“And the chestnut is Mr. Atkins’?” asked my cousin.
“Just so, sir; Mr. Atkins’,” said the man, with the corners of his mouth twitching.
The grinning ape—as I thought him—very nearly set me off into saying that I knew all about it; and that the yellow saddle-cloth was the colour the Duke of Monmouth used always; but I did not. It appeared to me then the worst of manners that these personages should come and make a mock of country-folk, so that even the servants laughed at us.
* * * * *
Our guests were downstairs when I came in again, and talking very merrily to my Cousin Dorothy, who was as much at her ease as last night. The Duke sneezed once or twice.
“You have taken a cold, sir,” said Dolly.
“It was in a good cause,” he said; and sneezed again.
“Salute,” said I.
He gave me a quick look, astonished, I suppose, that a rustic should know the Italian ways.
“Grazie,” said he, smiling. “You have been in Italy, Mr. Mallock?”
“Oh! I have been everywhere,” I said, with a foolish idea of making him respect me.
* * * * *
When they rode away at last, we all stood at the gate to watch them go. The storm had cleared away wonderfully; and the air was fresh and summerlike, and ten thousand jewels sparkled on the limes. They made a very gallant cavalcade. The horses had recovered from their weariness, for they were finely bred, all five of them; and the Duke’s horse especially was full of spirit, and curvetted a little, with pleasure and the strength of our corn, as he went along. The servants’ liveries too were gay and pleasant to the eye:—(they were not the Duke’s own liveries; for when he went about outside town he used a plainer sort)—and the Duke’s dark blue, with his fair curls and his great hat which he waved as he went, and my Lord Essex’s spruce figure in his buff, all made a very pretty picture as they went up the village street.
It was this, I think, and my Cousin Dolly’s silence as she looked after them, that determined me; and as we three went back again up the flagged path to the house, and the servants round again to the yard, I spoke.
“Cousin Tom,” I said. “Do you wish to know who our guests were?”
He looked at me in astonishment, and my Cousin Dolly too.
“Mr. Morton is the Duke of Monmouth,” I said, “and Mr. Atkins, my Lord Essex.”
It was a long time before my Cousin Tom recovered from his astonishment and his pleasure at having entertained such personages in his house. He told me, of course, presently, when he had had time to think of it, that he had guessed it all along, but had understood that His Grace wished to be incognito; and I suppose at last he came to believe it. He would fall suddenly musing in the evenings; and I would know what he was thinking of; and it was piteously amusing to see, how one night again, not long after, he rose and ran to the door when a drunken man knocked upon it, and what ill words he gave him when he saw who it was. His was a slow-moving mind; and I think he could not have formed the project, which he afterwards carried out, while I was with him, or he must have let it out to me.