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Chapter 17
Well, then--our course is chosen--spread the sail--
Heave oft the lead, and mark the soundings well--
Look to the helm, good master--many a shoal
Marks this stern coast, and rocks, where sits the Siren,
Who, like ambition, lures men to their ruin. THE SHIPWRECK.
During the brief interval that took place betwixt the dismissal of the audience and the
sitting of the privy-council, Leicester had time to reflect that he had that morning sealed
his own fate. "It was impossible for him now," he thought, "after having, in the face of all
that was honourable in England, pledged his truth (though in an ambiguous phrase) for
the statement of Varney, to contradict or disavow it, without exposing himself, not
merely to the loss of court-favour, but to the highest displeasure of the Queen, his
deceived mistress, and to the scorn and contempt at once of his rival and of all his
compeers." This certainty rushed at once on his mind, together with all the difficulties
which he would necessarily be exposed to in preserving a secret which seemed now
equally essential to his safety, to his power, and to his honour. He was situated like one
who walks upon ice ready to give way around him, and whose only safety consists in
moving onwards, by firm and unvacillating steps. The Queen's favour, to preserve which
he had made such sacrifices, must now be secured by all means and at all hazards; it
was the only plank which he could cling to in the tempest. He must settle himself,
therefore, to the task of not only preserving, but augmenting the Queen's partiality--he
must be the favourite of Elizabeth, or a man utterly shipwrecked in fortune and in
honour. All other considerations must be laid aside for the moment, and he repelled the
intrusive thoughts which forced on his mind the image of, Amy, by saying to himself
there would be time to think hereafter how he was to escape from the labyrinth
ultimately, since the pilot who sees a Scylla under his bows must not for the time think
of the more distant dangers of Charybdis.
In this mood the Earl of Leicester that day assumed his chair at the council table of
Elizabeth; and when the hours of business were over, in this same mood did he occupy
an honoured place near her during her pleasure excursion on the Thames. And never
did he display to more advantage his powers as a politician of the first rank, or his parts
as an accomplished courtier.
It chanced that in that day's council matters were agitated touching the affairs of the
unfortunate Mary, the seventh year of whose captivity in England was now in doleful
currency. There had been opinions in favour of this unhappy princess laid before
Elizabeth's council, and supported with much strength of argument by Sussex and
others, who dwelt more upon the law of nations and the breach of hospitality than,
however softened or qualified, was agreeable to the Queen's ear. Leicester adopted the
contrary opinion with great animation and eloquence, and described the necessity of
continuing the severe restraint of the Queen of Scots, as a measure essential to the