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The Lady of La Garaye. Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877.
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page: 59

THE LADY OF LA GARAYE.

PART II.

  • A FIRST walk after sickness: the sweet breeze
  • That murmurs welcome in the bending trees,
  • When the cold shadowy foe of life departs,
  • And the warm blood flows freely through our hearts:
  • The smell of roses,—sound of trickling streams,
  • The elastic turf cross‐barred with golden gleams,
  • That seems to lift, and meet our faltering tread;
  • page: 60
  • The happy birds, loud singing overhead;
  • The glorious range of distant shade and light,
  • In blue perspective, rapturous to our sight,
  • Weary of draperied curtains folding round,
  • And the monotonous chamber’s narrow bound;
  • With,—best of all,—the consciousness at length,
  • In every nerve of sure returning strength:—
  • Long the dream stayed to cheer that darkened room,
  • That this should be the end of all that gloom!
  • Long, as the vacant life trained idly by,
  • She pressed her pillow with a restless sigh,—
  • “To‐morrow, surely, I shall stronger feel!”
  • To‐morrow! but the slow days onward steal,
  • And find her still with feverish aching head,
  • Still cramped with pain; still lingering in her bed;
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  • Still sighing out the tedium of the time;
  • Still listening to the clock’s recurring chime,
  • As though the very hours that struck were foes,
  • And might, but would not, grant complete respose.
  • Until the skilled physician,—sadly bold
  • From frequent questioning,—her sentence told!
  • That no good end could come to her faint yearning,—
  • That no bright hour should see her health returning,—
  • That changeful seasons,—not for one dark year,
  • But on through life,—must teach her how to bear:
  • For through all Springs, with rainbow‐tinted showers,
  • And through all Summers, with their wealth of flowers,
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  • And every Autumn, with its harvest‐home,
  • And all white Winters of the time to come,—
  • Crooked and sick for ever she must be:
  • Her life of wild activity and glee
  • Was with the past, the future was a life
  • Dismal and feeble; full of suffering; rife
  • With chill denials of accustomed joy,
  • Continual torment, and obscure annoy.
  • Blighted in all her bloom,—her withered frame
  • Must now inherit age; young but in name.
  • Never could she, at close of some long day
  • Of pain that strove with hope, exulting lay
  • A tiny new‐born infant on her breast,
  • And, in the soft lamp’s glimmer, sink to rest,
  • The strange corporeal weakness sweetly blent
  • With a delicious dream of full content;
  • With pride of motherhood, and thankful prayers,
  • And a confused glad sense of novel cares,
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  • And peeps into the future brightly given,
  • As though her babe’s blue eyes turned earth to heaven!
  • Never again could she, when Claud returned
  • After brief absence, and her fond heart yearned
  • To see his earnest eyes, with upward glancing,
  • Greet her known windows, even while yet advancing,—
  • Fly with light footsteps down the great hall‐stair,
  • And give him welcome in the open air
  • As though she were too glad to see him come,
  • To wait till he should enter happy home,
  • And there, quick‐breathing, glowing, sparkling stand,
  • His arm round her slim waist; hand locked in hand;
  • The mutual kiss exchanged of happy greeting,
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  • That needs no secrecy of lovers’ meeting;
  • While, giving welcome also in their way,
  • Her dogs barked rustling round him, wild with play;
  • And voices called, and hasty steps replied,
  • And the sleek fiery steed was led aside,
  • And the grey seneschal came forth and smiled,
  • Who held him in his arms while yet a child;
  • And cheery jinglings from unfastened doors,
  • And vaulted echoes through long corridors,
  • And distant bells that thrill along the wires,
  • And stir of logs that heap up autumn fires,
  • Crowned the glad eager bustle that makes known
  • The Master’s step is on his threshold‐stone!
  • Never again those rides so gladly shared,
  • So much enjoyed,—in which so much was dared
  • To prove no peril from the gate or brook,—
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  • Need bring the shadow of an anxious look,
  • To mar the pleasant ray of proud surprise
  • That shone from out those dear protecting eyes.
  • No more swift hurrying through the summer rain,
  • That showered light silver on the freshened plain,
  • Hung on the tassels of the hazel bough,
  • And plashed the azure of the river’s flow.
  • No more glad climbing of the mountain height,
  • From whence a map, drawn out in lines of light,
  • Showed dotting villages, and distant spires,
  • And the red rows of metal‐burning fires,
  • And purple covering woods, within which stand
  • White mansions of the nobles of the land.
