He was a man Versed in the world as pilot in his compass. The needle pointed ever to that interest Which was his loadstar, and he spread his sails With vantage to the gale of others' passion. --THE DECEIVER, A TRAGEDY.
Antony Foster was still engaged in debate with his fair guest, who treated with scorn every entreaty and request that she would retire to her own apartment, when a whistle was heard at the entrance-door of the mansion.
"We are fairly sped now," said Foster; "yonder is thy lord's signal, and what to say about the disorder which has happened in this household, by my conscience, I know not. Some evil fortune dogs the heels of that unhanged rogue Lambourne, and he has 'scaped the gallows against every chance, to come back and be the ruin of me!"
"Peace, sir," said the lady, "and undo the gate to your master.--My lord! my dear lord!" she then exclaimed, hastening to the entrance of the apartment; then added, with a voice expressive of disappointment, "Pooh! it is but Richard Varney."
"Ay, madam," said Varney, entering and saluting the lady with a respectful obeisance, which she returned with a careless mixture of negligence and of displeasure, "it is but Richard Varney; but even the first grey cloud should be acceptable, when it lightens in the east, because it announces the approach of the blessed sun."
"How! comes my lord hither to-night?" said the lady, in joyful yet startled agitation; and Anthony Foster caught up the word, and echoed the question. Varney replied to the lady, that his lord purposed to attend her; and would have proceeded with some compliment, when, running to the door of the parlour, she called aloud, "Janet--Janet! come to my tiring-room instantly." Then returning to Varney, she asked if her lord sent any further commendations to her.
"This letter, honoured madam," said he, taking from his bosom a small parcel wrapped in scarlet silk, "and with it a token to the Queen of his Affections." With eager speed the lady hastened to undo the silken string which surrounded the little packet, and failing to unloose readily the knot with which it was secured, she again called loudly on Janet, "Bring me a knife--scissors--aught that may undo this envious knot!"
"May not my poor poniard serve, honoured madam?" said Varney, presenting a small dagger of exquisite workmanship, which hung in his Turkey-leather sword-belt.
"No, sir," replied the lady, rejecting the instrument which he offered--"steel poniard shall cut no true-love knot of mine."
"It has cut many, however," said Anthony Foster, half aside, and looking at Varney. By this time the knot was disentangled without any other help than the neat and nimble fingers of Janet, a simply-attired pretty maiden, the daughter of Anthony Foster, who came running at the repeated call of her mistress. A necklace of orient pearl, the companion of a perfumed billet, was now hastily produced from the packet. The lady gave the one, after a slight glance, to the charge of her attendant, while she read, or rather devoured, the contents of the other.
"Surely, lady," said Janet, gazing with admiration at the neck-string of pearls, "the daughters of Tyre wore no fairer neck-jewels than these. And then the posy, 'For a neck that is fairer'--each pearl is worth a freehold."
"Each word in this dear paper is worth the whole string, my girl. But come to my tiring-room, girl; we must be brave, my lord comes hither to-night.--He bids me grace you, Master Varney, and to me his wish is a law. I bid you to a collation in my bower this afternoon; and you, too, Master Foster. Give orders that all is fitting, and that suitable preparations be made for my lord's reception to-night." With these words she left the apartment.
"She takes state on her already," said Varney, "and distributes the favour of her presence, as if she were already the partner of his dignity. Well, it is wise to practise beforehand the part which fortune prepares us to play--the young eagle must gaze at the sun ere he soars on strong wing to meet it."
"If holding her head aloft," said Foster, "will keep her eyes from dazzling, I warrant you the dame will not stoop her crest. She will presently soar beyond reach of my whistle, Master Varney. I promise you, she holds me already in slight regard."
"It is thine own fault, thou sullen, uninventive companion," answered Varney, "who knowest no mode of control save downright brute force. Canst thou not make home pleasant to her, with music and toys? Canst thou not make the out-of-doors frightful to her, with tales of goblins? Thou livest here by the churchyard, and hast not even wit enough to raise a ghost, to scare thy females into good discipline."
