William Ainsworth.

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





Chetham would have made an attempt to liberate Viviana, but, feeling certain it would be unsuccessful, he preferred obeying her wishes to his own inclinations. Topcliffe gone, he suddenly drew his sword, for neither he nor Heydocke had been disarmed, and rushing towards the door, struck down the man next it, and followed by his servant, passed through it before he could be intercepted. They both then flew at a swift pace towards the marshy fields, and, owing to the darkness and unstable nature of the ground, speedily distanced their pursuers.

Hearing the disturbance below, and guessing its cause, Topcliffe immediately descended. But he was too late; and though he joined in the pursuit, he was baffled like his attendants. Half an hour afterwards, he returned to the house with an angry and disappointed look.

He has given us the slip, he observed to his superior, who appeared exceedingly provoked by the young merchant's flight; But we will soon have him again.

After giving directions to his men how to conceal themselves, Topcliffe informed his companions that he was ready to attend him. Viviana, who had remained motionless and silent during the foregoing scene, was taken out of the house, and conducted towards the creek, in which lay a large wherry manned by four rowers. She was placed within it, and as soon as his superior was seated, Topcliffe inquired

Where will your lordship go first?

To the Star-Chamber, was the answer.

At this reply, in spite of herself, Viviana could not repress a shudder.

All is lost! she mentally ejaculated.

CHAPTER VI.
THE CELLAR

It was long before the conspirators gained sufficient courage to recommence digging the mine. Whenever holy water was thrown upon the stones, the mysterious bell ceased tolling, but it presently began anew, and such was the appalling effect of the sound that it completely paralysed the listeners. Prayers were said by Garnet; hymns sung by the others; but all was of no avail. It continued to toll on with increased solemnity, unless checked by the same potent application as before.

The effect became speedily manifest in the altered looks and demeanour of the conspirators, and it was evident that if something was not done to arouse them, the enterprise would be abandoned. Catesby, equally superstitious with his confederates, but having nerves more firmly strung, was the first to conquer his terror. Crossing himself, he muttered a secret prayer, and, snatching up a pick-axe, entered the cavity, and resumed his labour.

The noise of the heavy blows dealt by him against the wall drowned the tolling of the bell. The charm was broken. And stimulated by his conduct, the others followed his example, and though the awful tolling continued at intervals during the whole of their operations, it offered no further interruption to them.

Another and more serious cause of anxiety, however, arose. As the work advanced, without being aware of it, they approached the bank of the river, and the water began to ooze through the sides of the excavation, at first, slightly, but by degrees to such an extent as to convince them that their labour would be entirely thrown away.

Large portions of the clay, loosened by the damp, fell in upon them, nearly burying those nearest the tumbling mass; and the floor was now in some places more than a foot deep in water, clearly proving it would be utterly impossible to keep the powder fit for use in such a spot.

Catesby bore these untoward circumstances with ill-concealed mortification. For a time, he struggled against them; and though he felt that it was hopeless, worked on like a desperate military leader conducting a forlorn hope to certain destruction. At length, however, the water began to make such incursions that he could no longer disguise from himself or his companions that they were contending against insurmountable difficulties, and that to proceed further would be madness. He, therefore, with a heavy heart, desisted, and throwing down his pick-axe, said it was clear that Heaven did not approve their design, and that it must be relinquished.

We ought to have been warned by that doleful bell, he observed in conclusion. I now perceive its meaning. And as I was the first to act in direct opposition to the declared will of the Supreme Being, so now I am the first to admit my error.

I cannot account for that dread and mysterious sound, my son, replied Garnet, and can only attribute it, as you do, to Divine interference. But whether it was intended as a warning or a guidance, I confess I am unable to say.

Can you longer doubt, father, returned Catesby, bitterly, when you look at yon excavation? It took us more than a week's incessant labour to get through the first wall; and our toil was no sooner lightened than these fatal consequences ensued. If we proceed, we shall drown ourselves, instead of blowing up our foes. And even if we should escape, were the powder stowed for one day in that damp place, it would never explode. We have failed, and must take measures accordingly.

I entirely concur with you, my son, replied Garnet; we must abandon our present plan. But do not let us be disheartened. Perhaps at this very moment Heaven is preparing for us a victory by some unlooked-for means.

It may be so, replied Catesby, with a look of incredulity.

As he spoke, an extraordinary noise, like a shower of falling stones, was heard overhead. And coupling the sound with their fears of the encroachment of the damp, the conspirators glanced at each other in dismay, thinking the building was falling in upon them.