  • No more sweet wanderings far from tread of men,
  • In the deep thickets of the sunny glen,
  • To see the vanished Spring bud forth again;
  • Its well remembered tufts of primrose set
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  • Among the sheltered banks of violet;
  • Or in thatched summer‐houses sit and dream,
  • Through gurgling gushes of the woodland stream;
  • Then, rested rise, and by the sunset ray
  • Saunter at will along the homeward way;
  • Pausing at each delight,—the singing loud
  • Of some sweet thrush, e’er lingering eve be done;
  • Or the pink shining of some casual cloud
  • That blushes deeper as it nears the sun.
  • The rough woodpath; the little rocky burn;
  • Nothing of this can ever now return.
  • The life of joy is over: what is left
  • Is a half life; a life of strength bereft;
  • The body broken from the yearning soul,
  • Never again to make a perfect whole!
  • Helpless desires, and cravings unfulfilled;
  • Bitter regret, in stormy weepings stilled;
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  • Strivings whose easy effort used to bless,
  • Grown full of danger and sharp weariness;
  • This is the life whose dreadful dawn must rise
  • When the night lifts, within whose gloom she lies:
  • Hope, on whose lingering help she leaned so late,
  • Struck from her clinging by the sword of fate—
  • That wild word NEVER, to her shrinking gaze,
  • Seems written on the wall in fiery rays.
  • Never!—our helpless changeful natures shrink
  • Before that word as from the grave’s cold brink!
  • Set us a term whereto we must endure,
  • And you shall find our crown of patience sure;
  • But the irrevocable smites us down;—
  • Helpless we lie before the eternal frown;
  • Waters of Marah whelm the blinded soul,
  • Stifle the heart, and drown our self‐control.
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  • So, when she heard the grave physician speak,
  • Horror crept through her veins, who, faint and weak,
  • And tortured by all motion, yet had lain
  • With a meek cheerfulness that conquered pain,
  • Hoping,—till that dark hour. Give back the hope,
  • Though years rise sad with intervening scope!
  • Scarce can those radiant eyes with sickly stare
  • Yet comprehend that sentence of despair:
  • Crooked and sick for ever! Crooked and sick!
  • She, in whose veins the passionate blood ran quick
  • As leaps the rivulet from the mountain height,
  • That dances rippling into Summer light;
  • She, in whose cheek the rich bloom always stayed,
  • And only deepened to a lovelier shade;
  • She, whose fleet limbs no exercise could tire,
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  • When wild hill‐climbing wooed her spirit higher!
  • Knell not above her bed this funeral chime;
  • Bid her be prisoner for a certain time;
  • Tell her blank years must waste in that changed home,
  • But not for ever,—not for life to come;
  • Let infinite torture be her daily guest,
  • But set a term beyond which shall be rest.
  • In vain! she sees that trembling fountain rise,
  • Tears of compassion in an old man’s eyes;
  • And in low pitying tones, again he tells
  • The doom that sounds to her like funeral bells.
  • Long on his face her wistful gaze she kept;
  • Then dropped her head, and wildly moaned and wept;
  • Shivering through every limb, as lightning thought
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  • Smote her with all the endless ruin wrought.
  • Never to be a mother! Never give
  • Another life beyond her own to live,
  • Never to see her husband bless their child,
  • Thinking (dear blessèd thought!) like him it smiled:
  • Never again with Claud to walk or ride,
  • Partake his pleasures with a playful pride,
  • But cease from all companionship so shared,
  • And only have the hours his pity spared.
  • His pity—ah! his pity, would it prove
  • As warm and lasting as admiring love?
  • Or would her petty joys’ late‐spoken doom
  • Carry the great joy with them to joy’s tomb?
  • Would all the hopes of life at once take wing?
  • The thought went through her with a secret sting,
  • And she repeated, with a moaning cry,
  • “Better to die, O God! ’Twere best to die!”
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  • But we die not by wishing; in God’s hour,
  • And not our own, do we yield up the power
  • To suffer or enjoy. The broken heart
  • Creeps through the world, encumbered by its clay;
  • While dearly loved and cherished ones depart,
  • Though prayer and sore lamenting clog their way.
