THE KING'S ACHIEVEMENT
By Robert Hugh Benson
Author of "By What Authority?" "The Light Invisible," "A Book of the Love of Jesus," etc.
Non minus principi turpia sunt multa supplicia, quam medico multa funera.
(Sen. de clem. 1, 24, 1.)
I must express my gratitude once more to the Rev. Dom Bede Camm, O.S.B., as well as to the Very Rev. Mgr. Barnes, who have done me great service in revising proofs and making suggestions; to the Rev. E. Conybeare, who very kindly provided the coins for the cover-design of the book; to my mother and sister, to Eustace Virgo, Esq., to Dr. Ross-Todd, and to others, who have been extremely kind in various ways during the writing of this book in the summer and autumn of 1904.
I must also express my great indebtedness to the Right Rev. Abbot Gasquet, O.S.B., both on account of his invaluable books, which I have used freely, and for his personal kindness in answering my questions.
ROBERT HUGH BENSON
The Catholic Rectory, Cambridge, July 14, 1905.
BOOK I. THE KING'S WILL.
I. A DECISION II. A FORETASTE OF PEACE III. THE ARRIVAL AT LEWES IV. A COMMISSION V. MASTER MORE VI. RALPH'S INTERCESSION VII. A MERRY PRISONER VIII. A HIGHER STEP IX. LIFE AT LEWES X. THE ARENA XI. A CLOSING-IN XII. A RECOVERY XIII. PRISONER AND PRINCE XIV. THE SACRED PURPLE XV. THE KING'S FRIEND
BOOK II. THE KING'S TRIUMPH.
PART I.—THE SMALLER HOUSES.
I. AN ACT OF FAITH II. THE BEGINNING OF THE VISITATION III. A HOUSE OF LADIES IV. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING V. FATHER AND SON VI. A NUN'S DEFIANCE VII. ST. PANCRAS PRIORY VIII. RALPH'S RETURN IX. RALPH'S WELCOME
PART II—THE FALL OF LEWES.
I. INTERNAL DISSENSION II. SACERDOS IN AETERNUM III. THE NORTHERN RISING IV. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SEAL V. THE SINKING SHIP VI. THE LAST STAND VII. AXES AND HAMMERS
THE KING'S GRATITUDE.
I. A SCHEME II. A DUEL III. A PEACE-MAKER IV. THE ELDER SON V. THE MUMMERS VI. A CATASTROPHE VII. A QUESTION OF LOYALTY VIII. TO CHARING IX. A RELIEF-PARTY X. PLACENTIA XI. THE KING'S HIGHNESS XII. THE TIDINGS AT THE TOWER XIII. THE RELEASE
BENEFICO—IGNOTO HVNC—LIBRVM D.
THE KING'S ACHIEVEMENT
Overfield Court lay basking in warm June sunshine. The western side of the great house with its new timber and plaster faced the evening sun across the square lawns and high terrace; and the woods a couple of hundred yards away cast long shadows over the gardens that lay beyond the moat. The lawns, in their broad plateaux on the eastern side descended by steps, in cool shadow to the lake that formed a quarter-circle below the south-eastern angle of the house; and the mirrored trees and reeds on the other side were broken, circle after circle, by the great trout that were rising for their evening meal. The tall front of the house on the north, formed by the hall in the centre with the kitchen at its eastern end and the master's chamber on the western, was faced by a square-towered gatehouse through which the straight drive leading into the main road approached the house under a lime-avenue; and on the south side the ground fell away again rapidly below the chapel and the morning-room, in copse and garden and wild meadow bright with buttercups and ox-eye daisies, down to the lake again and the moat that ran out of it round the entire domain.
The cobbled courtyard in the centre of the house, where the tall leaded pump stood, was full of movement. Half a dozen trunks lay there that had just been carried in from the luggage-horses that were now being led away with patient hanging heads towards the stables that stood outside the gatehouse on the right, and three or four dusty men in livery were talking to the house-servants who had come out of their quarters on the left. From the kitchen corner came a clamour of tongues and dishes, and smoke was rising steadily from the huge outside chimney that rose beyond the roofs.
Presently there came clear and distinct from the direction of the village the throb of hoofs on the hard road; and the men shouldered the trunks, and disappeared, staggering, under the low archway on the right, beside which the lamp extinguisher hung, grimy with smoke and grease. The yard dog came out at the sound of the hoofs, dragging his chain after him, from his kennel beneath the little cloister outside the chapel, barked solemnly once or twice, and having done his duty lay down on the cool stones, head on paws, watching with bright eyes the door that led from the hall into the Court. A moment later the little door from the masters chamber opened; and Sir James Torridon came out and, giving a glance at the disappearing servants, said a word or two to the others, and turned again through the hall to meet his sons.
The coach was coming up the drive round toward the gatehouse, as he came out on the wide paved terrace; and he stood watching the glitter of brasswork through the dust, the four plumed cantering horses in front, and the bobbing heads of the men that rode behind; and there was a grave pleased expectancy on his bearded face and in his bright grey eyes as he looked. His two sons had met at Begham, and were coming home, Ralph from town sites a six months' absence, and Christopher from Canterbury, where he had been spending a week or two in company with Mr. Carleton, the chaplain of the Court. He was the more pleased as the house had been rather lonely in their absence, since the two daughters were both from home, Mary with her husband, Sir Nicholas Maxwell, over at Great Keynes, and Margaret at her convent education at Rusper: and he himself had had for company his wife alone.
She came out presently as the carriage rolled through the archway, a tall dignified figure of a woman, finely dressed in purple and black, and stood by him, silently, a yard or two away, watching the carriage out of steady black eyes. A moment later the carriage drew up at the steps, and a couple of servants ran down to open the door.
Ralph stepped out first, a tall man like both his parents, with a face and slow gait extraordinarily like his mother's, and dressed in the same kind of rich splendour, with a short silver-clasped travelling cloak, crimson hose, and plumed felt cap; and his face with its pointed black beard had something of the same steady impassivity in it; he was flicking the dust from his shoulder as he came up the steps on to the terrace.
Christopher followed him, not quite so tall as the other, and a good ten years younger, with the grey eyes of his father, and a little brown beard beginning to sprout on his cheeks and chin.
Ralph turned at the top of the steps
"The bag," he said shortly; and then turned again to kiss his parents' hands; as Christopher went back to the carriage, from which the priest was just stepping out. Sir James asked his son about the journey.
"Oh, yes," he said; and then added, "Christopher was late at Begham."
"And you are well, my son?" asked his mother, as they turned to walk up to the house.
"Oh, yes!" he said again.
Sir James waited for Christopher and Mr. Carleton, and the three followed the others a few yards behind.
"You saw her?" said his father.
"Yes," he said, "I must speak to you, sir, before I tell the others."
"Come to me when you are dressed, then. Supper will be in an hour from now;" and he looked at his son with a kind of sharp expectancy.
The courtyard was empty as they passed through, but half a dozen servants stood crowded in the little flagged passage that led from it into the kitchen, and watched Ralph and his mother with an awed interest as they came out from the hall. Mr. Ralph had come down from the heart of life, as they knew; had been present at the crowning of Anne Boleyn a week before, had mixed with great folks; and what secrets of State might there not be in that little strapped bag that his brother carried behind him?
When the two first had disappeared, the servants broke into talk, and went back to the kitchen.
* * * * *
Lady Torridon, with her elder son and the chaplain, had to wait a few minutes on the dais in the hall an hour later, before the door under the musicians' gallery opened, and the other two came in from the master's chamber. Sir James looked a little anxious as he came across the clean strewed rushes, past the table at the lower end where the household sat, but Christopher's face was bright with excitement. After a word or two of apology they moved to their places. Mr. Carleton said grace, and as they sat down the door behind from the kitchen opened, and the servants came through with the pewter dishes.
Ralph was very silent at first; his mother sat by him almost as silent as himself; the servants sprang about noiseless and eager to wait on him; and Sir James and the chaplain did most of the conversation, pleasant harmless talk about the estate and the tenants; but as supper went on, and the weariness of the hot journey faded, and the talk from the lower tables grew louder, Ralph began to talk a little more freely.
"Yes," he said, "the crowning went well enough. The people were quiet enough. She looked very pretty in her robes; she was in purple velvet, and her gentlemen in scarlet. We shall have news of her soon."
Sir James looked up sharply at his son. They were all listening intently; and even a servant behind Ralph's chair paused with a silver jug.
"Yes," said Ralph again with a tranquil air, setting down his Venetian glass; "God has blessed the union already."
"And the King?" asked his father, from his black velvet chair in the centre.
There fell a deeper silence yet as that name was mentioned. Henry dominated the imagination of his subjects to an extraordinary degree, no less in his heavy middle-age than in the magnificent strength and capacity of his youth.
But Ralph answered carelessly enough. He had seen the King too often.
"The King looked pleased enough; he was in his throne. He is stouter than when I saw him last. My Lord of Canterbury did the crowning; Te Deum was sung after, and then solemn mass. There was a dozen abbots, I should think, and my Lords of York and London and Winchester with two or three more. My Lord of Suffolk bore the crown."
"And the procession?" asked his father again.
"That, too, was well enough. There came four chariots after the Queen, full of ancient old ladies, at which some of the folks laughed. And then the rest of them."
They talked a few minutes about the coronation, Sir James asking most of the questions and Ralph answering shortly; and presently Christopher broke in—
"And the Lady Katharine—" he began.
"Hush, my son," said his father, glancing at Ralph, who sat perfectly still a moment before answering.
"Chris is always eager about the wrong thing," he said evenly; "he is late at Begham, and then asks me about the Princess Dowager. She is still alive, if you mean that."
Lady Torridon looked from one to the other.
