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´╗┐Title: All's Well - Alice's Victory
Author: Holt, Emily Sarah, 1836-1893
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "All's Well - Alice's Victory" ***

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All's Well
Alice's Victory

By Emily Sarah Holt
________________________________________________________________________
This book is set in the sixteenth century, at the beginning of the
Reformation.  The action is in the Weald of Kent, a hugely forested area
that extended as far as Hampshire.  The family at the centre of the
story had been converted to Protestantism, but still outwardly clung to
Catholicism.  This meant that the local priest, through hearing
confessions, knew something of what was going on, and carried the
information to the Bishop.  One of the younger women of the family had
been particularly advanced in her Protestant action and beliefs.  She is
taken before the Bishop, and is condemned to jail, where she is very
badly treated, sleeping on straw, without change of clothing, and fed
only on bread and water.  The place where she was kept was changed for
the better, after she had been brought for further interview before the
Bishop.  But this was only because she was to be burnt alive, in the
manner of Holy Church of those days.

A moving story that makes a good audiobook, of little more than 7 hours'
duration.  NH
________________________________________________________________________

ALL'S WELL
ALICE'S VICTORY

BY EMILY SARAH HOLT



CHAPTER ONE.

FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS.

"Give you good-morrow, neighbour!  Whither away with that great fardel
[Bundle], prithee?"

"Truly, Mistress, home to Staplehurst, and the fardel holdeth broadcloth
for my lads' new jerkins."  The speakers were two women, both on the
younger side of middle age, who met on the road between Staplehurst and
Cranbrook, the former coming towards Cranbrook and the latter from it.
They were in the midst of that rich and beautiful tract of country known
as the Weald of Kent, once the eastern part of the great Andredes Weald,
a vast forest which in Saxon days stretched from Kent to the border of
Hampshire.  There was still, in 1556, much of the forest about the
Weald, and even yet it is a well-wooded part of the country, the oak
being its principal tree, though the beech sometimes grows to an
enormous size.  Trees of the Weald were sent to Rome for the building of
Saint Peter's.

"And how go matters with you, neighbour?" asked the first speaker, whose
name was Alice Benden.

"Well, none so ill," was the reply.  "My master's in full work, and
we've three of our lads at the cloth-works.  We're none so bad off as
some."

"I marvel how it shall go with Sens Bradbridge, poor soul!  She'll be
bad off enough, or I err greatly."

"Why, how so, trow?  I've not heard what ails her."

"Dear heart! then you know not poor Benedict is departed?"

"Eh, you never mean it!" exclaimed the bundle-bearer, evidently shocked.
"Why, I reckoned he'd taken a fine turn toward recovery.  Well, be
sure!  Ay, poor Sens, I'm sorry for her."

"Two little maids, neither old enough to earn a penny, and she a
stranger in the town, pretty nigh, with never a 'quaintance saving them
near about her, and I guess very few pennies in her purse.  Ay, 'tis a
sad look-out for Sens, poor heart."

"Trust me, I'll look in on her, and see what I may do, so soon as I've
borne this fardel home.  Good lack! but the burying charges 'll come
heavy on her! and I doubt she's saved nought, as you say, Benedict being
sick so long."

"I scarce think there's much can be done," said Alice, as she moved
forward; "I was in there of early morrow, and Barbara Final, she took
the maids home with her.  But a kindly word's not like to come amiss.
Here's Emmet [See Note 1] Wilson at hand: she'll bear you company home,
for I have ado in the town.  Good-morrow, Collet."

"Well, good-morrow, Mistress Benden.  I'll rest my fardel a bit on the
stile while Emmet comes up."

And, lifting her heavy bundle on the stile, Collet Pardue wiped her
heated face with one end of her mantle--there were no shawls in those
days--and waited for Emmet Wilson to come up.

Emmet was an older woman than either Alice or Collet, being nearly fifty
years of age.  She too carried a bundle, though not of so formidable a
size.  Both had been to Cranbrook, then the centre of the cloth-working
industry, and its home long before the days of machinery.  There were
woven the solid grey broadcloths which gave to the men of the Weald the
title of "the Grey-Coats of Kent."  From all the villages round about,
the factory-hands were recruited.  The old factories had stood from the
days when Edward the Third and his Flemish Queen brought over the
weavers of the Netherlands to improve the English manufactures; and some
of them stand yet, turned into ancient residences for the country
squires who had large stakes in them in the old days, or peeping out
here and there in the principal streets of the town, in the form of old
gables and other antique adornments.

"Well, Collet!  You've a brave fardel yonder!"

"I've six lads and two lasses, neighbour," said Collet with a laugh.
"Takes a sight o' cloth, it do, to clothe 'em."

"Be sure it do!  Ay, you've a parcel of 'em.  There's only my man and
Titus at our house.  Wasn't that Mistress Benden that parted from you
but now?  She turned off a bit afore I reached her."

"Ay, it was.  She's a pleasant neighbour."

"She's better than pleasant, she's good."

"Well, I believe you speak sooth.  I'd lief you could say the same of
her master.  I wouldn't live with Master Benden for a power o' money."

"Well, I'd as soon wish it too, for Mistress Benden's body; but I'm not
so certain sure touching Mistress Benden's soul.  'Tis my belief if
Master Benden were less cantankerous, Mistress wouldn't be nigh so
good."

"What, you hold by the old rhyme, do you--?

  "`A spaniel, a wife, and a walnut tree,
  The more they be beaten, the better they be.'"

"Nay, I'll not say that: but this will I say, some folks be like
camomile--`the more you tread it, the more you spread it.'  When you
squeeze 'em, like clover, you press the honey forth: and I count
Mistress Benden's o' that sort."

"Well, then, let's hope poor Sens Bradbridge is likewise, for she's like
to get well squeezed and trodden.  Have you heard she's lost her
master?"

"I have so.  Mistress Final told me this morrow early.  Nay, I doubt
she's more of the reed family, and 'll bow down her head like a bulrush.
Sens Bradbridge'll bend afore she breaks, and Mistress Benden 'll break
afore she bends."

"'Tis pity Mistress Benden hath ne'er a child; it might soften her
master, and anyhow should comfort her."

"I wouldn't be the child," said Emmet drily.

Collet laughed.  "Well, nor I neither," said she.  "I reckon they'll not
often go short of vinegar in that house; Master Benden's face 'd turn
all the wine, let alone the cream.  I'm fain my master's not o' that
fashion: he's a bit too easy, my Nick is.  I can't prevail on him to
thwack the lads when they're over-thwart; I have to do it myself."

"I'll go bail you'd not hurt 'em much," said Emmet, with an amused
glance at the round, rosy, good-humoured face of the mother of the six
"over-thwart" lads.

"Oh, will you!  But I am a short mistress with 'em, I can tell you.  Our
Aphabell shall hear of it, I promise you, when I get home.  I bade him
yester-even fetch me two pound o' prunes from the spicer's, and gave him
threepence in his hand to pay for 'em; and if the rascal went not and
lost the money at cross and pile with Gregory White, and never a prune
have I in the store-cupboard.  He's at all evers playing me tricks o'
that fashion.  'Tisn't a week since I sent him for a dozen o' Paris
candles, and he left 'em in the water as he came o'er the bridge.  Eh,
Mistress Wilson, but lads be that pestiferous!  You've but one, and that
one o' the quiet peaceable sort--you've somewhat to be thankful for, I
can tell you, that hasn't six like me, and they a set o' contrarious,
outrageous, boisterous caitiffs as ever was seen i' this world."

"Which of 'em would you wish to part with, Collet?"

"Well, be sure!" was Collet's half-laughing answer, as she mentally
reviewed the young gentlemen in question--her giddy, thoughtless
Aphabell, her mischievous Tobias, her Esdras always out at elbows, her
noisy, troublesome Noah, her rough Silvanus, whom no amount of
"thwacking" seemed to polish, and her lazy, ease-loving Valentine.
"Nay, come, I reckon I'll not make merchandise of any of 'em this bout.
They are a lot o' runagates, I own, but I'm their mother, look you."

Emmet Wilson smiled significantly.  "Ay, Collet, and 'tis well for you
and me that cord bears pulling at."

"You and me?" responded Collet, lifting her bundle higher, into an
easier position.  "'Tis well enough for the lads, I dare say; but what
ado hath it with you and me?"

"I love to think, neighbour, that somewhat akin to it is said by nows
and thens of us, too, in the Court of the Great King, when the enemy
accuseth us--`Ay, she did this ill thing, and she's but a poor black
sinner at best; but thou shalt not have her, Satan; I'm her Father.'"

"You're right there, Emmet Wilson," said Collet, in a tone which showed
that the last sentence had touched her heart.  "The work and care that
my lads give me is nought to the sins wherewith we be daily angering the
Lord.  He's always forgiving us, be sure."

"A sight easier than men do, Collet Pardue, take my word for it."

"What mean you, neighbour?" asked Collet, turning round to look her
companion in the face, for Emmet's tone had indicated that she meant
more than she said.

"I mean one man in especial, and his name's Bastian."

"What, the priest?  Dear heart!  I've not angered him, trow?"

"You soon will, _if_ you cut your cloth as you've measured it.  How many
times were you at mass this three months past?"

"How many were you?" was the half-amused answer.

"There's a many in Staplehurst as hasn't been no oftener," said Emmet,
"that I know: but it'll not save you, Collet.  The priest has his eye on
you, be sure."

"Then I'll keep mine on him," said Collet sturdily, as she paused at her
own door, which was that of the one little shoemaker's shop in the
village of Staplehurst.  "Good-morrow, neighbour.  I'll but lay down my
fardel, and then step o'er to poor Sens Bradbridge."

"And I'll come to see her this even.  Good-morrow."

And Emmet Wilson walked on further to her home, where her husband was
the village baker and corn-monger.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note 1.  Emmet is a very old variation of Emma, and sometimes spelt
Emmot; Sens is a corruption of Sancha, naturalised among us in the
thirteenth century; and Collet or Colette, the diminutive of Nichola, a
common and favourite name in the Middle Ages.



CHAPTER TWO.

CHRISTABEL.

Alice Benden had reached Cranbrook, and was busied with her various
errands.  Her position was slightly superior to that of Emmet and
Collet, for she was the wife of a man who "lived upright," which
enigmatical expression signified that he had not to work for his living.
Edward Benden's father had made a little money, and his son, who had no
children to whom to leave his property, chose to spend it rather than
bequeath it to distant relatives who were strangers to him.  He owned
some half-dozen houses at Staplehurst, one of which was occupied by the
Pardues, and he lived on the rents of these, and the money saved by his
thrifty father.  The rents he asked were not unreasonable, but if a
tenant failed to pay, out he must go.  He might as well appeal to the
door-posts as to Edward Benden.

This agreeable gentleman treated his wife much as he did his tenants.
He gave a sum of money into her hands for certain purchases, and with
that sum those purchases must be made.  It was not of the least use to
explain failure by an unexpected rise in prices, or the fact that the
article required could not be had at a given time.  Mr Benden expected
perfection--in every one but himself.  Excuses, many and often very
poor, were admitted for that favoured individual, but no other had a
chance to offer any.

On the present occasion, Alice had ten shillings for her marketing, with
which she was expected to provide six rabbits, a dozen pigeons,
twenty-four eggs, five yards of buckram, a black satin cap and a brown
silk doublet for her husband, a pair of shoes for herself, and sundry
things at the spicer's.  The grocer, or grosser, as the word was
originally spelt, only sold wholesale, and his stock as we have it was
divided among the spicer, pepperer, and treacle-monger.  That her money
would not stretch thus far Alice well knew, and she knew also that if
she were to avoid a scolding, Mr Benden's personal wants must be
supplied, whatever became of her own.  Her first call, therefore, was at
the capper's for the satin cap, which cost one shilling and eightpence;
then at the tailor's for the doublet, which took four and sixpence; then
she paid ninepence for the pigeons, which were for Mr Benden's personal
eating; and next she went to the spicer's.  A sugarloaf she must have,
expensive as it was, for her tyrant required his dishes sweet, and
demanded that the result should be effected by dainty sugar, not like
common people by honey or treacle: nor did she dare to omit the
currants, since he liked currant cake with his cheese and ale.  Two
pounds of prunes, and four of rice, she meant to add; but those were not
especially for him, and must be left out if needful.  When she had
reached this point, Alice paused, and counted up what money she had
left.

"Doublet, 4 shillings 6 pence; cap, 1 shilling 8 pence; pigeons, 9
pence; sugarloaf, 7 pence; currants, 1 shilling: total, 8 shillings 6
pence."  Thus ran Alice's calculations.  "Only eighteenpence left.  The
other things I wanted will come to 6 shillings 9 pence.  What can I do
without?"

The buckram must go: that was the heaviest article in the list, five
yards at ninepence a yard.  Alice's Sunday gown must be worn without a
new lining for a while longer.  Two rabbits instead of six, at twopence
a piece; three pennyworth of eggs at eight a penny: these she could
scarcely do without.  The shoes, too, were badly wanted.  Rice and
prunes could not be had to-day.  Alice bought a pair of cheaper shoes
than she intended, paying tenpence instead of a shilling; purchased the
two rabbits and the eggs; and found that she had one penny left.  She
decided that this would answer her purpose--nay, it must do so.  Mr
Benden was not likely to ask if she had all she needed, so long as she
did not fail to supply his own requirements.  She arranged with the
poulterer to put by the rabbits, pigeons, and eggs, for which she would
send a boy in the afternoon; and carrying the rest of her parcels, with
which she was well laden, she took the road to Staplehurst.

As she turned the corner of the last house in Cranbrook, she was brought
to a stand-still by a voice behind her.

"Alice!"

A light sprang to Alice's eyes as she turned quickly round to greet a
man a few years older than herself--a man with grave dark eyes and a
brown beard.  Passing all her parcels into the left hand, she gave him
the right--an action which at that time was an indication of intimate
friendship.  The kiss and the hand-clasp have changed places since then.

"Why, Roger!  I look not to see thee now.  How goes it this morrow with
Christie?"

"As the Lord will, good sister."

"And that, mefeareth, is but evil?"

"Nay, I will not lay that name on aught the Lord doth.  But she suffers
sorely, poor darling!  Wilt come round our way and look in on her,
Alice?"

"I would I might, Roger!" said Alice, with a rather distressed look.
"But this morrow--"

"Thou hast not good conveniency thereto."  Roger finished the sentence
for her.  "Then let be till thine occasion serveth.  Only, when it so
doth, bethink thee that a look on Aunt Alice is a rare comfort to the
little maid."

"Be thou sure I shall not forget it.  Tom came in last night, Roger.  He
and Tabitha and the childre, said he, fare well."

"That's a good hearing.  And Edward hath his health?"

"Oh ay, Edward doth rarely well."

Mr Benden was not apt to lose his health, which partly accounted for
the very slight sympathy he was wont to show with those who were.  It
was noticeable that while other people were spoken of by affectionate
diminutives both from Alice and her brother, Edward and Tabitha received
their names in full.

"Well, then, Alice, I shall look for thee--when thou shalt be able to
come.  The Lord have thee in His keeping!"

"The Lord be with thee, dear Roger!"

And Roger Hall turned down a side street, while Alice went on toward
Staplehurst.  They were deeply attached to each other, this brother and
sister, and all the more as they found little sympathy outside their
mutual affection.  Roger was quite aware of Alice's home troubles, and
she of his.  They could see but little of each other, for while Mr
Benden had not absolutely forbidden his brother-in-law to enter his
house, it was a familiar fact to all parties that his sufficiently sharp
temper was not softened by a visit from Roger Hall, and Alice's
sufferings from the temper in question were generally enough to prevent
her from trying it further.  It was not only sharp, but also uncertain.
What pleased him to-day--and few things did please him--was by no means
sure to please him to-morrow.  Alice trod on a perpetual volcano, which
was given to opening and engulfing her just at the moment when she least
expected it.

Roger's home troubles were of another sort.  His wife was dead, and his
one darling was his little Christabel, whose few years had hitherto been
passed in pain and suffering.  The apothecary was not able to find out
what hidden disorder sapped the spring of little Christie's health, and
made her from her very babyhood a frail, weak, pallid invalid, scarcely
fit to do anything except lie on a sofa, learn a few little lessons from
her father, and amuse herself with fancy work.  A playfellow she could
seldom bear.  Her cousins, the three daughters of her Uncle Thomas, who
lived about a mile away, were too rough and noisy for the frail child,
with one exception--Justine, who was lame, and could not keep up with
the rest.  But Justine was not a comfortable companion, for she
possessed a grumbling temper, or it would perhaps be more correct to say
she was possessed by it.  She suffered far less than Christie, yet
Christie was always bright and sunny, while Justine was dark and cloudy.
Yet not even Justine tried Christie as did her Aunt Tabitha.

Aunt Tabitha was one of those women who wish and mean to do a great deal
of good, and cannot tell how to do it.  Not that she realised that
inability by any means.  She was absolutely convinced that nearly all
the good done in the Weald of Kent was done by Tabitha Hall, while the
real truth was that if Tabitha Hall had been suddenly transported to
Botany Bay, or any other distant region, the Weald of Kent would have
got along quite as well without her.  According to Aunt Tabitha, the one
grand duty of every human creature was to rouse himself and other
people: and, measured by this rule, Aunt Tabitha certainly did her duty.
She earnestly impressed on Alice that Mr Benden would develop into a
perfect angel if only she stood up to him; and she was never tired of
assuring Christie that her weakness and suffering were entirely the
result of her own idle disinclination to rouse herself.  Thus urged,
Christie did sometimes try to rouse herself, the result being that when
deprived of the stimulating presence of Aunt Tabitha, she was fit for
nothing but bed for some time afterwards.  It was a good thing for her
that Aunt Tabitha's family kept her busy at home for the most part, so
that her persecutions of poor Christie were less frequent than they
would otherwise have been.

Mr Thomas Hall, the younger brother of Roger and Alice, had the air of
a man who had been stood up to, until he had lost all power or desire of
standing up for himself.  He remarked that it was a fine morning with an
aspect of deprecation that would have made it seem quite cruel to
disagree with him, even if it were raining hard.  He never contradicted
his Tabitha: poor man, he knew too well what would come of it!  It would
have been as easy for him to walk up to the mouth of a loaded cannon
when the gunner was applying the match, as to remark to her, in however
mild a tone, that he preferred his mutton boiled when he knew she liked
it roasted.  Yet he was a good man, in his meek unobtrusive way, and
Christie liked her Uncle Thomas next best to her father and Aunt Alice.

"Christie, I marvel you are not weary!" said her lively, robust cousin
Friswith [a corruption of Frideawide], one day.

Not weary!  Ah, how little Friswith knew about it!

"I am by times, Friswith," said Christie meekly.

"Mother saith she is assured you might have better health an' you would.
You lie and lie there like a log of wood.  Why get you not up and go
about like other folks?"

"I can't, cousin; it hurts me."

"Hurts you, marry!  I wouldn't give in to a bit of a hurt like that!  I
never mind being hurt."

Christie silently doubted that last statement.

"Hear you, Christie?"

"Yes, Friswith, I hear."

"Then why rouse you not up, as Mother saith?"

"I can't, Friswith; my head pains me this morrow."

"Lack-a-daisy, what a fuss you make o'er a bit of pain!  Well, I must be
away--I've to go to Cranbrook of an errand for Mother; she lacks a
sarcenet coif.  If I can scrimp enough money out of this, I'll have some
carnation ribbon to guard my hat--see if I don't!"

"Oh, Friswith!  It isn't your money, 'tis Aunt Tabitha's."

"I'll have it, though; I hate to go shabby.  And I can tell you, I met
Beatrice Pardue last night, with a fresh ribbon on hers.  I'll not have
her finer than me.  She's stuck-up enough without it.  You look out on
Sunday as I go by the window, and see if my hat isn't new guarded with
carnation.  I'll get round Mother somehow; and if she do give me a
whipping, I'm not so soft as you.  Good-morrow!"

"Friswith, don't!"

Friswith only laughed as she closed the door on Christabel, and ran off
lightly down the Cranbrook road.



CHAPTER THREE.

THE COMFORTABLE JUSTICE.

Mr Justice Roberts sat in his dining-room after supper, with a tankard
of ale at his elbow.  Had the "pernicious weed" been discovered at that
date, he would probably also have had a pipe in his hand; but tobacco
being yet a calamity of the future, the Justice was not smoking.

He was, however, very comfortable.  He sat in a big leather chair, which
rested his portly figure; he had just had a good supper, consisting of a
partridge pie and a dish of juicy pears; he had sold a horse that
morning at considerable profit; his mind was as easy as his body.

There was only one thing the occurrence of which Mr Roberts would have
thought it worth his while to deprecate at that moment.  This was,
anybody coming to bother him.  The worthy Justice did not like to be
bothered.  A good many people are of the same opinion.  He had that
evening but one enemy in the world, and that was the man who should next
rap at his house door.

"Rap-a-tap-tap-tap!"

"Go to Jericho!" said the Justice to the unseen individual who was thus
about to disturb his rest.  "I want none of you.  Why on earth can't you
let a man alone?--What is it, Martha?"

"Please you, Master, 'tis Master Benden would have a word with you."

"What can the companion want?" mildly growled the Justice.  "Well! let
him in, and bring another tankard.  Good evening, Master Benden.  A fine
autumn eve, trow."

Mr Benden's face said that he had come to talk about something of more
moment than autumn evenings.  He sat down opposite the Justice, buttoned
his long gown up to the neck, as if to gird himself for action, and
cleared his throat with an air of importance.

"Master Roberts, I am come on a grave matter and a sad."

"Can't deal with grave matters after supper," said the Justice.  "Come
again in the morning.  Take a pear."

"Sir, this is a serious business."

"Business hours are over.  I never do business out of hours."

"To-night, Master Roberts, and to-night only, shall serve for this
business."

"I do no business out of hours!" solemnly repeated the officer of the
law.  "Take a pear--take two pears, and come again in the morning."

Mr Benden shook his head in a tragic manner, and let the pears alone.

"They are good pears," said the Justice.  "If you love no pears, put one
in your pocket with my commendations to good Mistress Benden.  How doth
she?--well, I hope."

"Were I able, Sir," replied the visitor impressively, "to bear your
commendations to good Mistress Benden, I were the happier man.  But,
alas!  I am not at that pass."

"What, come you hither to complain of your wife?  Fie, Master Benden!
Go you home and peace her, like a wise man as you are, and cast her half
a suffering for some woman's gear."

Mr Benden might most truthfully have made reply that he had ere that
evening bestowed on his wife not half a suffering only, but many whole
ones: but he knew that the Justice meant half a sovereign, which was
then pronounced exactly like suffering.

"Sir!" he said rather angrily, "it pleases you to reckon lightly of this
matter: but what, I pray you, if you have to make account thereon with
the Queen's Grace's laws, not to speak of holy Church?  Sir, I give you
to wit that my wife is an ill hussy, and an heretic belike, and lacketh
a sharp pulling up--sharper than I can give her.  She will not go to
church, neither hear mass, nor hath she shriven her this many a day.
You are set in office, methinks, to administer the laws, and have no
right thus to shuffle off your duty by hours and minutes.  I summon you
to perform it in this case."

Mr Justice Roberts was grave enough now.  The half-lazy, half-jocose
tone which he had hitherto worn was cast aside entirely, and the
expression of his face grew almost stern.  But the sternness was not all
for the culprit thus arraigned before him; much of it was for the
prosecutor.  He was both shocked and disgusted with the course Mr
Benden had taken: which course is not fiction, but fact.

"Master Benden," said he, "I am two men--the Queen's officer of her
laws, and plain Anthony Roberts of Cranbrook.  You speak this even but
to Anthony Roberts: and as such, good Master, I would have you bethink
you that if your wife be brought afore me as Justice, I must deal with
her according to law.  You know, moreover, that in case she shall admit
her guilt, and refuse to amend, there is no course open to me save to
commit her to prison: and you know, I suppose, what the end of that may
be.  Consider well if you are avised to go through with it.  A man need
count the cost of building an house ere he layeth in a load of bricks."

"You are not wont, Master Justice, to be thus tender over women," said
Benden derisively.  "Methinks ere now I have heard you to thank the
saints you never wedded one."

"And may do so yet again, Master Benden.  I covet little to have a wife
to look after."

Like many men in his day, Mr Roberts looked upon a wife not as somebody
who would look after him, in the sense of making him comfortable, but
rather as one whom he would have the trouble of perpetually keeping out
of all sorts of ways that were naughty and wrong.

"But that is not your case," he continued in the same stern tone.  "You
set to-night--if you resolve to persevere therein--a ball rolling that
may not tarry till it reach the fire.  Are you avised thereon?"

"I am.  Do your duty!" was the savage reply.

"Then do you yours," said Mr Roberts coldly, "and bring Mrs Benden
before me next sessions day.  There is time to forethink you ere it
come."

Unconscious of the storm thus lowering over her, Alice Benden was
sitting by little Christie's sofa.  There were then few playthings, and
no children's books, and other books were scarce and costly.  Fifty
volumes was considered a large library, and in few houses even of
educated people were there more books than about half-a-dozen.  For an
invalid confined to bed or sofa, whether child or adult, there was
little resource save needlework.  Alice had come to bring her little
niece a roll of canvas and some bright-coloured silks.  Having so much
time to spare, and so little variety of occupation, Christie was a more
skilful embroideress than many older women.  A new pattern was a great
pleasure, and there were few pleasures open to the invalid and lonely
child.  Her sole home company was her father, for their one servant,
Nell, was too busy, with the whole work of the house upon her hands, to
do more for Christabel than necessity required; and Mr Hall, who was
manager of one of the large factories in Cranbrook, was obliged to be
away nearly the whole day.  Other company--her Aunt Alice excepted--was
rather a trial than a pleasure to Christabel.  The young people were
rough and noisy, even when they tried not to be so, and the child's
nerves were weak.  Aunt Tabitha worried her to "rouse herself, and not
be a burden on her poor father"; and how gladly would Christabel have
done it!  Uncle Thomas was also a harassing visitor, though in another
way.  He never knew what to say, when he had once asked how the invalid
felt: he only sat and gazed at her and the window alternately, now and
then, as though by a mental jerk, bringing out a few words.

"He causes me to feel so naughty, Aunt," said Christie dolefully, "and I
do want to be good.  He sits and looks on me till I feel--I feel--Aunt
Alice, I can't find the words: as if all my brains would come out of my
finger-ends, if he went on.  And now and then he says a word or two--
such as `Rain afore night, likely,' or `Bought a drove of pigs
yesterday,' and I can only say, `Yes, uncle.'  I think 'tis hard for
both of us, Aunt Alice, for we don't know what to say one to the other.
I can't talk to _him_, and he can't talk to _me_."

Alice laughed, and then the tears almost rose in her eyes, as she softly
smoothed Christie's fair hair.  She knew full well the sensation of
intense, miserable nerve-strain, for which the little girl strove in
vain to find words.

"'Tis hard to be patient, little Christie," she said tenderly.  "But God
knoweth it, dear heart; and He is very patient with us."

"O Aunt Alice, I know!  And I am so sorry afterwards, when I should have
been quiet and patient, and I have spoken crossly.  People know not how
hard it is, and how hard one tries: they only see when one gives way.
They see not even how ashamed one is afterwards."

"Truth, sweet heart; but the Lord seeth."

"Aunt, think you the Lord Jesus ever felt thus?"

"He never felt sin, Christie; but I reckon He knew as well as any of us
what it is to be wearied and troubled, when matters went not to His
comfort.  `The contradiction of sinners' covereth a great deal."

"I wonder," said Christie plaintively, "if He felt as if it hurt Him
when His brethren banged the doors!  Friswith alway does when she comes;
and it is like as if she struck me on the ears.  And she never seems to
hear it!"

"I cannot tell, sweeting, what He felt in the days of His flesh at
Nazareth; but I can tell thee a better thing--that He doth feel now, and
for thee.  `I am poor and needy, but the Lord careth for me.'  Keep that
in thine heart, little Christie; it shall be like a soft pillow for thy
weary head."

Alice rose to go home, and tied on her blue hood.

"O Aunt Alice, must you go?  Couldn't you tarry till Father comes?"

"I think not, my dear heart.  Tell thy father I had need to haste away,
but I will come again and see both him and thee to-morrow."

To-morrow!

"Give him my loving commendations.  Good-night, my child."  And Alice
hurried away.



CHAPTER FOUR.

TABBY SHOWS HER CLAWS.

Friswith Hall was returning from Cranbrook in a state of great
satisfaction.  She had made an excellent bargain; and she was the sort
of girl to whose mind a bargain had the flavour of a victory.  In the
first place, she had squeezed both coif and ribbon out of her money; and
in the second, she had--as she fondly believed--purchased an article
worth one-and-tenpence for eighteenpence.

As she came up to the last stile she had to pass, Friswith saw two girls
sitting on it--the elder a slender, delicate-looking girl of some
fourteen years, the younger a sturdy, little, rosy-faced damsel of
seven.  They looked up on hearing steps, and the elder quitted her seat
to leave Friswith room to pass.

"Good-morrow, Pen!  So you've got Patience there?"

"I haven't much, I'm afraid," said Pen, laughing.  "I came out here
because the lads made such a noise I could scarce hear myself speak; and
I wanted to teach Patience her hymn.  Charity knows hers; but Patience
learns slower."

"Are they with you, then--both?"

"For a few days.  Mistress Bradbridge is gone to visit her brother at
Chelmsford, so she left her little maids with Mother."

"What a company must you be!  How can you ever squeeze into the house?"

"Oh, folks can squeeze into small corners when they choose," said Penuel
Pardue, with a smile.  "A very little corner will hold both Charity and
Patience."

"Then you haven't much of either," answered Friswith satirically.  "Look
you here, Pen!"

And unrolling her ribbon, she displayed its crimson beauties.

"What's that for?"

"For my hat!  You can tell Beatrice, if you like, she won't be the
best-dressed maid at church next Sunday."

"I should never suppose she would," was the quiet reply.

"Oh, I saw her blue ribbons!  But I'll be as grand as she, you'll see
now.  Mother sent me to buy her a coif, and I got this for the money
too.  Don't you wish you were me?"

"No, Friswith, I don't think I do," said Penuel gravely.

"That's because you think Mother will scold.  I'll stand up to her if
she do.  She's always bidding us stand up to folks, and I'll see how she
likes it herself a bit!"

With which very dutiful speech, Friswith took her departure.

Penuel looked after her for a moment, and then, with a shake of her head
which meant more than words, turned back to Patience and the hymn.

"Now, little Patience, try to learn the next verse.  I will say it over
to thee.

  "`And in the presence of my foes
  My table Thou shalt spread;
  Thou shalt, O Lord, fill full my cup,
  And eke anoint my head.'"

"Who be my foes, Pen?" said Patience.

"Folks that tease and trouble thee, my child."

"Oh!" responded Patience, instantly making a practical application.
"Toby and Silas, that is.  But they didn't see you spread the table,
Pen.  They were out playing on the green."

Penuel tried to "improve" this very literal rendering of the Psalm, but
found it impossible to advance further than the awakening in Patience's
mind an expectation of a future, but equally literal table, the dainties
on which Toby and Silas would not be privileged to share.

"I won't give them the lessest bit, 'cause they're my foes," said
Patience stubbornly.  "You shall have some, Pen, and so shall Beatie--
and Abbafull, if he's good.  He tied my shoe."

"Aphabell, not Abbafull," corrected Penuel.  "But, Patience, that won't
serve: you've got to forgive your enemies."

"They shan't have one bit!" announced Patience, putting her hands behind
her back, as if to emphasise her statement.  "Pen, what does `anoint my
head' mean?"

"Pour oil on it," said Penuel.

"I won't have oil on my head!  I'll pour it on Silas and Toby.  It'll
run down and dirt their clothes, and then Mother Pardue'll thwack 'em."

"Patience, Patience!  Little maids mustn't want to have people
thwacked."

"I may want my foes thwacked, and I will!" replied Patience sturdily.

"Look at the people coming up the road," answered Penuel, thinking it
well to make a diversion.  "Why, there's Master Benden and his mistress,
and Mistress Hall, and ever so many more.  What's ado, I marvel?"

About a dozen persons comprised the approaching group, which was brought
up by a choice assortment of small boys, among whom Penuel's brothers,
Esdras and Silvanus, were conspicuous.  Mr Benden walked foremost,
holding his wife by her wrist, as if he were afraid of her running away;
whilst she went with him as quietly as if she had no such intention.
Almost in a line with them was Tabitha Hall, and she was pouring out a
torrent of words.

"And you'll rue it, Edward Benden, you take my word for it!  You savage
barbarian, to deal thus with a decent woman that never shamed you nor
gave you an ill word!  Lack-a-day, but I thank all the saints on my
bended knees I'm not your wife!  I'd--"

"So do I, Mistress!" was Mr Benden's grim answer.

"I'd make your life a burden to you, if I were!  I'd learn you to
ill-use a woman!  I'd give it you, you white-livered dotipole [cowardly
simpleton] of a Pharisee!  Never since the world began--"

"Go to!" shrieked the boys behind, in great glee.  "Scratch him, Tabby,
do!"

Alice never uttered a word, either to her husband or her sister-in-law.
She heard it all as though she heard not.  Catching the eye of her
brother Esdras, Penuel beckoned to him, and that promising youth
somewhat reluctantly left the interesting group, and shambled up to his
eldest sister at the stile.

"Esdras, what is all this?  Do tell me."

"'Tis Master Benden, a-carrying of his mistress afore the Justices, and
Mistress Hall's a-showing him the good love she bears him for it."

"Afore the Justices!  Mistress Benden!  Dear saints, but wherefore?"

"Oh, I wis nought of the inwards thereof," said Esdras, pulling a switch
from the hedge.  "Some saith one thing, and some another.  But they
saith she'll go to prison, safe sure."

"Oh, Esdras, I am sorry!" said Penuel, in a tone of great distress.
"Mother will be sore troubled.  Everybody loves Mistress Benden, and few
loveth her master.  There's some sorry blunder, be thou sure."

"Very like," said Esdras, turning to run off after the disappearing
company.

"Esdras," said little Patience suddenly, "you've got a big hole in you."

"Oh, let be! my gear's alway in holes," was the careless answer.  "It'll
hold together till I get back, I reckon.  Here goes!"

And away went Esdras, with two enormous holes in his stockings, and a
long strip of his jacket flying behind him like a tail.

"Oh dear, this world!" sighed Penuel.  "I'm afraid 'tis a bad place.
Come, little Patience, let us go home."

When the girls reached Mrs Pardue's cottage, they found there the
mother of Patience, Mrs Bradbridge.  She sat talking earnestly to Mrs
Pardue, who was busy washing, and said little in answer beyond such
replies, compatible with business, as "Ay," "I reckon so," or "To be
sure!"

"Mother!" said Penuel, as she led Patience in, "have you heard of this
matter of Mistress Benden's?"

"Nay, child," replied Collet, stopping in the process of hanging up a
skirt to dry.  "Why, whatso?  Naught ill, I do hope and trust, to
Mistress Benden.  I'd nigh as soon have aught hap evil to one of my own
as her."

"Eh, neighbour, 'tis all a body need look for," sighed poor Widow
Bradbridge, lifting Patience on her knee.  "This world's naught save
trouble and sorrow--never was sin' the Flood, more especially for
women."

"She's had up to the Justices, Mother, but I couldn't hear for why; and
her own husband is he that taketh her."

"He'll get his demerits, be sure," said Mrs Bradbridge.

"Well, and I wouldn't so much mind if he did," was Mrs Pardue's
energetic comment.  "He never was fit to black her shoes, he wasn't.
Alice Benden afore the Justices! why, I'd as soon believe I ought to be
there.  If I'd ha' knowed, it should ha' cost me hot water but I'd ha'
been with her, to cheer up and stand by the poor soul.  Why, it should
abhor any Christian man to hear of such doings!"

"Mistress Hall's withal, Mother: and I guess Master Benden 'll have his
water served not much off the boil."

"I'm fain to hear it!" said Collet.

"Eh, she was at him, I can tell you! and she handled the matter shrewdly
too.  So was Esdras and Silas, and a sort more lads, a-crying, `Scratch
him, Tabby!' and she scraught him right well."

"The naughty caitiffs!" exclaimed their mother.  "Howbeit, when they
come home we shall maybe know the inwards of the matter."

The boys did not come home for some hours.  When they did, Esdras slunk
up the ladder, his garments being in a state which, as Silas had just
kindly informed him, "smelt of the birch," and not desiring the
application of that remedy sooner than could be helped.  Silas flung his
cap into the furthest corner, with a shout of "Hooray!" which sent his
mother's hands to her ears.

"Bless the lad!--he'll deafen a body, sure enough!  Now then, speak,
caitiff, and tell us what's ado with Mistress Benden.  Is she let off?"

"She's sent a-prison," shouted Silas, in tones which seemed likely to
carry that information down the row.  "Justice axed her why she went not
to church, and quoth she, `That can I not do, with a good conscience,
since there is much idolatry committed against the glory of God.'  And
then she was committed.  Justice didn't love his work o'er well, and
Master Benden, as he was a-coming away, looked as sour as crabs.  And
old Tabby--Oh, lack-a-daisy-me! didn't she have at him!  She's a good
un, and no mistake!  She stuck to his heels all the way along, and she
beat him black and blue with her tongue, and he looked like a butt of
alegar with a hogshead o' mustard in it.  Hooray for old Tabby!"--and
Silas announced that sentiment to the neighbourhood at the top of his
very unsubdued voice.



CHAPTER FIVE.

REPENTANCE.

"Sil-van-us Par-due!"  Five very distinct syllables from his mother
greeted the speech wherein Master Silas expressed his appreciation of
the action of Mrs Tabitha Hall.  "Silas, I would you were as 'shamed of
yourself as I am of you."

"Well, Mother," responded Silas, with a twinkle in a pair of shining
brown eyes, "if you'll run up yonder ladder and take half a look at
Esdras, you'll not feel nigh so 'shamed of me at after!"

This skilful diversion of the attack from himself to his brother--a feat
wherein every son of Adam is as clever as his forefather--effected the
end which Master Silvanus had proposed to himself.

"Dear heart alive!" cried Mrs Pardue, in a flutter, "has that lad tore
his self all o' pieces?"

"There isn't many pieces left of him," calmly observed Silas.

Mrs Pardue disappeared up the ladder, from which region presently came
the sound of castigation, with its attendant howls from the sufferer,
while Silas, having provided himself with a satisfactory cinder,
proceeded, in defiance of Penuel's entreaties, to sketch a rather clever
study of Mrs Tabitha Hall in the middle of his mother's newly washed
table-cloth.

"Eh, Pen, you'll never do no good wi' no lads!" lamented Mrs
Bradbridge, rising to depart.  "Nought never does lads a bit o' good
save thrashing 'em.  I'm truly thankful mine's both maids.  They're a
sight o' trouble, lads be.  Good even."

As Mistress Bradbridge went out, Mr Pardue was stepping in.

"Silas, let be!" said his father quietly; and Silas made a face, but
pocketed the cinder for future use.  "Pen, where's Mother?"

Mrs Pardue answered for herself by coming down the ladder.

"There!  I've given it Esdras: now, Silas, 'tis thy turn."

No pussy cat could have worn an aspect of more exquisite meekness than
Mr Silvanus Pardue at that moment, having dexterously twitched a towel
so as to hide the work of art on which he had been engaged the moment
before.

"I've done nothing, Mother," he demurely observed, adding with conscious
virtue, "I never tear my clothes."

"You've made a pretty hole in your manners, my master," replied his
mother.  "Nicholas, what thinkest a lad to deserve that nicks Mistress
Hall with the name of `Old Tabby'?"

