THE LADY OF BLOSSHOLME
H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 6
"I understand, noble herald," he said. "Still, do you think that you
could find me a messenger to the Lord Cromwell? If so, this
"I'll try, Master Smith," he answered, stretching out his hand for the
piece of money. "But what is the message?"
"Oh, say that Pink Pearl would learn from his Lordship where he can
lay hands upon £1000 without interest."
"A strange message, to which I will hazard an answer--nowhere," said
the herald, "yet I'll find some one to deliver it. Step within this
archway and wait out of the rain. Fear not, I will be back presently."
They did as he bid them, gladly enough, for it had begun to drizzle
and Cicely was afraid lest her boy, with whom London did not agree too
well, should take cold. Here, then, they stood amusing themselves in
watching the motley throng that came and went. Bolle, to whom the
scene was strange, gaped at them with his mouth open; Emlyn took note
of every one with her quick eyes, while old Jacob Smith whispered
tales concerning individuals as they passed, most of which were little
to their credit.
As for Cicely, soon her thoughts were far away. She knew that she was
at a crisis of her fortune; that if things went well with her this day
she might look to be avenged upon her enemies, and to spend the rest
of her life in wealth and honour. But it was not of such matters that
she dreamed, whose heart was set on Christopher, without whom naught
availed. Where was he, she wondered. If Jacob's tale were true, after
passing many dangers, but a little while ago he lived and had his
health. Yet in those times death came quickly, leaping like the
lightning from unexpected clouds or even out of a clear sky, and who
could say? Besides, he believed her gone, and that being so would be
careless of himself, or perchance, worst thought of all, would take
some other wife, as was but right and natural. Oh! then indeed----
At this moment a sound of altercation woke her to the world again, and
she looked up to see that Thomas Bolle was bringing trouble on them. A
coarse fat lout with a fiery and a knotted nose, being somewhat in
liquor, had amused himself by making mock of his country looks and red
hair, and asking whether they used him for a scarecrow in his native
Thomas bore it for a while, only answering with another question:
whether he, the fat fellow, hired out his nose to London housewives to
light their fires. The man, feeling that the laugh was against him,
and noticing the child in Cicely's arms pointed it out to his friends,
inquiring whether they did not think it was exactly like its dad. Then
Thomas's rage burnt up, although the jest was silly and aimless
"You low, London gutter-hound!" he exclaimed; "I'll learn you to
insult the Lady Harflete with your ribald japes," and stretching out
his big fist he seized his enemy's purple nose in a grip of iron and
began to twist it till the sot roared with pain. Thereon guards ran up
and would have arrested Bolle for breaking the peace in the King's
palace. Indeed, arrested he must have been, notwithstanding all Jacob
Smith could do to save him, had not at that moment a man appeared at
whose coming the crowd that had gathered, separated, bowing; a man of
middle age with a quick, clever face, who wore rich clothes and a fur-
trimmed velvet cap and gown.
Cicely knew him at once for Cromwell, the greatest man in England
after the King, and marked him well, knowing that he held her fate and
that of her child in the hollow of his hand. She noted the thin-lipped
mouth, small as a woman's, the sharp nose, the little brownish eyes
set close together and surrounded by wrinkled skin that gave them a
cunning look, and noting was afraid. Before her stood a man who,
though at present he seemed to be her friend, if he chanced to become
her enemy, as once he had been bribed to be her father's, would show
her no more pity than the spider shows a fly.
Indeed she was right, for many were the flies that had been snared and
sucked in the web of Cromwell, who, in his full tide of power and
pomp, forgot the fate of his master, Wolsey, in his day a greater
"What passes here?" Cromwell said in a sharp voice. "Men, is this the
place to brawl beneath his Grace's very windows? Ah! Master Smith, is
it you? Explain."
"My Lord," answered Jacob, bowing, "this is Lady Harflete's servant
and he is not to blame. That fat knave insulted her and, being quick-
tempered, her man, Bolle, wrang his nose."
"I see that he wrang it. Look, he is wringing it still. Friend Bolle,
leave go, or presently you will have in your hand that which is of no
value to you. Guard, take this beer-tub and hold his head beneath the
pump for five minutes by the clock to wash him, and if he comes back
again set him in the stocks. Nay, no words, fellow, you are well
served. Master Smith, follow me with your party."
Again the crowd parted as they walked after Cromwell to a side door
that was near at hand, to find themselves alone with him in a small
chamber. Here he stopped and, turning, surveyed them all narrowly,
"I suppose, Master Smith," he said, pointing to Bolle, who was wiping
his hands clean with the rushes from the floor, "this is the man that
you told me played the devil yonder at Blossholme. Well, he can play
the fool also. In another minute there would have been a tumult and
you would have lost your chance of seeing his Grace, for months
perhaps, since he has determined to ride from London to-morrow morning
northwards, though it is true he may change his mind ere then. This
rebellion troubles him much, and were it not for the loan you promise,
when loans are needed, small hope would you have had of audience. Now
come quickly and be careful that you do not cross the King's temper,
for it is tetchy to-day. Indeed, had it not been for the Queen, who is
with him and minded to see this Lady Harflete, that they would have
burnt as a witch, you must have waited till a more convenient season
which may never come. Stay, what is in that great sack you carry,
"The devil's livery, may it please your Lordship."
"The devil's livery, many wear that in London. Still, bring the gear,
it may make his Grace laugh, and if so I'll give you a gold piece, who
have had enough of oaths and scoldings, aye," he added, with a sour
grin, "and of blows too. Now follow me into the Presence, and speak
only when you are spoken to, nor dare to answer if he rates you."
They went from the room down a passage and through another door, where
the guards on duty looked suspiciously at Bolle and his sack, but at a
word from Cromwell let them through into a large room in which a fire
burned upon the hearth. At the end of this room stood a huge, proud-
looking man with a flat and cruel face, broad as an ox's skull, as
Thomas Bolle said afterwards, who was dressed in some rich, sombre
stuff and wore a velvet cap upon his head. He held a parchment in his
hand, and before him on the other side of an oak table sat an officer
of state in a black robe, who wrote upon another parchment, whereof
there were many scattered about on the table and the floor.
"Knave," shouted the King, for they guessed that it was he, "you have
cast up these figures wrong. Oh, that it should be my lot to be served
by none but fools!"
"Pardon, your Grace," said the secretary in a trembling voice, "thrice
have I checked them."
"Would you gainsay me, you lying lawyer," bellowed the King again. "I
tell you they must be wrong, since otherwise the sum is short by £1100
of that which I was promised. Where are the £1100? You must have
stolen them, thief."
"I steal, oh, your Grace, I steal!"
"Aye, why not, since your betters do. Only you are clumsy, you lack
skill. Ask my Lord Cromwell there to give you lessons. He learned
under the best of masters, and is a merchant by trade to boot. Oh, get
you gone and take your scribblings with you."
The poor officer hastened to avail himself of this invitation.
Hurriedly collecting his parchments he bowed himself from the presence
of his irate Sovereign. At the door, about twelve feet away, however,
"My gracious Liege," he began, "the casting of the count is right.
Upon my honour as a Christian soul I can look your Majesty in the face
with truth in my eye----"
Now on the table there was a massive inkstand made from the horn of a
ram mounted with silver feet. This Henry seized and hurled with all
his strength. The aim was good, for the heavy horn struck the wretched
scribe upon the nose so that the ink squirted all over his face, and
felled him to the floor.
"Now there is more in your eye than truth," shouted the King. "Be off,
ere the stool follows the inkpot."
Two ladies who stood by the fire talking together and taking no heed,
for to such rude scenes they seemed to be accustomed, looked up and
laughed a little, then went on talking, while Cromwell smiled and
shrugged his shoulders. Then in the midst of the silence which
followed Thomas Bolle, who had been watching open-mouthed, ejaculated
in his great voice--
"A bull's eye! A noble bull! Myself cannot throw straighter."
"Silence, fool," hissed Emlyn.
"Who spoke?" asked the king, looking towards them sharply.
"Please, my Liege, it was I, Thomas Bolle."
"Thomas Bolle! Can you sling a stone, Thomas Bolle, whoever you may
"Aye, Sire, but not better than you, I think. That was a gallant
"Thomas Bolle, you are right. Seeing the hurry and the unhandiness of
the missile, it was excellent. Let the knave stand up again and I'll
bet you a gold noble to a brass nail that you'll not do as well within
an inch. Why, the fellow's gone! Will you try on my Lord Cromwell?
Nay, this is no time for fooling. What's your business, Thomas Bolle,
and who are those women with you?"
Now Cromwell stepped forward, and with cringing gestures began to
explain something to the King in a low voice. Meanwhile, the two
ladies became suddenly interested in Cicely, and one of them, a pale
but pretty woman, splendidly dressed, stepped forward to her, saying--
"Are you the Lady Harflete of whom we have heard, she who was to have
been burnt as a witch? Yes? And is that your child? Oh! what a
beautiful child. A boy, I'll swear. Come to me, sweet, and in after
years you can tell that a queen has nursed you," and she stretched out
As good fortune would have it the child was awake, and attracted by
the Queen's pleasant voice, or perhaps by the necklace of bright gems
that she wore, he held out his little hands towards her and went quite
contentedly to her breast. Jane Seymour, for it was she, began to
fondle him with delight, then, followed by her lady, ran to the King,
"See, Harry, see what a beautiful boy, and how he loves me. God send
us such a son as this!"
The King glanced at the child, then answered--
"Aye, he would do well enow. Well, it rests with you, Jane. Nurse him,
nurse him, perhaps the sex is catching. I and all England would see
you brought to bed of that sickness, Sweet. What said you, Cromwell?"
The great minister went on with his explanations, till the King,
wearying of him, called out--
"Come here, Master Smith."
Jacob advanced, bowing, and stood still.
"Now, Master Smith, the Lord Cromwell tells me that if I sign these
papers, you, on behalf of the Lady Harflete, will loan me £1000
without interest, which as it chances I need. Where, then, is this
£1000?--for I will have no promises, not even from you, who are known
to keep them, Master Smith."
Jacob thrust his hand beneath his robe, and from various inner pockets
drew out bags of gold, which he set in a row upon the table.
"Here they are, your Grace," he said quietly. "If you should wish for
them they can be weighed and counted."
