William Ainsworth.

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

Let each man swear not to swerve from the fulfilment of his task," cried Catesby; swear it upon this cup of wine, in which we will all mix our blood.

And as he spoke, he pricked his arm with the point of his sword, and suffered a few drops of blood to fall into the goblet, while the others, roused to a state of frenzied enthusiasm, imitated his example, and afterwards raised the horrible mixture to their lips, pronouncing at the same time the oath.

Guy Fawkes was the last to take the pledge, and crying in a loud voice, I swear not to quit my post till the explosion is over, he drained the cup.

After this, they adjourned to a room in another wing of the house, fitted up as a chapel, where mass was performed by Garnet, and the sacrament administered to the whole assemblage. They were about to retire for the night, when a sudden knocking was heard at the door. Reconnoitring the intruder through an upper window, overlooking the court, Catesby perceived it was Bates, who was holding a smoking and mud-bespattered steed by the bridle.

Well, what news do you bring? cried Catesby, as he admitted him. Have you seen Tresham?

No, replied Bates. His illness was a mere pretence. He has left Rushton secretly for London.

I knew it, cried Garnet. He has again betrayed us.

He shall die, said Catesby.

And the determination was echoed by all the other conspirators.

Instead of retiring to rest, they passed the night in anxious deliberation, and it was at last proposed that Guy Fawkes should proceed without loss of time to Southwark, to keep watch near the house of Lord Mounteagle, and if possible ascertain whether Tresham had visited it.

To this he readily agreed. But before setting out, he took Catesby aside for a moment, and asked, Did you see Viviana at Coughton?

Only for a moment, and that just before I left the place, was the answer. She desired to be remembered to you, and said you were never absent from her thoughts or prayers.

Guy Fawkes turned away to hide his emotion, and mounting one of the horses brought by the conspirators, rode off towards London.


On the same day as the occurrences last related, Lord Mounteagle, who was then staying at Southwark, suddenly intimated his intention of passing the night at his country mansion at Hoxton; a change of place which, trivial as it seemed at the moment, afterwards assumed an importance, from the circumstances that arose out of it. At the latter part of the day, he accordingly proceeded to Hoxton, accompanied by his customary attendants, and all appeared to pass on as usual, until, just as supper was over, one of his pages arrived from town, and desired to see his lordship immediately.

Affecting to treat the matter with indifference, Lord Mounteagle carelessly ordered the youth to be ushered into his presence; and when he appeared, he demanded his business.

The page replied, that he brought a letter for his lordship, which had been delivered under circumstances of great mystery.

I had left the house just as it grew dusk, he said, on an errand of little importance, when a man, muffled in a cloak, suddenly issued from behind a corner, and demanded whether I was one of your lordship's servants? On my replying in the affirmative, he produced this letter, and enjoined me, as I valued my life and your lordship's safety, to deliver it into your own hands without delay.

So saying, he delivered the letter to his lord, who, gazing at its address, which was, To the Right Honourable the Lord Mounteagle," observed, There is nothing very formidable in its appearance. What can it mean?

Without even breaking the seal, which was secured with a silken thread, he gave it to one of his gentlemen, named Ward, who was standing near him.

Read it aloud, sir, said the Earl, with a slight smile. I have no doubt it is some vapouring effusion, which will afford us occasion for laughter. Before I hear what the writer has to say, I can promise him he shall not intimidate me.

Thus exhorted, Ward broken open the letter, and read as follows:

My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation. Therefore I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift from your attendance at this Parliament, for God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time. Think not slightingly of this advice, but retire into the country, where you may expect the event in safety; for, though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament, and yet they shall not know who hurts them. This counsel is not to be contemned. It may do you good, and can do you no harm, for the danger is passed as soon as you have burned the letter. God, I hope, will give you grace to make good use of it, to whose holy protection I commend you.

A singular letter! exclaimed Mounteagle, as soon as Ward had finished. What is your opinion of it?

I think it hints at some dangerous plot, my lord, replied Ward, who had received his instructions, some treason against the state. With submission, I would advise your lordship instantly to take it to the Earl of Salisbury.

I see nothing in it, replied the Earl. What is your opinion, Mervyn?" he added, turning to another of his gentlemen, to whom he had likewise given his lesson.