"And Master Cromwell?" she asked.
"Master Cromwell is well enough. He asked me to give you both his respects. I left him at Hackney."
* * * * *
The tall southern windows of the hall, above the pargetted plaster, had faded through glowing ruby and blue to dusk before they rose from the table and went down and through the passage into the little parlour next the master's chamber, where they usually took their dessert. This part of the house had been lately re-built, but the old woodwork had been re-used, and the pale oak panels, each crowned by an elaborate foliated head, gave back the pleasant flicker of the fire that burned between the polished sheets of Flemish tiles on either side of the hearth. A great globe stood in the corner furthest from the door, with a map of England hanging above it. A piece of tapestry hung over the mantelpiece, representing Diana bending over Endymion, and two tall candles in brass stands burned beneath. The floor was covered with rushes.
Mr. Carleton, who had come with them as far as the door, according to custom, was on the point of saying-good-night, when Sir James called him back.
"Come in, father," he said, "we want you to-night. Chris has something to tell us."
The priest came in and sat down with the others, his face in shadow, at the corner of the hearth.
Sir James looked across at his younger son and nodded; and Chris, his chin on his hand, and sitting very upright on the long-backed settle beside the chaplain, began rather nervously and abruptly.
"I—I have told Ralph," he said, "on the way here and you, sir; but I will tell you again. You know I was questioning whether I had a vocation to the religious life; and I went, with that in my mind, to see the Holy Maid. We saw her, Mr. Carleton and I; and—and I have made up my mind I must go."
He stopped, hesitating a little, Ralph and his mother sat perfectly still, without a word or sign of either sympathy or disapproval. His father leaned forward a little, and smiled encouragingly.
"Go on, my son."
Chris drew a breath and leaned back more easily.
"Well, we went to St. Sepulchre's; and she could not see us for a day or two. There were several others staying with us at the monastery; there was a Carthusian from Sheen—I forget his name."
"Henry Man," put in the chaplain.
"—And some others," went on Chris, "all waiting to see her. Dr. Bocking promised to tell us when we could see her; and he came to us one morning after mass, and told us that she was in ecstasy, and that we were to come at once. So we all went to the nuns' chapel, and there she was on her knees, with her arms across her breast."
He stopped again. Ralph cleared his throat, crossed his legs, and drank a little wine.
"Yes?" said the knight questioningly.
"Well—she said a great deal," went on Chris hurriedly.
"About the King?" put in his mother who was looking at the fire.
"A little about the King," said Chris, "and about holy things as well. She spoke about heaven; it was wonderful to hear her; with her eyes burning, and such a voice; and then she spoke low and deep and told us about hell, and the devil and his torments; and I could hardly bear to listen; and she told us about shrift, and what it did for the soul; and the blessed sacrament. The Carthusian put a question or two to her, and she answered them: and all the while she was speaking her voice seemed to come from her body, and not from her mouth; and it was terrible to see her when she spoke of hell; her tongue lay out on her cheek, and her eyes grew little and afraid."
"Her tongue in her cheek, did you say?" asked Ralph politely, without moving.
Chris flushed, and sat back silent. His father glanced quickly from one to the other.
"Tell us more, Chris," he said. "What did she say to you?"
The young man leaned forward again.
"I wish, Ralph—" he began.
"I was asking—" began the other.
"There, there," said Sir James. "Go on, Chris."
"Well, after a while Dr. Bocking brought me forward; and told her to look at me; and her eyes seemed to see something beyond me; and I was afraid. But he told me to ask her, and I did. She said nothing for a while; and then she began to speak of a great church, as if she saw it; and she saw there was a tower in the middle, and chapels on either side, and tombs beside the high altar; and an image, and then she stopped, and cried out aloud 'Saint Pancras pray for us'—and then I knew."
Chris was trembling violently with excitement as he turned to the priest for corroboration. Mr. Carleton nodded once or twice without speaking.
"Then I knew," went on Chris. "You know it was what I had in my mind; and I had not spoken a word of Lewes, or of my thought of going there."
"Had you told any?" asked his father.
"Only Dr. Bocking. Then I asked her, was I to go there; but she said nothing for a while; and her eyes wandered about; and she began to speak of black monks going this way and that; and she spoke of a prior, and of his ring; it was of gold, she said, with figures engraved on it. You know the ring the Prior wears?" he added, looking eagerly at his father.
Sir James nodded.
"I know it," he said. "Well?"
"Well, I asked her again, was I to go there; and then she looked at me up and down; I was in my travelling suit; but she said she saw my cowl and its hanging sleeves, and an antiphoner in my hands; and then her face grew dreadful and afraid again, and she cried out and fell forward; and Dr. Bocking led us out from the chapel."
There was a long silence as Chris ended and leaned back again, taking up a bunch of raisins. Ralph sighed once as if wearied out, and his mother put her hand on his sleeve. Then at last Sir James spoke.
"You have heard the story," he said, and then paused; but there was no answer. At last the chaplain spoke from his place.
"It is all as Chris said," he began, "I was there and heard it. If the woman is not from God, she is one of Satan's own; and it is hard to think that Satan would tell us of the sacraments and bid us use them greedily, and if she is from God—" he stopped again.
The knight nodded at him.
"And you, sweetheart?" he said to his wife.
She turned to him slowly.
"You know what I think," she said. "If Chris believes it, he must go, I suppose."
"And you, Ralph?"
Ralph raised himself in his chair.
"Do you wish me to say what I think?" he asked deliberately, "or what Chris wishes me to say? I will do either."
Chris made a quick movement of his head; but his father answered for him.
"We wish you to say what you think," he said quietly.
"Well, then," said Ralph, "it is this. I cannot agree with the father. I think the woman is neither of God nor Satan; but that she speaks of her own heart, and of Dr. Bocking's. I believe they are a couple of knaves—clever knaves, I will grant, though perhaps the woman is something of a fool too; for she deceives persons as wise even as Mr. Carleton here by speaking of shrift and the like; and so she does the priests' will, and hopes to get gain for them and herself. I am not alone in thinking this—there are many in town who think with me, and holy persons too."
"Is Master Cromwell one of them?" put in Chris bitterly.
Ralph raised his eyebrows a little.
"There is no use in sneering," he said, "but Master Cromwell is one of them. I suppose I ought not to speak of this; but I know you will not speak of it again; and I can tell you of my own knowledge that the Holy Maid will not be at St. Sepulchre's much longer."
His father leaned forward.
"Do you mean—" he began.
"I mean that His Grace is weary of her prophesyings. It was all very well till she began to meddle with matters of State; but His Grace will have none of that. I can tell you no more. On the other hand if Chris thinks he must be a monk, well and good; I do not think so myself; but that is not my affair; but I hope he will not be a monk only because a knavish woman has put out her tongue at him, and repeated what a knavish priest has put into her mouth. But I suppose he had made up his mind before he asked me."
"He has made up his mind," said his father, "and will hold to it unless reason is shown to the contrary; and for myself I think he is right."
"Very well, then," said Ralph; and leaned back once more.
The minutes passed away in silence for a while; and then Ralph asked a question or two about his sisters.
"Mary is coming over to hunt to-morrow with her husband," said Sir James. "I have told Forrest to be here by nine o'clock. Shall you come with us?"
Ralph yawned, and sipped his Bordeaux.
"I do not know," he said, "I suppose so."
"And Margaret is at Rusper still," went on the other. "She will not be here until August."
"She, too, is thinking of Religion," put in Lady Torridon impassively.
Ralph looked up lazily.
"Indeed," he said, "then Mary and I will be the only worldlings."
"She is very happy with the nuns," said his father, smiling, "and a worldling can be no more than that; and perhaps not always as much."
Ralph smiled with one corner of his mouth.
"You are quite right, sir," he said.
The bell for evening prayers sounded out presently from the turret in the chapel-corner, and the chaplain rose and went out.
"Will you forgive me, sir," said Ralph, "if I do not come this evening? I am worn out with travelling. The stay at Begham was very troublesome."
"Good-night, then, my son. I will send Morris to you immediately."
"Oh, after prayers," said Ralph. "I need not deprive God of his prayers too."
* * * * *
Lady Torridon had gone out silently after the chaplain, and Sir James and Chris walked across the Court together. Overhead the summer night sky was clear and luminous with stars, and the air still and fragrant. There were a few lights here and there round the Court, and the tall chapel windows shone dimly above the little cloister. A link flared steadily on its iron bracket by the door into the hall, and threw waves of flickering ruddy light across the cobble-stones, and the shadow of the tall pump wavered on the further side.
Sir James put his hand tenderly on Chris' shoulder.
"You must not be angry at Ralph, my son," he said. "Remember he does not understand."
"He should not speak like that," said Chris fiercely. "How dare he do so?"
"Of course he should not; but he does not know that. He thinks he is advising you well. You must let him alone, Chris. You must remember he is almost mad with business. Master Cromwell works him hard."
