“Dear papa,” replied Lord Sherbrooke, in a childish tone, “you ought to have given me something better to do, then. If you had taught me an honest trade, I should not have been so given to making penny whistles and cutting cockades out of foolscap paper. Nay, don’t look so black, and mutter, ‘Fool’s cap paper, indeed!’ between your teeth. I’ll go, I’ll go,” and he accordingly quitted the room.
“Wilton,” said the Earl, as soon as his son was gone, “I have one word more to say to you. When you are down at Somersbury, lose not your opportunity—confer with the Duke about your marriage at once. The political sky is darkening. No one can tell what another hour may bring. Now leave me.”
Wilton obeyed, and passed through the ante-room into the hall. The moment he appeared there, however, Lord Sherbrooke darted out of the opposite room and caught him by the arm, almost overturning the fat porter in the way.
“Come hither, Wilton,” he said, “come hither. I want to speak to you a moment. I want to show you a present that I’ve got for you.”
Wilton followed him, and to his surprise found lying upon the table a pair of handsome spurs, which Lord Sherbrooke instantly put in his hand, saying, “There, Wilton! there. Use them to-night as you go to Somersbury; and, amongst other pretty things that you may have to say to the Duke, you may tell him that Sir John Fenwick has accused him of high treason. My father is going to write to him this very night, to ask him civilly to come up to town to confer with him on business of importance. You yourself may be the bait to the trap, Wilton, for aught I know. So to your horse’s back and away, and have all your plans settled with the Duke before the post arrives to-morrow morning.”
The earnestness of Sherbrooke’s manner convinced his friend that what he said was serious and true, and thanking him eagerly, he left him, and again passed through the hall. Lord Byerdale was speaking at that moment to the porter; but he did not appear to notice Wilton, who passed on without pausing, sought his own lodgings with all speed, mounted his horse, and set out for Somersbury.
The world was in all its summer beauty, nature smiling with her brightest smiles, the glorious sunshine just departing from the sky, and glowing with double brightness in its dying hour, the woods still green and fresh, the blackbird tuning his evening song, and everything speaking peace and promising joy, as Wilton rode through the gates of Somersbury park.
When he dismounted from his horse and rang the bell, his own servant took the tired beast and led it round towards the stable with the air of one who felt himself quite at home in the Duke’s house. But the attendant who opened the doors to him, and who was not the ordinary porter, bore a certain degree of sadness and gravity in his demeanour, which caused Wilton instantly to ask after the health of the Duke and Lady Laura.