"Don't I know what life is?" said Lettice. "I've had twenty years of it."
"You haven't had twenty days of it—not life. You've been ruled like a copy-book ever since you were born. I have pitied you, poor little victim, you cannot guess how much! I begged Mother to try and win you for to-day. She said she did not believe Starch and Knitting-Pins would suffer it, but she would try. Wasn't I astonished when I heard you really were to come!"
"What do you mean by Starch and Knitting-Pins?" asked the bewildered Lettice.
"Oh, that awful aunt of yours who looks as if she had just come out of the wash, and your sweet-smiling grandmother who is always fiddling with knitting-pins—"
Gertrude stopped suddenly. She understood, better than Lettice did herself, the involuntary, unpremeditated gesture which put a greater distance between them on the window-seat, and knew in a moment that she had scandalised her guest.
"My dear creature!" she said with one of her soft laughs, "if you worship your starchy aunt, I won't say another word! And as to my Lady Louvaine, I am sure I never meant the least disrespect to her. Of course she is very sweet and good, and all that: but dear me! have you been bred up to think you must not label people with funny names? Everybody does, my dear—no offence meant at all, I assure you."
"I beg your pardon!" said Lettice stiffly—more so, indeed, than she knew or meant. "If that be what you call 'life,' I am afraid I know little about it."
"And wish for no more!" said Gertrude, laughing. "Well, if I offended you, I ought to beg pardon. I did not intend it, I am sure. But, my dear, what a pity you do not crisp your hair, or curl it! That old-fashioned roll back is as ancient as my grandmother. And a partlet, I declare! They really ought to let you be a little more properly dressed. You never see girls with turned-back hair now."
Lettice did not know whether to blush for her deficiencies, or to be angry with Gertrude for pointing them out. She felt more inclined to the latter.
"Now, if I had you to dress," said Gertrude complacently, "I should just put you in a decent, neat corset, with a white satin gown, puffed with crimson velvet, a velvet hood lined with white satin, a girdle of gold and pearls, crimson stockings, white satin slippers, a lace rebato, and a pearl necklace. Oh, how charming you would look! You would not know yourself. Then I should put a gold bodkin in your hair, and a head-drop of pearls set round a diamond, and bracelets instead of these lawn cuffs, and a fan; and wash your face in distilled waters, and odoriferous oils for your hands."
"But I should not like my hands oily!" said Lettice in amazement.
Gertrude laughed. "Oh yes, you would, when you were accustomed to it. And then just the least touch on your forehead and cheeks, and—O Lettice, my dear, you would have half London at your feet!"
"The 'least touch' of what?" inquired Lettice.
"Oh, just to show the blue veins, you know."
"'Show the blue veins!' What can you show them with?"
"Oh, just a touch of blue," said Gertrude, who began to fear she had gone further than Lettice would follow, and did not want to be too explicit.
"You never, surely, mean—paint?" asked Lettice in tones of horror.
"My dear little Puritan, be not so shocked! I do, really, mean paint; but not all over your face—nothing of the sort: only a touch here and there."
"I'll take care it does not touch me," said Lettice decidedly. "I don't want to get accustomed to such abominable things. And as to having half London at my feet, there isn't room for it, and I am sure I should not like it if there were."
"O Lettice, Lettice!" cried Gertrude amidst her laughter. "I never saw such a maid. Why, you are old before you are young."
"I have heard say," answered Lettice, laughing herself, "that such as so be are young when they are old."
"Oh, don't talk of being old—'tis horrid to think on. But, my dear, you should really have a little fine breeding, and not be bred up a musty, humdrum Puritan. I do hate those she-precise hypocrites, that go about in close stomachers and ruffles of Geneva print, and cannot so much as cudgel their maids without a Scripture to back them. Nobody likes them, you know. Don't grow into one of them. You'll never be married if you do."
Lettice was silent, but she sat with slightly raised eyebrows, and a puzzled expression about her lips.
"Well, why don't you speak?" said Gertrude briskly.
"Because I don't know what to say. I can't tell what you expect me to say: and you give such queer reasons for not doing things."
"Do I so?" said Gertrude, looking amused. "Why, what queer reasons have I given?"
"That nobody will like me, and I shall never be married!"
"Well! aren't they very good reasons?"
"They don't seem to me to be reasons at all. I may never be married, whether I do it or not; and that will be as God sees best for me, so why trouble myself about it? And as to people not liking me because I am a Puritan, don't you remember the Lord's words, 'If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you'?"
"Oh, you sucked in the Bible with your mother's milk, I suppose," said Gertrude pettishly, "and have had it knitted into you ever since by your grandmother's needles. I did not expect you to be a spoil-sport, Lettice. I thought you would be only too happy to come out of your convent for a few hours."
"Thank you, I don't want to be a spoil-sport, and I do not think the Bible is, unless the sports are bad ones, and they might as well be spoiled, might they not?"
"There's Mr Stone!" cried Gertrude inconsequently, and in a relieved tone, for Lettice was leading in a direction whither she had no wish to follow. "Look! isn't he a fine young man? What a shame to have christened so comely a man by so ugly a name as Jeremy!"
"Do you think so? It is a beautiful name; it means 'him whom God hath appointed,'—Aunt Edith says so."
"Think you I care what it means!" was the answer, in a rather vexed tone, though it was accompanied by a laugh. "'Tis ugly and old-fashioned, child. Now your cousin, Mr Louvaine, has a charming name. But fancy having a name with a sermon wrapped up in it!"
"I do not understand!" said Lettice a little blankly. "You seem to think little of those things whereof I have been taught to think much; and to think much of those things whereof I have been led to think little. It puzzles me. Excuse me."
Gertrude laughed more good-naturedly.
"My dear little innocence!" said she. "I am sorry to let the cold, garish daylight in upon your pretty little stained-glass creed: it is never pleasant to have scales taken from your eyes. But really, you look on things in such false colours, that needs must. Why, my child, if you were to go out into the world, you would find all those fancies laughed to scorn. 'Tis only Puritans love sermons and Bibles and such things. No doubt they are all right, and good, and all that; quite proper for Sunday, and sick-beds, and so on. I am not an infidel, of course. But then—well?"
Lettice's face of utter amazement arrested the flow of words on Gertrude's lips.
"Would your mother think you loved her, Gertrude, if you told her you never wanted to see her except on Sundays and when you were sick? And if God hears all we say, is it not as good as telling Him that? You puzzle me more and more. I have been taught that the world is the enemy of God, and refuses to guide its ways by His Word: but you speak as if it were something good, that we ought to look up to, and hearken what it bids us. It cannot be both. And what God says about it must be true."
"Lettice, whatever one says, you always come back to your Puritan stuff. I wish you would be natural, like other maids. See, I am about to turn you over to Dorothy. Let us see if she can make something of you—I cannot.—Here, Doll! come and sit here, and talk with Lettice. I want to go and speak to Grissel yonder."
Dorothy sat down obediently in the window-seat.
"I thought Mr Louvaine was to be here to-day," she said.
"So did I likewise. I cannot tell why he comes not."
"Have you seen him lately?"
"No, not in some time. I suppose he is busy."
Dorothy looked amused. "What think you he doth all the day long?"
Lettice had not been present when Aubrey detailed his day's occupations, and she was under the impression that he led a busy life, with few idle hours.
"Truly, I know not what," she answered; "but the Earl, no doubt, hath his duties, and 'tis Aubrey's to wait on him."
"The Earl, belike, reads an hour or two with his tutor, seeing he is but a child: and the rest of the time is there music and dancing, riding the great horse, playing at billiards, tennis, bowls, and such like. That is your cousin's business, Mrs Lettice."
"Only that?—but I reckon he cannot be let go, but must come after his master's heels?"
"He is on duty but three days of every week, save at the lever and coucher, and may go whither he list on the other four."
"Then I marvel he comes not oftener to visit us," said innocent Lettice.
"Do you so? I don't," answered Dorothy, with a little laugh.
"How old are you, Mrs Lettice?"
The notion of discourtesy connected with this query is modern.
"I was twenty last June," said Lettice.
"Dear heart! I should have supposed you were about two," said Dorothy, with a little curl of her lip.
"But my grandmother thinks so likewise, and she is near eighty," said Lettice.
"Ah! Extremes meet," answered Dorothy, biting her lip.
Lettice tried to think out this obscure remark, but had not made much progress, when at the other end of the room she caught a glimpse of Aubrey. Though he stood with his back to her, she felt sure it was Aubrey. She knew him by the poise of his head and the soft golden gloss on his hair; and a moment later, his voice reached her ear. He came up towards them, stopping every minute to speak with some acquaintance, so that it took him a little time to reach them.
"There is Cousin Aubrey," said Lettice.
Dorothy answered by a nod. "You admire your cousin?"
"Yes, I think he looks very well," replied Lettice, in her simplicity.
Dorothy bit her lip again. "He is not so well-favoured as Mr Jeremy Stone," said she, "though he hath the better name, and comes of an elder line by much."
By this time Aubrey had come up. "Ah, Lettice!" said he, kissing her. "Mrs Dorothy, your most obedient, humble servant."
"Are you?" responded she.
"Surely I am. Lay your commands on me."
"Then bring Mr Stone to speak with me."
Aubrey gave a little shrug of his shoulders, a laugh, and turned away as if to seek Mr Stone: while Dorothy, the moment his back was turned, put her finger on her lip, and slipped out of sight behind a screen, with her black eyes full of mischievous fun.
"Why, my dear," said a voice beside Lettice, "is none with you? I thought I saw Doll by your side but now."
"She was, Gentlewoman," answered Lettice, looking up at Mrs Rookwood, and beginning to wish herself at home again. Might she slip away? "May I pray you of the time?"
