Prev | Next | Contents


As soon as supper was over in the housekeeper's room, Dorothy sped to the keep, where she found Caspar at work.

'My lord is not yet from supper, mistress,' he said. 'Will it please you wait while he comes?'

Had it been till midnight, so long as there was a chance of his appearing, Dorothy would have waited. Caspar did his best to amuse her, and succeeded,--showing her one curious thing after another,--amongst the rest a watch that seemed to want no winding after being once set agoing, but was in fact wound up a little by every opening of the case to see the dial. All the while the fire-engine was at work on its mysterious task, with but now and then a moment's attention from Caspar, a billet of wood or a shovelful of sea-coal on the fire, a pull at a cord, or a hint from the hooked rod. The time went rapidly.

Twilight was over, Caspar had lighted his lamp, and the moon had risen, before lord Herbert came.

'I am glad to find you have patience as well as punctuality in the catalogue of your virtues, mistress Dorothy,' he said as he entered. 'I too am punctual, and am therefore sorry to have failed now, but it is not my fault: I had to attend my father. For his sake pardon me.'

'It were but a small matter, my lord, even had it been uncompelled, to keep an idle girl waiting.'

'I think not so,' returned lord Herbert. 'But come now, I will explain to you my wonderful fire-engine.'

As he spoke, he took her by the hand, and led her towards it. The creature blazed, groaned, and puffed, but there was no motion to be seen about it save that of the flames through the cracks in the door of the furnace, neither was there any clanking noise of metal. A great rushing sound somewhere in the distance, that seemed to belong to it, yet appeared too far off to have any connection with it.

'It is a noisy thing,' he said, as they stood before it, 'but when I make another, it shall do its work that thou wouldst not hear it outside the door. Now listen to me for a moment, cousin. Should it come to a siege and I not at Raglan--the wise man will always provide for the worst--Caspar will be wanted everywhere. Now this engine is essential to the health and comfort, if not to the absolute life of the castle, and there is no one at present capable of managing it save us two. A very little instruction, however, would enable any one to do so: will you undertake it, cousin, in case of need?'

'Make me assured that I can, and I will, my lord,' answered Dorothy.

'A good and sufficing answer,' returned his lordship, with a smile of satisfaction. 'First then,' he went on, 'I will show you wherein lies its necessity to the good of the castle. Come with me, cousin Dorothy.'

He led the way from the room, and began to ascend the stair which rose just outside it. Dorothy followed, winding up through the thickness of the wall. And now she could not hear the engine. As she went up, however, certain sounds of it came again, and grew louder till they seemed close to her ears, then gradually died away and once more ceased. But ever, as they ascended, the rushing sound which had seemed connected with it, although so distant, drew nearer and nearer, until, having surmounted three of the five lofty stories of the building, they could scarcely hear each other speak for the roar of water, falling in intermittent jets. At last they came out on the top of the wall, with nothing between them and the moat below but the battlemented parapet, and behold! the mighty tower was roofed with water: a little tarn filled all the space within the surrounding walk. It undulated in the moonlight like a subsiding storm, and beat the encircling banks. For into its depths shot rather than poured a great volume of water from a huge orifice in the wall, and the roar and the rush were tremendous. It was like the birth of a river, bounding at once from its mountain rock, and the sound of its fall indicated the great depth of the water into which it plunged. Solid indeed must be the walls that sustained the outpush of such a weight of water!

'You see now, cousin, what yon fire-souled slave below is labouring at,' said his lordship. 'His task is to fill this cistern, and that he can in a few hours; and yet, such a slave is he, a child who understands his fetters and the joints of his bones can guide him at will.'

'But, my lord,' questioned Dorothy, 'is there not water here to supply the castle for months? And there is the draw-well in the pitched court besides.'

'Enough, I grant you,' he replied, 'for the mere necessities of life. But what would come of its pleasures? Would not the beleaguered ladies miss the bounty of the marble horse? Whence comes the water he gives so freely that he needeth not to drink himself? He would thirst indeed but for my water-commanding fiend below. Or how would the birds fare, were the fountains on the islands dry in the hot summer? And what would the children say if he ceased to spout? And how would my lord's tables fare, with the armed men besetting every gate, the fish-ponds dry, and the fish rotting in the sun? See you, mistress Dorothy? And for the draw-well, know you not wherein lies the good of a tower stronger than all the rest? Is it not built for final retreat, the rest of the castle being at length in the hands of the enemy? Where then is your draw-well?'

