But on advancing a step, he suddenly stopped short, and muttered to himself, with a round oath of astonishment, “A petticoat in the coppice, by all that is reverend, and at this hour in the morning — Whew — ew — ew!”— He gave vent to his surprise in a long low interjectional whistle; then turning to the Doctor, with his finger on the side of his nose, “You’re sly, Doctor, d — d sly! But why not give me a hint of your — your commodity there — your contraband goods? Gad, sir, I am not a man to expose the eccentricities of the Church.”
“Sir,” said Dr. Rochecliffe, “you are impertinent; and if time served, and it were worth my while, I would chastise you.”
And the Doctor, who had served long enough in the wars to have added some of the qualities of a captain of horse to those of a divine, actually raised his cane, to the infinite delight of the rake, whose respect for the Church was by no means able to subdue his love of mischief.
“Nay, Doctor,” said he, “if you wield your weapon broadsword-fashion, in that way, and raise it as high as your head, I shall be through you in a twinkling.” So saying, he made a pass with his sheathed rapier, not precisely at the Doctor’s person, but in that direction; when Rochecliffe, changing the direction of his cane from the broadsword guard to that of the rapier, made the cavalier’s sword spring ten yards out of his hand, with all the dexterity of my friend Francalanza. At this moment both the principal parties appeared on the field.
Everard exclaimed angrily to Wildrake, “Is this your friendship? In Heaven’s name, what make you in that fool’s jacket, and playing the pranks of a jack-pudding?” while his worthy second, somewhat crest-fallen, held down his head, like a boy caught in roguery, and went to pick up his weapon, stretching his head, as he passed, into the coppice, to obtain another glimpse, if possible, of the concealed object of his curiosity.
Charles in the meantime, still more surprised at what he beheld, called out on his part —“What! Doctor Rochecliffe become literally one of the church militant, and tilting with my friend cavalier Wildrake? May I use the freedom to ask him to withdraw, as Colonel Everard and I have some private business to settle?”
It was Dr. Rochecliffe’s cue, on this important occasion, to have armed himself with the authority of his sacred office, and used a tone of interference which might have overawed even a monarch, and made him feel that his monitor spoke by a warrant higher than his own. But the indiscreet latitude he had just given to his own passion, and the levity in which he had been detected, were very unfavourable to his assuming that superiority, to which so uncontrollable a spirit as that of Charles, wilful as a prince, and capricious as a wit, was at all likely to submit. The Doctor did, however, endeavour to rally his dignity, and replied, with the gravest, and at the same time the most respectful, tone he could assume, that he also had business of the most urgent nature, which prevented him from complying with Master Kerneguy’s wishes and leaving the spot.
“Excuse this untimely interruption,” said Charles, taking off his hat, and bowing to Colonel Everard, “which I will immediately put an end to.” Everard gravely returned his salute, and was silent.
“Are you mad, Doctor Rochecliffe?” said Charles —“or are you deaf? — or have you forgotten your mother-tongue? I desired you to leave this place.”
“I am not mad,” said the divine, rousing up his resolution, and regaining the natural firmness of his voice —“I would prevent others from being so; I am not deaf — I would pray others to hear the voice of reason and religion; I have not forgotten my mother-tongue — but I have come hither to speak the language of the Master of kings and princes.”
“To fence with broomsticks, I should rather suppose,” said the King — “Come, Doctor Rochecliffe, this sudden fit of assumed importance befits you as little as your late frolic. You are not, I apprehend, either a Catholic priest or a Scotch Mass-John to claim devoted obedience from your hearers, but a Church-of-England-man, subject to the rules of that Communion — and to its HEAD.” In speaking the last words, the King lowered his voice to a low and impressive whisper. Everard observing this drew back, the natural generosity of his temper directing him to avoid overhearing private discourse, in which the safety of the speakers might be deeply concerned. They continued, however, to observe great caution in their forms of expression.