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The King's Achievement
by Robert Hugh Benson
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It was a moving appeal, Ralph thought, and it almost convinced himself. He was not conscious of any gross insincerity in the defence; of course it was shaded artistically, and the more brutal details kept out of sight, but in the main it was surely true. And, as he rehearsed its points to himself once more in the streets of Westminster, he felt that though there might be a painful moment or two, yet it would do his work.

* * * * *

He had sent a message home that he was coming, and the door of his home was wide as he dismounted, and the pleasant light of candles shone out, for the evening was smouldering to dark in the west.

A crowd had collected as he went along; from every window faces were leaning; and as he stood on the steps directing the removal of the treasure into the house, he saw that the mob filled the tiny street, and the cobbled space, from side to side. They were chiefly of the idling class, folks who had little to do but to follow up excitements and shout; and there were a good many cries raised for the King's Grace and his Visitors, for such people as these were greedy for any movement that might bring them gain, and the Religious Houses were beginning to be more unpopular in town than ever.

One of the bundles slipped as it was shifted, the cord came off, and in a moment the little space beyond the mule before the door was covered with gleaming stuff and jewels.

There was a fierce scuffle and a cry, and Ralph was in a moment beyond the mule with his sword out. He said nothing but stood there fierce and alert as the crowd sucked back, and the servant gathered up the things. There was no more trouble, for it had only been a spasmodic snatch at the wealth, and a cheer or two was raised again among the grimy faces that stared at the fine gentleman and the shining treasure.

Ralph thought it better, however, to say a conciliatory word when the things had been bestowed in the house, and the mules led away; and he stood on the steps a moment alone before entering himself.

The crowd listened complacently enough to the statements which they had begun to believe from the fact of the incessant dinning of them into their ears by the selected preachers at Paul's Cross and elsewhere; and there was loud groan at the Pope's name.

Ralph was ending with an incise peroration that he had delivered more than once before.

"You know all this, good people; and you shall know it better when the work is done. Instead of the rich friars and monks we will have godly citizens, each with his house and land. The King's Grace has promised it, and you know that he keeps his word. We have had enough of the jackdaws and their stolen goods; we will have honest birds instead. Only be patient a little longer—"

The listening silence was broken by a loud cry—

"You damned plundering hound—"

A stone suddenly out of the gloom whizzed past Ralph and crashed through the window behind. A great roaring rose in a moment, and the crowd swayed and turned.

Ralph felt his heart suddenly quicken, and his hand flew to his hilt again, but there was no need for him to act. There were terrible screams already rising from the seething twilight in front, as the stone-thrower was seized and trampled. He stayed a moment longer, dropped his hilt and went into the house.



CHAPTER IX

RALPH'S WELCOME

"You will show Mistress Atherton into the room below," said Ralph to his man, "as soon as she comes."

He was sitting on the morning following his arrival in his own chamber upstairs. His table was a mass of papers, account-books, reckonings, reports bearing on his Visitation journey, and he had been working at them ever since he was dressed; for he had to present himself before Cromwell in the course of a day or two, and the labour would be enormous.

The room below, opposite that in which he intended to see Beatrice and where she had waited herself a few months before while he talked with Cromwell and the Archbishop, was now occupied by his collection of plate and vestments, and the key was in his own pocket.

He had heard from his housekeeper on the previous evening that Beatrice had called at the house during the afternoon, and had seemed surprised to hear that he was to return that night; but she had said very little, it appeared, and had only begged the woman to inform her master that she would present herself at his house the next morning.

And now Ralph was waiting for her.

He was more ill-at-ease than he had expected to be. The events of the evening before had given him a curious shock; and he cursed the whole business—the snapping of the cord round the bundle, his own action and words, the outrage that followed, and the death of the fellow that had thrown the stone—for the body had been rescued by the watch a few minutes later, a tattered crushed thing, beaten out of all likeness to a man. One of the watch had stepped in to see Ralph as he sat at supper, and had gone again saying the dog deserved it for daring to lift his voice against the King and his will.

But above all Ralph repented of his own words. There was no harm in saying such things in the country; but it was foolish and rash to do so in town. Cromwell's men should be silent and discreet, he knew, not street-orators; and if he had had time to think he would not have spoken. However the crowd was with him; there was plainly no one of any importance there; it was unlikely that Cromwell himself would hear of the incident; and perhaps after all no harm was done.

Meanwhile there was Beatrice to reckon with, and Ralph laid down his pen a dozen times that morning and rehearsed once more what he would have to say to her.

He was shrewd enough to know that it was his personality and not his virtues or his views that had laid hold of this girl's soul. As it was with him, so it was with her; each was far enough apart from the other in all external matters; such things had been left behind a year ago; it was not an affair of consonant tastes, but of passion. From each there had looked deep inner eyes; there had been on either side a steady and fearless scrutiny, and then the two souls had leapt together in a bright flame of desire, knowing that each was made for the other. There had been so little love-making, so few speeches after the first meeting or two, so few letters exchanged, and fewer embraces. The last veils had fallen at the fury of Chris's intervention, and they had known then what had been inevitable all along.

Ralph smiled to himself as he remembered how little he had said or she had answered; there had been no need to say anything. And then his eyes grew wide and passionate, and his hands gripped one another fiercely, as the memory died, and the burning flame of desire flared within him again from the deep well he bore in his heart. The world of affairs and explanations and evasions faded into twilight, and there was but one thing left, his love and hers. It was to that that he would appeal.

He sat so a moment longer, and then took up his pen again, though it shook in his hand, and went on with his reckonings.

* * * * *

He was perfectly composed half an hour later as he went downstairs to meet her. He had finished his line of figures sedately when the man looked in to say that she was below; and had sat yet a moment longer, trying to remember mechanically what it was he had determined to tell her. Bah! it was trifling and unimportant; words did not affect the question; all the wrecked convents in the world could not touch the one fact that lay in fire at his heart. He would say nothing; she would understand.

In the tiny entrance hall there was a whiff of fragrance where she had passed through; and his heart stirred in answer. Then he opened the door, stepped through and closed it behind him.

She was standing upright by the hearth, and faced him as he entered. He was aware of her blue mantle, her white, jewelled head-dress, one hand gripping the mantel-shelf, her pale steady face and bright eyes. Behind there was the warm rich panelling, and the leaping glow of the wood fire.

She made no movement.

Outside the lane was filled with street noises, the cries of children, the voices of men who went by talking, the rumble of a waggon coming with the crack of whips and jingle of bells from the river. The wheels came up and went past into silence again before either spoke or moved.

Then Ralph lifted his hands a little and let them drop, as he stared at her face. From her eyes looked out her will, tense as steel; and his own shook to meet it.

"Well?" she said at last; and her voice was perfectly steady.

"Beatrice," cried Ralph; and the agony of it tore his heart.

She dropped her hand to her side and still looked at him without flinching.

"Beatrice," cried Ralph once more.

"Then you have no more to say—after last night?"

A torrent of thoughts broke loose in his brain, and he tried to snatch one as they fled past—to say one word. His excuses went by him like phantoms; they bewildered and dazed him. Why, there were a thousand things to say, and each was convincing if he could but say it. The cloud passed and there were her eyes watching him still.

"Then that is all?" she said.

Again the cloud fell on him; little scenes piteously clear rose before him, of the road by Rusper convent, Layton's leering face, a stripped altar; and for each there was a tale if he could but tell it. And still the bright eyes never flinched.

It seemed to him as if she was watching him curiously; her lips were parted, and her head was a little on one side; her face interested and impersonal.

"Why, Beatrice—" he cried again.

Then her love shook her like a storm; he had never dreamed she could look like that; her mouth shook; he could see her white teeth clenched; and a shiver went over her. He took one step forward, but stopped again, for the black eyes shone through the passion that swayed her, as keen and remorseless as ever.

He dropped on to his knees at the table and buried his face in his hands. He knew nothing now but that he had lost her.

That was her voice speaking now, as steady as her eyes; but he did not hear a word she said. Words were nothing; they were not so much as those cries from the street, that shrill boy's voice over the way; not so much as the sighing crackle from the hearth where he had caused a fire to be lighted lest she should feel cold.

She was still speaking, but her voice had moved; she was no longer by the fire. He could feel the warmth of the fire now on his hands. But he dared not move nor look up; there was but one thing left for him—that he had lost her!

That was her hand on the latch; a breath of cold air stirred his hair; and still she was speaking. He understood a little more now; she knew it all—his doings—what he had said last night—and there was not one word to say in answer. Her short lashing sentences fell on his defenceless soul, but all sense was dead, and he watched with a dazed impersonalness how each stroke went home, and yet he felt no pain or shame.

She was going now; a picture stirred on the wall by the fire as the wind rushed in through the open street door.

* * * * *

Then the door closed.



PART II

THE FALL OF LEWES



CHAPTER I

INTERNAL DISSENSION

The peace was gone from Lewes Priory. A wave had broken in through the high wall from the world outside with the coming of the Visitors, and had left wreckage behind, and swept out security as it went. The monks knew now that their old privileges were gone with the treasures that Layton had taken with him, and that although the wave had recoiled, it would return again and sweep them all away.

