‘We’ll be waiting’ is based on a true ghost story which claims that the spirit of Katharine de Montacute haunts the ruins of Bungay Priory in Suffolk, England. Katharine was forced to enter the priory by her grandfather and is believed to have escaped and run away with her lover. It is believed that she was caught and taken to Coldingham Abbey where she was immured.
Katharine is one of the main characters in my forthcoming book, Through the Nethergate and this is her story.
We’ll be waiting
One, two, three, four, five, fix, seven, turn. Katharine paced her small cell, the bottom of her habit, made from undyed wool, whispering softly on the cold, stone floor. What will he think of me when he sees me? she thought. I have no hair; will he think I am ugly? She raised her slender hand and touched her roughly shorn head. At least my hands are still soft and pretty. A shudder wrenched its way down her spine as she thought of the rough, work worn hands of many of the nuns who worked in the gardens and washed and cooked for the priory. As a novice from a wealthy background, she spent her time doing embroidery and spinning instead of the heavier physical tasks of the nuns who came from poor families.
The evening service had ended some time ago and she was certain that the nuns had all settled down for the night. Slipping her scapula over her head and securing it closed, she took a last look around the cell that she hated so much. Her wimple and veil lay on the straw filled mattress on the floor. Should I wear them? I really don’t want to, but I think I will; just in case I run into someone on my way across the cloister. After pausing momentarily to attach the offensive items to her scapula, she stealthily opened the wooden door and slipped soundlessly into the passageway.
From his position among the shadows of the trees in the orchard, William saw the slight figure come into view and run lightly across the garden in his direction. The moon slipped behind a cloud and the figure disappeared. He bent down, retrieving a bundle lying on the ground and, by the time he straightened up again, he was able to distinguish the delicate features of his beloved. “Katharine,” he whispered, stepping forward and drawing her into his embrace. She trembled a little and clung to him as he flung a thick shawl around her shoulders and drew the edges tightly around her neck. “I have missed you so much. Come with me, dear. We need to move quickly.”
Taking her hand, he led her to the high flint-stone wall that surrounded the priory and, with the assistance of the thick rope he had hung over it for this purpose, helped her to scale it. Her breath came in short gasps betraying her fear, but she climbed with determination and before long, they both stood safely on the other side.
To avoid meeting any other travellers, he left the main road, that wound past the priory and through the adjacent village and took a meandering footpath through the woods. When they were deep among the trees, he stopped and kissed her passionately. “You are free, and we need to keep it that way. Take this bundle,” he said, handing it to her, “it contains your own clothes. I don’t want anyone to see you dressed as a nun. It would result in difficult questions.”
She nodded and disappeared behind a tree. Moment’s latter she reappeared, dressed in her own gilt embroidered gown and with a cap covering her head. “I am so happy to be wearing my own clothes again. Where did you get them?”
“When your grandfather entered you into the convent, I asked your maid, Peggy, to give me one of your gowns as a keepsake. She gave me what you are now wearing.”
Grandfather,the colour drained from her doll-like face as she thought of his anger at her escape from the priory. I have gone against his wishes and will bear the consequences.
William kissed her again, “Don’t be afraid, I will protect you, dearest.”
A white, pitiful smile lit up her beautiful face as she gazed up at him with large, trusting eyes, “Where are we going?”
“We are heading for the village of Ugston in the parish of Gingle-kirk, Scotland. I have bought a small cottage for us to live in. Can you walk a few miles further? I have left my carriage at a friend’s cottage on the other side of this woodland.
“I can walk,” she said, and he leaned over and kissed her mouth again.
The sun was creeping over the horizon when they reached the friend’s cottage. “We’ll stop here and rest awhile.” The cottage was cold as it had been unoccupied for some time, but William soon had a fire cheerfully crackling in the grate. There was no food on the premises, but the well outside provided fresh water. William closed the shutters and they lay down to sleep on a straw mattress in front on the fire.
Katharine dreamed of her grandfather, Sir Edward de Montacute, and thrashed and turned in her sleep. Did he know what life in a priory was like? Why did he send me there? Did he know that life in a convent was like living in a prison?
William woke at mid-day and ventured out of the cottage, leaving Katharine sleeping. He walked to the village a few miles away and bought ale, bread and butter. She was awake when he returned, and they shared a meal before setting off in the coach towards the Scottish border.
