William Ainsworth.

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





CHAPTER XIII.
THE CONSPIRATORS

On Viviana's return from her devotions, she found her father in the greatest perturbation and alarm. The old steward, Heydocke, who had ridden express from Ordsall Hall, had just arrived, bringing word that the miserable fate of the pursuivant and his crew had aroused the whole country; that officers, attended by a strong force, and breathing vengeance, were in pursuit of Sir William Radcliffe and his daughter; that large sums were offered for the capture of Guy Fawkes and Father Oldcorne; that most of the servants were imprisoned; that he himself had escaped with great difficulty; and that, to sum up this long catalogue of calamities, Master Humphrey Chetham was arrested, and placed in the New Fleet. In short, my dear young mistress, concluded the old man, as I have just observed to Sir William, all is over with us, and there is nothing left but the grave.

What course have you resolved upon, dear father, inquired Viviana, turning anxiously to him.

I shall surrender myself, he answered. I am guilty of no crime, and can easily clear myself from all imputation.

You are mistaken, she replied. Do not hope for justice from those who know it not. But, while the means of escape are allowed you, avail yourself of them.

No, Viviana, replied Sir William Radcliffe, firmly; my part is taken. I shall abide the arrival of the officers. For you, I shall intrust you to the care of Mr. Catesby.

You cannot mean this, dear father, she cried, with a look of distress. And, if you do, I will never consent to such an arrangement.

Mr. Catesby is strongly attached to you, child, replied Sir William, and will watch over your safety as carefully as I could do myself.

He may be attached to me, rejoined Viviana, though I doubt the disinterestedness of his love. But nothing can remove my repugnance to him. Forgive me, therefore, if, in this one instance, I decline to obey your commands. I dare not trust myself with Mr. Catesby.

How am I to understand you? inquired Sir William.

Do not ask me to explain, dear father, she answered, but imagine I must have good reason for what I say. Since you are resolved upon surrendering yourself, I will go into captivity with you. The alternative is less dreadful than that you have proposed.

You distract me, child, cried the knight, rising and pacing the chamber in great agitation. I cannot bear the thought of your imprisonment. Yet if I fly, I appear to confess myself guilty.

If your worship will intrust Mistress Viviana with me, interposed the old steward, I will convey her whithersoever you direct, will watch over her day and night, and, if need be, die in her defence.

Thou wert ever a faithful servant, good Heydocke, rejoined Sir William, extending his hand kindly to him, and art as true in adversity as in prosperity.

Shame to me if I were not, replied Heydocke, pressing the knight's fingers to his lips and bathing them in his tears.

Shame to me if I hesitated to lay down my life for a master to whom I owe so much.

If it is your pleasure, dear father, observed Viviana, I will accompany Master Heydocke; but I would far rather be permitted to remain with you.

It would avail nothing, replied Sir William, we should be separated by the officers. Retire to your chamber, and prepare for instant departure; and, in the mean while, I will consider what is best to be done.

Your worship's decision must be speedy, observed Heydocke; I had only a few hours' start of the officers. They will be here ere long.

Take this purse, replied Sir William, and hire three of the fleetest horses you can procure, and station yourself at the outskirts of the town, on the road to Saint Asaph. You understand.

Perfectly, replied Heydocke. And he departed to execute his master's commands, while Viviana withdrew to her own chamber.

Left alone, the knight was perplexing himself as to where he should shape his course, when he was interrupted by the sudden entrance of Catesby and Garnet.

We have just met your servant, Sir William, said the former, and have learnt the alarming intelligence he has brought.

What is your counsel in this emergency, father? said Radcliffe, appealing to Garnet.

Flight, instant flight, my son, was the answer.

My counsel is resistance, said Catesby. We are here assembled in large numbers, and are well armed. Let us await the arrival of the officers, and see whether they will venture to arrest you.

They will arrest us all, if they have force sufficient to do so," replied Garnet; and there are many reasons, as you well know, why it is desirable to avoid any disturbance at present.

True, replied Catesby. What say you then, he continued, addressing Radcliffe, to our immediate return to Holt, where means may be found to screen you till this storm is blown over?

Sir William having assented to the proposal, Catesby instantly departed to acquaint the others, and, as soon as preparations could be made, and horses procured, the whole party composing the pilgrimage quitted Holywell, and, ascending the hill at the back of the town, took the direction of Mold, where they arrived, having ridden at a swift pace, in about half an hour. From thence they proceeded, without accident or interruption, to the mansion they had recently occupied near Holt. On reaching it, all the domestics were armed, and certain of their number stationed at the different approaches to the house to give the alarm in case of the enemy's appearance. But as nothing occurred during the night, the fears of Sir William and his friends began in some degree to subside.

