And then as he remembered Dr. Layton’s tales, his heart grew hot and hard again.
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
The enquiry was to be made in the guest-parlour on the next morning.
* * * * *
Ralph went to mass first at nine o’clock, which was said by a priest from the parish church who acted as chaplain to the convent; and had a chair set for him outside the nuns’ choir from which he could see the altar and the tall pointed window; and then, after some refreshment in the guest-parlour, spread out his papers, and sat enthroned behind a couple of tables, as at a tribunal. Mr. Morris stood deferentially by his chair as the examination was conducted.
Ralph was a little taken aback by the bearing of the Abbess. In the course of the enquiry, when he was perplexed by one or two of the records, she rose from her chair before the table, and came round to his side, drawing up a seat as she did so; Ralph could hardly tell her to go back, but his magisterial air was a little affected by having one whom he almost considered as a culprit sitting judicially beside him.
“It is better for me to be here,” she said. “I can explain more easily so.”
* * * * *
There was a little orchard that the nuns had sold in the previous year; and Ralph asked for an explanation.
“It came from the Kingsford family,” she said serenely; “it was useless to us.”
“But—” began the inquisitor.
“We needed some new vestments,” she went on. “You will understand, Mr. Torridon, that it was necessary for for us to sell it. We are not rich at all.”
There was nothing else that called for comment; except the manner in which the books were kept. Ralph suggested some other method.
“Dame Agnes has her own ways,” said the old lady. “We must not disturb her.”
And Dame Agnes assumed a profound and financial air on the other side of the table.
Presently Ralph put a mark in the inventory against a “cope of gold bawdekin,” and requested that it might be brought.
The sister-sacristan rose at a word from the Abbess and went out, returning presently with the vestment. She unfolded the coverings and spread it out on the table before Ralph.
It was a magnificent piece of work, of shimmering gold, with orphreys embroidered with arms; and she stroked out its folds with obvious pride.
“These are Warham’s arms,” observed the Abbess. “You know them, Mr. Torridon? We worked these the month before his death.”
Ralph nodded briskly.
“Will you kindly leave it here, Reverend Mother,” he said. “I wish to see it again presently.”
The Abbess gave no hint of discomposure, but signed to the sacristan to place it over a chair at one side.
There were a couple of other things that Ralph presently caused to be fetched and laid aside—a precious mitre with a couple of cameos in front, and bordered with emeralds, and a censer with silver filigree work.