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 XXX
THE ISLET

THIS was a small island or cay. They found water and they found fruit and cassava, and with these and a shelter of boughs and leaves of the little palm they raised again the flag of life

The death of the child. For a time that made of existence a cruel buffet, a sore bruise. The parents grieved. But time dealt with that grief—time and inner strength. At length it diffused itself, adding its own hue to many-tinted consciousness, its own strain to life's vast orchestration, but no longer darkening and making to throb all moments of the waking day. They had within them a coordinating, harmonizing power, and sorrow brought its own wealth and added to the whole.

The outward activities of life narrowed, indeed, upon this islet. But here also they took circumstance and enlarged its bounds and deepened its meaning. They brought will and intellect to bear upon environment, moulded it as far as might be and increased their havings. Here nor nowhere in this universe could they be less than interested. Flotsam upon this islet, yet here as elsewhere the mind found food and field of action and through small doorways passed into wide countries.

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Love burned clear, love of man and woman. It kept its heyday. But beside it rose, higher and more massive than in the peopled, busy island, other ranges of the mind. The child's death—and the loss of the Indian village and of the old chief and the recurring vision of that oppression and the inhumanity of their kind—and the deep loneliness of this place—all wrought upon them. Moreover, the spring of inward growth was strong and constant. Year by year, with Joan as with Aderhold, the spirit travelled further in all its dimensions.

The mind. ... Here upon this span of earth the old ache for knowledge, the old brooding and longing of the mind came back to Aderhold, came more imperiously, larger, wider-robed. This ball of earth and the criss-cross of movement upon it. This sun and the chain that held to it the ball of earth. What was the chain? These stars and clouds of stars—this sea of ether—light in waves. . . . Again, the growth of plants—motion fluent as a stream. And the life that dwelt in shells—that made its armour and outgrew it. ... Ceaseless change, transition,—kinds linked by likeness to other kinds, kinds growing out of other kinds, the trunk branching. He thought that all kinds might have branched from one or few, and the selfsame sap in all. He did not believe in a myriad unconnected, arbitrary creations. . . . But if the least leaf and tendril knew motion, alteration, growth, then the sap, too, knew it—the sap that was supposed to be so moveless, so | | 389 perfected. . . . Kin and kin again—one and one again.

As for Joan—her mind trod differing roads, though with many a point of contact, many an inn where she met him who travelled too. As of Heron's cottage her hands and head had wrought a bright pastoral, an unfrayed and well-woven garment of life—as in the peopled island she had with a larger and a freer play, with a more creative and a nobler touch, made life not an idyll only, but an idyll and something more, so here she lived a nobler poem. Her child's death brought into it deeper tones, as of an organ, as of violins. And as she had lit torches for Aderhold, so had he lit torches for her. She thought and imaged with a wider sweep than had once been possible. She thought and imaged now for the whole world; she dreamed light for all.

To both the time upon this isle was a time of deepening vision, of a crescent sense of inward freedom and power. To a stranger's chance-lighting eye they would have seemed but two castaways, narrowly environed, scantly living, lonely and lost, of necessity wretched. They were not wretched, or lonely, or lost.

Months passed—the year—a great part of another year. Then one day again they saw a sail. . . . It was the beginning of the stormy season, and there had been rough weather. Today the sky was blue, the air but gently moving, but there had been a gale to drive ships and make wrecks. This ship had not | | 390 been greatly hurt, but the winds had driven her out of her course. Moreover, there had been leakage among her water-casks. It was with joy that she saw this islet lift upon the horizon. She made it, found a large-enough harbour between two horns of coral rock and sand, and presently sent her longboat, filled with seamen, to the shore. They rowed in cautiously, keeping a good lookout, for, while it was but an islet and looked desert, there might be Indians or pirates or Spaniards. No harm showing, they made a landing and came upon the shore.—It was now to search for water.

In the search they found a palm-thatched hut, and, standing expectant before it, a white man and woman.—"Who be you?" demanded the boatswain in good Devon.

The ship was the Eagle, sailing home from Virginia, having brought out colonists and supplies. Now it was taking home samples of native products, two or three Indians for show, and not a few dissatisfied adventurers, with others of a stouter make who were bound with representations to the Company or upon various upgathering missions. . . . Who were the white man and woman? They were Giles and Ellice Herne, shipwrecked here several years ago. The captain, who presently came ashore, was questioning them. From London? Aye, then! and their ship? The Needs Must, sailing from port of London. The captain rubbed his brows. He did not remember the ship or the loss of her, but then more | | 391 and more ships were going out, and he could not remember all names or accidents. All lost? Giles and Ellice Herne could not tell. They had escaped in a small boat. Those with them had died.—Would they be taken back to England?—The captain was a bluff old sea-dog, literal-minded and not inquisitive. He assumed that their tale was true in the main, and he assumed that, of course, they wished to be taken back to England. Otherwise, there would be something wrong with them. He hardly waited for an answer, but turned eyes and mind toward the water-casks. He was in haste; he wished to up sail and away while the sky was still without clouds.

