Guy Fawkes: or, The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance
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“Are you come to warn me?” he demanded.
The figure moved in acquiescence, and withdrawing the cloak, revealed features of ghastly paleness, but resembling those of Fawkes.
“Have I long to live?” demanded Catesby.
The figure shook its head.
“Shall I fall to-morrow?” pursued Catesby.
The figure again made a gesture in the negative.
“The next day?”
Solemnly inclining its head, the figure once more muffled its ghastly visage in its cloak, and melted from his view.
For some time Catesby remained in a state almost of stupefaction. He then summoned up all the resolution of his nature, and instead of returning to the house, continued to pace to and fro in the court, and at last walked forth into the garden. It was profoundly dark; and he had not advanced many steps when he suddenly encountered a man. Repressing the exclamation that rose to his lips, he drew a petronel from his belt, and waited till the person addressed him.
“Is it you, Sir John Foliot?” asked a voice, which he instantly recognised as that of Topcliffe.
“Ay,” replied Catesby, in a low tone.
“Did you manage to get into the house?” pursued Topcliffe.
“I did,” returned Catesby; “but speak lower. There is a sentinel within a few paces of us. Come this way.”
And grasping the other's arm he drew him further down the walk.
“Do you think we may venture to surprise them?” demanded Topcliffe.
“Hum!” exclaimed Catesby, hesitating, in the hope of inducing the other to betray his design.
“Or shall we wait the arrival of Sir Richard Walsh, the Sheriff of Worcestershire, and the posse comitat?s?” pursued Topcliffe.
“How soon do you think the Sheriff will arrive?” asked Catesby, scarcely able to disguise his anxiety.
“He cannot be here before daybreak – if so soon,” returned Topcliffe, “and then we shall have to besiege the house; and though I have no fear of the result, yet some of the conspirators may fall in the skirmish; and my orders from the Earl of Salisbury, as I have already apprised you, are, to take them alive.”
“True,” replied Catesby.
“I would not, for twice the reward I shall receive for the capture of the whole party, that that desperate traitor, Catesby, should be slain," continued Topcliffe. “The plot was contrived by him, and the extent of its ramifications can alone be ascertained through him.”
“I think I can contrive their capture,” observed Catesby; “but the utmost caution must be used. I will return to the house, and find out where the chief conspirators are lodged. I will then throw open the door, and will return to this place, where you can have our men assembled. If we can seize and secure the leaders, the rest will be easy.”
“You will run great risk, Sir John,” said Topcliffe, with affected concern.
“Heed not that,” replied Catesby. “You may expect me in a few minutes. Get together your men as noiselessly as you can.”
With this he hastily withdrew.
On returning to the house, he instantly roused his companions, and acquainted them with what had occurred.
“My object,” he said, “is to make Topcliffe a prisoner.We may obtain much useful information from him. As to the others, if they offer resistance, we will put them to death.”
“What force have they?” asked Sir Everard Digby, with some uneasiness.
“It is impossible to say precisely,” replied Catesby; “but not more than a handful of men, I should imagine, as they are waiting for Sir Richard Walsh.”
“I know not what may be the issue of this matter,” observed Robert Winter, whose looks were unusually haggard; “but I have had a strange and ominous dream, which fills me with apprehension.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Catesby, upon whose mind the recollection of the apparition he had beheld rushed.
“Catesby,” pursued Robert Winter, taking him aside, “if you have any sin unrepented of, I counsel you to make your peace with Heaven, for I fear you are not long for this world.”
“It may be so,” rejoined Catesby, firmly; “and I have many dark and damning sins upon my soul, but I will die as I have lived, firm and unshaken to the last. And now, let us prepare for our foes.”
So saying, he proceeded to call up the trustiest of his men, and enjoining profound silence upon them, disposed them in various places, that they might instantly appear at his signal. After giving them other directions, he returned to the garden, and coughed slightly. He was answered by a quickly-approaching footstep, and a voice demanded,
“Are you there, Sir John?”
Catesby answered in a low tone in the affirmative.
“Come forward, then,” rejoined Topcliffe.
As he spoke there was a rush of persons towards the spot, and seizing Catesby, he cried, in a triumphant tone, while he unmasked a lantern, and threw its light full upon his face,
“You are caught in your own trap, Mr. Catesby. You are my prisoner.”
