On this day, teeming with events, Dr Dee had been too closely engaged in parish duties to give heed to these love fancies, and even had he been ever so free to exercise his judgment in the matter, it is more than likely Rodolf would not have opened to him the proceedings then afoot. He well knew that the Doctor yet bore no good-will to Kelly, and might possibly thwart his designs, to the undoing of any good purposed by the strange transactions that had already occurred; he resolved, therefore, to let this day pass, ere he opened his lips on the subject. But how to while away the hours until evening was a most embarrassing problem. Sleep he had tried, but he found no wish to repeat the experiment; reading was just then foreign to his humour; mathematics must, that day, go unstudied. After beating time to at least a dozen strange metres, he hit upon the happy contrivance of writing a love-song, as a kind of expedient to restore the equilibrium. He was rather unskilled at the work; but the pen becomes eloquent when the soul moves it. We will, however, leave him at this thrifty employment, having no design, gentle reader, to make the occasion as wearisome to thee as to himself. Having the power to annihilate both time and space, let us watch the round sun, as he threw his last look, that evening, on the scene of this marvellous history. The old walls of the college, and the church tower, were invested with a gorgeous apparel of light, as though illumined for some gay festival, some season of rejoicing, when gladness shines out visibly in the shape of bonfires and torches. But few moments elapsed, ere the love-sick youth was again admitted into the dark interior of the seer's dwelling.
A voice whispered in his ear—
"Not a word, hardly a breath, as thou wouldest thrive in thy pursuit. There be spirits abroad, not of earth, nor air. Be silent and discreet."
A ray suddenly darted across the room. Again the voice was at his ear:—
"Hold thine eye to the crevice when the light enters, and mark well what thou beholdest."
Again he saw his mistress, apparently in a vaulted chamber, lighted by a single lamp: she sat as if anxious and disturbed, her cheek pale and flushed by turns, whilst her eye wandered hurriedly around the room. Some one approached; it was the seer. Rodolf heard him speak.
"Maiden, hast thou a lover?"
The sound seemed scarcely akin to that of human speech. It rose heavily and deep, as from the charnel-house, as if the grim and cold jaws of the grave could utter a voice,—the dreary echoes of the tomb! The seer's lips were motionless, whilst he thus continued in the same sepulchral tone.
"I know thou hast. 'Tis here thy love would tend." He drew a richly-set miniature from his bosom. It was mounted in so peculiar a fashion that Rodolf started back with the first emotion of surprise. The miniature was his own; a gem newly from the artist, and which he had left, as he thought, in safe custody a short time ago. The voice again whispered in his ear, "Beware."
He subdued the expression of wonder just rising on his lip, watching the issue with increased interest.
Kate covered her face. She had just glanced at the picture, and her proud bosom heaved almost to bursting.
"Look, disdainful woman! and though thy bosom be formed for love, yet wouldest thou spurn it from thee. I know thou lovest him. Nay, chide not; thy brow cannot blast me with its thunders. Go to. I could, by mine art, so humble thee, set thy love so exquisitely on its desire, that thou shouldest lay thy proud womanhood aside—sue and crouch, even if 'twere for blows, like a tame spaniel! I have thee in my power, and were not the natural bent of thy dispositions kind and noblehearted, yet sore beset, and, as it were, overwhelmed by thy curst humours, I had now cast my spells about thee—ay, stricken thee to the dust! Shake off these bonds that enthral thy better spirit, and let not that beautiful fabric play the hypocrite any longer. Why should so fair a temple be the dwelling of a demon?"
A deep sob here told that kindlier feelings were at work; that nature was beginning to assert her prerogative, and that the common sympathies, the tender attributes, of woman were not extinguished.
The struggle was short, but severe. With difficulty she repressed the outburst of her grief as she spoke.
"A woman still! 'Tis the garb nature put on. I have wrapped a sterner garment about me." A long and bitter sob here betrayed the violent warfare within. It was but for a moment. Affecting contempt for her own weakness, she exclaimed—
"Throw it off? Expose me defenceless to his proud contumely? Even now the cold glance of indifference hath pierced it through!"
Here she arose proudly.
"And what thinkest thou, if I were to stand unarmed, uncovered, before his unfeeling gaze?"
"He loves thee," hastily rejoined the seer.
"Me!—as soon that bauble learn to love as"——
"Say but one word, and I will bow him at thy feet."
"'Tis well thou mockest me thus. To worm out my secret, perchance.—For this didst thou crave my presence? Let me be gone!"
"Thou shalt say 'Yes,' Kate, ere thou depart!"
The curtain which divided the apartment suddenly flew aside. The astonished lover beheld his mistress:—not the unreal phantom he had imagined, but a being substantial in quality, and of a nature like his own, though gentler than his fondest anticipations.
The seer departed: but in the end the lovers were not displeased at being betrayed into a mutual expression of their regard.
The operation of the heavenly influences was, in these days, a doctrine that obtained almost universal credit; and it would have been looked upon as a daring piece of presumption to baffle the prophetic signification of the stars.
On that same night, being the eve of St Bartholomew, they were married:—thus adding one more to the numerous instances on record, where a belief in the prediction has been the means of its accomplishment.
The remainder of Kate's history, and how she crossed the sea, accompanied by her husband, into the wilds of Bohemia, living there for a space; and how she afterwards returned into her own land, will be set forth at some more fitting opportunity.
THE EARL OF TYRONE.
"Still the fairest are his fuell, When his days are to be cruell; Lovers' hearts are all his food, And his baths their warmest blood; Nought but wounds his hands doth season, And he hates none like to reason."
A Hue and Cry after Cupid.—Ben Jonson.
The dark and romantic history of the Earl of Tyrone would of itself occupy a larger space than these volumes afford. The following episode, connected with his concealment in the neighbourhood of Rochdale, the author does not presume to bring forward as a fact. Yet there are good reasons for supposing that it formed an important era in his life, and was followed very soon after by the Queen's pardon. The importance of this measure may be conceived, when by some Elizabeth's depression, and the profound melancholy she exhibited in her latter hours, were attributed to this source. It is said that she repented of having pronounced his forgiveness; that having always resolved to bring him to condign punishment, she could receive no satisfaction from his submission; while the advantages of her high estate, and all the glories of a prosperous reign, were unable to alleviate her disappointment.
The following is a brief sketch of his life, extracted from generally-received authorities.
Hugh O'Neale was nephew to Shan O'Neale, or the Great O'Neale, as he was more commonly called, well known for his eminent courage, a virtue much esteemed by the half-civilised hordes whom he commanded. He was created Earl of Tyrone by the Queen; but disliking this servitude, and wishful to liberate his country from the English yoke, he entered into a correspondence with Spain; procured from thence a supply of arms and ammunition; and having united many of the Irish chiefs in a dependence upon himself, he began to be regarded as a formidable enemy.
The English found much difficulty in pursuing the rebels into the bogs, woods, and other fastnesses to which they retreated. Sir John Norris, who commanded the English army, was rendered thereby more willing to hearken to the proposals made by Tyrone, and the war was spun out by these artifices for some years. Sir John dying, as was reported, of vexation and discontent, was succeeded by Sir Henry Bagnall. "He advanced to the relief at Blackwater, then besieged by the enemy, but was surrounded in disadvantageous ground. His soldiers, discouraged by part of their powder accidentally taking fire, were put to flight; and though the pursuit was stopped by Montacute, who commanded the English horse, fifteen hundred men, together with the general himself, were left dead upon the spot. This victory so unusual to the Irish, roused their courage, supplied them with arms and munitions of war, and raised the renown of Tyrone, who was hailed as deliverer of his country and patron of Irish liberty."
The unfortunate Essex was afterwards appointed to the command; but his troops were so terrified at the reputation of Tyrone that many of them counterfeited sickness, and others deserted, fearful of encountering the forces of that daring chief. Finding himself in a great measure deserted, "he hearkened to a message from Tyrone, who desired a conference; and a plain near the two camps was appointed for this purpose. The two generals met without any attendants. A river ran between them, into which Tyrone entered to his saddle-girth, but Essex stood on the opposite bank."
At this meeting where "Tyrone behaved with great submission to the lord-lieutenant, a cessation of arms was agreed on. Essex also received a proposal of peace, into which Tyrone had inserted many unreasonable and exorbitant conditions; and there appeared afterwards some reason to suspect that the former had commenced a very unjustifiable correspondence with the enemy." From this time the beam of Essex's favour was obscured, the issue terminating in his death and disgrace. In the meantime, Tyrone had thought proper to break the trace, "and joining with O'Donnel and others, overran almost the whole kingdom. He pretended to be the champion of the Catholic faith, and openly exulted in the present of a phoenix plume, which Clement VIII., in order to encourage him in the prosecution of so good a cause, had consecrated, and conferred upon him." Essex being recalled, the Queen appointed Mountjoy as lord-deputy. "He found the island in a desperate condition; but being a man of capacity and vigour, he immediately advanced against Tyrone in Ulster. He penetrated into the heart of that country, the chief seat of the rebels. He fortified Derry and Mount Norris. He chased them from the field, and obliged them again to shelter in woods and morasses; and by these promising enterprises he gave new life to the Queen's authority throughout the island."
Tyrone, however, still boasted that he was certain of receiving the promised aid from Spain; "and everything was put in condition for resisting the Spanish invasion, which was daily expected. The deputy, informed of the danger to which the southern provinces were exposed, left the prosecution of the war against Tyrone, who was now reduced to great extremities, and marched with his army into Munster."
