William Ainsworth.

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

Father Oldcorne made no reply, but walked apart with Guy Fawkes; and Viviana abandoned herself to sorrowful reflection.

Shortly after this, the door was suddenly thrown open, and Humphrey Chetham rushed into the room. His looks were full of apprehension, and Viviana was at no loss to perceive that some calamity was at hand.

What is the matter? she cried, rising.

The pursuivant and his men are below, he replied. They are interrogating the hostess, and are about to search the house. I managed to pass them unperceived.

We will resist them to the last, said Guy Fawkes, drawing a petronel.

Resistance will be in vain, rejoined Humphrey Chetham. They more than treble our number.

Is there no means of escape? asked Viviana.

None whatever, replied Chetham. I hear them on the stairs. The terrified hostess has not dared to deny you, and is conducting them hither.

Stand back! cried Guy Fawkes, striding towards the door, and let me alone confront them. That accursed pursuivant has escaped me once. But he shall not do so a second time.

My son, said Oldcorne, advancing towards him; preserve yourself, if possible. Your life is of consequence to the great cause. Think not of us think not of revenging yourself upon this caitiff. But think of the high destiny for which you are reserved. That window offers a means of retreat. Avail yourself of it. Fly! Fly!

Ay, fly! repeated Viviana. And you, Humphrey Chetham, your presence here can do no good. Quick! they come!

Nothing should induce me to quit you at such a moment, Viviana," replied Chetham, but the conviction that I may be able to liberate you, should these miscreants convey you to prison.

Fly! fly, my son, cried Oldcorne. They are at the door.

Thus urged, Guy Fawkes reluctantly yielded to Oldcorne's entreaties and sprang through the window. He was followed by Chetham. Viviana darted to the casement, and saw that they had alighted in safety on the ground, and were flying swiftly up Shude Hill. Meanwhile, the pursuivant had reached the door, which Chetham had taken the precaution to fasten, and was trying to burst it open. The bolts offered but a feeble resistance to his fury, and the next moment he dashed into the room, at the head of a band of soldiers.

Seize them! he cried. Ha! he added, glancing round the room with a look of disappointment, where are the others? Where is the soldier in the Spanish garb? Where is Humphrey Chetham? Confess at once, dog! he continued, seizing the priest by the throat, or I will pluck the secret from your breast.

Do not harm him, interposed Viviana. I will answer the question. They are fled.

Fled! echoed the pursuivant in consternation. How?

Through that window, replied Viviana.

After them! cried the pursuivant to some of his attendants. Take the soldier, dead or alive! And now, he continued, as his orders were obeyed, you, Father Oldcorne, Jesuit and traitor; and you, Viviana Radcliffe, his shelterer and abettor, I shall convey you both to the prison on Salford Bridge.

Seize them, and bring them along.

Touch me not, rejoined Viviana, pushing the men aside, who rudely advanced to obey their leader's command. You have no warrant for this brutality. I am ready to attend you. Take my arm, father.

Abashed at this reproof, the pursuivant stalked out of the room. Surrounded by the soldiers, Viviana and the priest followed. The sad procession was attended by crowds to the very door of the prison, where, by the pursuivant's commands, they were locked in separate cells.

The cell in which Viviana was confined was a small chamber at the back of the prison, and on the upper story. It had a small grated window overlooking the river. It has already been mentioned that this prison was originally a chapel built in the reign of Edward the Third, and had only recently been converted into a place of security for recusants. The chamber allotted to Viviana was contrived in the roof, and was so low that she could scarcely stand upright in it. It was furnished with a chair, a small table, and a straw pallet.

The hours passed wearily with Viviana as they were marked by the deep-toned clock of the Collegiate Church, the tall tower of which fronted her window. Oppressed by the most melancholy reflections, she was for some time a prey almost to despair. On whatever side she looked, the prospect was equally cheerless, and her sole desire was that she might find a refuge from her cares in the seclusion of a convent. For this she prayed, and she prayed also that Heaven would soften the hearts of her oppressors, and enable those who suffered to endure their yoke with patience. In the evening provisions were brought her, and placed upon the table, together with a lamp, by a surly looking gaoler. But Viviana had no inclination to eat, and left them untouched. Neither could she prevail upon herself to lie down on the wretched pallet, and she therefore determined to pass the night in the chair.

