HEIRESS OF HADDON.
WM. E. DOUBLEDAY.
SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, HAMILTON, KENT AND CO., LIMITED.
BUXTON AND BAKEWELL:
U.F. WARDLEY, "HIGH PEAK NEWS" OFFICES.
The real romance of Haddon Hall is a sweet, old-world idyll of singular attractiveness and interest. The gems of the story have been reset by dramatists in different surroundings; but while, as in the Sullivan-Grundy opera, many of its chief incidents have been retained, many have been omitted.
In the old story there are no Puritans, and not one solitary Scotchman appears upon the scene. The original drama was enacted in the pastoral days of "Good Queen Bess," when the Tudor Queen was still young and beautiful, and
"When all the world was young, lad, And all the trees were green; And every goose a swan, lad, And every lass a queen."
Haddon Hall, the scene of the story, is situated at the foot of the Peak, between Bakewell and Chatsworth, close to Matlock, and not far from Buxton. Far from the madding crowd the hoary old edifice stands, carefully preserved, and generously thrown open to public view by its princely owners, the Dukes of Rutland, who, though for more than a century back they have ceased to inhabit it, have yet most carefully protected the building from falling into the slightest disrepair.
In our own day, the Hall stands very much as it did in the heyday of its glory, when the sisters Margaret and Dorothy received the homage of their numerous admirers, or the "King of the Peak" himself passed to and fro within its walls. But it is more beautiful now than it was then, for now it is tinged with a beauty which age alone can bestow, and mellowed with a charm that none of the Vernons ever knew.
And of this charm Dorothy Vernon herself is assuredly the central figure. For three centuries her romantic career has been a favourite theme with minstrel, poet, and painter; and during all this time—like the ivy which grows and clusters around the walls and nooks and crannies of what, generations ago, were the abiding-places of kings or nobles, scenes of splendour and animation—so, during the lapse of time, there has grown a beautiful and romantic web of legendary lore which clings tenaciously to every wall, window, and stone of the old Hall, until every room and every corner of old Haddon seems to tell the story of the beautiful maiden who, once upon a time, fell in love with a certain plain John Manners, whom she was determined to wed, in spite of all the obstacles that were placed in her way.
The story telling how she accomplished this has been told in many varying forms, but in the following pages the writer has sought to incorporate the essence of nearly all the legends, concerning not only Dorothy, but also of Sir George Vernon. A considerable amount of fresh matter has been introduced, and, without unduly intruding the dry facts of history, a few of the great events and persons of the time have been pressed into service; whilst at the same time, some of the old English customs of the days of "Good Queen Bess" have been made to serve the purpose of the narrative.
I.—AT FIRST SIGHT 1 II.—A JEALOUS HEART AND CRAFTY 7 III.—THE CLOSE OF THE DAY 13 IV.—DAME DURDEN'S ORDEAL 19 V.—A VISIT TO NOTTINGHAM 26 VI.—DE LA ZOUCH INDULGES IN A LITTLE VILLAINY 32 VII.—DOROTHY OVERHEARS SOMETHING 42 VIII.—A TOURNAMENT; THE COMBAT 49 IX.—AT THE COCK TAVERN, LONDON 55 X.—IN DIRE STRAITS 63 XI.—AN UNFORTUNATE DENOUEMENT 71 XII.—A CONFESSION OF LOVE 79 XIII.—FATHER PHILIP'S ACCIDENT 88 XIV.—AN UNPLEASANT NIGHT 94 XV.—SIR GEORGE AT WESTMINSTER 101 XVI.—A NIGHT ADVENTURE 107 XVII.—A DALE ABBEY HERMIT 114 XVIII.—THE CHAMBER OF DEATH 120 XIX.—"THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE." 126 XX.—THE TROTH-PLIGHT 133 XXI.—THE PLOT IN PROGRESS 139 XXII.—ON A FALSE SCENT 147 XXIII.—DARK SUSPICIONS 153 XXIV.—THE ESCAPE 159 XXV.—THE LAST OF DE LA ZOUCH 166 XXVI.—A DISGUISED LOVER 174 XXVII.—A NARROW ESCAPE 180 XXVIII.—"NOT YET" 188 XXIX.—THE ANGELS OF LIFE AND DEATH 197 XXX.—STOLEN SWEETS 206 XXXI.—THE TOKEN 215 XXXII.—PLAIN JOHN MANNERS WINS HIS BRIDE 222 XXXIII.—PEACE AT LAST 229
THE HEIRESS OF HADDON.
AT FIRST SIGHT.
There is a spirit brooding o'er these walls That tells the record of a bygone day, When 'mid the splendour of these courtly halls, A pageant shone, whose gorgeous array Like pleasure's dream has passed away.
Where both deliberate the love is slight; Who ever loved that love not at first sight?
Amid the hills of Derbyshire which cluster around the Peak there rises, in a lovely dale slyly peeping out from behind the surrounding trees, the fine old pile of Haddon Hall.
Perhaps the old shire of Derby, with its many rich examples, can present to view nothing equal in historic and legendary interest to this old mansion. Its turrets and towers, its windows and its walls, its capacious kitchens, and its fine halls and banqueting rooms—unspoiled by the hands of the "restorer"—have gained for it the almost unchallenged position of being the finest baronial residence which still exists.
There stand the grey old walls whose battlements have proudly bidden defiance to the storms and blasts of half a thousand winters, and there still stand the gnarled old trees which have gently swayed to and fro while many a baron has ruled the Hall, and whose leaves after growing in superlative beauty, seeming to partake in the grandeur and pride of the "King of the Peak," have drooped and fallen, after having made, with their rich autumnal tints, a succession of beautiful living pictures which have delighted the lords and ladies of Haddon for almost twenty generations.
When William the Conqueror had invaded England and had succeeded in seating himself upon his somewhat insecure throne, he began to reward his followers with liberal grants of the land he had won. Among these fortunate individuals was one, William Peveril, said to be a son of the Conqueror, and to him, in common with many other estates in and around Derbyshire, was given the manor of Haddon. Part of the fabric which was then erected is still standing, and it is surmised by some that traces are still left of a previous Saxon erection. In the year 1154, the estate was forfeited to the Crown, and it was granted by King Henry II. to the Avenals, from which family, two hundred years later, it was transferred by marriage to the Vernons.
Its fate has been strangely wrapped up in the history of its women, for as it passed from the Avenals to the Vernons by marriage, so again, three centuries later, by a similar process, it passed from the Vernon family to the Rutland, which ever since has retained it in its possession.
Everything around, both inside and out, is fragrant with interest. Everything seems to breathe out the spirit of departed ages. It is one vast relic of "Merrie England's" bygone splendour.
It was the old original "Palace of the Peak," nor was it unworthy of the name. The glory of many royal palaces of its time indeed might well have paled beside its splendour, and as a matter of fact the baron of Haddon was a king within his own domain, who wielded a power which few around dared to question, and fewer still resist. Its hospitality was lavish, as the poor of a neighbourhood of no small radius knew full well; and the vastness and riches of the property which accompanied the ownership of Haddon was enough to maintain its lord in an almost regal state.
What happy scenes have taken place within its walls! How many fair ladies have stepped off the riding stone outside its gate, helped by the gallant but superfluous aid of chivalrous knights, each striving to outdo the others by gentle acts of courtesy! What brilliant cavalcades have issued from its portals! How many merry hunting parties have started from its iron-studded gate; and what jovial monster feasts have taken place within its rooms. If walls could speak, what a tale would Haddon have to tell.
The spring of the year of grace 1567 had just commenced, and the trees were beginning to adorn themselves once again in their green array, when the Knight of Haddon, Sir George Vernon, led out a merry company for the first hawking expedition of the year. The winter had been unusually long, and more than extraordinarily severe; and whilst the knight and his sturdy friends had been enabled to pursue their sport by submitting to a more than usual amount of inconvenience, yet the ladies had been almost entirely confined within the limits of the Hall. Winter at Haddon was by no means a dreary imprisonment, for fetes and balls were continually taking place, and however rough the weather might be, and the condition of the miserable tracts which in those days did duty for roads, there were not a few cavaliers, both old and young, who would gladly adventure the discomforts of a journey to Haddon, even were it to be only rewarded by a smile, or perchance a dance with the two daughters of the host, whose beauty, though of different types, many were ready to swear, and to maintain it, if need be, at the point of the sword, could not be surpassed in all the counties of the land.
Indeed, the beauty of Margaret and Dorothy was almost as famous as the reputation of the "King of the Peak" himself, and the old knight, owner as he was of immense wealth, was often heard to assert that his two daughters were the greatest treasures he possessed.
Many eyes were cast upon these two fair maidens, and many hearts were laid at their feet. Margaret, the elder, was already being wooed by Sir Thomas Stanley, and some gossips even went so far as to say that she had already plighted her troth to him. The younger sister, however, had kept her heart intact, and in spite of the persuasions of Sir George and the threats of Lady Maude, had refused to comply with their request to accept Sir Henry de la Zouch as her betrothed.
