THE LADY OF BLOSSHOLME
H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 6
"Yes, two things--that you should find me those burned jewels and with
them the old letters that were not burned, and that this child of the
Lady Cicely shall not chance to live to take what you promised to it.
Her life I give you, for a nun more or less can matter little."
"A noble offer, and in this case I am sure you will pay what /you/
promise--should you live. But what if I refuse?"
"Then," answered the Abbot, dropping his fist upon the table, "then
death for both of you--the witch's death, for I dare not let you go to
work my ruin. Remember, I am master here, you are my prisoners. Few
know that you live in this place, except a handful of weak-brained
women who will fear to speak--puppets that must dance when I pull the
string--and I'll see that no soul shall come near these walls. Choose,
then, between death and all its terrors or life and all its hopes."
On the table there stood a wooden bowl filled with roses. Emlyn drew
it to her, and taking the roses into her hands, threw them to the
floor. Then she waited for the water to steady, saying--
"The riddle is hard; perhaps, if in truth I have such power, I shall
find its answer here." Presently, as he gazed at her, fascinated, she
breathed upon the water and stared into it for a long while. At length
she looked up, and said--
"Death or Life; that was the choice you gave me. Well, Clement
Maldonado, on behalf of myself and the Lady Cicely, and her husband
Sir Christopher, and the child that shall be born, and of God who
directs all these things, I choose--death."
There was a solemn silence. Then the Abbot rose, and said--
"Good! On your own head be it."
Again there was a silence, and, as she made no answer, he turned and
walked towards the door, leaving her still staring into the bowl.
"Good!" she repeated, as he laid his hand upon the latch. "I have told
you that I choose death, but I have not told you whose death it is I
choose. Play your game, my Lord Abbot, and I'll play mine, remembering
that God holds the stakes. Meanwhile I confirm the words I spoke in my
rage at Cranwell. Expect evil, for I see now that it shall fall on you
and all with which you have to do."
Then with a sudden movement she upset the bowl upon the table and
watched him go.
EMLYN CALLS HER MAN
One by one the weeks passed over the heads of Cicely and Emlyn in
their prison, and brought them neither hope nor tidings. Indeed,
although they could not see its cords, they felt that the evil net
which held them was drawing ever tighter. There were fear and pity as
well as love in the eyes of Mother Matilda when she looked at Cicely,
which she did only if she thought that no one observed her. The nuns
also were afraid, though it was clear that they knew not of what. One
evening Emlyn, finding the Prioress alone, sprang questions on her,
asking what was in the wind, and why her lady, a free woman of full
age, was detained there against her will.
The old nun's face grew secret. She answered that she did not know of
anything unusual, and that, as regarded the detention, she must obey
the commands of her spiritual superior.
"Then," burst out Emlyn, "I tell you that you do so at your peril. I
tell you that whether my lady lives or dies, there are those who will
call you to a strict account, aye, and those who will listen to the
prayer of the helpless. Mother Matilda, England is not the land it was
when as a girl they buried you in these mouldy walls. Where does God
say that you have the right to hold free women like felons in a jail?
"I cannot," moaned Mother Matilda, wringing her thin hands. "The right
is very hard to find, this place is strictly guarded, and whatever I
may think, I must do what I am bid, lest my soul should suffer."
"Your soul! You cloistered women think always of your miserable souls,
but of those of other folk, aye, and of their bodies too, nothing.
Then you'll not help me?"
"I cannot, I cannot, who am myself in bonds," she replied again.
"So be it, Mother; then I'll help myself, and when I do, God help
/you/ all," and with a contemptuous shrug of her broad shoulders she
walked away, leaving the poor old Prioress almost in tears.
Emlyn's threats were bold as her own heart, but how could she execute
even a tenth of them? The right was on their side, indeed, but, as
many a captive has found in those and other days, right is no Joshua's
trumpet to cause high walls to fall. Moreover, Cicely would not aid
her. Now that her husband was dead she took interest in one thing only
--his child who was to be.
For the rest she seemed to care nothing. Since she had no friends with
whom she could communicate, and her wealth, as she understood, had
been taken from her, what better place, she asked, could there be for
that child to see the light than in this quiet Nunnery? When it was
born and she was well again she would consider other matters.
Meanwhile she was languid, and why was Emlyn always prating to her of
freedom? If she were free, what should she do and whither should she
go? The nuns were very kind to her; they loved her as she did them.
So she talked on, and Emlyn, listening, did not dare to tell her the
truth: that here she feared for the life of her child, dreading lest
that news might bring about the death of both of them. So she let her
be, and fell back on her own wits.
First she thought of escape, only to abandon the idea, for her
mistress was in no state to face its perils. Moreover, whither should
they go? Then rescue came into her mind, but, alas! who would rescue
them? The great men in London, perhaps, as a matter of policy, but
great men are hard to come at, even for the free. If she were free she
might find means to make them listen, but she was not, nor could she
leave her lady at such a time. What remained, then? So to contrive
that they should be set free.
Perhaps it might be done at a price--that of Cicely's jewels, of which
she alone knew the hiding-place, and with them a deed of indemnity
against her persecutors. Emlyn was not minded to give either.
Moreover, she guessed that it might be in vain. Once outside those
walls, they knew too much to be allowed to live. And yet within those
walls Cicely's child would not be allowed to live--the child that was
heir to all. What, then, could loose them and make them safe?
Terror, perhaps--such terror as that through which the Israelites
escaped from bondage. Oh! if she could but find a Moses to call down
the plagues of Egypt upon this Pharaoh of an Abbot--those plagues with
which she had threatened him--but although she believed that they
would fall (why did she believe it? she wondered), she was as yet
impotent to fulfil.
Now Thomas Bolle! If only she could have words with that faithful
Thomas Bolle, the fierce and cunning man whom they thought foolish!
This idea of Thomas Bolle took possession of Emlyn's mind--Thomas
Bolle, who had loved her all his life, who would die to serve her. She
strove in vain to get in touch with him. The old gardener was so deaf
that he could not, or would not, understand. The silly Bridget gave
the letter that she wrote to him to the Prioress by mistake, who burnt
it before her eyes and said nothing. The monks who brought provisions
to the Nunnery were always received by three of the sisters, set to
spy on each other and on them, so that she could not come near to them
alone. The priest who celebrated Mass was an old enemy of hers; with
him she could do nothing, and no one else was allowed to approach the
place except once or twice the Abbot, who was closeted for hours with
the Prioress, but spoke to her no more.
Why, wondered Emlyn, should less than half-a-mile of space be such a
barrier between her and Thomas Bolle? If he stood within twenty yards
of her she could make him understand; why not, then, when he stood
within five hundred? This idea possessed her; these limitations of
nature made her mad. She refused to accept them. Night by night, lying
brooding in her bed, while Cicely slept in peace at her side, she
threw out her strong soul towards the soul of her old lover, Thomas
Bolle, commanding him to listen, to obey, to come.
At first nothing happened. Afterwards she had a vague sense of being
answered; although she could not see or hear him, she felt his
presence. Then one afternoon, looking from an upper dormer window, she
saw a scuffle going on outside the gateway, and heard angry voices.
Thomas Bolle was trying to force his way in at the door, whence he was
repelled by the Abbot's men who always watched there.
In the evening she gathered the truth from the nuns, who did not know
that she was listening to what they said. It seemed that Thomas, whom
they spoke of as a madman or as drunk, had tried to break into the
Nunnery. When he was asked what he wanted, he answered that he did not
know, but he must speak with Emlyn Stower. At this tidings she smiled
to herself, for now she knew that he had heard her, and that in this
way or in that he would obey her summons and come.
Two days later Thomas came--thus.
The September evening was fading into night, and Emlyn, leaving Cicely
resting on her bed, which now she often did for a while before the
supper-hour, had gone into the garden to enjoy the pleasant air. There
she walked until she wearied of its sameness, then entered the old
chapel by a side door and sat herself down to think in the chancel,
not far from a life-sized statue of the Virgin, in painted oak, which
stood here because of its peculiarities, for the back half of it
seemed to be built into the masonry. Also the eye-sockets were empty,
which suggested to the observant Emlyn either that they had once held
jewels or that this was no likeness of the holy Mother, but rather one
of the blind St. Lucy.
While Emlyn mused there quite alone--for at this hour none entered the
place, nor would until the next morning--she thought that she heard
strange noises, as of some one stirring, which came from the
neighbourhood of the statue. Now many would have been scared and
departed; but not so Emlyn, who only sat still and listened.
Presently, without moving her head, she looked also. As it happened,
the light of the setting sun, pouring through the west window, fell
almost full upon the figure, and by it she saw, or thought she saw,
that the eye-sockets were no longer empty; there were eyes in them
which moved and flashed.
Now for a moment even Emlyn was frightened. Then she reasoned with
herself, reflecting that a priest or one of the nuns was watching her
from behind the statue, which they might do for as long as they
pleased. Or perhaps this was a miracle, such as she had heard so much
of but never seen. Well, why should she fear spies or miracles? She
would sit where she was and see what happened. Nor had she long to
wait, for presently a voice, a hoarse, manly voice, whispered--
"Emlyn! Emlyn Stower!"
"Yes," she answered, also in a whisper. "Who speaks?"
"Who do you think?" asked the voice, with a chuckle. "A devil,
"Well, if it be a friendly devil I don't know that I mind, who need
company in this lone place. So appear, man or devil," answered Emlyn
stoutly. But in secret she crossed herself beneath her cape, for in
those days folk believed in the appearance of devils for no good
The statue began to creak, then opened like a door, though very
unwillingly, as though its hinges had been fixed for a long, long time
and rusted in the damp, which was indeed the case. Inside of it, like
a corpse in an upright coffin, appeared a figure, a square, strong
figure, clad in a tattered monk's robe, surmounted by a large head
with fiery red hair and beetling brows, beneath which shone two wild
grey eyes. Emlyn, whose heart had stood still--for, after all, Satan
is awkward company for a mortal woman--waited till it gave a jump in
her breast and went on again as usual. Then she said quietly--
"What are you doing here, Thomas Bolle?"
"That is what I want to know, Emlyn. Night and day for weeks you have
been calling me, and so I came."
"Yes, I have been calling you; but how did you come?"
"By the old monk's road. They have forgotten it long ago, but my
grandfather told me of it when I was a boy, and at last a fox showed
me where it ran. It's a dark road, and when first I tried it I thought
I should be poisoned, but now the air is none so bad. It ran to the
Abbey once, and may still, but my door and Mrs. Fox's is in the copse
by the park wall, where none would ever look for it. If you would like
a cub to play with, I will bring you one. Or perhaps you want
something more than cubs," he added, with his cunning laugh.
"Aye, Thomas, I want much more. Man," she said fiercely, "will you do
what I tell you?"
