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THE TWO MARQUISES.
Dinner over, lady Margaret led Dorothy back to her parlour, and there proceeded to discover what accomplishments and capabilities she might possess. Finding she could embroider, play a little on the spinnet, sing a song, and read aloud both intelligibly and pleasantly, she came to the conclusion that the country-bred girl was an acquisition destined to grow greatly in value, should the day ever arrive--which heaven forbid!--when they would have to settle down to the monotony of a protracted siege. Remarking, at length, that she looked weary, she sent her away to be mistress of her time till supper, at half-past five.
Weary in truth with her journey, but still more weary from the multitude and variety of objects, the talk, and the constant demand of the general strangeness upon her attention and one form or other of suitable response, Dorothy sought her chamber. But she scarcely remembered how to reach it. She knew it lay a floor higher, and easily found the stair up which she had followed her attendant, for it rose from the landing of the straight ascent by which she had entered the house. She could hardly go wrong either as to the passage at the top of it, leading back over the room she had just left below, but she could not tell which was her own door. Fearing to open the wrong one, she passed it and went on to the end of the corridor, which was very dimly lighted. There she came to an open door, through which she saw a small chamber, evidently not meant for habitation. She entered. A little light came in through a crossed loophole, sufficient to show her the bare walls, with the plaster sticking out between the stones, the huge beams above, and in the middle of the floor, opposite the loop-hole, a great arblast or crossbow, with its strange machinery. She had never seen one before, but she knew enough to guess at once what it was. Through the loophole came a sweet breath of spring air, and she saw trees bending in the wind, heard their faint far-off rustle, and saw the green fields shining in the sun.
Partly from having been so much with Richard, her only playmate, who was of an ingenious and practical turn, a certain degree of interest in mechanical forms and modes had been developed in Dorothy, sufficient at least to render her unable to encounter such an implement without feeling a strong impulse to satisfy herself concerning its mechanism, its motion, and its action. Approaching it cautiously and curiously, as if it were a live thing, which might start up and fly from, or perhaps at her, for what she knew, she gazed at it for a few moments with eyes full of unuttered questions, then ventured to lay gentle hold upon what looked like a handle. To her dismay, a wheezy bang followed, which seemed to shake the tower. Whether she had discharged an arrow, or an iron bolt, or a stone, or indeed anything at all, she could not tell, for she had not got so far in her observations as to perceive even that the bow was bent. Her heart gave a scared flutter, and she started back, not merely terrified, but ashamed also that she should initiate her life in the castle with meddling and mischief, when a low gentle laugh behind her startled her yet more, and looking round with her heart in her throat, she perceived in the half-light of the place a man by the wall behind the arblast watching her. Her first impulse was to run, and the door was open; but she thought she owed an apology ere she retreated. What sort of person he was she could not tell, for there was not light enough to show a feature of his face.
'I ask your pardon,' she said; 'I fear I have done mischief.'
'Not the least,' returned the man, in a gentle voice, with a tone of amusement in it.
'I had never seen a great cross-bow,' Dorothy went on, anxious to excuse her meddling. 'I thought this must be one, but I was so stupid as not to perceive it was bent, and that that was the--the handle--or do you call it the trigger?--by which you let it go.'
The man, who had at first taken her for one of the maids, had by this time discovered from her tone and speech that she was a lady.
'It is a clumsy old-fashioned thing,' he returned, 'but I shall not remove it until I can put something better in its place; and it would be a troublesome affair to get even a demiculverin up here, not to mention the bad neighbour it would be to the ladies' chambers. I was just making a small experiment with it on the force of springs. I believe I shall yet prove that much may be done with springs--more perhaps, and certainly at far less expense, than with gunpowder, which costs greatly, is very troublesome to make, occupies much space, and is always like an unstable, half- treacherous friend within the gates--to say nothing of the expense of cannon--ten times that of an engine of timber and springs. See what a strong chain your shot has broken! Shall I show you how the thing works?'
He spoke in a gentle, even rapid voice, a little hesitating now and then, more, through the greater part of this long utterance, as if he were thinking to himself than addressing another. Neither his tone nor manner were those of an underling, but Dorothy's startled nerves had communicated their tremor to her modesty, and with a gentle 'No, sir, I thank you; I must be gone,' she hurried away.
