He sat panting and unseeing as the other boats swept past, full of the King’s friends all going down to Greenwich.
There broke out a roar from the Tower behind, and he started and turned round to see the white smoke eddying up from the edge of the wall beside the Traitor’s gate; a shrill cheer or two, far away and thin, sounded from the figures on the wharf and the boatmen about the stairs.
The wherryman sat down again and put on his cap.
“Body of God!” he said, “there was but just time.”
And he began to pull again with his single oar towards the shore.
Chris looked at the Prior a moment and down again. He was sitting with tight lips, and hands clasped in his lap, and his eyes were wild and piteous.
They borrowed an oar presently from another boat, and went on up towards Southwark. The wherryman pawed once to spit on his hands as they neared the rush of the current below the bridge.
“That was Master Cromwell with His Grace,” he said.
Chris looked at him questioningly.
“Him with the gold collar,” he added, “and that was Audley by him.”
The Prior had glanced at Chris as Cromwell’s name was mentioned; but said nothing for the present. And Chris himself was lost again in musing. That was Ralph’s master then, the King’s right-hand man, feared next in England after the King himself—and Chancellor Audley, too, and Anne, all in one wooden boat. How easy for God to put out His hand and finish them! And then he was ashamed at his own thought, so faithless and timid; and he remembered Fisher once more and his gallant spirit in that broken body.
A minute or two later they had landed at the stairs, and were making their way up to the hostel.
The Prior put out his hand and checked him as he stepped ahead to knock.
“Wait,” he said. “Do you know who signed the order we used at the Tower?”
Chris shook his head.
“Master Cromwell,” said the Prior. “And do you know by whose hand it came?”
Chris stared in astonishment.
“It was by your brother,” he said.
THE SACRED PURPLE
It was a bright morning a few days later when the Bishop of Rochester suffered on Tower Hill.
Chris was there early, and took up his position at the outskirts of the little crowd, facing towards the Tower itself; and for a couple of hours watched the shadows creep round the piles of masonry, and the light deepen and mellow between him and the great mass of the White Tower a few hundred yards away. There was a large crowd there a good while before nine o’clock, and Chris found himself at the hour no longer on the outskirts but in the centre of the people.