“Well, then, why should I not go?” I asked.
“Why: she is here! Did you not know?”
“Aye: in Whitehall. I saw her only yesterday.”
“In Whitehall! What do you mean, Mr. Chiffinch?”
I suppose my face went white. I knew that my heart beat like a hammer.
“Why, what I say!” said he. “Why do you look like that, Mr. Mallock?”
“Tell me!” I cried. “Tell me this instant!”
“Why: she is Maid of Honour to Her Majesty. The Duchess of Portsmouth is protecting her.”
“Where is she?”
“Where is she?”
“She is with the rest, I suppose.... Mr. Mallock! Mr. Mallock! Where are you going?”
But I was gone.
When I was out in the air I stopped short; and then remembering that Mr. Chiffinch would be after me perhaps, and would try to prevent me, I went on as quick as I could, turned a corner or two in that maze of passages, and stopped again. As yet I had no idea as to what to do; my brain burned with horror and fury; and I stood there in the dark, clenching my hands again and again, with my whip in one of them. It was enough for me that my Cousin Dolly was in that den of tigers and serpents that was called the Court, and under the protection of the woman once called Carwell. There was not one thought in my brain but this—all others were gone, or were but as phantoms—the King, the Duke, Monmouth, the Queen—they would be so many wicked ghosts, and no more—before me—and I would go through them as through smoke, to tear her out of it.
I suppose that some species of sanity returned to me after a while, for I found myself presently pacing up and down the terrace by the river, and considering that this was a strange hour—eight o’clock at night, to be searching out one of Her Majesty’s ladies; and, after that, little by little, persons and matters began to take their right proportions on them again. I could not, I perceived, merely demand where Mistress Jermyn lodged, beat down her door and carry her away with me safe to Hare Street. Their Majesties of England still stood for something in Whitehall, and so did reason and commonsense, and Dolly’s own good name. I began to perceive that matters were not so simple.
I do not think I reasoned at all as to her dangers there; but I was as one who sees a flower on a dunghill. One does not argue about the matter, or question whether it be smirched or not, nor how it got there. Neither did I consider at all how my cousin came to be at Court, nor whether any evil had yet come to her. I did not even consider that I did not know whether she were but just come, or had been there a great while. I considered only that she must be got out of it—and how to set about it.
I might have stood and paced there till midnight, had not one of the sentinels at the water-gate—placed there I suppose, as Mr. Chiffinch had told me just now, as an additional security, after nightfall—stepped out from his place and challenged me. I had had the word, of course, as I came in; and I gave it him, and he was contented. But I was not. Here, thought I, is my opportunity.