Peck's lengthy tales
and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I
2. THE CONTINENT (1583-1587)
XXI. "MY LUTE, BE STILL"
cruel Time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who, in the dark and silent grave
we have wandred all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days."
-- Sir Walter Raleigh
Giffords behavior was, by all accounts, erratic, by some accounts deranged.
In his coarse and boisterous manner, he made a spectacle of himself, thus drawing
unwelcome attention to the entire English community. He lived openly with his
English whore, whom evidently he shared with a young man named Cotton, and his
persistence in carrying on so obviously gave great scandal to the other priests
in exile. His swaggering speeches were notorious among all the nationalities;
he boasted drunkenly of the queen of Englands confidence in him, he claimed
friendship with the king of Spain; he knew Parmas secret plans, and Guises,
and Navarres, and he had the secret ciphers of Bernardino de Mendoza. He
sent a message to Stafford to tell him that his wife was known in the French court
for a devout papist, and he informed Mendoza personally, and nearly everyone else
in Paris by reiterated gossip, that Charles Arundell was an English spy.
himself, of course, was compromised. Mendoza did not believe the charge, he said,
any more than he had on previous occasions, but he was forced to take it seriously.
He was not in a position, in view of the delicate affairs he had in hand, to allow
inquiry into his dealings with Stafford, and he cautioned that Giffords
foolishness must not bring his own business under scrutiny.
no one made a move to shut the man up. Morgan and Paget seemed to have adopted
him as one of their own and paraded him as the only survivor of the last heroic
attempt to free the queen of Scots. The English priests were unwilling to protest
in the absence of Allen and Parsons, who remained in Rome. But what most surprised
Arundell was that so far Stafford had offered no attempt to have the man taken
up in his queens name. A week passed, and nothing at all was done.
evening in early December 1587, or mid-month by the French calendar, Sharrock
being absent for several days in Rheims, Arundell was dining alone in his rooms
upon a stew, already cold, that Madame Lacour had brought up in her careless and
tardy fashion. There came a knock at the door, and he found Staffords knives-and-boots
boy standing with a folded message. Sir Edward sent word that Thomas Fitzherbert
had inquired urgently of Arundells whereabouts, and that he had promised
that Arundell would come to him that evening.
so Arundell did, stepping over alone in the early darkness to his old chambers
in the ruelle du Foi. There he found Fitzherbert awaiting him anxiously.
as Arundell was divesting himself of his cloaks, Tom Throgmorton hurried in and
greeted them warmly. For over a year he had seen Arundell only very seldom, and
there had been estrangement between them, but his manner seemed all fondness now.
With no more delay, Throgmorton gave him his news.
news was that Morgan and Paget, and indeed all of their companions, were bending
themselves to bring Arundell into ruin. The method was unsettled, he said, but
the determination was fixed. It was in consequence of an unfortunate occurrence.
Someone on this side, amongst Morgans intimates apparently, was in the bosom
of Sir Francis Walsingham; a letter had turned up, written to this secret traitor
(who is however unnamed in it), in which the writer clearly indicated on Mr. Secretarys
authority certain facts about the present troubles. The facts were that the Spanish
ambassador now holds Morgan and Paget in the greatest disdain and will not traffic
with them in any matter, and that this is known by Staffords report. And
furthermore, that Stafford had had this knowledge, together with several of Pagets
secret papers, directly from Arundell.
hold that intelligence," Throgmorton said, "as a certain proof that
you are a spy of Mr. Ambassadors here. And they mean, indeed, to revenge
the same upon your body."
sat glumly through the hearing of the news, and said nothing, and then closed
it aside. "Belike it is some mad dreamer, making stir among us by pretense
of Mr. Secretarys confidence."
shook his head tiredly.
fear me not. This writer writes at the command of Mr. Secretary, and the letters
residue confirms the same with other matter. Only it is not knowable to whom the
thing was sent, but that he is in Mr. Secretarys own employment."
was the writer of this unhappy letter?" Arundell asked.
paused. He coughed and seemed downcast.
will bring no more joy and delectation to your hearts than it did to mine."
He looked at both of them for a moment. "Twas our great friend Mr.
Berden, signed by him, in the Secretarys name, and all in his own hand,
I can warrant it."
was dumbfounded. He recollected the occasion when Nicholas Berden had so friendly
arranged to receive him into England, and the thought brought a chill over him.
It had taken a little time, but he had come to affect the man greatly.
will ask no questions of mine own," Throgmorton said, "for I never wish
to learn a hard thing of you nor Paget nor Morgan nor Stafford nor old Cloots
the devils squire. I am neither judge nor jury over any man, for as our
Lord saith, we must all one day be judged ourselves. Only this is to say, which
is that they hate you like a toad. They will have your heart for this, and you
must look roundly to it. I would have no man taken unawares."
seemed no more inclined to be censorious. Whether because he disbelieved the tale
of intercepted letters or because the truth of it made no matter to him, he omitted
even to mention the allegation and only expressed his fears for Arundells
safety. If it were not sufficient that there were these days in Paris a new generation
of young firebrands, more violent and even more excitable than the veteran refugees
had been, it was true also that even the old-timers, those who remained, had become
far more desperate, more impetuous and vehement, than they had ever been before.
In such a climate, almost any wicked deed might be done. In such a time, almost
any man might undertake almost any action, however ill-considered, however unjust,
rather than permit a defector to impede the coming Armada. Fitzherbert feared
that the mere rumor of such a thing as this, with the faintest color of proof,
might propel some crazy servingman or ex-soldier or failed student out into the
night, in search of Arundell, poniard in hand.
sat upon a powderkeg, and sparks flew everywhere about him. Thanking his friends
for their warning, he returned to the Bonheur in a brown study. The task in which
he was engaged, by promising Stafford another winters work, receded from
the picture. He must first weather this storm before giving any thought to resuming
his labors of intelligence. He would be altogether useless to Sir Edward if dead.
In 85 he had survived
the imputation of treachery by adroit preparation in advance, by ensuring that
he had the duke of Guise to corroborate him. The evidence on this occasion --
which was genuine -- did not admit of the same escape. He understood that he must
go at last upon the offensive. He must take up the active part, devise some cunning
stratagem for carrying the battle to Morgans tents. Wiliness was not a quality
he wished to attribute to himself, but he must be wily now.
was only the smallest tithe of fear in this. Indeed, he discovered only now, when
this grim threat had arisen, that something seemed to have altered in him. The
anxiety that had been tightening in him gradually, relentlessly, for more than
a few years past, seemed miraculously to have been absent during his summers
holiday, but it ought now to have returned; yet it had not. His old sense of humor,
puckish and perhaps a little puerile, had never been restored to him, it was true.
Perhaps age and loss had transfigured that entirely. But in the place of a natural
fear he felt only a sober knowledge that the danger was acute and he must act.
He felt no grim determination to survive at any cost. Only the last reduction,
the rather somber conviction that the circumstances called for his best. That
he had a job to do.
a matter of fact, although not much disposed to make merry jests about it, and
wry puns, he did find a comical craziness in the business. He risked his all in
order that Stafford might send Walsingham the best information, and Walsingham
looked well in the way to undoing him for his pains. Why the Secretary should
through vile Berden have informed Morgans unnamed friend -- or if the truth
were known, most likely Morgan himself, or Paget -- that Arundell worked against
them, was something doubtless God knew, but probably no mortal mind, even Walsinghams,
was capable of unravelling it. Had this been played upon a stage in Italy, he
thought ruefully, he himself would have worn the mask of Harlequin.
Berden!" he groaned. He had come to affect the man.
sat alone in his chambers, gazing out of the single window into the darkness,
turning the question over; his answer came to him. The unarmored point was Gilbert
Gifford. The man was known to everyone as a braggart, a liar, and prominent among
his ravings had been the claim that Arundell was a spy. Despite his shocking behavior,
Morgan and Paget had friended the man openly and kept him always in their company.
