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)



"O 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
When we have wand’red all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days."
-- Sir Walter Raleigh

Gilbert Gifford’s 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 England’s confidence in him, he claimed friendship with the king of Spain; he knew Parma’s secret plans, and Guise’s, and Navarre’s, 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.

Arundell 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 Gifford’s foolishness must not bring his own business under scrutiny.

Yet 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 queen’s name. A week passed, and nothing at all was done.

One 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 Stafford’s knives-and-boots boy standing with a folded message. Sir Edward sent word that Thomas Fitzherbert had inquired urgently of Arundell’s whereabouts, and that he had promised that Arundell would come to him that evening.

And 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.

Even 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.

His 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 Morgan’s 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. Secretary’s 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 Stafford’s report. And furthermore, that Stafford had had this knowledge, together with several of Paget’s secret papers, directly from Arundell.

"They hold that intelligence," Throgmorton said, "as a certain proof that you are a spy of Mr. Ambassador’s here. And they mean, indeed, to revenge the same upon your body."

Arundell sat glumly through the hearing of the news, and said nothing, and then closed his eyes.

Fitzherbert tossed it aside. "Belike it is some mad dreamer, making stir among us by pretense of Mr. Secretary’s confidence."

Throgmorton shook his head tiredly.

"I fear me not. This writer writes at the command of Mr. Secretary, and the letter’s residue confirms the same with other matter. Only it is not knowable to whom the thing was sent, but that he is in Mr. Secretary’s own employment."

"Who was the writer of this unhappy letter?" Arundell asked.

Throgmorton paused. He coughed and seemed downcast.

"This 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 Secretary’s name, and all in his own hand, I can warrant it."

Arundell 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.

"I 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 devil’s 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."

Fitzherbert 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 Arundell’s 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.

Arundell 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 winter’s 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 Morgan’s tents. Wiliness was not a quality he wished to attribute to himself, but he must be wily now.

There 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 summer’s 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.

And as 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 Morgan’s 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 Walsingham’s, 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.

"Oh Berden!" he groaned. He had come to affect the man.

He 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, Morgan’s allegations would appear to be merely a contrived attempt to discredit the accuser by calling the kettle black.

The surest way would be to bring Gifford up to the authorities, for if the man’s 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 man’s friends would seem but vain expostulations, and the public airing of the controversy would make Arundell virtually immune from private violence.

Then, when Morgan’s and Paget’s 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, Parma’s troops would try to make their landing, and with God’s help, possibly with Arundell’s help as well, England would prevail. Thereafter, in the summer, he would be lying at ease on Simier’s estate, nevermore to meddle in these matters of politics and creeds and heroic strivings after glory.

He could almost see the blue Loire, sunlight glinting upon its little waves.

Arundell turned to his bed at a late hour, nervous about the morrow’s 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 -- Stafford’s face; some cold thought -- and it slipped away.

Gradually, 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 sun’s 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, clownish shuffle.

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 earthwork’s 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.

Arundell 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.

In 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 Bishop’s Palace. In the secretary’s office he explained his errand, protesting that his conscience required his appearance. With the official’s 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 Gifford’s 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.

When 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 Gifford’s neighborhood near the colleges to take up a post in a tavern opposite the priest’s 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 Stafford’s stables. The ambassador, hearing his knock, opened the door of his back stairs, and together they ascended silently to the study.

"What 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?"

"Eversions of kingdoms and portents in the sky."

"Portents 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?"

"The kingdom of Reason and the duchy of Good Faith. The factions are at open jars, and the crown is melted down for cannon shot."

"I think y’say 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."

"He is the very hero of the hour."

"Of 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?"

Arundell’s smile faded as he began to explain.

"Your esteemed and worthy superior, Mr. Secretary, writing with his left hand like Mucius Scaevola, hath informed our montrous runagates here that you had Paget’s 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 him."

Stafford’s face had grown pinched with a kind of furious annoyance, and he swore ferociously.

"It does not sound to me as a thing t’make 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!"

Arundell shrugged to show that the damage had been done and could not now be undone.

"I will tell you again, y’take the thing too childishly. They’ll 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."

Arundell frowned slightly and gestured in deprecation.

