Ralph had prospered exceedingly since his return from the Sussex Visitation. He had been sent on mission after mission by Cromwell, who had learnt at last how wholly he could be trusted; and with each success his reputation increased. It seemed to Cromwell that his man was more whole-hearted than he had been at first; and when he was told abruptly by Ralph that his relations with Mistress Atherton had come to an end, the politician was not slow to connect cause and effect. He had always regretted the friendship; it seemed to him that his servant’s character was sure to be weakened by his alliance with a friend of Master More; and though he had said nothing—for Ralph’s manner did not encourage questions—he had secretly congratulated both himself and his agent for so happy a termination to an unfortunate incident.
For the meantime Ralph’s fortunes rose with his master’s; Lord Cromwell now reigned in England next after the King in both Church and State. He held a number of offices, each of which would have been sufficient for an ordinary man, but all of which did not overtax his amazing energy. He stood absolutely alone, with all the power in his hands; President of the Star Chamber, Foreign Minister, Home-Minister, and the Vicar-General of the Church; feared by Churchmen, distrusted by statesmen and nobles; and hated by all except his own few personal friends—an unique figure that had grown to gigantic stature through sheer effort and adroitness.
And beneath his formidable shadow Ralph was waxing great. He had failed to get Lewes for himself, for Cromwell designed it for Gregory his son; but he was offered his choice among several other great houses. For the present he hesitated to choose; uncertain of his future. If his father died there would be Overfield waiting for him, so he did not wish to tie himself to one of the far-away Yorkshire houses; if his father lived, he did not wish to be too near him. There was no hurry, said Cromwell; there would be houses and to spare for the King’s faithful servants; and meantime it would be better for Mr. Torridon to remain in Westminster, and lay his foundations of prosperity deeper and wider yet before building. The title too that Cromwell dangled before him sometimes—that too could wait until he had chosen his place of abode.
Ralph felt that he was being magnificently treated by his master; and his gratitude and admiration grew side by side with his rising fortune. There was no niggardliness, now that Cromwell had learnt to trust in him; he could draw as much money as he wished for the payment of his under-agents, or for any other purpose; and no questions were asked.
The little house at Westminster grew rich in treasures; his bed-coverlet was the very cope he had taken from Rusper; his table was heavy with chalices beaten into secular shape; his fire-screen was a Spanish chasuble taken in the North. His servants were no longer three or four sleeping in the house; there was a brigade of them, some that attended for orders morning by morning, some that skirmished for him in the country and returned rich in documents and hearsay; and a dozen waited on his personal wants.