All blessed saints protect us! cried Garnet, as the sound ceased. What was that?

But no one was able to account for it, and each regarded his neighbour with apprehension. After a short interval of silence, the sound was heard again. There was then another pause and again the same rushing and inexplicable noise.

What can it be? cried Catesby. I am so enfeebled by this underground life, that trifles alarm me. Are our enemies pulling down the structure over our heads? or are they earthing us up like vermin? he added to Fawkes. What is it?

I will go and see, replied the other.

Do not expose yourself, my son, cried Garnet. Let us abide the result here.

No, father, replied Fawkes. Having failed in our scheme, what befals me is of little consequence. I will go. If I return not, you will understand what has happened.

Pausing for a moment to receive Garnet's benediction, he then strode away.

Half an hour elapsed before Fawkes returned, and the interval appeared thrice its duration in the eyes of the conspirators. When he re-appeared, a smile sat upon his countenance, and his looks instantly dispelled the alarm that had been previously felt.

You bring us good news, my son? cried Garnet.

Excellent, father, replied Fawkes: and you were right in saying that at the very moment we were indulging in misgiving, Heaven was preparing for us a victory by unforeseen and mysterious means.

Garnet raised his hands gratefully and reverentially upwards. And the other conspirators crowded round Fawkes to listen to his relation.

The noise we heard, he said, arose from a very simple circumstance, and when you hear it, you will smile at your fears. But you will not smile at the result to which it has led. Exactly overhead, it appears, a cellar is situated, belonging to a person named Bright, and the sound was occasioned by the removal of his coals, which he had been selling off.

Is that all? cried Catesby. We are indeed grown childish, to be alarmed by such a cause.

It appears slight now it is explained, observed Keyes, gravely; but how were we to know whence it arose?

True, returned Fawkes; and I will now show you how the hand of Heaven has been manifested in the matter. The noise which led me to this investigation, and which I regard as a signal from on high, brought me to a cellar I had never seen before, and knew not existed. That cellar lies immediately beneath the House of Lords."

Ah! I see! exclaimed Catesby. You think it would form a good depository for the powder.

If it had been built for the express purpose, it could not be better," returned Fawkes. It is commodious and dry, and in an out-of-the-way place, as you may judge, when we ourselves have never hitherto noticed it.

But what is all this to us, if we cannot use it? returned Catesby.

We can use it, replied Fawkes. It is ours.

There was a general exclamation of surprise.

Finding, on inquiry, that Bright was about to quit the neighbourhood," continued Fawkes, and did not require the place longer, I instantly proposed to take it from him, and to create no suspicion, engaged it in Percy's name, stating that he wanted it for his own fuel.

You have done admirably, cried Catesby, in a tone of exultation. The success of the enterprise will now be entirely owing to you.

Not to me, but to the Providence that directed me, replied Fawkes, solemnly.

Right, my son, returned Garnet. And let this teach us never to despair again.

The next day, Percy having taken possession of the cellar, it was carefully examined, and proved, as Fawkes had stated, admirably adapted to their purpose. Their fears were now at an end, and they looked on the success of their project as certain. The mysterious bell no longer tolled, and their sole remaining task was to fill up the excavation so far as to prevent any damage from the wet.

This was soon done, and their next step was to transport the powder during the night to the cellar. Concealing the barrels as before with faggots and coals, they gave the place the appearance of a mere receptacle for lumber, by filling it with old hampers, boxes without lids, broken bottles, stone jars, and other rubbish.

They now began to think of separating, and Fawkes expressed his intention of returning that night to the house at Lambeth. No intelligence had reached them of Viviana's captivity, and they supposed her still an inmate of the miserable dwelling with Father Oldcorne.

Fawkes had often thought of her, and with uneasiness, during his toilsome labours; but they had so much engrossed him that her image was banished almost as soon as it arose. Now that grand obstacle was surmounted, and nothing was wanting, however, except a favourable moment to strike the blow, he began to feel the greatest anxiety respecting her.

Still, he thought it prudent to postpone his return to a late hour, and it was not until near midnight that he and Catesby ventured to their boat. As he was about to descend the steps, he heard his name pronounced by some one at a little distance; and the next moment, a man, whom he immediately recognised as Humphrey Chetham, rushed up to him.

You here again! cried Fawkes, angrily, and not unsuspiciously. Do you play the spy upon me?

