THE LADY OF BLOSSHOLME
H. Rider Haggard
Part 4 out of 6
Harfletes and the Foterells for generations in peace and war, and
doubtless, therefore, he loves my lady yonder. But the trouble is to
get at him."
"No trouble at all, Emlyn; he is one of the watch outside the gate.
But, woman, what token?"
Emlyn thought for a moment, then drew a ring off her finger in which
was set a cornelian heart.
"Give him this," she said, "and say that the wearer bade him follow
the bearer to the death, for the sake of that wearer's life and
another's. He is a simple soul, and if the Abbot does not catch him
first I believe that he will go."
Mother Matilda took the ring and set it on her own finger. Then she
walked to where Cicely lay sleeping, looked at her and the boy upon
her breast. Stretching out her thin hands, she called down the
blessing and protection of Almighty God upon them both, then turned to
Emlyn caught her by the robe.
"Stay," she said. "You think I do not understand; but I do. You are
giving up everything for us. Even if you live through it, this House,
which has been your charge for many years, will be dissolved; your
sheep will be scattered to starve in their toothless age; the fold
that has sheltered them for four hundred years will become a home of
wolves. I understand full well, and she"--pointing to the sleeping
Cicely--"will understand also."
"Say nothing to her," murmured Mother Matilda; "I may fail."
"You may fail, or you may succeed. If you fail and we burn, God shall
reward you. If you succeed and we are saved, on her behalf I swear
that you shall not suffer. There is wealth hidden away--wealth worth
many priories; you and yours shall have your share of it, and that
Commissioner shall not go lacking. Tell him that there is some small
store to pay him for his trouble, and that the Abbot of Blossholme
would rob him of it. Now, my Lady Margaret--for that, I think, used to
be your name, and will be again when you have done with priests and
nuns--bless me also and begone, and know that, living or dead, I hold
you great and holy."
So the Prioress blessed her ere she glided thence in her stately
fashion, and the oaken door opened and shut behind her.
Three days later the Abbot visited them alone.
"Foul and accursed witches," he said, "I come to tell you that next
Monday at noon you burn upon the green in front of the Abbey gate,
who, were it not for the mercy of the Church, should have been
tortured also till you discovered your accomplices, of whom I think
that you have many."
"Show me the King's warrant for this slaughter," said Cicely.
"I will show you nothing save the stake, witch. Repent, repent, ere it
be too late. Hell and its eternal fires yawn for you."
"Do they yawn for my child also, my Lord Abbot?"
"Your brat will be taken from you ere you enter the flames and laid
upon the ground, since it is baptized and too young to burn. If any
have pity on it, good; if not, where it lies, there it will be
"So be it," answered Cicely. "God gave it; God save it. In God I put
my trust. Murderer, leave me to make my peace with Him," and she
turned and walked away.
Now the Abbot and Emlyn were face to face.
"Do we really burn on Monday?" she asked.
"Without doubt, unless faggots will not take fire. Yet," he added
slowly, "if certain jewels should chance to be found and handed over,
the case might be remitted to another Court."
"And the torment prolonged. My Lord Abbot, I fear that those jewels
will never be found."
"Well, then you burn--slowly, perhaps, for much rain has fallen of
late and the wood is green. They say the death is dreadful."
"Doubtless one day you will find it so, Clement Maldonado, here or
hereafter. But of that we will talk together when all is done--of that
and many other things. I mean before the Judgment-seat of God. Nay,
nay, I do not threaten after your fashion--it shall be so. Meanwhile I
ask the boon of a dying woman. There are two whom I would see--the
Prioress Matilda, in whose charge I desire to leave a certain secret,
and Thomas Bolle, a lay-brother in your Abbey, a man who once engaged
himself to me in marriage. For your own sake, deny me not these
"They should be granted readily enough were it in my power, but it is
not," answered the Abbot, looking at her curiously, for he thought
that to them she might tell what she had refused to him--the hiding-
place of the jewels, which afterwards he could wring out.
"Why not, my Lord Abbot?"
"Because the Prioress has gone hence, secretly, upon some journey of
her own, and Thomas Bolle has vanished away I knew not where. If they,
or either of them, return ere Monday you shall see them."
"And if they do not return I shall see them afterwards," replied
Emlyn, with a shrug of her shoulders. "What does it matter? Fare you
well till we meet at the fire, my Lord Abbot."
On the Sunday--that is, the day before the burning--the Abbot came
"Three days ago," he said, addressing them both, "I offered you a
chance of life upon certain conditions, but, obstinate witches that
you are, you refused to listen. Now I offer you the last boon in my
power--not life, indeed; it is too late for that--but a merciful
death. If you will give me what I seek, the executioner shall dispatch
you both before the fire bites--never mind how. If not--well, as I
have told you, there has been much rain, and they say the faggots are
Cicely paled a little--who would not, even in those cruel days?--then
"And what is it that you seek, or that we can give? A confession of
our guilt, to cover up your crime in the eyes of the world? If so, you
shall never have it, though we burn by inches."
"Yes, I seek that, but for your own sakes, not for mine, since those
who confess and repent may receive absolution. Also I seek more--the
rich jewels which you have in hiding, that they may be used for the
purposes of the Church."
Then it was that Cicely showed the courage of her blood.
"Never, never!" she cried, turning on him with eyes ablaze. "Torture
and slay me if you will, but my wealth you shall not thieve. I know
not where these jewels are, but wherever they may be, there let them
lie till my heirs find them, or they rot."
The Abbot's face grew very evil.
"Is that your last word, Cicely Foterell?" he asked.
She bowed her head, and he repeated the question to Emlyn, who
"What my mistress says, I say."
"So be it!" he exclaimed. "Doubtless you sorceresses put your trust in
the devil. Well, we shall see if he will help you to-morrow."
"God will help us," replied Cicely in a quiet voice. "Remember my
words when the time comes."
Then he went.
It was an awful night. Let those who have followed this history think
of the state of these two women, one of them still but a girl, who on
the morrow, amidst the jeers and curses of superstitious men, were to
suffer the cruelest of deaths for no crime at all, unless the
traffickings of Emlyn with Thomas Bolle, in which Cicely had small
share, could be held a crime. Well, thousands quite as blameless were
called on to undergo that, and even worse fates in the days which some
name good and old, the days of chivalry and gallant knights, when even
little children were tormented and burned by holy and learned folk who
feared a visible or at least a tangible devil and his works.
Doubtless their cruelty was that of terror. Doubtless, although he had
other ends to gain which to him were sacred, the Abbot Maldon did
believe that Cicely and Emlyn had practised horrible witchcraft; that
they had conversed with Satan in order to revenge themselves upon him,
and therefore were too foul to live. The "Old Bishop" believed it
also, and so did the black-browed Prior and the most of the ignorant
people who lived around and knew of the terrible things which had
happened in Blossholme. Had not some of them actually seen the fiend
with horns and hoofs and tail driving the Abbey cattle, and had not
others met the ghost of Sir John Foterell, which doubtless was but
that fiend in another shape? Oh, these women were guilty, without
doubt they were guilty and deserved the stake! What did it matter if
the husband and father of one of them had been murdered and the other
had suffered grievous but forgotten wrongs? Compared to witchcraft
murder was but a light and homely crime, one that would happen when
men's passions and needs were involved, quite a familiar thing.
It was an awful night. Sometimes Cicely slept a little, but the most
of it she spent in prayer. The fierce Emlyn neither slept nor prayed,
except once or twice that vengeance might fall upon the Abbot's head,
for her whole soul was up in arms and it galled her to think that she
and her beloved mistress must die shamefully while their enemy lived
on triumphant and in honour. Even the infant seemed nervous and
disturbed, as though some instinct warned it of terror at hand, for
although it was well enough, against its custom it woke continually
"Emlyn," said Cicely towards morning, but before the light had come,
after at length she had soothed it to rest, "do you think that Mother
Matilda will be able to help us?"
"No, no; put it from your mind, dearie. She is weak and old, the road
is rough and long, and mayhap she has never reached the place. It was
a great venture for her to try such a journey, and if she came there,
why, perhaps the Commissioner man had gone, or perhaps he will not
listen, or perhaps he cannot come. What would he care about the
burning of two witches a hundred miles away, this leech who is sucking
himself full upon the carcass of some fat monastery? No, no, never
count on her."
"At least she is brave and true, Emlyn, and has done her best, for
which may Heaven's blessing rest upon her always. Now, what of Thomas
"Nothing, except that he is a red-headed jackass that can bray but
daren't kick," answered Emlyn viciously. "Never speak to me of Thomas
Bolle. Had he been a man long ago he'd have broken the neck of that
rogue Abbot instead of dressing himself up like a he-goat and hunting
"If what they say is true he did break the neck of Father Ambrose,"
replied Cicely, with a faint smile. "Perhaps he made a mistake in the
"If so it is like Thomas Bolle, who ever wished the right thing and
did the wrong. Talk no more of him, since I would not meet my end in a
bad spirit. Thomas Bolle, who lets us die for his elfish pranks! A
pest on the half-witted cur, say I. And after I had kissed him too!"
Cicely wondered vaguely to what she referred, then, thinking it well
not to inquire, said--
"Not so, a blessing on him, say I, who saved my child from that
Then there was silence for a while, the matter of poor Thomas Bolle
and his conduct being exhausted between them, who indeed were in no
mood for argument about people whom they would never see again. At
last Cicely spoke once more through the darkness--
"Emlyn, I will try to be brave; but once, do you remember, I burnt my
hand as a child when I stole the sweetmeats from the cooling pot, and
ah! it hurt me. I will try to die as those who went before me would
have died, but if I should break down think not the less of me, for
the spirit is willing though the flesh be weak."
Emlyn ground her teeth in silence, and Cicely went on--
"But that is not the worst of it, Emlyn. A few minutes and it will be
over and I shall sleep, as I think, to awake elsewhere. Only if
Christopher should really live, how he will mourn when he learns----"
"I pray that he does," broke in Emlyn, "for then ere long there will
be a Spanish priest the less on earth and one the more in hell."
"And the child, Emlyn, the child!" she went on in a trembling voice,
not heeding the interruption. "What will become of my son, the heir to
so much if he had his rights, and yet so friendless? They'll murder
him also, Emlyn, or let him die, which is the same thing, since how
otherwise will they get title to his lands and goods?"
