Chapter 51


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 heavens. 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 the king. '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 to suit. 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 quiet. 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.