I might have had their names on my bills as long as their fingers could hold a pen, but slit me if I like bleeding my own companions. They might have found a place for me, too, had I consented to play second-fiddle where I had been used to lead the band. I' faith, I care not what I turn my hand to amongst strangers, but I would fain leave my memory sweet in town.'

'As to what you proposed, of serving us as a valet,' said I, 'it is not to be thought of. We are, in spite of my friend's waggishness, but two plain blunt countrymen, and have no more need of a valet than one of those poets which you have spoken of. On the other hand, if you should care to attach yourself to our party, we shall take you where you will see service which shall be more to your taste than the curling of periwigs or the brushing of eyebrows.'

'Nay, nay, my friend. Speak not with unseemly levity of the mysteries of the toilet,' he cried. 'Ye would yourselves be none the worse for a touch of mine ivory comb, and a closer acquaintance with the famous skin-purifying wash of Murphy which I am myself in the habit of using.'

'I am beholden to you, sir,' said Reuben, 'but the famous spring water wash by Providence is quite good enough for the purpose.'

'And Dame Nature hath placed a wig of her own upon me,' I added, 'which I should be very loth to change.'

'Goths! Perfect Goths!' cried the exquisite, throwing up his white hands. 'But here comes a heavy tread and the clink of armour in the passage. 'Tis our friend the knight of the wrathful countenance, if I mistake not.'

It was indeed Saxon, who strode into the room to tell us that our horses were at the door, and that all was ready for our departure. Taking him aside I explained to him in a whisper what had passed between the stranger and ourselves, with the circumstances which had led me to suggest that he should join our party. The old soldier frowned at the news.

'What have we to do with such a coxcomb?' he said. 'We have hard fare and harder blows before us. He is not fit for the work.'

'You said yourself that Monmouth will he weak in horse,' I answered. 'Here is a well-appointed cavalier, who is to all appearance a desperate man and ready for anything. Why should we not enrol him?'

'I fear,' said Saxon, 'that his body may prove to be like the bran of a fine cushion, of value only for what it has around it. However, it is perhaps for the best. The handle to his name may make him welcome in the camp, for from what I hear there is some dissatisfaction at the way in which the gentry stand aloof from the enterprise.'

'I had feared,' I remarked, still speaking in a whisper, 'that we were about to lose one of our party instead of gaining one in this Bruton inn.'

'I have thought better of it,' he answered, with a smile. 'Nay, I'll tell you of it anon. Well, Sir Gervas Jerome,' he added aloud, turning to our new associate, 'I hear that you are coming with us. For a day you must be content to follow without question or remark. Is that agreed!'

'With all my heart,' cried Sir Gervas.

'Then here's a bumper to our better acquaintance,' cried Saxon, raising his glass.

'I pledge ye all,' quoth the gallant. 'Here's to a fair fight, and may the best men win.'

'Donnerblitz, man!' said Saxon. 'I believe there's mettle in you for all your gay plumes. I do conceive a liking for you. Give me your hand!'

The soldier of fortune's great brown grip enclosed the delicate hand of our new friend in a pledge of comradeship. Then, having paid our reckoning and bade a cordial adieu to Dame Hobson, who glanced methought somewhat reproachfully or expectantly at Saxon, we sprang on our steeds and continued our journey amidst a crowd of staring villagers, who huzzaed lustily as we rode out from amongst them.

Chapter XIV.

Of the Stiff-legged Parson and his Flock

Our road lay through Castle Carey and Somerton, which are small towns lying in the midst of a most beautiful pastoral country, well wooded and watered by many streams.

Micah Clarke Page 68

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