"God's truth! I think I had better keep them, lest some accident
should happen to you on the way home, Master Smith. You might fall
into the Thames and sink."
"Your Grace is right, the parchments will be lighter to carry, even,"
he added meaningly, "with your Highness's name added."
"I can't sign," said the King doubtfully, "all the ink is spilt."
Jacob produced a small ink-horn, which like most merchants of the day
he carried hung to his girdle, drew out the stopper and with a bow set
it on the table.
"In truth you are a good man of business, Master Smith, too good for a
mere king. Such readiness makes me pause. Perhaps we had better meet
again at a more leisured season."
Jacob bowed once more, and stretching out his hand slowly lifted the
first of the bags of gold as though to replace it in his pocket.
"Cromwell, come hither," said the King, whereon Jacob, as though in
forgetfulness, laid the bag back upon the table.
"Repeat the heads of this matter, Cromwell."
"My Liege, the Lady Harflete seeks justice on the Spaniard Maldon,
Abbot of Blossholme, who is said to have murdered her father, Sir John
Foterell, and her husband, Sir Christopher Harflete, though rumour has
it that the latter escaped his clutches and is now in Spain. Item: the
said Abbot has seized the lands which this Dame Cicely should have
inherited from her father, and demands their restitution."
"By God's wounds! justice she shall have and for nothing if we can
give it her," answered the King, letting his heavy fist fall upon the
table. "No need to waste time in setting out her wrongs. Why, 'tis the
same Spanish knave Maldon who stirs up all this hell's broth in the
north. Well, he shall boil in his own pot, for against him our score
is long. What more?"
"A declaration, Sire, of the validity of the marriage between
Christopher Harflete and Cicely Foterell, which without doubt is good
and lawful although the Abbot disputes it for his own ends; and an
indemnity for the deaths of certain men who fell when the said Abbot
attacked and burnt the house of the said Christopher Harflete."
"It should have been granted the more readily if Maldon had fallen
also, but let that pass. What more?"
"The promise, your Grace, of the lands of the Abbey of Blossholme and
of the Priory of Blossholme in consideration of the loan of £1000
advanced to your Grace by the agent of Cicely Harflete, Jacob Smith."
"A large demand, my Lord. Have these lands been valued?"
"Aye, Sire, by your Commissioner, who reports it doubtful if with all
their tenements and timber they would fetch £1000 in gold."
"Our Commissioner? A fig for his valuing, doubtless he has been
bribed. Still, if we repay the money we can hold the land, and since
this Dame Harflete and her husband have suffered sorely at the hands
of Maldon and his armed ruffians, why, let it pass also. Now, is that
all? I weary of so much talk."
"But one thing more, your Grace," put in Cromwell hastily, for Henry
was already rising from his chair. "Dame Cicely Harflete, her servant,
Emlyn Stower, and a certain crazed old nun were condemned of sorcery
by a Court Ecclesiastic whereof the Abbot Maldon was a member, the
said Abbot alleging that they had bewitched him and his goods."
"Then he was pleader and judge in one?"
"That is so, your Grace. Already without the royal warrant they were
bound to the stake for burning, the said Maldon having usurped the
prerogative of the Crown, when your Commissioner, Legh, arrived and
loosed them, but not without fighting, for certain men were killed and
wounded. Now they humbly crave your Majesty's royal pardon for their
share in this man-slaying, if any, as also does Thomas Bolle yonder,
who seems to have done the slaying----"
"Well can I believe it," muttered the King.
"And a declaration of the invalidity of their trial and condemning,
and of their innocence of the foul charge laid against them."
"Innocence!" exclaimed Henry, growing impatient and fixing on the last
point. "How do we know they were innocent, though it is true that if
Dame Harflete is a witch she is the prettiest that ever we have heard
of or seen. You ask too much, after your fashion, Cromwell."
"I crave your Grace's patience for one short minute. There is a man
here who can prove that they were innocent; yonder red-haired Bolle."
"What? He who praised our shooting? Well, Bolle, since you are so good
a sportsman, we will listen to you. Prove and be brief."
"Now all is finished," murmured Emlyn to Cicely, "for assuredly fool
Thomas will land us in the mire."
"Your Grace," said Bolle in his big voice, "I obey in four words--I
was the devil."
"The devil you were, Thomas Bolle. Now, your meaning?"
"Your Grace, Blossholme was haunted, I haunted it."
"How could you do otherwise if you lived there?"
"I'll show your Grace," and without more ado, to the horror of Cicely,
Thomas tumbled from his sack all his hellish garb and set to work to
clothe himself. In a minute, for he was practised at the game, the
hideous mask was on his head, and with it the horns and skin of the
widow's billy-goat; the tail and painted hides were tied about him,
and in his hand he waved the eel spear, short-handled now. Thus
arrayed he capered before the astonished King and Queen, shaking the
tail that had a wire in it and clattering his hoofs upon the floor.
"Oh, good devil! Most excellent devil!" exclaimed his Majesty,
clapping his hands. "If I had met thee I'd have run like a hare. Stay,
Jane, peep you through yonder door and tell me who are gathered
The Queen obeyed and, returned, said--
"There be a bishop and a priest, I cannot see which, for it grows
dark, with chaplains and sundry of the lords of Council waiting
"Good. Then we'll try the devil on these devil-tamers. Friend Satan,
go you to that door, slip through it softly and rush upon them
roaring, driving them through this chamber so that we may see which of
them will be bold enough to try to lay you. Dost understand,
Thomas nodded his horns and departed silently as a cat.
"Now open the door and stand on one side," said the King.
Cromwell obeyed, nor had they long to wait. Presently from the hall
beyond there rose a most fearful clamour. Then through the door shot
the bishop panting, after him came lords, chaplains, and secretaries,
and last of all the priest, who, being very fat and hampered by his
gown, could not run so fast, although at his back Satan leapt and
bellowed. No heed did they take of the King's Majesty or of aught
else, whose only thought was flight as they tore down the chamber to
the farther door.
"Oh, noble, noble!" hallooed the King, who was shaking with laughter.
"Give him your fork, devil, give him your fork," and having the royal
command Bolle obeyed with zeal.
In thirty seconds it was all over; the rout had come and gone, only
Thomas in his hideous attire stood bowing before the King, who
"I thank thee, Thomas Bolle, thou hast made me laugh as I have not
laughed for years. Little wonder that thy mistress was condemned for
witchcraft. Now," he added, changing his tone, "off with that mummery,
and, Cromwell, go, catch one of those fools and tell them the truth
ere tales fly round the palace. Jane, cease from merriment, there is a
time for all things. Come hither, Lady Harflete, I would speak with
Cicely approached and curtseyed, leaving her boy in the Queen's arms,
where he had gone to sleep, for she did not seem minded to part with
"You are asking much of us," he said suddenly, searching her with a
shrewd glance, "relying, doubtless, on your wrongs, which are deep, or
your face, which is sweet, or both. Well, these things move Kings
mayhap more than others, also I knew old Sir John, your father, a
loyal man and a brave, he fought well at Flodden; and young Harflete,
your husband, if he still lives, had a good name like his forebears.
Moreover your enemy, Maldon, is ours, a treacherous foreign snake such
as England hates, for he would set her beneath the heel of Spain.
"Now, Dame Harflete, doubtless when you go hence you will bear away
strange stories of King Harry and his doings. You will say he plays
the fool, pelting his servants with inkpots when he is wrath, as God
knows he has often cause to be, and scaring his bishops with sham
Satans, as after all why should he not since it is a dull world?
You'll say, too, that he takes his teaching from his ministers, and
signs what these lay before him with small search as to the truth or
falsity. Well, that's the lot of monarchs who have but one man's brain
and one man's time; who needs must trust their slaves until these
become their masters, and there is naught left," here his face grew
fierce, "save to kill them, and find more and worse. New servants, new
wives," and he glanced at Jane, who was not listening, "new friends,
false, false, all three of them, new foes, and at the last old Death
to round it off. Such has been the lot of kings from David down, and
such I think it shall always be."
He paused a while, brooding heavily, then looked up and went on, "I
know not why I should speak thus to a chit like you, except it be,
that young though you are, you also have known trouble and the feel of
a sick heart. Well, well, I have heard more of you and your affairs
than you might think, and I forget nothing--that's my gift. Dame
Harflete, you are richer than you have been advised to say, and I
repeat you ask much of me. Justice is your due from your Sovereign,
and you shall have it; but these wide Abbey lands, this Priory of
Blossholme, whose nuns have befriended you and whom you desire to
save, this embracing pardon for others who had shed blood, this
cancelling outside of the form of law of a sentence passed by a Court
duly constituted, if unjust, all in return for a loan of a pitiful
£1000? You huckster well, Lady Harflete, one would think that your
father had been a chapman, not rough John Foterell, you who can drive
so shrewd a bargain with your King's necessities."
"Sire, Sire," broke in Cicely in confusion, "I have no more, my lands
are wasted by Abbot Maldon, my husband's hall is burnt by his
soldiers, my first year's rents, if ever I should receive them, are
"To whom?" he thundered. "Answer, Madam."
"To your Royal Commissioner, Dr. Legh."
"Ah! I thought as much, though when he spoke of you he did not tell
it, the snuffling rogue."
"The jewels that came to me from my mother are in pawn for that £1000,
and I have no more."
"A palpable lie, Dame Harflete, for if so, how have you paid Cromwell?
He did not bring you here for nothing."
"Oh, my Liege, my Liege," said Cicely, sinking to her knees, "ask not
a helpless woman to betray those who have befriended her in her most
sore and honest need. I said I have nothing, unless those gems are
worth more than I know."
"And I believe you, Dame Harflete. We have plucked you bare between
us, have we not? Still, perchance, you will be no loser in the end.
Now, Master Smith, there, does not work for love alone."
"Sire," said Jacob, "that is true, I copy my masters. I have this
lady's jewels in pledge, and I hope to make a profit on them. Still,
Sire, there is among them a pink pearl of great beauty that it might
please the Queen to wear. Here it is," and he laid it upon the table.
"Oh, what a lovely thing," said Jane; "never have I seen its like."
"Then study it well, Wife, for you look your last upon it. When we
cannot pay our soldiers to keep our crown upon our head, and preserve
the liberties of England against the Spaniard and the Pope of Rome, it
is no time to give you gems that I have not bought. Take that gaud and
sell it, Master Smith, for whatever it will fetch among the Jews, and
add the price to the £1000, lessened by one tenth for your trouble.
