H. Rider Haggard

Part 6 out of 6

Sir John's writings to be delivered to his next heir, for they all
believed Cicely to be dead.

But Christopher and Jeffrey, having nothing to seek at home, stayed to
fight with the Spaniards against the Turks, who had oppressed them so
sorely. When that war was over they made their way back to England,
not knowing where else to go and having a score to settle against the
Spanish Abbot of Blossholme, and--well, she knew the rest.

Aye, answered Cicely, she knew it and never would forget it, but it
was chill for him sitting on that bench, he must come in. Christopher
laughed at her, and answered--

"Sweetheart, if you could have seen the bench on which it was my lot
to sit yonder off the coast of Africa, but new recovered from the
wound which I had of Maldon's men at Cranwell Towers, you would not be
anxious for me here. There for six long months chained to Jeffrey and
to Father Martin, for it pleased those heathen devils to keep the
three of us together, perhaps that they might watch us better, through
the hot days that scorched us, and the chill, wet nights, we laboured
at our oars, while infidel overseers ran up and down the boards and
thrashed us with their whips of hide. Yes," he added slowly, "they
thrashed us as though we were oxen in a yoke. You have seen the scars
upon my back."

"Oh, God! to think of it," she murmured; "you, a noble Englishman,
beaten by those savage wretches like a brute? How did you bear it,

"I know not, Wife. I think that had it not been for that angel in
man's form, the priest Martin--peace be to his noble soul--that angel
who thrice at least has saved my life, I should have dashed out my
brains against the thwarts, or starved myself to death, or provoked
the Moors to kill me; I, who, thinking you dead, had no hope to live
for. But Martin taught me otherwise; he preached patience and
submission, saying that I did not suffer for nothing--of his own
miseries he never spoke--and that he was sure that fearful as was my
lot, all things worked together for good to me."

"And therefore it was that you lived on, Husband? Oh! I'll build a
shrine to that saint Martin."

"Not altogether, dear. I'll tell you true; I lived for vengeance--
vengeance on Clement Maldon, the man, or the devil, who wrought me all
this ill, and, being yet young, made me old with grief and pain," and
he pointed to his scarred forehead and the hair above, that was now
grizzled with white, "and vengeance, too, upon those worshippers of
Mohammed, my masters. Yes; though Martin reproved me when I made
confession to him, I think it was for that I lived, and the saints
know," he added grimly, "afterwards at the sack, and elsewhere, I took
it on the Turks. Oh! you should have seen the last meeting of Jeffrey
and myself with the captain of that galley and his officers who had so
often beaten us. No, I am glad you did not see it, for it was fierce
and bloody; even the hard-hearted Spaniards stared."

He paused, and perhaps to change the current of his mind--for during
all his after-life, when Christopher brooded on these things he grew
gloomy for hours, and even days--Cicely said hurriedly--

"I wonder what has chanced to our enemy, the Abbot. The search has
been close, the roads are watched, and we know that he had none with
him, for all his foreign soldiers are slain or taken. I think he must
be dead in the fire, Christopher."

He shook his head.

"A devil does not die in fire. He is away somewhere, to plot fresh
murders--perhaps our own and our boy's. Oh!" he added savagely, "till
my hands are about his throat and my dagger is in his heart there's no
peace for me, who have a score to pay and you both to guard."

Cicely knew not what to answer; indeed, when this mood was on him it
was hard to reason with Christopher, who had suffered so fearfully,
and, like herself, been saved but by a miracle or the mandate of

Of a sudden a hush fell upon the place. The blackbirds ceased their
winter chatter in the laurels; it grew so still that they heard a dead
leaf drop to the ground. The night was at hand. One last red ray from
the set sun struck across the frosty sky and was reflected to the
earth. In the light of that ray Christopher's trained eyes caught the
gleam of something white that moved in the shadow of the beech tree
where they sat. Like a tiger he sprang at it, and the next moment
haled out a man.

"Look," he said, twisting the head of his captive so that the glow
fell on it. "Look; I have the snake. Ah! Wife, you saw nothing, but I
saw him, and here he is at last--at last!"

"The Abbot!" gasped Cicely.

