Majesty will join us. What you have just witnessed requires some explanation...'

Ruff was not allowed to hear it. He was hustled out of the room without ceremony. Richard Honeydew went with him. They found Lawrence Firethorn and Nicholas Bracewell waiting for them in the corridor.

The book holder's immediate concern was for the boy. He was relieved to see that Richard was quite unharmed. The actor-manager looked at Ruff and gave a dark chuckle.

'Caught like a rat in a trap!' he noted. 'You were right, Nick. This was indeed the way to draw his hand.'

The stunned Ruff turned on the book holder.

'How did you know?'

'There were many things,' explained Nicholas. 'They all pointed towards religion. You were so true to the old faith that you were prepared to kill for it.'

'And to die for it!' said Ruff defiantly.

'Will Fowler was a devout Roman Catholic as well but he renounced his religion. You could not forgive him for that, Sam. Nor could you rest easy while your days in the theatre came to an end and Will's talent flourished. Your bitterness went deep.'

'Will betrayed us!' argued Ruff.

'Out of love for his young wife,' reminded Nicholas.

'I did not know of her,' said the other quietly. 'It is perhaps as well. Susan would have weighed on my conscience.'

'What conscience?' sneered Firethorn, pointing a finger at him. 'You're a traitor, sir!'

'I am loyal to the old religion!'

Richard Honeydew was baffled by an important detail.

'But why was Will Fowler murdered?' he asked.

'So that Sam could take his place,' said Nicholas. 'Most of us cheered when the Armada was defeated but it was a crippling blow to those of the Romish persuasion. Sam wanted to strike back on their behalf in the most terrible way he could imagine--by killing

Her Majesty. The only chance he had of getting close enough to her was during a performance at Court.'

'With Westfield's Men,' added Firethorn. 'Our company was the most likely to be invited to play here. This rogue sought to hide himself behind our reputation.'

Nicholas smiled and patted the boy on the back.

'As it happened, you gave the outstanding performance, Dick. You not only deceived an assassin, you convinced the whole Court.' He turned to Ruff. 'A true actor will never desert his audience. The lad did not run away on Christmas Day. He stayed with me at my lodging and rehearsed his new part. This dress of his was made by a Dutch hatmaker. It was worthy of a Queen.'

'You have been very brave, Dick,' observed Firethorn.

'I was a little afraid, sir,' confessed the boy.

'As were we all,' said Nicholas.

Samuel Ruff was embittered but chastened. He recognized just how cleverly the book holder had misled him. Nicholas had evidently suspected him for a long time. As the guards tried to move him away, he held his ground to make a last admission.

'I gave that crib to Susan Fowler.'

'She would rather you spared her husband,' said Nicholas.

'I know.'

'You should have gone to that farm in Norwich, Sam. You would have been far better off working with your brother.'

Ruff shook his head sadly and gave a smile of regret.

'There was no farm and I did work with my brother.'

'Redbeard?' Nicholas was shocked.

'He was my half-brother. For all his wild ways, Dominic was as committed to the true faith as I am. They imprisoned him in Bridewell for it and gave him those scars on his back. When Dominic was released, he was ready to do anything to help me.'

'So you repaid him with a sly dagger.'

'No!' denied Ruff vehemently. 'I could never murder my own kin. That was not my doing.' Pain contorted his face and his chin dropped to his chest. 'We both knew that it would cost us our lives in the end. Dominic was getting out of hand. The plan was in jeopardy while he lived. I did not want him killed was in some ways a necessary despatch. He had done all that was required of him.'

'Who stabbed him, then?' pressed Firethorn.

Samuel Ruff met his gaze with dignity and defiance.

'That is something you will never know.'

'Someone has suborned you and set you on!' accused the other. 'The rack will get the truth out of you. Take him away!'

As the guards dragged their captive off, Ruff lapsed back into Latin to proclaim his faith.

'In manus tuas, Domine, confide spiritum meum.'

They were the last words spoken by Mary Queen of Scots as she laid her head upon the block. In trying to behead another Queen, he had delivered himself up to execution. Interrogation would be followed by a slow, agonizing death.

Nicholas was not entirely surprised to learn that Ruff was part of a wider conspiracy. He and Redbeard had been the active partners in the scheme while others lurked in the shadows. Their names would doubtless emerge in conversation in the privacy of the torture chamber.

One revelation, however, had rocked the book holder.

'I had no idea that Redbeard was his brother,' he said. 'I guessed that he was a fellow Catholic when he attacked the inn sign at The Cardinal's Hat. It mocked his faith. But I did not realize that he and Sam were related.'

'Two yoke-devils!' snarled Firethorn.

'There is no madness worse than religion,' murmured Nicholas.

Richard Honeydew was troubled by feelings of regret.

'But Master Ruff was such a kind and friendly man.'

'He was a fine actor,' said the book holder. 'He was even ready to receive a wound in order to play his part effectively. It was his bout with Master Gill that set me thinking.'

'In what way?' asked the boy.

'Sam tried to avoid it in order to hide his fencing skills. But he was forced into the bout and we saw his true merit. A swordsman as expert as that could easily have rehearsed the brawl in the Hope and Anchor. Will Fowler was murdered to plan.'

Edmund Hoode came scurrying along the corridor to join them. Confused by the speed of events, he only half-understood why his play had been halted in such dramatic fashion.

'What is going on, I pray?'

'Retribution!' declared Firethorn. 'We have unmasked an assassin and brought him to justice.'

'Samuel Ruff?'

'Villainy incarnate,' said the other. 'The man was deep and cunning but he met his match in our book holder. Ruff stage managed things so cleverly that we were all fooled by him at first. Nick alone was equal to him.'

'I did what was needful,' said Nicholas modestly.

'You were magnificent!' insisted Firethorn. 'You won the villain's confidence and made him believe that you feared a threat from outside the company. Ruff thought that he was undiscovered. It then remained to show him in his true light.'

'Yes,' agreed Nicholas. 'By creating the very opportunity that he sought.'

'I begin to see,' said Hoode. 'When you asked me to put the execution on stage, you had a definite purpose in mind.'

'We did, Edmund,' explained the book holder. 'By casting Sam in the role of the executioner, we knew exactly when and how he would strike. With the aid of Dick here, we were able to prepare an irresistible trap for him.'

Slightly peeved that he had not been party to it all, Hoode nevertheless congratulated them warmly. There

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