Guy Fawkes: or, The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romanceскачать книгу бесплатно
Meantime, the drawbridge was lowered, and with loud and exulting shouts the great body of the royalists crossed it. Catesby now perceived that the day was irretrievably lost. Calling to Christopher Wright, who was standing near him, to follow him, and rushing towards the court-yard, he reached it just as the royalists gained an entrance.
In numbers both parties were pretty, well matched, but the rebels were now thoroughly disheartened, and seeing how matters must end, many of them threw down their arms, and begged for mercy. A destructive fire, however, was still kept up on the royalists by a few of the rebels stationed on the walls of the mansion, under the command of John Wright.
Putting himself at the head of a few faithful followers, Catesby fought with all the fury of despair. Christopher Wright was shot by his side. Grant instantly sprang forward, but was cut down by a trooper. Catesby was too busily occupied to attend to the fate of his companions, but seeing Thomas Winter near him, called to him to come on.
“I can fight no longer,” said Thomas Winter. “My right arm is disabled by a bolt from a cross-bow.”
“Then die,” cried Catesby.
“He shall die – on the scaffold,” rejoined Topcliffe, who had heard the exclamation. And rushing up to Thomas Winter, he seized him, and conveyed him to the rear of his party.
Catesby continued to fight with such determined bravery that Sir Richard Walsh, seeing it would be vain to take him alive, withdrew his restrictions from his men, and ordered them to slay him.
By this time most of the rebels had thrown down their arms. Those on the walls had been dislodged, and John Wright, refusing to yield, was slaughtered. Catesby, however, having been joined by Percy and half a dozen men, made a last desperate charge upon his opponents.
In doing this, his sword shivered, and he would have fallen back, but found himself surrounded. Percy was close behind him, and keeping together, they fought back to back. Even in this disabled state, they made a long and desperate resistance.
“Remember your oath, Percy,” cried Catesby. “You have sworn not to be taken to the scaffold.”
“Fear nothing,” replied Percy. “I will never quit this spot alive.”
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when he fell to the ground mortally wounded, and the same shot that had pierced his breast had likewise stricken Catesby. It was fired by the trooper, John Streete, who has just been mentioned.
Collecting all his force, Catesby struck a few terrible blows at his opponents, and, dashing through them, made for the house. Just as he reached the door, which was standing open, his strength failed, and he fell to the ground. In this condition, he dragged himself into the vestibule, where there was a large wooden statue of the Virgin, and clasping his arms around it pressed his lips to the feet of the image. He was followed by Streete, with his drawn sword in one hand and a petronel in the other, prepared to finish his work.
But ere he could reach him, Catesby had expired.
“So,” exclaimed Topcliffe, who came up the next moment, with Sir Richard Walsh, “we have been robbed of our prey. The Earl of Salisbury will never forgive me for this disappointment.”
“I am glad I have done it, though,” observed Streete. “To kill two such traitors with one shot is something to talk of.”
“You will be well rewarded for it, no doubt,” remarked Topcliffe, sarcastically.
“I care not whether I am or not,” rejoined Streete. “I have done my duty, and besides I have avenged my comrade, Richard Trueman, who was shot by this traitor when he read the proclamation.”
“I will take care that your brave action is duly represented to his Majesty,” observed Sir Richard Walsh.
And he failed not to keep his promise. Streete received a pension of two shillings a day for the rest of his life – no inconsiderable sum in those days.
The conflict was now at an end, for though some few of the more desperate of the rebels continued to struggle after their leaders had fallen, they were soon disarmed. Sir Richard Walsh and Topcliffe went in search of the other conspirators, and finding Rookwood and Grant, who though severely wounded were not dead, lying in the hall, immediately secured them. Rookwood on their approach made an effort to plunge his dagger into his breast, but his hand was stayed by Sir Richard Walsh.
“We shall not go away quite empty-handed,” cried Topcliffe. “But these are sorry substitutes for Catesby.
“Has Catesby escaped?” demanded Grant, faintly.
“Ay, to the other world,” replied Topcliffe.
“He has kept his word,” groaned Grant.
“He may have escaped some part of his punishment,” said Topcliffe, bitterly; “but the worst remains. His quarters will be exposed on every gate in London, and his head on the bridge. As to you, traitors, you know your doom.”
“And are prepared for it,” rejoined Grant.
