The Hankie

 

Another letter from a bitch.       

 

 

From The Honourable Lady Emily Brackenden Kent.

 

My dearest Sarah,

 

         I have had the most interesting few days my dear. For once I really feel that I have done something of lasting value. My work as a prison inspector is important, as I am sure you will agree, but so much of it is routine. It's not often one has the opportunity to demonstrate one's intellect. On this occasion however such an opportunity did present itself while I was at Wyegate, and indeed I felt it was an honour to play my part in upholding the security of our beloved country in the face of unbridled anarchy. It was my dear nothing less than that.

         I will be back with you very soon my little pussy. Now that I have finished at Wyegate I have only one more inspection to carry out on this tour of duty, and as that is at the Lessington Priory there should be no delays. I will be there in another day or two. The Prioress there keeps a very strict prison and so there should be no reason for a protracted visit. I pity any poor woman who is sent there. Oh dear, listen to me. I really am becoming far too soft hearted for this role.

         In the mean time however I thought I would write you a little letter to cheer you up as I am sure you must be missing me, and also to tell you that I love you all the more each day that I am away from you. And furthermore I thought you might like to hear my news. I only hope the mail coach leaves on time or it will miss the connection at Hereford and you won't get it until after the weekend. How the Crown Officer ever gave in to their claim for a Sunday period of rest I cannot immagine. It is after all a sit down job, apart from changing the horses. Do you know that little chore still takes my coachmen the best part of twenty minutes? They really are dreadful.

         But I digress. I am writing this at Sir Addingshore-Culbert's lovely house Brinton Manor near Lydham. I told you I would be staying here while I carried out my inspection at Wyegate because it's quite near and the Wyegate Priory is not the most comfortable priory in which to stay. Anyway, when I got to Wyegate everything was more or less as I'd expected. Good enough for the types they get there, but what do you think? When I arrived I found they were holding a heresy trial. No one important, just a local woman, but this stupid sister Delia, the new  prioress there, had allowed those interfering sisters from the Riverside priory to come and stick their noses in. I told her she didn't have to, they have no legal rights to attend any trial, but she said she thought it would do no harm and they might help bring about a just conclusion. I ask you, a just conclusion from that bunch of anarchists.

         This is that bird brained bunch of socialists from that Riverside priory where they go into raptures if someone repents. Please Lord protect us from fools like them. Any black hearted oaf can repent but that doesn't alter the fact a crime has been committed. It makes me furious. I wish I was a lawyer, I'd have that Riverside bunch up for treason. If they had their way they'd completely undermine this country. Don't they understand you have to have real, actual, justice?

         Apparently they got into a trial over at Henshaw recently and not only got a man off the charge of stealing one of his master's chickens but they also persuaded the magistrate not to flog him. They said he was too simple to know what he was doing. I bet he wasn't too simple to enjoy his feast when he damn well ate it. These socialists  make my blood boil. That's why I don't like village trials held by councilors or even magistrates, had he been a woman or a pretty girl they would probably have given him another bird. And who'd pay? Who'd pay for it? The poor landowner that's who.

         Anyway, I sat in that confounded main hall at Wyegate, which is among the draughtiest that I know of, and watched those stupid nuns talking themselves into a right old tangle. There was the defendant standing looking like something the cat had brought in, and there was a very dim looking Wyegate sister prosecuting and trying to argue the toss with one of those Riverside troublemakers. Unfortunately, this sister leading the defence from Riverside was far from dim. She was young and bright. Well, bright in a pious 'holier than thou' sort of way at least.

         She was nice looking, to give her credit I suppose, although perhaps more handsome than just pretty. She was very calm, and well spoken, quite serene. In fact she was a right prig of an upstart. You know the type, one who speaks like a Lady but obviously has never had two groats to rub together. All these nuns started out in the gutter.

         Anyway this woman who was being tried was obviously guilty. She hadn't been to church for nearly six months apparently. She said she had a sick mother to look after who couldn't be left and all that sort of rubbish, and then she had the cheek to say the good Lord was always at her side. As if the good Lord would trouble himself with a lazy slag like her. Then, when she did appear in church it was late at night and she stole the alter cross. I mean to say, how stupid can you get. It's gold of course but who would dare melt it down for her?