* * * * *
The chapel was but dimly lighted as Chris made his way up to the high gallery at the west where he usually knelt. The altar glimmered in the dusk at the further end, and only a couple of candles burned on the priest's kneeling stool on the south side. The rest was dark, for the house hold knew compline by heart; and even before Chris reached his seat he heard the blessing asked for a quiet night and a perfect end. It was very soothing to him as he leaned over the oak rail and looked down on the dim figures of his parents in their seat at the front, and the heads of the servants below, and listened to the quiet pulsation of those waves of prayer going to and fro in the dusk, beating, as a summer tide at the foot of a cliff against those white steps that rose up to the altar where a single spark winked against the leaded window beneath the silk-shrouded pyx. He had come home full of excitement and joy at his first sight of an ecstatic, and at the message that she had seemed to have for him, and across these heightened perceptions had jarred the impatience of his brother in the inn at Begham and in the carriage on their way home, and above all his sharp criticism and aloofness in the parlour just now. But he became quieter as he knelt now; the bitterness seamed to sink beneath him and to leave him alone in a world of peaceful glory—the world of mystic life to which his face was now set, illuminated by the words of the nun. He had seen one who could see further than he himself; he had looked upon eyes that were fixed on mysteries and realms in which he indeed passionately believed, but which were apt to be faint and formless sometimes to the weary eyes of faith alone; and as a proof that these were more than fancies she had told him too of what he could verify—of the priory at Lewes which she had never visited, and even the details of the ring on the Prior's finger which he alone of the two had seen. And then lastly she had encouraged him in his desires, had seen him with those same wide eyes in the habit that he longed to wear, going about the psalmody—the great Opus Dei—to which he longed to consecrate his life. If such were not a message from God to him for what further revelation could he hope?
And as for Ralph's news and interests, of what value were they? Of what importance was it to ask who sat on the Consort's throne, or whether she wore purple velvet or red? These were little matters compared with those high affairs of the soul and the Eternal God, of which he was already beginning to catch glimpses, and even the whispers that ran about the country places and of which Ralph no doubt could tell him much if he chose, of the danger that threatened the religious houses, and of Henry's intentions towards them—even these were but impotent cries of the people raging round the throne of the Anointed.
So he knelt here now, pacified and content again, and thought with something of pity of his brother dozing now no doubt before the parlour fire, cramped by his poor ideals and dismally happy in his limitations.
His father, too, was content down below in the chapel. He himself had at one time before his marriage looked towards the religious life; and now that it had turned out otherwise had desired nothing more than that he should be represented in that inner world of God's favourites by at least one of his children. His daughter Margaret had written a week earlier to say that her mind was turning that way, and now Christopher's decision had filled up the cup of his desires. To have a priest for a son, and above all one who was a monk as well was more than he had dared to hope, though not to pray for; if he could not be one himself, at least he had begotten one—one who would represent him before God, bring a blessing on the house, and pray and offer sacrifice for his soul until his time should be run out and he see God face to face. And Ralph would represent him before men and carry on the line, and hand on the house to a third generation—Ralph, at whom he had felt so sorely puzzled of late, for he seemed full of objects and ambitions for which the father had very little sympathy, and to have lost almost entirely that delicate relation with home that was at once so indefinable and so real. But he comforted himself by the thought that his elder son was not wholly wasting time as so many of the country squires were doing round about, absorbed in work that a brainless yeoman could do with better success. Ralph at least was occupied with grave matters, in Cromwell's service and the King's, and entrusted with high secrets the issue of which both temporal and eternal it was hard to predict. And, no doubt, the knight thought, in time he would come back and pick up the strands he had dropped; for when a man had wife and children of his own to care for, other businesses must seem secondary; and questions that could be ignored before must be faced then.
But he thought with a little anxiety of his wife, and wondered whether his elder son had not after all inherited that kind of dry rot of the soul, in which the sap and vigour disappear little by little, leaving the shape indeed intact but not the powers. When he had married her, thirty-five years before, she had seemed to him an incarnate mystery of whose key he was taking possession—her silence had seemed pregnant with knowledge, and her words precious pieces from an immeasurable treasury; and then little by little he had found that the wide treasury was empty, clean indeed and capacious, but no more, and above all with no promise of any riches as yet unperceived. Those great black eyes, that high forehead, those stately movements, meant nothing; it was a splendid figure with no soul within. She did her duty admirably, she said her prayers, she entertained her guests with the proper conversation, she could be trusted to behave well in any circumstances that called for tact or strength; and that was all. But Ralph would not be like that; he was intensely devoted to his work, and from all accounts able in its performance; and more than that, with all his impassivity he was capable of passion; for his employer Sir Thomas Cromwell was to Ralph's eyes, his father had begun to see, something almost more than human. A word against that master of his would set his eyes blazing and his voice trembling; and this showed that at least the soul was not more than sleeping, or its powers more than misdirected.
And meanwhile there was Chris; and at the thought the father lifted his eyes to the gallery, and saw the faint outline of his son's brown head against the whitewash.
A FORETASTE OF PEACE
It was not until the party was riding home the next day that Sir Nicholas Maxwell and his wife were informed of Chris' decision.
* * * * *
They had had a fair day's sport in the two estates that marched with one another between Overfield and Great Keynes, and about fifteen stags had been killed as well as a quantity of smaller game.
Ralph had ridden out after the party had left, and had found Sir Nicholas at the close of the afternoon just as the last drive was about to take place; and had stepped into his shelter to watch the finish. It was a still, hot afternoon, and the air over the open space between the copse in which they stood and the dense forest eighty yards away danced in the heat.
Ralph nodded to his brother-in-law, who was flushed and sunburnt, and then stood behind, running his eyes up and down that sturdy figure with the tightly-gaitered legs set well apart and the little feathered cap that moved this way and that as the sportsman peered through the branches before him. Once he turned fierce eyes backwards at the whine of one of the hounds, and then again thrust his hot dripping face into the greenery.
Then very far away came a shout, and a chorus of taps and cries followed it, sounding from a couple of miles away as the beaters after sweeping a wide circle entered the thick undergrowth on the opposite side of the wood. Sir Nicholas' legs trembled, and he shifted his position a little, half lifting his strong spliced hunting bow as he did so.
For a few minutes there was silence about them except for the distant cries, and once for the stamp of a horse behind them. Then Sir Nicholas made a quick movement, and dropped his hands again; a single rabbit had cantered out from the growth opposite, and sat up with cocked ears staring straight at the deadly shelter. Then another followed; and again in a sudden panic the two little furry bodies whisked back into cover.
Ralph marvelled at this strange passion that could set a reasonable man twitching and panting like the figure in front of him. He himself was a good rider, and a sufficiently keen hunter when his blood was up; but this brother-in-law of his seemed to live for little else. Day after day, as Ralph knew, from the beginning of the season to the end he was out with his men and hounds, and the rest of the year he seemed to spend in talking about the sport, fingering and oiling his weapons through long mornings, and elaborating future campaigns, in which the quarries' chances should be reduced to a minimum.
* * * * *
On a sudden Sir Nicholas's figure stiffened and then relaxed. A doe had stepped out noiselessly from the cover, head up and feet close together, sniffing up wind—and they were shooting no does this month. Then again she moved along against the thick undergrowth, stepping delicately and silently, and vanished without a sound a hundred yards along to the left.
The cries and taps were sounding nearer now, and at any moment the game might appear. Sir Nicholas shifted his position again a little, and simultaneously the scolding voice of a blackbird rang out in front, and he stopped again. At the same moment a hare, mad with fright, burst out of the cover, making straight for the shelter. Sir Nicholas' hands rose, steady now the crisis had come; and Ralph leaning forward touched him on the shoulder and pointed.
A great stag was standing in the green gloom within the wood eighty yards away, with a couple of does at his flank. Then as a shout sounded out near at hand, he bolted towards the shelter in a line that would bring him close to it. Ralph crouched down, for he had left his bow with his man an hour earlier, and one of the hounds gave a stifled yelp as Nicholas straightened himself and threw out his left foot. Either the sound or the movement startled the great brown beast in front, and as the arrow twanged from the string he checked and wheeled round, and went off like the wind, untouched. A furious hiss of the breath broke from Nicholas, and he made a swift sign as he turned to his horse; and in a moment the two lithe hounds had leapt from the shelter and were flying in long noiseless leaps after the disappearing quarry; the does, confused by the change of direction, had whisked back into cover. A moment later Nicholas too was after the hounds, his shoulders working and his head thrust forward, and a stirrup clashed and jingled against the saddle.
Ralph sat down on the ground smiling. It gave him a certain pleasure to see such a complete discomfiture; Nicholas was always so amusingly angry when he failed, and so full of reasons.
The forest was full of noises now; a crowd of starlings were protesting wildly overhead, there were shouts far away and the throb of hoofs, and the ground game was pouring out of the undergrowth and dispersing in all directions. Once a boar ran past, grumbling as he went, turning a wicked and resentful eye on the placid gentleman in green who sat on the ground, but who felt for his long dirk as he saw the fury on the brute's face and the foam on the tusks. But the pig thought discretion was best, and hurried on complaining. More than one troop of deer flew past, the does gathered round their lord to protect him, all swerving together like a string of geese as they turned the corner of the shelter and caught sight of Ralph; but the beaters were coming out now, whistling and talking as they came, and gathering into groups of two or three on the ground, for the work was done, and it had been hot going.
Mary Maxwell appeared presently on her grey horse, looking slender and dignified in her green riding-suit with the great plume shading her face, and rode up to Ralph whom she had seen earlier in the afternoon.
"My husband?" she enquired looking down at Ralph who was lying with his hat over his eyes.
"He left me just now," said her brother, "very hot and red, after a stag which he missed. That will mean some conversation to-night, Minnie."
She smiled down at him.
"I shall agree with him, you know," she said.
"Of course you will; it is but right. And I suppose I shall too."
"Will you wait for him? Tell him we are going home by the mill. It is all over now."
Ralph nodded, and Mary moved off down the glade to join the others.
