“If you are serious, my lord,” said Varney, “you must set forth instantly and post for Cumnor Place.”
“Do thou go thyself, Varney; the devil has given thee that sort of eloquence which is most powerful in the worst cause. I should stand self-convicted of villainy, were I to urge such a deceit. Begone, I tell thee; must I entreat thee to mine own dishonour?”
“No, my lord,” said Varney; “but if you are serious in entrusting me with the task of urging this most necessary measure, you must give me a letter to my lady, as my credentials, and trust to me for backing the advice it contains with all the force in my power. And such is my opinion of my lady’s love for your lordship, and of her willingness to do that which is at once to contribute to your pleasure and your safety, that I am sure she will condescend to bear for a few brief days the name of so humble a man as myself, especially since it is not inferior in antiquity to that of her own paternal house.”
Leicester seized on writing materials, and twice or thrice commenced a letter to the Countess, which he afterwards tore into fragments. At length he finished a few distracted lines, in which he conjured her, for reasons nearly concerning his life and honour, to consent to bear the name of Varney for a few days, during the revels at Kenilworth. He added that Varney would communicate all the reasons which rendered this deception indispensable; and having signed and sealed these credentials, he flung them over the table to Varney with a motion that he should depart, which his adviser was not slow to comprehend and to obey.
Leicester remained like one stupefied, till he heard the trampling of the horses, as Varney, who took no time even to change his dress, threw himself into the saddle, and, followed by a single servant, set off for Berkshire. At the sound the Earl started from his seat, and ran to the window, with the momentary purpose of recalling the unworthy commission with which he had entrusted one of whom he used to say he knew no virtuous property save affection to his patron. But Varney was already beyond call; and the bright, starry firmament, which the age considered as the Book of Fate, lying spread before Leicester when he opened the casement, diverted him from his better and more manly purpose.
“There they roll, on their silent but potential course,” said the Earl, looking around him, “without a voice which speaks to our ear, but not without influences which affect, at every change, the indwellers of this vile, earthly planet. This, if astrologers fable not, is the very crisis of my fate! The hour approaches of which I was taught to beware—the hour, too, which I was encouraged to hope for. A King was the word—but how?—the crown matrimonial. All hopes of that are gone—let them go. The rich Netherlands have demanded me for their leader, and, would Elizabeth consent, would yield to me their crown. And have I not such a claim even in this kingdom? That of York, descending from George of Clarence to the House of Huntingdon, which, this lady failing, may have a fair chance—Huntingdon is of my house.—But I will plunge no deeper in these high mysteries. Let me hold my course in silence for a while, and in obscurity, like a subterranean river; the time shall come that I will burst forth in my strength, and bear all opposition before me.”