         She thought the blacksmith would do it but he took it to the Bishop. He doesn't suffer thieves lightly, and he completely lost his temper with her when she was brought before the congregation the following Sunday and said the Lord had given her the strength to steal it. She claimed she and her mother were starving, yet there's a soup kitchen every other day in that village so  there's no excuse. So when she started spouting about the Lord condoning theft from the church of all places she was charged with heresy and dispatched for a priory trial. Wyegate was the nearest so that's where she was sent.

         If the prioress had been sensible it would have been over and done with before I even arrived, but no this stupid sister Delia had let everyone know they were holding a heresy trial and in walked that interfering bunch from Riverside. I told her she didn't even have to let them through the door, they can only attend a trial if they're invited, but they were already there when I arrived, so I sat and watched with mounting irritation.

         The one I mentioned, who was going on and on about sinners always deserving at least one chance to redeem themselves, was a sister Clair, and although she appeared to be nice and calm, she kept twisting a little hanky around her fingers which showed, to anyone as astute as me anyway, that she was actually struggling. She was quite young but she was trying to look so mature, although she was anything but mature. She was barely into her twenties by my reckoning.

         Thank the Lord however, in spite of all her pleadings, the nuns on the bench pulled themselves together at last and eventually acted like a proper tribunal and found the woman guilty. The sentence of course was burning and do you know what? That silly young fool who'd been trying to defend her burst into tears. If she can't take being beaten then she shouldn't contest a trial. She and her types are just a waste of space.

         Now at this point sweetie I must tell you that as everyone left the hall this stupid sister Clair dropped the hanky she'd been fiddling with and I picked it up. I was going to get a serving nun to give it back to her, but I thought 'No you stupid girl, you're not having it back', so I put it in my pocket. Well I was hardly going to run after her was I?  She and her cohorts were staying at the priory over night so they could say prayers with the woman before she was executed in the yard next day, but I was off to the Addingshore-Culbert's for the night.  But now dear, you must remember this hankie because it is important.       

         As I said, I had arranged to stay with the Addingshore-Culbert's and over dinner I was telling Maud all about it. Do you remember her, she and her husband Sir Cuthbert Addingshore-Culbert came to a charity concert I put on a couple of years ago. Do you remember? She decided to sing, unfortunately. That was when poor old Sir Leslie started with his tinnitus. It never went away you know, but anyway, she was most perturbed about the goings on at Wyegate.  She, like the rest of us, is vehemently of the opinion that this social reform nonsense has got to be stopped. Her husband was away on a stag hunt somewhere for a few of days, so we talked well into the late hours, but what do you think? This is incredible dear.

         I didn't actually have to go back to Wyegate at all next day, I'd  finished their inspection before looking in on the trial, but as I didn't need to be at Lessington until later in the week I thought I might as well go back and see the execution. I wanted to see they were doing it properly, but when my coachmen drove me through the gates I witnessed a very strange sight. I could see some of the nuns slowly walking with pitch forks through the reeds down by the river, and what do you think? The woman, the heretic, had escaped and they'd been looking for her since dawn. I was furious. I stormed into the prison block and demanded to know what had happened. No-one escapes from a prison I've just inspected without heads rolling.

         The wardress nuns were of course petrified, almost on their knees to me, but in no time the prioress was at my side. That woman creeps around like a damned ghost. What she told me made my blood boil. She said it was clearly the work of someone who had crept into the prison to grab a set of keys while the duty sister was in the toilet. That 'someone' had then unlocked the woman's cell and unlocked another door at the back of the building for the escape. And when the duty sister returned from the toilet the fool didn't even notice any of the keys were missing.

         I couldn't believe anyone could fail to see a set of keys had gone from the board, and said that blasted sister with the clapped out bladder must have been involved. I was told she was far too dedicated to have been part of such a crime but I insisted she was put to the test. “And no half measures,” I added. I was furious, but then what might they expect? My responsibilities do take into account security after all. I'm not just some woman who comes to see if the straw has been changed.

