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While he yet spoke, their horses, of their own accord, passed through the gate which Eccles had thrown wide to admit them, and carried them into the Fountain court. Here, indeed, was a change of aspect! All that Dorothy had hitherto contemplated was the side of the fortress which faced the world--frowning and defiant, although here and there on the point of breaking into a half smile, for the grim, suspicious, altogether repellent look of the old feudal castle had been gradually vanishing in the additions and alterations of more civilised times. But now they were in the heart of the building, and saw the face which the house of strength turned upon its own people. The spring sunshine filled half the court; over the rest lay the shadow of the huge keep, towering massive above the three-storied line of building which formed the side next it. Here was the true face of the Janus-building, full of eyes and mouths; for many bright windows looked down into the court, in some of which shone the smiling faces of children and ladies peeping out to see the visitors, whose arrival had been announced by the creaking chains of the portcullis; and by the doors issued and entered, here a lady in rich attire, there a gentlemen half in armour, and here again a serving man or maid. Nearly in the centre of the quadrangle, just outside the shadow of the keep, stood the giant horse, rearing in white marble, almost dazzling in the sunshine, from whose nostrils spouted the jets of water which gave its name to the court. Opposite the gate by which they entered was the little chapel, with its triple lancet windows, over which lay the picture-gallery with its large oriel lights. Far above their roof, ascended from behind that of the great hall, with its fine lantern window seated on the ridge. From the other court beyond the hall, that upon which the main entrance opened, came the sounds of heavy feet in intermittent but measured tread, the clanking of arms, and a returning voice of loud command: the troops of the garrison were being exercised on the slabs of the pitched court.
From each of the many doors opening into the court they had entered, a path, paved with coloured tiles, led straight through the finest of turf to the marble fountain in the centre, into whose shadowed basin the falling water seemed to carry captive as into a prison the sunlight it caught above. Its music as it fell made a lovely but strange and sad contrast with the martial sounds from beyond.
It was but a moment they had to note these things; eyes and ears gathered them all at once. Two of the warder's men already held their horses, while two other men, responsive to the warder's whistle, came running from the hall and helped them to dismount. Hardly had they reached the ground ere a man-servant came, who led the way to the left towards a porch of carved stone on the same side of the court. The door stood open, revealing a flight of stairs, rather steep, but wide and stately, going right up between two straight walls. At the top stood lady Margaret's gentleman usher, Mr. Harcourt by name, who received them with much courtesy, and conducting them to a small room on the left of the landing, went to announce their arrival to lady Margaret, to whose private parlour this was the antechamber. Returning in a moment, he led them into her presence.
She received them with a frankness which almost belied the stateliness of her demeanour. Through the haze of that reserve which a consciousness of dignity, whether true or false, so often generates, the genial courtesy of her Irish nature, for she was an O'Brien, daughter of the earl of Thomond, shone clear, and justified her Celtic origin.
'Welcome, cousin!' she said, holding out her hand while yet distant half the length of the room, across which, upborne on slow firm foot, she advanced with even, stately motion, 'And you also, reverend sir,' she went on, turning to Mr. Herbert. 'I am told we are indebted to you for this welcome addition to our family--how welcome none can tell but ladies shut up like ourselves.'
Dorothy was already almost at her ease, and the old clergyman soon found lady Margaret so sensible and as well as courteous--prejudiced yet further in her favour, it must be confessed, by the pleasant pretence she made of claiming cousinship on the ground of the identity of her husband's title with his surname--that, ere he left the castle, liberal as he had believed himself, he was nevertheless astonished to find how much of friendship had in that brief space been engendered in his bosom towards a catholic lady whom he had never before seen.
Since the time of Elizabeth, when the fear and repugnance of the nation had been so greatly and justly excited by the apparent probability of a marriage betwixt their queen and the detested Philip of Spain, a considerable alteration had been gradually wrought in the feelings of a large portion of it in respect of their catholic countrymen--a fact which gave strength to the position of the puritans in asserting the essential identity of episcopalian with catholic politics. Almost forty years had elapsed since the Gunpowder Plot; the queen was a catholic; the episcopalian party was itself at length endangered by the extension and development of the very principles on which they had themselves broken away from the church of Rome; and the catholics were friendly to the government of the king, under which their condition was one of comfort if not influence, while under that of the parliament they had every reason to anticipate a revival of persecution. Not a few of them doubtless cherished the hope that this revelation of the true spirit of dissent would result in driving the king and his party back into the bosom of the church.
