The Nest of the Sparrowhawk
XXV. An Interlude
Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy was vastly perturbed. Try how he might, he had
been unable to make any discovery with regard to the mysterious events, which
he felt sure were occurring all round him, a discovery which--had he but made it--
would have enabled him to apply with more chance of success, for one of the
posts in my Lord Protector's secret service, and moreover, would have covered
his name with glory.
This last contingency was always uppermost in his mind. Not from any feeling of
personal pride, for of a truth vanity is a mortal sin, but because Mistress Charity
had of late cast uncommonly kind eyes on that cringing worm, Master Courage
Toogood, and the latter, emboldened by the minx's favors, had been more than
usually insolent to his betters.
To have the right to administer serious physical punishment to the youth, and
moral reproof to the wench, was part of Master Busy's comprehensive scheme
for his own advancement and the confusion of all the miscreants who dwelt in
Acol Court. For this he had glued both eye and ear to draughty keyholes, had lain
for hours under cover of prickly thistles in the sunk fence which surrounded the
flower garden. For this he now emerged, on that morning of November 2,
accompanied by a terrific clatter and a volley of soot from out the depth of the
monumental chimney in the hall of Acol Court.
As soon as he had recovered sufficient breath, and shaken off some of the soot
from his hair and face, he looked solemnly about him, and was confronted by two
pairs of eyes round with astonishment and two mouths agape with surprise and
Mistress Charity and Master Courage Toogood--interrupted in the midst of their
animated conversation--were now speechless with terror, at sight of this black
apparition, which, literally, had descended on them from the skies.
"Lud love ye, Master Busy!" ejaculated Mistress Charity, who was the first to
recognize in the sooty wraith the manly form of her betrothed, "where have ye
come from, pray?"
"Have you been scouring the chimney, good master?" queried Master Courage,
with some diffidence, for the saintly man looked somewhat out of humor.
"No!" replied Hymn-of-Praise solemnly, "I have not. But I tell ye both that my hour
hath come. I knew that something was happening in this house, and I climbed up
that chimney in order to find out what it was."
Pardonable curiosity caused Mistress Charity to venture a little nearer to the
soot-covered figure of her adorer.
"And did you hear anything, Master Busy?" she asked eagerly. "I did see Sir
Marmaduke and the mistress in close conversation here this morning."
"So they thought," said Master Hymn-of-Praise with weird significance.
"Well? ... And what happened, good master?"
"Thou beest in too mighty an hurry, mistress," he retorted with quiet dignity. "I am
under no obligation to report matters to thee."
"Oh! but Master Busy," she rejoined coyly, "methought I was to be your ... hem ...
thy partner in life ... and so ..."