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But she found some relief in applying her mind to the task which lord Worcester had set her; and many a night as she tossed sleepless on her bed, would she turn from the thoughts that tortured her, to brood upon the castle, and invent if she might some new possible way, however difficult, of getting out of it unseen: and many a morning after the night thus spent, would she hasten, ere the household was astir, to examine some spot which had occurred to her as perhaps containing the secret she sought. One time it was a chimney that might have door and stair concealed within it; another, the stables, where she examined every stall in the hope of finding a trap to an underground way. Had any one else been in question but Richard, the traitor, the roundhead, she might have imagined an associate within the walls, in which case farther solution would not have been for her; but somehow, she did not make it clear to herself how, she could not entertain the idea in connection with Richard. Besides, in brooding over everything, it had grown plain to her that both Richard and Marquis had that night been through the moat.
Some who caught sight of her in the early dawn, wandering about and peering here and there, thought that she was losing her senses; others more ingenious in the thinking of evil, imagined she sought to impress the household with a notion of her innocence by pretending a search for the concealed flaw in the defences.
Ever since she had been put in charge of the water-works, she had been in the habit of lingering a little on the roof of the keep as often as occasion took her thither, for she delighted in the far outlook on the open country which it afforded; and perhaps it was a proof of the general healthiness of her nature that now in her misery, instead of shutting herself up in her own chamber, she oftener sought the walk around the reservoir, looking abroad in shadowy hope of some lurking deliverance, like captive lady in the stronghold of evil knight. On one of these occasions, in the first of the twilight, she was leaning over one of the battlements looking down upon the moat and its white and yellow blossoms and great green leaves, and feeling very desolate. Her young life seemed to have crumbled down upon her and crushed her heart, and all for one gentle imprudence.
'Oh my mother!' she murmured,--'an' thou couldst hear me, thou wouldst help me an' thou couldst. Thy poor Dorothy is sorely sad and forsaken, and she knows no way of escape. Oh my mother, hear me!'
As she spoke, she looked away from the moat to the sky, and spread out her arms in the pain of her petition.
There was a step behind her.
'What! what! My little protestant praying to the naughty saints! That will never do.'
Dorothy had turned with a great start, and stood speechless and trembling before lord Herbert.
'My poor child!' he said, holding out both his hands, and taking those which Dorothy did not offer--'did I startle thee then so much? I am truly sorry. I heard but thy last words; be not afraid of thy secret. But what hath come to thee? Thou art white and thin, there are tears on thy face, and it seems as thou wert not so glad to see me as I thought thou wouldst have been. What is amiss? I hope thou art not sick--but plainly thou art ill at ease! Go not yet after my Molly, cousin, for truly we need thee here yet a while.'
'Would I might go to Molly, my lord!' said Dorothy. 'Molly would believe me.'
'Thou need'st not go to Molly for that, cousin. I will believe thee. Only tell me what thou wouldst have me believe, and I will believe it. What! think'st thou I am not magician enough to know whom to believe and whom not? Fye, fye, mistress! Thou, on thy part, wilt not put faith in thy cousin Herbert!'
His kind words were to her as the voice of him that calleth for the waters of the sea that he may pour them out on the face of the earth. The poor girl burst into a passion of weeping, fell on her knees before him, and holding up her clasped hands, cried out in a voice of sob-choked agony--for she was not used to tears, and it was to her a rending of the heart to weep--
'Save me, save me, my lord! I have no friend in the world who can help me but thee.'
'No friend! What meanest thou, Dorothy?' said lord Herbert, taking her two clasped hands between his. 'There is my Margaret and my father!'
'Alas, my lord! they mean well by me, but they do not believe me; and if your lordship believe me no more than they, I must go from Raglan. Yet believing me, I know not how you could any more help me.'
'Dorothy, my child, I can do nothing till thou take me with thee. I cannot even comfort thee.'
'Your lordship is weary,' said Dorothy, rising and wiping her eyes. 'You cannot yet have eaten since you came. Go, my lord, and hear my tale first from them that believe me not. They will assure you of nothing that is not true, only they understand it not, and wrong me in their conjectures. Let my lady Margaret tell it you, my lord, and then if you have yet faith enough in me to send for me, I will come and answer all you ask. If you send not for me, I will ride from Raglan to-morrow.'
