“I have come to ask nothing, Master More,” said Ralph indignantly, withdrawing his hand—“except to be of service to you.”
“To talk about the oath,” corrected the other placidly. “Very well then. Do you begin, Mr. Torridon.”
Ralph made a great effort, for he was sorely perplexed by Sir Thomas’ attitude, and began to talk, putting all the reasons forward that he could think of for the accepting of the oath. He pointed out that government and allegiance would be impossible things if every man had to examine for himself the claims of his rulers; when vexed and elaborate questions arose—and this certainly was one such—was it not safer to follow the decrees of the King and Parliament, rather than to take up a position of private judgment, and decide upon details of which a subject could have no knowledge? How, too, could More, under the circumstances, take upon himself to condemn those who had subscribed the oath?—he named a few eminent prelates, the Abbot of Westminster and others.
“I do not condemn them,” put in More, who was looking interested.
“Then you are uncertain of the matter?” went on Ralph who had thought out his line of argument with some care.
“But your duty to the King’s grace is certain; therefore it should outweigh a thing that is doubtful.”
Sir Thomas sucked in his lower lip, and stared gravely on the young man.
“You are very shrewd, sir,” he said. “I do not know how to answer that at this moment; but I have no reasonable doubt but that there is an answer.”
Ralph was delighted with his advantage, and pursued it eagerly; and after a few minutes had won from More an acknowledgment that he might be willing to consider the taking of the oath itself; it was the other clauses that touched his conscience more. He could swear to be loyal to Anne’s children; but he could not assent to the denunciation of the Pope contained in the preamble of the Act, and the oath would commit him to that.
“But you will tell that to the Commissioners, sir?” asked Ralph eagerly.
“I will tell them all that I have told you,” said More smiling.
Ralph himself was somewhat doubtful as to whether the concession would be accepted; but he professed great confidence, and secretly congratulated himself with having made so much way. But presently a remark of More’s showed that he appreciated the situation.
“I am very grateful to you, Mr. Torridon, for coming and talking to me; and I shall tell my wife and children so. But it is of no use. They are resolved to catch me. First there was the bribe; then the matter of the Maid; then this; and if I took a hundred oaths they would find one more that I could not, without losing my soul; and that indeed I do not propose to do. Quid enim proficit homo?”
There was a knock at the door a moment later, and a servant came in to beg Mr. More to come downstairs again; the Commissioners were ready for him.