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The Lady of La Garaye. Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877.
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page: 29

THE LADY OF LA GARAYE.

PART I.

  • ON Dinan’s walls the morning sunlight plays,
  • Gilds the stern fortress with a crown of rays,
  • Shines on the children’s heads that troop to school,
  • Turns into beryl‐brown the forest pool,
  • Sends diamond sparkles over gushing springs,
  • And showers down glory on the simplest things.
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  • And many a young seigneur and damsel bold
  • See with delight those beams of reddening gold,
  • For they are bid to join the hunt to‐day
  • By Claud Marot, the lord of La Garaye;
  • And merry is it in his spacious halls;
  • Cheerful the host, whatever sport befalls,
  • Cheerful and courteous, full of manly grace,
  • His heart’s frank welcome written in his face;
  • So eager, that his pleasure never cloys,
  • But glad to share whatever he enjoys;
  • Rich, liberal, gaily dressed, of noble mien,
  • Clear eyes,—full curving mouth,—and brow serene;
  • Master of speech in many a foreign tongue,
  • And famed for feats of arms, although so young;
  • Dexterous in fencing, skilled in horsemanship—
  • His voice and hand preferred to spur or whip;
  • Quick at a jest and smiling repartee,
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  • With a sweet laugh that sounded frank and free,
  • But holding Satire an accursèd thing,
  • A poisoned javelin or a serpent’s sting;
  • Pitiful to the poor; of courage high;
  • A soul that could all turns of fate defy
  • Gentle to women: reverent to old age:
  • What more, young Claud, could men’s esteem engage?
  • What more be given to bless thine earthy state,
  • Save Love,—which still must crown the happiest fate!
  • Love, therefore, came. That sunbeam lit his life
  • And where he wooed, he won, a gentle wife
  • Born, like himself, of lineage brave and good;
  • And, like himself, of warm and eager mood;
  • Glad to share gladness, pleasure to impart,
  • With dancing spirits and a tender heart.
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  • Pleased too to share the manlier sports which made
  • The joy of his young hours. No more afraid
  • Of danger, than the seabird, used to soar
  • From the high rocks above the ocean’s roar,
  • Which dips its slant wing in the wave’s white crest,
  • And deems the foamy undulations, rest.
  • Nor think the feminine beauty of her soul
  • Tarnished by yielding to such joy’s control;
  • Nor that the form which, like a flexile reed,
  • Swayed with the movements of her bounding steed,
  • Took from those graceful hours a rougher force,
  • Or left her nature masculine and coarse.
  • She was not bold from boldness, but from love;
  • Bold from gay frolic; glad with him to rove
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  • In danger or in safety, weal or woe,
  • And where he ventured, still she yearned to go.
  • Bold with the courage of his bolder life,
  • At home a tender and submissive wife;
  • Abroad, a woman, modest,—ay, and proud;
  • Not seeking homage from the casual crowd.
  • She remained pure, that darling of his sight,
  • In spite of boyish feats, and rash delight;
  • Still the eyes fell before an insolent look,
  • Or flashed their bright and innocent rebuke;
  • Still the cheek kept its delicate youthful bloom,
  • And the blush reddened through the snow‐white plume.
  • He that had seen her, with her courage high,
  • First in the chase where all dashed rapid by;
  • He that had watched her bright impetuous look
  • When she prepared to leap the silver brook,—
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  • Fair in her Springtime as a branch of May,—
  • Had felt the dull sneer feebly die away,
  • And unused kindly smiles upon his cold lips play!
  • God made all pleasure innocent; but man
  • Turns them to shame, since first our earth began
  • To shudder ’neath the stroke of delving tools
  • When Eve and Adam lost,—poor tempted fools,—
  • The sweet safe shelter of their Eden bowers,
  • Its easy wealth of sun‐ripe fruits and flowers,
  • For some forbidden zest that was not given,
  • Some riotous hope to make a mimic heaven,
  • And sank,—from being wingless angels,—low
  • Into the depths of mean and abject woe.
