Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XVIII.

The moment comes —

It is already come — when thou must write

The absolute total of thy life’s vast sum.

The constellations stand victorious o’er thee,

The planets shoot good fortune in fair junctions,

And tell thee, “Now’s the time.”

Schiller’s Wallenstein, by Coleridge.

When Leicester returned to his lodging, alter a day so important and so harassing, in which, after riding out more than one gale, and touching on more than one shoal, his bark had finally gained the harbour with banner displayed, he seemed to experience as much fatigue as a mariner after a perilous storm. He spoke not a word while his chamberlain exchanged his rich court-mantle for a furred night-robe, and when this officer signified that Master Varney desired to speak with his lordship, he replied only by a sullen nod. Varney, however, entered, accepting this signal as a permission, and the chamberlain withdrew.

The Earl remained silent and almost motionless in his chair, his head reclined on his hand, and his elbow resting upon the table which stood beside him, without seeming to be conscious of the entrance or of the presence of his confidant. Varney waited for some minutes until he should speak, desirous to know what was the finally predominant mood of a mind through which so many powerful emotions had that day taken their course. But he waited in vain, for Leicester continued still silent, and the confidant saw himself under the necessity of being the first to speak. “May I congratulate your lordship,” he said, “on the deserved superiority you have this day attained over your most formidable rival?”

Leicester raised his head, and answered sadly, but without anger, “Thou, Varney, whose ready invention has involved me in a web of most mean and perilous falsehood, knowest best what small reason there is for gratulation on the subject.”

“Do you blame me, my lord,” said Varney, “for not betraying, on the first push, the secret on which your fortunes depended, and which you have so oft and so earnestly recommended to my safe keeping? Your lordship was present in person, and might have contradicted me and ruined yourself by an avowal of the truth; but surely it was no part of a faithful servant to have done so without your commands.”

“I cannot deny it, Varney,” said the Earl, rising and walking across the room; “my own ambition has been traitor to my love.”

“Say rather, my lord, that your love has been traitor to your greatness, and barred you from such a prospect of honour and power as the world cannot offer to any other. To make my honoured lady a countess, you have missed the chance of being yourself —”

He paused, and seemed unwilling to complete the sentence.

“Of being myself what?” demanded Leicester; “speak out thy meaning, Varney.”

“Of being yourself a King, my lord,” replied Varney; “and King of England to boot! It is no treason to our Queen to say so. It would have chanced by her obtaining that which all true subjects wish her — a lusty, noble, and gallant husband.”

“Thou ravest, Varney,” answered Leicester. “Besides, our times have seen enough to make men loathe the Crown Matrimonial which men take from their wives’ lap. There was Darnley of Scotland.”

“He!” said Varney; “a, gull, a fool, a thrice-sodden ass, who suffered himself to be fired off into the air like a rocket on a rejoicing day. Had Mary had the hap to have wedded the noble Earl once destined to share her throne, she had experienced a husband of different metal; and her husband had found in her a wife as complying and loving as the mate of the meanest squire who follows the hounds a-horseback, and holds her husband’s bridle as he mounts.”

“It might have been as thou sayest, Varney,” said Leicester, a brief smile of self-satisfaction passing over his anxious countenance. “Henry Darnley knew little of women — with Mary, a man who knew her sex might have had some chance of holding his own. But not with Elizabeth, Varney for I thank God, when he gave her the heart of a woman, gave her the head of a man to control its follies. No, I know her. She will accept love-tokens, ay, and requite them with the like — put sugared sonnets in her bosom, ay, and answer them too — push gallantry to the very verge where it becomes exchange of affection; but she writes nil ultra to all which is to follow, and would not barter one iota of her own supreme power for all the alphabet of both Cupid and Hymen.”

“The better for you, my lord,” said Varney —“that is, in the case supposed, if such be her disposition; since you think you cannot aspire to become her husband. Her favourite you are, and may remain, if the lady at Cumnor place continues in her present obscurity.”

“Poor Amy!” said Leicester, with a deep sigh; “she desires so earnestly to be acknowledged in presence of God and man!”

“Ay, but, my lord,” said Varney, “is her desire reasonable? That is the question. Her religious scruples are solved; she is an honoured and beloved wife, enjoying the society of her husband at such times as his weightier duties permit him to afford her his company. What would she more? I am right sure that a lady so gentle and so loving would consent to live her life through in a certain obscurity — which is, after all, not dimmer than when she was at Lidcote Hall — rather than diminish the least jot of her lord’s honours and greatness by a premature attempt to share them.”