Nicholas Pardue made no answer in words, but silently withdrew the
protecting towel, and disclosed the sufficiently accurate portrait of
Mistress Tabitha on the table-cloth.

"Thou weary gear of a pert, mischievous losel!"  [wretch, rascal] cried
Collet.  "Thou shalt dine with Duke Humphrey [a proverbial expression
for fasting] this morrow, and sup on birch broth, as I'm a living woman!
My clean-washed linen that I've been a-toiling o'er ever since three o'
the clock!  Was there nought else to spoil but that, thou rascal?"

"Oh ay, Mother," said Silas placidly.  "There's your new partlet, and
Pen's Sunday gown."

Mrs Pardue's hand came down not lightly upon Silas.

"I'll partlet thee, thou rogue!  I'll learn thee to dirt clean gear, and
make work for thy mother!  If ever in all my born days I saw a worser
lad--"

The door was darkened.  Collet looked up, and beheld the parish priest.
Her hold of Silas at once relaxed--a fact of which that lively gentleman
was not slow to take advantage--and she dropped a courtesy, not very
heartfelt, as the Reverend Philip Bastian made his way into the cottage.
Nicholas gave a pull to his forelock, while Collet, bringing forward a
chair, which she dusted with her apron, dismissed Penuel with a look.

The priest's face meant business.  He sat down, leaned both hands on his
gold-headed cane, and took a deliberate look at both Nicholas and Collet
before he said a word beyond the bare "Good even."  After waiting long
enough to excite considerable uneasiness in their minds, he inquired in
dulcet tones--

"What have you to say to me, my children?"

It was the woman who answered.  "Please you.  Father, we've nought to
say, not in especial, without to hope you fare well this fine even."

"Indeed!--and how be you faring?"

"Right well, an't like you, Father, saving some few pains in my bones,
such as I oft have of a washing-day."

"And how is it with thy soul, daughter?"

"I lack not your help therein, I thank you," said Collet somewhat
spiritedly.

"Do you not so?  I pray you, where have you stood in the church since
last May, that never once have I, looking from the altar, seen your
faces therein?  Methinks you must have found new standing-room, behind
the rood-screen, or maybe within the font," suggested the priest
satirically.  "Wit you that this is ever the beginning of heresy?  Have
you heard what has befallen your landlord's wife, Mistress Benden?
Doubtless she thought her good name and repute should serve her in this
case.  Look you, they have not saved her.  She lieth this night in
Canterbury Gaol, whither you may come belike, an' you have not a care,
and some of your neighbours with you.  Moreover, your dues be not fully
paid--"

"Sir," replied Nicholas Pardue, "I do knowledge myself behind in that
matter, and under your good leave, I had waited on you ere the week were
out.  A labouring man, with a great store of children, hath not alway
money to his hand when it most list him to pay the same."

"So far, well," answered the priest more amiably.  "I will tarry a time,
trusting you shall in other ways return to your duty.  God give you a
good even!"

And with seven shillings more in his pocket than when he entered, the
Rev.  Philip Bastian went his way.  Nicholas and Collet looked at each
other with some concern.

"We've but barely 'scaped!" said the latter.  "What do we now, Nick?
Wilt go to church o' Sunday?"

"No," said Nicholas quietly.

"Shall I go without thee, to peace him like?"

"Not by my good-will thereto."

"Then what do we?"

"What we have hitherto done.  Serve God, and keep ourselves from idols."

"Nick, I do by times marvel if it be any ill to go.  _We_ worship no
idols, even though we bow down--"

"`Thou shalt not bow down to them' is the command."

"Ay, but they were images of false gods."

"Read the Commandment, good wife.  They were `any graven image, or the
likeness of any thing that is in Heaven above, or in the earth beneath,
or in the waters under the earth.'  Not a word touching false gods read
I there."

"Why, but that were to condemn all manner of painting and such like--
even yon rogue's likeness of Mistress Hall yonder."

"Scarcely, methinks, so long as it were not made for worship.  The
cherubim were commanded to be made.  But if so were, wife--whether were
better, that the arts of painting and sculpture were forgotten, or that
God should be dishonoured and His commands disobeyed?"

"Well, if you put it that way--"

"Isn't it the true way?"

"Ay, belike it is.  But he'll be down on us, Nick."

"No manner of doubt, wife, but he will, and Satan too.  But `I am with
thee, and no man shall invade thee to hurt thee,' [see Note] saith the
Lord unto His servants."

"They've set on Mistress Benden, trow."

"Nay, not to hurt her.  `Some of you shall they cause to be put to
death... yet shall not an hair of your head perish.'"

"Eh, Nick, how shall that be brought about?"

"I know not, Collet, neither do I care.  The Lord's bound to bring it
about, and He knows how.  I haven't it to do."

"'Tis my belief," said Collet, shaking the table-cloth, in a fond
endeavour to obliterate the signs of Master Silas and his art, "that
Master Benden 'll have a pretty bill to pay, one o' these days!"

Her opinion would have been confirmed if she could have looked into the
window at Briton's Mead, as Mr Benden's house was called.  For Edward
Benden was already coming to that conclusion.  He sat in his lonely
parlour, without a voice to break the stillness, after an uncomfortable
supper sent up in the absence of the mistress by a girl whom Alice had
not yet fully trained, and who, sympathising wholly with her, was not
concerned to increase the comfort of her master.  At that time the
mistress of a house, unless very exalted, was always her own housekeeper
and head cook.

Mr Benden was not a man usually given to excess, but he drank deeply
that evening, to get out of the only company he had, that of his own
self-reproachful thoughts.  He had acted in haste--spurred on, not
deterred, by Tabitha's bitter speeches; and he was now occupied in
repenting considerably at leisure.  He knew as well as any one could
have told him, that he was an unpopular man in his neighbourhood, and
that no one of his acquaintance would have done or suffered much for
him, save that long-suffering wife who, by his own act, lay that night a
prisoner in Canterbury Gaol.  Even she did not love him--he had never
given her room nor reason; but she would have done her duty by him, and
he knew it.

He looked up to where her portrait hung upon the wall, taken ten years
ago, in the bloom of her youth.  The eyes were turned towards him, and
the lips were half parted in a smile.

"Alice!" he said, as if the picture could have heard him.  "Alice!"

But the portrait smiled on, and gave no answer.

"I'll have you forth, Alice," he murmured.  "I'll see to it the first
thing to-morrow.  Well, not to-morrow, neither; market-day at Cranbrook.
I meant to take the bay horse to sell there.  Do no harm, trow, to let
her tarry a two-three days or a week.  I mean you no harm, Alice; only
to bring you down a little, and make you submissive.  You're a bit too
much set on your own way, look you.  I'll go to Master Horden and Master
Colepeper, and win them to move Dick o' Dover to leave her go forth.  It
shall do her a power of good--just a few days.  And I can ne'er put up
with many suppers like this--I must have her forth.  Should have thought
o' that sooner, trow.  Ay, Alice--I'll have you out!"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note.  Most of the Scriptural quotations are taken from Cranmer's Bible.



CHAPTER SIX.

PEPPERED BROTH.

"Father!  O Father!  Must I forgive Uncle Edward?  I don't see how I
can."

"I'm afraid you must, Christie, if you look to follow Christ."

"But how can I?  To use dear Aunt Alice so cruelly!"

"How can God forgive thee and me, Christie, that have used His blessed
Son far, far worser than Uncle Edward hath used Aunt Alice, or ever
could use her?"

"Father, have you forgiven him?"

It was a hard question.  Next after his little Christie herself, the
dearest thing in the world to Roger Hall was his sister Alice.  He
hesitated an instant.

"No, you haven't," said Christie, in a tone of satisfaction.  "Then I'm
sure I don't need if _you_ haven't."

"Dost thou mean, then, to follow Roger Hall, instead of the Lord Jesus?"

Christie parried that difficult query by another.

"Father, _love_ you Uncle Edward?"

"I am trying, Christie."

"I should think you'd have to try about a hundred million years!" said
Christie.  "I feel as if I should be as glad as could be, if a big bear
would just come and eat him up!--or a great lion, I would not mind which
it was, if it wouldn't leave the least bit of him."

"But if Christ died for Uncle Edward, my child?"

"I don't see how He could.  I wouldn't."

"No, dear heart, I can well believe that.  `Scarce will any man die for
a righteous man...  But God setteth out His love toward us, seeing that
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.'  And He left us `an
ensample,' my Christie, `that we should follow His steps.'"

"I can't, Father; I can't!"

"Surely thou canst not, without the Lord make thee able.  Thou canst
never follow Christ in thine own strength.  But `His strength is made
perfect through weakness.'  I know well, my dear heart, 'tis vastly
harder to forgive them that inflict suffering on them we love dearly--
far harder than when we be the sufferers ourselves.  But God can enable
us to do even that, Christie."

Christie's long sigh, as she turned on her cushion, said that it was
almost too hard for her to believe.  But before she had found an answer,
the door opened, and Mrs Tabitha Hall appeared behind it.

"Well, Roger Hall, how love you your good brother-in-law this morrow?"
was her greeting.  "I love not his action in no wise, sister."

"What mean you by that?  Can you set a man's action in one basket, and
himself in another?  It's a strain beyond E-la, that is."  [See note.]

"We're trying to forgive Uncle Edward, Aunt," said Christie from her
couch, in a rather lugubrious tone.

"Pleasant work, isn't it?" was Aunt Tabitha's answer.  "I haven't
forgiven him, nor tried neither; nor I amn't going."

"But Father says we must."

"Very good; let him set us the ensample."

Aunt Tabitha made herself comfortable in Mr Hall's big chair, which he
vacated for her convenience.  By her side she set down her large
market-basket, covered with a clean cloth, from which at one end
protruded the legs of two geese, and at the other the handle of a new
frying-pan.

"I've been up to see him this morrow; I thought he'd best not come short
o' bitters.  But he's off to Cranbrook with his bay horse--at the least
so saith Mall--and I shall need to tarry while he comes back.  It'll not
hurt: bitters never lose strength by standing.  I'll have it out with
him again, come this even."

"Best not, Tabitha.  It should maybe turn to more bitters for poor
Alice, if you anger him yet further.  And we have no right to
interfere."

"What mean you by that, Roger Hall?" demanded Mistress Tabitha, in
warlike tones.  "No right, quotha!  If that isn't a man, all o'er!  I've
a right to tell my brother-in-law he's an infamous rascal, and I'll do
it, whether I have or no!  No right, marry come up!  Where else is he to
hear it, prithee?  You talk of forgiving him, forsooth, and Alice never
stands up to him an inch, and as for that Tom o' mine, why, he can
scarce look his own cat in the face.  Deary weary me! where would you
all be, I'd like to know, without I looked after you?  You'd let
yourselves be trod on and ground down into the dust, afore you'd do so
much as squeal.  That's not my way o' going on, and you'd best know it."

"Thank you, Sister Tabitha; I think I knew it before," said Mr Hall
quietly.

"Please, Aunt Tabitha--" Christie stopped and flushed.

"Well, child, what's ado?"

"Please, Aunt, if you wouldn't!" suggested Christie lucidly.  "You see,
I've got to forgive Uncle Edward, and when you talk like that, it makes
me boil up, and I can't."

"Boil up, then, and boil o'er," said Aunt Tabitha, half-amused.  "I'll
tarry to forgive him, at any rate, till he says he's sorry."

"But Father says God didn't wait till we were sorry, before the Lord
Jesus died for us, Aunt Tabitha."

"You learn your gram'mer to suck eggs!" was the reply.  "Well, if you're
both in that mind, I'd best be off; I shall do no good with you."  And
Aunt Tabitha swung the heavy market-basket on her strong arm as lightly
as if it were only a feather's weight.  "Good-morrow; I trust you'll
hear reason, Roger Hall, next time I see you.  Did you sup your herbs,
Christie, that I steeped for you?"

"Yes, Aunt, I thank you," said Christabel meekly, a vivid recollection
of the unsavoury flavour of the dose coming over her, and creating a
fervent hope that Aunt Tabitha would be satisfied without repeating it.

"Wormwood, and betony, and dandelion, and comfrey," said Aunt Tabitha.
"Maybe, now, you'd best have a change; I'll lay some camomile and ginger
to steep for you, with a pinch of balm--that'll be pleasant enough to
sup."

Christabel devoutly hoped it would be better than the last, but she
wisely refrained from saying so.

"As for Edward Benden, I'll mix him some wormwood and rue," resumed Aunt
Tabitha grimly: "and I'll not put honey in it neither.  Good-morrow.
You've got to forgive him, you know: much good may it do you!  It'll not
do him much, without I mistake."

And Aunt Tabitha and her basket marched away.  Looking from the window,
Mr Hall descried Mr Benden coming up a side road on the bay horse,
which he had evidently not succeeded in selling.  He laughed to himself
as he saw that Tabitha perceived the enemy approaching, and evidently
prepared for combat.  Mr Benden, apparently, did not see her till he
was nearly close to her, when he at once spurred forward to get away,
pursued by the vindictive Tabitha, whose shrill voice was audible as she
ran, though the words could not be heard.  They were not, however,
difficult to imagine.  Of course the horse soon distanced the woman.
Aunt Tabitha, with a shake of her head and another of her clenched fist
at the retreating culprit, turned back for her basket, which she had set
down on the bank to be rid of its weight in the pursuit.

Mr Benden's reflections were not so pleasant as they might have been,
and they were no pleasanter for having received curt and cold welcome
that morning from several of his acquaintances in Cranbrook.  People
manifestly disapproved of his recent action.  There were many who
sympathised but little with Alice Benden's opinions, and would even have
been gratified by the detection and punishment of a heretic, who were
notwithstanding disgusted and annoyed that a quiet, gentle, and
generally respected gentlewoman should be denounced to the authorities
by her own husband.  He, of all men, should have shielded and screened
her.  Even Justice Roberts had nearly as much as told him so.  Mr
Benden felt himself a semi-martyr.  The world was hard on disinterested
virtue, and had no sympathy with self-denial.  It is true, the world did
not know his sufferings at the hands of Mary, who could not send up a
decent hash--and who was privately of opinion that an improper hash, or
no hash at all, was quite good enough for the man who had accused her
dear mistress to the authorities.  Mr Benden was growing tired of
disinterested virtue, which was its own reward, and a very poor one.

"I can't stand this much longer; I must have Alice back!" was his
reflection as he alighted from the bay horse.

But Nemesis had no intention of letting him off thus easily.  Mistress
Tabitha Hall had carried home her geese and frying-pan, and after
roasting and eating the former with chestnut sauce, churning the week's
supply of butter, setting the bread to rise, and indicating to Friswith
and Joan, her elder daughters, what would be likely to happen to them if
the last-named article were either over or under-baked, she changed her
gown from a working woollen to an afternoon camlet, and took her way to
Briton's Mead.  Mr Benden had supped as best he might on a very tough
chicken pie, with a crust not much softer than crockery, and neither his
digestion nor his temper was in a happy condition, when Mary rapped at
the door, and much to her own satisfaction informed her master that
Mistress Hall would fain have speech of him.  Mr Benden groaned almost
audibly.  Could he by an act of will have transported Tabitha to the
further side of the Mountains of the Moon, nobody in Staplehurst would
have seen much more of her that year.  But, alas! he had to run the
gauntlet of her comments on himself and his proceedings, which he well
knew would not be complimentary.  For a full hour they were closeted
together.  Mary, in the kitchen, could faintly hear their voices, and
rejoiced to gather from the sound that, to use her own expression, "the
master was supping his broth right well peppered."  At last Mistress
Tabitha marched forth, casting a Parthian dart behind her.

"See you do, Edward Benden, without you want another basin o' hot water;
and I'll set the kettle on to boil this time, I promise you!"

"Good even, Mary," she added, as she came through the kitchen.  "He
(without any antecedent) has promised he'll do all he can to fetch her
forth; and if he doesn't, and metely soon too, he'll wish he had, that's
all!"

So saying, Mistress Tabitha marched home to inspect her bread, and if
need were, to "set the kettle on" there also.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Note: _E-la_ is the highest note in the musical system of Guido
d'Aretino, which was popular in the sixteenth century.  "A strain beyond
E-la," therefore, signified something impossible or unreasonable.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

WHEREIN ALICE COMES HOME.

Partly moved by a faint sense of remorse, partly by Mrs Tabitha's sharp
speeches, and partly also--perhaps most of all--by his private
discomfort in respect of Mary's culinary unskilfulness, Mr Benden set
himself to eat his dose of humble pie.  He waited on Mr Horden of
Finchcocks, and Mr Colepeper of Bedgebury Park, two of the chief men of
position and influence in his neighbourhood, to entreat them to exert
themselves in persuading the Bishop to release Alice as soon as
possible.  The diocese, of course, was that of Cardinal Pole; but this
portion of it was at that time in the hands of his suffragan, Dr
Richard Thornton, Bishop of Dover, whom the irreverent populace
familiarly termed Dick of Dover.  This right reverend gentleman was not
of the quiet and reasonable type of Mr Justice Roberts.  On the
contrary, he had a keen scent for a heretic, and took great delight in
bringing one into tribulation.  On receiving the letters wherein Messrs.
Horden and Colepeper interceded for Alice Benden, his Lordship ordered
the prisoner to be brought before him.

The Archbishop's gaoler went down to the prison, where Alice Benden, a
gentlewoman by birth and education, shared one large room with women of
the worst character and lowest type, some committed for slight offences,
some for heavy crimes.  These women were able to recognise in an instant
that this prisoner was of a different order from themselves.  Those who
were not fallen into the depths, treated her with some respect; but the
lowest either held aloof from her or jeered at her--mostly the latter.
Alice took all meekly; did what she could for the one or two that were
ailing, and the three or four who had babies with them; spoke words of
Gospel truth and kindly sympathy to such as would let her speak them:
and when sleep closed the eyes and quieted the tongues of most,
meditated and communed with God.  The gaoler opened the door a little
way, and just put his head into the women's room.  The prisoners might
have been thankful that there were separate chambers for men and
women...  Such luxuries were unknown in many gaols at that date.

"Alice Benden!" he said gruffly.

Alice rose, gave back to its mother a baby she had been holding, and
went towards the gaoler, who stood at the top of the stone steps which
led down from the door.

"Here I am, Master Gaoler: what would you with me?"

"Tie on your hood and follow me; you are to come afore my Lord of
Dover."

Alice's heart beat somewhat faster, as she took down her hood from one
of the pegs around the room, and followed the gaoler through a long
passage, up a flight of steps, across a courtyard, and into the hall
where the Bishop was holding his Court.  She said nothing which the
gaoler could hear: but the God in whom Alice trusted heard an earnest
cry of--"Lord, I am Thine; save Thine handmaid that trusteth in Thee!"

The gaoler led her forward to the end of a long table which stood before
the Bishop, and announced her name to his Lordship.

"Alice Benden, of Briton's Mead, Staplehurst, an' it like your
Lordship."

"Ah!" said his Lordship, in an amiable tone; "she it is touching whom I
had letters.  Come hither to me, I pray you, Mistress.  Will you now go
home, and go to church in time coming?"

That meant, would she consent to worship images, and to do reverence to
the bread of the Lord's Supper as if Christ Himself were present?  There
was no going to church in those days without that.  And that, as Alice
Benden knew, was idolatry, forbidden by God in the First and Second
Commandments.

"If I would have so done," she said in a quiet, modest tone, "I needed
not have come hither."

"Wilt thou go home, and be shriven of thy parish priest?"

"No, I will not."  Alice could not believe that a man could forgive
sins.  Only God could do that; and He did not need a man through whom to
do it.  The Lord Jesus was just as able to say to her from His throne
above, as He had once said on earth to a poor, trembling, despised
woman--"Thy sins be forgiven thee; go in peace."

Something had made "Dick of Dover" unusually gentle that afternoon.  He
only replied--"Well, go thy ways home, and go to church when thou wilt."

Alice made no answer.  She was resolved to promise nothing.  But a
priest who stood by, whether mistakenly thinking that she spoke, or kind
enough to wish to help her, answered for her--"She says she will, my
Lord."

"Enough.  Go thy ways!" said the Bishop, who seemed to wish to set her
at liberty: perhaps he was a little afraid of the influential men who
had interceded for her.  Alice, thus dismissed, walked out of the hall a
free woman.  As she came out into Palace Street, a hand was laid upon
her shoulder.

"Well, Alice!" said Edward Benden's voice.  "I wrought hard to fetch you
forth; I trust you be rightly thankful.  Come home."

Not a word did he say of the pains he had taken originally to drive her
into the prison; neither did Alice allude to that item.  She only said
in the meekest manner--"I thank you, Edward"--and followed her lord and
master down Mercery Lane towards Wincheap Gate.  She did not even ask
whether he had made any preparations for her journey home, or whether he
expected her to follow him on foot through the five-and-twenty miles
which lay between Canterbury and Staplehurst.  But when they reached the
western corner of the lane, Mr Benden stopped at the old Chequers Inn,
and in a stentorian voice demanded "that bay."  The old bay horse which
Alice knew so well, and which her husband had not succeeded in selling
for more than its worth, as he desired, was brought forth, laden with a
saddle and pillion, on the latter of which Alice took her place behind
Mr Benden.

Not a word was spoken by either during the journey.  They were about a
mile from Staplehurst, and had just turned a corner in the road, when
they were greeted by words in considerable number.

"Glad to see you!" said a brown hood--for the face inside it was not
visible.  "I reckoned you'd think better of it; but I'd got a good few
bitters steeping for you, in case you mightn't.  Well, Alice! how liked
you yonder?--did Dick o' Dover use you metely well?--and how came he to
let you go free?  Have you promised him aught?  He doesn't set folks at
liberty, most commonly, without they do.  Come, speak up, woman! and
let's hear all about it."

"I have promised nothing," said Alice calmly; "nor am I like so to do.
Wherefore the Bishop let me go free cannot I tell you; but I reckon that
Edward here wist more of the inwards thereof than I.  How go matters
with you, Tabitha?"

"Oh, as to the inwards," said the brown hood, with a short, satirical
laugh, "I guess I know as much as you or Edward either; 'twas rather the
outwards I made inquiry touching.  Me?  Oh, I'm as well as common, and
so be folks at home; I've given Friswith a fustigation, and tied up Joan
to the bedpost, and told our Tom he'd best look out.  He hasn't the
spirit of a rabbit in him.  I'd fain know where he and the childre 'd be
this day month, without I kept matters going."

"How fares Christabel, I pray you?"

"Oh, same as aforetime; never grows no better, nor no worser.  It caps
me.  She doesn't do a bit o' credit to my physicking--not a bit.  And
I've dosed her with betony, and camomile, and comfrey, and bugloss, and
hart's tongue, and borage, and mugwort, and dandelion--and twenty herbs
beside, for aught I know.  It's right unthankful of her not to mend; but
childre is that thoughtless!  And Roger, he spoils the maid--never
stands up to her a bit--gives in to every whim and fantasy she takes in
her head.  If she cried for the moon, he'd borrow every ladder in the
parish and lash 'em together to get up."

"What 'd he set it against?" gruffly demanded Mr Benden, who had not
uttered a word before.

"Well, if he set it against your conceit o' yourself, I guess he'd get
high enough--a good bit higher than other folks' conceit of you.  I
marvel if you're ashamed of yourself, Edward Benden.  I am."

"First time you ever were ashamed of yourself."

"Ashamed of _myself_?" demanded Tabitha Hall, in tones of supreme
contempt, turning her face full upon the speaker.  "You'll not butter
your bread with that pot o' dripping, Edward Benden, if you please.
You're not fit to black my shoes, let alone Alice's, and I'm right
pleased for to tell you so."

"Good even, Mistress Hall; 'tis time we were at home."

"Got a home-truth more than you wanted, haven't you?  Well, 'tis time
enough Alice was, so go your ways; but as where 'tis time you were, my
dainty master, that's the inside of Canterbury Gaol, or a worser place
if I could find it; and you've got my best hopes of seeing you there one
o' these days.  Good den."

The bay horse was admonished to use its best endeavours to reach
Briton's Mead without delay, and Mistress Tabitha, tongue and all, was
left behind on the road.

"Eh, Mistress, but I'm fain to see you!" said Mary that evening, as she
and Alice stood in the pleasant glow of the kitchen fire.  "I've had a
weary fortnight on't, with Master that contrarious, I couldn't do nought
to suit him, and Mistress Hall a-coming day by day to serve him wi'
vinegar and pepper.  Saints give folks may be quiet now!  We've had
trouble enough to last us this bout."

"I am glad to come home, Mall," was the gentle answer.  "But man is born
to trouble, and I scarce think we have seen an end of ours.  God
learneth His servants by troubles."

"Well, I wouldn't mind some folks being learned thus, but I'd fain see
other some have a holiday.  What shall I dress for supper, Mistress?
There's a pheasant and a couple of puffins, and a platter of curds and
whey, and there's a sea-pie in the larder, and a bushel o' barberries."

"That shall serve, Mall.  We had best lay in some baconed herrings for
next fish-day; your master loves them."

"Afore I'd go thinking what he loved, if I were you!"

This last reflection on Mary's part was not allowed to be audible, but
it was very earnest notwithstanding.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

REPENTING HIS REPENTANCE.

It was Saturday evening, and three days after Alice returned home.  Mr
Benden sat in the chimney-corner, having just despatched a much more
satisfactory supper than Mary had ever allowed him to see during her
mistress's imprisonment; and Alice, her household duties finished for
the day, came and sat in the opposite corner with her work.

The chimney-corner, at that date, was literally a chimney-corner.  There
were no grates, and the fire of logs blazed on a wide square hearth,
around which, and inside the chimney, was a stone seat, comfortably
cushioned, and of course extremely warm.  This was the usual evening
seat of the family, especially its elder and more honourable members.
How they contrived to stand the very close quarters to the blazing logs,
and how they managed never to set themselves on fire, must be left to
the imagination.

Alice's work this evening was knitting.  Stockings?  Certainly not; the
idea of knitted stockings had not yet dawned.  Stockings were still, as
they had been for centuries, cut out of woollen cloth, and sewn together
like any other garment.  The woman who was to immortalise her name by
the brilliant invention of knitting stockings was then a little girl,
just learning to use her needles.  What Alice was knitting this evening
was a soft woollen cap, intended for the comfort of Mr Benden's head.

The inside of the head in question was by no means so comfortable as
Alice was preparing to make the outside.  Mr Benden was pulled two
ways, and not knowing which to go, he kept trying each in turn and
retracing his steps.  He wanted to make Alice behave herself; by which
he meant, conform to the established religion as Queen Mary had
Romanised it, and go silently to church without making insubordinate
objections to idolatry, or unpleasant remarks afterwards.  This was only
to be attained, as it seemed to him, by sending her to prison.  But,
also, he wanted to keep her out of prison, and to ensure the continuance
of those savoury suppers on which his comfort and contentment depended,
and the existence of which appeared to depend on her remaining at home.
How were the two to be harmoniously combined?  Reflections of this kind
resulted in making Mr Benden a very uncomfortable man; and he was a man
with whom to be uncomfortable was to be unreasonable.

"Alice!" he said at last, after a period of silent thought Alice looked
up from her work.

"The morrow shall be Sunday."

Alice assented to that indisputable fact.

"You'll come to church with me?"

For one instant Alice was silent.  Her husband thought she was wavering
in her decision, but on that point he was entirely mistaken.  She was
doing what Nehemiah did when he "prayed to the God of heaven" between
the King's question and his answer.  Well she knew that to reply in the
negative might lead to reproach, prison, torture, even death.  Yet that
was the path of God's commandments, and no flowery By-path Meadow must
tempt her to stray from it.  In her heart she said to Him who had
redeemed her--

  "Saviour, where'er Thy steps I see,
  Dauntless, untired, I follow Thee!"

and then she calmly answered aloud, "No, Edward, that I cannot do."

"What, hath your taste of the Bishop's prison not yet persuaded you?"
returned he angrily.

"Nay, nor never will."

"Then you may look to go thither again, my mistress."

"Very well, Edward."  Her heart sank low, but she did not let him see
it.

"You'll either go to church, or here you bide by yourself."

"I thought to go and sit a while by Christie," she said.

"You'll not go out of this house.  I'll have no whisperings betwixt you
and those brethren of yours--always tuting in your ear, and setting you
up to all manner of mischief.  You'd not be so troublesome if you hadn't
Roger Hall at your back--that's my belief.  You may just keep away from
them; and if they keep not away from you, they'll maybe get what they
shall love little."

Alice was silent for a moment.  Then she said very quietly, "As you
will, Edward.  I would only ask of you one favour--that I may speak once
with Roger, to tell him your pleasure."

"I'll tell him fast enough when I see him.  Nay, my mistress: you come
not round me o' that fashion.  I'll not have him and you plotting to win
you away ere the catchpoll [constable] come to carry you hence.  You'll
tarry here, without you make up your mind to be conformable, and go to
church."

The idea of escape from the toils drawing close around her had never
entered Alice's brain till then.  Now, for one moment, it surged in wild
excitement through her mind.  The next moment it was gone.  A voice
seemed to whisper to her--

"The cup which thy Father hath given thee, wilt thou not drink it?"

Then she said tranquilly, "Be it as you will.  Because I cannot rightly
obey you in one matter, I will be the more careful in all other to order
me as you desire."

Mr Benden answered only by a sneer.  He did not believe in meekness.
In his estimation, women who pretended to be meek and submissive were
only trying to beguile a man.  In his heart he knew that this gentle
obedience was not natural to Alice, who had a high spirit and plenty of
fortitude; and instead of attributing it to the grace of God, which was
its real source, he set it down to a desire to cheat him in some
unrevealed fashion.

He went to church, and Alice stayed at home as she was bidden.  Finding
that she had done so, Mr Benden tried hard to discover that one of her
brothers had been to see her, sharply and minutely questioning Mary on
the subject.

"I told him nought," said Mary afterwards to Mistress Tabitha: "and good
reason why--there was nought to tell.  But if every man Jack of you had
been here, do you think I'd ha' let on to the likes o' him?"

A very uncomfortable fortnight followed.  Mr Benden was in the
exasperating position of the Persian satraps, when they could find no
occasion against this Daniel.  He was angry with the Bishop for
releasing Alice at his own request, angry with the neighbouring squires,
who had promoted the release, angry with Roger Hall for not allowing
himself to be found visiting his sister, most angry with Alice for
giving him no reasonable cause for anger.  The only person with whom he
was not angry was his unreasonable self.

"If it wasn't for Mistress yonder, I should be in twenty minds not to
tarry here," said Mary to Mistress Tabitha, whom she overtook in the
road as both were coming home from market.  "I'd as lief dwell in the
house with a grizzly bear as him.  How she can put up with him that meek
as she do, caps me.  Never gives him an ill word, no matter how many she
gets; and I do ensure you, Mistress Hall, his mouth is nothing pleasant.
And how do you all, I pray you? for it shall be a pleasure to my poor
mistress to hear the same.  Fares little Mistress Christabel any
better?"

"Never a whit, Mall; and I am at my wits' end to know what I shall next
do for her.  She wearies for her Aunt Alice, and will not allow of me in
her stead."

Mary felt privately but small astonishment at this.

"I sent Friswith and Justine over to tarry with her, but she seemed to
have no list to keep them; they were somewhat too quick for her, I
reckon."  By quick, Mistress Hall meant lively.  "I'll tell you what,
Mary Banks--with all reverence I speak it, but I do think I could order
this world better than it is."

"Think you so, Mistress Hall?  And how would you go to do it?"

"First business, I'd be rid of that Edward Benden.  Then I'd set Alice
in her brother Roger's house, to look after him and Christabel.  She'd
be as happy as the day is long, might she dwell with them, and had that
cantankerous dolt off her hands for good.  Eh dear! but if Master Hall,
my father-in-law, that made Alice's match with Benden, but had it to do
o'er again, I reckon he'd think twice and thrice afore he gave her to
that toad.  The foolishness o' folks is beyond belief.  Why, she might
have had Master Barnaby Final, that was as decent a man as ever stepped
in leather--he wanted her: but Benden promised a trifle better in way of
money, and Master Hall, like an ass as he was, took up wi' him.  There's
no end to men's doltishness [foolishness].  I'm homely, [plain-spoken]
you'll say, and that's true; I love so to be.  I never did care for
dressing my words with all manner o' frippery, as if they were going to
Court.  'Tis a deal the best to speak plain, and then folks know what
you're after."

When that uncomfortable fortnight came to an uncomfortable end, Mr
Benden went to church in a towering passion.  He informed such of his
friends as dared to approach him after mass, that the perversity and
obduracy of his wife were beyond all endurance on his part.  Stay
another week in his house she should not!  He would be incalculably
indebted to any friend visiting Cranbrook, if he would inform the
Justices of her wicked ways, so that she might be safely lodged again in
gaol.  An idle young man, more out of thoughtless mischief than from any
worse motive, undertook the task.

When Alice Benden appeared the second time before the Bench, it was not
with ease-loving, good-natured Justice Roberts that she had to do.  Sir
John Guildford was now the sitting magistrate, and he committed her to
prison with short examination.  But the constable, whether from pity or
for some consideration of his own convenience, did not wish to take her;
and the administration of justice being somewhat lax, she was ordered by
that official to go home until he came for her.

"Go home, forsooth!" cried Mr Benden in angry tones.  "I'll not have
her at home!"

"Then you may carry her yourself to Canterbury," returned the constable.
"I cannot go this week, and I have nobody to send."

"Give me a royal farthing, and I will!" was the savage answer.

The constable looked in his face to see if he meant it.  Then he shook
his head, dipped his hand into his purse, and pulled out half-a-crown,
which he passed to Mr Benden, who pocketed this price of blood.  Alice
had walked on down the Market Place, and was out of hearing.  Mr Benden
strode after her, with the half-crown in his pocket.



CHAPTER NINE.

ALICE DECIDES FOR HERSELF.

"Not that road, Mistress!"

Alice had nearly reached the end of the Market Place, when her husband's
harsh call arrested her.  She had been walking slowly on, so that he
might overtake her.  On hearing this, she paused and waited for him to
come up.

"That's not the way to Canterbury!" said Mr Benden, seizing her by the
wrist, and turning her round.

"I thought we were going home," said Alice quietly.

"Methinks, Mistress, there's somewhat wrong with your hearing this
morrow.  Heard you not the Justice commit you to gaol?"

"Truly I so did, Edward; but I heard also the constable to say that he
would come for me when it should stand with his conveniency, and I
reckoned it was thus settled."

"Then you reckoned without your host.  The constable hath given me money
to carry you thither without delay, and that will I with a very good
will."

"Given you money!"

Through six years of unhappy married life Alice Benden had experienced
enough of her husband's constant caprice and frequent brutality; but
this new development of it astonished her.  She had not supposed that he
would descend so far as to take the price of innocent blood.  The tone
of her voice, not indignant, but simply astonished, increased Mr
Benden's anger.  The more gently she spoke, the harsher his voice grew.
This is not unusual, when a man is engaged in wilfully doing what he
knows to be wrong.

"Verily, your hearing must be evil this morrow, Mistress!" he said, with
some wicked words to emphasise his remark.  "The constable hath paid me
a royal farthing, and here it is"--patting his pocket as he spoke--"and
I have yet to earn it.  Come, step out; we have no time to lose."

Alice came to a sudden stand-still.

"No, Edward," she said firmly.  "You shall not carry me to gaol.  I will
have a care of your character, though you little regard mine.  I pray
you, unhand me, and I will go mine own self to the constable, and
entreat him to take me, as his office and duty are."  [This part of the
story, however extraordinary, is pure fact.]

In sheer amazement, Mr Benden's hand unloosed from Alice's arm; and
seizing her opportunity, she walked rapidly back to the Court House.
For a moment he stood considering what to do.  He had little more
concern for his own reputation than for hers; but he felt that if he
followed her to the constable, he could scarcely avoid refunding that
half-crown, a thing he by no means desired to do.  This reflection
decided him.  He went quickly to the inn where he had left his horse,
mounted, and rode home, leaving Alice to her own devices, to walk home
or get taken to Canterbury in any way she could.

The constable was not less astonished than Mr Benden.  He was not
accustomed to receive visits from people begging to be taken to gaol.
He scratched his head, put it on one side and looked at Alice as if she
were a curiosity in an exhibition, then took off his cap again, and
scratched his head on the other side.

"Well, to be sure!" he said at last.  "To tell truth, my mistress, I
know not what to do with you.  I cannot mine own self win this day to
Canterbury, and I have no place to tarry you here; nor have I any to
send withal save yon lad."

He pointed as he spoke to his son, a lad of about twelve years old, who
sat on the bench by the Court House door, idly whistling, and throwing
up a pebble to catch it again.

"Then, I pray you, Master Constable," said Alice eagerly, "send the lad
with me.  I am loth to put you to this labour, but verily I am forced to
it; and methinks you may lightly guess I shall not run away from
custody."

The constable laughed, but looked undecided.

"In very deed," said he, "I see not wherefore you should not go home and
tarry there, till such time as I come to fetch you.  But if it must be,
it must.  I will go saddle mine horse, and he shall carry you to
Canterbury with George."

While the constable went to saddle the horse, and Alice sat on the bench
waiting till it was ready, she fought with a very strong temptation.
Her husband would not receive her, so much she knew for a certainty; but
there were others who would.  How welcome Roger would have made her! and
what a perfect haven of rest it would be, to live even for a few days
with him and Christabel!  Her old father, too, at Frittenden, who had
told her not many days before, with tears in his eyes, how bitterly he
repented ever giving her to Edward Benden.  It must be remembered that
in those days girls were never permitted to choose for themselves,
whether they wished to marry a man or not; the parents always decided
that point, and sometimes, as in this instance, they came to a sadly
mistaken decision.  Alice had not chosen her husband, and he had never
given her any reason to love him; but she had done her best to be a good
wife, and even now she would not depart from it.  The temptation was
sore, and she almost gave way under it.  But the constant habit of
referring everything to God stood her in good stead in this emergency.
To go and stay with her brother, whose visits to her Mr Benden had
forbidden, would be sure to create a scandal, and to bring his name into
even worse repute than it was at present.  She must either be at
Briton's Mead or in Canterbury Gaol; and just now the gaol was the only
possible place for her.  Be it so!  God would go with her into the
gaol--perhaps more certainly than into Roger's home.  And the place
where she could be sure of having God with her was the place where Alice
chose and wished to be.

Her heart sank heavily as she heard the great door of the gaol clang to
behind her.  Alice was made of no materials more all-enduring than flesh
and blood.  She could enjoy rest and pleasantness quite as well as other
people.  And she wondered drearily, as she went down the steps into the
women's room, how long she was to stay in that unrestful and unpleasant
place.

"Why, are you come again?" said one of the prisoners, as Alice descended
the steps.  "What, you wouldn't conform?  Well, no more would I."

Alice recognised the face of a decent-looking woman who had come in the
same day that she was released, and in whom she had felt interested at
the time from her quiet, tidy appearance, though she had no opportunity
of speaking to her.  She sat down now on the bench by her side.

"Are you here for the like cause, friend?  I mind your face, methinks,
though I spake not to you aforetime."

"Ay, we row in the same boat," said the woman with a pleasant smile,
"and may as well make us known each to other.  My name's Rachel Potkin,
and I come from Chart Magna: I'm a widow, and without children left to
me, for which I thank the Lord now, though I've fretted o'er it many a
time.  Strange, isn't it, we find it so hard to remember that He sees
the end from the beginning, and so hard to believe that He is safe to do
the best for us?"

"Ay, and yet not strange," said Alice with a sigh.  "Life's weary work
by times."

"It is so, my dear heart," answered Rachel, laying a sympathising hand
on Alice's.  "But, bethink you, He's gone through it.  Well, and what's
your name?"

