Imatges de pàgina


receiving no intelligible answer to the unusual expressions of grace and affection which had escaped from her, shot her quick glance around the circle of courtiers, and reading, perhaps, in their faces, something that accorded with her own awakened suspicions, she said suddenly, 66 Or is there more in this than we see-or than you, my lord, wish that we should see? Where is this Varney? Who saw him ?"

“ An it please your grace,” said Bowyer, “ it is the same against whom I this instant closed the door of the presence-room.".

“ An it please me?" repeated Elizabeth sharply, not at that moment in the humour of being pleased with any thing, “ It does not please me that he should pass saucily intc my presence,


should exclude from it one who came to justify himself from an accusation.”

“ May it please you,” answered the perplexed usher, “ if I knew, in such case, how to bear myself, I would take heed”

“ You should have reported the fellow's desire to us, Master Usher, and taken our directions. You think yourself a great man, because but now we chid a nobleman on your account-yet, after all, we hold you but as the lead-weight that keeps the door fast. Call this Varney hither instantly there is one Tressilian also mentioned in this petition let them both come before us."

She was obeyed, and Tressilian and Varney appeared accordingly. Varney's first glance was at Leicester, his second at the queen.

In the looks of the latter there appeared an approaching storm, and in the downcast countenance of his patron, he could read no directions in what

way he was to trim his vessel for the encounter-he then saw Tressilian, and at once perceived the peril of the situation in which he was placed. But Varney was as bold-faced and ready-witted as he was cunning and unscrupulous,—a skilful pilot in extremity, and fully conscious of the advantages which he would obtain, could he extricate Leicester from his present peril, and of the ruin that yawned for himself should he fail in doing so.

“ Is it true, sirrah,” said the queen with one of those searching looks which few had the audacity to resist, “that you have seduced to infamy a young lady of birth and breeding, the daughter of Sir Hugh Robsart of Lidcote-hall ?"

Varney kneeled down, and replied with a look of the most profound contrition, “there had been some love passages betwixt him and Mistress Amy Robsart.”

Leicester's flesh quivered with indignation, as he heard his dependant make this avowal, and, for one moment he manned himself to step forward, and, bidding farewell to the court and the royal favour, confess the whole mystery of the secret marriage. But he looked at Sussex, and the idea of the triumphant smile which would clothe his cheek upon hearing the avowal, sealed his lips. “ Not now, at least,” he thought," or in this presence, will I afford him so rich a triumph.” And pressing his lips close together, he stood firm and collected, attentive to each word which Varney uttered, and determined to hide to the last the secret on which his court-favour seemed to depend. · Meanwhile, the queen proceeded in her examination of Varney.

“ Love passages !” said she, echoing his last words “ what passages, thou knave ? and why not ask the wench's hand from her father, if thou hadst any honesty in thy love for her ?”

“ An it please your grace,” said Varney, still on his knees, “ I dared not do so, for her father had promised her hand to a gentleman of birth and honour—I will do him justice, though I know he bears me ill will—one Master Edmund Tressilian, whom I now see in the presence.

“ Soh !” replied the queen ; " and what was your right to make the simple fool break her worthy father's contract, through your love passages, as your conceit and assurance terms them ?”

Madam,” replied Varney, “it is in vain to plead the cause of human frailty before a judge to whom it is un



known, or that of love, to one who never yields to the passion”—He paused an instant, and then added, in a very low and timid tone, " which she inflicts upon all others.”

Elizabeth tried to frown, but smiled in her own despite, as she answered, “ Thou art a marvellously impudent knave-Art thou married to the girl ?”

Leicester's feelings became so complicated and so painfully intense, that it seemed to him as if his life was to depend on the answer made by Varney, who, after a moment's real hesitation, answered, “ Yes."

“ Thou false villain !” said Leicester, bursting forth into rage, yet unable to add another word to the sentence, which he had begun with such emphatic passion.

Nay, my lord,” said the queen, we will, by your leave, stand between this fellow and your anger. We have not yet done with him.-Knew your master, my Lord of Leicester, of this fair work of yours ? Speak truth, I command thee, and I will be thy warrant from danger on every quarter.” “ Gracious madam," said Varney, “ to speak heaven's

lord was the cause of the whole matter." “ Thou villain, would'st thou betray me?” said Leicester.