Although by no means dreary, yet the continual round of winter feasts had at last begun to assume an aspect of staleness, and lords and ladies alike had for some time past been eagerly anticipating the time when they might once more pursue their noble sports. As the winter had gradually withdrawn its ice and snow, and occasional gleams of sunshine appeared, hearalding the advent of spring, the excitement had increased. Dancing was discarded, the tapestry work was laid aside, and all with one mind began to make preparations for the coming excursions.
And now the long wished for day had come. The number of guests at the Hall had been largely augmented by fresh arrivals, and as the jovial baron looked round the table at the feast of the previous evening, he declared that a better company could not be found in all the land.
The scene as they started out was animated in the extreme. The ladies, in their many-coloured dresses, riding on horseback, were gracefully coquetting with the knights and squires who surrounded them and dutifully paid their court to them with all the reverence of a fast-departing chivalry.
The chase was to be on foot, and in the rear followed a number of pages, each leading his dogs and carrying his own as well as his master's jumping pole. Everything promised well. The turf had dried after the recent floods, with a pleasing elasticity. The sun shone brilliantly upon the gold-trimmed jerkins of the hawks, and the hum of conversation, with its occasional outburst of merry ringing laughter, added to the tinkling of the sonorous little falcon bells, or the bark of the dogs every now and again as they ineffectually tried to break away from the leashes in which they were held, all tended to put the party in the best of spirits.
Dorothy Vernon, as usual, was surrounded by a circle of admirers, each of whom was anxious to bring himself under her especial notice by anticipating her wishes, or quickly fulfilling her slightest commands.
Sir Henry de la Zouch was there, as a matter of course. He was most assiduous in his attentions, and although it was plainly visible that his presence was as little appreciated as his suit, yet he still kept by her side.
"Methinks, fair demoiselle," he began, "thou art hardly so sprightly this morning as the occasion might warrant. Now, Mistress Margaret, there—"
"Aye, Margaret again, Sir Henry," interrupted the maiden; "thou art for ever placing me beside my sister Margaret. He bears too hardly upon a simple maiden, does he not, Sir John?"
Sir John de Lacey, a little fidgety old man on the wrong side of sixty, nervously played with his collar, and, delighted at the opportunity thus afforded him of paying back a grudge of long standing, he summoned to his aid all the dignity he was capable of assuming, and declared that the whole of Sir Henry's conduct was ungallant to the last degree.
De la Zouch darted a look of intense wrath at the old man, but as the latter was yet rearranging his collar, the effort was lost.
"Nay, nay, sweet Dorothy," he said, "I meant to say naught that would vex thee, for I would have thee smile upon me and not frown; and if my words have not been pleasing to thee in the past, I am sorry for it, and will endeavour to amend my ways in the future."
"Where do we go to-day?" asked Dorothy, not noticing his last remark. "We are full late for the woodcock, and the partridges are not yet ready."
"There are plenty of sparrows on the wing," exclaimed Sir Benedict a Woode, who had been anxiously awaiting an opportunity to join in the conversation.
"Aha! Sir Benedict," she replied. "Methought thou wert too unwell to join us to-day, but thou hast weathered the attack, I see."
"Now, could I stay away, fair cousin, when I knew thou wert among the merry company?" gallantly responded the knight.
"'Twas but the wine got into his head, Dorothy," insinuated Sir Henry.
Dorothy, according to the fashion of the time, was carrying a hawk, one which she herself had trained, upon her wrist, which was protected from the beak and talons of the bird by a large thick glove. She looked upon the noble bird, and felt proud of her treasure.
"St. George," she said, "would scorn a sparrow, though, or else, I fear, most noble Benedict, he shares not in the pride of his mistress."
St. George cocked his head on one side, as if to receive the compliment in a most befitting manner, and catching sight of a hand upon the saddle, it rapidly dipped down its head and made a vicious peck at the intruding fingers.
It was the hand of De la Zouch, and he withdrew with an ejaculation of anger.
"There, Mistress Dorothy," he exclaimed, "did I not say the bird was but imperfectly taught, and now see here;" and he ruefully pointed to the bleeding finger.
Dorothy was so overcome by the tragic attitude Sir Henry assumed, that instead of offering him her sympathy, she burst out into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, in which the rest of the company joined; and, burning with indignation, the unlucky knight hastened away to join the group around the elder sister.
Having fallen behind, Dorothy and her companions had now to hurry forward, for they learned by the blowing of the horns and signals of Sir George Vernon that they were now close upon the scene of the day's sport.
"Come, Doll," shouted the baron, "we are waiting for you; we are ready to begin, and there are some strangers with whom I must acquaint you."
They soon joined company, and Master John Manners, together with his friend, Sir Everard Crowleigh, had soon passed through the pleasant formality of an introduction to one of the prettiest and wealthiest heiresses in England.
John Manners, who plays a prominent part in this veracious narrative, was the nephew of the Earl of Rutland. As he reverently kissed the dainty hand which Dorothy held out to him he was so smitten with the charm of her beauty that Cupid led him, an unresisting captive, to yield his heart to the keeping of the maid. He was deeply smitten, nor was Dorothy herself insensible to the more masculine beauty of the scion of the house of Rutland, for as his dark, flashing eyes met her own, in spite of herself, she felt the power of a strange attraction which drew her towards him. The sprightly god of love had already done his work, and, although perhaps neither of them was aware of the fact, they were each being bound by his chains.
It was a case of love at first sight.
A JEALOUS HEART AND CRAFTY.
He that sows in craft does reap in jealousy.
Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand; Blood and revenge are hammering in my head.
The scene of the pastime had been reached, and the preparations for the hawking had already begun. The falconers brought up their birds, the pages gave up their masters' jumping poles, and the dogs were sniffing the air, eager for the chase to commence.
At last the jerkins were taken off, and the straps which had held the hawks were unloosed; the dogs were sent to the front, and the real work of the day began.
Sir George was in capital humour, and closely followed by Sir Benedict a Woode and the others, he led off at a rare pace, with the ladies following upon their steeds a little distance in the rear, and, behind all, a number of admiring rustics, eager to see a little of the sport in which it was not their lot to participate.
Sparrows were plentiful, but no other kind of bird was to be seen, and Sir Benedict was just thinking that Sir George would have to humble himself, when the dogs began to bark.
"Quails, as I'm alive! See!" shouted the baron, in high delight.
"And a whole bevy of them, too," added De la Zouch, turning round to the ladies.
The excitement, which had simmered before, now suddenly became intense, and away went lord and lady, knight and esquire, over wall and ditch, in their eagerness to keep up with the hunt.
Dorothy had not flown her bird, for she had noticed that Master Manners was without a hawk, and now she sent it forward to him by her page, and waited with a beating heart to learn whether her offer had been accepted.
Manners himself came back and thanked her.
"But marry, fair Mistress Vernon," said he, "I could no more rob you of your bird than I could steal away your beauty or take possession of your heart."
"Nay, now," replied Dorothy, not paying the proper amount of regard to the truth, "I am already for-wearied of the hawking; and it were more to my taste to follow on in a more leisurely fashion," she added, seeing that he was about to refuse. "St. George is a good bird, and is anxious to try a flight; and thou art a stranger, too; thou must take it," and she placed the merlin on his wrist.
Manners had never felt more embarrassed in the course of his life, and, ready-witted though he was, he found himself at a loss how to reply. Before he had collected his scattered senses, Dorothy had gone, and he, left alone, was a long way in the rear. The horns of the hunters, which were continually sounding, proved a sufficient guide, and being nimble of foot, he started off in great haste to rejoin the party, which was now well out of sight.
All this had not escaped the jealous eyes of De la Zouch, for, securely hidden within the friendly foliage of a patch of brushwood, he had seen and heard all, and, with perceptions sharpened by the jealous spirit which raged within his breast, he had at once divined the secret which neither of the two, as yet, understood.
As Manners departed, he emerged from his hiding-place, gnashing his teeth with rage. His anger was terrible to behold.
"So, so!" he exclaimed, as he watched the retreating figure, "it has come to this, then, that I am to yield my share of the riches of Haddon to this usurping churl. But no; it shall never, never be! John Manners shall lie in six feet of solid earth ere I forego the prize!"
Had he been more careful, Sir Henry would have discovered that he was not alone. Had he been less rash, whatever he might have thought, he would have kept his opinions to himself; for hardly had he spoken, when a rough voice at his elbow awakened him from the reverie into which he had fallen.
"Such words, noble sir, are costly, and I ween thou hadst rather not have them repeated to the King of the Peak."
De la Zouch turned sharply round and fiercely confronted the well-known figure of the Derby packman.
"Thou art over bold for a knave," he exclaimed; "get thee gone."
"Not till I am the richer, or I will hie me to Sir George, and tell my tale to him," was the cool reply.
"Villain!" hissed Sir Henry, "begone!" and obeying the impulse of the moment, he dealt the pedlar a blow which felled him to the ground.
"There will be a few more nobles for that," groaned the man as he slowly regained his feet.
De la Zouch glanced contemptuously at him and turned to depart, but he was not to go so easily.
"Nay, forsooth," cried the pedlar, clapping his hands upon the shoulders of the nobleman. "And thou wilt forget thy debts it behoves me to insist."
