Then he held them out.
* * * * *
In a moment she had snatched them; and was on her knees by the hearth. Ralph watched her, and listened to the steps coming up the stairs. The papers were alight now. The girl dashed her fingers among them, grinding, tearing, separating the heavy pages.
They were almost gone by now; the thick smoke poured up the chimney; and still Beatrice tore and dashed the ashes about.
There was a knocking at the door; and the handle turned. The girl rose from her knees and smiled at Ralph as the door opened, and the pursuivants stood there in the opening.
Chris had something very like remorse after Ralph had left Overfield, and no words of explanation or regret had been spoken on either side. He recognised that he had not been blameless at the beginning of their estrangement—if, indeed, there ever had been a beginning—for their inflamed relations had existed to some extent back into boyhood as far as he could remember; but he had been responsible for at least a share in the fierce words in Ralph’s house after the death of the Carthusians. He had been hot-headed, insolent, theatrical; and he had not written to acknowledge it. He had missed another opportunity at Lewes—at least one—when pride had held him back from speaking, for fear that he should be thought to be currying favour. And now this last opportunity, the best of all—when Ralph had been accessible and courteous, affected, Chris imagined, by the death of his mother—this too had been missed; and he had allowed his brother to ride away without a word of regret or more than formal affection.
He was troubled at mass, an hour after Ralph had gone; the distraction came between him and the sweet solemnity upon which he was engaged. His soul was dry and moody. He showed it in his voice. As a younger brother in past years; as a monk and a priest now, he knew that the duty of the first step to a reconciliation had lain with him; and that he had not taken it.
It had been a troubled household altogether when Ralph had gone. There was first the shock of Lady Torridon’s death, and the hundred regrets that it had left behind. Then Beatrice too, who had helped them all so much, had told them that she must go back to town—her aunt was alone in the little house at Charing, for the friend who had spent Christmas there was gone back to the country; and Margaret, consequently, had been almost in despair. Lastly Sir James himself had been troubled; wondering whether he might not have been warmer with Ralph, more outspoken in his gratitude for the affair of the mummers, more ready to welcome an explanation from his son. The shadow of Ralph then rested on the household, and there was something of pathos in it. He was so much detached now, so lonely, and it seemed that he was content it should be so.