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When he reached the spot at which he usually turned off by a gap in the hedge to NEEDLE his way through the unpathed wood, he yielded to the impulses of memory and habit, and sought the yew-circle, where for some moments he stood by the dumb, disfeatured stone, which seemed to slumber in the moonlight, a monument slowly vanishing from above a vanished grave. Indeed it might well have been the grave of buried Time, for what fitter monument could he have than a mutilated sun-dial, what better enclosure than such a hedge of yews, and more suitable light than that of the dying moon? Or was it but that the heart of the youth, receiving these things as into a concave mirror, reprojected them into space, all shadowy with its own ghostliness and gloom? Close by the dial, like the dark way into regions where time is not, yawned the mouth of the pleached alley. Beyond that was her window, on which the moon must now be shining. He entered the alley, and walked softly towards the house. Suddenly, down the dark tunnel came rushing upon him Dorothy's mastiff, with a noise as of twenty soft feet, and a growl as if his throat had been full of teeth--changing to a boisterous welcome when he discovered who the stranger was. Fearful of disturbing the household, Richard soon quieted the dog, which was in the habit of obeying him almost as readily as his mistress, and, fearful of disturbing sleepers or watchers, approached the house like a thief. To gain a sight of Dorothy's window he had to pass that of the parlour, and then the porch, which he did on the grass, that his steps might be noiseless. But here the dog started from his heel, and bounded into the porch, leading after him the eyes of Richard, who thereupon saw what would have else remained undiscovered--two figures, namely, standing in its deep shadow. Judging it his part, as a friend of the family, to see who, at so late an hour, and so near the house, seemed thus to avoid discovery, Richard drew nearer, and the next moment saw that the door was open behind them, and that they were Dorothy and a young man.
'The gates will be shut,' said Dorothy.
'It is no matter; old Eccles will open to me at any hour,' was the answer.
'Still it were well you went without delay,' said Dorothy; and her voice trembled a little, for she had caught sight of Richard.
Now not only are anger and stupidity near of kin, but when a man whose mental movements are naturally deliberate, is suddenly spurred, he is in great danger of acting like a fool, and Richard did act like a fool. He strode up to the entrance of the porch, and said,
'Do you not hear the lady, sir? She tells you to go.'
A voice as cool and self-possessed as the other was hasty and perturbed, replied,
'I am much in the wrong, sir, if the lady do not turn the command upon yourself. Until you have obeyed it, she may perhaps see reason for withdrawing it in respect of me.'
Richard stepped into the porch, but Dorothy glided between them, and gently pushed him out.
'Richard Heywood!' she said.
'Whew!' interjected the stranger, softly.
'You can claim no right,' she went on, 'to be here at this hour. Pray go; you will disturb my mother.'
'Who is this man, then, whose right seems acknowledged?' asked Richard, in ill-suppressed fury.
'When you address me like a gentleman, such as I used to believe you--'
'May I presume to ask when you ceased to regard me as a gentleman, mistress Dorothy?'
'As soon as I found that you had learned to despise law and religion,' answered the girl. 'Such a one will hardly succeed in acting the part of a gentleman, even had he the blood of the Somersets in his veins.'
'I thank you, mistress Dorothy,' said the stranger, 'and will profit by the plain hint. Once more tell me to go, and I will obey.'
'He must go first,' returned Dorothy.
Richard had been standing as if stunned, but now with an effort recovered himself.
'I will wait for you,' he said, and turned away.
'For whom, sir?' asked Dorothy, indignantly.
'You have refused me the gentleman's name,' answered Richard: 'perhaps I may have the good fortune to persuade himself to be more obliging.'
'I shall not keep you waiting long,' said the young man significantly, as Richard walked away.
To do Richard justice, and greatly he needs it, I must make the remark that such had been the intimacy betwixt him and Dorothy, that he might well imagine himself acquainted with all the friends of her house. But the intimacy had been confined to the children; the heads of the two houses, although good neighbours, had not been drawn towards each other, and their mutual respect had not ripened into friendship. Hence many of the family and social relations of each were unknown to the other; and indeed both families led such a retired life that the children knew little of their own relatives even, and seldom spoke of any.