“There is something in what thou sayest,” said Leicester, “and her appearance here were fatal. Yet she must be seen at Kenilworth; Elizabeth will not forget that she has so appointed.”

“Let me sleep on that hard point,” said Varney; “I cannot else perfect the device I have on the stithy, which I trust will satisfy the Queen and please my honoured lady, yet leave this fatal secret where it is now buried. Has your lordship further commands for the night?”

“I would be alone,” said Leicester. “Leave me, and place my steel casket on the table. Be within summons.”

Varney retired, and the Earl, opening the window of his apartment, looked out long and anxiously upon the brilliant host of stars which glimmered in the splendour of a summer firmament. The words burst from him as at unawares, “I had never more need that the heavenly bodies should befriend me, for my earthly path is darkened and confused.”

It is well known that the age reposed a deep confidence in the vain predictions of judicial astrology, and Leicester, though exempt from the general control of superstition, was not in this respect superior to his time, but, on the contrary, was remarkable for the encouragement which he gave to the professors of this pretended science. Indeed, the wish to pry into futurity, so general among the human race, is peculiarly to be found amongst those who trade in state mysteries and the dangerous intrigues and cabals of courts. With heedful precaution to see that it had not been opened, or its locks tampered with, Leicester applied a key to the steel casket, and drew from it, first, a parcel of gold pieces, which he put into a silk purse; then a parchment inscribed with planetary signs, and the lines and calculations used in framing horoscopes, on which he gazed intently for a few moments; and, lastly, took forth a large key, which, lifting aside the tapestry, he applied to a little, concealed door in the corner of the apartment, and opening it, disclosed a stair constructed in the thickness of the wall.

“Alasco,” said the Earl, with a voice raised, yet no higher raised than to be heard by the inhabitant of the small turret to which the stair conducted —“Alasco, I say, descend.”

“I come, my lord,” answered a voice from above. The foot of an aged man was heard slowly descending the narrow stair, and Alasco entered the Earl’s apartment. The astrologer was a little man, and seemed much advanced in age, for his heard was long and white, and reached over his black doublet down to his silken girdle. His hair was of the same venerable hue. But his eyebrows were as dark as the keen and piercing black eyes which they shaded, and this peculiarity gave a wild and singular cast to the physiognomy of the old man. His cheek was still fresh and ruddy, and the eyes we have mentioned resembled those of a rat in acuteness and even fierceness of expression. His manner was not without a sort of dignity; and the interpreter of the stars, though respectful, seemed altogether at his ease, and even assumed a tone of instruction and command in conversing with the prime favourite of Elizabeth.

“Your prognostications have failed, Alasco,” said the Earl, when they had exchanged salutations —“he is recovering.”

“My son,” replied the astrologer, “let me remind you I warranted not his death; nor is there any prognostication that can be derived from the heavenly bodies, their aspects and their conjunctions, which is not liable to be controlled by the will of Heaven. Astra Regunt Homines, Sed Regit Astra Deus.”

“Of what avail, then, is your mystery?” inquired the Earl.

“Of much, my son,” replied the old man, “since it can show the natural and probable course of events, although that course moves in subordination to an Higher Power. Thus, in reviewing the horoscope which your Lordship subjected to my skill, you will observe that Saturn, being in the sixth House in opposition to Mars, retrograde in the House of Life, cannot but denote long and dangerous sickness, the issue whereof is in the will of Heaven, though death may probably be inferred. Yet if I knew the name of the party I would erect another scheme.”

“His name is a secret,” said the Earl; “yet, I must own, thy prognostication hath not been unfaithful. He has been sick, and dangerously so, not, however, to death. But hast thou again cast my horoscope as Varney directed thee, and art thou prepared to say what the stars tell of my present fortune?”

“My art stands at your command,” said the old man; “and here, my son, is the map of thy fortunes, brilliant in aspect as ever beamed from those blessed signs whereby our life is influenced, yet not unchequered with fears, difficulties, and dangers.”

“My lot were more than mortal were it otherwise,” said the Earl. “Proceed, father, and believe you speak with one ready to undergo his destiny in action and in passion as may beseem a noble of England.”

“Thy courage to do and to suffer must be wound up yet a strain higher,” said the old man. “The stars intimate yet a prouder title, yet an higher rank. It is for thee to guess their meaning, not for me to name it.”