"My name is Alice Benden, from Staplehurst."

"Are you a widow?"

Had Tabitha been asked that question in the same circumstances, she
would not improbably have replied, "No; worse luck!"  But Alice, as we
have seen, was tender over her husband's reputation.  She only returned
a quiet negative.  Rachel, whose eyes were keen, and ears ditto, heard
something in the tone, and saw something in the eyes, which Alice had no
idea was there to see and hear, that made her say to herself, "Ah, poor
soul! he's a bad sort, not a doubt of it."  Aloud she only said,--

"And how long look you to be here--have you any notion?"

Prisoners in our milder days are committed to prison for a certain term.
In those days there was no fixed limit.  A man never knew for a
certainty, when he entered the prison, whether he would remain there for
ten days or for fifty years.  He could only guess from appearances how
long it might be likely to be.

"Truly, friend, that know I not.  God knoweth."

"Well said, Mistress Benden.  Let us therefore give thanks, and take our
hearts to us."

Just then the gaoler came up to them.

"Birds of a feather, eh?" said he, with not unkindly humour.  For a
gaoler, he was not a hard man.  "Mistress Benden, your allowance is
threepence by the day--what shall I fetch you?"

The prisoners were permitted to buy their own food through the prison
officials, up to the value of their daily allowance.  Alice considered a
moment.

"A pennyworth of bread, an' it like you, Master; a farthing's worth of
beef; a farthing's worth of eggs; and a pennyworth of ale.  The
halfpenny, under your good pleasure, I will keep in hand."

Does the reader exclaim, Was that the whole day's provision?  Indeed it
was, and a very fair day's provision too.  For this money Alice would
receive six rolls or small loaves of bread, a pound of beef, two eggs,
and a pint of ale,--quite enough for supper and breakfast.  The ale was
not so much as it seems, for they drank ale at every meal, even
breakfast, only invalids using milk.  To drink water was thought a
dreadful hardship, and they had no tea or coffee.

The gaoler nodded and departed.

"Look you, Mistress Benden," said Rachel Potkin, "I have thought by
times to try, being here in this case, on how little I could live, so as
to try mine endurance, and fit me so to do if need were.  Shall we essay
it together, think you?  Say I well?"

"Very well, Mistress Potkin; I were fain to make the trial.  How much is
your allowance by the day?"

"The like of yours--threepence."

"We will try on how little we can keep in fair health," said Alice with
a little laugh, "and save our money for time of more need.  On what
shall we do it, think you?"

"Why, I reckon we may look to do it on fourpence betwixt us."

"Oh, surely!" said Alice.  "Threepence, I well-nigh think."

While this bargain was being made, Mr Benden sat down to supper, a pork
pie standing before him, a dish of toasted cheese to follow, and a
frothed tankard of ale at his elbow.  Partly owing to her mistress's
exhortations, Mary had changed her tactics, and now sought to mollify
her master by giving him as good a supper as she knew how to serve.  But
Mr Benden was hard to please this evening.  "The pork is as tough as
leather," he declared; "the cheese is no better than sawdust, and the
ale is flat as ditch-water."  And he demanded of Mary, in rasping tones,
if she expected such rubbish to agree with him?

"Ah!" said Mary to herself as she shut the door on him, "'tis your
conscience, Master, as doesn't agree with you."



CHAPTER TEN.

TRYING EXPERIMENTS.

Old Grandfather Hall had got a lift in a cart from Frittenden, and came
to spend the day with Roger and Christabel.  It was a holy-day, for
which cause Roger was at home, for in those times a holy-day was always
a holiday, and the natural result was that holiday-making soon took the
place of keeping holy.  Roger's leisure days were usually spent by the
side of his little Christie.

"Eh, Hodge, my lad!" said Grandfather Hall, shaking his white head, as
he sat leaning his hands upon his silver-headed staff, "but 'tis a
strange dispensation this!  Surely I never looked for such as this in
mine old age.  But 'tis my blame--I do right freely confess 'tis my
blame.  I reckoned I wrought for the best; I meant nought save my maid's
happiness: but I see now I had better have been content with fewer of
the good things of this life for the child, and have taken more thought
for an husband that feared God.  Surely I meant well,--yet I did evil; I
see it now."

"Father," said Roger, with respectful affection, "I pray you, remember
that God's strange dispensations be at times the best things He hath to
give us, and that of our very blunders He can make ladders to lift us
nearer to Himself."

"Ay, lad, thou hast the right; yet must I needs be sorry for my poor
child, that suffereth for my blunder.  Hodge, I would thou wouldst visit
her."

"That will I, Father, no further than Saint Edmund's Day, the which you
wot is next Tuesday.  Shall I bear her any message from you?"

Old Mr Hall considered an instant; then he put his hand into his purse,
and with trembling fingers pulled out a new shilling.

"Bear her this," said he; "and therewithal my blessing, and do her to
wit that I am rarely troubled for her trouble.  I cannot say more, lest
it should seem to reflect upon her husband: but I would with all mine
heart--"

"Well, Nell!" said a voice in the passage outside which everybody knew.
"Your master's at home, I count, being a holy-day?  The old master here
likewise?--that's well.  There, take my pattens, that's a good maid.
I'll tarry a bit to cheer up the little mistress."

"Oh dear!" said Christabel in a whisper, "Aunt Tabitha won't cheer me a
bit; she'll make me boil over.  And I'm very near it now; I'm sure I
must be singing!  If she'd take me off and put me on the hob!  Aunt
Alice would, if it were she."

"Good-morrow!" said Aunt Tabitha's treble tones, which allowed no one
else's voice to be heard at the same time.  "Give you good-morrow,
Father, and the like to thee, Christie.  Well, Roger, I trust you're in
a forgiving mood _this_ morrow?  You'll have to hammer at it a while, I
reckon, afore you can make out that Edward Benden's an innocent cherub.
I'd as lief wring that man's neck as eat my dinner!--and I mean to tell
him so, too, afore I do it."

Aunt Tabitha left her sentence grammatically ambiguous, but practically
lucid enough to convey a decided impression that a rod for Mr Benden
was lying in tolerably sharp pickle.

"Daughter," said old Mr Hall, "methinks you have but a strange notion
of forgiveness, if you count that it lieth in a man's persuading himself
that the offender hath done him no wrong.  To forgive as God forgiveth,
is to feel and know the wrong to the full, and yet, notwithstanding the
same, to pardon the offender."

"And in no wise to visit his wrong upon him?  Nay, Father; that'd not
a-pay me, I warrant you."

"That a man should escape the natural and temporal consequences of his
evil doing, daughter, is not the way that God forgives.  He rarely
remits that penalty: more often he visits it to the full.  But he loveth
the offender through all, and seeks to purge away his iniquity and
cleanse his soul."

"Well-a-day!  I can fashion to love Edward Benden that way," said
Tabitha, perversely misinterpreting her father-in-law's words.  "I'll
mix him a potion 'll help to cleanse his disorder, you'll see.  Bitters
be good for sick folks; and he's grievous sick.  I met Mall a-coming;
she saith he snapped her head right off yester-even."

"Oh dear!" said literal Christie.  "Did she get it put on again, Aunt
Tabitha, before you saw her?"

"It was there, same as common," replied Tabitha grimly.

"He's not a happy man, or I mistake greatly," remarked Roger Hall.

"He'll not be long, if I can win at him," announced Tabitha, more grimly
still.  "Good lack! there he is, this minute, crossing the Second Acre
Close--see you him not?  Nell, my pattens--quick!  I'll have at him
while I may!"

And Tabitha flew.

Christabel, who had lifted her head to watch the meeting, laid it down
again upon her cushions with a sigh.  "Aunt Tabitha wearies me, Father,"
she said, answering Roger's look of sympathetic concern, "She's like a
blowy wind, that takes such a deal out of you.  I wish she'd come at me
a bit quieter.  Father, don't you think the angels are very quiet folks?
I couldn't think they'd come at me like Aunt Tabby."

"The angels obey the Lord, my Christie, and the Lord is very gentle.  He
`knoweth our frame,' and `remembereth that we are but dust.'"

"I don't feel much like dust," said Christie meditatively.  "I feel more
like strings that somebody had pulled tight till it hurt.  But I do wish
Aunt Tabitha would obey the Lord too, Father.  I can't think _she_ knows
our frame, unless hers is vastly unlike mine."

"I rather count it is, Christie," said Roger.

Mr Benden had come out for his airing in an unhappy frame of mind, and
his interview with Tabitha sent him home in a worse.  Could he by an
effort of will have obliterated the whole of his recent performances, he
would gladly have done it; but as this was impossible, he refused to
confess himself in the wrong.  He was not going to humble himself, he
said gruffly--though there was nobody to hear him--to that spiteful cat
Tabitha.  As to Alice, he was at once very angry with her, and very much
put out by her absence.  It was all her fault, he said again.  Why could
she not behave herself at first, and come to church like a reasonable
woman, and as everybody else did?  If she had stood out for a new dress,
or a velvet hood, he could have understood it; but these new-fangled
nonsensical fancies nobody could understand.  Who could by any
possibility expect a sensible man to give in to such rubbish?

So Mr Benden reasoned himself into the belief that he was an ill-used
martyr, Alice a most unreasonable woman, and Tabitha a wicked fury.
Having no principles himself, that any one else should have them was
both unnecessary and absurd in his eyes.  He simply could not imagine
the possibility of a woman caring so much for the precepts or the glory
of God, that she was ready for their sakes to brave imprisonment,
torture, or death.

Meanwhile Alice and her fellow-prisoner, Rachel Potkin, were engaged in
trying their scheme of living on next to nothing.  We must not forget
that even poor people, at that time, lived much better than now, so far
as eating is concerned.  The Spanish noblemen who came over with Queen
Mary's husband were greatly astonished to find the English peasants, as
they said, "living in hovels, and faring like princes."  The poorest
then never contented themselves with plain fare, such as we think tea
and bread, which are now nearly all that many poor people see from one
year's end to another.  Meat, eggs, butter, and much else were too cheap
to make it necessary.

So Alice and Rachel arranged their provisions thus: every two days they
sent for two pounds of mutton, which cost some days a farthing, and some
a halfpenny; twelve little loaves of bread, at 2 pence; a pint and a
half of claret, or a quart of ale, cost 2 pence more.  The halfpenny,
which was at times to spare, they spent on four eggs, a few rashers of
bacon, or a roll of butter, the price of which was fourpence-halfpenny
the gallon.  Sometimes it went for salt, an expensive article at that
time.  Now and then they varied their diet from mutton to beef; but of
this they could get only half the quantity for their halfpenny.  On
fish-days, then rigidly observed, of course they bought fish instead of
meat.  For a fortnight they kept up this practice, which to them seemed
far more of a hardship than it would to us; they were accustomed to a
number of elaborate dishes, with rich sauces, in most of which wine was
used; and mere bread and meat, or even bread and butter, seemed very
poor, rough eating.  Perhaps, if our ancestors had been content with
simpler cookery, their children in the present day would have had less
trouble with doctors' bills.

Roger Hall visited his sister, as he had said, on Saint Edmund's Day,
the sixteenth of November.  He found her calm, and even cheerful, very
much pleased with her father's message and gift, and concerned that Mary
should follow her directions to make Mr Benden comfortable.  That she
forgave him she never said in words, but all her actions said it
strongly.  Roger had to curb his own feelings as he promised to take the
message to this effect which Alice sent to Mary.  But Alice could pretty
well see through his face into his heart, and into Mary's too; and she
looked up with a smile as she added a few words:--

"Tell Mall," she said, "that if she love me, and would have me yet again
at home, methinks this were her wisest plan."

Roger nodded, and said no more.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

TABITHA'S BASKET.

Of all the persons concerned in our story at this juncture, the least
unhappy was Alice Benden in Canterbury Gaol, and the most miserable was
Edward Benden at Briton's Mead.  His repentance was longer this time in
coming, but his suffering and restlessness certainly were not so.  He
tried all sorts of ways to dispel them in vain.  First, he attempted to
lose himself in his library, for he was the rich possessor of twenty-six
volumes, eight of which were romances of chivalry, wherein valiant
knights did all kinds of impossibilities at the behest of fair damsels,
rescued enchanted princesses, slew two-headed giants, or wandered for
months over land and sea in quest of the Holy Grail, which few of them
were sufficiently good even to see, and none to bring back to Arthur's
Court.  But Mr Benden found that the adventures of Sir Isumbras, or the
woes of the Lady Blanchefleur, were quite incapable of making him forget
the very disagreeable present.  Then he tried rebuilding and newly
furnishing a part of his house; but that proved even less potent to
divert his thoughts than the books.  Next he went into company, laughed
and joked with empty-headed people, played games, sang, and amused
himself in sundry ways, and came home at night, to feel more solitary
and miserable than before.  Then, in desperation, he sent for the barber
to bleed him, for our forefathers had a curious idea that unless they
were bled once or twice a year, especially in spring, they would never
keep in good health.  We perhaps owe some of our frequent poverty of
blood to that fancy.  The only result of this process was to make Mr
Benden feel languid and weak, which was not likely to improve his
spirits.  Lastly, he went to church, and was shriven--namely, confessed
his sins, and was absolved by the priest.  He certainly ought to have
been happy after that, but somehow the happiness would not come.  He did
not know what to do next.

All these performances had taken some time.  Christmas came and passed--
Christmas, with its morning mass and evening carols, its nightly waits,
its mummers or masked itinerant actors, its music and dancing, its games
and sports, its plum-porridge, mince-pies, and wassail-bowl.  There were
none of these things for Alice Benden in her prison, save a mince-pie,
to which she treated herself and Rachel: and there might as well have
been none for her husband, for he was unable to enjoy one of them.  The
frosts and snows of January nipped the blossoms, and hardened the roads,
and made it difficult work for Roger Hall to get from Staplehurst to
Canterbury: yet every holy-day his pleasant face appeared at the window
of the gaol, and he held a short sympathising chat with Alice.  The
gaoler and the Bishop's officers came to know him well.  It is a wonder,
humanly speaking, that he was never arrested during these frequent
visits: but God kept him.

"Good den, Alice," he said as he took leave of her on the evening of
Saint Agnes' Day, the twenty-first of January.  "I shall scarce,
methinks, win hither again this month; but when our Lady Day next
cometh, I will essay to see thee.  Keep a good heart, my sister, and God
be with thee."

"I do so, Roger," replied Alice cheerily.  "Mistress Potkin here is a
rare comfort unto me; and God is in Canterbury Gaol no less than at
Staplehurst.  I would fain, 'tis true, have been able to come and
comfort Christie; but the Lord can send her a better help than mine.
Give my loving commendations to the sweet heart, and may God reward thee
for the brave comfort thou hast been to me all this winter!  Farewell."

The next day, another and a less expected visitor presented himself.  A
tired bay horse drooped its weary head at the door of the Bishop's
Palace, and a short, thick-set, black-haired man, with bushy eyebrows,
inquired if he might be allowed to speak with his Lordship.  The Bishop
ordered him to be admitted.

"Well, and what would you, my son?" he asked condescendingly of the
applicant.

"An't like your Lordship, my name is Edward Benden, of Staplehurst, and
I do full reverently seek the release of my wife, that is in your gaol
for heresy."

The Bishop shook his head.  He had before now held more than one
interview with Alice, and had found that neither promises nor threats
had much weight with her.  Very sternly he answered--"She is an
obstinate heretic, and will not be reformed.  I cannot deliver her."

"My Lord," responded Mr Benden, "she has a brother, Roger Hall, that
resorteth unto her.  If your Lordship could keep him from her, she would
turn; for he comforteth her, giveth her money, and persuadeth her not to
return."

"Well!" said the Bishop.  "Go home, good son, and I will see what I can
do."  [This conversation is historical.]

If Mr Benden had not been in a brown study as he went into the Chequers
to "sup his four-hours"--in modern phrase, to have his tea--and to give
his horse a rest and feed before returning home, he would certainly have
recognised two people who were seated in a dark corner of the inn
kitchen, and had come there for the same purpose.  The man kept his hat
drawn over his face, and slunk close into the corner as though he were
anxious not to be seen.  The woman sat bolt upright, an enormous, full
basket on the table at her right hand, and did not appear to care in the
least whether she were seen or not.

"Is yon maid ever a-coming with the victuals?" she inquired in a rather
harsh treble voice.

"Do hush, Tabby!" said the man in the most cautious of whispers.  "Didst
not see him a moment since?"

"Who?  Dick o' Dover?"

"Tabitha!" was the answer in a voice of absolute agony.  "Do, for
mercy's sake!--Edward."

The last word was barely audible a yard away.

Mrs Hall turned round in the coolest manner, and gazed about till she
caught sight of her brother-in-law, who happened to have his back to the
corner in which they were seated, and was watching two men play at
dominoes while he waited for his cakes and ale.

"Humph!" she said, turning back again.  "Thomas Hall, I marvel if there
be this even an hare in any turnip-field in Kent more 'feared of the
hounds than you.--Well, Joan, thou hast ta'en thy time o'er these
cakes."

The last remark was addressed to the waitress, who replied with an
amused smile--

"An't like you, Mistress, my name's Kate."

"Well said, so thou bringest us some dainty cates [delicacies].--Now,
Tom, help yourself, and pass that tankard."

"Tabitha, he'll hear!"

"Let him hear.  I care not an almond if he hear every word I say.  He'll
hear o' t'other side his ears if he give us any trouble."

Mr Benden had heard the harsh treble voice, and knew it.  But he was as
comically anxious as Thomas Hall himself that he and the fair Tabitha
should not cross each other's path that evening.  To run away he felt to
be an undignified proceeding, and if Tabitha had set her mind on
speaking to him, utterly useless.  Accordingly, he kept his back
carefully turned to her, and professed an absorbing interest in the
dominoes.

The cakes and ale having received due attention, Mr Hall paid the bill,
and slunk out of the door, with the stealthy air and conscious face of a
man engaged in the commission of a crime.  Mrs Hall, on the contrary,
took up her big basket with the open, leisurely aspect of virtue which
had nothing to fear, and marched after her husband out of the Chequers.

"Now then, Thomas Hall, whither reckon you to be a-going?" she inquired,
before she was down the steps of the inn, in a voice which must have
penetrated much further than to the ears of Mr Benden in the kitchen.
"Not that way, numskull!--to the left."

Poor Thomas, accustomed to these conjugal amenities, turned meekly round
and trotted after his Tabitha, who with her big basket took the lead,
and conducted him in a few minutes to the door of the gaol.

"Good den, Master Porter!  We be some'at late for visitors, but needs
must.  Pray you, may we have speech of Mistress Benden, within here?"

The porter opened the wicket, and they stepped inside.

"You're nigh on closing time," said he.  "Only half-an-hour to spare."

"I can do my business in half-an-hour, I thank you," replied Tabitha,
marching across the courtyard.

The porter, following them, unlocked the outer door, and locked it again
after them.  To the gaoler who now received them they repeated their
errand, and he produced another key, wherewith he let them into the
women's prison.  Alice and Rachel were talking together in the corner of
the room, and Tabitha set down herself and her basket by the side of her
sister-in-law.

"Good even, Alice!" she said, leaving her husband to see after himself,
as she generally did.  "We're a bit late, but better late than never, in
especial when the ship carrieth a good cargo.  Here have I brought you a
couple of capons, a roll of butter, a jar of honey, and another of
marmalade, a piece of a cheese, a goose-pie baken with lard, a pot o'
green ginger, and nutmegs.  I filled up with biscuits and reasons."

By which last word Mistress Tabitha meant to say that she had filled the
interstices of her basket, not with intelligent motives, but with dried
grapes.

"I con you right hearty thanks, Sister Tabitha," said Alice warmly, "for
so rich provision!  Verily, but it shall make a full pleasant change in
our meagre diet; for my friend here, that hath been a mighty comfort
unto me, must share in all my goods.  'Tis marvellous kindly in you to
have thus laden yourself for our comforts.  Good even, Tom!  I am fain
to behold thee.  I trust you and all yours be well?"

"Maids lazy, Father 'plaining of pains in his bones, Christabel as is
common, Roger well, Mary making o' candles," replied Tabitha rapidly.
"As for yon ill-doing loon of a husband of yours, he's eating cakes and
supping ale at the Chequers Inn."

"Edward here!" repeated Alice in surprised tones.

"Was when we came forth," said Tabitha, who while she talked was busy
unlading her basket.  "Hope your lockers 'll hold 'em.  Time to close--
good even!  No room for chatter, Thomas Hall--say farewell, and march!"

And almost without allowing poor Thomas a moment to kiss his imprisoned
sister, and beg her to "keep her heart up, and trust in the Lord,"
Mistress Tabitha swept him out of the door in front of her, and with the
big basket on her arm, lightened of its savoury contents, marched him
off to the Chequers for the horse.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

PANDORA.

In the projecting oriel window of a very pleasant sitting-room, whose
inside seat was furnished with blue velvet cushions, sat a girl of
seventeen years, dressed in velvet of the colour then known as
lion-tawny, which was probably a light yellowish-brown.  It was trimmed,
or as she would have said, turned up, with satin of the same colour, was
cut square, but high, at the throat, and finished by gold embroidery
there and on the cuffs.  A hood of dark blue satin covered her head, and
came down over the shoulders, set round the front with small pearls in a
golden frame shaped somewhat like a horseshoe.  She was leaning her head
upon one hand, and looking out of the window with dreamy eyes that
evidently saw but little of the landscape, and thinking so intently that
she never perceived the approach of another girl, a year or two her
senior, and similarly attired, but with a very different expression in
her lively, mischievous eyes.  The hands of the latter came down on the
shoulders of the meditative maiden so suddenly that she started and
almost screamed.  Then, looking up, a faint smile parted her lips, and
the intent look left her eyes.

"Oh! is it you, Gertrude?"

"Dreaming, as usual, Pan?  Confess now, that you wist not I was in the
chamber."

"I scarce did, True."  The eyes were growing grave and thoughtful again.

"Sweet my lady!--what conneth she, our Maiden Meditation?  Doth she
essay to find the philosopher's stone?--or be her thoughts of the true
knight that is to bend low at her feet, and whisper unto her some day
that he loveth none save her?  I would give a broad shilling for the
first letter of his name."

"You must give it, then, to some other than me.  Nay, True; my fantasies
be not of thy lively romancing sort.  I was but thinking on a little
maid that I saw yester-even, in our walk with Aunt Grena."

"What, that dainty little conceit that came up to the house with her
basket of needlework that her mother had wrought for Aunt Grena?  She
was a pretty child, I allow."

"Oh no, not Patience Bradbridge.  My little maid was elder than she, and
lay on a day-bed within a compassed window.  I marvelled who she were."

"Why, you surely mean that poor little whitefaced Christabel Hall!
She's not pretty a whit--without it be her hair; she hath fair hair that
is not over ill.  But I marvel you should take a fantasy to her; there
is nought taking about the child."

"You alway consider whether folks be pretty, Gertrude."

"Of course I do.  So doth everybody."

"I don't."

"Oh, you!  You are not everybody, Mistress Dorrie."

"No, I am but one maid.  But I would fain be acquaint with that child.
What said you were her name?  All seems strange unto me, dwelling so
long with Grandmother; I have to make acquaintance with all the folks
when I return back home."

"Christabel Hall is her name; she is daughter to Roger Hall, the manager
at our works, and he and she dwell alone; she hath no mother."

"No mother, hath she?--and very like none to mother her.  Ah, now I
conceive her looks."

"I marvel what you would be at, Pandora.  Why, you and I have no mother,
but I never mewled and moaned thereafter."

"No, Gertrude, I think you never did."

"Aunt Grena hath seen to all we lacked, hath not she?"

"Aunt is very kind, and I cast no doubt she hath seen to all you
lacked."  Pandora's tone was very quiet, with a faint pathos in it.

"Why, Dorrie, what lacked you that I did not?" responded Gertrude,
turning her laughing face towards her sister.

"Nothing that I could tell you, True.  What manner of man is this Roger
Hall?"

"A right praisable man, Father saith, if it were not for one disorder in
him, that he would fain see amended: and so being, Dorrie, I scarce
think he shall be a-paid to have you much acquaint with his little maid,
sithence he hath very like infected her with his foolish opinions."

"What, is he of the new learning?"

Gertrude failed to see the sudden light which shot into Pandora's eyes,
as she dropped them on the cushion in the endeavour to smooth an
entangled corner of the fringe.

"That, and no less.  You may guess what Father and Aunt reckon thereof."

"Father was that himself, Gertrude, only five years gone, when I went to
dwell in Lancashire."

"Pan, my dear heart, I do pray thee govern thy tongue.  It maybe
signifies but little what folks believe up in the wilds and forests
yonder, and in especial amongst the witches: but bethink thee, we be
here within a day's journey or twain of the Court, where every man's
eyes and ears be all alive to see and hear news.  What matters it what
happed afore Noah went into the ark?  We be all good Catholics now, at
the least.  And, Pan, we desire not to be burned; at all gates, I don't,
if you do."

"Take your heart to you, sister; my tongue shall do you none ill.  I can
keep mine own counsel, and have ere now done the same."

"Then, if you be so discreet, you can maybe be trusted to make
acquaintance with Christie.  But suffer not her nor Roger to win you
from the true Catholic faith."

"I think there is little fear," said Pandora quietly.

The two sisters were nieces of Mr Justice Roberts, and daughters of Mr
Roberts of Primrose Croft, who was owner of the works of which Roger
Hall was manager.  Theirs was one of the aristocratic houses of the
neighbourhood, and themselves a younger branch of an old county family
which dated from the days of Henry the First.  The head of that house,
Mr Roberts of Glassenbury, would almost have thought it a condescension
to accept a peerage.  The room in which the girls sat was handsomely
furnished according to the tastes of the time.  A curtain of rich shot
silk--"changeable sarcenet" was the name by which they knew it--screened
off the window end of it at pleasure; a number of exceedingly
stiff-looking chairs, the backs worked in tapestry, were ranged against
the wall opposite the fire; a handsome chair upholstered in blue velvet
stood near the fireplace.  Velvet stools were here and there about the
room, and cushions, some covered with velvet, some with crewel-work,
were to be seen in profusion.  They nearly covered the velvet settle, at
one side of the fire, and they nestled in soft, plumy, inviting fashion,
into the great Flanders chair on the other side.  In one corner was "a
chest of coffins"--be not dismayed, gentle reader! the startling phrase
only meant half-a-dozen boxes, fitting inside each other in graduated
sizes.  Of course there was a cupboard, and equally of course the
white-washed walls were hung with tapestry, wherein a green-kirtled
Diana, with a ruff round her neck and a farthingale of sufficient
breadth, drew a long arrow against a stately stag of ten, which, short
of outraging the perspective, she could not possibly hit.  A door now
opened in the corner of the room, and admitted a lady of some forty
years, tall and thin, and excessively upright, having apparently been
more starched in her mind and carriage than in her dress.  Pandora
turned to her.

"Aunt Grena, will you give me leave to make me acquainted with Master
Hall's little maid--he that manageth the cloth-works?"

Aunt Grena pursed up her lips and looked doubtful; but as that was her
usual answer to any question which took her by surprise, it was not
altogether disheartening.

"I will consult my brother," she said stiffly.

Mr Roberts, who was a little of the type of his brother the Justice,
having been consulted, rather carelessly replied that he saw no reason
why the maid should not amuse herself with the child if she wished it.
Leave was accordingly granted.  But Aunt Grena thought it necessary to
add to it a formidable lecture, wherein Pandora was warned of all
possible and impossible dangers that might accrue from the satisfaction
of her desire, embellished with awful anecdotes of all manner of
misfortunes which had happened to girls who wanted or obtained their own
way.

"And methinks," concluded Mistress Grena, "that it were best I took you
myself to Master Hall's house, there to see the maid, and make sure that
she shall give you no harm."

Gertrude indulged herself in a laugh when her aunt had departed.

"Aunt Grena never can bear in mind," she said, "that you and I, Pan, are
above six years old.  Why, Christie Hall was a babe in the cradle when I
was learning feather-stitch."

"Laugh not at Aunt Grena, True.  She is the best friend we have, and the
kindliest."

"Bless you, Dorrie!  I mean her no ill, dear old soul!  Only I believe
she never was a young maid, and she thinks we never shall be.  And I'll
tell you, there was some mistake made in my being the elder of us.  It
should have been you, for you are the soberer by many a mile."

Pandora smiled.  "I have dwelt with Grandmother five years," she said.

"Well, and haven't I dwelt with Aunt Grena well-nigh nineteen years?
No, Pan, that's not the difference.  It lieth in the nature of us two.
I am a true Roberts, and you take after our mother's folks."

"Maybe so.  Will you have with us, True, to Master Hall's?"

"I?  Gramercy, no!  I'm none so fond of sick childre."

"Christie is not sick, so to speak, Bridget saith; she is but lame and
weak."

"Well, then she is sick, so _not_ to speak!  She alway lieth of a couch,
and I'll go bail she whines and mewls enough o'er it."

"Nay, Bridget saith she is right full of cheer, and most patient,
notwithstanding her maladies.  And, True, the poor little maid is alone
the whole day long, save on holy-days, when only her father can be with
her.  Wouldst thou not love well to bring some sunshine into her little
life?"

"Did I not tell you a minute gone, Pandora Roberts, that you and I were
cast in different moulds?  No, my Minorite Sister, I should not love
it--never a whit.  I want my sunshine for mine own life--not to brighten
sick maids and polish up poor childre.  Go your ways, O best of
Pandoras, and let me be.  I'll try over the step of that new minuet
while you are gone."

"And would you really enjoy that better than being kind to a sick child?
O True, you do astonish me!"

"I should.  I never was cut out for a Lady Bountiful.  I could not do
it, Dorrie--not for all the praises and blessings you expect to get."

"Gertrude, _did_ you think--"

"An't like you, Mistress Pandora, the horses be at the door, and
Mistress Grena is now full ready."



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

A NEW FRIEND FOR CHRISTABEL.

"O Aunt Tabitha! have you and Uncle Thomas been to Canterbury? and did
you really see dear Aunt Alice?  How looks she? and what said she?  I do
want to know, and Father never seems to see, somehow, the things I want.
Of course I would not--he's the best father that ever was, Aunt
Tabitha, and the dearest belike; but somehow, he seems not to _see_
things--"

"He's a man," said Aunt Tabitha, cutting short Christabel's laboured
explanation; "and men never do see, child.  They haven't a bit of
gumption, and none so much wit.  Ay, we've been; but we were late, and
hadn't time to tarry.  Well, she looks white belike, as folks alway do
when they be shut up from the air; but she seems in good health, and in
good cheer enough.  She was sat of the corner, hard by a woman that
hath, said she, been a good friend unto her, and a right comfort, and
who, said she, must needs have a share in all her good things."

"Oh, I'm glad she has a friend in that dreadful place!  What's her name,
Aunt, an' it like you?"

"Didn't say."

"But I would like to pray for her," said Christie with a disappointed
look; "and I can't say, `Bless that woman.'"

"Why not?" said Aunt Tabitha bluntly.  "Art 'feared the Lord shall be
perplexed to know which woman thou meanest, and go and bless the wrong
one?"

"Why, no!  He'll know, of course.  And, please, has Aunt Alice a cushion
for her back?"

Tabitha laughed curtly.  "Cushions grow not in prisons, child.  Nay,
she's never a cushion."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" said Christie mournfully.  "And I've got three!  I wish
I could give her one of mine."

"Well, I scarce reckon she'd have leave to keep it, child.  Howbeit,
thou canst pray thy father to make inquiration."

"Oh ay!  I'll pray Father to ask.  Thank you, Aunt Tabitha.  Was Aunt
Alice very, very pleased to see you?"

"Didn't ask her.  She said some'at none so far off it.  Dear heart! but
what ado is here?"

And Tabitha rose to examine the details of the "ado."  Two fine horses
stood before the gate, each laden with saddle and pillion, the former
holding a serving-man, and the latter a lady.  From a third horse the
rider, also a man-servant in livery, had alighted, and he was now coming
to help the ladies down.  They were handsomely dressed, in a style which
showed them to be people of some consequence: for in those days the
texture of a woman's hood, the number of her pearls, and the breadth of
her lace and fur were carefully regulated by sumptuary laws, and woe
betide the esquire's daughter, or the knight's wife, who presumed to
poach on the widths reserved for a Baroness!

"Bless us! whoever be these?" inquired Tabitha of nobody in particular.
"I know never a one of their faces.  Have they dropped from the clouds?"

"Perhaps it's a mistake," suggested Christie.

"Verily, so I think," rejoined her aunt.  "I'd best have gone myself to
them--I'm feared Nell shall scarce--"

But Nell opened the door with the astonishing announcement of--"Mistress
Grena Holland, and Mistress Pandora Roberts, to visit the little
mistress."

If anything could have cowed or awed Tabitha Hall, it would certainly
have been that vision of Mistress Grena, in her dress of dark blue
velvet edged with black fur, and her tawny velvet hood with its gold-set
pearl border.  She recognised instinctively the presence of a woman
whose individuality was almost equal to her own, with the education and
bearing of a gentlewoman added to it.  Christabel was astonished at the
respectful way in which Aunt Tabitha rose and courtesied to the
visitors, told them who she was, and that the master of the house was
away at his daily duties.

"Ay," said Mistress Grena gently, "we wot that Master Hall must needs
leave his little maid much alone, for my brother, Master Roberts of
Primrose Croft, is owner of the works whereof he is manager."

This announcement brought a yet lower courtesy from Tabitha, who now
realised that members of the family of Roger Hall's master had come to
visit Christabel.

"And as young folks love well to converse together apart from their
elders, and my niece's discretion may well be trusted," added Mistress
Grena, "if it serve you, Mistress Hall, we will take our leave.  Which
road go you?"

"I will attend you, my mistress, any road, if that stand with your
pleasure."

"In good sooth, I would gladly speak with you a little.  I have an
errand to Cranbrook, and if it answer with your conveniency, then shall
you mount my niece's horse, and ride with me thither, I returning hither
for her when mine occasion serveth."

Tabitha having intimated that she could make this arrangement very well
suit her convenience, as she wished to go to Cranbrook some day that
week, the elder women took their departure, and Pandora was left alone
with Christie.

Some girls would have been very shy of one another in these
circumstances, but these two were not thus troubled; Pandora, because
she was too well accustomed to society, and Christie because she was too
much excited by the unwonted circumstances.  Pandora drew Christie out
by a few short, well-directed questions; and many minutes had not passed
before she knew much of the child's lonely life and often sorrowful
fancies.

"Father's the best father that ever was, or ever could be!" said
Christie lovingly: "but look you, Mistress, he is bound to leave me--he
can't tarry with me.  And I've no sisters, and no mother; and Aunt
Tabitha can't be here often, and Aunt Alice is--away at present."

"Thou art somewhat like me, little Christie, for though I have one
sister, I also have no mother."

"Do you miss her, Mistress?" asked Christie, struck by the pathos of
Pandora's tone.

"Oh, so much!"  The girl's eyes filled with tears.

"I can't remember my mother," said Christie simply.  "She was good,
everybody says; but I can't recollect her a whit.  I was only a baby
when she went to Heaven, to live with the Lord Jesus."

"Ah, but I do remember mine," was Pandora's answer.  "My sister was
thirteen, and I was eleven, when our mother died; and I fretted so much
for her, they were feared I might go into a waste, and I was sent away
for five years, to dwell with my grandmother, well-nigh all the length
of England off.  I have but now come home.  So thou seest I can feel
sorry for lonesome folks, little Christie."

Christie's face flushed slightly, and an eager, wistful look came into
her eyes.  She was nerving herself to make a confession that she had
never made before, even to her father or her Aunt Alice.  She did not
pause to ask herself why she should choose Pandora as its recipient; she
only felt it possible to say it to the one, and too hard to utter it to
the others.

"It isn't only lonesomeness, and that isn't the worst, either.  But
everybody says that folks that love God ought to work for Him, and I
can't do any work.  It doth Him no good that I should work in coloured
silks and wools, and the like; and I can't do nothing else: so I can't
work for God.  I would I could do something.  I wouldn't care how hard
it was.  Justine--that's one of my cousins--grumbles because she says
her work is so hard; but if I could work, I wouldn't grumble, however
hard it was--if only it were work for God."

"Little Christie," said Pandora softly, stroking the fair hair, "shall I
tell thee a secret?"

"If it please you, Mistress."  The answer did not come with any
eagerness; Christie thought the confession, which had cost her
something, was to be shelved as a matter of no interest, and her
disappointment showed itself in her face.

Pandora smiled.  "When I was about thy years, Christie, one day as I
came downstairs, I made a false step, and slid down to the bottom of the
flight.  It was not very far--maybe an half-dozen steps or more: but I
fell with my ankle doubled under me, and for nigh a fortnight I could
not walk for the pain.  I had to lie all day on a day-bed; and though
divers young folks were in the house, and many sports going, I could not
share in any, but lay there and fretted me o'er my misfortune.  I was
not patient; I was very impatient.  But there was in the house a good
man, a friend of my grandmother, that came one even into the parlour
where I lay, and found me in tears.  He asked me no questions.  He did
but lay his hand upon my brow as I lay there with my kerchief to mine
eyes, and quoth he, `My child, to do the work of God is to do His will.'
Hast thou yet learned my lesson, Christie?"

Christie's eyes were eager enough now.  She saw that the answer was
coming, not put aside for something more entertaining to Pandora.

"Many and many a time, Christie, hath that come back to me, when I have
been called to do that which was unpleasing to me, that which perchance
seemed lesser work for God than the thing which I was doing.  And I have
oft found that what I would have done instead thereof was not the work
God set me, but the work I set myself."

"Then can I work for God, if I only lie here?"

"If God bid thee lie there, and bear pain and weakness, and weariness,
dear child, then that is His work, because it is His will for thee.  It
would not be work for God, if thou wert to arise and scour the floor,
when He bade thee 'bide still and suffer.  Ah, Christie, we are all of
us sore apt to make that blunder--to think that the work we set
ourselves is the work God setteth us.  And 'tis very oft He giveth us
cross-training; the eager, active soul is set to lie and bear, while the
timid, ease-loving nature is bidden to arise and do.  But so long as it
is His will, it is His work."

It did not strike Christie as anything peculiar or surprising that her
new acquaintance should at once begin to talk to her in this strain.
She had lived exclusively with people older than herself, and all whom
she knew intimately were Christian people.  Aunt Tabitha sometimes
puzzled her; but Christie's nature was not one to fret and strain over a
point which she could not comprehend.  It seemed to her, therefore, not
only right, but quite a matter of course, that Pandora Roberts should be
of the same type as her father and her Aunt Alice.

"I thank you, Mistress," she said earnestly.  "I will do mine utmost to
bear it in mind, and then, maybe, I shall not be so impatient as oft I
am."

"Art thou impatient, Christabel?"

"Oh, dreadfully!" said Christie, drawing a long sigh.  "Not always, look
you; there be times I am content, or if not, I can keep it all inside
mostly.  But there be times it will not tarry within, but comes right
out, and then I'm so 'shamed of myself afterward.  I marvel how it is
that peevishness isn't like water and other things--when they come
pouring out, they are out, and they are done; but the more peevishness
comes out of you, the more there seems to be left in.  'Tis not oft,
look you, it really comes right outside: that would be shocking! but
'tis a deal too often.  And I _do_ want to be like the Lord Jesus!"

Something bright and wet dropped on Christabel's forehead as Pandora
stooped to kiss her.

"Little Christie," she said tenderly, "I too right earnestly desire to
be like the Lord Jesus.  But the best of all is that the Lord Himself
desires it for us.  He will help us both; and we will pray each for
other."



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

UNEXPECTED TIDINGS.

