“Cousin,” he said, “I do not wish to stand in your way. But there must be no talk of marriage till ’85. Will that content you?”
It did not in the least; but it was what I had expected. I was scarcely rich enough yet to support a wife, and knew that, well enough; for if I married and left the King’s service there would be no more travelling expenses for me. Dolly and I last night had agreed upon that as the least that we could consent to.
“Four years is a long time,” said I.
“You said three and a half just now,” he observed a little bitterly.
“Well: three and a half. I suppose I must take that, if I can get nothing better.”
* * * * *
Now I was secretly a little astonished that my Cousin Tom had consented so quickly, after his recent ambitions. Plainly he had aimed higher than at my poor standard during those months; for when a maid went to Court as one of the Queen’s ladies the least that was expected of her was that she would marry a pretty rich man. But the reason of it all was unpleasantly evident to me. He must have gathered from what I had said and done that my favour was increasing with the King; and therefore he must have argued too that I must be serving His Majesty in some very particular way—which was the very last thing I desired him to know, as he was such a gossip. But I dared say no more then. We grasped one another’s hands very heartily: and then I went to find Dolly.
* * * * *
The days that followed were very happy ones—though, as I shall presently relate, they were to be interrupted once more. I had in my mind, during them all, that I must soon go up to London again to tell Mr. Chiffinch my final decision that I could not undertake the work that he had proposed to me; for I had spoken of it at some length with Dolly, giving her a confidence that I dared not give to her father. But I did not think that I should have to go so soon.
It was in the hour before supper one evening that I told her of it, as we sat in the tapestried parlour, looking into the fire from the settle where we sat together.
“My dear,” said I, “I wish to ask your advice. But it is a very private matter indeed.”
“Tell me,” said Dolly contentedly. (Her hand was in mine, and she looked extraordinary pretty in the firelight.)
“I am asked whether I will undertake a little work. In itself it is excellent. It concerns the protection of His Majesty; but it is the means that I am doubtful about.”
Then I told her that of the details—of the how and the when and the where—I knew no more than she: but that, if all went well, I might find myself trusted by a traitor: and that I was considering whether in such a cause as this it was a work to which I could put my hand, to betray that trust, if I got it. But before I was done speaking I knew that I could not—so wonderfully does speaking to another clear one’s mind—and that though I could not condemn outright a man who thought fit to do so, any more than I would condemn a scavenger for cleaning the gutter, it was not work for a gentleman to seek out a confidence that he might betray it again.