In this place he kept his books of alchemy and magic, and some of his stranger instruments. It would have been hard for himself even to say what he did or did not believe of such things. In certain moods, especially when under the influence of some fact he had just discovered without being able to account for it, he was ready to believe everything; in others, especially when he had just succeeded, right or wrong, in explaining anything to his own satisfaction, he doubted them all considerably. His imagination leaned lovingly towards them; his intellect required proofs which he had not yet found.
Hither then he had retired—to work out the sequences of the horoscopes he had that night constructed. He was far less doubtful of astrology than of magic. It would have been difficult, I suspect, to find at that time a man who did not more or less believe in the former, and the influence of his mechanical pursuits upon lord Herbert's mind had not in any way interfered with his capacity for such belief. In the present case, however, he trusted for success rather to his knowledge of human nature than to his questioning of the stars.
Before this, the second day, was over, it was everywhere whispered that he was occupied in discovering the hidden way by which entrance and exit had been found through the defences of the castle; and the next day it was known by everybody that he had been successful—as who could doubt he must, with such powers at his command?
For a time curiosity got the better of fear, and there was not a soul in the place, except one bedridden old woman, who did not that day accept lord Herbert's general invitation, and pass over the Gothic bridge to see the opening from the opposite side of the moat. To seal the conviction that the discovery had indeed been made, permission was given to any one who chose to apply to it the test of his own person, but of this only Shafto the groom availed himself. It was enough, however: he disappeared, and while the group which saw him enter the opening was yet anxiously waiting his return by the way he had gone, having re-entered by the western gate he came upon them from behind, to the no small consternation of those of weaker nerves, and so settled the matter for ever.
As soon as curiosity was satisfied, lord Herbert gave orders which, in the course of a few days, rendered the drain as impassable to manor dog as the walls of the keep itself.
In the middle of the previous night, Marquis had returned, and announced himself by scratching and whining for admittance at the door of Dorothy's room. She let him in, but not until the morning discovered that he had a handkerchief tied round his neck, and in it a letter addressed to herself. Curious, perhaps something more than curious, to open it, she yet carried it straight to lord Herbert.
'Canst not break the seal, Dorothy, that thou bringest it to me? I will not read it first, lest thou repent,' said his lordship.
'Will you open it then, madam?' she said, turning to lady Margaret.
'What my lord will not, why should I?' rejoined her mistress.
Dorothy opened the letter without more ado, crimsoned, read it to the end, and handed it again to lord Herbert.
'Pray read, my lord,' she said.
He took it, and read. It ran thus—
'Mistress Dorothy, I think, and yet I know not, but I think thou wilt be pleased to learn that my Wound hath not proved mortal, though it hath brought me low, yea, very nigh to Death's Door. Think not I feared to enter. But it grieveth me to the Heart to ride another than my own Mare to the Wars, and it will pleasure thee to know that without my Lady I shall be but Half the Man I was. But do thou the Like again when thou mayest, for thou but didst thy Duty according to thy Lights; and according to what else should any one do? Mistaken as thou art, I love thee as mine own Soul. As to the Ring I left for thee, with a safe Messenger, concerning whom I say Nothing, for thou wilt con her no Thanks for the doing of aught to pleasure me, I restored it not because it was thine, for thy mother gave it me, but because, if for Lack of my Mare I should fall in some Battle of those that are to follow, then would the Ring pass to a Hand whose Heart knew nought of her who gave it me. I am what thou knowest not, yet thine old Play-fellow Richard.—When thou hearest of me in the Wars, as perchance thou mayest, then curse me not, but sigh an thou wilt, and say, he also would in his Blindness do the Thing that lay at his Door. God be with thee, mistress Dorothy. Beat not thy Dog for bringing thee this.
Lord Herbert gave the letter to his wife, and paced up and down the room while she read. Dorothy stood silent, with glowing face and downcast eyes. When lady Margaret had finished it she handed it to her, and turned to her husband with the words,—
'What sayest thou, Ned? Is it not a brave epistle?'
'There is matter for thought therein,' he answered. 'Wilt show me the ring whereof he writes, cousin?'
'I never had it, my lord.'
'Whom thinkest thou then he calleth his safe messenger? Not thy dog—plainly, for the ring had been sent thee before.'
'My lord, I cannot even conjecture,' answered Dorothy.
'There is matter herein that asketh attention. My lady, and cousin Dorothy, not a word of all this until I shall have considered what it may import!—Beat not thy dog, Dorothy: that were other than he deserveth at thy hand. But he is a dangerous go-between, so prithee let him be at once chained up.'
'I will not beat him, my lord, and I will chain him up,' answered Dorothy, laughing.
Having then announced the discovery of the hidden passage, and given orders concerning it, lord Herbert retired yet again to his secret chamber, and that night was once more seen of many consulting the stars from the top of the library tower.
The following morning another rumour was abroad—to the effect that his lordship was now occupied in questioning the stars as to who in the castle had aided the young roundhead in making his escape.
In the evening, soon after supper, there came a gentle tap to the door of lady Margaret's parlour. At that time she was understood to be disengaged, and willing to see any of the household. Harry happened to be with her, and she sent him to the door to see who it was.
'It is Tom Fool,' he said, returning. 'He begs speech of you, madam—with a face as long as the baker's shovel, and a mouth as wide as an oven-door.'
With their Irish stepmother the children took far greater freedoms than would have been permitted them by the jealous care of their own mother over their manners.
Lady Margaret smiled: this was probably the first fruit of her husband's astrological investigations.
'Tell him he may enter, and do thou leave him alone with me, Harry,' she said.
Allowing for exaggeration, Harry had truly reported Tom's appearance. He was trembling from head to foot, and very white.
'What aileth thee, Tom, that thou lookest as thou had seen a hobgoblin?' said lady Margaret.
'Please you, my lady,' answered Tom, 'I am in mortal terror of my lord Herbert.'
'Then hast thou been doing amiss, Tom? for no well-doer ever yet was afeard of my lord. Comest thou because thou wouldst confess the truth?'
'Ah, my lady,' faltered Tom.
'Come, then; I will lead thee to my lord.'
'No, no, an't please you, my lady!' cried Tom, trembling yet more. 'I will confess to you, my lady, and then do you confess to my lord, so that he may forgive me.'
'Well, I will venture so far for thee, Tom,' returned her ladyship; 'that is, if thou be honest, and tell me all.'
Thus encouraged, Tom cleansed his stuffed bosom, telling all the part he had borne in Richard's escape, even to the disclosure of the watchword to his mother.
Is there not this peculiarity about the fear of the supernatural, even let it be of the lowest and most slavish kind, that under it men speak the truth, believing that alone can shelter them?
Lady Margaret dismissed him with hopes of forgiveness, and going straight to her husband in his secret chamber, amused him largely with her vivid representation, amounting indeed to no sparing mimicry of Tom's looks and words as he made his confession.
Here was much gained, but Tom had cast no ray of light upon the matter of Dorothy's imprisonment. The next day lord Herbert sent for him to his workshop, where he was then alone. He appeared in a state of abject terror.
'Now, Tom,' said his lordship, 'hast thou made a clean breast of it?'
'Yes, my lord,' answered Tom; 'there is but one thing more.'
'What is that? Out with it.'
'As I went back to my chamber, at the top of the stair leading down from my lord's dining parlour to the hall, commonly called my lord's stair,' said Tom, who delighted in the pseudo-circumstantial, 'I stopped to recover my breath, of the which I was sorely bereft, and kneeling on the seat of the little window that commands the archway to the keep, I saw the prisoner—'
'How knewest thou the prisoner ere it was yet daybreak, and that in the darkest corner of all the court?'
'I knew him by the way my bones shook at the white sleeves of his shirt, my lord,' said Tom, who was too far gone in fear to make the joke of pretending courage.
'Hardly evidence, Tom. But go on.'
'And with him I saw mistress Dorothy—'
'Hold there, Tom!' cried lord Herbert. 'Wherefore didst not impart this last night to my lady?'
'Because my lady loveth mistress Dorothy, and I dreaded she would therefore refuse to believe me.'
'What a heap of cunning goes to the making of a downright fool!' said lord Herbert to himself, but so as Tom could not fail to hear him. 'And what saw'st thou pass between them?' he asked.
'Only a whispering with their heads together,' answered Tom.
'And what heard'st thou?'
'Nothing, my lord.'
'And what followed?'
'The roundhead left her, and went through the archway. She stood a moment and then followed him. But I, fearful of her coming up the stair and finding me, gat me quickly to my own place.'
'Oh, Tom, Tom! I am ashamed of thee. What! Afraid of a woman? Verily, thy heart is of wax.'
'That can hardly be, my lord, for I find it still on the wane.'
