"I suppose no one entered, then?" sneered the knight.
"No," replied Roger complacently, "not for a long time back."
"Did he not come in here?" appealed Sir Thomas to those outside.
"Aye, aye," came the answer, "he did."
"Then where is he?" demanded the knight fiercely.
"Nay, I swear by the Holy Virgin I saw him not," replied the sturdy forester, in perfect truth, for he had not noticed his arrival.
"Hugh came in last," said Lettice's lover, Will. "Hast thou seen aught of this Manners of late, Hugh?"
Manners' first impulse was to grapple with his pursuers, but he controlled himself, and trusting to the perfection of his disguise to screen him, without a moment's hesitation he boldly answered in the negative.
"Not I," he said, emphatically. "I left my axe just outside, and it looks so like rain that I went to fetch it in, but I saw nobody; no, not a soul. Methinks it will rain hard, too, before the morning."
"Tut," interrupted Sir Edward. "Did you hear anybody?"
"No, not even a mouse."
"Then we must search. Out, men, and help us. The man that catches him shall be rewarded well. We must find him; he is hereabouts, for I heard his voice. A murrain on the fellow—all this trouble for a woman's whim."
He glanced suspiciously round the cot, but finding no suspicious tokens he led them out and set them to work to discover him. Few of them, however, were zealous, for Manners had made himself popular among them during his visits to the Hall. Dorothy they adored and they were not at all anxious to bring sorrow upon her to oblige the imperious Stanleys. Besides these considerations, the whole affair was so romantic that it seemed more like an acted ballad than a serious reality while Manners' position appealed to them in such a powerful fashion that they sympathised with him, and had not the search been conducted immediately under the eyes of the two nobles it would have been far more half-hearted than it was. A few, and a few only, were tempted to diligence by the offer of reward, and made a display of alacrity, and amongst the busiest, with a price upon his head, John Manners searched vigilantly for himself.
You might esteem him A child for his might, Or you may deem him A coward through his flight. But if she whom love honours Be concealed from the day, Set a thousand guards on her, Love will find out the way.
If love cannot sharpen the faculties of mankind; if it cannot quicken the perceptions; if it has not the power to make the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk—at least, sufficient for its own success—then, indeed—! But it is possessed of all these virtues, and more. If necessity be the mother of invention, then is love the mother of both; and surely the most ingenious devices and the cleverest productions had been connected with this subtle passion.
Divers and many were the plans which Manners devised to meet his beloved Dorothy again, but the success he so richly merited was tardy in coming, and one after another his schemes were frustrated, until success seemed to have receded from his grasp for ever.
Dorothy, in fact, was too carefully watched to permit of her meeting her lover easily, and she was kept too busy at the tapestry frame to allow her much time for writing to him had she been so disposed. Whenever she went out she was well attended, and for a long time Manners was fain to content himself with an occasional glimpse of her pale face as she rode by, or by sending love-notes and receiving messages back by the kindly aid of the faithful Lettice.
Still he persevered, and was rarely absent from the trysting place at the appointed time, for Dorothy might come on any night, and when she came he was determined she should find him there. But she never came. Lettice occasionally he met, but even she was suspected and was kept indoors as much as possible, and more often than not he sat his weary vigils out alone.
Good Roger Morton did his utmost to further his friend's design, sending him up as often as possible on missions to the Hall, and he went so frequently both with messages and faggots, that, seeing him so often, no one suspected that the young woodsman was any other than what he professed to be.
Time flew on: weeks passed by. Autumn brought its coldest and chillest weather for the winter to take up and carry forward. The steers were fattening in the stalls, or salting in the troughs, for the Christmas festivities. The capacious larders of Haddon were replenished to the full, ready to withstand the attack of the cooks; large piles of wood lay stacked up in the yard, ready to supply the many fires which were to cook the victuals for the feast; and the servants themselves grew daily more surprised at the constant arrival of fresh stores, and wondered if ever so magnificent a feast had taken place before.
With Dorothy the time passed slowly and painfully along. Her position had not improved one whit, and she was wearied of the life of restraint and imprisonment to which she was subjected. Her fingers were sore and ached again with the continual tenter-stitching she had to perform, and her whole nature revolted at the system of espionage which Lady Vernon and Sir Edward Stanley had set upon her. The daily visits of that unfeeling and determined nobleman with whom they would force her into marriage, Edward Stanley, always left her with a sadder heart than she had had before.
With Manners the time flew by quickly. He sorely wanted to see Dorothy again, and as the days rapidly passed he recked not of the disappointments of the past, but only thought of the few days which intervened between them and Christmas.
Surely the rumour must be wrong. There would never be two weddings at the Hall this Christmastide. He, at least, would not believe it.
"Nicholas," he said, as he met that worthy at last, "thou wilt only marry one?"
"The baron bids me marry the other as well. I would it were not so, for the maiden cares naught for him. I like not this brother; he is worse than Margaret's betrothed."
"You must help us, then."
"I must do my duty, but if in doing that I can aid thee thou hast but to speak the word."
"But you shall help us, Nicholas."
"I will tell thee."
"I am a priest, remember. I cannot do anything unworthy even for a friend like thee; though thou wert my benefactor."
He paused, as if unwilling to wound his friend by his words, and seeing the look of dismay upon the other's face, he stopped.
"Nicholas," said Manners, "thou shalt do naught but stand. I must see Dorothy. I shall," he added determinedly. "Some way or other I shall see her; even though blood be shed I shall do it," and in the intensity of his feelings he involuntarily put his hand down to his side to feel for the dagger which was not there.
"I fear thou art too venturesome," expostulated his friend, quietly.
"I am desperate," he replied; "and you, Nicholas, by simply standing still might help me as much as I require, and might, perchance, prevent bloodshed, too."
"Hush, friend John, talk not thus foolishly."
"And the blood will be upon your head," continued the distracted lover. "With or without your aid I must, I shall, see Doll; and that soon. You know my word is not lightly broken. Did I not succour thee and save thy life when all conspired against thee?"
"Aye, in truth, and—"
"And I call upon you now, Nicholas, to discharge that debt," pursued Manners, hotly. "You must; I am resolved, I am well nigh desperate; and Father Philip sanctioned the troth, Nicholas, and blessed us ere he died."
"Is that so?"
"Assuredly it is. Thou shalt help us, nor shalt thou be dishonoured in the deed."
"An you will lead me into no evil I will consent, but I fear to trust thee, thou wert ever rash and headstrong."
Two days later, ere the Sabbath mass began, there stole into the little chapel of Haddon the figure of a man, which ever since the break of day might have been observed crouched down at the bottom of the mighty brewing vat. Had anyone cared to look under the cloth which covered it they would assuredly have discovered him there.
The door of the sanctuary had just been thrown open, somewhat later than usual, for the servants had evidently overslept themselves, and were now to be heard throwing the shutters open, and bustling about in the kitchens, trying to make up for the time they had lost.
The man, by his garb, might have been taken for a labourer. His black hair hung in matted patches upon his shoulders; his clothes were torn and patched, and the coarse leather jerkin he wore, which was almost ready to be replaced by a new one, gave unmistakable tokens that the wearer was a man of toil.
In spite of all these signs the face of the man was handsome, and not without traces of hauteur. His hands were red and rough, but not hard and horny as those of other craftsmen were; and his whole bearing would have impressed a critical observer that this man at least was worthier of a better lot.
Yes, it was John Manners. He was bearding the lion in his den.
Pushing the inner door ajar, and casting a look around the yard at the same time to satisfy himself that he was not observed, he quietly entered the edifice, and closed the door.
"Ha, ha," he mused. "At last we shall meet again," and at the thought of it he heaved a sigh of relief.
Seating himself in the family pew, he pulled out a book from his capacious breast-pocket, and as he anticipated a long period of uninterrupted peace, he commenced to peruse it. It was "Tottel's Miscellany," a collection of amorous sonnets, and little love sonnets and little love songs, and he read page after page, to the delight of his heart, until he was startled to a sense of his position by the sound of voices just outside.
"No, no, Sir Edward. We must give her a little longer time, she will come round soon to our opinion," were the words he unmistakably heard.
"But you promised her to me this Christmas, remember," was the quick reply.
"Aye, so I did," returned the first speaker. "I would that I had not promised her at all, she is so unhappy over it."
"And I have laid my plans according to that promise," rejoined his companion.
"We must allow her a little longer time," replied the baron, decisively. "Manners has been again to flame her passion for him anew. She will be ready to accept thee soon, but not just yet."
"I tell her John Manners has forsaken her, but she will persist in her waywardness, and I expect, forsooth, she will do so until—"
"Tut, tut, man," interposed Sir George, "it shall not be at Christmas, as we would have had it; but even as she comes not to her senses soon, you shall take her away. Say another month, Sir Edward, another month. There, that is settled, trouble me no more, and now we will off to mass."
They were in the garden, and through the open lattice window Manners could hear them without the slightest trouble. At the mention of mass he abruptly closed his book, and replacing it in his pocket, he crept carefully into the dismal hollow under the pulpit, and pulling the panel to after him he hid himself securely in the dark recess.
"So ho!" he murmured, as he fixed himself in his retreat; "the baron is good. Another month and then, oh! and then?"
He stopped and relapsed into thought. His brow contracted, his lips were tightly pressed, and his eyes stared fixedly through the darkness of his retreat at the chinks of the panels in front, through which he could see the place where his beloved would shortly sit.
"Aye, aye," he muttered, as he fiercely clapped his hand upon his thigh. "It cannot be the worse for her, nor yet much worse for me. She must do it; I will broach it to her now. Here they come."
The pulpit was none too strong, and as Nicholas ascended the stair and shut the door, it distinctly shook and tottered to and fro over the esquire.
"Why, by my halidame," thought Manners, "the whole contrivance will fall down together and crush me."
