Now fare thee well, my master--if true service Be guerdon'd with hard looks, e'en cut the tow-line, And let our barks across the pathless flood Hold different courses--THE SHIPWRECK.
Tressilian walked into the outer yard of the Castle scarce knowing what to think of his late strange and most unexpected interview with Amy Robsart, and dubious if he had done well, being entrusted with the delegated authority of her father, to pass his word so solemnly to leave her to her own guidance for so many hours. Yet how could he have denied her request--dependent as she had too probably rendered herself upon Varney? Such was his natural reasoning. The happiness of her future life might depend upon his not driving her to extremities; and since no authority of Tressilian's could extricate her from the power of Varney, supposing he was to acknowledge Amy to be his wife, what title had he to destroy the hope of domestic peace, which might yet remain to her, by setting enmity betwixt them? Tressilian resolved, therefore, scrupulously to observe his word pledged to Amy, both because it had been given, and because, as he still thought, while he considered and reconsidered that extraordinary interview, it could not with justice or propriety have been refused.
In one respect, he had gained much towards securing effectual protection for this unhappy and still beloved object of his early affection. Amy was no longer mewed up in a distant and solitary retreat under the charge of persons of doubtful reputation. She was in the Castle of Kenilworth, within the verge of the Royal Court for the time, free from all risk of violence, and liable to be produced before Elizabeth on the first summons. These were circumstances which could not but assist greatly the efforts which he might have occasion to use in her behalf.
While he was thus balancing the advantages and perils which attended her unexpected presence in Kenilworth, Tressilian was hastily and anxiously accosted by Wayland, who, after ejaculating, "Thank God, your worship is found at last!" proceeded with breathless caution to pour into his ear the intelligence that the lady had escaped from Cumnor Place.
"And is at present in this Castle," said Tressilian. "I know it, and I have seen her. Was it by her own choice she found refuge in my apartment?"
"No," answered Wayland; "but I could think of no other way of safely bestowing her, and was but too happy to find a deputy-usher who knew where you were quartered--in jolly society truly, the hall on the one hand, and the kitchen on the other!"
"Peace, this is no time for jesting," answered Tressilian sternly.
"I wot that but too well," said the artist, "for I have felt these three days as if I had a halter round my neck. This lady knows not her own mind--she will have none of your aid--commands you not to be named to her--and is about to put herself into the hands of my Lord Leicester. I had never got her safe into your chamber, had she known the owner of it."
"Is it possible," said Tressilian. "But she may have hopes the Earl will exert his influence in her favour over his villainous dependant."
"I know nothing of that," said Wayland; "but I believe, if she is to reconcile herself with either Leicester or Varney, the side of the Castle of Kenilworth which will be safest for us will be the outside, from which we can fastest fly away. It is not my purpose to abide an instant after delivery of the letter to Leicester, which waits but your commands to find its way to him. See, here it is--but no--a plague on it--I must have left it in my dog-hole, in the hay-loft yonder, where I am to sleep."
"Death and fury!" said Tressilian, transported beyond his usual patience; "thou hast not lost that on which may depend a stake more important than a thousand such lives as thine?"
"Lost it!" answered Wayland readily; "that were a jest indeed! No, sir, I have it carefully put up with my night-sack, and some matters I have occasion to use; I will fetch it in an instant."
"Do so," said Tressilian; "be faithful, and thou shalt be well rewarded. But if I have reason to suspect thee, a dead dog were in better case than thou!"
Wayland bowed, and took his leave with seeming confidence and alacrity, but, in fact, filled with the utmost dread and confusion. The letter was lost, that was certain, notwithstanding the apology which he had made to appease the impatient displeasure of Tressilian. It was lost--it might fall into wrong hands--it would then certainly occasion a discovery of the whole intrigue in which he had been engaged; nor, indeed, did Wayland see much prospect of its remaining concealed, in any event. He felt much hurt, besides, at Tressilian's burst of impatience.
"Nay, if I am to be paid in this coin for services where my neck is concerned, it is time I should look to myself. Here have I offended, for aught I know, to the death, the lord of this stately castle, whose word were as powerful to take away my life as the breath which speaks it to blow out a farthing candle. And all this for a mad lady, and a melancholy gallant, who, on the loss of a four-nooked bit of paper, has his hand on his poignado, and swears death and fury!--Then there is the Doctor and Varney.--I will save myself from the whole mess of them. Life is dearer than gold. I will fly this instant, though I leave my reward behind me."
