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loyola

classics

The Man on a Donkey part 1

Introduction by Jim Campbell

h. f. m. prescott


Contents Introduction by Jim Campbell

vii

Author’s Note The Beginning and the End Christabel Cowper, Prioress Now the Chronicle Begins Now the Chronicle Is Broken to Speak of: Thomas, Lord Darcy Julian Savage, Gentlewoman Robert Aske, Squire Gilbert Dawe, Priest

4 5 13 30 64 108 140 203

Plan of Marrick Priory Historical Note Questions for Reflection and Discussion About the Author

504 506 510 516

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The Beginning and the End Sir John Uvedale had business at Coverham Abbey in Wensleydale, lately suppressed, so he sent his people on before him to Marrick, to make ready for him, and to take over possession of the Priory of St. Andrew from the nuns, who should all be gone by noon or thereabouts. Sir John’s steward had been there for a week already, making sure that the ladies carried away nothing but what was their own, and having the best of the silver and gold ornaments of the church packed up in canvas, then in barrels, ready to be sent to the King. The lesser stuff was pushed, all anyhow, into big wicker baskets; since it would be melted down, scratches and dints did not matter. Sir John’s people left Coverham before it was daylight, because the November days were short. They had reached the top and were going down toward Marrick when the sun looked over the edge of the fells in a flare of wintry white gold. It was about ten o’clock in the morning that they came down into Swaledale and through the meadows toward Marrick ­stepping-­stones; the priory stood opposite them across the river, at the top of a pleasant sloping meadow whose lower edge thrust away the quick running Swale in a great ­sickle-­shaped

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The Man on a Donkey, Part 1

The Beginning and the End

curve. The cluster of buildings and the tall tower of the church took the sunshine of a morning mild and sweet as spring. Behind the priory, with hardly more than the width of a cart way between, the dale side went up steeply, covered for the most part with ash, beech, and oak; the mossed trunks of the trees showed sharply green in the open sunlit woods. There was one piece of hillside just behind the priory where there were no trees, but only turf nibbled close by the nuns’ neat black­stockinged Swaledale sheep; in the summertime the ladies had used sometimes to sit here with their spinning and embroidery, and here in spring the priory washing was always spread out; now, on this winter morning, the slope was empty. They crossed the stream, climbed the meadow by the cart track, and turned the corner of the long priory wall. Sir John’s steward stood in the sunshine that struck through the gatehouse arch; he swung a big key from his finger—the key of the priory gate, which the prioress herself had a moment ago put into his hand. And now he watched the prioress and the last two of the ladies who went with her, and a couple of servants, as they rode alongside the churchyard on their way to Richmond and into the world. Of the three ­middle-­aged women, one, plump and plain, was crying helplessly and without concealment; she kept her face turned to look back on the priory, for all that her tears drowned the sight of it. Another, a handsome woman yet, who had flashed her dark eyes at the steward, glanced once over her shoulder; her mouth shook, but she tossed her head and rode on. The prioress herself did not look back, nor was her face in any way discomposed. Down at the core of her heart she was


The Beginning and the End

H. F. M. Prescott

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angry, though not with the King for turning away all the monks and nuns in England and taking the abbeys into his hand— surely he had a right to them if any had. She was not indeed angry with any man at all, but with God, who had tricked her into thirty years of a nun’s life, had suffered her to be prioress, and to rule, and now had struck power out of her hand. But that anger lay beneath, so that she did not even know it was there. Her mind was set on the future as she considered and tried to estimate what her position would be in the house of her married sister. She would have her pension—but suppose it were not paid regularly—? On what foothold could she stand so as to make her will felt? Her thoughts were so closely engaged that she did not notice when they crossed the muddy lane which was the boundary of the priory lands, and so left Marrick quite behind. The steward stood where he was until the ladies were out of sight. Now, for the first time for close on four hundred years, there were no nuns at Marrick. But he was not thinking of that as he turned back into the gate. Before Sir John arrived there was much to be done; he gave his orders curtly, and even before dinner was ready the servants were all about the place, sweeping up stale rushes, scrubbing, unpacking trussing beds and coffers that they had brought on the baggage animals, shaking out hangings, lighting fires. Most of Sir John’s men were of the new persuasion, and glad to see the houses of religion pulled down. One or two of them opened the aumbry in the cloister, and there came upon a few


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books which the ladies had left behind. They found great cause for satisfaction, as for laughter, in tearing out the pages of these books and scattering them in the cloister garth; one of the books was very old and beautiful, gay with colors and sumptuous with ­plumped-­up burnished gold; another had initial letters of a dusky red like drying blood; when the pages were strewn about the garth it looked as if flowers were blooming in November. Two only, out of those who had come this morning from Coverham, took no part at all in this business of setting the house to rights for its new owner. One of these was Sir John’s old priest, the other was the woman Malle, who was the priest’s servant now, and had therefore, with him, so strangely come back to Marrick. The old man sat down on the horse-­block for some time in the sun, then wandered out and down to the river, to pace the level bank there just below the ­stepping-­stones, telling his beads, and letting the unceasing hushing of the water fill his mind with peace. There was nothing for him to do but wait. His stuff was among the rest that had been unloaded in the great court of the priory, but he knew that the steward would have no time to think of sending it to the parsonage till all was ready for Sir John’s coming. Even before he came down to the river, Malle left him, to drift about looking here and there, more as if she were searching for something or someone than merely revisiting places that had once been familiar. After going to the edge of the woods and staring up over the little wooden gate at the foot of the nuns’ steps, she came back into the kitchen, then into the great court and