'An' thy wit were no better than thy courage, thou hadst never had enough to play the fool with.'
'No, my lord; I should have had to turn philosopher.'
'A fair hit, Tom! But tell me, why wast thou afeard of mistress Dorothy?'
'It might have come to a quarrel in some sort, my lord; and there is one thing I have remarked in my wanderings through this valley of Baca' said Tom, speaking through his nose, and lengthening his face beyond even its own nature, 'namely, that he who quarrels with a woman goes ever to the wall.'
'One thing perplexes me, Tom: if thou sawest mistress Dorothy in the court with the roundhead, how came she thereafter, thinkest thou, locked up in his chamber?'
'It behoves that she went into it again, my lord.'
'How knowest thou she had been there before?'
'Nay, I know not, my lord. I know nothing of the matter.'
'Why say'st it then? Take heed to thy words, Tom. Who then, thinkest thou, did lock the door upon her?'
'I know not, my lord, and dare hardly say what I think. But let your lordship's wisdom determine whether it might not be one of those demons whereof the house hath been full ever since that night when I saw them rise from the water of the moat—that even now surrounds us, my lord!—and rush into the fountain court.'
'Meddle thou not, even in thy thoughts, with things that are beyond thee,' said lord Herbert. 'By what signs knewest thou mistress Dorothy in the dark as she stood talking to the roundhead?'
'There was light enough to know woman from man, my lord.'
'And were there then that night no women in the castle but mistress Dorothy?'
'Why, who else could it have been, my lord?'
'Why not thine own mother, Tom—rode thither on her broomstick to deliver her darling?'
Tom gaped with fresh terror at the awful suggestion.
'Now, hear me, Thomas Rees,' his lordship went on.
'Yes, my lord,' answered Tom.
'An' ever it come to my knowledge that thou say thou then saw mistress Dorothy, when all thou sawest was, as thou knowest, a woman who might have been thine own mother talking to the roundhead, as thou callest a man who might indeed have been Caspar Kaltoff in his shirt sleeves, I will set every devil at my command upon thy back and thy belly, thy sides and thy soles. Be warned, and not only speak the truth, as thou hast for a whole half-hour been trying hard to do, but learn to distinguish between thy fancies and God's facts; for verily thou art a greater fool than I took thee for, and that was no small one. Get thee gone, and send me hither mistress Watson.'
Tom crawled away, and presently mistress Watson appeared, looking offended, possibly at being called to the workshop, and a little frightened.
'I cannot but think thee somewhat remiss in thy ministrations to a sick man, mistress Watson,' he said, 'to leave him so long to himself. Had he been a king's officer now, wouldst thou not have shown him more favour?'
'That indeed may be, my lord,' returned mistress Watson with dignity. 'But an' the young fellow had been very sick, he had not made his escape.'
'And left the blame thereof with thee. Besides, that he did for his escape he may have done in the strength of the fever that followeth on such a wound.'
'My lord, I gave him a potion, wherefrom he should have slept until I sought him again.'
'Was he or thou to blame that he did not feel the obligation? When a man instead of sleeping runneth away, the potion was ill mingled, I doubt, mistress Watson—drove him crazy perchance.'
'She who waked him when he ought to have slept hath to bear the blame, not I, my lord.'
'Thou shouldst, I say, have kept better watch. But tell me whom meanest thou by that same SHE?'
'She who was found in his chamber, my lord,' said mistress Watson, compressing her lips, as if, come what might, she would stand on the foundation of the truth.
'Ah?—By the way, I would gladly understand how it came to be known throughout the castle that thou didst find her there? I have the assurance of my lady, my lord marquis, and my lord Charles, that never did one of them utter word so to slander an orphan as thou hast now done in my hearing. Who then can it be but her who is at the head of the meinie of this house, who hath misdemeaned herself thus to the spreading amongst those under her of evil reports and surmises affecting her lord's cousin, mistress Dorothy Vaughan?'
'You wrong me grievously, my lord,' cried mistress Watson, red with the wrath of injury and undeserved reproof.
'Thou hast thyself to thank for it then, for thou hast this night said in mine own ears that mistress Dorothy waked thy prisoner, importing that she thereafter set him free, when thou knowest that she denies the same, and is therein believed by my lord marquis and all his house.'
'Therein I believe her not, my lord; but I swear by all the saints and angels, that to none but your lordship have I ever said the word; neither have I ever opened my lips against her, lest I should take from her the chance of betterment.'
'I will be more just to thee than thou hast been to my cousin, mistress Watson, for I will believe thee that thou didst only harbour evil in thy heart, not send it from the doors of thy lips to enter into other bosoms. Was it thou then that did lock the door upon her?'
'God forbid, my lord!'
'Thinkest thou. it was the roundhead?'
'No, surely, my lord, for where would be the need?'
'Lest she should issue and give the alarm.'
Mistress Watson smiled an acid smile.
'Then the doer of that evil deed,' pursued lord Herbert, 'must be now in the castle, and from this moment every power I possess in earth, air, or sea, shall be taxed to the uttermost for the discovery of that evil person. Let this vow of mine be known, mistress Watson, as a thing thou hast heard me say, not commission thee to report. Prithee take heed to what I desire of thee, for I am not altogether powerless to enforce that I would.'
Mistress Watson left the workshop in humbled mood. To her spiritual benefit lord Herbert had succeeded in punishing her for her cruelty to Dorothy; and she was not the less willing to mind his injunction as to the mode of mentioning his intent, that it would serve to the quenching of any suspicion that she had come under his disapproval.
And now lord Herbert, depending more upon his wits than his learning, found himself a good deal in the dark. Confident that neither Richard, Tom Fool, nor mistress Watson had locked the door of the turret chamber after Dorothy's entrance, he gave one moment to the examination of the lock, and was satisfied that an enemy had done it. He then started his thoughts on another track, tending towards the same point: how was it that the roundhead, who had been carried insensible to the turret-chamber, had been able, ere yet more than a film of grey thinned the darkness, without alarming a single sleeper, to find his way from a part of the house where there were no stairs near, and many rooms, all occupied? Clearly by the help of her, whoever she was, whom Tom Fool had seen with him by the hall door. She had guided him down my lord's stair, and thus avoided the risk of crossing the paved court to the hall door within sight of the warders of the main entrance. To her indubitably the young roundhead had committed the ring for Dorothy. Here then was one secret agent in the affair: was it likely there had been two? If not, this woman was one and the same with the person who turned the key upon Dorothy. She probably had been approaching the snare while the traitress talked with the prisoner. What did her presence so soon again in the vicinity of the turret-chamber indicate? Possibly that her own chamber was near it. The next step then was to learn from the housekeeper who slept in the neighbourhood of the turret-chamber, and then to narrow the ground of search by inquiring which, if any of them, slept alone.
He found there were two who occupied each a chamber by herself; one of them was Amanda, the other mistress Watson.
Now therefore he knew distinctly in what direction first he must point his tentatives. Before he went farther, however, he drew from Dorothy an accurate description of the ring to which Richard's letter alluded, and immediately set about making one after it, from stage to stage of its progress bringing it to her for examination and criticism, until, before the day was over, he had completed a model sufficiently like to pass for the same.
The greater portion of the next day he spent in getting into perfect condition a certain mechanical toy which he had constructed many years before, and familiarising himself with its working. This done, he found himself ready for his final venture, to give greater solemnity to which he ordered the alarum-bell to be rung, and the herald of the castle to call aloud, first from the bell-tower in the grass-court, next from the roof of the hall-porch in the stone- court, communicating with the minstrels' gallery, that on the following day, after dinner, so soon as they should hear the sound of the alarum-bell, every soul in the castle, to the infant in arms, all of whatever condition, save old mother Prescot, who was bed-ridden, should appear in the great hall, that lord Herbert might perceive which amongst them had insulted the lord and the rule of the house by the locking of one of its doors to the imprisonment and wrong of his lordship's cousin, mistress Dorothy Vaughan. Three strokes of the great bell opened and closed the announcement, and a great hush of expectancy, not unmingled with fear, fell upon the place.
There was one in the household, however, who at first objected to the whole proceeding. That was sir Toby Mathews, the catholic chaplain. He went to the marquis and represented that, if there was to be any exercise whatever of unlawful power, the obligations of the sacred office with which he was invested would not permit him to be present or connive thereat. The marquis merrily insisted that it was a case of exorcism; that the devil was in the castle, and out he must go; that if Satan assisted in the detection of the guilty and the purging of the innocent, then was he divided against himself, and what could be better for the church or the world? But for his own part he had no hand in it, and if sir Toby had anything to say against it, he must go to his son. This he did at once; but lord Herbert speedily satisfied him, pledging himself that there should be nothing done by aid from beneath, and making solemn assertion that if ever he had employed any of the evil powers to work out his designs, it had been as their master and not their accomplice.
