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Meantime Mr. Heywood had returned home to look after his affairs, and brought Richard with him. In the hope that peace was come they had laid down their commissions. Hardly had they reached Redware when they heard the news of the active operations at Raglan, and Richard rode off to see how things were going--not a little anxious concerning Dorothy, and full of eagerness to protect her, but entirely without hope of favour either at her hand or her heart. He had no inclination to take part in the siege, and had had enough of fighting for any satisfaction it had brought him. It might be the right thing to do, and so far the only path towards the sunrise, but had he ground for hope that the day of freedom had in himself advanced beyond the dawn? His confidence in Milton and Cromwell, with his father's, continued unshaken, but what could man do to satisfy the hunger for freedom which grew and gnawed within him? Neither political nor religious liberty could content him. He might himself be a slave in a universe of freedom. Still ready, even for the sake of mere outward freedom of action and liberty of worship, to draw the sword, he yet had begun to think he had fought enough.
As he approached Raglan he missed something from the landscape, but only upon reflection discovered that it was the church tower. Entering the village, he found it all but deserted, for the inhabitants had mostly gone, and it was too near the gates and too much exposed to the sudden sallies of the besieged for the occupation of the enemy. That day, however, a large reinforcement, sent from Oxford by Fairfax to strengthen colonel Morgan, having arrived at Llandenny, some of its officers, riding over to inspect captain Hooper's operations, had halted at the White Horse, where they were having a glass of ale when Richard rode up. He found them old acquaintances, and sat down with them. Almost evening when he arrived, it was quite dusk when they rose and called for their horses.
They had placed a man to keep watch towards Raglan, while the rest of their attendants, who were but few, leaving their horses in the yard, were drinking their ale in the kitchen; but seeing no signs of peril, and growing weary of his own position and envious of that of his neighbours, the fellow had ventured, discipline being neither active nor severe, to rejoin his companions.
The host, being a tenant of the marquis, had decided royalist predilections, but whether what followed was of his contriving I cannot tell; news reached the castle somehow that a few parliamentary officers with their men were drinking at the White Horse.
Rowland was in the chapel, listening to the organ, having in his illness grown fond of hearing Delaware play. The brisker the cannonade, the blind youth always praised the louder, and had the main stops now in full blast; but through it all, Scudamore heard the sound of horses' feet on the stones, and running along the minstrels' gallery and out on the top of the porch, saw over fifty horsemen in the court, all but ready to start. He flew to his chamber, caught up his sword and pistols, and without waiting to put on any armour, hurried to the stables, laid hold of the first horse he came to, which was fortunately saddled and bridled, and was in time to follow the last man out of the court before the gate was closed behind the issuing troop.
The parliamentary officers were just mounting, when their sentinel, who had run again into the road to listen, for it was now too dark to see further than a few yards, came running back with the alarm that he heard the feet of a considerable body of horse in the direction of the castle. Richard, whose mare stood unfastened at the door, was on her back in a moment. Being unarmed, save a brace of pistols in his holsters, he thought he could best serve them by galloping to captain Hooper and bringing help, for the castle party would doubtless outnumber them. Scarcely was he gone, however, and half the troopers were not yet in their saddles, when the place was surrounded by three times their number. Those who were already mounted, escaped and rode after Heywood, a few got into a field, where they hid themselves in the tall corn, and the rest barricaded the inn door and manned the windows. There they held out for some time, frequent pistol-shots being interchanged without much injury to either side. At length, however, the marquis's men had all but succeeded in forcing the door, when they were attacked in the rear by Richard with some thirty horse from the trenches, and the runaways of colonel Morgan's men, who had met them and turned with them. A smart combat ensued, lasting half an hour, in which the parliament men had the advantage. Those who had lost their horses recovered them, and a royalist was taken prisoner. From him Richard took his sword, and rode after the retreating cavaliers.
One of their number, a little in the rear, supposing Richard to be one of themselves, allowed him to get ahead of him, and, facing about, cut him off from his companions. It was the second time he had headed Scudamore, and again he did not know him, this time because it was dark. Rowland, however, recognised his voice as he called him to surrender, and rushed fiercely at him. But scarcely had they met, when the cavalier, whose little strength had ere this all but given way to the unwonted fatigue, was suddenly overcome with faintness, and dropped from his horse. Richard got down, lifted him, laid him across Lady's shoulders, mounted, raised him into a better position, and, leading the other horse, brought him back to the inn. There first he discovered that he was his prisoner whom he feared he had killed at Naseby.
