Authors: Ann Turnbull
When the service was over Eliza saw
Johnson leave the church ahead of most of the congregation.
“Watch where he goes!” whispered Lucy.
“I am!” Eliza tried to keep an eye on Johnson's hat as he moved away through the crowd of people. She wanted to hurry after him â but, to her annoyance, the adults paused in the churchyard to talk. Eliza's mother said she wished to go straight home, but the two men decided they would walk for a while.
Eliza and Lucy hopped about impatiently. They had lost John Johnson now.
“Fatherâ¦” began Lucy.
And her father said, “Shall we take the girls?”
That would be a kindness, cousin. Thank you,” said Eliza's mother.
And to Eliza she whispered, “Now, be good, and behave like a lady. Let us hope the fresh air blows that unbecoming fidgetiness out of you.”
Then Eliza's mother and her servants turned back towards home, and Eliza and Lucy were left with their fathers.
The gentlemen led the way, strolling through the streets and down towards the river. They wanted to talk, and took little notice of the girls, who skipped along beside them, feeling the breeze on their faces and gazing out at all the boats coming and going on the river.
fathers spoke of the King's return to London from a hunting expedition, and of the State Opening of Parliament which they would attend in two days' time.
We'll be able to watch the procession and see the King arrive
, thought Eliza.
“Eliza!” whispered Lucy, catching her arm. “Look!”
John Johnson had reappeared. He had hailed one of the boats that ferried people to and fro across the river from Parliament Stairs to Lambeth. He was now on board, standing up straight and steady in the boat without a hint of a wobble as it moved out into the current.
he was going to Lambeth. And the same thought came to both of them.
“If he's awayâ¦”
“We could look around near that house he's rentingâ¦”
But there was no chance to do so immediately, so they enjoyed scurrying along the muddy paths until they were pink-cheeked and untidy and the hems of their gowns were splashed with dirt.
* * *
“You are a pair of hoydens!” Eliza's mother complained when they returned.
Go and find Cecily. She'll comb your hair and re-pin it. Then you may both come and sew with me and read the Bible.”
But Eliza and Lucy wanted to go out before John Johnson came back across the river. And Cecily, Eliza's nursemaid, was nowhere to be seen.
“Let's go now,” said Eliza, surprising herself with her own daring. “If we're quick, they won't know.”
It took only moments to sneak out into the Sunday quiet of Westminster and make their way to the little house on the corner of Parliament Place.
Eliza felt both excited and frightened.
this still a game of spies, she wondered, like the games they had played at Lucy's home in Warwickshire? Mouser the cat had secrets, as cats do, and it would be fun to discover them. But John Johnson was different. There was something not right about him. Eliza felt sure he was in disguise, and that their game was on the brink of becoming real.
The door of the house was shut.
“It'll be locked,” said Lucy. “Let's look through the window.”
They peered in. But they could see little through the small greenish panes.
“There's a chair. And a table with a candlestick on it,” said Eliza.
No weapons. No documents.” Lucy looked disappointed. “Where is the cellar â the big cellar where Walter Bennett said John Johnson was guarding the firewood?”
“It's under the House of Lords. But you can't see it from here,” said Eliza. “There are buildings all around it.”
“Where do these steps go?” asked Lucy.
Eliza looked at the short flight of steps that led down between the house and the next-door shop. “I don't know.”
“Let's go and see,” Lucy said.
Eliza didn't want to. What if someone saw them and told her mother? What if John Johnson came back and caught them?
Lucy was already on her way down. Her voice echoed as she called, “There's a courtyardâ¦”
Reluctantly, Eliza followed.
At the bottom was a wall, but the passage twisted to the left and opened out into a small courtyard â a dank, dark place between tall buildings, with moss growing on the walls and bird droppings everywhere. Eliza looked up and saw a small square of sky. She felt trapped.
“Let's go back,” she whispered.
Lucy wasn't listening. “The passage goes on. And there's a building that goes all the way along it.” She turned to Eliza. “Could that be the cellar?”
Eliza could look, or think, they heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs.
They looked around frantically.
