She sheathed the knife. Now she had to get away quickly, before Sir Gerald noticed his loss—but the crush of worshippers, which had helped her take the purse unnoticed, now hindered her escape. She tried to step backwards, hoping to force a gap in the bodies behind her, but everyone was still pressing forward to look at the bones of the saint. She was trapped, unable to move, right in front of the man she had robbed.

A voice in her ear said: "Are you all right?"

It was the rich girl. Gwenda fought down panic. She needed to be invisible. A helpful older child was the last thing she wanted. She said nothing.

"Be careful," the girl said to the people around. "You're squashing this little girl."

Gwenda could have screamed. The rich girl's thoughtfulness would get Gwenda's hand chopped off.

Desperate to get away, she put her hands on the man in front and shoved, pushing herself backwards. She succeeded only in getting the attention of Sir Gerald. "You can't see anything down there, can you?" said her victim in a kindly voice; and, to her horror, he grasped her under the arms and lifted her up.

She was helpless. His big hand in her armpit was only an inch from the purse. She faced forward, so that he could see only the back of her head, and looked over the crowd to the altar, where the monks and nuns were lighting more candles and singing to the long-dead saint. Beyond them, a faint light showed though the big rose window at the east end of the building: dawn was breaking, chasing the evil spirits away. The clangour had stopped, now, and the singing swelled. A tall, good-looking monk stepped up to the altar, and Gwenda recognised him as Anthony, the prior of Kingsbridge. Raising his hands in a blessing, he said loudly: "And so, once again, by the grace of Christ Jesus, the evil and darkness of this world are banished by the harmony and light of God's holy church."

The congregation gave a triumphant roar, then began to relax. The climax of the ceremony had passed. Gwenda wriggled, and Sir Gerald got the message and put her down. Keeping her face turned away from him, she pushed past him, heading towards the back of the crowd. People were no longer so eager to see the altar, and she was now able to force her way between the bodies. The farther back she went, the easier it became, until at last she found herself by the great west door, and saw her family.

Pa looked expectantly at her, ready to be angry if she had failed. She pulled the purse out of her shirt and thrust it at him, glad to get rid of it. He grabbed it, turned slightly, and furtively looked inside. She saw him grin with delight. Then he passed the purse to Ma, who quickly shoved it into the folds of the blanket that wrapped the baby.


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