Ralph began to wonder how Nicholas would take the news of Chris' decision. Mary, he knew very well, would assent to it quietly as she did to all normal events, even though they were not what she would have wished; and probably her husband would assent too, for he had a great respect for a churchman. For himself his opinions were divided and he scarcely knew what he thought. From the temporal point of view Chris' step would be an advantage to him, for the vow of poverty would put an end to any claims upon the estate on the part of the younger son; but Ralph was sufficiently generous not to pay much attention to this. From the social point of view, no great difference would be made; it was as respectable to have a monk for a brother as a small squire, and Chris could never be more than this unless he made a good marriage. From the spiritual point of view—and here Ralph stopped and wondered whether it was very seriously worth considering. It was the normal thing of course to believe in the sublimity of the religious life and its peculiar dignity; but the new learning was beginning to put questions on the subject that had very considerably affected the normal view in Ralph's eyes. In that section of society where new ideas are generated and to which Ralph himself belonged, there were very odd tales being told; and it was beginning to be thought possible that monasticism had over-reached itself, and that in trying to convert the world it had itself been converted by the world. Ralph was proud enough of the honour of his family to wonder whether it was an unmixed gain that his own brother should join such ranks as these. And lastly there were the facts that he had learnt from his association with Cromwell that made him hesitate more than ever in giving Chris his sympathy. He had been thinking these points over in the parlour the night before when the others had left him, and during the day in the intervals of the sport; and he was beginning to come to the conclusion that all things considered he had better just acquiesce in the situation, and neither praise nor blame overmuch.
It was a sleepy afternoon. The servants had all gone by now, and the horn-blowings and noises had died away in the direction of the mill; there was no leisure for stags to bray, as they crouched now far away in the bracken, listening large-eyed and trumpet-eared for the sounds of pursuit; only the hum of insect life in the hot evening sunshine filled the air; and Ralph began to fall asleep, his back against a fallen trunk.
Then he suddenly awakened and saw his brother-in-law, black against the sky, looking down at him, from the saddle.
"Well?" said Ralph, not moving.
Nicholas began to explain. There were a hundred reasons, it seemed, for his coming home empty-handed; and where were his men?
"They are all gone home," said Ralph, getting up and stretching himself. "I waited for you It is all over."
"You understand," said Nicholas, putting his horse into motion, and beginning to explain all over again, "you understand that it had not been for that foul hound yelping, I should have had him here. I never miss such a shot; and then when we went after him—"
"I understand perfectly, Nick," said Ralph. "You missed him because you did not shoot straight, and you did not catch him because you did not go fast enough. A lawyer could say no more."
Nicholas threw back his head and laughed loudly, for the two were good friends.
"Well, if you will have it," he said, "I was a damned fool. There! A lawyer dare not say as much—not to me, at any rate."
Ralph found his man half a mile further on coming to meet him with his horse, and he mounted and rode on with Nicholas towards the mill.
"I have something to tell you," he said presently. "Chris is to be a monk."
"Mother of God!" cried Nicholas, half checking his horse, "and when was that arranged?"
"Last night," went on Ralph. "He went to see the Holy Maid at St. Sepulchre's, and it seems that she told him he had a vocation; so there is an end of it."
"And what do you all think of it?" asked the other.
"Oh! I suppose he knows his business."
Nicholas asked a number of questions, and was informed that Chris proposed to go to Lewes in a month's time. He was already twenty-three, the Prior had given his conditional consent before, and there was no need for waiting. Yes, they were Cluniacs; but Ralph believed that they were far from strict just at present. It need not be the end of Chris so far as this world was concerned.
"But you must not say that to him," he went on, "he thinks it is heaven itself between four walls, and we shall have a great scene of farewell. I think I must go back to town before it takes place: I cannot do that kind of thing."
Nicholas was not attending, and rode on in silence for a few yards, sucking in his lower lip.
"We are lucky fellows, you and I," he said at last, "to have a monk to pray for us."
Ralph glanced at him, for he was perfectly grave, and a rather intent and awed look was in his eyes.
"I think a deal of that," he went on, "though I cannot talk to a churchman as I should. I had a terrible time with my Lord of Canterbury last year, at Otford. He was not a hunter like this one, and I knew not what else to speak of."
Ralph's eyes narrowed with amusement.
"What did you say to him?" he asked.
"I forget," said Nicholas, "and I hope my lord did. Mary told me I behaved like a fool. But this one is better. I hear. He is at Ashford now with his hounds."
They talked a little more about Chris, and Ralph soon saw on which side Nicholas ranged himself. It was an unfeigned pleasure to this hunting squire to have a monk for a brother-in-law; there was no knowing how short purgatory might not be for them all under the circumstances.
It was evident, too, when they came up with the others a couple of miles further on, that Nicholas's attitude towards the young man had undergone a change. He looked at him with a deep respect, refrained from criticising his bloodless hands, and was soon riding on in front beside him, talking eagerly and deferentially, while Ralph followed with Mary and his father.
"You have heard?" he said to her presently.
"Father has just told me," she said. "We are very much pleased—dear Chris!"
"And then there is Meg," put in her father.
"Oh! Meg; yes, I knew she would. She is made for a nun."
Sir James edged his horse in presently close to Ralph, as Mary went in front through a narrow opening in the wood.
"Be good to him," he said. "He thinks so much of you."
Ralph glanced up and smiled into the tender keen eyes that were looking into his own.
"Why, of course, sir," he said.
* * * * *
It was an immense pleasure to Chris to notice the difference in Nicholas's behaviour towards him. There was none of that loud and cheerful rallying that stood for humour, no criticisms of his riding or his costume. The squire asked him a hundred questions, almost nervously, about the Holy Maid and himself, and what had passed between them.
"They say the Host was carried to her through the air from Calais, Chris, when the King was there. Did you hear her speak of that?"
Chris shook his head.
"There was not time," he said.
"And then there was the matter of the divorce—" Nicholas turned his head slightly; "Ralph cannot hear us, can he? Well—the matter of the divorce—I hear she denounced that, and would have none of it, and has written to the Pope, too."
"They were saying something of the kind," said Chris, "but I thought it best not to meddle."
"And what did she say to you?"
Chris told him the story, and Nicholas's eyes grew round and fixed as he listened; his mouth was a little open, and he murmured inarticulate comments as they rode together up from the mill.
"Lord!" he said at last, "and she said all that about hell. God save us! And her tongue out of her mouth all the while! And did you see anything yourself? No devils or angels?"
"I saw nothing," said Chris. "I just listened, but she saw them."
"Lord!" said Nicholas again, and rode on in profound silence.
The Maxwells were to stay to supper at the Court; and drive home afterwards; so there was no opportunity for Chris to go down and bathe in the lake as he usually did in summer after a day's hunting, for supper was at seven o'clock, and he had scarcely more than time to dress.
Nicholas was very talkative at supper, and poured out all that Chris had told him, with his usual lack of discretion; for the other had already told the others once all the details that he thought would interest them.
"They were talking about the divorce," he broke out, and then stopped and eyed Ralph craftily; "but I had better not speak of that here—eh, Chris?"
Ralph looked blandly at his plate.
"Chris did not mention that," he said. "Tell us, Nick."
"No, no," cried Nicholas. "I do not want you to go with tales to town. Your ears are too quick, my friend. Then there was that about the Host flying from Calais, eh, Chris? No, no; you said you had heard nothing of that."
Chris looked up and his face was a little flushed.
"No, Nick," he said.
"There seems to have been a great deal that Chris did not tell us—" began Ralph.
Sir James glanced swiftly from his seat under the canopy.
"He told us all that was needed," he said.
"Aha!" broke out Nicholas again, "but the Holy Maid said that the King would not live six months if he—"
Chris's face was full of despair and misery, and his father interrupted once more.
"We had better not speak of that, my son," he said to Nicholas. "It is best to leave such things alone."
Ralph was smiling broadly with tight lips by now.
"By my soul, Nick, you are the maddest wind-bag I have ever heard. All our heads might go for what you have said to-night. Thank God the servants are gone."
"Nick," cried Mary imploringly, "do hold your tongue."
Lady Torridon looked from one to the other with serene amusement, and there was an odd pause such as generally fell when she showed signs of speaking. Her lips moved but she said nothing, and ran her eyes over the silver flagons before her.
When the Maxwells had gone at last, and prayers were over, Chris slipped across the Court with a towel, and went up to the priest's room over the sacristy. Mr. Carleton looked up from his lamp and rose.
"Yes, Chris," he said, "I will come. The moon will be up soon."
They went down together through the sacristy door on to the level plateaux of lawns that stretched step after step down to the dark lake. The sky was ablaze with stars, and in the East there was a growing light in the quarter where the moon was at its rising. The woods beyond the water were blotted masses against the sky; and the air was full of the rich fragrance of the summer night. The two said very little, and the priest stopped on the bank as Chris stepped out along the little boarded pier that ran out among the rushes into deep water. There was a scurry and a cry, and a moor-hen dashed out from under cover, and sped across the pond, scattering the silver points that hung there motionless, reflected from the heaven overhead.
Chris was soon ready, and stood there a moment, a pale figure in the gloom, watching the shining dots rock back again in the ripples to motionlessness. Then he lifted his hands and plunged.
It seemed to him, as he rose to the surface again, as if he were swimming between two sides. As he moved softly out across the middle, and a little ripple moved before him, the water was invisible. There was only a fathomless gulf, as deep below as the sky was high above, pricked with stars. As he turned his head this way and that the great trees, high overhead, seemed less real than those two immeasurable spaces above and beneath. There was a dead silence everywhere, only broken by the faint suck of the water over his shoulder, and an indescribably sweet coolness that thrilled him like a strain of music. Under its influence, again, as last night, the tangible, irritating world seemed to sink out of his soul; here he was, a living creature alone in a great silence with God, and nothing else was of any importance.
He turned on his back, and there was the dark figure on the bank watching him, and above it the great towered house, with its half-dozen lighted windows along its eastern side, telling him of the world of men and passion.