With a curse the latter turned round again, but seeing the determined aspect of the man, he pulled out three golden nobles and offered them to him.
The packman laughed.
"What!" he exclaimed. "I must have more than that for my bruises alone."
"Thou art insolent; that is all I shall give thee; take it or leave it and get thee gone. Thy word would never weigh against mine."
"Well, master," returned the other, "it is a case of life or death, and you value your life at three sorry nobles? I would take that rather than the money, for Manners is a friend to the poor," and grasping his thick stick with both his hands he struck at De la Zouch with all his might.
The blow was parried by Sir Henry, who received it upon his jumping pole, and with blood now thoroughly aroused and life on either side to fight for, the conflict was furiously sustained.
The packman's attack was at no time equal to the defence of his adversary, and as he rained down blow after blow they were coolly caught upon the pole, which, used in skilful hands in much the same fashion as the quarter-staff, made quite an admirable weapon both for attack and defence.
Such an unequal contest could not long continue. Science must ever triumph over mere brute force, and this occasion proved to be no exception to the rule, and as the man tired, his blows perceptibly weakened. Had Sir Henry by any piece of misfortune failed to protect himself, the end might have been different. His skill, however, saved him in the end, and as the fury of his opponent abated the knight became more vigorous in his attack.
The end soon came, for, raising his stout ash pole high up in the air, De la Zouch brought it down with, tremendous force, and easily breaking through the pedlar's guard, it alighted heavily upon his head. With a groan the unlucky man staggered back and fell upon the turf. The blow had struck home, and the Derby packman was no more.
Whilst this scene was being enacted, Sir Henry's page, missing his master from amongst the hawking party, had turned back in great trepidation to seek him. Guided by the sound of the blows, the youth had experienced little difficulty in attaining the object of his search, and, standing at a respectable distance, he had been a silent witness of the tragic conclusion of the encounter. Seeing that all was over, he slowly advanced, in a very uncertain state of mind as to the character of his reception.
De la Zouch was too busily engaged in a scrutiny of his late opponent to notice the arrival of his page, and upon the latter devolved the unpleasant duty of announcing himself.
"That was a featly stroke, my lord," he began.
Sir Henry turned round, and a sigh of relief escaped him as he found it was not a fresh combatant with whom he would have to contend.
"Ha, Eustace," he said, "There are many who would like to learn the trick of it; 'tis known to few besides myself, but I will teach it thee some future time."
Eustace, too, gave a sigh of relief. His master was unusually gracious.
When Sir Henry spoke again, his voice was changed.
"Hast thou seen all?" he asked.
"I saw the end of it."
"But the commencement?"
"No! I was—"
"Ah, well," interrupted the knight, "'twas not my fault; I would fain have had thee witness its commencement, for, by my troth, the knave brought his fate upon himself."
He rolled the corpse over and they turned to go, but ere they had proceeded many yards they came to a halt. De la Zouch had an idea, and they wheeled about and returned to the body once more.
"Empty the jerkin," said Sir Henry, as he pointed to the man's jacket.
Eustace shuddered, but the command was given in so peremptory a tone that there was no option but to comply. He stooped down and emptied the capacious pockets of the dead man's jerkin, wondering the while-time whether or no his master had suddenly turned robber.
"There is little enough to take," said he.
"Tut, I want none of it," replied the knight, and picking up the assortment, which consisted of a huge jack-knife, a pair of spectacles with monstrously wide rims, some bootlaces, a broken comb, and a few coins, he carefully scattered them about the scene where the struggle had taken place. He was not yet satisfied, though, for espying the hollow trunk of an old tree close by, he made the unwilling page help him to deposit the body there.
Eustace wonderingly helped him. He would much preferred to have left it alone, but he dared offer no resistance. He could only hope that if the matter were heard of again, he might not be implicated in the plot.
De la Zouch critically surveyed the scene, and after lightly covering the body over with grass and twigs, he turned to depart.
They walked on in silence for some distance before either of them spoke: the knight deeply wrapped in thought; the page eager and yet fearful to learn the particulars, yet not daring to question his master.
At last Sir Henry spoke.
"Mind you, Eustace," said he, "say naught of this affair. I would not have my name mixed up with it, and if they ask thee, say thou knowest naught."
Eustace felt mightily relieved, and readily gave the required promise. He was used to these little deceptions which his master was wont to use on pressing occasions.
"And see," continued the knight, after a pause, "I am hurt, for although I have come off victor without a scratch, I have not come out of the tussle without a bruise or two. I shall tell them I have had a fall. You understand!"
The page acquiesced, the conversation ceased, and the two walked on in silence to rejoin their companions.
THE CLOSE OF THE DAY.
See how the wily rascal plays his part. With many a groan and many a practised art. Around his victims he the net entwines, Nor rests till he is snared within its lines. But sure such hurtsome craft and wicked toil, Will eftsoon on the villain's head recoil.
In the meantime the chase had grown in excitement. The hawks were as eager to distinguish themselves as the birds were to escape, and the sport waxed fast and furious.
As the sun declined, the scattered hawkers struggled back to the appointed rendezvous to partake of refreshment ere they began their return journey. By ones and twos they came, bearing with them the trophies of their sport, which they deposited in a heap before the ladies.
No one missed De la Zouch at first, and it was not until nigh upon the conclusion of the meal that his absence was remarked.
"Why, where is Sir Henry de la Zouch?" asked the old knight.
No one had seen him for some time.
"Ah, well," exclaimed Sir George, "'tis a bad plan to be betwixt towns at mealtimes, eh, Doll? I suppose he'll come soon, though. Perhaps he's having the best run of the day all alone;" and the knight sighed at the bare thought of his being away from it.
But Sir George's anticipations were not fulfilled, for when the meal was finished De la Zouch had not appeared.
"He may have met with an accident?" suggested Manners.
"I rather think Sir Henry is afraid of me," stammered old Sir John de Lacey, as he buried his face in the last tankard of ale.
"Then he were wise indeed to stay away," added Sir Thomas Stanley, with a sly wink. "I, for one, would not lightly risk a combat with so doughty a knight as yourself, else Margaret might eftsoon weep for a lover departed."
As there was still some time left, and there was no certain knowledge that Sir Henry needed their assistance, it was determined to return slowly homewards, and if sport offered itself upon the way to turn aside and follow it. The party had not been long in motion before it roused a "fall" of woodcocks, the very sight of which—so excessively rare at such a time—infused into the sportsmen all the animation of which they were capable. The hawks shot up after them, and their bells, which could be heard tinkling even when the birds were beyond the range of vision, served in some degree to inform the hunters which direction they should take.
"Well, if De la Zouch is doing better than this, why then he is welcome to it," said Sir George, as with his coat sleeve he wiped away the perspiration which was streaming down his face. "'Tis fine sport, this, Master Manners," he added, and the old baron chuckled with glee.
It was at this moment that the head falconer approached.
"We have found Sir Henry, my lord," he said. "He is sorely injured by a fall."
"Ha! is that so? Then you were right, Master Manners," exclaimed Sir George, as he turned round to the falconer. "Where is he?" he asked.
"Over the ditch, my lord, close by the wall where his page is standing by his side," and he pointed to where Eustace stood.
Sir George blew his horn, and in answer to the signal the eager hunters broke off their chase and returned, puzzled in no small degree by the summons they had received. In a few brief words the situation was explained to them, and the party rapidly pushed on to rejoin their injured companion.
De Lacey, upon hearing that his quondam friend was hurt, was so overcome by a most chivalric spirit of forgiveness that he determined to be the first to reach his side, and to offer him what relief lay within his power. Filled with this noble resolve, he hurried forward, but, unfortunately for him, he was not destined to accomplish his mission, for as he was crossing the ditch his pole snapped asunder, and he suddenly found himself located in the very centre of the rank mud dyke. There he was, and all his efforts to free himself caused him only to sink deeper and deeper.
"O, Blessed Mary, save me; save me!" he yelled out in an agony of anguish as he felt himself slowly but surely sinking; but not, apparently, feeling very much assured about the answer to his prayer, he turned from things spiritual to things visible and mortal.
"Help me; save me, George," he cried.
Sir George Vernon was too much overcome by the ludicrous aspect of the affair to lend any assistance just then, for he well knew that two feet, if not less than that, was the excess of its depth.
"Let him alone," he cried. "If he had not so befuddled his head with ale he would remember as well as I do that twenty inches would reach the bottom of the mud."
Had Lady Maude been there she would in all probability have sent her lord and master to aid the poor unfortunate, but she was safe at Haddon, and, rejoicing in his freedom from restraint, he laughed louder and louder as he watched the frantic efforts of his friend.
"Don't let me die," pleaded poor De Lacey. "Don't let me die like a dog. Oh, dear, I'm going, I'm going! Blessed Virgin, help me; save me!" and the old man made a last great struggle to free himself.
Manners could bear it no longer. He clearly perceived that what was fun to them was mortal terror to the pitiable object of their merriment, and, advancing to the edge of the dyke, he held out his pole at arm's length to render him what assistance he could.
