The Reverend Gilead told the Court: ‘The trine mersion in water is very symbolic. The first mersion figures our birth to this world, the second our death, the third our glorious rebirth to everlasting life.’
And so the ducking-stool was built, under the Reverend’s close supervision. He had estimated Leonora’s weight by observing the length and breadth of her shadow at Matins and at Evensong, and averaging out.
It took six weeks to build the apparatus, and required the combined skills of three carpenters and two blacksmiths. A deputation was sent to Stella Maris Rest Home in Norwich to consult with Jeb Postlethwaite, retired Master Mariner, about submerged rocks, whirlpools, and eddies in the River Ouse.
When completed, the ducking-stool extended fifteen feet into the river, and was so efficient that it could be operated by just two men, Tom Elliott and his brother Godber. They tested it repeatedly for a week with diseased sheep and moribund goats, and in the end became quite fond of it. They nicknamed it Swinging Betsy, after their grandmother.
And so, the Great Day dawned, fresh and clear. People began to assemble at the riverside from six in the morning: families with picnic baskets and folding stools, sportive lads and lasses gaily attired, ancient crones in bath-chairs nursed by slaveys. Sarah Sowerbutts had a stall near the bridge, selling simnel cakes and flagons of negus. From sunrise to nine o’clock, the murmur of the crowd rose steadily from idling breeze to rushing wind.
But at five minutes to the hour, all fell deathly silent, when a carriage bearing Leonora was seen to leave the Cambridge Road and head slowly towards the river. All eyes followed it, and then strained to see Leonora as she stepped onto a wooden dais. Clad in black, she appeared calm, demure, even beautiful.
A murmur spread through the crowd, but all eyes remained fixed on the figure in black. An infant cried, somewhere near the bridge.
The Reverend Gilead joined Leonora on the dais, and the whole world fell mute again, save for the waters of the river. Facing the congregation, the Reverend read aloud the Twelfth Order of the Consistory Court of Rheims, and the people bowed their heads. Then holding a wooden crucifix before him, he turned to look directly into Leonora’s face. He spoke in a rich, somewhat sad voice:
— Do you renounce Satan and all his works?
— Fuck. Now you tell me.