"If so, his troubles will be done and he will be better with you in
heaven," Emlyn answered, with a dry sob. "The boy and you in heaven
midst the blessed saints, and the Abbot and I in hell settling our
score there with the devil for company, that's all I ask. There,
there, I blaspheme, for injustice makes me mad; it clogs my heart and
I throw it up in bitter words, for your sake, dear, and his, not my
own. Child, you are good and gentle, to such as you the Ear of God is
open. Call to him; ask for light, He will not refuse. Do you remember
in the fire at the Towers, when we crouched in that vault and the
walls crumbled overhead, you said you saw His angel bending over us
and heard his speech. Call to Him, Cicely, and if He will not listen,
hear me. I have a means of death about me. Ask not what it is, but if
at the end I turn on you and strike, blame me not here or hereafter,
for it will be love's blow, my last service."
It seemed as though Cicely did not understand those heavy words, at
the least she took no heed of them.
"I'll pray again," she whispered, "though I fear that heaven's doors
are closed to me; no light comes through," and she knelt down.
For long, long she prayed, till at length weariness overcame her, and
Emlyn heard her breathing softly like one asleep.
"Let her sleep," she murmured to herself. "Oh! if I were sure--she
should never wake again to see the dawn. I have half a mind to do it,
but there it is, I am not sure. If there is a God He will never suffer
such a thing. I'd have paid the jewels, but what's the use? They would
have killed her all the same, for else where's their title? No, my
heart bids me wait."
"Emlyn," she said in a low, thrilling voice, "do you hear me, Emlyn?
That angel has been with me again. He spoke to me," and she paused.
"Well, well, what did he say?"
"I don't know, Emlyn," she answered, confused; "it has gone from me.
But, Emlyn, have no fear, all is well with us, and not only with us
but with Christopher and the babe also. Oh, yes, with Christopher and
the babe also," and she let her fair head fall upon the couch and
burst into a flood of happy tears. Then, rising, she took up the child
and kissed it, laid herself down and slept sweetly.
Just then the dawn broke, a glorious dawn, and Emlyn held out her arms
to it in an ecstasy of gratitude. For with that light her terror
passed away as the darkness passed. She believed that God had spoken
to Cicely and for a while her heart was at peace.
When about eight o'clock that morning the door was opened to allow a
nun to bring them their food, she saw a sight which filled her with
amazement. Her own eyes, poor woman, were red with tears, for, like
all in the Priory, she loved Cicely, whom as a child she had nursed on
her knee, and with the other sisters had spent a sleepless night in
prayer for her, for Emlyn, and for Bridget, who was to be burned with
them. She had expected to find the victims prostrate and perhaps
senseless with fear, but behold! there they sat together in the
window-place, dressed in their best garments and talking quietly.
Indeed, as she entered one of them--it was Cicely--laughed a little at
something that the other had said.
"Good-morning to you, Sister Mary," said Cicely. "Tell me now, has the
"Nay, nay, we know not where she is; no word has come from her. Well,
at least she will be spared a dreadful sight. Have you any message for
her ear? If so, give it swiftly ere the guard call me."
"I thank you," said Cicely; "but I think that I shall be the bearer of
my own messages."
"What? Do you, then, mean that our Mother is dead? Must we suffer woe
upon woe? Oh! who could have told you these sorrowful tidings?"
"No, sister, I think that she is alive and that I, yet living, shall
talk with her again."
Sister Mary looked bewildered, for how, she wondered, could close
prisoners know these things? Staring round to see that she was not
observed, she thrust two little packets into Cicely's hand.
"Wear these at the last, both of you," she whispered. "Whatever they
say we believe you innocent, and for your sake we have done a great
crime. Yes, we have opened the reliquary and taken from it our most
precious treasure, a fragment of the cord that bound St. Catherine to
the wheel, and divided it into three, one strand for each of you.
Perhaps, if you are really guiltless, it will work a miracle. Perhaps
the fire will not burn or the rain will extinguish it, or the Abbot
"That last would be the greatest miracle of all," broke in Emlyn, with
grim humour. "Still we thank you from our hearts and will wear the
relics if they do not take them from us. Hark! they are calling you.
Farewell, and all blessings be on your gentle heads."
Again the loud voices of the guards called, and Sister Mary turned and
fled, wondering if these women were not witches, how it came about
that they could be so brave, so different from poor Bridget, who
wailed and moaned in her cell below.
Cicely and Emlyn ate their food with good appetite, knowing that they
would need support that day, and when it was done sat themselves again
by the window-place, through which they could see hundreds of people,
mounted and on foot, passing up the slope that led to the green in
front of the Abbey, though this green they could not see because of a
belt of trees.
"Listen," said Emlyn presently. "It is hard to say, but it may be that
your vision of the night was but a merciful dream, and, if so, within
a few hours we shall be dead. Now I have the secret of the hiding-
place of those jewels, which, without me, none can ever find; shall I
pass it on, if I get the chance, to one whom I can trust? Some good
soul--the nuns, perhaps--will surely shelter your boy, and he might
need them in days to come."
Cicely thought a while, then answered--
"Not so, Emlyn. I believe that God has spoken to me by His angel, as
He spoke to Peter in the prison. To do this would be to tempt God,
showing that we have no trust in Him. Let that secret lie where it is,
in your breast."
"Great is your faith," said Emlyn, looking at her with admiration.
"Well, I will stand or fall by it, for I think there is enough for
The Convent bell chimed ten, and they heard a sound of feet and voices
"They come for us," said Emlyn; "the burning is set for eleven, that
after the sight folk may get away in comfort to their dinners. Now
summon that great Faith of yours and hold him fast for both our sakes,
since mine grows faint."
The door opened and through it came monks followed by guards, the
officer of whom bade them rise and follow. They obeyed without
speaking, Cicely throwing her cloak about her shoulders.
"You'll be warm enough without that, Witch," said the man, with a
"Sir," she answered, "I shall need it to wrap my child in when we are
parted. Give me the babe, Emlyn. There, now we are ready; nay, no need
to lead us, we cannot escape and shall not vex you."
"God's truth, the girl has spirit!" muttered the officer to his
companions, but one of the priests shook his head and answered--
"Witchcraft! Satan will leave them presently."
A few more minutes and, for the first time during all those weary
months, they passed the gate of the Priory. Here the third victim was
waiting to join them, poor, old, half-witted Bridget, clad in a kind
of sheet, for her habit had been stripped off. She was wild-eyed and
her grey locks hung loose about her shoulders, as she shook her
ancient head and screamed prayers for mercy. Cicely shivered at the
sight of her, which indeed was dreadful.
"Peace, good Bridget," she said as they passed, "being innocent, what
have you to fear?"
"The fire, the fire!" cried the poor creature. "I dread the fire."
Then they were led to their place in the procession and saw no more of
Bridget for a while, although they could not escape the sound of her
lamentations behind them.
It was a great procession. First went the monks and choristers,
singing a melancholy Latin dirge. Then came the victims in the midst
of a guard of twelve armed men, and after these the nuns who were
forced to be present, while behind and about were all the folk for
twenty miles round, a crowd without number. They crossed the
footbridge, where stood the Ford Inn for which the Flounder had
bargained as the price of murder. They walked up the rise by the right
of way, muddy now with the autumn rains, and through the belt of trees
where Thomas Bolle's secret passage had its exit, and so came at last
to the green in front of the towering Abbey portal.
Here a dreadful sight awaited them, for on this green were planted
three fourteen-inch posts of new-felled oak six feet or more in
height, such as no fire would easily burn through, and around each of
them a kind of bower of faggots open to the front. Moreover, to the
posts hung new wagon chains, and near by stood the village blacksmith
and his apprentice, who carried a hand anvil and a sledge hammer for
the cold welding of those chains.
At a distance from these stakes the procession was halted. Then out
from the gate of the Abbey came the Abbot in his robes and mitre,
preceded by acolytes and followed by more monks. He advanced to where
the condemned women stood and halted, while a friar stepped forward
and read their sentence to them, of which, being in Latin or in
crabbed, legal words, they understood nothing at all. Then in
sonorous tones he adjured them for the sake of their sinful souls to
make full confession of their guilt, that they might receive pardon
before they suffered in the flesh for their hideous crime of sorcery.
To this invitation Cicely and Emlyn shook their heads, saying that
being innocent of any sorceries they had nothing to confess. But old
Bridget gave another answer. She declared in a high, screaming voice
that she was a witch, as her mother and grandmother had been before
her. She described, while the crowd listened with intense interest,
how Emlyn Stower had introduced her to the devil, who was clad in red
hose and looked like a black boy with a hump on his back and a tuft of
red hair hanging from his nose, also many unedifying details of her
interviews with this same fiend.
Asked what he said to her, she answered that he told her to bewitch
the Abbot of Blossholme because he was such a holy man that God had
need of him and he did too much good upon the earth. Also he prevented
Emlyn Stower and Cicely Foterell from working his, the devil's, will,
and enabled them to keep alive the baby who would be a great wizard.
He told her moreover that midwife Megges was an angel (here the crowd
laughed) sent to kill the said infant, who really was his own child,
as might be seen by its black eyebrows and cleft tongue, also its
webbed feet, and that he would appear in the shape of the ghost of Sir
John Foterell to save it and give it to her, which he did, saying the
Lord's Prayer backwards, and that she must bring it up "in the faith
of the Pentagon."
Thus the poor crazed thing raved on, while sentence by sentence a
scribe wrote down her gibberish, causing her at last to make her mark
to it, all of which took a very long time. At the end she begged that
she might be pardoned and not burnt, but this, she was informed, was
impossible. Thereon she became enraged and asked why then had she been
led to tell so many lies if after all she must burn, a question at
which the crowd roared with laughter. On hearing this the priest, who
was about to absolve her, changed his mind and ordered her to be
fastened to her stake, which was done by the blacksmith with the help
of his apprentice and his portable anvil.
Still, her "confession" was solemnly read over to Cicely and Emlyn,
who were asked whether, after hearing it, they still persisted in a
denial of their guilt. By way of answer Cicely lifted the hood from
her boy's face and showed that his eyebrows were not black, but light-
coloured. Also she bared his feet, passing her little finger between
his toes, and asking them if they were webbed. Some of them answered,
"No," but a monk roared, "What of that? Cannot Satan web and unweb?"
Then he snatched the infant from Cicely's arms and laid it down upon
the stump of an oak that had been placed there to receive it, crying
"Let this child live or die as God pleases."
