“’Tis true,” he said, suddenly stopping, and resting his right hand on the table at which they had been sitting, “this base churl hath fathomed the very depth of my fear, and I have been unable to disguise it from him. She loves me not—I would it were as true that I loved not her! Idiot that I was, to move her in my own behalf, when wisdom bade me be a true broker to my lord! And this fatal error has placed me more at her discretion than a wise man would willingly be at that of the best piece of painted Eve’s flesh of them all. Since the hour that my policy made so perilous a slip, I cannot look at her without fear, and hate, and fondness, so strangely mingled, that I know not whether, were it at my choice, I would rather possess or ruin her. But she must not leave this retreat until I am assured on what terms we are to stand. My lord’s interest—and so far it is mine own, for if he sinks I fall in his train—demands concealment of this obscure marriage; and besides, I will not lend her my arm to climb to her chair of state, that she may set her foot on my neck when she is fairly seated. I must work an interest in her, either through love or through fear; and who knows but I may yet reap the sweetest and best revenge for her former scorn?—that were indeed a masterpiece of courtlike art! Let me but once be her counsel-keeper—let her confide to me a secret, did it but concern the robbery of a linnet’s nest, and, fair Countess, thou art mine own!” He again paced the room in silence, stopped, filled and drank a cup of wine, as if to compose the agitation of his mind, and muttering, “Now for a close heart and an open and unruffled brow,” he left the apartment.
The dews of summer night
The moon, sweet regent of the sky,
Silver’d the walls of Cumnor Hall,
And many an oak that grew thereby.—Mickle.
[This verse is the commencement
of the ballad already quoted, as
what suggested the novel.]
Four apartments; which, occupied the western side of the old quadrangle at Cumnor Place, had been fitted up with extraordinary splendour. This had been the work of several days prior to that on which our story opened. Workmen sent from London, and not permitted to leave the premises until the work was finished, had converted the apartments in that side of the building from the dilapidated appearance of a dissolved monastic house into the semblance of a royal palace. A mystery was observed in all these arrangements: the workmen came thither and returned by night, and all measures were taken to prevent the prying curiosity of the villagers from observing or speculating upon the changes which were taking place in the mansion of their once indigent but now wealthy neighbour, Anthony Foster. Accordingly, the secrecy desired was so far preserved, that nothing got abroad but vague and uncertain reports, which were received and repeated, but without much credit being attached to them.