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THE MAGICIAN'S VAULT.
Dorothy went straight to lady Margaret's parlour, and made her humble apology for the trouble and alarm her dog had occasioned. Lady Margaret assured her that the children were nothing the worse, not having been even much terrified, for the dog had not gone a hair's-breadth beyond rough play. Poor bunny was the only one concerned who had not yet recovered his equanimity. He did not seem positively hurt, she said, but as he would not eat the lovely clover under his nose where he lay in Molly's crib, it was clear that the circulation of his animal spirits had been too rudely checked. Thereupon Dorothy begged to be taken to the nursery, for, being familiar with all sorts of tame animals, she knew rabbits well. As she stood with the little creature in her arms, gently stroking its soft whiteness, the children gathered round her, and she bent herself to initiate a friendship with them, while doing her best to comfort and restore their favourite. Success in the latter object she found the readiest way to the former. Under the sweet galvanism of her stroking hand the rabbit was presently so much better that when she offered him a blade of the neglected clover, the equilateral triangle of his queer mouth was immediately set in motion, the trefoil vanished, and when he was once more placed in the crib he went on with his meal as if nothing had happened. The children were in ecstasies, and cousin Dorothy was from that moment popular and on the way to be something better.
When supper time came, lady Margaret took her again to the dining-room, where there was much laughter over the story of the two marquises, lord Worcester driving the joke in twenty different directions, but so kindly that Dorothy, instead of being disconcerted or even discomposed thereby, found herself emboldened to take a share in the merriment. When the company rose, lady Margaret once more led her to her own room, where, working at her embroidery frame, she chatted with her pleasantly for some time. Dorothy would have been glad if she had set her work also, for she could ill brook doing nothing. Notwithstanding her quietness of demeanour, amounting at times to an appearance of immobility, her nature was really an active one, and it was hard for her to sit with her hands in her lap. Lady Margaret at length perceived her discomfort.
'I fear, my child, I am wearying you,' she said.
'It is only that I want something to do, madam,' said Dorothy.
'I have nothing at hand for you to-night,' returned lady Margaret. 'Suppose we go and find my lord;--I mean my own lord Herbert. I have not seen him since we broke fast together, and you have not seen him at all. I am afraid he must think of leaving home again soon, he seems so anxious to get something or other finished.'
As she spoke, she pushed aside her frame, and telling Dorothy to go and fetch herself a cloak, went into the next room, whence she presently returned, wrapped in a hooded mantle. As soon as Dorothy came, she led her along the corridor to a small lobby whence a stair descended to the court, issuing close by the gate.
'I shall never learn my way about,' said Dorothy. 'If it were only the staircases, they are more than my memory will hold.'
Lady Margaret gave a merry little laugh.
'Harry set himself to count them the other day,' she said. 'I do not remember how many he made out altogether, but I know he said there were at least thirty stone ones.'
Dorothy's answer was an exclamation.
But she was not in the mood to dwell upon the mere arithmetic of vastness. Invaded by the vision of the mighty structure, its aspect rendered yet more imposing by the time which now suited with it, she forgot lady Margaret's presence, and stood still to gaze.
The twilight had deepened half-way into night. There was no moon, and in the dusk the huge masses of building rose full of mystery and awe. Above the rest, the great towers on all sides seemed by indwelling might to soar into the regions of air. The pile stood there, the epitome of the story of an ancient race, the precipitate from its vanished life--a hard core that had gathered in the vaporous mass of history--the all of solid that remained to witness of the past.
She came again to herself with a start. Lady Margaret had stood quietly waiting for her mood to change. Dorothy apologised, but her mistress only smiled and said,
'I am in no haste, child. I like to see another impressed as I was when first I stood just where you stand now. Come, then, I will show you something different.'
She led the way along the southern side of the court until they came to the end of the chapel, opposite which an archway pierced the line of building, and revealed the mighty bulk of the citadel, the only portion of the castle, except the kitchen-tower, continuing impregnable to enlarged means of assault: gunpowder itself, as yet far from perfect in composition and make, and conditioned by clumsy, uncertain, and ill-adjustable artillery, was nearly powerless against walls more than ten feet in thickness.
