Kenilworth by Walter Scott - HTML preview
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This is rare news thou tell'st me, my good fellow; There are two bulls fierce battling on the green For one fair heifer--if the one goes down, The dale will be more peaceful, and the herd, Which have small interest in their brulziement, May pasture there in peace.--OLD PLAY.
Sayes Court was watched like a beleaguered fort; and so high rose the suspicions of the time, that Tressilian and his attendants were stopped and questioned repeatedly by sentinels, both on foot and horseback, as they approached the abode of the sick Earl. In truth, the high rank which Sussex held in Queen Elizabeth's favour, and his known and avowed rivalry of the Earl of Leicester, caused the utmost importance to be attached to his welfare; for, at the period we treat of, all men doubted whether he or the Earl of Leicester might ultimately have the higher rank in her regard.
Elizabeth, like many of her sex, was fond of governing by factions, so as to balance two opposing interests, and reserve in her own hand the power of making either predominate, as the interest of the state, or perhaps as her own female caprice (for to that foible even she was not superior), might finally determine. To finesse--to hold the cards--to oppose one interest to another--to bridle him who thought himself highest in her esteem, by the fears he must entertain of another equally trusted, if not equally beloved, were arts which she used throughout her reign, and which enabled her, though frequently giving way to the weakness of favouritism, to prevent most of its evil effects on her kingdom and government.
The two nobles who at present stood as rivals in her favour possessed very different pretensions to share it; yet it might be in general said that the Earl of Sussex had been most serviceable to the Queen, while Leicester was most dear to the woman. Sussex was, according to the phrase of the times, a martialist--had done good service in Ireland and in Scotland, and especially in the great northern rebellion, in 1569, which was quelled, in a great measure, by his military talents. He was, therefore, naturally surrounded and looked up to by those who wished to make arms their road to distinction. The Earl of Sussex, moreover, was of more ancient and honourable descent than his rival, uniting in his person the representation of the Fitz-Walters, as well as of the Ratcliffes; while the scutcheon of Leicester was stained by the degradation of his grandfather, the oppressive minister of Henry VII., and scarce improved by that of his father, the unhappy Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, executed on Tower Hill, August 22, 1553. But in person, features, and address, weapons so formidable in the court of a female sovereign, Leicester had advantages more than sufficient to counterbalance the military services, high blood, and frank bearing of the Earl of Sussex; and he bore, in the eye of the court and kingdom, the higher share in Elizabeth's favour, though (for such was her uniform policy) by no means so decidedly expressed as to warrant him against the final preponderance of his rival's pretensions. The illness of Sussex therefore happened so opportunely for Leicester, as to give rise to strange surmises among the public; while the followers of the one Earl were filled with the deepest apprehensions, and those of the other with the highest hopes of its probable issue. Meanwhile--for in that old time men never forgot the probability that the matter might be determined by length of sword--the retainers of each noble flocked around their patron, appeared well armed in the vicinity of the court itself, and disturbed the ear of the sovereign by their frequent and alarming debates, held even within the precincts of her palace. This preliminary statement is necessary, to render what follows intelligible to the reader. [See Note 3. Leicester and Sussex.]
On Tressilian's arrival at Sayes Court, he found the place filled with the retainers of the Earl of Sussex, and of the gentlemen who came to attend their patron in his illness. Arms were in every hand, and a deep gloom on every countenance, as if they had apprehended an immediate and violent assault from the opposite faction. In the hall, however, to which Tressilian was ushered by one of the Earl's attendants, while another went to inform Sussex of his arrival, he found only two gentlemen in waiting. There was a remarkable contrast in their dress, appearance, and manners. The attire of the elder gentleman, a person as it seemed of quality and in the prime of life, was very plain and soldierlike, his stature low, his limbs stout, his bearing ungraceful, and his features of that kind which express sound common sense, without a grain of vivacity or imagination. The younger, who seemed about twenty, or upwards, was clad in the gayest habit used by persons of quality at the period, wearing a crimson velvet cloak richly ornamented with lace and embroidery, with a bonnet of the same, encircled with a gold chain turned three times round it, and secured by a medal. His hair was adjusted very nearly like that of some fine gentlemen of our own time--that is, it was combed upwards, and made to stand as it were on end; and in his ears he wore a pair of silver earrings, having each a pearl of considerable size. The countenance of this youth, besides being regularly handsome and accompanied by a fine person, was animated and striking in a degree that seemed to speak at once the firmness of a decided and the fire of an enterprising character, the power of reflection, and the promptitude of determination.
Both these gentlemen reclined nearly in the same posture on benches near each other; but each seeming engaged in his own meditations, looked straight upon the wall which was opposite to them, without speaking to his companion. The looks of the elder were of that sort which convinced the beholder that, in looking on the wall, he saw no more than the side of an old hall hung around with cloaks, antlers, bucklers, old pieces of armour, partisans, and the similar articles which were usually the furniture of such a place. The look of the younger gallant had in it something imaginative; he was sunk in reverie, and it seemed as if the empty space of air betwixt him and the wall were the stage of a theatre on which his fancy was mustering his own DRAMATIS PERSONAE, and treating him with sights far different from those which his awakened and earthly vision could have offered.
At the entrance of Tressilian both started from their musing, and made him welcome-the younger, in particular, with great appearance of animation and cordiality. "Thou art welcome, Tressilian," said the youth. "Thy philosophy stole thee from us when this household had objects of ambition to offer; it is an honest philosophy, since it returns thee to us when there are only dangers to be shared.""Is my lord, then, so greatly indisposed?" said Tressilian. "We fear the very worst," answered the elder gentleman, "and by the worst practice." "Fie," replied Tressilian, "my Lord of Leicester is honourable."
"What doth he with such attendants, then, as he hath about him?" said the younger gallant. "The man who raises the devil may be honest, but he is answerable for the mischief which the fiend does, for all that.""And is this all of you, my mates," inquired Tressilian, "that are about my lord in his utmost straits?"
"No, no," replied the elder gentleman, "there are Tracy, Markham, and several more; but we keep watch here by two at once, and some are weary and are sleeping in the gallery above."
"And some," said the young man," are gone down to the Dock yonder at Deptford, to look out such a hull; as they may purchase by clubbing their broken fortunes; and as soon as all is over, we will lay our noble lord in a noble green grave, have a blow at those who have hurried him thither, if opportunity suits, and then sail for the Indies with heavy hearts and light purses.""It may be," said Tressilian, "that I will embrace the same purpose, so soon as I have settled some business at court." "Thou business at court!" they both exclaimed at once, "and thou make the Indian voyage!"
"Why, Tressilian," said the younger man, "art thou not wedded, and beyond these flaws of fortune, that drive folks out to sea when their bark bears fairest for the haven?-- What has become of the lovely Indamira that was to match my Amoret for truth and beauty?""Speak not of her!" said Tressilian, averting his face.
"Ay, stands it so with you?" said the youth, taking his hand very affectionately; "then, fear not I will again touch the green wound. But it is strange as well as sad news. Are none of our fair and merry fellowship to escape shipwreck of fortune and happiness in this sudden tempest? I had hoped thou wert in harbour, at least, my dear Edmund. But truly says another dear friend of thy name,
'What man that sees the ever whirling wheel Of Chance, the which all mortal things doth sway, But that thereby doth find and plainly feel, How Mutability in them doth play
Her cruel sports to many men's decay.'"
The elder gentleman had risen from his bench, and was pacing the hall with some impatience, while the youth, with much earnestness and feeling, recited these lines. When he had done, the other wrapped himself in his cloak, and again stretched himself down, saying, "I marvel, Tressilian, you will feed the lad in this silly humour. If there were ought to draw a judgment upon a virtuous and honourable household like my lord's, renounce me if I think not it were this piping, whining, childish trick of poetry, that came among us with Master Walter Wittypate here and his comrades, twisting into all manner of uncouth and incomprehensible forms of speech, the honest plain English phrase which God gave us to express our meaning withal."
"Blount believes," said his comrade, laughing, "the devil woo'd Eve in rhyme, and that the mystic meaning of the Tree of Knowledge refers solely to the art of clashing rhymes and meting out hexameters." [See Note 4. Sir Walter Raleigh.]At this moment the Earl's chamberlain entered, and informed Tressilian that his lord required to speak with him.
He found Lord Sussex dressed, but unbraced, and lying on his couch, and was shocked at the alteration disease had made in his person. The Earl received him with the most friendly cordiality, and inquired into the state of his courtship. Tressilian evaded his inquiries for a moment, and turning his discourse on the Earl's own health, he discovered, to his surprise, that the symptoms of his disorder corresponded minutely with those which Wayland had predicated concerning it. He hesitated not, therefore, to communicate to Sussex the whole history of his attendant, and the pretensions he set up to cure the disorder under which he laboured. The Earl listened with incredulous attention until the name of Demetrius was mentioned, and then suddenly called to his secretary to bring him a certain casket which contained papers of importance. "Take out from thence," he said, "the declaration of the rascal cook whom we had under examination, and look heedfully if the name of Demetrius be not there mentioned."
The secretary turned to the passage at once, and read, "And said declarant, being examined, saith, That he remembers having made the sauce to the said sturgeon-fish, after eating of which the said noble Lord was taken ill; "and he put the usual ingredients and condiments therein, namely--""Pass over his trash," said the Earl, "and see whether he had not been supplied with his materials by a herbalist called Demetrius." "It is even so," answered the secretary. "And he adds, he has not since seen the said Demetrius." "This accords with thy fellow's story, Tressilian," said the Earl; "call him hither." On being summoned to the Earl's presence, Wayland Smith told his former tale with firmness and consistency. "It may be," said the Earl, "thou art sent by those who have begun this work, to end it for them; but bethink, if I miscarry under thy medicine, it may go hard with thee."
"That were severe measure," said Wayland, "since the issue of medicine, and the end of life, are in God's disposal. But I will stand the risk. I have not lived so long under ground to be afraid of a grave.""Nay, if thou be'st so confident," said the Earl of Sussex, "I will take the risk too, for the learned can do nothing for me. Tell me how this medicine is to be taken." "That will I do presently," said Wayland; "but allow me to condition that, since I incur all the risk of this treatment, no other physician shall be permitted to interfere with it." "That is but fair," replied the Earl; "and now prepare your drug." While Wayland obeyed the Earl's commands, his servants, by the artist's direction, undressed their master, and placed him in bed.
"I warn you," he said, "that the first operation of this medicine will be to produce a heavy sleep, during which time the chamber must be kept undisturbed, as the consequences may otherwise he fatal. I myself will watch by the Earl with any of the gentlemen of his chamber.""Let all leave the room, save Stanley and this good fellow," said the Earl. "And saving me also," said Tressilian. "I too am deeply interested in the effects of this potion." "Be it so, good friend," said the Earl. "And now for our experiment; but first call my secretary and chamberlain."
"Bear witness," he continued, when these officers arrived--"bear witness for me, gentlemen, that our honourable friend Tressilian is in no way responsible for the effects which this medicine may produce upon me, the taking it being my own free action and choice, in regard I believe it to be a remedy which God has furnished me by unexpected means to recover me of my present malady. Commend me to my noble and princely Mistress; and say that I live and die her true servant, and wish to all about her throne the same singleness of heart and will to serve her, with more ability to do so than hath been assigned to poor Thomas Ratcliffe."
He then folded his hands, and seemed for a second or two absorbed in mental devotion, then took the potion in his hand, and, pausing, regarded Wayland with a look that seemed designed to penetrate his very soul, but which caused no anxiety or hesitation in the countenance or manner of the artist.
"I am now to pray your lordship," said Wayland, "to dispose yourself to rest as commodiously as you can; and of you, gentlemen, to remain as still and mute as if you waited at your mother's deathbed."
The chamberlain and secretary then withdrew, giving orders that all doors should be bolted, and all noise in the house strictly prohibited. Several gentlemen were voluntary watchers in the hall, but none remained in the chamber of the sick Earl, save his groom of the chamber, the artist, and Tressilian.--Wayland Smith's predictions were speedily accomplished, and a sleep fell upon the Earl, so deep and sound that they who watched his bedside began to fear that, in his weakened state, he might pass away without awakening from his lethargy. Wayland Smith himself appeared anxious, and felt the temples of the Earl slightly, from time to time, attending particularly to the state of his respiration, which was full and deep, but at the same time easy and uninterrupted.
You loggerheaded and unpolish'd grooms,
What, no attendance, no regard, no duty?
Where is the foolish knave I sent before? TAMING OF THE SHREW.
There is no period at which men look worse in the eyes of each other, or feel more uncomfortable, than when the first dawn of daylight finds them watchers. Even a beauty of the first order, after the vigils of a ball are interrupted by the dawn, would do wisely to withdraw herself from the gaze of her fondest and most partial admirers. Such was the pale, inauspicious, and ungrateful light which began to beam upon those who kept watch all night in the hall at Sayes Court, and which mingled its cold, pale, blue diffusion with the red, yellow, and smoky beams of expiring lamps and torches. The young gallant, whom we noticed in our last chapter, had left the room for a few minutes, to learn the cause of a knocking at the outward gate, and on his return was so struck with the forlorn and ghastly aspects of his companions of the watch that he exclaimed, "Pity of my heart, my masters, how like owls you look! Methinks, when the sun rises, I shall see you flutter off with your eyes dazzled, to stick yourselves into the next ivy-tod or ruined steeple.""Hold thy peace, thou gibing fool," said Blount; "hold thy peace. Is this a time for jeering, when the manhood of England is perchance dying within a wall's breadth of thee?" "There thou liest," replied the gallant. "How, lie!" exclaimed Blount, starting up, "lie! and to me?"
"Why, so thou didst, thou peevish fool," answered the youth; "thou didst lie on that bench even now, didst thou not? But art thou not a hasty coxcomb to pick up a wry word so wrathfully? Nevertheless, loving and, honouring my lord as truly as thou, or any one, I do say that, should Heaven take him from us, all England's manhood dies not with him.""Ay," replied Blount, "a good portion will survive with thee, doubtless." "And a good portion with thyself, Blount, and with stout Markham here, and Tracy, and all of us. But I am he will best employ the talent Heaven has given to us all." "As how, I prithee?" said Blount; "tell us your mystery of multiplying."
"Why, sirs," answered the youth, "ye are like goodly land, which bears no crop because it is not quickened by manure; but I have that rising spirit in me which will make my poor faculties labour to keep pace with it. My ambition will keep my brain at work, I warrant thee."
"I pray to God it does not drive thee mad," said Blount; "for my part, if we lose our noble lord, I bid adieu to the court and to the camp both. I have five hundred foul acres in Norfolk, and thither will I, and change the court pantoufle for the country hobnail."
"O base transmutation!" exclaimed his antagonist; "thou hast already got the true rustic slouch--thy shoulders stoop, as if thine hands were at the stilts of the plough; and thou hast a kind of earthy smell about thee, instead of being perfumed with essence, as a gallant and courtier should. On my soul, thou hast stolen out to roll thyself on a hay mow! Thy only excuse will be to swear by thy hilts that the farmer had a fair daughter.""I pray thee, Walter," said another of the company, "cease thy raillery, which suits neither time nor place, and tell us who was at the gate just now." "Doctor Masters, physician to her Grace in ordinary, sent by her especial orders to inquire after the Earl's health," answered Walter. "Ha! what?" exclaimed Tracy; "that was no slight mark of favour. If the Earl can but come through, he will match with Leicester yet. Is Masters with my lord at present?" "Nay," replied Walter, "he is half way back to Greenwich by this time, and in high dudgeon." "Thou didst not refuse him admittance?" exclaimed Tracy. "Thou wert not, surely, so mad?" ejaculated Blount. "I refused him admittance as flatly, Blount, as you would refuse a penny to a blind beggar--as obstinately, Tracy, as thou didst ever deny access to a dun." "Why, in the fiend's name, didst thou trust him to go to the gate?" said Blount to Tracy.
"It suited his years better than mine," answered Tracy; "but he has undone us all now thoroughly. My lord may live or die, he will never have a look of favour from her Majesty again."
"Nor the means of making fortunes for his followers," said the young gallant, smiling contemptuously;--"there lies the sore point that will brook no handling. My good sirs, I sounded my lamentations over my lord somewhat less loudly than some of you; but when the point comes of doing him service, I will yield to none of you. Had this learned leech entered, think'st thou not there had been such a coil betwixt him and Tressilian's mediciner, that not the sleeper only, but the very dead might have awakened? I know what larurm belongs to the discord of doctors."
