A tense excitement lay on the watchers; and no sound came from them but that of quick breathing as they waited for what they knew was imminent.
Outside the evening was wonderfully still; they could hear two men talking somewhere in the street below; but from the priory came no sound. The chink of the picks was still, and the cries of the workmen. Far away beyond the castle on their left came an insistent barking of a dog; and once, when a horseman rode by below Chris bit his lip with vexation, for it seemed to him like the disturbing of a death bed. A star or two looked out, vanished, and peeped again from the luminous sky, to the south, and the downs beneath were grey and hazy.
All the watchers now had their eyes on the eastern end of the church that lay in dim shadow; they could see the roof of the vault behind where the high altar lay beneath; the flying buttress of a chapel below; and, nearer, the low roof of the Lady-chapel.
Chris kept his eyes strained on the upper vault, for there, he knew the first movement would show itself.
The time seemed interminable. He moistened his dry lips from time to time, shifted his position a little, and moved his elbow from the sharp moulding of the window-frame.
Then he caught his breath.
From where he sat, in the direct line of his eyes, the top of a patch of evergreen copse was visible just beyond the roof of the vault; and as he looked he saw that a patch of paler green had appeared below it. All in a moment he saw too the flying buttress crook itself like an elbow and disappear. Then the vault was gone and the roof beyond; the walls sank with incredible slowness and vanished.
A cloud of white dust puffed up like smoke.
Then through the open window came the roar of the tumbling masonry; and shrill above it the clamour of a great crowd.
THE KING’S GRATITUDE
The period that followed the destruction of Lewes Priory held very strange months for Chris. He had slipped out of the stream into a back-water, from which he could watch the swift movements of the time, while himself undisturbed by them; for no further notice was taken of his refusal to sign the surrender or of his resistance to the Commissioners. The hands of the authorities were so full of business that apparently it was not worth their while to trouble about an inoffensive monk of no particular notoriety, who after all had done little except in a negative way, and who appeared now to acquiesce in silence and seclusion.
The household at Overfield was of a very mixed nature. Dom Anthony after a month or two had left for the Continent to take up his vocation in a Benedictine house; and Sir James and his wife, Chris, Margaret, and Mr. Carleton remained together. For the present Chris and Margaret were determined to wait, for a hundred things might intervene—Henry’s death, a changing of his mind, a foreign invasion on the part of the Catholic powers, an internal revolt in England, and such things—and set the clock back again, and, unlike Dom Anthony, they had a home where they could follow their Rules in tolerable comfort.