This fear was strengthened soon, for as the priest fixed himself conveniently in his elevated position, the floor above the esquire's head creaked and groaned and threatened every minute to fall.
The service quickly began, much to Manners' relief; but oh, horrors! Father Nicholas began to preach, and by the time the lover expected to have clasped his darling in his arms, the discourse was just getting into full swing.
"Stop, Nicholas, in the name of mercy, stop," he whispered through the floor; but Nicholas heard him not, and quietly pursued the even tenour of his way.
Another half-hour had elapsed, and the situation had become well nigh intolerable. Apart from being cramped, Manners was uncomfortable enough. He felt that it would have immensely relieved him to have screamed, but he dared not do it. He wanted to cough, or sneeze, but he had to repress his feelings. The place in which he was boxed up was damp and humid, and the darkness in which he was enveloped was oppressive. He could bear it no longer, and raising himself up he groped around with his hands, and easily lifting a piece of the old pulpit flooring, he looked up at Nicholas and groaned.
Nicholas involuntarily started at the sound, but recollecting the voice, he screened his friend by his presence of mind. Without a moment's pause he stopped and indulged in a prolonged fit of coughing, while the little congregation, which had been startled by the groan, attributed the noise to a premonitory symptom of the attack, and thought no more about it.
"For mercy's sake, stop," muttered Manners. But the priest placidly resumed his discourse, and drowned Manners' voice by his own.
The sand-glass, which was affixed to the pulpit desk to mark the limit of the time allowed for the sermon, had long indicated that Father Nicholas was trespassing upon the indulgence of his hearers before he stopped; but it was over at last, and confession time had arrived.
Well knew the wily preacher that the second part of the service would not be prolonged. Sir George had never much to confess while there was a good meal awaiting him, and what Lady Maude would have said upon such occasions was always cut short when the sermon had been long, and was reserved for a more fitting occasion.
Neither Sir Thomas Stanley nor his brother ever stayed for confession. They generally found some more attractive way of spending the time; and as soon as they could do so they slipped out, heartily cursing the long-winded priest, and wishing that Sir George were not, by far, so good a Catholic.
Margaret stayed longer than the rest, and when her confession had ceased she kept the father and took occasion to consult him about the marriage ceremony.
She went at last, and then it was Dorothy's turn. The way was once more open for the brave-hearted Manners to meet his betrothed again.
"Stop!" exclaimed Nicholas, as Manners eagerly kissed the maiden's blushing cheek. "Let Mistress Dorothy perform her duty first."
There was no gainsaying this. The good father would not be argued with, and so Dorothy bended her knee, and in humble penitence confessed her misdeeds and prayed forgiveness for her sins.
The confession, though well meant, was constrained and short. The maiden was absent-minded, and though she would have entered into it with heart and soul, she found herself unable to bend her will, and even while confessing, her thoughts were fixed on her lover, whom she knew was impatiently waiting to embrace her as soon as she had finished her devotions.
"And now, my own peerless Doll," said Manners, as she rose and came to him, "at last I may talk with thee once more."
"Yes, John," replied the maiden, "at last! We have waited long for this."
"Nicholas, you will listen and warn us if anyone approaches," said Manners.
"I pray thee forget not that the time goes on apace," replied the confessor. "I will guard the door for thee."
The lovers were alone; they were free to enjoy each other's company for a little while, and in a short time the sound of eager conversation filled the room.
"Come, now, 'tis time," broke in the priest, after a long pause. "Sir George will be wondering at the long delay."
"A minute more, Nicholas, a minute more," was the excited reply.
"Now, Doll," Manners appealed, "I have told you all. What say you?"
"Not yet, John, not yet," she demurely replied.
"O, say not so, Doll," he pleaded, "they will never relent."
"I cannot do it, John; indeed, I cannot. I would refuse thee naught save this, but this I must refuse."
Her lover looked at her sadly. "Then we may not see each other again," he said, "till thou art Lady Stanley."
"Nay, nay," she replied quickly, "I shall never be that. My heart would break first. I shall never be that."
"Or I may be discovered, and—and then, Doll, what?"
"O don't, don't say that," she cried. "You tear my heart. I cannot do it, John; at least—at least not now."
"Mistress Dorothy, we must go now. I cannot, I dare not tarry any longer," said the priest as he came up and stood beside the lovers. "We must go at once."
"A minute more, just a minute, Nicholas."
"Nay," he replied, "we must not linger any more."
"Go, then, I will follow thee," said Dorothy, and taking her at her word the father bowed himself low before the little altar and departed.
"Not yet," said Manners, "you cannot yet! Doll, it must come to this, and why not do it now?"
"Nay, nay, John, ask me not. I cannot, I cannot do it. Adieu, we shall meet again soon, trust me till then"; and giving him a farewell kiss, she left him alone and hastened into the Hall.
THE ANGELS OF LIFE AND DEATH.
He said no more, For at that instant flashed the glare, And with a hoarse, infernal roar, A blaze went up and filled the air! Rafters, and stones, and bodies rose In one quick gush of blinding flame, And down, and down, amidst the dark, Hurling on every side they came.
Deep down in the rock upon which Nottingham Castle proudly stands, there winds a passage which was used in the centuries long gone by as the readiest way of bringing the victuals in the castle, and which has long been commonly accepted as the veritable "Mortimer's Hole."
A man was busily engaged in arduous toil in one of the cavities hollowed out in the very heart of the rock. It was the chamber in which the dissolute Mortimer and the faithless Isabella had been captured by the youthful monarch, Edward III., two centuries and a half earlier, but no traces of its former grandeur—if it ever possessed any—now remained. It was changed into the abode of an alchemyst, and as Edmund Wynne ever and anon tapped an iron vessel his eyes sparkled with delight.
The room was full of fumes and smoke. Phials of many shapes and various sizes were ranged around on every side, filled with liquids of every imaginable odour and hue. A long rude bench, which ran along the farther side of the room, was crowded with boxes of crystals, crucibles, and bottles, and, to complete the scene, a log fire was smouldering away on the centre of the solid rock floor.
Edmund had long sought the elixir of life, but it had proved as delusive as a will-o'-the-wisp to him, and ever, just as he felt assured of success, the prize had slipped away from his grasp, leaving him further away from success than he had been before. But now it was not the elixir that he was seeking to find. From trying to discover something that should rob the grave of its prey, he had turned his attention towards the invention of an engine to hasten death. His heart was all aflame with the passion of revenge. The lord of Haddon had incurred his intense and undying hatred. He had heaped indignities upon him; he had slain the object of his affections; and the disgrace into which he had fallen at London was also ascribed, rightly or wrongly, to the baron.
Baulked of his revenge hitherto, his passionate desire for it had decreased rather than declined through his failures, and the very fact of his failing was itself another charge for which the baron would have to answer. Death, and death alone, would now be sufficient to wipe out the stain, and Edmund had long cudgelled his wits to secure the destruction of his foe.
"Aye, Edmund, Edmund," exclaimed Sir Ronald Bury, as he broke in upon Wynne's privacy, "at thy whimsical labours again, I see."
"Nay, not whimsical, Ronald," was the gentle reply. "My elixir is nearly right; only one ingredient more is wanted, and then!"
"And then, what?" laughed the knight.
"Why, then I shall have discovered what all the sages of the earth have sought in vain."
"A toadstone, I suppose?" replied Sir Ronald, lightly.
"Ha, you may laugh, Ronald," said the astrologer, severely. "Fools ever did mock the wise, like the rich despise the poor. You are but a soldier, and I am a man of science—the great alchemyst! My name shall live; yea, mark me, Ronald, it will be known and revered in time to come, aye, even when this castle has crumbled into dust, and when the name of Roger Bacon has been long forgotten."
"Well, Edmund," responded the knight, gaily, "let us hope so; only one more substance, eh?"
"Only one," the enthusiast replied, while the look of triumph flashed already from his eyes.
"And then we shall—shall what, Edmund, what shall we do?"
"Live for ages."
"For ever, in fact, I suppose?"
"My elixir will conquer disease, and man shall live until his feeble frame has worn away," he responded grandly.
"Lucky man," soliloquised Sir Ronald, facetiously. "But the dames, Edmund, you said naught of them. Cannot you discover aught for them? Surely they may share the blessing also!"
"No more is wanted; my elixir will serve for both," majestically responded Edmund, as he placed a cauldron over the fire. He was too intensely in earnest himself to note that his companion was sceptically making fun of him.
"And will soldiers live for ages, too?" continued Sir Ronald.
"Those who are killed my elixir is impotent to bring back again to life. The dead are beyond all aid."
"And the wounded?" persisted the knight.
"I can but stave off disease, Ronald; but what a glorious achievement have I accomplished then! Methinks I see the glory now, and when I am in my grave, pilgrims shall come and worship at my shrine as they have done these centuries at the altar of St. Thomas the Martyr at Canterbury. What glory, what glory!" and in the exuberance of his delight, Edmund Wynne gleefully rubbed his hands together.
"I am forgetting my errand, though," exclaimed the deputy-governor, "I have a visitor for thee."
Edmund quailed. He was not in the habit of receiving visitors, for he had few friends and many enemies, therefore the announcement gave him very little pleasure.
"For me?" he said, in a tone of unmistakable surprise, and equally unmistakable displeasure.
"Aye, for thee," Sir Ronald replied. "Shall I bring him to you?"
"Bring him down here?" screamed Edmund, aghast at the very idea. "No, never."
"You will come up to him, then? It makes no matter!"
"I am too busy," he evasively replied. "Tell me, Ronald, who it is."
"'Tis a friend."
"Humph! He has heard of my elixir and wants—ah, well, I shall have friends enough now, I'll warrant me."
"He is an enemy of Sir George Vernon, then," added the knight.
"Hey! Bring him down, then," said the alchemyst. "I will meet him outside the room."