Upon none of them had the blow fallen more fiercely than on Chris; he had tried to find peace, and instead was in the midst of storm. The high barriers had gone, and with them the security of his own soul, and the world that he thought he had left was grinning at the breach.

It was piteous to him to see the Prior—that delicate, quiet prelate who had held himself aloof in his dignities—now humbled by the shame of his exposure in the chapter-house. The courage that Bishop Fisher had restored to him in some measure was gone again; and it was miserable to look at that white downcast face in the church and refectory, and to recognise that all self-respect was gone. After his return from his appearance before Cromwell he was more wretched than ever; it was known that he had been sent back in contemptuous disgrace; but it was not known how much he had promised in his terror for life.

The house had lost too some half-dozen of its inmates. Two had petitioned for release; three professed monks had been dismissed, and a recent novice had been sent back to his home. Their places in the stately choir were empty, and eloquent with warning; and in their stead was a fantastic secular priest, appointed by the Visitors' authority, who seldom said mass, and never attended choir; but was regular in the refectory, and the chapter-house where he thundered St. Paul's epistles at the monks, and commentaries of his own, in the hopes of turning them from papistry to a purer faith.

The news from outside echoed their own misery. Week after week the tales poured in, of young and old dismissed back to the world whose ways they had forgotten, of the rape of treasures priceless not only for their intrinsic worth but for the love that had given and consecrated them through years of devout service. There was not a house that had not lost something; the King himself had sanctioned the work by taking precious horns and a jewelled cross from Winchester. And worse than all that had gone was the terror of what was yet to come. The world, which had been creeping nearer, pausing and creeping on again, had at last passed the boundaries and leapt to sacrilege.

It was this terror that poisoned life. The sacristan who polished the jewels that were left, handled them doubtfully now; the monk who superintended the farm sickened as he made his plans for another year; the scribe who sat in the carrel lost enthusiasm for his work; for the jewels in a few months might be on royal fingers, the beasts in strangers' sheds, and the illuminated leaves blowing over the cobbled court, or wrapped round grocers' stores.

Dom Anthony preached a sermon on patience one day in Christmastide, telling his fellows that a man's life, and still less a monk's, consisted not in the abundance of things that he possessed; and that corporate, as well as individual, poverty, had been the ideal of the monastic houses in earlier days. He was no great preacher, but the people loved to hear his homely remarks, and there was a murmur of sympathy as he pointed with a clumsy gesture to the lighted Crib that had been erected at the foot of one of the great pillars in the nave.

"Our Lady wore no cloth of gold," he said, "nor Saint Joseph a precious mitre; and the blessed Redeemer Himself who made all things had but straw to His bed. And if our new cope is gone, we can make our processions in the old one, and please God no less. Nay, we may please Him more perhaps, for He knows that it is by no will of ours that we do so."

But there had been a dismal scene at the chapter next morning. The Prior had made them a speech, with a passionate white face and hands that shook, and declared that the sermon would be their ruin yet if the King's Grace heard of it.

"There was a fellow that went out half-way through," he cried in panic, "how do we know whether he is not talking with his Grace even now? I will not have such sermons; and you shall be my witnesses that I said so."

The monks eyed one another miserably. How could they prosper under such a prior as this?

But worse was to follow, though it did not directly affect this house. The bill, so long threatened, dissolving the smaller houses, was passed in February by a Parliament carefully packed to carry out the King's wishes, and from which the spiritual peers were excluded by his "permission to them to absent themselves." Lewes Priory, of course, exceeded the limit of revenue under which other houses were suppressed, and even received one monk who had obtained permission to go there when his community fell; but in spite of the apparent encouragement from the preamble of the bill which stated that "in the great solemn monasteries ... religion was right well kept," it was felt that this act was but the herald of another which should make an end of Religious Houses altogether.

But there was a breath of better news later on, when tidings came in the early summer that Anne was in disgrace. It was well known that it was her influence that egged the King on, and that there was none so fierce against the old ways. Was it not possible that Henry might even yet repent himself, if she were out of the way?

Then the tidings were confirmed, and for a while there was hope.

* * * * *

Sir Nicholas Maxwell rode over to see Chris, and was admitted into one of the parlours to talk with him.

He seemed furiously excited, and hardly saluted his brother-in-law.

"Chris," he said, "I have come straight from London with great news. The King's harlot is fallen."

Chris stared.

"Dead?" he said.

"Dead in a day or two, thank God!"

He spat furiously.

"God strike her!" he cried. "She has wrought all the mischief, I believe. They told me so a year back, but I did not believe it."

"And where is she?"

Then Nicholas told his story, his ruddy comely face bright with exultation, for he had no room for pity left. The rumours that had come to Lewes were true. Anne had been arrested suddenly at Greenwich during the sports, and had been sent straight to the Tower. The King was weary of her, though she had borne him a child; and did not scruple to bring the most odious charges against her. She had denied, and denied; but it was useless. She had wept and laughed in prison, and called on God to vindicate her; but the process went on none the less. The marriage had been declared null and void by Dr. Cranmer who had blessed it; and now she was condemned for sinning against it.

"But she is either his wife," said Chris amazed, "or else she is not guilty of adultery."

Nicholas chuckled.

"God save us, Chris; do you think Henry can't manage it?"

Then he grew white with passion, and beat the table and damned the King and Anne and Cranmer to hell together.

Chris glanced up, drumming his fingers softly on the table.

"Nick," he said, "there is no use in that. When is she to die?"

The knight's face flushed again with pleasure, and he showed his teeth set together.

"Two days," he said, "please God, or three at the most. And she will not meet those she has sent before her, or John Fisher whose head she had brought to her—the bloody Herodias!"

"Pray God that she will!" said Chris softly. "They will pray for her at least."

"Pah!" shouted Nicholas, "an eye for an eye for me!"

Chris said nothing. He was thinking of all that this might mean. Who could know what might not happen? Nicholas broke in again presently.

"I heard a fine tale," he said, "do you know that the woman is in the very room where she slept the night before the crowning? Last time it was for the crown to be put on; now it is for the head to be taken off. And it is true that she weeps and laughs. They can hear her laugh two storeys away, I hear."

"Nick," said Chris suddenly, "I am weary of that. Let her alone. Pray God she may turn!"

Nicholas stared astonished, and a little awed too. Chris used not to be like this; he seemed quieter and stronger; he had never dared to speak so before.

"Yes; I am weary of this," said Chris again. "I stormed once at Ralph, and gained nothing. We do not win by those weapons. Where is Ralph?"

Nicholas knit his lips to keep in the fury that urged him.

"He is with Cromwell still," he said venomously, "and very busy, I hear. They will be making him a lord soon—but there will be no lady."

Chris had heard of Beatrice's rejection of Ralph.

"He is still busy?"

"Why, yes; he worked long at this bill, I hear."

Chris asked a few more questions, and learned that Ralph seemed fiercer than ever since the Visitation. He was well-known at Court; had been seen riding with the King; and it was supposed that he was rising rapidly in favour every day.

"God help him!" sighed Chris.

The change that had come over Chris was very much marked. Neither a life in the world would have done it, nor one in the peace of the cloister; but an alternation of the two. He had been melted by the fire of the inner life, and braced by the external bitterness of adversity. Ralph's visit to the priory, culminating in the passionless salutation of him in the cloister as being a guest and therefore a representative of Christ, had ended that stage in the development of the monk's character. Chris was disappointed in his brother, fearful for him and stern in his attitude towards him; but he was not resentful. He was sincere when he prayed God to help him.

When Nicholas had eaten and gone, carrying messages to Mary, Chris told the others, and there was a revival of hope in the house.

Then a few days later came the news of Anne's death and of the marriage of the King with Jane Seymour on the following day. At least Jane was a lawful wife and queen in the Catholics' eyes, for Katharine too was dead.

* * * * *

Chris had now passed through the minor orders, the sub-diaconate and the diaconate, and was looking forward to priesthood. It had been thought advisable by his superiors, in view of the troubled state of the times, to apply for the necessary dispensations, and they had been granted without difficulty. So many monks who were not priests had been turned into the world resourceless, since they could not be appointed to benefices, that it was thought only fair to one who was already bound by vows of religion and sacred orders not to hold him back from an opportunity to make his living, should affairs be pushed further in the direction of dissolution.

He was looking forward with an extraordinary zeal to the crown of priesthood. It seemed to him a possession that would compensate for all other losses. If he could but make the Body of the Lord, lift It before the Throne, and hold It in his hands, all else was trifling.

There were waves of ecstatic peace again breaking over his soul as he thought of it; as he moved behind the celebrant at high mass, lifted the pall of the chalice, and sang the exultant Ite missa est when all was done. What a power would be his on that day! He would have his finger then on the huge engine of grace, and could turn it whither he would, spraying infinite force on this and that soul, on Ralph stubbornly fighting against God in London, on his mother silent and bitter at home, on his father anxious and courageous, waiting for disaster, on Margaret trembling in Rusper nunnery as she contemplated the defiance she had flung in the King's face.

