Guy Fawkes: or, The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance
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“Oh, let her stay with me,” implored Viviana. “I will make it well worth your while to grant me the indulgence.”
“What will you give?” cried the old woman, eagerly. “But no – no – I dare not leave her. The lieutenant may visit you, and find her, and then I should lose my place. Come along, Ruth. She shall attend you after the interrogation, madam. I shall be there myself.”
“Farewell, madam,” sobbed Ruth, who was almost drowned in tears. “Heaven grant you constancy to endure your trial!”
“Be ruled by me,” said the old woman. “Speak out, and secure your own safety.”
She would have continued in the same strain, but Ruth dragged her away. And casting a commiserating glance at Viviana, she closed the door.
The dreadful interval between their departure and midnight was passed by Viviana in fervent prayer. As she heard through the barred embrasure of her dungeon the deep strokes of the clock toll out the hour of twelve, the door opened, and a tall, gaunt personage, habited in a suit of rusty black, and with a large bunch of keys at his girdle, entered the cell.
“You are Jasper Ipgreve?” said Viviana, rising.
“Right,” replied the jailer. “I am come to take you before the lieutenant and the council. Are you ready?”
Viviana replied in the affirmative, and Ipgreve quitting the cell, outside which two other officials in sable habiliments were stationed, led the way down a short spiral staircase, which brought them to a narrow vaulted passage. Pursuing it for some time, the jailer halted before a strong door, cased with iron, and opening it, admitted the captive into a square chamber, the roof of which was supported by a heavy stone pillar, while its walls were garnished with implements of torture. At a table on the left sat the lieutenant and three other grave-looking personages. Across the lower end of the chamber a thick black curtain was stretched, hiding a deep recess; and behind it, as was evident from the glimmer that escaped from its folds, there was a light. Certain indistinct, but ominous sounds, issuing from the recess, proved that there were persons within it, and Viviana's quaking heart told her what was the nature of their proceedings.
She had ample time to survey this dismal apartment and its occupants, for several minutes elapsed before a word was addressed to her by her interrogators, who continued to confer together in an under tone, as if unconscious of her presence. During this pause, broken only by the ominous sounds before mentioned, Viviana scanned the countenances of the group at the table, in the hope of discerning in them some glimpses of compassion; but they were inscrutable and inexorable, and scarcely less dreadful to look upon than the hideous implements on the walls.
Viviana wished the earth would open and swallow her, that she might escape from them. Anything was better than to be left at the mercy of such men. At certain times, and not unfrequently at the most awful moments, a double current of thought will flow through the brain, and at this frightful juncture it was so with Viviana.While shuddering at all she saw around her, nay, dwelling upon it, another and distinct train of thought led her back to former scenes of happiness, when she was undisturbed by any but remote apprehensions of danger. She thought of her tranquil residence at Ordsall, – of the flowers she had tended in the garden, – of her father, and of his affection for her, – of Humphrey Chetham, and of her early and scarce-acknowledged attachment to him, – and of his generosity and devotion, and how she had requited it. And then, like a sullen cloud darkening the fair prospect, arose the figure of Guy Fawkes – the sombre enthusiast – who had unwittingly exercised such a baneful influence upon her fortunes.
“Had he not crossed my path,” she mentally ejaculated, “I might have been happy – might have loved Humphrey Chetham – might, perhaps, have wedded him!”
These reflections were suddenly dispersed by the lieutenant, who, in a stern tone, commenced his interrogations.
As upon her previous examination, Viviana observed the utmost caution, and either refused to speak, or answered such questions only as affected herself. At first, in spite of all her efforts, she trembled violently, and her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth. But after a while, she recovered her courage, and regarded the lieutenant with a look as determined as his own.
“It is useless to urge me farther,” she concluded. “I have said all I will say.”
“Is it your pleasure, my lords,” observed Sir William Waad to the others, “to prolong the examination?”
His companions replied in the negative, and the one nearest him remarked, “Is she aware what will follow?”
“I am,” replied Viviana, resolutely, “and I am not to be intimidated.”
Sir William Waad then made a sign to Ipgreve, who immediately stepped forward and seized her arm. “You will be taken to that recess,” said the lieutenant, “where the question will be put to you. But, as we shall remain here, you have only to utter a cry if you are willing to avow the truth, and the torture shall be stayed. And it is our merciful hope that this may be the case.”
Summoning up all her resolution, and walking with a firm footstep, Viviana passed with Ipgreve behind the curtain. She there beheld two men and a woman – the latter was the jailer's wife, who instantly advanced to her, and besought her to confess.
