It was the day of trial. From dawn Cicely and Emlyn had seen people hurrying in and out of the gates of the Nunnery, and heard workmen making preparation in the guest-hall below their chamber. About eight one of the nuns brought them their breakfast. Her face was scared and white; she only spoke in whispers, looking behind her continually as though she knew she was being watched.
Emlyn asked who their judges were, and she answered—
“The Abbot, a strange, black-faced Prior, and the Old Bishop. Oh! God help you, my sisters; God help us all!” and she fled away.
Now for a moment Emlyn’s heart failed her, since before such a tribunal what chance had they? The Abbot was their bitter enemy and accuser; the strange Prior, no doubt, one of his friends and kindred; while the ecclesiastic spoken of as the “Old Bishop” was well known as perhaps the cruelest man in England, a scourge of heretics—that is, before heresy became the fashion—a hunter-out of witches and wizards, and a time-server to boot. But to Cicely she said nothing, for what was the use, seeing that soon she would learn all?
They ate their food, knowing both of them that they would need strength. Then Cicely nursed her child, and, placing it in Emlyn’s arms, knelt down to pray. While she was still praying the door opened and a procession appeared. First came two monks, then six armed men of the Abbot’s guard, then the Prioress and three of her nuns. At the sight of the beautiful young woman kneeling at her prayers the guards, rough men though they were, stopped, as if unwilling to disturb her, but one of the monks cried brutally—
“Seize the accursed hypocrite, and if she will not come, drag her with you,” at the same time stretching out his hand as though to grasp her arm.
But Cicely rose and faced him, saying—
“Do not touch me; I follow. Emlyn, give me the child, and let us go.”
So they went in the midst of the armed men, the monks preceding, the nuns, with bowed heads, following after. Presently they entered the large hall, but on its threshold were ordered to pause while way was made for them. Cicely never forgot the sight of it as it appeared that day. The lofty, arched roof of rich chestnut-wood, set there hundreds of years before by hands that spared neither work nor timber, amongst the beams of which the bright light of morning played so clearly that she could see the spiders’ webs, and in one of them a sleepy autumn wasp caught fast. The mob of people gathered to watch her public trial—faces, many of them, that she had known from childhood.
How they stared at her as she stood there by the head of the steps, her sleeping child held in her arms! They were a packed audience and had been prepared to condemn her—that she could see and hear, for did not some of them point and frown, and set up a cry of “Witch!” as they had been told to do? But it died away. The sight of her, the daughter of one of their great men and the widow of another, standing in her innocent beauty, the slumbering babe upon her breast, seemed to quell them, till the hardest faces grew pitiful—full of resentment, too, some of them, but not against her.