The house that Ralph occupied in Westminster was in a street to the west of the Abbey, and stood back a little between its neighbours. It was a very small one, of only two rooms in width and one in depth, and three stories high; but it had been well furnished, chiefly with things brought up from Overfield Court, to which Ralph had taken a fancy, and which his father had not denied him. He lived almost entirely in the first floor, his bedroom and sitting-room being divided by the narrow landing at the head of the stairs that led up to the storey above, which was occupied by Mr. Morris and a couple of other servants. The lower storey Ralph used chiefly for purposes of business, and for interviews which were sufficiently numerous for one engaged in so many affairs. Cromwell had learnt by now that he could be trusted to say little and to learn much, and the early acts of many little dramas that had ended in tragedy had been performed in the two gravely-furnished rooms on the ground floor. A good deal of the law-business, in its early stages, connected with the annulling of the King’s marriage with Queen Katharine had been done there; a great canonist from a foreign university had explained there his views in broken English, helped out with Latin, to a couple of shrewd-faced men, while Ralph watched the case for his master; and Cromwell himself had found the little retired house a convenience for meeting with persons whom he did not wish to frighten over much, while Ralph and Mr. Morris sat alert and expectant on the other side of the hall, with the door open, listening for raised voices or other signs of a quarrel.
The rooms upstairs had been furnished with considerable care. The floors of both were matted, for the plan involved less trouble than the continual laying of clean rushes. The sitting-room was panelled up six feet from the floor, and the three feet of wall above were covered with really beautiful tapestry that Ralph had brought up from Overfield. There was a great table in the centre, along one side of which rested a set of drawers with brass handles, and in the centre of the table was a deep well, covered by a flap that lay level with the rest of the top. Another table stood against the wall, on which his meals were served, and the door of a cupboard in which his plate and knives were kept opened immediately above it, designed in the thickness of the wall. There were half-a-dozen chairs, two or three other pieces of furniture, a backed settle by the fire and a row of bookshelves opposite the windows; and over the mantelpiece, against the tapestry, hung a picture of Cromwell, painted by Holbein, and rejected by him before it was finished. Ralph had begged it from the artist who was on the point of destroying it. It represented the sitter’s head and shoulders in three-quarter face, showing his short hair, his shrewd heavy face, with its double chin, and the furred gown below.
Mr. Morris was ready for his master and opened the door to him.