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The King's Achievement
by Robert Hugh Benson
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"You heard all I said?" said Ralph at last.

She bowed her head without answering.

"Shall I go and bring you news again presently?"

"If you please," she said.

"I hope to be able to do some little things for him," went on Ralph, dropping his eyes, and he was conscious that she momentarily looked up.

—"But I am afraid there is not much. I shall speak for him to Master Cromwell and the Lieutenant."

The needle paused and then went on again.

Ralph was conscious of an extraordinary momentousness in every word that he said. He was well aware that this girl was not to be wooed by violence, but that he must insinuate his mind and sympathies delicately with hers, watching for every movement and ripple of thought. He had known ever since his talk with Margaret Roper that Beatrice was, as it were, turned towards him and scrutinising him, and that any mistake on his part, however slight, might finally alienate her. Even his gestures, the tones of his voice, his manner of walking, were important elements. He knew now that he was the kind of person who might be acceptable to her—or rather that his personality contained one facet that pleased her, and that he must be careful now to keep that facet turned towards her continually at such an angle that she caught the flash. He had sufficient sense, not to act a part, for that, he knew, she would soon discover, but to be natural in his best way, and to use the fine instincts that he was aware of possessing to tell him exactly how she would wish him to express himself. It would be a long time yet, he recognised, before he could attain his final object; in fact he was not perfectly certain what he wanted; but meanwhile he availed himself of every possible opportunity to get nearer, and was content with his progress.

He was sorely tempted now to discuss Sir Thomas's position and to describe his own, but he perceived from her own aloofness just now that it would seem a profanity, so he preserved silence instead, knowing that it would be eloquent to her. At last she spoke again, and there was a suggestion of a tremor in her voice.

"I suppose you can do nothing for him really? He must stay in the Tower?"

Ralph threw out his hands, silently, expostulating.

"Nothing?" she said again, bending over her work.

Ralph stood up, looking down at her, but made no answer.

"I—I would do anything," she said deliberately, "anything, I think, for the man—" and then broke off abruptly.

* * * * *

Ralph went away from Chelsea that afternoon with a whirling head and dancing heart. She had said no more than that, but he knew what she had meant, and knew, too that she would not have said as much to anyone to whom she was indifferent. Of course, it was hopeless to think of bringing about More's release, but he could at least pretend to try, and Ralph was aware that to chivalrous souls a pathetic failure often appeals more than an excellent success.

Folks turned to look after him more than once as he strode home.



CHAPTER VIII

A HIGHER STEP

As Chris, on the eve of his profession, looked back over the year that had passed since his reception at the guest-house, he scarcely knew whether it seemed like a week or a century. At times it appeared as if the old life in the world were a kind of far-away picture in which he saw himself as one detached from his present personality, moving among curious scenes in which now he had no part; at other times the familiar past rushed on him fiercely, deafened him with its appeal, and claimed him as its own. In such moods the monastery was an intolerable prison, the day's round an empty heart-breaking formality in which his soul was being stifled, and even his habit, which he had once touched so reverently, the badge of a fool.

The life of the world at such times seemed to him the only sanity; these men used the powers that God had given them, were content with simple and unostentatious doings and interests, reached the higher vocation by their very naivete, and did not seek to fly on wings that were not meant to bear them. How sensible, Christopher told himself, was Ralph's ideal! God had made the world, so Ralph lived in it—a world in which great and small affairs were carried on, and in which he interested himself. God had made horses and hawks, had provided materials for carriages and fine clothes and cross-bows, had formed the sexes and allowed for love and domestic matters, had created brains with their capacities of passion and intellect; and so Ralph had taken these things as he found them, hunted, dressed, lived, managed and mixed with men. At times in his cell Chris saw that imposing figure in all its quiet bravery of dress, that sane, clever face, those pitying and contemptuous eyes looking at him, and heard the well-bred voice asking and commenting and wondering at the misguided zeal of a brother who could give all this up, and seek to live a life that was built on and sustained by illusions.

One event during his first six months of the novitiate helped to solemnise him and to clear the confusion.

Old Dom Augustine was taken sick and died, and Chris for the first time in his life watched the melting tragedy of death. The old monk had been moved from the dortor to the sick-room when the end seemed imminent, and one afternoon Chris noticed the little table set outside the door, with its candles and crucifix, the basin of cotton-wool, and the other signs that the last sacraments were to be administered. He knew little of the old man, except his bleared face and shaking hands as he had seen them in choir, and had never been greatly impressed by him; but it was another matter when in the evening of the same day, at his master's order he passed into the cell and knelt down with the others to see the end.

The old monk was lying now on the cross of ashes that had been spread on the floor; his features looked pinched and white in the candlelight; his old mouth moved incessantly, and opened now and again to gasp; but there was an august dignity on his face that Chris had never seen there before.

Outside the night was still and frosty; only now and again the heavy stroke of the bell told the town that a soul was passing.

Dom Augustine had received Viaticum an hour before. Chris had heard the steady tinkle of the bell, like the sound of Aaron's garments, as the priest who had brought him Communion passed back with his sacred burden, and Chris had fallen on his knees where he stood as he caught a glimpse of the white procession passing back to the church, their frosty breath going up together in the winter night air, the wheeling shadows, and the glare of the torches giving a pleasant warm light in the dull cloister.

But all that was over now, and the end was at hand.

As Chris knelt there, mechanically responding to the prayers on which the monk's soul was beginning to lift itself and flutter for escape, there fell a great solemnity on his spirit. The thought, as old as death, made itself real to him, that this was the end of every man and of himself too. Where Dom Augustine lay, he would lie, with his past behind him, of which every detail would be instinct with eternal import. All the tiny things of the monastic life—the rising in time for the night office, attention during it, the responses to grace, the little movements prescribed by etiquette, the invisible motions of a soul that had or had not acted for the love of God, those stirrings, falls, aspirations, that incessant activity of eighty years—all so incredibly minute from one point of view, so incredibly weighty from another—the account of all those things was to be handed in now, and an eternal judgment given.

He looked at the wearied, pained old face again, at the tight-shut eyes, the jerking movements of the unshaven lips, and wondered what was passing behind;—what strange colloquy of the soul with itself or its Master or great personages of the Court of Heaven. And all was set in this little bare setting of white walls, a tumbled bed, a shuttered window, a guttering candle or two, a cross of ashes on boards, a ring of faces, and a murmur of prayers!

The solemnity rose and fell in Chris's soul like a deep organ-note sounding and waning. How homely and tender were these last rites, this accompaniment of the departing soul to the edge of eternity with all that was dear and familiar to it—the drops of holy water, the mellow light of candles, and the sonorous soothing Latin! And yet—and yet—how powerless to save a soul that had not troubled to make the necessary efforts during life, and had lost the power of making them now!

* * * * *

When all was over he went out of the cell with an indescribable gravity at his heart.

* * * * *

When the great events in the spring of '34 began to take place, Chris was in a period of abstracted peace, and the rumours of them came to him as cries from another planet.

Dom Anthony Marks came into the cloister one day from the guest-house with a great excitement in his face,

"Here is news!" he said, joining himself to Chris and another young monk with whom the lonely novice was sometimes allowed to walk. "Master Humphreys, from London, tells me they are all in a ferment there."

Chris looked at him with a deferential coldness, and waited for more.

"They say that Master More hath refused the oath, and that he is lodged in the Tower, and my Lord of Rochester too."

The young monk burst into exclamations and questions, but Chris was silent. It was sad enough, but what did it matter to him? What did it really matter to anyone? God was King.

Dom Anthony was in a hurry, and scuffled off presently to tell the Prior, and in an hour or two there was an air of excitement through the house. Chris, however, heard nothing more except the little that the novice-master chose to tell him, and felt a certain contempt for the anxious-eyed monks who broke the silence by whispers behind doors, and the peace of the monastery by their perturbed looks.

* * * * *

Even when a little later in the summer the commissioner came down to tender the oath of succession Chris heard little and cared less. He was aware of a fine gentleman striding through the cloister, lolling in the garth, and occupying a prominent seat in the church; he noticed that his master was long in coming to him after the protracted chapter-meetings, but it appeared to him all rather an irrelevant matter. These things were surely quite apart from the business for which they were all gathered in the house—the opus Dei and the salvation of souls; this or that legal document did not seriously affect such high matters.

