Twilight was over, Caspar had lighted his lamp, and the moon had risen, before lord Herbert came.
'I am glad to find you have patience as well as punctuality in the catalogue of your virtues, mistress Dorothy,' he said as he entered. 'I too am punctual, and am therefore sorry to have failed now, but it is not my fault: I had to attend my father. For his sake pardon me.'
'It were but a small matter, my lord, even had it been uncompelled, to keep an idle girl waiting.'
'I think not so,' returned lord Herbert. 'But come now, I will explain to you my wonderful fire-engine.'
As he spoke, he took her by the hand, and led her towards it. The creature blazed, groaned, and puffed, but there was no motion to be seen about it save that of the flames through the cracks in the door of the furnace, neither was there any clanking noise of metal. A great rushing sound somewhere in the distance, that seemed to belong to it, yet appeared too far off to have any connection with it.
'It is a noisy thing,' he said, as they stood before it, 'but when I make another, it shall do its work that thou wouldst not hear it outside the door. Now listen to me for a moment, cousin. Should it come to a siege and I not at Raglan—the wise man will always provide for the worst—Caspar will be wanted everywhere. Now this engine is essential to the health and comfort, if not to the absolute life of the castle, and there is no one at present capable of managing it save us two. A very little instruction, however, would enable any one to do so: will you undertake it, cousin, in case of need?'
'Make me assured that I can, and I will, my lord,' answered Dorothy.
'A good and sufficing answer,' returned his lordship, with a smile of satisfaction. 'First then,' he went on, 'I will show you wherein lies its necessity to the good of the castle. Come with me, cousin Dorothy.'
He led the way from the room, and began to ascend the stair which rose just outside it. Dorothy followed, winding up through the thickness of the wall. And now she could not hear the engine. As she went up, however, certain sounds of it came again, and grew louder till they seemed close to her ears, then gradually died away and once more ceased. But ever, as they ascended, the rushing sound which had seemed connected with it, although so distant, drew nearer and nearer, until, having surmounted three of the five lofty stories of the building, they could scarcely hear each other speak for the roar of water, falling in intermittent jets. At last they came out on the top of the wall, with nothing between them and the moat below but the battlemented parapet, and behold! the mighty tower was roofed with water: a little tarn filled all the space within the surrounding walk. It undulated in the moonlight like a subsiding storm, and beat the encircling banks. For into its depths shot rather than poured a great volume of water from a huge orifice in the wall, and the roar and the rush were tremendous. It was like the birth of a river, bounding at once from its mountain rock, and the sound of its fall indicated the great depth of the water into which it plunged. Solid indeed must be the walls that sustained the outpush of such a weight of water!
'You see now, cousin, what yon fire-souled slave below is labouring at,' said his lordship. 'His task is to fill this cistern, and that he can in a few hours; and yet, such a slave is he, a child who understands his fetters and the joints of his bones can guide him at will.'
'But, my lord,' questioned Dorothy, 'is there not water here to supply the castle for months? And there is the draw-well in the pitched court besides.'
'Enough, I grant you,' he replied, 'for the mere necessities of life. But what would come of its pleasures? Would not the beleaguered ladies miss the bounty of the marble horse? Whence comes the water he gives so freely that he needeth not to drink himself? He would thirst indeed but for my water-commanding fiend below. Or how would the birds fare, were the fountains on the islands dry in the hot summer? And what would the children say if he ceased to spout? And how would my lord's tables fare, with the armed men besetting every gate, the fish-ponds dry, and the fish rotting in the sun? See you, mistress Dorothy? And for the draw-well, know you not wherein lies the good of a tower stronger than all the rest? Is it not built for final retreat, the rest of the castle being at length in the hands of the enemy? Where then is your draw-well?'
'But this tower, large as it is, could not receive those now within the walls of the castle,' said Dorothy.
'They will be fewer ere its shelter is needful.'
It was his tone quite as much as the words that drove a sudden sickness to the heart of the girl: for one moment she knew what siege and battle meant. But she recovered herself with a strong effort, and escaped from the thought by another question.
'And whence comes all this water, my lord?' she said, for she was one who would ask until she knew all that concerned her.
'Have you not chanced to observe a well in my workshop below, on the left-hand side of the door, not far from the great chest?'
'I have observed it, my lord.'
'That is a very deep well, with a powerful spring. Large pipes lead from all but the very bottom of that to my fire-engine. The fuller the well, the more rapid the flow into the cistern, for the shallower the water, the more labour falls to my giant. He is finding it harder work now. But you see the cistern is nearly full.'
'Forgive me, my lord, if I am troubling you,' said Dorothy, about to ask another question.
'I delight in the questions of the docile,' said his lordship. 'They are the little children of wisdom. There! that might be out of the book of Ecclesiasticus,' he added, with a merry laugh. 'I might pass that off on Dr. Bayly for my father's: he hath already begun to gather my father's sayings into a book, as I have discovered. But, prithee, cousin, let not my father know of it.'
'Fear not me, my lord,' returned Dorothy. 'Having no secrets of my own to house, it were evil indeed to turn my friends' out of doors.'
'Why, that also would do for Dr. Bayly! Well said, Dorothy! Now for thy next question.'
'It is this, my lord: having such a well in your foundations, whence the need of such a cistern on your roof? I mean now as regards the provision of the keep itself in case of ultimate resort.'
'In coming to deal with a place of such strength as this,' replied his lordship, '—I mean the keep whereon we now stand, not the castle, which, alas! hath many weak points—the enemy would assuredly change the siege into a blockade; that is, he would try to starve instead of fire us out; and, procuring information sufficiently to the point, would be like enough to dig deep and cut the water-veins which supply that well; and thereafter all would depend on the cistern. From the moment therefore when the first signs of siege appear, it will be wisdom and duty on the part of the person in charge to keep it constantly full—full as a cup to the health of the king. I trust however that such will be the good success of his majesty's arms that the worst will only have to be provided against, not encountered.—But there is more in it yet. Come hither, cousin. Look down through this battlement upon the moat. You see the moon in it? No? That is because it is covered so thick with weeds. When you go down, mark how low it is. There is little defence in the moat that a boy might wade through. I have allowed it to get shallow in order to try upon its sides a new cement I have lately discovered; but weeks and weeks have passed, and I have never found the leisure, and now I am sure I never shall until this rebellion is crushed. It is time I filled it. Pray look down upon it, cousin. In summer it will be full of the loveliest white water-lilies, though now you can see nothing but green weeds.'
He had left her side and gone a few paces away, but kept on speaking.
'One strange thing I can tell you about them, cousin—the roots of that whitest of flowers make a fine black dye! What apophthegm founded upon that, thinkest thou, my father would drop for Dr Bayly?'
'You perplex me much, my lord,' said Dorothy. 'I cannot at all perceive your lordship's drift.'
'Lay a hand on each side of the battlement where you now stand; lean through it and look down. Hold fast and fear nothing.' Dorothy did as she was desired, and thus supported gazed upon the moat below, where it lay a mere ditch at the foot of the lofty wall.
'My lord, I see nothing,' she said, turning to him, as she thought; but he had vanished.
Again she looked at the moat, and then her eyes wandered away over the castle. The two courts and their many roofs, even those of all the towers, except only the lofty watch-tower on the western side, lay bare beneath her, in bright moonlight, flecked and blotted with shadows, all wondrous in shape and black as Erebus.
Suddenly, she knew not whence, arose a frightful roaring, a hollow bellowing, a pent-up rumbling. Seized by a vague terror, she clung to the parapet and trembled. But even the great wall beneath her, solid as the earth itself, seemed to tremble under her feet, as with some inward commotion or dismay. The next moment the water in the moat appeared to rush swiftly upwards, in wild uproar, fiercely confused, and covered with foam and spray. To her bewildered eyes, it seemed to heap itself up, wave upon furious wave, to reach the spot where she stood, greedy to engulf her. For an instant she fancied the storming billows pouring over the edge of the battlement, and started back in such momentary agony as we suffer in dreams. Then, by a sudden rectification of her vision, she perceived that what she saw was in reality a multitude of fountain jets rushing high towards their parent-cistern, but far-failing ere they reached it. The roar of their onset was mingled with the despairing tumult of their defeat, and both with the deep tumble and wallowing splash of the water from the fire-engine, which grew louder and louder as the surface of the water in the reservoir sank. The uproar ceased as suddenly as it had commenced, but the moat mirrored a thousand moons in the agitated waters which had overwhelmed its mantle of weeds.
'You see now,' said lord Herbert, rejoining her while still she gazed, 'how necessary the cistern is to the keep? Without it, the few poor springs in the moat would but sustain it as you saw it. From here I can fill it to the brim.'