When Roger Hall came home that evening, he was greeted by Christie with
an amount of excited enthusiasm which he did not often hear from his
little invalid daughter.

"Oh Father, Father!  I have a new friend, and such a good, pleasant maid
she is!"

Christie did not term her new friend "nice," as she certainly would have
done in the present day.  To her ear that word had no meaning except
that of particular and precise--the meaning which we still attach to its
relative "nicety."

"A new friend, forsooth?" said Christie's father with a smile.  "And who
is she, sweet heart?  Is it Mistress Final's niece, that came to visit
her this last week?"

"Oh no, Father!  'Tis somebody much--ever so much grander!  Only think,
the master's daughter, Mistress Pandora Roberts, came with her aunt,
Mistress Holland; and Mistress Holland went on to Cranbrook, and took
Aunt Tabitha with her--she was here when she came--and Mistress Pandora
tarried with me, and talked, till her aunt came back to fetch her.  Oh,
she is a sweet maid, and I do love her!"

Roger Hall looked rather grave.  He had kept himself, and even more, his
Christie, from the society of outsiders, for safety's sake.  For either
of them to be known as a Gospeller, the name then given to the true,
firm-hearted Protestants, would be a dangerous thing for their
liberties, if not their lives.  Pandora Roberts was the daughter of a
man who, once a Protestant, had conformed to the Romanised form of
religion restored by Queen Mary, and her uncle was one of the
magistrates on the Cranbrook bench.  Roger was sorry to hear that one so
nearly allied to these dangerous people had found his little violet
under the leaves where he had hoped that she was safely hidden.  A sharp
pang shot through his heart as the dread possibility rose before him of
his delicate little girl being carried away to share the comfortless
prison of his sister.  Such treatment would most likely kill her very
soon.  For himself he would have cared far less: but Christie!

He was puzzled how to answer Christie's praises of Pandora.  He did not
wish to throw cold water on the child's delight, nor to damage her newly
found friend in her eyes.  But neither did he wish to drag her into the
thorny path wherein he had to walk himself--to hedge her round with
perpetual cautions and fears and terrors, lest she should let slip some
word that might be used to their hurt.  An old verse says--

  "Ye gentlemen of England
  That sit at home at ease,
  Ye little know the miseries
  And dangers of the seas."

And it might be said with even greater truth--Ye men and women, ye boys
and girls of free, peaceful, Protestant England, ye little know the
dangers of life in lands where Popish priests rule, nor the miseries
that you will have to endure if they ever gain the ascendancy here
again!

Roger Hall had never heard Dr Abernethy's wise advice--"When you don't
know what to do, do nothing."  But in this emergency he acted on that
principle.

"I trust, my dear heart," he said quietly, "that it may please the Lord
to make thee and this young gentlewoman a blessing to each other."

"Oh, it will, I know, Father!" said Christie, quite unsuspicious of the
course of her father's thoughts.  "Only think, Father! she told me first
thing, pretty nigh, that she loved the Lord Jesus, and wanted to be like
Him.  So you see we couldn't do each other any hurt, could we?"

Roger smiled rather sadly.

"I am scarce so sure of that, my Christie.  Satan can set snares even
for them that love the Lord; but 'tis true, they be not so like to slip
as they that do not.  Is this young mistress she that dwelt away from
home some years back, or no?"

"She is, Father; she hath dwelt away in the shires, with her
grandmother, these five years.  And there was a good man there--she told
me not his name--that gave her counsel, and he said, `To do God's work
is to do God's will.'  That is good, Father, isn't it?"

"Good, and very true, sweeting."

Roger Hall had naturally all the contempt of a trueborn man of Kent for
the dwellers in "the shires," which practically meant everybody in
England who was not a native of Kent.  But he knew that God had said,
"He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth;" so he said in his heart, "Get
thee behind me, Satan," to the bad feeling, and went on to wonder who
the good man might be.  Had Pandora told the name of that man, half
Roger's doubts and terrors would have taken flight.  The name of Master
John Bradford of Manchester--the martyr who eighteen months before had
glorified the Lord in the fires--would have been an immediate passport
to his confidence.  But Pandora knew the danger of saying more than was
needful, and silently suppressed the name of her good counsellor.

Some days elapsed before Roger was again able to visit Canterbury.  They
were very busy just then at the cloth-works, and his constant presence
was required.  But when February began, the pressure was past, and on
the first holy-day in that month, which was Candlemas Day, he rode to
the metropolitan city of his county on another visit to Alice.  On his
arm he carried a basket, which held a bottle of thick cream, a dozen
new-laid eggs, and a roll of butter; and as he came through Canterbury,
he added to these country luxuries the town dainties of a bag of dates
and half a pound each of those costly spices, much used and liked at
that time--cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  On these articles he spent 7
shillings 8 pence--8 pence for the dates, 3 shillings for cinnamon, 2
shillings 6 pence for cloves, and 1 shilling 6 pence for nutmegs.
Lastly, he bought a sugarloaf, then an unusual luxury, which cost him 7
pence.  The basket was now quite full, and leaving his horse at the Star
Inn, he went up to the prison, and struck with his dagger on the great
bell, which was then the general mode of ringing it.  Every man, except
labourers, carried a dagger.  The porter had become so accustomed to the
sight of Roger, that he usually opened the door for him at once, with a
nod of greeting.  But this morning, when he looked from the wicket to
see who it was, he did not open the door, but stood silently behind it.
Roger wondered what this new style of conduct meant.

"May I within, by your good leave, to see my sister?" he asked.

"You may within, if you desire to tarry here, by my Lord's good leave,"
said the porter; "but you'll not see your sister."

"Why, what's ado?" asked Roger in consternation.

"Removed," answered the porter shortly.

"Whither?"

"Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies," was the proverbial
reply.

"Lack-a-day!  Can I find out?"

The porter elevated his eyebrows, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Come within a moment," said he.

Roger obeyed, and the porter drew him into his lodge, where he spoke in
a cautious whisper.

"Master Hall, you be an honest man; and though I am here found, yet I
trust so am I.  If you be likewise a wise man, you will find somewhat to
keep you at home for the future.  Whither Mistress Benden is now taken,
I could not tell you if I would: but this can I say, you'll follow if
you have not a care.  Be ruled by me, that am dealing by you as by a
friend, and keep out of Canterbury when you are out, and let that be as
soon as you may.  For your good stuff, leave it an' you will for
Mistress Potkin: but if you tarry here, or return and be taken, say not
you were not warned.  Now, void your basket, and go."

Like a man dazed or in a dream, Roger Hall slowly emptied his basket of
the good things which he had brought for Alice.  He was willing enough
that Rachel Potkin should have those or any other comforts he could
bring her.  But that basket had been packed under Christie's eyes, and
in part by Christie's hands, and the child had delighted herself in the
thought of Aunt Alice's pleasure in every item.  And when at last the
roll of butter was lifted out, and behind it the eggs which it had
confined in a safe corner, and Roger came to the two tiny eggs which
Christie had put in with special care, saying, "Now, Father, you'll be
sure to tell Aunt Alice those eggs were laid by my own little hen, and
she must eat them her own self, because I sent them to her"--as Roger
took out the eggs of Christie's hen, he could hardly restrain a sob,
which was partly for the child's coming disappointment, and partly
caused by his own anxious suspense and distress.  The porter had not
spoken very plainly--he had probably avoided doing so on purpose--but it
was sufficiently manifest that the authorities had their eyes on Roger
himself, and that he ran serious risk of arrest if he remained in
Canterbury.

But what had they done with Alice?  He must find her.  Whatever became
of him, he must look for Alice.

Roger turned away from the gate of the gaol, sick at heart.  He scarcely
remembered even to thank the friendly porter, and turned back to repair
the omission.

"If you be thankful to me," was the porter's significant answer, "look
you take my counsel."

Slowly, as if he were walking in a dream, and scarcely knew where he was
going, Roger made his way back to the Star.  There all was bustle and
commotion, for some people of high rank had just arrived on a pilgrimage
to the shrine of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, or rather to the place
where the shrine had stood in past ages.  King Henry the Eighth had
destroyed the shrine, and a soldier had "rattled down proud Becket's
glassy bones," but the spot where it had been was considered holy, and
the poor deluded people even yet sometimes came to worship there, and to
make their painful way up the Pilgrims' Stairs, which they had to ascend
on their knees.  Those stairs are now to be seen in Canterbury
Cathedral, worn by the thousands of knees which went up them, the poor
creatures fancying that by this means they would obtain pardon of their
sins, or earn a seat in Heaven.

The bustle in the inn rather favoured Roger's escape.  He mounted his
horse, tied the basket to his saddle, and rode out of Wincheap Gate,
wondering all the while how he could discover the place to which Alice
had been removed, and how he should tell Christie.  He met several
people on the road, but noticed none of them, and reached his own house
without having exchanged a word with any one he knew.  He let himself
in, and with a sinking heart, opened the parlour door.

"Dear heart, Master Hall!" said the voice of Collet Pardue, who was
seated by Christie's couch, "but there's ill news in your face!  What's
ado, prithee?"

"Oh, Father, is Aunt Alice sick?" cried Christie.

Roger came round to the couch, and knelt down, one hand clasping that of
his little girl, and the other tenderly laid upon her head.

"My Christie," he said, "they have taken Aunt Alice away, I know not
whither.  But our Father knows.  Perchance He will show us.  But whether
or not, all is well with her, for she is in His care that loveth her
more than we."



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

MR. BENDEN'S DESSERT.

"Taken her away from the gaol! and you wot not whither?  Well, Roger
Hall, you're as pretty a man of your hands as ever I did behold!"

"How signify you, Sister Tabitha?"

"Would I ever have turned back from Canterbury till I'd found out?
Marry, not I!  I'd have known all about it in half a twink."

"Please, Aunt Tabitha, if you have half a twink to spare--I know not
what it is, but I suppose you do--won't you go and find out Aunt Alice?"

This practical suggestion from Christie was quietly ignored.

"'Tis right like a man as ever I did see!  Catch a woman turning back in
that fashion afore she'd half done her work!"

"But, Aunt Tabitha," urged Christie, for her father sat in silence, and
she felt herself bound to defend him, "have you forgotten what the
porter said to Father?  If they--"

"Pack o' nonsense!" snorted Aunt Tabitha.  "He would fain keep him from
continual coming, and he spake out the first thing that came in his
head, that's all.  None but a babe like thee should take any note of
such rubbish.  Can't you speak up, Roger Hall? or did you drop your
tongue where you left your wits?"

"Methinks you have a sufficiency for us both, Tabitha," said Roger
quietly, leaving it uncertain whether he alluded to the tongue or the
wits.

"Mean you to go again to-morrow?"

"That cannot I yet say.  I lack time to think--and to pray likewise."

"Lack time to _think_!  Gramercy me!  How long doth a man want to gather
up his wits together?  I should have thought of fifty things whilst I
rode back from Canterbury."

"So I did, Tabitha; but I wis not yet which was the right."

"Ay, you're a brave hand at thinking, but I want to _do_."

"That will I likewise, so soon as I have thought out what is best to do.
I see it not as yet."

"Lack-a-daisy me!  Well, my fine master, I'll leave you to your
thinking, and I'll get to my doing.  As to second and third, I'll tarry
till I reach 'em; but I know what comes first."

"What mean you to do, Tabitha?"

"I mean to walk up to Briton's Mead, and give Edward Benden a sweet-sop
to his supper.  I've had a rod in pickle any day this three months, and
I reckon 'tis in good conditions by now.  I'll give him some'at he'll
enjoy.  If he skrike not afore I've done with him--!"

Leaving her sentence the more expressive for its incompleteness,
Mistress Tabitha stalked out of the room and the house, not pausing for
any farewells.

"Father," said Christie, a little fearfully, "aren't you 'feared Aunt
Tabitha shall get into prison, the way she talks and runs right at
things?"

"Nay, Christie, I scarce am," said Roger.

He knew that Faithful is brought to the stake in Vanity Fair more
frequently than Talkative.

In the dining-room at Briton's Mead Mr Benden was sitting down to his
solitary supper.  Of the result of his application to the Bishop he had
not yet heard.  He really imagined that if Roger Hall could be kept out
of her way, Alice would yield and do all that he wished.  He gave her
credit for no principle; indeed, like many in his day, he would have
laughed at the bare idea of a woman having any principle, or being able
to stand calmly and firmly without being instigated and supported by a
man.  Roger, therefore, in his eyes, was the obstacle in the way of
Alice's submission.  He did not in the least realise that the real
obstacle against which he was striving was the Holy Spirit of God.

To a man in Mr Benden's position, who, moreover, had always been an
epicure, his meals were a relief and an enjoyment.  He was then less
troubled by noxious thoughts than at any other time.  It was with a sigh
of something like satisfaction that he sat down to supper, unfolded his
napkin, and tucked it into his doublet, muttered a hurried grace, and
helped himself to the buttered eggs which Mary had sent up light and
hot.  He was just putting down the pepper-cruet, when he became aware of
something on the settle in the corner, which he could not fairly see,
and did not understand.  Mr Benden was rather short-sighted.  He peered
with eyes half shut at the unknown object.

"What's that?" he said, half aloud.

_That_ responded by neither sound nor motion.  It looked very like a
human being; but who could possibly be seated on his settle at this late
hour without his knowing it?  Mr Benden came to the conclusion that it
would be foolish to disturb himself, and spoil an excellent supper, for
the sake of ascertaining that Mary had forgotten to put away his
fur-lined cloak, which was most likely the thing in the corner.  He
would look at it after supper.  He took up his spoon, and was in the act
of conveying it to his mouth, when the uncanny object suddenly changed
its attitude.

"Saints bless us and love us!" ejaculated Mr Benden, dropping the
spoon.

He really was not at all concerned about the saints loving him,
otherwise he would have behaved differently to his wife; but the words
were the first to occur to him.  The unknown thing was still again, and
after another long stare, which brought him no information, Mr Benden
picked up the spoon, and this time succeeded in conveying it to his
lips.

At that moment the apparition spoke.

"Edward Benden!" it said, "do you call yourself a Christian?"

Mr Benden's first gasp of horror that the hobgoblin should address him
by name, was succeeded by a second of relief as he recognised the voice.

"Bless the saints!" he said to himself; "it's only Tabby."

His next sensation was one of resentment.  What business had Tabitha to
steal into his house in this way, startling him half out of his wits as
he began his supper?  These mixed sentiments lent a sulky tone to his
voice as he answered that he was under the impression he had some claim
to that character.

"Because," said the apparition coolly, "I don't."

"Never thought you were," said Mr Benden grimly, turning the tables on
the enemy, who had left him a chance to do it.

Tabitha rose and advanced to the table.

"Where is Alice?" she demanded.

"How should I know?" answered Mr Benden, hastily shovelling into his
mouth another spoonful of eggs, without a notion what they tasted like.
"In the gaol, I reckon.  You are best to go and see, if you'd fain know.
I'm not her keeper."

"You're not?  Did I not hear you swear an oath to God Almighty, to `keep
her in sickness and in health?'  That's how you keep your vows, is it?
I've kept mine better than so.  But being thus ignorant of what you
should know better than other folks, may be it shall serve you to hear
that she is not in the gaol, nor none wist where she is, saving, as I
guess, yon dotipole men call Dick o' Dover.  He and Satan know, very
like, for I count they took counsel about it."

Mr Benden laid down his spoon, and looked up at Tabitha.  "Tabitha, I
wist nought of this, I ensure you, neither heard I of it aforetime.
I--"

He took another mouthful to stop the words that were coming.  It would
hardly be wise to let Tabitha know what he had said to the Bishop.

"Sit you down, and give me leave to help you to these eggs," he said,
hospitably in appearance, politically in fact.

"I'll not eat nor drink in your house," was the stern reply.  "Must I,
then, take it that Dick o' Dover hath acted of his own head, and without
any incitement from you?"

Poor Mr Benden!  He felt himself fairly caught.  He did not quite want
to tell a point blank falsehood.

"They be good eggs, Tabitha, and Mall wist well how to dress them," he
urged.  "You were best--"

"You were best answer my question, Edward Benden: Did you in any wise
excite yon mitred scoundrel to this act?"

"Your language, Tabitha, doth verily 'shame me.  `Mitred scoundrel,' in
good sooth!  Fear you not to be brought afore the justices for--"

"I fear nought so much as I fear you are a slippery snake, as well as a
roaring lion," said Tabitha, in grim defiance of natural history.
"Answer my question, or I'll make you!"

Until that moment Mr Benden had not noticed that Tabitha kept one hand
behind her.  It suddenly struck him now, in disagreeable combination
with the threat she uttered.

"What have you behind your back?" he said uneasily.

"A succade to follow your eggs, which you shall have if you demerit it."

"What mean you, Sister Tabitha?"

"Let be your slimy coaxing ways.  Answer my question."

Like all bullies, Mr Benden was a coward.  With a woman of Tabitha's
type he had never before had to deal at such close quarters.  Alice
either yielded to his wishes, or stood quietly firm, and generally
silent.  He began to feel considerable alarm.  Tabitha was a powerful
woman, and he was a man of only moderate strength.  Briton's Mead was
not within call of any other house, and its master had an unpleasant
conviction that to summon Mary to his aid would not improve his case.
It was desirable to compromise with Tabitha.  The only way that he could
see to do it was to deny his action.  If he did commit a sin in speaking
falsely, he said to himself, it was Tabitha's fault for forcing him to
it, and Father Bastian would absolve him easily, considering the
circumstances.

"No, Tabitha; I did not say a word to the Bishop."

"You expect me to believe you, after all that fencing and skulking under
hedges?  Then I don't.  If you'd said it fair out at first, well--may be
I might, may be I mightn't.  But I don't now, never a whit.  And I think
you'd best eat the succade I brought you.  I believe you demerit it; and
if you don't, you soon will, or I'm a mistaken woman, and I'm not apt to
be that," concluded Mistress Tabitha, with serene consciousness of
virtue.

"Tabitha, my dear sister, I do ensure you--"

"You'd best ensure me of nothing, my right undear brother.  Out on your
snaky speeches and beguiling ways!  You'll have your succade, and I'll
leave you to digest it, and much good may it do you!"

And he had it.  After which transaction Mistress Tabitha went home, and
slept all the better for the pleasing remembrance that she had
horsewhipped Mr Edward Benden.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

AT THE WHITE HART.

There was a good deal of bustle going on in the kitchen of the White
Hart, the little hostelry at Staplehurst.  It was "fair day," and fairs
were much more important things in the olden time than now.  A fair
now-a-days is an assemblage of some dozen booths, where the chief
commodities are toys and sweetmeats, with an attempt at serious business
in the shape of a little crockery or a few tin goods.  But fairs in 1557
were busy places where many people laid in provisions for the season, or
set themselves up with new clothes.  The tiny inn had as many guests as
it could hold, and the principal people in the town had come together in
its kitchen--country inns had no parlours then--to debate all manner of
subjects in which they were interested.  The price of wool was an
absorbing topic with many; the dearness of meat and general badness of
trade were freely discussed by all.  Amongst them bustled Mistress
Final, the landlady of the inn, a widow, and a comely, rosy-faced, fat,
kindly woman, assisted by her young son Ralph, her two daughters, Ursula
and Susan, and her maid Dorcas.  Cakes and ale were served to most of
the customers; more rarely meat, except in the form of pies, which were
popular, or of bacon, with or without accompanying eggs.

The company in the kitchen were all more or less acquainted with each
other, two persons excepted.  Those who were not Staplehurst people had
come in from the surrounding villages, or from Cranbrook at the
farthest.  But these two men were total strangers, and they did not mix
with the villagers, but sat, in travelling garb, at one corner of the
kitchen, listening, yet rarely joining in the talk which went on around
them.  One of them, indeed, seemed wrapped in his own thoughts, and
scarcely spoke, even to his companion.  He was a tall spare man, with a
grave and reserved expression of countenance.  The other was shorter and
much more lively in his motions, was evidently amused by the
conversation in his vicinity, and looked as if he would not object to
talk if the opportunity were given him.

Into this company came Emmet Wilson and Collet Pardue.  Both had brought
full baskets from the fair, which they set down in a corner, and turned
to amuse themselves with a little chat with their friends.

"Any news abroad?" asked Collet.  She dearly loved a bit of news, which
she would retail to her quiet husband as they sat by the fireside after
the day's work was done.

"Well, not so much," said John Banks, the mason, to whom Collet had
addressed herself.  He was the brother of Mr Benden's servant Mary.
"Without you call it news to hear what happed at Briton's Mead last
night."

"Why, whatso?  Not the mistress come home, trow?"

"Alack, no such good hap!  Nay, only Tabby came down to see the master,
and brought her claws with her."

"Scrat him well, I hope?"

"Whipped him, and laid on pretty hard to boot."

"Why, you never mean it, real true, be sure!"

"Be sure I do.  He's a-bed this morrow."

"I have my doubts if there'll be many tears shed in Staplehurst," said
Mistress Final, laughing, as she went past with a plate of
biscuit-bread, which, to judge from the receipt for making it, must have
been very like our sponge cake.

"He's none so much loved of his neighbours," remarked Nicholas White,
who kept a small ironmonger's shop, to which he added the sale of such
articles as wood, wicker-work, crockery, and musical instruments.

The shorter and livelier of the travellers spoke for the first time.

"Pray you, who is this greatly beloved master?"

John Fishcock, the butcher, replied.  "His name is Benden, and the folks
be but ill-affected to him for his hard ways and sorry conditions."

"Hard!--in what manner, trow?"

"Nay, you'd best ask my neighbour here, whose landlord he is."

"And who'd love a sight better to deal with his mistress than himself,"
said Collet, answering the appeal.  "I say not he's unjust, look you,
but he's main hard, be sure.  A farthing under the money, or a day over
the time, and he's no mercy."

"Ah, the mistress was good to poor folks, bless her!" said Banks.

"She's dead, is she?" asked the stranger.

"No, she's away," replied Banks shortly.

"Back soon?" suggested the stranger.

John Banks had moved away.  There was a peculiar gleam in his
questioner's eye which he did not admire.  But Collet, always
unsuspicious, and not always discreet, replied without any idea of
reserve.

"You'd best ask Dick o' Dover that, for none else can tell you."

"Ah, forsooth!" replied the stranger, apparently more interested than
ever.  "I heard as we came there were divers new doctrine folks at
Staplehurst.  She is one of them, belike?--and the master holds with the
old?  'Tis sore pity folks should not agree to differ, and hold their
several opinions in peace."

"Ah, it is so," said unsuspicious Collet.

"Pray you, who be the chief here of them of the new learning?  We be
strangers in these parts, and should be well a-paid to know whither we
may seek our friends.  Our hostess here, I am aware, is of them; but for
others I scarce know.  The name of White was dropped in mine hearing,
and likewise Fishcock; who be they, trow?  And dwells there not a
certain Mistress Brandridge, or some such?--and a Master Hall or Ball--
some whither in this neighbourhood, that be friends unto such as love
not the papistical ways?"

"Look you now, I'll do you to wit all thereanent," said Collet
confidentially.  "For Fishcock, that was he that first spake unto you;
he is a butcher, and dwelleth nigh the church.  Nicholas White, yon big
man yonder, that toppeth most of his neighbours, hath an ironmongery
shop a-down in the further end of the village.  Brandridge have we not:
but Mistress Bradbridge--"

"Mistress, here's your master a-wanting you!" came suddenly in John
Banks' clear tones; and Collette, hastily lifting her basket, and
apologising for the sudden termination of her usefulness, departed
quickly.

"She that hath hastened away is Mistress Wilson, methinks?" asked the
inquisitive traveller of the person next him, who happened to be Mary
Banks.

Mary looked quietly up into the animated face, and glanced at his
companion also before replying.  Then she said quietly--

"No, my master; Mistress Wilson is not now here."

"Then what name hath she?"

"I cry you mercy, Master; I have no time to tarry."

The grave man in the corner gave a grim smile as Mary turned away.

"You took not much by that motion, Malledge," he said in a low tone.

"I took a good deal by the former," replied Malledge, with a laugh.
"Beside, I lacked it not; I wis well the name of my useful friend that
is now gone her way.  I did but ask to draw on more talk.  But one
matter I have not yet."

These words were spoken in an undertone, audible only to the person to
whom they were addressed; and the speaker turned back to join in the
general conversation.  But before they had obtained any further
information, the well-known sounds of the hunt came through the open
door, and the whole company turned forth to see the hunters and hounds
go by.  Most of them did not return, but dispersed in the direction of
their various homes, and from the few who did nothing was to be drawn.

John Banks walked away with Nicholas White.  "Saw you those twain?" he
asked, when they had left the White Hart a little way behind them.  "The
strange men?  Ay, I saw them."

"I misdoubt if they come for any good purpose."

"Ay so?" said Nicholas in apparent surprise.  "What leads you to that
thought, trow?"

"I loved not neither of their faces; nor I liked not of their talk.
That shorter man was for ever putting questions anent the folks in this
vicinage that loved the Gospel; and Collet Pardue told him more than she
should, or I mistake."

Nicholas White smiled.  "I reckoned you were in some haste to let her
wit that her master wanted her," he said.

"I was that.  I was in a hurry to stop her tongue."

"Well!" said the ironmonger after a short pause, "the Lord keep His
own!"

"Amen!" returned the mason.  "But methinks, friend, the Lord works not
many miracles to save even His own from traps whereinto they have run
with their eyes open."

They walked on for a few minutes in silence.  "What think you," asked
White, "is come of Mistress Benden?"

"Would I wist!" answered Banks.  "Master Hall saith he'll never let be
till he find her, without he be arrest himself."

"That will he, if he have not a care."

"I'm not so sure," said Banks, "that those two in the White Hart could
not have told us an' they would."

"Good lack!--what count you then they be?"

"I reckon that they be of my Lord Cardinal's men."

"Have you any ground for that fantasy?"

"Methought I saw the nether end of a mitre, broidered on the sleeve of
the shorter man, where his cloak was caught aside upon the settle knob.
Look you, I am not sure; but I'm 'feared lest it so be."

"Jack, couldst thou stand the fire?"

"I wis not, Nichol.  Could you?"

"I cast no doubt I could do all things through Christ, nor yet that
without Christ I could do nothing."

"It may come close, ere long," said Banks gravely.

The two travellers, meanwhile, had mounted their horses, and were riding
in the direction of Goudhurst.  A third man followed them, leading a
baggage-horse.  As they went slowly along, the taller man said--

"Have you all you need, now, Malledge?"

"All but one matter, Master Sumner--we know not yet where Hall dwelleth.
Trust me, but I coveted your grave face, when we heard tell of Tabby
horsewhipping yon Benden!"

"He hath his demerits," said the sumner,--that is, the official who
served the summonses to the ecclesiastical courts.

"Of that I cast no doubt; nor care I if Tabby thrash him every day, for
my part.  When come we in our proper persons, to do our work?"

"That cannot I tell.  We must first make report to my Lord of Dover."

A young girl and a little child came tripping down the road.  The short
man drew bridle and addressed them.

"Pray you, my pretty maids, can you tell me where dwelleth Mistress
Bradbridge?  I owe her a trifle of money, and would fain pay the same."

"Oh yes, sir!" said little Patience Bradbridge eagerly; "she's my
mother.  She dwells in yon white house over the field yonder."

"And Master Roger Hall, where dwelleth he?"

Penuel Pardue hastily stopped her little friend's reply.

"Master Hall is not now at home, my masters, so it should be to no
purpose you visit his house.  I give you good-morrow."

"Wise maid!" said Malledge with a laugh, when the girls were out of
hearing.  "If all were as close as thou, we should thrive little."

"They are all in a story!" said the sumner.

"Nay, not all," replied Malledge.  "We have one to thank.  But truly,
they are a close-mouthed set, the most of them."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE JUSTICE IS INDISCREET.

"Methinks we be like to have further troubles touching religion in these
parts.  Marry, I do marvel what folks would be at, that they cannot be
content to do their duty, and pay their dues, and leave the cure of
their souls to the priest.  As good keep a dog and bark thyself, say I,
as pay dues to the priest and take thought for thine own soul."

The speaker was Mr Justice Roberts, and he sat at supper in his
brother's house, one of a small family party, which consisted, beside
the brothers, of their sister, Mistress Collenwood, Mistress Grena
Holland, Gertrude, and Pandora.  The speech was characteristic of the
speaker.  The Justice was by no means a bad man, as men go--and all of
them do not go very straight in the right direction--but he made one
mistake which many are making in our own day; he valued peace more
highly than truth.  His decalogue was a monologue, consisting but of one
commandment: Do your duty.  What a man's duty was, the Justice did not
pause to define.  Had he been required to do so, his dissection of that
difficult subject would probably have run in three grooves--go to
church; give alms; keep out of quarrels.

"It were verily good world, Master Justice, wherein every man should do
his duty," was the answer of Mistress Grena, delivered in that slightly
prim and didactic fashion which was characteristic of her.

"What is duty?" concisely asked Mistress Collenwood, who was by some ten
years the elder of her brothers, and therefore the eldest of the
company.

Gertrude's eyes were dancing with amusement; Pandora only looked
interested.

"Duty," said Mr Roberts, the host, "is that which is due."

"To whom?" inquired his sister.

"To them unto whom he oweth it," was the reply; "first, to God; after
Him, to all men."

"Which of us doth that?" said Mistress Collenwood softly, looking round
the table.

Mistress Grena shook her head in a way which said, "Very few--not I."

Had Gertrude lived three hundred years later, she would have said what
now she only thought--"I am sure _I_ do my duty."  But in 1557 young
ladies were required to "hear, see, and say nought," and for one of them
to join unasked in the conversation of her elders would have been held
to be shockingly indecorous.  The rule for girls' behaviour was too
strict in that day; but if a little of it could be infused into the very
lax code of the present time, when little misses offer their opinions on
subjects of which they know nothing, and unblushingly differ from, or
even contradict their mothers, too often without rebuke, it would be a
decided improvement on social manners.

"Which of the folks in these parts be not doing their duty?" asked Mr
Roberts of his brother.

"You know Benden of Briton's Mead?" replied the Justice.

"By sight; I am not well acquaint with him."

"Is he not an hard man, scarce well liked?" said his sister.

"True enough, as you shall say ere my tale come to an end.  This Benden
hath a wife--a decent Woman enough, as all men do confess, save that she
is bitten somewhat by certain heretical notions that the priest cannot
win her to lay by; will not come to mass, and so forth; but in all other
fashions of good repute: and what doth this brute her husband but go
himself to the Bishop, and beg--I do ensure you, beg his Lordship that
this his wife may be arrest and lodged in prison.  And in prison she is,
and hath so been now these three or four months, on the sworn
information of her own husband.  'Tis monstrous!"

"Truly, most shocking!" said Mistress Grena, cutting up the round of
beef.  The lady of the house always did the carving.

"Ah!  As saith the old proverb: `There is no worse pestilence than a
familiar enemy,'" quoted the host.

"Well!" continued the Justice, with an amused look: "but now cometh a
good jest, whereof I heard but yester-even.  This Mistress Benden hath
two brothers, named Hall--Roger and Thomas--one of whom dwelleth at
Frittenden, and the other at yon corner house in Staplehurst, nigh to
the Second Acre Close.  Why, to be sure, he is your manager--that had I
forgot."

Mr Roberts nodded.  Pandora had pricked up her ears at the name of
Hall, and now began to listen intently.  Mistress Benden, of whom she
heard for the first time, must be an aunt of her _protegee_, little
Christabel.

"This Thomas Hall hath a wife, by name Tabitha, that the lads hereabout
call Tabby, and by all accounts a right cat with claws is she.  She, I
hear, went up to Briton's Mead a two-three days gone, or maybe something
more, and gave good Master Benden a taste of her horsewhip, that he hath
since kept his bed--rather, I take it, from sulkiness than soreness, yet
I dare be bound she handled him neatly.  Tabitha is a woman of strong
build, and lithe belike, that I would as lief not be horsewhipped by.
Howbeit, what shall come thereof know I not.  Very like she thought it
should serve to move him to set Mistress Alice free: but she may find,
and he belike, that 'tis easier to set a stone a-rolling down the hill
than to stay it.  The matter is now in my Lord of Dover's hands; and
without Mistress Tabitha try her whip on him--"

Both gentlemen laughed.  Pandora was deeply interested, as she recalled
little Christie's delicate words, that Aunt Alice was "away at present."
The child evidently would not say more.  Pandora made up her mind that
she would go and see Christie again as soon as possible, and meanwhile
she listened for any information that she might give her.

"What is like to come of the woman, then?" said Mr Roberts, "apart from
Mistress Tabitha and her whip?"

"Scarce release, I count," said the Justice gravely.  "She hath been
moved from the gaol; and that doubtless meaneth, had into straiter
keeping."

"Poor fools!" said his brother, rather pityingly than scornfully.

"Ay, 'tis strange, in very deed, they cannot let be this foolish
meddling with matters too high for them.  If the woman would but conform
and go to church, I hear, her womanish fantasies should very like be
overlooked.  Good lack I can a man not believe as he list, yet hold his
tongue and be quiet, and not bring down the laws on his head?" concluded
the Justice somewhat testily.

There was a pause, during which all were silent--from very various
motives.  Mr Roberts was thinking rather sadly that the only choice
offered to men in those days was a choice of evils.  He had never wished
to conform--never would have done so, had he been let alone: but a man
must look out for his safety, and take care of his property--of course
he must!--and if the authorities made it impossible for him to do so
with a good conscience, why, the fault was theirs, not his.  Thus argued
Mr Roberts, forgetting that the man makes a poor bargain who gains the
whole world and loses himself.  The Justice and Gertrude were simply
enjoying their supper.  No scruples of any kind disturbed their
slumbering consciences.  Mistress Collenwood's face gave no indication
of her thoughts.  Pandora was reflecting chiefly upon Christabel.

But there was one present whose conscience had been asleep, and was just
waking to painful life.  For nearly four years had Grena Holland soothed
her many misgivings by some such reasoning as that of Mr Justice
Roberts.  She had conformed outwardly: had not merely abstained from
contradictory speeches, but had gone to mass, had attended the
confessional, had bowed down before images of wood and stone, and all
the time had comforted herself by imagining that God saw her heart, and
knew that she did not really believe in any of these things, but only
acted thus for safety's sake.  Now, all at once, she knew not how, it
came on her as by a flash of lightning that she was on the road that
leadeth to destruction, and not content with that, was bearing her young
nieces along with her.  She loved those girls as if she had been their
own mother.  Grave, self-contained, and undemonstrative as she was, she
would almost have given her life for either, but especially for Pandora,
who in face, and to some extent in character, resembled her dead mother,
the sister who had been the darling of Grena Holland's heart.  She
recalled with keen pain the half-astonished, half-shrinking look on
Pandora's face, as she had followed her to mass on the first holy-day
after her return from Lancashire.  Grena knew well that at Shardeford
Hall, her mother's house in Lancashire, Pandora would never have been
required to attend mass, but would have been taught that it was "a fond
fable and a dangerous deceit."  And now, she considered, that look had
passed from the girl's face; she went silently, not eagerly on the one
hand, yet unprotestingly, even by look, on the other.  Forward into the
possible future went Grena's imagination--to the prison, and the
torture-chamber, and the public disgrace, and the awful death of fire.
How could she bear those, either for herself or for Pandora?

These painful meditations were broken in upon by a remark from the
Justice.

"There is some strong ale brewing, I warrant you, for some of our great
doctors and teachers of this vicinage.  I heard t'other day, from one
that shall be nameless--indeed, I would not mention the matter, but we
be all friends and good Catholics here--"

Mistress Collenwood's eyes were lifted a moment from her plate, but then
went down again in silence.

"Well, I heard say two men of my Lord Cardinal's had already been
a-spying about these parts, for to win the names of such as were
suspect: and divers in and nigh Staplehurst shall hear more than they
wot of, ere many days be over.  Mine hostess at the White Hart had best
look out, and--well, there be others; more in especial this Master Ro--
Come, I'll let be the rest."

"I trust you have not said too much already," remarked Mr Roberts
rather uneasily.

That the Justice also feared he had been indiscreet was shown by his
slight testiness in reply.

"Tush! how could I?  There's never a serving-man in the chamber, and we
be all safe enough.  Not the tail of a word shall creep forth, be sure."

"`Three may keep counsel, if twain be away,'" said Mr Roberts, shaking
his head with a good-humoured smile.

"They do not alway then," added Mistress Collenwood drily.

"Well, well!" said the Justice, "you wot well enough, every one of you,
the matter must go no further.  Mind you, niece Gertrude, you slip it
not forth to some chattering maid of your acquaintance."

"Oh, I am safe enough, good Uncle," laughed Gertrude.

"Indeed, I hope we be all discreet in such dangerous matters," added
Mistress Grena.

Only Mrs Collenwood and Pandora were silent.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

OUT OF HEART.

"Aunt Grena," said Pandora Roberts, "if it stand with your pleasure, may
I have leave to visit little Christabel Hall this fine morrow?"

"Thou shouldst, my dear heart, with my very good will," was the kindly
answer; "but misfortunately, at this time I am not in case to accompany
thee."

Pandora did not reply, but she looked greatly disappointed, when her
aunt, Mistress Collenwood, suggested--

"Could not old Osmund go with her, Grena?"

"He might, if it were matter of grave concern," replied Mistress Grena,
in a tone which indicated that the concern would have to be very grave
indeed.

"Well, Dorrie, thou mayest clear those troubled eyes," said Mistress
Collenwood with a smile: "for I myself will accompany thee to visit thy
friend."

"You, Aunt Francis?  Oh, I thank you!" said Pandora joyfully, passing in
a moment from distress to delight.

In half-an-hour the horses were at the door.  Not much was said during
the ride to Staplehurst, except that Pandora told her aunt that
Christabel was an invalid child, and that her father was the manager at
the cloth-works.  Christie, who of course was always at home, was
rejoiced to see her friend; and Mistress Collenwood inquired closely
into her ailments, ending with the suggestion, which she desired might
be conveyed to her father, that Christie should rub her limbs with oil
of swallows, and take a medicine compounded of plantain water and
"powder of swine's claws."

"Father's in the house," said Christie.  "He had to return back for some
papers the master desired."

Roger Hall confirmed her words by coming into the room in a few minutes,
with the papers in his hand which he had been sent to seek.  He made a
reverence to his master's relatives.

"Master Hall," said Mrs Collenwood, "I would gladly have a word with
you touching your little maid's ailments."

Roger detected her desire to say something to him out of Christie's
hearing, and led her to the kitchen, which was just then empty, as Nell
was busy in the wash-house outside.

"I pray you to bar the door," said Mrs Collenwood.

Roger obeyed, rather wondering at the request.  Mrs Collenwood shortly
told him that she thought the oil of swallows might strengthen
Christie's limbs, and the medicine improve her general health, but she
so quickly dismissed that subject that it was plain she had come for
something else.  Roger waited respectfully till she spoke.

Speech seemed to be difficult to the lady.  Twice she looked up and
appeared to be on the point of speaking; and twice her eyes dropped, her
face flushed, but her voice remained silent.  At last she said--

"Master Hall, suffer me to ask if you have friends in any other county?"

Roger was considerably surprised at the question.

"I have, my mistress," said he, "a married sister that dwelleth in
Norfolk, but I have not seen her these many years."

He thought she must mean that Christie's health would be better in some
other climate, which was a strange idea to him, at a time when change of
air was considered almost dangerous.

"Norfolk--should scarce serve," said the lady, in a timid, hesitating
manner.  "The air of the Green Yard at Norwich [where stood the Bishop's
prison for heretics] is not o'er good.  I think not of your little
maid's health, Master Hall, but of your own."