Now, Dame Harflete, you have bought the favour of your King, for
whoever else may, I'll not lie. Ah! here comes Cromwell. My Lord, you
have been long."
"Your Grace, yonder priest is in a fit from fright, and thinks himself
in hell. I had to tarry with him till the doctor came."
"Doubtless he'll get better now that you are gone. Poor man, if a sham
devil frights him so, what will he do at last? Now, Cromwell, I have
made examination of this business and I will sign your papers, all of
them. Dame Harflete here tells me how hard you have worked for her,
all for nothing, Cromwell, and that pleases me, who at times have
wondered how you grew so rich, as your learner, Wolsey, did before
you. /He/ took bribes, Cromwell!"
"My Liege," he answered in a low voice, "this case was cruel, it moved
"As it has ours, leaving us the richer by £1000 and the price of a
pearl. There, five, are they all signed? Take them, Master Smith, as
the Lady Harflete is your client, and study them to-night. If aught be
wrong or omitted, you have our royal word that we will set it
straight. This is our command--note it, Cromwell--that all things be
done quickly as occasion shall arise to give effect to these precepts,
pardons and patents which you, Cromwell, shall countersign ere they
leave this room. Also, that no further fee, secret or declared, shall
be taken from the Lady Harflete, whom henceforth, in token of our
special favour, we create and name the Lady of Blossholme, from her
husband or her child, as to any of these matters, and that
Commissioner Legh, on receipt thereof, shall pay into our treasury any
sum or sums that Dame Harflete may have promised to him. Write it
down, my Lord Cromwell, and see that our words are carried out, lest
it be the worse for you."
The Vicar-General hastened to obey, for there was something in the
King's eye that frightened him. Meanwhile the Queen, after she had
seen the coveted pearl disappear into Jacob's pocket, thrust back the
child into Cicely's arms, and without any word of adieu or reverence
to the King, followed by her lady, departed from the room, slamming
the door behind her.
"Her Grace is cross because that gem--your gem, Lady Harflete--was
refused to her," said Henry, then added in an angry growl, "'Fore God!
does she dare to play off her tempers upon me, and so soon, when I am
troubled about big matters? Oho! Jane Seymour is the Queen to-day, and
she'd let the world know it. Well, what makes a queen? A king's fancy
and a crown of gold, which the hand that set it on can take off again,
head and all, if it stick too tight. And then where's your queen? Pest
upon women and the whims that make us seek their company! Dame
Harflete, you'd not treat your lord so, would you? You have never been
to Court, I think, or I should have known your eyes again. Well,
perhaps it is well for you, and that's why you are gentle and loving."
"If I am gentle, Sire, it is trouble that has gentled me, who have
suffered so much, and know not even now whether after one week of
marriage I am wife or widow."
"Widow? Should that be so, come to me and I will find you another and
a nobler spouse. With your face and possessions it will not be
difficult. Nay, do not weep, for your sake I trust that this lucky man
may live to comfort you and serve his King. At least he'll be no
Spaniard's tool and Pope's plotter."
"Well will he serve your Grace if God gives him the chance, as my
murdered father did."
"We know it, Lady. Cromwell, will you never have finished with those
writings? The Council waits us, and so does supper, and a word or two
with her Grace ere bedtime. You, Thomas Bolle, you are no fool and can
hold a sword; tell me, shall I go up north to fight the rebels, or
bide here and let others do it?"
"Bide here, your Grace," answered Thomas promptly. "'Twixt Wash and
Humber is a wild land in winter and arrows fly about there like ducks
at night, none knowing whence they come. Also your Grace is over-heavy
for a horse on forest roads and moorland, and if aught should chance,
why, they'd laugh in Spain and Rome, or nearer, and who would rule
England with a girl child on its throne?" and he stared hard at
"Truth at last, and out of the lips of a red-haired bumpkin," muttered
the King, also staring at the unconscious Cromwell, who was engaged on
his writing and either feigned deafness or did not hear. "Thomas
Bolle, I said that you were no fool, although some may have thought
you so, is there aught you would have in payment for your counsel--
save money, for that we have none?"
"Aye, Sire, freedom from my oath as a lay-brother of the Abbey of
Blossholme, and leave to marry."
"To marry whom?"
"Her, Sire," and he pointed to Emlyn.
"What! The other handsome witch? See you not that she has a temper?
Nay, woman, be silent, it is written in your face. Well, take your
freedom and her with it, but, Thomas Bolle, why did you not ask
otherwise when the chance came your way? I thought better of you. Like
the rest of us, you are but a fool after all. Farewell to you, Fool
Thomas, and to you also, my fair Lady of Blossholme."
THE VOICE IN THE FOREST
The four were back safe in their lodging in Cheapside, whither, after
the deeds had been sealed, three soldiers escorted them by command.
"Have we done well, have we done well?" asked Jacob, rubbing his
"It would seem so, Master Smith," replied Cicely, "thanks to you; that
is, if all the King said is really in those writings."
"It is there sure enough," said Jacob; "for know, that with the aid of
a lawyer and three scriveners, I drafted them myself in the Lord
Cromwell's office this morning, and oh, I drew them wide. Hard, hard
we worked with no time for dinner, and that was why I was ten minutes
late by the clock, for which Emlyn here chided me so sharply. Still,
I'll read them through again, and if aught is left out we will have it
righted, though these are the same parchments, for I set a secret mark
"Nay, nay," said Cicely, "leave well alone. His Grace's mood may
change, or the Queen--that matter of the pearl."
"Ah, the pearl, it grieved me to part with that beautiful pearl. But
there was no way out, it must be sold and the money handed over, our
honour is on it. Had I refused, who knows? Yes, we may thank God, for
if the most of your jewels are gone, the wide Abbey lands have come
and other things. Nothing is forgot. Bolle is unfrocked and may wed;
Cousin Stower has got a husband----"
Then Emlyn, who until now had been strangely silent, burst out in
"Am I, then, a beast that I should be given to this man like a heriot
at yonder King's bidding?" she exclaimed, pointing with her finger at
Bolle, who stood in the corner. "Who gave you the right, Thomas, to
demand me in marriage?"
"Well, since you ask me, Emlyn, it was you yourself; once, many years
ago, down in the mead by the water, and more lately in the chapel of
Blossholme Priory before I began to play the devil."
"Play the devil! Aye, you have played the devil with me. There in the
King's presence I must stand for an hour or more while all talked and
never let a word slip between my lips, and at last hear myself called
by his Grace a woman of temper and you a fool for wishing to marry me.
Oh, if ever we do marry, I'll prove his words."
"Then perhaps, Emlyn, we who have got on a long while apart, had best
stay so," answered Thomas calmly. "Yet, why you should fret because
you must keep your tongue in its case for an hour, or because I asked
leave to marry you in all honour, I do not know. I have worked my best
for you and your mistress at some hazard, and things have not gone so
ill, seeing that now we are quit of blame and in a fair way to peace
and comfort. If you are not content, why then, the King was right, and
I'm a fool, and so good-bye, I'll trouble you no more in fair weather
or in foul. I have leave to marry, and there are other women in the
world should I need one."
"Tread on their tails and even worms will turn," soliloquized Jacob,
while Emlyn burst into tears.
Cicely ran to console her, and Bolle made as though he would leave the
Just then there came a great knocking on the street door, and the
sound of a voice crying--
"In the King's name! In the King's name, open!"
"That's Commissioner Legh," said Thomas. "I learned the cry from him,
and it is a good one at a pinch, as some of you may remember."
Emlyn dried her tears with her sleeve; Cicely sat down and Jacob
shovelled the parchments into his big pockets. Then in burst the
Commissioner, to whom some one had opened.
"What's this I hear?" he cried, addressing Cicely, his face as red as
a turkey cock's. "That you have been working behind my back; that you
have told falsehoods of me to his Grace, who called me knave and
thief; that I am commanded to pay my fees into the Treasury? Oh,
ungrateful wench, would to God that I had let you burn ere you
disgraced me thus."
"If you bring so much heat into my poor house, learned Doctor, surely
all of us will soon burn," said Jacob suavely. "The Lady Harflete said
nothing that his Highness did not force her to say, as I know who was
present, and among so many pickings cannot you spare a single dole?
Come, come, drink a cup of wine and be calm."
But Dr. Legh, who had already drunk several cups of wine, would not be
calm. He reviled first one of them and then the other, but especially
Emlyn, whom he conceived to be the cause of all his woes, till at
length he called her by a very ill name. Then came forward Thomas
Bolle, who all this while had been standing in the corner, and took
him by the neck.
"In the King's name!" he said, "nay, complain not, 'tis your own cry
and I have warrant for it," and he knocked Legh's head against the
door-post. "In the King's name, get out of this," and he gave him such
a kick as never Royal Commissioner had felt before, shooting him down
the passage. "For the third time in the King's name!" and he hurled
him out in a heap into the courtyard. "Begone, and know if ever I see
your pudding face again, in the King's name, I'll break your neck!"
Thus did Visitor Legh depart out of the life of Cicely, though in due
course she paid him her first year's rent, nor ever asked who took the
"Thomas," said Emlyn, when he returned smiling at the memory of that
farewell kick, "the King was right, I am quick-tempered at times, no
ill thing for it has helped me more than once. Forget, and so will I,"
and she gave him her hand, which he kissed, then went to see about the
While they ate, which they did heartily who needed food, there came
"Go, Thomas," said Jacob, "and say we see none to-night."
So Thomas went and they heard talk. Then he re-entered followed by a
cloaked man, saying--
"Here is a visitor whom I dare not deny," whereon they all rose,
thinking in their folly that it was the King himself, and not one
almost as mighty in England for a while--the Lord Cromwell.
"Pardon me," said Cromwell, bowing in his courteous manner, "and if
you will, let me be seated with you, and give me a bite and a sup, for
I need them, who have been hard-worked to-day."
So he sat down among them, and ate and drank, talking pleasantly of
many things, and telling them that the King had changed his mind at
the Council, as he thought, because of the words of Thomas Bolle,
which he believed had stuck there, and would not go north to fight the
rebels after all, but would send the Duke of Norfolk and other lords.
