William Ainsworth.

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





Alas! exclaimed Chetham, in a pitying tone.

You will think I trespass too much upon your kindness, she pursued; but you can render me a great service, and it will be the last I shall ever require from you.

Name it! cried Chetham, eagerly.

I would beg you to escort me to London, she rejoined: and to deliver me to the lords of the council. I would willingly escape the indignities to which T shall be exposed if I am conveyed thither as a prisoner. Will you do this?

I will, replied Chetham.

Lest you should think I have offered more than I can perform, Viviana," said Dee, who had listened attentively to the foregoing conversation, I will now tell you on what grounds I build my expectation of procuring your pardon. The conspiracy was first revealed by me to the Earl of Salisbury, though for his own purposes he kept it secret to the last. He owes me a heavy debt, and shall pay it in the way I propose, if you desire it.

I will abide by what I have done, replied Viviana.

You know, then, what fate awaits you? said Dee.

I shall not shrink from it, she rejoined.

It is well, he replied. Before I leave, I will give you another caution. Father Garnet is here. Nay, attempt not to deny it. You cannot deceive me. Besides, I desire to serve, not harm him. If he remains here till to-morrow, he will be captured. A proclamation has been issued for his arrest, as well as for that of Father Oldcorne. Deliver him this warning. And now, farewell!

With this, he took up his lantern, and followed by Kelley, quitted the hall.

Humphrey Chetham only tarried a few moments to inform Viviana that he would return soon after daybreak with a couple of steeds for the journey. As soon as he was gone, Viviana communicated Dee's warning to Garnet, who was so alarmed by it, that he resolved not to delay his own departure a moment. Taking an affectionate leave of Viviana, and confiding her to the care of the old steward, he set out with his three attendants.

Faithful to his promise, Humphrey Chetham appeared at the appointed time. Viviana bade an eternal farewell to the old steward, who was overwhelmed with grief, and looked as if his sorrows would soon be ended, and mounting one of the steeds brought by the young merchant, they took the direction of London.

CHAPTER VIII.
HENDLIP

Garnet proceeded at a rapid pace for some miles before he acquainted his companions whither he was going. He then informed Nicholas Owen, who rode by his side, that he should make the best of his way to Hendlip House, the seat of Mr. Thomas Abingdon, near Droitwich, in Worcestershire, where he knew that Father Oldcorne and Anne Vaux had retired, and where he was certain to meet with a friendly reception and protection. Owen, who was completely in his master's confidence, agreed that no safer asylum could be found, and they pursued their journey with so much ardour, that early on the following night they arrived within a short distance of the mansion.

Owen was sent forward to reconnoitre, and returned in about half an hour with Mr. Abingdon, who embraced Garnet, and told him he was truly happy in being able to offer him a retreat.

And I think it will prove a secure one, he added. There are so many hiding-places in the old house, that if it is beset for a year you will scarcely be discovered. Have you heard of the fate of your confederates?

Alas! no, my son, replied Garnet; and I tremble to ask it.

It had better be told at once, rejoined Abingdon. Catesby, Percy, and the two Wrights, have been slain in the defence of Holbeach; while Rookwood, Grant, and Thomas Winter, all of whom were severely wounded in the siege, have been made prisoners, and are now on their way to the Tower.

A fearful catalogue of ills! exclaimed Garnet.

It is not yet complete, pursued Abingdon. Sir Everard Digby has been defeated, and made prisoner in an attempt to bring additional force to his friends, and Keyes has been arrested in Warwickshire.

These are woful tidings truly, my son, returned Garnet. But Heaven's will be done!

He then dismissed his two attendants, to whom he gave a sum of money, together with the steeds, and attended by Nicholas Owen, repaired to the house with Mr. Abingdon, who admitted them through a secret door.

Hendlip House, which, unfortunately for the lovers of picturesque and storied habitations, was pulled down a few years ago, having been latterly used as a ladies' boarding-school, was a large and irregular structure, with walls of immense thickness, tall stacks of chimneys, turrets, oriel windows, and numberless projections, contrived to mask the labyrinths and secret chambers within. Erected by John Abingdon, father of the proprietor at the period of this history, and cofferer to Queen Elizabeth in the early part of the reign of that princess, it was filled with secret staircases, masked entrances, trap-doors, vaults, subterranean passages, secret recesses, and every other description of hiding-place. An immense gallery surrounded three sides of the entrance-hall, containing on each side a large chimney-piece, surmounted by a shield displaying the arms of the family argent, a bend, gules, three eaglets displayed, or. Behind each of these chimney-pieces was a small cell, or priest's-hole, as it was termed, contrived in the thickness of the wall. Throughout the mansion, the chambers were so sombre, and the passages so numerous and intricate, that, in the words of one who described it from personal observation, the whole place presented a picture of gloom, insecurity, and suspicion. Standing on an elevated situation, it commanded the country on all sides, and could not be approached during the day-time without alarm being given to its inmates.

