IT was the twilight of a summer night (9th July, 1575), the sun having for some time set, and all were in anxious expectation of the queen's immediate approach. The multitude had remained assembled for many hours, and their numbers were still rather on the increase. A profuse distribution of refreshments, together with roasted oxen, and barrels of ale set a-broach in different places of the road, had kept the populace in perfect love and loyalty toward the queen and her favourite, which might have somewhat abated had fasting been added to watching. They passed away the time, therefore, with the usual popular amusements of whooping, hallooing, shrieking, and playing rude tricks upon each other, forming the chorus of discordant sounds usual on such occasions. These prevailed all through the crowded roads and fields, and especially beyond the gate of the chase, where the greater number of the common sort were stationed; when, all of a sudden, a single rocket was seen to shoot into the atmosphere, and, at the instant, far heard over the flood and field, the great bell of the castle tolled.
Immediately there was a pause of dead silence, succeeded by a deep hum of expectation, the united voice of many thousands, none of whom spoke above their breath; or, to use a singular expression, the whisper of an immense multitude.
"They come now, for certain," said Raleigh. "Tressilian, that sound is grand. We hear it from this distance, as mariners, after a long voyage, hear, upon their night-watch, the tide rush upon some distant and unknown shore."
"Mass!" answered Blount, "I hear it rather as I used to hear mine own kine lowing from the close of Wittens Westlowe."
"He will assuredly graze presently," said Raleigh to Tressilian: "his thought is all of fat oxen and fertile meadows; he grows little better than one of his own beeves, and only becomes grand when he is provoked to pushing and goring."
"We shall have him at that presently," said Tressilian, "if you spare not your wit."
"Tush, I care not," answered Raleigh; "but thou, too, Tressilian, hast turned a kind of owl, that flies only by night; hast exchanged thy songs for screechings, and good company for an ivy-tod."
"But what manner of animal art thou thyself, Raleigh," said Tressilian, "that thou holdest us all so lightly?" "Who, I?" replied Raleigh. "An eagle am I, that never will think of dull earth while there is a heaven to soar in and a sun to gaze upon."
"Well bragged, by St. Barnaby!" said Blount; "but, good Master Eagle, beware the cage, and beware the fowler. Many birds have flown as high, that I have seen stuffed with straw, and hung up to scare kites. But hark, what a dead silence hath fallen on them at once!"
"The procession pauses," said Raleigh, "at the gate of the chase, where a sibyl, one of the Fatidicæ, meets the queen, to tell her fortune. I saw the verses; there is little savour in them, and her grace has been already crammed full with such poetical compliments. She whispered to me during the Recorder's speech yonder, at Ford Mill, as she entered the liberties of Warwick, how she was 'pertæsa barbaræ loquelæ"
"The queen whispered to him!" said Blount, in a kind of soliloquy. "Good God, to what will this world come!"
His further meditations were interrupted by a shout of applause from the multitude, so tremendously vociferous that the country echoed for miles round. The guards, thickly stationed upon the road by which the queen was to advance, caught up the acclamation, which ran like wildfire to the castle, and announced to all within that Queen Elizabeth had entered the royal chase of Kenilworth. The whole music of the castle sounded at once, and a round of artillery, with a salvo of small-arms, was discharged from the battlements; but the noise of drums and trumpets, and even of the cannon themselves, was but faintly heard amidst the roaring and reiterating welcomes of the multitude.
As the noise began to abate, a broad glare of light was seen to appear from the gate of the park, and, broadening and brightening as it came nearer, advanced along the open and fair avenue that led toward the Gallery Tower; which, as we have already noticed, was lined on either hand by the retainers of the Earl of Leicester. The word was passed along the line, "The queen! The queen! Silence, and stand fast!" Onward came the cavalcade illuminated by two hundred thick waxen torches, in the hands of as many horsemen, which cast a light like that of broad day all around the procession, but especially on the principal group, of which the queen herself, arrayed in the most splendid manner, and blazing with jewels, formed the central figure. She was mounted on a milk-white horse, which she reined with peculiar grace and dignity; and in the whole of her stately and noble carriage you saw the daughter of an hundred kings.
The ladies of the court, who rode beside Her Majesty, had taken especial care that their own external appearance should not be more glorious than their rank and the occasion altogether demanded, so that no inferior luminary might appear to approach the orbit of royalty. But their personal charms, and the magnificence by which, under every prudential restraint, they were necessarily distinguished, exhibited them as the very flower of a realm so far famed for splendour and beauty. The magnificence of the courtiers, free from such restraints as prudence imposed on the ladies, was yet more unbounded.