The novice-master told him presently that the community had signed the oath, as all others were doing, and that there was no need for anxiety: they were in the hands of their Religious Superiors.

"I was not anxious," said Chris abruptly, and Dom James hastened to snub him, and to tell him that he ought to have been, but that novices always thought they knew everything, and were the chief troubles that Religious houses had to put up with.

Chris courteously begged pardon, and went to his lessons wondering what in the world all the pother was about.

But such moods of detachment were not continuous they visited him for weeks at a time, when his soul was full of consolation, and he was amazed that any other life seemed possible to anyone. He seemed to himself to have reached the very heart and secret of existence—surely it was plain enough; God and eternity were the only things worth considering; a life passed in an ecstasy, if such were possible, was surely more consonant with reality than one of ordinary activities. Activities were, after all, but concessions to human weakness and desire for variety; contemplation was the simple and natural attitude of a soul that knew herself and God.

But he was a man as well as a novice, and when these moods ebbed from his soul they left him strangely bitter and dry: the clouds would gather; the wind of discontent would begin to shrill about the angles of his spirit, and presently the storm of desolation would be up.

He had one such tempestuous mood immediately before his profession.

During its stress he had received a letter from his father which he was allowed to read, in which Sir James half hinted at the advisability of postponing the irrevocable step until things were quieter, and his heart had leaped at the possibility of escape. He did not know till then how strong had grown the motive of appearing well in the eyes of his relatives and of fearing to lose their respect by drawing back; and now that his father, too, seemed to suggest that he had better re-consider himself, it appeared that a door was opened in the high monastery wall through which he might go through and take his honour with him.

He passed through a terrible struggle that night.

Never had the night-office seemed so wearisomely barren. The glamour that had lighted those dark walls and the double row of cowls and down-bent faces, the mystical beauty of the single flames here and there that threw patches of light on the carving of the stalls and the sombre habits, and gave visibility and significance to what without them was obscure, the strange suggestiveness of the high-groined roof and the higher vault glimmering through the summer darkness—all this had faded and left him, as it seemed, sane and perceptive of facts at last. Out there through those transepts lay the town where reasonable folk slept, husband and wife together, and the children in the great bed next door, with the tranquil ordinary day behind them and its fellow before; there were the streets, still now and dark and empty but for the sleeping dogs, where the signs swung and the upper stories leaned together, and where the common life had been transacted since the birth of the town and would continue till its decay. And beyond lay the cool round hills, with their dark dewy slopes, over which he had ridden a year ago, and all England beyond them again, with its human life and affairs and interests; and over all hung the serene stars whence God looked down well pleased with all that He had made.

And, meanwhile, here he stood in his stall in his night shoes and black habit and cropped head, propped on his misericorde, with the great pages open before him, thumbed and greasy at their corners, from which he was repeating in a loud monotone formula after formula that had had time to grow familiar from repetition, but not yet sweet from associations—here he stood with heavy eyelids after his short sleep, his feet aching and hot, and his whole soul rebellious.

* * * * *

He was sent by his novice-master next day to the Prior, with his father's letter in his hand, and stood humbly by the door while the Prior read it. Chris watched him under half-raised eye-lids; saw the clean-cut profile with its delicate mouth bent over the paper, and the hand with the enamelled ring turn the page. Prior Crowham was a cultivated, well-bred man, not over strong-willed, but courteous and sympathetic. He turned a little to Chris in his carved chair, as he laid the letter down.

"Well," he said, smiling, "it is for you to choose whether you will offer yourself. Of course, there is uneasiness abroad, as this letter says, but what then?"

He smiled pleasantly at the young man, and Chris felt a little ashamed. There was silence for a moment.

"It is for you to choose," said the Prior again, "you have been happy with us, I think?"

Chris pressed his lips together and looked down.

"Of course Satan will not leave you alone," went on the monk presently. "He will suggest many reasons against your profession. If he did not, I should be afraid that you had no vocation."

Again he waited for an answer, and again Chris was silent. His soul was so desolate that he could not trust himself to say all that he felt.

"You must wait a little," went on the Prior, "recommend yourself to our Lady and our Patron, and then leave yourself in their hands. You will know better when you have had a few days. Will you do this, and then come to me again?"

"Yes, my Lord Prior," said Chris, and he took up the letter, bowed, and went out.

* * * * *

Within the week relief and knowledge came to him. He had done what the monk had told him, and it had been followed by a curious sense of relief at the thought suggested to him that the responsibility of decision did not rest on him but on his heavenly helpers. And then as he served mass the answer came.

It was in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin, a little building entered from the north transept, with its windows opening directly on to the road leading up into the town; there was no one there but the two. It was about seven o'clock on the feast of the Seven Martyrs, and the chapel was full of a diffused tender morning light, for the chapel was sheltered from the direct sunshine by the tall church on its south.

As they went up to the altar the bell sounded for the Elevation at the high-altar of the church, at the missa familiaris, and the footstep of someone passing through the north transept ceased instantly at the sound. The priest ascended the steps, set down the vessels, spread the corporal, opened the book, and came down again for the preparation. There was no one else in the chapel, and the peace of the place in the summer light, only vitalized by the brisk chirping of a sparrow under the eaves, entered into Christopher's soul.

As the mass went on it seemed as if a veil were lifting from his spirit, and leaving it free and sensible again. The things around him fell into their proper relationships, and there was no doubt in his mind that this newly restored significance of theirs was their true interpretation. They seemed penetrated and suffused by the light of the inner world; the red-brocaded chasuble moving on a level with his eyes, stirring with the shifting of the priest's elbows, was more than a piece of rich stuff, the white alb beneath more than mere linen, the hood thrown back in the amice a sacramental thing. He looked up at the smoky yellow flames against the painted woodwork at the back of the altar, at the discoloured stones beside the grey window-mouldings still with the slanting marks of the chisel upon them, at the black rafters overhead, and last out through the shafted window at the heavy July foliage of the elm that stood by the road and the brilliant morning sky beyond; and once more he saw what these things meant and conveyed to an immortal soul. The words that he had said during these last weeks so mechanically were now rich and alive again, and as he answered the priest he perceived the spiritual vibration of them in the inner world of which his own soul was but a part. And then the climax was reached, and he lifted the skirt of the vestment with his left hand and shook the bell in his right; the last shreds of confusion were gone, and his spirit basked tranquil and content and certain again in the light that was newly risen on him.

He went to the novice-master after the morning-chapter, and told him that he had made up his mind to offer himself for profession if it was thought advisable by the authorities.

* * * * *

Towards the end of August he presented himself once more before the chapter to make his solemn demand; his petition was granted, and a day appointed for his profession.

Then he withdrew into yet stricter seclusion to prepare for the step.



CHAPTER IX

LIFE AT LEWES

Under the direction of the junior-master who overlooked the young monks for some years after their profession, Chris continued his work of illumination, for which he had shown great aptitude during his year of noviceship.

The art was beginning to disappear, since the introduction of printing had superseded the need of manuscript, but in some Religious Houses it was still thought a suitable exercise during the hours appointed for manual labour.

It was soon after the beginning of the new year that Chris was entrusted with a printed antiphonary that had its borders and initials left white; and he carried the great loose sheets with a great deal of pride to the little carrel or wooden stall assigned to him in the northern cloister.

It was a tiny room, scarcely six feet square, lighted by the window into the cloister-garth, and was almost entirely filled by the chair, the sloping desk against the wall, and the table where the pigments and brushes lay ready to the hand. The door opened on to the cloister itself where the professed monks were at liberty to walk, and on the opposite side stood the broad aumbries that held the library of the house; and it was from the books here that Chris was allowed to draw ideas for his designs. It was a great step in that life of minute details when now for the first time he was permitted to follow his own views, instead of merely filling in with colour outlines already drawn for him; and he found his scheme for the decoration a serious temptation to distraction during the office. As he stood among the professed monks, in his own stall at last, he found his eyes wandering away to the capitals of the round pillars, the stone foliage and fruit that burst out of the slender shafts, the grim heads that strained forward in mitre and crown overhead, and even the living faces of his brethren and superiors, clear against the dark woodwork. When he bent his eyes resolutely on his book he found his mind still intent on his more secular business; he mentally corrected this awkward curve of the initial, substituted an oak spray with acorns for that stiff monstrosity, and set my Lord Prior's face grinning among griffins at the foot of the page where humour was more readily admitted.

