ccd-logo1.jpg (12597 bytes)Dwight Peck's lengthy tales


faith and doubt in the time of Queen Elizabeth I

Part 2. THE CONTINENT (1583-1587)



"I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die."
-- Robert Southwell, S.J.

The ground ahead was only just visible, a flat expanse of two furlongs almost treeless, with a few dark rises and a shadowed trench running obliquely away to the right. The air was neither cold nor warm; there lay upon the earth a green-black patina of mud. He was crouched over in a shallow ditch, his joints aching from long continuance in the same position. Some sort of heavy helm or morion had slipped awkwardly over his eyes so that he could scarcely peek from beneath it. In his hands he grasped a javelin and a sword, both like his hands fouled with moist earth that clung in clumps and gritted beneath his palms.

He heard no sound save his own breathing. The first rays of the new sun were reaching into the sky before him, thrusting distinct lances of light through layers of ground mist which rose very slowly from the field. The mist had begun everywhere almost to glow. The number of rays increased until the entire eastern aspect began to shine, then the sun itself broke silently above the horizon behind the skeleton of a tree. He saw in the new light an earthen sconce directly before him, a low, flat mound still in shadow, surmounted by a drooping flag whose emblem he could not see.

From beside him in the ditch he heard a smart rattling and the hushed clang of armor. Forms stepped up out of the shadow and gleamed sharply in the sun. He felt a general rush over the low ditchwall and found himself being carried with it, lumbering heavily and unwillingly towards the sun’s painful glare above the sconce. Still the only sound was a subdued, rhythmical jangling of plate and weaponry. A whole line of corseletes had taken up running over the ground, splashing through depressions in which mud sucked at their boots and threatened to throw them down. The brilliant rim of the sun seemed to draw him onward.

He soon found himself short of breath. The pace was slow, but he could scarcely keep his balance in the slippery spots, so quickly had his legs weakened from the effort of running. About him, however, the line was moving more rapidly. The orange sphere had risen higher; the writhing mists about their feet seemed already to be thinning. To his right, a man grunted as he stumbled upon a stone or hole in the earth; it was Lord Harry Howard, clad cap-à-pie in the same ungraceful trappings, breathing stertorously through half-opened mouth. The shadowy sconce began to assume some definition: two triangular ravelins protruded from its front, their angles pointed straight into the advancing force, and along the tops of the ravelins and along the top of the sconce one could make out dark heads and the glint of weaponry catching the light behind.

All in a burst of noise upon the rustle of the rush came a volley of gunfire, a single vast explosion all along the sconce that degenerated into a ragged series of late reports. White and black smoke commingled in a long, flat cloud rising slowly into the sun’s light. Cries of pain and dismay rang out sharply along the charging line, followed by an ascending chorus of shouts. Some few began yelling out the cry of "Esperance!" but most emitted rather groans as loud as shouts. He himself was making the same unholy noise, a bestial cry compounded of despair, bewilderment, and the mere necessity of making a frightened and frightening sound. Another fusillade broke out from the sconce, more smoke, and the hellish cry rose still louder, the pace of running increased still more. His legs encased in heavy cuisses dragged beneath him in a terrible kind of double-shuffle through the mist.

After the second volley the shooting broke down into a steady, irregular fire ad libitum, as the defenders began the ghastly dance of the firing line, each man stepping up to the bank to discharge his piece, then retreating hastily to set about reloading, making room for another in his place. From the field all that could be seen were the tiny billows of smoke bursting out horizontally and drifting slowly upward to join the heavy cloud already dimming the new sun, or rather than dimming it, throwing its sphere into relief and turning its rays to a sickly sheen over the whole ground. A staccato rhythm of small shot was set up to beat upon the advancing line.

The man to his left cried out and fell. He looked down and saw the face of Cuthbert Mayne, the quondam priest, in a new repose. Just beyond him Mr. Tregian grasped his middle and fell, with a sadly sympathetic smile upon his lips. Running as fast as he could, he was barely able to stay up with the line. With a shock he noticed the earl of Southampton, dressed in the plate and leather of the common conscript out of Norwich or Valencia, sprawling head downward into the mud to lie with arms outstretched. Francis Southwell, who’d come up to fill the place on his left, fell also, with a murmur, and with a squashing thud.

The rolling cloud of smoke grew denser still. The same continuous firing kept up from the sconce, and the line was growing thinner, the field over which it had advanced now strewn with dead and sobbing wounded. He reached the obliquely running ditch, a shallow, empty watercourse, and leapt across it, wishing rather he had the courage to lie down in it and cover his head with his arms. Lord Harry went down, fallen to his knees, toppling slowly over with his eyes closed. Before him a slight man was struggling beneath the weight of his accoutrements; overcome by exhaustion, he let fall his weapons and came to a stop. Within a second he had been struck by a ball and tumbled backwards. Francis Throgmorton could be seen plashing through the mire, but he seemed to lose his footing and fall, shot through.

The line was thoroughly thinned down. The earls of Arundel and Northumberland, the latter ridiculous in his colorful panache surmounting his steel cap, both fell abruptly and lay still on either side of him. He was nearly incapable of breathing, but seemed to be running on muscle fiber only, though his stride had shortened even further to what seemed a hideous waddle. Mr. Shelley, further down the line, spun sharply and fell without a sound. The ravelins seemed close, still spewing orange darts of flame and furious billows of dirty smoke in a pandemoniac din. He was running almost alone, directly into the rattling guns. About him there were but one or two clusters of charging men, no longer yelling, with a few more groups further along what had once been the brave line. He kept pumping his legs with all the strength he had remaining, but his arms had grown useless and beat idly against his breastplate; the javelin had slipped from his grasp, the sword still waved in the air by his shoulder.

Lord Paget drew up short, turned to look sadly at him, then dropped over. His eyes swept crazily over the sconce and caught again the enemy’s flag upon its staff, but as it hung straight down amid the smoke it was impossible to tell what emblem was borne upon it. He struck a wet place and lost his footing; a hand prevented his falling and helped him regain his small momentum, but then its owner, Thomas Throgmorton, spun away and lay immobile in a pool of water. Fitzherbert, too, fell with a thud as they approached within twenty meters of the arquebusiers of the other side, and so too fell the others remaining in his party.

He came to a halt. The musket fire had diminished not one whit; the din was outrageous, the smoke rolled thickly out from the defenseworks. Dimly through it he could see the movements of the enemy, stepping up to fire, stepping back to make room, regular as a diabolical clockworks. He stood all alone. Overhead, God in his providential care of the right watched grimly. He turned back to stare into the guns. A thousand flaming orange knives stabbed out at him, the filthy, acrid smoke boiled round him. His armor was gone and he stood now in his open doublet and stained hose, waiting to be torn up by a shower of shot.

But his luck held a little longer, and he awoke.

The Channel sea pounded hard upon the strand, a great roar with each wave as it broke over the rocks and sandy shingle below, followed by a receding line of lesser crashes northeastward along the coast. The booming and rebooming sea seemed almost like the din of modern battle. From the sky above the sea a flood of pale, new light poured into his chamber.

Arundell lay still.

The room in which he woke was the pattern of comfortable grace. His bed, where now he lay lowering over his dream, was a massive envelope of soft down, enclosed with a quadrate curtain of plissé. The writing desk and a set of chairs, delicately carved of a fine dark wood, stood beneath a pair of windows a bit larger than was custom. Even the chamberpot was of china, ringed with detailed depictions of the lives of saints. The walls were hung with elegant religious works and with portraits of various ancestors of the family of Guise, most of them in the habiliments of bishops and cardinals, hard bold faces wreathed symbolically with the True Vine or with cryptic mottoes and homiletic cautions, signed with dates reaching back nearly a century. In the cold fireplace sat an iron trivet cast in the form of three fishes.

The dream continued to disquiet him. He was impatient with the oneiromantic fancies of the peasants, which he considered to be like so much else of their lore, attempts to find small comfort where otherwise there would be none. But this dream was redolent of prophecy. So many of his friends fallen from him in a headlong rush through time, himself almost alone, his last friends perhaps falling from him soon, until he stood alone, defenseless, indeed.

It was equally redolent of ordinary fear, unworthy of him.

