THE LADY OF BLOSSHOLME
H. Rider Haggard
Part 1 out of 6
Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE LADY OF BLOSSHOLME
by H. Rider Haggard
SIR JOHN FOTERELL
Who that has ever seen them can forget the ruins of Blossholme Abbey,
set upon their mount between the great waters of the tidal estuary to
the north, the rich lands and grazing marshes that, backed with woods,
border it east and south, and to the west by the rolling uplands,
merging at last into purple moor, and, far away, the sombre eternal
hills! Probably the scene has not changed very much since the days of
Henry VIII, when those things happened of which we have to tell, for
here no large town has arisen, nor have mines been dug or factories
built to affront the earth and defile the air with their hideousness
The village of Blossholme we know has scarcely varied in its
population, for the old records tell us this, and as there is no
railway here its aspect must be much the same. Houses built of the
local grey stone do not readily fall down. The folk of that generation
walked in and out of the doorways of many of them, although the roofs
for the most part are now covered with tiles or rough slates in place
of reeds from the dike. The parish wells also, fitted with iron pumps
that have superseded the old rollers and buckets, still serve the
place with drinking-water as they have done since the days of the
first Edward, and perhaps for centuries before.
Although their use, if not their necessity, has passed away, not far
from the Abbey gate the stocks and whipping-post, the latter arranged
with three sets of iron loops fixed at different heights and of
varying diameters to accommodate the wrists of man, woman, and child,
may still be found in the middle of the Priests' Green. These stand,
it will be remembered, under a quaint old roof supported on rough,
oaken pillars, and surmounted by a weathercock which the monkish fancy
has fashioned to the shape of the archangel blowing the last trump.
His clarion or coach-horn, or whatever instrument of music it was he
blew, has vanished. The parish book records that in the time of George
I a boy broke it off, melted it down, and was publicly flogged in
consequence, the last time, apparently, that the whipping-post was
used. But Gabriel still twists about as manfully as he did when old
Peter, the famous smith, fashioned and set him up with his own hand in
the last year of King Henry VIII, as it is said to commemorate the
fact that on this spot stood the stakes to which Cicely Harflete, Lady
of Blossholme, and her foster-mother, Emlyn, were chained to be burned
So it is with everything at Blossholme, a place that Time has touched
but lightly. The fields, or many of them, bear the same names and
remain identical in their shape and outline. The old farmsteads and
the few halls in which reside the gentry of the district, stand where
they always stood. The glorious tower of the Abbey still points
upwards to the sky, although bells and roof are gone, while half-a-
mile away the parish church that was there before it--having been
rebuilt indeed upon Saxon foundations in the days of William Rufus--
yet lies among its ancient elms. Farther on, situate upon the slope of
a vale down which runs a brook through meadows, is the stark ruin of
the old Nunnery that was subservient to the proud Abbey on the hill,
some of it now roofed in with galvanised iron sheets and used as cow-
It is of this Abbey and this Nunnery and of those who dwelt around
them in a day bygone, and especially of that fair and persecuted woman
who came to be known as the Lady of Blossholme, that our story has to
It was dead winter in the year 1535--the 31st of December, indeed. Old
Sir John Foterell, a white-bearded, red-faced man of about sixty years
of age, was seated before the log fire in the dining-hall of his great
house at Shefton, spelling through a letter which had just been
brought to him from Blossholme Abbey. He mastered it at length, and
when it was done any one who had been there to look might have seen a
knight and gentleman of large estate in a rage remarkable even for the
time of the eighth Henry. He dashed the document to the ground; he
drank three cups of strong ale, of which he had already had enough, in
quick succession; he swore a number of the best oaths of the period,
and finally, in the most expressive language, he consigned the body of
the Abbot of Blossholme to the gallows and his soul to hell.
"He claims my lands, does he?" he exclaimed, shaking his fist in the
direction of Blossholme. "What does the rogue say? That the abbot who
went before him parted with them to my grandfather for no good
consideration, but under fear and threats. Now, writes he, this
Secretary Cromwell, whom they call Vicar-General, has declared that
the said transfer was without the law, and that I must hand over the
said lands to the Abbey of Blossholme on or before Candlemas! What was
Cromwell paid to sign that order with no inquiry made, I wonder?"
Sir John poured out and drank a fourth cup of ale, then set to walking
up and down the hall. Presently he halted in front of the fire and
addressed it as though it were his enemy.
"You are a clever fellow, Clement Maldon; they tell me that all
Spaniards are, and you were taught your craft at Rome and sent here
for a purpose. You began as nothing, and now you are Abbot of
Blossholme, and, if the King had not faced the Pope, would be more.
But you forget yourself at times, for the Southern blood is hot, and
when the wine is in, the truth is out. There were certain words you
spoke not a year ago before me and other witnesses of which I will
remind you presently. Perhaps when Secretary Cromwell learns them he
will cancel his gift of my lands, and mayhap lift that plotting head
of yours up higher. I'll go remind you of them."
Sir John strode to the door and shouted; it would not be too much to
say that he bellowed like a bull. It opened after a while, and a
serving-man appeared, a bow-legged, sturdy-looking fellow with a shock
of black hair.
"Why are you not quicker, Jeffrey Stokes?" he asked. "Must I wait your
pleasure from noon to night?"
"I came as fast as I could, master. Why, then, do you rate me?"
"Would you argue with me, fellow? Do it again and I will have you tied
to a post and lashed."
"Lash yourself, master, and let out the choler and good ale, which you
need to do," replied Jeffrey in his gruff voice. "There be some men
who never know when they are well served, and such are apt to come to
ill and lonely ends. What is your pleasure? I'll do it if I can, and
if not, do it yourself."
Sir John lifted his hand as though to strike him, then let it fall
"I like one who braves me to my teeth," he said more gently, "and that
was ever your nature. Take it not ill, man; I was angered, and have
cause to be."
"The anger I see, but not the cause, though, as a monk came from the
Abbey but now, perhaps I can hazard a guess."
"Aye, that's it, that's it, Jeffrey. Hark; I ride to yonder crows'-
nest, and at once. Saddle me a horse."
"Good, master. I'll saddle two horses."
"Two? I said one. Fool, can I ride a pair at once, like a mountebank?"
"I know not, but you can ride one and I another. When the Abbot of
Blossholme visits Sir John Foterell of Shefton he comes with hawk on
wrist, with chaplains and pages, and ten stout men-at-arms, of whom he
keeps more of late than a priest would seem to need about him. When
Sir John Foterell visits the Abbot of Blossholme, at least he should
have one serving-man at his back to hold his nag and bear him
Sir John looked at him shrewdly.
"I called you fool," he said, "but you are none except in looks. Do as
you will, Jeffrey, but be swift. Stop. Where is my daughter?"
"The Lady Cicely sits in her parlour. I saw her sweet face at the
window but now staring out at the snow as though she thought to see a
ghost in it."
"Um," grunted Sir John, "the ghost she thinks to see rides a grand
grey mare, stands over six feet high, has a jolly face, and a pair of
arms well made for sword and shield, or to clip a girl in. Yet that
ghost must be laid, Jeffrey."
"Pity if so, master. Moreover, you may find it hard. Ghost-laying is a
priest's job, and when maids' waists are willing, men's arms reach
"Be off, sirrah," roared Sir John, and Jeffrey went.
Ten minutes later they were riding for the Abbey, three miles away,
and within half-an-hour Sir John was knocking, not gently, at its
gate, while the monks within ran to and fro like startled ants, for
the times were rough, and they were not sure who threatened them. When
they knew their visitor at last they set to work to unbar the great
doors and let down the drawbridge, that had been hoist up at sunset.
Presently Sir John stood in the Abbot's chamber, warming himself at
the great fire, and behind him stood his serving-man, Jeffrey,
carrying his long cloak. It was a fine room, with a noble roof of
carved chestnut wood and stone walls hung with costly tapestry,
whereon were worked scenes from the Scriptures. The floor was hid with
rich carpets made of coloured Eastern wools. The furniture also was
rich and foreign-looking, being inlaid with ivory and silver, while on
the table stood a golden crucifix, a miracle of art, and upon an
easel, so that the light from a hanging silver lamp fell on it, a
life-sized picture of the Magdalene by some great Italian painter,
turning her beauteous eyes to heaven and beating her fair breast.
Sir John looked about him and sniffed.
"Now, Jeffrey, would you think that you were in a monk's cell or in
some great dame's bower? Hunt under the table, man; sure, you will
find her lute and needlework. Whose portrait is that, think you?" and
he pointed to the Magdalene.
"A sinner turning saint, I think, master. Good company for laymen when
she was sinner, and good for priests now that she is saint. For the
rest, I could snore well here after a cup of yon red wine," and he
jerked his thumb towards a long-necked bottle on a sideboard. "Also,
the fire burns bright, which is not to be wondered at, seeing that it
is made of dry oak from your Sticksley Wood."
"How know you that, Jeffrey?" asked Sir John.
"By the grain of it, master--by the grain of it. I have hewn too many
a timber there not to know. There's that in the Sticksley clays which
makes the rings grow wavy and darker at the heart. See there."
Sir John looked, and swore an angry oath.
"You are right, man; and now I come to think of it, when I was a
little lad my old grandsire bade me note this very thing about the
Sticksley oaks. These cursed monks waste my woods beneath my nose. My
forester is a rogue. They have scared or bribed him, and he shall hang
"First prove the crime, master, which won't be easy; then talk of
hanging, which only kings and abbots, 'with right of gallows,' can do
at will. Ah! you speak truth," he added in a changed voice; "it is a
lovely chamber, though not good enough for the holy man who dwells in
it, since such a saint should have a silver shrine like him before the
altar yonder, as doubtless he will do when ere long he is old bones,"
and, as though by chance, he trod upon his lord's foot, which was
Round came Sir John like the Blossholme weathercock on a gusty day.
"Clumsy toad!" he yelled, then paused, for there within the arras,
that had been lifted silently, stood a tall, tonsured figure clothed
in rich furs, and behind him two other figures, also tonsured, in
simple black robes. It was the Abbot with his chaplains.
"Benedicite!" said the Abbot in his soft, foreign voice, lifting the
two fingers of his right hand in blessing.
"Good-day," answered Sir John, while his retainer bowed his head and
crossed himself. "Why do you steal upon a man like a thief in the
night, holy Father?" he added irritably.