'I see,' answered Dorothy. 'But would not a simple overflow serve, carried from the well through the wall?'
'It would, were there no other advantages with which this mode harmonised. I must mention one thing more—which I was almost forgetting, and which I cannot well show you to-night—namely, that I can use this water not only as a means of defence in the moat, but as an engine of offence also against any one setting unlawful or hostile foot upon the stone bridge over it. I can, when I please, turn that bridge, the same by which you cross to come here, into a rushing aqueduct, and with a torrent of water sweep from it a whole company of invaders.'
'But would they not have only to wait until the cistern was empty?'
'As soon and so long as the bridge is clear, the outflow ceases. One sweep, and my water-broom would stop, and the rubbish lie sprawling under the arch, or half-way over the court. And more still,' he added with emphasis: 'I COULD make it boiling!'
'But your lordship would not?' faltered Dorothy.
'That might depend,' he answered with a smile. Then changing his tone in absolute and impressive seriousness, 'But this is all nothing but child's play,' he said, 'compared with what is involved in the matter of this reservoir. The real origin of it was its needfulness to the perfecting of my fire-engine.'
'Pardon me, my lord, but it seems to me that without the cistern there would be no need for the engine. How should you want or how could you use the unhandsome thing? Then how should the cistern be necessary to the engine?'
'Handsome is that handsome does,' returned his lordship. 'Truly, cousin Dorothy, you speak well, but you must learn to hear better. I did not say that the cistern existed for the sake of the engine, but for the sake of the perfecting of the engine. Cousin Dorothy, I will give you the largest possible proof of my confidence in you, by not only explaining to you the working of my fire-engine, but acquainting you—only you must not betray me!'
'I, in my turn,' said Dorothy, 'will give your lordship, if not the strongest, yet a very strong proof of my confidence: I promise to keep your secret before knowing what it is.'
'Thanks, cousin. Listen then: That engine is a mingling of discovery and invention such as hath never had its equal since first the mechanical powers were brought to the light. For this shall be as a soul to animate those, all and each—lever, screw, pulley, wheel, and axle—what you will. No engine of mightiest force ever for defence or assault invented, let it be by Archimedes himself, but could by my fire-engine be rendered tenfold more mighty for safety or for destruction, although as yet I have applied it only to the blissful operation of lifting water, thus removing the curse of it where it is a curse, and carrying it where the parched soil cries for its help to unfold the treasures of its thirsty bosom. My fire-engine shall yet uplift the nation of England above the heads of all richest and most powerful nations on the face of the whole earth. For when the troubles of this rebellion are over, which press so heavily on his majesty and all loyal subjects, compelling even a peaceful man like myself to forsake invention for war, and the workman's frock which I love, for the armour which I love not, when peace shall smile again on the country, and I shall have time to perfect the work of my hands, I shall present it to my royal master, a magical supremacy of power, which shall for ever raise him and his royal progeny above all use or need of subsidies, ship-money, benevolences, or taxes of whatever sort or name, to rule his kingdom as independent of his subjects in reality as he is in right; for this water-commanding engine, which God hath given me to make, shall be the source of such wealth as no accountant can calculate. For herewith may marsh-land be thoroughly drained, or dry land perfectly watered; great cities kept sweet and wholesome; mines rid of the water gathering from springs therein, so as he may enrich himself withal; houses be served plentifully on every stage; and gardens in the dryest summer beautified and comforted with fountains. Which engine when I found that it was in the power of my hands to do, as well as of my heart to conceive that it might be done, I did kneel down and give humble thanks from the bottom of my heart to the omnipotent God whose mercies are fathomless, for his vouchsafing me an insight into so great a secret of nature and so beneficial to all mankind as this my engine.'
With all her devotion to the king, and all her hatred and contempt of the parliament and the puritans, Dorothy could not help a doubt whether such independence might be altogether good either for the king himself or the people thus subjected to his will. But the farther doubt did not occur to her whether a pre-eminence gained chiefly by wealth was one to be on any grounds desired for the nation, or, setting that aside, was one which carried a single element favourable to perpetuity.
All this time they had been standing on the top of the keep, with the moonlight around them, and in their ears the noise of the water flowing from the dungeon well into the sky-roofed cistern. But now it came in diminished flow.
'It is the earth that fails in giving, not my engine in taking,' said lord Herbert as he turned to lead the way down the winding stair. Ever as they went, the noise of the water grew fainter and the noise of the engine grew louder, but just as they stepped from the stair, it gave a failing stroke or two, and ceased. A dense white cloud met them as they entered the vault.
'Stopped for the night, Caspar?' said his lordship.
'Yes, my lord; the well is nearly out.'
'Let it sleep,' returned his master; 'like a man's heart it will fill in the night. Thank God for the night and darkness and sleep, in which good things draw nigh like God's thieves, and steal themselves in—water into wells, and peace and hope and courage into the minds of men. Is it not so, my cousin?'
Dorothy did not answer in words, but she looked up in his face with a reverence in her eyes that showed she understood him. And this was one of the idolatrous catholics! It was neither the first nor the last of many lessons she had to receive, in order to learn that a man may be right although the creed for which he is and ought to be ready to die, may contain much that is wrong. Alas! that so few, even of such men, ever reflect, that it is the element common to all the creeds which gives its central value to each.
'I cannot show you the working of the engine to-night,' said lord Herbert. 'Caspar has decreed otherwise.'
'I can soon set her agoing again, my lord,' said Caspar.
'No, no. We must to the powder-mill, Caspar. Mistress Dorothy will come again to-morrow, and you must yourself explain to her the working and management of it, for I shall be away. And do not fear to trust my cousin, Caspar, although she be a soft-handed lady. Let her have the brute's halter in her own hold.'
Filled with gratitude for the trust he reposed in her, Dorothy took her leave, and the two workmen immediately abandoned their shop for the night, leaving the door wide open behind them to let out the vapours of the fire-engine, in the confidence that no unlicensed foot would dare to cross the threshold, and betook themselves to the powder-mill, where they continued at work the greater part of the night.
His lordship was unfavourable to the storing of powder because of the danger, seeing they could, on his calculation, from the materials lying ready for mixing, in one week prepare enough to keep all the ordnance on the castle walls busy for two. But indeed he had not such a high opinion of gunpowder but that he believed engines for projection, more powerful as well as less expensive, could be constructed, after the fashion of ballista or catapult, by the use of a mode he had discovered of immeasurably increasing the strength of springs, so that stones of a hundredweight might be thrown into a city from a quarter of a mile's distance without any noise audible to those within. It was this device he was brooding over when Dorothy came upon him by the arblast. Nor did the conviction arise from any prejudice against fire-arms, for he had, among many other wonderful things of the sort, in cannons, sakers, harquebusses, muskets, musquetoons, and all kinds, invented a pistol to discharge a dozen times with one loading, and without so much as new priming being once requisite, or the possessor having to change it out of one hand into the other, or stop his horse.
One who had happened to see lord Herbert as he went about within his father's walls, busy yet unhasting, earnest yet cheerful, rapid in all his movements yet perfectly composed, would hardly have imagined that a day at a time, or perhaps two, was all he was now able to spend there, days which were to him as breathing-holes in the ice to the wintered fishes. For not merely did he give himself to the enlisting of large numbers of men, but commanded both horse and foot, meeting all expenses from his own pocket, or with the assistance of his father. A few months before the period at which my story has arrived, he had in eight days raised six regiments, fortified Monmouth and Chepstow, and garrisoned half-a-dozen smaller but yet important places. About a hundred noblemen and gentlemen whom he had enrolled as a troop of life-guards, he furnished with the horses and arms which they were unable to provide with sufficient haste for themselves. So prominenf indeed were his services on behalf of the king, that his father was uneasy because of the jealousy and hate it would certainly rouse in the minds of some of his majesty's well-wishers—a just presentiment, as his son had too good reason to acknowledge after he had spent a million of money, besides the labour and thought and dangerous endeavour of years, in the king's service.
MOONLIGHT AND APPLE-BLOSSOMS.
The next morning, immediately after breakfast, lord Herbert set out for Chepstow first and then Monmouth, both which places belonged to his father, and were principal sources of his great wealth.