No good allowing dreams to rule his waking hours, too. He shook his head and clambered briskly out of bed, and threw a rug across his shoulders. The air in the château was freezing, and the brick floor set his legs to trembling. Through a service door he stepped into the adjoining room and woke Sharrock. Jamie arose and came in to blow up Arundell’s fire in the grate; he returned a moment later with his own clothing and dressed before the new blaze, then ran down to alert the house.

Arundell brought the warmed water from the trivet and set about shaving before a steel glass. His toilet knife was duller than prudence would have had it, and he nearly slit his throat with a trembling hand. He wrapped a linen scarf about the tiny wound before donning his ruff, which would conceal the mishap well. His hose and breeches he set across the fender and waited in his shirt beneath the covers till they warmed.

The day, though cold, was coming up clear, but with snow clouds in the offing. The gray Channel showed choppy and restless even from a distance, for there came over it a stiff northerly breeze. When he descended to breakfast, he found that Gilbert Gifford had preceded him and was already engaged upon his meal. The priest wore a rich gentleman’s dress and was bundled up with additional padding beneath his doublet and, apparently, two pair of breeches one within another, so that with his natural heaviness he looked comical. This was the day when he was to go upon the sea, and he had dressed for the journey.

Gifford was travelling into England. With letters from Morgan and Paget, he’d been entrusted with the task of reaching the queen of Scots and discovering a new method of communicating with her. The challenge seemed insuperable, and Arundell thought it a fool’s errand. She dwelt now at Tutbury near Derby under the careful eye of Sir Amias Paulet, a thorough Puritan who left nothing at all to chance.

The old channels of many years’ efficiency, devised and followed in the fifteen years of Queen Mary’s wardship under the kindly earl of Shrewsbury, were no longer workable. Her servants were forbidden all contact with the servants of the house, so no packets could pass that way. When she rode for exercise, no longer was she permitted to greet her well-wishers among the common people as she passed; the young gentlemen who joined those jostling throngs in order to thrust missives into her maidens’ hands had now no opportunity to approach. Her palfrey, with the queen sidesaddle upon it, was directed instead over open countryside, away from the villages, surrounded by eight or ten horsemen armed with dags.

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Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-1587

The problem that presented itself, for anyone who tried to reach her, was focused upon the queen’s own domicile. Bringing her correspondence to and from the continent was easy; it could always be smuggled over by priests or gentlemen or sympathetic merchants, but even these shifts were unnecessary, because as Mauvissière, the former French ambassador, had done, so now Châteauneuf, these three months the new ambassador, would continue to permit the use of his diplomatic pouches for the purpose. Transferring her mail from the French embassy to the neighborhood of Queen Mary’s house in the country was not much more difficult, but that was the end. Only once in the year since she had been removed to Tutbury in January 1585, a bearer had found the means to reach her secretly. Otherwise, in all that time, the only method had been for the French ambassador to turn her packets over to Walsingham or Phelippes, who would open and read them before having them handed in to the captive queen. This method was not useful.

There had been that one time, in August, when Robert Poley had found a means of reaching her, and no one in the queen’s party quite understood how he had accomplished it; partly for that very reason, the queen had refused to trust him. Despite Morgan’s letter introducing him, she thought Poley’s attachment to the earl of Leicester in former years and to Walsingham’s household now sufficient to disqualify him, and she had left for him a polite reply and refusal of his services. And so for a full year there had been no secret correspondence with her. Now, in December 1585, of all the discussions, hopes, schemes, invasions planned in her behalf, by romantic partisans, by sober ministers of foreign states, she knew nothing but her own imaginings, nothing but the conjectures or confections of her secretaries, Curle and Nau. The squabblings among her partisans, the accusations of some by others and back again of treachery or unreliability, she had been spared; the uses of her money she remained ignorant of, which Mr. Morgan and Mr. Paget carried on with, in her name, bravely. When Châteauneuf had arrived in London, he’d inherited a carpetbag full of letters, and had still found no way of sending them to her.

Unless some man she would trust could find a way of piercing Walsingham’s blockade about Tutbury, she would remain isolated utterly, unable to warn her friends of the increasing severity of her imprisonment, incapable of being warned of threats to her safety or of new attempts to free her. Her own great fear was that thus cut off and at the mercy of Leicester’s favorers, she might be made away secretly, with neither the English queen’s nor any other prince’s knowledge. Regularly she wrote to Queen Elizabeth begging some relief, but her letters, delivered to her keeper and transmitted by him to Walsingham, seemed never to come to Elizabeth’s eyes.

Gifford had no scheme for remedy, but he did have Morgan’s introduction, and through the social standing and long suffering of his family he had the most Catholic of credentials. If he could once contrive to reach her, doubtless she would trust him. Disguised as a brave gentleman, he was to enter the realm and make his way to Staffordshire, and then to try his best wit and ingenuity. He had joined a party travelling north from Paris. Throgmorton had gone to Geneva to meet Lord Paget, Charles Paget remained in Paris near Mr. Morgan still in the Bastille, but several other Englishmen journeyed with him. Fitzherbert and Berden had stopped in Rouen on business there, but Arundell had brought Gifford onward through the duke of Guise’s territory, as a sort of living passport, to Eu, where they slept overlooking the sea in the duke’s house. There for almost a week they had awaited the day when the ship should meet Gifford in Dieppe, which was today, the very day upon which Arundell’s own business should come to him in this same house.

When Arundell, musing upon his dream, came down to the warm kitchens, Gifford tried making cheerful conversation. Nothing about the man seemed quite right to Charles, nor did he sound really cheerful now; it was a forced, perhaps a sycophantic heartiness. Arundell replied politely, distantly. As always he avoided discussing anything of consequence with the man. The truth was that he had taken a strong dislike to the coarse priest even upon first meeting him, and so had Fitzherbert and Berden, but all three had done their best to hide that from him. The man was after all undertaking a dangerous mission in their lady’s behalf; it would not do to show ingratitude or meanness. And in any case Arundell feared he disliked the man for unworthy reasons, for his physical vulgarity, rather than for any true cause.

After the meal, Arundell and Gifford, Sharrock and one of the duke’s household men, bundled into greatcoats and set out for Dieppe harbor. Snow had begun falling and had accumulated to an inch or more, respecting which, the duke’s man led them away from the cliffside path, which had grown treacherous, and towards the more circuitous highway. Well before the noon hour they arrived at the port. Arundell rode past the royal dockmaster’s house and straight on to the duke’s officer, who dwelt above a tavern on the wharves. Since the outbreak of the new French wars, there were royal garrisons in all of these northern harbors, but they were small companies, merely symbolic of the crown’s alliance with the Holy League, and since they were here only upon the duke of Guise’s sufferance, the merchants and travellers merely passed them by and spoke directly to the duke’s own men.

They found the officer in the wineshop below his chambers. Glancing over Arundell’s warrant from the duke, the master rose and guided them into the snow to the proper ship, sailed by a man named Nicholas de Hew from Calais, where Gifford made his final arrangements, thanked Arundell for his aid and begged him to pray for his success, then went below to await the captain’s getting under way. Light snow hissing as it fell upon the water made the journey seem exceedingly forbidding.

Arundell and Sharrock returned to the dockside taverns and began making inquiries for the men he was to meet there. One of them, Captain Gay, they found immediately. He was a big, intelligent looking man, apparently a Scotsman though he used his flawless French to turn aside any inquiries about his origins. The captain’s colleague, however, had not yet appeared, and the three men, when they had searched all of the waterfront inns, stopped in the best of them to dine. About midafternoon Captain Francisco found them out.

Francisco wore the expensive dress of a seagoing caballero; perhaps he was a Spanish younger son whose father had fitted him with a small command in King Philip’s naval forces. That would have been some time ago, for he looked some thirty-five or more years old and he had long since forsaken the Mediterranean galley fleets and now spent his time in the North Atlantic and among the Channel islands, independent of any regular commanders but as often as not serving the duke of Guise. His small bark was nominally a merchant carrier, but she had a warship’s lines and armament, and Francisco took more voyages in escort of other merchants or preying upon them than he ever did with cargoes of his own. The same was true of Captain Gay. There had been a time when both men could freely roam through all the northern seas, but since Admiral Winter’s patrols of the English and Irish waters and since the Sea Beggars had come to dominate all the Dutch coastline, they sailed seldom above the Gulf of St. Malo or the Channel islands, and indeed cruised mostly in the Bay of Biscay preying upon Huguenot shipping from La Rochelle.