The two, left alone at last after all exclamation and question, faced a decision—how momentous an one made itself felt between them. They stood in the brown light of their hut, the doorway framing blue sea and sky and the Eagle, quivering to be gone.

Aderhold spoke. "If we refused to go, it is most likely—it is certain, I think—that they would force us with them. We should be thought mad—or if not that, they would hold that we were not simply castaways. They would take us still, and from the first we should rest under suspicion."

"At any time the Spaniards may come again," said Joan; "then again horror . . . death. Or some other harm may come to one of us here—and the other left alone. That is often in my mind, and I know that it is often in yours."

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"If we reached England unsuspected—if we could lose ourselves in London—"

"Never could we go back to Hawthorn—nor to the town!"

"No."

"Six years. . . . Gilbert, would we not be safe anywhere else?"

"Ours are matters in which no one is safe who thinks not as his neighbours. And say we slipped silent and down-bent through life, giving no present authority offence—yet at some corner comes one who recognizes face or voice and recalls the past—'Ha, you hide!' And it is all to do again. ... I do not think we have any choice. I do not think this captain will leave us here. . . . There have been men who, under feigned names and away from the place of blackest threatening, have lived long and peacefully. ... At first, until we were free of enquiries and had found work by which we might live, there would be thick danger. . . . We might escape."

"It is best to be with your kind."

"Yes, it is best. The world grows so."

"Oh, to see green grass and English flowers! . . . . But the child—the child! We would go farther and farther from where the child lies. ... I know that we must go."

"Yes. She does not lie there. She does not stay there."

"No—she is here—she is everywhere. . . . Well, let us go bravely."

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Giles and Ellice Herne went aboard the Eagle. Before sunset she had clapped on all sail and was moving swiftly from that island. It faded, faded. They lost the clump of palm trees marking the place of their hut, lost the outline of the tiny harbour, lost in the dusk the gleam of the beach and the white crests of the incoming tide. The Eagle was a good ship and a swift sailer. Back she came into her course. The bird that was her figurehead looked east, looked north, between it and its homing the grey and rolling Atlantic. Now she had bad weather and now she had good, but the good predominated.

The ship was not crowded, as had been, six years before, the Silver Queen. Moreover, those aboard were preoccupied, the dissatisfied with their dissatisfaction, the hardier, more patient or farseeing sort, returning to England only to return thence to their new world, with their papers of representation, their arguments, and busy schemes. At first there was curiosity as to the castaways and how they had preserved life, alone, on that morsel of land. That satisfied, attention turned in each on board to his own matters, or to matters that seemed cognate. The rescued were quiet folk who kept to themselves; doubtless they were dazed by long privation and loneliness, and by this unexpected salvation. . . .

Aboard were several women, the captain's wife, and one or two others of the bolder sort who would | | 394 go with their husbands to whatever new worlds might be discovered. These helped Joan to fitter clothing than any she possessed. She came back to Aderhold in a linsey kirtle and bodice, a small white cap, and with a kerchief folded across her bosom. "Hawthorn again," she said with a sob in her throat. He, too, had been given clothing. He was dressed plainly, like a clerk. No one was by, the soft dusk closing in. They stood for a moment and within them rose the vivid shape of the past. They smelled again the fern and mould of Hawthorn Forest; they heard again the drone of the bees, the singing of the stream past the fairy oak; they heard again the distant church bells. Rose the great image, grave and golden, of the six years past, rose the vision of the child, rose old memories, tendernesses, fears, rose forebodings, prophecies, realizations. It was dusk, the wind making a low, sustained music. They came to each other's arms, they embraced closely, straining each to each with passion. They kissed, the tears stood in the eyes, fell upon the cheeks of each. It was like a farewell, and it was like a meeting. . . .

Upon the ship was a man neither young nor old, who had come out to Virginia the year before, sent by the Company upon some investigation. Now, the work done, he was returning. He had a strong, determined face, steady eyes and a close-shutting mouth. On the day of their coming aboard, he with others had approached Giles and Ellice Herne and | | 395 asked them questions. They had been true questions; he was interested in knowing how they got upon that island, but preferred the detail of how they had managed to live while there. After that, with some frequency he sought them out and fell into talk. The rest upon the ship were preoccupied with the struggles and miseries and triumphs of the Colony. To them it was growing to be home. But the Company's agent, his errand done, was returning to England like Antæus to Mother Earth. He must talk, and guided by some subtle principle of choice, he talked to these people who also must be homesick for England.

