The life of the world at such times seemed to him the only sanity; these men used the powers that God had given them, were content with simple and unostentatious doings and interests, reached the higher vocation by their very naivete, and did not seek to fly on wings that were not meant to bear them. How sensible, Christopher told himself, was Ralph’s ideal! God had made the world, so Ralph lived in it—a world in which great and small affairs were carried on, and in which he interested himself. God had made horses and hawks, had provided materials for carriages and fine clothes and cross-bows, had formed the sexes and allowed for love and domestic matters, had created brains with their capacities of passion and intellect; and so Ralph had taken these things as he found them, hunted, dressed, lived, managed and mixed with men. At times in his cell Chris saw that imposing figure in all its quiet bravery of dress, that sane, clever face, those pitying and contemptuous eyes looking at him, and heard the well-bred voice asking and commenting and wondering at the misguided zeal of a brother who could give all this up, and seek to live a life that was built on and sustained by illusions.
One event during his first six months of the novitiate helped to solemnise him and to clear the confusion.
Old Dom Augustine was taken sick and died, and Chris for the first time in his life watched the melting tragedy of death. The old monk had been moved from the dortor to the sick-room when the end seemed imminent, and one afternoon Chris noticed the little table set outside the door, with its candles and crucifix, the basin of cotton-wool, and the other signs that the last sacraments were to be administered. He knew little of the old man, except his bleared face and shaking hands as he had seen them in choir, and had never been greatly impressed by him; but it was another matter when in the evening of the same day, at his master’s order he passed into the cell and knelt down with the others to see the end.
The old monk was lying now on the cross of ashes that had been spread on the floor; his features looked pinched and white in the candlelight; his old mouth moved incessantly, and opened now and again to gasp; but there was an august dignity on his face that Chris had never seen there before.
Outside the night was still and frosty; only now and again the heavy stroke of the bell told the town that a soul was passing.
Dom Augustine had received Viaticum an hour before. Chris had heard the steady tinkle of the bell, like the sound of Aaron’s garments, as the priest who had brought him Communion passed back with his sacred burden, and Chris had fallen on his knees where he stood as he caught a glimpse of the white procession passing back to the church, their frosty breath going up together in the winter night air, the wheeling shadows, and the glare of the torches giving a pleasant warm light in the dull cloister.