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Lord Herbert gave the letter to his wife, and paced up and down the room while she read. Dorothy stood silent, with glowing face and downcast eyes. When lady Margaret had finished it she handed it to her, and turned to her husband with the words,--

'What sayest thou, Ned? Is it not a brave epistle?'

'There is matter for thought therein,' he answered. 'Wilt show me the ring whereof he writes, cousin?'

'I never had it, my lord.'

'Whom thinkest thou then he calleth his safe messenger? Not thy dog--plainly, for the ring had been sent thee before.'

'My lord, I cannot even conjecture,' answered Dorothy.

'There is matter herein that asketh attention. My lady, and cousin Dorothy, not a word of all this until I shall have considered what it may import!--Beat not thy dog, Dorothy: that were other than he deserveth at thy hand. But he is a dangerous go-between, so prithee let him be at once chained up.'

'I will not beat him, my lord, and I will chain him up,' answered Dorothy, laughing.

Having then announced the discovery of the hidden passage, and given orders concerning it, lord Herbert retired yet again to his secret chamber, and that night was once more seen of many consulting the stars from the top of the library tower.

The following morning another rumour was abroad--to the effect that his lordship was now occupied in questioning the stars as to who in the castle had aided the young roundhead in making his escape.

In the evening, soon after supper, there came a gentle tap to the door of lady Margaret's parlour. At that time she was understood to be disengaged, and willing to see any of the household. Harry happened to be with her, and she sent him to the door to see who it was.

'It is Tom Fool,' he said, returning. 'He begs speech of you, madam--with a face as long as the baker's shovel, and a mouth as wide as an oven-door.'

With their Irish stepmother the children took far greater freedoms than would have been permitted them by the jealous care of their own mother over their manners.

Lady Margaret smiled: this was probably the first fruit of her husband's astrological investigations.

'Tell him he may enter, and do thou leave him alone with me, Harry,' she said.

Allowing for exaggeration, Harry had truly reported Tom's appearance. He was trembling from head to foot, and very white.

'What aileth thee, Tom, that thou lookest as thou had seen a hobgoblin?' said lady Margaret.

'Please you, my lady,' answered Tom, 'I am in mortal terror of my lord Herbert.'

'Then hast thou been doing amiss, Tom? for no well-doer ever yet was afeard of my lord. Comest thou because thou wouldst confess the truth?'

'Ah, my lady,' faltered Tom.

'Come, then; I will lead thee to my lord.'

'No, no, an't please you, my lady!' cried Tom, trembling yet more. 'I will confess to you, my lady, and then do you confess to my lord, so that he may forgive me.'

'Well, I will venture so far for thee, Tom,' returned her ladyship; 'that is, if thou be honest, and tell me all.'

Thus encouraged, Tom cleansed his stuffed bosom, telling all the part he had borne in Richard's escape, even to the disclosure of the watchword to his mother.

Is there not this peculiarity about the fear of the supernatural, even let it be of the lowest and most slavish kind, that under it men speak the truth, believing that alone can shelter them?

Lady Margaret dismissed him with hopes of forgiveness, and going straight to her husband in his secret chamber, amused him largely with her vivid representation, amounting indeed to no sparing mimicry of Tom's looks and words as he made his confession.

Here was much gained, but Tom had cast no ray of light upon the matter of Dorothy's imprisonment. The next day lord Herbert sent for him to his workshop, where he was then alone. He appeared in a state of abject terror.

'Now, Tom,' said his lordship, 'hast thou made a clean breast of it?'

'Yes, my lord,' answered Tom; 'there is but one thing more.'

'What is that? Out with it.'

'As I went back to my chamber, at the top of the stair leading down from my lord's dining parlour to the hall, commonly called my lord's stair,' said Tom, who delighted in the pseudo-circumstantial, 'I stopped to recover my breath, of the which I was sorely bereft, and kneeling on the seat of the little window that commands the archway to the keep, I saw the prisoner--'

'How knewest thou the prisoner ere it was yet daybreak, and that in the darkest corner of all the court?'

'I knew him by the way my bones shook at the white sleeves of his shirt, my lord,' said Tom, who was too far gone in fear to make the joke of pretending courage.

'Hardly evidence, Tom. But go on.'

'And with him I saw mistress Dorothy--'

'Hold there, Tom!' cried lord Herbert. 'Wherefore didst not impart this last night to my lady?'

'Because my lady loveth mistress Dorothy, and I dreaded she would therefore refuse to believe me.'

'What a heap of cunning goes to the making of a downright fool!' said lord Herbert to himself, but so as Tom could not fail to hear him. 'And what saw'st thou pass between them?' he asked.

'Only a whispering with their heads together,' answered Tom.

