Chris looked tranquilly round the room, at the little square table in the centre, the four chairs drawn close to it, with their brocade panels stained and well-worn showing at the back, the dark ceiling, the piece of tapestry that hung over the side-table between the doors—it was a martial scene, faded and discoloured, with ghostly bare-legged knights on fat prancing horses all in inextricable conflict, a great battleaxe stood out against the dusky foliage of an autumn tree; and a stag with his fore feet in the air, ramped in the foreground, looking over his shoulder. It was a ludicrously bad piece of work, picked up no doubt by some former Lieutenant who knew more of military than artistic matters, and had hung there—how long? Chris wondered.
He found himself criticising it detail by detail, comparing it with his own designs in the antiphonary; he had that antiphonary still at home; he had carried it off from Lewes, when Ralph—Ralph!—had turned him out. He had put it up into a parcel on the afternoon of the spoilers’ arrival. He would show it to Ralph again now—in a day or two at Overfield; they would laugh over it together; and he would take it with him abroad, and perhaps finish it there. God’s work is not so easily hindered after all.
But all the while, the wandering stream of his thought was lighted and penetrated by the radiant joy of his heart. It was all true, not a dream!
He glanced again at the two in the window-seat.
His father was looking out of the lattice; but Beatrice raised her eyes to his, and smiled at him.
Sir James stood up.
“The Lieutenant is coming,” he said.
A moment later there were steps in the flagged passage; and a murmur of voices. The soldier who had brought them to the lodgings was waiting there with the order of admission, and was no doubt explaining the circumstances.
Then the door opened suddenly; and a tall soldierly-looking man, grey-haired and clean-shaven, in an officer’s dress, stood there, with the order in his hand, as the two in the window-seat rose to meet him.
“Master Torridon,” he said abruptly.
Sir James stepped forward.
“You have come to see Mr. Ralph Torridon whom we have here?”
“Yes, sir—my son.”
Nicholas stepped forward, and the Lieutenant nodded at him.
“Yes, sir,” said the officer to him, “I could not admit you before—” he stopped, as if embarrassed, and turned to Beatrice.
“And this lady too?”
“Yes, Master Lieutenant,” said the old man.
“But—but—I do not understand—”
He looked at the radiant faces before him, and then dropped his eyes.
“I suppose—you have not heard then?”
Chris felt his heart leap, and then begin to throb furiously and insistently. What had happened? Why did the man look like that? Why did he not speak?