         With no prisoner there was no trial, obviously, but they went on searching over a widening  area all day, and although I had no further business there I decided to stay on because I wanted to see this issue settled. As it turned out it was indeed settled, but certainly not in the way one might have expected.

         The wretched woman wasn't found. She'd got clean away or she'd gone down in a bog, but a squad of the nuns went with the village constable to her home and found only her old mother. They  planned of course to check on the dwelling every now and then to see if she turned up, but I think she probably went down in a bog. The place is surrounded by them apparently, and at a few priory prisons they do occasionally deal with unfaithful wives that way. They have their hands tied behind their back and stood in a bog. I saw it on one occasion in Norfolk. They stood on a board walk round her and said prayers while she went down. It didn't take long. It was quite effective really, her going back to nature like that.

         But where was I? Oh yes, those useless coachmen of mine had trouble with one of the axles, or so they said, and it was such a tedious journey back to the Addingshore-Culbert's. However, over dinner Maud and I were discussing the case, or rather the lack of a case now the damned heretic had gone, and as our chat turned from her to the meddling Riverside nuns and that sister Clair in particular, I took out her little hankie.

         “This is her hankie,” I said, “And damn her she's not having it back.” and I told Maud I was going to have it boiled and made nice with some Rose Essence, and that might have been the end of it, except that Maud was asking again about the woman's disappearance. “Who could have got her out? Could it have been one of her relatives who might have climbed over the wall?” she asked.

         Maud does go on a bit, but I said “They've no idea, they've found nothing, not a single clue,” and she said “Could those sisters from Riverside have had anything to do with it?” and I said “No they wouldn't dare do a thing like that. They wouldn't commit an offence like that. It's a serious offence to free a prisoner who's been condemned for heresy. They'd never live it down.”

         The word's had hardly left my mouth when it hit me. It came to me like a flash of lightening, but you know how quick I can be.  I had been struck with an inspiration that was so audacious that for a few moments I couldn't speak. I was, for a second or two, struck quite dumb by what had flashed into my mind. You won't have had such an experience, but I can only say at times like this I can see everything like a 'vision'. It comes from above of course.

         When I was ready I composed myself and then I spoke slowly and clearly. “Maud,” I said, “If this little hankie was to be found in the prison block, and some of the Wyegate nuns were to recognise it as belonging to that Sister Clair, she might get the blame and Riverside would never recover from the scandal.”

         Maud gasped and held her napkin up to her mouth. She looked startled, but was nevertheless very  impressed. At first though she tried to put me off. You know, trying to play safe and find fault with it, but in the end we could find very little fault with it. Except that it would have to be done very carefully. It took a little time naturally but I worked it out. It was all going to depended on whether a certain sister Iris had had enough. She was pivotal, as you will come to understand.

         Before going to sleep that night I lay thinking it over, and although I am not a vindictive woman as you know, I must admit I was finding it all rather pleasing. That sister Clair was such a young prig and it would be so satisfying to see her in the dock. As you will understand, heresy is a very serious offence and the law says that if you assist a condemned heretic to escape you are then charged in his or her place, and if found guilty you inherit the sentence. And so if they found that sweet and charming sister Clair guilty her life would have to come suddenly, and oh so tragically, to an end, with two or three of steps up onto a nicely laid out stack of faggots.

         Once back at Wyegate next morning I had a little talk with this sister Iris. This was the nun with the bladder problem who'd been on duty when the keys went missing and, as I expected, sister Iris was not a happy bunny. The prioress had locked her in a cell and she was being starved to encourage her come clean about that fateful night, just in case she knew more than she was admitting to. The deal she'd been given by the prioress  was simple enough for her to understand. Come up with something useful or stay in there and rot.  But on the other hand I had a much better deal for her. First though it meant ascertaining when the next bout of floor mopping was to take place. A morsel of information she was able to give me very easily.

         Sister Iris was a plump old bird and as predicted she was by now getting somewhat peckish. The prospect of slowly starving to death was not going down too well. So, being of a generous nature I offered her the chance to live. I've always found it's the sort of opportunity few people can resist, and after no more than a small amount of soul searching, when she realised it would incriminate a nun from Riverside, she decided she quite liked my proposition. By and large it was clear there wasn't a great deal of love between the sisterhoods, but that is what I had anticipated.