Roger Hall was on the point of asserting with some perplexity and much
amazement, that his health was perfect, and he required neither change
nor medicine, when the real object of these faltering words suddenly
flashed on him.  His heart seemed to leap into his mouth, then to
retreat to its place, beating fast.

"My mistress," he said earnestly, "I took not at the first your kindly
meaning rightly, but I count I so do now.  If so be, I thank you more
than words may tell.  But I must abide at my post.  My sister Alice is
not yet found; and should I be taken from the child"--his voice trembled
for a moment--"God must have care of her."

"I will have a care of her, in that case," said Mrs Collenwood.
"Master Hall, we may speak freely.  What you are, I am.  Now I have put
my life in your hands, and I trust you to be true."

"I will guard it as mine own," answered Roger warmly, "and I give you
the most heartiest thanks, my mistress, that a man wot how to utter.
But if I may ask you, be any more in danger?  My brother, and Master
White, and Mistress Final--"

"All be in danger," was the startling answer, "that hold with us.  But
the one only name that I have heard beside yours, is mine hostess of the
White Hart."

"Mistress Final?  I reckoned so much.  I will have a word with her, if
it may be, on my way back to Cranbrook, and bid her send word to the
others.  Alack the day! how long is Satan to reign, and wrong to
triumph?"

"So long as God will," replied Mrs Collenwood.  "So long as His Church
hath need of the cleansing physic shall it be ministered to her.  When
she is made clean, and white, and tried, then--no longer.  God grant,
friend, that you and I may not fail Him when the summons cometh for
us--`The Master calleth for thee.'"

"Amen!" said Roger Hall.

In the parlour Pandora said to Christabel--

"Dear child, thou mayest speak freely to me of thine Aunt Alice.  I know
all touching her."

"O Mistress Pandora! wot you where she is?"

Pandora was grieved to find from Christie's eager exclamation that she
had, however innocently, roused the child's hopes only to be
disappointed.

"No, my dear heart," she said tenderly, "not that, truly.  I did but
signify that I knew the manner of her entreatment, and where she hath
been lodged."

"Father can't find her anywhere," said Christie sorrowfully.  "He went
about two whole days, but he could hear nothing of her at all."

"Our Father in Heaven knows where she is, my child.  He shall not lose
sight of her, be well assured."

"But she can't see Him!" urged Christie tearfully.

"Truth, sweeting.  Therefore rather `blessed are they that have not
seen, and yet have believed.'  Consider how hard the blessed Paul was
tried, and how hard he must have found faith, and yet how fully he did
rely on our Saviour Christ."

"I don't think Saint Paul was ever tried this way," said Christie in her
simplicity.  "And his sister's son knew where he was, and could get at
him.  They weren't as ill off as me and Father."

"Poor old Jacob did not know where Joseph was," suggested Pandora.

"Well, ay," admitted Christie.  "But Jacob was an old man; he wasn't a
little maid.  And Joseph came all right, after all.  Beside, he was a
lad, and could stand things.  Aunt Alice isn't strong.  And she hasn't
been nobody's white child [favourite] as Joseph was; I am sure Uncle
Edward never made her a coat of many colours.  Mistress Pandora, is it
very wicked of me to feel as if I could not bear to look at Uncle
Edward, and hope that he will never, never, never come to see us any
more?"

"'Tis not wicked to hate a man's sinful deeds, dear heart; but we have
need to beware that we hate not the sinner himself."

"I can't tell how to manage that," said Christie.  "I can't put Uncle
Edward into one end of my mind, and the ill way he hath used dear Aunt
Alice into the other.  He's a bad, wicked man, or he never could have
done as he has."

"Suppose he be the very worst man that ever lived, Christie--and I
misdoubt if he be so--but supposing it, wouldst thou not yet wish that
God should forgive him?"

"Well; ay, I suppose I would," said Christie, in a rather uncertain
tone; "but if Uncle Edward's going to Heaven, I do hope the angels will
keep him a good way off Aunt Alice, and Father, and me.  I don't think
it would be so pleasant if he were there."

Pandora smiled.

"We will leave that, sweet heart, till thou be there," she said.

And just as she spoke Mrs Collenwood returned to the parlour.  She
chatted pleasantly for a little while with Christie, and bade her not
lose heart concerning her Aunt Alice.

"The Lord will do His best for His own, my child," she said, as they
took leave of Christabel; "but after all, mind thou, His best is not
always our best.  Nay; at times it is that which seems to us the worst.
Yet I cast no doubt we shall bless Him for it, and justify all His ways,
when we stand on the mount of God, and look back along the road that we
have traversed.  `All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto
such as keep His covenant and his testimonies.'"

Some such comfort as those words of God can give was sorely needed by
Roger Hall.  To use a graphic expression of his day, he was "well-nigh
beat out of heart."  He had visited all the villages within some
distance, and had tramped to and fro in Canterbury, and could hear
nothing.  He had not as yet hinted to any one his own terrible
apprehension that Alice might have been removed to London for trial.  If
so, she would come into the brutal and relentless hands of Bishop
Bonner, and little enough hope was there in that case.  The only chance,
humanly speaking, then lay in the occasional visits paid by Cardinal
Pole to Smithfield, for the purpose of rescuing, from Bonner's noble
army of martyrs, the doomed who belonged to his own diocese.  And that
was a poor hope indeed.

There were two important holy-days left in February, and both these
Roger spent in Canterbury, despite the warning of his impending arrest
if he ventured in that direction.  On the latter of these two he paid
special attention to the cathedral precincts.  It was possible that
Alice might be imprisoned in the house of one of the canons or
prebendaries; and if so, there was a faint possibility that she might be
better treated than in the gaol.  Everywhere he listened for her voice.
At every window he gazed earnestly, in the hope of seeing her face.  He
saw and heard nothing.

As he turned away to go home, on the evening of Saint Matthias', it
struck him that perhaps, if he were to come very early in the morning,
the town would be more silent, and there might be a better likelihood of
detecting the sound of one voice among many.  But suppose she were kept
in solitary confinement--how then could he hope to hear it?

Very, very down-hearted was Roger as he rode home.  He met two or three
friends, who asked, sympathetically, "No news yet, Master Hall?" and he
felt unable to respond except by a mournful shake of the head.

"Well, be sure! what can have come of the poor soul?" added Emmet
Wilson.  And Roger could give no answer.

What could have become of Alice Benden?



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

EUREKA!

In the court where the prebendaries' chambers were situated, within the
Cathedral Close at Canterbury, was an underground vault, known as
Monday's Hole.  Here the stocks were kept, but the place was very rarely
used as a prison.  A paling, four feet and a half in height, and three
feet from the window, cut off all glimpses of the outer world from any
person within.  A little short straw was strewn on the floor, between
the stocks and the wall, which formed the only bed of any one there
imprisoned.  It was a place where a man of any humanity would scarcely
have left his dog; cold, damp, dreary, depressing beyond measure.

That litter of straw, on the damp stones, had been for five weary weeks
the bed of Alice Benden.  She was allowed no change of clothes, and all
the pittance given her for food was a halfpenny worth of bread, and a
farthing's worth of drink.  At her own request she had been permitted to
receive her whole allowance in bread; and water, not over clean nor
fresh, was supplied for drinking.  No living creature came near her save
her keeper, who was the bell-ringer at the cathedral--if we except the
vermin which held high carnival in the vault, and were there in
extensive numbers.  It was a dreadful place for any human being to live
in; how dreadful for an educated and delicate gentlewoman, accustomed to
the comforts of civilisation, it is not easy to imagine.

But to the coarser tortures of physical deprivation and suffering had
been added the more refined torments of heart and soul.  During four of
those five weeks all God's waves and billows had gone over Alice Benden.
She felt herself forsaken of God and man alike--out of mind, like the
slain that lie in the grave--forgotten even by the Lord her Shepherd.

One visitor she had during that time, who had by no means forgotten her.
Satan has an excellent memory, and never lacks leisure to tempt God's
children.  He paid poor Alice a great deal of attention.  How, he asked
her, was it possible that a just God, not to say a merciful Saviour,
could have allowed her to come into such misery?  Had the Lord's hand
waxed short?  Here were the persecutors, many of them ungodly men, robed
in soft silken raiment, and faring sumptuously every day; their beds
were made of the finest down, they had all that heart could wish; while
she lay upon dirty straw in this damp hole, not a creature knowing what
had become of her.  Was this all she had received as the reward of
serving God?  Had she not tried to do His will, and to walk before Him
with a perfect heart? and this was what she got for it, from Him who
could have swept away her persecutors by a word, and lifted her by
another to the height of luxury and happiness.

Poor Alice was overwhelmed.  Her bodily weakness--of which Satan may
always be trusted to take advantage--made her less fit to cope with him,
and for a time she did not guess who it was that suggested all these
wrong and miserable thoughts.  She "grievously bewailed" herself, and,
as people often do, nursed her distress as if it were something very
dear and precious.

But God had not forgotten Alice Benden.  She was not going to be lost--
she, for whom Christ died.  She was only to be purified, and made white,
and tried.  He led her to find comfort in His own Word, the richest of
earthly comforters.  One night Alice began to repeat to herself the
forty-second Psalm.  It seemed just made for her.  It was the cry of a
sore heart, shut in by enemies, and shut out from hope and pleasure.
Was not that just her case?

"Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why art thou so
disquieted within me?  Put thy trust in God!"

A little relieved, she turned next to the seventy-seventh Psalm.  She
had no Bible; nothing but what her well-stored memory gave her.  Ah!
what would have become of Alice Benden in those dark hours, had her
memory been filled with all kinds of folly, and not with the pure,
unerring Word of God?  This Psalm exactly suited her.

"Will the Lord absent Himself for ever?--and will He be no more
entreated?  Is His mercy clean gone for ever?--and is His promise come
utterly to an end for evermore?  Hath God forgotten to be gracious?--and
will He shut up His loving-kindness in displeasure?  And I said, It is
mine infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the
Most Highest."

A light suddenly flashed, clear and warm, into the weak, low, dark heart
of poor lonely Alice.  "It is mine infirmity!"  Not God's infirmity--not
God's forgetfulness!  "No, Alice, never that," it seemed just as if
somebody said to her: "it is only your poor blind heart here in the
dark, that cannot see the joy and deliverance that are coming to you--
that must come to all God's people: but He who dwells in the immortal
light, and beholds the end from the beginning, knows how to come and set
you free--knows when to come and save you."

The tune changed now.  Satan was driven away.  The enemy whom Alice
Benden had seen that day, and from whom she had suffered so sorely, she
should see again no more for ever.  From that hour all was joy and hope.

"I will magnify Thee, O God my King, and praise Thy name for ever and
ever!"

That was the song she sang through her prison bars in the early morning
of the 25th of February.  The voice of joy and thanksgiving reached
where the moan of pain had not been able to penetrate, to an intently
listening ear a few yards from the prison.  Then an answering voice of
delight came to her from without.

"Alice!  Alice!  I have found thee!"

Alice looked up, to see her brother Roger's head and shoulders above the
paling which hid all but a strip of sky from her gaze.

"Hast thou been a-searching for me all these weeks, Roger?"

"That have I, my dear heart, ever since thou wast taken from the gaol.
How may I win at thee?"

"That thou canst not, Hodge.  But we may talk a moment, for my keeper,
that is the bell-ringer of the minster, is now at his work there, and
will not return for an half-hour well reckoned.  Thou wert best come at
those times only, or I fear thou shalt be taken."

"I shall not be taken till God willeth," said Roger.  "I will come again
to thee in a moment."

He ran quickly out of the precincts, and into the first baker's shop he
saw, where he bought a small loaf of bread.  Into it he pushed five
fourpenny pieces, then called groats, and very commonly current.  Then
he fixed the loaf on the end of his staff, and so passed it through the
bars to Alice.  This was all he could do.

"My poor dear heart, hast thou had no company in all this time?"

"I have had Satan's company a weary while," she answered, "but this last
night he fled away, and the Lord alone is with me."

"God be praised!" said Roger.  "And how farest thou?"

"Very ill touching the body; very well touching the soul."

"What matter can I bring thee to thy comfort?"

"What I lack most is warmth and cleanly covering.  I have no chance even
to wash me, and no clothes to shift me.  But thou canst bring me nought,
Hodge, I thank thee, and I beseech thee, essay it not.  How fares little
Christie?--and be all friends well?"

"All be well, I thank the Lord, and Christie as her wont is.  It shall
do her a power of good to hear thou art found.  Dost know when thou
shalt appear before the Bishop?"

"That do I not, Hodge.  It will be when God willeth, and to the end He
willeth; and all that He willeth is good.  I have but to endure to the
end: He shall see to all the rest.  Farewell, dear brother; it were best
that thou shouldst not tarry."

As Roger came within sight of Staplehurst on his return, he saw a woman
walking rapidly along the road to meet him, and when he came a little
nearer, he perceived that it was Tabitha.  Gently urging his horse
forward, they met in a few minutes.  The expression of Tabitha's face
alarmed Roger greatly.  She was not wont to look so moved and troubled.
Grim and sarcastic, even angry, he had seen her many times; but grieved
and sorrowful--this was not like Tabitha.  Roger's first fear was that
she had come to give him some terrible news of Christie.  Yet her
opening words were not those of pain or terror.

"The Lord be thanked you were not here this day, Roger Hall!" was
Tabitha's strange greeting.

"What hath happed?" demanded Roger, stopping his horse.

"What hath happed is that Staplehurst is swept nigh clean of decent
folks.  Sheriffs been here--leastwise his man, Jeremy Green--and took
off a good dozen of Gospellers."

"Tom--Christie?" fell tremulously from Roger's lips.

"Neither of them.  I looked to _them_, and old Jeremy knows me.  I heard
tell of their coming, and I had matters in readiness to receive them.  I
reckon Jerry had an inkling of that red-hot poker and the copper of
boiling water I'd prepared for his comfort; any way, he passed our house
by, and at yours he did but ask if you were at home, and backed out, as
pleasant as you please, when Nell made answer `Nay.'"

"Then whom have they taken?"

"Mine hostess of the White Hart gat the first served.  Then they went
after Nichol White, and Nichol Pardue."

"Pardue!" exclaimed Roger.

"Ay, Nichol: did not touch Collet.  But they took Emmet Wilson, and
Fishwick, butcher, and poor Sens Bradbridge, of all simple folks."

"And what became of her poor little maids?" asked Roger pityingly.

"Oh, Collet's got them.  I'd have fetched 'em myself if she hadn't.
They've not taken Jack Banks, nor Mall.  Left 'em for next time, maybe."

"Well, I am thankful they took not you, Tabitha."

"Me?  They'd have had to swallow my red-hot poker afore they took me.  I
count they frighted Christie a bit, fearing they'd have you; but I went
to see after the child, and peaced her metely well ere I came thence."

"I am right thankful to you, sister.  Tabitha, I have found Alice."

"You have so?--and where is she?"

Roger gave a detailed account of the circumstances.

"Seems to me they want a taste of the poker there," said Tabitha in her
usual manner.  "I'll buy a new one, so that I run not out of stock ere
customers come.  But I scarce think old Jeremy'll dare come a-nigh me;
it'll be Sheriff himself, I reckon, when that piece of work's to be
done.  If they come to your house, just you bid Nell set the poker in
the fire, and run over for me, and you keep 'em in talk while I come.
Or a good kettle of boiling water 'd do as well--I'm no wise nice which
it is--or if she'd a kettle of hot pitch handy, that's as good as
anything."

"I thank you for your counsel, Tabitha.  I trust there may be no need."

"And I the like: but you might as well have the pitch ready."



CHAPTER TWENTY.

UNSTABLE AS WATER.

"And I hope, my dear son," said the Rev.  Mr Bastian, with a face and
voice as mellifluous as a honeycomb, "that all the members of your
household are faithful, and well affected towards the Church our
mother?"

The Rev.  Mr Bastian chose his words well.  If he had said, "as
faithful as yourself," Mr Roberts might have assented, with an interior
conviction that his own faithfulness was not without its limits.  He
left no such loophole of escape.  Mr Roberts could only reply that he
entertained a similar hope.  But whatever his hopes might be, his
expectations on that score were not extensive.  Mr Roberts had the
nature of the ostrich, and imagined that if he shut his eyes to the
thing he wished to avoid seeing, he thereby annihilated its existence.
Deep down in his heart he held considerable doubts as concerned more
than one member of his family; but the doubts were uncomfortable: so he
put them to bed, drew the curtains, and told them to be good doubts and
go to sleep.  When children are treated in this manner, mothers and
nurses know that sometimes they go to sleep.  But sometimes they don't.
And doubts are very much like children in that respect.  Occasionally
they consent to be smothered up and shelved aside; at other times they
break out and become provokingly noisy.  A good deal depends on the
vitality of both the doubts and the children.

Mr Roberts's doubts and fears--for they went together--that all his
household were not in a conformable state of mind, had hitherto gone to
sleep at his bidding; but lately they had been more difficult to manage.
He was uneasy about his sister, Mrs Collenwood; and with no diminution
of his affection for her, was beginning to realise that his mind would
be relieved when she ended her visit and went home.  He feared her
influence over Pandora.  For Gertrude he had no fears.  He knew, and so
did the priest, that Gertrude was not the sort of girl to indulge in
abstract speculations, religious or otherwise.  So long as her new gown
was not made in last year's fashion, and her mantua-maker did not put
her off with Venice ribbon when she wanted Tours, it mattered nothing at
all to Gertrude whether she attended mass or went to the nearest
conventicle.  Nor had the fears spread yet towards Mistress Grena, who
still appeared at mass on Sunday and holy-days, though with many inward
misgivings which she never spoke.

Perhaps the priest had sharper eyes than the easy-tempered master of
Primrose Croft.  But his tongue had lost nothing of its softness when he
next inquired--

"And how long, my son, does your sister, Mistress Collenwood, abide with
you?"

"Not much longer now, Father," replied the unhappy Mr Roberts, with a
private resolution that his answer should be true if he could make it
so.

Mr Bastian left that unpleasant topic, and proceeded to carry his
queries into the servants' department, Mr Roberts growing more relieved
as he proceeded.  He had never observed any want of conformity among his
servants, he assured the priest; so far as he knew, all were loyal to
the Catholic Church.  By that term both gentlemen meant, not the
universal body of Christian believers (the real signification of the
word), but that minority which blindly obeys the Pope, and being a
minority, is of course not Catholic nor universal.  When Mr Roberts's
apprehensions had thus been entirely lulled to rest, the wily priest
suddenly returned to the charge.

"I need not, I am fully ensured," he said in his suave manner, "ask any
questions touching your daughters."

"Of that, Father," answered Mr Roberts quickly, "you must be a better
judge than I.  But I do most unfeignedly trust that neither of my maids
hath given you any trouble by neglect of her religious duties?
Gertrude, indeed, is so--"

"Mistress Gertrude hath not given me trouble," replied the priest.  "Her
worst failing is one common to maidens--a certain lack of soberness.
But I cannot conceal from you, my son, that I am under some uneasiness
of mind as touching her sister."

Mr Bastian's uneasiness was nothing to that of the man he was engaged
in tormenting.  The terrified mouse does not struggle more eagerly to
escape the claws of the cat, than the suffering father of Pandora to
avoid implicating her in the eyes of his insinuating confessor.

"Forsooth, Father, you do indeed distress me," said he.  "If Pandora
have heard any foolish talk on matters of religion, I would gladly break
her from communication with any such of her acquaintance as can have
been thus ill-beseen.  Truly, I know not of any, and methought my sister
Grena kept the maids full diligently, that they should not fall into
unseemly ways.  I will speak, under your good leave, with both of them,
and will warn Pandora that she company not with such as seem like to
have any power over her for evil."

"Well said, my son!" responded the priest, with a slight twinkle in his
eye.  "Therein shall you do well; and in especial if you report to me
the names of any that you shall suspect to have ill-affected the maiden.
And now, methinks, I must be on my way home."

Mr Roberts devoutly thanked all the saints when he heard it.  The
priest took up his hat, brushed a stray thread from its edge, and said,
as he laid his hand upon his silver-headed stick--said it as though the
idea had just occurred to him--

"You spake of Mistress Holland.  She, of course, is true to holy Church
beyond all doubts?"

Mr Roberts went back to his previous condition of a frightened mouse.

"In good sooth, Father, I make no question thereof, nor never so did.
She conformeth in all respects, no doth she?"

The cat smiled to itself at the poor mouse's writhings under its playful
pats.

"She conformeth--ay: but I scarce need warn you, my son, that there be
many who conform outwardly, where the heart is not accordant with the
actions.  I trust, in very deed, that it were an unjust matter so to
speak of Mistress Holland."

Saying which, the cat withdrew its paw, and suffered the mouse to escape
to its hole until another little excitement should be agreeable to it.
In other words, the priest said good-bye, and left Mr Roberts in a
state of mingled relief for the moment and apprehension for the future.
For a few minutes that unhappy gentleman sat lost in meditation.  Then
rising with a muttered exclamation, wherein "meddlesome praters" were
the only words distinguishable, he went to the foot of the stairs, and
called up them, "Pandora!"

"There, now!  You'll hear of something!" said Gertrude to her sister, as
she stood trying on a new apron before the glass.  "You'd best go down.
When Father's charitably-minded he says either `Pan' or `Dorrie.'
`Pandora' signifies he's in a taking."

"I have done nought to vex him that I know of," replied Pandora, rising
from her knees before a drawer wherein she was putting some lace tidily
away.

"Well, get not me in hot water," responded Gertrude.  "Look you, Pan,
were this lace not better to run athwart toward the left hand?"

"I cannot wait to look, True; I must see what Father would have."

As Pandora hastened downstairs, her aunt, Mrs Collenwood, came out of
her room and joined her.

"I hear my brother calling you," she said.  "I would fain have a word
with him, so I will go withal."

The ladies found Mr Roberts wandering to and fro in the dining-room,
with the aspect of a very dissatisfied man.  He turned at once to his
daughter.

"Pandora, when were you at confession?"

Pandora's heart beat fast.  "Not this week, Father."

"Nor this month, maybe?"

"I am somewhat unsure, Father."

"Went you to mass on Saint Chad's Day?"

"Yes, Father."

"And this Saint Perpetua?"

"No, Father; I had an aching of mine head, you mind."

"Thomas," interjected Mrs Collenwood, before the examination could
proceed further, "give me leave, pray you, to speak a word, which I
desire to say quickly, and you can resume your questioning of Pandora at
after.  I think to return home Thursday shall be a se'nnight; and, your
leave granted, I would fain carry Pan with me.  Methinks this air is not
entirely wholesome for her at this time; and unless I err greatly, it
should maybe save her some troublement if she tarried with me a season.
I pray you, consider of the same, and let me know your mind thereon as
early as may stand with your conveniency: and reckon me not tedious if I
urge you yet again not to debar the same without right good reason.  I
fear somewhat for the child, without she can change the air, and that
right soon."

Pandora listened in astonishment.  She was quite unconscious of bodily
ailment, either present or likely to come.  What could Aunt Frances
mean?  But Mr Roberts saw, what Pandora did not, a very significant
look in his sister's eyes, which said, more plainly than her words, that
danger of some kind lay in wait for her niece if she remained in Kent,
and was to be expected soon.  He fidgeted up and down the room for a
moment, played nervously with an alms-dish on the side-board, took up
Cicero's Orations and laid it down again, and at last said, in a tone
which indicated relief from vexation--

"Well, well!  Be it so, if you will.  Make thee ready, then, child, to
go with thine aunt.  Doth Grena know your desire, Frank?"

"Grena and I have taken counsel," replied Mrs Collenwood, "and this is
her avisement no less than mine."

"Settle it so, then.  I thank you, Frank, for your care for the maid.
When shall she return?"

"It were better to leave that for time to come.  But, Thomas, I go about
to ask a favour of you more."

"Go to! what is it?"

"That you will not name to any man Pandora's journey with me.  Not to
any man," repeated Mrs Collenwood, with a stress on the last two words.

Mr Roberts looked at her.  Her eyes conveyed serious warning.  He knew
as well as if she had shouted the words in his ears that the real
translation of her request was, "Do not tell the priest."  But it was
not safe to say it.  Wherever there are Romish priests, there must be
silent looks and tacit hints and unspoken understandings.

"Very good, Frances," he said: "I will give no man to wit thereof."

"I thank you right heartily, Tom.  Should Dorrie abide here for your
further satisfying, or may she go with me?"

"Go with you, go with you," answered Mr Roberts hastily, waving Pandora
away.  "No need any further--time presseth, and I have business to see
to."

Mrs Collenwood smiled silently as she motioned to Pandora to pass out.
Mr Roberts could scarcely have confessed more plainly that the priest
had set him to a catechising of which he was but too thankful to be rid.
"Poor Tom!" she said to herself.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

CHECK!

Pandora would have spoken as soon as they left the dining-room, but she
was stopped by a motion of her aunt's hand.  Mrs Collenwood took her
into her own bedroom, shut and barred the door, glanced inside a hanging
closet to see that no one was secreted there, and seating herself on the
cushioned seat which ran round the inside of the bay window, signed to
her niece to take a seat beside her.

"Now, Dorrie, speak thy desire."

"Aunt Frances, I am surprised with wonder!  Pray you, what ail I, that I
must quit home thus suddenly?  I feel right well, and knew not there was
aught ado with mine health."

Pandora's voice betrayed a little alarm.  It certainly was a startling
thing for a girl who felt and believed herself in excellent health, to
hear suddenly that unless she had instant change of air, serious
consequences might be expected to ensue.

Mrs Collenwood smiled--an affectionate, almost compassionate smile--as
she patted Pandora's shoulder.

"Take thine heart to thee, Dorrie.  Thou art not sick, and if I can have
thee away in sufficient time, God allowing, thou shalt not be.  But I
fear, if thou tarry, thou mayest have an attack of a certain pestilence
that is rife in Kent at this season."

"Pestilence, Aunt Frances!  I never heard of no such going about.  But
if so, why I alone?  There be Father, and True, and Aunt Grena--should
they not go likewise?"

"No fear for Gertrude," answered Mrs Collenwood, almost sadly.  "And
not much, methinks, for thy father.  I am lesser sure of thine Aunt
Grena: but I have not yet been able to prevail with her to accompany
us."

"But what name hath this pestilence, under your good leave, Aunt
Frances?"

"It is called, Dorrie--persecution."

The colour rose slowly in Pandora's cheeks, until her whole face was
suffused.

"Methinks I take you now, Aunt," she said.  "But, if I may have liberty
to ask at you, wherefore think you Father and True to be safer than Aunt
Grena and I?"

"Because they would yield, Dorrie.  I misdoubt any charge brought
against Gertrude; 'tis not such as she that come before religious
tribunals.  They will know they have her safe enough."

"Aunt Frances," said Pandora in a whisper, "think you I should not
yield?"

"I hope thou wouldst not, Dorrie."

"But how wist you--how could you know," asked the girl passionately,
"what I had kept so carefully concealed?  How could you know that I
hated to go to mass, and availed myself of every whit of excuse that
should serve my turn to stay away from confession?--that I besought God
every night, yea, with tears, to do away this terrible state of matters,
and to grant us rulers under whom we might worship Him without fear,
according to His will and word?  I counted I had hidden mine heart from
every eye but His.  Aunt Frances, how _could_ you know?"

Mrs Collenwood drew Pandora into her arms.

"Because, my child, I had done the same."

The girl's arms came round her aunt's neck, and their cheeks were
pressed close.

"O Aunt Frances, I am so glad!  I have so lacked one to speak withal
herein!  I have thought at times, if I had but one human creature to
whom I might say a word!--and then there was nobody but God--I seemed
driven to Him alone."

"That is blessed suffering, my dear heart, which drives souls to God;
and there he will come with nought lesser.  Dorrie, methinks thou scarce
mindest thy mother?"

"Oh, but I do, Aunt!  She was the best and dearest mother that ever was.
True loves not to talk of her, nor of any that is dead; so that here
also I had to shut up my thoughts within myself; but I mind her--ay,
that I do!"

"Niece, when she lay of her last sickness, she called me to her, and
quoth she--`Frances, I have been sore troubled for my little Dorrie: but
methinks now I have let all go, and have left her in the hands of God.
Only if ever the evil days should come again, and persecution arise
because of the witness of Jesus, and the Word of God, and the testimony
which we hold--tell her, if you find occasion, as her mother's last
dying word to her, that she hold fast the word of the truth of the
Gospel, and be not moved away therefrom, neither by persuading nor
threatening.  'Tis he that overcometh, and he only, that shall have the
crown of life.'  Never till now, Pandora, my dear child, have I told
thee these words of thy dead and saintly mother.  I pray God lay them on
thine heart, that thou mayest stand in the evil day--yea, whether thou
escape these things or no, thou mayest stand before the Son of Man at
His coming."

Pandora had hidden her face on Mrs Collenwood's shoulder.

"Oh, _do_ pray, Aunt Frances!" she said, with a sob.

The days for a week after that were very busy ones.  Every day some one
or two bags were packed, and quietly conveyed at nightfall by Mrs
Collenwood's own man to an inn about four miles distant.  Pandora was
kept indoors, except one day, when she went with Mrs Collenwood to take
leave of Christie.  That morning the priest called and expressed a wish
to speak to her: but being told that she was gone to see a friend, said
he would call again the following day.  Of this they were told on their
return.  Mrs Collenwood's cheeks paled a little; then, with set lips,
and a firm step, she sought her brother in his closet, or as we should
say, his study.

"Tom," she said, when the door was safely shut, "we must be gone this
night."

Mr Roberts looked up in considerable astonishment.

"This night!--what mean you, Frances?  The clouds be gathering for rain,
and your departure was fixed for Thursday."

"Ay, the clouds be gathering," repeated Mrs Collenwood meaningly, "and
I am 'feared Pandora, if not I, may be caught in the shower.  Have you
not heard that Father Bastian desired to speak with her whilst we were
hence this morrow?  We must be gone, Tom, ere he come again."

Mr Roberts, who was busy with his accounts, set down a five as the
addition of eight and three, with a very faint notion of what he was
doing.

"Well!" he said, in an undecided manner.  "Well! it is--it is not--it
shall look--"

"How should it look," replied Mrs Collenwood, with quiet incisiveness,
"to see Pandora bound to the stake for burning?"

Mr Roberts threw out his hands as if to push away the terrible
suggestion.

"It may come to that, Tom, if we tarry.  For, without I mistake, the
girl is not made of such willowy stuff as--some folks be."

She just checked herself from saying, "as you are."

Mr Roberts passed his fingers through his hair, in a style which said,
as plainly as words, that he was about at his wits' end.  Perhaps he had
not far to go to reach that locality.

"Good lack!" he said.  "Dear heart!--well-a-day!"

"She will be safe with me," said her aunt, "for a time at least.  And if
danger draw near there also, I can send her thence to certain friends of
mine in a remote part amongst the mountains, where a priest scarce
cometh once in three years.  And ere that end, God may work changes in
this world."

"Well, if it must be--"

"It must be, Tom; and it shall be for the best."

"It had been better I had wist nought thereof.  They shall be sure to
question me."

Mrs Collenwood looked with a smile of pitying contempt on the man who
was weaker than herself.  The contempt predominated at first: then it
passed into pity.

"Thou shalt know nought more than now, Tom," she said quietly.  "Go thou
up, and get thee a-bed, but leave the key of the wicket-gate on this
table."

"I would like to have heard you had gat safe away," said poor Mr
Roberts, feeling in his pockets for the key.

"You would speedily hear if we did not," was the answer.

Mr Roberts sighed heavily as he laid down the key.

"Well, I did hope to keep me out of this mess.  I had thought, by
outward conforming, and divers rich gifts to the priest, and so forth--
'Tis hard a man cannot be at peace in his own house."

"'Tis far harder when he is not at peace in his own soul."

"Ah!"  The tone of the exclamation said that was quite too good to
expect, at any rate for the speaker.

Mrs Collenwood laid her hand on her brother's shoulder.

"Tom, we are parting for a long season--it may be for all time.  Suffer
me speak one word with thee, for the sake of our loving mother, and for
her saintly sake that sleepeth in All Saints' churchyard, whose head lay
on my bosom when her spirit passed to God.  There will come a day, good
brother, when thou shalt stand before an higher tribunal than that of my
Lord Cardinal, to hear a sentence whence there shall be none appeal.
What wouldst thou in that day that thou hadst done in this?  As thou
wilt wish thou hadst done then, do now."

"I--can't," faltered the unhappy waverer.

"I would as lief be scalded and have done with it, Tom, as live in such
endless terror of hot water coming nigh me.  Depend on it, it should be
the lesser suffering in the end."

"There's Gertrude," he suggested in the same tone.

"Leave Gertrude be.  They'll not touch her.  Gertrude shall be of that
religion which is the fashion, to the end of her days--without the Lord
turn her--and folks of that mettle need fear no persecution.  Nay, Tom,
'tis not Gertrude that holdeth thee back from coming out on the Lord's
side.  God's side is ever the safest in the end.  It is thine own weak
heart and weak faith, wherein thou restest, and wilt not seek the
strength that can do all things, which God is ready to grant thee but
for the asking."

"You are a good woman, Frances," answered her brother, with more feeling
than he usually showed, "and I would I were more like you."

"Tarry not there, Tom: go on to `I would I were more like Christ.'
There be wishes that fulfil themselves; and aspirations after God be of
that nature.  And now, dear brother, I commend thee to God, and to the
word of His grace.  Be thou strong in the Lord, and in the power of His
might!"

They kissed each other for the last time, and Mrs Collenwood stood
listening to the slow, heavy step which passed up the stairs and into
the bedroom overhead.  When Mr Roberts had shut and barred his door,
she took up the key, and with a sigh which had reference rather to his
future than to her present, went to seek Pandora.  Their little packages
of immediate necessaries were soon made up.  When the clock struck
midnight--an hour at which in 1557 everybody was in bed--two well
cloaked and hooded women crept out of the low-silled window of the
dinning-room, and made their silent and solitary way through the shrubs
of the pleasure-ground to the little wicket-gate which opened on the
Goudhurst road.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

POTS AND PANS.

Mrs Collenwood unlocked the little wicket, and let herself and Pandora
out into the public road.  Then she relocked the gate, and after a
moment's thought, feeling in the darkness, she hung the key on a bush
close to the gate, where it could not be seen from the road.  Both
ladies carried lanterns, for the omission of this custom would have
raised more suspicion than its observance, had they been met by any one,
and there were no public street lamps in those days.  They were bound
first for the little hostelry, called the Nun's Head, in the village of
Lamberhurst, where Mrs Collenwood had desired her servant to await her;
the landlady of which was known to those in the secret to be one of "the
brethren," and was therefore sure to befriend and not betray them, if
she guessed the truth.  Slowly and painfully they made their way by a
circuitous route, to avoid passing through Goudhurst, and Pandora, who
was not much accustomed to walking, began to be very tired before half
the way was traversed.  They had just reached the road again, and were
making their way slowly through the ruts and puddles--for English roads
at that date were in a state which happily we can do little more than
imagine--when they heard the sound of hoofs a little way behind them.
Mrs Collenwood laid her hand on Pandora's arm.

"Hide the lantern under thy cloak," she whispered; "and we will creep
into this field and 'bide quat under the hedge, till the party shall
have passed by."

The advice was put into practice.  The hoofs drew near, accompanied by a
jingling sound which seemed to come from pottery.  It was now near one
o'clock.  The ladies kept as still as mice.  They were not reassured
when the sound came to a stand-still, just before the gate of the field
where they were hidden, and a man's voice, strange to them, said--

"It was just here I lost the sight of the lanterns.  They cannot be far
off."

Mrs Collenwood felt Pandora's hand clasp her wrist tight in the
darkness.

"Bide a moment, Tom, and I will search in the field," said another
voice.

Mrs Collenwood gave all up for lost.

"Mistress Pandora, are you there?" said the voice which had last spoken.

"Aunt Frances, 'tis Mr Hall!" cried Pandora joyfully.

"Ah!  I am right glad I have found you," said Roger, as he came up to
them.  "I have been searching you this hour, being confident, from what
I heard, that you would attempt to get away to-night.  I pray you to
allow of my company."

"In good sooth, Mr Hall, we be right thankful of your good company,"
answered Mrs Collenwood.  "'Tis ill work for two weak women such as we
be."

"Truly, my mistress, methinks you must both have lion-like hearts, so
much as to think of essaying your escape after this fashion.  You will
be the safer for my presence.  I have here an ass laden with pots and
pans, and driven by a good man and true, a Gospeller to boot--one of
your own men from the cloth-works, that is ready to guard his master's
daughter at the hazard of his life if need be.  If you be willing, good
my mistress, to sell tins and pitchers in this present need--"

"Use me as you judge best, Master Hall," said Mrs Collenwood heartily.
"I am willing to sell tins, or scour them, or anything, the better to
elude suspicion."

"Well said.  Then my counsel is that we turn right about, and pass
straight through Goudhurst, so soon as the dawn shall break.  The
boldest way is at times the safest."

"But is not that to lose time?"

"To lose time is likewise sometimes to gun it," said Roger, with a
smile.  "There is one danger, my mistresses, whereof you have not
thought.  To all that see you as you are, your garb speaks you
gentlewomen, and gentlewomen be not wont to be about, in especial
unattended, at this hour of the night.  If it please you to accept of my
poor provision, I have here, bound on the ass, two women's cloaks and
hoods of the common sort, such as shall better comport with the selling
of pots than silken raiment; and if I may be suffered to roll up the
cloaks you bear in like manner, you can shift you back to them when meet
is so to do."

"Verily, 'tis passing strange that had never come to my mind!" replied
Mrs Collenwood.  "Mr Hall, we owe you more thanks than we may lightly
speak."

They changed their cloaks, rolling up those they took off, and tying
them securely on the donkey, covered by a piece of canvas, with which
Roger was provided.  The hoods were changed in like manner.  The donkey
was driven into the field in charge of Tom Hartley, who pulled his
forelock to his ladies; and the trio sat down to await daylight.

"And if it like you, my mistresses," added Roger, "if it should please
Mistress Collenwood to speak to me by the name of Hodge, and Mistress
Pandora by that of father or uncle, methinks we should do well."

"Nay, Mr Hall; but I will call you brother," said Pandora, smiling;
"for that is what you truly are, both in the Gospel and in descent from
Adam."

In perfect quiet they passed the five hours which elapsed ere the sun
rose.  As soon as ever the light began to break, Roger led forth the
donkey; Tom trudging behind with a stick, and the ladies walked
alongside.

Rather to their surprise, Roger took his stand openly in the market
place of Goudhurst, where he drove a brisk trade with his pots and pans;
Mrs Collenwood taking up the business as if she had been to the manner
born, and much to Pandora's admiration.

"Brown pitchers, my mistress?  The best have we, be sure.  Twopence the
dozen, these; but we have cheaper if your honour wish them."

Another time it was, "What lack you, sweet sir?  Chafing-dishes,
shaving-basins, bowls, goblets, salts?  All good and sound--none of your
trumpery rubbish!"

And Roger and Tom both lifted up sonorous voices in the cry of--

"Pots and pans!  Pots and pa-ans!  Chargers, dishes, plates, cups,
bowls, por-ring-ers!  Come buy, come buy, come buy!"

The articles were good--Roger had seen to that--and they went off
quickly.  Ladies, country housewives, farmers, substantial yeomen, with
their wives and daughters, came up to buy, until the donkey's load was
considerably diminished.  At length a priest appeared as a customer.
Pandora's heart leaped into her mouth; and Mrs Collenwood, as she
produced yellow basins for his inspection, was not entirely without her
misgivings.  But the reverend gentleman's attention seemed concentrated
on the yellow basins, of which he bought half-a-dozen for a penny, and
desired them to be delivered at the Vicarage.  Roger bowed extra low as
he assured the priest that the basins should be there, without fail, in
an hour, and having now reduced his goods to a load of much smaller
dimensions, he intimated that they "might as well be moving forward."
The goods having been duly delivered, Roger took the road to
Lamberhurst, and they arrived without further misadventure at the Nun's
Head, where Mrs Collenwood's servant, Zachary, was on the look-out for
them.

