St. George and St. Michael
by George MacDonald
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse








































































It was the middle of autumn, and had rained all day. Through the lozenge-panes of the wide oriel window the world appeared in the slowly gathering dusk not a little dismal. The drops that clung trickling to the dim glass added rain and gloom to the landscape beyond, whither the eye passed, as if vaguely seeking that help in the distance, which the dripping hollyhocks and sodden sunflowers bordering the little lawn, or the honeysuckle covering the wide porch, from which the slow rain dropped ceaselessly upon the pebble-paving below, could not give—steepy slopes, hedge-divided into small fields, some green and dotted with red cattle, others crowded with shocks of bedraggled and drooping corn, which looked suffering and patient.

The room to which the window having this prospect belonged was large and low, with a dark floor of uncarpeted oak. It opened immediately upon the porch, and although a good fire of logs blazed on the hearth, was chilly to the sense of the old man, who, with his feet on the skin of a fallow-deer, sat gazing sadly into the flames, which shone rosy through the thin hands spread out before them. At the opposite corner of the great low-arched chimney sat a lady past the prime of life, but still beautiful, though the beauty was all but merged in the loveliness that rises from the heart to the face of such as have taken the greatest step in life—that is, as the old proverb says, the step out of doors. She was plainly yet rather richly dressed, in garments of an old-fashioned and well-preserved look. Her hair was cut short above her forehead, and frizzed out in bunches of little curls on each side. On her head was a covering of dark stuff, like a nun's veil, which fell behind and on her shoulders. Close round her neck was a string of amber beads, that gave a soft harmonious light to her complexion. Her dark eyes looked as if they found repose there, so quietly did they rest on the face of the old man, who was plainly a clergyman. It was a small, pale, thin, delicately and symmetrically formed face, yet not the less a strong one, with endurance on the somewhat sad brow, and force in the closed lips, while a good conscience looked clear out of the grey eyes.

They had been talking about the fast-gathering tide of opinion which, driven on by the wind of words, had already begun to beat so furiously against the moles and ramparts of Church and kingdom. The execution of lord Strafford was news that had not yet begun to 'hiss the speaker.'

'It is indeed an evil time,' said the old man. 'The world has seldom seen its like.'

'But tell me, master Herbert,' said the lady, 'why comes it in this our day? For our sins or for the sins of our fathers?'

'Be it far from me to presume to set forth the ways of Providence!' returned her guest. 'I meddle not, like some that should be wiser, with the calling of the prophet. It is enough for me to know that ever and again the pride of man will gather to "a mighty and a fearful head," and, like a swollen mill-pond overfed of rains, burst the banks that confine it, whether they be the laws of the land or the ordinances of the church, usurping on the fruitful meadows, the hope of life for man and beast. Alas!' he went on, with a new suggestion from the image he had been using, 'if the beginning of strife be as the letting out of water, what shall be the end of that strife whose beginning is the letting out of blood?'

'Think you then, good sir, that thus it has always been? that such times of fierce ungodly tempest must ever follow upon seasons of peace and comfort?—even as your cousin of holy memory, in his verses concerning the church militant, writes:

"Thus also sin and darkness follow still The church and sun, with all their power and skill."'

'Truly it seems so. But I thank God the days of my pilgrimage are nearly numbered. To judge by the tokens the wise man gives us, the mourners are already going about my streets. The almond-tree flourisheth at least.'

He smiled as he spoke, laying his hand on his grey head.

'But think of those whom we must leave behind us, master Herbert. How will it fare with them?' said the lady in troubled tone, and glancing in the direction of the window.

In the window sat a girl, gazing from it with the look of a child who had uttered all her incantations, and could imagine no abatement in the steady rain-pour.

'We shall leave behind us strong hearts and sound heads too,' said Mr. Herbert. 'And I bethink me there will be none stronger or sounder than those of your young cousins, my late pupils, of whom I hear brave things from Oxford, and in whose affection my spirit constantly rejoices.'

'You will be glad to hear such good news of your relatives, Dorothy,' said the lady, addressing her daughter.

Even as she said the words, the setting sun broke through the mass of grey cloud, and poured over the earth a level flood of radiance, in which the red wheat glowed, and the drops that hung on every ear flashed like diamonds. The girl's hair caught it as she turned her face to answer her mother, and an aureole of brown-tinted gold gleamed for a moment about her head.

'I am glad that you are pleased, madam, but you know I have never seen them—or heard of them, except from master Herbert, who has, indeed, often spoke rare things of them.'

'Mistress Dorothy will still know the reason why,' said the clergyman, smiling, and the two resumed their conversation. But the girl rose, and, turning again to the window, stood for a moment rapt in the transfiguration passing upon the world. The vault of grey was utterly shattered, but, gathering glory from ruin, was hurrying in rosy masses away from under the loftier vault of blue. The ordered shocks upon twenty fields sent their long purple shadows across the flush; and the evening wind, like the sighing that follows departed tears, was shaking the jewels from their feathery tops. The sunflowers and hollyhocks no longer cowered under the tyranny of the rain, but bowed beneath the weight of the gems that adorned them. A flame burned as upon an altar on the top of every tree, and the very pools that lay on the distant road had their message of light to give to the hopeless earth. As she gazed, another hue than that of the sunset, yet rosy too, gradually flushed the face of the maiden. She turned suddenly from the window, and left the room, shaking a shower of diamonds from the honeysuckle as she passed out through the porch upon the gravel walk.

Possibly her elders found her departure a relief, for although they took no notice of it, their talk became more confidential, and was soon mingled with many names both of rank and note, with a familiarity which to a stranger might have seemed out of keeping with the humbler character of their surroundings.

But when Dorothy Vaughan had passed a corner of the house to another garden more ancient in aspect, and in some things quaint even to grotesqueness, she was in front of a portion of the house which indicated a far statelier past—closed and done with, like the rooms within those shuttered windows. The inhabited wing she had left looked like the dwelling of a yeoman farming his own land; nor did this appearance greatly belie the present position of the family. For generations it had been slowly descending in the scale of worldly account, and the small portion of the house occupied by the widow and daughter of sir Ringwood Vaughan was larger than their means could match with correspondent outlay. Such, however, was the character of lady Vaughan, that, although she mingled little with the great families in the neighbourhood, she was so much respected, that she would have been a welcome visitor to most of them.

The reverend Mr. Matthew Herbert was a clergyman from the Welsh border, a man of some note and influence, who had been the personal friend both of his late relative George Herbert and of the famous Dr. Donne. Strongly attached to the English church, and recoiling with disgust from the practices of the puritans—as much, perhaps, from refinement of taste as abhorrence of schism—he had never yet fallen into such a passion for episcopacy as to feel any cordiality towards the schemes of the archbishop. To those who knew him his silence concerning it was a louder protest against the policy of Laud than the fiercest denunciations of the puritans. Once only had he been heard to utter himself unguardedly in respect of the primate, and that was amongst friends, and after the second glass permitted of his cousin George. 'Tut! laud me no Laud,' he said. 'A skipping bishop is worse than a skipping king.' Once also he had been overheard murmuring to himself by way of consolement, 'Bishops pass; the church remains.' He had been a great friend of the late sir Ringwood; and although the distance from his parish was too great to be travelled often, he seldom let a year go by without paying a visit to his friend's widow and daughter.

Turning her back on the cenotaph of their former greatness, Dorothy dived into a long pleached alley, careless of the drip from overhead, and hurrying through it came to a circular patch of thin grass, rounded by a lofty hedge of yew-trees, in the midst of which stood what had once been a sun-dial. It mattered little, however, that only the stump of a gnomon was left, seeing the hedge around it had grown to such a height in relation to the diameter of the circle, that it was only for a very brief hour or so in the middle of a summer's day, when, of all periods, the passage of Time seems least to concern humanity, that it could have served to measure his march. The spot had, indeed, a time-forsaken look, as if it lay buried in the bosom of the past, and the present had forgotten it.

Before emerging from the alley, she slackened her pace, half-stopped, and, stooping a little in her tucked-up skirt, threw a bird-like glance around the opener space; then stepping into it, she looked up to the little disc of sky, across which the clouds, their roses already withered, sailed dim and grey once more, while behind them the stars were beginning to recall their half-forgotten message from regions unknown to men. A moment, and she went up to the dial, stood there for another moment, and was on the point of turning to leave the spot, when, as if with one great bound, a youth stood between her and the entrance of the alley.

'Ah ha, mistress Dorothy, you do not escape me so!' he cried, spreading out his arms as if to turn back some runaway creature.

But mistress Dorothy was startled, and mistress Dorothy did not choose to be startled, and therefore mistress Dorothy was dignified, if not angry.

'I do not like such behaviour, Richard,' she said. 'It ill suits with the time. Why did you hide behind the hedge, and then leap forth so rudely?'

'I thought you saw me,' answered the youth. 'Pardon my heedlessness, Dorothy. I hope I have not startled you too much.'

