William Ainsworth.

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

Rushing up to Catesby, Christopher Wright clasped him in his arms, and extinguishing his flaming apparel, cried, Wretch that I am! that I should live to see this day!

Be not alarmed! gasped Catesby. It is nothing it was a mere accident.

It is no accident, Catesby, replied Robert Winter. Heaven is against us and our design.

And he quitted the room, and left the house. Nor did he return to it.

I will pray for forgiveness! cried John Grant, whose vision was so much injured by the explosion that he could as yet see nothing. And dragging himself before an image of the Virgin, he prayed aloud, acknowledging that the act he had designed was so bloody that it called for the vengeance of Heaven, and expressing his sincere repentance.

No more of this, cried Catesby, staggering up to him, and snatching the image from him. It was a mere accident, I tell you. We are all alive, and shall yet succeed.

On inquiry, Christopher Wright learnt that a blazing coal had shot out of the fire, and falling into the platter containing the powder, had occasioned the disastrous accident above described.


Unable longer to endure the agony occasioned by his scorched visage, Catesby called for a bucket of water, and plunged his head into it. Somewhat relieved by the immersion, he turned to inquire after his fellow-sufferers. Rookwood having been carried into the open air, had by this time regained his consciousness; Percy was shockingly injured, his hair and eyebrows burnt, his skin blackened and swollen with unseemly blisters, and the sight of one eye entirely destroyed; while John Grant, though a degree less hurt than his companions, presented a grim and ghastly appearance. In fact, the four sufferers looked as if they had just escaped from some unearthly place of torment, and were doomed henceforth to bear the brand of Divine wrath on their countenances. Seeing the effect produced on the others, Catesby rallied all his force, and treating the accident as a matter of no moment, and which ought not to disturb the equanimity of brave men, called for wine, and quaffed a full goblet. Injured as he was, and smarting with pain, Percy followed his example, but both John Grant and Rookwood refused the cup.

Hark 'e, gentlemen, cried Catesby, fiercely, you may drink or not, as you see fit. But I will not have you assume a deportment calculated to depress our followers. Stephen Littleton and Robert Winter have basely deserted us. If you have any intention of following them, go at once. We are better without you than with you.

I have no thought of deserting you, Catesby, rejoined Rookwood, mournfully; and when the time arrives for action, you will find I shall not be idle. But I am now assured that we have sold ourselves to perdition.

Pshaw! cried Catesby, with a laugh that communicated an almost fiendish expression to his grim features; because a little powder has accidentally exploded and blackened our faces, are we to see in the occurrence the retributive justice of Heaven? Are we to be cast down by such a trifle? Be a man, and rouse yourself.

Recollect that the eyes of all England are upon us; and if we must fall, let us perish in a manner that becomes us. No real mischief has been done. My hand is as able to wield a blade, and my sight to direct a shot, as heretofore. If Heaven had meant to destroy us, the bag of powder which has been taken up in the yard, and which was sufficient not only to annihilate us, but to lay this house in ruins, would have been suffered to explode.

Would it had exploded! exclaimed John Wright. All would then have been over.

Are you, too, fainthearted, John? cried Catesby. Well, well, leave me one and all of you. I will fight it out alone.

You wrong me by the suspicion, Catesby, returned John Wright. I am as true to the cause as yourself. But I perceive that our last hour is at hand, and I would it were past.

The indulgence of such a wish at such a moment is a weakness, rejoined Catesby. I care not when death comes, provided it comes gloriously; and such should be your feeling. On the manner in which we meet our fate will depend the effect which our insurrection will produce throughout the country. We must set a brave example to our brethren. Heaven be praised; we shall not perish on the scaffold!

Be not too sure of that, said Grant, gloomily. It may yet be our fate.

It shall never be mine, cried Catesby.

Nor mine, added Percy. I am so far from regarding the recent disaster as a punishment, though I am the severest sufferer by it, that I think we ought to return thanks to Heaven for our preservation.

In whatever light the accident is viewed, observed John Wright, we cannot too soon address ourselves to Heaven. We know not how long it may be in our power to do so.

Again desponding, cried Catesby. But no matter. You will recover your spirits anon.

