Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXVII.

In my time I have seen a boy do wonders.

Robin, the red tinker, had a boy

Would ha run through a cat-hole.

The Coxcomb.

Amid the universal bustle which filled the Castle and its environs, it was no easy matter to find out any individual; and Wayland was still less likely to light upon Tressilian, whom he sought so anxiously, because, sensible of the danger of attracting attention in the circumstances in which he was placed, he dared not make general inquiries among the retainers or domestics of Leicester. He learned, however, by indirect questions, that in all probability Tressilian must have been one of a large party of gentlemen in attendance on the Earl of Sussex, who had accompanied their patron that morning to Kenilworth, when Leicester had received them with marks of the most formal respect and distinction. He further learned that both Earls, with their followers, and many other nobles, knights, and gentlemen, had taken horse, and gone towards Warwick several hours since, for the purpose of escorting the Queen to Kenilworth.

Her Majesty’s arrival, like other great events, was delayed from hour to hour; and it was now announced by a breathless post that her Majesty, being detained by her gracious desire to receive the homage of her lieges who had thronged to wait upon her at Warwick, it would be the hour of twilight ere she entered the Castle. The intelligence released for a time those who were upon duty, in the immediate expectation of the Queen’s appearance, and ready to play their part in the solemnities with which it was to be accompanied; and Wayland, seeing several horsemen enter the Castle, was not without hopes that Tressilian might be of the number. That he might not lose an opportunity of meeting his patron in the event of this being the case, Wayland placed himself in the base-court of the Castle, near Mortimer’s Tower, and watched every one who went or came by the bridge, the extremity of which was protected by that building. Thus stationed, nobody could enter or leave the Castle without his observation, and most anxiously did he study the garb and countenance of every horseman, as, passing from under the opposite Gallery-tower, they paced slowly, or curveted, along the tilt-yard, and approached the entrance of the base-court.

But while Wayland gazed thus eagerly to discover him whom he saw not, he was pulled by the sleeve by one by whom he himself would not willingly have been seen.

This was Dickie Sludge, or Flibbertigibbet, who, like the imp whose name he bore, and whom he had been accoutred in order to resemble, seemed to be ever at the ear of those who thought least of him. Whatever were Wayland’s internal feelings, he judged it necessary to express pleasure at their unexpected meeting.

“Ha! is it thou, my minikin — my miller’s thumb — my prince of cacodemons — my little mouse?”

“Ay,” said Dickie, “the mouse which gnawed asunder the toils, just when the lion who was caught in them began to look wonderfully like an ass.”

“Thy, thou little hop-the-gutter, thou art as sharp as vinegar this afternoon! But tell me, how didst thou come off with yonder jolterheaded giant whom I left thee with? I was afraid he would have stripped thy clothes, and so swallowed thee, as men peel and eat a roasted chestnut.”

“Had he done so,” replied the boy, “he would have had more brains in his guts than ever he had in his noddle. But the giant is a courteous monster, and more grateful than many other folk whom I have helped at a pinch, Master Wayland Smith.”

“Beshrew me, Flibbertigibbet,” replied Wayland, “but thou art sharper than a Sheffield whittle! I would I knew by what charm you muzzled yonder old bear.”

“Ay, that is in your own manner,” answered Dickie; “you think fine speeches will pass muster instead of good-will. However, as to this honest porter, you must know that when we presented ourselves at the gate yonder, his brain was over-burdened with a speech that had been penned for him, and which proved rather an overmatch for his gigantic faculties. Now this same pithy oration had been indited, like sundry others, by my learned magister, Erasmus Holiday, so I had heard it often enough to remember every line. As soon as I heard him blundering and floundering like a fish upon dry land, through the first verse, and perceived him at a stand, I knew where the shoe pinched, and helped him to the next word, when he caught me up in an ecstasy, even as you saw but now. I promised, as the price of your admission, to hide me under his bearish gaberdine, and prompt him in the hour of need. I have just now been getting some food in the Castle, and am about to return to him.”