Katharine loved the cottage. The walls were thick, built of fragments of the stone found locally. There were two rooms, one contained a large hearth and was the main living area, and the other had a stone oven. It was dark and smoky inside as there was only one small window. It made her feel safe and secure. No one would think to look for them here. The cottage was virtually hidden in a thicket just outside the remote village of Ugston.
No-one could know they were here in this isolated place. William had left his coach and horses with another long-time friend who lived in a town about ten miles away. It had been tiring for her to walk that distance only a few days after their previous long night of walking, but it was worth it to be safe.
They had been living in the cottage as a married couple for several weeks. Every few days William went into the village and bought food, ale and wine. Today, Katharine wanted to visit the village with him, but William persuaded her to remain at the cottage. Her startling beauty and refined way of speaking would attract unwanted attention in the village.
After making his food and drink purchases, William decided to have a drink in the local tavern. He seated himself at a table close to the counter, sipping his ale and listening to the conversations going on around him.
“The King has issued an order for her capture,” said a loud voice at a nearby table. “Can you believe she ran away from the Bungay Priory?” the man continued, clearly enjoying sharing this juicy piece of gossip, “She has compromised her immortal soul.”
“She’s the granddaughter of Sir Edward de Montacute, isn’t she?”
“That’s right. I think that is why her escape became the subject of a denunciation by the Bishop of Norwich and a consequent order for her capture from King Henry II. She embarrassed him by going against his wishes.”
“How did you hear about it? Bungay is a long way from here.”
“I heard it from Master Samson. Apparently, they stopped one of her lover’s friend’s driving his carriage and traced them to this district.
William choked on his drink in his haste to finish it and get back to the cottage and Katharine.
As he entered the clearing in the thicket, he heard something behind him. Turning, he saw a tall figure among the trees. Another man appeared on the left of the tall figure. The King’s soldiers have found us.
He looked around, he had no weapon and could see no means of escape for Katharine and him. The tall man approached him.
“It is no use trying to escape, Sir,” he said. “You are surrounded. Open the door.”
William opened the door and entered the room. Katharine lay asleep on the bed they shared. As he approached, she stirred, and opened her eyes.
“What is it? She cried, seeing William’s anguished face.
“They’ve come for you,” he replied. There was nothing he could do.
Katharine’s cell in Coldingham Abbey was cold and bare. She was in isolation, left entirely alone to reflect on her sins and repent. There was no remorse or penance in her heart. Only anger at being ripped away from William and her new life.
I will never take the vows, never become a nun, she thought militantly.
Hunger gnawed at her belly. Twice daily unappetizing meals of thin gruel, black bread and water were pushed through the slot in her door. The deliverer of the food was forbidden to engage with the prisoner, so no words passed between them.
A few weeks later the aggressive nausea started. Katharine felt like she had been poisoned.
Maybe they have poisoned me. They might think that a fitting punishment for a sinner like me.
Over the next few weeks the dreadful sickness increased and increased. The mere sight of food occasioned nausea. She was vomiting up to fifty times in a day and it was streaked with blood from her traumatized stomach lining.
God is punishing me, her semi-delirious mind started telling her. You went against His chosen path for you and now you are paying the price.
When they came to take her away, she was bedridden. Writhing in agony day and night and unable to eat anything.
The thickset man carried her to the hole in the wall and laid her inside her stony grave. She was too weak to resist as she watched the gap in the wall becoming smaller and smaller as the stones were replaced and cemented into place.
Her last memory, before she slipped into a coma brought on by dehydration, was of a welcoming white light beckoning to her. The spirit of Katherine, and that of her unborn child, passed through the door between this world and the next. Together, they took their places in the waiting room. Katharine knew her beloved William would come to her one day and, when he did, they would be waiting for him. They would be a family.
Book available this coming August
Can one girl banish evil?
Margaret, a girl born with second sight, has the unique ability to bring ghosts trapped between Heaven and Hell back to life. When her parents die suddenly, she goes to live with her beloved grandfather, but the cellar of her grandfather’s ancient inn is haunted by an evil spirit of its own.
In the town of Bungay, a black dog wanders the streets, enslaving the ghosts of those who have died unnatural deaths. When Margaret arrives, these phantoms congregate at the inn, hoping she can free them from the clutches of Hugh Bigod, the 12th century ghost who has drawn them away from Heaven’s White Light in his canine guise.
With the help of her grandfather and the spirits she has befriended, Margaret sets out to defeat Hugh Bigod, only to discover he wants to use her for his own ends – to take over Hell itself.
A clever melding of fiction and historical facts.