         There had to be a safe-guard naturally, but it was nothing complicated. I reminded her that as an official of the Crown I had protection against malicious accusation, and anyway if she blabbed and mentioned my name in any way shape or form no one would believe the delirious rantings of a starving woman. And furthermore, if no-one else could be found to shoulder the blame it wouldn't be so very difficult to promote her to the unenviable position of suspect number one. “After all you had access to the keys,” I said, “ This was an act of heresy and we all know what the sentence is.”

         Within the hour I was having lunch with the prioress, a simple affair of eel cutlets and crayfish tails lightly fried in butter and white wine followed by a strawberry and red current syllabub, which was all very disappointing. However, news of the hankie arrived in good time. A serving nun came to say the prioress was being called to the prison block, and after a little more white wine we went to see what had been happening.

         As soon as we entered the  building a nun handed the prioress a small hankie explaining that it had been found behind the mop buckets by the back door. This wasn't at all surprising to me, seeing as I'd dropped it there earlier, and soon the woman was pointing out that it didn't belong to any of the wardresses or any of the prisoners either.

         It took a while but sister 'dithering' Delia at last began to see the point. And I said “Well, well. Do you mean this hankie could have been dropped by whoever freed that woman?” The wardress nodded. “That is exactly what we are wondering,” she said, and at long last the Prioress said, “Perhaps we should try and find out who it belongs to.”

         Back in her apartment she called her senior nuns and, displaying the hankie, she asked if anyone recognised it. I was worried in case it drew a blank, and I wouldn't have been surprised if it had, they're all pretty thick at Wyegate. However, after looking at it closely one of them said, “It looks like the hankie Sister Clair was twisting round her fingers during the trial, you know, when she was pleading for that woman's life.”

         It was perfect. I sprang to my feet and said “My word yes. My word I do believe it is hers.  I remember she was twisting it around her fingers, yes that's it,” and they all agreed. They were getting quite excited so I next asked, very solemnly, “Do we need to look further for the person who crept into the prison block and then crept out with the heretic?”

         It's a good job I'd taken an interest in classical drama when I was a girl. I made my point with exactly the right amount of emphasis and everyone went absolutely silent. Then the prioress said “Someone go and bring her.”

         Although the woman hadn't been recaptured Sister Clair and the others from Riverside was still there at Wyegate in case she was found, and so it was the task of just a few minutes for her to be brought before us. And what a dramatic moment it was too. Holding up the little hankie by one corner the prioress asked “Is this yours sister Clair?” She looked surprised, then looking at it closely declared that it was hers. That was all that was needed.  Sister Delia turned to her senior wardress and said “Take her away.”

         Looking from the window some minutes later it was very satisfying seeing her being led away between a squad of wardresses, still looking surprised, and hurriedly followed by her Riverside companions with their cloaks flapping and chattering fussily among themselves like a flock of black birds.       

         Sister Delia needed a bit of prodding but I told her she needed to get rid of them. I said if they weren't sent back to Riverside they would only create problems, and this business needed to be dealt with as soon as possible or it might reach the ears of the Lord Justice. This I said with a good deal of emphasis, and I said “It's not every day of the week that a priory loses a convicted heretic, so you need to show people in high places that, at least, you caught the culprit who let her out.”                         

           She saw the point of course and then, out of the blue, I had another of my brain waves. I honestly don't know how I do it. I can hardly believe we didn't think of it when I was originally discussing the plan with Maud that evening. It was just perfect. It was just what was needed to round the whole thing off and maximise the result. 

         “That Riverside bunch,” I said, “They really do need showing up. They are so deceitful, and it's all political you know.” She frowned and I quickly carried on. “They say they are pressing for social reform and they claim to be good Christians, but the people need to see what a scheming and distrustful bunch of liars they are.” And then I came to my point. “That sister Clair should be exhibited to the people.”

