Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XIV.

This is rare news thou tell’st me, my good fellow;

There are two bulls fierce battling on the green

For one fair heifer — if the one goes down,

The dale will be more peaceful, and the herd,

Which have small interest in their brulziement,

May pasture there in peace.

Old Play.

Sayes Court was watched like a beleaguered fort; and so high rose the suspicions of the time, that Tressilian and his attendants were stopped and questioned repeatedly by sentinels, both on foot and horseback, as they approached the abode of the sick Earl. In truth, the high rank which Sussex held in Queen Elizabeth’s favour, and his known and avowed rivalry of the Earl of Leicester, caused the utmost importance to be attached to his welfare; for, at the period we treat of, all men doubted whether he or the Earl of Leicester might ultimately have the higher rank in her regard.

Elizabeth, like many of her sex, was fond of governing by factions, so as to balance two opposing interests, and reserve in her own hand the power of making either predominate, as the interest of the state, or perhaps as her own female caprice (for to that foible even she was not superior), might finally determine. To finesse — to hold the cards — to oppose one interest to another — to bridle him who thought himself highest in her esteem, by the fears he must entertain of another equally trusted, if not equally beloved, were arts which she used throughout her reign, and which enabled her, though frequently giving way to the weakness of favouritism, to prevent most of its evil effects on her kingdom and government.

The two nobles who at present stood as rivals in her favour possessed very different pretensions to share it; yet it might be in general said that the Earl of Sussex had been most serviceable to the Queen, while Leicester was most dear to the woman. Sussex was, according to the phrase of the times, a martialist — had done good service in Ireland and in Scotland, and especially in the great northern rebellion, in 1569, which was quelled, in a great measure, by his military talents. He was, therefore, naturally surrounded and looked up to by those who wished to make arms their road to distinction. The Earl of Sussex, moreover, was of more ancient and honourable descent than his rival, uniting in his person the representation of the Fitz-Walters, as well as of the Ratcliffes; while the scutcheon of Leicester was stained by the degradation of his grandfather, the oppressive minister of Henry VII., and scarce improved by that of his father, the unhappy Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, executed on Tower Hill, August 22, 1553. But in person, features, and address, weapons so formidable in the court of a female sovereign, Leicester had advantages more than sufficient to counterbalance the military services, high blood, and frank bearing of the Earl of Sussex; and he bore, in the eye of the court and kingdom, the higher share in Elizabeth’s favour, though (for such was her uniform policy) by no means so decidedly expressed as to warrant him against the final preponderance of his rival’s pretensions. The illness of Sussex therefore happened so opportunely for Leicester, as to give rise to strange surmises among the public; while the followers of the one Earl were filled with the deepest apprehensions, and those of the other with the highest hopes of its probable issue. Meanwhile — for in that old time men never forgot the probability that the matter might be determined by length of sword — the retainers of each noble flocked around their patron, appeared well armed in the vicinity of the court itself, and disturbed the ear of the sovereign by their frequent and alarming debates, held even within the precincts of her palace. This preliminary statement is necessary, to render what follows intelligible to the reader.12

On Tressilian’s arrival at Sayes Court, he found the place filled with the retainers of the Earl of Sussex, and of the gentlemen who came to attend their patron in his illness. Arms were in every hand, and a deep gloom on every countenance, as if they had apprehended an immediate and violent assault from the opposite faction. In the hall, however, to which Tressilian was ushered by one of the Earl’s attendants, while another went to inform Sussex of his arrival, he found only two gentlemen in waiting. There was a remarkable contrast in their dress, appearance, and manners. The attire of the elder gentleman, a person as it seemed of quality and in the prime of life, was very plain and soldierlike, his stature low, his limbs stout, his bearing ungraceful, and his features of that kind which express sound common sense, without a grain of vivacity or imagination. The younger, who seemed about twenty, or upwards, was clad in the gayest habit used by persons of quality at the period, wearing a crimson velvet cloak richly ornamented with lace and embroidery, with a bonnet of the same, encircled with a gold chain turned three times round it, and secured by a medal. His hair was adjusted very nearly like that of some fine gentlemen of our own time — that is, it was combed upwards, and made to stand as it were on end; and in his ears he wore a pair of silver earrings, having each a pearl of considerable size. The countenance of this youth, besides being regularly handsome and accompanied by a fine person, was animated and striking in a degree that seemed to speak at once the firmness of a decided and the fire of an enterprising character, the power of reflection, and the promptitude of determination.

