“Vows” By Edmund Blair Leighton, 1906

Mary’s heart raced. She scurried down the passage slipping from shadow to shadow. The message said tonight was their only chance. Voices echoed down the corridor. Darting into an open side room she pressed herself against the wall beside the door, covering her mouth with her hand. If they discovered she’d left her cell the plan would never work.

She could hear Abbess Ruth’s squeaky voice now. Mary squeezed her eyes shut saying silent prayers to God that they continued past. Discovery now would mean ruin. Her knees felt as wobbly as a calf’s as the voices drew abreast of her hiding place.

“When do Bishop Herbert’s men arrive?”

“Soon Abbess, his grace sent word that the traitor will be removed from here by morning.”

“That’s a relief. Keeping so dangerous a man in our convent even with your men for protection Sir William, is beyond careless. We are not a fortress.”

“No indeed…”

Their voices became indistinct as they continued down the hall. Mary dropped to her knees and crossed herself saying silent thanks to God that they had not discovered her. Slipping back into the corridor she quickened her pace to the isolation cells on the far corner of the abbey. She paused before turning into the corridor.

She was taking an awful risk, breaking out a man who had crossed Bishop Herbert was a very foolish thing to do. Foolish, but not without reason. She had known Sir Jonathan Morsely since she was a girl. He was a good man, an honourable man and from the talk she’d heard the Bishop had been in the wrong.

She’d known for many years now that the Bishop was not the man of God he pretended to be. Upon entering the convent she’d discovered that many things were not as she’d believed. There was rampant sin among the clergy and few followed their vows. It had been a struggle to remain sinless and tonight she would be breaking her own vows. She would be disobeying the Abbess and releasing a prisoner.

Her brother Michael had written, begging her to help Sir Jonathan and telling her he would do everything in his power to protect her if she was discovered. It seemed Michael had amassed not only influence, but fortune as well in his trade ventures. He had a ship in the bay waiting for Jonathan that night, but they had to act quickly. Squeezing her eyes shut Mary took a deep breath. Time to be brave.

She turned into the corridor.

It was empty. Had they moved him? She hurried down the corridor to the cell where he had been held. She peered inside. Jonathan lay on the cot in the corner staring at the ceiling. Mary took a slow breath through her nose. She had rarely been in the presence of men in her 12 years in the cloister but memories of their friendship rose, warm in her mind.

“Sir Jonathan?”

He rose from the bed and lightly made his way to the door.

“Yes Sister?”

“It’s Mary, Mary Ann Spencer.”

“Mary? I didn’t know you were a Sister here.”

“I was transferred some five years back. Where are your guards?”

“They went to the latrine. Bad food or some such.”

Good. It had worked just as Michael’s letter said. Mary pulled two pins from her habit and began working the lock. Learning to pick locks was not something taught in the convent, but she had learned it all the same from a Sister born in the slums of London. You never knew when a skill like that might be handy.

The lock clicked and Mary flinched at the sound. She glanced down the corridor but there was no one to hear as she pulled the lock free and opened the door. Jonathan slipped out and Mary quickly replaced the lock on the door. That might delay them a little.

“Where are we going?”

“Shhh…just follow me.”

Mary hurried down the hall and peered into the passage. It was still deserted. All the sisters would be at prayers until the bells tolled for evening meal. Mary was supposed to be in seclusion in her room. If she was found here, there would be no doubt about her guilt in this matter.

She paused at the entrance to the western garden. This was risky, Abbess Ruth favoured the rose garden above all places. Peeking through the gate she saw no one, it was mercifully deserted. Slipping into the garden she motioned for Jonathan to follow her. Concealing herself behind a large bush covered in pale pink roses she waved a hand over the edge. A ladder thunked against the wall and Jonathan looked at her with wide eyes.

“Go. Michael arranged for your escape. You don’t have much time.”

Slipping over the edge Jonathan started down the ladder then clamoured back up.

“What are you doing? Go!”

Mary said, impatient for him to go so she could hurry back unnoticed. Her heart was pounding wildly again, she knew the bell would toll for dinner soon.

“Mary, what will you do?”

“What I always do Sir Jonathan, pray. Now go.”

“Mary please.”

He grabbed her hands and Mary stared at him. No man had taken her hand since the day her father had said goodbye to her at the abbey doors.

“Please Mary, come with me. You will not be safe here.”

Mary blinked at him, go with him? That was not possible she had sworn her vows to God. Her eyes widened in horror.

The Bells. They were tolling the hour. She looked over her shoulder. They would be discovered.

“Sir Jonathan you must go now!”

She begged but he held fast to her hands.

“Mary you must come with us. You will not be safe here.”

She looked over her shoulder in panic as she heard doors opening and the ringing of footsteps in the corridors.

It was too late.


Vows by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1906



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