Not serve two masters?--Here's a youth will try it-- Would fain serve God, yet give the devil his due; Says grace before he doth a deed of villainy, And returns his thanks devoutly when 'tis acted,--OLD PLAY.
The room into which the Master of Cumnor Place conducted his worthy visitant was of greater extent than that in which they had at first conversed, and had yet more the appearance of dilapidation. Large oaken presses, filled with shelves of the same wood, surrounded the room, and had, at one time, served for the arrangement of a numerous collection of books, many of which yet remained, but torn and defaced, covered with dust, deprived of their costly clasps and bindings, and tossed together in heaps upon the shelves, as things altogether disregarded, and abandoned to the pleasure of every spoiler. The very presses themselves seemed to have incurred the hostility of those enemies of learning who had destroyed the volumes with which they had been heretofore filled. They were, in several places, dismantled of their shelves, and otherwise broken and damaged, and were, moreover, mantled with cobwebs and covered with dust.
"The men who wrote these books," said Lambourne, looking round him, "little thought whose keeping they were to fall into."
"Nor what yeoman's service they were to do me," quoth Anthony Foster; "the cook hath used them for scouring his pewter, and the groom hath had nought else to clean my boots with, this many a month past."
"And yet," said Lambourne, "I have been in cities where such learned commodities would have been deemed too good for such offices."
"Pshaw, pshaw," answered Foster, "'they are Popish trash, every one of them--private studies of the mumping old Abbot of Abingdon. The nineteenthly of a pure gospel sermon were worth a cartload of such rakings of the kennel of Rome."
"Gad-a-mercy, Master Tony Fire-the-Fagot!" said Lambourne, by way of reply.
Foster scowled darkly at him, as he replied, "Hark ye, friend Mike; forget that name, and the passage which it relates to, if you would not have our newly-revived comradeship die a sudden and a violent death."
"Why," said Michael Lambourne, "you were wont to glory in the share you had in the death of the two old heretical bishops."
"That," said his comrade, "was while I was in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, and applies not to my walk or my ways now that I am called forth into the lists. Mr. Melchisedek Maultext compared my misfortune in that matter to that of the Apostle Paul, who kept the clothes of the witnesses who stoned Saint Stephen. He held forth on the matter three Sabbaths past, and illustrated the same by the conduct of an honourable person present, meaning me."
"I prithee peace, Foster," said Lambourne, "for I know not how it is, I have a sort of creeping comes over my skin when I hear the devil quote Scripture; and besides, man, how couldst thou have the heart to quit that convenient old religion, which you could slip off or on as easily as your glove? Do I not remember how you were wont to carry your conscience to confession, as duly as the month came round? and when thou hadst it scoured, and burnished, and whitewashed by the priest, thou wert ever ready for the worst villainy which could be devised, like a child who is always readiest to rush into the mire when he has got his Sunday's clean jerkin on."
"Trouble not thyself about my conscience," said Foster; "it is a thing thou canst not understand, having never had one of thine own. But let us rather to the point, and say to me, in one word, what is thy business with me, and what hopes have drawn thee hither?"
"The hope of bettering myself, to be sure," answered Lambourne, "as the old woman said when she leapt over the bridge at Kingston. Look you, this purse has all that is left of as round a sum as a man would wish to carry in his slop-pouch. You are here well established, it would seem, and, as I think, well befriended, for men talk of thy being under some special protection--nay, stare not like a pig that is stuck, mon; thou canst not dance in a net and they not see thee. Now I know such protection is not purchased for nought; you must have services to render for it, and in these I propose to help thee."
"But how if I lack no assistance from thee, Mike? I think thy modesty might suppose that were a case possible."
"That is to say," retorted Lambourne, "that you would engross the whole work, rather than divide the reward. But be not over-greedy, Anthony--covetousness bursts the sack and spills the grain. Look you, when the huntsman goes to kill a stag, he takes with him more dogs than one. He has the stanch lyme-hound to track the wounded buck over hill and dale, but he hath also the fleet gaze-hound to kill him at view. Thou art the lyme-hound, I am the gaze-hound; and thy patron will need the aid of both, and can well afford to requite it. Thou hast deep sagacity--an unrelenting purpose--a steady, long-breathed malignity of nature, that surpasses mine. But then, I am the bolder, the quicker, the more ready, both at action and expedient. Separate, our properties are not so perfect; but unite them, and we drive the world before us. How sayest thou--shall we hunt in couples?"