Both these gentlemen reclined nearly in the same posture on benches near each other; but each seeming engaged in his own meditations, looked straight upon the wall which was opposite to them, without speaking to his companion. The looks of the elder were of that sort which convinced the beholder that, in looking on the wall, he saw no more than the side of an old hall hung around with cloaks, antlers, bucklers, old pieces of armour, partisans, and the similar articles which were usually the furniture of such a place. The look of the younger gallant had in it something imaginative; he was sunk in reverie, and it seemed as if the empty space of air betwixt him and the wall were the stage of a theatre on which his fancy was mustering his own Dramatis Personae, and treating him with sights far different from those which his awakened and earthly vision could have offered.

At the entrance of Tressilian both started from their musing, and made him welcome — the younger, in particular, with great appearance of animation and cordiality.

“Thou art welcome, Tressilian,” said the youth. “Thy philosophy stole thee from us when this household had objects of ambition to offer; it is an honest philosophy, since it returns thee to us when there are only dangers to be shared.”

“Is my lord, then, so greatly indisposed?” said Tressilian.

“We fear the very worst,” answered the elder gentleman, “and by the worst practice.”

“Fie,” replied Tressilian, “my Lord of Leicester is honourable.”

“What doth he with such attendants, then, as he hath about him?” said the younger gallant. “The man who raises the devil may be honest, but he is answerable for the mischief which the fiend does, for all that.”

“And is this all of you, my mates,” inquired Tressilian, “that are about my lord in his utmost straits?”

“No, no,” replied the elder gentleman, “there are Tracy, Markham, and several more; but we keep watch here by two at once, and some are weary and are sleeping in the gallery above.”

“And some,” said the young man,” are gone down to the Dock yonder at Deptford, to look out such a hull; as they may purchase by clubbing their broken fortunes; and as soon as all is over, we will lay our noble lord in a noble green grave, have a blow at those who have hurried him thither, if opportunity suits, and then sail for the Indies with heavy hearts and light purses.”

“It may be,” said Tressilian, “that I will embrace the same purpose, so soon as I have settled some business at court.”

“Thou business at court!” they both exclaimed at once, “and thou make the Indian voyage!”

“Why, Tressilian,” said the younger man, “art thou not wedded, and beyond these flaws of fortune, that drive folks out to sea when their bark bears fairest for the haven? — What has become of the lovely Indamira that was to match my Amoret for truth and beauty?”

“Speak not of her!” said Tressilian, averting his face.

“Ay, stands it so with you?” said the youth, taking his hand very affectionately; “then, fear not I will again touch the green wound. But it is strange as well as sad news. Are none of our fair and merry fellowship to escape shipwreck of fortune and happiness in this sudden tempest? I had hoped thou wert in harbour, at least, my dear Edmund. But truly says another dear friend of thy name,

‘What man that sees the ever whirling wheel

Of Chance, the which all mortal things doth sway,

But that thereby doth find and plainly feel,

How Mutability in them doth play

Her cruel sports to many men’s decay.’”

The elder gentleman had risen from his bench, and was pacing the hall with some impatience, while the youth, with much earnestness and feeling, recited these lines. When he had done, the other wrapped himself in his cloak, and again stretched himself down, saying, “I marvel, Tressilian, you will feed the lad in this silly humour. If there were ought to draw a judgment upon a virtuous and honourable household like my lord’s, renounce me if I think not it were this piping, whining, childish trick of poetry, that came among us with Master Walter Wittypate here and his comrades, twisting into all manner of uncouth and incomprehensible forms of speech, the honest plain English phrase which God gave us to express our meaning withal.”

“Blount believes,” said his comrade, laughing, “the devil woo’d Eve in rhyme, and that the mystic meaning of the Tree of Knowledge refers solely to the art of clashing rhymes and meting out hexameters.”13

At this moment the Earl’s chamberlain entered, and informed Tressilian that his lord required to speak with him.

He found Lord Sussex dressed, but unbraced, and lying on his couch, and was shocked at the alteration disease had made in his person. The Earl received him with the most friendly cordiality, and inquired into the state of his courtship. Tressilian evaded his inquiries for a moment, and turning his discourse on the Earl’s own health, he discovered, to his surprise, that the symptoms of his disorder corresponded minutely with those which Wayland had predicated concerning it. He hesitated not, therefore, to communicate to Sussex the whole history of his attendant, and the pretensions he set up to cure the disorder under which he laboured. The Earl listened with incredulous attention until the name of Demetrius was mentioned, and then suddenly called to his secretary to bring him a certain casket which contained papers of importance. “Take out from thence,” he said, “the declaration of the rascal cook whom we had under examination, and look heedfully if the name of Demetrius be not there mentioned.”

The secretary turned to the passage at once, and read, “And said declarant, being examined, saith, That he remembers having made the sauce to the said sturgeon-fish, after eating of which the said noble Lord was taken ill; “and he put the usual ingredients and condiments therein, namely —”

“Pass over his trash,” said the Earl, “and see whether he had not been supplied with his materials by a herbalist called Demetrius.”

“It is even so,” answered the secretary. “And he adds, he has not since seen the said Demetrius.”