"Here, take hold of it," he cried.
Sir John endeavoured to obey the injunction, but he could not even touch it, and he sank back again in despair.
"Why, man," laughed Sir George, "as I'm a Vernon, you know as well as I do that thou canst never sink deep in two feet of mud."
The words roused De Lacey to struggle to his feet and attempt to extricate himself. He staggered forward and advanced a foot or two, but the slimy mud had such a determined hold of him that he overbalanced himself, and fell forward at full length into the ditch. This time, however, he was closer to the bank, and making another effort, he grasped the pole which was still held out to help him. Manners leaned forward, and pulled with all his might, but for some time it was an open question whether he would go in or Sir John come out.
At this critical juncture Dorothy arrived upon the scene of the disaster. The sight of the old man's distress at once appealed to her womanly nature, and she had but to murmur a word of pity, when, in a moment, half-a-dozen knights leapt over to fulfil her unspoken wish. With this accession of strength the captive was easily freed, and a queer figure he was. It would have been difficult for a stranger to have determined exactly what he was; for, covered as he was to the depth of several inches with black mud, he looked more like an animal of prehistoric times—such as we see represented by fossils—than any human being.
De Lacey was promptly rolled upon the turf, and the pages set to work and endeavoured to reach his person by scraping away the adhesive slime with the aid of sticks and stones.
"Get up, man, get up," exclaimed Sir George. "Here is Doll waiting to honour thee with a dance."
Dorothy shrank back, while Sir John, utterly exhausted, sank back again helplessly upon the ground. Seeing that he was totally unable to walk of his own accord, and in too dirty a condition to lean upon anyone's arm, a rough extempore litter was made, upon which the unfortunate knight was set and carried away, loudly lamenting the unkindness of the fate which had brought him to such a sorry plight.
"And now let us see what we can do for De la Zouch," said Sir George Vernon, and they proceeded to the spot where the injured knight was lying.
"How now, Sir Henry? What's this, any bones broken, eh? How did you do it, man; was it here?" and having delivered himself of this string of questions, the King of the Peak leaned against the wall and awaited the reply.
"More hurt than injured, I believe," replied the other, "but Eustace here will tell thee all about it;" and Eustace, who had carefully got the story by heart, recounted how, when they were after a fine bevy of quail, his master's pole had snapped as he was springing up, and instead of clearing the wall he had fallen heavily against it.
The pole, broken in twain, which lay upon the grass close by, attested the truth of the statement.
"Sir Benedict," exclaimed the baron, "thou art somewhat learned in leechcraft; see if thou canst do aught. Tell us what is amiss."
A Woode stooped down, and after a prolonged examination he gave it as his opinion that some of his friend's ribs were broken.
Another litter was quickly made up and De la Zouch, who was now feeling the full effects of the injuries he had received, and who in reality stood in need of assistance, was placed upon it and carried off in the wake of Sir John de Lacey.
Leaving them to pursue their way homewards, the hunting party set off once more to make a fresh attempt at sport ere the day should close. But now the fortune which had so favoured them during the day deserted them. Not a bird was seen, and after vainly beating about for some time the party at last reluctantly determined to wend its way once more towards Haddon. Sir George sounded his horn again, and in answer the wanderers returned from all quarters of the wood, all of them light-hearted and most of them light-handed too.
The route now taken was precisely the same by which they had advanced during the day, and they soon arrived at the spot where the struggle had taken place. Dorothy discovered the first signs of the conflict.
"Why, what in the name of faith is this?" she cried, as she pointed down to the ground. "'Tis a noble, I declare."
"And here is another," added Crowleigh, stooping down and picking up the glittering coin.
"And here's a comb, what a nice—"
Sir Benedict never missed that sentence, for as he bent down to pick it up he caught sight of the body of the packman, and he started back affrighted at the sight. "Look!" he cried, "'Tis a—the blessed saints protect us, 'tis a murder see!" and he pointed to the tree.
"A what?" asked Sir George, coming up. "What's a murder? Where?"
"Here, see!" and a Woode pulled away the twigs which had but half hidden the body from view.
"Heaven forfend us!" ejaculated the baron as he gazed horror-stricken at the body. "'Tis a foul villainy, and so near Haddon, too."
"'Tis the poor Derby pedlar," exclaimed Dorothy, "and it was but yester e'en since he was at the Hall."
"Ha! 'tis lately done, I see. Trust me, I shall see to this. We'll have no ghosts round Haddon, Doll. To-morrow we'll enquire into it. I must get to the root of this."
"'Tis evident it was a robbery," suggested Manners. "Even now the knaves may be lurking round."
Sir George took the hint and the vicinity was closely examined, but, of course, not a trace of the perpetrators could be found; so, leaving the followers to bring on the body in the rear, the party hurried forward to gain the friendly shelter of the Hall and to partake of the bountiful feast which the Lady Maude had provided for them.
DAME DURDEN'S ORDEAL.
Fear fell on me and I fled. * * * * * I took the least frequented road, But even there arose a hum; Lights showed in every vile abode, And far away I heard the drum. Roused with the city, late so still; Burghers, half-clad, ran hurrying by, Old crones came forth, and scolded shrill, Then shouted challenge and reply.
Next morning the Hall was early astir. The news of the murder had spread far and wide, and had caused a feeling of consternation in the neighbourhood, which was intensified by the mystery in which it was enshrouded.
De la Zouch had grown worse during the night, and soon after the break of day had departed, with Eustace, for Ashby Castle, declaring that in spite of the good intentions of Sir Benedict his case was not understood, and that it had been aggravated rather than improved by the attentions he had received from his friend.
Sir George, as magistrate of the district, had caused the body to be dressed, and for a long time he sat in his dressing-room pondering what steps he had better take next. There was absolutely no clue, yet the baron was determined not only to discover the culprit, but to make such an example of him as should effectually deter a repetition of such a crime in the neighbourhood of Haddon, at least for some time to come.
At length he issued from his room, and, passing along the corridor, he ascended a short flight of stairs, and stopped at the door of the room in which Dorothy was busily engaged in making some new tapestry hangings. He paused, uncertain whether to turn back or to enter.
"Yes, I will," he muttered; "she has the clearest head of them all," and suiting the action to the word he gently turned the handle and went in.
Dorothy had dropped her work, and so intently was she gazing through the open lattice window that she did not notice the arrival of her father.
The knight stood still for a moment or two, and involuntarily admired the graceful figure of his daughter, and stepping gently forward, he tapped her lightly upon the shoulder.
Dorothy turned hastily round, and as she did so he caught her deftly in his arms and printed a loud, smacking kiss upon the fair girl's cheek.
"There," said he, "I'll warrant me thou wert longing for it; come now, confess."
Dorothy disdained any such idea.
"Nay," she replied, "I was but thinking of the poor pedlar. I had bought these from him only the day before," and she pointed to a little heap of silks which lay upon the table.
"I had come to talk it over with thee, Doll," replied the baron as he sat himself comfortably down upon a chair. "I think it was a robbery, eh?"
"Yes," slowly replied the maiden, "I should think so, too. Meg and I paid him six nobles."
"And only two were found."
"Only two?" asked Dorothy.
"That is all," replied the knight. "The knaves must have made off with the rest. That ill-favoured locksmith would be as likely a rascal as any; I must examine him."
"Nay, that cannot be, he was all day in the stocks."
Sir George scratched his head in despair. He had privately determined that the locksmith was the guilty one, but now that his idea was entirely disproved he felt sorely at a loss how to proceed.
Dorothy watched him in silence; she was as helpless as the baron.
"Was the packman staying in the village?" asked Sir George, lifting up his head after a long pause, during which he had kept his glance upon his foot, as if seeking inspiration there.
"He stayed at Dame Durden's, I believe."
"What, the witch?"
"I have it, then," he exclaimed as he struck his hand heavily upon the table. "I have it!" and without saying another word he hastened out of the room.
Although the knight had thus decisively declared that he "had it," yet whatever it was that he had got, he did not feel equal to proceeding in the matter alone, and before he had proceeded many steps he turned back again.
"Come, Doll," he said, as he opened the door again, "we will go together," and the two went off in company to consult the rest of the family.
The Lady Maude was seated in a low, easy chair, And with an air of languor upon every feature of her countenance was listening to Sir John de Lacey, who was reading to her out of Roger Ascham's treatise on Archery. As the knight stepped into the room the remembrance of the previous day's mishap was strongly brought back to his memory.
"What ho! sir knight," he exclaimed; "better, eh!"
"A little stiff about the joints, mine host," he replied, "for which I have thee to thank."
"Tush, man, don't mention it," laughingly returned the baron. "There's no question of thanks betwixt me and thee."
"They gave me some hot sack, and then rolled me in the river," whined De Lacey, "and the pity of it is I cannot remember which of them it was, or else I'd—I'd—"
Sir John de Lacey paused to consider what course of action he would have taken, but ere he had resolved, the door opened, and Sir Thomas Stanley entered, bringing in with him the Lady Margaret.
"Well, well," returned Sir George, "since it baffles thy wits to discover whom it was, thou hadst best have the grace of forgiveness, it will become thee well. But a truce to this. I came to counsel with you of the murder. Any more news, Sir Thomas?"
