Never in his life had Aubrey heard such words from the usually soft, sweet lips of the Lady Lettice. He was thoroughly frightened, all the more because the dangers to be feared were so vague and unknown. A few minutes before, he had been feeling vexed with his Aunt Temperance for catechising him so strictly about his friends. Now, this sensation had quite given way before astonishment and vague apprehension.
"Yes, Madam, I will," he answered gravely.
And he meant it. But—
What a number of excellent people, and what a multiplicity of good deeds, there would be in this naughty world, if only that little conjunction could be left out!
Aubrey quitted the White Bear with the full intention of carrying out his grandmother's behest. But not just now. He must do it, of course, before he saw her again. Lady Oxford might take it into her head to pay a visit to Lady Louvaine, in which case it would surely be discovered if the question had not been passed on. Of course it must be done: only, not just now. He might surely spend a few more pleasant evenings at Winter's lodgings, before he set on foot those disagreeable inquiries which might end in his being deprived of the pleasure. Lady Oxford, therefore, was not troubled that evening,—nor the next, nor indeed for a goodly number to follow. But within a week of his visit to the White Bear, when the sharp edge of his grandmother's words had been a little blunted by time, and the cares of other things had entered in, Aubrey again made his way to the lodgings occupied by Winter at the sign of the Duck, in the Strand, "hard by Temple Bar."
There were various reasons for this action. In the first place, Aubrey was entirely convinced that the judgment of a man of twenty-one was to be preferred before that of a woman of seventy-seven. Secondly, he enjoyed Winter's society. Thirdly, he liked Winter's tobacco. Fourthly, he admired Betty, who usually let him in, and who, being even more foolish than himself, was not at all averse to a few empty compliments and a little frothy banter, which he was very ready to bestow. For Aubrey was not of that sterling metal of which his grandfather had been made, "who loved one only and who clave to her," and to whom it would have been a moral impossibility to flirt with one woman while he was making serious love to another. Lastly, the society of his friends had acquired an added zest by the probability of its being a dangerous luxury. He loved dearly to poise himself on the edge of peril, though of course, like all who do so, he had not the slightest intention of falling in.
On the evening in question, Betty made no appearance, and Aubrey was let in by her mistress, a plain-featured middle-aged woman, on whom he had no temptation to waste his perfumes. He made his way up the stairs to Winter's door, and his hand was on the latch when he heard Percy's voice.
"Through by the seventh of February! You'll be nothing of the sort."
"I cry you mercy. I think we shall," answered Catesby.
Aubrey lifted the latch, and entered.
Four gentlemen sat round the fire—Winter and Catesby; Percy, whom Aubrey knew, and in whose hand was the pipe; and a fourth, a tall, dark, and rather fine-looking man, with brown hair, auburn beard, and a moustache the ends of which curled upwards.
"Ha! Mr Louvaine? You are right welcome," said Winter, rising to greet his young friend, while Percy took his pipe from his lips, and offered it to the latter. Nobody introduced the stranger, and Aubrey took but little notice of him, especially as thenceforth he sat in silence. He might have paid more if he could have known that after three hundred years had rolled by, and the names of all then known as eminent men should have faded from common knowledge, the name of that man should be fresh in the memory of every Englishman, and deeply interesting to every English boy. He was in the company of Guy Fawkes.
To appear as a nameless stranger, and indeed to appear at all as little as possible, was Fawkes's policy at this moment. He was just about to present himself on the stage as John Johnson, "Mr Percy's man," and for any persons in London to know him by his own name would be a serious drawback, for it was to a great extent because he was unknown in Town that he had been selected to play this part. Yet matters were not quite ready for the assumption of his new character. He therefore sat silent, and was not introduced.
They smoked, sipped Rhenish wine, and chatted on indifferent subjects, for an hour or more; discussed the "sleeping preacher," Richard Haydock, then just rising into notoriety—who professed to deliver his sermons in his sleep, and was afterwards discovered to be an imposter; the last benefaction in the parish church, for two poor Irish gentlewomen on their journey home, recommended by letters from the Council; the last new ballad.
"But have you beheld," asked Winter, when these topics were exhausted, "the King's new caroche of the German fashion, with a roof to fall asunder at his Majesty's pleasure?"
"I have," said Catesby; "and methinks it shall take with many, gentlewomen more in especial."
"Wherefore, now?" inquired Percy, laughing. "Think you gentlewomen lack air rather than gentlemen, or that they shall think better to show their dainty array and their fair faces?"
"A little of both," was the answer.
"There is truly great increase in coaches of late years," remarked Winter.
"Why, the saddlers are crying out they are like to be ruined," said Percy; "the roads are cloyed and pestered, and the horses lamed."
"Ay, and that is not the worst of it," added Catesby. "Evil-disposed persons, who dare not show themselves openly for fear of correction, shadow and securely convey themselves in coaches, and so are not to be distinguished from persons of honour."
The whole company agreed that this was extremely shocking, and piously denounced all evil-disposed persons in a style which Aubrey thought most edifying. As he walked back later, he meditated whether he should make those inquiries of Lady Oxford that night, and decided not to do so. No real Papist or traitor, thought the innocent youth, would be likely to denounce evil-disposed persons! The airs they had been singing, before parting, recurred to his mind, and he hummed fragments of them as he went along. "Row well, ye mariners", "All in a garden green", "Phillida flouts me," and the catch of "Whoop, Barnaby!" finishing up with "Greensleeves" and one or two madrigals—these had been their evening entertainment: but madrigals were becoming unfashionable, and were not heard now so often as formerly. The music of Elizabeth's day, which was mainly harmony with little melody, containing "scarcely any tune that the uncultivated ear could carry away," was giving way to a less learned but more melodious style. Along with this, there was a rapid increase in the cultivation of instrumental music, while vocal music continued to be exceedingly popular. It was usual enough for tradesmen and artisans to take part in autiphons, glees, and part-songs of all kinds, while ballads were in such general favour that ballad-mongers could earn twenty shillings a day. A bass viol generally hung in a drawing-room for the visitors to play; but the few ladies who used this instrument were thought masculine. The education of girls at this time admitted of scarcely any accomplishment but music: they were taught to read, write, sew, and cook, to play the virginals, lute, and cithern, and to read prick-song at sight,—namely, to sing from the score, without accompaniment. Those who were acquainted with any language beside their own were the few and highly-cultured; and a girl who knew French or Italian was still more certain to have learned Latin, if not Greek. German and Spanish were scarcely ever taught; indeed, the former was regarded as quite outside the list of learnable tongues.
It was a sore trouble to Aubrey that the White Bear and the Golden Fish were next door to each other. Had he had the ordering of their topography, they would have been so situated that he could have dropped into the latter, to sun himself in the eyes of the fair Dorothy, without the least fear of being seen from the former. He stood in wholesome fear of his Aunt Temperance's sharp speeches, and had a less wholesome, because more selfish, dislike of his mother's ceaseless complaints. Moreover, Aunt Edith was wont to disturb his equanimity by a few quiet occasional words which would ring in his ears for days afterwards, and make him very uncomfortable. Her speeches were never long, but they were often weighty, and were adapted to make their hearers consider their ways, and think what they would do in the end thereof—a style of consideration always unwelcome to Aubrey, and especially so since his view of the world had been enlarged by coming to London.
He was just now in an awkward position, and the centre and knot of the awkwardness was Dorothy Rookwood. He was making no way with Dorothy. Her brother he met frequently at Winter's rooms, but if he wished to see her, he must go to her home. If he went there, he must call at the White Bear. If he did that, he must first deliver his grandmother's message to Lady Oxford. And only suppose that Lady Oxford's inquiries should lead to discoveries which would end in a rupture between the Golden Fish and the White Bear—in Aubrey's receiving an order to drop all acquaintance with the Rookwoods! For Aubrey's training, while very kindly conducted, had been one of decided piety; and unchanged as was his heart, the habits and tone of eighteen years were not readily shaken off. He could not feel easy in doing many things that he saw others do; he could not take upon his lips with impunity words which he heard freely used around him. His conscience was unseared as yet, and it tormented him sorely. The result of these reflections was that Aubrey turned into Oxford House, without visiting King Street at all, and sought his bed without making any attempt to convey the message.
Before the conspirators resumed their work after the Christmas holidays, they took two more into their number. These were Robert Winter of Huddington, the elder brother of Thomas, and John Grant of Norbrook, who had married Dorothy, sister of the Wrights. Catesby and Thomas Winter went down to the Catherine Wheel at Oxford, whence they sent for their friends to come to them, and having first pledged them to secrecy, they were then initiated into the plot.
It was about this Christmas that Catesby also took into his confidence the only one of the conspirators who was not a gentleman—his own servant, Thomas Bates, partly because he had "great opinion of him for his long-tried fidelity," and partly also because, having been employed in carrying messages, he suspected that he had some inkling of the secret, and wished that, like the rest, he should be bound to keep it by oath. Bates is described as a yeoman, and "a man of mean station, who had been much persecuted on account of religion." Having been desired to confirm his oath by receiving the Sacrament "with intention," and as a pre-requisite of this was confession, Bates went to Greenway, whom he acquainted with the particulars, "which he was not desirous to hear," and asked if he might lawfully join in such work. Greenway directed him to keep the secret, "because it was for a good cause," and forbade him to name the subject to any other priest. This is Bates's account; Greenway asserts that Bates never named the subject to him, either in or out of confession; but the Jesuit code of morality required his denial, if he had heard it in confession only. Poor Bates was the most innocent of the conspirators, and the most truly penitent: he was rather a tool and a victim than a miscreant. He lost his life through neglect of a much-forgotten precept—"If sinners entice thee, consent thou not."