The Prior had given him but little encouragement; he had sent for him one day, and told him that he might prepare himself for priesthood by Michaelmas, for a foreign bishop was coming to them, and leave would be obtained for him to administer the rite. But he had not said a word of counsel or congratulation; but had nodded to the young monk, and turned his sickly face to the papers again on his table.

Dom Anthony, the pleasant stout guest-master, who had preached the sermon in Christmastide, said a word of comfort, as they walked in the cloister together.

"You must not take it amiss, brother," he said, "my Lord Prior is beside himself with terror. He does not know how to act."

Chris asked whether there were any new reason for alarm.

"Oh, no!" said the monk, "but the people are getting cold towards us here. You have seen how few come to mass here now, or to confession. They are going to the secular priests instead."

Chris remembered one or two other instances of this growing coldness. The poor folks who came for food complained of its quality two or three times; and one fellow, an old pensioner of the house, who had lost a leg, threw his portion down on the doorstep.

"I will have better than that some day," he had said, as he limped off. Chris had gathered up the cold lentils patiently and carried them back to the kitchen.

On another day a farmer had flatly refused a favour to the monk who superintended the priory-farm.

"I will not have your beasts in my orchard," he had said roughly. "You are not my masters."

The congregations too were visibly declining, as the guest-master had said. The great nave beyond the screen looked desolate in the summer-mornings, as the sunlight lay in coloured patches on the wide empty pavement between the few faithful gathered in front, and the half dozen loungers who leaned in the shadow of the west wall—men who fulfilled their obligation of hearing mass, with a determination to do so with the least inconvenience to themselves, and who scuffled out before the blessing.

It was evident that the tide of faith and reverence was beginning to ebb even in the quiet country towns.

As the summer drew on the wider world too had its storms. A fierce sermon was preached at the opening of Convocation, by Dr. Latimer, now Bishop of Worcester, at the express desire of the Archbishop, that scourged not only the regular but the secular clergy as well. The sermon too was more furiously Protestant than any previously preached on such an occasion; pilgrimages, the stipends for masses, image-worship, and the use of an unknown tongue in divine service, were alike denounced as contrary to the "pure gospel." The phrases of Luther were abundantly used in the discourse; and it was evident, from the fact that no public censure fell upon the preacher, that Henry's own religious views had developed since the day that he had published his attack on the foreign reformers.

The proceedings of Convocation confirmed the suspicion that the sermon aroused. With an astonishing compliance the clergy first ratified the decree of nullity in the matter of Anne's marriage with the King, disclaimed obedience to Rome, and presented a list of matters for which they requested reform. In answer to this last point the King, assisted by a couple of bishops, sent down to the houses, a month later, a paper of articles to which the clergy instantly agreed. These articles proceeded in the direction of Protestantism through omission rather than affirmation. Baptism, Penance and the Sacrament of the Altar were spoken of in Catholic terms; the other four sacraments were omitted altogether; on the other hand, again, devotion to saints, image-worship, and prayers for the departed were enjoined with important qualifications.

Finally it was agreed to support the King in his refusal to be represented at the proposed General Council at Mantua.

* * * * *

The tidings of all this, filtering in to the house at Lewes by priests and Religious who stayed there from time to time, did not tend to reassure those who looked for peace. The assault was not going to stop at matters of discipline; it was dogma that was aimed at, and, worse even than that, the foundation on which dogma rested. It was not an affair of Religious Houses, or even of morality; there was concerned the very Rock itself on which Christendom based all faith and morals. If it was once admitted that a National Church, apart from the See of Rome, could in the smallest degree adjudicate on a point of doctrine, the unity of the Catholic Church as understood by every monk in the house, was immediately ruptured.

Again and again in chapter there were terrible scenes. The Prior raved weakly, crying that it was not the part of a good Catholic to resist his prince, that the Apostle himself enjoined obedience to those in authority; that the new light of learning had illuminated perplexing problems; and that in the uncertainty it was safer to follow the certain duty of civil obedience. Dom Anthony answered that a greater than St. Paul had bidden His followers to render to God the things that were God's; that St. Peter was crucified sooner than obey Nero—and the Prior cried out for silence; and that he could not hear his Christian King likened to the heathen emperor. Monk after monk would rise; one following his Prior, and disclaiming personal learning and responsibility; another with ironic deference saying that a man's soul was his own, and that not even a Religious Superior could release from the biddings of conscience; another would balance himself between the parties, declaring that the distinction of duties was insoluble; that in such a case as this it was impossible to know what was due to God and what to man. Yet another voice would rise from time to time declaring that the tales that they heard were incredible; that it was impossible that the King should intend such evil against the Church; he still heard his three masses a day as he had always done; there was no more ardent defender of the Sacrament of the Altar.

Chris used to steady himself in this storm of words as well as he could, by reflecting that he probably would not have to make a decision, for it would be done for him, at least as regarded his life in the convent or out, by his superiors. Or again he would fix his mind resolutely on his approaching priesthood; while the Prior sat gnawing his lips, playing with his cross and rapping his foot, before bursting out again and bidding them all be silent, for they knew not what they were meddling with.

The misery rose to its climax when the Injunctions arrived; and the chapter sat far into the morning, meeting again after dinner to consider them.

These were directions, issued to the clergy throughout the country, by the authority of the King alone; and this very fact was significant of what the Royal Supremacy meant. Some of them did not touch the Religious, and were intended only for parish-priests; but others were bitterly hard to receive.

The community was informed that in future, once in every quarter, a sermon was to be preached against the Bishop of Rome's usurped power; the Ten Articles, previously issued, were to be brought before the notice of the congregation; and careful instructions were to be given as regards superstition in the matter of praying to the saints. It was the first of these that caused the most strife.

Dom Anthony, who was becoming more and more the leader of the conservative party, pointed out that the See of Peter was to every Catholic the root of authority and unity, and that Christianity itself was imperilled if this rock were touched.

The Prior angrily retorted that it was not the Holy See that was to be assaulted, but the erection falsely raised upon it; it was the abuse of power, not the use of it that had to be denounced.

Dom Anthony requested the Prior to inform him where the line of distinction lay; and the Prior in answer burst into angry explanations, instancing the pecuniary demands of the Pope, the appointment of foreigners to English benefices, and all the rest of the accusations that were playing such a part now in the religious controversy of the country.

Dom Anthony replied that those were not the matters principally aimed at by the Injunction; it concerned rather the whole constitution of Christ's Church, and was a question of the Pope's or the King's supremacy over that part of it that lay in England.

Finally the debate was ended by the Prior's declaration that he could trust no one to preach the enjoined sermon but himself, and that he would see to it on his own responsibility.

It was scarcely an inspiring atmosphere for one who was preparing to take on him the burden of priesthood in the Catholic Church.



CHAPTER II

SACERDOS IN AETERNUM

It was a day of wonderful autumn peace when Chris first sang mass in the presence of the Community.

The previous day he had received priesthood from the hands of the little old French bishop in the priory church; one by one strange mystical ceremonies had been performed; the stole had been shifted and crossed on the breast, the token of Christ's yoke; the chasuble had been placed over his head, looped behind; then the rolling cry to the Spirit of God who alone seals to salvation and office had pealed round the high roof and down the long nave that stretched away westwards in sunlit gloom; while across the outstretched hands of the monk had been streaked the sacred oil, giving him the power to bless the things of God. The hands were bound up, as if to heal the indelible wound of love that had been inflicted on them; and, before they were unbound, into the hampered fingers were slid the sacred vessels of the altar, occupied now by the elements of bread and wine; while the awful power to offer sacrifice for the quick and the dead was committed to him in one tremendous phrase.

Then the mass went on; and the new priest, kneeling with Dom Anthony at a little bench set at the foot of the altar steps, repeated aloud with the bishop the words of the liturgy from the great painted missal lying before him.

How strange it had been too when all was over! He stood by a pillar in the nave, beneath St. Pancras's image, while all came to receive his blessing. First, the Prior, pale and sullen, as always now; then the Community, some smiling and looking into his eyes before they knelt, some perfunctory, some solemn and sedate with downcast faces; each kissed the fragrant hands, and stood aside, while the laity came up; and first among them his father and Mary.

His place too in the refectory had a flower or two laid beside it; and the day had gone by in a bewildering dream. He had walked with his father and sister a little, and had found himself smiling and silent in their company.

In the evening he had once more gone through the ceremonies of mass, Dom Anthony stood by, and watched and reminded and criticised. And now the morning was come, and he stood at the altar.

* * * * *

The little wind had dropped last night, and the hills round Lewes stood in mellow sunlight; the atmosphere was full of light and warmth, that tender glow that falls on autumn days; the trees in the court outside stood, poised on the brink of sleep, with a yellow pallor tinging their leaves; the thousand pigeons exulted and wheeled in the intoxicating air.

The shadowy church was alight with sunshine that streamed through the clerestory windows on to the heavy pillars, the unevenly paved floor, and crept down the recumbent figures of noble and bishop from head to foot. There were a few people present beyond the screen, Sir James and his daughter in front, watching with a tender reverence the harvesting of the new priest, as he prepared to gather under his hands the mystical wheat and grapes of God.

