The Moat House

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UNDER the shade of convent towers,
Where fast and vigil mark the hours,
  From childhood into youth there grew
  A maid as fresh as April dew,
And sweet as May's ideal flowers,

Brighter than dawn in wind-swept skies,
Like children's dreams most pure, unwise,
  Yet with a slumbering soul-fire too,
  That sometimes shone a moment through
Her wondrous unawakened eyes.

The nuns, who loved her coldly, meant
The twig should grow as it was bent;
  That she, like them, should watch youth's bier,
  Should watch her day-dreams disappear,
And go the loveless way they went.

The convent walls were high and grey;
How could Love hope to find a way
  Into that citadel forlorn,
  Where his dear name was put to scorn,
Or called a sinful thing to say?

Yet Love did come; what need to tell
Of flowers downcast, that sometimes fell
  Across her feet when dreamily
  She paced, with unused breviary,
Down paths made still with August's spell--

Of looks cast through the chapel grate,
Of letters helped by Love and Fate,
  That to cold fingers did not come
  But lay within a warmer home,
Upon her heart inviolate?

Somehow he loved her--she loved him:
Then filled her soul's cup to the brim,
  And all her daily life grew bright
  With such a flood of rosy light
As turned the altar candles dim.

But love that lights is love that leads,
And lives upon the heart it feeds;
  Soon grew she pale though not less fair,
  And sighed his name instead of prayer,
And told her heart-throbs, not her beads.

How could she find the sunlight fair,
A sunlight that he did not share?
  How could a rose smell sweet within
  The cruel bars that shut her in,
And shut him out while she was there?

He vowed her fealty firm and fast,
Then to the winds her fears she cast;
  They found a way to cheat the bars,
  And in free air, beneath free stars,
Free, and with him, she stood at last.

'Now to some priest,' he said, 'that he
May give thee--blessing us--to me.'
  'No priest,' she cried in doubt and fear,
  'He would divide, not join us, dear.
I am mine--I give myself to thee.

'Since thou and I are mine and thine,
What need to swear it at a shrine?
  Would love last longer if we swore
  That we would love for evermore?
God gives me thee--and thou art mine.'

'God weds us now,' he said, 'yet still
Some day shall we all forms fulfil.
  Eternal truth affords to smile
  At laws wherewith man marks his guile,
Yet law shall join us--when you will.

'So look your last, my love, on these
Forbidding walls and wooing trees.
  Farewell to grief and gloom,' said he;
  'Farewell to childhood's joy,' said she;
But neither said, 'Farewell to peace.' 


  My sweet, my sweet,
  She is complete
From dainty head to darling feet;
  So warm and white,
  So brown and bright,
So made for love and love's delight.

  God could but spare
  One flower so fair,
There is none like her anywhere;
  Beneath wide skies
  The whole earth lies,
But not two other such brown eyes.

  The world we're in,
  If one might win?
Not worth that dimple in her chin
  A heaven to know?
  I'll let that go
But once to see her lids droop low

  Over her eyes,
  By love made wise:
To see her bosom fall and rise
  Is more than worth
  The angels' mirth,
And all the heaven-joys of earth.

  This is the hour
  Which gives me power
To win and wear earth's whitest flower.
  Oh, Love, give grace,
  Through all life's ways
Keep pure this heart, her dwelling place.


The fields were reaped and the pastures bare,
  And the nights grown windy and chill,
When the lovers passed through the beech woods fair,
  And climbed the brow of the hill.
In the hill's spread arm the Moat House lies
  With elm and willow tree;
'And is that your home at last?' she sighs.
  'Our home at last,' laughs he.

Across the bridge and into the hall
  Where the waiting housefolk were.
'This is my lady,' he said to them all,
  And she looked so sweet and fair
That every maid and serving-boy
  God-blessed them then and there,
And wished them luck, and gave them joy,
  For a happy, handsome pair.

And only the old nurse shook her head:
  'Too young,' she said, 'too young.'
She noted that no prayers were read,
  No marriage bells were rung;
No guests were called, no feast was spread,
  As was meet for a marriage tide;
The young lord in the banquet hall broke bread
  Alone with his little bride.

Yet her old heart warmed to the two, and blessed,
  They were both so glad and gay,
By to-morrow and yesterday unoppressed,
  Fulfilled of the joy of to-day;
Like two young birds in that dull old nest,
  So careless of coming care,
So rapt in the other that each possessed,
  The two young lovers were.

