A Long Time Coming
A Shakespearean Suspenselet based on the bare genealogical facts of an ancestor chosen at random.
Robert Abell, Esq. b.1500 d. 1597 Stapenhill, Derby, England
Resident of Stapenhill, co. Derby, Eng. He was named in a legal complaint of Walter Blount in about 1533 and in a deed in 1547, as well as the will of his son George in 1596. He was probably the Robert Abell who was a tenant to Sir William Gryseley whom he served at Bryslincote during the reign of Henry VIII (1517-18) wife: Helene children: George, Anthonye, Robert Abell, Esq., Anne.
Source: Sandra J Miner Leland Family @2000
A Long Time Coming
It won’t be long now.” The village doctor set his bag upon the oaken table by the front door. “The leg may have healed on its own, he’s broken bones before, but the infection will be fatal.”
“For Christ’s sake, doctor, he’s 97 years old! He was born in 1500. Not long now? I would say it’s been a long time coming!” George, the old man Robert’s eldest son, paced the front room of Abell House, a good stone house set upon the rise of Stapenhill, in Derby..
“If only he hadn’t lain in the pigsty all night after the fall, although I suppose that nasty knock on the head was the cause of that.” The doctor cast a suspicious glance at George, but catching the middle-aged man’s steely, hateful glare, quickly lowered his eyes to the floor.
“He was old. He fell.” Spat George, dismissing the doctor and then suddenly calling him back.
“Can he speak? Did he tell you anything?” The doctor did not answer, but instead fixed the heir to Robert Abell Esq.’s estate with a gaze that unnerved George not for its conviction, not for its condemnation, but for its pity. He grabbed the old doctor’s arm and shook him roughly.
“Tell me, man! Can he speak?” Shouting, George threateningly raised his fist.
“No.” The Doctor replied, staring at George’s upraised fist as if it were the hammer of time, as if in that fist he recognized the destroyer who would come for him as surely as it was coming to the old squire, as if in George’s face he recognized the true murderer of us all; not time, not time alone, but the impatience of the times to come to be done with the times of old.
He wondered at the old man, at the century he’d seen. Had the old man seen that fist raised against him, against he who was born with the discovery of the New World? Had he feared what these new times, this new world, might do to the world he knew? Could he have foreseen what his own son might do to him?
“No.” The doctor said again, picking up his bag and pulling open for the last time the heavy oaken door to Robert Abell, Esq.’s sturdy old stone house. “He will never speak again.”
“Darling! Why do you fret so? You have the token. The house and lands and living will all be ours. I would think you would be glad to be done with the old man.” George’s wife, Elleyne, came to his side and pulled him to the grand old sofa that filled the front room of Abell House.
“He could accuse me of murder!” Cried George, tearing from his wife’s side to pace the room again. “I wish I’d hit him harder. I left him for dead in that pigsty. Why is he still alive? He’s got something hidden up his sleeve, I know it!”
“Darling,” Elleyne cooed, “You have the token. When he’s dead, the barristers will have to give you the estate. That’s what they told you, wasn’t it? That the old man left a token by which his heir was to be known?”
“That’s right,” George muttered. “A sign by which they would know him. The rascal knew not the token’s nature, though we tortured him, nor where lay the token’s mate, though we tortured him some more, unto death.”
“Yet you have this token now.”
“I found the old man at midnight, trying to bury it in the pigsty. I took it from him and killed him, but he will not yet die!”
“The old man is dying. This is no time to worry. Come, hold me fast!” Elleyne spread her bodice to entice her husband forward. “Come to me, Lord of the Manor!” Drawn by her, George ceased his pacing, turned to her, stepped towards her, only to be halted at her command.
“After!” She decreed, “Only After! Now show me this token, this Golden Cloth of which you speak, the Cloth of Gold in which our fortune resides. I command you, love, show me our fortune!”
George fell upon her, pressed his manly parts upon her and lustily declared, “I show you my fortune, woman!” After, he pulled from its hiding place a curious tube of metal, an archaic artillery shell, and took from within it a lump of hemp and linen, which, unwrapped, revealed an ancient tapestry of lions argent and fleur de lis embroidered upon a Cloth of Gold.
“This must be from the old man’s service at Bryslincote with King Henry. See the corner cut off here? The barristers must have that corner. This must be the token!”
George held the scrap of cloth up to the sunlight, his eyes wide with greed. Suddenly, he sneezed violently, was seized with a fit of coughing and fell to the ground vomiting, spitting blood, piteously mewing, and, eyes wide with fear and with his stiffening, curling fingers grasping the Cloth of Gold, he ceased to breathe.
Elleyne was, a moment later, taken with the same symptoms, and died.