Mrs Rookwood was neither of wealth nor rank to carry a watch, so she went to look at the clock before replying, and Aubrey came up with Mr Stone.
"Why, where is gone Mrs Dorothy?" asked the former, knitting his brows.
"All the beauty has not departed with her," responded Mr Stone gallantly, bowing low to Lettice, who felt more and more uncomfortable every minute.
"'Tis on the stroke of four, my dear," said Mrs Rookwood, returning: "but I beg you will not hurry away."
"Oh, but I must, if you please!" answered Lettice, feeling a sensation of instant and intense relief. "Grandmother bade me not tarry beyond four o'clock. I thank you very much, Gentlewoman, and I wish you farewell.—Aubrey, you will come with me?"
Aubrey looked extremely indisposed to do so, and Lettice wondered for what reason he could possibly wish to stay: but Mrs Rookwood, hearing of Lady Louvaine's order, made no further attempt to delay her young guest. She called her daughters to take their leave, and in another minute the Golden Fish was left behind, and Lettice ran into the door of the White Bear. She went straight upstairs, and in the chamber which they shared found her Aunt Edith.
Lettice had no idea how uneasy Edith had been all that day. She had a vague, general idea that she was rather a favourite with Aunt Edith— perhaps the one of her nieces whom on the whole she liked best: but of the deep pure well of mother-like love in Edith's heart for Dudley Murthwaite's daughter, Lettice had scarcely even a faint conception. She rather fancied herself preferred because, as she supposed, her mother had very likely been Aunt Edith's favourite sister. Little notion therefore had Lettice of the network of feeling behind the earnest, wistful eyes, as the aunt laid a hand on each shoulder of the niece, and said—
"Aunt Edith," was the answer, "if that is the world I have been in to-day, I hope I shall never go again!"
"Thank God!" spoke Edith's heart in its innermost depths; but her voice only said, quietly enough, "Ay so, dear heart? and what misliked thee?"
"It is all so queer! Aunt Edith, they think the world is something good. And they want me to paint my face. And they call Aunt Temperance 'Starch.' And they say I am only two years old. And they purse up their faces, and look as if it were something strange, if I quote the Bible. And they talk about being married as if it must happen, whether you would or not, and as if it were the only thing worth thinking about. And they seemed to think it was quite delightful to have a lot of gentlemen bowing at yon, and saying all sorts of silly things, and I thought it was horrid. And altogether, I didn't like it a bit, and I wanted to get home."
"Lettice, I prayed God to keep thee, and I think He has kept thee. My dear heart, mayest thou ever so look on the world which is His enemy, and His contrary!"
Edith's voice was not quite under her control—a most unusual thing with her.
"Aunt Edith, I did think at first—when Mrs Rookwood came—that I should like it very well. I felt as if it would be such a pleasant change, you know, and—sometimes I have fancied for a minute that I should like to know how other maids did, and to taste their life, as it were, for a little while; because, you see, I knew we were so quiet, and other people seemed to have more brightness and merriment, and—well, I wanted to see what it was like."
"Very natural, sweet heart, at thy years. I can well believe it."
"And so, when Mrs Rookwood asked, I so hoped Grandmother would let me go. And I did enjoy the apple-gathering in the garden, and the games afterward in the hall. But when we sat down, and girls came up and talked to me, and I saw what they had inside their hearts—for if it had not been in their hearts, it would not have come on their tongues—Aunt Edith, I hope I shall never, never, never have anything more to do with the world! I'd rather peel onions and scrub tiles every day of my life than live with people, and perhaps get like them, who could call my dear old Grandmother 'Knitting-pins' in scorn, and tell God Himself that they only wanted to think of Him on Sundays. That world's another world, and I don't belong to it, and please, I'll keep out of it!"
"Amen, and Amen!" said Aunt Edith. "My Lettice, let us abide in the world where God is King and Father, and Sun, and Water of Life. May that other world where Satan rules ever be another and a strange world to thee, wherein thou shalt feel thyself a traveller and a stranger. My child, there is very much merriment which hath nought to do with happiness, and very much happiness which hath nought to do with mirth. 'Tis one thing to shut ourselves from God's world which He made, and quite another to keep our feet away from Satan's world which he hath ruined. When God saith, 'Love not the world,' He means not, Love not flowers, and song-birds, and bright colours, and sunset skies, and the innocent laughter of little children. Those belong to His world; and 'tis only as we take them out thereof, and hand them unto Satan, and they get into the Devil's world, that they become evil and hurtful unto us. Satan hath ruined, and will yet, so far as he may, all the good things of God; and beware of the most innocent-seeming thing so soon as thou shalt see his touch, upon it. Thank God, my darling, that He suffered thee not to shut thine eyes thereto! Was Aubrey there, Lettice?"
"He came but late, Aunt, and therefore it was, I suppose, that as it seemed, he had no list to come with me. He said he might look in, perchance, at after."
"And Mr Tom Rookwood?"
"Ay, he was there, though I saw scarce anything of him but just at first."
Edith was privately glad to hear it. She had been a little afraid of designs upon Lettice from that quarter.
"Aunt, was it not rude to give nicknames?"
"Very rude, and very uncomely, Lettice."
"I thought it was horrid!" said Lettice.
"Louvaine," Tom Rookwood was saying, next door, "I met Mr Tom Winter this afternoon, and he asked me if you had gone to the Low Countries to take service under the Archduke. He hath seen nought of you, saith he, these three weeks."
"I know it," said Aubrey, sulkily.
"Well, he told me to bid you to supper with him o' Thursday even next. I shall be there, and Sir Josceline Percy, Sir Edward Bushell, and Mr Kit Wright."
"I can't. Wish I could."
"Why, what's to hinder?"
"Oh, I'm—ah—promised beforehand," said Aubrey, clumsily.
"Can't you get off?"
"No. But I've as great a mind to go—"
"You come, and never mind the other fellows. You'll find us much jollier grigs of the twain."
"I know that. Hang it, Tom, I'll go!"
"There's a brave lad! Four o'clock sharp, at the Duck. I'll meet you there."
"Where was he promised, I marvel?" asked Dorothy in a whisper, with a yawn behind her hand.
"Oh, didn't you see how he flushed and stammered?" said Gertrude, laughing. "I vow, I do believe old Knitting-pins had made him swear on her big Bible that he wouldn't speak another word to Mr Winter. Had it been but another merry-making, he should never have looked thus."
There was no visit from Aubrey at the White Bear that evening. He felt as if he could not meet his grandmother's eyes. He was not yet sufficiently hardened in sin to be easy under an intention of deliberate disobedience and violation of a solemn promise; yet the sin was too sweet to give up. This once, he said to himself: only this once!—and then, no more till the month was over.
When the Saturday evening arrived, Aubrey made a very careful toilet, and set forth for the Strand. It was a long walk, for the Earl of Oxford lived in the City, near Bishopsgate. Aubrey was rather elated at the idea of making the acquaintance of Sir Josceline Percy and Sir Edward Bushell. He was concerned at the family disgrace, as he foolishly considered it, of Hans's connection with the mercer, and extremely desirous to attain knighthood for himself. The way to do that, he thought, was to get into society. Here was an opening which might conduct him to those Elysian fields—and at the gate stood his grandmother, trying to wave him away. He would not be deprived of his privileges by the foolish fancies of an old woman. What did old women know of the world? Aubrey was not aware that sixty years before, that very grandmother, then young Lettice Eden, had thought exactly the same thing of those who stood in her way to the same visionary Paradise.
Temple Bar was just left behind him, and the Duck was near, when to Aubrey's surprise, and not by any means to his satisfaction, a hand was laid upon his shoulder.
"Hans! you here?"
"Truly so. Where look you I should be an half-hour after closing time?"
This was a most awkward contretemps. How should Hans be got rid of before the Duck was reached?
"You are on your way to the White Bear," said Hans, in the tone of one who states an incontrovertible fact, "Have with you."
Aubrey privately wished Hans in the Arctic Sea or the torrid zone, or anywhere out of the Strand for that afternoon. And as if to render his discomfiture more complete, here came Mr Winter and Tom Rookwood, arm in arm, just as they reached Mrs More's door. What on earth was to be done?
Mr Thomas Rookwood, whose brain was as sharp as a needle, guessed the situation in a moment, and with much amusement, from a glance at Aubrey's face. He, of course, at once recognised Hans, and was at least as well aware as either that Hans represented the forces of law and order, and subordination to lawful authority, while Aubrey stood as the representative of the grand principle that every man should do what is right in his own eyes. A few low-toned words to Mr Winter preceded a doffing of both the plumed hats, and the greeting from Tom Rookwood as they passed, of—
"Good even to you both. Charming weather!"
A scarcely perceptible wink of Tom's left eye was designed to show Aubrey that his position was understood, and action taken upon it. Aubrey saw and comprehended the gesture. Hans saw it also, but did not comprehend it except as a sign of some private understanding between the two. They walked on together, Aubrey engaged in vexed meditation as to how he was to get rid of Hans. But Hans had no intention of allowing himself to be dismissed. He began to talk, and Aubrey had to answer, and could not satisfy himself what course to pursue, till he found himself at the door of the White Bear.
Charity was at the door, doing what every housemaid was then compelled to do, namely, pouring her slops into the gutter.
"Eh, Mestur Aubrey, is that yo'?" said she. "'Tis a month o' Sundays sin' we've seen you. You might come a bit oftener, I reckon, if you'd a mind. Stand out o' th' way a minute, do, while I teem these here slops out. There's no end to folks' idleness down this road. Here's Marg'et Rumboll, at th' back, been bidden by th' third-borough to get hersen into service presently, under pain of a whipping, and Mary Quinton, up yon, to do th' same within a month, at her peril. [Note 1.] I reckon, if I know aught of either Mall or Marg'et, they'll both look for a place where th' work's put forth. Dun ye know o' any such, Mestur Aubrey, up City way?"
