The death-bell thrice was heard to ring,
An aerial voice was heard to call,
And thrice the raven flapp’d its wing
Around the towers of Cumnor Hall.
We are now to return to that part of our story where we intimated that Varney, possessed of the authority of the Earl of Leicester, and of the Queen’s permission to the same effect, hastened to secure himself against discovery of his perfidy by removing the Countess from Kenilworth Castle. He had proposed to set forth early in the morning; but reflecting that the Earl might relent in the interim, and seek another interview with the Countess, he resolved to prevent, by immediate departure, all chance of what would probably have ended in his detection and ruin. For this purpose he called for Lambourne, and was exceedingly incensed to find that his trusty attendant was abroad on some ramble in the neighbouring village, or elsewhere. As his return was expected, Sir Richard commanded that he should prepare himself for attending him on an immediate journey, and follow him in case he returned after his departure.
In the meanwhile, Varney used the ministry of a servant called Robin Tider, one to whom the mysteries of Cumnor Place were already in some degree known, as he had been there more than once in attendance on the Earl. To this man, whose character resembled that of Lambourne, though he was neither quite so prompt nor altogether so profligate, Varney gave command to have three horses saddled, and to prepare a horse-litter, and have them in readiness at the postern gate. The natural enough excuse of his lady’s insanity, which was now universally believed, accounted for the secrecy with which she was to be removed from the Castle, and he reckoned on the same apology in case the unfortunate Amy’s resistance or screams should render such necessary. The agency of Anthony Foster was indispensable, and that Varney now went to secure.
This person, naturally of a sour, unsocial disposition, and somewhat tired, besides, with his journey from Cumnor to Warwickshire, in order to bring the news of the Countess’s escape, had early extricated himself from the crowd of wassailers, and betaken himself to his chamber, where he lay asleep, when Varney, completely equipped for travelling, and with a dark lantern in his hand, entered his apartment. He paused an instant to listen to what his associate was murmuring in his sleep, and could plainly distinguish the words, “Ave Maria — ora pro nobis. No, it runs not so — deliver us from evil — ay, so it goes.”
“Praying in his sleep,” said Varney, “and confounding his old and new devotions. He must have more need of prayer ere I am done with him. — What ho! holy man, most blessed penitent! — awake — awake! The devil has not discharged you from service yet.”
As Varney at the same time shook the sleeper by the arm, it changed the current of his ideas, and he roared out, “Thieves! — thieves! I will die in defence of my gold — my hard-won gold — that has cost me so dear. Where is Janet? — Is Janet safe?”
“Safe enough, thou bellowing fool!” said Varney; “art thou not ashamed of thy clamour?”
Foster by this time was broad awake, and sitting up in his bed, asked Varney the meaning of so untimely a visit. “It augurs nothing good,” he added.
“A false prophecy, most sainted Anthony,” returned Varney; “it augurs that the hour is come for converting thy leasehold into copyhold. What sayest thou to that?”
“Hadst thou told me this in broad day,” said Foster, “I had rejoiced; but at this dead hour, and by this dim light, and looking on thy pale face, which is a ghastly contradiction to thy light words, I cannot but rather think of the work that is to be done, than the guerdon to be gained by it.”
“Why, thou fool, it is but to escort thy charge back to Cumnor Place.”
“Is that indeed all?” said Foster; “thou lookest deadly pale, and thou art not moved by trifles — is that indeed all?”
“Ay, that — and maybe a trifle more,” said Varney.
“Ah, that trifle more!” said Foster; “still thou lookest paler and paler.”
“Heed not my countenance,” said Varney; “you see it by this wretched light. Up and be doing, man. Think of Cumnor Place — thine own proper copyhold. Why, thou mayest found a weekly lectureship, besides endowing Janet like a baron’s daughter. Seventy pounds and odd.”
“Seventy-nine pounds, five shillings and fivepence half-penny, besides the value of the wood,” said Foster; “and I am to have it all as copyhold?”
“All, man — squirrels and all. No gipsy shall cut the value of a broom — no boy so much as take a bird’s nest — without paying thee a quittance. — Ay, that is right — don thy matters as fast as possible; horses and everything are ready, all save that accursed villain Lambourne, who is out on some infernal gambol.”