Still, amid the rush of the changeful tides of war around them, and the rumour of battle filling the air, all was peaceful within the defences of Raglan, and its towers looked abroad over a quiet country, where the cattle fed and the green wheat grew. On the far outskirts of vision, indeed, a smoke might be seen at times from the watch-tower, and across the air would come the dull boom of a great gun from one of the fortresses, at which lady Margaret's cheek would turn pale; but, although every day something was done to strengthen the castle, although masons were at work here and there about the walls like bees, and Caspar Kaltoff was busy in all directions, now mounting fresh guns, now repairing steel cross-bows, now getting out of the armoury the queerest oldest-fashioned engines to place wherever available points could be found, there was no hurry and no confusion, and indeed so little appearance of unusual activity, that an unmilitary stranger might have passed a week in the castle without discovering that preparations for defence were actively going on. All around them the buds were creeping out, uncurling, spreading abroad, straightening themselves, smoothing out the creases of their unfolding, and breathing the air of heaven—in some way very pleasant to creatures with roots as well as to creatures with legs. The apple-blossoms came out, and the orchard was lovely as with an upward-driven storm of roseate snow. Ladies were oftener seen passing through the gates and walking in the gardens—where the fountains had begun to play, and the swans and ducks on the lakes felt the return of spring in every fibre of their webby feet and cold scaly legs.
And Dorothy sat as it were at the spring-head of the waters, for, through her dominion over the fire-engine, she had become the naiad of Raglan. The same hour in which lord Herbert departed she went to Kaltoff, and was by him instructed in its mysteries. On the third day after, so entirely was the Dutchman satisfied with her understanding and management of it, that he gave up to her the whole water-business. And now, as I say, she sat at the source of all the streams and fountains of the place, and governed them all. The horse of marble spouted and ceased at her will, but in general she let the stream from his mouth flow all day long. Every water-cock on the great tower was subject to her. From the urn of her pleasure the cistern was daily filled, and from the summit of defence her flood went pouring into the moat around its feet, until it mantled to the brim, turning the weeds into a cold shadowy pavement of green for a foil to its pellucid depth. She understood all the secrets of the aqueous catapult, at which its contriver had little more than hinted on that memorable night when he disclosed so much, and believed she could arrange it for action without assistance. At the same time her new responsibilities required but a portion of her leisure, and lady Margaret was not the less pleased with the wise-headed girl, whose manners and mental ways were such a contrast to her own, that her husband considered her fit to be put in charge of his darling invention. But Dorothy kept silence concerning the trust to all but her mistress, who, on her part, was prudent enough to avoid any allusion which might raise yet higher the jealousy of her associates, by whom she was already regarded as supplanting them in the favour of their mistress.
One lovely evening in May, the moon at the full, the air warm yet fresh, the apple-blossoms at their largest, with as yet no spot upon their fair skin, and the nightingales singing out of their very bones, the season, the hour, the blossoms, and the moon had invaded every chamber in the castle, seized every heart of both man and beast, and turned all into one congregation of which the nightingales were the priests. The cocks were crowing as if it had been the dawn itself instead of its ghost they saw; the dogs were howling, but whether that was from love or hate of the moon, I cannot tell; the pigeons were cooing; the peacock had turned his train into a paralune, understanding well that the carnival could not be complete without him and his; and the wild beasts were restless, uttering a short yell now and then, at least aware that something was going on. All the inhabitants of the castle were out of doors, the ladies and gentlemen in groups here and there about the gardens and lawns and islands, and the domestics, and such of the garrison as were not on duty, wandering hither and thither where they pleased, careful only not to intrude on their superiors.
Lady Margaret was walking with her step-son Henry on a lawn under the northern window of the picture-gallery, and there the ladies Elizabeth and Anne joined them—the former a cheerful woman, endowed with a large share of her father's genial temperament; joke or jest would moult no feather in lady Elizabeth's keeping; the latter quiet, sincere, and reverent. The marquis himself, notwithstanding a slight attack of the gout, had hobbled on his stick to a chair set for him on the same lawn. Beside him sat lady Mary, younger than the other two, and specially devoted to her father.
Their gentlewomen were also out, flitting in groups that now and then mingled and changed. Rowland Scudamore joined lady Margaret's people, and in a moment lady Broughton was laughing merrily. But mistress Doughty walked on with straight neck, as if there were nobody but herself in heaven or on the earth, although mortals were merry by her side, and nightingales singing themselves to death over her head. Behind them came Amanda Serafina, with her eyes on her feet, and the corners of her pretty mouth drawn down in contempt of nobody in particular. Now and then Scudamore, when satisfied with his own pretty wit, would throw a glance behind him, and she, somehow or other, would, without change of muscle, let him know that she had heard him. This group sauntered into the orchard.
After them came Dorothy with Dr Bayly, talking of their common friend Mr. Matthew Herbert, and following them into the orchard, wandered about among the trees, under the curdled moonlight of the apple-blossoms, amid the challenges and responses of five or six nightingales, that sang as if their bodies had dwindled under the sublimating influences of music, until, with more than cherubic denudation, their sum of being was reduced to a soul and a throat.
Moonlight, apple-blossoms, nightingales, with the souls of men and women for mirrors and reflectors! The picture is for the musician not the painter, either him of words or him of colours. It was like a lovely show in the land of dreams, even to the living souls that moved in and made part of it. The earth is older now, colder at the heart, a little nearer to the fate of cold-hearted things, which is to be slaves and serve without love; but she has still the same moonlight, the same apple-blossoms, the same nightingales, and we have the same hearts, and so can understand it. But, alas! how differently should we come in amongst the accessories of such a picture! For we men at least are all but given over to ugliness, and, artistically considered, even vulgarity, in the matter of dress, wherein they, of all generations of English men and women, were too easily supreme both as to form and colour. Hence, while they are an admiration to us, we shall be but a laughter to those that come behind us, and that whether their fashions be better than ours or no, for nothing is so ridiculous as ugliness out of date. The glimmer of gold and silver, the glitter of polished steel, the flashing of jewels, and the flowing of plumes, went well. But, so canopied with loveliness, so besung with winged passion, so clothed that even with the heavenly delicacies enrounding them they blended harmoniously, their moonlit orchard was an island beat by the waves of war, its air would quiver and throb by fits, shaken with the roar of cannon, and might soon gleam around them with the whirring sweep of the troopers' broad blades; while all throughout the land, the hateful demon of party spirit tore wide into gashes the wounds first made by conscience in the best, and by prejudice in the good.
The elder ladies had floated away together between the mossy stems, under the canopies of blossoms; Rowland had fallen behind and joined the waiting Amanda, and the two were now flitting about like moths in the moonshine; Dorothy and Dr. Bayly had halted in an open spot, like a moonlight impluvium, the divine talking eagerly to the maiden, and the maiden looking up at the moon, and heeding the nightingales more than the divine.
'CAN they be English nightingales?' said Dorothy thoughtfully.
The doctor was bewildered for a moment. He had been talking about himself, not the nightingales, but he recovered himself like a gentleman.
'Assuredly, mistress Dorothy,' he replied; 'this is the land of their birth. Hither they come again when the winter is over.'
'Yes; they take no part in our troubles. They will not sing to comfort our hearts in the cold; but give them warmth enough, and they sing as careless of battle-fields and dead men as if they were but moonlight and apple-blossoms.'
'Is it not better so?' returned the divine after a moment's thought. 'How would it be if everything in nature but re-echoed our moan?'
Dorothy looked at the little man, and was in her turn a moment silent.
'Then,' she said, 'we must see in these birds and blossoms, and that great blossom in the sky, so many prophets of a peaceful time and a better country, sent to remind us that we pass away and go to them.'
'Nay, my dear mistress Dorothy!' returned the all but obsequious doctor; 'such thoughts do not well befit your age, or rather, I would say, your youth. Life is before you, and life is good. These evil times will go by, the king shall have his own again, the fanatics will be scourged as they deserve, and the church will rise like the phoenix from the ashes of her purification.'
'But how many will lie out in the fields all the year long, yet never see blossoms or hear nightingales more!' said Dorothy.
'Such will have died martyrs,' rejoined the doctor.
'On both sides?' suggested Dorothy.
Again for a moment the good man stood checked. He had not even thought of the dead on the other side.
'That cannot be,' he said. And Dorothy looked up again at the moon.
But she listened no more to the songs of the nightingales, and they left the orchard together in silence.
'Come, Rowland, we must not be found here alone,' said Amanda, who saw them go. 'But tell me one thing first: is mistress Dorothy Vaughan indeed your cousin?'
'She is indeed. Her mother and mine were cousins german—sisters' children.'
'I thought it could not be a near cousinship. You are not alike at all. Hear me, Rowland, but let it die in your ear—I love not mistress Dorothy.'
'And the reason, lovely hater? "Is not the maiden fair to see?" as the old song says. I do not mean that she is fair as some are fair, but she will pass; she offends not.'