"Well, Master John Manners will be down by and bye. Lady Bury meanwhile is entertaining him, for he was hungry."
"Manners, John Manners!" he exclaimed. "Nay, then, bring him not hither. Does he know that I am here?"
"Aye, I have told him."
"You have!" ejaculated Edmund, in a frenzy of terror. "I met him at Haddon, he is a friend of the baron's."
"He was," replied his friend; "but things have changed, and now he is like to invoke thy aid. He will help us to have our revenge, maybe, for I have been persuading him; he is very bitter now against the Vernons, and will make thee a good accomplice."
"Revenge," murmured Edmund, "ha! revenge is sweet. The baron shall be punished; my machine—"
"Never mind the machine now," broke in Sir Ronald, who was by no means anxious to listen to the well-worn rigmarole again. "You can show that to him, and tell him all about it. I shall bring him down, for he knows not the way."
"Well, I will yield to thee; do as you list," he replied, and the man of science turned his back abruptly upon his friend, and vigorously stirred the seething liquid which was beginning to boil over upon the fire.
In a few minutes Manners appeared, but Sir Ronald Bury had brought him purposely with so little noise that the alchemyst was not aware of his presence, and for a long time they stood in the doorway, and watched his movements.
He was talking to himself, as he often did. It was a habit into which he had unconsciously fallen. He had persuaded himself to think that the great posterity for which he laboured so hard could hear him, and in his isolation the reflection was a great consolation to him.
"Ha, ha," he muttered, "thou hast had thy little day, Sir George Vernon. 'King of the Peak,' indeed—thy reign is o'er. And Margaret, proud Margaret, and the haughty Lady Maude, aha! You shall all tremble at my name."
"Hist, move thee not," whispered Sir Ronald, "he is, about to test his engine again; it blows off sparks of fire as if it were the smithy's forge, but without the noise. I have seen him perform with it often. Hark."
Edmund had brought out his engine from a deep recess in the wall, and a rough, unsightly piece of mechanism it was. It was intended to be square, but constant testings and trials had caused it to assume more the appearance of an octagon, and as the sides had thus bulged out, the bands which had held the instrument together became loosened and untrustworthy.
Edmund surveyed it affectionately. It was the offspring of his genius, and he blindly disregarded all its little imperfections amid the great love he bore towards it.
"Aha," he murmured, "thou art done, thou art ready now. Thou art an angel of death, and thou"—turning to his elixir—"thou art an angel of life."
"Mix them up, Nathan, mix them up," gaily exclaimed Manners as he stepped into the room. "We will give the Vernons a dose."
Edmund was startled, and he hastily retreated to his engine to protect it.
"Avaunt!" he cried, "touch it not."
"Nay, I want not to injure it," returned the other, whose smile contrasted with the alchemyst's scowl. "Shake hands, man; I will do thee no harm."
"Beware," cried Edmund, distrustfully, as he covered over the angel. "Beware!"
"Edmund, thou speakest over rashly," interposed Sir Ronald. "Master Manners would honour thee, and thou treatest him so lightly. Together you may accomplish your designs and work whatever you will; the past—"
"Is buried with its forefathers and forgotten," quickly exclaimed Manners. "Come, I greet thee on equal terms. I would be thy friend."
Edmund shook the proffered hand as though it were a bar of red-hot iron he had been commanded to hold, or a phial of his precious elixir he was carrying, and he felt by no means flattered at the reference to their equality, just as if he, too, had discovered such mighty secrets.
"I shall not want for friends soon, forsooth; the great have ever many," he replied.
"Thou hast few enough as yet, I'll warrant, besides thy good friend, Sir Ronald," he exclaimed. "I trow you cannot well afford to turn the first comers away, Nathan."
"I can do all with my elixir," was the proud response.
"Sir Ronald Bury tells me thou hast prepared this engine for Sir George," said Manners, abruptly changing the topic of the conversation. "Is that so?"
"Aha, for Sir George Vernon, yes."
"Can'st thou direct it against the Stanleys, too? I would have them punished if we could."
"Thou art a friend of his," said Edmund, suspiciously, referring to the baron.
"Albeit I seek revenge, justice, anything!" he said bitterly. "I have been spurned away from his door like as I had been a dog."
Edmund looked at him incredulously. He was not convinced yet.
"If you mean no treachery," he said cautiously, "call me by my name, for I am Edmund Wynne. I like not to bethink me of the past until—," and he approvingly looked at his instrument of death.
"Ha, I will show thee," replied Edmund. "Stand not too near."
Manners had not much faith in the destructive properties of the instrument, but the command was given in such an earnest and authoritative fashion that to have refused compliance would only have caused offence. Probably, too, Edmund would not try the experiment if he expressed his scepticism, and he was curious to see it, so he retreated to the doorway to watch his movements.
"This," Edmund went on, "is to be put in the baron's room."
"Yes, but how?" asked Manners, perceiving that some sort of a remark was expected of him.
"Cannot I, who have invented it, find some means for conveying the engine there?" replied the inventor, with staggering emphasis.
Manners deferentially bowed his acquiescence, much to the amusement of Sir Ronald.
"You must not heed his words," whispered the knight. "He is infatuated with his work. In all things else he is as timid as a mouse."
"And then," pursued the mighty alchemyst, "and then—! Nay, I will show thee, see!" and with some difficulty he forced open a little door at the side.
Both Manners and Sir Ronald moved forward to examine it, for the room was but faintly lighted and they could barely see the dim outline of the instrument.
"Go back, go back," screamed Edmund. "Ronald, I look for no treachery from thee."
"Tush," contemptuously replied the knight, as he poured some more oil into the lamp, "get on. We did but want to see."
"This," continued Edmund, unabashed, "is more dreadful than Roger Bacon's powder;" and pulling out a short, stout iron canister, he poured some crystals into a hole. "Look and behold," he added. "I invoke no saints, nor do I seek the aid of any deity, but see;" and rolling some of the crystals tightly up in some parchment, he dropped it into the midst of the fire.
For a few moments nothing was seen or heard of it, and the onlookers were smiling to each other when the wonderful crystals began to splutter and fizz, till the packet suddenly exploded with a loud report, rattling the bottles and jars together, while the rumbling report rolled up the long subterranean passage.
"Ha!" exclaimed Edmund, triumphantly. "You shudder at the sight; that is nothing, I can do infinitely more than that. I will do it with more crystals now."
"Nay, we are convinced of thy prowess; when the fumes have cleared away, show us this engine," replied Manners. "It is full of wheels; show us their purpose."
"That shook this chamber," Edmund replied, "but this could well nigh shatter it."
"Great man, we acknowledge thy mighty genius," responded Sir Ronald. "Reveal the limit of thy powers."
"I will," said Edmund, enthusiastically, "I will."
All his reserve was worn off now, and he expatiated at length upon the wonderful powers of his mighty engine. No such power had been known before; nothing would stand against it; it was indeed a miracle of force.
"But, prithee," asked Manners, heartily sick of the ceaseless explanations, and anxious to see the practical outcome of it all, "how worketh it? Show us, let it move this piece of rock."
"You doubt me; I will show it thee; I will test it but this once again, and then the baron, curse him! dies."
Edmund busied himself for some time in compounding some evil-smelling ingredients in a huge mortar, and, as he stirred the pestle round and round, the contents hissed and crackled, and emitted sparks of fire. At length, after many bottles had been partially emptied, and many powders and the like had been employed, the mysterious substance was obtained, and he sprinkled a little of it upon the red embers, when a series of miniature explosions followed.
"Look, see!" he passionately exclaimed, "I have discovered something still more powerful; nay, stand back. I found it once before, but lost the art. Now we shall see; hey, hey."
Slowly and cautiously the canister was replaced; the requisite powder was carefully measured and inserted, and after many an examination had been made, Edmund declared that everything was in readiness for the wheels to be set in motion.
"Stand back, venture not too near," he commanded, and placing a heavy piece of loose rock upon the case, he set the wheels in motion and stepped back proudly behind his handiwork.
"Thou shalt be convinced shortly, Master Manners," he exclaimed. "Ha, ha, I shall have many friends soon. None know the power I have at my command, and princes and queens will court me to possess it. I can either kill or keep alive, my elixir—"
His voice was lost in the din of a great explosion. Bottles and jars were rattled together and smashed. The chamber was full of smoke and flame. Everything was suddenly thrown into frightful disorder, all was in confusion. Solid masses of rock were detached from the walls and roof, and went crashing across the room, destroying everything with which they came into contact, or else burst through the wall and bounded down the steep rock outside. The very room seemed to spin around, and Sir Ronald and Manners were thrown headlong upon the pavement of the passage outside.
What could it all mean?
Simply that the engine had done its work. Edmund had overcharged it, and it had exploded. The angel of death had slain its creator, and the wonderful elixir of life was lost to the world for ever.
All close they met again, before the dusk Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil; Close in a bower of hyacinth and musk, Unknown of any, from whispering tale. Ah! better had it been for ever so, Than idle ears should pleasure in their woe.
It was within a week off Christmas, and at Haddon all was in confusion and disorder amid the preparations for the forthcoming wedding. Manners had now relinquished all hope of Sir George ever relenting, and he waited with feverish impatience the time when, once more, he might clasp his darling to his heart, and pour again into her ears the oft-told story of his undiminished love.
He longed to see her again, or to be seen by her, even though no words were spoken; for he had been away awhile, and though he had bidden Roger send Dorothy word of his absence through Lettice, yet he feared lest the message had not been delivered, and she would feel alarmed at his being away.
Ill news awaited his return. Dorothy was to go away with Margaret, for she was ill, and Benedict had prescribed a change of air. He was desperate, and in his desperation he was prepared to hazard anything which promised the remotest chance of success; but alas! his ventures, while resulting harmlessly, brought him no nearer the goal of his ambition than he had been before.