  • Why should the sweet elastic sense of joy
  • Presage a fault? Why should the pleasure cloy,
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  • Or turn to blame, which Heaven itself inspires,
  • Who gave us health and strength and all desires?
  • The children play, and sin not;—let the young
  • Still carol songs, as others too have sung;
  • Still urge the fiery courser o’er the plain,
  • Proud of his glossy sides and flowing mane;
  • Still, when they meet in careless hours of mirth,
  • Laugh, as if Sorrow were unknown to earth;
  • Prattling sweet nothings, which, like buds of flowers,
  • May turn to earnest thoughts and vigilant hours.
  • What boys can suffer, and weak women dare,
  • Let Indian and Crimean wastes declare:
  • Perchance in that gay group of laughers stand
  • Guides and defenders for our native land;—
  • Folly it is to see a wit in woe,
  • And hold youth sinful for the spirits’ flow.
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  • As thro’ the meadow lands clear rivers run,
  • Blue in the shadow—silver in the sun—
  • Till, rolling by some pestilential source,
  • Some factory work whose wheels with horrid force
  • Strike the pure waters with their dripping beams,
  • Send poison gushing to the crystal streams,
  • And leave the innocent things to whom God gave
  • A natural home in that translucent wave
  • Gasping strange death, and floating down to show
  • The evil working in the depths below,—
  • So man can poison pleasure at its source;
  • Clog the swift sparkle of its rapid course,
  • Mix muddy morbid thoughts in vicious strife,
  • Till to the surface floats the death of life;—
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  • But not the less the stream itself was pure—
  • And not the less may blameless joy endure.
  • Careless,—but not impure,—the joyous days
  • Passed in a rapturous whirl; a giddy maze,
  • Where the young Count and lovely Countess drew
  • A new delight from every pleasure new.
  • They woke to gladness as the morning broke;
  • Their very voices kept, whene’er they spoke,
  • A ring of joy, a harmony of life,
  • That made you bless the husband and the wife.
  • And every day the careless festal throng,
  • And every night the dance and feast and song,
  • Shared with young boon companions, marked the time
  • As with a carillon’s exulting chime;
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  • Where those two entered, gloom passed out of sight,
  • Chased by the glow of their intense delight.
  • So, till the day when over Dinan’s walls
  • The Autumn sunshine of my story falls;
  • And the guests bidden, gather for the chase,
  • And the smile brightens on the lovely face
  • That greets them in succession as they come
  • Into that high and hospitable home.
  • Like a sweet picture doth the Lady stand,
  • Still blushing as she bows; one tiny hand,
  • Hid by a pearl‐embroidered gauntlet, holds
  • Her whip, and her long robe’s exuberant folds.
  • The other hand is bare, and from her eyes
  • Shades now and then the sun, or softly lies,
  • With a caressing touch, upon the neck
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  • Of the dear glossy steed she loves to deck
  • With saddle‐housings worked in golden thread,
  • And golden bands upon his noble head.
  • White is the little hand whose taper fingers
  • Smooth his fine coat,—and still the lady lingers,
  • Leaning against his side; nor lifts her head,
  • But gently turns as gathering footsteps tread;
  • Reminding you of doves with shifting throats,
  • Brooding in sunshine by their sheltering cotes.
  • Under her plumèd hat her wealth of curls
  • Falls down in golden links among her pearls,
  • And the rich purple of her velvet vest
  • Slims the young waist, and rounds the graceful breast.
  • So, till the latest joins the happy Meet;
  • Then springs she gladly to her eager feet;
  • And, while the white hand from her courser’s side
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  • Slips like a snow‐flake, stands prepared to ride.
  • Then lightly vaulting to her seat, she seems
  • Queen of some fair procession seen in dreams;
  • Queen of herself, and of the world; sweet Queen!