         For once I could see she was soon cottoning onto what I was leading up to and I pressed on. “I usually prefer female offenders to be dealt with within the confines of a priory,” I told her. “Well away from distraught lovers and such like, but on this occasion I think you should offer her to the provost to deal with in the market place so they can hear the charge read out, and see what sort of misfit she is. What do you think?”

         It's wonderful what a few well chosen words will do. She called for one of her staff and sent her off immediately to get the form for a public execution from the provost who resided in the local village. I sat back then, feeling more than pleased with myself.  Mind you, there was still some reluctance with her. She reminded me that the hapless sister Clair hadn't yet been found guilty. My answer to that was simple. “My dear sister Delia, if you don't deal with her quickly and efficiently this case will rumble on for a very long time. For your own good and that of your priory see to it that it doesn't.”

         I then made a request. It was a reasonable request I thought, seeing as I was having to help her avoid the awkward questions that might otherwise come from high places, but for now I will say no more. You will soon see.

         I returned straight away then to Brinton manor with the news for Maude, which of course delighted her, and I stayed on for a couple of days while they set up the trial. I'd done all I could so it just meant being patient now and hoping for a guilty verdict. Then with a favourable result Maud and I would have a little excursion.

         Upon my return for the trial the Prioress was soon doing her best to give the accused a reasonable defence, but thank God her nuns were in no mood for wasting time. Especially once the, by now, very hungry sister Iris was helped into the hall to say that sister Clair had been to the prison block that fateful night to have a prayer she'd written handed to the accused. That caused a stir as you might expect, but it was no more than I'd told her to say. She'd learnt her part very well, and as arranged she went on to say that sister Clair could well have hidden in another cell or somewhere until she went to the toilet and saw the chance to steal the keys.

         She finished her performance very well indeed. She fell to her knees and begged them to understand she didn't want to incriminate a fellow sister of such an offence without proof, because she couldn't believe a holy sister could be so wicked as to free a heretic. “But,” she wailed “I can see now I was wrong,” and with that she collapsed completely, and I'm pleased to say she was later shown a measure of mercy and got off with a whipping. 

         Sister sweetie Clair was very honest. Again she admitted the hankie was hers, but repeatedly claimed that she hadn't been anywhere near the prison block that night. Without the others from Riverside being present however she had no-one to back up her claim, and for one awful moment I thought the Prioress might postpone the trial and call them as witnesses, but fortunately she didn't. I don't think it would really have made a lot of difference though, judging by the attitude of that Wyegate gang, and she probably realised that. The girl herself seemed to be resigned to her fate. She kept saying the Lord God Almighty is my judge, and in the end they came to their decision in well                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                under the hour. But then that hall is very draughty, even at this time of the year.

         The senior sister of the tribunal stood up then and told her she'd been found guilty. She stood with her eyes closed, stretching her long thin arms down in front of her and clutching her hands together. She stood stock still and when asked if she had anything to say she was silent for a while. Then she opened her eyes and said in a very weak little voice, “I have spoken the truth. But if the good Lord has called upon my name, then I can do nothing but accept your judgement with obedience.” Oh dear, what an act. She almost had that idiot sister Delia in tears.

         And so at last the day came, and it was awful. I have never seen such an ill mannered crowd. They were disgraceful. But that's the trouble with public executions, although it was done quite well I suppose. The market sales had  finished. Most of the beasts had gone, which was a good thing because a fire gets them upset, especially cattle, they'd be bellowing all the time. But the whole place stank to high heaven. The place was like a tip. I really think it could have been tidied up. The market stalls had only been half cleared away, kids were climbing up on them for a good view, there were filthy vegetables strewn around, and piles of dung were everywhere of course, and the crowd was so rowdy. It was like one of those awful drunken village carnivals, and of course the ale and pie sellers were doing a great trade, although how anyone can eat such disgusting muck I cannot imagine, let alone swill so much ale.

         All round there were people watching from open windows, like the tavern of course, and suddenly a woman on the top floor was shouting “She's coming, she's coming,” and so she was. They brought her to the market place on a farm cart with her wrists tied to the rail, and the crowd was so unruly that as she stepped down the provost and his constables had quite a job on their hands getting her to the stake, they were pressing in on them so much. Sister Delia had insisted that her own wardresses from the priory deal with her, and it was a good thing that Maud and I were standing with them or they would have overwhelmed us.