Then when he had done he pushed away his cup and platter, looked at
his hosts and said--
"Now to business. My Lady Harflete, fortune has been your friend this
day, for all you asked has been granted to you, which, as his Grace's
temper has been of late, is a wondrous thing. Moreover, I thank you
that you did not answer a certain question as to myself which I learn
he put to you urgently."
"My Lord," said Cicely, "you have befriended me. Still, had he pressed
me further, God knows. Commissioner Legh did not thank me to-night,"
and she told him of the visit they had just received, and of its
"A rough man and a greedy, who doubtless henceforth will be your
enemy," replied Cromwell. "Still you were not to blame, for who can
reason with a bull in his own yard? Well, while I have power I'll not
forget your faithfulness, though in truth, my Lady of Blossholme, I
sit upon a slippery height, and beneath waits a gulf that has
swallowed some as great, and greater. Therefore I will not deny it, I
lay by while I may, not knowing who will gather."
He brooded a while, then went on, with a sigh--
"The times are uncertain; thus, you who have the promise of wealth may
yet die a beggar. The lands of Blossholme Abbey, on which you hold a
bond that will never be redeemed, are not yet in the King's hands to
give. A black storm is bursting in the north and, I say this in
secret, the fury of it may sweep Henry from the throne. If it should
be so, away with you to any land where you are not known, for then
after this day's work here a rope will be your only heritage. More,
this Queen, unlike Anne who is gone, is a friend to the party of the
Church, and though she affects to care little for such things, is
bitter about that pearl, and therefore against you, its owner. Have
you no jewel left that you could spare which I might take to her? As
for the pearl itself, which Master Smith here swore to me was not to
be found in the whole world when he showed me its fellow, it must be
sold as the King commanded," and he looked at Jacob somewhat sourly.
Now Cicely spoke with Jacob, who went away and returned presently with
a brooch in which was set a large white diamond surrounded by five
"Take her this with my duty, my Lord," said Cicely.
"I will, I will. Oh! fear not, it shall reach her for my own sake as
well as yours. You are a wise giver, Lady Harflete, who know when and
where to cast your bread upon the waters. And now I have a gift for
you that perchance will please you more than gems. Your husband,
Christopher Harflete, accompanied by a servant, has landed in the
north safe and well."
"Oh, my Lord," she cried, "then where is he now?"
"Alas! the rest of the tale is not so pleasing, for as he journeyed,
from Hull I think, he was taken prisoner by the rebels, who have him
fast at Lincoln, wishing to make him, whose name is of account, one of
their company. But he being a wise and loyal man, contrived to send a
letter to the King's captain in those parts, which has reached me this
night. Here it is, do you know the writing?"
"Aye, aye," gasped Cicely, staring at the scrawl that was ill writ and
worse spelt, for Christopher was no scholar.
"Then I'll read it to you, and afterwards certify a copy to multiply
"To the Captain of the King's Forces outside Lincoln.
"This to give notice to you, his Grace, and his ministers and all
others, that we, Christopher Harflete, Knight, and Jeffrey Stokes,
his servant, when journeying from the seaport whither we had come
from Spain, were taken by rebels in arms against the King and
brought here to Lincoln. These men would win me to their party
because the name of Harflete is still strong and known. So violent
were they that we have taken some kind of oath. Yet this writing
advises you that so I only did to save my life, having no heart
that way who am a loyal man and understand little of their
quarrel. Life, in sooth, is of small value to me who have lost
wife, lands and all. Yet ere I die I would be avenged upon the
murderous Abbot of Blossholme, and therefore I seek to keep my
breath in me and to escape.
"I learn that the said Abbot is afoot with a great following within
fifty miles of here. Pray God he does not get his claws in me
again, but if so, say to the King, that Harflete died faithful.
"Jeffrey Stokes, † his mark."
"My Lord," said Cicely, "what shall I do, my Lord?"
"There is naught to be done, save trust in God and hope for the best.
Doubtless he will escape, and at least his Grace shall see this letter
to-morrow morning and send orders to help him if may be. Copy it,
Jacob took the letter and began to write swiftly, while Cromwell
"Listen," he said presently. "Round Blossholme there are no rebels,
all of that colour have drawn off north. Now Foterell and Harflete are
good names yonder, cannot you journey thither and raise a company?"
"Aye, aye, that I can do," broke in Bolle. "In a week I will have a
hundred men at my back. Give commission and money to my Lady there and
name me captain and you'll see."
"The commission and the captaincy under the privy signet shall be at
this house by nine of the clock to-morrow," answered Cromwell. "The
money you must find, for there is none outside the coffers of Jacob
Smith. Yet pause, Lady Harflete, there is risk and here you are safe."
"I know the risk," she answered, "but what do I care for risks who
have taken so many, when my husband is yonder and I may serve him?"
"An excellent spirit, let us trust that it comes from on high,"
remarked Cromwell; but old Jacob, as he wrote /vera copia/ for his
Lordship's signature at the foot of the transcript of Christopher's
letter, shook his head sadly.
In another minute Cromwell had signed without troubling to compare the
two, and with some gentle words of farewell was gone, having bigger
matters waiting his attention.
Cicely never saw him again, indeed with the exception of Jacob Smith
she never saw any of those folk again, including the King, who had
been concerned in this crisis of her life. Yet, notwithstanding his
cunning and his extortion, she grieved for Cromwell when some four
years later the Duke of Suffolk and the Earl of Southampton rudely
tore the Garter and his other decorations off his person and he was
haled from the Council to the Tower, and thence after abject
supplications for mercy, to perish a criminal upon the block. At least
he had served her well, for he kept all his promises to the letter.
One of his last acts also was to send her back the pink pearl which he
had received as a bribe from Jacob Smith, with a message to the effect
that he was sure it would become her more than it had him, and that he
hoped it would bring her a better fortune.
When Cromwell had gone Jacob turned to Cicely and inquired if she were
leaving his house upon the morrow.
"Have I not said so?" she asked, with impatience. "Knowing what I know
how could I stay in London? Why do you ask?"
"Because I must balance our account. I think you owe me a matter of
twenty marks for rent and board. Also it is probable that we shall
need money for our journey, and this day has left me somewhat bare of
"Our journey?" said Cicely. "Do you, then, accompany us, Master
"With your leave I think so, Lady. Times are bad here, I have no
shilling left to lend, yet if I do not lend I shall never be forgiven.
Also I need a holiday, and ere I die would once again see Blossholme,
where I was born, should we live to reach it. But if we start
to-morrow I have much to do this night. For instance, your jewels
which I hold in pawn must be set in a place of safety; also these
deeds, whereof copies should be made, and that pearl must be left in
trusty hands for sale. So at what hour do we ride on this mad errand?"
"At eleven of the clock," answered Cicely, "if the King's safe-conduct
and commission have come by then."
"So be it. Then I bid you good-night. Come with me, worthy Bolle, for
there'll be no sleep for us. I go to call my clerks and you must go to
the stable. Lady Harflete and you, Cousin Emlyn, get you to bed."
On the following morning Cicely rose with the dawn, nor was she sorry
to do so, who had spent but a troubled night. For long sleep would not
come to her, and when it did at length, she was tossed upon a sea of
dreams, dreams of the King, who threatened her with his great voice;
of Cromwell, who took everything she had down to her cloak; of
Commissioner Legh, who dragged her back to the stake because he had
lost his bribe.
But most of all she dreamed of Christopher, her beloved husband, who
was so near and yet as far away as he had ever been, a prisoner in the
hands of the rebels; her husband who deemed her dead.
From all these phantasies she awoke weeping and oppressed by fears.
Could it be that when at length the cup of joy was so near her lips
fate waited to dash it down again? She knew not, who had naught but
faith to lean on, that faith which in the past had served her well.
Meanwhile, she was sure that if Christopher lived he would make his
way to Cranwell or to Blossholme, and, whatever the risk, thither she
would go also as fast as horses could carry her.
Hurry as they would, midday was an hour gone ere they rode out of
Cheapside. There was so much to do, and even then things were left
undone. The four of them travelled humbly clad, giving out that they
were a party of merchant folk returning to Cambridge after a visit to
London as to an inheritance in which they were interested, especially
Cicely, who posed as a widow named Johnson. This was their story,
which they varied from time to time according to circumstances. In
some ways their minds were more at ease than when they travelled to
the great city, for now at least they were clear of the horrid company
of Commissioner Legh and his people, nor were they haunted by the
knowledge that they had about them jewels of great price. All these
jewels were left behind in safe keeping, as were also the writings
under the King's hand and seal, of which they only took attested
copies, and with them the commission that Cromwell had duly sent to
Cicely addressed to her husband and herself, and Bolle's certificate
of captaincy. These they hid in their boots or the linings of their
vests, together with such money as was necessary for the costs of
Thus riding hard, for their horses were good and fresh, they came
unmolested to Cambridge on the night of the second day and slept
there. Beyond Cambridge, they were told, the country was so disturbed
that it would not be safe for them to journey. But just when they were
in despair, for even Bolle said that they must not go on, a troop of
the King's horse arrived on their way to join the Duke of Norfolk
wherever he might lie in Lincolnshire.
To their captain, one Jeffreys, Jacob showed the King's commission,
revealing who they were. Seeing that it commanded all his Grace's
officers and servants to do them service, this Captain Jeffreys said
that he would give them escort until their roads separated. So next
day they went on again. The company was not pleasant, for the men, of
whom there were about a hundred, proved rough fellows, still, having
been warned that he who insulted or laid a finger on them should be
hanged, they did them no harm. It was well, indeed, that they had
their protection, for they found the country through which they passed
up in arms, and were more than once threatened by mobs of peasants,
led by priests, who would have attacked them had they dared.
For two days they travelled thus with Captain Jeffreys, coming on the
evening of the second to Peterborough, where they found lodgings at an
inn. When they rose the next morning, however, it was to discover that
Jeffreys and his men had already gone, leaving a message to say that
he had received urgent orders to push on to Lincoln.
Now once more they told their old tale, declaring that they were
citizens of Boston, and having learned that the Fens were peaceful,
perhaps because so few people lived in them, started forward by
themselves under the guidance of Bolle, who had often journeyed
through that country, buying or selling cattle for the monks. An ill
land was it to travel in also in that wet autumn, seeing that in many
places the floods were out and the tracks were like a quagmire. The
first night they spent in a marshman's hut, listening to the pouring
rain and fearing fever and ague, especially for the boy. The next day,
by good fortune, they reached higher land and slept at a tavern.
