Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 25.

1 597.
"I REMAINED therefore in my cell, spending my time principally in prayer. And now again I made the Spiritual Exercises, as I had done at the beginning of my imprisonment, giving four or five hours a day to meditation for a whole month. I had a breviary with me, so that I was able to say my Office ; and every day I said a dry mass, (i.e., such as is said by those who are practising mass before the priesthood), and that with great reverence and desire of communicating, especially at that part where I should have communicated if the Sacrifice had been real. And these practices consoled me in my tribulation.

"At the end of three weeks, as far as I can remember, I was able to move my fingers, and help myself a little, and even hold a knife. So when I had finished my retreat I asked leave to have some books, but they only allowed me a bible, which I obtained from my friends in my former prison. I sent to them for some money, by means of which I saw that I should be able to enlist the sympathies of my gaoler, and induce him to allow me things, and even to bring me some books. My friends sent me by him all that I asked for. I got my gaoler to buy some large oranges, a fruit of which he was very fond. But besides gratifying him with a present of them, I meditated making another use of them in time.

" I now began to exercise my hands a little after dinner.

Supper I never took, though it was allowed : indeed, there was no stint of food in the prison, all being furnished at the Queen's expense; for there were given me daily six small rolls of very good bread. There are different scales of diet fixed in the prison according to the rank of the prisoner; the religious state indeed they take no account of, but only human rank, thus making most of what ought to be esteemed the least. Well, the exercise which I gave my hands was to cut the peels of these oranges into the form of crosses, and sew them two and two together. I made many of these crosses, and many rosaries also strung on silken cord. Then I asked my gaoler if he would carry some of these crosses and rosaries to my friends in my old prison. He, seeing nothing in this to compromise him, readily undertook to do so. In the meantime I put by some of the orange-juice in a small jug. I was now in want of a pen, but I dared not openly ask for one: nay, even if I had asked and obtained my request, I could at this time scarcely have written, or but very badly; for though I could hold a pen, yet I could hardly feel that I had anything in my fingers. The sense of touch was not recovered for five months, and even then not fully, for I was never without a certain numbness in my hands up to the time of my escape, which was more than six months after. So I begged for a quill to make myself a toothpick, which he readily brought me. I made this into a pen fit for writing, then cutting off a short piece of the pointed end, I fixed it on a small stick. With the rest of the quill I made a tooth-pick, so long that nothing appeared to have been cut off, and this I afterwards showed my gaoler. Then I begged for some paper to wrap up my rosaries and crosses, and obtained his leave also to write a line or two with pencil on the paper, asking my friends to pray for me. All this he allowed, not suspecting that he was carrying anything but what he knew. But I had managed to write on the paper with some orange-juice, telling my friends to write back to me m the same way, but sparingly at first; asking them also to give the bearer a little money and promise him some as often as he should bring any crosses or rosaries from me with a few words of my writing to assure them that I was well.

"When they received the paper and the rosaries, knowing that I should if possible have written something with orange-juice, as I used to do with them, they immediately retired to a private room and held the paper to a fire. Thus they read all I had written, and wrote back to me in the same way, sending me some comfits or dried sweetmeats wrapped up in the paper on which they had written. We continued this method of communication for about half a year; but we soon proceeded with much greater confidence when we found that the man never failed to deliver our missives faithfully. For full three months however he had no idea that he was conveying letters to and fro. But after three months I began to ask him to allow me to write with a pencil at greater length, which he permitted. I always gave him these letters open, that he might see what I wrote; and I wrote nothing but spiritual matters that he could see, but on the blank part of the paper I had written with orange-juice directions and particular advice for my different friends about which he knew nothing.

"As it happened indeed, I need not have been so circumspect; for the man, as I found out after some time could not read. He pretended, however, that he was able' and used to stand and look over my shoulder while I read to him what I had written with" pencil. At length it occurred to me that possibly he could not read • so in order to make the trial, while he was looking over the paper I read it altogether in a different way from what I had written it. After doing this on two or three occasions without his taking any notice, I said openly to him with a smile, that he need not look over my shoulder any more. He acknowledged indeed that he could not read, but said that he took great pleasure in hearing what I read to him. After this he let me write what I would, and carried everything as faithfully as ever. He even provided me with ink, and carried closed letters to and fro between my friends and me. For seeing that I had to do with very few, and those discreet and trustworthy people, and thinking that neither I nor they were likely to betray him, he did just what we asked him for a consideration, for he always received a stipulated payment. He begged me, however, not to require him to go so often to the Clink prison, lest suspicion should arise from these frequent visits, which might cause harm not only to him but to me: he proposed therefore that some friend of mine should meet him near the Tower and deliver the letters to him. But I was loth to risk the safety of any one by putting him thus in the man's power. It made no difference to those already in custody ; they could without much additional danger hold correspondence with me, and send me anything for my support by way of alms. Besides I knew that my messenger would not be likely to speak of the letter he carried, as this would be as dangerous for himself as for those to whom he carried them.

