“What is it, Nurse?” asked Cicely in a shaken voice. “From your look you bear tidings.”
Emlyn Stower walked forward, rested one hand upon the oak table and answered—
“Aye, evil tidings if they be true. Prepare your heart, my sweet.”
“Quick with them, Emlyn,” gasped Cicely. “Who is dead? Christopher?”
She shook her head, and Cicely sighed in relief, adding—
“Who, then? Oh! was that dream true?”
“Aye, dear; you are an orphan.”
The girl’s head fell forward. Then she lifted it, and asked—
“Who told you? Give me all the truth or I shall die.”
“A friend of mine who has to do with the Abbey yonder; ask not his name.”
“I know it, Emlyn; Thomas Bolle,” she whispered back.
“A friend of mine,” repeated the tall, dark woman, “told me that Sir John Foterell, your sire, was murdered last night in the forest by a gang of armed men, of whom he slew two.”
“From the Abbey?” queried Cicely in the same whisper.
“Who knows? I think it. They say that the arrow in his throat was such as they make there. Jeffrey Stokes was hunted, but escaped on to some ship that had her anchor up.”
“I’ll have his life for it, the coward!” exclaimed Cicely.
“Blame him not yet. He met another friend of mine, and sent a message. It was that he did but obey his master’s last orders, and, as he had seen too much and to linger here was certain death, if he lived, he would return from over-seas with the papers when the times are safer. He prayed that you would not doubt him.”
“The papers! What papers, Emlyn?”
She shrugged her broad shoulders.
“How should I know? Doubtless some that your father was taking to London and did not desire to lose. His iron chest stands open in his chamber.”
Now poor Cicely remembered that her father had spoken of certain “deeds” which he must take with him, and began to sob.
“Weep not, darling,” said her foster-mother, smoothing Cicely’s brown hair with her strong hand. “These things are decreed of God, and done with. Now you must look to yourself. Your father is gone, but one remains.”
Cicely lifted her tear-stained face.
“Yes, I have you,” she said.
“Me!” she answered, with a quick smile. “Nay, of what use am I? Your nursing days are over. What did you tell me your father said to you before he rode—about Sir Christopher? Hush! there’s no time to talk; you must away to Cranwell Towers.”
“Why?” asked Cicely. “He cannot bring my father back to life, and it would be thought strange indeed that at such a time I should visit a man in his own house. Send and tell him the tidings. I bide here to bury my father, and,” she added proudly, “to avenge him.”
“If so, sweet, you bide here to be buried yourself in yonder Nunnery. Hark, I have not told you all my news. The Abbot Maldon claims the Blossholme lands under some trick of law. It was as to them that your father quarrelled with him the other night; and with the land goes your wardship, as once mine went under this monk’s charter. Before sunset the Abbot rides here with his men-at-arms to take them, and to set you for safe-keeping in the Nunnery, where you will find a husband called Holy Church.”