Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

Sir Walter Raleigh and His Cloak


THERE is no period at which men look worse in the eyes of each other, or feel more uncomfortable, than when the first dawn of daylight finds them watchers. Even a beauty of the first order, after the vigils of a ball are interrupted by the dawn, would do wisely to withdraw herself from the gaze of her fondest and most partial admirers. Such was the pale, inauspicious, and ungrateful light which began to beam upon those who kept watch all night in the hall at Say's Court, and which mingled its cold, pale, blue diffusion with the red, yellow, and smoky beams of expiring lamps and torches. The young gallant had left the room for a few minutes, to learn the cause of a knocking at the outward gate, and on his return was so struck with the forlorn and ghastly aspects of his companions of the watch, that he exclaimed, "Pity of my heart, my masters, how like owls you look! Methinks, when the sun rises, I shall see you flutter off with your eyes dazzled, to stick yourselves into the next ivy-tod or ruined steeple."

"Hold thy peace, thou gibing fool," said Blount—"hold thy peace. Is this a time for jeering, when the manhood of England is perchance dying within a wall's breadth of thee?"

"There thou liest," replied the gallant.

"How, lie!" exclaimed Blount, starting up—"lie! and to me?"

"Why, so thou didst, thou peevish fool," answered the youth; "thou didst lie on that bench even now, didst thou not? But art thou not a hasty coxcomb, to pick up a wry word so wrathfully? Nevertheless, loving and honoring my lord as truly as thou, or any one, I do say, that, should Heaven take him from us, all England's manhood dies not with him."

"Aye," replied Blount, "a good portion will survive with thee, doubtless."

"And a good portion with thyself, Blount, and with stout Markham here, and Tracy, and all of us. But I am he will best employ the talent Heaven has given to us all."

"As how, I prithee?" said Blount: "tell us your mystery of multiplying."

"Why, sirs," answered the youth, "ye are like goodly land, which bears no crop because it is not quickened by manure; but I have that rising spirit in me which will make my poor faculties labor to keep pace with it. My ambition will keep my brain at work, I warrant thee."

"I pray to God it does not drive thee mad," said Blount; "for my part, if we lose our noble lord, I bid adieu to the court and to the camp both. I have five hundred foul acres in Norfolk, and thither will I, and change the court pantoufle for the country hobnail."

"Oh, base transmutation!" exclaimed his antagonist; "thou hast already got the true rustic slouch: thy shoulders stoop, as if thine hands were at the stilts of the plow, and thou hast a kind of earthy smell about thee, instead of being perfumed with essence, as a gallant and courtier should. On my soul, thou hast stolen out to roll thyself on a hay mow! Thy only excuse will be to swear by thy hilts that the farmer had a fair daughter."

"I pray thee, Walter," said another of the company, "cease thy raillery, which suits neither time nor place, and tell us who was at the gate just now."

"Dr. Masters, physician to her grace in ordinary, sent by her especial orders to inquire after the earl's health," answered Walter.

"Ha! what!" exclaimed Tracy, "that was no slight mark of favor; if the earl can but come through, he will match with Leicester yet. Is Masters with my lord at present?"

"Nay," replied Walter, "he is halfway back to Greenwich by this time, and in high dudgeon."

"Thou didst not refuse him admittance?" exclaimed Tracy.

"Thou wert not, surely, so mad?" ejaculated Blount.

"I refused him admittance as flatly, Blount, as you would refuse a penny to a blind beggar; as obstinately, Tracy, as thou didst ever deny access to a dun."

"Why, in the fiend's name, didst thou trust him to go to the gate?" said Blount to Tracy.

"It suited his years better than mine," answered Tracy; "but he has undone us all now thoroughly. My lord may live or die, he will never have a look of favour from Her Majesty again."

"Nor the means of making fortunes for his followers," said the young gallant, smiling contemptuously; "there lies the sore point that will brook no handling. My good sirs, I sounded my lamentations over my lord somewhat less loudly than some of you; but when the point comes of doing him service, I will yield to none of you. Had this learned leech entered, thinkst thou not there had been such a coil betwixt him and Tressilian's mediciner that not the sleeper only, but the very dead, might have awakened? I know what larum belongs to the discord of doctors."

"And who is to take the blame of opposing the queen's orders?" said Tracy; "for, undeniably, Dr. Masters came with her grace's positive commands to cure the earl."

"I, who have done the wrong, will bear the blame," said Walter.