"Roger," he said, "I shall get me to the Hall. Lettice should come soon; bid her hasten back and tell her mistress I am there awaiting her."
"Aye, I will tell her," replied the honest woodsman, "but methinks it is a sorry chance. Thou art far more likely to be discovered than to succeed, for there be many folks at the Hall, and few dare to be friends of thine."
"Nevertheless, I shall attempt it, good Roger; dissuade me not."
"Faith, not I. 'Tis not for such as me to interfere. Thou art brave, Master Manners, and art worthy of success; may it come to thee, say I. But the Hall is full big to seek each other in; where shalt thou be?"
"In the dining-room."
"In the dining-room!" quoth Roger, in surprise. "The dining-room! Thou'lt surely never look there? 'Tis as bare of hiding places as the flat of my hand. Why not in the archer's room, or the tower?"
"I shall hide me behind the arras till she comes," replied Manners.
"The arras," laughed his companion, "why it will bulge out like the monuments in Bakewell Church; the first who comes will spy thee out. Take my advice, master, and wait in the tower. Why, the buttery were safer than the dining-room."
"Tut, I shall go," he replied; "there is more to hide one than you wot of, but my Dorothy knows it, and I shall meet her there;" and picking up a bundle of wood he started off to the Hall.
He was not long upon the way, and when he arrived at his destination there was no difficulty in getting into the kitchens, for he had been there scores of times before, and his was quite a familiar figure now.
"Ho, Hubert," called one of the busy cooks as he entered the room, "lend a hand with this steer; thou hast the strength of a bullock, I verily believe."
Manners dropped the wood and good-naturedly lent the desired assistance.
"An thou would'st chop it with this cleaver thou wert a good fellow," continued the cook, as, having got the beast upon the bench, he surveyed its goodly proportions, and handed the cleaver to his newly-found helpmate.
"Nay, I am no butcher, I am but a woodsman, and should cut it wrong, I fear," returned Manners, as he laid the chopper down. "Were it a tree—"
"Now, come," interrupted the cook, persuasively. "I am wearied out; I have no strength left in my arm. See you, here, here, and here, and the thing is done."
"I will do it an you will serve me a good turn, too?" he replied.
"Done, then," said the other; "what is it?"
"Show me the Hall; I have long wished to see the ballroom. 'Tis a fine room, Roger says."
"Fine!" exclaimed the cook. "I should think it is fine. There's not another in all Queen Elizabeth's land to equal it. I will show it thee afterwards."
"Help me with this sack of flour," exclaimed the baker, "and I will show it thee now."
Manners chopped the carcase up, for which he was promised a share of the pie, and quickly satisfied the baker. His strength, indeed, was wonderful, and what two bakers had failed to do together, he easily accomplished alone.
"Thou shalt have a cake to-night," exclaimed the baker, admiringly. "A milk-white cake hot off the hearthstone, such as my lord the baron loveth so well," and they passed through the stone-flagged passage into the banqueting-room beyond to see the wonders of the Hall.
"Nay," exclaimed the chamberlain, as they attempted to pass up the steps leading to the upper part of the Hall. "'tis against the rules, you know."
"All right, John, 'tis all right," replied the baker. "Hubert is going to help me, and you cannot stay me, I trow, or Lady Vernon will come upon thee about the cakes for the feast."
There was no gainsaying this argument, for John stood in mortal fear of his mistress, and at the mention of her name he stepped aside and allowed them to pass by.
"John likes to be flattered," laughed the baker, as the door closed upon them, "but I use a different weapon. I speak of Lady Vernon, and he always yields."
"I saw he was there," replied Manners, "else I had needed no assistance to pass through. He despises us, I verily believe, and likes to show his power. So this is the ballroom, eh? 'Tis a magnificent room, surely," he exclaimed in well-feigned innocence.
"The ballroom!" laughed the other, contemptuously. "No, this is but the dining-room. Come, I will show thee the ballroom."
"I would linger here awhile," responded Manners, with charming simplicity, "this tapestry takes my fancy so; and the ceiling, with such quaint devices. Nay, there can be naught to better this, I swear."
"Then you must stay alone, for I am busy," replied his companion.
This was exactly what Manners wanted, and as he offered no opposition, the baker left him alone on the threshold of the ballroom, and returned to attend to his duties.
It was a matter of little difficulty to find the hiding, place, for Manners knew it well, and pulling the arras aside, he slid an old oak panel along and stepped into the cavity it disclosed to await with as much patience as he could command the well-known footstep of his beloved.
A long time he waited; each passing footstep caused his heart to flutter with expectation, only, however, to leave it to quieten in disappointment as the sounds receded and died away in the echoing ballroom above, or else mingled, maybe, in the turmoil of the busy kitchens below. No Dorothy appeared, and his heart at last began to fail.
"Surely she will not come," he murmured at length. "Lettice cannot have been," and his spirit sank within him at the thought. He was cold and fatigued, and once being infected with the idea that he was doomed to disappointment, he quickly discovered all the discomforts of his position and aggravated his misery by adding to them by his own imagination.
He had made up his mind to depart, and was about to put his resolution into practice, when a gentle voice broke the stillness of the room. He held his breath to listen. There was surely someone at the door, for he heard the handle turn; it creaked upon its hinges, and a moment later a gentle step resounded on the floor, and he knew that he was not alone. Could it be Dorothy? He pushed the door of his retreat ajar and listened intently, but only the responsive throbbing of his own heart could he hear.
"Doll!" he exclaimed.
There was no reply.
"Doll," he repeated, in a little louder tone as he pushed door and tapestry aside and entered the room. "Doll!"
"It is not Dorothy, Master Manners," replied a gentle voice, "it is I, Lettice, her maid."
His heart stood still; chilled with despair.
"Where is she?" he cried. "Tell me, will she come?"
"Nay, she cannot come; Dame Maude is with her, getting ready for the feast.
"And Dorothy cannot come," he repeated, with downcast eyes. "Hast thou seen her; has she had my message?"
"One may not speak with her when my lady is there," said the maid, "but she read it in my eyes. I would, Master Manners, I could help thee more, but I fear that cannot be."
"Bid her keep her tryst to-night, Lettice," he replied, "and thou wilt serve thee well."
"I fear me she cannot. Oft has she tried and failed; she is watched too well. An she were to pass the gate alone the whole Hall would know of it."
"Look, then, Lettice, could you come?"
Lettice often had done so before to meet her own stalwart young lover in the privacy of the wood, and she blushed at the question.
"I come?" she replied, "happen I might were I but to speak to the chamberlain first."
"Speak to him, then, for mercy's sake, speak," replied the lover, quickly. "Lend Doll your hood and shawl, none will know the difference in the dark. Tell the porter to expect you. There, adieu; fail me not, good Lettice," and without leaving her time to make reply he rushed hastily out of the room, and left her alone to carry out his instructions as best she could.
Dusk was rapidly deepening into darkness when John Manners stole out of his humble abode to wend his way to the old trysting place, whither he had been so frequently of late. His progress was watched by a pair of eager, jealous eyes, as their owner silently but surely dogged his every footstep; and when the tree was reached at last Manners lay wearily down at its foot, fully resolved not to depart from thence until he had brought matters to a crisis. At the same moment the figure of a young man glided stealthily into the cover of a bush within a few yards of where the other lay. Manners was not aware of the fact; he had neither seen nor heard his pursuer, and in happy ignorance of the circumstance he awaited Dorothy's appearance.
The night was chilly, for the snow had just departed from off the ground, and the fast gathering leaden clouds threatened to quickly cover it over again; but, buoyed up with hope and excitement, Manners heeded it not. Quietly, but not calmly, he lay, impatiently awaiting the coming of his love.
At last she came, but she approached so silently that her lover was not aware of her presence until she spoke.
"John," she exclaimed, "I am here."
He was upon his feet in an instant.
"My darling, my beloved;" he cried, as he rapturously embraced her in his arms. "This is good of thee, 'tis more than I deserve."
"Say not so," she replied. "I would do aught for thy dear sake. I have endured much for thee, but I have been happy in it because it was for thee."
"Thou would'st do aught for me, my precious one?" cried Manners. "I have much to ask of thee. 'Tis well for me thou art so ready. None shall part us, Doll."
"No, never," she replied, firmly.
"Then, Dorothy, we must flee together."
"What!" she exclaimed, in surprise. "Leave Haddon?"
"Hush, Doll, I fear it must be so."
"Oh, John," she sobbed, "I cannot do it, indeed I cannot do it. Is there no other way? Have you no other plan?"
"Sir George will never relent," Manners replied, "and in another month—"
"Nay, nay, John, I have refused the one, I am resolved not to wed the other."
There was a painful pause for a minute or two, but at length Manners spoke. His voice trembled and betrayed the depth of his feelings plainly.
"'Tis a hard choice, Doll," he said, "but you must choose betwixt Haddon and me. If you say me nay, I shall lose you."
"Wait, John, you can trust me?" she sobbed.
"Aye, that I can," he returned, tenderly; "but the flower is withering, and will soon be gone. This face was not so pale nor yet so thin before. Dorothy, I cannot see thee droop like this before my eyes."
"You can trust me," she replied; "then wait awhile."
"And then; what then?"
"If they are against us then, I will do thy will and go with thee."
"Nay, Doll, I should lose thee, and that would break my heart; it must be yes or no, there is no other way of escape."
Dorothy bowed her head upon his shoulders while the tears ran freely down her cheeks, and Manners stood over her, his breast heaving in fierce thrills of mingled emotions.
"Choose for thine own happiness, Doll," he whispered, breaking again another painful spell of silence.
"I cannot leave my father so—and Margaret," she added, after a pause.