John Wright shook his head, and Catesby, pulling his hat over his brows to hide his features, walked forth into the court-yard. He found, as he expected, that general consternation prevailed amongst the band. The men were gathered together in little knots, and, though they became silent as he approached, he perceived they were discussing the necessity of a surrender. Nothing daunted by these unfavourable, appearances, Catesby harangued them in such bold terms that he soon inspired them with some of his own confidence, and completely resteadied their wavering feelings.

Elated with his success, he caused a cup of strong ale to be given to each man, and proposed as a pledge, the restoration of the Romish Church. He then returned to the house; and summoning the other conspirators to attend him in a chamber on the ground-floor, they all prayed long and fervently, and concluded by administering the sacrament to each other.

It was now thought necessary to have the damage done by the explosion repaired, and a few hours were employed in the operation. Evening was fast approaching, and Catesby, who was anxiously expecting the return of Sir Everard Digby, stationed himself on the turreted walls of the mansion to look out for him. But he came not; and, fearing some mischance must have befallen him, Catesby descended. Desirous of concealing his misgivings from his companions, he put on a cheerful manner as he joined them.

I am surprised ere this that we have not been attacked, remarked Percy. Our enemies may be waiting for the darkness, to take us by surprise. But they will be disappointed.

I can only account for the delay by supposing they have encountered Sir Everard Digby, and the force he is bringing to us, remarked Christopher Wright.

It may be so, returned Catesby, and if so, we shall soon learn the result.

In spite of all Catesby's efforts he failed to engage his companions in conversation, and feeling it would best suit his present frame of mind, and contribute most to their safety, to keep in constant motion, he proceeded to the court-yard, saw that all the defences were secure, that the drawbridge was raised, the sentinels at their posts, and everything prepared for the anticipated attack. Every half hour he thus made his rounds, and when towards midnight he was going forth, Percy said to him,

Do you not mean to take any rest, Catesby?

Not till I am in my grave, was the moody reply.

Catesby's untiring energy was in fact a marvel to all his followers. His iron frame seemed wholly unsusceptible of fatigue; and even when he returned to the house, he continued to pace to and fro in the passage in preference to lying down.

Rest tranquilly, he said to Christopher Wright, who offered to take his place. I will rouse you on the slightest approach of danger.

But though he preserved this stoical exterior, Catesby's breast was torn by the keenest pangs. He could not hide from himself that, to serve his own ambitious purposes, he had involved many loyal and worthy (till he had deluded them) persons in a treasonable project, which must now terminate in their destruction; and their blood, he feared, would rest upon his head. But what weighed heaviest of all upon his soul was the probable fate of Viviana.

If I were assured she would escape, he thought, I should care little for all the rest, even for Fawkes. They say it is never too late to repent. But my repentance shall lie between my Maker and myself. Man shall never know it.

The night was dark, and the gloom was rendered more profound by a dense fog. Fearing an attack might now be attempted, Catesby renewed his vigilance. Marching round the edge of the moat, he listened to every sound that might betray the approach of a foe. For some time, nothing occurred to excite his suspicions, until about an hour after midnight, as he was standing at the back of the house, he fancied he detected a stealthy tread on the other side of the fosse, and soon became convinced that a party of men were there. Determined to ascertain their movements before giving the alarm, he held his breath, and drawing a petronel, remained perfectly motionless. Presently, though he could discern no object, he distinctly heard a plank pushed across the moat, and could distinguish in the whispered accents of one of the party the voice of Topcliffe. A thrill of savage joy agitated his bosom, and he internally congratulated himself that revenge was in his power.

A footstep, though so noiseless as to be inaudible to any ear less acute than his own, was now heard crossing the plank, and feeling certain it was Topcliffe, Catesby allowed him to land, and then suddenly advancing, kicked the plank, on which were two other persons, into the water, and unmasking a dark lantern, threw its light upon the face of a man near him, who proved, as he suspected, to be Topcliffe.

Aware of the advantage of making a prisoner of importance, Catesby controlled the impulse that prompted him to sacrifice Topcliffe to his vengeance, and firing his petronel in the air as a signal, he drew his sword, and sprang upon him. Topcliffe attempted to defend himself, but he was no match for the skill and impetuosity of Catesby, and was instantly overpowered and thrown to the ground. By this time, Percy and several of the band had come up, and delivering Topcliffe to the charge of two of the stoutest of them, Catesby turned his attention to the other assailants. One of them got across the moat; but the other, encumbered by his arms, was floundering about, when Catesby pointing a petronel at his head, he was fain to surrender, and was dragged out.