Lady Scudamore, the mother of the stranger, was first cousin to lady Vaughan. They had been very intimate as girls, but had not met for years--hardly since the former married sir John, the son of one of King James's carpet-knights. Hearing of her cousin's illness, she had come to visit her at last, under the escort of her son. Taken with his new cousin, the youth had lingered and lingered; and in fact Dorothy had been unable to get rid of him before an hour strange for leave-taking in such a quiet and yet hospitable neighbourhood.
Richard took his stand on the side of the public road opposite the gate; but just ere Scudamore came, which was hardly a minute after, a cloud crept over the moon, and, as he happened to stand in a line with the bole of a tree, Scudamore did not catch sight of him. When he turned to walk along the road, Richard thought he avoided him, and, making a great stride or two after him, called aloud--
'Stop, sir, stop. You forget your appointments over easily, I think.'
'Oh, you ARE there!' said the youth, turning.
'I am glad you acknowledge my presence,' said Richard, not the better pleased with his new acquaintance that his speech and behaviour had an easy tone of superiority, which, if indefinably felt by the home-bred lad, was not therefore to be willingly accorded. His easy carriage, his light step, his still shoulders and lithe spine, indicated both birth and training.
'Just the night for a serenade,' he went on, heedless of Richard's remark, '--bright, but not too bright; cloudy, but not too cloudy.'
'Sir!' said Richard, amazed at his coolness.
'Oh, you want to quarrel with me!' returned the youth. 'But it takes two to fight as well as to kiss, and I will not make one to-night. I know who you are well enough, and have no quarrel with you, except indeed it be true--as indeed it must, for Dorothy tells me so--that you have turned roundhead as well as your father.'
'What right have you to speak so familiarly of mistress Dorothy?' said Richard.
'It occurs to me,' replied Scudamore, airily, 'that I had better ask you by what right you haunt her house at midnight. But I would not willingly cross you in cold blood. I wish you good a night, and better luck next time you go courting.'
The moon swam from behind a cloud, and her over ripe and fading light seemed to the eyes of Richard to gather upon the figure before him and there revive. The youth had on a doublet of some reddish colour, ill brought out by the moonlight, but its silver lace and the rapier hilt inlaid with silver shone the keener against it. A short cloak hung from his left shoulder, trimmed also with silver lace, and a little cataract of silver fringe fell from the edges of his short trousers into the wide tops of his boots, which were adorned with ruffles. He wore a large collar of lace, and cuffs of the same were folded back from his bare hands. A broad-brimmed beaver hat, its silver band fastened with a jewel holding a plume of willowy feathers, completed his attire, which he wore with just the slightest of a jaunty air. It was hardly the dress for a walk at midnight, but he had come in his mother's carriage, and had to go home without it.
Alas now for Richard's share in the freedom to which he had of late imagined himself devoted! No sooner had the words last spoken entered his ears than he was but a driven slave ready to rush into any quarrel with the man who spoke them. Ere he had gone three paces he had stepped in front of him.
'Whatever rights mistress Dorothy may have given you,' he said, 'she had none to transfer in respect of my father. What do you mean by calling him a roundhead?'
'Why, is he not one?' asked the youth, simply, keeping his ground, in spite of the unpleasant proximity of Richard's person. 'I am sorry to have wronged him, but I mistook him for a ringleader of the same name. I heartily beg your pardon.'
'You did not mistake,' said Richard stupidly.
'Then I did him no wrong,' rejoined the youth, and once more would have gone his way.
But Richard, angrier than ever at finding he had given him such an easy advantage, moved with his movement, and kept rudely in front of him, provoking a quarrel--in clownish fashion, it must be confessed.
'By heaven,' said Scudamore, 'if Dorothy had not begged me not to fight with you--,' and as he spoke he slipped suddenly past his antagonist, and walked swiftly away. Richard plunged after him, and seized him roughly by the shoulder. Instantaneously he wheeled on the very foot whence he was taking the next stride, and as he turned his rapier gleamed in the moonlight. The same moment it left his hand, he scarce knew how, and flew across the hedge. Richard, who was unarmed, had seized the blade, and, almost by one and the same movement of his wrist, wrenched the hilt from the grasp of his adversary, and flung the thing from him. Then closing with the cavalier, slighter and less skilled in such encounters, the roundhead almost instantly threw him upon the turf that bordered the road.
