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THE SECRET INTERVIEW.
Between the third of July, when he first came, and the fifteenth of September, when he last departed, the king went and came several times. During his last visit a remarkable interview took place between him and his host, the particulars of which are circumstantially given by Dr. Bayly in the little book he calls Certamen Religiosum: to me it falls to recount after him some of the said particulars, because, although Dorothy was brought but one little step within the sphere of the interview, certain results were which bore a large influence upon her history.
'Though money came from him,' that is, the marquis, 'like drops of blood,' says Dr. Bayly, 'yet was he contented that every drop within his body should be let out,' if only he might be the instrument of bringing his majesty back to the bosom of the catholic church--a bosom which no doubt the marquis found as soft as it was capacious, but which the king regarded as a good deal resembling that of a careless nurse rather than mother--frized with pins, and here and there a cruel needle. Therefore, expecting every hour that the king would apply to him for more money, the marquis had resolved that, at such time as he should do so, he would make an attempt to lead the stray sheep within the fold--for the marquis was not one of those who regarded a protestant as necessarily a goat.
But the king shrank from making the request in person, and having learned that the marquis had been at one point in his history under the deepest obligation to Dr. Bayly, who having then preserved both his lordship's life and a large sum of money he carried with him, by 'concealing both for the space that the moon useth to be twice in riding of her circuit,' had thereafter become a member of his family and a sharer in his deepest confidence, greatly desired that the doctor should take the office of mediator between him and the marquis.
The king's will having been already conveyed to the doctor, in the king's presence colonel Lingen came up to him and said,
'Dr. Bayly, the king, much wishing your aid in this matter, saith he delights not to be a beggar, and yet is constrained thereunto.'
'I am at his majesty's disposal,' returned the doctor, 'although I confess myself somewhat loath to be the beetle-head that must drive this wedge.'
'Nay,' said the colonel, 'they tell me that no man can make a divorce between the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold sooner than thyself, good doctor.'
The end was that he undertook the business, though with reluctance--unwilling to be 'made an instrument to let the same horse bleed whom the king himself had found so free'--and sought the marquis in his study.
'My lord,' he said, 'the thing that I feared is now fallen upon me. I am made the unwelcome messenger of bad news: the king wants money.'
'Hold, sir! that's no news,' interrupted the marquis. 'Go on with your business.'
'My lord,' said the doctor, 'there is one comfort yet, that, as the king is brought low, so are his demands, and, like his army, are come down from thousands to hundreds, and from paying the soldiers of his army to buying bread for himself and his followers. My lord, it is the king's own expression, and his desire is but three hundred pound.'
Lord Worcester remained a long time silent, and Dr. Bayly waited, 'knowing by experience that in such cases it was best leaving him to himself, and to let that nature that was so good work itself into an act of the highest charity, like the diamond which is only polished with its own dust.'
'Come hither--come nearer, my good doctor,' said his lordship at length: 'hath the king himself spoken unto thee concerning any such business?'
'The king himself hath not, my lord, but others did, in the king's hearing.'
'Might I but speak unto him--,' said the marquis. 'But I was never thought worthy to be consulted with, though in matters merely concerning the affairs of my own country!--I would supply his wants, were they never so great, or whatsoever they were.'
'If the king knew as much, my lord, you might quickly speak with him,' remarked the doctor.
'The way to have him know so much is to have somebody to tell him of it,' said the marquis testily.
'Will your lordship give me leave to be the informer?' asked the doctor.
'Truly I spake it to the purpose,' answered the marquis.
Away ran the little doctor, ambling through the picture-gallery, 'half going and half running,' like some short-winged bird--his heart trembling lest the marquis should change his mind and call him back, and so his pride in his successful mediation be mortified--to the king's chamber, where he told his majesty with diplomatic reserve, and something of diplomatic cunning, enhancing the difficulties, that he had perceived his lordship desired some conference with him, and that he believed, if the king granted such conference, he would find a more generous response to his necessities than perhaps he expected. The king readily consenting, the doctor went on to say that his lordship much wished the interview that very night. The king asked how it could be managed, and the doctor told him the marquis had contrived it before his majesty came to the castle, having for that reason appointed the place where they were for his bed-chamber, and not that in the great tower, which the marquis himself liked the best in the castle.
'I know my lord's drift well enough,' said the king, smiling: 'either he means to chide me, or else to convert me to his religion.'
