She led them on through the narrow passage, up a stone flight of stairs to the corridor that ran over the little cloister, and pushed open the door of a cell.
“Wait here,” she said. “You can do no more. I will go down to them. You are in the enclosure, but I cannot help it.”
And she had whisked out again, with an air of extraordinary composure, shutting the door behind her.
The three went across to the window, still speaking no word, and looked down.
The tiny court seemed half full of people now. There were three horses there, besides Ralph’s own marked by its rich saddle, and still attached to the ring by the stable door, and a couple of men were busy loading one of them with bundles. From one of these, which was badly packed, a shimmering corner of gold cloth projected.
Ralph was standing by the door of the guest-house watching, and making a sign now and again with his whip. They could not see his face as he stood so directly below them, only his rich cap and feather, and his strong figure beneath. Mr. Morris was waiting now by his master’s horse; the portress was by her door.
As they looked the little black and white figure of the Abbess came out beneath them, and stood by the portress.
The packing went on in silence. It was terrible to Mary to stand there and watch the dumb-show tragedy, the wrecking and robbing of this peaceful house; and yet there was nothing to be done. She knew that the issues were in stronger hands than hers; she glanced piteously at her father and brother on either side, but their faces were set and white, and they did not turn at her movement.
There was the sound of an opening door, and two women came out from the convent at one side and stood waiting. One was in secular dress; the other was still in her habit, but carried a long dark mantle across her arm, and Mary caught her breath and bit her lip fiercely as she recognised the second to be her sister.
She felt she must cry out, and denounce the sacrilege, and made an instinctive movement nearer the window, but in a moment her father’s hand was on her arm.
“Be still, Mary: it is all well.”
One of the horses was being led away by now through the open door; and the two others followed almost immediately; but the principal actors were still in their places; the Abbess and the portress together on this side; Ralph on that; and the two other women, a little apart from one another, at the further end of the court.
Then Ralph beckoned abruptly with his whip, and Mary saw her sister move out towards the gate; she caught a glance of her face, and saw that her lips were white and trembling, and her eyes full of agony. The other woman followed briskly, and the two disappeared through to the road outside.
Again Ralph beckoned, and Mr. Morris brought up the horse that he had now detached from the ring, and stood by its head, holding the off-stirrup for his master to mount. Ralph gathered the reins into his left hand, and for a moment they saw his face across the back of the horse fierce and white; then he was up, and settling his right foot into the stirrup.