The king, on the other hand, while only too glad to receive what aid he might from the loyal families of the old religion, yet saw that much caution was necessary lest he should alienate the most earnest of his protestant friends by giving ground for the suspicion that he was inclined to purchase their co-operation by a return to the creed of his Scottish grand-mother, Mary Stuart, and his English great-great-grand-mother, Margaret Tudor.
On the part of the clergy there had been for some time a considerable tendency, chiefly from the influence of Laud, to cultivate the same spirit which actuated the larger portion of the catholic priesthood; and although this had never led to retrograde movement in regard to their politics, the fact that both were accounted by a third party, and that far the most dangerous to either of the other two, as in spirit and object one and the same, naturally tended to produce a more indulgent regard of each other than had hitherto prevailed. And hence, in part, it was that it had become possible for episcopalian Dr. Bayly to be an inmate of Raglan Castle, and for good, protestant Matthew Herbert to seek refuge for his ward with good catholic lady Margaret.
Eager to return to the duties of his parish, through his illness so long neglected, Mr. Herbert declined her ladyship's invitation to dinner, which, she assured him, consulting a watch that she wore in a ring on her little finger, must be all but ready, seeing it was now a quarter to eleven, and took his leave, accompanied by Dorothy's servant to bring back the horse--if indeed they should be fortunate enough to escape the requisition of both horses by one party or the other. At present, however, the king's affairs continued rather on the ascendant, and the name of the marquis in that country was as yet a tower of strength. Dorothy's horse was included in the hospitality shown his mistress, and taken to the stables--under the mid-day shadow of the Library Tower.
As soon as the parson was gone, lady Margaret touched a small silver bell which hung in a stand on the table beside her.
'Conduct mistress Dorothy Vaughan to her room, wait upon her there, and then attend her hither,' she said to the maid who answered it. 'I would request a little not unneedful haste, cousin,' she went on, 'for my lord of Worcester is very precise in all matters of household order, and likes ill to see any one enter the dining-room after he is seated. It is his desire that you should dine at his table to-day. After this I must place you with the rest of my ladies, who dine in the housekeeper's room.'
'As you think proper, madam,' returned Dorothy, a little disappointed, but a little relieved also.
'The bell will ring presently,' said lady Margaret, 'and a quarter of an hour thereafter we shall all be seated.'
She was herself already dressed--in a pale-blue satin, with full skirt and close-fitting, long-peaked boddice, fastened in front by several double clasps set with rubies; her shoulders were bare, and her sleeves looped up with large round star-like studs, set with diamonds, so that her arms also were bare to the elbows. Round her neck was a short string of large pearls.
'You take no long time to attire yourself, cousin,' said her ladyship, kindly, when Dorothy returned.
'Little time was needed, madam,' answered Dorothy; 'for me there is but one colour. I fear I shall show but a dull bird amidst the gay plumage of Raglan. But I could have better adorned myself had not I heard the bell ere I had begun, and feared to lose your ladyship's company, and in very deed make my first appearance before my lord as a transgressor of the laws of his household.'
'You did well, cousin Dorothy; for everything goes by law and order here. All is reason and rhyme too in this house. My lord's father, although one of the best and kindest of men, is, as I said, somewhat precise, and will, as he says himself, be king in his own kingdom-- thinking doubtless of one who is not such. I should not talk thus with you, cousin, were you like some young ladies I know; but there is that about you which pleases me greatly, and which I take to indicate discretion. When first I came to the house, not having been accustomed to so severe a punctuality, I gave my lord no little annoyance; for, oftener than once or twice, I walked into his dining-room not only after grace had been said, but after the first course had been sent down to the hall-tables. My lord took his revenge in calling me the wild Irish-woman.'
Here she laughed very sweetly.
'The only one,' she resumed, 'who does here as he will, is my husband. Even lord Charles, who is governor of the castle, must be in his place to the moment; but for my husband--.'
The bell rang a second time. Lady Margaret rose, and taking Dorothy's arm, led her from the room into a long dim-lighted corridor. Arrived at the end of it, where a second passage met it at right angles, she stopped at a door facing them.
'I think we shall find my lord of Worcester here,' she said in a whisper, as she knocked and waited a response. 'He is not here,' she said. 'He expects me to call on him as I pass. We must make haste.'
