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by the gateway. The short day of December 29th
was nearly at its close when they drew rein in the courtyard beneath the great hall of the Palace, where the Archbishop and his household had but just retired from supper. They had left their swords outside, and came as travellers, their mailed armour concealed under long cloaks. Entering the hall they met the seneschal, who ushered them into the private room where the Archbishop sat, among his intimates. “My lord,” he said, “here are four knights from King Henry wishing to speak with you"; and they were bidden enter. FitzUrse began the furious discussion. The knights had seated themselves on the floor at the Archbishop's feet, and waited until he should finish the conversation he was holding with a monk. When Becket turned and looked calmly at each in turn, ending with saluting Tracy by name, FitzUrse it was who broke in with a contemptuous “God help you !” The Archbishop's face flushed crimson. He was a man of vehement nature, and it is wonderful that he restrained himself from striking that insolent intruder. “We have a message from the King over the water,” continued FitzUrse ; “tell us whether you will hear it in private, or in the hearing of all.” Within the hearing of all that message, such as it was, was given. It was but a reiteration of old demands and old grievances, made to goad the Archbishop into fury, and to afford an excuse for an attack upon him. The discussion aroused both sides to anger, and the knights, calling upon all to prevent the Archbishop from escaping, dashed off, with the cry of “To arms " " for their swords. But Becket harboured no thoughts of escape. Although he perceived that death was near, he made no retreat, being indeed, by this time, fanatically bent upon the martyr's crown. Outside, the signal had been already given to the men-at-arms, who now came pouring in, with shouts of “Réaux " or “King's men.” The knights now returned, their swords girt about them. Already, however, the Archbishop's attendants had closed and barred the doors, and were endeavouring to save him from that death he seemed to welcome. With kindly violence they pushed and pulled him by obscure passages from the Palace and along the cloisters, while the blows of axes and the splintering of wood told how in their rear the murderers were hewing their way onward. Thus at last, strenuously resisting, he was impelled towards the door that opened from the cloisters into the north transept. Once within the Cathedral the monks bolted the door behind them, and in their haste excluded some of their brethren, thus left, unprotected, to face the onrush of armed men. Hearing these unfortunate ones vainly knocking for admittance, Becket, exerting all his authority, commanded the door to be opened; and when he found his words disregarded, broke away from those who held him and drew back the bolts with his own hands. Seeing the way thus made clear for those pursuing men of wrath, the crowd of anxious monks surrounding the Archbishop immediately turned and fled to those hiding-places they knew of. Only three remained, dauntless, by their chief. These were Robert of Merton, William FitzStephen, and Edward Grim, who stood by him, vainly imploring him to flee. Only one concession he made to their entreaties. He would go to the choir, and there, before the high altar, the holiest place in the Cathedral, with all dignity make an end. It was as he was thus ascending the steps from the transept that the knights burst into the sacred building. Bewildered at first by the almost complete darkness, they could only shout at random, “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor to the King 2 " No answer. Then, falling over a monk, came an oath, from FitzUrse, and the question, “Where is the Archbishop " Becket himself answered, and descending again into the transept, confronted them. He stood in front of what was then the the Chapel of St. Benedict, and calmly asked, “Reginald, why do you come into my church armed?” For answer FitzUrse thrust a carpenter's axe he had found against his breast, and with a savage oath declared, “You shall die : I will tear out your heart 1" “Fly!” exclaimed another, not so eager to commit the sin of sacrilege, before which the mediaeval world recoiled; “Fly 1 or you are a dead man l’’ striking him with the flat of his sword, to emphasise the warning. Then the four united their efforts to drag him from the Cathedral, but without success. Himself a powerful man, he seized Tracy and flung him heavily upon the pavement. FitzUrse, advancing upon him with a drawn sword, he called by a vile name, adding, “You profligate wretch, you are my man ; you have done me fealty; you ought not to touch me.” No fear, it will be seen, in all this,
Fury on both sides, for FitzUrse,
but a not unreasonable fury, somewhat obscuring the martyr spirit.
losing the last atom of restraint, and yelling “Strike l’’ aimed a blow with his great, two-handed sword that, had it been better directed, must have smote off the Archbishop's head. As it was, it merely skimmed off his cap. Becket, who must have been momentarily surprised to find himself still alive, then covered his eyes with his hands, and bending his head, was heard to commend his cause and the cause of the Church to God, to St. Denis of France, to St. Alphege and all the saints of the Church. Tracy then dealt a blow, partly intercepted by Grim, whose arm, protecting the Archbishop, was broken by it. By this time blood was trickling down the Archbishop's face. He wiped it away and murmured, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit; ” and then, falling at a further blow from Tracy, “For the name of Jesus, and for the defence of the Church, I am willing to die.” There he lay, and so lying, received a tremendous stroke from Richard le Bret, who accompanied it with the exclamation, “Take this, for love of my lord William, brother of the King !” That stroke not only clove away the upper part of the skull, but the sword itself was broken in two. Vengeance was accomplished. When the assassins fled from that scene of blood, it was quite dark. They went as they had come, by the cloisters, shouting that they were “King's men,” and cursing and stumbling over unfamiliar steps. A servant of the Archdeacon of Sens was sufficiently unfortunate to be wailing for the cruel death of the Archbishop when they passed, and foolish enough to be in their way. They fell over him, and, still heady with that struggle and the lust