He was heir to a stern hard-natured race,
  That had held the Moat House long,
But the gloom of his formal dwelling place
  Dissolved at her voice and song;
So bright, so sweet, to the house she came,
  So winning of way and word,
The household knew her by one pet name,
  'My Lady Ladybird.'

First love so rarely gets leave to bring,
  In our world where money is might,
Its tender buds to blossoming
  With the sun of its own delight.
We love at rose or at vintage prime,
  In the glare and heat of the day,
Forgetting the dawn and the violet time,
  And the wild sweet scent of the may.

These loved like children, like children played,
  The old house laughed with delight
At her song of a voice, at the radiance made
  By her dress's flashing flight.
Up the dark oak stair, through the gallery's gloom,
  She ran like a fairy fleet,
And ever her lover from room to room
  Fast followed her flying feet.

They gathered the buds of the late-lived rose
  In the ordered garden ways,
They walked through the sombre yew-walled close
  And threaded the pine woods maze,
They rode through woods where their horses came
  Knee-deep through the rustling leaves,
Through fields forlorn of the poppies' flame
  And bereft of their golden sheaves.

In the mellow hush of October noon
  They rowed in the flat broad boat,
Through the lily leaves so thickly strewn
  On the sunny side of the moat.
They were glad of the fire of the beech-crowned hill,
  And glad of the pale deep sky,
And the shifting shade that the willows made
  On the boat as she glided by.

They roamed each room of the Moat House through
  And questioned the wraiths of the past,
What legends rare the old dresses knew,
  And the swords, what had wet them last?
What faces had looked through the lozenge panes,
  What shadows darkened the door,
What feet had walked in the jewelled stains
  That the rich glass cast on the floor?

She dressed her beauty in old brocade
  That breathed of loss and regret,
In laces that broken hearts had swayed,
  In the days when the swords were wet;
And the rubies and pearls laughed out and said,
  'Though the lovers for whom we were set,
And the women who loved us, have long been dead,
  Yet beauty and we live yet.'

When the wild white winter's spectral hand
  Effaced the green and the red,
And crushed the fingers brown of the land
  Till they grew death-white instead,
The two found cheer in their dark oak room,
  And their dreams of a coming spring,
For a brighter sun shone through winter's gloom
  Than ever a summer could bring.

They sat where the great fires blazed in the hall,
  Where the wolf-skins lay outspread,
The pictured faces looked down from the wall
  To hear his praise of the dead.
He told her ghostly tales of the past,
  And legends rare of his house,
Till she held her breath at the shade fire-cast,
  And the scamper-rush of the mouse,

Till she dared not turn her head to see
  What shape might stand by her chair--
Till she cried his name, and fled to his knee,
  And safely nestled there.
Then they talked of their journey, the city's crowd,
  Of the convent's faint joy and pain,
Till the ghosts of the past were laid in the shroud
  Of commonplace things again.

So the winter died, and the baby spring,
  With hardly voice for a cry,
And hands too weak the signs to bring
  That all men might know her by,
Yet woke, and breathed through the soft wet air
  The promise of all things dear,
And poets and lovers knew she was there,
  And sang to their hearts, 'She is here.'


Soft is the ground underfoot,
  Soft are the skies overhead,
Green is the ivy round brown hedge root,
  Green is the moss where we tread.

Purple the woods are, and brown;
  The blackbird is glossy and sleek,
He knows that the worms are no more kept down
  By frost out of reach of his beak.

Grey are the sheep in the fold,
  Tired of their turnip and beet,
Dreaming of meadow and pasture and wold,
  And turf the warm rain will make sweet.

Leaves sleep, no bud wakens yet,
  But we know by the song of the sun,
And the happy way that the world smiles, wet,
  That the spring--oh, be glad!--is begun.

What stirs the heart of the tree?
  What stirs the seed the earth bears?
What is it stirring in you and in me
  Longing for summer, like theirs?--

Longing you cannot explain,
  Yearning that baffles me still!
Ah! that each spring should bring longings again
  No summer can ever fulfil! 


When all the world had echoed the song
  That the poet and lover sang,
When 'Glory to spring,' sweet, soft, and strong,
  From the ferny woods outrang,
In wet green meadow, in hollow green,
  The primrose stars outshone,
And the bluebells balanced their drooping sheen
  In copses lovely and lone.

