The storm was broken before we could set out, and the ride so far as Hoddesdon was such as I shall never forget; for the wind was violent against us; and it was pitchy dark before we came even to Puckeridge; the thunder was as if great guns were shot off, or bags of marbles dashed on an oak floor overhead; and the countryside was as light as day under the flashes, so that we could see the trees and their shadows, and, I think, sometimes the green colour of them too. We wore, all three of us—the courier, I and my man James—horse-men’s cloaks, but these were saturated within half an hour. We had no fear of highwaymen, even had we not been armed, for the artillery of heaven had long ago driven all other within doors.
The hardest part of the journey was that I knew, no more than the dead—indeed not so much—why it was that Mr. Chiffinch had sent for me. He had said nothing in his letter, save that His Majesty wished my presence at once; and on the outside of the letter was written the word “Haste,” three times over. I thought of a hundred matters that it might be, but none of them satisfied me.
It is near forty miles from Hare Street to Whitehall; but so bad was the way that, though we changed horses at Waltham Cross—at the Four Swans—we did not come to London until eight o’clock in the morning; and it was half-past eight before we rode up to Whitehall. The last part of the journey was pretty pleasant, for the rain held off; and it was strange to see the white hard light of the clouded dawn upon the fields and the trees. But by the time we came to London it was long ago broad day—by three or four hours at the least; and all the folks were abroad in the streets.
I went straight to Mr. Chiffinch’s lodgings, sending my man to the lodging in Covent Garden, to bestow the horses and to come again to the guard-house to await my orders. Mr. Chiffinch was not within, for he had not expected me so early, a servant told me; but he had looked for my coming about eleven or twelve o’clock, and had given orders that I was to be taken to a closet to change my clothes if I needed it. This I did; and then was set down to break my fast; and while I was at it, Mr. Chiffinch himself came in.
He told me that I had done very well to come so swiftly; but he smiled a little as he said it.
“His Majesty is closeted with one or two more until ten o’clock. I will send to let him know you are come.”
I did not ask him for what business I had been sent for; since he did not choose to tell me himself; and he went out again. But he was presently back once more; and told me that His Majesty would see me at once.
My mind was all perturbed as I went with him in the rain across the passages: I felt as if some great evil threatened, but I could make no conjecture as to what it was about; or how it could be anything that was at once so sudden and that demanded my presence. We went straight up the stairs, and across the same ante-room; and Mr. Chiffinch flung open the door of the same little closet where I had spoken with the King, speaking my name as he did so.