"And who is to take the blame of opposing the Queen's orders?" said Tracy; "for, undeniably, Doctor Masters came with her Grace's positive commands to cure the Earl."
"Thus, then, off fly the dreams of court favour thou hast nourished," said Blount, "and despite all thy boasted art and ambition, Devonshire will see thee shine a true younger brother, fit to sit low at the board, carve turn about with the chaplain, look that the hounds be fed, and see the squire's girths drawn when he goes a-hunting."
"Not so," said the young man, colouring, "not while Ireland and the Netherlands have wars, and not while the sea hath pathless waves. The rich West hath lands undreamed of, and Britain contains bold hearts to venture on the quest of them. Adieu for a space, my masters. I go to walk in the court and look to the sentinels.""The lad hath quicksilver in his veins, that is certain," said Blount, looking at Markham.
"He hath that both in brain and blood," said Markham, "which may either make or mar him. But in closing the door against Masters, he hath done a daring and loving piece of service; for Tressilian's fellow hath ever averred that to wake the Earl were death, and Masters would wake the Seven Sleepers themselves, if he thought they slept not by the regular ordinance of medicine."
Morning was well advanced when Tressilian, fatigued and over- watched, came down to the hall with the joyful intelligence that the Earl had awakened of himself, that he found his internal complaints much mitigated, and spoke with a cheerfulness, and looked round with a vivacity, which of themselves showed a material and favourable change had taken place. Tressilian at the same time commanded the attendance of one or two of his followers, to report what had passed during the night, and to relieve the watchers in the Earl's chamber.
When the message of the Queen was communicated to the Earl of Sussex, he at first smiled at the repulse which the physician had received from his zealous young follower; but instantly recollecting himself, he commanded Blount, his master of the horse, instantly to take boat, and go down the river to the Palace of Greenwich, taking young Walter and Tracy with him, and make a suitable compliment, expressing his grateful thanks to his Sovereign, and mentioning the cause why he had not been enabled to profit by the assistance of the wise and learned Doctor Masters.
"A plague on it!" said Blount, as he descended the stairs; "had he sent me with a cartel to Leicester I think I should have done his errand indifferently well. But to go to our gracious Sovereign, before whom all words must be lacquered over either with gilding or with sugar, is such a confectionary matter as clean baffles my poor old English brain.
-Come with me, Tracy, and come you too, Master Walter Wittypate, that art the cause of our having all this ado. Let us see if thy neat brain, that frames so many flashy fireworks, can help out a plain fellow at need with some of thy shrewd devices." "Never fear, never fear," exclaimed the youth, "it is I will help you through; let me but fetch my cloak."
"And this is all thou thinkest--all thou carest--all thou deemest the use of the King of Elements and the King of Rivers--to guide three such poor caitiffs as thyself, and me, and Tracy, upon an idle journey of courtly ceremony!"
"It is no errand of my seeking, faith," replied Blount, "and I could excuse both the sun and the Thames the trouble of carrying me where I have no great mind to go, and where I expect but dog's wages for my trouble--and by my honour," he added, looking out from the head of the boat, "it seems to me as if our message were a sort of labour in vain, for, see, the Queen's barge lies at the stairs as if her Majesty were about to take water."
It was even so. The royal barge, manned with the Queen's watermen richly attired in the regal liveries, and having the Banner of England displayed, did indeed lie at the great stairs which ascended from the river, and along with it two or three other boats for transporting such part of her retinue as were not in immediate attendance on the royal person. The yeomen of the guard, the tallest and most handsome men whom England could produce, guarded with their halberds the passage from the palace- gate to the river side, and all seemed in readiness for the Queen's coming forth, although the day was yet so early.
"By my faith, this bodes us no good," said Blount; "it must be some perilous cause puts her Grace in motion thus untimeously, By my counsel, we were best put back again, and tell the Earl what we have seen."
"Tell the Earl what we have seen!" said Walter; "why what have we seen but a boat, and men with scarlet jerkins, and halberds in their hands? Let us do his errand, and tell him what the Queen says in reply."
So saying, he caused the boat to be pulled towards a landing- place at some distance from the principal one, which it would not, at that moment, have been thought respectful to approach, and jumped on shore, followed, though with reluctance, by his cautious and timid companions. As they approached the gate of the palace, one of the sergeant porters told them they could not at present enter, as her Majesty was in the act of coming forth. The gentlemen used the name of the Earl of Sussex; but it proved no charm to subdue the officer, who alleged, in reply, that it was as much as his post was worth to disobey in the least tittle the commands which he had received."Nay, I told you as much before," said Blount; "do, I pray you, my dear Walter, let us take boat and return." "Not till I see the Queen come forth," returned the youth composedly. "Thou art mad, stark mad, by the Mass!" answered Blount.
"And thou," said Walter, "art turned coward of the sudden. I have seen thee face half a score of shag-headed Irish kerns to thy own share of them; and now thou wouldst blink and go back to shun the frown of a fair lady!"
At this moment the gates opened, and ushers began to issue forth in array, preceded and flanked by the band of Gentlemen Pensioners. After this, amid a crowd of lords and ladies, yet so disposed around her that she could see and be seen on all sides, came Elizabeth herself, then in the prime of womanhood, and in the full glow of what in a Sovereign was called beauty, and who would in the lowest rank of life have been truly judged a noble figure, joined to a striking and commanding physiognomy. She leant on the arm of Lord Hunsdon, whose relation to her by her mother's side often procured him such distinguished marks of Elizabeth's intimacy.
The young cavalier we have so often mentioned had probably never yet approached so near the person of his Sovereign, and he pressed forward as far as the line of warders permitted, in order to avail himself of the present opportunity. His companion, on the contrary, cursing his imprudence, kept pulling him backwards, till Walter shook him off impatiently, and letting his rich cloak drop carelessly from one shoulder; a natural action, which served, however, to display to the best advantage his well- proportioned person. Unbonneting at the same time, he fixed his eager gaze on the Queen's approach, with a mixture of respectful curiosity and modest yet ardent admiration, which suited so well with his fine features that the warders, struck with his rich attire and noble countenance, suffered him to approach the ground over which the Queen was to pass, somewhat closer than was permitted to ordinary spectators. Thus the adventurous youth stood full in Elizabeth's eye--an eye never indifferent to the admiration which she deservedly excited among her subjects, or to the fair proportions of external form which chanced to distinguish any of her courtiers.
Accordingly, she fixed her keen glance on the youth, as she approached the place where he stood, with a look in which surprise at his boldness seemed to be unmingled with resentment, while a trifling accident happened which attracted her attention towards him yet more strongly. The night had been rainy, and just where the young gentleman stood a small quantity of mud interrupted the Queen's passage. As she hesitated to pass on, the gallant, throwing his cloak from his shoulders, laid it on the miry spot, so as to ensure her stepping over it dry-shod. Elizabeth looked at the young man, who accompanied this act of devoted courtesy with a profound reverence, and a blush that overspread his whole countenance. The Queen was confused, and blushed in her turn, nodded her head, hastily passed on, and embarked in her barge without saying a word.
"Come along, Sir Coxcomb," said Blount; "your gay cloak will need the brush to-day, I wot. Nay, if you had meant to make a footcloth of your mantle, better have kept Tracy's old drab-de- bure, which despises all colours.""This cloak," said the youth, taking it up and folding it, "shall never be brushed while in my possession." "And that will not be long, if you learn not a little more economy; we shall have you in CUERPO soon, as the Spaniard says." Their discourse was here interrupted by one of the band of Pensioners.
"I was sent," said he, after looking at them attentively, "to a gentleman who hath no cloak, or a muddy one.--You, sir, I think," addressing the younger cavalier, "are the man; you will please to follow me.""He is in attendance on me," said Blount--"on me, the noble Earl of Sussex's master of horse." "I have nothing to say to that," answered the messenger; "my orders are directly from her Majesty, and concern this gentleman only."
So saying, he walked away, followed by Walter, leaving the others behind, Blount's eyes almost starting from his head with the excess of his astonishment. At length he gave vent to it in an exclamation, "Who the good jere would have thought this!" And shaking his head with a mysterious air, he walked to his own boat, embarked, and returned to Deptford.
The young cavalier was in the meanwhile guided to the water-side by the Pensioner, who showed him considerable respect; a circumstance which, to persons in his situation, may be considered as an augury of no small consequence. He ushered him into one of the wherries which lay ready to attend the Queen's barge, which was already proceeding; up the river, with the advantage of that flood-tide of which, in the course of their descent, Blount had complained to his associates.
The two rowers used their oars with such expedition at the signal of the Gentleman Pensioner, that they very soon brought their little skiff under the stern of the Queen's boat, where she sat beneath an awning, attended by two or three ladies, and the nobles of her household. She looked more than once at the wherry in which the young adventurer was seated, spoke to those around her, and seemed to laugh. At length one of the attendants, by the Queen's order apparently, made a sign for the wherry to come alongside, and the young man was desired to step from his own skiff into the Queen's barge, which he performed with graceful agility at the fore part of the boat, and was brought aft to the Queen's presence, the wherry at the same time dropping into the rear. The youth underwent the gaze of Majesty, not the less gracefully that his selfpossession was mingled with embarrassment. The muddled cloak still hung upon his arm, and formed the natural topic with which the Queen introduced the conversation."You have this day spoiled a gay mantle in our behalf, young man. We thank you for your service, though the manner of offering it was unusual, and something bold." "In a sovereign's need," answered the youth, "it is each liege- man's duty to be bold."
"God's pity! that was well said, my lord," said the Queen, turning to a grave person who sat by her, and answered with a grave inclination of the head, and something of a mumbled assent.--"Well, young man, your gallantry shall not go unrewarded. Go to the wardrobe keeper, and he shall have orders to supply the suit which you have cast away in our service. Thou shalt have a suit, and that of the newest cut, I promise thee, on the word of a princess.""May it please your Grace," said Walter, hesitating, "it is not for so humble a servant of your Majesty to measure out your bounties; but if it became me to choose--"
"Thou wouldst have gold, I warrant me," said the Queen, interrupting him. "Fie, young man! I take shame to say that in our capital such and so various are the means of thriftless folly, that to give gold to youth is giving fuel to fire, and furnishing them with the means of self-destruction. If I live and reign, these means of unchristian excess shall be abridged. Yet thou mayest be poor," she added, "or thy parents may be. It shall be gold, if thou wilt, but thou shalt answer to me for the use on't."
Walter waited patiently until the Queen had done, and then modestly assured her that gold was still less in his wish than the raiment her Majesty had before offered. "How, boy!" said the Queen, "neither gold nor garment? What is it thou wouldst have of me, then?""Only permission, madam--if it is not asking too high an honour --permission to wear the cloak which did you this trifling service." "Permission to wear thine own cloak, thou silly boy!" said the Queen. "It is no longer mine," said Walter; "when your Majesty's foot touched it, it became a fit mantle for a prince, but far too rich a one for its former owner." The Queen again blushed, and endeavoured to cover, by laughing, a slight degree of not unpleasing surprise and confusion. "Heard you ever the like, my lords? The youth's head is turned with reading romances. I must know something of him, that I may send him safe to his friends.--What art thou?" "A gentleman of the household of the Earl of Sussex, so please your Grace, sent hither with his master of horse upon message to your Majesty." In a moment the gracious expression which Elizabeth's face had hitherto maintained, gave way to an expression of haughtiness and severity.
"My Lord of Sussex," she said, "has taught us how to regard his messages by the value he places upon ours. We sent but this morning the physician in ordinary of our chamber, and that at no usual time, understanding his lordship's illness to be more dangerous than we had before apprehended. There is at no court in Europe a man more skilled in this holy and most useful science than Doctor Masters, and he came from Us to our subject. Nevertheless, he found the gate of Sayes Court defended by men with culverins, as if it had been on the borders of Scotland, not in the vicinity of our court; and when he demanded admittance in our name, it was stubbornly refused. For this slight of a kindness, which had but too much of condescension in it, we will receive, at present at least, no excuse; and some such we suppose to have been the purport of my Lord of Sussex's message."
This was uttered in a tone and with a gesture which made Lord Sussex's friends who were within hearing tremble. He to whom the speech was addressed, however, trembled not; but with great deference and humility, as soon as the Queen's passion gave him an opportunity, he replied, "So please your most gracious Majesty, I was charged with no apology from the Earl of Sussex."
"With what were you then charged, sir?" said the Queen, with the impetuosity which, amid nobler qualities, strongly marked her character. "Was it with a justification?--or, God's death! with a defiance?"
"Madam," said the young man, "my Lord of Sussex knew the offence approached towards treason, and could think of nothing save of securing the offender, and placing him in your Majesty's hands, and at your mercy. The noble Earl was fast asleep when your most gracious message reached him, a potion having been administered to that purpose by his physician; and his Lordship knew not of the ungracious repulse your Majesty's royal and most comfortable message had received, until after he awoke this morning."
"And which of his domestics, then, in the name of Heaven, presumed to reject my message, without even admitting my own physician to the presence of him whom I sent him to attend?" said the Queen, much surprised.
"The offender, madam, is before you," replied Walter, bowing very low; "the full and sole blame is mine; and my lord has most justly sent me to abye the consequences of a fault, of which he is as innocent as a sleeping man's dreams can be of a waking man's actions."
"What! was it thou?--thou thyself, that repelled my messenger and my physician from Sayes Court?" said the Queen. "What could occasion such boldness in one who seems devoted--that is, whose exterior bearing shows devotion--to his Sovereign?"
"Madam," said the youth--who, notwithstanding an assumed appearance of severity, thought that he saw something in the Queen's face that resembled not implacability-"we say in our country, that the physician is for the time the liege sovereign of his patient. Now, my noble master was then under dominion of a leech, by whose advice he hath greatly profited, who had issued his commands that his patient should not that night be disturbed, on the very peril of his life.""Thy master hath trusted some false varlet of an empiric," said the Queen. "I know not, madam, but by the fact that he is now--this very morning--awakened much refreshed and strengthened from the only sleep he hath had for many hours."
The nobles looked at each other, but more with the purpose to see what each thought of this news, than to exchange any remarks on what had happened. The Queen answered hastily, and without affecting to disguise her satisfaction, "By my word, I am glad he is better. But thou wert over-bold to deny the access of my Doctor Masters. Knowest thou not the Holy Writ saith, 'In the multitude of counsel there is safety'?""Ay, madam," said Walter; "but I have heard learned men say that the safety spoken of is for the physicians, not for the patient."
"By my faith, child, thou hast pushed me home," said the Queen, laughing; "for my Hebrew learning does not come quite at a call. --How say you, my Lord of Lincoln? Hath the lad given a just interpretation of the text?"
"The word SAFETY, most gracious madam," said the Bishop of Lincoln, "for so hath been translated, it may be somewhat hastily, the Hebrew word, being--"
"They hear farther than you think of," said the Queen graciously, "and have heard of a youth who defended a ford in Shannon against a whole band of wild Irish rebels, until the stream ran purple with their blood and his own.""Some blood I may have lost," said the youth, looking down, "but it was where my best is due, and that is in your Majesty's service."
The Queen paused, and then said hastily, "You are very young to have fought so well, and to speak so well. But you must not escape your penance for turning back Masters. The poor man hath caught cold on the river for our order reached him when he was just returned from certain visits in London, and he held it matter of loyalty and conscience instantly to set forth again. So hark ye, Master Raleigh, see thou fail not to wear thy muddy cloak, in token of penitence, till our pleasure be further known. And here," she added, giving him a jewel of gold, in the form of a chess-man, "I give thee this to wear at the collar."
Raleigh, to whom nature had taught intuitively, as it were, those courtly arts which many scarce acquire from long experience, knelt, and, as he took from her hand the jewel, kissed the fingers which gave it. He knew, perhaps, better than almost any of the courtiers who surrounded her, how to mingle the devotion claimed by the Queen with the gallantry due to her personal beauty; and in this, his first attempt to unite them, he succeeded so well as at once to gratify Elizabeth's personal vanity and her love of power. [See Note 5. Court favour of Sir Walter Raleigh.]His master, the Earl of Sussex, had the full advantage of the satisfaction which Raleigh had afforded Elizabeth, on their first interview.
"My lords and ladies," said the Queen, looking around to the retinue by whom she was attended, "methinks, since we are upon the river, it were well to renounce our present purpose of going to the city, and surprise this poor Earl of Sussex with a visit. He is ill, and suffering doubtless under the fear of our displeasure, from which he hath been honestly cleared by the frank avowal of this malapert boy. What think ye? were it not an act of charity to give him such consolation as the thanks of a Queen, much bound to him for his loyal service, may perchance best minister?"It may be readily supposed that none to whom this speech was addressed ventured to oppose its purport.