"I have done already somewhat in my defense."

"And what may that be, pray?"

"Well, 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 companion’s punishment."

Stafford stood with eyes and mouth agape.

"Y’did what, Charles?"

"I say I had Gifford taken up by the officers for keeping his quean, and clapt up in the Bishop’s Prison for the same."

Sir Edward collapsed into a chair and dropped his head into his hands.

"Why, Sir Nedly, what can be the matter wi’ that?"

Stafford 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 with’ee. Believe me, I would have told you before this, but for that I know the great love ye bore to the queen of Scots."

He paused and glanced away. Arundell waited, dread settling down upon his heart.

"You see, me boy, this Gifford is possessed of certain papers which tell mortally upon the honor of our queen’s government."


"Aye, I know not what they are, but they cast a harsh light on the doings in the queen of Scots’s 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."

The haunting afterthought returned to Arundell’s 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.

"How many papers?"

"That I canna say, but not many, I do not think, only what is sufficient to bring scandal irreparable to her majesty’s 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 that."

"No, Ned. 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 his cloak.

"Tarry, Charles, 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."

"Never 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."

Stafford 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.

The 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.

The 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 done.

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 Gifford’s 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 Gifford’s 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 no stair.

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.

From the few lights flickering in the row of buildings facing him, Arundell was able to count in to Gifford’s house. The windows he picked out as Gifford’s 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 aside.

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 Arundell’s weight upon the boards.

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.

He found himself, as he had meant to, sitting next to the third story of Gifford’s 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.

The 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.

The 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.

In 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 Gifford’s papers and brought them all off to let their superiors distinguish grain from chaff. Gifford’s 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.

Murmured 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 heels.

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.

Suddenly, 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 he’d 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 man’s 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.

He 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 he’d 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 buttocks.

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 Gifford’s 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 them out.

Arundell continued westward across St. Jacques towards the farther city wall. He slowed his pace once he’d come well away from the university district. The rhythmical clatter of his horse’s hooves echoed blankly from the housefronts, for there was no one about in the frigid streets, and the air was crisply still.

In 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 he’d 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.

The 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.

At 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 them.

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 Arundell’s leaner build but somewhat shorter.

The conversation continued for a brief time, and finally all of the men were nodding assent to Arundell’s 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 wife’s brother.

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.

From 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 king’s fear of his own Parisians in their Guisard ecstacy.

Nearer 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.

Strolling 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. Arundell’s 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 guardsman’s 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 also.

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 from view.

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.

The writing desks of Villeroy’s 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 Secretary’s 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 Arundell’s 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.

He brought his lamp to Villeroy’s 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.

He 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). Arundell’s heart leapt in his throat. He sat in Villeroy’s chair and peered carefully at a few more. He found Gifford’s name prominently displayed upon all of them.

Hastily 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. Arundell’s 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.

Two 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.

They 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 Arundell’s 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 Arundell’s 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 cutter’s dagger pierced his arm. Then one of the companions gave out a shriek and fell back against the stone with a rapier’s point imbedded in his chest. He muttered "mon dieu" over and over and slid slowly down the wall, his brother-in-law’s saber still held weakly aloft.

The 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 Arundell’s 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.

Arundell 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 run.

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.

Near the river tower, Arundell’s 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 behind.

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.

Half 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 trees above.

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.

Arundell 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.

He 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 hearth.

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.

At length, however, his curiosity overcame him. Removing his doublet, he drew out the Secretary’s 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.

He began sifting through the sheets and reading them over in order. The first few contained only meaningless jottings and random notes in Gifford’s childish scrawl. Then there were a few letters from Dr. William Gifford and one of Gilbert’s replies to him.

Next he found a copy of a recent report in Gifford’s hand addressed to Thomas Phelippes, Walsingham’s 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 queen’s 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.

What 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." Stafford’s 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. Secretary’s behalf. Another letter, a brief note really, was dated February 1586, and, likewise penned by Phelippes, it concerned Gifford’s part in the reopening of Queen Mary’s correspondence.

In a flash, the entire sordid business became clear. Never in his worst dreams had Arundell imagined how thoroughly Babington’s 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 Arundell’s 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 Walsingham’s 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 Secretary’s gospel purity prompted him to: the murder of innocents. So far from recovering these proofs for discretion’s sake, he felt angrily impelled to publish them before the world.

