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"There be the laundry-maid, and the kitchen-maid, Madam Beatrix's maid, the man from London, and that be all; and he sleepeth in my lodge away from the maids," says old Lockwood.
Esmond scribbled a line with a pencil on the note, giving it to the old man and bidding him go on to his lady. We knew why Beatrix had been so dutiful on a sudden, and why she spoke of "Eikon Basiliké." She writ this letter to put the Prince on the scent, and the porter out of the way.
"We have a fine moonlight night for riding on," says Esmond; "Frank, we may reach Castlewood in time yet.” All the way along they made inquiries at the post-houses, when a tall young gentleman in a grey suit, with a light brown periwig, just the colour of my lord's, had been seen to pass. He had set off at six that morning, and we at three in the afternoon. He rode almost as quickly as we had done; he was seven hours ahead of us still when we reached the last stage.
We rode over Castlewood Downs before the breaking of dawn. We passed the very spot where the car was upset fourteen years since, and Mohun lay. The village was not up yet, nor the forge lighted, as we rode through it, passing by the elms, where the rooks were still roosting, and by the church, and over the bridge. We got off our horses at the bridge and walked up to the gate.
"If she is safe," says Frank, trembling, and his honest eyes filling with tears, "a silver statue to Our Lady!" He was going to rattle at the great iron
knocker on the oak gate; but Esmond stopped his kinsman's hand. He had his own fears, his own hopes, his own despairs and griefs, too; but he spoke not a word of these to his companion, or showed any signs of emotion.
He went and tapped at the little window at the porter's lodge, gently, but repeatedly, until the man came to the bars.
"Who's there?" says he, looking out; it was the servant from Kensington.
"My Lord Castlewood and Colonel Esmond," we said, from below. "Open the gate and let us in without any noise."
"My Lord Castlewood?" says the other; "my lord's here, and in bed."
Open, d―n you!" says Castlewood, with a curse. "I shall open to no one," says the man, shutting the glass window, as Frank drew a pistol. He would have fired at the porter, but Esmond again held his hand.
"There are more ways than one," says he, entering such a great house as this." Frank grumbled that the west gate was half a mile round. "But I know of a way that's not a hundred yards off," says Mr. Esmond; and leading his kinsman close along the wall, and by the shrubs, which had now grown thick on what had been an old moat about the house, they came to the buttress, at the side of which the little window was, which was Father Holt's private door. Esmond climbed up to this easily, broke a pane that had been mended, and touched the spring inside,
and the two gentlemen passed in that way, treading as lightly as they could: and so going through the passage into the court, over which the dawn was now reddening, and where the fountain plashed in the silence.
They sped instantly to the porter's lodge, where the fellow had not fastened his door that let into the court; and pistol in hand came upon the terrified wretch, and bade him be silent. Then they asked him (Esmond's head reeled, and he almost fell as he spoke) when Lord Castlewood had arrived? He said on the previous evening, about eight of the clock. "And what then?"- His lordship supped with his sister."Did the man wait?" Yes, he and my lady's maid both waited: the other servants made the supper; and there was no wine, and they could give his lordship but milk, at which he grumbled; and and Madam Beatrix kept Miss Lucy always in the room with her. And there being a bed across the court in the Chaplain's room, she had arranged my lord was to sleep there. Madam Beatrix had come downstairs laughing with the maids, and had locked herself in, and my lord had stood for a while talking to her through the door, and she laughing at him. And then he paced the court a while, and she came again to the upper window; and my lord implored her to come down and walk in the room; but she would not, and laughed at him again, and shut the
indow; and so my lord, uttering what seemed curses, but in a foreign language, went to the Chaplain's room to bed.
"Was this all?" "All,” the man swore upon his honour; all as he hoped to be saved. "Stop, there was one thing more. My lord, on arriving, and once or twice during supper, did kiss his sister, as was natural, and she kissed him." At this Esmond ground his teeth with rage, and well nigh throttled the amazed miscreant who was speaking, whereas Castlewood, seizing hold of his cousin's hand, burst into a great fit of laughter.
"If it amuses thee," says Esmond in French, "that your sister should be exchanging of kisses with a stranger, I fear poor Beatrix will give thee plenty of sport." Esmond darkly thought how Hamilton, Ashburnham, had before been masters of those roses that the young Prince's lips were now feeding on. He sickened at that notion. Her cheek was desecrated, her beauty tarnished; shame and honour stood between it and him. The love was dead within him; had she a crown to bring him with her love, he felt that both would degrade him.
But this wrath against Beatrix did not lessen the angry feelings of the Colonel against the man who had been the occasion if not the cause of the evil. Frank sat down on a stone bench in the courtyard, and fairly fell asleep, while Esmond paced up and down the court, debating what should ensue. What mattered how much or how little had passed between the Prince and the poor faithless girl? They were arrived in time perhaps to rescue her person, but not her mind; had she not instigated the young Prince to come to her; suborned servants, dismissed others, so
that she might communicate with him? the treacherous heart within her had surrendered, though the place was safe; and it was to win this that he had given a life's struggle and devotion; this, that she was ready to give away for the bribe of a coronet or a wink of the Prince's eye.
When he had thought his thoughts out he shook up poor Frank from his sleep, who rose yawning, and said he had been dreaming of Clotilda. "You must back me," says Esmond, "in what I am going to do. I have been thinking that yonder scoundrel may have been instructed to tell that story, and that the whole of it may be a lie; if it be, we shall find it out from the gentleman who is asleep yonder. See if the door leading to my lady's rooms," (so we called the rooms at the northwest angle of the house), "see if the door is barred as he saith." We tried; it was indeed, as the lacquey had said, closed within.
"It may have been opened and shut afterwards," says poor Esmond; "the foundress of our family let our ancestor in in that way."
"What will you do, Harry, if—if what that fellow saith should turn out untrue? The young man looked scared and frightened into his kinsman's face; I dare say it wore no very pleasant expression.
"Let us first go see whether the two stories agree,” says Esmond; and went in at the passage and opened the door into what had been his own chamber now for well nigh five-and-twenty years. A candle was still burning, and the Prince asleep dressed on the bed - Esmond did not care for making a noise. The