Here they were visited by rude men, who, being of the party of
rebellion, sought to know their business. For a while things were
dangerous, but Bolle, who could talk their own dialect, showed that
they were scarcely to be feared who travelled with two women and a
babe, adding that he was a lay-brother of Blossholme Abbey disguised
as a serving-man for dread of the King's party. Jacob Smith also
called for ale and drank with them to the success of the Pilgrimage of
Grace, as their revolt was named.
In this way they disarmed suspicion with one tale and another.
Moreover, they heard that as yet the country round Blossholme remained
undisturbed, although it was said that the Abbot had fortified the
Abbey and stored it with provisions. He himself was with the leaders
of the revolt in the neighbourhood of Lincoln, but he had done this
that he might have a strong place to fall back on.
So in the end the men went away full of strong beer, and that danger
Next morning they started forward early, hoping to reach Blossholme by
sunset though the days were shortening much. This, however, was not to
be, for as it chanced they were badly bogged in a quagmire that lay
about two miles off their inn, and when at length they scrambled out
had to ride many miles round to escape the swamp. So it happened that
it was already well on in the afternoon when they came to that stretch
of forest in which the Abbot had murdered Sir John Foterell. Following
the woodland road, towards sunset they passed the mere where he had
fallen. Weary as she was, Cicely looked at the spot and found it
"I know this place," she said. "Where have I seen it? Oh, in the ill
dream I had on that day I lost my father."
"That is not wonderful," answered Emlyn, who rode beside her carrying
the child, "seeing that Thomas says it was just here they butchered
him. Look, yonder lie the bones of Meg, his mare; I know them by her
"Aye, Lady," broke in Bolle, "and there he lies also where he fell;
they buried him with never a Christian prayer," and he pointed to a
little careless mound between two willows."
"Jesus, have mercy on his soul!" said Cicely, crossing herself. "Now,
if I live, I swear that I will move his bones to the chancel of
Blossholme church and build a fair monument to his memory."
This, as all visitors to the place know, she did, for that monument
remains to this day, representing the old knight lying in the snow,
with the arrow in his throat, between the two murderers whom he slew,
while round the corner of the tomb Jeffrey Stokes gallops away.
While Cicely stared back at this desolate grave, muttering a prayer
for the departed, Thomas Bolle heard something which caused him to
prick his ears.
"What is it?" asked Jacob Smith, who saw the change in his face.
"Horses galloping--many horses, master," he answered; "yes, and riders
on them. Listen."
They did so, and now they also heard the thud of horse's hoofs and the
shouts of men.
"Quick, quick," said Bolle, "follow me. I know where we may hide," and
he led them off to a dense thicket of thorn and beech scrub which grew
about two hundred yards away under a group of oaks at a place where
four tracks crossed. Owing to the beech leaves, which, when the trees
are young, as every gardener knows, cling to the twigs through autumn
and winter, this place was very close, and hid them completely.
Scarcely had they taken up their stand there, when, in the red light
of the sunset, they saw a strange sight. Along, not that road they had
followed, but another, which led round the farther side of King's
Grave Mount, now seen and now hidden by the forest trees, a tall man
in armour mounted on a grey horse, accompanied by another man in a
leathern jerkin mounted on a black horse, galloped towards them,
whilst, at a distance of not more than a hundred yards behind them,
appeared a motley mob of pursuers.
"Escaped prisoners being run down," muttered Bolle, but Cicely took no
heed. There was something about the appearance of the rider of the
grey horse that seemed to draw her heart out of her.
She leaned forward on her beast's neck, staring with all her eyes. Now
the two men were almost opposite the thicket, and the man in mail
turned his face to his companion and called cheerily--
"We gain! We'll slip them yet, Jeffrey."
Cicely saw the face.
"Christopher!" she cried; "/Christopher!/"
Another moment and they had swept past, but Christopher--for it was he
--had caught the sound of that remembered voice. With eyes made quick
by love and fear she saw him pulling on his rein. She heard him shout
to Jeffrey, and Jeffrey shout back to him in tones of remonstrance.
They halted confusedly in the open space beyond. He tried to turn,
then perceived his pursuers drawing nearer, and, when they were
already at his heels, with an exclamation, pulled round again to
gallop away. Too late! Up the slope they sped for another hundred
yards or so. Now they were surrounded, and now, at the crest of it,
they fought, for swords flashed in the red light. The pursuers closed
in on them like hounds on an outrun fox. They went down--they
Cicely strove to gallop after them, for she was crazed, but the others
held her back.
At length there was silence, and Thomas Bolle, dismounting, crept out
to look. Ten minutes later he returned.
"All have gone," he said.
"Oh! he is dead!" wailed Cicely. "This fatal place has robbed me of
father and of husband."
"I think not," answered Bolle. "I see no bloodstains, nor any signs of
a man being carried. He went living on his horse. Still, would to
Heaven that women could learn when to keep silent!"
BETWEEN DOOM AND HONOUR
The day was about to break when at last, utterly worn out in body and
mind, Cicely and her party rode their stumbling horses up to the gates
of Blossholme Priory.
"Pray God the nuns are still here," said Emlyn, who held the child,
"for if they have been driven out and my mistress must go farther, I
think that she will die. Knock hard, Thomas, that old gardener is deaf
as a wall."
Bolle obeyed with good will, till presently the grille in the door was
opened and a trembling woman's voice asked who was there.
"That's Mother Matilda," said Emlyn, and slipping from her horse, she
ran to the bars and began to talk to her through them. Then other nuns
came, and between them they opened one of the large gates, for the
gardener either could not or would not be aroused, and passed through
it into the courtyard where, when it was understood that Cicely had
really come again, there was a great welcoming. But now she could
hardly speak, so they made her swallow a bowl of milk and took her to
her old room, where sleep of some kind overcame her. When she awoke it
was nine of the clock. Emlyn, looking little the worse, was already up
and stood talking with Mother Matilda.
"Oh!" cried Cicely, as memory came back to her, "has aught been heard
of my husband?"
They shook their heads, and the Prioress said--
"First you must eat, Sweet, and then we will tell you all we know,
which is little."
So she ate who needed food sadly, and while Emlyn helped her to dress
herself, hearkened to the news. It was of no great account, only
confirming that which they had learnt from the Fenmen; that the Abbey
was fortified and guarded by strange soldiers, rebellious men from the
north or foreigners, and the Abbot supposed to be away.
Bolle, who had been out, reported also that a man he met declared that
he had heard a troop of horsemen pass through the village in the
night, but of this no proof was forthcoming, since if they had done so
the heavy rain that was still falling had washed out all traces of
them. Moreover, in those times people were always moving to and fro in
the dark, and none could know if this troop had anything to do with
the band they had seen in the forest, which might have gone some other
When Cicely was ready they went downstairs, and in Mother Matilda's
private room found Jacob Smith and Thomas Bolle awaiting them.
"Lady Harflete," said Jacob, with the air of a man who has no time to
lose, "things stand thus. As yet none know that you are here, for we
have the gardener and his wife under ward. But as soon as they learn
it at the Abbey there will be risk of an attack, and this place is not
defensible. Now at your hall of Shefton it is otherwise, for there it
seems is a deep moat with a drawbridge and the rest. To Shefton,
therefore, you must go at once, unobserved if may be. Indeed, Thomas
has been there already, and spoken to certain of your tenants whom he
can trust, who are now hard at work preparing and victualling the
place, and passing on the word to others. By nightfall he hopes to
have thirty strong men to defend it, and within three days a hundred,
when your commission and his captaincy are made known. Come, then, for
there is no time to tarry and the horses are saddled."
So Cicely kissed Mother Matilda, who blessed and thanked her for all
she had done, or tried to do on behalf of the sisterhood, and within
five minutes once more they were on the backs of their weary beasts
and riding through the rain to Shefton, which happily was but three
miles away. Keeping under the lee of the woods they left the Priory
unobserved, for in that wet few were stirring, and the sentinels at
the Abbey, if there were any, had taken shelter in the guard-house. So
thankfully enough they came unmolested to walled and wooded Shefton,
which Cicely had last seen when she fled thence to Cranwell on the day
of her marriage, oh, years and years ago, or so it seemed to her
It was a strange and a sad home-coming, she thought, as they rode over
the drawbridge and through the sodden and weed-smothered pleasaunce to
the familiar door. Yet it might have been worse, for the tenants whom
Bolle had warned had not been idle. For two hours past and more a
dozen willing women had swept and cleaned; the fires had been lit, and
there was plenteous food of a sort in the kitchen and the store-room.
Moreover, in all the big hall were gathered about a score of her
people, who welcomed her by raising their bonnets and even tried to
cheer. To these at once Jacob read the King's commission, showing them
the signet and the seal, and that other commission which named Thomas
Bolle a captain with wide powers, the sight and hearing of which
writings seemed to put a great heart into them who so long had lacked
a leader and the support of authority. One and all they swore to stand
by the King and their lady, Cicely Harflete, and her lord, Sir
Christopher, or if he were dead, his child. Then about half of them
took horse and rode off, this way and that, to gather men in the
King's name, while the rest stayed to guard the Hall and work at its
By sunset men were riding up from all sides, some of them driving
carts loaded with provisions, arms and fodder, or sheep and beasts
that could be killed for sustenance, while as they came Jacob enrolled
their names upon a paper and by virtue of his commission Thomas Bolle
swore them in. Indeed that night they had forty men quartered there,
and the promise of many more.
By now, however, the secret was out, for the story had gone round and
the smoke from the Shefton chimneys told its own tale. First a single
spy appeared on the opposite rise, watching. Then he galloped away, to
return an hour later with ten armed and mounted men, one of whom
carried a banner on which were embroidered the emblems of the
Pilgrimage of Grace. These men rode to within a hundred paces of
Shefton Hall, apparently with the object of attacking it, then seeing
that the drawbridge was up and that archers with bent bows stood on
either side, halted and sent forward one of their number with a white
flag to parley.
"Who holds Shefton," shouted this man, "and for what cause?"
"The Lady Harflete, its owner, and Captain Thomas Bolle, for the cause
of the King," called old Jacob Smith back to him.
"By what warrant?" asked the man. "The Abbot of Blossholme is lord of
Shefton, and Thomas Bolle is but a lay-brother of his monastery."