Daring now a little more for fear of worse, the first door she tried proved that of her own room, and it was with a considerable sense of relief, as well as with weariness and tremor, that she nestled herself into the high window-seat, and looked out into the quadrangle. The shadow of the citadel had gone to pay its afternoon visit to the other court, and that of the gateway was thrown upon the chapel, partly shrouding the white horse, whose watery music was now silent, but allowing one red ray, which entered by the iron grating above the solid gates, to fall on his head, and warm its cold whiteness with a tinge of delicate pink. The court was more still and silent than in the morning; only now and then would a figure pass from one door to another, along the side of the buildings, or by one of the tiled paths dividing the turf. A large peacock was slowly crossing the shadowed grass with a stately strut and rhythmic thrust of his green neck. The moment he came out into the sunlight, he spread his wheeled fan aloft, and slowly pirouetting, if the word can be allowed where two legs are needful, in the very acme of vanity, turned on all sides the quivering splendour of its hundred eyes, where blue and green burst in the ecstasy of their union into a vapour of gold, that the circle of the universe might see. And truly the bird's vanity had not misled his judgment: it was a sight to make the hearts of the angels throb out a dainty phrase or two more in the song of their thanksgiving. Some pigeons, white, and blue-grey, with a lovely mingling and interplay of metallic lustres on their feathery throats, but with none of that almost grotesque obtrusion of over-driven individuality of kind, in which the graciousness of common beauty is now sacrificed to the whim of the fashion the vulgar fancier initiates, picked up the crumbs under the windows of lady Margaret's nursery, or flew hither and thither among the roofs with wapping and whiffling wing.
But still from the next court came many and various mingling noises. The sounds of drill had long ceased, but those of clanking hammers were heard the more clearly, now one, now two, now several together. The smaller, clearer one was that of the armourer, the others those of the great smithy, where the horse-shoes were made, the horses shod, the smaller pieces of ordnance repaired, locks and chains mended, bolts forged, and, in brief, every piece of metal about the castle, from the cook's skillet to the winches and chains of the drawbridges, set right, renewed, or replaced. The forges were far from where she sat, outside the farthest of the two courts, across which, and the great hall dividing them, the clink, clink, the clank, and the ringing clang, softened by distance and interposition, came musical to her ear. The armourer's hammer was the keener, the quicker, the less intermittent, and yet had the most variations of time and note, as he shifted the piece on his anvil, or changed breastplate for gorget, or greave for pauldron--or it might be sword for pike-head or halbert. Mingled with it came now and then the creak and squeak of the wooden wheel at the draw-well near the hall-door in the farther court, and the muffled splash of the bucket as it struck the water deep in the shaft. She even thought she could hear the drops dripping back from it as it slowly ascended, but that was fancy. Everywhere arose the auricular vapour, as it were, of action, undefined and indefinable, the hum of the human hive, compounded of all confluent noises--the chatter of the servants' hall and the nursery, the stamping of horses, the ringing of harness, the ripping of the chains of kenneled dogs, the hollow stamping of heavy boots, the lowing of cattle, with sounds besides so strange to the ears of Dorothy that they set her puzzling in vain to account for them; not to mention the chaff of the guard-rooms by the gates, and the scolding and clatter of the kitchen. This last, indeed, was audible only when the doors were open, for the walls of the kitchen, whether it was that the builders of it counted cookery second only to life, or that this had been judged, from the nature of the ground outside, the corner of all the enclosure most likely to be attacked, were far thicker than those of any of the other towers, with the one exception of the keep itself.
