William Ainsworth.

Guy Fawkes: or, The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance





Catesby thought Viviana had never appeared so lovely as in this costume; and as he gazed at her white and delicately formed feet, her small rounded ankles, her dark and abundant tresses falling in showers almost to the ground, he became more deeply enamoured than before. His passionate gaze was, however, unnoticed, as the object of it kept her eyes steadily fixed on the ground. Lady Digby, who was a most beautiful woman, scarcely appeared to less advantage; and, as she walked side by side with Viviana in the procession, the pair attracted universal admiration from all who beheld them.

Everything being at last in readiness, and the order of march fully arranged, two youthful choristers, in surplices, chanting a hymn to Saint Winifred, set forth. They were followed by two men bearing silken banners, on one of which was displayed the martyrdom of the saint whose shrine they were about to visit, and on the other a lamb carrying a cross; next came Fathers Oldcorne and Fisher, each sustaining a large silver crucifix; next, Garnet alone, in the full habit of his order; next, the females, in the attire before described, and walking two and two; next, Sir Everard Digby and Sir William Radcliffe; and lastly, the rest of the pilgrims, to the number of fourteen. These were all on foot. But at the distance of fifty paces behind them rode Guy Fawkes and Catesby, at the head of twenty well-armed and well-mounted attendants, intended to serve as a guard in case of need.

In such order, this singular procession moved forward at a slow pace, taking its course along a secluded road leading to the ridge of hills extending from the neighbourhood of Wrexham to Mold, and from thence, in an almost unbroken chain, to Holywell.

Along these heights, whence magnificent views were obtained of the broad estuary of the Dee and the more distant ocean, the train proceeded without interruption; and though the road selected was one seldom traversed, and through a country thinly peopled, still, the rumour of the pilgrimage having gone abroad, hundreds were stationed at different points to behold it. Some expressions of disapprobation were occasionally manifested by the spectators; but the presence of the large armed force effectually prevented any interference.

Whenever such a course could be pursued, the procession took its way over the sward. Still the sufferings of the females were severe in the extreme; and before Viviana had proceeded a mile, her white, tender feet were cut and bruised by the sharp flints over which she walked; every step she took leaving a bloody print behind it. Lady Digby was in little better condition. But such was the zeal by which they, in common with all the other devotees following them, were animated, that not a single murmur was uttered.

Proceeding in this way, they reached at mid-day a small stone chapel on the summit of the hill overlooking Plas-Newydd, where they halted, and devotions being performed, the females bathed their lacerated limbs in a neighbouring brook, after which they were rubbed with a cooling and odorous ointment.

Thus refreshed, they again set forward, and halting a second time at Plas-Isaf, where similar religious ceremonies were observed, they rested for the day at a lodging prepared for their reception in the vicinity of Mold.

The night being passed in prayer, early in the morning they commenced their march in the same order as before. When Viviana first set her feet to the ground, she felt as if she were treading on hot iron, and the pain was so excruciating, that she could not repress a cry.

Heed not your sufferings, dear daughter, observed Garnet, compassionately; the waters of the holy fountain will heal the wounds both of soul and body.

Overcoming her agony by a powerful effort, she contrived to limp forward; and the whole party was soon after in motion. Halting; for two hours at Pentre-Terfyn, and again at Skeviog, the train, towards evening, reached the summit of the hill overlooking Holywell, at the foot of which could be seen the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey, and the roof of the ancient chapel erected over the sacred spring. At this sight, those who were foremost in the procession fell on their knees; and the horsemen dismounting, imitated their example. An earnest supplication to Saint Winifred was then poured forth by Father Garnet, in which all the others joined, and a hymn in her honour chanted by the choristers.

Their devotions ended, the whole train arose, and walked slowly down the steep descent. As they entered the little town, which owes its name and celebrity to the miraculous spring rising within it, they were met by a large concourse of people, who had flocked from Flint, and the other neighbouring places to witness the ceremonial. Most of the inhabitants of Holywell, holding their saintly patroness in the deepest veneration, viewed this pilgrimage to her shrine as a proper tribute of respect, while those of the opposite faith were greatly impressed by it. As the procession advanced, the crowd divided into two lines to allow it passage, and many fell on their knees imploring a blessing from Garnet, which he in no instance refused. When within a hundred yards of the sacred well, they were met by a priest, followed by another small train of pilgrims. A Latin oration having been pronounced by this priest, and replied to in the same language by Garnet, the train was once more put in motion, and presently reached the ancient fabric built over the sacred fountain.

