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Things began to look threatening. Raglan's brooding disappointment and apprehension was like the electric overcharge of the earth, awaiting and drawing to it the hovering cloud: the lightning and thunder of the war began at length to stoop upon the Yellow Tower of Gwent. When the month of May arrived once more with its moonlight and apple-blossoms, the cloud came with it. The doings of the earl of Glamorgan in Ireland had probably hastened the vengeance of the parliament.
There was no longer any royal army. Most of the king's friends had accepted the terms offered them; and only a few of his garrisons, amongst the rest that of Raglan, held out--no longer, however, in such trim for defence as at first. The walls, it is true, were rather stronger than before, the quantity of provisions was large, and the garrison was sufficient; but their horses were now comparatively few, and, which was worse, the fodder in store was, in prospect of a long siege, scanty. But the worst of all, indeed the only weak and therefore miserable fact, was, that the spirit, I do not mean the courage, of the castle was gone; its enthusiasm had grown sere; its inhabitants no longer loved the king as they had loved him, and even stern-faced general Duty cannot bring up his men to a hand-to-hand conflict with the same elans as queen love.
The rumour of approaching troops kept gathering, and at every fresh report Scudamore's eyes shone.
'Sir Rowland,' said the governor one day, 'hast not had enough of fighting yet for all thy lame shoulder?'
''Tis but my left shoulder, my lord,' answered Scudamore.
'Thou lookest for the siege as an' it were but a tussle and over--a flash and a roar. An' thou had to answer for the place like me--well!'
'Nay, my lord, I would fain show the roundheads what an honest house can do to hold out rogues.'
'Ay, but there's the rub!' returned lord Charles: 'will the house hold out the rogues? Bethink thee, Rowland, there is never a spot in it fit for defence except the keep and the kitchen.'
'We can make sallies, my lord.'
'To be driven in again by ten times our number, and kept in while they knock our walls about our ears! However, we will hold out while we can. Who knows what turn affairs may take?'
It was towards the end of April when the news reached Raglan that the king, desperate at length, had made his escape from beleaguered Oxford, and in the disguise of a serving man, betaken himself to the headquarters of the Scots army, to find himself no king, no guest even, but a prisoner. He sought shelter and found captivity. The marquis dropped his chin on his chest and murmured, 'All is over.'
But the pang that shot to his heart awoke wounded loyalty: he had been angry with his monarch, and justly, but he would fight for him still.
'See to the gates, Charles,' he cried, almost springing, spite of his unwieldiness, from his chair. 'Tell Casper to keep the powder-mill going night and day. Would to God my boy Ned were here! His majesty hath wronged me, but throned or prisoned he is my king still--the church must come down, Charles. The dead are for the living, and will not cry out.' For in St. Cadocus' church lay the tombs of his ancestors.
On deliberation it was resolved, however, that only the tower, which commanded some portions of the castle, should fall. To Dorothy it was like taking down the standard of the Lord. She went with some of the ladies to look a last look at the ancient structure, and saw mass after mass fall silent from the top to clash hideous at the foot amidst the broken tomb-stones. It was sad enough! but the destruction of the cottages around it, that the enemy might not have shelter there, was sadder still. The women wept and wailed; the men growled, and said what was Raglan to them that their houses should be pulled from over their heads. The marquis offered compensation and shelter. All took the money, but few accepted the shelter, for the prospect of a siege was not attractive to any but such as were fond of fighting, of whom some would rather attack than defend.
The next day they heard that sir Trevor Williams was at Usk with a strong body of men. They knew colonel Birch was besieging Gutbridge castle. Two days passed, and then colonel Kirk appeared to the north, and approached within two miles. The ladies began to look pale as often as they saw two persons talking together: there might be fresh news. His father and his wife were not the only persons in the castle who kept sighing for Glamorgan. Every soul in it felt as if, not to say fancied that, his presence would have made it impregnable.
But a strange excitement seized upon Dorothy, which arose from a sense of trust and delegation, outwardly unauthorised. She had not the presumption to give it form in words, even to Caspar, but she felt as if they two were the special servants of the absent power. Ceaselessly therefore she kept open eyes, and saw and spoke and reminded and remedied where she could, so noiselessly, so unobtrusively, that none were offended, and all took heed of the things she brought before them. Indeed what she said came at length to be listened to almost as if it had been a message from Glamorgan. But her chief business was still the fire-engine, whose machinery she anxiously watched--for if anything should happen to Caspar and then to the engine, what would become of them when driven into the tower?
