He found Cromwell, on his arrival in London, a little less moody than he had been in the previous week; for he was busy with preparations for the Parliament that was to meet in April; and to the occupation that this gave him there was added a good deal of business connected with Henry’s negotiations with the Emperor. The dispute, that at present centred round the treatment of Englishmen in Spain, and other similar matters, in reality ran its roots far deeper; and there were a hundred details which occupied the minister. But there was still a hint of storm in the air; Cromwell spoke brusquely once or twice without cause, and Ralph refrained from saying anything about the affair at Overfield, but took up his own work again quietly.
A fortnight later, however, he heard of it once more.
He was sitting at a second table in Cromwell’s own room in the Rolls House, when one of the secretaries came up with a bundle of reports, and laid them as usual before Ralph.
Ralph finished the letter he was engaged on—one to Dr. Barnes who had preached a Protestant sermon at Paul’s Cross, and who now challenged Bishop Gardiner to a public disputation. Ralph was telling him to keep his pugnacity to himself; and when he had done took up the reports and ran his eyes over them.
They were of the usual nature—complaints, informations, protests, appeals from men of every rank of life; agents, farm-labourers, priests, ex-Religious, fanatics—and he read them quickly through, docketing their contents at the head of each that his master might be saved trouble.
At one, however, he stopped, glanced momentarily at Cromwell, and then read on.
It was an illiterate letter, ill-spelt and smudged, and consisted of a complaint from a man who signed himself Robert Benham, against “Mr. Ralph Torridon, as he named himself,” for hindering the performance of a piece entitled “The Jolly Friar” in the parish of Overfield, on Sunday, February the first. Mr. Torridon, the writer stated, had used my Lord Cromwell’s name and authority in stopping the play; expenses had been incurred in connection with it, for a barn had been hired, and the transport of the properties had cost money; and Mr. Benham desired to know whether these expenses would be made good to him, and if Mr. Torridon had acted in accordance with my Lord’s wishes.
Ralph bit his pen in some perplexity, when he had finished making out the document. He wondered whether he had better show it to Cromwell; it might irritate him or not, according to his mood. If it was destroyed surely no harm would be done; and yet Ralph had a disinclination to destroy it. He sat a moment or two longer considering; once he took the paper by the corners to tear it; then laid it down again; glanced once more at the heavy intent face a couple of yards away, and then by a sudden impulse took up his pen and wrote a line on the corner explaining the purport of the paper, initialled it, and laid it with the rest.