William Ainsworth.

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

Opening the door, he gazed cautiously around, but perceiving nothing, after waiting a few seconds, he proceeded to lock the door. While thus employed, he thought he heard a noise behind him, and turning suddenly, he beheld through the gloom several persons rushing towards him, evidently with hostile intent. His first impulse was to draw a petronel, and grasp his sword: but before he could effect his purpose, his arms were pinioned by a powerful grasp from behind, while the light of a lantern thrown full in his face revealed the barrel of a petronel levelled at his head, and an authoritative voice commanded him in the King's name to surrender.


On the same night, and at the same hour that Guy Fawkes was captured, the other conspirators held their rendezvous in Lincoln's Inn Walks. A presentiment of the fate awaiting them filled the breasts of all, and even Catesby shared in the general depression. Plan after plan was proposed, and, as soon as proposed, rejected; and they seemed influenced only by alarm and irresolution. Feeling at length that nothing could be done, and that they were only increasing their risk by remaining together longer, they agreed to separate, appointing to meet at the same place on the following night, if their project should not, in the interim, be discovered.

Before daybreak, said Catesby, I will proceed to the cellar under the Parliament House, and ascertain whether anything has happened to Guy Fawkes. My heart misgives me about him, and I reproach myself that I have allowed him to incur this peril alone.

Guy Fawkes is arrested, said a voice near them, and is at this moment under examination before the King.

It is Tresham who speaks, cried Catesby; secure him!

The injunction was instantly obeyed. Tresham was seized, and several weapons pointed against his breast. He did not, however, appear to be dismayed, but, so far as could be discerned in the obscurity, seemed to maintain great boldness of demeanour.

I have again ventured among you, at the hazard of my life, he said, in a firm tone, to give you this most important intelligence; and am requited, as I have ever been of late, with menaces and violence. Stab me, and see whether my death will avail you in this extremity. I am in equal danger with yourselves; and whether I perish by your hands, or by those of the executioner, is of little moment.

Let me question him before we avenge ourselves upon him, said Catesby to Rookwood. How do you know that Guy Fawkes is a prisoner?

I saw him taken, replied Tresham, and esteem myself singularly fortunate that I escaped the same fate. Though excluded from further share in the project, I could not divest myself of a strong desire to know how matters were going on, and I resolved to visit the cellar secretly at midnight. As I stealthily approached it, I remarked several armed figures beneath a gateway, and conjecturing their purpose, instantly concealed myself behind a projection of the wall.

I had not been in this situation many minutes, when the cellar door opened, and Guy Fawkes issued from it.

Well! cried Catesby, breathlessly.

The party I had noticed immediately rushed forward, and secured him before he could offer any resistance, continued Tresham. After a brief struggle, certain of their number dragged him into the cellar, while others kept watch without. I should now have flown, but my limbs refused their office, and I was therefore compelled, however reluctantly, to see the end of it. In a short time Guy Fawkes was brought forth again, and I heard some one in authority give directions that he should be instantly taken to Whitehall, to be interrogated before the King and the Privy Council. He was then led away, and a guard placed at the door of the cellar. Feeling certain I should be discovered, I continued for some time in an agony of apprehension, not daring to stir. But, at length, summoning up sufficient resolution, I crept cautiously along the side of the wall, and got off unperceived. My first object was to warn you.

How did you become acquainted with our place of rendezvous? demanded the elder Wright.

I overheard you, at our last interview at White Webbs, appoint a midnight meeting in this place, replied Tresham, and I hurried hither in the hope of finding you, and have not been disappointed.

When I give the word, plunge your swords into his breast, said Catesby, in a low tone.

Hold! cried Percy, taking him aside. If we put him to death in this spot, his body will be found, and his slaughter may awaken suspicions against us. Guy Fawkes will reveal nothing.

Of that I am well assured, said Catesby. Shall we take the traitor with us to some secure retreat, where we can detain him till we learn what takes place at the palace, and if we find he has betrayed us, despatch him?

That would answer no good purpose, returned Percy The sooner we are rid of him the better. We can then deliberate as to what is best to be done.

You are right, rejoined Catesby. If he has betrayed us, life will be a burthen to him, and the greatest kindness we could render him would be to rid him of it. Let him go. Tresham, he added, in a loud voice, you are free. But we meet no more.

We have not parted yet, cried the traitor, springing backwards, and uttering a loud cry. I arrest you all in the King's name.