“There is no help for it, if you refuse,” she urged; “not all your wealth can save you.”
“Mind your own business, dame,” interposed Ipgreve, angrily, “and assist her to unrobe.”
Saying this, he stepped aside with the two men, one of whom was the chirurgeon, and the other the tormentor, while Dame Ipgreve helped to take off Viviana's gown. She then tied a scarf over her shoulders, and informed her husband she was ready.
The recess was about twelve feet high, and ten wide. It was crossed near the roof, which was arched and vaulted, by a heavy beam, with pulleys and ropes at either extremity. But what chiefly attracted the unfortunate captive's attention was a couple of iron gauntlets attached to it, about a yard apart. Upon the ground under the beam, and immediately beneath that part of it where the gauntlets were fixed, were laid three pieces of wood, of a few inches in thickness, and piled one upon another.
“What must I do?” inquired Viviana, in a hollow voice, but with unaltered resolution, of the old woman.
“Step upon those pieces of wood,” replied Dame Ipgreve, leading her towards them.
Viviana obeyed, and as soon as she had set foot upon the pile, the tormentor placed a joint-stool beside her, and mounting it, desired her to place her right hand in one of the gauntlets. She did so, and the tormentor then turned a screw, which compressed the iron glove so tightly as to give her excruciating pain. He then got down, and Ipgreve demanded if he should proceed.
A short pause ensued; but, notwithstanding her agony, Viviana made no answer. The tormentor then placed the stool on the left side, and fastened the hand which was still at liberty within the other gauntlet. The torture was dreadful – and the fingers appeared crushed by the pressure. Still Viviana uttered no cry. After another short pause, Ipgreve said,
“You had better let us stop here. This is mere child's play compared with what is to come.”
No answer being returned, the tormentor took a mallet and struck one of the pieces of wood from under Viviana's feet. The shock was dreadful, and seemed to dislocate her wrists, while the pressure on the hands was increased in a tenfold degree. The poor sufferer, who was resting on the points of her feet, felt that the removal of the next piece of wood would occasion almost intolerable torture. Her constancy, however, did not desert her, and, after the question had been repeated by Ipgreve, the second block was struck away. She was now suspended by her hands, and the pain was so exquisite, that nature gave way, and uttering a piercing scream, she fainted.
On recovering, she found herself stretched upon a miserable pallet, with Ruth watching beside her. A glance round the chamber, which was of solid stone masonry, with a deep embrasure on one side, convinced her that she had been removed to some other prison.
“Where am I?” she asked, in a faint voice.
“In the Well Tower, madam,” replied Ruth: “one of the fortifications near the moat, and now used as a prison-lodging. My father dwells within it, and you are under his custody.”
“Your father,” cried Viviana, shuddering as she recalled the sufferings she had recently undergone. “Will he torture me again?”
“Not if I can prevent it, dear lady,” replied Ruth. “But hush! here comes my mother. Not a word before her.”
As Ruth spoke, Dame Ipgreve, who had been lingering at the door, entered the room. She affected the greatest solicitude for Viviana – felt her pulse – looked at the bandages fastened round her swollen and crippled fingers, and concluded by counselling her not to persist in refusing to speak.
“I dare not tell you what tortures are in store for you,” she said, “if you continue thus obstinate. But they will be a thousand times worse than what you endured last night.”
“When will my next interrogation take place?” inquired Viviana.
“A week hence, it may be, – or it may be sooner,” returned the old woman. “It depends upon the state you are in – and somewhat upon the fees you give my husband, for he has a voice with the lieutenant.”
“I would give him all I possess, if he could save me from further torture,” cried Viviana.
“Alas! alas!” replied Dame Ipgreve, “you ask more than can be done. He would save you if he could. But you will not let him. However, we will do all we can to mitigate your sufferings – all we can – provided you pay us. Stay with her, child,” she added, with a significant gesture to her daughter, as she quitted the room, “stay with her.”
“My heart bleeds for you, madam,” said Ruth, in accents of the deepest commiseration, as soon as they were alone. “You may depend upon my fidelity. If I can contrive your escape, I will, – at any risk to myself.”
“On no account,” replied Viviana. “Do not concern yourself about me more. My earthly sufferings, I feel, will have terminated before further cruelty can be practised upon me.”
“Oh! say not so, madam,” returned Ruth. “I hope – nay, I am sure you will live long and happily.”
Viviana shook her head, and Ruth, finding her very feeble, thought it better not to continue the conversation. She accordingly applied such restoratives as were at hand, and observing that the eyes of the sufferer closed as if in slumber, glided noiselessly out of the chamber, and left her.