         It was just so noisy, and so very unpleasant for titled ladies to witness, but at least it was having the desired effect. The notices of the execution, that had been nailed up around the district naming her as a 'heretic and an enemy of the people', had certainly brought a good crowd, and dear me didn't they hate her. But there's nothing worse than someone who preaches obedience and devotion to the Lord and behind your back completely disregards the good Lord.

         As they pushed through the crowd she was having all manner of things thrown at her, and yet she seemed determined to keep her head up and take it all, almost without flinching.  Dear God she was so self righteous.

         At the base of the faggots the wardresses took over and made her take her sandals off, which she did, taking the arm of one of them to steady herself, and then the crowd went wild as she stood with bare feet and legs. Not as you usually see a nun. And then, with even more uproar they removed her hood, and that silly white cap they wear, and by doing so let a surprising head of blond hair spill onto her shoulders. This really excited them. It wasn't like pure gold, nothing like yours my dear,  but their excitement seeing her hair was nothing compared with what followed when they removed her habit.

         They were disgusting, men and women shouting the most filthy things. But of course it was a novelty wasn't it, seeing a nun standing before them in absolutely nothing but a thin little silky slip. It was very flimsy, the sort that just hangs from the shoulders by a couple of ribbons. I must say I'd never seen a nun undressed like this, but underneath it all they're only human, nothing more. And it must have been a terrible ordeal for her standing there almost naked with the crowd wanting to see more. I won't repeat what they were shouting at her. It was disgusting.

          Then, once the senior wardress had folded her habit and handed it over to one of the others, she read out the sentence to the crowd. This explained that she had been condemned for defying God's holy laws by aiding an enemy of the church to escape justice as a heretic, a crime that the law recognised as a heresy in itself. As she got to the end there was a great cheer when she uttered the words “And accordingly she was was sentence to death by burning.”

          By then it was time. The senior wardress took her by the arm and with the crowd still cheering she took her up the steps onto the pyre, and what do you think she did?  Standing now on the faggots the stupid girl was allowed to place her hands at either side of the stake, put her lips to it and gently kiss it. This of course brought howls of derision from the crowd, and she calmly turned around then, stood herself back against it, closed her eyes, and held her arms right back behind it ready to be secured. 

         I heard that stupid Maud murmur, “Oh, poor dear,” but Maud was always too soft, and then of course they set to work securing her.  First her wrists were shackled tightly together, which made her wince, and then a chain was brought up to girdle her twice around her waist, with another shackled loosely across her throat to keep her head up and another across her thighs. Then her ankles were also shackled to the post, and she was ready.

         She was staring straight ahead with eyes shining as bright as a brand new bride, but her breasts were rising and falling quickly now, and in spite of all the pretence of being brave, you could see that actually she was far from brave. Then my dear sweetie, It was my turn. Yes my turn. I told you I had made a request and this was it.

         I stepped up onto the faggots and had her all to myself for a couple of minutes. I checked her chains of course. I ran my hands over them, which was a nice feeling, and it was just so satisfying to stand there knowing that I had got her there. I stood right up against her then, and looking deep into her nice blue eyes, I was thinking how nice it would have been for you and I to have had her for a little while, but never mind, and I asked her “Do you have any idea my poor dear how terribly you are going to suffer?” She looked down and said, in no more than a whisper, “I do,” and I said, “That's good,” and with a little kiss on her cheek I left her.

         It was very nice having the last word with her, and now the crowd was getting even noisier. They hadn't stopped since she'd been stripped but now they were even rowdier. One of the nuns had taken a flaming torch from a brazier on the other side of the pyre and she was handing it to the senior wardress. This was it. This was the moment.

         Maud gripped my arm and we looked up at the girl who was now gazing up to heaven and  speaking aloud a prayer. She was still trying her very best to look like a martyr as we stepped back a little for the woman with the torch. She pushed past us and carefully lit the brushwood all round the pyre. It didn't take her long, and the fire very soon started to take hold, rushing up noisily through the faggots, and still her prisoner went on reciting aloud her prayer, hardly pausing even when swirling smoke momentarily obliterated her from view. But each time it cleared she was looking a little more distressed, and I just knew her resolve would break before long.