The conspirators now set to work again on their mine, and wrought till Candlemas Day, by which time they were half through the wall of the House. Fawkes was on all occasions the sentinel. They had provided themselves with "baktmeats," pasties, and hard-boiled eggs, sufficient for twenty days, in order to avoid exciting the suspicions of their neighbours by constantly bringing fresh provisions to a house supposed to be occupied by one person alone. The labour was very severe, especially to Catesby and Percy, on account of their unusual height. The oozing in of the water was a perpetual annoyance. But one day, something terrible occurred.
As the amateur miners plied their picks with diligence, the toll of a bell was suddenly heard. John Wright, who was furthest in the mine, stopped with uplifted tool.
"Blessed saints! what can that be?"
Work was unanimously suspended.
"It comes from the very midst of the wall!" said Catesby, growing a shade paler.
"Refugium peccatorum, ora pro nobis!" piously entreated Percy, crossing himself.
"Call Mr Fawkes," suggested Christopher.
Mr Fawkes was summoned, by his official name of Johnson; and coming down into the cellar, declared that he also distinctly heard the uncanny sound.
"'Tis the Devil that seeketh to make stay of our work," pronounced Percy—a most improbable suggestion, for Satan surely had no cause to interfere with his servants when engaged in his own business.
"Have we here any holy water?" asked Catesby.
"Ay, there is in the bedchamber," said Fawkes.
"Pray you, fetch it quickly."
The holy water was at once brought, and the wall was sprinkled with it. At that moment the tolling ceased.
"Blessed be our Lady! the holy water hath stayed it," said Percy.
After a few minutes' pause, the work was recommenced: but it had gone on for barely an hour when again the unearthly bell began its work. Once more the benitier was brought, and the wall sprinkled; whereupon the diabolical noise stopped at once. For several days these processes were repeated, the bell invariably being silenced by the sprinkling of the blessed element. At least, so said the conspirators.
About the second of February, there was another scare. A strange rushing noise was heard on the other side of the wall, from what cause was unknown; and Catesby, as usual the chief director, whispered to Fawkes to go out and ascertain what it was.
Fawkes accordingly went upstairs, and out into the street. A waggon stood before the door of the House of Lords, and men were busy carrying sacks and tubs from the cellar to the waggon. Charcoal only was then sold by the sack; sea-coal being disposed of in tubs.
"Good-morrow, Master," said Roger Neck, the servant who was superintending the transaction, as Fawkes paused a moment, apparently to look on, after the fashion of an idle man. Roger had seen him more than once, passing in and out of Percy's house; but he was the only one of the plotters ever visible in the daytime.
"Good-morrow, friend. Selling your coals off?"
"Ay, we're doing a middling stroke of business this morrow."
"How much a load? We shall want some ere long."
"Charcoal, fourteen shillings; cannel, sixpence to ninepence, according to quality."
Fawkes walked down the street, to avoid suspicion, into King Street, where he turned into the first shop to which he came. It happened to be a cutler's, and he bought the first thing he saw—a dozen knives of Sheffield make. Had they been London-made, they would have cost four times as much as the modest shilling demanded for them. He then returned to Percy's house, carrying the knives in his hand. Fawkes had now fully blossomed out in his new role of "Mr Percy's man," and was clad in blue camlet accordingly, blue being then the usual wear of servants out of livery.
"What is it, Johnson?" asked Percy, addressing Fawkes by his assumed name, when he came down into the cellar.
"It is a dozen of Sheffield knives, Master," replied Fawkes a little drily: "and by the same token, our next neighbour is selling his coals, and looks not unlike to clear out his cellar."
"Is that all?"
"That is all."
Two of the conspirators looked at each other.
"If you could hire the cellar—" suggested Catesby.
"Done!" said Percy. "It should save us a peck of trouble."
"Who owns it?—or who hath it?" asked Catesby.
"Why, for who owns it, I guess the Parliament House," answered Fawkes; "but for who hath it, that must we discover."
"Pray you, make haste and discover it, then."
Fawkes went out again to make inquiries. He found without difficulty that the cellar, like the houses adjoining, was held by the Wyniards, and it was agreed that Percy should call on them and endeavour to obtain it.
He accordingly went to see his landlady, to whom he represented that he wished to bring his wife up to live with him in London—she was in the country at present, and he missed her sorely—but if that were done, he must have more stowage for wood and coals.
Mrs Wyniard's interest was aroused at once in a man who cared for his wife, and felt a want of her society.
"Well, now, I am sorry!" said she. "You see, we've let that vault to Mrs Skinner—leastwise, Mrs Bright, she is now—o' King Street, to store her coals. Her new husband's a coal-seller, see you. You should have had it, as sure as can be, if I hadn't."
"It were very much to my commodity," said Percy, truthfully this time, "if I could hire that cellar, and,"—the second half of the sentence was a falsehood—"I have already been to Mrs Skinner, and hold her consent."
"Well, now, but that's a bit mean o' Skinner's wife," said Mrs Wyniard in a vexed tone; "she shouldn't ha' done that and ne'er ha' let me know. I wouldn't ha' thought that of Ellen Skinner—no, I wouldn't."
"But," suggested Percy, insinuatingly, "if I gave you twenty shillings over for your good-will, and prayed you to say nought to Mrs Skinner, and I will likewise content her?"
"Well, you know how to drive a bargain, forsooth," answered Mrs Wyniard, laughing. "Come, I'll let Widow Skinner be—Mistress Bright, I mean. You shall have the vault for four pounds a quarter, if so be she's content."
Percy's next visit was to the coal-seller and his bride. Mr Bright was not at home, but Mrs Bright was; and though she could not write her name [Note 1], she could use her tongue to some purpose.
"To be sure we hold the cellar. Sixteen pound by the year, and that's plenty. Takes a many loads of coals to make that, I warrant you."
"I wondered," said Percy in a careless manner, as though he did not much care whether he got it or not, "whether you might let me the cellar for the same purpose? I think to lay in wood and coals for the winter, and my own cellar is scarce large enough, for I am a Northern man, and love a good fire. This cellar of yours, being so close by, should be greatly to my convenience, if you were willing."
"Well, to be sure, and it would so!" assented innocent Mrs Bright. "You see, I can't speak certain till my master comes in, but I'm sure you may take it as good: he mostly does as I bid him. So we'll say, if Mrs Wyniard be content to accept the rent from you, you shall have it at four pound by the quarter, and give me forty shillings in my hand." [Note 2.]
"Done," said Percy, "if your husband consent."
"I'll see to it he doth," she answered with a capable nod.
The bargain was struck: Andrew Bright did as he was told, and Percy was to become the occupant of the cellar without delay.
Note 1. She signed her deposition by a mark, while her servant Roger Neck, wrote his name.
Note 2. Examination of Ellen Bright, Gunpowder Plot Book, article 24.
WAIT A MONTH.
"Alas, long-suffering and most patient God! Thou needst be surelier God to bear with us Than even to have made us."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The conspirators had just concluded their bargain, and decided that the cellar must be stored with materials in all haste, to be ready for the meeting of Parliament on the seventh of February, when like a bomb-shell in their midst fell a royal proclamation, proroguing Parliament again until the third of October. To go on now, especially in haste, was plainly a useless proceeding.
A short consultation was held, which ended in the decision that they should part and scatter themselves in different places. Fawkes particularly was enjoined to keep out of the way, since he was wanted to appear as a stranger when the moment arrived for action; he therefore determined to go abroad.
The rest dispersed in various directions: Percy was left alone at the house in Westminster, where he beguiled his leisure by having a door made through the wall, where the mine had been, so as to give him easier access to the vault under the House, and better opportunities of carrying in the combustibles unseen. They agreed to meet again, ready for work, on the second of September; and before parting, one other was admitted to their fellowship, to whom was confided the task of aiding Fawkes to accumulate the store of powder. This was Mr Ambrose Rookwood, of Coldham Hall, Suffolk.
Before Fawkes left England, he accomplished one important piece of business, by carrying into the vault beneath the House all the wood and coals hitherto stored in Percy's cellar. Among it was carefully hidden the gunpowder also in waiting, billets of wood being heaped upon the barrels. The door was then locked, and Fawkes took the key, marking the door on the inside in such a manner that its having been opened could be detected thereafter. The wife of the porter, Gideon Gibbons, the next door neighbour, was placed in charge of Percy's house, in which no tell-tale combustibles had now been left. Keyes was made again custodian of the house at Lambeth.
These arrangements being complete, Percy went to see his wife, whom he had left in the country, and Fawkes, embarking at Dover, took his journey to Brussels, where he resumed his own name.