They had come up the Channel now, however, to confer with Arundell at the duke’s appointment. While their seamen stood watch on their ships or took leave in the quayside havens, the two captains borrowed horses from the duke’s officer and joined Arundell in returning to Eu. A few armed sailors accompanied each of them.

When they had regained the duke’s chateau, the snow was falling more densely and dusk had come on prematurely. The servants of the house had lit lamps in the corner tower. Within, unexpectedly, Arundell found Berden and Fitzherbert awaiting him, and by the time the introductions had been made, the duke’s people had spread an ample dinner on the board.

Berden and Fitzherbert were in a particularly jocund mood. They made an amusing pair, the former small and slight and softspoken, the latter as far above the average height as Berden was below it, his head as dark as Berden’s was fair. They seemed already in four months’ time to have developed great affection for each other, and indeed seemed two as honest and gentle men as one might meet. Likewise, the sea captains proved to be amiable companions, and altogether the evening, with the aid of the duke’s good wines, passed enjoyably.

On the following day, Arundell and the seamen drew apart into the duke’s study and fell to discussion. The matter was a toy of the duke’s, which Arundell was obliged to pretend he took seriously, though it was just the sort of thing which if taken seriously might prove very dangerous. When the hostilities in France had broken out afresh, the duke of Guise had naturally turned his resources to defeating the Huguenot armies. As a consequence, his frequent plans for the conquest of England and the liberation of the queen of Scots had been thrust to one side, temporarily as he declared; for as the duke told Arundell and others in confidence, he fully expected from these wars not only to expunge the Protestants from the realm but also to emerge with the king himself firmly under his own "guidance." At that time, with Spain and a renewed France united in Catholic zeal, the reduction of England to the ancient faith should be but child’s play, and he intended to accomplish the task himself.

Many interested persons, however, like the English Jesuits and their favorers, had finally given up their hope of the duke’s support in arms, for they believed that, as he never had been, so he never would be free of such distractions. Consequently, they were fixing their dreams and their diplomacy upon the king of Spain, because though he had his own distractions in the Netherlands he might yet be got to see the invasion of England as a part of a larger strategy ultimately the most advantageous to himself as well as to God. England, after all, was now well into the Dutch wars. While the prince of Parma awaited the new season in his winter quarters in Brussels, English money and men had been crossing to the northern States; the earl of Leicester had been invested with the command of an expeditionary force that was expected to come over almost any day. King Philip ought in reason to be persuaded that the only way to stop this flow of reinforcements to his rebels, as well as finally to end the depredations of the English seadogs in his American colonies, would be to launch a great armada against England herself.

But the duke of Guise was not to be omitted from the English business. Whether from a sense of obligation to his favorers or merely to keep his thumb in the English pie, he was making a new proposal. If he could not now make an invasion, for which he had already obtained the papal sanction, he meant instead a less ambitious operation. This scheme he had charged Arundell to fulfill, deeming it quite rightly a great honor for the Englishman, and he had had Arundell broach the matter to both the nuncio and the Spanish ambassador. This Arundell had done, and Mendoza especially had approved the plan enthusiastically and offered to make some pecuniary contribution to its success. M. Simier had been suggested as a lieutenant.

The plan of course was a mad one, the creature of a fevered brain. Arundell, though he carried on in negotiating it, prayed the while that it would like most other such schemes die aborning. The duke called it his "roving enterprise": Arundell was to take however many ships he could get together, with some six or seven hundred men, sail from St. Malo around Land’s End and up the Bristol Channel to land in Somersetshire. There he would march at double speed into the country rounding up as many of the gentlemen of wealth and worship dwelling in those parts as his men could lay their hands upon. Then, having destroyed whatever fortifications or large structures he could easily take, he was to regain his ships and set to sea, returning directly to France where the gentlemen would be held until their ransoms had been arranged.

Arundell had always dreamed of one day going home--this perversely mocked his dream. He had permitted himself to dally with the image of himself at the head of an invading army; the common people flocking to him as their champion and liberator as he rode up Fleet Street; the home militia coming over to his standard with never a shot fired, the earl of Leicester and a handful of his base companions caught in flight in the midlands and hauled before him, as he sat near the grateful queen at Greenwich, for summary judgment. But his sober mind better knew how unlikely it was that he or anyone might conquer nations with no blood shed, with no cruelty of troops upon populace, victorious upon defeated. It was only his daydream, his Knight of the Lion or Amadis of Gaul, which amused him harmlessly. With the duke’s new emprise, he seemed required to take this boyish chivalric task in hand in earnest, rampaging through England like Godfrey de Bouillon among the Paynims, despite its perfectly obvious foolishness to any man of sense. The only thing more foolish than actually leading such an expedition would be to tell the duke of Guise that the scheme was foolish. Zealots have a logic of their own.

So Arundell dealt soberly with Gay and Francisco about the sums needed to retain their crews, to outfit such other ships as might be required, to provide the marines the ships should have to carry. The seamen disagreed about the best time for sailing: Gay recommended midsummer, when the harvests were coming in and most of the English army had shipped across to the Netherlands; Francisco preferred the first turning of the weather, in order well to precede the Spanish fleet rumored to be in preparation against England. But they agreed in urging a revision of the duke’s intention to send Arundell on to the coast of Brittany with them. They would canvass the possibilities for recruiting ships and men, while Arundell, they insisted, must return to Paris and argue for more funds, especially for their own retainers. Later he could join them in Brest, when once he had the money. These were intelligent men.

Arundell himself, in petto, thanked God and the stars for the delay. Self-serious negotiating over freely flowing wine in the duke’s warm house was almost fun, but hiring ships for a flying piratical raid was something altogether different. There was many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the Bristol Channel.

After luncheon, Francisco and Gay and their escort departed for their ships, and the others bundled warmly up and took a walk along the cliffs. Below, across the steel-gray sea, there was not a sail anywhere in sight, nor along the beach was there any human traveller. The harshness of the weather, bitterly cold and snowy to their boottops, and the vacancy of the seascape combined to bring in an agreeable sense of isolation, with corollary feelings of human insignificance and the terrible indifference of this great world to man. They discussed these themes animatedly and imperfectly quoted from the ancient authors, while Mr. Berden maintained that the gray ocean was but a mask which all-seeing God wore to hide his kindly smile, as a pleasant hour passed. Then they stuffed snow down one another’s backs and hastened back to the fireside.

In the evening, they drank too much wine and reminisced about winters in England.

On the following day, they tipped the duke’s steward with the duke’s money and set out for Paris.

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Captain de Hew’s little ship came up the Rye Bay about two hours before dawn. Passing Camber on the right, the traffic from Winchelsea plainly visible on the other side, she entered the river and made under small sail up into the harbor pool. There were only a scattering of other craft upon the water. The Frenchman loosed his anchors and ordered the boats to be dropped over the board.

Gilbert Gifford and several other passengers were rowed in with the first boat ashore. He alighted on the quays amid the offloading of other cargoes and the cries of merchants’ factors about their business. As he had no more luggage than he could carry, he tarried no longer there, but took up his bags and strolled slowly up the docks. The queen’s officer met all the newly arrived as they reached the end of the street. Gifford gave his name ("Nicholas Cornellys") and identified himself as a gentleman soldier returning from the Netherlands to attend to business before going to rejoin his company. His papers confirmed that story.

When he had safely passed the searcher, he left his companions and began walking away into the town of Rye. He passed down a row of busy shops, almost beyond the sight of the docks, and paused to purchase a pastry from a hawker. Two men stepped up on either side of him and addressed him in low tones. Gifford seemed taken aback and could be seen answering excitedly. They laid hands upon his arms. He shook them off and made to move away; a third man stepped from the doorway of a chandler’s shop and blocked his path. He stared about him in evident frustration. Then all four men walked into a passage between the buildings, where four horses awaited them ready-saddled. They mounted and edged their way into the center of the street, then set off at a brisk pace along the London road, one man before, one at either hand, and Gifford riding evenly along, squarely in the middle.