Some brute who stood by aimed a blow at it with a stick, yelling,
"Death to the witch's brat!" but a big man, whom Emlyn recognized as
one of old Sir John's tenants, caught the falling stick from his hand
and dealt him such a clout with it that he fell like a stone, and went
for the rest of his life with but one eye and the nose flattened on
the side of his face. Thenceforward no one tried to harm the babe,
who, as all know, because of what befell him on this day, went in
after life by the nickname of Christopher Oak-stump.
The Abbot's men stepped forward to tie Cicely to her stake, but ere
they laid hands on her she took off her wool-lined cloak and threw it
to the yeoman who had struck down the fellow with his own stick,
"Friend, wrap my boy in this and guard him till I ask him from you
"Aye, Lady," answered the great man, bending his knee; "I have served
the grandsire and the sire, and so I'll serve the son," and throwing
aside the stick he drew a sword and set himself in front of the oak
boll where the infant lay. Nor did any venture to meddle with him, for
they saw other men of a like sort ranging themselves about him.
Now slowly enough the smith began to rivet the chain round Cicely.
"Man," she said to him, "I have seen you shoe many of my father's
nags. Who could have thought that you would live to use your honest
skill upon his daughter!"
On hearing these words the fellow burst into tears, cast down his
tools and fled away, cursing the Abbot. His apprentice would have
followed, but him they caught and forced to complete the task. Then
Emlyn was chained up also, so that at length all was ready for the
last terrible act of the drama.
Now the head executioner--he was the Abbey cook--placed some pine
splinters to light in a brazier that stood near by, and while waiting
for the word of command, remarked audibly to his mate that there was a
good wind and that the witches would burn briskly.
The spectators were ordered back out of earshot, and went at last,
some of them muttering sullenly to each other. For here the company
could not be picked as it had been at the trial, and the Abbot noted
anxiously that among them the victims had many friends. It was time
the deed was done ere their smouldering love and pity flowed out into
bloody tumult, he thought to himself. So, advancing quickly, he stood
in front of Emlyn and asked her in a low voice if she still refused to
give up the secret of the jewels, seeing that there was yet time for
him to command that they should die mercifully and not by the fire.
"Let the mistress judge, not the maid," answered Emlyn in a steady
He turned and repeated the question to Cicely, who replied--
"Have I not told you--never. Get you behind me, O evil man, and go,
repent your sins ere it be too late."
The Abbot stared at her, feeling that such constancy and courage were
almost superhuman. He had an acute, imaginative mind which could fancy
himself in like case and what his state would be. Though he was in
such haste a great curiosity entered into him to know whence she drew
her strength, which even then he tried to satisfy.
"Are you mad or drugged, Cicely Foterell?" he asked. "Do you not know
how fire will feel when it eats up that delicate flesh of yours?"
"I do not know and I shall never know," she answered quietly.
"Do you mean that you will die before it touches you, building on some
promise of your master, Satan?"
"Yes, I shall die before the fire touches me; but not here and now,
and I build upon a promise from the Master of us all in heaven."
He laughed, a shrill, nervous laugh, and called out loud to the people
"This witch says that she will not burn, for Heaven has promised it to
her. Do you not, Witch?"
"Yes, I say so; bear witness to my words, good people all," replied
Cicely in clear and ringing tones.
"Well, we'll see," shouted the Abbot. "Man, bring flame, and let
Heaven--or hell--help her if it can!"
The cook-executioner blew at his brands, but he was nervous, or
clumsy, and a minute or more went by before they flamed. At length one
was fit for the task, and unwillingly enough he stooped to lift it up.
Then it was that in the midst of the intense silence, for of all that
multitude none seemed even to breathe, and old Bridget, who had
fainted, cried no more, a bull's voice was heard beyond the brow of
the hill, roaring--
"/In the King's name, stay! In the King's name, stay!/"
All turned to look, and there between the trees appeared a white
horse, its sides streaked with blood, that staggered rather than
galloped towards them, and on the horse a huge, red-bearded man, clad
in mail and holding in his hand a woodman's axe.
"Fire the faggots!" shouted the Abbot, but the cook, who was not by
nature brave, had already let fall his torch, which went out on the
By now the horse was rushing through them, treading them under foot.
With great, convulsive bounds it reached the ring and, as the rider
leapt from its back, rolled over and lay there panting, for its
strength was done.
"It is Thomas Bolle!" exclaimed a voice, while the Abbot cried again--
"Fire the faggots! Fire the faggots!" and a soldier ran to fetch
But Thomas was before him. Snatching up the brazier by its legs he
smote downwards with it so that the burning charcoal fell all about
the soldier and the iron cage remained fixed upon his head, shouting
as he smote--
"You sought fire--take it!"
The man rolled upon the ground screaming in pain and terror till some
one dragged the cage off his head, leaving his face barred like a
grilled herring. None took further heed of what became of him, for now
Thomas Bolle stood in front of the stakes waving his great axe, and
repeating, "In the King's name, stay! In the King's name, stay!"
"What mean you, knave?" exclaimed the furious Abbot.
"What I say, Priest. One step nearer and I'll split your crown."
The Abbot fell back and Thomas went on--
"A Foterell! A Foterell! A Harflete! A Harflete! O ye who have eaten
their bread, come, scatter these faggots and save their flesh. Who'll
stand with me against Maldon and his butchers?"
"I," answered voices, "and I, and I, and I!"
"And I too," hallooed the yeoman by the oak stump, "only I watch the
child. Nay, by God I'll bring it with me!" and, snatching up the
screaming babe under his left arm, he ran to him.
On came the others also, hurling the faggots this way and that.
"Break the chains," roared Bolle again, and somehow those strong hands
did it; indeed, the only hurt that Cicely took that day was from their
hacking at these chains. They were loose. Cicely snatched the child
from the yeoman, who was glad enough to be rid of it, having other
work to do, for now the Abbot's men-at-arms were coming on.
"Ring the women round," roared Bolle, "and strike home for Foterell,
strike home for Harflete! Ah, priest's dog, in the King's name--this!"
and the axe sank up to the haft into the breast of the captain who had
told Cicely that she would be warm enough that day without her cloak.
Then there began a great fight. The party of Foterell, of whom there
may have been a score, captained by Bolle, made a circle round the
three green oak stakes, within which stood Cicely and Emlyn and old
Bridget, still tied to her post, for no one had thought or found time
to cut her loose. These were attacked by the Abbot's guard, thirty or
more of them, urged on by Maldon himself, who was maddened by the
rescue of his victims and full of fear lest Cicely's words should be
fulfilled and she herself set down henceforth, not as a witch, but as
a prophetess favoured by God.
On came the soldiers and were beaten back. Thrice they came on and
thrice they were beaten back with loss, for Bolle's axe was terrible
to face and, now that they had found a leader and their courage, the
yeoman lads who stood with him were sturdy fighters. Also tumult broke
out among the hundreds who watched, some of them taking one side and
some the other, so that they fell upon each other with sticks and
stones and fists, even the women joining in the fray, biting and
tearing like bagged cats. The scene was hideous and the sounds those
of a sacked city, for many were hurt and all gave tongue, while shrill
and clear above this hateful music rose the yells of Bridget, who had
awakened from her faint and imagined all was over and that she
Thrice the attackers were rolled back, but of those who defended a
third were down, and now the Abbot took another counsel.
"Bring bows," he cried, "and shoot them, for they have none!" and men
ran off to do his bidding.
Then it was that Emlyn's wit came to their aid, for when Bolle shook
his red head and gasped out that he feared they were lost, since how
could they fight against arrows, she answered--
"If so, why stand here to be spitted, fool? Come, let us cut our way
through ere the shafts begin to fly, and take refuge among the trees
or in the Nunnery."
"Women's counsel is good sometimes," said Bolle. "Form up, Foterells,
"Nay," broke in Cicely, "loose Bridget first, lest they should burn
her after all; I'll not stir else."
So Bridget was hacked free, and together with the wounded men, of whom
there were several, dragged and supported thence. Then began a running
fight, but one in which they still held their own. Yet they would have
been overwhelmed at last, for the women and the wounded hampered them,
had not help come. For as they hewed their path towards the belt of
trees with the Abbot's fierce fellows, some of whom were French or
Spanish, hanging on their flanks, suddenly, in the gap where the
roadway ran, appeared a horse galloping and on it a woman, who clung
to its mane with both hands, and after her many armed men.
"Look, Emlyn, look!" exclaimed Cicely. "Who is that?" for she could
not believe her eyes.
"Who but Mother Matilda," answered Emlyn; "and by the saints, she is a
A strange sight she was indeed, for her hood was gone, her hair, that
was ever so neat, flew loose, her robe was ruckled up about her knees,
the rosary and crucifix she wore streamed on the air behind her and
beat against her back, and her garb had burst open at the front; in
short, never was holy, aged Prioress seen in such a state before. Down
she came on them like a whirlwind, for her frightened horse scented
its Blossholme stable, clinging grimly to her unaccustomed seat, and
crying as she sped--
"For God's love, stop this mad beast!"
Bolle caught it by the bridle and threw it to its haunches so that,
its rider speeding on, flew over its head on to the broad breast of
the yeoman who had watched the child, and there rested thankfully.
For, as Mother Matilda said afterwards with her gentle smile, never
before did she know what comfort there was to be found in man.
When at length she loosed her arms from about his neck the yeoman
stood her on her feet, saying that this was worse than the baby, and
her wandering eyes fell upon Cicely.
"So I am in time! Oh! never more will I revile that horse," she
exclaimed, and sinking to her knees then and there she gasped out some
prayer of thankfulness. Meanwhile, those who followed her had reined
up in front, and the Abbot's soldiers with the accompanying crowd had
halted behind, not knowing what to make of these strangers, so that
Bolle and his party with the women were now between the two.
From among the new-comers rode out a fat, coarse man, with a pompous
air as of one who is accustomed to be obeyed, who inquired in a
laboured voice, for he was breathless from hard riding, what all this
"Ask the Abbot of Blossholme," said some one, "for it is his work."
"Abbot of Blossholme? That's the man I want," puffed the fat stranger.
"Appear, Abbot of Blossholme, and give account of these doings. And
you fellows," he added to his escort, "range up and be ready, lest
this said priest should prove contumacious."