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.

The possibility that, however deceitfully, they might merely have been carrying out their own view of what was necessary for England’s 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 hounds.

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.

It was not just a question of the queen’s good name. With the knowledge that the queen of Scots’s 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 Mary’s 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.

Arundell 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.

He remembered a time, many long years before, when he had been resting at a house in Cornwall -- it had been Tregian’s 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.

Arundell 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.

He 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 Leicester’s and Walsingham’s 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.

He leant forward and tossed the letters into the flames. Then he rose and scooped the rest of Gifford’s 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 men’s 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 man’s career.

As 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 dangerous.

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, he’d 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.

A 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.

An enormous fatigue crept slowly over him. He had not slept in twenty-four hours; for that matter, he’d not slept well in twenty-four years. The time had come to take a sleep he had well earned.

He stretched his long frame out upon the bed. The lines of Virgil’s shepherd drifted before him:

"The twilight deepens. You have done well. Home then; home."

His back began almost to glow, in a manner, as the muscles loosened in recline. Within moments he was sleeping peacefully.

Some 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.

The knock came again.

Sleepily, 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.

The fire in the hearth had burned down, but the room held a pleasant warmth from the morning’s 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.

Arundell 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 he’d 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 he’d run into that trio of bumblers in Gifford’s chambers.

As he pushed his empty pan away from him, he considered who it might have been that had sent those three to Gifford’s. 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 Morgan’s 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.

He took up the paper and ink and wrote out a salutation to Sir Edward.

A sharp pain twisted through Arundell’s 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.

When 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.

The 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.

He 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 man’s 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 Walklate’s face, my Lord Paget’s 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.

Charles 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. Paul’s 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. Leicester’s 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.

When he 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 couldn’t move. At first, as he strained his ears to listen, he could hear nothing at all, but then he became aware of a sweet boy’s 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 choirboy’s 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 rebel’s 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 sleep.

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"Arundell 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.

Jamie Sharrock 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 master’s horses, but hoped nevertheless that he would find Sir Charles at home.

As 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.

He 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 Arundell’s legs; near his mouth, on the floorboards, lay a little pool of thin vomit mixed with blood. Clutched in Arundell’s hand was a half sheet of paper, upon which was written "Blithe Sir Ned."

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 carter’s bedroom, the man’s wife and tribe of children staring on agape.

At once, the carter’s wife began bathing the stricken man’s 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 Arundell’s condition; he lay still, as if in training for the grave, breathing evenly but very faintly.

Within 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 kinsmen’s house in the country.

The physician prepared a concoction of some sort and tried with Sharrock’s help to pour it between Arundell’s 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.

Throughout 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 Arundell’s 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 river.

At Sir Edward Stafford’s 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 Jamie’s hand and promised to have a whole squadron of physicians ready by the morning’s light.

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 Stafford’s man had then departed, having delivered the opinion that the patient was completely without remedy. Arundell’s 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.

Stafford’s 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.

On 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.

Late 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.

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"Arundell is even now dead". Stafford to Walsingham, 15/25 December 1587. A bit more detail.

On 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 Wyatt’s lyrics. Wyatt had always been his favorite poet.

"Now cease, my lute. This is the last," he sang. "Labor that thou and I shall waste."

"And ended is that which we begun." His breathing made no sound, but he wore a faint smile.

"Now is this song both sung and past," he murmured.

Arundell lay peacefully for a long moment.

"My lute, be still, for I have done."

On 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.

In the sun-drenched valley of the Loire, under a light patina of new snow, lay the black ruin of Simier’s 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 hill.

In a borrowed bedroom in the passage du Bonheur, Sir Charles Arundell passed away, his features set in some repose.

"Then shall my enemies sink with shame, and
I depart out of the field with honor; and
whatsoever either malice hath unjustly built,
or a fool devised upon a false ground, must
play Castle-Come-Down, and dissolve to nothing."

goback.gif (2185 bytes)Go back to the Preface and Table of Contents
gonext.gif (2192 bytes)Go ahead to the brief epilogue

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 20 June 2001.


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