It was the custom in Raglan to close the gates at eleven o'clock every morning, and then begin to lay the tables for dinner; nor were they opened again until the meal was over, and all had dispersed to their various duties. Upon this occasion directions were given that the gates should remain closed until the issue of further orders.
There was little talk in the hall during dinner that day, and not much in the marquis's dining-room.
In the midst of the meal at the housekeeper's table, mistress Amanda was taken suddenly ill, and nearly fell from her chair. A spoonful of one of mistress Watson's strong waters revived her, but she was compelled to leave the room.
When the remains of the dinner had been cleared away, the tables lifted from the trestles, and all removed, solemn preparations began to be made in the hall. The dais was covered with crimson cloth, and chairs were arranged on each side against the wall for the lords and ladies of the family, while in the wide space between was set the marquis's chair of state. Immediately below the dais, chairs were placed by the walls for the ladies and officers of the household. The minstrels' gallery was hung with crimson; long ladders were brought, and the windows, the great bay window and all save the painted one, were hung with thick cloth of the same colour, so that a dull red light filled the huge place. The floor was then strewn with fresh rushes, and candles were placed and lighted in sconces on the walls, and in two large candlesticks, one on each side of the marquis's chair. So numerous were the hands employed in these preparations, that about one o'clock the alarum-bell gave three great tolls, and then silence fell.
Almost noiselessly, and with faces more than grave, the people of the castle in their Sunday clothes began at once to come trooping in,—amongst the rest Tom Fool, the very picture of dismay. Mrs. Prescot had refused to be left behind, partly from terror, partly from curiosity, and supine on a hand-barrow was borne in, and laid upon two of the table-trestles. Order and what arrangement was needful were enforced amongst them by Mr. Cook, one of the ushers. In came the garrison also, with clank and clang, and took their places with countenances expressive neither of hardihood nor merriment, but a grave expectancy.
Mostly by the other door came the ladies and officers, amongst them Dorothy, and seated themselves below the dais. When it seemed at length that all were present, the two doors were closed, and silence reigned.
A few minutes more and the ladies and gentlemen of the family, in full dress, entered by the door at the back of the dais, and were shown to their places by Mr. Moyle, the first usher. Next came the marquis, leaning on lord Charles, and walking worse than usual. He too was, wonderful to tell, in full dress, and, notwithstanding his corpulency and lameness, looked every inch a marquis and the head of the house. He placed himself in the great chair, and sat upright, looking serenely around on the multitude of pale expectant faces, while lord Charles took his station erect at his left hand. A moment yet, and by the same door, last of all, entered lord Herbert, alone, in his garb of astrologer. He came before his father, bowed to him profoundly, and taking his place by his right hand, a little in front of the chair, cast a keen eye around the assembly. His look was grave, even troubled, and indeed somewhat anxious.
'Are all present?' he asked, and was answered only by silence. He then waved his right hand three times towards heaven, each time throwing open his palm outwards and upwards. At the close of the third wafture, a roar as of thunder broke and rolled about the place, making the huge hall tremble, and the windows rattle and shake fearfully. Some thought it was thunder, others thought it more like the consecutive discharge of great guns. It grew darker, and through the dim stained window many saw a dense black smoke rising from the stone-court, at sight of which they trembled yet more, for what could it be but the chariot upon which Modo, or Mahu, or whatever the demon might be called, rode up from the infernal lake? Again lord Herbert waved his arm three times, and again the thunder broke and rolled vibrating about the place. A third time he gave the sign, and once more, but now close over their heads, the thunder broke, and in the midst of its echoes, high in the oak roof appeared a little cloud of smoke. It seemed to catch the eye of lord Herbert. He made one step forward, and held out his hand towards it, with the gesture of a falconer presenting his wrist to a bird.
'Ha! art thou here?' he said.
And to the eyes of all, a creature like a bat was plainly visible, perched upon his forefinger, and waving up and down its filmy wings. He looked at it for a moment, bent his head to it, seemed to whisper, and then addressed it aloud.
'Go,' he said, 'alight upon the head of him or of her who hath wrought the evil thou knowest in this house. For it was of thine own kind, and would have smirched a fair brow.'
As he spoke he cast the creature aloft. A smothered cry came from some of the women, and Tom Fool gave a great sob and held his breath tight. Once round the wide space the bat flew, midway between floor and roof, and returning perched again upon lord Herbert's hand.
'Ha!' said his lordship, stooping his head over it, 'what meanest thou? Is not the evil-doer in presence? What?—Nay, but it cannot be? Not within the walls?—Ha! "Not in the HALL" thou sayest!'
He lifted his head, turned to his father, and said,
'Your lordship's commands have been disregarded. One of your people is absent.'
The marquis turned to lord Charles.
'Call me the ushers of the hall, my lord,' he said.
In a moment the two officers were before him.
'Search and see, and bring me word who is absent,' said the marquis.
The two gentlemen went down into the crowd, one from each side of the dais.
A minute or two passed, and then Mr. Cook came back and said,—
'My lord, I cannot find Caspar Kaltoff.'
'Caspar! Art not there, Caspar?' cried lord Herbert.
'Here I am, my lord,' answered the voice of Caspar from somewhere in the hall.
'I beg your lordship's pardon,' said Mr. Cook. 'I failed to find him.'
'It matters not, master usher. Look again,' said lord Herbert.
At the moment, Caspar, the sole attendant spirit, that day at least, upon his lord's commands, stood in one of the deep windows behind the crimson cloth, more than twenty feet above the heads of the assembly. The windows were connected by a narrow gallery in the thickness of the wall, communicating also with the minstrels' gallery, by means of which, and a ladder against the porch, Caspar could come and go unseen.
As lord Herbert spoke, Mr. Moyle came up on the dais, and brought his report that mistress Amanda Fuller was not with the rest of the ladies.
Lord Herbert turned to his wife.
'My lady,' he said, 'mistress Amanda is of your people: knowest thou wherefore she cometh not?'
'I know not, my lord, but I will send and see,' replied lady Margaret.—'My lady Broughton, wilt thou go and inquire wherefore the damsel disregardeth my lord of Worcester's commands?'
She had chosen the gentlest-hearted of her women to go on the message.
Lady Broughton came back pale and trembling—indeed there was much pallor and trembling that day in Raglan—with the report that she could not find her. A shudder ran through the whole body of the hall. Plainly the impression was that she had been FETCHED. The thunder and the smoke had not been for nothing: the devil had claimed and carried off his own! On the dais the impression was somewhat different; but all were one in this, that every eye was fixed on lord Herbert, every thought hanging on his pleasure.
For a whole minute he stood, apparently lost in meditation. The bat still rested on his hand, but his wings were still.
He had intended causing it to settle on Amanda's head, but now he must alter his plan. Nor was he sorry to do so, for it had involved no small risk of failure, the toy requiring most delicate adjustment, and its management a circumspection and nicety that occasioned him no little anxiety. It had indeed been arranged that Amanda should sit right under the window next the dais, so that he might have the assistance of Caspar from above; but if by any chance the mechanical bat should alight upon the head of another, mistress Doughty or lady Broughton instead of Amanda—what then? He was not sorry to find himself rescued from this jeopardy, and scarcely more than a minute had elapsed ere he had devised a plan by which to turn the check to the advantage of all—even that of Amanda herself, towards whom, while he felt bound to bring her to shame should she prove guilty, he was yet willing to remember mercy; while, should she be innocent, no harm would now result from his mistaken suspicion. He turned and whispered to his father.
'I will back thee, lad. Do as thou wilt,' returned the marquis, gravely nodding his head.
'Ushers of the hall,' cried lord Herbert, 'close and lock both its doors. Lock also the door to the minstrels' gallery, and, with my lord's leave, that to my lord's stair. My lord Charles, go thou prithee, and with chalk draw me a pentacle upon the threshold of each of the four; and do thou, sir Toby Mathews, make the holy sign thereabove upon the lintel and the doorposts. For the door to the pitched court, however, leave that until I am gone forth and it is closed behind me, and then do thereunto the same as to the others, after which let all sit in silence. Move not, neither speak, for any sound of fear or smell of horror. For the gift that is in him from his mother, Thomas Rees shall accompany me. Go to the door, and wait until I come.'
Having thus spoken he raised the bat towards his face, and, approaching his lips, seemed once more to be talking to it in whispers. The menials and the garrison had no doubt but he talked to his familiar spirit. Of their superiors, mistress Watson at least was of the same conviction. Then he bent his ear towards it as if he were listening, and it began to flutter its wings, at which sir Toby's faith in him began to waver. A moment more and he cast the creature from him. It flew aloft, traversed the whole length of the roof, and vanished.