"Speak not thus, Master Varney," said Foster; "the living I fear not, but I trifle not nor toy with my dead neighbours of the churchyard. I promise you, it requires a good heart to live so near it. Worthy Master Holdforth, the afternoon's lecturer of Saint Antonlin's, had a sore fright there the last time he came to visit me."
"Hold thy superstitious tongue," answered Varney; "and while thou talkest of visiting, answer me, thou paltering knave, how came Tressilian to be at the postern door?"
"Tressilian!" answered Foster, "what know I of Tressilian? I never heard his name."
"Why, villain, it was the very Cornish chough to whom old Sir Hugh Robsart destined his pretty Amy; and hither the hot-brained fool has come to look after his fair runaway. There must be some order taken with him, for he thinks he hath wrong, and is not the mean hind that will sit down with it. Luckily he knows nought of my lord, but thinks he has only me to deal with. But how, in the fiend's name, came he hither?"
"Why, with Mike Lambourne, an you must know," answered Foster.
"And who is Mike Lambourne?" demanded Varney. "By Heaven! thou wert best set up a bush over thy door, and invite every stroller who passes by to see what thou shouldst keep secret even from the sun and air."
"Ay! ay! this is a courtlike requital of my service to you, Master Richard Varney," replied Foster. "Didst thou not charge me to seek out for thee a fellow who had a good sword and an unscrupulous conscience? and was I not busying myself to find a fit man--for, thank Heaven, my acquaintance lies not amongst such companions--when, as Heaven would have it, this tall fellow, who is in all his dualities the very flashing knave thou didst wish, came hither to fix acquaintance upon me in the plenitude of his impudence; and I admitted his claim, thinking to do you a pleasure. And now see what thanks I get for disgracing myself by converse with him!"
"And did he," said Varney, "being such a fellow as thyself, only lacking, I suppose, thy present humour of hypocrisy, which lies as thin over thy hard, ruffianly heart as gold lacquer upon rusty iron--did he, I say, bring the saintly, sighing Tressilian in his train?"
"They came together, by Heaven!" said Foster; "and Tressilian--to speak Heaven's truth--obtained a moment's interview with our pretty moppet, while I was talking apart with Lambourne."
"Improvident villain! we are both undone," said Varney. "She has of late been casting many a backward look to her father's halls, whenever her lordly lover leaves her alone. Should this preaching fool whistle her back to her old perch, we were but lost men."
"No fear of that, my master," replied Anthony Foster; "she is in no mood to stoop to his lure, for she yelled out on seeing him as if an adder had stung her."
"That is good. Canst thou not get from thy daughter an inkling of what passed between them, good Foster?"
"I tell you plain, Master Varney," said Foster, "my daughter shall not enter our purposes or walk in our paths. They may suit me well enough, who know how to repent of my misdoings; but I will not have my child's soul committed to peril either for your pleasure or my lord's. I may walk among snares and pitfalls myself, because I have discretion, but I will not trust the poor lamb among them."
"Why, thou suspicious fool, I were as averse as thou art that thy baby-faced girl should enter into my plans, or walk to hell at her father's elbow. But indirectly thou mightst gain some intelligence of her?"
"And so I did, Master Varney," answered Foster; "and she said her lady called out upon the sickness of her father."
"Good!" replied Varney; "that is a hint worth catching, and I will work upon it. But the country must be rid of this Tressilian. I would have cumbered no man about the matter, for I hate him like strong poison--his presence is hemlock to me--and this day I had been rid of him, but that my foot slipped, when, to speak truth, had not thy comrade yonder come to my aid, and held his hand, I should have known by this time whether you and I have been treading the path to heaven or hell."