  • Her crown the plume above her brow serene,
  • Her jewelled whip a sceptre, and her dress
  • The regal mantle worn by loveliness.
  • And well she wears such mantle: swift the he horse,
  • But firm her seat throughout the rapid course;
  • No rash unsteadiness, no shifting pose
  • Disturbs that line of beauty as she goes:
  • She wears her robe as some fair sloop her sails,
  • Which swell and flutter to the rising gales,
  • But never from the cordage taut and trim
  • Slacken or swerve away. The evening dim
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  • Sees her return, unwearied and unbent,
  • The fair folds falling smooth as when she went;
  • The little foot no clasping buckle keeps,
  • She frees it, and to earth untrammelled leaps.
  • Alas! look well upon that picture fair!
  • The face—the form—the smile—the golden hair;
  • The agile beauty of each movement made,—
  • The loving softness of her eyes’ sweet shade,
  • The bloom and pliant grace of youthful days,
  • The gladness and the glory of her gaze.
  • If we knew when the last time was the last,
  • Visions so dear to straining eyes went past;
  • If we knew when the horror and the gloom
  • Should overcast the pride of beauty’s bloom;
  • If we knew when affection nursed in vain
  • Should grow to be but bitterness and pain;
  • It were a curse to blight all living hours
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  • With a hot dust, like dark volcano showers.
  • Give thanks to God who blinded us with Hope;
  • Denied man skill to draw his horoscope;
  • And, to keep mortals of the present fond,
  • Forbid the keenest sight to pierce beyond!
  • Falsehood from those we trusted; cruel sneers
  • From those whose voice was music to our ears;
  • Lonely old age; oppressed and orphaned youth;
  • Yearning appeals to hearts that know no ruth;
  • Ruin, that starves pale mouths we loved to feed;
  • A friend’s forsaking in our utmost need;
  • These come,—and sting,—and madden; ay, and slay;
  • But not the less our joy hath had its day;
  • No little cloud first flecked our tranquil skies,
  • Presaging shipwreck to the prophet eyes;
  • No hand came forth upon the walls of home
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  • With vanishing radiance writing darkest doom;
  • No child‐soul called us in the dead of night,
  • Thrilled with a message from a God of might;
  • No shrouded Seer, by some enforcing spell,
  • Rose from Death’s rest, Life’s restless chance to tell;
  • The lightning smote us—shivering stem and bough:
  • All was so green: all lies so blighted now!
  • They ride together all that sunny day,
  • Claud and the lovely Lady of Garaye;
  • O’er hill and dale,—through fields of late reaped corn,
  • Through woods,—wherever sounds the hunting horn,
  • Wherever scour the fleet hounds, fast they follow,
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  • Through tufted thickets and the leaf‐strewn hollow;
  • And thrice,—the game secured,—they rest awhile,
  • And slacken bridle with a breathless smile:
  • And thrice, with joyous speed, off, off they go,—
  • Like a fresh arrow from a new‐strung bow!
  • But now the ground is rough with boulder stones,
  • Where, wild beneath, the prisoned streamlet moans,
  • The prisoned streamlet strugggling to be free,
  • Baring the roots of many a toppling tree,
  • Breaking the line where smooth‐barked saplings rank,
  • And undermining all the creviced bank;
  • Till gushing out at length to open space,
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  • Mad with the effort of its desperate race,
  • It pauses, swelling o’er the narrow ridge
  • Where fallen branches make a natural bridge,
  • Leaps to the next desent, and, balked no more,
  • Foams to a waterfall, whose ceaseless roar
  • Echoes far down the banks, and through the forest hoar!
  • Across the water full of peakèd stones—
  • Across the water where it chafes and moans—
  • Across the water at its widest part—
  • Which wilt thou leap,—oh, lady of brave heart?