“Name it, I conjure you — name it, I command you!” said the Earl, his eyes brightening as he spoke.

“I may not, and I will not,” replied the old man. “The ire of princes Is as the wrath of the lion. But mark, and judge for thyself. Here Venus, ascendant in the House of Life, and conjoined with Sol, showers down that flood of silver light, blent with gold, which promises power, wealth, dignity, all that the proud heart of man desires, and in such abundance that never the future Augustus of that old and mighty Rome heard from his haruspices such a tale of glory, as from this rich text my lore might read to my favourite son.”

“Thou dost but jest with me, father,” said the Earl, astonished at the strain of enthusiasm in which the astrologer delivered his prediction.

“Is it for him to jest who hath his eye on heaven, who hath his foot in the grave?” returned the old man solemnly.

The Earl made two or three strides through the apartment, with his hand outstretched, as one who follows the beckoning signal of some phantom, waving him on to deeds of high import. As he turned, however, he caught the eye of the astrologer fixed on him, while an observing glance of the most shrewd penetration shot from under the penthouse of his shaggy, dark eyebrows. Leicester’s haughty and suspicious soul at once caught fire. He darted towards the old man from the farther end of the lofty apartment, only standing still when his extended hand was within a foot of the astrologer’s body.

“Wretch!” he said, “if you dare to palter with me, I will have your skin stripped from your living flesh! Confess thou hast been hired to deceive and to betray me — that thou art a cheat, and I thy silly prey and booty!”

The old man exhibited some symptoms of emotion, but not more than the furious deportment of his patron might have extorted from innocence itself.

“What means this violence, my lord?” he answered, “or in what can I have deserved it at your hand?”

“Give me proof,” said the Earl vehemently, “that you have not tampered with mine enemies.”

“My lord,” replied the old man, with dignity, “you can have no better proof than that which you yourself elected. In that turret I have spent the last twenty-four hours under the key which has been in your own custody. The hours of darkness I have spent in gazing on the heavenly bodies with these dim eyes, and during those of light I have toiled this aged brain to complete the calculation arising from their combinations. Earthly food I have not tasted — earthly voice I have not heard. You are yourself aware I had no means of doing so; and yet I tell you — I who have been thus shut up in solitude and study — that within these twenty-four hours your star has become predominant in the horizon, and either the bright book of heaven speaks false, or there must have been a proportionate revolution in your fortunes upon earth. If nothing has happened within that space to secure your power, or advance your favour, then am I indeed a cheat, and the divine art, which was first devised in the plains of Chaldea, is a foul imposture.”

“It is true,” said Leicester, after a moment’s reflection, “thou wert closely immured; and it is also true that the change has taken place in my situation which thou sayest the horoscope indicates.”

“Wherefore this distrust then, my son?” said the astrologer, assuming a tone of admonition; “the celestial intelligences brook not diffidence, even in their favourites.”

“Peace, father,” answered Leicester, “I have erred in doubting thee. Not to mortal man, nor to celestial intelligence — under that which is supreme — will Dudley’s lips say more in condescension or apology. Speak rather to the present purpose. Amid these bright promises thou hast said there was a threatening aspect. Can thy skill tell whence, or by whose means, such danger seems to impend?”

“Thus far only,” answered the astrologer, “does my art enable me to answer your query. The infortune is threatened by the malignant and adverse aspect, through means of a youth, and, as I think, a rival; but whether in love or in prince’s favour, I know not nor can I give further indication respecting him, save that he comes from the western quarter.”

“The western — ha!” replied Leicester, “it is enough — the tempest does indeed brew in that quarter! Cornwall and Devon — Raleigh and Tressilian — one of them is indicated-I must beware of both. Father, if I have done thy skill injustice, I will make thee a lordly recompense.”

He took a purse of gold from the strong casket which stood before him. “Have thou double the recompense which Varney promised. Be faithful — be secret — obey the directions thou shalt receive from my master of the horse, and grudge not a little seclusion or restraint in my cause — it shall be richly considered. — Here, Varney — conduct this venerable man to thine own lodging; tend him heedfully in all things, but see that he holds communication with no one.

Varney bowed, and the astrologer kissed the Earl’s hand in token of adieu, and followed the master of the horse to another apartment, in which were placed wine and refreshments for his use.

