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Hawkwood, on the ground-floor of a round tower overlooking the private garden of the Prior.
Despite his alleged drowsiness, his couch did not seem to tempt Brakespeare. After being disarmed by his esquire, he advised him to "sleep while he might, for they would march at daybreak:" yet he himself lay not down; and, leaning his arms on the window-sill, looked out moodily into the night. Lanyon was in dreamland almost before his head touched the pallet; but, from long training of bivouac, he slept as lightly as a girl, and sprang up alertly an hour or so later at the touch of a hand upon his shoulder. It was not so dark, but that traces of strong emotion were visible on Brakespeare's face.
"Come hither"-he said, pointing to the open lattice-"and look out and listen, keeping well in the shadow."
According to his wont, the esquire did as he was bidden without question; and Ralph, too, knelt down in the embrasure.
On one side of the garden, at right angles to the tower, rose a heavy pile of building, in the upper story of which was the Prior's private lodging. There was no sign of life or habitation therein, save a gleam of dusky red light just clearing the level of the soil, evidently slanting upwards from some underground chamber. As they listened, there came through the stillness a smothered murmur of voices; and then a sound-too piteously significant to be mistakenthe moan of a woman in extremity of terror or pain. As Lanyon recoiled instinctively, Ralph muttered close to his ear
"Hearest thou that ?—I heard it before I waked thee. guess what devilry yon shavelings are about to-night? Nay, nor I. But, by Saint Giles! I will know ere long. Follow thou me: a child might leap hence into the garden; and we will make shift to climb back, I trow."
Both were lightly clad in jerkin and hosen, and carried no arms save a dagger. Descending quickly and noiselessly, they crept on till they crouched down by the low window, from which the light streamed: though unglazed, it was guarded by a grating, so close that light and air had some work to pass. Nevertheless, it served Brakespeare's purpose; and this is what he saw.
The chamber was not lofty; but so spacious, that four flambeauxfixed in iron sockets in the walls-and a huge iron lamp swung in the centre, left the furthermost part, beyond a row of supporting pillars, in deep shadow. From the wall opposite the window, ran out a broad stone ledge, like a dais. On this, in rude arm-chairs-the centre
one of which was somewhat higher than the others, and had some pretensions to ornament-sate three Benedictine monks. Two of these were strangers to Brakespeare; but in the chief he recognized the Prior. At a table immediately in front of these, set not far below the dais, a man dressed in the long robe and square coif affected by lawyers, was reading out, in a quick monotonous voice, some documents that he had recently been copying; on some the ink was scarcely dry. A trial of some sort was evidently proceeding; and the accused could be no other than the woman crouching low, in shame or terror, betwixt her guards. Her face was bowed in her hands; but, even in that ungraceful posture, the rare grace of her lithe figure, and the perfect contour of every limb, could not be dissembled: when she suddenly looked up, uncovering her face, Ralph was fairly startled by its loveliness-utterly unlike, if not excelling, anything he had seen in all his wanderings. The complexion was by nature dazzlingly fair, though the peach blossom of the soft cheek was blanched now; but, in all other respects, there was an oriental stamp on her beauty. The long, languishing eyes, the whites of which were strongly tinged with blue, shaded by wealth of trailing lashes-the smooth, fine hair, that flashed back the torchlight like polished jet-the full, delicate mouth, and crimson lips, so apt to mould themselves into a mutinous smilespoke plainly enough of redder and richer blood than flows in the veins of Japhet's descendants. There was as much of petulance, as of contrition or appeal in the gesture, as she wrung her slender white hands, gazing eagerly in the faces of her judges. In two of those faces there was nothing remarkable.
The Prior was a portly, pompous churchman-rather benevolentlooking than otherwise; though, by virtue of his office, he bore himself austerely; and the round, rubicund visage on his left, betokened no worse vices than indulgence and love of luxury. But the countenance of the right hand monk was one of those, not pleasant to remember, and therefore not easily forgotten. Sallow and atrabilious, its pallor none would impute to fast or vigil; even if the heavy animal jaw, and cruel, sensual mouth, had not told, that if ever such an one achieved saintliness, it would be at the cost of many hard battles with the lusts of the flesh. In his eyes there was no calm, judicial severity; but rather such a fierce eagerness as springs from unslaked desire, or bitter hate; also, it might be noted that when the prisoner's appealing glances roved all around, they never dwelt, even for an instant, on this man's face.
The whole scene seemed to Brakespeare a ghastly mockery. He could scarce bring himself to believe that the three solemn judges, and their busy legal assessor, and the four armed guards-to say nothing of the other figures grouped in the dim background-were all required to deal with a frail girl, no more fit for rough handling than a May-fly. He looked on, and listened, like one in a dream. There was a brief pause, after the man of law had finished reading; then the Prior spoke, clearing his throat importantly.