Leicester, who glittered like a golden image with jewels and cloth of gold, rode on Her Majesty's right hand, as well in quality of her host as of her master of the horse. The black steed which he mounted had not a single white hair on his body, and was one of the most renowned chargers in Europe, having been purchased by the earl at large expense for this royal occasion. As the noble animal chafed at the slow pace of the processsion, and, arching his stately neck, champed on the silver bits which restrained him, the foam flew from his mouth and specked his well-formed limbs, as if with spots of snow. The rider well became the high place which he held and the proud steed which he bestrode; for no man in England, or perhaps in Europe, was more perfect than Dudley in horsemanship and all other exercises belonging to his quality. He was bareheaded, as were all the courtiers in the train; and the red torchlight shone upon his long curled tresses of dark hair, and on his noble features, to the beauty of which even the severest criticism could only object the lordly fault, as it may be termed, of a forehead somewhat too high. On that proud evening, those features wore all the graceful solicitude of a subject to show himself sensible of the high honour which the queen was conferring on him, and all the pride and satisfaction which became so glorious a moment. Yet, though neither eye nor feature betrayed aught but feelings which suited the occasion, some of the earl's personal attendants remarked that he was unusually pale, and they expressed to each other their fear that he was taking more fatigue than consisted with his health.
Varney followed close behind his master, as the principal esquire in waiting, and had charge of his lordship's black velvet bonnet, garnished with a clasp of diamonds and surmounted by a white plume. He kept his eye constantly on his master; and, for reasons with which the reader is not unacquainted, was, among Leicester's numerous dependents, the one who was most anxious that his lord's strength and resolution should carry him successfully through a day so agitating. For, although Varney was one of the few—the very few—moral monsters who contrive to lull to sleep the remorse of their own bosoms, and are drugged into moral insensibility by atheism, as men in extreme agony are lulled by opium, yet he knew that in the breast of his patron there was already awakened the fire that is never quenched, and that his lord felt, amid all the pomp and magnificence we have described, the gnawing of the worm that dieth not. Still, however, assured as Lord Leicester stood, by Varney's own intelligence, that his countess laboured under an indisposition which formed an unanswerable apology to the queen for her not appearing at Kenilworth, there was little danger, his wily retainer thought, that a man so ambitious would betray himself by giving way to any external weakness.
The train, male and female, who attended immediately upon the queen's person were, of course, of the bravest and the fairest—the highest born nobles and the wisest counsellors of that distinguished reign, to repeat whose names were but to weary the reader. Behind came a long crowd of knights and gentlemen, whose rank and birth, however distinguished, were thrown into the shade, as their persons into the rear of a procession whose front was of such august majesty.
Thus marshalled, the cavalcade approached the Gallery Tower, which formed, as we have often observed, the extreme barrier of the castle.
It was now the part of the huge porter to step forward; but the lubbard was so overwhelmed with confusion of spirit—the contents of one immense black-jack of double ale, which he had just drank to quicken his memory, having treacherously confused the brain it was intended to clear—that he only groaned piteously, and remained sitting on his stone seat; and the queen would have passed on without greeting, had not the gigantic warder's secret ally, Flibbertigibbet, who lay perdue behind him, thrust a pin into the rear of his short femoral garment.
The porter uttered a sort of a yell, which came not
amiss into his part, started up with his club, and
dealt a sound douse or two on each side of him; and
then, like a coach-horse pricked by the spur, started
off at once into the full career of his address, and,
by dint of active prompting on the part of Dickie
Sludge, delivered, in sounds of gigantic intonation, a
speech which may be thus abridged, the reader being to
suppose that the first lines were addressed to the
throng who approached the gateway; the conclusion, at
the approach of the queen, upon sight of whom, as
struck by some heavenly vision, the gigantic warder
dropped his club, resigned his keys, and gave open way
to the goddess of the night and all her magnificent
"What stir, what turmoil, have we for the nones?
Stand back, my masters, or beware your bones!
Sirs, I'm a warder, and no man of straw,
My voice keeps order, and my club gives law.
"Yet soft—nay, stay—what vision have we here?
What dainty darling's this—what peerless peer?
What loveliest face, that loving ranks enfold,
Like brightest diamond chased in purest gold?
Dazzled and blind, mine office I forsake,
My club, my key, my knee, my homage take.
Bright paragon, pass on in joy and bliss;—
Beshrew the gate that opes not wide at such a sight as this!"
Elizabeth received most graciously the homage of the Herculean porter, and, bending her head to him in requital, passed through his guarded tower, from the top of which was poured a clamorous blast of warlike music, which was replied to by other bands of minstrelsy placed at different points on the castle walls, and by others again stationed in the chase; while the tones of the one, as they yet vibrated on the echoes, were caught up and answered by new harmony from different quarters.