In this way a week passed. At the expiration of that time, the chirurgeon pronounced her in so precarious a state, that if the torture were repeated he would not answer for her life. The interrogation, therefore, was postponed for a few days, during which the chirurgeon constantly visited her, and by his care, and the restoratives she was compelled to take, she rapidly regained her strength.
One day, after the chirurgeon had departed, Ruth cautiously closed the door, and observed to her,
“You are now so far recovered, madam, as to be able to make an attempt to escape. I have devised a plan, which I will communicate to you to-morrow. It must not be delayed, or you will have to encounter a second and more dreadful examination.”
“I will not attempt it if you are exposed to risk,” replied Viviana.
“Heed me not,” returned Ruth. “One of your friends has found out your place of confinement, and has spoken to me about you.”
“What friend?” exclaimed Viviana, starting. “Guy Fawkes? – I mean – " And she hesitated, while her pale cheeks were suffused with blushes.
“He is named Humphrey Chetham,” returned Ruth. “Like myself, he would risk his life to preserve you.”
“Tell him he must not do so,” cried Viviana, eagerly. “He has done enough – too much for me already. I will not expose him to further hazard. Tell him so, and entreat him to abandon the attempt.”
“But I shall not see him, dear lady,” replied Ruth. “Besides, if I read him rightly, he is not likely to be turned aside by any selfish consideration.”
“You are right, he is not,” groaned Viviana. “But this only adds to my affliction. Oh! if you should see him, dear Ruth, try to dissuade him from his purpose.”
“I will obey you, madam,” replied the jailer's daughter. “But I am well assured it will be of no avail.”
After some further conversation, Ruth retired, and Viviana was left alone for the night. Except the slumber procured by soporific potions, she had known no repose since she had been confined within the Tower; and this night she felt more than usually restless. After ineffectually endeavouring to compose herself, she arose, and hastily robing herself – a task she performed with no little difficulty, her fingers being almost useless – continued to pace her narrow chamber.
It has been mentioned that on one side of the cell there was a deep embrasure. It was terminated by a narrow and strongly-grated loophole, looking upon the moat. Pausing before it, Viviana gazed forth. The night was pitchy dark, and not even a solitary star could be discerned; but as she had no light in her chamber, the gloom outside was less profound than that within.
While standing thus, buried in thought, and longing for daybreak, Viviana fancied she heard a slight sound as of some one swimming across the moat. Thinking she might be deceived, she listened more intently, and as the sound continued, she felt sure she was right in her conjecture. All at once the thought of Humphrey Chetham flashed upon her, and she had no doubt it must be him. Nor was she wrong. The next moment, a noise was heard as of some one clambering up the wall; a hand grasped the bars of the loophole, which was only two or three feet above the level of the water; and a low voice, which she instantly recognised, pronounced her name.
“Is it Humphrey Chetham?” she asked, advancing as near as she could to the loophole.
“It is,” was the reply. “Do not despair. I will accomplish your liberation. I have passed three days within the Tower, and only ascertained your place of confinement a few hours ago. I have contrived a plan for your escape, with the jailer's daughter, which she will make known to you to-morrow.”
“I cannot thank you sufficiently for your devotion,” replied Viviana, in accents of the deepest gratitude. “But I implore you to leave me to my fate. I am wretched enough now, Heaven knows, but if aught should happen to you, I shall be infinitely more so. If I possess any power over you, – and that I do so, I well know, – I entreat, nay, I command, you to desist from this attempt.”
“I have never yet disobeyed you, Viviana,” replied the young merchant, passionately – "nor will I do so now. But if you bid me abandon you, I will plunge into this moat, never to rise again.”
His manner, notwithstanding the low tone in which he spoke, was so determined, that Viviana felt certain he would carry his threat into execution; she therefore rejoined in a mournful tone,
“Well, be it as you will. It is in vain to resist our fate, I am destined to bring misfortune to you.”
“Not so,” replied Chetham. “If I can save you, I would rather die than live. The jailer's daughter will explain her plan to you to-morrow. Promise me to accede to it.”
Viviana reluctantly assented.
“I shall quit the Tower at daybreak,” pursued Chetham; “and when you are once out of it, hasten to the stairs beyond the wharf at Petty Wales. I will be there with a boat. Farewell!”
As he spoke, he let himself drop into the water, but his foot slipping, the plunge was louder than he intended, and attracted the attention of a sentinel on the ramparts, who immediately called out to know what was the matter, and not receiving any answer, discharged his caliver in the direction of the sound.
