“You shall see all that,” he said. “And then there is more that I must ask; but that will do for a beginning. When I have shown you my papers you will see what it is that I want.”
There was a peal at the bell outside; the Abbess turned her head and waited till there was a noise of bolts and unlocking.
“That will be your man, sir. Will you have him in now, Mr. Torridon?”
“And then he must look at the horses to see that all is as you wish.”
Mr. Morris came in a moment later, and bowed with great deference to the little old lady, who enquired his name.
“When you have finished with your man, Mr. Torridon, perhaps you will allow him to ring for me at the door opposite. I will go with him to see the horses.”
Mr. Morris had brought with him the mass of his master’s papers, and when he had set these out and prepared the bedroom that opened out of the guest-parlour, he asked leave to go across and fetch the Abbess.
Ralph busied himself for half-an-hour or so in running over the Articles and Injunctions once more, and satisfying himself that he was perfect in his business; and he was just beginning to wonder why his servant had not reappeared when the door opened once more, and Mr. Morris slipped in.
“My horse is a little lame, sir,” he said. “I have been putting on a poultice.”
Ralph glanced up.
“He will be fit to travel, I suppose?”
“In a day or two, Mr. Ralph.”
“Well; that will do. We shall be here till Monday at least.”
* * * * *
Ralph could not sleep very well that night. The thought of his business troubled him a little. It would have been easier if the Abbess had been either more submissive or more defiant; but her air of mingled courtesy and dignity affected him. Her innocence too had something touching in it, and her apparent ignorance of what his visit meant. He had supped excellently at her expense, waited on by a cheerful sister, and well served from the kitchen and cellar; and the Reverend Mother herself had come in and talked sensibly and bravely. He pictured to himself what life must be like through the nunnery wall opposite—how brisk and punctual it must be, and at the same time homely and caressing.
And it was his hand that was to pull down the first prop. There would no doubt be three or four nuns below age who must be dismissed, and probably there would be a few treasures to be carried off, a processional crucifix perhaps, such as he had seen in Dr. Layton’s collection, and a rich chalice or two, used on great days. His own sister too must be one of those who must go. How would the little old Abbess behave herself then? What would she say? Yet he comforted himself, as he lay there in the clean, low-ceilinged room, staring at the tiny crockery stoup gleaming against the door-post, by recollecting the principle on which he had come. Possibly a few innocents would have to suffer, a few old hearts be broken; but it was for a man to take such things in his day’s work.