Chapter 29

THE APPARITION.

The voice of her lost Marquis, which even in her dreams she could attribute to none but him, roused Dorothy at once. She sprang from her bed, flew to the window, and flung it wide. That same moment, from the shadows about the hall-door, came forth a man on horseback, and rode along the tiled path to the fountain, where never had hoof of horse before trod. Stranger still, the tramp sounded far away, and woke no echo in the echo-haunted place. A phantom surely--horse and man! As they drew nearer where she stared with wide eyes, the head of the rider rose out of the shadow into the moonlight, and she recognised the face of Richard--very white and still, though not, as she supposed, with the whiteness and stillness of a spectre, but with the concentration of eagerness and watchful resolution. The same moment she recognised Lady. She trembled from head to foot. What could it mean but that beyond a doubt they were both dead, slain in battle, and that Richard had come to pay her a last visit ere he left the world. On they came. Her heart swelled up into her throat, and the effort to queen it over herself, and neither shriek nor drop on the floor, was like struggling to support a falling wall. When the spectre reached the marble fountain, he gave a little start, drew bridle, and seemed to become aware that he had taken a wrong path, looked keenly around him, and instead of continuing his advance towards her window, turned in the direction of the gate. One thing was clear, that whether ghostly or mortal, whether already dead or only on the way to death, the apparition was regardless of her presence. A pang of disappointment shot through her bosom, and for the moment quenched her sense of relief from terror. With it sank the typhoon of her emotion, and she became able to note how draggled and soiled his garments were, how his hair clung about his temples, and that for all accoutrement his mare had but a halter. Yet Richard sat erect and proud, and Lady stepped like a mare full of life and vigour. And there was Marquis, not cowering or howling as dogs do in spectral presence, but madly bounding and barking as if in uncontrollable jubilation! The acme of her bewilderment was reached when the phantom came under the marquis's study-window, and she heard it call aloud, in a voice which undoubtedly came from corporeal throat, and that throat Richard's, ringing of the morning and the sunrise and the wind that shakes the wheat--anything rather than of the tomb: 'Ho, master Eccles!' it cried; 'when? when? Must my lord's business cool while thou rubbest thy sleepy eyes awake? What, I say! When? --Yes, my lord, I will punctually attend to your lordship's orders. Expect me back within the hour.' The last words were uttered in a much lower tone, with the respect due to him he seemed addressing, but quite loud enough to be distinctly heard by Eccles or any one else in the court. Dorothy leaned from her window, and looked sideways to the gate, expecting to see the marquis bending over his window-sill, and talking to Richard. But his window was close shut, nor was there any light behind it. A minute or two passed, during which she heard the combined discords of the rising portcullis. Then out came Eccles, slow and sleepy. 'By St. George and St. Patrick!' cried Richard, 'why keep'st thou six legs here standing idle? Is thy master's business nothing to thee?' Eccles looked up at him. He was coming to his senses. 'Thou rides in strange graith on my lord's business,' he said, as he put the key in the lock. 'What is that to thee? Open the gate. And make haste. If it please my lord that I ride thus to escape eyes that else might see further than thine, keen as they are, master Eccles, it is nothing to thee.' The lock clanged, the gate swung open, and Richard rode through. By this time a process of doubt and reasoning, rapid as only thought can be, had produced in the mind of Dorothy the conviction that there was something wrong. By what authority was Richard riding from Raglan with muffled hoofs between midnight and morning? His speech to the marquis was plainly a pretence, and doubtless that to Eccles was equally false. To allow him to pass unchallenged would be treason against both her host and her king. 'Eccles! Eccles!' she cried, her voice ringing clear through the court, 'let not that man pass.' 'He gave the word, mistress,' said Eccles, in dull response. 'Stop him, I say,' cried Dorothy again, with energy almost frantic, as she heard the gate swing to heavily. 'Thou shalt be held to account.' 'He gave the word.' 'He's a true man, mistress,' returned Eccles, in tone of self-justification. 'Heard you not my lord marquis give him his last orders from his window?' 'There was no marquis at the window. Stop him, I say.' 'He's gone,' said Eccles quietly, but with waking uneasiness. 'Run after him,' Dorothy almost screamed. 'Stop him at the gate. It is young Heywood of Redware, one of the busiest of the round-heads.' Eccles was already running and shouting and whistling. She heard his feet resounding from the bridge. With trembling hands she flung a cloak about her, and sped bare-footed down the grand staircase and along the north side of the court to the bell-tower, where she seized the rope of the alarm-bell, and pulled with all her strength. A horrid clangour tore the stillness of the night, re-echoed with yelping response from the multitudinous buildings around. Window after window flew open, head after head was popped out--amongst the first that of the marquis, shouting to know what was amiss. But the question found no answer. The courts began to fill. Some said the castle was on fire; others, that the wild beasts were all out; others, that Waller and Cromwell had scaled the rampart, and were now storming the gates; others, that Eccles had turned traitor and admitted the enemy. In a few moments all was outcry and confusion. Both courts and the great hall were swarming with men and women and children, in every possible stage of attire. The main entrance was crowded with a tumult of soldiery, and scouts were rushing to different stations of outlook, when the cry reached them that the western gate was open, the portcullis up, and the guard gone. The moment Richard was clear of the portcullis, he set off at a sharp trot for the brick gate, and had almost reached it when he became aware that he was pursued. He had heard the voice of Dorothy as he rode out, and knew to whom he owed it. But yet there was a chance. Rousing the porter with such a noisy reveillee as drowned in his sleepy ears the cries of the warder and those that followed him, he gave the watch-word, and the huge key was just turning in the wards when the clang of the alarm-bell suddenly racked the air. The porter stayed his hand, and stood listening. 'Open the gate,' said Richard in authoritative tone. 'I will know first, master,--' began the man. 'Dost not hear the bell?' cried Richard. 'How long wilt thou endanger the castle by thy dulness?' 'I shall know first,' repeated the man deliberately, 'what that bell--' Ere he could finish the sentence, the butt of Richard's whip had laid him along the threshold of the gate. Richard flung himself from his horse, and turned the key. But his enemies were now close at hand--Eccles and the men of his guard. If the porter had but fallen the other way! Ere he could drag aside his senseless body and open the gate, they were upon him with blows and curses. But the puritan's blood was up, and with the heavy handle of his whip he had felled one and wounded another ere he was himself stretched on the ground with a sword-cut in the head.