The signal was answered by a band of soldiers, who emerged from behind the trees where they had hitherto been concealed, and instantly surrounded the conspirators.

It is now my turn to threaten, laughed Tresham.

Catesby replied by drawing a petronel, and firing it in the supposed direction of the speaker. But he missed his mark. The ball lodged in the brain of a soldier who was standing beside him, and the ill-fated wretch fell to the ground.

A desperate conflict now ensued. Topcliffe, who commanded the assailing party, ordered his followers to take the conspirators alive, and it was mainly owing to this injunction that the latter were indebted for their safety. Whispering his directions to his companions, Catesby gave the word, and making a simultaneous rush forward, they broke through the opposing ranks, and instantly dispersing, and favoured by the gloom, they baffled pursuit.

We have failed in this part of our scheme, said Tresham to Topcliffe, as they met half an hour afterwards. What is to be done?

We must take the Earl of Salisbury's advice upon it, returned Topcliffe. I shall now hasten to Whitehall to see how Guy Fawkes's interrogation proceeds, and will communicate with his lordship.

Upon this, they separated.

None of the conspirators met again that night. Each fled in a different direction, and, ignorant of what had happened to the rest, sought some secure retreat. Catesby ran towards Chancery-lane, and passing through a narrow alley, entered the large gardens which then lay between this thoroughfare and Fetter-lane. Listening to hear whether he was pursued, and finding nothing to alarm him, he threw himself on the sod beneath a tree, and was lost in painful reflection.

All my fair schemes are marred by that traitor, Tresham, he muttered. I could forgive myself for being duped by him, if I had slain him when he was in my power. But that he should escape to exult in our ruin, and reap the reward of his perfidy, afflicts me even more than failure.

Tortured by thoughts like these, and in vain endeavouring to snatch such brief repose as would fit him for the fatigue he might have to endure on the morrow, he did not quit his position till late in the morning of a dull November day it was, as will be recollected, the memorable Fifth had arrived.

He then arose, and slouching his hat, and wrapping his cloak around him, shaped his course towards Fleet-street. From the knots of persons gathered together at different corners, from their muttered discourse and mysterious looks, as well as from the general excitement that prevailed, he felt sure that some rumour of the plot had gone abroad. Shunning observation as much as he could, he entered a small tavern near Fleet Bridge, and called for a flask of wine and some food. While discussing these, he was attracted by the discourse of the landlord, who was conversing with his guests about the conspiracy.

I hear that all the Papists are to be hanged, drawn, and quartered," cried the host; and if it be true, as I have heard, that this plot is their contrivance, they deserve it. I hope I have no believer in that faith no recusant in my house.

Don't insult us by any such suspicion, cried one of the guests. We are all loyal men all good Protestants.

Do you know whether the conspirators have been discovered, sir? asked the host of Catesby.

I do not even know of the plot, replied the other. What was its object?

What was its object! cried the host. You will scarcely credit me when I tell you. I tremble to speak of it. Its object was to blow up the Parliament House, and the King and all the nobles and prelates of the land along with it.

Horrible! exclaimed the guests.

But how do you know it is a scheme of the Papists? asked Catesby.

Because I have been told so, rejoined the host. But who else could devise such a monstrous plan? It would never enter into the head or heart of a Protestant to conceive so detestable an action. We love our King too well for that, and would shed the last drop of our blood rather than a hair of his head should be injured. But these priest-ridden Papists think otherwise. They regard him as a usurper; and having received a dispensation from the Pope to that effect, fancy it would be a pious act to remove him. There will be no tranquillity in the kingdom while one of them is left alive; and I hope his Majesty will take advantage of the present ferment to order a general massacre of them, like that of the poor Protestants on Saint Bartholomew's day in Paris.

Ay, massacre them, cried the guests; that's the way. Burn their houses and cut their throats. Will it be lawful to do so without further authority, mine host? If so, we will set about it immediately.

I cannot resolve you on that point, replied the landlord. You had better wait a short time. I dare say their slaughter will be publicly commanded.

Heaven grant it may be so! cried one of the guests. I will bear my part in the business.

Catesby arose, paid his reckoning, and strode out of the tavern.

Do you know, mine host, said the guest who had last spoken, I half suspect that tall fellow, who has just left us, is a Papist.

Perhaps a conspirator, said another.

Let us watch him, cried a third.

