THE KING’S FRIEND
Overfield Court was mildly stirred at the news that Master Christopher would stay there a few days on his way back from London to Lewes. It was not so exciting as when Master Ralph was to come, as the latter made more demands than a mere monk; for the one the horses must be in the pink of condition, the game neither too wild nor too tame, his rooms must be speckless, neither too full nor too empty of furniture; for the other it did not matter so much, for he was now not only a younger brother, but a monk, and therefore accustomed to contradiction and desirous to acquiesce in arrangements.
Lady Torridon indeed took no steps at all when she heard that Chris was coming, beyond expressing a desire that she might not be called upon to discuss the ecclesiastical situation at every meal; and when Chris finally arrived a week after Bishop Fisher’s execution, having parted with the Prior at Cuckfield, she was walking in her private garden beyond the moat.
Sir James was in a very different state. He had caused two rooms to be prepared, that his son might take his choice, one next to Mr. Carleton’s and therefore close to the chapel, and the other the old chamber that Chris had occupied before he went to Lewes; and when the monk at last rode up on alone on his tired mule with his little bag strapped to the crupper, an hour before sunset, his father was out at the gatehouse to meet him, and walked up beside him to the house, with his hand laid on his son’s knee.
They hardly spoke a word as they went; Sir James had looked up at Chris’s white strained face, and had put one question; and the other had nodded; and the hearts of both were full as they went together to the house.
The father and son supped together alone that night in the private parlour, for no one had dared to ask Lady Torridon to postpone her usual supper hour; and as soon as that was over and Chris had told what he had seen, with many silences, they went into the oak-room where Lady Torridon and Mr. Carleton were awaiting them by the hearth with the Flemish tiles.
The mother was sitting as usual in her tall chair, with her beautiful hands on her lap, and smiled with a genial contempt as she ran her eyes up and down her son’s figure.
“The habit suits you very well, my son—in every way,” she added, looking at him curiously.
Chris had greeted her an hour before at his arrival, so there was no ceremony of salute to be gone through now. He sat down by his father.
“You have seen Ralph, I hear,” observed Lady Torridon.
Chris did not know how much she knew, and simply assented. He had told his father everything.
“I have some news,” she went on in an unusually talkative mood, “for you both. Ralph is to marry Beatrice Atherton—the girl you saw in his rooms, Christopher.”