Ramsey dropped the half-quatern sack on the grass of the Abbey’s cloister and waited for Lilly and Scott to join him, his mood darker than the London evening and twice as cold. He had sought Lilly out, several weeks earlier at his house on the Strand to discuss the matter at hand. Though he thought he had impressed on the astrologer the need for secrecy in their endeavour and the importance of securing the services of someone familiar in the employment of the mosaical rods, (someone of rank, definitely of experience) and even though Lilly had nodded gravely, given his word he knew of such a man, it appeared he did not. Lilly had arrived at the appointed hour with John Scott, the former page of Lord Norris, mocking Ramsay even as Scott stuttered his way through questions regarding his experience and the integrity of his knowledge. Opening the door for the two of the, Ramsay swore under his breath at his stupidity in trusting someone like Lilly. The seriousness nature of this investigation, which came with the blessings of both Dean Williams and that of the King, appeared to have been lost on up-start astrologer and his half-wit accomplice. Within minutes of arriving the first of the uninvited observers found their way into the cloister and Ramsay’s hunt turned into an evening of entertainment for Lilly and his cohort.
Ramsay ordered the six labourers to wait at the southern end and none objected. The mad Scotsman had promised them each a month’s wages regardless of what was found. The walkway was warmer than the damp air of the grassed square, the floor covered in rushes and a low fire stoked for them to huddle around. There was silence as none dared speculated within earshot of the royal clockmaker what compelled him to dig in the Abbey at night.
From a satchel, Ramsay produced a grid map on a sheet of rough paper and took unnecessary time and effort in flattening the folds and reviewing the grid references it in the light of Lilly’s lantern.
“We will work in a systematic manner from North to South, East to West, taking measured steps,” Ramsay stated, his thick brogue crystallising in sharp ivory puffs. He made no effort to modulate the volume. There was no point in trying to keep anything a secret. “You understand, Scott? Methodical. This is not the hocus pocus of your mentor.”
The young man flushed under Ramsay’s stare, but nodded. The hazel rods trembled in his gloved hands. Lilly’s face twitched for a moment and he executed a dramatic sneeze to cover the full extent of Ramsay’s debasement. Whatever illusion of friendly partnership remained, froze with the grass beneath their feet.
The trio walked to the north-east corner, their foot steps carving imprints in the lawn. Lilly took the lantern from Ramsay and raised the wick in both. They moved slowly, Scott with the hazel rods held lightly before him, Lilly with the lanterns at head height throwing as much light before them as possible and Ramsay counting under his breath and notating the map as they went.
The moon climbed high above them, the sliver doing little to illuminate their progress. More lights sprung up in the arched windows of the cloister. The weather and late hour had kept all by the hardiest and most curious of onlookers away but still Ramsay scowled. This was not a public performance, though Lilly had obviously gone to great lengths to ensure it was despite his word to keep their visit to the Abbey a sworn secret. Animated chatter stole across the square. Wagers being taken. Stories compared. By tomorrow evening a furious trade in phantasical tales would be had in all the pubs in Westminster and beyond.
Halfway across the cloister Scott complained of the cold and Lilly of cramps. Ramsay called a halt, checked the time on his pocket watch and drew a silver flask from his satchel, offering it only to Scott.
“Uncover what the Abbey hides, laddie, and you’ll not be grovelling for whims over Lord Norris’s chamber pot.” The young man nodded and fumbled the flask, almost dropping it. “Now that, laddie. That would be a true crime.”