"That is how we are told judgment shall come, my son," answered the
Abbot, smiling; "and in truth there seems some need of it. We heard
loud quarrelling and talk of hanging men. What is your argument?"
"A hard one of oak," answered old Sir John sullenly. "My servant here
said those logs upon your fire came from my Sticksley Wood, and I
answered him that if so they were stolen, and my reeve should hang for
"The worthy man is right, my son, and yet your forester deserves no
punishment. I bought our scanty store of firing from him, and, to tell
truth, the count has not yet been paid. The money that should have
discharged it has gone to London, so I asked him to let it stand until
the summer rents come in. Blame him not, Sir John, if, out of
friendship, knowing it was naught to you, he has not bared the
nakedness of our poor house."
"Is it the nakedness of your poor house"--and he glanced round the
sumptuous chamber--"that caused you to send me this letter saying that
you have Cromwell's writ to seize my lands?" asked Sir John, rushing
at his grievance like a bull, and casting down the document upon the
table; "or do you also mean to make payment for them--when your summer
rents come in?"
"Nay, son. In that matter duty led me. For twenty years we have
disputed of those estates which, as you know, your grandsire took from
us in a time of trouble, thus cutting the Abbey lands in twain,
against the protest of him who was Abbot in those days. Therefore, at
last I laid the matter before the Vicar-General, who, I hear, has been
pleased to decide the suit in favour of this Abbey."
"To decide a suit of which the defendant had no notice!" exclaimed Sir
John. "My Lord Abbot, this is not justice; it is roguery that I will
never bear. Did you decide aught else, pray you?"
"Since you ask it--something, my son. To save costs I laid before him
the sundry points at issue between us, and in sum this is the
judgment: Your title to all your Blossholme lands and those
contiguous, totalling eight thousand acres, is not voided, yet it is
held to be tainted and doubtful."
"God's blood! Why?" asked Sir John.
"My son, I will tell you," replied the Abbot gently. "Because within a
hundred years they belonged to this Abbey by gift of the Crown, and
there is no record that the Crown consented to their alienation."
"No record," exclaimed Sir John, "when I have the indentured deed in
my strong-box, signed by my great-grandfather and the Abbot Frank
Ingham! No record, when my said forefather gave you other lands in
place of them which you now hold? But go on, holy priest."
"My son, I obey you. Your title, though pronounced so doubtful, is not
utterly voided; yet it is held that you have all these lands as tenant
of this Abbey, to which, should you die without issue, they will
relapse. Or should you die with issue under age, such issue will be
ward to the Abbot of Blossholme for the time being, and failing him,
that is, if there were no Abbot and no Abbey, of the Crown."
Sir John listened, then sank back into a chair, while his face went
white as ashes.
"Show me that judgment," he said slowly.
"It is not yet engrossed, my son. Within ten days or so I hope---- But
you seem faint. The warmth of this room after the cold outer air,
perhaps. Drink a cup of our poor wine," and at a motion of his hand
one of the chaplains stepped to the sideboard, filled a goblet from
the long-necked flask that stood there, and brought it to Sir John.
He took it as one that knows not what he does, then suddenly threw the
silver cup and its contents into the fire, whence a chaplain recovered
it with the wood-tongs.
"It seems that you priests are my heirs," said Sir John in a new,
quiet voice, "or so you say; and, if that is so, my life is likely to
be short. I'll not drink your wine, lest it should be poisoned.
Hearken now, Sir Abbot. I believe little of this tale, though
doubtless by bribes and other means you have done your best to harm me
behind my back up yonder in London. Well, to-morrow at the dawn, come
fair weather or come foul, I ride through the snows to London, where I
too have friends, and we will see, we will see. You are a clever man,
Abbot Maldon, and I know that you need money, or its worth, to pay
your men-at-arms and satisfy the great costs at which you live--and
there are our famous jewels--yes, yes, the old Crusader jewels.
Therefore you have sought to rob me, whom you ever hated, and
perchance Cromwell has listened to your tale. Perchance, fool priest,"
he added slowly, "he had it in his mind to fat this Church goose of
yours with my meal before he wrings its neck and cooks it."
At these words the Abbot started for the first time, and even the two
impassive chaplains glanced at each other.
"Ah! does that touch you?" asked Sir John Foterell. "Well, then, here
is what shall make you smart. You think yourself in favour at the
Court, do you not? because you took the oath of succession which
braver men, like the brethren of the Charterhouse, refused, and died
for it. But you forget the words you said to me when the wine you love
had a hold of you in my hall----"
"Silence! For your own sake, silence, Sir John Foterell!" broke in the
Abbot. "You go too far."
"Not so far as you shall go, my Lord Abbot, ere I have done with you.
Not so far as Tower Hill or Tyburn, thither to be hung and quartered
as a traitor to his Grace. I tell you, you forget the words you spoke,
but I will remind you of them. Did you not say to me when the guests
had gone, that King Henry was a heretic, a tyrant, and an infidel whom
the Pope would do well to excommunicate and depose? Did you not, when
I led you on, ask me if I could not bring about a rising of the common
people in these parts, among whom I have great power, and of those
gentry who know and love me, to overthrow him, and in his place set up
a certain Cardinal Pole, and for the deed promise me the pardon and
absolution of the Pope, and much advancement in his name and that of
the Spanish Emperor?"
"Never," answered the Abbot.
"And did I not," went on Sir John, taking no note of his denial, "did
I not refuse to listen to you and tell you that your words were
traitorous, and that had they been spoken otherwhere than in my house,
I, as in duty bound by my office, would make report of them? Aye, and
have you not from that hour striven to undo me, whom you fear?"
"I deny it all," said the Abbot again. "These be but empty lies bred
of your malice, Sir John Foterell."
"Empty words, are they, my Lord Abbot! Well, I tell you that they are
all written down and signed in due form. I tell you I had witnesses
you knew naught of who heard them with their ears. Here stands one of
them behind my chair. Is it not so, Jeffrey?"
"Aye, master," answered the serving-man. "I chanced to be in the
little chamber beyond the wainscot with others waiting to escort the
Abbot home, and heard them all, and afterward I and they put our marks
upon the writing. As I am a Christian man that is so, though, master,
this is not the place that I should have chosen to speak of it,
however much I might be wronged."
"It will serve my turn," said the enraged knight, "though it is true
that I will speak of it louder elsewhere, namely, before the King's
Council. To-morrow, my Lord Abbot, this paper and I go to London, and
then you shall learn how well it pays you to try to pluck a Foterell
of his own."
Now it was the Abbot's turn to be frightened. His smooth, olive-
coloured cheeks sank in and went white, as though already he felt the
cord about his throat. His jewelled hand shook, and he caught the arm
of one of his chaplains and hung to it.
"Man," he hissed, "do you think that you can utter such false threats
and go hence to ruin me, a consecrated abbot? I have dungeons here; I
have power. It will be said that you attacked me, and that I did but
strive to defend myself. Others can bring witness besides you, Sir
John," and he whispered some words in Latin or Spanish into the ear of
one of his chaplains, whereon that priest turned to leave the room.
"Now it seems that we are getting to business," said Jeffrey Stokes,
as, lying his hand upon the knife at his girdle, he slipped between
the monk and the door.
"That's it, Jeffrey," cried Sir John. "Stop the rat's hole. Look you,
Spaniard, I have a sword. Show me to your gate, or, by virtue of the
King's commission that I hold, I do instant justice on you as a
traitor, and afterward answer for it if I win out."
The Abbot considered a moment, taking the measure of the fierce old
knight before him. Then he said slowly--
"Go as you came, in peace, O man of wrath and evil, but know that the
curse of the Church shall follow you. I say that you stand near to
Sir John looked at him. The anger went out of his face, and, instead,
upon it appeared something strange--a breath of foresight, an
inspiration, call it what you will.
"By heaven and all its saints! I think you are right, Clement Maldon,"
he muttered. "Beneath that black dress of yours you are a man like the
rest of us, are you not? You have a heart, you have members, you have
a brain to think with; you are a fiddle for God to play on, and
however much your superstitions mask and alter it, out of those
strings now and again will come some squeak of truth. Well, I am
another fiddle, of a more honest sort, mayhap, though I do not lift
two fingers of my right hand and say, 'Benedicite, my son,' and 'Your
sins are forgiven you'; and just now the God of both of us plays His
tune in me, and I will tell you what it is. I stand near to death, but
you stand not far from the gallows. I'll die an honest man; you will
die like a dog, false to everything, and afterwards let your beads and
your masses and your saints help you if they can. We'll talk it over
when we meet again elsewhere. And now, my Lord Abbot, lead me to your
gate, remembering that I follow with my sword. Jeffrey, set those
carrion crow in front of you, and watch them well. My Lord Abbot, I am
your servant; march!"
THE MURDER BY THE MERE
For a while Sir John and his retainer rode in silence. Then he laughed
"Jeffrey," he called, "that was a near touch. Sir Priest was minded to
stick his Spanish pick-tooth between our ribs, and shrive us
afterwards, as we lay dying, to salve his conscience."
"Yes, master; only, being reasonable, he remembered that English
swords have a longer reach, and that his bullies are in the Ford ale-
house seeing the Old Year out, and so put it off. Master, I have
always told you that old October of yours is too strong to drink at
noon. It should be saved till bed-time."
"What do you mean, man?"
"I mean that ale spoke yonder, not wisdom. You have showed your hand
and played the fool."
"Who are you to teach me?" asked Sir John angrily. "I meant that he
should hear the truth for once, the slimy traitor."
"Perhaps, perhaps; but these be bad days for Truth and those who court
her. Was it needful to tell him that to-morrow you journey to London
upon a certain errand?"
"Why not? I'll be there before him."
"Will you ever be there, master? The road runs past the Abbey, and
that priest has good ruffians in his pay who can hold their tongues."
"Do you mean that he will waylay me? I say he dare not. Still, to
please you, we will take the longer path through the forest."
"A rough one, master; but who goes with you on this business? Most of
us are away with the wains, and others make holiday. There are but
three serving-men at the hall, and you cannot leave the Lady Cicely
without a guard, or take her with you through this cold. Remember
there's wealth yonder which some may need more even than your lands,"
he added meaningly. "Wait a while, then, till your people return or
you can call up your tenants, and go to London as one of your quality
should, with twenty good men at your back."
