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Dorothy had hardly reached her room when the castle was once more astir. The rush of the guard across the stone court, the clang of opening lattices, and the voices that called from out-shot heads, again filled her ears, but she never once peeped from her window. A moment, and the news was all over the castle that the prisoner had escaped.
Lord Charles went at once to his father's room. The old man woke instantly. He had but just laid his hand on his mane, not mounted the shadowy steed, and was ill pleased to be already, and the second time, startled back to conscious weariness. When he heard the bad tidings he was silent for a few moments.
'I would Herbert were at home, Charles, to stop this rat-hole for me,' he said at length. 'Let the roundhead go--I care not. I had but half a right to hold him, and he deserves his freedom. But what a governor art thou, my lord? Prithee, dost know the rents in thine own hose, who knowest not when thy gingerbread bulwarks gape? Find me out this rat-hole, I say, or I will depose thee and send for thy brother John, whom the king can ill spare.'
'Have patience with me, father,' said lord Charles gently. 'I am more ashamed than thou art angry.'
'Thou know'st I did but jest, my son. But in truth an'thou find it not I will send for lord Herbert. If he find what thou canst not, that will be no disgrace to thee. But find it we must.'
'Think you not, my lord, it were best set mistress Dorothy on the search? She hath a wondrous gift of discovery.'
'A good thought, Charles! I will even do as thou sayest. But search the castle first, from vane to dungeon, that we may be assured the roundhead hath indeed vanished.'
As he spoke the marquis turned him round, to search the wide gray fields again for the shadowy horse that roamed them tetherless. But the steed would not come to his call; he grew chilly and asthmatic, tossed to and fro, and began to dread an attack of the gout.
The sun rose higher; the hive of men and women was astir once more; the clatter of the day's work and the buzz of the day's talk began, and nothing was in anybody's mouth but the escape of the prisoner. His capture and trial were already of the past, forgotten for the time in the nearer astonishment. Lord Charles went searching, questioning, peering about everywhere, but could find neither prisoner nor the traitorous hole.
Meantime mistress Watson was not a little anxious until she should have revealed what she knew to the marquis, for the prisoner was in her charge when he disappeared. In the course of the morning lord Charles came to her apartment to question her, but she begged to be excused, because of a certain disclosure she was not at liberty to make to any but his father. Lord Charles, whom she had known from his boyhood, readily yielded, and mistress Watson, five minutes after he had left his room, followed the marquis to his study, whither it was his custom always to repair before breakfast. He was looking pale from the trouble of the night, which had resulted in unmistakeable symptoms of the gout, listened to all she had to tell him without comment, looked grave, and told her to fetch mistress Dorothy. As soon as she was gone, he called Scudamore from the antechamber, and sent him to request lord Charles's presence. He came at once, and was there when Dorothy entered.
She was very white and worn, and her eyes were heavily downcast. Her face wore that expression so much resembling guilt, which indicates the misery the most innocent feel the most under the consciousness of suspicion. At the sight of lord Charles, she crimsoned: it was one thing to confess to the marquis, and quite another to do so in the presence of his son.
The marquis sat with one leg on a stool, already in the gradually contracting gripe of his ghoulish enemy. Before Dorothy could recover from the annoyance of finding lord Charles present, or open her mouth to beg for a more private interview, he addressed her abruptly.
'Our young rebel friend hath escaped, it seems, mistress Dorothy!' he said, gently but coldly, looking her full in the eyes, with searching gaze and hard expression.
'I am glad to hear it, my lord,' returned Dorothy, with a sudden influx of courage, coming, as the wind blows, she knew not whence.
'Ha!' said the marquis, quickly; 'then is it news to thee, mistress Dorothy?'
His lip, as it seemed to Dorothy, curled into a mocking smile; but the gout might have been in it.
'Indeed it is news, my lord. I hoped it might be so, I confess, but I knew not that so it was.'
'What, mistress Dorothy! knewest thou not that the young thief was gone?'
'I knew that Richard Heywood was gone from his chamber--whether from the castle I knew not. He was no thief, my lord. Your lordship's page and fool were the thieves.'
'Cousin, I hardly know myself in the change I find in thee! Truly, a marvellous change! In the dark night thou takest a roundhead prisoner; in the gray of the morning thou settest him free again! Hath one visit to his chamber so wrought upon thee? To an old man it seemeth less than maidenly.'
Again a burning blush overspread poor Dorothy's countenance. But she governed herself, and spoke bravely, although she could not keep her voice from trembling.
'My lord,' she said, 'Richard Heywood was my playmate. We were as brother and sister, for our fathers'lands bordered each other.'
'Thou didst say nothing of these things last night?'
'My lord! Before the whole hall? Besides, what mattered it? All was over long ago, and I had done my part against him.'
'Fell you out together then?'
'What need is there for your lordship to ask? Thou seest him of the one part, and me of the other.'
'And from loving thou didst fall to hating?'
'God forbid, my lord! I but do my part against him.'
'For the which thou hadst a noble opportunity unsought, raising the hue and cry upon him within his enemy's walls!'
'I would to God, my lord, it had not fallen to me.'
'Thinking better of it, therefore, and repenting of thy harshness, thou didst seek his chamber in the night to tell him so? I would fain know how a maiden reasoneth with herself when she doth such things.'
