Cromwell took the paper from Ralph, who stepped back, hesitating what to do.
“This is it, your Grace,” said the minister going back again. “Your Grace will see that it is as I said.”
Ralph perceived a new tone of deference in his master’s voice that he had never noticed before, except once when Cromwell was ironically bullying a culprit who was giving trouble.
The King said nothing, took the paper and glanced over it, standing a little aside to let the light fall on it.
“Your Grace will understand—” began Cromwell again.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said the harsh voice impatiently. “Let the fellow take it back,” and he thrust the paper into Cromwell’s hand, who turned once more to Ralph.
“Who is he?” said the King. “I have seen his face. Who are you?”
“This is Mr. Ralph Torridon,” said Cromwell; “a very useful friend to me, your Grace.”
“The Torridons of Overfield?” questioned Henry once more, who never forgot a face or a name.
“Yes, your Grace,” said Cromwell.
“You are tall enough, sir,” said the King, running his narrow eyes up and down Ralph’s figure;—“a strong friend.”
“I hope so, your Grace,” said Ralph.
The King again looked at him, and Ralph dropped his eyes in the glare of that mighty personality. Then Henry abruptly thrust out his hand to be kissed, and as Ralph bent over it he was aware of the thick straight fingers, the creased wrist, and the growth of hair on the back of the hand.
* * * * *
Ralph was astonished, and a little ashamed at his own excitement as he passed down the stairs again. It was so little that had happened; his own part had been so insignificant; and yet he was tingling from head to foot. He felt he knew now a little better how it was that the King’s will, however outrageous in its purposes, was done so quickly. It was the sheer natural genius of authority and royalty that forced it through; he had felt himself dominated and subdued in those few moments, so that he was not his own master. As he went home through the street or two that separated the Palace gate from his own house, he found himself analysing the effect of that presence, and, in spite of its repellence, its suggestion of coarseness, and its almost irritating imperiousness, he was conscious that there was a very strong element of attractiveness in it too. It seemed to him the kind of attractiveness that there is for a beaten dog in the chastising hand: the personality was so overwhelming that it compelled allegiance, and that not wholly one of fear. He found himself thinking of Queen Katharine and understanding a little better how it was that the refined, delicately nurtured and devout woman, so constant in her prayers, so full of the peculiar fineness of character that gentle birth and religion alone confer, could so cling to this fierce lord of hers, throw herself at his feet with tears before all the company, and entreat not to be separated from him, calling him her “dear lord,” her “love,” and her most “merciful and gracious prince.”