To Mrs Collenwood's amusement, Zachary did not recognise her until she
addressed him by name; a satisfactory proof that her disguise was
sufficient for the purpose.  They breakfasted at the Nun's Head, on
Canterbury brawn (for which that city was famous) and a chicken pie, and
resumed their own attire, but carrying the cloaks of Roger's providing
with them, as a resource if necessity should arise.

"Aunt Frances," said Pandora, as they sat at breakfast, "I never thought
you could have made so good a tradeswoman.  Pray you, how knew you what
to say to the folks?"

"Why, child!" answered Mrs Collenwood, laughing, "dost reckon I have
never bought a brown pitcher nor a yellow basin, that I should not know
what price to ask?"

"Oh, I signified not that so much, Aunt; but--all the talk, and the
fashion wherein you addressed you to the work."

"My mother--your grandmother, Dorrie--was used to say to me, `Whatever
thou hast ado with, Frank, put thine heart and thy wits therein.'  'Tis
a good rule, and will stand a woman in stead for better things than
selling pots."

Zachary had made full provision for his mistress's journey.  The horses
were ready, and the baggage-mules also.  He rode himself before Mrs
Collenwood, and an old trustworthy man-servant was to sit in front of
Pandora.  All was ready for proceeding at half-an-hour's notice, and
Mrs Collenwood determined to go on at once.

When it came to the leave-taking, she drew a gold ring from her finger,
and gave it to Tom Hartley, with a promise that his master should hear
through Roger Hall, so soon as the latter deemed it safe, of the very
essential service which he had rendered her.  Then she turned to Roger
himself.

"But to you, Mr Hall," she said, "how can I give thanks, or in what
words clothe them?  Verily, I am bankrupt therein, and can only thank
you to say I know not how."

"Dear mistress," answered Roger, "have you forgot that 'tis I owe thanks
to you, that you seek to magnify my simple act into so great deserving?
They that of their kindness cheer my little suffering Christie's lonely
life, deserve all the good that I can render them.  My little maid
prayed me to say unto you both that she sent you her right loving
commendations, and that she would pray for your safe journey every day
the whilst it should last, and for your safety and good weal afterward.
She should miss you both sorely, quoth she; but she would pray God to
bless you, and would strive to her utmost to abide by all your good and
kindly counsel given unto her."

"Dear little Christie!" said Pandora affectionately.  "I pray you,
Master Hall, tell her I shall never forget her, and I trust God may
grant us to meet again in peace."

"I cast no doubt of that, Mistress Pandora," was the grave answer,
"though 'twill be, very like, in a better land than this."

"And I do hope," added she, "that Mistress Benden may ere long be set
free."

Roger shook his head.

"I have given up that hope," he said; "yea, well-nigh all hopes, for
this lower world."

"There is alway hope where God is," said Mrs Collenwood.

"Truth, my mistress," he replied; "but God is in Heaven, and hope is
safest there."

It was nearly eleven o'clock in the morning when the travellers set out
from the Nun's Head.  Roger Hall stood in the doorway, looking after
them, until the last glimpse could no longer be perceived.  Then, with a
sigh, he turned to Tom Hartley, who stood beside him.

"Come, Tom!" he said, "let us, thou and I, go home and do God's will."

"Ay, master, and let God do His will with us," was the cheery answer.

Then the two men and the donkey set out for Cranbrook.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

CAT AND MOUSE.

It was Mr Roberts's custom to go down to the cloth-works every
Tuesday--saints' days excepted--and in pursuance of this habit he made
his appearance in the counting-house on the morning after the departure
of the two ladies.  Roger Hall was at his post as usual, waited on his
master, gave in his accounts, and received his orders.  When the other
business was over, Roger said, in the same tone and manner as before--

"Those two parcels of rare goods, master, sent forth yester-even, that
you wot of, I saw myself so far as Lamberhurst, and they be in safe
hands for the further journey."

Mr Roberts did not at once, as might now be done, ask Roger what he was
talking about.  The days of Romish ascendency in England were days when
everybody knew that if a man's meaning were not simple and apparent,
there was probably some reason why he dared not speak too plainly, and
it was perilous to ask for an explanation.  Mr Roberts looked up into
his manager's face, and at once guessed his meaning.  He was seriously
alarmed to see it.  How had Roger Hall become possessed of that
dangerous secret, which might bring him to prison if it were known?  For
the penalty for merely "aiding and abetting" a heretic was "perpetual
prison."  Those who gave a cup of cold water to one of Christ's little
ones did it at the peril of their own liberty.

Let us pause for a moment and try to imagine what that would be to
ourselves.  Could we run such risks for Christ's sake--knowing that on
every hand were spies and enemies who would be only too glad to bring us
to ruin, not to speak of those idle gossiping people who do much of the
world's mischief, without intending harm?  It would be hard work to
follow the Master when He took the road to Gethsemane.  Only love could
do it.  Would our love stand that sharp test?

All this passed in a moment.  What Mr Roberts said was only--"Good.
Well done."  Then he bent his head over the accounts again; raising it
to say shortly--"Hall, prithee shut yon door; the wind bloweth in cold
this morrow."  Roger Hall obeyed silently: but a change came over Mr
Roberts as soon as the door was shut on possible listening ears.  He
beckoned Roger to come close to him.

"How wist you?" he whispered.

"Guessed it, Master."  It was desirable to cut words as short as
possible.  "Saw him go up to your house.  Thought what should follow."

"You followed them?"

"No; came too late.  Searched, and found them in a field near
Goudhurst."

A shudder came over Pandora's father at the thought of what might have
been, if the priest had been the searcher.

"Any one else know?"

"Tom Hartley--true as steel, Master.  Two were needful for my plan.
Mistress bade me commend him to you, as he that had done her right good
service."

"He shall fare the better for it.  And you likewise."

Roger smiled.  "I did but my duty, Master."

"How many folks do so much?" asked Mr Roberts, with a sigh.  _He_ could
not have said that.  After a moment's thought he added--"Raise Hartley
twopence by the week; and take you twenty pounds by the year instead of
sixteen as now."

"I thank you, Master," said Roger warmly: "but it was not for that."

"I know--I know!" answered the master, as he held out his hand to clasp
that of his manager--a rare and high favour at that time.  And then,
suddenly, came one of those unexpected, overpowering heart-pourings,
which have been said to be scarcely more under the control of the giver
than of the recipient.  "Hall, I could not have done this thing.  How
come you to have such strength and courage?  Would I had them!"

"Master, I have neither, save as I fetch them from Him that hath.  `I
can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.'"

"He doth not strengthen me!" moaned the weak man.

"Have you asked Him, Master?" quietly replied the strong one.

Mr Roberts made no answer, and Roger knew that meant a negative.  In
his heart the master was conscious that he had not asked.  He had said
multitudinous "paters" and "aves," had repeated "Hail Marys" by the
score--all the while half thinking of something else; but never once in
his inmost soul had he said to the Lord--"Saviour, I am weak; make me
strong."  A few minutes' silence, and Mr Roberts turned back to the
accounts, half-ashamed that he had allowed that glimpse of his true self
to be seen.  And Roger Hall said no more, except to God.

The master went home to supper at four o'clock.  Ten was then the hour
for dinner, four for supper; people who kept late hours made it eleven
and five.  As Mr Roberts came in sight of his own door, his heart sank
down into his shoes.  On the door-step stood a black-robed figure which
he knew only too well, and which he would gladly have given a handful of
gold to know he might have no chance of seeing for a month to come.  A
faint idea of hiding himself in the shrubs crossed his mind for a
moment; but he could not stay there for an indefinite time, and the
priest would in all probability wait for him, if it were he whom he
meant to see.  No, it would be better to go forward and get it over; but
it was with a fervid wish that it were over that Mr Roberts went on and
deferentially saluted his Rector.

That reverend gentleman thoroughly understood his man.  Had it been
possible to gauge the human soul with a thermometer, he could have
guessed with accuracy how it would read.  He met him, not with severity,
but with a deep gravity which conveyed the idea that something serious
required discussion, and that he earnestly hoped the culprit would be
able to clear himself of the charge.

In the hall they were met by Mistress Grena and Gertrude, who had seen
them coming, and who came forward, as in duty bound, to show extra
respect to their spiritual pastor.  The genuine spirituality was more
than dubious: but that did not matter.  He was a "spiritual person"--
though the person was exceedingly unspiritual!

The priest gave a blessing to the ladies with two fingers extended in a
style which must require some practice, and at Mistress Grena's request
sat down with them to supper.  During the meal the conversation was
general, though the priest retained his serious aspect of something
unpleasant to come.  The heavy part of the supper was over, and cheese,
with late apples, Malaga raisins, and Jordan almonds, had made their
appearance; the ladies prepared to withdraw.

"Mistress Holland," said the Rector, "I beseech you to tarry yet a
little season"--adding to Gertrude, "I need not detain you, my
daughter."

Gertrude escaped with great satisfaction.  "Those two are going to catch
it!" she said to herself; "I am glad I am out of it!"  Mr Roberts knew
sorrowfully that the surmise was woefully true, but he was rather
relieved to find that his sister-in-law was "going to catch it" with
him.  Her presence was a sort of stick for him to lean on.

"My son," said the Rector to Mr Roberts, with an air of sorrowful
reluctance to begin a distasteful piece of work, "it troubleth me sorely
to do that I must needs do, but necessity hath no law.  Remember, I pray
you, that as yesterday I called here, desiring to have speech of your
youngest daughter, and was told by Osmund your butler that she was
visiting a friend."

"That was fully truth, Father," said Mistress Grena, as if she supposed
that the Rector was about to complain of some duplicity on the part of
Osmund.

Mr Bastian waved aside the assurance.

"I left word," he continued, repeating the words with emphasis, "_I left
word_ that I would call to see her this morrow.  Here am I; and what
have I now learned?  That she left this house yester-even, without so
much as a word of excuse, not to say a beseechment of pardon, when she
knew that I purposed having speech of her."  His voice became more
stern.  "Is this the manner wherein ye deal with the ministers of holy
Church?  Truly, had I just cause to suspect your fidelity to her, this
were enough to proceed on.  But trusting ye may yet have ability to
plead your excuse"--a slightly more suave tone was allowed to soften the
voice--"I wait to hear it, ere I take steps that were molestous to you,
and truly unwelcome unto me.  What say ye in extenuation thereof?"

"We are verily sorry, Father," came quietly from Mistress Grena, "that
no meet apology hath been offered unto you for this discourtesy, and we
pray you of your grace and goodness right gentilly to accept the same
even now.  Truly the matter stands thus: Our sister, Mistress
Collenwood, had in purpose to tarry with us divers days longer; but
yester-even tidings came unto her the which caused her to hasten her
departure, not tarrying so much as one night more; and as she had
desired to take Pandora withal, it was needful that her departure should
be hastened likewise.  You wot well, good Father, I am assured, the
bustle and business caused by such sudden resolve, and the little time
left for thought therein: but for any consequent lack of respect unto
yourself and your holy office, we are full sorry, and do right humbly
entreat you of pardon."

Mr Roberts breathed more freely.  He thought the woman's wit was about
to prevail, and to salve over the offence.

The priest, on his part, perceived with regret that he had made a
mistake in retaining Mistress Grena.  Her representations were very
plausible, and she was not so easily cowed as her brother-in-law.  He
considered a moment how to proceed.

"In truth, my daughter," he said, addressing her, "you have fully made
your excuse, and I allow it right gladly.  I may well conceive that in
the haste and labour of making ready on so sudden summons, both you and
your niece may easily have forgat the matter.  I need not keep you
longer from your household duties.  God grant you a good even!"

Mistress Grena had no resource but to withdraw in answer to this
dismissal, her heart filled with sore forebodings.  She had hoped the
excuse might be held to cover the whole family; but it was evident the
priest had no intention of accepting it as including the male portion
thereof.  As she passed Mr Roberts, with her back to the priest, she
gave him a warning look; but her hope that he would take the warning was
as small as it could well be.

"And now, my son," said the Rector softly, turning to his remaining
victim, "how say you?  Were you likewise busied in preparing the
gentlewomen for their journey?"



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

COUNTERPLOT.

A man to be very much pitied was poor Mr Roberts.  Not only had he to
pacify the priest, but Mistress Grena's line of defence, plausible as it
sounded, had unhappily crossed and invalidated the excuse he had
intended to make for himself.  His faint, hazy purpose up to that time
had been to deny any knowledge of the escape; but after it had been thus
represented as a natural, every-day occurrence, how was he to keep up
the story?  Yet he had no other ready.

"No, Father--ay, it--I was a-bed," was his blundering reply.

The priest's voice was sweet as a newly-tuned piano.

"Was it not strange, my son, that you heard no sounds from beneath?  Or
went you up, knowing what was passing?"

What was the poor man to do?  If he acknowledged that he knew of the
escape of the fugitives, he laid himself open to the charge of "aiding
and abetting"; if he denied it, he practically denied also the truth of
Grena's defence.  At that moment he would have given every acre and
shilling in his possession to be free from this horrible
cross-questioning.

The cat watched the poor mouse wriggle with grim satisfaction.  Either
way, it would come to its claws at last.

Suddenly the scene of the morning was reproduced to the mind's eye of
the tortured man.  Roger Hall's voice seemed to say again--"Have you
asked Him, Master?"  Faintly, tremblingly in the unwontedness of the
act, the request was made, and even that slight contact with the
unchanging Rock steadied the wavering feet.  He must speak truth, and
uphold Grena.

"Father," he said in a changed tone, "my sister told you true.  The
journey was hastened, and that suddenly."

The change in his tone puzzled the priest.  What had come to the man, in
that momentary interval, to nerve him thus anew?

"How came the news, my son?"

Mr Roberts was thankfully able to answer that he knew not.

"But surely, with so much baggage as Mistress Collenwood must have borne
withal, the number of horses that left your house could not but be noted
of them in the vicinage.  Yet I am told no sound was heard."

"My sister sent the most part of her baggage away before her," was the
answer.

"Remember," said the Rector sternly, "the sin you incur if you deceive a
priest!"

"I have not spoken one untrue word, Father."

At that moment the door-bell was rung, and answered by Osmund, who,
coming into the room, deferentially informed the priest that my Lord
Cardinal had sent his sumner to the Rectory, with a command that he, Mr
Bastian, should attend his court at eight o'clock on the following
morning.  The interruption was welcome to both parties.  The priest was
perplexed, and wanted time to think, no less than Mr Roberts.  He had
anticipated an easy victory, and found himself unaccountably baffled.

In the present day, no English gentleman would bear such questioning by
a priest.  The latter would very soon be told, in however civil
language, that an Englishman's house was his castle, and that he held
himself responsible for his actions to God alone.  But the iron terror
of Rome was then over every heart.  No priest could be defied, nor his
questions evaded, with impunity.  If those days ever come back, it will
be the fault and the misery of Englishmen who would not take warning by
the past, but who suffered the enemy to creep in again "while men
slept."  The liberties of England, let us never forget, were bought with
the blood of the Marian martyrs.

No sooner had the priest departed than Mistress Grena silently slid into
the room.  She had evidently been on the watch.

"Brother," she said, in a voice which trembled with doubt and fear,
"what have you told him?"

"What you told him, Grena."

"Oh!"  The exclamation spoke of intense relief.

"But you may thank Roger Hall for it."

"Roger Hall!--what ado had he therewith?"

"If you ask at him," answered Mr Roberts with a smile, "methinks he
will scarce know."

"Will he come again?" she asked fearfully--not alluding to Roger Hall.

"I wis not.  Very like he will--maybe till he have consumed us.  Grena,
I know not how it hath been with you, but for me, I have been an arrant
coward.  God aiding me, I will be thus no longer, but will go forth in
the strength of the Lord God.  Believe you these lying wonders and
deceitful doctrines? for I do not, and have never so done, though I have
made believe to do it.  I will make believe no longer.  I will be a man,
and no more a puppet, to be moved at the priest's pleasure.  Thank God,
Pan is safe, and Gertrude is not like to fall in trouble.  How say you?
Go you with me, or keep you Gertrude's company?"

Then Grena Holland broke down.  All her little prim preciseness
vanished, and the real woman she was came out of her shell and showed
herself.

"O Tom!" she said, sobbing till she could hardly speak: for when
restrained, self-contained natures like hers break down, they often do
it utterly.  "O Tom!  God bless thee, and help me to keep by thee, and
both of us to be faithful to the end!  I too have sinned and done
foolishly, and set evil ensample.  Forgive me, my brother, and God
forgive us both!"

Mr Roberts passed his arm round her, and gave her the kiss of peace.

"Methinks we had best forgive each the other, Grena; and I say Amen to
thy `God forgive us both!'"

When Mr Bastian arrived at Canterbury a little after daybreak the next
morning, he found, as he had expected, that while the message had been
sent in the name of Cardinal Pole, it was really the Bishop of Dover who
required his attendance.  The Bishop wanted to talk with the parish
priest concerning the accused persons from his parish.  He read their
names from a paper whereon he had them noted down--"John Fishcock,
butcher; Nicholas White, ironmonger; Nicholas Pardue, cloth-worker;
Alice Benden, gentlewoman; Barbara Final, widow, innkeeper; Sens
Bradbridge, widow; Emmet Wilson, cloth-worker's wife."

"Touching Alice Benden," said the Bishop, "I require no note at your
hands; I have divers times spoken with her, and know her to be a right
obstinate heretic, glorying in her errors.  'Tis the other concerning
whom I would have some discourse with you.  First, this John Fishcock,
the butcher: is he like to be persuaded or no?"

"Methinks, nay, my Lord: yet am I not so full sure of him as of some
other.  The two Nicholases, trow, are surer of the twain.  You should as
soon shake an ancient oak as White; and Pardue, though he be a man of
few words, is of stubborn conditions."

"Those men of few words oft-times are thus.  And how for the women,
Brother?  Barbara Final--what is she?"

"A pleasant, well-humoured, kindly fashion of woman; yet methinks not
one to be readily moved."

"Sens Bradbridge?"

"A poor creature--weakly, with few wits.  I should say she were most
like of any to recant, save that she hath so little wit, it were scarce
to our credit if she so did."

The Bishop laughed.  "Emmet Wilson?"

"A plain woman, past middle age, of small learning, yet good wit by
nature.  You shall not move her, holy Father, or I mistake."

"These heretics, what labour they give us!" said Dick of Dover, rather
testily.  "'Tis passing strange they cannot conform and have done with
it, and be content to enjoy their lives and liberties in peace."

Having no principle himself, the Bishop was unable to comprehend its
existence in other people.  Mr Bastian was a shade wiser--not that he
possessed much principle, but that he could realise the fact of its
existence.

"There is one other point, holy Father," said he, seeing that the Bishop
was about to dismiss him, "whereon, if it stand with your Lordship's
pleasure, I would humbly seek your counsel."

The Bishop rubbed his hands, and desired Mr Bastian to proceed.  The
labour which the heretics gave him was very well to complain of, but to
him the excitement of discovering a new heretic was as pleasurable as
the unearthing of a fox to a keen sportsman.  Dick of Dover, having no
distinct religious convictions, was not more actuated by personal enmity
to the persecuted heretic than the sportsman to the persecuted fox.
They both liked the run, the excitement, the risks, and the glory of the
sport.

"To tell truth, my Lord," continued Mr Bastian, dropping his voice, "I
am concerned touching a certain parishioner of mine, a gentleman, I am
sorry to say, of name and ancient family, cousin unto Mr Roberts of
Glassenbury, whose name you well know as one of the oldest houses in
Kent."

The Bishop nodded assent.

"'Tis true, during King Edward's time, he went for one of the new
learning; but he conformed when the Queen came in, and ever sithence
have I regarded him as a good Catholic enough, till of late, when I am
fallen to doubt it, to my great concern."  And Mr Bastian proceeded to
relate to the Bishop all that he knew respecting the flight of the
ladies, and his subsequent unsatisfactory interview with the heads of
the family.  The Bishop listened intently.

"This young maid," said he, when the narrative was finished, "what said
you was her name--Gertrude?--this Gertrude, then, you account of as
faithful to holy Church?"

"She hath ever been regular at mass and confession, my Lord, and
performeth all her duties well enough.  For other matter, methinks, she
is somewhat light-minded, and one that should cast more thought to the
colour of her sleeves than to the length of her prayers."

"None the worse for that," said Dick of Dover--adding hastily, as the
unclerical character of his remark struck him--"for this purpose, of
course, I signify; for this purpose.  Make you a decoy of her, Brother,
to catch the other."

"I cry your Lordship mercy, but I scarce take you.  Her father and aunt
do come to confession--somewhat irregularly, 'tis true; but they do
come; and though the woman be cautious and wily, and can baffle my
questions if she will, yet is the man transparent as glass, and timid as
an hare.  At least, he hath been so until this time; what turned him I
wis not, but I am in hopes it shall not last."

"Move this girl Gertrude to listen behind the arras, when as they talk
together," suggested the Bishop.  "Make her promises--of anything she
valueth, a fine horse, a velvet gown, a rich husband--whatever shall be
most like to catch her."

Mr Bastian smiled grimly, as he began to see the plot develop.

"'Tis an easy matter to beguile a woman," said the Bishop, who, being
very ignorant of women, believed what he said: "bait but your trap with
something fine enough, and they shall walk in by shoals like herrings.
Saving these few obstinate simpletons such as Alice Benden, that you can
do nought with, they be light enough fish to catch.  Catch Gertrude,
Brother."



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

BEFORE DICK OF DOVER.

"Perkins!" said a rather pompous voice.

Perkins was the Cathedral bell-ringer, and the gaoler of Alice Benden.
He obeyed the summons of the pompous voice with obsequious celerity, for
it belonged to no less a person than the Lord Bishop of Dover.  His
Lordship, having caught sight of the bell-ringer as he crossed the
precincts, had called him, and Perkins came up, his hat in one hand, and
pulling his forelock with the other.

"I desire to know, Perkins," said the Bishop, "if that man that is your
prisoner's brother hath yet been arrested, as I bade?"

"Well, nay, my Lord, he haven't," said Perkins, his heart fluttering and
his grammar questionable.

"And wherefore no?" asked the Bishop sternly.

"Well, my Lord, truth is, I haven't chanced on him since."

"He hath not visited his sister, then?"

"Well," answered Perkins, who seemed to find that word a comfort, "ay,
he have; but him and me, we hasn't been at same time, not yet."

"Call you that diligence in the keeping of your prisoner?"

"Please your Lordship, she's there, all safe."

"I bade you arrest _him_," insisted the Bishop.

Perkins chewed a sprig of dried lavender, and kept silence.

"I am sore displeased with you, Perkins!"

Perkins looked provokingly obtuse.  If the Bishop had only known it, he
was afraid of vexing him further by saying anything, and accordingly he
said nothing.

"Keep diligent watch for the man, and seize him when he cometh again.
As for the woman, bring her before me to-morrow at nine o' the clock.
Be careful what you do, as you value my favour."

Perkins pulled his forelock again, and departed.

"The man is hard as a stone," said the Bishop to one of the Canons, with
whom he was walking: "no impression can be made upon him."

"He is scantly the worse gaoler for that, under your Lordship's
correction," said the Canon carelessly.

"He makes an hard keeper, I cast no doubt," answered the Bishop.

Perkins's demeanour changed as soon as his Lordship had passed out of
sight and hearing.

"Dick o' Dover's in a jolly fume!" he said to one of the vergers whom he
met.

"Why, what's angered him?"

"I have, belike, that I catched not yon man, Mistress Benden's brother,
a-coming to see her.  Why, the loon's full o' wiles--never comes at
after sunrise.  It'd take an eel to catch him.  And I'm not his
thief-catcher, neither.  I works hard enough without that.  Old Dick may
catch his eels his self if he lacks 'em."

"Work 'll never kill thee, Jack Perkins," replied the verger, with a
laugh.  "Thou'dst best not get across with Dick o' Dover; he's an ugly
customer when he's in the mind."

The right reverend prelate to whom allusion was thus unceremoniously
made, was already seated on his judgment bench when, at nine o'clock the
next morning, Perkins threw open the door of Monday's Hole.

"Come forth, Mistress; you're to come afore the Bishop."

"You must needs help me up, then, for I cannot walk," said Alice Benden
faintly.

Perkins seized her by the arm, and dragged her up from the straw on
which she was lying.  Alice was unable to repress a slight moan.

"Let be," she panted; "I will essay to go by myself; only it putteth me
to so great pain."

With one hand resting on the wall, she crept to the door, and out into
the passage beyond.  Again Perkins seized her--this time by the
shoulder.

"You must make better speed than this, Mistress," he said roughly.
"Will you keep the Lord Bishop a-waiting?"

Partly limping by herself, partly pulled along by Perkins, and at the
cost of exquisite suffering, for she was crippled by rheumatism, Alice
reached the hall wherein the Bishop sat.  He received her in the suavest
manner.

"Now, my good daughter, I trust your lesson, which it was needful to
make sharp, hath been well learned during these weeks ye have had time
for meditation.  Will you now go home, and go to church, and conform you
to the Catholic religion as it now is in England?  If you will do this,
we will gladly show you all manner of favour; ye shall be our white
child, I promise you, and any requests ye may prefer unto us shall have
good heed.  Consider, I pray you, into what evil case your obstinacy
hath hitherto brought you, and how blissful life ye might lead if ye
would but renounce your womanish opinions, and be of the number of the
Catholics.  Now, my daughter, what say you?"

Then Alice Benden lifted her head and answered.

"I am thoroughly persuaded, by the great extremity that you have already
showed me, that you are not of God, neither can your doings be godly;
and I see that you seek mine utter destruction.  Behold, I pray you, how
lame I am of cold taken, and lack of food, in that painful prison
wherein I have lain now these nine weary weeks, that I am not able to
move without great pain."

"You shall find us right different unto you, if you will but conform,"
replied the Bishop, who, as John Bunyan has it, had "now all besugared
his lips."

"Find you as it list you, I will have none ado with you!" answered the
prisoner sturdily.

But at that moment, trying to turn round, the pain was so acute that it
brought the tears to her eyes, and a groan of anguish to her lips.  The
Bishop's brows were compressed.

"Take her to West Gate," he said hastily.  "Let her be clean kept, and
see a physician if she have need."

The gaoler of West Gate was no brutal, selfish Perkins, but a man who
used his prisoners humanely.  Here Alice once again slept on a bed, was
furnished with decent clean clothing and sufficient food.  But such was
the effect of her previous suffering, that after a short time, we are
told, her skin peeled off as if she had been poisoned.

One trouble Alice had in her new prison--that she must now be deprived
of Roger's visits.  She was not even able to let him know of the change.
But Roger speedily discovered it, and it was only thanks to the
indolence of Mr Perkins, who was warm in bed, and greatly indisposed to
turn out of it, that he was not found out and seized on that occasion.
Once more he had to search for his sister.  No secret was made of the
matter this time; and by a few cautious inquiries Roger discovered that
she had been removed to West Gate.  His hopes sprang up on hearing it,
not only because, as he knew, she would suffer much less in the present,
but also because he fondly trusted that it hinted at a possibility of
release in the future.  It was with a joyful heart that he carried the
news home to Christabel, and found her Aunt Tabitha sitting with her.

"O Father, how delightsome!" cried Christie, clapping her hands.  "Now
if those ill men will only let dear Aunt Alice come home--"

"When the sky falleth, we may catch many larks," said Tabitha, in her
usual grim fashion.  "Have you told him?"

"Whom?--Edward Benden?  No, I'm in no haste to go near him."

"I would, if I knew it should vex him."

"Tabitha!" said Roger, with gentle reproval.

"Roger Hall, if you'd had to stand up to King Ahab, you'd have made a
downright poor Elijah!"

"Very like, Tabitha.  I dare say you'd have done better."

"Father," said Christie, "did you hear what should come of Master White,
and Mistress Final, and all the rest."

"No, my dear heart: I could hear nought, save only that they were had up
afore my Lord of Dover, and that he was very round with them, but all
they stood firm."

"What, Sens Bradbridge and all?" said Tabitha.  "I'd have gone bail that
poor sely hare should have cried off at the first shot of Dick o'
Dover's arrow.  Stood _she_ firm, trow?"

"All of them, I heard.  Why, Tabitha, the Lord's grace could hold up
Sens Bradbridge as well as Tabitha Hall."

"There'd be a vast sight more wanted, I promise you!" said Tabitha
self-righteously.  "There isn't a poorer creature in all this 'varsal
world, nor one with fewer wits in her head than Sens Bradbridge.  I
marvel how Benedick stood her; but, dear heart! men are that stupid!
Christie, don't you never go to marry a man.  I'll cut you off with a
shilling an' you do."

"Cut me off what, Aunt Tabitha?" inquired Christie, with some alarm in
her tone.

"Off my good-will and favour, child."

"Thank you, Aunt Tabitha, for telling me I didn't know I was on," said
Christie simply.

"Good lack!" exclaimed Tabitha, in a tone which was a mixture of
amusement and annoyance.  "Did the child think I cared nought about her,
forsooth?"

"O Aunt Tabitha, do you?" demanded Christie, in a voice of innocent
astonishment.  "I am so glad.  Look you, whenever you come, you always
find fault with me for something, so I thought you didn't."

"Bless the babe!  Dost think I should take all that trouble to amend
thee, if I loved thee not?"

"Well, perhaps--" said Christie hesitatingly.

"But Aunt Alice always tried to mend me, and so does Father: but somehow
they don't do it like you, Aunt Tabitha."

"They're both a deal too soft and sleek with thee," growled Aunt
Tabitha.  "There's nought 'll mend a child like a good rattling
scolding, without 'tis a thrashing, and thou never hast neither."

"Art avised [are you sure] o' that, Tabitha?" asked Roger.  "God sends
not all His rain in thunderstorms."

"Mayhap not; but He does send thunderstorms, and earthquakes too,"
returned Tabitha triumphantly.

"I grant you; but the thunderstorms are rare, and the earthquakes yet
rarer; and the soft dew cometh every night.  And 'tis the dew and the
still small rain, not the earthquakes, that maketh the trees and flowers
to grow."

"Ah, well, you're mighty wise, I cast no doubt," answered Tabitha,
getting up to go home.  "But I tell you I was well thrashed, and scolded
to boot, and it made a woman of me."

"I suppose, Father," said Christie, when Tabitha had taken her
departure, "that the scolding and beating did make a woman of Aunt
Tabitha; but please don't be angry if I say that it wasn't as pleasant a
woman as Aunt Alice."



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

"A RUCK OF TROUBLE."

"Well, be sure! if there ever was a woman in such a ruck of trouble!"
said poor Collet Pardue, wiping her eyes.  "Here's my man took to
prison, saints knows what for--my man 'at was as quiet as ever a mouse,
and as good to me as if he'd ha' been a cherubim, and me left with all
them childre--six lads and four lasses--eight o' my own, and two of poor
Sens's--and the lads that mischievous as I scarce knows whether I'm on
my head or my heels one half o' the day!  Here's that Silas a-been and
took and dropped the bucket down the well, and never a drop o' water can
we get.  And Aphabell he's left the gate open, and nine out o' my
fourteen chicken strayed away.  And I sent Toby for a loaf o'
biscuit-bread, a-thinking it'd be a treat for the little uns, and me not
having a mite o' time to make it--and if the rogue hasn't been and ate
it all up a-coming home--there's the crumbs on his jacket this minute!"

"I didn't!" shouted Tobias resentfully, in answer to this unjust
accusation.  "I didn't eat it all up!  I gave half on it to Esdras--a
good half."  The last words were uttered in a tone of conscious virtue,
the young gentleman evidently feeling that his self-denial was not
meeting its due reward.

"Ha' done then, thou runagate!" returned his mother, aiming a slap at
him, which Tobias dodged by a dip of his head.  "Eh, deary me, but they
are a weary lot, these childre!"

"Why stand you not up to them better, Collet Pardue?" asked the
neighbour who was the listener to poor Collet's list of grievances.
"Can't you rouse yourself and see to them?"

"Seems to me, Mistress Hall, I've got no rouse left in me, wi' all these
troubles a-coming so thick," said poor Collet, shaking her head.  "If
you'd six lads and four maids, and your man in prison for nought, and
the bucket down the well, and the chicken strayed, and your poor old
mother sick a-bed, and them pies in the oven a-burning this minute--Oh
me!"

Collet made a rush at the oven, having to push Charity Bradbridge out of
her way, who was staring open-mouthed at the brilliant parrot wrought in
floss silks on the exterior of Mrs Tabitha's large work-bag.

"I've told you twenty times, Collet Pardue, you lack method," pursued
Mrs Hall, with a magisterial air.  "Why set you not Esdras to hunt the
chicken, and Noah to fish up the bucket, and Beatrice to wait on your
mother, and Penuel to see to the pies, and leave yourself freer?  I make
my childre useful, I can tell you.  The more children, the more to wait
on you."

"Well, Mistress Hall, I've always found it t'other way about--the more
childre, the more for you to wait on.  Pen, she's ironing, and Beatie is
up wi' mother.  But as to Esdras hunting up the chicks, why, he'd come
home wi' more holes than he's got, and that's five, as I know to my
cost; and set Noah to get up the bucket, he'd never do nought but send
his self a-flying after it down the well, and then I should have to fish
him up.  'Tis mighty good talking, when you've only three, and them all
maids; maids can be ruled by times; but them lads, they're that
cantankerous as-- There now, I might ha' known Noah was after some
mischief; he's never quiet but he is!  Do 'ee look, how he's tangled my
blue yarn 'at I'd wound only last night--twisted it round every chair
and table in the place, and-- You wicked, sinful boy, to go and tangle
the poor cat along with 'em!  I'll be after you, see if I'm not!  You'll
catch some'at!"

"Got to catch me first!" said Noah, with a grin, darting out of the door
as his over-worried mother made a grab at him.

Poor Collet sat down and succumbed under her sufferings, throwing her
apron over her face for a good cry.  Beatrice, who came down the ladder
which led to the upper chambers, took in the scene at a glance.  She was
a bright little girl of ten years old.  Setting down the tray in her
hand, she first speedily delivered the captive pussy, and then proceeded
deftly to disentangle the wool, rolling it up again in a ball.

"Prithee, weep not, Mother, dear heart!" she said cheerily.  "Granny
sleeps, and needs no tending at this present.  I've set pussy free, I
shall soon have the yarn right again.  You're over-wrought, poor
Mother!"

Her child's sympathetic words seemed to have the effect of making Collet
cry the harder; but Tabitha's voice responded for her.

"Well said, Beatrice, and well done!  I love to see a maid whose fingers
are not all thumbs.  But, dear me, Collet, what a shiftless woman are
you!  Can't you pack those lads out o' door, and have a quiet house for
your work?  I should, for sure!"

"You'd find you'd got your work cut out, Mistress Hall, I can tell you.
`Pack 'em out o' door' means just send 'em to prey on your neighbours,
and have half-a-dozen angry folks at you afore night, and a sight o'
damage for to pay."

"Set them to weed your garden, can't you? and tie up that trailing
honeysuckle o'er the porch, that's a shame to be seen.  Make 'em
useful--that's what I say."

"And 'tis what I'd be main thankful to do if I could--that I'll warrant
you, Mistress Hall; but without I stood o'er 'em every minute of the
time, the flowers 'd get plucked up and the weeds left, every one on
'em.  That'd be useful, wouldn't it?"

"You've brought them up ill, Collet, or they'd be better lads than that.
I'd have had 'em as quat as mice, the whole six, afore I'd been their
mother a week."

"I cast no doubt, Mistress Hall," said Collet, driven to retort as she
rarely did, "if you'd had the world to make, it'd ha' been mortal grand,
and all turned out spic-span: look you, the old saw saith, `Bachelors'
wives be always well-learned,' and your lads be angels, that's sure,
seein' you haven't ne'er a one on 'em; but mine isn't so easy to manage
as yourn, looking as I've six to see to."

"You've lost your temper, Collet Pardue," said Mrs Tabitha, with calm
complacency; "and that's a thing a woman shouldn't do who calls herself
a Christian."

Before Collet could reply, a third person stood in the doorway.  She
looked up, and saw her landlord, Mr Benden.

As it happened, that gentleman was not aware of the presence of his
sister-in-law, who was concealed from him by the open door behind which
she was sitting, as well as by a sheet which was hanging up to air in
the warm atmosphere of the kitchen.  He had not, therefore, the least
idea that Tabitha heard his words addressed to Collet.

"So your husband has been sent to prison, Mistress, for an heretic and a
contemner of the blessed Sacrament?"

"My husband contemns not the blessed Sacrament that our Lord Jesus
Christ instituted," answered Collet, turning to face her new assailant;
"but he is one of them that will not be made to commit idolatry unto a
piece of bread."

"Well said, indeed!" sneered Mr Benden.  "This must needs be good world
when cloth-workers' wives turn doctors of religion!  How look you to
make my rent, Mistress, with nought coming in, I pray you?"

"Your rent's not due, Master, for five weeks to come."

"And when they be come, I do you to wit, I will have it--or else forth
you go.  Do you hear, Mistress Glib-tongue?"

"Dear heart, Master Benden!" cried Collet, in consternation.  "Sure you
can never have the heart to turn us adrift--us as has always paid you
every farthing up to the hour it was due!"

"Ay, and I'll have this, every farthing up to the hour 'tis due!  I'll
have no canting hypocrites in my houses, nor no such as be notorious
traitors to God and the Queen's Majesty!  I'll--"

"O Master, we're no such, nor never was--" began the sobbing Collet.

But both speeches were cut across by a third voice, which made the
landlord turn a shade paler and stop his diatribe suddenly; for it was
the voice of the only mortal creature whom Edward Benden feared.

"Then you'd best turn yourself out, Edward Benden, and that pretty
sharp, before I come and make you!" said the unexpected voice of the
invisible Tabitha.  "I haven't forgot, if you have, what a loyal subject
you were in King Edward's days, nor how you essayed to make your court
to my Lord of Northumberland that was, by proclaiming my Lady Jane at
Cranbrook, and then, as soon as ever you saw how the game was going, you
turned coat and threw up your cap for Queen Mary.  If all the canting
hypocrites be bundled forth of Staplehurst, you'll be amongst the first
half-dozen, I'll be bound!  Get you gone, if you've any shame left, and
forbear to torture an honest woman that hath troubles enow."

"He's gone, Mistress Hall," said little Beatrice.  "I count he scarce
heard what you last spake."

"O Mistress Hall, you are a good friend, and I'm for ever bounden to
you!" said poor Collet, when she was able to speak for tears.  "And if
it please you, I'm main sorry I lost my temper, and if I said any word
to you as I shouldn't, I'll take 'em back every one, and may God bless
you!"

"Well said, old friend!" answered Tabitha, in high good-humour.

"And, O Mistress, do you think, an' it like you, that Master Benden will
turn us forth on Saint Austin's morrow?--that's when our rent's due."

"What is your rent, neighbour?"

"'Tis thirteen-and-fourpence, the house, Mistress--but then we've the
bit o' pasture land behind, for our horse and cow--that's eight
shillings more by the year.  And I've only"--Collet went to a chest, and
lifted out an old black stocking--"I haven't but sixteen shillings laid
by towards it, and look you, there'll be no wages coming in save Toby's
and Esdras' and Aphabell's, and we've to live.  With 'leven of us to eat
and be clad, we can't save many pence for rent, and I did hope Master
Benden 'd be pleased to wait a while.  Of course he must have his own,
like any other; but if he would ha' waited--"

"He'll wait," said Tabitha, and shut her mouth with a snap.  "But lest
he should not, Collet, come by Seven Roads as you go to pay your rent,
and whatso you may be short for the full amount, I'll find you."

