Mrs. Alice More behaved as usual when he got there: she had a genius for the obvious; commented on the weariness of living in one room, the distress at the thought that one was fastened in at the will of another; deplored the plainness of the prison fare, and the folly of her husband in refusing an oath that she herself and her children and the vast majority of the prominent persons in England had found so simple in accepting. She left nothing unsaid.
Finally, she apologized for the plainness of her dress.
“You must think me a slattern, Mr. Torridon, but I cannot help it. I have not the heart nor the means, now that my man is in prison, to do better.”
And her solemn eyes filled with tears.
When he had given the news to the family he went aside from the group in the garden to where Beatrice Atherton was sitting below the Jesu tree, with work on her lap.
He had noticed as he talked that she was sitting there, and had raised his voice for her benefit. He fancied, and with a pleasure at the delicate instinct, that she did not wish to appear as intimately interested in the news from the Tower as those who had a better right to be. He was always detecting now faint shades in her character, as he knew her better, that charmed and delighted him.
She was doing some mending, and only glanced up and down again without ceasing or moving, as Ralph stood by her.
“I thought you never used the needle,” he began in a moment.
“It is never too late to mend,” she said, without the faintest movement.
Ralph felt again an odd prick of happiness. It gave him a distinct thrill of delight that she would make such an answer and so swiftly; and at such a time, when tragedy was round her and in her heart, for he knew how much she loved the man from whom he had just come.
He sat down on the garden chair opposite, and watched her fingers and the movements of her wrist as she passed the needle in and out, and neither spoke again till the others had dispersed.
“You heard all I said?” said Ralph at last.
She bowed her head without answering.
“Shall I go and bring you news again presently?”
“If you please,” she said.
“I hope to be able to do some little things for him,” went on Ralph, dropping his eyes, and he was conscious that she momentarily looked up.
—“But I am afraid there is not much.
I shall speak for him to Master
Cromwell and the Lieutenant.”
The needle paused and then went on again.
Ralph was conscious of an extraordinary momentousness in every word that he said. He was well aware that this girl was not to be wooed by violence, but that he must insinuate his mind and sympathies delicately with hers, watching for every movement and ripple of thought. He had known ever since his talk with Margaret Roper that Beatrice was, as it were, turned towards him and scrutinising him, and that any mistake