I have watched for you for the last ten nights, replied Chetham hastily. I knew not where you were. But I found your boat here, and I hoped you would not cross the water in any other.

Why all this care? demanded Fawkes. Has aught happened? Is Viviana safe? Speak, man! do not keep me longer in suspense!

Alas! rejoined Chetham, she is a prisoner.

A prisoner! ejaculated Fawkes, in a hollow voice. Then my forebodings were not without cause.

How has this happened? cried Catesby, who had listened to what was said in silent wonder.

Chetham then hastily related all that had taken place.

I know not what has become of her, he said, in conclusion; but I have heard that she was taken to the Star-Chamber by the Earl of Salisbury, for he, it appears, was the companion of Topcliffe, and, refusing to answer the interrogations of the Council, was conveyed to the Tower, and, I fear, subjected to the torture.

Tortured! exclaimed Fawkes, horror-stricken; Viviana tortured! And I have brought her to this! Oh, God! Oh, God!

It is indeed an agonizing reflection, replied Humphrey Chetham, in a sombre tone, and enough to drive you to despair. Her last wishes, expressed only in looks, for she did not dare to give utterance to them, were that I should warn you not to approach the house at Lambeth, your enemies being concealed within it. I have now fulfilled them. Farewell!

And he turned to depart.

Stay! cried Catesby, arresting him. Where is Father Oldcorne?

I know not, replied Humphrey Chetham. As I have told you, Viviana by some means contrived his escape. I have seen nothing of him.

And, hurrying away, he was lost beneath the shadow of the wall.

Is this a troubled dream, or dread reality? cried Fawkes to Catesby.

I fear it is too true, returned the other, in a voice of much emotion. Poor Viviana!

Something must be done to set her free, cried Fawkes. I will purchase her liberty by delivering up myself.

Your oath remember your oath! rejoined Catesby. You may destroy yourself, but not your associates.

True true, replied Fawkes, distractedly, "I do remember it. I am sold to perdition.

Anger not Heaven by these idle lamentations, and at a time, too, when all is so prosperous, rejoined Catesby.

What! cried Fawkes, fiercely, would you have me calm, when she who called me father, and was dear to me as a child, is taken from me by these remorseless butchers, subjected to their terrible examinations, plunged in a dismal dungeon, and stretched upon the rack, and all for me for me! I shall go mad if I think upon it!

You must not think upon it, returned Catesby, "at least, not here. We shall be observed. Let us return to the house; and perhaps though I scarcely dare indulge the hope some plan may be devised for her liberation.

With this, he dragged Fawkes, who was almost frenzied with anguish, forcibly along, and they returned to the house.

Nothing more was said that night. Catesby judged it prudent to let the first violence of his friend's emotion expend itself before he attempted to soothe him; and when he communicated the sad event to Garnet, the latter strongly approved the plan. Garnet was greatly distressed at the intelligence, and his affliction was shared by the other conspirators. No fears were entertained by any of them that Viviana would reveal aught of the plot, but this circumstance only added to their regrets.

I will stake my life for her constancy, said Catesby.

And so will I, returned Garnet. She will die a martyr for us.

He then proposed that they should pray for her deliverance. And all instantly assenting, they knelt down, while Garnet poured forth the most earnest supplications to the Virgin in her behalf.

The next morning, Guy Fawkes set forth, and ascertained that Humphrey Chetham's statement was correct, and that Viviana was indeed a prisoner in the Tower. He repaired thither, and tried to ascertain in what part of the fortress she was confined, in the hope of gaining admittance to her. But as he could obtain no information and his inquiries excited suspicion, he was compelled to return without accomplishing his object.

Crossing Tower Hill on his way back, he turned to glance at the stern pile he had just quitted, and which was fraught with the most fearful interest to him, when he perceived Chetham issue from the Bulwark Gate. He would have made up to him; but the young merchant, who had evidently seen him, though he looked sedulously another way, set off in the direction of the river, and was quickly lost to view. Filled with the gloomiest thoughts, Guy Fawkes proceeded to Westminster, where he arrived without further adventure of any kind.

In the latter part of the same day, as the conspirators were conferring together, they were alarmed by a knocking at the outer gate; and sending Bates to reconnoitre, he instantly returned with the intelligence that it was Lord Mounteagle. At the mention of this name, Tresham, who was one of the party, turned pale as death, and trembled so violently that he could scarcely support himself. Having been allowed to go forth on that day, the visit of Lord Mounteagle at this juncture, coupled with the agitation it occasioned him, seemed to proclaim him guilty of treachery for the second time.