“Not so, villain,” cried Catesby, disengaging himself by a powerful effort.
Springing backwards, he drew his sword, and making the blade describe a circle round his body, effected his retreat in safety, though a dozen shots were fired at him. Leaping the garden wall, he was instantly surrounded by the other conspirators, and the greater part of the band, who, hearing the reports of the fire-arms, had hurried to the spot. Instantly putting himself at their head, Catesby returned to the garden; but Topcliffe and his party had taken the alarm and fled. Torches were brought, and, by Catesby's directions, a large heap of dry stubble was set on fire. But, though the flames revealed every object for a considerable distance around them, no traces of the hostile party could be discerned.
After continuing their ineffectual search for some time, the conspirators returned to the house, and abandoning all idea of retiring to rest, kept strict watch during the remainder of the night. Little conversation took place. All were deeply depressed; and Catesby paced backwards and forwards within a passage leading from the hall to the dining-chamber. His thoughts were gloomy enough, and he retraced the whole of his wild and turbulent career, pondering upon its close, which he could not disguise from himself was at hand.
“It matters not,” he mentally ejaculated; “I shall not die ignominiously, and I would rather perish in the vigour of manhood than linger out a miserable old age. I have striven hard to achieve a great enterprise, and having failed, have little else to live for. This band cannot hold together two days longer. Our men will desert us, or turn upon us to obtain the price set upon our heads. And, were they true, I have little reliance upon my companions. They have no longer the confidence that can alone insure success, and I expect each moment some one will propose a surrender. Surrender! I will never do so with life. Something must be done – something worthy of me – and then let me perish. I have ever prayed to die a soldier's death.”
As he uttered these words unconsciously aloud, he became aware of the presence of Robert Winter, who stood at the end of the passage, watching him.
“Your prayer will not be granted, Catesby,” said the latter. “Some dreadful doom, I fear, is reserved for you and all of us.”
“What mean you?” demanded the other, uneasily.
“Listen to me,” replied Robert Winter. “I told you I had a strange and appalling dream to-night, and I will now relate it. I thought I was in a boat upon the river Thames, when all at once the day, which had been bright and smiling, became dark and overcast, – not dark like the shades of night, but gloomy and ominous, as when the sun is shrouded by an eclipse. I looked around, and every object was altered. The tower of Saint Paul's stood awry, and seemed ready to topple down, – so did the spires and towers of all the surrounding fanes. The houses on London Bridge leaned frightfully over the river, and the habitations lining its banks on either side, seemed shaken to their foundations. I fancied some terrible earthquake must have occurred, or that the end of the world was at hand.”
“Go on,” said Catesby, who had listened with profound attention to the relation.
“The stream, too, changed its colour,” continued Robert Winter, “and became red as blood, and the man who rowed my boat was gone, and his place occupied by a figure masked and habited like an executioner. I commanded him to row me ashore, and in an instant the bark shot to land, and I sprang out, glad to be liberated from my mysterious conductor. My steps involuntarily led me toward the cathedral, and on entering it, I found its pillars, shrines, monuments, and roof hung with black. The throng that ever haunt Paul's Walk had disappeared, and a few dismal figures alone traversed the aisles. On approaching them, I recognised in their swollen, death-like, and blackened lineaments, some resemblance to you and our friends. I was about to interrogate them, when I was awakened by yourself.”
“A strange dream, truly,” observed Catesby, musingly, “and coupled with what I myself have seen to-night, would seem to bode evil.”
And he then proceeded to describe the supernatural appearance he had beheld to his companion.
“All is over with us,” rejoined Robert Winter. “We must prepare to meet our fate.”
“We must meet it like men, – like brave men, Robert,” replied Catesby. “We must not disgrace ourselves and our cause.”
“You are right,” rejoined Robert Winter; “but these visions are more terrible than the contemplation of death itself.”
“If you require further rest, take it,” returned Catesby. “In an hour I shall call up our men, and march to Hewel Grange.”
“I am wearied enough,” replied Robert Winter, “but I dare not close my eyes again.”
“Then recommend your soul to Heaven,” said Catesby. “I would be alone. Melancholy thoughts press upon me, and I desire to unburden my heart to God.”
Robert Winter then left him, and he withdrew into a closet where there was an image of the Virgin, and kneeling before it, prayed long and fervently. Arising in a calmer frame of mind, he returned to the hall, and summoning his companions and followers, their horses were brought forth, and they commenced their march.
