Ralph was astonished to find how the thought of the tall girl he had met at Sir Thomas More’s house remained with him. He had reported the result of his interview with More himself to his master; and Cromwell had received it rather coldly. He had sniffed once or twice.
“That was not very well done, Mr. Torridon. I fear that you have frightened him, and gained nothing by it.”
Ralph stood silent.
“But I see you make no excuses,” went on Cromwell, “so I will make them for you. I daresay he was frightened already; and knew all about what had passed between her and the Archbishop. You must try again, sir.”
Ralph felt his heart stir with pleasure.
“I may say I have made friends with Mr. More, sir,” he said. “I had good fortune in the matter of a quotation, and he received me kindly. I can go there again without excusing my presence, as often as you will.”
Cromwell looked at him.
“There is not much to be gained now,” he said, “but you can go if you will; and you may perhaps pick up something here and there. The more friends you make the better.”
Ralph went away delighted; he had not wholly failed then in his master’s business, and he seemed to have set on foot a business of his own; and he contemplated with some excitement his future visits to Chelsea.
* * * * *
He had his first word with the King a couple of months later. He had often, of course, seen him before, once or twice in the House of Lords, formidable and frowning on his throne, his gross chin on his hand, barking out a word or two to his subjects, or instructing them in theology, for which indeed he was very competent; and several times in processions, riding among his gentlemen on his great horse, splendid in velvet and gems; and he had always wondered what it was that gave him his power. It could not be mere despotism, he thought, or his burly English nature; and it was not until he had seen him near at hand, and come within range of his personality that he understood why it was that men bore such things from him.
He was sent for one afternoon by Cromwell to bring a paper and was taken up at once by a servant into the gallery where the minister and the King were walking together. They were at the further end from that at which he entered, and he stood, a little nervous at his heart, but with his usual appearance of self-possession, watching the two great backs turned to him, and waiting to be called.
They turned again in a moment, and Cromwell saw him and beckoned, himself coming a few steps to meet him. The King waited, and Ralph was aware of, rather than saw, that wide, coarse, strong face, and the long narrow eyes, with the feathered cap atop, and the rich jewelled dress beneath. The King stood with his hands behind his back and his legs well apart.