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- St. George and St. Michael - 50/94 -


however like it may look to a hardship, no duty can be other than a privilege. Nor was it any wonder if she did not perceive that she was already rewarded for the doing of the painful task, at the memory of which her heart ached and rebelled, by the fresh outburst in that same troubled heart of the half-choked spring of her love to the playmate of her childhood. Had it fallen, as she would have judged so much fairer, to some one else of the many in the populous place to defeat Richard's intent and secure his person, she would have both suffered and loved less. The love, I repeat, was the reward of the duty done.

For a long time she tossed sleepless, for what she had just passed through had so thorougly possessed her imagination that, ever as her wearied brain was sinking under the waves of sleep, up rose the face of Richard from its depths, deathlike, with matted curls and bloodstained brow, and drove her again ashore on the rocks of wakefulness. By and by the form of her suffering changed, and then instead of the face of Richard it was his voice, ever as she reached the point of oblivion, calling aloud for help in a tone of mingled entreaty and reproach, until at last she could no longer resist the impression that she was warned to go and save him from some impending evil. This once admitted, not for a moment would she delay response. She rose, threw on a dressing-gown, and set out in the dim light of the breaking day to find again the room into which she had seen him carried.

There was yet another in the house who could not sleep, and that was Tom Fool. He had a strong suspicion that Richard had learned the watchword from his mother, who, like most people desirous of a reputation for superior knowledge, was always looking out for scraps and orts of peculiar information. In such persons an imagination after its kind has considerable play, and when mother Rees had succeeded, without much difficulty on her own, or sense of risk on her son's part, in drawing from him the watchword of the week, she was aware in herself of a huge accession of importance; she felt as if she had been intrusted with the keys of the main entrance, and trod her clay floor as if the fate of Raglan was hid in her bosom, and the great pile rested in safety under the shadow of her wings. But her imagined gain was likely to prove her son's loss; for, as he reasoned with himself, would Mr. Heywood, now that he knew him for the thief of his mare, persist, upon reflection, in refusing to betray his mother? If not, then the fault would at once be traced to him, with the result at the very least, of disgraceful expulsion from the marquis's service. Almost any other risk would be preferable.

But he had yet another ground for uneasiness. He knew well his mother's attachment to young Mr. Heywood, and had taken care she should have no suspicion of the way he was going after leaving her the night he told her the watchword; for such was his belief in her possession of supernatural powers, that he feared the punishment she would certainly inflict for the wrong done to Richard, should it come to her knowledge, even more than the wrath of the marquis. For both of these weighty reasons therefore he must try what could be done to strengthen Richard in his silence, and was prepared with an offer, or promise at least, of assistance in making his escape.

As soon as the house was once more quiet, he got up, and, thoroughly acquainted with the "crenkles" of it, took his way through dusk and dark, through narrow passage and wide chamber, without encountering the slightest risk of being heard or seen, until at last he stood, breathless with anxiety and terror, at the door of the turret-chamber, and laid his ear against it.

CHAPTER XXXII.

THE TURRET CHAMBER.

When mistress Watson had, as gently as if she had been his mother, bound up Richard's wounded head, she gave him a composing draught, and sat down by his bedside. But as soon as she saw it begin to take effect, she withdrew, in the certainty that he would not move for some hours at least. Although he did fall asleep, however, Richard's mind was too restless and anxious to yield itself to the natural influence of the potion. He had given his word to his father that he would ride on the morrow; the morrow had come, and here he was! Hence the condition which the drug superinduced was rather that of dreaming than sleep, the more valuable element, repose, having little place in the result.

The key was in the lock, and Tom Fool as he listened softly turned it, then lifted the latch, peeped in, and entered. Richard started to his elbow, and stared wildly about him. Tom made him an anxious sign, and, fevered as he was and but half awake, Richard, whether he understood it or not, anyhow kept silence, while Tom Fool approached the bed, and began to talk rapidly in a low voice, trembling with apprehension. It was some time, however, before Richard began to comprehend even a fragment here and there of what he was saying. When at length he had gathered this much, that his visitor was running no small risk in coming to him, and was in mortal dread of discovery, he needed but the disclosure of who he was, which presently followed, to spring upon him and seize him by the throat with a gripe that rendered it impossible for him to cry out, had he been so minded.