Chris was perfectly practised in his ceremonies; and there was no anxiety to dissipate the overpowering awe that lay on his soul. He felt at once natural and unreal; it was supremely natural that he should be here; he could not conceive being other than a priest; there was in him a sense of a relaxed rather than an intensified strain; and yet the whole matter was strange and intangible, as he felt the supernatural forces gathering round, and surging through his soul.

He was aware of a dusky sunlit space about him, of the glimmer of the high candles; and nearer of the white cloth, the shining vessels, the gorgeous missal, and the rustle of the ministers' vestments. But the whole was shot with an inner life, each detail was significant and sacramental; and he wondered sometimes at the inaudible vibration that stirred the silent air round him, as he spoke the familiar words to which he had listened so often.

He kept his eyes resolutely down as he turned from time to time, spreading his hands to the people, and was only partly conscious of the faces watching him from the dark stalls in front and the sunlit nave beyond. Even the sacred ministers, Dom Anthony and another, seemed to be little more than crimson impersonal figures that moved and went about their stately business with deft and gracious hands.

As he began to penetrate more nearly to the heart of the mystery, and the angels' song before the throne rolled up from the choir, there was an experience of a yet further retirement from the things of sense. Even the glittering halpas, and the gleams of light above it where the five chapels branched behind—even these things became shrouded; there was just a sheet of white beneath him, the glow of a chalice, and the pale disc of the sacrificial bread.

Then, as he paused, with hands together—"famulorum famularumque tuarum"—there opened out the world where his spirit was bending its intention. Figure after figure came up and passed before his closed eyes, and on each he turned the beam of God's grace. First Ralph, sneering and aloof in his rich dress, intent on some Satanic business;—Chris seized as it were the power of God, and enveloped and penetrated him with it. Then Margaret, waiting terrified on the divine will; his mother in her complacent bitterness; Mary; his father—and as he thought of him it seemed as if all God's blessings were not too great; Nicholas; his own brethren in religion, his Prior, contracted and paralysed with terror; Dom Anthony, with his pathetic geniality....

Ah! how short was the time; and yet so long that the Prior looked up sharply, and the deacon shifted in his rustling silk.

Then again the hands opened, and the stately flood of petition poured on, as through open gates to the boundless sea that awaited it, where the very heart of God was to absorb it into Itself.

The great names began to flit past, like palaces on a river-brink, their bases washed by the pouring liturgy—Peter and Paul, Simon and Thaddeus, Cosmas and Damian—vast pleasure houses alight with God, while near at hand now gleamed the line of the infinite ocean.

The hands came together, arched in blessing; and it marked the first sting of the healing water, as the Divine Essence pushed forward to meet man's need.

"Hanc igitur oblatianem ..."

Then followed the swift silent signs, as if the pilot were ordering sails out to meet the breeze.

The muttering voice sank to a deliberate whisper, the ripples ceased to leap as the river widened, and Chris was delicately fingering the white linen before taking the Host into his hands.

There was a swift glance up, as to the great Sun that burned overhead, one more noiseless sign, and he sank forward in unutterable awe, with his arms on the altar, and the white disc, hovering on the brink of non-existence, beneath his eyes.

* * * * *

The faintest whisper rose from behind as the people shifted their constrained attitudes. Sir James glanced up, his eyes full of tears, at the distant crimson figure beneath the steady row of lights, motionless with outspread hands, poised over the bosom of God's Love.

The first murmured words broke the silence; as if next to the Infinite Pity rose up the infinite need of man—Nobis quoque peccatoribus—and sank to silence again.

Then loud and clear rang out Per omnia saecula saeculorum; and the choir of monks sang Amen.

So the great mystery moved on, but upborne now by the very Presence itself that sustained all things. From the limitless sea of mercy, the children cried through the priest's lips to their Father who was in heaven, and entreated the Lamb of God who takes away sin to have mercy on them and give them peace.

Then from far beyond the screen Mary could see how the priest leaning a little forward towards That which he bore in his hands, looked on what he bore in them; and she whispered softly with him the words that he was speaking. Ave in aeternum sanctissima caro Christi ...

Again she hid her face; and when she raised it once, all was over, and the Lord had entered and sanctified the body and soul of the man at whose words He had entered the creature of bread.

The father and daughter stood together silently in the sunshine outside the west end of the church, waiting for Chris. He had promised to come to them there for a moment when his thanksgiving was done.

Beyond the wall, and the guest-house where the Visitors had lived those two disastrous days, rose up the far sunlit downs, shadowed here and there with cup-like hollows, standing like the walls about Jerusalem.

As they turned, on the right above the red roofs of the town, rose the downs again, vast slopes and shoulders, over which Chris had ridden so short a while ago bearded and brown with hunting. It was over there that Ralph had come, through that dip, which seemed against the skyline a breach in a high wall.

Ah! surely God would spare this place; so stately and quiet, so graciously sheltered by the defences that He Himself had raised! If all England tottered and fell, this at least might stand, this vast home of prayer that stirred day and night with the praises of the Eternal and the petitions of the mortal—this glorious house where a priest so dear to them had brought forth from his mystical paternity the very Son of God!

The door opened behind them, and Chris came out pale and smiling with a little anxious-eyed monk beside him. His eyes lightened as he saw them standing there; but he turned again for a moment.

"Yes—father," he said. "What was it?"

"You stayed too long," said the other, "at the famularumque tuarum; the rubric says nullus nimis immoretur, you know;—nimis immoretur."

"Yes," said Chris.



CHAPTER III

THE NORTHERN RISING

A few of the smaller Religious houses had surrendered themselves to the King before the passing of the bill in the early spring; and the rest of them were gradually yielded up after its enactment during the summer of the same year; and among them was Rusper. Chris heard that his sister Margaret had returned to Overfield, and would stay there for the present.

Throughout the whole of England there were the same scenes to be witnessed. A troop of men, headed by a Commissioner, would ride up one evening to some village where a little convent stood, demand entrance at the gate, pass through, and disappear from the eyes of the watching crowd. Then the next day the work would begin; the lead would be stripped from the church and buildings; the treasures corded in bundles; the woodwork of the interior put up to auction on the village green; and a few days later the troop would disappear again, heavily laden, leaving behind roofless walls, and bewildered Religious in their new secular dress with a few shillings in their pockets, staring after the rich cavalcade and wondering what was best to do.

It had been hoped that the King would stay his hand at the death of Anne, and even yet return to the obedience of the Holy See. The Pope was encouraged to think so by the authorities on the continent, and in England itself there prevailed even confidence that a return to the old ways would be effected. But Henry had gone too far; he had drunk too deeply of the wealth that lay waiting for him in the treasuries of the Religious houses, and after a pause of expectation he set his hand to the cup again. It was but natural too, and for more noble motives, to such a character as his. As he had aimed in his youth at nothing less than supremacy in tennis, hunting and tourney, and later in architecture, music and theological reputation; as, for the same reason Wolsey had fallen, when the King looked away from girls and sports to the fiercer game of politics; so now it was intolerable to Henry that there should be even the shadow of a spiritual independence within his domain.

A glow of resentful disappointment swept through the North of England at the news. It burst out into flame in Lincolnshire, and was not finally quenched until the early summer of the following year.

* * * * *

The news that reached Lewes from time to time during the winter and spring sent the hearts of all that heard it through the whole gamut of emotions. At one time fierce hope, then despair, then rising confidence, then again blank hopelessness—each in turn tore the souls of the monks; and misery reached its climax in the summer at the news of the execution at Tyburn of the Abbots of Jervaulx and Fountains, with other monks and gentlemen.

The final recital of the whole tragedy was delivered to them at the mouth of a Religious from the Benedictine cell at Middlesborough who had been released by the Visitors at his own request, but who had afterwards repented and joined the rising soon after the outset; he had been through most of the incidents, and then when failure was assured had fled south in terror for his life, and was now on his way to the Continent to take up his monastic vocation once more.

The Prior was away on one of the journeys that he so frequently undertook at this time, no man knew whither, or the ex-monk and rebel would have been refused admittance; but the sub-Prior was persuaded to take him in for a night, and he sat long in one of the parlours that evening telling his story.

Chris leaned against the wall and watched him as he talked with the candle-light on his face. He was a stout middle-aged man in layman's dress, for he was not yet out of peril; he sat forward in his chair, making preacher's gestures as he spoke, and using well-chosen vivid words.

"They were gathered already when I joined them on their way to York; there were nearly ten thousand of them on the road, with Aske at their head. I have never set eyes on such a company! There was a troop of gentlemen and their sons riding with Aske in front, all in armour; and then the rabble behind with gentlemen again to their officers. The common folk had pikes and hooks only; and some were in leather harness, and some without; but they marched well and kept good order. They were of all sorts: hairy men and boys; and miners from the North. There were monks, too, and friars, I know not how many, that went with the army to encourage them; and everywhere we went the women ran out of their homes with food and drink, and prayed God to bless us; and the bells were rung in the village churches. We slept as we could, some in houses, some in churchyards and by the wayside, and as many of us as could get into the churches heard mass each day. As many too as could make them, wore the Five Wounds on a piece of stuff sewn on the arm. You would have said that none could stand against us, so eager we were and full of faith."

