Chapter XXXVIII
The Joy of Re-union

On the green outside, the crowd of village folk were shouting themselves hoarse,--

"Three cheers for the Duke of Cumberland!"

Already the news had gone the round that Beau Brocade, the highwayman, had been granted a special pardon by His Royal Highness.

John Stich, half crazy with joy, was tossing his cap in the air, and in the fulness of his heart was stealing a few kisses from Mistress Betty's pretty mouth.

The appearance of Sir Humphrey Challoner in the porch of the Royal George, looking as black as thunder and followed by his obsequious familiar, Master Mittachip, was the signal for much merriment and some quickly-suppressed chaff.

"Stand aside, you fool!" quoth Sir Humphrey, pushing Jock Miggs roughly out of his way.

"Nay, stand aside all of ye!" admonished John Stich, solemnly, "and mind if any of ye've got any turnips about . . .by gy! . . ."

The Squire of Hartington raised his riding-crop menancingly.

"You dare!" he muttered.

But Mistress Betty interposed her pretty person 'twixt her lover and his Honour's wrath.

"Saving your presence, sir," she said pertly, "my John was only going to tell the lads to keep their turnips for this old scarecrow."

And laughing all over her dimpled little face she pointed to Master Mittachip, who was clinging terrified to Sir Humphrey's coat-tails.

"Sir Humphrey. . ." he murmured anxiously, as Betty's sally was received with a salvo of applause, "good Sir Humphrey . . .do not let them harm me. . . I've served you faithfully . . ."

"You've served me like a fool," quoth Sir Humphrey, savagely, shaking himself free from the mealy-mouthed attorney. "Damn you," he added, as he walked quickly out of the crowd and across the green, "don't yap at my heels like a frightened cur."

"God speed your Honour," shouted Stich after him.

"Think you, John, he'll come to our wedding?" murmured Betty, saucily, at which honest John hugged her with all his might before the entire company.

"Be gy! I marvel if the old fox'll go to her ladyship's and the Captain's wedding, eh?"

"Lordy! Lordy! these be 'mazing times," commented Jock Miggs, vaguely.

But within the small parlour of the Royal George all this noise and gaiety only came as a faint, merry echo.

His Royal Highness had gone, followed by the Sergeant and soldiers, and Bathurst was alone with his beautiful white rose.

"And 'tis to you I owe my life," he whispered for the twentieth time, as kneeling at her feet he buried his head in the folds of her gown.

"I have done so little," she murmured, "one poor prayer. . .when you had done so much."

"And now," he said looking straight into the exquisite depths of her blue eyes, "now you have robbed me of one great happiness, which may never come to me again."

"Robbed you? . . .of happiness? . . ."

"The happiness of dying for you."

But she looked down at him, smiling now through a mist of happy tears.

"Nay, sir," she whispered, "and when the Duke has no longer need of you, will you not live . . . for me?"

He folded her in his arms, and held her closely, very closely to his strong, brave heart.

"Always at your feet," he murmured passionately, "and as your humble slave, my dream."

And as his lips sought her once more, she whispered under her breath,--

"My husband!"

"My dream! My wife!"

Outside the crowd of villagers were shouting lustily,--

"Three cheers for the Duke of Cumberland!"

 

The End