The three judges rose together; a door opened behind and they disappeared. Instantly a buzz of tongues began and the sound of shifting feet. As Monsignor glanced back again at the dock, amazed at the sudden change of scene, he saw the monk’s head disappearing down the staircase that led below from the dock. He still did not understand what had happened. He still thought that it was some minor stage of the process that was finished, probably on some technical point.
He still sat there wondering, thinking that he would let the corridors clear a little before he went out again, and asking himself what it was that had caused that obvious sensation during the judge’s last words. To all outward appearance, nothing could be less critical than what he had seen and heard. Plainly the trial was going against the prisoner, but there had been no decision, no sentence. The inquisitors and the prisoner had talked together almost like friends discussing a not very vital matter. And yet the sensation had been overwhelming. . . .
As he rose at last, still watching the emptying court, he heard a tap on the door, and before he could speak, the Abbot of Westminster rustled up the steps, in his habit and cross and gold chain. His face looked ominously strained and pale.
“I . . . I saw you from the court, Monsignor. For God’s sake . . . sit down again an instant. Let me speak with you.”
Monsignor said nothing. He could not even now understand.
“I must thank you for your kind offices, Monsignor. I know you did what you could. His Eminence sent for me after he had seen you. And . . . and I must ask you to help us again . . . at Rome.”
“Certainly—anything . . . . But——”
“I fear it’s hopeless,” went on the abbot, staring out into the empty court, where an usher was moving quickly about from table to table setting papers straight. “But any chance that there is must be taken. . . . Will you write for us, Monsignor? or better still, urge the Cardinal? There is no time to lose.”
“I don’t understand, my lord,” said the prelate abruptly, suddenly convinced that more had happened than he knew. “I was only here just at the end, and . . . . what is it I can do?”
The abbot looked at him.
“That was the end,” he said quietly. “Did you not hear the sentence?”
Monsignor shook his head. A kind of sickness seemed to rise from his heart and envelop him.
“I heard nothing,” he said. “I came in during Dom Adrian’s last speech.”
The abbot licked his dry lips; there was a wondering sort of apprehensiveness in his eyes.
“That was the last formality,” he said. “Sentence was given twenty minutes ago.”
The abbot bowed his head, plucking nervously at his cross.
“It has to go to Rome to be ratified,” he said hurriedly. “There will be a week or two of delay. Dom Adrian refused any release. But . . . but he knows there is no hope.”