"It is a currish proposal--thus to thrust thyself upon my private matters," replied Foster; "but thou wert ever an ill-nurtured whelp."
"You shall have no cause to say so, unless you spurn my courtesy," said Michael Lambourne; "but if so, keep thee well from me, Sir Knight, as the romance has it. I will either share your counsels or traverse them; for I have come here to be busy, either with thee or against thee."
"Well," said Anthony Foster, "since thou dost leave me so fair a choice, I will rather be thy friend than thine enemy. Thou art right; I CAN prefer thee to the service of a patron who has enough of means to make us both, and an hundred more. And, to say truth, thou art well qualified for his service. Boldness and dexterity he demands--the justice-books bear witness in thy favour; no starting at scruples in his service why, who ever suspected thee of a conscience? an assurance he must have who would follow a courtier--and thy brow is as impenetrable as a Milan visor. There is but one thing I would fain see amended in thee."
"And what is that, my most precious friend Anthony?" replied Lambourne; "for I swear by the pillow of the Seven Sleepers I will not be slothful in amending it."
"Why, you gave a sample of it even now," said Foster. "Your speech twangs too much of the old stamp, and you garnish it ever and anon with singular oaths, that savour of Papistrie. Besides, your exterior man is altogether too deboshed and irregular to become one of his lordship's followers, since he has a reputation to keep up in the eye of the world. You must somewhat reform your dress, upon a more grave and composed fashion; wear your cloak on both shoulders, and your falling band unrumpled and well starched. You must enlarge the brim of your beaver, and diminish the superfluity of your trunk-hose; go to church, or, which will be better, to meeting, at least once a month; protest only upon your faith and conscience; lay aside your swashing look, and never touch the hilt of your sword but when you would draw the carnal weapon in good earnest."
"By this light, Anthony, thou art mad," answered Lambourne, "and hast described rather the gentleman-usher to a puritan's wife, than the follower of an ambitious courtier! Yes, such a thing as thou wouldst make of me should wear a book at his girdle instead of a poniard, and might just be suspected of manhood enough to squire a proud dame-citizen to the lecture at Saint Antonlin's, and quarrel in her cause with any flat-capped threadmaker that would take the wall of her. He must ruffle it in another sort that would walk to court in a nobleman's train."
"Oh, content you, sir," replied Foster, "there is a change since you knew the English world; and there are those who can hold their way through the boldest courses, and the most secret, and yet never a swaggering word, or an oath, or a profane word in their conversation."
"That is to say," replied Lambourne, "they are in a trading copartnery, to do the devil's business without mentioning his name in the firm? Well, I will do my best to counterfeit, rather than lose ground in this new world, since thou sayest it is grown so precise. But, Anthony, what is the name of this nobleman, in whose service I am to turn hypocrite?"
"Aha! Master Michael, are you there with your bears?" said Foster, with a grim smile; "and is this the knowledge you pretend of my concernments? How know you now there is such a person IN RERUM NATURA, and that I have not been putting a jape upon you all this time?"
"Thou put a jape on me, thou sodden-brained gull?" answered Lambourne, nothing daunted. "Why, dark and muddy as thou think'st thyself, I would engage in a day's space to sec as clear through thee and thy concernments, as thou callest them, as through the filthy horn of an old stable lantern."
At this moment their conversation was interrupted by a scream from the next apartment.
"By the holy Cross of Abingdon," exclaimed Anthony Foster, forgetting his Protestantism in his alarm, "I am a ruined man!"
So saying, he rushed into the apartment whence the scream issued, followed by Michael Lambourne. But to account for the sounds which interrupted their conversation, it is necessary to recede a little way in our narrative.
