How fresh the Dartle's little waves that day! A steely silver, underlined with blue, And flashing where the round clouds, blown away, Let drop the yellow sunshine to gleam through And tip the edges of the waves with shifts And spots of whitest fire, hard like gems Cut from the midnight moon they were, and sharp As wind through leafless stems. The Lady Eunice walked between the drifts Of blooming cherry-trees, and watched the rifts Of clouds drawn through the river's azure warp.
Her little feet tapped softly down the path. Her soul was listless; even the morning breeze Fluttering the trees and strewing a light swath Of fallen petals on the grass, could please Her not at all. She brushed a hair aside With a swift move, and a half-angry frown. She stopped to pull a daffodil or two, And held them to her gown To test the colours; put them at her side, Then at her breast, then loosened them and tried Some new arrangement, but it would not do.
A lady in a Manor-house, alone, Whose husband is in Flanders with the Duke Of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, she's grown Too apathetic even to rebuke Her idleness. What is she on this Earth? No woman surely, since she neither can Be wed nor single, must not let her mind Build thoughts upon a man Except for hers. Indeed that were no dearth Were her Lord here, for well she knew his worth, And when she thought of him her eyes were kind.
Too lately wed to have forgot the wooing. Too unaccustomed as a bride to feel Other than strange delight at her wife's doing. Even at the thought a gentle blush would steal Over her face, and then her lips would frame Some little word of loving, and her eyes Would brim and spill their tears, when all they saw Was the bright sun, slantwise Through burgeoning trees, and all the morning's flame Burning and quivering round her. With quick shame She shut her heart and bent before the law.
He was a soldier, she was proud of that. This was his house and she would keep it well. His honour was in fighting, hers in what He'd left her here in charge of. Then a spell Of conscience sent her through the orchard spying Upon the gardeners. Were their tools about? Were any branches broken? Had the weeds Been duly taken out Under the 'spaliered pears, and were these lying Nailed snug against the sunny bricks and drying Their leaves and satisfying all their needs?
She picked a stone up with a little pout, Stones looked so ill in well-kept flower-borders. Where should she put it? All the paths about Were strewn with fair, red gravel by her orders. No stone could mar their sifted smoothness. So She hurried to the river. At the edge She stood a moment charmed by the swift blue Beyond the river sedge. She watched it curdling, crinkling, and the snow Purfled upon its wave-tops. Then, "Hullo, My Beauty, gently, or you'll wriggle through."
The Lady Eunice caught a willow spray To save herself from tumbling in the shallows Which rippled to her feet. Then straight away She peered down stream among the budding sallows. A youth in leather breeches and a shirt Of finest broidered lawn lay out upon An overhanging bole and deftly swayed A well-hooked fish which shone In the pale lemon sunshine like a spurt Of silver, bowed and damascened, and girt With crimson spots and moons which waned and played.
The fish hung circled for a moment, ringed And bright; then flung itself out, a thin blade Of spotted lightning, and its tail was winged With chipped and sparkled sunshine. And the shade Broke up and splintered into shafts of light Wheeling about the fish, who churned the air And made the fish-line hum, and bent the rod Almost to snapping. Care The young man took against the twigs, with slight, Deft movements he kept fish and line in tight Obedience to his will with every prod.
He lay there, and the fish hung just beyond. He seemed uncertain what more he should do. He drew back, pulled the rod to correspond, Tossed it and caught it; every time he threw, He caught it nearer to the point. At last The fish was near enough to touch. He paused. Eunice knew well the craft — "What's got the thing!" She cried. "What can have caused — Where is his net? The moment will be past. The fish will wriggle free." She stopped aghast. He turned and bowed. One arm was in a sling.
The broad, black ribbon she had thought his basket Must hang from, held instead a useless arm. "I do not wonder, Madam, that you ask it." He smiled, for she had spoke aloud. "The charm Of trout fishing is in my eyes enhanced When you must play your fish on land as well." "How will you take him?" Eunice asked. "In truth I really cannot tell. 'Twas stupid of me, but it simply chanced I never thought of that until he glanced Into the branches. 'Tis a bit uncouth."
