Ralph thought it better, however, to say a conciliatory word when the things had been bestowed in the house, and the mules led away; and he stood on the steps a moment alone before entering himself.
The crowd listened complacently enough to the statements which they had begun to believe from the fact of the incessant dinning of them into their ears by the selected preachers at Paul’s Cross and elsewhere; and there was loud groan at the Pope’s name.
Ralph was ending with an incise peroration that he had delivered more than once before.
“You know all this, good people; and you shall know it better when the work is done. Instead of the rich friars and monks we will have godly citizens, each with his house and land. The King’s Grace has promised it, and you know that he keeps his word. We have had enough of the jackdaws and their stolen goods; we will have honest birds instead. Only be patient a little longer—”
The listening silence was broken by a loud cry—
“You damned plundering hound—”
A stone suddenly out of the gloom whizzed past Ralph and crashed through the window behind. A great roaring rose in a moment, and the crowd swayed and turned.
Ralph felt his heart suddenly quicken, and his hand flew to his hilt again, but there was no need for him to act. There were terrible screams already rising from the seething twilight in front, as the stone-thrower was seized and trampled. He stayed a moment longer, dropped his hilt and went into the house.
“You will show Mistress Atherton into the room below,” said Ralph to his man, “as soon as she comes.”
He was sitting on the morning following his arrival in his own chamber upstairs. His table was a mass of papers, account-books, reckonings, reports bearing on his Visitation journey, and he had been working at them ever since he was dressed; for he had to present himself before Cromwell in the course of a day or two, and the labour would be enormous.
The room below, opposite that in which he intended to see Beatrice and where she had waited herself a few months before while he talked with Cromwell and the Archbishop, was now occupied by his collection of plate and vestments, and the key was in his own pocket.
He had heard from his housekeeper on the previous evening that Beatrice had called at the house during the afternoon, and had seemed surprised to hear that he was to return that night; but she had said very little, it appeared, and had only begged the woman to inform her master that she would present herself at his house the next morning.
And now Ralph was waiting for her.
He was more ill-at-ease than he had expected to be. The events of the evening before had given him a curious shock; and he cursed the whole business—the snapping of the cord round the bundle, his own action and words, the outrage that followed, and the death of the fellow that had thrown the stone—for the body had been rescued by the watch a few minutes later, a tattered crushed thing, beaten out of all likeness to a man. One of the watch had stepped in to see Ralph as he sat at supper, and had gone again saying the dog deserved it for daring to lift his voice against the King and his will.