These reflections naturally enough occurred to a mind like Wayland's, who found himself engaged far deeper than he had expected in a train of mysterious and unintelligible intrigues, in which the actors seemed hardly to know their own course. And yet, to do him justice, his personal fears were, in some degree, counterbalanced by his compassion for the deserted state of the lady.
"I care not a groat for Master Tressilian," he said; "I have done more than bargain by him, and I have brought his errant-damosel within his reach, so that he may look after her himself. But I fear the poor thing is in much danger amongst these stormy spirits. I will to her chamber, and tell her the fate which has befallen her letter, that she may write another if she list. She cannot lack a messenger, I trow, where there are so many lackeys that can carry a letter to their lord. And I will tell her also that I leave the Castle, trusting her to God, her own guidance, and Master Tressilian's care and looking after. Perhaps she may remember the ring she offered me--it was well earned, I trow; but she is a lovely creature, and--marry hang the ring! I will not bear a base spirit for the matter. If I fare ill in this world for my good-nature, I shall have better chance in the next. So now for the lady, and then for the road."
With the stealthy step and jealous eye of the cat that steals on her prey, Wayland resumed the way to the Countess's chamber, sliding along by the side of the courts and passages, alike observant of all around him, and studious himself to escape observation. In this manner he crossed the outward and inward Castle yard, and the great arched passage, which, running betwixt the range of kitchen offices and the hall, led to the bottom of the little winding-stair that gave access to the chambers of Mervyn's Tower.
The artist congratulated himself on having escaped the various perils of his journey, and was in the act of ascending by two steps at once, when he observed that the shadow of a man, thrown from a door which stood ajar, darkened the opposite wall of the staircase. Wayland drew back cautiously, went down to the inner courtyard, spent about a quarter of an hour, which seemed at least quadruple its usual duration, in walking from place to place, and then returned to the tower, in hopes to find that the lurker had disappeared. He ascended as high as the suspicious spot--there was no shadow on the wall; he ascended a few yards farther--the door was still ajar, and he was doubtful whether to advance or retreat, when it was suddenly thrown wide open, and Michael Lambourne bolted out upon the astonished Wayland. "Who the devil art thou? and what seekest thou in this part of the Castle? march into that chamber, and be hanged to thee!"
"I am no dog, to go at every man's whistle," said the artist, affecting a confidence which was belied by a timid shake in his voice.
"Sayest thou me so?--Come hither, Lawrence Staples."
A huge, ill-made and ill-looked fellow, upwards of six feet high, appeared at the door, and Lambourne proceeded: "If thou be'st so fond of this tower, my friend, thou shalt see its foundations, good twelve feet below the bed of the lake, and tenanted by certain jolly toads, snakes, and so forth, which thou wilt find mighty good company. Therefore, once more I ask you in fair play, who thou art, and what thou seekest here?"
"If the dungeon-grate once clashes behind me," thought Wayland, "I am a gone man." He therefore answered submissively, "He was the poor juggler whom his honour had met yesterday in Weatherly Bottom."
"And what juggling trick art thou playing in this tower? Thy gang," said Lambourne, "lie over against Clinton's buildings."
"I came here to see my sister," said the juggler, "who is in Master Tressilian's chamber, just above."
"Aha!" said Lambourne, smiling, "here be truths! Upon my honour, for a stranger, this same Master Tressilian makes himself at home among us, and furnishes out his cell handsomely, with all sorts of commodities. This will be a precious tale of the sainted Master Tressilian, and will be welcome to some folks, as a purse of broad pieces to me.--Hark ye, fellow," he continued, addressing Wayland, "thou shalt not give Puss a hint to steal away we must catch her in her form. So, back with that pitiful sheep-biting visage of thine, or I will fling thee from the window of the tower, and try if your juggling skill can save your bones."
"Your worship will not be so hardhearted, I trust," said Wayland; "poor folk must live. I trust your honour will allow me to speak with my sister?"
"Sister on Adam's side, I warrant," said Lambourne; "or, if otherwise, the more knave thou. But sister or no sister, thou diest on point of fox, if thou comest a-prying to this tower once more. And now I think of it--uds daggers and death!--I will see thee out of the Castle, for this is a more main concern than thy jugglery."
"But, please your worship," said Wayland, "I am to enact Arion in the pageant upon the lake this very evening."