“Ay, Sir Richard,” said Foster, “you would take no advice. I ever told you that drunken profligate would fail you at need. Now I could have helped you to a sober young man.”
“What, some slow-spoken, long-breathed brother of the congregation? Why, we shall have use for such also, man. Heaven be praised, we shall lack labourers of every kind. — Ay, that is right — forget not your pistols. Come now, and let us away.”
“Whither?” said Anthony.
“To my lady’s chamber; and, mind, she must along with us. Thou art not a fellow to be startled by a shriek?”
“Not if Scripture reason can be rendered for it; and it is written, ‘Wives obey your husbands.’ But will my lord’s commands bear us out if we use violence?”
“Tush, man! here is his signet,” answered Varney; and having thus silenced the objections of his associate, they went together to Lord Hunsdon’s apartments, and acquainting the sentinel with their purpose, as a matter sanctioned by the Queen and the Earl of Leicester, they entered the chamber of the unfortunate Countess.
The horror of Amy may be conceived when, starting from a broken slumber, she saw at her bedside Varney, the man on earth she most feared and hated. It was even a consolation to see that he was not alone, though she had so much reason to dread his sullen companion.
“Madam,” said Varney, “there is no time for ceremony. My Lord of Leicester, having fully considered the exigencies of the time, sends you his orders immediately to accompany us on our return to Cumnor Place. See, here is his signet, in token of his instant and pressing commands.”
“It is false!” said the Countess; “thou hast stolen the warrant — thou, who art capable of every villainy, from the blackest to the basest!”
“It is true, madam,” replied Varney; “so true, that if you do not instantly arise, and prepare to attend us, we must compel you to obey our orders.”
“Compel! Thou darest not put it to that issue, base as thou art!” exclaimed the unhappy Countess.
“That remains to be proved, madam,” said Varney, who had determined on intimidation as the only means of subduing her high spirit; “if you put me to it, you will find me a rough groom of the chambers.”
It was at this threat that Amy screamed so fearfully that, had it not been for the received opinion of her insanity, she would quickly have had Lord Hunsdon and others to her aid. Perceiving, however, that her cries were vain, she appealed to Foster in the most affecting terms, conjuring him, as his daughter Janet’s honour and purity were dear to him, not to permit her to be treated with unwomanly violence.
“Why, madam, wives must obey their husbands —-there’s Scripture warrant for it,” said Foster; “and if you will dress yourself, and come with us patiently, there’s no one shall lay finger on you while I can draw a pistol-trigger.”
Seeing no help arrive, and comforted even by the dogged language of Foster, the Countess promised to arise and dress herself, if they would agree to retire from the room. Varney at the same time assured her of all safety and honour while in their hands, and promised that he himself would not approach her, since his presence was so displeasing. Her husband, he added, would be at Cumnor Place within twenty-four hours after they had reached it.
Somewhat comforted by this assurance, upon which, however, she saw little reason to rely, the unhappy Amy made her toilette by the assistance of the lantern, which they left with her when they quitted the apartment.
Weeping, trembling, and praying, the unfortunate lady dressed herself with sensations how different from the days in which she was wont to decorate herself in all the pride of conscious beauty! She endeavoured to delay the completing her dress as long as she could, until, terrified by the impatience of Varney, she was obliged to declare herself ready to attend them.
When they were about to move, the Countess clung to Foster with such an appearance of terror at Varney’s approach that the latter protested to her, with a deep oath, that he had no intention whatever of even coming near her. “If you do but consent to execute your husband’s will in quietness, you shall,” he said, “see but little of me. I will leave you undisturbed to the care of the usher whom your good taste prefers.”
“My husband’s will!” she exclaimed. “But it is the will of God, and let that be sufficient to me. I will go with Master Foster as unresistingly as ever did a literal sacrifice. He is a father at least; and will have decency, if not humanity. For thee, Varney, were it my latest word, thou art an equal stranger to both.”
Varney replied only she was at liberty to choose, and walked some paces before them to show the way; while, half leaning on Foster, and half carried by him, the Countess was transported from Saintlowe’s Tower to the postern gate, where Tider waited with the litter and horses.