If Arundell were to direct his attack against that man, Morgans allegations
would appear to be merely a contrived attempt to discredit the accuser by calling
the kettle black.
way would be to bring Gifford up to the authorities, for if the mans troubles
were to come before a public forum, there would be less chance of his wriggling
away and far less opportunity for his friends to set after Arundell in secret
violence. There would not then be the slightest hope of avoiding a thorough investigation
of any harm he came to. The one point about Gifford that would most certainly
evoke official process was the fact that he, a priest, kept chambers with a quean.
Arundell sat long into the
evening revolving the problem in his mind, trying out in fancy all of the elements
of his plan that might conceivably go awry, casting everywhere for some better
alternative. In the end he found none, nor could he imagine any hindrance to it.
He would delate poor Gifford to the authorities and have him taken up; the allegations
of the mans friends would seem but vain expostulations, and the public airing
of the controversy would make Arundell virtually immune from private violence.
Then, when Morgans and
Pagets guns had been properly spiked, their case against him razed to the
ground and its fields, as it were, sowed with salt, then Arundell would carry
on with his work. In the spring, the Armada would sail, Parmas troops would
try to make their landing, and with Gods help, possibly with Arundells
help as well, England would prevail. Thereafter, in the summer, he would be lying
at ease on Simiers estate, nevermore to meddle in these matters of politics
and creeds and heroic strivings after glory.
could almost see the blue Loire, sunlight glinting upon its little waves.
turned to his bed at a late hour, nervous about the morrows task but confident
of success. For some while he lay awake, trying to deflect his mind from rehearsal
of the same considerations he had already run through systematically. Some small
thought that he could not grasp, something about Stafford, taunted him. He almost
caught it -- Staffords face; some cold thought -- and it slipped away.
he began thankfully to feel his long legs becoming numb, and his mind fogging
over in deeper and longer spells of nonsense, and eventually he drifted into sleep.
He crouched fully armored
in a muddy ditch in a row of anxious soldiers. The suns first rays broke
above a long, flat plain, across which there sat low upon the horizon a squat
mound of earth surmounted by gleams of light, the sunlight glancing off metal
surfaces. He rose with the others and began lumbering across the field in a broken
line. As they gained a third of the open distance, a volley of musketry burst
out from the earthworks, followed by another, followed by a ragged patter of fire
like rain on a roof. The sconce was swallowed up in slowly rising plumes of smoke,
touched by the white dawn. The men about him began falling away, dead or wounded
in a hail of shot; many of them he seemed to recognize, friends of long acquaintance
splashing down in the mud and groaning up their lacerated spirits. His armor weighed
heavily upon him, and as he tired his loping gait degenerated into an awkward,
Then he saw
that he was almost alone, the greater part of his company lying strewn like discarded
clothing over the ground he had traversed. Above the earthworks rim he could
discern the forms of busy musketeers, stepping up, aiming, firing, hastening away
to reload, their places filled at once. Above them rose a flagstaff, from which
hung their standard, but it was a windless morning and the bit of rag hung straight
down, its emblem undecipherable. He was standing alone, all of his companions
fallen, but the fire from the sconce kept up in the same intensity as before.
He gazed back across the field at the lifeless or crippled forms of all his friends,
and then faced stupidly about. A shower of musket balls tore through him and flung
him arching into the air, tumbling into soft, black mud.
awoke in a moist chill. The room remained dark and silent. He rose with his blanket
wrapped about him and went to the window. Nowhere in the east was there any sign
of dawn. He lay down again, trembling in the cold, thinking about Berden, wrapping
his cover tightly about him to await the new day, a long time coming.
the morning (Friday, the 18th of December by French time), Arundell descended
into the street and found breakfast in a nearby inn. There he waited, ill at ease,
until the hour had advanced a bit further. Then he saddled his horse and made
his way round to the Bishops Palace. In the secretarys office he explained
his errand, protesting that his conscience required his appearance. With the officials
direction he wrote out and swore to an affadavit accusing the priest Gifford of
flagrant immorality within the jurisdiction of the cathedral. The particulars
of Giffords identity, dwelling place, and crimes, all of them quite true,
he indited with care, and the secretary, more than a little troubled at the accusation,
thanked him heartily for having come forward like an honest citizen.
the secretary had hurried away with his papers, Arundell returned to the street
and wandered idly about the cold city for an hour or two. Then he rode over into
Giffords neighborhood near the colleges to take up a post in a tavern
opposite the priests door. Before long, a party of guardsmen came clattering
up the street. They entered the house and in a few minutes returned bearing Gifford,
his English whore, and a terrified young man, all in nightdress. Gifford was lecturing
them vehemently, flinging his arms about and whirling from one to another, about
some of the fine points of their duty. Arundell thought of Ambidexter, turning
with the wind.
In the late
afternoon, he travelled across the Seine and turned in the direction of the Louvre.
He left his horse in a narrow alley and entered a disused house, the rear door
of which let him out into the courtyard behind Sir Edward Staffords stables.
The ambassador, hearing his knock, opened the door of his back stairs, and together
they ascended silently to the study.
ho, Sir Carlo," Stafford said, with the slightest hint of impatience, as
if he had been engaged in other business but was reluctant to say so; "what
brings you out today?"
of kingdoms and portents in the sky."
again! The sign of the ipsissima verba in conjuction with the habemus
papum, occluded by the malum in se; I ha seen that myself. Which
kingdoms are overturned?"
kingdom of Reason and the duchy of Good Faith. The factions are at open jars,
and the crown is melted down for cannon shot."
think ysay truer than you mean. I have seen your howling mobs in their celebrations
now, and I daily expect a popular election for a new king here. Your friend of
Guise I think we shall see entering the town in a beaming cloud, transported like
the darling of the seraphim."
is the very hero of the hour."
the hour!" cried Sir Edward. "I shall wonder much if this new Christmas,
with their extravagant celebrations, do not bring some greater changes than we
may jest of. What is it that brings ye to me?"
smile faded as he began to explain.
esteemed and worthy superior, Mr. Secretary, writing with his left hand like Mucius
Scaevola, hath informed our montrous runagates here that you had Pagets
packet at my hands. It is told me, therefore, that I shall be rewarded for it
amply. I had rather, Ned, that you had named me Master Ignoto in your report to
face had grown pinched with a kind of furious annoyance, and he swore ferociously.
does not sound to me as a thing tmake light of, in any way. I wrote your
name to show the man that you are a true man, as I have ever writ him you are.
Damn the faithless devil to ever burning fires for sending it back to me this
way! Damn him!"
shrugged to show that the damage had been done and could not now be undone.
will tell you again, ytake the thing too childishly. Theyll hack off
your chaps with a two-handed sword." Stafford rose and began pacing the chamber.
"With this in their hands, man, the traitors will haul you to the nuncio
before the pope can sneeze and say grace. We must give it all up and get ye away."
frowned slightly and gestured in deprecation.
have done already somewhat in my defense."
what may that be, pray?"
you know, Ned, that this man Gifford is their great companion, and says everywhere
just that which they would say of me to the nuncio. Gifford keeps a quean, which
is clean contrary to the canon for an ordained man to do. Therefore, to prevent
them in their tale of me, I have had their fool taken up by the church for his
whoremongering, to the end that hereafter their allegings of me will seem to be
but vain imaginings to mitigate somewhat their companions punishment."
stood with eyes and mouth agape.
say I had Gifford taken up by the officers for keeping his quean, and clapt up
in the Bishops Prison for the same."
Edward collapsed into a chair and dropped his head into his hands.
Sir Nedly, what can be the matter wi that?"
made no reply. Arundell grew more and more uncomfortable, until his friend looked
up sadly and said, "Well, my old companion, I pay the price for too little
honesty withee. Believe me, I would have told you before this, but for that
I know the great love ye bore to the queen of Scots."
paused and glanced away. Arundell waited, dread settling down upon his heart.
see, me boy, this Gifford is possessed of certain papers which tell mortally upon
the honor of our queens government."