“That’s right — that’s right, my dear Dickie,” replied Wayland; “haste thee, for Heaven’s sake! else the poor giant will be utterly disconsolate for want of his dwarfish auxiliary. Away with thee, Dickie!”

“Ay, ay!” answered the boy —“away with Dickie, when we have got what good of him we can. You will not let me know the story of this lady, then, who is as much sister of thine as I am?”

“Why, what good would it do thee, thou silly elf?” said Wayland.

“Oh, stand ye on these terms?” said the boy. “Well, I care not greatly about the matter — only, I never smell out a secret but I try to be either at the right or the wrong end of it, and so good evening to ye.”

“Nay, but, Dickie,” said Wayland, who knew the boy’s restless and intriguing disposition too well not to fear his enmity —“stay, my dear Dickie — part not with old friends so shortly! Thou shalt know all I know of the lady one day.”

“Ay!” said Dickie; “and that day may prove a nigh one. Fare thee well, Wayland — I will to my large-limbed friend, who, if he have not so sharp a wit as some folk, is at least more grateful for the service which other folk render him. And so again, good evening to ye.”

So saying, he cast a somerset through the gateway, and lighting on the bridge, ran with the extraordinary agility which was one of his distinguishing attributes towards the Gallery-tower, and was out of sight in an instant.

“I would to God I were safe out of this Castle again!” prayed Wayland internally; “for now that this mischievous imp has put his finger in the pie, it cannot but prove a mess fit for the devil’s eating. I would to Heaven Master Tressilian would appear!”

Tressilian, whom he was thus anxiously expecting in one direction, had returned to Kenilworth by another access. It was indeed true, as Wayland had conjectured, that in the earlier part of the day he had accompanied the Earls on their cavalcade towards Warwick, not without hope that he might in that town hear some tidings of his emissary. Being disappointed in this expectation, and observing Varney amongst Leicester’s attendants, seeming as if he had some purpose of advancing to and addressing him, he conceived, in the present circumstances, it was wisest to avoid the interview. He, therefore, left the presence-chamber when the High-Sheriff of the county was in the very midst of his dutiful address to her Majesty; and mounting his horse, rode back to Kenilworth by a remote and circuitous road, and entered the Castle by a small sallyport in the western wall, at which he was readily admitted as one of the followers of the Earl of Sussex, towards whom Leicester had commanded the utmost courtesy to be exercised. It was thus that he met not Wayland, who was impatiently watching his arrival, and whom he himself would have been at least equally desirous to see.

Having delivered his horse to the charge of his attendant, he walked for a space in the Pleasance and in the garden, rather to indulge in comparative solitude his own reflections, than to admire those singular beauties of nature and art which the magnificence of Leicester had there assembled. The greater part of the persons of condition had left the Castle for the present, to form part of the Earl’s cavalcade; others, who remained behind, were on the battlements, outer walls, and towers, eager to view the splendid spectacle of the royal entry. The garden, therefore, while every other part of the Castle resounded with the human voice, was silent but for the whispering of the leaves, the emulous warbling of the tenants of a large aviary with their happier companions who remained denizens of the free air, and the plashing of the fountains, which, forced into the air from sculptures of fatastic and grotesque forms, fell down with ceaseless sound into the great basins of Italian marble.

The melancholy thoughts of Tressilian cast a gloomy shade on all the objects with which he was surrounded. He compared the magnificent scenes which he here traversed with the deep woodland and wild moorland which surrounded Lidcote Hall, and the image of Amy Robsart glided like a phantom through every landscape which his imagination summoned up. Nothing is perhaps more dangerous to the future happiness of men of deep thought and retired habits than the entertaining an early, long, and unfortunate attachment. It frequently sinks so deep into the mind that it becomes their dream by night and their vision by day — mixes itself with every source of interest and enjoyment; and when blighted and withered by final disappointment, it seems as if the springs of the heart were dried up along with it. This aching of the heart, this languishing after a shadow which has lost all the gaiety of its colouring, this dwelling on the remembrance of a dream from which we have been long roughly awakened, is the weakness of a gentle and generous heart, and it was that of Tressilian.