Aubrey was not sufficiently sharp to notice the faint twinkle in Charity's eyes, and the slight accent of sarcasm in her tone. Hans perceived both.
"I do not, Charity, but I dare be bound there are plenty," said Aubrey, stepping delicately over the puddle which Charity had just created, so as to cause as little detriment as possible to his Spanish leather shoes and crimson silk stockings.
"Ay, very like there will. They'll none suit you, Mestur 'Ans; you're not one of yon sort. Have a care o' th' puddle, Mestur Aubrey, or you'll mire your brave hose, and there'll be wark for somebody."
With which Parthian dart, Charity bore off her pail, and Aubrey and Hans went forward into the parlour, "Good even, my gracious Lord!" was the greeting with which the former was received. "Your Lordship's visits be scarcer than the sun's, and he has not shown his face none wist when. Marry, but I do believe I've seen that suit afore!"
"Of course you have, Aunt Temperance," answered the nettled Aubrey. He was exceedingly put out. His evening was spoiled; he was deprived of his liberty, of his friends' company, of a good dinner—for Mr Winter gave delightful little dinners, and Mrs Elizabeth More, the housewife at the Duck, was an unusually good cook. Moreover, he was tied down to what he contemptuously designated in his lofty mind "a parcel of women," with the unacceptable and very unflattering sarcasms of Aunt Temperance by way of seasoning. It really was extraordinary, thought Mr Aubrey, that when women passed their fortieth milestone or thereabouts, they seemed to lose their respect for the nobler sex, and actually presumed to criticise them, especially the younger specimens of that interesting genus. Such women ought to be kept in their places, and (theoretically) he would see that they were. But when he came in contact with the obnoxious article in the person of Aunt Temperance, in some inscrutable manner, the young lord of creation never saw it. At the Duck, the company were making merry over Tom Rookwood's satirical account of Aubrey's discomfiture. For his company they cared little, and the only object they had for cultivating it was the consideration that he might be useful some day. Their conversation was all the freer without him, since all the rest were Papists.
Something, at that moment, was taking place elsewhere, with which the company at the Duck, and even Aubrey Louvaine, were not unconcerned. Lord Monteagle was entertaining friends to supper at his house at Hoxton, where he had not resided for some time previously. Just before the company sat down to table, a young footman left the house on an errand, returning a few minutes later. As he passed towards his master's door, a man of "indifferent stature," muffled in a cloak, and his face hidden by a slouched hat drawn down over the brow, suddenly presented himself from amongst the trees.
"Is your Lord within, and may a man have speech of him?" asked the apparition.
"His Lordship is now sitting down to supper," was the answer.
The stranger held out a letter.
"I pray you, deliver this into your Lord's own hand," said he, "seeing it holdeth matter of import."
The young man took the letter, and returned to the house. Lord Monteagle was just crossing the hall to the dining-room, when his servant delivered the letter. Grace having been said, and the business of supper begun, he unfolded the missive. His Lordship found it difficult to read, which implies that his education was not of the most perfect order, for the writing is not at all hard to make out. But gentlemen were much less versed in the three R's at that date than at the present time [Note 2], and Lord Monteagle, calling one of his servants, named Thomas Ward, desired him to read the letter.
Now, Mr Thomas Ward was in the confidence of the conspirators,—a fact of which there is no doubt: and that Lord Monteagle was the same may not inaptly be described as a fact of which there is doubt—an extremely strong probability, which has been called in question without any disproof [see Appendix]. Both these gentlemen, however, conducted themselves with perfect decorum, and as if the subject were entirely new to them.
This was what Mr Ward read:—
"My Lord out of the loue i beare you [this word was crossed out, and instead of it was written] some of youere trends i haue a caer of youer preseruacion. Therfor i would aduyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyf to deuyse some exscuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament. For god and man hathe concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme and thinke not slightlye of this aduertisment but retire youer self into youre contri wheare yowe maye expect the euent in safti for thowghe theare be no apparance of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyue a terrible blowe this Parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them This councel is not to be acontemned because it maye do yowe good and can do yowe no harm for the dangere is passed as soon as yowe have burnt the letter and I hope god will giue yowe the grace to mak good use of it to whose holy proteccion I commend yowe."
The writing was tall, cramped, and angular. There was neither signature nor date.
The hearers gazed on each other in perplexed astonishment, not unmixed with fear.
"What can it mean?" asked one of the guests.
"Some fool's prating," replied Lord Monteagle. "How else could the danger be past so soon as I had burnt the letter?"
This question no one could answer. Lord Monteagle took the letter from the reader, pocketed it, and turned the conversation to other topics. The thoughts of the company soon passed from the singular warning; and occupied by their own fancies and amusements, they did not notice that their host quitted them as soon as they left the dining-room.
With the letter in his pocket, Lord Monteagle slipped out of his garden gate, mounted his horse, and rode to his house in the Strand. Leaving the horse here, he went down to the water-side, where he hailed a boat, and was rowed to Westminster Stairs. To hail a boat was as natural and common an incident to a Londoner of that day as it is now to call a cab or stop an omnibus. Lord Monteagle stepped lightly ashore, made his way to the Palace of Whitehall, and asked to speak at once with the Earl of Salisbury, Lord High Treasurer of England.
Note 1. These exemplary women really resided at Southampton, a few years later.
Note 2. A letter of Lord Chief-Justice Popham would be a suitable subject for a competitive examination.
THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER.
"Better to have dwelt unlooked for in some forest's shadows dun, Where the leaves are pierced in triumph by the javelins of the sun! Better to be born and die in some calm nest, howe'er obscure, With a vine about the casements, and a fig-tree at the door!"
The Earl of Salisbury sat in his private cabinet in Whitehall Palace. He was Robert Cecil, younger son of the great Earl of Burleigh, and he had inherited his father's brains without his father's conscientiousness and integrity. The dead Queen had never trusted him thoroughly: she considered him, as he was, a schemer—a schemer who might pay to virtue the tribute of outward propriety, but would pursue the scheme no less. Yet if Robert Cecil cared for any thing on earth which was not Robert Cecil, that thing was the Protestant religion and the liberties of England. [Note 1.] The present Sovereign was under pre-eminent obligation to him, for had he not cast his great weight into the scale in his favour, the chances were that James might very possibly, if not probably, have been James the Sixth of Scotland still. Lord Salisbury was in person insignificant-looking. When she wished to put him down, his late mistress had been accustomed to address him as "Little man," and his present master termed him "my little beagle." His face was small, with wizened features, moustache, and pointed beard; and though only forty-five years of age, there were decided silver threads among the brown.
He looked up in surprise at the announcement that Lord Monteagle requested permission to speak with him quickly. What could this young Roman Catholic nobleman want with him at nine o'clock in the evening—a time which to his apprehension was much what midnight is to ours? Perhaps it was better to see him at once, and have done with the matter. He would take care to dismiss him quickly.
"Show my Lord Monteagle this way."
In another moment Lord Monteagle stood by the table where Salisbury was seated, his plumed hat in his hand.
"My Lord," said he, "I entreat your Lordship's pardon for my late coming, and knowing your weighty causes, will be as brief as I may. A letter has been sent me which, in truth, to my apprehension is but the prating of some fool; yet seeing that things are not alway what they seem, and that there may be more in it than appeareth, I crave your Lordship's leave to lay it before you, that your better judgment may pronounce thereupon. Truly, I am not able to understand it myself."
And the nameless, undated letter, on which the fate of King and Parliament hung, was laid down before Salisbury.
The Lord High Treasurer read it carefully through; scanned it, back and front, as if to discover any trace of origin: then leaned back in his chair, and thoughtfully stroked his moustache.
"Pray you, be seated, my Lord. Whence had you this?"
Lord Monteagle gave such details as he knew.
"You have no guess from whom it could come?"
"Never a whit."
"Nor you know not the writing?"
"It resembleth none hand of any that I know."
There was another short pause, broken by Lord Monteagle's query, "Thinks your Lordship this of any moment?"
"That were not easy to answer. It may be of serious import; or it may be but a foolish jest."
"Truly, at first I thought it the latter; for how could the danger be past as soon as the letter were burnt?"
"Ah, that might be but—My Lord, I pray you leave this letter with me. I will consider of it, and if I see cause, may lay it before the King. Any way, you have well done to bring it hither. If it be a foolish jest, there is but a lost half-hour: and if, as might be, it is an honest warning of some real peril that threatens us, you will then have merited well of your King and country. I may tell you that I have already received divers advices from beyond seas to the same effect."
"I thank your Lordship heartily, and I commend you to God." So saying, Lord Monteagle took his leave.
The Sunday passed peacefully. Thomas Winter, in his chamber at the sign of the Duck, laid down a volume of the writings of Thomas Aquinas, and began to think about going to bed; when a hasty rap on the door, and the sound of some one being let in, was succeeded by rapid steps on the stairs. The next moment, Thomas Ward entered the room.
"What is the matter?" said Winter, the moment he saw his face.
"The saints wot! A warning letter is sent to my Lord Monteagle, and whereto it may grow—Hie you to White Webbs when morning breaketh, with all the speed you may, and tell Mr Catesby of this. I fear—I very much fear all shall be discovered."
"It's that rascal Tresham!" cried Winter. "He was earnest to have his sister's husband warned, and said he would not pluck forth not another stiver without our promise so to do."
"Be it who it may, it may be the ruin of us."
"God forbid! I will be at White Webbs with the dawn, or soon after."
