Part 2 out of 3
For your sake, I would go and seek the year,
Faded beyond the purple ranks of dune,
Blown sands of drifted hours, which the moon
Streaks with a ghostly finger, and her sneer
Pulls at my lengthening shadow. Yes, 'tis that!
My shadow stretches forward, and the ground
Is dark in front because the light's behind.
It is grotesque, with such a funny hat,
In watching it and walking I have found
More than enough to occupy my mind.
I cannot turn, the light would make me blind.
The Great Adventure of Max Breuck
A yellow band of light upon the street
Pours from an open door, and makes a wide
Pathway of bright gold across a sheet
Of calm and liquid moonshine. From inside
Come shouts and streams of laughter, and a snatch
Of song, soon drowned and lost again in mirth,
The clip of tankards on a table top,
And stir of booted heels. Against the patch
Of candle-light a shadow falls, its girth
Proclaims the host himself, and master of his shop.
This is the tavern of one Hilverdink,
Jan Hilverdink, whose wines are much esteemed.
Within his cellar men can have to drink
The rarest cordials old monks ever schemed
To coax from pulpy grapes, and with nice art
Improve and spice their virgin juiciness.
Here froths the amber beer of many a brew,
Crowning each pewter tankard with as smart
A cap as ever in his wantonness
Winter set glittering on top of an old yew.
Tall candles stand upon the table, where
Are twisted glasses, ruby-sparked with wine,
Clarets and ports. Those topaz bumpers were
Drained from slim, long-necked bottles of the Rhine.
The centre of the board is piled with pipes,
Slender and clean, the still unbaptized clay
Awaits its burning fate. Behind, the vault
Stretches from dim to dark, a groping way
Bordered by casks and puncheons, whose brass stripes
And bands gleam dully still, beyond the gay tumult.
"For good old Master Hilverdink, a toast!"
Clamoured a youth with tassels on his boots.
"Bring out your oldest brandy for a boast,
From that small barrel in the very roots
Of your deep cellar, man. Why here is Max!
Ho! Welcome, Max, you're scarcely here in time.
We want to drink to old Jan's luck, and smoke
His best tobacco for a grand climax.
Here, Jan, a paper, fragrant as crushed thyme,
We'll have the best to wish you luck, or may we choke!"
Max Breuck unclasped his broadcloth cloak, and sat.
"Well thought of, Franz; here's luck to Mynheer Jan."
The host set down a jar; then to a vat
Lost in the distance of his cellar, ran.
Max took a pipe as graceful as the stem
Of some long tulip, crammed it full, and drew
The pungent smoke deep to his grateful lung.
It curled all blue throughout the cave and flew
Into the silver night. At once there flung
Into the crowded shop a boy, who cried to them:
"Oh, sirs, is there some learned lawyer here,
Some advocate, or all-wise counsellor?
My master sent me to inquire where
Such men do mostly be, but every door
Was shut and barred, for late has grown the hour.
I pray you tell me where I may now find
One versed in law, the matter will not wait."
"I am a lawyer, boy," said Max, "my mind
Is not locked to my business, though 'tis late.
I shall be glad to serve what way is in my power.
Then once more, cloaked and ready, he set out,
Tripping the footsteps of the eager boy
Along the dappled cobbles, while the rout
Within the tavern jeered at his employ.
Through new-burst elm leaves filtered the white moon,
Who peered and splashed between the twinkling boughs,
Flooded the open spaces, and took flight
Before tall, serried houses in platoon,
Guarded by shadows. Past the Custom House
They took their hurried way in the Spring-scented night.
Before a door which fronted a canal
The boy halted. A dim tree-shaded spot.
The water lapped the stones in musical
And rhythmic tappings, and a galliot
Slumbered at anchor with no light aboard.
The boy knocked twice, and steps approached. A flame
Winked through the keyhole, then a key was turned,
And through the open door Max went toward
Another door, whence sound of voices came.
He entered a large room where candelabra burned.
An aged man in quilted dressing gown
Rose up to greet him. "Sir," said Max, "you sent
Your messenger to seek throughout the town
A lawyer. I have small accomplishment,
But I am at your service, and my name
Is Max Breuck, Counsellor, at your command."
"Mynheer," replied the aged man, "obliged
Am I, and count myself much privileged.
I am Cornelius Kurler, and my fame
Is better known on distant oceans than on land.
My ship has tasted water in strange seas,
And bartered goods at still uncharted isles.
She's oft coquetted with a tropic breeze,
And sheered off hurricanes with jaunty smiles."
"Tush, Kurler," here broke in the other man,
"Enough of poetry, draw the deed and sign."
The old man seemed to wizen at the voice,
"My good friend, Grootver, --" he at once began.
"No introductions, let us have some wine,
And business, now that you at last have made your choice."
A harsh and disagreeable man he proved to be,
This Grootver, with no single kindly thought.
Kurler explained, his old hands nervously
Twisting his beard. His vessel he had bought
From Grootver. He had thought to soon repay
The ducats borrowed, but an adverse wind
Had so delayed him that his cargo brought
But half its proper price, the very day
He came to port he stepped ashore to find
The market glutted and his counted profits naught.
Little by little Max made out the way
That Grootver pressed that poor harassed old man.
His money he must have, too long delay
Had turned the usurer to a ruffian.
"But let me take my ship, with many bales
Of cotton stuffs dyed crimson, green, and blue,
Cunningly patterned, made to suit the taste
Of mandarin's ladies; when my battered sails
Open for home, such stores will I bring you
That all your former ventures will be counted waste.
Such light and foamy silks, like crinkled cream,
And indigo more blue than sun-whipped seas,
Spices and fragrant trees, a massive beam
Of sandalwood, and pungent China teas,
Tobacco, coffee!" Grootver only laughed.
Max heard it all, and worse than all he heard
The deed to which the sailor gave his word.
He shivered, 'twas as if the villain gaffed
The old man with a boat-hook; bleeding, spent,
He begged for life nor knew at all the road he went.
For Kurler had a daughter, young and gay,
Carefully reared and shielded, rarely seen.
But on one black and most unfriendly day
Grootver had caught her as she passed between
The kitchen and the garden. She had run
In fear of him, his evil leering eye,
And when he came she, bolted in her room,
Refused to show, though gave no reason why.
The spinning of her future had begun,
On quiet nights she heard the whirring of her doom.
Max mended an old goosequill by the fire,
Loathing his work, but seeing no thing to do.
He felt his hands were building up the pyre
To burn two souls, and seized with vertigo
He staggered to his chair. Before him lay
White paper still unspotted by a crime.
"Now, young man, write," said Grootver in his ear.
"`If in two years my vessel should yet stay
From Amsterdam, I give Grootver, sometime
A friend, my daughter for his lawful wife.' Now swear."
And Kurler swore, a palsied, tottering sound,
And traced his name, a shaking, wandering line.
Then dazed he sat there, speechless from his wound.
Grootver got up: "Fair voyage, the brigantine!"
He shuffled from the room, and left the house.
His footsteps wore to silence down the street.
At last the aged man began to rouse.
With help he once more gained his trembling feet.
"My daughter, Mynheer Breuck, is friendless now.
Will you watch over her? I ask a solemn vow."
