Lady Mary had taken refuge in the "Priest-Hole" before, but this time it seemed as though the world had ended and all was lost. The startling developments following the discovery of the "Gunpowder Plot" had shaken the Kingdom to the very core.
She was glad she was without a mirror or light to see the reflection of her own tears running freely down her face. The news of her poor father's summary execution merely on the word of a known drunkard and gossip-monger was the final straw. Her litany of misery after the debacle of her mother's unexpected passing was now scraping absolute bottom. The very swiftness of the unknown illness that took her mother's frail existence was probably a blessing in disguise, but it certainly did not seem so at the time.
Mary was now the Lady of the house but all that was left of the family was her younger sister Rebecca and herself. Rebecca was in a convent all the way up in Scotland having elected to enter the cloistered order right after their mother's death. Her poor father was in his cups unable to face the slow erosion of the family's reputation and monetary fortune. The ups and downs of diametrically opposed loyalties to either the Pope in Rome or to the new reformed faith inspired by the writing of Martin Luther had made stable living conditions impossible. A lot depended on which side was in power at any given time and the risks of a high profile were usually torture, death and the seizure of all family property. They had been lucky so far, but their sentiments were known and the fanatical reformers were literally knocking on their very doors.
Most of the servants had already left for safer locations, but Mary and Mr. and Mrs. Candlewick remained to watch the estate. Mary had just turned eighteen and was still only a child at heart. Still, the loss of both parents was a burden for young Mary and she repaired to the priest-hole with a heavy heart and no expectation of rescue. The loss of her father had hit her hard because of his kind and scholarly nature in almost every respect. The accusation that he was in any way involved in the dastardly attempt to destroy Parliament and assassinate the King seemed ludicrous to her and she was certain it was a lie. Unfortunately, the mob that hung him from one of his own trees was convinced otherwise.
The Candlewick's had been with the estate all the way back to her grandfather's time. They were not particularly religious folk but that was not unusual at all. It stemmed from some long forgotten slight over payment for a proper baptism for one of old Mister Candlewick's large brood. The young son Jeffrey took Mary by the hand and led her to the secret entry to the priest-hole. It was a place she had been told to "stay away from unless it is an emergency". It certainly did appear that this would constitute an emergency since the approaching mob was armed with pitchforks and burning sticks that lit up the dark night shadows. It was unlikely they would burn the estate down but it was almost a certainty they would be stripping it of anything not nailed down.
Jeffrey turned Mary sideways so she could squeeze through the narrow opening. It was obvious that people of larger than normal girth would never be able to take advantage of the priest-hole sanctuary.
The narrow corridor led to a room of sorts that had been fitted with a pallet and stacks of books and a large closed urn of water as well as a pot for necessities. Jeffrey made certain she was safe on the pallet before he turned off the small lantern and left the same way he came inside.
Mary sat in the darkness.
Off in the distance she could hear the shouts of the frenzied mob looking for anything of value that they could claim for the rightful King. He was King James the First of England, the former King of Scotland since he was only eighteen months old. The longevity of Elizabeth as reigning monarch lasted almost his entire life and now he was an acceptable Presbyterian in the new "middle ground" of the reformed religion. His Papists roots were long withered away and his Church of England new ways ruled the roost.
The old beams of the huge house creaked with the gusting wind and she thought the scurrying sound in the corner was most likely a mouse come looking for a treat. Mary fingered the silver cross tucked between her healthy breasts and said a prayer that she would be spared to do good deeds in the world. Right at the moment, she would have traded places with her younger sister without hesitation even if the convent life was devoid of male company and interesting conversation.
The newly affirmed Lady Mary was not what anyone of her acquaintance considered a beauty. Not in the least like her beautiful Sister Rebecca who had attracted a band of admirers long before her decision to enter the convent. Rebecca had unknowingly caused many a broken heart just by her need for solitude. Mary thought at the time that one or more of the young blades would settle for her charms even if she was not quite as inspiring as her sister.
Unfortunately, such was not the case and Mary had begun to think she was headed for spinsterhood despite being only eighteen. The business with the Gunpowder Plot and the bitter retaliation against anyone with papist tendencies had taken over their lives and culminated in the early demise of her only remaining parent. Things were certainly not looking very promising for the Proudbottom line with one daughter in a convent and the other not deemed pretty enough to court.
The sound of horses in the portico could be heard down deep inside the priest-hole and Mary knew the mob of common folk loyal to the King James version of the bible were milling about searching for loot and victims to torment in ungodly manner.
Most of the unruly mob was satisfied with descending on the ancient halls seeking anything of value. They left the search for papists up to a small circle of dedicated Church of England interrogators trained to seek out followers of the Roman Pope wherever they were hiding in the infrastructure of normal society.
Eventually, Rector Mark Goodman came to the fearful son of the Candlewick's, Jeffrey. He was certain the mob would be tempted to do away with all of the workers of the Proudbottom estate. His parents were already outside and waiting for the final verdict. The trained interrogator knew all he had to do was to push poor Jeffrey's fear button up a bit higher and he would tell all he that he knew.
In less than fifteen minutes, Jeffry was blubbering all the details of Mr. Proudbottom's death and the fact that the only remaining member of the papist family was Lady Mary. He revealed that she was indeed hidden away in the priest-hole. The very mention of the word "priest" brought the little circle of seekers up to attention and they belabored the frightened boy into revealing the entryway to the priest-hole under threat of physical harm to his parents.