"By warrant of the King's Grace," said Jacob, and then and there at
the top of his voice he read to him the Royal Commission, which when
the envoy had heard, he went back to consult with his companions. For
a while they hesitated, apparently still meditating attack, but in the
end rode away and were seen no more.
Bolle wished to follow and fall on them with such men as he had, but
the cautious Jacob Smith forbade it, fearing lest he should tumble
into some ambush and be killed or captured with his people, leaving
the place defenceless.
So the afternoon went by, and ere evening closed in they had so much
strength that there was no more cause for fear of an attack from the
Abbey, whose garrison they learned amounted to not over fifty men and
a few monks, for most of these had fled.
That night Cicely with Emlyn and old Jacob were seated in the long
upper room where her father, Sir John Foterell, had once surprised
Christopher paying his court to her, when Bolle entered, followed by a
man with a hang-dog look who was wrapped in a sheepskin coat which
seemed to become him very ill.
"Who is this, friend?" asked Jacob.
"An old companion of mine, your worship, a monk of Blossholme who is
weary of Grace and its pilgrimages, and seeks the King's comfort and
pardon, which I have made bold to promise to him."
"Good," said Jacob, "I'll enter his name, and if he remains faithful
your promise shall be kept. But why do you bring him here?"
"Because he bears tidings."
Now something in Bolle's voice caused Cicely, who was brooding apart,
to look up sharply and say--
"Speak, and be swift."
"My Lady," began the man in a slow voice, "I, who am named Basil in
religion, have fled the Abbey because, although a monk, I am true to
the King, and moreover have suffered much from the Abbot, who has just
returned raging, having met with some reverse out Lincoln way, I know
not what. My news is that your lord, Sir Christopher Harflete, and his
servant Jeffrey Stokes are prisoners in the Abbey dungeons, whither
they were brought last night by a company of the rebels who had
captured them and afterwards rode on."
"Prisoners!" exclaimed Cicely. "Then he is not dead or wounded? At
least he is whole and safe?"
"Aye, my Lady, whole and safe as a mouse in the paws of a cat before
it is eaten."
The blood left Cicely's cheeks. In her mind's eye she saw Abbot Maldon
turned into a great cat with a monk's head and patting Christopher
with his claws.
"My fault, my fault!" she said in a heavy voice. "Oh, if I had not
called him he would have escaped. Would that I had been stricken
"I don't think so," answered Brother Basil. "There were others
watching for him ahead who, when he was taken, went away and that is
how you came to get through so neatly. At least there he lies, and if
you would save him, you had best gather what strength you can and
strike at once."
"Does he know that I live?" asked Cicely.
"How can I tell, Lady? The Abbey dungeons are no good place for news.
Yet the monk who took him his food this morning said that Sir
Christopher told him that he had been undone by some ghost which
called to him with the voice of his dead wife as he rode near King's
Now when Cicely heard this she rose and left the room accompanied by
Emlyn, for she could bear no more.
But Jacob Smith and Bolle remained questioning the man closely upon
many matters, and, having learned all he could tell them, sent him
away under guard and sat there till midnight consulting and making up
their plans with the farmers and yeomen whom they called to them from
time to time.
Next morning early they sought out Cicely and told her that to them it
seemed wise that the Abbey should be attacked without delay.
"But my husband lies there," she answered in distress, "and then they
will kill him."
"So I fear they may if we do not attack," replied Jacob. "Moreover,
Lady, to tell the truth, there are other things to be thought of. For
instance, the King's cause and honour, which we are bound to forward,
and the lives and goods of all those who through us have declared
themselves for him. If we lie idle Abbot Maldon will send messengers
to the north and within a few days bring down thousands upon us,
against whom we cannot hope to stand. Indeed, it is probable that he
has already sent. But if they hear that the Abbey has fallen the
rebels will scarcely come for revenge alone. Lastly, if we sit with
folded hands, our own people may grow cold with doubts and fears and
melt away, who now are hot as fire."
"If it must be, so let it be. In God's hands I leave his life," said
Cicely in a heavy voice.
That day the King's men, under the captaincy of Bolle, advanced and
invested the Abbey, setting their camp in Blossholme village. Cicely,
who would not be left behind, came with them and once more took up her
quarters in the Priory, which on a formal summons opened its gates to
her, its only guard, the deaf gardener, surrendering at discretion. He
was set to work as a camp servant, and never in his life did he labour
so hard before, since Emlyn, who owed him many a grudge, saw to it
that he did not lack for tasks that were mean and heavy.
Now that day Thomas and others spied out the Abbey and returned
shaking their heads, for without cannon--and as yet they had none--the
great building of hewn stone seemed almost impregnable. At but one
spot indeed was attack possible, from the back where once stood the
dormers and farm steadings which Emlyn had egged on Thomas to burn.
These had been built up to the inner edge of the moat, making, as it
were, part of the Abbey wall, but the fierce fire had so cracked and
crumbled their masonry that several rods of it had fallen forward into
For purposes of defence the gap this formed was now closed by a double
palisade of stout stakes, filled in with faggots, the charred beams of
the old buildings and other rubbish. Yet to carry this palisade,
protected as it was by the broad and deep moat and commanded from the
windows and the corner tower, was more than they dared try, since if
it could be done at all it would certainly cost them very many lives.
One thing they had learned, however, from the monk Basil and others,
that in the Abbey there was but small store of food to feed so many:
three days' supply, said Basil, and none put it at over four.
That evening, then, they held another council, at which it was
determined to starve the place out and only attempt an onslaught if
their spies reported to them that the rebels were marching to its
"But," urged Cicely, "then my lord and Jeffrey Stokes will starve
also," whereon they went away sadly, saying there was no choice,
seeing that they were but two men and the lives of many lay at stake.
The siege began, just such a siege as Cicely had suffered at Cranwell
Towers. The first day the garrison of the Abbey scoffed at them from
the walls. The second day they scoffed no longer, noting that the
force of the besiegers increased, which it did hourly. The third day
suddenly they let down the drawbridge and poured out on to it as
though for a sortie, but when they perceived the scores of Bolle's men
waiting bow in hand and arrow on string, changed their minds and drew
the bridge up again.
"They grow hungry and desperate," said the shrewd Jacob. "Soon we
shall have some message from them."
He was right, since just before sunset a postern gate was opened and a
man, holding a white flag above his head, was seen swimming across the
moat. He scrambled out on the farther side, shook himself like a dog,
and advanced slowly to where Bolle and the women stood upon the Abbey
green out of arrow-shot from the walls. Indeed, Cicely, who was weak
with dread and wretchedness, leaned against the oaken stake that had
never been removed, to which once she was tied to be burned for
"Who is that man?" said Emlyn to her.
Cicely scanned the gaunt, bearded figure who walked haltingly like one
that is sick.
"I know not--yes, yes, he puts me in mind of Jeffrey Stokes!"
"Jeffrey it is and no other," said Emlyn, nodding her head. "Now what
news does he bear, I wonder?"
Cicely made no reply, only clung to her stake and waited, with just
such a heart as once she had waited there while the Abbey cook blew up
his brands to fire her faggots. Jeffrey was opposite to her now; his
sunken eyes fell upon her, and at the sight his bearded chin dropped,
making his face look even more long and hollow than it had before.
"Ah!" he said, speaking to himself, "many wars and journeyings, months
in an infidel galley, three days with not enough food to feed a rat
and a bath in November water! Well, such things, to say nothing of a
worse, turn men's brains. Yet to think that I should live to see a
daylight ghost in homely Blossholme, who never met with one before."
Still staring he shook the water from his beard, then added, "Lay-
brother or Captain Thomas Bolle, whichever you may be now-a-days, if
you're not a ghost also, give me a quart of strong ale and a loaf of
bread, for I'm empty as a gutted herring, and floating heavenward, so
to speak, who would stick upon this scurvy earth."
"Jeffrey, Jeffrey," broke in Cicely, "what news of your master? Emlyn,
tell him that we still live. He does not understand."
"Oh, you still live, do you?" he added slowly. "So the fire could not
burn you after all, or Emlyn either. Well, then, there's hope for
every one, and perhaps hunger and Abbot Maldon's knives cannot kill
"He lives, then, and is well?"
"He lives and is as well as a man may be after a three days' fast in a
black dungeon that is somewhat damp. Here's a writing on the matter
for the captain of this company," and, taking a letter from the folds
of the white flag in which it had been fastened, he handed it to
Bolle, who, as he could not read, passed it on to Jacob Smith. Just
then a lad brought the ale for which Jeffrey had asked, and with it a
platter of cold meat and bread, on which he fell like a famished
hound, drinking in great gulps and devouring the food almost without
"By the saints, you are starved, Jeffrey," said a yeoman who stood by.
"Come with me and shift those wet clothes of yours, or you will take
harm," and he led him off, still eating, to a tent that stood near by.
Meanwhile, Jacob, having studied the letter with bent and anxious
brows, read it aloud. It ran thus--
"To the Captain of the King's men, from Clement, Abbot of
"By what warrant I know not you besiege us here, threatening this
Abbey and its Religious with fire and sword. I am told that Cicely
Foterell is your leader. Say, then, to that escaped witch that I
hold the man she calls her husband, and who is the father of her
base-born child, a prisoner. Unless this night she disperses her
troop and sends me a writing signed and witnessed, promising
indemnity on behalf of the King for me and those with me for all
that we may have done against him and his laws, or privately
against her, and freedom to go where we will without pursuit or
hindrance or loss of land or chattels, know that to-morrow at the
dawn we put to death Christopher Harflete, Knight, in punishment
of the murders and other crimes that he has committed against us,
and in proof thereof his body shall be hung from the Abbey tower.
If otherwise we will leave him unharmed here where you shall find
him after we have gone. For the rest, ask his servant, Jeffrey
Stokes, whom we send to you with this letter.
Jacob finished reading and a silence fell upon all who listened.
"Let us go to some private place and consider this matter," said
"Nay," broke in Cicely, "it is I, who in my lord's absence, hold the
King's commission and I will be heard. Thomas Bolle, first send a man
under flag to the Abbot, saying, that if aught of harm befalls Sir
Christopher Harflete I'll put every living soul within the Abbey walls
to death by sword or rope, and stand answerable for it to the King.
