In The Days Of Crinoline
A plain tilt-bonnet on her head
She took the path across the leaze.
- Her spouse the vicar, gardening, said,
'Too dowdy that, for coquetries,
So I can hoe at ease.'
But when she had passed into the heath,
And gained the wood beyond the flat,
She raised her skirts, and from beneath
Unpinned and drew as from a sheath
An ostrich-feathered hat.
And where the hat had hung she now
Concealed and pinned the dowdy hood,
And set the hat upon her brow,
And thus emerging from the wood
Tripped on in jaunty mood.
The sun was low and crimson-faced
As two came that way from the town,
And plunged into the wood untraced….
When separately therefrom they paced
The sun had quite gone down.
The hat and feather disappeared,
The dowdy hood again was donned,
And in the gloom the fair one neared
Her home and husband dour, who conned
Calmly his blue-eyed blonde.
'To-day,' he said, 'you have shown good sense,
A dress so modest and so meek
Should always deck your goings hence
Alone.' And as a recompense
He kissed her on the cheek.
The Moth-Signal (On Egdon Heath)
'What are you still, still thinking,
He asked in vague surmise,
'That you stare at the wick unblinking
With those great lost luminous eyes?'
'O, I see a poor moth burning
In the candle-flame,' said she,
'Its wings and legs are turning
To a cinder rapidly.'
'Moths fly in from the heather,'
He said, 'now the days decline.'
'I know,' said she. 'The weather,
I hope, will at last be fine.
'I think,' she added lightly,
'I'll look out at the door.
The ring the moon wears nightly,
May be visible now no more.
She rose, and, little heeding,
Her husband then went on
With his attentive reading
In the annals of ages gone.
Outside the house a figure
Came from the tumulus near,
And speedily waxed bigger,
And clasped and called her Dear.
'I saw the pale-winged token
You sent through the crack,' sighed she.
'That moth is burnt and broken
With which you lured out me.
'And were I as the moth is
It might be better far
For one whose marriage troth is
Shattered as potsherds are!'
Then grinned the Ancient Briton
From the tumulus treed with pine:
'So, hearts are thwartly smitten
In these days as in mine!'
Her Late Husband (King's-Hintock, 182-.)
"No--not where I shall make my own;
But dig his grave just by
The woman's with the initialed stone -
As near as he can lie -
After whose death he seemed to ail,
Though none considered why.
"And when I also claim a nook,
And your feet tread me in,
Bestow me, under my old name,
Among my kith and kin,
That strangers gazing may not dream
I did a husband win."
"Widow, your wish shall be obeyed;
Though, thought I, certainly
You'd lay him where your folk are laid,
And your grave, too, will be,
As custom hath it; you to right,
And on the left hand he."
"Aye, sexton; such the Hintock rule,
And none has said it nay;
But now it haps a native here
Eschews that ancient way . . .
And it may be, some Christmas night,
When angels walk, they'll say:
"'O strange interment! Civilized lands
Afford few types thereof;
Here is a man who takes his rest
Beside his very Love,
Beside the one who was his wife
In our sight up above!'"
The Slow Nature
(an Incident of Froom Valley)
"THY husband--poor, poor Heart!--is dead--
Dead, out by Moreford Rise;
A bull escaped the barton-shed,
Gored him, and there he lies!"
--"Ha, ha--go away! 'Tis a tale, methink,
Thou joker Kit!" laughed she.
"I've known thee many a year, Kit Twink,
And ever hast thou fooled me!"
--"But, Mistress Damon--I can swear
Thy goodman John is dead!
And soon th'lt hear their feet who bear
His body to his bed."
So unwontedly sad was the merry man's face--
That face which had long deceived--
That she gazed and gazed; and then could trace
The truth there; and she believed.
She laid a hand on the dresser-ledge,
And scanned far Egdon-side;
And stood; and you heard the wind-swept sedge
And the rippling Froom; till she cried:
"O my chamber's untidied, unmade my bed,
Though the day has begun to wear!
'What a slovenly hussif!' it will be said,
When they all go up my stair!"
She disappeared; and the joker stood
Depressed by his neighbor's doom,
And amazed that a wife struck to widowhood
Thought first of her unkempt room.
But a fortnight thence she could take no food,
And she pined in a slow decay;
While Kit soon lost his mournful mood
And laughed in his ancient way.
A Woman's Fancy
'Ah Madam; you've indeed come back here?