"Look," came the priest's voice, and he turned again, and over the further bank, between two tall trees, shone a great silver rim of the rising moon. A path of glory was struck now across the black water, and he pleased himself by travelling up it towards the remote splendour, noticing as he went how shadows had sprung into being in that moment, and how the same light that made the glory made the dark as well. His soul seemed to emerge a stage higher yet from the limits in which the hot day and the shouting and the horns and the crowded woods had fettered it. How remote and little seemed Ralph's sneers and Nicholas's indiscretions and Mary's pity! Here he moved round in a cooler and serener mood. That keen mood, whether physical or spiritual he did not care to ask, made him inarticulate as he walked up with the priest ten minutes later. But Mr. Carleton seemed to understand.
"There are some things besides the divorce best not talked about," he said, "and I think bathing by starlight is one of them."
They passed under the chapel window presently, and Chris noticed with an odd sensation of pleasure the little translucent patch of colour between the slender mullions thrown by the lamp within—a kind of reflex or anti-type of the broad light shining over the water.
"Come up for a while," went on the priest, as they reached the side-entrance, "if you are not too tired."
The two went through the sacristy-door, locking it behind them, and up the winding stairs in the turret at the corner to the priest's chamber. Chris threw himself down, relaxed and happy, in the tall chair by the window, where he could look out and see the moon, clear of the trees now, riding high in heaven.
"That was a pity at supper," said the priest presently, as he sat at the table. "I love Sir Nicholas and think him a good Christian, but he is scarcely a discreet one."
"Tell me, father," broke out Chris, "what is going to happen?"
Mr. Carleton looked at him smiling. He had a pleasant ugly face, with little kind eyes and sensitive mouth.
"You must ask Mr. Ralph," he said, "or rather you must not. But he knows more than any of us."
"I wish he would not speak like that."
"Dear lad," said the priest, "you must not feel it like that. Remember our Lord bore contempt as well as pain."
There was silence a moment, and then Chris began again. "Tell me about Lewes, father. What will it be like?"
"It will be bitterly hard," said the priest deliberately. "Christ Church was too bitter for me, as you know. I came out after six months, and the Cluniacs are harder. I do not know if I lost my vocation or found it; but I am not the man to advise you in either case."
"Ralph thinks it is easy enough. He told me last night in the carriage that I need not trouble myself, and that monks had a very pleasant time. He began to tell me some tale about Glastonbury, but I would not hear it."
"Ah," said the chaplain regretfully, "the world's standard for monks is always high. But you will find it hard enough, especially in the first year. But, as I said, I am not the man to advise you—I failed."
Chris looked at him with something of pity in his heart, as the priest fingered the iron pen on the table, and stared with pursed lips and frowning forehead. The chaplain was extraordinarily silent in public, just carrying on sufficient conversation not to be peculiar or to seem morose, but he spoke more freely to Chris, and would often spend an hour or two in mysterious talk with Sir James. Chris's father had a very marked respect for the priest, and had had more than one sharp word with his wife, ten years before when he had first come to the house, and had found Lady Torridon prepared to treat her chaplain with the kind of respect that she gave to her butler. But the chaplain's position was secured by now, owing in a large measure to his own tact and unobtrusiveness, and he went about the house a quiet, sedate figure of considerable dignity and impressiveness, performing his duties punctually and keeping his counsel. He had been tutor to both the sons for a while, to Ralph only for a few months, but to Chris since his twelfth birthday, and the latter had formed with him a kind of peaceful confederacy, often looking in on him at unusual hours, always finding him genial, although very rarely confidential. It was to Mr. Carleton, too, that Chris owed his first drawings to the mystical life of prayer; there was a shelf of little books in the corner by the window of the priest's room, from which he would read to the boy aloud, first translating them into English as he went, and then, as studies progressed, reading the Latin as it stood; and that mysteriously fascinating world in which great souls saw and heard eternal things and talked familiarly with the Saviour and His Blessed Mother had first dawned on the boy there. New little books, too, appeared from time to time, and the volumes had overflowed their original home; and from that fact Christopher gathered that the priest, though he had left the external life of Religion, still followed after the elusive spirit that was its soul.
"But tell me," he said again, as the priest laid the pen down and sat back in his chair, crossing his buckled feet beneath the cassock; "tell me, why is it so hard? I am not afraid of the discipline or the food."
"It is the silence," said the priest, looking at him.
"I love silence," said Chris eagerly.
"Yes, you love an hour or two, or there would be no hope of a vocation for you. But I do not think you will love a year. However, I may be wrong. But it is the day after day that is difficult. And there is no relaxation; not even in the infirmary. You will have to learn signs in your novitiate; that is almost the first exercise."
The priest got up and fetched a little book from the corner cupboard.
"Listen," he said, and then began to read aloud the instructions laid down for the sign-language of novices; how they were to make a circle in the air for bread since it was round, a motion of drinking for water, and so forth.
"You see," he said, "you are not even allowed to speak when you ask for necessaries. And, you know, silence has its peculiar temptations as well as its joys. There is accidie and scrupulousness and contempt of others, and a host of snares that you know little of now."
"But—" began Chris.
"Oh, yes; it has its joys, and gives a peculiar strength."
Chris knew, of course, well enough by now in an abstract way what the Religious discipline would mean, but he wished to have it made more concrete by examples, and he sat long with the chaplain asking him questions. Mr. Carleton had been, as he said, in the novitiate at Canterbury for a few months, and was able to tell him a good deal about the life there; but the differences between the Augustinians and the Cluniacs made it impossible for him to go with any minuteness into the life of the Priory at Lewes. He warned him, however, of the tendency that every soul found in silence to think itself different from others, and of so peculiar a constitution that ordinary rules did not apply to it. He laid so much stress on this that the other was astonished.
"But it is true," said Chris, "no two souls are the same."
The priest smiled.
"Yes, that is true, too; no two sheep are the same, but the sheep nature is one, and you will have to learn that for yourself. A Religious rule is drawn up for many, not for one; and each must learn to conform himself. It was through that I failed myself; I remembered that I was different from others, and forgot that I was the same."
Mr. Carleton seemed to take a kind of melancholy pleasure in returning to what he considered his own failure, and Chris began to wonder whether the thought of it was not the secret of that slight indication to moroseness that he had noticed in him.
The moon was high and clear by now, and Chris often leaned his cheek on the sash as the priest talked, and watched that steady shining shield go up the sky, and the familiar view of lawns and water and trees, ghostly and mystical now in the pale light.
The Court was silent as he passed through it near midnight, as the household had been long in bed; the flaring link had been extinguished two hours before, and the shadows of the tall chimneys lay black and precise at his feet across the great whiteness on the western side of the yard. Again the sense of the smallness of himself and his surroundings, of the vastness of all else, poured over his soul; these little piled bricks and stones, the lawns and woods round about, even England and the world itself, he thought, as his mind shot out towards the stars and the unfathomable spaces—all these were but very tiny things, negligeable quantities, when he looked at them in the eternal light. It was this thought, after all, that was calling him out of the world, and had been calling him fitfully ever since his soul awoke eight years ago, and knew herself and her God: and his heart expanded and grew tremulous as he remembered once more that his vocation had been sealed by a divine messenger, and that he would soon be gone out of this little cell into the wide silent liberty of the most dear children of God.
THE ARRIVAL AT LEWES
Ralph relented as the month drew on, and was among those who wished Chris good-bye on the afternoon of the July day on which he was to present himself at Lewes. The servants were all drawn up at the back of the terrace against the hall, watching Ralph, even more than his departing brother, with the fascinated interest that the discreet and dignified friend of Cromwell always commanded. Ralph was at his best on such occasions, genial and natural, and showed a pleasing interest in the girths of the two horses, and the exact strapping of the couple of bags that Chris was to take with him. His own man, too, Mr. Morris, who had been with him ever since he had come to London, was to ride with Chris, at his master's express wish; stay with him in the guest-house that night, and return with the two horses and a precise report the next morning.
"You have the hares for my Lord Prior," he said impressively, looking at the game that was hanging head downwards from the servant's saddle. "Tell him that they were killed on Tuesday."
Sir James and his younger son were walking together a few yards away in deep talk; and Lady Torridon had caused a chair to be set for her at the top of the terrace steps where she could at once do her duty as a mother, and be moderately comfortable at the same time. She hardly spoke at all, but looked gravely with her enigmatic black eyes at the horses' legs and the luggage, and once held up her hand to silence a small dog that had begun to yelp with excitement.
"They must be going," said Ralph, when all was ready; and at the same moment Chris and his father came up, Sir James's arm thrown over his son's shoulders.
The farewells were very short; it was impossible to indulge in sentiment in the genial business-atmosphere generated by Ralph, and a minute later Chris was mounted. Sir James said no more, but stood a little apart looking at his son. Lady Torridon smiled rather pleasantly and nodded her head two or three times, and Ralph, with Mr. Carleton, stood on the gravel below, his hand on Chris's crupper, smiling up at him.
"Good-bye, Chris," he said, and added with an unusual piety, "God keep you!"
As the two horses passed through the gatehouse, Chris turned once again with swimming eyes, and saw the group a little re-arranged. Sir James and Ralph were standing together, Ralph's arm thrust through his father's; Mr. Carleton was still on the gravel, and Lady Torridon was walking very deliberately back to the house.
* * * * *
The distance to Lewes was about fourteen miles, and it was not until they had travelled some two of them, and had struck off towards Burgess Hill that Chris turned his head for Mr. Morris to come up.
It was very strange to him to ride through that familiar country, where he had ridden hundreds of times before, and to know that this was probably the last time that he would pass along those lanes, at least under the same circumstances. It had the same effect on him, as a death in the house would have; the familiar things were the same, but they wore a new and strange significance. The few men and children he passed saluted him deferentially as usual, and then turned fifty yards further on and stared at the young gentleman who, as they knew, was riding off on such an errand, and with such grave looks.