The legend of Saint Winifred is so well known, that it is scarcely necessary to repeat it. For the benefit of the uninformed, however, it may be stated that she flourished about the middle of the seventh century, and was the daughter of Thewith, one of the chief lords of Wales. Devoutly educated by a monk named Beuno, who afterwards received canonization, she took the veil, and retired to a small monastery (the ruins of which still exist), built by her father near the scene of her subsequent martyrdom. Persecuted by the addresses of Caradoc, son of Alan, Prince of Wales, she fled from him to avoid his violence. He followed, and inflamed by fury at her resistance, struck off her head. For this atrocity, the earth instantly opened and swallowed him alive, while from the spot where the head had fallen gushed forth a fountain of unequalled force and purity, producing more than a hundred tons a minute. The bottom of this miraculous well is strewn with pebbles streaked with red veins, in memory of the virgin saint from whose blood it sprung. On its margin grows an odorous moss, while its gelid and translucent waters are esteemed a remedy for many disorders. Winifred's career did not terminate with her decapitation. Resuscitated by the prayers of Saint Beuno, she lived many years a life of the utmost sanctity, bearing, as a mark of the miracle performed in her behalf, a narrow crimson circle round her throat.

Passing the chapel adjoining the well, built in the reign of Henry the Seventh by his mother, the pious Countess of Richmond, the pilgrims came to the swift clear stream rushing from the well. Instead of ascending the steps leading to the edifice built over the spring, they plunged into the stream, and crossing it entered the structure by a doorway on the further side. Erected by the Countess of Richmond at the same period as the chapel, this structure, quadrangular in form, and of great beauty, consists of light clustered pillars and mouldings, supporting the most gorgeous tracery and groining, the whole being ornamented with sculptured bosses, pendent capitals, fretwork, niches, and tabernacles. In the midst is a large stone basin, to receive the water of the fountain, around which the procession now grouped, and as soon as all were assembled, at the command of Father Garnet they fell on their knees.

It was a solemn and striking sight to see this large group prostrated around that beautiful fountain, and covered by that ancient structure, a touching thing to hear the voice of prayer mingling with the sound of the rushing water. After this, they all arose. A hymn was then chanted, and votive offerings made at the shrine of the saint. The male portion of the assemblage then followed Garnet to the chapel, where further religious rites were performed, while the female devotees, remaining near the fountain, resigned themselves to the care of several attendants of their own sex, who, having bathed their feet in the water, applied some of the fragrant moss above described to the wounds; and, such was the faith of the patients, or the virtue of the application, that in a short time they all felt perfectly restored, and able to join their companions in the chapel. In this way the evening was spent, and it was not until late that they finished their devotions, and departed to the lodgings provided for them in the town.

Impressed with a strange superstitious feeling, which he could scarcely acknowledge to himself, Guy Fawkes determined to pass the night near the well. Accordingly, without communicating his intention to his companions, he threw a small knapsack over his shoulder, containing a change of linen, and a few articles of attire, and proceeded thither.

It was a brilliant moonlight night, and, as the radiance, streaming through the thin clustered columns of the structure, lighted up its fairy architecture, and fell upon the clear cold waves of the fountain, revealing the blood-streaked pebbles beneath, the effect was inexpressibly beautiful. So charmed was Guy Fawkes by the sight, that he remained for some timestanding near the edge of the basin, as if fascinated by the marvellous spring that boiled up and sparkled at his feet. Resolved to try the efficacy of the bath, he threw off his clothes and plunged into it. The water was cold as ice; but on emerging from it he felt wonderfully refreshed. Having dressed himself, he wrapped his cloak around him, and, throwing himself on the stone floor, placed the knapsack under his head, and grasping a petronel in his right hand, to be ready in case of a surprise, disposed himself to slumber.

Accustomed to a soldier's couch, he soon fell asleep. He had not long closed his eyes when he dreamed that from out of the well a female figure, slight and unsubstantial as the element from which it sprang, arose. It was robed in what resembled a nun's garb; but so thin and vapoury, that the very moonlight shone through it. From the garments of the figure, as well as from the crimson circle round its throat, he knew that it must be the patroness of the place, the sainted Winifred, that he beheld. He felt no horror, but the deepest awe. The arm of the figure was raised, its benignant regards fixed upon him, and, as soon as it gained the level of the basin, it glided towards him.

