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It was the custom in Raglan to close the gates at eleven o'clock every morning, and then begin to lay the tables for dinner; nor were they opened again until the meal was over, and all had dispersed to their various duties. Upon this occasion directions were given that the gates should remain closed until the issue of further orders.
There was little talk in the hall during dinner that day, and not much in the marquis's dining-room.
In the midst of the meal at the housekeeper's table, mistress Amanda was taken suddenly ill, and nearly fell from her chair. A spoonful of one of mistress Watson's strong waters revived her, but she was compelled to leave the room.
When the remains of the dinner had been cleared away, the tables lifted from the trestles, and all removed, solemn preparations began to be made in the hall. The dais was covered with crimson cloth, and chairs were arranged on each side against the wall for the lords and ladies of the family, while in the wide space between was set the marquis's chair of state. Immediately below the dais, chairs were placed by the walls for the ladies and officers of the household. The minstrels' gallery was hung with crimson; long ladders were brought, and the windows, the great bay window and all save the painted one, were hung with thick cloth of the same colour, so that a dull red light filled the huge place. The floor was then strewn with fresh rushes, and candles were placed and lighted in sconces on the walls, and in two large candlesticks, one on each side of the marquis's chair. So numerous were the hands employed in these preparations, that about one o'clock the alarum-bell gave three great tolls, and then silence fell.
Almost noiselessly, and with faces more than grave, the people of the castle in their Sunday clothes began at once to come trooping in,--amongst the rest Tom Fool, the very picture of dismay. Mrs. Prescot had refused to be left behind, partly from terror, partly from curiosity, and supine on a hand-barrow was borne in, and laid upon two of the table-trestles. Order and what arrangement was needful were enforced amongst them by Mr. Cook, one of the ushers. In came the garrison also, with clank and clang, and took their places with countenances expressive neither of hardihood nor merriment, but a grave expectancy.
Mostly by the other door came the ladies and officers, amongst them Dorothy, and seated themselves below the dais. When it seemed at length that all were present, the two doors were closed, and silence reigned.
A few minutes more and the ladies and gentlemen of the family, in full dress, entered by the door at the back of the dais, and were shown to their places by Mr. Moyle, the first usher. Next came the marquis, leaning on lord Charles, and walking worse than usual. He too was, wonderful to tell, in full dress, and, notwithstanding his corpulency and lameness, looked every inch a marquis and the head of the house. He placed himself in the great chair, and sat upright, looking serenely around on the multitude of pale expectant faces, while lord Charles took his station erect at his left hand. A moment yet, and by the same door, last of all, entered lord Herbert, alone, in his garb of astrologer. He came before his father, bowed to him profoundly, and taking his place by his right hand, a little in front of the chair, cast a keen eye around the assembly. His look was grave, even troubled, and indeed somewhat anxious.
'Are all present?' he asked, and was answered only by silence. He then waved his right hand three times towards heaven, each time throwing open his palm outwards and upwards. At the close of the third wafture, a roar as of thunder broke and rolled about the place, making the huge hall tremble, and the windows rattle and shake fearfully. Some thought it was thunder, others thought it more like the consecutive discharge of great guns. It grew darker, and through the dim stained window many saw a dense black smoke rising from the stone-court, at sight of which they trembled yet more, for what could it be but the chariot upon which Modo, or Mahu, or whatever the demon might be called, rode up from the infernal lake? Again lord Herbert waved his arm three times, and again the thunder broke and rolled vibrating about the place. A third time he gave the sign, and once more, but now close over their heads, the thunder broke, and in the midst of its echoes, high in the oak roof appeared a little cloud of smoke. It seemed to catch the eye of lord Herbert. He made one step forward, and held out his hand towards it, with the gesture of a falconer presenting his wrist to a bird.
'Ha! art thou here?' he said.