Mr. Morris came up with an eager respectfulness at Chris's sign, keeping a yard or two away lest the swinging luggage on his own horse should discompose the master, and answered a formal question or two about the roads and the bags, which Chris put to him as a gambit of conversation. The servant was clever and well trained, and knew how to modulate his attitude to the precise degree of deference due to his master and his master's relations; he had entered Ralph's service from Cromwell's own eight years before. He liked nothing better than to talk of London and his experiences there, and selected with considerable skill the topics that he knew would please in each case. Now he was soon deep on the subject of Wolsey, pausing respectfully now and again for corroboration, or to ask a question the answer to which he knew a good deal better than Chris himself.
"I understand, sir, that the Lord Cardinal had a wonderful deal of furniture at York House: I saw some of it at Master Cromwell's; his grace sent it to him, at least, so I heard. Is that so, sir?"
Chris said he did not know.
"Well, I believe it was so, sir; there was a chair there, set with agates and pearl, that I think I heard Mr. Ralph say had come from there. Did you ever see my lord, sir?"
Chris said he had seen him once in a narrow street at Westminster, but the crowd was so great he could not get near.
"Ah! sir; then you never saw him go in state. I remember once seeing him, sir, going down to Hampton Court, with his gentlemen bearing the silver pillars before him, and the two priests with crosses. What might the pillars mean, sir?"
Again Chris confessed he did not know.
"Ah, sir!" said Morris reflectively, as if he had received a satisfactory answer. "And there was his saddle, Mr. Christopher, with silver-gilt stirrups, and red velvet, set on my lord's mule. And there was the Red Hat borne in front by another gentleman. At mass, too, he would be served by none under the rank of an earl; and I heard that he would have a duke sometimes for his lavabo. I heard Mr. Ralph say that there was more than a hundred and fifty carts that went with the Lord Cardinal up to Cawood, and that was after the King's grace had broken with him, sir; and he was counted a poor man."
Chris asked what was in the carts.
"Just his stuff, sir," said Mr. Morris reverentially.
The servant seemed to take a melancholy pleasure in recounting these glories, but was most discreet about the political aspects of Wolsey, although Chris tried hard to get him to speak, and he would neither praise nor blame the fallen prelate; he was more frank, however, about Campeggio, who as an Italian, was a less dangerous target.
"He was not a good man, I fear, Mr. Christopher. They told some very queer tales of him when he was over here. But he could ride, sir, Master Maxwell's man told me, near as well as my Lord of Canterbury himself. You know they say, sir, that the Archbishop can ride horses that none of his grooms can manage. But I never liked to think that a foreigner was to be sent over to do our business for us, and more than ever not such an one as that."
He proceeded to talk a good deal about Campeggio; his red silk and his lace, his gout, his servants, his un-English ways; but it began to get a little tiresome to Chris, and soon after passing through Ditchling, Mr. Morris, having pointed across the country towards Fatton Hovel, and having spoken of the ghost of a cow that was seen there with two heads, one black and one white, fell gradually behind again, and Chris rode alone.
They were coming up now towards the downs, and the great rounded green shoulders heaved high against the sky, gashed here and there by white strips and patches where the chalk glared in the bright afternoon sun. Ditchling beacon rose to their right, a hundred feet higher than the surrounding hills, and the high country sloped away from it parallel with their road, down to Lewes. The shadows were beginning to lie eastwards and to lengthen in long blue hollows and streaks against the clear green turf.
Chris wondered when he would see that side of the downs again; his ride was like a kind of farewell progress, and all that he looked on was dearer than it had ever been before, but he comforted himself by the thought of that larger world, so bright with revelation and so enchanting in its mystery that lay before him. He pleased himself by picturing this last journey as a ride through an overhung lane, beautiful indeed, but dusky, towards shining gates beyond which lay great tracts of country set with palaces alive with wonderful presences, and watered by the very river of life.
He did not catch sight of Lewes until he was close upon it, and it suddenly opened out beneath him, with its crowded roofs pricked by a dozen spires, the Norman castle on its twin mounds towering to his left, a silver gleam of the Ouse here and there between the plaster and timber houses as the river wound beneath its bridges, and beyond all the vast masses of the Priory straight in front of him to the South of the town, the church in front with its tall central tower, a huddle of convent roofs behind, all white against the rich meadows that lay beyond the stream.
Mr. Morris came up as Chris checked his horse here.
"See, Mr. Christopher," he said, and the other turned to see the town gallows on the right of the road, not fifty yards away, with a ragged shape or two hanging there, and a great bird rising heavily and winging its way into the west. Mr. Morris's face bore a look of judicial satisfaction.
"We are making a sweep of them," he said, and as a terrible figure, all rags and sores, with blind red eyes and toothless mouth rose croaking and entreating from the ditch by the road, the servant pointed with tight lips and solemn eyes to Hangman's Acre. Chris fumbled in his purse, threw a couple of groats on to the ground, and rode on down the hill.
His heart was beating fast as he went down Westgate Lane into the High Street, and it quickened yet further as the great bells in the Priory church began to jangle; for it was close on vesper time, and instinctively he shook his reins to hasten his beast, who was picking his way delicately through the filth and tumbled stones that lay everywhere, for the melodious roar seemed to be bidding him haste and be welcome. Mr. Morris was close beside him, and remarked on this and that as they went, the spire of St. Ann's away to the right, with St. Pancras's Bridge, a swinging sign over an inn with Queen Katharine's face erased, but plainly visible under Ann Boleyn's, the tall mound beyond the Priory crowned by a Calvary, and the roof of the famous dove-cote of the Priory, a great cruciform structure with over two thousand cells. But Christopher knew it all better than the servant, and paid little attention, and besides, his excitement was running too high. They came down at last through Antioch Street, Puddingbag Lane, and across the dry bed of the Winterbourne, and the gateway was before them.
The bells had ceased by now, after a final stroke. Mr. Morris sprang off his horse, and drew on the chain that hung by the smaller of the two doors. There was a sound of footsteps and a face looked out from the grating. The servant said a word or two; the face disappeared, and a moment later there was the turning of a key, and one leaf of the horse-entrance rolled back. Chris touched his beast with his heel, passed through on to the paved floor, and sat smiling and flushed, looking down at the old lay-brother, who beamed up at him pleasantly and told him he was expected.
Chris dismounted at once, telling the servant to take the horses round to the stables on the right, and himself went across the open court towards the west end of the church, that rose above him fifty feet into the clear evening air, faced with marble about the two doors, and crowned by the western tower and the high central spire beyond where the bells hung. On the right lay the long low wall of the Cellarer's offices, with the kitchen jutting out at the lower end, and the high-pitched refectory roof above and beyond it. The church was full of golden light as he entered, darkening to dusk in the chapels on either side, pricked with lights here and there that burned before the images, and giving an impression of immense height owing to its narrowness and its length. The air was full of rolling sound, sonorous and full, that echoed in the two high vaults on this side and that of the high altar, was caught in the double transepts, and lost in the chapels that opened in a corona of carved work at the further end, for the monks were busy at the Opus Dei, and the psalms rocked from side to side, as if the nave were indeed a great ship ploughing its way to the kingdom of heaven.
There were a few seats at the western end, and into one of these Christopher found his way, signing himself first from the stoup at the door, and inclining before he went in. Then he leaned his chin on his hands and looked eagerly.
It was difficult to make out details clearly at the further end, for the church was poorly lighted, and there was no western window; the glare from the white roads, too, along which he had come still dazzled him, but little by little, helped by his own knowledge of the place, he began to see more clearly.
* * * * *
High above him ran the lines of the clerestory, resting on the rounded Norman arches, broken by the beam that held the mighty rood, with the figures of St. Mary and St. John on either side; and beyond, yet higher, on this side of the high altar, rose the lofty air of the vault ninety feet above the pavement. To left and right opened the two western transepts, and from where he knelt he could make out the altar of St. Martin in the further one, with its apse behind. The image of St. Pancras himself stood against a pillar with the light from the lamp beneath flickering against his feet. But Christopher's eyes soon came back to the centre, beyond the screen, where a row of blackness on either side in the stalls, marked where the monks rested back, and where he would soon be resting with them. There were candles lighted at sparse intervals along the book-rests, that shone up into the faces bent down over the wide pages beneath; and beyond all rose the altar with two steady flames crowning it against the shining halpas behind that cut it off from the four groups of slender carved columns that divided the five chapels at the extreme east. Half-a-dozen figures sat about the nave, and Christopher noticed an old man, his white hair falling to his shoulders, two seats in front, beginning to nod gently with sleep as the soft heavy waves of melody poured down, lulling him.
He began now to catch the words, as his ears grew accustomed to the sound, and he, too, sat back to listen.
"Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis;" "Propter fratres meos et proximos meos:" came back the answer, "loquebar pacem de te." And once more: "Propter domum Domini Dei nostri: quaesivi bona tibi."
Then there was a soft clattering roar as the monks rose to their feet, and in double volume from the bent heads sounded out the Gloria Patri.
It was overwhelming to the young man to hear the melodious tumult of praise, and to remember that in less than a week he would be standing there among the novices and adding his voice. It seemed to him as if he had already come into the heart of life that he had felt pulsating round him as he swam in the starlight a month before. It was this that was reality, and the rest illusion. Here was the end for which man was made, the direct praise of God; here were living souls eager and alert on the business of their existence, building up with vibration after vibration the eternal temple of glory in which God dwelt. Once he began to sing, and then stopped. He would be silent here until his voice had been authorized to join in that consecrated offering.