"Thou, whom men call La Mauricaulde-some time novice in the nunnery of Mount Carmel, but having escaped thence at prompting of Sathanas, if not by his actual aid-thou knowest well wherefore thou art now set on trial; and hast heard what these have witnessed against thee. Such testimony it avails not to deny; neither may thy life be in any wise excused, whereby, not scandal alone, but great damage hath been wrought. For do we not know how-having once drunken of the cup of thy witcheries-divers of all stations have set at naught, not only their fair repute, but all duties of religion; so that finally, being wasted away in mind and body, no less than in substance, they have died miserably, rather like miscreants than chrissom men? Also, by trustworthy witness it hath been averred that thou hast been seen in full practice of thy accursed enchantments. Hath not Guillaume Chapellier, sexton of La Marmoude, made oath, that he watched thee in the graveyard at such work as these lips of mine shall not be defiled by rehearsing? And did not Antoine Tournon, returning home by night, see thee pass overhead through the air, borne on some devilish creature, the likeness of which he could not set forth for his extreme fear? Now, therefore, I adjure thee, in the name of the most Holy Trinity, to make full confession-if the familiar spirit by the which, as I well believe, thou art possessed, will suffer thee to speak. So, though thy life be forfeit, may some pain be spared to thy sinful body, and peradventure some profit may accrue to thy more sinful soul."
The girl-she was scarce yet in the prime of womanhood-rose up upon her feet, smoothing her hair from her brow with her soft, white fingers: the action was simply mechanical; its lithe dexterity suggesting long use of the mirror. Her voice trembled, so that at first it was scarcely audible; but gradually it slid into such melody as Ralph had never listened to; and a marked foreign accent only added to its charm.
"Ah, reverend Father, be patient-if not merciful. There are none to witness on my behalf; and, could I find words, fear hath left me no
strength to plead. Freely will I confess that for years past, since under the robe of a priest now dead, and under cover of the night, I had escaped from the good Carmelites, I have led life of courtisane. Also, may I not deny that for my poor sake substance hath been wasted, and some blood shed. Yet not seldom did I refuse gifts thrust upon me, rather than impoverish my lovers; and when any of such came to hurt, or fell into sore sickness, none bemoaned them more than I. Sore hath been my shame and sin: yet-if ye will hear the truth-sore have been my temptations. The blood of our race flows never tamely or orderly, either in love or malice; and, though of malice against any I am free, I have ever been too apt to love. Rightly have men called me La Mauricaulde; for of Moresco parents was I born, and from them was I taken by the Baron of Rocheguyon and his dame, since defunct; who, thinking to do a deed of charity, would have me baptized, being then ten years old, and nurtured me till I entered on my noviciate. Now, for all these sins of mine am I willing to do such penance as your reverend wisdom shall adjudge; and of all the wealth that hath accrued to me will I make free gift to your Order; craving only leave to be let go forth on my way barefoot, so that none dwelling hereabouts shall look on my face again."
"Nay" said the Prior, sternly, yet not so harshly as he had spoken before-"'tis too late now for such proffers. Thy goods, no less than thy life, are already forfeit. Nor is this full confession: thou hast said naught of the arts and enchantments by which thou hast wrought; nor of the Familiar by which, as we believe, thou art possessed."
She shrugged her round, white shoulders, in a sort of pettish despair; and her delicate mouth began to pout.
"Alas! I have used no worse witcheries, than men find elsewhere in bright eyes, and red lips, and white hands. Neither have I been possessed by any other devil, than He who tempts all frail womankind. Maître Guillaume Chapellier must have had an evil dream: not for a carcanet of rubies would I set foot in graveyard after sundown. When Antoine Tournon, the fisherman, brought me his ware, his eyes were often heavy with wine; he must have drained many a broc, that night he saw me fly across Garonne. I have never been mounted on aught lighter of foot than Blanchefleur, my fair palfrey, who will never feed from my hand again. Surely your wisdom will not listen to such idle tales. If ye press me to death never so hardly, I can confess no more. Father Ignace knows
Here, for the first time, the girl looked full at the Benedictine sitting on the right. The monk's cheek reddened, not in a single healthy flush, but in irregular patches; and his eyes too waxed bloodshot.
"Why callest thou on me?" he said, hoarsely. "I know naught more than others of thine accursed sorceries. Speak out and let us hear what falsity the Succubus within thee will utter through thy lips."
His savage glance made the girl cower like the lash of a whip. She was too frightened to use her vantage, if any she possessed.
"I meant nothing," she murmured; "only I-I thought-I hoped-"
And her voice died away in quick, convulsive sobbing, whilst her head drooped on her hands again. The Prior, turning his head, looked somewhat doubtfully at either of his assistants-like a man who, having determined on a disagreeable duty, would not be sorry to have it gainsaid.
"Since the accused, or, rather, the demon clothed in her flesh, is obdurate"-he said-"we have no choice but to apply the uttermost question."
Both gave assent, but in a different fashion-the one, with reluctance more evident even than that of his superior-the other, with absolute eagerness. The Prior beckoned with his hand; and out of the shadow behind the pillars four men, dressed in close black jerkins, that left the arms and legs bare, came forward; two of whom took each a flambeau from the wall, whilst the others laid hands on the prisoner's shoulder. At the first touch the girl shivered, as though in an aguefit; but let them lead her away without resistance. The three judges, too, arose and followed; and the eyes of those without followed too.
In the dark recess there was fixed an engine, the use of which Brakespeare knew at once, though it was the first time he had looked upon a rack. The torches made the place so light, that he lost none of the preliminaries of the torture. He saw the questionnaires tear off the girl's garments roughly, till she stood almost as Phryne before the Areophagites; he saw the face of the Benedictine, called Ignace, swollen with passion, as his eyes gloated on the nude beauty, with an eagerness that could not be mistaken now; he saw the needless violence with which the victim was prostrated and bound. Ralph closed his eyes here; and a cold sweat, breaking out on his brow, rained down his face. Then there came the creaking of pulleys-then a terrible shriek-then another, smothered, as though it came through