As he had ridden off on that October morning, leaving Margaret standing outside with her cloak over her arm he had had a very sharp suspicion that she would be received back again; but he had not felt himself strong enough to take any further steps; so he contented himself with sending in his report to Dr. Layton, knowing well that heavy punishment would fall on the convent if it was discovered that the Abbess had disobeyed the Visitors’ injunctions.
Then for a month or so he had ridden about the county, carrying off spoils, appointing new officials, and doing the other duties assigned to him; he was offered bribes again and again by superiors of Religious Houses, but unlike his fellow-Visitors always refused them, and fell the more hardly on those that offered them; he turned out numbers of young Religious and released elder ones who desired it, and by the time that he reached Lewes was fairly practised in the duties of his position.
But the thought of the consequences of his action with regard to his future seldom left him. He had alienated his family, and perhaps Beatrice. As he rode once through Cuckfield, and caught a glimpse of the woods above Overfield, glorious in their autumn livery, he wondered whether he would ever find himself at home there again. It was a good deal to give up; but he comforted himself with the thought of his own career, and with the pleasant prospect of possessing some such house in his own right when the work that he now understood had been accomplished, and the monastic buildings were empty of occupants.
He had received one letter, to his surprise, from his mother; that was brought to him by a messenger in one of the houses where he stayed. It informed him that he had the writer’s approval, and that she was thankful to have one son at least who was a man, and described further how his father and Mary had come back, and without Margaret, and that she supposed that the Abbess of Rusper had taken her back.
“Go on, my son,” she ended, “it will be all well. You cannot come home, I know, while your father is in his present mind; but it is a dull place and you lose nothing. When you are married it will be different. Mr. Carleton is very tiresome, but it does not matter.”
Ralph smiled to himself as he thought of the life that must now be proceeding at his home.
He had written once to Beatrice, in a rather tentative tone, assuring her that he was doing his best to be just and merciful, and professing to take it for granted that she knew how to discount any exaggerated stories of the Visitors’ doings that might come to her ears. But he had received no answer, and indeed had told her that he did not expect one, for he was continually on the move and could give no fixed address.