The Countess was placed in the former without resistance. She saw with some satisfaction that, while Foster and Tider rode close by the litter, which the latter conducted, the dreaded Varney lingered behind, and was soon lost in darkness. A little while she strove, as the road winded round the verge of the lake, to keep sight of those stately towers which called her husband lord, and which still, in some places, sparkled with lights, where wassailers were yet revelling. But when the direction of the road rendered this no longer possible, she drew back her head, and sinking down in the litter, recommended herself to the care of Providence.
Besides the desire of inducing the Countess to proceed quietly on her journey, Varney had it also in view to have an interview with Lambourne, by whom he every moment expected to be joined, without the presence of any witnesses. He knew the character of this man, prompt, bloody, resolute, and greedy, and judged him the most fit agent he could employ in his further designs. But ten miles of their journey had been measured ere he heard the hasty clatter of horse’s hoofs behind him, and was overtaken by Michael Lambourne.
Fretted as he was with his absence, Varney received his profligate servant with a rebuke of unusual bitterness. “Drunken villain,” he said, “thy idleness and debauched folly will stretch a halter ere it be long, and, for me, I care not how soon!”
This style of objurgation Lambourne, who was elated to an unusual degree, not only by an extraordinary cup of wine, but by the sort of confidential interview he had just had with the Earl, and the secret of which he had made himself master, did not receive with his wonted humility. “He would take no insolence of language,” he said, “from the best knight that ever wore spurs. Lord Leicester had detained him on some business of import, and that was enough for Varney, who was but a servant like himself.”
Varney was not a little surprised at his unusual tone of insolence; but ascribing it to liquor, suffered it to pass as if unnoticed, and then began to tamper with Lambourne touching his willingness to aid in removing out of the Earl of Leicester’s way an obstacle to a rise, which would put it in his power to reward his trusty followers to their utmost wish. And upon Michael Lambourne’s seeming ignorant what was meant, he plainly indicated “the litter-load, yonder,” as the impediment which he desired should be removed.
“Look you, Sir Richard, and so forth,” said Michael, “some are wiser than some, that is one thing, and some are worse than some, that’s another. I know my lord’s mind on this matter better than thou, for he hath trusted me fully in the matter. Here are his mandates, and his last words were, Michael Lambourne — for his lordship speaks to me as a gentleman of the sword, and useth not the words drunken villain, or such like phrase, of those who know not how to bear new dignities — Varney, says he, must pay the utmost respect to my Countess. I trust to you for looking to it, Lambourne, says his lordship, and you must bring back my signet from him peremptorily.”
“Ay,” replied Varney, “said he so, indeed? You know all, then?”
“All — all; and you were as wise to make a friend of me while the weather is fair betwixt us.”
“And was there no one present,” said Varney, “when my lord so spoke?”
“Not a breathing creature,” replied Lambourne. “Think you my lord would trust any one with such matters, save an approved man of action like myself?”
“Most true,” said Varney; and making a pause, he looked forward on the moonlight road. They were traversing a wide and open heath. The litter being at least a mile before them, was both out of sight and hearing. He looked behind, and there was an expanse, lighted by the moonbeams, without one human being in sight. He resumed his speech to Lambourne: “And will you turn upon your master, who has introduced you to this career of court-like favour — whose apprentice you have been, Michael — who has taught you the depths and shallows of court intrigue?”
“Michael not me!” said Lambourne; “I have a name will brook a Master before it as well as another; and as to the rest, if I have been an apprentice, my indenture is out, and I am resolute to set up for myself.”
“Take thy quittance first, thou fool!” said Varney; and with a pistol, which he had for some time held in his hand, shot Lambourne through the body.
The wretch fell from his horse without a single groan; and Varney, dismounting, rifled his pockets, turning out the lining, that it might appear he had fallen by robbers. He secured the Earl’s packet, which was his chief object; but he also took Lambourne”s purse, containing some gold pieces, the relics of what his debauchery had left him, and from a singular combination of feelings, carried it in his hand only the length of a small river, which crossed the road, into which he threw it as far as he could fling. Such are the strange remnants of conscience which remain after she seems totally subdued, that this cruel and remorseless man would have felt himself degraded had he pocketed the few pieces belonging to the wretch whom he had thus ruthlessly slain.