He himself at length became sensible of the necessity of forcing other objects upon his mind; and for this purpose he left the Pleasance, in order to mingle with the noisy crowd upon the walls, and view the preparation for the pageants. But as he left the garden, and heard the busy hum, mixed with music and laughter, which floated around him, he felt an uncontrollable reluctance to mix with society whose feelings were in a tone so different from his own, and resolved, instead of doing so, to retire to the chamber assigned him, and employ himself in study until the tolling of the great Castle bell should announce the arrival of Elizabeth.

Tressilian crossed accordingly by the passage betwixt the immense range of kitchens and the great hall, and ascended to the third story of Mervyn’s Tower, and applying himself to the door of the small apartment which had been allotted to him, was surprised to find it was locked. He then recollected that the deputy-chamberlain had given him a master-key, advising him, in the present confused state of the Castle, to keep his door as much shut as possible. He applied this key to the lock, the bolt revolved, he entered, and in the same instant saw a female form seated in the apartment, and recognized that form to be, Amy Robsart. His first idea was that a heated imagination had raised the image on which it doted into visible existence; his second, that he beheld an apparition; the third and abiding conviction, that it was Amy herself, paler, indeed, and thinner, than in the days of heedless happiness, when she possessed the form and hue of a wood-nymph, with the beauty of a sylph — but still Amy, unequalled in loveliness by aught which had ever visited his eyes.

The astonishment of the Countess was scarce less than that of Tressilian, although it was of shorter duration, because she had heard from Wayland that he was in the Castle. She had started up at his first entrance, and now stood facing him, the paleness of her cheeks having given way to a deep blush.

“Tressilian,” she said, at length, “why come you here?”

“Nay, why come you here, Amy,” returned Tressilian, “unless it be at length to claim that aid, which, as far as one man’s heart and arm can extend, shall instantly be rendered to you?”

She was silent a moment, and then answered in a sorrowful rather than an angry tone, “I require no aid, Tressilian, and would rather be injured than benefited by any which your kindness can offer me. Believe me, I am near one whom law and love oblige to protect me.”

“The villain, then, hath done you the poor justice which remained in his power,” said Tressilian, “and I behold before me the wife of Varney!”

“The wife of Varney!” she replied, with all the emphasis of scorn. “With what base name, sir, does your boldness stigmatize the — the — the —” She hesitated, dropped her tone of scorn, looked down, and was confused and silent; for she recollected what fatal consequences might attend her completing the sentence with “the Countess of Leicester,” which were the words that had naturally suggested themselves. It would have been a betrayal of the secret, on which her husband had assured her that his fortunes depended, to Tressilian, to Sussex, to the Queen, and to the whole assembled court. “Never,” she thought, “will I break my promised silence. I will submit to every suspicion rather than that.”

The tears rose to her eyes, as she stood silent before Tressilian; while, looking on her with mingled grief and pity, he said, “Alas! Amy, your eyes contradict your tongue. That speaks of a protector, willing and able to watch over you; but these tell me you are ruined, and deserted by the wretch to whom you have attached yourself.”

She looked on him with eyes in which anger sparkled through her tears, but only repeated the word “wretch!” with a scornful emphasis.

“Yes, wretch!” said Tressilian; “for were he aught better, why are you here, and alone, in my apartment? why was not fitting provision made for your honourable reception?”

“In your apartment?” repeated Amy —“in your apartment? It shall instantly be relieved of my presence.” She hastened towards the door; but the sad recollection of her deserted state at once pressed on her mind, and pausing on the threshold, she added, in a tone unutterably pathetic, “Alas! I had forgot — I know not where to go —”

“I see — I see it all,” said Tressilian, springing to her side, and leading her back to the seat, on which she sunk down. “You do need aid — you do need protection, though you will not own it; and you shall not need it long. Leaning on my arm, as the representative of your excellent and broken-hearted father, on the very threshold of the Castle gate, you shall meet Elizabeth; and the first deed she shall do in the halls of Kenilworth shall be an act of justice to her sex and her subjects. Strong in my good cause, and in the Queen’s justice, the power of her minion shall not shake my resolution. I will instantly seek Sussex.”