When Aubrey applied next at the door of Winter's lodgings, he was informed that the gentlemen were gone into the country. He turned back disappointed—after a little frothy banter with Betty, which it would be a sad waste of paper and ink to detail—and began to consider what he should do next. A sensation of extreme relief came to his mind, as the idea occurred to him that there could be no need at all to make any inquiries during the absence of his friends. He might visit the fair Dorothy, and even venture into the jaws of the White Bear, without fear of any thing unpleasant. Merely to say that his friends had left Town, and he was not now cultivating their society, would surely satisfy his grandmother: and as for any thing else,—why, let fate take care of the future. Being usually the creature of impulse, no sooner was this said, or rather thought, than it was done. Aubrey turned away from the Duck, and retraced his steps to Charing Cross, left Whitehall behind him, and came out into King Street.
Now came the tug of war. Would he meet Aunt Temperance? or would that formidable and irresistible individual pounce upon him from the door? But all was still, and he reached the Golden Fish without any mishap.
Another disappointment! He was shown into the parlour, where Gertrude rose to meet him, and Mrs Rookwood came in a few minutes later. Tom was spending the evening with friends, and Anne was with him. Aubrey cared nothing about Anne, whom he mentally dubbed a stupid idiot; for Tom's absence he was more sorry. But what was Dorothy doing that she did not shine on her worshipper?
"Had you honoured us with a visit last Tuesday, Mr Louvaine," said Gertrude, glancing at him, as she was wont to do, out of the corners of her dark eyes, "we had enjoyed the happiness of bringing you acquainted with our uncle Rookwood of Coldham Hall. He left us, o' Wednesday in the morning, for his place in Suffolk."
"Doll is gone with him," placidly added Mrs Rookwood.
The bright colours of Gertrude's embroidery took a sudden tarnish in the eyes of the visitor.
"Ay, for a month or two," said Gertrude, lightly. "She shall find a merry house at Coldham, you may be sure. Our cousins, and all the Burgesses, and the Collinsons—ever so many young gentlemen and gentlewomen—and," with a slight, significant laugh, "Mr Roland Burgess in particular."
Aubrey felt as if he should exceedingly have enjoyed despatching Mr Roland Burgess to the Caucasus, or Cochin-China, or any other inconceivably remote locality. He did not stay long after that. There was nothing to keep him. Bows and courtesies were exchanged, and Aubrey, feeling as if life were flat and unsatisfying, turned into the White Bear.
It was nearly dusk, and he could not see whom he met by the parlour door.
"Is that your Lordship?" greeted him, in the voice of Aunt Temperance. "Blue or yellow this even? Truly, we scarce looked for so much honour as two visits in the twelvemonth. Why, without I err, 'tis not yet three months since we had leave to see your Lordship's crimson and silver. Pray you, walk in—you are as welcome as flowers in May, as wise as Waltom's calf, and as safe to mend as sour ale in summer."
"You are full of compliments, Aunt Temperance," said Aubrey, half vexed and half laughing.
"I'm like, with strangers, Gentleman."
Aubrey went past her into the parlour, to receive a warmer and less sarcastic welcome from the rest of his relatives—his mother excepted, who reminded him, in her usual plaintive tones, that she was a poor widow, and it was very hard if she might never see her only child.
"Well, I am here, Mother."
"Ay, but you scarce ever come. 'Tis ever so long that we have not seen you. 'Tis cruel of my Lord Oxford thus to keep you away from your poor mother."
"My Lord Oxford has less to do with it, my dear, than Mr Aubrey Louvaine," said her sister. "Young men don't commonly reckon their mothers' company the sweetest. They never know on which side their bread's buttered."
"No butter will stick on my bread, Aunt," said Aubrey, answering one proverb by another.
Instead of replying, Aunt Temperance lighted a candle and calmly looked her nephew over.
"Well!" said she, as the result of her inspection, "if I were donned in grass-green velvet, guarded o' black, with silver tags, and a silver-bossed girdle, and gloves o' Spanish leather, I should fancy I'd got a bit o' butter on my bread. Maybe your honour likes it thick? Promotes effusing of bile, that doth. Pray you, how fare your Papistical friends this even?"
Lady Louvaine looked up and listened for the answer.
"You set it down they be Papistical somewhat too soon, Aunt," said Aubrey a little irritably. "Mr Winter and his friends, if they be whom you hit at, be gone away into the country, and I have not seen them this some time."
The next question put to him was the one that Aubrey was expecting, with an expectation which caused his irritability.
"What said my Lady Oxford to the matter, Aubrey?"
"Truly, Madam, I have not yet made the inquiration. My Lady is at this time full of business, and seeing my friends were away, I thought you should not require haste."
Aubrey's conscience stirred a little uneasily, and he said to it, "Be quiet! I have not told any falsehood."
"I would not have you to chafe your Lady, if she have no time to listen," said Lady Louvaine, with a disappointed look: "but indeed, Aubrey, the matter must be seen to, and not done by halves, moreover."
A rap at the door preceded Charity, who came to announce Mrs Abbott—a ceremony always used at the White Bear, but entirely unnecessary in the eyes of the lady of the Angel.
"Well, what think you?" she began, before her greetings were well over; for Mistress Abbott was a genuine Athenian, who spent all her leisure hours, and some hours when she should not have been at leisure, in first gathering information, and then retailing it, not having any special care to ascertain its accuracy. "Well, what think you? Here be three of our neighbours to be presented by the street wardens—Lewce, the baker, for that they cannot keep his pigs out of the King's Street; Joan Cotton the silkwoman as a sower of strife amongst her neighbours; and Adrian Sewell for unlawfully following the trade of a tailor."
"Why, that is thy tailor, Aubrey!" exclaimed Aunt Temperance. "I trust thou art not deep in his books?"
"Never a whit, Aunt; I owe him ne'er a penny," said Aubrey, flushing, and not adding that Mr William Patrick's books were separate volumes, nor that those of Nathan Cohen, in Knightriders' Street, were not entirely guiltless of his name.
"Ay, that's the way," said Mrs Abbott, nodding her head. "Pay as you go, and keep from small scores. Truly I would, Mr Louvaine, our Stephen were as wise as you. Such a bill as came in this week past from a silkman in Paternoster Row! White satin collars at eight and ten shillings the piece, and a doublet of the same at two pound; curled feathers, and velvet doublets, and perfumed gloves at twenty pence or more. His father's in a heavy taking, I can tell you, and saith he shall be ruined. Look you, we've four lads, and here's Stephen a-going this path—and if Seth and Caleb and Ben just go along after Stephen, it'll be a fine kettle o' fish, I can tell you. Oh dear, but you've a deal to be thankful for, and only one to trouble you! The bicker those lads do make!"
"We have all something wherefore we may be thankful, friend," said Lady Louvaine gently, when Mrs Abbott stopped to breathe.
"Well, then, there's the maids—Mall, and Silence, and Prissy, and Dorcas, and Hester—and I can promise you, they make such a racket amongst 'em, I'm very nigh worn to a shadow."
Aubrey and Lettice were giving funny glances at each other, and doing their utmost not to disgrace the family by laughing. If Mrs Abbott were worn to a shadow, shadows were very portly and substantial articles.
"I declare, that Prissy! she's such a rattle as never you saw! no getting a word in for her. I tell her many a time, I wonder her tongue does not ache, such a chatterbox as she is. I'm no talker, you see; nobody can say such a thing of me, but as to her—"
A curious sound in Aubrey's direction was rapidly followed by a cough.
"Eh now, don't you say you've a spring cough!" ejaculated Mrs Abbott, turning her artillery on that young gentleman. "Horehound, and mallow, and coltsfoot, they're the best herbs; and put honey to 'em, and take it fasting of a morrow. There be that saith this new stuff of late come up—tobago, or what they call it—my husband says he never heard of aught with so many names. Talking o' names, have you seen that young maid, daughter of the baker new set up at back here? Whatever on earth possessed him to call her Penelope? Dear heart, but they say there's a jolly brunt betwixt my Lord Rich and his Lady—she that was my Lady Penelope Devereux, you know. My Lord he is a great Puritan, and a favourer of that way; and my Lady, she likes a pretty gown and a gay dance as well as e'er a one; so the wars have fallen out betwixt 'em—"
"If it like you, Mistress Abbott," said Charity, opening the door immediately after a knock, "here's your Ben, that says your master wants you."
"Ay," shouted Ben from the door in no dulcet tones, "and he said if you didn't come, he'd fetch you. You were safe to be gossiping somewhere, he said, and says he—"
"Take that for your imperence, Sir!" was his mother's answer, hurrying to the door, with a gesture suited to the words. "Well, I do vow, if ever I come forth to have half a word with a neighbour, that man o' mine's sure for to call it gossiping.—Get away wi' thee! I'm coming in a wink.—Well, but you do look cheery and peaceful! I would I could ha' tarried a bit. Mrs Lettice, my dear, you take warning by me, and don't you marry a man as gives you no liberty. Stand up for your rights, my dear, and get 'em—that's what I say. Good even! There's no end to the imperence of lads, and no more to the masterfulness of men. Don't you have nought to do with 'em! Good-night."
"I could not have stood it another minute!" said Aubrey as soon as she was out of hearing, while he and Lettice made the walls echo.
On a calm June evening, three men met at a house in Thames Street, where Garnet lodged. They were Robert Catesby, the Reverend Oswald Greenway, and the Reverend Henry Garnet. They met to consult and decide on the last uncertainties, and as it were to finish off the scheme of the plot. The conclusions ended, Garnet let out his friends, who with hats drawn low down, and faces muffled in their cloaks, glided softly and darkly away.