Before it was light the next morning Winter was on horseback, and was soon galloping through the country villages of Islington, Holloway, and Hornsey, on his way to Enfield Chase. In the depths of that lonely forest land stood the solitary hunting-lodge, named White Webbs, which belonged to Dr Hewick, and was let in the shooting season to sportsmen. This house had been taken by "Mr Meaze" (who was Garnet) as a very quiet locality, where mass might be said without being overheard by Protestant ears, and no inconvenient neighbours were likely to gossip about the inmates. In London, Garnet was a horse-dealer; at White Webbs he was a gentleman farmer and a sportsman. Here he established himself and somebody eke, who has not yet appeared on the scene, and whom it is time to introduce. And I introduce her with no feeling save one of intense pity, as one more sinned against than sinning—a frail, passion-swayed, impulsive woman, one of the thousands of women whose lives Rome has blighted by making that sin which was no sin, and so in many instances leading up to that which was sin—poor, loving, unhappy Anne Vaux.
The Hon. Anne Vaux was a younger daughter of William Lord Vaux of Harrowden, and Elizabeth Beaumont, his first wife. Like many another, she "loved one only, and she clave to him," whose happy and honourable wife she might have been, had he been a Protestant clergyman instead of a Jesuit priest. That Anne Vaux's passionate love for Garnet was for the man and not the priest, her own letters are sufficient witness, and Garnet returned the love. She took a solemn vow of obedience to the Superior of the Jesuit Mission in England, in order that she might be with him where he was, might follow his steps like a faithful dog, that his people should be her people, and his God her God. But where he died she could not die. To "live without the vanished light" was her sadder destiny.
At White Webbs, she passed as Mrs Perkins or Parkyns, a widow lady, and the sister of Mr Mease. She received numerous visitors, beside Mr Mease himself,—Catesby, who does not appear to have assumed any alias, Mr and Mrs Brooksby (the latter of whom was Anne's sister Eleanor), Tresham, the Winters, and two dubious individuals, who passed under the names of Robert Skinner and Mr Perkins. The former was accompanied by his wife, real or professed; the latter professed to be a brother-in-law of "Mrs Perkins," and is described as "of middle stature, long visage, and somewhat lean, of a brown hair, and his beard inclining to yellow,"—a description which suits none of the conspirators whose personal appearance is known.
At White Webbs, accordingly, Thomas Winter alighted, and broke in on the party there assembled, with the startling news that—
"All is discovered! There is a letter sent to my Lord Monteagle, and our action is known."
The party consisted of Anne Vaux, Fawkes, the Brooksbys, and Catesby, who had presented himself there a few days before, with the avowed object of joining the royal hunting-party at Royston the next day, but in the morning resolving to "stay and be merry with his friends," he settled down comfortably, sent his man for venison, and took his ease.
The ease and comfort were broken up by this sudden and startling news.
"Pray you, flee, Mr Catesby, while you have time!" said Winter, anxiously.
"Nay, I will be further as yet," was the resolute answer.
"What shall we now do? How say you?"
"Make sure how much is truth. Go you to Town, Mr Fawkes, to-morrow, as soon as may be, and bring us word what time of day it shall be with us. Try the uttermost; for if the part belonged to myself I would try the same adventure."
Fawkes obeyed, on the Wednesday, returning at night, to the great relief of the conspirators, with reassuring news. There was no appearance of any attempt to meddle with the cellar; all seemed quiet in London: no excitement among the people, no signs of special precaution by the authorities. They might safely go on with the work.
On the following day, Thomas Winter returned to London, and Fawkes followed in the evening, arriving at the Chequers, in Holborn, just before it grew dark. He did not stay here, but proceeded to the house next to the House of Lords, where he slept that night in its solitary bed, turning out his supposed master, as the one bed would not accommodate both, and "when Mr Percy lay there, his man lay abroad."
Percy, meanwhile, had not been idle. His vocation as gentleman pensioner gave him easy access to any part of the Palace; and the previous day had seen him making himself very agreeable in the apartments of the young Prince, playing with the child, and chatting in a very affable manner with his nurse.
The youthful Prince's nurse, happily for him, was a shrewd Scotchwoman, and Percy took little by his motion, "Pray you, Mrs Fordun, whither leads that door?"
"Out o' the chalmer, Sir," said Agnes Fordun.
"What time doth his Highness ride forth commonly?"
"When it likes the King's Majesty."
"How is his Highness attended?"
"Atweel, 'tis maistly by them that gang wi' him."
"Is his Highness a brisk, lively child, or no?"
"He's what a Prince suld be," stiffly said Agnes.
Percy gave her up as impracticable, and reported to his colleagues at White Webbs that the Duke could not be compassed.
"Comes the Prince, then, to the Parliament?" asked Catesby.
Percy and Winter agreed that on this head rumour was assuming a negative aspect.
"Then must we have our horses beyond the water," said Catesby, "and more horses and company to surprise the Prince, and let the Duke alone."
The King returned from Royston on the 31st of October. The next morning, Salisbury requested a private audience, and in the Long Gallery of Whitehall Palace, laid before his Majesty the mysterious letter. The astute Salisbury, and also the Lord Chamberlain, had already fathomed the meaning of the "terrible blow," and the means by which it was to be effected; but the former would scarcely have been a Cecil had he not also read his royal master. His Majesty must have the matter so communicated to him that he should be able to believe that his own supernatural sagacity had solved a mystery impenetrable to the commonplace brains of the Lords of the Council. It might be reasonably anticipated that such a warning should be no mystery to the son of Lord Darnley—that his thoughts would fly rapidly to that house in the Kirk o' Field, where his own father had received his death-blow, and had not seen who hurt him. That the one word "Gunpowder!" should drop from white, stern lips was to be expected. But do people ever do what is expected of them by others? In this case, at any rate, nothing half so dramatic took place.
"His Majesty made a short reply,"—which it may be was then thought such, but which now would assuredly be set down as long, wordy, and sententious.
"The incertainty of the writer, and the generality of the advertisement," began the royal orator, "besides the small likelihood of any such conspiracy on the general body of any realm, gives me less cause to apprehend it as a thing certain to be put in execution. Considering that all conspiracies commonly distinguish of men and persons, yet seeing the words do rather seem (as far as they are to be regarded) to presage danger to the whole Court of Parliament (over whom my care is greater than over mine own life), and because the words describe such a form of doing as can be no otherwise interpreted than by some stratagem of fire and powder,—I wish that there may be special consideration had of the nature of all places yielding commodity for those kinds of attempts: and I will then deliver my further judgment."
The man who could deliver his judgment in this stilted style of pompous word-building, in such circumstances as were then existing, would have required a powdered footman in spotless plush to precede him out of a house on fire. I must confess to a little misgiving as to the authenticity of this speech. It looks much more likely to have been deliberately penned by my Lord Salisbury in the calm of his official study, when the smoke had cleared away from the battlefield, than to have been fired off by King James in haste and trepidation—which he was sure to feel—at the moment when the letter was laid before him. The evidence that the Government account of the circumstances was drawn up with due regard to what they might and should have been to produce the proper effect on the docile public, and not very much as to what they were, is irresistible. But as no other narrative exists, we can but have recourse to the stained-glass article before us.
His Sacred Majesty having thus exhibited his incomparable wisdom, and been properly complimented and adored on account thereof, my Lord Salisbury left the gallery with a grave face, and hastily summoning the Lords of the Council, went through the farce of laying the letter before them.
"Sire," said he, when he returned to the King, "the Lords of the Council, subject to your Majesty's gracious pleasure, advise that my Lord Chamberlain shall straitly view the Parliament House, and my Lord Monteagle beseecheth leave to be with him."
"Gude!" said his Majesty, who to the day of his death never lost his Scottish accent. "I wad ha'e ye likewise, my Lord Salisbury, ta'e note o' such as wad without apparent necessity seek absence frae the Parliament, because 'tis improbable that among a' the nobles, this warning should be only gi'en to ane."
"Sire, your Majesty's command shall be obeyed."
"Atweel, let the search be made, and report to me," said the King, as he left the gallery.
The following Monday, which was the day before the opening of Parliament, was appointed for the search.
On the Friday, Catesby, Thomas Winter, and Tresham met at Barnet, when Catesby angrily accused Tresham of having sent the warning to Lord Monteagle, and Tresham vehemently denied it.
"Marry, it must be you!" said Catesby. "The only ones that harried us touching the saving of persons were you and Mr Keyes, who would fain have saved his master, my Lord Mordaunt; all other were consenting to the general issue that the Catholic Lords should be counselled to tarry away on account of the new statutes."
"I never writ nor sent that letter, on my honour!" cried Tresham.
Did he speak the truth? No man knows to this day.
On the Saturday, the conspirators had another scare. In Lincoln's Inn Walks, Thomas Winter met Tresham, who told him in a terrified whisper that Lord Salisbury had been to the King, and, there was grave reason to fear, had shown him the fatal letter. Winter hastened away to Catesby, to whom he communicated the news. For the first time Gatesby's heart failed him.
"I will be gone!" said he. "Yet—nay, I will stay till Mr Percy come, without whose consent will I do nothing."
But money was wanted; and one of the moneyed men, who had been drawn into the conspiracy for that purpose, could alone supply it. Tresham, that one who was at hand, took Winter to his apartments in Clerkenwell [Note 2], where he counted out a hundred pounds.
The same night a letter was brought to Salisbury which had been found dropped in the street. A few words of it were in cipher. It purported to be written by E.F. Mak to Richard Bankes: and in it these words occurred:—"The gallery with the passage thereto yieldeth the best of assurance, and a safety of the actors themselves."