CHAPTER XII.
THE VISION

Before daybreak on the following morning, Garnet, who had been engaged in earnest conference with Catesby during the whole of the night, repaired to the sacred spring for the purpose of bathing within it, and performing his solitary devotions at the shrine of the saint. On ascending the steps of the structure, he perceived Guy Fawkes kneeling beside the fountain, apparently occupied in prayer; and, being unwilling to disturb him, he paused. Finding, however, after the lapse of a few minutes, that he did not move, he advanced towards him, and was about to lay his hand upon his shoulder, when he was arrested by the very extraordinary expression of his countenance. His lips were partly open, but perfectly motionless, and his eyes, almost starting from their sockets, were fixed upon the boiling waters of the spring. His hands were clasped, and his look altogether was that of one whose faculties were benumbed by awe or terror.

Aware of the fanatical and enthusiastical character of Fawkes, Garnet had little doubt that, by keeping long vigil at the fountain, he had worked himself into such a state of over-excitement as to imagine he beheld some preternatural appearance; and it was with some curiosity that he awaited the result. Glancing in the same direction, his eye rested upon the bottom of the well, but he could discern nothing except the glittering and blood-streaked pebbles, and the reflection of the early sunbeams that quivered on its steaming surface. At length, a convulsion passed over the frame of the kneeler, and heaving a deep sigh he arose. Turning to quit the spring, he confronted Garnet, and demanded, in a low voice

Have you likewise seen the vision, father?

Garnet made no reply, but regarded him steadfastly.

Has the blessed Winifred appeared to you, I say? continued Fawkes.

No, answered Garnet; I am but just come hither. It is for you, my son, the favoured of Heaven, for whom such glorious visions are reserved. I have seen nothing. How did the saint manifest herself to you?

In her earthly form, replied Fawkes; or rather, I should say, in the semblance of the form she bore on earth. Listen to me, father. I came hither last night to make my couch beside the fountain. After plunging into it, I felt marvellously refreshed, and disposed myself to rest on that stone. Scarcely had my eyes closed when the saintly virgin appeared to me. Oh! father, it was a vision of seraphic beauty, such as the eye of man hath seldom seen!

And such only as it is permitted the elect of Heaven to see, observed Garnet.

Alas! father, rejoined Guy Fawkes, I can lay little claim to such an epithet. Nay, I begin to fear that I have incurred the displeasure of Heaven.

Think not so, my son, replied Garnet, uneasily. Relate your vision, and I will interpret it to you.

Thus then it was, father, returned Fawkes. The figure of the saint arose from out the well, and gliding towards me laid its finger upon my brow. My eyes opened, but I was as one oppressed with a nightmare, unable to move. I then thought I heard my name pronounced by a voice so wondrously sweet that my senses were quite ravished. Fain would I have prostrated myself, but my limbs refused their office. Neither could I speak, for my tongue was also enchained.

Proceed, my son, observed Garnet; I am curious to know what ensued.

Father, replied Guy Fawkes, if the form I beheld was that of Saint Winifred, and that it was so, I cannot doubt, the enterprise on which we are engaged will fail. It is not approved by Heaven. The vision warned me to desist.

You cannot desist, my son, rejoined Garnet, sternly. Your oath binds you to the project.

True, replied Fawkes; and I have no thought of abandoning it. But I am well assured it will not be successful.

Your thinking so, my son, will be the most certain means of realizing your apprehensions, replied Garnet, gravely. But let me hear the exact words of the spirit. You may have misunderstood them.

I cannot repeat them precisely, father, replied Fawkes; but I could not misapprehend their import, which was the deepest commiseration for our forlorn and fallen church, but a positive interdiction against any attempt to restore it by bloodshed. 'Suffer on,' said the spirit; 'bear the yoke patiently, and in due season God will avenge your wrongs, and free you from oppression. You are thus afflicted that your faith may be purified. But if you resort to violence, you will breed confusion, and injure, not serve, the holy cause on which you are embarked.' Such, father, was the language of the saint. It was uttered in a tone so tender and sympathizing, that every word found an echo in my heart, and I repented having pledged myself to the undertaking. But, when I tell you that she added that all concerned in the conspiracy should perish, perhaps you may be deterred from proceeding further.

