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Authors: Ann Turnbull

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BOOK: The Gunpowder Plot
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But next morning, as soon as their lessons with Mistress Perks were over, they began their favourite game of spies – just as they had when Eliza visited Lucy's home. Lucy had confided in Eliza that it was her ambition to be a spy. “Ladies are excellent at watching and reporting,” she said. “My mother says so.”

They could not go out. The wind flung great drops of rain against the windows and the cobbles outside were shining wet. Instead, Lucy took out a little notebook from the
pocket
under her gown and passed it to Eliza. “We must make a list of all the people in the house,” she said. “Anyone could be an enemy.”

Eliza wrote down all the names, from her parents, her governess and the maids and manservant, down to the kitchen folk:

‘Mistress Rowley, cook.

Walter Bennett, handyman.

Anne and Bessy, kitchen maids.

Mouser, cat.'

“I don't think any of those are enemies,” she said, “though Mistress Rowley says Mouser is not living up to his name and keeps disappearing.”

Eliza
saw a spark of interest brighten her cousin's face.

“I wonder where he goes?” said Lucy. And she wrote down:

‘Mouser – suspect.'

“Can we meet him?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Eliza. “And if we go now, Mistress Rowley might give us sweetmeats. I can smell baking.”

They hurried downstairs, taking their notes with them. The kitchen was a busy place, the fire hot, the table laden with pastry and stuffings and chopped meat, the maidservants scurrying around – all in honour of the visitors.

Mistress
Rowley, her face rosy from the fire, curtseyed as she brushed floury hands on her apron.

“What a clever pair you are, with all your reading and writing!” she said, glancing at the notebook in Lucy's hand. “But I expect you'd like a cinnamon bun each – same as any other little girls?”

“Yes, please!”

She handed them one each, and the girls were quiet as they enjoyed the warm, crumbly buns.

The black cat, Mouser, sidled into the kitchen.

“Now, where have you been, Mouser?”
demanded
Mistress Rowley. “Look at the cobwebs on his whiskers! He's been on the prowl somewhere.”

The girls knelt to stroke him.

“He's all dirty!” exclaimed Eliza, giggling. “My hand is black!”


So is mine.”

Lucy got up and moved towards the corner that Mouser had emerged from – but Mistress Rowley stood in her way.

“No you don't, young mistress – not in your silk gown and pretty slippers! That doorway leads to the storeroom and the coal hole.”

Lucy stepped back, and Eliza saw her examining her hands.

“Coal dust,” said Lucy.

“At least we
have
a coal store now, and don't have to rent it,” Mistress Rowley said, turning back to her pastry-making. “There's Mistress Bright across the way complaining that she's lost hers since Master Whynniard let the big cellar
to
some gentleman or other. Though why any gentleman would need a cellar that size all to himself, goodness knows. Goes all the way under the House of Lords, that one does. There's a door in our storeroom that used to connect to it. Well, now, young mistresses, I have work to do.”

She shooed them out.

Eliza and Lucy were not much interested in who rented the big cellar or where the entrances were – though back upstairs they made notes, as any good spy would. But then Eliza looked out of the window and said, “It's stopped raining. We can go out this afternoon.”

  
3
  

A Stranger

“I must make a visit to the haberdasher's and buy some sewing silks,” said Mistress Perks. “You girls can accompany me.”

Eliza wished she and Lucy could go out alone, but that would never be allowed. As young gentlewomen they were always accompanied and supervised.

The governess led them out through the cloisters to the open area of shops and
market
stalls. Here, all was noise and bustle. They saw squawking chickens hung up by their feet, a dairymaid leading a cow, women selling bread and fragrant herbs, an apothecary's shop, and a milliner's.

Eliza watched her cousin looking about, interested in everything.

“There are so many little shops!” Lucy exclaimed. “You are lucky to have them so close to home, Eliza.”

Some of the shops and houses were tiny, squeezed into corners. All the old buildings seemed to be joined at some point, with floors on different levels, and extra rooms
and
windows added bit by bit over hundreds of years.

“That hall up there is called the Prince's Chamber,” Eliza told her cousin. “Father says they use it as a robing room for the Lords when they assemble.”

Beneath the Prince's Chamber was a row of houses and shops.

As they turned to enter the haberdasher's, a man came out of the house next door. His doublet was dirty, and he wore a battered high-crowned hat with the brim tilted to shade his face, but Eliza noticed his red-brown hair and beard and his bold gaze, and the way he held himself – straight and tall, like a soldier.

He
is dressed as a working man,
she thought,
and yet he has the bearing of a gentleman.

The man saw Eliza looking at him and glared at her. He turned away swiftly, disappearing around the corner into Parliament Place.

Mistress
Perks drew the girls with her into the shop.

As the governess hesitated over different coloured threads, Eliza whispered to Lucy, “Did you see that man?”

“Yes. Do you know him?”

Eliza shook her head.

“He looks like an enemy,” said Lucy.

* * *

“I can tell you who that is,” said Walter Bennett.

The girls had gone down to the kitchen in the hope of discovering more and had found
Walter
the handyman there, fixing a broken window catch.

“His name's John Johnson,” Walter said, “and he's a servant of Sir Thomas Percy that lives in Gray's Inn Road. Johnson's the new tenant at Master Whynniard's house – moved there in the spring, so I heard.”

Eliza looked at Lucy who frowned, and riffled through the notes they had made after listening to Mistress Rowley. “Sir Thomas Percy? Is he the gentleman who is renting the big cellar?”

Walter Bennett looked at her in surprise. “Yes, that'll be him! Seems you know as much as I do, almost. I heard this John
Johnson
is guarding a stock of fuel there for the gentleman. I saw him moving some firewood in a while ago.”

“Doesn't Sir Thomas Percy have his own cellar at Gray's Inn Road?” asked Lucy.

“I don't know, mistress. You don't ask questions of gentry, do you?”


I
do,” said Lucy. “But then my father is a lord.”

“Of course,” said the handyman, giving a little bow.

“Oh!” exclaimed Eliza. “Here comes Mouser!” She knelt to stroke the cat. “He's all dusty again.”

As they went back upstairs, Lucy said,

We need to follow that cat. And John Johnson. They could be in league together.”

Eliza smiled.
I like this game
, she thought. And she remarked, “It will be difficult to get out on our own.”

Lucy agreed. “But my mother says that a lady can always find a way to do what she wants.”

  
4
  

Following John Johnson

They found a way the next morning, after church. All the time, while the congregation was gathering for the service, Eliza and Lucy whispered, twisting and turning to see who was coming in, till Eliza's mother slapped her daughter's hand and hissed, “Sit still and be quiet! You shame me!”

Eliza
tried to obey. But then Lucy nudged her. “
He's
here!” And Eliza risked a glance around the edge of the pew and saw the tall stranger, John Johnson, slipping into a seat at the back of the church. He took off his hat and lowered his head as if in silent prayer, but Eliza still felt sure that he was playing a part and was not what he seemed.
Perhaps he is privately a Catholic
, she thought,
like my father
. But there was something fierce and secretive about John Johnson that was not like her father at all. She pulled back quickly and lowered her own eyes.

BOOK: The Gunpowder Plot
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