Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
THE ENCHANTED CHAIR.
In the castle things went on much the same, nor did the gathering tumult without wake more than an echo within. Yet a cloud slowly deepened upon the brow of the marquis, and a look of disquiet, to be explained neither by the more frequent returns of his gout, nor by the more lengthened absences of his favourite son. In his judgment the king was losing ground, not only in England but in the deeper England of its men. Lady Margaret also, for all her natural good spirits and light-heartedness, showed a more continuous anxiety than was to be accounted for by her lord's absences and the dangers he had to encounter: little Molly, the treasure of her heart next to her lord, had never been other than a delicate child, but now had begun to show signs of worse than weakness of constitution, and the heart of the mother was perpetually brooding over the ever-present idea of her sickly darling.
But she always did her endeavour to clear the sky of her countenance before sitting down with her father-in-law at the dinner-table, where still the marquis had his jest almost as regularly as his claret, although varying more in quality and quantity both--now teasing his son Charles about the holes in his pasteboard, as he styled the castle walls; now his daughter Anne about a design, he and no one else attributed to her, of turning protestant and marrying Dr. Bayly; now Dr. Bayly about his having been discovered blowing the organ in the chapel at high mass, as he said; for when no new joke was at hand he was fain to content himself with falling back upon old ones. The first of these mentioned was founded on the fact, as undeniable as deplorable, of the weakness of many portions of the defences, to remedy which, as far as might be, was for the present lord Charles's chief endeavour, wherein he had the best possible adviser, engineer, superintendent, and workman, all in the person of Caspar Kaltoff. The second jest of the marquis was a pure invention upon the liking of lady Anne for the company and conversation of the worthy chaplain. The last mentioned was but an exaggeration of the following fact.
One evening the doctor came upon young Delaware, loitering about the door of the chapel, with as disconsolate a look as his lovely sightless face was ever seen to wear, and, inquiring what was amiss with him, learned that he could find no one to blow the organ bellows for him. The youth had for years, boy as he still was, found the main solace of his blindness in the chapel-organ, upon which he would have played from morning to night could he have got any one to blow as long. The doctor, then, finding the poor boy panting for music like the hart for the water-brooks, but with no Jacob to roll the stone from the well's mouth that he might water the flocks of his thirsty thoughts, made willing proffer of his own exertions to blow the bellows of the organ, so long as the somewhat wheezy bellows of his body would submit to the task.
By degrees however the good doctor had become so absorbed in the sounds that rushed, now wailing, now jubilant, now tender as a twilight wind, now imperious as the voice of the war-tempest, from the fingers of the raptured boy, that the reading of the first vesper-psalm had commenced while he was yet watching the slow rising index, in the expectation that the organist was about to resume. The voice of his Irish brother-chaplain, Sir Toby Mathews, roused him from his reverie of delight, and as one ashamed he stole away through the door that led from the little organ loft into the minstrel's gallery in the great hall, and so escaped the catholic service, but not the marquis's roasting. Whether the music had any share in the fact that the good man died a good catholic at last, I leave to the speculation of who list.
Lady Margaret continued unchangingly kind to Dorothy; and the tireless efforts of the girl to amuse and please poor little Molly, whom the growing warmth of the season seemed to have no power to revive, awoke the deep gratitude of a mother. This, as well as her husband's absences, may have had something to do with the interest she began to take in the engine of which Dorothy had assumed the charge, for which she had always hitherto expressed a special dislike, professing to regard it as her rival in the affections of her husband, but after which she would now inquire as Dorothy's baby, and even listen with patience to her expositions of its wonderful construction and capabilities. Ere long Dorothy had a tale to tell her in connection with the engine, which, although simple and uneventful enough, she yet found considerably more interesting, as involving a good deal of at least mental adventure on the part of her young cousin.
One evening, after playing with little Molly for an hour, then putting her to bed and standing by her crib until she fell asleep, Dorothy ran to see to her other baby; for the cistern had fallen rather lower than she thought well, and she was going to fill it. She found Caspar had lighted the furnace as she had requested; she set the engine going, and it soon warmed to its work.
