“There are some letters come, Mr. Ralph, sir,” he said. “I have laid them on your table.”
Ralph nodded, slipped off his thin cloak into his servant’s hands without speaking, laid down his cane and went upstairs.
The letters were very much what he expected, and dealt with cases on which he was engaged. There was an entreaty from a country squire near Epping Forest, whose hounds had got into trouble with the King’s foresters that he would intercede for him to Cromwell. A begging letter from a monk who had been ejected from his monastery for repeated misconduct, and who represented himself as starving; Ralph lifted this to his nostrils and it smelt powerfully of spirits, and he laid it down again, smiling to himself. A torrent of explanation from a schoolmaster who had been reported for speaking against the sacrament of the altar, calling the saints to witness that he was no follower of Fryth in such detestable heresy. A dignified protest from a Justice of the Peace in Kent who had been reproved by Cromwell, through Ralph’s agency, for acquitting a sturdy beggar, and who begged that he might in future deal with a responsible person; and this Ralph laid aside, smiling again and promising himself that he would have the pleasure of granting the request. An offer, written in a clerkly hand, from a fellow who could not sign his name but had appended a cross, to submit some important evidence of a treasonable plot, on the consideration of secrecy and a suitable reward.
A year ago such a budget would have given Ralph considerable pleasure, and a sense of his own importance; but business had been growing on him rapidly of late, as his master perceived his competence, and it gave him no thrill to docket this one, write a refusal to that, a guarded answer to another, and finally to open the well of his table and drop the bundle in.
Then he turned round his chair, blew out one candle carefully, and set to thinking about Master Thomas More.
It was not until nearly a month later that Ralph made an opportunity to call upon Sir Thomas More. Cromwell had given him to understand that there was no immediate reason for haste; his own time was tolerably occupied, and he thought it as well not to make a show of over-great hurry. He wrote to Sir Thomas, explaining that he wished to see him on a matter connected with his brother Christopher, and received a courteous reply begging him to come to dinner on the following Thursday, the octave of the Assumption, as Sir Thomas thought it proper to add.
* * * * *
It was a wonderfully pleasant house, Ralph thought, as his wherry came up to the foot of the garden stairs that led down from the lawn to the river. It stood well back in its own grounds, divided from the river by a wall with a wicket gate in it. There was a little grove of trees on either side of it; a flock of pigeons were wheeling about the bell-turret that rose into the clear blue sky, and from which came a stroke or two, announcing the approach of dinner-time as he went up the steps.