I was still staring after him, wondering what was the matter, when I felt myself touched, and turned to find Mr. Chiffinch at my elbow. He looked very serious.
“Come this way, sir,” said he. “I must speak with you instantly.”
I went after him, down the gallery; and he led me into the little empty chamber where I had been talking with the priest half an hour ago. He closed the door carefully behind him; and turned to me again.
“Mr. Mallock,” he said, “I have very serious news for you.”
“Yes,” said I, never dreaming what the matter was.
“It touches yourself very closely,” he said, searching my face with his eyes.
“Well; what is it?” asked I—my heart beginning to beat a little.
“Mr. Mallock,” he said, very gravely, “there is an order for your arrest. If you will come back with me quietly to my lodgings we can effect all that is necessary without scandal.”
I said never a word as we went back, first downstairs between the Yeomen, then to the right, and so round through the little familiar passage and up the stairs. I could hear the tramp of guards behind, and knew that they had followed us from the Queen’s lodgings and would be at the doors after we were within. I was completely stunned, except, I think, for a little glimmer of sense still left which told me that the least said in any public place, the better. Mr. Chiffinch, too, I could see very well, was as bewildered as myself—for, so far as I was concerned, there was not yet the faintest suspicion in my mind as to what was the matter. At least, I told myself, my conscience was clear.
So soon as we were within the closet, the page, having again shut the door carefully behind me came forward to where I stood.
“Sit down, Mr. Mallock,” said he, in a low voice, but very kindly.
I could see that his face was very pale and that he seemed greatly agitated. When I was seated, he sat himself down at his table a little way off.
“This is a terrible affair,” he said, “and I do not know—”
“For God’s sake,” I whispered suddenly, “tell me what I am charged with.”
He looked up at me sharply.
“You do not know, Mr. Mallock?”
“Before God,” I said, “I have no more idea what the pother is about than—”
“Well, shortly,” he said, “it is treason.”
He leaned forward and took up a pen, to play with as be talked.
“I will tell you the whole thing from the beginning,” he said. “You must have patience. An hour ago a clerk came to me here from the Board of the Green Cloth to tell me that the magistrates desired my presence there immediately on a matter of the highest importance. I went there directly and found three or four of them there, with Sir George Jeffreys whom they had sent for, it seemed, as they did not know what course to pursue, and had thought perhaps that I might throw some light upon it. They were very grave indeed, and presently mentioned your name, saying that a charge had been laid against you before one of the Westminster magistrates, of having been privy to the Ryehouse Plot.”