The place was hot, and Dorothy was tired. But where in that wide and not over-clean place should she find anything fitter than a grindstone to sit upon? Never yet, through all her acquaintance with the workshop, had she once seated herself in it. Looking about, however, she soon espied, almost hidden in the corner of a recess behind the furnace, what seemed an ordinary chair, such as stood in the great hall for the use of the family when anything special was going on there. With some trouble she got it out, dusted it, and set it as far from the furnace as might be, consistently with watching the motions of the engine. But the moment she sat down in it, she was caught and pinned so fast that she could scarcely stir hand or foot, and could no more leave it again than if she had been paralyzed in every limb. One scream she uttered of mingled indignation and terror, fancying herself seized by human arms; but when she found herself only in the power of one of her cousin's curiosities, she speedily quieted herself and rested in peace, for Caspar always paid a visit to the workshop the last thing before going to bed. The pressure of the springs that had closed the trap did not hurt her in the least--she was indeed hardly sensible of it; but when she made the least attempt to stir, the thing showed itself immovably locked, and she had too much confidence in the workmanship of her cousin and Caspar to dream of attempting to open it: that she knew must be impossible. The worst that threatened her was that the engine might require some attention before the hour, or perhaps two, which must elapse ere Caspar came would be over, and she did not know what the consequences might be.
As it happened, however, something either in the powder-mill or about the defences detained Caspar far beyond his usual hour for retiring, and the sultriness of the weather having caused him a headache, he represented to himself that, with mistress Dorothy tending the engine, who knew where and would be sure to find him upon the least occasion, there could be no harm in his going to bed without paying his usual precautionary visit to the keep.
So Dorothy sat, and waited in vain. The last drops of the day trickled down the side of the world, the night filled the crystal globe from its bottom of rock to its cover of blue aether, and the red glow of the furnace was all that lighted the place. She waited and waited in her mind; but Caspar did not come. She began to feel miserable. The furnace fire sank, and the rush of the water grew slower and slower, and ceased. Caspar did not come. The fire sank lower and lower, its red eye dimmed, darkened, went out. Still Caspar did not come. Faint fears began to gather about poor Dorothy's heart. It was clear at last that there she must be all the night long, and who could tell how far into the morning? It was good the night was warm, but it would be very dreary. And then to be fixed in one position for so long! The thought of it grew in misery faster than the thing itself. The greater torment lies always in the foreboding. She felt almost as if she were buried alive. Having their hands tied even, is enough to drive strong men almost crazy. Nor, firm of heart as she was, did no evils of a more undefined and less resistible character claim a share in her fast-rising apprehensions; she began to discover that she too was assailable by the terror of the night, although she had not hitherto been aware of it, no one knowing what may lie unhatched in his mind, waiting the concurrence of vital conditions.
But Dorothy was better able to bear up under such assaults than thousands who believe nothing of many a hideous marvel commonly accepted in her day; and anyhow the unavoidable must be encountered, if not with indifference, yet with what courage may be found responsive to the call of the will. So, with all her energy, a larger store than she knew, she braced herself to endure. As to any attempt to make herself heard, she knew from the first that was of doubtful result, and now must certainly be of no avail when all but the warders were asleep. But to spend the night thus was a far less evil than to be discovered by the staring domestics, and exposed to the open merriment of her friends, and the hidden mockery of her enemies. As to Caspar, she was certain of his silence. So she sat on, like the lady in Comus, 'in stony fetters fixed and motionless;' only, as she said to herself, there was no attendant spirit to summon Caspar, who alone could take the part of Sabrina, and 'unlock the clasping charm.' Little did Dorothy think, as in her dreary imprisonment she recalled that marvellous embodiment of unified strength and tenderness, as yet unacknowledged of its author, that it was the work of the same detestable fanatic who wrote those appalling 'Animadversions, &c.'
She grew chilly and cramped. The night passed very slowly. She dozed and woke, and dozed again. At last, from very weariness of both soul and body, she fell into a troubled sleep, from which she woke suddenly with the sound in her ears of voices whispering. The confidence of lord Herbert, both in the evil renown of his wizard cave and the character of his father's household, seemed mistaken. Still the subdued manner of their conversation appeared to indicate it was not without some awe that the speakers, whoever they were, had ventured within the forbidden precincts; their whispers, indeed, were so low that she could not say of either voice whether it belonged to man or woman. Her first idea was to deliver herself from the unpleasantness of her enforced espial by the utterance of some frightful cry such as would at the same time punish with the pains of terror their fool-hardy intrusion. But the spur of the moment was seldom indeed so sharp with Dorothy as to drive her to act without reflection, and a moment showed her that such persons being in the marquis's household as would meet in the middle of the night, and on prohibited ground, apparently for the sake of avoiding discovery, and even then talked in whispers, he had a right to know who they were: to act from her own feelings merely would be to fail in loyalty to the head of the house. Who could tell what might not be involved in it? For was it not thus that conspiracy and treason walked? And any alarm given them now might destroy every chance of their discovery. She compelled herself therefore to absolute stillness, immeasurably wretched, with but one comfort--no small one, however, although negative--that their words continued inaudible, a fact which doubtless saved much dispute betwixt her propriety and her loyalty.