I know not what they are, but they cast a harsh light on the doings in the queen
of Scotss matter. The man had commands in writing to do somewhat in entrapping
the good lady, something o the sort, and a has kept em. He told
me o them straightaway when he arrived here out of England, near a good
part of a year ago now, and said that if ever harm should befall him here, our
queen should long have cause to be sorry for it, and told me that much that I
must believe him."
haunting afterthought returned to Arundells memory, the question he had
suppressed why Stafford had not stifled the man already. He groaned aloud, cursing
himself for not having guessed the truth.
I canna say, but not many, I do not think, only what is sufficient to bring scandal
irreparable to her majestys name and opprobrium on all of us. He had them
always hidden, but so as to be easily produced in the event of evil coming to
him, and for that cause I have had to bear with him in all his moonstruck ravings.
Well, God, there is no help for it. I will do what I can, and can do no more than
I have done this harm, and I will undo it. You shall have your papers by this
hour tomorrow, or I shall die in the attempt." So saying, he rose and donned
ye cannot meddle in this now. Double the charge will rive the cannon.
Tis my fault entire. There is nothing no man can do at this time, and you
of all men will hazard your life to be seen in it. Leave off, now, and let me
take the business up with Villeroy."
say it. If they can be got, I will get them. I cannot let myself do you this harm.
There is still honor among some of us, I think."
made as if to protest again, but Arundell was already halfway down the staircase.
There was nothing for him to do but call after him, "God be with ye, Charles."
He felt almost sick with dread, and went upstairs to lie down.
night was already coming on, and in the freezing twilight the townsmen were hurrying
homeward. Arundell rode part of the way back to the left bank and stopped for
supper in an ordinary. Painstakingly, he tried turning over in his mind the courses
of action open to him, but he knew too little to plan for any contingencies. As
usual. He determined merely to plunge on hunting for the papers, proceeding in
order from the most to the least likely places they might be.
thought never occurred to him now whether he might be better off out of it altogether.
For once in his life he was of a unified mind, determined to do what could be
When the light was entirely
gone, he remounted and rode into the university district. Even in the Place Maubert,
the principal gathering place of the students and clerks, there were few people
to be seen, so dark and cold had it grown. He came up upon Giffords street,
but on second thought rode past it and entered the next one. Leaving his horse
in front of a house about as far in as Giffords was, he passed through a
narrow alley, scarcely wider than his shoulders, and came out into a tiny court
behind. It was closed in by stone walls some six feet high, and he could find
Careful to be silent,
he stepped back amid a spread of garbage and paused for a moment to be sure he
could pick out the top of the wall. Then he dashed a few steps towards it and
leapt up, pushing up with his hands atop it and throwing his hips onto the dirt
above. His scabbard scraped roughly against the stones.
the few lights flickering in the row of buildings facing him, Arundell was able
to count in to Giffords house. The windows he picked out as Giffords
were dark. Stealthily, he walked through the high grass to what he supposed to
be the rear door into the main hall. Again he had a second thought, and turned
Close in by the wall,
beneath the eaves, the darkness was inhibiting. He groped his way inch by inch,
both hands held before him, as he moved towards the adjoining house. Coming to
a door, he tried it, found it unbarred, and edged through it into a crowded scullery
shed. The shed was attached by a plaster and lathing wall to the kitchens, through
which a half-sized crawlway afforded access, and Arundell, discovering this with
his fingers, ducked low and stepped through. The last embers of the cooking fire
left a residue of red glow in the room. Through it, he found the hall, and crept
carefully up the narrow staircase. The house was silent but for the regular creaking
of its timbers which camouflaged the sounds of Arundells weight upon the
In the top of the house,
he hoisted himself into the eaves and inspected the roof with his fingertips.
It was composed half of board lathing and half of bound thatch, and there was
a large expanse of thatch covering the area near the adjacent building. Nimbly
he slit the cords with his belt-knife and parted the plaited bundles, then, by
carefully crowding them to the sides, forced an opening along the top of the eaves,
through which he eased himself out into the night sky.
found himself, as he had meant to, sitting next to the third story of Giffords
house. At this height, there was a frigid wind from the north that had been unnoticeable
from the ground. The occupants of the house through which he had crept remained
quiet; the sighing breeze absorbed any sounds that might have been rising from
the nearby streets. He seemed to be alone in a special world, a cold and dark
one but, as it seemed, a safe and silent one, a peaceful one. He stared for a
moment into the black yards beneath him, thoughtfully. Then he crouched forward
and stepped onto the external beams of the adjoining house. Grasping the oblique
timbers imbedded in the wall, he made his way deliberately along the outside of
the building until he came to the windows he sought.
shutters stood flung open against the wall. The windows themselves were not of
glass but of a greased paper or thin skin; Arundell drew out his dagger and quietly
cut one of them out all round the frame. Then he clambered inside and felt his
way to the center of the room, where he collided softly with a table. He found
a tallow candle and tinderbox, and soon had a wavering flame to see by.
room had belonged to Gifford after all; on the bed and floor and in the cabinets
lay a quantity of clothing he recognized as stuff he had seen the man wearing,
thrown carelessly amongst a mass of gowns and feminine underthings and much soiled
cooking ware. Moving rapidly, Arundell sifted through the clothing and made a
cursory search within, behind, and beneath the furniture. He explored the cupboards
and the mattresses, the brickwork of hearth and chimney, and the books stacked
along the wall. Every place he himself had ever thought to employ for secreting
his valuables he ran his fingers and his candle over, and he felt deftly along
every foot of plasterwork for signs of recent patching. There was nothing. He
returned to a chair in the center of the room to think it over.
the entire flat, which consisted only of one large chamber and a sleeping alcove,
he had seen everything, and had turned up no personal papers of any kind. He was
no longer an amateur at searches of this kind. There was nothing left behind,
not even the casual, often worthless material that every man surrounds himself
with. The guardsmen must have possessed themselves of all of Giffords papers
and brought them all off to let their superiors distinguish grain from chaff.
Giffords body, of course, was being kept by the ecclesiastical authorities,
but his papers would have been brought first to the secular arm. In all likelihood,
they would have been brought to Villeroy.
voices came from the hall. Soft footsteps approached, and Arundell blew out his
candle. He need not have bothered, for the door opened and a large man stood in
the passage with a candle of his own, the glow of which fell full upon Arundell
at the table. The intruder stared for an instant and then, calling out in a low
voice, ran towards him, followed by two others tumbling into the chamber at his
Arundell swept out his
rapier and made a hasty pass at the candle, which was flung sideways and extinguished
as it flew towards the wall. In the dancing gleam of another light held by the
third man, the first one, his dagger in hand, circled round and looked for an
opening. Arundell held his rapier at an easy guard, backing slowly and keeping
at bay the two advancing on him, while the third man raised his candle aloft to
let them see their quarry.
Arundell darted a step to the left, which brought both of his attackers leaping
in that direction. He bolted abruptly back to the right past their flank and feinted
towards the third man, who dashed away his taper bounding backward. Darkness poured
through the room again. Arundell knelt and found the stool he had picked out,
and he flung it hard against the far wall. As both of his assailants followed
the sound, he stepped to the paler rectangle of the window and scrambled outside.
All three of them shouted and ran after him. He tried to hurry along the ledge
the way hed come, but could only creep foot by foot, knowing they would
overtake him in an instant. One of the attackers leaned out, virtually alongside
him, and swung a dagger at his outstretched arm; the dagger missed him, but the
mans wrist knocked loose his grasp and he lost his balance. He teetered
almost in mid-air for a long fraction of a second, and then, with a short cry,
fell away into empty space.
plummeted into something harsh and sharp, but yielding, a pile of sticks for kindling
perhaps. He had the sensation of being poked vigorously all over, and in the impact
he wrenched his back violently as his torso fell a foot or two farther than his
legs. Still, after several seconds recovering from the panic hed felt in
free space, he tumbled over twice, fetched up on solid ground, and found that
he could rise and walk with no more hurt than a lancinnating pain just above his
From within the
ancient house resounded the thundering descent of his attackers through its passages.