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In Paris, when Arundell and his friends returned in mid-December 1585, there were new tidings. The French spoke only of the shifting progress of the wars against the Huguenots in the south and west. The Englishmen however could speak of nothing but Scotland. The Protestant lairds hiding out in England had been permitted by the English Council to return home. They had ridden swiftly and surprised the young king at Stirling; the Catholic earl of Arran, who controlled him, had been deposed, and the Protestants were once again in the ascendant. Those who had been encouraged by King James’s rapid inclining towards the old faith now expected soon to see him come to friendly terms with Queen Elizabeth. Those who had begun to look to him as the best hope of a Catholic successor in England in view of his mother’s desperate situation, found themselves more than ever constrained to consider a Spanish invasion as the only chance left. The rumor was going round that the queen of Scots had willed her title to the English crown to King Philip if she should not be alive to claim it.

Lord Claude Hamilton was in a quandary. Though he lived in Parisian exile a devoted Catholic, yet his brother Lord John had ridden with the returning Protestants and was reported now to be in great power in Edinburgh. Lord John, though no papist, was well disposed towards Queen Mary in his heart and furthermore would welcome his brother’s return. Some urged him to go home therefore, so that he might cast his die in what was becoming there an open game of hazard.

Not long after the first news of the Scottish troubles had reached their ears, the gentlemen planned a meeting to determine together the truth of them and decide their best course. The archbishop of Glasgow was chosen to play host in his capacious rooms, less for their capacity than because they seemed a sort of neutral ground. He was a kindly, elderly man who had been the longest in exile of them all, having served as the queen of Scots’s ambassador here even when she had reigned in her own realm, twenty years ago. Since that time, if he had lost the management of most of her affairs, still he held her trust and the trust of nearly everyone among the several factions. His own position was well known, though it was generally regarded as a merely sentimental one. He opened the conference by restating it: political cunning quite apart, the queen of Scots was the lawful queen of Scotland and the lawful heir of England, and as long as she lived he was bound to uphold her titles. For her son James, the young king, Glasgow prayed for him daily and hoped that God would care for him and bring him up aright, but for his own part, his loyalty, true and undivided, he owed to Queen Mary alone.

Mr. Foljambe and Charles Paget arose together to reply and quickly fell to arguing over who should speak next. The archbishop asked them both to be seated, for he wished his countryman Lord Hamilton to have the first response. Claude, as he began, praised the aged prelate’s devotion at some length and voiced his own undiminished allegiance to the queen, but then insisted that it was well known--and here he gestured towards the earl of Westmoreland and several others of his friends--it was well known that Queen Mary’s case, in sober fact, was hopeless, so securely was she hedged about by the Leicestrian English government, for nothing at all might be done for her but Secretary Walsingham would dispatch her at once; and if the Jezebel of England were suddenly to die, Leicester and Walsingham and the atheistic Puritans would kill her just as speedily, for they had learned that lesson too well in Leicester’s father’s time to think they would keep their heads if she should ever come to that throne.

There were murmurs throughout the room. Lord Claude raised his hand and went on to say that, their love for the queen apart, what mattered most at this time was the fate of Scotland itself. In its present state, ruled by the Anglophile lords, the realm should soon be "mere kirk", its Catholics persecuted as England’s were, its young king a Protestant puppet whose strings were pulled by the English Council. If, on the other hand, matters could be turned round there, the whole realm might be saved for the Holy Church and, after the Jezebel’s time, the young king would ascend the English throne in the right of his mother, a strong prince Catholic in his heart, backed by his own forces and by all the good princes of Europe. And therein, he said, lay the hope for Catholic England. He ended by advising that they continue to love the queen of Scots for her holy life, but set about presently, by intrigues, military projects, and the introduction of uncountable numbers of priests and Jesuits there, to reclaim the Scottish kingdom before the new changes became settled.

His penultimate words set up a hubbub of dispute throughout the chamber. The mere mention of Jesuits brought remonstrations from many of the gentlemen, who like Charles Paget and the priest Gratley grew into a rage whenever the fathers of the Society were named. Others, like Foljambe and Tunstead, defended the Jesuits nearly as vociferously. Simultaneously, Lord Hamilton’s mention of military expeditions evoked a babble of opinion, less about the sites and size of any landings than about the old question of the auspices under which they should be made.

Some insisted that invasion by foreigners was unnecessary, that the English answer to England’s woes remained as always a well-planned rising among the Catholic majority at home. Foljambe and the friends of the Jesuits, however, insisted upon looking to the Spanish king for the great attempt, through the instrumentality of his own fleet of ships and the prince of Parma’s soldiers, and they avowed that it was only a question of time before the pope and the king of Spain should agree upon the terms. Westmoreland decried the Jesuits’ meddling in Rome but agreed that King Philip should be brought to hold up his end. The earl, however, had recently taken up a hatred of Parma, who seemed to hold his English regiment (or the earl’s command of it) in some disdain, and so he much blamed the prince for being an ambitious temporizer and exclaimed that the troops could only come from that excellent Catholic Hannibal, the duke of Guise. He wished to know where Mr. Arundell was, who should speak to them of the duke’s true meaning towards them and their cause.

At length, Charles Paget regained their attention and said that he could walk with them all who held for the need for a great landing. He agreed likewise that when a crusading army did arrive, all of the Catholics in England could be trusted to rise up to a single man and overthrow the heretics, so that it did not much matter whose army did the invading, as long as someone invaded, with at least sufficient force to cause the devout and the well-disposed Englishmen to take heart and rouse themselves. Let them therefore, he said, seek help everywhere, and cease quarrelling.

But Paget reminded them that in all their talk of war and uprisings, he had heard no more words spoken of the queen of Scots. He and Mr. Morgan held themselves firm for her safety above all things, and responsible for the same, and this, he said, was where all their efforts lay. Those who were in the bosoms of great princes, he said somewhat acrimoniously, might dream recklessly of leading such armies as the duke of Guise’s to conquest, perhaps only for their own glory, if the truth were known, but he thought it much more needful that they should strive to bring her majesty to safety, and cease immediately to think of her as already lost. The great plots should come in good time after her majesty were well assured.

At the door, Charles Arundell and Nicholas Berden appeared, shown in by a man in livery. It was understood that Paget’s disparaging allusion had been to Arundell, and everyone paused to watch his reaction. The two men nodded to their acquaintances and moved carefully to take up vacant stools. From Arundell’s grim expression it was apparent that he had caught the sense of those remarks.

Mr. Foljambe spoke up to take exception to Paget’s implications. They all cared for the queen’s safety quite as much as he and Morgan did, he said. The fact remained that as matters stood nothing could conveniently be done for her without endangering her life, and it would be an injustice to cease working for the freedom of all Englishmen only because she lay beyond their reach.

"Excellent Mr. Foljambe," Paget said, pacing behind the archbishop’s chair as if he were reading the lectures in one of the colleges in the next street; "I beg to tell you that your errors are manifest to all. For first, the freedom of Englishmen with God’s help and good time is assured. No injustice done by us can prevent the triumph of the Lord’s battle against heresy. I wonder that you doubt it. In the second place, my lady the queen’s cause is not by no means hopeless. On the very contrary, we have every meaning to succeed in making her free and secure from harm."

Several in the room murmured in indignant assent to Paget’s proposition, as if censuring a different kind of heresy. Foljambe made as if to reply, but Paget spread his hands largely and continued.

"For first, my friends, you must know that of any attempts for her good the good queen must be timely warned, and to that end we have not been idle. Our friend Gifford is engaged in renewing correspondence with her majesty, and should he fail, others will succeed. Likewise, there are those in England at this day who would hazard life and limb and all they have to bring her away from danger. I speak particularly of Mr. Anthony Babington and my Lord Windsor’s brother and their century of friends, all much loved at court but devoted wholly to her cause. You may easily believe that when they see their opportunity they will do much, all at our direction. And last, I will tell you that we have more friends, even in the bosoms of the Council’s self, who warn us daily of what passes there to our lady’s disadvantage."

Tunstead seemed incredulous. "Do you mean that there are spies in the Privy Council itself? Who are they, man?"