"And so give our friend the Abbot time to get Cromwell's ear, and
through him that of the King. No, no; I ride to-morrow at the dawn
with you, or, if you are afraid, without you, as I have done before
and taken no harm."
"None shall say that Jeffrey Stokes is afraid of man or priest or
devil," answered the old soldier, colouring. "Your road has been good
enough for me this thirty years, and it is good enough now. If I
warned you it was not for my own sake, who care little what comes, but
for yours and that of your house."
"I know it," said Sir John more kindly. "Take not my words ill, my
temper is up to-day. Thank the saints! here is the hall at last. Why!
whose horse has passed the gates before us?"
Jeffrey glanced at the tracks which the moonlight showed very clearly
in the new-fallen snow.
"Sir Christopher Harflete's grey mare," he said. "I know the shoeing
and the round shape of the hoof. Doubtless he is visiting Mistress
"Whom I have forbidden to him," grumbled Sir John, swinging himself
from the saddle.
"Forbid him not," answered Jeffrey, as he took his horse. "Christopher
Harflete may yet be a good friend to a maid in need, and I think that
need is nigh."
"Mind your business, knave," shouted Sir John. "Am I to be set at
naught in my own house by a chit of a girl and a gallant who would
mend his broken fortunes?"
"If you ask me, I think so," replied the imperturbable Jeffrey, as he
led away the horses.
Sir John strode into the house by the backway, which opened on to the
stable-yard. Taking the lantern that stood by the door, he went along
galleries and upstairs to the sitting-chamber above the hall, which,
since her mother's death, his daughter had used as her own, for here
he guessed that he would find her. Setting down the lantern upon the
passage table, he pushed open the door, which was not latched, and
The room was large, and, being lighted only by the great fire that
burned upon the hearth and two candles, all this end of it was hid in
shadow. Near to the deep window-place the shadow ceased, however, and
here, seated in a high-backed oak chair, with the light of the blazing
fire falling full upon her, was Cicely Foterell, Sir John's only
surviving child. She was a tall and graceful maiden, blue-eyed, brown-
haired, fair-skinned, with a round and child-like face which most
people thought beautiful to look upon. Just now this face, that
generally was so arch and cheerful, seemed somewhat troubled. For this
there might be a reason, since, seated upon a stool at her side, was a
young man talking to her earnestly.
He was a stalwart young man, very broad about the shoulders, clean-cut
in feature, with a long, straight nose, black hair, and merry black
eyes. Also, as such a gallant should do, he appeared to be making love
with much vigour and directness, for his face was upturned pleading
with the girl, who leaned back in her chair answering him nothing. At
this moment, indeed, his copious flow of words came to an end, perhaps
from exhaustion, perhaps for other reasons, and was succeeded by a
more effective method of attack. Suddenly sinking from the stool to
his knees, he took the unresisting hand of Cicely and kissed it
several times; then, emboldened by his success, threw his long arms
about her, and before Sir John, choked with indignation, could find
words to stop him, drew her towards him and treated her red lips as he
had treated her fingers. This rude proceeding seemed to break the
spell that bound her, for she pushed back the chair and, escaping from
his grasp, rose, saying in a broken voice----
"Oh! Christopher, dear Christopher, this is most wrong."
"May be," he answered. "So long as you love me I care not what it is."
"That you have known these two years, Christopher. I love you well,
but, alas! my father will have none of you. Get you hence now, ere he
returns, or we both shall pay for it, and I, perhaps, be sent to a
nunnery where no man may come."
"Nay, sweet, I am here to ask his consent to my suit----"
Then at last Sir John broke out.
"To ask my consent to your suit, you dishonest knave!" he roared from
the darkness; whereat Cicely sank back into her chair looking as
though she would faint, and the strong Christopher staggered like a
man pierced by an arrow. "First to take my girl and hug her before my
very eyes, and then, when the mischief is done, to ask my consent to
your suit!" and he rushed at them like a charging bull.
Cicely rose to fly, then, seeing no escape, took refuge in her lover's
arms. Her infuriated father seized the first part of her that came to
his hand, which chanced to be one of her long brown plaits of hair,
and tugged at it till she cried out with pain, purposing to tear her
away, at which sight and sound Christopher lost his temper also.
"Leave go of the maid, sir," he said in a low, fierce voice, "or, by
God! I'll make you."
"Leave go of the maid?" gasped Sir John. "Why, who holds her tightest,
you or I? Do you leave go of her."
"Yes, yes, Christopher," she whispered, "ere I am pulled in two."
Then he obeyed, lifting her into the chair, but her father still kept
his hold of the brown tress.
"Now, Sir Christopher," he said, "I am minded to put my sword through
"And pierce your daughter's heart as well as mine. Well, do it if you
will, and when we are dead and you are childless, weep yourself and go
to the grave."
"Oh! father, father," broke in Cicely, who knew the old man's temper,
and feared the worst, "in justice and in pity, listen to me. All my
heart is Christopher's, and has been from a child. With him I shall
have happiness, without him black despair; and that is his case too,
or so he swears. Why, then, should you part us? Is he not a proper man
and of good lineage, and name unstained? Until of late did you not
ever favour him much and let us be together day by day? And now, when
it is too late, you deny him. Oh! why, why?"
"You know why well enough, girl? Because I have chosen another husband
for you. The Lord Despard is taken with your baby face, and would
marry you. But this morning I had it under his own hand."
"The Lord Despard?" gasped Cicely. "Why, he only buried his second
wife last month! Father, he is as old as you are, and drunken, and has
grandchildren of well-nigh my age. I would obey you in all things, but
never will I go to him alive."
"And never shall he live to take you," muttered Christopher.
"What matter his years, daughter? He is a sound man, and has no son,
and should one be born to him, his will be the greatest heritage
within three shires. Moreover, I need his friendship, who have bitter
enemies. But enough of this. Get you gone, Christopher, before worse
"So be it, sir, I will go; but first, as an honest man and my father's
friend, and, as I thought, my own, answer me one question. Why have
you changed your tune to me of late? Am I not the same Christopher
Harflete I was a year or two ago? And have I done aught to lower me in
the world's eye or in yours?"
"No, lad," answered the old knight bluntly; "but since you will have
it, here it is. Within that year or two your uncle whose heir you were
has married and bred a son, and now you are but a gentleman of good
name, and little to float it on. That big house of yours must go to
the hammer, Christopher. You'll never stow a bride in it."
"Ah! I thought as much. Christopher Harflete with the promise of the
Lesborough lands was one man; Christopher Harflete without them is
another--in your eyes. Yet, sir, I hold you foolish. I love your
daughter and she loves me, and those lands and more may come back, or
I, who am no fool, will win others. Soon there will be plenty going up
there at Court, where I am known. Further, I tell you this: I believe
that I shall marry Cicely, and earlier than you think, and I would
have had your blessing with her."
"What! Will you steal the girl away?" asked Sir John furiously.
"By no means, sir. But this is a strange world of ours, in which from
hour to hour top becomes bottom, and bottom top, and there--I think I
shall marry her. At least I am sure that Despard the sot never will,
for I'll kill him first, if I hang for it. Sir, sir, surely you will
not throw your pearl upon that muckheap. Better crush it beneath your
heel at once. Look, and say you cannot do it," and he pointed to the
pathetic figure of Cicely, who stood by them with clasped hands,
panting breast, and a face of agony.
The old knight glanced at her out of the corners of his eyes, and saw
something that moved him to pity, for at bottom his heart was honest,
and though he treated her so roughly, as was the fashion of the times,
he loved his daughter more than all the world.
"Who are you, that would teach me my duty to my bone and blood?" he
grumbled. Then he thought a while, and added, "Hear me, now,
Christopher Harflete. To-morrow at the dawn I ride to London with
Jeffrey Stokes on a somewhat risky business."
"What business, sir?"
"If you would know--that of a quarrel with yonder Spanish rogue of an
Abbot, who claims the best part of my lands, and has poisoned the ear
of that upstart, the Vicar-General Cromwell. I go to take the deeds
and prove him a liar and a traitor also, which Cromwell does not know.
Now, is my nest safe from you while I am away? Give me your word, and
I'll believe you, for at least you are an honest gentleman, and if you
have poached a kiss or two, that may be forgiven. Others have done the
same before you were born. Give me your word, or I must drag the girl
through the snows to London at my heels."
"You have it, sir," answered Christopher. "If she needs my company she
must come for it to Cranwell Towers, for I'll not seek hers while you
"Good. Then one gift for another. I'll not answer my Lord of Despard's
letter till I get back again--not to please you, but because I hate
writing. It is a labour to me, and I have no time to spare to-night.
Now, have a cup of drink and be off with you. Love-making is thirsty
"Aye, gladly, sir, but hear me, hear me. Ride not to London with such
slight attendance after a quarrel with Abbot Maldon. Let me wait on
you. Although my fortunes be so low I can bring a man or two--six or
eight, indeed--while yours are away with the wains."
"Never, Christopher. My own hand has guarded my head these sixty
years, and can do so still. Also," he added, with a flash of insight,
"as you say, the journey is dangerous, and who knows? If aught went
wrong, you might be wanted nearer home. Christopher, you shall never
have my girl; she's not for you. Yet, perhaps, if need were, you would
strike a blow for her even if it made you excommunicate. Get hence,
wench. Why do you stand there gaping on us, like an owl in sunlight?
And remember, if I catch you at more such tricks, you'll spend your
days mumbling at prayers in a nunnery, and much good may they do you."
"At least I should find peace there, and gentle words," answered
Cicely with spirit, for she knew her father, and the worst of her fear
had departed. "Only, sir, I did not know that you wished to swell the
wealth of the Abbots of Blossholme."
"Swell their wealth!" roared her father. "Nay, I'll stretch their
necks. Get you to your chamber, and send up Jeffrey with the liquor."
Then, having no choice, Cicely curtseyed, first to her father and next
to Christopher, to whom she sent a message with her eyes that she
dared not utter with her lips, and so vanished into the shadows, where
presently she was heard stumbling against some article of furniture.
"Show the maid a light, Christopher," said Sir John, who, lost in his
own thoughts, was now gazing into the fire.
Seizing one of the two candles, Christopher sprang after her like a
hound after a hare, and presently the pair of them passed through the
door and down the long passage beyond. At a turn in it they halted,
and once more, without word spoken, she found her way into those long
"You will not forget me, even if we must part?" sobbed Cicely.