"Thus, then, off fly the dreams of court favour thou hast nourished," said Blount; "and despite all thy boasted art and ambition, Devonshire will see thee shine a true younger brother, fit to sit low at the board, carve turn-about with the chaplain, look that the hounds be fed, and see the squire's girths drawn when he goes a-hunting."

"Not so," said the young man, coloring, "not while Ireland and the Netherlands have wars, and not while the sea hath pathless waves. The rich West hath lands undreamed of, and Britain contains bold hearts to venture on the quest of them. Adieu for a space, my masters. I go to walk in the court and look to the sentinels."

"The lad hath quicksilver in his veins, that is certain," said Blount, looking at Markham.

"He hath that both in brain and blood," said Markham, "which may either make or mar him. But, in closing the door against Masters, he hath done a daring and loving piece of service; for Tressilian's fellow bath ever averred that to wake the earl were death, and Masters would wake the Seven Sleepers themselves, if he thought they slept not by the regular ordinance of medicine."

Morning was well advanced, when Tressilian, fatigued and over-watched, came down to the hall with the joyful intelligence that the earl had awakened of himself, that he found his internal complaints much mitigated, and spoke with a cheerfulness, and looked round with a vivacity, which of themselves showed a material and favourable change had taken place. Tressilian at the same time commanded the attendance of one or two of his followers, to report what had passed during the night, and to relieve the watchers in the earl's chamber.

When the message of the queen was communicated to the Earl of Sussex, he at first smiled at the repulse which the physician had received from his zealous young follower, but instantly recollecting himself, he commanded Blount, his master of the horse, instantly to take boat and go down the river to the Palace of Greenwich, taking young Walter and Tracy with him, and make a suitable compliment, expressing his grateful thanks to his sovereign, and mentioning the cause why he had not been enabled to profit by the assistance of the wise and learned Dr. Masters.

"A plague on it," said Blount, as he descended the stairs, "had he sent me with a cartel to Leicester, I think I should have done his errand indifferently well. But to go to our gracious sovereign, before whom all words must be lacquered over either with gilding or with sugar, is such a confectionery matter as clean baffles my poor old English brain. Come with me, Tracy; and come you too, Master Walter Wittypate, that art the cause of our having all this ado. Let us see if thy neat brain, that frames so many flashy fireworks, can help out a plain fellow at need with some of thy shrewd devices."

"Never fear —never fear," exclaimed the youth, "it is I will help you through; let me but fetch my cloak."

"Why, thou hast it on thy shoulders," said Blount: "the lad is mazed."

"No, no, this is Tracy's old mantle," answered Walter; "I go not with thee to court unless as a gentleman should."

"Why," said Blount, "thy braveries are like to dazzle the eyes of none but some poor groom or porter."

"I know that," said the youth; "but I am resolved I will have my own cloak—aye, and brush my doublet to boot—ere I stir forth with you."

"Well—well," said Blount, "here is a coil about a doublet and a cloak; get thyself ready, a' God's name!" They were soon launched on the princely bosom of the broad Thames, upon which the sun now shone forth in all its splendour.

"There are two things scarce matched in the universe," said Walter to Blount—"the sun in heaven, and the Thames on the earth."

"The one will light us to Greenwich well enough," said Blount, "and the other would take us there a little faster if it were ebb tide."

"And this is all thou think'st—all thou carest—all thou deem'st the use of the king of elements and the king of rivers, to guide three such poor caitiffs as thyself, and me, and Tracy upon an idle journey of courtly ceremony!"

"It is no errand of my seeking, faith," replied Blount, "and I could excuse both the sun and the Thames the trouble of carrying me where I have no great mind to go, and where I expect but dog's wages for my trouble; and by my honour," he added, looking out from the head of the boat, "it seems to me as if our message were a sort of labour in vain; for see, the queen's barge lies at the stairs, as if Her Majesty were about to take water."

It was even so. The royal barge, manned with the queen's watermen, richly attired in the regal liveries, and having the banner of England displayed, did, indeed, lie at the great stairs which ascended from the river, and along with it two or three other boats for transporting such part of her retinue as were not in immediate attendance on the royal person. The yeomen of the guard, the tallest and most handsome men whom England could produce, guarded with their halberds the passage from the palace gate to the riverside, and all seemed in readiness for the queen's coming forth, although the day was yet so early.

