them, looked them up and down, his beard bristling. "Spanish?" he said. "No, no! I think not!—English, then? English—English—English! How did you come here?"

"Through shipwreck."

"You taught them to fight us. English—English—English! Well, we shall see, English!—Are you heretics?"


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"If you mean are we of the English Church, we are not of the English Church."

"English have no church. There is only one church and religion. Are you of the Holy Catholic Church and Religion?"

"No."

"Then," said the black-bearded man and spat toward them, u I will take you as a present to those who are."

He stood off and regarded them. Joan with the child sat on the earth, in the hot sunlight. The child's terrified crying had hushed; in her mother's arms she had sobbed herself to sleep. She lay half covered by Joan's skirt, shadowed by her mother's bending breast and face. The Spaniard's countenance twisted until it was like a gargoyle's for cruelty and ungenial mirth. Without a word he stooped and with one great slashing stroke of his dagger slew the child. . . .

They bound Joan, and she lay at last, prostrate upon the earth, her forehead touching the child's still feet. Aderhold sat beside the dead and the living love. . . . Around was heat and glare, huge suffering, brute indifference, brute triumph, life brought low, life iron-shod trampling life, a battlefield of instincts, a welter of emotions, tendencies in impact, old and deep ideas opposed to ideas . . . and all with which he and Joan were ranged in time and space,—their stream and current—here and now, as often before and often to come, the loser,


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the loser drowning in defeat. . . . He felt the wide cold, the check, the bitter diminishing, felt it impersonally for the enormous current, the stream where there were so many drops; then, because he was man, felt it for this childish people, felt it, a bitter and overwhelming tide, for himself and Joan. Woe#x2014woe#x2014there was so much woe in living. . . .

All the rest of that day the enslaved brought food and rolled casks of water for the ships. When night came they were let to sleep, lying on the ground, in a herd. Now and again through the darkness rose a sharp cry of grief, or ran from one to another a sobbing and groaning. But the most slept heavily, without movement. Dawn came, and the slaves were roused. They were permitted to eat a little food #x2014 and then they were driven to the shore and into the boats. . . . Their dead, their village, their island were severed from them. They were left naked to the beating of new tides. . . .

Joan and Aderhold were put upon the ship with the darker sails#x2014 the ship that had come first to the island. The hold of this ship was inexpressibly, fearfully crowded with the enslaved. When the hatches were closed, it was a black pit, a place of gasping, fighting for breath. When morning came the Spaniards, seeing that otherwise much of their property would die and become no man's property, drew out several score and penned them in a narrow space upon the deck. Aderhold and Joan were brought forth with the others, driven here with


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them, pressed by the mass close against the ship's side.

Day crept away, sunset came. The island where they had dwelled was long fallen from sight. Out of the sea before them, though as yet at some distance, rose the shape of an outermost islet of this group. When that should be passed, there would lie an expanse of ocean, and, at last, driving south, would rise the great island to which they were bound. The sun dipped below the horizon, but over against it rose the round and silver moon. By its light could be seen the strengthening outline of the last island, at length the very curve of surf, the beach and sombre palms.

Aderhold moved, touched Joan who sat as if in a trance. About them many of the Indians had fallen asleep or lay, beaten down to a half-consciousness. At no great distance were the guards. But these had no fear now of that cowed shipload, and so paid little attention. Amidships and forward were Spaniards enough, but these talked and swore or gamed among themselves or gazed at the island without lights by which they were slipping. Aderhold bent and whispered in Joan's ear. For a moment she sat motionless; then slowly the mind returned and became active, though through dark veils of woe.

She nodded. "Yes, yes! Let us go! If we die we may find her."

"Wait until that cloud is between us and the moon.


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It came between and the ship and the decks darkened. The two rose with caution to their feet. About them were darkness, shadowy forms, blended sounds, but no eye seemed to see what they were about, no voice cried out an alarm. They were close to the ship's side—one other moment and they had swung themselves up, leaped overboard. . . . They touched the dark water, went under, rose, struck out. In their ears rang no shout or sound of discovery. The sucking and turmoil of the water about them lessened. A fresh wind was blowing and the ship sailed swiftly. She was no longer huge above them, they came out of her shadow; she was seen at a slight distance, then at a greater and a greater. . . . They were free of her, free also of her consort, the other ship. The wide ocean swept around.

It swept around save where the island rose. It rose not at all far away, a quiet and lonely strand. A light surf broke upon its shore. Sometimes floating, sometimes swimming, the two who would yet have life gained toward it. They gained toward it until at last they reached it, came out of the beating surf, and lay with closed eyes and fluttering breath upon the moonlight-coloured sand.

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