'Take that for drawing on an unarmed man,' he said.
No reply came. The youth lay stunned.
Then compassion woke in the heart of the angry Richard, and he hastened to his help. Ere he reached him, however, he made an attempt to rise, but only to stagger and fall again.
'Curse you for a roundhead!' he cried; 'you've twisted some of my tackle. I can't stand.'
'I'm sorry,' returned Richard, 'but why did you bare bilbo on a naked man? A right malignant you are !'
'Did I?' returned Scudamore. 'You laid hands on me so suddenly! I ask your pardon.'
Accepting the offered aid of Richard, he rose; but his right knee was so much hurt that he could not walk a step without great pain. Full of regret for the suffering he had caused, Richard lifted him in his arms, and seated him on a low wall of earth, which was all that here inclosed lady Vaughan's shrubbery; then, breaking through the hedge on the opposite side of the way, presently returned with the rapier, and handed it to him. Scudamore accepted it courteously, with difficulty replaced it in its sheath, rose, and once more attempted to walk, but gave a groan, and would have fallen had not Richard caught him.
'The devil is in it!' he cried, with more annoyance than anger. 'If I am not in my place at my lord's breakfast to-morrow, there will be questioning. That I had leave to accompany my mother makes the mischief. If I had stole away, it would be another matter. It will be hard to bear rebuke, and no frolic.'
'Come home with me,' said Richard. 'My father will do his best to atone for the wrong done by his son.'
'Set foot across the threshold of a roundhead fanatic! In the way of hospitality! Not if the choice lay betwixt that and my coffin!' cried the cavalier.
'Then let me carry you back to lady Vaughan's,' said Richard, with a torturing pang of jealousy, which only his sense of right, now thoroughly roused, enabled him to defy.
'I dare not. I should terrify my mother, and perhaps kill my cousin.'
'Your mother! your cousin!' cried Richard.
'Yes,' returned Scudamore; 'my mother is there, on a visit to her cousin lady Vaughan.'
'Alas, I am more to blame than I knew!' said Richard.
'No,' Scudamore went on, heedless of Richard's lamentation. 'I must crawl back to Raglan as I may. If I get there before the morning, I shall be able to show reason why I should not wait upon my lord at his breakfast.'
'You belong to the earl's household, then?' said Richard.
'Yes; and I fear I shall be grey-headed before I belong to anything else. He makes much of the ancient customs of the country: I would he would follow them. In the good old times I should have been a squire at least by now, if, indeed, I had not earned my spurs; but his lordship will never be content without me to hand him his buttered egg at breakfast, and fill his cup at dinner with his favourite claret. And so I am neither more nor less than a page, which rhymes with my age better than suits it. But the earl has a will of his own. He is a master worth serving though. And there is my lady Elizabeth and my lady Mary--not to mention my lord Herbert!--But,' he concluded, rubbing his injured knee with both hands, 'why do I prate of them to a roundhead?'
'Why indeed?' returned Richard. 'Are they not, the earl and all his people, traitors, and that of the worst? Are they not the enemies of the truth--worshippers of idols, bowing the knee to a woman, and kissing the very toes of an old man so in love with ignorance, that he tortures the philosopher who tells him the truth about the world and its motions?'
'Go on, master Roundhead! I can chastise you, and that you know. This cursed knee--'
'I will stand unarmed within your thrust, and never budge a foot,' said Richard. 'But no,' he added, 'I dare not, lest I should further injure one I have wronged already. Let there be a truce between us.'
'I am no papist,' returned Scudamore. 'I speak only as one of the earl's household--true men all. For them I cast the word in your teeth, you roundhead traitor! For myself I am of the English church.'
'It is but the wolf and the wolf's cub,' said. Richard. 'Prelatical episcopacy is but the old harlot veiled, or rather, forsooth, her bloody scarlet blackened in the sulphur fumes of her coming desolation.'
'Curse on, roundhead,' sighed the youth; 'I must crawl home.'
Once more he rose and made an effort to walk. But it was of no use: walk he could not.
'I must wait till the morning,' he said, 'when some Christian waggoner may be passing. Leave me in peace.'