Set it in writing, Master Smith, and send with it copy of the King's
commission for my warrant. At once, let it be done at once."
So they went to a cottage near by, which Bolle used as a guard-house,
where this stern message was written down, copied out fair, signed by
Cicely and by Bolle, as captain, with Jacob Smith for witness. This
paper, together with a copy of the King's commissions, Cicely with her
own hand gave to a bold and trusty man, charged to ask an answer, who
departed, carrying the white flag and wearing a steel shirt beneath
his doublet, for fear of treachery.
When he had gone they sent for Jeffrey, who arrived clad in dry
garments and still eating, for his hunger was that of a wolf.
"Tell us all," said Cicely.
"It will be a long story if I begin at the beginning, Lady. When your
worshipful father, Sir John, and I rode away from Shefton on the day
of his murder----"
"Nay, nay," interrupted Cicely, "that may stand, we have no time. My
lord and you escaped from Lincoln, did you not, and, as we saw, were
taken in the forest?"
"Aye, Lady. Some tricksy spirit called out with your voice and he
heard and pulled rein, and so they came on to us and overwhelmed us,
though without hurt as it chanced. Then they brought us to the Abbey
and thrust us into that accursed dungeon, where, save for a little
bread and water, we have starved for three days in the dark. That is
all the tale."
"How, then, did you come out, Jeffrey?"
"Thus, my Lady. Something over an hour ago a monk and three guards
unlocked the dungeon door. While we blinked at his lantern, like owls
in the sunlight, the monk said that the Abbot purposed to send me to
the camp of the King's party to offer Christopher Harflete's life
against the lives of all of them. He told him, Harflete, also, that he
had brought ink and paper and that if he wished to save himself he
would do well to write a letter praying that this offer might be
accepted, since otherwise he would certainly die at dawn."
"And what said my husband?" asked Cicely, leaning forward.
"What said he? Why, he laughed in their faces and told them that first
he would cut off his hand. On this they haled me out of the dungeon
roughly enough, for I would have stayed there with him to the end. But
as the door closed he shouted after me, 'Tell the King's officers to
burn this rats' nest and take no heed of Christopher Harflete, who
desires to die!'"
"Why does he desire to die?" asked Cicely again.
"Because he thinks his wife dead, Mistress, as I did, and believes
that in the forest he heard her voice calling him to join her."
"Oh God! oh God!" moaned Cicely; "I shall be his death."
"Not so," answered Jeffrey. "Do you know so little of Christopher
Harflete that you think he would sell the King's cause to gain his own
life? Why, if you yourself came and pleaded with him he would thrust
you away, saying, 'Get thee behind me, Satan!'"
"I believe it, and I am proud," muttered Cicely. "If need be, let
Harflete die, we'll keep his honour and our own lest he should live to
curse us. Go on."
"Well, they led me to the Abbot, who gave me that letter which you
have, and bade me take it and tell the case to whoever commanded here.
Then he lifted up his hand and, laying it on the crucifix about his
neck, swore that this was no idle threat, but that unless his terms
were taken, Harflete should hang from the tower top at to-morrow's
dawn, adding, though I knew not what he meant, 'I think you'll find
one yonder who will listen to that reasoning.' Now he was dismissing
me when a soldier said--
"'Is it wise to free this Stokes? You forget, my Lord Abbot, that he
is alleged to have witnessed a certain slaying yonder in the forest
and will bear evidence.' 'Aye,' answered Maldon, 'I had forgotten who
in this press remembered only that no other man would be believed.
Still, perhaps it would be best to choose a different messenger and to
silence this fellow at once. Write down that Jeffrey Stokes, a
prisoner, strove to escape and was killed by the guards in self-
defence. Take him hence and let me hear no more.'
"Now my blood went cold, although I strove to look as careless as a
man may on an empty stomach after three days in the dark, and cursed
him prettily in Spanish to his face. Then, as they were haling me off,
Brother Martin--do you remember him? he was our companion in some
troubles over-seas--stepped forward out of the shadow and said, 'Of
what use is it, Abbot, to stain your soul with so foul a murder? Since
John Foterell died the King has many things to lay to your account,
and any one of them will hang you. Should you fall into his hands,
he'll not hark back to Foterell's death, if, indeed, you were to blame
in that matter.'
"'You speak roughly, Brother,' answered the Abbot; 'and acts of war
are not murder, though perchance afterwards you might say they were,
to save your own skin, or others might. Well, if so, there's wisdom in
your words. Touch not the man. Give him the letter and thrust him into
the moat to swim it. His lies can make no odds in the count against
"Well, they did so, and I came here, as you saw, to find you living,
and now I understand why Maldon thought that Harflete's life is worth
so much," and, having done his tale, once more Jeffrey began to eat.
Cicely looked at him, they all looked at him--this gaunt, fierce man
who, after many other sorrows and strivings, had spent three days in a
black dungeon with the rats, fed upon water and a few fingers of black
bread. Yes; with the crawling rats and another man so dear to one of
them, who still sat in that horrid hole, waiting to be hung like a
felon at the dawn. The silence, with only Jeffrey's munching to break
it, grew painful, so that all were glad when the door opened and the
messenger whom they had sent to the Abbey appeared. He was breathless,
having run fast, and somewhat disturbed, perhaps because two arrows
were sticking in his back, or rather in his jerkin, for the mail
beneath had stopped them.
"Speak," said old Jacob Smith; "what is your answer?"
"Look behind me, master, and you will find it," replied the man. "They
set a ladder across the moat and a board on that, over which a priest
tripped to take my writing. I waited a while, till presently I heard a
voice hail me from the gateway tower, and, looking up, saw Abbot
Maldon standing there, with a face like that of a black devil.
"'Hark you, knave,' he said to me, 'get you gone to the witch, Cicely
Foterell, and to the recreant monk, Bolle, whom I curse and
excommunicate from the fellowship of Holy Church, and tell them to
watch for the first light of dawn, for by it, somewhat high up,
they'll see Christopher Harflete hanging black against the morning
"On hearing this I lost my caution, and hallooed back--
"'If so, ere to-morrow's nightfall you shall keep him company, every
one of you, black against the evening sky, except those who go to be
quartered at Tower Hill and Tyburn.' Then I ran and they shot at me,
hitting once or twice, but, though old, the mail was good, and here am
I, unhurt except for bruises."
A while later Cicely, Jacob Smith, Thomas Bolle, Jeffrey Stokes, and
Emlyn Stower sat together taking counsel--very earnest counsel, for
the case was desperate. Plan after plan was brought forward and set
aside for this reason or for that, till at length they stared at each
"Emlyn," exclaimed Cicely at last, "in past days you were wont to be
full of comfortable words; have you never a one in this extreme?" for
all the while Emlyn had sat silent.
"Thomas," said Emlyn, looking up, "do you remember when we were
children where we used to catch the big carp in the Abbey moat?"
"Aye, woman," he answered; "but what time is this for fishing stories
of many years ago? As I was saying, of that tunnel underground there
is no hope. Beyond the grove it is utterly caved in and blocked--I've
tried it. If we had a week, perhaps----"
"Let her be," broke in Jacob; "she has something to tell us."
"And do you remember," went on Emlyn, "that you told me that there the
carp were so big and fat because just at this place 'neath the
drawbridge the Abbey sewer--the big Abbey sewer down which all foul
things are poured--empties itself into the moat, and that therefore I
would eat none of those fish, even in Lent?"
"Aye, I remember. What of it?"
"Thomas, did I hear you say that the powder you sent for had come?"
"Yes, an hour ago; six kegs, by the carrier's van, of a hundredweight
each. Not so much as we hoped for, but something, though, as the
cannon has not come--for the King's folk had none--it is of no use."
"A dark night, a ladder with a plank on it, a brick arched drain, two
hundredweight, or better still, four of powder set beneath the gate, a
slow-match and a brave man to fire it--taken together with God's
blessing, these things might do much," mused Emlyn, as though to
Now at length they took her point.
"They'd be listening like a cat for a mouse," said Bolle.
"I think the wind rises," she answered; "I hear it in the trees. I
think presently it will blow a gale. Also, lanterns might be shown at
the back where the breach is, and men might shout there, as though
preparing to attack. That would draw them off. Meanwhile Jeffrey
Stokes and I would try our luck with the ladder and the kegs of
powder--he to roll and I to fire when the time came, for being, as you
have heard, a witch, I understand how to humour brimstone."
Ten minutes later, and their plans were fixed. Two hours later, and,
in the midst of a raving gale, hidden by the pitchy darkness and the
towering screen of the lifted drawbridge, Emlyn and the strong Jeffrey
rolled the kegs of powder over planks laid across the moat, into the
mouth of the big drain and twenty feet down it, till they lay under
the gateway towers! Then, lying there in the stinking filth, they drew
the spigots out of holes that they had made in them, and in their
place set the slow-matches. Jeffrey struck a flint, blew the tinder to
a glow, and handed it to Emlyn.
"Now get you gone," she said; "I follow. At this job one is better
A minute later she joined him on the farther bank of the moat. "Run!"
she said. "Run for your life; there's death behind!"
He obeyed, but Emlyn turned and screamed, till, hearing her through
the gale, all the guard hurried up the towers, flashing lanterns, to
see what passed.
"STORM! STORM!" she cried. "UP WITH THE LADDERS! FOR THE KIND AND
HARFLETE! STORM! STORM!"
Then she too turned and fled.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Through the black night sudden and red there shot a sheet of fire
illumining all things as lightning does. Above the roaring of the gale
there echoed a dull and heavy noise like to that of muffled thunder.
Then after a moment's pause and silence the sky rained stones, and
with them the limbs of men.
"The gateway's gone," shouted a great voice, it was that of Bolle.
"Out with the ladders!"
Men who were waiting ran up with them and thrust them, four in all,
athwart the moat. By the planks that were lashed along their staves
they scrambled across and over the piles of shattered masonry into the
courtyard beyond where none waited them, for all who watched here were
dead or maimed.
"Light the lanterns," shouted Bolle again, "for it will be dark in
yonder," and a man who followed with a torch obeyed him.
