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Hearing Upstill's shot, and then Dick's hoofs on the sward, Richard fortunately judged well and took the right direction. What was his astonishment and delight when, passing hurriedly through the hedge in the expectation of encountering a cavalier, he saw Dorothy mounted on Dick! What form but hers had been filling soul and brain when he was startled by the shot! And there she was before him! He felt like one who knows the moon is weaving a dream in his brain.
'Dorothy,' he murmured tremblingly, and his voice sounded to him like that of some one speaking far away. He drew nearer, as one might approach a beloved ghost, anxious not to scare her. He laid his hand on Dick's neck, half fearful of finding him but a shadow.
'Richard!' said Dorothy, looking down on him benignant as Diana upon Endymion.
Then suddenly, at her voice and the assurance of her bodily presence, a great wave from the ocean of duty broke thunderous on the shore of his consciousness.
'Dorothy, I am bound to question thee,' he said: 'whence comest thou? and whither art thou bound?'
'If I should refuse to answer thee, Richard?' returned Dorothy with a smile.
'Then must I take thee to headquarters. And bethink thee, Dorothy, how that would cut me to the heart.'
The moon shone full upon his face, and Dorothy saw the end of a great scar that came from under his hat down on to his forehead.
'Then will I answer thee, Richard,' she said, with a strange trembling in her voice. '--I come from Raglan.'
'And whither art going, Dorothy?'
'On what business?'
'Were it then so wonderful, Richard, if I should desire to be at home, seeing Wyfern is now safer than Raglan? It was for safety I went thither, thou knowest.'
'It might not be wonderful in another, Dorothy, but in thee it were truly wonderful; for now are they of Raglan thy friends, and thou art a brave woman, and lovest thy friends. I would not believe it of thee even from the mouth of thy mother. Confess--thou bearest about thee that thou wouldst not willingly show me.'
Dorothy, as if in embarrassment, drew from her pocket her handkerchief, and with it a comb, which fell on the ground.
'Prithee, Richard, pick me up my comb,' she said; then, answering his question, continued, '--No, I have nothing about me I would not show thee, Richard: wilt thou take my word for it?'
When she had spoken, she held out her hand, and receiving from him the comb, replaced it in her pocket. But a keen pang of remorse went through her heart.
'I am a man under authority,' said Richard, 'and my orders will not allow me. Besides thou knowest, Dorothy, although it involves such questions in casuistry as I cannot meet, men say thou art not bound to tell the truth to thine enemy.'
'An' thou be mine enemy, Richard, then must thou satisfy thyself,' said Dorothy, trying to speak in a tone of offence. But while she sat there looking at him, it seemed as if her heart were floating on the top of a great wave out somewhere in the moonlight. Yet the conscience-dog was awake in his kennel.
Richard stood for a moment in silent perplexity.
'Wilt thou swear to me, Dorothy,' he said at length, 'that thou hast no papers about thee, neither art the bearer of news or request or sign to any of the king's party?'
'Richard,' returned Dorothy, 'thou hast thyself taken from my words the credit: I say to thee again, satisfy thyself.'
'Dorothy, what AM I to do?' he cried.
'Thy duty, Richard,' she answered.
'My duty is to search thee,' he said.
Dorothy was silent. Her heart was beating terribly, but she would see the end of the path she had taken ere she would think of turning. And she would trust Richard. Would she then have him fail of his duty? Would she have the straight-going Richard swerve? Even in the face of her maidenly fears, she would encounter anything rather than Richard should for her sake be false. But Richard would not turn aside. Neither would he shame her. He would find some way.
'Do then thy duty, Richard,' she said, and sliding from her saddle, she stood before him, one hand grasping Dick's mane.
There was no defiance in her tone. She was but submitting, assured of deliverance.
What was Richard to do? Never man was more perplexed. He dared not let her pass. He dared no more touch her than if she had been Luna herself standing there. He would not had he dared, and yet he must. She was silent, seemed to herself cruel, and began bitterly to accuse herself. She saw his hazel eyes slowly darken, then began to glitter--was it with gathering tears? The glitter grew and overflowed. The man was weeping! The tenderness of their common childhood rushed back upon her in a great wave out of the past, ran into the rising billow of present passion, and swelled it up till it towered and broke; she threw her arm round his neck and kissed him. He stood in a dumb ecstasy. Then terror lest he should think she was tempting him to brave his conscience overpowered her.
'Richard, do thy duty. Regard not me,' she cried in anguish.
Richard gave a strange laugh as he answered,
'There was a time when I had doubted the sun in heaven as soon as thy word, Dorothy. This is surely an evil time. Tell me, yea or nay, hast thou missives to the king or any of his people? Palter not with me.'
But such an appeal was what Dorothy would least willingly encounter. The necessity yet difficulty of escaping it stimulated the wits that had been overclouded by feeling. A light appeared. She broke into a real merry laugh.
'What a pair of fools we are, Richard!' she said. 'Is there never an honest woman of thy persuasion near--one who would show me no favour? Let such an one search me, and tell thee the truth.'
