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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. II - 30/34 -

Ere the next day was over, it was understood throughout the castle that lord Herbert was constructing a horoscope--not that there were many in the place who understood what a horoscope really was, or had any knowledge of the modes of that astrology in whose results they firmly believed; yet Kaltoff having been seen carrying several mysterious-looking instruments to the top of the library tower, the word was presently in everybody's mouth. Nor were the lovers of marvel likely to be disappointed, for no sooner was the sun down than there was lord Herbert, his head in an outlandish Persian hat, visible over the parapet from the stone-court, while from some of the higher windows in the grass-court might be seen through a battlement his long flowing gown of a golden tint, wrought with hieroglyphics in blue. Now he would stand for a while gazing up into the heavens, now would be shifting and adjusting this or that instrument, then peering along or through it, and then re-arranging it, or kneeling and drawing lines, now circular, now straight, upon a sheet of paper spread flat on the roof of the tower. There he still was when the household retired to rest, and there, in the grey dawn, his wife, waking up and peeping from her window, saw him still, against the cold sky, pacing the roof with bent head and thoughtful demeanour. In the morning he was gone, and no one but lady Margaret saw him during the whole of the following day. Nor indeed could any but herself or Caspar have found him, for the tale Tom Fool told the rustics of a magically concealed armoury had been suggested by a rumour current in the house, believed by all without any proof, and yet not the less a fact, that lord Herbert had a chamber of which none of the domestics knew door or window, or even the locality. That recourse should have been had to spells and incantations for its concealment, however, as was also commonly accepted, would have seemed trouble unnecessary to any one who knew the mechanical means his lordship had employed for the purpose. The touch of a pin on a certain spot in one of the bookcases in the library, admitted him to a wooden stair which, with the aid of Caspar, he had constructed in an ancient disused chimney, and which led down to a small chamber in the roof of a sort of porch built over the stair from the stone-court to the stables. There was no other access to it, and the place had never been used, nor had any window but one which they had constructed in the roof so cunningly as to attract no notice. All the household supposed the hidden chamber, whose existence was unquestioned, to be in the great tower, somewhere near the workshop.

In this place he kept his books of alchemy and magic, and some of his stranger instruments. It would have been hard for himself even to say what he did or did not believe of such things. In certain moods, especially when under the influence of some fact he had just discovered without being able to account for it, he was ready to believe everything; in others, especially when he had just succeeded, right or wrong, in explaining anything to his own satisfaction, he doubted them all considerably. His imagination leaned lovingly towards them; his intellect required proofs which he had not yet found.

Hither then he had retired--to work out the sequences of the horoscopes he had that night constructed. He was far less doubtful of astrology than of magic. It would have been difficult, I suspect, to find at that time a man who did not more or less believe in the former, and the influence of his mechanical pursuits upon lord Herbert's mind had not in any way interfered with his capacity for such belief. In the present case, however, he trusted for success rather to his knowledge of human nature than to his questioning of the stars.

Before this, the second day, was over, it was everywhere whispered that he was occupied in discovering the hidden way by which entrance and exit had been found through the defences of the castle; and the next day it was known by everybody that he had been successful--as who could doubt he must, with such powers at his command?

For a time curiosity got the better of fear, and there was not a soul in the place, except one bedridden old woman, who did not that day accept lord Herbert's general invitation, and pass over the Gothic bridge to see the opening from the opposite side of the moat. To seal the conviction that the discovery had indeed been made, permission was given to any one who chose to apply to it the test of his own person, but of this only Shafto the groom availed himself. It was enough, however: he disappeared, and while the group which saw him enter the opening was yet anxiously waiting his return by the way he had gone, having re-entered by the western gate he came upon them from behind, to the no small consternation of those of weaker nerves, and so settled the matter for ever.

As soon as curiosity was satisfied, lord Herbert gave orders which, in the course of a few days, rendered the drain as impassable to manor dog as the walls of the keep itself.

In the middle of the previous night, Marquis had returned, and announced himself by scratching and whining for admittance at the door of Dorothy's room. She let him in, but not until the morning discovered that he had a handkerchief tied round his neck, and in it a letter addressed to herself. Curious, perhaps something more than curious, to open it, she yet carried it straight to lord Herbert.

