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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THEY were moving with the second mate through a busy street, toward a harsh old pile of buildings. The mate was a watchful man. To start aside from him into some court or lane or other street, to elude him and vanish, was from the start a clearly hopeless thing. Did they try it he would raise a hue and cry. They went with him in silence, watching Fate to see what she would do.

The street was narrow, the houses dark, and high, with overhanging storeys, with swinging signs. Above showed only one pale stripe of sky. There were booths and shops, with an occasional stentor crying of "What d' ye lack?—What d' ye lack?" Many people went up and down—type after type that Aderhold recalled. The years since he had been in London had made no great difference. He thought that he discerned more party men—in many a greater stiffness of bearing, a darker hue and plainer cut in apparel. The chance words and phrases caught in passing had an interest. . . .

In old, old days there had come to him at times of crisis, a detachment, an awareness of impersonality, a perception that, actor here, he was no less spectator of his action, safe in further space and | | 405 time. The perception returned, and came with greater strength than ever before, and with it, too, an old sense of deepening light. He turned his face toward Joan beside him. . . . She was gazing upon London town, her grey eyes calm and bright, her lips parted, rose colour in her cheeks. In a manner she looked as young, as free from care and danger as when, on a holiday, Joan Heron had come with her father from the huntsman's house in the castle wood and had strolled here and there and to and fro in the town six miles from Hawthorn. She looked as young and like a girl, and yet the next moment there moved beside him the woman, the mind and soul that had grown. But the calmness held, the bright stillness, the manner of radiance. She put out her hand and touched Aderhold's. "Do you feel it?—I felt only fear this morning, but now, somehow, I do not believe that I shall ever feel fear again. The things that were so great have become little."

The early morning had been clear, but the sky, overcast when they left the Eagle, was now darkening rapidly. There came a silver dash of rain, increasing to a downpour. With slanted bodies and bent heads men and women hastened to shelter. Some hurried on to destinations not so far away; others, with farther to go, took present refuge under overhanging eaves or in doorways. The rain fell with a steady, rushing sound; the gutters began to fill and overflow; the air grew dark and still. "Stand by," said the mate, "until the cloud empties!" The | | 406 three stepped under the cover of an antique porch, so jutting from the building of which it made a part that the street had been forced to bend. Others were here before them, perhaps a dozen in all. Some were citizens, three or four country or small town people, viewing the sights of London. These had with them for guide and showman some city friend.

The latter was speaking with distinctness, in a cheerful and complacent voice. "This was one of the old religious houses. Over yonder used to be a field where in Queen Mary's time they burned people."

The country folk looked with interest, not at the old religious house, but at the row of small buildings where once had been the field.

One spoke. "Did you ever see a man or woman burned?"

"No," said the citizen. "It's dying out. They mostly hang people now."

A man in a sad-coloured dress spoke with an abrupt, harsh voice. "There are sins that you should burn for. I believe not in your weak mercy. What is good enough for God on High is good enough for me. He burns sinners. If you do not believe in burning sinners, you do not believe in God as shown forth in his written Word."

"I think witches should be burned," said the citizen.

The first country speaker put in his word again. "I saw one burned once when I was a young man! She was a tall, fair wench, and when the flames went | | 407 up around her she cried out only one thing to the crowd of us watching. She cried it thrice. 'When you feel fire, feel what you have believed!'"

"What did she mean?" asked the citizen.

"I do not know," answered the countryman. "There's been an outbreak of witches this summer! They 're getting very bold in the North. If you hear of one, the next day you hear of another. For one thing, as soon as there's known to be a witch abroad, people are on the lookout—"

The downpour of rain had lessened into a shower.

"Make sail!" said the mate.

Leaving the porch, the three from the Eagle moved on up the narrow street between the rain-washed houses. They were now at no great distance from their destination. As they walked the two tried to hear the questions that would be put to them and to frame answers. . . . But it was difficult, difficult. In both the impulse that was gathering strength, that was, as they both now began to perceive, the destined conqueror, was the impulse still to serve the truth. They were not fanatic, and they loved life. But side by side with the recognition that hardly, hardly could they escape, that they would have to make a tissue of statements that could and in all human likelihood would be disproved, streamed stronger and stronger the distaste for that web of misstatement, the liking for a plain relation of their being and its acts. They were conscious of no ecstasy, no hot, martyr enthusiasm, but direction was | | 408 taken. With that deep inward movement came to each a feeling of strengthened personality, of unison, harmony. . . .