"And you can speak thus of such a risk!" said Foster. "You keep a stout heart, Master Varney. For me, if I did not hope to live many years, and to have time for the great work of repentance, I would not go forward with you."
"Oh! thou shalt live as long as Methuselah," said Varney, "and amass as much wealth as Solomon; and thou shalt repent so devoutly, that thy repentance shall be more famous than thy villainy--and that is a bold word. But for all this, Tressilian must be looked after. Thy ruffian yonder is gone to dog him. It concerns our fortunes, Anthony."
"Ay, ay," said Foster sullenly, "this it is to be leagued with one who knows not even so much of Scripture, as that the labourer is worthy of his hire. I must, as usual, take all the trouble and risk."
"Risk! and what is the mighty risk, I pray you?" answered Varney. "This fellow will come prowling again about your demesne or into your house, and if you take him for a house-breaker or a park-breaker, is it not most natural you should welcome him with cold steel or hot lead? Even a mastiff will pull down those who come near his kennel; and who shall blame him?"
"Ay, I have a mastiff's work and a mastiff's wage among you," said Foster. "Here have you, Master Varney, secured a good freehold estate out of this old superstitious foundation; and I have but a poor lease of this mansion under you, voidable at your honour's pleasure."
"Ay, and thou wouldst fain convert thy leasehold into a copyhold--the thing may chance to happen, Anthony Foster, if thou dost good service for it. But softly, good Anthony--it is not the lending a room or two of this old house for keeping my lord's pretty paroquet--nay, it is not the shutting thy doors and windows to keep her from flying off that may deserve it. Remember, the manor and tithes are rated at the clear annual value of seventy-nine pounds five shillings and fivepence halfpenny, besides the value of the wood. Come, come, thou must be conscionable; great and secret service may deserve both this and a better thing. And now let thy knave come and pluck off my boots. Get us some dinner, and a cup of thy best wine. I must visit this mavis, brave in apparel, unruffled in aspect, and gay in temper."
They parted and at the hour of noon, which was then that of dinner, they again met at their meal, Varney gaily dressed like a courtier of the time, and even Anthony Foster improved in appearance, as far as dress could amend an exterior so unfavourable.
This alteration did not escape Varney. Then the meal was finished, the cloth removed, and they were left to their private discourse--"Thou art gay as a goldfinch, Anthony," said Varney, looking at his host; "methinks, thou wilt whistle a jig anon. But I crave your pardon, that would secure your ejection from the congregation of the zealous botchers, the pure-hearted weavers, and the sanctified bakers of Abingdon, who let their ovens cool while their brains get heated."
"To answer you in the spirit, Master Varney," said Foster, "were--excuse the parable--to fling sacred and precious things before swine. So I will speak to thee in the language of the world, which he who is king of the world, hath taught thee, to understand, and to profit by in no common measure."
"Say what thou wilt, honest Tony," replied Varney; "for be it according to thine absurd faith, or according to thy most villainous practice, it cannot choose but be rare matter to qualify this cup of Alicant. Thy conversation is relishing and poignant, and beats caviare, dried neat's-tongue, and all other provocatives that give savour to good liquor."
"Well, then, tell me," said Anthony Foster, "is not our good lord and master's turn better served, and his antechamber more suitably filled, with decent, God-fearing men, who will work his will and their own profit quietly, and without worldly scandal, than that he should be manned, and attended, and followed by such open debauchers and ruffianly swordsmen as Tidesly, Killigrew, this fellow Lambourne, whom you have put me to seek out for you, and other such, who bear the gallows in their face and murder in their right hand--who are a terror to peaceable men, and a scandal to my lord's service?"
"Oh, content you, good Master Anthony Foster," answered Varney; "he that flies at all manner of game must keep all kinds of hawks, both short and long-winged. The course my lord holds is no easy one, and he must stand provided at all points with trusty retainers to meet each sort of service. He must have his gay courtier, like myself, to ruffle it in the presence-chamber, and to lay hand on hilt when any speaks in disparagement of my lord's honour--"
"Ay," said Foster, "and to whisper a word for him into a fair lady's ear, when he may not approach her himself."