As he spoke he stooped over the hand he had caught, and would have carried it to his lips, but the girl, half-pettishly, snatched it away, and, with a strange mixture of dignity, sadness, and annoyance in her tone, said—

'There has been something too much of this, Richard, and I begin to be ashamed of it.'

'Ashamed!' echoed the youth. 'Of what? There is nothing but me to be ashamed of, and what can I have done since yesterday?'

'No, Richard; I am not ashamed of you, but I am ashamed of—of—this way of meeting—and—and——'

'Surely that is strange, when we can no more remember the day in which we have not met than that in which we met first! No, dear Dorothy——'

'It is not our meeting, Richard; and if you would but think as honestly as you speak, you would not require to lay upon me the burden of explanation. It is this foolish way we have got into of late—kissing hands—and—and—always meeting by the old sun-dial, or in some other over-quiet spot. Why do you not come to the house? My mother would give you the same welcome as any time these last—how many years, Richard?'

'Are you quite sure of that, Dorothy?'

'Well—I did fancy she spoke with something more of ceremony the last time you met. But, consider, she has seen so much less of you of late. Yet I am sure she has all but a mother's love in her heart towards you. For your mother was dear to her as her own soul.'

'I would it were so, Dorothy! For then, perhaps, your mother would not shrink from being my mother too. When we are married, Dorothy—'

'Married!' exclaimed the girl. 'What of marrying, indeed!' And she turned sideways from him with an indignant motion. 'Richard,' she went on, after a marked and yet but momentary pause, for the youth had not had time to say a word, 'it has been very wrong in me to meet you after this fashion. I know it now, for see what such things lead to! If you knew it, you have done me wrong.'

'Dearest Dorothy!' exclaimed the youth, taking her hand again, of which this time she seemed hardly aware, 'did you not know from the very vanished first that I loved you with all my heart, and that to tell you so would have been to tell the sun that he shines warm at noon in midsummer? And I did think you had a little—something for me, Dorothy, your old playmate, that you did not give to every other acquaintance. Think of the houses we have built and the caves we have dug together—of our rabbits, and urchins, and pigeons, and peacocks!'

'We are children no longer,' returned Dorothy. 'To behave as if we were would be to keep our eyes shut after we are awake. I like you, Richard, you know; but why this—where is the use of all this—new sort of thing? Come up with me to the house, where master Herbert is now talking to my mother in the large parlour. The good man will be glad to see you.'

'I doubt it, Dorothy. He and my father, as I am given to understand, think so differently in respect of affairs now pending betwixt the parliament and the king, that—'

'It were more becoming, Richard, if the door of your lips opened to the king first, and let the parliament follow.'

'Well said!' returned the youth with a smile. 'But let it be my excuse that I speak as I am wont to hear.'

The girl's hand had lain quiet in that of the youth, but now it started from it like a scared bird. She stepped two paces back, and drew herself up.

'And you, Richard?' she said, interrogatively.

'What would you ask, Dorothy?' returned the youth, taking a step nearer, to which she responded by another backward ere she replied.

'I would know whom you choose to serve—whether God or Satan; whether you are of those who would set at nought the laws of the land——'

'Insist on their fulfilment, they say, by king as well as people' interrupted Richard.

'They would tear their mother in pieces——'

'Their mother!' repeated Richard, bewildered.

'Their mother, the church,' explained Dorothy.

'Oh!' said Richard. 'Nay, they would but cast out of her the wolves in sheep's clothing that devour the lambs.'

The girl was silent. Anger glowed on her forehead and flashed from her grey eyes. She stood one moment, then turned to leave him, but half turned again to say scornfully—

'I must go at once to my mother! I knew not I had left her with such a wolf as master Herbert is like to prove!'

'Master Herbert is no bishop, Dorothy!'

'The bishops, then, are the wolves, master Heywood?' said the girl, with growing indignation.

'Dear Dorothy, I am but repeating what I hear. For my own part, I know little of these matters. And what are they to us if we love one another?'

'I tell you I am a child no longer,' flamed Dorothy.

'You were seventeen last St. George's Day, and I shall be nineteen next St. Michael's.'

'St. George for merry England!' cried Dorothy.

'St. Michael for the Truth!' cried Richard.

'So be it. Good-bye, then,' said the girl, going.

'What DO you mean, Dorothy?' said Richard; and she stood to hear, but with her back towards him, and, as it were, hovering midway in a pace. 'Did not St. Michael also slay his dragon? Why should the knights part company? Believe me, Dorothy, I care more for a smile from you than for all the bishops in the church, or all the presbyters out of it.'

'You take needless pains to prove yourself a foolish boy, Richard; and if I go not to my mother at once, I fear I shall learn to despise you—which I would not willingly.'

'Despise me! Do you take me for a coward then, Dorothy?'

'I say not that. I doubt not, for the matter of swords and pistols, you are much like other male creatures; but I protest I could never love a man who preferred my company to the service of his king.'

She glided into the alley and sped along its vaulted twilight, her white dress gleaming and clouding by fits as she went.

The youth stood for a moment petrified, then started to overtake her, but stood stock-still at the entrance of the alley, and followed her only with his eyes as she went.

When Dorothy reached the house, she did not run up to her room that she might weep unseen. She was still too much annoyed with Richard to regret having taken such leave of him. She only swallowed down a little balloonful of sobs, and went straight into the parlour, where her mother and Mr. Herbert still sat, and resumed her seat in the bay window. Her heightened colour, an occasional toss of her head backwards, like that with which a horse seeks ease from the bearing- rein, generally followed by a renewal of the attempt to swallow something of upward tendency, were the only signs of her discomposure, and none of them were observed by her mother or her guest. Could she have known, however, what feelings had already begun to rouse themselves in the mind of him whose boyishness was an offence to her, she would have found it more difficult to keep such composure.

Dorothy's was a face whose forms were already so decided that, should no softening influences from the central regions gain the ascendancy, beyond a doubt age must render it hard and unlovely. In all the roundness and freshness of girlhood, it was handsome rather than beautiful, beautiful rather than lovely. And yet it was strongly attractive, for it bore clear indication of a nature to be trusted. If her grey eyes were a little cold, they were honest eyes, with a rare look of steadfastness; and if her lips were a little too closely pressed, it was clearly from any cause rather than bad temper. Neither head, hands, nor feet were small, but they were fine in form and movement; and for the rest of her person, tall and strong as Richard was, Dorothy looked further advanced in the journey of life than he.

She needed hardly, however, have treated his indifference to the politics of the time with so much severity, seeing her own acquaintance with and interest in them dated from that same afternoon, during which, from lack of other employment, and the weariness of a long morning of slow, dismal rain, she had been listening to Mr. Herbert as he dwelt feelingly on the arrogance of puritan encroachment, and the grossness of presbyterian insolence both to kingly prerogative and episcopal authority, and drew a touching picture of the irritant thwartings and pitiful insults to which the gentle monarch was exposed in his attempts to support the dignity of his divine office, and to cast its protecting skirt over the defenceless church; and if it was with less sympathy that he spoke of the fears which haunted the captive metropolitan, Dorothy at least could detect no hidden sarcasm in the tone in which he expressed his hope that Laud's devotion to the beauty of holiness might not result in the dignity of martyrdom, as might well be feared by those who were assured that the whole guilt of Strafford lay in his return to his duty, and his subsequent devotion to the interests of his royal master: to all this the girl had listened, and her still sufficiently uncertain knowledge of the affairs of the nation had, ere the talk was over, blossomed in a vague sense of partizanship. It was chiefly her desire after the communion of sympathy with Richard that had led her into the mistake of such a hasty disclosure of her new feelings.

But her following words had touched him—whether to fine issues or not remained yet poised on the knife-edge of the balancing will. His first emotion partook of anger. As soon as she was out of sight a spell seemed broken, and words came.

'A boy, indeed, mistress Dorothy!' he said. 'If ever it come to what certain persons prophesy, you may wish me in truth, and that for the sake of your precious bishops, the boy you call me now. Yes, you are right, mistress, though I would it had been another who told me so! Boy indeed I am—or have been—without a thought in my head but of her. The sound of my father's voice has been but as the wind of the winnowing fan. In me it has found but chaff. If you will have me take a side, though, you will find me so far worthy of you that I shall take the side that seems to me the right one, were all the fair Dorothies of the universe on the other. In very truth I should be somewhat sorry to find the king and the bishops in the right, lest my lady should flatter herself and despise me that I had chosen after her showing, forsooth! This is master Herbert's doing, for never before did I hear her speak after such fashion.'

While he thus spoke with himself, he stood, like the genius of the spot, a still dusky figure on the edge of the night, into which his dress of brown velvet, rich and sombre at once in the sunlight, all but merged. Nearly for the first time in his life he was experiencing the difficulty of making up his mind, not, however, upon any of the important questions, his inattention to which had exposed him to such sudden and unexpected severity, but merely as to whether he should seek her again in the company of her mother and Mr. Herbert, or return home. The result of his deliberation, springing partly, no doubt, from anger, but that of no very virulent type, was, that he turned his back on the alley, passed through a small opening in the yew hedge, crossed a neglected corner of woodland, by ways better known to him than to any one else, and came out upon the main road leading to the gates of his father's park.