Amidst these bursts of music, which, as if the work of enchantment, seemed now close at hand, now softened by distant space, now wailing so low and sweet as if that distance were gradually prolonged until only the last lingering strains could reach the ear, Queen Elizabeth crossed the Gallery Tower, and came upon the long bridge which extended from thence to Mortimer's Tower, and which was already as light as day, so many torches had been fastened to the palisades on either side. Most of the nobles here alighted, and sent their horses to the neighbouring village of Kenilworth, following the queen on foot, as did the gentlemen who had stood in array to receive her at the Gallery Tower.
On this occasion, as at different times during the evening, Raleigh addressed himself to Tressilian, and was not a little surprised at his vague and unsatisfactory answers; which, joined to his leaving his apartment without any assigned reason, appearing in an undress when it was likely to be offensive to the queen, and some other symptoms of irregularity which he thought he discovered, led him to doubt whether his friend did not labour under some temporary derangement.
Meanwhile, the queen had no sooner stepped on the bridge than a new spectacle was provided; for, as soon as the music gave signal that she was so far advanced, a raft, so disposed as to resemble a small floating island, illuminated by a great variety of torches, and surrounded by floating pageants formed to represent sea-horses, on which sat Tritons, Nereids, and other famous deities of the seas and rivers, made its appearance upon the lake, and, issuing from behind a small heronry where it had been concealed, floated gently toward the farther end of the bridge.
On the islet appeared a beautiful woman, clad in a watchet-coloured silken mantle, bound with a broad girdle, inscribed with characters like the phylacteries of the Hebrews. Her feet and arms were bare, but her wrists and ankles were adorned with gold bracelets of uncommon size. Amidst her long silky black hair she wore a crown or chaplet of artificial mistletoe, and bore in her hand a rod of ebony tipped with silver. Two nymphs attended on her, dressed in the same antique and mystical guise.
The pageant was so well managed that this Lady of the Floating Island, having performed her vevage with much picturesque effect, landed at Mortimer's Tower, with her two attendants, just as Elizabeth presented herself before that outwork. The stranger then, in a well-penned speech, announced herself as that famous Lady of the Lake, renowned in the stories of King Arthur, who had nursed the youth of the redoubted Sir Lancelot, and whose beauty had proved too powerful both for the wisdom and the spells of the mighty Merlin. Since that early period, she had remained possessed of her crystal dominions, she said, despite the various men of fame and might by whom Kenilworth had been successively tenanted. The Saxons, the Danes, the Normans, the Saintlowes, the Clintons, the Montforts, the Mortimers, the Plantagenets, great though they were in arms and magnificence, had never, she said, caused her to raise her head from the waters which hid her crystal palace. But a greater than all these great names had now appeared, and she came in homage and duty to welcome the peerless Elizabeth to all sport which the castle and its environs, which lake or land could afford.
The queen received this address also with great courtesy, and made answer in raillery, "We thought this lake had belonged to our own dominions, fair dame, but since so famed a lady claims it for hers, we will be glad at some other time to have further communing with you touching our joint interests."
With this gracious answer, the Lady of the Lake vanished, and Anion, who was amongst the maritime deities, appeared upon his dolphin. But Lambourne, who had taken upon him the part in the absence of Wayland, being chilled with remaining immersed in an element to which he was not friendly, having never got his speech by heart, and not having, like the porter, the advantage of a prompter, paid it off with impudence, tearing off his vizard, and swearing, "Cog's bones! he was none of Anion or Orion either, but honest Mike Lambourne, that had been drinking Her Majesty's health from morning till midnight, and was come to bid her heartily welcome to Kenilworth Castle."
This unpremeditated buffoonery answered the purpose probably better than the set speech would have done. The queen laughed heartily, and swore, in her turn, that he had made the best speech she had heard that day. Lambourne, who instantly saw his jest had saved his bones, jumped ashore, gave his dolphin a kick, and declared he would never meddle with fish again, except at dinner.
At the same time that the queen was about to enter the castle, a memorable discharge of fireworks by water and land took place.
"Such," says Master Laneham, the clerk of the council-chamber door, "was the blaze of burning darts, the gleams of stars coruscant, the streams and hail of fiery sparks, lightnings of wildfire, and flight-shot of thunderbolts, with continuance, terror, and vehemency, that the heavens thundered, the waters surged, and the earth shook; and for my part, hardy as I am, it made me very vengeably afraid."
|by Sir Walter Scott|