It had in fact, as its master willed, alighted in the farthest corner of the roof, a little dark recess. Then, bowing low to his father, the magician stepped down from the dais, and walked through a lane of awe-struck domestics and soldiery to the door, where Tom stood waiting his approach. The fool was in a strange flutter of feelings, a conflict of pride and terror, the latter of which would, but for the former, have unnerved him quite; for not only was he doubtful of the magician's intent with regard to himself, but the hall seemed now the only place of security, and all outside it given over to goblins or worse.
The moment they crossed the threshold, the door was closed behind them, the holy sign was signed over the one, and the pentacle drawn upon the other.
All eyes were turned upon the marquis. He sat motionless. Motionless, too, as if they had been carved in stone like the leopard and wyvern over their heads, sat all the lords and ladies, embodying in themselves the words of the motto there graven, Mulaxe Vel Timere Sperno. Motionless sat the ladies beneath the dais, but their faces were troubled and pale, for Amanda was one of them, and their imaginations were busy with what might now be befalling her. Dorothy sat in much distress, for although she could lay no evil intent to her own charge, she was yet the cause of the whole fearful business. As for Scudamore, though he too was white of blee, he said to himself, and honestly, that the devil might fly away with her and welcome for what he cared. One woman in the crowd fainted and fell, but uttered never a moan. The very children were hushed by the dread that pervaded the air, and the smell of sulphur, which from a suspicion grew to a plain presence, increased not a little the high-wrought awe.
After about half an hour, during which expectation of something frightful had been growing with every moment, three great knocks came to the porch door. Mr. Moyle opened it, and in walked lord Herbert as he had issued, with Tom Fool, in whom the importance had now at length banished almost every sign of dread, at his heels. He reascended the dais, bowed once more to his father, spoke a few words to him in a tone too low to be overheard, and then turning to the assembly, said with solemn voice and stern countenance:
'The air is clear. The sin of Raglan is purged. Every one to his place.'
Had not Tom Fool, who had remained by the door, led the way from the hall, it might have been doubtful when any one would venture to stir; but, with many a deep-drawn breath and sigh of relief, they trooped slowly out after him, until the body of the hall was empty. In their hearts keen curiosity and vague terror contended like fire and water.
From that hour, while Raglan stood, the face of Amanda Serafina was no more seen within its walls. At midnight shrieks and loud wailings were heard, but if they came from Amanda, they were her last signs.
I shall not, however, hide the proceedings of lord Herbert without the hall any more than he did himself when he reached the oak parlour with the members of his own family, in which Dorothy seemed now included. He had taken Tom Fool both because he knew the castle so well, and might therefore be useful in searching for Amanda, and because he believed he might depend, if not on his discretion, yet on his dread, for secrecy. They had scarcely left the hall before they were joined by Caspar, who, while his master and the fool went in one direction, set off in another, and after a long search in vain, at length found her in an empty stall in the subterranean stable, as if, in the agony of her terror at the awful noises and the impending discovery, she had sought refuge in the companionship of the innocent animals. She was crouching, the very image of fear, under the manger, gave no cry when he entered, but seemed to gather a little courage when she found that the approaching steps were those of a human being.
'Mistress Amanda Fuller,' said his lordship with awful severity, 'thou hast in thy possession a jewel which is not thine own.'
'A jewel, my lord?' faltered Amanda, betaking herself by the force of inborn propensity and habit, even when hopeless of success in concealment, to the falsehood she carried with her like an atmosphere; 'I know not what your lordship means. Of what sort is the jewel?'
'One very like this,' returned lord Herbert, producing the false ring.
'Why, there you have it, my lord!'
'Traitress to thy king and thy lord, out of thine own mouth have I convicted thee. This is not the ring. See!'
As he spoke he squeezed it betwixt his finger and thumb to a shapeless mass, and threw it from him—then continued:
'Thou art she who did show the rebel his way from the prison into which her lord had cast him.'
'He took me by the throat, my lord,' gasped Amanda, 'and put me in mortal terror.'
'Thou slanderest him,' returned lord Herbert. 'The roundhead is a gentleman, and would not, to save his life, have harmed thee, even had he known what a worthless thing thou art. I will grant that he put thee in fear. But wherefore gavest thou no alarm when he was gone?'
'He made me swear that I would not betray him.'
'Let it be so. Why didst thou not reveal the way he took?'
'I knew it not.'
'Yet thou wentest after him when he left thee. And wherefore didst thou not deliver the ring he gave thee for mistress Dorothy?'
'I feared she would betray me, that I had held talk with the prisoner.'
'Let that too pass as less wicked than cowardly. But wherefore didst thou lock the door upon her when thou sawest her go into the roundhead's prison? Thou knewest that therefrom she must bear the blame of having set him free, with other blame, and worse for a maiden to endure?'
'It was a sudden temptation, my lord, which I knew not how to resist, and was carried away thereby. Have pity upon me, dear my lord,' moaned Amanda.
'I will believe thee there also, for I fear me thou hast had so little practice in the art of resisting temptation, that thou mightst well yield to one that urged thee towards such mere essential evil. But how was it that, after thou hadst had leisure to reflect, thou didst spread abroad the report that she was found there, and that to the hurt not only of her loyal fame, but of her maidenly honour, understanding well that no one was there but herself, and that he alone who could bear testimony to her innocence and thy guilt was parted from her by everything that could divide them except hatred? Was the temptation to that also too sudden for thy resistance?'
At length Amanda was speechless. She hung her head, for the first time in her life ashamed of herself.
'Go before to thy chamber. I follow thee.'
She rose to obey, but she could scarcely walk, and he ordered the men to assist her. Arrived in her room she delivered up the ring, and at lord Herbert's command proceeded to gather together her few possessions. That done, they led her away to the rude chamber in the watch tower, where stood the arblast, and there, seated on her chest, they left her with the assurance that if she cried out or gave any alarm, it would be to the publishing of her own shame.
At the dead of night Caspar and Tom, with four picked men from the guard, came to lead her away. Worn out by that time, and with nothing to sustain her from within, she fancied they were going to kill her, and giving way utterly, cried and shrieked aloud. Obdurate however, as gentle, they gave no ear to her petitions, but bore her through the western gate, and so to the brick gate in the rampart, placed her in a carriage behind six horses, and set out with her for Caerleon, where her mother lived in obscurity. At her door they set her down, and leaving the carriage at Usk, returned to Raglan one by one in the night, mounted on the horses. By the warders who admitted them they were supposed to be returned from distinct missions on the king's business.
Many were the speculations in the castle as to the fate of mistress Amanda Serafina Fuller, but the common belief continued to be that she had been carried off by Satan, body and soul.
END OF VOLUME II.
START OF VOLUME III
Early the next morning, after Richard had left the cottage for Raglan castle, mistress Rees was awaked by the sound of a heavy blow against her door. When with difficulty she had opened it, Richard or his dead body, she knew not which, fell across her threshold. Like poor Marquis, he had come to her for help and healing.
When he got out of the quarry, he made for the highroad, but missing the way the dog had brought him, had some hard work in reaching it; and long before he arrived—at the cottage, what with his wound, his loss of blood, his double wetting, his sleeplessness after mistress Watson's potion, want of food, disappointment and fatigue, he was in a high fever. The last mile or two he had walked in delirium, but happily with the one dominant idea of getting help from mother Rees. The poor woman was greatly shocked to find that the teeth of the trap had closed upon her favourite and mangled him so terribly. A drop or two of one of her restoratives, however, soon brought him round so far that he was able to crawl to the chair on which he had sat the night before, now ages agone as it seemed, where he now sat shivering and glowing alternately, until with trembling hands the good woman had prepared her own bed for him.
'Thou hast left thy doublet behind thee,' she said, 'and I warrant me the cake I gave thee in the pouch thereof! Hadst thou eaten of that, thou hadst not come to this pass.'
But Richard scarcely heard her voice. His one mental consciousness was the longing desire to lay his aching head on the pillow, and end all effort.
Finding his wound appeared very tolerably dressed, Mrs. Rees would not disturb the bandages. She gave him a cooling draught, and watched by him till he fell asleep. Then she tidied her house, dressed herself, and got everything in order for nursing him. She would have sent at once to Redware to let his father know where and in what condition he was, but not a single person came near the cottage the whole day, and she dared not leave him before the fever had subsided. He raved a good deal, generally in the delusion that he was talking to Dorothy—who sought to kill him, and to whom he kept giving directions, at one time how to guide the knife to reach his heart, at another how to mingle her poison so that it should act with speed and certainty.
At length one fine evening in early autumn, when the red sun shone level through the window of the little room where he lay, and made a red glory on the wall, he came to himself a little.