"That depends, Mistress Emlyn. Have I not done what you told me all my
life, and for no reward?"
She moved across the chancel and sat herself down against him, pushing
the image door almost to and speaking to him through the crack.
"If you have had no reward, Thomas," she said in a gentle voice,
"whose fault was it? Not mine, I think. I loved you once when we were
young, did I not? I would have given myself to you, body and soul,
would I not? Well, who came between us and spoiled our lives?"
"The monks," groaned Thomas; "the accursed monks, who married you to
Stower because he paid them."
"Yes, the accursed monks. And now our youth has gone, and love--of
that sort--is behind us. I have been another man's wife, Thomas, who
might have been yours. Think of it--your loving wife, the mother of
your children. And you--they have tamed you and made you their
servant, their cattle-herd, the strong fellow to fetch and carry, the
half-wit, as they call you, who can still be trusted to run an errand
and hold his tongue, the Abbey mule that does not dare to kick, the
grieve of your own stolen lands--you, whose father was almost a
gentleman. That's what they have done for you, Thomas; and for me, the
Church's ward--well, I will not speak of it. Now, if you had your
will, what would you do for them?"
"Do for them? Do for them?" gasped Thomas, worked up to fury by this
recital of his wrongs. "Why, if I dared I'd cut their throats, every
one, and grallock them like deer," and he ground his strong white
teeth. "But I am afraid. They have my soul, and month by month I must
confess. You remember, Emlyn, I warned you when you and the lady would
have ridden to London before the siege. Well, afterward--I must
confess it--the Abbot heard it himself, and oh! sore, sore was my
penance. Before I had done with it my ribs showed through my skin and
my back was like a red osier basket. There's only one thing I didn't
tell them, because, after all, it is no sin to grub the earth off the
face of a corpse."
"Ah!" said Emlyn, looking at him. "You're not to be trusted. Well, I
thought as much. Good-bye, Thomas Bolle, you coward. I'll find me a
man for a friend, not a whimpering, priest-ridden hound who sets a
Latin blessing which he does not understand above his honour. God in
heaven! to think I should ever have loved such a thing. Oh! I am
shamed, I am shamed. I'll go wash my hands. Shut your trap and get you
gone down your rat-run, Thomas Bolle, and, living or dead, never dare
to speak to me again. Also forget not to tell your monks how I called
you to my side--for that's witchcraft, you know, and I shall burn for
it, and your soul gain benefit. God in heaven! to think that once you
were Thomas Bolle," and she made as though to go away.
He stretched out his great arm and caught her by the robe,
"What would you have me do, Emlyn? I can't bear your scorn. Take it
off me or I go kill myself."
"That's what you had best do. You'll find the devil a better master
than a foreign abbot. Farewell for ever."
"Nay, nay; what's your will? Soul or no soul, I'll work it."
"Will you? Will you indeed? If so, stay a moment," and she ran down
the chapel, bolting the doors; then returned to him, saying--
"Now come forth, Thomas, and since you are once more a man, kiss me as
you used to do twenty years ago and more. You'll not confess to that,
will you? There. Now, kneel before the altar here and swear an oath.
Nay, listen to it before you swear, for it is wide."
Emlyn said the oath to him. It was a great and terrible oath. Under it
he bound himself to be her slave and join himself with her in working
woe to the monks of Blossholme, and especially to their Abbot, Clement
Maldon, in payment of the wrongs that these had done to them both; in
payment for the murder of Sir John Foterell and of Christopher
Harflete, and of the imprisonment and robbery of Cicely Harflete, the
daughter of the one and the wife of the other. He bound himself to do
those things which she should tell him. He bound himself neither in
the confessional nor, should it come to that, on the bed of torture or
the scaffold to breathe a word of all their counsel. He prayed that if
he did so his soul might pay the price in everlasting torment, and of
all these things he took Heaven to be his witness.
"Now," said Emlyn, when she had finished setting out this fearful vow,
"will you be a man and swear and thereby avenge the dead and save the
innocent from death; or will you who have my secret be a crawling monk
and go back to Blossholme Abbey and betray me?"
He thought a moment, rubbing his red head, for the thing frightened
him, as well it might. The scales of the balance of his mind hung
evenly, and Emlyn knew not which way they would turn. She saw, and put
out all her woman's strength. Resting her hand upon his shoulder, she
leaned forward and whispered into his ear.
"Do you remember, Thomas, how first we told our young love that spring
day down in the copse by the water, and how sweet the daffodils
bloomed about our feet--the daffodils and the wood-lilies? Do you
remember how we swore ourselves each to each for all our lives, aye,
and all the lives that were to come, and how for us two the earth was
turned to heaven? And then--do you remember how that monk walked by--
it was this Clement Maldon--and froze us with his cruel eyes, and
said, 'What do you with the witch's daughter? She is not for you.' And
--oh! Thomas, I can no more of it," and she broke down and sobbed,
then added, "Swear nothing; get you gone and betray me, if you will.
I'll bear you no malice, even when I die for it, for after more than
twenty years of monkcraft, how could I hope that you would still
remain a man? Come, get you gone swiftly, ere they take us together,
and your fair fame is besmirched. Quick, now, and leave me and my lady
and her unborn child to the doom Maldon brews for us. Alas! for the
copse by the river; alas! for the withered lilies!"
Thomas heard; the big blue veins stood out upon his forehead, his
great breast heaved, his utterance choked. At length the words came in
a thick torrent.
"I'll not go, dearie; I'll swear what you will, by your eyes and by
your lips, by the flowers on which we trod, by all the empty years of
aching woe and shame, by God upon His throne in heaven, and by the
devil in his fires in hell. Come, come," and he ran to the altar and
clasped the crucifix that stood there. "Say the words again, or any
others that you will, and I'll repeat them and take the oath, and may
fiery worms eat me living for ever and ever if I break a letter of
With a little smile of triumph in her dark eyes Emlyn bent over the
kneeling man and whispered--whispered through the gathering bloom,
while he whispered after her, and kissed the Rood in token.
It was done, and they drew away from the altar back to the painted
"So you are a man after all," she said, laughing aloud. "Now, man--my
man--who, if we live through this, shall be my husband if you will--
yes, my husband, for I'll pay, and be proud of it--listen to my
commands. See you, I am Moses, and yonder in the Abbey sits Pharaoh
with a hardened heart, and you are the angel--the destroying angel
with the sword of the plagues of Egypt. To-night there will be fire in
the Abbey--such fire as fell on Cranwell Towers. Nay, nay, I know; the
church will not burn, nor all the great stone halls. But the
dormitories, and the storehouses, and the hayricks, and the cattle-
byres, they'll flame bravely after this time of drought, and if the
wains are ashes, how will they draw in their harvest? Will you do it,
"Surely. Have I not sworn?"
"Then away to the work, and afterwards--to-morrow or next day--come
back and make report. Just now I am much moved to solitary prayer, so
wait till you see me here alone upon my knees. Stay! Wrap yourself in
grave-clothes, for then if you are seen they will think you are a
ghost, such as they say haunt this place. Fear not, by then I will
have more work for you. Have you mastered it?"
He nodded his head. "All. All, especially your promise. Oh! I'll not
die now; I'll live to claim it."
"Good. There's on account," and again she kissed him. "Go."
He reeled in the intoxication of his joy; then said--
"One word; my head swims; I forgot. Sir Christopher is not dead, or
"What do you mean?" she almost hissed at him. "In Christ's name be
quick; I hear voices without."
"They buried another man for Christopher. I scraped him up and saw.
Christopher was sent foreign, sore wounded, on the ship--pest! I have
forgotten its name--the same ship that took Jeffrey Stokes."
"Blessings on your head for that tidings," exclaimed Emlyn, in a
strange, low voice. "Away; they are coming to the door!"
The wooden figure creaked to and stared at her blandly, as it had
stared for generations. For a moment Emlyn stood still, her hand upon
her heart. Then she walked swiftly down the chapel, unlocked the door,
and in the porch, just entering it, met the Prioress Matilda, another
nun, and old Bridget, who was chattering.
"Oh! it is you, Mistress Stower," said Mother Matilda, with evident
relief. "Sister Bridget here swore that she heard a man talking in the
chapel when she came to shut the outer window at sunset."
"Did she?" answered Emlyn indifferently. "Then her luck's better than
my own, who long for the sound of a man's voice in this home of
babbling women. Nay, be not shocked, good Mother; I am no nun, and God
did not create the world all female, or we should none of us be here.
But, now you speak of it, I think there's something strange about that
chapel. It is a place where some might fear to be alone, for twice
when I knelt there at my prayers I have heard odd sounds, and once,
when there was no sun, a cold shadow fell upon me. Some ghost of the
dead, I suppose, of whom so many lie about. Well, ghosts I never
feared; and now I must away to fetch my lady's supper, for she eats in
her room to-night."
When she had gone the Prioress shook her head and remarked in her
"A strange woman and a rough, but, my sisters, we must not judge her
harshly, for she is of a different world to ours, and I fear has met
with sorrows there, such as we are protected from by our holy office."
"Yes," answered the sister, "but I think also that she has met with
the ghost that haunts the chapel, of which there are many records, and
that once I saw myself when I was a novice. The Prioress Matilda--I
mean the fourth of that name, she who was mixed up with Edward the
Lame, the monk, and died suddenly after the----"
"Peace, sister; let us have no scandal about that departed--woman, who
left the earth two hundred years ago. Also, if her unquiet spirit
still haunts the place, as many say, I know not why it should speak
with the voice of a man."
"Perhaps it was the monk Edward's voice that Bridget heard," replied
the sister, "for no doubt he still hangs about her skirts as he did in
life, if all tales are true. Well, Mistress Emlyn says that she does
not mind ghosts, and I can well believe it, for she is a witch's
daughter, and has a strange look in her eyes. Did you ever see such
bold eyes, Mother? However it may be, I hate ghosts, and rather would
I pass a month on bread and water than be alone in that chapel at or
after sundown. My back creeps to think of it, for they say that the
unhallowed babe walks too, and gibbers round the font seeking baptism
--ugh!" and she shuddered.
"Peace, sister, peace to your goblin talk," said Mother Matilda again.
"Let us think of holier things lest the foul fiend draw near to us."
That night, about one in the morning, the foul fiend drew very near to
Blossholme, and he came in the shape of fire. Suddenly the nuns were
aroused from their beds by the sound of bells tolling wildly. Running
to the window-places, they saw great sheets of flame leaping from the
Abbey roofs. They threw open the casements and stared out terrified.
Sister Bridget was sent even to wake the deaf gardener and his wife,
who lived in the gateway, and command them to go forth and learn what
passed, and the meaning of the shouts they heard, for they feared that
Blossholme was attacked by some army.