Stay, cried the host, he has paid me double my reckoning. I believe him to be an honest man and a good Protestant.

What you say confirms my suspicions, rejoined the first speaker. We will follow him.

On reaching Temple Bar, Catesby found the gates closed, and a guard stationed at them, no one being allowed to pass through without examination. Not willing to expose himself to this scrutiny, Catesby turned away, and in doing so, perceived three of the persons he had just left in the tavern. The expression of their countenances satisfied him they were dogging him; but affecting not to perceive it, he retraced his steps, gradually quickening his pace until he reached a narrow street leading into Whitefriars, down which he darted. The moment his pursuers saw this, they hurried after him, shouting, A Papist a Papist! a conspirator!

But Catesby was now safe. Claiming the protection of certain Alsatians who were lounging at the door of a tavern, and offering to reward them, they instantly drew their swords, and drove the others away, while Catesby, tossing a few pieces of money to his preservers, passed through a small doorway into the Temple, and making the best of his way to the stairs, leaped into a boat, and ordered the waterman to row to Westminster. The man obeyed, and plying his oars, soon gained the middle of the stream. Little way, however, had been made, when Catesby descried a large wherry, manned by several rowers, swiftly approaching them, and instinctively comprehending whom it contained, ordered the man to rest on his oars till it had passed.

In a few moments the wherry approached them. It was filled with serjeants of the guard and halberdiers, in the midst of whom sat Guy Fawkes. Catesby could not resist the impulse that prompted him to rise, and the movement attracted the attention of the prisoner. The momentary glance they exchanged convinced Catesby that Fawkes perceived him, though his motionless features gave no token of recognition, and he immediately afterwards fixed his eyes towards heaven, as if to intimate, at least Catesby so construed the gesture, that his earthly career was well-nigh ended. Heaving a deep sigh, Catesby watched the wherry sweep on towards the Tower, its fatal destination, until it was lost to view.

All is over, I fear, with the bravest of our band, he thought, as he tracked its course; but some effort must be made to save him. At all events, we will die sword in hand, and like soldiers, and not as common malefactors.

Abandoning his intention of proceeding to Westminster, he desired the man to pull ashore, and landing at Arundel Stairs, hastened to the Strand. Here he found large crowds collected, the shops closed, and business completely at a stand. Nothing was talked of but the conspiracy, and the most exaggerated and extraordinary accounts of it were circulated and believed. Some would have it that the Parliament House was already blown up, and that the city of London itself had been set fire to in several places by the Papists. It was also stated that numerous arrests had taken place, and it was certain that the houses of several Catholic nobles and wealthy gentlemen had been searched. To such a height was the popular indignation raised, that it required the utmost efforts of the soldiery to prevent the mob from breaking into these houses, and using violence towards their inmates.

Every gate and avenue to the palace was strictly guarded, and troops of horse were continually scouring the streets. Sentinels were placed before suspected houses, and no one was suffered to enter them, or to go forth without special permission. Detachments of soldiery were also stationed at the end of all the main thoroughfares. Bars were thrown across the smaller streets and outlets, and proclamation was made that no one was to quit the city, however urgent his business, for three days.

On hearing this announcement, Catesby saw at once that if he did not effect his escape immediately, it would be impracticable. Accordingly, he hurried towards Charing-cross, and turning up St. Martin's-lane, at the back of the King's Mews, contrived to elude the vigilance of the guard, and speeded along the lane, for it was then literally so, and surrounded on either side by high hedges, until he came to St. Giles's, at this time nothing more than a few scattered houses, intermixed with trees. Here he encountered a man mounted on a powerful steed, and seeing this person look hard at him, would have drawn out of the way, if the other had not addressed him by name. He then regarded the equestrian more narrowly, and found it was Martin Heydocke.

I have heard what has happened, Mr. Catesby, said Martin, and can imagine the desperate strait in which you must be placed. Take my horse, it may aid your flight. I was sent to London by my master, Mr. Humphrey Chetham, to bring him intelligence of the result of your attempt, and I am sure I am acting in accordance with his wishes in rendering you such a service. At all events, I will risk it. Mount, sir, mount, and make the best of your way hence.

Catesby needed no further exhortation, but, springing into the saddle, hastily murmured his thanks, and striking into a lane on the right, rode off at a swift pace towards Highgate.