"At last the Spaniards, under Don Juan d'Aquila, arrived at Kinsale; and Sir Richard Piercy, who commanded in the town with a small garrison of one hundred and fifty men, found himself obliged to abandon it on their appearance. These invaders amounted to four thousand, and the Irish discovered a strong propensity to join them, in order to free themselves from the English government, with which they were extremely discontented. One chief ground of their complaint was the introduction of trials by jury, an institution abhorred by that people, though nothing contributes more to the support of that equity and liberty for which the English laws are so justly celebrated. The Irish also bore a great favour to the Spaniards, having entertained the opinion that they themselves were descended from that nation; and their attachment to the Catholic religion proved a new cause of affection for the invaders. D'Aquila assumed the title of general in this 'holy war,' for the preservation of the faith in Ireland; and he endeavoured to persuade the people that Elizabeth was, by several bulls of the Pope, deprived of her crown; that her subjects were absolved from their oaths of religion, and that the Spaniards were come to deliver the Irish from the dominion of the devil. Mountjoy found it necessary to act with vigour, in order to prevent a total insurrection of the Irish; and having collected his forces, he formed the siege of Kinsale by land, while Sir Richard Levison, with a small squadron, blockaded it by sea. He had no sooner begun his operations than he heard of the arrival of another body of two thousand Spaniards under the command of Alphonso Ocampo, who had taken possession of Baltimore and Berehaven; and he was obliged to detach Sir George Carew to oppose their progress. Tyrone, meanwhile, with Randal, MacSurley Tirel, Baron of Kelly, and other chieftains of the Irish, had joined Ocampo with all their forces, and were marching to the relief of Kinsale. The deputy, informed of their designs by intercepted letters, made preparations to receive them; and being reinforced by Levison with six hundred marines, he posted his troops on an advantageous ground which lay on the passage of the enemy, leaving some cavalry to prevent a sally from D'Aquila and the Spanish garrison. When Tyrone, with a detachment of Irish and Spaniards, approached, he was surprised to find the English so well posted and ranged for battle, and he immediately sounded a retreat; but the deputy gave orders to pursue him, and having thrown these advanced troops into confusion, he followed them to the main body, which he also attacked and put to flight, with the slaughter of twelve hundred men. Ocampo was taken prisoner; Tyrone fled into Ulster; O'Donnel made his escape into Spain; and D'Aquila, finding himself reduced to the greatest difficulties, was obliged to capitulate upon such terms as the deputy prescribed to him. He surrendered Kinsale and Baltimore, and agreed to evacuate the kingdom. This great blow, joined to other successes gained by Wilmot, governor of Kerry, and by Roger and Gavin Harvey, threw the rebels into dismay, and gave a prospect of the final reduction of Ireland."
The remaining part of Tyrone's history may be gathered from the narrative.
Among other memorable incidents illustrative of his character, it is said that Tyrone, appearing in person to execute a treaty, immediately on the issue of some sanguinary engagement, was requested to sign the terms. "Here is my signature," said he, laying his bloody hand on the deed: "'tis the mark of the Kings of Ulster." Hence, tradition gravely asserts was the origin of "the bloody hand," the arms of Ulster! That such a derivation is fabulous we need not attempt to prove.
What a paradox is love!—the most selfish and yet the most disinterested of the passions; the gentlest and yet the most terrible of impulses that can agitate the human bosom; the most ennobling and the most humble; the most enduring and the most transient; slow as the most subtle venom to its work, yet impetuous in its career as the tornado or the whirlwind; sportive as the smile of infancy, and appalling as the maniac's shriek, or the laugh of his tormentor. 'Tis a joy nursed in the warm glow of hope; but who shall reveal the depths of its despair? 'Twas given to man as his best boon—his most precious gift; but his own hands polluted the shrine—marred the beauteous and holy deposit. The loveliest image was then smitten with deformity, and that passion, the highest and noblest that could animate his bosom, became the bane of his happiness, the destroyer of his peace, and the source whence every attribute of woe hath sprung to afflict and darken the frail hopes of humanity. This may be the dark side of the picture; but unless the breath of heaven sanctify even the purest affections of our nature, they are a withering blast, blighting its fairest verdure—a torment and a curse!
The following narrative, floating but indistinctly on the author's memory, and in all probability attached to other names in localities widely apart, is yet, he believes, true as to the more important particulars. The site of a few cottages in a romantic dell in the neighbourhood of Rochdale is still associated with the memory of the unfortunate Earl of Tyrone. It is yet called "Tyrone's Bed." In history, this noble chief is depicted in colours the most hideous and detestable; but if the lion had been the painter, we should have had to contemplate a different portrait. By his countrymen he was held in the most profound reverence and respect. Beloved by all, he was hailed as the expected deliverer of his native land from wrong and oppression. The most bigoted of his persecutors cannot deny that oppression, the most foul and inhuman, did exist; and the men who took up arms for the rescue of their brethren may be pitied, if not pardoned, for their noble, elevated, and enduring spirit. Let us not be misunderstood as the advocates of rebellion; but surely there are occasions when the galling yoke of oppression may be too heavy to sustain—when the crushed reptile may, writhing, turn against him who tramples on it. Let us not do this wrong, even to our enemies, by refusing to admire in them the disinterestedness and magnanimity which in others would have insured our admiration and applause.
About a mile from the spot we have just named stood the ancient mansion of Grizlehurst. Surrounded on every side by dark and almost trackless woods, sprung through a long line of ancestry from primeval forests, it reposed in undisturbed seclusion, still and majestic as the proud swan that basked upon the dark lake before it, secure from intrusion and alarm. Gable-ends and long casements broke the low piebald front into a variety of detail—a-combination of effect throwing an air of picturesque beauty on the whole, which not all the flimsy and frittered "Gothic" can convey to the mansions of modern antiques. For the timber employed in its erection a forest must have been laid prostrate. Huge arched fire-places; chimney-pieces carved with armorial bearings; oak tables absolutely joisted to sustain their vast bulk; bedsteads that would not have groaned with the weight of a Titan;—the whole intended to oppose a ponderous resistance to the ravages of time and fashion. Not a vestige is left. Those laughing halls echo no more with the loud and boisterous revel; the music of the "many twinkling" feet is gone; scarcely a stone is left upon its fellow; a few straggling trees alone mark the site. The beech and willow are waving o'er its hearth! Who would build for the destroyer? And yet man, with the end of these vanities in prospect, daily, hourly still builds on; his schemes and his projects extending through the long vista of succeeding ages, as though his dwelling were eternal, and his own fabric should survive the ruin and the doom of all!
A long train of ancestors bearing the name of Holt occupied this dwelling as the family mansion. The manor of Spotland, forfeited by the rebellion of Paslew, Abbot of Whalley, was granted by Henry the Eighth to Thomas Holt, afterwards knighted in Scotland by Edward, Earl of Hertford, in the thirty-sixth year of the reign of that monarch. The present possessor of the same name, grandson to Sir Thomas, resided at Grislehurst during the latter part of Elizabeth's reign and that of James. He married Constance, the daughter of Sir Edward Littleton of Pillaton Hall, Stafford. One son, Francis, and a daughter named Constance, were the fruit of this union. At the commencement of our narrative he had been for some years a widower, and his son was then absent on foreign travel.
It was in the memorable year 1603, the last of Elizabeth. The rebellion in Ireland had been smothered, if not extinguished; and the great O'Neale, Earl of Tyrone and King of Ulster, together with many other chiefs, were forced to remain concealed in woods and morasses. Outlawed and outcast, some of them crossed over into England, remaining there until pardoned by the Queen.
Constance was now in her nineteenth year. Bright as her own morn of life, she had seen but few clouds in that season of hope and delight. Sorrow was to her scarce known, save in the nursery tales and wild ballads of the surrounding district. When the glowing morn was overcast, she was unprepared, unfitted for the change. The storm came, and the little sum of her happiness, launched on this frail and perishing bark, was wrecked without a struggle!
One evening, in the full glare of a dazzling sunset, the light streaming like a shower through the dark foliage of the valley, she had loitered, along with her old nurse, in the dell to which we have before alluded. The glowing atmosphere was just fading into the dewy tint which betokens a fair morrow. To enjoy a more extended gaze upon the clouds, those gorgeous vestures of the sun, Constance had ascended, by a winding path, to the edge of a steep cliff overhanging the river. She stood for some minutes looking towards the west, unconscious of the loose and slippery nature of the materials beneath her feet, and of her near approach to the brink. On a sudden the ground gave way, and she was precipitated headlong into the river! Nurse Agnes, who stood below, watching her young mistress, not without apprehension as to the consequences of her temerity, was stricken motionless with horror. There seemed to be no help. Fast receding from all hope of succour, Constance was borne rapidly down the stream. Suddenly, with the swiftness of a deer from the brake, a figure bounded from an opposite thicket. He seemed scarcely to leave his footmarks on the long herbage ere he gained the river's brink. Plunging into the current he succeeded in rescuing the maiden from her perilous condition. He laid her gently on the bank, beckoning to her attendant, and was speedily out of sight. The aged Agnes, with trembling hands, relieved Constance by loosening the folds from her throat; and almost ere she had wrung out the water from the raven locks of her inanimate mistress, the stranger returned. He carried a cordial, with which he moistened her lips; the old woman chafed her temples, resorting to the usual modes of resuscitation then in practice; and in the end, Constance opened her eyes. A heavy sob accompanied this effort. She looked wildly round, when she met the deep gaze of the stranger. With a faint shriek, she hid her face in the bosom of her attendant, who, overjoyed at her recovery, could scarcely refrain from falling at the feet of her deliverer. She turned to express her thanks, but he was gone.
It was not long ere several domestics, alarmed at their absence, came in search; and Constance, borne gently along, was soon restored to her anxious parent. But he looked thoughtful and disturbed when the stranger's person was described, evidently averse to hold any communication on the subject. Nurse Agnes grew eloquent in his praise, until the following conversation that same evening in the kitchen turned aside the current of her opinions.
"A rough grey cloak, gossip, thou sayest?" again inquired a hard-featured hind from the chimney-corner.
"I tell thee a cloak, and a cap turned up in front. He doused it off nobly, and took to the water like a spaniel!"
"Why, 'tis the wild man of the woods!" said another listener, who had hitherto been silent, but whose remark seemed to strike terror into the whole group. They looked round as if anticipating a visit from this fearful personage. Dame Agnes crossed herself, and muttered her prayers with great despatch; something was at length audible and articulate, as follows:—
"Mercy on me! my days are numbered. If it should indeed be this incarnate,—forgive the thought!—we are all dead creatures. The very horses and kine stagger, and fall into fits at times, when they come home, and it is all along of 'em having seen or smelt the brimstone from the pit. Davy had two died last week, and he was sure they had either seen the deil or his deputy,—this same grey man of the woods. Woe's me that I should ha' lived to behold this child of perdition!" The old woman here gave way to an outburst of sorrow, that prevented any further disclosures.
"It is about a three month agone since this same wild man was first seen," said the old seneschal, whose office, though of little use, was still filled up in the more ancient establishments. "I saw him myself once, but I shook until the very flesh seemed to crawl over my bones. They say he neither eats nor drinks, but is kept alive in the body by glamour and witchcraft. He'll stay here until his time is done, and then his tormentors will fetch him to his prison-house again. Ye should not have tarried in the wood after sunset."
