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- St. George and St. Michael - 60/94 -
place, making the huge hall tremble, and the windows rattle and shake fearfully. Some thought it was thunder, others thought it more like the consecutive discharge of great guns. It grew darker, and through the dim stained window many saw a dense black smoke rising from the stone-court, at sight of which they trembled yet more, for what could it be but the chariot upon which Modo, or Mahu, or whatever the demon might be called, rode up from the infernal lake? Again lord Herbert waved his arm three times, and again the thunder broke and rolled vibrating about the place. A third time he gave the sign, and once more, but now close over their heads, the thunder broke, and in the midst of its echoes, high in the oak roof appeared a little cloud of smoke. It seemed to catch the eye of lord Herbert. He made one step forward, and held out his hand towards it, with the gesture of a falconer presenting his wrist to a bird.
'Ha! art thou here?' he said.
And to the eyes of all, a creature like a bat was plainly visible, perched upon his forefinger, and waving up and down its filmy wings. He looked at it for a moment, bent his head to it, seemed to whisper, and then addressed it aloud.
'Go,' he said, 'alight upon the head of him or of her who hath wrought the evil thou knowest in this house. For it was of thine own kind, and would have smirched a fair brow.'
As he spoke he cast the creature aloft. A smothered cry came from some of the women, and Tom Fool gave a great sob and held his breath tight. Once round the wide space the bat flew, midway between floor and roof, and returning perched again upon lord Herbert's hand.
'Ha!' said his lordship, stooping his head over it, 'what meanest thou? Is not the evil-doer in presence? What?--Nay, but it cannot be? Not within the walls?--Ha! "Not in the HALL" thou sayest!'
He lifted his head, turned to his father, and said,
'Your lordship's commands have been disregarded. One of your people is absent.'
The marquis turned to lord Charles.
'Call me the ushers of the hall, my lord,' he said.
In a moment the two officers were before him.
'Search and see, and bring me word who is absent,' said the marquis.
The two gentlemen went down into the crowd, one from each side of the dais.
A minute or two passed, and then Mr. Cook came back and said,--
'My lord, I cannot find Caspar Kaltoff.'
'Caspar! Art not there, Caspar?' cried lord Herbert.
'Here I am, my lord,' answered the voice of Caspar from somewhere in the hall.
'I beg your lordship's pardon,' said Mr. Cook. 'I failed to find him.'
'It matters not, master usher. Look again,' said lord Herbert.
At the moment, Caspar, the sole attendant spirit, that day at least, upon his lord's commands, stood in one of the deep windows behind the crimson cloth, more than twenty feet above the heads of the assembly. The windows were connected by a narrow gallery in the thickness of the wall, communicating also with the minstrels' gallery, by means of which, and a ladder against the porch, Caspar could come and go unseen.
As lord Herbert spoke, Mr. Moyle came up on the dais, and brought his report that mistress Amanda Fuller was not with the rest of the ladies.
Lord Herbert turned to his wife.
'My lady,' he said, 'mistress Amanda is of your people: knowest thou wherefore she cometh not?'
'I know not, my lord, but I will send and see,' replied lady Margaret.--'My lady Broughton, wilt thou go and inquire wherefore the damsel disregardeth my lord of Worcester's commands?'
She had chosen the gentlest-hearted of her women to go on the message.
Lady Broughton came back pale and trembling--indeed there was much pallor and trembling that day in Raglan--with the report that she could not find her. A shudder ran through the whole body of the hall. Plainly the impression was that she had been FETCHED. The thunder and the smoke had not been for nothing: the devil had claimed and carried off his own! On the dais the impression was somewhat different; but all were one in this, that every eye was fixed on lord Herbert, every thought hanging on his pleasure.
For a whole minute he stood, apparently lost in meditation. The bat still rested on his hand, but his wings were still.