"Margaret will leave thee soon enough," replied her lover, "and Sir George would wed thee to Sir Edward Stanley in a month. Thou wilt have to leave them soon, anyhow—why not with me? I would brave the world for thy sake."
"I know it," she replied, "but I cannot say 'yes.' Do not persuade me, I will give thee an answer in a little while.
"I have made arrangements," Manners answered. "Everything is ready. We shall go to Nottingham; all our plans are laid ready for the wedding."
"I cannot refuse thee, John," whispered Dorothy, as she dried her tears, "but I cannot consent—not yet, at least. Lettice shall bring thee word."
"So be it, then," he said. "Kiss me, Doll, it may be for the last time; an you decide to stay, I shall go to the wars again."
"Hush, your words are over loud, John. If you go, I die. Listen!"
Manners needed not the injunction, for someone was unmistakably rushing towards them. He turned, and faced the intruder.
"Hold!" he cried, "or you shall rue it. Stand back," he added, as the figure of a man ran towards Dorothy.
"Lettice," exclaimed the other, "could I think this of thee? I had trusted thee better. What have I done that thou should'st treat me thus? As for thee—" he said, turning to Manners.
"Tut, man, doff thy cap," interrupted the latter. "This is Mistress Dorothy Vernon."
"Thou hast met here often enough before," continued the unbelieving Will, "but I'll warrant me this shall be the last time. Mistress Dorothy, indeed! A likely story that; but I know that hood too well to be deceived. You are Sir Edward Stanley, or Master Manners, perchance, I suppose. Roger Morton shall know of this."
"Lettice is in the hall," said Dorothy. "I know thou art to be trusted, Will, for Lettice ofttimes speaks of thee. This is Master Manners. Hush! not a word, tell it not to anyone."
It was the voice of Dorothy, beyond dispute, and not the voice of Lettice, and the astonished youth dropped down upon his knees and sued forgiveness.
"And you knew me not?" asked Manners, as he clapped his companion familiarly upon the back. "I deceived thee, then? Have not the others found out my disguise? Methinks they have looked at me askance of late."
The young woodsman rubbed his eyes to convince himself that it was a reality, and that it was not a vivid dream.
"Nay," he replied, at length; "they said thou wert seeking to rob me of my Lettice, for we knew thee not."
"I am a craftsman still," returned Manners, "mind you tell them not. There, I shall rejoin thee soon."
Lettice's lover took the hint and departed, not at all loth to get out of the way, and feeling mightily relieved that things happened to be as they were, and were not any worse.
"Doll," said her lover, as the retreating sound died away in the distance, "we have another friend in him. Do thou tell this to Lettice, happen it will enliven her. I will not press thee for thy answer now; we shall love each other to the end, I know. Remember this, Doll, thy happiness as well as mine is at stake. Sir George cannot take back his words even though he repent them. He cannot relent, for he has promised thee, and he is the very soul of honour, but, an we please ourselves, he cannot help it, and all will come right. Nay, interrupt me not, I have weighed my words, there will never be such another chance for us to flee. There, now, thou knowest all I can tell thee, thou shalt decide anon."
Dorothy was silent, but if looks had speech, she had pleaded eloquently. Her resolution swayed to and fro in the terrible struggle of her affection: her soul was riven. She was too happy in the company of her lover to say him nay, and yet, at the same time, the bond of love which drew her to her father was far too strong to be suddenly snapped.
"I must go," she said, at last, "but whether it be aye or whether it be nay, in life and in death I am thine alone. Kiss me, John, and let me go."
Manners was deeply agitated. He took her face in both his hands, and stooping down, he kissed her again and again.
"It may be the last time," he said, "but trust me, Doll, I am only thine. I shall keep my love-troth true. Keep a stout heart, my sweet one, and by my faith we shall be happy yet."
They had approached the Hall as near as was safe, and now the moment for parting had arrived Dorothy tried to speak, but her heart was too full, and words failed to come at her command. She listened to her lover's last injunction to keep up a brave heart, and wringing his hands in agonised silence, she gathered her cloak around her, and hastened into the Hall.
And whilst the feast progressed apace, The music swelled in joyous strain; But midst the group was one fair face That scarcely hid the look of pain. And ever and anon she looked away; And when the others went she turned to stay.
Early next morning, as Manners was engaged in collecting faggots for the hungry fires at the Hall, he was startled to hear himself addressed by his proper name.
He turned round aghast, but was reassured when he saw that it was none other than Lettice's lover who stood by his side.
"Hush, Will," he said, "call me Hubert still; it were dangerous for my name to be overheard. But thou hast news for me, I can read it in thy face."
"Aye," replied the youth, "Mistress Dorothy sent Lettice with a message for thee, but old Roger knew not where thou would'st be found."
"Where is it?" cried the lover, impatiently, "let me see it; 'tis the answer, I'll warrant me."
"Nay, I have it not. Lettice awaits thee at the hut; she would not even let me bring it to thee, for her mistress, she says, charged her to tell it to none but thee."
"At the hut," repeated Manners, as he started to return. Is she there now?"
"She is awaiting thee; but, Master Manners, let me crave a favour first."
"Quick, then," was the hasty reply, "tell me what it is, for I cannot wait."
"Lettice has been rating me well," returned the downcast lover, as he started to return with Manners. "She is angered against me that I followed thee last night. She will not look at me now, and if I open my mouth about it she swears she will speak to me no more. A word from thee, good sir, would set the matter right again, else I fear me I have lost her favour, and there be many round about who would gladly take my place."
"Oh," laughed Manners, "I will see to that, and happen you may do me some good service in return?"
"Aye, master, that I will," he replied, mightily relieved.
Manners said no more; his mind was too much occupied, his thoughts were bubbling within him in furious turmoil. Leaving his companion behind, he rushed hastily on, and never stayed his course until he had reached his destination.
"The letter, Lettice, the letter," he cried, as he entered the hut.
"Nay, I have no letter, Master Manners," replied the maid. "My lady bid me tell it thee instead."
"What is it? Is it yes, or no?" he cried.
"Neither, yet. My mistress went all through the weary night, and thought of naught else but thee and the answer she should give."
"Poor Doll," ejaculated her lover, tenderly. "'Tis time all this was ended, Lettice; she is fading away, yes, fading away, and what will come of it all, if she says me nay, I tremble to think."
"She will not say thee nay, though, Master Manners," replied Lettice. "I shall lose my mistress soon. She has told me all."
"Told thee all?" he echoed. "She will not say me nay, and yet she consents not! You speak in riddles. Come, explain it all."
"She knoweth not her mind as yet," explained the maiden, "but I can plainly see which way it will all end. Even as she poured her story out to me I could see it; I could read it in her sobs and sighs. She had not wept so long had she not loved thee so well; and her love for thee is stronger than her other loves, else she had obeyed my lord the baron by now. It needs no astrologer to tell all this."
"Heaven grant it may be so," replied Manners, fervently; "but what did my Dorothy bid thee say? Thy words have made a sore commotion in my heart, fair Lettice."
Lettice hung down her head and blushed at the unexpected compliment.
"Thou art to come to the feast to-night," she replied, "and my lady will give thee answer there."
"I shall be there, Lettice," he promptly returned. "Tell her I shall not fail her. But how shall I see her, has she thought of that?"
"We have arranged it all, good sir; thou hast but to do her bidding, and all will go well."
She did not say that Dorothy had been too distracted in mind to make any arrangements whatever, but, as a matter of fact, this duty had devolved entirely upon the maid, for her mistress had done little more than nod assent through her tears to all the propositions of her companion. It was the ready wit of Lettice which had proposed everything at just the time when Dorothy was quite unable to suggest anything for herself.
"The wedding ceremony will take place in four more days," Lettice continued, "and the feasting begins to-night."
Manners was aware of the fact, and he bowed his head in silent acquiescence.
"And thou art to come to the Hall," pursued the maid. "Thou art skilful on the lute, my mistress says."
"I can play the lute," he answered, "but what of that? Will she pipe me an answer back?"
"Nay, Master Manners, listen. Thou art to be a musician for the once, and must join the minstrels in the gallery."
"In the banqueting-room! Then I must seek a fresh disguise," he said. "Hey, Lettice, I would it were night already, the day will drag wearily enough for me, I trow; but I shall look for my reward to-night. Thou art sure of what thou hast told me, Lettice, for were she to refuse me after all, it were hard indeed!"
"Trust me, I am not like to be deceived; she wears her heart upon her sleeve. Unless she changes, I have told thee aright, but my lady never changes in her love. Ah, me, I shall lose my mistress soon, and I am sad to think of it."
"Nay, Lettice," interposed Manners, "thou shalt marry honest Will, and he shall be my chamberlain. Thou shalt be near Dorothy yet."
The maid's countenance flushed with joy at the prospect of such bliss.
"That were happiness, indeed," she cried, "for or! Master Manners, I love her; I cannot help it—who could? I love her dearly; to part from her—"
"Aye," interrupted Manners, "who could help it indeed. Tell her I shall see her, I shall be there."
"And if it be 'yes,' my mistress will drop her fan upon the floor," went on Lettice; "but if the answer is 'no' she will tie a black ribbon on it. Thou must watch well, but it will surely fall."
"Amen," said Manners. "Then I should be the happiest man on all the earth."
"But happen my lady will not be there," the maid went on.
The lover groaned at the thought, and interrupted the maiden by so doing.
"Well, then," she continued, "either will I give thee a letter, or, if that cannot be, thou must go to Bakewell Church to-morrow eve, and thou shalt find the letter squeezed behind the font. But there, I must away; the day will pass all too quickly for me, for I have much to do."
"Stay," he exclaimed, and plucking a sprig of holly from the bush which grew beside the door, he placed it in the maiden's hand.
"Give her this," he said, "and tell her it came from me. Bid her keep a stout heart within her; she must smile to-night."
