“Oh! man!” I cried, “you are surely slow-witted to-day. They will do all this—” (I leaned forward as I spoke for further emphasis)—“in order that I may hand it on to His Majesty; but they will give me no real secret till the climax is come, and their designs perfected. And then they will give me a false one altogether. They think that they will make me a tool to further their true plans by betraying false ones. We may know this for certain then—that whatever they tell me, knowing that I will tell you, is not what they intend, but something else altogether. And it will not be hard to know the truth, if we are certified of what is false.”
* * * * *
There was complete silence in the room when I had finished, except for the wash of the tide outside the windows. The man’s mouth was open, and his eyes set in thought. Then sense came back to his face; and he smiled suddenly and widely.
“God!” he said, and slapped me suddenly on the thigh. “Good God! you have hit it, I believe.”
From now onwards there began for me such a series of complications that I all but despair of making clear even the course that they ran. My diaries are filled with notes and initials and dates which I dared not at the time set down more explicitly; and my memory is often confused between them. For, indeed, my work in France was but child’s play to this, neither was there any danger in France such as was here.
For consider what, not a double part merely, but a triple, I had to play. The gentlemen, who were beginning at this time to conspire in real earnest against the King and the Constitution, some of whom afterwards, such as my Lord Russell, suffered death for it, and others of whom like my Lord Howard of Escrick escaped by turning King’s evidence—although their guilt was very various—these gentlemen, through my Lord Essex, had got at me, as they thought, to betray not truth but falsehood to His Majesty, and told me matters, under promise of secrecy, which they intended me to tell to the King and his advisers. To them, therefore, I had to feign feigning: I had to feign, that is, that I was feigning to keep their confidence, but that in reality that I was betraying it; while to Mr. Chiffinch I had to disclose these precious secrets not as true but as false, and conjecture with him what was the truth. (My evidence, later, was never called upon, nor did my name appear in any way, for that the jury would never have understood it.) I had, therefore, a double danger to guard against; first that which came from the conspirators—the fear that they should discover I was tricking them, or rather that I had discovered their trickery; and, on the other side, that I should become involved with them in the fall that was so certain from the beginning, and be myself accused of conspiracy—or of misprision of treason at the least. Against the latter I guarded as well as I could, by revealing to Mr. Chiffinch every least incident so soon as it happened; and on three occasions in the following year having a long discourse with His Majesty. But against the former danger I had only my wits to protect me.