  • She lived: she left that sick room, and was brought
  • Into the scenes of customary thought:
  • The banquet‐room, where lonely sunshine slept,
  • Saw her sweet eyes look round before she wept;
  • The garden heard the slow wheels of her chair,
  • When noon‐day heat had warmed the untried air;
  • The pictures she had smiled upon for years,
  • Met her gaze trembling through a mist of tears;
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  • Her favourite dog, his long unspoken name
  • Hearing once more, with timid fawning came;
  • It seemed as if all things partook her blight,
  • And sank in shadow like a spell of night.
  • And she saw Claud,—Claud in the open day,
  • Who through dim sunsets, curtained half away,
  • And by the dawn, and by the lamp’s pale ray
  • So long had watched her!
  • And Claud also saw,
  • That beauty which was once without a flaw;
  • And flushed,—but strove to hide the sense of shock,—
  • The feelings that some witchcraft seemed to mock.
  • Are those her eyes, those eyes so full of pain?
  • Her restless looks that hunt for ease in vain?
  • Is that her step, that halt uneven tread?
  • Is that her blooming cheek, so pale and dead?
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  • Is that,—the querulous anxious mind that tells
  • Its little ills, and on each ailment dwells,—
  • The spirit alert which early morning stirred
  • Even as it rouses every gladsome bird,
  • Whose chorus of irregular music goes
  • Up with the dew that leaves the sun‐touched rose?
  • Oh! altered, altered; even the smile is gone,
  • Which, like a sunbeam, once exulting shone!
  • Smiles have returned; but not the smiles of yore;
  • The joy, the youth, the triumph, are no more.
  • An anxious smile remains, that disconnects
  • Smiling from gladness; one that more dejects,
  • Than floods of passionate weeping, for it tries
  • To contradict the question of our eyes:
  • We say, “Thou’rt pained, poor heart, and full of woe?”
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  • It drops that shining veil, and answers “No;”
  • Shrinks from the touch of unaccepted hands,
  • And while it grieves, a show of joy commands.
  • Wan shine such smiles;—as evening sunlight falls
  • On a deserted house whose empty walls
  • No longer echo to the children’s play
  • Or voice of ruined inmates fled away;
  • Where wintry winds alone, with idle state,
  • Move the slow swinging of its rusty gate.
  • But something sadder even than her pain
  • Torments her now; and thrills each languid vein.
  • Love’s tender instinct feels through every nerve
  • When love’s desires, or love itself doth swerve.
  • All the world’s praise re‐echoed to the sky
  • Cancels not blame that shades a lover’s eye;
  • All the world’s blame, which scorn for scorn repays,
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  • Fails to disturb the joy of lover’s praise.
  • Ah! think not vanity alone doth deck
  • Wtih rounded pearls the young girl’s innocent neck,
  • Who in her duller days contented tries
  • The homely robe that with no rival vies,
  • But on the happy night she hopes to meet
  • The one to whom she comes with trembling feet,
  • With crimson roses decks her bosom fair,
  • Warm as the thoughts of love all glowing there,
  • Because she must his favourite colours wear;
  • And all the bloom and beauty of her youth
  • Can scarce repay, she thinks, her lover’s truth.
  • Vain is the argument so often moved,
  • “Who feels no jealousy hath never loved;”
  • She whose quick fading comes before her tomb,
  • Is jealous even of her former bloom.
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  • Restless she pines; because, to her distress,
  • One charm the more is now one claim the less
  • On his regard whose words are her chief treasures,
  • And by whose love alone her worth she measures.
  • Gertrude of La Garaye, thy heart is sore;
  • A worm is gnawing at the rose’s core,
  • A doubt corrodeth all thy tender trust,
  • The freshness of thy day is choked in dust.
  • Not for the pain—although the pain be great,
  • Not for the change—though changed be all thy state;
  • But for a sorrow dumb and unrevealed,
  • Most from its cause with mournful care concealed—
  • From Claud—who goes and who returns with sighs
  • And gazes on his wife with wistful eyes,
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  • And muses in his brief and cheerless rides
  • If her dull mood will mend; and inly chides
  • His own sad spirit, that sinks down so low,
  • Instead of lifting her from all her woe;
  • And thinks if he but loved her less, that he
  • Could cheer her drooping soul with gaiety—
  • But wonders evermore that Beauty’s loss
  • To such a soul should seem so sore a cross.