At other windows, tiny lights were springing up, and here and there an inquisitive
face emerged in silhouette. Arundell set off across the yard. He limped clumsily
to compensate for his twisted back, but he made the wall, eased himself tenderly
over the edge of it, and dropped into the paved court below. He could hear his
pursuers run out of Giffords house and apply themselves to deducing noisily
in which direction he must have fled. The trash strewn about the court made silence
difficult, but he picked his way gingerly through it until he found the alley,
through which he could risk a better pace. His horse was where he had left it
in the street.
He fled the
neighborhood at a brisk canter, keeping an eye open for his three assailants.
The question who they were was the obvious one, but he could not answer it. Two
had been vaguely familiar, small, lithe forms that seemed to come to him out of
the past, but in the darkness he had not recognized them, and he hoped they would
say as much of him. They might have been any of a few thousand men, of some ten
or twelve nations; presumably they had come, as he had come, to search the chamber
on command, and would return to report that they had been anticipated. Someone
else, it seemed, knew of the papers and was engaged as he was in trying to find
westward across St. Jacques towards the farther city wall. He slowed his pace
once hed come well away from the university district. The rhythmical clatter
of his horses hooves echoed blankly from the housefronts, for there was
no one about in the frigid streets, and the air was crisply still.
his rooms he stopped to restore himself with some cheese and bread. He longed
to stretch out on his bed to rest his back, but he put the thought aside and confined
himself to bathing some of the lacerations hed got in the fall. None of
them seemed serious; but for some parings from the skin of his arms and legs,
his only worrisome hurt was a deep cut over his right eye, which bled a fair trickle
down the side of his face. At length he left off that and began preparing to go
out again. He took the trouble of removing his purse from its hiding place and
providing himself with an ample sum of gold.
moonless night was advancing. From the Petit Pont, as he crossed over, the black
sweeping river was invisible below him. As he paused to peer upstream, he could
just perceive the vertical bulk of Notre Dame rising blacker against the black
sky, its spire and square towers indistinguishable from this distance. Below the
Pont au Change over the northern stream of the Seine, one could just hear the
rush and sweep of the wheels of the Millers Bridge some way off.
the Grand Châtelet, Arundell turned eastward along the rue de la Vannerie into
the Place de Grève. There was a tavern in a small street off the square that would
be open even on such an empty night, but he could not recall precisely where it
was. In a few moments a pair of workmen rounded the corner and hurried with uneven
steps to a small door a short distance along. Arundell left his horse and followed
The common room was relatively
still. Here and there were knots of workmen and servingmen conversing quietly
over their wine or sitting silently alone, members of a race dispossessed. Arundell
saw a few faces he recognized of men with whom he had had business in the past,
and he considered for a moment before walking over to one of them. He sat down
near the man and began speaking to him quickly in a low voice, and after a time
the fellow began nodding and looking round the room. Then the man rose and moved
in succession to several other benches, making brief inquiries among several other
parties, and when he returned he brought three other men with him. They were as
rough and as surly as he was, and two of them were, like him, very large, the
third one rather of Arundells leaner build but somewhat shorter.
conversation continued for a brief time, and finally all of the men were nodding
assent to Arundells proposition. He produced a purse and distributed gold
among them, and then all five of them departed together. One of the men, who had
been unarmed, borrowed a thin saber from the landlord, who was his late wifes
In the street Arundell
untied his horse and led it behind him as they walked rapidly westward, along
the rue de la Cotellerie and past the bridges. The hour had progressed to nearly
midnight, or perhaps already past it. A thin derma of ice was forming over the
small puddles by the roadside, and a few snowflakes drifted slowly to the stones.
They passed no one as they strode down the center of the black street. In the
rue de la Serpente they halted and went into an inn to warm themselves over hot
wine, and then, within a quarter of an hour, they resumed their progress. A final
stage of their journey brought them into the broad place before the Louvre, bordering
upon the river towers at the bottom of the square.
the lights in the fortress it appeared that the court was in residence. Arundell
and his men walked on riverwards, approaching the buildings opposite the front
gates of the Louvre. Across the square, a surprising number of Swiss guardsmen
could be seen huddled about fires and pacing somnolently back and forth before
the gate towers of the palace. The unusual strength of the guard was explicable
only by the kings fear of his own Parisians in their Guisard ecstacy.
at hand on their left as they passed southward rose a huge block of a building
with tiny black windows dotted across its long façade. There were no guardsmen
stationed before its three large doors, but they would be on duty behind each
of them. When Arundell and his men had progressed past the hôtel and along a row
of smaller houses, he left his companions and conducted his horse into an alley
that issued into a large yard behind, where he tied it up and left it.
as if idly, they retraced their steps and approached the southernmost door in
the long hôtel, as Arundell and one of the cutters rehearsed their plan once more.
Across the wide place, the palace guardsmen seemed not to have noticed them. At
the door they stood back against the wall of the building, as if conversing or
nodding drunkenly, while one of the larger men stepped up and pounded on the planks.
The door swung slightly open and a guardsman peeked out. Arundells man began
jabbering unintelligibly some drivel about desperately needing help and thrust
his way into the building, pushing the soldier before him, who protested and tried
in vain to calm the intruder. Then two more of his companions stepped in behind,
and Arundell could hear them pleading in drunken excitement for assistance and
understanding. The guardsmans voice, and then another one joining in, continued
trying to pacify the men and entreating them to leave. Suddenly, there came sounds
of scuffling and running feet, and both soldiers began calling out commands to
halt. The noise receded, and Arundell and the other cutter slipped into the building
The guard chamber was
empty; the noise of the chase reached them down a dimly lit corridor running off
to the left. Arundell led his companion up the wooden steps and away towards the
right. Against the nearer side of the building they made a turning towards the
rear, where they found a dark, narrow staircase that served the officials when
they wished to avoid the crowds of suitors who thronged the central double-stairs
in the public part of the hall. On the next floor up, they came into a narrow
corridor that ran the enormous length of the hôtel, illuminated only by four or
five large cressets. They slipped out of the staircase and ran lightly down the
hall. They could still hear faintly the commotion being raised below. Suddenly,
a door closed near at hand, and they crouched in the shadow of a table set against
the wall. Not six feet further on, another door opened and a tall gentleman wearing
a legal gown stepped out and hurried away. When he had got some distance ahead,
Arundell and his man rounded the table and crept on, hugging the wall on their
right. In a few seconds, the gentleman had reached the double-stairs and descended
About a third of
the way along the corridor, Arundell stopped before a large portrait on the wall.
In the faint, flickering light, he could not perceive it clearly, but saw enough
to recognize it. He opened the door next to it and the two of them slipped in.
writing desks of Villeroys legal clerks loomed heavily in the darkness all
about the chambers. Leaving the cutter by the door, Arundell negotiated his way
among the furnitures and entered the smaller room within. Here he found a lamp
and struck a light in it. From somewhere far off came a noise of drunken singing;
otherwise the building lay eerily silent. Along the rear wall of the Secretarys
chamber, beneath the narrow windows, the boxes were piled that contained his official
papers. The sight of that great mass of material brought a cold desperation to
Arundells heart, for searching through it all seemed the labor of a long
season. He turned first to those papers still shuffled up on the surface of a
desk or bookcase.
his lamp to Villeroys big table and held it over some of the sheets scattered
across it. A number of yellow linen bags were stacked near the center, with others
strewn about nearby. He set the light down and untied the ribbons of one of the
bags. The papers within seemed all to do with fiscal matters of the royal household.