The Abbot it was indeed, but oh! how changed. His plump, olive-
coloured countenance had shrunk to that of a skeleton still covered by
yellow skin, in which the dark eyes rolled bloodshot and unnaturally
large. His tonsure and jaws showed a growth of stubbly grey hair, his
frame had become weak and small, his soft and delicate hands resembled
those of a woman dead of some wasting disease, and, like his garments,
were clogged with dirt. The mail shirt he wore hung loose upon him;
one of his shoes was gone, and the toes peeped through his stockinged
foot. He was but a living misery.

"Deliver your arms," growled Christopher, shaking him as a terrier
shakes a rat, "or you die. Do you yield? Answer!"

"How can he," broke in Cicely, "when you have him by the throat?"

Christopher loosed his grip of the man's windpipe, and instead seized
his wrists, whereon the Abbot drew a great breath, for he was almost
choked, and fell to his knees, in weakness, not in supplication.

"I came to you for mercy," he said presently, "but, having overheard
your talk, know that I can hope for none. Indeed, why should I, who
showed none, and whose great cause seems dead, that cause for which I
fought and lived? Let me die with it. I ask no more. Still, you are a
gentleman, and therefore I beg a favour of you. Do not hand me over to
be drawn, hanged and quartered by your brute-king. Kill me now. You
can say that I attacked you, and that you did it in self-defence. I
have no arms, but you may set a dagger in my hand."

Christopher looked down at the poor creature huddled at his feet and

"Who would believe me?" he asked; "though, indeed, who would question,
seeing that your life is forfeit to me or any who can take it? Yet
that is a matter of which the King's Justices shall judge."

Maldon shivered. "Drawn, hanged and quartered," he repeated beneath
his breath. "Drawn, hanged and quartered as a traitor to one I never

"Why not?" asked Christopher. "You have played a cruel game, and

He made no answer; indeed, it was Cicely who spoke, saying--

"How came you in such a case? We thought you fled."

"Lady," he answered, "I've starved for three days and nights in a hole
in the ground like an earthed-up fox; a culvert in your garden hid me.
At last I crept out to see the light and die, and heard you talking,
and thought that I would ask for mercy, since mortal extremity has no

"Mercy!" said Cicely. "Of your treasons I say nothing, for you are not
English, and serve your own king, who years ago sent you here to plot
against England. But look on this man, my husband. Did he not starve
for three days and nights in your strong dungeon ere you came thither
to massacre him? Did you not strive to burn him in his Hall, and ship
him wounded across the seas to doom? Did you not send your assassin to
kill my babe, who stood between you and the wealth you needed for your
plots, and bind me, the mother, to the stake--a food for fire? Did you
not shoot down my father in the wood, fearing lest he should prove you
traitor, and after rob me of my heritage? Did you not compel your
monks to work evil and bring some of them to their deaths? Oh! have
done! Worm dressed up as God's priest, how can you writhe there and
ask for mercy?"

"I said I /came/ to seek for mercy because the agony of sleepless
hunger drove me, who /now/ seek only death. Insult not the fallen,
Cicely Foterell, but take the vengeance that is your due, and kill,"
replied the Abbot, looking up at her with his hollow eyes, adding,
with a laugh that sounded like a groan, "Come, Sir Christopher; you
have got a sword, and it is time you went to supper. The air is cold;
your wife--if such she be--said it but now."

"Cicely," said Christopher, "go to the Hall and summon Jeffrey Stokes.
Emlyn will know where to find him."

"Emlyn!" groaned the Abbot. "Give me not over to Emlyn. She'd torture

"Nay," said Christopher, "this is not Blossholme Abbey; though what
may chance in London I know not. Go now, Wife."

But Cicely did not stir; she only stared at the wretched creature at
her feet.

"I bid you go," repeated Christopher.

"And I'll not obey," she answered. "Do you remember what I promised
Martin ere he died?"

"Martin dead! Is Martin, who saved your husband, dead?" exclaimed the
Abbot, lifting his face and letting it fall again. "Happy Martin, to
be dead."

"I was not there, and I am not bound by your promises, Cicely."

"But I am, and you and I are one. I vowed mercy to this man if he
should fall into our power, and mercy he shall have."

"Then you spare him to destroy us. The wheels go round quick in
England, Wife."

