He turned on me with the face of a devil. Though he must have seen the liveries and the guardsmen from where he stood, I think not even yet did he take in how he had been deceived; but that he began to suspect it, I have no doubt.
He came back at my cry, as if unwillingly, and stood by my side; but never a word did he say: and together we waited.
Then, past the gate on the left, over the hedge, I caught a flash of colour, and another, come and gone again; and then the gleam of a coach-roof; and, though I had no certainty from my senses, I was as sure it was the King, as if I had seen him.
So we waited still. I drew up in my hands my horse’s bridle, not knowing what I did, and moved round to where I could mount, if there were any road; and, as I did it, past the gate, full in view there swept at a gallop, first three guards riding abreast, a brave blaze of colour in the dusky lane; then the four grey horses, with their postilions cracking their whips; then the coach; and, as this passed, as plain as a picture I saw the King lean forward and look—his great hat and periwig thrust forward—and behind him another man. Then the coach was gone; and two more guards flew by and were gone too.
I lost my head completely for the single time, I think, in all this affair; now that I knew that the King was safe. There, standing where I was, I lifted my hat, and shouted with my full voice:
“God save the King!”
* * * * *
I turned as I shouted; and, as the last word left my lips, I saw Rumbald, his face afire with anger, coming at me, round my horse from behind, with the cleaver upraised. If he had not been near mad with disappointment, he would have struck at my horse; but he was too intent on me for that.
I leapt forward, for I had no time to do anything else, dragging my horse’s haunches forward again and round; and with the next movement I was across my saddle, all-asprawl, as my horse started and plunged. I was ten yards away before the man could do anything, and struggling to my seat; but, as I rose and gripped the reins, something flew over my head, scarce missing it by six inches; and I saw the blade of the cleaver flash into the ditch beyond.
At that, I turned and lifted my hat, reining in my horse; for I was as mad with success as the other man with failure.
“God save the King!” I cried again. “Ah! Mr. Rumbald, if only you had learned to speak the truth!”
Then I put in my spurs and was gone, hearing before me, the hollow tramp and rumble of the great coach in front, as the King’s party went across the bridge.
It was three months later that I sat once more, though not for the first time since my adventure at the Rye in Mr. Chiffinch’s parlour.
* * * * *
Of those three months I need not say very much; especially of the beginning of them, since I received then, I think, more compliments than ever in my life before. My interviews had been very many; not with Mr. Chiffinch only, but with two other personages whose lives, they were pleased to say, I had saved.