When Rowland came to himself,
'Are you able to ride a few miles, Mr Scudamore?' asked Richard.
At first Rowland was too much chagrined, finding in whose power he was, to answer.
'I am your prisoner,' he said at length. 'You are my evil genius, I think. I have no choice. Thy star is in the ascendant, and mine has been going down ever since first I met thee, Richard Heywood.'
Richard attempted no reply, but got Rowland's horse, and assisted him to mount.
'I want to do you a good turn, Mr Scudamore,' he said, after they had ridden a mile in silence.
'I look for nothing good at thy hand,' said Scudamore.
'When thou findest what it is, I trust thou wilt change thy thought of me, Mr Scudamore.'
'SIR ROWLAND, an' it please you,' said the prisoner, his boyish vanity roused by misfortune, and passing itself upon him for dignity.
'Mere ignorance must be pardoned, sir Rowland,' returned Richard: 'I was unaware of your dignity. But think you, sir Rowland, you do well to ride on such rough errands, while yet not recovered, as is but too plain to see, from former wounds?'
'It seems not, Mr. Heywood, for I had not else been your prize, I trust. The wound I caught at Naseby has cost the king a soldier, I fear.'
'I hope it will cost no more than is already paid. Men must fight, it seems, but I for one would gladly repair, an' I might, what injuries I had been compelled to cause.'
'I cannot say the like on my part,' returned sir Rowland. 'I would I had slain thee!'
'So would not I concerning thee--in proof whereof do I now lead thee to the best leech I know--one who brought me back from death's door, when through thee, if not by thy hand, I was sore wounded. With her, as my prisoner, I shall leave thee. Seek not to make thy escape, lest, being a witch, as they saw of her, she chain thee up in alabaster. When thou art restored, go thy way whither thou pleasest. It is no longer as it was with the cause of liberty: a soldier of hers may now afford to release an enemy for whom he has a friendship.'
'A friendship!' exclaimed sir Rowland. 'And wherefore, prithee, Mr Heywood? On what ground?'
But they had reached the cottage, and Richard made no reply. Having helped his prisoner to dismount, led him through the garden, and knocked at the door,
'Here, mother!' he said as mistress Rees opened it, 'I have brought thee a king's-man to cure this time.'
'Praise God!' returned mistress Rees--not that a king's-man was wounded, but that she had him to cure: she was an enthusiast in her art. Just as she had devoted herself to the puritan, she now gave all her care and ministration to the royalist. She got her bed ready for him, asked him a few questions, looked at his shoulder, not even yet quite healed, said it had not been well managed, and prepared a poultice, which smelt so vilely that Rowland turned from it with disgust. But the old woman had a singular power of persuasion, and at length he yielded, and in a few moments was fast asleep.
Calling the next morning, Richard found him very weak--partly from the unwonted fatigue of the previous day, and partly from the old woman's remedies, which were causing the wound to threaten suppuration. But somehow he had become well satisfied that she knew what she was about, and showed no inclination to rebel.
For a week or so he did not seem to improve. Richard came often, sat by his bedside, and talked with him; but the moment he grew angry, called him names, or abused his party, would rise without a word, mount his mare, and ride home--to return the next morning as if nothing unpleasant had occurred.
After about a week, the patient began to feel the benefit of the wise woman's treatment. The suppuration carried so much of an old ever-haunting pain with it, that he was now easier than he had ever been since his return to Raglan. But his behaviour to Richard grew very strange, and the roundhead failed to understand it. At one time it was so friendly as to be almost affectionate; at another he seemed bent on doing and saying everything he could to provoke a duel. For another whole week, aware of the benefit he was deriving from the witch, as he never scrupled to call her, nor in the least offended her thereby, apparently also at times fascinated in some sort by the visits of his enemy, as he persisted in calling Richard, he showed no anxiety to be gone.
'Heywood,' he said one morning suddenly, with quite a new familiarity, 'dost thou consider I owe thee an apology for carrying off thy mare? Tell me what look the thing beareth to thee.'
'Put thy case, Scudamore,' returned Richard.