'Nay, I am no such boor!' said Richard. 'Do you think you could ride?'
'I could try.'
'I will bring you the best mare in Gwent. But tell me your name, that I may know with whom I have the honour of a feud.'
'My name is Roland Scudamore,' answered the youth. 'Yours I know already, and round-head as you are, you have some smatch of honour in you.'
With an air of condescension he held out his hand, which his adversary, oppressed with a sense of the injury he had done him, did not refuse.
Richard hurried home, and to the stable, where he saddled his mare. But his father, who was still in his study, heard the sound of her hoofs in the paved yard, and met him as he led her out on the road, with an inquiry as to his destination at such an hour. Richard told him that he had had a quarrel with a certain young fellow of the name of Scudamore, a page of the earl of Worcester, whom he had met at lady Vaughan's: and recounted the result.
'Was your quarrel a just one, my son?'
'No sir. I was in the wrong.'
'Then you are so far in the right now. And you are going to help him home?'
'Have you confessed yourself in the wrong?'
'Then go, my son, but beware of private quarrel in such a season of strife. This youth and thyself may meet some day in mortal conflict on the battle-field; and for my part--I know not how it may be with another--in such a case I would rather slay my friend than my enemy.'
Enlightened by the inward experience of the moment, Richard was able to understand and respond to the feeling. How different a sudden action flashed off the surface of a man's nature may be from that which, had time been given, would have unfolded itself from its depths!
Bare-headed, Roger Heywood walked beside his son as he led the mare to the spot where Scudamore perforce awaited his return. They found him stretched on the roadside, plucking handfuls of grass, and digging up the turf with his fingers, thus, and thus alone, betraying that he suffered. Mr. Heywood at first refrained from any offer of hospitality, believing he would be more inclined to accept it after he had proved the difficulty of riding, in which case a previous refusal might stand in the way. But although a slight groan escaped as they lifted him to the saddle, he gathered up the reins at once, and sat erect while they shortened the stirrup-leathers. Lady seemed to know what was required of her, and stood as still as a vaulting horse until Richard took the bridle to lead her away.
'I see!' said Scudamore; 'you can't trust me with your horse!'
'Not so, sir,' answered Mr. Heywood. 'We cannot trust the horse with you. It is quite impossible for you to ride so far alone. If you will go, you must submit to the attendance of my son, on which I am sorry to think you have so good a claim. But will you not yet change your mind and be our guest--for the night at least? We will send a messenger to the castle at earliest dawn.'
Scudamore declined the invitation, but with perfect courtesy, for there was that about Roger Heywood which rendered it impossible for any man who was himself a gentleman, whatever his judgment of him might be, to show him disrespect. And the moment the mare began to move, he felt no further inclination to object to Richard's company at her head, for he perceived that, should she prove in the least troublesome, it would be impossible for him to keep his seat. He did not suffer so much, however, as to lose all his good spirits, or fail in his part of a conversation composed chiefly of what we now call chaff, both of them for a time avoiding all such topics as might lead to dispute, the one from a sense of wrong already done, the other from a vague feeling that he was under the protection of the foregone injury.
'Have you known my cousin Dorothy long?' asked Scudamore.
'Longer than I can remember,' answered Richard.
'Then you must be more like brother and sister than lovers.'
'That, I fear, is her feeling,' replied Richard, honestly.
'You need not think of me as a rival,' said Scudamore. 'I never saw the young woman in my life before, and although anything of yours, being a roundhead's, is fair game--'
'Your humble servant, sir Cavalier!' interjected Richard. 'Pray use your pleasure.'
'I tell you plainly,' Scudamore went on, without heeding the interruption, 'though I admire my cousin, as I do any young woman, if she be but a shade beyond the passable--'
'The ape! The coxcomb!' said Richard to himself.
'I am not, therefore, dying for her love; and I give you this one honest warning that, though I would rather see mistress Dorothy in her winding-sheet than dame to a roundhead, I should be--yes, I MAY be a more dangerous rival in respect of your mare, than of any lady YOU are likely to set eyes upon.'
'What do you mean?' said Richard gruffly.
'I mean that, the king having at length resolved to be more of a monarch and less of a saint--'
'A saint!' echoed Richard, but the echo was rather a loud one, for it startled his mare and shook her rider.