The wet and glistening street, the houses, the roofs, the sky, the people passing up and down,—the windows, the signs—Before them they saw a swinging tavern sign, painted and cut in the shape of a great hour-glass. The tavern had a wide window, overhanging the street, and in the window, as the three from the Eagle came in line with it, appeared the ruddy, determined face of the agent of the Company. He looked out upon the street from which the rain had in great part driven the people; saw and hailed his fellow voyagers.

"Well met, good folk! Whither away—"

The second mate told the port to which they were making. The man in the window was a person of importance to the Eagle and its seamen. The mate spoke with deference, and was ready to listen when the agent proposed that he and the two shipwrecked folk enter the Hour-Glass and drink a cup of wine. He knew that the agent had seemed to have a liking for the castaways—and they were not precisely folk under suspicion, but only to be, as it were, certified for. The agent spoke again with a touch of authority, and the mate said, "Very good, sir, and thank you kindly! A few minutes won't matter."

The determined-faced man had the inn's best room and had it to himself. He welcomed into it Giles and Ellice Herne, but left the mate in the com- | | 409 mon room with the host and a command for what he pleased to drink.

The mate spoke again. "I'm ordered, sir, not to let the shipwrecked people out of my sight."

"If you stay where you are you will see them still,' said the agent. "There is but one door to this room, and I leave it open."

The room had a sanded floor, a table, and benches. Outside the clouds were parting, and now a stormy sunlight broke through the window. The street began again to fill with people and their voices came confusedly into the room. A drawer brought wine.

"I frequent this inn," said the agent. "Moreover, by good luck, I find that a man whom I greatly de-sire to see is in London and sleeps here at the Hour-Glass. I await him now, and in the mean time lack entertainment.—I was glad to see you coming up the street." He poured wine. "Here's to the Eagle and freedom!—Has England changed to your eyes?"

"Yes and no," said Aderhold.

Bow bells were ringing. The sunlight suddenly flooded the room. Without the door the mate's rumbling voice was heard. "Two castaways—"

"I have been gone a year," said the agent. "The man that I am looking for is a coming man in Eng-land, and I expect to learn from him—"

The agent and Aderhold were standing by the table, but Joan had seated herself where through the | | 410 open casement she could see the clearing sky. The movement brought her into the shaft of light. It bathed, it etherealized face and form. She looked an immortal. . . . Placed so, she came first before the eye when the man, whose step was now heard without, swung the door wider and entered the room.

The agent started from the table. "Ha, Harry Carthew! I looked to find you—"

But Carthew had neither eye nor ear for the returned acquaintance and fellow-resister of the King. Harry Carthew stood like a man turned to stone. . . . Six years alone could not have made him look so much older. He looked much older—a stern and worn man, with a grim mouth and eyes where enthusiasm now burned bright and now sank among the embers of itself. He was dressed much as he used to dress. It was the face and figure of the man who had come to Heron's cottage, but there had been a long warfare in the nature and some degree of change. He stood starkly silent, with a great, arrested look, as if the very elements of his being stood still. . . . Joan, rising, passed from the beam of light into the shadow by Aderhold. They stood side by side, hand touching hand. With a final crash and clangour the bells stopped ringing.

"What is it?" demanded the agent. "You know these people—"

Carthew moistened his lips. They parted, but at first there came forth only an uncertain and broken sound. Then,—" You were long sought. But when | | 411 the Silver Queen came back from Virginia we learned that you had escaped upon her, but had been thrown from her for what you were, and were dead. Years ago . . . and you stand there. . . ."

The mate of the Eagle came to the door. "Sir, may we be going now?"

The agent crossed to him. "Not yet. Wait a little, there without—" A voice spoke from behind the mate. "I am with Master Carthew. I may enter, sir?"

The agent turned back into the room, and with him came a slight man with a steeple-crowned hat and a Geneva cloak. Joan and Aderhold faced Master Thomas Clement.

At last there came from the minister's lips, "Thou witch! Thou atheist and sorcerer!"

The agent of the Company struck his hand against the table. "Who are these?"

Harry Carthew turned and walked stiffly to the window-seat. When he reached it he sank down, rested his locked arms against the sill, and his forehead upon his arms. But Master Clement was of more iron make. His long forefinger shot out toward the two; he raised his arms, the black cloak falling away from them, his small figure dilated; he shook his lean and nervous hands; his voice, beginning on a low tone, grew shrill and rapid; his eyes burned. Zeal for the honour of his God had him.

