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ELIZABETH AND AMY ROBSART.
BY SIR WALTER SCOTT.
[For biographical sketch, see page 13.)
IT CHANCED upon that memorable morning, that one of the earliest of the huntress train who appeared from her chamber in full array for the Chase, was the Princess for whom all these pleasures were instituted, England's Maiden Queen. I know not if it were by chance, or out of the befitting courtesy due to a mistress by whom he was so much honored, that she had scarcely made one step beyond the threshold of her chamber ere Leicester was by her side, and proposed to her, until the preparations for the Chase had been completed, to view the Pleasance, and the gardens which it connected with the Castleyard.
To this new scene of pleasures they walked, the Earl's arm affording his Sovereign the occasional support which she required, where flights of steps, then a favorite ornament in a garden, conducted them from terrace to terrace, and from parterre to parterre. The ladies in attendance, gifted with prudence, or endowed perhaps with the amiable desire of acting as they would be done by, did not conceive their duty to the Queen's person required them, though they lost not sight of her, to approach so near as to share, or perhaps disturb, the conversation betwixt the Queen and the Earl, who was not only her host but also her most trusted, esteemed, and favored servant. They contented themselves with admiring the grace of this illustrious couple, whose robes of state were now exchanged for hunting suits almost equally magnificent.
Elizabeth's sylvan dress, which was of a pale blue silk, with silver lace and aiguillettes, approached in form to that of the ancient amazons; and was, therefore, well suited at once to her height, and to the dignity of her mien, which her conscious rank and long habits of authority had rendered in some degree too masculine to be seen to the best advantage in ordinary female weeds. Leicester's hunting suit of Lincoln green, richly embroidered with gold, and crossed by the gay baldric, which sustained a bugle horn, and a wood knife instead of a sword, became its master as did his other vestments of court or of war.
The conversation of Elizabeth and the favorite Earl has not reached us in detail. But those who watched at some distance (and the eyes of courtiers and court ladies are right sharp) were of opinion that on no occasion did the dignity of Elizabeth, in gesture and motion, seem so decidedly to soften away into a mien expressive of indecision and tenderness. Her step was not only slow, but even unequal, a thing most unwonted in her carriage; her looks seemed bent on the ground, and there was a timid disposition to withdraw from her companion, which external gesture in females often indicates exactly the opposite tendency in the secret mind. The Duchess of Rutland, who ventured nearest, was even heard to aver that she discerned a tear in Elizabeth's eye, and a blush on the cheek; and still further, “She bent her looks on the ground to avoid mine," said the Duchess; "she who, in her ordinary mood, could look down a lion.” To what conclusion these symptoms led is sufficiently evident; nor were they probably entirely groundless. The progress of private conversation, betwixt two persons of different sexes, is often decisive of their fate, and gives it a turn very different perhaps from what they themselves anticipated. Gallantry becomes mingled with conversation, and affection and passion come gradually to mix with gallantry. Nobles, as well as shepherd swains, will, in such a trying moment, say more than they intended; and Queens, like village maidens, will listen longer than they should.
Horses in the mean while neighed, and champed the bits with impatience in the base court; hounds yelled in their couples, and yeomen, rangers, and prickers lamented the exhaling of the dew, which would prevent the scent from lying. But Leicester had another chase in view, or, to speak more justly toward him, had become engaged in it without premeditation, as the high-spirited hunter which follows the cry of the hounds that have crossed his path by accident. The Queen - an accomplished and handsome woman, the pride of England, the hope of France and Holland, and the dread of Spain — had probably listened with more than usual favor to that mixture of romantic gallantry with which she always loved to be addressed; and the Earl had, in vanity, in ambition, or in both, thrown in more and more of that delicious ingredient, until his importunity became the language of love itself.
• No, Dudley,” said Elizabeth, yet it was with broken accents — “no, I must be the mother of my people. Other ties,
that make the lowly maiden happy, are denied to her Sovereign.
No, Leicester, urge it no more were I as others, free to seek my own happiness — then, indeed — but it cannot not be. — Delay the chase – delay it for half an hour — and leave me, my lord.”
“How, leave you, madam !” said Leicester. — “Has my madness offended you ?”
“ No, Leicester, not so !” answered the Queen, hastily; “but it is madness, and must not be repeated. Go- but go not far from hence and meantime let no one intrude on my privacy."
While she spoke thus, Dudley bowed deeply, and retired with a slow and melancholy air. The Queen stood gazing after him, and murmured to herself - “ Were it possible — were it but possible ! — but no Elizabeth must be the wife and mother of England alone.”
As she spoke thus, and in order to avoid some one whose step she heard approaching, the Queen turned into the grotto in which her hapless and yet but too successful rival lay concealed.
