“Well; you would have failed,” I said.
“What!” said he. “You are still going to refuse?”
“No,” said I, “I accept the work: but it is not what you think it is.”
“Why—what is it then?”
“Wait,” I said. “The next is, How did you know that they would be at Amwell at that time?”
“Oh! that is easy enough; one of my fellows got that out of one of Rumbald’s maids—that a party of six would lie at the Ryehouse last night; and that they would meet two more at dinner in Amwell at eleven o’clock to-day. Rumbald has been known to us a long while. But it is the others we are waiting for.”
I was silent. There were no more questions I wished to ask at present; though there might be others later.
“Well,” said the page, a little eagerly; and his narrow face looked very like a fox’s, as he spoke. “Well; and what is your news?”
I finished my stew, and laid down the spoon.
“Mr. Chiffinch,” said I, “let me first ask one more question. Why do you think that my Lord Essex was after me at all? How did he know of me?”
“Plainly from Rumbald,” said he.
“And why did he want me?”
“Why, Rumbald thinks you disaffected towards the King; and yet knows you are in his service. You would be a very great helper to them, if you cared.”
It was my turn to smile.
“My Lord Essex is not a fool,” I said. “If they know so much of me, would they not know more?”
“Plainly they do not,” he said. “Or they would not have tried to get you on their side.”
I laughed softly.
“Sir,” I said, “you are very sharp: but you are not sharp enough.”
Then I related to him the behaviour of them all in the inn; and how Rumbald had shewn no surprise in seeing that I was a gentleman after all; and how my Lord Essex had talked in what would have been the maddest manner, if his intention had been as Chiffinch had thought it to be; and with every word that I said the page’s face grew longer.
“Well,” he cried, “it is beyond me altogether. What then is the explanation?”
“My friend,” I said, “you were right. Neither before nor after what has passed to-day would I have done the work you designed for me which was to get these men’s confidence, and then betray it again. But it is not their idea to give me their confidence at all. So I will work with you very gladly.”
“But then what can you do—” he began in amazement.
“Listen,” I said. “It will fall out just as I say. They will give me very few names; they will admit me to none of their real secrets; but yet they will feign to do so.”
“But, what a’ God’s name—”