"That would I not," sharply replied Agnes; "but the child, poor thing, would look at the daylight as it lingered on the hill-top, and I thought no harm in't."
"Like enough. He dares not abroad, if so much as the value or size of my thumb-nail of the sun's rim were left above the hill!"
"Come, Gaffer, strike up a merry trowl," said a thin, squeaking voice, from a personage almost hidden behind a copious supper of broken meat and pastry. But whether the party thus addressed was too much alarmed to let the current of his spirit run bubbling from the spring of either mirth or minstrelsy, or he was too deeply buried in his own thoughts, it were needless to inquire. The request for a while passed by unheeded.
Gaffer Gee was the ballad-monger of the whole district. He kept on a comfortable and vagabond sort of existence, by visiting the different mansions where good cheer was to be had, and where he was generally a welcome guest, both in bower and hall. His legendary lore seemed inexhaustible; and, indeed, his memory was like an old chest full of scraps continually rummaged. He knew all the scandal and family secrets throughout the parish, and had a quick eye at detecting either a love affair or a feud. He composed a number of the wild ballads that he sang or recited, or at least put them into that jingling and quaint rhythm, acquired by habitual intercourse with the phraseology peculiar to these popular descants. On hearing a story he could readily shape it into verse, extempore, too, upon occasion; and many were the jokes that rebounded from his theme, whether in hall or kitchen. It was pleasant to watch his little grey eye, and the twinkling lashes, as they rose and fell, varying the expression of his lips. A slight lisp gave an air of simplicity to his ditties, which never failed to charm his auditors. He could throw the simplest expression over his features, which made the keen edge of his rebukes infinitely more cutting and effective. But the prevailing tone of feeling in him was sad and oppressive. These wandering minstrels had, from remote ages, been held as seers, and a peep into futurity was often supposed to accompany their poetical inspirations—a superstition not confined to any particular locality, but obtaining a widely disseminated belief in all climes and nations where imagination assumes her sway, and dares to assert her power.
After a short space, and without any invitation, the ballad-maker, like some Pythian priestess on her tripod, began to exhibit manifestations of the afflatus. The spirit of song seemed to be stealing upon him, and in a moment the listening auditory were still. In substance, he half recited, half sung, the following ballad:—
"'Maiden, braid those tresses bright, Wreathe thy ringlets from the blast; Why those locks of curling light Heedless to the rude winds cast?
"'Maiden, why that darkened brow? From those eyes, once dimmed with weeping, Lurid gleams are gathering now, O'er their pale wan shadows creeping.'
"Silent still the maid passed by, Near nor voice nor footstep came. Sudden cleaving earth and sky, Flashed a brand of arrowy flame!
"'Maiden, turn that gaze on me, Onwards why so madly bent?' Still no stay, no pause made she Through that kindling element.
* * * * *
"Now, the midnight chant is stealing, Mass and requiem breathing near; Hushed the blast, as if revealing Sounds to earth that Heaven might hear.
"From yon pile, soft voices swelling Dirge and anthem for the dead;— Demon shrieks, their lost doom yelling, Tend Lord Rudolph's dying bed.
"Holy men, with song and prayer, Fain would shrive the passing soul; Fiend-like whispers, to his ear. Winds, in muttering curses, roll.
"Ere his last lone shuddering cry, To his couch the maiden came; On his breast she silently Bent an eye of ravening flame.
"One wild shriek the sufferer sent, Ere life's last frail link might sever; Laughed the maiden, as she leant O'er that form, to cling for ever.
"Closer to his heart she pressed; Scorched, the quivering flesh recoiled; Unconsumed his burning breast, While that grim tormentor smiled.
"'Now revenge!' the maiden cried, 'I have bartered heaven for this; Mine thou art, proud Rudolph's bride, Mine, by this last demon kiss.'
"Tower, and battlement, and hall, Scathed as with the thunder-stroke, Flashed through midnight's dusky pall, Twined in wreaths of livid smoke.
"O'er that gulph of yawning flame Horrid shapes are hovering; Monstrous forms, of hideous name, To the bridal-bed they bring.
"'They come!—they come!' their frantic yell. On a wave of billowy light Sudden rose (so marvellers tell) The maiden and her traitor knight.
"The moon looks bright on Rudolph's towers, The breeze laughs lightly by, But dark and silent sleep the hours, The lone brook murmuring nigh.
"The lank weed waves round thy domain, The fox creeps to thy gate; Dark is thy dwelling, proud chieftain, Thy halls are desolate!"
The legend we have thus rendered. His own idiom and versification, as we have already observed, were of a more unintelligible sort, though better suited, perhaps, to the fashion of the time and the capacity of his hearers.
But a gloom still pervaded the once cheerful hearth, and the night wore on without the usual symptoms of mirth and hilarity.
Holt of Grislehurst held the manorial rights, and was feudal lord over a widely-extended domain, the manor of Spotland descending to him by succession from his grandfather. His character was that of a quiet, unostentatious country gentleman; but withal of a proud spirit, not brooking either insult or neglect. This night, an unaccountable depression stole upon him. He strode rapidly across the chamber, moody and alone. The taper was nigh extinguished; the wasted billet grew pale, a few sparks starting up the chimney, as the wind roared in short and hasty gusts round the dwelling. The old family portraits seemed to flit from their dark panels, wavering with the tremulous motion of the blaze.
Holt was still pacing the chamber with a disturbed and agitated step. A few words, rapid and unconnected, fell from his lips.
"Rebel!—Outcast! I cannot betray thee!"
"Betray me!" echoed a voice from behind. Turning, the speaker stood before him. It was the athletic form of the stranger, wrapped in his grey cloak and cap of coarse felt, plumed from the falcon's wing.
"And who speaks the word that shall betray me? A king,—a fugitive! Yet, not all the means that treachery can compass shall trammel one hair upon this brow without my privity or consent."
"Comest thou like the sharp wind into my dwelling?" inquired Holt, in a voice tremulous with amazement.
"Free as the unconfined air; yet fettered by a lighter bond,—a woman's love!" returned the intruder. "Thou hast a daughter."
The Lord of Grislehurst grew pale at these words. Some terrific meaning clung to them. After a short pause the stranger continued:—
"Thus speak the legends of Tigernach, and the bards of Ulster, rapt into visions of the future:—'When a king of Erin shall flee at the voice of a woman, then shall the distaff and spindle conquer whom the sword and buckler shall not subdue.' That woman is yon heretic queen. A usurper, an intruder on our birthright. Never were the O'Neales conquered but by woman! I have lingered here when the war-cry hath rung from the shores of my country. Again the shout hath come, and the impatient chiefs wait for my return. But"——
The warrior seemed to writhe during the conflict. His hands were clenched, and every muscle stiffened with agony. Scorn at his own weakness, and dread, horrible undefinable dread, as he felt the omnipotent power mastering his proud spirit. The man who would have laughed at the shaking of a spear, and the loud rush of the battle, quailed before a woman's hate and a woman's love.
"And what is thy request to-night?" said Holt.
The stranger answered in a voice of thunder—
Tyrone, for it was he, seemed nigh choking with the emotion he sought to suppress.
"Nay," he continued, "it must not be. Oh! did I love her less, she had been mine!"
"Thine?" suddenly retorted her father, somewhat scornfully. "And who gave thee this power over woman's spirit? Thou hast not even had speech of her, much less the means to win her favour."
An almost supernatural expression seemed to gather on the features of the chieftain. His eye, rolling through the vista of past years, began to pause, appalled as it approached the dark threshold of the future. He appeared lost to the presence of surrounding objects, as he thus exclaimed with a terrific solemnity—
"When the dark-browed Norah nursed me on her lap, and her eye, though dark to outward sense, saw through the dim veil of destiny, it was thus she sung as she guarded my slumbers, and the hated Sassenach was in the hall:—
"'Rest thee, baby! light and darkness Mingling o'er thy path shall play; Hope shall flee when thou pursuest, Lost amid life's trackless way.
"'Rest thee, baby! woman's breast Thou shalt darken o'er with woe; None thou lookest on or lovest, Joy or hope hereafter know. Many a maid thy glance shall rue, Where it smites it shall subdue.'
"It was an evil hour, old man, when I looked upon thy daughter."
Holt, though of a stout and resolute temper, was yet daunted by this bold and unlooked-for address. He trembled as he gazed on the mysterious being before him, gifted, as it seemed, with some supernatural endowments. His unaccountable appearance, the nature of his communications, together with his manner and abrupt mode of speech, would have shaken many a firmer heart unprepared for these disclosures.
"What is thy business with me?" he inquired, with some hesitation.
"To warn thee;—to warn thy daughter. She hath seen me. Ay, to-night. And how runs the prophecy? Let her beware. I have looked on her beforetime. Looked on her! ay, until these glowing orbs have become dim, dazzled with excess of brightness. I have looked on her till this stern bosom hath become softer than the bubbling wax to her impression; but I was concealed, and the maiden passed unharmed by the curse. To-night I have saved her life. A resistless impulse! And she hath looked on me." He smote his brow, groaning aloud in the agony he endured.
It may be supposed this revelation did not allay the apprehensions of the listener. Bewildered and agitated, he turned towards the window. The pale moon was glimmering through the quiet leaves, and he saw a dark and muffled figure in the avenue. It was stationary for a while; it then slowly moved towards the adjoining thicket and was lost to his view. Holt turned to address his visitor, but he had disappeared. It was like the passing of a troubled dream, vague and indistinct, but fraught with horrible conceptions. A cloud seemed to gather on his spirit, teeming with some terrible but unknown doom. Its nature even imagination failed to conjecture. His first impulse was to visit his daughter. He found the careful nurse by her bedside. As he entered the room, Agnes raised one finger to her lips, in token of silence. The anxious father bent over his child. Her sleep was heavy, and her countenance flushed. A tremor passed over her features. A groan succeeded. Suddenly she started up. With a look of anguish he could never forget, she cried—
"Help! O my father!" She clung around his neck. In vain he endeavoured to soothe her. She sobbed aloud, as if her heart were breaking. But she never told that dream, though her haggard looks, when morning rose on her anxious and pallid countenance, showed the disturbance it had created.