After some hours of watchfulness, her eyelids closed, and she continued to slumber until she was aroused by a slight noise at the window. Starting at the sound, she flew towards it, and perceived in the gloom the face of a man. She would have uttered a loud cry, when the circumstances of her situation rushed to her mind, and the possibility that it might be a friend checked her. The next moment satisfied her that she had acted rightly. A voice, which she recognised as that of Humphrey Chetham, called to her by name in a low tone, bidding her fear nothing, as he was come to set her free.

How have you managed to reach this window? asked Viviana.

By a rope ladder, he answered. I contrived in the darkness to clamber upon the roof of the prison from the parapets of the bridge, and, after securing the ladder to a projection, dropped the other end into a boat, rowed by Guy Fawkes, and concealed beneath the arches of the bridge. If I can remove this bar so as to allow you to pass through the window, dare you descend the ladder?

No, replied Viviana, shuddering. My brain reels at the mere idea.

Think of the fate you will escape, urged Chetham.

And what will become of Father Oldcorne? asked Viviana. Where is he?

In the cell immediately beneath you, replied Chetham.

Can you not liberate him? she continued.

Assuredly, if he will risk the descent, answered Chetham, reluctantly.

Free him first, rejoined Viviana, and at all hazards I will accompany you.

The young merchant made no reply, but disappeared from the window. Viviana strained her gaze downwards; but it was too dark to allow her to see anything. She, however, heard a noise like that occasioned by a file; and shortly afterwards a few muttered words informed her that the priest was passing through the window. The cords of the ladder shook against the bars of her window, and she held her breath for fear. From this state of suspense she was relieved in a few minutes by Humphrey Chetham, who informed her that Oldcorne had descended in safety, and was in the boat with Guy Fawkes.

I will fulfil my promise, replied Viviana, trembling; but I fear my strength will fail me.

You had better find death below than tarry here, replied Humphrey Chetham, who as he spoke was rapidly filing through the iron bar. In a few minutes this impediment will be removed.

The young merchant worked hard, and in a short time the stout bar yielded to his efforts.

Now, then, he cried, springing into the room, you are free.

I dare not make the attempt, said Viviana; my strength utterly fails me.

Nay, then, he replied; I will take the risk upon myself. You must not remain here.

So saying, he caught her in his arms, and bore her through the window.

With some difficulty, and no little risk, he succeeded in gaining a footing on the ladder. This accomplished, he began slowly to descend. When half way down, he found he had overrated his strength, and he feared he should be compelled to quit his hold; but, nerved by his passion, he held on, and making a desperate effort, completed the descent in safety.


Assisted by the stream, and plying his oars with great rapidity, Guy Fawkes soon left the town far behind him; nor did he relax his exertions until checked by Humphrey Chetham. He then ceased rowing, and directed the boats towards the left bank of the river.

Here we propose to land, observed the young merchant to Viviana. We are not more than a hundred yards from Ordsall Cave, where you can take refuge for a short time, while I proceed to the Hall, and ascertain whether you can return to it with safety.

I place myself entirely in your hands, she replied; but I fear such a course will be to rush into the very face of danger. Oh! that I could join my father at Holywell! With him I should feel secure.

Means may be found to effect your wishes, returned Humphrey Chetham; but, after the suffering you have recently endured, it will scarcely be prudent to undertake so long a journey without a few hours' repose. To-morrow, or the next day, you may set out.

I am fully equal to it now, rejoined Viviana, eagerly; and any fatigue I may undergo will not equal my present anxiety. You have already done so much for me, that I venture to presume still further upon your kindness. Provide some means of conveyance for me and for Father Oldcorne to Chester, and I shall for ever be beholden to you.

I will not only do what you desire, Viviana, if it be possible," answered Chetham; but, if you will allow me, I will serve as your escort.

And I, also, added Guy Fawkes.

All I fear is, that your strength may fail you, continued the young merchant, in a tone of uneasiness.

Fear nothing then, replied Viviana. I am made of firmer material than you imagine. Think only of what you can do, and doubt not my ability to do it, also.

I ever deemed you of a courageous nature, daughter, observed Oldcorne; but your resolution surpasses my belief.

By this time the boat had approached the shore. Leaping upon the rocky bank, the young merchant assisted Viviana to land, and then performed the same service for the priest. Guy Fawkes was the last to disembark; and, having pulled the skiff aground, he followed the others, who waited for him at a short distance. The night was profoundly dark, and the path they had taken, being shaded by large trees, was scarcely discernible. Carefully guiding Viviana, who leaned on him for support, the young merchant proceeded at a slow pace, and with the utmost caution. Suddenly, they were surprised and alarmed by a vivid blaze of light bursting through the trees on the left.

