She was going now; a picture stirred on the wall by the fire as the wind rushed in through the open street door.
* * * * *
Then the door closed.
THE FALL OF LEWES
The peace was gone from Lewes Priory. A wave had broken in through the high wall from the world outside with the coming of the Visitors, and had left wreckage behind, and swept out security as it went. The monks knew now that their old privileges were gone with the treasures that Layton had taken with him, and that although the wave had recoiled, it would return again and sweep them all away.
Upon none of them had the blow fallen more fiercely than on Chris; he had tried to find peace, and instead was in the midst of storm. The high barriers had gone, and with them the security of his own soul, and the world that he thought he had left was grinning at the breach.
It was piteous to him to see the Prior—that delicate, quiet prelate who had held himself aloof in his dignities—now humbled by the shame of his exposure in the chapter-house. The courage that Bishop Fisher had restored to him in some measure was gone again; and it was miserable to look at that white downcast face in the church and refectory, and to recognise that all self-respect was gone. After his return from his appearance before Cromwell he was more wretched than ever; it was known that he had been sent back in contemptuous disgrace; but it was not known how much he had promised in his terror for life.
The house had lost too some half-dozen of its inmates. Two had petitioned for release; three professed monks had been dismissed, and a recent novice had been sent back to his home. Their places in the stately choir were empty, and eloquent with warning; and in their stead was a fantastic secular priest, appointed by the Visitors’ authority, who seldom said mass, and never attended choir; but was regular in the refectory, and the chapter-house where he thundered St. Paul’s epistles at the monks, and commentaries of his own, in the hopes of turning them from papistry to a purer faith.
The news from outside echoed their own misery. Week after week the tales poured in, of young and old dismissed back to the world whose ways they had forgotten, of the rape of treasures priceless not only for their intrinsic worth but for the love that had given and consecrated them through years of devout service. There was not a house that had not lost something; the King himself had sanctioned the work by taking precious horns and a jewelled cross from Winchester. And worse than all that had gone was the terror of what was yet to come. The world, which had been creeping nearer, pausing and creeping on again, had at last passed the boundaries and leapt to sacrilege.