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When Charles the Second, by the grace of General Monk, safely ascended the throne of England, none of his faithful subjects rejoiced more in his elevation than the Dowager Lady Caerleon. Through all his troubles and reverses her ladyship had been faithful to his cause, and had proved in the wars of the Cavaliers and Puritans the intensity of her devotion by expending the whole of her available wealth in putting Caerleon Keep in defence, and in fitting out Cavaliers for his service. In this enterprise she lost her second husband, who was shot down when the castle was battered and dismantled, while she herself sought safety in the mountain fastnesses of Wales.

At the Restoration she was about sixty years of age, active, and upright as a spear; and being desirous of perpetuating the name of which she and her daughter, now seventeen years of age, were the only representatives she petitioned the King to save the title by commanding one his needy followers to assume the name, and title, and estates, by marrying the sole remaining child and daughter of the house.

Charles gladly complied with her request, and there was issue of the union one daughter which was left without a mother ere it was a week old. The enterprising Dowager by this catastrophe found herself in a worse position than before, as her blood flowed only in the veins of a female, while the title and land were irretrievably in the possession of a stranger, whose sons, should he again marry and have an heir, would exclude her grandchild, Arvid.

It was six months after her daughter's death that she experienced the last joy of her life.

It was obtained by ascertaining that a distant cousin on her mother's side, supposed to be dead, had returned to Wales with a son four years of age - his name, Gwedr Caradoc.

"He shall be Arvid's husband," said the old Dowager, "and he shall take the title of Caerleon."

In her heart she defied and commanded Fate.

In the neighbourhood there was an old, old, wild goatherd, fifteen years her senior, who was known to cast nativities.

To this soothsayer she applied, and her heart rose high when she heard him say -

"Ay, lady - Gwedr Caradoc will be Caerleon; may be in your time, may be after!"

"Do you see Arvid near him Aaron?"

"There are two women near him," replied the seer, "but their faces are veiled. One has dark, the other fair hair; one is a Briton, the other a Saxon."

"The Briton is Arvid," remarked the Dowager, "it recks to me little who is the other. The Caerleons shall yet hold their own."

She went home to hear terrible news - that is, terrible to her!

A courier was in the hall with a letter, which announced that her son-in-law had married again.

Within that hour the remorseless Dowager determined that if a son were born and brought to the castle, it would be her right to have him destroyed.

She veiled her designs, and wrote a humble letter of congratulation to her son-in-law, and the intruder into the family.

Eighteen months afterwards the Lord of Caerleon went home to Caerleon, with him new wife, a weary-looking, but still very beautiful lady.

She had a child; girl, not a boy, was brought with her.

My lord went back to the easy wicked Court of Charles II, leaving his wife and daughter with his mother-in-law.

Whatever his motives, the fact remained that for eleven years the two women and the two children were abandoned in Caerleon Castle by its lord.

Arvid was not Angela's elder by quite two years, and the children loved each other perfectly.

As for the Dowager Lady Caerleon, she detested the Saxon and her child, as she called her son-in-law's second wife and Angela. Years of companionship made no difference.

She considered they stood between Arvid and her sole rights; and consequently the young Lady Caerleon led a wretched life with the Dowager, who, openly polite, was in heart an implacable foe.

When Arvid was thirteen, and Angela eleven years of age, the lord suddenly swooped upon the castle, and, after a stay of three days, went away, carrying with him his younger daughter, for the purpose of putting her in a French convent, to be educated.

It was in vain Lady Caerleon had prayed, entreated that her daughter should remain with her. He was immovable.

The poor lady was then but twenty-eight years of age, for she had been married at sixteen and from that time, through six years, she remained at Caerleon without seeing her daughter.

Now and again, her husband, as easy-going and heartless as Charles II himself, passed two or three days with her, carelessly taking note of the estate accounts, and always in want of money.

His wife learnt that their daughter was well - and that was all. Angela wrote periodically, but the desolate mother could not avoid seeing how her child's memory of herself and of their western home was fading.

She never murmured. She sought to love her step-child, Arvid, and quite gained the girl's affection, but Arvid was become of an age to comprehend that it would be well for all of them if before the Dowager she never showed affection for her step-mother - a mode of conduct on the part of Arvid which was very wise, but which Lady Caerleon naturally felt as a cruel humiliation of herself and her position.

This, then, was the state of things at Caerleon Castle when Charles II died of his luxurious life, and his ascetic, Jesuit-loving brother, James II, came to the throne.

The Dowager Lady Caerleon, now called the ancient, was eighty years age, but still vigorous and active; Lady Caerleon was a year or two past thirty, and Arvid, the elder of Lord Caerleon's two daughters, was about eighteen.

It should be added that Aaron Gruestock was still alive, and about ninety-five years of age.