Max laid his hand upon the old man's arm,
"Before God, sir, I vow, when you are gone,
So to protect your daughter from all harm
As one man may." Thus sorrowful, forlorn,
The situation to Max Breuck appeared,
He gave his promise almost without thought,
Nor looked to see a difficulty. "Bred
Gently to watch a mother left alone;
Bound by a dying father's wish, who feared
The world's accustomed harshness when he should be dead;
Such was my case from youth, Mynheer Kurler.
Last Winter she died also, and my days
Are passed in work, lest I should grieve for her,
And undo habits used to earn her praise.
My leisure I will gladly give to see
Your household and your daughter prosperous."
The sailor said his thanks, but turned away.
He could not brook that his humility,
So little wonted, and so tremulous,
Should first before a stranger make such great display.
"Come here to-morrow as the bells ring noon,
I sail at the full sea, my daughter then
I will make known to you. 'Twill be a boon
If after I have bid good-by, and when
Her eyeballs scorch with watching me depart,
You bring her home again. She lives with one
Old serving-woman, who has brought her up.
But that is no friend for so free a heart.
No head to match her questions. It is done.
And I must sail away to come and brim her cup.
My ship's the fastest that owns Amsterdam
As home, so not a letter can you send.
I shall be back, before to where I am
Another ship could reach. Now your stipend --"
Quickly Breuck interposed. "When you once more
Tread on the stones which pave our streets. -- Good night!
To-morrow I will be, at stroke of noon,
At the great wharf." Then hurrying, in spite
Of cake and wine the old man pressed upon
Him ere he went, he took his leave and shut the door.
'Twas noon in Amsterdam, the day was clear,
And sunshine tipped the pointed roofs with gold.
The brown canals ran liquid bronze, for here
The sun sank deep into the waters cold.
And every clock and belfry in the town
Hammered, and struck, and rang. Such peals of bells,
To shake the sunny morning into life,
And to proclaim the middle, and the crown,
Of this most sparkling daytime! The crowd swells,
Laughing and pushing toward the quays in friendly strife.
The "Horn of Fortune" sails away to-day.
At highest tide she lets her anchor go,
And starts for China. Saucy popinjay!
Giddy in freshest paint she curtseys low,
And beckons to her boats to let her start.
Blue is the ocean, with a flashing breeze.
The shining waves are quick to take her part.
They push and spatter her. Her sails are loose,
Her tackles hanging, waiting men to seize
And haul them taut, with chanty-singing, as they choose.
At the great wharf's edge Mynheer Kurler stands,
And by his side, his daughter, young Christine.
Max Breuck is there, his hat held in his hands,
Bowing before them both. The brigantine
Bounces impatient at the long delay,
Curvets and jumps, a cable's length from shore.
A heavy galliot unloads on the walls
Round, yellow cheeses, like gold cannon balls
Stacked on the stones in pyramids. Once more
Kurler has kissed Christine, and now he is away.
Christine stood rigid like a frozen stone,
Her hands wrung pale in effort at control.
Max moved aside and let her be alone,
For grief exacts each penny of its toll.
The dancing boat tossed on the glinting sea.
A sun-path swallowed it in flaming light,
Then, shrunk a cockleshell, it came again
Upon the other side. Now on the lee
It took the "Horn of Fortune". Straining sight
Could see it hauled aboard, men pulling on the crane.
Then up above the eager brigantine,
Along her slender masts, the sails took flight,
Were sheeted home, and ropes were coiled. The shine
Of the wet anchor, when its heavy weight
Rose splashing to the deck. These things they saw,
Christine and Max, upon the crowded quay.
They saw the sails grow white, then blue in shade,
The ship had turned, caught in a windy flaw
She glided imperceptibly away,
Drew farther off and in the bright sky seemed to fade.
Home, through the emptying streets, Max took Christine,
Who would have hid her sorrow from his gaze.
Before the iron gateway, clasped between
Each garden wall, he stopped. She, in amaze,
Asked, "Do you enter not then, Mynheer Breuck?
My father told me of your courtesy.
Since I am now your charge, 'tis meet for me
To show such hospitality as maiden may,
Without disdaining rules must not be broke.
Katrina will have coffee, and she bakes today."
She straight unhasped the tall, beflowered gate.
Curled into tendrils, twisted into cones
Of leaves and roses, iron infoliate,
It guards the pleasance, and its stiffened bones
Are budded with much peering at the rows,
And beds, and arbours, which it keeps inside.
Max started at the beauty, at the glare
Of tints. At either end was set a wide
Path strewn with fine, red gravel, and such shows
Of tulips in their splendour flaunted everywhere!
From side to side, midway each path, there ran
A longer one which cut the space in two.
And, like a tunnel some magician
Has wrought in twinkling green, an alley grew,
Pleached thick and walled with apple trees; their flowers
Incensed the garden, and when Autumn came
The plump and heavy apples crowding stood
And tapped against the arbour. Then the dame
Katrina shook them down, in pelting showers
They plunged to earth, and died transformed to sugared food.
Against the high, encircling walls were grapes,
Nailed close to feel the baking of the sun
From glowing bricks. Their microscopic shapes
Half hidden by serrated leaves. And one
Old cherry tossed its branches near the door.
Bordered along the wall, in beds between,
Flickering, streaming, nodding in the air,
The pride of all the garden, there were more
Tulips than Max had ever dreamed or seen.
They jostled, mobbed, and danced. Max stood at helpless stare.
"Within the arbour, Mynheer Breuck, I'll bring
Coffee and cakes, a pipe, and Father's best
Tobacco, brought from countries harbouring
Dawn's earliest footstep. Wait." With girlish zest
To please her guest she flew. A moment more
She came again, with her old nurse behind.
Then, sitting on the bench and knitting fast,
She talked as someone with a noble store
Of hidden fancies, blown upon the wind,
Eager to flutter forth and leave their silent past.
The little apple leaves above their heads
Let fall a quivering sunshine. Quiet, cool,
In blossomed boughs they sat. Beyond, the beds
Of tulips blazed, a proper vestibule
And antechamber to the rainbow. Dyes
Of prismed richness: Carmine. Madder. Blues
Tinging dark browns to purple. Silvers flushed
To amethyst and tinct with gold. Round eyes
Of scarlet, spotting tender saffron hues.
Violets sunk to blacks, and reds in orange crushed.
Of every pattern and in every shade.
Nacreous, iridescent, mottled, checked.
Some purest sulphur-yellow, others made
An ivory-white with disks of copper flecked.
Sprinkled and striped, tasselled, or keenest edged.
Striated, powdered, freckled, long or short.
They bloomed, and seemed strange wonder-moths new-fledged,
Born of the spectrum wedded to a flame.
The shade within the arbour made a port
To o'ertaxed eyes, its still, green twilight rest became.
Her knitting-needles clicked and Christine talked,
This child matured to woman unaware,
The first time left alone. Now dreams once balked
Found utterance. Max thought her very fair.
Beneath her cap her ornaments shone gold,
And purest gold they were. Kurler was rich
And heedful. Her old maiden aunt had died
Whose darling care she was. Now, growing bold,
She asked, had Max a sister? Dropped a stitch
At her own candour. Then she paused and softly sighed.
Two years was long! She loved her father well,
But fears she had not. He had always been
Just sailed or sailing. And she must not dwell
On sad thoughts, he had told her so, and seen
Her smile at parting. But she sighed once more.
