Ralf could endure it no more. He said, Is something wrong?
Her voice sounded harsher, more adult and resolute, than he
had ever known it. I saw Eloise today.
I asked her outright.
Asked her what?
Dont you start lying to me as well.
He did not answer.
And, after the Evangelists, had come wave after wave of
interpreters and commentators, self appointed and occasionally
quite mad, whose exegetical ravings had done nothing but
obfuscate Christs words, which were as plain as any words
could be. From th
which the deepest friendship between two people could be
explored. And beyond that, the most important and sacramental
aspect of marriage was to be found. The sexual union, the
merging of two souls, led to the dissolution of self which, like all
Godric did not want to ask why this esoteric subject should
have raised her interest.
Father Dominic, one of his favourite teachers, who had once
lived at Constantinople, had made a special study of the heathen
beliefs from the east and south. In after-ho
and occasional periods when she had been the houseguest of the
parents of other noble daughters; but nothing substantial. Away
from the manor, she had no real friends. Even at home he
doubted whether she had any. She must have been lonely, and it
Mary Ibbott was a serf. What had happened to her was by no
means unusual. There would be a hurried wedding. Father
Pickard would officiate, and eventually wet the babys head at
the old stone font, and after a few years no one would remember
or even ca
unseasonably mild, but warmth was being generated by the
breath and bodies of the congregation. Nearly the whole village
was here, including the Baron and his household. Godric had
arrived late last night. His two brothers, Henry and Gervase, were
nothing more than lust? You have given me absolution, she
had said, as if she had no sense of wrong. But her conscience too
was on the rack. She knew as well as he did how powerless they
What did she see in him, a carpenters son? What awaited he
not take place, and it was Godrics fault. Had he not had that
excoriating confrontation at the Abbey last June with his
erstwhile friend Bartholomew, he would never have tried to put
Ralf and Eloise together. He had done it from jealousy, and to
been creaking as though a huge and impatient hand were trying
to yank the roof from the house. Only the thatch was proving its
worth, though Ralf feared that at any second the whole lot might
be shredded away downwind.
He remembered the thatch being laid.
Are you having trouble sleeping?
This was perhaps the first lie he had ever had from her lips.
He wondered whether to raise Ralfs name, or even hint at it, but
decided against. These people you think you know from before.
Who are they?
The turned board was scarcely distinguishable from the
others; indistinguishable, once he had passed and repassed with
the broom. His perfidy was complete.
Eloise too would have to lie and deceive. The idea of this was
doubly painful to him, for she w
freshet: then two, three, ten, a dozen. By the middle of the month
the coast road itself had flooded, forming a new river fed from
below by springs never before known.
The fields turned to ooze. Dilute mud gushed from the banks
beside the staith-track and
did and made, for it knew only one quality: the best. Yet it cared
nothing for any of it. Ralfs years in a fishing-boat had taught
him the value of an individual creatures life. Were men not the
same as crabs? Sorted by size and tossed into baskets, were
Eve with his family, contemplating death and weighing the
chances of thus circumventing the threats of his sister and his
And now even the weather was involved. Not only had it
trapped him at home, but, at about ten oclock, word went round
workshop seemed inappropriate. Only the mill would do. They
would go there and, perhaps, in the early hours of Christmas
morning, make their farewells. If they failed in their resolve and
survived beyond that time, nothing would be left for them but
Then Ralf recalled the gap in the dike.
His father was right: they should have filled it in. By leaving it
open, they had made themselves dependent on the screen of
piling, and the piling had been erected by others.
Yet those men with the sheers also knew
Like the timber framing of the mill itself, the screen had been
deliberately over-engineered. The piles stood well above the
height of the highest high tide. The proofing comprised a heavy
canvas lining, nailed in place, and sandbags restrained by a tarre
To Ralf, Linsell said, We should have backfilled.
The dike, you mean?
Except as somewhere he might meet Eloise, Ralf had almost
forgotten about the mill. The project had scarcely crossed his
mind all evening.
Jacob cast an apprehensive look at his son-in-
deemed it safest. If he obeyed this injunction and spent the night
here, he would have to get word to her at midnight mass. It was
unthinkable for her to risk coming downstairs from her chamber
in the dark, to climb through the parlour window and make
Ralf looked up. The play was over. Father Pickard was
already reciting the blessing.
The next time Ralf and Eloise would enter this building would
be tonight, for midnight mass. They might not come here again,
alive or dead.
Full darkness had set in. He n
But he was eighteen, and no boy. A fortnight ago Eloise too
had passed her eighteenth birthday. They were both fully
culpable under the law. Treason was not an occupation for
The worshippers were slower than usual to clear the porch.
Godric. Who did you think I meant?
Ill see him later.
In their tallowed coats and broad-brimmed hats, the two made
haste along the flagstones, into blackness and the driving rain.
Most unusually, Imogen did not take Ralfs arm. Even after
diffuse crash. The ground seemed to shake.
Ralf leapt to his feet. His first idea was that the roof had come
off the Rendells house and been driven into Jacobs, but he had
felt no impact from the walls, and decided the cottage had not
after all been hit.
But he hasnt stopped you yet?
I must say I thought better of him than that.
They reached the front path. Imogen halted in the darkness
and grasped Ralfs sleeve to make sure that he halted too.
Do you love her?
Then why did you let it come to this
parents. His treason had spread like a stain, from the King
downwards, to poison everyone he loved.
He had never argued with his sister before. In all her life they
had scarcely even disagreed. Yet she still loved him. The strength
of her feelings told hi
and down the steps. The narrow moon was outdone by the flare
of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Sirius made a jewel in the
collar of Orions larger hound; the giant himself, wheeling
westwards, had crossed due south. With him he had turned the
that you said?
Its started to rain.
Really, Gervase. How can we go shopping in this?
By dusk on Friday, when, to his relief, he found a pebble at the
yew, a fatalistic change had come over Ralf.
It was inevitable that he and Eloise would be caught.
sister and mother, at least, had always been nearby, if not in the
same room. But now he was divided from them in person, as well
as in every other way. He had discovered how easy telling lies
The wet, nocturnal silence of the workshop extended
Are you there? Ralf said.
She sounded startled. Ralf?
Where are you?
Behind the fence. He extended his hand in the darkness,
moving it blindly from side to side. Here.
They made contact.
Dont go out to the mill tonight, he said. Theres
only a headstall. Eloises face was indistinct, but he knew that
she would soon be unable, any longer, to hold back her tears.
Nothing remained to be said. She started forward along the
track. He climbed the bund and, for the second time in less than a
incomprehensible that the lamented Lord Gordano had fallen and
remained so much in love with her. God alone knew what went
on in a human heart. Her dower had proved no more than
modest, but the vulgar idea of retrenchment never seemed to
wood. Each blow of the hammer, each ringing impact on the
square head of the punch, hardened his sense of wrongdoing.
Had it sounded thus at Golgotha? And had the wielder of that
hammer, then, sensed the onset of the cosmic shame that would
And after that, she would become one of the greatest ladies in the
land, mother of the ducal dynasty which, perhaps, held more
sway than any other. With a word from her, across the pillow,
England could change direction.
On the strength of a single day, R
After breakfast on Wednesday morning, a packet arrived from
Chevalley. Last week, Gervase had sent the lawyer a copy of a
letter he had received from the Molarius, and had informed him
that he would be at court until the fifteenth of November, twelve