The two strove to be guarded, spoke little themselves, passed well enough for a quiet clerk or scrivener or teacher and his wife whom the whimsical fortunes of the time had made colonists, and wind and wave and ill chance castaways on that islet. Wisdom made them not too silent, not to seem morosely so—nor too guarded, not to make it evident that they were watching from behind barricades. It was chiefly to Aderhold that he talked, Joan sitting by, her hands clasped in her lap, her eyes upon the sea, narrowing between them and England. He talked, it seemed to Aderhold, with boldness, but then the castaway gathered that upon the issues that interested this man, men in England, in six years' time, had grown bolder.

News from England! News of England when the agent left England last year was the already two- | | 396 years-old news that the king meant to rule without Parliaments. Perhaps when they landed in London they might find newer news—perhaps the king, wanting money very badly, had wanted it enough at last to summon a Parliament. If that were so, the agent of the Company hoped that certain men had seats. He mentioned among others John Pym. News! There was the news that the Bishops were in the saddle. Episcopacy had been established in Scotland. Timid and recreant ministers had gone over, the patriotic were in hiding,—proscribed. The people were at the mercy of the wolves—the Crown's wolves. In England just as bad—though with a difference. The Established Church rode high and kissed the hand of the king. "Passive obedience!" It had got its shibboleth. "No power in the people and disordered multitude."—God's own hand having touched the forehead of kings! "Did I not tell ye?" says the king; and with one hand puts down the civil courts and with the other lifts the ecclesiastical.

News! The news from England was Despotism that barked like Cerberus out of three mouths—King, Bishops, and Favourites! The agent's face turned red and the veins in his forehead stood out, so in earnest and angry was he. "News of England!" he said, "is that slaves will be slaves and free men will be free men! News of England is that if things better not there will be battles!" He swung round upon Aderhold. "I speak more plainly | | 397 than I should! But if I can read men, your passion, too, is for freedom!"

"Aye," said Aderhold, "I would be free."

Another time, when for some minutes they had been watching the sea in silence, the determined-faced man spoke with sudden energy. " Do you not hold that the Presbyterian or Calvinist form of religion and the rule of the people—such as are landowners and tend neither to Popery on the one hand nor to any manner of disbelief on the other—through Parliaments duly chosen is the way of God upon earth?"

Aderhold kept silence, his eyes upon the moving sea. When he spoke at last it was almost dreamily. "The only way? . . . Do you?"

Something in the fast-flowing field, the field that was but the surface of depth, or in the mist-veiled sky, or in the tone of the castaway, checked the other's reply. At last he said slowly, "It is right to resist a king who would rule us beyond what the sense of man allows."

"Yes," said Aderhold, "that is right."

"That is what I care for," said the agent; "that is the way of God to me. The bishops go with the king and preach tyranny, so the bishops are to be fought too. He who wishes to be free surely will not chain his will to the Pope's throne. So what is there left but Calvin—if you exclude these mad Independents who spring up like mushrooms! At any rate, in England today the men who oppose the | | 398 king's tyranny are like to smack of Edinburgh or Geneva!"

"In a manner I believe that to be true," said Aderhold. "Not yet do they wish freedom around and around. But never will I deny that it is much to begin to image freedom!"

The ship sailed on through good and bad weather. To the two castaways danger seemed to sleep. No one troubled them on this ship, preoccupied with its own affairs. The fact that they were seen with the agent of the Company procured for them a certain respect. The days slipped by, the weeks slipped by—pearl-grey weeks, quiet, halcyon.

There came a summer eve when, hand in hand, Joan and Aderhold watched England rise from out the sea. None was by. They stood long in silence; then, "Do you remember," said Joan in a low voice, "how we ran through the castle wood with the great moon on high? How we lay in that pit with the branches over us while they that hunted us went by? Do you remember the woman with the three daughters who gave us bread and milk?"

"I remember it all," said Aderhold. "May we come forth now as then! . . . The smell of the hay there in the barn where we lay all day. . . . The white road that first night from the prison and the starry sky over the gallows tree."

"Over the gallows tree!"

"Once I thought a thing like that the fearfullest thing! Now, though I love life more now than I did | | 399 then, I do not think so. The old terrors grow smaller. They will come one day, I think, to cause laughter."

