“They bore themselves like gallant gentlemen, Sir. They fought every point, so far as the Chief Justice would permit them.”
“Did they shew any fear when the verdict was brought in?”
“None, Sir. They relied upon your Majesty’s protection, no doubt.”
Again His Majesty was silent. I still stood on the other side of the table from him, waiting to say what I had to say. The King shewed no sign of having heard what I had last said.
Then, to my astonishment he turned on me again very sharply.
“Mr. Mallock,” he said, “I have a fault to find with you. Mr. Chiffinch tells me that you were followed from the Court, and that a fellow was asking after you at the gate. You say that you wish to serve me. Well, those who serve me must be very discreet and very shrewd. Plainly, you have not been so in this instance. You are a very young man; and I do not wish to be severe. But you must remember, Mr. Mallock, that such a thing as this must not happen any more.”
My mouth was gone suddenly dry at this attack of His Majesty upon me. I licked my lips with my tongue in readiness to answer; but before I could speak, the King went on again.
“Now I had a little business to entrust to you; but I am not sure if it be not best to give it to another hand.”
He took up from the table before him a newly sealed little packet that I had not noticed before; and sat weighing it in his hand, as if considering, while his eyes searched my face.
“Sir—” I began.
“Yes, Mr. Mallock, I know what you would say. That is all very well; but my servants must not make mistakes such as you have made. It was the height of madness for you to go to the Court at all to-day. I have no doubt that you were seen there, and followed; and you could have been of no service to your friends there, in any case. Mr. Chiffinch tells me he will provide a wherry for you immediately, that you may go back without observation. You must do this. The question before my mind is as to whether you shall take this packet with you, or not. What do you say, Mr. Mallock?”
All the while he had been speaking, I had been in a torment of misery. As yet I had done little or nothing for His Majesty, after all my commissioning from Rome; and now that the first piece of work was on hand, it was doubtful whether I had not forfeited it by my clumsiness. For the moment I forgot what I had come for. I was all set on acquitting myself well. I was but twenty-one years old!
“Sir,” I cried, “if your Majesty will entrust that to me, you shall never repent it.”
He smiled; but his face went back again to its heaviness. “It is a very difficult commission,” he said. “And, what is of more importance than all else is that the packet should fall into no hand other than the one that should have it. For this reason, there is no name written upon it. But I have sealed it with a private signet of my own, both within and without; and you must bear the packet with you until you can deliver it.”