A guard being left over the prisoners, Sir Richard Walsh and Topcliffe then went to see that the other captives were properly secured. Some few having made their escape into the adjoining fields, they were pursued and recaptured.
The whole of the prisoners were then conveyed to Stourbridge, where they were lodged in the gaol, after which Sir Richard Walsh despatched a messenger to the Earl of Salisbury and the Lords of the Council acquainting them with what he had done.
Robert Winter, it may be remembered, immediately after the explosion, quitted Holbeach, and did not return to it. He proceeded to the neighbouring thicket, and while wandering about in a state bordering on distraction encountered Stephen Littleton, who had likewise deserted his companions on the same day. Acquainting him with the disastrous occurrence that had taken place, and stating his impression that both God and man were against them, and that it would be vain as well as impious to struggle longer, he proposed to him to surrender. But Stephen Littleton so strongly combated this opinion, that he at last consented to make an effort to escape. This, however, was no easy matter, nor could they devise a plan that appeared feasible. Both were well provided with money; but under present circumstances it would be of little use to them. A large price being set on their heads, and the whole country alarmed, they scarcely knew where to seek shelter. After a long debate, they quitted the covert, and keeping clear of all habitations, took the direction of Stourbridge.
On approaching the Stour, at a point opposite Churchill, where they knew the river was fordable, they perceived Sir Richard Walsh's force approaching, and threw themselves into a ditch to avoid observation. It was quite dark when they again ventured forth, and at the peril of their lives they forded the Stour, which was swollen more than it had been in the morning by the long-continued rain. Their design was to proceed to Hagley, the residence of Stephen Littleton's sister, Mrs. Littleton, and to claim her protection. This magnificent mansion lay about two miles on the other side of the river, in the heart of an extensive park, but they were obliged to take a circuitous route of nearly double the distance to reach it, and when at length they arrived there, and were about to steal into the court-yard; they found it occupied by a portion of Sir Richard Walsh's troop.
Overcome by anxiety and fatigue, and scarcely knowing whither to proceed, they recrossed the park, and sought out the cottage of a poor woman, whose two sons had joined their ill-fated expedition, and were at that moment under arms at Holbeach. She was a good Catholic, and they thought they might confide in her. Arriving at her cottage, they glanced in at the window, and perceiving her, as they concluded, alone, and cooking a small piece of meat at the fire, they raised the latch, and entered the house. The woman turned at their approach, and uttering a cry of surprise and alarm, pointed towards a back room. They then saw that they had betrayed themselves; but the caution came too late, and a stalwart trooper, alarmed by the cry, issued from the back room. From the wretched appearance of the new-comers, he at once guessed that they were rebels, and felt satisfied, from the richness of their apparel, dirtied and stained as it was, that they were persons of consequence. Accordingly, he drew a brace of petronels, and holding them at their heads, commanded them to surrender.
They were too much taken by surprise, and too enfeebled to offer resistance, and the trooper calling to the old woman to bring a cord to bind them, at the same time unloosed his own girdle, with which he fastened Robert Winter's arms behind his back. In doing this, he was compelled to lay down his petronels, and he had scarcely done so, when the woman snatched them up, and gave them to Stephen Littleton, who presented them at his head.
It was now the turn of the conspirators to triumph. In another instant, Robert Winter was released by the old woman, and the pair throwing themselves upon the trooper, forced him to the ground. They then dragged him to the back room, and stripped him of his habiliments, which Stephen Littleton put on instead of his own attire, and binding him hand and foot, returned to the old woman. At the request of Robert Winter, she furnished him with a suit of clothes belonging to one of her sons, and then set before them the best eatables she possessed. They were ravenously hungry, and soon disposed of the viands. Meanwhile, their hostess told them that the whole country was in arms against them; that Mrs. Littleton being suspected, though she had always been adverse to the design, her house had undergone a rigorous search; but that Mr. Humphrey Littleton, not having taken any part in the insurrection, had not as yet been arrested, though it was feared he would be proved to be connected with the plot. She concluded by strongly counselling them to use the utmost caution, and to expose themselves as little as possible. They assured her she need have no apprehension on that score, and expressed great anxiety as to what would befal her when they were pone.
“I do not desire to shed blood, if it can be helped,” said Stephen Littleton; “but in a case of necessity, like the present, where life must be weighed against life, I hold it lawful to shed it. Shall we put the trooper to death?”