Two years was long; 'twas not one hour yet!
Mynheer Grootver she would not see at all.
Yes, yes, she knew, but ere the date so set,
The "Horn of Fortune" would be at the wall.
When Max had bid farewell, she watched him from the door.
The next day, and the next, Max went to ask
The health of Jufvrouw Kurler, and the news:
Another tulip blown, or the great task
Of gathering petals which the high wind strews;
The polishing of floors, the pictured tiles
Well scrubbed, and oaken chairs most deftly oiled.
Such things were Christine's world, and his was she
Winter drew near, his sun was in her smiles.
Another Spring, and at his law he toiled,
Unspoken hope counselled a wise efficiency.
Max Breuck was honour's soul, he knew himself
The guardian of this girl; no more, no less.
As one in charge of guineas on a shelf
Loose in a china teapot, may confess
His need, but may not borrow till his friend
Comes back to give. So Max, in honour, said
No word of love or marriage; but the days
He clipped off on his almanac. The end
Must come! The second year, with feet of lead,
Lagged slowly by till Spring had plumped the willow sprays.
Two years had made Christine a woman grown,
With dignity and gently certain pride.
But all her childhood fancies had not flown,
Her thoughts in lovely dreamings seemed to glide.
Max was her trusted friend, did she confess
A closer happiness? Max could not tell.
Two years were over and his life he found
Sphered and complete. In restless eagerness
He waited for the "Horn of Fortune". Well
Had he his promise kept, abating not one pound.
Spring slipped away to Summer. Still no glass
Sighted the brigantine. Then Grootver came
Demanding Jufvrouw Kurler. His trespass
Was justified, for he had won the game.
Christine begged time, more time! Midsummer went,
And Grootver waxed impatient. Still the ship
Tarried. Christine, betrayed and weary, sank
To dreadful terrors. One day, crazed, she sent
For Max. "Come quickly," said her note, "I skip
The worst distress until we meet. The world is blank."
Through the long sunshine of late afternoon
Max went to her. In the pleached alley, lost
In bitter reverie, he found her soon.
And sitting down beside her, at the cost
Of all his secret, "Dear," said he, "what thing
So suddenly has happened?" Then, in tears,
She told that Grootver, on the following morn,
Would come to marry her, and shuddering:
"I will die rather, death has lesser fears."
Max felt the shackles drop from the oath which he had sworn.
"My Dearest One, the hid joy of my heart!
I love you, oh! you must indeed have known.
In strictest honour I have played my part;
But all this misery has overthrown
My scruples. If you love me, marry me
Before the sun has dipped behind those trees.
You cannot be wed twice, and Grootver, foiled,
Can eat his anger. My care it shall be
To pay your father's debt, by such degrees
As I can compass, and for years I've greatly toiled.
This is not haste, Christine, for long I've known
My love, and silence forced upon my lips.
I worship you with all the strength I've shown
In keeping faith." With pleading finger tips
He touched her arm. "Christine! Beloved! Think.
Let us not tempt the future. Dearest, speak,
I love you. Do my words fall too swift now?
They've been in leash so long upon the brink."
She sat quite still, her body loose and weak.
Then into him she melted, all her soul at flow.
And they were married ere the westering sun
Had disappeared behind the garden trees.
The evening poured on them its benison,
And flower-scents, that only night-time frees,
Rose up around them from the beamy ground,
Silvered and shadowed by a tranquil moon.
Within the arbour, long they lay embraced,
In such enraptured sweetness as they found
Close-partnered each to each, and thinking soon
To be enwoven, long ere night to morning faced.
At last Max spoke, "Dear Heart, this night is ours,
To watch it pale, together, into dawn,
Pressing our souls apart like opening flowers
Until our lives, through quivering bodies drawn,
Are mingled and confounded. Then, far spent,
Our eyes will close to undisturbed rest.
For that desired thing I leave you now.
To pinnacle this day's accomplishment,
By telling Grootver that a bootless quest
Is his, and that his schemes have met a knock-down blow."
But Christine clung to him with sobbing cries,
Pleading for love's sake that he leave her not.
And wound her arms about his knees and thighs
As he stood over her. With dread, begot
Of Grootver's name, and silence, and the night,
She shook and trembled. Words in moaning plaint
Wooed him to stay. She feared, she knew not why,
Yet greatly feared. She seemed some anguished saint
Martyred by visions. Max Breuck soothed her fright
With wisdom, then stepped out under the cooling sky.
But at the gate once more she held him close
And quenched her heart again upon his lips.
"My Sweetheart, why this terror? I propose
But to be gone one hour! Evening slips
Away, this errand must be done." "Max! Max!
First goes my father, if I lose you now!"
She grasped him as in panic lest she drown.
Softly he laughed, "One hour through the town
By moonlight! That's no place for foul attacks.
Dearest, be comforted, and clear that troubled brow.
One hour, Dear, and then, no more alone.
We front another day as man and wife.
I shall be back almost before I'm gone,
And midnight shall anoint and crown our life."
Then through the gate he passed. Along the street
She watched his buttons gleaming in the moon.
He stopped to wave and turned the garden wall.
Straight she sank down upon a mossy seat.
Her senses, mist-encircled by a swoon,
Swayed to unconsciousness beneath its wreathing pall.
Briskly Max walked beside the still canal.
His step was firm with purpose. Not a jot
He feared this meeting, nor the rancorous gall
Grootver would spit on him who marred his plot.
He dreaded no man, since he could protect
Christine. His wife! He stopped and laughed aloud.
His starved life had not fitted him for joy.
It strained him to the utmost to reject
Even this hour with her. His heart beat loud.
"Damn Grootver, who can force my time to this employ!"
He laughed again. What boyish uncontrol
To be so racked. Then felt his ticking watch.
In half an hour Grootver would know the whole.
And he would be returned, lifting the latch
Of his own gate, eager to take Christine
And crush her to his lips. How bear delay?
He broke into a run. In front, a line
Of candle-light banded the cobbled street.
Hilverdink's tavern! Not for many a day
Had he been there to take his old, accustomed seat.
"Why, Max! Stop, Max!" And out they came pell-mell,
His old companions. "Max, where have you been?
Not drink with us? Indeed you serve us well!
How many months is it since we have seen
You here? Jan, Jan, you slow, old doddering goat!
Here's Mynheer Breuck come back again at last,
Stir your old bones to welcome him. Fie, Max.
Business! And after hours! Fill your throat;
Here's beer or brandy. Now, boys, hold him fast.
Put down your cane, dear man. What really vicious whacks!"
They forced him to a seat, and held him there,
Despite his anger, while the hideous joke
Was tossed from hand to hand. Franz poured with care
A brimming glass of whiskey. "Here, we've broke
Into a virgin barrel for you, drink!
Tut! Tut! Just hear him! Married! Who, and when?
Married, and out on business. Clever Spark!
Which lie's the likeliest? Come, Max, do think."
Swollen with fury, struggling with these men,
Max cursed hilarity which must needs have a mark.
Forcing himself to steadiness, he tried
To quell the uproar, told them what he dared
Of his own life and circumstance. Implied
Most urgent matters, time could ill be spared.
In jesting mood his comrades heard his tale,
And scoffed at it. He felt his anger more
Goaded and bursting; -- "Cowards! Is no one loth
To mock at duty --" Here they called for ale,
And forced a pipe upon him. With an oath
He shivered it to fragments on the earthen floor.