"Your Grace," said the Bishop of Lincoln, "is the breath of our nostrils." The men of war averred that the face of the Sovereign was a whetstone to the soldier's sword; while the men of state were not less of opinion that the light of the Queen's countenance was a lamp to the paths of her councillors; and the ladies agreed, with one voice, that no noble in England so well deserved the regard of England's Royal Mistress as the Earl of Sussex--the Earl of Leicester's right being reserved entire, so some of the more politic worded their assent, an exception to which Elizabeth paid no apparent attention. The barge had, therefore, orders to deposit its royal freight at Deptford, at the nearest and most convenient point of communication with Sayes Court, in order that the Queen might satisfy her royal and maternal solicitude, by making personal inquiries after the health of the Earl of Sussex.
Raleigh, whose acute spirit foresaw and anticipated important consequences from the most trifling events, hastened to ask the Queen's permission to go in the skiff; and announce the royal visit to his master; ingeniously suggesting that the joyful surprise might prove prejudicial to his health, since the richest and most generous cordials may sometimes be fatal to those who have been long in a languishing state.
But whether the Queen deemed it too presumptuous in so young a courtier to interpose his opinion unasked, or whether she was moved by a recurrence of the feeling of jealousy which had been instilled into her by reports that the Earl kept armed men about his person, she desired Raleigh, sharply, to reserve his counsel till it was required of him, and repeated her former orders to be landed at Deptford, adding, "We will ourselves see what sort of household my Lord of Sussex keeps about him."
"Now the Lord have pity on us!" said the young courtier to himself. "Good hearts, the Earl hath many a one round him; but good heads are scarce with us--and he himself is too ill to give direction. And Blount will be at his morning meal of Yarmouth herrings and ale, and Tracy will have his beastly black puddings and Rhenish; those thorough-paced Welshmen, Thomas ap Rice and Evan Evans, will be at work on their leek porridge and toasted cheese;--and she detests, they say, all coarse meats, evil smells, and strong wines. Could they but think of burning some rosemary in the great hall! but VOGUE LA GALERE, all must now be trusted to chance. Luck hath done indifferent well for me this morning; for I trust I have spoiled a cloak, and made a court fortune. May she do as much for my gallant patron!"
The royal barge soon stopped at Deptford, and, amid the loud shouts of the populace, which her presence never failed to excite, the Queen, with a canopy borne over her head, walked, accompanied by her retinue, towards Sayes Court, where the distant acclamations of the people gave the first notice of her arrival. Sussex, who was in the act of advising with Tressilian how he should make up the supposed breach in the Queen's favour, was infinitely surprised at learning her immediate approach. Not that the Queen's custom of visiting her more distinguished nobility, whether in health or sickness, could be unknown to him; but the suddenness of the communication left no time for those preparations with which he well knew Elizabeth loved to be greeted, and the rudeness and confusion of his military household, much increased by his late illness, rendered him altogether unprepared for her reception.
Cursing internally the chance which thus brought her gracious visitation on him unaware, he hastened down with Tressilian, to whose eventful and interesting story he had just given an attentive ear.
"My worthy friend," he said, "such support as I can give your accusation of Varney, you have a right to expect, alike from justice and gratitude. Chance will presently show whether I can do aught with our Sovereign, or whether, in very deed, my meddling in your affair may not rather prejudice than serve you."
Thus spoke Sussex while hastily casting around him a loose robe of sables, and adjusting his person in the best manner he could to meet the eye of his Sovereign. But no hurried attention bestowed on his apparel could remove the ghastly effects of long illness on a countenance which nature had marked with features rather strong than pleasing. Besides, he was low of stature, and, though broad-shouldered, athletic, and fit for martial achievements, his presence in a peaceful hall was not such as ladies love to look upon; a personal disadvantage, which was supposed to give Sussex, though esteemed and honoured by his Sovereign, considerable disadvantage when compared with Leicester, who was alike remarkable for elegance of manners and for beauty of person.
The Earl's utmost dispatch only enabled him to meet the Queen as she entered the great hall, and he at once perceived there was a cloud on her brow. Her jealous eye had noticed the martial array of armed gentlemen and retainers with which the mansionhouse was filled, and her first words expressed her disapprobation. "Is this a royal garrison, my Lord of Sussex, that it holds so many pikes and calivers? or have we by accident overshot Sayes Court, and landed at Our Tower of London?"Lord Sussex hastened to offer some apology.
"It needs not," she said. "My lord, we intend speedily to take up a certain quarrel between your lordship and another great lord of our household, and at the same time to reprehend this uncivilized and dangerous practice of surrounding yourselves with armed, and even with ruffianly followers, as if, in the neighbourhood of our capital, nay in the very verge of our royal residence, you were preparing to wage civil war with each other. --We are glad to see you so well recovered, my lord, though without the assistance of the learned physician whom we sent to you. Urge no excuse; we know how that matter fell out, and we have corrected for it the wild slip, young Raleigh. By the way, my lord, we will speedily relieve your household of him, and take him into our own. Something there is about him which merits to be better nurtured than he is like to be amongst your very military followers."
To this proposal Sussex, though scarce understanding how the Queen came to make it could only bow and express his acquiescence. He then entreated her to remain till refreshment could be offered, but in this he could not prevail. And after a few compliments of a much colder and more commonplace character than might have been expected from a step so decidedly favourable as a personal visit, the Queen took her leave of Sayes Court, having brought confusion thither along with her, and leaving doubt and apprehension behind.
Then call them to our presence. Face to face, And frowning brow to brow, ourselves will hear The accuser and accused freely speak;-- High-stomach'd are they both, and full of ire, In rage deaf as the sea, hasty as fire. RICHARD II.
"I am ordered to attend court to-morrow," said Leicester, speaking to Varney, "to meet, as they surmise, my Lord of Sussex. The Queen intends to take up matters betwixt us. This comes of her visit to Sayes Court, of which you must needs speak so lightly."
"I maintain it was nothing," said Varney; "nay, I know from a sure intelligencer, who was within earshot of much that was said, that Sussex has lost rather than gained by that visit. The Queen said, when she stepped into the boat, that Sayes Court looked like a guard-house, and smelt like an hospital. 'Like a cook's shop in Ram's Alley, rather,' said the Countess of Rutland, who is ever your lordship's good friend. And then my Lord of Lincoln must needs put in his holy oar, and say that my Lord of Sussex must be excused for his rude and old-world housekeeping, since he had as yet no wife.""And what said the Queen?" asked Leicester hastily.
"She took him up roundly," said Varney, "and asked what my Lord Sussex had to do with a wife, or my Lord Bishop to speak on such a subject. 'If marriage is permitted,' she said, 'I nowhere read that it is enjoined.'""She likes not marriages, or speech of marriage, among churchmen," said Leicester.
"Nor among courtiers neither," said Varney; but, observing that Leicester changed countenance, he instantly added, "that all the ladies who were present had joined in ridiculing Lord Sussex's housekeeping, and in contrasting it with the reception her Grace would have assuredly received at my Lord of Leicester's."
"You have gathered much tidings," said Leicester, "but you have forgotten or omitted the most important of all. She hath added another to those dangling satellites whom it is her pleasure to keep revolving around her.""Your lordship meaneth that Raleigh, the Devonshire youth," said Varney--"the Knight of the Cloak, as they call him at court?"
"He may be Knight of the Garter one day, for aught I know," said Leicester, "for he advances rapidly--she hath capped verses with him, and such fooleries. I would gladly abandon, of my own free will, the part--I have in her fickle favour; but I will not be elbowed out of it by the clown Sussex, or this new upstart. I hear Tressilian is with Sussex also, and high in his favour. I would spare him for considerations, but he will thrust himself on his fate. Sussex, too, is almost as well as ever in his health."
"My lord," replied Varney, "there will be rubs in the smoothest road, specially when it leads uphill. Sussex's illness was to us a godsend, from which I hoped much. He has recovered, indeed, but he is not now more formidable than ere he fell ill, when he received more than one foil in wrestling with your lordship. Let not your heart fail you, my lord, and all shall be well.""My heart never failed me, sir," replied Leicester. "No, my lord," said Varney; "but it has betrayed you right often. He that would climb a tree, my lord, must grasp by the branches, not by the blossom."
"Well, well, well!" said Leicester impatiently; "I understand thy meaning--my heart shall neither fail me nor seduce me. Have my retinue in order--see that their array be so splendid as to put down, not only the rude companions of Ratcliffe, but the retainers of every other nobleman and courtier. Let them be well armed withal, but without any outward display of their weapons, wearing them as if more for fashion's sake than for use. Do thou thyself keep close to me, I may have business for you."The preparations of Sussex and his party were not less anxious than those of Leicester.
"Thy Supplication, impeaching Varney of seduction," said the Earl to Tressilian, "is by this time in the Queen's hand--I have sent it through a sure channel. Methinks your suit should succeed, being, as it is, founded in justice and honour, and Elizabeth being the very muster of both. But--I wot not how--the gipsy" (so Sussex was wont to call his rival on account of his dark complexion) "hath much to say with her in these holyday times of peace. Were war at the gates, I should be one of her white boys; but soldiers, like their bucklers and Bilboa blades, get out of fashion in peace time, and satin sleeves and walking rapiers bear the bell. Well, we must be gay, since such is the fashion.-- Blount, hast thou seen our household put into their new braveries? "But thou knowest as little of these toys as I do; thou wouldst be ready enow at disposing a stand of pikes."
"My good lord," answered Blount, "Raleigh hath been here, and taken that charge upon him--your train will glitter like a May morning. Marry, the cost is another question. One might keep an hospital of old soldiers at the charge of ten modern lackeys."
"He must not count cost to-day, Nicholas," said the Earl in reply. "I am beholden to Raleigh for his care. I trust, though, he has remembered that I am an old soldier, and would have no more of these follies than needs must."
"Nay, I understand nought about it," said Blount; "but here are your honourable lordship's brave kinsmen and friends coming in by scores to wait upon you to court, where, methinks, we shall bear as brave a front as Leicester, let him ruffle it as he will." "Give them the strictest charges," said Sussex, "that they suffer no provocation short of actual violence to provoke them into quarrel. They have hot bloods, and I would not give Leicester the advantage over me by any imprudence of theirs."
The Earl of Sussex ran so hastily through these directions, that it was with difficulty Tressilian at length found opportunity to express his surprise that he should have proceeded so far in the affair of Sir Hugh Robsart as to lay his petition at once before the Queen. "It was the opinion of the young lady's friends," he said, "that Leicester's sense of justice should be first appealed to, as the offence had been committed by his officer, and so he had expressly told to Sussex."
"This could have been done without applying to me," said Sussex, somewhat haughtily. "I at least, ought not to have been a counsellor when the object was a humiliating reference to Leicester; and I am suprised that you, Tressilian, a man of honour, and my friend, would assume such a mean course. If you said so, I certainly understood you not in a matter which sounded so unlike yourself.""My lord," said Tressilian, "the course I would prefer, for my own sake, is that you have adopted; but the friends of this most unhappy lady--"
"Oh, the friends--the friends," said Sussex, interrupting him; "they must let us manage this cause in the way which seems best. This is the time and the hour to accumulate every charge against Leicester and his household, and yours the Queen will hold a heavy one. But at all events she hath the complaint before her."
Tressilian could not help suspecting that, in his eagerness to strengthen himself against his rival, Sussex had purposely adopted the course most likely to throw odium on Leicester, without considering minutely whether it were the mode of proceeding most likely to be attended with success. But the step was irrevocable, and Sussex escaped from further discussing it by dismissing his company, with the command, "Let all be in order at eleven o'clock; I must be at court and in the presence by high noon precisely."
While the rival statesmen were thus anxiously preparing for their approaching meeting in the Queen's presence, even Elizabeth herself was not without apprehension of what might chance from the collision of two such fiery spirits, each backed by a strong and numerous body of followers, and dividing betwixt them, either openly or in secret, the hopes and wishes of most of her court. The band of Gentlemen Pensioners were all under arms, and a reinforcement of the yeomen of the guard was brought down the Thames from London. A royal proclamation was sent forth, strictly prohibiting nobles of whatever degree to approach the Palace with retainers or followers armed with shot or with long weapons; and it was even whispered that the High Sheriff of Kent had secret instructions to have a part of the array of the county ready on the shortest notice.
The eventful hour, thus anxiously prepared for on all sides, at length approached, and, each followed by his long and glittering train of friends and followers, the rival Earls entered the Palace Yard of Greenwich at noon precisely.
As if by previous arrangement, or perhaps by intimation that such was the Queen's pleasure, Sussex and his retinue came to the Palace from Deptford by water while Leicester arrived by land; and thus they entered the courtyard from opposite sides. This trifling circumstance gave Leicester a ascendency in the opinion of the vulgar, the appearance of his cavalcade of mounted followers showing more numerous and more imposing than those of Sussex's party, who were necessarily upon foot. No show or sign of greeting passed between the Earls, though each looked full at the other, both expecting perhaps an exchange of courtesies, which neither was willing to commence. Almost in the minute of their arrival the castle-bell tolled, the gates of the Palace were opened, and the Earls entered, each numerously attended by such gentlemen of their train whose rank gave them that privilege. The yeomen and inferior attendants remained in the courtyard, where the opposite parties eyed each other with looks of eager hatred and scorn, as if waiting with impatience for some cause of tumult, or some apology for mutual aggression. But they were restrained by the strict commands of their leaders, and overawed, perhaps, by the presence of an armed guard of unusual strength.
In the meanwhile, the more distinguished persons of each train followed their patrons into the lofty halls and ante-chambers of the royal Palace, flowing on in the same current, like two streams which are compelled into the same channel, yet shun to mix their waters. The parties arranged themselves, as it were instinctively, on the different sides of the lofty apartments, and seemed eager to escape from the transient union which the narrowness of the crowded entrance had for an instant compelled them to submit to. The folding doors at the upper end of the long gallery were immediately afterwards opened, and it was announced in a whisper that the Queen was in her presence- chamber, to which these gave access. Both Earls moved slowly and stately towards the entrance--Sussex followed by Tressilian, Blount, and Raleigh, and Leicester by Varney. The pride of Leicester was obliged to give way to court-forms, and with a grave and formal inclination of the head, he paused until his rival, a peer of older creation than his own, passed before him. Sussex returned the reverence with the same formal civility, and entered the presence-room. Tressilian and Blount offered to follow him, but were not permitted, the Usher of the Black Rod alleging in excuse that he had precise orders to look to all admissions that day. To Raleigh, who stood back on the repulse of his companions, he said, "You, sir, may enter," and he entered accordingly.
"Follow me close, Varney," said the Earl of Leicester, who had stood aloof for a moment to mark the reception of Sussex; and advancing to the entrance, he was about to pass on, when Varney, who was close behind him, dressed out in the utmost bravery of the day, was stopped by the usher, as Tressilian and Blount had been before him, "How is this, Master Bowyer?" said the Earl of Leicester. "Know you who I am, and that this is my friend and follower?"
"Your lordship will pardon me," replied Bowyer stoutly; "my orders are precise, and limit me to a strict discharge of my duty."
"Thou art a partial knave," said Leicester, the blood mounting to his face, "to do me this dishonour, when you but now admitted a follower of my Lord of Sussex."
This threat he uttered aloud, with less than his usual policy and discretion; and having done so, he entered the presence-chamber, and made his reverence to the Queen, who, attired with even more than her usual splendour, and surrounded by those nobles and statesmen whose courage and wisdom have rendered her reign immortal, stood ready to receive the hommage of her subjects. She graciously returned the obeisance of the favourite Earl, and looked alternately at him and at Sussex, as if about to speak, when Bowyer, a man whose spirit could not brook the insult he had so openly received from Leicester, in the discharge of his office, advanced with his black rad in his hand, and knelt down before her."Why, how now, Bowyer?" said Elizabeth, "thy courtesy seems strangely timed!"
"My Liege Sovereign," he said, while every courtier around trembled at his audacity, "I come but to ask whether, in the discharge of mine office, I am to obey your Highness's commands, or those of the Earl of Leicester, who has publicly menaced me with his displeasure, and treated me with disparaging terms, because I denied entry to one of his followers, in obedience to your Grace's precise orders?"The spirit of Henry VIII. was instantly aroused in the bosom of his daughter, and she turned on Leicester with a severity which appalled him, as well as all his followers.