As the month of August ran out, the conspirators gradually returned to London, with some exceptions, who joined their ghostly father, Garnet, in a pious pilgrimage to Saint Winifred's Well, better known as Holywell, in Flintshire. The party numbered about thirty, and comprised Lady Digby, two daughters of Lord Vaux, Rookwood, and his wife. Thomas Winter wrote to Grant that "friends" would reach Norbrook on the second or third of September, begging him to "void his house of Morgan and his she-mate," as otherwise it "would hardly bear all the company." The route taken was from Goathurst, the home and inheritance of Lady Digby, by Daventry, Norbrook, the residence of Grant, Huddington, the house of Robert Winter, and Shrewsbury, to Holt, in Flintshire. In some uneasy nightmare during that pilgrimage, did a faint prescience of that which was to come ever flit before the eyes of Ambrose Rookwood, as to the circumstances wherein he should journey that road again? From Holt the ladies walked barefoot to the "holy well," which, according to tradition, had sprung up on the place where Saint Winifred's head had rolled on being cut off: they remained at the well for the night. They returned the same way, mass being said by Garnet at Huddington and Norbrook. It is difficult to believe that those who went on this pilgrimage could be wholly innocent of "intention" respecting the plot so soon to be executed.
Fawkes arrived from abroad on the first of September, staying the first night at an inn outside Aldgate. The next day, he went down to the Tower Wharf, hailed a boat, and was ferried to Westminster, where, under his alias of John Johnson, and Percy's servant, he relieved Mrs Gibbons of her charge, took possession of his master's house, and of the cellar where was stored his master's stock of winter fuel. A careful examination of the door of the vault showed that it had not been tampered with during the absence of the conspirators.
Winter now returned to London, taking up his abode in his old quarters at the Duck, where Keyes, Rookwood, and Christopher Wright, had apartments also. Catesby and Percy did not return till later. The latter had gone to Bath, where he found Lord Monteagle; and the two sent to Catesby, entreating "the dear Robin" to join them. Catesby obeyed, and came.
The Bath, as it was then usual to call the ancient city of hot springs, was a very different town from that which we now know. Like all of Roman origin, its design was cruciform, with four gates, and as usual a church at every gate. The only one of these churches now standing—and that has been rebuilt—is Saint James's, at South Gate. The modern fashionable part of Bath, including Milsom Street, the Circus, and the Crescent, lies outside the walls of the ancient Aqua Solis.
Mr Catesby found his friends in Cheap Street, which ran from Stawles Church, in the midst of the city, to East Gate, Here he vegetated for a week, resting after his toil, and applying himself to the business which had apparently brought him, by diligent attendance at the King's Bath, on the site of the present Pump-room. Here, at this time, ladies and gentlemen, in elaborate costumes and adorned by wonderful hair-dressing, bathed together under the eyes of the public, which contributed its quota of amusement and interest by pelting the bathers with dead dogs, cats, and pigs—a state of things not considered disgusting, but laughable.
On the morning after the arrival of Catesby, he and Percy went down to the East Gate, hailed a boat, which ferried them across the Avon, where Laura Place now stands, and leaving Bathwick Mill on the left hand, they began to ascend the hill on whose summit once stood the yet older British city of Caer Badon.
"Mr Percy," said Catesby, as they walked slowly upwards, "since I have tarried here, I have had some time for thought; and I can tell you, I am nigh beat out of heart touching our matter."
"You, Mr Catesby! Truly, I never thought to see you struck into your dumps. But what now, I beseech you?"
Gentlemen did not, at that time, speak to each other without the respectful prefix of "Mister," though they might now and then speak of an acquaintance without it. When intimacy was so great as to warrant laying it aside, the Christian name took its place.
"Well, look you here," said Catesby. "We are all men of birth, but not one of us is a man of money. You, 'tis true, have my Lord Northumberland behind you, but how long time may he tarry? Were he to die, or to take pepper in the nose, where then are we? All is naught with us at once, being all but mean men of estate."
"My cousin of Northumberland is not like to play that prank, or I err," answered Percy, who well knew that Lord Northumberland was not in all cases cognisant of the use made of his name by this very worthy cousin: "as to death, of course that may hap,—we are all prone to be tumbled out of the world at short notice. But what then is your project? for without you have some motion in your mind, good Mr Catesby, I read you not aright."
"To be sure I have," said Catesby with a smile. "But first—if I remember rightly, your friend young Louvaine is not he that can aid us in this juncture?"
"Hasn't a penny to bless himself with," replied Percy, "save his wage from my Lord Oxford, and that were but a drop in the sea for us. His old grandmother can do but little for him—so much have I picked out of his prattle. But, surely, Mr Catesby, you would not think to take into our number a green lad such as he, and a simpleton, and a Protestant to boot?"
"Take into our number!" cried Catesby. "Good Mr Percy, you miss the cushion [make a mistake]. A good tale, well tinkered, should serve that companion, and draw silver from his pockets any day. What we lack is two or three men of good estate, and of fit conditions and discreet years, that may safely be sworn—and I think I know where to find them."
"I'll lay my crown to pawn you do!" exclaimed Percy admiringly. "Pray you, who be they?"
"Sir Everard Digby, of Tilton, in Rutland; and my cousin, Frank Tresham of Rushton."
"Good men and true? Both are strange to me."
"Ay; Digby is a staunch Catholic, but may lack some persuasion to join us. Tresham—well, I count he may be trusted. His money-bags be heavy, though his character is but light. I will make certain that he will not blab nor tattle—that is the thing most to be feared. Know you not Frank Tresham?—my cousin, and my Lord Monteagle's wife's brother."
"Oh ay! I have met him," said Percy. "I wist not it was he you meant."
"I had hope once that Mr Fawkes should bring grist to our mill," said Gatesby, thoughtfully: "but I see that is but a Will-o'-the-Wisp."
"Mr Fawkes? Oh no! His father was but a younger son—Mr Edward Fawkes of Farnley, a notary at York, and Registrar of the Consistory Court there. He left him but a farm of some thirty pound by the year, and Guy ran through it like a herring through the water. The only hope by his means would be the borrowing of money from his step-father, Mr Foster, and methinks he hath a larger heart than purse."
They walked on for a few minutes in silence, when Percy said, "How will you get hold of these men?"
"Send Tom Winter to Sir Everard, and I will tackle Tresham. Then, when I return, will we go forth with the mine."
"Done!" said Percy.
And the pair of conspirators came down the hill.
Instead of returning direct to London, Catesby went to visit Robert Winter at Huddington, Percy going to his own house at the upper end of Holborn. Catesby remained for three days with Robert Winter, whom he induced to send for Stephen Littleton of Holbeach and his cousin Humphrey Littleton. These gentlemen were not, however, initiated into the plot, but only desired to lend their assistance to "a matter of weight, and for the especial good of all Catholics."
The Christmas holidays being over, the mining was resumed, the conspirators having now added to their number Francis Tresham and Sir Everard Digby. It was not done without some difficulty. The oath was administered to both; but when they learned to what they had bound themselves, they recoiled in horror. Sir Everard was disposed of with comparative ease. His own good sense led him to demur, but no sooner was he told that three priests had approved of the scheme than, as in duty bound, the poor weak creature laid his good sense aside, told his conscience to be quiet, and united cordially and thoroughly in the project, finding horses, arms, and money, to the amount of 1500 pounds. If the Church approved, "the prerogative of the laity was to listen and to obey." Francis Tresham proved less pliable. He at once inquired if the Roman Catholic peers were to be warned, so as to keep away from Parliament on the doomed day.
"Generally, only," said Catesby. "We have let them understand that strict laws are to be passed against the Catholics, which they cannot prevent, and therefore they had best tarry away."
"My Lord Arundel, though he be not of age, is very desirous to be present," said Percy.
"My Lord Montague, on the contrary part, would fain be thence," returned Catesby, "and I have told him he can do no good there."
"I asked my Lord Mordaunt if he meant to come," said Winter, laughing, "and quoth he, 'Nay, for I was too much disgusted at the former session, being forced to sit there with my robes on, all the time the King was in church.'" [Note 1.]
"But surely," cried Tresham, looking from one to another, "you will take some further means to save our brethren than only these? Mr Percy, you never will suffer your cousin the Earl of Northumberland to perish?"
"Indeed, Mr Tresham, I should be loth so to do, because I am bounden to him."
"Gentlemen," said the voice of Fawkes, who had hitherto been silent in the conclave, "what we must principally respect is our own safety, and we will pray for the Catholic Lords."
"And how shall we set ourselves right with the Catholic commons?" demanded Keyes.
"Oh, we will satisfy the Catholics at large that the act is done for the restitution of religion," answered Catesby; "and the heretics, that it was to prevent the Union sought to be established at this Parliament."
"Sirs, I cannot brook this!" Tresham broke in eagerly. "My Lords Monteagle and Stourton, as you know, have wedded my sisters. I implore you to warn them: at the least, I do beseech you, save my Lord Monteagle!"
"What, to tell him what shall hap?" cried Catesby. "Never!"
"Impossible, Mr Tresham!" replied Percy. "I regret it as much as you."
"They shall be warned!" cried Tresham vehemently.
"Remember your oath!" answered Catesby sternly.
"I shall not forget it. But something must be done to save my Lord Monteagle. I am beholden to him, and I love him dear."