About noon, on the following day, as Guy Fawkes, who ever since the vision at Saint Winifred's Well had shunned all companionship, walked forth beneath the avenue alone, he heard a light step behind him, and, turning, beheld Viviana. Gravely bowing, he was about to pursue his course, when quickening her pace she was instantly by his side.

I have a favour to solicit, she said.

There is none I would refuse you, answered Fawkes, halting; but, though I have the will, I may not have the power to grant your request.

Hear me, then, she replied, hurriedly. Of all my father's friends of all who are here assembled, you are the only one I dare trust, the only one from whom I can hope for assistance.

I am at once flattered and perplexed by your words, Viviana, he rejoined; nor can I guess whither they tend. But speak freely. If I cannot render you aid, I can at least give you counsel.

I must premise, then, said Viviana, that I am aware from certain obscure hints let fall by Father Oldcorne, that you, Mr. Catesby, and others are engaged in a dark and dangerous conspiracy.

Viviana Radcliffe, returned Guy Fawkes, sternly, you have once before avowed your knowledge of this plot. I will not attempt disguise with you. A project is in agitation for the deliverance of our fallen church; and, since you have become acquainted with its existence no matter how you must be bound by an oath of secrecy, or, and his look grew darker, and his voice sterner, I will not answer for your life.

I will willingly take the oath, on certain conditions, said Viviana.

You must take it unconditionally, rejoined Fawkes.

Hear me out, said Viviana. Knowing that Mr. Catesby and Father Garnet are anxious to induce my father to join this conspiracy, I came hither to implore you to prevent him from doing so.

Were I even willing to do this, which I am not, replied Fawkes, I have not the power. Sir William Radcliffe would be justly indignant at any interference on my part.

Heed not that, replied Viviana. You, I fear, are linked to this fearful project beyond the possibility of being set free. But he is not. Save him! save him!

I will take no part in urging him to join it, replied Fawkes. But I can promise nothing further.

Then mark me, she returned; if further attempts are made by any of your confederates to league him with their plot, I myself will disclose all I know of it.

Viviana, rejoined Fawkes, in a threatening tone, I again warn you that you endanger your life.

I care not, she rejoined; I would risk twenty lives, if I possessed them, to preserve my father.

You are a noble-hearted lady, replied Fawkes, unable to repress the admiration inspired by her conduct; and if I can accomplish what you desire, I will. But I see not how it can be done.

Everything is possible to one of your resolution, replied Viviana.

Well, well, replied Fawkes, a slight smile crossing his rugged features; the effort at least shall be made.

Thanks! thanks! ejaculated Viviana; and, overcome by her emotion, she sank half-fainting into his arms.

While he held her thus, debating within himself whether he should convey her to the house, Garnet and Catesby appeared at the other end of the avenue. Their surprise at the sight was extreme; nor was it less when Viviana, opening her eyes as they drew near, uttered a slight cry, and disappeared.

This requires an explanation, said Catesby, glancing fiercely at Fawkes.

You must seek it, then, of the lady, rejoined the latter, moodily.

It will be easily explained, I have no doubt, interposed Garnet. Miss Radcliffe was seized with a momentary weakness, and her companion offered her support.

That will scarcely suffice for me, cried Catesby.

Let the subject be dropped for the present, rejoined Garnet, authoritatively. More important matter claims our attention. We came to seek you, my son, he continued, addressing Fawkes. All those engaged in the great enterprise are about to meet in a summer-house in the garden.

I am ready to attend you, replied Fawkes. Will Sir William Radcliffe be there?

No, replied Garnet; he has not yet joined us. None will be present at this meeting but the sworn conspirators.

With this, the trio took their way towards the garden, and proceeding along a walk edged with clipped yew-trees, came to the summer-house, a small circular building overrun with ivy and creepers, and ornamented in front by two stone statues on pedestals. Here they found Sir Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, Francis Tresham, Thomas and Robert Winter, John and Christopher Wright, awaiting their arrival.

