“It is the assertion of a principle,” Cromwell said to him when he asked one day for an explanation; “a principle that has always been held in England; it is not intended to be precise or detailed: that will follow later.”
Ralph was no theologian, and did not greatly care what the bill did or did not involve. He was, too, in that temper of inchoate agnosticism that was sweeping England at the time, and any scruples that he had in his more superstitious moments were lulled by the knowledge that the clergy had acquiesced. What appeared more important to him than any hair-splittings on the exact provinces of the various authorities in question, was the necessity of some step towards the crippling of the spiritual empire whose hands were so heavy, and whose demands so imperious. He felt, as an Englishman, resentful of the leading strings in which, so it seemed to him, Rome wished to fetter his country.
The bill passed through parliament on November the eighteenth.
* * * * *
Ralph lost no opportunity of impressing upon Beatrice how much he had risked for the sake of her friend in the Tower, and drew very moving sketches of his own peril.
The two were sitting together in the hall at Chelsea one winters evening soon after Christmas. The high panelling was relieved by lines of greenery, with red berries here and there; a bunch of mistletoe leaned forward over the sloping mantelpiece, and there was an acrid smell of holly and laurel in the air. It was a little piteous, Ralph thought, under the circumstances.
Another stage had been passed in More’s journey towards death, in the previous month, when he had been attainted of misprision of treason by an act designed to make good the illegality of his former conviction, and the end was beginning to loom clear.
“I said it would be no use, Mistress Beatrice, and it is none—Master Cromwell will not hear a word.”
Beatrice looked up at Ralph, and down again, as her manner was. Her hands were lying on her lap perfectly still as she sat upright in her tall chair.
“You have done what you could, I know,” she said, softly.
“Master Cromwell did not take it very well,” went on Ralph with an appearance of resolute composure, “but that was to be expected.”
Again she looked up, and Ralph once more was seized with the desire to precipitate matters and tell her what was in his heart, but he repressed it, knowing it was useless to speak yet.
It was a very stately and slow wooing, like the movement of a minuet; each postured to each, not from any insincerity, except perhaps a little now and then on Ralph’s side, but because for both it was a natural mode of self-expression. It was an age of dignity abruptly broken here and there by violence. There were slow and gorgeous pageants followed by brutal and bestial scenes, like the life of a peacock who paces composedly in the sun and then scuttles and screams in the evening. But with these two at present there was no occasion for abruptness, and Ralph, at any rate, contemplated with complacency his own graciousness and grandeur, and the skilfully posed tableaux in which he took such a sedate part.