He was always welcome at Caerleon, albeit, the maids and even the men turned pale when the old seer made his appearance. But to all outward appearance he was perfectly innocent and gentle.

Upon that particular spring day the three ladies had no knowledge that before the next sunrise their lives, so monotonous for many years, were to be changed, and for ever.

The sun had set, and the castle had been closed for the night, when the old soothsayer arrived, saying he must see the Caerleon, as after the Welsh way he called the Dowager, she being the head of the house.

He obtained instant admission to her room.

Five minutes afterwards, she came hurriedly amongst the servants, and ordered them to get the lord's rooms ready.

The servants marvelled, for no courier or messenger had been near the house for weeks. But they soon read the enigma - Aaron had divined the coming of the master.

Within five minutes of the orders being given, there was heard a great cracking of whips outside Caerleon, and sure enough it was an outrider, to announce Lord Caerleon's return.

Unceremonious as usual, be had only taken the trouble to send on a messenger an hour or two before his own arrival, so that he might not experience any inconvenience upon his reaching home.

The Dowager herself announced the news to Lady Caerleon, who betrayed no great joy at the coming of her husband.

It would have been unreasonable to expect any particular joy on her part at the arrival of a man whose treatment had been of the most scandalous character.

But the ancient Dowager, with the eyes and the brain of hate, saw an evident cause for her indifference.

"Ah!" she thought, "my lady is sorry that her husband comes to mar her flirtation with waster Griffith Morgan."

This suspicion, on the willing part of the Dowager, was founded on a very simple circumstance.

Lady Caerleon, meek and gentle as she existed, was a very clever horsewoman, and she was passionately fond of riding.

Indeed, it was her horsemanship which had attracted Lord Caerleon in the first place, and though she therefore had little cause to remember her own exceeding accomplishment with any degree of pleasure, she had never forsaken the saddle, and she had found riding, much to the old Dowager's openly expressed disgust, her chief consolation.

Indeed, what would not the Dowager have condemned that Lady Caerleon liked?

Never once had Lady Caerleon been injured on horseback, and for years she had been in the habit of riding out by herself - for the country was very quiet and primitive, and too poor to attract highwaymen.

But three weeks previously to the arrival of Lord Caerleon her horse had taken fright at the sight of a cavalier, and ran away.

Lady Caerleon could have no need for uttering untruth, and consequently when she said that Master Griffith Morgan saved her life, she undoubtedly did not speak falsely.

This gentleman, however, who gave himself out as belonging to North Wales, and whose appearance, indeed, in a red coat had frightened Lady Caerleon's horse, was hurt somewhat in stopping the runaway, and her daughter insisted upon his entering the castle and being tended. It was found that the gentleman had twisted his foot, though not severely, and that rest was absolutely indispensable.

There at Caerleon he remained for ten days, tended chiefly by Lady Caerleon, between whom and himself this chapter of accidents naturally produced some sociability; and after he had left the castle, he returned now and again.

He was perfectly respectful to the Dowager, and to Arvid, but it was very evident that his devotion and attentions were chiefly paid to Lady Caerleon, who it will be remembered was not much past thirty - an age which she was far from looking, in the first place, because of her simple and retired life, in the second, because fair women who are careful of their lives never do look their age.

The conclusions at which the Dowager Lady Caerleon arrived were doubtless the offspring of her wishes, but they were not any the less vigorous because they had no just basis.

The Lord of Caerleon arrived in state, not upon horseback, but in a coach; and at his ease, yet, nevertheless, he looked weary and worn, and older than his years. He was about fifty-five, but he appeared sixty.

He received his mother-in-law and his wife quite coldly, and even showed very little excitement when his elder daughter Arvid approached and curtseyed to her father after the manner of the day.

"My ladies," he said, "I have news for you. I go no more to Court!"

"No more to Court, my lord!" said his wife.

"Why, my lady," said the nobleman, "one would suppose you would be desirous of getting rid of me again!"

"We have seen so little of you," she replied, "at Caerleon Castle that we could not have hoped for such a change in your plans."

"Faith, you do not seem particularly joyful at the prospect of having me amongst you for good!"

"For good!" said his wife.

"Yes," he replied, lightly, "if there is any good in me. I must try to make you glad that your prodigal has come home, my ladies."

"Let Lady Caerleon speak for herself!" said the Dowager. "Her ladyship may or may not be glad to know that my lord has returned to his duties. I am delighted that at last we can welcome you, my lord, to that which by law, if not by blood, is your ancestral home."

The lord looked curiously at his wife. He had no knowledge of the truth, but the seeds of suspicion had been sown in his doubting mind.

"Yes," he said, "I am come home. Honest old Rowley is dead; and now the only petticoats seen at the Court of St. James are those of the robes of the priests his new Majesty is so fond of having about him."