"God's death! my lord." such was her emphatic phrase, "what means this? We have thought well of you, and brought you near to our person; but it was not that you might hide the sun from our other faithful subjects. Who gave you license to contradict our orders, or control our officers? I will have in this court, ay, and in this realm, but one mistress, and no master. Look to it that Master Bowyer sustains no harm for his duty to me faithfully discharged; for, as I am Christian woman and crowned Queen, I will hold you dearly answerable.--Go, Bowyer, you have done the part of an honest man and a true subject. We will brook no mayor of the palace here.
Bowyer kissed the hand which she extended towards him, and withdrew to his post! astonished at the success of his own audacity. A smile of triumph pervaded the faction of Sussex; that of Leicester seemed proportionally dismayed, and the favourite himself, assuming an aspect of the deepest humility, did not even attempt a word in his own esculpation.
He acted wisely; for it was the policy of Elizabeth to humble, not to disgrace him, and it was prudent to suffer her, without opposition or reply, to glory in the exertion of her authority. The dignity of the Queen was gratified, and the woman began soon to feel for the mortification which she had imposed on her favourite. Her keen eye also observed the secret looks of congratulation exchanged amongst those who favoured Sussex, and it was no part of her policy to give either party a decisive triumph.
"What I say to my Lord of Leicester," she said, after a moment's pause, "I say also to you, my Lord of Sussex. You also must needs ruffle in the court of England, at the head of a faction of your own?"
"My followers, gracious Princess," said Sussex, "have indeed ruffled in your cause in Ireland, in Scotland, and against yonder rebellious Earls in the north. I am ignorant that
"Do you bandy looks and words with me, my lord?" said the Queen, interrupting him; "methinks you might learn of my Lord of Leicester the modesty to be silent, at least, under our censure. I say, my lord, that my grandfather and my father, in their wisdom, debarred the nobles of this civilized land from travelling with such disorderly retinues; and think you, that because I wear a coif, their sceptre has in my hand been changed into a distaff? I tell you, no king in Christendom will less brook his court to be cumbered, his people oppressed, and his kingdom's peace disturbed, by the arrogance of overgrown power, than she who now speaks with you.--My Lord of Leicester, and you, my Lord of Sussex, I command you both to be friends with each other; or by the crown I wear, you shall find an enemy who will be too strong for both of you!"
"Madam," said the Earl of Leicester, "you who are yourself the fountain of honour know best what is due to mine. I place it at your disposal, and only say that the terms on which I have stood with my Lord of Sussex have not been of my seeking; nor had he cause to think me his enemy, until he had done me gross wrong."
"For me, madam," said the Earl of Sussex, "I cannot appeal from your sovereign pleasure; but I were well content my Lord of Leicester should say in what I have, as he terms it, wronged him, since my tongue never spoke the word that I would not willingly justify either on foot or horseback.
"And for me," said Leicester, "always under my gracious Sovereign's pleasure, my hand shall be as ready to make good my words as that of any man who ever wrote himself Ratcliffe."
"My lords," said the Queen, "these are no terms for this presence; and if you cannot keep your temper, we will find means to keep both that and you close enough. Let me see you join hands, my lords, and forget your idle animosities."The two rivals looked at each other with reluctant eyes, each unwilling to make the first advance to execute the Queen's will. "Sussex," said Elizabeth,"I entreat--Leicester, I command you."
Yet, so were her words accented, that the entreaty sounded like command, and the command like entreaty. They remained still and stubborn, until she raised her voice to a height which argued at once impatience and absolute command.
"Sir Henry Lee," she said, to an officer in attendance, "have a guard in present readiness, and man a barge instantly.--My Lords of Sussex and Leicester, I bid you once more to join hands; and, God's death! he that refuses shall taste of our Tower fare ere he sees our face again. I will lower your proud hearts ere we part, and that I promise, on the word of a Queen!""The prison?" said Leicester, "might be borne, but to lose your Grace's presence were to lose light and life at once.--Here, Sussex, is my hand." "And here," said Sussex, "is mine in truth and honesty; but--"
"Nay, under favour, you shall add no more," said the Queen. "Why, this is as it should be," she added, looking on them more favourably; "and when you the shepherds of the people, unite to protect them, it shall be well with the flock we rule over. For, my lords, I tell you plainly, your follies and your brawls lead to strange disorders among your servants.--My Lord of Leicester, you have a gentleman in your household called Varney?""Yes, gracious madam," replied Leicester; "I presented him to kiss your royal hand when you were last at Nonsuch."
"His outside was well enough," said the Queen, "but scarce so fair, I should have thought, as to have caused a maiden of honourable birth and hopes to barter her fame for his good looks, and become his paramour. Yet so it is; this fellow of yours hath seduced the daughter of a good old Devonshire knight, Sir Hugh Robsart of Lidcote Hall, and she hath fled with him from her father's house like a castaway.--My Lord of Leicester, are you ill, that you look so deadly pale?""No, gracious madam," said Leicester; and it required every effort he could make to bring forth these few words.
"You are surely ill, my lord?" said Elizabeth, going towards him with hasty speech and hurried step, which indicated the deepest concern. "Call Masters--call our surgeon in ordinary.--Where be these loitering fools?--we lose the pride of our court through their negligence.--Or is it possible, Leicester," she continued, looking on him with a very gentle aspect, "can fear of my displeasure have wrought so deeply on thee? Doubt not for a moment, noble Dudley, that we could blame THEE for the folly of thy retainer-thee, whose thoughts we know to be far otherwise employed. He that would climb the eagle's nest, my lord, cares not who are catching linnets at the foot of the precipice." "Mark you that?" said Sussex aside to Raleigh. "The devil aids him surely; for all that would sink another ten fathom deep seems but to make him float the more easily. Had a follower of mine acted thus--""Peace, my good lord," said Raleigh, "for God's sake, peace! Wait the change of the tide; it is even now on the turn."
The acute observation of Raleigh, perhaps, did not deceive him; for Leicester's confusion was so great, and, indeed, for the moment, so irresistibly overwhelming, that Elizabeth, after looking at him with a wondering eye, and receiving no intelligible answer to the unusual expressions of grace and affection which had escaped from her, shot her quick glance around the circle of courtiers, and reading, perhaps, in their faces something that accorded with her own awakened suspicions, she said suddenly, "Or is there more in this than we see--or than you, my lord, wish that we should see? Where is this Varney? Who saw him?""An it please your Grace," said Bowyer, "it is the same against whom I this instant closed the door of the presence-room."
"An it please me?" repeated Elizabeth sharply, not at that moment in the humour of being pleased with anything.--"It does NOT please me that he should pass saucily into my presence, or that you should exclude from it one who came to justify himself from an accusation.""May it please you," answered the perplexed usher, "if I knew, in such case, how to bear myself, I would take heed--"
"You should have reported the fellow's desire to us, Master Usher, and taken our directions. You think yourself a great man, because but now we chid a nobleman on your account; yet, after all, we hold you but as the lead-weight that keeps the door fast. Call this Varney hither instantly. There is one Tressilian also mentioned in this petition. Let them both come before us."
She was obeyed, and Tressilian and Varney appeared accordingly. Varney's first glance was at Leicester, his second at the Queen. In the looks of the latter there appeared an approaching storm, and in the downcast countenance of his patron he could read no directions in what way he was to trim his vessel for the encounter. He then saw Tressilian, and at once perceived the peril of the situation in which he was placed. But Varney was as bold-faced and ready-witted as he was cunning and unscrupulous--a skilful pilot in extremity, and fully conscious of the advantages which he would obtain could he extricate Leicester from his present peril, and of the ruin that yawned for himself should he fail in doing so.
"Is it true, sirrah," said the Queen, with one of those searching looks which few had the audacity to resist, "that you have seduced to infamy a young lady of birth and breeding, the daughter of Sir Hugh Robsart of Lidcote Hall?"
Varney kneeled down, and replied, with a look of the most profound contrition, "There had been some love passages betwixt him and Mistress Amy Robsart."
Leicester's flesh quivered with indignation as he heard his dependant make this avowal, and for one moment he manned himself to step forward, and, bidding farewell to the court and the royal favour, confess the whole mystery of the secret marriage. But he looked at Sussex, and the idea of the triumphant smile which would clothe his cheek upon hearing the avowal sealed his lips. "Not now, at least," he thought, "or in this presence, will I afford him so rich a triumph." And pressing his lips close together, he stood firm and collected, attentive to each word which Varney uttered, and determined to hide to the last the secret on which his court-favour seemed to depend. Meanwhile, the Queen proceeded in her examination of Varney.
"Love passages!" said she, echoing his last words; "what passages, thou knave? and why not ask the wench's hand from her father, if thou hadst any honesty in thy love for her?"
"An it please your Grace," said Varney, still on his knees, "I dared not do so, for her father had promised her hand to a gentleman of birth and honour--I will do him justice, though I know he bears me ill-will--one Master Edmund Tressilian, whom I now see in the presence."
"Soh!" replied the Queen. "And what was your right to make the simple fool break her worthy father's contract, through your love PASSAGES, as your conceit and assurance terms them?"
"Madam," replied Varney, "it is in vain to plead the cause of human frailty before a judge to whom it is unknown, or that of love to one who never yields to the passion"--he paused an instant, and then added, in a very low and timid tone--"which she inflicts upon all others."Elizabeth tried to frown, but smiled in her own despite, as she answered, "Thou art a marvellously impudent knave. Art thou married to the girl?"
Leicester's feelings became so complicated and so painfully intense, that it seemed to him as if his life was to depend on the answer made by Varney, who, after a moment's real hesitation, answered, "Yes.""Thou false villain!" said Leicester, bursting forth into rage, yet unable to add another word to the sentence which he had begun with such emphatic passion.
"Nay, my lord," said the Queen, "we will, by your leave, stand between this fellow and your anger. We have not yet done with him.--Knew your master, my Lord of Leicester, of this fair work of yours? Speak truth, I command thee, and I will be thy warrant from danger on every quarter."
"Gracious madam," said Varney, "to speak Heaven's truth, my lord was the cause of the whole matter."
"They are omnipotent, gracious madam," replied Varney; "and to you there can be no secrets.--Yet I would not," he added, looking around him, "speak of my master's concerns to other ears."
"Fall back, my lords," said the Queen to those who surrounded her, "and do you speak on. What hath the Earl to do with this guilty intrigue of thine? See, fellow, that thou beliest him not!"
"Far be it from me to traduce my noble patron," replied Varney; "yet I am compelled to own that some deep, overwhelming, yet secret feeling hath of late dwelt in my lord's mind, hath abstracted him from the cares of the household which he was wont to govern with such religious strictness, and hath left us opportunities to do follies, of which the shame, as in this case, partly falls upon our patron. Without this, I had not had means or leisure to commit the folly which has drawn on me his displeasure--the heaviest to endure by me which I could by any means incur, saving always the yet more dreaded resentment of your Grace.""And in this sense, and no other, hath he been accessory to thy fault?" said Elizabeth.
"Surely, madam, in no other," replied Varney; "but since somewhat hath chanced to him, he can scarce be called his own man. Look at him, madam, how pale and trembling he stands! how unlike his usual majesty of manner!--yet what has he to fear from aught I can say to your Highness? Ah! madam, since he received that fatal packet!""What packet, and from whence?" said the Queen eagerly.
"From whence, madam, I cannot guess; but I am so near to his person that I know he has ever since worn, suspended around his neck and next to his heart, that lock of hair which sustains a small golden jewel shaped like a heart. He speaks to it when alone--he parts not from it when he sleeps--no heathen ever worshipped an idol with such devotion."
"Thou art a prying knave to watch thy master so closely," said Elizabeth, blushing, but not with anger; "and a tattling knave to tell over again his fooleries.--What colour might the braid of hair be that thou pratest of?"
Varney replied, "A poet, madam, might call it a thread from the golden web wrought by Minerva; but to my thinking it was paler than even the purest gold--more like the last parting sunbeam of the softest day of spring."
"Why, you are a poet yourself, Master Varney," said the Queen, smiling. "But I have not genius quick enough to follow your rare metaphors. Look round these ladies--is there"-(she hesitated, and endeavoured to assume an air of great indifference)--"is there here, in this presence, any lady, the colour of whose hair reminds thee of that braid? Methinks, without prying into my Lord of Leicester's amorous secrets, I would fain know what kind of locks are like the thread of Minerva's web, or the--what was it?--the last rays of the May-day sun."
Varney looked round the presence-chamber, his eye travelling from one lady to another, until at length it rested upon the Queen herself, but with an aspect of the deepest veneration. "I see no tresses," he said, "in this presence, worthy of such similies, unless where I dare not look on them.""How, sir knave?" said the Queen; "dare you intimate--" "Nay, madam," replied Varney, shading his eyes with his hand, "it was the beams of the May-day sun that dazzled my weak eyes." "Go to--go to," said the Queen; "thou art a foolish fellow"--and turning quickly from him she walked up to Leicester.
Intense curiosity, mingled with all the various hopes, fears, and passions which influence court faction, had occupied the presence-chamber during the Queen's conference with Varney, as if with the strength of an Eastern talisman. Men suspended every, even the slightest external motion, and would have ceased to breathe, had Nature permitted such an intermission of her functions. The atmosphere was contagious, and Leicester, who saw all around wishing or fearing his advancement or his fall forgot all that love had previously dictated, and saw nothing for the instant but the favour or disgrace which depended on the nod of Elizabeth and the fidelity of Varney. He summoned himself hastily, and prepared to play his part in the scene which was like to ensue, when, as he judged from the glances which the Queen threw towards him, Varney's communications, be they what they might, were operating in his favour. Elizabeth did not long leave him in doubt; for the more than favour with which she accosted him decided his triumph in the eyes of his rival, and of the assembled court of England. "Thou hast a prating servant of this same Varney, my lord," she said; "it is lucky you trust him with nothing that can hurt you in our opinion, for believe me, he would keep no counsel."
"From your Highness," said Leicester, dropping gracefully on one knee, "it were treason he should. I would that my heart itself lay before you, barer than the tongue of any servant could strip it."
"What, my lord," said Elizabeth, looking kindly upon him, "is there no one little corner over which you would wish to spread a veil? Ah! I see you are confused at the question, and your Queen knows she should not look too deeply into her servants' motives for their faithful duty, lest she see what might, or at least ought to, displease her."
Relieved by these last words, Leicester broke out into a torrent of expressions of deep and passionate attachment, which perhaps, at that moment, were not altogether fictitious. The mingled emotions which had at first overcome him had now given way to the energetic vigour with which he had determined to support his place in the Queen's favour; and never did he seem to Elizabeth more eloquent, more handsome, more interesting, than while, kneeling at her feet, he conjured her to strip him of all his dower, but to leave him the name of her servant.--"Take from the poor Dudley," he exclaimed, "all that your bounty has made him, and bid him be the poor gentleman he was when your Grace first shone on him; leave him no more than his cloak and his sword, but let him still boast he has--what in word or deed he never forfeited--the regard of his adored Queen and mistress!"
"No, Dudley!" said Elizabeth, raising him with one hand, while she extended the other that he might kiss it. "Elizabeth hath not forgotten that, whilst you were a poor gentleman, despoiled of your hereditary rank, she was as poor a princess, and that in her cause you then ventured all that oppression had left you-- your life and honour. Rise, my lord, and let my hand go--rise, and be what you have ever been, the grace of our court and the support of our throne! Your mistress may be forced to chide your misdemeanours, but never without owning your merits.--And so help me God," she added, turning to the audience, who, with various feelings, witnessed this interesting scene--"so help me God, gentlemen, as I think never sovereign had a truer servant than I have in this noble Earl!"
A murmur of assent rose from the Leicestrian faction, which the friends of Sussex dared not oppose. They remained with their eyes fixed on the ground, dismayed as well as mortified by the public and absolute triumph of their opponents. Leicester's first use of the familiarity to which the Queen had so publicly restored him was to ask her commands concerning Varney's offence. "although," he said, "the fellow deserves nothing from me but displeasure, yet, might I presume to intercede--"
"In truth, we had forgotten his matter," said the Queen; "and it was ill done of us, who owe justice to our meanest as well as to our highest subject. We are pleased, my lord, that you were the first to recall the matter to our memory.--Where is Tressilian, the accuser?--let him come before us."
Tressilian appeared, and made a low and beseeming reference. His person, as we have elsewhere observed, had an air of grace and even of nobleness, which did not escape Queen Elizabeth's critical observation. She looked at him with, attention as he stood before her unabashed, but with an air of the deepest dejection.