" Nay, even if he had wished he could not have done much injury either to me or my friends, because I took good care never to name any of them in my letters. But before I was in prison and after, I invariably used pseudonyms which were understood by those to whom I wrote: thus, I called one 'brother,' another 'son,' another 'nephew,' or ' friend,' and so of their wives, calling this one ' sister,' that 'niece,' or 'daughter.' In this way no one not in the secret could possibly tell whom I meant, even if the letters had been intercepted, which they never were. I may add that even if the letters had been betrayed and read, they could never have been made further use of by the enemy, in allowing them to be carried to their destination to lure the correspondents on till they should compromise themselves, as was sometimes done. For I never wrote now with lemon-juice, as I did once in the Clink; which letter was betrayed to the persecutor Wade, as I before related. The reason of my doing so then was because that was a kind of circular letter which had to be read in one place and then carried to another. Now lemon-juice has this property, that what is written in it can be read in water quite as well as by fire, and when the paper is dried the writing disappears again till it is steeped afresh, or again held to the fire. But anything written with orange-juice is at once washed out by water and cannot be read at all in that way; and if held to the fire, though the characters are thus made to appear and can be read, they will not disappear; so that a letter of this sort once read can never be delivered to any one as if it had not been read. The party will see at once that it has been read, and will certainly refuse and disown it if it should contain anything dangerous. It was in this way I knew that my letters always reached my friends and that theirs reached me in safety. And so our correspondence continued,—I obtaining sure information of all my friends, and they receiving at my hands the consolation they sought.

" In order however that matters might go on still more securely, I managed through some of my friends that John Lilly's release should be purchased : and from that time I always got him to bring to my gaoler everything that reached me from the outside. It was through his means too a little later that I escaped from the Tower, although nothing certainly was farther from my thoughts when I thus secured his services: all I had in view was to be able to increase my correspondence with safety.

This went on for about four months, and after the first month I gave a good time to study by means of books secretly procured. But at this time an event occurred which caused me great anxiety.

" Master Francis Page, of whom I have before spoken, was now living with my former host [Mr. Wiseman], who had been released from prison. After my removal to the Tower, he got to learn in what part of it I was confined : and out of respect for me used to come daily to a spot from whence he could see my window, in order to get the chance some day of seeing me there. At last it so happened that going one day to the window (it was a warm day in summer), I noticed a gentleman at some distance pull off his hat as if to me; then he walked to and fro, and frequently stopped and made pretence of arranging his hair or doing something about his head, in order to have the opportunity of doffing- his hat to me without attracting the attention of others. At last I recognized him by the clothes that he was accustomed to wear, and made him a sign of recognition, and giving him my blessing I withdrew at once from the window, lest others should see me and have suspicion of him. But the good man was not content with this; daily did he come for my blessing, and stopped some time walking to and fro, and ever as he turned he doffed his hat, though I frequently made signals to him not to do so. At length he was noticed doing this, and one day as I was looking I saw him to my great grief seized and led away. He was brought to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who examined him about me and my friends. But he denied everything, and said that he simply walked there for his amusement, it being a fine open space close to the River Thames. So they kept him a prisoner 1 for some days, and meanwhile by inquiry found that he was living with my former host. This increased their suspicion that he had been sent there to give me some sign. But as he constantly denied everything, they at last had recourse to me, and sent for me to be examined. Now as I was going to the examination Master Page was walking up and down with my gaoler in the hall, through which I was taken to the chamber where the authorities awaited me. Immediately I was introduced the examiners said to me: ' There is a young man here named Francis Page who says he knows you and desires to speak with you.' "' He can do so if he wishes,' I replied; ' but who is this Francis Page? I know no such person.'

"' Not know him ?' said they, ' he at any rate knows you so well that he can recognize you at a distance, and has come daily to salute you.'

1 In the Beauchamp tower he has left a sharply-cut inscription: " En Dim est mon esperance. F. Page."