Discipline, which of late had got very drowsy, was stirred up to fresh life. Watch grew strict. The garrison was drilled more regularly and carefully, and the guard and sentinels relieved to the minute. The armoury was entirely overhauled, and every smith set to work to get the poor remainder of its contents into good condition.
One evening lord Charles came to his father with the news that some score of fresh horses had arrived.
'Have they brought provender with them, my lord?' asked the marquis.
'Alas, no, my lord, only teeth,' answered the governor.
'How stands the hay?'
'At low ebb, my lord. There is plenty of oats, however.'
'We hear to-day nothing of the round-heads: what say you to turning them out and letting them have a last bellyful of sweet grass under the walls?'
'I say 'tis so good a plan, my lord, that I think we had better extend it, and let a few of the rest have a parting nibble.'
The marquis approved.
There was a postern in the outermost wall of the castle on the western side, seldom used, commanded by the guns of the tower, and opening upon a large field of grass, with nothing between but a ditch. It was just wide enough to let one horse through at a time, and by this the governor resolved to turn them out, and as soon as it was nearly dark, ordered a few thick oak planks to be laid across the ditch, one above another, for a bridge. The field was sufficiently fenced to keep them from straying, and with the first signs of dawn they would take them in again.
Dorothy, leaving the tower for the night, had reached the archway, when to her surprise she saw the figure of a huge horse move across the mouth of it, followed by another and another. Except Richard's mare on that eventful night she had never seen horse-kind there before. One after another, till she had counted some five-and-twenty, she saw pass, then heard them cross the fountain court with heavy foot upon the tiles. At length, dark as it was, she recognised her own little Dick moving athwart the opening. She sprang forward, seized him by the halter, and drew him in beside her. On and on they came, till she had counted eighty, and then the procession ceased.
Presently she heard the voice of lord Charles, as he crossed the hall and came out into the court, saying,
'How many didst thou count, Shafto?'
'Seventy-nine, my lord,' answered the groom, coming from the direction of the gate.
'I counted eighty at the hall-door as they went in.'
'I am certain no more than seventy-nine went through the gate, my lord.'
'What can have become of the eightieth? He must have gone into the chapel, or up the archway, or he may be still in the hall. Art sure he is not grazing on the turf?'
'Certain sure, my lord,' answered Shafto.
'I am the thief, my lord,' said Dorothy, coming from the archway behind him, leading her little horse. '--Good, my lord, let me keep Dick. He is as useful as another--more useful than some.'
'How, cousin!' cried lord Charles, 'didst imagine I was sending off thy genet to save the hay? No, no! An' thou hadst looked well at the other horses, thou wouldst have seen they are such as we want for work--such as may indeed save the hay, but after another fashion. I but mean to do thy Dick a kindness, and give him a bite of grass with the rest.'
'Then you are turning them out into the fields, my lord?'
'Yes--at the little postern.'
'Is it safe, my lord, with the enemy so near?'
'It is my father's idea. I do not think there is any danger. There will be no moon to-night.'
'May not the scouts ride the closer for that,' my lord?'
'Yes, but they will not see the better.'
'I hope, my lord, you will not think me presumptuous, but--please let me keep my Dick inside the walls.'
'Do what thou wilt with thine own, cousin. I think thou art over-fearful; but do as thou wilt, I say.'
Dorothy led Dick back to his stable, a little distressed that lord Charles seemed to dislike her caution.
But she had a strong feeling of the risk of the thing, and after she went to bed was so haunted by it that she could not sleep. After a while, however, her thoughts took another direction:--Might not Richard come to the siege? What if they should meet?--That his party had triumphed, no whit altered the rights of the matter, and she was sure it had not altered her feelings; yet her feelings were altered: she was no longer so fiercely indignant against the puritans as heretofore! Was she turning traitor? or losing the government of herself? or was the right triumphing in her against her will? Was it St. Michael for the truth conquering St. George for the old way of England? Had the king been a tyrant indeed? and had the powers of heaven declared against him, and were they now putting on their instruments to cut down the harvest of wrong? Had not Richard been very sure of being in the right? But what was that shaking--not of the walls, but the foundations? What was that noise as of distant thunder? She sprang from her bed, caught up her night-light, for now she never slept in the dark as heretofore, and hurried to the watch-tower. From its top she saw, by the faint light of the stars, vague forms careering over the fields. There was no cry except an occasional neigh, and the thunder was from the feet of many horses on the turf. The enemy was lifting the castle horses!