Days and weeks passed by. The intrusion of the bold outlaw was nigh forgotten. The father's apprehensions had in some degree subsided, but Constance did not resume her wonted serenity. Her earliest recollections were those of the old nursery rhymes, with which Agnes had not failed to store her memory. But the giant killers and their champions now failed to interest and excite. Other feelings than those of terror and of wonder were in operation, requiring a fresh class of stimulants for their support—tales of chivalry and of love, that all-enduring passion, where maidens and their lovers sighed for twice seven years, and all too brief a trial of their truth and constancy! As she listened, her soul seemed to hang on the minstrel's tongue; that erratic troubadour, Gaffer Gee, being a welcome and frequent visitor at Grislehurst.
One night he had tarried late in the little chamber, where she was wont to give him audience. She seemed more wishful to protract his stay than heretofore.
"Now for the ballad of Sir Bertine, the famous Lancashire knight, who was killed at St Alban's, fighting for the glorious red rose of Lancaster."
Nothing loth, he commenced the following ditty:—
"The brave Sir Bartine Entwisel Hath donned his coat of steel, And left his hall and stately home, To fight for Englond's weal.
"To fight for Englond's weal, I trow, And good King Harry's right, His loyal heart was warm and true, His sword and buckler bright.
"That sword once felt the craven foe, Its hilt was black with gore, And many a mother's son did rue His might at Agincourt.
"And now he stately steps his hall, 'A summons from the king? My armour bright, my casque and plume, My sword and buckler bring.
"'Blow, warder, blow. Thy horn is shrill, My liegemen hither call, For I must away to the south countrie, And spears and lances all.'
"'Oh, go not to the south countrie!' His lady weeping said; 'Oh, go not to the battle-field, For I dreamed of the waters red!'
"'Oh, go not to the south countrie!' Cried out his daughter dear; 'Oh, go not to the bloody fight, For I dreamed of the waters clear!'
"Sir Bertine raised his dark visor, And he kissed his fond lady; 'I must away to the wars and fight For our king in jeopardy!'
"The lady gat her to the tower, She clomb the battlement; She watched and greet, while through the woods The glittering falchions went.
"The wind was high, the storm grew loud, Fierce rose the billowy sea; When from Sir Bertine's lordly tower The bell boomed heavily!
"'O mother dear, what bodes that speech From yonder iron tongue?' ''Tis but the rude, rude blast, my love, That idle bell hath swung.'
"Upon the rattling casement still The beating rain fell fast; When creeping fingers wandering thrice Across that window passed.
"'O mother dear, what means that sound Upon the lattice nigh?' ''Tis but the cold, cold arrowy sleet, That hurtles in the sky.'
"The blast was still—a pause more dread Ne'er terror felt—when, lo! An armed footstep on the stair Clanked heavily and slow.
"Up flew the latch and tirling-pin, Wide swung the grated door, Then came a solemn stately tread Upon the quaking floor!
"A shudder through the building ran, A chill and icy blast; A moan, as though in agony Some viewless spirit passed!
"'O mother dear, my heart is froze, My limbs are stark and cold.' Her mother spake not, for again That turret bell hath tolled.
"Three days passed by. At eventide There came an aged man, He bent him low before the dame, His wrinkled cheek was wan.
"'Now, speak, thou evil messenger, Thy tidings show to me.' That aged man, nor look vouchsafed, Nor ever a word spake he.
"'What bringest thou?' the lady said, 'I charge thee by the rood.' He drew a signet from his hand, 'Twas speckled o'er with blood.
"'Thy husband's grave is wide and deep. In St Alban's priory His body lies, but on his soul Christ Jesus have mercy!'"
Scarcely had the last solemn supplication been uttered, when the latch of the chamber was raised. The door flew open, and the outlaw, in his dark grey cap and cloak, stood before them. Constance was too much alarmed to utter a word. She clung to her companion with the agony of one grasping at the most fragile support for life and safety.
"Nay, maiden, I would not harm thee," said the intruder, in a voice so musical and sad, that it seemed to drop into the listener's ear like a gush of harmony, or a sweet and melancholy chime wakening up the heart's most endeared and hallowed associations. His features were nobly formed. His eye, large and bright, of the purest grey; the lashes, like a cloud, covering and tempering their lustre. A touch of sadness rested on his lips. They seemed to speak of suffering and endurance, as if the soul's deepest agony would not have cast a word across their barriers. Constance for a moment raised her eyes, but they were suddenly withdrawn, overflowing with some powerful emotion. He still gazed, but one proud effort broke the fixed intensity of his glance, and his tongue resumed its office.
"Maiden, I am pursued. The foe are on my track. My retreat is discovered, and unless thou wilt vouchsafe to me a hiding-place, I am in their power. The Earl of Tyrone—nay, I scorn the title—'tis the King of Ulster that stands before thee. I would not crouch thus for my own life, were it not for my country. Her stay, her sustenance, is in thy keeping."
Never did wretchedness and misfortune sue in vain to woman's ear. Constance forgot her weakness and timidity. She saw not her own danger. A fellow-being craved help and succour; all other feelings gave place, and she seemed animated with a new impulse. She looked on the minstrel, as if to ascertain his fidelity. It was evident, however, that no apprehension need be entertained, this personage seeming to manifest no slight solicitude for the safety of the unfortunate chief.
"The old lead mine, in the Cleuch," whispered he.
"Nay, it must be in the house," replied Constance, with a glance of forethought beyond her years. "The pursuers will not search this loyal house for treason!"
As was the case in most mansions belonging to families of rank and importance, a room was contrived for purposes of special concealment, where persons or property could be stowed in case of danger. A heavy stack of chimneys was enlarged so as to admit of a small apartment, inconvenient enough in other respects, yet well adapted as a temporary hiding-place.
Hither, through secluded passages, the careful Constance conducted her guest, who had so strangely thrown himself, with unhesitating confidence, upon her generosity and protection. The proud representative of a kingly race was rescued by a woman from ignominy and death. Some feeling of this nature probably overpowered him. As he bade her good night, his voice faltered, and he passed his hand suddenly athwart his brow. Constance, having fulfilled this sacred duty, shrank from any further intercourse, and hastened to her chamber. It was long ere she could sleep; portentous dreams then brooded over her slumbers. The terrible vision was repeated, and she awoke, but not to her wonted cheerfulness.
How strange, how mysterious, the mechanism of the human heart! The feelings glide insensibly into each other, changing their hue and character imperceptibly, as the colours on the evening cloud. Protection awakens kindness, kindness pity, and pity love. Love, the more dangerous, too, the process being unperceived, insidiously disguised under other names, and under the finest sympathies and affections of our nature.
With a step light and noiseless as that of her favourite spaniel who crept behind her, did Constance make an early visit to ascertain the safety of her prisoner. His retreat was unmolested. The pursuit was for the present evaded, and his enemies thrown out in their track. It was needful, however, that he should remain for a few days in his present concealment, prior to the attempt by which he purposed to regain his native country.
Constance loved the moonlight. The broad glare of day is so garish and extravagant. Besides, there is a restlessness and a buz no human being, at least no sensible human being, can endure. Everything is on the stir. Every creature, however paltry and insignificant, whether moth, mote, or atom, seems busy. Whereas, one serene soft gaze of the moon appears to allay nature's universal disquiet. The calm and mellow placidity of her look, so heavenly and undisturbed, lulls the soul, and subdues its operations to her influence.
Constance, we may suppose, accidentally wandered by the end of the building, where, in the huge buttress of chimneys, a narrow crevice admitted light into the chamber occupied by the fugitive. At times, perhaps unconsciously, her eye wandered from the moon to this dreary abode; where it lingered longest is more than we dare tell. She drew nigh to the dark margin of the pond. The white swans were sleeping in the sedge. At her approach they fluttered clumsily to their element; there, the symbols of elegance and grace, like wreaths of sea-foam on its surface, they glided on, apparently without an impulse or an effort. She was gazing on them when a rustle amongst the willows on her left arrested her attention. Soon the mysterious and almost omnipresent form of Tyrone stood before her.
"I must away, maiden—Constance!" His voice was mournful as the last faint sound of the evening bell upon the waters.
"Why art thou here?" She said this in a tone of mingled anxiety and surprise.
"Here? Too long have I lingered in these woods and around thy dwelling, Constance. But I must begone—for ever!"
"For ever?" cried the perplexed girl, forgetful of all but the dread thought of that for ever!
"Ay, for ever? Why should I stay?"
This question, alas! she could not answer, but stood gazing on the dark water, and on the silver waves which the bright swans had rippled over the pool. Though she saw them not, yet the scene mingled itself insensibly with the feelings then swelling in her bosom; and these recurrent circumstances, in subsequent periods of her existence, never failed to bring the same dark tide of thought over the soul with vivid and agonising distinctness.
Constance turned towards him:—the moonlight fell on his brow: the dark curls swept nobly out from their broad shadows twining luxuriantly about his cheek. His eyes were fixed on her, with an eagerness and an anguish in their expression the most absorbing and intense.
"I have loved thee. Ay, if it be love to live whole nights on the memory of a glance,—on a smile,—on the indelible impress of thy form. Here,—here! But no living thing that I have loved;—no being that e'er looked on me with kindliness and favour, that has not been marked out for destruction. Oh, that those eyes had ne'er looked upon me! Thou wert happy, and I have lingered on thy footstep till I have dragged thee to the same gulph where all hope—all joy that e'er stole in upon my dark path, must perish."
"Oh! do not foretaste thy misery thus," cried Constance. "The cruel sufferings thou hast undergone make thee apprehensive of evil. But how can thy fate control my destiny?"
"How, I know not," said Tyrone, "save that it shall bring the same clouds, in unmitigated darkness, about thy path. Dost thou love me? Nay, start not. Stay not!" cried he, making way for the maiden to pass. But Constance seemed unable to move,—terrified and speechless.
"Perchance, thou knowest it not, but thou wouldest love me as a woman loves;—ay, beyond even the verge and extremity of hope! Even now the poison rankles in thy bosom. Hark!—'tis the doom yon glorious intelligences denounced from that glittering vault, when they proclaimed my birth!"
He repeated the prediction as aforetime, with a deep, solemn intonation:—the maiden's blood seemed to curdle with horror. A pause of bewildering and mysterious terror followed. One brief minute in the lapse of time,—but an age in the records of thought! Constance, fearful of looking on the dark billows of the spirit, sought to avert her glance.
"Thou art an exile, and misfortune prompted me to thy succour; thou hast won my pity, stranger."