Richard Heywood, as to bodily fashion, was a tall and already powerful youth. The clear brown of his complexion spoke of plentiful sunshine and air. A merry sparkle in the depths of his hazel eyes relieved the shadows of rather notably heavy lids, themselves heavily overbrowed—with a suggestion of character which had not yet asserted itself to those who knew him best. Correspondingly, his nose, although of a Greek type, was more notable for substance than clearness of line or modelling; while his lips had a boyish fulness along with a definiteness of bow-like curve, which manly resolve had not yet begun to compress and straighten out. His chin was at least large enough not to contradict the promise of his face; his shoulders were square, and his chest and limbs well developed: altogether it was at present a fair tabernacle—of whatever sort the indwelling divinity might yet turn out, fashioning it further after his own nature.

His father and he were the only male descendants of an old Monmouthshire family, of neither Welsh nor Norman, but as pure Saxon blood as might be had within the clip of the ocean. Roger, the father, had once only or twice in his lifetime been heard boast, in humorous fashion, that although but a simple squire, he could, on this side the fog of tradition, which nearer or further shrouds all origin, count a longer descent than any of the titled families in the county, not excluding the earl of Worcester himself. His character also would have gone far to support any assertion he might have chosen to make as to the purity of his strain. A notable immobility of nature—his friends called it firmness, his enemies obstinacy; a seeming disregard of what others might think of him; a certain sternness of manner—an unreadiness, as it were, to open his door to the people about him; a searching regard with which he was wont to peruse the face of anyone holding talk with him, when he seemed always to give heed to the looks rather than the words of him who spoke; these peculiarities had combined to produce a certain awe of him in his inferiors, and a dislike, not unavowed, in his equals. With his superiors he came seldom in contact, and to them his behaviour was still more distant and unbending. But, although from these causes he was far from being a favourite in the county, he was a man of such known and acknowledged probity that, until of late, when party spirit ran high and drew almost everybody, whether of consequence or not, to one side or the other, there was nobody who would not have trusted Roger Heywood to the uttermost. Even now, foes as well as friends acknowledged that he was to be depended upon; while his own son looked up to him with a reverence that in some measure overshadowed his affection. Such a character as this had necessarily been slow in formation, and the opinions which had been modified by it and had reacted upon it, had been as unalterably as deliberately adopted. But affairs had approached a crisis between king and parliament before one of his friends knew that there were in his mind any opinions upon them in process of formation—so reserved and monosyllabic had been his share in any conversation upon topics which had for a long time been growing every hour of more and more absorbing interest to all men either of consequence, intelligence, property, or adventure. At last, however, it had become clear, to the great annoyance of not a few amongst his neighbours, that Heywood's leanings were to the parliament. But he had never yet sought to influence his son in regard to the great questions at issue.

His house was one of those ancient dwellings which have grown under the hands to fit the wants of successive generations, and look as if they had never been other than old; two-storied at most, and many-gabled, with marvellous accretions and projections, the haunts of yet more wonderful shadows. There, in a room he called his study, shabby and small, containing a library more notable for quality and selection than size, Richard the next morning sought and found him.

'Father!' he said, entering with some haste after the usual request for admission.

'I am here, my son,' answered Roger, without lifting his eyes from the small folio in which he was reading.

'I want to know, father, whether, when men differ, a man is bound to take a side.'

'Nay, Richard, but a man is bound NOT to take a side save upon reasons well considered and found good.'

'It may be, father, if you had seen fit to send me to Oxford, I should have been better able to judge now.'

'I had my reasons, son Richard. Readier, perhaps, you might have been, but fitter—no. Tell me what points you have in question.'

'That I can hardly say, sir. I only know there are points at issue betwixt king and parliament which men appear to consider of mightiest consequence. Will you tell me, father, why you have never instructed me in these affairs of church and state? I trust it is not because you count me unworthy of your confidence.'

'Far from it, my son. My silence hath respect to thy hearing and to the judgment yet unawakened in thee. Who would lay in the arms of a child that which must crush him to the earth? Years did I take to meditate ere I resolved, and I know not yet if thou hast in thee the power of meditation.'

'At least, father, I could try to understand, if you would unfold your mind.'

'When you know what the matters at issue are, my son,—that is, when you are able to ask me questions worthy of answer, I shall be ready to answer thee, so far as my judgment will reach.'

'I thank you, father, In the meantime I am as one who knocks, and the door is not opened unto him.'

'Rather art thou as one who loiters on the door-step, and lifts up neither ring nor voice.'

'Surely, sir, I must first know the news.'

'Thou hast ears; keep them open. But at least you know, my son, that on the twelfth day of May last my lord of Strafford lost his head.'

'Who took it from him, sir? King or parliament?'

'Even that might be made a question; but I answer, the High Court of Parliament, my son.'

'Was the judgment a right one or a wrong, sir? Did he deserve the doom?'

'Ah, there you put a question indeed! Many men say RIGHT, and many men say WRONG. One man, I doubt me much, was wrong in the share HE bore therein.'

'Who was he, sir?'

'Nay, nay, I will not forestall thine own judgment. But, in good sooth, I might be more ready to speak my mind, were it not that I greatly doubt some of those who cry loudest for liberty. I fear that had they once the power, they would be the first to trample her under foot. Liberty with some men means MY liberty to do, and THINE to suffer. But all in good time, my son! The dawn is nigh.'

'You will tell me at least, father, what is the bone of contention?'

'My son, where there is contention, a bone shall not fail. It is but a leg-bone now; it will be a rib to-morrow, and by and by doubtless it will be the skull itself.'

'If you care for none of these things, sir, will not master Flowerdew have a hard name for you? I know not what it means, but it sounds of the gallows,' said Richard, looking rather doubtful as to how his father might take it.

'Possibly, my son, I care more for the contention than the bone, for while thieves quarrel honest men go their own ways. But what ignorance I have kept thee in, and yet left thee to bear the reproach of a puritan!' said the father, smiling grimly. 'Thou meanest master Flowerdew would call me a Gallio, and thou takest the Roman proconsul for a gallows-bird! Verily thou art not destined to prolong the renown of thy race for letters. I marvel what thy cousin Thomas would say to the darkness of thy ignorance.'

'See what comes of not sending me to Oxford, sir: I know not who is my cousin Thomas.'

'A man both of learning and wisdom, my son, though I fear me his diet is too strong for the stomach of this degenerate age, while the dressing of his dishes is, on the other hand, too cunningly devised for their liking. But it is no marvel thou shouldest be ignorant of him, being as yet no reader of books. Neither is he a close kinsman, being of the Lincolnshire branch of the Heywoods.'

'Now I know whom you mean, sir; but I thought he was a writer of stage plays, and such things as on all sides I hear called foolish, and mummery.'

'There be among those who call themselves the godly, who will endure no mummery but of their own inventing. Cousin Thomas hath written a multitude of plays, but that he studied at Cambridge, and to good purpose, this book, which I was reading when you entered, bears good witness.'

'What is the book, father?'

'Stay, I will read thee a portion. The greater part is of learning rather than wisdom—the gathered opinions of the wise and good concerning things both high and strange; but I will read thee some verses bearing his own mind, which is indeed worthy to be set down with theirs.'

He read that wonderful poem ending the second Book of the Hierarchy, and having finished it looked at his son.

'I do not understand it, sir,' said Richard.

'I did not expect you would,' returned his father. 'Here, take the book, and read for thyself. If light should dawn upon the page, as thou readest, perhaps thou wilt understand what I now say—that I care but little for the bones concerning which king and parliament contend, but I do care that men—thou and I, my son—should be free to walk in any path whereon it may please God to draw us. Take the book, my son, and read again. But read no farther save with caution, for it dealeth with many things wherein old Thomas is too readily satisfied with hearsay for testimony.'

Richard took the small folio and carried it to his own chamber, where he read and partly understood the poem. But he was not ripe enough either in philosophy or religion for such meditations. Having executed his task, for as such he regarded it, he turned to look through the strange mixture of wisdom and credulity composing the volume. One tale after another, of witch, and demon, and magician, firmly believed and honestly recorded by his worthy relative, drew him on, until he sat forgetful of everything but the world of marvels before him—to none of which, however, did he accord a wider credence than sprung from the interest of the moment. He was roused by a noise of quarrel in the farmyard, towards which his window looked, and, laying aside reading, hastened out to learn the cause.