He waited until all was over, and the two lines of black figures had passed out southwards, and the sacristan was going round putting out the lights; and then he too rose and went out, thrilled and excited, into the gathering twilight, as the bell for supper began to sound out from the refectory tower.
He found Mr. Morris waiting for him at the entrance to the guest-house, and the two went up the stairs at the porter's directions into the parlour that looked out over the irregular court towards the church and convent.
Christopher sat down in the window seat.
Over the roofs opposite the sky was still tender and luminous, with rosy light from the west, and a little troop of pigeons were wheeling over the church in their last flight before returning home to their huge dwelling down by the stream. The porter had gone a few minutes before, and Christopher presently saw him returning with Dom Anthony Marks, the guest-master, whom he had got to know very well on former visits. In a fit of shyness he drew back from the window, and stood up, nervous and trembling, and a moment later heard steps on the stairs. Mr. Morris had slipped out, and now stood in the passage, and Chris saw him bowing with a nicely calculated mixture of humility and independence. Then a black figure appeared in the doorway, and came briskly through.
"My dear Chris," he said warmly, holding out his hands, and Chris took them, still trembling and excited.
They sat down together in the window-seat, and the monk opened the casement and threw it open, for the atmosphere was a little heavy, and then flung his arm out over the sill and crossed his feet, as if he had an hour at his disposal. Chris had noticed before that extraordinary appearance of ease and leisure in such monks, and it imperceptibly soothed him. Neither would Dom Anthony speak on technical matters, but discoursed pleasantly about the party at Overfield Court and the beauty of the roads between there and Lewes, as if Chris were only come to pay a passing visit.
"Your horses are happy enough," he said. "We had a load of fresh beans sent in to-day. And you, Chris, are you hungry? Supper will be here immediately. Brother James told the guest-cook as soon as you came."
He seemed to want no answer, but talked on genially and restfully about the commissioners who had come from Cluny to see after their possessions in England, and their queer French ways.
"Dom Philippe would not touch the muscadel at first, and now he cannot have too much. He clamoured for claret at first, and we had to give him some. But he knows better now. But he says mass like a holy angel of God, and is a very devout man in all ways. But they are going soon."
Dom Anthony fulfilled to perfection the ideal laid down for a guest-master in the Custumal. He showed, indeed, the "cheerful hospitality to guests" by which "the good name of the monastery was enhanced, friendships multiplied, enmities lessened, God honoured, and charity increased." He recognised perfectly well the confused terror in Christopher's mind and his anxiety to make a good beginning, and smoothed down the tendency to awkwardness that would otherwise have shown itself. He had a happy tranquil face, with wide friendly eyes that almost disappeared when he laughed, and a row of even white teeth.
As he talked on, Christopher furtively examined his habit, though he knew every detail of it well enough already. He had, of course, left his cowl, or ample-sleeved singing gown, in the sacristy on leaving the church, and was in his black frock girded with the leather belt, and the scapular over it, hanging to the ground before and behind. His hood, Christopher noticed, was creased and flat as if he were accustomed to sit back at his ease. He wore strong black leather boots that just showed beneath his habit, and a bunch of keys, duplicates of those of the camerarius and cook, hung on his right side. He was tonsured according to the Benedictine pattern, and his lips and cheeks were clean-shaven.
He noticed presently that Christopher was eyeing hum, and put his hand in friendly fashion on the young man's knee.
"Yes," he said, smiling, "yours is ready too. Dom Franklin looked it out to-day, and asked me whether it would be the right size. But of the boots I am not so sure."
There was a clink and a footstep outside, and the monk glanced out.
"Supper is here," he said, and stood up to look at the table—the polished clothless top laid ready with a couple of wooden plates and knives, a pewter tankard, salt-cellar and bread. There was a plain chair with arms drawn up to it. The rest of the room, which Christopher had scarcely noticed before, was furnished plainly and efficiently, and had just that touch of ornament that was intended to distinguish it from a cell. The floor was strewn with clean rushes; a couple of iron candlesticks stood on the mantelpiece, and the white walls had one or two religious objects hanging on them—a wooden crucifix opposite the table, a framed card bearing an "Image of Pity" with an indulgenced prayer illuminated beneath, a little statue of St. Pancras on a bracket over the fire, and a clear-written copy of rules for guests hung by the low oak door.
Dom Anthony nodded approvingly at the table, took up a knife and rubbed it delicately on the napkin, and turned round.
"We will look here," he said, and went towards the second door by the fire. Christopher followed him, and found himself in the bedroom, furnished with the same simplicity as the other; but with an iron bedstead in the corner, a kneeling stool beside it, with a little French silver image of St. Mary over it, and a sprig of dried yew tucked in behind. A thin leather-bound copy of the Little Office of Our Lady lay on the sloping desk, with another book or two on the upper slab. Dom Anthony went to the window and threw that open too.
"Your luggage is unpacked, I see," he said, nodding to the press beside which lay the two trunks, emptied now by Mr. Morris's careful hands.
"There are some hares, too," said Christopher. "Ralph has sent them to my Lord Prior."
"The porter has them," said the monk, "they look strangely like a bribe." And he nodded again with a beaming face, and his eyes grew little and bright at his own humour.
He examined the bed before he left the room again, turned back the sheets and pressed them down, and the straw rustled drily beneath; glanced into the sweating earthenware jug, refolded the coarse towel on its wooden peg, and then smiled again at the young man.
"Supper," he said briefly.
Christopher stayed a moment with a word of excuse to wash off the dust of his ride from his hands and face, and when he came back into the sitting-room found the candles lighted, the wooden shutters folded over the windows, and a basin of soup with a roast pigeon steaming on the table. The monk was standing, waiting for him by the door.
"I must be gone, Chris," he said, "but I shall be back before compline. My Lord Prior will see you to-morrow. There is nothing more? Remember you are at home now."
And on Christopher's assurances that he had all he could need, he was gone, leisurely and cheerfully, and his footsteps sounded on the stairs.
Mr. Morris came up before Chris had finished supper, and as he silently slipped away his plate and set another for the cheese, Chris remembered with a nervous exultation that this would be probably the last time that he would have a servant to wait on him. He was beginning to feel strangely at home already; the bean soup was strong and savoury, the beer cool; and he was pleasantly exercised by his ride. Mr. Morris, too, in answer to his enquiries, said that he had been well looked after in the servants' quarters of the guest-house, and had had an entertaining supper with an agreeable Frenchman who, it seemed, had come with the Cluniac commissioners. Respect for his master and a sense of the ludicrous struggled in Mr. Morris's voice as he described the foreigner's pronunciation and his eloquent gestures.
"He's not like a man, sir," he said, and shook with reminiscent laughter.
* * * * *
It was half an hour before Dom Anthony returned, and after hospitable enquiries, sat down by Chris again in the wide window-seat and began to talk.
He told him that guests were not expected to attend the night-offices, and that indeed he strongly recommended Chris doing nothing of the kind at any rate that night; that masses were said at all hours from five o'clock onwards; that prime was said at seven, and was followed by the Missa familiaris for the servants and work-people of the house. Breakfast would be ready in the guest-house at eight; the chapter-mass would be said at the half-hour and after the daily chapter which followed it had taken place, the Prior wished to see Christopher. The high mass was sung at ten, and dinner would be served at eleven. He directed his attention, too, to the card that hung by the door on which these hours were notified.
Christopher already knew that for the first three or four days he would have to remain in the guest-house before any formal step was taken with regard to him, but he said a word to Father Anthony about this.
"Yes," said the monk, "my Lord Prior will tell you about that. But you will be here as a guest until Sunday, and on that day you will come to the morning chapter to beg for admission. You will do that for three days, and then, please God, you will be clothed as a novice."
And once more he looked at him with deep smiling eyes.
Chris asked him a few more questions, and Dom Anthony told him what he wished to know, though protesting with monastic etiquette that it was not his province.
"Dom James Berkely is the novice-master," he said, "you will find him very holy and careful. The first matter you will have to learn is how to wear the habit, carry your hands, and to walk with gravity. Then you will learn how to bow, with the hands crossed on the knees, so—" and he illustrated it by a gesture—"if it is a profound inclination; and when and where the inclinations are to be made. Then you will learn of the custody of the eyes. It is these little things that help the soul at first, as you will find, like—like—the bindings of a peach-tree, that it may learn how to grow and bear its fruit. And the Rule will be given you, and what a monk must have by rote, and how to sing. You will not be idle, Chris."
It was no surprise to Christopher to hear how much of the lessons at first were concerned with external behaviour. In his visits to Lewes before, as well as from the books that Mr. Carleton had lent him, he had learnt that the perfection of the Religious Life depended to a considerable extent upon minutiae that were both aids to, and the result of, a tranquil and recollected mind, the acquirement of which was part of the object of the monk's ambition. The ideal, he knew, was the perfect direction of every part of his being, of hands and eyes, as well as of the great powers of the soul; what God had joined together man must not put asunder, and the man who had every physical movement under control, and never erred through forgetfulness or impulse in these little matters, presumably also was master of his will, and retained internal as well as external equanimity.
The great bell began to toll presently for compline, and the guest-master rose in the midst of his explanations.
"My Lord Prior bade me thank you for the hares," he said. "Perhaps your servant will take the message back to Mr. Ralph to-morrow. Come."
They went down the stairs together and out into the summer twilight, the great strokes sounding overhead in the gloom as they walked. Over the high wall to the left shone a light or two from Lewes town, and beyond rose up the shadowy masses of the downs over which Christopher had ridden that afternoon. Over those hills, too, he knew, lay his old home. As they walked together in silence up the paved walk to the west end of the church, a vivid picture rose before the young man's eyes of the little parlour where he had sat last night—of his silent mother in her black satin; his father in the tall chair, Ralph in an unwontedly easy and genial mood lounging on the other side and telling stories of town, of the chaplain with his homely, pleasant face, slipping silently out at the door. That was the last time that all that was his,—that he had a right and a place there. If he ever saw it again it would be as a guest who had become the son of another home, with new rights and relations, and at the thought a pang of uncontrollable shrinking pricked at his heart.