The green earth laughed, full of leaf and flower,
  The sky laughed too, full of sun;
Was this the hour for a parting hour,
  With the heaven of spring just won?
The woods and fields were echoing
  To a chorus of life and bliss.
Oh, hard to sting the face of the spring
  With the smart of a parting kiss!

A kinsman ailing, a summons sent
  To haste to his dying bed.
'Oh, cruel sentence of banishment!
  For my heart says "Go"!' he said.
'So now good-bye to my home, my dear,
  To the spring we watched from its birth;
There is no spring, oh, my sweet, but here,
  'Tis winter all over the earth.

'But I come again, oh, spring of my life,
  You hold the cord in your hand
That will draw me back, oh, my sweetheart wife,
  To the place where your dear feet stand;
But a few short days, and my arms shall be
  Once more round your little head,
And you will be weeping glad tears with me
  On the grave of our parting, dead!

'I leave you my heart for a short short while,
  It will ache if 'tis wrapped in fears;
Keep it safe and warm in the sun of your smile,
  Not wet with the rain of your tears.

Be glad of the joy that shall soon be won,
  Be glad to-day, though we part;
You shall weep for our parting when parting is done,
  And drop your tears on my heart.' 


Good-bye, my love, my only dear, I know your heart is true
And that it lingers here with me while mine fares forth with you.
We part? Our hearts are almost one, and are so closely tied
'Tis yours that stirs my bosom-lace, mine beats against your side.

So not at losing you I grieve, since heart and soul stay here,
But all the gladness of my life, I cry to lose it, dear;
Warmth of the sun, sweet of the rose, night's rest and light of day,
I mourn for these, for if you go, you take them all away.

You are sad too--not at leaving me, whose heart must with you go,
But at the heaven you leave behind--ah, yes--you told me so,
You said wherever you might go you could not ever find
A spring so sweet, love so complete, as these you leave behind.

No future joy will ever pay this moment's bitter ache,
Yet I am glad to be so sad, since it is for your sake.
You take so much, I do but wish that you could take the whole,
Could take me, since you take my rest, my light, my joy, my soul. 


  Oh, love, I leave
  This springtide eve,
When woods in sunset shine blood-red;
  The long road lies
  Before my eyes,
My horse goes on with even tread.

  I dare not turn
  These eyes that burn
Back to the terrace where you lean;
  If I should see
  Your tears for me,
I must turn back to dry them, O my queen!

  Yet I must go,
  Fate has it so,
Duty spoke once, and I obey;
  Sadly I rise,
  Leave paradise,
And turn my face the other way.

  Nothing is dear
  On earth but here,
There is no joy away from you;
  What though there be
  New things to see,
New friends, new faces, and adventures new?

  Yet since I may
  Not with you stay,
Hey for the outer world of life!
  Brace limbs, shake rein,
  And seek again
The hurry, jostle, jar and strife.

  Hey for the new!
  Yet, love, for you--
I have loved you so--the last hand-kiss.
  How vast a world
  Lies here unfurled!
How small, if sweet, home's inner round of bliss!

  The road bends right,
  Leads out of sight,
Here I may turn, nor fear to see;
  So far away,
  One could not say
If you are weeping now for me.

  Behind this eve
  My love I leave,
The big bright world spreads out before;
  Yet will I come,
  To you and home,
Oh, love, and rest beneath your yoke once more. 


She stood upon the terrace, gazing still
  Down the long road to watch him out of sight,
Dry-eyed at first, until the swelling hill
  Hid him. Then turned she to the garden bright,
  Whose ways held memories of lover's laughter,
  And lover's sadness that had followed after,
  Both born of passion's too intense delight.

The garden knew her secrets, and its bowers
  Threw her her secrets back in mocking wise;
''Twas here he buried you in lilac flowers.
  Here while he slept you covered up his eyes
  With primroses. They died; and by that token
  Love, like a flower whose stalk has once been broken,
  Will live no more for all your tears and sighs.'

The sundial that had marked their happy hours
  Cried out to her, 'I know that he is gone;
So many twos have wreathed me round with flowers,
  And always one came afterwards alone,
  And always wept--even as you are weeping.
  The flowers while they lived were cold, shade keeping,
  But always through the tears the sun still shone.'