Lettice took the little bunch of green and red, and making a reverential curtsey to her lady's lover, she hastened away towards the Hall; and, as Manners watched her retreating figure, he saw the form of a man step out from among the bushes and join her company. It was her lover, who had waited with an anxious heart to discover the effect of the promised mediation.
True to his promise, Manners presented himself at the appointed time at the door of the orchestra, though not without inward misgivings as to the character of the reception in store for him. He need, however, have had no apprehension on that score, for everything had been conveniently arranged. The leader of the musicians (they were principally hired Derby men) had been bribed, and when the esquire presented himself for admittance he was warmly greeted.
"Well, Ralph!" exclaimed that worthy as he almost wrung Manners' hands off in the heartiness of his embrace; "thou hast come to thy old friend again, eh? We must cement the friendship this time with a tankard of Haddon-brewed ale, and if thou hast not greatly altered since I knew thee last, thou'lt not be averse to that."
"Of course not," replied Manners, readily; "and these are all fresh men? I cannot see one of the old faces among them all."
"They are good fellows, though," returned their leader, proudly, "and they play right well. Ha! here comes a messenger."
The musicians, most of whom had until now been idly leaning over the balcony, gazing, with an interest of which they were not fully aware, at the servants below as they were putting the finishing strokes to the preparation of the feast, immediately took their allotted places, and Manners found himself at the end of the row within the shadow of the wall, and separated from the rest by the intervening body of the leader.
"The baron sends this for the musicians," said the page, as he deposited a large pitcher of ale upon the gallery floor. "They are coming now, and he would like some merry tunes."
Even as the lad spoke the guests came pouring into the room; laughing, joking, talking; almost all of them in the merriest possible mood.
Manners scrutinised their faces keenly, and he thought with regret of the time not long ago, when he too had been one of the happiest of all the merry guests of just such another party. But where was Doll? He could not see her anywhere, and so intent was he on searching for his beloved, that the blast of the trumpets by his side startled him and made him fairly jump with surprise.
Mechanically he took his instrument up. The tune was simple and he knew it well, but even as he played his eye wandered from the sheet before him to scan the merry throng below.
Ha! there she was. He discovered her at last, but her gait was lively and her dress was amongst the gayest of the gay; and as she entered leaning upon Sir Edward Stanley's arm she wore a smile upon her face. His heart misgave him at the sight. Had Lettice deceived him? For a moment he entertained the thought, and he cursed the hope which she had planted in his heart, and then in a fear of anxiety he lay the lute down and looked to find the fatal bow of black.
What was it he saw? His gaze was rivetted upon her dress, by the side of which hung the long fan. His eyes seemed to dance about, his head swam, and, before he could determine the question, Dorothy had passed by and taken her place at the table.
Father Nicholas asked a blessing which was even longer and more wearisome than his predecessor had indulged in, and the occupants of the gallery took advantage of the long interval to quaff the greater portion of the refreshing beverage which Sir George, with characteristic generosity, had sent up to them.
The prayer had a conclusion though, and when the good father reached it the fact was signalised by an unanimous, if not very sincere "amen" from the guests, while the band struck up another lively tune.
Throughout the meal the musicians had little rest. One tune was played and immediately another was struck up to take its place, and the gay company at the tables laughed and chattered the while with the utmost vivacity and glee.
For Manners it was a weary time! There appeared to be no end to the succession of dishes, and he impatiently waited for the time when the signal would be given which would give him unbounded joy or doom him to perpetual misery. To him, at least, the time dragged wearily along, the tunes were lifeless, the courses were inordinately long, and it was a positive relief to him when Nicholas rose up again and pronounced a benediction, equally as long and dreary as the opening grace.
The feast was over now, and as the guests defiled out of the room, another air took the place of the one just concluded. As for Manners, all his efforts were concentrated on watching Dorothy's every movement. He ceased to play, for he had not the heart to continue, and, without making any pretence to be playing his instrument, he laid his lute down and watched with eager eyes.
He noticed that his rival sat by her side, nor did she repel him. When she arose he rose too, and together they started to go out of the chamber. Dorothy lingered; Stanley lingered too. What, O what could she be lingering for? In his anxiety Manners stood up to see the better. His pulse moved in jerks and bounds; his heart rose to his throat, and he gasped for very breath.
The lively tune pursued the even tenour of its way; the burly form of the leader screened him well from view, and that functionary was too much engrossed in the execution of the piece to remark the peculiar conduct of his companion.
Dorothy lingered to look at the pictures she knew so well; but Sir Edward tarried at her side. It was evident he was not at all disposed to leave her, and Dorothy herself at last gave up all hopes of his doing so.
Sir Edward said something to her, but the noise drowned the sound of his voice, and Manners could not hear what it was he had said, but the next moment she permitted Stanley to lead her towards the door. The poor minstrel's heart sank at the sight. Was this, then, the fulfilment of Lettice's promise? Had he so misjudged the character of his beloved? He dismissed the thought, for he could not believe it even then.
No, it was not so. Dorothy paused and turned back. Manners involuntarily stood up and followed her with his eyes. Margaret and her betrothed were behind, and to them she went. His spirits revived again.
She laughingly raised her fan and pointed to the carving on the wall.
Was the black knot on? He gasped for breath as he anxiously looked to see. It surely was not there. At all events he could not see it, but then his eyes might be deceiving him, for she was at the further end of the room. Ah! would she only drop the fan which was held up in her trembling hand, and then—
With a clatter the fan dropped upon the pavement. Sir Edward gallantly stooped down and returned it to its fair owner, but Manners waited to see no more. She was his; the signal had been given, and picking up his instrument he set to and contributed as good a share to the gladsome melody as any of his fellows.
PLAIN JOHN MANNERS WINS HIS BRIDE.
One touch of her hand, and one word in her ear, When they reached the hall-door the charger stood near: So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung, So light to the saddle before her he sprung! "She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur, They'll have fleet steeds that follow," quoth young Lochinvar.
Fast waxed the fun at Haddon, and loud above the strains of music rose the sounds of merriment in the grand old Hall.
It was the bridal night. Margaret Vernon had redeemed her troth-plight, given to Sir Thomas Stanley early in the summer, and in the former part of the day she had been joined in holy wedlock with her lover by Father Nicholas Bury, with more of the Roman Catholic ritual than Queen Elizabeth's ministers would have approved of had they known it.
Never had Haddon been so full of visitors before. Never had it been so gay. None who came had been turned away. The baron kept an open house, and whilst the rooms of the Hall were strained to the uttermost to find accommodation for the numerous guests, the gate had been thronged throughout the livelong day by an eager crowd of expectant beggars, none of whom had gone away with empty hands.
But now the night was closing in, and the visitors were determined to make the most of it. Sir George was almost ubiquitous. Here, there, wherever the mirth was loudest, there the form of the jovial baron was sure to be found. Old knights and equally elderly dames congregated together in the capacious oriel windows, and, with the tapestry curtains drawn aside, talked of the good old times of "Bluff King Hal," and pointed out with pride of superiority of their own happy age to these degenerate days. Middle-aged matrons sat proudly watching their offspring as they flitted to and fro, and noted with much satisfaction the matchless beauty of their own daughters, and the mediocrity of the rest; or, were they so inclined, footed it, as of old, with equally middle-aged gallants. Sir Benedict a Woode soon retired from the scene, and taking advantage of his intimate knowledge of the building, he led a few convivial spirits, like himself, into the wine-cellar, which they did their utmost to empty, until, having imbibed too much, they were fain to lie down, through sheer inability to stand.
It was from the rising generation, however, that the greatest merriment arose. These, paired off in ever changing couples, whirled from one end of the room to the other, and then, without a pause, returned again, heedless alike of the gratulations of their elder friends as they passed them by, and of the indifferent gaze of those who were not their friends who looked at them with jealous eyes.
Dorothy, with a heavy load at her heart, wore a bright and even smiling face. She received the flattering service of her admirers as of old, and danced impartially with all who asked for the privilege.
Even Sir Edward Stanley, although she cordially disliked him, came in for a goodly share of her favours. He had noted a change in her conduct of late, and that change was for the better. He imagined that she was readier to accept his advances, and when he had communicated his thoughts to his brother, they were confirmed in almost every respect. Sir Thomas had remarked exactly the same change, and they readily ascribed it to a yielding of the maiden's spirit.
Little did they suspect that this alteration in her bearing was due to any other cause than that Manners was being forgotten, and in his happiness at the change, Sir Edward was content to let her enjoy herself as she listed, feeling sure that ere the end of another month there would be another bridal party, in which Dorothy Vernon and himself would be the principal actors.
When the merriment was at its highest, and the boisterousness was at its climax, Dorothy remembered that the time was fast approaching when she would have to depart. Her lover—he who had risked so much for her sake—would be waiting in the cold meadow with the horses waiting for her! and she sank down to rest, well knowing the terrible strain she would soon be called upon to endure.
"Fair Mistress Dorothy is tired, I perceive," quoth a young knight, as he approached her, longing for her company in another dance.
"Aye," she answered. "I have danced too much, sir knight, and my shoe pinches too," she added, with perfect truth.
"Then by my troth," responded the gallant youth, "I swear you have a full small shoe."
"Come, Dorothy," said Margaret as she came up to her sister's side, "here is a gentle knight who would dance with thee," and she gravely introduced the veteran cavalier De Lacey.
"You will forgive me awhile, will you not, Sir John?" said Dorothy, "for I am wearied and the room is over hot," and smiling back at the gracious reply of the old knight, who accepted her excuse, she retired to the corner of the room, while the disappointed De Lacey proceeded to join company with Sir Benedict a Woode, and found solace in quaffing the baron's wine.
Dorothy's heart was beating fast; the critical moment had come. She was close beside the door which led into the ante-chamber, and a slight noise in that apartment recalled to her memory the fact that her faithful maid Lettice was waiting for her there.