Sobered a little by his violence,
And by the host who begged them to be still,
Nor injure his good name, "Max, no offence,"
They blurted, "you may leave now if you will."
"One moment, Max," said Franz. "We've gone too far.
I ask your pardon for our foolish joke.
It started in a wager ere you came.
The talk somehow had fall'n on drugs, a jar
I brought from China, herbs the natives smoke,
Was with me, and I thought merely to play a game.
Its properties are to induce a sleep
Fraught with adventure, and the flight of time
Is inconceivable in swiftness. Deep
Sunken in slumber, imageries sublime
Flatter the senses, or some fearful dream
Holds them enmeshed. Years pass which on the clock
Are but so many seconds. We agreed
That the next man who came should prove the scheme;
And you were he. Jan handed you the crock.
Two whiffs! And then the pipe was broke, and you were freed."
"It is a lie, a damned, infernal lie!"
Max Breuck was maddened now. "Another jest
Of your befuddled wits. I know not why
I am to be your butt. At my request
You'll choose among you one who'll answer for
Your most unseasonable mirth. Good-night
And good-by, -- gentlemen. You'll hear from me."
But Franz had caught him at the very door,
"It is no lie, Max Breuck, and for your plight
I am to blame. Come back, and we'll talk quietly.
You have no business, that is why we laughed,
Since you had none a few minutes ago.
As to your wedding, naturally we chaffed,
Knowing the length of time it takes to do
A simple thing like that in this slow world.
Indeed, Max, 'twas a dream. Forgive me then.
I'll burn the drug if you prefer." But Breuck
Muttered and stared, -- "A lie." And then he hurled,
Distraught, this word at Franz: "Prove it. And when
It's proven, I'll believe. That thing shall be your work.
I'll give you just one week to make your case.
On August thirty-first, eighteen-fourteen,
I shall require your proof." With wondering face
Franz cried, "A week to August, and fourteen
The year! You're mad, 'tis April now.
April, and eighteen-twelve." Max staggered, caught
A chair, -- "April two years ago! Indeed,
Or you, or I, are mad. I know not how
Either could blunder so." Hilverdink brought
"The Amsterdam Gazette", and Max was forced to read.
"Eighteen hundred and twelve," in largest print;
And next to it, "April the twenty-first."
The letters smeared and jumbled, but by dint
Of straining every nerve to meet the worst,
He read it, and into his pounding brain
Tumbled a horror. Like a roaring sea
Foreboding shipwreck, came the message plain:
"This is two years ago! What of Christine?"
He fled the cellar, in his agony
Running to outstrip Fate, and save his holy shrine.
The darkened buildings echoed to his feet
Clap-clapping on the pavement as he ran.
Across moon-misted squares clamoured his fleet
And terror-winged steps. His heart began
To labour at the speed. And still no sign,
No flutter of a leaf against the sky.
And this should be the garden wall, and round
The corner, the old gate. No even line
Was this! No wall! And then a fearful cry
Shattered the stillness. Two stiff houses filled the ground.
Shoulder to shoulder, like dragoons in line,
They stood, and Max knew them to be the ones
To right and left of Kurler's garden. Spine
Rigid next frozen spine. No mellow tones
Of ancient gilded iron, undulate,
Expanding in wide circles and broad curves,
The twisted iron of the garden gate,
Was there. The houses touched and left no space
Between. With glassy eyes and shaking nerves
Max gazed. Then mad with fear, fled still, and left that place.
Stumbling and panting, on he ran, and on.
His slobbering lips could only cry, "Christine!
My Dearest Love! My Wife! Where are you gone?
What future is our past? What saturnine,
Sardonic devil's jest has bid us live
Two years together in a puff of smoke?
It was no dream, I swear it! In some star,
Or still imprisoned in Time's egg, you give
Me love. I feel it. Dearest Dear, this stroke
Shall never part us, I will reach to where you are."
His burning eyeballs stared into the dark.
The moon had long been set. And still he cried:
"Christine! My Love! Christine!" A sudden spark
Pricked through the gloom, and shortly Max espied
With his uncertain vision, so within
Distracted he could scarcely trust its truth,
A latticed window where a crimson gleam
Spangled the blackness, and hung from a pin,
An iron crane, were three gilt balls. His youth
Had taught their meaning, now they closed upon his dream.
Softly he knocked against the casement, wide
It flew, and a cracked voice his business there
Demanded. The door opened, and inside
Max stepped. He saw a candle held in air
Above the head of a gray-bearded Jew.
"Simeon Isaacs, Mynheer, can I serve
You?" "Yes, I think you can. Do you keep arms?
I want a pistol." Quick the old man grew
Livid. "Mynheer, a pistol! Let me swerve
You from your purpose. Life brings often false alarms --"
"Peace, good old Isaacs, why should you suppose
My purpose deadly. In good truth I've been
Blest above others. You have many rows
Of pistols it would seem. Here, this shagreen
Case holds one that I fancy. Silvered mounts
Are to my taste. These letters `C. D. L.'
Its former owner? Dead, you say. Poor Ghost!
'Twill serve my turn though --" Hastily he counts
The florins down upon the table. "Well,
Good-night, and wish me luck for your to-morrow's toast."
Into the night again he hurried, now
Pale and in haste; and far beyond the town
He set his goal. And then he wondered how
Poor C. D. L. had come to die. "It's grown
Handy in killing, maybe, this I've bought,
And will work punctually." His sorrow fell
Upon his senses, shutting out all else.
Again he wept, and called, and blindly fought
The heavy miles away. "Christine. I'm well.
I'm coming. My Own Wife!" He lurched with failing pulse.
Along the dyke the keen air blew in gusts,
And grasses bent and wailed before the wind.
The Zuider Zee, which croons all night and thrusts
Long stealthy fingers up some way to find
And crumble down the stones, moaned baffled. Here
The wide-armed windmills looked like gallows-trees.
No lights were burning in the distant thorps.
Max laid aside his coat. His mind, half-clear,
Babbled "Christine!" A shot split through the breeze.
The cold stars winked and glittered at his chilling corpse.
Sancta Maria, Succurre Miseris
Dear Virgin Mary, far away,
Look down from Heaven while I pray.
Open your golden casement high,
And lean way out beyond the sky.
I am so little, it may be
A task for you to harken me.
O Lady Mary, I have bought
A candle, as the good priest taught.
I only had one penny, so
Old Goody Jenkins let it go.
It is a little bent, you see.
But Oh, be merciful to me!
I have not anything to give,
Yet I so long for him to live.
A year ago he sailed away
And not a word unto today.
I've strained my eyes from the sea-wall
But never does he come at all.
Other ships have entered port
Their voyages finished, long or short,
And other sailors have received
Their welcomes, while I sat and grieved.
My heart is bursting for his hail,
O Virgin, let me spy his sail.
~Hull down on the edge of a sun-soaked sea
Sparkle the bellying sails for me.
Taut to the push of a rousing wind
Shaking the sea till it foams behind,
The tightened rigging is shrill with the song:
"We are back again who were gone so long."~
One afternoon I bumped my head.
I sat on a post and wished I were dead
Like father and mother, for no one cared
Whither I went or how I fared.
