'Three guesses, Clarke!' he cried. 'What would you most desire?'
'Letters from Havant,' said I eagerly.
'Right,' he answered, throwing them into my lap. 'Three of them, and not a woman's hand among them. Sink me, if I can understand what you have been doing all your life.
"How can youthful heart resign Lovely woman, sparkling wine?"
But you are so lost in your news that you have not observed my transformation.'
'Why, wherever did you get these?' I asked in astonishment, for he was attired in a delicate plum-coloured suit with gold buttons and trimmings, set off by silken hosen and Spanish leather shoes with roses on the instep.
'It smacks more of the court than of the camp,' quoth Sir Gervas, rubbing his hands and glancing down at himself with some satisfaction. 'I am also revictualled in the matter of ratafia and orange-flower water, together with two new wigs, a bob and a court, a pound of the Imperial snuff from the sign of the Black Man, a box of De Crepigny's hair powder, my foxskin muff, and several other necessaries. But I hinder you in your reading.'
'I have seen enough to tell me that all is well at home,' I answered, glancing over my father's letter. 'But how came these things?'
'Some horsemen have come in from Petersfield, bearing them with them. As to my little box, which a fair friend of mine in town packed for me, it was to be forwarded to Bristol, where I am now supposed to be, and should be were it not for my good fortune in meeting your party. It chanced to find its way, however, to the Bruton inn, and the good woman there, whom I had conciliated, found means to send it after me. It is a good rule to go upon, Clarke, in this earthly pilgrimage, always to kiss the landlady. It may seem a small thing, and yet life is made up of small things. I have few fixed principles, I fear, but two there are which I can say from my heart that I never transgress. I always carry a corkscrew, and I never forget to kiss the landlady.'
'From what I have seen of you,' said I, laughing, 'I could be warranty that those two duties are ever fulfilled.'
'I have letters, too,' said he, sitting on the side of the bed and turning over a sheaf of papers. '"Your broken-hearted Araminta." Hum! The wench cannot know that I am ruined or her heart would speedily be restored. What's this? A challenge to match my bird Julius against my Lord Dorchester's cockerel for a hundred guineas. Faith! I am too busy backing the Monmouth rooster for the champion stakes. Another asking me to chase the stag at Epping. Zounds! had I not cleared off I should have been run down myself, with a pack of bandog bailiffs at my heels. A dunning letter from my clothier. He can afford to lose this bill. He hath had many a long one out of me. An offer of three thousand from little Dicky Chichester. No, no, Dicky, it won't do. A gentleman can't live upon his friends. None the less grateful. How now? From Mrs. Butterworth! No money for three weeks! Bailiffs in the house! Now, curse me, if this is not too bad!'
'What is the matter?' I asked, glancing up from my own letters. The baronet's pale face had taken a tinge of red, and he was striding furiously up and down the bedroom with a letter crumpled up in his hand.
'It is a burning shame, Clarke,' he cried. 'Hang it, she shall have my watch. It is by Tompion, of the sign of the Three Crowns in Paul's Yard, and cost a hundred when new. It should keep her for a few months. Mortimer shall measure swords with me for this. I shall write villain upon him with my rapier's point.'
'I have never seen you ruffled before,' said I.
'No,' he answered, laughing. 'Many have lived with me for years and would give me a certificate for temper. But this is too much. Sir Edward Mortimer is my mother's younger brother, Clarke, but he is not many years older than myself. A proper, strait-laced, soft-voiced lad he has ever been, and, as a consequence, he throve in the world, and joined land to land after the scriptural fashion.