"By my faith, this bodes us no good," said Blount: "it must be some perilous cause puts her grace in motion thus untimeously. By my counsel, we were best put back again, and tell the earl what we have seen."

"Tell the earl what we have seen!" said Walter; "why, what have we seen but a boat, and men with scarlet jerkins, and halberds in their hands? Let us do his errand, and tell him what the queen says in reply."

So saying, he caused the boat to be pulled toward a landing-place at some distance from the principal one, which it would not, at that moment, have been thought respectful to approach, and jumped on shore, followed, though with reluctance, by his cautious and timid companions. As they approached the gate of the palace, one of the sergeant porters told them they could not at present enter, as Her Majesty was in the act of coming forth. The gentlemen used the name of the Earl of Sussex; but it proved no charm to subdue the officer, who alleged, in reply, that it was as much as his post was worth to disobey in the least tittle the commands which he had received.

"Nay, I told you as much before," said Blount; "do, I pray you, my dear Walter, let us take boat and return."

"Not till I see the queen come forth," returned the youth composedly.

"Thou art mad—stark mad, by the mass!" answered Blount.

"And thou," said Walter, "art turned coward of the sudden. I have seen thee face half a score of shag-headed Irish kernes to thy own share of them, and now thou wouldst blink and go back to shun the frown of a fair lady!"

At this moment the gates opened, and ushers began to issue forth in array, preceded and flanked by the band of gentlemen pensioners. After this, amid a crowd of lords and ladies, yet so disposed around her that she could see and be seen on all sides, came Elizabeth herself, then in the prime of womanhood, and in the full glow of what in a sovereign was called beauty, and who would in the lowest rank of life have been truly judged a noble figure, joined to a striking and commanding physiognomy. She leaned on the arm of Lord Hunsdon, whose relation to her by her mother's side often procured him such distinguished marks of Elizabeth's intimacy.

The young cavalier we have so often mentioned had probably never yet approached so near the person of his sovereign, and he pressed forward as far as the line of warders permitted, in order to avail himself of the present opportunity. His companion, on the contrary, cursing his imprudence, kept pulling him backward, till Walter shook him off impatiently, and letting his rich cloak drop carelessly from one shoulder,—a natural action, which served, however, to display to the best advantage his well-proportioned person,—unbonneting at the same time, he fixed his eager gaze on the queen's approach with a mixture of respectful curiosity and modest yet ardent admiration, which suited so well with his fine features, that the warders, struck with his rich attire and noble countenance, suffered him to approach the ground over which the queen was to pass somewhat closer than was permitted to ordinary spectators. Thus the adventurous youth stood full in Elizabeth's eye —an eye never indifferent to the admiration which she deservedly excited among her subjects, or to the fair proportions of external form which chanced to distinguish any of her courtiers. Accordingly, she fixed her keen glance on the youth, as she approached the place where he stood, with a look in which surprise at his boldness seemed to be unmingled with resentment, while a trilling accident happened which attracted her attention toward him yet more strongly. The night had been rainy, and, just where the young gentleman stood, a small quantity of mud interrupted the queen's passage. As she hesitated to pass on, the gallant, throwing his cloak from his shoulders, laid it on the miry spot, so as to insure her stepping over it dry-shod. Elizabeth looked at the young man, who accompanied this act of devoted courtesy with a profound reverence, and a blush that overspread his whole countenance. The queen was confused, and blushed in her turn, nodded her head, hastily passed on, and embarked in her barge without saying a word.

"Come along, sir coxcomb," said Blount; "your gay cloak will need the brush to-day, I wot. Nay, if you had meant to make a foot-cloth of your mantle, better have kept Tracy's old 'drab-de-bure,' which despises all colours."

"This cloak," said the youth, taking it up and folding it, "shall never be brushed while in my possession."

"And that will not be long, if you learn not a little more economy: we shall have you 'in cuerpo' soon, as the Spaniard says."

Their discourse was here interrupted by one of the band of pensioners.

"I was sent," said he, after looking at them attentively, "to a gentleman who hath no cloak, or a muddy one. You, sir, I think," addressing the younger cavalier, "are the man; you will please to follow me."

"He is in attendance on me," said Blount—"on me, the noble Earl of Sussex's master of horse."

"I have nothing to say to that," answered the messenger; "my orders are directly from Her Majesty, and concern this gentleman only."