The murderer reloaded his pistol after cleansing the lock and barrel from the appearances of late explosion, and rode calmly after the litter, satisfying himself that he had so adroitly removed a troublesome witness to many of his intrigues, and the bearer of mandates which he had no intentions to obey, and which, therefore, he was desirous it should be thought had never reached his hand.
The remainder of the journey was made with a degree of speed which showed the little care they had for the health of the unhappy Countess. They paused only at places where all was under their command, and where the tale they were prepared to tell of the insane Lady Varney would have obtained ready credit had she made an attempt to appeal to the compassion of the few persons admitted to see her. But Amy saw no chance of obtaining a hearing from any to whom she had an opportunity of addressing herself; and besides, was too terrified for the presence of Varney to violate the implied condition under which she was to travel free from his company. The authority of Varney, often so used during the Earl’s private journeys to Cumnor, readily procured relays of horses where wanted, so that they approached Cumnor Place upon the night after they left Kenilworth.
At this period of the journey Varney came up to the rear of the litter, as he had done before repeatedly during their progress, and asked, “How does she?”
“She sleeps,” said Foster. “I would we were home — her strength is exhausted.”
“Rest will restore her,” answered Varney. “She shall soon sleep sound and long. We must consider how to lodge her in safety.”
“In her own apartments, to be sure,” said Foster. “I have sent Janet to her aunt’s with a proper rebuke, and the old women are truth itself — for they hate this lady cordially.”
“We will not trust them, however, friend Anthony,” said Varney; “We must secure her in that stronghold where you keep your gold.”
“My gold!” said Anthony, much alarmed; “why, what gold have I? God help me, I have no gold — I would I had!”
“Now, marry hang thee, thou stupid brute, who thinks of or cares for thy gold? If I did, could I not find an hundred better ways to come at it? In one word, thy bedchamber, which thou hast fenced so curiously, must be her place of seclusion; and thou, thou hind, shalt press her pillows of down. I dare to say the Earl will never ask after the rich furniture of these four rooms.”
This last consideration rendered Foster tractable; he only asked permission to ride before, to make matters ready, and spurring his horse, he posted before the litter, while Varney falling about threescore paces behind it, it remained only attended by Tider.
When they had arrived at Cumnor Place, the Countess asked eagerly for Janet, and showed much alarm when informed that she was no longer to have the attendance of that amiable girl.
“My daughter is dear to me, madam,” said Foster gruffly; “and I desire not that she should get the court-tricks of lying and ‘scaping — somewhat too much of that has she learned already, an it please your ladyship.”
The Countess, much fatigued and greatly terrified by the circumstances of her journey, made no answer to this insolence, but mildly expressed a wish to retire to her chamber,
“Ay, ay,” muttered Foster, “’tis but reasonable; but, under favour, you go not to your gew-gaw toy-house yonder — you will sleep to-night in better security.”
“I would it were in my grave,” said the Countess; “but that mortal feelings shiver at the idea of soul and body parting.”
“You, I guess, have no chance to shiver at that,” replied Foster. “My lord comes hither tomorrow, and doubtless you will make your own ways good with him.”
“But does he come hither? — does he indeed, good Foster?”
“Oh, ay, good Foster!” replied the other. “But what Foster shall I be tomorrow when you speak of me to my lord — though all I have done was to obey his own orders?”
“You shall be my protector — a rough one indeed — but still a protector,” answered the Countess. “Oh that Janet were but here!”
“She is better where she is,” answered Foster —“one of you is enough to perplex a plain head. But will you taste any refreshment?”
“Oh no, no — my chamber — my chamber! I trust,” she said apprehensively, “I may secure it on the inside?”
“With all my heart,” answered Foster, “so I may secure it on the outside;” and taking a light, he led the way to a part of the building where Amy had never been, and conducted her up a stair of great height, preceded by one of the old women with a lamp. At the head of the stair, which seemed of almost immeasurable height, they crossed a short wooden gallery, formed of black oak, and very narrow, at the farther end of which was a strong oaken door, which opened and admitted them into the miser’s apartment, homely in its accommodations in the very last degree, and, except in name, little different from a prison-room.