"Who are they? Scorners of God and deniers of Revelation! Yoke-fellows with Satan and blas- | | 412 pheming workers and doers of evil! Who are they? Breakers forth from prison and just doom—cheaters of stake and gallows—froth of hell! Who are they? Say not that you have forgotten the Hawthorn trials!"

"The Hawthorn trials!"

"Who in England heard not of them? Of the wicked certain ones were hanged, but there broke gaol and escaped the unbeliever and sorcerer Gilbert Aderhold and the witch Joan Heron!" He stretched his arms higher, he shook his hands more vehemently. "But God for his glory," he said, "bringeth them back!"

Aderhold and Joan stood straight and silent. The shock of the encounter had driven the colour from cheek and lip, but there was no other sign of cowing. They knew now that they were in the arms of death. The knowledge did not frighten. This very day they had taken their direction—they were moving now as they had determined. . . . The agent leaned against the table, pale and staring.

Aderhold turned and spoke to him. "Our names are Joan Heron and Gilbert Aderhold. We are not witch and sorcerer—nor yoke-fellows with Satan—nor blasphemers of good. But we were judged by our neighbours and by the law to be such, and we were condemned to death and put in prison. By the help of a gaoler who is dead we escaped. We managed to stow ourselves upon the Silver Queen. In the seas near the island where the Eagle found us, | | 413 our names were discovered and the Silver Queen cast us adrift. By this fortune and by that we came first to a larger island and then to the islet from which the Eagle took us. That, so far as is needful to tell you, is our story. You have been good to us, knowing only what we showed. If you will believe, what we showed was ourselves."

Joan's voice, a rich, clear, low voice, followed his. "I am no witch, and he is no sorcerer. I was a country girl and he a physician who helped many. Now we are a man and woman who fare forward, wishing no ill to any."

As she spoke she moved, unconsciously, a step nearer to the table. The agent of the Company recoiled, put out his hand against her closer approach. In his face was a white horror. He remembered the Hawthorn witch trial. That year he had chanced to be in company with the elder Carthew, and no detail but had been given him. The very words of a ballad made upon the witch Joan Heron came into mind—forgotten, he might have thought, long since, but now flashing out in letters of fire—hell fire. It had been a ballad sold and bought throughout England, and it spared no strange assertion, nor none that was gross. The Witch Joan Heron. The ballad rang in his ears. He saw its title. THE ABHORRED WITCH; or, THE MONSTROUS LIFE OF JOAN HERON. . . . A look of sickness passed over the agent's face, no longer ruddy. He put his arm above his eyes. "Avaunt, witch!" he said.

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Joan stepped back. Her eyes sought Aderhold's. He bent toward her, took her hands. She smiled and said in the Indian tongue they had learned upon that island. "Heart of my heart! The great sea is cold at first—

"Hark!" cried Master Clement. "She speaks the tongue she learned of Apollyon!"

Harry Carthew rose from the window-seat. His face was yet without colour, drawn and sunken, grim and set. For the most part, with an iron effort, he kept his voice under control, but now it broke and sank and now it took a cadence of pain and horror. He leaned against the wall for support, and once or twice he lifted his eyes to where, in his thought, there sat God whom he had angered. "Master Clement, and my friend here," he said, "God knows I cannot doubt that this man is a sorcerer and this woman a witch! In his Bible God tells us that there are such and commands that they be done to death. Moreover, from old time, wise judges and men of law and knowledge, and devout and holy preachers of the Word have showed us how these wicked abound! As for these two, all manner of witness was brought against them, and proof irrefragable. Yea, and those who were hanged confessed that these two kept by day and by night companionship with Satan and did monstrous wickednesses. And that the man is an apostate and blasphemer, an atheist worthy of death, has been proved—nay, he himself denied nothing in that sort. All that, and the doom | | 415 pronounced against them, in this world and in the next, stands for true and lasting, and I have no part in it, and there the shadow comes not against me. . . . But there is a sin upon my soul, and God gives me no rest until I tell it—" He wheeled toward Master Clement. "I will tell it here and now, and appoint me a day and I will tell it in open church—So may offended God pardon me!"