The astrologer sat down to his repast, while Varney shut two doors with great precaution, examined the tapestry, lest any listener lurked behind it, and then sitting down opposite to the sage, began to question him.

“Saw you my signal from the court beneath?”

“I did,” said Alasco, for by such name he was at present called, “and shaped the horoscope accordingly.”

“And it passed upon the patron without challenge?” continued Varney.

“Not without challenge,” replied the old man, “but it did pass; and I added, as before agreed, danger from a discovered secret, and a western youth.”

“My lord’s fear will stand sponsor to the one, and his conscience to the other, of these prognostications,” replied Varney. “Sure never man chose to run such a race as his, yet continued to retain those silly scruples! I am fain to cheat him to his own profit. But touching your matters, sage interpreter of the stars, I can tell you more of your own fortune than plan or figure can show. You must be gone from hence forthwith.”

“I will not,” said Alasco peevishly. “I have been too much hurried up and down of late — immured for day and night in a desolate turret-chamber. I must enjoy my liberty, and pursue my studies, which are of more import than the fate of fifty statesmen and favourites that rise and burst like bubbles in the atmosphere of a court.”

“At your pleasure,” said Varney, with a sneer that habit had rendered familiar to his features, and which forms the principal characteristic which painters have assigned to that of Satan —“at your pleasure,” he said; “you may enjoy your liberty and your studies until the daggers of Sussex’s followers are clashing within your doublet and against your ribs.” The old man turned pale, and Varney proceeded. “Wot you not he hath offered a reward for the arch-quack and poison-vender, Demetrius, who sold certain precious spices to his lordship’s cook? What! turn you pale, old friend? Does Hali already see an infortune in the House of Life? Why, hark thee, we will have thee down to an old house of mine in the country, where thou shalt live with a hobnailed slave, whom thy alchemy may convert into ducats, for to such conversion alone is thy art serviceable.”

“It is false, thou foul-mouthed railer,” said Alasco, shaking with impotent anger; “it is well known that I have approached more nearly to projection than any hermetic artist who now lives. There are not six chemists in the world who possess so near an approximation to the grand arcanum —”

“Come, come,” said Varney, interrupting him, “what means this, in the name of Heaven? Do we not know one another? I believe thee to be so perfect — so very perfect — in the mystery of cheating, that, having imposed upon all mankind, thou hast at length in some measure imposed upon thyself, and without ceasing to dupe others, hast become a species of dupe to thine own imagination. Blush not for it, man — thou art learned, and shalt have classical comfort:

‘Ne quisquam Ajacem possit superare nisi Ajax.’

No one but thyself could have gulled thee; and thou hast gulled the whole brotherhood of the Rosy Cross besides — none so deep in the mystery as thou. But hark thee in thine ear: had the seasoning which spiced Sussex’s broth wrought more surely, I would have thought better of the chemical science thou dost boast so highly.”

“Thou art an hardened villain, Varney,” replied Alasco; “many will do those things who dare not speak of them.”

“And many speak of them who dare not do them,” answered Varney. “But be not wroth — I will not quarrel with thee. If I did, I were fain to live on eggs for a month, that I might feed without fear. Tell me at once, how came thine art to fail thee at this great emergency?”

“The Earl of Sussex’s horoscope intimates,” replied the astrologer, “that the sign of the ascendant being in combustion —”

“Away with your gibberish,” replied Varney; “thinkest thou it is the patron thou speakest with?”

“I crave your pardon,” replied the old man, “and swear to you I know but one medicine that could have saved the Earl’s life; and as no man living in England knows that antidote save myself — moreover, as the ingredients, one of them in particular, are scarce possible to be come by, I must needs suppose his escape was owing to such a constitution of lungs and vital parts as was never before bound up in a body of clay.”

“There was some talk of a quack who waited on him,” said Varney, after a moment’s reflection. “Are you sure there is no one in England who has this secret of thine?”

“One man there was,” said the doctor, “once my servant, who might have stolen this of me, with one or two other secrets of art. But content you, Master Varney, it is no part of my policy to suffer such interlopers to interfere in my trade. He pries into no mysteries more, I warrant you, for, as I well believe, he hath been wafted to heaven on the wing of a fiery dragon — peace be with him! But in this retreat of mine shall I have the use of mine elaboratory?”

“Of a whole workshop, man,” said Varney; “for a reverend father abbot, who was fain to give place to bluff King Hal and some of his courtiers, a score of years since, had a chemist’s complete apparatus, which he was obliged to leave behind him to his successors. Thou shalt there occupy, and melt, and puff, and blaze, and multiply, until the Green Dragon become a golden goose, or whatever the newer phrase of the brotherhood may testify.”