It was an immense joy when he closed his carrel-door, after his hour's siesta in the dormitory, and sat down to his work. He was still warm with sleep, and the piercing cold of the unwarmed cloister did not affect him, but he set his feet on the sloping wooden footstool that rested on the straw for fear they should get cold, and turned smiling to his side-table.

There were all the precious things laid out; the crow's quills sharpened to an almost invisible point for the finer lines, the two sets of pencils, one of silver-point that left a faint grey line, and the other of haematite for the burnishing of the gold, the badger and minever brushes, the sponge and pumice-stone for erasures; the horns for black and red ink lay with the scissors and rulers on the little upper shelf of his desk. There were the pigments also there, which he had learnt to grind and prepare, the crushed lapis lazuli first calcined by heat according to the modern degenerate practice, with the cheap German blue beside it, and the indigo beyond; the prasinum; the vermilion and red lead ready mixed, and the rubrica beside it; the yellow orpiment, and, most important of all, the white pigments, powdered chalk and egg shells, lying by the biacca. In a separate compartment covered carefully from chance draughts or dust lay the precious gold leaf, and a little vessel of the inferior fluid gold used for narrow lines.

* * * * *

His first business was to rule the thick red lines down the side of the text, using a special metal pen for it; and then to begin to sketch in his initials and decorations. For this latter part of the work he had decided to follow the lines of Foucquet from a Book of the Hours that he had taken out of its aumbry; a mass of delicate foliage and leaves, with medallions set in it united by twisted thorn-branches twining upwards through the broad border. These medallions on the first sheet he purposed to fill with miniatures of the famous relics kept at Lewes, the hanging sleeve of the Blessed Virgin in its crystal case, the drinking-cup of Cana, the rod of Moses, and the Magdalene's box of ointment. In the later pages which would be less elaborate he would introduce the other relics, and allow his humour free play in designing for the scrolls at the foot tiny portraits of his brethren; the Prior should be in a mitre and have the legs and tail of a lion, the novice-master, with a fox's brush emerging from his flying cowl, should be running from a hound who carried a discipline in his near paw. But there was time yet to think of these things; it would be weeks before that page could be reached, and meanwhile there was the foliage to be done, and the rose leaf that lay on his desk to be copied minutely from a hundred angles.

* * * * *

His distractions at mass and office were worse than ever now that the great work was begun, and week after week in confession there was the same tale. The mere process was so absorbing, apart from the joy of creation and design. More than once he woke from a sweating nightmare in the long dormitory, believing that he had laid on gold-leaf without first painting the surface with the necessary mordant, or had run his stilus through his most delicate miniature. But he made extraordinary progress in the art; and the Prior more than once stepped into his carrel and looked over his shoulder, watching the slender fingers with the bone pen between them polishing the gold till it shone like a mirror, or the steady lead pencil moving over the white page in faultless curve. Then he would pat him on the shoulder, and go out in approving silence.

* * * * *

Chris was supremely content that he had done right in asking for profession. It appeared to him that he had found a life that was above all others worthy of an immortal soul. The whole day's routine was directed to one end, the performance of the Opus Dei, the uttering of praises to Him who had made and was sustaining and would receive again all things to Himself.

They rose at midnight for the night-office that the sleeping world might not be wholly dumb to God; went to rest again; rose once more with the world, and set about a yet sublimer worship. A stream of sacrifice poured up to the Throne through the mellow summer morning, or the cold winter darkness and gloom, from altar after altar in the great church. Christopher remembered pleasantly a morning soon after the beginning of his novitiate when he had been in the church as a set of priests came in and began mass simultaneously; the mystical fancy suggested itself as the hum of voices began that he was in a garden, warm and bright with grace, and that bees were about him making honey—that fragrant sweetness of which it had been said long ago that God should eat—and as the tinkle of the Elevation sounded out here and there, it seemed to him as a signal that the mysterious confection was done, and that every altar sprang into perfume from those silver vessels set with jewel and crystal.

When the first masses were over, there was a pause in which the mixtum was taken—bread and wine or beer—standing in the refectory, after a short prayer that the Giver of all good gifts might bless the food and drink of His servants, and was closed again by another prayer said privately for all benefactors. Meanwhile the bell was ringing for the Lady mass, to remind the monks that the interval was only as it were a parenthetical concession; and after Terce and the Lady Mass followed the Chapter, in which faults were confessed and penances inflicted, and the living instruments of God's work were examined and scoured for use. The martyrology was read at this time, as well as some morning prayers, to keep before the monks' minds the remembrance of those great vessels of God's household called to so high an employment. It was then, too, that other business of the house was done, and the seal affixed to any necessary documents. Christopher had an opportunity once of examining this seal when it had been given him to clean, and he looked with awe on the figures of his four new patrons, St. Peter, St. Pancras, St. Paul and Our Lady, set in niches above a cliff with the running water of the Ouse beneath, and read the petition that ran round the circle—

"Dulcis agonista tibi convertit domus ista Pancrati memorum precibus memor esto tuorum."

When the chapter was over, and the deaths of any brethren of the order had been announced, and their souls prayed for, there was a pause for recreation in the cloister and the finishing of further business before they assembled again in time to go into church for the high mass, at which the work and prayers of the day were gathered up and consecrated in a supreme offering. Even the dinner that followed was a religious ceremony; it began by a salutation of the Christ in glory that was on the wall over the Prior's table, and then a long grace was sung before they took their seats. The reader in the stone-pulpit on the south wall of the refectory began his business on the sounding of a bell; and at a second stroke there was a hum and clash of dishes from the kitchen end, and the aproned servers entered in line bearing the dishes. Immediately the meal was begun the drink destined for the poor at the gate was set aside, and a little later a representative of them was brought into the refectory to receive his portion; at the close again what was left over was collected for charity; while the community after singing part of the grace after meat went to finish it in the church.

Chris learned to love the quiet religious graciousness of the refectory. The taking of food here was a consecrated action; it seemed a sacramental thing. He loved the restraint and preciseness of it, ensured by the solemn crucifix over the door with its pathetic inscription "SITIO," the polished oak tables, solid and narrow, the shining pewter dishes, the folded napkins, the cleanly-served plentiful food, to each man his portion, the indescribable dignity of the prior's little table, the bowing of the servers before it, the mellow grace ringing out in its monotone that broke into minor thirds and octaves of melody, like a grave line of woodwork on the panelling bursting into a stiff leaf or two at its ends. There was a strange and wonderful romance it about on early autumn evenings as the light died out behind the stained windows and the reader's face glowed homely and strong between his two candles on the pulpit. And surely these tales of saints, the extract from the Rule, these portions of Scripture sung with long pauses and on a monotone for fear that the reader's personality should obscure the message of what he read—surely this was a better accompaniment to the taking of food, in itself so gross a thing, than the feverish chatter of a secular hall and the bustling and officiousness of paid servants.

After a general washing of hands the monks dispersed to their work, and the novices to bowls or other games; the Prior first distributing the garden instruments, and then beginning the labour with a commendation of it to God; and after finishing the manual work and a short time of study, they re-assembled in the cloister to go to Vespers. This, like the high mass, was performed with the ceremonial proper to the day, and was followed by supper, at which the same kind of ceremonies were observed as at dinner. When this was over, after a further short interval the evening reading or Collation took place in the chapter-house, after which the monks were at liberty to go and warm themselves at the one great fire kept up for the purpose in the calefactory; and then compline was sung, followed by Our Lady's Anthem.

This for Chris was one of the climaxes of the day's emotions. He was always tired out by now with the day's work, and longing for bed, and this approach to the great Mother of Monks soothed and quieted him. It was sung in almost complete darkness, except for a light or two in the long nave where a dark figure or two would be kneeling, and the pleasant familiar melody, accompanied softly by the organ overhead after the bare singing of Compline, seemed like a kind of good-night kiss. The infinite pathos of the words never failed to touch him, the cry of the banished children of Eve, weeping and mourning in this vale of tears to Mary whose obedience had restored what Eve's self-will had ruined, and the last threefold sob of endearment to the "kindly, loving, sweet, Virgin Mary." After the high agonisings and aspirations of the day's prayer, the awfulness of the holy Sacrifice, the tramping monotony of the Psalter, the sting of the discipline, the aches and sweats of the manual labour, the intent strain of the illuminating, this song to Mary was a running into Mother's arms and finding compensation there for all toils and burdens.