And sir Rowland did put his case, starting from the rebel state of the owner, advancing to the natural outlawry that resulted, going on to the necessity of the king, &c., and ending thus:
'Now I know thou regardest neither king nor right, therefore I ask thee only to tell me how it seemeth to thee I ought on these grounds to judge myself, since for thy judgment in thy own person and on thy own grounds, or rather no grounds, I care not at all.'
'Come, then, let it be but a question of casuistry. Yet I fear me it will be difficult to argue without breaking bounds. Would my lord marquis now walk forth of his castle at the king's command as certainly as he will at the voice of the nation, that is, the cannons of the parliament?'
'The cannons of the cursed parliament are not the voice of the nation? Our side is the nation, not yours.'
'How provest thou that?'
'We are the better born, to begin with.'
'Ye have the more titles, I grant ye, but we have the older families. Let it be, however, that I was or am a rebel--then I can only say that in stealing--no, I will not say stealing, for thou didst it with a different mind--all I will say is this, sir Rowland, that I should have scorned so to carry off thine or any man's horse.'
'Ah, but thou wouldst have no right, being but a rebel!'
'Bethink thee, thou must judge on my grounds when thou judgest me.'
'True; then am I driven to say thou wast made of the better earth--curse thee! I am ashamed of having taken thy mare--only because it was in a half-friendly passage with thee I learned her worth. But, hang thee! it was not through thee I learned to know my cousin, Dorothy Vaughan.'
The recoiling blood stung Richard's heart like the blow of a whip, but he manned himself to answer with coolness.
'What then of her?' he said. 'Hast thou been wooing her favour, sir Rowland? Thou owest me nothing there, I admit, even had she not sent me from her. Besides, I am scarce one to be content with a mistress whose favour depended on the not coming between of some certain other, known or unknown. This I say not in pride, but because in such case I were not the right man for her, neither she the woman for me.'
'Then thou bearest me no grudge in that I have sought the prize of my cousin's heart?'
'None,' answered Richard, but could not bring himself to ask how he had sped.
'Then will I own to thee that I have gained as little. I will madden myself telling thee whom I hate, and to thy comfort, that she despises me like any Virginia slave.'
'Nay, that I am sure she doth not. She can despise nothing that is honourable.'
'Dost thou then count me honourable, Heywood?' said Scudamore, in a voice of surprise, putting forth a thin white hand, and placing it on Richard's where it lay huge and brown on the coverlid: 'Then honourable I will be.'
'And, in that resolve, art, sir Rowland.'
'I will be honourable,' repeated Scudamore, angrily, with flushing cheek, and hard yet flashing eye, 'because thou thinkest me such, although my hate would, an' it might, damn thee to lowest hell.'
'Nay, but thou wilt be honourable for honour's sake,' said Richard. 'Bethink thee, when first we met, we were but boys: now are we men, and must put away boyish things.'
'Dost call it a boyish thing to be madly in love with the fairest and noblest and bravest mistress that ever trod the earth--though she be half a puritan, alack?'
'She half a puritan!' exclaimed Heywood. 'She hates the very wind of the word.'
'She may hate the word, but she is the thing. She hath read me such lessons as none but a puritan could.'
'Were they not then good lessons, that thou joinest with them a name hateful to thee?'
'Ay, truly--much too good for mortal like me--or thee either, Heywood. They are but hypocrites that pretend otherwise.'
'Callest thou thy cousin a hypocrite?'
'No, by heaven! she is not. She is a woman, and it is easy for women to say prayers.'
'I never rode into a fight but I said my prayer,' returned Richard.
'None the less art thou a hypocrite. I should scorn to be for ever begging favours as thou. Dost think God heareth such prayers as thine?'
'Not if He be such as thou, sir Rowland, and not if he who prays be such as thou thinkest him. Prithee, what sort of prayer thinkest thou I pray ere I ride into the battle?'
'How should I know? My lord marquis would have had me say my prayers at such a time, but, good sooth! I always forgot. And if I had done it, where would have been the benefit thereof, so long as thou, who wast better used to the work, wast praying against me? I say it is a cowardly thing to go praying into the battle, and not take thy fair chance as other men do.'
