Then blow after blow began to echo in the rafters overhead.
THE SINKING SHIP
Dr. Petre had come and gone, and to all appearance the priory was as before. He had not taken a jewel or a fragment of stuff; he had congratulated the sacristan on the beauty and order of his treasures, and had bidden him guard them carefully, for that there were knaves abroad who professed themselves as authorised by the King to seize monastic possessions, which they sold for their own profit. The offices continued to be sung day and night, and the masses every morning; and the poor were fed regularly at the gate.
But across the corporate life had passed a subtle change, analogous to that which comes to the body of a man. Legal death had taken place already; the unity of life and consciousness existed no more; the seal was defaced; they could no longer sign a document except as individuals. Now the rigor mortis would set in little by little until somatic death too had been consummated, and the units which had made up the organism had ceased to bear any relation one to the other.
But until after Christmas there was no further development; and the Feast was observed as usual, and with the full complement of monks. At the midnight mass there was a larger congregation than for many months, and the confessions and communions also slightly increased. It was a symptom, as Chris very plainly perceived, of the manner in which the shadow of the King reached even to the remotest details of the life of the country. The priory was now, as it were, enveloped in the royal protection, and the people responded accordingly.
There had come no hint from headquarters as to the ultimate fate of the house; and some even began to hope that the half-promise of a re-foundation would be fulfilled. Neither had any mark of disapproval arrived as to the refusal to sign on the part of the two monks; but although nothing further was said in conversation or at chapter, there was a consciousness in the minds of both Dom Anthony and Chris that a wall had arisen between them and the rest. Talk in the cloister was apt to flag when either approached; and the Prior never spoke a word to them beyond what was absolutely necessary.
Then, about the middle of January the last process began to be enacted.
* * * * *
One morning the Prior’s place in church was empty.
He was accustomed to disappear silently, and no astonishment was caused on this occasion; but at Compline the same night the Sub-Prior too was gone.
This was an unheard-of state of things, but all except the guest-master and Chris seemed to take it as a matter of course; and no word was spoken.
After the chapter on the next morning Dom Anthony made a sign to Chris as he passed him in the cloister, and the two went out together into the clear morning-sunshine of the outer court.