'Twas sad-your husband's so swift death,
And you away! You shouldn't have left him:
It hastened his last breath.'
'Dame, I am not the lady you think me;
I know not her, nor know her name;
I've come to lodge here-a friendless woman;
My health my only aim.'
She came; she lodged. Wherever she rambled
They held her as no other than
The lady named; and told how her husband
Had died a forsaken man.
So often did they call her thuswise
Mistakenly, by that man's name,
So much did they declare about him,
That his past form and fame
Grew on her, till she pitied his sorrow
As if she truly had been the cause-
Yea, his deserter; and came to wonder
What mould of man he was.
'Tell me my history!' would exclaim she;
'OUR history,' she said mournfully.
'But YOU know, surely, Ma'am?' they would answer,
Much in perplexity.
Curious, she crept to his grave one evening,
And a second time in the dusk of the morrow;
Then a third time, with crescent emotion
Like a bereaved wife's sorrow.
No gravestone rose by the rounded hillock;
-'I marvel why this is?' she said.
- 'He had no kindred, Ma'am, but you near.'
-She set a stone at his head.
She learnt to dream of him, and told them:
'In slumber often uprises he,
And says: 'I am joyed that, after all, Dear,
You've not deserted me!'
At length died too this kinless woman,
As he had died she had grown to crave;
And at her dying she besought them
To bury her in his grave.
Such said, she had paused; until she added:
'Call me by his name on the stone,
As I were, first to last, his dearest,
Not she who left him lone!'
And this they did. And so it became there
That, by the strength of a tender whim,
The stranger was she who bore his name there,
Not she who wedded him.
A forward rush by the lamp in the gloom,
And we clasped, and almost kissed;
But she was not the woman whom
I had promised to meet in the thawing brume
On that harbour-bridge; nor was I he of her tryst.
So loosening from me swift she said:
"O why, why feign to be
The one I had meant - to whom I have sped
To fly with, being so sorrily wed,"
'Twas thus and thus that she upbraided me.
My assignation had struck upon
Some others' like it, I found.
And her lover rose on the night anon;
And then her husband entered on
The lamplit, snowflaked, sloppiness around.
"Take her and welcome, man!" he cried:
"I wash my hands of her.
I'll find me twice as good a bride!"
- All this to me, whom he had eyed,
Plainly, as his wife's planned deliverer.
And next the lover: "Little I knew,
Madam, you had a third!
Kissing here in my very view!"
- Husband and lover then withdrew.
I let them; and I told them not they erred.
Why not? Well, there faced she and I -
Two strangers who'd kissed, or near,
Chancewise. To see stand weeping by
A woman once embraced, will try
The tension of a man the most austere.
So it began; and I was young,
She pretty, by the lamp,
As flakes came waltzing down among
The waves of her clinging hair, that hung
Heavily on her temples, dark and damp.
And there alone still stood we two;
She once cast off for me,
Or so it seemed: while night ondrew,
Forcing a parley what should do
We twain hearts caught in one catastrophe.
In stranded souls a common strait
Wakes latencies unknown,
Whose impulse may precipitate
A life-long leap. The hour was late,
And there was the Jersey boat with its funnel agroan.
"Is wary walking worth much pother?"
It grunted, as still it stayed.
"One pairing is as good as another
Where is all venture! Take each other,
And scrap the oaths that you have aforetime made."
- Of the four involved there walks but one
On earth at this late day.
And what of the chapter so begun?
In that odd complex what was done?
Well; happiness comes in full to none:
Let peace lie on lulled lips: I will not say.
UPON a noon I pilgrimed through
A pasture, mile by mile,
Unto the place where I last saw
My dead Love's living smile.
And sorrowing I lay me down
Upon the heated sod:
It seemed as if my body pressed
The very ground she trod.
I lay, and thought; and in a trance
She came and stood me by--
The same, even to the marvellous ray
That used to light her eye.
"You draw me, and I come to you,
My faithful one," she said,
In voice that had the moving tone
It bore in maidenhead.
She said: "'Tis seven years since I died:
Few now remember me;
My husband clasps another bride;
My children mothers she.
My brethren, sisters, and my friends
Care not to meet my sprite:
Who prized me most I did not know
Till I passed down from sight."
I said: "My days are lonely here;
I need thy smile alway:
I'll use this night my ball or blade,
And join thee ere the day."
A tremor stirred her tender lips,
Which parted to dissuade:
"That cannot be, O friend," she cried;
"Think, I am but a Shade!