"Eh dear, Mistress Hall, I could cut my tongue in leches [slices] that
it ever spake a word as didn't please you!" cried the grateful Collet,
though Tabitha had spoken a multitude of words which were by no means
pleasing to her.  "And we'll all pray God bless you when we're on our
knees to-night, and all your folks belike.  And I _will_ essay to keep
the lads better-way, though in very deed I don't know how," concluded
she, as Tabitha rose, well pleased, patted Charity on the head, told
Beatrice to be a good maid and help her mother, and in a mood divided
between gratification and grim plans for giving Mr Benden the due
reward of his deeds, set out on her walk home.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

COMPANY IN DISTRESS.

"Now then, stir up, Mistress Benden!  You are to be shifted to the
Castle."

Alice Benden looked up as the keeper approached her with that news.  The
words sounded rough, but the tone was not unkind.  There was even a
slight tinge of pity in it.

What that transfer meant, both the keeper and the prisoner knew.  It was
the preparatory step to a sentence of death.

All hope for this world died out of the heart of Alice Benden.  No more
possibility of reconciliation and forgiveness for Edward!--no more
loving counsels to Christabel--no more comforting visits from Roger.
Instead of them, one awful hour of scarcely imaginable anguish, and
then, from His seat on the right hand of God, Christ would rise to
receive His faithful witness--the Tree of Life would shade her, and the
Water of Life would refresh her, and no more would the sun light upon
her, nor any heat: she should be comforted for evermore.  The better
hope was to be made way for by the extinction of the lower.  She lifted
up her heart unto the Lord, and said silently within herself the ancient
Christian formula of the early Church--

"Amen, Lord Christ!--so let it be."

In a chair, for she was too crippled to walk, Alice was carried by two
of the gaoler's men outside the Cathedral precincts.  She had not been
in the open air for a month.  They carried her out eastwards, across
Burgate Street (which dates from the days of King Ethelred), down by the
city wall, past Saint George's Gate and the Grey Friars, up Sheepshank's
Lane, and so to the old Norman Castle, the keep of which is the third
largest of Norman keeps in England, and is now, to the glory of all the
Huns and Vandals, converted into a gasometer!  In the barbican sat
several prisoners in chains, begging their bread.  But Alice was borne
past this, and up the north-east staircase, from the walls of which
looked out at her verses of the Psalms in Hebrew--silent, yet eloquent
witnesses of the dispersion and suffering of Judah--and into a small
chamber, where she was laid down on a rude bed, merely a frame with
sacking and a couple of blankets upon it.

"Nights be cold yet," said the more humane of her two bearers.  "The
poor soul 'll suffer here, I'm feared."

"She'll be warm enough anon," said the other and more brutal of the
pair.  "I reckon the faggots be chopped by now that shall warm her."

Alice knew what he meant.  He passed out of the door without another
word, but the first man lingered to say in a friendly tone--"Good even
to you, Mistress!"  It was his little cup of cold water to Christ's
servant.

"Good even, friend," replied Alice; "and may our Saviour Christ one day
say to thee, `Inasmuch'!"

Yes, she would be warm enough by-and-by.  There should be no more pain
nor toil, no more tears nor terrors, whither she was going.  The King's
"Well done, good and faithful servant!" would mark the entrance on a new
life from which the former things had passed away.

She lay there alone till the evening, when the gaoler's man brought her
supper.  It consisted of a flat cake of bread, a bundle of small onions,
and a pint of weak ale.  As he set it down, he said--"There'll be
company for you to-morrow."

"I thank you for showing it to me," said Alice courteously; "pray you,
who is it?"

"'Tis a woman from somewhere down your way," he answered, as he went
out; "but her name I know not."

Alice's hopes sprang up.  She felt cheered by the prospect of the
company of any human creature, after her long lonely imprisonment; and
it would be a comfort to have somebody who would help her to turn on her
bed, which, unaided, it gave her acute pain to do.  Beside, there was
great reason to expect that her new companion would be a fellow-witness
for the truth.  Alice earnestly hoped that they would not--whether out
of intended torture or mere carelessness--place a criminal with her.
Deep down in her heart, almost unacknowledged to herself, lay a further
hope.  If it should be Rachel Potkin!

Of the apprehension of the batch of prisoners from Staplehurst Alice had
heard nothing.  She had therefore no reason to imagine that the woman
"from somewhere down her way" was likely to be a personal friend.  The
south-western quarter of Kent was rather too large an area to rouse
expectations of that kind.

It was growing dusk on the following evening before the "company"
arrived.  Alice had sung her evening Psalms--a cheering custom which she
had kept up through all the changes and sufferings of her imprisonment--
and was beginning to feel rather drowsy when the sound of footsteps
roused her, stopping at her door.

"Now, Mistress! here you be!" said the not unpleasant voice of the
Castle gaoler.

"Eh, deary me!" answered another voice, which struck Alice's ear as not
altogether strange.

"Good even, friend!" she hastened to say.

"Nay, you'd best say `ill even,' I'm sure," returned the newcomer.
"I've ne'er had a good even these many weeks past."

Alice felt certain now that she recognised the voice of an old
acquaintance, whom she little expected to behold in those circumstances.

"Why, Sens Bradbridge, is that you?"

"Nay, sure, 'tis never Mistress Benden?  Well, I'm as glad to see you
again as I can be of aught wi' all these troubles on me.  Is't me?
Well, I don't justly know whether it be or no; I keep reckoning I shall
wake up one o' these days, and find me in the blue bed in my own little
chamber at home.  Eh deary, Mistress Benden, but this is an ill
look-out!  So many of us took off all of a blow belike--"

"Have there been more arrests, then, at Staplehurst?  Be my brethren
taken?"

"Not as I knows of: but a lot of us was catched up all to oncet--Nichol
White, ironmonger, and mine hostess of the White Hart, and Emmet Wilson,
and Collet Pardue's man, and Fishwick, the flesher, and me.  Eh, but you
may give thanks you've left no childre behind you!  There's my two poor
little maids, that I don't so much as know what's come of 'em, or if
they've got a bite to eat these hard times!  Lack-a-daisy-me! but why
they wanted to take a poor widow from her bits of childre, it do beat
me, it do!"

"I am sorry for Collet Pardue," said Alice gravely.  "But for your
maids, Sens, I am sure you may take your heart to you.  The neighbours
should be safe to see they lack not, be sure."

"I haven't got no heart to take, Mistress Benden--never a whit, believe
me.  Look you, Mistress Final she had 'em when poor Benedick departed:
and now she's took herself.  Eh, deary me! but I cannot stay me from
weeping when I think on my poor Benedick.  He was that staunch, he'd
sure ha' been took if he'd ha' lived!  It makes my heart fair sore to
think on't!"

"Nay, Sens, that is rather a cause for thanksgiving."

"You always was one for thanksgiving, Mistress Benden."

"Surely; I were an ingrate else."

"Well, I may be a nigrate too, though I wis not what it be without 'tis
a blackamoor, and I'm not that any way, as I knows: but look you, good
Mistress, that's what I alway wasn't.  'Tis all well and good for them
as can to sing psalms in dens o' lions; but I'm alway looking for to be
ate up.  I can't do it, and that's flat."

"The Lord can shut the lions' mouths, Sens."

"Very good, Mistress; but how am I to know as they be shut?"

"`They that trust in the Lord shall not want any good thing.'"  A sudden
moan escaped Alice's lips just after she had said this, the result of an
attempt to move slightly.  Sens Bradbridge was on her knees beside her
in a moment.

"Why, my dear heart, how's this, now?  Be you sick, or what's took you?"

"I was kept nine weeks, Sens, on foul straw, with never a shift of
clothes, and no meat save bread and water, the which has brought me to
this pass, being so lame of rheumatic pains that I cannot scarce move
without moaning."

"Did ever man hear the like!  Didn't you trust in the Lord, then,
Mistress, an't like you?--or be soft beds and well-dressed meat and
clean raiment not good things?"

Alice Benden's bright little laugh struck poor desponding Sens as a very
strange thing.

"Maybe a little of both, old friend.  Surely there were four sore weeks
when I was shut up in Satan's prison, no less than in man's, and I
trusted not the Lord as I should have done--"

"Well, forsooth, and no marvel!"

"And as to beds and meat and raiment--well, I suppose they were not good
things for me at that time, else should my Father have provided them for
me."

Poor Sens shook her head slowly and sorrowfully.

"Nay, now, Mistress Benden, I can't climb up there, nohow.--'Tis a brave
place where you be, I cast no doubt, but I shall never get up yonder."

"But you have stood to the truth, Sens?--else should you not have been
here."

"Well, Mistress!  I can't believe black's white, can I, to get forth o'
trouble?--nor I can't deny the Lord, by reason 'tisn't right comfortable
to confess Him?  But as for comfort--and my poor little maids all alone,
wi' never a penny--and my poor dear heart of a man as they'd ha' took,
sure as eggs is eggs, if so be he'd been there--why, 'tis enough to
crush the heart out of any woman.  But I can't speak lies by reason I'm
out o' heart."

"Well said, true heart!  The Lord is God of the valleys, no less than of
the hills; and if thou be sooner overwhelmed by the waters than other,
He shall either carry thee through the stream, or make the waters lower
when thou comest to cross."

"I would I'd as brave a spirit as yourn, Mistress Benden."

"Thou hast as good a God, Sens, and as strong a Saviour.  And mind thou,
'tis the weak and the lambs that He carries; the strong sheep may walk
alongside.  `He knoweth our frame,' both of body and soul.  Rest thou
sure, that if thine heart be true to Him, so long as He sees thou hast
need to be borne of Him, He shall not put thee down to stumble by
thyself."

"Well!" said Sens, with a long sigh, "I reckon, if I'm left to myself, I
sha'n't do nought but stumble.  I always was a poor creature; Benedick
had to do no end o' matters for me: and I'm poorer than ever now he's
gone, so I think the Lord'll scarce forget me; but seems somehow as I
can't take no comfort in it."

"`Blessed are the poor in spirit!'" said Alice softly.  "The `God of
all comfort,' Sens, is better than all His comforts."



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

BEHIND THE ARRAS.

"You had best make up your mind, Grena, whilst you yet may.  This may be
the last chance to get away hence that you shall have afore--" Mr
Roberts hesitated; but his meaning was clear enough.  "It doth seem me,
now we have this opportunity through Master Laxton's journey, it were
well-nigh a sin to miss it.  He is a sober, worthy man, and kindly
belike; he should take good care of you; and going so nigh to
Shardeford, he could drop you well-nigh at your mother's gates.  Now I
pray you, Grena, be ruled by me, and settle it that you shall go without
delay.  He cannot wait beyond to-morrow to set forth."

"I grant it all, Tom, and I thank you truly for your brotherly care.
But it alway comes to the same end, whensoever I meditate thereon: I
cannot leave you and Gertrude."

"But wherefore no, Grena?  Surely we should miss your good company,
right truly: but to know that you were safe were compensation enough for
that.  True should be old enough to keep the house--there be many
housewives younger--or if no; surely the old servants can go on as they
are used, without your oversight.  Margery and Osmund, at least--"

"They lack not my oversight, and assuredly not Gertrude's.  But you
would miss me, Tom: and I could not be happy touching True."

"Wherefore?  Why, Grena, you said yourself they should lay no hand on
her."

"Nor will they.  But Gertrude is one that lacks a woman about her that
loveth her, and will yet be firm with her.  I cannot leave the child--
Paulina's child--to go maybe to an ill end, for the lack of my care and
love.  She sees not the snares about her heedless feet, and would most
likely be tangled in them ere you saw them.  Maids lack mothers more
than even fathers; and True hath none save me."

"Granted.  But for all that, Grena, I would not sacrifice you."

"Tom, if the Lord would have me here, be sure He shall not shut me up in
Canterbury Castle.  And if He lacks me there, I am ready to go.  He will
see to you and True in that case."

"But if He lack you at Shardeford, Grena?  How if this journey of Mr
Laxton be His provision for you, so being?"

There was silence for a moment.

"Ay," said Grena Holland then, "if you and Gertrude go with me.  If not,
I shall know it is not the Lord's bidding."

"I!  I never dreamed thereof."

"Suppose, then, you dream thereof now."

"Were it not running away from duty?"

"Methinks not.  `When they persecute you in one city, flee ye into
another,' said our Lord.  I see no duty that you have to leave.  Were
you a Justice of Peace, like your brother, it might be so: but what such
have you?  But one thing do I see--and you must count the cost, Tom.  It
may be your estate shall be sequestered, and all your goods taken to the
Queen's use.  'Tis perchance a choice betwixt life and liberty on the
one hand, and land and movables on the other."

Mr Roberts walked up and down the room, lost in deep thought.  It was a
hard choice to make: yet "all that a man hath will he give for his
life."

"Oh for the days of King Edward the First," he sighed.  "Verily, we
valued not our blessings whilst we had them."

Grena's look was sympathising; but she left him to think out the
question.

"If I lose Primrose Croft," he said meditatively, "the maids will have
nought."

"They will have Shardeford when my mother dieth."

"You," he corrected.  "You were the elder sister, Grena."

"What is mine is theirs and yours," she said quietly.

"You may wed, Grena."

She gave a little amused laugh.  "Methinks, Tom, you may leave that
danger out of the question.  Shardeford Hall will some day be Gertrude's
and Pandora's."

"We had alway thought of it as Pandora's, if it came to the maids, and
that Gertrude should have Primrose Croft.  But if that go--and 'tis not
unlike; in especial if we leave Kent-- Grena, I know not what to do for
the best."

"Were it not best to ask the Lord, Tom?"

"But how shall I read the answer?  Here be no Urim and Thummim to work
by."

"I cannot say how.  But of one thing am I sure; the Lord never
disappointeth nor confoundeth the soul that trusts in Him."

"Well, Grena, let us pray over it, and sleep on it.  Perchance we may
see what to do for the best by morning light.  But one thing I pray you,
be ready to go, that there may be no time lost if we decide ay and not
nay."

"That will I see to for us all."

Mr Roberts and Grena left the dining-room, where this conversation had
been held, shutting the door behind them.  She could be heard going
upstairs, he into the garden by the back way.  For a few seconds there
was dead silence in the room; then the arras parted, and a concealed
listener came out.  In those days rooms were neither papered nor
painted.  They were either wainscoted high up the wall with panelled
wood, or simply white-washed, and large pieces of tapestry hung round on
heavy iron hooks.  This tapestry was commonly known as arras, from the
name of the French town where it was chiefly woven; and behind it, since
it stood forward from the wall, was a most convenient place for a spy.
The concealed listener came into the middle of the room.  Her face
worked with conflicting emotions.  She stood for a minute, as it were,
fighting out a battle with herself.  At length she clenched her hand as
if the decision were reached, and said aloud and passionately, "I will
not!"  That conclusion arrived at, she went hastily but softly out of
the room, and closed the door noiselessly.

Mistress Grena was very busy in her own room, secretly packing up such
articles as she had resolved to take in the event of her journey being
made.  She had told Margery, the old housekeeper, that she was going to
be engaged, and did not wish to be disturbed.  If any visitors came
Mistress Gertrude could entertain them; and she desired Margery to
transmit her commands to that effect to the young lady.  That Gertrude
herself would interrupt her she had very little fear.  They had few
tastes and ideas in common.  Gertrude would spend the afternoon in the
parlour with her embroidery or her virginals--the piano of that time--
and was not likely to come near her.  This being the case, Mistress
Grena was startled and disturbed to hear a rap at her door.  Trusting
that it was Mr Roberts who wanted her, and who was the only likely
person, she went to open it.

"May I come in, Aunt Grena?" said Gertrude.

For a moment Grena hesitated.  Then she stepped back and let her niece
enter.  Her quick, quiet eyes discerned that something was the matter.
This was a new Gertrude at her door, a grave, troubled Gertrude, brought
there by something of more importance than usual.

"Well, niece, what is it?"

"Aunt Grena, give me leave for once to speak freely."

"So do, my dear maid."

"You and my father are talking of escape to Shardeford, but you scarce
know whether to go or no.  Let me tell you, and trust me, for my
knowledge is costly matter.  Let us go."

Grena stood in amazed consternation.  She had said and believed that God
would show them what to do, but the very last person in her world
through whose lips she expected Him to speak was Gertrude Roberts.

"How--what--who told you? an angel?" she gasped incoherently.

A laugh, short and unmirthful, was the answer.

"Truly, no," said Gertrude.  "It was a fallen angel if it were."

"What mean you, niece?  This is passing strange!" said Grena, in a
troubled tone.

"Aunt, I have a confession to make.  Despise me if you will; you cannot
so do more than I despise myself.  'Tis ill work despising one's self;
but I must, and as penalty for mine evil deeds I am forcing myself to
own them to you.  You refuse to leave me, for my mother's sake, to go to
an ill end; neither will I so leave you."

"When heard you me so to speak, Gertrude?"

"Not an hour since, Aunt Grena."

"You were not present!"

"I was, little as you guessed it.  I was behind the arras."

"Wicked, mean, dishonourable girl!" cried Mistress Grena, in a mixture
of horror, confusion, and alarm.

"I own it, Aunt Grena," said Gertrude, with a quiet humility which was
not natural to her, and which touched Grena against her will.  "But hear
me out, I pray you, for 'tis of moment to us all that you should so do."

A silent inclination of her aunt's head granted her permission to
proceed.

"The last time that I went to shrift, Father Bastian bade me tell him if
I knew of a surety that you or my father had any thought to leave Kent.
That could not I say, of course, and so much I told him.  Then he bade
me be diligent and discover the same.  `But after what fashion?' said I;
for I do ensure you that his meaning came not into mine head afore he
spake it in plain language.  When at last I did conceive that he would
have me to spy upon you, at the first I was struck with horror.  You had
so learned me, Aunt Grena, that the bare thought of such a thing was
hateful unto me.  This methinks he perceived, and he set him to reason
with me, that the command of holy Church sanctified the act done for her
service, which otherwise had been perchance unmeet to be done.  Still I
yielded not, and then he told me flat, that without I did this thing he
would not grant me absolution of my sins.  Then, but not till then, I
gave way.  I hid me behind the arras this morning, looking that you
should come to hold discourse in that chamber where, saving for meat,
you knew I was not wont to be.  I hated the work no whit less than at
the first; but the fear of holy Church bound me.  I heard you say, Aunt
Grena"--Gertrude's voice softened as Grena had rarely heard it--"that
you would not leave Father and me--that you could not be happy touching
me--that I had no mother save you, and you would not cast me aside to go
to an ill end.  I saw that Father reckoned it should be to your own hurt
if you tarried.  And it struck me to the heart that you should be
thinking to serve me the while I was planning how to betray you.  Yet if
Father Bastian refused to shrive me, what should come of me?  And all at
once, as I stood there hearkening, a word from the Psalter bolted in
upon me, a verse that I mind Mother caused me to learn long time agone:
`I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and so Thou
forgavest the wickedness of my sin.'  Then said I to myself, What need I
trouble if the priest will not shrive me, when I can go straight unto
the Lord and confess to Him?  Then came another verse, as if to answer
me, that I wist Father Bastian should have brought forth in like case,
`Whatsoever sins ye retain, they are retained,' and `Whatsoever ye shall
bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.'  I could not, I own, all at
once see my way through these.  They did look to say, `Unto whom the
priest, that is the Church, denieth shrift, the same hath no forgiveness
of God.'  For a minute I was staggered, till a blind man came to help me
up.  Aunt Grena, you mind that blind man in the ninth chapter of Saint
John's Gospel?  He was cast forth of the Church, as the Church was in
that day; and it was when our Lord heard that they had cast him forth,
that He sought him and bade him believe only on Him, the Son of God.
You marvel, Aunt, I may well see, that such meditations as these should
come to your foolish maid Gertrude.  But I was at a point, and an hard
point belike.  I had to consider my ways, whether I would or no, when I
came to this trackless moor, and wist not which way to go, with a
precipice nigh at hand.  So now, Aunt Grena, I come to speak truth unto
you, and to confess that I have been a wicked maid and a fool; and if
you count me no more worth the serving or the saving I have demerited
that you should thus account me.  Only if so be, I beseech you, save
yourself!"

Gertrude's eyes were wet as she turned away.

Grena followed her and drew the girl into her arms.

"My child," she said, "I never held thee so well worth love and care as
now.  So be it; we will go to Shardeford."



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

WHEREOF THE HERO IS JACK.

"Ay, we must go, then," said Mr Roberts, with a long-drawn sigh.  "This
discovery leaves us no choice.  For howso God and we may pardon the
child, Father Bastian will not so.  We must go ere he find it out, and
leave Primrose Croft to his fate."

"Father!" exclaimed Gertrude suddenly, "I beseech you, hear me.  Uncle
Anthony conforms, and he is kindly-hearted as man could wish.  If he
would come hither, and have a care of Primrose Croft, as though he held
it by gift or under lease from you, they should never think to disturb
him."

"The maid's wit hath hit the nail on the head!" returned her father, in
high satisfaction.  "But how shall I give him to know, without letting
forth our secret?--and once get it on paper, and it might as well be
given to the town crier.  `Walls have ears,' saith the old saw, but
paper hath a tongue.  And I cannot tell him by word of mouth, sith he is
now at Sandwich, and turneth not home afore Thursday.  Elsewise that
were good counsel."

"Ask True," suggested Mistress Grena with a smile.  "The young wit is
the readiest amongst us, as methinks."

"Under your correction, Father, could you not write a letter, and
entrust it to Margery, to be sent to Uncle as Thursday even--giving it
into her hand the last minute afore we depart?  Is she not trustworthy,
think you?"

"She is trustworthy enough, if she be let be.  But I misdoubt if her
wits should carry her safe through a discourse with Father Bastian, if
he were bent on winning the truth from her.  I could trust Osmund better
for that; but I looked to take him withal."

"Give me leave then, Father, to walk down to Uncle's, as if I wist not
of his absence, and slip the letter into one of his pockets.  He alway
leaveth one of his gowns a-hanging in the hall."

"And if his Martha were seized with a cleaning fever whilst he is
thence, and turned out the pocket, where should we then be?  Nay, True,
that shall not serve.  I can think of no means but that you twain set
forth alone--to wit, without me--under guidance of Osmund, and that I
follow, going round by Sandwich, having there seen and advertised my
brother."

"Were there no danger that way, Tom?"

"There is danger every way," replied Mr Roberts, with a groan.  "But
maybe there is as little that way as any: and I would fain save
Gertrude's inheritance if it may be."

"At the cost of your liberty, Father?  Nay, not so, I entreat you!"
cried Gertrude, with a flash of that noble nature which seemed to have
been awakened in her.  "Let mine inheritance go as it will."

"As God wills," gently put in Mistress Grena.

"As God wills," repeated Gertrude: "and keep you safe."

Mistress Grena laid her hand on her brother's shoulder.

"Tom," she said, "let us trust the Lord in this matter.  Draw you up, if
you will, a lease of Primrose Croft to the Justice, and leave it in the
house in some safe place.  God can guide his hand to it, if He will.
Otherwise, let us leave it be."

That was the course resolved on in the end.  It was also decided that
they should not attempt to repeat the night escape which had already
taken place.  They were to set forth openly in daylight, but separately,
and on three several pretexts.  Mistress Grena was to go on a professed
visit to Christabel, old Osmund escorting her; but instead of returning
home afterwards, she was to go forward to Seven Roods, and there await
the arrival of Mr Roberts.  He was to proceed to his cloth-works at
Cranbrook, as he usually did on a Tuesday; and when the time came to
return home to supper, was to go to Seven Roods and rejoin Grena.  To
Gertrude, at her own request, was allotted the hardest and most perilous
post of all--to remain quietly at home after her father and aunt had
departed, engaged in her usual occupations, until afternoon, when she
was to go out as if for a walk, accompanied by the great house-dog,
Jack, and meet her party a little beyond Seven Roods.  Thence they were
to journey to Maidstone and Rochester, whence they could take ship to
the North.  Jack, in his life-long character of an attached and
incorruptible protector, was to go with them.  He would be quite as
ready, in the interests of his friends, to bite a priest as a layman,
and would show his teeth at the Sheriff with as little compunction as at
a street-sweeper.  Moreover, like all of his race, Jack was a forgiving
person.  Many a time had Gertrude teased and tormented him for her own
amusement, but nobody expected Jack to remember it against her, when he
was summoned to protect her from possible enemies.  But perhaps the
greatest advantage in Jack's guardianship of Gertrude was the fact that
there had always been from time immemorial to men--and dogs--an
unconquerable aversion, not always tacit, especially on Jack's part,
between him and the Rev.  Mr Bastian.  If there was an individual in
the world who might surely be relied on to object to the reverend
gentleman's appearance, that individual was Jack: and if any person
existed in whose presence Mr Bastian was likely to hesitate about
attaching himself to Gertrude's company, that person was Jack also.
Jack never had been able to see why the priest should visit his master,
and had on several occasions expressed his opinion on that point with
much decision and lucidity.  If, therefore, Mr Bastian would keep away
from the house until Gertrude started on her eventful walk, he was not
very likely to trouble her afterwards.

The priest had fully intended to call at Primrose Croft that very
afternoon, to see Mr Roberts, or if he were absent, Mistress Grena; but
he preferred the gentleman, as being usually more manageable than the
lady.  He meant to terrify the person whom he might see, by vague hints
of something which he had heard--and which was not to be mentioned--that
it might be mournfully necessary for him to report to the authorities if
more humility and subordination to his orders were not shown.  But he
was detained, first by a brother priest who wished to consult him in a
difficulty, then by the Cardinal's sumner, who brought documents from
his Eminence, and lastly by a beggar requesting alms.  Having at length
freed himself from these interruptions, he set out for Primrose Croft.
He had passed through the gates, and was approaching the door, when he
saw an unwelcome sight which brought him to a sudden stop.  That sight
was a long feathery tail, waving above a clump of ferns to the left.
Was it possible that the monster was loose?  The gate was between Mr
Bastian and that tail, in an infinitesimal space of time.  Ignorant of
the presence of the enemy, the wind being in the wrong direction, Jack
finished at leisure his inspection of the ferns, and bounded after
Gertrude.

"How exceedingly annoying!" said Mr Bastian to himself.  "If that black
demon had been out of the way, and safely chained up, as he ought to
have been, I could have learned from the girl whether she had overheard
anything.  I am sure it was her hood that I saw disappearing behind the
laurels.  How very provoking!  It must be Satan that sent the creature
this way at this moment.  However, she will come to shrift, of course,
on Sunday, and then I shall get to know."

So saying, Mr Bastian turned round and went home, Gertrude sauntered
leisurely through the garden, went out by the wicket-gate, which Jack
preferred to clear at a bound, and walked rather slowly up the road,
followed by her sable escort.  She was afraid of seeming in haste until
she was well out of the immediate neighbourhood.  The clouds were so far
threatening that she felt it safe to carry her cloak--a very necessary
travelling companion in days when there were no umbrellas.  She had
stitched sundry gold coins and some jewellery into her underclothing,
but she could bring away nothing else.  John Banks passed her on the
road, with a mutual recognition; two disreputable-looking tramps
surveyed her covetously, but ventured on no nearer approach when Jack
remarked, "If you do--!"  The old priest of Cranbrook, riding past--a
quiet, kindly old man for whom Jack entertained no aversion--blessed her
in response to her reverence.  Two nuns, with inscrutable white marble
faces, took no apparent notice of her.  A woman with a basket on her arm
stopped her to ask the way to Frittenden.  Passing them all, she turned
away from the road just before reaching Staplehurst, and took the field
pathway which led past Seven Roods.  Here Jack showed much uneasiness,
evidently being aware that some friend of his had taken that way before
them, and he decidedly disapproved of Gertrude's turning aside without
going up to the house.  The path now led through several fields, and
across a brook spanned by a little rustic bridge, to the stile where it
diverged into the high road from Cranbrook to Maidstone.

As they reached the last field, they saw Tabitha Hall coming to meet
them.

"Glad to see you, Mistress Gertrude!  All goes well.  The Master and
Mistress Grena's somewhat beyond, going at foot's pace, and looking out
for you.  So you won away easy, did you?  I reckoned you would."

"Oh, ay, easy enough!" said Gertrude.

But she never knew how near she had been to that which would have made
it almost if not wholly impossible.

"But how shall I ride, I marvel?" she asked, half-laughing.  "I can
scarce sit on my father's saddle behind him."

"Oh, look you, we have a pillion old Mistress Hall was wont to ride on,
so Tom took and strapped it on at back of Master's saddle," said
Tabitha, with that elaborate carelessness that people assume when they
know they have done a kindness, but want to make it appear as small as
possible.

"I am truly beholden to you, Mistress Hall; but I must not linger, so I
can only pray God be wi' you," said Gertrude, using the phrase which has
now become stereotyped into "good-bye."

"But, Mistress Gertrude! won't you step up to the house, and take a
snack ere you go further?  The fresh butter's but now churned, and eggs
new-laid, and--"

"I thank you much, Mistress Hall, but I must not tarry now.  May God of
His mercy keep you and all yours safe!"

And Gertrude, calling Jack, who was deeply interested in a rabbit-hole,
hastened on to the Maidstone Road.

"There's somewhat come over Mistress Gertrude," said Tabitha, as she
re-entered her own house.  "Never saw her so meek-spoken in all my life.
She's not one to be cowed by peril, neither.  Friswith, where on earth
hast set that big poker?  Hast forgot that I keep it handy for Father
Bastian and the catchpoll, whichever of 'em lacks it first?  Good lack,
but I cannot away with that going astray!  Fetch it hither this minute.
Up in the chamber!  Bless me, what could the maid be thinking on?
There, set it down in the chimney-corner to keep warm; it'll not take so
long to heat then.  Well!  I trust they'll win away all safe; but I'd as
lief not be in their shoon."

A faint sound came from the outside.  Jack had spied his friends, and
was expressing his supreme delight at having succeeded in once more
piecing together the scattered fragments of his treasure.



CHAPTER THIRTY.

PUZZLED.

Old Margery Danby, the housekeeper at Primrose Croft, was more
thoroughly trustworthy than Mr Roberts had supposed, not only in will--
for which he gave her full credit--but in capacity, which he had
doubted.  Born in the first year of Henry the Seventh, Margery had heard
stirring tales in her childhood from parents who had lived through the
Wars of the Roses, and she too well remembered Kett's rebellion and the
enclosure riots in King Edward's days, not to know that "speech is
silvern, but silence is golden."  The quiet, observant old woman knew
perfectly well that something was "in the wind."  It was not her
master's wont to look back, and say, "Farewell, Margery!" before he
mounted his horse on a Tuesday morning for his weekly visit to the
cloth-works; and it was still less usual for Gertrude to remark,
"Good-morrow, good Margery!" before she went out for a walk with Jack.
Mistress Grena, too, had called her into her own room the night before,
and told her she had thought for some time of making her a little
present, as a recognition of her long care and fidelity, and had given
her two royals--the older name for half-sovereigns.  Margery silently
"put two and two together," and the result was to convince her that
something was about to happen.  Nor did she suffer from any serious
doubts as to what it was.  She superintended the preparation of supper
on that eventful day with a settled conviction that nobody would be at
home to eat it; and when the hours passed away, and nobody returned, the
excitement of Cicely the chamber-maid, and Dick the scullion-boy, was
not in the least shared by her.  Moreover, she had seen with some
amusement Mr Bastian's approach and subsequent retreat, and she
expected to see him again ere long.  When the bell rang the next morning
about eight o'clock, Margery went to answer it herself, and found
herself confronting the gentleman she had anticipated.

"Christ save all here!" said the priest, in reply to Margery's
reverential curtsey.  "Is your master within, good woman?"

"No, Father, an't like you."

"No?  He is not wont to go forth thus early.  Mistress Grena?"

"No, Sir, nor Mistress Gertrude neither."

The priest lifted his eyebrows.  "All hence! whither be they gone?"

"An' it please you, Sir, I know not."

"That is strange.  Went they together?"

"No, Sir, separate."

"Said they nought touching their absence?"

"Not to me, Father."

"Have you no fantasy at all whither they went?"

"I took it, Sir, that my master went to the works, as he is wont of a
Tuesday; and I thought Mistress Grena was a-visiting some friend.
Touching Mistress Gertrude I can say nought."

"She went not forth alone, surely?"

"She took Jack withal, Sir--none else."

The conviction was slowly growing in Mr Bastian's mind that the wave of
that feathery tail had deprived him of the only means of communication
which he was ever likely to have with Gertrude Roberts.  "The sly minx!"
he said to himself.  Then aloud to Margery, "Do I take you rightly that
all they departed yesterday, and have not yet returned?"

"That is sooth, Father."

Margery stood holding the door, with a calm, stolid face, which looked
as if an earthquake would neither astonish nor excite her.  Mr Bastian
took another arrow from his quiver, one which he generally found to do
considerable execution.

"Woman," he said sternly, "you know more than you have told me!"

"Father, with all reverence, I know no more than you."

Her eyes met his with no appearance of insincerity.

"Send Osmund to me," he said, walking into the house, and laying down
his hat and stick on the settle in the hall.

"Sir, under your good pleasure, Osmund went with Mistress."

"And turned not again?"

"He hath not come back here, Sir."

"Then they have taken flight!" cried the priest in a passion.  "Margery
Danby, as you fear the judgment of the Church, and value her favour, I
bid you tell me whither they are gone."

"Sir, even for holy Church's favour, I cannot say that which I know
not."

"On your soul's salvation, do you not know it?" he said solemnly.

"On my soul's salvation, Sir, I know it not."

The priest strode up and down the hall more than once.  Then he came and
faced Margery, who was now standing beside the wide fireplace in the
hall.

"Have you any guess whither your master may be gone, or the
gentlewomen?"

"I've guessed a many things since yester-even, Sir," answered Margery
quietly, "but which is right and which is wrong I can't tell."

"When Mistress Collenwood and Mistress Pandora went hence secretly in
the night-time, knew you thereof, beforehand?"

"Surely no, Father."

"Had you any ado with their departing?"

"The first thing I knew or guessed thereof, Father, was the next morrow,
when I came into the hall and saw them not."

Mr Bastian felt baffled on every side.  That his prey had eluded him
just in time to escape the trap he meant to lay for them, was manifest.
What his next step was to be, was not equally clear.

"Well!" he said at last with a disappointed air, "if you know nought,
'tis plain you can tell nought.  I must essay to find some that can."

"I have told you all I know, Father," was the calm answer.  But Margery
did not say that she had told all she thought, nor that if she had known
more she would have revealed it.

Mr Bastian took up his hat and stick, pausing for a moment at the door
to ask, "Is that black beast come back?"

"Jack is not returned, Sir," answered the housekeeper.

It was with a mingled sense of relief and uneasiness on that point that
the priest took the road through the village.  That Jack was out of the
way was a delicious relief.  But suppose Jack should spring suddenly on
him out of some hedge, or on turning a corner?  Out of the way might
turn out to be all the more surely in it.

Undisturbed, however, by any vision of a black face and a feathery tail,
Mr Bastian reached Roger Hall's door.  Nell opened it, and unwillingly
admitted that her master was at home, Mr Bastian being so early that
Roger had not yet left his house for the works.  Roger received him in
his little parlour, to which Christie had not yet been carried.

"Hall, are you aware of your master's flight?"

Roger Hall opened his eyes in genuine amazement.

"No, Sir!  Is he gone, then?"

"He never returned home after leaving the works yesterday."

Roger's face expressed nothing but honest concern for his master's
welfare.  "He left the works scarce past three of the clock," said he,
"and took the road toward Primrose Croft.  God grant none ill hath
befallen him!"

"Nought o' the sort," said the priest bluntly.  "The gentlewomen be gone
belike, and Osmund with them.  'Tis a concerted plan, not a doubt
thereof: and smelleth of the fire [implies heretical opinions], or I
mistake greatly.  Knew you nought thereof?  Have a care how you make
answer!"

"Father, you have right well amazed me but to hear it.  Most surely I
knew nought, saving only that when I returned home yestre'en, my little
maid told me Mistress Grena had been so good as to visit her, and had
brought her a cake and a posy of flowers from the garden.  But if Osmund
were with her or no, that did I not hear."

"Was Mistress Grena wont to visit your daughter?"

"By times, Father: not very often."

As all his neighbours must be aware of Mistress Grena's visit, Roger
thought it the wisest plan to be perfectly frank on that point.

"Ask at Christabel if she wist whether Osmund came withal."

Roger made the inquiry, and returned with the information that
Christabel did not know.  From her couch she could only see the horse's
ears, and had not noticed who was with it.

"'Tis strange matter," said the priest severely, "that a gentleman of
means and station, with his sister, and daughter, and servant, could
disappear thus utterly, and none know thereof!"

"It is, Father, in very deed," replied Roger sympathisingly.

"I pray you, Hall, make full inquiry at the works, and give me to wit if
aught be known thereof.  Remember, you are somewhat under a cloud from
your near kinship to Alice Benden, and diligence in this matter may do
you a good turn with holy Church."

"Sir, I will make inquiry at the works," was the answer, which did not
convey Roger's intention to make no use of the inquiries that could
damage his master, nor his settled conviction that no information was to
be had.

The only person at all likely to know more than himself was the cashier
at the works, since he lived between Cranbrook and Primrose Croft, and
Roger carefully timed his inquiries so as not to include him.  The
result was what he expected--no one could tell him anything.  He quickly
and diligently communicated this interesting fact to the priest's
servant, his master not being at home; and Mr Bastian was more puzzled
than ever.  The nine days' wonder gradually died down.  On the Thursday
evening Mr Justice Roberts came home, and was met by the news of his
brother's disappearance, with his family.  He was so astonished that he
sat open-mouthed, knife and spoon in hand, while his favourite dish of
broiled fowl grew cold, until he had heard all that Martha had to tell
him.  Supper was no sooner over, than off he set to Primrose Croft.

"Well, Madge, old woman!" said he to the old housekeeper, who had once
been his nurse, "this is strange matter, surely!  Is all true that
Martha tells me?  Be all they gone, and none wist how nor whither?"

"Come in, and sit you down by the fire, Master Anthony," said Margery,
in whose heart was a very soft spot for her sometime nursling, "and I'll
tell you all I know.  Here's the master's keys, they'll maybe be safer
in your hands than mine; he didn't leave 'em wi' me, but I went round
the house and picked 'em all up, and locked everything away from them
prying maids and that young jackanapes of a Dickon.  Some he must ha'
took with him; but he's left the key of the old press, look you, and
that label hanging from it."

The Justice looked at the label, and saw his own name written in his
brother's writing.

"Ha! maybe he would have me open the press and search for somewhat.  Let
us go to his closet, Madge.  Thou canst tell me the rest there, while I
see what this meaneth."

"There's scarce any rest to tell, Mr Anthony; only they are all gone--
Master, and Mistress Grena, and Mistress Gertrude, and Osmund, and bay
Philbert, and the black mare, and old Jack."

"What, Jack gone belike!  Dear heart alive!  Why, Madge, that hath
little look of coming again."

"It hasn't, Mr Anthony; and one of Mistress Gertrude's boxes, that she
keeps her gems in, lieth open and empty in her chamber."

The Justice whistled softly as he fitted the key in the lock.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

HOW HE HEARD IT.

"Why, what's this?"

