Part 10 out of 11
what a young and timid woman, but your most affectionate wife,
can suggest in the present extremity?"
Leicester was silent, but bent his head towards the Countess, as
an intimation that she was at liberty to proceed.
"There hath been but one cause for all these evils, my lord," she
proceeded, "and it resolves itself into the mysterious duplicity
with which you, have been induced to surround yourself.
Extricate yourself at once, my lord, from the tyranny of these
disgraceful trammels. Be like a true English gentleman, knight,
and earl, who holds that truth is the foundation of honour, and
that honour is dear to him as the breath of his nostrils. Take
your ill-fated wife by the hand, lead her to the footstool of
Elizabeth's throne--say that in a moment of infatuation, moved by
supposed beauty, of which none perhaps can now trace even the
remains, I gave my hand to this Amy Robsart. You will then have
done justice to me, my lord, and to your own honour and should
law or power require you to part from me, I will oppose no
objection, since I may then with honour hide a grieved and broken
heart in those shades from which your love withdrew me. Then--
have but a little patience, and Amy's life will not long darken
your brighter prospects."
There was so much of dignity, so much of tenderness, in the
Countess's remonstrance, that it moved all that was noble and
generous in the soul of her husband. The scales seemed to fall
from his eyes, and the duplicity and tergiversation of which he
had been guilty stung him at once with remorse and shame.
"I am not worthy of you, Amy," he said, "that could weigh aught
which ambition has to give against such a heart as thine. I have
a bitter penance to perform, in disentangling, before sneering
foes and astounded friends, all the meshes of my own deceitful
policy. And the Queen--but let her take my head, as she has
"Take your head, my lord!" said the Countess, "because you used
the freedom and liberty of an English subject in choosing a wife?
For shame! it is this distrust of the Queen's justice, this
apprehension of danger, which cannot but be imaginary, that, like
scarecrows, have induced you to forsake the straightforward path,
which, as it is the best, is also the safest."
"Ah, Amy, thou little knowest!" said Dudley but instantly
checking himself, he added, "Yet she shall not find in me a safe
or easy victim of arbitrary vengeance. I have friends--I have
allies--I will not, like Norfolk, be dragged to the block as a
victim to sacrifice. Fear not, Amy; thou shalt see Dudley bear
himself worthy of his name. I must instantly communicate with
some of those friends on whom I can best rely; for, as things
stand, I may be made prisoner in my own Castle."
"Oh, my good lord," said Amy, "make no faction in a peaceful
state! There is no friend can help us so well as our own candid
truth and honour. Bring but these to our assistance, and you are
safe amidst a whole army of the envious and malignant. Leave
these behind you, and all other defence will be fruitless.
Truth, my noble lord, is well painted unarmed."
"But Wisdom, Amy," answered Leicester, is arrayed in panoply of
proof. Argue not with me on the means I shall use to render my
confession--since it must be called so--as safe as may be; it
will be fraught with enough of danger, do what we will.--Varney,
we must hence.--Farewell, Amy, whom I am to vindicate as mine
own, at an expense and risk of which thou alone couldst be
worthy. You shall soon hear further from me."
He embraced her fervently, muffled himself as before, and
accompanied Varney from the apartment. The latter, as he left
the room, bowed low, and as he raised his body, regarded Amy with
a peculiar expression, as if he desired to know how far his own
pardon was included in the reconciliation which had taken place
betwixt her and her lord. The Countess looked upon him with a
fixed eye, but seemed no more conscious of his presence than if
there had been nothing but vacant air on the spot where he stood.
"She has brought me to the crisis," he muttered--"she or I am
lost. There was something--I wot not if it was fear or pity--
that prompted me to avoid this fatal crisis. It is now decided
--she or I must PERISH."
While he thus spoke, he observed, with surprise, that a boy,
repulsed by the sentinel, made up to Leicester, and spoke with
him. Varney was one of those politicians whom not the slightest
appearances escape without inquiry. He asked the sentinel what
the lad wanted with him, and received for answer that the boy had
wished him to transmit a parcel to the mad lady; but that he
cared not to take charge of it, such communication being beyond
his commission, His curiosity satisfied in that particular, he
approached his patron, and heard him say, "Well, boy, the packet
shall be delivered."
"Thanks, good Master Serving-man," said the boy, and was out of
sight in an instant.
Leicester and Varney returned with hasty steps to the Earl's
private apartment, by the same passage which had conducted them
to Saintlowe's Tower.
I have said
This is an adulteress--I have said with whom:
More, she's a traitor, and Camillo is
A federary with her, and one that knows
What she should shame to know herself. WINTER'S TALE.
They were no sooner in the Earl's cabinet than, taking his
tablets from his pocket, he began to write, speaking partly to
Varney, and partly to himself--"There are many of them close
bounden to me, and especially those in good estate and high
office--many who, if they look back towards my benefits, or
forward towards the perils which may befall themselves, will not,
I think, be disposed to see me stagger unsupported. Let me see
--Knollis is sure, and through his means Guernsey and Jersey.
Horsey commands in the Isle of Wight. My brother-in-law,
Huntingdon, and Pembroke, have authority in Wales. Through
Bedford I lead the Puritans, with their interest, so powerful in
all the boroughs. My brother of Warwick is equal, well-nigh, to
myself, in wealth, followers, and dependencies. Sir Owen Hopton
is at my devotion; he commands the Tower of London, and the
national treasure deposited there. My father and grand-father
needed never to have stooped their heads to the block had they
thus forecast their enterprises.--Why look you so sad, Varney? I
tell thee, a tree so deep-rooted is not so easily to be torn up
by the tempest."
"Alas! my lord," said Varney, with well-acted passion, and then
resumed the same look of despondency which Leicester had before
"Alas!" repeated Leicester; "and wherefore alas, Sir Richard?
Doth your new spirit of chivalry supply no more vigorous
ejaculation when a noble struggle is impending? Or, if ALAS
means thou wilt flinch from the conflict, thou mayest leave the
Castle, or go join mine enemies, whichever thou thinkest best."
"Not so, my lord," answered his confidant; "Varney will be found
fighting or dying by your side. Forgive me, if, in love to you,
I see more fully than your noble heart permits you to do, the
inextricable difficulties with which you are surrounded. You are
strong, my lord, and powerful; yet, let me say it without
offence, you are so only by the reflected light of the Queen's
favour. While you are Elizabeth's favourite, you are all, save
in name, like an actual sovereign. But let her call back the
honours she has bestowed, and the prophet's gourd did not wither
more suddenly. Declare against the Queen, and I do not say that
in the wide nation, or in this province alone, you would find
yourself instantly deserted and outnumbered; but I will say, that
even in this very Castle, and in the midst of your vassals,
kinsmen, and dependants, you would be a captive, nay, a sentenced
captive, should she please to say the word. Think upon Norfolk,
my lord--upon the powerful Northumberland--the splendid
Westmoreland;--think on all who have made head against this sage
Princess. They are dead, captive, or fugitive. This is not like
other thrones, which can be overturned by a combination of
powerful nobles; the broad foundations which support it are in
the extended love and affections of the people. You might share
it with Elizabeth if you would; but neither yours, nor any other
power, foreign or domestic, will avail to overthrow, or even to
He paused, and Leicester threw his tablets from him with an air
of reckless despite. "It may be as thou sayest," he said? "and,
in sooth, I care not whether truth or cowardice dictate thy
forebodings. But it shall not be said I fell without a struggle.
Give orders that those of my retainers who served under me in
Ireland be gradually drawn into the main Keep, and let our
gentlemen and friends stand on their guard, and go armed, as if
they expected arm onset from the followers of Sussex. Possess
the townspeople with some apprehension; let them take arms, and
be ready, at a given signal, to overpower the Pensioners and
Yeomen of the Guard."
"Let me remind you, my lord," said Varney, with the same
appearance of deep and melancholy interest, "that you have given
me orders to prepare for disarming the Queen's guard. It is an
act of high treason, but you shall nevertheless be obeyed."
"I care not," said Leicester desperately--"I care not. Shame is
behind me, ruin before me; I must on."
Here there was another pause, which Varney at length broke with
the following words: "It is come to the point I have long
dreaded. I must either witness, like an ungrateful beast, the
downfall of the best and kindest of masters, or I must speak what
I would have buried in the deepest oblivion, or told by any other
mouth than mine."
"What is that thou sayest, or wouldst say?" replied the Earl;
"we have no time to waste on words when the times call us to
"My speech is soon made, my lord-would to God it were as soon
answered! Your marriage is the sole cause of the threatened
breach with your Sovereign, my lord, is it not?"
"Thou knowest it is!" replied Leicester. "What needs so
fruitless a question?"
"Pardon me, my lord," said Varney; "the use lies here. Men will
wager their lands and lives in defence of a rich diamond, my
lord; but were it not first prudent to look if there is no flaw
"What means this?" said Leicester, with eyes sternly fixed on
his dependant; "of whom dost thou dare to speak?"
"It is--of the Countess Amy, my lord, of whom I am unhappily
bound to speak; and of whom I WILL speak, were your lordship to
kill me for my zeal."
"Thou mayest happen to deserve it at my hand," said the Earl;
"but speak on, I will hear thee."
"Nay, then, my lord, I will be bold. I speak for my own life as
well as for your lordship's. I like not this lady's tampering
and trickstering with this same Edmund Tressilian. You know him,
my lord. You know he had formerly an interest in her, which it
cost your lordship some pains to supersede. You know the
eagerness with which he has pressed on the suit against me in
behalf of this lady, the open object of which is to drive your
lordship to an avowal of what I must ever call your most unhappy
marriage, the point to which my lady also is willing, at any
risk, to urge you."
Leicester smiled constrainedly. "Thou meanest well, good Sir
Richard, and wouldst, I think, sacrifice thine own honour, as
well as that of any other person, to save me from what thou
thinkest a step so terrible. But remember"--he spoke these words
with the most stern decision--"you speak of the Countess of
"I do, my lord," said Varney; "but it is for the welfare of the
Earl of Leicester. My tale is but begun. I do most strongly
believe that this Tressilian has, from the beginning of his
moving in her cause, been in connivance with her ladyship the
"Thou speakest wild madness, Varney, with the sober face of a
preacher. Where, or how, could they communicate together?"
"My lord," said Varney, "unfortunately I can show that but too
well. It was just before the supplication was presented to the
Queen, in Tressilian's name, that I met him, to my utter
astonishment, at the postern gate which leads from the demesne at
"Thou met'st him, villain! and why didst thou not strike him
dead?" exclaimed Leicester.