The next set was devoted to the riders of the frontier post, and the third contained
matter unintelligible to him.
started through the bags in the stack. In the second one he tried, he found a
bundle of sheets, untidily shuffled together, about two inches thick, and the
top piece was a letter endorsed on the verso, "from Aldred, Lyons, 3 March
1586" (which would have meant 1587). Arundells heart leapt in his throat.
He sat in Villeroys chair and peered carefully at a few more. He found Giffords
name prominently displayed upon all of them.
he shuffled the papers back into the bag and drew its ribbons tight. He checked
the next few bags and found matter unrelated, and then shoved his prize down within
his doublet. At that instant, he heard a low whistle from the other room; he blew
out the lamp and ran out to join his man by the door. From the corridor came the
jingling noise of guardsmen in full accoutrement trotting up the staircase. Arundell
drew his rapier and his companion reached behind him for a long dagger in his
belt, and then they threw open the door and stepped out. The jangling came still
louder from the double-staircase. They turned and dashed away in the other direction.
A cry rang out behind them. Arundells companion reached up to the cresset
hung from a bracket on the wall and tipped the pan; the oil poured out and splashed
burning across the floor, throwing up a bright, crazy glare. Arundell glanced
back and saw through the flare and flames that the two soldiers stood with pistols
raised. The cry came again. Arundell began dodging about as he ran, but there
was scarcely any room for it.
deafening roars exploded through the corridor, almost as one. His companion fell
forward and stumbled a few steps on his knees, catching himself with both hands.
Arundell paused to jerk the man upright by his arm. They made the narrow staircase
in a matter of another second. As they plunged into it, he looked back and saw
the guardsmen tearing off their tunics to smother the burning oil before it brought
the entire structure into conflagration.
hurried down the steps and out into the ground floor hallway. Far off at the other
end, a troop of guardsmen came running towards them, calling for them to halt.
They tumbled round the corner to the short stairs leading outward. Five soldiers
stood round Arundells cutters by the door, seeming half to have them in
custody and half to be treating them as drunken revellers to be humored and sent
home. The guardsmen turned in surprise at Arundells precipitate arrival
upon them; two stood already with rapiers drawn, and now the others grabbed for
theirs. Instantly the three conspirators shook off their feigned intoxication
and threw themselves into their captors. As some grappled with their prisoners,
two of the guardsmen advanced to meet Arundell and the injured cutter, who leant
upon Arundell, unable to defend himself. Trying to steady the man with his left
arm, he stepped to the head of the stairs and crossed blades with the guardsmen
below. One of the other soldiers by the door cried out as a cutters dagger
pierced his arm. Then one of the companions gave out a shriek and fell back against
the stone with a rapiers point imbedded in his chest. He muttered "mon
dieu" over and over and slid slowly down the wall, his brother-in-laws
saber still held weakly aloft.
guardsmen duelling with Arundell fought professionally and calmly, and without
the advantage of the stairs he should never have kept them off. The scuffling
continued, and then one of the cutters was flung into the backs of Arundells
assailants. He released his man and leapt down the steps, scoring an ugly hit
in the breast of one of the soldiers before they recovered. At the same instant,
the troop came round the corner from the corridor. Two of them raised their pistols
and fired, and one of the guardsmen grappling below grasped at his forearm and
spun away. The wounded cutter whom Arundell had left standing on the stairs was
hit full between the shoulderblades virtually at point blank. Silently he pitched
forward and sailed gracefully down the steps into the tangle of men below.
reached the door and pulled it open, then grabbed one of his companions and threw
him out into the street. He bolted through himself and heard the third surviving
man following on his heels. They raced towards the river as fast as they could
Already the guardsmen
had picked their way through the carnage at the door and were tumbling out into
the square. Arundell saw flashes lighting up the air before he heard the pistol
shots, followed by the sounds of the soldiers chasing after them, with a few more
shots. Across the place, some of the Swiss ran out of the lighted gateway of the
Louvre and stood peering into the darkness.
the river tower, Arundells men sprinted in among the sheds clustered beneath
the walls, tripping and falling upon wagon tongues and casks, springing up and
running on doggedly around the eastern face of the tower, where the river walls
of the palace ended. Emerging upon the flat plain on the other side, they dashed
off in the direction of the blackly flowing stream. The shouting continued from
They reached the bank
at a place where a low stone wall served as a kind of pier, just upstream from
the palace wharf. Finding a punt, they dropped into it and cut the painters, allowing
it to swing slowly away into the current. Black forms could be seen advancing
upon them. The oars had been shut up somewhere for the night, so paddling furiously
with their hands they had mainly to be content with drifting down into the center
of the river. A few more shots rang out from the bank, but though one ball threw
up a splash a few meters from them they took no hurt. They heard nothing after
that; the darkness on the cold river had saved them.
an hour passed as the boat floated downstream through the freezing wind. The three
men huddled in the bottom, shivering violently with their faces pressed against
the rough wooden floor. Finally, they felt the punt spinning slowly in an arc,
and looked up to discover themselves swinging about in an eddy near the farther
bank, in a place where the great river swerved sharply about to the north. They
began paddling with their hands again and brought the punt up under a high bank.
Then, scrambling up through the dead underbrush and frozen mud, they reached the
There they paused
to take stock of themselves. They had not travelled as far down the stream as
they would have guessed; the laborers recognized the place as near a little hill
some five or six miles from the city. Soon it was decided that they should part
company, for the men wished to travel into the nearby country for a time, rather
than return to the city. Arundell drew out his purse and gave them nearly the
whole contents to share between them. Accepting it gratefully, the two men wandered
dazedly away to the south.
would have wished to rest a while where he was. His strained back was paining
him awfully, and the laceration above his eye had reopened. But the cold prevented
any idleness. He started off towards Paris, angling over the hard meadow away
from the Seine in hopes of stumbling upon a high road. And so he did, in time,
and thereafter the walking was easier, though the frozen ruts still tormented
his ankles. After more than an hour he began to fear frostbite in his fingers
and toes and in his face. His wind was very short, and he felt his age telling
upon him. But he kept up a vigorous pace in desperation.
reached the Porte de Buci just as the eastern sky began glowing with a thin light.
So far he had met no one on the road, but once within the walls he began to see
early risers hurrying by in every direction. Soon afterward he found his way through
the maze of narrow streets in a crowded quarter and emerged into the head of the
passage du Bonheur. Within moments, he had a stack of wood kindled in his own
Before doing anything
else, as his room slowly warmed, he ate up a half loaf of bread and a large chunk
of cheese, washing them down with heated wine, and then lay down fully dressed
upon his bed. His mind felt numbed, yet he was not sleepy. He tried to relax his
tormented back and found pleasure in the way the muscles slowly loosened their
taut grip across his lower spine.
length, however, his curiosity overcame him. Removing his doublet, he drew out
the Secretarys yellow bag of documents. Pouring out some more wine, he moved
his table closer to the fire and spread the papers before him. The morning came
on bright outside; through the window he could hear the working people getting
down to business.
sifting through the sheets and reading them over in order. The first few contained
only meaningless jottings and random notes in Giffords childish scrawl.
Then there were a few letters from Dr. William Gifford and one of Gilberts
replies to him.
Next he found
a copy of a recent report in Giffords hand addressed to Thomas Phelippes,
Walsinghams man. It described some financial trouble into which Ambassador
Stafford had fallen, having appropriated to pay his gambling debts some 16,000
crowns of the queens money intended to be delivered to the count of Soissons,
the Huguenot commander. It went on to assert that, with Mr. Charles Arundell as
intermediary, Sir Edward had shown his dispatches to Mendoza the Spaniard in return
for pecuniary relief. From the promise of more news and the language employed
throughout, it was evident that the report had been made on assignment. Gilbert
Gifford was then, himself, after all, an English spy.
turned up next froze Arundell to his chair. He reread them several times in disbelief
-- he had three letters of instructions, all addressed to Gifford and signed by
Mr. Phelippes, dating from May and June of 1586, which gave precise directions
for the entrapment of Babington, Ballard, and Savage, and required further information
about all the other men Gifford had managed to bring into "the wicked artifice."