Now the Abbot stepped forward with some of his monks and, looking the
horseman up and down, said--
"Who may it be that demands account so roughly of a consecrated
"A consecrated Abbot? A consecrated peacock, a tumultuous, turbulent,
traitorous priest, a Spanish rogue ruffler who, I am told, keeps about
him a band of bloody mercenaries to break the King's peace and slay
loyal English folk. Well, consecrated Abbot, I'll tell you who I am. I
am Thomas Legh, his Grace's Visitor and Royal Commissioner to inspect
the Houses called religious, and I am come hither upon complaint made
by yonder Prioress of Blossholme Nunnery, as to your dealings with
certain of his Highness's subjects whom, she says, you have accused of
witchcraft for purposes of revenge and unlawful gain. That is who I
am, my fine fowl of an Abbot."
Now when he heard this pompous speech the rage in Maldon's face was
replaced by fear, for he knew of this Doctor Legh and his mission, and
understood what Thomas Bolle had meant by his cry of, "In the King's
"Who makes all this tumult?" shouted the Commissioner. "Why do I see
blood and wounds and dead men? And how were you about to handle these
women, one of whom by her mien is of no low degree?" and he stared at
"The tumult," answered the Abbot, "was caused by yonder fool, Thomas
Bolle, a lay-brother of my monastery, who rushed among us armed and
shouting 'In the King's name, stay.'"
"Then why did you not stay, Sir Abbot? Is the King's name one to be
mocked at? Know that I sent on the man."
"He had no warrant, Sir Commissioner, unless his bull's voice and
great axe are a warrant, and I did not stay because we were doing
justice upon the three foulest witches in the realm."
"Doing justice? Whose justice and what justice? Say, had you a warrant
for your justice? If so, show it me."
"These witches have been condemned by a Court Ecclesiastic, the judges
being a bishop, a prior and myself, and in pursuance of that judgment
were about to suffer for their sins by fire," replied Maldon.
"A Court Ecclesiastic!" roared Dr. Legh. "Can Courts Ecclesiastic,
then, toast free English folk to death? If you would not stand your
trial for attempted murder, show me your warrant signed by his Grace
the King, or by his Justices of Assize. What! You do not answer. Have
you none? I thought as much. Oho, Clement Maldon, you hang-faced
Spanish dog, learn that eyes have been on you for long, and now it
seems that you would usurp the King's prerogative besides----" and he
checked himself, then went on, "Seize that priest, and keep him fast
while I make inquiry of this business."
Now some of the Commissioner's guard surrounded Maldon, nor did his
own men venture to interfere with them, for they had enough of
fighting and were frightened by this talk about the King's warrant.
Then the Commissioner turned to Cicely, and said--
"You are Sir John Foterell's only child, are you not, who allege
yourself to be wife to Sir Christopher Harflete, or so says yonder
Prioress? Now, what was about to happen to you, and why?"
"Sir," answered Cicely, "I and my waiting-woman and the old sister,
Bridget, were condemned to die by fire at those stakes upon a charge
of sorcery. Although it is true," she added, "that I knew we should
not perish thus."
"How did you know that, Lady? By all tokens your bodies and hot flame
were near enough together," and he glanced towards the stakes and the
"Sir, I knew it because of a vision that God sent to me in my sleep
"Aye, she swore that at the stake," exclaimed a voice, "and we thought
"Now can you deny that she is a witch?" broke in Maldon. "If she were
not one of Satan's own, how could she see visions and prophecy her own
"If visions and prophecies are proof of witchcraft, then, Priest, all
Holy Writ is but a seething pot of sorcery," answered Legh. "Then the
Blessed Virgin and St. Elizabeth were witches, and Paul and John
should have been burnt as wizards. Continue, Lady, leaving out your
dreams until a more convenient time."
"Sir," went on Cicely, "we have worked no sorcery, and my crime is
that I will not name my child a bastard and sign away my lands and
goods to yonder Abbot, the murderer of my father and perhaps of my
husband. Oh! listen, listen, you and all folk here, and briefly as I
may I will tell my tale. Have I your leave to speak?"
The Commissioner nodded, and she set out her story from the beginning,
so sweetly, so simply and with such truth and earnestness, that the
concourse of people packed close about her, hung upon her every word,
and even Dr. Legh's coarse face softened as he heard. For the half of
an hour or more she spoke, telling of her father's death, of her
flight and marriage, of the burning of Cranwell Towers, and her
widowing, if such it were; of her imprisonment in the Priory and the
Abbot's dealings with her and Emlyn; of the birth of her child and its
attempted murder by the midwife, his creature; of their trial and
condemnation, they being innocent, and of all they had endured that
"If you are innocent," shouted a priest as she paused for breath,
"what was that Thing dressed in the livery of Satan which worked evil
at Blossholme? Did we not see it with our eyes?"
Just then some one uttered an exclamation and pointed to the shadow of
the trees where a strange form was moving. Another moment and it came
out into the light. One more and all that multitude scattered like
frightened sheep, rushing this way and that; yes, even the horses took
the bits between their teeth and bolted. For there, visible to all,
Satan himself strolled towards them. On his head were horns, behind
his back hung down a tail, his body was shaggy like a beast's, and his
face hideous and of many colours, while in his hand he held a pronged
fork with a long handle. This way and that rushed the throng, only the
Commissioner, who had dismounted, stood still, perhaps because he was
too afraid to stir, and with him the women and some of the nuns,
including the Prioress, who fell upon their knees and began to utter
On came the dreadful thing till it reached the King's Visitor, bowing
to him and bellowing like a bull, then very deliberately untied some
strings and let its horrid garb fall off, revealing the person of
"What means this mummery, knave?" gasped Dr. Legh.
"Mummery do you call it, sir?" answered Thomas with a grin. "Well, if
so, 'tis on the faith of such mummery that priests burn women in merry
England. Come, good people, come," he roared in his great voice,
"come, see Satan in the flesh. Here are his horns," and he held them
up, "once they grew upon the head of Widow Johnson's billy-goat.
Here's his tail, many a fly has it flicked off the belly of an Abbey
cow. Here's his ugly mug, begotten of parchment and the paint-box.
Here's his dreadful fork that drives the damned to some hotter corner;
it has been death to whole stones of eels down in the marsh-fleet
yonder. I have some hell-fire too among the bag of tricks; you'll make
the best of brimstone and a little oil dried out upon the hearth.
Come, see the devil all complete and naught to pay."
Back trooped the crowd a little fearfully, taking the properties which
he held, and handling them, till first one and then all of them began
"Laugh not," shouted Bolle. "Is it a matter of laughter that noble
ladies and others whose lives are as dear to some," and he glanced at
Emlyn, "should grill like herrings because a poor fool walks about
clad in skins to keep out the cold and frighten villains? Hark you, I
played this trick. I am Beelzebub, also the ghost of Sir John
Foterell. I entered the Priory chapel by a passage that I know, and
saved yonder babe from murder and scared the murderess down to hell;
yes, from the sham devil to the true. Why did I do it? Well, to
protect the innocent and scourge the wicked in his pride. But the
wicked seized the innocent and the innocent said nothing, fearing lest
I should suffer with them, and---- O God, you know the rest!
"It was a near thing, a very near thing, but I'm not the half-wit I've
feigned to be for years. Moreover, I had a good horse and a heavy axe,
and there are still true hearts round Blossholme; the dead men that
lie yonder show it. Heaven has still its angels on the earth, though
they wear strange shapes. There stands one of them, and there
another," and he pointed first to the fat and pompous Visitor, and
next to the dishevelled Prioress, adding: "And now, Sir Commissioner,
for all that I have done in the cause of justice I ask pardon of you
who wear the King's grace and majesty as I wore old Nick's horns and
hoofs, since otherwise the Abbot and his hired butchers, who hold
themselves masters of King and people, will murder me for this as they
have done by better men. Therefore pardon, your Mightiness, pardon,"
and he kneeled down before him.
"You have it, Bolle; in the King's name you have it," replied Legh,
who was more flattered by the titles and attributes poured upon him by
the cunning Thomas than a closer consideration might have warranted.
"For all that you have done, or left undone, I, the Commissioner of
his Grace, declare that you shall go scot free and that no action
criminal or civil shall lie against you, and this my secretary shall
give to you in writing. Now, good fellow, rise, but steal Satan's
plumes no more lest you should feel his claws and beak, for he is an
ill fowl to mock. Bring hither that Spaniard Maldon. I have somewhat
to say to him."
Now they looked this way and that, but no Abbot could they see. The
guards swore that they had never taken eye off him, even when they all
ran before the devil, yet certainly he was gone.
"The knave has given us the slip," bellowed the Commissioner, who was
purple with rage. "Search for him! Seize him, for which my command
shall be your warrant. Draw the wood. I'll to the Abbey, where
perchance the fox has gone to earth. Five golden crowns to the man who
nets the slimy traitor."
Now every one, burning with zeal to show their loyalty and to win the
crowns, scattered on the search, so that presently the three
"witches," Thomas Bolle, Mother Matilda, and the nuns, were left
standing almost alone and staring at each other and the dead and
wounded men who lay about.
"Let us to the Priory," said Mother Matilda, "for by the sun I judge
that it is time for evening prayer, and there seem to be none to
Thomas went to her horse, which grazed close at hand, and led it up.
"Nay, good friend," she exclaimed, with energy, "while I live no more
of that evil beast for me. Henceforth I'll walk till I am carried.
Keep it, Thomas, as a gift; it is bought and paid for. Sister, your
"Have I done well, Emlyn?" Bolle asked, as he tightened the girths.
"I don't know," she answered, looking at him sideways. "You played the
cur at first, leaving us to burn for your sins, but afterwards, well,
you found the wits you say you never lost. Also your manners mended,
and yonder captain knave learned that you can handle an axe, so we'll
say no more about it, lad, for doubtless that Abbot and his spies were
sore task-masters and broke your spirit with their penances and talk
of hell to come. Here, lift my lady on to this horse, for she is
spent, and let me lean upon your shoulder, Thomas. It's weary work
standing at a stake."
Cicely's recollections of the remainder of that day were always
shadowy and tangled. She remembered a prayer of thanksgiving in which
she took small part with her lips, she whose heart was one great
thanksgiving. She remembered the good sister who had given them the
relics of St. Catherine assuring her, as she received them back with
care, that these and these alone had worked the miracle and saved
their lives. She remembered eating food and straining her boy to her
breast, and then she remembered no more till she woke to see the
morning sun streaming into that same room whence on the previous day
they had been led out to suffer the most horrible of deaths.
