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- St. George and St. Michael - 20/94 -


learned that, in the opinion of the household, the marquis did his best, or worst rather, to ruin young Scudamore by indulgence. The judgment, however, was partly the product of jealousy, although doubtless the marquis had in his case a little too much relaxed the bonds of discipline. The youth was bright and ready, and had as yet been found trustworthy; his wit was tolerable, and a certain gay naivete of speech and manner set off to the best advantage what there was of it; but his laughter was sometimes mischievous, and on the present occasion Dorothy could not rid herself of the suspicion that he was laughing in his sleeve at his master, which caused her to redden in her turn. Scudamore saw it, and had his own fancies concerning the phenomenon.

CHAPTER XII.

THE TWO MARQUISES.

Dinner over, lady Margaret led Dorothy back to her parlour, and there proceeded to discover what accomplishments and capabilities she might possess. Finding she could embroider, play a little on the spinnet, sing a song, and read aloud both intelligibly and pleasantly, she came to the conclusion that the country-bred girl was an acquisition destined to grow greatly in value, should the day ever arrive--which heaven forbid!--when they would have to settle down to the monotony of a protracted siege. Remarking, at length, that she looked weary, she sent her away to be mistress of her time till supper, at half-past five.

Weary in truth with her journey, but still more weary from the multitude and variety of objects, the talk, and the constant demand of the general strangeness upon her attention and one form or other of suitable response, Dorothy sought her chamber. But she scarcely remembered how to reach it. She knew it lay a floor higher, and easily found the stair up which she had followed her attendant, for it rose from the landing of the straight ascent by which she had entered the house. She could hardly go wrong either as to the passage at the top of it, leading back over the room she had just left below, but she could not tell which was her own door. Fearing to open the wrong one, she passed it and went on to the end of the corridor, which was very dimly lighted. There she came to an open door, through which she saw a small chamber, evidently not meant for habitation. She entered. A little light came in through a crossed loophole, sufficient to show her the bare walls, with the plaster sticking out between the stones, the huge beams above, and in the middle of the floor, opposite the loop-hole, a great arblast or crossbow, with its strange machinery. She had never seen one before, but she knew enough to guess at once what it was. Through the loophole came a sweet breath of spring air, and she saw trees bending in the wind, heard their faint far-off rustle, and saw the green fields shining in the sun.

Partly from having been so much with Richard, her only playmate, who was of an ingenious and practical turn, a certain degree of interest in mechanical forms and modes had been developed in Dorothy, sufficient at least to render her unable to encounter such an implement without feeling a strong impulse to satisfy herself concerning its mechanism, its motion, and its action. Approaching it cautiously and curiously, as if it were a live thing, which might start up and fly from, or perhaps at her, for what she knew, she gazed at it for a few moments with eyes full of unuttered questions, then ventured to lay gentle hold upon what looked like a handle. To her dismay, a wheezy bang followed, which seemed to shake the tower. Whether she had discharged an arrow, or an iron bolt, or a stone, or indeed anything at all, she could not tell, for she had not got so far in her observations as to perceive even that the bow was bent. Her heart gave a scared flutter, and she started back, not merely terrified, but ashamed also that she should initiate her life in the castle with meddling and mischief, when a low gentle laugh behind her startled her yet more, and looking round with her heart in her throat, she perceived in the half-light of the place a man by the wall behind the arblast watching her. Her first impulse was to run, and the door was open; but she thought she owed an apology ere she retreated. What sort of person he was she could not tell, for there was not light enough to show a feature of his face.

'I ask your pardon,' she said; 'I fear I have done mischief.'

'Not the least,' returned the man, in a gentle voice, with a tone of amusement in it.

'I had never seen a great cross-bow,' Dorothy went on, anxious to excuse her meddling. 'I thought this must be one, but I was so stupid as not to perceive it was bent, and that that was the--the handle--or do you call it the trigger?--by which you let it go.'

The man, who had at first taken her for one of the maids, had by this time discovered from her tone and speech that she was a lady.

'It is a clumsy old-fashioned thing,' he returned, 'but I shall not remove it until I can put something better in its place; and it would be a troublesome affair to get even a demiculverin up here, not to mention the bad neighbour it would be to the ladies'chambers. I was just making a small experiment with it on the force of springs. I believe I shall yet prove that much may be done with springs--more perhaps, and certainly at far less expense, than with gunpowder, which costs greatly, is very troublesome to make, occupies much space, and is always like an unstable, half- treacherous friend within the gates--to say nothing of the expense of cannon--ten times that of an engine of timber and springs. See what a strong chain your shot has broken! Shall I show you how the thing works?'