"I cannot but grieve for this gentleman," she said to Leicester. "I have inquired concerning him, and his presence confirms what I heard, that he is a scholar and a soldier, well accomplished both in arts and arms. We women, my lord, are fanciful in our choice --I had said now, to judge by the eye, there was no comparison to be held betwixt your follower and this gentleman. But Varney is a well-spoken fellow, and, to say truth, that goes far with us of the weaker sex.--look you, Master Tressilian, a bolt lost is not a bow broken. Your true affection, as I will hold it to be, hath been, it seems, but ill requited; but you have scholarship, and you know there have been false Cressidas to be found, from the Trojan war downwards. Forget, good sir, this Lady Light o' Love -teach your affection to see with a wiser eye. This we say to you, more from the writings of learned men than our own knowledge, being, as we are, far removed by station and will from the enlargement of experience in such idle toys of humorous passion. For this dame's father, we can make his grief the less by advancing his son-in-law to such station as may enable him to give an honourable support to his bride. Thou shalt not be forgotten thyself, Tressilian--follow our court, and thou shalt see that a true Troilus hath some claim on our grace. Think of what that arch-knave Shakespeare says--a plague on him, his toys come into my head when I should think of other matters. Stay, how goes it?
'Cressid was yours, tied with the bonds of heaven; These bonds of heaven are slipt, dissolved, and loosed, And with another knot five fingers tied,
The fragments of her faith are bound to Diomed.'
And as Tressilian kept the posture of one who would willingly be heard, though, at the same time, expressive of the deepest reverence, the Queen added with some impatience, "What would the man have? The wench cannot wed both of you? She has made her election--not a wise one perchance--but she is Varney's wedded wife.""My suit should sleep there, most gracious Sovereign," said Tressilian, "and with my suit my revenge. But I hold this Varney's word no good warrant for the truth." "Had that doubt been elsewhere urged," answered Varney, "my sword--" "THY sword!" interrupted Tressilian scornfully; "with her Grace's leave, my sword shall show--"
"Peace, you knaves, both!" said the Queen; "know you where you are?--This comes of your feuds, my lords," she added, looking towards Leicester and Sussex; "your followers catch your own humour, and must bandy and brawl in my court and in my very presence, like so many Matamoros.--Look you, sirs, he that speaks of drawing swords in any other quarrel than mine or England's, by mine honour, I'll bracelet him with iron both on wrist and ankle!" She then paused a minute, and resumed in a milder tone, "I must do justice betwixt the bold and mutinous knaves notwithstanding.--My Lord of Leicester, will you warrant with your honour--that is, to the best of your belief--that your servant speaks truth in saying he hath married this Amy Robsart?"
This was a home-thrust, and had nearly staggered Leicester. But he had now gone too far to recede, and answered, after a moment's hesitation, "To the best of my belief-indeed on my certain knowledge--she is a wedded wife.""Gracious madam," said Tressilian, "may I yet request to know, when and under what circumstances this alleged marriage--"
"Out, sirrah," answered the Queen; "ALLEGED marriage! Have you not the word of this illustrious Earl to warrant the truth of what his servant says? But thou art a loser-thinkest thyself such at least--and thou shalt have indulgence; we will look into the matter ourself more at leisure.--My Lord of Leicester, I trust you remember we mean to taste the good cheer of your Castle of Kenilworth on this week ensuing. We will pray you to bid our good and valued friend, the Earl of Sussex, to hold company with us there."
"If the noble Earl of Sussex," said Leicester, bowing to his rival with the easiest and with the most graceful courtesy, "will so far honour my poor house, I will hold it an additional proof of the amicable regard it is your Grace's desire we should entertain towards each other."Sussex was more embarrassed. "I should," said he, "madam, be but a clog on your gayer hours, since my late severe illness."
"And have you been indeed so very ill?" said Elizabeth, looking on him with more attention than before; "you are, in faith, strangely altered, and deeply am I grieved to see it. But be of good cheer--we will ourselves look after the health of so valued a servant, and to whom we owe so much. Masters shall order your diet; and that we ourselves may see that he is obeyed, you must attend us in this progress to Kenilworth."
This was said so peremptorily, and at the same time with so much kindness, that Sussex, however unwilling to become the guest of his rival, had no resource but to bow low to the Queen in obedience to her commands, and to express to Leicester, with blunt courtesy, though mingled with embarrassment, his acceptance of his invitation. As the Earls exchanged compliments on the occasion, the Queen said to her High Treasurer, "Methinks, my lord, the countenances of these our two noble peers resemble those of the two famed classic streams, the one so dark and sad, the other so fair and noble. My old Master Ascham would have chid me for forgetting the author. It is Caesar, as I think. See what majestic calmness sits on the brow of the noble Leicester, while Sussex seems to greet him as if he did our will indeed, but not willingly."
"The doubt of your Majesty's favour," answered the Lord Treasurer, "may perchance occasion the difference, which does not--as what does?--escape your Grace's eye." "Such doubt were injurious to us, my lord," replied the Queen. "We hold both to be near and dear to us, and will with impartiality employ both in honourable service for the weal of our kingdom. But we will break their further conference at present.--My Lords of Sussex and Leicester, we have a word more with you. 'Tressilian and Varney are near your persons--you will see that they attend you at Kenilworth. And as we shall then have both Paris and Menelaus within our call, so we will have the same fair Helen also, whose fickleness has caused this broil.-- Varney, thy wife must be at Kenilworth, and forthcoming at my order.--My Lord of Leicester, we expect you will look to this."
The Earl and his follower bowed low and raised their heads, without daring to look at the Queen, or at each other, for both felt at the instant as if the nets and toils which their own falsehood had woven were in the act of closing around them. The Queen, however, observed not their confusion, but proceeded to say, "My Lords of Sussex and Leicester, we require your presence at the privy-council to be presently held, where matters of importance are to be debated. We will then take the water for our divertisement, and you, my lords, will attend us.--And that reminds us of a circumstance.--Do you, Sir Squire of the Soiled Cassock" (distinguishing Raleigh by a smile), "fail not to observe that you are to attend us on our progress. You shall be supplied with suitable means to reform your wardrobe."
And so terminated this celebrated audience, in which, as throughout her life, Elizabeth united the occasional caprice of her sex with that sense and sound policy in which neither man nor woman ever excelled her.
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 safety of the kingdom, and particularly of Elizabeth's sacred person, the lightest hair of whose head, he maintained, ought, in their lordships' estimation, to be matter of more deep and anxious concern than the life and fortunes of a rival, who, after setting up a vain and unjust pretence to the throne of England, was now, even while in the bosom of her country, the constant hope and theme of encouragement to all enemies to Elizabeth, whether at home or abroad. He ended by craving pardon of their lordships, if in the zeal of speech he had given any offence, but the Queen's safety was a theme which hurried him beyond his usual moderation of debate.
Elizabeth chid him, but not severely, for the weight which he attached unduly to her personal interests; yet she owned that, since it had been the pleasure of Heaven to combine those interests with the weal of her subjects, she did only her duty when she adopted such measures of self-preservation as circumstances forced upon her; and if the council in their wisdom should be of opinion that it was needful to continue some restraint on the person of her unhappy sister of Scotland, she trusted they would not blame her if she requested of the Countess of Shrewsbury to use her with as much kindness as might be consistent with her safe keeping. And with this intimation of her pleasure the council was dismissed.
Never was more anxious and ready way made for "my Lord of Leicester," than as he passed through the crowded anterooms to go towards the river-side, in order to attend her Majesty to her barge--never was the voice of the ushers louder, to "make room, make room for the noble Earl"--never were these signals more promptly and reverently obeyed--never were more anxious eyes turned on him to obtain a glance of favour, or even of mere recognition, while the heart of many a humble follower throbbed betwixt the desire to offer his congratulations, and the fear of intruding himself on the notice of one so infinitely above him. The whole court considered the issue of this day's audience, expected with so much doubt and anxiety, as a decisive triumph on the part of Leicester, and felt assured that the orb of his rival satellite, if not altogether obscured by his lustre, must revolve hereafter in a dimmer and more distant sphere. So thought the court and courtiers, from high to low; and they acted accordingly.
On the other hand, never did Leicester return the general greeting with such ready and condescending courtesy, or endeavour more successfully to gather (in the words of one who at that moment stood at no great distance from him) "golden opinions from all sorts of men."
For all the favourite Earl had a bow a smile at least, and often a kind word. Most of these were addressed to courtiers, whose names have long gone down the tide of oblivion; but some, to such as sound strangely in our ears, when connected with the ordinary matters of human life, above which the gratitude of posterity has long elevated them. A few of Leicester's interlocutory sentences ran as follows:--
"Poynings, good morrow; and how does your wife and fair daughter? Why come they not to court?--Adams, your suit is naught; the Queen will grant no more monopolies. But I may serve you in another matter.--My good Alderman Aylford, the suit of the City, affecting Queenhithe, shall be forwarded as far as my poor interest can serve.--Master Edmund Spenser, touching your Irish petition, I would willingly aid you, from my love to the Muses; but thou hast nettled the Lord Treasurer.""My lord, " said the poet, "were I permitted to explain--"
"Come to my lodging, Edmund," answered the Earl "not to-morrow, or next day, but soon.--Ha, Will Shakespeare--wild Will!--thou hast given my nephew Philip Sidney, lovepowder; he cannot sleep without thy Venus and Adonis under his pillow! We will have thee hanged for the veriest wizard in Europe. Hark thee, mad wag, I have not forgotten thy matter of the patent, and of the bears."
The PLAYER bowed, and the Earl nodded and passed on--so that age would have told the tale; in ours, perhaps, we might say the immortal had done homage to the mortal. The next whom the favourite accosted was one of his own zealous dependants.
"How now, Sir Francis Denning," he whispered, in answer to his exulting salutation, "that smile hath made thy face shorter by one-third than when I first saw it this morning.
-What, Master Bowyer, stand you back, and think you I bear malice? You did but your duty this morning; and if I remember aught of the passage betwixt us, it shall be in thy favour."
Then the Earl was approached, with several fantastic congees, by a person quaintly dressed in a doublet of black velvet, curiously slashed and pinked with crimson satin. A long cock's feather in the velvet bonnet, which he held in his hand, and an enormous ruff; stiffened to the extremity of the absurd taste of the times, joined with a sharp, lively, conceited expression of countenance, seemed to body forth a vain, harebrained coxcomb, and small wit; while the rod he held, and an assumption of formal authority, appeared to express some sense of official consequence, which qualified the natural pertness of his manner. A perpetual blush, which occupied rather the sharp nose than the thin cheek of this personage, seemed to speak more of "good life," as it was called, than of modesty; and the manner in which he approached to the Earl confirmed that suspicion."Good even to you, Master Robert Laneham," said Leicester, and seemed desirous to pass forward, without further speech. "I have a suit to your noble lordship," said the figure, boldly following him. "And what is it, good master keeper of the council-chamber door?" "CLERK of the council-chamber door," said Master Robert Laneham, with emphasis, by way of reply, and of correction.
"Well, qualify thine office as thou wilt, man," replied the Earl; "what wouldst thou have with me?"
"Simply," answered Laneham, "that your lordship would be, as heretofore, my good lord, and procure me license to attend the Summer Progress unto your lordship's most beautiful and all-to- be-unmatched Castle of Kenilworth."
"Not so many," replied the petitioner, "but that your nobleness will willingly spare your old servitor his crib and his mess. Bethink you, my lord, how necessary is this rod of mine to fright away all those listeners, who else would play at bo-peep with the honourable council, and be searching for keyholes and crannies in the door of the chamber, so as to render my staff as needful as a fly-flap in a butcher's shop."
"Methinks you have found out a fly-blown comparison for the honourable council, Master Laneham," said the Earl; "but seek not about to justify it. Come to Kenilworth, if you list; there will be store of fools there besides, and so you will be fitted."
"Nay, an there be fools, my lord," replied Laneham, with much glee, "I warrant I will make sport among them, for no greyhound loves to cote a hare as I to turn and course a fool. But I have another singular favour to beseech of your honour.""Speak it, and let me go," said the Earl; "I think the Queen comes forth instantly." "My very good lord, I would fain bring a bed-fellow with me." "How, you irreverent rascal!" said Leicester.
"Nay, my lord, my meaning is within the canons," answered his unblushing, or rather his ever-blushing petitioner. "I have a wife as curious as her grandmother who ate the apple. Now, take her with me I may not, her Highness's orders being so strict against the officers bringing with them their wives in a progress, and so lumbering the court with womankind. But what I would crave of your lordship is to find room for her in some mummery, or pretty pageant, in disguise, as it were; so that, not being known for my wife, there may be no offence.""The foul fiend seize ye both!" said Leicester, stung into uncontrollable passion by the recollections which this speech excited--"why stop you me with such follies?"
The terrified clerk of the chamber-door, astonished at the burst of resentment he had so unconsciously produced, dropped his staff of office from his hand, and gazed on the incensed Earl with a foolish face of wonder and terror, which instantly recalled Leicester to himself.
"I meant but to try if thou hadst the audacity which befits thine office," said he hastily. "Come to Kenilworth, and bring the devil with thee, if thou wilt."
"My wife, sir, hath played the devil ere now, in a Mystery, in Queen Mary's time; but me shall want a trifle for properties."
Master Robert Laneham stared a moment at the agitation which he had excited, and then said to himself, as he stooped to pick up his staff of office, "The noble Earl runs wild humours to-day. But they who give crowns expect us witty fellows to wink at their unsettled starts; and, by my faith, if they paid not for mercy, we would finger them tightly!" [See Note 6. Robert Laneham.]
Leicester moved hastily on, neglecting the courtesies he had hitherto dispensed so liberally, and hurrying through the courtly crowd, until he paused in a small withdrawingroom, into which he plunged to draw a moment's breath unobserved, and in seclusion.
"What am I now," he said to himself, "that am thus jaded by the words of a mean, weather-beaten, goose-brained gull! Conscience, thou art a bloodhound, whose growl wakes us readily at the paltry stir of a rat or mouse as at the step of a lion. Can I not quit myself, by one bold stroke, of a state so irksome, so unhonoured? What if I kneel to Elizabeth, and, owning the whole, throw myself on her mercy?"As he pursued this train of thought, the door of the apartment opened, and Varney rushed in. "Thank God, my lord, that I have found you!" was his exclamation. "Thank the devil, whose agent thou art," was the Earl's reply. "Thank whom you will, my lord," replied Varney; "but hasten to the water-side. The Queen is on board, and asks for you." "Go, say I am taken suddenly ill," replied Leicester; "for, by Heaven, my brain can sustain this no longer!"
"I may well say so," said Varney, with bitterness of expression, "for your place, ay, and mine, who, as your master of the horse, was to have attended your lordship, is already filled up in the Queen's barge. The new minion, Walter Raleigh, and our old acquaintance Tressilian were called for to fill our places just as I hastened away to seek you.""Thou art a devil, Varney," said Leicester hastily; "but thou hast the mastery for the present--I follow thee."
Varney replied not, but led the way out of the palace, and towards the river, while his master followed him, as if mechanically; until, looking back, he said in a tone which savoured of familiarity at least, if not of authority, "How is this, my lord? Your cloak hangs on one side--your hose are unbraced--permit me--"
"Thou art a fool, Varney, as well as a knave," said Leicester, shaking him off, and rejecting his officious assistance. "We are best thus, sir; when we require you to order our person, it is well, but now we want you not."
So saying, the Earl resumed at once his air of command, and with it his self-possession
-shook his dress into yet wilder disorder --passed before Varney with the air of a superior and master, and in his turn led the way to the river-side.
The Queen's barge was on the very point of putting off, the seat allotted to Leicester in the stern, and that to his master of the horse on the bow of the boat, being already filled up. But on Leicester's approach there was a pause, as if the bargemen anticipated some alteration in their company. The angry spot was, however, on the Queen's cheek, as, in that cold tone with which superiors endeavour to veil their internal agitation, while speaking to those before whom it would be derogation to express it, she pronounced the chilling words, "We have waited, my Lord of Leicester."
"Madam, and most gracious Princess," said Leicester, "you, who can pardon so many weaknesses which your own heart never knows, can best bestow your commiseration on the agitations of the bosom, which, for a moment, affect both head and limbs. I came to your presence a doubting and an accused subject; your goodness penetrated the clouds of defamation, and restored me to my honour, and, what is yet dearer, to your favour--is it wonderful, though for me it is most unhappy, that my master of the horse should have found me in a state which scarce permitted me to make the exertion necessary to follow him to this place, when one glance of your Highness, although, alas! an angry one, has had power to do that for me in which Esculapius might have failed?""How is this?" said Elizabeth hastily, looking at Varney; "hath your lord been ill?"
