A murmur again ran round the room, and he lifted his hand furiously.
“Silence,” he shouted, “not one word from a mother’s son of you. I have had enough of sedition already. Clear the room, officer, and let not one shaveling monk put his nose within again, until I send for him. I am weary of them all—weary and broken-hearted.”
The doctor dropped back into his seat, with a face of profound disgust, and passed his hand over his forehead.
The monks turned at the signal from the door, and Ralph watched the black lines once more file out.
“There, Mr. Torridon,” whispered the doctor behind his hand. “Did I not tell you so? Master Cromwell will be able to do what he will with him.”
The Visitation of Lewes Priory occupied a couple of days, as the estates were so vast, and the account-books so numerous.
In the afternoon following the scene in the chapter-house, Dr. Layton and Ralph rode out to inspect some of the farms that were at hand, leaving orders that the stock was to be driven up into the court the next day, and did not return till dusk. The excitement in the town was tremendous as they rode back through the ill-lighted streets, and as the rumour ran along who the great gentlemen were that went along so gaily with their servants behind them; and by the time that they reached the priory-gate there was a considerable mob following in their train, singing and shouting, in the highest spirits at the thought of the plunder that would probably fall into their hands.
Layton turned in his saddle at the door, and made them a little speech, telling them how he was there with the authority of the King’s Grace, and would soon make a sweep of the place.
“And there will be pickings,” he cried, “pickings for us all! The widow and the orphan have been robbed long enough; it is time to spoil the fathers.”
There was a roar of amusement from the mob; and a shout or two was raised for the King’s Grace.
“You must be patient,” cried Dr. Layton, “and then no more taxes. You can trust us, gentlemen, to do the King’s work as it should be done.”
As he passed in through the lamp-lit entrance he turned to Ralph again.
“You see, Mr. Torridon, we have the country behind us.”
* * * * *
It was that evening that Ralph for the first time since the quarrel met his brother face to face.
He was passing through the cloister on his way to Dr. Layton’s room, and came past the refectory door just as the monks were gathering for supper. He glanced in as he went, and had a glimpse of the clean solemn hall, lighted with candles along the panelling, the long bare tables laid ready, the Prior’s chair and table at the further end and the great fresco over it. A lay brother or two in aprons were going about their business silently, and three or four black figures, who had already entered, stood motionless along the raised dais on which the tables stood.