'Is it blood?' he murmured. 'Did Dorothy do it?—How foolish I am! It is but a blot the sun has left behind him!—Ah! I see! I am dead and lying on the top of my tomb. I am only marble. This is Redware church. Oh, mother Rees, is it you! I am very glad! Cover me over a little. The pall there.'
His eyes closed, and for a few hours he lay in a deep sleep, from which he awoke very weak, but clear-headed. He remembered nothing, however, since leaving the quarry, except what appeared a confused dream of wandering through an interminable night of darkness, weariness, and pain. His first words were,—
'I must get up, mother Rees: my father will be anxious about me. Besides, I promised to set out for Gloucester to-day.'
She sought to quiet him, but in vain, and was at last compelled to inform him that his father, finding he did not return, had armed himself, mounted Oliver, and himself led his little company to join the earl of Essex—who was now on his way, at the head of an army consisting chiefly of the trained bands of London, to raise the siege of Gloucester.
Richard started up, and would have leaped from the bed, but fell back helpless and unconscious. When at length his nurse had succeeded in restoring him, she had much ado to convince him that the best thing in all respects was to lie still and submit to be nursed—so to get well as soon as possible, and join his father.
'Alas, mother, I have no horse,' said Richard, and hid his face on the pillow.
'The Lord will provide what thee wants, my son,' said the old woman with emotion, neither asking nor caring whether the Lord was on the side of the king or of the parliament, but as little doubting that he must be on the side of Richard.
He soon began to eat hopefully, and after a day or two she found pretty nearly employment enough in cooking for him.
At last, weak as he still was, he would be restrained no longer. To Gloucester he must go, and relieve his father. Expostulation was unavailing: go he must, he said, or his soul would tear itself out of his body, and go without it.
'Besides, mother, I shall be getting better all the way,' he continued. '—I must go home at once and see whether there is anything left to go upon.'
He rose the same instant, and, regardless of the good woman's entreaties, crawled out to go to Redware. She followed him at a little distance, and, before he had walked a quarter of a mile, he was ready to accept her offered arm to help him back. But his recovery was now very rapid, and. after a few days he felt able for the journey.
At home he found a note from his father, telling him where to find money, and informing him that he was ready to yield him Oliver the moment he should appear to claim him. Richard put on his armour, and went to the stable. The weather had been fine, and the harvest was wearing gradually to a close; but the few horses that were left were overworked, for the necessities of the war had been severe, and that part of the country had responded liberally on both sides. Besides, Mr. Heywood had scarce left an animal judged at all fit to carry a man and keep up with the troop.
When Richard reached the stable, there were in it but three, two of which, having brought loads to the barn, were now having their mid-day meal and rest. The first one was ancient in bones, with pits profound above his eyes, and grey hairs all about a face which had once been black.
'Thou art but fit for old Father Time to lay his scythe across when he is aweary,' said Richard, and turned to the next.
She was a huge-bodied, short-legged punch, as fat as butter, with lop ears and sleepy eyes. Having finished her corn, she was churning away at a mangerful of grass.
'Thou wouldst burst thy belly at the first charge,' said Richard, and was approaching the third, one he did not recognise, when a vicious, straight-out kick informed him that here was temper at least, probably then spirit. But when he came near enough to see into the stall, there stood the ugliest brute he thought that ever ate barley. He was very long-bodied and rather short-legged, with great tufts at his fetlocks, and the general look of a huge rat, in part doubtless from having no hair on his long undocked tail. He was biting vigorously at his manger, and Richard could see the white of one eye glaring at him askance in the gloom.
'Dunnot go nigh him, sir,' cried Jacob Fortune, who had come up behind. 'Thou knows not his tricks. His name be his nature, and we call him Beelzebub when master Stopchase be not by. I be right glad to see your honour up again.'
Jacob was too old to go to the wars, and too indifferent to regret it; but he was faithful, and had authority over the few men left.
'I thank you, Jacob,' said Richard. 'What brute is this? I know him not.'
'We all knows him too well, master Richard, though verily Stopchase bought him but the day before he rode, thinking belike he might carry an ear or two of wheat. If he be not very good he was not parlous dear; he paid for him but an old song. He was warranted to have work in him if a man but knew how to get it out.'
'He is ugly.'
'He is the ugliest horse, cart-horse, nag, or courser, on this creation-side,' said the old man, '—ugly enough to fright to death where he doth fail in his endeavour to kill. The men are all mortal feared on him, for he do kick and he do bite like the living Satan. He wonnot go in no cart, but there he do stand eating on his head off as fast as he can. An' the brute were mine, I would slay him; I would, in good sooth.'
'An' I had but time to cure him of his evil kicking! I fear I must ever ride the last in the troop,' said Richard.
'Why for sure, master, thee never will ride such a devil-pig as he to the wars! Will Farrier say he do believe he take his strain from the swine the devils go into in the miracle. All the children would make a mock of thee as thou did ride through the villages. Look at his legs: they do be like stile-posts; and do but look at his tail!'
'Lead him out, Jacob, and let me see his head.'
'I dare not go nigh him, sir. I be not nimble enough to get out of the way of his hoof. 'I be too old, master.'
Richard pulled on his thick buff glove and went straight into his stall. The brute made a grab at him with his teeth, met by a smart blow from Richard's fist, which he did not like, and, rearing, would have struck at him with his near fore-foot; but Richard caught it by the pastern, and with his left hand again struck him on the side of the mouth. The brute then submitted to be led out by the halter. And verily he was ugly to behold. His neck stuck straight out, and so did his tail, but the latter went off in a point, and the former in a hideous knob.
'Here is Jack!' cried the old man. 'He lets Jack ride him to the water. Here, Jack! Get thee upon the hog-back of Beelzebub, and mind the bristles do not flay thee, and let master Richard see what paces he hath.'
The animal tried to take the lad down with his hind foot as he mounted, but scarcely was he seated when he set off at a swinging trot, in which he plied his posts in manner astonishing. Spirit indeed he must have had, and plenty, to wield such clubs in such a fashion. His joints were so loose that the bones seemed to fly about, yet they always came down right.
'He is guilty of "hypocrisy against the devil,"' said Richard: 'he is better than he looks. Anyhow, if he but carry me thither, he will as well "fill a pit" as a handsomer horse. I'll take him. Have you got a saddle for him?'
'An' he had not brought a saddle with him, thou would not find one in Gwent to fit him,' said the old man.
Yet another day Richard found himself compelled to tarry—which he spent in caparisoning Beelzebub to the best of his ability, with the result of making him, if possible, appear still uglier than before.
The eve of the day of his departure, Marquis paid mistress Rees a second visit. He wanted no healing or help this time, seeming to have come only to offer his respects. But the knowledge that here was a messenger, dumb and discreet, ready to go between and make no sign, set Richard longing to use him: what message he did send by him I have already recorded. Although, however, the dog left them that night, he did not reach Raglan till the second morning after, and must have been roaming the country or paying other visits all that night and the next day as well, with the letter about him, which he had allowed no one to touch.
At last Richard was on his way to Gloucester, mounted on Beelzebub, and much stared at by the inhabitants of every village he passed through. Apparently, however, there was something about the centaur-compound which prevented their rudeness from going farther. Beelzebub bore him well, and, though not a comfortable horse to ride, threw the road behind him at a wonderful rate, as often and as long as Richard was able to bear it. But he found himself stronger after every rest, and by the time he began to draw nigh to Gloucester, he was nearly as well as ever, and in excellent spirits; one painful thought only haunting him—the fear that he might, mounted on Beelzebub, have to encounter some one on his beloved mare. He was consoled, however, to think that the brute was less dangerous to one before than one behind him, heels being worse than teeth.
He soon became aware that something decisive had taken place: either Gloucester had fallen, or Essex had raised the siege, for army there was none, though the signs of a lately upbroken encampment were visible on all sides. Presently, inquiring at the gate, he learned that, on the near approach of Essex, the besieging army had retired, and that, after a few days' rest, the general had turned again in the direction of London. Richard, therefore, having fed Beelzebub and eaten his own dinner, which in his present condition was more necessary than usual to his being of service, mounted his hideous charger once more, and pushed on to get up with the army.
Essex had not taken the direct road to London, but kept to the southward. That same day he followed him as far as Swindon, and found he was coming up with him rapidly. Having rested a short night, he reached Hungerford the next morning, which he found in great commotion because of the intelligence that at Newbury, some seven miles distant only, Essex had found his way stopped by the king, and that a battle had been raging ever since the early morning.