On reaching the brow of this beautiful hill, he drew in the bridle for a moment, and gazed towards the city he had just quitted. Dark and bitter were his thoughts as he fixed his eye upon Westminster Abbey, and fancied he could discern the neighbouring pile, whose destruction he had meditated. Remembering that from this very spot, when he had last approached the capital, in company with Guy Fawkes and Viviana Radcliffe, he had looked in the same direction, he could not help contrasting his present sensations with those he had then experienced. At that time he was full of ardour, and confident of success. Now, all was lost to him, and he was anxious for little more than self-preservation. Involuntarily, his eye wandered along the great city, until passing over the mighty fabric of Saint Paul's, it settled upon the Tower, upon the place of Guy Fawkes's captivity.

And can nothing be done for his deliverance? sighed Catesby, as he turned away, his eyes filling with moisture must that brave soldier die the death of a felon must he be subjected to the torture horror! If he had died defending himself, I should scarcely have pitied him. And if he had destroyed himself, together with his foes, as he resolved to do, I should have envied him. But the idea of what he will have to suffer in that dreadful place nay, what he is now, perhaps, suffering makes the life-blood curdle in my veins. I will never fall alive into their hands.

With this resolve, he struck spurs into his steed, and, urging him to a swift pace, dashed rapidly forward. He had ridden more than a mile, when hearing shouts behind him, he perceived two troopers galloping after him as fast as their horses could carry them. They shouted to him to stay, and as they were better mounted than he was, it was evident they would soon come up with him. Determined, however, to adhere to the resolution he had just formed, and not to yield himself with life, he prepared for a conflict, and suddenly halting, he concealed a petronel beneath his cloak, and waited till his foes drew near.

I command you, in the King's name, to surrender, said the foremost trooper, riding up. You are a rebel and a traitor.

Be this my answer, replied Catesby, aiming at the man, and firing with such certainty, that he fell from his horse mortally wounded. Unsheathing his sword, he then prepared to attack the other trooper. But, terrified at the fate of his comrade, the man turned his horse's head, and rode off.

Without bestowing a thought on the dying man who lay groaning in the mire, Catesby caught hold of the bridle of his horse, and satisfied that the animal was better than his own, mounted him, and proceeded at the same headlong pace as before.

In a short time he reached Finchley, where several persons rushed from their dwellings to inquire whether he brought any intelligence of the plot, rumours of which had already reached them. Without stopping, Catesby replied that most important discoveries had been made, and that he was carrying despatches from the King to Northampton. No opposition was therefore offered him, and he soon left all traces of habitation behind him. Urging his horse to its utmost, he arrived, in less than a quarter of an hour, at Chipping Barnet. Here the same inquiries were made as at Finchley, and returning the same answer for he never relaxed his speed for a moment he pursued his course.

In less than three quarters of an hour after this, he arrived at Saint Albans, and proceeding direct to the post-house, asked for a horse. But instead of complying with the request, the landlord of the Rose and Crown such was the name of the hostel instantly withdrew, and returned the next moment with an officer, who desired to speak with Catesby before he proceeded further. The latter, however, took no notice of the demand, but rode off.

The clatter of horses' hoofs behind him soon convinced him he was again pursued, and he was just beginning to consider in what way he should make a second defence, when he observed two horsemen cross a lane on the left, and make for the main road. His situation now appeared highly perilous, especially as his pursuers, who had noticed the other horsemen at the same time as himself, shouted to them. But he was speedily relieved. These persons, instead of stopping, accelerated their pace, and appeared as anxious as he was to avoid those behind him.

They were now within a short distance of Dunstable, and were ascending the lovely downs which lie on the London side of this ancient town, when one of the horsemen in front chancing to turn round, Catesby perceived it was Rookwood. Overjoyed at the discovery, he shouted to him at the top of his voice, and the other, who it presently appeared was accompanied by Keyes, instantly stopped. In a few seconds Catesby was by their side, and a rapid explanation taking place, they all three drew up in order of battle.

By this time their pursuers had arrived within a hundred yards of them, and seeing how matters stood, and not willing to hazard an engagement, after a brief consultation, retired. The three friends then pursued their route, passed through Dunstable, and without pausing a moment on the road, soon neared Fenny Stratford. Just before they arrived at this place, Catesby's horse fell from exhaustion. Instantly extricating himself from the fallen animal, he ran by the side of his companions till they got to the town, where Rookwood, who had placed relays on the road, changed his horse, and the others were fortunate enough to procure fresh steeds.