A man's voice said, "My little lad,
Here's a bit of a toy to make you glad."
Then I opened my eyes and saw him plain,
With his sleeves rolled up, and the dark blue stain
Of tattooed skin, where a flock of quail
Flew up to his shoulder and met the tail
Of a dragon curled, all pink and green,
Which sprawled on his back, when it was seen.
He held out his hand and gave to me
The most marvellous top which could ever be.
It had ivory eyes, and jet-black rings,
And a red stone carved into little wings,
All joined by a twisted golden line,
And set in the brown wood, even and fine.
Forgive me, Lady, I have not brought
My treasure to you as I ought,
But he said to keep it for his sake
And comfort myself with it, and take
Joy in its spinning, and so I do.
It couldn't mean quite the same to you.
Every day I met him there,
Where the fisher-nets dry in the sunny air.
He told me stories of courts and kings,
Of storms at sea, of lots of things.
The top he said was a sort of sign
That something in the big world was mine.
~Blue and white on a sun-shot ocean.
Against the horizon a glint in motion.
Full in the grasp of a shoving wind,
Trailing her bubbles of foam behind,
Singing and shouting to port she races,
A flying harp, with her sheets and braces.~
O Queen of Heaven, give me heed,
I am in very utmost need.
He loved me, he was all I had,
And when he came it made the sad
Thoughts disappear. This very day
Send his ship home to me I pray.
I'll be a priest, if you want it so,
I'll work till I have enough to go
And study Latin to say the prayers
On the rosary our old priest wears.
I wished to be a sailor too,
But I will give myself to you.
I'll never even spin my top,
But put it away in a box. I'll stop
Whistling the sailor-songs he taught.
I'll save my pennies till I have bought
A silver heart in the market square,
I've seen some beautiful, white ones there.
I'll give up all I want to do
And do whatever you tell me to.
Heavenly Lady, take away
All the games I like to play,
Take my life to fill the score,
Only bring him back once more!
~The poplars shiver and turn their leaves,
And the wind through the belfry moans and grieves.
The gray dust whirls in the market square,
And the silver hearts are covered with care
By thick tarpaulins. Once again
The bay is black under heavy rain.~
The Queen of Heaven has shut her door.
A little boy weeps and prays no more.
After Hearing a Waltz by Bartok
But why did I kill him? Why? Why?
In the small, gilded room, near the stair?
My ears rack and throb with his cry,
And his eyes goggle under his hair,
As my fingers sink into the fair
White skin of his throat. It was I!
I killed him! My God! Don't you hear?
I shook him until his red tongue
Hung flapping out through the black, queer,
Swollen lines of his lips. And I clung
With my nails drawing blood, while I flung
The loose, heavy body in fear.
Fear lest he should still not be dead.
I was drunk with the lust of his life.
The blood-drops oozed slow from his head
And dabbled a chair. And our strife
Lasted one reeling second, his knife
Lay and winked in the lights overhead.
And the waltz from the ballroom I heard,
When I called him a low, sneaking cur.
And the wail of the violins stirred
My brute anger with visions of her.
As I throttled his windpipe, the purr
Of his breath with the waltz became blurred.
I have ridden ten miles through the dark,
With that music, an infernal din,
Pounding rhythmic inside me. Just Hark!
One! Two! Three! And my fingers sink in
To his flesh when the violins, thin
And straining with passion, grow stark.
One! Two! Three! Oh, the horror of sound!
While she danced I was crushing his throat.
He had tasted the joy of her, wound
Round her body, and I heard him gloat
On the favour. That instant I smote.
One! Two! Three! How the dancers swirl round!
He is here in the room, in my arm,
His limp body hangs on the spin
Of the waltz we are dancing, a swarm
Of blood-drops is hemming us in!
Round and round! One! Two! Three! And his sin
Is red like his tongue lolling warm.
One! Two! Three! And the drums are his knell.
He is heavy, his feet beat the floor
As I drag him about in the swell
Of the waltz. With a menacing roar,
The trumpets crash in through the door.
One! Two! Three! clangs his funeral bell.
One! Two! Three! In the chaos of space
Rolls the earth to the hideous glee
Of death! And so cramped is this place,
I stifle and pant. One! Two! Three!
Round and round! God! 'Tis he throttles me!
He has covered my mouth with his face!
And his blood has dripped into my heart!
And my heart beats and labours. One! Two!
Three! His dead limbs have coiled every part
Of my body in tentacles. Through
My ears the waltz jangles. Like glue
His dead body holds me athwart.
One! Two! Three! Give me air! Oh! My God!
One! Two! Three! I am drowning in slime!
One! Two! Three! And his corpse, like a clod,
Beats me into a jelly! The chime,
One! Two! Three! And his dead legs keep time.
Air! Give me air! Air! My God!
Clear, with Light, Variable Winds
The fountain bent and straightened itself
In the night wind,
Blowing like a flower.
It gleamed and glittered,
A tall white lily,
Under the eye of the golden moon.
From a stone seat,
Beneath a blossoming lime,
The man watched it.
And the spray pattered
On the dim grass at his feet.
The fountain tossed its water,
Up and up, like silver marbles.
Is that an arm he sees?
And for one moment
Does he catch the moving curve
Of a thigh?
The fountain gurgled and splashed,
And the man's face was wet.
Is it singing that he hears?
A song of playing at ball?
The moonlight shines on the straight column of water,
And through it he sees a woman,
Tossing the water-balls.
Her breasts point outwards,
And the nipples are like buds of peonies.
Her flanks ripple as she plays,
And the water is not more undulating
Than the lines of her body.
"Come," she sings, "Poet!
Am I not more worth than your day ladies,
Covered with awkward stuffs,
What do you fear in taking me?
Is not the night for poets?
I am your dream,
Recurrent as water,
Gemmed with the moon!"
She steps to the edge of the pool
And the water runs, rustling, down her sides.
She stretches out her arms,
And the fountain streams behind her
Like an opened veil.
* * * * *
In the morning the gardeners came to their work.
"There is something in the fountain," said one.
They shuddered as they laid their dead master
On the grass.
"I will close his eyes," said the head gardener,
"It is uncanny to see a dead man staring at the sun."
The inkstand is full of ink, and the paper lies white and unspotted,
in the round of light thrown by a candle. Puffs of darkness sweep into
the corners, and keep rolling through the room behind his chair. The air
is silver and pearl, for the night is liquid with moonlight.
See how the roof glitters, like ice!
Over there, a slice of yellow cuts into the silver-blue, and beside it stand
two geraniums, purple because the light is silver-blue, to-night.
See! She is coming, the young woman with the bright hair.
She swings a basket as she walks, which she places on the sill,
between the geranium stalks. He laughs, and crumples his paper
as he leans forward to look. "The Basket Filled with Moonlight",
what a title for a book!
The bellying clouds swing over the housetops.
He has forgotten the woman in the room with the geraniums. He is beating
his brain, and in his eardrums hammers his heavy pulse. She sits
on the window-sill, with the basket in her lap. And tap! She cracks a nut.
And tap! Another. Tap! Tap! Tap! The shells ricochet upon the roof,
and get into the gutters, and bounce over the edge and disappear.
"It is very queer," thinks Peter, "the basket was empty, I'm sure.
How could nuts appear from the atmosphere?"
