MacMillan's Reading Books eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 344 pages of information about MacMillan's Reading Books.
the threshold, and asked, “What is it that these people fear?” One general answer broke forth, “The armed men in the cloister.”  As he turned and said, “I shall go out to them,” he heard the clash of arms behind.  The knights had just forced their way into the cloister, and were now (as would appear from their being thus seen through the open door) advancing along its southern side.  They were in mail, which covered their faces up to their eyes, and carried their swords drawn.  Three had hatchets.  Fitzurse, with the axe he had taken from the carpenters, was foremost, shouting as he came, “Here, here, king’s men!” Immediately behind him followed Robert Fitzranulph, with three other knights, and a motley group—­some their own followers, some from the town—­with weapons, though not in armour, brought up the rear.  At this sight, so unwonted in the peaceful cloisters of Canterbury, not probably beheld since the time when the monastery had been sacked by the Danes, the monks within, regardless of all remonstrances, shut the door of the cathedral, and proceeded to barricade it with iron bars.  A loud knocking was heard from the terrified band without, who having vainly endeavoured to prevent the entrance of the knights into the cloister, now rushed before them to take refuge in the church.  Becket, who had stepped some paces into the cathedral, but was resisting the solicitations of those immediately about him to move up into the choir for safety, darted back, calling aloud as he went, “Away, you cowards!  By virtue of your obedience I command you not to shut the door—­the church must not be turned into a castle.”  With his own hands he thrust them away from the door, opened it himself, and catching hold of the excluded monks, dragged them into the building, exclaiming, “Come in, come in—­faster, faster!”

* * * * *

The knights, who had been checked for a moment by the sight of the closed door, on seeing it unexpectedly thrown open, rushed into the church.  It was, we must remember, about five o’clock in a winter evening; the shades of night were gathering, and were deepened into a still darker gloom within the high and massive walls of the vast cathedral, which was only illuminated here and there by the solitary lamps burning before the altars.  The twilight, lengthening from the shortest day a fortnight before, was but just sufficient to reveal the outline of objects.

* * * * *

In the dim twilight they could just discern a group of figures mounting the steps of the eastern staircase.  One of the knights called out to them, “Stay.”  Another, “Where is Thomas Becket, traitor to the King?” No answer was returned.  None could have been expected by any one who remembered the indignant silence with which Becket had swept by when the same words had been applied by Randulf of Broc at Northampton.  Fitzurse rushed forward, and, stumbling against one of the monks on the lower

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MacMillan's Reading Books from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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