"I hear that the old hag, Durden, had a quarrel with the pedlar the day before his death," answered Stanley, "and she told him to his face that he would come to no gentle end."
"They have often quarrelled," added Margaret, who felt bound to add something to her lover's statement.
"Yes, then," said Sir George, "I have it now. I guessed it was her from the very beginning."
"Nay, nay," interrupted Dorothy, "you suspected the smith at first."
"Well, Doll, it makes no matter of difference if I did. 'Tis the old witch, sure enough, and she will either hang or drown for it, I swear."
"Not so fast, either though, worthy knight," interrupted Stanley. "I am not yet satisfied that it really was the witch, for she seems to have been at home all day, except when she was by the side of the stocks."
"Courting the proud smith," added Lady Vernon, referring to a rumour in the neighbourhood.
"But he was killed in the woods," said Dorothy.
"Tut, there's not a doubt about the matter," pursued Sir George, "not the shadow of a doubt."
"Nevertheless there is something in what Dorothy urges, and we had better make some sort of inquiry," suggested the more cautious Stanley; "for thou hast many jealous enemies, Sir George, who would gladly score a triumph over thee an they had but half a chance."
"Sir Ronald Bury, for instance," added Margaret.
"But why Sir Ronald?" asked De Lacey. "He is a simple enough knight, I trow."
"Pooh, I care naught for him," replied Sir George Vernon; "he is jealous of the beauty of my daughters."
"And wants a husband for his child," added Lady Maude.
"Let him want, then," testily returned the baron. "He may turn green with envy for aught I care. I'll do it to his face, I will."
But in the end wiser counsels prevailed, and the knight gave way so far as to order a trial of touch—a superstitious form of trial much relied upon in the times when witchcraft was commonly believed in.
The witching hour of twilight was chosen for this crude but solemn trial, and at the time appointed a large crowd was gathered in the great courtyard of Haddon in obedience to a mandate of the King of the Peak, which they dared not disobey.
As the crowd swayed to and fro it was in marked contrast to the usual way in which they were wont to assemble within the great walls of Haddon. No loud laugh or sound of boisterous merriment broke the stillness of this solemn eventide; no tricks were attempted now upon unconscious friends, and even the almost invariable little groups of admirers listening to the marvellously strange tales of those who had crossed the seas were not to be found. All was silent save the screeching of the owls every now and again, and the subdued hum of conversation which rose up from the awestruck assembly as they patiently awaited the test which was to bring home the guilt of the murderer.
They had a long time to wait, and the moon had long been out before the proceedings were properly commenced.
A loud blast from the trumpets of the sentries gave the first intimation of the approach of the head of the house of Vernon. The great gates swung open and Sir George slowly advanced through the throng, which respectfully fell back on either side and made an open passage for him. A few yards behind followed a bare-headed priest, chanting prayers for the departed, and heading a diminutive procession, in the midst of which the body of the unfortunate pedlar was carried on a bier. They stopped at the foot of the steps which stretch across the courtyard; the doleful chant ceased, and an impressive hush fell upon the assembly, as with bated breath they awaited the next scene in the awful drama.
Sir George did not hurry himself, for it was necessary to the success of the ordeal that the culprit, whoever that was, should be duly impressed with a sense befitting the character of the moment, and a little suspense, he shrewdly guessed, would tend to make the guilty one tremble and offer signs which would make detection the easier.
At last he spoke.
"Mary Durden, Joel Cobbe, Henry Bridge, and Nathan Grene, step out," he said, "take the oath; touch the body in our presence, and prove your innocence if you are able."
Every whisper was smothered into silence as they watched to see the individuals named perform the test. No one stirred, however, and the order had to be repeated.
"Mary Burden, Joel Cobbe, Henry Bridge, and Nathan Grene," thundered the baron, "I command you to answer to your names, or by your silence shall you be condemned."
Joel Cobbe and Henry Bridge, two of the most disreputable men in the whole district, went forward in company, and succeeded in touching the body without a rupture of blood taking place or the body moving its position one iota.
"Mary Durden, spinster, Nathan Grene, locksmith," repeated Sir George, "answer to this third, last challenge, or thy last hope of escape is gone."
Nathan Grene, fuming with ill-concealed rage, stepped out, and a loud shriek announced the presence of Mary Durden, who was unwillingly pushed into view by those around her. As soon as she had gained the little open space that was yet left she fell upon the ground and swooned away.
"See," said one, "the witch is guilty, she dare not touch the body."
"Drown her," shouted another. "Drown her or burn her."
The clouds which for some time had been gathering together, and which by this time had completely obscured the moon, now burst with a torrent of rain. A flash of lightning for a brief moment illuminated the scene, and then died away again, leaving it more weird even than it had been before. A faint roll of thunder broke upon the unpleasant reverie into which the company had fallen, and Sir George's voice ordering the oil lamps to be lighted, somewhat reassured the more fearful among the spectators. A long five minutes elapsed before the lights appeared, minutes of darkness and suspense, disturbed only by the flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, which rapidly grew louder in sound.
Nathan Grene had touched the body, and the trial had proclaimed him innocent. Indeed, Sir George fully expected it would do so, seeing that Nathan had been fast bound in the stocks at the time the crime was perpetrated. His name had only been called out because the baron had a standing dislike to the man. But the woman still lay on the rough stones without offering a sign of life.
"Sir George, is that the witch?" asked De Lacey.
"Then she is praying to her master the devil. Listen!"
In the dread stillness of those awful minutes it was not difficult to discover that she was moaning. The crowd was stricken with terror, and catching up the words which Sir John had let fall, reiterated the cry which even yet added to the dismal terror of the scene.
"This cannot long endure," said Sir George, as a vivid flash of lightning almost, for the moment, blinded him.
A long, loud roll of thunder, which terminated in a crashing peal, was the only answer he received, and while the noise was at its loudest, Mary Durden started to her feet and dashed forward to touch the body.
She just reached the bottom of the steps when, catching her foot on the uneven pavement of the yard, she over-balanced herself, and tumbled heavily upon the bier, almost knocking the body off as she fell.
"Guilty!" eagerly shouted Sir George; "she is guilty; seize her."
But before he had finished the sentence, Mary had turned and fled, and far from attempting to hinder her in her headlong flight, the awe-struck people, one and all, shrunk eagerly back to escape being brought into contact with one who had just given such unmistakable proofs of witchcraft, and who had been condemned a murderess by the almost infallible ordeal of the bier.
A VISIT TO NOTTINGHAM.
One sole desire, one passion now remains, To keep life's fever still within his veins. Vengeance, dire vengeance, on the wretch who cast On him and all he had the ruinous blast.
It was upon the third day after the occurrences narrated in the last chapter had taken place that a lonely traveller might have been seen urging his way across the fields just outside the town of Nottingham. The gates closed at dusk: it was now past sunset, and he hastened forward to gain admittance.
It was the man known at Haddon by the name of Nathan Grene, the locksmith, whose actions had ever been at variance with his character, and whose nature had always seemed to have been unequally yoked with the common occupation of a smith.
Nathan, in fact, was no true smith. He was a brother-in-law of Sir Ronald Bury, and having taken up the practice of astrology and alchemy, this fact had been seized upon by his foes, and he had been obliged to fly in disguise to save himself from one of those persecutions which were so readily and frequently levelled against the followers of the "black arts."
In the character of a locksmith he had lived for some months in an uneasy state of security at Haddon. The lack of comfort which he was compelled to experience in his new position being compensated for in some small degree by the kind attentions he had received at the hands of the widow Durden, which began directly upon his arrival, and which soon rapidly ripened into a sincere regard for each other, and from that eventually progressed into love.
Being well born, Nathan Grene—or rather Edmund Wynne, for such was his proper name—had never taken kindly to the conditions imposed upon him by the disguise he had chosen to assume. He had never sought for work, and had done as little of it as he possibly could, and he had held aloof from the people around him, treating them with a supercilious indifference which they were not slow to resent. Under such conditions it was by no means surprising that he was decidedly unpopular in the neighbourhood, and the dislike to him was heightened by the intimacy which grew up between himself and the woman who was regarded as a witch.
It was for his vigorous defence of Mary Durden that he had been placed in the stocks. His whole spirit revolted from such a degradation; he had pleaded and had raged, but all in vain, and even Dorothy's appeal on his behalf had failed to save him from the bitter humiliation.
The ordeal, again, had been a very trying scene for him, and his annoyance was more than doubled when he saw how his beloved was being persecuted by her neighbours and oppressed by the baron. As she escaped through the gateway he made up his mind to strike Sir George down, but in spite of his resistance he was carried out beyond the limits of the Hall in the wild rush that took place when the first moment of surprise and terror had passed away.
All night long he lay upon the floor of his little smithy pondering schemes of revenge, but when he ventured out on the following morning all his ideas were dispelled by the sight which met his gaze, for there was Mary Durden hanging from the branch of a tree at the foot of the slope which led up to the gateway of the Hall.