The mind of England's Elizabeth, if somewhat shaken by the agitating interview to which she had just put a period, was of that firm and decided character which soon recovers its natural tone. It was like one of those ancient druidical monuments called Rocking Stones. The finger of Cupid, boy as he is painted, could put her feelings in motion, but the power of Hercules could not have destroyed their equilibrium. As she advanced with a slow pace toward the inmost extremity of the grotto, her countenance, ere she had proceeded half the length, had recovered its dignity of look, and her mien its air of command.
It was then the Queen became aware that a female figure was placed beside, or rather partly behind, an alabaster column, at the foot of which arose the pellucid fountain which occupied the inmost recess of the twilight grotto. The classical mind of Elizabeth suggested the story of Numa and Egeria, and she doubted not that some Italian sculptor had here represented the Naiad whose inspirations gave laws to Rome. As she advanced, she became doubtful whether she beheld a statue or a form of Aesh and blood. The unfortunate Amy, indeed, remained motionless, betwixt the desire which she had to make her condition known to one of her own sex, and her awe for the stately form which approached her, and which, though her eyes had never before beheld, her fears instantly suspected to be the personage she really was. Amy had arisen from her seat with the purpose of addressing the lady who entered the grotto alone, and, as she at first thought, so opportunely. But when she recollected the alarm which Leicester had expressed at the Queen's knowing aught of their union, and became more and more satisfied that the person whom she now beheld was Elizabeth herself, she stood with one foot advanced and one withdrawn, her arms, head, and hands perfectly motionless, and her cheeks as pallid as the ababaster pedestal against which she leaned. Her dress was of pale sea-green silk, little distinguished in that imperfect light, and somewhat resembled the drapery of a Grecian Nymph, such an antique disguise having been thought the most secure, where so many maskers and revelers were assembled; so that the Queen's doubt of her being a living form was justified by all contingent circumstances, as well as by the bloodless cheek and fixed eye.
Elizabeth remained in doubt, even after she had approached within a few paces, whether she did not gaze on a statue so cunningly fashioned that by the doubtful light it could not be distinguished from reality. She stopped, therefore, and fixed upon this interesting object her princely look with so much keenness that the astonishment which had kept Amy immovable gave away to awe, and she gradually cast down her eyes and dropped her head under the commanding gaze of the Sovereign. Still, however, she remained in all respects, saving this slow and profound inclination of the head, motionless and silent.
From her dress, and the casket which she instinctively held in her hand, Elizabeth naturally conjectured that the beautiful but mute figure which she beheld was a performer in one of the various theatrical pageants which had been placed in different situations to surprise her with their homage, and that the poor player, overcome with awe at her presence, had either forgot the part assigned her, or lacked courage to go through it. It was natural and courteous to give her some encouragement; and Elizabeth accordingly said, in a tone of condescending kindness — “ How now, fair Nymph of this lovely grotto — art thou spellbound and struck with dumbness by the wicked enchanter whom men term Fear ? We are his sworn enemy, maiden, and can reverse his charm. Speak, we command thee.” Instead of answering her by speech, the unfortunate Countess dropped on her knee before the Queen, let her casket fall from her hand, and clasping her palms together, looked up in the Queen's face with such a mixed agony of fear and supplication that Elizabeth was considerably affected.
“What may this mean?” she said ; "this is a stronger passion than befits the occasion. Stand up, damsel — what wouldst thou have with us?”
“ Your protection, madam,” faltered forth the unhappy petitioner.
“ Each daughter of England has it while she is worthy of it," replied the Queen ; “but your distress seems to have a deeper root than a forgotten task. Why, and in what, do you crave our protection?”
Amy hastily endeavored to recall what she were best to say, which might secure herself from the imminent dangers that surrounded her, without endangering her husband; and plunging from one thought to another, amidst the chaos which filled her mind, she could at length, in answer to the Queen's repeated inquiries in what she sought protection, only falter out, “ Alas ! I know not.”
“ This is folly, maiden,” said Elizabeth, impatiently; for there was something in the extreme confusion of the suppliant, which irritated her curiosity, as well as interested her feelings. “ The sick man must tell his malady to the physician, nor are WE accustomed to ask questions so oft, without receiving an answer.
“I request - I implore," stammered forth the unfortunate Countess, — "I beseech your gracious protection - against against one Varney.” She choked well-nigh as she uttered the fatal word, which was instantly caught up by the Queen.
“What, Varney, — Sir Richard Varney, — the servant of Lord Leicester ! - What, damsel, are you to him, or he to
“I-I- was his prisoner -- and he practiced on my life and I broke forth to - to
“ To throw thyself on my protection, doubtless,” said Elizabeth. “ Thou shalt have it—that is if thou art worthy; for we will sift this matter to the uttermost. — Thou art,” she said, bending on the Countess an eye which seemed designed to pierce her very inmost soul, — "thou art Amy, daughter of Sir Hugh Robsart of Lidcote Hall ?"