|A Painting of Catherine Willoughby|
Okay, so it's time to start a new story! I hope y'all enjoyed the last one! This next story is called Every Step of The Way, and I wrote it for Reformation Day in 2011. Here's a bit of Historical info you'll want to know before you read the first part:
Catherine Willoughby, the Duchess of Suffolk, was a wealthy and prominent Protestant in Tudor England. She was the patron of John Day, a Protestant publisher. She hired Hugh Latimer, later a martyr, as her chaplain, and she helped to establish “stranger churches” for Protestants who had fled persecution in other countries. Willoughby and her second husband, Richard Bertie, escaped Queen Mary's persecution in 1555. The story below is a fictionalized account of Catherine's escape.
Got it? Alrighty then! Here we go!
January 1st, 1555
A strange, cold wind rustled the treetops. Clouds dimmed the soft glow of the moonlight. All was quiet, but all was not well. Inside a large stone house, a woman quietly slipped down a long hallway. Her blue eyes glanced from side to side, and the candle she held sent eerie shadows across her face. She came upon my bedroom door, and tapped it ever so quietly. I opened my eyes, and sat up. Who was at my door in the middle of the night? I slipped out of the warm bed and over to the door. I lifted the bar. The woman squeezed her way through the small opening, and quickly shut it. She turned to me and in the dim of the candlelight whispered, “Helen, we must leave. Gather your things, for we are going very soon.”
I gasped. “Leave, Mistress Catherine?”
She placed her finger on my lips. “No one must know,” she whispered, “except the servants who are to go with us.” And with that, she left, clicking the door shut behind her. My heart beat fast. Leaving the country by night? Sneaking out without Queen Mary’s approval? What if we were caught?
Queen Mary was a devout Catholic. She had been persecuting and killing the Protestants. Recently, Queen Mary had threatened the Duchess of Suffolk. Richard Bertie, the Duchess's husband, left the country immediately, and from what I was now finding out, had made plans for his wife and precious daughter to escape in the middle of the night.
Another soft rap on the door interrupted my thoughts. I hurried and opened it. Edith, the young, quiet kitchen maid stood there, a bundle of clothes in her arms.
“Mistress Catherine says to hurry and meet her by the back entrance,” she whispered, hurrying away. I quickly got dressed in my long brown dress, typical attire of a lady-in-waiting. I pulled my long, light brown hair into a bun and grabbed my clothes. I stuffed them into a valise and headed out the door. The house was very quiet. I hastened down a long corridor and down some steps. I turned the corner and almost ran into Agnes, the laundress. She scrambled with the load of clothes she carried. Her dark brown hair fell in her face.
“We must hurry!” she cried. We ran down a hallway, lined with columns. Giant portraits of people hung on the dark walls. Their eyes stared blankly ahead, sending terrifying chills down my spine. Why did houses have to be so creepy at night?
We reached a small foyer with a door, where Mistress Catherine waited. She held little Susan, who was fast asleep.
“Hugh and Samuel are waiting by the stables,” she whispered, referring to the joiner and stable keeper. Edith stood by Catherine, holding a bottle of milk for little Susan. Catherine slowly opened the door. The cold night air filled my lungs. She looked both ways and then motioned us to follow her. We tiptoed across the lawn and then dashed behind a little shed. Heavy footsteps echoed through the night - the night guards! They paced outside the tall, black, iron fence, watching and waiting. We crouched down low. Agnes knelt beside me, and I could feel her hands trembling. I eyed Catherine. She looked this way and that, seeing if the path was clear. She waved her hand, telling us to stay behind the shed. She raced across the yard, and behind a huge tree. Waiting until the guard had gone the other way, she dashed to the side gate and unlatched it. It creaked open, breaking the silenced night. I nervously watched the guards. They had heard the noise and were looking frantically around.
“What was that?” one guard asked.
“I’m sure it was nothing,” a bigger guard replied. I looked across the pitch-black yard. I could see Catherine’s faint outline as she entered the stable. I turned to the other girls.
“Come on,” I whispered. We hurried across, through the gate, and safely into the stable.
Catherine was kneeling behind a hay barrel with Hugh and Samuel.
“Samuel, carry my valise,” she ordered. The small stable keeper took her bag and laid it beside him.
“Agnes, up in the loft I’ve hidden an oil lamp. Would you hurry and get it?” Catherine asked. Agnes nodded her head and climbed the ladder.
“Listen carefully,” she whispered, looking at each of us. “I plan to-“ her quiet voice was interrupted by a loud crash. Glass showered down on us. Edith’s hand flew to her mouth to prevent a scream. Catherine looked up. Up in the loft, Agnes gasped. She had dropped the oil lamp. She opened her mouth to say something, when two voices rang out.
“Sounded like it came from the stable,” a guard said. Catherine scrambled behind a large hay barrel, rocking little Susan to keep her quiet. Edith and I bounded up the ladder and into the loft with Agnes. I saw Hugh and Samuel get into a horse stall just as the door burst open. Two guards entered. The bigger one held a bright torch.
“I don’t think anybody’s in here, Atkinson,” the smaller one complained. Atkinson squinted his dark, hazel eyes.
“I heard a noise,” he grunted. They looked around, tossing hay barrels out of their way. I hoped they wouldn’t find Catherine.
“Come on, let’s get back to our post,” the small one said. Atkinson finally agreed and they strode out the door. None of us came out until we were sure they wouldn’t come back. Edith, Agnes, and I came down the ladder and found Catherine. Her face was ashen with fear. Her hands trembled. She stood up and went over to the boys.