'Doubtless,' answered Richard, laughing very differently now at his stupidity, yet immediately committing a blunder: 'there is mother Rees!'
'What a baby thou art, Richard!' rejoined Dorothy. 'She is as good a friend of mine as of thine, and would doubtless favour the wiles of a woman.'
'True, true! Thou wast always the keener of wit, Dorothy--as becometh a woman. What say'st thou then to dame Upstill? She is even now at the farm there, whence she watches over her husband while he watches over Raglan. Will she answer thy turn?'
'She will,' replied Dorothy. 'And that she may show me no favour, here comes her husband, who shall bear a witness against me shall rouse in her all the malice of vengeance for her injured spouse, whom for his evil language, as thou shalt see, I have so silenced as neither thou nor any man can restore him to speech.'
While she spoke, Upstill, who had followed his enemy as the sole hope of deliverance, drew near, in such plight as the dignity of narrative refuses to describe.
'Upstill,' said Richard, 'what meaneth this? Wherefore hast thou left thy post? And above all, wherefore hast thou permitted this lady to pass unquestioned?'
Sounds of gurgle and strangulation, with other cognate noises, was all Upstill's response.
'Indeed, Mr. Heywood,' said Dorothy, 'he was so far from neglecting his duty and allowing me to pass unquestioned, that he insulted me grievously, averring that I consorted with malignant rogues and papists, and worse--the which drove me to punish him as thou seest.'
'Cast-down Upstill, thou hast shamed thy regiment, carrying thyself thus to a gentlewoman,' said Richard.
'Then he fired his carbine after me,' said Dorothy.
'That may have been but his duty,' returned Richard.
'And worst of all,' continued Dorothy, 'he said that had he known what I should grow to, he would never have made shoes for me when I was an infant. Think on that, master Heywood!'
'Ask the lady to pardon thee, Upstill. I can do nothing for thee,' said Richard.
Upstill would have knelt, in lack of other mode of petition strong enough to express the fervour of his desires for release, but Dorothy was content to see him punished, and would not see him degraded.
'Nay, master Upstill,' she said, 'I desire not that thou shouldst take the measure of my foot to-night. Prithee, master Heywood, wilt thou venture thy fingers in the godly man's mouth for me? Here is the key of the toy, a sucket which will pass neither teeth nor throat. I warrant thee it were no evil thing for many a married woman to possess. I will give it thee when thou marriest, master Heywood, though, good sooth, it were hardly fair to my kind!'
So saying she took a ring from her finger, raised from it a key, and directed Richard how to find its hole in the plum.
'There! Follow us now to the farm, and find thy wife, for we need her aid,' said Richard as he drew by the key the little steel instrument from Upstill's mouth, and restored him to the general body of the articulate.
Thereupon he took Dick by the bridle, and Dorothy and he walked side by side, as if they had been still boy and girl as of old--for of old it already seemed.
As they went, Richard washed both plum and ring in the dewy grass, and restored them, putting the ring upon her finger.
'With better light I will one day show thee how the thing worketh,' she said, thanking him. 'Holding it thus by the ends, thou seest, it will bear to be pressed; but remove thy finger and thumb, and straight upon a touch it shooteth its stings in all directions. And yet another day, when these troubles are over, and honest folk need no longer fight each other, I will give it thee, Richard.'
'Would that day were here, Dorothy! But what can honest people do, while St. George and St. Michael are themselves at odds?'
'Mayhap it but seemeth so, and they but dispute across the Yule-log,' said Dorothy; 'and men down here, like the dogs about the fire, take it up, and fall a-worrying each other. But the end will crown all.'
'Discrown some, I fear,' said Richard to himself.
As they reached the farm-house, it was growing light. Upstill fetched his dame from her bed in the hayloft, and Richard told her, in formal and authoritative manner, what he required of her.
'I will search her!' answered the dame from between her closed teeth.
'Mistress Vaughan,' said Richard, 'if she offer thee evil words, give her the same lesson thou gavest her husband. If all tales be true, she is not beyond the need of it.--Search her well, mistress Upstill, but show her no rudeness, for she hath the power to avenge it in a parlous manner, having gone to school to my lord Herbert of Raglan. Not the less must thou search her well, else will I look upon thee as no better than one of the malignants.'
The woman cast a glance of something very like hate, but mingled with fear, upon Dorothy.
'I like not the business, captain Heywood,' she said.
'Yet the business must be done, mistress Upstill. And hark'ee, for every paper thou findest upon her, I will give thee its weight in gold. I care not what it is. Bring it hither, and the dame's butter-scales withal.'
'I warrant thee, captain!' she returned. '--Come with me, mistress, and show what thou hast about thee. But, good sooth, I would the sun were up!'
She led the way to the rick-yard, and round towards the sunrise. It was the month of August, and several new ricks already stood facing the east, yellow, and beginning to glow like a second dawn. Between the two, mistress Upstill began her search, which she made more thorough than agreeable. Dorothy submitted without complaint.
At last, as she was giving up the quest in despair, her eyes or her fingers discovered a little opening inside the prisoner bodice, and there sure enough was a pocket, and in the pocket a slip of paper! She drew it out in triumph.
