“What is it that you apprehend?” inquired Humfrey.
“There’s enough to apprehend when all the hot-headed Papists of Stafford and Derbyshire are waiting the signal to fire the outhouses and carry off this lady under cover of the confusion. Mr. Secretary swears they will not stir till the signal be given, and that it never will; but such sort of fellows are like enough to mistake the sign, and the stress may come through their dillydallying to make all sure as they say, and then, if there be any mischance, I shall be the one to bear the blame. Ay, if it be their own work!” he added, speaking to himself, “Murder under trust! That would serve as an answer to foreign princes, and my head would have to pay for it, however welcome it might be! So, good Mr. Talbot, supposing any alarm should arise, keep you close to the person of this lady, for there be those who would make the fray a colour for taking her life, under pretext of hindering her from being carried off.”
It was no wonder that a warder in such circumstances looked harassed and perplexed, and showed himself glad of being joined by any ally whom he could trust. In truth, harsh and narrow as he was, Paulett was too good and religious a man for the task that had been thrust on him, where loyal obedience, sense of expediency, and even religious fanaticism, were all in opposition to the primary principles of truth, mercy, and honour. He was, besides, in constant anxiety, living as he did between plot and counterplot, and with the certainty that emissaries of the Council surrounded him who would have no scruple in taking Mary’s life, and leaving him to bear the blame, when Elizabeth would have to explain the deed to the other sovereigns of Europe. He disclosed almost all this to Humfrey, whose frank, trustworthy expression seemed to move him to unusual confidence.
At supper-time another person appeared, whom Humfrey thought he had once seen at Sheffield—a thin, yellow-haired and bearded man, much marked with smallpox, in the black dress of a lawyer, who sat above the household servants, though below the salt. Paulett once drank to him with a certain air of patronage, calling him Master Phillipps, a name that came as a revelation to Humfrey. Phillipps was the decipherer who had, he knew, been employed to interpret Queen Mary’s letters after the Norfolk plot. Were there, then, fresh letters of that unfortunate lady in his hands, or were any to be searched for and captured?
“What vantage or what thing
Gett’st thou thus for to sting,
Thou false and flatt’ring liar?
Thy tongue doth hurt, it’s seen
No less than arrows keen
Or hot consuming fire.”
So sang the congregation in the chapel at Chartley, in the strains of Sternhold and Hopkins, while Humfrey Talbot could not forbear from a misgiving whether these falsehoods were entirely on the side to which they were thus liberally attributed. Opposite to him stood Cicely, in her dainty Sunday farthingale of white, embroidered with violet buds, and a green and violet boddice to match, holding herself with that unconscious royal bearing which had always distinguished her, but with an expression of care and anxiety drawing her dark brows nearer together as she bent over her book.