"So be it. What I vowed, I vowed. With God be the rest. He has watched
us well heretofore, and I think," she added, with one of her bursts of
triumphant faith, "will do so to the end. Abbot Maldon, sinful, fallen
Abbot Maldon, you are as you were made, and Martin, the saint, said
that there is good in your heart, though you have shown none of it to
me or mine. Now, look you; yonder is a wooden summer-house, thatched
and warm. Get you there, and I'll send you food and wine and new
clothing by one who will not talk; also a pass to Lincoln. By
to-morrow's dawn you will be refreshed, and then you will find a good
horse tied to yonder tree, and so away to sanctuary at Lincoln, and,
if aught of ill befalls you afterwards, know it is not our doing, but
that of some other enemy, or of God, with Whom I pray you make your
peace. May He forgive you, as I do, Who knows all hearts, which I do
not. Now, farewell. Nay, say nothing. There is nothing to be said.
Come, Christopher, for this once you obey me, not I you."

So they went, and the wretched man raised himself upon his hands and
looked after them, but what passed in his heart at that moment none
will ever learn.

Some months had gone by and Blossholme, with all the country round,
was once more at peace. The tide of trouble had rolled away northward,
whence came rumours of renewed rebellion. Abbot Maldon had been seen
no more, and for a while it was believed that although he never took
sanctuary at Lincoln, he had done a wiser thing and fled to Spain.
Then Emlyn, who heard everything, got news that this was not so, but
that he was foremost among those who stirred up sedition and war along
the Scottish border.

"I can well believe it," said Cicely. "The sow must to its wallowing
in the mire. Nature made him a plotter, and he will follow his heart
to the end."

"Ere long he may find it hard to follow his head," answered Emlyn
grimly. "Oh, to think that you had that wolf caged and turned him
loose again to prey on England and on us!"

"I did but show mercy to the fallen, Nurse."

"Mercy? I call it madness. Why, when Jeffrey and Thomas heard of it I
thought they would burst with rage, especially Jeffrey, who loved your
father well and loved not the infidel galleys," answered the fierce

"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord," murmured Cicely in
a gentle voice.

"The Lord also said that whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his
blood be shed. Why, I've heard this Maldon quote it to your husband at
Cranwell Towers."

"So will it be, Emlyn, if so it is to be, only let others shed that
cruel blood. I would not have it on my hands or on those of any of my
house, for after all he is an ordained priest of my own faith.
Moreover, I had promised. Still, talk not of the matter lest it should
bring trouble on us all, who had no right to loose him. Also these are
ill thoughts for your wedding day. Go, deck yourself in those fine
clothes which Jacob Smith has sent from London, since the clergyman
will be at Blossholme church by four, and I think that Thomas has
waited long enough for you."

Emlyn smiled a little, and shrugged her broad shoulders, muttering
something that would have angered Thomas if he could have heard it, as
Cicely went off to join Christopher, who called to her from another

She found him adding up figures on paper, a very different Christopher
to the broken man they had rescued from the dungeon, though still much
aged by the terrors of the past year and just now looking rueful.

"See, Sweet," he said, "we should give a marriage portion to Emlyn,
who has earned it if ever woman did, but where it is to come from I
know not. Those Abbey lands Jacob Smith bought from the King are not
yours yet, nor Henry's either, though doubtless he will have them
soon. Neither have any rents been paid to you from your own estates,
and when they come they are promised up in London, while the Abbot's
razor has shaved my own poor parsimony bare as a churchyard skull.
Also Mother Matilda and her nuns must be kept till we can endow them
with their lands again. One day we, or our boy yonder, may be rich,
but till it comes there are hard times for all of us."

"Not so hard as some we have known, Husband," she answered, laughing,
"for at least we are free and have food to eat, and for the rest we
will borrow from Jacob Smith on the jewels that remain over. Indeed, I
have written to him and he will not refuse."

"Aye, but how about Thomas and Emlyn?"

"They must do as their betters do. Though there is little stock on it,
Thomas has the Manor Farm at low rent, which he may pay when he can,
while Jacob put a present in the pocket of Emlyn's wedding dress.
What's more, I think he will make her his heir, and if so she will be
rich indeed, so rich that I shall have to curtsey to her. Now, go make
ready for this marriage, and as you have no fine doublet, bid Jeffrey
put on your mail, for you look best in that, or so at least I think,
who to my mind look best in anything you chance to wear."

