They debated as they stood on the steps in the sunlight five minutes later, as to whether they should go straight to the Tower, or back to Charing and take Beatrice with them. They spoke softly to one another, as men that have come out from darkness to light, bewildered by the sense of freedom and freshness that lay round them. Instead of the musk-scented rooms, the formidable dominating presence, the suspense and the terror, the river laughed before them, the fresh summer breeze blew up it, and above all Ralph was free, and that, not only of his prison, but of his hateful work. It had all been done in those few sentences; but as yet they could not realise it; and they regarded it, as they regarded the ripples at their feet, the lapping wherry, and far-off London city, as a kind of dazzling picture which would by and bye be found to move and live.
The lawyer congratulated them, and they smiled back and thanked him.
“If you will put me to shore at London Bridge,” said Mr. Herries—“I have a little business I might do there—that is, if you will be going so far.”
Chris looked at his father, whose arm he was holding.
“We must take her with us,” he said. “She has earned it.”
Sir James nodded, dreamily, and turned to the boat.
“To the London Bridge Stairs first,” he said.
* * * * *
There was a kind of piquant joy in their hearts as they crept up past the Tower, and saw its mighty walls and guns across the water. He was there, but it was not for long. They would see him that day, and to-morrow—to-morrow at the latest, they would all leave it together.
There were a hundred plans in the old man’s mind, as he leaned gently forward and back to the motion of the boat and stared at the bright water. Ralph and he should live at Overfield again; his son would surely be changed by all that had come to him, and above all by his own response to the demands of loyalty. They should learn to understand one another better now—better than ever before. The hateful life lay behind them of distrust and contempt; Ralph would come back to his old self, and be again as he had been ten years back before he had been dazzled and drugged by the man who was to die next day. Then he thought of that man, and half-pitied him even then; those strong walls held nothing but terror for him—terror and despair; the scaffold was already going up on Tower Hill—and as the old man thought of it he leaned forward and tried to see over the wharf and under the trees where the rising ground lay; but there was nothing to be seen—the foliage hid it.
Chris, also silent beside him, was full of thoughts. He would go abroad now, he knew, with Margaret, as they had intended. The King’s order was the last sign of God’s intention for him. He would place Margaret with her own sisters at Bruges, and then himself go on to Dom Anthony and take up the life again. He knew he would meet some of his old brethren in Religion—Dom Anthony had written to say that three or four had already joined him at Cluny; the Prior—he knew—had turned his back for ever on the monastic life, and had been put into a prebendal stall at Lincoln.