It was a bright Autumn morning. A dry wind had been blowing all night through the shocks, and already some of the farmers had begun to carry to their barns the sheaves which had stood hopelessly dripping the day before. Ere Richard reached the yard, he saw, over the top of the wall, the first load of wheat-sheaves from the harvest-field, standing at the door of the barn, and high-uplifted thereon the figure of Faithful Stopchase, one of the men, a well-known frequenter of puritan assemblies all the country round, who was holding forth, and that with much freedom, in tones that sounded very like vituperation, if not malediction, against some one invisible. He soon found that the object of his wrath was a certain Welshwoman, named Rees, by her neighbours considered objectionable on the ground of witchcraft, against whom this much could with truth be urged, that she was so far from thinking it disreputable, that she took no pains to repudiate the imputation of it. Her dress, had it been judged by eyes of our day, would have been against her, but it was only old-fashioned, not even antiquated: common in Queen Elizabeth's time, it lingered still in remote country places—a gown of dark stuff, made with a long waist and short skirt over a huge farthingale; a ruff which stuck up and out, high and far, from her throat; and a conical Welsh hat invading the heavens. Stopchase, having descried her in the yard, had taken the opportunity of breaking out upon her in language as far removed from that of conventional politeness as his puritanical principles would permit. Doubtless he considered it a rebuking of Satan, but forgot that, although one of the godly, he could hardly on that ground lay claim to larger privilege in the use of bad language than the archangel Michael. For the old woman, although too prudent to reply, she scorned to flee, and stood regarding him fixedly. Richard sought to interfere and check the torrent of abuse, but it had already gathered so much head, that the man seemed even unaware of his attempt. Presently, however, he began to quail in the midst of his storming. The green eyes of the old woman, fixed upon him, seemed to be slowly fascinating him. At length, in the very midst of a volley of scriptural epithets, he fell suddenly silent, turned from her, and, with the fork on which he had been leaning, began to pitch the sheaves into the barn. The moment he turned his back, Goody Rees turned hers, and walked slowly away.

She had scarcely reached the yard gate, however, before the cow-boy, a delighted spectator and auditor of the affair, had loosed the fierce watch-dog, which flew after her. Fortunately Richard saw what took place, but the animal, which was generally chained up, did not heed his recall, and the poor woman had already felt his teeth, when Richard got him by the throat. She looked pale and frightened, but kept her composure wonderfully, and when Richard, who was prejudiced in her favour from having once heard Dorothy speak friendlily to her, expressed his great annoyance that she should have been so insulted on his father's premises, received his apologies with dignity and good faith. He dragged the dog back, rechained him, and was in the act of administering sound and righteous chastisement to the cow-boy, when Stopchase staggered, tumbled off the cart, and falling upon his head, lay motionless. Richard hurried to him, and finding his neck twisted and his head bent to one side, concluded he was killed. The woman who had accompanied him from the field stood for a moment uttering loud cries, then, suddenly bethinking herself, sped after the witch. Richard was soon satisfied he could do nothing for him.

Presently the woman came running back, followed at a more leisurely pace by Goody Rees, whose countenance was grave, and, even to the twitch about her mouth, inscrutable. She walked up to where the man lay, looked at him for a moment or two as if considering his case, then sat down on the ground beside him, and requested Richard to move him so that his head should lie on her lap. This done, she laid hold of it, with a hand on each ear, and pulled at his neck, at the same time turning his head in the right direction. There came a snap, and the neck was straight. She then began to stroke it with gentle yet firm hand. In a few moments he began to breathe. As soon as she saw his chest move, she called for a wisp of hay, and having shaped it a little, drew herself from under his head, substituting the hay. Then rising without a word she walked from the yard. Stopchase lay for a while, gradually coming to himself, then scrambled all at once to his feet, and staggered to his pitchfork, which lay where it had fallen. 'It is of the mercy of the Lord that I fell not upon the prongs of the pitchfork,' he said, as he slowly stooped and lifted it. He had no notion that he had lain more than a few seconds; and of the return of Goody Rees and her ministrations he knew nothing; while such an awe of herself and her influences had she left behind her, that neither the woman nor the cow-boy ventured to allude to her, and even Richard, influenced partly, no doubt, by late reading, was more inclined to think than speak about her. For the man himself, little knowing how close death had come to him, but inwardly reproached because of his passionate outbreak, he firmly believed that he had had a narrow escape from the net of the great fowler, whose decoy the old woman was, commissioned not only to cause his bodily death, but to work in him first such a frame of mind as should render his soul the lawful prey of the enemy.



The same afternoon, as it happened, a little company of rustics, who had just issued from the low hatch-door of the village inn, stood for a moment under the sign of the Crown and Mitre, which swung huskily creaking from the bough of an ancient thorn tree, then passed on to the road, and took their way together.

'Hope you then,' said one of them, as continuing their previous conversation, 'that we shall escape unhurt? It is a parlous business. Not as one of us is afeard as I knows on. But the old earl, he do have a most unregenerate temper, and you had better look to't, my masters.'

'I tell thee, master Upstill, it's not the old earl as I'm afeard on, but the young lord. For thou knows as well as ere a one it be not without cause that men do call him a wizard, for a wizard he be, and that of the worst sort.'

'We shall be out again afore sundown, shannot we?' said another. 'That I trust.'

'Up to the which hour the High Court of Parliament assembled will have power to protect its own—eh, John Croning?'

'Nay, that I cannot tell. It be a parlous job, and for mine own part, whether for the love I bear to the truth, or the hatred I cherish toward the scarlet Antichrist, with her seven tails—'

'Tush, tush, John! Seven heads, man, and ten horns. Those are the numbers master Flowerdew read.'

'Nay, I know not for your horns; but for the rest I say seven tails. Did not honest master Flowerdew set forth unto us last meeting that the scarlet woman sat upon seven hills—eh? Have with you there, master Sycamore!'

'Well, for the sake of sound argument, I grant you. But we ha'got to do with no heads nor no tails, neither—save and except as you may say the sting is in the tail; and then, or I greatly mistake, it's not seven times seven as will serve to count the stings, come of the tails what may.'

'Very true,' said another; 'it be the stings and not the tails we want news of. But think you his lordship will yield them up without gainsaying to us the messengers of the High Parliament now assembled?'

'For mine own part,' said John Croning, 'though I fear it come of the old Adam yet left in me, I do count it a sorrowful thing that the earl should be such a vile recusant. He never fails with a friendly word, or it may be a jest—a foolish jest—but honest, for any one gentle or simple he may meet. More than once has he boarded me in that fashion. What do you think he said to me, now, one day as I was a mowin' of the grass in the court, close by the white horse that spout up the water high as a house from his nose-drills? Says he to me—for he come down the grand staircase, and steps out and spies me at the work with my old scythe, and come across to me, and says he, "Why, Thomas," says he, not knowin' of my name, "Why, Thomas," says he, "you look like old Time himself a mowing of us all down," says he. "For sure, my lord," says I, "your lordship reads it aright, for all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man is as the flower of the field." He look humble at that, for, great man as he be, his earthly tabernacle, though more than sizeable, is but a frail one, and that he do know. And says he, "Where did you read that, Thomas?" "I am not a larned man, please your lordship," says I, "and I cannot honestly say I read it nowheres, but I heerd the words from a book your lordship have had news of: they do call it the Holy Bible. But they tell me that they of your lordship's persuasion like it not." "You are very much mistaken there, Thomas," says he. "I read my Bible most days, only not the English Bible, which is full of errors, but the Latin, which is all as God gave it," says he. And thereby I had not where to answer withal.'

'I fear you proved a poor champion of the truth, master Croning.'

'Confess now, Cast-down Upstill, had he not both sun and wind of me—standing, so to say, on his own hearth-stone? Had it not been so, I could have called hard names with the best of you, though that is by rights the gift of the preachers of the truth. See how the good master Flowerdew excelleth therein, sprinkling them abroad from the watering-pot of the gospel. Verily, when my mind is too feeble to grasp his argument, my memory lays fast hold upon the hard names, and while I hold by them, I have it all in a nutshell.'

Fortified occasionally by a pottle of ale, and keeping their spirits constantly stirred by much talking, they had been all day occupied in searching the Catholic houses of the neighbourhood for arms. What authority they had for it never came to be clearly understood. Plainly they believed themselves possessed of all that was needful, or such men would never have dared it. As it was, they prosecuted it with such a bold front, that not until they were gone did it occur to some, who had yielded what arms they possessed, to question whether they had done wisely in acknowledging such fellows as parliamentary officials without demanding their warrant. Their day's gleanings up to this point—of swords and pikes, guns and pistols, they had left in charge of the host of the inn whence they had just issued, and were now bent on crowning their day's triumph with a supreme act of daring—the renown of which they enlarged in their own imaginations, while undermining the courage needful for its performance, by enhancing its terrors as they went.

At length two lofty hexagonal towers appeared, and the consciousness that the final test of their resolution drew nigh took immediate form in a fluttering at the heart, which, however, gave no outward sign but that of silence; and indeed they were still too full of the importance of unaccustomed authority to fear any contempt for it on the part of others.

It happened that at this moment Raglan Castle was full of merry-making upon occasion of the marriage of one of lady Herbert's waiting-gentlewomen to an officer of the household; and in these festivities the earl of Worcester and all his guests were taking a part.