'I doubt not, sire,' returned the doctor, 'but your majesty is temptation-proof as well as correction-free, and will return the same man you go, having made a profitable exchange of gold and silver for words and sleep.'
Upon Dr. Bayly's report of his success, the marquis sent him back to tell the king that at eleven o'clock he would be waiting his majesty in a certain room to which the doctor would conduct him.
This was the room the marquis's father had occupied and in which he died, called therefore 'my lord Privy-seal's chamber.' Since then the marquis had never allowed any one to sleep in it, hardly any one to go into it; whence it came that although all the rest of the castle was crowded, this one room remained empty and fit for their purpose.
To understand the precautions taken to keep their interview a secret, we must remember that, although he had not a better friend in all England, such reason had the king to fear losing his protestant friends from their jealousy of catholic influence, that he had never invited the marquis of Worcester to sit with him in council; and that the marquis on his part was afraid both of injuring the cause of the king, and of being himself impeached for treason. Should any of the king's attendant lords discover that they were closeted together, he dreaded the suspicion and accusation of another Gowry conspiracy even. His lordship therefore instructed Dr. Bayly to go, as the time drew nigh, to the drawing-room, which was next the marquis's chamber, and the dining parlour, through both of which he must pass to reach the appointed place, and clear them of the company which might be in them. The chaplain desiring to know how he was to manage it, so that it should not look strange and arouse suspicion, and what he should do if any were unwilling to go,--
'I will tell you what you shall do,' said the marquis hastily, 'so that you shall not need to fear any such thing. Go unto the yeoman of the wine-cellar, and bid him leave the keys of the wine-cellar with you, and all that you find in your way, invite them down into the cellar, and show them the keys, and I warrant you, you shall sweep the room of them, if there were a hundred. And when you have done, leave them there.'
But having thus arranged, the marquis grew anxious again. He remembered that it was not unusual to pass to the hall from the northern side of the fountain court, where were most of the rooms of the ladies' gentlewomen, through the picture-gallery, entering it by a passage and stair which connected the bell-tower with one of its deep window recesses, and leaving it by a door in the middle of the opposite side, admitting to a stair in the thickness of the wall--which led downwards, opening to the minstrels' gallery on the left hand, and a little further below, to the organ loft in the chapel on the right hand. It was not the least likely that any of the ladies or their attendants would be passing that way so late at night, but there was a possibility, and that was enough, the marquis being anxious and nervous, to render him more so.
There was, however, another and more threatening possibility of encounter. He remembered that Mr. Delaware, the master of his horse, had lately removed to that part of the house: and the fear came upon him lest his blind son, who frequently turned night into day in his love for the organ, and was uncertain in his movements between chapel and chamber, the direct way being that just described, should by evil chance appear at the very moment of the king's passing, and alarm him--for through the gallery Dr. Bayly must lead his majesty to reach my lord Privy-seal's chamber. The marquis, therefore, although reluctant to introduce another even to the externals of the plot, felt that the assistance of a second confidant was more than desirable, and turning the matter over, could think of no one whom he could trust so well, and who at the same time would, if seen, be so little liable to the sort of suspicion he dreaded, as Dorothy. He therefore sent for her, told her as much as he thought proper, gave her the key of his private passage to the gallery, leading across the top of the hall-door, the only direct communication from the southern side of the castle, and generally kept closed, and directed her to be in the gallery ten minutes before eleven, to lock the door at the top of the stair leading down into the hall, and take her stand in the window at the foot of the stair from the bell-tower, where the door was without a lock, and see that no one entered by order of the marquis for the king's repose, enjoining upon her that, whatever she saw or heard from any other quarter, she must keep perfectly still, nor let any one discover that she was there. With these instructions, his lordship, considerably relieved, dismissed her, and went to lie down upon his bed, and have a nap if he could. He had already given the chaplain the key of his chamber, the door of which he always locked, that he might enter and wake him when the appointed hour was at hand.
As soon as he began to feel that eleven o'clock was drawing near, Dr. Bayly proceeded to reconnoitre. The marquis's plan, although he could think of none better, was not altogether satisfactory, and it was to his relief that he found nobody in the dining-room. When he entered the drawing-room, however, there, to his equal annoyance, he saw in the light of one expiring candle the dim figure of a lady; he could not offer HER the keys of the wine-cellar! What was he to do? What could she be there for? He drew nearer, and, with a positive pang of relief, discovered that it was Dorothy. A word was enough between them. But the good doctor was just a little annoyed that a second should share in the secret of the great ones.