A long while went by, and Bridget returned with a confused tale,
which, as it had been gathered by an imbecile from a deaf gardener,
was not easy to understand. Meanwhile the shoutings went on and the
fire at the Abbey burnt ever more fiercely, so that the nuns thought
that their last hour had come, and knelt down to pray at the casement.
Just then Cicely and Emlyn appeared among them, and stared at the
Suddenly Cicely turned round, and, fixing her large blue eyes on
Emlyn, said, in the hearing of them all--
"The Abbey burns. Why, Nurse, they told me that you said it would be
so, yonder amid the ashes of Cranwell Towers. Surely you are
"Fire calls for fire," answered Emlyn grimly, and the nuns around
looked at her with doubtful eyes.
It was a very fierce fire, which appeared to have begun in the
dormitories, whence, even at that distance, they saw half-clad monks
escaping through the windows, some by means of bed-coverings tied
together and some by jumping, notwithstanding the height. Presently
the roof of the building fell in, sending up showers of glowing
embers, which lit upon the thatch of the farm byres and sheds, and
upon the ricks built and building in the stackyard, so that all these
caught also, and before dawn were utterly consumed.
One by one the watchers in the Nunnery wearied of the lamentable
sight, and muttering prayers, departed terrified to their beds. But
Emlyn sat on at the open casement till the rim of the splendid
September sun showed above the hills. There she sat, her head resting
on her hand, her strong face set like that of a statue. Only her dark
eyes, in which the flames were reflected, seemed to smile hardly.
"Thomas is a great tool," she muttered to herself at length, "and the
first cut has bitten to the bone. Well, there shall be worse to come.
You will live to beg Emlyn's mercy yet, Clement Maldonado."
THE BLOSSHOLME WITCHINGS
On the afternoon of that day the Abbot came again to visit the
Nunnery, and sent for Cicely and Emlyn. They found him alone in the
guest-hall, walking up and down its length with a troubled face.
"Cicely Foterell," he said, without any form of greeting, "when last
we met you refused to sign the deed which I brought with me. Well, it
matters nothing, for that purchaser has gone back upon his bargain."
"Saying that he liked not the title?" suggested Cicely.
"Aye; though who taught you of titles and the ins and outs of law? But
what need to ask----?" and he glowered at Emlyn. "Well, let it pass,
for now I have a paper with me that you /must/ sign. Read it if you
will. It is harmless--only an instruction to the tenants of the lands
your father held to pay their rents to me this Michaelmas, as warden
of that property."
"Do they refuse, then, seeing that you hold it all, my Lord Abbot?"
"Aye, some one has been at work among them, and the stubborn churls
will not without instruction under your hand and seal. The farms your
father worked himself I have reaped, but last night every grain of
corn and every fleece of wool were burned in the fire."
"Then I pray you keep account of them, my Lord, that you may pay me
their value when we come to settle our score, seeing that I never gave
you leave to shear my sheep and harvest my corn."
"You are pleased to be saucy, girl," he replied, biting his lip. "I
have no time to bandy words--sign, and do you witness, Emlyn Stower."
Cicely took the document, glanced at it, then slowly tore it into four
pieces and threw it to the floor.
"Rob me and my unborn child if you can and will, at least I'll be no
thief's partner," she said quietly. "Now, if you want my name, go
forge it, for I sign nothing."
The Abbot's face grew very evil.
"Do you remember, woman," he asked, "that here you are in my power? Do
you not know that rebellious sinners such as you are can be shut in a
dark dungeon and fed on the bread and water of affliction and beaten
with the rods of penance? Will you do my bidding, or shall these
things fall on you?"
Cicely's beautiful face flushed up, and for a moment her blue eyes
filled with the tears of shame and terror. Then they cleared again,
and she looked at him boldly and answered--
"I know that a murderer can be a torturer also. Why should not he who
butchered the father scourge the daughter too? But I know also that
there is a God who protects the innocent, though sometimes He is slow
to lift His hand, and to Him I appeal, my Lord Abbot. I know,
moreover, that I am Foterell and Carfax, and that no man or woman of
my blood has ever yet yielded to fear or pain. I sign nothing," and,
turning, she left the room.
Now the Abbot and Emlyn were alone. Suddenly, before she could speak,
for her tongue was tied with rage, he began to rate and curse her and
to threaten horrible things against her and her mistress, such things
as only a cruel Spaniard could imagine. At length he paused for
breath, and she broke in--
"Peace, wicked man, lest the roof fall on you, for I am sure that
every cruel word you speak shall become a snake to strike you. Will
you not take warning by what befell you last night, or must there be
more such lessons?"
"Oho!" he answered; "so you know of that, do you? As I thought, your
witchcraft was at work there."
"How can I help knowing what the whole sky blazoned? The fat monks of
Blossholme must draw their girdles tight this winter. Those stolen
lands bring no luck, it seems, and John Foterell's blood has turned to
fire. Be warned, I say, be warned. Nay, I'll hear no more of your foul
tongue. Lay a finger on that poor lady if you dare, and pay the
price," and she too turned and went.
Ere he left the Nunnery the Abbot had an interview with Mother
Cicely must be disciplined, he said; gently at first, afterwards with
roughness, even to scourging, if need were--for her soul's sake. Also
her servant Emlyn must be kept away from her--for her soul's sake,
since without doubt she was a dangerous witch. Also, when the time of
the birth of the child came on, he would send a wise woman to wait
upon her, one who was accustomed to such cases--for her body's sake
and that of her child. In the midst of the great trouble that had
fallen upon them through the terrible fire at the Abbey, which had
cost them such fearful loss, to say nothing of the lives of two of the
servants and others burned and maimed, he had not much time to talk of
such small things; but did she understand?
Then it was that Mother Matilda, the meek and gentle, brought pain and
astonishment to the heart of the Lord Abbot, her spiritual superior.
She did not understand in the least. Such discipline as he suggested,
whatever might be her faults and frailty, was, she declared with
vigour, entirely unsuited to the case of the Lady Cicely, who, in her
opinion, had suffered much for a small cause, and who, moreover, was
about to become a mother, and therefore should be treated with every
gentleness. For her part, she washed her hands of the whole business,
and rather than enforce such commands would lay the case before the
Vicar-General in London, who, she understood, was ready to look into
such matters. Or at least she would set the Lady Harflete and her
servant outside the gates and call upon the charitable to assist them.
Of course, however, if his Lordship chose to send a skilled woman to
wait upon her in her trouble, she could have no objection, provided
that this woman were a person of good repute. But in the circumstances
it was idle to talk to her of bread and water and dark cells and
scourgings. Such things should never happen while she was Prioress.
Before they did, she and her sisters would walk out of the Nunnery and
leave the King's Courts to judge of the matter.
Now the state of the Abbot was very like to that of a terrier dog
which, being accustomed to worry and torment a certain ewe-sheep,
comes upon the same after it has lambed and finds a new creature--one
that, instead of running in affright, turns upon it and, with head and
hood and all its weight of mutton, butts, and leaps, and tramples.
Then what chance has that dog against the terrible and unsuspected
fury of the sheep, born, as it thought, for it to tear? Then what can
it do but run, panting and discomfited, to its kennel? So it was with
the Abbot at the onslaught of Mother Matilda in the defence of her
lamb--Cicely. With Emlyn he had been prepared to exchange bite for
bite--but Mother Matilda! his own pet quarry. It was too much. He
could only go away, cursing all women and their infinite variety, on
which no man might build. Who would have thought it of Mother Matilda,
of all people on the earth!
So it came to pass that at the Nunnery, notwithstanding these terrible
threats, things went on much as they had done before, since the times
were such that even an all-powerful and remote Lord Abbot, with "right
of gallows," could not drive matters to an extremity. Cicely was not
shut into the dungeon and fed on bread and water, much less was she
scourged. Nor was she separated from her nurse Emlyn, although it is
true that the Prioress reproved her for her resistance to established
authority, and when she had finished her lecture, kissed and blessed
her, and called her "her sweet child, her dove and joy."
But if there was sameness at the Nunnery, at the Abbey there was
constant change and excitement. Only three days after the fire the
great flock of eight hundred lambs rushed one night over the Red Cliff
on the fell, where, as all shepherds in that country know, there is a
sheer drop of forty feet. Never was lamb's flesh so cheap in
Blossholme and the country round as on the morrow of that night, while
every hind within ten miles could have a winter coat for the skinning.
Moreover, it was said and sworn to by the shepherds that the devil
himself, with horns and hoofs, and mounted on a jackass, had been seen
driving the same lambs.
Next the ghost of Sir John Foterell appeared, clad in armour,
sometimes mounted and sometimes afoot, but always at night-time. First
this dreadful spirit was perceived walking in the gardens of Shefton
Hall, where it met the Abbot's caretaker--for the place was now shut
up--as he went to set a springe for hares. He was a man advanced in
years, yet few horses ever covered the distance between Shefton and
Blossholme Abbey more quickly than he did that night.
Nor would he or any other return to his charge, so that henceforth
Shefton was left as a dwelling for the ghost, which, as all might see
from time to time, shone in the window-places like a candle. Moreover,
the said ghost travelled far and wide, for on dark, windy nights it
knocked upon the doors of those that in its lifetime had been its
tenants, and in a hollow voice declared that it had been murdered by
the Abbot of Blossholme and his underlings, who held its daughter in
durance, and, under threats of unearthly vengeance, commanded all men
to bring him to justice, and to pay him neither fees nor homage.
So much terror did this ghost cause that Thomas Bolle, the swift of
foot, was set to watch for it, and returned announcing that he had
seen it and that it called him by his name, whereon he, being a bold
fellow and believing that it was but a man, sent an arrow straight
through it, at which it laughed and forthwith vanished away. More; in
proof of these things he led the Abbot and his monks to the very
place, and showed them where he had stood and where the ghost stood--
yes, and the arrow, of which all the feathers had been mysteriously
burnt off and the wood seared as though by fire, sunk deep into a tree
beyond. Then, as this thing had become a scandal and a dread, the
Abbot, in his robes, solemnly laid the ghost, Thomas Bolle showing him
exactly where it had passed.
This spirit being well and truly laid (like a foundation-stone), the
Abbot and his monks returned homeward through the wood, but as they
went a dreadful voice, which all recognized as that of Sir John
Foterell, called these words from the shadows of an impenetrable
thicket--for now the night was falling--
"Clement Maldonado, Abbot of Blossholme, I, whom thou didst murder,
summon thee to meet me within a year before the throne of God."
Thereon all fled; yes, even the Abbot fled, or rather, as he said, his
horse did, Thomas Bolle, who had lagged behind, outrunning them every
one and getting home the first, saying /Aves/ as he went.
