Damaged Chapter 2
Elizabeth Victoria Wallace
ÂŠ2012 Elizabeth Wallace
Tom cursed under his breath as he watched the men swagger off. It had been a mistake to stay, he knew that, but Catherine had been determined, and he could not, would not, challenge her decision. Instead of watching the hangings, Tom had concentrated on the crowd. During his years in the military, he had seen relatively peaceful gatherings turn quickly into uncontrollable violent mobs. He worried for Catherine’s safety. All morning he had watched her, sensing she was near breaking point. He thought back over the past few months. He had protected her, cared for her, and dare he admit it, loved her. The journey from the marshlands of Essex to the lowlands of Scotland had been long and hard, but Catherine’s determination never wavered – she would be reunited with her long lost mother. But it was not to be. Instead she discovered her mother’s secret life in the subterranean cave of the notorious Sawney Bean and his clan. That she had been expecting a child when she left Catherine at the priory, why she would have taken refuge with the clan and stayed with them for fifteen years was still a mystery. Did they have some hold over her, and her baby daughter, Alice? Was she simply ashamed and embarrassed of what she had become? What they did know for sure was that she had quietly coached her daughter to escape the clan’s wicked and
shameful life. When the opportunity came, Alice grasped it in both hands, and fled south to England. Even now, Tom could hardly believe the story, though he had witnessed much of it. He recalled the story of Alice staggering over the drawbridge at the Earl of Essex’s castle, and that Mother Superior had sent Catherine to care for the ailing young woman. He desperately wanted to know what had happened during that one and only visit, but she always held back. Did she not trust him? On one occasion, Catherine confessed that the girl whispered the word, “Catherine,” just before she died. How did she know Catherine’s name? He knew they had never met. What was the connection? Tom shook his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts. He chastised himself for not keeping his mind on the present situation. Those men who came up to the cart could well have caused trouble. His attention had been on Catherine, and had it not been for Toby, alert as always, things could easily have become difficult. As if on command, Toby barked, and looked up at his mistress. His tongue hung out the corner of his mouth, his long whip-like tail curled upwards, and he stared at her with his large, brown eyes so typical of his breed. He tilted his head this way and that as if trying to understand what was being said. “You’re a good
boy,” she said with a smile, “I simply couldn’t ask for a better dog.” Toby wagged his tail happily as if he understood every word. The crowd continued to move on, some walking slowly past the cart. Tom could see their furtive glances. They made for a colorful group in their various tartans and Tom could not blame them for their curiosity. Catherine had noted the Wallace clan was in their best tartan of red and black, the McCloud family in blue, and the Campbell’s in green. They had dressed their best for the hangings, complete with sporrans, clan badges pinned to their berets, and dirks hanging menacingly from their belts. The men wore their hair plaited, tied with string, or pulled and tied at the nape of their necks. Their bushy beards were long, and ranged in color from red to black. They made for a colorful mix as they meandered past the cart. Catherine was the first to speak, her voice a whisper. “She had the final word didn’t she? As soon as Agnes Bean saw me, she screamed. I’ll never forget it.” She shuddered with the thought, and what little color had returned to her face now drained away. She became unsteady on her feet again. “Did you see some of the younger children were spared? I wonder what will become of them.” “Will you please stop this?” Tom caught her arm and spun her to face him. “I warned you Catherine. We should have left this morning.” He looked across the village green and shook his
disapprovingly. “What good did it do you watching those people die?” He jumped from the carriage and lifted his arms to her. He felt their relationship had blossomed over the weeks traveling from England to Scotland. He had been her escort and guardian, and now he was hoping for something more, yet they were so different—he a convicted thief, a highwayman no less, and she a woman devoted to God. Nevertheless, on one or two unguarded moments, he was sure he saw a glimpse of affection in her eyes. He lowered her to the ground. Immediately, Toby moved to her side and looked up at her face. She stooped down, rubbed the dog’s ears, and then patted his back. But Toby had picked up on his companions’ somber mood, and he whimpered. He stretched his body full length on the ground, put his large head on his front legs, and watched them. Catherine placed a hand on the cart to steady herself as she turned. Something caught her eye and she whispered. “Where are they taking the bodies?” “Does it matter?” Tom shrugged, but followed her gaze. The lifeless bodies were being flung into carts that groaned under the weight. Even the oxen seemed to smell the odor of death as they pawed the ground, eager to rid themselves of their load. “Oh my Lord, help us.” Catherine murmured, and began to move away.