The door being closed and bolted, Garnet, placing himself in the midst of the assemblage, said, Before we proceed further, I will again administer the oath to all present. Drawing from his vest a primer, and addressing Sir Everard Digby, he desired him to kneel, and continued thus in a solemn tone, You shall swear by the Blessed Trinity, and by the sacrament you propose to receive, never to disclose directly nor indirectly, by word or circumstance, the matter that shall be proposed to you to keep secret, nor desist from the execution thereof, until the rest shall give you leave.

I swear, replied Digby, kissing the primer.

The oath was then taken in like manner by the others. This done, Catesby was about to address the meeting, when Tresham, glancing uneasily at the door, remarked, Are you assured we have no eavesdroppers?

I will keep watch without, rejoined Fawkes, if you have any fears.

It were better, replied Robert Winter. We cannot be too cautious. But if you go forth, you will not be able to take part in the discussion.

My part is to act, not talk, rejoined Fawkes, marching towards the door. And shutting it after him, he took up his position outside.

Upon this Catesby commenced a long and inflammatory harangue, in which he expatiated with great eloquence and fervour on the wrongs of the Catholic party, and the deplorable condition of their church. It were easy to slay the tyrant by whom we are oppressed, he said, in conclusion; but his destruction would be small gain to us. We must strike deeper, to hew down the baneful sk of heresy. All our adversaries must perish with him, and in such a manner as shall best attest the vengeance of Heaven. Placed beneath the Parliament-house, a mine of powder shall hurl its heretical occupants into the air, nor shall any one survive the terrible explosion. Are we all agreed to this plan?

All the conspirators expressed their assent, except Sir Everard Digby.

Before I give my concurrence to the measure, observed the latter, I would fain be resolved by Father Garnet whether it is lawful to destroy some few of our own faith with so many heretics.

Unquestionably, my son, replied Garnet. As in besieging a city we have a right to kill all within it, whether friends or enemies, so in this case we are justified in destroying the innocent with the guilty, because their destruction will be advantageous to the Catholic cause.

I am satisfied, replied Digby.

As to the tyrant and apostate James, continued Garnet, he is excommunicated, and his subjects released from their allegiance. I have two breves sent over by his holiness Pope Clement VIII. three years ago, one directed to the clergy, and the other to the nobility of this realm, wherein, alluding to Queen Elizabeth, it is expressly declared that, 'so soon as that miserable woman should depart out of this life, none shall be permitted to ascend the throne, how near soever in proximity of blood, unless they are such as will not only tolerate the Catholic faith, but in every way support it.' By this brief, James is expressly excluded. He has betrayed, not supported the church of Rome. Having broken his word with us, and oppressed our brethren more rigorously even than his predecessor, the remorseless Elizabeth, he is unworthy longer to reign, and must be removed.

He must, reiterated the conspirators.

The Parliament-house being the place where all the mischief done us has been contrived by our adversaries, it is fitting that it should be the place of their chastisement, remarked Catesby.

Doubtless, rejoined Ambrose Rookwood.

Yet if the blow we meditate should miscarry, observed Thomas Winter, the injury to the Catholic religion will be so great, that not only our enemies, but our very friends will condemn us.

There is no chance of miscarriage, if we are true to each other," returned Catesby, confidently. And if I suspected any one of treachery, I would plunge my sword into his bosom, were he my brother.

You would do wrong to act thus on mere suspicion, remarked Tresham, who stood near him.

In a case like this, he who gives the slightest ground for doubt would merit death, replied Catesby, sternly; and I would slay him.

Hum! exclaimed Tresham, uneasily.

Mr. Catesby will now perhaps inform us what has been done to carry the project into effect? inquired Sir Everard Digby.

A small habitation has been taken by one of our confederates, Mr. Thomas Percy, immediately adjoining the Parliament-house, replied Catesby, from the cellar of which it is proposed to dig a mine through the wall of the devoted building, and to deposit within it a sufficient quantity of gunpowder and other combustibles to accomplish our purpose. This mine must be digged by ourselves, as we can employ no assistants, and will be a laborious and dangerous task. But I for one will cheerfully undertake it.

And I, said the elder Wright.

And I, cried several others.

Supposing the mine digged, and the powder deposited, observed Ambrose Rookwood, whose hand will fire the train?

Mine! cried Guy Fawkes, throwing open the door. As soon as he had spoken, he retired and closed it after him.

He will keep his word, remarked Garnet. He is of a nature so resolute that he would destroy himself with the victims rather than fail. Catiline was not a bolder conspirator than Guy Fawkes.

