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A NEW SOLDIER.
Moments had scarcely passed after Dorothy left him at the fountain, ere Scudamore grievously repented of having spoken to her in such a manner, and would gladly have offered apology and what amends he might.
But Dorothy, neither easily moved to wrath, nor yet given to the nourishing of active resentment, was not therefore at all the readier to forget the results of moral difference, or to permit any nearer approach on the part of one such as her cousin had shown himself. As long as he continued so self-serene and unashamed, what satisfaction to her or what good to him could there be in it, even were he to content himself with the cousinly friendship which, as soon as he was capable of it, she was willing to afford him? As it was now, she granted him only distant recognition in company, neither seeking nor avoiding him; and as to all opportunity of private speech, entirely shunning him. For some time, in the vanity of his experience, he never doubted that these were only feminine arts, or that when she judged him sufficiently punished, she would relax the severity of her behaviour and begin to make him amends. But this demeanour of hers endured so long, and continued so uniform, that at length he began to doubt the universality of his experience, and to dread lest the maiden should actually prove what he had never found maiden before, inexorable. He did not reflect that he had given her no ground whatever for altering her judgment or feeling with regard to him. But in truth her thoughts rarely turned to him at all, and while his were haunting her as one who was taking pleasure in the idea that she was making him feel her resentment, she was simply forgetting him, busy perhaps with some self-offered question that demanded an answer, or perhaps brooding a little over the past, in which the form of Richard now came and went at its will.
So long as Rowland imagined the existence of a quarrel, he imagined therein a bond between them; when he became convinced that no quarrel, only indifference, or perhaps despisal, separated them, he began again to despair, and felt himself urged once more to speak. Seizing therefore an opportunity in such manner that she could not escape him without attracting very undesirable attention, he began a talk upon the old basis.
'Wilt thou then forgive me nevermore, Dorothy?', he said humbly.
'For what, Mr. Scuclamore?'
'I mean for offending thee with rude words.'
'Truly I have forgotten them.'
'Then shall we be friends?'
'Nay, that follows not.'
'What quarrel then hast thou with me?'
'I have no quarrel with thee; yet is there one thing I cannot forgive thee.'
'And what is that, cousin? Believe me I know not. I need but to know, and I will humble myself.'
'That would serve nothing, for how should I forgive thee for being unworthy? For such thing there is no forgiveness. Cease thou to be unworthy, and then is there nothing to forgive. I were an unfriendly friend, Rowland, did I befriend the man who befriendeth not himself.'
'I understand thee not, cousin.'
'And I understand not thy not understanding. Therefore can there be no communion between us.'
So saying Dorothy left him to what consolation he could find in such china-pastoral abuse as the gallants of the day would, with the aid of poetic penny-trumpet, cast upon offending damsels--Daphnes and Chloes, and, in the mood, heathen shepherdesses in general. But, fortunately for himself, how great soever had been the freedom with which he had lost and changed many a foolish liking, he found, let his hopelessness or his offence be what it might, he had not the power to shake himself free from the first worthy passion ever roused in him. It had struck root below the sandy upper stratum of his mind into a clay soil beneath, where at least it was able to hold, and whence it could draw a little slow reluctant nourishment.
During his poetic anger, he wrote no small amount of fair verse, tried by the standard of Cowley, Carew, and Suckling, so like theirs indeed that the best of it might have passed for some of their worst, although there was not in it all a single phrase to remind one of their best. But when the poetic spring began to run dry, he fell once more into a sort of wilful despair, and disrelished everything, except indeed his food and drink, so much so that his master perceiving his altered cheer, one day addressed him to know the cause.
'What aileth thee, Rowland?' he said kindly. 'For this se'ennight past, thou lookest like one that oweth the hangman his best suit.'
'I rust, my lord,' said Rowland, with a tragic air of discontent.
The notion had arisen in his foolish head that the way to soften the heart of Dorothy would be to ride to the wars, and get himself slain, or, rather severely but not mortally wounded. Then he would be brought back to Raglan, and, thinking he was going to die, Dorothy would nurse him, and then she would be sure to fall in love with him. Yes--he would ride forth on the fellow Heywood's mare, seek him in the field of battle, and slay him, but be himself thus grievously wounded.
'I rust, my lord,' he said briefly.
'Ha! Thou wouldst to the wars! I like thee for that, boy. Truly the king wanteth soldiers, and that more than ever. Thou art a good cupbearer, but I will do my best to savour my claret without thee. Thou shalt to the king, and what poor thing my word may do for thee shall not be wanting.'
Scudamore had expected opposition, and was a little nonplussed. He had judged himself essential to his master's comfort, and had even hoped he might set Dorothy to use her influence towards reconciling him to remain at home. But although self-indulgent and lazy, Scudamore was constitutionally no coward, and had never had any experience to give him pause: he did not know what an ugly thing a battle is after it is over, and the mind has leisure to attend to the smarting of the wounds.