Tom stepped in front of her and held her arm. “Please, let’s return to Essex and forget this ever happened.” But Catherine was not listening, and pulled her arm from his grip. “I must go to them,” she murmured. Tom looked startled, “Go to them – go where?” She pointed in the direction of the cart. “I need to go to them.” “Are you mad? Have you lost your mind? They don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve anything.” But he was too late, he found himself running after her with Toby close to his heels. “I did not see a priest, and those people should have the last rites before they are buried. If I’m all they have – then I will have to do.” “Are you crazy? After everything you’ve been through…and you want to help them?” “You still don’t understand do you? It’s not up to me. It’s God’s will.” Tom shook his head. “No, and you’re right, I’ll never understand. What does God have to do with any of this?” He swept her arm around. “If God was so good, why did he let it happen in the first place? Why did he take your family? Why did he allow those innocent people to suffer as they did – go on, explain that to me? You can’t can you? The things you can’t understand or
explain away you say is ‘God’s will,’ well, I’m getting a little fed up with that answer. Is that the best you can do?” “Then why don’t you leave?” A little sob rose in her throat. “I don’t need you anymore. I thank you for helping me, but the time has come for us to part.” Tom was devastated. He had not intended to say so much, or to go so far. The words had spilled out in anger and once out, could not be taken back. He apologized immediately fearing he might lose her. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said those things,” but she was already striding purposefully across the village green. He hurried after her and said, “I’m so sorry; I shouldn’t have said those things.” But he was not sure she heard his apology. He fell in step beside her, Toby at her side. They watched as the last of the bodies were thrown into the carts. Sawney Bean and his common law wife, Agnes, were the last to be thrown on top of the other bodies. Agnes’ skirt flew to her middle exposing her womanhood. Quickly, Catherine swung her cloak from her shoulders covering the dead woman’s nakedness. Tom was about to make a comment, thought better of it, and remained silent. The carts rumbled forward coming to a clearing several hundred feet from the village green. Catherine took the opportunity to pull her wimple over her head and stuff her unruly hair inside. Taking her mother’s bible from her pocket, she approached the men and the carts.
The men, who had been laughing and slapping each other on their backs, stopped immediately and stared as the couple approached. “Will you spare me a moment to say a prayer over these unfortunate people?” The men looked at her, the elder of the two responded with a shrug of his shoulders. “Of course you may sister, but why?” Tom grunted, pulled a face, and turned away. Catherine scowled in his direction. Despite their earlier irreverence, the men quickly pulled their hats from their heads and studied their boots. Catherine stood amongst the carts and began. “For the repose of their souls and for the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, may they rest in peace, Amen.” The men mumbled, “Amen” in response, and looked up furtively in her direction. She nodded indicating she had finished, and shoved the bible back into her pocket. Suddenly she thought of the irony. She had just used her mother’s bible to say a prayer over the wretches who had destroyed her loved ones. Had it not been for the bible, she thought miserably, I may never have known the truth. Tom’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Are we done here Catherine?” There was a sense of urgency in Tom’s voice. He had been watching her, and it seemed as though Catherine was in a
place he could not, dare not, enter. She had grown melancholy and distant, and he did not know what to do. Taking courage in both hands, he asked quietly, “Are we done here Catherine? The men need to continue?” “Yes, yes, I suppose we are, but what happens now, will they be placed together in a mass grave?” The men looked at each other and raised their brows. Their eyes darted back and forth uneasily, neither wanted to answer. “Well, sister we have our instructions from the king’s lieutenant,” said one man. “I think it would be best if you’d let us get on with our work.” “Indeed,” responded Catherine and looked up at Tom. “Come, I’ve done all I can here.” Tom took Catherine’s elbow and steered her away from the carts. She hesitated at first, but then Toby nuzzled his snout in her hand, and the three moved away from the dismal scene. It was the sound of laughter that caused her to stop in her tracks and turn around. The men had been joined by their womenfolk who trailed bundles of wood behind them. They set them on the ground as other men and even young children appeared in carts laden with small branches and logs. There was an air of indifference, even excitement as the women began building a funeral pyre.
“They’re going to burn the bodies?” said Catherine in horror. “Yes, they are, and who can blame them? What these people endured…” Tom did not finish. “I had hoped to spare you this misery.” Mindful of their last spat, Tom shoved his hands in his pockets and kept quiet. They walked in awkward silence back through the village of Prestwick. There were so many questions Tom wanted to ask, but he doubted it was the right time. As if reading his mind, she spoke first. “We’ve only been here a couple of days and my whole life has turned around.” Tom kept quiet, too scared to contribute anything. There were several times during the journey from Essex to Scotland that he had wished he had kept his mouth shut. He would not make the same mistake again. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her how he felt, but it was not the right time or place. Instead he kept his distance, and they walked together as friends over the cobbled streets. Here and there residents stood outside their homes watching as they made their way past. Acutely aware of the watchful glances, Catherine widened the distance between herself and her friend, but not before hearing one of the villagers. “Did you see the way those two women looked at each other? I wonder what on earth
happened. There is talk you know…” but the villager’s voice drifted away, and they could heard no more. When they were quite alone, Tom could bear the silence no longer. “Catherine what are your plans? Have you come to terms with the death of your mother and sister? You haven’t said a word about the future, if I’m included – nothing!” He was embarrassed to hear the plaintiveness in his voice. As if he understood the awkwardness, Toby nuzzled his head into Tom’s hand. Grateful of the distraction, Tom stopped in mid stride, and leaned down to rub Toby’s ears. Catherine did not stop, nor did she answer his question. Instead, she walked on, her head held high, her wimple back in her carpet bag, and her red hair flowing in the gentle breeze.