I have already mentioned that one peculiarity of Raglan was a distinct moat surrounding its keep. Immediately from the outer end of the archway, a Gothic bridge of stone led across this thirty-foot moat to a narrow walk which encompassed the tower. The walk was itself encompassed and divided from the moat by a wall with six turrets at equal distances, surmounted by battlements. At one time the sole entrance to the tower had been by a drawbridge dropping across the walk to the end of the stone bridge, from an arched door in the wall, whose threshold was some ten or twelve feet from the ground; but another entrance had since been made on the level of the walk, and by it the two ladies now entered. Passing the foot of a great stone staircase, they came to the door of what had, before the opening of the lower entrance, been a vaulted cellar, probably at one time a dungeon, at a later period a place of storage, but now put to a very different use, and wearing a stranger aspect than it could ever have borne at any past period of its story--a look indeed of mystery inexplicable.
When Dorothy entered she found herself in a large place, the form of which she could ill distinguish in the dull light proceeding from the chinks about the closed doors of a huge furnace. The air was filled with gurglings and strange low groanings, as of some creature in dire pain. Dorothy had as good nerves as ever woman, yet she could not help some fright as she stood alone by the door and stared into the gloomy twilight into which her companion had advanced. As her eyes became used to the ruddy dusk, she could see better, but everywhere they lighted on shapes inexplicable, whose forms to the first questioning thought suggested instruments of torture; but cruel as some of them looked, they were almost too strange, contorted, fantastical for such. Still, the wood-cuts in a certain book she had been familiar with in childhood, commonly called Fox's Book of Martyrs, kept haunting her mind's eye--and were they not Papists into whose hands she had fallen? she said to herself, amused at the vagaries of her own involuntary suggestions.
Among the rest, one thing specially caught her attention, both from its size and its complicated strangeness. It was a huge wheel standing near the wall, supported between two strong uprights--some twelve or fifteen feet in diameter, with about fifty spokes, from every one of which hung a large weight. Its grotesque and threatful character was greatly increased by the mingling of its one substance with its many shadows on the wall behind it. So intent was she upon it that she started when lady Margaret spoke.
'Why, mistress Dorothy!' she said, 'you look as if you had wandered into St. Anthony's cave! Here is my lord Herbert to welcome his cousin.'
Beside her stood a man rather under the middle stature, but as his back was to the furnace this was about all Dorothy could discover of his appearance, save that he was in the garb of a workman, with bare head and arms, and held in his hand a long iron rod ending in a hook.
'Welcome, indeed, cousin Vaughan!' he said heartily, but without offering his hand, which in truth, although an honest, skilful, and well-fashioned hand, was at the present moment far from fit for a lady's touch.
There was something in his voice not altogether strange to Dorothy, but she could not tell of whom or what it reminded her.
'Are you come to take another lesson on the cross-bow?' he asked with a smile.
Then she knew he was the same she had met in the looped chamber beside the arblast. An occasional slight halt, not impediment, in his speech, was what had remained on her memory. Did he always dwell only in the dusky borders of the light?
Dorothy uttered a little 'Oh!' of surprise, but immediately recovering herself, said,
'I am sorry I did not know it was you, my lord. I might by this time have been capable of discharging bolt or arrow with good aim in defence of the castle.'
'It is not yet too late, I hope,' returned the workman-lord. 'I confess I was disappointed to find your curiosity went no further. I hoped I had at last found a lady capable of some interest in pursuits like mine. For my lady Margaret here, she cares not a straw for anything I do, and would rather have me keep my hands clean than discover the mechanism of the primum mobile!
'Yes, in truth, Ned,' said his wife, 'I would rather have thee with fair hands in my sweet parlour, than toiling and moiling in this dirty dungeon, with no companion but that horrible fire-engine of thine, grunting and roaring all night long.'
'Why, what do you make of Caspar Kaltoff, my lady?'
'I make not much of him.'
'You misjudge his goodfellowship then.'
'Truly, I think not well of him: he always hath secrets with thee, and I like it not.'
'That they are secrets is thine own fault, Peggy. How can I teach thee my secrets if thou wilt not open thine ears to hear them?'
'I would your lordship would teach me!' said Dorothy. 'I might not be an apt pupil, but I should be both an eager and a humble one.'