"Beshrew me, 'tis a wary and subtle deceiver, this same casuist love. Believe him not!" said he, in a burst and agony of soul that made Constance tremble. "He would lead thee veiled to the very brink of the precipice, then snatch the shelter from thine eyes and bid thee leap! Nay, 'tis not pride,—'tis the doom, the curse of my birthright that is upon me. Maiden! I will but strike to thine heart, and then—poor soul!" He shuddered; his voice grew tremulous and convulsed. "The stricken one shall fall. Hark! the hounds are again upon my track!" The well-practised ear of the hunted fugitive could discern the approach of footsteps long before they were audible to an ordinary listener:—his eye and ear seemed on the stretch;—his head bent forward in the same direction;—he breathed not. Even Constance seemed to suspend the current of her own thoughts at this interruption.
"They are approaching. In all likelihood 'tis a posse from the sheriff." Again he listened. "They are armed. Nay, then, Tyrone thou must to cover: thou canst not flee. Point not to the hiding-place I have left. If, as I suspect, they bring a warrant of search, thy father's life may be in jeopardy."
"Where,—oh, where?" said Constance, forgetful of all consequences, in her anxiety for her father's fate and that of the illustrious stranger.
"In thy chamber, lady."
She drew back in dismay.
"Nay," continued he, guessing at the cause of her alarm. "They will not care to scrutinise for me there with much exactness; and, by the faith of my fathers, I will not wrong thee!"
There was a frankness, an open and undisguised freedom of manner, in this address, which assured her. Her confidence returned, and she committed herself promptly to the issue. She felt her soul expand with the desire of contributing to his ultimate escape. All the ardour of her nature was concentrated in this generous and self-devoted feeling. Too innocent for suspicion she seemed to rise above its influence.
Silently, and with due caution, she led the unfortunate Earl to her own chamber, where, in a recess opening through the bed's head into the arras, he seemed secure from discovery.
Scarcely was this arrangement completed, ere a thundering knock announced the visitor. It was an officer of justice, attended by some half-dozen followers, who watched every avenue to the house whilst his message was delivered within.
This official delivered into the hands of Holt a warrant for the apprehension of O'Neale, Earl of Tyrone, a traitor, then suspected of being harboured in the mansion of Grislehurst, whom the occupier was commanded, on pain of being treated as an accomplice, to deliver into the hands of justice, for the due administering of those pains and penalties which were attached to his crime.
The loyal owner, fired with indignation at this foul charge, rebutting the accusation with contempt.
"However loth," said the messenger, "I must execute mine office; and, seeing this first mission hath failed in its purpose, I have here a warrant of search. Mine orders are imperative."
"I tell thee I have no plotters lurking here. Search and welcome;—but if thou findest aught in this house that smells of treason, the Queen may blot out my escutcheon. I'll dismount the pheon. The arrow-head shall return to its quiver. 'Twas honestly won, and, by our lady's grace, it shall be honestly worn!"
"We must obey," said the officer; "it shall be done with all courtesy and despatch."
Holt bit his lips with rage and vexation. From the suspicion of harbouring and aiding the traitor Tyrone, his known loyalty and good faith should have protected him. He hoped, however, to throw back on the author of this foul slander the disgrace attached to it. Smothering his wrath, and brooding over its gratification, he accompanied the messenger, who, placing an additional guard at the main entrance, proceeded with a wary eye to the search. He carefully scrutinised the shape of the rooms, striking the walls and wainscots, measuring the capacity of the chambers, that no space might be left unaccounted for either in one way or another. The concealed apartment in the chimney-range did not escape his examination. Closets, cupboards, folding-doors,—even the family pictures were turned aside, lest some strategem should lurk behind.
Holt, with a look of malicious satisfaction, beheld every fresh disappointment, which he followed with undisguised expressions of ill-will.
"Now for the women's apartments," said the officer.
"I have but one daughter. Dost fancy that treason may be stitched in her petticoat? Thinkest thou she would hide this invisible gallant in her bedchamber? 'Sdeath, that it should ha' come to this! But I'll have my revenge."
"I would fain spare thee from this contumely, but"——
"I must search the house through; and though I doubt not now that our information is false, yet I may not disobey the mandate I have received."
"Is this thy courtesy?"
"My courtesy must yet consist with the true and honest discharge of mine office. I wait not further parley."
A short gallery communicated from the stairhead to the private chamber of Constance. They met her outside the door; and the timid girl grew pale as she beheld the officer led on by her father.
"Constance," cried he, "thy chamber smacks of treason: it must be purged from this suspicion. This mousing owl will search the crannies even of a woman's wits ere he sate his appetite for discovery. Hast aught plotting in the hem of thy purfle, or in thy holiday ruff and fardingale? Come with us, wench;—the gallant Earl of Tyrone would sport himself bravely in thy bedchamber, pretty innocent!"
"If my gallantry were akin to mine office,—then, lady, would I spare thy bosom and mine own nature this extremity. Believe me, thou shall suffer no rudeness at my hands."
The officer bowed low, observing her confusion and distress.
"Go with, us," said her father, "and leave not until our search is over. Mayhap he may find a lover in thy shoe, or in the wrinkles of thy rose-tie." He entered the chamber as he said this. It was a little room, tricked out with great elegance and beauty. Indian cabinets were there, and other costly ornaments, inlaid with ivory and pearl, in the arrangement of which, and of the other furniture, considerable taste was displayed. A lute lay in one corner;—tambour-work and embroidery occupied a recess near the window;—the clothes' presses showed their contents neatly folded, and carefully set out to the best advantage.
"I'faith, wench, thy chamber seems well fitted for so goodly a brace of guests—not a thread awry. Everything in trim order for thy gallants, mayhap. Thou hast not been at thy studies of late.—I have seen its interior in somewhat less orderly fashion. I marvel if it might not be pranked out for our coming. Now, to work, sir:—where does thy grubbing begin?"
Constance posted herself in a gloomy corner, where she could watch their proceedings almost unperceived. She hoped that in her chamber the search would not be so strict as in situations of more likelihood and probability for concealment. At any rate, the common feelings of delicacy and respect,—not quite extinct, she observed, even in this purveyor of justice,—would prevent any very exact and dangerous scrutiny. Nor was she deceived. He merely felt round the walls, opened the presses and closets, but did not disturb the bed furniture. He was retiring from the search, when her father scornfully taunted him with the ill success of his mission.
"I wonder thou hast not tumbled the bed topsy-turvy. I am glad to see thou hast yet some grace and manners in thy vocation. Now, Sir Messenger, to requite thee for this thy courtesy and forbearance, I will show thee a secret tabernacle, which all thy prying has not been able to discover."
Saying this he approached the bed: a spring was concealed in one of the posts communicating with the secret door behind which Tyrone was hidden. As he turned aside the drapery to ascertain precisely its situation, Constance, no longer able to control her apprehension of discovery, rushed before him. Her terror, for the time, threw her completely from her guard.
"Do not, my father:—he must not look there. For my sake, oh, spare this"——
She was silent:—her lips grew deadly pale; and she leaned against the pillar for support. The officer's suspicions were awakened, and he gave a shrewd guess at the truth.
"Now, fair dame," he cried: "it is but an ungracious office to thwart a lady of her will, but I must see what lurks in that same secret recess. Master Holt, I prythee help me to a peep behind the curtain."
But Holt was too much astonished to comply. What could exist there to excite his daughter's apprehensions so powerfully, puzzled him greatly. He had not a thought, the most remote, that could affect her fidelity;—yet he hesitated. The officer, in a more peremptory tone, demanded admission. Rousing from his stupor, and mortified at the folly of these girlish fancies, he struck the spring: in a trice, a portion of the bed's head flew open, displaying a dark chasm beyond. Swift as thought the officer darted through the aperture; but the door was immediately shut, and with great violence. A scuffle was heard within, but not a word was spoken. Holt, in doubt and consternation gazed with a wild and terrific aspect on the devoted Constance, who, covering her face, sought to avoid seeing the expected result of her imprudence. Her father now listened. There was a dread suspense in his look more fearful than even the most violent outburst of his wrath. He seemed every moment to expect some irrefragable proof,—some visible and overwhelming conviction of his daughter's infamy. The door was still closed. Groans were plainly audible, telling of some terrible strife within. Suddenly these indications ceased. Holt shuddered. He fancied some foul act was perpetrating—perhaps even now consummated—under his own roof; and swift would be the vengeance required at his hands. Constance, too, seemed to apprehend the commission of some deadly crime, as she threw herself imploringly before her father.
"Save them,—oh, save them!—their strife is mortal!"
He shook her from him with a glance of abhorrence, and the maiden fell heavily on the floor. He was preparing to enter when the door flew open, and a form rushed through in the gaudy apparel of the officer. He leaped on the floor, and, ere Holt could utter a word, he heard him descending the stairs with great precipitation.
"Whom hast thou concealed in thy bedchamber?" inquired the almost frantic father. Constance sat on the ground, her head resting on the chair beside which she had fallen. She wept not, but her heart was full even to bursting.
"What is the name of thy paramour?—Thou hast been somewhat eager, methinks, to accomplish thine own and a father's disgrace?"
This cutting address roused her. She replied, but in a firm tone—
"A stranger,—an exile. Misfortune appeals not to woman's heart unalleviated. He threw himself on my protection; and where the feelings own no taint, their purity is not sullied,—even in a lady's bedchamber!"
A glance of insulted pride passed over her beautifully-formed features. It was but for a moment. The agony of her spirit soon drank up the slender rill her feelings had gushed forth, and she stood withered and drooping before the angry frown of her father.
"Surely, 'tis not the rebel Tyrone that my daughter harbours in the privacy of her chamber? Speak!—Nay, then hast thou indeed brought an old man's grey hairs to the grave in sorrow! Treason!—Oh, that I have lived for this,—and my own flesh and blood hath done it. Out of my sight, unnatural monster. Dare not to crawl again across my path, lest I kill thee!"
"O my father! I am indeed innocent." She again threw herself at his feet, but he spurned her from him as though he loathed her beyond endurance. Boiling and maddened with rage at the presumption of this daring rebel, Holt, forgetful of his own danger, seized the light. He burst open the secret door; but what was his astonishment on beholding, not the hated form of Tyrone, but the officer of justice himself, gagged, pinioned, and deprived of his outer dress. The cap and mantle of Tyrone, by his side, told too plainly of the daring and dangerous exploit by which his escape had been effected.