And to the eyes of all, a creature like a bat was plainly visible, perched upon his forefinger, and waving up and down its filmy wings. He looked at it for a moment, bent his head to it, seemed to whisper, and then addressed it aloud.
'Go,' he said, 'alight upon the head of him or of her who hath wrought the evil thou knowest in this house. For it was of thine own kind, and would have smirched a fair brow.'
As he spoke he cast the creature aloft. A smothered cry came from some of the women, and Tom Fool gave a great sob and held his breath tight. Once round the wide space the bat flew, midway between floor and roof, and returning perched again upon lord Herbert's hand.
'Ha!' said his lordship, stooping his head over it, 'what meanest thou? Is not the evil-doer in presence? What?--Nay, but it cannot be? Not within the walls?--Ha! "Not in the HALL" thou sayest!'
He lifted his head, turned to his father, and said,
'Your lordship's commands have been disregarded. One of your people is absent.'
The marquis turned to lord Charles.
'Call me the ushers of the hall, my lord,' he said.
In a moment the two officers were before him.
'Search and see, and bring me word who is absent,' said the marquis.
The two gentlemen went down into the crowd, one from each side of the dais.
A minute or two passed, and then Mr. Cook came back and said,--
'My lord, I cannot find Caspar Kaltoff.'
'Caspar! Art not there, Caspar?' cried lord Herbert.
'Here I am, my lord,' answered the voice of Caspar from somewhere in the hall.
'I beg your lordship's pardon,' said Mr. Cook. 'I failed to find him.'
'It matters not, master usher. Look again,' said lord Herbert.
At the moment, Caspar, the sole attendant spirit, that day at least, upon his lord's commands, stood in one of the deep windows behind the crimson cloth, more than twenty feet above the heads of the assembly. The windows were connected by a narrow gallery in the thickness of the wall, communicating also with the minstrels' gallery, by means of which, and a ladder against the porch, Caspar could come and go unseen.
As lord Herbert spoke, Mr. Moyle came up on the dais, and brought his report that mistress Amanda Fuller was not with the rest of the ladies.
Lord Herbert turned to his wife.
'My lady,' he said, 'mistress Amanda is of your people: knowest thou wherefore she cometh not?'
'I know not, my lord, but I will send and see,' replied lady Margaret.--'My lady Broughton, wilt thou go and inquire wherefore the damsel disregardeth my lord of Worcester's commands?'
She had chosen the gentlest-hearted of her women to go on the message.
Lady Broughton came back pale and trembling--indeed there was much pallor and trembling that day in Raglan--with the report that she could not find her. A shudder ran through the whole body of the hall. Plainly the impression was that she had been FETCHED. The thunder and the smoke had not been for nothing: the devil had claimed and carried off his own! On the dais the impression was somewhat different; but all were one in this, that every eye was fixed on lord Herbert, every thought hanging on his pleasure.
For a whole minute he stood, apparently lost in meditation. The bat still rested on his hand, but his wings were still.
He had intended causing it to settle on Amanda's head, but now he must alter his plan. Nor was he sorry to do so, for it had involved no small risk of failure, the toy requiring most delicate adjustment, and its management a circumspection and nicety that occasioned him no little anxiety. It had indeed been arranged that Amanda should sit right under the window next the dais, so that he might have the assistance of Caspar from above; but if by any chance the mechanical bat should alight upon the head of another, mistress Doughty or lady Broughton instead of Amanda--what then? He was not sorry to find himself rescued from this jeopardy, and scarcely more than a minute had elapsed ere he had devised a plan by which to turn the check to the advantage of all--even that of Amanda herself, towards whom, while he felt bound to bring her to shame should she prove guilty, he was yet willing to remember mercy; while, should she be innocent, no harm would now result from his mistaken suspicion. He turned and whispered to his father.
'I will back thee, lad. Do as thou wilt,' returned the marquis, gravely nodding his head.