"There was a song, was there not?" began one of the monks.

"Yes, father. We sang it as we went.

"Christ crucified! For thy wounds wide Us commons guide Which pilgrims be! Through God his grace For to purchase Old wealth and peace Of the spiritualty!

"You could hear it up and down the lines, sung with weeping and shouting."

He described how they came to York, and how the Mayor was forced to admit them. They stayed there a couple of days; and Aske published his directions for all the ejected Religious to return to their houses.

"I went to a little cell near by—I forget its name—to help some canons to settle in again, whose friendship I had made. I had told them then that my mind was to enter Religion once more, and they took me very willingly. We got there at night. The roof was gone from the dormitory, but we slept there for all that—such of us as could sleep—for I heard one of them sobbing for joy as he lay there in his old corner under the stars; and we sang mass in the morning, as well as we could. The priest had an old tattered vestment that hardly hung on his shoulders; and there was no cross but one that came from a pair of beads, and that we hung over the altar. When I left them again, they were at their office as before, and busy roofing the house with old timbers; for my lord Cromwell had all the lead. And all their garden was trampled; but they said they would do very well. The village-folk were their good friends, and would bring them what they needed."

He described his journey to Doncaster; the furious excitement of the villages he passed through, and the news that reached him hour after hour as to the growing vastness of Aske's forces.

"There were thirty thousand, I heard, on the banks of the Don on one side; for my lords Nevill and Lumley and others had ridden in with St. Cuthbert his banner and arms, and five thousand men, besides those that came in from all the country. And on the further side was my Lord Shrewsbury for the King, with the Duke and his men. Master Aske had all he could do to keep his men back from being at them. Some of the young sparks were as terriers at a rat-hole. There was a parley held on the bridge, for Norfolk knew well that he must gain time; and Aske sent his demands to his Grace, and that was the mistake—"

The man beat one hand into the other and looked round with a kindling force—

"That was the mistake! He was too loyal for such work, and did not guess at their craft. Well, while we waited there, our men began to make off; their farms were wanting them, and their wives and the rest, and we melted. Master Aske had to be everywhere at once, it was no fault of his. My Lord Derby was marching up upon the houses again, and seeking to drive the monks out once more. But there was not an act of violence done by our men; not a penny-piece taken or a house burned. They were peaceable folk, and asked no more than that their old religion should be given back to them, and that they might worship God as they had always done."

He went on to explain how the time had been wasted in those fruitless negotiations, and how the force dwindled day by day. Various answers were attempted by the King, containing both threats and promises, and in these, as in all else the hand of Cromwell was evident. Finally, towards the end of November, the insurgents gathered again for another meeting with the King's representatives at Doncaster, summoned by beacons on the top of the high Yorkshire moors, and by the reversed pealing of the church bells.

"We had a parley among ourselves at Pomfret first, and had a great to-do, though I saw little of it; and drew up our demands; and then set out for Doncaster again. The duke was there, with the King's pardon in his hand, in the Whitefriars; and a promise that all should be as we asked. So we went back to Pomfret, well-pleased, and the next day on St. Thomas' hill the herald read the pardon to us all; and we, poor fools, thought that his Grace meant to keep his word—"

The monk looked bitterly round, sneering with his white strong teeth set together like a savage dog's; and there was silence for a moment. The Sub-Prior looked nervously round the faces of his subjects, for this was treasonable talk to hear.

Then the man went on. He himself it seemed had retired again to the little cell where he had seen the canons settled in a few weeks previously; and heard nothing of what was going forward; except that the heralds were going about the country, publishing the King's pardon to all who had taken part in the Rebellion, and affixing it to the market-cross in each town and village, with touching messages from the King relating to the grief which he had felt on hearing that his dear children believed such tales about him.

Little by little, however, the discontent began to smoulder once more, for the King's pledges of restoration were not fulfilled; and Cromwell, who was now recognised to be the inspirer of all the evil done against Religion, remained as high as ever in the royal favour. Aske, who had been to the King in person, and given him an account of all that had taken place, now wrote to him that there was a danger of a further rising if the delay continued, for there were no signs yet of the promised free parliament being called at York.

Then again disturbances had broken out.

"I was at Hull," said the monk, "with Sir Francis Bygod in January; but we did nothing, and only lost our leader, and all the while Norfolk was creeping up with his army. It was piteous to think what might not have been done if we had not trusted his Grace; but 'twas no good, and I was back again in the dales here and there, hiding for my life by April. Everywhere 'twas the same; the monks were haled out again from their houses, and men were hanged by the score. I cut down four myself near Meux, and gave them Christian burial at night. One was a monk, and hanged in his habit. But the worst of all was at York."

The man's face twitched with emotion, and he passed his hand over his mouth once or twice before continuing.

"I did not dare to go into the court for fear I should be known; but I stood outside in the crowd and watched them go in. There was a fellow riding with Norfolk—a false knave of a man whom we had all learnt to hate at Doncaster—for he was always jeering at us secretly and making mischief when he could. I saw him with the duke before, when we went into the Whitefriars for the pardon; and he stood there behind with the look of a devil on his face; and now here he was again—"

"His name, sir?" put in Dom Adrian.

"Torridon, father, Torridon! He was a—"

There was a sharp movement in the room, so that the monk stopped and looked round him amazed. Chris felt the blood ebb from his heart and din in his ears, and he swayed a little as he leaned against the wall. He saw Dom Anthony lean forward and whisper to the stranger; and through the haze that was before his eyes saw the other look at him sharply, with a fallen jaw.

Then the monk rose and made a little stiff inclination to Chris, deferential and courteous, but with a kind of determined dignity in it too.

When Chris had recovered himself, the monk was deep in his story, but Ralph had fallen out of it.

"You would not believe it," he was saying, "but on the very jury that was to try Master Aske and Constable, there were empanelled their own blood-relations; and that by the express intention of Norfolk. John Aske was one of them, and some others who had to wives the sons of my Lord Darcy and Sir Robert Constable. You see how it would be. If the prisoners were found guilty, men would say that it must be so, for that their own kin had condemned them; and if they were to be acquitted, then these men themselves would be cast."

There again broke out a murmur from the listening faces, as the man paused.

"Well, they were cast, as you know, for not taking the King to be the supreme head of the Church, and for endeavouring to force the King to hold a parliament that he willed not. And I was at York again when Master Aske was brought back from London to be hanged, and I saw it!"

Again an uncontrollable emotion shook him; and he propped his face on his hand as he ended his tale.

"There were many of his friends there in the crowd, and scarcely one dared to cry out, God save you, sir.... I dared not...."

He gave one rending sob, and Chris felt his eyes prick with tears at the sight of so much sorrow. It was piteous to see a brave man thinking himself a coward.

Dom Anthony leaned forward.

"Thank you, father," he said, though his voice was a little husky, "and thank God that he died well. You have touched all our hearts."

"I was a hound," sobbed the man, "a hound, that I did not cry out to him and tell him that I loved him."

"No, no, father," said the other tenderly, "you must not think so. You must serve God well now, and pray for his soul."

The bell sounded out for Compline as he spoke, and the monks rose.

"You will come into choir, father," said the Sub-Prior.

The man nodded, stood up, and followed him out.

Chris was in a strange ferment as he stood in his stall that night. It had been sad enough to hear of that gallant attempt to win back the old liberties and the old Faith—that attempt that had been a success except for the insurgents' trust in their King—and of the death of the leaders.

But across the misery had pierced a more poignant grief, as he had learnt how Ralph's hand was in this too and had taken once more the wrong side in God's quarrel. But still he had no resentment; the conflict had passed out of the personal plane into an higher, and he thought of his brother as God's enemy rather than his own. Would his prayers then never prevail—the prayers that he speeded up in the smoke of the great Sacrifice morning by morning for that zealous mistaken soul? Or was it perhaps that that brother of his must go deeper yet, before coming out to knowledge and pardon?



CHAPTER IV

THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SEAL

The autumn drew in swiftly. The wet south-west wind blew over the downs that lay between Lewes and the sea, and beat down the loose browning leaves of the trees about the Priory. The grass in the cloister-garth grew rank and dark with the constant rain that drove and dropped over the high roofs.

And meanwhile the tidings grew heavier still.

After Michaelmas the King set to work in earnest. He had been checked by the northern risings, and still paused to see whether the embers had been wholly quenched; and then when it was evident that the North was as submissive as the South, began again his business of gathering in the wealth that was waiting.

He started first in the North, under show of inflicting punishment for the encouragement that the Religious had given to the late rebellions; and one by one the great abbeys were tottering. Furness and Sawley had already fallen, with Jervaulx and the other houses, and Holme Cultram was placed under the care of a superior who could be trusted to hand over his charge when called upon.