The silver-blue moonlight makes the geraniums purple, and the roof glitters
Five o'clock. The geraniums are very gay in their crimson array.
The bellying clouds swing over the housetops, and over the roofs goes Peter
to pay his morning's work with a holiday.
"Annette, it is I. Have you finished? Can I come?"
Peter jumps through the window.
"Dear, are you alone?"
"Look, Peter, the dome of the tabernacle is done. This gold thread
is so very high, I am glad it is morning, a starry sky would have
seen me bankrupt. Sit down, now tell me, is your story going well?"
The golden dome glittered in the orange of the setting sun. On the walls,
at intervals, hung altar-cloths and chasubles, and copes, and stoles,
and coffin palls. All stiff with rich embroidery, and stitched with
so much artistry, they seemed like spun and woven gems, or flower-buds
new-opened on their stems.
Annette looked at the geraniums, very red against the blue sky.
"No matter how I try, I cannot find any thread of such a red.
My bleeding hearts drip stuff muddy in comparison. Heigh-ho! See my little
pecking dove? I'm in love with my own temple. Only that halo's wrong.
The colour's too strong, or not strong enough. I don't know. My eyes
are tired. Oh, Peter, don't be so rough; it is valuable. I won't do
any more. I promise. You tyrannise, Dear, that's enough. Now sit down
and amuse me while I rest."
The shadows of the geraniums creep over the floor, and begin to climb
the opposite wall.
Peter watches her, fluid with fatigue, floating, and drifting,
and undulant in the orange glow. His senses flow towards her,
where she lies supine and dreaming. Seeming drowned in a golden halo.
The pungent smell of the geraniums is hard to bear.
He pushes against her knees, and brushes his lips across her languid hands.
His lips are hot and speechless. He woos her, quivering, and the room
is filled with shadows, for the sun has set. But she only understands
the ways of a needle through delicate stuffs, and the shock of one colour
on another. She does not see that this is the same, and querulously murmurs
"Peter, I don't want it. I am tired."
And he, the undesired, burns and is consumed.
There is a crescent moon on the rim of the sky.
"Go home, now, Peter. To-night is full moon. I must be alone."
"How soon the moon is full again! Annette, let me stay. Indeed, Dear Love,
I shall not go away. My God, but you keep me starved! You write
`No Entrance Here', over all the doors. Is it not strange, my Dear,
that loving, yet you deny me entrance everywhere. Would marriage
strike you blind, or, hating bonds as you do, why should I be denied
the rights of loving if I leave you free? You want the whole of me,
you pick my brains to rest you, but you give me not one heart-beat.
Oh, forgive me, Sweet! I suffer in my loving, and you know it. I cannot
feed my life on being a poet. Let me stay."
"As you please, poor Peter, but it will hurt me if you do. It will
crush your heart and squeeze the love out."
He answered gruffly, "I know what I'm about."
"Only remember one thing from to-night. My work is taxing and I must
have sight! I MUST!"
The clear moon looks in between the geraniums. On the wall,
the shadow of the man is divided from the shadow of the woman
by a silver thread.
They are eyes, hundreds of eyes, round like marbles! Unwinking, for there
are no lids. Blue, black, gray, and hazel, and the irises are cased
in the whites, and they glitter and spark under the moon. The basket
is heaped with human eyes. She cracks off the whites and throws them away.
They ricochet upon the roof, and get into the gutters, and bounce
over the edge and disappear. But she is here, quietly sitting
on the window-sill, eating human eyes.
The silver-blue moonlight makes the geraniums purple, and the roof shines
How hot the sheets are! His skin is tormented with pricks,
and over him sticks, and never moves, an eye. It lights the sky with blood,
and drips blood. And the drops sizzle on his bare skin, and he smells them
burning in, and branding his body with the name "Annette".
The blood-red sky is outside his window now. Is it blood or fire?
Merciful God! Fire! And his heart wrenches and pounds "Annette!"
The lead of the roof is scorching, he ricochets, gets to the edge,
bounces over and disappears.
The bellying clouds are red as they swing over the housetops.
The air is of silver and pearl, for the night is liquid with moonlight.
How the ruin glistens, like a palace of ice! Only two black holes swallow
the brilliance of the moon. Deflowered windows, sockets without sight.
A man stands before the house. He sees the silver-blue moonlight,
and set in it, over his head, staring and flickering, eyes of geranium red.
In a Castle
Over the yawning chimney hangs the fog. Drip -- hiss -- drip -- hiss --
fall the raindrops on the oaken log which burns, and steams,
and smokes the ceiling beams. Drip -- hiss -- the rain never stops.
The wide, state bed shivers beneath its velvet coverlet. Above, dim,
in the smoke, a tarnished coronet gleams dully. Overhead hammers and chinks
the rain. Fearfully wails the wind down distant corridors, and there comes
the swish and sigh of rushes lifted off the floors. The arras blows sidewise
out from the wall, and then falls back again.
It is my lady's key, confided with much nice cunning, whisperingly.
He enters on a sob of wind, which gutters the candles almost to swaling.
The fire flutters and drops. Drip -- hiss -- the rain never stops.
He shuts the door. The rushes fall again to stillness along the floor.
Outside, the wind goes wailing.
The velvet coverlet of the wide bed is smooth and cold. Above,
in the firelight, winks the coronet of tarnished gold. The knight shivers
in his coat of fur, and holds out his hands to the withering flame.
She is always the same, a sweet coquette. He will wait for her.
How the log hisses and drips! How warm and satisfying will be her lips!
It is wide and cold, the state bed; but when her head lies under the coronet,
and her eyes are full and wet with love, and when she holds out her arms,
and the velvet counterpane half slips from her, and alarms
her trembling modesty, how eagerly he will leap to cover her, and blot himself
beneath the quilt, making her laugh and tremble.
Is it guilt to free a lady from her palsied lord, absent and fighting,
He stirs a booted heel and kicks a rolling coal. His spur clinks
on the hearth. Overhead, the rain hammers and chinks. She is so pure
and whole. Only because he has her soul will she resign herself to him,
for where the soul has gone, the body must be given as a sign. He takes her
by the divine right of the only lover. He has sworn to fight her lord,
and wed her after. Should he be overborne, she will die adoring him, forlorn,
shriven by her great love.
Above, the coronet winks in the darkness. Drip -- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
The arras blows out from the wall, and a door bangs in a far-off hall.
The candles swale. In the gale the moat below plunges and spatters.
Will the lady lose courage and not come?
The rain claps on a loosened rafter.
Is that laughter?
The room is filled with lisps and whispers. Something mutters.
One candle drowns and the other gutters. Is that the rain
which pads and patters, is it the wind through the winding entries
The state bed is very cold and he is alone. How far from the wall
the arras is blown!
Christ's Death! It is no storm which makes these little chuckling sounds.
By the Great Wounds of Holy Jesus, it is his dear lady, kissing and
clasping someone! Through the sobbing storm he hears her love take form
and flutter out in words. They prick into his ears and stun his desire,
which lies within him, hard and dead, like frozen fire. And the little noise
Drip -- hiss -- the rain drops.
He tears down the arras from before an inner chamber's bolted door.
The state bed shivers in the watery dawn. Drip -- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
For the storm never stops.
On the velvet coverlet lie two bodies, stripped and fair in the cold,
grey air. Drip -- hiss -- fall the blood-drops, for the bleeding never stops.