"Nay, sweet," he answered. "Moreover, keep a brave heart; we do not
part for long, for God has given us to each other. Your father does
not mean all he says, and his temper, which has been stirred to-day,
will soften. If not, we must look to ourselves. I keep a swift horse
or two, Cicely. Could you ride one if need were?"
"I have ever loved riding," she said meaningly.
"Good. Then you shall never go to that fat hog's sty, for I'll stick
him first. And I have friends both in Scotland and in France. Which
like you best?"
"They say the air of France is softer. Now, away from me, or one will
come to seek us," and they tore themselves apart.
"Emlyn, your foster-mother, is to be trusted," he said rapidly; "also
she loves me well. If there be need, let me hear of you through her."
"Aye," she answered, "without fail," and glided from him like a ghost.
"Have you been waiting to see the moon rise?" asked Sir John, glancing
at Christopher from beneath his shaggy eyebrows as he returned.
"Nay, sir, but the passages in this old house of yours are most
wondrous long, and I took a wrong turn in threading them."
"Oh!" said Sir John. "Well, you have a talent for wrong turns, and
such partings are hard. Now, do you understand that this is the last
"I understand that you may say so, sir."
"And that I mean it, too, I hope. Listen, Christopher," he added, with
earnestness, but in a kindly voice. "Believe me, I like you well, and
would not give you pain, or the maid yonder, if I could help it. Yet I
have no choice. I am threatened on all sides by priest and king, and
you have lost your heritage. She is the only jewel that I can pawn,
and for your own safety's sake and her children's sake, must marry
well. Yonder Despard will not live long, he drinks too hard; and then
your day may come, if you still care for his leavings--perhaps in two
years, perhaps in less, for she will soon see him out. Now, let us
talk no more of the matter, but if aught befalls me, be a friend to
her. Here comes the liquor--drink it up and be off. Though I seem
rough with you, my hope is that you may quaff many another cup at
It was seven o'clock of the next morning, and Sir John, having eaten
his breakfast, was girding on his sword--for Jeffrey had already gone
to fetch the horses--when the door opened and his daughter entered the
great hall, candle in hand, wrapped in a fur cloak, over which her
long hair fell. Glancing at her, Sir John noted that her eyes were
wide and frightened.
"What is it now, girl?" he asked. "You'll take your death of cold
among these draughts."
"Oh! father," she said, kissing him, "I came to bid you farewell, and
--and--to pray you not to start."
"Not to start? And why?"
"Because, father, I have dreamed a bad dream. At first last night I
could not sleep, and when at length I did I dreamed that dream
thrice," and she paused.
"Go on, Cicely; I am not afraid of dreams, which are but foolishness--
coming from the stomach."
"Mayhap; yet, father, it was so plain and clear I can scarcely bear to
tell it to you. I stood in a dark place amidst black things that I
knew to be trees. Then the red dawn broke upon the snow, and I saw a
little pool with brown rushes frozen in its ice. And there--there, at
the edge of the pool, by a pollard willow with one white limb, you
lay, your bare sword in your hand and an arrow in your neck, shot from
behind, while in the trunk of the willow were other arrows, and lying
near you two slain. Then cloaked men came as though to carry them
away, and I awoke. I say I dreamed it thrice."
"A jolly good morrow indeed," said Sir John, turning a shade paler.
"And now, daughter, what do you make of this business?"
"I? Oh! I make that you should stop at home and send some one else to
do your business. Sir Christopher, for instance."
"Why, then I should baulk your dream, which is either true or false.
If true, I have no choice, it must be fulfilled; if false, why should
I heed it? Cicely, I am a plain man and take no note of such fancies.
Yet I have enemies, and it may well chance that my day is done. If so,
use your mother wit, girl; beware of Maldon, look to yourself, and as
for your mother's jewels, hide them," and he turned to go.
She clasped him by the arm.
"In that sad case what should I do, father?" she asked eagerly.
He stopped and stared at her up and down.
"I see that you believe in your dream," he said, "and therefore,
although it shall not stay a Foterell, I begin to believe in it too.
In that case you have a lover whom I have forbid to you. Yet he is a
man after my own heart, who would deal well by you. If I die, my game
is played. Set your own anew, sweet Cicely, and set it soon, ere that
Abbot is at your heels. Rough as I may have been, remember me with
kindness, and God's blessing and mine be on you. Hark! Jeffrey calls,
and if they stand, the horses will take cold. There, fare you well.
Fear not for me, I wear a chain shirt beneath my cloak. Get back to
bed and warm you," and he kissed her on the brow, thrust her from him
and was gone.
Thus did Cicely and her father part--for ever.
All that day Sir John and Jeffrey, his serving-man, trotted forward
through the snow--that is, when they were not obliged to walk because
of the depth of the drifts. Their plan was to reach a certain farm in
a glade of the woodland within two hours of sundown, and sleep there,
for they had taken the forest path, leaving again for the Fens and
Cambridge at the dawn. This, however, proved not possible because of
the exceeding badness of the road. So it came about that when the
darkness closed in on them a little before five o'clock, bringing with
it a cold, moaning wind and a scurry of snow, they were obliged to
shelter in a faggot-built woodman's hut, waiting for the moon to
appear among the clouds. Here they fed the horses with corn that they
had brought with them, and themselves also from their store of dried
meat and barley cakes, which Jeffrey carried on his shoulder in a bag.
It was a poor meal eaten thus in the darkness, but served to stay
their stomachs and pass away the time.
At length a ray of light pierced the doorway of the hut.
"She's up," said Sir John, "let us be going ere the nags grow stiff."
Making no answer, Jeffrey slipped the bits back into the horses'
mouths and led them out. Now the full moon had appeared like a great
white eye between two black banks of cloud and turned the world to
silver. It was a dreary scene on which she shone; a dazzling plain of
snow, broken by patches of hawthorns, and here and there by the gaunt
shape of a pollard oak, since this being the outskirt of the forest,
folk came hither to lop the tops of the trees for firing. A hundred
and fifty yards away or so, at the crest of a slope, was a round-
shaped hill, made, not by Nature, but by man. None knew what that hill
might be, but tradition said that once, hundreds or thousands of years
before, a big battle had been fought around it in which a king was
killed, and that his victorious army had raised this mound above his
bones to be a memorial for ever.
The story was indeed that, being a sea-king, they had built a boat or
dragged it thither from the river shore and set him in it with all the
slain for rowers; also that he might be seen at nights seated on his
horse in armour, and staring about him, as when he directed the
battle. At least it is true that the mount was called King's Grave,
and that people feared to pass it after sundown.
As Jeffrey Stokes was holding his master's stirrup for him to mount,
he uttered an exclamation and pointed. Following the line of his
outstretched hand, in the clear moonlight Sir John saw a man, who sat,
still as any statue, upon a horse on the very point of King's Grave.
He appeared to be covered with a long cloak, but above it his helmet
glittered like silver. Next moment a fringe of black cloud hid the
face of the moon, and when it passed away the man and horse were gone.
"What did that fellow there?" asked Sir John.
"Fellow?" answered Jeffrey in a shaken voice, "I saw none. That was
the Ghost of the Grave. My grandfather met him ere he came to his end
in the forest, none know how, for the wolves, of which there were
plenty in his day, picked his bones clean, and so have many others for
hundreds of years; always just before their doom. He is an ill fowl,
that Ghost of the Grave, and those who clap eyes on him do wisely to
turn their horses' heads homewards, as I would to-night if I had my
"What use, Jeffrey? If the sight of him means death, death will come.
Moreover, I believe nothing of the tale. Your ghost was some forest
reeve or herdsman."
"A forest reeve or herdsman who wanders about in a steel helm on a
fine horse in snow-time when there are no trees to cut or cattle to
mind! Well, have it as you will, master; only God save me from such
reeves and herdmen, for I think they hail from hell."
"Then he was a spy watching whither we go," answered Sir John angrily.
"If so, who sent him? The Abbot of Blossholme? In that case I would
sooner meet the devil, for this means mischief. I say that we had
better ride back to Shefton."
"Then do so, Jeffrey, if you are scared, and I will go on alone, who,
being on an honest business, fear not Satan or an abbot, either."
"Nay, master. Many a year ago, when we were younger, I stood by you on
Flodden Field when Sir Edward, Christopher Harflete's father, was
killed at our side, and those red-bearded Scotch bare-breeks pressed
us hard, yet I never itched to turn my back, even after that great
fellow with an axe got you down, and we thought that all was lost.
Then shall I do so now?--though it is true that I fear yon goblin more
than all the Highlanders beyond the Tweed. Ride on; man can die but
once, and for my part I care not when it comes, who have little to
lose in an ill world."
So without more words they started forward, peering about them as they
went. Soon the forest thickened, and the track they followed wound its
way round great trunks of primeval oaks, or the edges of bog-holes, or
through brakes of thorns. Hard enough it was to find it at times,
since the snow made it one with the bordering ground, and the gloom of
the oaks was great. But Jeffrey was a woodman born, and from his
childhood had known the shape of every tree in that waste, so that
they held safely to their road. Well would it have been for them if
they had not!
They came to a place where three other tracks crossed that which they
rode upon, and here Jeffrey Stokes, who was ahead, held up his hand.
"What is it?" asked Sir John.
"It is the marks of ten or a dozen shod horses passed within two
hours, since the last snow fell. And who be they, I wonder?"
"Doubtless travellers like ourselves. Ride on, man; that farm is not a
Then Jeffrey broke out.
"Master, I like it not," he said. "Battle-horses have gone by here,
not chapmen's or farmers' nags, and I think I know their breed. I say
that we had best turn about if we would not walk into some snare."
"Turn you, then," grumbled Sir John indifferently. "I am cold and
weary, and seek my rest."
"Pray God that you may not find it when you are colder," muttered
Jeffrey, spurring his horse.