Yes, she woke, and see, near by was Emlyn making ready her garments,
as she had done these many years, and at her side lay the boy crowing
in the sunlight and waving his little arms, the blessed boy who knew
not the terrors he had passed. At first she thought that she had
dreamed a very evil dream, till by degrees all the truth came back to
her, and she shivered at its memory, yes, even as the weight of it
rolled off her heart she shivered and whitened like an aspen in the
wind. Then she rose and thanked God for His mercies, which were great.
Oh, if the strength of that horse of Thomas Bolle's had failed one
short five minutes sooner, she, in whom the red blood still ran so
healthily, would have been but a handful of charred bones. Or if her
faith had left her so that she had yielded to the Abbot and shortened
all his talk at the place of burning, then Bolle would have come too
late. But it proved sufficient to her need, and for this also truly
she should be thankful to its Giver.
After they had eaten, a message came to them from the Prioress, who
desired to see them in her chamber. Thither they went, rejoiced to
find that they were no longer prisoners but had liberty to come and
go, and found her seated in a tall chair, for she was too stiff to
walk. Cicely ran to her, knelt down and kissed her, and she laid her
left hand upon her head in blessing, for the right was cut with the
chafing of the reins.
"Surely, Cicely," she said, smiling, "it is I who should kneel to you,
were I in any state to do so. For now I have heard all the tale, and
it seems that we have a prophetess among us, one favoured with visions
from on high, which visions have been most marvellously fulfilled."
"That is so, Mother," she answered briefly, for this was a matter of
which she would never talk at length, either then or thereafter, "but
the fulfilment came through you."
"My daughter, I was but the minister, you were the chosen seer, still
let the holy business lie a while. Perhaps you will tell me of it
afterwards, and meantime the world and its affairs press us hard. Your
deliverance has been bought at no small cost, my daughter, for know
that yonder coarse and ungodly man, the King's Visitor, told me as we
rode that this Nunnery must be dissolved, its house and revenues
seized, and I and my sisters turned out to starve in our old age.
Indeed, to bring him here at all I was forced to petition that it
might be so in a writing that I signed. See, then, how great is my
love for you, dear Cicely."
"Mother," she answered, "it cannot be, it shall not be."
"Alas! child, how will you prevent it? These Visitors, and those who
commission them, are hungry folk. I hear they take the lands and goods
of poor religious such as we are, and if these are fortunate, give one
or two of them a little pittance to get bread. Once I had moneys of my
own, but I spent them to buy back the Valley Farm which the Abbot had
seized, and of late to satisfy his extortions," and she wept a little.
"Mother, listen. I have wealth hidden away, I know not where exactly,
but Emlyn knows. It is my very own, the Carfax jewels that came to me
from my mother. It was because of these that we were brought to the
stake, since the Abbot offered us life in return for them, and when it
was too late to save us, a more merciful death than that by fire. But
I forbade Emlyn to yield the secret; something in my heart told me to
do so, now I know why. Mother, the price of those gems shall buy back
your lands, and mayhap buy also permission from his Grace the King for
the continuance of your house, where you and yours shall worship as
those who went before you have done for many generations. I swear it
in my own name and in that of my child and of my husband also--if he
"Your husband if he lives might need this wealth, sweet Cicely."
"Then, Mother, except to save his life, or liberty or honour, I tell
you I will refuse it to him, who, when he learns what you have done
for me and our son, would give it you and all else he has besides--
nay, would pay it as an honourable debt."
"Well, Cicely, in God's name and my own I thank you, and we'll see,
we'll see! Only be advised, lest Dr. Legh should learn of this
treasure. But where is it, Emlyn? Fear not to tell me who can be
secret, for it is well that more than one should know, and I think
that your danger is past."
"Yes, speak, Emlyn," said Cicely, "for though I never asked before,
fearing my own weakness, I am curious. None can hear us here."
"Then, Mistress, I will tell you. You remember that on the day of the
burning of Cranwell we sought refuge on the central tower, whence I
carried you senseless to the vault. Now in that vault we lay all
night, and while you swooned I searched with my fingers till I found a
stone that time and damp had loosened, behind which was a hollow. In
that hollow I hid the jewels that I carried wrapt in silk in the bosom
of my robe. Then I filled up the hole with dust scraped from the
floor, and replaced the stone, wedging it tight with bits of mortar.
It is the third stone counting from the eastern angle in the second
course above the floor line. There I set them, and there doubtless
they lie to this day, for unless the tower is pulled down to its
foundations none will ever find them in that masonry."
At this moment there came a knocking on the door. When it was opened
by Emlyn a nun entered, saying that the King's Visitor demanded to
speak with the Prioress.
"Show him here since I cannot come to him," said Mother Matilda, "and
you, Cicely and Emlyn, bide with me, for in such company it is well to
A minute later Dr. Legh appeared accompanied by his secretaries,
gorgeously attired and puffing from the stairs.
"To business, to business," he said, scarcely stopping to acknowledge
the greetings of the Prioress. "Your convent is sequestrated upon your
own petition, Madam, therefore I need not stop to make the usual
inquiries, and indeed I will admit that from all I hear it has a good
repute, for none allege scandal against you, perhaps because you are
all too old for such follies. Produce now your deeds, your terrier of
lands and your rent-rolls, that I may take them over in due form and
dissolve the sisterhood."
"I will send for them, Sir," answered the Prioress humbly; "but,
meanwhile, tell us what we poor religious are to do? I am turned sixty
years of age, and have dwelt in this house for forty of them; none of
my sisters are young, and some of them are older than myself. Whither
shall we go?"
"Into the world, Madam, which you will find a fine, large place. Cease
snuffling prayers and from all vulgar superstitions--by the way,
forget not to hand over any reliquaries of value, or any papistical
emblems in precious metals that you may possess, including images, of
which my secretaries will take account--and go out into the world.
Marry there if you can find husbands, follow useful trades there. Do
what you will there, and thank the King who frees you from the
incumbrance of silly vows and from the circle of a convent's walls."
"To give us liberty to starve outside of them. Sir, do you understand
your work? For hundreds of years we have sat at Blossholme, and during
all those generations have prayed to God for the souls of men and
ministered to their bodies. We have done no harm to any creature, and
what wealth came to us from the earth or from the benefactions of the
pious we have dispensed with a liberal hand, taking nothing for
ourselves. The poor by multitudes have fed at our gates, their sick we
have nursed, their children we have taught; often we have gone hungry
that they might be full. Now you drive us forth in our age to perish.
If that is the will of God, so be it, but what must chance to
"That is England's business, Madam, and the poor's. Meanwhile I have
told you that I have no time to waste, since I must away to London to
make report concerning this Abbot of yours, a veritable rogue, of
whose villainous plots I have discovered many things. I pray you send
a messenger to bid them hurry with the deeds."
Just then a nun entered bearing a tray, on which were cakes and wine.
Emlyn took it from her, and pouring the wine into cups offered them to
the Visitor and his secretaries.
"Good wine," he said, after he had drunk, "a very generous wine. You
nuns know the best in liquor; be careful, I pray you, to include it in
your inventory. Why, woman, are you not one of those whom that Abbot
would have burnt? Yes, and there is your mistress, Dame Foterell, or
Dame Harflete, with whom I desire a word."
"I am at your service, Sir," said Cicely.
"Well, Madam, you and your servant have escaped the stake to which, as
near as I can judge, you were sentenced upon no evidence at all.
Still, you were condemned by a competent ecclesiastical Court, and
under that condemnation you must therefore remain until or unless the
King pardons you. My judgment is, then, that you stay here awaiting
"But, Sir," said Cicely, "if the good nuns who have befriended me are
to be driven forth, how can I dwell on in their house alone? Yet you
say I must not leave it, and indeed if I could, whither should I go?
My husband's hall is burnt, my own the Abbot holds. Moreover, if I
bide here, in this way or in that he will have my life."
"The knave has fled away," said Dr. Legh, rubbing his fat chin.
"Aye, but he will come back again, or his people will, and, Sir, you
know these Spaniards are good haters, and I have defied him long. Oh,
Sir, I crave the protection of the King for my child's sake and my
own, and for Emlyn Stower also."
The Commissioner went on rubbing his chin.
"You can give much evidence against this Maldon, can you not?" he
asked at length.
"Aye," broke in Emlyn, "enough to hang him ten times over, and so can
"And you have large estates which he has seized, have you not?"
"I have, Sir, who am of no mean birth and station."
"Lady," he said, with more deference in his voice, "step aside with
me, I would speak with you privately," and he walked to the window,
where she followed him. "Now tell me, what was the value of these
properties of yours?"
"I know not rightly, Sir, but I have heard my father say about £300 a
His manner became more deferential still, since for those days such
wealth was great.
"Indeed, my Lady. A large sum, a very comfortable fortune if you can
get it back. Now I will be frank with you. The King's Commissioners
are not well paid and their costs are great. If I so arrange your
matters that you come to your own again and that the judgment of
witchcraft pronounced against you and your servant is annulled, will
you promise to pay me one year's rent of these estates to meet the
various expenses I must incur on your behalf?"
Now it was Cicely's turn to think.
"Surely," she answered at length, "if you will add a condition--that
these good sisters shall be left undisturbed in their Nunnery."
He shook his fat head.
"It is not possible now. The thing is too public. Why, the Lord
Cromwell would say I had been bribed, and I might lose my office."
"Well, then," went on Cicely, "if you will promise that one year of
grace shall be given to them to make arrangements for their future."
"That I can do," he answered, nodding, "on the ground that they are of
blameless life, and have protected you from the King's enemy. But this
is an uncertain world; I must ask you to sign an indenture, and its
form will be that you acknowledge to have received from me a loan of
£300 to be repaid with interest when you recover your estates."
"Draw it up and I will sign, Sir."
"Good, Madam; and now that we may get this business through, you will
accompany me to London, where you will be safe from harm. We'll not
ride to-day, but to-morrow morning at the light."
"Then my servant Emlyn must come also, Sir, to help me with the babe,
and Thomas Bolle too, for he can prove that the witchcraft upon which
we were condemned was but his trickery."
"Yes, yes; but the costs of travel for so many will be great. Have
you, perchance, any money?"
"Yes, Sir, about £50 in gold that is sewn up in one of Emlyn's robes."
