The moment Richard was clear of the portcullis, he set off at a sharp trot for the brick gate, and had almost reached it when he became aware that he was pursued. He had heard the voice of Dorothy as he rode out, and knew to whom he owed it. But yet there was a chance. Rousing the porter with such a noisy reveillee as drowned in his sleepy ears the cries of the warder and those that followed him, he gave the watch-word, and the huge key was just turning in the wards when the clang of the alarm-bell suddenly racked the air. The porter stayed his hand, and stood listening.
‘Open the gate,’ said Richard in authoritative tone.
‘I will know first, master,—’ began the man.
‘Dost not hear the bell?’ cried Richard. ’How long wilt thou endanger the castle by thy dulness?’
‘I shall know first,’ repeated the man deliberately, ’what that bell—’
Ere he could finish the sentence, the butt of Richard’s whip had laid him along the threshold of the gate. Richard flung himself from his horse, and turned the key. But his enemies were now close at hand—Eccles and the men of his guard. If the porter had but fallen the other way! Ere he could drag aside his senseless body and open the gate, they were upon him with blows and curses. But the puritan’s blood was up, and with the heavy handle of his whip he had felled one and wounded another ere he was himself stretched on the ground with a sword-cut in the head.
Richard and the marquis.
A very few strokes of the brazen-tongued clamourer had been enough to wake the whole castle. Dorothy flew back to her chamber, and hurrying on her clothes, descended again to the court. It was already in full commotion. The western gate stood open, with the portcullis beyond it high in the wall, and there she took her stand, waiting the return of Eccles and his men.
Presently lord Charles came through the hall from the stone court, and seeing the gate open, called aloud in anger to know what it meant. Receiving no reply, he ran with an oath to drop the portcullis.
‘Is there a mutiny amongst the rascals?’ he cried.
‘There is no cause for dread, my lord,’ said Dorothy from the shadow of the gateway.
‘How know you that, fair mistress?’ returned lord Charles, who knew her voice. ’You must not inspire us with too much of your spare courage. That would be to make us fool-hardy.’
‘Indeed, there is nothing to fear, my lord,’ persisted Dorothy. ’The warder and his men have but this moment rushed out after one on horseback, whom they had let pass with too little question. They are ten to one,’ added Dorothy with a shudder, as the sounds of the fray came up from below.
‘If there is then no cause of fear, cousin, why look you so pale?’ asked lord Charles, for the gleam of a torch had fallen on Dorothy’s face.