Chapter 20

MOLLY AND THE WHITE HORSE.

Meantime lord Herbert came and went. There was fighting here and fighting there, castles taken, defended, re-taken, here a little success and there a worse loss, now on this side and now on that; but still, to say the best, the king's affairs made little progress; and for Mary Somerset, her body and soul made progress in opposite directions. There was a strange pleasant mixture of sweet fretfulness and trusting appeal in her. Children suffer less because they feel that all is right when father or mother is with them; grown people from whom this faith has vanished ere it has led them to its original fact, may well be miserable in their sicknesses. She lay moaning one night in her crib, when suddenly she opened her eyes and saw her mother's hand pressed to her forehead. She was imitative, like most children, and had some very old-fashioned ways of speech. 'Have you got a headache, madam?' she asked. 'Yes, my Molly,' answered her mother. 'Then you will go to mother Mary. She will take you on her knee, madam. Mothers is for headaches. Oh me! my headache, madam!' The poor mother turned away. It was more than she could bear alone. Dorothy entered the room, and she rose and left it, that she might go to mother Mary as the child had said. Dorothy's cares were divided between the duties of naiad and nursemaid, for the child clung to her as to no one else except her mother. The thing that pleased her best was to see the two whale-like spouts rise suddenly from the nostrils of the great white horse, curve away from each other aloft in the air, and fall back into the basin on each side of him. 'See horse spout,' she would say moanfully; and that instant, if Dorothy was not present, a messenger would be despatched to her. On a bright day this would happen repeatedly. For the sake of renewing her delight, the instant she turned from it, satisfied for the moment, the fountain ceased to play, and the horse remained spoutless, awaiting the revival of the darling's desire; for she was not content to see him spouting: she must see him spout. Then again she would be carried forth to the verge of the marble basin, and gazing up at the rearing animal would say, in a tone daintily wavering betwixt entreaty and command, 'Spout, horse, spout,' and Dorothy, looking down from the far-off summit of the tower, and distinguishing by the attitude of the child the moment when she uttered her desire, would instantly, with one turn of her hand, send the captive water shooting down its dark channel to reascend in sunny freedom. If little Mary Somerset was counted a strange child, the wisdom with which she was wise is no more unnatural because few possess it, than the death of such is premature because they are yet children. They are small fruits whose ripening has outstripped their growth. Of such there are some who, by the hot-house assiduities of their friends, heating them with sulphurous stoves, and watering them with subacid solutions, ripen into insufferable prigs. For them and for their families it is well that Death the gardener should speedily remove them into the open air. But there are others who, ripening from natural, that is divine causes and influences, are the daintiest little men and women, gentle in the utmost peevishness of their lassitude, generous to share the gifts they most prize, and divinely childlike in their repentances. Their falling from the stalk is but the passing from the arms of their mothers into those of--God knows whom--which is more than enough. The chief part of little Molly's religious lessons, I do not mean training, consisted in a prayer or two in rhyme, and a few verses of the kind then in use among catholics. Here is a prayer which her nurse taught her, as old, I take it, as Chaucer's time at least:-- Hail be thou, Mary, that high sittest in throne! I beseech thee, sweet lady, grant me my boon-- Jesus to love and dread, and my life to amend soon, And bring me to that bliss that never shall be done. And here are some verses quite as old, which her mother taught her. I give them believing that in understanding and coming nearer to our fathers and mothers who are dead, we understand and come nearer to our brothers and sisters who are alive. I change nothing but the spelling, and a few of the forms of the words. Jesu, Lord, that madest me, And with thy blessed blood hast bought, Forgive that I have grieved thee With word, with will, and eke with thought. Jesu, for thy wounds' smart, On feet and on thine hands two, Make me meek and low of heart, And thee to love as I should do. Jesu, grant me mine asking, Perfect patience in my disease, And never may I do that thing That should thee in any wise displease. Jesu, most comfort for to see Of thy saints every one, Comfort them that careful be, And help them that be woe-begone. Jesu, keep them that be good, And amend them that have grieved thee, And send them fruits of early food, As each man needeth in his degree. Jesu, that art, without lies, Almighty God in trinity, Cease these wars, and send us peace With lasting love and charity. Jesu, that art the ghostly stone Of all holy church in middle-earth, Bring thy folds and flocks in one, And rule them rightly with one herd. Jesu, for thy blissful blood, Bring, if thou wilt, those souls to bliss From whom I have had any good, And spare that they have done amiss. This old-fashioned hymn lady Margaret had learned from her grandmother, who was an Englishwoman of the pale. She also had learned it from her grandmother. One day, by some accident, Dorothy had not reached her post of naiad before Molly arrived in presence of her idol, the white horse, her usual application to which was thence for the moment in vain. Having waited about three seconds in perfect patience, she turned her head slowly round, and gazed in her nurse's countenance with large questioning eyes, but said nothing. Then she turned again to the horse. Presently a smile broke over her face, and she cried in the tone of one who had made a great discovery, 'Horse has ears of stone: he cannot hear, Molly.' Instantly thereupon she turned her face up to the sky, and said, 'Dear holy Mary, tell horse to spout.' That moment up into the sun shot the two jets. Molly clapped her little hands with delight and cried, 'Thanks, dear holy Mary! I knowed thou would do it for Molly. Thanks, madam!' The nurse told the story to her mistress, and she to Dorothy. It set both of them feeling, and Dorothy thinking besides. 'It cannot be,' she thought, 'but that a child's prayer will reach its goal, even should she turn her face to the west or the north instead of up to the heavens! A prayer somewhat differs from a bolt or a bullet.' 'How you protestants CAN live without a woman to pray to!' said lady Margaret. 'Her son Jesus never refused to hear a woman, and I see not wherefore I should go to his mother, madam,' said Dorothy, bravely. 'Thou and I will not quarrel, Dorothy,' returned lady Margaret sweetly; 'for sure am I that would please neither the one nor the other of them.' Dorothy kissed her hand, and the subject dropped. After that, Molly never asked the horse to spout, or if she happened to do so, would correct herself instantly, and turn her request to the mother Mary. Nor did the horse ever fail to spout, notwithstanding an evil thought which arose in the protestant part of Dorothy's mind--the temptation, namely, to try the effect upon Molly of a second failure. All the rest of her being on the instant turned so violently protestant against the suggestion, that no parley with it was possible, and the conscience of her intellect cowered before the conscience of her heart. It was from this fancy of the child's for the spouting of the horse that it came to be known in the castle that mistress Dorothy was ruler of Raglan waters. In lord Herbert's absence not a person in the place but she and Caspar understood their management, and except lady Margaret, the marquis, and lord Charles, no one besides even knew of the existence of such a contrivance as the water-shoot or artificial cataract. Every night Dorothy and Caspar together set the springs of it, and every morning Caspar detached the lever connecting the stone with the drawbridge.