Mr. Morris let go, and stood back; and simultaneously Ralph struck him with his riding-whip across the face, a furious back-handed slash.
Mary cried out uncontrollably and shrank back; and a moment later her father was leaning from the window, and she beside him.
“You damned coward!” he shouted. “Morris, you are my servant now.”
Ralph did not turn his head an inch, and a moment later disappeared on horse-back through the gate, and the portress had closed it behind him.
The little court was silent now, and empty except for the Abbess’ motionless figure behind, with Mr. Morris beside her, and the lay sister by the gate, her hand still on the key that she had turned, and her eyes intent and expectant fixed on her superior. Mr. Morris lifted a handkerchief now and again gently to his face, and Mary as she leaned half sobbing from above saw that there were spots of crimson on the white.
“Oh! Morris!” she whispered.
The servant looked up, with a great weal across one cheek, and bowed a little, but he could not speak yet. Outside they could hear the jingle of bridle-chains; and then a voice begin; but they could not distinguish the words.
It was Ralph speaking; but they could only guess what it was that he was saying. Overhead the autumn sky was a vault of pale blue; and a bird or two chirped briskly from the roof opposite.
The voice outside grew louder, and ceased, and the noise of horse hoofs broke out.
Still there was no movement from any within. The Abbess was standing now with one hand uplifted as if for silence, and Mary heard the hoofs sound fainter up the road; they grew louder again as they reached higher ground; and then ceased altogether.
The old man touched Mary on the arm, and the three went out along the little corridor, and down the stone stairs.
As they passed through the lodge and came into the court Mary saw that the Abbess had moved from her place, and was standing with the portress close by the gate; her face was towards them, a little on one side, and she seemed to be listening intently, her ear against the door, her lower lip sucked in, and her eyes bright and vacant; she still held one hand up for silence.
Then there came a tiny tapping on the wood-work, and she instantly turned and snatched at the key, and a moment later the door was wide.
“Come in, my poor child,” she said.
ST PANCRAS PRIORY
It was a little more than a month later that Ralph met his fellow-Visitor at Lewes Priory.
He had left Rusper in a storm of angry obstinacy, compelled by sheer pride to do what he had not intended. The arrival of his father and Mary there had had exactly the opposite effect to that which they hoped, and Ralph had turned Margaret out of the convent simply because he could not bear that they should think that he could be frightened from his purpose.