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All was done as had been arranged. Lord Herbert saddled Dick, not unaided of Dorothy, lifted her to his back, and led her to the gate, in full vision of Marquis, who went wild at the sight, and threatened to pull down kennel and all in his endeavours to follow them. Lord Herbert himself opened the yard gate, for the horses had already been suppered, and the men were in bed. He then walked by her side down to the brick gate. A moment there, and she was free and alone, with the wide green fields and the yellow moonlight all about her.
She had some difficulty in making Dick go slowly--quietly she could not--for the first minute or two, as lord Herbert had directed. He had had but little exercise of late, and moved as if his four legs felt like wings. Dorothy had ridden him very little since she came to the castle, but being very handy, lord Charles had used him, and one of the grooms had always taken him to ride messages. He had notwithstanding had but little of the pleasure of speed for a long time, and when Dorothy at length gave him the rein, he flew as if every member of his body from tail to ears and eyelids had been an engine of propulsion. But Dorothy had more wings than Dick. Her whole being was full of wings. It was a small thing that she had not had a right gallop since she left Wyfern; the strength she had been putting forth to bear the Atlas burden that night lifted from her soul, was now left free to upbear her, and she seemed in spirit to soar aloft into the regions of aether. With her horse under her, the moon over her, "the wind of their own speed" around them, and her heart beating with a joy such as she had never known, she could hardly help doubting sometimes for a moment whether she was not out in one of those delightful dreams of liberty and motion which had so frequently visited her sleep since she came to Raglan. Three shrill whistles she had blown, about a hundred yards from the gate, had heard the eager crowded bark of her dog in answer, and then Dick went flying over the fields like a water-bird over the lake, that scratches its smooth surface with its feet as it flies. Around the rampart they went. The still night was jubilant around them as they flew. The stars shone as if they knew all about her joy, that the shadow of guilt had been lifted from her, and that to her the world again was fair. She felt as the freed Psyche must feel when she drops the clay, and lo! the whole chrysalid world, which had hitherto hung as a clog at her foot, fast by the inexorable chain our blindness calls gravitation, has dropped from her with the clay, and the universe is her own.
At intervals she blew her whistle, and ever kept her keen eyes and ears awake, looking and listening before and behind, in the hope of hearing her dog, or seeing him come bounding through the moonlight.
Meantime lord Herbert and his wife had taken their stand on the top of the great tower, and were looking down--the lady into the stone court, and her husband into the grass one. Dorothy's shrill whistle came once, twice--and just as it began to sound a third time,
'Here he comes!' cried lady Margaret.
A black shadow went from the foot of the library tower, tearing across the moonlight to the hall door, where it vanished. But in vain lord Herbert kept his eyes on the fountain court, in the hope of its reappearance there. Presently they heard a heavy plunge in the water on the other side of the keep, and running round, saw plainly, the moat there lying broad in the moonlight, a little black object making its way across it. Through the obstructing floats of water-lily-leaves, it held steadily over to the other side. There for a moment they saw the whole body of the animal, as he scrambled out of the water up against the steep side of the moat--when suddenly, and most unaccountably to lady Margaret, he disappeared.
'I have it!' cried lord Herbert. 'What an ass I was not to think of it before! Come down with me, my dove, and I will show thee. Dorothy's Marquis hath got into the drain of the moat! He is a large dog, and beyond a doubt that is where the young roundhead entered. Who could have dreamed of such a thing! I had no thought it was such a size.'
Dorothy, having made the circuit, and arrived again at the brick gate, found lord Herbert waiting there, and pulled up.
'I have seen nothing of him, my lord,' she said, as he came to her side. 'Shall I ride round once more?'
'Do, prithee, for I see thou dost enjoy it. But we have already learned all we want to know, so far as goeth to the security of the castle. There is but one marquis in Raglan, and he is, I believe, in the oak parlour.'
'You saw my Marquis make his exit then, my lord?'
'My lady and I both saw him.'
'What then can have become of him?--We went very fast, and I suppose he gave up the chase in despair.'
'Thou wilt find him the second round. But stay--I will get a horse and go with thee.'
Dorothy went within the gate, and lord Herbert ran back to the stables. In a few minutes he was by her side again, and together they rode around the huge nest. The moon was glorious, with a few large white clouds around her, like great mirrors hung up to catch and reflect her light. The stars were few, and doubtful near the moon, but shone like diamonds in the dark spaces between the clouds. The rugged fortress lay swathed in the softness of the creamy light. No noise broke the stillness, save the dull drum-beat of their horses' hoofs on the turf, or their cymbal-clatter where they crossed a road, and the occasional shrill call from Dorothy's whistle.