It has been already observed, that when Lambourne accompanied Foster into the library, they left Tressilian alone in the ancient parlour. His dark eye followed them forth of the apartment with a glance of contempt, a part of which his mind instantly transferred to himself, for having stooped to be even for a moment their familiar companion. "These are the associates, Amy"--it was thus he communed with himself--"to which thy cruel levity--thine unthinking and most unmerited falsehood, has condemned him of whom his friends once hoped far other things, and who now scorns himself, as he will be scorned by others, for the baseness he stoops to for the love of thee! But I will not leave the pursuit of thee, once the object of my purest and most devoted affection, though to me thou canst henceforth be nothing but a thing to weep over. I will save thee from thy betrayer, and from thyself; I will restore thee to thy parent--to thy God. I cannot bid the bright star again sparkle in the sphere it has shot from, but--"
A slight noise in the apartment interrupted his reverie. He looked round, and in the beautiful and richly-attired female who entered at that instant by a side-door he recognized the object of his search. The first impulse arising from this discovery urged him to conceal his face with the collar of his cloak, until he should find a favourable moment of making himself known. But his purpose was disconcerted by the young lady (she was not above eighteen years old), who ran joyfully towards him, and, pulling him by the cloak, said playfully, "Nay, my sweet friend, after I have waited for you so long, you come not to my bower to play the masquer. You are arraigned of treason to true love and fond affection, and you must stand up at the bar and answer it with face uncovered--how say you, guilty or not?"
"Alas, Amy!" said Tressilian, in a low and melancholy tone, as he suffered her to draw the mantle from his face. The sound of his voice, and still more the unexpected sight of his face, changed in an instant the lady's playful mood. She staggered back, turned as pale as death, and put her hands before her face. Tressilian was himself for a moment much overcome, but seeming suddenly to remember the necessity of using an opportunity which might not again occur, he said in a low tone, "Amy, fear me not."
"Why should I fear you?" said the lady, withdrawing her hands from her beautiful face, which was now covered with crimson,--"Why should I fear you, Master Tressilian?--or wherefore have you intruded yourself into my dwelling, uninvited, sir, and unwished for?"
"Your dwelling, Amy!" said Tressilian. "Alas! is a prison your dwelling?--a prison guarded by one of the most sordid of men, but not a greater wretch than his employer!"
"This house is mine," said Amy--"mine while I choose to inhabit it. If it is my pleasure to live in seclusion, who shall gainsay me?"
"Your father, maiden," answered Tressilian, "your broken-hearted father, who dispatched me in quest of you with that authority which he cannot exert in person. Here is his letter, written while he blessed his pain of body which somewhat stunned the agony of his mind."
"The pain! Is my father then ill?" said the lady.
"So ill," answered Tressilian, "that even your utmost haste may not restore him to health; but all shall be instantly prepared for your departure, the instant you yourself will give consent."
"Tressilian," answered the lady, "I cannot, I must not, I dare not leave this place. Go back to my father--tell him I will obtain leave to see him within twelve hours from hence. Go back, Tressilian--tell him I am well, I am happy--happy could I think he was so; tell him not to fear that I will come, and in such a manner that all the grief Amy has given him shall be forgotten--the poor Amy is now greater than she dare name. Go, good Tressilian--I have injured thee too, but believe me I have power to heal the wounds I have caused. I robbed you of a childish heart, which was not worthy of you, and I can repay the loss with honours and advancement."
"Do you say this to me, Amy?--do you offer me pageants of idle ambition, for the quiet peace you have robbed me of!--But be it so I came not to upbraid, but to serve and to free you. You cannot disguise it from me--you are a prisoner. Otherwise your kind heart--for it was once a kind heart--would have been already at your father's bedside.--Come, poor, deceived, unhappy maiden!--all shall be forgot--all shall be forgiven. Fear not my importunity for what regarded our contract--it was a dream, and I have awaked. But come--your father yet lives--come, and one word of affection, one tear of penitence, will efface the memory of all that has passed."
"Have I not already said, Tressilian," replied she, "that I will surely come to my father, and that without further delay than is necessary to discharge other and equally binding duties?--Go, carry him the news; I come as sure as there is light in heaven--that is, when I obtain permission."
"Permission!--permission to visit your father on his sick-bed, perhaps on his death-bed!" repeated Tressilian, impatiently; "and permission from whom? From the villain, who, under disguise of friendship, abused every duty of hospitality, and stole thee from thy father's roof!"
"Do him no slander, Tressilian! He whom thou speakest of wears a sword as sharp as thine--sharper, vain man; for the best deeds thou hast ever done in peace or war were as unworthy to be named with his, as thy obscure rank to match itself with the sphere he moves in.--Leave me! Go, do mine errand to my father; and when he next sends to me, let him choose a more welcome messenger."
"Amy," replied Tressilian calmly, "thou canst not move me by thy reproaches. Tell me one thing, that I may bear at least one ray of comfort to my aged friend:--this rank of his which thou dost boast--dost thou share it with him, Amy?--does he claim a husband's right to control thy motions?"