Some building must be on fire! exclaimed Viviana.

It is Ordsall Hall, it is your father's residence, cried Humphrey Chetham.

It is the work of that accursed pursuivant, I will be sworn, said Guy Fawkes.

If it be so, may Heaven's fire consume him! rejoined Oldcorne.

Alas! alas! cried Viviana, bursting into tears, I thought myself equal to every calamity; but this new stroke of fate is more than I can bear.

As she spoke, the conflagration evidently increased. The sky was illumined by the red reflection of the flames; and as the party hurried forward to a rising ground, whence a better view could be obtained of the spectacle, they saw the dark walls of the ancient mansion apparently wrapped in the devouring element.

Let us hasten thither, cried Viviana, distractedly.

I and Guy Fawkes will fly there, replied the young merchant, and render all the assistance in our power. But, first, let me convey you to the cave.

More dead than alive, Viviana suffered herself to be borne in that direction. Making his way over every impediment, Chetham soon reached the excavation; and depositing his lovely burthen upon the stone couch, and leaving her in charge of the priest, he hurried with Guy Fawkes towards the Hall.

On arriving at the termination of the avenue, they found, to their great relief, that it was not the main structure, but an outbuilding which was in flames, and from its situation the young merchant conceived it to be the stables. As soon as they made this discovery, they slackened their pace, being apprehensive, from the shouts and other sounds that reached them, that some hostile party might be among the assemblage. Crossing the drawbridge which was fortunately lowered, they were about to shape their course towards the stables, which lay at the further side of the Hall, when they perceived the old steward, Heydocke, standing at the doorway and wringing his hands in distraction. Humphrey Chetham immediately called to him.

I should know that voice! cried the old man, stepping forward. Ah! Mr. Chetham, is it you? You are arrived at a sad time, sir a sad time to see the old house, where I have dwelt, man and boy, sixty years and more, in flames. But one calamity has trodden upon the heels of another. Ever since Sir William departed for Holywell nothing has gone right nothing whatever. First, the house was searched by the pursuivant and his gang; then, my young mistress disappeared; then it was rifled by these plunderers; and now, to crown all, it is on fire, and will speedily be burnt to the ground.

Say not so, replied the young merchant. The flames have not yet reached the Hall; and, if exertion is used, they may be extinguished without further mischief.

Let those who have kindled them extinguish them, replied Heydocke, sullenly. I will not raise hand more.

Who are the incendiaries? demanded Fawkes.

The pursuivant and his myrmidons, replied Heydocke. They came here to-night; and after ransacking the house under pretence of procuring further evidence against my master, and carrying off everything valuable they could collect plate, jewels, ornaments, money, and even wearing-apparel, they ended by locking up all the servants, except myself, who managed to elude their vigilance, in the cellar, and setting fire to the stables.

Wretches! exclaimed Humphrey Chetham.

Wretches, indeed! repeated the steward. But this is not all the villany they contemplate. I had concealed myself in the store-room, under a heap of lumber, and in searching for me they chanced upon a barrel of gunpowder

Well! interrupted Guy Fawkes.

Well, sir, pursued Heydocke, I heard the pursuivant remark to one of his comrades, 'This is a lucky discovery. If we can't find the steward, we'll blow him and the old house to the devil.' Just then, some one came to tell him I was hidden in the stables, and the whole troop adjourned thither. But being baulked of their prey, I suppose, they wreaked their vengeance in the way you perceive.

No doubt, rejoined Humphrey Chetham. But they shall bitterly rue it. I will myself represent the affair to the Commissioners.

It will be useless, groaned Heydocke. There is no law to protect the property of a Catholic.

Where is the barrel of gunpowder you spoke of? asked Guy Fawkes, as if struck by a sudden idea.

The villains took it with them when they quitted the store-room," replied the steward. I suppose they have got it in the yard.

They have lighted a fire which shall be quenched with their blood," rejoined Fawkes, fiercely. Follow me. I may need you both.