Long time their talk lasted. Every now and then they would start and listen--so Dorothy interpreted sudden silence and broken renewals. The genius of the place, although braved, had yet his terrors. At length she heard something like a half-conquered yawn, and soon after the voices ceased.
Again a weary time, and once more she fell asleep. She woke in the grey of the morning, and after yet two long hours, but of more hopeful waiting, she heard Caspar's welcome footsteps, and summoned all her strength to avoid breaking down on his entrance. His first look of amazement she tried to answer with a smile, but at the expression of pitiful dismay which followed when another glance had revealed the cause of her presence, she burst into tears. The honest man was full of compunctious distress at the sight of the suffering his breach of custom had so cruelly prolonged.
'And I haf bin slap in mine bed!' he exclaimed with horror at the contrast.
Had she been his daughter and his mistress both in one, he could not have treated her with greater respect or tenderness. Of course he set about relieving her at once, but this was by no means such an easy matter as Dorothy had expected. For the key of the chair was in the black cabinet; the black cabinet was secured with one of lord Herbert's marvellous locks; the key of that lock was in lord Herbert's pocket, and lord Herbert was either in bed at Chepstow or Monmouth or Usk or Caerlyon, or on horseback somewhere else, nobody in Raglan knew where. But Caspar lost no time in unavailing moan. He proceeded at once to light a fire on his forge hearth, and in the course of a few minutes had fashioned a pick-lock, by means of which, after several trials and alterations, at length came the welcome sound of the yielding bolts, and Dorothy rose from the terrible chair. But so benumbed were all her limbs that she escaped being relocked in it only by the quick interposition of Caspar's arms. He led her about like a child, until at length she found them sufficiently restored to adventure the journey to her chamber, and thither she slowly crept. Few of the household were yet astir, and she met no one. When she was covered up in bed, then first she knew how cold she was, and felt as if she should never be warm again.
At last she fell asleep, and slept long and soundly. Her maid went to call her, but finding it difficult to wake her, left her asleep, and did not return until breakfast was over. Then finding her still asleep she became a little anxious, and meeting mistress Amanda, told her she was afraid mistress Dorothy was ill. But mistress Amanda was herself sleepy and cross, and gave her a sharp answer, whereupon the girl went to lady Broughton. She, however, being on her way to morning mass, for it was Sunday, told her to let mistress Dorothy have her sleep out.
The noise of horses' hoofs upon the paving of the stone court roused her, and then in came the sounds of the organ from the chapel. She rose confounded, and hurrying to the window drew back the curtain. The same moment lord Herbert walked from the hall into the fountain-court in riding dress, followed by some forty or fifty officers, the noise of whose armour and feet and voices dispelled at once the dim Sabbath feeling that hung vapour-like about the place. They gathered around the white horse, leaning or sitting on the marble basin, some talking in eager groups, others folding their arms in silence, listening, or lost heedless in their own thoughts, while their leader entered the staircase door at the right-hand corner of the western gate, the nearest way to his wife's apartment of the building.
Now Dorothy had gone to sleep in perplexity, and all through her dreams had been trying to answer the question what course she should take with regard to the nocturnal intrusion. If she told lady Margaret she could but go with it to the marquis, and he was but just recovering from an attack of the gout, and ought not to be troubled except it were absolutely necessary. Was it, or was it not, necessary? Or was there no one else to whom she might with propriety betake herself in her doubt--lord Charles or Dr. Bayly? But here now was lord Herbert come back, and doubt there was none any more. She dressed herself in tremulous haste, and hurried to lady Margaret's room, where she hoped to see him. No one was there, and she tried the nursery, but finding only Molly and her attendant, returned to the parlour, and there seated herself to wait, supposing lady Margaret and he had gone together to morning service.
They had really gone to the oak parlour, whither the marquis generally made his first move after an attack that had confined him to his room; for in the large window of that parlour, occupying nearly the whole side of it towards the moat, he generally sat when well enough to be about and take cognizance of what wa's going on; and there they now found him.
'Welcome home, Herbert!' he said, kindly, holding out his hand. 'And how does my wild Irishwoman this morning? Crying her eyes out because her husband is come back, eh?--But, Herbert, lad, whence is all that noise of spurs and scabbards--and in the fountain court, too? I heard them go clanking and clattering through the hall like a torrent of steel! Here I sit, a poor gouty old man, deserted of my children and servants--all gone to church--to serve a better Master--not a page or a maid left me to send out to see and bring me word what is the occasion thereof! I was on the point of hobbling to the door myself when you came.'