Finally in complete silence the monks passed along the dark cloister, sprinkled with holy water as they left the church, up to the dormitory which ran over the whole length of the chapter house, the bridges and other offices, to sleep till midnight.

* * * * *

The effect of this life, unbroken by external distractions, was to make Chris's soul alert and perceptive to the inner world, and careless or even contemptuous of the ordinary world of men. This spiritual realm began for the first time to disclose its details to him, and to show itself to some extent a replica of nature. It too had its varying climate, its long summer of warmth and light, its winter of dark discontent, its strange and bewildering sunrises of Christ upon the soul, when He rose and went about His garden with perfume and music, or stayed and greeted His creature with the message of His eyes. Chris began to learn that these spiritual changes were in a sense independent of him, that they were not in his soul, but rather that his soul was in them. He could be happy and content when the winds of God were cold and His light darkened, or sad and comfortless when the flowers of grace were apparent and the river of life bright and shining.

And meanwhile the ordinary world went on, but far away and dimly heard and seen; as when one looks down from a castle-garden on to humming streets five hundred feet below; and the old life at Overfield, and Ralph's doings in London seemed unreal and fantastic activities, purposeless and empty.

Little by little, however, as the point of view shifted, Chris began to find that the external world could not be banished, and that the annoyances from the clash of characters discordant with his own were as positive as those which had distressed him before. Dom Anselm Bowden's way of walking and the patch of grease at the shoulder of his cowl, never removed, and visible as he went before him into the church was as distractingly irritating as Ralph's contempt; the buzz in the voice of a cantor who seemed always to sing on great days was as distressing as his own dog's perversity at Overfield, or the snapping of a bow-string.

When accidie fell upon Chris it seemed as if this particular house was entirely ruined by such incidents; the Prior was finickin, the junior-master tyrannical, the paints for illumination inferior in quality, the straw of his bed peculiarly sharp, the chapter-house unnecessarily draughty. And until he learnt from his confessor that this spiritual ailment was a perfectly familiar one, and that its symptoms and effects had been diagnosed centuries before, and had taken him at his word and practised the remedies he enjoined, Chris suffered considerably from discontent and despair alternately. At times others were intolerable, at times he was intolerable to himself, reproaching himself for having attempted so high a life, criticising his fellows for so lowering it to a poor standard.

* * * * *

The first time that he was accused in chapter of a fault against the Rule was a very great and shocking humiliation.

He had accused himself as usual on his knees of his own remissions, of making an unnecessarily loud noise in drinking, of intoning a wrong antiphon as cantor, of spilling crumbs in the refectory; and then leaned back on his heels well content with the insignificance of his list, to listen with a discreet complacency to old Dom Adrian, who had overslept himself once, spilled his beer twice, criticised his superior, and talked aloud to himself four times during the Greater Silence, and who now mumbled out his crimes hastily and unconcernedly.

When the self-accusations were done, the others began, and to his horror Chris heard his own name spoken.

"I accuse Dom Christopher Torridon of not keeping the guard of the eyes at Terce this morning."

It was perfectly true; Chris had been so much absorbed in noticing an effect of shade thrown by a corbel, and in plans for incorporating it into his illumination that he had let a verse pass as far as the star that marked the pause. He felt his heart leap with resentment. Then a flash of retort came to him, and he waited his turn.

"I accuse Dom Bernard Parr of not keeping the guard of the eyes at Terce this morning. He was observing me."

Just the faintest ripple passed round the line; and then the Prior spoke with a tinge of sharpness, inflicting the penances, and giving Chris a heavy sentence of twenty strokes with the discipline.

When Chris's turn came he threw back his habit petulantly, and administered his own punishment as the custom was, with angry fervour.

As he was going out the Prior made him a sign, and took him through into his own cell.

"Counter-accusations are contrary to the Rule," he said. "It must not happen again," and dismissed him sternly.

And then Chris for a couple of days had a fierce struggle against uncharitableness, asking himself whether he had not eyed Dom Bernard with resentment, and then eyeing him again. It seemed too as if a fiend suggested bitter sentences of reproach, that he rehearsed to himself, and then repented. But on the third morning there came one of those strange breezes of grace that he was beginning to experience more and more frequently, and his sore soul grew warm and peaceful again.

* * * * *

It was in those kinds of temptation now that he found his warfare to lie; internal assaults so fierce that it was terribly difficult to know whether he had yielded or not, sudden images of pride and anger and lust that presented themselves so vividly and attractively that it seemed he must have willed them; it was not often that he was tempted to sin in word or deed—such, when they came, rushed on him suddenly; but in the realm of thought and imagination and motive he would often find himself, as it were, entering a swarm of such things, that hovered round him, impeding his prayer, blinding his insight, and seeking to sting the very heart of his spiritual life. Then once more he would fight himself free by despising and rejecting them, or would emerge without conscious will of his own into clearness and serenity.

But as he looked back he regretted nothing. It was true that the warfare was more subtle and internal, but it was more honourable too; for to conquer a motive or tame an imagination was at once more arduous and more far-reaching in its effects than a victory in merely outward matters, and he seldom failed to thank God half-a-dozen times a day for having given him the vocation of a monk.

There was one danger, however, that he did not realise, and his confessor failed to point it out to him; and that was the danger of the wrong kind of detachment. As has been already seen the theory of the Religious Life was that men sought it not merely for the salvation of their own souls, but for that of the world. A monastery was a place where in a special sense the spiritual commerce of the world was carried on: as a workman's shed is the place deputed and used by the world for the manufacture of certain articles. It was the manufactory of grace where skilled persons were at work, busy at a task of prayer and sacrament which was to be at other men's service. If the father of a family had a piece of spiritual work to be done, he went to the monastery and arranged for it, and paid a fee for the sustenance of those he employed, as he might go to a merchant's to order a cargo and settle for its delivery.

Since this was so then, it was necessary that the spiritual workmen should be in a certain touch with those for whom they worked. It was true that they must be out of the world, undominated by its principles and out of love with its spirit; but in another sense they must live in its heart. To use another analogy they were as windmills, lifted up from the earth into the high airs of grace, but their base must be on the ground or their labour would be ill-spent. They must be mystically one with the world that they had resigned.

Chris forgot this; and laboured, and to a large extent succeeded, in detaching himself wholly; and symptoms of this mistake showed themselves in such things as tending to despise secular life, feeling impatient with the poor to whom he had to minister, in sneering in his heart at least at anxious fussy men who came to arrange for masses, at troublesome women who haunted the sacristy door in a passion of elaborateness, and at comfortable families who stamped into high mass and filled a seat and a half, but who had yet their spiritual burdens and their claims to honour.

But he was to be brought rudely down to facts again. He was beginning to forget that England was about him and stirring in her agony; and he was reminded of it with some force in the winter after his profession.

* * * * *

He was going out to the gate-house one day on an errand from the junior-master when he became aware of an unusual stir in the court. There were a couple of palfreys there, and half-a-dozen mules behind, whilst three or four strange monks with a servant or two stood at their bridles.

Chris stopped to consider, for he had no business with guests; and as he hesitated the door of the guest-house opened, and two prelates came out with Dom Anthony behind them—tall, stately men in monks' habits with furred cloaks and crosses. Chris slipped back at once into the cloister from which he had just come out, and watched them go past to the Prior's lodging.

They appeared at Vespers that afternoon again, sitting in the first returned stalls near the Prior, and Chris recognised one of them as the great Abbot of Colchester. He looked at him now and again during Vespers with a reverential awe, for the Abbot was a great man, a spiritual peer of immense influence and reputation, and watched that fatherly face, his dignified bows and stately movements, and the great sapphire that shone on his hand as he turned the leaves of his illuminated book.

The two prelates were at supper, sitting on either side of the Prior on the dais; and afterwards the monks were called earlier than usual from recreation into the chapter-house.

The Prior made them a little speech saying that the Abbot had something to say to them, and then sat down; his troubled eyes ran over the faces of his subjects, and his fingers twitched and fidgetted on his knees.

The Abbot did not make them a long discourse; but told them briefly that there was trouble coming; he spoke in veiled terms of the Act of Supremacy, and the serious prayer that was needed; he said that a time of testing was close at hand, and that every man must scrutinise his own conscience and examine his motives; and that the unlearned had better follow the advice and example of their superiors.