Then while he demurred, saying that there was now no need to bear arms
in Blossholme, also that Jeffrey was away settling himself as landlord
of the Ford Inn, the same that the Abbot had once promised to Flounder
Megges, she kissed him, and seizing her boy, who lay crowing in the
sunlight, danced with him from the room. For oh, Cicely's heart was

There were many folk at the marriage of Emlyn Stower and Thomas Bolle,
for of late Blossholme had been but a sorry place, and this wedding
came to it like the breath of spring to the woods and meads around, a
hint of happiness after the miseries of winter. The story of the pair
had got about also. How they had been pledged in youth and separated
by scheming men for their own purposes. How Emlyn had been married off
against her will to an aged partner whom she hated, and Thomas, who
was set down as a fool, forced to serve the monastery as a lay-
brother, a strong hind skilled in the management of cattle and such
matters, but half crazy, as indeed it had suited him to feign himself
to be.

People knew the end of the thing also; that Emlyn had cursed the
Abbot, and that her curse had been fulfilled. That Thomas Bolle had
shaken off his superstitious fears and risen up against him and at
last been given the commission of the King, and, as his Grace's
officer, shown himself no fool but a man of mettle who had taken the
Abbey by storm and rescued Sir Christopher Harflete from its dungeons.
Emlyn also, like her mistress, had been bound to the stake as a witch,
and saved from burning by this same Thomas, who with her had been
concerned in many remarkable events whereof the countryside was full
of tales, true or false. Now at last after all these adventures they
came together to be wed, and who was there for ten miles round that
would not see it done?

The monks being gone Father Roger Necton, the old vicar of Cranwell,
he who had united Christopher and his wife Cicely in strange
circumstances, and for that deed been obliged to fly for his life when
the last Abbot of Blossholme burned Cranwell Towers, came to tie the
knot before his great congregation. Notwithstanding that they were
both of middle age, Emlyn in her grand gown and the brawny, red-haired
Thomas in his yeoman's garb of green, such as he had worn when he
wooed her many years before he put on the monk's russet robe, made a
fine and handsome pair at the altar. Or so folk thought, though some
friend of the monks, remembering Bolle's devil's livery and Emlyn's
repute as a sorceress, cried out from the shadow that Satan was
marrying a witch, and for his pains got his head broken by Jeffrey

So the white-haired and gentle Father Necton, having first read the
King's order releasing Thomas from his vows, tied them fast according
to the ancient rites and blessed them both. At length it was finished,
and the pair walked from the old church to the Manor Farm, where they
were to dwell, followed, as was the custom, by a company of their
friends and well-wishers. As they went they passed through a little
stretch of woodland by the stream, where on this spring day the wild
daffodils and lilies of the valley were abloom making sweet the air.
Here Emlyn paused a moment and said to her husband, Captain Bolle--

"Do you remember this place?"

"Aye, Wife," he answered, "it was here that we plighted our troth in
youth, and looked up to see Maldon passing us just beyond that same
oak, and felt the shadow of him strike cold to our hearts. You spoke
of it yonder in the Priory chapel when I came up by the secret way,
and its memory made me mad."

"Yes, Thomas, I spoke of it," answered Emlyn in a rich and gentle
voice, a new voice to him. "Well, now let its memory make you happy,
as, notwithstanding all my faults, I will if I can," and swiftly she
bent towards him and kissed him, adding, "Come on, Husband, they press
behind us and I hope that we have done with perils and plottings."

"Amen," answered Bolle, and as he spoke certain strange men who wore
the King's colours and carried a long ladder went by them at a
distance. Wondering what was their business at Blossholme, the pair
passed through the last of the woodland and reached the rise whence
they could see the gaunt skeleton of the burnt-out Abbey that appeared
within fifty paces of them. At this they paused to look, and presently
were joined there by Christopher and Cicely, Mother Matilda and her
good nuns, Jeffrey Stokes, and others. The place seemed grim and
desolate in the evening light, and all of them stood staring at it
filled with their separate thoughts.

"What is that?" said Cicely, with a start, pointing to a round black
object new set over the ruin of the gateway tower.

Just then a red ray from the sunset struck upon the thing.

It was the severed head of Clement Maldon the Spaniard.


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