“Thou art right, Master Varney,” said the alchemist setting his teeth close and grinding them together —“thou art right even in thy very contempt of right and reason. For what thou sayest in mockery may in sober verity chance to happen ere we meet again. If the most venerable sages of ancient days have spoken the truth — if the most learned of our own have rightly received it; if I have been accepted wherever I travelled in Germany, in Poland, in Italy, and in the farther Tartary, as one to whom nature has unveiled her darkest secrets; if I have acquired the most secret signs and passwords of the Jewish Cabala, so that the greyest beard in the synagogue would brush the steps to make them clean for me; — if all this is so, and if there remains but one step — one little step — betwixt my long, deep, and dark, and subterranean progress, and that blaze of light which shall show Nature watching her richest and her most glorious productions in the very cradle — one step betwixt dependence and the power of sovereignty — one step betwixt poverty and such a sum of wealth as earth, without that noble secret, cannot minister from all her mines in the old or the new-found world; if this be all so, is it not reasonable that to this I dedicate my future life, secure, for a brief period of studious patience, to rise above the mean dependence upon favourites, and their favourites, by which I am now enthralled!”

“Now, bravo! bravo! my good father,” said Varney, with the usual sardonic expression of ridicule on his countenance; “yet all this approximation to the philosopher’s stone wringeth not one single crown out of my Lord Leicester’s pouch, and far less out of Richard Varney’s. We must have earthly and substantial services, man, and care not whom else thou canst delude with thy philosophical charlatanry.”

“My son Varney,” said the alchemist, “the unbelief, gathered around thee like a frost-fog, hath dimmed thine acute perception to that which is a stumbling-block to the wise, and which yet, to him who seeketh knowledge with humility, extends a lesson so clear that he who runs may read. Hath not Art, thinkest thou, the means of completing Nature’s imperfect concoctions in her attempts to form the precious metals, even as by art we can perfect those other operations of incubation, distillation, fermentation, and similar processes of an ordinary description, by which we extract life itself out of a senseless egg, summon purity and vitality out of muddy dregs, or call into vivacity the inert substance of a sluggish liquid?”

“I have heard all this before,” said Varney, “and my heart is proof against such cant ever since I sent twenty good gold pieces (marry, it was in the nonage of my wit) to advance the grand magisterium, all which, God help the while, vanished in fumo. Since that moment, when I paid for my freedom, I defy chemistry, astrology, palmistry, and every other occult art, were it as secret as hell itself, to unloose the stricture of my purse-strings. Marry, I neither defy the manna of Saint Nicholas, nor can I dispense with it. The first task must be to prepare some when thou gett’st down to my little sequestered retreat yonder, and then make as much gold as thou wilt.”

“I will make no more of that dose,” said the alchemist, resolutely.

“Then,” said the master of the horse, “thou shalt be hanged for what thou hast made already, and so were the great secret for ever lost to mankind. Do not humanity this injustice, good father, but e’en bend to thy destiny, and make us an ounce or two of this same stuff; which cannot prejudice above one or two individuals, in order to gain lifetime to discover the universal medicine, which shall clear away all mortal diseases at once. But cheer up, thou grave, learned, and most melancholy jackanape! Hast thou not told me that a moderate portion of thy drug hath mild effects, no ways ultimately dangerous to the human frame, but which produces depression of spirits, nausea, headache, an unwillingness to change of place — even such a state of temper as would keep a bird from flying out of a cage were the door left open?”

“I have said so, and it is true,” said the alchemist. “This effect will it produce, and the bird who partakes of it in such proportion shall sit for a season drooping on her perch, without thinking either of the free blue sky, or of the fair greenwood, though the one be lighted by the rays of the rising sun, and the other ringing with the newly-awakened song of all the feathered inhabitants of the forest.”

“And this without danger to life?” said Varney, somewhat anxiously.

“Ay, so that proportion and measure be not exceeded; and so that one who knows the nature of the manna be ever near to watch the symptoms, and succour in case of need.”

“Thou shalt regulate the whole,” said Varney. “Thy reward shall be princely, if thou keepest time and touch, and exceedest not the due proportion, to the prejudice of her health; otherwise thy punishment shall be as signal.”