'And what heard'st thou?'

'Nothing, my lord.'

'And what followed?'

'The roundhead left her, and went through the archway. She stood a moment and then followed him. But I, fearful of her coming up the stair and finding me, gat me quickly to my own place.'

'Oh, Tom, Tom! I am ashamed of thee. What! Afraid of a woman? Verily, thy heart is of wax.'

'That can hardly be, my lord, for I find it still on the wane.'

'An' thy wit were no better than thy courage, thou hadst never had enough to play the fool with.'

'No, my lord; I should have had to turn philosopher.'

'A fair hit, Tom! But tell me, why wast thou afeard of mistress Dorothy?'

'It might have come to a quarrel in some sort, my lord; and there is one thing I have remarked in my wanderings through this valley of Baca' said Tom, speaking through his nose, and lengthening his face beyond even its own nature, 'namely, that he who quarrels with a woman goes ever to the wall.'

'One thing perplexes me, Tom: if thou sawest mistress Dorothy in the court with the roundhead, how came she thereafter, thinkest thou, locked up in his chamber?'

'It behoves that she went into it again, my lord.'

'How knowest thou she had been there before?'

'Nay, I know not, my lord. I know nothing of the matter.'

'Why say'st it then? Take heed to thy words, Tom. Who then, thinkest thou, did lock the door upon her?'

'I know not, my lord, and dare hardly say what I think. But let your lordship's wisdom determine whether it might not be one of those demons whereof the house hath been full ever since that night when I saw them rise from the water of the moat--that even now surrounds us, my lord!--and rush into the fountain court.'

'Meddle thou not, even in thy thoughts, with things that are beyond thee,' said lord Herbert. 'By what signs knewest thou mistress Dorothy in the dark as she stood talking to the roundhead?'

'There was light enough to know woman from man, my lord.'

'And were there then that night no women in the castle but mistress Dorothy?'

'Why, who else could it have been, my lord?'

'Why not thine own mother, Tom--rode thither on her broomstick to deliver her darling?'

Tom gaped with fresh terror at the awful suggestion.

'Now, hear me, Thomas Rees,' his lordship went on.

'Yes, my lord,' answered Tom.

'An' ever it come to my knowledge that thou say thou then saw mistress Dorothy, when all thou sawest was, as thou knowest, a woman who might have been thine own mother talking to the roundhead, as thou callest a man who might indeed have been Caspar Kaltoff in his shirt sleeves, I will set every devil at my command upon thy back and thy belly, thy sides and thy soles. Be warned, and not only speak the truth, as thou hast for a whole half-hour been trying hard to do, but learn to distinguish between thy fancies and God's facts; for verily thou art a greater fool than I took thee for, and that was no small one. Get thee gone, and send me hither mistress Watson.'

Tom crawled away, and presently mistress Watson appeared, looking offended, possibly at being called to the workshop, and a little frightened.

'I cannot but think thee somewhat remiss in thy ministrations to a sick man, mistress Watson,' he said, 'to leave him so long to himself. Had he been a king's officer now, wouldst thou not have shown him more favour?'

'That indeed may be, my lord,' returned mistress Watson with dignity. 'But an' the young fellow had been very sick, he had not made his escape.'

'And left the blame thereof with thee. Besides, that he did for his escape he may have done in the strength of the fever that followeth on such a wound.'

'My lord, I gave him a potion, wherefrom he should have slept until I sought him again.'

'Was he or thou to blame that he did not feel the obligation? When a man instead of sleeping runneth away, the potion was ill mingled, I doubt, mistress Watson--drove him crazy perchance.'

'She who waked him when he ought to have slept hath to bear the blame, not I, my lord.'

'Thou shouldst, I say, have kept better watch. But tell me whom meanest thou by that same SHE?'

'She who was found in his chamber, my lord,' said mistress Watson, compressing her lips, as if, come what might, she would stand on the foundation of the truth.

'Ah?--By the way, I would gladly understand how it came to be known throughout the castle that thou didst find her there? I have the assurance of my lady, my lord marquis, and my lord Charles, that never did one of them utter word so to slander an orphan as thou hast now done in my hearing. Who then can it be but her who is at the head of the meinie of this house, who hath misdemeaned herself thus to the spreading amongst those under her of evil reports and surmises affecting her lord's cousin, mistress Dorothy Vaughan?'

'You wrong me grievously, my lord,' cried mistress Watson, red with the wrath of injury and undeserved reproof.

'Thou hast thyself to thank for it then, for thou hast this night said in mine own ears that mistress Dorothy waked thy prisoner, importing that she thereafter set him free, when thou knowest that she denies the same, and is therein believed by my lord marquis and all his house.'