The bodies lie quietly. At each side of the bed, on the floor, is a head.
A man's on this side, a woman's on that, and the red blood oozes along
the rush mat.
A wisp of paper is twisted carefully into the strands of the dead man's hair.
It says, "My Lord: Your wife's paramour has paid with his life
for the high favour."
Through the lady's silver fillet is wound another paper. It reads,
"Most noble Lord: Your wife's misdeeds are as a double-stranded
necklace of beads. But I have engaged that, on your return,
she shall welcome you here. She will not spurn your love as before,
you have still the best part of her. Her blood was red, her body white,
they will both be here for your delight. The soul inside was a lump of dirt,
I have rid you of that with a spurt of my sword point. Good luck
to your pleasure. She will be quite complaisant, my friend, I wager."
The end was a splashed flourish of ink.
Hark! In the passage is heard the clink of armour, the tread of a heavy man.
The door bursts open and standing there, his thin hair wavering
in the glare of steely daylight, is my Lord of Clair.
Over the yawning chimney hangs the fog. Drip -- hiss -- drip -- hiss --
fall the raindrops. Overhead hammers and chinks the rain which never stops.
The velvet coverlet is sodden and wet, yet the roof beams are tight.
Overhead, the coronet gleams with its blackened gold, winking and blinking.
Among the rushes three corpses are growing cold.
In the castle church you may see them stand,
Two sumptuous tombs on either hand
Of the choir, my Lord's and my Lady's, grand
In sculptured filigrees. And where the transepts of the church expand,
A crusader, come from the Holy Land,
Lies with crossed legs and embroidered band.
The page's name became a brand
For shame. He was buried in crawling sand,
After having been burnt by royal command.
The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde
The Bell in the convent tower swung.
High overhead the great sun hung,
A navel for the curving sky.
The air was a blue clarity.
And a cock crew.
The iron clanging sank through the light air,
Rustled over with blowing branches. A flare
Of spotted green, and a snake had gone
Into the bed where the snowdrops shone
In green new-started,
Their white bells parted.
Two by two, in a long brown line,
The nuns were walking to breathe the fine
Bright April air. They must go in soon
And work at their tasks all the afternoon.
But this time is theirs!
They walk in pairs.
First comes the Abbess, preoccupied
And slow, as a woman often tried,
With her temper in bond. Then the oldest nun.
Then younger and younger, until the last one
Has a laugh on her lips,
And fairly skips.
They wind about the gravel walks
And all the long line buzzes and talks.
They step in time to the ringing bell,
With scarcely a shadow. The sun is well
In the core of a sky
Sister Marguerite said: "The pears will soon bud."
Sister Angelique said she must get her spud
And free the earth round the jasmine roots.
Sister Veronique said: "Oh, look at those shoots!
There's a crocus up,
With a purple cup."
But Sister Clotilde said nothing at all,
She looked up and down the old grey wall
To see if a lizard were basking there.
She looked across the garden to where
Flanked the garden door.
She was restless, although her little feet danced,
And quite unsatisfied, for it chanced
Her morning's work had hung in her mind
And would not take form. She could not find
For the Virgin's dress.
Should it be of pink, or damasked blue?
Or perhaps lilac with gold shotted through?
Should it be banded with yellow and white
Roses, or sparked like a frosty night?
Or a crimson sheen
Over some sort of green?
But Clotilde's eyes saw nothing new
In all the garden, no single hue
So lovely or so marvellous
That its use would not seem impious.
So on she walked,
And the others talked.
Sister Elisabeth edged away
From what her companion had to say,
For Sister Marthe saw the world in little,
She weighed every grain and recorded each tittle.
She did plain stitching
And worked in the kitchen.
"Sister Radegonde knows the apples won't last,
I told her so this Friday past.
I must speak to her before Compline."
Her words were like dust motes in slanting sunshine.
The other nun sighed,
With her pleasure quite dried.
Suddenly Sister Berthe cried out:
"The snowdrops are blooming!" They turned about.
The little white cups bent over the ground,
And in among the light stems wound
A crested snake,
With his eyes awake.
His body was green with a metal brightness
Like an emerald set in a kind of whiteness,
And all down his curling length were disks,
Evil vermilion asterisks,
They paled and flooded
As wounds fresh-blooded.
His crest was amber glittered with blue,
And opaque so the sun came shining through.
It seemed a crown with fiery points.
When he quivered all down his scaly joints,
From every slot
The sparkles shot.
The nuns huddled tightly together, fear
Catching their senses. But Clotilde must peer
More closely at the beautiful snake,
She seemed entranced and eased. Could she make
Colours so rare,
The dress were there.
The Abbess shook off her lethargy.
"Sisters, we will walk on," said she.
Sidling away from the snowdrop bed,
The line curved forwards, the Abbess ahead.
Was the last to yield.
When the recreation hour was done
Each went in to her task. Alone
In the library, with its great north light,
Clotilde wrought at an exquisite
Wreath of flowers
For her Book of Hours.
She twined the little crocus blooms
With snowdrops and daffodils, the glooms
Of laurel leaves were interwoven
With Stars-of-Bethlehem, and cloven
Whose colour varies.
They framed the picture she had made,
Half-delighted and half-afraid.
In a courtyard with a lozenged floor
The Virgin watched, and through the arched door
The angel came
Like a springing flame.
His wings were dipped in violet fire,
His limbs were strung to holy desire.
He lowered his head and passed under the arch,
And the air seemed beating a solemn march.
The Virgin waited
With eyes dilated.
Her face was quiet and innocent,
And beautiful with her strange assent.
A silver thread about her head
Her halo was poised. But in the stead
Of her gown, there remained
The vellum, unstained.
Clotilde painted the flowers patiently,
Lingering over each tint and dye.
She could spend great pains, now she had seen
That curious, unimagined green.
A colour so strange
It had seemed to change.
She thought it had altered while she gazed.
At first it had been simple green; then glazed
All over with twisting flames, each spot
A molten colour, trembling and hot,
And every eye
Seemed to liquefy.
She had made a plan, and her spirits danced.
After all, she had only glanced
At that wonderful snake, and she must know
Just what hues made the creature throw
Those splashes and sprays
Of prismed rays.
When evening prayers were sung and said,
The nuns lit their tapers and went to bed.
And soon in the convent there was no light,
For the moon did not rise until late that night,
Only the shine
Of the lamp at the shrine.
Clotilde lay still in her trembling sheets.
Her heart shook her body with its beats.
She could not see till the moon should rise,
So she whispered prayers and kept her eyes
On the window-square
Till light should be there.
The faintest shadow of a branch
Fell on the floor. Clotilde, grown staunch
With solemn purpose, softly rose
And fluttered down between the rows
Of sleeping nuns.
She almost runs.
She must go out through the little side door
Lest the nuns who were always praying before
The Virgin's altar should hear her pass.
She pushed the bolts, and over the grass
The red moon's brim
Mounted its rim.
Her shadow crept up the convent wall
As she swiftly left it, over all
The garden lay the level glow
Of a moon coming up, very big and slow.
The gravel glistened.
She stopped and listened.
It was still, and the moonlight was getting clearer.
She laughed a little, but she felt queerer
Than ever before. The snowdrop bed
Was reached and she bent down her head.