The old man in the black cloak who entered hours later, a cloth over his nose, eyed the dead bodies and proceeded down the hall to the library, shut close with heavy curtains, empty but for the labored breathing of Robert Abell, Esq.
“Robert! My Son!” The black-clad old man cried as he rushed to the dying man’s bedside, “What they have done to you, God has avenged.”
“No, Padre,” croaked the bedridden Lord of the Manor, “That vengeance was mine alone, and for that I must confess.”
“Of course, my son,” the old Jesuit murmured, pulling a crucifix and rosary beads from his cloak, “Though of the times we ourselves have shared, you need not confess. Not the hiding of Protestants in Bloody Mary’s realm, nor the hiding of Catholics in Elizabeth’s ascendance, though your support of Lord Dudley may require a confession not of bad faith but of bad reason.” Here the old cleric paused and lit an aromatic incense.
“Then there is the matter of Anne Boleyn.” The priest stared hard at the dying old squire. “You betrayed her, laid her head on the block as surely as did Henry.”
“No. I betrayed only the poet,” the old man gasped, “And an awfully bad poet he was. I could write better poesy than he!”
“And better lay the Queen?”
“Did better lay the Queen! ‘Twould have been my head on that block rather than the poet’s if I hadn’t arranged things with Blount. It cost me that corner of the Deep Wood in Law Court, it did.” The old man glared over his hooked nose at the priest, who was not as old as he, but old enough and nearly as hook-nosed, and said accusingly, “You know that corner well.”
“Less cost than your life,” the priest retorted. “You have continued to use that corner well into the present day, whether it be on your land or Sir Blount’s.” The priest softened and so did the old man. Between them, over fifty years, they had shared secrets no others would ever know.
The corner in question contained a secret cave, a hiding place, used in ancient days by smugglers, and in Robert’s own long days as a hiding place for Catholics in Protestant times and for Protestants in Catholic times. For Robert Abell, Esq., the corner held another secret as well.
“Father, I must confess, I am not the man I was.”
“None of us are,” whispered the old Jesuit.
“I am not Robert Abell,” the dying man confided, “I am not the father of Anthonye nor George.”
“Eh?” asked the father, surprised.
“I killed Robert Abell many years ago, killed him for spite, killed him for no reason, killed him in a drunken brawl.”
“But how? How have you been pretending to be him all these years?”
“Padre, though I have confessed to murder, what I tell you now you must promise never to reveal.”
“Robert!” The priest protested, “I am a priest!”
Robert laughed, long and hard, ending in a coughing fit and a period of labored, raspy breaths.
“Before I killed her husband, I was his wife’s lover. I became the Lord of the Manor with her connivance and consent. Blount knew, and I had to pay him off, just as I had to pay him off again later with that corner of land. It’s always something with that man. He owns me through and through!”
“And this token?” asked the priest, “The key to your inheritance?”
“That, at least, will never fall to Blount, though he may cheat and lie to try to steal it. It’s in the hidey-hole of course, on Blount’s corner of my land. That’s why George never found it. He never paid attention to our history, never paid attention to anything but his own desires. He searched my land high and low for the token. He followed me around, hoping I’d reveal where I’d hidden it. That’s why I let him catch me burying the artillery shell and that cloth of gold. They belonged to the original Robert Abell, George’s father. You might say George recovered his inheritance after all.”
“You poisoned the Cloth of Gold?” The priest gestured towards the front hall, where George and Elleyne lay murdered.
“It was always poison! The man was a beast! Just look at his son! I rescued Helene, and now I’ve rescued my legacy for my own true son. All that’s left is a bone I have to pick with you.” The dying man reached up to grab at the Jesuit’s lapels with one surprisingly still-strong hand.
“You did not come to give Helene last rites, though I called for you.” The dying squire accused the priest. “Why? It was because you were in the pay of the Blounts, and they told you not to come. My dear Helene burns in hell because of you and the Lord Sir Blount. Damned be him, and damned be you!”
Shocked, the old priest tried to escape the squire’s grasp, but could not.
“Damned because you’re in the service of the Blounts!” The dying man cried. “Damned because you would take all I’ve earned, steal it from my heirs, and give it over to my enemy. Because you would betray me, that is why I kill you!”
The old man pulled a glass ampule from beneath his bedclothes and crushed it beneath the priest’s nose, shouting as the priest gasped in terror, “In the cave are Richard Abell’s bones. The token is the very bullet I shot through his evil heart. The barristers have the gun. My true son Richard will find the bullet on Blount’s land. He’s listened to the histories, he’s listened to the stories, he knows about the hidey-hole. My secrets will lie upon his heart alone. None other will reveal them. History will not abuse my family’s future. My legacy is saved.”
With this, both priest and squire expired, as does this tale.