As she sat listening to these multitudinous exhalations of life around her, yet with a feeling of loneliness and a dim sense of captivity, from the consciousness that huge surrounding walls rose between her and the green fields, of which, from earliest memory, she had been as free as the birds and beetles, a white rabbit, escaped from the arms of its owner, little Mary Somerset, lady Margaret's only child, a merry but delicate girl not yet three years old, suddenly darted like a flash of snow across the shadowy green, followed in hot haste a moment after by a fine-looking boy of thirteen and two younger girls, after whom toddled tiny Mary. Dorothy sat watching the pursuit, accompanied with sweet outcry and frolic laughter, when in a moment the sounds of their merriment changed to shrieks of terror, and she saw a huge mastiff come bounding she knew not whence, and rush straight at the rabbit, fierce and fast. When the little creature saw him, struck with terror it stopped dead, cowered on the sward, and was stock still. But Henry Somerset, who was but a few paces from it, reached it before the dog, and caught it up in his arms. The rush of the dog threw him down, and they rolled over and over, Henry holding fast the poor rabbit.
By this time Dorothy was half-way down the stair: the moment she caught sight of the dog she had flown to the rescue. When she issued from the porch at the foot of the grand staircase, Henry was up again, and running for the house with the rabbit yet safe in his arms, pursued by the mastiff. Evidently the dog had not harmed him--but he might get angry. The next moment she saw, to her joy and dismay both at once, that it was her own dog.
'Marquis! Marquis!' she cried, calling him by his name.
He abandoned the pursuit at once, and went bounding to her. She took him by the back of the neck, and the displeasure manifest upon the countenance of his mistress made him cower at her feet, and wince from the open hand that threatened him. The same instant a lattice window over the gateway was flung open, and a voice said--
'Here I am. Who called me?'
Dorothy looked up. The children had vanished with their rescued darling. There was not a creature in the court but herself, and there was the marquis, leaning half out of the window, and looking about.
'Who called me?' he repeated--angrily, Dorothy thought.
All at once the meaning of it flashed upon her, and she was confounded--ready to sink with annoyance. But she was not one to hesitate when a thing HAD to be done. Keeping her hold of the dog's neck, for his collar was gone, she dragged him half-way towards the gate, then turning up to the marquis a face like a peony, replied--
'I am the culprit, my lord.'
'By St. George! you are a brave damsel, and there is no culpa that I know of, except on the part of that intruding cur.'
'And the cur's mistress, my lord. But, indeed, he is no cur, but a true mastiff.'
'What! is the animal thy property, fair cousin? He is more than I bargained for.'
'He is mine, my lord, but I left him chained when I set out from Wyfern this morning. That he got loose I confess I am not astonished, neither that he tracked me hither, for he has the eyes of a gaze-hound, and the nose of a bloodhound; but it amazes me to find him in the castle.'
'That must be inquired into,' said the marquis.
'I am very sorry he has carried himself so ill, my lord. He has put me to great shame. But he hath more in him than mere brute, and understands when I beg you to pardon him. He misbehaved himself on purpose to be taken to me, for at home no one ever dares punish him but myself.'
The marquis laughed.
'If you are so completely his mistress then, why did you call on me for help?'
'Pardon me, my lord; I did not so.'
'Why, I heard thee call me two or three times!'
'Alas, my lord! I called him Marquis when he was a pup. Everybody about Redware knows Marquis.'
The animal cocked his ears and started each time his name was uttered, and yet seemed to understand well enough that ALL the talk was about him and his misdeeds.
'Ah! ha!' said his lordship, with a twinkle in his eye, 'that begets complications. Two marquises in Raglan? Two kings in England! The thing cannot be. What is to be done?'
'I must take him back, my lord! I cannot send him, for he would not go. I dread they will not be able to hold him chained; in which evil case I fear me I shall have to go, my lord, and take the perils of the time as they come.'
'Not of necessity so, cousin, while you can choose between us;--although I freely grant that a marquis with four legs is to be preferred before a marquis with only two.--But what if you changed his name?'
'I fear it could not be done, my lord. He has been Marquis all his life.'
'And I have been marquis only six months! Clearly he hath the better right--. But there would be constant mistakes between us, for I cannot bring myself to lay aside the honour his majesty hath conferred upon me, "which would be worn now in its newest gloss, not cast aside so soon," as master Shakspere says. Besides, it would be a slight to his majesty, and that must not be thought of--not for all the dogs in parliament or out of it. No--it would breed factions in the castle too. No; one of us two must die.'
