“I can’t exactly say, Sir Rowland. The gentleman didn’t communicate his business to me. But I’m sure it’s important.”
Charcam said this, not because he knew anything about the matter; but, having received a couple of guineas to deliver the message, he, naturally enough, estimated its importance by the amount of the gratuity.
“Well, I will see him,” replied the knight, after a moment’s pause; “he may be from the Earl of Mar. But let the horses be in readiness. I shall ride to St. Alban’s to-night.”
So saying, he threw himself into a chair. And Charcam, fearful of another charge in his master’s present uncertain mood, disappeared.
The person, shortly afterwards ushered into the room, seemed by the imperfect light,—for the evening was advancing, and the chamber darkened by heavy drapery,—to be a middle-sized middle-aged man, of rather vulgar appearance, but with a very shrewd aspect. He was plainly attired in a riding-dress and boots of the period, and wore a hanger by his side.
“Your servant, Sir Rowland,” said the stranger, ducking his head, as he advanced.
“Your business, Sir?” returned the other, stiffly.
The new-comer looked at Charcam. Sir Rowland waved his hand, and the attendant withdrew.
“You don’t recollect me, I presume?” premised the stranger, taking a seat.
The knight, who could ill brook this familiarity, instantly arose.
“Don’t disturb yourself,” continued the other, nowise disconcerted by the rebuke. “I never stand upon ceremony where I know I shall be welcome. We have met before.”
“Indeed!” rejoined Sir Rowland, haughtily; “perhaps, you will refresh my memory as to the time, and place.”
“Let me see. The time was the 26th of November, 1703: the place, the Mint in Southwark. I have a good memory, you perceive, Sir Rowland.”
The knight staggered as if struck by a mortal wound. Speedily recovering himself, however, he rejoined, with forced calmness, “You are mistaken, Sir. I was in Lancashire, at our family seat, at the time you mention.”
The stranger smiled incredulously.
“Well, Sir Rowland,” he said, after a brief pause, during which the knight regarded him with a searching glance, as if endeavouring to recall his features, “I will not gainsay your words. You are in the right to be cautious, till you know with whom you have to deal; and, even then, you can’t be too wary. ’Avow nothing, believe nothing, give nothing for nothing,’ is my own motto. And it’s a maxim of universal application: or, at least, of universal practice. I am not come here to play the part of your father-confessor. I am come to serve you.”
“In what way, Sir?” demanded Trenchard, in astonishment.
“You will learn anon. You refuse me your confidence. I applaud your prudence: it is, however, needless. Your history, your actions, nay, your very thoughts are better known to me than to your spiritual adviser.”