Mr Justice Roberts had opened the old press, tried all the drawers, and
come at last to the secret drawer, of whose existence only he and his
brother knew.  No sooner had he applied his hand to a secret spring,
than out darted the drawer, showing that it held a long legal-looking
document, and a letter addressed to himself.  He opened and read the
latter, Margery standing quietly at a little distance.  Slowly and
thoughtfully, when he had finished the letter, he folded it up, pocketed
it, and turned to Margery.

"Ay, Madge," he said, "they are gone."

"And not coming back, Master Anthony?"

"Not while--well, not at this present.  Madge, my brother would have me
come hither, and take up mine abode here--for a while, look you; and
methinks I shall so do."

"Well, Mr Anthony, and I shall be full fain.  I've been right trembling
in my shoes this three days, lest them noisome pests should think to
come and take possession--turn out all.  Master's papers, and count
Mistress Grena's partlets, and reckon up every crack in the kitchen
trenchers; but there's nought 'll keep 'em out, even to you coming,
'cause they'll be a bit 'feared of you, as being a Justice of Peace.
Ay, I am glad o' that."

"`Noisome pests'!  Why, whom signify you, Madge?"

"Oh, catchpolls, and thirdboroughs [minor constables], and sheriffs, and
hangmen, and 'turneys, and the like o' they," replied Margery, not very
lucidly: "they be pests, the lot of 'em, as ever I see.  They're as ill
as plumbers and painters and rats and fleas--once get 'em in, and
there's no turning of 'em out.  I cannot abide 'em."

Mr Justice Roberts laughed.  "Come, Madge, you may as well add
`Justices of Peace'; you've got pretty nigh all else.  Prithee look to
thy tongue, old woman, or thou shalt find thee indicted for an ill
subject unto the Queen.  Why, they be her Gracious' servants [`Grace's'
was then frequently spelt `Gracious''], and do her bidding.  Thou
wouldst not rebel against the Queen's Majesty?"

"I am as true a woman to the Queen's Grace as liveth, Mr Anthony; but
them folks isn't the Queen nor the King neither.  And they be as
cantankerous toads, every one of 'em, as ever jumped in a brook.  Do you
haste and come, there's a good lad, as you alway was, when you used to
toddle about the house, holding by my gown.  It'll seem like old times
to have you back."

"Well, I can come at once," said the Justice, with a smile at Margery's
reminiscences; "for my brother hath left me a power of attorney to deal
with his lands and goods; and as he is my landlord, I have but to agree
with myself over the leaving of mine house.  But I shall bring Martha: I
trust you'll not quarrel."

"No fear o' that, Mr Anthony.  Martha, she's one of the quiet uns, as
neither makes nor meddles; and I've had strife enough to last me the
rest o' my life.  'Tis them flaunting young hussies as reckons
quarrelling a comfort o' their lives.  And now Osmund's hence, Martha
can wait on you as she's used, and she and me 'll shake down like a
couple o' pigeons."

"Good.  Then I'll be hither in a day or twain: and if any of your pests
come meantime, you shake my stick at them, Madge, and tell them I'm at
hand."

"No fear!  I'll see to that!" was the hearty answer.

So the Justice took up his abode at Primrose Croft, and the cantankerous
toads did not venture near.  Mr Roberts had requested his brother to
hold the estate for him, or in the event of his death for Gertrude,
until they should return; which, of course, meant, and was quite
understood to mean, until the death of the Queen should make way for the
accession of the Protestant Princess Elizabeth.  Plain speech was often
dangerous in those days, and people generally had recourse to some vague
form of words which might mean either one thing or another.  The Justice
went down to the cloth-works on the following Tuesday, and called Roger
Hall into the private room.

"Read those, Hall, an' it like you," he said, laying before him Mr
Roberts' letter and the power of attorney.

Roger only glanced at them, and then looked up with a smile.

"I looked for something of this kind, Mr Justice," he said.  "When
Master left the works on Tuesday evening, he said to me, `If my brother
come, Hall, you will see his orders looked to--' and I reckoned it meant
somewhat more than an order for grey cloth.  We will hold ourselves at
your commands, Mr Justice, and I trust you shall find us to your
satisfaction."

"No doubt, Hall, no doubt!" replied the easy-tempered Justice.  "Shut
that further door an instant.  Have you heard aught of late touching
your sister?"

"Nought different, Mr Justice.  She is yet in the Castle, but I cannot
hear of any further examination, nor sentence."

"Well, well!  'Tis sore pity folks cannot believe as they should, and
keep out of trouble."

Roger Hall was unable to help thinking that if Mr Justice Roberts had
spoken his real thoughts, and had dared to do it, what he might have
said would rather have been--"'Tis sore pity folks cannot let others
alone to believe as they like, and not trouble them."

That afternoon, the Lord Bishop of Dover held his Court in Canterbury
Castle, and a string of prisoners were brought up for judgment.  Among
them came our friends from Staplehurst--Alice Benden, who was helped
into Court by her fellow-prisoners, White and Pardue, for she could
scarcely walk; Fishcock, Mrs Final, Emmet Wilson, and Sens Bradbridge.
For the last time they were asked if they would recant.  The same answer
came from all--

"By the grace of God, we will not."

Then the awful sentence was passed--to be handed over to the secular
arm--the State, which the Church prayed to punish these malefactors
according to their merits.  By a peculiarly base and hypocritical
fiction, it was made to appear that the Church never put any heretic to
death--she only handed them over to the State, with a touching request
that they might be gently handled!  What that gentle handling meant,
every man knew.  If the State had treated a convicted heretic to any
penalty less than death, it would soon have been found out what the
Church understood by gentle handling!

Then the second sentence, that of the State, was read by the Sheriff.
On Saturday, the nineteenth of June, the condemned criminals were to be
taken to the field beyond the Dane John, and in the hollow at the end
thereof to be burned at the stake till they were dead, for the safety of
the Queen and her realm, and to the glory of God Almighty.  God save the
Queen!

None of the accused spoke, saving two.  Most bowed their heads as if in
acceptance of the sentence.  Alice Benden, turning to Nicholas Pardue,
said with a light in her eyes--

"Then shall we keep our Trinity octave in Heaven!"

Poor Sens Bradbridge, stretching out her arms, cried aloud to the
Bishop--"Good my Lord, will you not take and keep Patience and Charity?"

"Nay, by the faith of my body!" was Dick of Dover's reply.  "I will
meddle with neither of them both."

"His Lordship spake sooth then at the least!" observed one of the amused
crowd.

There was one man from Staplehurst among the spectators, and that was
John Banks.  He debated long with himself on his way home, whether to
report the terrible news to the relatives of the condemned prisoners,
and at last he decided not to do so.  There could be no farewells, he
knew, save at the stake itself; and it would spare them terrible pain
not to be present.  One person, however, he rather wished would be
present.  It might possibly be for his good, and Banks had no particular
desire to spare him.  He turned a little out of his way to go up to
Briton's Mead.

Banks found his sister hanging out clothes in the drying-ground behind
the house.

"Well, Jack!" she said, as she caught sight of him.

"Is thy master within, Mall?  If so be, I would have a word with him an'
I may."

"Ay, he mostly is, these days.  He's took to be terrible glum and
grumpy.  I'll go see if he'll speak with you."

"Tell him I bring news that it concerns him to hear."

Mary stopped and looked at him.

"Go thy ways, Mall.  I said not, news it concerned thee to hear."

"Ay, but it doth!  Jack, it is touching Mistress?"

"It is not ill news for her," replied Banks quietly.

"Then I know what you mean," said Mary, with a sob.  "Oh, Jack, Jack!
that we should have lived to see this day!"

She threw her apron over her face, and disappeared into the house.
Banks waited a few minutes, till Mary returned with a disgusted face.

"You may go in, Jack; but 'tis a stone you'll find there."

Banks made his way to the dining-room, where Mr Benden was seated with
a dish of cherries before him.

"'Day!" was all the greeting he vouchsafed.

"Good-day, Master.  I am but now returned from Canterbury, where I have
been in the Bishop's Court."

"Humph!" was the only expression of Mr Benden's interest.  He had grown
harder, colder, and stonier, since those days when he missed Alice's
presence.  He did not miss her now.

"The prisoners from this place were sentenced to-day."

"Humph!"

"They shall die there, the nineteenth of June next."  Banks did not feel
it at all necessary to soften his words, as he seemed to be addressing a
stone wall.

"Humph!"  The third growl sounded gruffer than the rest.

"And Mistress Benden said to Nichol Pardue--`Then shall we keep our
Trinity octave in Heaven!'"

Mr Benden rose from his chair.  Was he moved at last?  What was he
about to say?  Thrusting forth a finger towards the door, he compressed
his thanks and lamentations into a word--

"Go!"

John Banks turned away.  Why should he stay longer?

"Poor soul!" was what he said, when he found himself again in the
kitchen with Mary.

"What, _him_?" answered Mary rather scornfully.

"No--her, that she had to dwell with him.  She'll have fairer company
after Saturday."

"Is it Saturday, Jack?"

"Ay, Mall.  Would you be there?  I shall."

"No," said Mary, in a low tone.  "I couldn't keep back my tears, and
maybe they'd hurt her.  She'll lack all her brave heart, and I'll not
trouble her in that hour."

"You'd best not let Master Hall know--neither Mr Roger, nor Mr Thomas.
It'd nigh kill poor little Mistress Christie to know of it aforehand.
She loved her Aunt Alice so dearly."

"I can hold my tongue, Jack.  Easier, maybe, than I can keep my hands
off that wretch in yonder!"

When Mary went in to lay the cloth for the last meal, she found the
wretch in question still seated at the table, his head buried in his
hands.  A gruffer voice than ever bade her "Let be!  Keep away!"  Mary
withdrew quietly, and found it a shade easier to keep her hands off Mr
Benden after that incident.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

ONE SUMMER DAY.

The nineteenth of June was the loveliest of summer days, even in the
Martyrs' Field at Canterbury, in the hollow at the end of which the
seven stakes were set up.  The field is nearly covered now by the
station of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, but the hollow can
still be traced whence the souls of His faithful witnesses went up to
God.

John Banks was early on the ground, and so secured a front place.  The
crowd grew apace, until half the field was covered.  Not only residents
of the city, but casual sight-seers, made up the bulk of it, the rather
since it was somewhat dangerous to be absent, especially for a suspected
person.  From the neighbouring villages, too, many came in--the village
squire and his dame in rustling silks, the parish priest in his cassock,
the labourers and their wives in holiday garb.

Then the Castle gates opened, and the Wincheap Gate; and forth from them
came a slow, solemn procession, preceded by a crucifer bearing a silver
cross, a long array of black-robed priests, and then the Lord Bishop of
Dover, in his episcopal robes, followed by two scarlet-cassocked
acolytes swinging thuribles, from which ascended a cloud of incense
between his Lordship's sacred person and the wicked heretics who were to
follow.  Two and two they came, John Fishcock the butcher, led like one
of his own sheep to the slaughter, and Nicholas White the ironmonger;
Nicholas Pardue and Sens Bradbridge; Mrs Final and Emmet Wilson.  After
all the rest came Alice Benden, on the last painful journey that she
should ever take.  She would mount next upon wings as an eagle, and
there should for her be no more pain.

The martyrs recognised their friend John Banks, and each greeted him by
a smile.  Then they took off their outer garments--which were the
perquisites of the executioners--and stood arrayed every one in that
white robe of martyrdom, of which so many were worn in Mary's reign; a
long plain garment, falling from the throat to the feet, with long loose
sleeves buttoned at the wrists.  Thus prepared, they knelt down to pray,
while the executioners heaped the faggots in the manner best suited for
quick burning.  Rising from their prayers, each was chained to a stake.
Now was the moment for the last farewells.

John Banks went up to Alice Benden.

"Courage, my mistress, for a little time! and the Lord be with you!"

"Amen!" she answered.  "I thank thee, Jack.  Do any of my kin know of my
burning?"

"Mistress, I told not your brethren, and methinks they wot not of the
day.  Methought it should be sore to them, and could do you but a little
good.  I pray you, take me as 'presenting all your friends, that do bid
you right heartily farewell, and desire for you an abundant entrance
into the happy kingdom of our Lord God."

"I thank thee with all mine heart, Jack; thou hast well done.  Give, I
pray thee, to my brother Roger this new shilling, the which my father
sent me at my first imprisonment, desiring him that he will give the
same unto mine old good father, in token that I never lacked money, with
mine obedient salutations."

The gaoler now approached her to place the faggots closer, and Banks was
reluctantly compelled to retire.  From her waist Alice took a white lace
which she had tied round it, and handed it to the gaoler, saying, "Keep
this, I beseech you, for my brother Roger Hall.  It is the last bond I
was bound with, except this chain."

Then the torch was put to the faggots.

"Keep this in memory of me!" reached John Banks, in the clear tones of
Alice Benden; and a white cambric handkerchief fluttered above the
crowd, and fell into his outstretched hands.  [These farewells of Alice
Benden are historical.]

And so He led them to the haven where they would be.

  "No, not one looked back, who had set his hand to this ploughing!"

There was a hard task yet before John Banks.  He had to visit eight
houses, and at each to tell his awful tale, to father and mother,
brother and sister, son and daughter--in three instances to husband or
wife--of the martyrs who had gone home.  His first visit was to Seven
Roods.

"Well, Jack Banks!  I thought you'd been dead and buried!" was Tabitha's
sarcastic intimation that it was some time since she had seen him.

"Ah, Mistress Hall, I could well-nigh wish I had been, before I came to
bring you such tidings as I bring to-day."

Tabitha looked up in his face, instantly dropped the mop in her hand,
and came over to where he stood.

"'Tis more than `may be,'" she said significantly, "and I reckon 'tis
more than `must be.'  John Banks, is it _done_?"

"It is done," he replied.  "`The Lord God hath wiped away all tears from
her eyes.'"

"The Lord look upon it, and avenge her!" was the answer, in Tabitha's
sternest and most solemn voice.  "The Lord requite it on the head of
Edward Benden, and on the head of Richard Thornton!  Wherefore doth He
not rend the heavens and come down?  Wherefore--" and as suddenly as
before, Tabitha broke down, and cried her heart out as Banks had never
imagined Tabitha Hall could do.

Banks did not attempt to reprove her.  It was useless.  He only said
quietly, "Forgive me to leave you thus, but I must be on my way, for my
tidings must yet be told six times, and there be some hearts will break
to hear them."

"I'll spare you one," said Tabitha, as well as she could speak.  "You
may let be Roger Hall.  I'll tell him."

Banks drew a long breath.  Could he trust this strange, satirical, yet
warm-hearted woman to tell those tidings in that house of all others?
And the white lace, which the gaoler, knowing him to be a Staplehurst
man, had entrusted to him to give, could he leave it with her?

"Nay, not so, I pray you, and thank you, Mistress.  I have an especial
message and token for Master Hall.  But if you would of your goodness
let Mistress Final's childre know thereof, that should do me an
easement, for the White Hart is most out of my way."

"So be it, Jack, and God speed thee!"

Turning away from Seven Roods, Banks did his terrible errand to the six
houses.  It was easiest at Fishcock's, where the relatives were somewhat
more distant than at the rest; but hard to tell Nicholas White's
grey-haired wife that she was a widow, hard to tell Emmet Wilson's
husband that he had no more a wife; specially hard at Collet Pardue's
cottage, where the news meant not only sorrow but worldly ruin, so far
as mortal eye might see.  Then he turned off to Briton's Mead, and told
Mary, whose tears flowed fast.

"Will you speak to _him_?" she said, in an awed tone.

"No!" said Banks, almost sternly.  "At the least--what doth he?"

"Scarce eats a morsel, and his bed's all awry in the morning, as if he'd
done nought but toss about all the night; I think he sleeps none, or
very nigh.  I never speak to him without he first doth, and that's
mighty seldom."

Banks hesitated a moment.  Then he went forward, and opened the door of
the dining-room.

"Mr Benden!" he said.

The room was in semi-darkness, having no light but that of the moon, and
Banks could see only just enough to assure him that something human sat
in the large chair at the further end.  But no sound answered his
appeal.

"I am but now arrived from Canterbury."

Still no answer came.  John Banks went on, in a soft, hushed voice--not
in his own words.  If the heart of stone could be touched, God's words
might do it; if not, still they were the best.

"`She shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the
sun light upon her, neither any heat.  For the Lamb that is in the midst
of the Seat hath fed her, and hath led her unto fountains of living
water; and God hath wiped away all tears from her eyes.'"

He paused a moment, but the dead silence was unbroken.

One word more.  "The Lord have mercy on thy soul, thou miserable
sinner!"  Then Banks shut the door softly and went away.

There we leave Edward Benden, with the black silence of oblivion over
his future life.  Whether the Holy Spirit of God ever took the stony
heart out of him, and gave him a heart of flesh, God alone knows.  For
this, in its main features, is a true story, and there is no word to
tell us what became of the husband and betrayer of Alice Benden.

John Banks went on to the last house he had to visit--the little house
by the Second Acre Close.  Roger Hall opened the door himself.  Banks
stepped in, and as the light of the hall lantern fell upon his face,
Roger uttered an exclamation of pain and fear.

"Jack!  Thy face--"

"Hath my face spoken to you, Master Hall, afore my tongue could frame so
to do?  Perchance it is best so.  Hold your hand."

Roger obeyed mechanically, and Banks laid on the hand held forth the
long white lace.

"For you," he said, his voice broken by emotion.  John Banks' nerves
were pretty well worn out by that day's work, as well they might be.
"She gave it me for you--at the last.  She bade me say it was the last
bond she was bound with--except _that_ chain."

"Thank God!" were the first words that broke from the brother who loved
Alice so dearly.  The Christian spoke them; but the next moment the man
came uppermost, and an exceeding bitter cry of "O Alice, Alice!"
followed the thanksgiving of faith.

"It is over," said Banks, in a husky voice.  "She `shall never see evil
any more.'"

But he knew well that he could give no comfort to that stricken heart.
Quietly, and quickly, he laid down the new shilling, with its message
for the poor old father; and then without another word--not even saying
"good-night," he went out and closed the door behind him.  Only God
could speak comfort to Roger and Christabel in that dark hour.  Only God
could help poor Roger to tell Christie that she would never see her dear
Aunt Alice any more until she should clasp hands with her on the street
of the Golden City, and under the shade of the Tree of Life.  And God
would help him: John Banks was quite sure of that.  But as he stepped
out into the summer night, it seemed almost as if he could see a
vision--as if the outward circumstances in which he had beheld the trio
were prophetic--Alice in the glory of the great light, Roger with his
way shown clearly by the little lamp of God's Word, and Edward in that
black shadow, made lurid and more awful by the faint unearthly light.
The moon came out brightly from behind a cloud, just as Banks lifted his
eyes upwards.

"Good God, forgive us all!" he said earnestly, "and help all that need
Thee!"

Alice was above all help, and Roger was sure of help.  But who or what
could help Edward Benden save the sovereign mercy of God?



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

WHAT THEY COULD.

A month had passed since the burning of the Canterbury martyrs.  The
Bishop of Dover had gone on a visit to London, and the land had rest in
his absence.  It may be noted here, since we shall see no more of him,
that he did not long survive the event.  He was stricken suddenly with
palsy, as he stood watching a game at bowls on a Sunday afternoon, and
was borne to his bed to die.  The occupation wherein the "inevitable
angel" found him, clearly shows what manner of man he was.

In Roger Hall's parlour a little conclave was gathered for discussion of
various subjects, consisting of the handful of Gospellers yet left in
Staplehurst.  Various questions had been considered, and dismissed as
settled, and the conversation flagged for a few seconds, when Tabitha
suddenly flung a new topic into the arena.

"Now, what's to be done for that shiftless creature, Collet Pardue?  Six
lads and two lasses, and two babes of Sens Bradbridge's, and fewer wits
than lads, and not so many pence as lasses.  Won't serve to find 'em all
dead in the gutter.  So what's to be done?  Speak up, will you, and
let's hear."

"I can't speak on those lines, Tabitha," replied her brother-in-law.
"Collet is no wise shiftless, for she hath brought up her children in a
good and godly fashion, the which a woman with fewer brains than lads
should ne'er have done.  But I verily assent with you that we should do
something to help her.  And first--who will take to Sens Bradbridge's
maids?"

"I will, if none else wants 'em.  But they'll not be pampered and
stuffed with cates, and lie on down beds, and do nought, if they dwell
with me.  I shall learn 'em to fare hard and be useful, I can tell you."

"Whether of the twain call you them syllabubs and custard pies as you
set afore us when we supped last with you, Mistress Hall?" quietly asked
Ursula Final.  "Seemed to me I could put up with hard fare o' that sort
metely well."

"Don't be a goose, Ursula.  They've got to keep their hands in,
a-cooking, haven't they? and when things be made, you can't waste 'em
nor give 'em the pigs.  They've got to be ate, haven't they?" demanded
Mrs Tabitha, in tones of battle; and Ursula subsided without attempting
a defence.

"What say you, Tom?" asked Roger, looking at his brother.

Mr Thomas Hall, apparently, did not dare to say anything.  He glanced
deprecatingly at his domestic tyrant, and murmured a few words, half
swallowed in the utterance, of which "all agree" were the only
distinguishable syllables.

"Oh, he'll say as I say," responded Tabitha unblushingly.  "There's no
man in the Weald knows his duty better than Thomas Hall; it'd be a mercy
if he'd sometimes do it."

Mr Thomas Hall's look of meek appeal said "Don't I?" in a manner which
was quite pathetic.

"Seems to me," said Ralph Final, the young landlord of the White Hart,
"that if we were all to put of a hat or a bowl such moneys as we could
one and another of us afford by the year, for Mistress Pardue and the
childre--such as could give money, look you--and them that couldn't
should say what they would give, it'd be as plain a way as any."

"Well said, Ralph!" pronounced Mrs Tabitha, who took the lead as usual.
"I'll give my maids' cast-off clothes for the childre, the elder, I
mean, such as 'll fit 'em; the younger must go for Patience and Charity.
And I'll let 'em have a quart of skim milk by the day, as oft as I have
it to spare; and eggs if I have 'em.  And Thomas 'll give 'em ten
shillings by the year.  And I shouldn't marvel if I can make up a kirtle
or a hood for Collet by nows and thens, out of some gear of my own."

Mr Thomas Hall being looked at by the Synod to see if he assented,
confirmed the statement of his arbitrary Tabitha by a submissive nod.

"I'll give two nobles by the year," said Ralph, "and a peck of barley by
the quarter, and a cask of beer at Christmas."

"I will give them a sovereign by the year," said Roger Hall, "and half a
bale of cloth from the works, that Master suffers me to buy at cost
price."

"I can't do so much as you," said Eleanor White, the ironmonger's widow;
"but I'll give Collet the worth of an angel in goods by the year, and
the produce of one of the pear-trees in my garden."

"I can't do much neither," added Emmet Wilson's husband, the baker; "but
I'll give them a penn'orth of bread by the week, and a peck of meal at
Easter."

"And I'll chop all the wood they burn," said his quiet, studious son
Titus, "and learn the lads to read."

"Why, Titus, you are offering the most of us all in time and labour!"
exclaimed Roger Hall.

"You've got your work cut and measured, Titus Wilson," snapped Tabitha.
"If one of them lads'll bide quiet while you can drum ABC into his head
that it'll tarry there a week, 'tis more than I dare look for, I can
tell you."

"There's no telling what you can do without you try," was the pithy
answer of Titus.

"I've been marvelling what I could do," said John Banks modestly, "and I
was a bit beat out of heart by your sovereigns and nobles; for I
couldn't scarce make up a crown by the year.  But Titus has showed me
the way.  I'll learn one of the lads my trade, if Collet 'll agree."

"Well, then, that is all we can do, it seems--" began Roger, but he was
stopped by a plaintive voice from the couch.

"Mightn't I do something, Father?  I haven't only a sixpence in money;
but couldn't I learn Beatrice to embroider, if her mother would spare
her?"

"My dear heart, it were to try thy strength too much, I fear," said
Roger tenderly.

"But you're all doing something," said Christie earnestly, "and wasn't
our blessed Lord weary when He sat on the well?  I might give Him a
little weariness, mightn't I--when I've got nothing better?"

To the surprise of everybody, Thomas had replied.

"We're not doing much, measured by that ell-wand," said the silent man;
"but Titus and Banks and Christie, they're doing the most."

Poor Collet Pardue broke down in a confused mixture of thanks and tears,
when she heard the propositions of her friends.  She was gratefully
willing to accept all the offers.  Three of her boys were already
employed at the cloth-works; one of the younger trio should go to Banks
to be brought up a mason.  Which would he choose?

Banks looked at the three lads offered him--the noisy Noah, the
ungovernable Silas, and the lazy Valentine.

"I'll have Silas," he said quietly.

"The worst pickle of the lot!" commented Mrs Tabitha, who made one of
the deputation.

"Maybe," said Banks calmly; "but I see wits there, and I'll hope for a
heart, and with them and the grace of God, which Collet and I shall pray
for, we'll make a man of Silas Pardue yet."

And if John Banks ever regretted his decision, it was not on a certain
winter evening, well into the reign of Elizabeth, when a fine,
manly-looking fellow, with a grand forehead wherein "his soul lodged
well," and bright intellectual eyes, came to tell him, the humble mason,
that he had been chosen from a dozen candidates for the high post of
architect of a new church.

"'Tis your doing," said the architect, as he wrung the hard hand of the
mason.  "You made a man of me by your teaching and praying, and never
despairing that I should one day be worth the cost."

But we must return for a few minutes to Roger Hall's parlour, where he
and his little invalid girl were alone on that night when the conference
had been held.

"Father," said Christie, "please tell me what is a cross? and say it
little, so as I can conceive the same."

"What manner of cross, sweet heart?"

"You know what our Lord saith, Father--`He that taketh not his cross,
and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me.'  I've been thinking a deal on it
of late.  I wouldn't like not to be worthy of Him.  But I can't take my
cross till I know what it is.  I asked Cousin Friswith, and she said it
meant doing all manner of hard disagreeable things, like the monks and
nuns do--eating dry bread and sleeping of a board, and such like.  But
when I talked with Pen Pardue, she said she reckoned it signified not
that at all.  That was making crosses, and our Lord did not mention
that.  So please, Father, what is it?"

"Methinks, my child, Pen hath the right.  `Take' is not `make.'  We be
to take the cross God layeth on our backs.  He makes the crosses; we
have but to take them and bear them.  Folks make terrible messes by
times when they essay to make their own crosses.  But thou wouldest know
what is a cross?  Well, for thee, methinks, anything that cometh across
thee and makes thee cross.  None wist so well as thyself what so doth."

"But, Father!" said Christie in a tone of alarm.

"Well, sweet heart?"

"There must be such a lot of them!"

"For some folks, Christie, methinks the Lord carveth out one great heavy
cross; but for others He hath, as it were, an handful of little light
ones, that do but weigh a little, and prick a little, each one.  And he
knoweth which to give."

"I think," said Christie, with an air of profound meditation, "I must
have the little handful.  But then, must I carry them all at once?"

"One at once, little Christie--the one which thy Father giveth thee; let
Him choose which, and how, and when.  By times he may give thee more
than one, but methinks mostly 'tis one at once, though they may change
oft and swiftly.  Take _thy_ cross, and follow the Lord Jesus."

"There's banging doors," pursued Christie with the same thoughtful air;
"that's one.  And when my back aches, that's another, and when my head
is so, _so_ tired; and when I feel all strings that somebody's pulling,
as if I couldn't keep still a minute.  That last's one of the biggest, I
reckon.  And when--"

The little voice stopped suddenly for a moment.

"Father, can folks be crosses?"

"I fear they can, dear heart," replied her father, smiling; "and very
sharp ones too."

Christie kept her next thoughts to herself.  Aunt Tabitha and Cousin
Friswith certainly must be crosses, she mentally decided, and Uncle
Edward must have been dear Aunt Alice's cross, and a dreadful one.  Then
she came back to the point in hand.

"How must I `take up' my cross, Father?  Doth it mean I must not grumble
at it, and feel as if I wanted to get rid of it as fast as ever I
could?"

Roger smiled and sighed.  "That is hard work, Christie, is it not?  But
it would be no cross if it were not hard and heavy.  Thou canst not but
feel that it will be a glad thing to lay it down; but now, while God
layeth it on thee, be willing to bear it for His sake.  He giveth it for
thy sake, that thou mayest be made partaker of His holiness; be thou
ready to carry it for His.  `The cup which My Father hath given Me,
shall I not drink it?'"

"There'll be no crosses and cups in heaven, will there, Father?"

"Not one, Christabel."

"Only crowns and harps?" the child went on thoughtfully.  "Aunt Alice
has both, Father.  I think she must make right sweet music.  I hope I
sha'n't be far from her.  Perhaps it won't be very long before I hear
her.  Think you it will, Father?"

Little Christabel had no idea what a sharp cross she had laid on her
father's heart by asking him that question.  Roger Hall had to fight
with himself before he answered it, and it was scarcely to her that his
reply was addressed.

"`Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.'  `He knoweth the way that I take.'
`I will not fail thee, neither forsake thee.'"

"Oh, Father, what pretty verses!  Were you thinking perhaps you'd miss
me if I went soon, poor Father?  But maybe, I sha'n't, look you.  'Tis
only when I ache so, and feel all over strings, sometimes I think-- But
we don't know, Father, do we?  And we shall both be there, you know.  It
won't signify much, will it, which of us goes first?"

"It will only signify," said Roger huskily, "to the one that tarrieth."

"Well," answered Christie brightly, "and it won't do that long.  I
reckon we scarce need mind."



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

ONCE MORE AT HOME.

Up and down his garden--or, to speak more accurately, his brother's
garden--strolled Mr Justice Roberts, his hands behind his back, on a
mild afternoon at the beginning of December 1558.  His thoughts, which
of course we have the privilege of reading, ran somewhat in this
fashion--

"Well, 'tis a mercy all is pretty well settled now.  Nothing but joy and
welcome for the Queen's accession.  Every man about, pretty nigh, looks
as if he had been released from prison, and was so thankful he scarce
knew how to express it.  To be sure there be a few contradictious folks
that would fain have had the old fashions tarry; but, well-a-day! they
be but an handful.  I'll not say I'm not glad myself.  I never did love
committing those poor wretches that couldn't believe to order.  _I_
believe in doing your duty and letting peaceable folks be.  If they do
reckon a piece of bread to be a piece of bread, I'd never burn them for
it."

By this reflection it will be seen that Mr Justice Roberts, in his
heart, was neither a Papist nor a Protestant, but a good-natured Gallio,
whose convictions were pliable when wanted so to be.

"I marvel how soon I shall hear of Tom," the Justice's meditations went
on.  "I cannot let him know anything, for I don't know where he is; I
rather guess at Shardeford, with his wife's folks, but I had a care not
to find out.  He'll hear, fast enough, that it is safe to come home.  I
shouldn't wonder--"

The Justice wheeled round suddenly, and spoke aloud this time.  "Saints
alive! what's that?"

Nothing either audible or visible appeared for a moment.

"What was that black thing?" said the Justice to himself.  He was
answered suddenly in loud tones of great gratification.

"Bow-wow!  Bow-wow-wow!  Bow-ow-ow-ow-ow!"

"Whatever!" said the Justice to the "black thing" which was careering
about him, apparently on every side of him at once, leaping into the air
as high as his head, trying to lick his face, wagging not only a
feathery tail, but a whole body, laughing all over a delighted face, and
generally behaving itself in a rapturously ecstatic manner.  "Art thou
rejoicing for Queen Elizabeth too? and whose dog art thou?  Didst come--
tarry, I do think--nay--ay, it is--I verily believe 'tis old Jack
himself!"

"Of course it is!" said Jack's eyes and tail, and every bit of Jack,
executing a fresh caper of intense satisfaction.

"Why, then they must be come!" exclaimed the Justice, and set off for
the front door, pursued by Jack.  It is needless to say that Jack won
the race by considerable lengths.

"Oh, here's Uncle Anthony!" cried Pandora's voice, as he came in sight.
"Jack, you've been and told him--good Jack!"

There is no need to describe the confused, heart-warm greetings on all
sides--how kisses were exchanged, and hands were clasped, and sentences
were begun that were never finished, and Jack assisted at all in turn.
But when the first welcomes were over, and the travellers had changed
their dress, and they sat down to supper, hastily got up by Margery's
willing hands, there was opportunity to exchange real information on
both sides.

"And where have you been, now, all this while?" asked the Justice.  "I
never knew, and rather wished not to guess."

"At Shardeford, for the first part; then some months with Frances, and
lately in a farm-house under Ingleborough--folks that Frances knew, good
Gospellers, but far from any priest.  And how have matters gone here?"

"There's nought, methinks, you'll be sorry to hear of, save only the
burnings at Canterbury.  Seven from this part--Mistress Benden, and
Mistress Final, Fishcock, White, Pardue, Emmet Wilson, and Sens
Bradbridge.  They all suffered a few weeks after your departing."

All held their breath till the list was over.  Pandora was the first to
speak.

"Oh, my poor little Christie!"

"Your poor little Christie, Mistress Dorrie, is like to be less poor
than she was.  There is a doctor of medicine come to dwell in Cranbrook,
that seems to have somewhat more skill, in her case at least, than our
old apothecary; and you shall find the child going about the house now.
He doth not despair, quoth he, that she may yet walk forth after a quiet
fashion, though she is not like to be a strong woman at the best."

"Oh, I am so glad, Uncle!" said Pandora, though the tears _were_ still
in her eyes.

"That Roger Hall is a grand fellow, Tom.  He hath kept the works a-going
as if you had been there every day.  He saith not much, but he can do
with the best."

"Ay, he was ever a trustworthy servant," answered Mr Roberts.  "'Tis a
marvel to me, though, that he was never arrest."

"That cannot I conceive!" said the Justice warmly.  "The man hath put
his head into more lions' mouths than should have stocked Daniel's den;
and I know Dick o' Dover set forth warrants for his taking.  It did seem
as though he bare a charmed life, that no man could touch him."

"He is not the first that hath so done," said Mistress Grena.
"Methinks, Master Justice, there was another warrant sent out first--`I
am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee.'  There have
been divers such, I count, during Queen Mary's reign."

"Maybe, Mistress Grena, maybe; I am not o'er good in such matters.  But
I do think, Brother Tom, you should do well to show your sense of Hall's
diligence and probity."

"That will I do, if God permit.  But there is another to whom I owe
thanks, Anthony, and that is yourself, to have saved my lands and goods
for me."

"Well, Tom," answered the Justice comically, "you do verily owe me
thanks, to have eaten your game, and worn out your furniture, and spent
your money, during an whole year and an half.  Forsooth, I scarce know
how you may fitly show your gratefulness toward me for conferring so
great benefits upon you."

Mr Roberts laughed.

"Ah, it pleaseth you to jest, Anthony," he replied, "but I know full
well that had you refused my request, 'tis a mighty likelihood I had had
neither house nor furniture to come to."

"Nay, I was not such a dolt!  I marvel who would, when asked to spend
another man's money, and pluck his fruit, and lie of his best bed!  But
I tell thee one thing, Tom--I'll pay thee never a stiver of rent for
mine house that I hold of thee--the rather since I let it to this new
doctor for two pound more, by the year, than I have paid to thee.  I'm
none so sure that he'll be ready to turn forth; and if no, happy man be
my dole, for I must go and sing in the gutter, without Jack will give me
a corner of his kennel."

"Jack's owner will be heartily glad to give you a corner of his kennel,
Brother Anthony, for so long time as it shall please you to occupy it.
Never think on turning forth, I pray you, until you desire to go, at the
least while I live."

"I thank you right truly, Brother Tom, and will take my advantage of
your kindliness at least for this present.  But, my young mistresses, I
pray you remember that you must needs be of good conditions an' you
dwell in the same house with a Justice of Peace, else shall I be forced
to commit you unto gaol."

"Oh, we'll keep on the windy side of you and the law, Uncle Anthony,"
said Gertrude, laughing.  "I suppose teasing the life out of one's uncle
is not a criminal offence?"

"I shall do my best to make it so, my lady," was the reply, in tones of
mock severity.

The rest of the day was devoted to unpacking and settling down, and much
of the next morning was spent in a similar manner.  But when the
afternoon came Pandora rode down, escorted by old Osmund, to Roger
Hall's cottage.  She was too familiar there now for the ceremony of
waiting to ring; and she went forward and opened the door of the little
parlour.

Christabel was standing at the table arranging some floss
silk--"slea-silk" she would have called it--in graduated shades for
working.  It was the first time Pandora had ever seen her stand.  Down
went the delicate pale green skein in Christie's hand, and where it
might go was evidently of no moment.

"Mistress Pandora!  O dear Mistress Pandora!  You've come back!  I
hadn't heard a word about it.  And look you, I can stand! and I can
walk!" cried Christie, in tones of happy excitement.

"My dear little Christabel!" said Pandora, clasping the child in her
arms.  "I am surely glad for thy betterment--very, very glad.  Ay, sweet
heart, we have come home, all of us, thank God!"

"And you'll never go away again, will you, Mistress Pandora?"

"`Never' is a big word, Christie.  But I hope we shall not go again for
a great while."

"Oh, and did anybody tell you, Mistress--about--poor Aunt Alice?" said
Christie, with a sudden and total change of tone.

"No, Christie," answered Pandora significantly.  "But somebody told me
touching thy rich Aunt Alice, that she was richer now and higher than
even the Queen Elizabeth, and that she should never again lose her
riches, nor come down from her throne any more."

"We didn't know, Mistress--Father and me, we never knew when it should
be--we only heard when all was over!"

"Thou mightest well bless God for that, my dear heart.  That hour would
have been sore hard for thee to live through, hadst thou known it
afore."

The parlour door opened, and they saw Roger Hall standing in the
doorway.

"Mistress Pandora!" he said.  "Thanks be unto God for all His mercies!"

"Amen!" answered both the girls.

"Methinks, Mr Hall, under God, some thanks be due to you also,"
remarked Pandora, with a smile.  "Mine aunt and I had fared ill without
your pots and pans that time you wot of, and mine uncle hath been
ringing your praises in my Father's ears touching your good management
at the cloth-works."

"I did but my duty, Mistress," said Roger, modestly.

"I would we all did the same, Mr Hall, so well as you have done," added
Pandora.  "Christie, my sister Gertrude saith she will come and see
thee."

"Oh!" answered Christie, with an intonation of pleasure.  "Please,
Mistress Pandora, is she as good as you?"

Both Roger and Pandora laughed.

"How must I answer, Christie?" said the latter.  "For, if I say `ay,'
that shall be to own myself to be good; and if `no,' then were it to
speak evil of my sister.  She is brighter and cheerier than I, and
loveth laughter and mirth.  Most folks judge her to be the fairer and
sweeter of the twain."

"I shall not," said Christie, with a shake of her head; "of that am I
very certain."

Roger privately thought he should not either.

"Well," said Christie, "I do hope any way, _now_, all our troubles be
over!  Please, Mistress Pandora, think you not they shall be?"

"My dear little maid!" answered Pandora, laughing.

"Not without we be in Heaven, Christie," replied her Father, "and
methinks we have scarce won thither yet."

Christabel looked extremely disappointed.

"Oh, dear!" she said, "I made sure we should have no more, now Queen
Elizabeth was come in.  Must we wait, then, till we get to Heaven,
Father?"

"Wait till we reach Heaven, sweet heart, for the land where we shall no
more say, `I am sick,' either in health or heart.  It were not good for
us to walk ever in the plains of ease; we should be yet more apt than we
be to build our nests here, and forget to stretch our wings upward
toward Him who is the first cause and the last end of all hope and
goodness.  'Tis only when we wake up after His likeness, to be with Him
for ever, that we shall be satisfied with it."

THE END.





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