She lingered, and her resolution wavered. It was hard to go and leave behind the scenes of merry childhood and all the pleasant recollections connected with the home; and as she sat there undecided, many pleasant recollections rushed back into her memory and pleaded powerfully with her tender heart. But the greatest pang of all was the parting from the baron. She loved him sincerely, and she knew that he loved her dearly in return. This it was which now held her back, but the movements of her maid in the adjoining room continually reminded her that her lover would be waiting for her with an anxious heart.
The struggle which raged in her breast was bitter, but short and decisive. The love she bore to Manners outweighed all other considerations, and casting a last fond look at the scene from which she was about to tear herself, she chose a moment when a peal of laughter at the further end of the room attracted the attention of the company, and slipping behind the tapestry curtain, she pushed the door gently open and stole quietly through.
It was a desperate thing to do, and required all the nerve that Dorothy had at her command. How the door creaked as she closed it after her. It must, surely, call attention to the fact that she had passed through. But no one came, and she flung herself into the arms of her maid, trembling like an aspen leaf with fear.
"Oh, Lettice," she sobbed, "tell the baron I love him still, and Margaret, too. Poor Meg! 'tis hard to be severed thus."
"Hush, my lady," replied the maid. "This is no time for weeping. Master Manners hath been here awaiting thee. I bade him go, for that were neither safe for him nor thee."
"You shall join us soon, Lettice. But, O! give my duty to the baron. I should care naught were it not for him—and Meg; but Margaret is happy now."
"And so shalt thou be soon. But haste! moments are precious now. Thy gown and everything has gone, and the brave Master Manners waits for thee alone. There, go. Hark! someone is coming," and throwing a shawl over the graceful shoulders of her mistress, Lettice affectionately embraced her, and watching her hasten down the steps she waited until Dorothy was out of sight before shutting and barring the doors behind her.
As Dorothy passed the ballroom, she could hear distinctly the sounds of merriment within, but she heeded them not. The lights shone through the open oriel windows right upon her path, but she crept under the shadow of the wall and passed hastily on. It was a trying time, but she safely passed through it, and quickly found herself at the little latchet gate below the bowling green. It stood open, and through it she hastened, casting neither a look to the right nor to the left, nor yet behind her, but only anxious that her escape should be unknown. Down the slope she ran, nor did she stop until she found herself clasped in the fond embrace of her lover, upon the footbridge.
"My darling," murmured Manners, "thou art come at last. God bless thee, my love," and he kissed the tear-stained face over and over again.
"I am ready, John," she murmured; "but quick, hasten! our start will be short, for they will mark my absence soon."
Bestowing another shower of kisses upon her, Manners led her across the narrow bridge. How gaily the water danced and sparkled and made melody amongst the stones! How the wind sighed sweetly and whispered among the trees, and how the strains of music and the sounds of revelry sounded through the open windows of the Hall. But of all the sounds that Manners heard there was none which thrilled him so much, or caused him so much happiness, as the sound of Dorothy's dress as it rustled against the walls of the narrow bridge when they passed through.
Once on the other side there was no delay. The horses were in waiting, and seizing the bridle of one, Manners helped Dorothy to mount into the saddle, and then lightly springing into another, he set spurs to his steed and away they started.
The most sequestered roads were chosen, for they wished to see as few people as possible, and to be seen by none. But Manners did not trust to this alone. He felt the preciousness of his charge, and had brought horses and men with him, whom he sent off in couples by different roads, to lead their pursuers on a false scent if pursuit were made.
All through the night they rode. Scenes which charmed them before they now passed by unnoticed, and their grandeur was ignored. Masson's heights, up which they had often wandered together, instilled no pleasant thoughts within their breasts now; their one object, which engrossed all their attention, was to hasten forward to gain a haven of safety.
As the grey light of the morning broke upon them, and the rising sun began to make its appearance, they crossed the border, and passed out of the county of Derby into the neighbouring shire of Leicester. Still they pushed on, for there was no telling how soon their pursuers might be upon them; nor did they draw rein until well into the morning, when, though Dorothy, animated for the time being with a wonderful amount of endurance, gave her voice for hastening forward, Manners deemed it advisable, for her sake, to stay.
They stopped their steeds at a wayside inn, but here so unusual a sight as two travellers on horseback—one a maiden of surpassing beauty, clothed in rare and costly silks, and the other a gallant young knight—soon caused a little crowd of curious rustics to congregate around the house.
"Poor lady," exclaimed one tender-hearted matron, as she watched Dorothy dismount. "She is of gentle blood; just see how weary she looks."
"Didst ever see the likes of such a riding dress afore?" asked her neighbour, as she eyed Doll's dress admiringly.
"Beshrew me," added an onlooker of the sterner sex, "'tis a runaway match, I'll warrant me. These horses are ridden to death."
Neither Dorothy nor Manners was disposed to stay any longer than was necessary amid such a curious people, and after partaking of a good breakfast, and indulging in a little rest, they started on their way again, with a fresh relay of horses.
This time they never stopped until they rode up to the little church, within which the shivering clergyman sat, anxiously awaiting the couple whom he had engaged to marry.
He was ignorant of the plot, and though he might have guessed it pretty well, he was by no means anxious to lose by over-inquisitiveness the handsome fee which the young man had promised. He only chafed at their delay, and when at length they arrived and entered the sacred edifice he proceeded straightway with the service, quite as anxious to get it over, so that he might partake of his breakfast, as were the couple before him, and almost as quickly as they could have wished.
"Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?" said the parson, as he gabbled on with the service.
"Aye, I will!" responded Manners, in a clear ringing voice which was echoed among the rafters of the roof, and he took her to his bosom and sealed the pledge with a kiss—a proceeding so unusual and peculiar that the good clergyman opened his eyes and mouth, until finally he came to a full stop.
"I will!" repeated Manners, addressing the parson, "but why do you stop?" and he looked suspiciously behind to see if his pursuers had come to rob him of his prize. There was no one there, however, save a few rustics, who, prompted by sheer curiosity, had entered the church and stood lingering just within the sacred portal, and in a few minutes more the lovers emerged from the little church, safely joined together in the bonds of holy wedlock, followed by the parson, who wore a smiling face, inasmuch as he had been rewarded with a gift far beyond his utmost expectations. But the two lovers were far happier than he, and with the certificate of marriage, signed, sealed, and entered in the register, they remounted their steeds and proceeded at a steady pace to Nottingham Castle, where, the Earl of Rutland having unexpectedly returned, he extended a right hearty welcome to his nephew and his beautiful bride.
PEACE AT LAST.
Nor was she to be found! Her father cried, "'Tis but to make a trial of his love!" And filled his glass to all, but his hand shook, And soon from guest to guest the panic spread.
Still at Haddon the fun maintained its uproarious course, and amid the whirl of festivity Dorothy's absence was not remarked.
Sir Edward Stanley was far too elated with the vision of success which had opened out before him to bore Dorothy with his presence on this occasion, but in spite of this he rarely let his eyes depart from watching her.
"Hi, Sir Edward," cried an inquisitive old dame from one of the deep window recesses. "Hither, good knight, for I would talk with thee awhile."
He could not very well resist such a direct appeal, but he took his seat beside her unwillingly enough.
"I hear, Sir Edward," confidentially began the dame, "that in a month you are to wed Mistress Dorothy Vernon; is that so?"
"It is," he replied, curtly.
"You are a lucky knight, then," she replied, "for, except my Isabel, Dorothy is the fairest maiden I have ever clapt eyes on. But then, Isabel, forsooth, is not so rich. We cannot all be Vernons, you know, though if everybody had their deserts we—"
"Yes, I trow that she is rich and fair; but for neither of these do I care so much as her love," gallantly responded Stanley.
"Tut, now, Sir Edward," pursued his tormentor, "both you and I know full well that people marry for riches and rank, not for beauty. You marry for riches, I suppose, and she for rank. Now, sir knight, am I not right?" she asked triumphantly.
"Nay, my lady, you are far from it. You will excuse me now, I am sure; I am promised a dance with Dorothy shortly," and he got up and departed, glad to get away so quickly, and deaf to her entreaty to return.
His temper was ruffled, and he walked away to look for his partner, to lose his irritation in the sunshine of her company.
But Dorothy was nowhere to be seen.
He paced up and down the length of the room, chafing at her absence, and peering into every corner and recess as he wandered along. The dining-room and banqueting-hall were searched equally in vain, and at last the baffled lover concluded that she had retired for a little rest.
He waited, irritated not a little at the long delay. His eye scanned each passing figure again and again, and rigorously searched each group, but it was all "love's labour lost;" Dorothy could not be found; and finally, unable any longer to control the forebodings of his suspicious heart, he hastened to the baron and acquainted him with all his fears.
"Tush, man," replied Sir George gaily; "maybe she is feeling somewhat out of sorts, or happen she is tired. Margaret!" he called, as the newly-married maiden was passing along, "do thou seek for Dorothy, my Lady Stanley. Thy new brother, Sir Edward, is jealous of her absence."
"Ah, prithee do, good Margaret," added that unhappy knight. "Her absence just at this time bodes no good, I fear, and makes me feel uneasy."
"She shall be here soon," replied Lady Stanley, and she went away to seek the truant sister, leaving her husband to beguile the tediousness of the time by engaging in conversation with his brother. Sir Thomas was in high glee, and could find no sympathy with the miserable forebodings of his younger brother.
"I tell thee what, Edward," he said, "thou must let her have more freedom. You are too rash; you must be astute an you would succeed. Dorothy is drawn by affection, not driven by ill words or sour looks. It had been better for thee, I trow, an thou hadst not pressed for the marriage so soon; but thou hast done it now."
"Lady Maude advised me in it, and I cannot say I repent it now, though my heart does misgive ever and again," he replied.