'But this tower, large as it is, could not receive those now within the walls of the castle,' said Dorothy.

'They will be fewer ere its shelter is needful.'

It was his tone quite as much as the words that drove a sudden sickness to the heart of the girl: for one moment she knew what siege and battle meant. But she recovered herself with a strong effort, and escaped from the thought by another question.

'And whence comes all this water, my lord?' she said, for she was one who would ask until she knew all that concerned her.

'Have you not chanced to observe a well in my workshop below, on the left-hand side of the door, not far from the great chest?'

'I have observed it, my lord.'

'That is a very deep well, with a powerful spring. Large pipes lead from all but the very bottom of that to my fire-engine. The fuller the well, the more rapid the flow into the cistern, for the shallower the water, the more labour falls to my giant. He is finding it harder work now. But you see the cistern is nearly full.'

'Forgive me, my lord, if I am troubling you,' said Dorothy, about to ask another question.

'I delight in the questions of the docile,' said his lordship. 'They are the little children of wisdom. There! that might be out of the book of Ecclesiasticus,' he added, with a merry laugh. 'I might pass that off on Dr. Bayly for my father's: he hath already begun to gather my father's sayings into a book, as I have discovered. But, prithee, cousin, let not my father know of it.'

'Fear not me, my lord,' returned Dorothy. 'Having no secrets of my own to house, it were evil indeed to turn my friends' out of doors.'

'Why, that also would do for Dr. Bayly! Well said, Dorothy! Now for thy next question.'

'It is this, my lord: having such a well in your foundations, whence the need of such a cistern on your roof? I mean now as regards the provision of the keep itself in case of ultimate resort.'

'In coming to deal with a place of such strength as this,' replied his lordship, '--I mean the keep whereon we now stand, not the castle, which, alas! hath many weak points--the enemy would assuredly change the siege into a blockade; that is, he would try to starve instead of fire us out; and, procuring information sufficiently to the point, would be like enough to dig deep and cut the water-veins which supply that well; and thereafter all would depend on the cistern. From the moment therefore when the first signs of siege appear, it will be wisdom and duty on the part of the person in charge to keep it constantly full--full as a cup to the health of the king. I trust however that such will be the good success of his majesty's arms that the worst will only have to be provided against, not encountered.--But there is more in it yet. Come hither, cousin. Look down through this battlement upon the moat. You see the moon in it? No? That is because it is covered so thick with weeds. When you go down, mark how low it is. There is little defence in the moat that a boy might wade through. I have allowed it to get shallow in order to try upon its sides a new cement I have lately discovered; but weeks and weeks have passed, and I have never found the leisure, and now I am sure I never shall until this rebellion is crushed. It is time I filled it. Pray look down upon it, cousin. In summer it will be full of the loveliest white water-lilies, though now you can see nothing but green weeds.'

He had left her side and gone a few paces away, but kept on speaking.

'One strange thing I can tell you about them, cousin--the roots of that whitest of flowers make a fine black dye! What apophthegm founded upon that, thinkest thou, my father would drop for Dr Bayly?'

'You perplex me much, my lord,' said Dorothy. 'I cannot at all perceive your lordship's drift.'

'Lay a hand on each side of the battlement where you now stand; lean through it and look down. Hold fast and fear nothing.' Dorothy did as she was desired, and thus supported gazed upon the moat below, where it lay a mere ditch at the foot of the lofty wall.

'My lord, I see nothing,' she said, turning to him, as she thought; but he had vanished.

Again she looked at the moat, and then her eyes wandered away over the castle. The two courts and their many roofs, even those of all the towers, except only the lofty watch-tower on the western side, lay bare beneath her, in bright moonlight, flecked and blotted with shadows, all wondrous in shape and black as Erebus.

Suddenly, she knew not whence, arose a frightful roaring, a hollow bellowing, a pent-up rumbling. Seized by a vague terror, she clung to the parapet and trembled. But even the great wall beneath her, solid as the earth itself, seemed to tremble under her feet, as with some inward commotion or dismay. The next moment the water in the moat appeared to rush swiftly upwards, in wild uproar, fiercely confused, and covered with foam and spray. To her bewildered eyes, it seemed to heap itself up, wave upon furious wave, to reach the spot where she stood, greedy to engulf her. For an instant she fancied the storming billows pouring over the edge of the battlement, and started back in such momentary agony as we suffer in dreams. Then, by a sudden rectification of her vision, she perceived that what she saw was in reality a multitude of fountain jets rushing high towards their parent-cistern, but far-failing ere they reached it. The roar of their onset was mingled with the despairing tumult of their defeat, and both with the deep tumble and wallowing splash of the water from the fire-engine, which grew louder and louder as the surface of the water in the reservoir sank. The uproar ceased as suddenly as it had commenced, but the moat mirrored a thousand moons in the agitated waters which had overwhelmed its mantle of weeds.

