“What is to be done then? Double the guards again?”
“Why that of course,” said he.
“And what else?” I asked; for I could see that he had not said all.
“A counterstroke,” he said. “But of what kind? You say the rising will be pretty soon.”
“I do not suppose for a week or two at the most. They were decided, I am sure; but no more.”
Suddenly the man slapped his leg; and his eyes grew little with his smile.
“I have it for sure,” he said. “It will be for the seventeenth of November. That is the popular date. Queen Bess and Dangerfield and the rest.”
“But what can you do?”
“Why,” said he, “forbid by proclamation all processions or bonfires on that day. Then they cannot even begin to gather.”
* * * * *
He proved right in every particular. The proclamation was issued, and met their intended assault to the very moment, as we learned afterwards, besides frightening the leaders lest their intention had been discovered: and the next night came one of the spies whom Mr. Chiffinch had sent down to Wapping, to say that my Lord Shaftesbury had slipped away and taken boat for Holland.
Now indeed the fear grew imminent. I had thought that once my Lord Shaftesbury was gone abroad, one of two things would happen—either that the whole movement would collapse, or that the leaders would be arrested forthwith. But Mr. Chiffinch was sharper than I this time; and said No to both.
“No,” said he, sitting like a Judge, with his fingers together, on the morning after my Lord Shaftesbury’s evasion. “The feeling is far too strong to fall away all of a sudden. I dare predict just the contrary, that, now that the coolest of them all is gone—for he dare not come back again—the hot-heads will take the lead; and that means the sharpest peril we have yet encountered. This time they will not stop at a demonstration; indeed I doubt if they could raise one successfully; they will aim direct at the person of the King. It is their only hope left.”
“Then why not take them before they can do any mischief?” I asked.
“First, Mr. Mallock,” he said, “because we have not enough positive evidence—at any rate not enough to hang them all; and next we must catch the small fry—the desperate little ones who will themselves attempt the killing. It is now that I should be ready for a visit from your friend Rumbald, if I were you. They can have no suspicion that you have done anything but betray them in the way they intended: they have a great weapon, they think, in you, to continue carrying false news. Now, Mr. Mallock, is the very time come of which you once spoke to me—the climax, when they will feign to reveal everything to you, and then make their last stroke. You have seen my Lord Essex again?”
“Not a sight of him. I had only a very guarded note, two days ago, but very friendly: saying that the designs were fallen through for the present.”