"I hope to behold the tyrannous heretic defeated in his cruel pleasures." These mysterious hints, coming so quickly after the Monteagle letter, still further alarmed and excited the Council.
The conspirators gathered on Sunday night in the house behind Saint Clement's—Fawkes, Catesby, Thomas Winter, and the two Wrights. They were shortly joined by Percy. It was late when they parted—parted, to meet all together in this world never any more. Catesby had made up his mind to go down into the country the next day; Percy and the Wrights were preparing to follow; all were ready to escape the moment the necessity should arise, except Fawkes, who was to fire the powder, and Thomas Winter, who said he would tarry and see the end. Some had already departed—Sir Everard Digby to Coughton, the house of Mr Throckmorton, which he had borrowed—where Garnet already was.
Percy spent the Monday in a visit to the Earl of Northumberland at Syon; Christopher Wright and Thomas Winter in buying articles needful for the coming journey. In the morning Rookwood accidentally met Catesby, whose spirits had risen. There was no need to fear things would go on well.
Three o'clock in the afternoon saw Lord Suffolk, the Lord Chamberlain of the Household, accompanied by Lord Monteagle, descending into the vaults of the House of Lords. They glanced into different parts, and coming to the cellar immediately under the House, the Lord Chamberlain noticed that it was apparently filled with stacked faggots.
"Whose are all these?" said he.
A tall, dark man, who had unlocked the cellar for their Lordships' entrance, and was now standing by with the key in his hand, gave the answer, with an air of rustic simplicity.
"An't like your Lordships, 'tis my master's provision for the winter."
"Who is your master?" asked the Lord Chamberlain.
"An't please you, Mr Percy, one of his Majesty's pensioners, that hath his lodging this next door."
"I thought none dwelt next door. How long hath your master had the house?"
"Under your Lordships' leave, about a year and an half; but hath deferred his lying there by reason of some occasions which caused him to be absent."
"Well, he has laid in a good stock of fuel," said the Chamberlain, as if carelessly; and their Lordships turned and remounted the stairs.
Arrived at a place where they might speak unheard, the noble searchers looked each into the other's face with the same question on the lips of both.
"What thinks your Lordship of all this stock of fuel below?"
"Nay, what think you, my Lord?"
"Truly, I am very suspicious thereof."
"My Lord, the more I do observe the letter," said Lord Monteagle, earnestly, "and meditate on the words thereof, the more jealous am I of the matter, and of this place. Look you, this Mr Percy the pensioner and I had great dearness of friendship between us at one time; he is a near relative of my Lord Northumberland, and a Catholic. Were I you, that cellar should be thoroughly overhauled."
"Well, let us go to the King."
It was between five and six o'clock, and the short November daylight was over, when the searchers brought back their report to his Majesty, recounted their suspicions, and asked what they were to do.
"Gi'e me a man wi' his heid on his shoulders," said his Majesty, "and ye ha' that, my Lord Monteagle. Noo, I'll just tell ye, I ay held ane maxim, to wit, Either do naething, or do that quhilk shall make a' sure. So ye'll just gang your ways, and ha'e a glint ahint thae faggots in the bit cellar."
"If it please your Highness, is there no fear that so we may give room for murmurings and evil rumours? If we search this cellar and find nothing, may not men say the Government is unduly suspicious?"
"And, under your Highness' leave, shall it not place my Lord Northumberland in jeopardy?—he being akin to Mr Percy, and his great friend."
"Ay, is there twa heids weel screwit on? I jalouse, my Lord Monteagle, ye're saying ae word for my Lord Northumberland and twa for yoursel'. Be it sae: a man hath but ane life. My Lord Chamberlain, can ye no raise a bit rumour that a wheen o' the hangings are missing that suld ha'e been in the Wardrobe in Wyniard's keeping? Then gang your ways, and turn out the faggots."
"And, if it might please your Majesty," suggested the Lord Chamberlain, "were it not best some other made the search—one of the gentlemen of your privy chamber,—so as to rouse less suspicion?"
"Ay, gang your ways, and send auld Knevet down, wi' a pair or twa o' younger hands to toss the faggots."
"Might it not be well also, Sire, to extend the search to the houses adjoining the Parliament House, and so make examination of the lodging where Mr Percy lieth?"
"Do sae, do sae," responded the King. "I affy me in you: only heed this, What you do, do throughly."
Just as the Abbey clock struck eleven, Fawkes came out of Percy's rooms, and went down into the vault by the door which had been made the previous Easter. He carried in one hand a dark lantern, lighted, and in the other a piece of touchwood, and a match eight or nine inches in length. As he set the lantern down in the corner of the vault, he felt a touch upon his shoulder, and looked up in alarm until he met the eyes of Robert Keyes.
"Mr Fawkes, take this watch, which Mr Percy sends you, that you may the better know when to fire the train."
Keyes spoke in a very low tone, so that he might not be heard outside. Fawkes took the watch, and secreted it carefully. Watches were rare and precious things, not carried by every gentleman even when wealthy; and Percy had bought this one for its special purpose.
Keyes departed, and Fawkes opened the door of the vault for a breath of fresh air. He had scarcely come out, and closed it behind him, when another hand grasped his shoulder, not with the light touch of his confederate.
"Who are you?" asked the voice of an old man.
"My name is John Johnson, my master; I am Mr Percy's man."
"Make stay of him," said the voice; "and you, come after me into the vault."
Into the vault went Sir Thomas Knevet, and with his men began a search among the carefully-stacked wood. It did not take long to lay bare the six-and-thirty barrels, and by drilling a small hole into two of them to make sure of the nature of their contents. Spread before them, in the full magnitude of its horror, lay the "gunpowder treason and plot," which through the coming ages of English history, should "never be forgot."
A slight noise overhead alarmed the searchers, who feared lest "Mr Percy's man" might be endeavouring to escape. Sir Thomas sent up one of his men, named Doubleday, to make sure of him till his return. Fawkes, however, was still in the hands of the watchman, but on Doubleday's appearance, he requested permission to go to his own room in the adjoining house. This Doubleday allowed, posting himself as watchmen at the door. No sooner was Fawkes alone than he took the opportunity to rid himself of the chief evidences against him, by flinging the match and tinder out of his window, which overlooked the river. In another minute Sir Thomas Knevet and his men entered the chamber.
"Know you what we have found in your master's cellar?"
"You have found what was there, I suppose," was the cool reply.
"Search the man," was Sir Thomas Knevet's order. But this indignity Fawkes resented, and opposed with all his strength. The struggle was severe, but short. He was overpowered, and bound with his own garters. They found on him the watch which Keyes had brought from Percy.
"How could you have put fire to the gunpowder," asked Knevet, "without danger to yourself?"
"I meant to fire it by a match, eight or nine inches long; as soon as I had set it I should have fled for mine own safety. If I had been in the cellar when you took me, I would at once have blown up all."
"Keep a strong guard on this caitiff," said Sir Thomas, "and you, Doubleday, see to the cellar. I will to his Majesty."
As he left Percy's house, midnight tolled out on the clock of the Abbey. The fifth of November had begun.
Sir Thomas Knevet left his prisoner under guard, and returned to the King. Late as it was, his Majesty had not retired. The members of the Council who were at hand—for some always slept in the Palace—were called in, the gates secured, a cordon of troops set across King Street, and another at Charing Cross. The remainder of the Council in Town had been sent for, and as soon as they arrived, about one o'clock a.m., the King sat at their head in his bedchamber, and Fawkes was brought in and placed before them.
Nothing quelled the spirit of Guy Fawkes. The councillors were eager, impatient, vehement: he was calm as a summer eve, cool as the midnight snow. To their hurried queries he returned straightforward, unabashed, imperturbable answers, still keeping up his character of an ignorant rustic.
"Tell us, fellow, why that store of gunpowder was laid in?"
"To blow up the Parliament House," said Fawkes. "When should it have been executed?"
"To-morrow, when the King had come, and the Upper House was sitting."
"How knew you that the King would come?"
"Only by report, and the making ready his barge."
"And for what cause?"
"For the advancement of the Catholic religion."
"You are a Papist?"
"And wherefore would you be a party to the destruction of so many of your own religion?"
"We meant principally to have respected our own safety, and would have prayed for them."
"Your name and calling?"
"John Johnson, and Mr Percy's man."
"Was your master a party to this treason?"
"You can ask him when you see him."
"Who were your accomplices?"
Then the dark eyes shot forth fire.
"You would have me betray my friends!" said Guy Fawkes. "The giving warning to one hath overthrown us all."
It was found impossible to obtain any further information from Fawkes. Neither fear nor coaxing would induce him to name his accomplices. He was sent to the Tower, which he entered by Traitor's Gate.
"Well, to be sure! Whatten a thingcum's [what sort of a thing] this? Has summat happened sin' we went to bed? Rachel! I say, Rachel, lass! come here."
Rachel heard the exclamation when Charity opened the front door, and came running with a wooden spoon in her hand.
"See thou, lass! dost thou see all them soldiers drawn right across th' street? Look, they're turning folks back 'at goes up, and willn't let 'em pass. There's summat up, for sure! What is it, thinkst thou?"
"Thou'd best ask somebry [somebody] as comes down from 'em," suggested Rachel: "or send in next door. Eh, Mistress Abbott will be some mad [greatly vexed], to think hoo's missed th' news by lying abed."
"Ah, hoo will. Here—I say, Master! What's up, can you tell us?"
The man addressed stopped. He had been up to the cordon, and had been turned back by them.
"Why, there's a plot discovered," he answered: "one of the worst ever was heard. The Parliament House should have been blown up this very morning, and you should have been in danger of your lives."
"Lord, have mercy!" cried Rachel.
"Thanks be, that 'tis found out!" said Charity. "Be the rogues catched, think you?"
