It came nearer and louder; and he could distinguish once more running footsteps. Were they after a thief? he wondered. The murmur and clatter grew louder yet; and a second or two later two men burst into sight; one, an apprentice with his leather apron flapping as he ran, the other a stoutish man like a merchant. They talked and gesticulated as they went.
The murmur behind swelled up. There were the voices of many people, men and women, talking, screaming, questioning. The dog was on his feet by now, looking intently down the street.
Then the first group appeared; half a dozen men walking fast or trotting, talking eagerly. Ralph could not hear what they said.
Then a number surged into sight all at once, jostling round a centre, and a clamour went up to heaven. The dog trotted up suspiciously as if to enquire.
Ralph grew excited; he scarcely knew why. He had seen hundreds of such crowds; it might mean anything, from a rise in butter to a declaration of war. But there was something fiercely earnest about this mob. Was the King ill?
He leaned further from the window and shouted; but no one paid him the slightest attention. The crowd shifted up the street, the din growing as they went; there was a sound of slammed doors; windows opened opposite and heads craned out. Something was shouted up and the heads disappeared.
Ralph sprang back from the window, as more and more surged into sight; he went to his door, glancing at his papers as he ran across; unlocked the door; listened a moment; went on to the landing and shouted for a servant.
There was a sound of footsteps and voices below; the men were already alert, but no answer came to his call. He shouted again.
“Who is there? Find out what the disturbance means.”
There was an answer from one of his men; and the street door opened and closed. Again he ran to the window, and saw his man run out without his doublet across the court, and seize a woman by the arm.
He waited in passionate expectancy; saw him drop the woman’s arm and turn to another; and then run swiftly back to the house.
There was something sinister in the man’s very movements across that little space; he ran desperately, with his head craning forward; once he stumbled; once he glanced up at his master; and Ralph caught a sight of his face.
Ralph was on the landing as the steps thundered upstairs, and met him at the head of the flight.
“Speak man; what is it?”
The servant lifted a face stamped with terror, a couple of feet below Ralph’s.
“What is it?”
“They say that the King’s archers are about my Lord Essex’s house.”
Ralph drew a swift breath.
“And that my Lord was arrested at the Council to-day.”
Ralph turned, and in three steps was in his room again. The key clacked in the lock.