The great bell began to toll presently for compline, and the guest-master rose in the midst of his explanations.
“My Lord Prior bade me thank you for the hares,” he said. “Perhaps your servant will take the message back to Mr. Ralph to-morrow. Come.”
They went down the stairs together and out into the summer twilight, the great strokes sounding overhead in the gloom as they walked. Over the high wall to the left shone a light or two from Lewes town, and beyond rose up the shadowy masses of the downs over which Christopher had ridden that afternoon. Over those hills, too, he knew, lay his old home. As they walked together in silence up the paved walk to the west end of the church, a vivid picture rose before the young man’s eyes of the little parlour where he had sat last night—of his silent mother in her black satin; his father in the tall chair, Ralph in an unwontedly easy and genial mood lounging on the other side and telling stories of town, of the chaplain with his homely, pleasant face, slipping silently out at the door. That was the last time that all that was his,—that he had a right and a place there. If he ever saw it again it would be as a guest who had become the son of another home, with new rights and relations, and at the thought a pang of uncontrollable shrinking pricked at his heart.
But at the door of the church the monk drew his arm within his own for a moment and held it, and Chris saw the shadowed eyes under his brows rest on him tenderly.
“God bless you, Chris!” he said.
Within a few days of Christopher’s departure to Lewes, Ralph also left Overfield and went back to London.
He was always a little intolerant at home, and generally appeared there at his worst—caustic, silent, and unsympathetic. It seemed to him that the simple country life was unbearably insipid; he found there neither wit nor affairs: to see day after day the same faces, to listen to the same talk either on country subjects that were distasteful to him, or, out of compliment to himself, political subjects that were unfamiliar to the conversationalists, was a very hard burden, and he counted such things as the price he must pay for his occasional duty visits to his parents. He could not help respecting the piety of his father, but he was none the less bored by it; and the atmosphere of silent cynicism that seemed to hang round his mother was his only relief. He thought he understood her, and it pleased him sometimes to watch her, to calculate how she would behave in any little domestic crisis or incident that affected her, to notice the slight movement of her lips and her eyelids gently lowering and rising again in movements of extreme annoyance. But even this was not sufficient compensation for the other drawbacks of life at Overfield Court, and it was with a very considerable relief that he stepped into his carriage at last towards the end of July, nodded and smiled once more to his father who was watching him from the terrace steps with a wistful and puzzled face, anxious to please, and heard the first crack of the whip of his return journey.