'Don't shout like that!' cried the cavalier, with an oath. 'Saint or sinner, I care not. He is my king, and I am his soldier. But with this knee you have given me, I shall be fitter for garrison than field-duty--damn it.'
'You do not mean that his majesty has declared open war against the parliament?' exclaimed Richard.
'Faithless puritan, I do,' answered Scudamore. 'His majesty has at length--with reluctance, I am sorry to hear--taken up arms against his rebellious subjects. Land will be cheap by-and-by.'
'Many such rumours have reached us,' returned Richard, quietly. 'The king spares no threats; but for blows--well!'
'Insolent fanatic!' shouted Vaughan, 'I tell you his majesty is on his way from Scotland with an army of savages; and London has declared for the king.'
Richard and his mare simultaneously quickened their pace.
'Then it is time you were in bed, Mr Scudamore, for my mare and I will be wanted,' he cried. 'God be praised! I thank you for the good news. It makes me young again to hear it.'
'What the devil do you mean by jerking this cursed knee of mine so?' shouted Scudamore. 'Faith, you were young enough in all conscience already, you fool! You want to keep me in bed, as well as send me there! Well out of the way, you think! But I give you honest warning to look after your mare, for I vow I have fallen in love with her. She's worth three, at least, of your mistress Dorothies.'
'You talk like a Dutch boor,' said Richard.
'Saith an English lout,' retorted Scudamore. 'But, all things being lawful in love and war, not to mention hate and rebellion, this mare, if I am blessed with a chance, shall be--well, shall be translated.'
'You mean from Redware to Raglan.'
'Where she shall be entertained in a manner worthy of her, which is saying no little, if all her paces and points be equal to her walk and her crest.'
'I trust you will be more pitiful to my poor Lady,' said Richard, quietly. 'If all they say be true, Raglan stables are no place for a mare of her breeding.'
'What do you mean, roundhead?'
'Folk say your stables at Raglan are like other some Raglan matters--of the infernal sort.'
Scudamore was silent for a moment.
'Whether the stables be under the pavement or over the leads,' he returned at last, 'there are not a few in them as good as she--of which I hope to satisfy my Lady some day,' he added, patting the mare's neck.
'Wert thou not hurt already, I would pitch thee out of the saddle,' said Richard.
'Were I not hurt in the knee, thou couldst not,' said Scudamore.
'I need not lay hand upon thee. Wert thou as sound in limb as thou art in wind, thou wouldst feel thyself on the road ere thou knewest thou hadst taken leave of the saddle--did I but give the mare the sign she knows.'
'By God's grace,' said the cavalier, 'she shall be mine, and teach me the trick of it.'
Richard answered only with a grim laugh, and again, but more gently this time, quickened the mare's pace. Little more had passed between them when the six-sided towers of Raglan rose on their view.
Richard had, from childhood, been familiar with their aspect, especially that of the huge one called the Yellow Tower, but he had never yet been within the walls that encircled them. At any time during his life, almost up to the present hour, he might have entered without question, for the gates were seldom closed and never locked, the portcullises, sheathed in the wall above, hung moveless in their rusty chains, and the drawbridges spanned the moat from scarp to counterscarp, as if from the first their beams had rested there in solid masonry. And still, during the day, there was little sign of change, beyond an indefinable presence of busier life, even in the hush of the hot autumnal noon. But at night the drawbridges rose and the portcullises descended--each with its own peculiar creak, and jar, and scrape, setting the young rooks cawing in reply from every pinnacle and tree-top--never later than the last moment when the warder could see anything larger than a cat on the brow of the road this side the village. For who could tell when, or with what force at their command, the parliament might claim possession? And now another of the frequent reports had arrived, that the king had at length resorted to arms. It was altogether necessary for such as occupied a stronghold, unless willing to yield it to the first who demanded entrance, to keep watch and ward.
Admitted at the great brick gate, the outermost of all, and turning aside from the steps leading up to the white stone gate and main entrance beyond, with its drawbridge and double portcullis, Richard, by his companion's directions, led his mare to the left, and, rounding the moat of the citadel, sought the western gate of the castle, which seemed to shelter itself under the great bulk of the Yellow Tower, the cannon upon more than one of whose bastions closely commanded it, and made up for its inferiority in defence of its own.