The next room was the antechamber to the marquis's bedroom: timorously on tiptoe he stepped through it, fearful of waking the two young gentlemen--for Scudamore's place had been easily supplied--who waited upon his lordship. Opening the inner door as softly as he could, he crept in, and found the marquis fast asleep. So slowly, so gently did he wake him, that his lordship insisted he had not slept at all; but when he told him that the time was come--
'What time?' he asked.
'For meeting the king,' replied the doctor.
'What king?' rejoined the marquis, in a kind of bewildered horror.
The more he came to himself, the more distressed he seemed, and the more unwilling to keep the appointment he had been so eager to make, so that at length even Dr. Bayly was tempted to doubt something evil in the 'design that carried with it such a conflict within the bosom of the actor.' It soon became evident, however, that it was but the dread of such possible consequences as I have already indicated that thus moved him.
'Fie, fie!' he said; 'I would to God I had let it alone.'
'My lord,' said the doctor, 'you know your own heart best. If there be nothing in your intentions but what is good and justifiable, you need not fear; if otherwise, it is never too late to repent.'
'Ah, doctor!' returned the marquis with troubled look, 'I thought I had been sure of one friend, and that you would never have harboured the least suspicion of me. God knows my heart: I have no other intention towards his majesty than to make him a glorious man here, and a glorified saint hereafter.'
'Then, my lord,' said Dr. Bayly, 'shake off these fears together with the drowsiness that begat them. Honi soit qui mal y pense.'
'Oh, but I am not of that order!' said the marquis; 'but I thank God I wear that motto about my heart, to as much purpose as they who wear it about their arms.'
'He then,' reports the doctor, 'began to be a little pleasant, and took a pipe of tobacco, and a little glass full of aqua mirabilis, and said, "Come now, let us go in the name of God," crossing himself.'
My love for the marquis has led me to recount this curious story with greater minuteness than is necessary to the understanding of Dorothy's part in what follows, but the worthy doctor's account is so graphic that even for its own sake, had it been fitting, I would gladly have copied it word for word from the Certamen Religiosum.
It is indeed a strange story--king and marquis, attended by a doctor of divinity, of the faith of the one, but the trusted friend of the other, meeting--at midnight, although in the house of the marquis--to discuss points of theology--both king and marquis in mortal terror of discovery.
Meantime Dorothy had done as she had been ordered, had felt her way through the darkness to the picture-gallery, had locked the door at the top of the one stair, and taken her stand in the recess at the foot of the other--in pitch darkness, close to the king's bedchamber, for the gallery was but thirteen feet in width, keeping watch over him! The darkness felt like awe around her.
The door of the chamber opened: it gave no sound, but the glimmer of the night-light shone out. By that she saw a figure enter the gallery. The door closed softly and slowly, and all was darkness again. No sound of movement across the floor followed: but she heard a deep sigh, as from a sorely burdened heart. Then, in an agonised whisper, as if wrung by torture from the depths of the spirit, came the words: 'Oh Stafford, thou art avenged! I left thee to thy fate, and God hath left me to mine. Thou didst go for me to the scaffold, but thou wilt not out of my chamber. O God, deliver me from blood-guiltiness.'
Dorothy stood in dismay, a mere vessel containing a tumult of emotions. The king re-entered his chamber, and closed the door. The same instant a light appeared at the further end of the gallery--a long way off, and Dr. Bayly came, like a Will o' the wisp, gliding from afar; till, softly walking up, he stopped within a yard or two of the king's door, and there stood, with his candle in his hand. His round face was pale that should have been red, and his small keen eyes shone in the candle light with mingled importance and anxiety. He saw Dorothy, but the only notice he took of her presence was to turn from her with his face towards the king's door, so that his shadow might shroud the recess where she stood.
A minute or so passed, and the king's door re-opened. He came out, said a few words in a whisper to his guide, and walked with him down the gallery, whispering as he went.
Dorothy hastened to her chamber, threw herself on the bed, and wept. The king was cast from the throne of her conscience, but taken into the hospital of her heart.
What followed between the king and the marquis belongs not to my tale. When, after a long talk, the chaplain had conducted the king to his chamber and returned to lord Worcester, he found him in the dark upon his knees.
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