'Then will I tell thee to what purpose I pray. But, first of all, I must confess to thee that I have had my doubts, not whether my side were more in the right than thine, but whether it were worth while to raise the sword even in such cause. Now, still when that doubt cometh, ever it taketh from my arm the strength, and going down into the very legs of my mare causeth that she goeth dull, although willing, into the battle. Moreover, I am no saint, and therefore cannot pray like a saint, but only like Richard Heywood, who hath got to do his duty, and is something puzzled. Therefore pray I thus, or to this effect:
'"O God of battles! who, thyself dwelling in peace, beholdest the strife, and workest thy will thereby, what that good and perfect will of thine is I know not clearly, but thou hast sent us to be doing, and thou hatest cowardice. Thou knowest I have sought to choose the best, so far as goeth my poor ken, and to this battle I am pledged. Give me grace to fight like a soldier of thine, without wrath and without fear. Give me to do my duty, but give the victory where thou pleasest. Let me live if so thou wilt; let me die if so thou wilt--only let me die in honour with thee. Let the truth be victorious, if not now, yet when it shall please thee; and oh! I pray, let no deed of mine delay its coming. Let my work fail, if it be unto evil, but save my soul in truth."
'And in truth, sir Rowland, it seemeth to me then as if the God of truth heard me. Then say I to my mare, "Come, Lady, all is well now. Let us go. And good will come of it to thee also, for how should the Father think of his sparrows and forget his mares? Doubtless there are of thy kind in heaven, else how should the apostle have seen them there? And if any, surely thou, my Lady!" So ride we to the battle, merry and strong, and calm, as if we were but riding to the rampart of the celestial city.'
Rowland lay gazing at Richard for a few moments, then said:
'By heaven, but it were a pity you should not come together! Surely the same spirit dwelleth in you both! For me, I should show but as the shadow cast from her brightness. But I tell thee, roundhead, I love her better than ever roundhead could.'
'I know not, Scudamore. Nor do I mean to judge thee when I say that no man who loves not the truth can love a woman in the grand way a woman ought to be loved.'
'Tell me not I do not love her, or I will rise and kill thee. I love her even to doing what my soul hateth for her sake. Damned roundhead, she loves Thee.'
The last words came from him almost in a shriek, and he fell back panting.
Richard sat silent for a few moments, his heart surging and sinking. Then he said quietly:--
'It may be so, sir Rowland. We were boy and girl together--fed rabbits, flew kites, planted weeds to make flowers of them, played at marbles; she may love me a little, roundhead as I am.'
'By heaven, I will try her once more! Who knows the heart of a woman?' said Rowland through his teeth.
'If thou should gain her, Scudamore, and afterward she should find thee unworthy?'
'She would love me still.'
'And break her heart for thee, and leave thee young to marry another--while I--'
He laughed a low, strangely musical laugh, and ceased--then resumed:--
'But what if, instead of dying, she should learn to despise thee, finding thou hadst not only deceived her, but deceived thy better self, and should turn from thee with loathing, while thou didst love her still--as well as thy nature could?--what then, sir Rowland?'
'Then I should kill her.'
'And thou lovest her better than any roundhead could! I will find thee man after man from amongst Ireton's or Cromwell's horse--I know not the foot so well:--fanatic enough they are, God knows! and many of them fools enough to boot!--but I will find thee man after man who is fanatic or fool enough, which thou wilt, to love better than thou, thou poor atom of solitary selfishness!'
Rowland half flung himself from the bed, seized Richard by the throat, and with all the strength he could summon did his best to strangle him. For a time Richard allowed him to spend his rage, then removed his grasp as gently as he could, and holding both his wrists in his left hand, rose and stood over him.
'Sir Rowland,' he said, 'I am not angry with thee that thou art weak and passionate. But bethink thee--thou liest in God's hands a thousandfold more helpless than now thou liest in mine, and like Saul of Tarsus thou wilt find it hard to kick against the pricks. For the maiden, do as thou wilt, for thou canst not do other than the will of God. But I thank thee for what thou hast told me, though I doubt it meaneth little better for me than for thee. Thou hast a kind heart. I almost love thee, and will when I can.'
He let go his hands, and walked from the room.
'Canting hypocrite!' cried sir Rowland in the wrath of impotence, but knew while he said the words that they were false.
And with the words the bitterness of life seized his heart, and his despair shrouded the world in the blackness of darkness. There was nothing more to live for, and he turned his face to the wall.
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