Foster stopped at the door, and gave the lamp to the Countess, without either offering or permitting the attendance of the old woman who had carried it. The lady stood not on ceremony, but taking it hastily, barred the door, and secured it with the ample means provided on the inside for that purpose.
Varney, meanwhile, had lurked behind on the stairs; but hearing the door barred, he now came up on tiptoe, and Foster, winking to him, pointed with self-complacence to a piece of concealed machinery in the wall, which, playing with much ease and little noise, dropped a part of the wooden gallery, after the manner of a drawbridge, so as to cut off all communication between the door of the bedroom, which he usually inhabited, and the landing-place of the high, winding stair which ascended to it. The rope by which this machinery was wrought was generally carried within the bedchamber, it being Foster’s object to provide against invasion from without; but now that it was intended to secure the prisoner within, the cord had been brought over to the landing-place, and was there made fast, when Foster with much complacency had dropped the unsuspected trap-door.
Varney looked with great attention at the machinery, and peeped more than once down the abyss which was opened by the fall of the trap-door. It was dark as pitch, and seemed profoundly deep, going, as Foster informed his confederate in a whisper, nigh to the lowest vault of the Castle. Varney cast once more a fixed and long look down into this sable gulf, and then followed Foster to the part of the manor-house most usually inhabited.
When they arrived in the parlour which we have mentioned, Varney requested Foster to get them supper, and some of the choicest wine. “I will seek Alasco,” he added; “we have work for him to do, and we must put him in good heart.”
Foster groaned at this intimation, but made no remonstrance. The old woman assured Varney that Alasco had scarce eaten or drunken since her master’s departure, living perpetually shut up in the laboratory, and talking as if the world’s continuance depended on what he was doing there.
“I will teach him that the world hath other claims on him,” said Varney, seizing a light, and going in quest of the alchemist. He returned, after a considerable absence, very pale, but yet with his habitual sneer on his cheek and nostril. “Our friend,” he said, “has exhaled.”
“How! — what mean you?” said Foster —“run away — fled with my forty pounds, that should have been multiplied a thousand-fold? I will have Hue and Cry!”
“I will tell thee a surer way,” said Varney.
“How! — which way?” exclaimed Foster; “I will have back my forty pounds — I deemed them as surely a thousand times multiplied — I will have back my input, at the least.”
“Go hang thyself, then, and sue Alasco in the Devil’s Court of Chancery, for thither he has carried the cause.”
“How! — what dost thou mean is he dead?”
“Ay, truly is he,” said Varney; “and properly swollen already in the face and body. He had been mixing some of his devil’s medicines, and the glass mask which he used constantly had fallen from his face, so that the subtle poison entered the brain, and did its work.”
“Sancta Maria!” said Foster —“I mean, God in His mercy preserve us from covetousness and deadly sin! — Had he not had projection, think you? Saw you no ingots in the crucibles?”
“Nay, I looked not but at the dead carrion,” answered Varney; “an ugly spectacle — he was swollen like a corpse three days exposed on the wheel. Pah! give me a cup of wine.”
“I will go,” said Foster, “I will examine myself —” He took the lamp, and hastened to the door, but there hesitated and paused. “Will you not go with me?” said he to Varney.
“To what purpose?” said Varney; “I have seen and smelled enough to spoil my appetite. I broke the window, however, and let in the air; it reeked of sulphur, and such like suffocating steams, as if the very devil had been there.”
“And might it not be the act of the demon himself?” said Foster, still hesitating; “I have heard he is powerful at such times, and with such people.”
“Still, if it were that Satan of thine,” answered Varney, “who thus jades thy imagination, thou art in perfect safety, unless he is a most unconscionable devil indeed. He hath had two good sops of late.”
“How two sops — what mean you?” said Foster —“what mean you?”
“You will know in time,” said Varney; —“and then this other banquet — but thou wilt esteem Her too choice a morsel for the fiend’s tooth — she must have her psalms, and harps, and seraphs.”
Anthony Foster heard, and came slowly back to the table. “God! Sir Richard, and must that then be done?”
“Ay, in very truth, Anthony, or there comes no copyhold in thy way,” replied his inflexible associate.
“I always foresaw it would land there!” said Foster. “But how, Sir Richard, how? — for not to win the world would I put hands on her.”