They went on through the dead winter silence, that was broken only by
the hoots of a flitting owl hungry for the food that it could not
find, and the swish of the feet of a galloping fox as it looped past
them through the snow. Presently they came to an open place ringed in
by forest, so wet that only marsh-trees would grow there. To their
right lay a little ice-covered mere, with sere, brown reeds standing
here and there upon its face, and at the end of it a group of stark
pollarded willows, whereof the tops had been cut for poles by those
who dwelt in the forest farm near by. Sir John looked at the place and
shivered a little--perhaps because the frost bit him. Or was it that
he remembered his daughter's dream, which told of such a spot? At any
rate, he set his teeth, and his right hand sought the hilt of his
sword. His weary horse sniffed the air and neighed, and the neigh was
answered from close at hand.
"Thank the saints! we are nearer to that farm than I thought," said
As he spoke the words a number of men appeared galloping down on them
from out of the shelter of a thorn-brake, and the moonlight shone on
the bared weapons in their hands.
"Thieves!" shouted Sir John. "At them now, Jeffrey, and win through to
The man hesitated, for he saw that their foes were many and no common
robbers, but his master drew his sword and spurred his beast, so he
must do likewise. In twenty seconds they were among them, and some one
commanded them to yield. Sir John rushed at the fellow, and, rising in
his stirrups, cut him down. He fell all of a heap and lay still in the
snow, which grew crimson about him. One came at Jeffrey, who turned
his horse so that the blow missed, then took his weight upon the point
of his sword, so that this man, too, fell down and lay in the snow,
The rest, thinking this greeting too warm for them, swung round and
vanished again among the thorns.
"Now ride for it," said Jeffrey.
"I cannot," answered Sir John. "One of those knaves has hurt my mare,"
and he pointed to blood that ran from a great gash in the beast's
foreleg, which it held up piteously.
"Take mine," said Jeffrey; "I'll dodge them afoot."
"Never, man! To the willows; we will hold our own there;" and,
springing from the wounded beast, which tried to hobble after them,
but could not, for its sinews were cut, he ran to the shelter of the
trees, followed by Jeffrey on his horse.
"Who are these rogues?" he asked.
"The Abbot's men-at-arms," answered Jeffrey. "I saw the face of him I
Now Sir John's jaw dropped.
"Then we are sped, friend, for they dare not let us go. Cicely dreams
As he spoke an arrow whistled by them.
"Jeffrey," he went on, "I have papers on me that should not be lost,
for with them might go my girl's heritage. Take them," and he thrust a
packet into his hand, "and this purse also. There's plenty in it. Away
--anywhere, and lie hid out of reach a while, or they'll still your
tongue. Then I charge you on your soul, come back with help and hang
that knave Abbot--for your Lady's sake, Jeffrey. She'll reward you,
and so will God above."
The man thrust away purse and deeds in some deep pocket.
"How can I leave you to be butchered?" he muttered, grinding his
As the words left his lips he heard his master utter a gurgling sound,
and saw that an arrow, shot from behind, had pierced him through the
throat; saw, too, he who was skilled in war, that the wound was
mortal. Then he hesitated no longer.
"Christ rest you!" he said. "I'll do your bidding or die;" and,
turning his horse, he drove the rowels into its sides, causing it to
bound away like a deer.
For a moment the stricken Sir John watched him go. Then he ran out of
his cover, shaking his sword above his head--ran into the open
moonlight to draw the arrows. They came fast enough, but ere ever he
fell, for that steel shirt of his was strong, Jeffrey, lying low on
his horse's neck, was safe away, and though the murderers followed
hard they never caught him.
Nor, though they searched for days, could they find him at Shefton or
elsewhere, for Jeffrey, who knew that all roads were blocked, and who
dared not venture home, doubling like a hare across country, had won
down to the water, where a ship lay foreign bound, and by dawn was on
About noon of the day after that upon which Sir John had come to his
death, Cicely Foterell sat at her meal in Shefton Hall. Not much of
the rough midwinter fare passed her lips, for she was ill at ease. The
man she loved had been dismissed from her because his fortunes were on
the wane, and her father had gone upon a journey which she felt,
rather than knew, to be very dangerous. The great old hall was
lonesome, also, for a young girl who had no comrades near. Sitting
there in the big room, she bethought her how different it had been in
her childhood, before some foul sickness, of which she knew not the
name or nature, had swept away her mother, her two brothers, and her
sister all in a single week, leaving her untouched. Then there were
merry voices about the house where now was silence, and she alone,
with naught bout a spaniel dog for company. Also most of the men were
away with the wains laden with the year's clip of wool, which her
father had held until the price had heightened, nor in this snow would
they be back for another week, or perhaps longer.
Oh! her heart was heavy as the winter clouds without, and young and
fair as she might be, almost she wished that she had gone when her
brothers went, and found her peace.
To cheer her spirits she drank from a cup of spiced ale, that the
manservant had placed beside her covered with a napkin, and was glad
of its warmth and comfort. Just then the door opened, and her foster-
mother, Mrs. Stower, entered. She was still a handsome woman in her
prime, for her husband had been carried off by a fever when she was
but nineteen, and her baby with him, whereon she had been brought to
the Hall to nurse Cicely, whose mother was very ill after her birth.
Moreover, she was tall and dark, with black and flashing eyes, for her
father had been a Spaniard of gentle birth, and, it was said, gypsy
blood ran in her mother's veins.
There were but two people in the world for whom Emlyn Stower cared--
Cicely, her foster-child, and a certain playmate of hers, one Thomas
Bolle, now a lay-brother at the Abbey who had charge of the cattle.
The tale was that in their early youth he had courted her, not against
her will, and that when, after her parents' tragic deaths, as a ward
of the former Abbot of Blossholme, she was married to her husband, not
with her will, this Thomas put on the robe of a monk of the lowest
degree, being but a yeoman of good stock though of little learning.
Something in the woman's manner attracted Cicely's attention, and gave
a hint of tragedy. She paused at the door, fumbling with its latch,
which was not her way, then turned and stood upright against it, like
a picture in its frame.
"What is it, Nurse?" asked Cicely in a shaken voice. "From your look
you bear tidings."
Emlyn Stower walked forward, rested one hand upon the oak table and
"Aye, evil tidings if they be true. Prepare your heart, my sweet."
"Quick with them, Emlyn," gasped Cicely. "Who is dead? Christopher?"
She shook her head, and Cicely sighed in relief, adding--
"Who, then? Oh! was that dream true?"
"Aye, dear; you are an orphan."
The girl's head fell forward. Then she lifted it, and asked--
"Who told you? Give me all the truth or I shall die."
"A friend of mine who has to do with the Abbey yonder; ask not his
"I know it, Emlyn; Thomas Bolle," she whispered back.
"A friend of mine," repeated the tall, dark woman, "told me that Sir
John Foterell, your sire, was murdered last night in the forest by a
gang of armed men, of whom he slew two."
"From the Abbey?" queried Cicely in the same whisper.
"Who knows? I think it. They say that the arrow in his throat was such
as they make there. Jeffrey Stokes was hunted, but escaped on to some
ship that had her anchor up."
"I'll have his life for it, the coward!" exclaimed Cicely.
"Blame him not yet. He met another friend of mine, and sent a message.
It was that he did but obey his master's last orders, and, as he had
seen too much and to linger here was certain death, if he lived, he
would return from over-seas with the papers when the times are safer.
He prayed that you would not doubt him."
"The papers! What papers, Emlyn?"
She shrugged her broad shoulders.
"How should I know? Doubtless some that your father was taking to
London and did not desire to lose. His iron chest stands open in his
Now poor Cicely remembered that her father had spoken of certain
"deeds" which he must take with him, and began to sob.
"Weep not, darling," said her foster-mother, smoothing Cicely's brown
hair with her strong hand. "These things are decreed of God, and done
with. Now you must look to yourself. Your father is gone, but one
Cicely lifted her tear-stained face.
"Yes, I have you," she said.
"Me!" she answered, with a quick smile. "Nay, of what use am I? Your
nursing days are over. What did you tell me your father said to you
before he rode--about Sir Christopher? Hush! there's no time to talk;
you must away to Cranwell Towers."
"Why?" asked Cicely. "He cannot bring my father back to life, and it
would be thought strange indeed that at such a time I should visit a
man in his own house. Send and tell him the tidings. I bide here to
bury my father, and," she added proudly, "to avenge him."
"If so, sweet, you bide here to be buried yourself in yonder Nunnery.
Hark, I have not told you all my news. The Abbot Maldon claims the
Blossholme lands under some trick of law. It was as to them that your
father quarrelled with him the other night; and with the land goes
your wardship, as once mine went under this monk's charter. Before
sunset the Abbot rides here with his men-at-arms to take them, and to
set you for safe-keeping in the Nunnery, where you will find a husband
called Holy Church."
"Name of God! is it so?" said Cicely, springing up; "and the most of
the men are away! I cannot hold the Hall against that foreign Abbot
and his hirelings, and an orphaned heiress is but a chattel to be
sold. Oh! now I understand what my father meant. Order horses. I'll
off to Christopher. Yet, stay, Nurse. What will he do with me? It may
seem shameless, and will vex him."
"I think he will marry you. I think to-night you will be a wife. If
not, I'll know the reason why," she added viciously.
"A wife! To-night!" exclaimed the girl, turning crimson to her hair.
"And my father but just dead! How can it be?"
"We'll talk of that with Harflete. Mayhap, like you, he'll wish to
wait and ask the banns, or to lay the case before a London lawyer.
Meanwhile, I have ordered horses and sent a message to the Abbot to
say you come to learn the meaning of these rumours, which will keep
him still till nightfall; and another to Cranwell Towers, that we may
find food and lodging there. Quick, now, and get your cloak and hood.
I have the jewels in their case, for Maldon seeks them more even than
your lands, and with them all the money I can find. Also I have bid
the sewing-girl make a pack of some garments. Come now, come, for that
Abbot is hungry and will be stirring. There is no time for talk."
Three hours later in the red glow of the sunset Christopher Harflete,
watching at his door, saw two women riding towards him across the
snow, and knew them while they were yet far off.
"It is true, then," he said to Father Roger Necton, the old clergyman
of Cranwell, whom he had summoned from the vicarage. "I thought that
fool of a messenger must be drunk. What can have chanced, Father?"
"Death, I think, my son, for sure naught else would bring the Lady
Cicely here unaccompanied save by a waiting-woman. The question is--
what will happen now?" and he glanced sideways at him.
"I know well if I can get my way," answered Christopher, with a merry
laugh. "Say now, Father, if it should so be that this lady were
willing, could you marry us?"