"A Shade but in its mindful ones
By living, me you keep alive,
By dying you slay me.
"In you resides my single power
Of sweet continuance here;
On your fidelity I count
Through many a coming year."
--I started through me at her plight,
So suddenly confessed:
Dismissing late distaste for life,
I craved its bleak unrest.
"I will not die, my One of all!--
To lengthen out thy days
I'll guard me from minutest harms
That may invest my ways!"
She smiled and went. Since then she comes
Oft when her birth-moon climbs,
Or at the seasons' ingresses
Or anniversary times;
But grows my grief. When I surcease,
Through whom alone lives she,
Ceases my Love, her words, her ways,
Never again to be!
THE sun had wheeled from Grey's to Dammer's Crest,
And still I mused on that Thing imminent:
At length I sought the High-street to the West.
The level flare raked pane and pediment
And my wrecked face, and shaped my nearing friend
Like one of those the Furnace held unshent.
"I've news concerning her," he said. "Attend.
They fly to-night at the late moon's first gleam:
Watch with thy steel: two righteous thrusts will end
"Her shameless visions and his passioned dream.
I'll watch with thee, to testify thy wrong--
To aid, maybe--Law consecrates the scheme."
I started, and we paced the flags along
Till I replied: "Since it has come to this
I'll do it! But alone. I can be strong."
Three hours past Curfew, when the Froom's mild hiss
Reigned sole, undulled by whirr of merchandise,
From Pummery-Tout to where the Gibbet is,
I crossed my pleasaunce hard by Glyd'path Rise,
And stood beneath the wall. Eleven strokes went,
And to the door they came, contrariwise,
And met in clasp so close I had but bent
My lifted blade upon them to have let
Their two souls loose upon the firmament.
But something held my arm. "A moment yet
As pray-time ere you wantons die!" I said;
And then they saw me. Swift her gaze was set
With eye and cry of love illimited
Upon her Heart-king. Never upon me
Had she thrown look of love so thorough-sped!...
At once she flung her faint form shieldingly
On his, against the vengeance of my vows;
The which o'erruling, her shape shielded he.
Blanked by such love, I stood as in a drowse,
And the slow moon edged from the upland nigh,
My sad thoughts moving thuswise: "I may house
"And I may husband her, yet what am I
But licensed tyrant to this bonded pair?
Says Charity, Do as ye would be done by."...
Hurling my iron to the bushes there,
I bade them stay. And, as if brain and breast
Were passive, they walked with me to the stair.
Inside the house none watched; and on we prest
Before a mirror, in whose gleam I read
Her beauty, his,--and mine own mien unblest;
Till at her room I turned. "Madam," I said,
"Have you the wherewithal for this? Pray speak.
Love fills no cupboard. You'll need daily bread."
"We've nothing, sire," said she, "and nothing seek.
'Twere base in me to rob my lord unware;
Our hands will earn a pittance week by week."
And next I saw she'd piled her raiment rare
Within the garde-robes, and her household purse,
Her jewels, and least lace of personal wear;
And stood in homespun. Now grown wholly hers,
I handed her the gold, her jewells all,
And him the choicest of her robes diverse.
"I'll take you to the doorway in the wall,
And then adieu," I to them. "Friends, withdraw."
They did so; and she went--beyond recall.
And as I paused beneath the arch I saw
Their moonlit figures--slow, as in surprise--
Descend the slope, and vanish on the haw.
"'Fool,' some will say," I thought. "But who is wise,
Save God alone, to weigh my reasons why?"
--"Hast thou struck home?" came with the boughs' night-sighs.
It was my friend. "I have struck well. They fly,
But carry wounds that none can cicatrize."
--"Not mortal?" said he. "Lingering--worse," said I.
Her Death And After
'TWAS a death-bed summons, and forth I went
By the way of the Western Wall, so drear
On that winter night, and sought a gate--
The home, by Fate,
Of one I had long held dear.
And there, as I paused by her tenement,
And the trees shed on me their rime and hoar,
I thought of the man who had left her lone--
Him who made her his own
When I loved her, long before.
The rooms within had the piteous shine
The home-things wear which the housewife miss;
From the stairway floated the rise and fall
Of an infant's call,
Whose birth had brought her to this.
Her life was the price she would pay for that whine--
For a child by the man she did not love.
"But let that rest forever," I said,
And bent my tread
To the chamber up above.