Having given his horse a good feed of oats and a draught of ale, Richard mounted again and rode hard for Newbury. Nor had he rode long before he heard the straggling reports of carbines, looked to the priming of his pistols, and loosened his sword in its sheath. When he got under the wall of Craven park, the sounds of conflict grew suddenly plainer. He could distinguish the noise of horses' hoofs, and now and then the confused cries and shouts of hand-to-hand conflict. At Spain he was all but in it, for there he met wounded men, retiring slowly or carried by their comrades. These were of his own part, but he did not stop to ask any questions. Beelzebub snuffed at the fumes of the gunpowder, and seemed therefrom to derive fresh vigour.
The lanes and hedges between Spein and Newbury had been the scenes of many a sanguinary tussle that morning, for nowhere had either army found room to deploy. Some of them had been fought over more than once or twice. But just before Richard came up, the tide had ebbed from that part of the way, for Essex's men had had some advantage, and had driven the king's men through the town and over the bridge, so that he found the road clear, save of wounded men and a few horses. As he reached Spinhamland, and turned sharp to the right into the main street of Newbury, a bullet from the pistol of a royalist officer who lay wounded struck Beelzebub on the crest—what of a crest he had—and without injuring made him so furious that his rider had much ado to keep him from mischief. For, at the very moment, they were met by a rush of parliament pikemen, retreating, as he could see, over their heads, from a few of the kings cavalry, who came at a sharp trot down the main street. The pikemen had got into disorder pursuing some of the enemy who had divided and gone to the right and left up the two diverging streets, and when the cavalry appeared at the top of the main street, both parts, seeing themselves in danger of being surrounded, had retreated. They were now putting the Kennet with its narrow bridge between them and the long-feathered cavaliers, in the hope of gaining time and fit ground for forming and presenting a bristled front. In the midst of this confused mass of friends Richard found himself, the maddened Beelzebub every moment lashing out behind him when not rearing or biting.
Before him the bridge rose steep to its crown, contracting as it rose. At its foot, where it widened to the street, stood a single horseman, shouting impatiently to the last of the pikemen, and spurring his horse while holding him. As the last man cleared the bridge, he gave him rein, and with a bound and a scramble reached the apex, and stood—within half a neck of the foremost of the cavalier troop. A fierce combat instantly began between them. The bridge was wide enough for two to have fought side by side, but the roundhead contrived so to work his antagonist, who was a younger but less capable and less powerful man, that no comrade could get up beside him for the to-and-fro shifting of his horse.
Meantime Richard had been making his slow way through the swarm of hurrying pikemen, doing what he could to keep them off Beelzebub. The moment he was clear, he made a great bolt for the bridge, and the same moment perceived who the brave man was.
'Hold on, sir,' he shouted. 'Hold your own, father! Here I am! Here is Richard!'
And as he shouted he sent Beelzebub, like low-flying bolt from cross-bow, up the steep crown of the bridge, and wedged him in between Oliver and the parapet, just as a second cavalier made a dart for the place. At his horse Beelzebub sprang like a fury, rearing, biting, and striking out with his fore-feet in such manner as quite to make up to his rider for the disadvantage of his low stature. The cavalier's horse recoiled in terror, rearing also, but snorting and backing and wavering, so that, in his endeavours to avoid the fury of Beelzebub, which was frightful to see, for with ears laid back and gleaming teeth he looked more like a beast of prey, he would but for the crowd behind him have fallen backward down the slope. A bullet from one of Richard's pistols sent his rider over his tail, the horse fell sideways against that of Mr. Heywood's antagonist, and the path was for a moment barricaded.
'Well done, good Beelzebub!' cried Richard, as he reined him back on to the crest of the bridge.
'Boy!' said his father sternly, at the same instant dealing his encumbered opponent a blow on the head-piece which tumbled him also from his horse, 'is the sacred hour of victory a time to sully with profane and foolish jests? I little thought to hear such words at my side—not to say from the mouth of my own son!'
'Pardon me, father; I praised my horse,' said Richard. 'I think not he ever had praise before, but it cannot corrupt him, for he is such an ill-conditioned brute that they that named him did name him Beelzebub: Now that he hath once done well, who knoweth but it may cease to fit him!'
'I am glad thy foolish words were so harmless,' returned Mr. Heywood, smiling. 'In my ears they sounded so evil that I could ill accept their testimony.—Verily the animal is marvellous ill-favoured, but, as thou sayest, he hath done well, and the first return we make him shall be to give him another name. The less man or horse hath to do with Satan the better, for what is he but the arch-foe of the truth?'
While they spoke, they kept a keen watch on the enemy—who could not get near to attack them, save with a few pistol-bullets, mostly wide-shot—for both horses were down, and their riders helpless if not slain.
'What shall we call him then, father?' asked Richard.
'He is amazing like a huge rat!' said his father. 'Let us henceforth call him Bishop.'
'Wherefore Bishop and not Beelzebub, sir?' inquired Richard.
Mr. Heywood laughed, but ere he could reply, a large troop of horsemen appeared at the top of the street. Glancing then behind in some anxiety, they saw to their relief that the pikemen had now formed themselves into a hollow square at the foot of the bridge, prepared to receive cavalry. They turned therefore, and, passing through them, rode to find their regiment.
From that day Bishop, notwithstanding his faults many and grievous, was regarded with respect by both father and son, Richard vowing never to mount another, let laugh who would, so long as the brute lived and he had not recovered Lady.
But they had to give him room for two on the march, and the place behind him was always left vacant, which they said gave no more space than he wanted, seeing he kicked out his leg to twice its walking length. Before long, however, they had got so used to his ways that they almost ceased to regard them as faults, and he began to grow a favourite in the regiment.
DOROTHY AND ROWLAND.
Such was the force of law and custom in Raglan that as soon as any commotion ceased things settled at once. It was so now. The minds of the marquis and lord Charles being at rest both as regarded the gap in the defences of the castle and the character of its inmates, the very next day all was order again. The fate of Amanda was allowed gradually to ooze out, but the greater portion both of domestics and garrison continued firm in the belief that she had been carried off by Satan. Young Delaware, indeed, who had been revelling late—I mean in the chapel with the organ—and who was always the more inclined to believe a thing the stranger it was, asserted that he SAW devil fly away with her—a testimony which gained as much in one way as it lost in another by the fact that he could not see at all.
To Scudamore her absence, however caused, was only a relief. She had ceased to interest him, while Dorothy had become to him like an enchanted castle, the spell of which he flattered himself he was the knight born to break. All his endeavours, however, to attract from her a single look such as indicated intelligence, not to say response, were disappointed. She seemed absolutely unsuspicious of what he sought, neither, having so long pretermitted what claim he might once have established to cousinly relations with her, could he now initiate any intimacy on that ground. Had she become an inmate of Raglan immediately after he first made her acquaintance, that might have ripened to something more hopeful; but when she came she was in sorrow, nor felt that there was any comfort in him, while he was beginning to yield to the tightening bonds mistress Amanda had flung around him. Nor since had he afforded her any ground for altering her first impressions, or favourably modifying a feature of the portrait lady Margaret had presented of him.
Strange to say, however, poorly grounded as was the orignal interest he had taken in her, and little as he was capable of understanding her, he soon began, even while yet confident in his proved advantages of person and mind and power persuasive, to be vaguely wrought upon by the superiority of her nature. With this the establishment of her innocence in the eyes of the household had little to do; indeed, that threatened at first to destroy something of her attraction; a passionate, yielding, even erring nature, had of necessity for such as he far more enchantment than a nature that ruled its own emotions, and would judge such as might be unveiled to it. Neither was it that her cold courtesy and kind indifference roused him to call to the front any of the more valuable endowments of his being; something far better had commenced: unconsciously to himself, the dim element of truth that flitted vaporous about in him had begun to respond to the great pervading and enrounding orb of her verity. He began to respect her, began to feel drawn as if by another spiritual sense than that of which Amanda had laid hold. He found in her an element of authority. The conscious influences to whose triumph he had been so perniciously accustomed, had proved powerless upon her, while those that in her resided unconscious were subduing him. Her star was dominant over his.
At length he began to be aware that this was no light preference, no passing fancy, but something more serious than he had hitherto known—that in fact he was really, though uncomfortably and unsatisfactorily, in love with her. He felt she was not like any other girl he had made his shabby love to, and would have tried to make beter to her, but she kept him at a distance, and that he began to find tormenting. One day, for example, meeting her in the court as she was crossing towards the keep,—
'I would thou didst take apprentices, cousin,' he said, 'so I might be one, and learn of thee the mysteries of thy trade.'
'That I might spare thee something of thy labour.'
'That were no kindness. I am not like thee; I find labour a thing to be courted rather than spared; I am not overwrought.'
