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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. I - 10/27 -
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 was here that the most was wanted; and the next few days were chiefly spent in surveying these works, and drawing plans for their extension, strengthening, and connection--especially about the stables, armourer's shop, and smithy, where the building of new defences was almost immediately set on foot.
A thorough examination of the machinery of the various portcullises and drawbridges followed; next an overhauling of the bolts, chains, and other defences of the gates. Then came an inspection of the ordnance, from cannons down to drakes, through a gradation of names as uncouth to our ears, and as unknown to the artillery descended from them, as many of the Christian names of the puritans are to their descendants of the present day. At length, to conclude the inspection, lord Herbert and the master of the armoury held consultation with the head armourer, and the mighty accumulation of weapons of all sorts was passed under the most rigid scrutiny; many of them were sent to the forge, and others carried to the ground-floor of the keep.
Presently, things began to look busy in a quiet way about the place. Men were at work blasting the rocks in a quarry not far off, whence laden carts went creeping to the castle; but this was oftener in the night. Some of them drove into the paved court, for here and there a buttress was wanted inside, and of the battlements not a few were weather-beaten and out of repair. These the earl would have let alone, on the ground that they were no longer more than ornamental, and therefore had better be repaired AFTER the siege, if such should befall, for the big guns would knock them about like cards; but Caspar reminded him that every time the ball from a cannon, culvering, or saker missed the parapet, it remained a sufficient bar to the bullet that might equally avail to carry off the defenceless gunner. The earl, however, although he yielded, maintained that the flying of the wall when struck was a more than counterbalancing danger.
The stock of provisions began to increase. The dry larder, which lay under the court, between the kitchen and buttery, was by degrees filled with gammons and flitches of bacon, well dried and smoked. Wheat, barley, oats, and pease were stored in the granary, and potatoes in a pit dug in the orchard.
Strange faces in the guard-room caused wonderings and questions amongst the women. The stables began to fill with horses, and 'more man' to go about the farmyard and outhouses.
Left alone with Lady, his mare, Richard could not help brooding--rather than pondering--over what the old woman had said. Not that for a moment he contemplated as a possibility the acceptance of the witch's offer. To come himself into any such close relations with her as that would imply, was in repulsiveness second only to the idea of subjecting Dorothy to her influences. For something to occupy his hands, that his mind might be restless at will, he gave his mare a careful currying, then an extra feed of oats, and then a gallop; after which it was time to go to bed.
I doubt if anything but the consciousness of crime will keep healthy youth awake, and as such consciousness is generally far from it, youth seldom counts the watches of the night. Richard soon fell fast asleep, and dreamed that his patron saint--alas for his protestantism!--appeared to him, handed him a lance headed with a single flashing diamond, and told him to go and therewith kill the dragon. But just as he was asking the way to the dragon's den, that he might perform his behest, the saint vanished, and feeling the lance melting away in his grasp, he gradually woke to find it gone.
After a long talk with his father in the study, he was left to his own resources for the remainder of the day; and as it passed and the night drew on, the offer of the witch kept growing upon his imagination, and his longing to see Dorothy became stronger and stronger, until at last it was almost too intense to be borne. He had never before known such a possession, and was more than half inclined to attribute it to the arts of mother Rees.
His father was busy in his study below, writing letters--an employment which now occupied much of his time; and Richard sat alone in a chamber in the upper part of one of the many gables of the house, which he had occupied longer than he could remember. Its one small projecting lozenge-paned window looked towards Dorothy's home. Some years ago he had been able to see her window, from it through a gap in the trees, by favour of which, indeed, they had indulged in a system of communications by means of coloured flags--so satisfactory that Dorothy not only pressed into the service all the old frocks she could find, but got into trouble by cutting up one almost new for the enlargement of the somewhat limited scope of their telegraphy. In this window he now sat, sending his soul through the darkness, milky with the clouded light of half an old moon, towards the ancient sun-dial, where Time stood so still that sometimes Richard had known an hour there pass in a moment.
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