"Something of a fainting fit," answered the ready-witted Varney, "as your Grace may observe from his present condition. My lord's haste would not permit me leisure even to bring his dress into order."
"It matters not," said Elizabeth, as she gazed on the noble face and form of Leicester, to which even the strange mixture of passions by which he had been so lately agitated gave additional interest; "make room for my noble lord. Your place, Master Varney, has been filled up; you must find a seat in another barge."Varney bowed, and withdrew.
"And you, too, our young Squire of the Cloak," added she, looking at Raleigh, "must, for the time, go to the barge of our ladies of honour. As for Tressilian, he hath already suffered too much by the caprice of women that I should aggrieve him by my change of plan, so far as he is concerned."
Leicester seated himself in his place in the barge, and close to the Sovereign. Raleigh rose to retire, and Tressilian would have been so ill-timed in his courtesy as to offer to relinquish his own place to his friend, had not the acute glance of Raleigh himself, who seemed no in his native element, made him sensible that so ready a disclamation of the royal favour might be misinterpreted. He sat silent, therefore, whilst Raleigh, with a profound bow, and a look of the deepest humiliation, was about to quit his place.
A noble courtier, the gallant Lord Willoughby, read, as he thought, something in the Queen's face which seemed to pity Raleigh's real or assumed semblance of mortification.
"It is not for us old courtiers," he said, "to hide the sunshine from the young ones. I will, with her Majesty's leave, relinquish for an hour that which her subjects hold dearest, the delight of her Highness's presence, and mortify myself by walking in starlight, while I forsake for a brief season the glory of Diana's own beams. I will take place in the boat which the ladies occupy, and permit this young cavalier his hour of promised felicity."
The Queen replied, with an expression betwixt mirth and earnest, "If you are so willing to leave us, my lord, we cannot help the mortification. But, under favour, we do not trust you--old and experienced as you may deem yourself--with the care of our young ladies of honour. Your venerable age, my lord," she continued, smiling, "may be better assorted with that of my Lord Treasurer, who follows in the third boat, and by whose experience even my Lord Willoughby's may be improved."
Lord Willoughby hid his disappointment under a smile--laughed, was confused, bowed, and left the Queen's barge to go on board my Lord Burleigh's. Leicester, who endeavoured to divert his thoughts from all internal reflection, by fixing them on what was passing around, watched this circumstance among others. But when the boat put off from the shore--when the music sounded from a barge which accompanied them-when the shouts of the populace were heard from the shore, and all reminded him of the situation in which he was placed, he abstracted his thoughts and feelings by a strong effort from everything but the necessity of maintaining himself in the favour of his patroness, and exerted his talents of pleasing captivation with such success, that the Queen, alternately delighted with his conversation, and alarmed for his health, at length imposed a temporary silence on him, with playful yet anxious care, lest his flow of spirits should exhaust him.
"My lords," she said, "having passed for a time our edict of silence upon our good Leicester, we will call you to counsel on a gamesome matter, more fitted to be now treated of, amidst mirth and music, than in the gravity of our ordinary deliberations. Which of you, my lords," said she, smiling, "know aught of a petition from Orson Pinnit, the keeper, as he qualifies himself, of our royal bears? Who stands godfather to his request?""Marry, with Your Grace's good permission, that do I," said the Earl of Sussex. "Orson
Pinnit was a stout soldier before he was so mangled by the skenes of the Irish clan MacDonough; and I trust your Grace will be, as you always have been, good mistress to your good and trusty servants."
"Surely," said the Queen, "it is our purpose to be so, and in especial to our poor soldiers and sailors, who hazard their lives for little pay. We would give," she said, with her eyes sparkling, "yonder royal palace of ours to be an hospital for their use, rather than they should call their mistress ungrateful. But this is not the question," she said, her voice, which had been awakened by her patriotic feelings, once more subsiding into the tone of gay and easy conversation; "for this Orson Pinnit's request goes something further. He complains that, amidst the extreme delight with which men haunt the play- houses, and in especial their eager desire for seeing the exhibitions of one Will Shakespeare (whom I think, my lords, we have all heard something of), the manly amusement of bear-baiting is falling into comparative neglect, since men will rather throng to see these roguish players kill each other in jest, than to see our royal dogs and bears worry each other in bloody earnest.-- What say you to this, my Lord of Sussex?"
"Why, truly, gracious madam," said Sussex, "you must expect little from an old soldier like me in favour of battles in sport, when they are compared with battles in earnest; and yet, by my faith, I wish Will Shakespeare no harm. He is a stout man at quarter-staff, and single falchion, though, as I am told, a halting fellow; and he stood, they say, a tough fight with the rangers of old Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecot, when he broke his deer-park and kissed his keeper's daughter."
"I cry you mercy, my Lord of Sussex," said Queen Elizabeth, interrupting him; "that matter was heard in council, and we will not have this fellow's offence exaggerated-there was no kissing in the matter, and the defendant hath put the denial on record. But what say you to his present practice, my lord, on the stage? for there lies the point, and not in any ways touching his former errors, in breaking parks, or the other follies you speak of."
"Why, truly, madam," replied Sussex, "as I said before, I wish the gamesome mad fellow no injury. Some of his whoreson poetry (I crave your Grace's pardon for such a phrase) has rung in mine ears as if the lines sounded to boot and saddle. But then it is all froth and folly--no substance or seriousness in it, as your Grace has already well touched. What are half a dozen knaves, with rusty foils and tattered targets, making but a mere mockery of a stout fight, to compare to the royal game of bear-baiting, which hath been graced by your Highness's countenance, and that of your royal predecessors, in this your princely kingdom, famous for matchless mastiffs and bold bearwards over all Christendom? Greatly is it to be doubted that the race of both will decay, if men should throng to hear the lungs of an idle player belch forth nonsensical bombast, instead of bestowing their pence in encouraging the bravest image of war that can be shown in peace, and that is the sports of the Bear-garden. There you may see the bear lying at guard, with his red, pinky eyes watching the onset of the mastiff, like a wily captain who maintains his defence that an assailant may be tempted to venture within his danger. And then comes Sir Mastiff, like a worthy champion, in full career at the throat of his adversary; and then shall Sir Bruin teach him the reward for those who, in their overcourage, neglect the policies of war, and, catching him in his arms, strain him to his breast like a lusty wrestler, until rib after rib crack like the shot of a pistolet. And then another mastiff; as bold, but with better aim and sounder judgment, catches Sir Bruin by the nether lip, and hangs fast, while he tosses about his blood and slaver, and tries in vain to shake Sir Talbot from his hold. And then--"
"Nay, by my honour, my lord," said the Queen, laughing, "you have described the whole so admirably that, had we never seen a bear- baiting, as we have beheld many, and hope, with Heaven's allowance, to see many more, your words were sufficient to put the whole Bear-garden before our eyes.--But come, who speaks next in this case?--My Lord of Leicester, what say you?""Am I then to consider myself as unmuzzled, please your Grace?" replied Leicester.
"Surely, my lord--that is, if you feel hearty enough to take part in our game," answered Elizabeth; "and yet, when I think of your cognizance of the bear and ragged staff, methinks we had better hear some less partial orator."
"Nay, on my word, gracious Princess," said the Earl, "though my brother Ambrose of Warwick and I do carry the ancient cognizance your Highness deigns to remember, I nevertheless desire nothing but fair play on all sides; or, as they say, 'fight dog, fight bear.' And in behalf of the players, I must needs say that they are witty knaves, whose rants and jests keep the minds of the commons from busying themselves with state affairs, and listening to traitorous speeches, idle rumours, and disloyal insinuations. When men are agape to see how Marlow, Shakespeare, and other play artificers work out their fanciful plots, as they call them, the mind of the spectators is withdrawn from the conduct of their rulers."
"We would not have the mind of our subjects withdrawn from the consideration of our own conduct, my lord," answered Elizabeth; "because the more closely it is examined, the true motives by which we are guided will appear the more manifest."
"I have heard, however, madam," said the Dean of St. Asaph's, an eminent Puritan, "that these players are wont, in their plays, not only to introduce profane and lewd expressions, tending to foster sin and harlotry; but even to bellow out such reflections on government, its origin and its object, as tend to render the subject discontented, and shake the solid foundations of civil society. And it seems to be, under your Grace's favour, far less than safe to permit these naughty foul-mouthed knaves to ridicule the godly for their decent gravity, and, in blaspheming heaven and slandering its earthly rulers, to set at defiance the laws both of God and man."
"If we could think this were true, my lord," said Elizabeth, "we should give sharp correction for such offences. But it is ill arguing against the use of anything from its abuse. And touching this Shakespeare, we think there is that in his plays that is worth twenty Bear-gardens; and that this new undertaking of his Chronicles, as he calls them, may entertain, with honest mirth, mingled with useful instruction, not only our subjects, but even the generation which may succeed to us."
"Your Majesty's reign will need no such feeble aid to make it remembered to the latest posterity," said Leicester. "And yet, in his way, Shakespeare hath so touched some incidents of your Majesty's happy government as may countervail what has been spoken by his reverence the Dean of St. Asaph's. There are some lines, for example--I would my nephew, Philip Sidney, were here; they are scarce ever out of his mouth--they are spoken in a mad tale of fairies, love-charms, and I wot not what besides; but beautiful they are, however short they may and must fall of the subject to which they bear a bold relation--and Philip murmurs them, I think, even in his dreams."
"You tantalize us, my lord," said the Queen--"Master Philip Sidney is, we know, a minion of the Muses, and we are pleased it should be so. Valour never shines to more advantage than when united with the true taste and love of letters. But surely there are some others among our young courtiers who can recollect what your lordship has forgotten amid weightier affairs.--Master Tressilian, you are described to me as a worshipper of Minerva-- remember you aught of these lines?"
Tressilian's heart was too heavy, his prospects in life too fatally blighted, to profit by the opportunity which the Queen thus offered to him of attracting her attention; but he determined to transfer the advantage to his more ambitious young friend, and excusing himself on the score of want of recollection, he added that he believed the beautiful verses of which my Lord of Leicester had spoken were in the remembrance of Master Walter Raleigh.
At the command of the Queen, that cavalier repeated, with accent and manner which even added to their exquisite delicacy of tact and beauty of description, the celebrated vision of Oberon:--
"That very time I saw (but thou couldst not), Flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid, allarm'd: a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal, throned by the west;
And loos'd his love-shaft smartly from his bow, As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts: But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon; And the imperial vot'ress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy free."
The voice of Raleigh, as he repeated the last lines, became a little tremulous, as if diffident how the Sovereign to whom the homage was addressed might receive it, exquisite as it was. If this diffidence was affected, it was good policy; but if real, there was little occasion for it. The verses were not probably new to the Queen, for when was ever such elegant flattery long in reaching the royal ear to which it was addressed? But they were not the less welcome when repeated by such a speaker as Raleigh. Alike delighted with the matter, the manner, and the graceful form and animated countenance of the gallant young reciter, Elizabeth kept time to every cadence with look and with finger. When the speaker had ceased, she murmured over the last lines as if scarce conscious that she was overheard, and as she uttered the words,
"In maiden meditation, fancy free," she dropped into the Thames the supplication of Orson Pinnit, keeper of the royal bears, to find more favourable acceptance at Sheerness, or wherever the tide might waft it.
Leicester was spurred to emulation by the success of the young courtier's exhibition, as the veteran racer is roused when a high-mettled colt passes him on the way. He turned the discourse on shows, banquets, pageants, and on the character of those by whom these gay scenes were then frequented. He mixed acute observation with light satire, in that just proportion which was free alike from malignant slander and insipid praise. He mimicked with ready accent the manners of the affected or the clownish, and made his own graceful tone and manner seem doubly such when he resumed it. Foreign countries--their customs, their manners, the rules of their courts---the fashions, and even the dress of their ladies-were equally his theme; and seldom did he conclude without conveying some compliment, always couched in delicacy, and expressed with propriety, to the Virgin Queen, her court, and her government. Thus passed the conversation during this pleasure voyage, seconded by the rest of the attendants upon the royal person, in gay discourse, varied by remarks upon ancient classics and modern authors, and enriched by maxims of deep policy and sound morality, by the statesmen and sages who sat around and mixed wisdom with the lighter talk of a female court.
When they returned to the Palace, Elizabeth accepted, or rather selected, the arm of Leicester to support her from the stairs where they landed to the great gate. It even seemed to him (though that might arise from the flattery of his own imagination) that during this short passage she leaned on him somewhat more than the slippiness of the way necessarily demanded. Certainly her actions and words combined to express a degree of favour which, even in his proudest day he had not till then attained. His rival, indeed, was repeatedly graced by the Queen's notice; but it was in manner that seemed to flow less from spontaneous inclination than as extorted by a sense of his merit. And in the opinion of many experienced courtiers, all the favour she showed him was overbalanced by her whispering in the ear of the Lady Derby that "now she saw sickness was a better alchemist than she before wotted of, seeing it had changed my Lord of Sussex's copper nose into a golden one."
The jest transpired, and the Earl of Leicester enjoyed his triumph, as one to whom court-favour had been both the primary and the ultimate motive of life, while he forgot, in the intoxication of the moment, the perplexities and dangers of his own situation. Indeed, strange as it may appear, he thought less at that moment of the perils arising from his secret union, than of the marks of grace which Elizabeth from time to time showed to young Raleigh. They were indeed transient, but they were conferred on one accomplished in mind and body, with grace, gallantry, literature, and valour. An accident occurred in the course of the evening which riveted Leicester's attention to this object.
The nobles and courtiers who had attended the Queen on her pleasure expedition were invited, with royal hospitality, to a splendid banquet in the hall of the Palace. The table was not, indeed, graced by the presence of the Sovereign; for, agreeable to her idea of what was at once modest and dignified, the Maiden Queen on such occasions was wont to take in private, or with one or two favourite ladies, her light and temperate meal. After a moderate interval, the court again met in the splendid gardens of the Palace; and it was while thus engaged that the Queen suddenly asked a lady, who was near to her both in place and favour, what had become of the young Squire Lack-Cloak.
The Lady Paget answered, "She had seen Master Raleigh but two or three minutes since standing at the window of a small pavilion or pleasure-house, which looked out on the Thames, and writing on the glass with a diamond ring."
"That ring," said the Queen, "was a small token I gave him to make amends for his spoiled mantle. Come, Paget, let us see what use he has made of it, for I can see through him already. He is a marvellously sharp-witted spirit." They went to the spot, within sight of which, but at some distance, the young cavalier still lingered, as the fowler watches the net which he has set. The Queen approached the window, on which Raleigh had used her gift, to inscribe the following line:--"Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall."
The Queen smiled, read it twice over, once with deliberation to Lady Paget, and once again to herself. "It is a pretty beginning," she said, after the consideration of a moment or two; "but methinks the muse hath deserted the young wit at the very outset of his task. It were good-natured--were it not, Lady Paget?--to complete it for him. Try your rhyming faculties."Lady Paget, prosaic from her cradle upwards as ever any lady of the bedchamber before or after her, disclaimed all possibility of assisting the young poet. "Nay, then, we must sacrifice to the Muses ourselves," said Elizabeth. "The incense of no one can be more acceptable," said Lady Paget; "and your Highness will impose such obligation on the ladies of Parnassus--"
"Hush, Paget," said the Queen, "you speak sacrilege against the immortal Nine--yet, virgins themselves, they should be exorable to a Virgin Queen--and therefore--let me see how runs his verse--'Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall.' Might not the answer (for fault of a better) run thus?-- 'If thy mind fail thee, do not climb at all.'"
The dame of honour uttered an exclamation of joy and surprise at so happy a termination; and certainly a worse has been applauded, even when coming from a less distinguished author.
The Queen, thus encouraged, took off a diamond ring, and saying, "We will give this gallant some cause of marvel when he finds his couplet perfected without his own interference," she wrote her own line beneath that of Raleigh.
The Queen left the pavilion; but retiring slowly, and often looking back, she could see the young cavalier steal, with the flight of a lapwing, towards the place where he had seen her make a pause. "She stayed but to observe," as she said, "that her train had taken;" and then, laughing at the circumstance with the Lady Paget, she took the way slowly towards the Palace. Elizabeth, as they returned, cautioned her companion not to mention to any one the aid which she had given to the young poet, and Lady Paget promised scrupulous secrecy. It is to be supposed that she made a mental reservation in favour of Leicester, to whom her ladyship transmitted without delay an anecdote so little calculated to give him pleasure.