Scudamore had scarcely called, ere the warder, who had been waked by the sound of the horse's feet, began to set the machinery of the portcullis in motion.
'What! wounded already, master Scudamore!' he cried, as they rode under the archway.
'Yes, Eccles,' answered Scudamore, '--wounded and taken prisoner, and brought home for ransom!'
As they spoke, Richard made use of his eyes, with a vague notion that some knowledge of the place might one day or other be of service, but it was little he could see. The moon was almost down, and her low light, prolific of shadows, shone straight in through the lifted portcullis, but in the gateway where they stood, there was nothing for her to show but the groined vault, the massy walls, and the huge iron-studded gate beyond.
'Curse you for a roundhead!' cried Scudamore, in the wrath engendered of a fierce twinge, as Heywood sought to help his lamed leg over the saddle.
'Dismount on this side then,' said Richard, regardless of the insult.
But the warder had caught the word.
'Roundhead!' he exclaimed.
Scudamore did not answer until he found himself safe on his feet, and by that time he had recovered his good manners.
'This is young Mr. Heywood of Redware,' he said, and moved towards the wicket, leaning on Richard's arm.
But the old warder stepped in front, and stood between them and the gate.
'Not a damned roundhead of the pack shall set foot across this door-sill, so long as I hold the gate,' he cried, with a fierce gesture of the right arm. And therewith he set his back to the wicket.
'Tut, tut, Eccles !' returned Scudamore impatiently. 'Good words are worth much, and cost little.'
'If the old dog bark, he gives counsel,' rejoined Eccles, immovable.
Heywood was amused, and stood silent, waiting the result. He had no particular wish to enter, and yet would have liked to see what could be seen of the court.
'Where the doorkeeper is a churl, what will folk say of the master of the house?' said Scudamore.
'They may say as they list; it will neither hurt him nor me,' said Eccles.
'Make haste, my good fellow, and let us through,' pleaded Scudamore. 'By Saint George! but my leg is in great pain. I fear the knee-cap is broken, in which case I shall not trouble thee much for a week of months.'
As he spoke, he stood leaning on Richard's arm, and behind them stood Lady, still as a horse of bronze.
'I will but drop the portcullis,' said the warder, 'and then I will carry thee to thy room in my arms. But not a cursed roundhead shall enter here, I swear.'
'Let us through at once,' said Scudamore, trying the imperative.
'Not if the earl himself gave the order,' persisted the man.
'Ho! ho! what is that you say? Let the gentlemen through,' cried a voice from somewhere.
The warder opened the wicket immediately, stepped inside, and held it open while they entered, nor uttered another word. But as soon as Richard had got Scudamore clear of the threshold, to which he lent not a helping finger, he stepped quietly out again, closed the wicket behind him, and taking Lady by the bridle, led her back over the bridge towards the bowling-green.
Scudamore had just time to whisper to Heywood, 'It is my master, the earl himself,' when the voice came again.
'What! wounded, Rowland? How is this? And who have you there?'
But that moment Richard heard the sound of his mare's hoofs on the bridge, and leaving Scudamore to answer for them both, bounded back to the wicket, darted through, and called her by name. Instantly she stood stock still, notwithstanding a vicious kick in the ribs from Eccles, not unseen of Heywood. Enraged at the fellow's insolence, he dealt him a sudden blow that stretched him at the mare's feet, vaulted into the saddle, and had reached the outer gate before he had recovered himself. The sleepy porter had just let him through, when the warder's signal to let no one out reached him. Richard turned with a laugh.
'When next you catch a roundhead,' he said, 'keep him;' and giving Lady the rein, galloped off, leaving the porter staring after him through the bars like a half-roused wild beast.
Not doubting the rumour of open hostilities, the warder's design had been to secure the mare, and pretend she had run away, for a good horse was now more precious than ever.
The earl's study was over the gate, and as he suffered much from gout and slept ill, he not unfrequently sought refuge in the night-watches with his friends Chaucer, Gower, and Shakspere.
Richard drew rein at the last point whence the castle would have been visible in the daytime. All he saw was a moving light. The walls whence it shone were one day to be as the shell around the kernel of his destiny.
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