“This accords with thy fellow’s story, Tressilian,” said the Earl; “call him hither.”

On being summoned to the Earl’s presence, Wayland Smith told his former tale with firmness and consistency.

“It may be,” said the Earl, “thou art sent by those who have begun this work, to end it for them; but bethink, if I miscarry under thy medicine, it may go hard with thee.”

“That were severe measure,” said Wayland, “since the issue of medicine, and the end of life, are in God’s disposal. But I will stand the risk. I have not lived so long under ground to be afraid of a grave.”

“Nay, if thou be’st so confident,” said the Earl of Sussex, “I will take the risk too, for the learned can do nothing for me. Tell me how this medicine is to be taken.”

“That will I do presently,” said Wayland; “but allow me to condition that, since I incur all the risk of this treatment, no other physician shall be permitted to interfere with it.”

“That is but fair,” replied the Earl; “and now prepare your drug.”

While Wayland obeyed the Earl’s commands, his servants, by the artist’s direction, undressed their master, and placed him in bed.

“I warn you,” he said, “that the first operation of this medicine will be to produce a heavy sleep, during which time the chamber must be kept undisturbed, as the consequences may otherwise he fatal. I myself will watch by the Earl with any of the gentlemen of his chamber.”

“Let all leave the room, save Stanley and this good fellow,” said the Earl.

“And saving me also,” said Tressilian. “I too am deeply interested in the effects of this potion.”

“Be it so, good friend,” said the Earl. “And now for our experiment; but first call my secretary and chamberlain.”

“Bear witness,” he continued, when these officers arrived —“bear witness for me, gentlemen, that our honourable friend Tressilian is in no way responsible for the effects which this medicine may produce upon me, the taking it being my own free action and choice, in regard I believe it to be a remedy which God has furnished me by unexpected means to recover me of my present malady. Commend me to my noble and princely Mistress; and say that I live and die her true servant, and wish to all about her throne the same singleness of heart and will to serve her, with more ability to do so than hath been assigned to poor Thomas Ratcliffe.”

He then folded his hands, and seemed for a second or two absorbed in mental devotion, then took the potion in his hand, and, pausing, regarded Wayland with a look that seemed designed to penetrate his very soul, but which caused no anxiety or hesitation in the countenance or manner of the artist.

“Here is nothing to be feared,” said Sussex to Tressilian, and swallowed the medicine without further hesitation

“I am now to pray your lordship,” said Wayland, “to dispose yourself to rest as commodiously as you can; and of you, gentlemen, to remain as still and mute as if you waited at your mother’s deathbed.”

The chamberlain and secretary then withdrew, giving orders that all doors should be bolted, and all noise in the house strictly prohibited. Several gentlemen were voluntary watchers in the hall, but none remained in the chamber of the sick Earl, save his groom of the chamber, the artist, and Tressilian. — Wayland Smith’s predictions were speedily accomplished, and a sleep fell upon the Earl, so deep and sound that they who watched his bedside began to fear that, in his weakened state, he might pass away without awakening from his lethargy. Wayland Smith himself appeared anxious, and felt the temples of the Earl slightly, from time to time, attending particularly to the state of his respiration, which was full and deep, but at the same time easy and uninterrupted.

12 Leicester and Sussex.

Naunton gives us numerous and curious particulars of the jealous struggle which took place between Ratcliffe, Earl of Sussex, and the rising favourite Leicester. The former, when on his deathbed, predicted to his followers that after his death the gipsy (so he called Leicester, from his dark complexion) would prove too many for them.

13 Sir Walter Raleigh.

Among the attendants and adherents of Sussex, we have ventured to introduce the celebrated Raleigh, in the dawn of his court favour.

In Aubrey’s Correspondence there are some curious particulars of Sir Walter Raleigh. “He was a tall, handsome, bold man; but his naeve was that he was damnably proud. Old Sir Robert Harley of Brampton Brian Castle, who knew him, would say it was a great question who was the proudest, Sir Walter or Sir Thomas Overbury; but the difference that was, was judged in Sir Thomas’s side. In the great parlour at Downton, at Mr. Raleigh’s, is a good piece, an original of Sir Walter, in a white satin doublet, all embroidered with rich pearls, and a mighty rich chain of great pearls about his neck. The old servants have told me that the real pearls were near as big as the painted ones. He had a most remarkable aspect, an exceeding high forehead, long-faced, and sour-eyelidded. “A rebus is added to this purpose:—

The enemy to the stomach, and the word of disgrace,

Is the name of the gentleman with the bold face.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s beard turned up naturally, which gave him an advantage over the gallants of the time, whose moustaches received a touch of the barber’s art to give them the air then most admired. — See Aubrey’s Correspondence, vol.ii., part ii., p.500.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29