He watched the fish against the blowing sky, Writhing and glittering, pulling at the line. "The hook is fast, I might just let him die," He mused. "But that would jar against your fine Sense of true sportsmanship, I know it would," Cried Eunice. "Let me do it." Swift and light She ran towards him. "It is so long now Since I have felt a bite, I lost all heart for everything." She stood, Supple and strong, beside him, and her blood Tingled her lissom body to a glow.
She quickly seized the fish and with a stone Ended its flurry, then removed the hook, Untied the fly with well-poised fingers. Done, She asked him where he kept his fishing-book. He pointed to a coat flung on the ground. She searched the pockets, found a shagreen case, Replaced the fly, noticed a golden stamp Filling the middle space. Two letters half rubbed out were there, and round About them gay rococo flowers wound And tossed a spray of roses to the clamp.
The Lady Eunice puzzled over these. "G. D." the young man gravely said. "My name Is Gervase Deane. Your servant, if you please." "Oh, Sir, indeed I know you, for your fame For exploits in the field has reached my ears. I did not know you wounded and returned." "But just come back, Madam. A silly prick To gain me such unearned Holiday making. And you, it appears, Must be Sir Everard's lady. And my fears At being caught a-trespassing were quick."
He looked so rueful that she laughed out loud. "You are forgiven, Mr. Deane. Even more, I offer you the fishing, and am proud That you should find it pleasant from this shore. Nobody fishes now, my husband used To angle daily, and I too with him. He loved the spotted trout, and pike, and dace. He even had a whim That flies my fingers tied swiftly confused The greater fish. And he must be excused, Love weaves odd fancies in a lonely place."
She sighed because it seemed so long ago, Those days with Everard; unthinking took The path back to the orchard. Strolling so She walked, and he beside her. In a nook Where a stone seat withdrew beneath low boughs, Full-blossomed, hummed with bees, they sat them down. She questioned him about the war, the share Her husband had, and grown Eager by his clear answers, straight allows Her hidden hopes and fears to speak, and rouse Her numbed love, which had slumbered unaware.
Under the orchard trees daffodils danced And jostled, turning sideways to the wind. A dropping cherry petal softly glanced Over her hair, and slid away behind. At the far end through twisted cherry-trees The old house glowed, geranium-hued, with bricks Bloomed in the sun like roses, low and long, Gabled, and with quaint tricks Of chimneys carved and fretted. Out of these Grey smoke was shaken, which the faint Spring breeze Tossed into nothing. Then a thrush's song
Needled its way through sound of bees and river. The notes fell, round and starred, between young leaves, Trilled to a spiral lilt, stopped on a quiver. The Lady Eunice listens and believes. Gervase has many tales of her dear Lord, His bravery, his knowledge, his charmed life. She quite forgets who's speaking in the gladness Of being this man's wife. Gervase is wounded, grave indeed, the word Is kindly said, but to a softer chord She strings her voice to ask with wistful sadness,
"And is Sir Everard still unscathed? I fain Would know the truth." "Quite well, dear Lady, quite." She smiled in her content. "So many slain, You must forgive me for a little fright." And he forgave her, not alone for that, But because she was fingering his heart, Pressing and squeezing it, and thinking so Only to ease her smart Of painful, apprehensive longing. At Their feet the river swirled and chucked. They sat An hour there. The thrush flew to and fro.
The Lady Eunice supped alone that day, As always since Sir Everard had gone, In the oak-panelled parlour, whose array Of faded portraits in carved mouldings shone. Warriors and ladies, armoured, ruffed, peruked. Van Dykes with long, slim fingers; Holbeins, stout And heavy-featured; and one Rubens dame, A peony just burst out, With flaunting, crimson flesh. Eunice rebuked Her thoughts of gentler blood, when these had duked It with the best, and scorned to change their name.
A sturdy family, and old besides, Much older than her own, the Earls of Crowe. Since Saxon days, these men had sought their brides Among the highest born, but always so, Taking them to themselves, their wealth, their lands, But never their titles. Stern perhaps, but strong, The Framptons fed their blood from richest streams, Scorning the common throng. Gazing upon these men, she understands The toughness of the web wrought from such strands And pride of Everard colours all her dreams.