'It shall be as thou sayest, Dorothy. An' it be not fit for the judge to hear both sides of the tale, or an' it boots the innocent which side he first heareth, then were he no better judge than good king James, of blessed memory, when he was so sore astonished to find both sides in the right.'
'A king, my lord, and judge foolishly!'
'A king, my damsel, and judged merrily. But fear me not; I trust in God to judge fairly even betwixt friend and foe, and I doubt not it will be now to the lightening of thy trouble, my poor storm-beaten dove.'
It startled Dorothy with a gladness that stung like pain, to hear the word he never used but to his wife thus flit from his lips in the tenderness of his pity, and alight like the dove itself upon her head. She thanked him with her whole soul, and was silent.
'I will send hither to thee, my child, when I require thy presence; and when I send come straight to my lady's parlour.'
Dorothy bowed her head, but could not speak, and lord Herbert walked quickly from her. She heard him run down the stair almost with the headlong speed of his boy Henry.
Half an hour passed slowly--then lady Margaret's page came lightly up the steps, bearing the request that she would favour his mistress with her presence. She rose from the battlement where she had seated herself to watch the moon, already far up in the heavens, as she brightened through the gathering dusk, and followed him with beating heart.
When she entered the parlour, where as yet no candles had been lighted, she saw and knew nothing till she found herself clasped to a bosom heaving with emotion.
'Forgive me, Dorothy,' sobbed lady Margaret. 'I have done thee wrong. But thou wilt love me yet again--wilt thou not, Dorothy?'
'Madam! madam !' was all Dorothy could answer, kissing her hands.
Lady Margaret led her to her husband, who kissed her on the forehead, and seated her betwixt himself and his wife; and for a space there was silence. Then at last said Dorothy:
'Tell me, madam, how is it that I find myself once more in the garden of your favour? How know you that I am not all unworthy thereof?'
'My lord tells me so,' returned lady Margaret simply.
'And whence doth my lord know it?' asked Dorothy, turning to lord Herbert.
''An' thou be not satisfied of thine own innocence, Dorothy, I will ask thee a few questions. Listen to thine answers, and judge. How came the young puritan into the castle that night? But stay: we must have candles, for how can I, the judge, or my lady, the jury, see into the heart of the prisoner save through the window of her face?'
Dorothy laughed--her first laugh since the evil fog had ascended and swathed her. Lady Margaret rang the bell on her table. Candles were brought from where they stood ready in the ante-chamber, and as soon as they began to burn clear, lord Herbert repeated his question.
'My lord,' answered Dorothy, 'I look to you to tell me so much, for before God I know not.'
'Nay, child! thou need'st not buttress thy words with an oath,' said his lordship. 'Thy fair eyes are worth a thousand oaths. But to the question: tell me wherefore didst thou not let the young man go when first thou spied him? Wherefore didst ring the alarm-bell? Thou sawest he was upon his own mare, for thou knewest her--didst thou not?'
'I did, my lord; but he had no business there, and I was of my lord Worcester's household. Here I am not Dorothy Vaughan, but my lady's gentlewoman.'
'Then why didst thou go to his room thereafter? Didst thou not know it for the most perilous adventure maiden could undergo?'
'Perilous it hath indeed proved, my lord.'
'And might have proved worse than perilous.'
'No, my lord. Other danger was none where Richard was,' returned Dorothy with vehemence.
'It beareth a look as if mayhap thou dost or mightst one day love the young man!' said lord Herbert in slow pondering tone.
'My spirit hath of late been driven to hold him company, my lord. It seemed that, save Caspar, I had no friend left but him. God help me! it were a fearful thing to love a fanatic! But I will resist the devil.'
'Truly we are in lack of a few such devils on what we count the honest side, Dorothy!' said lord Herbert, laughing. 'Not every man that thinks the other way is a rogue or a fool. But thou hast not told me why thou didst run the heavy risk of seeking him in the night.'
'I could not rest for thinking of him, my lord, with that terrible wound in the head I had as good as given him, and from whose effects I had last seen him lie as one dead. He was my playmate, and my mother loved him.'
Here poor Dorothy broke down and wept, but recovered herself with an effort, and proceeded.
'I kept starting awake, seeing him thus at one time, and at another hearing him utter my name as if entreating me to go to him, until at last I believed that I was called.'
'Called by whom, Dorothy?'