"I drew on him, my lord, and he on me; and had not my foot
slipped, he would not, perhaps, have been again a stumbling-block
in your lordship's path."
Leicester seemed struck dumb with surprise. At length he
answered, "What other evidence hast thou of this, Varney, save
thine own assertion?--for, as I will punish deeply, I will
examine coolly and warily. Sacred Heaven!--but no--I will
examine coldly and warily-coldly and warily." He repeated these
words more than once to himself, as if in the very sound there
was a sedative quality; and again compressing his lips, as if he
feared some violent expression might escape from them, he asked
again, "What further proof?"
"Enough, my lord," said Varney, "and to spare. I would it rested
with me alone, for with me it might have been silenced for ever.
But my servant, Michael Lambourne, witnessed the whole, and was,
indeed, the means of first introducing Tressilian into Cumnor
Place; and therefore I took him into my service, and retained him
in it, though something of a debauched fellow, that I might have
his tongue always under my own command." He then acquainted Lord
Leicester how easy it was to prove the circumstance of their
interview true, by evidence of Anthony Foster, with the
corroborative testimonies of the various persons at Cumnor, who
had heard the wager laid, and had seen Lambourne and Tressilian
set off together. In the whole narrative, Varney hazarded
nothing fabulous, excepting that, not indeed by direct assertion,
but by inference, he led his patron to suppose that the interview
betwixt Amy and Tressilian at Cumnor Place had been longer than
the few minutes to which it was in reality limited.
"And wherefore was I not told of all this?" said Leicester
sternly. "Why did all of ye--and in particular thou, Varney--
keep back from me such material information?"
"Because, my lord," replied Varney, "the Countess pretended to
Foster and to me that Tressilian had intruded himself upon her;
and I concluded their interview had been in all honour, and that
she would at her own time tell it to your lordship. Your
lordship knows with what unwilling ears we listen to evil
surmises against those whom we love; and I thank Heaven I am no
makebate or informer, to be the first to sow them."
"You are but too ready to receive them, however, Sir Richard,"
replied his patron. "How knowest thou that this interview was
not in all honour, as thou hast said? Methinks the wife of the
Earl of Leicester might speak for a short time with such a person
as Tressilian without injury to me or suspicion to herself."
"Questionless, my lord," answered Varney, "Had I thought
otherwise, I had been no keeper of the secret. But here lies the
rub--Tressilian leaves not the place without establishing a
correspondence with a poor man, the landlord of an inn in Cumnor,
for the purpose of carrying off the lady. He sent down an
emissary of his, whom I trust soon to have in right sure keeping
under Mervyn's Tower--Killigrew and Lambsbey are scouring the
country in quest of him. The host is rewarded with a ring for
keeping counsel--your lordship may have noted it on Tressilian's
hand--here it is. This fellow, this agent, makes his way to the
place as a pedlar; holds conferences with the lady, and they make
their escape together by night; rob a poor fellow of a horse by
the way, such was their guilty haste, and at length reach this
Castle, where the Countess of Leicester finds refuge--I dare not
say in what place."
"Speak, I command thee," said Leicester--"speak, while I retain
sense enough to hear thee."
"Since it must be so," answered Varney, "the lady resorted
immediately to the apartment of Tressilian, where she remained
many hours, partly in company with him, and partly alone. I told
you Tressilian had a paramour in his chamber; I little dreamed
that paramour was--"
"Amy, thou wouldst say," answered Leicester; "but it is false,
false as the smoke of hell! Ambitious she may be--fickle and
impatient--'tis a woman's fault; but false to me!--never, never.
The proof--the proof of this!" he exclaimed hastily.
"Carrol, the Deputy Marshal, ushered her thither by her own
desire, on yesterday afternoon; Lambourne and the Warder both
found her there at an early hour this morning,"
"Was Tressilian there with her?" said Leicester, in the same
"No, my lord. You may remember," answered Varney, "that he was
that night placed with Sir Nicholas Blount, under a species of
"Did Carrol, or the other fellows, know who she was?" demanded
"No, my lord," replied Varney; "Carrol and the Warder had never
seen the Countess, and Lambourne knew her not in her disguise.
But in seeking to prevent her leaving the cell, he obtained
possession of one of her gloves, which, I think, your lordship
He gave the glove, which had the Bear and Ragged Staff, the
Earl's impress, embroidered upon it in seed-pearls.
"I do--I do recognize it," said Leicester. "They were my own
gift. The fellow of it was on the arm which she threw this very
day around my neck!" He spoke this with violent agitation.
"Your lordship," said Varney, "might yet further inquire of the
lady herself respecting the truth of these passages."
"It needs not--it needs not," said the tortured Earl; "it is
written in characters of burning light, as if they were branded
on my very eyeballs! I see her infamy-I can see nought else;
and--gracious Heaven!--for this vile woman was I about to commit
to danger the lives of so many noble friends, shake the
foundation of a lawful throne, carry the sword and torch through
the bosom of a peaceful land, wrong the kind mistress who made me
what I am, and would, but for that hell-framed marriage, have
made me all that man can be! All this I was ready to do for a
woman who trinkets and traffics with my worst foes!--And thou,
villain, why didst thou not speak sooner?"
"My lord," said Varney, "a tear from my lady would have blotted
out all I could have said. Besides, I had not these proofs until
this very morning, when Anthony Foster's sudden arrival with the
examinations and declarations, which he had extorted from the
innkeeper Gosling and others, explained the manner of her flight
from Cumnor Place, and my own researches discovered the steps
which she had taken here."
"Now, may God be praised for the light He has given! so full, so
satisfactory, that there breathes not a man in England who shall
call my proceeding rash, or my revenge unjust.--And yet, Varney,
so young, so fair, so fawning, and so false! Hence, then, her
hatred to thee, my trusty, my well-beloved servant, because you
withstood her plots, and endangered her paramour's life!"
"I never gave her any other cause of dislike, my lord," replied
Varney. "But she knew that my counsels went directly to diminish
her influence with your lordship; and that I was, and have been,
ever ready to peril my life against your enemies."
"It is too, too apparent," replied Leicester "yet with what an
air of magnanimity she exhorted me to commit my head to the
Queen's mercy, rather than wear the veil of falsehood a moment
longer! Methinks the angel of truth himself can have no such
tones of high-souled impulse. Can it be so, Varney?--can
falsehood use thus boldly the language of truth?--can infamy thus
assume the guise of purity? Varney, thou hast been my servant
from a child. I have raised thee high--can raise thee higher.
Think, think for me!--thy brain was ever shrewd and piercing--
may she not be innocent? Prove her so, and all I have yet done
for thee shall be as nothing--nothing, in comparison of thy
The agony with which his master spoke had some effect even on the
hardened Varney, who, in the midst of his own wicked and
ambitious designs, really loved his patron as well as such a
wretch was capable of loving anything. But he comforted himself,
and subdued his self-reproaches, with the reflection that if he
inflicted upon the Earl some immediate and transitory pain, it
was in order to pave his way to the throne, which, were this
marriage dissolved by death or otherwise, he deemed Elizabeth
would willingly share with his benefactor. He therefore
persevered in his diabolical policy; and after a moment's
consideration, answered the anxious queries of the Earl with a
melancholy look, as if he had in vain sought some exculpation for
the Countess; then suddenly raising his head, he said, with an
expression of hope, which instantly communicated itself to the
countenance of his patron--"Yet wherefore, if guilty, should she
have perilled herself by coming hither? Why not rather have fled
to her father's, or elsewhere?--though that, indeed, might have
interfered with her desire to be acknowledged as Countess of
"True, true, true!" exclaimed Leicester, his transient gleam of
hope giving way to the utmost bitterness of feeling and
expression; "thou art not fit to fathom a woman's depth of wit,
Varney. I see it all. She would not quit the estate and title
of the wittol who had wedded her. Ay, and if in my madness I had
started into rebellion, or if the angry Queen had taken my head,
as she this morning threatened, the wealthy dower which law would
have assigned to the Countess Dowager of Leicester had been no
bad windfall to the beggarly Tressilian. Well might she goad me
on to danger, which could not end otherwise than profitably to
her,--Speak not for her, Varney! I will have her blood!"
"My lord," replied Varney, "the wildness of your distress breaks
forth in the wildness of your language,"
"I say, speak not for her!" replied Leicester; "she has
dishonoured me--she would have murdered me--all ties are burst
between us. She shall die the death of a traitress and
adulteress, well merited both by the laws of God and man! And--
what is this casket," he said, "which was even now thrust into my
hand by a boy, with the desire I would convey it to Tressilian,
as he could not give it to the Countess? By Heaven! the words
surprised me as he spoke them, though other matters chased them
from my brain; but now they return with double force. It is her
casket of jewels!--Force it open, Varney--force the hinges open
with thy poniard!"
"She refused the aid of my dagger once," thought Varney, as he
unsheathed the weapon, "to cut the string which bound a letter,
but now it shall work a mightier ministry in her fortunes."
With this reflection, by using the three-cornered stiletto-blade
as a wedge, he forced open the slender silver hinges of the
casket. The Earl no sooner saw them give way than he snatched
the casket from Sir Richard's hand, wrenched off the cover, and
tearing out the splendid contents, flung them on the floor in a
transport of rage, while he eagerly searched for some letter or
billet which should make the fancied guilt of his innocent
Countess yet more apparent. Then stamping furiously on the gems,
he exclaimed, "Thus I annihilate the miserable toys for which
thou hast sold thyself, body and soul--consigned thyself to an
early and timeless death, and me to misery and remorse for ever!
--Tell me not of forgiveness, Varney--she is doomed!"
So saying, he left the room, and rushed into an adjacent closet,
the door of which he locked and bolted.
Varney looked after him, while something of a more human feeling
seemed to contend with his habitual sneer. "I am sorry for his
weakness," he said, "but love has made him a child. He throws
down and treads on these costly toys-with the same vehemence
would he dash to pieces this frailest toy of all, of which he
used to rave so fondly. But that taste also will be forgotten
when its object is no more. Well, he has no eye to value things
as they deserve, and that nature has given to Varney. When
Leicester shall be a sovereign, he will think as little of the
gales of passion through which he gained that royal port, as ever
did sailor in harbour of the perils of a voyage. But these tell-
tale articles must not remain here--they are rather too rich
vails for the drudges who dress the chamber."