The Beginning and the End

H. F. M. Prescott

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climbed the outside stair that led up to the door of what had been the prioress’s chamber. It was quite empty now; all the goods of Christabel Cowper, last prioress of Marrick, had been taken away; there were no rushes on the floor nor wainscot on the walls; only cobwebs, and the marks where the wainscot had been. Over the hearth the old painted letters, which had been hidden by a small but specially fine piece of arras, showed once more—I.H.S. Malle could not read but she knew that the symbols meant, somehow, God, so she curtseyed and crossed herself. From the prioress’s chamber she wandered over to the guesthouse and stood inside the door of the upper chamber, just where she had stood when my Lord Darcy had sat on the bed, with his hands on the cross of his walking staff, questioning about her visions. She did not remember him nor his questions because something in her that had been a restlessness was strengthening into belief; she began to know that if now she sought, she would find. So she went quickly once more across the great court and into the cloister. The crumpled pages of the books were sidling about the grass, the flower beds, and the cloister walks as a light fresh wind shifted them. She stooped to pick up some that moved just before her, because they were pretty to look at; from between two of the red-­lettered pages a pressed flower fell, the bell of a wild foxglove, pale purple, frail, and half transparent; she did not know that Julian Savage had put it there one day, because Robert Aske had worn it on his finger, like the fingertip of a glove, while he talked to her. She had put it there for a charm to shield him from hurt.


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The Man on a Donkey, Part 1

The Beginning and the End

Two men coming down the day-­stairs shouted at Malle; they knew that she was at least three parts fool, and they laughed loudly as she bolted out of the cloister and into the great court again. She had meant to go into the church, but, since she did not dare until the two men had gone away again, she began peeping into the stables on the opposite side of the great court. In them some of the beasts stood, patient and idle, only their mouths working; there were empty stalls too, for some had been led out to the fields; this morning the priory servants had each done as seemed best to himself now the bailiff was gone already, and the prioress to go by noon. After the stables she looked into the dove house; the sleepy crooning there had a summer sound, which made it seem that time had turned back. She went next into the guesthouse stable. Leaning in one corner among some pea-­sticks was the fishing rod that Master Aske had put there on the afternoon when Malle had sat here peeling rushes for lights, while the rain poured down outside. She did not now think of Master Aske, nor of that day, nor of any time since, because all the sorrows of the world were clean washed from her mind by the shining certainty that was growing in it. So she would wait no longer for the men, but went back, hurrying, into the cloister, and so into the nuns’ church. But he was not in the nuns’ church. The door in the wall that separated the nuns from the parish church was open today; so she went through. Here Gilbert Dawe had told her that he was dead, and now lived, and was alive forevermore. But he was not in the parish church either.


The Beginning and the End

H. F. M. Prescott

11

She did not know where else to look, and it was without thought or intention that she came to the frater and opened the door; there was no supposing that he would have come to that room. No one ever used it except at great feasts like Christmas, since for a long time the nuns had eaten by messes, each mess in its own chamber. Yet today the frater had been used. Today, instead of eating in their chambers, all stripped of furnishing, the ladies had breakfasted together, according to the ancient Rule of their order, but hastily and in confusion of mind. The disarray of that hurried meal lay upon the table, and the sun, shining through the painted glass of the windows in the south wall, spilled faint flakes of color, rose, green, gold, upon the white board-cloth. There were eleven wooden trenchers set on the table, with crumbled bread and bits of eggshell on them. There were eleven horn drinking pots too, and several big platters, all empty, except that there was upon one a piece of broiled fish, and on the other half a honeycomb.


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fresh, imaginative, sensitively written.” —The New York Post

prescott

“As good as a historical novel can be—

loyola

historical novel that brings to life one of the most tumultuous times in British history—the reign of King Henry VIII.

In Part 1, readers are introduced to the world of the Tudors through

the lives of five individuals. When King Henry VIII takes his mistress as his new wife, seizes Church property, and declares himself the only supreme head of the Church of England, the lives and fortunes of these five people are shaken—setting the stage for the momentous events in Part 2 of The Man on a Donkey. H. F. M. Prescott (1896–1972) studied history at Oxford and began writing in the mid-1920s. She is best known for her historical novels, including The Man on a Donkey and Son of Dust, and for her biography of Mary Tudor.

The Man on a Donkey part 1

The Man on a Donkey is an enthralling, panoramic

ISBN-13: 978-0-8294-2639-7 ISBN-10: 0-8294-2639-6

Connecting today’s readers to the timeless themes of Catholic fiction.

loyol a cl assics

classics

The Man on a Donkey part 1

Introduction by Jim Campbell

h. f. m. prescott

The Man on a Donkey, Part 1 (Loyola Classics)  

This enthralling two-part historical novel brings to life one of the most tumultuous times in British history—the reign of King Henry VIII....

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