Among the numerous members of the household was one who, from being a turnspit, had risen, chiefly in virtue of an immovably lugubrious expression of countenance, to be the earl's fool. From this peculiarity his fellow-servants had given him the nickname of The Hangman; but the man himself had chosen the role of a puritan parson, as affording the best ground-work for the display of a humour suitable to the expression of countenance with which his mother had endowed him. That mother was Goody Rees, concerning whom, as already hinted, strange things were whispered. In the earlier part of his career the fool had not unfrequently found his mother's reputation a sufficient shelter from persecution; and indeed there might have been reason to suppose that it was for her son's sake she encouraged her own evil repute, a distinction involving considerable risk, seeing the time had not yet arrived when the disbelief in such powers was sufficiently advanced for the safety of those reported to possess them. In her turn, however, she ran a risk somewhat less than ordinary from the fact that her boy was a domestic in the family of one whose eldest son, the heir to the earldom, lay under a similar suspicion; for not a few of the household were far from satisfied that lord Herbert's known occupations in the Yellow Tower were not principally ostensible, and that he and his man had nothing to do with the black art, or some other of the many regions of occult science in which the ambition after unlawful power may hopefully exercise itself.

Upon occasion of a family fete, merriment was in those days carried further, on the part of both masters and servants, than in the greatly altered relations and conditions of the present day would be desirable, or, indeed, possible. In this instance, the fun broke out in the arranging of a mock marriage between Thomas Rees, commonly called Tom Fool, and a young girl who served under the cook. Half the jest lay in the contrast between the long face of the bridegroom, both congenitally and wilfully miserable, and that of the bride, broad as a harvest moon, and rosy almost to purple. The bridegroom never smiled, and spoke with his jaws rather than his lips; while the bride seldom uttered a syllable without grinning from ear to ear, and displaying a marvellous appointment of huge and brilliant teeth. Entering solemnly into the joke, Tom expressed himself willing to marry the girl, but represented, as an insurmountable difficulty, that he had no clothes for the occasion. Thereupon the earl, drawing from his pocket his bunch of keys, directed him to go and take what he liked from his wardrobe. Now the earl was a man of large circumference, and the fool as lank in person as in countenance.

Tom took the keys and was some time gone, during which many conjectures were hazarded as to the style in which he would choose to appear. When he re-entered the great hall, where the company was assembled, the roar of laughter which followed his appearance made the glass of its great cupola ring again. For not merely was he dressed in the earl's beaver hat and satin cloak, splendid with plush and gold and silver lace, but he had indued a corresponding suit of his clothes as well, even to his silk stockings, garters, and roses, and with the help of many pillows and other such farcing, so filled the garments which otherwise had hung upon him like a shawl from a peg, and made of himself such a 'sweet creature of bombast' that, with ludicrous unlikeness of countenance, he bore in figure no distant resemblance to the earl himself.

Meantime lady Elizabeth had been busy with the scullery-maid, whom she had attired in a splendid brocade of her grandmother's, with all suitable belongings of ruff, high collar, and lace wings, such as Queen Elizabeth is represented with in Oliver's portrait. Upon her appearance, a few minutes after Tom's, the laughter broke out afresh, in redoubled peals, and the merriment was at its height, when the warder of one of the gates entered and whispered in his master's ear the arrival of the bumpkins, and their mission announced, he informed his lordship, with all the importance and dignity they knew how to assume. The earl burst into a fresh laugh. But presently it quavered a little and ceased, while over the amusement still beaming on his countenance gathered a slight shade of anxiety, for who could tell what tempest such a mere whirling of straws might not forerun?

A few words of the warder's had reached Tom where he stood a little aside, his solemn countenance radiating disapproval of the tumultuous folly around him. He took three strides towards the earl.

'Wherein lieth the new jest?' he asked, with dignity.

'A set of country louts, my lord,' answered the earl, 'are at the gate, affirming the right of search in this your lordship's house of Raglan.'

'For what?'

'Arms, my lord.'

'And wherefore? On what ground?'

'On the ground that your lordship is a vile recusant—a papist, and therefore a traitor, no doubt, although they use not the word,' said the earl.

'I shall be round with them,' said Tom, embracing the assumed proportions in front of him, and turning to the door.

Ere the earl had time to conceive his intent, he had hurried from the hall, followed by fresh shouts of laughter. For he had forgotten to stuff himself behind, and, when the company caught sight of his back as he strode out, the tenuity of the foundation for such a 'huge hill of flesh' was absurd as Falstaff's ha'p'orth of bread to the 'intolerable deal of sack.'

But the next moment the earl had caught the intended joke, and although a trifle concerned about the affair, was of too mirth-loving a nature to interfere with Tom's project, the result of which would doubtless be highly satisfactory—at least to those not primarily concerned. He instantly called for silence, and explained to the assembly what he believed to be Tom Fool's intent, and as there was nothing to be seen from the hall, the windows of which were at a great height from the floor, and Tom's scheme would be fatally imperilled by the visible presence of spectators, from some at least of whom gravity of demeanour could not be expected, gave hasty instructions to several of his sons and daughters to disperse the company to upper windows having a view of one or the other court, for no one could tell where the fool's humour might find its principal arena. The next moment, in the plain dress of rough brownish cloth, which he always wore except upon state occasions, he followed the fool to the gate, where he found him talking through the wicket-grating to the rustics, who, having passed drawbridge and portcullises, of which neither the former had been raised nor the latter lowered for many years, now stood on the other side of the gate demanding admittance. In the parley, Tom Fool was imitating his master's voice and every one of the peculiarities of his speech to perfection, addressing them with extreme courtesy, as if he took them for gentlemen of no ordinary consideration,—a point in his conception of his part which he never forgot throughout the whole business. To the dismay of his master he was even more than admitting, almost boasting, that there was an enormous quantity of weapons in the castle—sufficient at least to arm ten thousand horsemen!—a prodigious statement, for, at the uttermost, there was not more than the tenth part of that amount—still a somewhat larger provision no doubt than the intruders had expected to find! The pseudo-earl went on to say that the armoury consisted of one strong room only, the door of which was so cunningly concealed and secured that no one but himself knew where it was, or if found could open it. But such he said was his respect to the will of the most august parliament, that he would himself conduct them to the said armoury, and deliver over upon the spot into their safe custody the whole mass of weapons to carry away with them. And thereupon he proceeded to open the gate.

By this time the door of the neighbouring guard-room was crowded with the heads of eager listeners, but the presence of the earl kept them quiet, and at a sign from him they drew back ere the men entered. The earl himself took a position where he would be covered by the opening wicket.

Tom received them into bodily presence with the notification that, having suspected their object, he had sent all his people out of the way, in order to avoid the least danger of a broil. Bowing to them with the utmost politeness as they entered, he requested them to step forward into the court while he closed the wicket behind them, but took the opportunity of whispering to one of the men just inside the door of the guardhouse, who, the moment Tom had led the rustics away, approached the earl, and told him what he had said.

'What can the rascal mean?' said the earl to himself; but he told the man to carry the fool's message exactly as he had received it, and quietly followed Tom and his companions, some of whom, conceiving fresh importance from the overstrained politeness with which they had been received, were now attempting a transformation of their usual loundering gait into a martial stride, with the result of a foolish strut, very unlike the dignified progress of the sham earl, whose weak back roused in them no suspicion, and who had taken care they should not see his face. Across the paved court, and through the hall to the inner court, Tom led them, and the earl followed.

The twilight was falling. The hall was empty of life, and filled with a sombre dusk, echoing to every step as they passed through it. They did not see the flash of eyes and glimmer of smiles from the minstrel's gallery, and the solitude, size, and gloom had, even on their dull natures, a palpable influence. The whole castle seemed deserted as they followed the false earl across the second court—with the true one stealing after them like a knave—little imagining that bright eyes were watching them from the curtains of every window like stars from the clear spaces and cloudy edges of heaven. To the north-west corner of the court he led them, and through a sculptured doorway up the straight wide ascent of stone called the grand staircase. At the top he turned to the right, along a dim corridor, from which he entered a suite of bedrooms and dressing-rooms, over whose black floors he led the trampling hob-nailed shoes without pity either for their polish or the labour of the housemaids in restoring it.

In this way he reached the stair in the bell-tower, ascending which he brought them into a narrow dark passage ending again in a downward stair, at the foot of which they found themselves in the long picture-gallery, having entered it in the recess of one of its large windows. At the other end of the gallery he crossed into the dining-room, then through an ante-chamber entered the drawing-room, where the ladies, apprised of their approach, kept still behind curtains and high chairs, until they had passed through, on their way to cross the archway of the main entrance, and through the library gain the region of household economy and cookery. Thither I will not drag my reader after them. Indeed the earl, who had been dogging them like a Fate, ever emerging on their track but never beheld, had already began to pay his part of the penalty of the joke in fatigue, for he was not only unwieldy in person, but far from robust, being very subject to gout. He owed his good spirits to a noble nature, and not to animal well-being. When they crossed from the picture-gallery to the dining-room, he went down the stair between, and into the oak-parlour adjoining the great hall. There he threw himself into an easy chair which always stood for him in the great bay window, looking over the moat to the huge keep of the castle, and commanding through its western light the stone bridge which crossed it. There he lay back at his ease, and, instructed by the message Tom had committed to the serjeant of the guard, waited the result.