Paget paused melodramatically and looked about the room appraisingly, as if deciding how far his listeners might be trusted. "I am to tell you," he replied, "that we have friends in great places, who inform us of what is needful. More than that I may not safely say."

"Come, come, plain dealing," Arundell said. "Who are these cunning spies?"

"Mr. Arundell, for causes to himself best known, would have that knowledge which is most dangerous to our lady’s most devoted friends. Will it not suffice that I tell you straight, there are some, whom Mr. Morgan and myself know well, and will not divulge it even upon the rack to put them in hazard of destruction, who will tell us if anything is meant against our lady, so that we may prevent it. And in the meantime, we will so manage ourselves and our friends, I warrant you, that in not too long time she will be free and maybe queen of England! For my part, I wish Mr. Arundell and others could say as much of themselves."

"Paget, have you not considered that there be spies among us as well as among them? Is it not most probable that the Secretary will learn of all your attempts before her majesty herself will hear of them?"

Again Charles Paget preferred to address the whole assembly. "My friend Arundell’s doubt of spies among us is well advised. I grant to him a perfect knowledge of such things as spies among us. It may be there are some who to line their purses with English gold would basely deliver our lady to the very carnifex--perhaps he can point them out to us--but I assure him again that the business will be managed very secretly and none shall hear a syllable but them that we may trust."

"Oh, Mr. Paget," cried Berden, "this is too bad. You cast aspersions which are needless upon Mr. Arundell, whose only care is for the queen. For, think you, will you not bring her majesty into far greater peril by scheming ill-advised among yourselves? Let it be!"

Paget, who was growing quite angry at such outspoken criticism, replied heatedly from behind the archbishop’s chair. "For the queen’s safety, let me alone for that! Mr. Morgan and myself have been her majesty’s best friends when you, sir, were safely at home in bed. I will tell you where her danger is! It is the duke of Guise and other such great men who would invade realms and fight pitched fields without a care i’ the world for her life, that is where her danger is. Speak not to me of dangers. Every year a new plot for invading! Still she lies in prison."

He spun round and faced the middle of the room. "If Mr. Morgan had been of the duke’s good counsel, as right was, we should never have had such mad schemes, barren of all issue. If Mr. Morgan had been trusted by the duke of Guise, I say again, and not some others who are present, and their Jesuitical companions, who woo him to lunatic designs careless of our lady’s life. And who," he said still more loudly, "and who even now persuade his grace to keep Mr. Morgan in durance here!"

Excitement had been spreading outward over the assembly as a sort of expanding electrical field. Men had been sitting up straighter in their chairs and on their stools and nodding agreement or slapping their thighs in annoyance. At Paget’s last words some of them set up uttering angry exclamations. "Why," said Paget, in mock surprise, "why, do you think Mr. Morgan should still be in prison these nine months because the English Jezebel only wished it? Because Mr. Stafford demanded it? Never believe it! It is the wholly Jesuited duke of Guise who works upon the king to keep him there."

Several men took up the theme of outrage and rounded upon Arundell with wrathful oaths.

"Quite true," Arundell shouted back, "it is quite true that his grace the duke keeps Morgan where he does less harm. For why, think you? Every man with eyes can see what the duke himself sees, with no man’s advice, nor mine. Mr. Morgan is not sound!"

"Not sound!" The earl of Westmoreland stood up and shook his heavy, gray head in rage. "Not sound, say you?"

Arundell arose and stepped to the table behind which Paget stood. "Who is the man Hert," he cried, "that is the Secretary’s great confidant?"

Berden, leaning forward nearby, interrupted in his friend’s aid. "For shame, Mr. Paget, it is too well known that in the name of Hert you kept a correspondence with the Council to the near ruin of some of our best. Why does not the duke trust Morgan and yourself!"

Others were yelling "hear, hear" and "speak up." Paget appeared nonplussed by the suddenness of the attack, but he rejoined without hesitating.

"It is a public matter that in the name of Hert I kept correspondence with the Secretary. It makes nothing to the matter here to say so! My only purpose was to discover the traitors among us here and there at the court, and so I said freely to his excellency the archbishop of Nazareth."

"You spoke so much publicly only because you knew it was known already, and would come to all men’s eyes anon!"

Arundell said this upon impulse, as the opportunity arose, and observed his antagonist to see his reaction. Paget seemed genuinely surprised by the idea, however, and almost convinced Arundell that his guess had been a bad one.

Nicholas Berden reminded Paget that his explanation for his actions was a most convenient one and must be understood in light of the nuncio’s verdict for those Hert had "discovered."

"Well," Paget returned to him. "It is enough that Mr. Arundell, and maybe those who friend him most, do understand my meaning. The queen of Scots will know her friends when she is free."

Arundell thumped the desk with his fist.

"Master Paget! I am as true a man for her majesty as any man i’ the world. Never, I say, willingly will I let harm come to her. Some of those who daily protest most for her may mean least for her! You know the proverb is, ‘A long tongue is a sign of a short hand.’"

"This is too much," cried the earl of Westmoreland. He too tried to rise but fouled his hangers in his chair. Dropping back into his seat, he began to expostulate about Paget and Morgan being made to suffer because they were not Hispaniolated lovers of creeping Jesuits. Gratley immediately took up the identical tune, and the debate degenerated further into a babble of abuse. Everyone, it seemed, had one chief complaint, peculiar to himself, against some other man.

Foljambe shouted that Hispaniolation was immaterial. He wished only to know where had gone the queen of Scots’s money entrusted to Morgan’s care. It seemed always to disappear among his and Paget’s friends and never reached the purposes meant for it nor her followers most deserving. Why was it, he asked, that any man who wished to do her service must do it only at Mr. Morgan’s bidding or receive no gratitude for the same? It was not so when the archbishop of Glasgow had had the keeping of her business.

Old Beaton seemed to miss the mention of his name, but remained staring nervously with a benevolent or tolerant smile at the whole group. Others were not so unmoved. Those who had had similar trouble with their pensions chimed in with their own recriminations, whereas others took up Morgan’s defense no less loudly.

Westmoreland, his face gone livid, was shouting that Arundell, far worse, had a stranglehold upon the duke of Guise’s favor, and it was through Arundell’s influence upon the Spanish ambassador that the prince of Parma had thrust himself and his picked captains out of their regiment. Did not Arundell, he demanded, did not Arundell control the duke of Guise and deflect him from the aid of worthy Englishmen?

"No," Arundell shouted.

At the same time, Paget was exclaiming that he and Morgan could account for every farthing dispersed in the queen’s cause, to which Foljambe inquired about the sums of her money dispersed in their own cause. Tunstead required to be told why he had never had an écu of his own pension, why Tom Throgmorton had never had a pension at all. Arundell asked again, as he had many times, where had gone the three thousand crowns of his own he had sent out of England in times past, by way of a loan to the queen of Scots’s accounts.

Paget raised his hands and shook his dark head in mimicry of an Hebrew moneychanger. "The same old song," he yelled. "Will you never cease mewing about money?"

"Will you never cease your thieving and your lying? How are men to live, when their honest debts are not repaid?"

"Oh my avaricious gentleman, you shall have it, you shall have your moneys. Radix malorum est--," Paget called. "Restrain your gross cupidity whiles we sit in a holy house at least."

Arundell fought down his wrath at being spoken to so by this perfidious little man. The confusion in the room grew still greater, and there was some jostling. Before him, this sordid fellow, once all obliquity and feigned deference, stared impudently back at him, apparently grown absolutely confident of his position here.

"Damn me," Charles hissed. "It is not the money. It is being served so by such blackguards!"

"Well, what will you do then?" crowed Paget. The others roundabout left off their own disputes and turned to observe. "What will you do? Will you write off a line to your sweet coz the Secretary of England? Has he been cunctatory in paying out thy wages?"

Arundell gave a low growl and dashed round the table, shoving Westmoreland out of his way. From a sheath beneath his doublet he swept out a short dagger and leapt upon Paget with the weapon held high. Paget fell squealing beneath him, both hands clutching Arundell’s wrist. Lord Claude Hamilton jumped forward and grappled with Charles’s middle, trying to drag him off, as Nicholas Berden dove across the table, directly over the archbishop, and pulled Arundell’s arm away. Lord Hamilton and Berden between them succeeded in lifting Arundell almost upright, but he clung tightly to Paget and brought him up, too, and the entire clutch of them began spinning slowly towards the corner.