"We will do our duty, my lord, to make your stay comfortable," said Lady Caerleon.

"Duty!" said Caerleon. "Faith, my lady, I would rather have a little love!"

"I have forgotten how to love," replied the neglected wife.

"Indeed?" added the Dowager, in a sneering voice.

The nobleman looked up, half angry, then fell back again, and resumed his quiet voice.

"I have such pleasant news for both of you as should make me welcome. You have not asked for your daughter, my lady?"

"I know she is well, and in France."

"Nay, you are wrong, for Angela is not twenty miles from the castle."

"Ah, my lord!" she cried.

"Tut, tut! my lady; no emotion. You and your daughter will be in each other's arms to-morrow. Spare me - pray spare me your thanks."

"And pray, my lord," said the implacable old Dowager, "what is the good news you have for me? You can barely suppose that I find it well that the supplanter of my Arvid's love in the heart of her father is coming to Caerleon."

"My lady, my lady," said Caerleon, fractiously, "I have room in my heart for loving two daughters, believe me. But I have still good news for both of you. You will recall, my lady mother, that you wrote to me some time since, praying me to intercede with the King to bring about a marriage between our distant cousin, Gwedr Caradoc, and a daughter of mine, with succession to the title and estates?"

The dowager had started.

"You mean, my lord, your elder daughter?"

"Faith, it matters little to me which," said careless Caerleon. "At all events, the King consented. James II has ratified the agreement, and you may make up the wedding as soon as you think fit."

"I assume, my lady, that you yield precedence to my granddaughter?" asked the Dowager.

"I have no opinion in the matter," said meek Lady Caerleon.

Three days afterwards, the family, now augmented by Angela, who arrived on the morning following her father's coming, sat awaiting the visit of Sir Gwedr Caradoc.

There came into the room a handsome gentleman, known to all there, except Lord Caerleon himself, as Griffith Morgan.

The four ladies uttered a faint scream, which arrested the introduction upon Lord Caerleon's lips.

"Forgive me what I have done," said the young Baronet, in a most winning voice. "I heard from aunt, and while in France, of his late Majesty's disposition of my hand. A cousin of mine was at the convent where Lady Angela was being educated, and it took my fancy to see her in the convent parlour, and this was effected. I saw your daughter Angela, my lord; to love her, and to obey the late and the reigning King's request will be the greatest happiness of my life."

"My lord," here said the terrible Dowager, "Sir Gwedr is already known to my lady here, and my lady seems moved."

Caerleon looked up.

His wife calmly told him all that had occurred.

"I came to try and win your ladyship to like me," said the young suitor.

"And succeeded," answered the Dowager, calmly.

Lady Caerleon was very pale.

The Dowager went on.

"But, Lady Caerleon, you have reckoned wrongly if for one moment you suppose that my lord will be unjust. My lord," she continued, imperiously, "you have not forgotten that you were a penniless man when the late King continued you in the patent of my husband's nobility. Your elder daughter Arvid claims her kindred's title, and I demand that this gentleman, Sir Gwedr Caradoc, marry my granddaughter, the last of the Caerleons. I await your answer."

"Tut - tut !" said the easy, selfish, careless lord. "Why here is a pother at Caerleon already. Tell me; Gwedr, do you love my daughter Angela?"

"With my whole heart."

"Would you take her without fortune and title?"

"The more willingly."

"Tell me, Angela - do you love Caradoc?"

"Yes, my lord," she said, simply.

"And you, Arvid - do you love Sir Gwedr?"

The elder daughter was very pale, but after a pause she slowly said, "I decline to marry Sir Gwedr!"

"What, my lady Dowager!" cried the nobleman; "shall your confounded family pride break these young hearts? Nay, Angela and Sir Gwedr here shall marry, and if you know the name of any man our Arvid loves, you may petition James II to give him the title and fortune, for my other children shall never be wretched at thy beck and call."

The old woman stood up, and shook her weak hand at Lady Caerleon.

"Viper and hypocrite!" she cried. "Thy smooth, civil ways cannot soften me. I know thee for what thou art. So thou hast turned what remains of my blood against me - Arvid's and Gwedr's. What, pale-faced Saxon! dost think that the triumph is thine? War! war! war!"

She had shrieked each "war!" louder than the other, and at every repetition of the word she took a step nearer the meek and shrinking lady.

Then she fell forward to the ground, senseless.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Three months have elapsed since the Dowager's declaration of war.

She was not dead, but paralyzed in both legs. Her brain, her hate, and her hands were as active as ever, and yet she could not take a step.

But she was not the only invalid in the house - Angela was ill of a wasting sickness. She was always coughing, and complaining of a burning sensation in the mouth.

