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The Chantry Priest of Barnet by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF MISTRESS JOAN

The 12th day of October, 1513.

[277] I AM newly returned from London, whither indeed I had scarce thought to have gone again. But seven days after the departing of Edward Norton (of which I have written above), I felt, as it were, a drawing of the spirit which did not suffer me to rest. At the first I knew not what this might mean, and doubted whether it might not be some sickness growing upon me; but in a short space it became manifest to me, even as though it had been writ before my very eyes, that Joan Norton desired to see me. How this came to pass I know not, but God knoweth that it is true. For though I have thought daily of Joan Eliot for fifty-and-two years, and have made mention of her in my prayers, it hath never come into my mind that I should see her, for it seemed to me [278] that it was ordered otherwise for her and me. Knowing therefore that Master Francis Goodere (grandson to that John Goodere of whom I have written before) was wont to go to London about this time, having moneys to receive, I went to him, and found him about to set forth in his coach, for he had his wife with him. So I journeyed in their company to London, and thence took boat to Westminster. And when the wherry came near to the landing-place I saw Edward Norton stand by the waterside, who, when he had given me his hand to help me to the shore, said, "Verily she seemeth to have the gift of prophecy. For she said to me but half-an-hour ago, 'Go, Edward, to the river stairs and bring him hither;' and though I was loath to leave her, I went. And indeed yesterday she knew beforehand of the coming of my Uncle John, her brother, whereof we had had no warning." So we went together to the house, which lies on the north side of the church-yard of St. Margaret; having entered into which I found in a parlour the friend of my youth, John Eliot. He sat in a chair by the fireside, overcome with sleep, for he had journeyed [279] almost without halt from his home. At our coming in he roused himself and stood up; but whether because he was but newly waked from his slumber, or because of my monk's habit, or because he thought not to see me, knew me not, but said, "Thy blessing, sir." But when I had given it and added also, "Thou hast it, John, with all my heart," then he remembered me.

Then he told me that the leech had said that his sister could scarce live out the day, and that the priest of St. Margaret's had been with her in the morning. And "now," he said, "she sleepeth. But the woman that tendeth her will advise us of her waking."

I shall not seek to set down in this place how we talked together, for we had, so to say, a whole life of which to speak one to the other. As for my story, it hath been told already in this book; and his was but brief as the story of one that hath lived in prosperity and happiness is like to be. Yet that we lacked not matter need scarce be said, opening each his heart to other, so that we took no count of the passing of time. It was near upon midnight when the [280] woman coming down from the chamber told us that Mistress Norton waked. Thereupon we went up; and I, when first I saw her, deemed that she was dead already, for her eyes were shut, and there was such peace upon her face as could never, it seemed, be broken any more. But when we came near to her bedside, she opened her eyes and smiled upon us, looking first to him and then to me. And when she had spoken for a brief space to him—but what she said I know not, for her voice was exceeding low (nor indeed did I seek to hear)—she turned her face to me, and said, "I have been happy; and thou, Brother Thomas?" "God hath given me peace," I answered. Then she whispered that her son should come up. So he came, and when he had knelt down by her side she laid her right hand upon his head and blessed him. After this she reached forth her right hand to her brother and to me her left, and so remained for the space of about half an hour, speaking nothing. Then she said, "He shall make all things new," and so passed away; but of the time of her passing we knew not, so peaceful was it and without pain.


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