Thomas Abingdon, the owner of the mansion at the period in question, and the eldest son of its founder, was born at Thorpe, near Chertsey, in Surrey, in 1560. He was educated at Oxford, and finished his studies at the Universities of Paris and Rheims. A man of considerable taste and learning, but of a plotting disposition, he became a willing tool of the Jesuits, and immediately on his return to England, connected himself with the different conspiracies set on foot for the liberation of the imprisoned Queen of Scots. For these offences he was imprisoned in the Tower for the term of six years, and only escaped death from the fact of his being the Queen's godson, coupled with the estimation in which she had held his father. On his liberation, he remained perfectly tranquil till the accession of James, when he became a secret plotter against that monarch. His concealment of the two priests, about to be related, occasioned his being again sent to the Tower, and if it had not been for the intercession of Lord Mounteagle, whose sister he had espoused, he would have been executed. He was pardoned on condition of never stirring beyond the precincts of Worcestershire, and he employed his retirement in compiling an account of the antiquities of that county, which he left behind him in manuscript, and of which Doctor Nash, its more recent historian, has largely availed himself.

With a habitation so contrived, Mr. Abingdon might fairly promise his guests a safe asylum. Conducting them along a secret passage to a chamber of which he alone possessed the key, he left Garnet within it, and taking Owen with him to another place of concealment, returned shortly afterwards with Anne Vaux and Father Oldcorne. The two priests tenderly embraced each other, and Oldcorne poured forth his tears on his superior's shoulder. Garnet next turned to Anne Vaux, between whom and himself, as has been before mentioned, an affectionate intimacy subsisted, and found her quite overcome by her feelings. Supper was now served to Garnet by a confidential servant, and after a few hours spent in conversation with his friends, during which they discussed the disastrous issue of the affair, and the probable fate of the conspirators, they quitted him, and he retired to rest but not before he had returned thanks to Heaven for enabling him once more to lay down his head in safety.

On the following morning, he was visited by Mrs. Abingdon, a lady of considerable personal attractions, and Anne Vaux; and when he had recovered from the fatigue of his journey, and the anxieties he had recently undergone, he experienced great delight in their society. The chamber he occupied was lighted by a small loop-hole, which enabled him to breathe the fresh air, and gaze upon the surrounding country.

In this way, nearly two months passed on, during which, though rigorous inquiries were made throughout the country, no clue was found by the searchers to lead them to Hendlip; and the concealed parties began to indulge hopes that they should escape detection altogether. Being in constant correspondence with her brother, Lord Mounteagle, though she did not trust him with the important secret of the concealment of the priests, Mrs. Abingdon ascertained all that was done in reference to the conspirators, whose trials were now approaching, and communicated the intelligence to Garnet.

On the morning of the 20th of January, and when long quietude had bred complete fancied security in Garnet, Anne Vaux and Mrs. Abingdon suddenly entered his chamber, and with countenances of the utmost alarm, informed him that Mr. Abingdon's confidential servant had just returned from Worcester, where his master then was, and had brought word that Topcliffe, armed with a search-warrant from the Earl of Salisbury, had just passed through that city on his way to Holt Castle, the residence of Sir Henry Bromley.

It appears, said Mrs. Abingdon, that Humphrey Littleton, who has been apprehended and condemned to death at Worcester for harbouring his brother and Robert Winter, has sought to procure a remission of his sentence by betraying your retreat. In consequence of this, Topcliffe has been sent down from London, with a warrant addressed to Sir Henry Bromley, to aid him in searching Hendlip. My husband has given particular orders that you are to be removed to the most secure hiding-place without delay; and he deeply regrets that he himself cannot return till evening, for fear of exciting suspicion.

Take me where you please, daughter, replied Garnet, who was thrown into great perturbation by the intelligence. I thought myself prepared for any emergency. But I was wofully deceived.

Be not alarmed, father, said Anne Vaux, in an encouraging tone. Let them search as long as they will, they will never discover your retreat.