The outlaw, soon after his enlargement, finding that the cause he had espoused was hopeless, and that matters were at the last extremity in his own fate, and that of his unhappy country,—fearful, too, of drawing the innocent Constance and her father into the deep vortex of his own ruin,—made all haste to the capital, where, through the powerful interest excited in his behalf, aided by his well-known valour and the influence he was known to possess amongst his countrymen, he received a free pardon from the Queen.
Yet his thoughts lingered on the remembrance of her to whose heroic and confiding spirit he owed his safety. Never had his proud bosom been so enthralled. Though nurtured in camps, amid the din of arms, and the shout of the battle, yet his knowledge of the female heart was almost intuitive. He had loved more than once, but in every case the attachment ended unhappily, terminating either by the death of the object or by some calamity his own evil fate had unavoidably brought upon its victim. Though fearful the same operation of his destiny would ensue, and that misery and misfortune would still follow the current of his affections, yet he resolved to behold once more the maiden he loved with an ardour almost surpassing his own belief.
One cold dull morning, towards the wane of the year, when the heavy drops lay long on the rank herbage; no sunbeam yet loitering through the damp chill atmosphere, but the sky one wide and unvarying expanse—a sea of cloud—here and there a black scud passing over, like a dim bark sweeping across the bosom of that "waveless deep," a stranger stood by a low wicket near the mansion of Grislehurst. He looked wistfully at the gloomy windows, unlighted by a single reflection from without, like the rayless night of his own soul:—they were mostly closed. A mysterious and unusual stillness prevailed. The brown leaves fluttered about, unswept from the dreary avenues. Decayed branches obstructed the paths; and every object wore a look of wretchedness and dilapidation. The only sign of occupancy and life was one grey wreath of smoke, curling heavily from its vent, as if oppressed with the gloom by which it was surrounded. The melancholy note of the redbreast was the only living sound, as the bird came hopping towards him with its usual air of familiarity and respect. Enveloped in a military cloak, and in his cap a dark feather drooping gently over his proud features, the stranger slowly approached the house: a side-door stood partly open. He entered. A narrow passage led into the hall. No embers brightened the huge chimney. The table showed no relics of the feast,—no tokens of the past night's revel. The deer's antlers still hung over the master's place at the board, but the oaken chair was gone. Dust and desertion had played strange antics in these "high places." The busy spider had wreathed her dingy festoons in mockery over the pomp she degraded.
He listened, but there was no sound, save the last faint echo of his footstep. Turning towards the staircase, a beautiful spaniel, a sort of privileged favourite of Constance, came, with a deep growl, as if to warn away the intruder. But the sagacious animal suddenly fawned upon him, and with a low whine ascended the stairs, looking back wistfully, as though inviting him to follow.
Scarcely knowing why, or bestowing one thought on the nature of his intrusion, he ascended. The place seemed familiar to him. He entered a narrow gallery, where he paused, overcome by some sudden and overwhelming emotion. The dog stood too, looking back with a low and sorrowful whine. With a sudden effort he grappled with and shook off the dark spirit that threatened to overpower him. A low murmur was heard apparently from a chamber at no great distance. Without reflecting a moment on the impropriety of his situation, he hastily approached the door. His guide, with a look of almost irresistible persuasion, implored him to enter.
It was the chamber of Constance. A female was kneeling by the bed, too much absorbed to be conscious of his approach: she was in the attitude of prayer. He recognised the old nurse,—her eye glistening in the fervour of devotion, whilst pouring forth, to her FATHER in secret, the agony of soul that words are too feeble to express.
Bending over the bed, as if for the support of some frail victim of disease, he beheld the lord of the mansion. His look was wild and haggard;—no moisture floated over his eyeballs: they were glazed and motionless; arid as the hot desert,—no refreshing rain dropped from their burning orbs, dimmed with the shadows of despair.
Stretched on the bed, her pale cheek resting on the bosom of her father, lay the yet beauteous form of Constance Holt. A hectic flush at times passed across her features. Her lip, shrunk and parched with the fever that consumed her, was moistened by an attendant with unremitting and unwearied assiduity; her eye often rose in tenderness on her parent, as if anxious to impart to him the consolation she enjoyed.
"Oh, I am happy, my father!" Here a sudden change was visible,—some chord of sorrow was touched, and it vibrated to her soul.
Her father spoke not.
"I have loved!—Oh, faithfully. But, now—let me die without a murmur to Thee, or one wish but Thy will, and I am happy!" She raised her soft and streaming eyes towards the throne of that Mercy she addressed. The cloud passed, but she sank back on her pillow, exhausted with the conflict. Her father bent over her in silent terror, anticipating the last struggle. Suddenly he exclaimed, as if to call back the yet lingering spirit:—
"Live, my Constance! Could I save thee, thou blighted bud—blighted by my"—His lip grew pale; he struck his forehead, and a groan like the last expiring throe of nature escaped him.
"Would the destroyer of my peace were here!—'Tis too late—or I would not now forbid thy love. But he was a traitor, a rebel—else"——
Constance gradually revived from her insensibility. A sudden flash from the departing spirit seemed to have animated her—a new and vehement energy, which strangely contrasted with her weak and debilitated frame.
"I have seen him," she cried. "Oh, methought his form passed before me;—but it is gone!" She looked eagerly round the apartment; other eyes involuntarily followed,—but no living object could be distinguished through the chill and oppressive gloom that brooded over that chamber of death.
"It was a vision—a shadowy messenger from the tomb. Yet, once more if I might see him—ere I die." A deep sob, succeeded by a rapid gush of tears, relieved her; but it told of the powerful and all-pervading passion not yet extinguished in her breast.
"We shall meet!" again she raised her eyes towards that throne to which the sigh of the sufferer never ascended in vain.
"Yes, my own—my loved Constance, now!" cried the stranger, rushing from his concealment. He clasped her in his arms. A gleam, like sunlight across the wave, shot athwart the shadow that was gathering on her eye. It seemed the forerunner of a change. The anxious father forbore to speak, but he looked on his daughter with an agony that seemed to threaten either reason or existence. Constance gazed on her lover, but her eye gradually became more dim. Her band relaxed in his grasp, yet her features wore a look of serenity and happiness.
"O most merciful Father! Thou hast heard my prayer, through Him whose merits have found me a place in that glory to which I come. Be merciful to him whose love is true as mine own, and faithful unto death. Tyrone, we meet again!—Oh, how have I prayed for thee!" Her eyes seemed to brighten even in this world with the glories of another.
"Farewell!—I hear the hymns of yon ransomed ones around the throne. They beckon my spirit from these dark places of sorrow. Now—farewell!"
She cast one look towards her lover: it was the last glimpse of earth. The next moment her gaze was on the brightness of that world whence sorrow and sighing flee away. So sudden was the transition, that the first smile of the disembodied spirit seemed to linger on the abode she had left, like the evening cloud, reflecting the glories of another sky, ere it fades for ever into the darkness and solitude of night.
 Cox, p. 415.
 Sydney's Letters.
 Camden, p. 645.
 Winwood, vol. i. p. 369.
 In the parish church of St Chad, Rochdale, is a marble tablet, erected by John Entwisle, Esquire, a descendant of Sir Bertine, on which is the following inscription:—
"To perpetuate a memorial in the church of St Alban's (perished by time), this marble is here placed to the memory of a gallant and loyal man, Sir Bertine Entwisel, Knight, Viscount and Baron of Brybeke, in Normandy, and some time Bailiff of Constantin, in which office he succeeded his father-in-law, Sir John Ashton, whose daughter Lucy first married Sir Richard le Byron, an ancestor of the Lord Byrons, Barons of Rochdale, and, secondly, Sir Bertine Entwisel, who, after performing repeated acts of valour in the service of his sovereigns, Henry V. and VI., more particularly at Agincourt, was killed in the first battle of St Alban's, and on his tomb was recorded in brass the following inscription:—
"'Here lyth Syr Bertine Entwisel, Knighte, which was born in Lancastershyre, and was Viscount and Baron of Brybeke in Normandy, and Bailiff of Constantin, who died fighting on King Henry VI. party, 28th May, 1455.
"'On whose sowl Jesu have mercy!'"
"Pastime with good company I love, and shall until I die; Grudge so will, but none deny; So God be pleased, so live will I. For my pastance, Hunt, sing, and dance, My heart is set; All godly sport, To my comfort, Who shall me let!"
The Kinges Balade.
"God gives not kings the style of gods in vain, For on his throne his sceptre do they sway; And, as their subjects ought them to obey, So kings should feare and serve their God againe."
King James to his Son Prince Henry.
"The ancient castle denominated Hoghton Tower stands on the summit of a hill, formerly shrouded with trees, four miles and a half west of Blackburn. It was erected by Sir Thomas Hoghton, in the beginning of Elizabeth's reign. It remained for several generations the principal seat of the Hoghton family; and after part of it had been blown up by accident, when garrisoned for Charles the First, the injury was repaired. The family have now removed to Walton Hall; and Hoghton Tower is left to decay, two poor families inhabiting the south wing only. A ponderous gateway, immediately under the centre tower, leads to the quadrangular courtyard, capable of holding six hundred men. The noble embattled tower, forming the west front, with its two minor square towers, serve as appendages to the north and south wing, and are united by low walls. Within the courtyard, a noble flight of steps leads to the middle quadripartite, similar in aspect to Stonyhurst College, the ancient residence of the Sherbornes. This middle pile contains large staircases, branching out to long galleries, into which the several chambers open. One chamber, still called James the First's room, is considered 'most worthy of notice;' it has two square windows in both north and south, is beautifully wainscoted, and contains some old furniture. A fine prospect is gained from this ancient and sequestered abode: the pretty village of Walton-le-dale, delightfully situate in a valley, the improving town of Preston, and the single-coned Nase Point presenting itself majestically in the distance. The gentle river Darwen pursues its placid course among the enclosures at the base of the hill."
The above description, extracted from Nichols's Royal Progresses of James the First, and likewise the particulars scattered through the following tale, will, we hope, convey to the reader a pretty accurate idea of this noble but deserted mansion.
