Then followed the date.
I had a criticism or two; but I dared not make them.
“That is more than I could have asked, Sir. I am under an eternal obligation to Your Majesty.”
“I daresay: but all mine are discharged to you, until you earn some more. It might have meant a peerage, Mr. Mallock.”
“I do not regret it, Sir,” I said.
As I rose after kissing his hand, he said one more word to me.
“You are either a very wise man, or a fool, Mr. Mallock. And by God I do not know which. But I do know you are a very brave one.”
“I was a very angry one, Sir,” said I.
“But you are appeased?”
“A thousand times, Sir.”
I knew I could never carry the matter through alone; so, upon leaving the King’s presence, I sought out Mr. Chiffinch immediately and told him what had passed.
He whistled, loud.
“You are pretty fortunate,” he said. “Many a man—”
“I have no time for compliments,” said I. “You must come with me to my cousin at once. We must ride at noon; and it is close upon eleven.”
“You want me to plead for you, eh?”
“Not at all,” said I. “There will be no pleading. It is to certify only that this is the King’s writing, and that he means what he says.”
“Well, well,” said Mr. Chiffinch. “And what of the matter I spoke to you of last night? Have you decided? There is not much time to lose.”
“You must give me a day or two,” I said.
* * * * *
It was he who knocked this time; and it was not until the old woman had opened, and was curtseying to the King’s page, that he called me up.
“Come, Mr. Mallock. Your cousin is within.”
We went straight upstairs after the old lady; and upon her knock being answered, she threw the door open.
My Cousin Dolly was sitting over her needle, all alone. She looked, I thought, unusually pale; but she flushed scarlet, and sprang up, so soon as she saw me.
“Good-day, Mistress Jermyn,” said the page very courteously. “We are come on a very sad errand—sad, that is, to those whom you will leave behind.”
“What do you mean, sir?” asked Dolly, very fiercely. She did not give me one look, after the first.
He held out the paper to her. She took it, with fingers that shook a little, and read it through at least twice.
“Is this an insult, sir; or a very poor pleasantry?” (Her face was gone pale again.)
“It is neither, mistress. It is a very sober fact.”
“This is the King’s hand?” she snapped.
“It is,” said Mr. Chiffinch.
“Dolly,” said I, “I told you to be ready by noon; but you would not believe me. I suppose your packing is not done?”
She paid me no more attention than if I had been a chair.