Then I clothed myself in the ghastly looking dress, and they took lamps and motioned to me to follow them.
THE PASSING OF ISABELLA DE SIGUENZA
Silently we went down the long passage, and as we went I saw the eyes of the dwellers in this living tomb watch us pass through the gratings of their cell doors. Little wonder that the woman about to die had striven to escape from such a home back to the world of life and love! Yet for that crime she must perish. Surely God will remember the doings of such men as these priests, and the nation that fosters them. And, in deed, He does remember, for where is the splendour of Spain to-day, and where are the cruel rites she gloried in? Here in England their fetters are broken for ever, and in striving to bind them fast upon us free Englishmen she is broken also—never to be whole again.
At the far end of the passage we found a stair down which we passed. At its foot was an iron-bound door that the monk unlocked and locked again upon the further side. Then came another passage hollowed in the thickness of the wall, and a second door, and we were in the place of death.
It was a vault low and damp, and the waters of the river washed its outer wall, for I could hear their murmuring in the silence. Perhaps the place may have measured ten paces in length by eight broad. For the rest its roof was supported by massive columns, and on one side there was a second door that led to a prison cell. At the further end of this gloomy den, that was dimly lighted by torches and lamps, two men with hooded heads, and draped in coarse black gowns, were at work, silently mixing lime that sent up a hot steam upon the stagnant air. By their sides were squares of dressed stone ranged neatly against the end of the vault, and before them was a niche cut in the thickness of the wall itself, shaped like a large coffin set upon its smaller end. In front of this niche was placed a massive chair of chestnut wood. I noticed also that two other such coffin-shaped niches had been cut in this same wall, and filled in with similar blocks of whitish stone. On the face of each was a date graved in deep letters. One had been sealed up some thirty years before, and one hard upon a hundred.
These two men were the only occupants of the vault when we entered it, but presently a sound of soft and solemn singing stole down the second passage. Then the door was opened, the mason monks ceased labouring at the heap of lime, and the sound of singing grew louder so that I could catch the refrain. It was that of a Latin hymn for the dying. Next through the open door came the choir, eight veiled nuns walking two by two, and ranging themselves on either side of the vault they ceased their singing. After them followed the doomed woman, guarded by two more nuns, and last of all a priest bearing a crucifix. This man wore a black robe, and his thin half-frenzied