“You are Sir John Foterell’s only child, are you not, who allege yourself to be wife to Sir Christopher Harflete, or so says yonder Prioress? Now, what was about to happen to you, and why?”
“Sir,” answered Cicely, “I and my waiting-woman and the old sister, Bridget, were condemned to die by fire at those stakes upon a charge of sorcery. Although it is true,” she added, “that I knew we should not perish thus.”
“How did you know that, Lady? By all tokens your bodies and hot flame were near enough together,” and he glanced towards the stakes and the scattered faggots.
“Sir, I knew it because of a vision that God sent to me in my sleep last night.”
“Aye, she swore that at the stake,” exclaimed a voice, “and we thought her mad.”
“Now can you deny that she is a witch?” broke in Maldon. “If she were not one of Satan’s own, how could she see visions and prophecy her own deliverance?”
“If visions and prophecies are proof of witchcraft, then, Priest, all Holy Writ is but a seething pot of sorcery,” answered Legh. “Then the Blessed Virgin and St. Elizabeth were witches, and Paul and John should have been burnt as wizards. Continue, Lady, leaving out your dreams until a more convenient time.”
“Sir,” went on Cicely, “we have worked no sorcery, and my crime is that I will not name my child a bastard and sign away my lands and goods to yonder Abbot, the murderer of my father and perhaps of my husband. Oh! listen, listen, you and all folk here, and briefly as I may I will tell my tale. Have I your leave to speak?”
The Commissioner nodded, and she set out her story from the beginning, so sweetly, so simply and with such truth and earnestness, that the concourse of people packed close about her, hung upon her every word, and even Dr. Legh’s coarse face softened as he heard. For the half of an hour or more she spoke, telling of her father’s death, of her flight and marriage, of the burning of Cranwell Towers, and her widowing, if such it were; of her imprisonment in the Priory and the Abbot’s dealings with her and Emlyn; of the birth of her child and its attempted murder by the midwife, his creature; of their trial and condemnation, they being innocent, and of all they had endured that day.
“If you are innocent,” shouted a priest as she paused for breath, “what was that Thing dressed in the livery of Satan which worked evil at Blossholme? Did we not see it with our eyes?”
Just then some one uttered an exclamation and pointed to the shadow of the trees where a strange form was moving. Another moment and it came out into the light. One more and all that multitude scattered like frightened sheep, rushing this way and that; yes, even the horses took the bits between their teeth and bolted. For there, visible to all, Satan himself strolled towards them. On his head were horns, behind his back hung down a tail, his body was shaggy like a beast’s, and his face hideous and of many colours, while in his hand he held a pronged fork with a long handle. This way and that rushed the throng, only the Commissioner, who had dismounted, stood still, perhaps because he was too afraid to stir, and with him the women and some of the nuns, including the Prioress, who fell upon their knees and began to utter prayers.