  • Until one evening in that quiet hush
  • That lulls the falling day, when all the gush
  • Of various sounds seem buried with the sun,
  • He told his thought.
  • As winter streamlets run,
  • Freed by some sudden thaw, and swift make way
  • Into the natural channels where they play,
  • So leaped her young heart to his tender tone,
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  • So, answering to his warmth, resumed her own;
  • And all her doubt and all her grief confest,
  • Leaning her faint head on his faithful breast.
  • “Not always, Claud, did I my beauty prize;
  • Thy words first made it precious in my eyes,
  • And till thy fond voice made the gift seem rare,
  • Nor tongue nor mirror taught me I was fair.
  • I recked no more of beauty in that day
  • Of happy girlishness and childlike play,
  • Than some poor woodland bird who stays his flight
  • On some low bough when summer days are bright,
  • And in that pleasant sunshine sits and sings,
  • And breaks the plumage of his glistening wings,
  • Recks of the passer‐by who stands to praise
  • His feathered smoothness and his thrilling lays.
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  • But now, I make my moan—I make my moan—
  • I weep the brightness lost, the beauty gone;
  • Because, now, fading is to fall from thee,
  • As the dead fruit falls blighted from the tree;
  • For thee,—not vanished loveliness,—I weep;
  • My beauty was a spell, thy love to keep;
  • For I have heard and read how men forsake
  • When time and tears that gift of beauty take,
  • Nor care although the heart they leave may break!”
  • A husband’s love was there—a husband’s love,—
  • Strong, comforting, all other loves above;
  • On her bowed neck he laid his tender hand,
  • And his voice steadied to his soul’s command:
  • “Oh! thou mistaken and unhappy child,
  • Still thy complainings, for thy words are wild.
  • Thy beauty, though so perfect, was but one
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  • Of the bright ripples dancing to the sun,
  • Which, from the hour I hoped to call thee wife,
  • Glanced down the silver stream of happy life.
  • Whatever change Time’s heavy clouds may make,
  • Those are the waters which my thirst shall slake;
  • River of all my hopes thou wert and art;
  • The current of thy being bears my heart;
  • Whether it sweep along in shine or shade,
  • By barren rocks, or banks in flowers arrayed,
  • Foam with the storm, or glide in soft repose,—
  • In that deep channel, love unswerving flows!
  • How canst thou dream of beauty as a thing
  • On which depends the heart’s own withering?
  • Lips budding red wth tints of vernal years,
  • And delicate lids of eyes that shed no tears,
  • And light that falls upon the shining hair
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  • As though it found a second sunbeam there,—
  • These must go by, my Gertrude, must go by;
  • The leaf must wither and the flower must die;
  • The rose can only have a rose’s bloom;
  • Age would have wrought thy wondrous beauty’s doom;
  • A little sooner did that beauty go—
  • A little sooner—Darling, take it so;
  • Nor add a strange despair to all this woe;
  • And take my faith, by changes unremoved,
  • To thy last hour of age and blight, beloved!”
  • But she again,—“Alas! not from distrust
  • I mourn, dear Claud, nor yet to thee unjust.
  • I love thee: I believe thee: yea, I know
  • Thy very soul is wrung to see my woe;
  • The earthquake of compassion trembles still
  • Within its depths, and conquers natural will.
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  • But after,—after,—when the shock is past,—
  • When cruel Time, who flies to change so fast,
  • Hath made my suffering an accustomed thing,
  • And only left me slowly withering;
  • Then will the empty days rise chill and lorn,
  • The lonely evening, the unwelcome morn,
  • Until thy path at length be brightly crost
  • By some one holding all that I have lost;
  • Some one with youthful eyes, enchanting, bright,
  • Full as the morning of a liquid light;
  • And while my pale lip stiff and sad remains,
  • Her smiles shall thrill like sunbeams through thy veins:
  • I shall fade down, and she, with simple art,
  • All bloom and beauty, dance into thy heart!
  • Then, then, my Claud, shall I—at length alone—
  • Recede from thee with an unnoticed moan,
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  • Sink where none heed me, and be seen no more,
  • Like waves that fringe the Netherlandish shore,
  • Which roll unmurmuring to the flat low land,
  • And sigh to death in that monotonous sand.”
  • Again his earnest hand on hers he lays,
  • With love and pain and wonder in his gaze.
  • “Oh, darling! bitter word and bitter thought
  • What dæmon to thy trusting heart hath brought?