While Varney was employed in gathering together and putting them
into a secret drawer of a cabinet that chanced to be open, he saw
the door of Leicester's closet open, the tapestry pushed aside,
and the Earl's face thrust out, but with eyes so dead, and lips
and cheeks so bloodless and pale, that he started at the sudden
change. No sooner did his eyes encounter the Earl's, than the
latter withdrew his head and shut the door of the closet. This
manoeuvre Leicester repeated twice, without speaking a word, so
that Varney began to doubt whether his brain was not actually
affected by his mental agony. The third time, however, he
beckoned, and Varney obeyed the signal. When he entered, he soon
found his patron's perturbation was not caused by insanity, but
by the fullness of purpose which he entertained contending with
various contrary passions. They passed a full hour in close
consultation; after which the Earl of Leicester, with an
incredible exertion, dressed himself, and went to attend his
You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting
With most admired disorder. MACBETH.
It was afterwards remembered that during the banquets and revels
which occupied the remainder of this eventful day the bearing of
Leicester and of Varney were totally different from their usual
demeanour. Sir Richard Varney had been held rather a man of
counsel and of action than a votary of pleasure. Business,
whether civil or military, seemed always to be his proper sphere;
and while in festivals and revels, although he well understood
how to trick them up and present them, his own part was that of a
mere spectator; or if he exercised his wit, it was in a rough,
caustic, and severe manner, rather as if he scoffed at the
exhibition and the guests than shared the common pleasure.
But upon the present day his character seemed changed. He mixed
among the younger courtiers and ladies, and appeared for the
moment to be actuated by a spirit of light-hearted gaiety, which
rendered him a match for the liveliest. Those who had looked
upon him as a man given up to graver and more ambitious pursuits,
a bitter sneerer and passer of sarcasms at the expense of those
who, taking life as they find it, were disposed to snatch at
each pastime it presents, now perceived with astonishment that
his wit could carry as smooth an edge as their own, his laugh be
as lively, and his brow as unclouded. By what art of damnable
hypocrisy he could draw this veil of gaiety over the black
thoughts of one of the worst of human bosoms must remain
unintelligible to all but his compeers, if any such ever existed;
but he was a man of extraordinary powers, and those powers were
unhappily dedicated in all their energy to the very worst of
It was entirely different with Leicester. However habituated his
mind usually was to play the part of a good courtier, and appear
gay, assiduous, and free from all care but that of enhancing the
pleasure of the moment, while his bosom internally throbbed with
the pangs of unsatisfied ambition, jealousy, or resentment, his
heart had now a yet more dreadful guest, whose workings could not
be overshadowed or suppressed; and you might read in his vacant
eye and troubled brow that his thoughts were far absent from the
scenes in which he was compelling himself to play a part. He
looked, moved, and spoke as if by a succession of continued
efforts; and it seemed as if his will had in some degree lost the
promptitude of command over the acute mind and goodly form of
which it was the regent. His actions and gestures, instead of
appearing the consequence of simple volition, seemed, like those
of an automaton, to wait the revolution of some internal
machinery ere they could be performed; and his words fell from
him piecemeal, interrupted, as if he had first to think what he
was to say, then how it was to be said, and as if, after all, it
was only by an effort of continued attention that he completed a
sentence without forgetting both the one and the other.
The singular effects which these distractions of mind produced
upon the behaviour and conversation of the most accomplished
courtier of England, as they were visible to the lowest and
dullest menial who approached his person, could not escape the
notice of the most intelligent Princess of the age. Nor is there
the least doubt that the alternate negligence and irregularity of
his manner would have called down Elizabeth's severe displeasure
on the Earl of Leicester, had it not occurred to her to account
for it by supposing that the apprehension of that displeasure
which she had expressed towards him with such vivacity that very
morning was dwelling upon the spirits of her favourite, and,
spite of his efforts to the contrary, distracted the usual
graceful tenor of his mien and the charms of his conversation.
When this idea, so flattering to female vanity, had once obtained
possession of her mind, it proved a full and satisfactory apology
for the numerous errors and mistakes of the Earl of Leicester;
and the watchful circle around observed with astonishment, that,
instead of resenting his repeated negligence, and want of even
ordinary attention (although these were points on which she was
usually extremely punctilious), the Queen sought, on the
contrary, to afford him time and means to recollect himself, and
deigned to assist him in doing so, with an indulgence which
seemed altogether inconsistent with her usual character. It was
clear, however, that this could not last much longer, and that
Elizabeth must finally put another and more severe construction
on Leicester's uncourteous conduct, when the Earl was summoned by
Varney to speak with him in a different apartment.
After having had the message twice delivered to him, he rose, and
was about to withdraw, as it were, by instinct; then stopped, and
turning round, entreated permission of the Queen to absent
himself for a brief space upon matters of pressing importance.
"Go, my lord," said the Queen. "We are aware our presence must
occasion sudden and unexpected occurrences, which require to be
provided for on the instant. Yet, my lord, as you would have us
believe ourself your welcome and honoured guest, we entreat you
to think less of our good cheer, and favour us with more of your
good countenance than we have this day enjoyed; for whether
prince or peasant be the guest, the welcome of the host will
always be the better part of the entertainment. Go, my lord; and
we trust to see you return with an unwrinkled brow, and those
free thoughts which you are wont to have at the disposal of your
Leicester only bowed low in answer to this rebuke, and retired.
At the door of the apartment he was met by Varney, who eagerly
drew him apart, and whispered in his ear, "All is well!"
"Has Masters seen her?" said the Earl.
"He has, my lord; and as she would neither answer his queries,
nor allege any reason for her refusal, he will give full
testimony that she labours under a mental disorder, and may be
best committed to the charge of her friends. The opportunity is
therefore free to remove her as we proposed."
"But Tressilian?" said Leicester.
"He will not know of her departure for some time," replied
Varney; "it shall take place this very evening, and to-morrow he
shall be cared for."
"No, by my soul," answered Leicester; "I will take vengeance on
him with mine own hand!"
"You, my lord, and on so inconsiderable a man as Tressilian! No,
my lord, he hath long wished to visit foreign parts. Trust him
to me--I will take care he returns not hither to tell tales."
"Not so, by Heaven, Varney!" exclaimed Leicester.
"Inconsiderable do you call an enemy that hath had power to wound
me so deeply that my whole after-life must be one scene of
remorse and misery?--No; rather than forego the right of doing
myself justice with my own hand on that accursed villain, I will
unfold the whole truth at Elizabeth's footstool, and let her
vengeance descend at once on them and on myself."
Varney saw with great alarm that his lord was wrought up to such
a pitch of agitation, that if he gave not way to him he was
perfectly capable of adopting the desperate resolution which he
had announced, and which was instant ruin to all the schemes of
ambition which Varney had formed for his patron and for himself.
But the Earl's rage seemed at once uncontrollable and deeply
concentrated, and while he spoke his eyes shot fire, his voice
trembled with excess of passion, and the light foam stood on his
His confidant made a bold and successful effort to obtain the
mastery of him even in this hour of emotion. "My lord," he said,
leading him to a mirror, "behold your reflection in that glass,
and think if these agitated features belong to one who, in a
condition so extreme, is capable of forming a resolution for
"What, then, wouldst thou make me?" said Leicester, struck at
the change in his own physiognomy, though offended at the freedom
with which Varney made the appeal. "Am I to be thy ward, thy
vassal,--the property and subject of my servant?"
"No, my lord," said Varney firmly, "but be master of yourself,
and of your own passion. My lord, I, your born servant, am
ashamed to see how poorly you bear yourself in the storm of fury.
Go to Elizabeth's feet, confess your marriage--impeach your wife
and her paramour of adultery--and avow yourself, amongst all your
peers, the wittol who married a country girl, and was cozened by
her and her book-learned gallant. Go, my lord--but first take
farewell of Richard Varney, with all the benefits you ever
conferred on him. He served the noble, the lofty, the high-
minded Leicester, and was more proud of depending on him than he
would be of commanding thousands. But the abject lord who stoops
to every adverse circumstance, whose judicious resolves are
scattered like chaff before every wind of passion, him Richard
Varney serves not. He is as much above him in constancy of mind
as beneath him in rank and fortune."
Varney spoke thus without hypocrisy, for though the firmness of
mind which he boasted was hardness and impenetrability, yet he
really felt the ascendency which he vaunted; while the interest
which he actually felt in the fortunes of Leicester gave unusual
emotion to his voice and manner.
Leicester was overpowered by his assumed superiority it seemed to
the unfortunate Earl as if his last friend was about to abandon
him. He stretched his hand towards Varney as he uttered the
words, "Do not leave me. What wouldst thou have me do?"
"Be thyself, my noble master," said Varney, touching the Earl's
hand with his lips, after having respectfully grasped it in his
own; "be yourself, superior to those storms of passion which
wreck inferior minds. Are you the first who has been cozened in
love--the first whom a vain and licentious woman has cheated into
an affection, which she has afterwards scorned and misused? And
will you suffer yourself to be driven frantic because you have
not been wiser than the wisest men whom the world has seen? Let
her be as if she had not been--let her pass from your memory, as
unworthy of ever having held a place there. Let your strong
resolve of this morning, which I have both courage, zeal, and
means enough to execute, be like the fiat of a superior being, a
passionless act of justice. She hath deserved death--let her
While he was speaking, the Earl held his hand fast, compressed
his lips hard, and frowned, as if he laboured to catch from
Varney a portion of the cold, ruthless, and dispassionate
firmness which he recommended. When he was silent, the Earl
still continued to rasp his hand, until, with an effort at calm
decision, he was able to articulate, "Be it so--she dies! But
one tear might be permitted."
"Not one, my lord," interrupted Varney, who saw by the quivering
eye and convulsed cheek of his patron that he was about to give
way to a burst of emotion--"not a tear--the time permits it not.
Tressilian must be thought of--"
"That indeed is a name," said the Earl, "to convert tears into
blood. Varney, I have thought on this, and I have determined--
neither entreaty nor argument shall move me--Tressilian shall be
my own victim."
"It is madness, my lord; but you are too mighty for me to bar
your way to your revenge. Yet resolve at least to choose fitting
time and opportunity, and to forbear him until these shall be
"Thou shalt order me in what thou wilt," said Leicester, "only
thwart me not in this."
"Then, my lord," said Varney, "I first request of you to lay
aside the wild, suspected, and half-frenzied demeanour which hath
this day drawn the eyes of all the court upon you, and which, but
for the Queen's partial indulgence, which she hath extended
towards you in a degree far beyond her nature, she had never
given you the opportunity to atone for."
"Have I indeed been so negligent?" said Leicester, as one who
awakes from a dream. "I thought I had coloured it well. But
fear nothing, my mind is now eased--I am calm. My horoscope
shall be fulfilled; and that it may be fulfilled, I will tax to
the highest every faculty of my mind. Fear me not, I say. I
will to the Queen instantly--not thine own looks and language
shall be more impenetrable than mine. Hast thou aught else to
"I must crave your signet-ring," said Varney gravely, "in token
to those of your servants whom I must employ, that I possess your
full authority in commanding their aid."