“Not for all that is under heaven!” said the Countess, much alarmed, and feeling the absolute necessity of obtaining time, at least, for consideration. “Tressilian, you were wont to be generous. Grant me one request, and believe, if it be your wish to save me from misery and from madness, you will do more by making me the promise I ask of you, than Elizabeth can do for me with all her power.”

“Ask me anything for which you can allege reason,” said Tressilian; “but demand not of me —”

“Oh, limit not your boon, dear Edmund!” exclaimed the Countess —“you once loved that I should call you so — limit not your boon to reason; for my case is all madness, and frenzy must guide the counsels which alone can aid me.”

“If you speak thus wildly,” said Tressilian, astonishment again overpowering both his grief and his resolution, “I must believe you indeed incapable of thinking or acting for yourself.”

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, sinking on one knee before him, “I am not mad — I am but a creature unutterably miserable, and, from circumstances the most singular, dragged on to a precipice by the arm of him who thinks he is keeping me from it — even by yours, Tressilian — by yours, whom I have honoured, respected — all but loved — and yet loved, too — loved, too, Tressilian — though not as you wished to be.”

There was an energy, a self-possession, an abandonment in her voice and manner, a total resignation of herself to his generosity, which, together with the kindness of her expressions to himself, moved him deeply. He raised her, and, in broken accents, entreated her to be comforted.

“I cannot,” she said, “I will not be comforted, till you grant me my request! I will speak as plainly as I dare. I am now awaiting the commands of one who has a right to issue them. The interference of a third person — of you in especial, Tressilian — will be ruin — utter ruin to me. Wait but four-and-twenty hours, and it may be that the poor Amy may have the means to show that she values, and can reward, your disinterested friendship — that she is happy herself, and has the means to make you so. It is surely worth your patience, for so short a space?”

Tressilian paused, and weighing in his mind the various probabilities which might render a violent interference on his part more prejudicial than advantageous, both to the happiness and reputation of Amy; considering also that she was within the walls of Kenilworth, and could suffer no injury in a castle honoured with the Queen’s residence, and filled with her guards and attendants — he conceived, upon the whole, that he might render her more evil than good service by intruding upon her his appeal to Elizabeth in her behalf. He expressed his resolution cautiously, however, doubting naturally whether Amy’s hopes of extricating herself from her difficulties rested on anything stronger than a blinded attachment to Varney, whom he supposed to be her seducer.

“Amy,” he said, while he fixed his sad and expressive eyes on hers, which, in her ecstasy of doubt, terror, and perplexity, she cast up towards him, “I have ever remarked that when others called thee girlish and wilful, there lay under that external semblance of youthful and self-willed folly deep feeling and strong sense. In this I will confide, trusting your own fate in your own hands for the space of twenty-four hours, without my interference by word or act.”

“Do you promise me this, Tressilian?” said the Countess. “Is it possible you can yet repose so much confidence in me? Do you promise, as you are a gentleman and a man of honour, to intrude in my matters neither by speech nor action, whatever you may see or hear that seems to you to demand your interference? Will you so far trust me?”

“I will upon my honour,” said Tressilian; “but when that space is expired —”

“Then that space is expired,” she said, interrupting him, “you are free to act as your judgment shall determine.”

“Is there nought besides which I can do for you, Amy?” said Tressilian.

“Nothing,” said she, “save to leave me — that is, if — I blush to acknowledge my helplessness by asking it — if you can spare me the use of this apartment for the next twenty-four hours.”

“This is most wonderful!” said Tressilian; “what hope or interest can you have in a Castle where you cannot command even an apartment?”

“Argue not, but leave me,” she said; and added, as he slowly and unwillingly retired, “Generous Edmund! the time may come when Amy may show she deserved thy noble attachment.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00