"Well, well!" suggested Winter, making an endeavour to cast oil upon the troubled waters, "can you not be earnest with him to do something on that day, which shall carry him out of the way?"
"I am afraid not!" said Tresham, shaking his head. "He will reckon it his duty to be there, or I err."
"Time enough betwixt now and October," said Fawkes.
"Ay, time enough, indeed," echoed Winter. "My Lord Monteagle may be abroad, or what not, when the Parliament opens. Pray you, Mr Tresham, trouble not yourself. I doubt not all shall go well."
Tresham murmured something to the effect that things left to drift as they would did not invariably drift into the right harbour: but he dropped the topic for the moment.
Hitherto the secret meetings of the conspirators had been in the house beyond Clement's Inn: but it was now deemed necessary to have a more secluded and secure retreat.
In the forest depths of Enfield Chase was an old hunting-lodge, named White Webbs, never used except occasionally by sportsmen. This was selected as a non-suspicious place of meeting. The conspirators were now nearly ready: a few days would make them quite so. Satan was also ready, and probably required no time for preparation. And God was ready too.
They met at White Webbs on the 21st of September, just a fortnight before the day appointed for the meeting of Parliament: Catesby, the Winters, the Wrights, Digby, Keyes, Grant, and Bates. Tresham was not there; he had ceased to attend the meetings, and said, if Lord Monteagle at least might not be saved he would neither find the money he had promised, nor assist any further with the plot.
They had not sat many minutes, when Percy and Fawkes joined them, the former impetuous person being in an evident state of suppressed excitement, while the latter very cool individual showed no trace of emotion.
"Now, what think you?" cried Percy. "The Parliament is prorogued yet again."
"Sure, they have never wind of our project?" suggested one of the brothers Wright.
"Till when?" demanded Catesby, knitting his brows.
"For another month—till the fifth of November."
Catesby pondered for a moment in silence.
"Is there any stir thereabouts?—any search made of the house or the vault?"
"No—no semblance thereof."
"Then I think they have not got wind of it. But if so—Mr Fawkes, is all the powder now in the cellar?"
"No, Mr Catesby; there are five or six barrels to come, which I meant to move thither on Monday night next."
"Wait a little. You had best make sure that all is safe. Tarry for another fortnight, and move them then. Is this not your minds, gentlemen?"
The rest of the group, as usual, deferred to their leader.
There was now another point requiring discussion, and it was introduced by Catesby.
"'Tis time, methinks, gentlemen, that we took thought on a question whereof we have not yet spoken. After the thing you wot of is done, what then shall follow? If not the King alone be present there, but the Queen also, and maybe the Prince—"
"If they be, we will not save them," interjected Fawkes.
"We need not," coolly responded Catesby: "but if all be gone, who then shall be published or elected king?"
"Why, we have never entered into that consideration," said Grant, dubiously.
"Had we not best enter into it? Our plans must be ready at once, when the time comes, not all hanging betwixt the eyelids." [i.e. in uncertainty.]
"The Queen and Prince are safe to be there," said Percy. "And in any case, the Prince were best away; for if all be true that is said, or the half thereof, he were like to do us more mischief than his father. He is not of the King's humour, but more like old Bess—hath a will of his own, and was bred up strictly Protestant."
"Bad, that!" said Catesby. "Then the Prince must go."
"'Tis pity, though," observed Robert Winter. "A bright little lad."
Catesby laughed scornfully. "Come now, Robin, no sensibility [susceptibility, sentimentality], I beg! We cannot afford to be punctual [particular] in this affair. There are bright lads by the dozen everywhere, as cheap as blackberries. Now, what of the little Duke?"
The man who spoke thus was himself the father of two boys.
"He'll not be much of aught at five years old," said Winter. "Mr Percy, you were the most like of any of us to win him into your hands."
Percy, as one of the band of gentleman pensioners, whose duty it was to wait on the King, had opportunities of access to the little Prince, beyond any of his accomplices.
"I will undertake that," said Percy eagerly.
"Do we concur, then, to elect him King?" asked Catesby.
"Hold, good gentlemen! by your leave, we go something too fast," said Fawkes. "How if Mr Percy be unable—as may be—to win Duke Charles into his hands?"
"Why, then comes the Lady Elizabeth," said Winter.
"What say you to the only English-born of the royal issue—the Lady Mary? She, at least, is uninfect with heresy."
There was a laugh at this suggestion: for the Princess Mary was not quite five months old.
"Very well, if we could win her," answered Catesby: "but she would be hard to come by. No—the one easiest had, and as likely as any to serve our turn, is the young lady at Combe. Let the memory of Elizabeth the heretic, so dear to the hearts of Englishmen, be extinguished in the brighter glories of Elizabeth the Catholic. Bring her up in the Catholic faith, and wed her to a Catholic Prince, and I will lay mine head to pawn that she shall make a right royal queen, and the star of England's glory shall suffer no tarnish in her hands. I have seen the little maid, and a bright, brave, bonnie lass she is."
"How old?" asked Robert Winter.
"Nine years. Just the right age. Old enough to queen it, and take a pleasure therein; and not old enough to have drunk in much heresy—no more than Fathers Garnet and Gerard can soon distil out again."
"Nay! Too old, Mr Catesby," said Thomas Winter. "At five years, the little Duke might be so: but not his sister at nine. She'll have learned heresy enough by then; and women are more perverse than men. They ever hold error tighter, and truth likewise."
"Well, have the little Duke, if you can win him," replied Catesby. "I doubt thereof."
"Trust me for that," cried Percy.
"I'll trust you to break your neck in the attempt," said Catesby with a grim smile.
"But how look you to secure the Lady Elizabeth? My Lord Harrington's an old fox, and none so easy to beguile. He shall smell a rat, be sure, before you have half your words out, and then you may whistle for the rest of your hopes—and are like enough to do it in the Fleet or Newgate."
"Kit Wright," said Percy, addressing the last speaker, who was his wife's brother, "all the wit in the world is sure not in thine head. Thinkest we shall march up to the door at Combe, and sweetly demand of my Lord Harrington that he give us up the Lady Elizabeth? Why, man, we must compass the matter that he shall wit nought till all be done."
"You might make a hunting-party," suggested Fawkes.
"Say you so, Mr Fawkes? You have eyes in your head. We'll send Sir Everard Digby down to see to that business."
"How went your business, Mr Catesby?" asked Grant.
"Why, right well, Mr Grant. I gathered together a goodly number of friends to assist the Archduke Albert in Flanders: bought horses, and laid in powder. All shall be ready when the Archduke hath need of them."
The laugh went round.
"That was a jolly fantasy of yours, to levy troops for the Archduke," said Robert Winter. "Truly, these heretics are easy to beguile. Not one, methinks, hath the least suspicion."
"It were soon up with us if they had," added his brother.
"Look out for yourself, Tom, and smoke not too many pipes with externs," responded Robert. "That young Louvaine that you affect—I scarce trust him."
"That affects me, you mean. Trust him! I never do. He's only a simpleton at best."
"Have you never heard of simpletons carrying tidings?" said Fawkes. "Mind you drop not any chance words, Mr Winter, that might do mischief."
"Let me alone for that," was the answer.
"Gentlemen," said Catesby, who had been in a brown study for some minutes, "methinks Mr Fawkes's proposal to seize the Lady Elizabeth under cover of a hunting-party is good. Sir Everard, will you undertake this?"
"Willingly. Where must they be gathered?"
"Gather them at Dunchurch," said Catesby, "for a hunt on Dunsmoor Heath, and for the day of the Parliament's meeting: you shall have notice of the blow struck, as quick as a horseman can reach you. As soon as you hear it, then away to Combe, and carry off the young lady to my mother's at Ashby. Proclaim her Queen, and bring her next day to London, proclaiming her in all the towns on your way."
"May there not be some awkwardness in the matter, if her brothers be alive?" suggested the most cautious of the party, Robert Winter.
"Pooh!" ejaculated the impetuous Percy. "'Nothing venture, nothing have.'"
"'Faint heart never won fair lady' were more pertinent to the occasion," said Thomas Winter, raising a general laugh.
"We must see to that," grimly responded Catesby.
The conspirators then separated. Sir Everard Digby set out for Warwickshire, Percy went to see Lord Northumberland at Syon, Keyes returned to Lambeth, and Fawkes resumed his duties at the house on the riverbank. Mr Marshall, on his way to call at the White Bear little guessed that the apparently respectable, busy man-servant in blue camlet, who met him as he went down King Street, was engaged in an evil work which would hand down his name to everlasting infamy.
Mrs Abbott was standing at her door as he went past.
"Well to be sure! so 'tis you, Parson? How's Mrs Agnes this even? I reckoned I saw her t'other day, a-passing through the Strand, but she saw not me—in a green perpetuance gown, and a black camlet hood. I trust it'll wear better than mine, for if ever a camlet was no worth, 'tis that Dear heart, the roguery of wool-drapers, and mercers beside! I do hope Master Floriszoon 'll not learn none of their tricks. If I see my Lady Lettice this next day or twain, I'll drop a word to her. Don't you think she's looking a bit pale and poorly this last week or so? But mayhap you have not seen her, not of late."
"I have not, but I am now on my way," answered Mr Marshall, turning into the White Bear, in the hope of escaping Silence's tongue. It was the first word he had been able to cast into the stream she poured forth.