After this, although the whole countryside hunted for it, Sir John's
ghost was seen no more. Doubtless its work was done; but the Abbot
explained matters differently. Other and worse things were seen,
One moonlight night a disturbance was heard among the cows, that
bellowed and rushed about the field into which they had been turned
after milking. Thinking that dogs had got amongst them, the herd and a
watchman--for now no man would stir alone after sunset at Blossholme--
went to see what was happening, and presently fell down half dead with
fright. For there, leaning over the gate and laughing at them, was the
foul fiend himself--the fiend with horns and tail, and in his hand an
instrument like a pitchfork.
How the pair got home again, they never knew, but this is certain,
that after that night no one could milk those cows; moreover, some of
them slipped their calves, and became so wild that they must be
Next came rumours that even the Nunnery itself was haunted, especially
the chapel. Here voices were heard talking, and Emlyn Stower, who was
praying there, came out vowing that she had seen a ball of fire which
rolled up and down the aisle, and in the centre of it a man's head,
that seemed to try to talk to her, but could not.
Into this matter inquiry was held by the Abbot himself, who asked
Emlyn if she knew the face that was in the ball of fire. She answered
that she thought so. It seemed very like to one of his own guards,
named Andrew Woods, or more commonly Drunken Andrew, a Scotchman whom
Sir Christopher Harflete was said to have killed on the night of the
great burning. At least his Lordship would remember that this Andrew
had a broken nose, and so had the head in the fire, but, as it
appeared to have changed a great deal since death, she could not be
quite certain. All she was sure of was that it seemed to be trying to
give her some message.
Now, recalling the trick that had been played with the said Andrew's
body, the Abbot was silent. Only he asked shrewdly, if Emlyn had seen
so terrible a thing there, how it came about that she was not afraid
to be alone in the chapel, which he was informed she frequented much.
She answered, with a laugh, that it was men she dreaded, not spirits,
good or ill.
"No," he exclaimed, with a burst of rage, "you do not dread them,
woman, because you are a witch, and summon them; nor shall we be free
from these wizardries until the fire has you and your company."
"If so," replied Emlyn coolly, "I will ask dead Andrew for his message
to you next time we meet, unless he chooses to deliver it to you
So they parted, but that very night there happened the worst thing of
all. It was about one in the morning when the Abbot, whose window was
set open, was wakened by a voice that spoke with a Scotch accent and
repeatedly called him by his name, summoning him to look out and see.
He and others rose and looked, but could see nothing, for the night
was very dark and rain fell. When the dawn came, however, their search
was rewarded, for there, set upon a pinnacle of the Abbey church, and
staring straight into the window of his Lordship's sleeping-room, from
which it was but a few yards distant, was the dreadful head of Andrew
Furiously the Abbot asked who had done this horrible thing, but the
monks, who were sure that it was the same being that had bewitched the
cows, only shrugged their shoulders, and suggested that the grave of
Andrew should be opened to see if he had lost his head. This was done
at length, although, for his own reasons, the Abbot forbade it,
talking of the violation of the dead.
Well, the grave was opened when Maldon was away on one of his
mysterious journeys, and lo! no Andrew was there, but only a beam of
oakwood stuffed out with straw to the shape of a man and sewn up in a
blanket. For the real Andrew, or rather what was left of him, lay, it
may be remembered, in another grave that was supposed to be filled by
Sir Christopher Harflete.
From this day forward the whole countryside for fifty miles round rang
with the tales of what were known as the Blossholme witchings, of
which a proof was still to be seen by all men in the withered head of
Andrew perched upon its pinnacle, whence none could be found to remove
it for love or money. Only it was noted that the Abbot changed his
sleeping-chamber, after which, except for a sickness which struck the
monks--it was thought from the drinking of sour beer--these
bedevilments were abated.
Indeed, at that time men had other things to think of, since the air
was thick with rumours of impending change. The King threatened the
Church, and the Church prepared to resist the King. There was talk of
the suppression of the monasteries--some, in fact, had already been
suppressed--and more talk of a rising of the faithful in the shires of
York and Lincoln; high matters which called Abbot Maldon much away
One day he returned weary, but satisfied, from a long journey, and
amongst the news that awaited him found a message from the Prioress,
over which he pondered while he ate his food. Also there was a letter
from Spain, which he studied eagerly.
Some nine months had passed since the ship /Great Yarmouth/ sailed,
and during this time all that had been heard of her was that she had
never reached Seville, so that, like every one else, the Abbot
believed she had foundered in the deep seas. This was a sad event
which he had borne with resignation, seeing that, although it meant
the loss of his letters, which were of importance, she had aboard of
her several persons whom he wished to see no more, especially Sir
Christopher Harflete and Sir John Foterell's serving-man, Jeffrey
Stokes, who was said to carry with him certain inconvenient documents.
Even his secretary and chaplain, Brother Martin, could be spared,
being, Maldon felt, a character better suited to heaven than to an
earth where the best of men must be prepared sometimes to compromise
In short, the vanishing of the /Great Yarmouth/ was the wise decree of
a far-seeing Providence, that had removed certain stumbling-blocks
from his feet, which of late had been forced to travel over a rough
and thorny road. For the dead tell no tales, although it was true that
the ghost of Sir John Foterell and the grinning head of Drunken Andrew
on his pinnacle seemed to be instances to the contrary. Christopher
Harflete and Jeffrey Stokes at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay could
bring no awkward charges, and left him none to deal with save an
imprisoned and forgotten girl and an unborn child.
Now things were changed again, however, for the Spanish letter in his
hand told him that the /Great Yarmouth/ had not sunk, since two
members of her crew who escaped--how, it was not said--declared that
she had been captured by Turkish or other infidel pirates and taken
away through the Straits of Gibraltar to some place unknown.
Therefore, if he had survived the voyage, Christopher Harflete might
still be living, and so might Jeffrey Stokes and Brother Martin. Yet
this was not likely, for probably they would have perished in the
fight, being hot-headed Englishmen, all three of them, or at the best
have been committed to the Turkish galleys, whence not one man in a
thousand ever returned.
On the whole, then, he had little cause to fear them, who were dead,
or as good as dead, especially in the midst of so many more pressing
dangers. All he had to fear, all that stood between him, or rather the
Church, and a very rich inheritance was the girl in the Nunnery and an
unborn child, and--yes, Emlyn Stower. Well, he was sure that the child
would not live, and probably the mother would not live. As for Emlyn,
as she deserved, she would be burned for a witch, ere long too, now
that he had time to see to it, and, if she survived her sickness,
although he grieved for her, Cicely, her accomplice, should justly
accompany her to the stake. Meanwhile, as Mother Matilda's message
told him, this matter of the child was urgent.
The Abbot called a monk who was waiting on him and bade him send word
to a woman known as Goody Megges, bidding her come at once. Within ten
minutes she entered, having, as she explained, been warned to be close
This Goody Megges, who had some local repute as a "wise woman," was a
person of about fifty years of age, remarkable for her enormous size,
a flat face with small oblong eyes and a little, twisted mouth, which
had caused her to be nicknamed "the Flounder." She greeted the Abbot
with much reverence, curtseying till he thought she would fall
backwards, and having received his fatherly blessing, sank into a
chair, that seemed to vanish beneath her bulk.
"You will wonder why I summon you here, friend, since this is no place
for the services of those of your trade," began the Abbot, with a
"Oh, no, my Lord," answered the woman; "I've heard it is to wait upon
Sir Christopher Harflete's wife in her trouble."
"I wish that I could call her by the honoured name of wife," said the
Abbot, with a sigh. "But a mock-marriage does not make a wife,
Mistress Megges, and, alas! the poor babe, if ever it should be born,
will be but a bastard, marked from its birth with the brand of shame."
Now, the Flounder, who was no fool, began to take her cue.
"It is sad, very sad, your Holiness--no, that's wrong; but never mind,
it will be right before all's done, and a good omen, I say, coming so
sudden and chancy--your Lordship, I mean--not but what there's lots of
the sort about here, as is generally the case round a--I mean
everywhere. Moreover, they generally grow up bad and ungrateful, as I
know well from my own three--not but what, of course, I was married
fast enough. Well, what I was going to say was, that when things is
so, sometimes it is a true blessing if the little innocents should go
off at the first, and so be spared the finger of shame and the sniff
of scorn," and she paused.
"Yes, Mistress Megges, or at least in such a case it is not for us to
rail at the decree of Heaven--provided, of course, that the infant has
lived long enough to be baptized," he added hastily.
"No, your Eminence, no. That's just what I said to that Smith girl
last spring, when, being a heavy sleeper, I happened to overlie her
brat and woke up to find it flat and blue. When she saw it she took
on, bellowing like a heifer that has lost its first calf, and I said
to her, 'Mary, this isn't me; it's Heaven. Mary, you should be very
thankful, since my burden has rid you of your burden, and you can bury
such a tiny one for next to nothing. Mary, cry a little if you like,
for that's natural with the first, but don't come here flying in the
face of Heaven with your railings, and gates, and posts--especially
the rails, for Heaven hates 'em.'"
"Ah!" asked the Abbot, with mild interest, "and pray what did Mary do
"Do, the graceless wench? Why, she said, 'Is it rails you're talking
of, you pig-smothering old sow? Then here's a rail for you,' and she
pulled the top bar off my own fence--for we were talking by the door--
oak it was, and three by two--and knocked me flat--here's the scar of
it on my head--singing out, 'Is that enough, or will you have the gate
and the posts too?' Oh! If there's one thing I hate, it is railing,
'specially if made of hard oak and held edgeways."
So the wicked old hag babbled on, after her hideous fashion, while the
Abbot stared at the ceiling.
"Enough of these sad stories of vice and violence. Such mischances
will happen, and of course you were not to blame. Now, good Mistress
Megges, will you undertake this case, which cannot be left to ignorant
nuns? Though times are hard here, since of late many losses have
fallen on our house, your skill shall be well paid."
The woman shuffled her big feet and stared at the floor, then looked
up suddenly with a glance that seemed to bore to his heart like a
bradawl, and asked--
"And if perchance the blessed babe should fly to heaven through my
fingers, as in my time I have known dozens of them do, should I still
get that pay?"
"Then," the Abbot answered, with a smile--a somewhat sickly smile--
"then I think, mistress, you should have double pay, to console you
for your sorrow and for any doubts that might be thrown upon your
"Now that's noble trading," she replied, with an evil leer, "such as
one might hope for from an Abbot. But, my Lord, they say the Nunnery
is haunted, and I can't face ghosts. Man or woman, with rails or
without 'em, Mother Flounder doesn't mind, but ghosts--no! Also
Mistress Stower is a witch, and might lay a curse on me; and those
nuns are full of crinks and cranks, and can pray an honest soul to
"Come, come, my time is short. What is it you want, woman? Out with
"The inn there at the ford--your Lordship, will need a tenant next
month. It's a good paying house for those who know how to keep their
mouths shut and to look the other way, and through vile scandal and
evil slanderers, such as the Smith girl, my business isn't what it
was. Now if I could have it without rent for the first two years, till
I had time to work up the trade----"
The Abbot, who could bear no more of the creature, rose from his chair
and said sharply--
"I will remember. Yes, I will promise. Go now; the reverent Mother is
advised of your coming. And report to me night and morning of the
progress of the case. Why, woman, what are you doing?" for she had
suddenly slid to her knees and grasped his robes with her thick,
"Absolution, holy Lordship; I ask absolution and blessing--/pax
Meggiscum/, and the rest of it."