I am of the same mind as Ward, replied the attendant.

Your lordship will hardly hold yourself excused, if you neglect to give due warning, should aught occur hereafter.

Say you so, sirs? cried Lord Mounteagle. Let me hear it once more.

The letter was accordingly read again by Ward, and the Earl feigned to weigh over each passage.

I am advised not to attend the Parliament, he said, 'for God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time.' That is too vague to be regarded. Then I am urged to retire into the country. The recommendation must proceed from some discontented Catholic, who does not wish me to be present at the opening of the house. This is not the first time I have been so adjured. 'They shall receive a terrible blow this Parliament, and yet shall not know who hurts them.' That is mysterious enough, but it may mean nothing, any more than what follows, namely, 'the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter.'"

I do not think so, my lord, replied Ward; and though I cannot explain the riddle, I am sure it means mischief.

Well, said Lord Mounteagle, since you are of this mind, I must lose no time in communicating the letter to the Secretary of State. It is better to err on the safe side.

Accordingly, after some further consultation, he set out at that late hour for Whitehall, where he roused the Earl of Salisbury, and showed him the letter. It is almost needless to state that the whole was a preconcerted scheme between these two crafty statesmen; but as the interview took place in the presence of their attendants, the utmost caution was observed.

Salisbury pretended to be greatly alarmed at the communication, and coupling it, he said, with previous intelligence which he had received, he could not help fearing, to adopt the words of the writer of the mysterious letter, that the Parliament was indeed threatened with some terrible blow. Acting, apparently, upon this supposition, he caused such of the lords of the Privy Council as lodged at Whitehall to be summoned, and submitting the letter to them, they all concurred in the opinion that it referred to some dangerous plot, though none could give a guess at its precise nature.

It is clearly some Popish project, said Salisbury, or Lord Mounteagle would not have been the party warned. We must keep a look-out upon the disaffected of his faith.

As I have been the means of revealing the plot to your lordship if plot it be I must pray you to deal gently with them, rejoined Mounteagle.

I will be as lenient as I can, returned Salisbury; but in a matter of this kind little favour can be shown. If your lordship will enable me to discover the principal actors in this affair, I will take care that no innocent party suffers.

You ask an impossibility, replied Mounteagle. I know nothing beyond what can be gathered from that letter. But I pray your lordship not to make it a means of exercising unnecessary severity towards the members of my religion.

On that you may rely, returned the Earl. His Majesty will not return from the hunting expedition on which he is engaged at Royston till Thursday next, the 30th. I think it scarcely worth while (considering his naturally timid nature, with which your lordships are well acquainted) to inform him of the threatened danger, until his arrival at the palace. It will then be time enough to take any needful steps, as Parliament will not meet for four or five days afterwards.

In the policy of this course the Privy Councillors agreed, and it was arranged that the matter should be kept perfectly secret until the King's opinion had been taken upon the letter. The assemblage then broke up, it being previously arranged that, for fear of some attempt upon his life, Lord Mounteagle should remain within the palace till full inquiries had been instituted into the affair.

When the two confederate nobles were left alone, Salisbury observed, with a slight laugh, to his companion,

Thus far we have proceeded well, and without suspicion, and, rely upon it, none shall fall on you. As soon as all is over, the most important post the King has to bestow shall be yours.

But what of Tresham? asked Mounteagle. He was the deliverer of this letter, and I have little faith in him.

Hum! said Salisbury, after a moment's reflection, if you think it desirable, we can remove him to the Tower, where he can be easily silenced.

It will be better so, replied Mounteagle. He may else babble hereafter. I gave him a thousand pounds to send in his own name to the conspirators the other day to lure them into our nets.

It shall be repaid you a hundred-fold, replied Salisbury. But we are observed, and must therefore separate.

So saying, he withdrew to his own chamber, while Lord Mounteagle was ushered to the apartments allotted to him.

To return to Guy Fawkes. Arriving at Southwark, he stationed himself near Lord Mounteagle's residence. But he observed nothing to awaken his suspicions, until early in the morning he perceived a page approaching the mansion, whom, from his livery, he knew to be one of Lord Mounteagle's household, (it was, in fact, the very youth who had delivered the mysterious letter,) and from him he ascertained all that had occurred. Filled with alarm, and scarcely knowing what to do, he crossed the river, and proceeding to the cellar, examined the marks at the door, and finding all precisely as he had left it, felt certain, that whatever discovery had been made, the magazine had not been visited.

