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by an old porter, who started back on beholding the intruders. He would have closed the wicket, but Catesby was too quick for him, and springing from his steed, dashed aside the feeble opposition of the old man, and unbarred the gate. Instantly mounting again, he galloped along a broad and winding path cut so deeply in the rock, that the mighty pile they were approaching was completely hidden from view. A few seconds, however, brought them to a point from which its three towers reared themselves full before them. Another moment brought them to the edge of the moat, at this time crossed by a stone bridge, but then filled with water, and defended by a drawbridge.
As no attack like the present was apprehended, and as the owner of the castle, the celebrated Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke, to whom it had been recently granted by the reigning monarch, was then in the capital, the drawbridge was down, and though several retainers rushed forth on hearing the approach of so many horsemen, they were too late to raise it. Threatening these persons with destruction if any resistance was offered, Catesby passed through the great entrance, and rode into the court, where he drew up his band.
By this time, the whole of the inmates of the castle had collected on the ramparts, armed with calivers and partisans, and whatever weapons they could find, and though their force was utterly disproportioned to that of their opponents, they seemed disposed to give them battle. Paying no attention to them, Catesby proceeded to the stables, where he found upwards of twenty horses, which he exchanged for the worst and most jaded of his own, and was about to enter the castle in search of arms, when he was startled by hearing the alarm bell rung. This was succeeded by the discharge of a culverin on the summit of the tower, named after the redoubted Guy, Earl of Warwick; and though the bell was instantly silenced, Rookwood, who had dislodged the party from the ramparts, brought word that the inhabitants of Warwick were assembling, that drums were beating at the gates, and that an attack might be speedily expected. Not desiring to hazard an engagement at this juncture, Catesby gave up the idea of ransacking the castle, and ordered his men to their horses.
Some delay, however, occurred before they could all be got together, and, meanwhile, the ringing of bells and other alarming sounds continued. At one time, it occurred to Catesby to attempt to maintain possession of the castle; but this design was overruled by the other conspirators, who represented to him the impracticability of the design. At length, the whole troop being assembled, they crossed the drawbridge, and speeded along the rocky path. Before the outer gate they found a large body of men, some on horseback, and some on foot, drawn up. These persons, however, struck
with terror at their appearance, retreated, and allowed them a free passage.
On turning to cross the bridge, they found it occupied by a strong and well-armed body of men, headed by the Sheriff of Warwickshire, who showed no disposition to give way. While the rebel party were preparing to force a passage, a trumpet was sounded, and the Sheriff, riding towards them, commanded them in the King's name to yield themselves prisoners.
'We do not acknowledge the supremacy of James Stuart, whom you call king,' rejoined Catesby, sternly. 'We fight for our liberties, and for the restoration of the Holy Catholic religion which we profess. Do not oppose us, or you will have cause to rue your temerity.'
'Hear me,' cried the Sheriff, turning from him to his men; 'I promise you all a free pardon in the King's name, if you will throw down your arms, and deliver up your leaders. But if, after this warning, you continue in open rebellion against your sovereign, you will all suffer the vilest death.'
'Rejoin your men, sir,' said Catesby, in a significant tone, and drawing a petronel.
A free pardon and a hundred pounds to him, who will bring me the head of Robert Catesby,' said the Sheriff, disregarding the
Your own is not worth half the sum,' rejoined Catesby; and, levelling the petronel, he shot him dead.
The Sheriff's fall was the signal for a general engagement. Exasperated by the death of their leader, the royalist party assailed the rebels with the greatest fury, and as the latter were attacked at the same time in the rear, their situation began to appear perilous. But nothing could withstand the vigour and determination of Catesby. Cheering on his men, he soon cut a way across the bridge, and would have made good his retreat, if he had not perceived, to his infinite dismay, that Percy and Rookwood had been captured.
Regardless of any risk he might run, he shouted to those near to follow him, and made such a desperate charge upon the royalists that in a few minutes he was by the side of his friends, and had liberated them. In trying, however, to follow up his advantage he got separated from his companions, and was so hotly pressed on all sides, that his destruction seemed inevitable. His petronels had both brought down their mark; and in striking a blow against a stalwart trooper his sword had shivered close to the handle. In this defenceless state his enemies made sure of him, but they miscalculated his resources.
He was then close to the side of the bridge, and before his pur. pose could be divined, struck spurs deeply into his horse, and cleared the parapet with a single bound. A shout of astonishment and
admiration arose alike from friend and foe, and there was a general rush towards the side of the bridge. The noble animal that had borne him out of danger was seen swimming towards the bank, and, though several shots were fired at him, he reached it in safety. This gallant action so raised Catesby in the estimation of his followers, that they welcomed him with the utmost enthusiasm, and rallying round him, fought with such vigour, that they drove their opponents over the bridge and compelled them to flee towards the town.
Catesby now mustered his men, and finding his loss slighter than he expected, though several were so severely wounded that he was compelled to leave them behind, rode off at a quick pace. After proceeding for about four miles along the Stratford road, they turned off on the right into a narrow lane leading to Snitterfield, with the intention of visiting Norbrook, the family residence of John Grant. On arriving there, they put the house into a state of defence, and then assembled in the hall, while their followers recruited themselves in the court-yard.
'So far well,' observed Catesby, flinging himself into a chair; 'the first battle has been won.'
True,' replied Grant; but it will not do to tarry here long. This house cannot hold out against a prolonged attack.'
We will not remain here more than a couple of hours,' replied Catesby but where shall we go next? I am for making some desperate attempt which shall strike terror into our foes.'