Raleigh, in the meanwhile, stole back to the window, and read, with a feeling of intoxication, the encouragement thus given him by the Queen in person to follow out his ambitious career, and returned to Sussex and his retinue, then on the point of embarking to go up the river, his heart beating high with gratified pride, and with hope of future distinction.
The reverence due to the person of the Earl prevented any notice being taken of the reception he had met with at court, until they had landed, and the household were assembled in the great hall at Sayes Court; while that lord, exhausted by his late illness and the fatigues of the day, had retired to his chamber, demanding the attendance of Wayland, his successful physician. Wayland, however, was nowhere to be found; and while some of the party were, with military impatience, seeking him and cursing his absence, the rest flocked around Raleigh to congratulate him on his prospects of courtfavour.
He had the good taste and judgment to conceal the decisive circumstance of the couplet to which Elizabeth had deigned to find a rhyme; but other indications had transpired, which plainly intimated that he had made some progress in the Queen's favour. All hastened to wish him joy on the mended appearance of his fortune--some from real regard, some, perhaps, from hopes that his preferment might hasten their own, and most from a mixture of these motives, and a sense that the countenance shown to any one of Sussex's household was, in fact, a triumph to the whole. Raleigh returned the kindest thanks to them all, disowning, with becoming modesty, that one day's fair reception made a favourite, any more than one swallow a summer. But he observed that Blount did not join in the general congratulation, and, somewhat hurt at his apparent unkindness, he plainly asked him the reason.
Blount replied with equal sincerity--"My good Walter, I wish thee as well as do any of these chattering gulls, who are whistling and whooping gratulations in thine ear because it seems fair weather with thee. But I fear for thee, "Walter" (and he wiped his honest eye), "I fear for thee with all my heart. These court-tricks, and gambols, and flashes of fine women's favour are the tricks and trinkets that bring fair fortunes to farthings, and fine faces and witty coxcombs to the acquaintance of dull block and sharp axes."
Stanley just then entered the hall, and said to Tressilian, "My lord is calling for your fellow Wayland, and your fellow Wayland is just come hither in a sculler, and is calling for you, nor will he go to my lord till he sees you. The fellow looks as he were mazed, methinks; I would you would see him immediately."
Tressilian instantly left the hall, and causing Wayland Smith to be shown into a withdrawing apartment, and lights placed, he conducted the artist thither, and was surprised when he observed the emotion of his countenance."What is the matter with you, Smith?" said Tressilian; "have you seen the devil?" "Worse, sir, worse," replied Wayland; "I have seen a basilisk. Thank God, I saw him first; for being so seen, and seeing not me, he will do the less harm." "In God's name, speak sense," said Tressilian, "and say what you mean."
"I have seen my old master," said the artist. "Last night a friend whom I had acquired took me to see the Palace clock, judging me to be curious in such works of art. At the window of a turret next to the clock-house I saw my old master.""Thou must needs have been mistaken," said Tressilian.
"I was not mistaken," said Wayland; "he that once hath his features by heart would know him amongst a million. He was anticly habited; but he cannot disguise himself from me, God be praised! as I can from him. I will not, however, tempt Providence by remaining within his ken. Tarleton the player himself could not so disguise himself but that, sooner or later, Doboobie would find him out. I must away to-morrow; for, as we stand together, it were death to me to remain within reach of him.""But the Earl of Sussex?" said Tressilian. "He is in little danger from what he has hitherto taken, provided he swallow the matter of a bean's size of the orvietan every morning fasting; but let him beware of a relapse."
"And how is that to be guarded against?" said Tressilian. "Only by such caution as you would use against the devil," answered Wayland. "Let my lord's clerk of the kitchen kill his lord's meat himself, and dress it himself, using no spice but what he procures from the surest hands. Let the sewer serve it up himself, and let the master of my lord's household see that both clerk and sewer taste the dishes which the one dresses and the other serves. Let my lord use no perfumes which come not from well accredited persons; no unguents--no pomades. Let him, on no account, drink with strangers, or eat fruit with them, either in the way of nooning or otherwise. Especially, let him observe such caution if he goes to Kenilworth--the excuse of his illness, and his being under diet, will, and must, cover the strangeness of such practice.""And thou," said Tressilian, "what dost thou think to make of thyself?"
"France, Spain, either India, East or West, shall be my refuge," said Wayland, "ere I venture my life by residing within ken of Doboobie, Demetrius, or whatever else he calls himself for the time."
"Well," said Tressilian, "this happens not inopportunely. I had business for you in Berkshire, but in the opposite extremity to the place where thou art known; and ere thou hadst found out this new reason for living private, I had settled to send thee thither upon a secret embassage."
The artist expressed himself willing to receive his commands, and Tressilian, knowing he was well acquainted with the outline of his business at court, frankly explained to him the whole, mentioned the agreement which subsisted betwixt Giles Gosling and him, and told what had that day been averred in the presence- chamber by Varney, and supported by Leicester.
"Thou seest," he added, "that, in the circumstances in which I am placed, it behoves me to keep a narrow watch on the motions of these unprincipled men, Varney and his complices, Foster and Lambourne, as well as on those of my Lord Leicester himself, who, I suspect, is partly a deceiver, and not altogether the deceived in that matter. Here is my ring, as a pledge to Giles Gosling. Here is besides gold, which shall be trebled if thou serve me faithfully. Away down to Cumnor, and see what happens there."
"I go with double good-will," said the artist, "first, because I serve your honour, who has been so kind to me; and then, that I may escape my old master, who, if not an absolute incarnation of the devil, has, at least, as much of the demon about him, in will, word, and action; as ever polluted humanity. And yet let him take care of me. I fly him now, as heretofore; but if, like the Scottish wild cattle, I am vexed by frequent pursuit, I may turn on him in hate and desperation. [A remnant of the wild cattle of Scotland are preserved at Chillingham Castle, near Wooler, in Northumberland, the seat of Lord Tankerville. They fly before strangers; but if disturbed and followed, they turn with fury on those who persist in annoying them.] Will your honour command my nag to be saddled? I will but give the medicine to my lord, divided in its proper proportions, with a few instructions. His safety will then depend on the care of his friends and domestics; for the past he is guarded, but let him beware of the future."
Wayland Smith accordingly made his farewell visit to the Earl of Sussex, dictated instructions as to his regimen, and precautions concerning his diet, and left Sayes Court without waiting for morning.
The moment comes--
It is already come--when thou must write
The absolute total of thy life's vast sum.
The constellations stand victorious o'er thee,
The planets shoot good fortune in fair junctions,
And tell thee, "Now's the time."
When Leicester returned to his lodging, alter a day so important and so harassing, in which, after riding out more than one gale, and touching on more than one shoal, his bark had finally gained the harbour with banner displayed, he seemed to experience as much fatigue as a mariner after a perilous storm. He spoke not a word while his chamberlain exchanged his rich court-mantle for a furred night-robe, and when this officer signified that Master Varney desired to speak with his lordship, he replied only by a sullen nod. Varney, however, entered, accepting this signal as a permission, and the chamberlain withdrew.
The Earl remained silent and almost motionless in his chair, his head reclined on his hand, and his elbow resting upon the table which stood beside him, without seeming to be conscious of the entrance or of the presence of his confidant. Varney waited for some minutes until he should speak, desirous to know what was the finally predominant mood of a mind through which so many powerful emotions had that day taken their course. But he waited in vain, for Leicester continued still silent, and the confidant saw himself under the necessity of being the first to speak. "May I congratulate your lordship," he said, "on the deserved superiority you have this day attained over your most formidable rival?"
Leicester raised his head, and answered sadly, but without anger, "Thou, Varney, whose ready invention has involved me in a web of most mean and perilous falsehood, knowest best what small reason there is for gratulation on the subject."
"Do you blame me, my lord," said Varney, "for not betraying, on the first push, the secret on which your fortunes depended, and which you have so oft and so earnestly recommended to my safe keeping? Your lordship was present in person, and might have contradicted me and ruined yourself by an avowal of the truth; but surely it was no part of a faithful servant to have done so without your commands."
"I cannot deny it, Varney," said the Earl, rising and walking across the room; "my own ambition has been traitor to my love."
"Say rather, my lord, that your love has been traitor to your greatness, and barred you from such a prospect of honour and power as the world cannot offer to any other. To make my honoured lady a countess, you have missed the chance of being yourself--"
"Of being yourself a KING, my lord," replied Varney; "and King of England to boot! It is no treason to our Queen to say so. It would have chanced by her obtaining that which all true subjects wish her--a lusty, noble, and gallant husband."
"Thou ravest, Varney," answered Leicester. "Besides, our times have seen enough to make men loathe the Crown Matrimonial which men take from their wives' lap. There was Darnley of Scotland."
"He!" said Varney; "a, gull, a fool, a thrice-sodden ass, who suffered himself to be fired off into the air like a rocket on a rejoicing day. Had Mary had the hap to have wedded the noble Earl ONCE destined to share her throne, she had experienced a husband of different metal; and her husband had found in her a wife as complying and loving as the mate of the meanest squire who follows the hounds a-horseback, and holds her husband's bridle as he mounts."
"It might have been as thou sayest, Varney," said Leicester, a brief smile of selfsatisfaction passing over his anxious countenance. "Henry Darnley knew little of women--with Mary, a man who knew her sex might have had some chance of holding his own. But not with Elizabeth, Varney for I thank God, when he gave her the heart of a woman, gave her the head of a man to control its follies. No, I know her. She will accept love- tokens, ay, and requite them with the like--put sugared sonnets in her bosom, ay, and answer them too--push gallantry to the very verge where it becomes exchange of affection; but she writes NIL ULTRA to all which is to follow, and would not barter one iota of her own supreme power for all the alphabet of both Cupid and Hymen."
"The better for you, my lord," said Varney--"that is, in the case supposed, if such be her disposition; since you think you cannot aspire to become her husband. Her favourite you are, and may remain, if the lady at Cumnor place continues in her present obscurity.""Poor Amy!" said Leicester, with a deep sigh; "she desires so earnestly to be acknowledged in presence of God and man!"
"Ay, but, my lord," said Varney, "is her desire reasonable? That is the question. Her religious scruples are solved; she is an honoured and beloved wife, enjoying the society of her husband at such times as his weightier duties permit him to afford her his company. What would she more? I am right sure that a lady so gentle and so loving would consent to live her life through in a certain obscurity--which is, after all, not dimmer than when she was at Lidcote Hall--rather than diminish the least jot of her lord's honours and greatness by a premature attempt to share them."
"There is something in what thou sayest," said Leicester, "and her appearance here were fatal. Yet she must be seen at Kenilworth; Elizabeth will not forget that she has so appointed."
"Let me sleep on that hard point," said Varney; "I cannot else perfect the device I have on the stithy, which I trust will satisfy the Queen and please my honoured lady, yet leave this fatal secret where it is now buried. Has your lordship further commands for the night?""I would be alone," said Leicester. "Leave me, and place my steel casket on the table. Be within summons."
Varney retired, and the Earl, opening the window of his apartment, looked out long and anxiously upon the brilliant host of stars which glimmered in the splendour of a summer firmament. The words burst from him as at unawares, "I had never more need that the heavenly bodies should befriend me, for my earthly path is darkened and confused."
It is well known that the age reposed a deep confidence in the vain predictions of judicial astrology, and Leicester, though exempt from the general control of superstition, was not in this respect superior to his time, but, on the contrary, was remarkable for the encouragement which he gave to the professors of this pretended science. Indeed, the wish to pry into futurity, so general among the human race, is peculiarly to be found amongst those who trade in state mysteries and the dangerous intrigues and cabals of courts. With heedful precaution to see that it had not been opened, or its locks tampered with, Leicester applied a key to the steel casket, and drew from it, first, a parcel of gold pieces, which he put into a silk purse; then a parchment inscribed with planetary signs, and the lines and calculations used in framing horoscopes, on which he gazed intently for a few moments; and, lastly, took forth a large key, which, lifting aside the tapestry, he applied to a little, concealed door in the corner of the apartment, and opening it, disclosed a stair constructed in the thickness of the wall."Alasco," said the Earl, with a voice raised, yet no higher raised than to be heard by the inhabitant of the small turret to which the stair conducted--"Alasco, I say, descend."
"I come, my lord," answered a voice from above. The foot of an aged man was heard slowly descending the narrow stair, and Alasco entered the Earl's apartment. The astrologer was a little man, and seemed much advanced in age, for his heard was long and white, and reached over his black doublet down to his silken girdle. His hair was of the same venerable hue. But his eyebrows were as dark as the keen and piercing black eyes which they shaded, and this peculiarity gave a wild and singular cast to the physiognomy of the old man. His cheek was still fresh and ruddy, and the eyes we have mentioned resembled those of a rat in acuteness and even fierceness of expression. His manner was not without a sort of dignity; and the interpreter of the stars, though respectful, seemed altogether at his ease, and even assumed a tone of instruction and command in conversing with the prime favourite of Elizabeth."Your prognostications have failed, Alasco," said the Earl, when they had exchanged salutations--"he is recovering."
"My son," replied the astrologer, "let me remind you I warranted not his death; nor is there any prognostication that can be derived from the heavenly bodies, their aspects and their conjunctions, which is not liable to be controlled by the will of Heaven. ASTRA REGUNT HOMINES, SED REGIT ASTRA DEUS.""Of what avail, then, is your mystery?" inquired the Earl.
"Of much, my son," replied the old man, "since it can show the natural and probable course of events, although that course moves in subordination to an Higher Power. Thus, in reviewing the horoscope which your Lordship subjected to my skill, you will observe that Saturn, being in the sixth House in opposition to Mars, retrograde in the House of Life, cannot but denote long and dangerous sickness, the issue whereof is in the will of Heaven, though death may probably be inferred. Yet if I knew the name of the party I would erect another scheme."
"His name is a secret," said the Earl; "yet, I must own, thy prognostication hath not been unfaithful. He has been sick, and dangerously so, not, however, to death. But hast thou again cast my horoscope as Varney directed thee, and art thou prepared to say what the stars tell of my present fortune?"
"My art stands at your command," said the old man; "and here, my son, is the map of thy fortunes, brilliant in aspect as ever beamed from those blessed signs whereby our life is influenced, yet not unchequered with fears, difficulties, and dangers."
"My lot were more than mortal were it otherwise," said the Earl. "Proceed, father, and believe you speak with one ready to undergo his destiny in action and in passion as may beseem a noble of England."
"Thy courage to do and to suffer must be wound up yet a strain higher," said the old man. "The stars intimate yet a prouder title, yet an higher rank. It is for thee to guess their meaning, not for me to name it.""Name it, I conjure you--name it, I command you!" said the Earl, his eyes brightening as he spoke.
"I may not, and I will not," replied the old man. "The ire of princes Is as the wrath of the lion. But mark, and judge for thyself. Here Venus, ascendant in the House of Life, and conjoined with Sol, showers down that flood of silver light, blent with gold, which promises power, wealth, dignity, all that the proud heart of man desires, and in such abundance that never the future Augustus of that old and mighty Rome heard from his HARUSPICES such a tale of glory, as from this rich text my lore might read to my favourite son.""Thou dost but jest with me, father," said the Earl, astonished at the strain of enthusiasm in which the astrologer delivered his prediction. "Is it for him to jest who hath his eye on heaven, who hath his foot in the grave?" returned the old man solemnly.
The Earl made two or three strides through the apartment, with his hand outstretched, as one who follows the beckoning signal of some phantom, waving him on to deeds of high import. As he turned, however, he caught the eye of the astrologer fixed on him, while an observing glance of the most shrewd penetration shot from under the penthouse of his shaggy, dark eyebrows. Leicester's haughty and suspicious soul at once caught fire. He darted towards the old man from the farther end of the lofty apartment, only standing still when his extended hand was within a foot of the astrologer's body.
"Wretch!" he said, "if you dare to palter with me, I will have your skin stripped from your living flesh! Confess thou hast been hired to deceive and to betray me--that thou art a cheat, and I thy silly prey and booty!"The old man exhibited some symptoms of emotion, but not more than the furious deportment of his patron might have extorted from innocence itself. "What means this violence, my lord?" he answered, "or in what can I have deserved it at your hand?" "Give me proof," said the Earl vehemently, "that you have not tampered with mine enemies."