'She is fair enough—not beautiful, not even pleasing; but, to be just, the demure look she puts on may bear the fault of that. Rowland, I would not speak evil of any one, but your cousin is a hypocrite. She is false at heart, and she hates me. Trust me, she but bides her time to let me know it—and you too, my Rowland.'
'I am sure you mistake her, Amanda,' said Scudamore. 'Her looks are but modest, and her words but shy, for she came hither from a lonely house. I believe she is honest and good.'
'Seest thou not then how that she makes friends with none but her betters? Already hath she wound herself around my lady's heart, forsooth! and now she pays her court to the puffing chaplain! Hast thou never observed, my Rowland, how oft she crosses the bridge to the yellow tower? What seeks she there? Old Kaltoff, the Dutchman, it can hardly be. I know she thinks to curry with my lord by pretending to love locks and screws and pistols and such like. "But why should she haunt the place when my lord is not there?" you will ask. Her pretence will hold the better for it, no doubt, and Caspar will report concerning her. And if she pleases my lord well, who knows but he may give her a pair of watches to hang at her ears, or a box that Paracelsus himself could not open without the secret as well as the key? I have heard of both such. They say my lord hath twenty cartloads of quite as wonderful things in that vault he calls his workshop. Hast thou never marked the huge cabinet of black inlaid with silver, that stands by the wall—fitter indeed for my lady's chamber than such a foul place?'
'I have seen it,' answered Scudamore.
'I warrant me it hath store of gewgaws fit for a duchess.'
'Like enough,' assented Rowland.
'If mistress Dorothy were to find the way through my lord's favour into that cabinet—truly it were nothing to thee or me, Rowland.'
'Assuredly not. It would be my lord's own business.'
'Once upon a time I was sent to carry my young lady Raven thither—to see my lord earn his bread, as said my lady: and what should my lord but give her no less than a ball of silver which, thrown into a vessel of water at any moment would plainly tell by how much it rose above the top, the very hour and minute of the day or night, as well and truly as the castle-clock itself. Tell me not, Rowland, that the damsel hath no design in it. Her looks betoken a better wisdom. Doth she not, I ask your honesty, far more resemble a nose-pinched puritan than a loyal maiden?'
Thus amongst the apple-blossoms talked Amanda Serafina.
'Prithee, be not too severe with my cousin, Amanda,' pleaded Scudamore. 'She is much too sober to please my fancy, but wherefore should I for that hate her? And if she hath something the look of a long-faced fanatic, thou must think, she hath but now, as it were, lost her mother.'
'But now! And I never knew mine! Ah, Rowland, how lonely is the world!'
'Lovely Amanda!' said Rowland.
So they passed from the orchard and parted, fearful of being missed.
How should such a pair do, but after its kind? Life was dull without love-making, so they made it. And the more they made, the more they wanted to make, until casual encounters would no longer serve their turn.
THE ENCHANTED CHAIR.
In the castle things went on much the same, nor did the gathering tumult without wake more than an echo within. Yet a cloud slowly deepened upon the brow of the marquis, and a look of disquiet, to be explained neither by the more frequent returns of his gout, nor by the more lengthened absences of his favourite son. In his judgment the king was losing ground, not only in England but in the deeper England of its men. Lady Margaret also, for all her natural good spirits and light-heartedness, showed a more continuous anxiety than was to be accounted for by her lord's absences and the dangers he had to encounter: little Molly, the treasure of her heart next to her lord, had never been other than a delicate child, but now had begun to show signs of worse than weakness of constitution, and the heart of the mother was perpetually brooding over the ever-present idea of her sickly darling.
But she always did her endeavour to clear the sky of her countenance before sitting down with her father-in-law at the dinner-table, where still the marquis had his jest almost as regularly as his claret, although varying more in quality and quantity both—now teasing his son Charles about the holes in his pasteboard, as he styled the castle walls; now his daughter Anne about a design, he and no one else attributed to her, of turning protestant and marrying Dr. Bayly; now Dr. Bayly about his having been discovered blowing the organ in the chapel at high mass, as he said; for when no new joke was at hand he was fain to content himself with falling back upon old ones. The first of these mentioned was founded on the fact, as undeniable as deplorable, of the weakness of many portions of the defences, to remedy which, as far as might be, was for the present lord Charles's chief endeavour, wherein he had the best possible adviser, engineer, superintendent, and workman, all in the person of Caspar Kaltoff. The second jest of the marquis was a pure invention upon the liking of lady Anne for the company and conversation of the worthy chaplain. The last mentioned was but an exaggeration of the following fact.
One evening the doctor came upon young Delaware, loitering about the door of the chapel, with as disconsolate a look as his lovely sightless face was ever seen to wear, and, inquiring what was amiss with him, learned that he could find no one to blow the organ bellows for him. The youth had for years, boy as he still was, found the main solace of his blindness in the chapel-organ, upon which he would have played from morning to night could he have got any one to blow as long. The doctor, then, finding the poor boy panting for music like the hart for the water-brooks, but with no Jacob to roll the stone from the well's mouth that he might water the flocks of his thirsty thoughts, made willing proffer of his own exertions to blow the bellows of the organ, so long as the somewhat wheezy bellows of his body would submit to the task.
By degrees however the good doctor had become so absorbed in the sounds that rushed, now wailing, now jubilant, now tender as a twilight wind, now imperious as the voice of the war-tempest, from the fingers of the raptured boy, that the reading of the first vesper-psalm had commenced while he was yet watching the slow rising index, in the expectation that the organist was about to resume. The voice of his Irish brother-chaplain, Sir Toby Mathews, roused him from his reverie of delight, and as one ashamed he stole away through the door that led from the little organ loft into the minstrel's gallery in the great hall, and so escaped the catholic service, but not the marquis's roasting. Whether the music had any share in the fact that the good man died a good catholic at last, I leave to the speculation of who list.
Lady Margaret continued unchangingly kind to Dorothy; and the tireless efforts of the girl to amuse and please poor little Molly, whom the growing warmth of the season seemed to have no power to revive, awoke the deep gratitude of a mother. This, as well as her husband's absences, may have had something to do with the interest she began to take in the engine of which Dorothy had assumed the charge, for which she had always hitherto expressed a special dislike, professing to regard it as her rival in the affections of her husband, but after which she would now inquire as Dorothy's baby, and even listen with patience to her expositions of its wonderful construction and capabilities. Ere long Dorothy had a tale to tell her in connection with the engine, which, although simple and uneventful enough, she yet found considerably more interesting, as involving a good deal of at least mental adventure on the part of her young cousin.
One evening, after playing with little Molly for an hour, then putting her to bed and standing by her crib until she fell asleep, Dorothy ran to see to her other baby; for the cistern had fallen rather lower than she thought well, and she was going to fill it. She found Caspar had lighted the furnace as she had requested; she set the engine going, and it soon warmed to its work.
The place was hot, and Dorothy was tired. But where in that wide and not over-clean place should she find anything fitter than a grindstone to sit upon? Never yet, through all her acquaintance with the workshop, had she once seated herself in it. Looking about, however, she soon espied, almost hidden in the corner of a recess behind the furnace, what seemed an ordinary chair, such as stood in the great hall for the use of the family when anything special was going on there. With some trouble she got it out, dusted it, and set it as far from the furnace as might be, consistently with watching the motions of the engine. But the moment she sat down in it, she was caught and pinned so fast that she could scarcely stir hand or foot, and could no more leave it again than if she had been paralyzed in every limb. One scream she uttered of mingled indignation and terror, fancying herself seized by human arms; but when she found herself only in the power of one of her cousin's curiosities, she speedily quieted herself and rested in peace, for Caspar always paid a visit to the workshop the last thing before going to bed. The pressure of the springs that had closed the trap did not hurt her in the least—she was indeed hardly sensible of it; but when she made the least attempt to stir, the thing showed itself immovably locked, and she had too much confidence in the workmanship of her cousin and Caspar to dream of attempting to open it: that she knew must be impossible. The worst that threatened her was that the engine might require some attention before the hour, or perhaps two, which must elapse ere Caspar came would be over, and she did not know what the consequences might be.
As it happened, however, something either in the powder-mill or about the defences detained Caspar far beyond his usual hour for retiring, and the sultriness of the weather having caused him a headache, he represented to himself that, with mistress Dorothy tending the engine, who knew where and would be sure to find him upon the least occasion, there could be no harm in his going to bed without paying his usual precautionary visit to the keep.