She left the garden; but the house still more
  Whispered, 'You love him--he has gone away.'
Where fell her single footstep sighed the floor,
  'Another foot than yours fell here to-day.'
  The very hound she stroked looked round and past her,
  Then in her face, and whined, 'Where is our master?'
  The whole house had the same one thing to say.

Empty, without its soul, disconsolate,
  The great house was: through all the rooms went she,
And every room was dark and desolate,
  Nothing seemed good to do or good to see.
  At last, upon the wolf-skins, worn with weeping,
  The old nurse found her, like a tired child, sleeping
  With face tear-stained, and sobbing brokenly.

Wearily went the days, all sad the same,
  Yet each brought its own added heaviness.
Why was it that no letter from him came
  To ease the burden of her loneliness?
  Why did he send no message, word, or greeting,
  To help her forward to their day of meeting,
  No written love--no black and white caress?

At last there came a letter, sweet but brief,
  'He was so busy--had no time for more.'
No time! She had had time enough for grief,
  There never had been so much time before;
  And yet the letter lay within her bosom,
  Pressed closely to her breathing beauty's blossom,
  Worn for a balm, because her heart was sore.

She knew not where he stayed, and so could send,
  Of all the letters that she wrote, not one;
Hour after soft spring hour the child would spend
  In pouring out her soul, for, once begun,
  The tale of all her love and grief flowed over
  Upon the letters that she wrote her lover,
  And that the fire read when the tale was done.

And yet she never doubted he would come,
  If not before, yet when a baby's eyes
Should look for him, when his deserted home
  Should waken to a baby's laughs and cries.
  'He judges best--perhaps he comes to-morrow,
  But come he will, and we shall laugh at sorrow
  When in my arms our little baby lies.'

And in the August days a soft hush fell
  Upon the house--the old nurse kept her place
Beside the little wife--and all was well;
  After rapt anguish came a breathing space,
  And she, mid tears and smiles, white-faced, glad-eyed,
  Felt her wee baby move against her side,
  Kissed its small hands, worshipped its tiny face. 


Oh, baby, baby, baby dear,
We lie alone together here;
The snowy gown and cap and sheet
With lavender are fresh and sweet;
Through half-closed blinds the roses peer
To see and love you, baby dear.

We are so tired, we like to lie
Just doing nothing, you and I,
Within the darkened quiet room.
The sun sends dusk rays through the gloom,
Which is no gloom since you are here,
My little life, my baby dear.

Soft sleepy mouth so vaguely pressed
Against your new-made mother's breast,
Soft little hands in mine I fold,
Soft little feet I kiss and hold,
Round soft smooth head and tiny ear,
All mine, my own, my baby dear.

And he we love is far away!
But he will come some happy day.
You need but me, and I can rest
At peace with you beside me pressed.
There are no questions, longings vain,
No murmuring, nor doubt, nor pain,
Only content and we are here,
My baby dear.



While winged Love his pinions folded in the Moat House by the hill,
In the city there was anger, doubt, distrust, and thoughts of ill;
For his kinsmen, hearing rumours of the life the lovers led,
Wept, and wrung their hands, and sorrowed--'Better that the lad were dead
Than to live thus--he, the son of proudest man and noblest earl--
Thus in open sin with her, a nameless, shameless, foreign girl.'
(Ever when they thus lamented, 'twas the open sin they named,
Till one wondered whether sinning, if less frank, had been less blamed.)
''Tis our duty to reclaim him--mate him to a noble bride
Who shall fitly grace his station, and walk stately by his side--
Gently loose him from the fetters of this siren fair and frail
(In such cases time and absence nearly always will prevail).
He shall meet the Duke's fair daughter--perfect, saintly Lady May--
Beauty is the surest beacon to a young man gone astray!
Not at all precipitately, but with judgment sure and fine,
We will rescue and redeem him from his shameful husks and swine.

So--his uncle's long been ailing (gout and dropsy for his sins)--
Let that serve for pretext; hither bring the youth--his cure begins.'
So they summoned him and welcomed, and their utmost efforts bent
To snatch back a brand from burning and a soul from punishment--
Sought to charm him with their feastings, each more sumptuous than the last,
From his yearning recollections of his very sinful past--
Strove to wipe his wicked doings from his memory's blotted 
By the chaster, purer interests of the ball-room and the stage.
And for Lady May--they hinted to the girl, child-innocent,
That her hand to save the sinner by her Saviour had been sent,
That her voice might bring his voice her Master's triumph choir to swell,
And might save a man from sorrow and a human soul from hell.

