The lawyer, Mr. Herries, a shrewd-faced Northerner, sat with his back to the window, fingering a quill horizontally in his lean brown fingers and talking in short sentences, glancing up between them, with patient silences as the others talked. He seemed the very incarnation of the slow inaction that was so infinitely trying to these anxious souls.
The three laymen did not even know the crime with which Ralph was charged, but they soon learnt that the technical phrase for it was misprision of treason.
“Mr. Torridon was arrested, I understand,” said the lawyer, “by order of Council. He would have been arrested in any case. He was known to be privy to my Lord Essex’s schemes. You inform me that he destroyed evidence. That will go against him if they can prove it.”
He drew the quill softly through his lips, and then fell to fingering it again, as the others stared at him.
“However,” went on Mr. Herries, “that is not our affair now. There will be time for that. Our question is, when will he be charged, and how? My Lord Essex may be tried by a court, or attainted in Parliament. I should suppose the latter. Mr. Torridon will be treated in the same way. If it be the former, we can do nothing but wait and prepare our case. If it be the latter, we must do our utmost to keep his name out of the bill.”
He went on to explain his reasons for thinking that a bill of attainder would be brought against Cromwell. It was the customary method, he said, for dealing with eminent culprits, and its range had been greatly extended by Cromwell himself. At this moment three Catholics lay in the Tower, attainted through the statesman’s own efforts, for their supposed share in a conspiracy to deliver up Calais to the invaders who had threatened England in the previous year. Feeling, too, ran very high against Cromwell; the public would be impatient of a long trial; and a bill of attainder would give a readier outlet to the fury against him.
This then was the danger; but they could do nothing, said the lawyer, to avert it, until they could get information. He would charge himself with that business, and communicate with them as soon as he knew.
“And then?” asked Chris, looking at him desperately, for the cold deliberate air of Mr. Herries gave him a terrible sense of the passionless process of the law.
“I was about to speak of that,” said the lawyer. “If it goes as I think it will, and Mr. Torridon’s name is suggested for the bill, we must approach the most powerful friends we can lay hold on, to use their influence against his inclusion. Have you any such, sir?” he added, looking at Sir James sharply over the quill.
The old man shook his head.
“I know no one,” he said.
The lawyer pursed his lips.
“Then we must do the best we can. We can set aside at once all of my Lord Essex’s enemies—and—and he has many now. Two names come to my mind. Master Ralph Sadler—the comptroller; and my Lord of Canterbury.”