Upon the night when the Dowager Lady Caerleon had fallen forward a shapeless mass, Sir Gwedr sought out Caerleon, and he said -

"I have found out what is happening to Angela. You know that I studied chemistry in France. She is being slowly, steadily poisoned. I took some of the posset last night, and tasted it. The liquid contained a minute portion of arsenic."

When Lady Caerleon heard the news she fainted, and remained senseless for some time.

The first words she uttered upon recovering herself were to the effect that no one should go near her daughter but herself. From that hour she never left Angela's room. At the end of five days the young lady was out of danger.

On the sixth day, Lord Caerleon was paying a visit to bedridden Dowager Lady Caerleon, when the latter said to him, "Your daughter is better, my lord?"


"Ah - you have removed her mother from her bedside!"

"No; but why such a question?"

"Because there must be a cause for Angela's sickness. What if she were being poisoned?"

"Lady Caerleon - you dare not mean to insinuate-"

"I do not insinuate. I declare that your wife grew to love this Sir Gwedr before she knew anything beyond the fact that he saved her life, or before she pretended that he did so."

"Oh, monstrous!" said the nobleman. "What! jealous of her own daughter, and so infamous in her passion as to poison her!"

"Why not, my lord? Human nature is so depraved?"

"Ah! I will take my daughter from this house to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" echoed the Dowager, in a startled voice.

That night, Lord Caerleon, who by this time was terribly broken down, insisted upon his wife taking her rest, and ordered Arvid to watch by her sister.

Lady Caerleon herself set the large cup of drink for the night, and which she had made herself, exactly as she prepared all that her daughter ate and drank.

Angela was troubled with incessant thirst.

The posset was set on the table near the arras covering the wall, and Arvid began her vigil.

Three hours afterwards, the occupants of the castle were awakened by a loud and agonised scream.

Arvid was found on the floor of her sister's room, insensible, while Angela, who had crept from the bed, was endeavouring to raise her.

The first word she uttered, as her wandering eyes fell upon her father and step-mother were these, "My lord, my lady is not guilty."

"I!" cried the lady. "I guilty of what?"

"My lady! my lady!" cried the poor girl, "My grandame and my lord suspect you of poisoning my dear sister. My lord, it is not true. Take Angela and my lady from the castle! - take them away!"

"Ah, my lord!" cried Lady Caerleon, with a mother's instinct. "She knows the poisoner! Make her speak, my lord!"

"Is this so, Arvid?"

"I will not speak!" she cried.

Sir Gwedr had entered the room with the others, and had gone straight to the table where the night-drink stood.

A few moments, and he approached Lord Caerleon, and whispered in a low voice, "My lord, I have tested the posset placed upon the table, made by Lady Caerleon, put there by her ladyship the last thing before leaving the room. I grieve to say, it is poisoned sufficiently to kill in a few minutes."

"'Tis she?" said Caerleon.

Then the spirit of retribution possessed him.

He pointed to the night-drink, and said to his wife, "My lady, your affright has made you sick. Believe me, I know what will cure you. Drink the night-drink on the table there. I am pitying, and I command."

She looked at him wonderingly, and saying, "I obey!" she went towards the table. But now, with a wild cry, Arvid ran towards it, and before she could be prevented, she seized the glass, and drank its contents.

The next moment, a terrible noise was hard, the arras behind the table was shaken, the table was overthrown, and the-Dowager, upright and moving, tottered into the room.

"Arvid!" she cried - "my Arvid, it was for thee and thy rights."

"As thou hast sown, granddam, so thou reapest. It is I who die - not Angela. Gwedr Caradoc," she said, "I loved you, but said no, that Angela might be happy - happy. Granddam, stoop down and kiss me."

"Keep back," she cried. "She is mine - only mine. Yes, my feet bore me to my revenge. Lady Caerleon, fate has saved you, and destroyed me. I meant to poison your child, and to have seen you die of a broken heart, when accused of the death of your own child. Arvid, Arvid! He would have loved thee after the Saxons had died, my Arvid. Sir Gwedr, the title is yours, but the blood of the Caerleons is changed - changed. Lady Caerleon, Arvid and I are going away together. We hate! hate! Hate!"

Those were the last words she uttered in this world.

They were embittered, perhaps, by hearing dying Arrid say, "No, no! I love, I love! Forgive us! forgive us both!"

My lord left Caerleon, and it passed into other - into many hands. Only the name and the legend remain; and where the fierce dowager plotted destruction, and was destroyed, there wanders the bell-wether of the flock, and the peaceful tinkle of the sheep-bell is heard where the last of the race of Caerleons died - vanquished, but defiant to her last death-arrested breath.


From The History And Legends Of Old Castles And Abbeys, part 13, published May 1875 by John Dicks, 313 Strand, London.

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