“Lud love you, Master Busy,” she retorted with a saucy toss of her head, “I trust your life’s partner will not need to hide herself in chimneys.”
“Listen, wench, and I’ll tell thee. No kind of servant of my Lord Protector’s should ever be called upon to hide in chimneys. They are not comfortable and they are not clean.”
“Bless the man!” she cried angrily, “are you ever going to tell us what did happen whilst you were there?”
“I was about to come to that point,” he said imperturbably, “hadst thou not interrupted me. What with holding on so as not to fall, and the soot falling in my ears....”
“Aye! aye! ...”
“I heard nothing,” he concluded solemnly. “Master Courage,” he added with becoming severity, seeing that the youth was on the verge of making a ribald remark, which of necessity had to be checked betimes, “come into my room with me and help me to clean the traces of my difficult task from off my person. Come!”
And with ominous significance, he approached the young scoffer, his hand on an exact level with the latter’s ear, his right foot raised to indicate a possible means of enforcing obedience to his commands.
On the whole, Master Courage thought it wise to repress both his hilarity and his pertinent remarks, and to follow the pompous, if begrimed, butler to the latter’s room upstairs.
It took Mistress Charity some little time to recover her breath.
She had thrown herself into a chair, with her pinner over her face, in an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
When this outburst of hilarity had subsided, she sat up, and looked round her with eyes still streaming with merry tears.
But the laughter suddenly died on her lips and the merriment out of her eyes. A dull, tired voice had just said feebly:
“Is Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse within?”
Charity jumped up from the chair and stared stupidly at the speaker.
“The Lord love you, Master Richard Lambert,” she murmured. “I thought you were your ghost!”
“Forgive me, mistress, if I have frightened you,” he said. “It is mine own self, I give you assurance of that, and I, fain would have speech with Sir Marmaduke.”
Mistress Charity was visibly embarrassed. She began mechanically to rub the black stain on her cheek.
“Sir Marmaduke is without just at present, Master Lambert,” she stammered shyly, “... and ...”
“Yes? ... and? ...” he asked, “what is it, wench? ... speak out? ...”
“Sir Marmaduke gave orders, Master Lambert,” she began with obvious reluctance, “that ...”
She paused, and he concluded the sentence for her:
“That I was not to be allowed inside his house.... Was that it?”
“Alas! yes, good master.”
“Never mind, girl,” he rejoined as he deliberately crossed the hall and sat down in the chair which she had just vacated. “You have done your duty: but you could not help admitting me, could you? since I walked in of mine own accord ... and now that I am here I will remain until I have seen Sir Marmaduke....”