Speak on," said the queen hastily, her cheek colouring, and her eyes sparkling, as she addressed Varney ; speak on–here no commands are heard but mine."

They are omnipotent, gracious madam,” replied Varney ;

“ and to you there can be no secrets.—Yet I would not,” he added, looking around him, “ speak of my master's concerns to other ears.'

“ Fall back, my lords,” said the queen to those who surrounded her, “and do you speak on.—What hath the earl to do with this guilty intrigue of thine ?-See, fellow that thou beliest him not!"

• Far be it from me to traduce my noble patron,” replied Varney ; “ yet I am compelled to own that some deep, overwhelming, yet secret feeling, hath of late dwelt in my lord's mind, hath abstracted him from the cares of the household, which he was wont to govern with such

truth, my

religious strictness, and hath left us opportunities to do follies, of which the shame, as in this case, partly falls upon our patron. Without this, I had not had means or leisure to commit the folly which has drawn on me his displeasure ;

the heaviest to endure by me, which I could by. any means incur,--saving always the yet more dreaded resentment of your Grace.”

66 And in this sense, and no other, hath he been accessary to thy fault ?” said Elizabeth.

Surely, madam, in no other,” replied Varney ; “but since somewhat hath chanced to him, he can scarce be called his own man. Look at him, madam, how pale and trembling he stands—how unlike his usual majesty of manner-yet what has he to fear from aught I can say to your highness ? Ah ! madam, since he received that fatal packet!”

“ What packet, and from whence ?" said the queen, eagerly.

6 From whence, madam, I cannot guess ; but I am so near to his person, that I know he has ever since worn, suspended around his neck, and next to his heart, that lock of hair which sustains a small golden jewel, shaped like a heart—he speaks to it when alone—he parts not from it when he sleeps--no heathen ever worshipped an idol with such devotion."

“ Thou art a prying knave, to watch thy master so closely,” said Elizabeth, blushing, but not with anger ; “and a tattling knave to tell over again his fooleries.What colour might the braid of hair be that thou pratest of ?”

Varney replied, “ A poet, madam, might call it a thread from the golden web wrought by Minerva ; but, to my thinking, it was paler than even the purest goldmore like the last parting sunbeam of the softest day of spring."

“ Why, you are a poet yourself, Master Varney,” said the queen, smiling ; " but I have not genius quick enough to follow your rare metaphors-Look round these ladies -is there—(she hesitated, and endeavoured to assume an

you inti

air of great indifference)—Is there here, in this presence, any lady, the colour of whose hair reminds thee of that braid? Methinks, without prying into my Lord of Leicester's amorous secrets, I would fain know what kind of locks are like the thread of Minerva's web, or thewhat was it ?-the last rays of the May-day sun."

Varney looked round the presence-chamber, his eye travelling from one lady to another, until at length it rested upon the queen herself

, but with an aspect of the deepest veneration. " I see no tresses," he said, “ in this presence worthy of such similes, unless where I dare not look on them." “ How, sir knave," said the queen,

66 dare mate

“ Nay, madam,” replied Varney, shading his eyes, with his hand, “ it was the beams of the May-day sun that dazzled my weak eyes.”

“ Go to-go to,” said the queen ; 6 thou art a foolish fellow”—and turning quickly from him she walked up to Leicester.

Intense curiosity, mingled with all the various hopes, fears, and passions, which influence court-faction, had occupied the presence-chamber during the queen's conference with Varney, as if with the strength of an eastern talisman. Men suspended every, even the slightest external motion, and would have ceased to breathe, had Nature permitted such an intermission of her functions. The atmosphere was contagious, and Leicester, who saw all around wishing or fearing his advancement or his fall, forgot all that love had previously dictated, and saw nothing for the instant but the favour or disgrace which depended on the nod of Elizabeth and the fidelity of Varney. He summoned himself hastily, and prepared to play his part in the scene which was like to ensue, when, as he judged from the glances which the queen threw towards him, Varney's communications, be they what they might were operating in his favour. Elizabeth did not long leave him in doubt; for the more than favour with which she accosted him, decided his triumph in the eyes of his

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