He rubbed his eyes in sheer astonishment and looked again, but the second view only confirmed the vision of the first. His worst fears were realised; his Mary was dead!
Mechanically he walked to the tree; there was a paper fastened to it upon which was some writing in the hand of the baron. He read it:—
THE STORM AVAILED HER NAUGHT.
Impatiently he snatched it down, and tearing it into a hundred fragments, cast them down upon the ground, and slowly turning on his heels, he walked homewards, utterly dejected and cast down, and with a bitter heart. The last tie which bound him to Haddon was now severed, and he longed to get away.
In melancholy silence he dug a grave in the little garden behind his lowly cottage, and then, with all the coolness which is lent by desperation, he proceeded again to where the body was hanging, and cut it down. He had brought another paper with him, and this he affixed in exactly the same place as the one he had destroyed. It was laconical enough, for it had but one word, and that was
He laid the body in the grave, and put some plants upon the top, and then, after watering them with the tears which copiously ran down his cheeks, he turned his back on Haddon, and started for Nottingham with few regrets, leaving behind him little enough to love, and much to be revenged.
Footsore and weary he hastened to the Chapel Bar, glad indeed to find himself so near the end of his journey; but before he had quite reached it he had the mortification to hear the sound of the closing bell, and when he arrived there the gates were shut.
"Ho, ho, there, porter!" he cried, and he violently kicked the iron post by way of emphasis to the call.
"Aye, aye, there; steady now, thou'rt over late," replied the burly porter as he tantalisingly rattled the heavy keys in his hand.
"Yes, but only a minute," Edmund replied; "you can let me in, and you will."
"Nay, master, not till next sunrise," he returned. Edmund groaned.
"But I cannot stay outside all night," he said. "Come, open the gate, there's a good fellow."
"I were like to lose my position if I did," answered the other. "I cannot unless—," and he significantly jingled some coins in his pocket.
The gatekeeper thought Edmund Wynne uncommonly dull of comprehension, and with a little hesitation he suggested that it were surely worth a trifle if he did break through the rule.
"Here, here's a groat then," exclaimed the smith, bringing out his last coin as he saw the other moving away.
"Pooh, a sorry groat!" said the keeper, "Make it two, and then!"
"But I must get in to-night," expostulated Edmund, "I have urgent business with Sir Ronald Bury. It is important, it is a matter of the State."
At the mention of Sir Ronald's name the key was inserted in the lock, and by the time the sentence was completed the great gate was swung open, and the visitor found himself, to his great satisfaction, beyond the barrier.
"I was but jesting," humbly said the man as he re-locked the gate; "for you must well know that we are not allowed to take bribes, though where the harm of it would be, I confess I cannot see."
Having succeeded in passing the barrier, Edmund did not stay to argue the question with the gatekeeper. He turned his steps towards the Castle, and in a very few minutes found himself at its embattled entrance.
The gates, of course, were fastened, but the bell-rope was hanging down, so seizing hold of that he gave it a vigorous pull.
"Holloa, my hearty, what's amiss?" asked a stentorian voice. "That's the third summons to-night."
"I want to see the constable of the Castle," replied the traveller.
"Well, thou hadst better hie thee to London, and happen, if you're lucky, you may find him there."
"Sir Ronald at London!" exclaimed Edmund, in blank dismay.
"Sir Ronald!" repeated the other. "No, the Earl of Rutland."
"But Sir Ronald Bury?"
"He's the deputy-constable."
"Well, I would see him. Is he here?"
"Yes, he is here," responded a gruff voice. "I am Sir Ronald; who art thou? What dost thou require at this time o' night?"
"I want to see thee privately, upon a matter of much importance," answered the pseudo smith, somewhat annoyed not to be recognised by his brother-in-law.
"See if he has any weapons on him, Wilton," said the knight, "and let him enter if there is no suspicion of foul play. It will go badly with him, though, I trow, has he ventured here on no sufficient reason."
Wilton approached him to obey his master's commands, but Edmund waved him back by an imperious gesture of the arm.
"Nay, cousin Ronald," he exclaimed in high dudgeon. "It is beyond a joke to take matters so far. Ellice might well expect that a little kinder treatment would have been extended to her brother at the hands of her husband."
"Eh, what! Are you Edmund; risen from the grave?" asked the knight in high surprise.
"I am Edmund, sure enough," was the reply, "but I have not risen from the grave. I am not astrologer enough for that. This is a sorry welcome, and no mistake."
"Faith, man, how could I tell it were thee? We thought thee dead twelve months agone. Come in, man, come in; there's no occasion for thee to tarry there now. Let him in, Wilton, and be sure the gates are well fastened to-night. Robert and Lucy will be right glad to see you again," he said, "especially Little Robert, who has never forgotten those little iron toys that you made for him two years ago."
Edmund Wynne needed no second invitation. He hurried through the open portals and the two walked up together towards the inhabited part of the building.
"This is indeed a strange surprise," began Sir Ronald, as soon as they were out of danger of being overheard. "We felt sure that thou wast dead, and have often thought of thee. Where hast thou been?"
"Hiding in the country. I have been a village smith."
"A smith!" cried the knight. "Then that fancy of yours for working with metals has stood thee in good stead for once?"
"It has indeed; but it was a base use withal."
"Thou has been well hidden, for Her Majesty's servants have scoured the country to discover your where-about."
"I have been at Haddon in the Peak," he replied.
"Haddon: phew! Do you know that arrogant knight, Sir George Vernon?"
"Do I know him?" echoed Edmund. "Would to heaven I had never cast my eyes upon him."
"Ah! he has stung thee too, I perceive?" exclaimed Sir Ronald. "I hate him like poison. It should go ill with him did I ever have the power. I hear he is a Papist; cannot we prove aught against him on that score?" and the excited knight wistfully regarded his companion's face, waiting for a favourable reply.
"I should like some supper first," drily suggested the toil-worn traveller, "and then," he added, "I may satisfy your eagerness to the fullest extent. I have a score of my own against him to clear off yet, and, what is more to the point, Ronald, I have the power. It was for that I came to visit you."
"Ha!" ejaculated the knight, expectantly. "He can satisfy my craving to the fullest extent," he mused. "This is fortunate."
"Yes," continued Edmund, "we shall have him cited to London; he is surely within our power. He hath grievously broken the law, and will have to answer to the charge of murder and treason; and if we cannot compass his ruin, then, between us, I have other ways, of which no man knows."
"Hush," said Sir Ronald. "That led thee into trouble aforetime. Here is Lettice coming down the steps."
"That is not Nicholas with her, surely?" exclaimed Edmund.
"No, Nicholas has discarded us and turned monk, I hear, but where he is I cannot tell. That is John Manners, the nephew of the Earl of Rutland. He is after my Lucy, I trow."
"Manners, Manners, John Manners," murmured Edmund; "I have heard that name before. I have met him somewhere I am sure."
"Well, hither he comes," said the knight; "now do you remember him?"
As soon as Edmund caught sight of the young man's face he recognised him.
"Why," he exclaimed, "that's—I know him well enough: I have seen him at Haddon."
"Yes, let me hide myself; I would rather not meet him here; it were better so for both of us. Where shall I go, tell me; quick?"
"Steady, ho! steady, man," said the knight. "Hie thee back again to the lodge and wait for me there. Wilton shall let you share his supper if thou wilt. I will tell them you are a gardener if they ask aught about thee," and in answer to the beckoning of his wife, Sir Ronald left his newly-discovered relation and hastened across the green.
DE LA ZOUCH INDULGES IN A LITTLE VILLANY.
If I can do it By aught that I can speak in his dispraise, She shall not long continue love to him.
The Courtly hall of Haddon was never quiet for long together, and very soon both the death of the witch and the warning of the locksmith were forgotten amid the preparations which were being made for a grand ball. Sir Thomas Stanley, having wooed Margaret, had successfully petitioned the sanction and blessing of Sir George and Lady Vernon, and the event was to celebrate their betrothal.
The morning of the festive day had opened fair, and as the day sped on, the guests rapidly assembled. De Lacey was there, delighting the ladies, as usual, with his braggadocio. Manners and Crowleigh were both there too, by special invitation, and, of course, cousin Benedict a Woode, who made no scruple of inviting himself to Haddon Hall if by any means his invitation had not come; and also, to Dorothy's great disgust, Sir Henry de la Zouch was there.
The musicians struck up a lively tune, and very soon the steaming boar's head was placed upon the table. Father Philip pronounced a very long benediction, and the singing of an old Latin rhyme beginning—
"Caput apri defero,"
announced that the feast had commenced in earnest. The venison pasties of Margaret's make disappeared with a truly marvellous rapidity, while Dorothy's confections had a very short lease of life, and fared no better, either because they were nice or that Dorothy was the maker of them.
"Pass round the wine," hailed the baron, "and drink to the health of the ladies of Haddon Hall."
"Hurrah!" vociferously replied the guests, "to the health of the ladies of Haddon."
"But stay; what's the matter with Master Manners?" asked De la Zouch, whose eagle eye had discovered that HIS tankard was not upraised with the rest. "A discourteous guest, upon my troth."
"May I drink it in water?" asked Manners, as he felt the eyes of his host fixed sternly upon him.