The second passage, in which were several curves and sharp turns, led them to a large room, nearly square, in which were two tables covered for about thirty. By the door and along the sides of the room were a good many gentlemen, some of them very plainly dressed, and others in gayer attire, amongst whom Dorothy, as they passed through, recognised her cousin Scudamore. Whether he saw and knew her she could not tell. Crossing a small antechamber they entered the drawing-room, where stood and sat talking a number of ladies and gentlemen, to some of whom lady Margaret spoke and presented her cousin, greeting others with a familiar nod or smile, and yet others with a stately courtesy. Then she said,
'Ladies, I will lead the way to the dining-room. My lord marquis would the less willingly have us late that something detains himself.'
Those who dined in the marquis's room followed her. Scarcely had she reached the upper end of the table when the marquis entered, followed by all his gentlemen, some of whom withdrew, their service over for the time, while others proceeded to wait upon him and his family, with any of the nobility who happened to be his guests at the first table.
'I am the laggard to-day, my lady,' he said, cheerily, as he bore his heavy person up the room towards her. 'Ah!' he went on, as lady Margaret stepped forward to meet him, leading Dorothy by the hand, 'who is this sober young damsel under my wild Irishwoman's wing? Our young cousin Vaughan, doubtless, whose praises my worthy Dr. Bayly has been sounding in my ears?'
He held out his hand to Dorothy, and bade her welcome to Raglan.
The marquis was a man of noble countenance, of the type we are ready to imagine peculiar to the great men of the time of queen Elizabeth. To this his unwieldy person did not correspond, although his movements were still far from being despoiled of that charm which naturally belonged to all that was his. Nor did his presence owe anything to his dress, which was of that long-haired coarse woollen stuff they called frieze, worn, probably, by not another nobleman in the country, and regarded as fitter for a yeoman. His eyes, though he was yet but sixty-five or so, were already hazy, and his voice was husky and a little broken--results of the constantly poor health and frequent suffering he had had for many years; but he carried it all 'with'--to quote the prince of courtesy, sir Philip Sydney--'with a right old man's grace, that will seem livelier than his age will afford him.'
The moment he entered, the sewer in the antechamber at the other end of the room had given a signal to one waiting at the head of the stair leading down to the hall, and his lordship was hardly seated, ere--although the kitchen was at the corner of the pitched court diagonally opposite--he bore the first dish into the room, followed by his assistants, laden each with another.
Lady Margaret made Dorothy sit down by her. A place on her other side was vacant.
'Where is this truant husband of thine, my lady?' asked the marquis, as soon as Dr. Bayly had said grace. 'Know you whether he eats at all, or when, or where? It is now three days since he has filled his place at thy side, yet is he in the castle. Thou knowest, my lady, I deal not with him, who is so soon to sit in this chair, as with another, but I like it not. Know you what occupies him to day?'
'I do not, my lord,' answered lady Margaret. 'I have had but one glimpse of him since the morning, and if he looks now as he looked then, I fear your lordship would be minded rather to drive him from your table than welcome him to a seat beside you.'
As she spoke, lady Margaret caught a glimpse of a peculiar expression on Scudamore's face, where he stood behind his master's chair.
'Your page, my lord,' she said, 'seems to know something of him: if it pleased you to put him to the question--'
'Hey, Scudamore!' said the marquis without turning his head; 'what have you seen of my lord Herbert?'
'As much as could be seen of him, my lord,' answered Scudamore. 'He was new from the powder-mill, and his face and hands were as he had been blown three times up the hall chimney.'
'I would thou didst pay more heed to what is fitting, thou monkey, and knewest either place or time for thy foolish jests! It will be long ere thou soil one of thy white fingers for king or country,' said the marquis, neither angrily nor merrily. 'Get another flask of claret,' he added, 'and keep thy wit for thy mates, boy.'
Dorothy cast one involuntary glance at her cousin. His face was red as fire, but, as it seemed to her, more with suppressed amusement than shame. She had not been much longer in the castle before she learned that, in the opinion of the household, the marquis did his best, or worst rather, to ruin young Scudamore by indulgence. The judgment, however, was partly the product of jealousy, although doubtless the marquis had in his case a little too much relaxed the bonds of discipline. The youth was bright and ready, and had as yet been found trustworthy; his wit was tolerable, and a certain gay naivete of speech and manner set off to the best advantage what there was of it; but his laughter was sometimes mischievous, and on the present occasion Dorothy could not rid herself of the suspicion that he was laughing in his sleeve at his master, which caused her to redden in her turn. Scudamore saw it, and had his own fancies concerning the phenomenon.
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