On all sides the green fields, cow-cropped, divided by hedge-rows, and spotted with trees, single and in clumps, came close to the castle walls, except in one or two places where the corner of a red ploughed field came wedging in. All was so quiet and so soft that the gaunt old walls looked as if, having at first with harsh intrusion forced their way up into the sweet realm of air from the stony regions of the earth beneath, by slow degrees, yet long since, they had suffered an air change, and been charmed and gentled into harmony with soft winds and odours and moonlight. To Dorothy it seemed as if peace itself had taken form in the feathery weight that filled the flaky air; and as her horse galloped along, flying like a bird over ditch and mound, her own heart so light that her body seemed to float above the saddle rather than rest upon it, she felt like a soul which, having been dragged to hell by a lurking fiend, a good and strong angel was bearing aloft into bliss. Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.
No mastiff came to Dorothy's whistle, and having finished their round, they rode back to the stables, put up their horses, and rejoined lady Margaret, where she was still pacing the sunk walk around the moat. There lord Herbert showed Dorothy where her dog vanished, comforting her with the assurance that nothing should be altered before the faithful animal returned, as doubtless he would the moment he despaired of finding her in the open country.
Lord Herbert said nothing to his father that night lest he should spoil his rest, for he was yet far from well, but finding him a good deal better the next morning, he laid open the whole matter to him according to his convictions concerning Dorothy and her behaviour, ending with the words: 'That maiden, my lord, hath truth enough in her heart to serve the whole castle, an' if it might be but shared. To doubt her is to wrong the very light. I fear there are not many maidens in England who would have the courage and honesty, necessary both, to act as she hath done.'
The marquis listened attentively, and when lord Herbert had ended, sat a few moments in silence; then, for all answer, said,
'Go and fetch her, my lad.'
When Dorothy entered,--
'Come hither, maiden,' he said from his chair. 'Wilt thou kiss an old man who hath wronged thee--for so my son hath taught me?'
Dorothy stooped, and he kissed her on both cheeks, with the tears in his eyes.
'Thou shalt dine at my table,' he said, 'an' thy mistress will permit thee, as I doubt not she will when I ask her, until--thou, art weary of our dull company. Hear me, cousin Dorothy: an' thou wilt go with us to mass next Sunday, thou shalt sit on one side of me and thy mistress on the other, and all the castle shall see thee there, and shall know that thou art our dear cousin, mistress Dorothy Vaughan, and shall do thee honour.'
'I thank you, my lord, with all my heart,' said Dorothy, with troubled look, 'but--may I then speak without offence to your lordship, where my heart knoweth nought but honour, love, and obedience?'
'Speak what thou wilt, so it be what thou would'st,' answered the marquis.
'Then pardon me, my lord, that which would have made my mother sad, and would make my good master Herbert sorry that he brought me hither. He would fear I had forsaken the church of my fathers.'
'And returned to the church of thy grandfathers--eh, mistress Dorothy? And wherefore, then, should that weigh so much with thee, so long as thou wert no traitor to our blessed Lord?'
'But should I be no traitor, sir, an' I served him not with my best?'
'Thou hast nothing better than thy heart to give him, and nothing worse will serve his turn; and that we two have offered where I would have thee offer thine--and I trust, Herbert, the offering hath not lain unaccepted.'
'I trust not, my lord,' responded Herbert.
'But, my lord,' said Dorothy, with hot cheek and trembling voice, 'if I brought it him upon a dish which I believed to be of brass, when I had one of silver in the house, would it avail with him that your lordship knew the dish to be no brass, but the finest of gold? I should be unworthy of your lordship's favour, if, to be replaced in the honour of men, I did that which needed the pardon of God.'
'I told thee so, sir!' cried lord Herbert, who had been listening with radiant countenance.
'Thou art a good girl, Dorothy,' said the marquis. 'Verily I spoke but to try thee, and I thank God thou hast stood the trial, and answered aright. Now am I sure of thee; and I will no more doubt thee--not if I wake in the night and find thee standing over me with a drawn dagger like Judith. An' my worthy Bayly had been at home, perchance this had not happened; but forgive me, Dorothy, for the gout is the sting of the devil's own tail, and driveth men mad. Verily, it seemeth now as if I could never have behaved to thee as I have done. Why, one might say the foolish fat old man was jealous of the handsome young puritan! The wheel will come round, Dorothy. One day thou wilt marry him.'
'Never, my lord,' exclaimed Dorothy with vehemence.
'And when thou dost,' the marquis went on, 'all I beg of thee is, that on thy wedding day thou whisper thy bridegroom: "My lord of Worcester told me so;" and therewith thou shalt have my blessing, whether I be down here in Raglan, or up the great stair with little Molly.'
Dorothy was silent. The marquis held out his hand. She kissed it, left the room, and flew to the top of the keep.
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