It was about four o'clock when they started, and so dark, that they had some difficulty in finding the road. They proceeded at a slow pace, and with the utmost caution; but notwithstanding this, and though the two Winters and Grant, who were well acquainted with the country, led the way, many trifling delays and disasters occurred. Their baggage-cart frequently stuck fast in the deep ruts, while the men missing their way, got into the trenches skirting the lane, and were not unfrequently thrown from their horses. More than once, too, the alarm was given that they were pursued, and a sudden halt ordered; but these apprehensions proved groundless, and, after a most fatiguing ride, they found themselves at Stoke Prior, and within two miles of Hewel Grange.
Originally built in the early part of the reign of Henry the Eighth, and granted by that monarch to an ancestor of its present possessor, Lord Windsor, this ancient mansion was quadrangular in form, and surrounded by a broad deep fosse. Situated in the heart of an extensive park, at the foot of a gentle hill, it was now approached from the brow of the latter beautiful eminence by the rebel party. But at this season, and at this hour, both park and mansion had a forlorn look. The weather still continued foggy, with drizzling showers, and though the trees were not yet entirely stripped of their foliage, their glories had altogether departed. The turf was damp and plashy, and in some places partook so much of the character of a swamp, that the horsemen were obliged to alter their course.
But all obstacles were eventually overcome, and in ten minutes after their entrance into the park, they were within gunshot of the mansion. There were no symptoms of defence apparent, but the drawbridge being raised, it was Catesby's opinion, notwithstanding appearances, that their arrival was expected. He was further confirmed in this idea when, sounding a trumpet, and calling to the porter to let down the drawbridge, no answer was returned.
The entrance to the mansion was through a lofty and machiolated gateway, strengthened at each side by an embattled turret. Perceiving a man at one of the loopholes, Catesby discharged his petronel at him, and it was evident from the cry that followed that the person was wounded. An instant afterwards calivers were thrust through the other loopholes, and several shots fired upon the rebels, while some dozen armed men appeared upon the summit of the tower, and likewise commenced firing.
Perceiving Topcliffe among the latter, and enraged at the sight, Catesby discharged another petronel at him, but without effect. He then called to some of his men to break down the door of an adjoining barn, and to place it in the moat. The order was instantly obeyed, and the door afloat in the fosse, and springing upon it, he impelled himself with a pike towards the opposite bank. Several shots were fired at him, and though more than one struck the door, he crossed the moat uninjured. So suddenly was this daring passage effected, that before any of the defenders of the mansion could prevent him, Catesby had severed the links of the chain fastening the drawbridge, and it fell clattering down.
With a loud shout, his companions then crossed it. But they had still a difficulty to encounter. The gates, which were of great strength, and covered with plates of iron, were barred. But a ladder having been found in the barn, it was brought forward, and Catesby mounting it sword in hand, drove back all who opposed him, and got upon the wall. He was followed by Sir Everard Digby, Percy, and several others, and driving the royalists before them, they made their way down a flight of stone steps, and proceeding to the gateway, threw it open, and admitted the others. All this was the work of a few minutes.
Committing the ransacking of the mansion to Digby and Percy, and commanding a dozen men to follow him, Catesby entered a small arched doorway, and ascended a winding stone staircase in search of Topcliffe. His progress was opposed by the soldiers, but beating aside all opposition, he gained the roof. Topcliffe, however, was gone. Anticipating the result of the attack, he had let himself drop from the summit of the tower to the walls, and descending by the ladder, had made good his retreat.
Disarming the soldiers, Catesby then descended to the court-yard, where in a short time a large store of arms, consisting of corslets, demi-lances, pikes, calivers, and two falconets, were brought forth. These, together with a cask of powder, were placed in the baggage-waggon. Meanwhile, the larder and cellar had been explored, and provisions of all kinds, together with a barrel of mead, and another of strong ale, being found, they were distributed among the men.
While this took place, Catesby searched the mansion, and, partly by threats, partly by persuasion, induced about twenty persons to join them. This unlooked-for success so encouraged the conspirators, that their drooping spirits began to revive. Catesby appeared as much elated as the others, but at heart he was full of misgiving.
Soon afterwards, the rebel party quitted Hewel Grange, taking with them every weapon they could find. The forced recruits were placed in the midst of the band, so that escape was impracticable.