She flew to the chamber beneath, where, since the earl's departure, in the stead of the cross-bow, a small minion gun had been placed by lord Charles, with its muzzle in the round where the lines of the loop-hole crossed. A piece of match lay beside it. She caught it up, lighted it at her candle, and fired the gun. The tower shook with its roar and recoil. She had fired the first gun of the siege: might it be a good omen!
In an instant the castle was alive. Warders came running from the western gate. Dorothy had gone, and they could not tell who had fired the gun, but there were no occasion to ask why it had been fired--for where were the horses? They could hear, but no longer see them. There was mounting in hot haste, and a hurried sally. Lord Charles flung himself on little Dick's bare back, and flew to reconnoitre. Fifty of the garrison were ready armed and mounted by the time he came back, having discovered the route they were taking, and off they went at full speed in pursuit. But, encumbered as they were at first with the driven horses, the twenty men who had carried them off had such a start of their pursuers that they reached the high road where they could not stray, and drove them right before them to sir Trevor Williams at Usk.
'The fodder will last the longer,' said the marquis, with a sigh sent after his eighty horses.
'Mistress Dorothy,' said lord Charles the next day, 'methinks thou art as Cassandra in Troy. I shall tremble after this to do aught against thy judgment.'
'My lord,' returned Dorothy, 'I have to ask your pardon for my presumption, but it was borne in upon me, as Tom Fool says, that there was danger in the thing. It was scarcely judgment on my part--rather a womanish dread.'
'Go thou on to speak thy mind like Cassandra, cousin Dorothy, and let us men despise it at our peril. I am humbled before thee,' said lord Charles, with the generosity of his family.
'Truly, child,' said lady Glamorgan, 'the mantle of my husband hath fallen upon thee!'
The next day sir Trevor Williams and his men sat down before the castle with a small battery, and the siege was fairly begun. Dorothy, on the top of the keep, watching them, but not understanding what they were about in particulars, heard the sudden bellow of one of their cannon. Two of the battlements beside her flew into one, and the stones of the parapet between them stormed into the cistern. Had her presence been the attraction to that thunderbolt? Often after this, while she watched the engine below in the workshop, she would hear the dull thud of an iron ball against the body of the tower; but although it knocked the parapet into showers of stones, their artillery could not make the slightest impression upon that.
The same night a sally was prepared. Rowland ran to lord Charles, begging leave to go. But his lordship would not hear of it, telling him to get well, and he should have enough of sallying before the siege was over. The enemy were surprised, and lost a few men, but soon recovered themselves and drove the royalists home, following them to the very gates, whence the guns of the castle sent them back in their turn.
Many such sallies and skirmishes followed. Once and again there was but time for the guard to open the gate, admit their own, and close it, ere the enemy came thundering up--to be received with a volley and gallop off. At first there was great excitement within the walls when a party was out. Eager and anxious eyes followed them from every point of vision. But at length they got used to it, as to all the ordinary occurrences of siege.
By and by colonel Morgan appeared with additional forces, and made his head-quarters to the south, at Llandenny. In two days more the castle was surrounded, and they began to erect a larger battery on the east of it, also to dig trenches and prepare for mining. The chief point of attack was that side of the stone court which lay between the towers of the kitchen and the library. Here then came the hottest of the siege, and very soon that range of building gave show of affording an easy passage by the time the outer works should be taken.
After the first ball, whose execution Dorothy had witnessed, there came no more for some time. Sir Trevor waited until the second battery should be begun and captain Hooper arrive, who was to be at the head of the mining operations. Hence most of the inmates of the castle began to imagine that a siege was not such an unpleasant thing after all. They lacked nothing; the apple trees bloomed; the moon shone; the white horse fed the fountain; the pigeons flew about the courts, and the peacock strutted on the grass. But when they began digging their approaches and mounting their guns on the east side, sir Trevor opened his battery on the west, and the guns of the tower replied. The guns also from the kitchen tower, and another between it and the library tower, played upon the trenches, and the noise was tremendous. At first the inhabitants were nearly deafened, and frequently failed to hear what was said; but at length they grew hardened--so much so that they were often unaware of the firing altogether, and began again to think a siege no great matter. But when the guns of the eastern battery opened fire, and at the first discharge a round shot, bringing with it a barrowful of stones, came down the kitchen chimney, knocking the lid through the bottom of the cook's stewpan, and scattering all the fire about the place; when the roof of one of the turrets went clashing over the stones of the paved court; when a spent shot struck the bars of the Great Mogul's cage, and sent him furious, making them think what might happen, and wishing they were sure of the politics of the wild beasts; when the stones and slates flew about like sudden showers of hail; when every now and then a great rumble told of a falling wall, and that side of the court was rapidly turning to a heap of ruins; then were cries and screams, many more however of terror than of injury, to be heard in the castle, and they began to understand that it was not starvation, but something more peremptory still, to which they were doomed to succumb. At times there would fall a lull, perhaps for a few hours, perhaps but for a few moments, to end in a sudden fury of firing on both sides, mingled with shouts, the rattling of bullets, and the falling of stones, when the women would rush to and fro screaming, and all would imagine the storm was in the breach.