"Absolution? There is nothing to absolve."
"Oh! yes, my Lord, there is plenty, though I am wondering who will
absolve /you/ for your half. Also there are rows of little angels that
sometimes won't let me sleep, and that's why I can't stomach ghosts.
I'd rather sup in winter on cold small ale and half-cooked pork than
face even a still-born ghost."
"Begone!" said the Abbot, in such a voice that she scrambled to her
feet and went, unblessed and unabsolved.
When the door had closed behind her he went to the window and flung it
wide, although the night was foul.
"By all the saints!" he muttered, "that beastly murderess poisons the
air. Why, I wonder, does God allow such filthy things to live? Cannot
she ply her hell-trade less grossly? Oh! Clement Maldonado, how low
are you sunk that you must use tools like these, and on such a
business. And yet there is no other way. Not for myself, but for the
Church, O Lord! The great plot thickens, and all men clamour to me,
its head and spring, for money. Give me money, and within six months
Yorkshire and the North will be up, and without a year Henry the Anti-
Christ will be dead and the Princess Mary fast upon the throne, with
the Emperor and the Pope for watchdogs. That stiff-necked Cicely must
die and her babe must die, and then I'll twist the secret of the
jewels out of the witch, Emlyn--on the rack, if need be. Those jewels
--I've seen them so often; why, they would feed an army; but while
Cicely or her brat lives where is my claim to them? So, alas! they
must die, but oh! the hag is right. Who shall give me absolution for a
deed I hate? Not for me, not for me, O my Patron, but for the Church!"
and flinging himself to the floor before the holy image of his chosen
Saint, he rested his head upon its feet and wept.
MOTHER MEGGES AND THE GHOST
Flounder Megges, with all the paraphernalia of her trade, was
established as nurse to Cicely at the Nunnery. This establishment, it
is true, had not been easy since Emlyn, who knew something of the
woman's repute, and suspected more, resisted it with all her strength,
but here the Prioress intervened in her gentle way. She herself, she
explained, did not like this person, who looked so odd, drank so much
beer and talked so fast. Yet she had made inquiries and found that she
was extraordinarily skilled in matters of that nature. Indeed, it was
said that she had succeeded in cases that were wonderfully difficult
which the leech had abandoned as hopeless, though of course there had
been other cases where she had not succeeded. But these, she was
informed, were generally those of poor people who did not pay her
well. Now in this instance her pay would be ample, for she, Mother
Matilda, had promised her a splendid fee out of her private store, and
for the rest, since no man doctor might enter there, who else was
competent? Not she or the other nuns, for none of them had been
married save old Bridget, who was silly and had long ago forgotten all
such things. Not Emlyn even, who was but a girl when her own child was
born, and since then had been otherwise employed. Therefore there was
To this reasoning Emlyn agreed perforce, though she mistrusted her of
the fat wretch, whose appearance poor Cicely also disliked. Still, for
very fear Emlyn was humble and civil to her, for if she were not, who
could know if she would put out all her skill upon behalf of her
mistress? Therefore she did her bidding like a slave, and spiced her
beer and made her bed and even listened to her foul jests and talk
The business was over at length, and the child, a noble boy, born into
the world. Had not the Flounder produced it in triumph laid upon a
little basket covered with a lamb-skin, and had not Emlyn and Mother
Matilda and all the nuns kissed and blessed it? Had it not also, for
fear of accident (such was the fatherly forethought of the Abbot),
been baptized at once by a priest who was waiting, under the names of
John Christopher Foterell, John after its grandfather and Christopher
after its father, with Foterell for a surname, since the Abbot would
not allow that it should be called Harflete, being, as he averred,
So this child was born, and Mother Megges swore that of all the two
hundred and three that she had issued into the world it was the
finest, nine and a half pounds in weight at the very least. Also, as
its voice and movements testified, it was lusty and like to live, for
did not the Flounder, in sight of all the wondering nuns, hold it up
hanging by its hands to her two fat forefingers, and afterwards drink
a whole quart of spiced ale to its health and long life?
But if the babe was like to live, Cicely was like to die. Indeed, she
was very, very ill, and perhaps would have passed away had it not been
for a device of Emlyn's. For when she was at her worst and the
Flounder, shaking her head and saying that she could do no more, had
departed to her eternal ale and a nap, Emlyn crept up and took her
mistress's cold hand.
"Darling," she said, "hear me," but Cicely did not stir. "Darling,"
she repeated, "hear me, I have news for you of your husband."
Cicely's white face turned a little on the pillow and her blue eyes
"Of my husband?" she whispered. "Why, he is gone, as I soon shall be.
What news of him?"
"That he is not gone, that he lives, or so I believe, though
heretofore I have hid it from you."
The head was lifted for a moment, and the eyes stared at her with
"Do you trick me, Nurse? Nay, you would never do that. Give me the
milk, I want it now. I'll listen. I promise you I'll not die till you
have told me. If Christopher lives why should I die who only hoped to
So Emlyn whispered all she knew. It was not much, only that
Christopher had not been buried in the grave where he was said to be
buried, and that he had been taken wounded aboard the ship /Great
Yarmouth/, of the fate of which ship fortunately she had heard
nothing. Still, slight as they might be, to Cicely these tidings were
a magic medicine, for did they not mean the rebirth of hope, hope that
for nine long months had been dead and buried with Christopher? From
that moment she began to mend.
When the Flounder, having slept off her drink, returned to the sick-
bed, she stared at her amazed and muttered something about witchcraft,
she who had been sure that she would die, as in those days so many
women did who fell into hands like hers. Indeed, she was bitterly
disappointed, knowing that this death was desired by her employer, who
now after all might let the Ford Inn to another. Moreover, the child
was no waster, but one who was set for life. Well, that at least she
could mend, and if it were done quickly the shock might kill the
mother. Yet the thing was not so easy as it looked, for there were
many loving eyes upon that babe.
When she wished to take it to her bed at night Emlyn forbade her
fiercely, and on being appealed to, the Prioress, who knew the
creature's drunken habits and had heard rumours of the fate of the
Smith infant and others, gave orders that it was not to be. So, since
the mother was too weak to have it with her, the boy was laid in a
little cot at her side. And always day and night one or more of the
sweet-faced nuns stood at the head of that cot watching as might a
guardian angel. Also it took only Nature's food since from the first
Cicely would nurse it, so that she could not mix any drug with its
milk that would cause it to sleep itself away.
So the days went on, bringing black wrath, despair almost, to the
heart of Mother Megges, till at length there came the chance she
sought. One fine evening, when the nuns were gathered at vespers, but
as it happened not in the chapel, because since the tale of the
hauntings they shunned the place after high noon, Cicely, whose
strength was returning to her, asked Emlyn to change her garments and
remake her bed. Meanwhile, the babe was given to Sister Bridget, who
doted on it, with instructions to take it to walk in the garden for a
time, since the rain had passed off and the afternoon was now very
soft and pleasant. So she went, and there presently was met by the
Flounder, who was supposed to be asleep, but had followed her, a
person of whom the half-witted Bridget was much afraid.
"What are you doing with my babe, old fool?" she screeched at her,
thrusting her fat face to within an inch of the nun's. "You'll let it
fall and I shall be blamed. Give me the angel or I will twist your
nose for you. Give it me, I say, and get you gone."
In her fear and flurry old Bridget obeyed and departed at a run. Then,
recovering herself a little, or drawn by some instinct, she returned,
hid herself in a clump of lilac bushes and watched.
Presently she saw the Flounder, after glancing about to make sure that
she was alone, enter the chapel, carrying the child, and heard her
bolt the door after her. Now Bridget, as she said afterwards, grew
very frightened, she knew not why, and, acting on impulse, ran to the
chancel window and, climbing on to a wheelbarrow that stood there,
looked through it. This is what she saw.
Mother Megges was kneeling in the chancel, as she thought at first, to
say her prayers, till she perceived, for a ray from the setting sun
showed it all, that on the paving before her lay the infant and that
this she-devil was thrusting her thick forefinger down its throat, for
already it grew black in the face, and as she thrust muttering
savagely. So horror-struck was Bridget that she could neither move nor
Then, while she stood petrified, suddenly there appeared the figure of
a man in rusty armour. The Flounder looked up, saw him and,
withdrawing her finger from the mouth of the child, let out yell after
yell. The man, who said nothing, drew a sword and lifted it, whereon
the murderess screamed--
"The ghost! The ghost! Spare me, Sir John, I am poor and he paid me.
Spare me for Christ's sake!" and so saying, she rolled on to the floor
in a fit, and there turned and twisted until she lay still.
Then the man, or the ghost of a man, having looked at her, sheathed
his sword and lifting up the babe, which now drew its breath again and
cried, marched with it down the aisle. The next thing of which Bridget
became aware was that he stood before her, the infant in his arms,
holding it out to her. His face she could not see, for the vizor was
down, but he spoke in a hollow voice, saying--
"This gift from Heaven to the Lady Harflete. Bid her fear nothing, for
one devil I have garnered and the others are ripe for reaping."
Bridget took the child and sank down on to the ground, and at that
moment the nuns, alarmed by the awful yells, rushed through the side
door, headed by Mother Matilda. They too saw the figure, and knew the
Foterell cognizance upon its helm and shield. But it waited not to
speak to them, only passed behind some trees and vanished.
Their first care was for the infant, which they thought the man was
stealing; then, after they were sure that it had taken no real hurt,
they questioned old Bridget, but could get nothing from her, for all
she did was to gibber and point first to the barrow and next to the
chancel window. At length Mother Matilda understood and, climbing on
to the barrow, looked through the window as Bridget had done. She
looked, she saw, and fell back fainting.
An hour had gone by. The child, unhurt save for a little bruising of
its tender mouth, was asleep upon its mother's breast. Bridget, having
recovered, at length had told all her tale to every one of them save
Cicely, who as yet knew nothing, for she and Emlyn did not hear the
screams, their rooms being on the other side of the building. The
Abbot had been sent for, and, accompanied by monks, arrived in the
midst of a thunder-storm and pouring rain. He, too, had heard the
tale, heard it with a pale face while his monks crossed themselves. At
length he asked of the woman Megges. They replied that living or dead
she was, as they supposed, still in the chapel, which none of them had
dared to enter.
"Come, let us see," said the Abbot, and they went there to find the
door locked as Bridget had said.