A volley of musketry was now fired by the rebels in the supposed direction of their opponents, but it could not be ascertained what execution was done. After waiting for some time, in expectation of a further attack, Catesby placed a guard upon the spot, and proceeded to examine Topcliffe. He had been thrown into a cellar beneath the kitchen, and the two men were on guard over him. He refused to answer any of Catesby's questions, though enforced by threats of instant death. On searching him some letters were found upon him, and thrusting them into his doublet, Catesby left him, with the strictest injunctions to the men as to his safe custody.

He then proceeded to examine the other captive, and found him somewhat more tractable. This man informed him that Topcliffe had intended to steal into the house with the design of capturing the conspirators, or, failing in that, of setting fire to the premises. He also ascertained that Topcliffe's force consisted only of a dozen men, so that no further attack need be apprehended.

Notwithstanding this information, Catesby determined to be on the safe side, and doubling the sentinels, he stationed one of the conspirators, all of whom had sprung to arms at his signal, at each of the exposed points. He then withdrew to the mansion, and examined Topcliffe's papers. The first despatch he opened was from the Earl of Salisbury, bearing date about the early part of Fawkes's confinement in the Tower, in which the Earl expressed his determination of wringing a full confession from the prisoner. A bitter smile curled Catesby's lip as he read this, but his brow darkened as he proceeded, and found that a magnificent reward was offered for his own arrest.

I must have Catesby captured, ran the missive, "so see you spare no pains to take him. I would rather all escaped than he did. His confession is of the last importance in the matter, and I rely upon your bringing him to me alive.

I will at least balk him of that satisfaction, muttered Catesby. But what is this of Viviana?

Reading further, he found that the Earl had issued the same orders respecting Viviana, and that she would be rigorously dealt with if captured.

Alas! groaned Catesby; I hope she will escape these inhuman butchers.

The next despatch he opened was from Tresham, and with a savage satisfaction he found that the traitor was apprehensive of double-dealing on the part of Salisbury and Mounteagle. He stated that he had been put under arrest, and was detained a prisoner in his own house; and fearing he should be sent to the Tower, besought Topcliffe to use his influence with the Earl of Salisbury not to deal unfairly with him.

He is rightly served! cried Catesby, with a bitter smile. Heaven grant they may deal with him as he dealt with us!

The consideration of these letters furnished Catesby with food for much bitter reflection. Pacing the room to and fro with uncertain footsteps, he remained more than an hour by himself, and at last yielding to the promptings of vengeance, repaired to the cellar in which he had placed Topcliffe, with the intention of putting him to death. What was his rage and mortification to find both the guard and the prisoner gone! A door was open, and it was evident that the fugitives had stolen to the moat, and, swimming noiselessly across it in the darkness, had securely effected their retreat.

Fearful of exciting the alarm of his followers, Catesby controlled his indignation, and said nothing of the escape of the prisoner to any but his confederates, who entirely approved of the policy of silence. They continued on the alert during the remainder of the night, and no one thought of seeking repose till it was fully light, and all danger of a surprise at an end.

Day dawned late and dismally. The fog that had hung round the mansion changed just before daybreak into drizzling rain, and this increased ere long to heavy and drenching showers. Everything looked gloomy and depressing, and the conspirators were so disheartened, that they avoided each other's regards.

Catesby mounted the walls of the mansion to reconnoitre. The prospect was forlorn and melancholy to the last degree. The neighbouring woods were obscured by mist; the court-yard and garden flooded with rain; and the waters of the moat spotted by the heavy shower. Not an object was in view, except a hind driving cattle to a neighbouring farm. Catesby shouted to him, and the fellow with evident reluctance approaching the brink of the moat, was asked whether he had seen any troops in the neighbourhood. The man answered in the negative, but said he had heard that an engagement had taken place in the night, about five miles from thence, near Hales Owen, between Sir Everard Digby and Sir Richard Walsh, and that Sir Everard's party had been utterly routed, and himself taken prisoner.

This intelligence was a severe blow to Catesby, as it destroyed the last faint hope he had clung to. For some time he continued wrapt in thought, and then descended to the lower part of the house. A large fire had been kept up during the night in the hall, and the greater part of the band were now gathered round it, drying their wet clothes, and conversing together. A plentiful breakfast had been served out to them, so that they were in tolerably good spirits, and many of them talked loudly of the feats they meant to perform in case of an attack.