But the gloom of the marquis seemed to have vanished with the breaking of the storm, as the outburst of the lightning takes the weight off head and heart that has for days been gathering. True, when his house began to fall, he would look for a moment grave at each successive rumble, but the next he would smile and nod his head, as if all was just as he had expected and would have it. One day when sir Toby Mathews and Dr. Bayly happened both to be with him in his study, an ancient stack of chimneys tumbled with tremendous uproar into the stone court. The two clergymen started visibly, and then looked at each other with pallid faces. But the marquis smiled, kept the silence for an instant, and then, in slow solemn voice, said:
'Scimus enim quoniam si terrestris domus nomus nostra hujus habitationis dissolvatur, quod aedificationem ex Deo habemus, domum non manufactam, aeternam in coelis.'
The clergymen grasped each other by the hand, then turning bowed together to the marquis, but the conversation was not resumed.
One evening in the drawing-room, after supper, the marquis, in good spirits, and for him in good health, was talking more merrily than usual. Lady Glamorgan stood near him in the window. The captain of the garrison was giving a spirited description of a sally they had made the night before upon colonel Morgan in his quarters at Llandenny, and sir Rowland was vowing that come of it what might, leave or no leave, he would ride the next time, when crash went something in the room, the marquis put his hand to his head, and the countess fled in terror, crying, 'O Lord! O Lord!' A bullet had come through the window, knocked a little marble pillar belonging to it in fragments on the floor, and glancing from it, struck the marquis on the side of the head. The countess, finding herself unhurt, ran no farther than the door.
'I ask your pardon, my lord, for my rudeness,' she said, with trembling voice, as she came slowly back. 'But indeed, ladies,' she added, 'I thought the house was coming down.--You gentlemen, who know not what fear is, I pray you to forgive me, for I was mortally frightened.'
'Daughter, you had reason to run away, when your father was knocked on the head,' said the marquis.
He put his finger on the flattened bullet where it had fallen on the table, and turning it round and round, was silent for a moment evidently framing aright something he wanted to say. Then with the pretence that the bullet had been flattened upon his head,
'Gentlemen,' he remarked, 'those who had a mind to flatter me were wont to tell me that I had a good head in my younger days, but if I don't flatter myself, I think I have a good head-piece in my old age, or else it would not have been musket-proof.'
But although he took the thing thus quietly and indeed merrily, it revealed to him that their usual apartments were no longer fit for the ladies, and he gave orders therefore that the great rooms in the tower should be prepared for them and the children.
Dorothy's capacity for work was not easily satisfied, but now for a time she had plenty to do. In the midst of the roar from the batteries, and the answering roar from towers and walls, the ladies betook themselves to their stronger quarters: a thousand necessaries had to be carried with them, and she, as a matter of course, it seemed, had to superintend the removal. With many hands to make light work she soon finished, however, and the family was lodged where no hostile shot could reach them, although the frequent fall of portions of its battlemented summit rendered even a peep beyond its impenetrable shell hazardous. Dorothy would lie awake at night, where she slept in her mistress's room, and listen--now to the baffled bullet as it fell from the scarce indented wall, now to the roar of the artillery, sounding dull and far away through the ten- foot thickness; and ever and again the words of the ancient psalm would return upon her memory: 'Thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.'
She tended the fire-engine if possible yet more carefully than ever, kept the cistern full, and the water lipping the edge of the moat, but let no fountain flow except that from the mouth of the white horse. Her great fear was lest a shot should fall into the reservoir and injure its bottom, but its contriver had taken care that, even without the protection of its watery armour, it should be indestructible.
The marquis would not leave his own rooms and the supervision they gave him. The domestics were mostly lodged within the kitchen tower, which, although in full exposure to the enemy's fire, had as yet proved able to resist it. But all between that and the library tower was rapidly becoming a chaos of stones and timber. Lord Glamorgan's secret chamber was shot through and through; but Caspar, as soon as the direction and force of the battery were known, had carried off his books and instruments.
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