He had intended causing it to settle on Amanda's head, but now he must alter his plan. Nor was he sorry to do so, for it had involved no small risk of failure, the toy requiring most delicate adjustment, and its management a circumspection and nicety that occasioned him no little anxiety. It had indeed been arranged that Amanda should sit right under the window next the dais, so that he might have the assistance of Caspar from above; but if by any chance the mechanical bat should alight upon the head of another, mistress Doughty or lady Broughton instead of Amanda--what then? He was not sorry to find himself rescued from this jeopardy, and scarcely more than a minute had elapsed ere he had devised a plan by which to turn the check to the advantage of all--even that of Amanda herself, towards whom, while he felt bound to bring her to shame should she prove guilty, he was yet willing to remember mercy; while, should she be innocent, no harm would now result from his mistaken suspicion. He turned and whispered to his father.
'I will back thee, lad. Do as thou wilt,' returned the marquis, gravely nodding his head.
'Ushers of the hall,' cried lord Herbert, 'close and lock both its doors. Lock also the door to the minstrels' gallery, and, with my lord's leave, that to my lord's stair. My lord Charles, go thou prithee, and with chalk draw me a pentacle upon the threshold of each of the four; and do thou, sir Toby Mathews, make the holy sign thereabove upon the lintel and the doorposts. For the door to the pitched court, however, leave that until I am gone forth and it is closed behind me, and then do thereunto the same as to the others, after which let all sit in silence. Move not, neither speak, for any sound of fear or smell of horror. For the gift that is in him from his mother, Thomas Rees shall accompany me. Go to the door, and wait until I come.'
Having thus spoken he raised the bat towards his face, and, approaching his lips, seemed once more to be talking to it in whispers. The menials and the garrison had no doubt but he talked to his familiar spirit. Of their superiors, mistress Watson at least was of the same conviction. Then he bent his ear towards it as if he were listening, and it began to flutter its wings, at which sir Toby's faith in him began to waver. A moment more and he cast the creature from him. It flew aloft, traversed the whole length of the roof, and vanished.
It had in fact, as its master willed, alighted in the farthest corner of the roof, a little dark recess. Then, bowing low to his father, the magician stepped down from the dais, and walked through a lane of awe-struck domestics and soldiery to the door, where Tom stood waiting his approach. The fool was in a strange flutter of feelings, a conflict of pride and terror, the latter of which would, but for the former, have unnerved him quite; for not only was he doubtful of the magician's intent with regard to himself, but the hall seemed now the only place of security, and all outside it given over to goblins or worse.
The moment they crossed the threshold, the door was closed behind them, the holy sign was signed over the one, and the pentacle drawn upon the other.
All eyes were turned upon the marquis. He sat motionless. Motionless, too, as if they had been carved in stone like the leopard and wyvern over their heads, sat all the lords and ladies, embodying in themselves the words of the motto there graven, Mulaxe Vel Timere Sperno. Motionless sat the ladies beneath the dais, but their faces were troubled and pale, for Amanda was one of them, and their imaginations were busy with what might now be befalling her. Dorothy sat in much distress, for although she could lay no evil intent to her own charge, she was yet the cause of the whole fearful business. As for Scudamore, though he too was white of blee, he said to himself, and honestly, that the devil might fly away with her and welcome for what he cared. One woman in the crowd fainted and fell, but uttered never a moan. The very children were hushed by the dread that pervaded the air, and the smell of sulphur, which from a suspicion grew to a plain presence, increased not a little the high-wrought awe.
After about half an hour, during which expectation of something frightful had been growing with every moment, three great knocks came to the porch door. Mr. Moyle opened it, and in walked lord Herbert as he had issued, with Tom Fool, in whom the importance had now at length banished almost every sign of dread, at his heels. He reascended the dais, bowed once more to his father, spoke a few words to him in a tone too low to be overheard, and then turning to the assembly, said with solemn voice and stern countenance:
'The air is clear. The sin of Raglan is purged. Every one to his place.'
Had not Tom Fool, who had remained by the door, led the way from the hall, it might have been doubtful when any one would venture to stir; but, with many a deep-drawn breath and sigh of relief, they trooped slowly out after him, until the body of the hall was empty. In their hearts keen curiosity and vague terror contended like fire and water.
From that hour, while Raglan stood, the face of Amanda Serafina was no more seen within its walls. At midnight shrieks and loud wailings were heard, but if they came from Amanda, they were her last signs.
I shall not, however, hide the proceedings of lord Herbert without
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