‘He was Hob Hogward’s herd boy,’ answered Anne, as composedly as she could. ‘He hied him back to mind his sheep.’
Nor would Anne allow another word to be extracted from her ere the grey walls of the Priory of Greystone rose before her, and the lay Sister at the gate shrieked for joy at seeing her riding behind Archie.
CHAPTER IV. A SPORTING PRIORESS
Yet nothing stern was she in cell,
And the nuns loved their abbess well.—Scott.
The days of the Wars of the Roses were evil times for the discipline of convents, which, together with the entire Western Church, suffered from the feuds of the Popes with the Italian princes.
Small remote houses, used as daughters or auxiliaries to the large convents, were especially apt to fall into a lax state, and in truth the little priory of Greystone, with its half-dozen of Sisters, had been placed under the care of the Lady Agnes Selby because she was too highly connected to be dealt with sharply, and too turbulent and unmanageable for the soberminded house at York. So there she was sent, with the deeply devout and strict Sister Scholastica, to keep the establishment in order, and deal with the younger nuns and lay Sisters. Being not entirely out of reach of a raid from the Scottish border, it was hardly a place for the timid, although the better sort of moss troopers generally spared monastic houses. Anne St. John had been sent thither at the time when Queen Margaret was making her attempt in the north, where the city of York was Lancastrian, as the Mother Abbess feared that her presence might bring vengeance upon the Sisterhood.
There was no great harm in the Mother Agnes, only she was a maiden whom nothing but family difficulties could have forced into a monastic life—a lively, high-spirited, out-of-door creature, whom the close conventionalities of castle life and even whipping could not tame, and who had been the despair of her mother and of the discreet dames to whom her first childhood had been committed, to say nothing of a Lady Abbess or two. Indeed, from the Mother of Sopwell, Dame Julian Berners, she had imbibed nothing but a vehement taste for hawk, horse, and hound. The recluses of St. Mary, York, after being heartily scandalised by her habits, were far from sorry to have a good excuse for despatching her to their outlying cell, where, as they observed, she would know how to show a good face in case the Armstrongs came over the Border.
She came flying down on the first rumour of Lady Anne’s return, her veil turned back, her pace not at all accordant with the solemn gait of a Prioress, her arms outstretched, her face, not young nor handsome, but sunburnt, weather-beaten and healthy, and full of delight. ’My child, my Nan, here thou art! I was just mounting to seek for thee to the west, while Bertram sought again over the mosses where we sent yester morn. Where hast thou been in the snow?’