'Not so, my lord. I will tell you all. I could not sleep for thinking of my wounded playmate. And as to what he had done, after it became clear that he sought but his own, and meant no hair's-breadth of harm to your lordship, I confess the matter looked not the same.'
'Therefore you would make him amends and undo what you had done? You had caught the bird, and had therefore a right to free the bird when you would? All well, mistress Dorothy, had he been indeed a bird! But being a man, and in thy friend's house, I doubt thy logic. The thing had passed from thy hands into mine, young mistress,' said the marquis, into the ball of whose foot the gout that moment ran its unicorn-horn.
'I did not set him free, my lord. When I entered the prison-chamber, he was already gone.'
'Thou hadst the will and didst it not! Is there yet another in my house who had the will and did it?' cried the marquis, who, although more than annoyed that she should have so committed herself, yet was willing to give such scope to a lover, that if she had but confessed she had liberated him, he would have pardoned her heartily. He did not yet know how incapable Dorothy was of a lie.
'But, my lord, I had not the will to set him free,' she said.
'Wherefore then didst go to him?'
'My lord, he was sorely wounded, and I had seen him fall fainting,' said Dorothy, repressing her tears with much ado.
'And thou didst go to comfort him?'
Dorothy was silent.
'How camest thou locked into his room? Tell me that, mistress.'
'Your lordship knows as much of that as I do. Indeed, I have been sorely punished for a little fault.'
'Thou dost confess the fault then?'
'If it WAS a fault to visit him who was sick and in prison, my lord.'
The marquis was silent for a whole minute.
'And thou canst not tell how he gat him forth of the walls? Must I believe him to be forth of them, my lord?' he said, turning to his son.
'I cannot imagine him within them, my lord, after such search as we have made.'
'Still,' returned the marquis, the acuteness of whose wits had not been swallowed up by that of the gout, 'so long as thou canst not tell how he gat forth, I may doubt whether he be forth. If the manner of his exit be acknowledged hidden, wherefore not the place of his refuge? Mistress Dorothy,' he continued, altogether averse to the supposition of treachery amongst his people, 'thou art bound by all obligations of loyalty and shelter and truth, to tell what thou knowest. An' thou do not, thou art a traitor to the house, yea to thy king, for when the worst comes, and this his castle is besieged, much harm may be wrought by that secret passage, yea, it may be taken thereby.'
'You say true, my lord: I should indeed be so bound, an' I knew what my lord would have me disclose.'
'One may be bound and remain bound,' said the marquis, spying prevarication. 'Now the thing is over, and the youth safe, all I ask of thee, and surely it is not much, is but to bar the door against his return--except indeed thou didst from the first contrive so to meet thy roundhead lover in my loyal house. Then indeed it were too much to require of thee! Ah ha! mistress Dorothy, the little blind god is a rascally deceiver. He is but blind nor' nor' west. He playeth hoodman, and peepeth over his bandage.'
'My lord, you wrong me much,' said Dorothy, and burst into tears, while once more the red lava of the human centre rushed over her neck and brow. 'I did think that I had done enough both for my lord of Worcester and against Richard Heywood, and I did hope that he had escaped: there lies the worst I can lay to my charge even in thought, my lord, and I trust it is no more than may be found pardonable.'
'It sets an ill example to my quiet house if the ladies therein go anights to the gentlemen's chambers.'
'My lord, you are cruel,' said Dorothy.
'Not a soul in the house knows it but myself, my lord,' said mistress Watson.
'Hold there, my good woman! Whose hand was it turned the key upon her? More than thou must know thereof. Hear me, mistress Dorothy: I would be heart-loath to quarrel with thee, and in all honesty I am glad thy lover--'
'He is no lover of mine, my lord! At least--'
'Be he what he may, he is a fine fellow, and I am glad he hath escaped. Do thou but find out for my lord Charles here the cursed rat-hole by which he goes and comes, and I will gladly forgive thee all the trouble thou hast brought into my sober house. For truly never hath been in my day such confusion and uproar therein as since thou earnest hither, and thy dog and thy lover and thy lover's mare followed thee.'
'Alas, my lord! if I were fortunate enough to find it, what would you but say I found it where I knew well to look for it?'
'Find it, and I promise thee I will never say word on the matter again. Thou art a good girl, and thou do venture a hair too far for a lover. The still ones are always the worst, mistress Watson.'
'My lord! my lord!' cried Dorothy, but ended not, for his lordship gave a louder cry. His face was contorted with anguish, and he writhed under the tiger fangs of the gout.
'Go away,' he shouted, 'or I shall disgrace my manhood before women, God help me!'
'I trust thee will bear me no malice,' said the housekeeper, as they walked in the direction of Dorothy's chamber.
'You did but your duty,' said Dorothy quietly.
'I will do all I can for thee,' continued mistress Watson, mounted again, if not on her high horse then on her palfrey, by her master's behaviour to the poor girl--'if thou but confess to me how thou didst contrive the young gentleman's escape, and wherefore he locked the door upon thee.'
At the moment they were close to Dorothy's room; her answer to the impertinence was to walk in and shut the door; and mistress Watson was thenceforward entirely satisfied of her guilt.
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