I have a strong presentiment to the contrary, replied Garnet.

At this moment, Oldcorne made his appearance, and on learning the alarming news, was as much dismayed as his superior.

After a short consultation, and while the priests were putting aside every article necessary to be removed, Mrs. Abingdon proceeded to the gallery, and contrived on some plausible pretext to send away the whole of the domestics from this part of the house. This done, she hastily returned, and conducted the two priests to one of the large fire-places.

A raised stone about two feet high occupied the inside of the chimney, and upon it stood an immense pair of iron dogs. Obeying Mrs. Abingdon's directions, Garnet got upon the stone, and setting his foot on the large iron knob on the left, found a few projections in the masonry on the side, up which he mounted, and opening a small door, made of planks of wood, covered with bricks, and coloured black, so as not to be distinguishable from the walls of the chimney, crept into a recess contrived in the thickness of the wall. This cell was about two feet wide, and four high, and was connected with another chimney at the back, by means of three or four small holes. Around its sides ran a narrow stone shelf, just wide enough to afford an uncomfortable seat. Garnet was followed by Oldcorne, who brought with him a quantity of books, vestments, and sacred vessels used in the performance of the rites of the Church of Rome. These articles, which afterwards occasioned them much inconvenience, they did not dare to leave behind.

Having seen them safely bestowed, Mrs. Abingdon and her companion went in search of provisions, and brought them a piece of cold meat and a pasty, together with some bread, dried fruit, conserves, and a flask of wine. They did not dare to bring more, for fear of exciting the suspicion of the household. Their next care was to conduct Owen, and Oldcorne's servant, Chambers, to a similar retreat in one of the other chimneys, and to provide them with a scanty supply of provisions and a flask of wine. All this was accomplished without being noticed by any of the domestics.

As may be imagined, a most anxious day was passed by all parties. Towards evening, Sir Henry Bromley, the sheriff of the county, accompanied by Topcliffe, and attended by a troop of soldiers, appeared at the gates of the mansion, and demanded admittance. Just at this moment, Mr. Abingdon rode up, and affecting to know nothing of the matter, saluted Sir Henry Bromley, with whom he was on terms of intimacy, and inquired his business.

You are charged with harbouring two Jesuit priests, Fathers Garnet and Oldcorne, supposed to be connected with the late atrocious conspiracy against the King, Mr. Abingdon, interposed Topcliffe; and I brought a warrant from the Earl of Salisbury, which I have delivered to Sir Henry Bromley, commanding him to search your house for them.

I was loth to accept the office, Mr. Abingdon, said Sir Henry Bromley, who was a handsome, middle-aged man; but my duty to my sovereign allows me no alternative. I trust, though a Catholic, that you share my own detestation of this diabolical plot, and would not shelter any of its contrivers, or abettors.

You judge me rightly, Sir Henry, replied Abingdon, who, meanwhile, had received a private signal from his confidential servant that all was safe, I would not. I am just returned from Worcester, where I have been for the last two days. Enter my house, I pray you, and search every corner of it; and if you find a Jesuit priest concealed within it, you shall hang me at my own gate.

You must be misinformed, sir, observed Sir Henry, who was completely imposed upon by Abingdon's unconcerned demeanour; they cannot be here.

Trust me, they are, returned the other, and I should like to take him at his word.

Giving directions to the band to environ the house, and guard all its approaches, so as to prevent any one from escaping from it, Topcliffe took half-a-dozen men with him, and instructed them how to act. They first repaired to the great dining-chamber, where, in accordance with the instructions received from the Earl of Salisbury, Topcliffe proceeded to the further end of the room, and directed his men to break down the wainscot. With some difficulty, the order was obeyed, and the entrance to a vault discovered, into which Topcliffe descended but he found nothing to repay his trouble.

Returning to the dining-chamber, he questioned Mr. Abingdon, who secretly enjoyed his disappointment, as to the use of the vault, but the latter professed entire ignorance of its existence. The searchers next proceeded to the cellar, and bored the floors with a broach to a considerable depth, to try whether there were any vaults beneath them, but they made no discovery. Meanwhile Topcliffe hurried upstairs, and examined the size of the rooms, to see whether they corresponded with those below; and wherever any difference was observable, he caused the panels to be pulled down, and holes broken in the walls. In this way, several secret passages were discovered, one of which led to the chamber lately occupied by Garnet.

