But as the spring drew on, an air of suspense and anxiety made itself evident in the house. News came down that More and Fisher were still in prison, that the oath was being administered right and left, that the King had thrown aside all restraints, and that the civil breach with Rome seemed in no prospect of healing. As for the spiritual breach the monks did not seriously consider it yet; they regarded themselves as still in union with the Holy See whatever their rulers might say or do, and only prayed for the time when things might be as before and there should be no longer any doubt or hesitation in the minds of weak brethren.
But the Prior’s face grew more white and troubled, and his temper uncertain.
Now and again he would make them speeches assuring them fiercely that all was well, and that all they had to do was to be quiet and obedient; and now he would give way to a kind of angry despair, tell them that all was lost, that every man would have to save himself; and then for days after such an exhibition he would be silent and morose, rapping his fingers softly as he sat at his little raised table in the refectory, walking with downcast eyes up and down the cloister muttering and staring.
Towards the end of April he sent abruptly for Chris, told him that he had news from London that made his presence there necessary, and ordered him to be ready to ride with him in a week or two.
It was in the evening of a warm May day that the Prior and Chris arrived at the hostelry in Southwark, which belonged to Lewes Priory.
It was on the south side of Kater Lane, opposite St. Olave’s church, a great house built of stone with arched gates, with a large porch opening straight into the hall, which was high and vaulted with a frieze of grotesque animals and foliage running round it. There were a few servants there, and one or two friends of the Prior waiting at the porch as they arrived; and one of them, a monk himself from the cell at Farley, stepped up to the Prior’s stirrup and whispered to him.
Chris heard an exclamation and a sharp indrawing of breath, but was too well trained to ask; so he too dismounted and followed the others into the hall, leaving his beast in the hands of a servant.
The Prior was already standing by the monk at the upper end, questioning him closely, and glancing nervously this way and that.
“To-day?” he asked sharply, and looked at the other horrified.
The monk nodded, pale-faced and anxious, his lower lip sucked in.
The Prior turned to Chris.
“They have suffered to-day,” he said.
News had reached Lewes nearly a week before that the Carthusians had been condemned, for refusing to acknowledge the King as head of the English Church, but it had been scarcely possible to believe that the sentence would be carried out, and Chris felt the blood beat in his temples and his lips turn suddenly dry as he heard the news.