So Dorothy sat, and waited in vain. The last drops of the day trickled down the side of the world, the night filled the crystal globe from its bottom of rock to its cover of blue aether, and the red glow of the furnace was all that lighted the place. She waited and waited in her mind; but Caspar did not come. She began to feel miserable. The furnace fire sank, and the rush of the water grew slower and slower, and ceased. Caspar did not come. The fire sank lower and lower, its red eye dimmed, darkened, went out. Still Caspar did not come. Faint fears began to gather about poor Dorothy's heart. It was clear at last that there she must be all the night long, and who could tell how far into the morning? It was good the night was warm, but it would be very dreary. And then to be fixed in one position for so long! The thought of it grew in misery faster than the thing itself. The greater torment lies always in the foreboding. She felt almost as if she were buried alive. Having their hands tied even, is enough to drive strong men almost crazy. Nor, firm of heart as she was, did no evils of a more undefined and less resistible character claim a share in her fast-rising apprehensions; she began to discover that she too was assailable by the terror of the night, although she had not hitherto been aware of it, no one knowing what may lie unhatched in his mind, waiting the concurrence of vital conditions.
But Dorothy was better able to bear up under such assaults than thousands who believe nothing of many a hideous marvel commonly accepted in her day; and anyhow the unavoidable must be encountered, if not with indifference, yet with what courage may be found responsive to the call of the will. So, with all her energy, a larger store than she knew, she braced herself to endure. As to any attempt to make herself heard, she knew from the first that was of doubtful result, and now must certainly be of no avail when all but the warders were asleep. But to spend the night thus was a far less evil than to be discovered by the staring domestics, and exposed to the open merriment of her friends, and the hidden mockery of her enemies. As to Caspar, she was certain of his silence. So she sat on, like the lady in Comus, 'in stony fetters fixed and motionless;' only, as she said to herself, there was no attendant spirit to summon Caspar, who alone could take the part of Sabrina, and 'unlock the clasping charm.' Little did Dorothy think, as in her dreary imprisonment she recalled that marvellous embodiment of unified strength and tenderness, as yet unacknowledged of its author, that it was the work of the same detestable fanatic who wrote those appalling 'Animadversions, &c.'
She grew chilly and cramped. The night passed very slowly. She dozed and woke, and dozed again. At last, from very weariness of both soul and body, she fell into a troubled sleep, from which she woke suddenly with the sound in her ears of voices whispering. The confidence of lord Herbert, both in the evil renown of his wizard cave and the character of his father's household, seemed mistaken. Still the subdued manner of their conversation appeared to indicate it was not without some awe that the speakers, whoever they were, had ventured within the forbidden precincts; their whispers, indeed, were so low that she could not say of either voice whether it belonged to man or woman. Her first idea was to deliver herself from the unpleasantness of her enforced espial by the utterance of some frightful cry such as would at the same time punish with the pains of terror their fool-hardy intrusion. But the spur of the moment was seldom indeed so sharp with Dorothy as to drive her to act without reflection, and a moment showed her that such persons being in the marquis's household as would meet in the middle of the night, and on prohibited ground, apparently for the sake of avoiding discovery, and even then talked in whispers, he had a right to know who they were: to act from her own feelings merely would be to fail in loyalty to the head of the house. Who could tell what might not be involved in it? For was it not thus that conspiracy and treason walked? And any alarm given them now might destroy every chance of their discovery. She compelled herself therefore to absolute stillness, immeasurably wretched, with but one comfort—no small one, however, although negative—that their words continued inaudible, a fact which doubtless saved much dispute betwixt her propriety and her loyalty.
Long time their talk lasted. Every now and then they would start and listen—so Dorothy interpreted sudden silence and broken renewals. The genius of the place, although braved, had yet his terrors. At length she heard something like a half-conquered yawn, and soon after the voices ceased.
Again a weary time, and once more she fell asleep. She woke in the grey of the morning, and after yet two long hours, but of more hopeful waiting, she heard Caspar's welcome footsteps, and summoned all her strength to avoid breaking down on his entrance. His first look of amazement she tried to answer with a smile, but at the expression of pitiful dismay which followed when another glance had revealed the cause of her presence, she burst into tears. The honest man was full of compunctious distress at the sight of the suffering his breach of custom had so cruelly prolonged.
'And I haf bin slap in mine bed!' he exclaimed with horror at the contrast.
Had she been his daughter and his mistress both in one, he could not have treated her with greater respect or tenderness. Of course he set about relieving her at once, but this was by no means such an easy matter as Dorothy had expected. For the key of the chair was in the black cabinet; the black cabinet was secured with one of lord Herbert's marvellous locks; the key of that lock was in lord Herbert's pocket, and lord Herbert was either in bed at Chepstow or Monmouth or Usk or Caerlyon, or on horseback somewhere else, nobody in Raglan knew where. But Caspar lost no time in unavailing moan. He proceeded at once to light a fire on his forge hearth, and in the course of a few minutes had fashioned a pick-lock, by means of which, after several trials and alterations, at length came the welcome sound of the yielding bolts, and Dorothy rose from the terrible chair. But so benumbed were all her limbs that she escaped being relocked in it only by the quick interposition of Caspar's arms. He led her about like a child, until at length she found them sufficiently restored to adventure the journey to her chamber, and thither she slowly crept. Few of the household were yet astir, and she met no one. When she was covered up in bed, then first she knew how cold she was, and felt as if she should never be warm again.
At last she fell asleep, and slept long and soundly. Her maid went to call her, but finding it difficult to wake her, left her asleep, and did not return until breakfast was over. Then finding her still asleep she became a little anxious, and meeting mistress Amanda, told her she was afraid mistress Dorothy was ill. But mistress Amanda was herself sleepy and cross, and gave her a sharp answer, whereupon the girl went to lady Broughton. She, however, being on her way to morning mass, for it was Sunday, told her to let mistress Dorothy have her sleep out.
The noise of horses' hoofs upon the paving of the stone court roused her, and then in came the sounds of the organ from the chapel. She rose confounded, and hurrying to the window drew back the curtain. The same moment lord Herbert walked from the hall into the fountain-court in riding dress, followed by some forty or fifty officers, the noise of whose armour and feet and voices dispelled at once the dim Sabbath feeling that hung vapour-like about the place. They gathered around the white horse, leaning or sitting on the marble basin, some talking in eager groups, others folding their arms in silence, listening, or lost heedless in their own thoughts, while their leader entered the staircase door at the right-hand corner of the western gate, the nearest way to his wife's apartment of the building.
Now Dorothy had gone to sleep in perplexity, and all through her dreams had been trying to answer the question what course she should take with regard to the nocturnal intrusion. If she told lady Margaret she could but go with it to the marquis, and he was but just recovering from an attack of the gout, and ought not to be troubled except it were absolutely necessary. Was it, or was it not, necessary? Or was there no one else to whom she might with propriety betake herself in her doubt—lord Charles or Dr. Bayly? But here now was lord Herbert come back, and doubt there was none any more. She dressed herself in tremulous haste, and hurried to lady Margaret's room, where she hoped to see him. No one was there, and she tried the nursery, but finding only Molly and her attendant, returned to the parlour, and there seated herself to wait, supposing lady Margaret and he had gone together to morning service.
They had really gone to the oak parlour, whither the marquis generally made his first move after an attack that had confined him to his room; for in the large window of that parlour, occupying nearly the whole side of it towards the moat, he generally sat when well enough to be about and take cognizance of what wa's going on; and there they now found him.
'Welcome home, Herbert!' he said, kindly, holding out his hand. 'And how does my wild Irishwoman this morning? Crying her eyes out because her husband is come back, eh?—But, Herbert, lad, whence is all that noise of spurs and scabbards—and in the fountain court, too? I heard them go clanking and clattering through the hall like a torrent of steel! Here I sit, a poor gouty old man, deserted of my children and servants—all gone to church—to serve a better Master—not a page or a maid left me to send out to see and bring me word what is the occasion thereof! I was on the point of hobbling to the door myself when you came.'
'Being on my way to the forest of Dean, my lord, and coming round by Raglan to inquire after you and my lady, I did bring with me some of my officers to dine and drink your lordship's health on our way.'
'You shall all be welcome, though I fear I shall not make one,' said the marquis, with a grimace, for just then he had a twinge of the gout.
'I am sorry to see you suffer, sir,' said his son.
'Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,' returned the marquis, giving a kick with the leg which contained his inheritance; and then came a pause, during which lady Margaret left the room.
'My lord,' said Herbert at length, with embarrassment, and forcing himself to speak, 'I am sorry to trouble you again, after all the money, enough to build this castle from the foundations—'
'Ah! ha!' interjected the marquis, but lord Herbert went on—
'which you have already spent on behalf of the king, my master, but—'
'YOUR master, Herbert!' said the marquis, testily. 'Well?'