"Well, maybe you'll drop a word to her touching Master Floriszoon? Dear heart, what queer names them foreign folks do get! I never could abide no foreigners, and if I—Bless us, the man's off—there's no having a word with him. I say, Charity, I don't believe them eggs you had of that—"
"You'll excuse me, Mistress Abbott, but I've no time to waste i' talk. 'The talk of the lips tendeth only to penury,'—and if you'll go in and look for that i' th' Good Book, it'll happen do you a bit o' good—more than talking. Good even."
And Charity shut the door uncompromisingly.
Mr Marshall was too much at home in the White Bear to need announcement. He tapped softly at the parlour door, and opened it. "Mrs Gertrude, I don't care who saith it! it's a wicked heresy!" were the first words he heard, in the blunt tones of Temperance Murthwaite. "And it's not true to say we Puritans teach any such thing. It's a calumny and a heresy both.—Mr Marshall, I'm fain to see you. Do, pray you, tell this young gentlewoman we hold not that if a man but believe in the merits of Christ, he may live as he list, and look for Heaven in the end. 'Tis a calumny, I say—a wicked calumny!"
"A calumny as old as the Apostle James, Mrs Murthwaite," answered Mr Marshall, as he turned from greeting Lady Louvaine. "Some in those days had, it should seem, been abusing Paul's doctrine of justification by faith, and said that a man need but believe, and not live according thereto."
"Why, Mr Marshall, I have heard you to say a man may believe and be saved!" cried Gertrude, who sat on a velvet-covered stool beside Lady Louvaine, having run in from the next door without hood or scarf.
"That I doubt not, Mrs Gertrude, and yet may, since you have heard Paul, and John, and the Lord Himself, to say it in the Word. But, believe what? Believe that a man once lived whose name was Jesus, and who was marvellous good, and wrought many great works? That faith shall not save you,—no more than believing in King James's Majesty should. It is a living faith you must have, and that is a dead."
"Mr Marshall, I thought Puritans made much of the doctrine of imputed righteousness?"
"You thought truth, Mrs Gertrude."
"Well, but what is that save believing that Christ hath wrought all goodness for me, and I need not work any goodness for mine own salvation? Look you, there is no need, if all be done."
"No need of what? No need that you should attempt to do what you never can do, or no need that you should show your love to Him that did it for you at the cost of His own life?"
"Well!" said Gertrude in a slow, deprecating tone, "but—"
"Mrs Gertrude, you mix up two things which be utterly separate, and which cannot mix, no more than oil and water. The man whom Christ hath saved, it is most true, hath no need to save himself. But hath he no need to save others? hath he no need to honour Christ? hath he no need to show forth to angels and to men his unity with Christ, the oneness of his will with His, the love wherewith Christ's love constraineth him? You mix up justification and sanctification, as though they were but one. Justification is the washing of the soul from sin; sanctification is the dressing of the soul for Heaven. Sanctification is not a thing you do for God; 'tis a thing God doth in you. There is need for it, not that it should justify you before His tribunal, but that it should make you meet for His presence-chamber. It were not fit that you should enter the King's presence, though cleansed, yet dressed in your old soiled clothes. But you make a third minglement of things separate, when you bring in imputed righteousness. The righteousness of Christ imputed unto us justifieth us before the bar of God. It payeth our debt, it washeth our stains, it unlocketh our fetters. But this is not sanctification. Justification was wrought by Christ for us; sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost in us. Justification was completed on Calvary; sanctification is not finished so long as we be in this life, Justification is quick and lively; the moment my faith toucheth the work of Christ for me, that moment am I fully justified, and for ever. Sanctification is slow, and groweth like a plant. I am as entirely justified as I ever shall be, but I am not as sanctified as I ever shall be. I look to be more and more sanctified—'to grow up unto Him in all things,' to be like Him, to be purified even as He is pure. I pray you make no mingle-mangle of things that do so differ in themselves, though 'tis true they come all of one source—the union and the unity of Christ and the believer."
Gertrude was yawning behind her hand before the clergyman was half through his explanation.
"I thank you, Mr Marshall," said Temperance, who had listened attentively. "Methinks I had some apprehension of the difference in myself, but I could not have expounded it thus clearly."
"To know it in yourself, my sister, is a far greater thing, and a better, than being able to expound it.—And how is it with you, Lady Lettice?"
"Well, Mr Marshall," she said with her soft smile. "At times I think that a few more pins of the tabernacle are taken down, and then the passing wind causeth the curtains to shake. But at worst it shall be only the moving of the pillar of cloud—the 'Come up higher' into the very presence of the King."
"And in the interim 'the Lord sitteth between the cherubim, be the people never so unquiet.' And how is it, dear Sister, with your two young men?"
Lady Louvaine paused to accept Gertrude's offered hand and bid her good-night. That young woman did not enjoy Mr Marshall's conversation, and suddenly discovered that it was time for her return home.
"Hans is all I could desire," said the old lady, returning to the subject: "he is a dear, good, sober-minded lad as need be. But I will not disguise from you, Mr Marshall, that I am in some disease of mind touching Aubrey."
"May I ask wherefore?"
"You may ask, indeed, yet can I scarce tell. That is no wise-sounding thing to say: yet one may have cause for fear where he hath no evidence for demonstration."
"He may so, indeed. Then you reckon there is good cause for fear?"
"Mr Marshall, you told us some time back that our neighbour Mr Rookwood was brother to a Papist. Know you aught of a friend of his, one Mr Winter, that is in London at times, and hath his lodging in the Strand?"
"A friend of this Mr Rookwood, your neighbour?"
"I reckon so. At least, a friend of his son."
"Sons do at times make friends apart from their fathers," said Mr Marshall with a smile. "I cannot say, Lady Lettice, that the name is quite unknown to me; yet cannot I, like you, lay a finger on any special thing I may have heard thereabout."
"What were the other names, Edith? I cannot call them to mind."
"Mr Catesby, Mother, and Mr Percy, and Mr Darcy: those, I think, were what Aubrey told us."
"Mr Percy!—what Percy is he?"
"I know not: some kin to my Lord Northumberland."
"Where dwells he?"
"That know I not."
"At the Green Dragon in Upper Holborn, in Saint Giles's parish," said another voice.
"Ha!" echoed Mr Marshall, turning to his new informant. "A recusant, Madam, and a dangerous fellow. And if this Mr Catesby you name be Mr Robert Catesby of Ashby Ledgers, he also is a recusant, and if I know him, a worser man than the other."
"Hans, art thou sure of this Mr Percy?—that he whom Aubrey wist is the same man of whom Mr Marshall speaks?"
"I have seen Aubrey leave his house, Madam."
Lady Louvaine looked very uneasy.
"And Mr Darcy?" said Edith.
"Him I know not," answered Mr Marshall: which was not surprising, since he knew him only as Mr Walley.
"Hans, how much dost thou know?"
Hans knelt down by the large cushioned chair, and kissed the thin, blue-veined hand.
"Dear Lady Lettice, I know very little: and Aubrey would account me a sneak and a spy, were I to tell you what I do know. But I would not care for that if it might save him."
"I do hope Mr Louvaine is not drawn in among them," said Mr Marshall, thoughtfully.
"They have been away of late," replied Hans, "and he hath not been there so often."
"Are they away now?"
"No, lately returned."
"I would I could win Aubrey for a talk," said Edith.
"Shall I call at my Lord Oxford's and leave a message that you would have him call here?"
"Truly, Mr Marshall, you should do me a great kindness."
"Then I so will. Good-night."
Aubrey was playing billiards with his young master and several of the younger gentlemen of his household, when he was told that Mr Marshall requested a word with him. The information alarmed him, for he thought it meant bad news. Having obtained the young Earl's leave to go and ascertain why he was wanted, Aubrey ran hastily down the stairs, and found Mr Marshall awaiting him in the hall.
"Good even, Mr Louvaine," said he, rising: "I had the honour this evening to wait on my Lady your grandmother, and was desired to drop a word to you as I went home, to the effect that your friends have a mind to speak with you on some matter of import. Her Ladyship bids you, the first opportunity you can make, to visit the White Bear."
"I will do so," said Aubrey, recovering from his alarm. "I cry you mercy for my short greeting, but truly I was afraid, not knowing if you had ill news for me."
"That I have not at this time, God be thanked! Yet if I may, I would fain ask you, Mr Louvaine, whether some time hath not run since you saw your friends in King Street?"
"Oh no! not very long—at least not more than common—only about—" Aubrey hesitated and flushed, as he realised that it was now the middle of October, and his last visit had been paid early in June. "You see, Sir, I am close tied by my duties here," he added in haste.
"So close tied that you may not even be away for an hour? Well, you know your own duty; do it, and all shall be well. But I would beseech you not to neglect this call any longer than till your earliest opportunity shall give leave."
Mr Marshall bowed, and with an official "May God bless you!" passed out of the hall door. Aubrey returned to his urgent duties in the billiard-room.
"Who is your visitor, Louvaine?" asked the youthful Earl.
"If it please your Lordship, 'tis but a messenger from my grandmother."
"What would the ancient dame?" inquired one of the irreverent young gentlemen-in-waiting.
"She would have me go and wait on her: what else I know not. I shall find out, I reckon, when I go."