She took my hand in her thin white own,
And smiled her thanks--though nigh too weak--
And made them a sign to leave us there;
Then faltered, ere
She could bring herself to speak.
"'Twas to see you before I go--he'll condone
Such a natural thing now my time's not much--
When Death is so near it hustles hence
All passioned sense
Between woman and man as such!
"My husband is absent. As heretofore
The City detains him. But, in truth,
He has not been kind.... I will speak no blame,
But--the child is lame;
O, I pray she may reach his ruth!
"Forgive past days--I can say no more--
Maybe if we'd wedded you'd now repine!...
But I treated you ill. I was punished. Farewell!
--Truth shall I tell?
Would the child were yours and mine!
"As a wife I was true. But, such my unease
That, could I insert a deed back in Time,
I'd make her yours, to secure your care;
And the scandal bear,
And the penalty for the crime!"
--When I had left, and the swinging trees
Rang above me, as lauding her candid say,
Another was I. Her words were enough:
Came smooth, came rough,
I felt I could live my day.
Next night she died; and her obsequies
In the Field of Tombs, by the Via renowned,
Had her husband's heed. His tendance spent,
I often went
And pondered by her mound.
All that year and the next year whiled,
And I still went thitherward in the gloam;
But the Town forgot her and her nook,
And her husband took
Another Love to his home.
And the rumor flew that the lame lone child
Whom she wished for its safety child of mine,
Was treated ill when offspring came
Of the new-made dame,
And marked a more vigorous line.
A smarter grief within me wrought
Than even at loss of her so dear;
Dead the being whose soul my soul suffused,
Her child ill-used,
I helpless to interfere!
One eve as I stood at my spot of thought
In the white-stoned Garth, brooding thus her wrong,
Her husband neared; and to shun his view
By her hallowed mew
I went from the tombs among
To the Cirque of the Gladiators which faced--
That haggard mark of Imperial Rome,
Whose Pagan echoes mock the chime
Of our Christian time:
It was void, and I inward clomb.
Scarce had night the sun's gold touch displaced
From the vast Rotund and the neighboring dead
When her husband followed; bowed; half-passed,
With lip upcast;
Then, halting, sullenly said:
"It is noised that you visit my first wife's tomb.
Now, I gave her an honored name to bear
While living, when dead. So I've claim to ask
By what right you task
My patience by vigiling there?
"There's decency even in death, I assume;
Preserve it, sir, and keep away;
For the mother of my first-born you
Show mind undue!
--Sir, I've nothing more to say."
A desperate stroke discerned I then--
God pardon--or pardon not--the lie;
She had sighed that she wished (lest the child should pine
Of slights) 'twere mine,
So I said: "But the father I.
"That you thought it yours is the way of men;
But I won her troth long ere your day:
You learnt how, in dying, she summoned me?
'Twas in fealty.
--Sir, I've nothing more to say,
"Save that, if you'll hand me my little maid,
I'll take her, and rear her, and spare you toil.
Think it more than a friendly act none can;
I'm a lonely man,
While you've a large pot to boil.
"If not, and you'll put it to ball or blade--
To-night, to-morrow night, anywhen--
I'll meet you here.... But think of it,
And in season fit
Let me hear from you again."
--Well, I went away, hoping; but nought I heard
Of my stroke for the child, till there greeted me
A little voice that one day came
To my window-frame
And babbled innocently:
"My father who's not my own, sends word
I'm to stay here, sir, where I belong!"
Next a writing came: "Since the child was the fruit
Of your passions brute,
Pray take her, to right a wrong."
And I did. And I gave the child my love,
And the child loved me, and estranged us none.
But compunctions loomed; for I'd harmed the dead
By what I'd said
For the good of the living one.
--Yet though, God wot, I am sinner enough,
And unworthy the woman who drew me so,
Perhaps this wrong for her darling's good
She forgives, or would,
If only she could know!
The Dance At The Phoenix
TO Jenny came a gentle youth
From inland leazes lone;
His love was fresh as apple-blooth
By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone.
And duly he entreated her
To be his tender minister,
And call him aye her own.
Fair Jenny's life had hardly been
A life of modesty;
At Casterbridge experience keen
Of many loves had she
From scarcely sixteen years above:
Among them sundry troopers of
The King's-Own Cavalry.
But each with charger, sword, and gun,
Had bluffed the Biscay wave;
And Jenny prized her gentle one
For all the love he gave.
She vowed to be, if they were wed,
His honest wife in heart and head
From bride-ale hour to grave.
