“Why—” cried I, with sudden relief.
He held up his hand.
“Wait,” he said, “I too laughed when I heard that; and gave them to understand on what side you had been throughout that matter, and how you had been in His Majesty’s service and that I myself was privy to every detail of the affair. They looked more easy at that; and I thought that all was over. But they asked me to look at papers they had of yours—”
“Papers! Of mine!” I cried.
“Yes, Mr. Mallock. Papers of yours. I will tell you presently how they came by them. Well; there were about a dozen, I suppose, altogether; and some of them I knew all about, and said so. These were notes and reports that you had shewed to me: and there were three or four more which, though I had not seen them I could answer for. But there was one, Mr. Mallock, that I could not understand at all.”
He paused and looked at me; and I could see that he was uneasy.
Now it may appear incredible; but even then I could not think of what paper he meant. To the best of my belief I had shewn him everything that I thought to be of the least importance—notes and reports, as he had said, such as was that which I had made in the wherry on my way up from Wapping one night.
I shook my head.
“I do not know what you mean,” I said. “Where did they get the papers from?”
“Think again, Mr. Mallock. I said it was on a charge of treason just now. Well: I will say now that it may be no more than misprision of treason.”
Still I had no suspicion. I was thinking still, I suppose, of my lodgings here in Whitehall and of a few papers I had there.
“You must tell me,” I said.
“Mr. Mallock,” he said, “this paper I speak of was in cypher. It contained—”
“Lord!” I cried. “Cousin Tom!—”
Then I bit my lip; but it was too late.
“Yes,” said the other, very gravely. “I can see that you remember. It was your cousin who brought them up from Hare Street. He found them all in a little hiding-hole: and conceived it to be his duty—”
“His duty!” I cried. “Good God! why—”
Then again I checked myself.
“Mr. Chiffinch,” said I, “I remember the paper perfectly: at least I remember that I had it, though I have never read it or thought anything of it.”
“It is in very easy cypher, sir,” said he, with some severity.
“Well; it was too hard for me,” I said.
“Then why did you not shew it to me?” he asked.
“Lord! man,” I said, “I tell you it was gone clean from my memory. I got it from Rumbald a great while ago—a year or two at the least before the Plot. It was on my mind to send it to you; but I did not. I had no idea that it was of the least importance.”
“A letter, in cypher, and from Rumbald! And you thought it of no importance—even though the names of my Lord Shaftesbury and half a dozen others are written in full!”