UNDER THE MOAT.
It was some time ere they discovered that Scudamore was missing from
the castle, but there was the hope that he had been taken prisoner;
and things were growing so bad within the walls, that there was
little leisure for lamentation over individual misfortunes. Unless
some change as entire as unexpected--for there seemed no chance of
any except the king should win over the Scots to take his part
--should occur, it was evident that the enemy must speedily make the
assault, nor could there be a doubt of their carrying the place--an
anticipation which, as the inevitable drew nearer, became nothing
less than terrible to both household and garrison. True, their
conquerors would be of their own people, but battle and bloodshed
and victory, and, worst of all, party-spirit, the marquis knew,
destroy not nationality merely, but humanity as well, rousing into
full possession the feline beast which has his lair in every man--in
many, it is true, dwindled to the household cat, but in many others
a full-sized, only sleepy tiger. To what was he about to expose his
men, not to speak of his ladies and their children!
On the other hand, ever since the balls had been flying about his
house, and the stones of it leaving their places to keep them
company, the loyalty of the marquis had been rising, and he had
thought of his prisoner-king ever with growing tenderness, of his
faults with more indulgence, and of the wrongs he had done his
family with more magnanimity and forgiveness, so that, for his own
part, he would have held out to the very last.
'And truly were it not better to be well buried under the ruins,' he
would say to himself, looking down with a sigh at his great bulk,
which added so much to the dismalness of the prospect of being, in
his seventieth year, a prisoner or a wanderer--the latter a worse
fate even than the former. To be no longer the master of his own
great house, of many willing servants, of all ready appliances for
liberty and comfort, while the weight of his clumsy person must
still hang about him, and his unfitness to carry the same go on
increasing with the bulk to be carried--such a prospect required
something more than loyalty to meet it with equanimity. To the young
and strong, adventure ought always to be more attractive than ease,
but none save those who are themselves within sight of old age can
truly imagine what an utter horror the breach of old habits and loss
of old comforts is to the aged.
But to the good marquis it was consolation enough to repeat to
himself the text from his precious Vulgate: Scimus enim; For we know
that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have
a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the
For the ladies, so long as their father-chief was with them, they
were at least not too anxious. Whatever was done must be the right
thing, and in the midst of tumult and threat they were content. If
only their Edward had been with them too!
But surrender, even when the iron shot was driving his stately house
into showers of dirt, the marquis found it hard indeed to
contemplate. The eastern side of the stone court was now little
better than a heap of rubbish, and the hour of assault could not be
far off, although as yet there had been no second summons; but he
could not forget that, though the castle was his, it was not for
himself but for his king he held it garrisoned, and how could he
yield it without the approval of his sovereign? The governor shared
in the same chivalry with his father, and was equally anxious for a
word from the king. But that king was a prisoner in the hands of a
hostile nation, and how was he to receive message or return answer?
Nay, how were they to send message or receive answer, not even
knowing with certainty where his majesty was, and but presuming that
he was still at Newcastle? And not to mention difficulties at every
step of the way, their house itself was so beset that no one could
issue from its gates without risk of being stopped, searched,
detained until it should have fallen. For the besiegers knew well
enough that lord Glamorgan was still in Ireland, straining his
utmost on behalf of the king; and what more likely than that he
should, with the men he was still raising in Ireland, make some
desperate attempt to turn the scales of war, striking first, it
might well be, for the relief of his father's castle?
These things were all pretty freely spoken of in the family, and
Dorothy understood the position of affairs as well as any one. And
now at length it seemed to her that the hour had arrived for
attempting some return for Raglan's hospitality. No service she had
hitherto stumbled upon had any magnitude in her eyes, but now--to be
the bearer of dispatches to the king! It would suffice at least,
even if it turned out a failure, to prove her not ungrateful. But
she too had her confidant, and in the absence of lord Glamorgan
would consult with Caspar.
Meantime the marquis had made matters worse by sending a request to
Colonel Morgan that he would grant safe passage for a messenger to
the king, without whose command he was not at liberty to surrender
the place. The answer was to the effect that they acknowledged no
jurisdiction of the king in the business, and that the marquis might
keep his mind easy as far as his supposed duty to his majesty was
concerned, for they would so compel a surrender that there could be
no reflection upon him for making it.
Caspar, fearful of the dangers she would have to encounter, sought
to dissuade Dorothy from her meditated proposal--but feebly, for
every one who had anything noble in his nature, and Caspar had more
than his share, was influenced by the magnanimity that ruled the
place. Indeed he told her one thing which served to clench her
resolution--that there was a secret way out of the castle, provided
by his master Glamorgan for communication during siege: more he was
not at liberty to disclose. Dorothy went straight to the marquis and
laid her plan before him, which was that she should make her escape
to Wyfern, and thence, attended by an old servant, set out to seek
'There is no longer time, alas!' returned the marquis. 'I look for
the final summons every hour.'