So she used her maiden graces, maiden glances, maiden smiles,
To protect the erring pilgrim from the devil's subtle wiles--
Saw him daily, sent him letters, pious verses by the score,
Every angel's trap she baited with her sweet religious lore--
Ventured all she knew, not knowing that her beauty and her youth
Were far better to bait traps with than her odds and ends of truth.
First he listened, vain and flattered that a girl as fair as she
Should be so distinctly anxious for his lost humanity,
Yet determined no attentions, even from the Lady May,
Should delay his home-returning one unnecessary day.
But as she--heart-wrung with pity for his erring soul--grew kind,
Fainter, fainter grew the image of his sweetheart left behind;
Till one day May spoke of sorrow--prayed him to reform--repent,
Urged the festival in heaven over every penitent;
Bold in ignorance, spoke vaguely and low-toned of sin and shame,

And at last her voice, half breathless, faltered, broke upon his name,
And two tears fell from her lashes on the roses at her breast,
Far more potent in their silence than her preaching at its best.
And his weak soul thrilled and trembled at her beauty, and he cried,
'Not for me those priceless tears: I am your slave--you shall decide.'
'Save your soul,' she sighed. 'Was ever man so tempted, tried, before?
It is yours!' and at the word his soul was lost for evermore.
Never woman pure and saintly did the devil's work so well!
Never soul ensnared for heaven took a surer road to hell!
Lady May had gained her convert, loved him, and was satisfied,
And before the last leaves yellowed she would kneel down as his bride.
She was happy, and he struggled to believe that perfidy
Was repentance--reformation was not one with cruelty,

Yet through all congratulations, friends' smiles, lovers' flatteries,
Lived a gnawing recollection of the lost love harmonies.
In the day he crushed it fiercely, kept it covered out of sight,
But it held him by the heart-strings and came boldly out at night:
In the solemn truthful night his soul shrank shuddering from its lies,
And his base self knew its baseness, and looked full in its false eyes.
In the August nights, when all the sky was deep and toneless blue,
And the gold star-points seemed letting the remembered sunlight through,
When the world was hushed and peaceful in the moonlight's searching white,
He would toss and cast his arms out through the silence and the night
To those eyes that through the night and through the silence came again,
Haunting him with the persistence and the passion of their pain.

'Oh, my little love--my sweetheart--oh, our past--our sweet love-day--
Oh, if I were only true--or you were only Lady May!'
But the sunshine scared the vision, and he rose once more love-warm
To the Lady May's perfections and his own proposed reform.
Coward that he was! he could not write and break that loving heart:
To the worn-out gouty kinsman was assigned that pleasing part.
'Say it kindly,' said her lover, 'always friends--I can't forget--
We must meet no more--but give her tenderest thought and all regret;
Bid her go back to the convent--she and I can't meet as friends--
Offer her a good allowance--any terms to make amends
For what nought could make amends for--for my baseness and my sin.
Oh, I know which side the scale this deed of mine will figure in!
Curse reform!--she may forget me--'tis on me the burdens fall,

For I love her only, solely--not the Lady May at all!'
'Patience,' said the uncle, 'patience, this is but the natural pain
When a young man turns from sinning to the paths of grace again.
Your wild oats are sown--you're plighted to the noble Lady May
(Whose estates adjoin your manor in a providential way).
Do your duty, sir, for surely pangs like these are such as win
Pardon and the heavenly blessing on the sinner weaned from sin.' 


Day is fair, and so is she
  Whom so soon I wed;
But the night, when memory
  Guards my sleepless bed,
And with cold hands brings once more
Thorns from rose-sweet days of yore--
  Night I curse and dread.

Day is sweet, as sweet as her
  Girlish tenderness;
But the night, when near me stir
  Rustlings of a dress,
Echoes of a loving tone
Now renounced, forsworn, foregone,
  Night is bitterness.

Day can stir my blood like wine
  Or her beauty's fire,
But at night I burn and pine,
  Torture, turn and tire,
With a longing that is pain,
Just to kiss and clasp again
  Love's one lost desire.

Day is glad and pure and bright,
  Pure, glad, bright as she;
But the sad and guilty night
  Outlives day--for me.
Oh, for days when day and night
Equal balance of delight
  Were alike to me!