He next repaired to the house, of which he possessed the key, and was satisfied that no one had been there. Somewhat relieved by this, he yet determined to keep watch during the day, and concealing himself near the cellar, remained on the look-out till night. But no one came; nor did anything occur to excite his suspicions. He would not, however, quit his post till about six o'clock on the following evening, when, thinking further delay might be attended with danger, he set out to White Webbs, to give his companions intelligence of the letter.

His news was received by all with the greatest alarm, and not one, except Catesby, who strove to put a bold face upon the matter, though he was full of inward misgiving, but confessed that he thought all chance of success was at an end. While deliberating upon what should be done in this fearful emergency, they were greatly alarmed by a sudden knocking without. All the conspirators concealed themselves, except Guy Fawkes, who opening the door, found, to his infinite surprise, that the summons proceeded from Tresham. He said nothing till the other had entered the house, and then suddenly drawing his dagger, held it to his throat.

Make your shrift quickly, traitor, he cried in a furious tone, for your last hour is arrived. What ho! he shouted to the others, who instantly issued from their hiding-places, the fox has ventured into the lion's den.

You distrust me wrongfully, rejoined Tresham, with more confidence than he usually exhibited in time of danger; I am come to warn you, not betray you. Is this the return you make me for the service?

Villain! cried Catesby, rushing up to him, and holding his drawn sword to his breast. You have conveyed the letter to Lord Mounteagle.

It is false, replied Tresham; I have only just heard of it; and, in spite of the risk I knew I should run from your suspicions, I came to tell you what had happened.

Why did you feign illness, and depart secretly for town, instead of joining us at Coughton? demanded Catesby.

I will instantly explain my motive, which, though it may not be satisfactory to you on one point, will be so on another, replied Tresham unhesitatingly, and with apparent frankness. I was fearful you would make a further tool of me, and resolved not to join you again till a few days before the outbreak of the plot. To this determination I should have adhered, had I not learnt to-night that a letter had been transmitted by some one to Lord Mounteagle, which he had conveyed to the Earl of Salisbury. It may not convey any notion of the plot, but it is certain to occasion alarm, and I thought it my duty, in spite of every personal consideration, to give you warning. If you design to escape, there is yet time. A vessel lies in the river, in which we can all embark for Flanders.

Can he be innocent? said Catesby in a whisper to Garnet.

If I had betrayed you, continued Tresham, I should not have come hither. And I have no motive for such baseness, for I am in equal danger with yourselves. But though the alarm has been given, I do not think any discovery will be made. They are evidently on the wrong scent.

I hope so, replied Catesby; but I fear the contrary.

Shall I put him to death? demanded Fawkes of Garnet.

Do not sully your hands with his blood, my son, returned Garnet. If he has betrayed us, he will reap the traitor's reward here and hereafter. If he has not, it would be to take away a life unjustly. Let him depart. We shall feel more secure without him.

Will it be safe to set him free, father? cried Fawkes.

I think so, replied Garnet. We will not admit him to our further conferences; but let us act mercifully.

The major part of the conspirators concurring in this opinion, though Fawkes and Catesby were opposed to it, Tresham was suffered to depart. As soon as he was gone, Garnet avowed that the further prosecution of the design appeared so hazardous, that it ought to be abandoned, and that, in his opinion, each of the conspirators had better consult his own safety by flight. He added, that at some future period the design might be resumed, or another planned, which might be more securely carried out.

After much discussion, all seemed disposed to acquiesce in the proposal, except Fawkes, who adhered doggedly to his purpose, and treated the danger so slightingly, that he gradually brought the others round to his views. At length, it was resolved that Garnet should set out immediately for Coughton Hall, and place himself under the protection of Sir Everard Digby, and there await the result of the attempt, while the other conspirators decided upon remaining in town, in some secure places of concealment, until the event was known. Unmoved as ever, Guy Fawkes declared his intention of watching over the magazine of powder.

If anything happens to me, he said, you will take care of yourselves. You well know nothing will be wrung from me.