“The prejudice of her health!” repeated Alasco; “it is, then, a woman I am to use my skill upon?”

“No, thou fool,” replied Varney, “said I not it was a bird — a reclaimed linnet, whose pipe might soothe a hawk when in mid stoop? I see thine eye sparkle, and I know thy beard is not altogether so white as art has made it — that, at least, thou hast been able to transmute to silver. But mark me, this is no mate for thee. This caged bird is dear to one who brooks no rivalry, and far less such rivalry as thine, and her health must over all things be cared for. But she is in the case of being commanded down to yonder Kenilworth revels, and it is most expedient — most needful — most necessary that she fly not thither. Of these necessities and their causes, it is not needful that she should know aught; and it is to be thought that her own wish may lead her to combat all ordinary reasons which can be urged for her remaining a housekeeper.”

“That is but natural,” said the alchemist with a strange smile, which yet bore a greater reference to the human character than the uninterested and abstracted gaze which his physiognomy had hitherto expressed, where all seemed to refer to some world distant from that which was existing around him.

“It is so,” answered Varney; “you understand women well, though it may have been long since you were conversant amongst them. Well, then, she is not to be contradicted; yet she is not to be humoured. Understand me — a slight illness, sufficient to take away the desire of removing from thence, and to make such of your wise fraternity as may be called in to aid, recommend a quiet residence at home, will, in one word, be esteemed good service, and remunerated as such.”

“I am not to be asked to affect the House of Life?” said the chemist.

“On the contrary, we will have thee hanged if thou dost,” replied Varney.

“And I must,” added Alasco, “have opportunity to do my turn, and all facilities for concealment or escape, should there be detection?”

“All, all, and everything, thou infidel in all but the impossibilities of alchemy. Why, man, for what dost thou take me?”

The old man rose, and taking a light walked towards the end of the apartment, where was a door that led to the small sleeping-room destined for his reception during the night. At the door he turned round, and slowly repeated Varney’s question ere he answered it. “For what do I take thee, Richard Varney? Why, for a worse devil than I have been myself. But I am in your toils, and I must serve you till my term be out.”

“Well, well,” answered Varney hastily, “be stirring with grey light. It may be we shall not need thy medicine — do nought till I myself come down. Michael Lambourne shall guide you to the place of your destination.”17

When Varney heard the adept’s door shut and carefully bolted within, he stepped towards it, and with similar precaution carefully locked it on the outside, and took the key from the lock, muttering to himself, “Worse than thee, thou poisoning quacksalver and witch-monger, who, if thou art not a bounden slave to the devil, it is only because he disdains such an apprentice! I am a mortal man, and seek by mortal means the gratification of my passions and advancement of my prospects; thou art a vassal of hell itself — So ho, Lambourne!” he called at another door, and Michael made his appearance with a flushed cheek and an unsteady step.

“Thou art drunk, thou villain!” said Varney to him.

“Doubtless, noble sir,” replied the unabashed Michael; “We have been drinking all even to the glories of the day, and to my noble Lord of Leicester and his valiant master of the horse. Drunk! odds blades and poniards, he that would refuse to swallow a dozen healths on such an evening is a base besognio, and a puckfoist, and shall swallow six inches of my dagger!”

“Hark ye, scoundrel,” said Varney, “be sober on the instant — I command thee. I know thou canst throw off thy drunken folly, like a fool’s coat, at pleasure; and if not, it were the worse for thee.”

Lambourne drooped his head, left the apartment, and returned in two or three minutes with his face composed, his hair adjusted, his dress in order, and exhibiting as great a difference from his former self as if the whole man had been changed.

“Art thou sober now, and dost thou comprehend me?” said Varney sternly.

Lambourne bowed in acquiescence.

“Thou must presently down to Cumnor Place with the reverend man of art who sleeps yonder in the little vaulted chamber. Here is the key, that thou mayest call him by times. Take another trusty fellow with you. Use him well on the journey, but let him not escape you — pistol him if he attempt it, and I will be your warrant. I will give thee letters to Foster. The doctor is to occupy the lower apartments of the eastern quadrangle, with freedom to use the old elaboratory and its implements. He is to have no access to the lady, but such as I shall point out — only she may be amused to see his philosophical jugglery. Thou wilt await at Cumnor Place my further orders; and, as thou livest, beware of the ale-bench and the aqua vitae flask. Each breath drawn in Cumnor Place must be kept severed from common air.”