"When saw you her Ladyship, Mr Louvaine?" said an unexpected voice behind him, and Aubrey turned to meet the Countess.
"Madam, in June last, under your Ladyship's pleasure."
"It scarcely is to my pleasure. Son Henry, cannot you allow this young gentlemen to visit his friends more often?"
"Under your leave, Madam, he can visit them every day if he will. I tarry him not."
"Then how comes it, Mr Louvaine, that you have not waited on my Lady Lettice for four months?"
Aubrey mentally wished Mr Marshall in America, and himself anywhere but in Oxford House. There was no escape. The wise Countess added no unnecessary words to help him out, but having put her question in plain terms, quietly awaited his reply. He muttered something not very intelligible, in which "business" was the chiefly audible word.
"Methinks your duty to your mother and Lady Lettice should be your first business after God," said the Countess gravely. "I pray you, Mr Louvaine, that you wait on her Ladyship to-morrow even. The Earl will give you leave."
Aubrey bowed, and as the Countess took her departure, for she had merely paused in passing through the room, gave a vicious blow to the nearest billiard ball.
"You are in for it now, Louvaine!" said his next neighbour.
"Poor lad! will his gra'mmer beat him?" suggested another in mock compassion.
"He's been stealing apples, and the parson has told of him," added a third.
"Will you hold your stupid tongues?" said Aubrey, stung beyond endurance.
"Take a pinch of sneezing tobago," said one of his companions, holding out his snuff-box. "Never mind it, lad! put on a bold face, and use ruffling language, and you'll get over this brunt."
Aubrey flung down his cue and escaped, pursued by his companions' laughter.
"We were somewhere near the truth," said the young Earl.
"He looks for a scolding, take my word for it."
Very like it Aubrey felt, as he went down King Street on the following evening. He, too, met a man, not in blue camlet, but in a porter's frock, trundling a truck with two or three barrels on it, in whom he did not in the least recognise the dark, tall stranger to whom he had not been introduced in Catesby's rooms. He received a warm welcome at the White Bear.
"Aubrey, hast thou of late seen thine acquaintance Mr Percy?"
"Not since his return out of the country, Madam."
He had seen Winter, but he did not think it necessary to mention it.
"Nor Mr Catesby?"
"Nay, save to meet him in the street, Madam."
"My son, should it give thee great compunction [grief, annoyance] if I bade thee have no more ado with either of these gentlemen?"
"What mean you, Madam?"
"I mean not that if thou meet them in the street thou shalt not give them greeting; but no more to visit them in their lodgings. My boy, Mr Percy is a Popish recusant, and there is much fear of Mr Catesby likewise."
"Not all recusants are bad men, I hope," answered Aubrey evasively, as if he were unwilling to respond by a direct promise to that effect.
"I hope likewise: but some are, as we know. And when innocent men be drawn in with bad men, 'tis often found that the bad slip forth unhurt, and leave the innocent to abide the hazard. Promise me, Aubrey, that thou wilt haunt [visit] these men's company no longer."
"Truly, Madam, I know not what I should say to my friends. Bethink you also, I pray, that I am of age."
"Of what age?" demanded his Aunt Temperance in her usual style. "Not of the age of discretion, I being witness."
"Of the age at which a man commonly takes care of himself," answered Aubrey, loftily.
"'Bate me an ace, quoth Bolton.' At the age at which a man commonly takes no care of himself, nor of any other belike. Nor you are not the wisest man of your age in this world, my master: don't go for to think it. You don't need to look at me in that way, my fine young gentleman: you'll not get sugar-plums from Temperance Murthwaite when you need rhubarb."
"I know that, Aunt Temperance," said Aubrey, trying to laugh.
"And you may as well open your mouth and take your physic with a good grace. If not, there'll be another dose to follow."
"What?" demanded Aubrey with drawn brows, and a flash in his eyes.
"'Three can keep a secret if twain be away,'" was the enigmatical answer. "Now then, answer Lady Lettice."
"He has no mind to promise—that can I see," said Lady Louvaine, sorrowfully.
"He shall, afore he go," was the cool reply of Temperance.
"Aunt Temperance, I am not a babe!" exclaimed Aubrey rather angrily.
"That you are, and in sore need of leading-strings."
"Aubrey here?" asked his mother, coming in. "Well now, I do think one of you might have told me. But you never think of me. Why, Aubrey, it must be six months since we saw you!"
"Four, Mother, under your pleasure."
"I am sure 'tis six. Why come you no oftener?"
"I have my duties," said Aubrey in a rather constrained voice.
"Closer than to thy mother, my boy?" asked Edith softly.
"Prithee harry not him," retorted Aunt Temperance. "Hast thou not heard, he hath his duties? To hold skeins of silk whilst my Lady winds them, maybe, and to ride the great horse, and play tennis and shuttlecock with his Lord, and to make up his mind to which of all his Lady's damsels he'll make love o' the lightest make."
"Aubrey, I do hope you are ne'er thinking of marriage!" said his mother's querulous voice. "Thou shouldst be put out of thine office, most like, and not a penny to keep her, and she saddled upon us that—"
"That'll kick and throw her, as like as not," said Aunt Temperance by way of interjection.
"I ensure you, Mother, I have no expectations of the kind. 'Tis but Aunt Temperance that—that—"
"That sometimes hits the white, Sir, if she do now and then shoot aside o' the mark. Howbeit, hold thou there. And if thou want leave to carry on thine acquaintance with these gentlemen, bring them to see us. I'll lay mine head to an orange I see in ten minutes if they be true men or no."
"What business have they?" asked Edith.
Aubrey hesitated. He knew of none except Garnet's pretended profession of horse-dealing.
"Is there any woman amongst them?" said Temperance.
"I never saw one."
"Not even at Mr Percy's house?"
"I went there but once, to ask for him. I have heard that he hath a wife, but she lives very privately, and teaches children. He dwelleth not with her, but hath his lodging at my Lord Northumberland's. I never saw her."
"That's an ill hearing. 'Tis meet for men to come together by themselves for business: but to dwell in their own homes, and never a woman with them, wife, mother, sister, nor daughter,—that means mischief, lad. It means some business of an evil sort, that they don't want a woman to see through. If there had been one, I went about to say, take me with thee some even to visit her. I'd have known all about it under an hour, trust me."
"You should have seen nought, Aunt."
"Tell that to the cowcumbers. You see nought, very like."
Lady Louvaine laid her hand on her grandson's.
"Aubrey, promise me at least this: that for a month to come thou wilt not visit any of these gentlemen."
After an instant's pause, Aubrey replied, "Very well, Madam; I am ready to promise that."
"That's not much to promise," commented Temperance.
"It is enough," said Lady Louvaine, quietly.
An hour later, when Aubrey was gone, Faith asked rather complainingly what had induced Lady Louvaine to limit the promise to a month.
"I cannot tell thee, Faith," was the answer. "Something seemed to whisper within me that if the lad would promise that, he would be safe. It may be no more than an old woman's fantasy; and even so, no harm is done. Or it might be that God spake to me—and if thus, let us obey His voice. He knows what He will do, and what men will do."
"I've as great a mind as ever I had to eat—"
"What to do, Temperance?"
"Get to see those fellows, somehow."
"Wait the month, Temperance," suggested Edith, quietly.
"Wait! you're always for waiting. I want to work."
"Waiting is often the hardest work," said Edith.
The middle of the month was nearly come. The six last barrels of powder were in the vault; the whole thirty-six were covered with stones and iron bars: Gideon Gibbons, the porter, was delivering at the door three thousand billets and five hundred faggots of wood and another man in a porter's frock was stacking the wood in the vault.
"There, that's the last lot!" said Gibbons, throwing in a packet of tied-up billets. "Count right, Johnson?"
"All right, Gibbons."
"Your master likes a good fire, I should say," observed Gibbons, with a grin of amusement, as he looked into the vault. "There's fuel there to last most folks a couple of winters."
"Ay, he doth so: he's a northern man, you see—comes from where sea-coal's cheaper than here, and they are wont to pile their fires big."
"Shouldn't ha' thought them billets wouldn't hardly ha' taken all that there room," said Gibbons, looking into the vault, while he scratched his head with one hand, and hitched up his porter's frock to put the other in his pocket.
"Oh, I didn't stack 'em so tight," said Mr Percy's man, carelessly, tying up a bit of string which he picked from the floor.
"Ah! well, but tight or loose, shouldn't hardly ha' thought it. Master coming soon, eh?"
"Haven't heard what day. Afore long, very like."
"Has he e'er a wife that he'll bring?"
"She's in the country," said the disguised man-servant, who knew that she was then at the Green Dragon, teaching sundry little girls the mysteries of felling and whipping cambric.
"Well, 'tis dry work. Come and have a pint at the Maid's Head."
"No, thank you, I don't care for it. There's a penny for yours."
As this was the price of a quart of the best ale, Mr Gibbons pocketed the penny with satisfaction, and forbore to remark censoriously on what he deemed the very singular taste of Mr Percy's man. He shambled awkwardly off with his waggon, meaning first to put up his horses, and then go and expend his penny in the beverage wherein his soul delighted. His companion gave a low laugh as he turned the key in the door of the cellar.