"I will act it myself by Saint Christopher!" said Lambourne. "Orion, callest thou him?--I will act Orion, his belt and his seven stars to boot. Come along, for a rascal knave as thou art--follow me! Or stay--Lawrence, do thou bring him along."
Lawrence seized by the collar of the cloak the unresisting juggler; while Lambourne, with hasty steps, led the way to that same sallyport, or secret postern, by which Tressilian had returned to the Castle, and which opened in the western wall at no great distance from Mervyn's Tower.
While traversing with a rapid foot the space betwixt the tower and the sallyport, Wayland in vain racked his brain for some device which might avail the poor lady, for whom, notwithstanding his own imminent danger, he felt deep interest. But when he was thrust out of the Castle, and informed by Lambourne, with a tremendous oath, that instant death would be the consequence of his again approaching it, he cast up his hands and eyes to heaven, as if to call God to witness he had stood to the uttermost in defence of the oppressed; then turned his back on the proud towers of Kenilworth, and went his way to seek a humbler and safer place of refuge.
Lawrence and Lambourne gazed a little while after Wayland, and then turned to go back to their tower, when the former thus addressed his companion: "Never credit me, Master Lambourne, if I can guess why thou hast driven this poor caitiff from the Castle, just when he was to bear a part in the show that was beginning, and all this about a wench."
"Ah, Lawrence," replied Lambourne, "thou art thinking of Black Joan Jugges of Slingdon, and hast sympathy with human frailty. But, corragio, most noble Duke of the Dungeon and Lord of Limbo, for thou art as dark in this matter as thine own dominions of Little-ease. My most reverend Signior of the Low Countries of Kenilworth, know that our most notable master, Richard Varney, would give as much to have a hole in this same Tressilian's coat, as would make us some fifty midnight carousals, with the full leave of bidding the steward go snick up, if he came to startle us too soon from our goblets."
"Nay, an that be the case, thou hast right," said Lawrence Staples, the upper-warder, or, in common phrase, the first jailer, of Kenilworth Castle, and of the Liberty and Honour belonging thereto. "But how will you manage when you are absent at the Queen's entrance, Master Lambourne; for methinks thou must attend thy master there?"
"Why thou, mine honest prince of prisons, must keep ward in my absence. Let Tressilian enter if he will, but see thou let no one come out. If the damsel herself would make a break, as 'tis not unlike she may, scare her back with rough words; she is but a paltry player's wench after all."
"Nay for that matter," said Lawrence, "I might shut the iron wicket upon her that stands without the double door, and so force per force she will be bound to her answer without more trouble."
"Then Tressilian will not get access to her," said Lambourne, reflecting a moment. "But 'tis no matter; she will be detected in his chamber, and that is all one. But confess, thou old bat's-eyed dungeon-keeper, that you fear to keep awake by yourself in that Mervyn's Tower of thine?"
"Why, as to fear, Master Lambourne," said the fellow, "I mind it not the turning of a key; but strange things have been heard and seen in that tower. You must have heard, for as short time as you have been in Kenilworth, that it is haunted by the spirit of Arthur ap Mervyn, a wild chief taken by fierce Lord Mortimer when he was one of the Lords Marchers of Wales, and murdered, as they say, in that same tower which bears his name."
"Oh, I have heard the tale five hundred times," said Lambourne, "and how the ghost is always most vociferous when they boil leeks and stirabout, or fry toasted cheese, in the culinary regions. Santo Diavolo, man, hold thy tongue, I know all about it!"
"Ay, but thou dost not, though," said the turnkey, "for as wise as thou wouldst make thyself. Ah, it is an awful thing to murder a prisoner in his ward!--you that may have given a man a stab in a dark street know nothing of it. To give a mutinous fellow a knock on the head with the keys, and bid him be quiet, that's what I call keeping order in the ward; but to draw weapon and slay him, as was done to this Welsh lord, THAT raises you a ghost that will render your prison-house untenantable by any decent captive for some hundred years. And I have that regard for my prisoners, poor things, that I have put good squires and men of worship, that have taken a ride on the highway, or slandered my Lord of Leicester, or the like, fifty feet under ground, rather than I would put them into that upper chamber yonder that they call Mervyn's Bower. Indeed, by good Saint Peter of the Fetters, I marvel my noble lord, or Master Varney, could think of lodging guests there; and if this Master Tressilian could get any one to keep him company, and in especial a pretty wench, why, truly, I think he was in the right on't."