"Stop thy base, unmannered tongue!" said the lady; "to no question that derogates from my honour do I deign an answer."
"You have said enough in refusing to reply," answered Tressilian; "and mark me, unhappy as thou art, I am armed with thy father's full authority to command thy obedience, and I will save thee from the slavery of sin and of sorrow, even despite of thyself, Amy."
"Menace no violence here!" exclaimed the lady, drawing back from him, and alarmed at the determination expressed in his look and manner; "threaten me not, Tressilian, for I have means to repel force."
"But not, I trust, the wish to use them in so evil a cause?" said Tressilian. "With thy will--thine uninfluenced, free, and natural will, Amy, thou canst not choose this state of slavery and dishonour. Thou hast been bound by some spell--entrapped by some deceit--art now detained by some compelled vow. But thus I break the charm--Amy, in the name of thine excellent, thy broken-hearted father, I command thee to follow me!"
As he spoke he advanced and extended his arm, as with the purpose of laying hold upon her. But she shrunk back from his grasp, and uttered the scream which, as we before noticed, brought into the apartment Lambourne and Foster.
The latter exclaimed, as soon as he entered, "Fire and fagot! what have we here?" Then addressing the lady, in a tone betwixt entreaty and command, he added, "Uds precious! madam, what make you here out of bounds? Retire--retire--there is life and death in this matter.--And you, friend, whoever you may be, leave this house--out with you, before my dagger's hilt and your costard become acquainted.--Draw, Mike, and rid us of the knave!"
"Not I, on my soul," replied Lambourne; "he came hither in my company, and he is safe from me by cutter's law, at least till we meet again.--But hark ye, my Cornish comrade, you have brought a Cornish flaw of wind with you hither, a hurricanoe as they call it in the Indies. Make yourself scarce--depart--vanish--or we'll have you summoned before the Mayor of Halgaver, and that before Dudman and Ramhead meet." [Two headlands on the Cornish coast. The expressions are proverbial.]
"Away, base groom!" said Tressilian.--"And you, madam, fare you well--what life lingers in your father's bosom will leave him at the news I have to tell."
He departed, the lady saying faintly as he left the room, "Tressilian, be not rash--say no scandal of me."
"Here is proper gear," said Foster. "I pray you go to your chamber, my lady, and let us consider how this is to be answered--nay, tarry not."
"I move not at your command, sir," answered the lady.
"Nay, but you must, fair lady," replied Foster; "excuse my freedom, but, by blood and nails, this is no time to strain courtesies--you MUST go to your chamber.--Mike, follow that meddling coxcomb, and, as you desire to thrive, see him safely clear of the premises, while I bring this headstrong lady to reason. Draw thy tool, man, and after him."
"I'll follow him," said Michael Lambourne, "and see him fairly out of Flanders; but for hurting a man I have drunk my morning's draught withal, 'tis clean against my conscience." So saying, he left the apartment.
Tressilian, meanwhile, with hasty steps, pursued the first path which promised to conduct him through the wild and overgrown park in which the mansion of Foster was situated. Haste and distress of mind led his steps astray, and instead of taking the avenue which led towards the village, he chose another, which, after he had pursued it for some time with a hasty and reckless step, conducted him to the other side of the demesne, where a postern door opened through the wall, and led into the open country.
Tressilian paused an instant. It was indifferent to him by what road he left a spot now so odious to his recollections; but it was probable that the postern door was locked, and his retreat by that pass rendered impossible.
"I must make the attempt, however," he said to himself; "the only means of reclaiming this lost--this miserable--this still most lovely and most unhappy girl, must rest in her father's appeal to the broken laws of his country. I must haste to apprise him of this heartrending intelligence."
As Tressilian, thus conversing with himself, approached to try some means of opening the door, or climbing over it, he perceived there was a key put into the lock from the outside. It turned round, the bolt revolved, and a cavalier, who entered, muffled in his riding-cloak, and wearing a slouched hat with a drooping feather, stood at once within four yards of him who was desirous of going out. They exclaimed at once, in tones of resentment and surprise, the one "Varney!" the other "Tressilian!"
"What make you here?" was the stern question put by the stranger to Tressilian, when the moment of surprise was past--"what make you here, where your presence is neither expected nor desired?"