Well, gentlemen, observed Catesby, we are now at the latter end of July. All must be ready against the meeting of Parliament in November.

There is some likelihood, I hear, that the meeting of the house will be prorogued till February, remarked Tresham.

So much the better, rejoined Catesby, it will give us more time for preparation.

So much the worse, I think, cried Ambrose Rookwood. Delays are ever dangerous, and doubly dangerous in a case like ours.

I am far from desiring to throw any impediment in the way of our design, observed Sir Everard Digby, but I would recommend, before we proceed to this terrible extremity, that one last effort should be made to move the King in our behalf.

It is useless, replied Catesby. So far from toleration, he meditates severer measures against us; and, I am well assured, if Parliament is allowed to meet, such laws will be passed as will bring all of us within premunire. No, no. We have no hope from James, nor his ministers.

Nor yet from France or Spain, observed Thomas Winter. In my conference with the Constable Velasco at Bergen, I received assurances of the good-will of Philip towards us, but no distinct promise of interference in our behalf. The Archduke Albert is well disposed, but he can render no assistance. We must depend upon ourselves.

Ay, marry, must we, replied Catesby, and fortunate is it that we have devised a plan by which we can accomplish our purpose unaided. We only require funds to follow up with effect the blow we shall strike.

My whole fortune shall be placed at your disposal, replied Sir Everard Digby.

Part of mine has already been given, said Tresham, and the rest shall follow.

Would I had aught to peril in the matter except my life, said Catesby. I would throw everything upon the stake.

You do enough in venturing thus much, my son, rejoined Garnet. To you the whole conduct of the enterprise is committed.

I live for nothing else, replied Catesby, and if I see it successful, I shall have lived long enough.

Cannot Sir William Radcliffe be induced to join us? asked Rookwood. He would be an important acquisition, and his wealth would prove highly serviceable.

I have sounded him, answered Catesby. But he appears reluctant.

Be not satisfied with one attempt, urged Christopher Wright. The jeopardy in which he now stands may make him change his mind.

I am loth to interrupt the discussion, returned Garnet, but I think we have tarried here long enough. We will meet again at midnight, when I hope to introduce Sir William Radcliffe to you as a confederate.

The party then separated, and Garnet went in search of the knight.

Ascertaining that he was in his own chamber, he proceeded thither, and found him alone. Entering at once upon the subject in hand, Garnet pleaded his cause with so much zeal that he at last wrung a reluctant consent from the listener. Scarcely able to conceal his exultation, he then proposed to Sir William to adjourn with him to the private chapel in the house, where, having taken the oath, and received the sacrament upon it, he should forthwith be introduced to the conspirators, and the whole particulars of the plot revealed to him. To this the knight, with some hesitation, agreed. As they traversed a gallery leading to the chapel, they met Viviana. For the first time in his life Radcliffe's gaze sank before his daughter, and he would have passed her without speaking had she not stopped him.

Father! dear father! she cried, I know whither you are going and for what purpose. Do not do not join them.

Sir William Radcliffe made no reply, but endeavoured gently to push her aside.

She would not, however, be repulsed, but prostrating herself before him, clasped his knees, and besought him not to proceed.

Making a significant gesture to Sir William, Garnet walked forward.

Viviana, cried the knight, sternly, my resolution is taken. I command you to retire to your chamber.

So saying, he broke from her, and followed Garnet. Clasping her hands to her brow, Viviana gazed for a moment with a frenzied look after him, and then rushed from the gallery.

On reaching the chapel, Sir William, who had been much shaken by this meeting, was some minutes in recovering his composure. Garnet employed the time in renewing his arguments, and with so much address that he succeeded in quieting the scruples of conscience which had been awakened in the knight's breast by his daughter's warning.

And now, my son, he said, since you have determined to enrol your name in the list of those sworn to deliver their church from oppression, take this primer in your hand, and kneel down before the altar, while I administer the oath which is to unite you to us.

Garnet then advanced towards the altar, and Sir William was about to prostrate himself upon a cushion beside it, when the door was suddenly thrown open, and Guy Fawkes strode into the chapel.

Hold! he exclaimed, grasping Radcliffe's right arm, and fixing his dark glance upon him; you shall not take that oath.

What mean you? cried Garnet, who, as well as the knight, was paralyzed with astonishment at this intrusion. Sir William Radcliffe is about to join us.

I know it, replied Fawkes; but it may not be. He has no heart in the business, and will lend it no efficient assistance. We are better without him, than with him.