Scudamore gazed into her grey eyes, but found there nothing to contradict, nothing to supplement the indifference of her words. There was no lurking sparkle of humour, no acknowledgment of kindness. There was a something, but he could not understand it, for his poor shapeless soul might not read the cosmic mystery embodied in their depths. He stammered—who had never known himself stammer before, broke the joints of an ill-fitted answer, swept the tiles with the long feather in his hat, and found himself parted from her, with the feeling that he had not of himself left her, but had been borne away by some subtle force emanating from her.
Lord Herbert had again left the castle. More soldiers and more must still be raised for the king. Now he would be paying his majesty a visit at Oxford, and inspecting the life-guards he had provided him, now back in South Wales, enlisting men, and straining every power in him to keep the district of which his father was governor in good affection and loyal behaviour.
Winter drew nigh, and stayed somewhat the rushx of events, clogged the wheels of life as they ran towards death, brought a little sleep to the world and coolness to men's hearts—led in another Christmas, and looked on for a while.
Nor did the many troubles heaped on England, the drained purses, the swollen hearts, the anxious minds, the bereaved houses, the ruptures, the sorrows, and the hatreds, yet reach to dull in any large measure the merriment of the season at Raglan. Customs are like carpets, for ever wearing out whether we mark it or no, but Lord Worcester's patriarchal prejudices, cleaving to the old and looking askance on the new, caused them to last longer in Raglan than almost anywhere else: the old were the things of his fathers which he had loved from his childhood; the new were the things of his children which he had not proven.
What a fire that was that blazed on the hall-hearth under the great chimney, which, dividing in two, embraced a fine window, then again becoming one, sent the hot blast rushing out far into the waste of wintry air! No one could go within yards of it for the fierce heat of the blazing logs, now and then augmented by huge lumps of coal. And when, on the evenings of special merry-making, the candles were lit, the musicians were playing, and a country dance was filling the length of the great floor, in which the whole household, from the marquis himself, if his gout permitted, to the grooms and kitchen- maids, would take part, a finer outburst of homely splendour, in which was more colour than gilding, more richness than shine, was not to be seen in all the island.
On such an occasion Rowland had more than once attempted nearer approach to Dorothy, but had gained nothing. She neither repelled nor encouraged him, but smiled at his better jokes, looked grave at his silly ones, and altogether treated him like a boy, young—or old—enough to be troublesome if encouraged. He grew desperate, and so one night summoned up courage as they stood together waiting for the next dance.
'Why will you never talk to me, cousin Dorothy?' he said.
'Is it so, Mr. Scudamore? I was not aware. If thou spoke and I answered not, I am sorry.'
'No, I mean not that,' returned Scudamore. 'But when I venture to speak, you always make me feel as if I ought not to have spoken. When I call you COUSIN DOROTHY, you reply with MR. SCUDAMORE.'
'The relation is hardly near enough to justify a less measure of observance.'
'Our mothers loved each other.'
'They found each other worthy.'
'And you do not find me such?' sighed Scudamore, with a smile meant to be both humble and bewitching.
'N-n-o. Thou hast not made me desire to hold with thee much converse.'
'Tell me why, cousin, that I may reform that which offends thee.'
'If a man see not his faults with his own eyes, how shall he see them with the eyes of another?'
'Wilt thou never love me, Dorothy?—not even a little?'
'Wherefore should I love thee, Rowland?'
'We are commanded to love even our enemies.'
'Art thou then mine enemy, cousin?'
'No, forsooth! I am the most loving friend thou hast.'
'Then am I sorely to be pitied.'
'For having my love?'
'Nay; for having none better than thine. But thank God, it is not so.'
'Must I then be thine enemy indeed before thou wilt love me?'
'No, cousin: cease to be thine own enemy and I will call thee my friend.'
'Marry! wherein then am I mine own enemy? I lead a sober life enough—as thou seest, ever under the eye of my lord.'
'But what wouldst thou an' thou wert from under the eye of thy lord? I know thee better than thou thinkest, cousin. I have read thy title-page, if not thy whole book.'
'Tell me then how runneth my title-page, cousin.'
'The art of being wilfully blind, or The way to see no farther than one would.'
'Fair preacher,—' began Rowland, but Dorothy interrupted him.
'Nay then, an' thou betake thee to thy jibes, I have done,' she said.
'Be not angry with me; it is but my nature, which for thy sake I will control. If thou canst not love me, wilt thou not then pity me a little?'
'That I may pity thee, answer me what good thing is there in thee wherefore I should love thee.'
'Wouldst thou have a man trumpet his own praises?'
'I fear not that of thee who hast but the trumpet—I will tell thee this much: I have never seen in thee that thou didst love save for the pastime thereof. I doubt if thou lovest thy master for more than thy place.'
'Be honest with thyself, Rowland. If thou would have me for thy cousin, it must be on the ground of truth.'
Rowland possessed at least goodnature: few young men would have borne to be so severely handled. But then, while one's good opinion of himself remains untroubled, confesses no touch, gives out no hollow sound, shrinks not self-hurt with the doubt of its own reality, hostile criticism will not go very deep, will not reach to the quick. The thing that hurts is that which sets trembling the ground of self-worship, lays bare the shrunk cracks and wormholes under the golden plates of the idol, shows the ants running about in it, and renders the foolish smile of the thing hateful. But he who will then turn away from his imagined self, and refer his life to the hidden ideal self, the angel that ever beholds the face of the Father, shall therein be made whole and sound, alive and free.
The dance called them, and their talk ceased. When it was over, Dorothy left the hall and sought her chamber. But in the fountain court her cousin overtook her, and had the temerity to resume the conversation. The moth would still at any risk circle the candle. It was a still night, and therefore not very cold, although icicles hung from the mouth of the horse, and here and there from the eaves. They stood by the marble basin, and the dim lights and scarce dimmer shadows from many an upper window passed athwart them as they stood. The chapel was faintly lighted, but the lantern-window on the top of the hall shone like a yellow diamond in the air.
'Thou dost me scant justice, cousin,' said Rowland, 'maintaining that I love but myself or for mine own ends. I know that love thee better than so.'
'For thine own sake, I would, might I but believe it, be glad of the assurance. But—'
Amanda's behaviour to her having at last roused counter observation and speculation on Dorothy's part, she had become suddenly aware that there was an understanding between her and Rowland. It was gradually, however, that the question rose in her mind: could these two have been the nightly intruders on the forbidden ground of the workshop, and afterwards the victims of the watershoot? But the suspicion grew to all but a conviction. Latterly she had observed that their behaviour to each other was changed, also that Amanda's aversion to herself seemed to have gathered force. And one thing she had found remarkable—that Rowland revealed no concern for Amanda's misfortunes, or anxiety about her fate. With all these things potentially present in her mind, she came all at once to the resolution of attempting a bold stroke.
'—But,' Dorothy went on, 'when I think how thou didst bear thee with mistress Amanda—'
'My precious Dorothy!' exclaimed Scudamore, filled with a sudden gush of hope, 'thou wilt never be so unjust to thyself as to be jealous of her! She is to me as nothing—as if she had never been; nor care I forsooth if the devil hath indeed flown away with her bodily, as they will have it in the hall and the guard-room.'
'Thou didst seem to hold friendly enough converse with her while she was yet one of us.'
'Ye-e-s. But she had no heart like thee, Dorothy, as I soon discovered. She had indeed a pretty wit of her own, but that was all. And then she was spiteful. She hated thee, Dorothy.'
He spoke of her as one dead.
'How knewest thou that? Wast thou then so far in her confidence, and art now able to talk of her thus? Where is thine own heart, Mr. Scudamore?'
'In thy bosom, lovely Dorothy.'
'Thou mistakest. But mayhap thou dost imagine I picked it up that night thou didst lay it at mistress Amanda's feet in my lord's workshop in the keep?'
Dorothy's hatred of humbug—which was not the less in existence then that they had not the ugly word to express the uglier thing—enabled her to fix her eyes on him as she spoke, and keep them fixed when she had ended. He turned pale—visibly pale through the shadowy night, nor attempted to conceal his confusion. It is strange how self-conviction will wait upon foreign judgment, as if often only the general conscience were powerful enough to wake the individual one.
'Or perhaps,' she continued, 'it was torn from thee by the waters that swept thee from the bridge, as thou didst venture with her yet again upon the forbidden ground.'
He hung his head, and stood before her like a chidden child.
'Think'st thou,' she went on, 'that my lord would easily pardon such things?'
'Thou knewest it, and didst not betray me! Oh Dorothy!' murmured Scudamore. 'Thou art a very angel of light, Dorothy.'
He seized her hand, and but for the possible eyes upon them, he would have flung himself at her feet.
Dorothy, however, would not yet lay aside the part she had assumed as moral physician—surgeon rather.
'But notwithstanding all this, cousin Rowland, when trouble came upon the young lady, what comfort was there for her in thee? Never hadst thou loved her, although I doubt not thou didst vow and swear thereto an hundred times.'
