'By my faith, gentlemen,' he said, glancing round at his staff, 'our worthy friend the Mayor must have inherited Cadmus's dragon teeth. Where raised ye this pretty crop, Sir Stephen? How came ye to bring them to such perfection too, even, I declare, to the hair powder of the grenadiers?'
'I have fifteen hundred in the town,' the old wool-worker answered proudly; 'though some are scarce as disciplined.
These men come from Wiltshire, and the officers from Hampshire. As to their order, the credit is due not to me, but to the old soldier Colonel Decimus Saxon, whom they have chosen as their commander, as well as to the captains who serve under him.'
'My thanks are due to you, Colonel,' said the King, turning to Saxon, who bowed and sank the point of his sword to the earth, 'and to you also, gentlemen. I shall not forget the warm loyalty which brought you from Hampshire in so short a time. Would that I could find the same virtue in higher places! But, Colonel Saxon, you have, I gather, seen much service abroad. What think you of the army which hath just passed before you?'
'If it please your Majesty,' Saxon answered, 'it is like so much uncarded wool, which is rough enough in itself, and yet may in time come to be woven into a noble garment.'
'Hem! There is not much leisure for the weaving,' said Monmouth. 'But they fight well. You should have seen them fall on at Axminster! We hope to see you and to hear your views at the council table. But how is this? Have I not seen this gentleman's face before?'
'It is the Honourable Sir Gervas Jerome of the county of Surrey,' quoth Saxon.
'Your Majesty may have seen me at St. James's,' said the baronet, raising his hat, 'or in the balcony at Whitehall. I was much at Court during the latter years of the late king.'
'Yes, yes. I remember the name as well as the face,' cried Monmouth. 'You see, gentlemen,' he continued, turning to his staff, 'the courtiers begin to come in at last. Were you not the man who did fight Sir Thomas Killigrew behind Dunkirk House? I thought as much. Will you not attach yourself to my personal attendants?'
'If it please your Majesty,' Sir Gervas answered, 'I am of opinion that I could do your royal cause better service at the head of my musqueteers.'
'So be it! So be it!' said King Monmouth. Setting spurs to his horse, he raised his hat in response to the cheers of the troops and cantered down the High Street under a rain of flowers, which showered from roof and window upon him, his staff, and his escort. We had joined in his train, as commanded, so that we came in for our share of this merry crossfire. One rose as it fluttered down was caught by Reuben, who, I observed, pressed it to his lips, and then pushed it inside his breastplate. Glancing up, I caught sight, of the smiling face of our host's daughter peeping down at us from a casement.
'Well caught, Reuben!' I whispered. 'At trick-track or trap and ball you were ever our best player.'
'Ah, Micah,' said he, 'I bless the day that ever I followed you to the wars. I would not change places with Monmouth this day.'
'Has it gone so far then!' I exclaimed. 'Why, lad, I thought that you were but opening your trenches, and you speak as though you had carried the city.'
'Perhaps I am over-hopeful,' he cried, turning from hot to cold, as a man doth when he is in love, or hath the tertian ague, or other bodily trouble. 'God knows that I am little worthy of her, and yet--'
'Set not your heart too firmly upon that which may prove to be beyond your reach,' said I. 'The old man is rich, and will look higher.'
'I would he were poor!' sighed Reuben, with all the selfishness of a lover. 'If this war last I may win myself some honour or title. Who knows? Others have done it, and why not I!'
'Of our three from Havant,' I remarked, 'one is spurred onwards by ambition, and one by love. Now, what am I to do who care neither for high office nor for the face of a maid? What is to carry me into the fight?'
'Our motives come and go, but yours is ever with you,' said Reuben. 'Honour and duty are the two stars, Micah, by which you have ever steered your course.'
'Faith, Mistress Ruth has taught you to make pretty speeches,' said I, 'but methinks she ought to be here amid the beauty of Taunton.'
As I spoke we were riding into the market-place, which was now crowded with our troops.