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Grisly Grisell   By: (1823-1901)

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It was a great pity, so it was, this villanous saltpetre should be digg'd out of the bowels of the harmless earth.

SHAKESPEARE King Henry IV., Part I.

A terrible shriek rang through the great Manor house of Amesbury. It was preceded by a loud explosion, and there was agony as well as terror in the cry. Then followed more shrieks and screams, some of pain, some of fright, others of anger and recrimination. Every one in the house ran together to the spot whence the cries proceeded, namely, the lower court, where the armourer and blacksmith had their workshops.

There was a group of children, the young people who were confided to the great Earl Richard and Countess Alice of Salisbury for education and training. Boys and girls were alike there, some of the latter crying and sobbing, others mingling with the lads in the hot dispute as to "who did it."

By the time the gentle but stately Countess had reached the place, all the grown up persons of the establishment knights, squires, grooms, scullions, and females of every degree had thronged round them, but parted at her approach, though one of the knights said, "Nay, Lady Countess, 'tis no sight for you. The poor little maid is dead, or nigh upon it."

"But who is it? What is it?" asked the Countess, still advancing.

A confused medley of voices replied, "The Lord of Whitburn's little wench Leonard Copeland gunpowder."

"And no marvel," said a sturdy, begrimed figure, "if the malapert young gentles be let to run all over the courts, and handle that with which they have no concern, lads and wenches alike."

"Nay, how can I stop it when my lady will not have the maidens kept ever at their distaffs and needles in seemly fashion," cried a small but stout and self assertive dame, known as "Mother of the Maidens," then starting, "Oh! my lady, I crave your pardon, I knew not you were in this coil! And if the men at arms be let to have their perilous goods strewn all over the place, no wonder at any mishap."

"Do not wrangle about the cause," said the Countess. "Who is hurt? How much?"

The crowd parted enough for her to make way to where a girl of about ten was lying prostrate and bleeding with her head on a woman's lap.

"Poor maid," was the cry, "poor maid! 'Tis all over with her. It will go ill with young Leonard Copeland."

"Worse with Hodge Smith for letting him touch his irons."

"Nay, what call had Dick Jenner to lay his foul, burning gunpowder a device of Satan in this yard? A mercy we are not all blown to the winds."

The Countess, again ordering peace, reached the girl, whose moans showed that she was still alive, and between the barber surgeon and the porter's wife she was lifted up, and carried to a bed, the Countess Alice keeping close to her, though the "Mother of the Maidens," who was a somewhat helpless personage, hung back, declaring that the sight of the wounds made her swoon. There were terrible wounds upon the face and neck, which seemed to be almost bared of skin. The lady, who had been bred to some knowledge of surgical skill, together with the barber surgeon, did their best to allay the agony with applications of sweet oil. Perhaps if they had had more of what was then considered skill, it might have been worse for her.

The Countess remained anxiously trying all that could allay the suffering of the poor little semi conscious patient, who kept moaning for "nurse." She was Grisell Dacre, the daughter of the Baron of Whitburn, and had been placed, young as she was, in the household of the Countess of Salisbury on her mother being made one of the ladies attending on the young Queen Margaret of Anjou, lately married to King Henry VI.

Attendance on the patient had prevented the Countess from hearing the history of the accident, but presently the clatter of horses' feet showed that her lord was returning, and, committing the girl to her old nurse, she went down to the hall to receive him... Continue reading book >>

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