So saying, he darted off, and turning the corner, came in front of the blazing pile. Occupying one side of a large quadrangular court, the stables were wholly disconnected with the Hall, and though the fire burnt furiously, yet as the wind carried the flames and sparks in a contrary direction, it was possible the latter building might escape if due precaution were taken. So far, however, from this being the case, it seemed the object of the bystanders to assist the progress of the conflagration. Several horses, saddled and bridled, had been removed from the stable, and placed within an open cowhouse. To these Guy Fawkes called Chetham's attention, and desired him and the old steward to secure some of them. Hastily giving directions to Heydocke, the young merchant obeyed, sprang on the back of the nearest courser, and seizing the bridles of two others, rode off with them. His example was followed by Heydocke, and one steed only was left. Such was the confusion and clamour prevailing around, that the above proceeding passed unnoticed.

Guy Fawkes, meanwhile, ensconcing himself behind the court-gate, looked about for the barrel of gunpowder. For some time he could discover no trace of it. At length, beneath a shed, not far from him, he perceived a soldier seated upon a small cask, which he had no doubt was the object he was in search of. So intent was the man upon the spectacle before him, that he was wholly unaware of the approach of an enemy; and creeping noiselessly up to him, Guy Fawkes felled him to the ground with a blow from the heavy butt-end of his petronel. The action was not perceived by the others; and carrying the cask out of the yard, Fawkes burst in the lid, and ascertained that the contents were what they had been represented. He then glanced around, to see how he could best execute his purpose.

On the top of the wall adjoining the stables he beheld the pursuivant, with three or four soldiers, giving directions and issuing orders. Another and lower wall, forming the opposite side of the quadrangle, and built on the edge of the moat, approached the scene of the fire, and on this, Guy Fawkes, with the barrel of gunpowder on his shoulder, mounted. Concealing himself behind a tree which overshadowed it, he watched a favourable moment for his enterprise.

He had not to wait long. Prompted by some undefinable feeling, which caused him to rush upon his destruction, the pursuivant ventured upon the roof of the stables, and was followed by his companions. No sooner did this occur, than Guy Fawkes dashed forward, and hurled the barrel with all his force into the midst of the flames, throwing himself at the same moment into the moat. The explosion was instantaneous and tremendous; so loud as to be audible even under the water. Its effects were terrible. The bodies of the pursuivant and his companions were blown into the air, and carried to the further side of the moat. Of those standing before the building, several were destroyed, and all more or less injured. The walls were thrown down by the concussion, and the roof and its fiery fragments projected into the moat. An effectual stop was put to the conflagration; and, when Guy Fawkes rose to the boiling and agitated surface of the water, the flames were entirely extinguished. Hearing groans on the opposite bank of the moat, he forced his way through the blazing beams, which were hissing near him; and snatching up a still burning fragment, hastened in the direction of the sound. In the blackened and mutilated object that met his gaze, he recognised the pursuivant. The dying wretch also recognised him, and attempted to speak; but in vain his tongue refused its office, and with a horrible attempt at articulation, he expired.

Alarmed by the explosion, the domestics, who it has already been mentioned were confined in the cellar; were rendered so desperate by their fears, that they contrived to break out of their prison, and now hastened to the stables to ascertain the cause of the report. Leaving them to assist the sufferers, whose dreadful groans awakened some feelings of compunction in his iron breast, Guy Fawkes caught the steed, which had broken its bridle and rushed off, and now stood shivering, shaking, and drenched in moisture near the drawbridge, and, mounting it, galloped towards the cave.

At its entrance, he was met by Humphrey Chetham and Oldcorne, who eagerly inquired what had happened.

Guy Fawkes briefly explained.

It is the hand of Heaven manifested by your arm, my son, observed the priest. Would that it had stricken the tyrant and apostate prince by whom our church is persecuted! But his turn will speedily arrive.

Peace, father! cried Guy Fawkes, sternly.

I do not lament the fate of the pursuivant, observed Humphrey Chetham. But this is a frightful waste of human life and in such a cause!

It is the cause of Heaven, young sir, rejoined the priest, angrily.

I do not think so, returned Chetham; and, but for my devotion to Viviana, I would have no further share in it.

You are at liberty to leave us, if you think proper, retorted the priest, coldly.

Nay, say not so, father, interposed Viviana, who had been an unobserved listener to the foregoing discourse. You owe your life your liberty, to Mr. Chetham.

True, daughter, replied the priest. I have been too hasty, and entreat his forgiveness.

You have it, reverend sir, rejoined the young merchant. And now, Master Heydocke, he added, turning to the steward, you may return to the Hall with safety. No one will molest you more, and your presence may be needed.

But my young mistress said Heydocke.

I am setting out for Holywell to join my father, replied Viviana. You will receive our instructions from that place.