  • It may be thus within some sensual breast,
  • By passion’s fire, not true love’s power possest;
  • The creature love, that never lingers late,
  • A springtide thirst for some chance‐chosen mate.
  • Oh! my companion, ’twas not so with me;
  • Not in the days long past, nor now shall be.
  • The drunken dissolute hour of Love’s sweet cup,
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  • When eyes are wild, and mantling blood is up,
  • Even in my youth to me was all unknown:
  • Until I truly loved, I was alone.
  • I asked too much of intellect and grace,
  • To pine, though young, for every pretty face,
  • Whose passing brightness to quick fancies made
  • A sort of sunshine in the idle shade;
  • Beauties who starred the earth like common flowers,
  • The careless eglantines of wayside bowers.
  • I lingered till some blossom rich and rare
  • Hung like a glory on the scented air,
  • Enamouring at once the heart and eye,
  • So that I paused, and could not pass it by.
  • Then woke the passionate love within my heart,
  • And only with my life shall that depart;
  • ’Twas not so sensual strong, so loving weak,
  • To ebb when ebbs the rose‐tinge on thy cheek;
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  • Fade with thy fading, weakening day by day
  • Till thy locks silver with a dawning grey:
  • No, Gertrude, trust me, for thou may’st believe,
  • A better faith is that which I receive;
  • Sacred I’ll hold the sacred name of wife,
  • And love thee to the sunset verge of life!
  • Yea, shall so much of empire o’er man’s soul
  • Live in a wanton’s smile, and no control
  • Bind down his heart to keep a steadier faith,
  • For links that are to last from life to death?
  • Let those who can, in transient love rejoice,—
  • Still to new hopes breathe forth successive sighs,—
  • Give me the music of the accustomed voice,
  • And the sweet light of long familiar eyes!”
  • He ceased. But she, for all her fervent speech,
  • Sighed as she listened. “Claud, I cannot reach
  • The summit of the hope where thou wouldst set me,
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  • And all I crave is never to forget me!
  • Wedded I am to pain and not to thee,
  • Thy life’s companion I no more can be,
  • For thou remainest all thou wert—but I
  • Am a fit bride for Death, and long to die.
  • Yea, long for death; for thou wouldst miss me then
  • More even than now, in mountain and in glen;
  • And musing by the white tomb where I lay,
  • Think of the happier time and earlier day,
  • And wonder if the love another gave
  • Equalled the passion buried in that grave.”
  • Then with a patient tenderness he took
  • That pale wife in his arms, with yearning look:
  • “Oh! dearer now than when thy girlish tongue
  • Faltered consent to love while both were young,
  • Weep no more foolish tears, but lift thy head;
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  • Those drops fall on my heart like molten lead;
  • And all my soul is full of vain remorse,
  • Because I let thee take that dangerous course,
  • Share in the chase, pursue with horn and hound,
  • And follow madly o’er the roughened ground.
  • Not lightly did I love, nor lightly choose;
  • Whate’er thou losest I will also lose;
  • If bride of Death,—being first my chosen bride,—
  • I will await death, lingering by thy side;
  • And God, He knows, who reads all human thought,
  • And by whose will this bitter hour was brought,
  • How eagerly, could human pain be shifted,
  • I would lie low, and thou once more be lifted
  • To walk in beauty as thou didst before,
  • And smile upon the welcome world once more.
  • Oh! loved even to the brim of love’s full fount,
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  • Wilt thou set nothing to firm faith’s account?
  • Choke back thy tears which are thy bitter smart,
  • Lean thy dear head upon my aching heart;
  • It may be God, who saw our careless life,
  • Not sinful, yet not blameless, my sweet wife,
  • (Since all we thought of, in our youth’s bright May,
  • Was but the coming joy from day to day;)
  • Hath blotted out all joy to bid us learn
  • That this is not our home; and make us turn
  • From the enchanted earth, where much was given,
  • To higher aims, and a forgotten heaven.”
  • So spoke her love—and wept in spite of words;
  • While her heart echoed all his heart’s accords,
  • And leaning down, she said with whispering sigh,
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  • “I sinned, my Claud, in wishing so to die.”
  • Then they, who oft in Love’s delicious bowers
  • Had fondly wasted glad and passionate hours,
  • Kissed with a mutual moan:—but o’er their lips
  • Love’s light passed clear, from under Life’s eclipse.
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