THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 41: THE INTERDICT
I went swiftly back, saying not a word to anybody. I told Sandy
this ghastly news. We could imagine no explanation that would
begin to explain. Had there been an invasion? an earthquake?
a pestilence? Had the nation been swept out of existence? But
guessing was profitless. I must go--at once. I borrowed the king's
navy--a "ship" no bigger than a steam launch--and was soon ready.
The parting--ah, yes, that was hard. As I was devouring the child
with last kisses, it brisked up and jabbered out its vocabulary!--
the first time in more than two weeks, and it made fools of us
for joy. The darling mispronunciations of childhood!--dear me,
there's no music that can touch it; and how one grieves when it
wastes away and dissolves into correctness, knowing it will never
visit his bereaved ear again. Well, how good it was to be able
to carry that gracious memory away with me!
I approached England the next morning, with the wide highway of
salt water all to myself. There were ships in the harbor, at
Dover, but they were naked as to sails, and there was no sign
of life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets
were empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest in sight,
and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness of
death was everywhere. I couldn't understand it. At last, in
the further edge of that town I saw a small funeral procession--
just a family and a few friends following a coffin--no priest;
a funeral without bell, book, or candle; there was a church there
close at hand, but they passed it by weeping, and did not enter it;
I glanced up at the belfry, and there hung the bell, shrouded in
black, and its tongue tied back. Now I knew! Now I understood
the stupendous calamity that had overtaken England. Invasion?
Invasion is a triviality to it. It was the INTERDICT!
I asked no questions; I didn't need to ask any. The Church had
struck; the thing for me to do was to get into a disguise, and
go warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothes, and
when we were safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that time
I traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of company.