After this encounter, Clarendon kept to his house surrounded by guards, and put it out that his gout (a real complaint, for he was tormented by the disease mercilessly, and had been for many years past) was upon him again. His visit to Cornbury was canceled and he cowered at home, leaving only to make the short journey from Piccadilly to Whitehall to wait on the king.
And I hunted for Cola, using all the powers I had been given to search out his whereabouts. I had fifty soldiers ready for use, and every informer was pressed into service. All of the radicals I could lay my hands on were arrested, in case the Italian had taken refuge with them; the Spanish ambassador’s house was discreetly watched, back and front, and I had people going around nearly every tavern, inn and hostel asking for information. The docks were watched as well, and I asked my merchant friend Mr. Williams to put it abroad that any foreigner asking for a passage was to be reported to me immediately.
The French, I believe, do these things more effectively, as they can call on what they term a police to ensure order in their towns. After the experience of searching for Cola, I came to think that such a body might be of some use in London as well, although there seems no chance of it ever being established. Perhaps with such a force, Cola might have been found more quickly; perhaps he might not have come so close to accomplishing his aim. All I knew was that, for three days of disappointment, I searched in vain. There was not even a whisper of the man, which I considered incredible for one normally so noticeable. That he was in London was certain, there was nowhere else for him to go. But it was as if he had dissolved into the air like a spirit.
I had, of course, to make regular reports to Lord Clarendon and Mr. Bennet about my progress, and I could sense their ebbing confidence as, day after day, I told them of my failure. Mr. Bennet said nothing directly, but I knew him well enough to see that my own position was now at stake as well, and that I had to find the Italian speedily if I was not to lose his support. The visit on the fourth day of my search was the worst, for I had to stand throughout the interview once more and suffer his ever-growing coldness, which bore heavily on me as I walked afterward across the courtyards of the palace to the river.
Then I stopped, for I knew that I had detected something of the utmost importance, but could not instantly place in my mind what it could be. But I had a presentiment of the greatest danger which would not leave me, however much I thought and tried to discover what idea had been raised in my mind. It was a beautiful morning, I remember, and I had decided to revive my spirits by walking from Mr. Bennet’s quarters across Cotton Garden, then through a small passageway into St. Stephen’s Court to get to Westminster Stairs. It was in this little passageway, enclosed by heavy oak doors at either end, that the worry came upon me first, but I shrugged it off and continued to walk. Only as I stood on the quayside and was about to get into my boat did the understanding come to me, and I immediately made my way as swiftly as possible back to the nearest guards.
“Sound the alarm,” I said, once I had established with him my authority. “There is an assassin in the building.”
I gave him a swift description of the Italian, then returned to Mr. Bennet, and burst in on him without, this time, waiting for any formalities. “He is here,” I said. “He is in the palace.”
Mr. Bennet looked skeptical. “You have seen him?”
“No. I smelled him.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I smelled him. In the corridor. He wears a particular perfume, which is quite unmistakable, and which no Englishman would ever use. I smelled it. Believe me, sir, he is here.”
Bennet grunted. “And what have you done about it?”
“I have alerted the guards, and they are beginning to search. Where is the king? And the chancellor?”
“The king is at his prayers, and the chancellor is not here.”
“You must place extra guards.”
Mr. Bennet nodded, and straightaway summoned some officials and began giving orders. For the first time, I think, I understood why His Majesty held him in such high regard, for he acted calmly and without any show of disturbance, but moved with the greatest dispatch. Within minutes, guards were surrounding the king, the prayers were brought to an early conclusion—although not so hastily that any alarm was given to the attending courtiers—and small parties of soldiers fanned out across the palace, with its hundreds of rooms and courtyards and corridors, searching for the intruder.
“I hope you are right, sir,” Mr. Bennet said, as we watched a small party of officials being stopped and scrutinized. “If you are not, then you will not have to answer to me.”
Then I saw the man I had sought for so many days. Mr. Bennet occupied a set of rooms on the corner, with one pair of windows giving out onto the Thames, the other onto the alleyway leading to Parliament Stairs. And down this, walking calmly from Old Palace Yard past the Prince’s Lodgings, I saw a familiar figure. Without any shadow of a doubt, it was Cola, as cool as ever, though dressed less conspicuously, looking for all the world as though he had a perfect right to be there.
“There,” I shouted, grabbing Mr. Bennet by the shoulder. It took him a long time to forgive the action. “There he is. Quickly now!”
Without waiting, I ran from the room, down the stairs, shouting for guards to follow me as swiftly as possible. And I stood, like Horatius Codes himself, barring the way to Parliament Stairs, the waiting boats and Cola’s only chance of escape.
I had no notion of what to do next. I was quite unarmed, perfectly alone and without any means of defending myself against a man whose murderous skills were well attested. But my desire and my duty impelled me forward, for I was determined he should not escape me, and the revenge I was bound to seek.
Had Cola pulled his weapon and lunged at me the moment he saw me standing in front of him, his escape would have been certain and my death equally assured. I had only surprise in my armory, and I was quite aware that it was but a feeble weapon.
It worked, nonetheless, for when Cola did see me, he was so astonished that he did not know how to react.
“Dr. Wallis!” he said, and even managed a smile of what could almost have passed as pleasure. “You were the last person I expected to see here.”
“I am aware of that. Might I enquire what you are doing?”
“I am seeing the sights, sir,” he replied. “Before beginning my journey home, which I plan to do tomorrow.”
“I think not,” I said with relief, for I could see soldiers approaching over the courtyard. “I think your journey is already at an end.”
He turned round to see what I was looking at, then his face frowned with puzzlement and dismay.
“I am betrayed, I see,” he said, and I breathed a great sigh of relief.