"Ah! A sufficient sum. Too much indeed to be risked upon your persons
in these rough times. You will let me take charge of half of it for
"With pleasure, Sir, trusting you as I do. Keep to your bargain and I
will keep to mine."
"Good. When Thomas Legh is fairly dealt with, Thomas Legh deals
fairly, no man can say otherwise. This afternoon I will bring the
deed, and you'll give me that £25 in charge."
Then, followed by Cicely, he returned to where the Prioress sat, and
"Mother Matilda, for so I understand you are called in religion, the
Lady Harflete has been pleading with me for you, and because you have
dealt so well by her I have promised in the King's name that you and
your nuns shall live on here undisturbed for one year from this day,
after which you must yield up peaceable possession to his Majesty,
whom I will beg that you shall be pensioned."
"I thank you, Sir," the Prioress answered. "When one is old a year of
grace is much, and in a year many things may happen--for instance, my
"Thank me not--a plain man who but follows after justice and duty. The
documents for your signature shall be ready this afternoon, and by the
way, the Lady Harflete and her servant, also that stout, shrewd
fellow, Thomas Bolle, ride with me to London to-morrow. She will
explain all. At three of the clock I wait upon you."
The Visitor and his secretaries bustled out of the room as pompously
as they had entered, and when they had gone Cicely explained to Mother
Matilda and Emlyn what had passed.
"I think that you have done wisely," said the Prioress, when she had
listened. "That man is a shark, but better give him your little finger
than your whole body. Certainly, you have bargained well for us, for
what may not happen in a year? Also, dear Cicely, you will be safer in
London than at Blossholme, since with the great sum of £300 to gain
that Commissioner will watch you like the apple of his eye and push
"Unless some one promises him the greater sum of £1000 to scotch it,"
interrupted Emlyn. "Well, there was but one road to take, and paper
promises are little, though I grudge the good £25 in gold. Meanwhile,
Mother, we have much to make ready. I pray you send some one to find
Thomas Bolle, who will not be far away, for since we are no longer
prisoners I wish to go out walking with him on an errand of my own
that perchance you can guess. Wealth may be useful in London town for
all our sakes. Also horses and a packbeast must be got, and other
In due course Thomas Bolle was found fast asleep in a neighbour's
house, for after his adventures and triumph he had drunk hard and
rested long. When she discovered the truth Emlyn rated him well,
calling him a beer-tub and not a man, and many other hard names, till
at last she provoked him to answer, that had it not been for the said
beer-tub she would be but ash-dust this day. Thereon she turned the
talk and told them their needs, and that he must ride with them to
London. To this he replied that good horses should be saddled by the
dawn, for he knew where to lay hands on them, since some were left in
the Abbot's stables that wanted exercise; further, that he would be
glad to leave Blossholme for a while, where he had made enemies on the
yesterday, whose friends yet lay wounded or unburied. After this Emlyn
whispered something in his ear, to which he nodded assent, saying that
he would bustle round and be ready.
That afternoon Emlyn went out riding with Thomas Bolle, who was fully
armed, as she said, to try two of the horses that should carry them on
the morrow, and it was late when she returned out of the dark night.
"Have you got them?" asked Cicely, when they were together in their
"Aye," she answered, "every one; but some stones have fallen, and it
was hard to win an entrance to that vault. Indeed, had it not been for
Thomas Bolle, who has the strength of a bull, I could never have done
it. Moreover, the Abbot has been there before us and dug over every
inch of the floor. But the fool never thought of the wall, so all's
well. I'll sew half of them into my petticoat and half into yours, to
share the risk. In case of thieves, the money that hungry Visitor has
left to us, for I paid him over half when you signed the deeds, we
will carry openly in pouches upon our girdles. They'll not search
further. Oh, I forgot, I've something more besides the jewels, here it
is," and she produced a packet from her bosom and laid it on the
"What's this?" asked Cicely, looking suspiciously at the worn sail-
cloth in which it was wrapped.
"How can I tell? Cut it and see. All I know is that when I stood at
the Nunnery door as Thomas led away the horses, a man crept on me out
of the rain swathed in a great cloak and asked if I were not Emlyn
Stower. I said Yea, whereon he thrust this into my hand, bidding me
not fail to give it to the Lady Harflete, and was gone."
"It has an over-seas look about it," murmured Cicely, as with eager,
trembling fingers she cut the stitches. At length they were undone and
a sealed inner wrapping also, revealing, amongst other documents, a
little packet of parchments covered with crabbed, unreadable writing,
on the back of which, however, they could decipher the names of
Shefton and Blossholme by reason of the larger letters in which they
were engrossed. Also there was a writing in the scrawling hand of Sir
John Foterell, and at the foot of it his name and, amongst others,
those of Father Necton and of Jeffrey Stokes. Cicely stared at the
deeds, then said--
"Emlyn, I know these parchments. They are those that my father took
with him when he rode for London to disprove the Abbot's claim, and
with them the evidence of the traitorous words he spoke last year at
Shefton. Yes, this inner wrapping is my own; I took it from the store
of worn linen in the passage-cupboard. But how come they here?"
Emlyn made no answer, only lifted the wrappings and shook them,
whereon a strip of paper that they had not seen fell to the table.
"This may tell us," she said. "Read, if you can; it has words on its
Cicely snatched at it, and as the writing was clear and clerkly, read
with ease save for the chokings of her throat. It ran--
"My Lady Harflete,
"These are the papers that Jeffrey Stokes saved when your father
fell. They were given for safekeeping to the writer of these
words, far away across the sea, and he hands them on unopened.
Your husband lives and is well again, also Jeffrey Stokes, and
though they have been hindered on their journey, doubtless he
will find his way back to England, whither, believing you to be
dead, as I did, he has not hurried. There are reasons why I, his
friend and yours, cannot see you or write more, since my duty
calls me hence. When it is finished I will seek you out if I still
live. If not, wait in peace until your joy finds you, as I think
"One who loves your lord well, and for his sake you also."
Cicely laid down the paper and burst into a flood of weeping.
"Oh, cruel, cruel!" she sobbed, "to tell so much and yet so little.
Nay, what an ungrateful wretch am I, since Christopher truly lives,
and I also live to learn it, I, whom he deems dead."
"By my soul," said Emlyn, when she had calmed her, "that cloaked man
is a prince of messengers. Oh, had I but known what he bore I'd have
had all the story, if I must cling to him like Potiphar's wife to
Joseph. Well, well, Joseph got away and half a herring is better than
no fish, also this is good herring. Moreover, you have got the deeds
when you most wanted them and what is better, a written testimony that
will bring the traitor Maldon to the scaffold."
JACOB AND THE JEWELS
Cicely's journey to London was strange enough to her, who never before
had travelled farther than fifty miles from her home, and but once as
a child spent a month in a town when visiting an aunt at Lincoln. She
went in ease, it is true, for Commissioner Legh did not love hard
travelling, and for this reason they started late and halted early,
either at some good inn, if in those days any such places could be
called good, or perhaps in a monastery where he claimed of the best
that the frightened monks had to offer. Indeed, as she observed, his
treatment of these poor folk was cruel, for he blustered and
threatened and inquired, accusing them of crimes that they had not
committed, and finally, although he had no mission to them at the
time, extracted great gifts, saying that if these were not forthcoming
he would make a note and return later. Also he got hold of tale-
bearers, and wrote down all their scandalous and lying stories told
against those whose bread they ate.
Thus, long before they saw Charing Cross, Cicely came to hate this
proud, avaricious and overbearing man, who hid a savage nature under a
cloak of virtue, and whilst serving his own ends, mouthed great words
about God and the King. Still, she who was schooled in adversity,
learned to hide her heart, fearing to make an enemy of one who could
ruin her, and forced Emlyn, much against her will, to do the same.
Moreover, there were worse things than that since, being beautiful,
some of his companions talked to her in a way she could not
misunderstand, till at length Thomas Bolle, coming on one of them,
thrashed him as he had never been thrashed before, after which there
was trouble that was only appeased by a gift.
Yet on the whole things went well. No one molested the King's Visitor
or those with him, the autumn weather held fine, the baby boy kept his
health, and the country through which they passed was new to her and
full of interest.
At last one evening they rode from Barnet into the great city, which
she thought a most marvellous place, who had never seen such a
multitude of houses or of men running to and fro about their business
up and down the narrow streets that at night were lit with lamps. Now
there had been a great discussion where they were to lodge, Dr. Legh
saying that he knew of a house suitable to them. But Emlyn would not
hear of this place, where she was sure they would be robbed, for the
wealth that they carried secretly in jewels bore heavily on her mind.
Remembering a cousin of her mother's of the name of Smith, a
goldsmith, who till within a year or two before was alive and dwelling
in Cheapside, she said that they would seek him out.
Thither then they rode, guided by one of the Visitor's clerks, not he
whom Bolle had beaten, but another, and at last, after some search,
found a dingy house in a court and over it a sign on which were
painted three balls and the name of Jacob Smith. Emlyn dismounted and,
the door being open, entered, to be greeted by an old, white-bearded
man with horn spectacles thrust up over his forehead and dark eyes
like her own, since the same gypsy blood ran strong in both of them.
What passed between them Cicely did not hear, but presently the old
man came out with Emlyn, and looked her and Bolle up and down sharply
for a long while as though to take their measures. At length he said
that he understood from his cousin, whom he now saw for the first time
for over thirty years, that the two of them and their man desired
lodgings, which, as he had empty rooms, he would be pleased to give
them if they would pay the price.
Cicely asked how much this might be, and on his naming a sum, ten
silver shillings a week for the three of them and their horses, that
would be stabled close by, told Emlyn to pay him a pound on account.
This he took, biting the gold to see that it was good, but bidding
them in to inspect the rooms before he pouched it. They did so, and
finding them clean and commodious if somewhat dark, closed the bargain
with him, after which they dismissed the clerk to take their address
to Dr. Legh, who had promised to advise them so soon as he could put
their business forward.
When he was gone and Thomas Bolle, conducted by Smith's apprentice,
had led off the three horses and the packbeast, the old man changed
his manner, and conducting them into a parlour at the back of his
shop, sent his housekeeper, a middle-aged woman with a pleasant face,
to make ready food for them while he produced cordials from squat
Dutch bottles which he made them drink. Indeed he was all kindness to
them, being, as he explained, rejoiced to see one of his own blood,
for he had no relations living, his wife and their two children having
died in one of the London sicknesses. Also he was Blossholme born,
though he had left that place fifty years before, and had known
Cicely's grandfather and played with her father when he was a boy. So
he plied them with question after question, some of which they thought
it was not to answer, for he was a merry and talkative old man.