"Then," said Varney, going on without appearing to notice the interruption, "he must have his lawyers--deep, subtle pioneers--to draw his contracts, his pre-contracts, and his post-contracts, and to find the way to make the most of grants of church-lands, and commons, and licenses for monopoly. And he must have physicians who can spice a cup or a caudle. And he must have his cabalists, like Dec and Allan, for conjuring up the devil. And he must have ruffling swordsmen, who would fight the devil when he is raised and at the wildest. And above all, without prejudice to others, he must have such godly, innocent, puritanic souls as thou, honest Anthony, who defy Satan, and do his work at the same time."
"You would not say, Master Varney," said Foster, "that our good lord and master, whom I hold to be fulfilled in all nobleness, would use such base and sinful means to rise, as thy speech points at?"
"Tush, man," said Varney, "never look at me with so sad a brow. You trap me not--nor am I in your power, as your weak brain may imagine, because I name to you freely the engines, the springs, the screws, the tackle, and braces, by which great men rise in stirring times. Sayest thou our good lord is fulfilled of all nobleness? Amen, and so be it--he has the more need to have those about him who are unscrupulous in his service, and who, because they know that his fall will overwhelm and crush them, must wager both blood and brain, soul and body, in order to keep him aloft; and this I tell thee, because I care not who knows it."
"You speak truth, Master Varney," said Anthony Foster. "He that is head of a party is but a boat on a wave, that raises not itself, but is moved upward by the billow which it floats upon."
"Thou art metaphorical, honest Anthony," replied Varney; "that velvet doublet hath made an oracle of thee. We will have thee to Oxford to take the degrees in the arts. And, in the meantime, hast thou arranged all the matters which were sent from London, and put the western chambers into such fashion as may answer my lord's humour?"
"They may serve a king on his bridal-day," said Anthony; "and I promise you that Dame Amy sits in them yonder as proud and gay as if she were the Queen of Sheba."
"'Tis the better, good Anthony," answered Varney; "we must found our future fortunes on her good liking."
"We build on sand then," said Anthony Foster; "for supposing that she sails away to court in all her lord's dignity and authority, how is she to look back upon me, who am her jailor as it were, to detain her here against her will, keeping her a caterpillar on an old wall, when she would fain be a painted butterfly in a court garden?"
"Fear not her displeasure, man," said Varney. "I will show her all thou hast done in this matter was good service, both to my lord and her; and when she chips the egg-shell and walks alone, she shall own we have hatched her greatness."
"Look to yourself, Master Varney," said Foster, "you may misreckon foully in this matter. She gave you but a frosty reception this morning, and, I think, looks on you, as well as me, with an evil eye."
"You mistake her, Foster--you mistake her utterly. To me she is bound by all the ties which can secure her to one who has been the means of gratifying both her love and ambition. Who was it that took the obscure Amy Robsart, the daughter of an impoverished and dotard knight--the destined bride of a moonstruck, moping enthusiast, like Edmund Tressilian, from her lowly fates, and held out to her in prospect the brightest fortune in England, or perchance in Europe? Why, man, it was I--as I have often told thee--that found opportunity for their secret meetings. It was I who watched the wood while he beat for the deer. It was I who, to this day, am blamed by her family as the companion of her flight; and were I in their neighbourhood, would be fain to wear a shirt of better stuff than Holland linen, lest my ribs should be acquainted with Spanish steel. Who carried their letters?--I. Who amused the old knight and Tressilian?--I. Who planned her escape?--it was I. It was I, in short, Dick Varney, who pulled this pretty little daisy from its lowly nook, and placed it in the proudest bonnet in Britain."
"Ay, Master Varney," said Foster; "but it may be she thinks that had the matter remained with you, the flower had been stuck so slightly into the cap, that the first breath of a changeable breeze of passion had blown the poor daisy to the common."