Leicester drew off the signet-ring which he commonly used, and
gave it to Varney, with a haggard and stern expression of
countenance, adding only, in a low, half-whispered tone, but with
terrific emphasis, the words, "What thou dost, do quickly."
Some anxiety and wonder took place, meanwhile, in the presence-
hall, at the prolonged absence of the noble Lord of the Castle,
and great was the delight of his friends when they saw him enter
as a man from whose bosom, to all human seeming, a weight of care
had been just removed. Amply did Leicester that day redeem the
pledge he had given to Varney, who soon saw himself no longer
under the necessity of maintaining a character so different from
his own as that which he had assumed in the earlier part of the
day, and gradually relapsed into the same grave, shrewd, caustic
observer of conversation and incident which constituted his usual
part in society.
With Elizabeth, Leicester played his game as one to whom her
natural strength of talent and her weakness in one or two
particular points were well known. He was too wary to exchange
on a sudden the sullen personage which he had played before he
retired with Varney; but on approaching her it seemed softened
into a melancholy, which had a touch of tenderness in it, and
which, in the course of conversing with Elizabeth, and as she
dropped in compassion one mark of favour after another to console
him, passed into a flow of affectionate gallantry, the most
assiduous, the most delicate, the most insinuating, yet at the
same time the most respectful, with which a Queen was ever
addressed by a subject. Elizabeth listened as in a sort of
enchantment. Her jealousy of power was lulled asleep; her
resolution to forsake all social or domestic ties, and dedicate
herself exclusively to the care of her people, began to be
shaken; and once more the star of Dudley culminated in the court
But Leicester did not enjoy this triumph over nature, and over
conscience, without its being embittered to him, not only by the
internal rebellion of his feelings against the violence which he
exercised over them, but by many accidental circumstances, which,
in the course of the banquet, and during the subsequent
amusements of the evening, jarred upon that nerve, the least
vibration of which was agony.
The courtiers were, for example, in the Great Hall, after having
left the banqueting-room, awaiting the appearance of a splendid
masque, which was the expected entertainment of this evening,
when the Queen interrupted a wild career of wit which the Earl of
Leicester was running against Lord Willoughby, Raleigh, and some
other courtiers, by saying, "We will impeach you of high treason,
my lord, if you proceed in this attempt to slay us with laughter.
And here comes a thing may make us all grave at his pleasure, our
learned physician Masters, with news belike of our poor
suppliant, Lady Varney;--nay, my lord, we will not have you leave
us, for this being a dispute betwixt married persons, we do not
hold our own experience deep enough to decide thereon without
good counsel.--How now, Masters, what thinkest thou of the
The smile with which Leicester had been speaking, when the Queen
interrupted him, remained arrested on his lips, as if it had been
carved there by the chisel of Michael Angelo or of Chantrey; and
he listened to the speech of the physician with the same
immovable cast of countenance.
"The Lady Varney, gracious Sovereign," said the court physician
Masters, "is sullen, and would hold little conference with me
touching the state of her health, talking wildly of being soon to
plead her own cause before your own presence, and of answering no
meaner person's inquiries."
"Now the heavens forfend!" said the Queen; "we have already
suffered from the misconstructions and broils which seem to
follow this poor brain-sick lady wherever she comes.--Think you
not so, my lord?" she added, appealing to Leicester with
something in her look that indicated regret, even tenderly
expressed, for their disagreement of that morning. Leicester
compelled himself to bow low. The utmost force he could exert
was inadequate to the further effort of expressing in words his
acquiescence in the Queen's sentiment.
"You are vindictive," she said, "my lord; but we will find time
and place to punish you. But once more to this same trouble-
mirth, this Lady Varney. What of her health, Masters?"
"She is sullen, madam, as I already said," replied Masters, "and
refuses to answer interrogatories, or be amenable to the
authority of the mediciner. I conceive her to be possessed with
a delirium, which I incline to term rather HYPOCHONDRIA than
PHRENESIS; and I think she were best cared for by her husband in
his own house, and removed from all this bustle of pageants,
which disturbs her weak brain with the most fantastic phantoms.
She drops hints as if she were some great person in disguise--
some Countess or Princess perchance. God help them, such are
often the hallucinations of these infirm persons!"
"Nay, then," said the Queen, "away with her with all speed. Let
Varney care for her with fitting humanity; but let them rid the
Castle of her forthwith she will think herself lady of all, I
warrant you. It is pity so fair a form, however, should have an
infirm understanding.--What think you, my lord?"
"It is pity indeed," said the Earl, repeating the words like a
task which was set him.
"But, perhaps," said Elizabeth, "you do not join with us in our
opinion of her beauty; and indeed we have known men prefer a
statelier and more Juno-like form to that drooping fragile one
that hung its head like a broken lily. Ay, men are tyrants, my
lord, who esteem the animation of the strife above the triumph of
an unresisting conquest, and, like sturdy champions, love best
those women who can wage contest with them.--I could think with
you, Rutland, that give my Lord of Leicester such a piece of
painted wax for a bride, he would have wished her dead ere the
end of the honeymoon."
As she said this, she looked on Leicester so expressively that,
while his heart revolted against the egregious falsehood, he did
himself so much violence as to reply in a whisper that
Leicester's love was more lowly than her Majesty deemed, since it
was settled where he could never command, but must ever obey.
The Queen blushed, and bid him be silent; yet looked as of she
expected that he would not obey her commands. But at that moment
the flourish of trumpets and kettle-drums from a high balcony
which overlooked the hall announced the entrance of the maskers,
and relieved Leicester from the horrible state of constraint and
dissimulation in which the result of his own duplicity had placed
The masque which entered consisted of four separate bands, which
followed each other at brief intervals, each consisting of six
principal persons and as many torch-bearers, and each
representing one of the various nations by which England had at
different times been occupied.
The aboriginal Britons, who first entered, were ushered in by two
ancient Druids, whose hoary hair was crowned with a chaplet of
oak, and who bore in their hands branches of mistletoe. The
maskers who followed these venerable figures were succeeded by
two Bards, arrayed in white, and bearing harps, which they
occasionally touched, singing at the same time certain stanzas of
an ancient hymn to Belus, or the Sun. The aboriginal Britons had
been selected from amongst the tallest and most robust young
gentlemen in attendance on the court. Their masks were
accommodated with long, shaggy beards and hair; their vestments
were of the hides of wolves and bears; while their legs, arms,
and the upper parts of their bodies, being sheathed in flesh-
coloured silk, on which were traced in grotesque lines
representations of the heavenly bodies, and of animals and other
terrestrial objects, gave them the lively appearance of our
painted ancestors, whose freedom was first trenched upon by the
The sons of Rome, who came to civilize as well as to conquer,
were next produced before the princely assembly; and the manager
of the revels had correctly imitated the high crest and military
habits of that celebrated people, accommodating them with the
light yet strong buckler and the short two-edged sword, the use
of which had made them victors of the world. The Roman eagles
were borne before them by two standard-bearers, who recited a
hymn to Mars, and the classical warriors followed with the grave
and haughty step of men who aspired at universal conquest.
The third quadrille represented the Saxons, clad in the bearskins
which they had brought with them from the German forests, and
bearing in their hands the redoubtable battle-axes which made
such havoc among the natives of Britain. They were preceded by
two Scalds, who chanted the praises of Odin.
Last came the knightly Normans, in their mail-shirts and hoods of
steel, with all the panoply of chivalry, and marshalled by two
Minstrels, who sang of war and ladies' love.
These four bands entered the spacious hall with the utmost order,
a short pause being made, that the spectators might satisfy their
curiosity as to each quadrille before the appearance of the next.
They then marched completely round the hall, in order the more
fully to display themselves, regulating their steps to organs,
shalms, hautboys, and virginals, the music of the Lord
Leicester's household. At length the four quadrilles of maskers,
ranging their torch-bearers behind them, drew up in their several
ranks on the two opposite sides of the hall, so that the Romans
confronting the Britons, and the Saxons the Normans, seemed to
look on each other with eyes of wonder, which presently appeared
to kindle into anger, expressed by menacing gestures. At the
burst of a strain of martial music from the gallery the maskers
drew their swords on all sides, and advanced against each other
in the measured steps of a sort of Pyrrhic or military dance,
clashing their swords against their adversaries' shields, and
clattering them against their blades as they passed each other in
the progress of the dance. It was a very pleasant spectacle to
see how the various bands, preserving regularity amid motions
which seemed to be totally irregular, mixed together, and then
disengaging themselves, resumed each their own original rank as
the music varied.
In this symbolical dance were represented the conflicts which had
taken place among the various nations which had anciently
At length, after many mazy evolutions, which afforded great
pleasure to the spectators, the sound of a loud-voiced trumpet
was heard, as if it blew for instant battle, or for victory won.
The maskers instantly ceased their mimic strife, and collecting
themselves under their original leaders, or presenters, for such
was the appropriate phrase, seemed to share the anxious
expectation which the spectators experienced concerning what was
next to appear.
The doors of the hall were thrown wide, and no less a person
entered than the fiend-born Merlin, dressed in a strange and
mystical attire, suited to his ambiguous birth and magical power.
About him and behind him fluttered or gambolled many
extraordinary forms, intended to represent the spirits who waited
to do his powerful bidding; and so much did this part of the
pageant interest the menials and others of the lower class then
in the Castle, that many of them forgot even the reverence due to
the Queen's presence, so far as to thrust themselves into the
lower part of the hall.
The Earl of Leicester, seeing his officers had some difficulty to
repel these intruders, without more disturbance than was fitting
where the Queen was in presence, arose and went himself to the
bottom of the hall; Elizabeth, at the same time, with her usual
feeling for the common people, requesting that they might be
permitted to remain undisturbed to witness the pageant.
Leicester went under this pretext; but his real motive was to
gain a moment to himself, and to relieve his mind, were it but
for one instant, from the dreadful task of hiding, under the
guise of gaiety and gallantry, the lacerating pangs of shame,
anger, remorse, and thirst for vengeance. He imposed silence by
his look and sign upon the vulgar crowd at the lower end of the
apartment; but instead of instantly returning to wait on her
Majesty, he wrapped his cloak around him, and mixing with the
crowd, stood in some degree an undistinguished spectator of the
progress of the masque.
