He found himself growing hot with anger at the thought of the hypocrisy of this monk’s life. Here the fellow had been living in gross sin month after month, and all the while standing at the altar morning by morning, and going about in the habit of a professed servant of Jesus Christ!
“But I have kept the cream till the last,” put in Dr. Layton. And he read out a few more hideous sentences, that set Ralph’s heart heaving with disgust.
He began now to feel the beginnings of that fury against white-washed vice with which worldly souls are so quick to burn. He would have said that he himself professed no holiness beyond the average, and would have acknowledged privately at least that he was at any rate uncertain of the whole dogmatic scheme of religion; but that he could not tolerate a man whose whole life was on the outside confessedly devoted to both sides of religion, faith and morals, and who claimed the world’s reverence for himself on the score of it. He knit his forehead in a righteous fury, and his fingers began to drum softly on his chair-arms.
Dr. Layton now began to recur to some of the first stories he had told, and to build up their weak places; and now that Ralph was roused his critical faculty subsided. They appeared more convincing than before in the light of this later evidence. Ex pede Herculem—from the fellow who had confessed he interpreted the guilt of those who had not. The seed of suspicion sprang quickly in the soil that hungered for it.
This then was the fair religious system that was dispersed over England; and this the interior life of those holy looking roofs and buildings surmounted by the sign of the Crucified, visible in every town to point men to God. When he saw a serene monk’s face again he would know what kind of soul it covered; he would understand as never before how vice could wear a mask of virtue.
The whole of that flimsy evidence that he had heard before took a new colour; those hints and suspicions and guesses grew from shadow to substance. Those dark spots were not casual filth dropped from above, they were the symptoms of a deep internal infection.
As Dr. Layton went on with his tales, gathered and garnered with devilish adroitness, and presented as convincingly as a clever brain could do it, the black certainty fell deeper and deeper on Ralph’s soul, and by the time that the priest chuckled for the last time that evening, and gathered up his papers from the boards where they had fallen one by one, he had done his work in another soul.
A HOUSE OF LADIES
They parted the next day, Dr. Layton to Waverly, where he proposed to sleep on Saturday night, and Ralph to the convent at Rusper.
He had learnt now how the work was to be done; and he had been equipped for it in a way that not even Dr. Layton himself suspected; for he had been set aflame with that filth-fed fire with which so many hearts were burning at this time. He had all the saint’s passion for purity, without the charity of his holiness.