'I thought--I thought, my lord, it might be the same that called Samuel, who had opened my ears to hear Richard's voice.'
'And it was indeed therefore thou didst go?'
'I think so, my lord. I am sure, at least, but for that I would not have gone. Yet surely I mistook, for see what hath come of it,' she added, turning to lady Margaret.
'We must not judge from one consequence where there are a thousand yet to follow,' said his lordship. '--And thou sayest, when thou didst enter the room thou didst find no one there?'
'I say so, my lord, and it is true.'
'That I know as well as thou. What then didst thou think of the matter?'
'I was filled with fear, my lord, when I saw the bedclothes all in a heap on the floor, but upon reflection I hoped that he had had the better in the struggle, and had escaped; for now at least he could do no harm in Raglan, I thought. But when I found the door was locked,--I dare hardly think of that, my lord; it makes me tremble yet.'
'Now, who thinkest thou in thy heart did lock the door upon thee?'
'Might it not have been Satan himself, my lord?'
'Nay, I cannot tell what might or might not be where such a one is so plainly concerned. But I believe he was only acting in his usual fashion, which, as a matter of course, must be his worst--I mean through the heart and hands of some one in the house who would bring thee into trouble.'
'I would it were the other way, my lord.'
'So would I heartily. In his own person I fear him not a whit. But hast thou no suspicion of any one owing thee a grudge, who might be glad on such opportunity to pay it thee with interest?'
'I must confess I have, my lord; but I beg of your lordship not to question me on the matter further, for it reaches only to suspicion. I know nothing, and might, if I uttered a word, be guilty of grievous wrong. Pardon me, my lord.'
Lord Herbert looked hard at his wife. Lady Margaret dropped her head.
'Thou art right, indeed, my good cousin!' he said, turning again to Dorothy; 'for that would be to do by another as thou sufferest so sorely from others doing by thee. I must send my brains about and make a discovery or two for myself. It is well I have a few days to spend at home. And now to the first part of the business in hand. Hast thou any special way of calling thy dog? It is a moonlit night, I believe.'
He rose and went to the window, over which hung a heavy curtain of Flemish tapestry.
'It is a three-quarter old moon, my lord,' said Dorothy, 'and very bright. I did use to call my dog with a whistle my mother gave me when I was a child.'
'Canst thou lay thy hand upon it? Hast thou it with thee in Raglan?'
'I have it in my hand now, my lord.'
'What then with the moon and thy whistle, I think we shall not fail.'
'Hast lost thy wits, Ned?' said his wife. 'Or what fiend wouldst thou raise to-night?'
'I would lay one rather,' returned lord Herbert. 'But first I would discover this same perilous fault in the armour of my house. Is thy genet still in thy control, Dorothy?'
'I have no reason to think otherwise, my lord. The frolicker he, the merrier ever was I.'
'Darest thou ride him alone in the moonlight--outside the walls.'
'I dare anything on Dick's back--that Dick can do, my lord.'
'Doth thy dog know Caspar--in friendly fashion, I mean?'
'Caspar is the only one in the castle he is quite friendly with, my lord.'
'Then is all as I would have it. And now I will tell thee what I would not have: I would not have a soul in the place but my lady here know that I am searching with thee after this dog-and-man hole. Therefore I will saddle thy little horse for thee myself, and--'
'No, no, my lord!' interrupted Dorothy. 'That I can do.'
'So much the better for thee. But I am no boor, fair damsel. Then shalt thou mount and ride him forth, and Marquis thy mastiff shall see thee go from the yard. Then will I mount the keep, and from that point of vantage look down upon the two courts, while Caspar goes to stand by thy dog. Thou shalt ride slowly along for a minute or two, until these preparations shall have been made; then shalt thou blow thy whistle, and set off at a gallop to round the castle, still ever and anon blowing thy whistle; by which means, if I should fail to see thy Marquis leave the castle, thou mayest perchance discover at least from which side of the castle he comes to thee.'
Dorothy sprang to her feet.
'I am ready, my lord,' she said.
'And so am I, my maiden,' returned lord Herbert, rising. 'Wilt go to the top of the keep, wife, and grant me the light of eyes in aid of the moonshine? I will come thither presently.'
'Thou shalt find me there, Ned, I promise thee. Mother Mary speed thy quest?'
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