Merlin having entered, and advanced into the midst of the hall,
summoned the presenters of the contending bands around him by a
wave of his magical rod, and announced to them, in a poetical
speech, that the isle of Britain was now commanded by a Royal
Maiden, to whom it was the will of fate that they should all do
homage, and request of her to pronounce on the various
pretensions which each set forth to be esteemed the pre-eminent
stock, from which the present natives, the happy subjects of that
angelical Princess, derived their lineage.
In obedience to this mandate, the bands, each moving to solemn
music, passed in succession before Elizabeth, doing her, as they
passed, each after the fashion of the people whom they
represented, the lowest and most devotional homage, which she
returned with the same gracious courtesy that had marked her
whole conduct since she came to Kenilworth.
The presenters of the several masques or quadrilles then alleged,
each in behalf of his own troop, the reasons which they had for
claiming pre-eminence over the rest; and when they had been all
heard in turn, she returned them this gracious answer: "That she
was sorry she was not better qualified to decide upon the
doubtful question which had been propounded to her by the
direction of the famous Merlin, but that it seemed to her that no
single one of these celebrated nations could claim pre-eminence
over the others, as having most contributed to form the
Englishman of her own time, who unquestionably derived from each
of them some worthy attribute of his character. Thus," she said,
"the Englishman had from the ancient Briton his bold and tameless
spirit of freedom; from the Roman his disciplined courage in war,
with his love of letters and civilization in time of peace; from
the Saxon his wise and equitable laws; and from the chivalrous
Norman his love of honour and courtesy, with his generous desire
Merlin answered with readiness that it did indeed require that so
many choice qualities should meet in the English, as might render
them in some measure the muster of the perfections of other
nations, since that alone could render them in some degree
deserving of the blessings they enjoyed under the reign of
The music then sounded, and the quadrilles, together with Merlin
and his assistants, had begun to remove from the crowded hall,
when Leicester, who was, as we have mentioned, stationed for the
moment near the bottom of the hall, and consequently engaged in
some degree in the crowd, felt himself pulled by the cloak, while
a voice whispered in his ear, "My Lord, I do desire some instant
conference with you."
How is't with me, when every noise appals me? MACBETH.
"I desire some conference with you." The words were simple in
themselves, but Lord Leicester was in that alarmed and feverish
state of mind when the most ordinary occurrences seem fraught
with alarming import; and he turned hastily round to survey the
person by whom they had been spoken. There was nothing
remarkable in the speaker's appearance, which consisted of a
black silk doublet and short mantle, with a black vizard on his
face; for it appeared he had been among the crowd of masks who
had thronged into the hall in the retinue of Merlin, though he
did not wear any of the extravagant disguises by which most of
them were distinguished.
"Who are you, or what do you want with me?" said Leicester, not
without betraying, by his accents, the hurried state of his
"No evil, my lord," answered the mask, "but much good and honour,
if you will rightly understand my purpose. But I must speak with
you more privately."
"I can speak with no nameless stranger," answered Leicester,
dreading he knew not precisely what from the request of the
stranger; "and those who are known to me must seek another and a
fitter time to ask an interview."
He would have hurried away, but the mask still detained him.
"Those who talk to your lordship of what your own honour demands
have a right over your time, whatever occupations you may lay
aside in order to indulge them."
"How! my honour? Who dare impeach it?" said Leicester.
"Your own conduct alone can furnish grounds for accusing it, my
lord, and it is that topic on which I would speak with you."
"You are insolent," said Leicester, "and abuse the hospitable
license of the time, which prevents me from having you punished.
I demand your name!"
"Edmund Tressilian of Cornwall," answered the mask. "My tongue
has been bound by a promise for four-and-twenty hours. The space
is passed,--I now speak, and do your lordship the justice to
address myself first to you."
The thrill of astonishment which had penetrated to Leicester's
very heart at hearing that name pronounced by the voice of the
man he most detested, and by whom he conceived himself so deeply
injured, at first rendered him immovable, but instantly gave way
to such a thirst for revenge as the pilgrim in the desert feels
for the water-brooks. He had but sense and self-government
enough left to prevent his stabbing to the heart the audacious
villain, who, after the ruin he had brought upon him, dared, with
such unmoved assurance, thus to practise upon him further.
Determined to suppress for the moment every symptom of agitation,
in order to perceive the full scope of Tressilian's purpose, as
well as to secure his own vengeance, he answered in a tone so
altered by restrained passion as scarce to be intelligible, "And
what does Master Edmund Tressilian require at my hand?"
"Justice, my lord," answered Tressilian, calmly but firmly.
"Justice," said Leicester, "all men are entitled to. YOU, Master
Tressilian, are peculiarly so, and be assured you shall have it."
"I expect nothing less from your nobleness," answered Tressilian;
"but time presses, and I must speak with you to-night. May I
wait on you in your chamber?"
"No," answered Leicester sternly, "not under a roof, and that
roof mine own. We will meet under the free cope of heaven."
"You are discomposed or displeased, my lord," replied Tressilian;
"yet there is no occasion for distemperature. The place is equal
to me, so you allow me one half-hour of your time uninterrupted."
"A shorter time will, I trust, suffice," answered Leicester.
"Meet me in the Pleasance when the Queen has retired to her
"Enough," said Tressilian, and withdrew; while a sort of rapture
seemed for the moment to occupy the mind of Leicester.
"Heaven," he said, "is at last favourable to me, and has put
within my reach the wretch who has branded me with this deep
ignominy--who has inflicted on me this cruel agony. I will blame
fate no more, since I am afforded the means of tracing the wiles
by which he means still further to practise on me, and then of at
once convicting and punishing his villainy. To my task--to my
task! I will not sink under it now, since midnight, at farthest,
will bring me vengeance."
While these reflections thronged through Leicester's mind, he
again made his way amid the obsequious crowd, which divided to
give him passage, and resumed his place, envied and admired,
beside the person of his Sovereign. But could the bosom of him
thus admired and envied have been laid open before the
inhabitants of that crowded hall, with all its dark thoughts of
guilty ambition, blighted affection, deep vengeance, and
conscious sense of meditated cruelty, crossing each other like
spectres in the circle of some foul enchantress, which of them,
from the most ambitious noble in the courtly circle down to the
most wretched menial who lived by shifting of trenchers, would
have desired to change characters with the favourite of
Elizabeth, and the Lord of Kenilworth?
New tortures awaited him as soon as he had rejoined Elizabeth.
"You come in time, my lord," she said, "to decide a dispute
between us ladies. Here has Sir Richard Varney asked our
permission to depart from the Castle with his infirm lady,
having, as he tells us, your lordship's consent to his absence,
so he can obtain ours. Certes, we have no will to withhold him
from the affectionate charge of this poor young person; but you
are to know that Sir Richard Varney hath this day shown himself
so much captivated with these ladies of ours, that here is our
Duchess of Rutland says he will carry his poor insane wife no
farther than the lake, plunge her in to tenant the crystal
palaces that the enchanted nymph told us of, and return a jolly
widower, to dry his tears and to make up the loss among our
train. How say you, my lord? We have seen Varney under two or
three different guises--you know what are his proper attributes
--think you he is capable of playing his lady such a knave's
Leicester was confounded, but the danger was urgent, and a reply
absolutely necessary. "The ladies," he said, "think too lightly
of one of their own sex, in supposing she could deserve such a
fate; or too ill of ours, to think it could be inflicted upon an
"Hear him, my ladies," said Elizabeth; "like all his sex, he
would excuse their cruelty by imputing fickleness to us."
"Say not US, madam," replied the Earl. "We say that meaner
women, like the lesser lights of heaven, have revolutions and
phases; but who shall impute mutability to the sun, or to
The discourse presently afterwards assumed a less perilous
tendency, and Leicester continued to support his part in it with
spirit, at whatever expense of mental agony. So pleasing did it
seem to Elizabeth, that the Castle bell had sounded midnight ere
she retired from the company, a circumstance unusual in her quiet
and regular habits of disposing of time. Her departure was, of
course, the signal for breaking up the company, who dispersed to
their several places of repose, to dream over the pastimes of the
day, or to anticipate those of the morrow.
The unfortunate Lord of the Castle, and founder of the proud
festival, retired to far different thoughts. His direction to
the valet who attended him was to send Varney instantly to his
apartment. The messenger returned after some delay, and informed
him that an hour had elapsed since Sir Richard Varney had left
the Castle by the postern gate with three other persons, one of
whom was transported in a horse-litter.
"How came he to leave the Castle after the watch was set?" said
Leicester. "I thought he went not till daybreak."
"He gave satisfactory reasons, as I understand," said the
domestic, "to the guard, and, as I hear, showed your lordship's
"True--true," said the Earl; "yet he has been hasty. Do any of
his attendants remain behind?"
"Michael Lambourne, my lord," said the valet, "was not to be
found when Sir Richard Varney departed, and his master was much
incensed at his absence. I saw him but now saddling his horse to
gallop after his master."
"Bid him come hither instantly," said Leicester; "I have a
message to his master."
The servant left the apartment, and Leicester traversed it for
some time in deep meditation. "Varney is over-zealous," he said,
"over-pressing. He loves me, I think; but he hath his own ends
to serve, and he is inexorable in pursuit of them. If I rise, he
rises; and he hath shown himself already but too, eager to rid me
of this obstacle which seems to stand betwixt me and sovereignty.
Yet I will not stoop to bear this disgrace. She shall be
punished, but it shall be more advisedly. I already feel, even
in anticipation, that over-haste would light the flames of hell
in my bosom. No--one victim is enough at once, and that victim
already waits me."
He seized upon writing materials, and hastily traced these
"Sir Richard Varney, we have resolved to defer the matter
entrusted to your care, and strictly command you to proceed no
further in relation to our Countess until our further order. We
also command your instant return to Kenilworth as soon as you
have safely bestowed that with which you are entrusted. But if
the safe-placing of your present charge shall detain you longer
than we think for, we command you in that case to send back our
signet-ring by a trusty and speedy messenger, we having present
need of the same. And requiring your strict obedience in these
things, and commending you to God's keeping, we rest your assured
good friend and master, R. LEICESTER.
"Given at our Castle of Kenilworth, the tenth of July, in the
year of Salvation one thousand five hundred and seventy-five."
As Leicester had finished and sealed this mandate, Michael
Lambourne, booted up to mid-thigh, having his riding-cloak
girthed around him with a broad belt, and a felt cap on his head,
like that of a courier, entered his apartment, ushered in by the
"What is thy capacity of service?" said the Earl.
"Equerry to your lordship's master of the horse," answered
Lambourne, with his customary assurance.
