Then again he recurred to the other side; told himself that his instinct was no more than a ludicrous sentimentality; he must be guided by reason, not impulse. Then he glanced at the impulse again. Then the two sides rushed together, locked in conflict. He moaned a little, and lay back in his chair.
* * * * *
The bright sunlight outside had faded to a mellow evening atmosphere before he moved again; and the fire had died to one dull core of incandescence.
As he stirred, he became aware that bells were pealing outside; a melodious roar filled the air. Somewhere behind the house five brazen voices, shouting all together, bellowed the exultation of the city over the great minister’s fall.
He was weary and stiff as he stood up; but the fever had left his brain; and the decision had been made. He relaxed his fingers and laid the bundle softly down on the table from which he had snatched it a couple of hours before.
They would be here soon, he knew; he wondered they had not come already.
Leaving his papers there, he went out, taking the key with him, and locking the door after him. He called up one of his men, telling him he would be ready for supper immediately in the parlour downstairs, and that any visitors who came for him were to be admitted at once.
Then he passed into his bedroom to wash and change his clothes.
* * * * *
Half an hour later he came upstairs again.
He had supped alone, listening and watching the window as he ate; but no sign had come of any arrival. He had dressed with particular care, intending to be found at his ease when the searchers did arrive; there must be no sign of panic or anxiety. He had told his man as he rose from table, to say to any that came for him that they were expected, and to bring them immediately upstairs.
He unlocked the door of his private room, and went in. All was as he had left it; the floor between the window and table was white with ordered heaps of papers; the bundle on the table itself glimmered where he had laid it.
The fire had sunk to a spark. He tenderly lifted off the masses of black sheets that crackled as he touched them; it had not occurred to him before that these evidences of even a harmless destruction had better be removed; and he slid them carefully on to a broad sheet of paper, folded it, shaking the ashes together as he did so, and stood a moment, wondering where he should hide it.
The room was growing dark now; he put the package down; went to the fire and blew it up a little, added some wood, and presently the flames were dancing on the broad hearth.