'I must have some more money for his pressing necessities.' In his self-compulsion he had stumbled upon the wrong word.
'MUST you?' cried the marquis angrily. 'Pray take it.'
And drawing the keys of his treasury from the pocket of his frieze coat, he threw them down on the table before him. Lord Herbert reddened like a girl, and looked as much abashed as if he had been caught in something of which he was ashamed. One moment he stood thus, then said,
'Sir, the word was out before I was aware. I do not intend to put it into force. I pray will you put up your key again?'
'Truly, son,' replied the marquis, still testily, but in a milder tone, 'I shall think my keys not safe in my pocket whilst you have so many swords by your side; nor that I have the command of my house whilst you have so many officers in it; nor that I am at my own disposal, whilst you have so many commanders.'
'My lord,' replied Herbert, 'I do not intend that they shall stay in the castle; I mean they shall be gone.'
'I pray, let them. And have care that MUST do not stay behind,' said the marquis. 'But let them have their dinner first, lad.'
Lord Herbert bowed, and left the room. Thereupon, in the presence of lady Margaret, who just then re-entered, good Dr. Bayly, who, unperceived by lord Herbert in his pre-occupation, had been present during the interview, stepped up to the marquis and said:
'My good lord, the honourable confidence your lordship has reposed in me boldens me to do my duty as, in part at least, your lordship's humble spiritual adviser.'
'Thou shouldst want no boldening to do thy duty, doctor,' said the marquis, making a wry face.
'May I then beg of your lordship to consider whether you have not been more severe with your noble son than the occasion demanded, seeing not only was the word uttered by a lapse of the tongue, but yourself heard my lord express much sorrow for the overslip?'
'What!' said lady Herbert, something merrily, but looking in the face of her father-in-law with a little anxious questioning in her eyes, 'has my lord been falling out with my Ned?'
'Hark ye, daughter!' answered the marquis, his face beaming with restored good-humour, for the twinge in his toe had abated, 'and you too, my good chaplain!—if my son be dejected, I can raise him when I please; but it is a question, if he should once take a head, whether I could bring him lower when I list. Ned was not wont to use such courtship to me, and I believe he intended a better word for his father; but MUST was for the king.'
Returning to her own room, lady Margaret found Dorothy waiting for her.
'Well, my little lig-a-bed!' she said sweetly, 'what is amiss with thee? Thou lookest but soberly.'
'I am well, madam; and that I look soberly,' said Dorothy, 'you will not wonder when I tell you wherefore. But first, if it please you, I would pray for my lord's presence, that he too may know all.'
'Holy mother! what is the matter, child?' cried lady Margaret, of late easily fluttered. 'Is it my lord Herbert you mean, or my lord of Worcester?'
'My lord Herbert, my lady. I dread lest he should be gone ere I have found a time to tell him.'
'He rides again after dinner,' said lady Margaret.
'Then, dear my lady, if you would keep me from great doubt and disquiet, let me have the ear of my lord for a few moments.'
Lady Margaret rang for her page, and sent him to find his master and request his presence in her parlour.
Within five minutes lord Herbert was with them, and within five more, Dorothy had ended her tale of the night, uninterrupted save by lady Margaret's exclamations of sympathy.
'And now, my lord, what am I to do?' she asked in conclusion.
Lord Herbert made no answer for a few moments, but walked up and down the room. Dorothy thought he looked angry as well as troubled. He burst at length into a laugh, however, and said merrily,
'I have it, ladies! I see how we may save my father much annoyance without concealment, for nothing must be concealed from him that in any way concerns the house. But the annoyance arising from any direct attempt at discovering the wrongdoers would be endless, and its failure almost certain. But now, as I would plan it, instead of trouble my father shall have laughter, and instead of annoyance such a jest as may make him good amends for the wrong done him by the breach of his household laws. Caspar has explained to you all concerning the water-works, I believe, cousin?'
'All, my lord. I may without presumption affirm that I can, so long as there arises no mishap, with my own hand govern them all. Caspar has for many weeks left everything to me, save indeed the lighting of the furnace-fire.'
'That is as I would have it, cousin. So soon then as it is dark this evening, you will together, you and Caspar, set the springs which lie under the first stone of the paving of the bridge. Thereafter, as you know, the first foot set upon it will drop the drawbridge to the stone bridge, and the same instant convert the two into an aqueduct, filled with a rushing torrent from the reservoir, which will sweep the intruders away. Before they shall have either gathered their discomfited wits or raised their prostrate bones, my father will be out upon them, nor shall they find shelter for their shame ere every soul in the castle has witnessed their disgrace.'
'I had thought of the plan, my lord; but I dreaded the punishment might be too severe, not knowing what the water might do upon them.'
'There will be no danger to life, and little to limb,' said his lordship. 'The torrent will cease flowing the moment they are swept from the bridge. But they shall be both bruised and shamed; and,' added his lordship, with an oath such as seldom crossed his lips, 'in such times as these, they will well deserve what shall befall them. Intruding hounds!—But you must take heed, cousin Dorothy, that you forget not that you have yourself done. Should you have occasion to go on the bridge after setting your vermin-trap, you must not omit to place your feet precisely where Caspar will show you, else you will have to ride a watery horse half-way, mayhap to the marble one—except indeed he throw you from his back against the chapel-door.'
When her husband talked in long sentences, as he was not unfrequently given to do, lady Margaret, even when their sequences were not very clear, seldom interrupted him: she had learned that she gained more by letting him talk on; for however circuitous the route he might take, he never forgot where he was going. He might obscure his object, but there it always was. He was now again walking up and down the room, and, perceiving that he had not yet arranged all to his satisfaction, she watched him with merriment in her Irish eyes, and waited.
'I have it!' he cried again. 'It shall be so, and my father shall thus have immediate notice. The nights are weekly growing warmer, and he will not therein be tempted to his hurt. Our trusty and well-beloved cousin Dorothy, we herewith, in presence of our liege and lovely lady, appoint thee our deputy during our absence. No one but thyself hath a right to cross the bridge after dark, save Caspar and the governor, whom with my father I shall inform and warn concerning what is to be done. But I will myself adjust the escape, so that the torrent shall not fall too powerful; Caspar must connect it with the drawbridge, whose fall will then open it. And pray remind him to see first that all the hinges and joints concerned be well greased, that it may fall instantly.'
So saying, he left the room, and sought out Caspar, with whom he contrived the ringing of a bell in the marquis's chamber by the drawbridge in its fall, the arrangement for which Caspar was to carry out that same evening after dark. He next sought his father, and told him and his brother Charles the whole story; nor did he find himself wrong in his expectation that the prospect of so good a jest would go far to console the marquis for the annoyance of finding that his household was not quite such a pattern one as he had supposed. That there was anything of conspiracy or treachery involved, he did not for a moment believe.
After dinner, while the horses were brought out, lord Herbert went again to his wife's room. There was little Molly waiting to bid him good-bye, and she sat upon his knee until it was time for him to go. The child's looks made his heart sad, and his wife could not restrain her tears when she saw him gaze upon her so mournfully. It was with a heavy heart that, when the moment of departure came, he rose, gave her into her mother's arms, clasped them both in one embrace, and hurried from the room. He ought to be a noble king for whom such men and women make such sacrifices.
To witness such devotion on the part of personages to whom she looked up with such respect and confidence, would have been in itself more than sufficient to secure for its object the unquestioning partisanship of Dorothy; partisan already, it raised her prejudice to a degree of worship which greatly narrowed what she took for one of the widest gulfs separating her from the creed of her friends. The favourite dogma of the school-master-king, the offspring of his pride and weakness, had found fitting soil in Dorothy. When, in the natural growth of the confidence reposed in her by her protectors, she came to have some idea of the immensity of the sums spent by them on behalf of his son, had, indeed, ere the close of another year read the king's own handwriting and signature in acknowledgment of a debt of a quarter of a million, she took it only as an additional sign—for additional proof there was no room—of their ever admirable devotion to his divine right. That the marquis and his son were catholics served but to glorify the right to which a hostile faith yielded such practical homage.
Immediately after nightfall she repaired to Caspar, and between them everything was speedily arranged for the carrying out of lord Herbert's counter-plot.
But night after night passed, and the bell in the marquis's room remained voiceless.
MOLLY AND THE WHITE HORSE.
Meantime lord Herbert came and went. There was fighting here and fighting there, castles taken, defended, re-taken, here a little success and there a worse loss, now on this side and now on that; but still, to say the best, the king's affairs made little progress; and for Mary Somerset, her body and soul made progress in opposite directions.
