It was the custom in Raglan to close the gates at eleven o’clock every morning, and then begin to lay the tables for dinner; nor were they opened again until the meal was over, and all had dispersed to their various duties. Upon this occasion directions were given that the gates should remain closed until the issue of further orders.
There was little talk in the hall during dinner that day, and not much in the marquis’s dining-room.
In the midst of the meal at the housekeeper’s table, mistress Amanda was taken suddenly ill, and nearly fell from her chair. A spoonful of one of mistress Watson’s strong waters revived her, but she was compelled to leave the room.
When the remains of the dinner had been cleared away, the tables lifted from the trestles, and all removed, solemn preparations began to be made in the hall. The dais was covered with crimson cloth, and chairs were arranged on each side against the wall for the lords and ladies of the family, while in the wide space between was set the marquis’s chair of state. Immediately below the dais, chairs were placed by the walls for the ladies and officers of the household. The minstrels’ gallery was hung with crimson; long ladders were brought, and the windows, the great bay window and all save the painted one, were hung with thick cloth of the same colour, so that a dull red light filled the huge place. The floor was then strewn with fresh rushes, and candles were placed and lighted in sconces on the walls, and in two large candlesticks, one on each side of the marquis’s chair. So numerous were the hands employed in these preparations, that about one o’clock the alarum-bell gave three great tolls, and then silence fell.
Almost noiselessly, and with faces more than grave, the people of the castle in their Sunday clothes began at once to come trooping in,—amongst the rest Tom Fool, the very picture of dismay. Mrs. Prescot had refused to be left behind, partly from terror, partly from curiosity, and supine on a hand-barrow was borne in, and laid upon two of the table-trestles. Order and what arrangement was needful were enforced amongst them by Mr. Cook, one of the ushers. In came the garrison also, with clank and clang, and took their places with countenances expressive neither of hardihood nor merriment, but a grave expectancy.
Mostly by the other door came the ladies and officers, amongst them Dorothy, and seated themselves below the dais. When it seemed at length that all were present, the two doors were closed, and silence reigned.