In the day I see my feet
  Walk in steadfast wise,
Following my lady sweet
  To her Paradise,
Like some stray-recovered lamb;
But I see the beast I am
  When the night stars rise.

Yet in wedding day there lies
  Magic--so they say;
Ghosts will have no chance to rise
  Near my Lady May.
Vain the hope! In good or ill
Those lost eyes will haunt me still
  Till my dying day. 


Quickly died the August roses, and the kin of Lady May
Dowered her richly, blessed her freely, and announced her wedding day;
And his yearnings and remorses fainter grew as days went on
'Neath the magic of the beauty of the woman he had won;
And less often and less strongly was his fancy caught and crossed
By remembrance of the dearness of the woman he had lost.
Long sweet mornings in the boudoir where the flowers stood about,
Whisperings in the balcony when stars and London lamps came out,

Concerts, flower shows, garden parties, balls and dinners, rides and drives,
All the time-killing distractions of these fashionable lives;
Dreary, joyless as a desert, pleasure's everlasting way,
But enchantment can make lovely even deserts, so they say,
Sandy waste, or waste of London season, where no green leaf grows,
Shone on but by love or passion, each will blossom like the rose!
Came no answer to the letter that announced his marriage day;
But his people wrote that Lady Ladybird had gone away.
So he sent to bid get ready to receive his noble wife.
Two such loving women granted to one man, and in one life!
Though he shuddered to remember with what ghosts the Moat House swarmed--
Ghosts of lovely days and dreamings ere the time when he reformed--
Yet he said, 'She cannot surely greatly care, or I had heard

Some impulsive, passionate pleading, had some sorrowing written word;
She has journeyed to her convent--will be glad as ere I came,
Through her beauty's dear enchantment, to a life of shameless shame;
And the memories of her dearness passion's flaming sword shall slay,
When the Moat House sees the bridal of myself and Lady May!' 


Bright the mellow autumn sunshine glows upon the wedding day;
Lawns are swept from leaves, and doorways are wreathed round with garlands gay,
Flowery arches span the carriage drive from grass again to grass,
Flowers are ready for the flinging when the wedded pair shall pass;
Bells are ringing, clanging, clamouring from the belfry 'mid the trees,
And the sound rings out o'er woodlands, parks and gardens, lawns and leas;

All the village gay with banners waits the signal, 'Here they come!'
To strew flowers, wave hats, drop curtseys, and hurra its 'Welcome home!'
At the gates the very griffins on the posts are wreathed with green.
In their ordered lines wait servants for the pair to pass between;
But among them there is missing more than one familiar face,
And new faces, blank expectant, fill up each vacated place,
And the other servants whisper, 'Nurse would wail to see this day,
It was well she left the service when "my Lady" ran away.'
Louder, clearer ring the joy-bells through the shaken, shattered air,
Till the echoes of them waken in the hillside far and fair;
Level shine the golden sunbeams in the golden afternoon.
In the east the wan ghost rises of the silver harvest moon.

Hark! wheels was it? No, but fancy. Listen! No--yes--can you hear?
Yes, it is the coming carriage rolling nearer and more near!
Till the horse-hoofs strike the roadway, unmistakable and clear!
They are coming! shout your welcome to my lord and lady fair:
May God shower his choicest blessings on the happy wedded pair!
Here they are! the open carriage and surrounding dusty cloud,
Whence he smiles his proud acceptance of the homage of the crowd;
And my lady's sweet face! Bless her! there's a one will help the poor,
Eyes like those could never turn a beggar helpless from her door!
Welcome, welcome! scatter flowers: see, they smile--bow left and right,
Reach the lodge gates--God of heaven! what was that, the flash of white?
Shehas sprung out from the ambush of the smiling, cheering crowd:

'Fling your flowers--here's my welcome!' sharp the cry rings out and loud.
Sudden sight of wild white face, and haggard eyes, and outstretched hands--
Just one heart-beat's space before the bridal pair that figure stands,
Then the horses, past controlling, forward bound, their hoofs down thrust--
And the carriage wheels jolt over something bloody in the dust.
'Stop her! Stop her! Stop the horses!' cry the people all too late,
For my lord and Lady May have had their welcome at their gate.

