Page images


"Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand!"

Titus Andronicus, act n. sc. in.

H, miserable woman! Oh, multiplied calamity! Oh, unmitigated ruin! Scarcely had the Countess of Essex risen from the bed of a baulked mother's pain, than the issue of her husband's outbreak is disclosed. A sentence of attainder upon him! What a world of injury on their children! Bereaved, disgraced, desolated!

Oh, the dear partner of her life! the friend of all she loved in thought or in affection; who had of late redeemed all earlier wrongs by his sweet tenderness and care!

Oh, the joint parent of her fondled little ones, and of those innocent doves in Heaven! The father of—no! not

[blocks in formation]

Hereford now, but plain young Robert Devereux, and of the baby mistresses—alas, no ladies more!

Oh, the noble Earl, the honoured man, the courageous soldier, the chivalrous gentleman, the friend, the patron, the observed of all observers!

Is he condemned as Traytour to his Queen and Country, who hath lost father, brother, in their employ: who hath toiled and suffered in peace and war now thirteen years of his short span of life in their behalf? Is he unfit to live her Grace's vassal still? Is he but her Traytour? Is he, so gentle, lovely—so gracious, kind—so free of heart—so liberal of hand, the general favourite and minion—so dangerous to the Commonwealth as that he must die? Is he his Country's Traytour?

The Countess of Leicester had been nigh the presencechamber day after day. The Queen would not see her; neither read her letters, nor touch her jewelled presents. My Lady had lost one husband and one son in the service of their country. She came to pray another husband and another son might therefore be allowed to live. Her second Lord was most familiar with her Grace. Time was, 'twas said, her Highness did affect him. Yet the Queen would not receive at Court the widow of the great Earl. They were but second cousins, and by the mother's side, Elizabeth Tudor and Lettice Knollys: yet Queen Bess suffered not her kinswoman's visit!

About ten o' th' clock at night cometh one to Eslexhouse, bearing a letter to my Lady Countess. "Hastepost haste "—i' th' corner! The Lady was now a-bed. Presently the gentlewoman rouseth her; who, cutting the thread in a trice, breaketh the seal, astonished.

'Twas from the Lady Scrape, bidding my Lady roundly take cheer, but come quickly: for that the Court had dispersed, and her Majesty had retired. Means should be found for access. "Quick for the quick;" and then an end!

The Countess of Essex strove to rise—to call. Her limbs refused motion at her bidding: her voice uttered not according to her will. Anon, with a thought and a purpose, her heart beat against her ribs hard and slowly. She who had been weak and timid, gat strength and courage. She struck for help. Presently, with little care for apparel, she descends, ordering out the barge. While they man it and bring down cushions, by the light of a pine torch she tottereth into her husband's closet. All is confusion here! She A Petition. 325

searcheth for paper; knowing the Queen would hear no petition on the instant. Much scrutiny had already been made; some burning too. There lay but that roll the Poetaster had left, and some leaves had been torn even from that. The fair, pale hand-writing she noted not. The uncertain light—her own flickering eyelids—what wonder! With a rude pen, thickened ink, she assayed to scratch on a leaf her poor petition; tearing that page out she put it in her bosom. Of her writing one might make out these words: "Pity him, whom if you loved not, loved you. Pity me, whose heart pined in secret, for that wife's affection was openly given to you. Pity our little ones, whose estate hath been ruined in your service!" What else was writ was mere wildness, baldly set down.

She is carried to the boat. The night is cold and starlight —and the breeze coming with the tide refreshes the delicate woman. But how tedious is the way—how slow the rowers! She could see the lights of the Palace—count to her Grace's closet—there, that is it! But how far off still! She is landed at Whitehall, borne in their arms up into the presence chamber. The room is lonely, forsaken now: the fire smouldering in aslies.

One letteth the Lady Scrope know the Countess of Eslex attends the Queen.

The poor woman, overwrought with excitement, faints. An usher kindly bringeth a cup of water. After often sighing she cryeth, and had nigh lost her wits; going off into an hysterical passion. With an effort of the will straightway she sippeth and sippeth.

Some half hour after eleven the Lady Scrope cometh out, pale, anxious, flurried. "Go to!" quoth she. "Go to, Lady !" saith she, as if in a fear or dread. "The Queen is bitter; she hath chidden me sharply. Others have been silenced altogether. She will not see you!"

"She must! she" cried the Countess staggeiing

towards the door.

"Ay, ay!" said the Lady soothingly. "Ay, ay! she must! But a little patience, sweet—a little patience; she is now so sour she would refuse your hope: nay, swear you had angered her to the fact—bethink you!"

"Oh, oh !" groaned the heart-wrung wife.

"Poor Lady—poor Frances! There now, lady dear,


have patience and take cheer; will you, now?" "I'd fain"

« PreviousContinue »