"Harry Carthew! Harry Carthew!" cried Master Clement. "Every man alive has sin against his soul! The soul of every man alive is black as midnight, and no dawn cometh to it save from one that is not himself! Unless and save the dayspring chooseth to shine upon that soul, it resteth black and lost—it hath in itself no power of motion and light! But God hath elected thee, Harry Carthew! But this man and woman are of the deep gulf of hell, predestined and damned of eternity! What have you to do with them, my brother, my son—for Christ knoweth I love thee as a son—''

"What had I to do with them?" said Carthew. "I will tell you! At the trial in the town I gave evidence that he struck me in the side with a dagger that eve upon his road to prison. I lied. Sorcerer and atheist though he be, he told truth when he said that he did not so. And witch though she be, this woman told truth when there in the court she cried out against me. She told truth when she cried that that night I had come to her cottage to tempt her and that she struck me with a hunting-knife. . . .

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What was I? I was a young man, mad for a fair woman—fair as her mother Eve who sinned before her! What was I? I was a man desirous to increase in name and fame, desirous of leadership—who therefore must not let men view his sin! But it was sin, and I know not if there be a greater—"

If he began as to a more general audience, he ended with a haggard-eyed appeal to Master Clement. . . . The minister's frame trembled; with a pale and scared face he fronted Harry Carthew whom he truly loved. "Harry Carthew! Harry Carthew! Pray to God—"

"I pray," said Carthew. "Night and day, I wrestle in prayer. I thought that He had answered and given me peace in service. The moment I ceased to serve and to act for this England, that moment Gehenna opened in my soul. . . . But now I see that He wanteth open confession." He turned upon the two where they stood beyond the shaft of light. "Joan Heron, I wronged you,—and Gilbert Aderhold, I wronged you,—and that I must say, though you be the Fiend's own! I must say it, though I stood in heaven and looked across the gulf upon you in hell—" He sank upon a bench by the table and flung his clasped hands above his head. "God, God! Grant me but to save my soul alive!"

Silence held in the room at the Hour-Glass. The agent of the Company leaned against the table, white and shaken. Master Clement came to Car- | | 417 thew, put his hand on his shoulder, and spoke in a trembling voice. "A great sin verily, and greatly to be repented. . . . But not the great sin, Harry Carthew—not the Unpardonable Sin. . . . God will have mercy. He will forgive. Have you not served Him well, and will you not do so, ever the more zealously? And will you not forever more guard your ways, that you fall not again into the pit? I trow that you will! Harry Carthew—Harry Carthew, we will pray together! You are too valuable—This very night I will come, and on our knees we will wrestle with Him as did Jacob of old—"

Joan and Aderhold stood hand in hand. What now they felt and thought was simple and whole. This room with its occupants seemed not to have over-greatly to do with them—it had widened out—they felt a larger world. . . . It was as though these old quarrels were childish concerns and fears and quarrels—small, intense, unknowing things—childish, pitiful. They felt them so, and yet they did not feel old, they felt young. . . .

Aderhold spoke, again to the agent of the Company. "Knowing nothing of our story, save that we were shipwrecked folk, you showed us much kindness. It does not hurt to take the thanks of shipwrecked folk. Believe that we are grateful for that kindness. This is to end, we know, in giving us into the hands of the law. Then let them call those who will take us."

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Carthew rose from the seat where he had thrown himself. What wild emotion had possessed and actuated him was driven to cover and stillness. His face was grey, but set and grim with no softening in its lines. He would have said that softening were further sin. Out like a burned candle had gone long since his passion for Joan Heron that had never been high love.

His eyes met those of Master Clement, "Aye," he said, "end it!"

Master Clement nodded, turned, and left the room.

There was, it seemed, no great distance to send, and those sent for were not long in coming. Without the Hour-Glass it was now bright afternoon and many people going up and down. Whenever and wherever watch or ward was summoned the act of its summoning was apt immediately to become known. It was so here and now, and a crowd began to gather before the Hour-Glass. How there started a whisper of heinous crime, of escaped and retaken caitiffs, it were hard to say. Perhaps the host or the now staring and greatly excited mate of the Eagle had heard somewhat and had repeated what he had heard. But there started a murmur which grew to a buzzing sound and threatened to become clamour. "What was done?—Who is it? Ho, there, Hour-Glass! What happened?" The law appeared—half a dozen burly armed men with an officer at their head. "Within the Hour-Glass! Let us pass, good | | 419 people, let us pass!" They entered the tavern. Outside the crowd and the noise grew. "Traitors?" cried one, and another, "Poisoners?" but a third, "I can see through the window. It's a woman—Witch! Witch!"

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