A petition, which was presented here (some say at Meyerscough) to King James, by a great number of Lancashire peasants, tradesmen, and servants, requesting that they might be allowed to take their diversions (as of old accustomed) after divine service on Sundays, is said to have been the origin of the Book of Sports, soon after promulgated by royal authority. James being persuaded those were Puritans who forbade such diversions, and that they were Jewishly inclined, because they affected to call Sunday the Sabbath, recommended that diverting exercises should be used after evening prayer, and ordered the book to be read publicly in all churches; and such ministers as refused to obey the injunction were threatened with severe punishment in the High Commission Court. This legal violation of the day which is unequivocally the Christian Sabbath, roused at the time the indignation of the seriously disposed, and has been frequently reprobated by historians. Foremost of its opposers, and eminent in example, stands the virtuous and firm Archbishop Abbot, who, being at Croydon the day it was ordered to be read in churches, flatly forbade it to be read there; which the King was pleased to wink at, notwithstanding the daily endeavours that were used to irritate the King against him. The Book of Sports is not, however, without its apologists among modern writers. The following are Mr D'Israeli's remarks on the subject:—"The King found the people in Lancashire discontented, from the unusual deprivation of their popular recreations on Sundays and holidays after the church service: 'With our own ears we heard the general complaint of our people.' The Catholic priests were busily insinuating among the lower orders that the Reformed religion was a sullen deprivation of all mirth and social amusements, and thus 'turning the people's hearts.' But while they were denied what the King terms 'lawful recreations' (which are enumerated to consist of dancing, archery, leaping, vaulting, May-games, Whitsun-ales, morris-dances, and the setting up of Maypoles, and other manly sports), they had substituted some vicious ones. Alehouses were more frequented, drunkenness more general, tale-mongery and sedition, the vices of sedentary idleness, prevailed, while a fanatical gloom was spreading over the country. The King, whose gaiety of temper instantly sympathised with the multitude, being perhaps alarmed at this new shape which Puritanism was assuming, published the Book of Sports, which soon obtained the contemptuous name of 'The Dancing Book'" (Life of James, p. 135). In reply to this view of the subject we shall, for the present, conclude with Dr Whitaker's remark, that "The King was little aware of the effects which the ill-judged licence was likely to produce on the common people. The relics of it are hardly worn out to this day; and there is scarcely a Sunday evening in any village of the county of Lancaster which does not exhibit symptoms of obedience to the injunction of honest 'recreation.'"—Royal Progresses of James I.
On the 15th of August, in the year 1617, a day memorable for its heat and brightness, and for the more enduring glory shed over this remote corner of our rejoicing and gladdened realm, came forth King James, from the southern gate of his loyal borough of Preston, in a gilded and unwieldy caroche, something abated of its lustre by reason of long service and the many vicissitudes attending his Majesty's "progresses," which he underwent to the great comfort and well-being of his dominions.
It were needless to set forth the mighty state in which this war-hating monarch, this "vicegerent of Divinity," departed—or the great error and agitation of Mr Breares, the lawyer, when he made a marvellous proper speech at the town-cross—wiping his forehead thrice, and his mouth barely once. Nor shall we dilate upon the distress, and dazzling silk doublets of the mayor and aldermen of this proud and thrice-happy borough—nor how they knelt to the soft salute of his Majesty's hand. Our whole book were a space too brief, and a region too inglorious, for the wide pomp and paraphernalia of the time; and how the bailiff rode, and the mace-bearer guarded the caroche, it were presumption, an offensive compound of ignorance and pride, to attempt the portraiture. Suffice it to say, they wore mulberry-coloured taffeta gowns, carried white staves and foot-cloths, and were preceded by twenty-four stout yeomen riding before the king, with fringed javelins, unto a place beyond Walton, where they departed. Our object is to notice matters of less magnitude and splendour; occurrences then too trivial to guide the pen of the chronicler, lost beneath the blaze and effulgence that followed on the track of this pageant-loving king. Scraps, which the pomps and vanities of those days would have degraded, we thus snatch from oblivion; a preservation more worthy, and an occupation more useful, we hope, than to hand down to admiring ages the colour and cut of taffeta or brocade.
This "wisest" of earthly kings was an ill-spoiled compound of qualities, the types of which existed in his monitor and his preceptor; two great men, whom history has not failed to distinguish—Archie Armstrong and George Buchanan—the wit and the scholar, which in him became the representatives of two much more useful and esteemed qualities—fool and pedant!
Attended by his favourite Buckingham and a numerous train of officials, he "progressed" upon the road to Hoghton Tower, the spacious and splendid dwelling of Sir Richard Hoghton, the first baronet of that family, whose guest he was to continue for a space, to the great envy and admiration of the whole neighbourhood.
As they came nigh the Tower, nothing could be conceived more beautiful or picturesque. Its embattled-gateway, bartizans, and battlements, crowning the summit of a bold and commanding eminence, became brightly illuminated, flashing against grim and shapeless masses of cloud, the shattered relics of a storm, that was rolling away in the distance.
Many of the neighbouring gentry were in attendance, not disdaining to wear, out of grace and courtesy to Sir Richard Hoghton, the livery of their thrice-honoured entertainer.
The king's train alone were very numerous, amongst whom appeared Lord Zouch, Constable of Dover Castle, and Sir George Goring, Lieutenant of the Gentlemen Pensioners. With the latter rode Sir John Finett, Assistant Master of the Ceremonies, but who acted the chief part in this important office during the king's journey; two worthies, of whom it might be said, that for tempering of the king's humour, and aptness in ministering to his delights, their like could scarcely have been found. Such nights of feasting and dancing, such days of hawking, hunting, and horse-racing, had never before gladdened the heart of "Merry Englonde," or England's monarchs. It seemed as if the whole realm were given up to idolatry and dissipation. The idol pleasure was worshipped with such ardour and devotion, that all ranks were striving to outdo each other in tinsel, trumpery, and deeds of worthlessness and folly.
The king loved such disguises and representations as were witty and sudden; the more ridiculous, and to him the more pleasant. This vain and frivolous humour might seem unworthy and unbecoming in so great a prince, whose profundity of wisdom had well entitled him to the appellation of "our English Solomon," did we not call to remembrance that the greatest of men have not disdained to be children in their sports; the deepest dispositions of the mind seeming to require the lightest and most frivolous recreations.
These worthy purveyors to the king's pleasure were of a temper and capacity widely different. Sir George Goring was caustic and severe; Sir John Finett pleasant and social, delighting in nothing so much as in the happiness and gratification of his friends. But the natural disposition of his thoughts was wild and melancholic, taking its hue from some early impression, that was now fading in doubt and disappointment.
The full burst of his hilarity floated joyously on the surface, and his loud mirth, blunting the keen edge of his own feelings, became the more exhilarating in proportion to their acuteness. He had the warm blood of the Italian in his veins, being descended from an ancient family of Sienna; and his rich brown cheek and darkly-speaking eye belied not the land of his origin. Goring was fat and swarthy: his nose small and supercilious, and his eye grey and piercing. He cared not whom he wounded, provided the shafts he drew were well pointed; and his wit quick and well-aimed, causing the king to laugh, and his victim to writhe during their operation.
As the monarch sate discoursing with the Duke of Buckingham, being sore heated, he threw open the windows of his coach, from whence he occasionally obtruded his wise head for a survey, and a visit from some vagrant and silly breeze, if any were abroad. The roads admitted not of aught but the gentlest paces, and the great clamour and cloud about the procession made the dust and heat excessively annoying; whereupon the king, it is said, did apply a very uncourteous epithet to some of his loving subjects, who came too close upon his person, which, though not generally averse to being gazed at, was in too warm an atmosphere at present for enjoying these kingly exhibitions.
"O' my saul, that meikle stane would build a bra' chappin-block for my Lord Provost," said royalty, its head again stationed at the window, surveying with solemn curiosity an egg-shaped stone of the boulder sort, which, sure enough, was of a remarkable bigness, though not of that rarity or infrequence that should have drawn forth the wonder of a king. His native dialect he generally employed on jocose and familiar subjects. In affairs of importance he affected the use of the English tongue, which he spoke with great formality and pomp.
"Stop," said he. "There be literae or letters thereon. Unto what purport?"
But no one could resolve him as to the use of the stone, or the purport of the writing. His worthy host protested that the wonder had never before been observed. It was doubtless some miracle worked for the occasion.
"But the scriptum or writing will set forth the motive or argument thereto. The letters be goodly and well-shapen."
Many voices recited the inscription, forming the following ill-spelled line.
"Torne me o're, an I'le tel thee plaine."
The well-known childish curiosity of the monarch would not permit him to go away unsatisfied. The day was hot, and the stone was heavy; but a long and laborious toil brought to light the following satisfactory intelligence,—
"Hot porritch softens hard butter-cakes, So torne me o'er again"
"And o' my saul," said the king, "ye shall gang roun' to yere place again; for sa meikle as these country gowks mauna ken the riddle without the labour."
So the "muckle stane" was replaced for the next comer who had strength and curiosity enough to unriddle the sphinx.
But James did not relish fooleries wherein he was the butt. Whether it was devised by some wicked rhymester and contemner of royalty in the neighbourhood, or placed there by some of the wits of his own company, was never ascertained, though he challenged them at random, and swore lustily that he would know the originator of this piece of folly and impertinence.
As the king drew nigh to the avenue, there presently issued forth a goodly flourish of trumpets, which made the women caper and the horses prance. Sir Richard Hoghton rode with the king; but his son Sir Gilbert met his Majesty with a great retinue, clad mostly after the same fashion; many of the neighbouring gentry, as we have before observed, not disdaining to put on Sir Richard's gowns and liveries, to swell the pomp and magnificence of that memorable occasion.
The javelin-bearers rode two and two: halting at his Majesty's approach, they formed an avenue, through which Sir Gilbert, sumptuously attired, went forth to salute the king. His cloak and hose were all glistening and spangled with embroidery; his vest was cloth of gold, enriched with rare and costly stones; his shirt-bands and ruffles were worked in silver; and his gloves, Spanish, breathing out the choicest perfume; his hat was of French murrey, the brims thick set with gold twist and spangles; round it was a band of goldsmith's work, looped with a crystal button.
On approaching the monarch he gracefully alighted; whereupon James commanded that the carriage should be stayed, thrusting out his hand in a very gracious sort to this worthy knight, who, on his knees, received the blessing.
