“Yes,” said the monk, as they went across the court, “It is impressive, is it not? It is the monastic church proper. It can hold, if necessary, ten thousand monks. But you will see when we look in.
“The court we are now in is surrounded by cloisters. There are just nine thousand cells; there are, perhaps, fifty unoccupied now. Each cell, as you know, is a little house in itself, with three or four rooms and a garden; so we need space. The cemeteries are beyond the cloisters. We bury, as you know, in the bare earth without a coffin.”
It was like the creation of a dream, thought the priest as he walked with his guide, listening to the quiet talk. He had seen some of these facts in the book that Father Jervis had lent him; but they had meant little to him. Now he began to understand, and once more a kind of inexplicable terror began to affect him.
But as, five minutes later, he stood in the high western gallery of the church, and saw that enormous place stretching beyond calculation to where thin clear glass sanctuary windows rose in a group, like sword-blades, above the white pavement before the altar; as he saw the ranks of stalls running up, tier above tier, and understood that, all told, they numbered ten thousand, one third of them on this side of the screen, in the lay brothers’ choir, and two thirds beyond; as he imagined what it must be to watch this congregation of elect souls stream in, each with his lantern in his hand, through the countless doors that ended each little narrow gangway that disappeared among the stalls; as he pictured the thunder of the unemotional Carthusian plain-song—as he saw all this with his bodily eyes standing silent beside the silent monk, and began little by little to take in what it all meant, and what this world must be in which such a condition of things was accepted—a world where Contemplatives at last were honoured as the kings of the earth, and themselves controlled and soothed the lives of whom the world had despaired; as his imagination ran out still farther, and he remembered that this was but one of innumerable houses of the kind—as he began to be aware of all this, and of what it signified as regards the civilization in which he found himself—his terror began to pass, and to give place to an awe, and to a kind of exaltation, such as neither Rome nor Lourdes nor London had been able even to suggest. . . .
“Well?” said Father Jervis, smiling, as the two met on the platform that evening, to wait for the English-bound air-ship.
Monsignor looked at him.
“I am glad I came,” he said. “No; it is not all well with me, even yet. But I will try again.”
The other nodded, still smiling.
“Who was the Father who looked after me?” added the prelate. “He said he had talked with you.”
“He is considered one of the best they have,” said the other “I asked for him specially. He hardly ever fails. You are impressed by him?”