"Aha!" he said, "you would prove me before you trust me, and who can
blame you in this naughty world? But perhaps I know more about you all
than you think, since in this trade my business is to learn many
things. For instance, I have heard that there was a great trying of
witches down at Blossholme lately, whereat a certain Abbot came off
worst, also that the famous Carfax jewels had been lost, which vexed
the said holy Abbot. They were jewels indeed, or so I have heard, for
among them were two pink pearls worth a king's ransom--or so I have
heard. Great pity that they should be lost, since my Lady there would
own them otherwise, and much should I have liked, who am a little man
in that trade, to set my old eyes upon them. Well, well, perhaps I
shall, perhaps I shall yet, for that which is lost is sometimes found
again. Now here comes your dinner; eat, eat, we'll talk afterwards."
This was the first of many pleasant meals which they shared with their
host, Jacob Smith. Soon Emlyn found from inquiries that she made among
his neighbours without seeming to do so, that this cousin of hers bore
an excellent name and was trusted by all.
"Then why should we not trust him also?" asked Cicely, "who must find
friends and put faith in some one."
"Even with the jewels, Mistress?"
"Even with the jewels, for such things are his business, and they
would be safer in his strong chest than tacked into our garments,
where the thought of them haunts me night and day."
"Let us wait a while," said Emlyn, "for once they were in that box how
do we know if we should get them out again?"
On the morrow of this talk the Visitor Legh came to see them, and had
no cheerful tale to tell. According to him the Lord Cromwell declared
that as the Abbot of Blossholme claimed these Shefton estates, the
King stood, or would soon stand, in the shoes of the said Abbot of
Blossholme, and therefore the King claimed them and could not
surrender them. Moreover, money was so wanted at Court just then," and
here Legh looked hard at them, "that there could be no talk of parting
with anything of value except in return for a consideration," and he
looked at them harder still.
"And how can my Lady give that," broke in Emlyn sharply, for she
feared lest Cicely should commit herself. "To-day she is but a
homeless pauper, save for a few pounds in gold, and even if she should
come to her own again, as your Worship knows, her first year's profits
are all promised."
"Ah!" said the Doctor sadly, "doubtless the case is hard. Only," he
added, with cunning emphasis, "a tale has just reached me that the
Lady Harflete has wealth hidden away which came to her from her
mother; trinkets of value and such things."
Now Cicely coloured, for the man's little eyes pierced her like
gintlets, and her powers of deceit were very small. But this was not
so with Emlyn, who, as she said, could play thief to catch a thief.
"Listen, Sir," she said, with a secret air, "you have heard true.
There were some things of value--why should we hide it from you, our
good friend? But, alas! that greedy rogue, the Abbot of Blossholme,
has them. He has stripped my poor Lady as bare as a fowl for roasting.
Get them back from him, Sir, and on her behalf I say she'll give you
half of them, will you not, my Lady?"
"Surely," said Cicely. "The Doctor, to whom we owe so much, will be
most welcome to the half of any movables of mine that he can recover
from the Abbot Maldon," and she paused, for the fib stuck in her
throat. Moreover, she knew herself to be the colour of a peony.
Happily the Commissioner did not notice her blushes, or if he did, he
put them down to grief and anger.
"The Abbot Maldon," he grumbled, "always the Abbot Maldon. Oh! what a
wicked thief must be that high-stomached Spaniard who does not scruple
first to make orphans and then to rob them? A black-hearted traitor,
too. Do you know that at this moment he stirs up rebellion in the
north? Well, I'll see him on the rack before I have done. Have you a
list of those movables, Madam?"
Cicely said no, and Emlyn added that one should be made from memory.
"Good; I'll see you again to-morrow or the next day, and meanwhile
fear not, I'll be as active in your business as a cat after a sparrow.
Oh, my rat of a Spanish Abbot, you wait till I get my claws into your
fat back. Farewell, my Lady Harflete, farewell. Mistress Stower, I
must away to deal with other priests almost as wicked," and he
departed, still muttering objurgations on the Abbot.
"Now, I think the time has come to trust Jacob Smith," said Emlyn,
when the door closed behind him, "for he may be honest, whereas this
Doctor is certainly a villain; also, the man has heard something and
suspects us. Ah! there you are, Cousin Smith, come in, if you please,
since we desire to talk with you for a minute. Come in, and be so good
as to lock the door behind you."
Five minutes later all the jewels, whereof not one was wanting, lay on
the table before old Jacob, who stared at them with round eyes.
"The Carfax gems," he muttered, "the Carfax gems of which I have so
often heard; those that the old Crusader brought from the East, having
sacked them from a Sultan; from the East, where they talk of them
still. A sultan's wealth, unless, indeed, they came straight from the
New Jerusalem and were an angel's gauds. And do you say that you two
women have carried these priceless things tacked in your cloaks,
which, as I have seen, you throw down here and there and leave behind
you? Oh, fools, fools, even among women incomparable fools! Fellow-
travellers with Dr. Legh also, who would rob a baby of its bauble."
"Fools or no," exclaimed Emlyn tartly, "we have got them safe enough
after they have run some risks, as I pray that you may keep them,
Old Jacob threw a cloth over the gems, and slowly transferred them to
"This is an upper floor," he explained, "and the door is locked, yet
some one might put a ladder up to the window. Were I in the street I
should know by the glitter in the light that there were precious
things here. Stay, they are not safe in my pocket even for an hour,"
and going to the wall he did something to a panel in the wainscot
causing it to open and reveal a space behind it where lay sundry
wrapped-up parcels, among which he placed, not all, but a portion of
the gems. Then he went to other panels that opened likewise, showing
more parcels, and in the holes behind these he distributed the rest of
"There, foolish women," he said, "since you have trusted me, I will
trust you. You have seen my big strong-boxes in my office, and
doubtless thought I keep all my little wares there. Well, so does
every thief in London, for they have searched them twice and gained
some store of pewter; I remember that some of it was discovered again
in the King's household. But behind these panels all is safe, though
no woman would ever have thought of a device so simple and so sure."
For a moment Emlyn could find no answer, perhaps because of her
indignation, but Cicely asked sweetly--
"Do you ever have fires in London, Master Smith? It seems to me that I
have heard of such things, and then--in a hurry, you know----"
Smith thrust up his horned spectacles and looked at her in mild
"To think," he said, "that I should live to learn wisdom out of the
mouth of babes and sucklers----"
"Sucklings," suggested Cicely.
"Sucklers or sucklings, it means the same thing--women," he replied
testily; then added, with a chuckle, "Well, well, my Lady, you are
right. You have caught out Jacob at his own game. I never thought of
fire, though it is true we had one next door last year, when I ran out
with my bed and forgot all about the gold and stones. I'll have new
hiding-places made in the masonry of the cellar, where no fire would
hurt. Ah! you women would never have thought of that, who carry
treasure sewn up in a nightshift."
Now Emlyn could bear it no longer.
"And how would you have us carry it, Cousin Smith?" she asked
indignantly. "Tied about our necks, or hanging from our heels? Well do
I remember my mother telling me that you were always a simple youth,
and that your saint must have been a very strong one who brought you
safe to London and showed you how to earn a living there, or else that
you had married a woman of excellent intelligence--though it is plain
now she has long been dead. Well, well," she added, with a laugh,
"cling to your man's vanities, you son of a woman, and since you are
so clever, give us of your wisdom, for we need it. But first let me
tell you that I have rescued those very jewels from a fire, and by
hiding them in masonry in a vault."
"It is the fashion of the female to wrangle when she has the worst of
the case," said Jacob, with a twinkle in his eye. "So, daughter of
man, set out your trouble. Perchance the wisdom that I have inherited
from my mothers straight back to Eve may help that which your mothers
lacked. Now, have you done with jests. I listen, if it pleases you to
So, having first invoked the curse of Heaven on him if ever he should
breathe a word, Emlyn, with the help of Cicely, repeated the whole
matter from the beginning, and the candles were lighted ere ever her
tale was done. All this while Jacob Smith sat opposite to them, saying
little, save now and again to ask a shrewd question. At length, when
they had finished, he exclaimed--
"Truly women are fools!"
"We have heard that before, Master Smith," replied Cicely; "but this
"Not to have unbosomed to me before, which would have saved you a week
of time, although, as it happens, I knew more of your story than you
chose to tell, and therefore the days have not been altogether wasted.
Well, to be brief, this Dr. Legh is a ravenous rogue."
"O Solomon, to have discovered that!" exclaimed Emlyn.
"One whose only aim is to line his nest with your feathers, some of
which you have promised him, as, indeed, you were right to do. Now he
has got wind of these jewels, which is not wonderful, seeing that such
things cannot be hid. If you buried them in a coffin, six foot
underground, still they would shine through the solid earth and
declare themselves. This is his plan--to strip you of everything ere
his master, Cromwell, gets a hold of you; and if you go to him empty-
handed, what chance has your suit with Vicar-General Cromwell, the
hungriest shark of all--save one?"
"We understand," said Emlyn; "but what is your plan, Cousin Smith?"
"Mine? I don't know that I have one. Still, here is that which might
do. Though I seem so small and humble, I am remembered at Court--when
money is wanted, and just now much money is wanted, for soon they will
be in arms in Yorkshire--and therefore I am much remembered. Now, if
you care to give Dr. Legh the go-by and leave your cause to me,
perhaps I might serve you as cheaply as another."
"At what charge?" blurted out Emlyn.
The old man turned on her indignantly, asking--
"Cousin, how have I defrauded you or your mistress, that you should
insult me to my face? Go to! you do not trust me. Go to, with your
jewels, and seek some other helper!" and he went to the panelling as
though to collect them again.
"Nay, nay, Master Smith," said Cicely, catching him by the arm; "be
not angry with Emlyn. Remember that of late we have learned in a hard
school, with Abbot Maldon and Dr. Legh for masters. At least I trust
you, so forsake me not, who have no other to whom to turn in all my
troubles, which are many," and as she spoke the great tears that had
gathered in her blue eyes fell upon the child's face, and woke him, so
that she must turn aside to quiet him, which she was glad to do.
