“This,” said he, “contains the Great Seal. To whose keeping “—he turned to my father—“am I to entrust them, Sir John?”
My father nodded towards Billy Priske, who stepped forward and tucked both parcels under his arm, while Mr. Knox spread his papers on the table.
We walked back to our lodgings that afternoon, with Billy Priske behind us bearing in his pocket the Great Seal and under his arm, in a checked kerchief, the Iron Crown of Corsica.
Two mornings later we took horse and set our faces westward again; and thus ended my brief first visit to London. Billy Priske carried the sacred parcel on the saddle before him; and my uncle, riding beside him, spent no small part of the way in an exhortation against lying in general, and particularly against the sin of laying false claim to the paternity of twelve children.
Now, so shaken was Billy by his one adventure in London that until we had passed the tenth milestone he seemed content enough to be rated. I believe that as, for the remainder of his stay in London, he had never strayed beyond sight, so even yet he took comfort and security from my uncle’s voice; “since,” said he, quoting a Cornish proverb, “’tis better be rated by your own than mated with a stranger.” But, by-and-by, taking courage to protest that a lie might on occasion be pardonable and even necessary, he drew my father into the discussion.
“This difficulty of Billy’s,” interposed my father, “was in some sort anticipated by Plato, who instanced that a madman with a knife in his hand might inquire of you to direct him which way had been taken by the victim he proposed to murder. He posits it as a nice point. Should one answer truthfully, or deceive?”
“For my part,” answered my uncle, “I should knock him down.”
“In a harbour grene aslope
whereas I lay,
The byrdes sang swete in the middes of the day,
I dreamed fast of mirth and play:
In youth is pleasure, in youth is pleasure.”
A history (you will say) which finds a schoolboy tickling trout, and by the end of another chapter has clapped a crown on his head and hailed him sovereign over a people of whom he has scarcely heard and knows nothing save that they are warlike and extremely hot-tempered, should be in a fair way to move ahead briskly. Nevertheless I shall pass over the first two years of the reign of King Prosper, during which he stayed at school and performed nothing worthy of mention: and shall come to a summer’s afternoon at Oxford, close upon the end of term, when Nat Fiennes and I sat together in my rooms in New College—he curled on the window-seat with a book, and I stretched in an easy-chair by the fireplace, and deep in a news-sheet.
“By the way, Nat,” said I, looking up as I turned the page, “where will you spend your vacation?”