Catesby heard these boasts, but they fell upon an idle ear. He felt that all was over; that his last chance was gone; and that the struggle could not be much longer protracted. Entering the inner room, he sat down at table with his companions, but he ate nothing, and continued silent and abstracted.

It is now my turn to reproach you, observed Grant. You look deeply depressed.

Sir Everard Digby is a prisoner, replied Catesby, sternly. His capture grieves me sorely. He should have died with us.

All echoed the wish.

Catesby arose and closed the door.

The attack will not be many hours delayed, he said; and unless there should be some miraculous interposition in our behalf, it must end in our defeat. Do not let us survive it, he continued earnestly. Let us swear to stand by each other as long as we can, and to die together.

Agreed! cried the others.

And now, continued Catesby, I must compel myself to take some nourishment, for I have much to do.

Having swallowed a few mouthfuls of bread, and drained a goblet of wine, he again visited every part of the habitation, examined the arms of the men, encouraged them by his looks and words, and became satisfied, unless some unlooked-for circumstance occurred to damp their ardour, they would offer a determined and vigorous resistance.

If I could only come off victorious in this last conflict, I should die content, thought Catesby. And I do not despair of it.

The rain continued till eleven o'clock, when it ceased, and the mist that had attended it partially cleared off. About noon, Catesby, who was on the look-out from the walls of the mansion, descried a large troop of horsemen issuing from the wood. He immediately gave the alarm. The bell was rung, and all sprang to arms.

By this time the troop had advanced within a hundred yards of the house, and Catesby, who had rushed into the court-yard, mounted a turret near the gate to watch their movements, and issue his commands. The royalists were headed by Sir RichardWalsh, who was attended on the right by Sir John Foliot, and on the left by Topcliffe. Immediately behind them were Ketelbye, Salwaye, Conyers, and others who had accompanied the posse comitat?s the day before. A trumpet was then sounded, and a proclamation made in a loud voice by a trooper, commanding the rebels in the King's name to surrender, and to deliver up their leaders. The man had scarcely concluded his speech when he was for ever silenced by a shot from Catesby.

A loud and vindictive shout was raised by the royalists, and the assault instantly commenced. Sir Richard Walsh directed the attack against the point opposite the drawbridge, while Sir John Foliot, Topcliffe, and the others dispersed themselves, and completely surrounded the mansion. Several planks were thrust across the moat, and in spite of the efforts of the rebels many of the assailants effected a passage.

Catesby drove back the party under Sir Richard Walsh, and with his own hand hewed asunder their plank. In doing this, he so much exposed himself that, but for the injunctions of the Sheriff, who commanded his followers not to fire upon him, he must have been slain.

The other rebel-leaders displayed equal courage, and equal indifference to danger, and though, as has just been stated, a considerable number of the royalists had got across the moat, and entered the garden, they had obtained no material advantage. Sir John Foliot and Topcliffe commanded this party, and encouraged them to press on. But such a continued and well-directed firing was kept up upon them from the walls and windows of the mansion, that they soon began to show symptoms of wavering.

At this juncture, and while Topcliffe was trying to keep his men together, a concealed door in the wall was opened, and Catesby issued from it at the head of a dozen men. He instantly attacked Topcliffe and his band, put several to the sword, and drove those who resisted into the moat. Foliot and Topcliffe with difficulty escaped across the plank, which was seized and pulled over to his own side by Catesby.

But the hope which this success inspired was instantly crushed. Loud shouts were raised from the opposite wing of the mansion, and Catesby to his great dismay perceived from the volumes of smoke ascending from it that it was on fire. Uttering an exclamation of rage and despair, he commanded those with him not to quit their present position, and set off in the direction of the fire.

He found that an outbuilding had been set in flames by a lighted brand thrown across the moat by a trooper. The author of the action was named John Streete, and was afterwards rendered notorious by another feat to be presently related. Efforts were made to extinguish the conflagration, but such was the confusion prevailing that it was found wholly impossible to do so, and it was feared that the destruction of the whole mansion would ensue.

Disaster after disaster followed. Another party had crossed the moat, and burst into the court-yard. In the desperate conflict that ensued, Rookwood was shot through the arm, and severely wounded by a pike, and was borne into the house by one of his followers, whom he entreated to kill him outright, but his request was refused.