Staffords guess had been correct. Without question, the reference was to
the hare-brained scheme to murder the English queen and rescue the queen of Scots.
All of the messages spoke explicitly on Mr. Secretarys behalf. Another letter,
a brief note really, was dated February 1586, and, likewise penned by Phelippes,
it concerned Giffords part in the reopening of Queen Marys correspondence.
In a flash, the entire sordid
business became clear. Never in his worst dreams had Arundell imagined how thoroughly
Babingtons mortal folly had been engineered by Walsingham himself. It had
been easy enough to suspect that some craven informer had betrayed the plotters
and given the Secretary all he needed to take them up; here was proof, however,
that the government had planned the entire venture and had maneuvered the foolish
gentlemen like pawns in a bloodstained game of chess. Tears began sliding down
Arundells face. He thought of the poor desperate queen in captivity, so
anxious after twenty years to regain her freedom that she should be taken in like
a child to approve an assassination invented in Walsinghams own brain. He
grew into a rage and sobbed for a time in frustration. They had as good as murdered
her. They had taken away all of his hopes but one, the queen of Scots, then had
cruelly shorn him of that one as well. This was what the Secretarys gospel
purity prompted him to: the murder of innocents. So far from recovering these
proofs for discretions sake, he felt angrily impelled to publish them before
The idea, as soon
as it had come to him, consumed him. For fifteen years, since the death of his
powerful friend the duke of Norfolk, Arundell had been in varying degrees at the
mercy of Leicester and Walsingham. Always he had known of their cruelty, their
lack of scruple, and the danger they presented to the quietness of old England,
but scarcely anyone had believed him. Gradually they had worn him down, wrenched
away his friends, dug the ground deeper and deeper out from under him, and finally
they had deprived him of everything he loved, casting him into dateless exile
in a foreign and unfamiliar land. Now he had them on the hip. Here in just these
papers lay the proof that he had always been right, that Walsingham and Leicester
were capable of any wickedness in pursuit of their ambitions.
possibility that, however deceitfully, they might merely have been carrying out
their own view of what was necessary for Englands welfare -- this did not
occur to him. He saw only that it lay finally, providentially, in his own power
to expose them before the world, to bring them into the same ruin they had brought
to him and his companions. He had only to publish these documents and all Europe
would be shaken with a righteous indignation against Leicester and his bible-bearing
famulus. The queen of England would have no choice but to toss them to the baying
When he had tumbled
about for a while amid these wrathful thoughts, he began to grow calmer, and with
the passing of the first access of his grief and rage came new considerations.
It was not possible that these actions should be brought home to Walsingham alone,
nor even to Walsingham with the earl of Leicester at his side, as surely he had
been. Even in impartial eyes -- and there were no impartial eyes -- the true villain
would appear to be the queen herself, and sacrificing the Puritans would not exculpate
her. As Stafford had predicted, the knowledge of these documents would bring irredeemable
dishonor to the queen and odium to the entire nation. Gifford had known his business;
he had provided himself with an insurance policy in good earnest, however little
it had availed him in the end.
was not just a question of the queens good name. With the knowledge that
the queen of Scotss execution had been contrived upon this pretext, the
duke of Guise and the League preachers would hold every trump. The king of France
would be helpless, in such a climate of popular fury as the League would cultivate,
to remain neutral in the conflict expected in the spring. Simply to retain his
own throne, even in name only, Henri would be driven to throw his forces in with
the other Catholics bent upon the reduction of England, compelled to aid in the
revenge of Marys martyrdom and the extirpation of the heretical government
from that island. When the Spanish fleet arrived at last, with its barges full
of Spanish, Italian, German, and Savoyard soldiery, the entire strength of Catholic
France would have to be there with them. The same was true of young James of Scotland;
popular pressure would be terrific upon him to cooperate in a landing on his shores.
These few sheets of paper could very well change the face of Europe. They could
bring into England a government of Inquisitors.
sat gloomily by the fire. His spirits were depressed, yet he felt a curious excitement
at the same time. He held at last the power he had never had to fight his enemies
with. After fifteen years of toiling almost ceaselessly, as it seemed now, with
no real hope of success, vindication lay within his grasp.
remembered a time, many long years before, when he had been resting at a house
in Cornwall -- it had been Tregians house; the occasion, he now recalled,
had been the taking of poor Mayne the martyred priest -- and as they had sat upon
the lawn, a group of children had been playing at Castle-Come-Down near the house.
The other boys had arranged themselves, and then the smallest chappie, a thin
fellow younger than the others, had set out to ascend to the top. Several times
he had almost fallen, and the climb had almost been more than his little strength
was equal to, but after a valiant struggle, with perseverance, he had made it
to the highest level. There he had knelt, broadly grinning his victory to all
of Cornwall, before the structure of boys had crumbled away beneath him and he
had tumbled into writhing limbs below.
felt very much like that boy. Long he had persevered and struggled despite himself,
and now he had reached the summit. This was the source of his odd exhilaration.
He held in his own hands the means either to destroy his powerful enemies or to
permit them to continue. He grinned broadly, just as the little boy had. For the
moment at least, he was on top.
savored the sensation. In a strange and twisted way, this bizarre circumstance,
his sitting in this squalid room holding such evidence in his hands, seemed almost
to make his whole career worth while, all of the anxieties, losses, humiliations,
all of the vain hopes and broken daydreams. It brought his life to a sort of culmination,
a satisfactory one. It seemed to make sense, so to speak, of the years of suffering
and loss. He gazed into the flames and felt an unaccustomed peace creeping over
his soul, a certain tranquility, as if in simply knowing that he could prove Leicesters
and Walsinghams perfidy, he no longer cared whether he did so. It was no
longer necessary. It made no difference to him anymore. His battle with those
men and their favorers seemed almost to have defined his life, and he had now
in a manner transcended it.
leant forward and tossed the letters into the flames. Then he rose and scooped
the rest of Giffords papers from the table, without having read them, and
threw the entire collection into the hearth. Finally the yellow bag as well he
delivered to that bright oblivion. A great, crazy smile illuminated his face.
It occurred to him that the Magnificent Earl of Leicester, Lion of the Court,
creator and smasher of mens destinies, was as much as he was merely a plaything
of the circumstances. Like him, a victim of the Irony. Almost whimsically, he
had just saved the mans career.
he basked in the warmth of this new mood, this unfamiliar self-satisfaction, Arundell
rummaged up a steel glass and attended to the laceration above his eye. It had
ceased bleeding a long while earlier, but stood still open and might in time become
The image of Leicester
came before him once again. "There is nothing so glorious upon the earth
but it shall pass away." His lordship, who had always seemed to him to be
sitting on his horse atop a high ridge, sunlight gleaming brilliantly upon his
trappings, staring out over the heads of merely ordinary men, perhaps observing
them, perhaps not -- his lordship was no more above the common struggle than was
he himself or any of the men the earl had beaten down. So far from standing calmly
above them all, as it were upon a high hill, hed been driven by fear and
distrust to employ such foul men as Gifford to perform such tricks as this, this
mean, dishonorable entanglement of the queen of Scots. He and Walsingham, Arundell
saw clearly now almost for the first time, were driven by the same desperate,
petty apprehensions that moved other men.