So saying, he walked away, followed by Walter, leaving the others behind, Blount's eyes almost starting from his head with the excess of his astonishment. At length he gave vent to it in an exclamation—"Who the goodjere would have thought this!" And shaking his head with a mysterious air, he walked to his own boat, embarked, and returned to Deptford.

The young cavalier was, in the meanwhile, guided to the waterside by the pensioner, who showed him considerable respect—a circumstance which, to persons in his situation, may be considered as an augury of no small consequence. He ushered him into one of the wherries which lay ready to attend the queen's barge, which was already proceeding up the river, with the advantage of that flood-tide of which, in the course of their descent, Blount had complained to his associates.

The two rowers used their oars with such expedition, at the signal of the gentleman pensioner, that they very soon brought their little skiff under the stern of the queen's boat, where she sate beneath an awning, attended by two or three ladies and the nobles of her household. She looked more than once at the wherry in which the young adventurer was seated, spoke to those around her, and seemed to laugh. At length one of the attendants, by the queen's order apparently, made a sign for the wherry to come alongside, and the young man was desired to step from his own skiff into the queen's barge, an act which he performed with graceful agility at the fore part of the boat, and was brought aft to the queen's presence, the wherry at the same time dropping into the rear. The youth underwent the gaze of masjesty not the less gracefully that his self-possession was mingled with embarrassment. The muddied cloak still hung upon his arm, and formed the natural topic with which the queen introduced the conversation.

"You have this day spoiled a gay mantle in our behalf, young man. We thank you for your service, though the manner of offering it was unusual, and something bold."

"In a sovereign's need," answered the youth, "it is each liegeman's duty to be bold."

"God's pity! that was well said, my lord," said the queen, turning to a grave person who sate by her, and answered with a grave inclination of the head and something of a mumbled assent. "Well, young man, your gallantry shall not go unrewarded. Go to the wardrobe-keeper, and he shall have orders to supply the suit which you have cast away in our service. Thou shalt have a suit, and that of the newest cut, I promise thee, on the word of a princess."

"May it please your grace," said Walter, hesitating, "it is not for so humble a servant of Your Majesty to measure out your bounties; but if it became me to choose—"

"Thou wouldst have gold, I warrant me?" said the queen, interrupting him. "Fy, young man! I take shame to say that, in our capital, such and so various are the means of thriftless folly, that to give gold to youth is giving fuel to fire, and furnishing them with the means of self-destruction. If I live and reign, these means of unchristian excess shall be abridged. Yet thou mayst be poor," she added, "or thy parents may be. It shall be gold, if thou wilt, but thou shalt answer to me for the use on't."

Walter waited patiently until the queen had done, and then modestly assured her that gold was still less in his wish than the raiment Her Majesty had before offered.

"How, boy!" said the queen, "neither gold nor garment! What is it thou wouldst have of me, then?"

"Only permission, madam—if it is not asking too high an honour—permission to wear the cloak which did you this trifling service."

"Permission to wear thine own cloak, thou silly boy!" said the queen.

"It is no longer mine," said Walter; "when Your Majesty's foot touched it, it became a fit mantle for a prince, but far too rich a one for its former owner."

The queen again blushed; and endeavoured to cover, by laughing, a slight degree of not unpleasing surprise and confusion.

"Heard you ever the like, my lords? The youth's head is turned with reading romances. I must know something of him, that I may send him safe to his friends. What art thou?"

"A gentleman of the household of the Earl of Sussex, so please Your Grace, sent hither with his master of horse upon a message to Your Majesty."

In a moment the gracious expression which Elizabeth's face had hitherto maintained gave way to an expression of haughtiness and severity.

"My Lord of Sussex," she said, "has taught us how to regard his messages, by the value he places upon ours. We sent but this morning the physician in ordinary of our chamber, and that at no usual time, understanding his lordship's illness to be more dangerous than we had before apprehended. There is at no court in Europe a man more skilled in this holy and most useful science than Dr. Masters, and he came from us to our subject. Nevertheless, he found the gate of Say's Court defended by men with culverins, as if it had been on the Borders of Scotland, not in the vicinity of our court; and when he demanded admittance in our name, it was stubbornly refused. For this slight of a kindness, which had but too much of condescension in it, we will receive, at present at least, no excuse; and some such we suppose to have been the purport of my Lord of Sussex's message."

This was uttered in a tone, and with a gesture, which made Lord Sussex's friends who were within hearing tremble. He to whom the speech was addressed, however, trembled not; but with great deference and humility, as soon as the queen's passion gave him an opportunity, he replied—"So please your most gracious Majesty, I was charged with no apology from the Earl of Sussex."