Never! returned Garnet. Nor will I suffer any one engaged in it to retreat. What matter if a few perish, if the many survive? Our blood will not be shed in vain, if the true religion of God is restored. Nay, as strongly as the blessed Winifred herself resisted the impious ravisher, Caradoc, will I resist all inducements to turn aside from my purpose. It may be that the enterprise will fail. It may be that we shall perish. But if we die thus, we shall die as martyrs, and our deaths will be highly profitable to the Catholic religion.

I doubt it, observed Fawkes.

My son, said Garnet, solemnly, I have ever looked upon you as one destined to be the chief agent in the great work of redemption. I have thought that, like Judith, you were chosen to destroy the Holofernes who oppresses us. Having noted in you a religious fervour, and resolution admirably fitting you for the task, I thought, and still think you expressly chosen by Heaven for it. But, if you have any misgiving, I beseech you to withdraw from it. I will absolve you from your oath; and, enjoining you only to strictest secrecy, will pray you to depart at once, lest your irresolution should be communicated to the others.

Fear nothing from me, father, rejoined Fawkes. I have no irresolution, no wavering, nor shall any engaged with us be shaken by my apprehension. You have asked me what I saw and heard, and I have told you truly. But I will speak of it no more.

It will be well to observe silence, my son, answered Garnet; for though you, like myself, are unnerved, its effect on others might be injurious. But you have not yet brought your relation to an end. How did the figure disappear?

As it arose, father, replied Fawkes. Uttering in a sweet but solemn voice, which yet rings in my cars, the words, 'Be warned!' it glided back to the fountain, whose waves as it approached grew still, and gradually melted from my view.

But when I came hither, you appeared to be gazing at the spring, said Garnet. What did you then behold?

My first impulse on awakening about an hour ago, replied Fawkes, was to prostrate myself before the fountain, and to entreat the intercession of the saint, who had thus marvellously revealed herself to me. As I prayed, methought its clear lucid waters became turbid, and turned to the colour of blood.

It is a type of the blood of slaughtered brethren of our faith, which has been shed by our oppressors, rejoined Garnet.

Rather of our own, which shall be poured forth in this cause, retorted Fawkes. No matter. I am prepared to lose the last drop of mine.

And I, said Garnet; and, I doubt not, like those holy men who have suffered for their faith, that we shall both win a crown of martyrdom.

Amen! exclaimed Fawkes. And you think the sacrifice we are about to offer will prove acceptable to God?

I am convinced of it, my son, answered Garnet. And I take the sainted virgin, from whose blood this marvellous spring was produced, to witness that I devote myself unhesitatingly to the project, and that I firmly believe it will profit our church.

As he spoke, a singular circumstance occurred, which did not fail to produce an impression on both parties, especially Guy Fawkes. A violent gust of wind, apparently suddenly aroused, whistled through the slender columns of the structure, and catching the surface of the water dashed it in tiny waves against their feet.

The saint is offended, observed Fawkes.

It would almost seem so, replied Garnet, after a pause. Let us proceed to the chapel, and pray at her shrine. We will confer on this matter hereafter. Meantime, swear to me that you will observe profound secrecy respecting this vision.

I swear, replied Guy Fawkes.

At this moment, another and more violent gust agitated the fountain.

We will tarry here no longer, said Garnet, I am not proof against these portents of ill.

So saying, he led the way to the chapel. Here they were presently joined by several of the female devotees, including Viviana, Anne Vaux, and Lady Digby. Matins were then said, after which various offerings were made at the shrine of the saint. Lady Digby presented a small tablet set in gold, representing on one side the martyrdom of Saint Winifred, and on the other the Salutation of our Lady. Anne Vaux gave a small enamelled cross of gold; Viviana a girdle of the same metal, with a pendant sustaining a small Saint John's head surrounded with pearls.

Mine will be a poor soldier's offering, said Guy Fawkes, approaching the shrine, which was hung around with the crutches, staves, and bandages of those cured by the healing waters of the miraculous spring. This small silver scallop-shell, given me by a pilgrim, who died in my arms near the chapel of Saint James of Compostella, in Spain, is the sole valuable I possess.

It will be as acceptable as a more costly gift, my son, replied Garnet, placing it on the shrine.

Of all the offerings then made, that silver scallop-shell is the only one preserved.