'Ushers of the hall,' cried lord Herbert, 'close and lock both its doors. Lock also the door to the minstrels' gallery, and, with my lord's leave, that to my lord's stair. My lord Charles, go thou prithee, and with chalk draw me a pentacle upon the threshold of each of the four; and do thou, sir Toby Mathews, make the holy sign thereabove upon the lintel and the doorposts. For the door to the pitched court, however, leave that until I am gone forth and it is closed behind me, and then do thereunto the same as to the others, after which let all sit in silence. Move not, neither speak, for any sound of fear or smell of horror. For the gift that is in him from his mother, Thomas Rees shall accompany me. Go to the door, and wait until I come.'
Having thus spoken he raised the bat towards his face, and, approaching his lips, seemed once more to be talking to it in whispers. The menials and the garrison had no doubt but he talked to his familiar spirit. Of their superiors, mistress Watson at least was of the same conviction. Then he bent his ear towards it as if he were listening, and it began to flutter its wings, at which sir Toby's faith in him began to waver. A moment more and he cast the creature from him. It flew aloft, traversed the whole length of the roof, and vanished.
It had in fact, as its master willed, alighted in the farthest corner of the roof, a little dark recess. Then, bowing low to his father, the magician stepped down from the dais, and walked through a lane of awe-struck domestics and soldiery to the door, where Tom stood waiting his approach. The fool was in a strange flutter of feelings, a conflict of pride and terror, the latter of which would, but for the former, have unnerved him quite; for not only was he doubtful of the magician's intent with regard to himself, but the hall seemed now the only place of security, and all outside it given over to goblins or worse.
The moment they crossed the threshold, the door was closed behind them, the holy sign was signed over the one, and the pentacle drawn upon the other.
All eyes were turned upon the marquis. He sat motionless. Motionless, too, as if they had been carved in stone like the leopard and wyvern over their heads, sat all the lords and ladies, embodying in themselves the words of the motto there graven, Mulaxe Vel Timere Sperno. Motionless sat the ladies beneath the dais, but their faces were troubled and pale, for Amanda was one of them, and their imaginations were busy with what might now be befalling her. Dorothy sat in much distress, for although she could lay no evil intent to her own charge, she was yet the cause of the whole fearful business. As for Scudamore, though he too was white of blee, he said to himself, and honestly, that the devil might fly away with her and welcome for what he cared. One woman in the crowd fainted and fell, but uttered never a moan. The very children were hushed by the dread that pervaded the air, and the smell of sulphur, which from a suspicion grew to a plain presence, increased not a little the high-wrought awe.
After about half an hour, during which expectation of something frightful had been growing with every moment, three great knocks came to the porch door. Mr. Moyle opened it, and in walked lord Herbert as he had issued, with Tom Fool, in whom the importance had now at length banished almost every sign of dread, at his heels. He reascended the dais, bowed once more to his father, spoke a few words to him in a tone too low to be overheard, and then turning to the assembly, said with solemn voice and stern countenance:
'The air is clear. The sin of Raglan is purged. Every one to his place.'
Had not Tom Fool, who had remained by the door, led the way from the hall, it might have been doubtful when any one would venture to stir; but, with many a deep-drawn breath and sigh of relief, they trooped slowly out after him, until the body of the hall was empty. In their hearts keen curiosity and vague terror contended like fire and water.
From that hour, while Raglan stood, the face of Amanda Serafina was no more seen within its walls. At midnight shrieks and loud wailings were heard, but if they came from Amanda, they were her last signs.
I shall not, however, hide the proceedings of lord Herbert without the hall any more than he did himself when he reached the oak parlour with the members of his own family, in which Dorothy seemed now included. He had taken Tom Fool both because he knew the castle so well, and might therefore be useful in searching for Amanda, and because he believed he might depend, if not on his discretion, yet on his dread, for secrecy. They had scarcely left the hall before they were joined by Caspar, who, while his master and the fool went in one direction, set off in another, and after a long search in vain, at length found her in an empty stall in the subterranean stable, as if, in the agony of her terror at the awful noises and the impending discovery, she had sought refuge in the companionship of the innocent animals. She was crouching, the very image of fear, under the manger, gave no cry when he entered, but seemed to gather a little courage when she found that the approaching steps were those of a human being.
