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"Ay, Squire," said Abel Eaves, for he was the bearer of this strange news, "ye wouldn't believe ME, now come and see for yourself."
This announcement set all staring; and George the blacksmith did but utter the general sentiment when, suddenly dropping his a.s.sumed character of King George, he said, "Bless us and save us! True Christmas Eve; and Cairnhope old church alight!"
Then there was a furious buzz of tongues, and, in the midst of it Mr.
Raby disappeared, and the sword-dancers returned to the kitchen, talking over this strange matter as they went.
Grace retired to the drawing-room followed by Coventry.
She sat silent some time, and he watched her keenly.
"I wonder what has become of Mr. Raby?"
Mr. Coventry did not know.
"I hope he is not going out."
"I should think not, it is a very cold night; clear, but frosty."
"Surely he would never go to see."
"Shall I inquire?"
"No; but that might put it into his head. But I wish I knew where he was."
Presently a servant brought the tea in.
Miss Carden inquired after Mr. Raby.
"He is gone out, miss; but he won't be long, I was to tell you."
Grace felt terribly uneasy and restless! rang the bell and asked for Jael Dence. The reply was that she had not been to the hall that day.
But, soon afterward, Jael came up from the village, and went into the kitchen of Raby. There she heard news, which soon took her into the drawing-room.
"Oh, miss," said she, "do you know where the squire is?"
"Gone to the church?" asked Grace, trembling.
"Ay, and all the sword-dancers at his back." And she stood there and wrung her hands with dismay.
The ancients had a proverb, "Better is an army of stags with a lion for their leader, than an army of lions with a stag for their leader."
The Cairnhope sword-dancers, though stout fellows and strong against a mortal foe, were but stags against the supernatural; yet, led by Guy Raby, they advanced upon the old church with a pretty bold front, only they kept twenty yards in their leader's rear. The order was to march in dead silence.
At the last turn in the road their leader suddenly halted, and, kneeling on one knee, waved to his men to keep quiet: he had seen several dark figures busy about the porch.
After many minutes of thrilling, yet chilling, expectation, he rose and told his men, in a whisper, to follow him again.
The pace was now expedited greatly, and still Mr. Raby, with his double-barreled gun in his hand, maintained a lead of some yards and his men followed as noiselessly as they could, and made for the church: sure enough it was lighted inside.
The young man who was thus beset by two distinct bands of enemies, deserved a very different fate at the hands of his fellow-creatures.
For, at this moment, though any thing but happy himself, he was working some hours every day for the good of mankind; and was every day visiting as a friend the battered saw-grinder who had once put his own life in mortal peril.
He had not fathomed the letter Grace had sent him. He was a young man and a straightforward; he did not understand the amiable defects of the female character. He studied every line of this letter, and it angered and almost disgusted him. It was the letter of a lady; but beneath the surface of gentleness and politeness lay a proposal which he considered mean and cold-blooded. It lowered his esteem for her.
His pride and indignation were roused, and battled with his love, and they were aided by the healthy invigorating habits into which Dr.
Amboyne had at last inveigled him, and so he resisted: he wrote more than one letter in reply to Grace Carden; but, when he came to read them over and compare them with her gentle effusion, he was ashamed of his harshness, and would not send the letter.
He fought on; philanthropy in Hillsborough, forging in Cairnhope Church; and still he dreamed strange dreams now and then: for who can work, both night and day, as this man did--with impunity?
One night he dreamed that he was working at his forge, when suddenly the floor of the aisle burst, and a dead knight sprang from the grave with a single bound, and stood erect before him, in rusty armor: out of his helmet looked two eyes like black diamonds, and a nose like a falcon's.
Yet, by one of the droll contradictions of a dream, this impetuous, warlike form no sooner opened its lips, than out issued a lackadaisical whine. "See my breastplate, good sir," said he. "It was bright as silver when I made it--I was like you, I forged my own weapons, forged them with these hands. But now the damps of the grave have rusted it.
Odsbodikins! is this a thing for a good knight to appear in before his judge? And to-morrow is doomsday, so they all say."
Then Henry pitied the poor simple knight (in his dream), and offered his services to polish the corslet up a bit against that great occasion. He pointed toward his forge, and the knight marched to it, in three wide steps that savored strongly of theatrical burlesque. But the moment he saw the specimens of Henry's work lying about, he drew back, and wheeled upon the man of the day with huge disdain. "What," said he, "do you forge toys! Learn that a gentleman can only forge those weapons of war that gentlemen do use. And I took you for a Raby!"
With these bitter words he vanished, with flashing eyes and a look of magnificent scorn, and left his fiery, haughty features imprinted clearly on Henry's memory.
One evening, as he plied his hammer, he heard a light sound at a window, in an interval of his own noise. He looked hastily up, and caught a momentary sight of a face disappearing from the window. It was gone like a flash even as he caught sight of it.
Transient as the glance was, it shook him greatly. He heated a bar of iron white hot at one end, and sallied out into the night. But there was not a creature to be seen.
Then he called aloud, "Who's there?" No reply. "Jael, was it you?" Dead silence.
He returned to his work, and set the appearance down to an ocular illusion. But his dreams had been so vivid, that this really seemed only one step more into the realm of hallucination.
This was an unfortunate view of the matter.
On old Christmas Eve he lighted the fires in his mausoleum first, and at last succeeded in writing a letter to Grace Carden. He got out of the difficulty in the best way, by making it very short. He put it in an envelope, and addressed it, intending to give it to Jael Dence, from whom he was always expecting a second visit.
He then lighted his forge, and soon the old walls were ringing again with the blows of his hammer.
It was ten o'clock at night; a clear frosty night; but he was heated and perspiring with his ardent work, when, all of a sudden, a cold air seemed to come in upon him from a new quarter--the door. He left his forge, and took a few steps to where he could see the door. Instead of the door, he saw the blue sky.
He uttered an exclamation, and rubbed his eyes.
It was no hallucination. The door lay flat on the ground, and the stars glittered in the horizon.
Young Little ran toward the door; but, when he got near it, he paused, and a dire misgiving quelled him. A workman soon recognizes a workman's hand; and he saw Hillsborough cunning and skill in this feat, and Hillsborough cunning and cruelty lurking in ambush at the door.