"She should consider," said Varney, smiling, "the true faith I owed my lord and master prevented me at first from counselling marriage; and yet I did counsel marriage when I saw she would not be satisfied without the--the sacrament, or the ceremony--which callest thou it, Anthony?"
"Still she has you at feud on another score," said Foster; "and I tell it you that you may look to yourself in time. She would not hide her splendour in this dark lantern of an old monastic house, but would fain shine a countess amongst countesses."
"Very natural, very right," answered Varney; "but what have I to do with that?--she may shine through horn or through crystal at my lord's pleasure, I have nought to say against it."
"She deems that you have an oar upon that side of the boat, Master Varney," replied Foster, "and that you can pull it or no, at your good pleasure. In a word, she ascribes the secrecy and obscurity in which she is kept to your secret counsel to my lord, and to my strict agency; and so she loves us both as a sentenced man loves his judge and his jailor."
"She must love us better ere she leave this place, Anthony," answered Varney. "If I have counselled for weighty reasons that she remain here for a season, I can also advise her being brought forth in the full blow of her dignity. But I were mad to do so, holding so near a place to my lord's person, were she mine enemy. Bear this truth in upon her as occasion offers, Anthony, and let me alone for extolling you in her ear, and exalting you in her opinion--KA ME, KA THEE--it is a proverb all over the world. The lady must know her friends, and be made to judge of the power they have of being her enemies; meanwhile, watch her strictly, but with all the outward observance that thy rough nature will permit. 'Tis an excellent thing that sullen look and bull-dog humour of thine; thou shouldst thank God for it, and so should my lord, for when there is aught harsh or hard-natured to be done, thou dost it as if it flowed from thine own natural doggedness, and not from orders, and so my lord escapes the scandal.--But, hark--some one knocks at the gate. Look out at the window--let no one enter--this were an ill night to be interrupted."
"It is he whom we spoke of before dinner," said Foster, as he looked through the casement; "it is Michael Lambourne."
"Oh, admit him, by all means," said the courtier; "he comes to give some account of his guest; it imports us much to know the movements of Edmund Tressilian.--Admit him, I say, but bring him not hither; I will come to you presently in the Abbot's library."
Foster left the room, and the courtier, who remained behind, paced the parlour more than once in deep thought, his arms folded on his bosom, until at length he gave vent to his meditations in broken words, which we have somewhat enlarged and connected, that his soliloquy may be intelligible to the reader.
"'Tis true," he said, suddenly stopping, and resting his right hand on the table at which they had been sitting, "this base churl hath fathomed the very depth of my fear, and I have been unable to disguise it from him. She loves me not--I would it were as true that I loved not her! Idiot that I was, to move her in my own behalf, when wisdom bade me be a true broker to my lord! And this fatal error has placed me more at her discretion than a wise man would willingly be at that of the best piece of painted Eve's flesh of them all. Since the hour that my policy made so perilous a slip, I cannot look at her without fear, and hate, and fondness, so strangely mingled, that I know not whether, were it at my choice, I would rather possess or ruin her. But she must not leave this retreat until I am assured on what terms we are to stand. My lord's interest--and so far it is mine own, for if he sinks I fall in his train--demands concealment of this obscure marriage; and besides, I will not lend her my arm to climb to her chair of state, that she may set her foot on my neck when she is fairly seated. I must work an interest in her, either through love or through fear; and who knows but I may yet reap the sweetest and best revenge for her former scorn?--that were indeed a masterpiece of courtlike art! Let me but once be her counsel-keeper--let her confide to me a secret, did it but concern the robbery of a linnet's nest, and, fair Countess, thou art mine own!" He again paced the room in silence, stopped, filled and drank a cup of wine, as if to compose the agitation of his mind, and muttering, "Now for a close heart and an open and unruffled brow," he left the apartment.
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