The minutes went by and there was no change. The world seemed to have grown rigid with expectancy; it was as if time stood still. There fell upon the monk’s soul, not suddenly but imperceptibly, something of that sense of the unseen that he had experienced at Tyburn. For a certain space all sorrow and terror left him; he knew tangibly now that to which at other times his mere faith assented; he knew that the world of spirit was the real one; that the Tower, the axe, the imminent shadow of death, were little more than illusions; they were part of the staging, significant and necessary, but with no substance of reality. The eternal world in which God was all, alone was a fact. He felt no longer pity or regret. Nothing but the sheer existence of a Being of which all persons there were sharers, poised in an eternal instant, remained with him.
This strange sensation was scarcely disturbed by the rising of the lean black figure from its knees; Chris watched him as he might have watched the inevitable movement of an actor performing his pre-arranged part. The bishop turned eastward, to where the sun was now high above the Tower gate, and spoke once more.
“Accedite ad eum, et illuminamini; et facies vestrae non confundentur.”
Then once more in the deathly stillness he turned round; and his eyes ran over the countless faces turned up to his own. But there was a certain tranquil severity in his face—the severity of one who has taken a bitter cup firmly into his hand; his lips were tightly compressed, and his eyes were deep and steady.
Then very slowly he lifted his right hand, touched his forehead, and enveloped himself in a great sign of the cross, still looking out unwaveringly over the faces; and immediately, without any hesitation, sank down on his knees, put his hands before him on to the scaffold, and stretched himself flat.
He was now invisible to Chris; for the low block on which he had laid his neck was only a few inches high.
There was again a surge and a murmur as the headsman stepped forward with the huge-headed axe over his shoulder, and stood waiting.
Then again the moments began to pass.
* * * * *
Chris lost all consciousness of his own being; he was aware of nothing but the objective presence of the scaffold, of an overpowering expectancy. It seemed as if something were stretched taut in his brain, at breaking point; as if some vast thing were on the point of revelation. All else had vanished,—the scene round him, the sense of the invisible; there was but the point of space left, waiting for an explosion.
There was a sense of wrenching torture as the headsman lifted the axe, bringing it high round behind him; the motion seemed shockingly slow, and to wring the strained nerves to agony....
* * * * *
Then in a blinding climax the axe fell.