It was piteously clear and still. Smoke was rising from a fire somewhere behind the church, a noise as of metal on stone chinked steadily, and the voices of men calling one to another sounded continually from the enclosure. Now and again the tiny figure of a workman showed clear on the roof, pick in hand; or leaning to call directions down to his fellows beneath.
Dom Anthony looked in presently, breviary in hand, and knelt by Chris on the window-step, watching too; but he spoke no word, glanced at the white face and sunken eyes of the other, sighed once or twice, and went out again.
The morning passed on and still Chris watched. By eleven o’clock the men were gone from the roof; half an hour had passed, and no further figure had appeared.
There were footsteps on the stairs; and Sir James came in.
He came straight across to his son and sat down by him. Chris looked at him. The old man nodded.
“Yes, my son,” he said, “they are at it. Nothing is to be left, but the cloister and guest-house. The church is to be down in a week they say.”
Chris looked at him dully.
“All?” he said.
“All the church, my son.”
Sir James gave an account of what he had seen. He had made his way in with Nicholas and a few other persons, into the court; but had not been allowed to enter the cloister. There was a furnace being made ready in the calefactorium for the melting of the lead, he had been told by one of the men; and the church, as he had seen for himself, was full of workmen.
“And the Blessed Sacrament?” asked Chris.
“A priest was sent for this morning to carry It away to a church; I know not which.”
Sir James described the method of destruction.
They were beginning with the apse and the chapels behind the high altar. The ornaments had been removed, the images piled in a great heap in the outer court, and the brasses had been torn up. There were half a dozen masons busy at undercutting the pillars and walls; and as they excavated the carpenters made wooden insertions to prop up the weight. The men had been brought down from London, as the commissioners were not certain of the temper of the Lewes people. Two of the four great pillars behind the high altar were already cut half through.
The old man’s face grew tense and bitter.
“I saw him in the roof,” he said; “he made as if he did not see me.”
They were half-through dinner before Nicholas joined them. He was flushed and dusty and furious.
“Ah! the hounds!” he said, as he stood at the door, trembling. “They say they will have the chapels down before night. They have stripped the lead.”
Sir James looked up and motioned him to sit down.
“We will go down again presently,” he said.
“But we have saved our luggage,” went on Nicholas, taking his seat; “and there was a parcel of yours, Chris, that I put with it. It is all to be sent up with the horses to-night.”