“Silence, good neighbours!” said the bailiff, “keep tongue betwixt teeth; we shall know more by-and-by. But never will a lord come to Woodstock so welcome as bluff old King Harry! He would horsewhip a fellow one day with his own royal hand, and then fling him an handful of silver groats, with his own broad face on them, to ’noint the sore withal.”
“Ay, rest be with him!” echoed the auditors; “it will be long ere this Lady Elizabeth horsewhip any of us.”
“There is no saying,” answered the bailiff. “Meanwhile, patience, good neighbours, and let us comfort ourselves by thinking that we deserve such notice at her Grace’s hands.”
Meanwhile, Varney, closely followed by his new dependant, made his way to the hall, where men of more note and consequence than those left in the courtyard awaited the appearance of the Earl, who as yet kept his chamber. All paid court to Varney, with more or less deference, as suited their own rank, or the urgency of the business which brought them to his lord’s levee. To the general question of, “When comes my lord forth, Master Varney?” he gave brief answers, as, “See you not my boots? I am but just returned from Oxford, and know nothing of it,” and the like, until the same query was put in a higher tone by a personage of more importance. “I will inquire of the chamberlain, Sir Thomas Copely,” was the reply. The chamberlain, distinguished by his silver key, answered that the Earl only awaited Master Varney’s return to come down, but that he would first speak with him in his private chamber. Varney, therefore, bowed to the company, and took leave, to enter his lord’s apartment.
There was a murmur of expectation which lasted a few minutes, and was at length hushed by the opening of the folding-doors at the upper end or the apartment, through which the Earl made his entrance, marshalled by his chamberlain and the steward of his family, and followed by Richard Varney. In his noble mien and princely features, men read nothing of that insolence which was practised by his dependants. His courtesies were, indeed, measured by the rank of those to whom they were addressed, but even the meanest person present had a share of his gracious notice. The inquiries which he made respecting the condition of the manor, of the Queen’s rights there, and of the advantages and disadvantages which might attend her occasional residence at the royal seat of Woodstock, seemed to show that he had most earnestly investigated the matter of the petition of the inhabitants, and with a desire to forward the interest of the place.
“Now the Lord love his noble countenance!” said the bailiff, who had thrust himself into the presence-chamber; “he looks somewhat pale. I warrant him he hath spent the whole night in perusing our memorial. Master Toughyarn, who took six months to draw it up, said it would take a week to understand it; and see if the Earl hath not knocked the marrow out of it in twenty-four hours!”