'Therein I believe her not, my lord; but I swear by all the saints and angels, that to none but your lordship have I ever said the word; neither have I ever opened my lips against her, lest I should take from her the chance of betterment.'

'I will be more just to thee than thou hast been to my cousin, mistress Watson, for I will believe thee that thou didst only harbour evil in thy heart, not send it from the doors of thy lips to enter into other bosoms. Was it thou then that did lock the door upon her?'

'God forbid, my lord!'

'Thinkest thou. it was the roundhead?'

'No, surely, my lord, for where would be the need?'

'Lest she should issue and give the alarm.'

Mistress Watson smiled an acid smile.

'Then the doer of that evil deed,' pursued lord Herbert, 'must be now in the castle, and from this moment every power I possess in earth, air, or sea, shall be taxed to the uttermost for the discovery of that evil person. Let this vow of mine be known, mistress Watson, as a thing thou hast heard me say, not commission thee to report. Prithee take heed to what I desire of thee, for I am not altogether powerless to enforce that I would.'

Mistress Watson left the workshop in humbled mood. To her spiritual benefit lord Herbert had succeeded in punishing her for her cruelty to Dorothy; and she was not the less willing to mind his injunction as to the mode of mentioning his intent, that it would serve to the quenching of any suspicion that she had come under his disapproval.

And now lord Herbert, depending more upon his wits than his learning, found himself a good deal in the dark. Confident that neither Richard, Tom Fool, nor mistress Watson had locked the door of the turret chamber after Dorothy's entrance, he gave one moment to the examination of the lock, and was satisfied that an enemy had done it. He then started his thoughts on another track, tending towards the same point: how was it that the roundhead, who had been carried insensible to the turret-chamber, had been able, ere yet more than a film of grey thinned the darkness, without alarming a single sleeper, to find his way from a part of the house where there were no stairs near, and many rooms, all occupied? Clearly by the help of her, whoever she was, whom Tom Fool had seen with him by the hall door. She had guided him down my lord's stair, and thus avoided the risk of crossing the paved court to the hall door within sight of the warders of the main entrance. To her indubitably the young roundhead had committed the ring for Dorothy. Here then was one secret agent in the affair: was it likely there had been two? If not, this woman was one and the same with the person who turned the key upon Dorothy. She probably had been approaching the snare while the traitress talked with the prisoner. What did her presence so soon again in the vicinity of the turret-chamber indicate? Possibly that her own chamber was near it. The next step then was to learn from the housekeeper who slept in the neighbourhood of the turret-chamber, and then to narrow the ground of search by inquiring which, if any of them, slept alone.

He found there were two who occupied each a chamber by herself; one of them was Amanda, the other mistress Watson.

Now therefore he knew distinctly in what direction first he must point his tentatives. Before he went farther, however, he drew from Dorothy an accurate description of the ring to which Richard's letter alluded, and immediately set about making one after it, from stage to stage of its progress bringing it to her for examination and criticism, until, before the day was over, he had completed a model sufficiently like to pass for the same.

The greater portion of the next day he spent in getting into perfect condition a certain mechanical toy which he had constructed many years before, and familiarising himself with its working. This done, he found himself ready for his final venture, to give greater solemnity to which he ordered the alarum-bell to be rung, and the herald of the castle to call aloud, first from the bell-tower in the grass-court, next from the roof of the hall-porch in the stone- court, communicating with the minstrels' gallery, that on the following day, after dinner, so soon as they should hear the sound of the alarum-bell, every soul in the castle, to the infant in arms, all of whatever condition, save old mother Prescot, who was bed-ridden, should appear in the great hall, that lord Herbert might perceive which amongst them had insulted the lord and the rule of the house by the locking of one of its doors to the imprisonment and wrong of his lordship's cousin, mistress Dorothy Vaughan. Three strokes of the great bell opened and closed the announcement, and a great hush of expectancy, not unmingled with fear, fell upon the place.

There was one in the household, however, who at first objected to the whole proceeding. That was sir Toby Mathews, the catholic chaplain. He went to the marquis and represented that, if there was to be any exercise whatever of unlawful power, the obligations of the sacred office with which he was invested would not permit him to be present or connive thereat. The marquis merrily insisted that it was a case of exorcism; that the devil was in the castle, and out he must go; that if Satan assisted in the detection of the guilty and the purging of the innocent, then was he divided against himself, and what could be better for the church or the world? But for his own part he had no hand in it, and if sir Toby had anything to say against it, he must go to his son. This he did at once; but lord Herbert speedily satisfied him, pledging himself that there should be nothing done by aid from beneath, and making solemn assertion that if ever he had employed any of the evil powers to work out his designs, it had been as their master and not their accomplice.

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