'Are we strong enough to march to the Earl of Harrington's mansion near Coventry, and carry off the Princess Elizabeth?' asked Percy.
'She were indeed a glorious prize,' replied Catesby; 'but I have no doubt on the first alarm of our rising she has been conveyed to a place of safety. And even if she were there, we should have the whole armed force of Coventry to contend with. No-no, it will
not do to attempt that.'
'Nothing venture, nothing have!' cried Sir Everard Digby. We ought, in my opinion, to run any risk to secure her.'
'You know me too well, Digby,' rejoined Catesby, 'to doubt my readiness to undertake any project, however hazardous, which would offer the remotest chance of success. But in this I see none, unless, indeed, it could be accomplished by stratagem. Let us first ascertain what support we can obtain, and then decide upon the measures to be adopted.'
'I am content,' returned Digby.
'Old Mr. Talbot of Grafton is a friend of yours, is he not?' continued Catesby, addressing Thomas Winter. Can you induce him to join us?'
'I will try,' replied Thomas Winter; but I have some misgivings.'
'Be not faint-hearted,' rejoined Catesby. You and Stephen Lit. tleton shall go to him at once, and join us at your own mansion of Huddington, whither we will proceed as soon as our men are thoroughly recruited. Use every argument you can devise with Talbot,— tell him that the welfare of the Catholic cause depends on our suc cess, and that neither his years nor infirmities can excuse his absence at this juncture. If he will not, or cannot come himself, cause him to write letters to all his Catholic neighbours, urging them to join us, and bid him send all his retainers and servants to us.'
'I will not neglect a single plea,' replied Thomas Winter, and I will further urge compliance by his long friendship towards myself. But, as I have just said, I despair of success.'
Soon after this, he and Stephen Littleton, with two of the troopers, well-mounted and well-armed, rode across the country through lanes and by-roads, with which they were well acquainted, to GrafAt the same time, Catesby repaired to the court-yard, and assembling his men, found there were twenty-five missing. More than half of these it was known had been killed or wounded at Warwick; but the rest, it was suspected, had deserted.
Whatever effect this scrutiny might secretly have upon Catesby, he maintained a cheerful and confident demeanour, and mounting a flight of steps, harangued the band in energetic and exciting terms. Displaying a small image of the Virgin to them, he assured them they were under the special protection of Heaven, whose cause they were fighting, and concluded by reciting a prayer, in which the whole assemblage heartily joined. This done, they filled the baggage cart with provisions and further ammunition, and forming themselves into good order, took the road to Alcester.
They had not gone far, when torrents of rain fell, and the roads being in a shocking condition, and ploughed up with ruts, they turned into the fields wherever it was practicable, and continued their march very slowly, and under excessively disheartening cir cumstances. On arriving at the ford across the Avon, near Bishopston, they found the stream so swollen that it was impossible to get across it. Sir Everard Digby, who made the attempt, was nearly carried off by the current. They were therefore compelled to proceed to Stratford, and cross the bridge.
My friends,' said Catesby, commanding a halt at a short distance of the town, I know not what reception we may meet with here. Probably much the same as at Warwick. But I command to strike a blow except in self-defence.'
Those injunctions given, attended by the other conspirators, except Percy and Rookwood, who brought up the rear, he rode slowly into Stratford, and proceeding to the market-place, ordered a trumpet to be sounded. On the first appearance of the troop, most
of the inhabitants fled to their houses, and fastened the doors, but some few courageous persons followed them at a wary distance. These were harangued at some length by Catesby, who called upon them to join the expedition, and held out promises, which only excited the derision of the hearers.
Indeed, the dejected looks of most of the band, and the drenched and muddy state of their apparel made them objects of pity and contempt, rather than of serious apprehension; and nothing but their numbers prevented an attack being made upon them. Catesby's address concluded amid groans of dissatisfaction, and finding he was wasting time, and injuring his own cause, he gave the word to march, and moved slowly through the main street, but not a single recruit joined him.
Another unpropitious cireumstance occurred just as they were leaving Stratford. Two or three of his followers tried to slink away, when Catesby riding after them, called to them to return, and no attention being paid to his orders, he shot the man nearest him, and compelled the others, by threats of the same punishment, to return to their ranks. This occurrence, while it occasioned much discontent and ill-will among the band, gave great uneasiness to their leaders. Catesby and Percy now brought up the rear, and kept a sharp look-out to check any further attempt at desertion.
Digby and Winter being well acquainted with all the Catholic gentry in the neighbourhood, they proceeded to their different residences, and were uniformly coldly received, and in some cases dismissed with reproaches and menaces. In spite of all their efforts, too, repeated desertions took place, and long before they reached Alcester, their force was diminished by a dozen men. Not thinking it prudent to pass through the town, they struck into a lane on the right, and fording the Arrow near Ragley, skirted that extensive park, and crossing the hills near Weethly and Stoney Moreton, arrived in about an hour and a half in a very jaded condition at Huddington, the seat of Robert Winter. Affairs seemed to wear so un. promising an aspect, that Catesby on entering the house immediately called a council of his friends, and asked them what they proposed to do.
'For my own part,' said he, I resolved to fight it out. I will continue my march as long as I can get a man to follow me, and when they are all gone, will proceed alone. But I will never yield.'
'We will all die together, if need be,' said Sir Everard Digby. 'Let us rest here to-night, and in the morning proceed to Lord Windsor's mansion, Hewel Grange, which I know to be well stocked with arms, and, after carrying off all we can, we will fortify Stephen Littleton's house at Holbeach, and maintain it for a few days against our enemies.'
This proposal agreed to, they repaired to the court-yard, and