"No, thank you, Gideon Gibbons," said he to himself. "It may suit you to sit boozing at the Maid's Head, telling all you know and guessing much that you don't: here's wishing your early muddlement before you get on the subject of this wood! But it won't do for Guy Fawkes, my fine fellow!"
Note 1. Lord Mordaunt was a trimmer, afraid of being known to be a Papist, and, like most half-hearted people, a great sufferer from the struggle between the conscience and the flesh.
AN APPLE-CAST AND A LETTER.
"Better the blind faith of our youth Than doubt, which all truth braves; Better to die, God's children dear, Than live, the Devil's slaves."
"Good-morrow, Lady Lettice! I am come to ask a favour."
"Ask it, I pray you, Mrs Rookwood."
"Will you suffer Mrs Lettice to come to our apple-cast on Tuesday next? We shall have divers young folks of our neighbours—Mrs Abbott's Mary, Dorcas, and Hester, Mrs Townsend's Rebecca, my Lady Woodward's Dulcibel and Grissel, and such like; and our Doll, I am in hopes, shall be back from Suffolk, and maybe her cousin Bessy with her. I have asked Mr Louvaine to come, and twain more of my Lord Oxford's gentlemen; and Mr Manners, Mr Stone, and our Tom, shall be there. What say you?"
Lady Louvaine looked with a smile at her granddaughter, who sat in the window with a book. She was not altogether satisfied with the Rookwoods, yet less from anything they said or did than from what they omitted to say and do. They came regularly to church, they attended the Sacrament, they asked the Vicar to their dinner-parties, they were very affable and friendly to their neighbours. There was absolutely nothing on which it was possible to lay a reproving finger, and say, This is what I do not like. And yet, while she could no more give a reason for distrusting them than the schoolboy for objecting to the famous Dr Fell, she did instinctively distrust them. Still, Lettice was a good girl, on the whole a discreet girl; she had very few pleasures, especially such as took her outside her home, and gave her the companionship of girls of her own age. Lettice had been taught, as all Puritan maidens were, that "life is, to do the will of God," and that pleasure was not to be sought at all, and scarcely to be accepted except in its simplest forms, and as coming naturally along with the duties of life. An admirable lesson—a lesson which girls sadly need to learn now, if only for the lowest reason—that pleasures thus taken are infinitely more pleasing than when sought, and the taste for them is keener and more enduring. To the moral taste, no less than the physical, plain fare with a good appetite is incomparably more enjoyable than the finest dainties with none: and the moral appetite can cloy and pall at least as soon as the physical. Lettice's healthy moral nature had been content with the plain fare, and had never cried out for dainties. But, like all young folks, she liked a pleasant change, and her grandmother, who had thought her looking pale and somewhat languid with the summer heat in town, was glad that she should have the enjoyment. She knew she might trust her.
Not even to herself did Lady Louvaine confess her deepest reason for allowing Lettice to go to the apple-cast—an assembly resembling in its nature the American "bee," and having an apple-gathering and storing for its object. It was derived from the fact that Aubrey had been invited. It occurred to her that something might transpire in Lettice's free and innocent narrative of her enjoyment, which would be of service in the difficult business of dealing with Aubrey at this juncture.
Lettice, as beseemed a maiden of her years, was silent, though her eyes said, "Please!" in very distinct language.
"I thank you, Mrs Rookwood; Lettice may go."
Lettice's eyes lighted up.
"Then, Mrs Lettice, will you step in about nine o'clock? My maids'll be fain to see you. And if any of you gentlewomen should have a liking to look in—"
"Nay, the girls should count us spoil-sports," said Edith, laughingly.
"Now come, Mrs Edith! 'tis not so long since you were a young maid."
"Twelve good years, Mrs Rookwood: as long, pretty nigh, as Hester Abbott has been in the world."
"Eh, but years don't go for much, not with some folks."
"Not with them that keep the dew of their youth," said Lady Louvaine with a smile. "But to do that, friend, a woman should dwell very near to Him who only hath immortality."
It was something so unusual for one of this sober household to go out to a party, that a flutter arose, when Mrs Rookwood had departed, concerning Lettice's costume.
"She had best go in a washing gown," was the decision of her practical Aunt Temperance. "If she's to be any good with the apples, she must not wear her Sunday best."
Lettice's Sunday best was not of an extravagant character, being a dark green perpetuana gown, trimmed with silver lace, a mantle of plum-coloured cloth, and a plum-coloured hood lined with dark green.
"But a washing gown, Temperance! It should look so mean," objected Mrs Louvaine.
"Her best gown'll look meaner, if all the lace be hung with cobwebs, and all the frilling lined with apple-parings," said Temperance.
"She'll take better care of it than so, I hope," said Edith. "And a lawn gown should be cold for this season."
"Well, let the child wear her brown kersey. That'll not spoil so much as some."
In her heart Lettice hoped she would not have to wear the brown kersey. Brown was such an ugly colour! and the kersey, already worn two seasons, was getting shabby—far too shabby to wear at a party. She would have liked to put on her best. But no girl of twenty, unmarried, at that date decided such matters for herself.
"Oh, never that ugly thing!" said Mrs Louvaine. "I mean her to wear my pearls, and that brown stuff—"
Wear Aunt Faith's pearls! Lettice's heart beat.
"Faith, my dear, I would not have the child use ornaments," said Lady Louvaine quietly. "You wot, those of our way of thinking do commonly discard them. Let us not give occasion for scandal. I would have Lettice go neat and cleanly, and not under her station, but no more."
The palpitations of Lettice's heart sobered down. Of course she could not expect to wear pearls and such worldly vanities. Grandmother was always right.
"I can tell you, Mrs Gertrude and Mrs Anne shall not be in brown kersey," said Mrs Louvaine, in her usual petulant tone. "And if Aubrey don him not in satin and velvet, my name is not Faith."
"It shouldn't have been, my dear, for it isn't your nature," was her sister's comment.
"We need not follow a multitude to do evil," quietly responded Lady Louvaine, as she sat and knitted peacefully.
"Well, Madam, what comes that to—the brown kersey, trow? Edith saith truth, lawn is cold this weather."
"I think, my dear, the green perpetuana were not too good, with clean apron, ruff, and cuffs, and a silver lace: but I would have nought more."
So Lettice made her appearance at the apple-cast in her Sunday gown, but decked with no pearls, and her own brown hair turned soberly back under her hood. She put no hat on over it, as she had only to slip into the next house. In the hall Tom Rookwood met her, and bowing, requested the honour of conducting her into the garden, where his sisters and cousin were already busy with the day's duties.
On the short ladder which rested against one of the apple-trees stood Dorothy, the tallest of the Rookwoods, clad in a long apron of white lawn edged with lace, over a dress of rich dark blue silk, gathering apples, and passing them to Anne at the foot of the ladder, by whom they were delivered to Gertrude, who packed them in sundry crates ready for the purpose. By Gertrude's side stood a dark, rosy, merry-looking child of six, whom she introduced to Lettice as her cousin Bessy. Lettice, who had expected Bessy to be much older, was disappointed, for she was curious to know what kind of a creature a female Papist might be.
"Now, Tom, do your duty!" cried Dorothy, as Tom was about to retire. "I am weary of gathering, and you having the longest legs and arms amongst us, should take my place. Here come Mr Montague and Rebecca Townsend; I'm coming down. Up with you!"
Tom pulled a face and obeyed: but showing a disposition to pelt Dorothy and Bessy, instead of carefully delivering the apples unbruised to Anne, he was screamed at and set upon at once, Gertrude leading the opposition.
"Tom, you wicked wretch! Come down this minute, or else behave properly. I shall—"
The—accidental?—descent of an enormous apple on the bridge of Gertrude's nose put her announcement of her intentions to speedy flight: and in laughing over the fracas, the ice rapidly melted between the young strangers.
The apple-gathering proceeded merrily, relieved by a few scenes of this sort, until the trees were stripped, the apples laid carefully in the crates for transportation to the garrets, and on their arrival, as carefully taken out and spread on sheets of grey paper on the floor. When all was done, the girls were marshalled into Gertrude's room to tidy themselves: after which they went down to the dining-room. Mrs Rookwood had provided an excellent dinner for her youthful guests, including geese, venison, and pheasants, various pies and puddings, Muscadel and Canary wines. After dinner they played games in the hall and dining-room, hood-man blind, and hunt the slipper, and when tired of these, separated into little groups or formed tete-a-tetes for conversation. Lettice, who could not quite get rid of an outside feeling, as if she did not belong to the world in which she found herself, was taken possession of by her oldest acquaintance, Gertrude, and drawn into a window-seat for what that young lady termed "a proper chat."
"I thought my cousin was to be here," said Lettice, glancing over the company.
"Ay, Tom asked him, I believe," said Gertrude. "Maybe his Lord could not spare him. Do you miss him?"
"I would like to have seen him," said Lettice innocently.
"Tom would not love to hear you say so much, I can tell you," laughed Gertrude. "He admires you very much, Lettice. Oh, do let us drop the 'Mistress'—it is so stiff and sober—I hate it."
"Me!" was all that it occurred to Lettice to answer.
"You. Don't you like men to admire you?"
"I don't know; they never did."
Gertrude went off into a soft explosion of silvery laughter.
"O Lettice, you are good! You have been brought up with all those sober, starched old gentlewomen, till you don't know what life is—why, my dear, you might as well be a nun!"