'That is nothing,' said Dorothy: 'give it me.' And with flushed face she made a snatch at it.
'Holy Mary!' cried dame Upstill, whose protestantism was of doubtful date, and thrust the paper into her own bosom.
'That paper hath nothing to do with state affairs, I protest,' expostulated Dorothy. 'I will give thee ten times its weight in gold for it.'
But mistress Upstill had other passions besides avarice, and was not greatly tempted by the offer. She took Dorothy by the arm, and said,
'An' thou come not quickly, I will cry that all the parish shall hear me.'
'I tell thee, mistress Upstill, on the oath of a Christian woman, it is but a private letter of mine own, and beareth nothing upon affairs. Prithee read a word or two, and satisfy thyself.'
'Nay, mistress, truly I will pry into no secrets that belong not to me,' said the searcher, who could read no word of writing or print either. 'This paper is no longer thine, and mine it never was. It belongeth to the high court of parliament, and goeth straight to captain Heywood--whom I will inform concerning the bribe wherewith thou didst seek to corrupt the conscience of a godly woman.'
Dorothy saw there was no help, and yielded to the grasp of the dame, who led her like a culprit, with burning cheek, back to her judge.
When Richard saw them his heart sank within him.
'What hast thou found?' he asked gruffly.
'I have found that which young mistress here would have had me cover with a bribe of ten times that your honour promised me for it,' answered the woman. 'She had it in her bosom, hid in a pocket little bigger than a crown-piece, inside her bodice.'
'Ha, mistress Dorothy! is this true?' asked Richard, turning on her a face of distress.
'It is true,' answered Dorothy, with downcast eyes--far more ashamed however, of that which had not been discovered, and which might have justified Richard's look, than of that which he now held in his hand. 'Prithee,' she added, 'do not read it till I am gone.'
'That may hardly be,' returned Richard, almost sullenly. 'Upon this paper it may depend whether thou go at all.'
'Believe me, Richard, it hath no importance,' she said, and her blushes deepened. 'I would thou wouldst believe me.'
But as she said it, her conscience smote her.
Richard returned no answer, neither did he open the paper, but stood with his eyes fixed on the ground.
Dorothy meantime strove to quiet her conscience, saying to herself: 'It matters not; I must marry him one day--an' he will now have me. Hath not the woman told him where the silly paper was hid? And when I am married to him, then will I tell him all, and doubtless he will forgive me--Nay, nay, I must tell him first, for he might not then wish to have me. Lord! Lord! what a time of lying it is! Sure for myself I am no better than one of the wicked!'
But now Richard, slowly, reluctantly, with eyes averted, opened the paper, stood for an instant motionless, then suddenly raised it, and looked at it. His face changed at once from midnight to morning, and the sunrise was red. He put the paper to his lips, and thrust it inside his doublet. It was his own letter to her by Marquis! She had not thought to remove it from the place where she had carried it ever since receiving it.
'And now, master Heywood, I may go where I will?' said Dorothy, venturing a half-roguish, but wholly shamefaced glance at him.
But Dame Upstill was looking on, and Richard therefore brought as much of the midnight as would obey orders, back over his countenance as he answered:
'Nay, mistress. An' we had found aught upon thee of greater consequence it might have made a question. But this hardly accounts for thy mission. Doubtless thou bearest thy message in thy mind.'
'What! thou wilt not let me go to Wyfern, to my own house, master Heywood?' said Dorothy in a tone of disappointment, for her heart now at length began to fail her.
'Not until Raglan is ours,' answered Richard. 'Then shalt thou go where thou wilt. And go where thou wilt, there will I follow thee, Dorothy.'
From the last clause of this speech he diverted mistress Upstill's attention by throwing her a gold noble, an indignity which the woman rightly resented--but stooped for the money!
'Go tell thy husband that I wait him here,' he said.
'Thou shalt follow me nowhither,' said Dorothy, angrily. 'Wherefore should not I go to Wyfern and there abide? Thou canst there watch her whom thou trustest not.'
'Who can tell what manner of person might not creep to Wyfern, to whom there might messages be given, or whom thou mightest send, credenced by secret word or sign?'
'Whither, then, am I to go?' asked Dorothy, with dignity.
'Alas, Dorothy!' answered Richard, 'there is no help: I must take thee to Raglan. But comfort thyself--soon shalt thou go where thou wilt.'
Dorothy marvelled at her own resignation the while she rode with Richard back to the castle. Her scheme was a failure, but through no fault, and she could bear anything with composure except blame.
A word from Richard to colonel Morgan was sufficient. A messenger with a flag of truce was sent instantly to the castle, and the firing on both sides ceased. The messenger returned, the gate was opened, and Dorothy re-entered, defeated, but bringing her secrets back with her.
'Tit for tat,' said the marquis when she had recounted her adventures. 'Thou and the roundhead are well matched. There is no avoiding of it, cousin! It is your fate, as clear as if your two horoscopes had run into one. Mind thee, hearts are older than crowns, and love outlives all but leasing.'
'All but leasing!' repeated Dorothy to herself, and the BUT was bitter.
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