“Enough, my lord — I mean my worshipful master, soon, I trust, to be my worshipful knightly master. You have given me my lesson and my license; I will execute the one, and not abuse the other. I will be in the saddle by daybreak.”

“Do so, and deserve favour. Stay — ere thou goest fill me a cup of wine — not out of that flask, sirrah,” as Lambourne was pouring out from that which Alasco had left half finished, “fetch me a fresh one.”

Lambourne obeyed, and Varney, after rinsing his mouth with the liquor, drank a full cup, and said, as he took up a lamp to retreat to his sleeping apartment, “It is strange — I am as little the slave of fancy as any one, yet I never speak for a few minutes with this fellow Alasco, but my mouth and lungs feel as if soiled with the fumes of calcined arsenic — pah!”

So saying, he left the apartment. Lambourne lingered, to drink a cup of the freshly-opened flask. “It is from Saint John’s-Berg,” he said, as he paused on the draught to enjoy its flavour, “and has the true relish of the violet. But I must forbear it now, that I may one day drink it at my own pleasure.” And he quaffed a goblet of water to quench the fumes of the Rhenish wine, retired slowly towards the door, made a pause, and then, finding the temptation irresistible, walked hastily back, and took another long pull at the wine flask, without the formality of a cup.

“Were it not for this accursed custom,” he said, “I might climb as high as Varney himself. But who can climb when the room turns round with him like a parish-top? I would the distance were greater, or the road rougher, betwixt my hand and mouth! But I will drink nothing tomorrow save water — nothing save fair water.”

17 Dr. Julio.

The Earl of Leicester’s Italian physician, Julio, was affirmed by his contemporaries to be a skilful compounder of poisons, which he applied with such frequency, that the Jesuit Parsons extols ironically the marvellous good luck of this great favourite in the opportune deaths of those who stood in the way of his wishes. There is a curious passage on the subject:—

“Long after this, he fell in love with the Lady Sheffield, whom I signified before, and then also had he the same fortune to have her husband dye quickly, with an extreame rheume in his head (as it was given out), but as others say, of an artificiall catarre that stopped his breath.

“The like good chance had he in the death of my Lord of Essex (as I have said before), and that at a time most fortunate for his purpose; for when he was coming home from Ireland, with intent to revenge himselfe upon my Lord of Leicester for begetting his wife with childe in his absence (the childe was a daughter, and brought up by the Lady Shandoes, W. Knooles, his wife), my Lord of Leicester hearing thereof, wanted not a friend or two to accompany the deputy, as among other a couple of the Earles own servants, Crompton (if I misse not his name), yeoman of his bottles, and Lloid his secretary, entertained afterward by my Lord of Leicester, and so he dyed in the way of an extreame flux, caused by an Italian receipe, as all his friends are well assured, the maker whereof was a chyrurgeon (as it is beleeved) that then was newly come to my Lord from Italy —-a cunning man and sure in operation, with whom, if the good Lady had been sooner acquainted, and used his help, she should not have needed to sitten so pensive at home, and fearefull of her husband’s former returne out of the same country. . . . ..Neither must you marvaile though all these died in divers manners of outward diseases, for this is the excellency of the Italian art, for which this chyrurgeon and Dr. Julio were entertained so carefully, who can make a man dye in what manner or show of sickness you will — by whose instructions, no doubt; but his lordship is now cunning, especially adding also to these the counsell of his Doctor Bayly, a man also not a little studied (as he seemeth) in his art; for I heard him once myselfe, in a publique act in Oxford, and that in presence of my Lord of Leicester (if I be not deceived), maintain that poyson might be so tempered and given as it should not appear presently, and yet should kill the party afterward, at what time should be appointed; which argument belike pleased well his lordship, and therefore was chosen to be discussed in his audience, if I be not deceived of his being that day present. So, though one dye of a flux, and another of a catarre, yet this importeth little to the matter, but showeth rather the great cunning and skill of the artificer.”— Parsons’ Leicester’s Commonwealth, p.23.

It is unnecessary to state the numerous reasons why the Earl is stated in the tale to be rather the dupe of villains than the unprincipled author of their atrocities. In the latter capacity, which a part at least of his contemporaries imputed to him, he would have made a character too disgustingly wicked to be useful for the purposes of fiction.

I have only to add that the union of the poisoner, the quacksalver, the alchemist, and the astrologer in the same person was familiar to the pretenders to the mystic sciences.

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