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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. I - 27/27 -
nostrils came; then passing through the archway and over the bridge, found herself at the magician's door. For a moment she hesitated: from within came such a tumult of hammering, that plainly it was of no use to knock, and she could not at once bring herself to enter unannounced and uninvited. But confidence in lord Herbert soon aroused her courage, and gently she opened the door and peeped in. There he stood, in a linen frock that reached from his neck to his knees, already hard at work at a small anvil on a bench, while Caspar was still harder at work at a huge anvil on the ground in front of a forge. This, with the mighty bellows attached to it, occupied one of the six sides of the room, and the great roaring, hissing thing that had so frightened lady Margaret, now silent and cold, occupied another. Neither of the men saw her. So she entered, closed the door, and approached lord Herbert, but he continued unaware of her presence until she spoke. Then he ceased his hammering, turned, and greeted her with his usual smile of sincerity absolute.
'Are you always as true to your appointments, cousin?' he said, and resumed his hammering.
'It was hardly an appointment, my lord, and yet here I am,' said Dorothy.
'And you mean to infer that----?'
'An appointment is no slight matter, my lord, or one that admits of breaking.'
'Right,' returned his lordship, still hammering at the thin plate of whitish metal growing thinner and thinner under his blows. Dorothy glanced around her for a moment.
'I would not be troublesome, my lord,' she said; 'but would you tell me in a few words what it is you make here?'
'Had I three tongues, and thou three ears,' answered lord Herbert, 'I could not. But look round thee, cousin, and when thou spiest the thing that draws thine eye more than another, ask me concerning that, and I will tell thee.'
Hardly had Dorothy, in obedience, cast her eyes about the place, ere they lighted on the same huge wheel which had before chiefly attracted her notice.
'What is that great wheel for, with such a number of weights hung to it?' she asked.
'For a memorial,' replied lord Herbert, 'of the folly of the man who placeth his hopes in man. That wonderful engine; it is now nearly three years since I showed it to his blessed majesty in the Tower of London, also with him to the dukes of Richmond and Hamilton, and two extraordinary ambassadors besides, but of them all no man hath ever sought to look upon it again. It is a form of the Proteus-like perpetuum mobile-a most incredible thing if not seen.'
He then proceeded to show her how, as every spoke passed the highest point, the weight attached to it immediately hung a foot farther from the centre of the wheel, and as every spoke passed the lowest point, its weight returned a foot nearer to the centre, thus causing the leverage to be greater always on one and the same side of the wheel. Few of my readers will regret so much as myself that I am unable to give them the constructive explanation his lordship gave Dorothy as to the shifting of the weights. Whether she understood it or not, I cannot tell either, but that is of less consequence. Before she left the workshop that morning, she had learned that a thousand knowledges are needed to build up the pyramid on whose top alone will the bird of knowledge lay her new egg.
When he had finished his explanation, lord Herbert returned to his work, leaving Dorothy again to her own observations. And now she would gladly have questioned him about the huge mass of brick and iron, which, now standing silent, cold, and motionless as death, had that night seemed alive with the fierce energy of flame, and yet sorely driven, sighing, and groaning, and furiously hissing; but as it was not now at work, she thought it would be better to wait an opportunity when it should be in the agony of its wrestle with whatever unseen enemy it coped withal. She did not know that, the first of its race, it was not quite equal to the task the magician had imposed upon it, but that its descendants would at length become capable of doing a thousand times as much, with the swinging joy of conscious might, with the pant of the giant, not the groan of the overtasked stripling urging his last effort.
She was standing by a chest, examining the strangely elaborate and mysterious-looking scutcheon of its lock, when his lordship's hammering ceased, and presently she found that he was by her side.
'That escutcheon is the best thing of the kind I have yet made,' he said. 'A humour I have, never to be contented to produce any invention the second time, without appearing refined. The lock and key of this are in themselves a marvel, for the little triangle screwed key weighs no more than a shilling, and yet it bolts and unbolts an hundred bolts through fifty staples round about the chest, and as many more from both sides and ends, and at the self- same time shall fasten it to a place beyond a man's natural strength to take it away. But the best thing is the escutcheon; for the owner of it, though a woman, may with her own delicate hand vary the ways of coming to open the lock ten millions of times, beyond the knowledge of the smith that made it, or of me who invented it. If a stranger open it, it setteth an alarm agoing, which the stranger cannot stop from running out; and besides, though none should .be within hearing, yet it catcheth his hand, as a trap doth a fox; and though far from maiming him, yet it leaveth such a mark behind it, as will discover him if suspected; the escutcheon or lock plainly showing what moneys he hath taken out of the box to a farthing, and how many times opened since the owner hath been at it.'
He then showed her how to set it, left the chest open, and gave her the key off his bunch that she might use it more easily. Ere she returned it, she had made herself mistress of the escutcheon as far as the mere working of it was concerned, as she proved to the satisfaction of the inventor.
Her docility and quickness greatly pleased him. He opened a cabinet, and after a search in its drawers, took from it a little thing, in form and colour like a plum, which he gave her, telling her to eat it. She saw from his smile that there was something at the back of the playful request, and for a moment hesitated, but reading in his countenance that he wished her at least to make the attempt, she put it in her mouth.
She was gagged. She could neither open nor shut her mouth a hair's breadth, could neither laugh, cry out, nor make any noise beyond an ugly one she would not make twice. The tears came into her eyes, for her position was ludicrous, and she imagined that his lordship was making game of her. A girl less serious or more merry would have been moved only to laughter.
But lord Herbert hastened to relieve her. On the application of a tiny key, fixed with a joint in a finger-ring, the little steel bolts it had thrown out in every direction returned within the plum, and he drew it from her mouth.
'You little fool!' he said, with indescribable sweetness, for he saw the tears in her eyes; 'did you think I would hurt you? '
'No, my lord; but I did fear you were going to make game of me. I could not have borne Caspar to see me so.'
'Alas, my poor child!' he rejoined, 'you have come to the wrong house if you cannot put up with a little chafing. There!' he added, putting the plum in her hand, 'it is an untoothsome thing, but the moment may come when you will find it useful enough to repay you for the annoyance of a smile that had in it ten times more friendship than merriment.'
'I ask your pardon, my lord,' said Dorothy, by this time blushing deep with shame of her mistrust and over-sensitiveness, and on the point of crying downright. But his lordship smiled so kindly that she took heart and smiled again.
He then showed her how to raise the key hid in the ring, and how to unlock the plum.
'Do not try it on yourself,' he said, as he put the ring on her finger; 'you might find that awkward.'
'Be sure I shall avoid it, my lord,' returned Dorothy.
'And do not let any one know you have such a thing,' he said, 'or that there is a key in your ring.'
'I will try not, my lord.'
The breakfast bell rang.
'If you will come again after supper,' he said, as he pulled off his linen frock, 'I will show you my fire-engine at work, and tell you all that is needful to the understanding thereof;--only you must not publish it to the world,' he added, 'for I mean to make much gain by my invention.'
Dorothy promised, and they parted--lord Herbert for the marquis's parlour, Dorothy for the housekeeper's room, and Caspar for the third table in the great hall.
After breakfast Dorothy practised with her plum until she could manage it with as much readiness as ease. She found that it was made of steel, and that the bolts it threw out upon the slightest pressure were so rounded and polished that they could not hurt, while nothing but the key would reduce them again within their former sheath.
END OF VOL. I.
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