As for his double, he went stalking on in front of his victims, never turning to show his face; he knew they would follow, were it but for the fear of being left alone. Close behind him they kept, scarce daring to whisper from growing awe of the vast place. The fumes of the beer had by this time evaporated, and the heavy obscurity which pervaded the whole building enhanced their growing apprehensions. On and on the fool led them, up and down, going and returning, but ever in new tracks, for the marvellous old place was interminably burrowed with connecting passages and communications of every sort—some of them the merest ducts which had to be all but crept through, and which would have certainly arrested the progress of the earl had he followed so far: no one about the place understood its "crenkles" so well as Tom. For the greater part of an hour he led them thus, until, having been on their legs the whole day, they were thoroughly wearied as well as awe-struck. At length, in a gloomy chamber, where one could not see the face of another, the pseudo-earl turned full upon them, and said in his most solemn tones:—

'Arrived thus far, my masters, it is borne in upon me with rebuke, that before undertaking to guide you to the armoury, I should have acquainted you with the strange fact that at times I am myself unable to find the place of which we are in search; and I begin to fear it is so now, and that we are at this moment the sport of a certain member of my family of whom it may be your worships have heard things not more strange than true. Against his machinations I am powerless. All that is left us is to go to him and entreat him to unsay his spells.'

A confused murmur of objections arose.

'Then your worships will remain here while I go to the Yellow Tower, and come to you again?' said the mock earl, making as if he would leave them.

But they crowded round him with earnest refusals to be abandoned; for in their very souls they felt the fact that they were upon enchanted ground—and in the dark.

'Then follow me,' he said, and conducted them into the open air of the inner court, almost opposite the archway in its buildings leading to the stone bridge, whose gothic structure bestrid the moat of the keep.

For Raglan Castle had this peculiarity, that its keep was surrounded by a moat of its own, separating it from the rest of the castle, so that, save by bridge, no one within any more than without the walls could reach it. On to the bridge Tom led the way, followed by his dupes—now full in the view of the earl where he sat in his parlour window. When they had reached the centre of it, however, and glancing up at the awful bulk of stone towering above them, its walls strangely dented and furrowed, so as to such as they, might well suggest frightful means to wicked ends, they stood stock-still, refusing to go a step further; while their chief speaker, Upstill, emboldened by anger, fear, and the meek behaviour of the supposed earl, broke out in a torrent of arrogance, wherein his intention was to brandish the terrors of the High Parliament over the heads of his lordship of Worcester and all recusants. He had not got far, however, before a shrill whistle pierced the air, and the next instant arose a chaos of horrible, appalling, and harrowing noises, 'such a roaring,' in the words of their own report of the matter to the reverend master Flowerdew, 'as if the mouth of hell had been wide open, and all the devils conjured up'—doubtless they meant by the arts of the wizard whose dwelling was that same tower of fearful fame before which they now stood. The skin-contracting chill of terror uplifted their hair. The mystery that enveloped the origin of the sounds gave them an unearthliness which froze the very fountains of their life, and rendered them incapable even of motion. They stared at each other with a ghastly observance, which descried no comfort, only like images of horror. 'Man's hand is not able to taste' how long they might have thus stood, nor 'his tongue to conceive' what the consequences might have been, had not a more healthy terror presently supervened. Across the tumult of sounds, like a fiercer flash through the flames of a furnace, shot a hideous, long-drawn yell, and the same instant came a man running at full speed through the archway from the court, casting terror-stricken glances behind him, and shouting with a voice half-choked to a shriek—

'Look to yourselves, my masters; the lions are got loose!'

All the world knew that ever since King James had set the fashion by taking so much pleasure in the lions at the Tower, strange beasts had been kept in the castle of Raglan.

The new terror broke the spell of the old, and the parliamentary commissioners fled. But which was the way from the castle? Which the path to the lions' den? In an agony of horrible dread, they rushed hither and thither about the court, where now the white horse, as steady as marble, should be when first they crossed it, was, to their excited vision, prancing wildly about the great basin from whose charmed circle he could not break, foaming, at the mouth, and casting huge water-jets from his nostrils into the perturbed air; while from the surface of the moat a great column of water shot up nearly as high as the citadel, whose return into the moat was like a tempest, and with all the elemental tumult was mingled the howling of wild beasts. The doors of the hall and the gates to the bowling green being shut, the poor wretches could not find their way out of the court, but ran from door to door like madmen, only to find all closed against them. From every window around the court—from the apartments of the waiting gentlewomen, from the picture-gallery, from the officers' rooms, eager and merry eyes looked down on the spot, themselves unseen and unsuspected, for all voices were hushed, and for anything the bumpkins heard or saw they might have been in a place deserted of men, and possessed only by evil spirits, whose pranks were now tormenting them. At last Upstill, who had fallen on the bridge at his first start, and had ever since been rushing about with a limp and a leap alternated, managed to open the door of the hall, and its eastern door having been left open, shot across and into the outer court, where he made for the gate, followed at varied distance by the rest of the routed commissioners of search, as each had discovered the way his forerunner fled. With trembling hands Upstill raised the latch of the wicket, and to his delight found it unlocked. He darted through, passed the twin portcullises, and was presently thundering over the draw-bridge, which, trembling under his heavy steps, seemed on the point of rising to heave him back into the jaws of the lion, or, worse still, the clutches of the enchanter. Not one looked behind him, not even when, having passed through the white stone gate, also purposely left open for their escape, and rattled down the multitude of steps that told how deep was the moat they had just crossed, where the last of them nearly broke his neck by rolling almost from top to bottom, they reached the outermost, the brick gate, and so left the awful region of enchantment and feline fury commingled. Not until the castle was out of sight, and their leader had sunk senseless on the turf by the roadside, did they dare a backward look. The moment he came to himself they started again for home, at what poor speed they could make, and reached the Crown and Mitre in sad plight, where, however, they found some compensation in the pleasure of setting forth their adventures—with the heroic manner in which, although vanquished by the irresistible force of enchantment, they had yet brought off their forces without the loss of a single man. Their story spread over the country, enlarged and embellished at every fresh stage in its progress.

When the tale reached mother Rees, it filled her with fresh awe of the great magician, the renowned lord Herbert. She little thought the whole affair was a jest of her own son's. Firmly believing in all kinds of magic and witchcraft, but as innocent of conscious dealing with the powers of ill as the whitest-winged angel betwixt earth's garret and heaven's threshold, she owed her evil repute amongst her neighbours to a rare therapeutic faculty, accompanied by a keen sympathetic instinct, which greatly sharpened her powers of observation in the quest after what was amiss; while her touch was so delicate, so informed with present mind, and came therefore into such rapport with any living organism, the secret of whose suffering it sought to discover, that sprained muscles, dislocated joints, and broken bones seemed at its soft approach to re-arrange their disturbed parts, and yield to the power of her composing will as to a re-ordering harmony. Add to this, that she understood more of the virtues of some herbs than any doctor in the parish, which, in the condition of general practice at the time, is not perhaps to say much, and that she firmly believed in the might of certain charms, and occasionally used them—and I have given reason enough why, while regarded by all with disapprobation—she should be by many both courted and feared. For her own part she had a leaning to the puritans, chiefly from respect to the memory of a good-hearted, weak, but intellectually gifted, and, therefore, admired husband; but the ridicule of her yet more gifted son had a good deal shaken this predilection, so that she now spent what powers of discrimination and choice she possessed solely upon persons, heedless of principles in themselves, and regarding them only in their vital results. Hence, it was a matter of absolute indifference to her which of the parties now dividing the country was in the right, or which should lose, which win, provided no personal evil befel the men or women for whom she cherished a preference. Like many another, she was hardly aware of the jurisdiction of conscience, save in respect of immediate personal relations.



From the time when the conversation recorded had in some measure dispelled the fog between them, Roger and Richard Heywood drew rapidly nearer to each other. The father had been but waiting until his son should begin to ask him questions, for watchfulness of himself and others had taught him how useless information is to those who have not first desired it, how poor in influence, how soon forgotten; and now that the fitting condition had presented itself, he was ready: with less of reserve than in the relation between them was common amongst the puritans, he began to pour his very soul into that of his son. All his influence went with that party which, holding that the natural flow of the reformation of the church from popery had stagnated in episcopacy, consisted chiefly of those who, in demanding the overthrow of that form of church government, sought to substitute for it what they called presbyterianism; but Mr. Heywood belonged to another division of it which, although less influential at present, was destined to come by and by to the front, in the strength of the conviction that to stop with presbyterianism was merely to change the name of the swamp—a party whose distinctive and animating spirit was the love of freedom, which indeed, degenerating into a passion among its inferior members, broke out, upon occasion, in the wildest vagaries of speech and doctrine, but on the other hand justified itself in its leaders, chief amongst whom were Milton and Cromwell, inasmuch as they accorded to the consciences of others the freedom they demanded for their own—the love of liberty with them not meaning merely the love of enjoying freedom, but that respect for the thing itself which renders a man incapable of violating it in another.