There was a strange pleasant mixture of sweet fretfulness and trusting appeal in her. Children suffer less because they feel that all is right when father or mother is with them; grown people from whom this faith has vanished ere it has led them to its original fact, may well be miserable in their sicknesses.
She lay moaning one night in her crib, when suddenly she opened her eyes and saw her mother's hand pressed to her forehead. She was imitative, like most children, and had some very old-fashioned ways of speech.
'Have you got a headache, madam?' she asked.
'Yes, my Molly,' answered her mother.
'Then you will go to mother Mary. She will take you on her knee, madam. Mothers is for headaches. Oh me! my headache, madam!'
The poor mother turned away. It was more than she could bear alone. Dorothy entered the room, and she rose and left it, that she might go to mother Mary as the child had said.
Dorothy's cares were divided between the duties of naiad and nursemaid, for the child clung to her as to no one else except her mother. The thing that pleased her best was to see the two whale-like spouts rise suddenly from the nostrils of the great white horse, curve away from each other aloft in the air, and fall back into the basin on each side of him. 'See horse spout,' she would say moanfully; and that instant, if Dorothy was not present, a messenger would be despatched to her. On a bright day this would happen repeatedly. For the sake of renewing her delight, the instant she turned from it, satisfied for the moment, the fountain ceased to play, and the horse remained spoutless, awaiting the revival of the darling's desire; for she was not content to see him spouting: she must see him spout. Then again she would be carried forth to the verge of the marble basin, and gazing up at the rearing animal would say, in a tone daintily wavering betwixt entreaty and command, 'Spout, horse, spout,' and Dorothy, looking down from the far-off summit of the tower, and distinguishing by the attitude of the child the moment when she uttered her desire, would instantly, with one turn of her hand, send the captive water shooting down its dark channel to reascend in sunny freedom.
If little Mary Somerset was counted a strange child, the wisdom with which she was wise is no more unnatural because few possess it, than the death of such is premature because they are yet children. They are small fruits whose ripening has outstripped their growth. Of such there are some who, by the hot-house assiduities of their friends, heating them with sulphurous stoves, and watering them with subacid solutions, ripen into insufferable prigs. For them and for their families it is well that Death the gardener should speedily remove them into the open air. But there are others who, ripening from natural, that is divine causes and influences, are the daintiest little men and women, gentle in the utmost peevishness of their lassitude, generous to share the gifts they most prize, and divinely childlike in their repentances. Their falling from the stalk is but the passing from the arms of their mothers into those of—God knows whom—which is more than enough.
The chief part of little Molly's religious lessons, I do not mean training, consisted in a prayer or two in rhyme, and a few verses of the kind then in use among catholics. Here is a prayer which her nurse taught her, as old, I take it, as Chaucer's time at least:—
Hail be thou, Mary, that high sittest in throne! I beseech thee, sweet lady, grant me my boon— Jesus to love and dread, and my life to amend soon, And bring me to that bliss that never shall be done.
And here are some verses quite as old, which her mother taught her. I give them believing that in understanding and coming nearer to our fathers and mothers who are dead, we understand and come nearer to our brothers and sisters who are alive. I change nothing but the spelling, and a few of the forms of the words.
Jesu, Lord, that madest me, And with thy blessed blood hast bought, Forgive that I have grieved thee With word, with will, and eke with thought.
Jesu, for thy wounds' smart, On feet and on thine hands two, Make me meek and low of heart, And thee to love as I should do.
Jesu, grant me mine asking, Perfect patience in my disease, And never may I do that thing That should thee in any wise displease.
Jesu, most comfort for to see Of thy saints every one, Comfort them that careful be, And help them that be woe-begone.
Jesu, keep them that be good, And amend them that have grieved thee, And send them fruits of early food, As each man needeth in his degree.
Jesu, that art, without lies, Almighty God in trinity, Cease these wars, and send us peace With lasting love and charity.
Jesu, that art the ghostly stone Of all holy church in middle-earth, Bring thy folds and flocks in one, And rule them rightly with one herd.
Jesu, for thy blissful blood, Bring, if thou wilt, those souls to bliss From whom I have had any good, And spare that they have done amiss.
This old-fashioned hymn lady Margaret had learned from her grandmother, who was an Englishwoman of the pale. She also had learned it from her grandmother.
One day, by some accident, Dorothy had not reached her post of naiad before Molly arrived in presence of her idol, the white horse, her usual application to which was thence for the moment in vain. Having waited about three seconds in perfect patience, she turned her head slowly round, and gazed in her nurse's countenance with large questioning eyes, but said nothing. Then she turned again to the horse. Presently a smile broke over her face, and she cried in the tone of one who had made a great discovery,
'Horse has ears of stone: he cannot hear, Molly.'
Instantly thereupon she turned her face up to the sky, and said,
'Dear holy Mary, tell horse to spout.'
That moment up into the sun shot the two jets. Molly clapped her little hands with delight and cried,
'Thanks, dear holy Mary! I knowed thou would do it for Molly. Thanks, madam!'
The nurse told the story to her mistress, and she to Dorothy. It set both of them feeling, and Dorothy thinking besides.
'It cannot be,' she thought, 'but that a child's prayer will reach its goal, even should she turn her face to the west or the north instead of up to the heavens! A prayer somewhat differs from a bolt or a bullet.'
'How you protestants CAN live without a woman to pray to!' said lady Margaret.
'Her son Jesus never refused to hear a woman, and I see not wherefore I should go to his mother, madam,' said Dorothy, bravely.
'Thou and I will not quarrel, Dorothy,' returned lady Margaret sweetly; 'for sure am I that would please neither the one nor the other of them.'
Dorothy kissed her hand, and the subject dropped.
After that, Molly never asked the horse to spout, or if she happened to do so, would correct herself instantly, and turn her request to the mother Mary. Nor did the horse ever fail to spout, notwithstanding an evil thought which arose in the protestant part of Dorothy's mind—the temptation, namely, to try the effect upon Molly of a second failure. All the rest of her being on the instant turned so violently protestant against the suggestion, that no parley with it was possible, and the conscience of her intellect cowered before the conscience of her heart.
It was from this fancy of the child's for the spouting of the horse that it came to be known in the castle that mistress Dorothy was ruler of Raglan waters. In lord Herbert's absence not a person in the place but she and Caspar understood their management, and except lady Margaret, the marquis, and lord Charles, no one besides even knew of the existence of such a contrivance as the water-shoot or artificial cataract.
Every night Dorothy and Caspar together set the springs of it, and every morning Caspar detached the lever connecting the stone with the drawbridge.
THE DAMSEL WHICH FELL SICK.
From within the great fortress, like the rough husk whence the green lobe of a living tree was about to break forth, a lovely child-soul, that knew neither of war nor ambition, knew indeed almost nothing save love and pain, was gently rising as from the tomb. The bonds of the earthly life that had for ever conferred upon it the rights and privileges of humanity were giving way, and little, white-faced, big-eyed Molly was leaving father and mother and grandfather and spouting horse and all, to find—what?—To find what she wanted, and wait a little for what she loved.
One sultry evening in the second week of June, the weather had again got inside the inhabitants of the castle, forming different combinations according to the local atmosphere it found in each. Clouds had been slowly steaming up all day from several sides of the horizon, and as the sun went down, they met in the zenith. Not a wing seemed to be abroad under heaven, so still was the region of storms. The air was hot and heavy and hard to breathe—whether from lack of life, or too much of it, oppressing the narrow and weak recipients thereof, as the sun oppresses and extinguishes earthly fires, I at least cannot say. It was weather that made SOME dogs bite their masters, made most of the maids quarrelsome, and all the men but one or two more or less sullen, made Dorothy sad, Molly long after she knew not what, her mother weep, her grandfather feel himself growing old, and the hearts of all the lovers, within and without the castle, throb for the comfort of each other's lonely society. The fish lay still in the ponds, the pigeons sat motionless on the roof-ridges, and the fountains did not play; for Dorothy's heart was so heavy about Molly, that she had forgotten them.
The marquis, fond of all his grandchildren, had never taken special notice of Molly beyond what she naturally claimed as youngest. But when it appeared that she was one of the spring-flowers of the human family, so soon withdrawing thither whence they come, he found that she began to pull at his heart, not merely with the attraction betwixt childhood and age, in which there is more than the poets have yet sung, but with the dearness which the growing shadow of death gives to all upon whom it gathers. The eyes of the child seemed to nestle into his bosom. Every morning he paid her a visit, and every morning it was clear that little Molly's big heart had been waiting for him. The young as well as the old recognize that they belong to each other, despite the unwelcome intervention of wrinkles and baldness and toothlessness. Molly's eyes brightened when she heard his steps at the door, and ere he had come within her sight, where she lay half-dressed on her mother's bed, tented in its tall carved posts and curtains of embroidered silk, the figures on which gave her so much trouble all the half-delirious night long, her arms would be stretched out to him, and the words would be trembling on her lips, 'Prithee, tell me a tale, sir.'