  • Their smiling eyes have met—those eager two:
  • She looks at Claud, as questioning which to do:
  • He rides—reins in —looks down the torrent’s course,—
  • Pats the sleek neck of his sure‐footed horse,—
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  • Stops,—measures spaces with his eagle eye,
  • Tries a new track, and yet returns to try.
  • Sudden, while pausing at the very brink,
  • The damp leaf‐covered ground appears to sink,
  • And the keen instinct of the wise dumb brute
  • Escapes the yielding earth, the slippery root;
  • With a wild effort as if taking wing
  • The monstrous gap he clears with one safe spring;
  • Reaches—(and barely reaches)—past the roar
  • Of the wild stream, the further lower shore,—
  • Scrambles—recovers,—rears—and panting stands
  • Safe ’neath his master’s nerveless trembling hands.
  • Oh! even while he leapt, his horrid thought
  • Was of the peril to that lady brought;
  • Oh! even while he leapt, her Claud looked back,
  • And shook his hand to warn her from the track.
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  • In vain: the pleasant voice she loved so well
  • Feebly re‐echoed through that dreadful dell,
  • The voice that was the music of her home
  • Shouted in vain across that torrent’s foam.
  • He saw her, pausing on the bank above;
  • Saw,—like a dreadful vision of his love,—
  • That dazzling dream stand on the edge of death:
  • Saw it—and stared—and prayed—and held his breath.
  • Bright shone the Autumn sun on wood and plain;
  • On the steed’s glossy flanks and flowing mane;
  • On the wild silver of the rushing brook;
  • On his wife’s smiling and triumphant look;
  • Bright waved against the sky her wind‐tost plume,
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  • Bright on her freshened cheek the healthy bloom,—
  • Oh! all bright things, how could ye end in doom?
  • Forward they leaped! They leaped—a coloured flash
  • Of life and beauty. Hark! a sudden crash,—
  • Blent with that dreadful sound, a man’s sharp cry,—
  • Prone,—’neath the crumbling bank,—the horse and lady lie!
  • The heart grows humble in an awe‐struck grief;
  • Claud thinks not, dreams not, plans not her relief.
  • Strengthen him but, O God! to reach the place,
  • And let him look upon her dying face!
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  • Let him but say farewell! farewell, sweet love!
  • And once more hear her speak, and see her move,—
  • And ask her if she suffers where she lies,—
  • And kiss the lids down on her closing eyes,—
  • And he will be content.
  • He climbs and strives:
  • The strength is in his heart of twenty lives;
  • Across the leaf‐strewn gaps he madly springs;
  • From branch to branch like some wild ape he swings;
  • Breasts, with hot effort, that cold rushing source
  • Of death and danger. With a giant’s force
  • His bleeding hands and broken nails have clung
  • Round the gnarled slippery roots above him hung,
  • And now he’s near,—he sees her through the leaves;
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  • But a new horrid fear his mind receives:
  • The steed! his hoofs may crush that angel head!
  • No, Claud,—her favourite is already dead,
  • One shivering gasp thro’ limbs that now stretch out like lead.
  • He’s with her! is he dying too? his blood
  • Beats no more to and fro; his abstract mood
  • Weighs like a nightmare; something, well he knows,
  • Is horrible,—and still the horror grows;
  • But what it is, or how it came to pass,
  • Or why he lies half fainting on the grass,
  • Or what he strove to clutch at in his fall,
  • Or why he had no power for help to call,
  • This is confused and lost.
  • But Claud has heard
  • A sound like breathings from a sleeping bird
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  • New‐caged that day,—a weak distrubing sigh,
  • The whisper of a grief that cannot cry,—
  • Repeated, and then still; and then again
  • Repeated,—and a long low moan of pain.
  • The hunt is passing; through the arching glade
  • The hounds sweep on in flickering light and shade,
  • The cheery huntsman winds his rallying horn,
  • And voices shouting from his guests that morn
  • Keep calling, calling, “Claud, the hunt is o’er,
  • Return we to the merry halls once more!”