'Master, master!' he gurgled, 'let me go. I will swear any oath you please--'

'And break it any moment YOU please,' returned Richard through his set teeth, and caught with his other hand the coverlid, dragged it from the bed, and, twisting it first round his face, flung the remainder about his body; then, threatening to knock his brains out if he made the least noise, proceeded to tie him up in it with his garters and its own corners. No sound escaped poor Tom beyond a continuous mumbled entreaty through its folds. Richard laid him on the floor, pulled all the bedding upon the top of him, and gliding out, closed the door, but, to Tom's unspeakable relief, as his ears, agonizedly listening, assured him, did not lock it behind him.

Tom's sole anxiety was now to get back to his garret unseen, and nothing was farther from his thoughts than giving the alarm. The moment Richard was out of hearing--out of sight he had been for some stifling minutes--he devoted his energies to getting clear of his entanglement, which he did not find very difficult; then stepping softly from the chamber, he crept with a heavy heart back as he had come through a labyrinth of by-ways.

About half an hour after, Dorothy came gliding through the house, making a long circuit of corridors. Gladly would she have avoided passing Amanda's door, and involuntarily held her breath as she approached it, stepping as lightly as a thief. But alas! nothing save incorporeity could have availed her. The moment she had passed, out peeped Amanda and crept after her barefooted, saw her to her joy enter the chamber and close the door behind her, then 'like a tiger of the wood,' made one noiseless bound, turned the key, and sped back to her own chamber--with the feeling of Mark Antony when he said, 'Now let it work!'

Dorothy was startled by a slight click, but concluded at once that it was nothing but a further fall of the latch, and was glad it was no louder. The same moment she saw, by the dim rushlight, the signs of struggle which the room presented, and discovered that Richard was gone. Her first emotion was an undefined agony: they had murdered him, or carried him off to a dungeon! There were the bedclothes in a tumbled heap upon the floor! And--yes--it was blood with which they were marked! Sickening at the thought, and forgetting all about her own situation, she sank on the chair by the bedside.

Knowing the castle as she did, a very little reflection convinced her that if he had met with violence it must have been in attempting to escape; and if he had made the attempt, might he not have succeeded? There had certainly been no fresh alarm given. But upon this consoling supposition followed instantly the pang of the question: what was now required of her? The same hard thing as before? Ought she not again to give the alarm, that the poor wounded boy might be recaptured? Alas! had not evil enough already befallen him at her hand? And if she did--horrible thought!--what account could she give this time of her discovery? What indeed but the truth? And to what vile comments would not the confession of her secret visit in the first grey of the dawn to the chamber of the prisoner expose her? Would it not naturally rouse such suspicion as any modest woman must shudder to face, if but for the one moment between utterance and refutation. And what refutation could there be for her, so long as the fact remained? If he had escaped, the alarm would serve no good end, and her shame could be spared; but he might be hiding somewhere about the castle, and she must choose between treachery to the marquis--was it?--on the one hand, and renewed hurt, wrong, perhaps, to Richard, coupled with the bitterest disgrace to herself, on the other. To weigh such a question impartially was impossible; for in the one alternative no hurt would befall the marquis, while from the other her very soul recoiled sickening. Thus tortured, she sat motionless in the very den of the dragon, the one moment vainly endeavouring to rouse up her courage and look her duty in the face that she might know with certainty what it was; the next, feeling her whole nature rise rebellious against the fate that demanded such a sacrifice. Ought she to be thus punished for an intent of the purest humanity?

There came a lull, and with the lull a sense of her position: she sat in the very, jaws of slander! Any moment mistress Watson or another might enter and find her there, and what then more natural or irrefutable than the accusation of having liberated him? She sprang to her feet, and darted to the door. It was locked!

Her first thought was relief: she had no longer to decide; her second, that she was a prisoner--till, horror of horrors! the soldiers of the guard came to seek Richard and found her, or stern mistress Watson appeared, grim as one of the Fates; or, perhaps, if Richard had been carried away, until she was compelled by hunger and misery to call aloud for release. But no! she would rather die. Now in this case, now in that, her thoughts pursued the horrible possibilities, one or other of which was inevitable, through all the windings of the torture of anticipation, until for a time she must have lost consciousness, for she had no recollection of falling where she found herself--on the heap in the middle of the floor. The gray heartless dawn had begun to peer in through the dull green glass that closed the one loophole. It grew and grew, and its growth was the approach of the grinning demon of shame. The nearer a man can arrive to the knowledge of such feelings as hers is the conviction that he never can comprehend them. The cruel light seemed


St. George and St. Michael - 50/94

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