"Without a doubt, my son, with the consent of the parents;" and again
he looked at him.
"And if there were no parents?"
"Then with the consent of the guardian, the bride being under age."
"And if no guardian had been declared or admitted?"
"Then such a marriage duly solemnized, being a sacrament of the
Church, would hold fast until the crack of doom unless the Pope
annulled it, and, as you know, the Pope is out of favour in this realm
on this very matter of marriage. Let me explain the law to you,
ecclesiastic and civil----"
But Christopher was already running towards the gate, so the old
parson's lecture remained undelivered.
The two met in the snow, Emlyn Stower riding on ahead and leaving them
"What is it, sweetest?" he asked. "What is it?"
"Oh! Christopher," she answered, weeping, "my poor father is dead--
murdered, or so says Emlyn."
"Murdered! By whom?"
"By the Abbot of Blossholme's soldiers--so says Emlyn, yonder in the
forest last eve. And the Abbot is coming to Shefton to declare me his
ward and thrust me into the Nunnery--that was Emlyn's tale. And so,
although it is a strange thing to do, having none to protect me, I
have fled to you--because Emlyn said I ought."
"She is a wise woman, Emlyn," broke in Christopher; "I always thought
well of her judgment. But did you only come to me because Emlyn told
"Not altogether, Christopher. I came because I am distraught, and you
are a better friend than none at all, and--where else should I go?
Also my poor father with his last words to me, although he was so
angry with you, bade me seek your help if there were need--and--oh!
Christopher, I came because you swore you loved me, and, therefore, it
seemed right. If I had gone to the Nunnery, although the Prioress,
Mother Matilda, is good, and my friend, who knows, she might not have
let me out again, for the Abbot is her master, and /not/ my friend. It
is our lands he loves, and the famous jewels--Emlyn has them with
By now they were across the moat and at the steps of the house, so,
without answering, Christopher lifted her tenderly from the saddle,
pressing her to his breast as he did so, for that seemed his best
answer. A groom came to lead away the horses, touching his bonnet, and
staring at them curiously; and, leaning on her lover's shoulder,
Cicely passed through the arched doorway of Cranwell Towers into the
hall, where a great fire burned. Before this fire, warming his thin
hands, stood Father Necton, engaged in eager conversation with Emlyn
Stower. As the pair advanced this talk ceased, evidently because it
was of them.
"Mistress Cicely," said the kindly-faced old man, speaking in a
nervous fashion, "I fear that you visit us in sad case," and he
paused, not knowing what to add.
"Yes, indeed," she answered, "if all I hear is true. They say that my
father is killed by cruel men--I know not for certain why or by whom--
and that the Abbot of Blossholme comes to claim me as his ward and
immure me in Blossholme Priory, whither I would not go. I have fled
here to escape him, having no other refuge, though you may think ill
of me for this deed."
"Not I, my child. I should not speak against yonder Abbot, for he is
my superior in the Church, though, mind you, I owe him no allegiance,
since this benefice is not in his gift, nor am I a Benedictine.
Therefore I will tell you the truth. I hold the man not honest. All is
provender that comes to his maw; moreover, he is no Englishman, but a
Spaniard, one sent here to work against the welfare of this realm; to
suck its wealth, stir up rebellion, and make report of all that passes
in it, for the benefit of England's enemies."
"Yet he has friends at Court, or so said my father."
"Aye, aye, such folks have ever friends--their money buys them; though
mayhap an ill day is at hand for him and his likes. Well, your poor
father is gone, God knows how, though I thought for long that would be
his end, who ever spoke his mind, or more; and you with your wealth
are the morsel that tempts Maldon's appetite. And now what is to be
done? This is a hard case. Would you refuge in some other Nunnery?"
"Nay," answered Cicely, glancing sideways at her lover.
"Then what's to be done?"
"Oh! I know not," she said, bursting into a fit of weeping. "How can I
tell you, who am mazed with grief and doubt? I had but a single friend
--my father, though at times he was a rough one. Yet he loved me in
his way, and I have obeyed his last counsel;" and, all her courage
gone, she sank into a chair and rocked herself to and fro, her head
resting on her hands.
"That is not true," said Emlyn in her bold voice. "Am I who suckled
you no friend, and is Father Necton here no friend, and is Sir
Christopher no friend? Well, if you have lost your judgment, I have
kept mine, and here it is. Yonder, not two bowshots away, stands a
church, and before me I see a priest and a pair who would serve for
bride and bridegroom. Also we can rake up witnesses and a cup of wine
to drink your health; and after that let the Abbot of Blossholme do
his worst. What say you, Sir Christopher?"
"You know my mind, Nurse Emlyn; but what says Cicely? Oh! Cicely, what
say /you/?" and he bent over her.
She raised herself, still weeping, and, throwing her arms about his
neck, laid her head upon his shoulder.
"I think it is the will of God," she whispered, "and why should I
fight against it, who am His servant?--and yours, Chris."
"And now, Father, what say you?" asked Emlyn, pointing to the pair.
"I do not think there is much to say," answered the old clergyman,
turning his head aside, "save that if it should please you to come to
the church in ten minutes' time you will find a candle on the altar,
and a priest within the rails, and a clerk to hold the book. More we
cannot do at such short notice."
Then he paused for a while, and, hearing no dissent, walked down the
hall and out of the door.
Emlyn took Cicely by the hand, led her to a room that was shown to
them, and there made her ready for her bridal as best she might. She
had no fine dress in which to clothe her, nor, indeed, would there
have been time to don it. But she combed out her beautiful brown hair,
and, opening that box of Eastern jewels which were the great pride of
the Foterells--being the rarest and the most ancient in all the
countryside--she decked her with them. On her broad brow she set a
circlet from which hung sparkling diamonds that had been brought, the
story said, by her mother's ancestor, a Carfax, from the Holy Land,
where once they were the peculiar treasure of a paynim queen, and upon
her bosom a necklet of large pearls. Brooches and rings also she found
for her breast and fingers, and for her waist a jewelled girdle with a
golden clasp, while to her ears she hung the finest gems of all--two
great pearls pink like the hawthorn-bloom when it begins to turn.
Lastly she flung over her head a veil of lace most curiously wrought,
and stood back with pride to look at her.
Now Cicely, who all this while had been silent and unresisting, spoke
for the first time, saying--
"How came this here, Nurse?"
"Your mother wore it at her bridal, and her mother too, so I have been
told. Also once before I wrapped it about you--when you were
"Mayhap; but how came it here?"
"In the bosom of my robe. Not knowing when we should get home again, I
brought it, thinking that perhaps one day you might marry, when it
would be useful. And now, strangely enough, the marriage has come."
"Emlyn, Emlyn, I believe that you planned all this business, whereof
God alone knows the end."
"That is why He makes a beginning, dear, that His end may be fulfilled
in due season."
"Aye, but what is that end? Mayhap this is my shroud you wrap about
me. In truth, I feel as though death were near."
"He is ever that," replied Emlyn unconcernedly. "But so long as he
doesn't touch, what does it matter? Now hark you, sweetest, I've
Spanish and gypsy blood in me with which go gifts, and so I'll tell
you something for your comfort. However oft he snatches, Death will
not lay his bony hand on you for many a long year--not till you are
well-nigh as thin with age as he is. Oh! you'll have your troubles
like all of us, worse than many, mayhap, but you are Luck's own child,
who lived when the rest were taken, and you'll win through and take
others on your back, as a whale does barnacles. So snap your fingers
at death, as I do," and she suited the action to the word, "and be
happy while you may, and when you're not happy, wait till your turn
comes round again. Now follow me and, though your father is murdered,
smile as you should in such an hour, for what man wants a sad-faced
They walked down the broad oaken stairs into the hall where
Christopher stood waiting for them. Glancing at him shyly, Cicely saw
that he was clad in mail beneath his cloak, and that his sword was
girded at his side, also that some men with him were armed. For a
moment he stared at her glittering beauty confused, then said--
"Fear not this hint of war in love's own hour," and he touched his
shining armour. "Cicely, these nuptials are strange as they are happy,
and some might try to break in upon them. Come now, my sweet lady;"
and bowing before her he took her by the hand and led her from the
house, Emlyn walking behind them and the men with torches going before
and following after.
Outside it was freezing sharply, so that the snow crunched beneath
their feet. In the west the last red glow of sunset still lingered on
the steely sky, and over against it the great moon rose above the
round edge of the world. In the bushes of the garden, and the tall
poplars that bordered the moat, blackbirds and fieldfares chattered
their winter evening song, while about the grey tower of the
neighbouring church the daws still wheeled.
The picture of that scene whereof at the time she seemed to take no
note, always remained fixed in the mind of Cicely: the cold expanse of
snow, the inky trees, the hard sky, the lambent beams of the moon, the
dull glow of the torches caught and reflected by her jewels and her
lover's mail, the midwinter sound of birds, the barking of a distant
hound, the black porch of the church that drew nearer, the little
oblong mounds which hid the bones of hundreds who in their day had
passed it as infants, as bridegrooms and as brides, and at last as
cold, white things that had been men and women.
Now they were in the nave of the old fane where the cold struck them
like a sword. The dim lights of the torches showed them that, short as
had been the time, the news of this marvellous marriage had spread
about, for at least a score of people were standing here and there in
knots, or a few of them seated on the oak benches near the chancel.
All these turned to stare at them eagerly as they walked towards the
altar where stood the priest in his robes, and since his sight was
dim, behind him the old clerk with a stable-lantern held on high to
enable him to read from his book.
They reached the carven rood-screen, and at a sign kneeled down. In a
clear voice the clergyman began the service; presently, at another
sign, the pair rose, advanced to the altar-rails and again knelt down.
The moonlight, flowing through the eastern window, fell full on both
of them, turning them to cold, white statues, such as those that knelt
in marble upon the tomb at their side.
All through the holy office Cicely watched these statues with
fascinated eyes, and it seemed to her that they and the old crusaders,
Harfletes of a long-past day who lay near by, were watching her with a
wistful and kindly interest. She made certain answers, a ring that was
somewhat too small was thrust upon her finger--all the rest of her
life that ring hurt her at times, but she would have never it moved,
and then some one was kissing her. At first she thought it must be her
father, and remembering, nearly wept till she heard Christopher's
voice calling her wife, and knew that she was wed.