'Then, indeed, I must go,' said Dorothy, her voice trembling as she spoke; for although the words of the marquis were merry, she yet feared for her friend.
'Tut! tut! let the older marquis die: he has enjoyed the title; I have not. Give him to Tom Fool: he will drown him in the moat. He shall be buried with honour--under his rival's favourite apple-tree in the orchard. What more could dog desire?'
'No, my lord,' answered Dorothy. 'Will you allow me to take my leave? If I only knew where to find my horse!'
'What! would you saddle him yourself, cousin Vaughan?'
'As well as e'er a knave in your lordship's stables. I am very sorry to displease you, but to my dog's death I cannot and will not consent. Pardon me, my lord.'
The last words brought with them a stifled sob, for she scarcely doubted any more that he was in earnest.
'It is assuredly not gratifying to a marquis of the king's making to have one of a damsel's dubbing take the precedence of him. I fear you are a roundhead and hold by the parliament. But no--that cannot be, for you are willing to forsake your new cousin for your old dog. Nay, alas! it is your old cousin for your young dog. Puritan! puritan! Well, it cannot be helped. But what! you would ride home alone! Evil men are swarming, child. This sultry weather brings them out like flies.'
'I shall not be alone, my lord. Marquis will take good care of me.'
'Indeed, my lord marquis will pledge himself to nothing outside his own walls.'
'I meant the dog, my lord.'
'Ah! you see how awkward it is. However, as you will not choose between us--and to tell the truth, I am not yet quite prepared to die--we must needs encounter what is inevitable. I will send for one of the keepers to take him to the smithy, and get him a proper collar--one he can't slip like that he left at home--and a chain.'
'I must go with him myself, my lord. They will never manage him else.'
'What a demon you have brought into my peaceable house! Go with him, by all means. And mind you choose him a kennel yourself.--You do not desire him in your chamber, do you, mistress?'
Dorothy secretly thought it would be the best place for him, but she was only too glad to have his life spared.
'No, my lord, I thank you,' she said. '--I thank your lordship with all my heart.'
The marquis disappeared from the window. Presently young Scudamore came into the court from the staircase by the gate, and crossed to the hall--in a few minutes returning with the keeper. The man would have taken the dog by the neck to lead him away, but a certain form of canine curse, not loud but deep, and a warning word from Dorothy, made him withdraw his hand.
'Take care, Mr. Keeper,' she said, 'he is dangerous. I will go with him myself, if thou wilt show me whither.'
'As it please you, mistress,' answered the keeper, and led the way across the court.
'Have you not a word to throw at a poor cousin, mistress Dorothy?' said Rowland, when the man was a pace or two in advance.
'No, Mr. Scudamore,' answered Dorothy; 'not until we have first spoken in my lord Worcester's or my lady Margaret's presence.'
Scudamore fell behind, followed her a little way, and somewhere vanished.
Dorothy followed the keeper across the hall, the size of which, its height especially, and the splendour of its windows of stained glass, almost awed her; then across the next court to the foot of the Library Tower forming the south-east corner of it, near the two towers flanking the main entrance. Here a stair led down, through the wall, to a lower level outside, where were the carpenters' and all other workshops, the forges, the stables, and the farmyard buildings.
As it happened, when Dorothy entered the smithy, there was her own little horse being shod, and Marquis and he interchanged a whine and a whinny of salutation, while the men stared at the bright apparition of a young lady in their dingy regions. Having heard her business, the head-smith abandoned everything else to alter an iron collar, of which there were several lying about, to fit the mastiff, the presence of whose mistress proved entirely necessary. Dorothy had indeed to put it on him with her own hands, for at the sound of the chain attached to it he began to grow furious, growling fiercely. When the chain had been made fast with a staple driven into a strong kennel-post, and his mistress proceeded to take her leave of him, his growling changed to the most piteous whining; but when she actually left him there, he flew into a rage of indignant affection. After trying the strength of his chain, however, by three or four bounds, each so furious as to lay him sprawling on his back, he yielded to the inevitable, and sullenly crept into his kennel, while Dorothy walked back to the room which had already begun to seem to her a cell.
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