“Not unless your own safety requires it, good sirs,” she said. “I shall quit this cottage soon after you have left it, and obtain a safe asylum with one of my neighbours. It matters not what becomes of me. Having lost my two sons, – for I consider them as already dead, – I have nothing left to bind me to life.”
Unable to make any reply, the conspirators remained for some time silent, when, by the poor woman's advice, they withdrew to an upper chamber, and stretching themselves on a bed, sought a few hours' repose. The old woman kept watch below, and they gave her one of the petronels, with strict injunctions to blow out the trooper's brains if he attempted to move. Nothing, however, occurred to alarm her, and at three o'clock she awakened them.
Offering the woman a handsome reward, which, however, she declined, they then set out; and shortly afterwards their hostess quitted her habitation, and withdrew to the cottage of a neighbour, where she remained concealed for some weeks, and then died of grief on learning that her sons had been slain during the assault of Holbeach by the royalists.
Recruited by the rest they had enjoyed, the conspirators pursued their course over the fields. The weather was the same as that which disheartened their confederates at Holbeach, and the rain fell so heavily that they had soon not a dry thread upon them. But being now disguised, they were not under so much apprehension of detection. Shaping their course towards Rowley Regis, in Staffordshire, which lay about five miles from Hagley, where a farmer named Pelborrow, a tenant of Humphrey Littleton, resided, and whom they thought would befriend them, they proceeded swiftly on their way; but, though well acquainted with the country, they were so bewildered and deceived by the fog, that they strayed materially out of their course, and when it grew light found themselves near Weoley Castle, and about four miles from Birmingham.
Confiding in their disguises, and in their power of sustaining the characters they assumed, they got into the high road, and approaching a farm-house, Stephen Littleton, who had tied his companion's arms behind him with his belt, represented himself as a trooper conveying a prisoner from Stourbridge to Birmingham, and in consequence of this obtained a breakfast from the farmer. After their meal was over, the host, who had eyed them suspiciously, observed to the supposed trooper, —
“You will overtake some of your comrades before you reach Egbaston, and had better lose no time in joining them. You are known to me, my masters,” he added, in a tone that could not be heard by the household; “but I will not betray you. Get you gone.”
The conspirators did not fail to act upon the suggestion, and as soon as they got out of sight, struck across the county in the direction of Rowley Regis, and arrived at the farm-house which was their destination in about an hour.
Pelborrow chanced to be in a barn adjoining his house, and alone, and on seeing them readily offered to hide them. No one had noticed their approach, and carefully concealing them amid the hay in the loft, he proceeded about his business as if nothing had happened. He could not just then procure them provisions without exciting suspicion; but when night arrived brought them a sufficient supply for the next day.
In this way they passed nearly a week, never venturing to stir forth, for they had been traced to the neighbourhood, and constant search was going on after them. Pelborrow had great difficulty in keeping his men out of the barn, and the disappearance of the provisions excited the suspicions of his female domestics, who began to think all was not right. He therefore intimated to the conspirators that they must change their quarters, and in the dead of the night, they removed to the house of another farmer named Perkes, residing on the borders of Hagley Park, to whom Pelborrow had confided the secret of their being in the neighbourhood, and who, on promise of a large reward, readily undertook to secrete them.
Perkes met them at a little distance from his house, and conducted them to a barley-mow, where he had contrived a hiding-place amid the straw for them. A woman-servant and a man were both let into the secret by Perkes, and a sum of money, given him for that purpose by the conspirators, bribed them to silence. Here they remained close prisoners, unable to stir forth, or even to change their habiliments for nearly six weeks, during which time they received constant intelligence from their protector of what was going forward, and learnt that the search for them had not relaxed. They were not without hope, however, that the worst was over, when an incident occurred that gave them serious uneasiness.
One night, Perkes, who was a stout, hale yeoman, and had formerly been warrener to Mrs. Littleton, went to catch conies, with a companion named Poynter, and returned laden with spoil. After drinking a cup or two of ale together, the pair separated, and Poynter feeling fatigued with his exertions, as well as drowsy with the liquor he had swallowed, determined to pass the night in his friend's barn, and entering it, clambered up to the loft, and laid himself in the straw. In doing this, he slipped into the hole made for the conspirators, who, aroused by his fall, instantly seized him. Terrified to death, and fancying he had fallen into the hands of gipsies or other plunderers, Poynter roared for mercy, which they were not at first disposed to show him; but the poor wretch, finding into whose hands he had fallen, besought them in such piteous terms to spare his life, affirming with the strongest oaths that he would never betray them, that they consented to spare him, on condition of his remaining with them as long as they should occupy their place of concealment.