He spoke in a gentle, even rapid voice, a little hesitating now and then, more, through the greater part of this long utterance, as if he were thinking to himself than addressing another. Neither his tone nor manner were those of an underling, but Dorothy's startled nerves had communicated their tremor to her modesty, and with a gentle 'No, sir, I thank you; I must be gone,' she hurried away.

Daring now a little more for fear of worse, the first door she tried proved that of her own room, and it was with a considerable sense of relief, as well as with weariness and tremor, that she nestled herself into the high window-seat, and looked out into the quadrangle. The shadow of the citadel had gone to pay its afternoon visit to the other court, and that of the gateway was thrown upon the chapel, partly shrouding the white horse, whose watery music was now silent, but allowing one red ray, which entered by the iron grating above the solid gates, to fall on his head, and warm its cold whiteness with a tinge of delicate pink. The court was more still and silent than in the morning; only now and then would a figure pass from one door to another, along the side of the buildings, or by one of the tiled paths dividing the turf. A large peacock was slowly crossing the shadowed grass with a stately strut and rhythmic thrust of his green neck. The moment he came out into the sunlight, he spread his wheeled fan aloft, and slowly pirouetting, if the word can be allowed where two legs are needful, in the very acme of vanity, turned on all sides the quivering splendour of its hundred eyes, where blue and green burst in the ecstasy of their union into a vapour of gold, that the circle of the universe might see. And truly the bird's vanity had not misled his judgment: it was a sight to make the hearts of the angels throb out a dainty phrase or two more in the song of their thanksgiving. Some pigeons, white, and blue-grey, with a lovely mingling and interplay of metallic lustres on their feathery throats, but with none of that almost grotesque obtrusion of over-driven individuality of kind, in which the graciousness of common beauty is now sacrificed to the whim of the fashion the vulgar fancier initiates, picked up the crumbs under the windows of lady Margaret's nursery, or flew hither and thither among the roofs with wapping and whiffling wing.

But still from the next court came many and various mingling noises. The sounds of drill had long ceased, but those of clanking hammers were heard the more clearly, now one, now two, now several together. The smaller, clearer one was that of the armourer, the others those of the great smithy, where the horse-shoes were made, the horses shod, the smaller pieces of ordnance repaired, locks and chains mended, bolts forged, and, in brief, every piece of metal about the castle, from the cook's skillet to the winches and chains of the drawbridges, set right, renewed, or replaced. The forges were far from where she sat, outside the farthest of the two courts, across which, and the great hall dividing them, the clink, clink, the clank, and the ringing clang, softened by distance and interposition, came musical to her ear. The armourer's hammer was the keener, the quicker, the less intermittent, and yet had the most variations of time and note, as he shifted the piece on his anvil, or changed breastplate for gorget, or greave for pauldron--or it might be sword for pike-head or halbert. Mingled with it came now and then the creak and squeak of the wooden wheel at the draw-well near the hall-door in the farther court, and the muffled splash of the bucket as it struck the water deep in the shaft. She even thought she could hear the drops dripping back from it as it slowly ascended, but that was fancy. Everywhere arose the auricular vapour, as it were, of action, undefined and indefinable, the hum of the human hive, compounded of all confluent noises--the chatter of the servants' hall and the nursery, the stamping of horses, the ringing of harness, the ripping of the chains of kenneled dogs, the hollow stamping of heavy boots, the lowing of cattle, with sounds besides so strange to the ears of Dorothy that they set her puzzling in vain to account for them; not to mention the chaff of the guard-rooms by the gates, and the scolding and clatter of the kitchen. This last, indeed, was audible only when the doors were open, for the walls of the kitchen, whether it was that the builders of it counted cookery second only to life, or that this had been judged, from the nature of the ground outside, the corner of all the enclosure most likely to be attacked, were far thicker than those of any of the other towers, with the one exception of the keep itself.

As she sat listening to these multitudinous exhalations of life around her, yet with a feeling of loneliness and a dim sense of captivity, from the consciousness that huge surrounding walls rose between her and the green fields, of which, from earliest memory, she had been as free as the birds and beetles, a white rabbit, escaped from the arms of its owner, little Mary Somerset, lady Margaret's only child, a merry but delicate girl not yet three years old, suddenly darted like a flash of snow across the shadowy green, followed in hot haste a moment after by a fine-looking boy of thirteen and two younger girls, after whom toddled tiny Mary. Dorothy sat watching the pursuit, accompanied with sweet outcry and frolic laughter, when in a moment the sounds of their merriment changed to shrieks of terror, and she saw a huge mastiff come bounding she knew not whence, and rush straight at the rabbit,


St. George and St. Michael - 20/94

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