"Nay, you must have the wine, sir," replied Sir George, "but whether it goes down your throat or your arm makes little matter," and as he spoke he pointed to the iron ring fastened in the door post ready for such contingencies.
"I suppose the arm must have it, then," he replied, "for I am sworn to taste no wine until I have performed a solemn vow."
"Waste good wine!" exclaimed De Lacey, as he gazed in blank astonishment at the speaker; "what a pity."
"Have you forsworn ale too?" asked Dorothy.
"No, only wine, sweet demoiselle," replied Manners, smiling as he caught the drift of the question.
"Then fill his glass with ale," commanded Doll, "and drink the toast without delay."
This happy suggestion was loudly applauded, and the healths were drunk off amid acclamation, the only one who did not heartily join in it being Sir Henry de la Zouch, who was annoyed to find that his petty attempt to spite his rival had failed, and that, too, by the intervention of Dorothy herself.
"Confound it all," he muttered, "he shall not escape me like this. Eustace."
"Did you call?" asked the page, bending down.
"Yes," whispered De la Zouch. "Listen, you remember the Derby packman?"
"Aye, too well, I do."
"Nonsense," he replied, softly; "Master Manners killed him."
"Oh!" gasped the astounded page.
"Remember," added his master, "it was Manners."
"Yes, Master John Manners," repeated Eustace.
"Hush, that is all. A little more of that delicious jelly of yours, sweet Dorothy," he added in a louder tone as he turned round again to the table.
Whilst the feast was progressing, De la Zouch was pondering the fittest way of broaching the topic which lay so heavily upon his mind. Sir Thomas Stanley had won the elder sister, he argued, why should he not win the younger? He clearly saw that Dorothy was receding from his grasp, and that the longer he delayed, the fainter grew his chance of success. Lady Vernon daily grew less favourable too, he noticed, and so without delay he resolved to ask Dorothy for her hand. The present occasion was most propitious, and he determined to carry his plan into operation at once.
When the meal was ended—and that was not very soon—the company broke up into little parties and separated, to amuse themselves in whatever fashion they liked best. Margaret, as the heroine of the day, was surrounded by a number of knights and ladies, who contentedly watched her as she played at chess with Benedict. Sir John de Lacey racked his brains to the uttermost in order to sufficiently garnish the veracious little scraps of his own autobiography, and succeeded both in making the group around him open their eyes wide with surprise, and at the same time in making his listeners roar with laughter.
A marvellous hero was Sir John. He had been the ruling spirit in more than one Continental Court during his one brief sojourn in France. He had slain dragons, in different parts of the globe, in numbers enough to make St. George turn green with envy; and only his excessive modesty has prevented his name from being handed down to posterity.
Manners, naturally enough, joined Dorothy's party, and went out upon the lawn to take part in a game at bowls.
"Dear me, how careless I am to-day," she exclaimed; "there are six of us, and I have only brought four balls; I must fetch some more," and she started to go back.
"Let me go," said Manners.
"You," replied Doll, "you could never find them; I will go, and you must entertain the ladies while I am away," and she tripped across the green to the Hall.
"Ha, Doll, dearest," said a voice, as she turned the corner of the terrace, "I have been searching for thee."
Dorothy turned round and met the gaze of Sir Henry de la Zouch.
"For me!" she exclaimed, without pausing.
"Nay, prithee, now don't hurry so," he replied, catching hold of her arm, "I would ask thee a weighty question."
"But I am in a great hurry," she replied.
"Then I shall not keep thee long, but thou canst stay a little while, surely?"
"Indeed, I cannot, Sir Henry," she replied. "There are some visitors awaiting my return."
"John Manners for one," sneered the knight.
Dorothy blushed deeply, and bit her lip to repress the sharp retort which came readily to her tongue. Sir Henry saw that he had committed an error, and he endeavoured to recover his position.
"Sir Thomas has wooed thy sister Margaret," he exclaimed, "and I have long been wooing thee, and now the time has come when I am to offer you my hand."
Dorothy struggled to get away, but her suitor held her fast.
"Nay, cruel one," he continued, "I must have an answer. I shall be an earl in good time, perchance, and if you will but say 'aye' to my proposal you may be a countess—think of it, Dorothy, a countess—and the hostess of Ashby Castle."
He let go his hold of her, and dropping down upon his knee, he raised his clasped hand in the most approved fashion of the time, and continued his suit.
"Dorothy," he went on, "will you—?"
"Never," she replied, cutting him short in the middle of his speech, and, finding herself at liberty, she rushed precipitately into the Hall.
De la Zouch gazed after her in mute astonishment, and, staggered as he was, he remained in the same position until he was startled by a voice behind him.
"At prayers, sir knight?" asked the baron. "Father Phillip's grace at the table was long enough to serve me through the day."
"No, Sir George," replied the crestfallen lover, "I have been pleading my suit with Dorothy."
"And what said she?"
"She is bashful."
"What! My Doll bashful? That were hardly polite to thee, methinks."
"Perchance I should have more success with thee?" pleaded Sir Henry, as pathetically as he could.
"Let us withdraw into the bower, then," replied Sir George, "we can talk it over there, and we shall not be disturbed. Ha! here comes Lady Vernon, she will know what to do."
Lady Vernon came up at the bidding of her lord. The lover would fain have seen Sir George alone, but there was no help for it, and he had to brave the circumstances with the best grace possible.
"Maude, we must take your counsel," began the baron. "Sir Henry de la Zouch would take advantage of to-day's festivity to ask for the hand of Doll. What think you; can we spare her too, as well as Margaret? We should lose them both together then. What dost thou advise?"
"That depends upon many things," replied the stately dame, as she seated herself. "Dorothy would be a splendid match for anybody. What has Sir Henry to say?"
"I hope to be an earl soon," he replied, "and she would be a countess as you will. My father is infirm, he cannot live much longer, and I expect news of his death from Florence every day. And as for the estates, though they may not be equal to those of Haddon, yet they are by no means insignificant."
Dame Vernon knew all this, and the knowledge of it had influenced her before; but lately she had heard ill tidings of Sir Henry, and she was by no means so enthusiastic on his behalf. And, besides, a fresh competitor had entered the lists.
"Humph," growled the old knight, "we don't want to sell the girl."
"Be quiet, Sir George," interrupted his worthy spouse. "The thing must be done properly. Does Ashby Castle fall to your share, sir knight?" she asked.
"Certainly. To whom else should it go?"
"Have you spoken to Doll about it?" continued the dame.
"She is too dutiful a daughter to commit herself without the consent of her parents," answered De la Zouch. "But I doubt not, that when once again you have spoken to her, I shall speedily be rewarded with success."
"Ay," exclaimed Sir George, "Doll was ever a dutiful child."
"She would bow to our will, anyway," replied Lady Vernon, "but I think she has another suitor. We must think the matter well over ere we settle anything."
"Another suitor," laughed the baron; "why there are scores of them."
"Ah, you see, Sir Henry, the baron has not the quick, discerning eye of a mother—or a love either," she added shyly. "Bless his innocence, he knows naught of it yet. Sir George, I trust Master Manners is a trusty young man?"
"John Manners is goodly enough, forsooth, for aught I trow," returned the King of the Peak, reflectively. "Aye, and a likely enough young man, too!"
"But Manners cannot seek the hand of so guileless a maiden as sweet Dorothy," interrupted the dismayed lover. "His hands are stained with blood."
"A soldier should do his duty," quickly returned Sir George."
"But he is a murderer!"
"That is a bold statement, De la Zouch, to make against a guest of mine," exclaimed the baron quickly, "and I fear an thou persist in it that it will prove awkward for thee if thou canst not prove it, and worse still for him if it be true."
"Are you certain of it?" asked Lady Maude.
"I have a witness," was the calm reply.
"Then by my halidame," quoth the irate knight, "as I'm a justice o' the peace, he shall be faced with the offence. When was it perpetrated?"
"At the hawking party."
"What, here at Haddon?"
"You don't mean the pedlar, surely?" inquired Lady Vernon.
"Aye, but I do; he was murdered in the wood."
"Tut," angrily exclaimed Sir George, "'tis all a tale, and I for one don't believe a word of it. The witch killed him, and was punished for it too."
"But I saw it," stubbornly returned Sir Henry, "and I have a witness; one who saw it done."
"We tried Dame Durden by the ordeal, an she was found guilty and hanged," persisted the baron. "And, beshrew me, that's enough for any man"; and the Lord of Haddon reverently crossed himself to show that the trial had had the approval of his conscience.
"But," urged De le Zouch, "I tell you I saw it done myself, and I am ready to prove it any way you choose."
"Come now, Sir George," interrupted Lady Vernon, "the trial may for once have led us astray, as it did in the case of Thomas Bayford sixteen years ago. Doubtless Mary Durden got no more than she deserved, and mayhap she was punished for deeds we wot not of. Perchance Master Manners would not deny the charge if he were here, and faith! I remember me now that Margaret did say he was left behind with Dorothy, and then Doll left him and galloped on."