Smiths were sent for and broke it in while all stood in the pouring
rain and watched. It was open at last, and they entered with torches
and tapers, for now the darkness was dense, the Abbot leading them.
They came to the chancel, where something lay upon the floor, and held
down the torches to look. Then they saw that which caused them all to
turn and fly, calling on the saints to protect them. In her life
Mother Megges had not been lovely, but in the death that had overtaken
It was morning. The Lord Abbot and his monks were assembled in the
guest-chamber, and opposite to them were the Lady Prioress and her
nuns, and with them Emlyn.
"Witchcraft!" shouted the Abbot, smiting his fist upon the table,
"black witchcraft! Satan himself and his foulest demons walk the
countryside and have their home in this Nunnery. Last night they
"By saving a babe from a cruel death and bringing a hateful murderess
to doom," broke in Emlyn.
"Silence, Sorceress," shouted the Abbot. "Get thee behind me, Satan. I
know you and your familiars," and he glared at the Prioress.
"What may you mean, my Lord Abbot?" asked Mother Matilda, bridling up.
"My sisters and I do not understand. Emlyn Stower is right. Do you
call that witchcraft which works so good an end? The ghost of Sir John
Foterell appeared here--we admit it who saw that ghost. But what did
the spirit do? It slew the hellish woman whom you sent among us and it
rescued the blessed babe when her finger was down its throat to choke
out its pure life. If that be witchcraft I stand by it. Tell us what
did the wretch mean when she cried out to the spirit to spare her
because she was poor and had been bribed for her iniquity? Who bribed
her, my Lord Abbot? None in this house, I'll swear. And who changed
Sir John Foterell from flesh to spirit? Why is he a ghost to-day?"
"Am I here to answer riddles, woman, and who are you that you dare put
such questions to me? I depose you, I set your house under ban. The
judgment of the Church shall be pronounced against you all. Dare not
to leave your doors until the Court is composed to try you. Think not
you shall escape. Your English land is sick and heresy stalks abroad;
but," he added slowly, "fire can still bite and there is store of
faggots in the woods. Prepare your souls for judgment. Now I go."
"Do as it pleases you," answered the enraged Mother Matilda. "When you
set out your case we will answer it; but, meanwhile, we pray that you
take what is left of your dead hireling with you, for we find her ill
company and here she shall have no burial. My Lord Abbot, the charter
of this Nunnery is from the monarch of England, whatever authority you
and those that went before you have usurped. It was granted by the
first Edward, and the appointment of every prioress since his day has
been signed by the sovereign and no other. I hold mine under the
manual of the eighth Henry. You cannot depose me, for I appeal from
the Abbot to the King. Fare you well, my Lord," and, followed by her
little train of aged nuns, she swept from the room like an offended
After the terrible death of the child-murderess and the restoration of
her babe to her unharmed, Cicely's recovery was swift. Within a week
she was up and walking, and within ten days as strong, or stronger,
than ever she had been. Nothing more had been heard of the Abbot, and
though all knew that danger threatened them from this quarter they
were content to enjoy the present hour of peace and wait till it was
But in Cicely's awakened mind there arose a keen desire to learn more
of what her nurse had hinted to her when she lay upon the very edge of
death. Day by day she plied Emlyn with questions till at length she
knew all; namely, that the tidings came from Thomas Bolle, and that
he, dressed in her father's armour, was the ghost who had saved her
boy from death. Now nothing would serve her but that she must see
Thomas herself, as she said, to thank him, though truly, as Emlyn knew
well, to draw from his own lips every detail and circumstance that she
could gather concerning Christopher.
For a while Emlyn held out against her, for she knew the dangers of
such a meeting; but in the end, being able to refuse her lady nothing,
she gave way.
At length at the appointed hour of sunset Emlyn and Cicely stood in
the chapel, whither the latter told the nuns she wished to go to
return thanks for her deliverance from many dangers. They knelt before
the altar, and while they made pretence to pray there heard knocks,
which were the signal of the presence of Thomas Bolle. Emlyn answered
them with other knocks, which told that all was safe, whereon the
wooden image turned and Thomas appeared, dressed as before in Sir John
Foterell's armour. So like did he seem to her dead father in this
familiar mail that for a moment Cicely thought it must be he, and her
knees trembled until he knelt before her, kissing her hand, asking
after her health and that of the infant and whether she were satisfied
with his service.
"Indeed and indeed yes," she answered; "and oh, friend! all that I
have henceforth is yours should I ever have anything again, who am but
a prisoned beggar. Meanwhile, my blessing and that of Heaven rest upon
you, you gallant man."
"Thank me not, Lady," answered the honest Thomas. "To speak truth it
was Emlyn whom I served, for though monks parted us we have been
friends for many a year. As for the matter of the child and that spawn
of hell, the Flounder, be grateful to God, not to me, for it was by
mere chance that I came here that evening, which I had not intended to
do. I was going about my business with the cattle when something
seemed to tell me to arm and come. It was as though a hand pushed me,
and the rest you know, and so I think by now does Mother Megges," he
"Yes, yes, Thomas; and in truth I do thank God, Whose finger I see in
all this business, as I thank you, His instrument. But there are other
things whereof Emlyn has spoken to me. She said--ah! she said my
husband, whom I thought slain and buried, in truth was only wounded
and not buried, but shipped over-sea. Tell me that story, friend,
omitting nothing, but swiftly for our time is short. I thirst to hear
it from your own lips."
So in his slow, wandering way he told her, word by word, all that he
had seen, all that he had learned, and the sum of it was that Sir
Christopher had been shipped abroad upon the /Great Yarmouth/, sorely
wounded but not dead, and that with him had sailed Jeffrey Stokes and
the monk Martin.
"That's ten months gone," said Cicely. "Has naught been heard of this
ship? By now she should be home again."
Thomas hesitated, then answered--
"No tidings came of her from Spain. Then, although I said nothing of
it even to Emlyn, she was reported lost with all hands at sea. Then
came another story----"
"Ah! that other story?"
"Lady, two of her crew reached the Wash. I did not see them, and they
have shipped again for Marseilles in France. But I spoke with a
shepherd who is half-brother to one of them, and he told me that from
him he learned that the /Great Yarmouth/ was set upon by two Turkish
pirates and captured after a brave fight in which the captain Goody
and others were killed. This man and his comrade escaped in a boat and
drifted to and fro till they were picked up by a homeward-bound
caravel which landed them at Hull. That's all I know--save one thing."
"One thing! Oh, what thing, Thomas? That my husband is dead?"
"Nay, nay, the very opposite, that he is alive, or was, for these men
saw him and Jeffrey Stokes and Martin the priest, no craven as I know,
fighting like devils till the Turks overwhelmed them by numbers, and,
having bound their hands, carried them all three unwounded on board
one of their ships, wishing doubtless to make slaves of such brave
Now, although Emlyn would have stopped her, still Cicely plied him
with questions, which he answered as best he could, till suddenly a
sound caught his ear.
"Look at the window!" he exclaimed.
They looked, and saw a sight that froze their blood, for there staring
at them through the glass was the dark face of the Abbot, and with it
"Betray me not, or I shall burn," he whispered. "Say only that I came
to haunt you," and silently as a shadow he glided to his niche and was
"What now, Emlyn?"
"One thing only--Thomas must be saved. A bold face and stand to it. Is
it our fault if your father's ghost should haunt this chapel?
Remember, your father's ghost, no other. Ah! here they come."
As she spoke the door was thrown wide, and through it came the Abbot
and his rout of attendants. Within two paces of the women they halted,
hanging together like bees, for they were afraid, while a voice cried,
"Seize the witches!"
Cicely's terror passed from her and she faced them boldly.
"What would you with us, my Lord Abbot?" she asked.
"We would know, Sorceress, what shape was that which spoke with you
but now, and whither has it gone?"
"The same that saved my child and called the Sword of God down upon
the murderess. It wore my father's armour, but its face I did not see.
It has gone whence it came, but where that is I know not. Discover if
"Woman, you trifle with us. What said the Thing?"
"It spoke of the slaughter of Sir John Foterell by King's Grave Mount
and of those who wrought it," and she looked at him steadily until his
eyes fell before hers.
"It told me that my husband is not dead. Neither did you bury him as
you put about, but shipped him hence to Spain, whence it prophesied he
will return again to be revenged upon you. It told me that he was
captured by the infidel Moors, and with him Jeffrey Stokes, my
father's servant, and the priest Martin, your secretary. Then it
looked up and vanished, or seemed to vanish, though perhaps it is
among us now."
"Aye," answered the Abbot, "Satan, with whom you hold converse, is
always among us. Cicely Foterell and Emlyn Stower, you are foul
witches, self-confessed. The world has borne your sorceries too long,
and you shall answer for them before God and man, as I, the Lord Abbot
of Blossholme, have right and authority to make you do. Seize these
witches and let them be kept fast in their chamber till I constitute
the Court Ecclesiastic for their trial."
So they took hold of Cicely and Emlyn and led them to the Nunnery. As
they crossed the garden they were met by Mother Matilda and the nuns,
who, for a second time within a month, ran out to see what was the
tumult in the chapel.
"What is it now, Cicely?" asked the Prioress.
"Now we are witches, Mother," she answered, with a sad smile.
"Aye," broke in Emlyn, "and the charge is that the ghost of the
murdered Sir John Foterell was seen speaking to us."
"Why, why?" exclaimed the Prioress. "If the spirit of a woman's father
appears to her is she therefore to be declared a witch? Then is poor
Sister Bridget a witch also, for this same spirit brought the child to
"Aye," said the Abbot, "I had forgotten her. She is another of the
crew, let her be seized and shut up also. Greatly do I hope, when it
comes to the hour of trial, that there may not be found to be more of
them," and he glanced at the poor nuns with menace in his eye.
So Cicely and Emlyn were shut within their room and strictly guarded
by monks, but otherwise not ill-treated. Indeed, save for their
confinement, there was little change in their condition. The child was
allowed to be with Cicely, the nuns were allowed to visit her.
Only over both of them hung the shadow of great trouble. They were
aware, and it seemed to them purposely suffered to be aware, that they
were about to be tried for their lives upon monstrous and obscene
charges; namely, that they had consorted with a dim and awful creature
called the Enemy of Mankind, whom, it was supposed, human beings had
power to call to their counsel and assistance. To them who knew well
that this being was Thomas Bolle, the thing seemed absurd. Yet it
could not be denied that the said Thomas at Emlyn's instigation had
worked much evil on the monks of Blossholme, paying them, or rather
their Abbot, back in his own coin.
Yet what was to be done? To tell the facts would be to condemn Thomas
to some fearful fate which even then they would be called upon to
share, although possibly they might be cleared of the charge of
Emlyn set the matter before Cicely, urging neither one side nor the
other, and waited her judgment. It was swift and decisive.
