The Queen’s eye found the Earl in no mood to accept the implied offer of conciliation. His own looks had followed, with late and rueful repentance, the faded form which Hunsdon had just borne from the presence. They now reposed gloomily on the ground, but more—so at least it seemed to Elizabeth—with the expression of one who has received an unjust affront, than of him who is conscious of guilt. She turned her face angrily from him, and said to Varney, “Speak, Sir Richard, and explain these riddles—thou hast sense and the use of speech, at least, which elsewhere we look for in vain.”
As she said this, she darted another resentful glance towards Leicester, while the wily Varney hastened to tell his own story.
“Your Majesty’s piercing eye,” he said, “has already detected the cruel malady of my beloved lady, which, unhappy that I am, I would not suffer to be expressed in the certificate of her physician, seeking to conceal what has now broken out with so much the more scandal.”
“She is then distraught?” said the Queen. “Indeed we doubted not of it; her whole demeanour bears it out. I found her moping in a corner of yonder grotto; and every word she spoke—which indeed I dragged from her as by the rack—she instantly recalled and forswore. But how came she hither? Why had you her not in safe-keeping?”
“My gracious Liege,” said Varney, “the worthy gentleman under whose charge I left her, Master Anthony Foster, has come hither but now, as fast as man and horse can travel, to show me of her escape, which she managed with the art peculiar to many who are afflicted with this malady. He is at hand for examination.”
“Let it be for another time,” said the Queen. “But, Sir Richard, we envy you not your domestic felicity; your lady railed on you bitterly, and seemed ready to swoon at beholding you.”
“It is the nature of persons in her disorder, so please your Grace,” answered Varney, “to be ever most inveterate in their spleen against those whom, in their better moments, they hold nearest and dearest.”
“We have heard so, indeed,” said Elizabeth, “and give faith to the saying.”
“May your Grace then be pleased,” said Varney, “to command my unfortunate wife to be delivered into the custody of her friends?”
Leicester partly started; but making a strong effort, he subdued his emotion, while Elizabeth answered sharply, “You are something too hasty, Master Varney. We will have first a report of the lady’s health and state of mind from Masters, our own physician, and then determine what shall be thought just. You shall have license, however, to see her, that if there be any matrimonial quarrel betwixt you—such things we have heard do occur, even betwixt a loving couple—you may make it up, without further scandal to our court or trouble to ourselves.”
Varney bowed low, and made no other answer.