There was a sound of brisk, hurrying footsteps in the cloister outside, Dom Anthony ceased his reading with his finger on the place, and the eyes of the two monks met.
The door was opened abruptly, and Morris stood there.
“My master has sent me, sir,” he said. “They are coming.”
THE LAST STAND
The court outside had deepened into shadows as they came out; but overhead the sky still glowed faintly luminous in a tender translucent green. The evening star shone out clear and tranquil opposite them in the west.
There were three figures standing at the foot of the steps that led down from the cloister; one of the servants with the two gentlemen; and as Chris pushed forward quickly his father turned and lifted his finger for silence.
The town lay away to the right; and over the wall that joined the west end of the church to the gatehouse, there were a few lights visible—windows here and there just illuminated.
For the first moment Chris thought there had been a mistake; he had expected a clamour at the gate, a jangling of the bell. Then as he listened he knew that it was no false alarm.
Across the wall, from the direction of the hills that showed dimly against the evening sky, there came a murmur, growing as he listened. The roads were hard from lack of rain, and he could distinguish the sound of horses, a great company; but rising above this was a dull roar of voices. Every moment it waxed, died once or twice, then sounded out nearer and louder. There was a barking of dogs, the cries of children, and now and again the snatch of a song or a shouted word or two.
Of the group on the steps within not one stirred, except when Sir James slowly lowered his upraised hand; and so they waited.
The company was drawing nearer now; and Chris calculated that they must be coming down the steep road that led from the town; and even as he thought it he heard the sound of hoofs on the bridge that crossed the Winterbourne.
Dom Anthony pushed by him.
“To the gate,” he said, and went down the step and across the court followed by the others. As they went the clamour grew loud and near in the road outside; and a ruddy light shone on the projecting turret of the gateway.
Chris was conscious of extraordinary coolness now that the peril was on him; and he stared up at the studded oak doors, at the wicket cut in one of the leaves, and the sliding panel that covered the grill, with little thought but that of conjecture as to how long the destruction of the gate would take. The others, too, though he was scarcely aware of their presence, were silent and rigid at his side, as Dom Anthony stepped up to the closed grill and waited there for the summons.
It came almost immediately.
There was a great crescendo of sound as the party turned the corner, and a flare of light shone under the gate; then the sound of loud talking, a silence of the hoofs; and a sudden jangle on the bell overhead.