But up to the present not many great houses had actually fallen, except those which were supposed to have taken a share in the revolt; and owing to the pains taken by the Visitors to contradict the report that the King intended to lay his hands on the whole monastic property of England, it was even hoped by a few sanguine souls that the large houses might yet survive.

There were hot discussions in the chapter at Lewes from time to time during the year. The "Bishops' Book," issued by a committee of divines and approved by the King, and containing a digest of the new Faith that was being promulgated, arrived during the summer and was fiercely debated; but so high ran the feeling that the Prior dropped the matter, and the book was put away with other papers of the kind on an honourable but little-used shelf.

The acrimony in domestic affairs began to reach its climax in October, when the prospects of the Priory's own policy came up for discussion.

Some maintained that they were safe, and that quietness and confidence were their best security, and these had the support of the Prior; others declared that the best hope lay in selling the possessions of the house at a low price to some trustworthy man who would undertake to sell then back again at only a small profit to himself when the storm was passed.

The Prior rose in wrath when this suggestion was made.

"Would you have me betray my King?" he cried. "I tell you I will have none of it. It is not worthy of a monk to have such thoughts."

And he sat down and would hear no more, nor speak.

There were whispered conferences after that among the others, as to what his words meant. Surely there was nothing dishonourable in the device; they only sought to save what was their own! And how would the King be "betrayed" by such an action?

They had an answer a fortnight later; and it took them wholly by surprise.

During the second week in November the Prior had held himself more aloof than ever; only three or four of the monks, with the Sub-Prior among them, were admitted to his cell, and they were there at all hours. Two or three strangers too arrived on horseback, and were entertained by the Prior in a private parlour. And then on the morning of the fourteenth the explanation came.

When the usual business of the chapter was done, the faults confessed and penances given, and one or two small matters settled, the Prior, instead of rising to give the signal to go, remained in his chair, his head bent on to his hand.

It was a dark morning, heavy and lowering; and from where Chris sat at the lower end of the great chamber he could scarcely make out the features of those who sat under the high window at the east; but as soon as the Prior lifted his face and spoke, he knew by that tense strain of the voice that something impended.

"There is another matter," said the Prior; and paused again.

For a moment there was complete silence. The Sub-Prior leant a little forward and was on the point of speaking, when his superior lifted his head again and straightened himself in his chair.

"It is this," he said, and his voice rang hard and defiant, "it is this. It is useless to think we can save ourselves. We are under suspicion, and worse than suspicion. I have hoped, and prayed, and striven to know God's will; and I have talked with my Lord Cromwell not once or twice, but often. And it is useless to resist any further."

His voice cracked with misery; but Chris saw him grip the bosses of his chair-arms in an effort for self-control. His own heart began to sicken; this was not frightened raving such as he had listened to before; it was the speech of one who had been driven into decision, as a rat into a corner.

"I have talked with the Sub-Prior, and others; and they think with me in this. I have kept it back from the rest, that they might serve God in peace so long as was possible. But now I must tell you all, my sons, that we must leave this place."

There was a hush of terrible tension. The monks had known that they were threatened; they could not think otherwise with the news that came from all parts, but they had not known that catastrophe was so imminent. An old monk opposite Chris began to moan and mutter; but the Prior went on immediately.

"At least I think that we must leave. It may be otherwise, if God has pity on us; I do not know; but we must be ready to leave, if it be His will, and,—and to say so."

He was speaking in abrupt sentences, with pauses between, in which he appeared to summon his resolution to speak again, and force out his tale. There was plainly more behind too; and his ill-ease seemed to deepen on him.

"I wish no one to speak now," he said, "Instead of the Lady-mass to-morrow we shall sing mass of the Holy Ghost; and afterwards I shall have more to say to you again. I do not desire any to hold speech with any other, but to look into their own hearts and seek counsel of God there."

He still sat a moment silent, then rose and gave the signal.

* * * * *

It was a strange day for Chris. He did not know what to think, but he was certain that they had not yet been told all. The Prior's silences had been as pregnant as his words. There was something very close now that would be revealed immediately, and meanwhile he must think out how to meet it.

The atmosphere seemed charged all day; the very buildings wore a strange air, unfamiliar and menacing. The intimate bond between his soul and them, knit by associations of prayer and effort, appeared unreal and flimsy. He was tormented by doubtfulness; he could not understand on the one side how it was possible to yield to the King, on the other how it was possible to resist. No final decision could be made by him until he had heard the minds of his fellows; and fortunately they would all speak before him. He busied himself then with disentangling the strands of motive, desire, fear and hope, and waited for the shaking loose of the knot until he knew more.

Mass of the Holy Ghost was sung next morning by the Prior himself in red vestments; and Chris waited with expectant awe, remembering how the Carthusians under like circumstances had been visited by God; but the Host was uplifted and the bell rang; and there was nothing but the candle-lit gloom of the choir about the altar, and the sigh of the wind in the chapels behind.

Then in the chapter-meeting the Prior told them all.

* * * * *

He reminded them how they had prayed that morning for guidance, and that they must be fearless now in following it out. It was easy to be reckless and call it faith, but prudence and reasonable common-sense were attributes of the Christian no less than trust in God. They had not to consider now what they would wish for themselves, but what God intended for them so far as they could read it in the signs of the times.

"For myself," he cried,—and Chris almost thought him sincere as he spoke, so kindled was his face—"for myself I should ask no more than to live and die in this place, as I had hoped. Every stone here is as dear to me as to you, and I think more dear, for I have been in a special sense the lord of it all; but I dare not think of that. We must be ready to leave all willingly if God wills. We thought that we had yielded all to follow Christ when we first set our necks here under His sweet yoke; but I think He asks of us even more now; and that we should go out from here even as we went out from our homes ten or twenty years ago. We shall be no further from our God outside this place; and we may be even nearer if we go out according to His will."

He seemed on fire with zeal and truth. His timid peevish air was gone, and his delicate scholarly face was flushed as he spoke. Chris was astonished, and more perplexed than ever. Was it then possible that God's will might lie in the direction he feared?

"Now this is the matter which we have to consider," went on the Prior more quietly. "His Grace has sent to ask, through a private messenger from my Lord Cromwell, whether we will yield up the priory. There is no compulsion in the matter—" he paused significantly—"and his Grace desires each to act according to his judgment and conscience, of—of his own free will."

There was a dead silence.

The news was almost expected by now. Through the months of anxiety each monk had faced the probability of such tidings coming to him sooner or later; and the last few days had brought expectation to its climax. Yet it was hard to see the enemy face to face, and to know that there was no possibility of resisting him finally.

The Sub-Prior rose to his feet and began to speak, glancing as if for corroboration to his superior from time to time. His mouth worked a little at the close of each sentence.

"My Lord Prior has shown us his own mind, and I am with him in the matter. His Grace treats us like his own children; he wishes us to be loving and obedient. But, as a father too, he has authority behind to compel us to his will if we will not submit. And, as my Lord Prior said yesterday, we do not know whether or no his Grace will not permit us to remain here after all, if we are docile; or perhaps refound the priory out of his own bounty. There is talk of the Chertsey monks going to the London Charterhouse from Bisham where the King set them last year. But we may be sure he will not do so with us if we resist his will now. I on my part then am in favour of yielding up the house willingly, and trusting ourselves to his Grace's clemency."

There was again silence as he sat down; and a pause of a minute or two before Dom Anthony rose. His ruddy face was troubled and perplexed; but he spoke resolutely enough.

He said that he could not understand why the matter had not been laid before them earlier, that they might have had time to consider it. The question was an extremely difficult one to the consciences of some of them. On the one hand there was the peril of acquiescing in sacrilege—the Prior twisted in his seat as he heard this—and on the other of wilfully and petulantly throwing away their only opportunity of saving their priory. He asked for time.

Several more made speeches, some in favour of the proposal, and some asking, as Dom Anthony had done, for further tine for consideration. They had no precedents, they said, on which to decide such a question, for they understood that it was not on account of treason that they were required to surrender the house and property.

The Prior rose with a white face.

"No, no," he cried. "God forbid! That is over and done with. I—we have made our peace with my Lord Cromwell in that affair."

"Then why," asked Dom Anthony, "are we required to yield it?"

The Prior glanced helplessly at him.

"I—it is as a sign that the King is temporal lord of the land."

"We do not deny that," said the other.

"Some do," said the Prior feebly.

There was a little more discussion. Dom Anthony remarked that it was not a matter of temporal but spiritual headship that was in question. To meddle with the Religious Orders was to meddle with the Vicar of Christ under whose special protection they were; and it seemed to him at least a probable opinion, so far as he had had time to consider it, that to yield, even in the hopes of saving their property ultimately, was to acquiesce in the repudiation of the authority of Rome.

And so it went on for an hour; and then as it grew late, the Prior rose once more, and asked if any one had a word to say who had not yet spoken.

Chris had intended to speak, but all that he wished to ask had already been stated by others; and he sat now silent, staring up at the Prior, and down at the smooth boarded floor at his feet. He had not an idea what to do. He was no theologian.

Then the Prior unmasked his last gun.