Viviana, who heard the challenge and the shot, uttered a loud scream, and the next moment Ipgreve and his wife appeared. The jailer glanced suspiciously round the room; but after satisfying himself that all was right, and putting some questions to the captive, which she refused to answer, he departed with his wife, and carefully barred the door.
It is impossible to imagine greater misery than Viviana endured the whole of the night. The uncertainty in which she was kept as to Chetham's fate was almost insupportable, and the bodily pain she had recently endured appeared light when compared with her present mental torture. Day at length dawned; but it brought with it no Ruth. Instead of this faithful friend, Dame Ipgreve entered the chamber with the morning meal, and her looks were so morose and distrustful, that Viviana feared she must have discovered her daughter's design. She did not, however, venture to make a remark, but suffered the old woman to depart in silence.
Giving up all for lost, and concluding that Humphrey Chetham had either perished, or was, like herself, a prisoner, Viviana bitterly bewailed his fate, and reproached herself with being unintentionally the cause of it. Later in the day, Ruth entered the cell. To Viviana's eager inquiries she replied, that Humphrey Chetham had escaped. Owing to the darkness, the sentinel had missed his aim, and although the most rigorous search was instituted throughout the fortress, he had contrived to elude observation.
“Our attempt,” pursued Ruth, “must be made this evening. The lieutenant has informed my father that you are to be interrogated at midnight, the chirurgeon having declared that you are sufficiently recovered to undergo the torture (if needful) a second time. Now listen to me. The occurrence of last night has made my mother suspicious, and she watches my proceedings with a jealous eye. She is at this moment with a female prisoner in the Beauchamp Tower, or I should not be able to visit you. She has consented, however, to let me bring in your supper. You must then change dresses with me. Being about my height, you may easily pass for me, and I will take care there is no light below, so that your features will not be distinguished.”
Viviana would have checked her, but the other would not be interrupted.
“As soon as you are ready,” she continued, “you must lock the door upon me. You must then descend the short flight of steps before you, and pass as quickly as you can through the room where you will see my father and mother. As soon as you are out of the door, turn to the left, and go straight forward to the By-ward Tower. Show this pass to the warders. It is made out in my name, and they will suffer you to go forth. Do the same with the warders at the next gate, – the Middle Tower, – and again at the Bulwark Gate. That passed, you are free.”
“And what will become of you?” asked Viviana, with a bewildered look.
“Never mind me,” rejoined Ruth: “I shall be sufficiently rewarded if I save you. And now, farewell. Be ready at the time appointed.”
“I cannot consent,” returned Viviana.
“You have no choice,” replied Ruth, breaking from her, and hurrying out of the room.
Time, as it ever does, when expectation is on the rack, appeared to pass with unusual slowness. But as the hour at length drew near, Viviana wished it farther off. It was with the utmost trepidation that she heard the key turn in the lock, and beheld Ruth enter the cell with the evening meal.
Closing the door, and setting down the provisions, the jailer's daughter hastily divested herself of her dress, which was of brown serge, as well as of her coif and kerchief, while Viviana imitated her example. Without pausing to attire herself in the other's garments, Ruth then assisted Viviana to put on the dress she had just laid aside, and arranged her hair and the head-gear so skilfully, that the disguise was complete.
Hastily whispering some further instructions to her, and explaining certain peculiarities in her gait and deportment, she then pressed her to her bosom, and led her to the door. Viviana would have remonstrated, but Ruth pushed her through it, and closed it.
There was now no help, so Viviana, though with great pain to herself, contrived to turn the key in the lock. Descending the steps, she found herself in a small circular chamber, in which Ipgreve and his wife were seated at a table, discussing their evening meal. The sole light was afforded by a few dying embers on the hearth.
“What! has she done, already?” demanded the old woman, as Viviana appeared. “Why hast thou not brought the jelly with thee, if she has not eaten it all, and those cates, which Master Pilchard, the chirurgeon, ordered her? Go and fetch them directly. They will finish our repast daintily; and there are other matters too, which I dare say she has not touched. She will pay for them, and that will make them the sweeter. Go back, I say. What dost thou stand there for, as if thou wert thunderstruck? Dost hear me, or not?”
“Let the wench alone, dame,” growled Ipgreve. “You frighten her.”
“So I mean to do,” replied the old woman; “she deserves to be frightened. Hark thee, girl, we must get an order from her on some wealthy Catholic family without delay – for I don't think she will stand the trial to-night.”
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