He had learnt too the technical details of his work—those rough methods by which men might be coerced, and the high-sounding phrases with which to gild the coercion. All that morning he had sat side by side with Dr. Layton in the chapter-house, inspecting the books, comparing the possessions of the monastery with the inventories of them, examining witnesses as to the credibility of the lists offered, and making searching enquiries as to whether any land or plate had been sold. After that, when a silver relic-case had been added to Dr. Layton’s collection, the Religious and servants and all else who cared to offer evidence on other matters, were questioned one by one and their answers entered in a book. Lastly, when the fees for the Visitation had been collected, arrangements had been made, which in the Visitors’ opinion, would be most serviceable to the carrying out of the injunctions; fresh officials were appointed to various posts, and the Abbot himself ordered to go up to London and present himself to Master Cromwell; but he was furnished with a letter commending his zeal and discretion, for the Visitors had found that he had done his duty to the buildings and lands; and stated that they had nothing to complain of except the poverty of the house.
“And so much for Durford,” said Layton genially, as he closed the last book just before dinner-time, “though it had been better called Dirtyford.” And he chuckled at his humour.
After dinner he had gone out with Ralph to see him mount; had thanked him for his assistance, and had reminded him that they would meet again at Lewes in the course of a month or so.
“God speed you!” he cried as the party rode off.
* * * * *
Ralph’s fury had died to a glow, but it was red within him; the reading last night had done its work well, driven home by the shrewd conviction of a man of the world, experienced in the ways of vice. It had not died with the dark. He could not say that he was attracted to Dr. Layton; the priest’s shocking familiarity with the more revolting forms of sin, as well as his under-breeding and brutality, made him a disagreeable character; but Ralph had very little doubt now that his judgment on the religious houses was a right one. Even the nunneries, it seemed, were not free from taint; there had been one or two terrible tales on the previous evening; and Ralph was determined to spare them nothing, and at any rate to remove his sister from their power. He remembered with satisfaction that she was below the age specified, and that he would have authority to dismiss her from the home.
He knew very little of Margaret; and had scarcely seen her once in two years. He had been already out in the world before she had ceased to be a child, and from what little he had seen of her he had thought of her but as little more than a milk-and-water creature, very delicate and shy, always at her prayers, or trailing about after nuns with a pale radiant face. She had been sent to Rusper for her education, and he never saw her except now and then when they chanced to be at home together for a few days. She used to look at him, he remembered, with awe-stricken eyes and parted lips, hardly daring to speak when he was in the room, continually to be met with going from or to the tall quiet chapel.