"My lord," replied the old man, with dignity, "you can have no better proof than that which you yourself elected. In that turret I have spent the last twenty-four hours under the key which has been in your own custody. The hours of darkness I have spent in gazing on the heavenly bodies with these dim eyes, and during those of light I have toiled this aged brain to complete the calculation arising from their combinations. Earthly food I have not tasted--earthly voice I have not heard. You are yourself aware I had no means of doing so; and yet I tell you--I who have been thus shut up in solitude and study--that within these twenty-four hours your star has become predominant in the horizon, and either the bright book of heaven speaks false, or there must have been a proportionate revolution in your fortunes upon earth. If nothing has happened within that space to secure your power, or advance your favour, then am I indeed a cheat, and the divine art, which was first devised in the plains of Chaldea, is a foul imposture." "It is true," said Leicester, after a moment's reflection, "thou wert closely immured; and it is also true that the change has taken place in my situation which thou sayest the horoscope indicates.""Wherefore this distrust then, my son?" said the astrologer, assuming a tone of admonition; "the celestial intelligences brook not diffidence, even in their favourites."
"Peace, father," answered Leicester, "I have erred in doubting thee. Not to mortal man, nor to celestial intelligence--under that which is supreme--will Dudley's lips say more in condescension or apology. Speak rather to the present purpose. Amid these bright promises thou hast said there was a threatening aspect. Can thy skill tell whence, or by whose means, such danger seems to impend?"
"Thus far only," answered the astrologer, "does my art enable me to answer your query. The infortune is threatened by the malignant and adverse aspect, through means of a youth, and, as I think, a rival; but whether in love or in prince's favour, I know not nor can I give further indication respecting him, save that he comes from the western quarter."
"The western--ha!" replied Leicester, "it is enough--the tempest does indeed brew in that quarter! Cornwall and Devon--Raleigh and Tressilian--one of them is indicated-I must beware of both. Father, if I have done thy skill injustice, I will make thee a lordly recompense."
He took a purse of gold from the strong casket which stood before him. "Have thou double the recompense which Varney promised. Be faithful--be secret--obey the directions thou shalt receive from my master of the horse, and grudge not a little seclusion or restraint in my cause--it shall be richly considered.--Here, Varney--conduct this venerable man to thine own lodging; tend him heedfully in all things, but see that he holds communication with no one.
Varney bowed, and the astrologer kissed the Earl's hand in token of adieu, and followed the master of the horse to another apartment, in which were placed wine and refreshments for his use.
The astrologer sat down to his repast, while Varney shut two doors with great precaution, examined the tapestry, lest any listener lurked behind it, and then sitting down opposite to the sage, began to question him."Saw you my signal from the court beneath?" "I did," said Alasco, for by such name he was at present called, "and shaped the horoscope accordingly."
"And it passed upon the patron without challenge?" continued Varney. "Not without challenge," replied the old man, "but it did pass; and I added, as before agreed, danger from a discovered secret, and a western youth."
"My lord's fear will stand sponsor to the one, and his conscience to the other, of these prognostications," replied Varney. "Sure never man chose to run such a race as his, yet continued to retain those silly scruples! I am fain to cheat him to his own profit. But touching your matters, sage interpreter of the stars, I can tell you more of your own fortune than plan or figure can show. You must be gone from hence forthwith."
"I will not," said Alasco peevishly. "I have been too much hurried up and down of late-immured for day and night in a desolate turret-chamber. I must enjoy my liberty, and pursue my studies, which are of more import than the fate of fifty statesmen and favourites that rise and burst like bubbles in the atmosphere of a court."
"At your pleasure," said Varney, with a sneer that habit had rendered familiar to his features, and which forms the principal characteristic which painters have assigned to that of Satan--"at your pleasure," he said; "you may enjoy your liberty and your studies until the daggers of Sussex's followers are clashing within your doublet and against your ribs." The old man turned pale, and Varney proceeded. "Wot you not he hath offered a reward for the arch-quack and poison-vender, Demetrius, who sold certain precious spices to his lordship's cook? What! turn you pale, old friend? Does Hali already see an infortune in the House of Life? Why, hark thee, we will have thee down to an old house of mine in the country, where thou shalt live with a hobnailed slave, whom thy alchemy may convert into ducats, for to such conversion alone is thy art serviceable."
"It is false, thou foul-mouthed railer," said Alasco, shaking with impotent anger; "it is well known that I have approached more nearly to projection than any hermetic artist who now lives. There are not six chemists in the world who possess so near an approximation to the grand arcanum--"
"Come, come," said Varney, interrupting him, "what means this, in the name of Heaven? Do we not know one another? I believe thee to be so perfect--so very perfect--in the mystery of cheating, that, having imposed upon all mankind, thou hast at length in some measure imposed upon thyself, and without ceasing to dupe others, hast become a species of dupe to thine own imagination. Blush not for it, man--thou art learned, and shalt have classical comfort:'Ne quisquam Ajacem possit superare nisi Ajax.'
No one but thyself could have gulled thee; and thou hast gulled the whole brotherhood of the Rosy Cross besides--none so deep in the mystery as thou. But hark thee in thine ear: had the seasoning which spiced Sussex's broth wrought more surely, I would have thought better of the chemical science thou dost boast so highly."
"Thou art an hardened villain, Varney," replied Alasco; "many will do those things who dare not speak of them."
"And many speak of them who dare not do them," answered Varney. "But be not wroth-I will not quarrel with thee. If I did, I were fain to live on eggs for a month, that I might feed without fear. Tell me at once, how came thine art to fail thee at this great emergency?"
"I crave your pardon," replied the old man, "and swear to you I know but one medicine that could have saved the Earl's life; and as no man living in England knows that antidote save myself-- moreover, as the ingredients, one of them in particular, are scarce possible to be come by, I must needs suppose his escape was owing to such a constitution of lungs and vital parts as was never before bound up in a body of clay.""There was some talk of a quack who waited on him," said Varney, after a moment's reflection. "Are you sure there is no one in England who has this secret of thine?"
"One man there was," said the doctor, "once my servant, who might have stolen this of me, with one or two other secrets of art. But content you, Master Varney, it is no part of my policy to suffer such interlopers to interfere in my trade. He pries into no mysteries more, I warrant you, for, as I well believe, he hath been wafted to heaven on the wing of a fiery dragon--peace be with him! But in this retreat of mine shall I have the use of mine elaboratory?"
"Of a whole workshop, man," said Varney; "for a reverend father abbot, who was fain to give place to bluff King Hal and some of his courtiers, a score of years since, had a chemist's complete apparatus, which he was obliged to leave behind him to his successors. Thou shalt there occupy, and melt, and puff, and blaze, and multiply, until the Green Dragon become a golden goose, or whatever the newer phrase of the brotherhood may testify."
"Thou art right, Master Varney," said the alchemist setting his teeth close and grinding them together--"thou art right even in thy very contempt of right and reason. For what thou sayest in mockery may in sober verity chance to happen ere we meet again. If the most venerable sages of ancient days have spoken the truth--if the most learned of our own have rightly received it; if I have been accepted wherever I travelled in Germany, in Poland, in Italy, and in the farther Tartary, as one to whom nature has unveiled her darkest secrets; if I have acquired the most secret signs and passwords of the Jewish Cabala, so that the greyest beard in the synagogue would brush the steps to make them clean for me;--if all this is so, and if there remains but one step--one little step-betwixt my long, deep, and dark, and subterranean progress, and that blaze of light which shall show Nature watching her richest and her most glorious productions in the very cradle--one step betwixt dependence and the power of sovereignty--one step betwixt poverty and such a sum of wealth as earth, without that noble secret, cannot minister from all her mines in the old or the new-found world; if this be all so, is it not reasonable that to this I dedicate my future life, secure, for a brief period of studious patience, to rise above the mean dependence upon favourites, and THEIR favourites, by which I am now enthralled!"
"Now, bravo! bravo! my good father," said Varney, with the usual sardonic expression of ridicule on his countenance; "yet all this approximation to the philosopher's stone wringeth not one single crown out of my Lord Leicester's pouch, and far less out of Richard Varney's. WE must have earthly and substantial services, man, and care not whom else thou canst delude with thy philosophical charlatanry."
"My son Varney," said the alchemist, "the unbelief, gathered around thee like a frost-fog, hath dimmed thine acute perception to that which is a stumbling-block to the wise, and which yet, to him who seeketh knowledge with humility, extends a lesson so clear that he who runs may read. Hath not Art, thinkest thou, the means of completing Nature's imperfect concoctions in her attempts to form the precious metals, even as by art we can perfect those other operations of incubation, distillation, fermentation, and similar processes of an ordinary description, by which we extract life itself out of a senseless egg, summon purity and vitality out of muddy dregs, or call into vivacity the inert substance of a sluggish liquid?"
"I have heard all this before," said Varney, "and my heart is proof against such cant ever since I sent twenty good gold pieces (marry, it was in the nonage of my wit) to advance the grand magisterium, all which, God help the while, vanished IN FUMO. Since that moment, when I paid for my freedom, I defy chemistry, astrology, palmistry, and every other occult art, were it as secret as hell itself, to unloose the stricture of my purse- strings. Marry, I neither defy the manna of Saint Nicholas, nor can I dispense with it. The first task must be to prepare some when thou gett'st down to my little sequestered retreat yonder, and then make as much gold as thou wilt.""I will make no more of that dose," said the alchemist, resolutely.
"Then," said the master of the horse, "thou shalt be hanged for what thou hast made already, and so were the great secret for ever lost to mankind. Do not humanity this injustice, good father, but e'en bend to thy destiny, and make us an ounce or two of this same stuff; which cannot prejudice above one or two individuals, in order to gain lifetime to discover the universal medicine, which shall clear away all mortal diseases at once. But cheer up, thou grave, learned, and most melancholy jackanape! Hast thou not told me that a moderate portion of thy drug hath mild effects, no ways ultimately dangerous to the human frame, but which produces depression of spirits, nausea, headache, an unwillingness to change of place--even such a state of temper as would keep a bird from flying out of a cage were the door left open?"
"I have said so, and it is true," said the alchemist. "This effect will it produce, and the bird who partakes of it in such proportion shall sit for a season drooping on her perch, without thinking either of the free blue sky, or of the fair greenwood, though the one be lighted by the rays of the rising sun, and the other ringing with the newly-awakened song of all the feathered inhabitants of the forest.""And this without danger to life?" said Varney, somewhat anxiously.
"Ay, so that proportion and measure be not exceeded; and so that one who knows the nature of the manna be ever near to watch the symptoms, and succour in case of need."
"Thou shalt regulate the whole," said Varney. "Thy reward shall be princely, if thou keepest time and touch, and exceedest not the due proportion, to the prejudice of her health; otherwise thy punishment shall be as signal.""The prejudice of HER health!" repeated Alasco; "it is, then, a woman I am to use my skill upon?"
"No, thou fool," replied Varney, "said I not it was a bird--a reclaimed linnet, whose pipe might soothe a hawk when in mid stoop? I see thine eye sparkle, and I know thy beard is not altogether so white as art has made it--THAT, at least, thou hast been able to transmute to silver. But mark me, this is no mate for thee. This caged bird is dear to one who brooks no rivalry, and far less such rivalry as thine, and her health must over all things be cared for. But she is in the case of being commanded down to yonder Kenilworth revels, and it is most expedient--most needful--most necessary that she fly not thither. Of these necessities and their causes, it is not needful that she should know aught; and it is to be thought that her own wish may lead her to combat all ordinary reasons which can be urged for her remaining a housekeeper."
"That is but natural," said the alchemist with a strange smile, which yet bore a greater reference to the human character than the uninterested and abstracted gaze which his physiognomy had hitherto expressed, where all seemed to refer to some world distant from that which was existing around him.
"It is so," answered Varney; "you understand women well, though it may have been long since you were conversant amongst them. Well, then, she is not to be contradicted; yet she is not to be humoured. Understand me--a slight illness, sufficient to take away the desire of removing from thence, and to make such of your wise fraternity as may be called in to aid, recommend a quiet residence at home, will, in one word, be esteemed good service, and remunerated as such.""I am not to be asked to affect the House of Life?" said the chemist. "On the contrary, we will have thee hanged if thou dost," replied Varney.
"And I must," added Alasco, "have opportunity to do my turn, and all facilities for concealment or escape, should there be detection?"
"All, all, and everything, thou infidel in all but the impossibilities of alchemy. Why, man, for what dost thou take me?"
The old man rose, and taking a light walked towards the end of the apartment, where was a door that led to the small sleeping- room destined for his reception during the night. At the door he turned round, and slowly repeated Varney's question ere he answered it. "For what do I take thee, Richard Varney? Why, for a worse devil than I have been myself. But I am in your toils, and I must serve you till my term be out."
"Well, well," answered Varney hastily, "be stirring with grey light. It may be we shall not need thy medicine--do nought till I myself come down. Michael Lambourne shall guide you to the place of your destination." [See Note 7. Dr. Julio.]
When Varney heard the adept's door shut and carefully bolted within, he stepped towards it, and with similar precaution carefully locked it on the outside, and took the key from the lock, muttering to himself, "Worse than THEE, thou poisoning quacksalver and witch-monger, who, if thou art not a bounden slave to the devil, it is only because he disdains such an apprentice! I am a mortal man, and seek by mortal means the gratification of my passions and advancement of my prospects; thou art a vassal of hell itself--So ho, Lambourne!" he called at another door, and Michael made his appearance with a flushed cheek and an unsteady step."Thou art drunk, thou villain!" said Varney to him.
"Doubtless, noble sir," replied the unabashed Michael; "We have been drinking all even to the glories of the day, and to my noble Lord of Leicester and his valiant master of the horse. Drunk! odds blades and poniards, he that would refuse to swallow a dozen healths on such an evening is a base besognio, and a puckfoist, and shall swallow six inches of my dagger!"
"Hark ye, scoundrel," said Varney, "be sober on the instant--I command thee. I know thou canst throw off thy drunken folly, like a fool's coat, at pleasure; and if not, it were the worse for thee."
Lambourne drooped his head, left the apartment, and returned in two or three minutes with his face composed, his hair adjusted, his dress in order, and exhibiting as great a difference from his former self as if the whole man had been changed."Art thou sober now, and dost thou comprehend me?" said Varney sternly. Lambourne bowed in acquiescence.
"Thou must presently down to Cumnor Place with the reverend man of art who sleeps yonder in the little vaulted chamber. Here is the key, that thou mayest call him by times. Take another trusty fellow with you. Use him well on the journey, but let him not escape you--pistol him if he attempt it, and I will be your warrant. I will give thee letters to Foster. The doctor is to occupy the lower apartments of the eastern quadrangle, with freedom to use the old elaboratory and its implements. He is to have no access to the lady, but such as I shall point out--only she may be amused to see his philosophical jugglery. Thou wilt await at Cumnor Place my further orders; and, as thou livest, beware of the ale-bench and the aqua vitae flask. Each breath drawn in Cumnor Place must be kept severed from common air."
"Enough, my lord--I mean my worshipful master, soon, I trust, to be my worshipful knightly master. You have given me my lesson and my license; I will execute the one, and not abuse the other. I will be in the saddle by daybreak."
"Do so, and deserve favour. Stay--ere thou goest fill me a cup of wine--not out of that flask, sirrah," as Lambourne was pouring out from that which Alasco had left half finished, "fetch me a fresh one."
Lambourne obeyed, and Varney, after rinsing his mouth with the liquor, drank a full cup, and said, as he took up a lamp to retreat to his sleeping apartment, "It is strange--I am as little the slave of fancy as any one, yet I never speak for a few minutes with this fellow Alasco, but my mouth and lungs feel as if soiled with the fumes of calcined arsenic--pah!"
So saying, he left the apartment. Lambourne lingered, to drink a cup of the freshlyopened flask. "It is from Saint John's-Berg," he said, as he paused on the draught to enjoy its flavour, "and has the true relish of the violet. But I must forbear it now, that I may one day drink it at my own pleasure." And he quaffed a goblet of water to quench the fumes of the Rhenish wine, retired slowly towards the door, made a pause, and then, finding the temptation irresistible, walked hastily back, and took another long pull at the wine flask, without the formality of a cup.
"Were it not for this accursed custom," he said, "I might climb as high as Varney himself. But who can climb when the room turns round with him like a parish-top? I would the distance were greater, or the road rougher, betwixt my hand and mouth! But I will drink nothing to-morrow save water--nothing save fair water."