It was all very vague and unsatisfactory; but Chris became aware of three things. First, that the world was very much alive and could not be dismissed by a pious aspiration or two; second, that the world was about to make some demand that would have to be seriously dealt with, and third, that there was nothing really to fear so long as their souls were clean and courageous. The Abbot was a melting speaker, full at once of a fatherly tenderness and vehemence, and as Chris looked at him he felt that indeed there was nothing to fear so long as monks had such representatives and protectors as these, and that the world had better look to itself for fear it should dash itself to ruin against such rocks of faith and holiness.

But as the spring drew on, an air of suspense and anxiety made itself evident in the house. News came down that More and Fisher were still in prison, that the oath was being administered right and left, that the King had thrown aside all restraints, and that the civil breach with Rome seemed in no prospect of healing. As for the spiritual breach the monks did not seriously consider it yet; they regarded themselves as still in union with the Holy See whatever their rulers might say or do, and only prayed for the time when things might be as before and there should be no longer any doubt or hesitation in the minds of weak brethren.

But the Prior's face grew more white and troubled, and his temper uncertain.

Now and again he would make them speeches assuring them fiercely that all was well, and that all they had to do was to be quiet and obedient; and now he would give way to a kind of angry despair, tell them that all was lost, that every man would have to save himself; and then for days after such an exhibition he would be silent and morose, rapping his fingers softly as he sat at his little raised table in the refectory, walking with downcast eyes up and down the cloister muttering and staring.

Towards the end of April he sent abruptly for Chris, told him that he had news from London that made his presence there necessary, and ordered him to be ready to ride with him in a week or two.



CHAPTER X

THE ARENA

It was in the evening of a warm May day that the Prior and Chris arrived at the hostelry in Southwark, which belonged to Lewes Priory.

It was on the south side of Kater Lane, opposite St. Olave's church, a great house built of stone with arched gates, with a large porch opening straight into the hall, which was high and vaulted with a frieze of grotesque animals and foliage running round it. There were a few servants there, and one or two friends of the Prior waiting at the porch as they arrived; and one of them, a monk himself from the cell at Farley, stepped up to the Prior's stirrup and whispered to him.

Chris heard an exclamation and a sharp indrawing of breath, but was too well trained to ask; so he too dismounted and followed the others into the hall, leaving his beast in the hands of a servant.

The Prior was already standing by the monk at the upper end, questioning him closely, and glancing nervously this way and that.

"To-day?" he asked sharply, and looked at the other horrified.

The monk nodded, pale-faced and anxious, his lower lip sucked in.

The Prior turned to Chris.

"They have suffered to-day," he said.

News had reached Lewes nearly a week before that the Carthusians had been condemned, for refusing to acknowledge the King as head of the English Church, but it had been scarcely possible to believe that the sentence would be carried out, and Chris felt the blood beat in his temples and his lips turn suddenly dry as he heard the news.

"I was there, my Lord Prior," said the monk.

He was a middle-aged man, genial and plump, but his face was white and anxious now, and his mouth worked. "They were hanged in their habits," he went on. "Prior Houghton was the first despatched;" and he added a terrible detail or two.

"Will you see the place, my Lord Prior?" he said, "You can ride there. Your palfrey is still at the door."

Prior Robert Crowham looked at him a moment with pursed lips; and then shook his head violently.

"No, no," he said. "I—I must see to the house." The monk looked at Chris.

"May I go, my Lord Prior?" he asked.

The Prior stared at him a moment, in a desperate effort to fix his attention; then nodded sharply and wheeled round to the door that led to the upper rooms.

"Mother of God!" he said. "Mother of God!" and went out.

Chris went through with the strange priest, down the hall and out into the porch again. The others were standing there, fearful and whispering, and opened out to let the two monks pass through.

Chris had been tired and hot when he arrived, but he was conscious now of no sensation but of an overmastering desire to see the place; he passed straight by his horse that still stood with a servant at his head, and turned up instinctively toward the river.

The monk called after him.

"There, there," he cried, "not so fast—we have plenty of time."

They took a wherry at the stairs and pushed out with the stream. The waterman was a merry-looking man who spoke no word but whistled to himself cheerfully as he laid himself to the oars, and the boat began to move slantingly across the flowing tide. He looked at the monks now and again; but Chris was seated, staring out with eyes that saw nothing down the broad stream away to where the cathedral rose gigantic and graceful on the other side. It was the first time he had been in London since a couple of years before his profession, but the splendour and strength of the city was nothing to him now. It only had one significance to his mind, and that that it had been this day the scene of a martyrdom. His mind that had so long lived in the inner world, moving among supernatural things, was struggling desperately to adjust itself.

Once or twice his lips moved, and his hands clenched themselves under his scapular; but he saw and heard nothing; and did not even turn his head when a barge swept past them, and a richly dressed man leaned from the stem and shouted something mockingly. The other monk looked nervously and deprecatingly up, for he heard the taunting threat across the water that the Carthusians were a good riddance, and that there would be more to follow.

They landed at the Blackfriars stairs, paid the man, who was still whistling as he took the money, and passed up by the little stream that flowed into the river, striking off to the left presently, and leaving the city behind them. They were soon out again on the long straight road that led to Tyburn, for Chris walked desperately fast, paying little heed to his companion except at the corners when he had to wait to know the way; and presently Tyburn-gate began to raise its head high against the sky.

Once the strange monk, whose name Chris had not even troubled to ask, plucked him by his hanging sleeve.

"The hurdles came along here," he said; and Chris looked at him vacantly as if he did not understand.

Then they were under Tyburn-gate, and the clump of elms stood before them.

* * * * *

It was a wide open space, dusty now and trampled.

What grass there had been in patches by the two little streams that flowed together here, was crushed and flat under foot. The elms cast long shadows from the west, and birds were chirping in the branches; there was a group or two of people here and there looking curiously about them. A man's voice came across the open space, explaining; and his arm rose and wheeled and pointed and paused—three or four children hung together, frightened and interested.

But Chris saw little of all this. He had no eyes for the passing details; they were fixed on the low mound that rose fifty yards away, and the three tall posts, placed in a triangle and united by cross-beams, that stood on it, gaunt against the sky.

As he came nearer to it, walking as one in a dream across the dusty ground and trampled grass, and paying no heed to the priest behind him who whispered with an angry nervousness, he was aware of the ends of three or four ropes that hung motionless from the beams in the still evening air; and with his eyes fixed on these in exaltation and terror he stumbled up the sloping ground and came beneath them.

There was a great peace round him as he stood there, stroking one of the uprights with a kind of mechanical tenderness; the men were silent as they saw the two monks there, and watched to see what they would do.

The towers of Tyburn-gate rose a hundred yards away, empty now, but crowded this morning; and behind them the long road with the fields and great mansions on this side and that, leading down to the city in front and Westminster on the right, those two dens of the tiger that had snarled so fiercely a few hours before, as she licked her lips red with martyrs' blood. It was indescribably peaceful now; there was no sound but the birds overhead, and the soft breeze in the young leaves, and the trickle of the streams defiled to-day, but running clean and guiltless now; and the level sunlight lay across the wide flat ground and threw the shadow of the mound and gallows nearly to the foot of the gate.

But to Chris the place was alive with phantoms; the empty space had vanished, and a sea of faces seemed turned up to him; he fancied that there were figures about him, watching him too, brushing his sleeve, faces looking into his eyes, waiting for some action or word from him. For a moment his sense of identity was lost; the violence of the associations, and perhaps even the power of the emotions that had been wrought there that day, crushed out his personality; it was surely he who was here to suffer; all else was a dream and an illusion. From his very effort of living in eternity, a habit had been formed that now asserted itself; the laws of time and space and circumstance for the moment ceased to exist; and he found himself for an eternal instant facing his own agony and death.

* * * * *

Then with a rush facts re-asserted themselves, and he started and looked round as the monk touched him on the arm.

"You have seen it," he said in a sharp undertone, "it is enough. We shall be attacked." Chris paid him no heed beyond a look, and turned once more.

It was here that they had suffered, these gallant knights of God; they had stood below these beams, their feet on the cart that was their chariot of glory, their necks in the rope that would be their heavenly badge; they had looked out where he was looking as they made their little speeches, over the faces to Tyburn-gate, with the same sun that was now behind him, shining into their eyes.

