We are drawing nearer now to the heart of the conspiracy that was forming little by little, as an abscess forms in the body of a sick man. For two months more no great move was made. I was summoned now and again to such meetings as those which I have described: and sometimes one man was there and sometimes another. They were becoming less cautious with me in this—since I had by now the names of nearly all the Londoners involved: and Mr. Chiffinch had the names of the principal men in Scotland and the provinces, especially in the West, with whom they were concerting. They still fed me with lies from time to time, in small points; and I gained a little knowledge from these as to what they wished me to believe, and hence as to what was indeed the truth.
It was in October that the next meeting of importance took place—the next, that is to say, to which I myself was admitted: and it was again in Mr. Sheppard’s house in Wapping. There were gathered there, for the first time mostly all the principal gentlemen in the affair; and this was one more sign of how reckless they were becoming that I was admitted there at all. But I think it was because Mr. Chiffinch and I had been very discreet and careful that they thought that they had me in hand, and that I was somewhat of an innocent fool, and revealed no more than what they wished.
Before I went there—for I went by water this time, in a private wherry, to Wapping Old Stairs, I went first to Mr. Chiffinch to see if there were any news for me.
“Why, yes,” he said, when he had me alone, “there is a little matter I would like you to find out about. The Duke of Monmouth was here with my Lord Grey, a day or two ago: they all dined with Sir Thomas Armstrong: and all three of them went round the posts and the guardroom, and saw everything. Now what was that for?”
“Sir Thomas Armstrong?” said I in astonishment. “Why he is—”
I was about to say he was one of His Majesty’s closest friends and evil geniuses; but I stopped. There was no need.
The page smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “Well; Mr. Mallock? If you can find out anything—”
“And the Duke too!” I said. “Well; I was right, was I not?” (For what I had found out was true enough—that His Grace was far more deeply involved than we had at first suspected. We had known that he was their protege, but not that he was so much in their counsel, and of one mind with them.)
“His Grace will come to some disaster, I think,” said Mr. Chiffinch very tranquilly.
* * * * *
When I came to Wapping Old Stairs it appeared that the watermen there knew well enough what was forward; for while one ran down to help me from the wherry, a number of others stood watching as if they knew what I had come for; and all saluted me as I went up. At the head of the stairs, I looked back, and two more wherries with a gentleman in each were just coming in.