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.”