The earl of Westmoreland with difficulty regained his feet, swearing fearfully, and tried to draw out his rapier. Somehow it became snagged in his belt, and he bent over to free it, giving Mr. Foljambe time to dart across and take it from him.

Lord Hamilton finally wrested the knife from Arundell’s grip and threw it into the casement. With a great heave, however, Arundell tore himself free of those restraining him. He took hold of Paget’s doublet with both hands and lifted him, then threw him into the wall, where he crashed down upon a table and lay in a heap staring up, much abashed.

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Over gently rolling hills the frost lay like the mortal pallor. Beyond the river Trent, an icy haze hung in the sky above the valley, and the water flowed steely gray and uninviting. The scene was vacant of humanity. The wintry air, unusually cold even for the season, kept the simple folk indoors, and in the great houses throughout the country, the new Christmas holiday kept the gentry occupied with a round of festive gatherings.

Thomas Phelippes, no matter what people might say of him, was not immune to the cold or other pains. He was thoroughly well dressed, from a thick leather overjack above his doublet, surmounted by a lined riding cloak, to a pair of huge mitts, but he felt frozen through nonetheless. His small, slender frame trembled in the saddle. Across his pockmarked face and yellow beard he had wrapped a woolen piece which left only his eyes and the bridge of his nose uncovered. However the hard weather made him feel, it worked a miracle for his appearance. From the prominence upon which he sat atop his horse, he could see the young earl of Essex’s house called Chartley. Thence in the earl’s absence the queen of Scots had been removed a few days earlier, on the day of Christmas Eve, 1585. Tutbury Castle had grown unsweet, for the inhabitants were many and the facilities for sanitation no better than at any other house. Above Essex’s protestations, Chartley had been chosen to replace it. Its furnishings had had to be enlarged, and for the purpose the crown had confiscated most of the household goods of Thomas the third Lord Paget, the attainted traitor who had fled the realm. Sheriff Gresley of the county had personally seen to the transport of fifty-six featherbeds, fifty-one coverlets, twenty common and eight standing bedsteads, seven pieces of old and ten pieces of new tapestry, six backed chairs, five taffetie curtains fringed with gold, four rugs and two turkey carpets, eighteen joint stools, eighteen iron spits, one frying pan, eight pewter chamberpots, one hundred and sixty pewter kitchen utensils, twenty-three halberds (some ceremonial), forty calivers and other light muskets, five barrels of gunpowder, ten cases of dags and smaller pistols, and ten pewter pie plates, among other things. He had also removed Lord Paget’s son and sent him up to become the ward of one of Leicester’s men. His lordship’s aged mother and two of her daughters, Lady Anne Lee and Lady Ethelreda Allen, had been left to get on as best they could. Because Chartley lay somewhat more exposed, less easily defensible than Tutbury had been, the guard would have to be increased as well. Whereas formerly there had been forty guardsmen recruited from the local country, quartered in Burton town to save room in the castle, more would soon be added to them. The six who were to stand watch at all times would be increased to eight or ten. The men could be hired without difficulty from among the destitute veterans dwelling as near as Derby; but that would be Paulet’s task, of no concern to Phelippes now.

As he left the trees surrounding the house at some distance, Phelippes bent his head forward and tipped his leather bonnet over his eyes. The queen of Scots and some of her people knew him by sight. He had once tried, posing as a Catholic gentleman, to win her confidence and be entrusted with her correspondence, but somehow the queen had not only suspected his motives but rightly guessed his identity.

A small ice-covered creek ran diagonally down behind the house from the north, lined on either side with bare trees and low brambles. Beyond it, a layer of gray frost covered the meadow stretching from the rear of the house. The frigid air was soundless except for his own approach, his horse’s breathing, the hooves crunching over the slope, the creak of his cold leather.

At the nether gate, he pounded at the door and was let into the tiny court within. Passing into the guardroom he divested himself of his outer clothing and got to business. The men of the watch told him that Paulet was out of the house, but shortly Brian Cave came down and joined him by the fire. Phelippes, as he warmed himself, handed in the letters he had brought from the court, and with Cave he discussed the new dispositions being made for the maintenance of the queen’s household. He inquired particularly about the manner in which provisions would be supplied to the house from the nearby town.

The next day, Phelippes left his inn in the town of Burton and made his way to the brewery on the outskirts. Here labored the man who had been employed to furnish beer to the queen of Scots’s household. By the terms of his arrangement, he was to travel to Chartley every Saturday morning with his wagonload of kegs, which he and his boys offloaded at the postern guard station, receiving in return the empty kegs of the past week. Because of competition in the neighborhood, the honest man had been in fear of losing his trade before this, but the addition of a regular business with the government fairly set him up.

Thomas Phelippes dismounted and sought the brewer out where he sat by his vats among his apprentices. They drew apart and spoke together in the stinking corner for nearly an hour’s time, after which Phelippes bade him farewell and rode away towards the south.

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"Cog’s bones, I am not in jest!"

Despite asseverations to the contrary, Sir Edward gave a great grin and seemed indecently pleased by the effect of his revelation.

"How a pack o’ devils do they know that, now?" Arundell was surprised, indeed, but felt as well both frustration on the one hand and an oddly disengaged curiosity on the other. Several other patrons in their vicinity, mostly rivermen already well advanced upon the evening, stared at the pair stupidly.

"That I canna say, Charles, but they know it, aye. ‘Twas put to me in the nicest detail--you and our ancient chum, that John Simyers, Simier, eh? the dancing fellow, off from Brittany with a master named Francisco. Mad jigs in Bristol, burning barns in Somerset. Ah, Charles, what do ye do? I am ordered to have you clapt up by the authorities here upon hard informations of a harm meant to the queen."

"And will ye do me that great evil, Ned?"

"I already have done it, man. I spoke to Secretary Villeroy about it yester evening, the king being indisposed. I had quite a talk with him on that head. A’ promised speedy action in the matter, indeed he did--the best reception I’ve had at court these five months."

"How exciting for you," Arundell said drily. He was not concerned about being arrested by the French officials just at the present. Stafford knew why.

"Y’ve nothing whatever to fear o’ that, boy--not so long as ye stay in the grace of his grace, nor so long as the king and the duke stay in one camp each with other. Ye’re quite well known, I find. I often think, Charles, if the king should ever stand on his own pegs at last and shake himself free o’ that family of Guise, you will be the first to suffer, mark me. Disappear in the night, that is what y’will do."

Arundell had given thought to just that eventuality, and he dismissed it now. What struck him as important in this business, now the familiar puzzle but not less urgent, was how Walsingham and the Council had learned of his "roving enterprise" when not ten or twelve men besides himself and the duke of Guise had ever talked of it. Not even Stafford had he told it to, and the ambassador was less disposed to help him deduce the source of the intelligence than to twit him now with having withheld it from himself. Arundell took pains to assure his friend that he had never seriously meant actually to lead the expedition, but had to admit, when pressed, that if the duke had continued in his resolution he should certainly have had to follow the raiders in a leadership position. Which to all observers would have looked very much like leading it. Stafford appreciated the perilous delicacy of his situation, at least to the extent of finding it funny. He conjured an image of Arundell the reluctant privateer, dragged by his crew from prize to prize, from burning town to ruined fortress. As Sir Francis Drake was to the wide Atlantic, so Arundell to the lower Severn.

Charles merely growled acidulously, occasioning the observation from Sir Edward that he had gone far to becoming entirely humorless in the past eighteen months. Arundell assented to the proposition, but blamed it on the treachery he walked amid. Spies, it seemed, were everywhere--this "Hert" had tried to trip him up, another had put him in still worse odor with the English Council by this tale of the piratical raid; spies for the Council, spies for the Jesuits, for the Welsh faction, for the Spanish, the French crown, the Huguenots, the Dutch, spies everywhere--and he knew not whom to trust. Sledd seemed to haunt his thoughts, though he had not seen the frightful man in nearly a year. Stafford had been unable to discover what had become of the ugly footpad, nor, since the ambassador had none of the confidence of Mr. Secretary, had he learned whether Sledd was still an agent for Walsingham, for someone else, or not at all. No one seemed to know him anymore.