He still stroked the rough beam; and as the details came home, and he remembered that it was this that had borne their weight, he leaned and kissed it; and a flood of tears blinded him.

Again the priest pulled his sleeve sharply.

"For God's sake, brother!" he said.

Chris turned to him.

"The cauldron," he said; "where was that?"

The priest made an impatient movement, but pointed to one side, away from where the men were standing still watching them; and Chris saw below, by the side of one of the streams a great blackened patch of ground, and a heap of ashes.

The two went down there, for the other monk was thankful to get to any less conspicuous place; and Chris presently found himself standing on the edge of the black patch, with the trampled mud and grass beyond it beside the stream. The grey wood ashes had drifted by now far across the ground, but the heavy logs still lay there, charred and smoked, that had blazed beneath the cauldron where the limbs of the monks had been seethed; and he stared down at them, numbed and fascinated by the horror of the thought. His mind, now in a violent reaction, seemed unable to cope with its own knowledge, crushed beneath its weight; and his friend heard him repeating with a low monotonous insistence—

"Here it was," he said, "here; here was the cauldron; it was here."

Then he turned and looked into his friend's eyes.

"It was here," he said; "are you sure it was here?"

The other made an impatient sound.

"Where else?" he said sharply. "Come, brother, you have seen enough."

* * * * *

He told him more details as they walked home; as to what each had said, and how each had borne himself. Father Reynolds, the Syon monk, had looked gaily about him, it seemed, as he walked up from the hurdle; the secular priest had turned pale and shut his eyes more than once; the three Carthusian priors had been unmoved throughout, showing neither carelessness nor fear; Prior Houghton's arm had been taken off to the London Charterhouse as a terror to the others; their heads, he had heard, were on London Bridge.

Chris walked slowly as he listened, holding tight under his scapular the scrap of rough white cloth he had picked up near the cauldron, drinking in every detail, and painting it into the mental picture that was forming in his mind; but there was much more in the picture than the other guessed.

The priest was a plain man, with a talent for the practical, and knew nothing of the vision that the young monk beside him was seeing—of the air about the gallows crowded with the angels of the Agony and Passion, waiting to bear off the straggling souls in their tender experienced hands; of the celestial faces looking down, the scarred and glorious arms stretched out in welcome; of Mary with her mother's eyes, and her virgins about her—all ring above ring in deepening splendour up to the white blinding light above, where the Everlasting Trinity lay poised in love and glory to receive and crown the stalwart soldiers of God.



CHAPTER XI

A CLOSING-IN

Ralph kept his resolution to pretend to try and save Sir Thomas More, and salved his own conscience by protesting to Beatrice that his efforts were bound to fail, and that he had no influence such as she imagined. He did certainly more than once remark to Cromwell that Sir Thomas was a pleasant and learned man, and had treated him kindly, and once had gone so far as to say that he did not see that any good would be served by his death; but he had been sharply rebuked, and told to mind his own business; then, softening, Cromwell had explained that there was no question of death for the present; but that More's persistent refusal to yield to the pressure of events was a standing peril to the King's policy.

This policy had now shaped itself more clearly. In the autumn of '34 the bill for the King's supremacy over the Church of England began to take form; and Ralph had several sights of the documents as all business of this kind now flowed through Cromwell's hands, and he was filled with admiration and at the same time with perplexity at the adroitness of the wording. It was very short, and affected to assume rather than to enact its object.

"Albeit the King's Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be," it began, "the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognised by the clergy of this realm in their Convocations, yet, nevertheless, for corroboration and confirmation thereof ... and to repress and extirp all errors, heresies and other enormities ... be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King our sovereign lord ... shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicans Ecclesia." The bill then proceeded to confer on him a plenitude of authority over both temporal and spiritual causes.

There was here considerable skill in the manner of its drawing up, which it owed chiefly to Cromwell; for it professed only to re-state a matter that had slipped out of notice, and appealed to the authority of Convocation which had, truly, under Warham allowed a resolution to the same effect, though qualified by the clause, "as far as God's law permits," to pass in silence.

Ralph was puzzled by it: he was led to believe that it could contain no very radical change from the old belief, since the clergy had in a sense already submitted to it; and, on the other hand, the word "the only supreme head in earth" seemed not only to assert the Crown's civil authority over the temporalities of the Church, but to exclude definitely all jurisdiction on the part of the Pope.

"It is the assertion of a principle," Cromwell said to him when he asked one day for an explanation; "a principle that has always been held in England; it is not intended to be precise or detailed: that will follow later."

Ralph was no theologian, and did not greatly care what the bill did or did not involve. He was, too, in that temper of inchoate agnosticism that was sweeping England at the time, and any scruples that he had in his more superstitious moments were lulled by the knowledge that the clergy had acquiesced. What appeared more important to him than any hair-splittings on the exact provinces of the various authorities in question, was the necessity of some step towards the crippling of the spiritual empire whose hands were so heavy, and whose demands so imperious. He felt, as an Englishman, resentful of the leading strings in which, so it seemed to him, Rome wished to fetter his country.

The bill passed through parliament on November the eighteenth.

* * * * *

Ralph lost no opportunity of impressing upon Beatrice how much he had risked for the sake of her friend in the Tower, and drew very moving sketches of his own peril.

The two were sitting together in the hall at Chelsea one winters evening soon after Christmas. The high panelling was relieved by lines of greenery, with red berries here and there; a bunch of mistletoe leaned forward over the sloping mantelpiece, and there was an acrid smell of holly and laurel in the air. It was a little piteous, Ralph thought, under the circumstances.

Another stage had been passed in More's journey towards death, in the previous month, when he had been attainted of misprision of treason by an act designed to make good the illegality of his former conviction, and the end was beginning to loom clear.

"I said it would be no use, Mistress Beatrice, and it is none—Master Cromwell will not hear a word."

Beatrice looked up at Ralph, and down again, as her manner was. Her hands were lying on her lap perfectly still as she sat upright in her tall chair.

"You have done what you could, I know," she said, softly.

"Master Cromwell did not take it very well," went on Ralph with an appearance of resolute composure, "but that was to be expected."

Again she looked up, and Ralph once more was seized with the desire to precipitate matters and tell her what was in his heart, but he repressed it, knowing it was useless to speak yet.

It was a very stately and slow wooing, like the movement of a minuet; each postured to each, not from any insincerity, except perhaps a little now and then on Ralph's side, but because for both it was a natural mode of self-expression. It was an age of dignity abruptly broken here and there by violence. There were slow and gorgeous pageants followed by brutal and bestial scenes, like the life of a peacock who paces composedly in the sun and then scuttles and screams in the evening. But with these two at present there was no occasion for abruptness, and Ralph, at any rate, contemplated with complacency his own graciousness and grandeur, and the skilfully posed tableaux in which he took such a sedate part.

As the spring drew on and the crocuses began to star the grass along the river and the sun to wheel wider and wider, the chill and the darkness began to fall more heavily on the household at Chelsea. They were growing very poor by now; most of Sir Thomas's possessions elsewhere had been confiscated by the King, though by his clemency Chelsea was still left to Mrs. Alice for the present; and one by one the precious things began to disappear from the house as they were sold to obtain necessaries. All the private fortune of Mrs. More had gone by the end of the winter, and her son still owed great sums to the Government on behalf of his father.

At the beginning of May she told Ralph that she was making another appeal to Cromwell for help, and begged him to forward her petition.

"My silks are all gone," she said, "and the little gold chain and cross that you may remember, Mr. Torridon, went last month, too—I cannot tell what we shall do. Mr. More is so obstinate"—and her eyes filled with tears—"and we have to pay fifteen shillings every week for him and John a' Wood."

She looked so helpless and feeble as she sat in the window seat, stripped now of its tapestry cushions, with the roofs of the New Building rising among its trees at the back, where her husband had walked a year ago with such delight, that Ralph felt a touch of compunction, and promised to do his best.

He said a word to Cromwell that evening as he supped with him at Hackney, and his master looked at him curiously, sitting forward in the carved chair he had had from Wolsey, in his satin gown, twisting the stem of his German glass in his ringed fingers.

"And what do you wish me to do, sir?" he asked Ralph with a kind of pungent irony.

