Doubtless their cruelty was that of terror. Doubtless, although he had other ends to gain which to him were sacred, the Abbot Maldon did believe that Cicely and Emlyn had practised horrible witchcraft; that they had conversed with Satan in order to revenge themselves upon him, and therefore were too foul to live. The “Old Bishop” believed it also, and so did the black-browed Prior and the most of the ignorant people who lived around and knew of the terrible things which had happened in Blossholme. Had not some of them actually seen the fiend with horns and hoofs and tail driving the Abbey cattle, and had not others met the ghost of Sir John Foterell, which doubtless was but that fiend in another shape? Oh, these women were guilty, without doubt they were guilty and deserved the stake! What did it matter if the husband and father of one of them had been murdered and the other had suffered grievous but forgotten wrongs? Compared to witchcraft murder was but a light and homely crime, one that would happen when men’s passions and needs were involved, quite a familiar thing.
It was an awful night. Sometimes Cicely slept a little, but the most of it she spent in prayer. The fierce Emlyn neither slept nor prayed, except once or twice that vengeance might fall upon the Abbot’s head, for her whole soul was up in arms and it galled her to think that she and her beloved mistress must die shamefully while their enemy lived on triumphant and in honour. Even the infant seemed nervous and disturbed, as though some instinct warned it of terror at hand, for although it was well enough, against its custom it woke continually and wailed.
“Emlyn,” said Cicely towards morning, but before the light had come, after at length she had soothed it to rest, “do you think that Mother Matilda will be able to help us?”
“No, no; put it from your mind, dearie. She is weak and old, the road is rough and long, and mayhap she has never reached the place. It was a great venture for her to try such a journey, and if she came there, why, perhaps the Commissioner man had gone, or perhaps he will not listen, or perhaps he cannot come. What would he care about the burning of two witches a hundred miles away, this leech who is sucking himself full upon the carcass of some fat monastery? No, no, never count on her.”
“At least she is brave and true, Emlyn, and has done her best, for which may Heaven’s blessing rest upon her always. Now, what of Thomas Bolle?”
“Nothing, except that he is a red-headed jackass that can bray but daren’t kick,” answered Emlyn viciously. “Never speak to me of Thomas Bolle. Had he been a man long ago he’d have broken the neck of that rogue Abbot instead of dressing himself up like a he-goat and hunting his cows.”
“If what they say is true he did break the neck of Father Ambrose,” replied Cicely, with a faint smile. “Perhaps he made a mistake in the dark.”
“If so it is like Thomas Bolle, who ever wished the right thing and did the wrong. Talk no more of him, since I would not meet my end in a bad spirit. Thomas Bolle, who lets us die for his elfish pranks! A pest on the half-witted cur, say I. And after I had kissed him too!”