'Being on my way to the forest of Dean, my lord, and coming round by Raglan to inquire after you and my lady, I did bring with me some of my officers to dine and drink your lordship's health on our way.'
'You shall all be welcome, though I fear I shall not make one,' said the marquis, with a grimace, for just then he had a twinge of the gout.
'I am sorry to see you suffer, sir,' said his son.
'Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,' returned the marquis, giving a kick with the leg which contained his inheritance; and then came a pause, during which lady Margaret left the room.
'My lord,' said Herbert at length, with embarrassment, and forcing himself to speak, 'I am sorry to trouble you again, after all the money, enough to build this castle from the foundations--'
'Ah! ha!' interjected the marquis, but lord Herbert went on--
'which you have already spent on behalf of the king, my master, but--'
'YOUR master, Herbert!' said the marquis, testily. 'Well?'
'I must have some more money for his pressing necessities.' In his self-compulsion he had stumbled upon the wrong word.
'MUST you?' cried the marquis angrily. 'Pray take it.'
And drawing the keys of his treasury from the pocket of his frieze coat, he threw them down on the table before him. Lord Herbert reddened like a girl, and looked as much abashed as if he had been caught in something of which he was ashamed. One moment he stood thus, then said,
'Sir, the word was out before I was aware. I do not intend to put it into force. I pray will you put up your key again?'
'Truly, son,' replied the marquis, still testily, but in a milder tone, 'I shall think my keys not safe in my pocket whilst you have so many swords by your side; nor that I have the command of my house whilst you have so many officers in it; nor that I am at my own disposal, whilst you have so many commanders.'
'My lord,' replied Herbert, 'I do not intend that they shall stay in the castle; I mean they shall be gone.'
'I pray, let them. And have care that MUST do not stay behind,' said the marquis. 'But let them have their dinner first, lad.'
Lord Herbert bowed, and left the room. Thereupon, in the presence of lady Margaret, who just then re-entered, good Dr. Bayly, who, unperceived by lord Herbert in his pre-occupation, had been present during the interview, stepped up to the marquis and said:
'My good lord, the honourable confidence your lordship has reposed in me boldens me to do my duty as, in part at least, your lordship's humble spiritual adviser.'
'Thou shouldst want no boldening to do thy duty, doctor,' said the marquis, making a wry face.
'May I then beg of your lordship to consider whether you have not been more severe with your noble son than the occasion demanded, seeing not only was the word uttered by a lapse of the tongue, but yourself heard my lord express much sorrow for the overslip?'
'What!' said lady Herbert, something merrily, but looking in the face of her father-in-law with a little anxious questioning in her eyes, 'has my lord been falling out with my Ned?'
'Hark ye, daughter!' answered the marquis, his face beaming with restored good-humour, for the twinge in his toe had abated, 'and you too, my good chaplain!--if my son be dejected, I can raise him when I please; but it is a question, if he should once take a head, whether I could bring him lower when I list. Ned was not wont to use such courtship to me, and I believe he intended a better word for his father; but MUST was for the king.'
Returning to her own room, lady Margaret found Dorothy waiting for her.
'Well, my little lig-a-bed!' she said sweetly, 'what is amiss with thee? Thou lookest but soberly.'
'I am well, madam; and that I look soberly,' said Dorothy, 'you will not wonder when I tell you wherefore. But first, if it please you, I would pray for my lord's presence, that he too may know all.'
'Holy mother! what is the matter, child?' cried lady Margaret, of late easily fluttered. 'Is it my lord Herbert you mean, or my lord of Worcester?'
'My lord Herbert, my lady. I dread lest he should be gone ere I have found a time to tell him.'
'He rides again after dinner,' said lady Margaret.
'Then, dear my lady, if you would keep me from great doubt and disquiet, let me have the ear of my lord for a few moments.'
Lady Margaret rang for her page, and sent him to find his master and request his presence in her parlour.
Within five minutes lord Herbert was with them, and within five more, Dorothy had ended her tale of the night, uninterrupted save by lady Margaret's exclamations of sympathy.
'And now, my lord, what am I to do?' she asked in conclusion.
Lord Herbert made no answer for a few moments, but walked up and down the room. Dorothy thought he looked angry as well as troubled. He burst at length into a laugh, however, and said merrily,
'I have it, ladies! I see how we may save my father much annoyance without concealment, for nothing must be concealed from him that in any way concerns the house. But the annoyance arising from any direct attempt at discovering the wrongdoers would be endless, and its failure almost certain. But now, as I would plan it, instead of trouble my father shall have laughter, and instead of annoyance such a jest as may make him good amends for the wrong done him by the breach of his household laws. Caspar has explained to you all concerning the water-works, I believe, cousin?'
