Source? Wherever 13th Century mummers got these things
Significance? It was not easy to escape from and not obviously containing anything but costumes
Fate? Probably used for costumes…unless superstition about dead men’s chests prevented it
Author’s inspiration? It was a tradition for people to get shut up in cases… right?
Within a few moments I had satisfied myself that I was closed up inside a large wicker chest, or coffer.
In 1267, Aelfthryth and Hereward, the time disconnected couple from Replay, lived in England as Alisoun Manchet, the daughter of a master baker, and Hal Harrison, his apprentice. They had gone off to a fair outside London.
Master Manchet, Alisoun’s father, warned “Alisoun” to pay no heed to the mummers’ sauce.
Trouble came when the guildsmen from the Goldsmiths and Tailors started fighting. A mummer intervened, and things got rapidly worse. Master Manchet snatched a lute to use as a weapon and then a stone hit Alisoun.
She woke up inside a wicker chest.
I tried to put myself to rights, but there was not enough room to sit up. Awkwardly, I reached above me again, and pressed my palms against the lid. It creaked a little, but refused to yield.
After a bit, she realised the chest (or coffer) was on a cart, and later still someone opened the lid.
The mummer had blood on his arm, a long scratch down his cheek, and a wild look in his eyes. Beyond the obvious anger I could see he was wrestling with several other emotions. Indecision, perhaps. And fear.
With fear on both sides, especially once Wat the mummer knew Alisoun was a gentleman’s daughter and not a servant, things got worse.
"The thing now," he said, "is what's to do with you?"
"Let me go," I said, as reasonably as I could. "You cannot keep me inside this chest forever, and indeed, why should you? I am no costume."
Once more I thought I saw him take a notion - one I wished had never come to his mind. For most of us take our final rest in a coffin, though it is not commonly made of wicker.
"You need this coffer for your costumes," I urged. (There was not much point in pretending ignorance now.) "Do let me out - you know that murder is a mortal sin."
"Do not be speaking murder, now," said the mummer slowly. "We move on to the hiring fair, but 'twill not be for a ten-day more, and perhaps a chest of things might be left in store beneath the haystack. And if a wench should clamber in and the lid should fall and strike her…"
Now I was really frightened, so I said nothing. I judged better to keep quiet, since everything I had said so far had made things worse. I squinted up, and I could feel my vision blurring from sheer terror. And there was worse; the mummer set aside the lantern, and tilted the wicker lid back onto the coffer.
I heard the creak of hinges and the snap of a fastening. It seemed that the man had decided to put the lid on his troubles and leave me there.
Alisoun got out of the chest eventually, but it cost Hal Harrison his life…
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