certain quiet sadness had replaced his earlier exhilaration. That was inevitable,
he thought. He felt as if he had stepped outside of all of the struggles and anxieties
of the time, and from without they seemed nothing more than tragic games: games
because played by rules the players themselves never fully understood, and because
ultimately they all tended nowhere, accomplished nothing; tragic because men wasted
their best years and sometimes their whole lives in learning that truth. It was
like watching the feverish busyness of bees about the hive, and wondering how
the pretty fellows conceived their own importance. He wished foolishly that he
might sit down quietly with Leicester and Mendoza and the duke of Guise and all
of them, and explain to them that everything was all right, not to worry, not
to fear anymore and merely to remain calm, accept what could not be altered. On
all accounts, not to strive so mightily only to do one another harm.
enormous fatigue crept slowly over him. He had not slept in twenty-four hours;
for that matter, hed not slept well in twenty-four years. The time had come
to take a sleep he had well earned.
stretched his long frame out upon the bed. The lines of Virgils shepherd
drifted before him:
twilight deepens. You have done well. Home then; home."
back began almost to glow, in a manner, as the muscles loosened in recline. Within
moments he was sleeping peacefully.
time later, Arundell was awakened by a rapping at the door. Gradually he shook
himself out of slumber. The knock came again. He called out an inquiry but could
not distinguish the reply.
knock came again.
he rolled from his bed and drew his rapier out of the hangers thrown across the
cabinet. The knock came again. With the blade held ready in his right hand, he
drew the bolt with his left and cracked open the door. Madame Lacour stood on
the stairs, staring up at him with the accustomed boredom painted across her thick
features. She asked whether the gentlemen wished to have their dinner. Abruptly
Arundell realized that he was voraciously hungry; he told her that he did wish
dinner, but that he was alone. The woman nodded dully and waddled away.
fire in the hearth had burned down, but the room held a pleasant warmth from the
mornings blaze. The carter who dwelt below was accustomed to superheating
his own rooms in terror of the ague, and this very often was sufficient to warm
Charles without the expense of a fire of his own. Even the water retained a little
warmth from his labors at washing his wounds earlier in the day, and he employed
it to have a thorough washover now. After a time the woman returned with a covered
iron pan containing his dinner. After unbolting his door and admitting her, he
thanked her as she set it loudly upon the table, staring at him with a kind of
insolent disinterest as he found a coin in his belt to bestow upon her. She took
it without comment and stared at him for a moment more. Then she shrugged and
shuffled out of the room.
rose and relocked the door before tucking into his meal. As he ate, he spread
out a half sheet of paper and began considering the wording of his note to Stafford.
He had promised the ambassador confidently that he should recover the documents,
but had hardly felt at that time half the confidence hed displayed; accordingly,
it gave him a fine pleasure to be able to report his success. Several men had
paid for it with their lives, and he himself had nearly ended catastrophically,
but he had accomplished his mission. How fortunate that the papers had been there,
unhidden, in the second place he had thought to look. One almost suspected that
providence had directed him. He had half expected to have eventually to spend
the rest of his life chasing down all of the people who would have given almost
anything, if they had known about the papers, to have them in their hands; and
for all that he could guess, they may all have known about them. Certainly someone
else had been searching for them, for hed run into that trio of bumblers
in Giffords chambers.
he pushed his empty pan away from him, he considered who it might have been that
had sent those three to Giffords. Two of them had seemed familiar to him,
but, in the darkness, only vaguely. Unless his memory served him better, there
was no way to tell who they might have been. More than likely they came either
from Morgans friends or from the English government, but even that much
was not certain. Gifford was the sort of man who, sitting upon such a bundle,
could scarcely have kept himself from telling it in most of the places that he
came. Probably all of his drinking companions had heard about it many times. Whether
to compromise the English government or to save it, or to sell the papers to the
best bidder, a large number of men would have given much to have them. It was
a wonder that Gifford was still alive.
took up the paper and ink and wrote out a salutation to Sir Edward.
sharp pain twisted through Arundells abdomen, and when it ceased he sat
stunned for several seconds, and then it returned, doubling him over at the table.
His chest became constricted and he could breathe only by the greatest effort.
Then after about four seconds the pain lessened. In no more interval than that,
it came again; he fell from the chair to one knee and grasped the table to hold
himself upright. Slowly he began to realize the danger he was in.
the next attack passed, he stepped to the hearth and used his dagger to shave
tallow from the candle into the washwater, with hacking blows. His hands would
not obey him. The candle slipped away and splashed into the basin. He tried to
lift the basin but his shoulders were growing numb and incapable of effort. He
threw his face down and began gulping the warm, dirty water, swallowing it convulsively
with bits of tallow and a film of grease across it. For a few seconds he had to
pause as another spasm gripped him, and then he tried to drink some more. Still
he did not retch. One of his knees buckled, but he caught himself, then found
that he was away from the basin, weaving near the middle of the room. The room
swam before his eyes, the walls and furniture grew bigger and smaller and longer
and rounder than they should have been. It seemed to be growing darker. He found
himself lying on his back on the floor with his head propped up at a sharp angle
by something behind it.
incursions of sharp pain now seemed mercifully less intense than they had been.
His brain was fogging over, and his limbs had become powerless; he was trying
to lift an arm and roll over but the effort ended only in a grotesque twitch.
Now slowly, now rapidly, the room seemed to rotate about him; the walls seemed
to rush towards him, then to rush away.
heard an enormous roar. Across the chamber, as it seemed some twenty or thirty
meters away, the door had been splintered into pieces and the frame of it thrown
back. One man and then another crept slowly into the room, both crouching and
padding in a horrible parody of stealth. In their hands they carried pistols that
seemed as long as a mans arm. Then they were gone. He saw a meadow sloping
downward, with something at the bottom of it. It was a blue river at the bottom
of the meadow. He jerked up violently. It was Walklates face, my Lord Pagets
servant. The man held Arundell up by his shirt, staring closely at him. With absurd
slowness Walklate began to smile in a kind of elongated rictus. Then he let Arundell
drop back to the floor.
was talking animatedly with Tom Paget, Walklate standing just behind his master.
They were jesting; it was very funny; my Lord Paget was laughing merrily. Behind
Lord Thomas rose the great topless bulk of St. Pauls Cathedral. They were
standing near the bookstalls in the churchyard, his back towards Fleet Street
and Westminster, and he leaned a little forward to see Walklate more clearly.
He was an ugly man with features made for sneering. Paget had disappeared. Arundell
looked for him again and became aware of him standing behind his servant, engaged
in something with his hands. Then the fellow turned; Arundell blinked his eyes
and looked again. It was not Lord Paget there, it was the man with the milk-white
eye. Sledd, the nemesis, the man with the nacreous orb. Arundell was shaking his
head and sobbing. Walklate lifted the table aloft and smashed it on the floor.
It was night-time, and the black Thames swept by under the bridge. Lord Harry
was saying that he wished to be put ashore, for he preferred to walk round the
end of the bridge; he had, he said, a horrible terror of shooting the bridge at
night. Sledd was crouching in the hearth. He had thrown the irons out onto the
floor and he was kneeling in the ashes digging at the bricks with his dagger.
There was another crash from the other side. It sounded like musketry; he could
see the parapet of Newhaven, Le Havre, and from it a body of horsemen riding beneath
the walls waving their lances. In the compound, the plague-stricken soldiers were
dying in rows laid out upon the ground. Leicesters brother, the earl of
Warwick, was standing near him observing the riders below, a deep sorrow in his
eyes. But that was many years gone now. Twenty-four, twenty-five years ago. Someone
overturned the bed and his head banged on the floor. Clothing was being thrown
about the room. Night was coming on. Now it was dawn again. Sledd was still there;
he had torn off the sides of the cabinet and was scrutinizing the inside of its
frame. Walklate loomed above on his left and upset the wash basin, and the tepid
water splashed across his legs. He felt the cool waters of the Loire rising above
his knees. Sweat glistened on his white chest as he waded deeper into the stream,
and then the water became warm and the air cold, and to prevent the chill he ducked
beneath the surface.
reopened his eyes, the room was dark. A pale light came from the rectangle of
the window, but it was not enough to illuminate anything in the room. He couldnt
move. At first, as he strained his ears to listen, he could hear nothing at all,
but then he became aware of a sweet boys voice singing afar off, across
a vast distance of time, the same words over and over. As a child he had known
them, and had sung them. Then he could recognize the choirboys words. He
was singing "Et ecce, nunc in pulvere dormio"
in a plaintive chant. Et ecce, nunc in pulvere dormio. And behold, now
I sleep in the dust. He found that humorous. Then he ceased giggling, because
he could see a rebels ancient head impaled upon a pike on the top of the
bridge. He began sobbing weakly. At last, he closed his eyes and went back to
laboured to get all and assured me upon Friday that I should have them the next
day or it should cost him his life." Ambassador Stafford to Secretary Walsingham,
15/25 December 1587. More detail here.
arrived in the passage du Bonheur at about noon on Sunday, the 20th of December.
