I waited no more to hear her laugh, as she did again; but went out and down the staircase. The porter’s chamber had its door half open: I pushed the door and went in. The fellow started up.
“Here is a guinea,” said I, throwing one upon the table; “and my apologies. But ’twas you that began it!”
Then I turned and went out.
As I came down the steps into the little lamplit way, a man was coming swiftly up it from the direction of the court, with one of the guards behind him. I stopped short, thinking I was to be arrested. But it was the page.
“Good God!” he said. “You have done finely indeed!”
I was still all shaking; and I simulated anger without any difficulty.
“And whose fault is that?” said I, as if in a fury. “Do you think—”
“And His Majesty may come by at any instant!” he said.
“Why; that is what I wish. In any case I must see him at ten o’clock to-morrow.”
“You are mad!” he said. “You had best begone to the country before dawn: and even that will not save you.” He looked over his shoulder at the young man who had fetched him, and who now stood waiting.
“Save me! What have I done? I have but been to visit my cousin.” (I said this very loud, that the guard might hear.)
Again Mr. Chiffinch looked over his shoulder, and back again. I could see the shine of lanterns where others waited behind. We were just outside the King’s lodging.
“Well, sir,” he said. “But you will go now, will you not?”
“Why, yes,” I said. “And I will be with you at half-past nine to-morrow.”
He beckoned the young soldier up.
“See this gentleman to the gate,” he said. “He will find his way home, after that.”
I spent a very heavy evening before I went to bed; and when I was there I could not sleep; for it appeared to me that I had made a great fool of myself, having injured my own prospects and done no good to anyone. I understood perfectly that I had acted in an unpardonable manner; for Her Majesty’s Maids of Honour were kept, or were supposed to be kept, in very great seclusion at home, as if they were Vestal virgins—which was indeed a very great supposition. Tale after tale came back to my mind of those Maids in the past—of Mademoiselle de la Garde herself, of Miss Stewart, Miss Hyde, Miss Hamilton, and others like them—some of whom were indeed good, but had the greatest difficulty in remaining so; for the Court of Charles was a terrible place for virtue. It was astonishing to me that the horror of the place had not before this affected me; but it is always so. We are very philosophical, always, over the wrongs that do not touch ourselves.
As to how my Cousin Dolly came to be in such a place, I began to think that I understood. It must all have dated from that unhappy visit of the Duke of Monmouth to Hare Street; my Cousin Tom must have followed up that strange introduction, and the affair must have been worked through Her Grace of Portsmouth. I think I could have taken my Cousin Tom by the throat, and choked him, as I thought of this.