"I tell thee," said Lambourne, leading the way into the turnkey's apartment, "thou art an ass. Go bolt the wicket on the stair, and trouble not thy noddle about ghosts. Give me the wine stoup, man; I am somewhat heated with chafing with yonder rascal."
While Lambourne drew a long draught from a pitcher of claret, which he made use of without any cup, the warder went on, vindicating his own belief in the supernatural.
"Thou hast been few hours in this Castle, and hast been for the whole space so drunk, Lambourne, that thou art deaf, dumb, and blind. But we should hear less of your bragging were you to pass a night with us at full moon; for then the ghost is busiest, and more especially when a rattling wind sets in from the north-west, with some sprinkling of rain, and now and then a growl of thunder. Body o' me, what crackings and clashings, what groanings and what howlings, will there be at such times in Mervyn's Bower, right as it were over our heads, till the matter of two quarts of distilled waters has not been enough to keep my lads and me in some heart!"
"Pshaw, man!" replied Lambourne, on whom his last draught, joined to repeated visitations of the pitcher upon former occasions, began to make some innovation, "thou speakest thou knowest not what about spirits. No one knows justly what to say about them; and, in short, least said may in that matter be soonest amended. Some men believe in one thing, some in another--it is all matter of fancy. I have known them of all sorts, my dear Lawrence Lock-the-door, and sensible men too. There's a great lord--we'll pass his name, Lawrence--he believes in the stars and the moon, the planets and their courses, and so forth, and that they twinkle exclusively for his benefit, when in sober, or rather in drunken truth, Lawrence, they are only shining to keep honest fellows like me out of the kennel. Well, sir, let his humour pass; he is great enough to indulge it. Then, look ye, there is another--a very learned man, I promise you, and can vent Greek and Hebrew as fast as I can Thieves' Latin he has an humour of sympathies and antipathies--of changing lead into gold, and the like; why, via, let that pass too, and let him pay those in transmigrated coin who are fools enough to let it be current with them. Then here comest thou thyself, another great man, though neither learned nor noble, yet full six feet high, and thou, like a purblind mole, must needs believe in ghosts and goblins, and such like. Now, there is, besides, a great man--that is, a great little man, or a little great man, my dear Lawrence--and his name begins with V, and what believes he? Why, nothing, honest Lawrence--nothing in earth, heaven, or hell; and for my part, if I believe there is a devil, it is only because I think there must be some one to catch our aforesaid friend by the back 'when soul and body sever,' as the ballad says; for your antecedent will have a consequent--RARO ANTECEDENTEM, as Doctor Bircham was wont to say. But this is Greek to you now, honest Lawrence, and in sooth learning is dry work. Hand me the pitcher once more."
"In faith, if you drink more, Michael," said the warder, "you will be in sorry case either to play Arion or to wait on your master on such a solemn night; and I expect each moment to hear the great bell toll for the muster at Mortimer's Tower, to receive the Queen."
While Staples remonstrated, Lambourne drank; and then setting down the pitcher, which was nearly emptied, with a deep sigh, he said, in an undertone, which soon rose to a high one as his speech proceeded, "Never mind, Lawrence; if I be drunk, I know that shall make Varney uphold me sober. But, as I said, never mind; I can carry my drink discreetly. Moreover, I am to go on the water as Orion, and shall take cold unless I take something comfortable beforehand. Not play Orion? Let us see the best roarer that ever strained his lungs for twelve pence out-mouth me! What if they see me a little disguised? Wherefore should any man be sober to-night? answer me that. It is matter of loyalty to be merry; and I tell thee there are those in the Castle who, if they are not merry when drunk, have little chance to be merry when sober--I name no names, Lawrence. But your pottle of sack is a fine shoeing-horn to pull on a loyal humour, and a merry one. Huzza for Queen Elizabeth!--for the noble Leicester!--for the worshipful Master Varney!--and for Michael Lambourne, that can turn them all round his finger!"
So saying, he walked downstairs, and across the inner court.
The warder looked after him, shook his head, and while he drew close and locked a wicket, which, crossing the staircase, rendered it impossible for any one to ascend higher than the story immediately beneath Mervyn's Bower, as Tressilian's chamber was named, he thus soliloquized with himself--"It's a good thing to be a favourite. I well-nigh lost mine office, because one frosty morning Master Varney thought I smelled of aqua vitae; and this fellow can appear before him drunk as a wineskin, and yet meet no rebuke. But then he is a pestilent clever fellow withal, and no one can understand above one half of what he says."
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