'You see now,' said lord Herbert, rejoining her while still she gazed, 'how necessary the cistern is to the keep? Without it, the few poor springs in the moat would but sustain it as you saw it. From here I can fill it to the brim.'

'I see,' answered Dorothy. 'But would not a simple overflow serve, carried from the well through the wall?'

'It would, were there no other advantages with which this mode harmonised. I must mention one thing more--which I was almost forgetting, and which I cannot well show you to-night--namely, that I can use this water not only as a means of defence in the moat, but as an engine of offence also against any one setting unlawful or hostile foot upon the stone bridge over it. I can, when I please, turn that bridge, the same by which you cross to come here, into a rushing aqueduct, and with a torrent of water sweep from it a whole company of invaders.'

'But would they not have only to wait until the cistern was empty?'

'As soon and so long as the bridge is clear, the outflow ceases. One sweep, and my water-broom would stop, and the rubbish lie sprawling under the arch, or half-way over the court. And more still,' he added with emphasis: 'I COULD make it boiling!'

'But your lordship would not?' faltered Dorothy.

'That might depend,' he answered with a smile. Then changing his tone in absolute and impressive seriousness, 'But this is all nothing but child's play,' he said, 'compared with what is involved in the matter of this reservoir. The real origin of it was its needfulness to the perfecting of my fire-engine.'

'Pardon me, my lord, but it seems to me that without the cistern there would be no need for the engine. How should you want or how could you use the unhandsome thing? Then how should the cistern be necessary to the engine?'

'Handsome is that handsome does,' returned his lordship. 'Truly, cousin Dorothy, you speak well, but you must learn to hear better. I did not say that the cistern existed for the sake of the engine, but for the sake of the perfecting of the engine. Cousin Dorothy, I will give you the largest possible proof of my confidence in you, by not only explaining to you the working of my fire-engine, but acquainting you--only you must not betray me!'

'I, in my turn,' said Dorothy, 'will give your lordship, if not the strongest, yet a very strong proof of my confidence: I promise to keep your secret before knowing what it is.'

'Thanks, cousin. Listen then: That engine is a mingling of discovery and invention such as hath never had its equal since first the mechanical powers were brought to the light. For this shall be as a soul to animate those, all and each--lever, screw, pulley, wheel, and axle--what you will. No engine of mightiest force ever for defence or assault invented, let it be by Archimedes himself, but could by my fire-engine be rendered tenfold more mighty for safety or for destruction, although as yet I have applied it only to the blissful operation of lifting water, thus removing the curse of it where it is a curse, and carrying it where the parched soil cries for its help to unfold the treasures of its thirsty bosom. My fire-engine shall yet uplift the nation of England above the heads of all richest and most powerful nations on the face of the whole earth. For when the troubles of this rebellion are over, which press so heavily on his majesty and all loyal subjects, compelling even a peaceful man like myself to forsake invention for war, and the workman's frock which I love, for the armour which I love not, when peace shall smile again on the country, and I shall have time to perfect the work of my hands, I shall present it to my royal master, a magical supremacy of power, which shall for ever raise him and his royal progeny above all use or need of subsidies, ship-money, benevolences, or taxes of whatever sort or name, to rule his kingdom as independent of his subjects in reality as he is in right; for this water-commanding engine, which God hath given me to make, shall be the source of such wealth as no accountant can calculate. For herewith may marsh-land be thoroughly drained, or dry land perfectly watered; great cities kept sweet and wholesome; mines rid of the water gathering from springs therein, so as he may enrich himself withal; houses be served plentifully on every stage; and gardens in the dryest summer beautified and comforted with fountains. Which engine when I found that it was in the power of my hands to do, as well as of my heart to conceive that it might be done, I did kneel down and give humble thanks from the bottom of my heart to the omnipotent God whose mercies are fathomless, for his vouchsafing me an insight into so great a secret of nature and so beneficial to all mankind as this my engine.'