Wedded they were. Her husband's trust
In Jenny knew no bound,
And Jenny kept her pure and just,
Till even malice found
No sin or sign of ill to be
In one who walked so decently
The duteous helpmate's round.
Two sons were born, and bloomed to men,
And roamed, and were as not:
Alone was Jenny left again
As ere her mind had sought
A solace in domestic joys,
And ere the vanished pair of boys
Were sent to sun her cot.
She numbered near on sixty years,
And passed as elderly,
When, in the street, with flush of fears,
On day discovered she,
From shine of swords and thump of drum,
Her early loves from war had come,
The King's Own Cavalry.
She turned aside, and bowed her head
Anigh Saint Peter's door;
"Alas for chastened thoughts!" she said;
"I'm faded now, and hoar,
And yet those notes--they thrill me through,
And those gay forms move me anew
As in the years of yore!"...
--'Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn
Was lit with tapers tall,
For thirty of the trooper men
Had vowed to give a ball
As "Theirs" had done (fame handed down)
When lying in the self-same town
Ere Buonaparté's fall.
That night the throbbing "Soldier's Joy,"
The measured tread and sway
Of "Fancy-Lad" and "Maiden Coy,"
Reached Jenny as she lay
Beside her spouse; till springtide blood
Seemed scouring through her like a flood
That whisked the years away.
She rose, and rayed, and decked her head
To hide her ringlets thin;
Upon her cap two bows of red
She fixed with hasty pin;
Unheard descending to the street,
She trod the flags with tune-led feet,
And stood before the Inn.
Save for the dancers', not a sound
Disturbed the icy air;
No watchman on his midnight round
Or traveller was there;
But over All-Saints', high and bright,
Pulsed to the music Sirius white,
The Wain by Bullstake Square.
She knocked, but found her further stride
Checked by a sergeant tall:
"Gay Granny, whence come you?" he cried;
"This is a private ball."
--"No one has more right here than me!
Ere you were born, man," answered she,
"I knew the regiment all!"
"Take not the lady's visit ill!"
Upspoke the steward free;
"We lack sufficient partners still,
So, prithee let her be!"
They seized and whirled her 'mid the maze,
And Jenny felt as in the days
Of her immodesty.
Hour chased each hour, and night advanced;
She sped as shod with wings;
Each time and every time she danced--
Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings:
They cheered her as she soared and swooped
(She'd learnt ere art in dancing drooped
From hops to slothful swings).
The favorite Quick-step "Speed the Plough"--
(Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)--
"The Triumph," "Sylph," "The Row-dow dow,"
Famed "Major Malley's Reel,"
"The Duke of York's," "The Fairy Dance,"
"The Bridge of Lodi" (brought from France),
She beat out, toe and heel.
The "Fall of Paris" clanged its close,
And Peter's chime told four,
When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose
To seek her silent door.
They tiptoed in escorting her,
Lest stroke of heel or chink of spur
Should break her goodman's snore.
The fire that late had burnt fell slack
When lone at last stood she;
Her nine-and-fifty years came back;
She sank upon her knee
Beside the durn, and like a dart
A something arrowed through her heart
In shoots of agony.
Their footsteps died as she leant there,
Lit by the morning star
Hanging above the moorland, where
The aged elm-rows are;
And, as o'ernight, from Pummery Ridge
To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge
No life stirred, near or far.
Though inner mischief worked amain,
She reached her husband's side;
Where, toil-weary, as he had lain
Beneath the patchwork pied
When yestereve she'd forthward crept,
And as unwitting, still he slept
Who did in her confide.
A tear sprang as she turned and viewed
His features free from guile;
She kissed him long, as when, just wooed.
She chose his domicile.
Death menaced now; yet less for life
She wished than that she were the wife
That she had been erstwhile.
Time wore to six. Her husband rose
And struck the steel and stone;
He glanced at Jenny, whose repose
Seemed deeper than his own.
With dumb dismay, on closer sight,
He gathered sense that in the night,
Or morn, her soul had flown.
When told that some too mighty strain
For one so many-yeared
Had burst her bosom's master-vein,
His doubts remained unstirred.
His Jenny had not left his side
Betwixt the eve and morning-tide:
--The King's said not a word.
Well! times are not as times were then,
Nor fair ones half so free;
And truly they were martial men,
The King's-Own Cavalry.
And when they went from Casterbridge
And vanished over Mellstock Ridge,
'Twas saddest morn to see.