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- St. George and St. Michael - 10/94 -


'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.

CHAPTER VI.

PREPARATIONS.

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.

They sat silent for a while, and the younger said:

'I fear you are fatigued, my lord. It is late for you to be out of bed; nature is mortal.'

'Thou sayest well; nature is mortal, my son. But therein lies the comfort--it cannot last. It were hard to say whether of the two houses stands the more in need of the hand of the maker.'

'Were it not for villanous saltpetre, my lord, the castle would hold out well enough.'

'And were it not for villanous gout, which is a traitor within it, I see not why this other should not hold out as long. Be sure, Herbert, I shall not render the keep for the taking of the outworks.'

'I fear,' said his son, wishing to change the subject, 'this part where we now are is the most liable to hurt from artillery.'

'Yes, but the ground in front is not such as they would readiest plant it upon,' said the earl. 'Do not let us forecast evil, only prepare for it.'

'We shall do our best, my lord--with your lordship's good counsel to guide us.'

'You shall lack nothing, Herbert, that either counsel or purse of mine may reach unto.'

'I thank your lordship, for much depends upon both. And so I fear will his majesty find--if it conies to the worst.'

A brief pause followed.

'Thinkest thou not, Herbert,' said the earl, slowly and thoughtfully, 'it ill suits that a subject should have and to spare, and his liege go begging?'

'My father is pleased to say so.'

'I am but evil pleased to say so. Bethink thee, son--what man can be pleased to part with his money? And while my king is poor, I must be rich for him. Thou wilt not accuse me, Herbert, after I am gone to the rest, that I wasted thy substance, lad?'

'So long as you still keep wherewithal to give, I shall be content, my lord.'

'Well, time will show. I but tell thee what runneth in my mind, for thou and I, Herbert, have bosomed no secrets. I will to bed. We must go the round again to-morrow--with the sun to hold as a candle.'

The next day the same party made a similar circuit three times--in the morning, at noon, and in the evening--that the full light might uncover what the shadows had hid, and that the shadows might show what a perpendicular light could not reveal. There is all the difference as to discovery whether a thing is lying under the shadow of another, or casting one of its own.

After this came a review of the outer fortifications--if, indeed, they were worthy of the name--enclosing the gardens, the old tilting yard, now used as a bowling-green, the home-farmyard, and other such outlying portions under the stewardship of sir Ralph Blackstone and the governorship of Charles Somerset, the earl's youngest son. It


St. George and St. Michael - 10/94

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