"This is a coil that we cannot untangle," said Cicely. "Let us betray
no one, but put our trust in God. I am sure," she added, "that God
will help us as He did when Mother Megges would have murdered my boy.
I shall not attempt to defend myself by wronging others. I leave
everything to Him."
"Strange things have happened to many who trusted in God; to that the
whole evil world bears witness," said Emlyn doubtfully.
"May be," answered Cicely in her quiet fashion, "perhaps because they
did not trust enough or rightly. At least there lies my path and I
will walk in it--to the fire if need be."
"There is some seed of greatness in you; to what will it grow, I
wonder?" replied Emlyn, with a shrug of her shoulders.
On the morrow this faith of Cicely's was put to a sharp test. The
Abbot came and spoke with Emlyn apart. This was the burden of his
"Give me those jewels and all may yet be well with you and your
mistress, vile witches though you are. If not, you burn."
As before she denied all knowledge of them.
"Find me the jewels or you burn," he answered. "Would you pay your
lives for a few miserable gems?"
Now Emlyn weakened, not for her own sake, and said she would speak
with her mistress.
He bade her do so.
"I thought that those jewels were burned, Emlyn, do you then know
where they are?" asked Cicely.
"Aye, I have said nothing of it to you, but I know. Speak the word and
I give them up to save you."
Cicely thought a while and kissed her child, which she held in her
arms, then laughed aloud and answered--
"Not so. That Abbot shall never be richer for any gem of mine. I have
told you in what I trust, and it is not jewels. Whether I burn or
whether I am saved, he shall not have them."
"Good," said Emlyn, "that is my mind also, I only spoke for your
sake," and she went out and told the Abbot.
He came into Cicely's chamber and raged at them. He said that they
should be excommunicated, then tortured and then burned; but Cicely,
whom he had thought to frighten, never winced.
"If so, so let it be," she replied, "and I will bear all as best I
can. I know nothing of these jewels, but if they still exist they are
mine, not yours, and I am innocent of any witchcraft. Do your work,
for I am sure that the end shall be far other than you think."
"What!" said the Abbot, "has the foul fiend been with you again that
you talk thus certainly? Well, Sorceress, soon you will sing another
tune," and he went to the door and summoned the Prioress.
"Put these women upon bread and water," he said, "and prepare them for
the rack, that they may discover their accomplices."
Mother Matilda set her gentle face, and answered--
"It shall not be done in this Nunnery, my Lord Abbot. I know the law,
and you have no such power. Moreover, if you move them hence, who are
my guests, I appeal to the King, and meanwhile raise the country on
"Said I not that they had accomplices?" sneered the Abbot, and went
But of the torture no more was heard, for that appeal to the King had
an ill sound in his ears.
It was the day of trial. From dawn Cicely and Emlyn had seen people
hurrying in and out of the gates of the Nunnery, and heard workmen
making preparation in the guest-hall below their chamber. About eight
one of the nuns brought them their breakfast. Her face was scared and
white; she only spoke in whispers, looking behind her continually as
though she knew she was being watched.
Emlyn asked who their judges were, and she answered--
"The Abbot, a strange, black-faced Prior, and the Old Bishop. Oh! God
help you, my sisters; God help us all!" and she fled away.
Now for a moment Emlyn's heart failed her, since before such a
tribunal what chance had they? The Abbot was their bitter enemy and
accuser; the strange Prior, no doubt, one of his friends and kindred;
while the ecclesiastic spoken of as the "Old Bishop" was well known as
perhaps the cruelest man in England, a scourge of heretics--that is,
before heresy became the fashion--a hunter-out of witches and wizards,
and a time-server to boot. But to Cicely she said nothing, for what
was the use, seeing that soon she would learn all?
They ate their food, knowing both of them that they would need
strength. Then Cicely nursed her child, and, placing it in Emlyn's
arms, knelt down to pray. While she was still praying the door opened
and a procession appeared. First came two monks, then six armed men of
the Abbot's guard, then the Prioress and three of her nuns. At the
sight of the beautiful young woman kneeling at her prayers the guards,
rough men though they were, stopped, as if unwilling to disturb her,
but one of the monks cried brutally--
"Seize the accursed hypocrite, and if she will not come, drag her with
you," at the same time stretching out his hand as though to grasp her
But Cicely rose and faced him, saying--
"Do not touch me; I follow. Emlyn, give me the child, and let us go."
So they went in the midst of the armed men, the monks preceding, the
nuns, with bowed heads, following after. Presently they entered the
large hall, but on its threshold were ordered to pause while way was
made for them. Cicely never forgot the sight of it as it appeared that
day. The lofty, arched roof of rich chestnut-wood, set there hundreds
of years before by hands that spared neither work nor timber, amongst
the beams of which the bright light of morning played so clearly that
she could see the spiders' webs, and in one of them a sleepy autumn
wasp caught fast. The mob of people gathered to watch her public trial
--faces, many of them, that she had known from childhood.
How they stared at her as she stood there by the head of the steps,
her sleeping child held in her arms! They were a packed audience and
had been prepared to condemn her--that she could see and hear, for did
not some of them point and frown, and set up a cry of "Witch!" as they
had been told to do? But it died away. The sight of her, the daughter
of one of their great men and the widow of another, standing in her
innocent beauty, the slumbering babe upon her breast, seemed to quell
them, till the hardest faces grew pitiful--full of resentment, too,
some of them, but not against her.
Then the three judges on the bench behind the table, at which sat the
monkish secretaries; the hard-faced, hook-nosed "Old Bishop" in his
gorgeous robes and mitre, his crozier resting against the panelling
behind him, peering about him with beady eyes. The sullen, heavy-jawed
Prior, from some distant county, on his left, clad in a simple black
gown with a girdle about his waist. And on the right Clement Maldon,
Abbot of Blossholme and enemy of her house, suave, olive-faced,
foreign-looking, his black, uneasy eyes observing all, his keen ears
catching every word and murmur as he whispered something to the Bishop
that caused him to smile grimly. Lastly, placed already in the roped
space and guarded by a soldier, poor old Bridget, the half-witted, who
was gabbling words to which no one paid any heed.
The path was clear now, and they were ordered to walk on. Half-way up
the hall something red attracted Cicely's attention, and, glancing
round, she saw that it was the beard of Thomas Bolle. Their eyes met,
and his were full of fear. In an instant she understood that he
dreaded lest he should be betrayed and given over to some awful doom.
"Fear nothing," she whispered as she passed, and he heard her, or
perhaps Emlyn's glance told him that he was safe. At least, a sign of
relief broke from him.
Now they had entered the roped space, and stood there.
"Your name?" asked one of the secretaries, pointing to Cicely with the
feather of his quill.
"All know it, it is Cicely Harflete," she answered gently, whereon the
clerk said roughly that she lied, and the old wrangle began again as
to the validity of her marriage, the Abbot maintaining that she was
still Cicely Foterell, the mother of a base-born child.
Into this argument the Bishop entered with some zest, asking many
questions, and seeming more or less to take her side, since, where
matters of religion were not concerned, he was a keen lawyer, and just
enough. At length, however, he swept the thing away, remarking
brutally that if half he had heard were true, soon the name by which
she had last been called in life would not concern her, and bade the
clerks write her down as Cicely Harflete or Foterell.
Then Emlyn gave her name, and Sister Bridget's was written without
question. Next the charge against them was read. It was long and
technical, mixed up with Latin words and phrases, and all that Cicely
made out of it was that they were accused of many horrible crimes, and
of having called up the devil and consorted with him in the shape of a
monster with horns and hoofs, and of her father's ghost. When it was
finished they were commanded to answer, and pleaded Not Guilty, or
rather Cicely and Emlyn did, for Bridget broke into a long tale that
could not be followed. She was ordered to be silent, after which no
one took any more heed of what she said.
Now the Bishop asked whether these women had been put to the question,
and when he was told No, said that it seemed a pity, as evidently they
were stubborn witches, and some discipline of the sort might have
saved trouble. Again he asked if the witch's marks had been found on
them--that is, the spot where the devil had sealed their bodies, on
which, as was well known, his chosen could feel no pain. He even
suggested that the trial should be adjourned until they had been
pricked all over with a nail to find this spot, but ultimately gave up
the point to save time.
A last question was raised by the beetle-browed Prior, who submitted
that the infant ought also to be accused, since he, too, was said to
have consorted with the devil, having, according to the story, been
rescued from death by him and afterwards been carried in his arms and
given to the nun Bridget, which was the only evidence against the said
Bridget. If she was guilty, why, then, was the infant innocent? Ought
not they to burn together, since a babe that had been nursed by the
Evil One was obviously damned?
The legal-minded Bishop found this argument interesting, but
ultimately decided that it was safer to overrule it on account of the
tender age of the criminal. He added that it did not matter, since
doubtless the foul fiend would claim his own ere long.
Lastly, before the witnesses were called, Emlyn asked for an advocate
to defend them, but the Bishop replied, with a chuckle, that it was
quite unnecessary, since already they had the best of all advocates--
"True, my Lord," said Cicely, looking up, "we have the best of all
advocates, only you have mis-named him. The God of the innocent is our
advocate, and in Him I trust."
"Blaspheme not, Sorceress," shouted the old man; and the evidence
To follow it in detail is not necessary, and, indeed, would be long,
for it took many hours. First of all Emlyn's early life was set out,
much being made of the fact that her mother was a gypsy who had
committed suicide and that her father had fallen under the ban of the
Inquisition, an heretical work of his having been publicly burned.
Then the Abbot himself gave evidence, since, where the charge was
sorcery, no one seemed to think it strange that the same man should
both act as judge and be the principal witness for the prosecution. He
told of Cicely's wild words after the burning of Cranwell Towers, from
which burning she and her familiar, Emlyn, had evidently escaped by
magic, without the aid of which it was plain they could not have
lived. He told of Emlyn's threats to him after she had looked into the
bowl of water; of all the dreadful things that had been seen and done
at Blossholme, which no doubt these witches had brought about--here he
was right--though how he knew not. He told of the death of the midwife
and of the appearance which she presented afterwards--a tale that
caused his audience to shudder; and, lastly, he told of the vision of
the ghost of Sir John Foterell holding converse with the two accused
in the chapel of the Nunnery, and its vanishing away.
When at length he had finished Emlyn asked leave to cross-examine him,
but this was refused on the ground that persons accused of such crimes
had no right to cross-examine.