“I cannot blame thee,” said Varney; “I should be reluctant to do that myself. We miss Alasco and his manna sorely — ay, and the dog Lambourne.”
“Why, where tarries Lambourne?” said Anthony.
“Ask no questions,” said Varney, “thou wilt see him one day if thy creed is true. But to our graver matter. I will teach thee a spring, Tony, to catch a pewit. Yonder trap-door — yonder gimcrack of thine, will remain secure in appearance, will it not, though the supports are withdrawn beneath?”
“Ay, marry, will it,” said Foster; “so long as it is not trodden on.”
“But were the lady to attempt an escape over it,” replied Varney, “her weight would carry it down?”
“A mouse’s weight would do it,” said Foster.
“Why, then, she dies in attempting her escape, and what could you or I help it, honest Tony? Let us to bed, we will adjust our project tomorrow.”
On the next day, when evening approached, Varney summoned Foster to the execution of their plan. Tider and Foster’s old man-servant were sent on a feigned errand down to the village, and Anthony himself, as if anxious to see that the Countess suffered no want of accommodation, visited her place of confinement. He was so much staggered at the mildness and patience with which she seemed to endure her confinement, that he could not help earnestly recommending to her not to cross the threshold of her room on any account whatever, until Lord Leicester should come, “which,” he added, “I trust in God, will be very soon.” Amy patiently promised that she would resign herself to her fate. and Foster returned to his hardened companion with his conscience half-eased of the perilous load that weighed on it. “I have warned her,” he said; “surely in vain is the snare set in the sight of any bird!”
He left, therefore, the Countess’s door unsecured on the outside, and, under the eye of Varney, withdrew the supports which sustained the falling trap, which, therefore, kept its level position merely by a slight adhesion. They withdrew to wait the issue on the ground-floor adjoining; but they waited long in vain. At length Varney, after walking long to and fro, with his face muffled in his cloak, threw it suddenly back and exclaimed, “Surely never was a woman fool enough to neglect so fair an opportunity of escape!”
“Perhaps she is resolved,” said Foster, “to await her husband’s return,”
“True! — most true!” said Varney, rushing out; “I had not thought of that before.”
In less than two minutes, Foster, who remained behind, heard the tread of a horse in the courtyard, and then a whistle similar to that which was the Earl’s usual signal. The instant after the door of the Countess’s chamber opened, and in the same moment the trap-door gave way. There was a rushing sound — a heavy fall — a faint groan — and all was over.
At the same instant, Varney called in at the window, in an accent and tone which was an indescribable mixture betwixt horror and raillery, “Is the bird caught? — is the deed done?”
“O God, forgive us!” replied Anthony Foster.
“Why, thou fool,” said Varney, “thy toil is ended, and thy reward secure. Look down into the vault — what seest thou?”
“I see only a heap of white clothes, like a snowdrift,” said Foster. “O God, she moves her arm!”
“Hurl something down on her — thy gold chest, Tony — it is an heavy one.”
“Varney, thou art an incarnate fiend!” replied Foster.
“There needs nothing more — she is gone!”
“So pass our troubles,” said Varney, entering the room; “I dreamed not I could have mimicked the Earl’s call so well.”
“Oh, if there be judgment in heaven, thou hast deserved it,” said Foster, “and wilt meet it! Thou hast destroyed her by means of her best affections — it is a seething of the kid in the mother’s milk!”
“Thou art a fanatical ass,” replied Varney; “let us now think how the alarm should be given — the body is to remain where it is.”
But their wickedness was to be permitted no longer; for even while they were at this consultation, Tressilian and Raleigh broke in upon them, having obtained admittance by means of Tider and Foster’s servant, whom they had secured at the village.
Anthony Foster fled on their entrance, and knowing each corner and pass of the intricate old house, escaped all search. But Varney was taken on the spot; and instead of expressing compunction for what he had done, seemed to take a fiendish pleasure in pointing out to them the remains of the murdered Countess, while at the same time he defied them to show that he had any share in her death. The despairing grief of Tressilian, on viewing the mangled and yet warm remains of what had lately been so lovely and so beloved, was such that Raleigh was compelled to have him removed from the place by force, while he himself assumed the direction of what was to be done.