When Perkes appeared in the morning, he was not a little surprised at finding his comrade caught in such a trap, but entirely approved of the course taken by the conspirators. Poynter, as may be supposed, was no willing captive; and being constantly pondering on the means of escape, and of obtaining the reward for the apprehension of the conspirators, at last hit upon the following expedient. While engaged in the poaching expedition with Perkes, he had received a slight wound in the leg, and the close confinement to which he was now subjected inflamed it to such a degree as to render it highly dangerous. This he represented to the conspirators, who, however, would not suffer him to depart; but desired Perkes to bring him some ointment to dress his wound. The request was complied with, and feigning that it was necessary to approach the light to apply the salve, Poynter scrambled up the straw, apparently for that sole purpose. He did not attempt to fly for several days; but at last, when they were grown less suspicious, he slided down the other side of the loft, and made good his retreat.
The conspirators saw the error they had committed when too late. Not daring to pursue him, they remained in fearful anticipation of an arrest throughout the day. But they were not disturbed until night, when Perkes made his appearance. They told him what had happened; but he did not appear to be much alarmed.
“I do not think you need be afraid of him,” he said. “Let me have some money, and I will go in quest of him at once, and bribe him to silence.”
“Here are fifty marks,” replied Stephen Littleton. “If that is not enough, take more.”
“It will amply suffice,” replied Perkes. “I will answer for his silence.”
This assurance greatly relieved the conspirators, and they were made completely easy by the return of Perkes in less than an hour afterwards, who told them he had seen Poynter, and had given him the money, binding him by the most solemn oaths not to betray them.
“I have still better news for you, my masters,” he added. “Mrs. Littleton has set out for London to-day; and I have received orders from Mr. Humphrey Littleton to bring you to the hall at midnight.”
This last intelligence completed their satisfaction, and they awaited Perkes's return with impatience. Shortly before midnight, he came to summon them, and they set forth together. Perkes's house lay about a mile from the hall, and they soon entered the park. The night was clear and frosty, – it was now the middle of December, – and as the conspirators trod the crisp sod, and gazed at the noble but leafless trees around them, they silently returned thanks to Heaven for their restoration to freedom. Humphrey Littleton was waiting for them at the end of an avenue near the mansion, and tenderly embraced them.
Tears of joy were shed on both sides, and it seemed to Humphrey Littleton as if his brother had been restored from the grave. Dismissing Perkes with warm thanks, and promises of a further recompence, they then entered the house by a window, which had been left purposely open. Humphrey Littleton conducted them to his own chamber, where fresh apparel was provided for them; and to poor wretches who had not been able to put off their attire for so long a period, the luxury of the change was indescribably great.
The arrival of the fugitives was kept secret from all the household except the man-cook, John Ocklie, upon whose fidelity Humphrey Littleton thought he could rely. A good supper was prepared by this man, and brought up into his master's chamber, where the conspirators were now seated before a hearth heaped with blazing logs. The conspirators needed no solicitation to fall to, and they did ample justice to the good things before them. His spirits being raised by the good cheer, Robert Winter observed to the cook, who was in attendance upon them,
“Ah! Jack, thy mistress little thinks what guests are now in her house, who have neither seen fire nor tasted a hot morsel for well-nigh two months.”
“Ay, it is a sad matter,” returned the cook, shaking his head, “and I wish I could offer your worships a flask of wine, or a cup of stout ale at the least. But the butler is in bed, and if I were to rouse him at this hour it might excite his suspicion. If you are willing, sir,” he added, to Humphrey Littleton, “I will hie to my mother's cottage in the park, and bring a jug of ale from her.”
This was agreed to, and the cook left the house. His sole object, however, was to instruct his mother to give the alarm, so that the conspirators might be arrested before morning.
On reaching her cottage, he was surprised to see a light within it, and two men there, one of whom was Poynter, and the other Mrs. Littleton's steward, Robert Hazlewood. Poynter had acquainted Hazlewood with all he knew respecting the conspirators, supposing them still in the barley-mow, and they were discussing the best means of arresting them, when the cook entered the house.скачать книгу бесплатно