Stafford undertook to put Arundell’s mind to rest. In his opinion, Arundell like many others was inclined to exaggerate the ubiquity of these determined secret agents. Some there were, no doubt, he said, who in the service of this or that paymaster infiltrated the conventicles of others and reported on them or subverted them or--who could say?--murdered their members foully in their beds. But these true covert agents were not many. Most news, it was his belief, came haphazardly, by voluntary submission from poor men seeking a gratuity or some small favor. He would venture to guess--and he looked at Arundell for a moment very earnestly--that not a single Catholic Englishman on this side the sea, or very few, had not at one time or another penned a missive to Walsingham or Lord Treasurer Burghley or the earl of Leicester, begging favor and offering loyalty and service in return and filling the note with whatever news came readily to hand, in token of his future usefulness. Hardly one of them, excepting only some of the priests, he said, would not go home upon the instant if pardoned their sins and promised they might worship quietly in England. In the hope of earning that favor, they all sent news to the Council, some once, some regularly, while carrying on simultaneously their continuous scheming with every appearance of devotion to their cause.

Arundell, though he knew something like this to be quite true, protested that Sir Edward exaggerated cynically. The ambassador thought for a moment, quite serious himself now, then said that he did not exaggerate, that probably all of them (excluding the Jesuits, of course) sent letters to some great lord once in a way, but varied only in the truth or importance of the intelligence they offered. They often wrote to himself as well, pleading for his intercession; Charles would be astounded to hear the names of some who had sought his favor since he’d come to his present post. The quantity and quality of the information diverged greatly; some of it was quite general, or it was obsolescent or really obsolete or downright false; some of it was damnably accurate. Arundell’s journey to the prince of Parma, for example, Stafford had been warned of by a man who signed himself "the Sibyl" and promised further intelligence on the same subject. Obviously the Sibyl had not been aware that Arundell went with Sir Edward’s secret blessing, and in any case he had never again made contact. It was not important, he said, merely an exemplum of what every minister of state lived with daily: torrents of information, some good, some bad, with seldom any way of telling which were which until the event proved them true or false, when naturally it was too late to use them.

In any case, he bid Charles take heart from that. Since he had come so deeply into the duke of Guise’s counsel, Arundell was inevitably a minor celebrity among the newsmongers; his name would inevitably come up from time to time, sometimes in fanciful fictions, sometimes with embarrassing accuracy. This he might regret as a great nuisance, but need not fear as genuine treachery.

The effect of Stafford’s speech was counter to his intent. Arundell seemed still more dispirited by this testimony to the careless faithlessness all about him than he had been by the spectre of resolute agents under every hassock. He observed that he could find "no book in a civil tongue"--as if every volume of ethics or faith or theory of states were written in some barbarous language. Stafford understood his metaphor, and he said that to his poor judgment, Arundell’s perpetually melancholic mood came of his doubts of himself, not of those around him.

The server, responding with alacrity to Sir Edward’s signal, placed two more mugs of porter before them. They ceased speaking until he had withdrawn. Then Arundell shook himself, as if to dispel the black fumes of moodiness, and drew out a purse of coins. The bag bulged unnaturally, so full had it been stuffed with money.

"The duke sends his gratitude with his money," Charles said with a touch of irony. "You and your lady may now dine well for a week and three days."

The ambassador received the purse and tucked it quickly beneath his jacket. He inquired casually how much it summed to.

"Three thousand écus, which he says is more than the figure mentioned. His good brothers the duke of Mayenne and the cardinal of Lorraine have made their contributions to this charitable fund."

Stafford nodded. He was thoughtful for a few moments, and then spoke rapidly. "You may inform the duke that the earl of Leicester has landed with his force. Even now he is enjoying triumphal progresses through the Hague and Amsterdam. The States salute him as if he were their king."

"That is known to them already," Arundell said. "The duke would wish particularly to know what plans they have for the campaigns of the new season, when these have been decided."

"I shall hardly learn of them at all. Nothing at all am I told of military matters there." Sir Edward thought again. "Well, I shall have somewhat ye may feed into his greedy maw when the time comes. What else?"

"He would know when Drake is to return from the Americas."

"I dunna know that. I think no man does. Drake returns when his hold is full or his powderkeg empty. Tell his grace that he is looked for in March or early April."

Arundell nodded. "The Spanish brag that he missed both the plate fleets in his passage westward."

Sir Edward noted that fact, for it was something he thought might not have been learned in London. He inquired mechanically about the reliability of the source, to which Arundell merely shrugged.

"Where is the French Jesuit, the duke’s great friend?" Stafford asked. "The ‘courier of the League’? I misremember his name. The Provincial of Paris."

Arundell laughed aloud and glanced about at his neighbors. Those who were not singing lustily their bargemen’s ballads were asleep upon their tables.

"Father Claude, you mean. He has been ‘retired,’ as the phrase is among them. Back to the hermit’s cell. Too much by half the cunning politico for his superiors in Rome." He laughed again. "God, Ned, even the duke found him unnerving. Lunatic zeal."

"I dare say," Stafford replied. "Where is the Marshal Biron’s next sally out against the Protestants?"

"Ask me not. The duke knows not the same himself, but only has the king’s promise, as great value as that may be, that the marshal will strike in force to Navarre’s home country, directly the weather changes for the better. By mid-March at the latest. His grace is less exercised by Navarre than by the thought he has taken that the Swiss are coming in again. Someone has buzzed it in his ear that our queen has struck another bargain with them."

Again Sir Edward nodded.

"Is’t true?" Charles asked.

"Dunno. Where lies the duke now?"

"Châlons-sur-Marne. Soon to ride for Orleans."

"Well." Stafford thought again."Where is the Lord Paget gone?"

"To Rome. Throgmorton has returned to us."

Sir Edward paused and reflected for several seconds. His hand, cradling his forehead, lifted slightly, and he looked at Arundell from beneath his palm.

"Something is afoot in the queen of Scots’s cause. Know you what it is?"

"No. Where, here?"

"In London. A new compact of gentlemen to free her, it may be?"

"I know naught o’that. No word here."

"The name of one Babington?"

"Fails me now. Methinks I never heard the name."

"Or a secular priest called Ballard?"

"I know him not."

"Nor would you tell me, eh? You sentimentalist. I tell you again, she is safer by a long march if you divulge these fanatical ninnies to the Secretary before they descend upon her guards and bring in a general massacre." Stafford seemed both jocular and serious in saying this, and it was impossible to tell from his tone whether he considered that gruesome event a real likelihood.

"Always on the qui vive. Most especially for what may benefit Mr. Secretary to know." Arundell’s tone, at least, despite his ironic words, was decidedly serious.

"Ah, ye buffoon," Stafford said, punching Arundell’s arm affectionately. "Y’know your own trouble; I’ll tell it to you. Whereas all your friends here, these faithless caterpillars who so inconvenience you, whereas they go amiss by being loyal to no cause, you, ye daft puny, you are loyal to ‘em all! What a strange man are you. Ye’ll come to no good whatever. Y’re loyal t’everybody, Charles, y’slave."

"What an ugly, black mind you have, Ned, you eat too many herbs with your meat."

"Ha ha, and y’self, you’ve got the splenetic fog risen to your brain of late." Stafford went on laughing cordially at this gentle flyting.

"Y’know, my good friend," he said, "I shall give to you a midgin o’ the best counsel. Do ye recollect to mind an old play done at court now many years agone, later in print? A beastly written play it was, full of huffing and ruffing and snuffing in murderous verse and pious consequences, but there was in it the old Vice who was the best fellow o’ the lot. Ambidexter he was called by, and that was his whole philosophy, which made him a merry fellow with never a one of the fears and dreadful doubtings which keep you in the dumps. One verse of his expressed it quintessentially, for when he once met with such a sour dedicated gentleman as you are, he gave out an awesome laugh and said, ‘What! Can you not play with both hands, and turn with the wind?’"