Rowland was silent. He began to fear her.
'Or what love thou hadst was of such sort that thou didst encourage in her that which was evil, and then let her go like a haggard hawk. Thou marvellest, forsooth, that I should be so careless of thy merits! Tell me, cousin, what is there in thee that I should love? Can there be love for that which is nowise lovely? Thou wilt doubtless say in thy heart, "She is but a girl, and how then should she judge concerning men and their ways?" But I appeal to thine own conscience, Rowland, when I ask thee—is this well? And if a maiden truly loved thee, it were all one. Thou wouldst but carry thyself the same to her—if not to-day, then to-morrow, or a year hence.'
'Not if she were good, Dorothy, like thee,' he murmured.
'Not if thou wert good, Rowland, like Him that made thee.'
'Wilt thou not teach me then to be good like thee, Dorothy?'
'Thou must teach thyself to be good like the Rowland thou knowest in thy better heart, when it is soft and lowly.'
'Wouldst thou then love me a little, Dorothy, if I vowed to be thy scholar, and study to be good? Give me some hope to help me in the hard task.'
'He that is good is good for goodness' sake, Rowland. Yet who can fail to love that which is good in king or knave?'
'Ah! but do not mock me, Dorothy: such is not the love I would have of thee.'
'It is all thou ever canst have of me, and methinks it is not like thou wilt ever have it, for verily thou art of nature so light that any wind may blow thee into the Dead Sea.'
From a saint it was enough to anger any sinner.
'I see!' cried Scudamore. 'For all thy fine reproof, thou too canst spurn a heart at thy feet. I will lay my life thou lovest the round-head, and art but a traitress for all thy goodness.'
'I am indeed traitress enough to love any roundhead gentleman better than a royalist knave,' said Dorothy; and turning from him she sought the grand staircase.
The winter passed, with much running to and fro, in foul weather and fair; and still the sounds of war came no nearer to Raglan, which lay like a great lion in a desert that the hunter dared not arouse. The whole of Wales, except a castle or two, remained subject to the king; and this he owed in great measure to the influence and devotion of the Somersets, his obligation to whom he seemed more and more bent on acknowledging.
One day in early summer lady Margaret was sitting in her parlour, busy with her embroidery, and Dorothy was by her side assisting her, when lord Herbert, who had been absent for many days, walked in.
'How does my lady Glamorgan?' he said gaily.
'What mean you, my Herbert?' returned his wife, looking in his eyes somewhat eagerly.
'Thy Herbert am I no more; neither plume I myself any more in the spare feathers of my father. Thou art, my dove, as thou deservest to be, countess of Glamorgan, in the right of thine own husband, first earl of the same; for such being the will of his majesty, I doubt not thou wilt give thy consent thereto, and play the countess graciously. Come, Dorothy, art not proud to be cousin to an earl?'
'I am proud that you should call me cousin, my lord,' answered Dorothy; 'but truly to me it is all one whether you be called Herbert or Glamorgan. So thou remain thou, cousin, and my friend, the king may call thee what he will, and if thou art pleased, so am I.'
It was the first time she had ever thou'd him, and she turned pale at her own daring.
'St. George! but thou hast well spoken, cousin!' cried the earl. 'Hath she not, wife?'
'So well that if she often saith as well, I shall have much ado not to hate her,' replied lady Glamorgan. 'When didst thou ever cry "well spoken" to thy mad Irishwoman, Ned?'
'All thou dost is well, my lady. Thou hast all the titles to my praises already in thy pocket. Besides, cousin Dorothy is young and meek, and requireth a little encouragement.'
'Whereas thy wife is old and bold, and cares no more for thy good word, my new lord of Glamorgan?'
Dorothy looked so grave that they both fell a-laughing.
'I would thou couldst teach her a merry jest or two, Margaret,' said the earl. 'We are decent people enough in Raglan, but she is much too sober for us. Cheer up, Dorothy! Good times are at hand: that thou mayest not doubt it, listen—but this is only for thy ear, not for thy tongue: the king hath made thy cousin, that is me, Edward Somerset, the husband of this fair lady, generalissimo of his three armies, and admiral of a fleet, and truly I know not what all, for I have yet but run my eye over the patent. And, wife, I verily do believe the king but bides his time to make my father duke of Somerset, and then one day thou wilt be a duchess, Margaret. Think on that!'
Lady Glamorgan burst into tears.
'I would I might have a kiss of my Molly!' she cried.
She had never before in Dorothy's hearing uttered the name of her child since her death. New dignity, strange as it may seem to some, awoke suddenly the thought of the darling to whom titles were but words, and the ice was broken. A pause followed.
'Yes, Margaret, thou art right,' said Glamorgan at length; 'it is all but folly; yet as the marks of a king's favour, such honours are precious.'
As to what a king's favour itself might be worth, that my lord of Glamorgan lived to learn.
'It is I who pay for them,' said his wife.
'How so, my dove?'
'Do they not cost me thee, Herbert—and cost me very dear? Art not ever from my sight? Wish I not often as I lay awake in the dark, that we were all in heaven and well over with the foolery of it? The angels keep Molly in mind of us!'
'Yes, my Peggy, it is hard on thee, and hard on me too,' said the earl tenderly, 'yet not so hard as upon our liege lord, the king, who selleth his plate and jewels.'
'Pooh! what of that then, Herbert? An' he would leave me thee, he might have all mine, and welcome; for thou knowest, Ned, I but hold them for thee to sell when thou wilt.'
'I know; and the time may come, though, thank God, it is not yet. What wouldst thou say, countess, if with all thy honours thou did yet come to poverty? Canst be poor and merry, think'st thou?'
'So thou wert with me, Herbert—Glamorgan, I would say, but my lips frame not themselves to the word. I like not the title greatly, but when it means thee to me, then shall I love it.'
'Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers? O sweet content!'
—sang the earl in a mellow tenor voice.
'My lord, an' I have leave to speak,' said Dorothy, 'did you not say the diamond in that ring Richard Heywood sent me was of some worth?'
'I did, cousin. It is a stone of the finest water, and of good weight, though truly I weighed it not.'
'Then would I cast it in the king's treasury, an' if your lordship would condescend to be the bearer of such a small offering.'
'No, child; the king robs not orphans.'
'Did the King of Kings rob the poor widow that cast in her two mites, then?'
'No; but perhaps the priests did. Still, as I say, the hour may come when all our mites may be wanted, and thine be accepted with the rest, but my father and I have yet much to give, and shall have given it before that hour come. Besides, as to thee, Dorothy, what would that handsome roundhead of thine say, if instead of keeping well the ring he gave thee, thou had turned it to the use he liked the least?'
'He will never ask me concerning it,' said Dorothy, with a faint smile.
'Be not over-sure of it, child. My lady asks me many things I never thought to tell her before the priest made us one. Dorothy, I have no right and no wish to spy into thy future, and fright thee with what, if it come at all, will come peacefully as June weather. I have not constructed thy horoscope to cast thy nativity, and therefore I speak as one of the ignorant; but let me tell thee, for I do say it confidently, that if these wars were once over, and the king had his own again, there will be few men in his three kingdoms so worthy of the hand and heart of Dorothy Vaughan as that same roundhead fellow, Richard Heywood. I would to God he were as good a catholic as he is a mistaken puritan! And now, my lady, may I not send thy maiden from us, for I would talk with thee alone of certain matters—not from distrust of Dorothy, but that they are not my own to impart, therefore I pray her absence.'
The parliament having secured the assistance of the Scots, and their forces having, early in the year, entered England, the king on his side was now meditating an attempt to secure the assistance of the Irish catholics, to which the devotion of certain of the old catholic houses at home encouraged him. But it was a game of terrible danger, for if he lost it, he lost everything; and that it should transpire before maturity would be to lose it absolutely; for the Irish catholics had, truly or falsely, been charged with such enormities during the rebellion, that they had become absolutely hateful in the eyes of all English protestants, and any alliance with them must cost him far more in protestants than he could gain by it in catholics. It was necessary therefore that he should go about it with the utmost caution; and indeed in his whole management of it, the wariness far exceeded the dignity, and was practised at the expense of his best friends. But the poor king was such a believer in his father's pet doctrine of the divine right of his inheritance, that not only would he himself sacrifice everything to the dim shadow of royalty which usurped the throne of his conscience, but would, without great difficulty or compunction, though not always without remorse, accept any sacrifice which a subject might have devotion enough to bring to the altar before which Charles Stuart acted as flamen.
In this my story of hearts rather than fortunes, it is not necessary to follow the river of public events through many of its windings, although every now and then my track will bring me to a ferry, where the boat bearing my personages will be seized by the force of the current, and carried down the stream while crossing to the other bank.