Roger Heywood was, in fact, already a pupil of Milton, whose anonymous pamphlet of 'Reformation touching Church Discipline' had already reached him, and opened with him the way for all his following works.

Richard, with whom my story has really to do, but for the understanding of whom it is necessary that the character and mental position of his father should in some measure be set forth, proved an apt pupil, and was soon possessed with such a passion for justice and liberty, as embodied in the political doctrines now presented for his acceptance, that it was impossible for him to understand how any honest man could be of a different mind. No youth, indeed, of simple and noble nature, as yet unmarred by any dominant phase of selfishness, could have failed to catch fire from the enthusiasm of such a father, an enthusiasm glowing yet restrained, wherein party spirit had a less share than principle—which, in relation to such a time, is to say much. Richard's heart swelled within him at the vistas of grandeur opened by his father's words, and swelled yet higher when he read to him passages from the pamphlet to which I have referred. It seemed to him, as to most young people under mental excitement, that he had but to tell the facts of the case to draw all men to his side, enlisting them in the army destined to sweep every form of tyranny, and especially spiritual usurpation and arrogance, from the face of the earth.

Being one who took everybody at the spoken word, Richard never thought of seeking Dorothy again at their former place of meeting. Nor, in the new enthusiasm born in him, did his thoughts for a good many days turn to her so often, or dwell so much upon her, as to cause any keen sense of their separation. The flood of new thoughts and feelings had transported him beyond the ignorant present. In truth, also, he was a little angry with Dorothy for showing a foolish preference for the church party, so plainly in the wrong was it! And what could SHE know about the question by his indifference to which she had been so scandalised, but to which he had been indifferent only until rightly informed thereon! If he had ever given her just cause to think him childish, certainly she should never apply the word to him again! If he could but see her, he would soon convince her—indeed he MUST see her—for the truth was not his to keep, but to share! It was his duty to acquaint her with the fact that the parliament was the army of God, fighting the great red dragon, one of whose seven heads was prelacy, the horn upon it the king, and Laud its crown. He wanted a stroll—he would take the path through the woods and the shrubbery to the old sun-dial. She would not be there, of course, but he would walk up the pleached alley and call at the house.

Reasoning thus within himself one day, he rose and went. But, as he approached the wood, Dorothy's great mastiff, which she had reared from a pup with her own hand, came leaping out to welcome him, and he was prepared to find her not far off.

When he entered the yew-circle, there she stood leaning on the dial, as if, like old Time, she too had gone to sleep there, and was dreaming ancient dreams over again. She did not move at the first sounds of his approach; and when at length, as he stood silent by her side, she lifted her head, but without looking at him, he saw the traces of tears on her cheeks. The heart of the youth smote him.

'Weeping, Dorothy?' he said.

'Yes,' she answered simply.

'I trust I am not the cause of your trouble, Dorothy?'

'You!' returned the girl quickly, and the colour rushed to her pale cheeks. 'No, indeed. How should you trouble me? My mother is ill.'

Considering his age, Richard was not much given to vanity, and it was something better that prevented him from feeling pleased at being thus exonerated: she looked so sweet and sad that the love which new interests had placed in abeyance returned in full tide. Even when a child, he had scarcely ever seen her in tears; it was to him a new aspect of her being.

'Dear Dorothy!' he said, 'I am very much grieved to learn this of your beautiful mother.'

'She IS beautiful,' responded the girl, and her voice was softer than he had ever heard it before; 'but she will die, and I shall be left alone.'

'No, Dorothy! that you shall never be,' exclaimed Richard, with a confidence bordering on presumption.

'Master Herbert is with her now,' resumed Dorothy, heedless of his words.

'You do not mean her life is even now in danger?' said Richard, in a tone of sudden awe.

'I hope not, but, indeed, I cannot tell. I left master Herbert comforting her with the assurance that she was taken away from the evil to come. "And I trust, madam," the dear old man went on to say, "that my departure will not long be delayed, for darkness will cover the earth, and gross darkness the people." Those were his very words.'

'Nay, nay!' said Richard, hastily; 'the good man is deceived; the people that sit in darkness shall see a great light.'

The girl looked at him with strange interrogation.

'Do not be angry, sweet Dorothy,' Richard went on. 'Old men may mistake as well as youths. As for the realm of England, the sun of righteousness will speedily arise thereon, for the dawn draws nigh; and master Herbert may be just as far deceived concerning your mother's condition, for she has been but sickly for a long time, and yet has survived many winters.'

Dorothy looked at him still, and was silent. At length she spoke, and her words came slowly and with weight.

'And what prophet's mantle, if I may make so bold, has fallen upon Richard Heywood, that the word in his mouth should outweigh that of an aged servant of the church? Can it be that the great light of which he speaks is Richard Heywood himself?'

'As master Herbert is a good man and a servant of God,' said Richard, coldly, stung by her sarcasm, but not choosing to reply to it, 'his word weighs mightily; but as a servant of the church his word is no weightier than my father's, who is also a minister of the true tabernacle, that wherein all who are kings over themselves are priests unto God—though truly he pretends to no prophecy beyond the understanding of the signs of the times.'

Dorothy saw that a wonderful change, such as had been incredible upon any but the witness of her own eyes and ears, had passed on her old playmate. He was in truth a boy no longer. Their relative position was no more what she had been of late accustomed to consider it. But with the change a gulf had begun to yawn between them.

'Alas, Richard!' she said, mistaking what he meant by the signs of the times, 'those who arrogate the gift of the Holy Ghost, while their sole inspiration is the presumption of their own hearts and an overweening contempt of authority, may well mistake signs of their own causing for signs from heaven. I but repeat the very words of good master Herbert.'

'I thought such swelling words hardly sounded like your own, Dorothy. But tell me, why should the persuasion of man or woman hang upon the words of a fellow-mortal? Is not the gift of the Spirit free to each who asks it? And are we not told that each must be fully persuaded in his own mind?'

'Nay, Richard, now I have thee! Hang you not by the word of your father, who is one, and despise the authority of the true church, which is many?'

'The true church were indeed an authority, but where shall we find it? Anyhow, the true church is one thing, and prelatical episcopacy another. But I have yet to learn what authority even the true church could have over a man's conscience.'

'You need to be reminded, Richard, that the Lord of the church gave power to his apostles to bind or loose.'

'I do not need to be so reminded, Dorothy, but I do not need to be shown first that that power was over men's consciences; and second, that it was transmitted to others by the apostles waiving the question as to the doubtful ordination of English prelates.'

Fire flashed from Dorothy's eyes.

'Richard Heywood,' she said, 'the demon of spiritual pride has already entered into you, and blown you up with a self-sufficiency which I never saw in you before, or I would never, never have companied with you, as I am now ashamed to think I have done so long, even to the danger of my soul's health.'

'In that case I may comfort myself, mistress Dorothy Vaughan,' said Richard, 'that you will no longer count me a boy! But do you then no longer desire that I should take one part OR the other and show myself a man? Am I man enough yet for the woman thou art, Dorothy? —But, Dorothy,' he added, with sudden change of tone, for she had in anger turned to leave him, 'I love you dearly, and I am truly sorry if I have spoken so as to offend you. I came hither eager to share with you the great things I have learned since you left me with just contempt a fortnight ago.'

'Then it is I whose foolish words have cast you into the seat of the scorner! Alas! alas! my poor Richard! Never, never more, while you thus rebel against authority and revile sacred things, will I hold counsel with you.'

And again she turned to go.

'Dorothy!' cried the youth, turning pale with agony to find on the brink of what an abyss of loss his zeal had set him, 'wilt thou, then, never speak to me more, and I love thee as the daylight?'

'Never more till thou repent and turn. I will but give thee one piece of counsel, and then leave thee—if for ever, that rests with thee. There has lately appeared, like the frog out of the mouth of the dragon, a certain tractate or treatise, small in bulk, but large with the wind of evil doctrine. Doubtless it will reach your father's house ere long, if it be not, as is more likely, already there, for it is the vile work of one they call a puritan, though where even the writer can vainly imagine the purity of such work to lie, let the pamphlet itself raise the question. Read the evil thing—or, I will not say read it, but glance the eye over it. It is styled "Animadversions upon—." Truly, I cannot recall the long-drawn title. It is filled, even as a toad with poison, so full of evil and scurrilous sayings against good men, rating and abusing them as the very off-scouring of the earth, that you cannot yet be so far gone in evil as not to be reclaimed by seeing whither such men and their inspiration would lead you. Farewell, Richard.'

With the words, and without a look, Dorothy, who had been standing sideways in act to go, swept up the pleached alley, her step so stately and her head so high that Richard, slowly as she walked away, dared not follow her, but stood 'like one forbid.' When she had vanished, and the light shone in full at the far end, he gave a great sigh and turned away, and the old dial was forsaken.

