THE KING’S HIGHNESS
As Chris knelt with the others, and the door closed behind him, he was aware of a great room with a tall window looking on to the river on his left, tapestry-hung walls, a broad table heaped with papers in the centre, a high beamed ceiling, and the thick carpet under his knees.
For a moment he did not see the King. The page who had beckoned them in had passed across the room, and Chris’s eyes followed him out through an inner door in the corner.
Then, still on his knees, he turned his eyes to see the Archbishop going towards the window, and up the step that led on to the dais that occupied the floor of the oriel.
Then he saw the King.
* * * * *
A great figure was seated opposite the side door at which they had entered on the broad seat that ran round the three sides of the window. The puffed sleeves made the shoulders look enormous; a gold chain lay across them, with which the gross fingers were playing. Beneath, the vast stomach swelled out into the slashed trunks, and the scarlet legs were crossed one over the other. On the head lay a broad plumed velvet cap, and beneath it was the wide square face, at once jovial and solemn, with the narrow slits of eyes above, and the little pursed mouth fringed by reddish hair below, that Chris remembered in the barge years before. The smell of musk lay heavy in the air.
Here was the monstrous carrion-beast then at last, sunning himself and waiting.
* * * * *
So the party rested a moment or two, while the Archbishop went across to the dais; he knelt again and then stood up and said a word or two rapidly that Chris could not hear.
Henry nodded, and turned his bright narrow eyes on to them; and then made a motion with his hand. The Archbishop turned round and repeated the gesture; and Chris rose in his place as did the others.
“Master Torridon, your Grace,” explained the Archbishop, with a deferential stoop of his shoulders. “Your Grace will remember—”
The King nodded abruptly, and thrust his hand out.
Chris touched his father behind.
“Go forward,” he whispered; “kiss hands.”
The old man went forward a hesitating step or two. The Archbishop motioned sharply, and Sir James advanced again up to the dais, sank down, and lifted the hand to his lips, and fell back for the others.
When Chris’s turn came, and he lifted the heavy fingers, he noticed for a moment a wonderful red stone on the thumb, and recognised it. It was the Regal of France that he had seen years before at his visit to St. Thomas’s shrine at Canterbury. In a flash, too, he remembered Cromwell’s crest as he had seen it on the papers at Lewes—the demi-lion holding up the red-gemmed ring.
Then he too had fallen back, and the Archbishop was speaking.
“Your Grace will remember that there is a Mr. Ralph Torridon in the Tower—an agent of Mr. Cromwell’s—”