'Which tale wouldst thou have, my Molly?' the grandsire would say: it was the regular form of each day's fresh salutation; and the little one would answer, 'Of the good Jesu,' generally adding, 'and of the damsel which fell sick and died.'
Torn as the country was, all the good grandparents, catholic and protestant, royalist and puritan, told their children the same tales about the same man; and I suspect there was more then than there is now of that kind of oral teaching, for which any amount of books written for children is a sadly poor substitute.
Although Molly asked oftenest for the tale of the damsel who came alive again at the word of the man who knew all about death, she did not limit her desires to the repetition of what she knew already; and in order to keep his treasure supplied with things new as well as old, the marquis went the oftener to his Latin bible to refresh his memory for Molly's use, and was in both ways, in receiving and in giving, a gainer. When the old man came thus to pour out his wealth to the child, lady Margaret then first became aware what a depth both of religious knowledge and feeling there was in her father-in-law. Neither sir Toby Mathews, nor Dr. Bayly, who also visited her at times, ever, with the torch of their talk, lighted the lamps behind those great eyes, whose glass was growing dull with the vapours from the grave; but her grandfather's voice, the moment he began to speak to her of the good Jesu, brought her soul to its windows.
This sultry evening Molly was restless. 'Madam! madam!' she kept calling to her mother—for, like so many of such children, her manners and modes of speech resembled those of grown people, 'What wouldst thou, chicken?' her mother would ask. 'Madam, I know not,' the child would answer. Twenty times in an hour, as the evening went on, almost the same words would pass between them. At length, once more, 'Madam! madam!' cried the child. 'What would my heart's treasure?' said the mother; and Molly answered, 'Madam, I would see the white horse spout.'
With a glance and sign to her mistress. Dorothy rose and crept from the room, crossed the court and the moat, and dragged her heavy heart up the long stair to the top of the keep. Arrived there, she looked down through a battlement, and fixed her eyes on a certain window, whence presently she caught the wave of a signal-handkerchief.
At the open window stood lady Margaret with Molly in her arms. The night was so warm that the child could take no hurt; and indeed what could hurt her, with the nameless fever-moth within, fretting a passage for the new winged body which, in the pains of a second birth, struggled to break from its dying chrysalis.
'Now, Molly, tell the horse to spout,' said lady Margaret, with such well-simulated cheerfulness as only mothers can put on with hearts ready to break.
'Mother Mary, tell the horse to spout,' said Molly; and up went the watery parabolas.
The old flame of delight flushed the child's cheek, like the flush in the heart of a white rose. But it died almost instantly, and murmuring, 'Thanks, good madam!' whether to mother Mary or mother Margaret little mattered, Molly turned towards the bed, and her mother knew at her heart that the child sought her last sleep—as we call it, God forgive us our little faith! 'Madam!' panted the child, as she laid her down. 'Darling?' said the mother. 'Madam, I would see my lord marquis.' 'I will send and ask him to come.' 'Let Robert say that Molly is going—going—where is Molly going, madam?' 'Going to mother Mary, child,' answered lady Margaret, choking back the sobs that would have kept the tears company. 'And the good Jesu ?' 'Yes.'—'And the good God over all ?' 'Yes, yes.' 'I want to tell my lord marquis. Pray, madam, let him come, and quickly.'
His lordship entered, pale and panting. He knew the end was approaching. Molly stretched out to him one hand instead of two, as if her hold upon earth were half yielded. He sat down by the bedside, and wiped his forehead with a sigh.
'Thee tired too, marquis?' asked the odd little love-bird.
'Yes, I am tired, my Molly. Thou seest I am so fat.'
'Shall I ask the good mother, when I go to her, to make thee spare like Molly?'
'No, Molly, thou need'st not trouble her about that. Ask her to make me good.'
'Would it then be easier to make thee good than to make thee spare, marquis?'
'No, child—much harder, alas!'
'Then why—?' began Molly; but the marquis perceiving her thought, made haste to prevent it, for her breath was coming quick and weak.
'But it is so much better worth doing, you see. If she makes me good, she will have another in heaven to be good to.'
'Then I know she will. But I will ask her. Mother Mary has so many to mind, she might be forgetting.'
After this she lay very quiet with her hand in his. All the windows of the room were open, and from the chapel came the mellow sounds of the organ. Delaware had captured Tom Fool and got him to blow the bellows, and through the heavy air the music surged in. Molly was dozing a little, and she spoke as one that speaks in a dream.
'The white horse is spouting music,' she said. 'Look! See how it goes up to mother Mary. She twists it round her distaff and spins it with her spindle. See, marquis, see! Spout, horse, spout.'
She lay silent again for a long time. The old man sat holding her hand; her mother sat on the farther side of the bed, leaning against one of the foot-posts, and watching the white face of her darling with eyes in which love ruled distraction. Dorothy sat in one of the window-seats, and listened to the music, which still came surging in, for still the fool blew the bellows, and the blind youth struck the keys. And still the clouds gathered overhead and sunk towards the earth; and still the horse, which Dorothy had left spouting, threw up his twin-fountain, whose musical plash in the basin as it fell mingled with the sounds of the organ.
'What is it?' said Molly, waking up. 'My head doth not ache, and my heart doth not beat, and I am not affrighted. What is it? I am not tired. Marquis, are you no longer tired? Ah, now I know! He cometh! He is here!—Marquis, the good Jesu wants Molly's hand. Let him have it, marquis. He is lifting me up. I am quite well—quite—'
The sentence remained broken. The hand which the marquis had yielded, with the awe of one in bodily presence of the Holy, and which he saw raised as if in the grasp of one invisible, fell back on the bed, and little Molly was quite well.
But she left sick hearts behind. The mother threw herself on the bed, and wailed aloud. The marquis burst into tears, left the room, and sought his study. Mechanically he took his Confessio Amantis, and sat down, but never opened it; rose again and took his Shakespere, opened it, but could not read; rose once more, took his Vulgate, and read:
'Quid turbamini, et ploratis? puella non est mortua, sed dormit.'
He laid that book also down, fell on his knees, and prayed for her who was not dead but sleeping.
Dorothy, filled with awe, rather from the presence of the mother of the dead than death itself, and feeling that the mother would rather be alone with her dead, also left the room, and sought her chamber, where she threw herself upon the bed. All was still save the plashing of the fountain, for the music from the chapel had ceased.
The storm burst in a glare and a peal. The rain fell in straight lines and huge drops, which came faster and faster, drowning the noise of the fountain, till the sound of it on the many roofs of the place was like the trampling of an army of horsemen, and every spout was gurgling musically with full throat. The one court was filled with a clashing upon its pavement, and the other with a soft singing upon its grass, with which mingled a sound as of little castanets from the broad leaves of the water-lilies in the moat. Ever and anon came the lightning, and the great bass of the thunder to fill up the psalm.
At the first thunderclap lady Margaret fell on her knees and prayed in an agony for the little soul that had gone forth into the midst of the storm. Like many women she had a horror of lightning and thunder, and it never came into her mind that she who had so loved to see the horse spout was far more likely to be revelling in the elemental tumult, with all the added ecstasy of newborn freedom and health, than to be trembling like her mortal mother below.
Dorothy was not afraid, but she was heavy and weary; the thunder seemed to stun her and the lightning to take the power of motion from the shut eyelids through which it shone. She lay without moving, and at length fell fast asleep.
To the marquis alone of the mourners the storm came as a relief to his overcharged spirit. He had again opened his New Testament, and tried to read; but if the truths which alone can comfort are not at such a time present to the spirit, the words that embody them will seldom be of much avail. When the thunder burst he closed the book and went to the window, flung it wide, and looked out into the court. Like a tide from the plains of innocent heaven through the sultry passionate air of the world, came the coolness to his brow and heart. Oxygen, ozone, nitrogen, water, carbonic acid, is it? Doubtless—and other things, perhaps, which chemistry cannot detect. Nevertheless, give its parts what names you will, its whole is yet the wind of the living God to the bodies of men, his spirit to their spirits, his breath to their hearts. When I learn that there is no primal intent—only chance—in the unspeakable joy that it gives, I shall cease to believe in poetry, in music, in woman, in God. Nay, I must have already ceased to believe in God ere I could believe that the wind that bloweth where it listeth is free because God hath forgotten it, and that it bears from him no message to me.