The streets were filled with churchgoers returning to their homes. In the stables
he found only one of his masters horses, but hoped nevertheless that he
would find Sir Charles at home.
he mounted the stairs he was surprised to find the door of their chamber open.
He jogged up and looked in. The room had been torn apart; its contents lay in
disarray from wall to window. As he ran in, he noticed the frame of the door hanging
from its hinges. The cabinets and table had been smashed, and a good deal of the
plasterwork had been dug out of the walls.
called out for his master. No answer came back to him. Then he saw him on the
floor near the alcove. The mattress, sliced into ribbons across the top and with
the straw hanging out in handfuls, lay across Arundells legs; near his mouth,
on the floorboards, lay a little pool of thin vomit mixed with blood. Clutched
in Arundells hand was a half sheet of paper, upon which was written "Blithe
His master was
still breathing, almost imperceptibly. Sharrock tried to rouse him, without success;
the man lay, in every respect but his shallow respiration, like a corpse. Jamie
could think of nothing he should do next. His only clear thought was that his
master deserved better than to lie in a mess of straw and vomit. He turned and
ran down to the floor below and set up a banging on the chamber door. In a few
seconds the carter thrust his head out, and Sharrock dragged the man back upstairs.
Together they hoisted Arundell up and carried him down to the carters bedroom,
the mans wife and tribe of children staring on agape.
once, the carters wife began bathing the stricken mans head with damp
cloths, as Sharrock pulled off his boots and fidgeted about the room. The carter
had run off to summon the physician. There was no change in Arundells condition;
he lay still, as if in training for the grave, breathing evenly but very faintly.
half an hour the physician arrived. He stared and poked and palpated the patient
for some little while, and then declared that it was a case either of a virulent
poison or of some unknown plague. At the mention of that latter word, the carter
and his wife bade Sharrock use their chambers for as long as necessary, the longer
the better, and packed off with their children to their kinsmens house in
prepared a concoction of some sort and tried with Sharrocks help to pour
it between Arundells lips. They got very little of it in, but somehow aroused
the patient, for without awakening Arundell shrieked and twisted over on the bed,
as if his guts were being gnawed by eagles. After a few moments of that, however,
he fell back and lay still again.
the day, the physician periodically applied his potions with no effect. He was
a very old man and seemed very much perplexed, and Sharrock began to feel that
a better doctor must be found at once. Still there had been no change in Arundells
condition; except for several more attacks of an evidently terrible pain, he lay
perfectly inert. Late in the evening, roundabout midnight, Jamie could stand no
more of it. Awakening the physician to take over his vigil, he ran down and saddled
his horse and clattered out through the freezing air for the other side of the
At Sir Edward Staffords
house, he leapt from his horse and beat upon the front doors until one of the
boys came down to let him in. A few moments later, Stafford and Lady Douglass
hurried down in nightdress to hear his news. The ambassador swore violently at
the mischance. Pacing hard upon the floor, while Lady Stafford merely wrung her
hands, Sir Edward complained that he could not go himself, for it would compromise
him if he were even to be seen in that quarter of the city. But he bustled on
his clothing and came out to bring Sharrock down the street to his own physician,
a young Englishman who had spent some years studying to good effect in Germany.
As the doctor prepared his horse, Sir Edward pressed a purse into Jamies
hand and promised to have a whole squadron of physicians ready by the mornings
And so he did. By late
the following afternoon, some four or five physicians had come round to consult
about the case; all of them but Staffords man had then departed, having
delivered the opinion that the patient was completely without remedy. Arundells
condition had not altered, except in two ways. His breathing had weakened further,
and he had several times risen to a sort of distracted consciousness. At those
times he was mainly delirious, but once or twice he seemed to lay in a wan awareness
of what was going on about him. Though he made no sound or sign of recognition,
his eyes, for those brief intervals, were capable of following the faces that
pressed close above him.
doctor knew of no means to bring him out of his present torpor, but he insisted
that they must preserve enough strength in him to keep him alive until he should
come out of it on his own hook. Accordingly, upon the hour, they raised his head
and forced between his lips a warm meat broth, which usually he kept down. The
attacks of sharp pain continued to occur at irregular intervals, but otherwise
Arundell did not seem to be in any obvious discomfort.
Wednesday Arundell still hung on. Stafford gave up his diplomatic scruples and
appeared at about noon, with the Lady Douglass rushing in before him. That woman,
famed in several nations for her hard imperiousness, revealed a vein of tenderness
that none but her husbands had had the pleasure of seeing before, and for the
time she remained, she took over the task of feeding him the broth.
in the afternoon, Stafford was sitting by the bedhead lost in some reverie, when
all at once Arundell opened his eyes. They observed at once that he was awake
and seemingly lucid. When he noticed Stafford, he smiled weakly and whispered,
"Blithe Sir Ned." Herr Oberholtzer was in the room at the time, and
he returned to Mendoza with the news that the stricken man was improving. Mayneville
was there as well, but he just frowned.
is even now dead". Stafford to Walsingham, 15/25 December 1587. A
bit more detail.
Thursday Arundell began to sing. Only Sharrock and the old physician were in the
room. His eyes remained closed, but evidently he was thinking clearly wherever
his mind was, for the words came out, almost inaudibly, yet perfectly distinctly.
In unmelodious whispers, with long pauses after each line, he was singing a verse
from one of Thomas Wyatts lyrics. Wyatt had always been his favorite poet.
cease, my lute. This is the last," he sang. "Labor that thou and I shall
is that which we begun." His breathing made no sound, but he wore a faint
"Now is this song
both sung and past," he murmured.
lay peacefully for a long moment.
lute, be still, for I have done."
Friday morning, Christmas day, the bells of the city kept up a continuous ringing.
The citizens ran up and down the streets in every quarter of the city, singing
hymns to both of their saviors, the victorious duke of Guise and the newborn Christ
child, who by his birth had brought hope and joy into the world. Pavior danced
with barmaid, carter danced with merchant. The Swiss guards at the palaces looked
on with wide smiles. From their harried lives, the burghers and the laborers and
the soldiers gave themselves up to happiness and danced with their beaming children
in the broad avenues.
sun-drenched valley of the Loire, under a light patina of new snow, lay the black
ruin of Simiers house where the baron von Dohna had left it in his march
down-country. No one was about but some villagers in celebration over the next
In a borrowed bedroom
in the passage du Bonheur, Sir Charles Arundell passed away, his features set
in some repose.
shall my enemies sink with shame, and
I depart out of the field with honor;
whatsoever either malice hath unjustly built,
or a fool devised upon
a false ground, must
play Castle-Come-Down, and dissolve to nothing."
back to the Preface and Table of Contents|
ahead to the brief epilogue|
do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes. Historical references
for events recreated in this story can be found in D. C. Peck, Leicester's
Commonwealth: The Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge (1584)
and Related Documents (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985). Feedback and
suggestions are welcome, .
Written 1973-1989, posted on this site 20 June 2001.