“Now that’s noble trading,” she replied, with an evil leer, “such as one might hope for from an Abbot. But, my Lord, they say the Nunnery is haunted, and I can’t face ghosts. Man or woman, with rails or without ’em, Mother Flounder doesn’t mind, but ghosts—no! Also Mistress Stower is a witch, and might lay a curse on me; and those nuns are full of crinks and cranks, and can pray an honest soul to death.”
“Come, come, my time is short. What is it you want, woman? Out with it.”
“The inn there at the ford—your Lordship, will need a tenant next month. It’s a good paying house for those who know how to keep their mouths shut and to look the other way, and through vile scandal and evil slanderers, such as the Smith girl, my business isn’t what it was. Now if I could have it without rent for the first two years, till I had time to work up the trade——”
The Abbot, who could bear no more of the creature, rose from his chair and said sharply—
“I will remember. Yes, I will promise. Go now; the reverent Mother is advised of your coming. And report to me night and morning of the progress of the case. Why, woman, what are you doing?” for she had suddenly slid to her knees and grasped his robes with her thick, filthy hands.
“Absolution, holy Lordship; I ask absolution and blessing—pax Meggiscum, and the rest of it.”
“Absolution? There is nothing to absolve.”
“Oh! yes, my Lord, there is plenty, though I am wondering who will absolve you for your half. Also there are rows of little angels that sometimes won’t let me sleep, and that’s why I can’t stomach ghosts. I’d rather sup in winter on cold small ale and half-cooked pork than face even a still-born ghost.”
“Begone!” said the Abbot, in such a voice that she scrambled to her feet and went, unblessed and unabsolved.
When the door had closed behind her he went to the window and flung it wide, although the night was foul.
“By all the saints!” he muttered, “that beastly murderess poisons the air. Why, I wonder, does God allow such filthy things to live? Cannot she ply her hell-trade less grossly? Oh! Clement Maldonado, how low are you sunk that you must use tools like these, and on such a business. And yet there is no other way. Not for myself, but for the Church, O Lord! The great plot thickens, and all men clamour to me, its head and spring, for money. Give me money, and within six months Yorkshire and the North will be up, and without a year Henry the Anti-Christ will be dead and the Princess Mary fast upon the throne, with the Emperor and the Pope for watchdogs. That stiff-necked Cicely must die and her babe must die, and then I’ll twist the secret of the jewels out of the witch, Emlyn—on the rack, if need be. Those jewels—I’ve seen them so often; why, they would feed an army; but while Cicely or her brat lives where is my claim to them? So, alas! they must die, but oh! the hag is right. Who shall give me absolution for a deed I hate? Not for me, not for me, O my Patron, but for the Church!” and flinging himself to the floor before the holy image of his chosen Saint, he rested his head upon its feet and wept.