"One of 'em—he that should have fired the mine. They have learned nought of the rest as yet."
"Well, for sure! Happen [perhaps] he'll tell o' t'others."
"They'll make him, never fear," said the man, as he passed on.
"Why, my maids! are you both so warm this November morrow, that you stand at the street door?" said Edith's voice behind them. "Prithee shut it, Charity; my mother comes anon."
Charity obeyed, while Rachel hastily poured the astonishing news into Edith's ears. The latter grew a shade paler.
"What be these traitors?" she said.
"They're Papists, for sure!" said Rachel, decidedly. "Nobry else'd think of nought so wicked."
"Ah, I reckon they are," added Charity, clinching the nail. "They're right naught [Note 3], the whole boilin' of 'em."
The news was broken to Lady Louvaine more gently than it had been to Edith; but she clasped her hands with a faint cry of—"Aubrey! If these be they with whom he hath consorted, God keep the lad!"
"I trust, Mother dear, God will keep him," responded Edith, softly. "Would you have him hither?"
"Truly, I know not what to say, daughter. Maybe he is the safest with my Lady of Oxford. Nay, I think not."
Now came Temperance with her market-basket, and she had to be told. Her first thought was of a practical nature, but it was not Aubrey.
"Dear heart, you say not so? How ever am I to get to market? Lancaster and Derby! but I would those Papist companions were swept clean away out of the realm. I don't believe there's a loyal man amongst 'em!"
"Nay, Temperance, we know not yet if they be Papists."
"Know not if they be! Why, of course they are!" was the immediate decision of Temperance. "What else can they be? There's none other sort ill enough to hammer such naughty work out of their fantasy. 'Don't know,' indeed! don't tell me!"
And Temperance and her basket marched away in dudgeon.
The previous evening had been spent by Christopher Wright, Rookwood, and Keyes at the Duck; and they were the first among the conspirators to hear of the discovery and arrest. At five o'clock in the morning, Christopher Wright made a sudden appearance in Thomas Winter's chamber, where that worthy was sleeping, certainly not the sleep of the just.
"Rise up, Mr Winter!" he cried excitedly. "Rise and come along to Essex House, for I am going to call upon my Lord Northumberland. The matter is discovered, by a letter to my Lord Monteagle."
Thomas Winter sat up in his bed.
"Go back, Mr Wright," said he, "and learn what you can about Essex Gate."
Off dashed Christopher, and Winter dressed hastily. He was scarcely ready when his friend returned.
"Surely, all is lost!" cried Wright, "for Leyton is got on horseback at Essex door, and as he 'parted, he asked if their Lordships would have any more with him, and being answered 'No,' is rode as fast up Fleet Street as he can ride."
"Go you, then, to Mr Percy," urged Winter, "for sure it is for him they seek, and bid him be gone. I will stay and see the uttermost."
Away went Wright again, and Winter followed more slowly. He found the Court gates "straitly guarded," so that he was not allowed to enter. Then he turned and went down towards the Houses of Parliament, and in the middle of King Street he found the guard standing, who would not let him pass. As Winter passed up King Street again, Silence Abbott came out of her door, having just published herself for the day, and accosted Rachel, who was busy with the doorsteps.
"Why, whatever's all this to-do?" said she, in considerable dismay. Had she been wasting daylight and precious material for gossip, by lying in bed half-an-hour longer than usual?
"Why, there's a treason discovered," said Rachel, wringing out her flannel.
"Lack-a-day! what manner of treason?"
"Biggest ever was heard on. The King and all th' Lords o' th' Parliament to be blown up."
Winter hesitated no more. Evidently all was known. To save himself—if it might be—was the only thing now possible. He went straight to the livery-stable where he kept his horse, mounted, and set forth for Dunchurch, where the hunting-party was to meet. If all were lost in London, it was not certain that something might not be retrieved in the country.
It was a grievous blunder, and grievously they answered it. Had they instantly gone on board the vessel which lay moored in the river, ready to carry Fawkes away when the mine was fired, and set sail for Flanders, every one of them might have fulfilled the number of his days. It seems almost as if their eyes were holden, that they should go up and fall at the place appointed.
The first to fly had been Catesby and John Wright. Keyes followed at eight o'clock, going straight to Turvey; Rookwood at eleven, overtaking Keyes three miles beyond Highgate, and Catesby and Wright at Brickhill. As they rode together, Wright "cast their cloaks into a hedge to ride more speedily."
Percy had spent the night in the City, but Christopher Wright soon found him, and they galloped after their colleagues. At Hockliffe Percy's servant Story met them with fresh horses, and overtaking the others further on, they at last reached Ashby Saint Ledgers in safety.
Robert Winter, the elder brother of Thomas, was then at Grafton, the residence of his father-in-law, stalwart old John Talbot, whither he and his wife had ridden on the last day of October. He was among the more innocent of the plotters, and had taken no active part in anything but the mining. Riding from Grafton, on the 4th, he spent the night at the Bull Inn, Coventry, and next day reached the Hall at Ashby Saint Ledgers, where the widowed Lady Catesby held her solitary state. Lady Catesby (nee Anne Throckmorton) and her worthy son were not on the best terms, having found it necessary or amusing to sue one another in his Majesty's Law Courts; and shortly before this, Lady Catesby had been to Huddington to request Robert Winter's assistance in making peace with her son. He was now on his way to advise her, and had heard nothing of the proceedings in London. But soon after his arrival at the Hall, four weary, bemired men arrived also. These were Percy, the Wrights, and Rookwood, Keyes having left them on the way.
"Lost, lost!" cried impetuous Percy, as he came, booted, spurred, and covered with mud, into the very neat drawing-room where Lady Catesby and her young daughter Elizabeth were engaged on their embroidery. "All is lost! the whole plot discovered. I cast no doubt proclamations shall be out by morning light to seize us all, with a full relation how short or how long we be."
Lady Catesby exerted herself to provide for the refreshment and comfort other very unexpected guests, and they were soon on their way across the hall to supper, when one of the servants came up with a message that "one at the base door prayed speech of Mr Winter." Robert Winter excused himself to his hostess, and going to the back-door, he there found Martha Bates, wife of the Bates who was his fellow—conspirator and Catesby's servant.
"Pray you, Sir," said Martha with a bob of deprecation mingled with deference, "to come into the fields by the town's end, where is one would speak quickly with you."
"Who is it?"
Martha glanced round, as if afraid of the chestnuts overhearing her.
"Well, Sir, to tell truth, 'tis Mr Catesby; but I pray you, let not my Lady Anne know of his being here."
Robert Winter took his way to the place appointed, and found a group of some twelve horsemen awaiting him.
"Good even! Well, what news?"
"The worst could be. Mr Fawkes is taken, and the whole plot discovered."
"Ay, you have heard it, then? Here are come but now my cousins Wright, with Mr Percy and Mr Rookwood, bringing the same news. What now do we?"
"What say you?"
"Well, it seems to me best that each should submit himself."
"We've not yet come to that. Bid them every one follow me to Dunchurch without loss of time. Only—mind you let not my mother know of my being here."
"To Dunchurch—what, afore supper? We were but just come into the dining-chamber, and I smell somewhat uncommon good."
"You may tarry for jugged hare," said Catesby contemptuously. "I shall ride quickly to Dunchurch, and there consult."
"Well—if you must, have with you."
"Bring some pies in your pocket, Robin, and then you'll not fall to cannibalism on the way," called Catesby after him. "And—hark! ask if any wist the road to Dunchurch, for I know it not."
The question was put in vain to all the party. It appeared, when they came up with Catesby, that nobody knew the road to Dunchurch. Guide-posts were a mystery of the future.
"We must needs have a guide," said Catesby; "but I am fain at this moment not to show myself in Ashby. Robin, wilt thou win us one? Go thou to Leeson, the smith, at the entering in of the village as thou comest from Ravensthorpe—"
"Ay, I know."
"Ask him if he will guide us to Dunchurch, and he shall be well paid for it. He is safe, being a Catholic. We will follow anon."
Bennet Leeson, the blacksmith at Ashby Saint Ledgers, had given up work for the day, and having gone through some extensive ablutions and the subsequent supper, now stood at his cottage door, looking out on the green and taking his rest. He was not enjoying a pipe, for that was as yet a vice of the city, which had not penetrated to rustic and primitive places such as Ashby Saint Ledgers. A horseman came trotting up the street, and drew bridle at his door.
"Give thee good den, smith! Dost know the road to Dunchurch?"
Bennet Leeson took off his leather cap, and scratched his head, as if it were necessary to clear a path to his brains before the question could penetrate so far.
"Well, I reckon I do, when 'tis wanted. What o' that?"
"Wilt guide me thither?"
"What, this even?"
Bennet's cap came off again, and he repeated the clearing process on the other side of his head.
"I will content thee well for it," said the stranger: "but make up thy mind, for time presseth."
A dulcet vision of silver shillings—of which no great number usually came his way—floated before the charmed eyes of the blacksmith.
"Well, I shouldn't mind if I did. Tarry while I get my horse."
The stranger waited, though rather impatiently, till Bennet reappeared, leading a rough Dunsmoor pony, with a horsecloth tied round it, on which he mounted without saddle.
"Now then, my master. Nay, not that way! You're turning your back on Dunchurch so."
The horseman checked his hasty, start with a smile, and followed his guide. As they reached the other end of the village, and came out into the open, Catesby and his companions emerged from the trees, and joined Robert Winter.
"Him's growed!" said Bennet Leeson to himself, as he glanced round at the increased sound of horses' hoofs. "First time I ever see one man split his self into thirteen. The beast's split his self too. Wonder if them'll ha' come to six-and-twenty by the time us gets at Dunchurch!"