'All, my lord. I may without presumption affirm that I can, so long as there arises no mishap, with my own hand govern them all. Caspar has for many weeks left everything to me, save indeed the lighting of the furnace-fire.'
'That is as I would have it, cousin. So soon then as it is dark this evening, you will together, you and Caspar, set the springs which lie under the first stone of the paving of the bridge. Thereafter, as you know, the first foot set upon it will drop the drawbridge to the stone bridge, and the same instant convert the two into an aqueduct, filled with a rushing torrent from the reservoir, which will sweep the intruders away. Before they shall have either gathered their discomfited wits or raised their prostrate bones, my father will be out upon them, nor shall they find shelter for their shame ere every soul in the castle has witnessed their disgrace.'
'I had thought of the plan, my lord; but I dreaded the punishment might be too severe, not knowing what the water might do upon them.'
'There will be no danger to life, and little to limb,' said his lordship. 'The torrent will cease flowing the moment they are swept from the bridge. But they shall be both bruised and shamed; and,' added his lordship, with an oath such as seldom crossed his lips, 'in such times as these, they will well deserve what shall befall them. Intruding hounds!--But you must take heed, cousin Dorothy, that you forget not that you have yourself done. Should you have occasion to go on the bridge after setting your vermin-trap, you must not omit to place your feet precisely where Caspar will show you, else you will have to ride a watery horse half-way, mayhap to the marble one--except indeed he throw you from his back against the chapel-door.'
When her husband talked in long sentences, as he was not unfrequently given to do, lady Margaret, even when their sequences were not very clear, seldom interrupted him: she had learned that she gained more by letting him talk on; for however circuitous the route he might take, he never forgot where he was going. He might obscure his object, but there it always was. He was now again walking up and down the room, and, perceiving that he had not yet arranged all to his satisfaction, she watched him with merriment in her Irish eyes, and waited.
'I have it!' he cried again. 'It shall be so, and my father shall thus have immediate notice. The nights are weekly growing warmer, and he will not therein be tempted to his hurt. Our trusty and well-beloved cousin Dorothy, we herewith, in presence of our liege and lovely lady, appoint thee our deputy during our absence. No one but thyself hath a right to cross the bridge after dark, save Caspar and the governor, whom with my father I shall inform and warn concerning what is to be done. But I will myself adjust the escape, so that the torrent shall not fall too powerful; Caspar must connect it with the drawbridge, whose fall will then open it. And pray remind him to see first that all the hinges and joints concerned be well greased, that it may fall instantly.'
So saying, he left the room, and sought out Caspar, with whom he contrived the ringing of a bell in the marquis's chamber by the drawbridge in its fall, the arrangement for which Caspar was to carry out that same evening after dark. He next sought his father, and told him and his brother Charles the whole story; nor did he find himself wrong in his expectation that the prospect of so good a jest would go far to console the marquis for the annoyance of finding that his household was not quite such a pattern one as he had supposed. That there was anything of conspiracy or treachery involved, he did not for a moment believe.
After dinner, while the horses were brought out, lord Herbert went again to his wife's room. There was little Molly waiting to bid him good-bye, and she sat upon his knee until it was time for him to go. The child's looks made his heart sad, and his wife could not restrain her tears when she saw him gaze upon her so mournfully. It was with a heavy heart that, when the moment of departure came, he rose, gave her into her mother's arms, clasped them both in one embrace, and hurried from the room. He ought to be a noble king for whom such men and women make such sacrifices.
To witness such devotion on the part of personages to whom she looked up with such respect and confidence, would have been in itself more than sufficient to secure for its object the unquestioning partisanship of Dorothy; partisan already, it raised her prejudice to a degree of worship which greatly narrowed what she took for one of the widest gulfs separating her from the creed of her friends. The favourite dogma of the school-master-king, the offspring of his pride and weakness, had found fitting soil in Dorothy. When, in the natural growth of the confidence reposed in her by her protectors, she came to have some idea of the immensity of the sums spent by them on behalf of his son, had, indeed, ere the close of another year read the king's own handwriting and signature in acknowledgment of a debt of a quarter of a million, she took it only as an additional sign--for additional proof there was no room--of their ever admirable devotion to his divine right. That the marquis and his son were catholics served but to glorify the right to which a hostile faith yielded such practical homage.
Immediately after nightfall she repaired to Caspar, and between them everything was speedily arranged for the carrying out of lord Herbert's counter-plot.
But night after night passed, and the bell in the marquis's room remained voiceless.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.