Father Roger, the old clerk still holding the lantern behind him,
writing something in a little vellum book, asking her the date of her
birth and her full name, which, as he had been present at her
christening, she thought strange. Then her husband signed the book,
using the altar as a table, not very easily for he was no great
scholar, and she signed also in her maiden name for the last time, and
the priest signed, and at his bidding Emlyn Stower, who could write
well, signed too. Next, as though by an afterthought, Father Roger
called several of the congregation, who rather unwillingly made their
marks as witnesses. While they did so he explained to them that, as
the circumstances were uncommon, it was well that there should be
evidence, and that he intended to send copies of this entry to sundry
dignities, not forgetting the holy Father at Rome.
On learning this they appeared to be sorry that they had anything to
do with the matter, and one and all of them melted into the darkness
of the nave and out of Cicely's mind.
So it was done at last.
Father Necton blew on his little book till the ink was dry, then hid
it away in his robe. The old clerk, having pocketed a handsome fee
from Christopher, lit the pair down the nave to the porch, where he
locked the oaken door behind them, extinguished his lantern and
trudged off through the snow to the ale-house, there to discuss these
nuptials and hot beer. Escorted by their torch-bearers Cicely and
Christopher walked silently arm-in-arm back to the Towers, whither
Emlyn, after embracing the bride, had already gone on ahead. So having
added one more ceremony to its countless record, perhaps the strangest
of them all, the ancient church behind them grew silent as the dead
within its graves.
The Towers reached, the new-wed pair, with Father Roger and Emlyn, sat
down to the best meal that could be prepared for them at such short
notice; a very curious wedding feast. Still, though the company was so
small it did not lack for heartiness, since the old clergyman proposed
their health in a speech full of Latin words which they did not
understand, and every member of the household who had assembled to
hear him drank to it in cups of wine. This done, the beautiful bride,
now blushing and now pale, was led away to the best chamber, which had
been hastily prepared for her. But Emlyn remained behind a while, for
she had words to speak.
"Sir Christopher," she said, "you are fast wed to the sweetest lady
that ever sun or moon shone on, and in that may hold yourself a lucky
man. Yet such deep joys seldom come without their pain, and I think
that this is near at hand. There are those who will envy you your
fortune, Sir Christopher."
"Yet they cannot change it, Emlyn," he answered anxiously. "The knot
that was tied to-night may not be unloosed."
"Never," broke in Father Roger. "Though the suddenness and the
circumstances of it may be unusual, this marriage is a sacrament
celebrated in the face of the world with the full consent of both
parties and of the Holy Church. Moreover, before the dawn I'll send
the record of it to the bishop's registry and elsewhere, that it may
not be questioned in days to come, giving copies of the same to you
and your lady's foster-mother, who is her nearest friend at hand."
"It may not be loosed on earth or in heaven," replied Emlyn solemnly,
"yet perchance the sword can cut it. Sir Christopher, I think that we
should all do well to travel as soon as may be."
"Not to-night, surely, Nurse!" he exclaimed.
"No, not to-night," she answered, with a faint smile. "Your wife has
had a weary day, and could not. Moreover, preparation must be made
which is impossible at this hour. But to-morrow, if the roads are open
to you, I think we should start for London, where she may make
complaint of her father's slaying and claim her heritage and the
protection of the law."
"That is good counsel," said the vicar, and Christopher, with whom
words seemed to be few, nodded his head.
"Meanwhile," went on Emlyn, "you have six men in this house and others
round it. Send out a messenger and summon them all here at dawn,
bidding them bring provision with them, and what bows and arms they
have. Set a watch also, and after the Father and the messenger have
gone, command that the drawbridge be triced."
"What do you fear?" he asked, waking from his dream.
"I fear the Abbot of Blossholme and his hired ruffians, who reck
little of the laws, as the soul of dead Sir John knows now, or can use
them as a cover to evil deeds. He'll not let such a prize slip between
his fingers if he can help it, and the times are turbulent."
"Alas! alas! it is true," said Father Roger, "and that Abbot is a
relentless man who sticks at nothing, having much wealth and many
friends both here and beyond the seas. Yet surely he would never
"That we shall learn," interrupted Emlyn. "Meanwhile, Sir Christopher,
rouse yourself and give the orders."
So Christopher summoned his men and spoke words to them at which they
looked very grave, but being true-hearted fellows who loved him, said
they would do his bidding.
A while later, having written out a copy of the marriage lines and
witnessed it, Father Roger departed with the messenger. The drawbridge
was hoisted above the moat, the doors were barred, and a man set to
watch in the gateway tower, while Christopher, forgetful of all else,
even of the danger in which they were, sought the company of her who
waited for him.
THE ABBOT'S OATH
On the following morning, shortly after it was light, Christopher was
called from his chamber by Emlyn, who gave him a letter.
"Whence came this?" he asked, turning it over suspiciously.
"A messenger has brought it from Blossholme Abbey," she answered.
"Wife Cicely," he called through the door, "come hither if you will."
Presently she appeared, looking quaint and lovely in her long fur
cloak, and, having embraced her foster-mother, asked what was the
"This, my darling," he answered, handing her the paper. "I never loved
book-learnings over-much, and this morn I seem to hate them; read, you
who are more scholarly."
"I mistrust me of that great seal; it bodes us no good, Chris," she
replied doubtfully, and paling a little.
"The message within is no medlar to soften by keeping," said Emlyn.
"Give it me. I was schooled in a nunnery, and can read their scrawls."
So, nothing loth, Cicely handed her the paper, which she took in her
strong fingers, broke the seal, snapped the silk, unfolded, and read.
It ran thus--
"To Sir Christopher Harflete, to Mistress Cicely Foterell, to Emlyn
Stower, the waiting-woman, and to all others whom it may concern.
"I, Clement Maldon, Abbot of Blossholme, having heard of the death
of Sir John Foterell, Knt., at the cruel hands of the forest
thieves and outlaws, sent last night to serve the declaration of
my wardship, according to my prerogative established by law and
custom, over the person and property of you, Cicely, his only
child surviving. My messengers returned saying that you had fled
from your home of Shefton Hall. They said further that it was
rumoured that you had ridden with your foster-mother, Emlyn
Stower, to Cranwell Towers, the house of Sir Christopher Harflete.
If this be so, for the sake of your good name it is needful that
you should remove from such company at once, as there is talk
about you and the said Sir Christopher Harflete. I purpose,
therefore, God permitting me, to ride this day to Cranwell Towers,
and if you be there, as your lawful guardian and ghostly father,
to command you, being an infant under age, to accompany me thence
to the Nunnery of Blossholme. There I have determined, in the
exercise of my authority, you shall abide until a fitting husband
is found for you, unless, indeed, God should move your heart to
remain within its walls as one of the brides of Christ.
Now when the reading of this letter was finished, the three of them
stood a little while staring at each other, knowing well that it meant
trouble for them all, till Cicely said--
"Bring me ink and paper, Nurse. I will answer this Abbot."
So they were brought, and Cicely wrote in her round, girlish hand--
"My Lord Abbot,
"In answer to your letter, I would have you know that as my noble
father (whose cruel death must be inquired of and avenged) bade me
with his last words, I, fearing that a like fate would overtake me
at the hands of his murderers, did, as you suppose, seek refuge at
this house. Here, yesterday, I was married in the face of God and
man in the church of Cranwell, as you may learn from the paper
sent herewith. It is not, therefore, needful that you should seek
a husband for me, since my dear lord, Sir Christopher Harflete,
and I are one till death do part us. Nor do I admit that now, or
at any time, you had or have right of wardship over my person or
the lands and goods which I hold and inherit.
"Your humble servant,
This letter Cicely copied out fair and sealed, and presently it was
given to the Abbot's messenger, who placed it in his pouch and rode
off as fast as the snow would let him.
They watched him go from a window.
"Now," said Christopher, turning to his wife, "I think, dear, we shall
do well to ride also as soon as may be. Yonder Abbot is sharp-set, and
I doubt whether letters will satisfy his appetite."
"I think so also," said Emlyn. "Make ready and eat, both of you. I go
to see that the horses are saddled."
An hour later everything was prepared. Three horses stood before the
door, and with them an escort of four mounted men, who were all having
arms and beasts to ride that Christopher could gather at such short
notice, though others of his tenants and servants had already
assembled at the Towers in answer to his summons, to the number of
twelve, indeed. Without the snow was falling fast, and although she
tried to look brave and happy, Cicely shivered a little as she saw it
through the open door.
"We go on a strange honeymoon, my sweet," said Christopher uneasily.
"What matter, so long as we go together?" she answered in a gay voice
that yet seemed to ring untrue, "although," she added, with a little
choke of the throat, "I would that we could have stayed here until I
had found and buried my father. It haunts me to think of him lying
somewhere in the snows like a perished ox."
"It is his murderers that I wish to bury," exclaimed Christopher;
"and, by God's name, I swear I'll do it ere all is done. Think not,
dear, that I forget your griefs because I do not speak much of them,
but bridals and buryings are strange company. So while we may, let us
take what joy we can, since the ill that goes before ofttimes follows
after also. Come, let us mount and away to London to find friends and
Then, having spoken a few words to his house-people, he lifted Cicely
to her horse, and they rode out into the softly-falling snow, thinking
that they had seen their last of the Towers for many a day. But this
was not to be. For as they passed along the Blossholme highway,
purposing to leave the Abbey on their left, when they were about three
miles from Cranwell, suddenly a tall fellow, who wore a great
sheepskin coat with a monk's hood to it and carried a thick staff in
his hand, burst through the fence and stood in front of them.
"Who are you?" asked Christopher, laying his hand upon his sword.
"You'd know me well enough if my hood were back," he answered in a
deep voice; "but if you want my name, it's Thomas Bolle, cattle-reeve
to the Abbey yonder."
"Your voice proves you," said Christopher, laughing. "And now what is
your business, lay-brother Bolle?"
"To get up a bunch of yearling steers that have been running on the
forest-edge, living, like the rest of us, on what they can find, as
the weather is coming on hard enough to starve them. That's my
business, Sir Christopher. But as I see an old friend of mine there,"
and he nodded towards Emlyn, who was watching him from her horse,
"with your leave I'll ask her if she has any confession to make, since
she seems to be on a dangerous journey."