'By St. Patrick! mistress Dorothy, but you go straight to steal my husband's heart from me. "Humble," forsooth! and "eager" too! Nay! nay! If I have no part in his brain, I can the less yield his heart.'
'What would be gladly learned would be gladly taught, cousin,' said lord Herbert.
'There! there!' exclaimed lady Margaret; 'I knew it would be so. You discharge your poor dull apprentice the moment you find a clever one!'
'And why not? I never was able to teach thee anything.'
'Ah, Ned, there you are unkind indeed!' said lady Margaret, with something in her voice that suggested the water-springs were swelling.
'My shamrock of four!' said her husband in the tenderest tone, 'I but jested with thee. How shouldst thou be my pupil in anything I can teach? I am yours in all that is noble and good. I did not mean to vex you, sweet heart.'
''Tis gone again, Ned,' she answered, smiling. 'Give cousin Dorothy her first lesson.'
'It shall be that, then, to which I sought in vain to make thee listen this very morning--a certain great saying of my lord of Verulam, mistress Dorothy. I had learnt it by heart that I might repeat it word for word to my lady, but she would none of it.'
'May I not hear it, madam?' said Dorothy.
'We will both hear it, Herbert, if you will pardon your foolish wife and admit her to grace.' And as she spoke she laid her hand on his sooty arm.
He answered her only with a smile, but such a one as sufficed.
'Listen then, ladies both,' he said. 'My lord of Verulam, having quoted the words of Solomon, "The glory of God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the king is to find it out," adds thus, of his own thought concerning them,--"as if," says my lord, "according to the innocent play of children, the divine majesty took delight to hide his works, to the end to have them found out, and as if kings could not obtain a greater honour than to be God's playfellows in that game, considering the great commandment of wits and means, whereby nothing needeth to be hidden from them."'
'That was very well for my lord of--what did'st thou call him, Ned?'
'Francis Bacon, lord Verulam,' returned Herbert, with a queer smile.
'Very well for my lord of Veryflam!' resumed lady Margaret, with a mock, yet bewitching affectation of innocence and ignorance; 'but tell me had he?--nay, I am sure he had not a wild Irishwoman sitting breaking her heart in her bower all day long for his company. He could never else have had the heart to say it.--Mistress Dorothy,' she went on, 'take the counsel of a forsaken wife, and lay it to thy heart: never marry a man who loves lathes and pipes and wheels and water and fire, and I know not what. But do come in ere bed-time, Herbert, and I will sing thee the sweetest of English ditties, and make thee such a sack-posset as never could be made out of old Ireland any more than the song.'
But her husband that moment sprang from her side, and shouting 'Caspar! Caspar!' bounded to the furnace, reached up with his iron rod into the darkness over his head, caught something with the hooked end of it, and pulled hard. A man who from somewhere in the gloomy place had responded like a greyhound to his master's call, did the like on the other side. Instantly followed a fierce, protracted, sustained hiss, and in a moment the place was filled with a white cloud, whence issued still the hideous hiss, changing at length to a roar. Lady Margaret turned in terror, ran out of the keep, and fled across the bridge and through the archway before she slackened her pace. Dorothy followed, but more composedly, led by duty, not driven by terror, and indeed reluctantly forsaking a spot where was so much she did not understand.
They had fled from the infant roar of the 'first stock-father' of steam-engines, whose cradle was that feudal keep, eight centuries old.
That night Dorothy lay down weary enough. It seemed a month since she had been in her own bed at Wyfern, so many new and strange things had crowded into her house, hitherto so still. Every now and then the darkness heaved and rippled with some noise of the night. The stamping of horses, and the ringing of their halter chains, seemed very near her. She thought she heard the howl of Marquis from afar, and said to herself, 'The poor fellow cannot sleep! I must get my lord to let me have him in my chamber.' Then she listened a while to the sweet flow of the water from the mouth of the white horse, which in general went on all night long. Suddenly came an awful sound--like a howl also, but such as never left the throat of dog. Again and again at intervals it came, with others like it but not the same, torturing the dark with a dismal fear. Dorothy had never heard the cry of a wild beast, but the suggestion that these might be such cries, and the recollection that she had heard such beasts were in Raglan Castle, came together to her mind. She was so weary, however, that worse noises than these could hardly have kept her awake; not even her weariness could prevent them from following her into her dreams.
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