'Mistress Amanda Fuller,' said his lordship with awful severity, 'thou hast in thy possession a jewel which is not thine own.'
'A jewel, my lord?' faltered Amanda, betaking herself by the force of inborn propensity and habit, even when hopeless of success in concealment, to the falsehood she carried with her like an atmosphere; 'I know not what your lordship means. Of what sort is the jewel?'
'One very like this,' returned lord Herbert, producing the false ring.
'Why, there you have it, my lord!'
'Traitress to thy king and thy lord, out of thine own mouth have I convicted thee. This is not the ring. See!'
As he spoke he squeezed it betwixt his finger and thumb to a shapeless mass, and threw it from him--then continued:
'Thou art she who did show the rebel his way from the prison into which her lord had cast him.'
'He took me by the throat, my lord,' gasped Amanda, 'and put me in mortal terror.'
'Thou slanderest him,' returned lord Herbert. 'The roundhead is a gentleman, and would not, to save his life, have harmed thee, even had he known what a worthless thing thou art. I will grant that he put thee in fear. But wherefore gavest thou no alarm when he was gone?'
'He made me swear that I would not betray him.'
'Let it be so. Why didst thou not reveal the way he took?'
'I knew it not.'
'Yet thou wentest after him when he left thee. And wherefore didst thou not deliver the ring he gave thee for mistress Dorothy?'
'I feared she would betray me, that I had held talk with the prisoner.'
'Let that too pass as less wicked than cowardly. But wherefore didst thou lock the door upon her when thou sawest her go into the roundhead's prison? Thou knewest that therefrom she must bear the blame of having set him free, with other blame, and worse for a maiden to endure?'
'It was a sudden temptation, my lord, which I knew not how to resist, and was carried away thereby. Have pity upon me, dear my lord,' moaned Amanda.
'I will believe thee there also, for I fear me thou hast had so little practice in the art of resisting temptation, that thou mightst well yield to one that urged thee towards such mere essential evil. But how was it that, after thou hadst had leisure to reflect, thou didst spread abroad the report that she was found there, and that to the hurt not only of her loyal fame, but of her maidenly honour, understanding well that no one was there but herself, and that he alone who could bear testimony to her innocence and thy guilt was parted from her by everything that could divide them except hatred? Was the temptation to that also too sudden for thy resistance?'
At length Amanda was speechless. She hung her head, for the first time in her life ashamed of herself.
'Go before to thy chamber. I follow thee.'
She rose to obey, but she could scarcely walk, and he ordered the men to assist her. Arrived in her room she delivered up the ring, and at lord Herbert's command proceeded to gather together her few possessions. That done, they led her away to the rude chamber in the watch tower, where stood the arblast, and there, seated on her chest, they left her with the assurance that if she cried out or gave any alarm, it would be to the publishing of her own shame.
At the dead of night Caspar and Tom, with four picked men from the guard, came to lead her away. Worn out by that time, and with nothing to sustain her from within, she fancied they were going to kill her, and giving way utterly, cried and shrieked aloud. Obdurate however, as gentle, they gave no ear to her petitions, but bore her through the western gate, and so to the brick gate in the rampart, placed her in a carriage behind six horses, and set out with her for Caerleon, where her mother lived in obscurity. At her door they set her down, and leaving the carriage at Usk, returned to Raglan one by one in the night, mounted on the horses. By the warders who admitted them they were supposed to be returned from distinct missions on the king's business.
Many were the speculations in the castle as to the fate of mistress Amanda Serafina Fuller, but the common belief continued to be that she had been carried off by Satan, body and soul.
THE END of VOLUME II.
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