Now Christopher made as though he would push on, for he was in no mood
to chat with cattle-reeves. But Emlyn, who had been eyeing the man,
"Come here, Thomas, and I will answer you myself, who always have a
few sins to spare for a priest's wallet, and need a blessing or two to
He strode forward, and, taking her horse by the bridle, led it a
little way apart, and as soon as they were out of earshot fell into an
eager conversation with its rider. A minute or so later Cicely,
looking round--for they had ridden forward at a slow pace--saw Thomas
Bolle leap through the other fence of the roadway and vanish at a run
into the falling snow, while Emlyn spurred her horse after them.
"Stop," she said to Christopher; "I have tidings for you. The Abbot,
with all his men-at-arms and servants, to the number of forty or more,
waits for us under shelter of Blossholme Grove yonder, purposing to
take the Lady Cicely by force. Some spy has told him of this journey."
"I see no one," said Christopher, staring at the Grove, which lay
below them about a quarter of a mile away, for they were on the top of
a rise. "Still, the matter is not hard to prove," and he called to the
two best mounted of his men and bade them ride forward and make report
if any lurked behind that wood.
So the men went off, while they remained where they were, silent, but
anxious enough. Ten minutes or so later, before they could see them,
for the snow was now falling quickly, they heard the sound of many
horses galloping. Then the two men appeared, calling out as they
"The Abbot and all his folk are after us. Back to Cranwell, ere you be
Christopher thought for a moment, then, remembering that with but four
men and cumbered by two women it was not possible to cut his way
through so great a force, and admonished by that sound of advancing
hoofs, he gave a sudden order. They turned about, and not too soon,
for as they did so, scarce two hundred yards away, the first of the
Abbot's horsemen appeared plunging towards them up the slope. Then the
race began, and well for them was it that their horses were good and
fresh, since before ever they came in sight of Cranwell Towers the
pursuers were not ninety yards behind. But here on the flat their
beasts, scenting home, answered nobly to whip and spur, and drew ahead
a little. Moreover, those who watched within the house saw them, and
ran to the drawbridge. When they were within fifty yards of the moat
Cicely's horse stumbled, slipped, and fell, throwing her into the
snow, then recovered itself and galloped on alone. Christopher reined
up alongside of her, and, as she rose, frightened but unharmed, put
out his long arm, and, lifting her to the saddle in front of him,
plunged forward, while those behind shouted "Yield!"
Under this double burden his horse went but slowly. Still they reached
the bridge before any could lay hands upon them, and thundered over
"Wind up," shouted Christopher, and all there, even the womenfolk,
laid hands upon the cranks. The bridge began to rise, but now five or
six of the Abbot's folk, dismounting, sprang at it, catching the end
of it with their hands when it was about six feet in the air, and
holding on so that it could not be lifted, but remained, moving
neither up nor down.
"Leave go, you knaves," shouted Christopher; but by way of answer one
of them, with the help of his fellows, scrambled on to the end of the
bridge, and stood there, hanging to the chains.
Then Christopher snatched a bow from the hand of a serving-man, and
the arrow being already on the string, again shouted--
"Get off at your peril!"
In answer the man called out something about the commands of the Lord
Christopher, looking past him, saw that others of the company had
dismounted and were running towards the bridge. If they reached it he
knew well that the game was played. So he hesitated no longer, but,
aiming swiftly, drew and loosed the bow. At that distance he could not
miss. The arrow struck the man where his steel cap joined the mail
beneath, and pierced him through the throat, so that he fell back
dead. The others, scared by his fate, loosed their hold, so that now
the bridge, relieved of the weight upon it, instantly rose up beyond
their reach, and presently came home and was made fast.
As they afterwards discovered, this man, it may here be said, was a
captain of the Abbot's guard. Moreover, it was he who had shot the
arrow that killed Sir John Foterell some forty hours before, striking
him through the throat, as it was fated that he himself should be
struck. Thus, then, one of that good knight's murderers reaped his
Now the men ran back out of range, for they feared more arrows, while
Christopher watched them go in silence. Cicely, who stood by his side,
her hands held before her face to shut out the sight of death, let
them fall suddenly, and, turning to her husband, said, as she pointed
to the corpse that lay upon the blood-stained snow of the roadway--
"How many more will follow him, I wonder? I think that is but the
first throw of a long game, husband."
"Nay, sweet," he answered, "the second; the first was cast two nights
gone by King's Grave Mount in the forest yonder, and blood ever calls
"Aye," she answered, "blood calls for blood." Then, remembering that
she was orphaned and what sort of a honeymoon hers was like to be, she
turned and sought her chamber, weeping.
Now, while Christopher still stood irresolute, for he was oppressed by
the sense of this man-slaying, and knew not what he should do next, he
saw three men separate from the knot of soldiers and ride towards the
Towers, one of whom held a white cloth above his head in token of
parley. Then Christopher went up into the little gateway turret,
followed by Emlyn, who crouched down behind the brick battlement, so
that she could see and hear without being seen. Having reached the
further side of the moat, he who held the white cloth threw back the
hood of his long cape, and they saw that it was the Abbot of
Blossholme himself, also that his dark eyes flashed and that his
olive-hued face was almost white with rage.
"Why do you hunt me across my own park and come knocking so rudely at
my doors, my Lord Abbot?" asked Christopher, leaning on the parapet of
"Why do you work murder on my servant, Christopher Harflete?" answered
the Abbot, pointing to the dead man in the snow. "Know you not that
whoso sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed, and that under our
ancient charters, here I have the right to execute justice on you, as,
by God's holy Name, I swear that I will do?" he added in a choked
"Aye," repeated Christopher reflectively, "by man shall his blood be
shed. Perhaps that is why this fellow died. Tell me, Abbot, was he not
one of those who rode by moonlight round King's Grave lately, and
there chanced to meet Sir John Foterell?"
The shot was a random one, yet it seemed that it went home; at least,
the Abbot's jaw dropped, and some words that were on his lips never
"I know naught of the meaning of your talk," he said presently in a
quieter voice, "or of how my late friend and neighbour, Sir John--may
God rest his soul--came to his end. Yet it is of him, or rather of
his, that we must speak. It seems that you have stolen his daughter, a
woman under age, and by pretence of a false marriage, as I fear,
brought her to shame--a crime even fouler than this murder."
"Nay, by means of a true marriage I have brought her to such small
honour as may be the share of Christopher Harflete's lawful wife. If
there be any virtue in the rites of Holy Church, then God's own hand
has bound us fast as man can be tied to woman, and death is the only
pope who can loose that knot."
"Death!" repeated the Abbot in a slow voice, looking up at him very
curiously. For a little while he was silent, then went on, "Well, his
court is always open, and he has many shrewd and instant messengers,
such as this," and he pointed to the arrow in the neck of the slain
soldier. "Yet I am a man of peace, and although you have murdered my
servant, I would settle our cause more gently if I may. Listen now,
Sir Christopher; here is my offer. Yield up to me the person of Cicely
"Of Cicely Harflete," interrupted Christopher.
"Of Cicely Foterell, and I swear to you that no violence shall be done
to her, nor shall she be given to a husband till the King or his
Vicar-General, or whatever court he may appoint, has passed judgment
in this matter and declared this mock marriage of yours null and
"What!" broke in Christopher scoffingly; "does the Abbot of Blossholme
announce that the powers temporal of this realm have right of divorce?
Ere now I have heard him argue differently, and so have others, when
the case of Queen Catherine was in question."
The Abbot bit his lip, but continued, taking no heed--
"Nor will I lay any complaint against you as to the death of my
servant here, for which otherwise you should hang. That I will write
down as an accident, and, further, compensate his family. Now you have
"And what if I refuse this same generous offer to surrender her whom I
hold dearer than a thousand lives?"
"Then, by virtue of my rights and authority, I will take her by force,
Christopher Harflete, and if harm should happen to come to you, now or
hereafter, on your own head be it."
At this Christopher's rage broke out.
"Do you dare to threaten me, a loyal Englishman, you false priest and
foreign traitor," he shouted, "whom all men know to be in the pay of
Spain, and using the cover of a monk's dress to plot against the land
on which you fatten like a horse-leech? Why was John Foterell murdered
in the forest two nights gone? You won't answer? Then I will. Because
he rode to Court to prove the truth about you and your treachery, and
therefore you butchered him. Why do you claim my wife as your ward?
Because you wish to steal her lands and goods to feed your plots and
luxury. You think you have bought friends at Court, and that for
money's sake those in power there will turn a blind eye to your
crimes. So it may be for a while; but wait, wait. All eyes are not
blind yonder, nor all ears deaf. That head of yours shall yet be
lifted higher than you think--so high that it sticks upon the top of
Blossholme Towers, a warning to all who would sell England to her
enemies. John Foterell lies dead with your knave's arrow in his
throat, but Jeffrey Stokes is away with the writings. And now do your
worst, Clement Maldon. If you want my wife, come take her."
The Abbot listened, listened intently, drinking in every ominous word.
His swarthy face went white with fear, then turned black with rage.
The veins upon his forehead gathered into knots; even from that
distance Christopher could see them. He looked so evil that his
countenance became twisted and ridiculous, and Christopher, noting it,
burst into one of his hearty laughs.
The Abbot, who was not accustomed to mockery, whispered something to
the two men who were with him, whereon they lifted the crossbows which
they carried and pulled trigger. One quarel went wide and hit the wall
of the house behind, where it stuck fast in the joints of the stud-
work. But the other, better aimed, smote Christopher above the heart,
causing him to stagger, but being shot from below and turned by the
mail he wore glanced upwards over his left shoulder. The men, seeing
that he was unhurt, pulled their horses round and galloped off, but
Christopher, setting another arrow to the string of the bow he
carried, drew it to his ear, covering the Abbot.
"Loose, and make an end of him," muttered Emlyn from her shelter
behind the parapet. But Christopher thought a moment, then cried--
"Stay a while, Sir Abbot; I have more to say to you."
He took no heed who was also turning about.
"Stay!" thundered Christopher, "or I will kill that fine nag of
yours;" then, as the Abbot still dragged upon the reins, he let the
arrow fly. The aim was true enough. Right through the arch of the neck
it sped, cutting the cord between the bones, so that the poor beast
reared straight up and fell in a heap, tumbling its rider off into the
"Now, Clement Maldon," cried Christopher, "will you listen, or will
you bide with your horse and servant and hear no more till Judgment
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