"Tie up thy saucy tongue, sir," said Leicester; "the jests that
may suit Sir Richard Varney's presence suit not mine. How soon
wilt thou overtake thy master?"
"In one hour's riding, my lord, if man and horse hold good," said
Lambourne, with an instant alteration of demeanour, from an
approach to familiarity to the deepest respect. The Earl
measured him with his eye from top to toe.
"I have heard of thee," he said "men say thou art a prompt fellow
in thy service, but too much given to brawling and to wassail to
be trusted with things of moment."
"My lord," said Lambourne, "I have been soldier, sailor,
traveller, and adventurer; and these are all trades in which men
enjoy to-day, because they have no surety of to-morrow. But
though I may misuse mine own leisure, I have never neglected the
duty I owe my master."
"See that it be so in this instance," said Leicester, "and it
shall do thee good. Deliver this letter speedily and carefully
into Sir Richard Varney's hands."
"Does my commission reach no further?" said Lambourne.
"No," answered Leicester; "but it deeply concerns me that it be
carefully as well as hastily executed."
"I will spare neither care nor horse-flesh," answered Lambourne,
and immediately took his leave.
"So, this is the end of my private audience, from which I hoped
so much!" he muttered to himself, as he went through the long
gallery, and down the back staircase. Cogs bones! I thought the
Earl had wanted a cast of mine office in some secret intrigue,
and it all ends in carrying a letter! Well, his pleasure shall
be done, however; and as his lordship well says, it may do me
good another time. The child must creep ere he walk, and so must
your infant courtier. I will have a look into this letter,
however, which he hath sealed so sloven-like." Having
accomplished this, he clapped his hands together in ecstasy,
exclaiming, "The Countess the Countess! I have the secret that
shall make or mar me.--But come forth, Bayard," he added, leading
his horse into the courtyard, "for your flanks and my spurs must
be presently acquainted."
Lambourne mounted, accordingly, and left the Castle by the
postern gate, where his free passage was permitted, in
consequence of a message to that effect left by Sir Richard
As soon as Lambourne and the valet had left the apartment,
Leicester proceeded to change his dress for a very plain one,
threw his mantle around him, and taking a lamp in his hand, went
by the private passage of communication to a small secret postern
door which opened into the courtyard, near to the entrance of the
Pleasance. His reflections were of a more calm and determined
character than they had been at any late period, and he
endeavoured to claim, even in his own eyes, the character of a
man more sinned against than sinning.
"I have suffered the deepest injury," such was the tenor of his
meditations, "yet I have restricted the instant revenge which was
in my power, and have limited it to that which is manly and
noble. But shall the union which this false woman has this day
disgraced remain an abiding fetter on me, to check me in the
noble career to which my destinies invite me? No; there are
other means of disengaging such ties, without unloosing the cords
of life. In the sight of God, I am no longer bound by the union
she has broken. Kingdoms shall divide us, oceans roll betwixt
us, and their waves, whose abysses have swallowed whole navies,
shall be the sole depositories of the deadly mystery."
By such a train of argument did Leicester labour to reconcile his
conscience to the prosecution of plans of vengeance, so hastily
adopted, and of schemes of ambition, which had become so woven in
with every purpose and action of his life that he was incapable
of the effort of relinquishing them, until his revenge appeared
to him to wear a face of justice, and even of generous
In this mood the vindictive and ambitious Earl entered the superb
precincts of the Pleasance, then illumined by the full moon. The
broad, yellow light was reflected on all sides from the white
freestone, of which the pavement, balustrades, and architectural
ornaments of the place were constructed; and not a single fleecy
cloud was visible in the azure sky, so that the scene was nearly
as light as if the sun had but just left the horizon. The
numerous statues of white marble glimmered in the pale light like
so many sheeted ghosts just arisen from their sepulchres, and the
fountains threw their jets into the air as if they sought that
their waters should be brightened by the moonbeams ere they fell
down again upon their basins in showers of sparkling silver. The
day had been sultry, and the gentle night-breeze which sighed
along the terrace of the Pleasance raised not a deeper breath
than the fan in the hand of youthful beauty. The bird of summer
night had built many a nest in the bowers of the adjacent garden,
and the tenants now indemnified themselves for silence during the
day by a full chorus of their own unrivalled warblings, now
joyous, now pathetic, now united, now responsive to each other,
as if to express their delight in the placid and delicious scene
to which they poured their melody.
Musing on matters far different from the fall of waters, the
gleam of moonlight, or the song of the nightingale, the stately
Leicester walked slowly from the one end of the terrace to the
other, his cloak wrapped around him, and his sword under his arm,
without seeing anything resembling the human form.
"I have been fooled by my own generosity," he said, "if I have
suffered the villain to escape me--ay, and perhaps to go to the
rescue of the adulteress, who is so poorly guarded."
These were his thoughts, which were instantly dispelled when,
turning to look back towards the entrance, he saw a human form
advancing slowly from the portico, and darkening the various
objects with its shadow, as passing them successively, in its
approach towards him.
"Shall I strike ere I again hear his detested voice?" was
Leicester's thought, as he grasped the hilt of the sword. "But
no! I will see which way his vile practice tends. I will watch,
disgusting as it is, the coils and mazes of the loathsome snake,
ere I put forth my strength and crush him."
His hand quitted the sword-hilt, and he advanced slowly towards
Tressilian, collecting, for their meeting, all the self-
possession he could command, until they came front to front with
Tressilian made a profound reverence, to which the Earl replied
with a haughty inclination of the head, and the words, "You
sought secret conference with me, sir; I am here, and attentive."
"My lord," said Tressilian, "I am so earnest in that which I have
to say, and so desirous to find a patient, nay, a favourable
hearing, that I will stoop to exculpate myself from whatever
might prejudice your lordship against me. You think me your
"Have I not some apparent cause?" answered Leicester, perceiving
that Tressilian paused for a reply.
"You do me wrong, my lord. I am a friend, but neither a
dependant nor partisan, of the Earl of Sussex, whom courtiers
call your rival; and it is some considerable time since I ceased
to consider either courts or court intrigues as suited to my
temper or genius."
"No doubt, sir," answered Leicester "there are other occupations
more worthy a scholar, and for such the world holds Master
Tressilian. Love has his intrigues as well as ambition."
"I perceive, my lord," replied Tressilian, "you give much weight
to my early attachment for the unfortunate young person of whom I
am about to speak, and perhaps think I am prosecuting her cause
out of rivalry, more than a sense of justice."
"No matter for my thoughts, sir," said the Earl; "proceed. You
have as yet spoken of yourself only--an important and worthy
subject doubtless, but which, perhaps, does not altogether so
deeply concern me that I should postpone my repose to hear it.
Spare me further prelude, sir, and speak to the purpose if indeed
you have aught to say that concerns me. When you have done, I,
in my turn, have something to communicate."
"I will speak, then, without further prelude, my lord," answered
Tressilian, "having to say that which, as it concerns your
lordship's honour, I am confident you will not think your time
wasted in listening to. I have to request an account from your
lordship of the unhappy Amy Robsart, whose history is too well
known to you. I regret deeply that I did not at once take this
course, and make yourself judge between me and the villain by
whom she is injured. My lord, she extricated herself from an
unlawful and most perilous state of confinement, trusting to the
effects of her own remonstrance upon her unworthy husband, and
extorted from me a promise that I would not interfere in her
behalf until she had used her own efforts to have her rights
acknowledged by him."
"Ha," said Leicester, "remember you to whom you speak?"
"I speak of her unworthy husband, my lord," repeated Tressilian,
"and my respect can find no softer language. The unhappy young
woman is withdrawn from my knowledge, and sequestered in some
secret place of this Castle--if she be not transferred to some
place of seclusion better fitted for bad designs. This must be
reformed, my lord--I speak it as authorized by her father--and
this ill-fated marriage must be avouched and proved in the
Queen's presence, and the lady placed without restraint and at
her own free disposal. And permit me to say it concerns no one's
honour that these most just demands of mine should be complied
with so much as it does that of your lordship."
The Earl stood as if he had been petrified at the extreme
coolness with which the man, whom he considered as having injured
him so deeply, pleaded the cause of his criminal paramour, as if
she had been an innocent woman and he a disinterested advocate;
nor was his wonder lessened by the warmth with which Tressilian
seemed to demand for her the rank and situation which she had
disgraced, and the advantages of which she was doubtless to share
with the lover who advocated her cause with such effrontery.
Tressilian had been silent for more than a minute ere the Earl
recovered from the excess of his astonishment; and considering
the prepossessions with which his mind was occupied, there is
little wonder that his passion gained the mastery of every other
consideration. "I have heard you, Master Tressilian," said he,
"without interruption, and I bless God that my ears were never
before made to tingle by the words of so frontless a villain.
The task of chastising you is fitter for the hangman's scourge
than the sword of a nobleman, but yet--Villain, draw and defend
As he spoke the last words, he dropped his mantle on the ground,
struck Tressilian smartly with his sheathed sword, and instantly
drawing his rapier, put himself into a posture of assault. The
vehement fury of his language at first filled Tressilian, in his
turn, with surprise equal to what Leicester had felt when he
addressed him. But astonishment gave place to resentment when
the unmerited insults of his language were followed by a blow
which immediately put to flight every thought save that of
instant combat. Tressilian's sword was instantly drawn; and
though perhaps somewhat inferior to Leicester in the use of the
weapon, he understood it well enough to maintain the contest with
great spirit, the rather that of the two he was for the time the
more cool, since he could not help imputing Leicester's conduct
either to actual frenzy or to the influence of some strong
The rencontre had continued for several minutes, without either
party receiving a wound, when of a sudden voices were heard
beneath the portico which formed the entrance of the terrace,
mingled with the steps of men advancing hastily. "We are
interrupted," said Leicester to his antagonist; "follow me."
At the same time a voice from the portico said, "The jackanape is
right--they are tilting here."
Leicester, meanwhile, drew off Tressilian into a sort of recess
behind one of the fountains, which served to conceal them, while
six of the yeomen of the Queen's guard passed along the middle
walk of the Pleasance, and they could hear one say to the rest,
"We shall never find them to-night among all these squirting
funnels, squirrel cages, and rabbit-holes; but if we light not on
them before we reach the farther end, we will return, and mount a
guard at the entrance, and so secure them till morning."
"A proper matter," said another, "the drawing of swords so near
the Queen's presence, ay, and in her very palace as 'twere! Hang
it, they must be some poor drunken game-cocks fallen to sparring
--'twere pity almost we should find them--the penalty is chopping
off a hand, is it not?--'twere hard to lose hand for handling a
bit of steel, that comes so natural to one's gripe."
