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Leicester was silent, but bent his head toward the countess, as an intimation that she was at liberty to proceed.
“There hath been but one cause for all these evils, my lord,” she proceeded; "and it resolves itself into the mysterious duplicity with which you have been induced to surround yourself. Extricate yourself at once, my lord, from the tyranny of these disgraceful trammels. Take your ill-fated wife by the hand, lead her to the footstool of Elizabeth's throne; say, that 'in a moment of infatuation moved by supposed beauty, of which none perhaps can now trace even the remains, I gave my hand to this Amy Robsart.' You will then have done justice to me, my lord, and to your own honor; and should law or power require you to part from me, I will oppose no objection, since then I may with honor hide a grieved and broken heart in those shades from which your love withdrew me. Then-have but a little patience,--and Amy's life will not long darken your brighter prospects."
There was so much of dignity, so much of tenderness in the countess's remonstrance, that it moved all that was noble and generous in the soul of her husband. The scales seemed to fall from his eyes, and the duplicity of which he had been guilty, stung him at once with remorse and shame.
“I am not worthy of you, Amy,” he said, “that could weigh aught which ambition has to give against such a heart as thine! I have a bitter penance to perform, in disentangling, before sneering foes and astounded friends, all the meshes of my own deceitful policy. And the queen-but let her take my head, as she has threatened!”
“Your head, my lord!” said the countess; “because you use the freedom and liberty of an English subject in choosing a wife? For shame; it is this distrust of the queen's justice, this misapprehension of danger, which cannot but be imaginary, that, like scarecrows, have induced you to forsake the straightforward path, which, as it is the best, is also the safest.”
“Ah, Amy, thou little knowest!” said Dudley; but instantly checking himself, he added, “yet she shall not find in me a safe or easy victim of arbitrary vengeance-I have friends—I have
allies—I will not, like Norfolk, be dragged to the block, as a victim to sacrifice. Fear not, Amy; thou shalt see Dudley bear himself worthy of his name. I must instantly communicate with some of those friends on whom I can best rely; for, as things stand, I may be made prisoner in my own castle."
“O my good lord,” said Amy, “make no faction in a peaceful state! There is no friend can help us so well as our own candid truth and honor. Bring but these to our assistance, and you are safe amidst a whole army of the envious and malignant. "Leave these behind you, and all other defence will be fruitless. Truth, my noble lord, is well painted unarmed.”
“But Wisdom, Amy,” answered Leicester, “is arrayed in panoply of proof. Argue not with me on the means I shall use to render my confession as safe as may be; it will be fraught with enough of danger, do what we will.–Varney, we must hence.Farewell, Amy, whom I am to vindicate as mine own, at an expense and risk of which thou alone couldst be worthy! You shall soon hear further from me.”
He embraced her fervently, muffled himself as before, and accompanied Varney from the apartment.
'HE woman still was young and should be fair. The lamps
Of London flaring through the foggy damps,
Glare up and down the gray streets ghostily,
And the long roaring of loud wheels rolls by.
The bridge is reached at last. She stops,
The shadowy stream beneath it slides and drops;
Some tempter whispered, “ There's an end of long distress,
Leap down! leap in! ’tis but one anguish more or less.”
“Ah no! ah no! for Willie waits for me at home,
And will not sleep all night till I am come;
And he is sick, poor man! No work to-day,
No work to-morrow. And the rent to pay.
But winter's worst is o’er in March. Who knows?
The times might mend." Then through her thoughts uprose
The menacing image of this night's need,
“No work; two little mouths to feed,
And Willie sick! And how to pay
To-morrow's rent ?” She plucked herself away
From the bewildering river, and again
Strayed onward through the endless rain.
Gray and grisly gleamed the long, blind wall
Of that grim institute, the work-house.
She shuddered, 'twas a thought
Only that made her shudder, till she caught
Her foot against a heap of something strange,
Wet and soft, which made that shudder change
To one of physical terror. 'Twas as though
The multitudinous mud, to scare her so,
Had heaped itself into a hideous heap,
Not human sure, but living. With a creep
The thing, whate'er it was her chance foot spurned,
Began to move, like humid earth upturned.
At last she timidly drew near,
And whispered faintly, in the creature's ear,
Have you no home?” No look even made reply,
Much less a word. But on the stolid sky
The stolid face stared ever. “Are you cold ?”
A sort of inward creepy movement rolled
The rustled rags. “Are you hungry?”
There at once
Finding intensest utterance for the nonce,
With such a howl 'twould chill your blood to hear,
The wolf-jaws wailed out: “Hungry? ha!”
She, whose faint question such shrill response awoke,
Stood stupefied, stunned, sick. Just then there broke
Down the dim street a loud shout, “Stop thief! stop thief!”
Bringing to her sick senses instant relief.
A man rushed by those women,-as he passed,
Dropped something on the pavement, and was fast
Wrapped in the thick vapors of the night
That in a moment smeared him out of sight,
And, in a moment after, let
The trampling crowd; which all in haste to urge
Its honest chase, swept o'er those women twain,
Regardless, and rushed on into the rain,
Leaving them both upon the slippery flags,
Bruised, trampled; rags in colloquy with rags,
And so, alone. Meanwhile the woeful face
Resettled to its customary place,
Was staring as before, into the sky,
Stolid. The other woman heavily
Gathered herself together, bruised, in pain,
Half rose up, slipped on something, and again
Sank feebly back upon her hand. But now
What new emotion shakes her ? Doth she know
What this is, that her fingers on the stone
Have felt, and, feeling, close so fiercely on?
This pocket-book, with gold enough within
To feed. Alas! and must it be a sin
To keep it? ... Were it possible to pay
With what its very robber flings away
For bread! bread! bread! and not starve, yet still
Be honest! ... Were one doing very ill ?
She bent o'er her grim companion, in whose ear
She muttered, hoarse and quick, “Make haste! see here
There's bread enough for all of us! Get up!
Quick! quick and come away! Tonight we'll sup,
To-morrow we'll not starve; another day,
Another, and then let come what may!
Off! off!” No answer. In the dark look
No gleam of light. Vehemently the woman shook
That miserable mass of rags. It let
Itself be shaken. It did not strive to get
Up or away; said naught. "It is late, late! come! ”
No answer. Those lean jaws were locked and dumb.
Then o'er the living woman's face there spread
Death's hue reflected. Late! too late!” she said,
"O heaven, to die thus!” With a broken wail,
She turned and fled fast, fast. Fled whither ? Pale
Through the thick vagueness of the vaporous night,
From the dark alley, with a clouded light,
Two rheumy, melancholy lampions flare;
They are the eyes of the police. In there she fled,
Down the dark archway, through the greasy door,
Passionately pushing past some three or four
Complacent constables. At a dingy table sat
Rapidly writing, spectacled, severe, the magistrate.
In fear of seeing it again, she shut her eyes
And flung it down there. With sedate surprise,
The man looked up. “Because I do not know
The owner, sir,” she said. “A while ago
I found it. And there's money in it,-much,
Oh, so much money, sir!” A hungry touch
Of the defeated tempter made her wince
To see him count it. Such a short time since
She, too, had done the same. “ Your name? Address ? "
From the last one could easy tell her wretchedness.
“Honest and poor. Deserves a large reward;
No doubt, there'll be one." "Ah, the times are hard,
So hard, God help us all! and, sir, indeed
We are so poor. Two little mouths to feed.
If one could only get some work to do!”
"Ah, married ? out of work ? and children ? two ?
Mem. Let the owner know, if found. Good-night."
But still she stood there. He had turned to write.