"The plodding horse stopped at Tyburn. Father Campion was untied. He stood there, looking out and around. Before him was an immense crowd. The ordinary people stood at the foot of the gallows. Off a little way was a grandstand, and in it, dressed in all their finery, sat members of the court and nobility. Public executions in those days were a matter of sport, and it was quite the thing for gentlemen and ladies, who would be very kind to their own children, to assemble in a moodof pleasant excitement to witness the brutal death of a criminal. And no criminial could provide more entertainment than a condemned papist.
Father Campion did not know it, but in the crowd throning at the foot of the gallows was young William Harrington. Since the day he had fled from Lyford Grange, William had been following the fate of his beloved Father Campion. He had heard from a Catholic man who had been present at the trial how Father Campion had won the day by his calm and dignity. He had heard whispered and hinted how the brave priest had withstood the torture of the rack. Now, though he knew there was nothing he could do save pray, he stood, jostled and pushed about by the crowd, looking up at the figure of his dear Father Campion.
'Oh,' he thought, 'if there were only something I could do. If only I could tell this mob of people how brave and gentle and truly English Father Campion is. But no -- that is not the way it has to be. Dear Father CAmpion will go to his death, and few will now know what it is he is doing. I do know, please God, and with his help, I will follow Father Campion in God's good time." William pushed nearer the high platform on w hich stood the menacing gallows. He stared at the cross-shaped structure, and a shiver ran up and down his spine.
Through the crowds and over the roar of shouts and rowdy laughter, William saw Father Campion stand up after he had been untied from the hurdle. Then he was pushed and bustled onto a cart underneath the gallows. The noose was fitted over his head. The supremem moment Father Campion had been looking forward to for years was at hand; he was to lay down his life for Christ and his Church. But there was a pause. Some of memebers of the Queen's Council and some Protestant ministers crowded about Father Campion. Here they, too, had their last chance. Perhaps Father Campion could be persuaded at the very end to confess his 'crimes'. William's heart beat fast as he stood close and listened.
'Confess your treason, Campion', shouted one of the Queen's councillors. 'This is the last chance you will have to admit that you have been a false subject to Her Majesty.' 'As to the treasons that have been ladi at my door,' replied Father Campion in a strong voice, 'and for which I am come here to suffer, I desire you all to bear witness with me that I am thereof altogether innocent.' 'Oh, no, Campion,' cried another of the noblesit is too late now to deny what was proved against you in open court.' 'Proved?' cried Father Campion. 'What was proved was simply that I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that Faith have I lived and in that Faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then I am guilty; as for the other treason, I never committed any, God is my judge. But you have now what you desire. I beseech you to have patience, and suffer me to speak a word or two for the discharge of my conscience.'
But the babel of voices swelled and roared around the muddy and broken figure. William, listening with all his heart, heard the voice of Father Campion above the din. And what he heard made tears of joy and love start up in his eyes, for Father Campion was praying for those who had brought him to this awful end. He asked God to forgive all those who had borne false witness against him; he forgave the jury and the very an who was to butcher him to death. Then he ceased, save that his lips continued to move in silent prayer. The senselesss dabate was not yet over. A minister stepped forward and tried to lead Father Campion in prayer. Father looked up at him gently and said: 'Sir, you and I are not one in religion, wherefore I pray you content yourself. I bar none of prayer; but I only desire them that are of the household of the Faith to pray with me, and in my agony to say one creed.'
'But why do you insist on praying in Latin? Pray in English like any good Englishmen.' 'Do you mind?' replied Father Campion with great mildness. 'I will pray to God in a language we both well understand.' 'But at least admit your crimes agains the Queen adn beg her forgiveness, Campion,' thundered one of the Council. 'Wherein have I offended her? In this I am innocent. This is my last speech; in this give me creedit -- I have and pray for her.' 'You pray for the Queen, you say. But what Queen is it you pray for, traitor?' 'I pray for Elizabeth, your Queen and my Queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity.' There were Father Campion's last words.
Young William Harrington turned his head away as the driver of the cart raised his whip and brought it down smartly on the horse's back. The horse bolted forward. The cart was swept away from under Father Campion's feet, the rope tightened, the noose closed, and there, against the gloomy and stormy sky of London, a dirty and twitching figure swung in the death agony. In a few moments the body was cut down and the rest of the horrible sentence was carried out. William Harrington felt as though his heart would burst. What was it he felt? Was it sorrow, or joy, or horror at the butchery? It was hard to tell right then, but years later he would know what the emotion was, for he, too, would follow the footsteps of his beloved Father Campion -- and they would be footsteps that led to glory, no matter how brutal and in human the execution that would lead to that glory.
There was a moment's silence all over the large crowd. Here and there voices could be heard raised in the prayer Father Campion had asked for. There was the sound of intaken breath from the mob. Lungs were fillled with the murky London air, and then, and explosion of sound -- cheering, cries of mockery, crude laughter, all drowning out the sound of the executioner's ax.
In her apartments, the Queen had been pacing back and forward. Early that morning it would not have been too late to cancel the execution. Should she call it off? But no, it was too late. Now that Campion had been condemned for treason, the Queen could not free him. She knew, though, as she had admitted, that she had no more loyal subject than the young man to whom she had been so attracted to many years ago. She sat and began playing with letters before her on the desk. An attendant waited. The Queen turned impatiently. 'Has the execution taken place yet?' she croaked. 'No, Your Majesty, but I fancy that when it does we shall be able to know the exact moment, for there is certain to be a great roar from the crowd when the traitor Campion gets what he deserves.' 'Keep your opinions to yourself, hussy,' barked the Queen. 'Traitor, indeed! I would that all my ministers were as loyal.' The attendant gaped in surprise, but at this instant, through the open windows came a great animal-like roar.
The queen hurried to a window. Could it be that she saw the glint of steel in the distance as the ax rose and fell and rose and fell again? She shuddered a little and turned away. Had the attendant been near enough, she might have heard the Queen heave a deep sigh and mutter to herself: 'The flower of the realm! Where will it all end if I have to put such men to death? Who will be left? Who will love England for its own sake and not for the favors they hope to have from me? God save England give me back noble men to help me.' But England was saved -- in a higher sense than the Queen ever meant. It was, in God's Providence, saved by men like Father Campion and the hundreds who followed him up the bloody path of martyrdom. The Catholic strength of England, strong today and growing, took its nourishment from the blood of the martyrs. It has always been thus. Father Campion had foretold it. His dismembered body at Tyburn proclaimed it to the world. What was it he had written in his famous Brag?:
'Be it known to you that we have made a leage -- all the Jesuits in the world...cheerfully to carry teh cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed in your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.'
|"So the faith was planted: so it must be restored...."|