"Thou art a brawler thyself, George," said another; "but take
heed, for the law stands as thou sayest."
"Ay," said the first, "an the act be not mildly construed; for
thou knowest 'tis not the Queen's palace, but my Lord of
"Why, for that matter, the penalty may be as severe," said
another "for an our gracious Mistress be Queen, as she is, God
save her, my Lord of Leicester is as good as King."
"Hush, thou knave!" said a third; "how knowest thou who may be
They passed on, making a kind of careless search, but seemingly
more intent on their own conversation than bent on discovering
the persons who had created the nocturnal disturbance.
They had no sooner passed forward along the terrace, than
Leicester, making a sign to Tressilian to follow him, glided away
in an opposite direction, and escaped through the portico
undiscovered. He conducted Tressilian to Mervyn's Tower, in
which he was now again lodged; and then, ere parting with him,
said these words, "If thou hast courage to continue and bring to
an end what is thus broken off, be near me when the court goes
forth to-morrow; we shall find a time, and I will give you a
signal when it is fitting."
"My lord," said Tressilian, "at another time I might have
inquired the meaning of this strange and furious inveteracy
against me. But you have laid that on my shoulder which only
blood can wash away; and were you as high as your proudest wishes
ever carried you, I would have from you satisfaction for my
On these terms they parted, but the adventures of the night were
not yet ended with Leicester. He was compelled to pass by
Saintlowe's Tower, in order to gain the private passage which led
to his own chamber; and in the entrance thereof he met Lord
Hunsdon half clothed, and with a naked sword under his arm.
"Are you awakened, too, with this 'larum, my Lord of Leicester?"
said the old soldier. "'Tis well. By gog's nails, the nights
are as noisy as the day in this Castle of yours. Some two hours
since I was waked by the screams of that poor brain-sick Lady
Varney, whom her husband was forcing away. I promise you it
required both your warrant and the Queen's to keep me from
entering into the game, and cutting that Varney of yours over the
head. And now there is a brawl down in the Pleasance, or what
call you the stone terrace-walk where all yonder gimcracks
The first part of the old man's speech went through the Earl's
heart like a knife; to the last he answered that he himself had
heard the clash of swords, and had come down to take order with
those who had been so insolent so near the Queen's presence.
"Nay, then," said Hunsdon, "I will be glad of your lordship's
Leicester was thus compelled to turn back with the rough old Lord
to the Pleasance, where Hunsdon heard from the yeomen of the
guard, who were under his immediate command, the unsuccessful
search they had made for the authors of the disturbance; and
bestowed for their pains some round dozen of curses on them, as
lazy knaves and blind whoresons. Leicester also thought it
necessary to seem angry that no discovery had been effected; but
at length suggested to Lord Hunsdon, that after all it could only
be some foolish young men who had been drinking healths pottle-
deep, and who should be sufficiently scared by the search which
had taken place after them. Hunsdon, who was himself attached to
his cup, allowed that a pint-flagon might cover many of the
follies which it had caused, "But," added he, "unless your
lordship will be less liberal in your housekeeping, and restrain
the overflow of ale, and wine, and wassail, I foresee it will end
in my having some of these good fellows into the guard-house, and
treating them to a dose of the strappado. And with this warning,
good night to you."
Joyful at being rid of his company, Leicester took leave of him
at the entrance of his lodging, where they had first met, and
entering the private passage, took up the lamp which he had left
there, and by its expiring light found the way to his own
Room! room! for my horse will wince
If he comes within so many yards of a prince;
For to tell you true, and in rhyme,
He was foal'd in Queen Elizabeth's time;
When the great Earl of Lester
In his castle did feast her.
BEN JONSON, MASQUE OF OWLS.
The amusement with which Elizabeth and her court were next day to
be regaled was an exhibition by the true-hearted men of Coventry,
who were to represent the strife between the English and the
Danes, agreeably to a custom long preserved in their ancient
borough, and warranted for truth by old histories and chronicles.
In this pageant one party of the townsfolk presented the Saxons
and the other the Danes, and set forth, both in rude rhymes and
with hard blows, the contentions of these two fierce nations, and
the Amazonian courage of the English women, who, according to the
story, were the principal agents in the general massacre of the
Danes, which took place at Hocktide, in the year of God 1012.
This sport, which had been long a favourite pastime with the men
of Coventry, had, it seems, been put down by the influence of
some zealous clergymen of the more precise cast, who chanced to
have considerable influence with the magistrates. But the
generality of the inhabitants had petitioned the Queen that they
might have their play again, and be honoured with permission to
represent it before her Highness. And when the matter was
canvassed in the little council which usually attended the Queen
for dispatch of business, the proposal, although opposed by some
of the stricter sort, found favour in the eyes of Elizabeth, who
said that such toys occupied, without offence, the minds of many
who, lacking them, might find worse subjects of pastime; and that
their pastors, however commendable for learning and godliness,
were somewhat too sour in preaching against the pastimes of their
flocks and so the pageant was permitted to proceed.
Accordingly, after a morning repast, which Master Laneham calls
an ambrosial breakfast, the principal persons of the court in
attendance upon her Majesty pressed to the Gallery-tower, to
witness the approach of the two contending parties of English and
Danes; and after a signal had been given, the gate which opened
in the circuit of the Chase was thrown wide to admit them. On
they came, foot and horse; for some of the more ambitious
burghers and yeomen had put themselves into fantastic dresses,
imitating knights, in order to resemble the chivalry of the two
different nations. However, to prevent fatal accidents, they
were not permitted to appear on real horses, but had only license
to accoutre themselves with those hobby-horses, as they are
called, which anciently formed the chief delight of a morrice-
dance, and which still are exhibited on the stage, in the grand
battle fought at the conclusion of Mr. Bayes's tragedy. The
infantry followed in similar disguises. The whole exhibition was
to be considered as a sort of anti-masque, or burlesque of the
more stately pageants in which the nobility and gentry bore part
in the show, and, to the best of their knowledge, imitated with
accuracy the personages whom they represented. The Hocktide play
was of a different character, the actors being persons of
inferior degree, and their habits the better fitted for the
occasion, the more incongruous and ridiculous that they were in
themselves. Accordingly their array, which the progress of our
tale allows us no time to describe, was ludicrous enough; and
their weapons, though sufficiently formidable to deal sound
blows, were long alder-poles instead of lances, and sound cudgels
for swords; and for fence, both cavalry and infantry were well
equipped with stout headpieces and targets, both made of thick
Captain Coxe, that celebrated humorist of Coventry, whose library
of ballads, almanacs, and penny histories, fairly wrapped up in
parchment, and tied round for security with a piece of whipcord,
remains still the envy of antiquaries, being himself the
ingenious person under whose direction the pageant had been set
forth, rode valiantly on his hobby-horse before the bands of
English, high-trussed, saith Laneham, and brandishing his long
sword, as became an experienced man of war, who had fought under
the Queen's father, bluff King Henry, at the siege of Boulogne.
This chieftain was, as right and reason craved, the first to
enter the lists, and passing the Gallery at the head of his
myrmidons, kissed the hilt of his sword to the Queen, and
executed at the same time a gambade, the like whereof had never
been practised by two-legged hobby-horse. Then passing on with
all his followers of cavaliers and infantry, he drew them up with
martial skill at the opposite extremity of the bridge, or tilt-
yard, until his antagonist should be fairly prepared for the
This was no long interval; for the Danish cavalry and infantry,
no way inferior to the English in number, valour, and equipment,
instantly arrived, with the northern bagpipe blowing before them
in token of their country, and headed by a cunning master of
defence, only inferior to the renowned Captain Coxe, if to him,
in the discipline of war. The Danes, as invaders, took their
station under the Gallery-tower, and opposite to that of
Mortimer; and when their arrangements were completely made, a
signal was given for the encounter.
Their first charge upon each other was rather moderate, for
either party had some dread of being forced into the lake. But
as reinforcements came up on either side, the encounter grew from
a skirmish into a blazing battle. They rushed upon one another,
as Master Laneham testifies, like rams inflamed by jealousy, with
such furious encounter that both parties were often overthrown,
and the clubs and targets made a most horrible clatter. In many
instances that happened which had been dreaded by the more
experienced warriors who began the day of strife. The rails
which defended the ledges of the bridge had been, perhaps on
purpose, left but slightly fastened, and gave way under the
pressure of those who thronged to the combat, so that the hot
courage of many of the combatants received a sufficient cooling.
These incidents might have occasioned more serious damage than
became such an affray, for many of the champions who met with
this mischance could not swim, and those who could were
encumbered with their suits of leathern and of paper armour; but
the case had been provided for, and there were several boats in
readiness to pick up the unfortunate warriors and convey them to
the dry land, where, dripping and dejected, they comforted
themselves with the hot ale and strong waters which were
liberally allowed to them, without showing any desire to re-enter
so desperate a conflict.
Captain Coxe alone, that paragon of Black-Letter antiquaries,
after twice experiencing, horse and man, the perilous leap from
the bridge into the lake, equal to any extremity to which the
favourite heroes of chivalry, whose exploits he studied in an
abridged form, whether Amadis, Belianis, Bevis, or his own Guy of
Warwick, had ever been subjected to--Captain Coxe, we repeat, did
alone, after two such mischances, rush again into the heat of
conflict, his bases and the footcloth of his hobby-horse dropping
water, and twice reanimated by voice and example the drooping
spirits of the English; so that at last their victory over the
Danish invaders became, as was just and reasonable, complete and
decisive. Worthy he was to be rendered immortal by the pen of
Ben Jonson, who, fifty years afterwards, deemed that a masque,
exhibited at Kenilworth, could be ushered in by none with so much
propriety as by the ghost of Captain Coxe, mounted upon his
These rough, rural gambols may not altogether agree with the
reader's preconceived idea of an entertainment presented before
Elizabeth, in whose reign letters revived with such brilliancy,
and whose court, governed by a female whose sense of propriety
was equal to her strength of mind, was no less distinguished for
delicacy and refinement than her councils for wisdom and
fortitude. But whether from the political wish to seem
interested in popular sports, or whether from a spark of old
Henry's rough, masculine spirit, which Elizabeth sometimes
displayed, it is certain the Queen laughed heartily at the
imitation, or rather burlesque, of chivalry which was presented
in the Coventry play. She called near her person the Earl of
Sussex and Lord Hunsdon, partly perhaps to make amends to the
former for the long and private audiences with which she had
indulged the Earl of Leicester, by engaging him in conversation
upon a pastime which better suited his taste than those pageants
that were furnished forth from the stores of antiquity. The
disposition which the Queen showed to laugh and jest with her
military leaders gave the Earl of Leicester the opportunity he
had been watching for withdrawing from the royal presence, which
to the court around, so well had he chosen his time, had the
graceful appearance of leaving his rival free access to the
Queen's person, instead of availing himself of his right as her
landlord to stand perpetually betwixt others and the light of her
Leicester's thoughts, however, had a far different object from
mere courtesy; for no sooner did he see the Queen fairly engaged
in conversation with Sussex and Hunsdon, behind whose back stood
Sir Nicholas Blount, grinning from ear to ear at each word which
was spoken, than, making a sign to Tressilian, who, according to
appointment, watched his motions at a little distance, he
extricated himself from the press, and walking towards the Chase,
made his way through the crowds of ordinary spectators, who, with
open mouth, stood gazing on the battle of the English and the
Danes. When he had accomplished this, which was a work of some
difficulty, he shot another glance behind him to see that
Tressilian had been equally successful; and as soon as he saw him
also free from the crowd, he led the way to a small thicket,
behind which stood a lackey, with two horses ready saddled. He
flung himself on the one, and made signs to Tressilian to mount
the other, who obeyed without speaking a single word.