Varney, upon a second examination, made very little mystery either of the crime or of its motives —-alleging, as a reason for his frankness, that though much of what he confessed could only have attached to him by suspicion, yet such suspicion would have been sufficient to deprive him of Leicester’s confidence, and to destroy all his towering plans of ambition. “I was not born,” he said, “to drag on the remainder of life a degraded outcast; nor will I so die that my fate shall make a holiday to the vulgar herd.”
From these words it was apprehended he had some design upon himself, and he was carefully deprived of all means by which such could be carried into execution. But like some of the heroes of antiquity, he carried about his person a small quantity of strong poison, prepared probably by the celebrated Demetrius Alasco. Having swallowed this potion over-night, he was found next morning dead in his cell; nor did he appear to have suffered much agony, his countenance presenting, even in death, the habitual expression of sneering sarcasm which was predominant while he lived. “The wicked man,” saith Scripture, “hath no bands in his death.”
The fate of his colleague in wickedness was long unknown. Cumnor Place was deserted immediately after the murder; for in the vicinity of what was called the Lady Dudley’s Chamber, the domestics pretended to hear groans, and screams, and other supernatural noises. After a certain length of time, Janet, hearing no tidings of her father, became the uncontrolled mistress of his property, and conferred it with her hand upon Wayland, now a man of settled character, and holding a place in Elizabeth’s household. But it was after they had been both dead for some years that their eldest son and heir, in making some researches about Cumnor Hall, discovered a secret passage, closed by an iron door, which, opening from behind the bed in the Lady Dudley’s Chamber, descended to a sort of cell, in which they found an iron chest containing a quantity of gold, and a human skeleton stretched above it. The fate of Anthony Foster was now manifest. He had fled to this place of concealment, forgetting the key of the spring-lock; and being barred from escape by the means he had used for preservation of that gold, for which he had sold his salvation, he had there perished miserably. Unquestionably the groans and screams heard by the domestics were not entirely imaginary, but were those of this wretch, who, in his agony, was crying for relief and succour.
The news of the Countess’s dreadful fate put a sudden period to the pleasures of Kenilworth. Leicester retired from court, and for a considerable time abandoned himself to his remorse. But as Varney in his last declaration had been studious to spare the character of his patron, the Earl was the object rather of compassion than resentment. The Queen at length recalled him to court; he was once more distinguished as a statesman and favourite; and the rest of his career is well known to history. But there was something retributive in his death, if, according to an account very generally received, it took place from his swallowing a draught of poison which was designed by him for another person. 25
Sir Hugh Robsart died very soon after his daughter, having settled his estate on Tressilian. But neither the prospect of rural independence, nor the promises of favour which Elizabeth held out to induce him to follow the court, could remove his profound melancholy. Wherever he went he seemed to see before him the disfigured corpse of the early and only object of his affection. At length, having made provision for the maintenance of the old friends and old servants who formed Sir Hugh’s family at Lidcote Hall, he himself embarked with his friend Raleigh for the Virginia expedition, and, young in years but old in grief, died before his day in that foreign land.
Of inferior persons it is only necessary to say that Blount’s wit grew brighter as his yellow roses faded; that, doing his part as a brave commander in the wars, he was much more in his element than during the short period of his following the court; and that Flibbertigibbet’s acute genius raised him to favour and distinction in the employment both of Burleigh and Walsingham.
25 Death of the Earl of Leicester.
In a curious manuscript copy of the information given by Ben Jonson to Drummond of Hawthornden, as transcribed by Sir Robert Sibbald, Leicester’s death is ascribed to poison administered as a cordial by his countess, to whom he had given it, representing it to be a restorative in any faintness, in the hope that she herself might be cut off by using it. We have already quoted Jonson’s account of this merited stroke of retribution in a note of the Introduction to this volume. It may be here added that the following satirical epitaph on Leicester occurs in Drummond’s Collection, but is evidently not of his composition:—
Epitaph on the Erle of Leister.
Here lies a valiant warriour,
Who never drew a sword;
Here lies a noble courtier,
Who never kept his word;
Here lies the Erle of Leister,
Who governed the Estates,
Whom the earth could never living love,
And the just Heaven now hates.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54