Then the Court adjourned for a while to eat, some food being brought
for the prisoners, who were forced to take it where they stood. Worse
still, Cicely was driven to nurse her child in the presence of all
that audience, who stared and gibed at her rudely, and were angry
because Emlyn and some of the nuns stood round her to form a living
When the judges returned the evidence went on. Though most of it was
entirely irrelevant, its volume was so great that at length the Old
Bishop grew weary, and said he would hear no more. Then the judges
went on to put, first to Cicely and afterwards to Emlyn, a series of
questions of a nature so abominable that after denying the first of
them indignantly, they stood silent, refusing to answer--proof
positive of their guilt, as the black-browed Prior remarked in
triumph. Lastly, these hideous queries being exhausted, Cicely was
asked if she had anything to say.
"Somewhat," she answered; "but I am weary, and must be brief. I am no
witch; I do not know what it means. The Abbot of Blossholme, who sits
as my judge, is my grievous enemy. He claimed my father's lands--which
lands I believe he now holds--and cruelly murdered my said father by
King's Grave Mount in the forest as he was riding to London to make
complaint of him and reveal his treachery to his Grace the King and
"It is a lie, witch," broke in the Abbot, but, taking no heed, Cicely
"Afterwards he and his hired soldiers attacked the house of my
husband, Sir Christopher Harflete, and burnt it, slaying, or striving
to slay--I know not which--my said husband, who has vanished away.
Then he imprisoned me and my servant, Emlyn Stower, in this Nunnery,
and strove to force me to sign papers conveying all my own and my
child's property to him. This I refused to do, and therefore it is
that he puts me on my trial, because, as I am told, those who are
found guilty of witchcraft are stripped of all their possessions,
which those take who are strong enough to keep them. Lastly, I deny
the authority of this Court, and appeal to the King, who soon or late
will hear my cry and avenge my wrongs, and maybe my murder, upon those
who wrought them. Good people all, hear my words. I appeal to the
King, and to him under God above I entrust my cause, and, should I
die, the guardianship of my orphan son, whom the Abbot sent his
creature to murder--his vile creature, upon whose head fell the
Almighty's justice, as it will fall on yours, you slaughterers of the
So spoke Cicely, and, having spoken, worn out with fatigue and misery,
sank to the floor--for all these hours there had been no stool for her
to sit on--and crouched there, still holding her child in her arms--a
piteous sight indeed, which touched even the superstitious hearts of
the crowd who watched her.
Now this appeal of hers to the King seemed to scare the fierce Old
Bishop, who turned and began to argue with the Abbot. Cicely,
listening, caught some of his words, such as--
"On your head be it, then. I judge only of the cause ecclesiastic, and
shall direct it to be so entered upon the records. Of the execution of
the sentence or the disposal of the property I wash my hands. See you
"So spoke Pilate," broke in Cicely, lifting her head and looking him
in the eyes. Then she let it fall again, and was silent.
Now Emlyn opened her lips, and from them burst a fierce torrent of
"Do you know," she began, "who and what is this Spanish priest who
sits to judge us of witchcraft? Well, I will tell you. Years ago he
fled from Spain because of hideous crimes that he had committed there.
Ask him of Isabella the nun, who was my father's cousin, and her end
and that of her companions. Ask him of----"
At this point a monk, to whom the Abbot had whispered something,
slipped behind Emlyn and threw a cloth over her face. She tore it away
with her strong hands, and screamed out--
"He is a murderer, he is a traitor. He plots to kill the King. I can
prove it, and that's why Foterell died--because he knew----"
The Abbot shouted something, and again the monk, a stout fellow named
Ambrose, got the cloth over her mouth. Once more she wrenched herself
loose, and, turning towards the people, called--
"Have I never a friend, who have befriended so many? Is there no man
in Blossholme who will avenge me of this brute Ambrose? Aye, I see
Then this Ambrose, and others aiding him, fell upon her, striking her
on the head and choking her, till at length she sank, half stunned and
gasping, to the ground.
Now, after a hurried word or two with his colleagues, the Bishop
sprang up, and as darkness gathered in the hall--for the sun had set--
pronounced the sentence of the Court.
First he declared the prisoners guilty of the foulest witchcraft. Next
he excommunicated them with much ceremony, delivering their souls to
their master, Satan. Then, incidentally, he condemned their bodies to
be burnt, without specifying when, how, or by whom. Out of the gloom a
clear voice spoke, saying--
"You exceed your powers, Priest, and usurp those of the King. Beware!"
A tumult followed, in which some cried "Aye" and some "Nay," and when
at length it died down the Bishop, or it may have been the Abbot--for
none could see who spoke--exclaimed--
"The Church guards her own rights; let the King see to his."
"He will, he will," answered the same voice. "The Pope is in his bag.
Monks, your day is done."
Again there was tumult, a very great tumult. In truth the scene, or
rather the sounds, were strange. The Bishop shrieking with rage upon
the bench, like a hen that has been caught upon her perch at night,
the black-browed Prior bellowing like a bull, the populace surging and
shouting this and that, the secretary calling for candles, and when at
length one was brought, making a little star of light in that huge
gloom, putting his hand to his mouth and roaring--
"What of this Bridget? Does she go free?"
The Bishop made no answer; it seemed as though he were frightened at
the forces which he had let loose; but the Abbot hallooed back--
"Burn the hag with the others," and the secretary wrote it down upon
Then the guards seized the three of them to lead them away, and the
frightened babe set up a thin, piercing wail, while the Bishop and his
companions, preceded by one of the monks bearing the candle--it was
that Ambrose who had choked Emlyn--marched in procession down the hall
to gain the great door.
Ere ever they reached it the candle was dashed from the hand of
Ambrose, and a fearful tumult arose in the dense darkness, for now all
light had vanished. There were screams, and sounds of fighting, and
cries for help. These died away; the hall emptied by degrees, for it
seemed that none wished to stay there. Torches were lit, and showed a
The Bishop, the Abbot, and the foreign Prior lay here and there,
buffeted, bleeding, their robes torn off them, so that they were
almost naked, while by the Bishop was his crozier, broken in two,
apparently across his own head. Worse of all, the monk Ambrose leaned
against a pillar; his feet seemed to go forward but his face looked
backward, for his neck was twisted like that of a Michaelmas goose.
The Bishop looked about him and felt his hurts; then he called to his
"Bring me my cloak and a horse, for I have had enough of Blossholme
and its wizardries. Settle your own matters henceforth, Abbot Maldon,
for in them I find no luck," and he glanced at his broken staff.
Thus ended the great trial of the Blossholme witches.
Cicely had sunk to sleep at last, and Emlyn watched her, for, since
there was nowhere else to put them, they were back in their own room,
but guarded by armed men, lest they should escape. Of this, as Emlyn
knew well, there was little chance, for even if they were once outside
the Priory walls, how could they get away without friends to help, or
food to eat, or horses to carry them? They would be run down within a
mile. Moreover, there was the child, which Cicely would never leave,
and, after all she had undergone, she herself was not fit to travel.
Therefore it was that Emlyn sat sleepless, full of bitter wrath and
fear, for she could see no hope. All was black as the night about
The door opened, and was shut and locked again. Then, from behind the
curtain, appeared the tall figure of the Prioress, carrying a candle
that made a star of light upon the shadows. As she stood there holding
it up and looking about her, something came into Emlyn's mind. Perhaps
she would help, she who loved Cicely. Did she not look like a figure
of hope, with her sweet face and her taper in the gloom? Emlyn
advanced to meet her, her finger on her lips.
"She sleeps; wake her not," she said. "Have you come to tell us that
we burn to-morrow?"
"Nay, Emlyn; the Old Bishop has commanded that it shall not be for a
week. He would have time to get across England first. Indeed, had it
not been for the beating of him in the dark and the twisting of the
neck of Brother Ambrose, I believe that he would not have suffered it
at all, for fear of trouble afterwards. But now he is full of rage,
and swears that he was set upon by evil spirits in the hall, and that
those who loosed them shall not live. Emlyn, /who/ killed Father
Ambrose? Was it men or----?"
"Men, I think, Mother. The devil does not twist necks except in
monkish dreams. Is it wonderful that my lady--the greatest lady of all
these parts and the most foully treated--should have friends left to
her? Why, if they were not curs, ere now her people would have pulled
that Abbey stone from stone and cut the throat of every man within its
"Emlyn," said the Prioress again, "in the name of Jesus and on your
soul, tell me true, is there witchcraft in all this business? And if
not, what is its meaning?"
"As much witchcraft as dwells in your gentle heart; no more. A man did
these things; I'll not give you his name, lest it should be wrung from
you. A man wore Foterell's armour, and came here by a secret hole to
take counsel with us in the chapel. A man burnt the Abbey dormers and
the stacks, and harried the beasts with a goatskin on his head, and
dragged the skull of drunken Andrew from his grave. Doubtless it was
his hand also that twisted Ambrose's neck because he struck me."
The two women looked each other in the eyes.
"Ah!" said the Prioress. "I think I can guess now; but, Emlyn, you
choose rough tools. Well, fear not; your secret is safe with me." She
paused a moment; then went on, "Oh! I am glad, who feared lest the
Fiend's finger was in it all, as, in truth, they believe. Now I see my
path clear, and will follow it to the death. Yes, yes; I will save you
all or die."
"What path, Mother?"
"Emlyn, you have heard no tidings for these many months, but I have.
Listen; there is much afoot. The King, or the Lord Cromwell, or both,
make war upon the lesser Houses, dissolving them, seizing their goods,
turning the religious out of them upon the world to starve. His Grace
sends Royal Commissioners to visit them, and be judge and jury both.
They were coming here, but I have friends and some fortune of my own,
who was not born meanly or ill-dowered, and I found a way to buy them
off. One of these Commissioners, Thomas Legh, as I heard only to-day,
makes inquisition at the monastery of Bayfleet, in Yorkshire, some
eighty miles away, of which my cousin, Alfred Stukley, whose letter
reached me this morning, is the Prior. Emlyn, I'll go to this rough
man--for rough he is, they say. Old and feeble as I am, I'll seek him
out and offer up the ancient House I rule to save your life and
Cicely's--yes, and Bridget's also."
"You will go, Mother! Oh! God's blessing be on you. But how will you
go? They will never suffer it."
The old nun drew herself up, and answered--
"Who has the right to say to the Prioress of Blossholme that she shall
not travel whither she will? No Spanish Abbot, I think. Why, but now
that proud priest's servants would have forbidden me to enter your
chamber in my own House, but I read them a lesson they will not
forget. Also I have horses at my command, but it is true I need an
escort, who am not too strong and little versed in the ways of the
outside world, where I have scarcely strayed for many years. Now I
have bethought me of that red-haired lay-brother, Thomas Bolle. I am
told that though foolish, he is a valiant man whom few care to face;
moreover, that he understands horses and knows all roads. Do you
think, Emlyn Stower, that Thomas Bolle will be my companion on this
journey, with leave from the Abbot, or without it?" and again she
looked her in the eyes.
"He might, he might; he is a venturous man, or so I remember him in my
youth," answered Emlyn. "Moreover, his forefathers have served the
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