Ralph was aware that the scheme in which he was engaged was supported in two ways; first, by the suspension of episcopal authority during the course of the visitation, and secondly by the vast powers committed to the visitors. In one of the saddle-bags strapped on to Mr. Morris’s horse was a sheaf of papers, containing eighty-six articles of enquiry, and twenty-five injunctions, as well as certificates from the King endowing Ralph with what was practically papal jurisdiction. He was authorised to release from their vows all Religious who desired it, and ordered to dismiss all who had been professed under twenty years of age, or who were at the present date under twenty-four years old. Besides this he was commissioned to enforce the enclosure with the utmost rigour, to set porters at the doors to see that it was observed, and to encourage all who had any grievance against their superiors to forward complaints through himself to Cromwell.
Ralph understood well enough the first object of these regulations, namely to make monastic life impossible. It was pretty evident that a rigorous confinement would breed discontent; which in its turn would be bound to escape through the vent-hole which the power of appeal provided; thus bringing about a state of anarchy within the house, and the tightening of the hold of the civil authority upon the Religious.
Lastly the Visitors were authorised to seize any church furniture or jewels that they might judge would be better in secular custody.
Once more, he had learned both from Cromwell, and from his own experience at Paul’s Cross, how the laity itself was being carefully prepared for the blow that was impending, by an army of selected preachers who could be trusted to say what they were told. Only a few days before Ralph had halted his horse at the outskirts of a huge crowd gathered round Paul’s Cross, and had listened to a torrent of vituperation poured out by a famous orator against the mendicant friars; and from the faces and exclamations of the people round him he had learned once more that greed was awake in England.
* * * * *
It was a somewhat dismal ride that he had this day. The sky was heavy and overcast, it rained constantly, and the roads were in a more dreary condition even than usual. He splashed along through the mud with his servants behind him, wrapped in his cloak; and his own thoughts were not of a sufficient cheerfulness to compensate for the external discomforts. His political plane of thought was shot by a personal idea. He guessed that he would have to commit himself in a manner that he had never done before; and was not wholly confident that he would be able to explain matters satisfactorily to Beatrice. Besides, the particular district to which he was appointed included first Lewes, where Chris would have an eye on his doings, and secondly the little Benedictine house of Rusper, where his sister Margaret had been lately professed; and he wondered what exactly would be his relation with his own family when his work was done.