Ralph explained that he scarcely knew himself; perhaps a word to his Grace—

"I will tell you what it is, Mr. Torridon," broke in his master, "you have made another mistake. I did not intend you to be their friend, but to seem so."

"I can scarcely seem so," said Ralph quietly, but with a certain indignation at his heart, "unless I do them little favours sometimes."

"You need not seem so any longer," said Cromwell drily, "the time is past."

And he set his glass down and sat back.

Yet Ralph's respect and admiration for his master became no less. He had the attractiveness of extreme and unscrupulous capability. It gave Ralph the same joy to watch him as he found in looking on at an expert fencer; he was so adroit and strong and ready; mighty and patient in defence, watchful for opportunities of attack and merciless when they came. His admirers scarcely gave a thought to the piteousness of the adversary; they were absorbed in the scheme and proud to be included in it; and men of heart and sensibility were as hard as their master when they carried out his plans.

* * * * *

The fate of the Carthusians would have touched Ralph if he had been a mere onlooker, as it touched so many others, but he had to play his part in the tragedy, and was astonished at the quick perceptions of Cromwell and his determined brutality towards these peaceful contemplatives whom he recognised as a danger-centre against the King's policy.

He was present first in Cromwell's house when the three Carthusian priors of Beauvale, Axholme and London called upon him of their own accord to put their questions on the meaning of the King's supremacy: but their first question, as to how was it possible for a layman to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven was enough, and without any further evidence they were sent to the Tower.

Then, again, he was present in the Court of the Rolls a few days later when Dom Laurence, of Beauvale, and Dom Webster, of Axholme, were examined once more. There were seven or eight others present, laymen and ecclesiastics, and the priors were once more sent back to the Tower.

And so examination after examination went on, and no answer could be got out of the monks, but that they could never reconcile it with their conscience to accept the King to be what the Act of Supremacy declared that he was.

Ralph's curiosity took him down to the Charterhouse one day shortly before the execution of the priors; he had with him an order from Cromwell that carried him everywhere he wished to go; but he did not penetrate too deeply. He was astonished at the impression that the place made on him.

As he passed up the Great Cloister there was no sound but from a bird or two singing in the afternoon sunlight of the garth; each cell-door, with its hatch for the passage of food, was closed and silent; and Ralph felt a curious quickening of his heart as he thought of the human life passed in the little houses, each with its tiny garden, its workshop, its two rooms, and its paved ambulatory, in which each solitary lived. How strangely apart this place was from the buzz of business from which he had come! And yet he knew very well that the whole was as good as condemned already.

He wondered to himself how they had taken the news of the tragedy that was beginning—those white, demure men with shaved heads and faces, and downcast eyes. He reflected what the effect of that news must be; as it penetrated each day, like a stone dropped softly into a pool, leaving no ripple. There, behind each brown door, he fancied to himself, a strange alchemy was proceeding, in which each new terror and threat from outside was received into the crucible of a beating heart and transmuted by prayer and welcome into some wonderful jewel of glory—at least so these poor men believed; and Ralph indignantly told himself it was nonsense; they were idlers and dreamers. He reminded himself of a sneer he had heard against the barrels of Spanish wine that were taken in week by week at the monastery door; if these men ate no flesh too, at least they had excellent omelettes.

But as he passed at last through the lay-brothers' choir and stood looking through the gates of the Fathers' choir up to the rich altar with its hangings and its posts on either side crowned with gilded angels bearing candles, to the splendid window overhead, against which, as in a glory, hung the motionless silk-draped pyx, the awe fell on him again.

This was the place where they met, these strange, silent men; every panel and stone was saturated with the prayers of experts, offered three times a day—in the night-office of two or three hours when the world was asleep; at the chapter-mass; and at Vespers in the afternoon.

His heart again stirred a little, superstitiously he angrily told himself, at the memory of the stories that were whispered about in town.

Two years ago, men said, a comet had been seen shining over the house. As the monks went back from matins, each with his lantern in his hand, along the dark cloister, a ray had shot out from the comet, had glowed upon the church and bell-tower, and died again into darkness. Again, a little later, two monks, one in his cell-garden and the other in the cemetery, had seen a blood-red globe, high and menacing, hanging in the air over the house.

Lastly, at Pentecost, at the mass of the Holy Ghost, offered at the end of a triduum with the intention of winning grace to meet any sacrifice that might be demanded, not one nor two, but the whole community, including the lay-brothers outside the Fathers' Choir, had perceived a soft whisper of music of inexpressible sweetness that came and went overhead at the Elevation. The celebrant bowed forward in silence over the altar, unable to continue the mass, the monks remained petrified with joy and awe in their stalls.

Ralph stared once more at the altar as he remembered this tale; at the row of stalls on either side, the dark roof overhead, the glowing glass on either side and in front—and asked himself whether it was true, whether God had spoken, whether a chink of the heavenly gate had been opened here to let the music escape.

It was not true, he told himself; it was the dream of a man mad with sleeplessness, foolish with fasting and discipline and vigils: one had dreamed it and babbled of it to the rest and none had liked to be less spiritual or perceptive of divine manifestations.

A brown figure was by the altar now to light the candles for Vespers; a taper was in his hand, and the spot of light at the end moved like a star against the gilding and carving. Ralph turned and went out.

Then on the fourth of May he was present at the execution of the three priors and the two other priests at Tyburn. There was an immense crowd there, nearly the whole Court being present; and it was reported here and there afterwards that the King himself was there in a group of five horsemen, who came in the accoutrements of Borderers, vizored and armed, and took up their position close to the scaffold. There fell a terrible silence as the monks were dragged up on the hurdles, in their habits, all three together behind one horse. They were cut down almost at once, and the butchery was performed on them while they were still alive.

Ralph went home in a glow of resolution against them. A tragedy such as that which he had seen was of necessity a violent motive one way or the other, and it found him determined that the sufferers were in the wrong, and left him confirmed in his determination. Their very passivity enraged him.

Meanwhile, he had of course heard nothing of his brother's presence in London, and it was with something of a shock that on the next afternoon he heard the news from Mr. Morris that Mr. Christopher was below and waiting for him in the parlour.

As he went down he wondered what Chris was doing in London, and what he himself could say to him. He was expecting Beatrice, too, to call upon him presently with her maid to give him a message and a bundle of letters which he had promised to convey to Sir Thomas More. But he was determined to be kind to his brother.

Chris was standing in his black monk's habit on the other side of the walnut table, beside the fire-place, and made no movement as Ralph came forward smiling and composed. His face was thinner than his brother remembered it, clean-shaven now, with hollows in the checks, and his eyes were strangely light.

"Why, Chris!" said Ralph, and stopped, astonished at the other's motionlessness.

Then Chris came round the table with a couple of swift steps, his hands raised a little from the wide, drooping sleeves.

"Ah! brother," he said, "I have come to bring you away: this is a wicked place."

Ralph was so amazed that he fell back a step.

"Are you mad?" he said coldly enough, but he felt a twitch of superstitious fear at his heart.

Chris seized the rich silk sleeve in both his hands, and Ralph felt them trembling and nervous.

"You must come away," he said, "for Jesu's sake, brother! You must not lose your soul."

Ralph felt the old contempt surge up and drown his fear. The familiarity of his brother's presence weighed down the religious suggestion of his habit and office. This is what he had feared and almost expected;—that the cloister would make a fanatic of this fantastic brother of his.

He glanced round at the door that he had left open, but the house was silent. Then he turned again.

"Sit down, Chris," he said, with a strong effort at self-command, and he pulled his sleeve away, went back and shut the door, and then came forward past where his brother was standing, to the chair that stood with its back to the window.

"You must not be fond and wild," he said decidedly. "Sit down, Chris."

The monk came past him to the other side of the hearth, and faced him again, but did not sit down. He remained standing by the fire-place, looking down at Ralph, who was in his chair with crossed legs.

"What is this folly?" said Ralph again.

Chris stared down at him a moment in silence.

"Why, why—" he began, and ceased.

Ralph felt himself the master of the situation, and determined to be paternal.

"My dear lad," he said, "you have dreamed yourself mad at Lewes. When did you come to London?"

"Yesterday," said Chris, still with that strange stare.

"Why, then—" began Ralph.

"Yes—you think I was too late, but I saw it," said Chris; "I was there in the evening and saw it all again."