The company, however, grew no further, and Bennet led them up to the door of the Lion at Dunchurch without any more marvels. It was now about "seven or eight o'clock in the night." Catesby, the only one whom he knew by sight, said to the smith as he dismounted—
"Here, smith, wilt walk the horses a few moments? It shall not be forgot in the reckoning."
The whole party then went into the Lion, where Sir Everard Digby and others awaited them. A hurried, eager discussion of future plans took place here. The drawer was called to bring bottles of sack and glasses, and before he was well out of hearing, impetuous Percy cried, "We are all betrayed!"
"Softly, an't like you!" responded the cooler Catesby.
"We must go on now," cried Percy: "we shall die for it else."
"But what must we now do?" asked Rookwood. "Go, even yet, to Combe Abbey, and seize on the Lady Elizabeth?"
"We wait for you, Mr Catesby," said Sir Everard. "You have been our leader from the beginning, and we of your following will not forsake you now."
"Too late for anything of that sort," was Catesby's decision. "There are scarce enough of us, and word will sure be sent to my Lord Harrington, quicker than we could reach the place. Remember, they will go direct, and we have come round. Nay, our only way is to gather all our friends together, and see what manner of stand we can make. In numbers is our safety."
"Every Catholic in the realm will rally to us," said Sir Everard.
"And many Protestants belike," suggested Robert Winter.
"Marry, we shall have brave following, ere we be twelve hours older," said Percy. "But which way go we now?"
"Let us first cross over to Grant's; we shall maybe increase our numbers there: then go we to Coughton, pressing such as will join us on the way."
"Done!" said Percy, always the first to agree to anything which was action, and not waiting for events.
Outside, in the meantime, Bennet Leeson was walking the horses, as he had been requested.
"Tarry a bit, Leeson: thou hast not yet handled all thou mayest gain this night," said a voice the smith knew.
"Why, whence came you, Tom Bates?"
"You've good eyes, Bennet. I've been behind you ever since we left Ashby."
"By the same token, but I never saw you."
"Well, let be seeing me or no—wilt guide me to Rugby and back here for another shilling?"
Bates and Leeson accordingly rode away to "a little town called Rugby," where at the bailiffs house they found nine more worthies, who had finished their supper, and were playing cards. One of these gentry was John Winter—the half-brother of Robert and Thomas,—whose mother was the daughter of Queen Mary's redoubtable Secretary, Sir John Bourne [Note 4]. He was either very simple or very clever, and at this distance of time it is not easy to say which.
Bates delivered the message with which he was charged, that "the gentlemen at Dunchurch desired their company to be merry," and the nine card-players accordingly returned with him to that place. Having paid the promised shilling to Leeson, Bates took his new convoy into the inn, whence the whole party emerged in about a quarter of an hour.
"That is for thy pains, smith, and I thank thee," said Catesby, stooping from his saddle to put two shillings in the hand of his guide.
The whole party now rode away in the direction of Coventry.
"Well, that's a queer start!" said the blacksmith to himself, looking first after the horsemen, and then down at the money in his hand. "If it hadn't a-been Muster Catesby, now, and Tom Bates, might ha' thought us 'd been out wi' the fairies this even. You're good silver, aren't you? Let we see. Ay—an Edward shovelboard [Note 5], and a new shilling o' King James, and three groats o' Queen Bess—that's not fairy silver, I 'count. Come along, Yethard!" [Note 6] as he scrambled on the back of his shaggy friend. "Thee and me'll go home now. Us has done a good night's work. They shillings 'll please she, if her's not in a tantrum. Gee up wi' thee!"
Note 1. Sicklemore, one of the priests, said with a sigh, "The Divell is in that Lord of Salisbury! All our undoing is his doing, and the execution of Garnet is his only deed." (Additional Manuscript 6178, folio 165.)
Note 2. Clerkenwell was a suburb wherein many Roman Catholics dwelt. "There were divers houses of recusants in Saint John's Street," among them those of Sir Henry James and Thomas Sleep, at the last of which Fawkes was a frequent visitor. Mrs Wyniard bore witness that when Fawkes paid her the last quarter's rent, on Sunday, November 3rd, he had "good store of gould in his pocket."
Note 3. Modern writers are apt to confuse nought and naught. At this time they were quite distinct, the former signifying nothing, and the latter (whence naughty is derived) wickedness.
Note 4. This is the gentleman described by the Hot Gospeller as coming to the door of the council-chamber, "looking as the wolf doth for a lamb; unto whom my two keepers delivered me," and "he took me in greedily." (Narrative of Edward Underhill, Harl. Manuscript 424, folio 87, b.)
Note 5. The shilling of Edward the Sixth acquired this popular name from being so large and flat, that it was found convenient for use in the game of shovelboard.
Note 6. The Northamptonshire pronunciation of Edward.
ON THE WEARY WAY TO HOLBEACH.
"And thou hast fashioned idols of thine own— Idols of gold, of silver, and of stone: To them hast bowed the knee, and breathed the breath, And they must help thee in the hour of death."
Sir Edwin Arnold.
While the discomfited conspirators were thus speeding on their weary way, in hope of yet gathering recruits enough to raise the standard of rebellion in the interests of that Church on whose behalf they counted everything lawful, Lord Harrington, at Combe Abbey, heard the news, and hurried the little Princess off to Coventry, as a safer place than his own house, for Coventry was determinately Protestant and loyal. Elizabeth, afterwards well known as the Queen of Bohemia, was deeply impressed and horrified with the terrible discovery.
"What sort of a queen should I have been," said the true-hearted child, "when I had won to my throne through the blood of my father and my brothers? Thanked be God that it was not so!"
The metropolis was passing through a ferment of delight, amazement, and activity. Everywhere in the streets bonfires were blazing,—the first of those Gunpowder Plot bonfires which every fifth of November has seen after them.
A watch was set on Percy's house in Holborn, and his wife was guarded. A priest named Roberts was taken in the house. Mrs Martha Percy appears to have been a fitting mate for a conspirator. She put on an affectation of the sublimest innocence. How should she know anything? she who lived so quietly, and was entirely occupied in teaching her own and other children. As to her husband, she had not seen him since Midsummer. He was attendant on my Lord of Northumberland, and lodged, as she supposed, in his house. Having thus lulled to sleep the suspicions of those set to watch her, the next morning Mrs Percy was not to be found. Whether she slipped through a door, or climbed out of a window, or went up the chimney on a broomstick, there was no evidence to show; but three days later she made her appearance at Norbrook House in Warwickshire, the residence of her eldest brother, John Wright, and was affectionately received by her sister-in-law.
At Westminster, Lord Chief-Justice Popham and Sir Edward Coke sat in judicial ermine, and summoned before them two prisoners—Gideon Gibbons the porter, and the clever gentleman who called himself John Johnson, and whose real name was Guy Fawkes.
Gibbons was soon disposed of, for he was as innocent as he seemed to be. All that he could say was that he had been hired, in his usual way of business, with two other porters, to carry three thousand billets of wood to the Parliament House, and that Mr Percy's servant Johnson had stacked them in the cellar. The key of the house next door had been at times left in charge of his wife. So much he knew, and no more.
The examination of "John Johnson" was another matter. The King himself had drawn up a paper containing questions to be put to him, and he answered these and all others with an appearance of perfect frankness and wish to conceal nothing. His replies were in reality a mixture of truth and falsehood, which was afterwards proved.
The catechism began as usual, "What is your name?"
"John Johnson." To this he adhered through two more examinations.
"How old are you?"
"Thirty-six." This was true.
"Where were you born?"
"In Netherdale, in the county of York."
"How have you lived hitherto?"
"By a farm of thirty pounds a year."
"How came those wounds in your breast?"
"They are scars from the healing of a pleurisy."
The treatment of pleurisy in the seventeenth century was apparently rather severe.
Fawkes went on to reply to the articles demanded, that he had never served any man but Percy—though he had been in the service of Anthony Browne, Lord Montague, a few months before: that he obtained Percy's service "only by his own means, being a Yorkshire man"; that he had learned French in England, and increased it when abroad; that he was born a Papist, and not perverted—which was false.
Being asked why he was addressed as "Mr Fauks" in a letter (as he alleged) from Mrs Colonel Bostock, which was found in his pocket, Mr "Johnson" replied with the coolest effrontery, that it was because he had called himself so in Flanders, where Mrs Bostock resided. This letter was subsequently discovered to come from Anne Vaux.
Thus far went King James's queries: in respect of which the King desired "if he will no other ways confesse, the gentle tortours to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur; and so God speede your good work!"
It was not, however, necessary to urge a confession: Mr Percy's man seemed anxious to make a clean breast of it, and promised to tell everything. He proceeded accordingly to lead his examiners astray by a little truth and a good deal of falsehood. He gave a tolerably accurate account of the hiring of the house and the cellar, the bringing in of the powder, etcetera, except that he refrained from implicating any one but himself. There was, at first, a certain air of nobility about Fawkes, and he sternly refused to become an informer. He declined to admit his summer journey abroad, and would not allow that the spring excursion had any other object than "to see the country and pass away the time."
"What would you have done," asked the examiners, "with the Queen and the royal issue?"
"If they had been there, I would not have helped them."
"If all had gone, who would have been published or elected King?"
"We never entered into that consideration."
"What form of government should have succeeded?"