"That John Manners," continued the elder Stanley, "is a good enough man, a likely fellow, and would have done well for Dorothy; aye, and had not you been in the way, he would have won her, too. Thou art no match for him, Edward; thou art too impatient."
Edward hung down his head, and gazed uncomfortably upon the floor. He was conscious of the truth of his brother's statement, and could not well refute it. He paused in silence, hoping that the subject would be pursued no further.
"Here comes Margaret," he said, lifting up his head and feeling mightily relieved that the awkward pause had come to an end; but sorely dismayed to see no Dorothy following behind.
"Where is she?—she has gone!" he almost screamed as he saw the look of consternation on her face.
"I cannot find her," Margaret replied, addressing herself to Sir Thomas. "I have searched her rooms, but all in vain; and no one knows aught of her, no one has seen her."
"Said I not so?" furiously exclaimed Sir Edward. "She has gone; the bird has flown."
"What bird?" asked the baron, coming up.
"Dorothy, Sir George. Dorothy has fled."
"Fled; nay it cannot be," returned the baron, stoutly. He had too much faith in Dorothy to believe that.
"They are searching for her now," said Margaret. "Nobody knows where she is, and Sir Edward has missed her long. I cannot understand it."
"Her clothes are gone. Her riding habit has gone," exclaimed one of the domestics, rushing breathlessly up to the group. "Father Nicholas hath just come in and he says two horses, galloping, passed him on the Ashbourne road. One, he thinks might have been a lady, but it was too dark to see distinctly."
This she gasped out in jerks, but her news was intelligible enough, and it threw the whole assembly at once into a ferment of confusion, amid which could be heard the voice of Sir Edward Stanley exclaiming, in a tone far above the rest of the babel—"That was Dorothy."
"Gone!" exclaimed the baron, aghast. "Nay, search the Hall."
"Out; to your saddles, ye gallant knights," commanded Sir Thomas Stanley, promptly. "Here is a prize worth the capturing. She must be stopped!" and he quickly led the way to the stables, and in a very short space of time was mounted and urging his steed to the utmost along the Ashbourne road.
Sir George stayed behind; he could not believe that Dorothy had really gone; but when a thorough investigation of the Hall, and the outbuildings also, revealed the fact that she was nowhere there, he was stricken with dismay, and succumbed, for a time, to a feeling of despair.
"Nicholas," he said, as the worthy father approached to comfort him, "thou art sure that one was a lady?"
"It was dark, Sir George," the priest replied. "I was unsuspicious, and deep in meditation, but I fear it was so."
"Was it my Doll?"
"I cannot say," he replied. "I never saw the face, and did but imperfectly see the form."
The baron sank back, regardless of the ladies who crowded round him, commiserating his ill fortune. He remained silent, with a bowed head and bleeding heart.
All night long the pursuit was kept up. Every lane was searched, every innkeeper was severely catechised, and although in several instances they had the satisfaction of hearing that couples, either on horses or in conveyances, had passed, yet when the quarry was hunted down, if it did not turn out to be an inoffensive market gardener and his worthy spouse returning from Derby Christmas market, in almost every other instance the horsemen were the decoys that Manners had so carefully provided.
At last the chase was given up. Dorothy had proved one too many for them, and with mingled feelings her pursuers turned their steeds again towards Haddon, curious to learn if any of the others had been more fortunate than themselves.
The two Stanleys were the last to return, but after having been out in the saddle for more than a whole day, and that upon the right scent, they were obliged to return without having met with success.
The next day was spent in searching the neighbourhood. Every inn and every house was visited, but the night falling, they returned again empty-handed, and very disconsolate.
News came with the next day's courier, for Dorothy dutifully acquainted her father, in a touching letter, with all the details of the engagement, the elopement, and the marriage. Manners, too, sent a note to the baron, in which he pathetically pleaded Dorothy's cause. "And sure," the epistle concluded, "so doting a father as you undoubtedly are would not force so loving a daughter to wed against her will. You clearly sought her welfare and, in choosing Sir Edward Stanley, thought you were doing well for her, but it was a sad mistake. I have her undivided love, and even if we are for ever banished from 'dear old Haddon,' as Doll delights to call it, we shall be happy in each other's confidence and love; though I confess that Dorothy hath a tender heart and grieves to think how you must regard her. None but myself, she declares, could ever have led her to leave thee. I feel for thee, but I feel for my sweet Doll, too. At thy bidding, whenever given, we will gladly visit thee. Till then—adieu."
"Married!" cried Lady Vernon, aghast, as Sir Thomas Stanley read the letter aloud. She was speechless with rage and could say no more, but her looks betokened the feelings of her heart."
"Married!" echoed Sir Edward, in dismay.
"Aye, married," responded Sir Thomas. "You have lost her, Edward; it is as I said."
"Poor, foolish Dorothy," exclaimed the baron, in a decidedly sympathetic frame of mind. "Poor Doll."
"Poor Dorothy, indeed," retorted Lady Maude, sharply. "Wicked, perverse Dorothy, you mean, Sir George. I shall never look at her again. We must make her undo the marriage bond again, Sir Edward," she continued, turning to the disappointed lover.
Even that rash knight could see the futility of such advice, and he despondently shook his head.
"Nay," he said, "I fear that cannot be easily done."
"Easily done, sir knight," tauntingly replied the dame. "Who talks of ease in a matter like this? It must—it shall be done."
"It cannot be done," replied Sir Thomas, promptly. "Manners will have been too careful to allow of that. We must resign ourselves to the loss; and you, Edward, will have to seek elsewhere for a bride."
"'Resign' and 'cannot,'" continued Lady Vernon, contemptuously. "Did'st ever hear the like of it, Margaret?"
But Margaret was mercifully inclined, and by siding with Dorothy she would be supporting her husband. Therefore she could not agree with the angry declamations of her stepmother.
"Poor Dorothy," she exclaimed, "I pity her, but she has done foolishly indeed."
Lady Vernon was astonished; she had counted upon Margaret's support at least.
"Pity her, indeed!" she scornfully laughed. "She shall have little enough of my pity if ever I clap my eyes on her again," replied Lady Vernon. "She shall never come here again."
"Hush, Maude," interrupted the baron, "I shall settle that."
Lady Vernon had never been spoken to in such a manner since she had wedded Sir George, and she staggered back in surprise as though she had been struck by an invisible hand.
"You will—!" she began, but checked herself. The baron's brow was forbidding. She had never seen him look so threatening before, and she cowered back in fear and kept a discreet silence.
"I am furious," the baron burst out, with a sudden revulsion of feeling. "To think that my Dorothy should serve me thus! and as she has chosen, so shall it be. She prefers Manners to me, then she shall have him. I disown her, she is none of mine. She shall never return."
Flesh and blood, however, is very human, and, in spite of his stern resolve never to see Dorothy again, the baron's naturally kind heart soon began to soften, and in a short space of time his feelings had entirely undergone a change. He longed to clasp his lost darling to his heart again, and tell her she was forgiven, but he was proud, and his pride held him back from declaring his sentiments.
It was not long to be endured. He became anxious. Dorothy was ill. Sir Ronald Bury had sent him word of that in a letter which was calculated to stab the baron to the very heart. He grew restless; his conscience pricked him day and night, until, unable to bear it any longer, he declared himself.
"Maude," he said, as together they sat in the lonely dining-room, "Dorothy has been a month gone now."
"Yes," she carelessly replied.
"And I hear she is sorely ill."
"Like enough," said Lady Vernon, not unwilling to make the knight suffer a little, for she had not forgiven him yet. "She was ill enough when she went."
"Then," returned the baron, "she shall come back; we cannot do without her."
Lady Vernon turned sharply round to expostulate with her lord, but seeing his forbidding countenance, she desisted, and her silence Sir George tacitly construed as acquiescence.
"I shall send for her this very day," pursued the good old knight, "we must try to forget the past, Maude—for, in good sooth, we have all done amiss—and begin again. We have no Margaret now, and without Doll, gone in such a fashion withal, we were miserable indeed."
"We must have more balls and feasts," quickly suggested Lady Maude. "They will heal our wounds."
"Balls and feasts!" repeated the baron. "Nay, we are too old for those now. We should only get Benedict and old De Lacey to come, for, by my halidame, squires and knights won't come to see us now Meg and Doll are gone, and then, Maude, after all, you know," he continued slyly, "love will have its own way, and you trow full well that folk blamed me enough when I wedded."
Lady Maude blushed. The comments on her marriage with the baron had been by no means what she might have wished, as the remembrance of them was not particularly pleasant to her even now, so she discreetly held her peace.
"We cannot blame her, Maude," went on Sir George, waxing enthusiastic as the love of Dorothy asserted itself more and more within him. "We are all alike to blame, and had I been John Manners myself, I should maybe have done just what he has done. Who could help it, eh, Maude? Not I, in truth; and then, Manners has done us good service, too. We must welcome them back, and make them happy if we can. I shall send a message off now."
Before his feelings had found time to change—even had he so wished—he scrawled a note of forgiveness to the fugitives, praying them to return, and before he returned to his wife the messenger was on his way.
* * * * *
A warm welcome awaited gallant John Manners and his beautiful lady as, a week later, they were met by the fond father just outside Haddon.
Impatiently, the baron had awaited their return. For two whole days he had done little else than watch for their coming, from the loftiest portion of the tall eagle tower, and when at last the little cavalcade could be distinguished in the far distance, wending its way with all possible haste towards the Hall, he started off to meet them.
It was a glad reunion. Even Lady Maude was touched, as she met them in the courtyard, and with much more kindliness than she had been wont to treat Doll for some time, she kissed the upraised face; Manners received a stately bow. He, at all events, had much to be forgiven yet; but the baron, casting the last particle of pride to the winds, warmly and repeatedly embraced his daughter, and frankly greeted her husband.