The Apple Girl
Queen Elizabeth’s little talkative maid
Came out of nowhere — just strayed
Like a petal of apple-bloom into the sly, starched Court.
A peasant, unknown,
Eyes bright, cheeks pink, and a tongue
So honest — so palpably young.
Since her Majesty’s chamber ranks high as her Majesty’s throne,
At first it was thought
This was some creature of Leicester’s. But there was the dew
Of her youth sparkling up, till the wariest time-server knew
There was nothing to gain by pressing the Apple Girl’s hand,
Filling her pockets — the child wouldn’t understand;
Might run to her mistress, and tell;
Then weep, like as not, when the gamester’s head fell.
Safest to leave her alone.
But it happened like this. One smoke-blue evening, early
In a frost-chiselled August, with the pearly
Moonrise just settled, faint plumes on the lapping Thames water,
The Queen was pleased to enter a cottager’s garden,
To chat with the cottager’s daughter,
A Queen and a child — alone.
Nothing there for a throne
Save the rough-hewn chair;
(Yes – there were apple-trees,
And the drifts of moonlight thawed whiter than snow on these.)
Her Majesty, being unknown,
Heard gossip no courtier would dare
Bring to her presence. Not Leicester himself might seek pardon
For such quick-tongued, innocent trifles, thrown
Like a cowslip ball by a girl in a cottage garden.
Elizabeth, dreaming in moonlight, thought, "So; here’s Truth."
And her set, rouged mouth grew kindlier. "Youth, ah, Youth!"
There were dews of evening dark on her Majesty’s dress
When her Majesty’s gentlemen galloped, in fine distress,
Up to the little garden, again and again
Having hunted their royal quarry through covert and lane.
A child sank down, eyes swimming: "Ah, Majesty! . . ."
But the Queen’s arm circled her shoulder. "Truth, stay with me."
Why did she leave the Court?
She was not to be flattered — bought —
All the swift, stale tricks, and she stayed unspoiled;
Leicester was ever near,
With that smile, just too courtly to sneer,
That mien, just too great to be little.
The Queen’s worn patience (for she was in love), grew brittle.
Was there not something soiled
In his manner, his dark red cloak?
"I have bought you perhaps too dear,
Truth . . . and the whole was a joke,
Just that." Back to a garden of russet leaves
Go the flushed young face, the grey eyes, candid as Eve’s,
The heart that ever believes.
The Queen sat twisting her hands: "I shall deal with their spies —
But I cannot keep lies and the Truth. And I love you, Lies."