His Majesty then took horse, assisted by Buckingham, who held the stirrup. But the king's peculiar and unsteady vaulting was much noticed. Many of the bystanders, not aware of his Majesty's dislike to these equestrian feats, marvelled not a little at the motion of his leg, and the disturbed and uneasy position he assumed. The pathway up the avenue was laid with purple velvet, on which the glittering cavalcade, horse and foot, formed a noble pageant, whose pomp was almost dazzling to behold. The carriages took another path opened for the occasion. The whole area in front of the Tower teemed with multitudes, whose shouts and huzzas made the very hills and echoes loyal, while they rang with acclamations to their sovereign. Presently issued forth from the middle gateway two curiously-attired figures, bearing emblems to indicate their character and design. There were living allegories, represented by the house-steward and Hobbe Handycap, the forester or tienman, keeper of vert and venison, a "ryghte merrie knave," and one foremost in all pastimes and "honest recreations;" a great promoter and performer of May-games, morris-dancing, and the like. These figures were to be conceived as household gods, the tutelary deities of Hoghton. The first spokesman was clad in a purple taffeta mantle; in one hand was a palm-tree branch, on his head a garland of the like sort, and in the other hand he carried a dog.
King James accustomed to, and expecting these mummeries, made a full stop, when, forthwith, began the purple mantle as follows—
"This day, great Kinge, for government admired, Which these thy subjects have so much desired, Shall be kept holy in their heart's best treasure, And vowed to James, as is this month to Caesar;"
with a good score of lines besides, of the like brevity and metre. In them he was said to be greater even than the immortal gods themselves, seeing that they came to render their homage unto him, together with all things else over which they bare rule, even as the greater doth include the less.
Then spake Hobbe, the deity of the chase:—
"Greatest of mortals!"
But he was presently nonplussed, and the steward stept forth to his relief, reciting how that the glorious beams from his Majesty's person had stricken dumb this weaker divinity. Having finished, the heat being intense, and they mightily encumbered with garments, did presently turn their backs on the king's majesty, making all speed towards the gateway for shelter. This breach of good manners was not unnoticed by the monarch, who said, wittily, we suppose, for it was much applauded, that these gods were not of High Olympus, but of the nether sort, inasmuch as they had turned tail upon their subject.
James and his company, passing through the ponderous and embattled gateway, entered into the great quadrangle, an area, it is reported, of sufficient size to contain six hundred men. Here he alighted, and was conducted in great state to the oaken chamber, where, royalty being very hot, a tankard of Rhenish wine, mingled with rosewater, was handed to him; of this he partook but sparingly, calling to Buckingham for a cup of muscadine and eggs.
Goring and Finett were not idle, but each of them fully employed in their respective vocations. Sir John had been pierced by a pair of dark eyes from the crowd upon the staircase, and Goring was making all haste for the royal hunt, his Majesty having signified that he would on that same evening kill a stag. James was, generally, as quick to resolve as he was impotent to execute; vacillating, and without any fixed purpose, in matters that required decision and promptitude of action.
With his usual pusillanimity the king went through the business of the hunt, the deer being literally driven into the very teeth of the dogs. An hour having been thus occupied, he commanded that they should return, highly satisfied with his own skill and intrepidity. Ascending the hill with his favourite, Goring, and discoursing pleasantly on this noble pastime, the king turned round on the sudden, as though recollecting something he had lost.
"What! Jack Finett. Quhere? quhere, I say, is my Sienna balsam?" said he, laying a deep emphasis on the guttural. This sally was acknowledged with delight by the courtiers. But "Jack" had not been seen or even remembered. Some trick or device was doubtless intended, and the king held himself in readiness for the expected surprise; but none was forthcoming. No magazine of mirth exploded; no mine was sprung; and James entered into his chamber without any visible expression of jocoseness issuing from the fertile brains of Sir John Finett. The irritation produced by his absence seemed to arise, not from any need of him, but from that tormenting desire which mortals universally feel for the possession of objects beyond their reach. Search was commanded for the truant, unsuccessfully; and supper was begun.
The eastern side of the hill on which the tower is built is bold and rugged, being steep and difficult of access. At its base the Darwen forces itself through a narrow channel, its waters tumbling over huge heaps of rock, and reeling in mazy eddies to the echo of their own voice. The river seems to have worked itself a passage through the chasm; and the boiling and noisy torrent, struggling to free itself from observation, foams and bellows like the gorge of a whirlpool, from whence originates its name, "The Orr," not unlike in sound to the effect that is here produced.
On the opposite shore the rock is nearly perpendicular, the dog-rose and the bramble hiding its crevices, and the crawling campanula wreathing its bright bells about the sterile front, from which its sustenance was derived, like youth clinging to the cold and insensate bosom of age. The declivity sloping abruptly from the tower was then covered with a wild and luxuriant underwood, stunted ash and hazel twigs thinly occupying a succession of ridges to the summit. Here and there a straggling oak threw its ungraceful outline over a narrow path, winding immediately under the base of the hill,—its bare roots undermined by oozings from above, and giving way to the slow but certain operation of the destroyer. From the heat and dryness of the season the torrent was much diminished, rushing into a succession of deep pools, which the full free light of heaven had scarcely ever visited. Now dimly seen through the hot gleams of a summer evening, they seemed wavering in the lurid reflection from surrounding objects.
Up this narrow gorge had strayed Sir John Finett with a companion, too busily engaged, it might seem, in their own converse to note the lapse of time, and the probable consequences of the king's displeasure.
"Fair lady," said the gay cavalier, "I am not more bold than my vocation holdeth meet. Your cousin, at Myerscough, was so liberal of his own suit, and my countenance therein, that he hath entrusted this love-billet to my keeping, warning me that I should let none but yourself be privy to its delivery."
"Would that my cousin had eschewed letter-writing! I am averse to his suit, and yet he ceaseth not to vex me continually with his drivelling ditties. His ballad-mongering to these 'eyne' alone would set up one of your court rhymesters for a twelvemonth."
"Yet may aversion cease, and your mislikings be not over difficult to assuage," said the courtier.
"I doubt not but Sir John Finett speaks of the capricious and changeable humours he hath witnessed;—our country fashion holdeth not so lightly by its affection or disfavour."
"Then there be doubtless of those stout vessels that shall never leak out a lady's favour. That this lot were mine!"
Sir John, perhaps unconsciously, threw his dark eyes full upon the lady, who blushed deeply; but the gloom concealed this outward show of feeling, too unformed and indefinite for thought. She spoke not; but the knight, under cover of his errand, continued the discourse without awakening her alarm. He excelled in that specious, though apparently heedless raillery, which is so apt to slip without suspicion into a lady's ear; and he could ply his suit, under this disguise, with such seeming artlessness and unconcern, that a lodgement in the citadel was sometimes effected ere the garrison was aware of the intrusion.
This fair dame, Grace Gerard, was of gentle blood, a daughter of the Gerards of Ashton Hall, near Lancaster. At the earnest solicitations of the Hoghton family, she was induced to remain a guest with them during the royal visit. Of a sweet and excellent temper, her form and face were its very image and counterpart. The world was to her untried—fresh, fair, unblemished—she looked upon it as though she were newly alighted on "some heaven-kissing hill," from whence the whole round of life's journey was blent and mingled with the glowing beam that now encompassed her. Alas! that youth should so soon pluck and eat of the "Tree of Knowledge!" that a nearer approach should dissipate the illusion! that our path, as it winds through those scenes we have looked on from afar in the light of our imagination, should at every step discover the tracks of misery,—a world of wretchedness and of woe!
Sir John, with all his faults, inseparable it may be from the society into which he had been thrown, was not vicious. Loving and beloved, he existed but as the object of woman's regard. This foible he indulged not farther. But many a bright eye waxed dim,—many a fond heart was withered, in the first spring-tide of its affection.
"Now that I have granted you this audience for my cousin's sake, and given him my reply, it is needful that we return. Besides, the night is coming on. The king and the feast demand your presence."
"Nay, thou cruel tyrant, tell me not of my chain. The king's humour I can control, but"——
"Presume not on the favour of princes; an ancient but wholesome caution," said the maiden, laughing at Sir John, who, for the first time, seemed to be aware of his duty, and was puzzling his brains for an excuse.
The bell now rang out lustily from the Tower, increasing the knight's perplexity. The innocent cause of this delay only laughed at his concern, singing, as though to herself—
"'The bell has been rung, and the mass hath been sung, And the feast eat merrily, Merrily!'
"and the king's master of the ceremonies absent."
The aspect of affairs was now more serious than he had anticipated. Supper was indeed commencing. Some scheme or witty device must be hit upon,—speedily too, or the king's displeasure might be difficult to assuage.
"But for thy bright eyes and fair speech, my lady Grace, I had not been amissing from my duty." He looked thoughtful, and it was the maiden's turn to rally.
They ascended the hill by a short but steep path. As they approached the summit, he seemed to awake from a deep reverie.
"Now have you granted me an audience for a lover's sake—to-morrow, let me be the ambassador for another."
"I have no lovers from whom I would care to be honoured with an embassy!"
"None?" said the knight, peering curiously, as if he would penetrate the folds of a real Flanders scarf she had thrown carelessly about her head—
"'Then will I be thy lover true, And thou my beauteous queene,'
"through these gay festivities. But mark me!"—He became serious on the sudden. The expression of his eye, from its general character of assumed gaiety, was changed into that of tenderness and respect. "Mark me, lady, I would be spared the horror of a rival. Will you be my partner in these pageantries—my mistress unto whom I may render mine homage and my trust?"
"'Tis a brave speech, Sir John," cried the lady, as though wishful to divert the subject. "My cousin tells me that you are a knight of great courage and renown, but he sayeth not aught of your disposition to outrival him in heroics. Good-bye—a promise made is a promise broken; therefore, I'll offer none. I meet you not to-night at the feast, having obtained mine excuse."
Saying this, she bounded from him ere he was aware, and was speedily out of sight.
He was not a little chagrined at her abrupt departure; yet her very carelessness, and the open simplicity of her manner, only served to fix her the more deeply in his thoughts. But a problem of greater difficulty was to be resolved than how to fix the chameleon hue of woman's thought. He had a king to pacify—wayward as a child, fickle as a lady's favour. Unless he could acquit himself by some witty quibble or device, he might bid adieu to the gaieties over which he presided. The time was short, and his wit must needs be ambling. As he passed through the court, revolving many plans for his deliverance, he was aware of a loud dispute between the two household divinities we have before noticed. Words were nigh being exchanged for blows, but they were stayed out of respect to the intruder.