Eunice forgets to eat, watching their faces Flickering in the wind-blown candle's shine. Blue-coated lackeys tiptoe to their places, And set out plates of fruit and jugs of wine. The table glitters black like Winter ice. The Dartle's rushing, and the gentle clash Of blossomed branches, drifts into her ears. And through the casement sash She sees each cherry stem a pointed slice Of splintered moonlight, topped with all the spice And shimmer of the blossoms it uprears.
"In such a night —" she laid the book aside, She could outnight the poet by thinking back. In such a night she came here as a bride. The date was graven in the almanack Of her clasped memory. In this very room Had Everard uncloaked her. On this seat Had drawn her to him, bade her note the trees, How white they were and sweet And later, coming to her, her dear groom, Her Lord, had lain beside her in the gloom Of moon and shade, and whispered her to ease.
Her little taper made the room seem vast, Caverned and empty. And her beating heart Rapped through the silence all about her cast Like some loud, dreadful death-watch taking part In this sad vigil. Slowly she undrest, Put out the light and crept into her bed. The linen sheets were fragrant, but so cold. And brimming tears she shed, Sobbing and quivering in her barren nest, Her weeping lips into the pillow prest, Her eyes sealed fast within its smothering fold.
The morning brought her a more stoic mind, And sunshine struck across the polished floor. She wondered whether this day she should find Gervase a-fishing, and so listen more, Much more again, to all he had to tell. And he was there, but waiting to begin Until she came. They fished awhile, then went To the old seat within The cherry's shade. He pleased her very well By his discourse. But ever he must dwell Upon Sir Everard. Each incident
Must be related and each term explained. How troops were set in battle, how a siege Was ordered and conducted. She complained Because he bungled at the fall of Liege. The curious names of parts of forts she knew, And aired with conscious pride her ravelins, And counterscarps, and lunes. The day drew on, And his dead fish's fins In the hot sunshine turned a mauve-green hue. At last Gervase, guessing the hour, withdrew. But she sat long in still oblivion.
Then he would bring her books, and read to her The poems of Dr. Donne, and the blue river Would murmur through the reading, and a stir Of birds and bees make the white petals shiver, And one or two would flutter prone and lie Spotting the smooth-clipped grass. The days went by Threaded with talk and verses. Green leaves pushed Through blossoms stubbornly. Gervase, unconscious of dishonesty, Fell into strong and watchful loving, free He thought, since always would his lips be hushed.
But lips do not stay silent at command, And Gervase strove in vain to order his. Luckily Eunice did not understand That he but read himself aloud, for this Their friendship would have snapped. She treated him And spoilt him like a brother. It was now "Gervase" and "Eunice" with them, and he dined Whenever she'd allow, In the oak parlour, underneath the dim Old pictured Framptons, opposite her slim Figure, so bright against the chair behind.
Eunice was happier than she had been For many days, and yet the hours were long. All Gervase told to her but made her lean More heavily upon the past. Among Her hopes she lived, even when she was giving Her morning orders, even when she twined Nosegays to deck her parlours. With the thought Of Everard, her mind Solaced its solitude, and in her striving To do as he would wish was all her living. She welcomed Gervase for the news he brought.
Black-hearts and white-hearts, bubbled with the sun, Hid in their leaves and knocked against each other. Eunice was standing, panting with her run Up to the tool-house just to get another Basket. All those which she had brought were filled, And still Gervase pelted her from above. The buckles of his shoes flashed higher and higher Until his shoulders strove Quite through the top. "Eunice, your spirit's filled This tree. White-hearts!" He shook, and cherries spilled And spat out from the leaves like falling fire.
The wide, sun-winged June morning spread itself Over the quiet garden. And they packed Full twenty baskets with the fruit. "My shelf Of cordials will be stored with what it lacked. In future, none of us will drink strong ale, But cherry-brandy." "Vastly good, I vow," And Gervase gave the tree another shake. The cherries seemed to flow Out of the sky in cloudfuls, like blown hail. Swift Lady Eunice ran, her farthingale, Unnoticed, tangling in a fallen rake.
She gave a little cry and fell quite prone In the long grass, and lay there very still. Gervase leapt from the tree at her soft moan, And kneeling over her, with clumsy skill Unloosed her bodice, fanned her with his hat, And his unguarded lips pronounced his heart. "Eunice, my Dearest Girl, where are you hurt?" His trembling fingers dart Over her limbs seeking some wound. She strove To answer, opened wide her eyes, above Her knelt Sir Everard, with face alert.