"Nay, Varney," replied Tressilian, "what make you here? Are you come to triumph over the innocence you have destroyed, as the vulture or carrion-crow comes to batten on the lamb whose eyes it has first plucked out? Or are you come to encounter the merited vengeance of an honest man? Draw, dog, and defend thyself!"
Tressilian drew his sword as he spoke, but Varney only laid his hand on the hilt of his own, as he replied, "Thou art mad, Tressilian. I own appearances are against me; but by every oath a priest can make or a man can swear, Mistress Amy Robsart hath had no injury from me. And in truth I were somewhat loath to hurt you in this cause--thou knowest I can fight."
"I have heard thee say so, Varney," replied Tressilian; "but now, methinks, I would fain have some better evidence than thine own word."
"That shall not be lacking, if blade and hilt be but true to me," answered Varney; and drawing his sword with the right hand, he threw his cloak around his left, and attacked Tressilian with a vigour which, for a moment, seemed to give him the advantage of the combat. But this advantage lasted not long. Tressilian added to a spirit determined on revenge a hand and eye admirably well adapted to the use of the rapier; so that Varney, finding himself hard pressed in his turn, endeavoured to avail himself of his superior strength by closing with his adversary. For this purpose, he hazarded the receiving one of Tressilian's passes in his cloak, wrapped as it was around his arm, and ere his adversary could, extricate his rapier thus entangled, he closed with him, shortening his own sword at the same time, with the purpose of dispatching him. But Tressilian was on his guard, and unsheathing his poniard, parried with the blade of that weapon the home-thrust which would otherwise have finished the combat, and, in the struggle which followed, displayed so much address, as might have confirmed, the opinion that he drew his origin from Cornwall whose natives are such masters in the art of wrestling, as, were the games of antiquity revived, might enable them to challenge all Europe to the ring. Varney, in his ill-advised attempt, received a fall so sudden and violent that his sword flew several paces from his hand and ere he could recover his feet, that of his antagonist was; pointed to his throat.
"Give me the instant means of relieving the victim of thy treachery," said Tressilian, "or take the last look of your Creator's blessed sun!"
And while Varney, too confused or too sullen to reply, made a sudden effort to arise, his adversary drew back his arm, and would have executed his threat, but that the blow was arrested by the grasp of Michael Lambourne, who, directed by the clashing of swords had come up just in time to save the life of Varney.
"Come, come, comrade;" said Lambourne, "here is enough done and more than enough; put up your fox and let us be jogging. The Black Bear growls for us."
"Off, abject!" said Tressilian, striking himself free of Lambourne's grasp; "darest thou come betwixt me and mine enemy?"
"Abject! abject!" repeated Lambourne; "that shall be answered with cold steel whenever a bowl of sack has washed out memory of the morning's draught that we had together. In the meanwhile, do you see, shog--tramp--begone--we are two to one."
He spoke truth, for Varney had taken the opportunity to regain his weapon, and Tressilian perceived it was madness to press the quarrel further against such odds. He took his purse from his side, and taking out two gold nobles, flung them to Lambourne. "There, caitiff, is thy morning wage; thou shalt not say thou hast been my guide unhired.--Varney, farewell! we shall meet where there are none to come betwixt us." So saying, he turned round and departed through the postern door.
Varney seemed to want the inclination, or perhaps the power (for his fall had been a severe one), to follow his retreating enemy. But he glared darkly as he disappeared, and then addressed Lambourne. "Art thou a comrade of Foster's, good fellow?"
"Sworn friends, as the haft is to the knife," replied Michael Lambourne.
"Here is a broad piece for thee. Follow yonder fellow, and see where he takes earth, and bring me word up to the mansion-house here. Cautious and silent, thou knave, as thou valuest thy throat."
"Enough said," replied Lambourne; "I can draw on a scent as well as a sleuth-hound."
"Begone, then," said Varney, sheathing his rapier; and, turning his back on Michael Lambourne, he walked slowly towards the house. Lambourne stopped but an instant to gather the nobles which his late companion had flung towards him so unceremoniously, and muttered to himself, while he put them upon his purse along with the gratuity of Varney, "I spoke to yonder gulls of Eldorado. By Saint Anthony, there is no Eldorado for men of our stamp equal to bonny Old England! It rains nobles, by Heaven--they lie on the grass as thick as dewdrops--you may have them for gathering. And if I have not my share of such glittering dewdrops, may my sword melt like an icicle!"
Sorry, no summary available yet.