"As regards the matter of time for consideration, that is now passed. In spite of what some have said we have had sufficient warning. All here must have known that the choice would be laid before them, for months past; it is now an answer that is required of us."

He paused a moment longer. His lips began to tremble, but he made a strong effort and finished.

"Master Petre will be here to-night, as my lord Cromwell's representative, and will sit in the chapter-house to-morrow to receive the surrender."

Dom Anthony started to his feet. The Prior made a violent gesture for silence, and then gave the signal to break up.

* * * * *

Again the bewildering day went past. The very discipline of the house was a weakness in the defence of the surprised party. It was impossible for them to meet and discuss the situation as they wished; and even the small times of leisure seemed unusually occupied. Dom Anthony was busy at the guest-house; one of the others who had spoken against the proposal was sent off on a message by the Prior, and another was ordered to assist the sacristan to clean the treasures in view of the Visitor's coming.

Chris was not able to ask a word of advice from any of those whom he thought to be in sympathy with him.

He sat all day over his antiphonary, in the little carrel off the cloister, and as he worked his mind toiled like a mill.

He had progressed a long way with the work now, and was engaged on the pages that contained the antiphons for Lent. The design was soberer here; the angels that had rested among the green branches and early roses of Septuagesima, thrusting here a trumpet and there a harp among the leaves, had taken flight, and grave menacing creatures were in their place. A jackal looked from behind the leafless trunk, a lion lifted his toothed mouth to roar from a thicket of thorns, as they had lurked and bellowed in the bleak wilderness above the Jordan fifteen hundred years ago. They were gravely significant now, he thought; and scarcely knowing what he did he set narrow human eyes in the lion's face (for he knew no better) and broadened the hanging jaws with a delicate line or two.

Then with a fierce impulse he crowned him, and surmounted the crown with a cross.

And all the while his mind toiled at the problem. There were three things open to him on the morrow. Either he might refuse to sign the surrender, and take whatever consequences might follow; or he might sign it; and there were two processes of thought by which he might take that action. By the first he would simply make an act of faith in his superiors, and do what they did because they did it; by the second he would sign it of his own responsibility because he decided to think that by doing so he would be taking the best action for securing his own monastic life.

He considered these three. To refuse to sign almost inevitably involved his ruin, and that not only, and not necessarily, in the worldly sense; about that he sincerely believed he did not care; but it would mean his exclusion from any concession that the King might afterwards make. He certainly would not be allowed under any circumstances, to remain in the home of his profession; and if the community was shifted he would not be allowed to go with them. As regards the second alternative he wondered whether it was possible to shift responsibility in that manner; as regards the third, he knew that he had very little capability in any case of foreseeing the course that events would take.

Then he turned it all over again, and considered the arguments for each course. His superiors were set over him by God; it was rash to set himself against them except in matters of the plainest conscience. Again it was cowardly to shelter himself behind this plea and so avoid responsibility. Lastly, he was bound to judge for himself.

The arguments twisted and turned as bewilderingly as the twining branches of his design; and behind each by which he might climb to decision lurked a beast. He felt helpless and dazed by the storm of conflicting motives.

As he bent over his work he prayed for light, but the question seemed more tangled than before; the hours were creeping in; by to-morrow he must decide.

Then the memory of the Prior's advice to him once before came back to his mind; this was the kind of thing, he told himself, that he must leave to God, his own judgment was too coarse an instrument; he must wait for a clear supernatural impulse; and as he thought of it he laid his pencil down, dropped on to his knees, and commended it all to God, to the Mother of God, St. Pancras, St. Peter and St. Paul. Even as he did it, the burden lifted and he knew that he would know, when the time came.

* * * * *

Dr. Petre came that night, but Chris saw no more of him than his back as he went up the cloister with Dom Anthony to the Prior's chamber. The Prior was not at supper, and his seat was empty in the dim refectory.

Neither was he at Compline; and it was with the knowledge that Cromwell's man and their own Superior were together in conference, that the monks went up the dormitory stairs that night.

But he was in his place at the chapter-mass next morning, though he spoke to no one, and disappeared immediately afterwards.

Then at the appointed time the monks assembled in the chapter-house.

* * * * *

As Chris came in he lifted his eyes, and saw that the room was arrayed much as it had been at the visit of Dr. Layton and Ralph. A great table, heaped with books and papers, stood at the upper end immediately below the dais, and a couple of secretaries were there, sharp-looking men, seated at either end and busy with documents.

The Prior was in his place in the shadow and was leaning over and talking to a man who sat beside him. Chris could make out little of the latter except that he seemed to be a sort of lawyer or clerk, and was dressed in a dark gown and cap. He was turning over the leaves of a book as the Prior talked, and nodded his head assentingly from time to time.

When all the monks were seated, there was still a pause. It was strangely unlike the scene of a tragedy, there in that dark grave room with the quiet faces downcast round the walls, and the hands hidden in the cowl-sleeves. And even on the deeper plane it all seemed very correct and legal. There was the representative of the King, a capable learned man, with all the indications of law and order round him, and his two secretaries to endorse or check his actions. There too was the Community, gathered to do business in the manner prescribed by the Rule, with the deeds of foundation before their eyes, and the great brass convent seal on the table. There was not a hint of bullying or compulsion; these monks were asked merely to sign a paper if they so desired it. Each was to act for himself; there was to be no over-riding of individual privileges, or signing away another's conscience.

Nothing could have been arranged more peaceably.

And yet to every man's mind that was present the sedate room was black with horror. The majesty and terror of the King's will brooded in the air; nameless dangers looked in at the high windows and into every man's face; the quiet lawyer-like men were ministers of fearful vengeance; the very pens, ink and paper that lay there so innocently were sacraments of death or life.

The Prior ceased his whispering presently, glanced round to see if all were in their places, and then stood up.

His voice was perfectly natural as he told them that this was Dr. Petre, come down from Lord Cromwell to offer them an opportunity of showing their trust and love towards their King by surrendering to his discretion the buildings and property that they held. No man was to be compelled to sign; it must be perfectly voluntary on their part; his Grace wished to force no conscience to do that which it repudiated. For his own part, he said, he was going to sign with a glad heart. The King had shown his clemency in a hundred ways, and to that clemency he trusted.

Then he sat down; and Chris marvelled at his self-control.

Dr. Petre stood up, and looked round for a moment before opening his mouth; then he put his two hands on the table before him, dropped his eyes and began his speech.

He endorsed first what the Prior had said, and congratulated all there on possessing such a superior. It was a great happiness, he said, to deal with men who showed themselves so reasonable and so loyal. Some he had had to do with had not been so—and—and of course their stubbornness had brought its own penalty. But of that he did not wish to speak. On the other hand those who had shown themselves true subjects of his Grace had already found their reward. He had great pleasure in announcing to them that what the Prior had said to them a day or two before was true; and that their brethren in religion of Chertsey Abbey, who had been moved to Bisham last year, were to go to the London Charterhouse in less than a month. The papers were made out; he had assisted in their drawing up.

He spoke in a quiet restrained voice, and with an appearance of great deference; there was not the shadow of a bluster even when he referred to the penalties of stubbornness; it was very unlike the hot bullying arrogance of Dr. Layton. Then he ended—

"And so, reverend fathers, the choice is in your hands. His Grace will use no compulsion. You will hear presently that the terms of surrender are explicit in that point. He will not force one man to sign who is not convinced that he can best serve his King and himself by doing so. It would go sorely against his heart if he thought that he had been the means of making the lowest of his subjects to act contrary to the conscience that God has given him. My Lord Prior, I will beg of you to read the terms of surrender."

The paper was read, and it was as it had been described. Again and again it was repeated in various phrases that the property was yielded of free-will. It was impossible to find in it even the hint of a threat. The properties in question were enumerated in the minutest manner, and the list included all the rights of the priory over the Cluniac cell of Castleacre.

The Prior laid the paper down, and looked at Dr. Petre.

The Commissioner rose from his seat, taking the paper as he did so, and so stood a moment.

"You see, reverend fathers, that it is as I told you. I understand that you have already considered the matter, so that there is no more to be said."

He stepped down from the dais and passed round to the further side of the table. One of the secretaries pushed an ink-horn and a couple of quills across to him.

"My Lord Prior," said Dr. Petre, with a slight bow. "If you are willing to sign this, I will beg of you to do so; and after that to call up your subjects."

He laid the paper down. The Prior stepped briskly out of his seat, and passed round the table.

Chris watched his back, the thin lawyer beside him indicating the place for the name; and listened as in a dream to the scratching of the pen. He himself still did not know what he would do. If all signed—?

The Prior stepped back, and Chris caught a glimpse of a white face that smiled terribly.

The Sub-Prior stepped down at a sign from his Superior; and then one by one the monks came out.

Chris's heart sickened as he watched; and then stood still on a sudden in desperate hope, for opposite to him Dom Anthony sat steady, his head on his hand, and made no movement when it was his turn to come out. Chris saw the Prior look at the monk, and a spasm of emotion went over his face.

"Dom Anthony," he said.

