How is’t with me, when every noise appals me? —MACBETH.
“I desire some conference with you.” The words were simple in themselves, but Lord Leicester was in that alarmed and feverish state of mind when the most ordinary occurrences seem fraught with alarming import; and he turned hastily round to survey the person by whom they had been spoken. There was nothing remarkable in the speaker’s appearance, which consisted of a black silk doublet and short mantle, with a black vizard on his face; for it appeared he had been among the crowd of masks who had thronged into the hall in the retinue of Merlin, though he did not wear any of the extravagant disguises by which most of them were distinguished.
“Who are you, or what do you want with me?” said Leicester, not without betraying, by his accents, the hurried state of his spirits.
“No evil, my lord,” answered the mask, “but much good and honour, if you will rightly understand my purpose. But I must speak with you more privately.”
“I can speak with no nameless stranger,” answered Leicester, dreading he knew not precisely what from the request of the stranger; “and those who are known to me must seek another and a fitter time to ask an interview.”
He would have hurried away, but the mask still detained him.
“Those who talk to your lordship of what your own honour demands have a right over your time, whatever occupations you may lay aside in order to indulge them.”
“How! my honour? Who dare impeach it?” said Leicester.
“Your own conduct alone can furnish grounds for accusing it, my lord, and it is that topic on which I would speak with you.”
“You are insolent,” said Leicester, “and abuse the hospitable license of the time, which prevents me from having you punished. I demand your name!”
“Edmund Tressilian of Cornwall,” answered the mask. “My tongue has been bound by a promise for four-and-twenty hours. The space is passed,—I now speak, and do your lordship the justice to address myself first to you.”
The thrill of astonishment which had penetrated to Leicester’s very heart at hearing that name pronounced by the voice of the man he most detested, and by whom he conceived himself so deeply injured, at first rendered him immovable, but instantly gave way to such a thirst for revenge as the pilgrim in the desert feels for the water-brooks. He had but sense and self-government enough left to prevent his stabbing to the heart the audacious villain, who, after the ruin he had brought upon him, dared, with such unmoved assurance, thus to practise upon him further. Determined to suppress for the moment every symptom of agitation, in order to perceive the full scope of Tressilian’s purpose, as well as to secure his own vengeance, he answered in a tone so altered by restrained passion as scarce to be intelligible, “And what does Master Edmund Tressilian require at my hand?”