Encouraged by this discovery, the searchers continued their operations to a late hour, when they desisted for the night. On the following day they resumed their task, and Sir Henry Bromley took a general survey of the house, both externally and internally, noting the appearances outside, and seeing that they corresponded with the rooms within. The three extraordinary chimney-pieces in the gallery attracted Topcliffe's attention; but the contrivances within were so well managed, that they escaped his notice. He even got into the chimneys, and examined the walls on either side, but could detect nothing. And, lastly, he ordered large fires to be lighted within them, but the experiment proving fruitless, he turned his attention elsewhere.

Mr. Abingdon had attended him during this part of the search, and, though he preserved an unmoved exterior, he was full of apprehension, and was greatly relieved when it was abandoned. In the course of the same day, two other hiding-places were found in the thickness of the walls, but nothing was discovered within them. In order to prevent any communication with the concealed persons, Topcliffe stationed a sentinel at the door of Mr. Abingdon's chamber, and another at that of Anne Vaux.

On the third day the search was continued more rigorously than ever. Wainscots were taken down; walls broken open; the boards of the floor removed; and other secret passages, vaults, and hiding-places discovered. Some priests' vestments and articles used in the Romish service were found in one of these places, and shown to Mr. Abingdon. He at first denied all knowledge of them; but when Topcliffe brought forward the title-deeds of his property, which had been found in the same place, he was obliged to confess he had put them there himself. Still, though these discoveries had been made, the searchers were as far from their aim as ever; and Sir Henry Bromley, who began to despair of success, would have departed on the fifth day, if Topcliffe had not prevented him.

I am certain they are here, said the latter, and have hit upon a plan which cannot fail to bring them forth.

The prisoners meanwhile suffered grievously from their confinement, and hearing the searchers knocking against the walls, and even within the chimney, felt certain they should be discovered. Not being able to stand upright, or to stretch themselves within the cell, the sitting posture they were compelled to adopt became, after a time, intolerably irksome. Broths, milk, wine, and other nutritious fluids, were conveyed to them by means of a reed from the adjoining chimney; but after the fifth day this supply was stopped, as Mrs. Abingdon and Anne Vaux were compelled by Topcliffe to remove to a different part of the house.

They now began to experience all the horrors of starvation, and debated whether they should die where they were, or yield themselves up to their enemies. Wretched as their condition was, however, it was not so bad as that of their domestics, Owen and Chambers, whose wants had not been so carefully attended to, and who were now reduced to the most deplorable state. Nor were their friends less uneasy. Aware that the captives, whom there was no means of relieving, for the searchers were constantly on the watch, could not hold out much longer, Mrs. Abingdon consulted with her husband whether it would not be better to reveal their hiding-places; but this he would not permit.

By this time, every secret chamber, vault, and passage in the place, except the actual retreats of the conspirators, had been discovered by Topcliffe, and though nothing material was found, he felt assured, from the uneasiness displayed by Mr. Abingdon and his wife, and above all by Anne Vaux, that it could not be long before his perseverance was rewarded. Though he narrowly watched the two ladies, from the first, he could never detect them in the act of conveying food to the captives; but feeling convinced that they did so, he determined to remove them to a different part of the house, and their unwillingness to obey the order confirmed his suspicions.

We are sure of our prey now, he observed to Sir Henry Bromley. They must be half-starved by this time, and will speedily surrender themselves.

Pray Heaven they do so! returned the other. I am wearied to death with my long stay here.

Have a few hours' patience, rejoined Topcliffe, and you will find that your time has not been thrown away.

And he was right. Soon after midnight, a trooper, who was watching in the gallery, beheld two spectral-looking figures approach him, and appalled by their ghastly appearance, uttered a loud cry. This brought Topcliffe, who was in the hall below, to his aid, and instantly perceiving what was the matter, he ran towards the supposed phantoms, and seized them. The poor wretches, who were no other than Owen and Chambers, and were well-nigh famished, offered no resistance, but would neither confess where they had been hidden, nor who they were. As the trooper had not seen them come forth, though he affirmed with a tremendous oath that they had issued from the floor, the walls were again sounded, but with no result.

Food being placed before the captives, they devoured it voraciously; but Topcliffe forbore to question them further that night, feeling confident that he could extract the truth from them on the morrow, either by promises or threats. He was however, mistaken. They continued as obstinate as before, and when confronted with Mr. Abingdon, denied all knowledge of him: neither would they explain how they got into the house.