Leicester then spurred his horse, and galloped without stopping
until he reached a sequestered spot, environed by lofty oaks,
about a mile's distance from the Castle, and in an opposite
direction from the scene to which curiosity was drawing every
spectator. He there dismounted, bound his horse to a tree, and
only pronouncing the words, "Here there is no risk of
interruption," laid his cloak across his saddle, and drew his
Tressilian imitated his example punctually, yet could not forbear
saying, as he drew his weapon, "My lord, as I have been known to
many as one who does not fear death when placed in balance with
honour, methinks I may, without derogation, ask wherefore, in the
name of all that is honourable, your lordship has dared to offer
me such a mark of disgrace as places us on these terms with
respect to each other?"
"If you like not such marks of my scorn," replied the Earl,
"betake yourself instantly to your weapon, lest I repeat the
usage you complain of."
"It shall not need, my lord," said Tressilian. "God judge
betwixt us! and your blood, if you fall, be on your own head."
He had scarce completed the sentence when they instantly closed
But Leicester, who was a perfect master of defence among all
other exterior accomplishments of the time, had seen on the
preceding night enough of Tressilian's strength and skill to make
him fight with more caution than heretofore, and prefer a secure
revenge to a hasty one. For some minutes they fought with equal
skill and fortune, till, in a desperate lunge which Leicester
successfully put aside, Tressilian exposed himself at
disadvantage; and in a subsequent attempt to close, the Earl
forced his sword from his hand, and stretched him on the ground.
With a grim smile he held the point of his rapier within two
inches of the throat of his fallen adversary, and placing his
foot at the same time upon his breast, bid him confess his
villainous wrongs towards him, and prepare for death.
"I have no villainy nor wrong towards thee to confess," answered
Tressilian, "and am better prepared for death than thou. Use
thine advantage as thou wilt, and may God forgive you! I have
given you no cause for this."
"No cause!" exclaimed the Earl, "no cause!--but why parley with
such a slave? Die a liar, as thou hast lived!"
He had withdrawn his arm for the purpose of striking the fatal
blow, when it was suddenly seized from behind.
The Earl turned in wrath to shake off the unexpected obstacle,
but was surprised to find that a strange-looking boy had hold of
his sword-arm, and clung to it with such tenacity of grasp that
he could not shake him of without a considerable struggle, in the
course of which Tressilian had opportunity to rise and possess
himself once more of his weapon. Leicester again turned towards
him with looks of unabated ferocity, and the combat would have
recommenced with still more desperation on both sides, had not
the boy clung to Lord Leicester's knees, and in a shrill tone
implored him to listen one moment ere he prosecuted this quarrel.
"Stand up, and let me go," said Leicester, "or, by Heaven, I will
pierce thee with my rapier! What hast thou to do to bar my way
"Much--much!" exclaimed the undaunted boy, "since my folly has
been the cause of these bloody quarrels between you, and
perchance of worse evils. Oh, if you would ever again enjoy the
peace of an innocent mind, if you hope again to sleep in peace
and unhaunted by remorse, take so much leisure as to peruse this
letter, and then do as you list."
While he spoke in this eager and earnest manner, to which his
singular features and voice gave a goblin-like effect, he held up
to Leicester a packet, secured with a long tress of woman's hair
of a beautiful light-brown colour. Enraged as he was, nay,
almost blinded with fury to see his destined revenge so strangely
frustrated, the Earl of Leicester could not resist this
extraordinary supplicant. He snatched the letter from his hand--
changed colour as he looked on the superscription--undid with
faltering hand the knot which secured it--glanced over the
contents, and staggering back, would have fallen, had he not
rested against the trunk of a tree, where he stood for an
instant, his eyes bent on the letter, and his sword-point turned
to the ground, without seeming to be conscious of the presence of
an antagonist towards whom he had shown little mercy, and who
might in turn have taken him at advantage. But for such revenge
Tressilian was too noble-minded. He also stood still in
surprise, waiting the issue of this strange fit of passion, but
holding his weapon ready to defend himself in case of need
against some new and sudden attack on the part of Leicester, whom
he again suspected to be under the influence of actual frenzy.
The boy, indeed, he easily recognized as his old acquaintance
Dickon, whose face, once seen, was scarcely to be forgotten; but
how he came hither at so critical a moment, why his interference
was so energetic, and, above all, how it came to produce so
powerful an effect upon Leicester, were questions which he could
But the letter was of itself powerful enough to work effects yet
more wonderful. It was that which the unfortunate Amy had
written to her husband, in which she alleged the reasons and
manner of her flight from Cumnor Place, informed him of her
having made her way to Kenilworth to enjoy his protection, and
mentioned the circumstances which had compelled her to take
refuge in Tressilian's apartment, earnestly requesting he would,
without delay, assign her a more suitable asylum. The letter
concluded with the most earnest expressions of devoted attachment
and submission to his will in all things, and particularly
respecting her situation and place of residence, conjuring him
only that she might not be placed under the guardianship or
restraint of Varney. The letter dropped from Leicester's hand
when he had perused it. "Take my sword," he said, "Tressilian,
and pierce my heart, as I would but now have pierced yours!"
"My lord," said Tressilian, "you have done me great wrong, but
something within my breast ever whispered that it was by
"Error, indeed!" said Leicester, and handed him the letter; "I
have been made to believe a man of honour a villain, and the best
and purest of creatures a false profligate.--Wretched boy, why
comes this letter now, and where has the bearer lingered?"
"I dare not tell you, my lord," said the boy, withdrawing, as if
to keep beyond his reach; "but here comes one who was the
Wayland at the same moment came up; and interrogated by
Leicester, hastily detailed all the circumstances of his escape
with Amy, the fatal practices which had driven her to flight, and
her anxious desire to throw herself under the instant protection
of her husband--pointing out the evidence of the domestics of
Kenilworth, "who could not," he observed, "but remember her eager
inquiries after the Earl of Leicester on her first arrival."
"The villains!" exclaimed Leicester; "but oh, that worst of
villains, Varney!--and she is even now in his power!"
"But not, I trust in God," said Tressilian, "with any commands of
"No, no, no!" exclaimed the Earl hastily. "I said something in
madness; but it was recalled, fully recalled, by a hasty
messenger, and she is now--she must now be safe."
"Yes," said Tressilian," she MUST be safe, and I MUST be assured
of her safety. My own quarrel with you is ended, my lord; but
there is another to begin with the seducer of Amy Robsart, who
has screened his guilt under the cloak of the infamous Varney."
"The SEDUCER of Amy!" replied Leicester, with a voice like
thunder; "say her husband!--her misguided, blinded, most unworthy
husband! She is as surely Countess of Leicester as I am belted
Earl. Nor can you, sir, point out that manner of justice which I
will not render her at my own free will. I need scarce say I
fear not your compulsion."
The generous nature of Tressilian was instantly turned from
consideration of anything personal to himself, and centred at
once upon Amy's welfare. He had by no means undoubting
confidence in the fluctuating resolutions of Leicester, whose
mind seemed to him agitated beyond the government of calm reason;
neither did he, notwithstanding the assurances he had received,
think Amy safe in the hands of his dependants. "My lord," he
said calmly, "I mean you no offence, and am far from seeking a
quarrel. But my duty to Sir Hugh Robsart compels me to carry
this matter instantly to the Queen, that the Countess's rank may
be acknowledged in her person."
"You shall not need, sir," replied the Earl haughtily; "do not
dare to interfere. No voice but Dudley's shall proclaim Dudley's
infamy. To Elizabeth herself will I tell it; and then for Cumnor
Place with the speed of life and death!"
So saying, he unbound his horse from the tree, threw himself into
the saddle, and rode at full gallop towards the Castle.
"Take me before you, Master Tressilian," said the boy, seeing
Tressilian mount in the same haste; "my tale is not all told out,
and I need your protection."
Tressilian complied, and followed the Earl, though at a less
furious rate. By the way the boy confessed, with much
contrition, that in resentment at Wayland's evading all his
inquiries concerning the lady, after Dickon conceived he had in
various ways merited his confidence, he had purloined from him in
revenge the letter with which Amy had entrusted him for the Earl
of Leicester. His purpose was to have restored it to him that
evening, as he reckoned himself sure of meeting with him, in
consequence of Wayland's having to perform the part of Arion in
the pageant. He was indeed something alarmed when he saw to whom
the letter was addressed; but he argued that, as Leicester did
not return to Kenilworth until that evening, it would be again in
the possession of the proper messenger as soon as, in the nature
of things, it could possibly be delivered. But Wayland came not
to the pageant, having been in the interim expelled by Lambourne
from the Castle; and the boy, not being able to find him, or to
get speech of Tressilian, and finding himself in possession of a
letter addressed to no less a person than the Earl of Leicester,
became much afraid of the consequences of his frolic. The
caution, and indeed the alarm, which Wayland had expressed
respecting Varney and Lambourne, led him to judge that the letter
must be designed for the Earl's own hand, and that he might
prejudice the lady by giving it to any of the domestics. He made
an attempt or two to obtain an audience of Leicester; but the
singularity of his features and the meanness of his appearance
occasioned his being always repulsed by the insolent menials whom
he applied to for that purpose. Once, indeed, he had nearly
succeeded, when, in prowling about, he found in the grotto the
casket, which he knew to belong to the unlucky Countess, having
seen it on her journey; for nothing escaped his prying eye.
Having striven in vain to restore it either to Tressilian or the
Countess, he put it into the hands, as we have seen, of Leicester