'Canst not break the seal, Dorothy, that thou bringest it to me? I will not read it first, lest thou repent,' said his lordship.

'Will you open it then, madam?' she said, turning to lady Margaret.

'What my lord will not, why should I?' rejoined her mistress.

Dorothy opened the letter without more ado, crimsoned, read it to the end, and handed it again to lord Herbert.

'Pray read, my lord,' she said.

He took it, and read. It ran thus--

'Mistress Dorothy, I think, and yet I know not, but I think thou wilt be pleased to learn that my Wound hath not proved mortal, though it hath brought me low, yea, very nigh to Death's Door. Think not I feared to enter. But it grieveth me to the Heart to ride another than my own Mare to the Wars, and it will pleasure thee to know that without my Lady I shall be but Half the Man I was. But do thou the Like again when thou mayest, for thou but didst thy Duty according to thy Lights; and according to what else should any one do? Mistaken as thou art, I love thee as mine own Soul. As to the Ring I left for thee, with a safe Messenger, concerning whom I say Nothing, for thou wilt con her no Thanks for the doing of aught to pleasure me, I restored it not because it was thine, for thy mother gave it me, but because, if for Lack of my Mare I should fall in some Battle of those that are to follow, then would the Ring pass to a Hand whose Heart knew nought of her who gave it me. I am what thou knowest not, yet thine old Play-fellow Richard.--When thou hearest of me in the Wars, as perchance thou mayest, then curse me not, but sigh an thou wilt, and say, he also would in his Blindness do the Thing that lay at his Door. God be with thee, mistress Dorothy. Beat not thy Dog for bringing thee this.


Lord Herbert gave the letter to his wife, and paced up and down the room while she read. Dorothy stood silent, with glowing face and downcast eyes. When lady Margaret had finished it she handed it to her, and turned to her husband with the words,--

'What sayest thou, Ned? Is it not a brave epistle?'

'There is matter for thought therein,' he answered. 'Wilt show me the ring whereof he writes, cousin?'

'I never had it, my lord.'

'Whom thinkest thou then he calleth his safe messenger? Not thy dog--plainly, for the ring had been sent thee before.'

'My lord, I cannot even conjecture,' answered Dorothy.

'There is matter herein that asketh attention. My lady, and cousin Dorothy, not a word of all this until I shall have considered what it may import!--Beat not thy dog, Dorothy: that were other than he deserveth at thy hand. But he is a dangerous go-between, so prithee let him be at once chained up.'

'I will not beat him, my lord, and I will chain him up,' answered Dorothy, laughing.

Having then announced the discovery of the hidden passage, and given orders concerning it, lord Herbert retired yet again to his secret chamber, and that night was once more seen of many consulting the stars from the top of the library tower.

The following morning another rumour was abroad--to the effect that his lordship was now occupied in questioning the stars as to who in the castle had aided the young roundhead in making his escape.

In the evening, soon after supper, there came a gentle tap to the door of lady Margaret's parlour. At that time she was understood to be disengaged, and willing to see any of the household. Harry happened to be with her, and she sent him to the door to see who it was.

'It is Tom Fool,' he said, returning. 'He begs speech of you, madam--with a face as long as the baker's shovel, and a mouth as wide as an oven-door.'

With their Irish stepmother the children took far greater freedoms than would have been permitted them by the jealous care of their own mother over their manners.

Lady Margaret smiled: this was probably the first fruit of her husband's astrological investigations.

'Tell him he may enter, and do thou leave him alone with me, Harry,' she said.

Allowing for exaggeration, Harry had truly reported Tom's appearance. He was trembling from head to foot, and very white.

'What aileth thee, Tom, that thou lookest as thou had seen a hobgoblin?' said lady Margaret.

'Please you, my lady,' answered Tom, 'I am in mortal terror of my lord Herbert.'

'Then hast thou been doing amiss, Tom? for no well-doer ever yet was

St. George and St. Michael Vol. II - 30/34

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