Her eyelids fell again at that sweet sight, "My Love!" she murmured, "Dearest! Oh, my Dear!" He took her in his arms and bore her right And tenderly to the old seat, and "Here I have you mine at last," she said, and swooned Under his kisses. When she came once more To sight of him, she smiled in comfort knowing Herself laid as before Close covered on his breast. And all her glowing Youth answered him, and ever nearer growing She twined him in her arms and soft festooned
Herself about him like a flowering vine, Drawing his lips to cling upon her own. A ray of sunlight pierced the leaves to shine Where her half-opened bodice let be shown Her white throat fluttering to his soft caress, Half-gasping with her gladness. And her pledge She whispers, melting with delight. A twig Snaps in the hornbeam hedge. A cackling laugh tears through the quietness. Eunice starts up in terrible distress. "My God! What's that?" Her staring eyes are big.
Revulsed emotion set her body shaking As though she had an ague. Gervase swore, Jumped to his feet in such a dreadful taking His face was ghastly with the look it wore. Crouching and slipping through the trees, a man In worn, blue livery, a humpbacked thing, Made off. But turned every few steps to gaze At Eunice, and to fling Vile looks and gestures back. "The ruffian! By Christ's Death! I will split him to a span Of hog's thongs." She grasped at his sleeve, "Gervase!
What are you doing here? Put down that sword, That's only poor old Tony, crazed and lame. We never notice him. With my dear Lord I ought not to have minded that he came. But, Gervase, it surprises me that you Should so lack grace to stay here." With one hand She held her gaping bodice to conceal Her breast. "I must demand Your instant absence. Everard, but new Returned, will hardly care for guests. Adieu." "Eunice, you're mad." His brain began to reel.
He tried again to take her, tried to twist Her arms about him. Truly, she had said Nothing should ever part them. In a mist She pushed him from her, clasped her aching head In both her hands, and rocked and sobbed aloud. "Oh! Where is Everard? What does this mean? So lately come to leave me thus alone!" But Gervase had not seen Sir Everard. Then, gently, to her bowed And sickening spirit, he told of her proud Surrender to him. He could hear her moan.
Then shame swept over her and held her numb, Hiding her anguished face against the seat. At last she rose, a woman stricken — dumb — And trailed away with slowly-dragging feet. Gervase looked after her, but feared to pass The barrier set between them. All his rare Joy broke to fragments — worse than that, unreal. And standing lonely there, His swollen heart burst out, and on the grass He flung himself and wept. He knew, alas! The loss so great his life could never heal.
For days thereafter Eunice lived retired, Waited upon by one old serving-maid. She would not leave her chamber, and desired Only to hide herself. She was afraid Of what her eyes might trick her into seeing, Of what her longing urge her then to do. What was this dreadful illness solitude Had tortured her into? Her hours went by in a long constant fleeing The thought of that one morning. And her being Bruised itself on a happening so rude.
It grew ripe Summer, when one morning came Her tirewoman with a letter, printed Upon the seal were the Deane crest and name. With utmost gentleness, the letter hinted His understanding and his deep regret. But would she not permit him once again To pay her his profound respects? No word Of what had passed should pain Her resolution. Only let them get Back the old comradeship. Her eyes were wet With starting tears, now truly she deplored
His misery. Yes, she was wrong to keep Away from him. He hardly was to blame. 'Twas she — she shuddered and began to weep. 'Twas her fault! Hers! Her everlasting shame Was that she suffered him, whom not at all She loved. Poor Boy! Yes, they must still be friends. She owed him that to keep the balance straight. It was such poor amends Which she could make for rousing hopes to gall Him with their unfulfilment. Tragical It was, and she must leave him desolate.