On the striped ground
The snake was wound.
For a moment Clotilde paused in alarm,
Then she rolled up her sleeve and stretched out her arm.
She thought she heard steps, she must be quick.
She darted her hand out, and seized the thick
Only just in time.
The old gardener came muttering down the path,
And his shadow fell like a broad, black swath,
And covered Clotilde and the angry snake.
He bit her, but what difference did that make!
The Virgin should dress
In his loveliness.
The gardener was covering his new-set plants
For the night was chilly, and nothing daunts
Your lover of growing things. He spied
Something to do and turned aside,
And the moonlight streamed
On Clotilde, and gleamed.
His business finished the gardener rose.
He shook and swore, for the moonlight shows
A girl with a fire-tongued serpent, she
Grasping him, laughing, while quietly
Her eyes are weeping.
Is he sleeping?
He thinks it is some holy vision,
Brushes that aside and with decision
Jumps -- and hits the snake with his stick,
Crushes his spine, and then with quick,
Takes her hand.
The gardener sucks the poison and spits,
Cursing and praying as befits
A poor old man half out of his wits.
"Whatever possessed you, Sister, it's
Hatched of a devil
And very evil.
It's one of them horrid basilisks
You read about. They say a man risks
His life to touch it, but I guess I've sucked it
Out by now. Lucky I chucked it
Away from you.
I guess you'll do."
"Oh, no, Francois, this beautiful beast
Was sent to me, to me the least
Worthy in all our convent, so I
Could finish my picture of the Most High
And Holy Queen,
In her dress of green.
He is dead now, but his colours won't fade
At once, and by noon I shall have made
The Virgin's robe. Oh, Francois, see
How kindly the moon shines down on me!
I can't die yet,
For the task was set."
"You won't die now, for I've sucked it away,"
Grumbled old Francois, "so have your play.
If the Virgin is set on snake's colours so strong, --"
"Francois, don't say things like that, it is wrong."
So Clotilde vented
Her creed. He repented.
"He can't do no more harm, Sister," said he.
"Paint as much as you like." And gingerly
He picked up the snake with his stick. Clotilde
Thanked him, and begged that he would shield
Her secret, though itching
To talk in the kitchen.
The gardener promised, not very pleased,
And Clotilde, with the strain of adventure eased,
Walked quickly home, while the half-high moon
Made her beautiful snake-skin sparkle, and soon
In her bed she lay
And waited for day.
At dawn's first saffron-spired warning
Clotilde was up. And all that morning,
Except when she went to the chapel to pray,
She painted, and when the April day
Was hot with sun,
Clotilde had done.
Done! She drooped, though her heart beat loud
At the beauty before her, and her spirit bowed
To the Virgin her finely-touched thought had made.
A lady, in excellence arrayed,
Christ's Blessed Mould!
From long fasting Clotilde felt weary and faint,
But her eyes were starred like those of a saint
Enmeshed in Heaven's beatitude.
A sudden clamour hurled its rude
Force to break
Her vision awake.
The door nearly leapt from its hinges, pushed
By the multitude of nuns. They hushed
When they saw Clotilde, in perfect quiet,
Smiling, a little perplexed at the riot.
And all the hive
Buzzed "She's alive!"
Old Francois had told. He had found the strain
Of silence too great, and preferred the pain
Of a conscience outraged. The news had spread,
And all were convinced Clotilde must be dead.
For Francois, to spite them,
Had not seen fit to right them.
The Abbess, unwontedly trembling and mild,
Put her arms round Clotilde and wept, "My child,
Has the Holy Mother showed you this grace,
To spare you while you imaged her face?
How could we have guessed
Our convent so blessed!
A miracle! But Oh! My Lamb!
To have you die! And I, who am
A hollow, living shell, the grave
Is empty of me. Holy Mary, I crave
To be taken, Dear Mother,
Instead of this other."
She dropped on her knees and silently prayed,
With anguished hands and tears delayed
To a painful slowness. The minutes drew
To fractions. Then the west wind blew
The sound of a bell,
On a gusty swell.
It came skipping over the slates of the roof,
And the bright bell-notes seemed a reproof
To grief, in the eye of so fair a day.
The Abbess, comforted, ceased to pray.
And the sun lit the flowers
In Clotilde's Book of Hours.
It glistened the green of the Virgin's dress
And made the red spots, in a flushed excess,
Pulse and start; and the violet wings
Of the angel were colour which shines and sings.
The book seemed a choir
Of rainbow fire.
The Abbess crossed herself, and each nun
Did the same, then one by one,
They filed to the chapel, that incensed prayers
Might plead for the life of this sister of theirs.
Clotilde, the Inspired!
She only felt tired.
* * * * *
The old chronicles say she did not die
Until heavy with years. And that is why
There hangs in the convent church a basket
Of osiered silver, a holy casket,
And treasured therein
A dried snake-skin.
The Exeter Road
Panels of claret and blue which shine
Under the moon like lees of wine.
A coronet done in a golden scroll,
And wheels which blunder and creak as they roll
Through the muddy ruts of a moorland track.
They daren't look back!
They are whipping and cursing the horses. Lord!
What brutes men are when they think they're scored.
Behind, my bay gelding gallops with me,
In a steaming sweat, it is fine to see
That coach, all claret, and gold, and blue,
Hop about and slue.
They are scared half out of their wits, poor souls.
For my lord has a casket full of rolls
Of minted sovereigns, and silver bars.
I laugh to think how he'll show his scars
In London to-morrow. He whines with rage
In his varnished cage.
My lady has shoved her rings over her toes.
'Tis an ancient trick every night-rider knows.
But I shall relieve her of them yet,
When I see she limps in the minuet
I must beg to celebrate this night,
And the green moonlight.
There's nothing to hurry about, the plain
Is hours long, and the mud's a strain.
My gelding's uncommonly strong in the loins,
In half an hour I'll bag the coins.
'Tis a clear, sweet night on the turn of Spring.
The chase is the thing!
How the coach flashes and wobbles, the moon
Dripping down so quietly on it. A tune
Is beating out of the curses and screams,
And the cracking all through the painted seams.
Steady, old horse, we'll keep it in sight.
'Tis a rare fine night!
There's a clump of trees on the dip of the down,
And the sky shimmers where it hangs over the town.
It seems a shame to break the air
In two with this pistol, but I've my share
Of drudgery like other men.
His hat? Amen!
Hold up, you beast, now what the devil!
Confound this moor for a pockholed, evil,
Rotten marsh. My right leg's snapped.
'Tis a mercy he's rolled, but I'm nicely capped.
A broken-legged man and a broken-legged horse!
They'll get me, of course.
The cursed coach will reach the town
And they'll all come out, every loafer grown
A lion to handcuff a man that's down.
What's that? Oh, the coachman's bulleted hat!
I'll give it a head to fit it pat.
Thank you! No cravat.
~They handcuffed the body just for style,
And they hung him in chains for the volatile
Wind to scour him flesh from bones.
Way out on the moor you can hear the groans
His gibbet makes when it blows a gale.
'Tis a common tale.~
Paul Jannes was working very late,
For this watch must be done by eight
To-morrow or the Cardinal
Would certainly be vexed. Of all
His customers the old prelate
Was the most important, for his state
Descended to his watches and rings,
And he gave his mistresses many things