"We were too few to enter into the consideration. The people themselves would have drawn to a head." All this was untrue, as Fawkes subsequently allowed. A number of arrests were made, mostly of innocent persons. All in whose houses the conspirators had lodged. Mrs Herbert, Mrs More, the tailor Patrick; Mrs Wyniard, Mrs Bright, and their respective servants; Lord Northumberland's gentlemen, and the Earl himself, were put under lock and key. The poor Earl bemoaned himself bitterly, and entreated that Percy might be searched for—"who alone could show him clear as the day, or dark as the night." He asserted that Percy had obtained money from him by falsehood: and seeing how exquisitely little value most of these worthy gentlemen seem to have set upon truth, it was not at all unlikely. Lady Northumberland wrote an impulsive letter to Lord Salisbury, entreating him to stand her friend by "salving" her husband's reputation, "much wounded in the opinion of the world by this wretched cousin": but the only result of the appeal was to make the Lord Treasurer angry, and give rise to an intercession in her behalf from her lord and master, who begs Salisbury to "bear with her because she is a woman," and therefore "not able with fortitude to bear out the crosses of the world as men are: and," adds the Earl humorously, "she will sometimes have her own ways, let me do what I can, which is not unknown to you." [Note 1.]
The prisoners were remanded, and the great metropolis slept: but there was no sleep for those bemired and weary horsemen who pressed on that night journey to Norbrook. Where Grant joined them is not recorded, but Humphrey Littleton had left them at Dunchurch. His share in the plot had been insignificant, but we shall hear of him again. Catesby, John Wright, and Percy, who rode in front, beguiled their journey by a discussion as to how they could procure fresh horses. They were approaching Warwick, and it was proposed that Grant and some of the servants should be sent on in front, with instructions to make a raid on a livery-stable in the town, kept by a man named Bennock, and seize as many horses as they could get.
Robert Winter, riding behind, saw the men sent on, and pressing forward to the front, inquired the meaning of it. When told the intention, he combated it strongly, and did his best to dissuade Catesby from it. The man who had swallowed the camel of the Gunpowder Plot was scandalised at the idea of horse-stealing! [Note 2.]
"I pray you, no more of this!" said Robert Winter. "It will but further increase the wrath of the King."
"Some of us may not look back," said Catesby.
Robert replied with some spirit, for he knew himself to be among the less guilty of the plotters. "Yet others, I hope, may; and therefore, I beg you, let this alone."
Catesby looked up with a faint, sad smile, and tired sleepless eyes. "What, hast thou any hope, Robin? I assure thee, there is none that knoweth of this action but shall perish."
When the body of the conspirators reached Warwick, about 3 a.m., the horses were almost ready for them to mount. Ten were seized at the the livery-stable, and a few more were either stolen or borrowed from the Castle. Thus provided, and now about eighty in number, they rode on to Grant's house at Norbrook. On arrival here, they despatched Bates to Coughton, with a letter to Garnet from Digby. This letter was read by Garnet to Greenway, both of whom are represented by Bates as spotlessly ignorant of the plot until that moment. Greenway returned with Bates, at his earnest request, attired in "coulored satten done with gould lace," and was met by Catesby with the exclamation—
"Here is a gentleman who will live and die with us!"
From Norbrook Robert Winter despatched a servant in advance, summarily ordering his wife to "go forth of the house, and take the children with her," which the obedient Gertrude did. About two o'clock on the afternoon of the sixth, thirty-six worn-out men arrived at Huddington, to be re-armed from Robert Winter's armoury; after which, finding himself rather at a loss in the housekeeping department, the master of the house recalled his Gertrude to minister to the comfort of himself and his guests.
That submissive lady did her duty, and leaving the children with the neighbour at whose house she had taken refuge, returned to her own kitchen to superintend a hastily-prepared supper for the weary travellers. Before this was ready, Catesby and John Wright took Robert Winter aside, and tried hard to induce him to write to his father-in-law, attempting to draw him into the now almost hopeless rebellion.
"There is no remedy, Robin," said John Wright, "but thou must write a letter to thy father Talbot, to see if thou canst therewith draw him unto us."
"Nay, that will I not," was the determined answer.
"Robin, you must," said Catesby.
"My masters, ye know not my father Talbot so well as I," replied Robin Winter. "All the world cannot draw him from his allegiance. Neither would I if I could, in this case. What friends hath my poor wife and children but he? And therefore, satisfy yourselves; I will not."
"Well, then," suggested Wright, "write as we shall say unto thee to Master Smallpiece, that serves thy father Talbot."
Robert Winter, who liked an easy life, suffered himself to be persuaded on this point; and wrote the letter, of which all that now remains is a few half-burnt lines, written in great haste, and barely legible:
"Good Cousin, I fear it will not seem strange to you that—a good number of resolved Catholics so perform matters of such... will set their most strength, or hang all those that ever... use your best endeavour to stir up my father Talbot... which I hold much more honourable than to be hanged after... Cousin, pray for me, I pray you, and send me all such friends... haste, I commend you. From Huddington, this 6th of November."
Having written this letter, Mr Robert Winter proceeded, not to forward, but to pocket it, and declined to give it up until the next morning, when he resigned it, "to stop a peace withal."
Late in the evening of the 6th, the conspirators were joined by Stephen Littleton and Thomas Winter, the latter of whom had not been able to overtake them any sooner. Before daybreak on the following morning, they assembled in the private chapel of Huddington House, where mass was sung by the family confessor, Mr Hammond, and the Sacrament was administered to all present after due confession. Then, leaving Huddington about sunrise, they recommenced their weary flight.
They were now "armed at all points in open rebellion," yet with daggers and guns only. Instead of continuing their course, as hitherto, directly westward, they turned towards the north, and made for Hewell Grange, the residence of Lord Windsor, where they plundered the armoury. The company had much decreased: one and another every now and then dropped off stealthily, doubtful of what was coming, though Catesby and Sir Everard rode pistol in hand, warning them that all who sought to steal away would be shot without quarter. Percy, Grant, John Wright, and Morgan, were placed behind for the same purpose. As the party rode towards Hewell Grange, they asked all whom they met to join them. The usual response was—
"We are for King James; if you go for him, then will we have with you."
To this the conspirators were wont to reply—"We go for God and the country."
But the shrewd Worcestershire peasants declined to commit themselves to anything so vague as this.
At last they came to an old countryman, to whom they addressed their customary appeal. The old man planted his staff firmly in front of him, and set his back against a wall.
"I am for King James," he said, "for whom I will live and die."
Upon this the disloyalty of the company was plainly manifested by shouts of "Kill him! kill him!" But there was no time to stop for that, which probably saved the brave old loyalist's life.
Upon leaving Hewell, the conspirators rode up to the houses of all the Roman Catholic gentry in the neighbourhood, and summoned their owners to join them for God and the Church. But sore disappointments met them on every side. From door after door they were driven with horror and contumely—were openly told that "they had brought ruin on the Catholic cause."
"Not one man came to take our part," is their lament, "though we had expected so many." To add to their misery, the rain began to pour down in torrents; one after another deserted them as they fled: and when at last in the darkness the heath was passed, and Holbeach House was reached, instead of the gallant company of eighty well-accoutred troops who had left Norbrook the morning before, there crept into the court-yard only eighteen wet and weary men, who had lost all, including honour.
Holbeach House was about two miles from Stourbridge, and was the home of Stephen Littleton, one of the latest to join the plot. Here the worn-out men slept—the last sleep for some of them.
So weary and worn-out were they, that they sank to sleep just as they were, in the dining-room—some pillowing their heads on the table, others casting themselves on the floor. At this very unsuitable moment, it seemed good to Mr John Winter to inquire of Percy what he meant to do. [Note 3.]
Percy, in extremely somnolent tones, answered that he intended to go on.
"Ay, but how and whither?" responded Thomas Winter, as wide awake as he usually was in all senses.
"If you have e'er a plan in your head, out with it," replied Percy. "Just now, I've no head to put one in."
"If you will hearken to me," said Thomas, "you will now despatch Robin's letter to my cousin Smallpiece."
"What to do?"
"'What to do'!—to win his aid. He is as true a Catholic as any of us."
"Ay, he's Catholic, but he is very timorous. He has no mind to be hanged, trust me."
"I should stand to it better than he. Then you'll meet old Master Talbot, who shall kick you forth ere you have time to say, 'An't please you.'"
"I'll have a care of that. Steenie, wilt have with me?"
Mr Stephen Littleton had to be awoke before he could answer the question. As soon as he understood what was demanded of him, he professed his readiness to accompany anybody anywhere in the future, so long as he might be let alone to finish his nap at the present. Before another sentence had been uttered, he reverted to an unconscious state.
Suddenly Sir Everard sprang up.
"Mr Catesby, methinks I shall best serve you if I go to hasten the succours. What think you?"
"If you will," said Catesby, for once a little doubtfully.
Ten minutes later, one of the least wearied horses in the group carried him away.
There were troops on their way to Holbeach, but it was not for succour. Sir Richard Walsh, the Sheriff, Sir John Folliott, a few gentlemen, and a party of the King's troops, with all the force of the county, were on the track of the wretched fugitives. They had chased them from Northamptonshire into Warwickshire, from Warwickshire into Worcestershire, and now they were approaching their last refuge in Staffordshire.
It was still dark on the Friday morning, when Thomas Winter and Stephen Littleton rode to Pepperhill, where old Mr Talbot was at that time. Robert declined to accompany them, and Bates excused himself. To obtain sight of Mr Smallpiece, without being seen by Mr Talbot, was the delicate business on which they were bent. Leonard Smallpiece seems to have been an agent or bailiff of Mr Talbot, and a relative of the Winters; he was "exceeding popishe, but very timorous." [Note 4.] The pair of worthies settled that Stephen should remain outside in charge of the horses, while Winter tried to effect safe entrance. They rode up to the yard door, and having dismounted, were about to investigate possibilities, when without any warning the doors were flung open, and the sturdy old loyalist owner appeared behind them.