Then they rushed across the courtyard to the door of the refectory,
which stood open. Here in the wide, high-roofed hall they met the mass
of Maldon's people pouring back from the faggoted breach, where they
had been gathered, expecting attack, some of them also bearing
lanterns. For a moment the two parties stood staring at each other;
then followed a wild and savage scene. With shouts and oaths and
battle-cries they fought furiously. The massive, oaken tables were
overthrown, by the red flicker of the pole-borne lanterns men grappled
and fell and slew each other upon the floor. A priest struck down a
yeoman with a brazen crucifix, and next moment himself was brained
with its broken shaft.
"For God and Grace!" shouted some; "For the King and Harflete!"
"Keep line! Keep line!" roared Bolle, "and sweep them out."
The lanterns were dashed down and extinguished till but one remained,
a red and wavering star. Hoarse voices shouted for light, for none
knew friend from foe. It came; some one had fired the tapestries and
the blaze ran up them to the roof. Then fearing lest they should be
roasted, the Abbot's folk gave way and fled to the farther door,
followed by their foes. Here it was that most of them fell, for they
jammed in the doorway and were cut down there are on the stair beyond.
While Bolle still plied his axe fiercely, some one caught his arm and
screamed into his ear--
"Let be! Let be! The wretch is sped."
In his red wrath he turned to strike the speaker, and saw by the flare
that it was Cicely.
"What do you here?" he cried. "Get gone."
"Fool," she answered in a low, fierce voice, "I seek my husband. Show
me the path ere it be too late, you know it alone. Come, Jeffrey
Stokes, a lantern, a lantern!"
Jeffrey appeared, sword in one hand and lantern in the other, and with
him Emlyn, who also held a sword which she had plucked from a fallen
man, Emlyn still foul with the filth of the sewer and the mud of the
"I may not leave," muttered Thomas Bolle. "I seek Maldon."
"On to the dungeons," shrieked Emlyn, "or I will stab you. I heard
them give word to kill Harflete."
Then he snatched the light from Jeffrey's hand, and crying "Follow
me," rushed along a passage till they came to an open door and beyond
it to stairs. They descended the stairs and passed other passages
which ran underground, till a sudden turn to the right brought them to
a little walled-in place with a vaulted roof. Two torches flared in
iron holders in the masonry, and by the light of them they saw a
strange and fearful sight.
At the end of the open place a heavy, nail-studded door stood wide,
revealing a cell, or rather a little cave beyond--those who are
curious can see it to this day. Fastened by a chain to the wall of
this dungeon was a man, who held in his hand a three-legged stool and
tugged at his chain like a maddened beast. In front of him, holding
the doorway, stood a tall, lank priest, his robe tucked up into his
girdle. He was wounded, for blood poured from his shaven crown and he
plied a great sword with both hands, striking savagely at four men who
tried to cut him down. As Bolle and his party appeared, one of these
men fell beneath the priest's blows, and another took his place,
"Out of the way, traitor. We would kill Harflete, not you."
"We die or live together, murderers," answered the priest in a thick,
At this moment one of them, it was he who had spoken, heard the sound
of the rescuers' footsteps and glanced back. In an instant he turned
and was running past them like a hare. As he went the light from the
lantern fell upon his face, and Emlyn knew it for that of the Abbot.
She struck at him with the sword she held, but the steel glanced from
his mail. He also struck, but at the lantern, dashing it to the
"Seize him," screamed Emlyn. "Seize Maldon, Jeffrey," and at the words
Stokes bounded away, only to return presently, having lost him in the
dark passages. Then with a roar Bolle leaped upon the two remaining
men-at-arms as they faced about, and very soon between his axe and the
sword of the priest behind, they sank to the ground and died still
fighting, who knew they had no hope of quarter.
It was over and done and dreadful silence fell upon the place, the
silence of the dead broken only by the heavy breathing of those who
remained alive. There the wounded monk leaned against the door-post,
his red sword drooping to the floor. There Harflete, the stool still
lifted, rested his weight against the chain and peered forward in
amazement, swaying as though from weakness. And lastly there lay the
three slain men, one of whom still moved a little.
Cicely crept forward; over the dead she went and past the priest till
she stood face to face with the prisoner.
"Come nearer and I will dash out your brains," he said in a hoarse
voice, for such light as there was came from behind her whom he
thought to be but another of the murderers.
Then at length she found her voice.
"Christopher!" she cried, "Christopher!"
He hearkened, and the stool fell from his hand.
"The Voice again," he muttered. "Well, 'tis time. Tarry a while, Wife,
I come, I come!" and he fell back against the wall shutting his eyes.
She leapt to him, and throwing her arms about him kissed his lips, his
poor, bloodless lips. The shut eyes opened.
"Death might be worse," he said, "but so I knew that we would meet."
Now Emlyn, seeing some change in his face, snatched one of the torches
from its iron and ran forward, holding it so that the light fell full
"Oh, Christopher," she cried, "I am no ghost, but your living wife."
He heard, he stared, he stared again, then lifted his thin hand and
stroked her hair.
"Oh God," he exclaimed, "the dead live!" and down he fell in a heap at
They thrust Cicely aside, Cicely who stood there shivering, she who
thought he had gone again and this time for ever. With difficulty they
broke the chain whereby he had been held like a kennelled hound, and
bore him, still senseless, up the long passages, Bolle going ahead as
guard and Jeffrey Stokes following after. Behind them came Emlyn
supporting the wounded monk Martin, for it was he and no other who had
saved the life of Christopher.
As they went up towards the stairs they heard a roaring noise.
"Fire!" said Cicely, who knew that sound well, and next instant the
light of it burst upon them and its smoke wrapped them round. The
Abbey was ablaze, and its wide hall in front looked like the mouth of
"Did I not prophesy that it would be so--yonder at Cranwell burning?"
asked Emlyn, with a fierce laugh.
"Follow me!" shouted Bolle. "Be swift now ere the roof falls and traps
On they went desperately, leaving the hall on their left, and well for
them was it that Thomas knew the way. One little chamber through which
they passed had already caught, for flakes of fire fell among them
from above and here the smoke was very thick. They were through it,
who even a minute later could never have walked that path and lived.
They were through it and out into the open air by the cloister door,
which those who fled before them had left wide. They reached the moat
just where the breach had been mended with faggots, and mounting on
them Bolle shouted till one of his own men heard him and dropped the
bow that he had raised to shoot him as a rebel. Then planks and
ladders were brought, and at last they escaped from danger and the
Thus it was that Cicely who lost her love in fire, in fire found him
For Christopher was not dead as at first they feared. They carried him
to the Priory, and there Emlyn, having felt his heart and found that
it still beat, though faintly, sent Mother Matilda to fetch some of
that Portugal wine of hers which Commissioner Legh had praised.
Spoonful by spoonful she poured it down his throat, till at length he
opened his eyes, though only to shut them again in natural sleep, for
the wine had taken a hold of his starved body and weakened brain. For
hour after hour Cicely sat by him, only rising from time to time to
watch the burning of the great Abbey church, as once she had watched
that of its dormers and farm-steading.
About three in the morning the lead ceased to pour down in a silvery
molten shower, its roofs fell in, and by dawn it was nothing but a
fire-blackened shell much as it remains to-day. Just before daybreak
Emlyn came to her, saying--
"There is one who would speak with you."
"I cannot see him," she answered, "I bide by my husband."
"Yet you should," said Emlyn, "since but for him you would now have no
husband. The monk Martin, who held off the murderers, is dying and
desires to bid you farewell."
Then Cicely went to find the man still conscious, but fading away with
the flow of his own blood, which could not be stayed by any skill they
"I have come to thank you," she murmured, who knew not what else to
"Thank me not," he answered faintly, pausing often between his words,
"who did but strive to repay part of a great debt. Last winter I
shared in awful sin, in obedience, not to my heart, but to my vows. I
who was set to watch the body of your husband found that he lived, and
by my help he was borne away upon a ship. That ship was taken by the
Infidels, and afterwards he and I and Jeffrey served together upon
their galleys. There I fell sick, and your husband nursed me back to
life. It was I who brought you the deeds and wrote the letter which I
gave to Emlyn Stower. My vows still held me fast, and I did no more.
This night I broke their bonds, for when I heard the order given that
he should be slain I ran down before the murderers and fought my best,
forgetting that I was a priest, till at length you came. Let this
atone my crimes against my Country, my King and you that I died for my
friend at last, as I am glad to do who find this world--too
"I will tell him if he lives," sobbed Cicely.
He opened his eyes, which had shut, and answered--
"Oh, he'll live, he'll live. You have had many troubles, but, save for
the creep of age and death, they are over. I can see and know."
Again he shut his eyes and the watchers thought that all was done,
till of a sudden once more he opened them and added in broken tones--
"The Abbot--show him mercy--if you can. He is wicked and cruel, but I
have been his confessor and know his heart. He strove for a good end--
by an evil road. Queen Catherine was the King's lawful wife. To seize
the monasteries is shameless theft. Also his blood is not English; he
sees otherwise, and serves the Pope as I do, and Spain, as I do not.
As I have helped you, help him. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Promise!" and he raised himself a little on the bed and looked at her
"I promise," answered Cicely, and as she spoke Martin smiled. Then his
face turned quite grey, all the light went out of his eyes and a
moment later Emlyn threw a linen cloth over his head. It was finished.
Cicely returned to Christopher to find him sitting up in bed drinking
a bowl of broth.
"Oh, my husband, my husband," she said, casting her arms about him.
Then she took her son and laid him upon his father's breast.
Three days had gone by and Christopher and Cicely were walking in the
shrubbery of Shefton Hall. By now, although still weak, he was almost
recovered, whose only sickness had been grief and famine, for which
joy and plenty are wonderful medicines. It was evening, a pleasant and
beautiful early winter evening just fading into night. Seated on a
bench he had been telling her his adventures, and they were a moving
tale worthy, as Cicely wrote afterwards in a letter to old Jacob Smith
that is still extant in her fine, quaint handwriting, to be recorded
in a book, though this it would seem was never done.
He told her of the great fight on the ship /Great Yarmouth/, when they
were taken by the two Turkish pirates, and of how bravely Father
Martin bore himself. Afterwards when they came to the galleys, by good
fortune Martin, Jeffrey and he served on the same bench. Then Martin
fell sick of some Southern fever, and being in port at Tunis at the
time, where they could get fruit, they nursed him back to life and
strength. Four months later the Emperor Charles attacked Tunis, and
when it fell, through God's mercy, they were rescued with the other
Christian slaves, after which Martin returned to England taking old
Back to Full Books