THE TURRET CHAMBER.
When mistress Watson had, as gently as if she had been his mother,
bound up Richard's wounded head, she gave him a composing draught,
and sat down by his bedside. But as soon as she saw it begin to take
effect, she withdrew, in the certainty that he would not move for
some hours at least. Although he did fall asleep, however, Richard's
mind was too restless and anxious to yield itself to the natural
influence of the potion. He had given his word to his father that he
would ride on the morrow; the morrow had come, and here he was!
Hence the condition which the drug superinduced was rather that of
dreaming than sleep, the more valuable element, repose, having
little place in the result.
The key was in the lock, and Tom Fool as he listened softly turned
it, then lifted the latch, peeped in, and entered. Richard started
to his elbow, and stared wildly about him. Tom made him an anxious
sign, and, fevered as he was and but half awake, Richard, whether he
understood it or not, anyhow kept silence, while Tom Fool approached
the bed, and began to talk rapidly in a low voice, trembling with
apprehension. It was some time, however, before Richard began to
comprehend even a fragment here and there of what he was saying.
When at length he had gathered this much, that his visitor was
running no small risk in coming to him, and was in mortal dread of
discovery, he needed but the disclosure of who he was, which
presently followed, to spring upon him and seize him by the throat
with a gripe that rendered it impossible for him to cry out, had he
been so minded.
'Master, master!' he gurgled, 'let me go. I will swear any oath you
'And break it any moment YOU please,' returned Richard through his
set teeth, and caught with his other hand the coverlid, dragged it
from the bed, and, twisting it first round his face, flung the
remainder about his body; then, threatening to knock his brains out
if he made the least noise, proceeded to tie him up in it with his
garters and its own corners. No sound escaped poor Tom beyond a
continuous mumbled entreaty through its folds. Richard laid him on
the floor, pulled all the bedding upon the top of him, and gliding
out, closed the door, but, to Tom's unspeakable relief, as his ears,
agonizedly listening, assured him, did not lock it behind him.
Tom's sole anxiety was now to get back to his garret unseen, and
nothing was farther from his thoughts than giving the alarm. The
moment Richard was out of hearing--out of sight he had been for some
stifling minutes--he devoted his energies to getting clear of his
entanglement, which he did not find very difficult; then stepping
softly from the chamber, he crept with a heavy heart back as he had
come through a labyrinth of by-ways.
About half an hour after, Dorothy came gliding through the house,
making a long circuit of corridors. Gladly would she have avoided
passing Amanda's door, and involuntarily held her breath as she
approached it, stepping as lightly as a thief. But alas! nothing
save incorporeity could have availed her. The moment she had passed,
out peeped Amanda and crept after her barefooted, saw her to her joy
enter the chamber and close the door behind her, then 'like a tiger
of the wood,' made one noiseless bound, turned the key, and sped
back to her own chamber--with the feeling of Mark Antony when he
said, 'Now let it work!'
Dorothy was startled by a slight click, but concluded at once that
it was nothing but a further fall of the latch, and was glad it was
no louder. The same moment she saw, by the dim rushlight, the signs
of struggle which the room presented, and discovered that Richard
was gone. Her first emotion was an undefined agony: they had
murdered him, or carried him off to a dungeon! There were the
bedclothes in a tumbled heap upon the floor! And--yes--it was blood
with which they were marked! Sickening at the thought, and
forgetting all about her own situation, she sank on the chair by the
Knowing the castle as she did, a very little reflection convinced
her that if he had met with violence it must have been in attempting
to escape; and if he had made the attempt, might he not have
succeeded? There had certainly been no fresh alarm given. But upon
this consoling supposition followed instantly the pang of the
question: what was now required of her? The same hard thing as
before? Ought she not again to give the alarm, that the poor wounded
boy might be recaptured? Alas! had not evil enough already befallen
him at her hand? And if she did--horrible thought!--what account
could she give this time of her discovery? What indeed but the
truth? And to what vile comments would not the confession of her
secret visit in the first grey of the dawn to the chamber of the
prisoner expose her? Would it not naturally rouse such suspicion as
any modest woman must shudder to face, if but for the one moment
between utterance and refutation. And what refutation could there be
for her, so long as the fact remained? If he had escaped, the alarm
would serve no good end, and her shame could be spared; but he might
be hiding somewhere about the castle, and she must choose between
treachery to the marquis--was it?--on the one hand, and renewed
hurt, wrong, perhaps, to Richard, coupled with the bitterest
disgrace to herself, on the other. To weigh such a question
impartially was impossible; for in the one alternative no hurt would
befall the marquis, while from the other her very soul recoiled
sickening. Thus tortured, she sat motionless in the very den of the
dragon, the one moment vainly endeavouring to rouse up her courage
and look her duty in the face that she might know with certainty
what it was; the next, feeling her whole nature rise rebellious
against the fate that demanded such a sacrifice. Ought she to be
thus punished for an intent of the purest humanity?