Hard silence he had forced upon his lips For long and long, and would have done so still Had not she — here she pressed her finger tips Against her heavy eyes. Then with forced will She wrote that he might come, sealed with the arms Of Crowe and Frampton twined. Her heart felt lighter When this was done. It seemed her constant care Might some day cease to fright her. Illness could be no crime, and dreadful harms Did come from too much sunshine. Her alarms Would lessen when she saw him standing there,
Simple and kind, a brother just returned From journeying, and he would treat her so. She knew his honest heart, and if there burned A spark in it he would not let it show. But when he really came, and stood beside Her underneath the fruitless cherry boughs, He seemed a tired man, gaunt, leaden-eyed. He made her no more vows, Nor did he mention one thing he had tried To put into his letter. War supplied Him topics. And his mind seemed occupied.
Daily they met. And gravely walked and talked. He read her no more verses, and he stayed Only until their conversation, balked Of every natural channel, fled dismayed. Again the next day she would meet him, trying To give her tone some healthy sprightliness, But his uneager dignity soon chilled Her well-prepared address. Thus Summer waned, and in the mornings, crying Of wild geese startled Eunice, and their flying Whirred overhead for days and never stilled.
One afternoon of grey clouds and white wind, Eunice awaited Gervase by the river. The Dartle splashed among the reeds and whined Over the willow-roots, and a long sliver Of caked and slobbered foam crept up the bank. All through the garden, drifts of skirling leaves Blew up, and settled down, and blew again. The cherry-trees were weaves Of empty, knotted branches, and a dank Mist hid the house, mouldy it smelt and rank With sodden wood, and still unfalling rain.
Eunice paced up and down. No joy she took At meeting Gervase, but the custom grown Still held her. He was late. She sudden shook, And caught at her stopped heart. Her eyes had shown Sir Everard emerging from the mist. His uniform was travel-stained and torn, His jackboots muddy, and his eager stride Jangled his spurs. A thorn Entangled, trailed behind him. To the tryst He hastened. Eunice shuddered, ran — a twist Round a sharp turning and she fled to hide.
But he had seen her as she swiftly ran, A flash of white against the river's grey. "Eunice," he called. "My Darling. Eunice. Can You hear me? It is Everard. All day I have been riding like the very devil To reach you sooner. Are you startled, Dear?" He broke into a run and followed her, And caught her, faint with fear, Cowering and trembling as though she some evil Spirit were seeing. "What means this uncivil Greeting, Dear Heart?" He saw her senses blur.
Swaying and catching at the seat, she tried To speak, but only gurgled in her throat. At last, straining to hold herself, she cried To him for pity, and her strange words smote A coldness through him, for she begged Gervase To leave her, 'twas too much a second time. Gervase must go, always Gervase, her mind Repeated like a rhyme This name he did not know. In sad amaze He watched her, and that hunted, fearful gaze, So unremembering and so unkind.
Softly he spoke to her, patiently dealt With what he feared her madness. By and by He pierced her understanding. Then he knelt Upon the seat, and took her hands: "Now try To think a minute I am come, my Dear, Unharmed and back on furlough. Are you glad To have your lover home again? To me, Pickthorn has never had A greater pleasantness. Could you not bear To come and sit awhile beside me here? A stone between us surely should not be."
She smiled a little wan and ravelled smile, Then came to him and on his shoulder laid Her head, and they two rested there awhile, Each taking comfort. Not a word was said. But when he put his hand upon her breast And felt her beating heart, and with his lips Sought solace for her and himself. She started As one sharp lashed with whips, And pushed him from her, moaning, his dumb quest Denied and shuddered from. And he, distrest, Loosened his wife, and long they sat there, parted.
Eunice was very quiet all that day, A little dazed, and yet she seemed content. At candle-time, he asked if she would play Upon her harpsichord, at once she went And tinkled airs from Lully's `Carnival' And `Bacchus', newly brought away from France. Then jaunted through a lively rigadoon To please him with a dance By Purcell, for he said that surely all Good Englishmen had pride in national Accomplishment. But tiring of it soon
He whispered her that if she had forgiven His startling her that afternoon, the clock Marked early bed-time. Surely it was Heaven He entered when she opened to his knock. The hours rustled in the trailing wind Over the chimney. Close they lay and knew Only that they were wedded. At his touch Anxiety she threw Away like a shed garment, and inclined Herself to cherish him, her happy mind Quivering, unthinking, loving overmuch.