But at the door of the church the monk drew his arm within his own for a moment and held it, and Chris saw the shadowed eyes under his brows rest on him tenderly.
"God bless you, Chris!" he said.
Within a few days of Christopher's departure to Lewes, Ralph also left Overfield and went back to London.
He was always a little intolerant at home, and generally appeared there at his worst—caustic, silent, and unsympathetic. It seemed to him that the simple country life was unbearably insipid; he found there neither wit nor affairs: to see day after day the same faces, to listen to the same talk either on country subjects that were distasteful to him, or, out of compliment to himself, political subjects that were unfamiliar to the conversationalists, was a very hard burden, and he counted such things as the price he must pay for his occasional duty visits to his parents. He could not help respecting the piety of his father, but he was none the less bored by it; and the atmosphere of silent cynicism that seemed to hang round his mother was his only relief. He thought he understood her, and it pleased him sometimes to watch her, to calculate how she would behave in any little domestic crisis or incident that affected her, to notice the slight movement of her lips and her eyelids gently lowering and rising again in movements of extreme annoyance. But even this was not sufficient compensation for the other drawbacks of life at Overfield Court, and it was with a very considerable relief that he stepped into his carriage at last towards the end of July, nodded and smiled once more to his father who was watching him from the terrace steps with a wistful and puzzled face, anxious to please, and heard the first crack of the whip of his return journey.
He had, indeed, a certain excuse for going, for a despatch-rider had come down from London with papers for him from Sir Thomas Cromwell, and it was not hard to assume a serious face and announce that he was recalled by affairs; and there was sufficient truth in it, too, for one of the memoranda bore on the case of Elizabeth Barton, the holy maid of Kent, and announced her apprehension. Cromwell however, did not actually recall him, but mentioned the fact of her arrest, and asked if he had heard much said of her in the country, and what the opinion of her was in that district.
* * * * *
The drive up to London seemed very short to him now; he went slowly through the bundle of papers on which he had to report, annotating them in order here and there, and staring out of the window now and again with unseeing eyes. There were a dozen cases on which he was engaged, which had been forwarded to him during his absence in the country—the priest at High Hatch was reported to have taken a wife, and Cromwell desired information about this; Ralph had ridden out there one day and gossipped a little outside the parsonage; an inn-keeper a few miles to the north of Cuckfield had talked against the divorce and the reigning Consort; a mistake had been made in the matter of a preaching license, and Cranmer had desired Cromwell to look into it; a house had been sold in Cheapside on which Ralph had been told to keep a suspicious eye, and he was asked his opinion on the matter; and such things as these occupied his time fully, until towards four o'clock in the afternoon his carriage rolled up to the horse-ferry at Lambeth, and he thrust the papers back into his bag before stepping out.
On arriving at his own little house in Westminster, the rent of which was paid by his master, he left his other servants to carry up the luggage, and set out himself again immediately with Morris in a hackney carriage for Chancery Lane.
As he went, he found himself for the hundredth time thinking of the history of the man to whom he was going.
Sir Thomas Cromwell was beginning to rise rapidly from a life of adventure and obscurity abroad. He had passed straight from the Cardinal's service to the King's three years before, and had since then been knighted, appointed privy-councillor, Master of the Jewel-house, and Clerk of the Hanaper in the Court of Chancery. At the same time he was actively engaged on his amazing system of espionage through which he was able to detect disaffection in all parts of the country, and thereby render himself invaluable to the King, who, like all the Tudors, while perfectly fearless in the face of open danger was pitiably terrified of secret schemes.
And it was to this man that he was confidential agent! Was there any limit to the possibilities of his future?
Ralph found a carriage drawn up at the door and, on enquiry, heard that his master was on the point of leaving; and even as he hesitated in the entrance, Cromwell shambled down the stairs with a few papers in his hand, his long sleeveless cloak flapping on each step behind him, and his felt plumed cap on his head in which shone a yellow jewel.
His large dull face, clean shaven like a priest's, lighted up briskly as he saw Ralph standing there, and he thrust his arm pleasantly through his agent's.
"Come home to supper," he said, and the two wheeled round and went out and into the carriage. Mr. Morris handed the bag through the window to his master, and stood bare-headed as the carriage moved off over the newly laid road.
It would have been a very surprising sight to Sir James Torridon to see his impassive son's attitude towards Cromwell. He was deferential, eager to please, nervous of rebuke, and almost servile, for he had found his hero in that tremendous personality. He pulled out his papers now, shook them out briskly, and was soon explaining, marking and erasing. Cromwell leaned back in his corner and listened, putting in a word of comment now and again, or dotting down a note on the back of a letter, and watching Ralph with a pleasant, oblique look, for he liked to see his people alert and busy. But he knew very well what his demeanour was like at other times, and had at first indeed been drawn to the young man by his surprising insolence of manner and impressive observant silences.
"That is very well, Mr. Torridon," he said. "I will see to the license. Put them all away."
Ralph obeyed, and then sat back too, silent indeed, but with a kind of side-long readiness for the next subject; but Cromwell spoke no more of business for the present, only uttering short sentences about current affairs, and telling his friend the news.
"Frith has been burned," he said. "Perhaps you knew it. He was obstinate to the end, my Lord Bishop reported. He threw Saint Chrysostom and Saint Augustine back into their teeth. He gave great occasion to the funny fellows. There was one who said that since Frith would have no purgatory, he was sent there by my Lord to find out for himself whether there be such a place or not. There was a word more about his manner of going there, 'Frith frieth,' but 'twas not good. Those funny fellows over-reach themselves. Hewet went with him to Smithfield and hell."
Ralph smiled, and asked how they took it.
"Oh, very well. A priest bade the folk pray no more for Frith than for a dog, but Frith smiled on him and begged the Lord to forgive him his unkind words."
He was going on to tell him a little more about the talk of the Court, when the carriage drove up to the house in Throgmorton Street, near Austin Friars, which Cromwell had lately built for himself.
"My wife and children are at Hackney," he said as he stepped out. "We shall sup alone."
It was a great house, built out of an older one, superbly furnished with Italian things, and had a large garden at the back on to which looked the windows of the hall. Supper was brought up almost immediately—a couple of woodcocks and a salad—and the two sat down, with a pair of servants in blue and silver to wait on them. Cromwell spoke no more word of business until the bottle of wine had been set on the table, and the servants were gone. And then he began again, immediately.
"And what of the country?" he said. "What do they say there?" He took a peach from the carved roundel in the centre of the table, and seemed absorbed in its contemplation.
Ralph had had some scruples at first about reporting private conversations, but Cromwell had quieted them long since, chiefly by the force of his personality, and partly by the argument that a man's duty to the State over-rode his duty to his friends, and that since only talk that was treasonable would be punished, it was simpler to report all conversations in general that had any suspicious bearing, and that he himself was most competent to judge whether or no they should be followed up. Ralph, too, had become completely reassured by now that no injury would be done to his own status among his friends, since his master had never yet made direct use of any of his information in such a manner as that it was necessary for Ralph to appear as a public witness. And again, too, he had pointed out that the work had to be done, and that was better for the cause of justice and mercy that it should be done by conscientious rather than by unscrupulous persons.
He talked to him now very freely about the conversations in his father's house, knowing that Cromwell did not want more than a general specimen sketch of public feeling in matters at issue.
"They have great faith in the Maid of Kent, sir," he said. "My brother-in-law, Nicholas, spoke of her prophecy of his Grace's death. It is the devout that believe in her; the ungodly know her for a fool or a knave."
"Filii hujus saeculi prudentiores sunt,"—quoted Cromwell gravely. "Your brother-in-law, I should think, was a child of light."
"He is, sir."
"I should have thought so. And what else did you hear?"
"There is a good deal of memory of the Lady Katharine, sir. I heard the foresters talking one day."
"What of the Religious houses?"
"My brother Christopher has just gone to Lewes," he said. "So I heard more of the favourable side, but I heard a good deal against them, too. There was a secular priest talking against them one day, with our chaplain, who is a defender of them."
"Who was he?" asked Cromwell, with the same sharp, oblique glance.
"A man of no importance, sir; the parson of Great Keynes."
"The Holy Maid is in trouble," went on the other after a minute's silence. "She is in my Lord of Canterbury's hands, and we can leave her there. I suppose she will be hanged."
Ralph waited. He knew it was no good asking too much.
"What she said of the King's death and the pestilence is enough to cast her," went on Cromwell presently. "And Bocking and Hadleigh will be in his hands soon, too. They do not know their peril yet."
They went on to talk of the friars, and of the disfavour that they were in with the King after the unfortunate occurrences of the previous spring, when Father Peto had preached at Greenwich before Henry on the subject of Naboth's vineyard and the end of Ahab the oppressor. There had been a dramatic scene, Cromwell said, when on the following Sunday a canon of Hereford, Dr. Curwin, had preached against Peto from the same pulpit, and had been rebuked from the rood-loft by another of the brethren, Father Elstow, who had continued declaiming until the King himself had fiercely intervened from the royal pew and bade him be silent.
"The two are banished," said Cromwell, "but that is not the end of it. Their brethren will hear of it again. I have never seen the King so wrathful. I suppose it was partly because the Lady Katharine so cossetted them. She was always in the church at the night-office when the Court was at Greenwich, and Friar Forrest, you know, was her confessor. There is a rod in pickle."