Catesby and the others, aware of his resolute nature, affected to remonstrate with him, but they willingly suffered him to take his own course. Attended by Bates, Garnet then set out for Warwickshire, and the rest of the conspirators proceeded to London, where they dispersed, after appointing Lincoln's Inn Walks as their place of midnight rendezvous. Each then made preparations for sudden flight, in case it should be necessary, and Rookwood provided relays of horses all the way to Dunchurch.

Guy Fawkes alone remained at his post. He took up his abode in the cellar, resolved to blow up himself together with his foes, in case of a surprise.

On Thursday, the 31st of October, the King returned to Whitehall, and the mysterious letter was laid before him in the presence of the Privy Council by the Earl of Salisbury. James perused it carefully, but could scarcely hide his perplexity.

Your Majesty will not fail to remark the expressions, 'a terrible blow' to the Parliament, and 'that the danger will be past as soon as you have burnt the letter,' evidently referring to combustion, observed the Earl.

You are right, Salisbury, said James, snatching at the suggestion. I should not wonder if these mischievous Papists mean to blow us all up with gunpowder.

Your Majesty has received a divine illumination, returned the Earl. Such an idea never occurred to me; but it must be as you intimate.

Undoubtedly undoubtedly, replied the monarch, pleased with the compliment to his sagacity, though alarmed by the danger; but what desperate traitors they must be to imagine such a deed! Blow us up! God's mercy, that were a dreadful death! And yet that must evidently be the meaning of the passage. How else can it be construed, except by reference to the suddenness of the act, which might be as quickly performed as that paper would take to be consumed in the fire?

Your Majesty's penetration has discovered the truth, replied Salisbury, and by the help of your wisdom, I will fully develop this dark design. Where, think you, the powder may lie hidden?

Are there any vaults beneath the Parliament House? demanded James, trembling. Heaven save us! We have often walked there perhaps, over a secret mine.

There are, replied Salisbury; and I am again indebted to your Majesty for a most important suggestion. Not a corner in the vaults shall be left unsearched. But, perhaps you will think with me, that, in order to catch these traitors in their own trap, it will be well to defer the search till the very night before the meeting of Parliament.

I was about to recommend such a course myself, Salisbury, replied James.

I was sure you would think so, returned the Earl; and now I must entreat you to dismiss the subject from your thoughts, and to sleep securely; for you may rely upon it (after your Majesty's discovery) that the plot shall be fully unravelled.

The significant tone in which the Earl uttered the latter part of this speech, convinced the King that he knew more of the matter than he cared to confess; and he contented himself with saying, Well, let it be so. I trust all to you. But I at once divined their purpose, I at once divined it.

The Council then broke up, and James laughed and chuckled to himself at the discernment he had displayed. Nor was he less pleased with his minister for the credit given him in the affair. But he took care not to enter the Parliament House.

On the afternoon of Monday, the 4th of November, the Lord Chamberlain, accompanied by the Lords Salisbury and Mounteagle, visited the cellars and vaults beneath the Parliament House. For some time, they discovered nothing to excite suspicion. At length, probably at the suggestion of Lord Mounteagle, who, as will be recollected, was acquainted with the situation of the magazine, they proceeded to the cellar, where they found the store of powder; but not meeting with any of the conspirators, as they expected, they disturbed nothing, and went away, reporting the result of their search to the King.

By the recommendation of the Earl of Salisbury, James advised that a guard should be placed near the cellar during the whole of the night, consisting of Topcliffe and a certain number of attendants, and headed by Sir Thomas Knevet, a magistrate of Westminster, upon whose courage and discretion full reliance could be placed. Lord Mounteagle also requested permission to keep guard with them to witness the result of the affair. To this the King assented, and as soon as it grew dark, the party secretly took up their position at a point commanding the entrance of the magazine.

Fawkes, who chanced to be absent at the time the search was made, returned a few minutes afterwards, and remained within the cellar, seated upon a barrel of gunpowder, the head of which he had staved in, with a lantern in one hand, and petronel in the other, till past midnight.

The fifth of November was now at hand, and the clock of the adjoining abbey had scarcely ceased tolling the hour that proclaimed its arrival, when Fawkes, somewhat wearied with his solitary watching, determined to repair, for a short space, to the adjoining house. He accordingly quitted the cellar, leaving his lantern lighted within it in one corner.