"Yes, that was it," Sir Henry said, "and Eustace, who was left behind, saw them quarrelling and fetched me back to stay the strife."
"Well, prithee now, go on," exclaimed the knight. "You saw him killed, and said naught?"
"And let me hang another for it. Truly, 'tis a right noble way to treat a host."
"Nay, you are too hard upon me. I thought he was but thrashing the knave, and as that was no affair of mine I left him to it, but afterwards his body was found in exactly the same spot. I was away when the ordeal was performed, else I had told thee what I had seen. Eustace will bear me out in all I have told you; question him for yourselves. But now, if you still think well enough of Master Manners to mate him with the peerless Dorothy, I am sorry alike for her and your vows of knighthood."
"Come that is right enough," exclaimed the dame, "and Master Manners has not denied the accusation yet."
"Then he shall soon have the opportunity," said the baron, "for hither he comes; he could not have come at a readier moment."
John Manners had waited a long time for Dorothy's return, and now, half fearing that some accident had befallen her, he had willingly acceded to the request of the ladies and had set forth to find her. Hearing voices in the house, he approached it to pursue his inquiries, when the watchful eye of Sir George Vernon immediately espied him.
"Pardon my intrusion," exclaimed Manners, "but I am in search of Mistress Dorothy. She left us to fetch some balls and has not returned."
"Hie, man," interrupted Sir George, "we have a serious charge preferred against thee; thou art just come right to answer it."
"Have I been stealing some fair maiden's heart?" he laughingly inquired.
"Nay, listen! 'tis a charge of murder; but I tell thee frankly, I don't believe a word of it."
"A charge of murder," echoed Manners blankly, "a charge of murder, and against me! This is past endurance, 'tis monstrous! Whom have I slain, I pray thee tell me?"
"The Derby packman," promptly returned De la Zouch, "and thou knowest I saw thee do it."
"You lie. I never saw the man until he was dead. Thou shalt prove thy words, Sir Henry de la Zouch," returned the esquire, "or I shall have thee branded as a knave. There is some cause for this, Sir George," he added, turning to the baron, "of which I am in ignorance. I am the victim of some plot."
"Like enough, like enough," returned the baron, sympathetically. "Then you deny the charge? I knew De la Zouch was wrong. The ordeal—"
"But I saw him myself, and so did Eustace," stuck out the disappointed lover; "and Margaret remembers that Master Manners was left behind."
"And for the matter of that, so were you," said Sir George sharply.
"And Eustace is but a page who must, perforce, obey his master's will in everything," continued Manners. "Crowleigh was with me all the day, save when I went back to Mistress Dorothy. How tallies that with your account, eh?"
"That was precisely the time it occurred, and bears me out in all that I have said," glibly responded the scion of the house of Zouch. "It all but proves his guilt, Sir George."
"Nay, not so much as that," quoth Lady Maude; "but since it cannot be agreed upon, I should advise you to let the matter drop."
"Stop," exclaimed Manners. "If De la Zouch has a spark of honour left within him he will step out and measure swords with me, for by my troth I swear he will have to render me the satisfaction my honour demands."
This was by no means to the taste of the knight of Ashby. He had not calculated for such a course as this; but, fortunately for him, Lady Vernon spoke, and unwittingly released him from his difficulty.
"Nay, not before me," she said, "and on so festal a day as this."
"As you will it," said De la Zouch, assuming an air of injured dignity.
"They must settle it in true old knightly fashion at the tourney," exclaimed Sir George decisively.
"Since you command it I suppose I must obey," replied Sir Henry; "but I had rather not have stained my weapons with the blood of so foul a caitiff."
"You will be good enough to leave me to decide that matter," said the baron testily.
"Then, by St. George, I shall be ready," replied Manners. "I am as well born as he, and can give him a lesson or two in good breeding, besides showing him a trick or two with the sword that I learned in the Netherlands. In the meantime I disdain him as a dog;" and boiling over with rage the maligned esquire left the little group and stalked across the terrace to rejoin the ladies on the green.
DOROTHY OVERHEARS SOMETHING.
The cruel word her heart so tender thrilled, That sudden cold did run through every vein; And stoney horror all her senses filled With dying fit, that down she fell for pain.
And, meanwhile, where was the innocent cause of this disturbance?
Dorothy had been half expecting some such course of action on the part of De la Zouch for some time past, and had carefully prepared a stinging answer which should once and for ever decide the question between them. Though she was petted and admired on almost every hand, yet she had sense enough to value such conduct at its proper worth; and whilst with the coquetry of a queen of hearts she accepted all the homage that love-sick cavaliers brought to her, she looked below the surface, and had a private opinion of her own about all those with whom she was brought into contact.
Her opinion of Sir Henry de la Zouch was distinctly unfavourable to that knight; for, with the instinct of a woman, she had divined from the very beginning that his motives were more mercenary than genuine, and in spite of all his protestations of love towards her, he had failed to convince her that he loved her for herself alone. A little watching on her part had quickly convinced her that the dislike she felt for him was not without sufficient reason, and as the evidence against him accumulated, she congratulated herself that she had escaped the clutches of a villain of so wily a disposition.
Long before the appearance of John Manners she had determinedly refused all the advances of her would-be lover, and his every attempt had been met by her with chilling sarcasm; or, were she in a lighter mood, she had retreated into safer ground under cover of a burst of merriment. Had De la Zouch been possessed of ordinary perceptions he would have noticed that his conduct was alienating Dorothy from him more and more; but, like many others, he was so eager to gain his ends that he was partially blind as to the means employed.
The manner in which Sir Henry had just preferred his suit had taken her so completely by surprise that she had entirely forgotten what she meant to say; but the indignation she felt at his conduct in detaining her against her will would have deprived her of the power of expressing the prettily turned speech so long prepared, even if she had remembered it. She fled into the house, and without casting a look behind to see if she were being pursued or not, she rushed through the deserted state chambers and never stopped until she found herself in her own room and had turned the key in the lock.
She flung herself down upon the bed, and her overwrought feelings found relief in tears. How long she would have so remained would be impossible to say, but she had barely succeeded in locking herself in when she was startled by a gentle rap at the door.
She stopped her sobbing and listened. Surely De la Zouch would never venture to follow her to her own boudoir! No, it was incredible, and she dismissed the idea.
The silence was broken only by a second rap at the door. It was too gentle for Sir Henry, it must be her tire-maid, Lettice, or her sister Margaret, maybe. She rose up, and in a tremulous voice inquired who was there.
"It is I, Lettice, your maid," replied a gentle voice.
Lettice was of all people just the one whom she stood in need of most at such a moment, so she unfastened the door and let her in.
"My lady is troubled," exclaimed the maid, as she entered. "Is there aught that I may do for thee?"
"Oh, Lettice," she sobbed, as the tears chased each other down her cheeks in quick succession, "see that he does not come. Stop him, keep him outside. Don't let him come to me."
"Who, my lady, whom shall I stop? No one dare follow thee here."
Dorothy returned no answer, she was trembling all over with excitement; she fell upon the bed and wept, while the sympathetic Lettice could only look on in silence, and wonder what it all meant.
"My lady is troubled," she repeated at length. "Someone has been frightening thee. Tell me who it was! Who is it thou art feared would try to come at thee here?"
Still there was no answer.
"You ran through the hall," the maid went on, "just like a frightened hare, and cast never a look at one of us, and now—the saints preserve us, thou look'st as if thou hadst seen the ghost of Mary Durden."
"Was he following me, Lettice?" asked Dorothy, raising her head from the pillow. "Was he there?"
"Following thee, no. Who's he? There was no one else went through."
"I thought he was close behind."
"De la Zouch."
"Sir Henry de la Zouch!" repeated the maid. "'Tis he then who has been treating thee so ill. Were he not a noble, my Will should thrash him soundly for daring to offend so sweet a lady."
"Take these balls to Master Manners, Lettice," said her mistress, composing herself as well as she was able. "You will find him waiting for them on the bowling green. Tell him I will rejoin him soon."
Lettice unfastened the door and disappeared down the passage in obedience to the command whilst Dorothy re-arranged her disordered head-dress, hesitating the while whether to venture out again or to stay within doors.
Ere she had decided which course to take, Lettice returned. Her face was deeply flushed and her manner unusually agitated.
"Why, what's the matter?" asked Dorothy. "Has he assailed thee, too?"
"He is telling the baron such a tale," replied the maid. "He says thou lovest him, and he is asking Sir George and my lady for thy hand. O, Dorothy, believe me, 'tis only that thou art so fair and so rich that he seeks thee, and when he has thy gold and the bloom of thy beauty begins to fade (which God forfend!) he will care naught for thee, and leave thee for another."
"I know it, Lettice."
"They are in the little bower, and I could hear everything," pursued the maid. "That De la Zouch is jealous of another, and is seeking to get him out of the way. He says that Master Manners killed the pedlar, and 'fore heaven, we all know it was the witch."
"Master Manners?" echoed Dorothy.
"Yes," returned the maid, "and he says he can prove it, but the good knight, your father, won't believe him. Master Manners denies it, of course—but lack-a-day, what ails thee now? Thou art as white as the veriest ghost!"