A water butt stood in one corner of the courtyard. They dived behind it, pulling in the layers and flounces of their skirts, and squeezed close together, just as the person came into view.
It was a woman â a servant â carrying a great basket of linen. Eliza felt weak with relief. But she held her breath and kept still as the
plodded past and disappeared around the corner into the long passage, her footsteps gradually growing fainter.
At last the girls crept out.
“I thought â ”
“I was so scared â ”
that their fright was over they began to giggle.
“Your gown! It's got green moss stains on it.”
“Yours has got something worse.”
“Ugh! Let's go home!”
Still giggling, they ran up the stairs. And Eliza, leading the way, stepped onto the pavement and ran straight into John Johnson.
“Oh!” Eliza cried out.
She felt as if her knees would give way. Behind her, Lucy gave a little shriek.
John Johnson and Eliza stared at each other. For an instant his look was fierce and pitiless, like that of the hawk she'd seen last summer on a hunter's wrist in Warwickshire.
Then he changed. He hunched his shoulders, took off his hat and held it in front of him as he bowed and muttered,
Your pardon, mistress.”
He had the look of a servant as he shuffled aside to let them pass.
But I saw his real face
, thought Eliza.
John Johnson is no servant. He is playing a part, I'm sure of it. He is dangerous. And he knows we are following him.
She seized Lucy's hand, and the two of them ran off down the street as fast as they could. They didn't look back, but Eliza could feel John Johnson watching them till they turned the corner.
* * *
the gentlemen taken you?” cried Cecily, as she surveyed the two dishevelled girls. “Mud, cobwebs â and what are these nasty green stains?”
She unlaced their gowns and made them change into clean clothes, then set about untangling their hair.
“Ow!” wailed Eliza.
“It's for your own good, Mistress Eliza. Your mother mustn't see you like this. She's already cross, waiting for you. Where have you been?”
“Nowhere much,” said Eliza. “Ouch!”
Later, on their way downstairs, Lucy whispered, “We must meet and talk privately.”
Eliza's mother kept them both under her eye for the rest of the day, reading from the Bible and working on their embroidery. Eliza thought they would have to wait until bedtime, but in the evening, when they were all finishing supper, there came a loud knock at the main door.
Eliza heard her father's manservant talking to someone. Then he came in and spoke quietly to her father and uncle, who both got up at once and went out into the hall.
In the dining room, all the clatter of plates and spoons stopped, and Eliza knew her mother was listening intently. So were Eliza and Lucy.
were several men's voices on the other side of the door. They sounded urgent and serious. Eliza caught the words “warningâ¦”, “a letterâ¦”, “the King's personâ¦”
Then the visitors' voices rose as they moved towards the door: “If you see or hear anything unusualâ¦”
“We will, most certainly,” her father said.
Eliza and Lucy looked at each other. Eliza knew they were both thinking the same thing.
“Mother,” she said, “Lucy and I have noticed something unusual.”
“Oh!” Her mother seemed to see the girls for the first time. “Eliza, how many times have I told you not to listen to
conversations? Go upstairs to your bedchamber now, both of you.”
“But, Motherâ¦ There is a man â there is something strange about himâ¦”
But her mother took no notice. Eliza knew she thought this was just one of their games. And she also knew that her mother was alarmed by what the gentlemen had been saying.
Upstairs in their bedchamber, Eliza and Lucy talked in whispers about what they had just heard.
“I'm sure it means danger to the King,” said Lucy. “We ought to inform our fathers of our suspicions.”
had a way of making things sound important. Eliza knew she must go down again and speak to her father, even if he was angry.
They found their fathers deep in discussion. It was not a good time, and the gentlemen were not pleased to see them â but Lucy's father gave her permission to speak. “Father,” she said, “we have been watching someone we believe is an enemy.”
Eliza remembered something Mistress Perks had said, and added, “We think this concerns the safety of the realm.”
The men exchanged a glance, and Lucy's father sighed. “Lucy,” he said, “we have no
for your games now. I am displeased at this interruption. Please leave us.”
“You too, Eliza,” said her father sternly.