The scrap of title Dorothy had given was enough to enable Richard to recognise the pamphlet as one a copy of which his father had received only a few days before, and over the reading of which they had again and again laughed unrestrainedly. As he walked home he sought in vain to recall anything in it deserving of such reprobation as Dorothy had branded it withal. Had it been written on the other side no search would have been necessary, for party spirit (from which how could such a youth be free, when the greatest men of his time were deeply tainted?), while it blinds the eyes in one direction, makes them doubly keen in another. As it was, the abuse in the pamphlet referred to, appeared to him only warrantable indignation; and, the arrogance of an imperfect love leading him to utter desertion of his newly-adopted principles, he scorned as presumptuous that exercise of her own judgment on the part of Dorothy which had led to their separation, bitterly resenting the change in his playmate, who, now an angry woman, had decreed his degradation from the commonest privileges of friendship, until such time as he should abjure his convictions, become a renegade to the truth, and abandon the hope of resulting freedom which the strife of parties held out—an act of tyranny the reflection upon which raised such a swelling in his throat as he had never felt but once before, when a favourite foal got staked in trying to clear a fence. Having neither friend nor sister to whom to confess that he was in trouble—have confided it he could not in any case, seeing it involved blame of the woman his love for whom now first, when on the point of losing her for ever, threatened to overmaster him—he wandered to the stables, which he found empty of men and nearly so of horses, half-involuntarily sought the stall of the mare his father had given him on his last birthday, laid his head on the neck bent round to greet him, and sighed a sore response to her soft, low, tremulous whinny.

As he stood thus, overcome by the bitter sense of wrong from the one he loved best in the world, something darkened the stable-door, and a voice he knew reached his ear. Mistaking the head she saw across an empty stall for that of one of the farm-servants, Goody Rees was calling aloud to know if he wanted a charm for the toothache.

Richard looked up.

'And what may your charm be, mistress Rees?' he asked.

'Aha! is it thou, young master?' returned the woman. 'Thou wilt marvel to see me about the place so soon again, but verily desired to know how that godly man, Faithful Stopchase, found himself after his fall.'

'Nay, mistress Rees, make no apology for coming amongst thy friends. I warrant thee against further rudeness of man or beast. I have taken them to task, and truly I will break his head who wags tongue against thee. As for Stopchase, he does well enough in all except owing thee thanks which he declines to pay. But for thy charm, good mistress Rees, what is it—tell me ?'

She took a step inside the door, sent her small eyes peering first into every corner her sight could reach, and then said:

'Are we alone—we two, master Richard?'

'There's a cat in the next stall, mistress: if she can hear, she can't speak.'

'Don't be too sure of that, master Richard. Be there no one else?'

'Not a body; soul there may be—who knows?'

'I know there is none. I will tell thee my charm, or what else I may that thou would wish to know; for he is a true gentleman who will help a woman because she is a woman, be she as old and ugly as Goody Rees herself. Hearken, my pretty sir: it is the tooth of a corpse, drawn after he hath lain a se'en-night in the mould: wilt buy, my master? Or did not I see thee now asking comfort from thy horse for the—'

She paused a moment, peered narrowly at him from under lowered eyebrows, and went on:

'—heartache, eh, master Richard? Old eyes can see through velvet doublets.'

'All the world knows yours can see farther than other people's,' returned Richard. 'Heaven knows whence they have their sharpness. But suppose it were a heartache now, have you got e'er a charm to cure that?'

'The best of all charms, my young master, is a kiss from the maiden; and what would thou give me for the spell that should set her by thy side at the old dial, under a warm harvest moon, all the long hours 'twixt midnight and the crowing of the black cock—eh, my master? What wilt thou give me?'

'Not a brass farthing, if she came not of her own good will,' murmured Richard, turning towards his mare. 'But come, mistress Rees, you know you couldn't do it, even if you were the black witch the neighbours would have you—though I, for my part, will not hear a word against you—never since you set my poor old dog upon his legs again—though to be sure he will die one of these days, and that no one can help—dogs have such short lives, poor fools!'

'Thou knows not what old mother Rees can do. Tell me, young master, did she ever say and not do—eh, now?'

'You said you would cure my dog, and you did,' answered Richard.

'And I say now, if thou will, I will set thee and her together by the old dial to-morrow night, and it shall be a warm and moonlit night on purpose for ye, an ye will.'

'It were to no good purpose, mistress Rees, for we parted this day—and that for ever, I much fear me,' said Richard with a deep sigh, but getting some little comfort even out of a witch's sympathy.

'Tut, tut, tut! Lovers' quarrels! Who knows not what they mean? Crying and kissing—crying and kissing—that's what they mean. Come now—what did thou and she quarrel about?'

The old woman, if not a witch, at least looked very like one, with her two hands resting on the wide round ledge of her farthingale, her head thrown back, and from under her peaked hat that pointed away behind, her two greenish eyes peering with a half-coaxing, yet sharp and probing gaze into those of the youth.

But how could he make a confidante of one like her? What could she understand of such questions as had raised the wall of partition betwixt him and Dorothy? Unwilling to offend her, however, he hesitated to give her offer a plain refusal, and turning away in silence, affected to have caught sight of something suspicious about his mare's near hock.

'I see, I see!' said the old woman grimly, but not ill-naturedly, and nodded her head, so that her hat described great arcs across the sky; 'thou art ashamed to confess that thou lovest thy father's whims more than thy lady's favours. Well, well! Such lovers are hardly for my trouble!'

But here came the voice of Mr. Heywood, calling his groom. She started, glanced around her as if seeking a covert, then peered from the door, and glided noiselessly out.



Great was the merriment in Raglan Castle over the discomfiture of the bumpkins, and many were the compliments Tom received in parlour, nursery, kitchen, guard-room, everywhere, on the success of his hastily-formed scheme for the chastisement of their presumption. The household had looked for a merry time on the occasion of the wedding, but had not expected such a full cup of delight as had been pressed out for them betwixt the self-importance of the overweening yokels and the inventive faculties of Tom Fool. All the evening, one standing in any open spot of the castle might have heard, now on the one, now on the other side, renewed bursts of merriment ripple the air; but as the still autumn night crept on, the intervals between grew longer and longer, until at length all sounds ceased, and silence took up her ancient reign, broken only by the occasional stamp of a horse or howl of a watch-dog.

But the earl, who, from simplicity of nature and peace of conscience combined, was perhaps better fitted for the enjoyment of the joke, in a time when such ludifications were not yet considered unsuitable to the dignity of the highest position, than any other member of his household, had, through it all, showed a countenance in which, although eyes, lips, and voice shared in the laughter, there yet lurked a thoughtful doubt concerning the result. For he knew that, in some shape or other, and that certainly not the true one, the affair would be spread over the country, where now prejudice against the Catholics was strong and dangerous in proportion to the unreason of those who cherished it. Now, also, it was becoming pretty plain that except the king yielded every prerogative, and became the puppet which the mingled pride and apprehension of the Parliament would have him, their differences must ere long be referred to the arbitration of the sword, in which case there was no shadow of doubt in the mind of the earl as to the part befitting a peer of the realm. The king was a protestant, but no less the king; and not this man, but his parents, had sinned in forsaking the church—of which sin their offspring had now to bear the penalty, reaping the whirlwind sprung from the stormy seeds by them sown. For what were the puritans but the lawfully-begotten children of the so called reformation, whose spirit they inherited, and in whose footsteps they so closely followed? In the midst of such reflections, dawned slowly in the mind of the devout old man the enchanting hope that perhaps he might be made the messenger of God to lead back to the true fold the wandering feet of his king. But, fail or speed in any result, so long as his castle held together, it should stand for the king. Faithful catholic as he was, the brave old man was English to the backbone.

And there was no time to lose. This visit of search, let it have originated how it might, and be as despicable in itself as it was ludicrous in its result, showed but too clearly how strong the current of popular feeling was setting against all the mounds of social distinction, and not kingly prerogative alone. What preparations might be needful, must be prudent.

That same night, then, long after the rest of the household had retired, three men took advantage of a fine half-moon to make a circuit of the castle, first along the counterscarp of the moat, and next along all accessible portions of the walls and battlements. They halted often, and, with much observation of the defences, held earnest talk together, sometimes eagerly contending rather than disputing, but far more often mutually suggesting and agreeing. At length one of them, whom the others called Caspar, retired, and the earl was left with his son Edward, lord Herbert, the only person in the castle who had gone to neither window nor door to delight himself with the discomfiture of the parliamentary commissioners.

They entered the long picture gallery, faintly lighted from its large windows to the court, but chiefly from the oriel which formed the northern end of it, where they now sat down, the earl being, for the second time that night, weary. Behind them was a long dim line of portraits, broken only by the great chimney-piece supported by human figures, all of carved stone, and before them, nearly as dim, was the moon-massed landscape—a lovely view of the woodland, pasture, and red tilth to the northward of the castle.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse