“Have you heard of my lord’s head being taken to Nan Boleyn?” put in Nicholas fiercely.
Sir James looked up.
“Presently, Nick,” he said.
The man went on.
“Master More kneeled down presently at his prayers; and all the folk kept very quiet. There was not one that cried against him. Then he stood up again, put off his gown, so that his neck was bare; and passed his hand over it smiling. Then he told the headsman that it was but a short one, and bade him be brave and strike straight, lest his good name should suffer. Then he laid himself down to the block, and put his neck on it; but he moved again before he gave the sign, and put his beard out in front—for he had grown one in prison”—
“Give us the words,” snarled Nicholas.
“He said, sir, that his beard had done no treason, and need not therefore suffer as he had to do. And then he thrust out his hand for a sign—and ’twas done at a stroke.”
“God damn them!” hissed Nicholas again as a kind of Amen, turning swiftly to the fire-place so that his face could not be seen.
There was complete silence for a few seconds. The groom had his eyes cast down, and stood there—then again he spoke.
“As to my Lord of Rochester’s head, that was taken off to the—the Queen, they say, in a white bag, and she struck it on the mouth.”
Nicholas dropped his head against his hand that rested on the wood-work.
“And the body rested naked all day on the scaffold, with the halberd-men drinking round about; and ’twas tumbled into a hole in Barking Churchyard that night.”
“At whose orders?”
“At Master Cromwell’s, sir.”
Again there was silence; and again the groom broke it.
“There was more said, sir—” and hesitated.
The old man signed to him to go on.
“They say that my lord’s head shone with light each night on the bridge,” said the man reverently; “there was a great press there, I know, all day, so that the streets were blocked, and none could come or go. And so they tumbled that into the river at last; at least ’tis supposed so—for ’twas gone when I looked.”
Nicholas turned round; and his eyes were bright and his face fiery and discoloured.
Sir James stood up, and his voice was broken as he spoke.
“Thank you, my man. You have told your story well.”
* * * * *
As the groom turned to go out, Sir Nicholas wheeled round swiftly to the hearth, and buried his face on his arm; and Chris saw a great heaving begin to shake his broad shoulders.
THE KING’S TRIUMPH—BOOK II
PART I—THE SMALLER HOUSES
AN ACT OF FAITH
Towards the end of August Beatrice Atherton was walking up the north bank of the river from Charing to Westminster to announce to Ralph her arrival in town on the previous night.