There came a lull, and with the lull a sense of her position: she
sat in the very, jaws of slander! Any moment mistress Watson or
another might enter and find her there, and what then more natural
or irrefutable than the accusation of having liberated him? She
sprang to her feet, and darted to the door. It was locked!
Her first thought was relief: she had no longer to decide; her
second, that she was a prisoner--till, horror of horrors! the
soldiers of the guard came to seek Richard and found her, or stern
mistress Watson appeared, grim as one of the Fates; or, perhaps, if
Richard had been carried away, until she was compelled by hunger and
misery to call aloud for release. But no! she would rather die. Now
in this case, now in that, her thoughts pursued the horrible
possibilities, one or other of which was inevitable, through all the
windings of the torture of anticipation, until for a time she must
have lost consciousness, for she had no recollection of falling
where she found herself--on the heap in the middle of the floor. The
gray heartless dawn had begun to peer in through the dull green
glass that closed the one loophole. It grew and grew, and its growth
was the approach of the grinning demon of shame. The nearer a man
can arrive to the knowledge of such feelings as hers is the
conviction that he never can comprehend them. The cruel light seemed
gathering its strength to publish her shame to the universe.
Blameless as she was, she would have gladly accepted death in escape
from the misery that every moment grew nearer. Now and then a faint
glimmer of comfort reached her in the thought that at least the
escape of Richard, if he had escaped, was thus ensured, and that
without any blame to her. And perhaps mistress Watson would be
merciful--only she too had her obligations, and as housekeeper was
severely responsible. And even if she should prove pitiful, there
was the locking of the door! It followed so quickly, that some one
must have seen her enter, and wittingly snared her, believing most
likely that she was not alone in the chamber.
The terrible bolt at length slid back in the lock, gently, yet with
tearing sound; mistress Watson entered, stood, stared. Before her
sat Dorothy by the side of the bedstead, in her dressing-gown, her
hair about her neck, her face like the moon at sunrise, and her
eyelids red and swollen with weeping. She stood speechless, staring
first at the disconsolate maiden, and then at the disorder of the
room. The prisoner was nowhere. What her thoughts were, I must only
imagine. That she should stare and be bewildered, finding Dorothy
where she had left Richard, was at least natural.
The moment Dorothy found herself face to face with her doom, her
presence of mind returned. The blood rushed from her heart to her
brain. She rose, and ere the astonished matron, who stood before her
erect, high-nosed, and open-mouthed like Michael Angelo's Clotho,
could find utterance, said,
'Mistress Watson, I swear to you by the soul of my mother, that
although all seeming is against me, W--'
'Where is the young rebel?' interrupted mistress Watson sternly.
'I know not,' answered Dorothy. 'When first I entered the chamber,
he had already gone.'
'And what then hadst thou to do entering it?' asked the housekeeper,
in a tone that did Dorothy good by angering her.
Mistress Watson was a kind soul in reality, but few natures can
resist the debasing influence of a sudden sense of superiority.
Besides, was not the young gentlewoman in great wrong, and therefore
before her must she not personify an awful Purity?
'That I will tell to none but my lord marquis,' answered Dorothy,
with sudden resolve.
'Oh, by all means, mistress! but an' thou think to lead him by the
nose while I be in Raglan,--'
'Shall I inform his lordship in what high opinion his housekeeper
holds him?' said Dorothy. 'It seems to me he will hardly savour it.'
'It would be an ill turn to do me, but my lord marquis did never
heed a tale-bearer.'
'Then will he not heed the tale thou wouldst yield him concerning
'What tale should I yield him but that I find--thee here and the
'The tale I read in thy face and thy voice. Thou lookest and talkest
as if I were a false woman.'
'Verily to my eyes the thing looketh ill.'
'It would look ill to any eyes, and therefore I need kind eyes to
read, and just ears to hear my tale. I tell thee this is a matter
for my lord, and if thou spread any report in the castle ere his
lordship hear it, whatever evil springs therefrom it will lie at thy
'My life! what dost take me for, mistress Dorothy? My age and
holding deserves some consideration at thy hands! Am I one to go
tattling about the courts forsooth?'
'Pardon me, madam, but a maiden's good name may be as precious to
Dorothy Vaughan as a matron's respectability to mistress Watson. An'
you had left me with that look on your face, and had but spoken my
name to it, some one would have guessed ten times more than you
know--or I either for that gear.'
'I must tell the truth,' said mistress Watson, relenting a little.
'Thou must, or I will tell it for thee--but to the marquis. Thou
shalt be there to hear, and if, after that, thou tell it to another,
then hast thou no mother's heart in thee.'
Dorothy gave way at last and burst into tears. Mistress Watson was
'Nay, child, I would do thee no wrong,' she rejoined. 'Get thee
to bed. I must rouse the guard to go look for the prisoner, but I
will say nothing of thee to any but my lord marquis. When he is
dressed and in his study, I will come for thee myself.'
Dorothy thanked her warmly, and betook herself to her chamber,