         Every now and then a breeze stirred up the flames and gradually it was becoming a real blaze, with the fire spreading eagerly through the larger bundles of wood and causing us to step back again. In the course of just a few minutes you could see the change. It was fascinating but inevitable. It was a struggle for the girl to recite her prayers now, and as another surge of flames rose through the faggots she was losing her composure rapidly. So scared was she that the struggle to complete her prayers was becoming desperate. “It won't be long now,” I said to Maud.

         For a few more minutes she went on struggling with her prayers, but she was nothing like as brave as she had been. She was really feeling the heat of the fire now, and soon her face was wet with perspiration and she was choking back her tears more than she was praying. With the fire starting to roar I couldn't quite be sure, but I think she was now reduced to begging, pleading like a beggar with the good Lord to take her quickly. But the good Lord was in no hurry.

         At last, with each fresh rush of fire surging up through the great bundles of wood, you could see panic was setting in, and shouting to Maud I said “Look at her, she's starting to panic. I knew she would.” And sure enough, although she had gone to the stake saying she accepted it as God's will, she was trying now to wriggle free, and soon she was becoming absolutely desperate.  Her face was a picture of terror but there was nothing she could do of course, she was chained to stay right there, and stay there she would.

         I've seen lots of burnings but this one was definitely more interesting than most. We were watching all her nice holier than thou lady-like veneer fall away with every passing minute, and it was so very satisfying. Bit by bit she was looking exactly what she was, just a simple lower order girl trapped in a fire, and with nothing like the decorum needed to face her end with dignity. And eventually the wretch was scorching. Twisting first one way then the other she was at her wits end, but of course it was getting worse all the time. And very soon we could see the roaring flames were now into the faggots under her feet, and in no time she was at last screaming.  Her feet were burning.

         With the distortion of the flames and the swirling smoke it was sometimes hard to see her clearly, but she was screaming like mad. Having to shout, I said to Maud “You see dear, you can be as pious as you wish, but there's no enduring a fire.”

         As I said, the good Lord was in no hurry, and soon, as she repeatedly wrenched herself wildly from side to side in her chains, the fire intensified, and as the surging flames grew higher, forcing us to move back even further, her nice silky slip caught fire. It went up very quickly, with burning embers of it drifting up in the smoke, and for a while her body could be seen naked, slowly scorching red. At last she was roasting, roasting alive, her body gradually becoming red raw.

         The crowd was loving it of course. They also were shrieking, but with delight, especially when her hair caught fire. It was spectacular as usual. But honestly, that crowd was disgraceful. I don't mind the masses witnessing justice being carried out, even enjoying the experience, and you would expect men to be somewhat boisterous perhaps, but the women were just as bad, with hands stuffed down trousers and skirts alike. It was disgusting, and there was even a couple doing it against a barn door. I did my best to shield it all from Maud, but I don't know if I managed. She didn't complain anyway. But that's what you get when you allow the lower class  to participate in something serious. They've got no self respect. No self control.

         As for our pious young nun, she didn't have long to go by the time they'd started on each other. You could see she was just about alive, although there was a little too much smoke on this occasion to see clearly all the time. As time went by though her insane cries gradually died away and she slowly became nothing more than a blackened shape, writhing only slowly and barely visible in the blurred distortion of what was now a roaring inferno.

         As usual it was hard to say quite when the end came for her, but she'd had long enough, and suffice it to say we made a hasty departure once she appeared to have gone. Another minute was a minute too long to tarry with that crowd of hooligans. How they can behave like that I don't know. But my dear, that Maud is so silly. As we settled in our carriage and we started on our way she turned to me suddenly and said, “So how did that woman escape from her cell?”

         We had spent a good half hour watching a nice looking young woman slowly burn to death and she was still trying to solve a mystery. She's not normal. Never mind. I'll be home very soon my dearest little kitten, and soon you will be locked up in my arms. You are one naughty little lady who is never going to escape.

 

                                                Your loving, and ever caring,

 

                                                                             Emily.