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Châteauneuf rose from his meal and stretched himself almost painfully. He liked very much the food he found in London and disposed of more of it than was strictly required by his health. In five months here, already he had begun to show a new tendency to corpulence, the line of the jaw a little blurred, the cut of his doublet a trifle confining. He resolved to omit luncheon today, quite certain he would never keep his resolution.

The ambassador came out into the hallway by the street. He had risen late, and the mid-morning traffic of carts and horses and hurrying human beings along Fleet Street was in full progress. The day was cold, even for late January, a splendid day for staying abed and addressing one’s correspondence upon a lapboard; but the business continued outside, and so it must within. He had hope of an audience with the queen in the evening, and he must arrive prepared.

Turning from the window, Châteauneuf nodded to the domestic who was cleaning the room opposite and went up to his study. Des Trappes was already well engaged upon his labors, and he nodded to his superior as the ambassador came in. From the look of it, with letters and his key spread before him on his table, des Trappes was deciphering the latest dispatches from home. Châteaufneuf came and stood above him, rummaging with his fingers through the completed leaves. The secretary gestured to him that he might take them away with him, and so he bore them to his desk and began poring over them.

Within a half hour’s time, one of the servants came up to announce a visitor. Des Trappes rose and went below to inquire. Châteauneuf stared out into the yard below, by Sackville House. From the gates opposite, ice formations hung like translucent sculptures to the length of a foot and a half.

Des Trappes returned with letters from Thomas Morgan and Charles Paget in Paris introducing a priest by the name of Gifford, who was engaged upon the business of the queen of Scots and begged the reader’s aid in that cause. On that account he felt inclined to grant the interview, though usually he discouraged the visits of fugitive English priests who might well compromise him.

Châteauneuf bid his secretary fetch the fellow up. He studied the documents in the meantime and satisfied himself that both were holographs in the familiar hands of Morgan and his crony; indeed, Morgan’s handwriting would be a most difficult one to simulate.

Gifford appeared in the door, bowing deferentially, a small thick-featured man in the rich dress of a gentleman of fashion, almost of a courtier’s extravagance. He introduced himself in excellent French and begged the ambassador to attend to his new plan for reaching the queen of Scots. Châteauneuf kept a non-committal silence. He had heard many new plans from the Catholic gentlemen of the court, none of which had proved itself out in the execution, but he gestured kindly for his guest to continue. The device he heard, however, made him sit forward, first in increasing curiosity, then with a real interest.

Gifford had successfully suborned the brewer in the neighborhood of Chartley, whose job it was to provide the house with its weekly store of beer. By that means, he proposed to smuggle into the queen of Scots’s household all her correspondence, and to receive thereout all of her replies; a metallic cylinder would protect the missives as he fitted them into the bung holes of the kegs. He would wager his life and reputation for cleverness, he said, that the guards would never discover the same. He was assured, he believed, of the queen’s good trust, both for the love she bore to Mr. Morgan and for the honor in which she held the ancient Catholic family of Gifford, and he desired only M. Ambassador’s cooperation in providing him with her letters and in sending them overseas again to France, as his predecessors had been wont to do.

Châteauneuf found himself intrigued by the ingenuity of the scheme. As duty required, he questioned Gifford for a time about his actions and associations, but saw no reason to doubt him. He proposed at last to write a letter to Queen Mary recommending the bearer, and, he said, if her majesty approved the plan--if the plan worked sufficiently well for him to receive her approval--then he would instantly make bold to turn over to Gifford all of the letters he had held for her, accumulated over a full year’s lack of means to forward them. If the device went successfully forward, he maintained, all Europe would live in Gifford’s debt. Rapidly he wrote out the letter to the queen.

Father Gifford replaced his colorful bonnet, with its silver buckle and hat-badge, and thanked the ambassador in her majesty’s name for his good offices. He swore that the scheme would succeed, that the queen of Scots would one day be free, and that all Europe would live in Châteauneuf’s debt.

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Charles Arundell and François de Mayneville rode steadily upward into the Morvan, the wooded peaks always before them as they rejoined the valley of the narrower Seine. The duke of Guise lay momentarily in Dijon, or was thought to lie there still. The message required speed. Mendoza and the duke’s sister, "Silvio" as she was known in the dispatches, Madame de Montpensier, had reached some sort of agreement; they saw the opportunity to augment still more the League’s power in the capital, to diminish again the power of the king of France. No delay was permissible in advising the duke himself. When twice Arundell and Mayneville had encountered signs of the enemy, they had left the road but not slackened their pace by a small step.

Just beyond a tiny village huddled round a mill, they found a venerable manor house the owner of which, a simple knight, seemed glad to give them shelter for the night. M. de Mayneville, when he and Arundell had been made comfortable in the main bedchamber, asked for all the keys to the house. Locking the entire household in was far easier than standing watch each of them for half the night.

A shaft of white light stabbed across the vault of heaven, surrounded to its whole length by a haze of gleaming mist. By slow increments the horizon took on a semicircular glow. No birds greeted it, no dogs barked, but with silent lentitude the rim of the white sun emerged above the black world. The first shaft ramified itself into a hundred, joined like luminous webbed fingers reaching upward across the sky.

Across the dark plain the ground fog shone weirdly. In absolute stillness the sun ascended imperceptibly, by imperceptible degrees the character of the land was altered. A black tree invisible in the black air suddenly shone out argently along one side, then the air too lightened about it and the skeletal trunk and limbs seemed actually to fade against their background.

Almost directly before the sun, as it edged above the mists, lay a low, black earthen mound, flat across the top. Gradually it became suffused with dull colors, a washed out green and a deep brown at its base. Particular features here and there stood out, and once or twice a brilliant gleam flashed out from it, as the light struck from just the correct angle upon some polished surface. In the interminable course of a quarter hour, the outlines of the sconce took on fullness; the guardsmen, standing watch along the wall, found definition. The enormous sun, hanging behind a dead tree like a candle’s flame behind a wisp of straw, bathed the prospect and the mists rising lamellate from the mud in a white sheen. The colors stood upon a flagstaff atop the sconce, but because they hung limply in the motionless air, it was impossible to tell whose colors they were.

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Thomas Phelippes and Francis Milles sat beside one another at a low table, both dressed only in their shirts and breeches. Before them, between a pair of long tapers, lay a stack of flattened documents. Upon a similar paper Phelippes was gazing intently, dictating in bursts of translation line by line, pausing to read ahead for the sense of whole passages. Occasionally, he came upon an unfamiliar name that smelled of an allonym or outright fiction, from time to time a short row of arbitrary hieroglyphs derived from some primitive substitution table. Many of these he was able to decipher with scarcely any hesitation, either by the context of the passage or by one of a sheaf of ciphers he had come upon or had sent him by informers; when he could not do so, he had Milles put down precisely the symbols he found before him, hopeful that time might solve their puzzles. He dictated in measured English, but the documents he read from were in French, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and the uneasy English of the Scots.

In addition to their translations, they kept a register in which each of the papers had its entry. Places of origin and dates they listed there along with a brief epitome of their contents, and with the authors’ names appended. In the pile there were letters from twenty-one packets, sent from Father Parsons in Rouen and Rome, from Sir Francis Englefield in Spain, from Hugh Owen and Ralph Ligons in the Low Countries, from the archbishop of Glasgow, several from Charles Paget and still more from Morgan, one or two from the prince of Parma, two from the duke of Guise and another from Savoy, one from the nuncio in Paris, one each from Charles Arundell and Thomas Throgmorton, another from Mendoza, all bearing dates upon them back to more than a year earlier. All were addressed to the queen of Scots.

When they had completed the last dictation, Phelippes began refolding the originals as they had come to him. He took no care to conceal his tampering with their seals, for the packets would have to be broken up to be fitted through the bung holes. He stuffed the bundles into a saddlebag to be given on the morrow to Gifford’s substitute, a man of the earl of Leicester’s who would ride with them to Burton. There was no need of Gifford’s making the journey himself; once Mary had accepted him as her courier, neither she nor any of hers would have any way of knowing who waited at the other end of the honest brewer’s wagonroad. Then he blew out the candles, and he and Milles retired to their beds.

Across Westminster roofs came the lonely cry of a waterman upon the cold Thames.

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Preface and Table of Contents
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bookpen.gif (2870 bytes)Please 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 10 June 2001.


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