"With what were you then charged, sir?" said the queen, with the impetuosity which, amid nobler qualities, strongly marked her character; "was it with a justification? or, God's death! with a defiance?'

"Madam," said the young man, "my Lord of Sussex knew the offence approached toward treason, and could think of nothing save of securing the offender, and placing him in Your Majesty's hands, and at your mercy. The noble earl was fast asleep when your most gracious message reached him, a potion having been administered to that purpose by his physician; and his lordship knew not of the ungracious repulse Your Majesty's royal and most comfortable message had received until after he awoke this morning."

"And which of his domestics, then, in the name of Heaven, presumed to reject my message, without even admitting my own physician to the presence of him whom I sent him to attend?" said the queen, much surprised.

"The offender, madam, is before you," replied Walter, bowing very low: "the full and sole blame is mine; and my lord has most justly sent me to abye the consequences of a fault of which he is as innocent as a sleeping man's dreams can be of a waking man's actions."

"What! was it thou?—thou thyself, that repelled my messenger and my physician from Say's Court?" said the queen. "What could occasion such boldness in one who seems devoted—that is, whose exterior bearing shows devotion—to his sovereign?"

"Madam," said the youth, who, notwithstanding an assumed appearance of severity, thought that he saw something in the queen's face that resembled not implacability, "we say in our country that the physician is for the time the liege sovereign of his patient. Now, my noble master was then under dominion of a leech, by whose advice he hath greatly profited, who had issued his commands that his patient should not that night be disturbed, on the very peril of his life."

"Thy master hath trusted some false varlet of an empiric," said the queen.

"I know not, madam, but by the fact. that he is now, this very morning, awakened much refreshed and strengthened, from the only sleep he hath had for many hours."

The nobles looked at each other, but more with the purpose to see what each thought of this news than to exchange any remarks on what had happened. The queen answered hastily, and without affecting to disguise her satisfaction, "By my word, I am glad he is better. But thou wert over-bold to deny the access of my Dr. Masters. Know'st thou not the Holy Writ saith, 'In the multitude of counsel there is safety'?"

"Aye, madam," said Walter, "but I have heard learned men say that the safety spoken of is for the physicians, not for the patient."

"By my faith, child, thou hast pushed me home," said the queen, laughing; "for my Hebrew learning does not come quite at a call. How say you, my Lord of Lincoln? Hath the lad given a just interpretation of the text?"

"The word 'safety,' most gracious madam," said the Bishop of Lincoln, "for so hath been translated, it may be somewhat hastily, the Hebrew word, being—"

"My lord," said the queen, interrupting him, "we said we had forgotten our Hebrew.—But for thee, young man, what is thy name and birth?"

"Raleigh is my name, most gracious queen—the youngest son of a large but honourable family of Devonshire."

"Raleigh!" said Elizabeth, after a moment's recollection; "have we not heard of your service in Ireland?"

"I have been so fortunate as to do some service there, madam," replied Raleigh; "scarce, however, of consequence sufficient to reach your grace's ears."

"They hear farther than you think of," said the queen graciously, "and have heard of a youth who defended a ford in Shannon against a whole band of wild Irish rebels, until the stream ran purple with their blood and his own."

"Some blood I may have lost," said the youth, looking down, "but it was where my best is due, and that is in Your Majesty's service."

The queen paused, and then said hastily, "You are very young to have fought so well and to speak so well. But you must not escape your penance for turning back Masters. The poor man hath caught cold on the river; for our order reached him when he was just returned from certain visits in London, and he held it matter of loyalty and conscience instantly to set forth again. So hark ye, Master Raleigh, see thou fail not to wear thy muddy cloak, in token of penitence, till our pleasure be farther known. And here," she added, giving him a jewel of gold in the form of a chessman, "I give thee this to wear at the collar."

Raleigh, to whom nature had taught intuitively, as it were, those courtly arts which many scarce acquire from long experience, knelt, and, as he took from her hand the jewel, kissed the fingers which gave it. He knew, perhaps, better than almost any of the courtiers who surrounded her, how to mingle the devotion claimed by the queen with the gallantry due to her personal beauty; and in this, his first attempt to unite them, he succeeded so well as at once to gratify Elizabeth's personal vanity and her love of power.

by Sir Walter Scott

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