  • Claud hears not; heeds not;—all is like a dream
  • Except that lady lying by the stream;
  • Above all tumult of uproarious sound
  • Comes the faint sigh that breathes along the ground,
  • Where pale as death in her returning life
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  • Writhes the sweet angel whom he still calls wife.
  • He parts the masses of her golden hair,
  • He lifts her, helpless, with a shudderng care,
  • He looks into her face with awe‐struck eyes;—
  • She dies—the darling of his soul—she dies!
  • You might have heard, through that thought’s fearful shock,
  • The beating of his heart like some huge clock;
  • And then the strong pulse falter and stand still,
  • When lifted from that fear with sudden thrill
  • He bent to catch faint murmurs of his name,
  • Which from those blanched lips low and trembling came:
  • “Oh! Claud!” she said: no more—
  • But never yet,
  • Through all the loving days since first they met,
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  • Leaped his heart’s blood with such a yearning vow
  • That she was all in all to him, as now.
  • “Oh! Claud—the pain!”
  • “Oh! Gertrude, my beloved!”
  • Then faintly o’er her lips a wan smile moved,
  • Which dumbly spoke of comfort from his tone,
  • As though she felt half saved, not so to die alone.
  • Ah! happy they who in their grief or pain
  • Yearn not for some familiar face in vain;
  • Who in the sheltering arms of love can lie
  • Till human passion breathes its latest sigh;
  • Who, when words fail to enter the dull ear,
  • And when eyes cease from seeing forms most dear,
  • Still the fond clasping touch can understand,—
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  • And sink to death from that detaining hand!
  • He sits and watches; and she lies and moans;
  • The wild stream rushes over broken stones;
  • The dead leaves flutter to the mossy earth;
  • Far‐away echoes bring the hunters’ mirth;
  • And the long hour creeps by—too long—too long;
  • Till the chance music of a peasant’ song
  • Breaks the hard silence with a human hope,
  • And Claud starts up and gazes down the slope;
  • And from a wandering herdsman he obtains
  • The help whose want has chilled his anxious veins.
  • Into a simple litter then they bind
  • Thin cradling branches deftly intertwined;
  • And there they lay the lady as they found her,
  • With all her bright hair streaming sadly round her;
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  • Her white lips parted o’er the pearly teeth
  • Like pictured saints’, who die a martyr’s death,—
  • And slowly bear her, like a corse of clay,
  • Back to the home she left so blithe to‐day.
  • The starry lights shine forth from tower and hall,
  • Stream through the gateway, glimmer on the wall,
  • And the loud pleasant stir of busy men
  • In courtyard and in stable sounds again.
  • And through the windows, as that death‐bier passes,
  • They see the shining of the ruby glasses
  • Set at brief intervals for many a guest
  • Prepared to share the laugh, the song, the jest;
  • Prepared to drink, with many a courtly phrase,
  • Their host and hostess—‘Health to the Garayes!’
  • Health to the slender, lithe, yet stalwart frame
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  • Of Claud Marot—Count of that noble name;
  • Health to his lovely Countess: health—to her!
  • Scarce seems she now with faintest breath to stir:
  • Oh! half‐shut eyes—oh! brow with torture damp,—
  • Will life’s oil rise in that expiring lamp?
  • Are there yet days to come, or does he bend
  • Over a hope of which this is the end?
  • He shivers, and hot tears shut out the sight
  • Of that dear home for feasting made so bright;
  • The golden evening light is round him dying,
  • The dark rooks to their nests are slowly flying,
  • As underneath the portal, faint with fear,
  • He sees her carried, now so doubly dear;
  • “Save her!” is written in his anxious glances,
  • As the quick‐summoned leech in haste advances.
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  • “Save her!”—and through the gloom of midnight hours,
  • And through the hot noon, shut from air and flowers,
  • Young Claud sits patient—waiting day by day
  • For health for that sweet lady of Garaye.
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