"Grieve not," said the kind-hearted old man, in distress; "'tis I
should grieve, whose brutal words have made you weep. Moreover, Emlyn
is right; even foolish women should not trust the first Jack with whom
they take a lodging. Still, since you swear that you do in your
kindness, I'll try to show myself not all unworthy, my Lady Harflete.
Now, what is it you want from the King? Justice on the Abbot? That
you'll get for nothing, if his Grace can give it, for this same Abbot
stirs up rebellion against him. No need, therefore, to set out his
past misdeeds. A clean title to your large inheritance, which the
Abbot claims? That will be more difficult, since the King claims
through him. At best, money must be paid for it. A declaration that
your marriage is good and your boy born in lawful wedlock? Not so
hard, but will cost something. The annulment of the sentence of
witchcraft on you both? Easy, for the Abbot passed it. Is there aught
"Yes, Master Smith; the good nuns who befriended me--I would save
their house and lands to them. Those jewels are pledged to do it, if
it can be done."
"A matter of money, Lady--a mere matter of money. You will have to buy
the property, that is all. Now, let us see what it will cost, if
fortune goes with me," and he took pen and paper and began to write
Finally he rose, sighing and shaking his head. "Two thousand pounds,"
he groaned; "a vast sum, but I can't lessen it by a shilling--there
are so many to be bought. Yes; £1000 in gifts and £1000 as loan to his
Majesty, who does not repay."
"Two thousand pounds!" exclaimed Cicely in dismay; "oh! how shall I
find so much, whose first year's rents are already pledged?"
"Know you the worth of those jewels?" asked Jacob, looking at her.
"Nay; the half of that, perhaps."
"Let us say double that, and then right cheap."
"Well, if so," replied Cicely, with a gasp, "where shall we sell them?
Who has so much money?"
"I'll try to find it, or what is needful. Now, Cousin Emlyn," he added
sarcastically, "you see where my profit lies. I buy the gems at half
their value, and the rest I keep."
"In your own words: go to!" said Emlyn, "and keep your gibes until we
have more leisure."
The old man thought a while, and said--
"It grows late, but the evening is pleasant, and I think I need some
air. That crack-brained, red-haired fellow of yours will watch you
while I am gone, and for mercy's sake be careful with those candles.
Nay, nay; you must have no fire, you must go cold. After what you said
to me, I can think of naught but fire. It is for this night only. By
to-morrow evening I'll prepare a place where Abbot Maldon himself
might sit unscorched in the midst of hell. But till then make out with
clothes. I have some furs in pledge that I will send up to you. It is
your own fault, and in my youth we did not need a fire on an autumn
day. No more, no more," and he was gone, nor did they see him again
On the following morning, as they sat at their breakfast, Jacob Smith
appeared, and began to talk of many things, such as the badness of the
weather--for it rained--the toughness of the ham, which he said was
not to be compared to those they cured at Blossholme in his youth, and
the likeness of the baby boy to his mother.
"Indeed, no," broke in Cicely, who felt that he was playing with them;
"he is his father's self; there is no look of me in him."
"Oh!" answered Jacob; "well, I'll give my judgment when I see the
father. By the way, let me read that note again which the cloaked man
brought to Emlyn."
Cicely gave it to him, and he studied it carefully; then said, in an
"The other day I saw a list of Christian captives said to have been
recovered from the Turks by the Emperor Charles at Tunis, and among
them was one 'Huflit,' described as an English señor, and his servant.
I wonder now----"
Cicely sprang upon him.
"Oh! cruel wretch," she said, 'to have known this so long and not to
have told me!"
"Peace, Lady," he said, retreating before her; "I only learned it at
eleven of the clock last night, when you were fast asleep. Yesterday
is not this same day, and therefore 'tis the other day, is it not?"
"Surely you might have woke me. But, swift, where is he now?"
"How can I know? Not here, at least. But the writing said----"
"Well, what did the writing say?"
"I am trying to think--my memory fails me at times; perhaps you will
find the same thing when you have my years, should it please
"Oh! that it might please Heaven to make you speak! What said the
"Ah! I have it now. It said, in a note appended amidst other news,
for--did I tell you this was a letter from his Grace's ambassador in
Spain? and, oh! his is the vilest scrawl to read. Nay, hurry me not--
it said that this 'Sir Huflit'--the ambassador has put a query against
his name--and his servant--yes, yes, I am sure it said his servant too
--well, that they both of them, being angry at the treatment they had
met with from the infidel Turks--no, I forgot to add there were three
of them, one a priest, who did otherwise. Well, as I said, being
angry, they stopped there to serve with the Spaniards against the
Turks till the end of that campaign. There, that is all."
"How little is your all!" exclaimed Cicely. "Yet, 'tis something. Oh!
why should a married man stop across the seas to be revenged on poor
"Why should he not?" interrupted Emlyn, "when he deems himself a
widower, as does your lord?"
"Yes, I forgot; he thinks me dead, who doubtless himself will be dead,
if he is not so already, seeing that those wicked, murderous Turks
will kill him," and she began to weep.
"I should have added," said Jacob hastily, "that in a second letter,
of later date, the ambassador declares that the Emperor's war against
the Turks is finished for this season, and that the Englishmen who
were with him fought with great honour and were all escaped unharmed,
though this time he gives no names."
"All escaped! If my husband were dead, who could not die meanly or
without fame, how could he say that they were all escaped? Nay, nay;
he lives, though who knows if he will return? Perchance he will wander
off elsewhere, or stay and wed again."
"Impossible," said old Jacob, bowing to her; "having called you wife--
"Impossible," echoed Emlyn, "having such a score to settle with yonder
Maldon! A man may forget his love, especially if he deems her buried.
But as he stayed foreign to fight the Turk, who wronged him, so he'll
come home to fight the Abbot, who ruined him and slew his bride."
There followed a silence, which the goldsmith, who felt it somewhat
painful, hastened to break, saying--
"Yes, doubtless he will come home; for aught we know he may be here
already. But meanwhile we also have our score against this Abbot, a
bad one, though think not for his sake that all Abbots are bad, for I
have known some who might be counted angels upon earth, and, having
gone to martyrdom, doubtless to-day are angels in heaven. Now, my
Lady, I will tell you what I have done, hoping that it will please you
better than it does me. Last night I saw the Lord Cromwell, with whom
I have many dealings, at his house in Austin Friars, and told him the
case, of which, as I thought, that false villain Legh had said nothing
to him, purposing to pick the plums out of the pudding ere he handed
on the suet to his master. He read your deeds and hunted up some
petition from the Abbot, with which he compared them; then made a note
of my demands and asked straight out--How much?
"I told him £1000 on loan to the King, which would not be asked for
back again, the said loan to be discharged by the grant to me--that
is, to you--of all the Abbey lands, in addition to your own, when the
said Abbey lands are sequestered, as they will be shortly. To this he
agreed, on behalf of his Grace, who needs money much, but inquired as
to himself. I replied £500 for him and his jackals, including Dr.
Legh, of which no account would be asked. He told me it was not
enough, for after the jackals had their pickings nothing would be left
for him but the bones; I, who asked so much, must offer more, and he
made as though to dismiss me. At the door I turned and said I had a
wonderful pink pearl that he, who loved jewels, might like to see--a
pink pearl worth many abbeys. He said, 'Show it;' and, oh! he gloated
over it like a maid over her first love-letter. 'If there were two of
these, now!' he whispered.
"'Two, my Lord!' I answered; 'there's no fellow to that pearl in the
whole world,' though it is true that as I said the words, the setting
of its twin, that was pinned to my inner shirt, pricked me sorely, as
if in anger. Then I took it up again, and for the second time began to
bow myself out.
"'Jacob,' he said, 'you are an old friend, and I'll stretch my duty
for you. Leave the pearl--his Grace needs that £1000 so sorely that I
must keep it against my will,' and he put out his hand to take it,
only to find that I had covered it with my own.
"'First the writing, then its price, my Lord. Here is a memorandum of
it set out fair, to save you trouble, if it pleases you to sign.'
"He read it through, then, taking a pen, scored out the clause as
regards acquittal of the witchcraft, which, he said, must be looked
into by the King in person or by his officers, but all the rest he
signed, undertaking to hand over the proper deeds under the great seal
and royal hand upon payment of £1000. Being able to do no better, I
said that would serve, and left him your pearl, he promising, on his
part, to move his Majesty to receive you, which I doubt not he will do
quickly for the sake of the £1000. Have I done well?"
"Indeed, yes," exclaimed Cicely. "Who else could have done half so
As the words left her lips there came a loud knocking at the door of
the house, and Jacob ran down to open it. Presently he returned with a
messenger in a splendid coat, who bowed to Cicely and asked if she
were the Lady Harflete. On her replying that such was her name, he
said that he bore to her the command of his Grace the King to attend
upon him at three o'clock of that afternoon at his Palace of
Whitehall, together with Emlyn Stower and Thomas Bolle, there to make
answer to his Majesty concerning a certain charge of witchcraft that
had been laid against her and them, which summons she would neglect at
"Sir, I will be there," answered Cicely; "but tell me, do I come as a
"Nay," replied the herald, "since Master Jacob Smith, in whom his
Grace has trust, has consented to be answerable for you."
"And for the £1000," muttered Jacob, as, with many salutations, he
showed the royal messenger to the door, not neglecting to thrust a
gold piece into his hand that he waved behind him in farewell.
THE DEVIL AT COURT
It was half-past two of the clock when Cicely, who carried her boy in
her arms, accompanied by Emlyn, Thomas Bolle and Jacob Smith, found
herself in the great courtyard of the Palace of Whitehall. The place
was full of people waiting there upon one business or another, through
whom messengers and armed men thrust their way continually, crying,
"Way! In the King's name, way!" So great was the press, indeed, that
for some time even Jacob could command no attention, till at length he
caught sight of the herald who had visited his house in the morning,
and beckoned to him.
"I was looking for you, Master Smith, and for the Lady Harflete," the
man said, bowing to her. "You have an appointment with his Grace, have
you not? but God knows if it can be kept. The ante-chambers are full
of folk bringing news about the rebellion in the north, and of great
lords and councillors who wait for commands or money, most of them for
money. In short the King has given order that all appointments are
cancelled; he can see no one to-day. The Lord Cromwell told me so
Jacob took a golden angel from his pouch and began to play with it
between his fingers.
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