'I thank your lordship with all my heart,' he said, putting on an air of greater satisfaction than he felt, 'and with your lordship's leave would prefer a further request.'
'Say on, Rowland. I owe thee something for long and faithful service. An' I can, I will.'
'Give me the roundhead's mare that I may the better find her master.'
For Lady was still within the walls. The marquis could not restore her, but neither could he bring himself to use her, cherishing the hope of being one day free to give her back to a reconciled subject. But alas! there were very few horses now in Raglan stalls.
'No, Rowland,' he said, 'thou art the last who ought to get any good of her. It were neither law nor justice to hand the stolen goods to the thief.'
He sat silent, and Rowland, not very eager, stood before him in silence also, meaning it to be read as indicating that to the wars except on that mare's back he would not ride. But the thought of the marquis had now taken another turn.
'Thou shalt have her, my boy. Thou shalt not rust at home for the sake of a gouty old man and his claret. But ere thou go, I will write out certain maxims for thy following both in the field and in quarters. Ere thou ride, look well to thy girths, and as thou ridest say thy prayers, for it pleaseth not God that every man on the right side should live, and thou mayst find the presence in which thou standest change suddenly from that of mortal man to that of living God. I say nothing of orthodoxy, for truly I am not one to think that because a man hath been born a heretic, which lay not in his choice, and hath not been of his parents taught in the truth, that therefore he must howl for ever. Not while blessed Mary is queen of heaven, will all the priests in Christendom persuade me thereof. Only be thou fully persuaded in thine own mind, Rowland; for if thou cared not, that were an evil thing indeed. And of all things, my lad, remember this, that a weak blow were ever better unstruck. Go now to the armourer, and to him deliver my will that he fit thee out as a cuirassier for his majesty's service. I can give thee no rank, for I have no regiment in the making at present, but it may please his majesty to take care of thee, and give thee a place in my lord Glamorgan's regiment of body-guards.'
The prospect thus suddenly opened to Scudamore of a wider life and greater liberty, might have dazzled many a nobler nature than his. Lord Worcester saw the light in his eyes, and as he left the room gazed after him with pitiful countenance.
'Poor lad! poor lad!' he said to himself; 'I hope I see not the last of thee! God forbid! But here thou didst but rust, and it were a vile thing in an old man to infect a youth with the disease of age.'
Rowland soon found the master of the armoury, and with him crossed to the keep, where it lay, above the workshop. At the foot of the stair he talked loud, in the hope that Dorothy might be with the fire-engine, which he thought he heard at work, and would hear him. Having chosen such pieces as pleased his fancy, and needed but a little of the armourer's art to render them suitable, he filled his arms with them, and following the master down, contrived to fall a little behind, so that he should leave the tower before him, when he dropped them all with a huge clatter at the foot of the stair. The noise was sufficient, for it brought out Dorothy. She gazed for a moment as, pretending not to have seen her, he was picking them up with his back towards her.
'Do I see thee arming at length, cousin?' she said. 'I congratulate thee.'
She held out her hand to him. He took it and stared. The reception of his noisy news was different from what he had been vain enough to hope. So little had Dorothy's behaviour in the capture of Rowland enlightened him as to her character!
'Thou wouldst have me slain then to be rid of me, Dorothy?' he gasped.
'I would have any man slain where men fight,' returned Dorothy, 'rather than idling within stone walls!'
'Thou art hard-hearted, Dorothy, and knowest not what love is, else wouldst thou pity me a little.'
'What! art afraid, cousin?'
'Afraid! I fear nothing under heaven but thy cruelty, Dorothy.'
'Then what wouldst thou have me pity thee for?'
'I would, an' I had dared, have said--Because I must leave thee. But thou wouldst mock at that, and therefore I say instead--Because I shall never return; for I see well that thou never hast loved me even a little.'
'An' I had loved thee, cousin,' she rejoined, 'I had never let thee rest, or left soliciting thee, until thou hadst donned thy buff coat and buckled on thy spurs, and departed to be a man among men, and no more a boy among women.'
So saying she returned to her engine, which all the time had been pumping and forcing with fiery inspiration.
Scudamore mounted and rode, followed by one of the grooms. He found the king at Wallingford, presented the marquis's letter, proffered his services, and was at once placed in attendance on his majesty's person.
In the eyes of most of his comrades the mare he rode seemed too light for cavalry work, but she made up in spirit and quality of muscle for lack of size, and there was not another about the king to match in beauty the little black Lady. Sweet-tempered and gentle although nervous and quick, and endowed with a rare docility and a faith which supplied courage, it was clear, while nothing was known of her pedigree, both from her form and her nature, that she was of Arab descent. No feeling of unreality in his possession of her intruding to disturb his satisfaction in her, Scudamore became very fond of her. Having joined the army, however, only after the second battle of Newbury, he had no chance till the following summer of learning how she bore herself in the field.
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