"I understand that," said Joan. "Nor do they matter to me as they did. Neither the gallows tree, nor words like witch and sorcerer, heretic and atheist!"

The shore before them grew in distinctness, grew and grew as they stood there alone, withdrawn, watching. With that increasing definiteness, that rigour of line and hue and shape, came with a growing form, a growing sharpness of menace, came as it had not come to them before upon this ship, a realizing knowledge that here there was no change; that the hot ploughshares and the sharp swords were yet ready laid for folk like them to move across! England was England still. . . . They heard upon the wind, "Witch and Sorcerer—Witch and Sorcerer—doubly damned for that you were judged and lay not still under our judgement! Witch and Sorcerer. . . . Fornicators—for in what church were read your marriage banns, and what priest with lifted hands blessed your union? . . . Blasphemers, deniers, atheists who pray not to Jehovah! Witch and Sorcerer—Witch and Sorcerer—"

They were not wholly free from fear and shrinking. They looked at each other with whitened faces. But they had said true when they had said that they were freer. They recovered, they smiled into each other's eyes. " I wonder how much of us they will hang or burn—"

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The shores grew plainer, higher. There came, suddenly, a summons to the captain. They found him in the great cabin, papers upon the table. Still short of speech, incurious and literal, he now had duties which he would perform. He had to give account to the proper officers of the Eagle's voyage and of those whom she brought into England, and he proposed not to lose sight of the castaways, Giles and Ellice Herne, until the right authorities gave him quittance. He could not remember the Needs Must, but there were many who would. Any saved from any lost ship had an importance, for they could give to her owners information where had been guessing. Therefore the captain meant to send the two ashore with a trusted man who would take them before such and such persons in authority. There they would be questioned, and if they answered to satisfaction would doubtless be helped. The captain, with a wave of his hand dismissing them, turned to other business. He left a sharp enough thorn of anxiety with the two who had fled England on the Silver Queen.

Night passed. Morning broke—English summer, soft and sweet. Here was the Thames mouth, here other winged ships and ships at anchor, here the green shores, the waving trees, the clustered houses, here England—England!

As they stood watching with full hearts the agent of the Company came to them from the poop deck. "You have no money?"

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"No."

"Have you friends in London?"

"No."

He held out to Aderhold a woolen purse, open, showing two gold nobles and some silver pieces. "Yes, take it—and no need for thanks! I have gotten good from you.—You will want work?"

"Yes."

"I have weight enough with the Company to get you a clerkship."

Aderhold thanked him again, and with warmth of feeling, but shook his head. He had plans, he said.—But when the agent was gone the two smiled at each other. Gold and plans! . . . They had had plans—they had planned. What they had planned was to lose themselves, immediately upon leaving the ship, in the crowd which doubtless would gather at the waterside, then to slip into some street or lane and begone. Somewhere in the tangled heart of London, in some poor street, in some garret, they might find a lodging. Then work to live by. . . . There had risen a vision, not unhomely, comforting, hopeful—physician's work among the poor and obscure, sempstress or spinster's work, quiet life in the shadow but with gleams of sun. . . . But now the plans seemed hardly even gossamer.

The Eagle came slowly into port. Aboard was bustle and confusion. With the rattling down of her anchor appeared the small boats, the wherries, clamouring to take all ashore. A barge brought port | | 402 officers. These came up the side. . . . All was well, all might go ashore. The agent of the Company would go, it seemed, in the port barge. Giles and Ellice Herne watched him leave the ship. He had been a friend; they felt gratitude and liking; they watched the dwindling boat and thought it doubtful if, in this round of life, they would ever see the agent again. . . .

Their time came—they were to go with the second mate, a broad-shouldered, surly, watchful man.

The catch into which they stepped was crowded with the lesser sort of the Eagle's passengers. Here were the dissatisfied, returning folk, and here with their exploiter were the Indians brought for show. Aderhold, looking at them, had a fleeting thought of a booth, paused before on a morning when he had set out northward from London, years ago. . . . Shipping loomed about them, Thames side before them. The high, narrow houses, the roofs, the windows, the roaring streets, the throng about the water steps, pushing and jostling for a sight of the disembarking—talking and shouting, people greeting and being greeted, a swarm and distraction! Joan sat elbow on knee, hand pressed against lips, her eyes wide, and, as far as Thames side was concerned, unseeing. What else she saw she did not say, but her face had a soft and brooding look. . . . The catch made its landing. Joan and Aderhold, placed in the stern, were the last to come out upon the | | 403 water stairs. Before them the second mate shouldered his way. About them was the English crowd, beneath their feet soil of England. Home—home—home where they were born!

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