'Twas the old nurse who sprang to her, raised the brown-haired, dust-soiled head,
Looked a moment, closed the eyelids--then turned to my lord and said,
Kneeling still upon the roadway, with her arm flung round the dead,
While the carriage waited near her, blood and dust upon its wheels
(Ask my lord within to tell you how a happy bridegroom feels):
'Now, my lord, you are contented; you have chosen for your bride
This same fine and dainty lady who is sitting by your side.
Did ye tell her ere this bridal of the girl who bore your shame,
Bore your love-vows--bore your baby--everything except your name?
When they strewed the flowers to greet you, and the banners were unfurled,
She has flung before your feet the sweetest flower in all the world!
Woe's the day I ever nursed you--loved your lisping baby word,
For you grew to name of manhood, and to title of my lord;
Woe's the day you ever saw her, brought her home to wreck her life,
Throwing by your human plaything, to seek out another wife.
God will judge, and I would rather be the lost child lying there,

With your babe's milk in her bosom, your horse-hoof marks on her hair,
Than be you when God shall thunder, when your days on earth are filled,
"Where is she I gave, who loved you, whom you ruined, left and killed?"
Murderer, liar, coward, traitor, look upon your work and say
That your heart is glad within you on your happy wedding day!
And for you, my noble lady, take my blessing on your head,
Though it is not like the blessing maidens look for when they wed.
Never bride had such a welcome, such a flower laid on her way,
As was given you when your carriage crushed her out of life to-day.
Take my blessing--see her body, see what you and he have done--
And I wish you joy, my lady, of the bridegroom you have won.'

Like a beaten cur, that trembles at the whistling of the lash,
He stands listening, hands a-tremble, face as pale as white wood ash;
But the Lady May springs down, her soul shines glorious in her eyes,
Moving through the angry silence comes to where the other lies,
Gazes long upon her silent, but at last she turns her gaze
On the nurse, and lips a-tremble, hands outstretched, she slowly says,
'She is dead--but, but her baby--' all her woman's heart is wild
With an infinite compassion for the little helpless child.
Then she turns to snatch the baby from the arms of one near by,
Holds it fast and looks towards him with a voiceless bitter cry,
As imploring him to loose her from some nightmare's deadly bands.
Dogged looks he down and past her, and she sees and understands,
Then she speaks--'I keep your baby--that's my right in sight of men,
But by God I vow I'll never see your dastard face again.'
So she turned with no word further towards the purple-clouded west,
And passed thither with his baby clasped against her maiden breast.

Little Ladybird was buried in the old ancestral tomb.
From that grave there streams a shadow that wraps up his life in gloom,
And he drags the withered life on, longs for death that will not come,
The interminable night hours riven by that 'Welcome home!'
And he dares not leave this earthly hell of sharp remorse behind,
Lest through death not rest but hotter fire of anguish he should find.
Coward to the last, he will not risk so little for so much,
So he burns, convicted traitor, in the hell self-made of such:
And at night he wakes and shivers with unvanquishable dread
At the ghosts that press each other for a place beside his bed,
And he shudders to remember all the dearness that is dead.


  I had a soul,
Not strong, but following good if good but led.
I might have kept it clean and pure and whole,
And given it up at last, grown strong with days
Of steadfast striving in truth's stern sweet ways;
Instead, I soiled and smutched and smothered it
With poison-flowers it valued not one whit--
  Now it is dead.

  I had a heart
Most true, most sweet, that on my loving fed.
I might have kept her all my life, a part
Of all my life--I let her starve and pine,
Ruined her life and desolated mine.
Sin brushed my lips--I yielded at a touch,
Tempted so little, and I sinned so much,
  And she is dead.

  There was a life
That in my sin I took and chained and wed,
And made--perpetual remorse!--my wife.
In my sin's harvest she must reap her share,
That makes its sheaves less light for me to bear.
Oh, life I might have left to bloom and grow!
I struck its root of happiness one blow,
  And it is dead.

  Once joy I had,
Now I have only agony instead,
That maddens, yet will never send me mad.
The best that comes is numbed half-sick despair,
Remembering how sweet the dear dead were.
My whole life might have been one clear joy song!
Now--oh, my heart, how still life is, how long,
  For joy is dead.

  Yet there is this:
I chose the thorns not grapes, the stones not bread;
I had my chance, they say, to gain or miss.
And yet I feel it was predestinate
From the first hour, from the first dawn of fate,
That I, thus placed, when that hour should arise,
Must act thus, and could not act otherwise.
This is the worst of all that can be said;
  For hope is dead.

© Edith Nesbit