All his nervous tension seemed relaxed by the warm common-sense atmosphere of this trim little room, and his brother's composure. His lips were beginning to tremble, and he half turned and gripped the mantel-shelf with his right hand. Ralph noticed with a kind of contemptuous pity how the heavy girded folds of the frock seemed to contain nothing, and that the wrist from which the sleeve had fallen back was slender as a reed. Ralph felt himself so infinitely his brother's superior that he could afford to be generous and kindly.

"Dear Chris," he said, smiling, "you look starved and miserable. Shall I tell Morris to bring you something? I thought you monks fared better than that."

In a moment Chris was on his knees on the rushes; his hands gripped his brother's arms, and his wild eyes were staring up with a fanatical fire of entreaty in them. His words broke out like a torrent.

"Ralph," he said, "dear brother! for Jesu's sake, come away! I have heard everything. I know that these streets are red with blood, and that your hands have been dipped in it. You must not lose your soul. I know everything; you must come away. For Jesu's sake!"

Ralph tore himself free and stood up, pushing back his chair.

"Godbody!" he said, "I have a fool for a brother. Stand up, sir. I will have no mumming in my house."

He rapped his foot fiercely on the floor, staring down at Chris who had thrown himself back on his heels.

"Stand up, sir," he said again.

"Will you hear me, brother?"

Ralph hesitated.

"I will hear you if you will talk reason. I think you are mad."

Chris got up again. He was trembling violently, and his hands twitched and clenched by his sides.

"Then you shall hear me," he said, and his voice shook as he spoke. "It is this—"

"You must sit down," interrupted Ralph, and he pointed to the chair behind.

Chris went to it and sat down. Ralph took a step across to the door and opened it.

"Morris," he called, and came back to his chair.

There was silence a moment or two, till the servant's step sounded in the hall, and the door opened. Mr. Morris's discreet face looked steadily and composedly at his master.

"Bring the pasty," said Ralph, "and the wine."

He gave the servant a sharp look, seemed to glance out across the hall for a moment and back again. There was no answering look on Mr. Morris's face, but he slipped out softly, leaving the door just ajar.

Then Ralph turned to Chris again.

Chris had had time to recover himself by now, and was sitting very pale and composed after his dramatic outburst, his hands hidden under his scapular, and his fingers gripped together.

"Now tell me," said Ralph, with his former kindly contempt. He had begun to understand now what his brother had come about, and was determined to be at once fatherly and decisive. This young fool must be taught his place.

"It is this," said Chris, still in a trembling voice, but it grew steadier as he went on. "God's people are being persecuted—there is no longer any doubt. They were saints who died yesterday, and Master Cromwell is behind it all; and—and you serve him."

Ralph jerked his head to speak, but his brother went on.

"I know you think me a fool, and I daresay you an right. But this I know, I would sooner be a fool than—than—"

—"than a knave" ended Ralph. "I thank you for your good opinion, my brother. However, let that pass. You have come to teach me my business, then?"

"I have come to save your soul," said Chris, grasping the arms of his chair, and eyeing him steadily.

"You are very good to me," said Ralph bitterly. "Now, I do not want any more play-acting—" He broke off suddenly as the door opened. "And here is the food. Chris, you are not yourself"—he gave a swift look at his servant again—"and I suppose you have had no food to-day."

Again he glanced out through the open door as Mr. Morris turned to go.

Chris paid no sort of attention to the food. He seemed not to have seen the servant's entrance and departure.

"I tell you," he said again steadily, with his wide bright eyes fixed on his brother, "I tell you, you are persecuting God's people, and I am come, not as your brother only, but as a monk, to warn you."

Ralph waved his hand, smiling, towards the dish and the bottle. It seemed to sting Chris with a kind of fury, for his eyes blazed and his mouth tightened as he stood up abruptly.

"I tell you that if I were starving I would not break bread in this house: it is the house of God's enemy."

He dashed out his left hand nervously, and struck the bottle spinning across the table; it crashed over on to the floor, and the red wine poured on to the boards.

"Why, there is blood before your eyes," he screamed, mad with hunger and sleeplessness, and the horrors he had seen; "the ground cries out."

Ralph had sprung up as the bottle fell, and stood trembling and glaring across at the monk; the door opened softly, and Mr. Morris stood alert and discreet on the threshold, but neither saw him.

"And if you were ten times my brother," cried Chris, "I would not touch your hand."

There came a knocking at the door, and the servant disappeared.

"Let him come, if it be the King himself," shouted the monk, "and hear the truth for once."

The servant was pushed aside protesting, and Beatrice came straight forward into the room.



CHAPTER XII

A RECOVERY

There was a moment of intense silence, only emphasized by the settling rustle of the girl's dress. The door had closed softly, and Mr. Morris stood within, in the shadow by the window, ready to give help if it were needed. Beatrice remained a yard inside the room, very upright and dignified, a little pale, looking from one to the other of the two brothers, who stared back at her as at a ghost.

Ralph spoke first, swallowing once or twice in his throat before speaking, and trying to smile.

"It is you then," he said.

Beatrice moved a step nearer, looking at Chris, who stood white and tense, his eyes wide and burning.

"Mr. Torridon," said Beatrice softly, "I have brought the bundle. My woman has it."

Still she looked, as she spoke, questioningly at Chris.

"Oh! this is my brother, the monk," snapped Ralph bitterly, glancing at him. "Indeed, he is."

Then Chris lost his self-control again.

"And this is my brother, the murderer; indeed, he is."

Beatrice's lips parted, and her eyes winced. She put out her hand hesitatingly towards Ralph, and dropped it again as he moved a little towards her.

"You hear him?" said Ralph.

"I do not understand," said the girl, "your brother—"

"Yes, I am his brother, God help me," snarled Chris.

Beatrice's lips closed again, and a look of contempt came into her face.

"I have heard enough, Mr. Torridon. Will you come with me?"

Chris moved forward a step.

"I do not know who you are, madam," he said, "but do you understand what this gentleman is? Do you know that he is a creature of Master Cromwell's?"

"I know everything," said Beatrice.

"And you were at Tyburn, too?" questioned Chris bitterly, "perhaps with this brother of mine?"

Beatrice faced him defiantly.

"What have you to say against him, sir?"

Ralph made a movement to speak, but the girl checked him.

"I wish to hear it. What have you to say?"

"He is a creature of Cromwell's who plotted the death of God's saints. This brother of mine was at the examinations, I hear, and at the scaffold. Is that enough?"

Chris had himself under control again by now, but his words seemed to burn with vitriol. His lips writhed as he spoke.

"Well?" said Beatrice.

"Well, if that is not enough; how of More and my Lord of Rochester?"

"He has been a good friend to Mr. More," said Beatrice, "that I know."

"He will get him the martyr's crown, surely," sneered Chris.

"And you have no more to say?" asked the girl quietly.

A shudder ran over the monk's body; his mouth opened and closed, and the fire in his eyes flared up and died; his clenched hands rose and fell. Then he spoke quietly.

"I have no more to say, madam."

Beatrice moved across to Ralph, and put her hand on his arm, looking steadily at Chris. Ralph laid his other hand on hers a moment, then raised it, and made an abrupt motion towards the door.

Chris went round the table; Mr. Morris opened the door with an impassive face, and followed him out, leaving Beatrice and Ralph alone.

* * * * *

Chris had come back the previous evening from Tyburn distracted almost to madness. He had sat heavily all the evening by himself, brooding and miserable, and had not slept all night, but waking visions had moved continually before his eyes, as he turned to and fro on his narrow bed in the unfamiliar room. Again and again Tyburn was before him, peopled with phantoms; he had seen the thick ropes, and heard their creaking, and the murmur of the multitude; had smelt the pungent wood-smoke and the thick drifting vapour from the cauldron. Once it seemed to him that the very room was full of figures, white-clad and silent, who watched him with impassive pale faces, remote and unconcerned. He had flung himself on his knees again and again, had lashed himself with the discipline that he, too, might taste of pain; but all the serenity of divine things was gone. There was no heaven, no Saviour, no love. He was bound down here, crushed and stifled in this apostate city whose sounds and cries came up into his cell. He had lost the fiery vision of the conqueror's welcome; it was like a tale heard long ago. Now he was beaten down by physical facts, by the gross details of the tragedy, the strangling, the blood, the smoke, the acrid smell of the crowd, and heaven was darkened by the vapour.

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