You have betrayed us, villain! cried Catesby, drawing his dagger; but you shall not escape. I will poniard you on the spot.

As you hope for mercy, do not strike! cried Tresham. On my soul, I have not seen Lord Mounteagle, and know not, any more than yourselves, what brings him hither. Put it to the proof. Let him come in. Conceal yourselves, and you will hear what passes between us.

Let it be so, interposed Fawkes. I will step within this closet, the door of which shall remain ajar. From it I can watch him without being observed, and if aught occurs to confirm our suspicions, he dies.

Bates shall station himself in the passage, and stab him if he attempts to fly, added Catesby. Your sword, sir.

It is here, replied Tresham, delivering it to Catesby, who handed it to Bates. Are you satisfied?

Is Lord Mounteagle alone? inquired Catesby, without noticing the question.

He appears to be so, replied Bates.

Admit him, then, rejoined Catesby.

Entering the closet with Keyes, he was followed by Fawkes, who drew his dagger, and kept the door slightly ajar, while Garnet and the rest retired to other hiding-places. A few moments afterwards, Bates returned with Lord Mounteagle, and, having ushered him into the room, took his station in the passage, as directed by Catesby. The room was very dark, the shutters being closed, and light only finding its way through the chinks in them; and it appeared totally so to Lord Mounteagle, who, groping his way, stumbled forward, and exclaimed in accents of some alarm,

Where am I? Where is Mr. Tresham?

I am here, replied Tresham, advancing towards him. How did your lordship find me out? he added, after the customary salutations were exchanged.

My servant saw you enter this house, replied Mounteagle, and, knowing I was anxious to see you, waited for some hours without, in the expectation of your coming forth. But as this did not occur, he mentioned the circumstance to me on his return, and I immediately came in quest of you. When I knocked at the gate, I scarcely knew what to think of the place, and began to fear you must have fallen into the hands of cut-throats; and, now that I have gained admittance, my wonder and I may add my uneasiness is not diminished. Why do you hide yourself in this wretched place?

Be seated, replied Tresham, placing a chair for Lord Mounteagle, with his back to the closet, while he took one opposite him, and near a table, on which some papers were laid. Your lordship may remember, he continued, scarcely knowing what answer to make to the question, that I wrote to you some time ago, to say that a conspiracy was hatching among certain of our party against the State.

I have reason to remember it, replied Mounteagle. The letter was laid before the Earl of Salisbury, and inquiries instituted in consequence. But, owing to your disappearance, nothing could be elicited. What plot had you discovered?

At this moment, Tresham, who kept his eye fixed on the closet, perceived the door noiselessly open, and behind it the figure of Guy Fawkes, with the dagger in his hand.

I was misinformed as to the nature of the plot, he stammered.

Was it against the King's life? demanded Mounteagle.

No, rejoined Tresham; as far as I could learn, it was an insurrection.

Indeed! exclaimed Mounteagle, sceptically. My information, then, differed from yours. Who were the parties you suspected?

As I wrongfully suspected them, replied Tresham, evasively, your lordship must excuse my naming them.

Was Catesby or Winter or Wright or Rookwood or Sir Everard Digby concerned in it? demanded Mounteagle.

Not one of them, asseverated Tresham.

They are the persons I suspect, replied Mounteagle; and they are suspected by the Earl of Salisbury. But you have not told me what you are doing in this strange habitation. Are you ferreting out a plot, or contriving one?

Both, replied Tresham.

How? cried Mounteagle.

I am plotting for myself, and counterplotting the designs of others," replied Tresham, mysteriously.

Is this place, then, the rendezvous of a band of conspirators? asked Mounteagle, uneasily.

Tresham nodded in the affirmative.

Who are they? continued Mounteagle. There is no need of concealment with me.

As this was said, Tresham raised his eyes, and saw that Guy Fawkes had stepped silently forward, and placed himself behind Mounteagle's chair. His hand grasped his dagger, and his gaze never moved from the object of his suspicion.

Who are they? repeated Mounteagle. Is Guy Fawkes one of them?

Assuredly not, replied Tresham. Why should you name him? I never mentioned him to your lordship.

I think you did, replied Mounteagle. But I am certain you spoke of Catesby.

And Tresham's regards involuntarily wandered to the closet, when he beheld the stern glance of the person alluded to fixed upon him.