With all her devotion to the king, and all her hatred and contempt of the parliament and the puritans, Dorothy could not help a doubt whether such independence might be altogether good either for the king himself or the people thus subjected to his will. But the farther doubt did not occur to her whether a pre-eminence gained chiefly by wealth was one to be on any grounds desired for the nation, or, setting that aside, was one which carried a single element favourable to perpetuity.

All this time they had been standing on the top of the keep, with the moonlight around them, and in their ears the noise of the water flowing from the dungeon well into the sky-roofed cistern. But now it came in diminished flow.

'It is the earth that fails in giving, not my engine in taking,' said lord Herbert as he turned to lead the way down the winding stair. Ever as they went, the noise of the water grew fainter and the noise of the engine grew louder, but just as they stepped from the stair, it gave a failing stroke or two, and ceased. A dense white cloud met them as they entered the vault.

'Stopped for the night, Caspar?' said his lordship.

'Yes, my lord; the well is nearly out.'

'Let it sleep,' returned his master; 'like a man's heart it will fill in the night. Thank God for the night and darkness and sleep, in which good things draw nigh like God's thieves, and steal themselves in--water into wells, and peace and hope and courage into the minds of men. Is it not so, my cousin?'

Dorothy did not answer in words, but she looked up in his face with a reverence in her eyes that showed she understood him. And this was one of the idolatrous catholics! It was neither the first nor the last of many lessons she had to receive, in order to learn that a man may be right although the creed for which he is and ought to be ready to die, may contain much that is wrong. Alas! that so few, even of such men, ever reflect, that it is the element common to all the creeds which gives its central value to each.

'I cannot show you the working of the engine to-night,' said lord Herbert. 'Caspar has decreed otherwise.'

'I can soon set her agoing again, my lord,' said Caspar.

'No, no. We must to the powder-mill, Caspar. Mistress Dorothy will come again to-morrow, and you must yourself explain to her the working and management of it, for I shall be away. And do not fear to trust my cousin, Caspar, although she be a soft-handed lady. Let her have the brute's halter in her own hold.'

Filled with gratitude for the trust he reposed in her, Dorothy took her leave, and the two workmen immediately abandoned their shop for the night, leaving the door wide open behind them to let out the vapours of the fire-engine, in the confidence that no unlicensed foot would dare to cross the threshold, and betook themselves to the powder-mill, where they continued at work the greater part of the night.

His lordship was unfavourable to the storing of powder because of the danger, seeing they could, on his calculation, from the materials lying ready for mixing, in one week prepare enough to keep all the ordnance on the castle walls busy for two. But indeed he had not such a high opinion of gunpowder but that he believed engines for projection, more powerful as well as less expensive, could be constructed, after the fashion of ballista or catapult, by the use of a mode he had discovered of immeasurably increasing the strength of springs, so that stones of a hundredweight might be thrown into a city from a quarter of a mile's distance without any noise audible to those within. It was this device he was brooding over when Dorothy came upon him by the arblast. Nor did the conviction arise from any prejudice against fire-arms, for he had, among many other wonderful things of the sort, in cannons, sakers, harquebusses, muskets, musquetoons, and all kinds, invented a pistol to discharge a dozen times with one loading, and without so much as new priming being once requisite, or the possessor having to change it out of one hand into the other, or stop his horse.

One who had happened to see lord Herbert as he went about within his father's walls, busy yet unhasting, earnest yet cheerful, rapid in all his movements yet perfectly composed, would hardly have imagined that a day at a time, or perhaps two, was all he was now able to spend there, days which were to him as breathing-holes in the ice to the wintered fishes. For not merely did he give himself to the enlisting of large numbers of men, but commanded both horse and foot, meeting all expenses from his own pocket, or with the assistance of his father. A few months before the period at which my story has arrived, he had in eight days raised six regiments, fortified Monmouth and Chepstow, and garrisoned half-a-dozen smaller but yet important places. About a hundred noblemen and gentlemen whom he had enrolled as a troop of life-guards, he furnished with the horses and arms which they were unable to provide with sufficient haste for themselves. So prominenf indeed were his services on behalf of the king, that his father was uneasy because of the jealousy and hate it would certainly rouse in the minds of some of his majesty's well-wishers--a just presentiment, as his son had too good reason to acknowledge after he had spent a million of money, besides the labour and thought and dangerous endeavour of years, in the king's service.

Prev | Next | Contents