Eunice lay long awake in the cool night After her husband slept. She gazed with joy Into the shadows, painting them with bright Pictures of all her future life's employ. Twin gems they were, set to a single jewel, Each shining with the other. Soft she turned And felt his breath upon her hair, and prayed Her happiness was earned. Past Earls of Crowe should give their blood for fuel To light this Frampton's hearth-fire. By no cruel Affrightings would she ever be dismayed.
When Everard, next day, asked her in joke What name it was that she had called him by, She told him of Gervase, and as she spoke She hardly realized it was a lie. Her vision she related, but she hid The fondness into which she had been led. Sir Everard just laughed and pinched her ear, And quite out of her head The matter drifted. Then Sir Everard chid Himself for laziness, and off he rid To see his men and count his farming-gear.
At supper he seemed overspread with gloom, But gave no reason why, he only asked More questions of Gervase, and round the room He walked with restless strides. At last he tasked Her with a greater feeling for this man Than she had given. Eunice quick denied The slightest interest other than a friend Might claim. But he replied He thought she underrated. Then a ban He put on talk and music. He'd a plan To work at, draining swamps at Pickthorn End.
Next morning Eunice found her Lord still changed, Hard and unkind, with bursts of anger. Pride Kept him from speaking out. His probings ranged All round his torment. Lady Eunice tried To sooth him. So a week went by, and then His anguish flooded over; with clenched hands Striving to stem his words, he told her plain Tony had seen them, "brands Burning in Hell," the man had said. Again Eunice described her vision, and how when Awoke at last she had known dreadful pain.
He could not credit it, and misery fed Upon his spirit, day by day it grew. To Gervase he forbade the house, and led The Lady Eunice such a life she flew At his approaching footsteps. Winter came Snowing and blustering through the Manor trees. All the roof-edges spiked with icicles In fluted companies. The Lady Eunice with her tambour-frame Kept herself sighing company. The flame Of the birch fire glittered on the walls.
A letter was brought to her as she sat, Unsealed, unsigned. It told her that his wound, The writer's, had so well recovered that To join his regiment he felt him bound. But would she not wish him one short "Godspeed", He asked no more. Her greeting would suffice. He had resolved he never should return. Would she this sacrifice Make for a dying man? How could she read The rest! But forcing her eyes to the deed, She read. Then dropped it in the fire to burn.
Gervase had set the river for their meeting As farthest from the farms where Everard Spent all his days. How should he know such cheating Was quite expected, at least no dullard Was Everard Frampton. Hours by hours he hid Among the willows watching. Dusk had come, And from the Manor he had long been gone. Eunice her burdensome Task set about. Hooded and cloaked, she slid Over the slippery paths, and soon amid The sallows saw a boat tied to a stone.
Gervase arose, and kissed her hand, then pointed Into the boat. She shook her head, but he Begged her to realize why, and with disjointed Words told her of what peril there might be From listeners along the river bank. A push would take them out of earshot. Ten Minutes was all he asked, then she should land, He go away again, Forever this time. Yet how could he thank Her for so much compassion. Here she sank Upon a thwart, and bid him quick unstrand
His boat. He cast the rope, and shoved the keel Free of the gravel; jumped, and dropped beside Her; took the oars, and they began to steal Under the overhanging trees. A wide Gash of red lantern-light cleft like a blade Into the gloom, and struck on Eunice sitting Rigid and stark upon the after thwart. It blazed upon their flitting In merciless light. A moment so it stayed, Then was extinguished, and Sir Everard made One leap, and landed just a fraction short.
His weight upon the gunwale tipped the boat To straining balance. Everard lurched and seized His wife and held her smothered to his coat. "Everard, loose me, we shall drown —" and squeezed Against him, she beat with her hands. He gasped "Never, by God!" The slidden boat gave way And the black foamy water split — and met. Bubbled up through the spray A wailing rose and in the branches rasped, And creaked, and stilled. Over the treetops, clasped In the blue evening, a clear moon was set.
They lie entangled in the twisting roots, Embraced forever. Their cold marriage bed Close-canopied and curtained by the shoots Of willows and pale birches. At the head, White lilies, like still swans, placidly float And sway above the pebbles. Here are waves Sun-smitten for a threaded counterpane Gold-woven on their graves. In perfect quietness they sleep, remote In the green, rippled twilight. Death has smote Them to perpetual oneness who were twain.