'Could you not raise the report, my lord, that you have undermined
the castle, and laid a huge quantity of gunpowder, with the
determination of blowing it up the moment they enter? That would
make them fall back upon blockade, and leave us a little time. Our
provisions are not nearly exhausted, and when fodder fails, we can
eat the horses first.'
'Thou art a brave lady, cousin Dorothy,' said the marquis. 'But if
they caught and searched thee, and found papers upon thee, it would
go worse with us than before.'
'Please your lordship, my lord Glamorgan once showed me such a comb
as a lady might carry in her pocket, but so contrived that the head
thereof was hollow and could contain despatches. Methinks Caspar
could lay his hand on the comb. If I were but at Wyfern! and thither
my little horse would carry me in less than hour, giving all needful
time for caution too, my lord.'
'By George, thou speakest well, cousin!' said the marquis. 'But who
should attend thee?'
'Let me have Tom Fool, my lord, for now have I thought of a
betterment of my plan: he will guide me to his mother's house by
byways, and thence can I cross the fields to my own--as easily as
the great hall, my lord.'
'Tom Fool is a mighty coward,' objected the marquis.
'So much the better, my lord. He will not get me into trouble
through displaying his manhood before me. He hath besides a a face
long enough for three roundheads, and a tongue that can utter glibly
enough what soundeth very like their jargon. Tom is the right fool
to attend me, my lord.'
'He can't ride; he never backed a horse in his life, I believe. No,
no, Dorothy. Shafto is the man.'
'Shafto is much too ready, my lord. He would ride over my hounds. I
want Tom no farther than his mother's, and there will be no need for
him to ride.'
'Well, it is a brave offer, my child, and I will think thereupon,'
said his lordship.
All the rest of the day the marquis and lord Charles, with two or
three of the principal officers of house and garrison, were in
conference, and letters were written both to his majesty and lord
Glamorgan. Before they were finally written out in cipher, Kaltoff
was sent for, the comb found, its contents gauged, and the paper cut
About an hour after midnight, Dorothy, lord Charles, and Caspar
stood together in the workshop, waiting for Tom Fool, who had gone
to fetch Dick from the stables. Dorothy had the comb in her pocket.
She looked pale, but her grey eyes shone with courage and
determination. She carried nothing but a whip. A keen little lamp
borne by Caspar was all their light.
Presently they heard the sound of Dick's hoofs on the bridge. A
moment more and Tom led him in, both man and horse looking somewhat
scared at the strangeness of the midnight proceeding. But Tom was,
notwithstanding, glad of the office, and ready to risk a good deal
in order to get out of the castle, where he expected nothing milder
at last than a general massacre.
Lord Charles himself lifted foot after foot of the little horse to
be satisfied that his shoes were sound, then made a sign to Caspar,
and gave his hand to Dorothy. Caspar took Dick by the bridle, and
led him up to the wall near the door. Lord Charles and Dorothy
followed. But Tom, observing that they placed themselves within a
chalk-drawn circle, hung back in terror; he fancied Caspar was going
to raise the devil. Yet he knew that within the circle was the only
safety; a word from Dorothy turned the scale, and he stood trembling
by her side. Nor was he greatly consoled to find that, as he now
thought, instead of the devil coming to them, they were going to
him, as, with the circle upon which they stood, they began to sink,
through a stone-faced shaft, slowly into the foundations of the
keep. Dick also was frightened, but happily his faith was stronger
than his imagination, and a word now and then from his mistress, and
an occasional pat from her well-known hand, sufficed to keep him
At the depth of about thirty feet they stopped, and found themselves
facing a ponderous door, studded and barred with iron. Caspar took
from his pocket a key about the size of a goose quill, felt about
for a moment, and then with a slight movement of finger and thumb
threw back a dozen ponderous bolts with a great echoing clang; the
door slowly opened, and they entered a narrow vaulted passage of
stone. Lord Charles took the lamp from Caspar, and led the way with
Dorothy; Tom Fool came next, and Caspar followed with Dick. The lamp
showed but a few feet of the walls and roof, and revealed nothing in
front until they had gone about a furlong, when it shone upon what
seemed the live rock ending their way. But again Caspar applied the
little key somewhere, and immediately a great mass of rock slowly
turned on a pivot, and permitted them to pass.
When they were all on the other side of it, lord Charles turned and
held up the light. Dorothy turned also and looked: there was nothing
to indicate whence they had come. Before her was the rough rock,
seemingly solid, certainly slimy and green, and over its face was
flowing a tiny rivulet.
'See there,' said lord Charles, pointing up; 'that little stream
comes the way thy dog Marquis and the roundhead Heywood came and
went. But I challenge anything larger than a rat to go now.'
Dorothy made no answer, and they went on again for some distance in
a passage like the former, but soon arrived at the open quarry,
whence Tom knew the way across the fields to the high road as well,
he said, as the line of life on his own palm. Lord Charles lifted
Dorothy to the saddle, said good-luck and good-bye, and stood with
Caspar watching as she rode up the steep ascent, until for an
instant her form stood out dark against the sky, then vanished, when
they turned and re-entered the castle.