The monk lifted his face, and it was smiling too.

"I cannot sign, My Lord Prior."

Then the veils fell, and decision flashed on Chris' soul.

He heard the pulse drumming in his ears, and his wet hands slipped one in the other as he gripped them together, but he made no sign till all the others had gone up. Then he looked up at the Prior.

It seemed an eternity before the Prior looked at him and nodded; and he could make no answering sign.

Then he heard his name called, and with a great effort he answered; his voice seemed not his own in his ears. He repeated Dom Anthony's words.

"I cannot sign, My Lord Prior."

Then he sat back with closed eyes and waited.

He heard movements about him, steps, the crackle of parchment, and at last Dr. Petre's voice; but he scarcely understood what was said. There was but one thought dinning in his brain, and that was that he had refused, and thrown his defiance down before the King—that terrible man whom he had seen in his barge on the river, with the narrow eyes, the pursed mouth and the great jowl, as he sat by the woman he called his wife—that woman who now—

Chris shivered, opened his eyes, and sense came back.

Dr. Petre was just ending his speech. He was congratulating the Community on their reasonableness and loyalty. By an overwhelming majority they had decided to trust the King, and they would not find his grace unmindful of that. As for those who had not signed he could say nothing but that they had used the liberty that his Grace had given them. Whether they had used it rightly was no business of his.

Then he turned to the Prior.

"The seal then, My Lord Prior. I think that is the next matter."

The Prior rose and lifted it from the table. Chris caught the gleam of the brass and silver of the ponderous precious thing in his hand—the symbol of their corporate existence—engraved, as he knew, with the four patrons of the house, the cliff, the running water of the Ouse, and the rhyming prayer to St. Pancras.

The Prior handed it to the Commissioner, who took it, and stood there a moment weighing it in his hand.

"A hammer," he said.

One of the secretaries rose, and drew from beneath the table a sheet of metal and a sharp hammer; he handed both to Dr. Petre.

Chris watched, fascinated with something very like terror, his throat contracted in a sudden spasm, as he saw the Commissioner place the metal in the solid table before him, and then, holding the seal sideways, lift the hammer in his right hand.

Then blow after blow began to echo in the rafters overhead.



CHAPTER V

THE SINKING SHIP

Dr. Petre had come and gone, and to all appearance the priory was as before. He had not taken a jewel or a fragment of stuff; he had congratulated the sacristan on the beauty and order of his treasures, and had bidden him guard them carefully, for that there were knaves abroad who professed themselves as authorised by the King to seize monastic possessions, which they sold for their own profit. The offices continued to be sung day and night, and the masses every morning; and the poor were fed regularly at the gate.

But across the corporate life had passed a subtle change, analogous to that which comes to the body of a man. Legal death had taken place already; the unity of life and consciousness existed no more; the seal was defaced; they could no longer sign a document except as individuals. Now the rigor mortis would set in little by little until somatic death too had been consummated, and the units which had made up the organism had ceased to bear any relation one to the other.

But until after Christmas there was no further development; and the Feast was observed as usual, and with the full complement of monks. At the midnight mass there was a larger congregation than for many months, and the confessions and communions also slightly increased. It was a symptom, as Chris very plainly perceived, of the manner in which the shadow of the King reached even to the remotest details of the life of the country. The priory was now, as it were, enveloped in the royal protection, and the people responded accordingly.

There had come no hint from headquarters as to the ultimate fate of the house; and some even began to hope that the half-promise of a re-foundation would be fulfilled. Neither had any mark of disapproval arrived as to the refusal to sign on the part of the two monks; but although nothing further was said in conversation or at chapter, there was a consciousness in the minds of both Dom Anthony and Chris that a wall had arisen between them and the rest. Talk in the cloister was apt to flag when either approached; and the Prior never spoke a word to them beyond what was absolutely necessary.

Then, about the middle of January the last process began to be enacted.

* * * * *

One morning the Prior's place in church was empty.

He was accustomed to disappear silently, and no astonishment was caused on this occasion; but at Compline the same night the Sub-Prior too was gone.

This was an unheard-of state of things, but all except the guest-master and Chris seemed to take it as a matter of course; and no word was spoken.

After the chapter on the next morning Dom Anthony made a sign to Chris as he passed him in the cloister, and the two went out together into the clear morning-sunshine of the outer court.

Dom Anthony glanced behind him to see that no one was following, and then turned to the other.

"They are both gone," he said, "and others are going. Dom Bernard is getting his things together. I saw them under his bed last night."

Chris stared at him, mute and terrified.

"What are we to do, Dom Anthony?"

"We can do nothing. We must stay. Remember that we are the only two who have any rights here now, before God."

There was silence a moment. Chris glanced at the other, and was reassured by the steady look on his ruddy face.

"I will stay, Dom Anthony," he said softly.

The other looked at him tenderly.

"God bless you, brother!" he said.

That night Dom Bernard and another were gone. And still the others made no sign or comment; and it was not until yet another pair had gone that Dom Anthony spoke plainly.

He was now the senior monk in the house; and it was his place to direct the business of the chapter. When the formal proceedings were over he stood up fearlessly.

"You cannot hide it longer," he said. "I have known for some while what was impending." He glanced round at the empty stalls, and his face flushed with sudden anger: "For God's sake, get you gone, you who mean to go; and let us who are steadfast serve our Lord in peace."

Chris looked along the few faces that were left; but they were downcast and sedate, and showed no sign of emotion.

Dom Anthony waited a moment longer, and then gave the signal to depart. By a week later the two were left alone.

* * * * *

It was very strange to be there, in the vast house and church, and to live the old life now stripped of three-fourths of its meaning; but they did not allow one detail to suffer that it was possible to preserve. The opus Dei was punctually done, and God was served in psalmody. At the proper hours the two priests met in the cloister, cowled and in their choir-shoes, and walked through to the empty stalls; and there, one on either side, each answered the other, bowed together at the Gloria, confessed and absolved alternately. Two masses were said each day in the huge lonely church, one at the high altar and the other at our Lady's, and each monk served the other. In the refectory one read from the pulpit as the other sat at the table; and the usual forms were observed with the minutest care. In the chapter each morning they met for mutual confession and accusation; and in the times between the exercises and meals each worked feverishly at the details that alone made the life possible.

They were assisted in this by two paid servants, who were sent to them by Chris's father, for both the lay-brothers and the servants had gone with the rest; and the treasurer had disappeared with the money.

Chris had written to Sir James the day that the last monk had gone, telling him the state of affairs, and how the larder was almost empty; and by the next evening the servants had arrived with money and provisions; and a letter from Sir James written from a sick-bed, saying that he was unable to come for the present, for he had taken the fever, and that Morris would not leave him, but expressing a hope that he would come soon in person, and that Morris should be sent in a few days. The latter ended with passionate approval of his son's action.

"God bless and reward you, dear lad!" he had written. "I cannot tell you the joy that it is to my heart to know that you are faithful. It cannot be for long; but whether it is for long and short, you shall have my prayers and blessings; and please God, my poor presence too after a few days. May our Lady and your holy patron intercede for you both who are so worthy of their protection!"

* * * * *

At the end of the second week in March Mr. Morris arrived.

Chris was taking the air in the court shortly before sunset, after a hard day's work in church. The land was beginning to stir with the resurrection-life of spring; and the hills set round the town had that faint flush of indescribable colour that tinges slopes of grass as the sleeping sap begins to stir. The elm-trees in the court were hazy with growth as the buds fattened at the end of every twig, and a group of daffodils here and there were beginning to burst their sheaths of gold. There on the little lawn before the guest-house were half a dozen white and lavender patches of colour that showed where the crocuses would star the grass presently; and from the high west front of the immense church, and from beneath the eaves of the offices to the right the birds were practising the snatches of song that would break out with full melody a month or two later.

In spite of all that threatened, Chris was in an ecstasy of happiness. It rushed down on him, overwhelmed and enveloped him; for he knew now that he had been faithful. The flood of praise in the church had dwindled to a thread; but it was still the opus Dei, though it flowed but from two hearts; and the pulse of the heavenly sacrifice still throbbed morning by morning, and the Divine Presence still burned as unceasingly as the lamp that beaconed it, in the church that was now all but empty of its ministers. There were times when the joy that was in his heart trembled into tears, as when last night he and his friend had sung the song to Mary; and the contrast between the two poor voices, and the roar of petition that had filled the great vaulting a year before, had suddenly torn his heart in two.

But now the poignant sorrow had gone again; and as he walked here alone on this March evening, with the steady hills about him and the flushing sky overhead, and the sweet life quickening in the grass at his feet, an extraordinary peace flooded his soul.

There came a knocking at the gate, and the jangle of a bell; and he went across quickly and unbarred the door.

Mr. Morris was there on horseback, a couple of saddlebags strapped to his beast; and a little group of loungers stood behind.

Chris smiled with delight, and threw the door wide.

The servant saluted him and then turned to the group behind.

"You have no authority," he said, "as to my going in."

Then he rode through; and Chris barred the gate behind him, glancing as he did so at the curious faces that stared silently.

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