Meantime I had no idea as to what I should do the next day—except, indeed, see His Majesty, and say, perhaps, one tenth of what I felt. I had told Dolly we should ride at noon next day; I was beginning to wonder whether this prediction would be fulfilled. Yet, though I had begun to consider myself more than in the first flush, I still felt my anger rise in me like a tide whenever I regarded the bare facts. But mere anger would never do; and I set myself to drive it down. Besides, it would be there, I knew, and ready, if I should need it on the next day.
* * * * *
When I arrived at Mr. Chiffinch’s the next morning, I found him in a very grave mood. He did not rise as I came in, but nodded to me, only.
“Sit down, Mr. Mallock,” said he. “This is a very serious affair.”
“So I think,” I said.
He waved that away.
“His Majesty hath heard every word of it, with embellishments. He is very angry indeed. Nothing but what you have done for him lately could have saved you; and even now I do not know—”
“Man,” I said, “do not let us leave such talk as this. It is not I who am in question—”
“I think you will find that it is,” he answered me, with a quick look.
I strove to be patient, and, even more, to appear so.
“Well,” I said, “what have I done? I am come back from France: I hear my cousin is here; I go to see her; a fellow at the door is impertinent, and I chastise him for it. Then I go upstairs to my cousin’s parlour—”
“That is the point,” he interrupted. “It is not your cousin’s. It is the lodging of the Maids of Honour.”
Yes: he had me there. That was my weak point. But I would not let him see that.
“How was I to understand that distinction? I knocked at the door as peaceably as any man could.”
“And after that,” he said, smiling a little grimly, “after that, your cousinly affection blinded you.”
“Well, that will do,” I said.
He smiled again.
“Well; that is your case,” he observed. “We will see how His Majesty regards it. For I must tell you, Mr. Mallock, that for five minutes last night it was touch and go whether you were not to be arrested. And I will tell you this too, that if you had not come this morning, you would have been brought.”
“As bad as that?” I said, laughing. (But I must confess that his gravity dismayed me a little.)
“As bad as that,” he said. “You must go to His Majesty at ten.”
“As I arranged,” I said.
“As His Majesty arranged,” said Mr. Chiffinch, rising: “and it is close upon the time.”
And then he added, with the utmost gravity.
“If there is one thing His Sacred Majesty is touchy upon, it is the reputation of the ladies of the Court. I would remember that, sir, if I were you.”