AT THE THRESHOLD.
AY! there is Silly Nanny with the child!
And here am I, a-chopping wood, you see!—
For Tom has got the fit, and drinking wild—
We’ve a hard pull to manage such as he!
Drink makes him mad, and he will have his way;
I wouldn’t be the one to speak him nay;
But, Lord! his heart is right, his love is tried,
And we’ve a trick that serves our purpose best—
I chop the sticks, and make a bright fire-side,
And Nanny, though she’s witless, does the rest!
For though he’d frown on me when he’s in drink,
His girl can manage him and bring him round:
Though she’s no brains to use, no head to think,
Though Nature stinted her, her heart is sound.
Well, father sees her moving ’bout the place
With kindly ways and tender quiet face,
And thinks, I know, how Nature has denied
His Nanny wits, but made her all good-will,—
Then, his eyes fall upon the bright fire-side,
And he feels shamed to use his brains so ill!
He thinks,—how witless ones are good and kind,
How even silly beasts have gentle ways,
And all the while the fire-light fills his mind
With homely thoughts of cozier, brighter days;
And by the time I bring his cup o’ tea,
The drink is conquer’d, he has warm’d to me!
His eyes grow dim, he holds his arms out wide,
Poor Nanny brings the baby to his breast!—
Ay! there’s our plan! Make up a bright fire-side,
And leave a man’s own love to do the rest!
‘At The Threshold’ was published in A Round of Days (George Routledge & Sons, 1866).
THE BACHELOR DREAMS.
THE world is dreary, I am growing old,
Wife nor bairn makes glad my chamber still,
The wintry season cometh with its cold,
The hearth is dark, and the wind without is shrill;
Yea! twilight gloams around me—hope and power
Depart, like scent and colour from a flower—
Yet, where I sit, sweet music floats to me:
’Tis the falling, falling, of a silver shower
Around a forest tree!
Ah! can I hear the scented rain intone?
Can I hear the leaves that stir and sigh
Or hear I but the movement and the moan
Of busy folk that hurry darkly by?
Nay!—for a white hand lies in mine, sweet eyes
Shine on me, and a happy maiden cries!
Nay! for my blood again flows fresh and free,—
To the falling, falling, of the shower that sighs
Around the forest tree!
And can it be so many years ago,
Since I clasp’d her, ’neath the leaves, that summer day?
And were there words of parting, words of woe?
Sits she among her children far away?
Can she hear the sweet and melancholy sound?
Doth she see the shining dewdrops on the ground?
Doth she flutter like the leaves and dream of me,—
To the falling, falling, of the rain around
The murmurous forest tree?
The city closes round me, I am old,
Yet ’tis melody from country lanes I hear;
The wintry season cometh with its cold,
The hearth is dark, and the end of all is near;
Yet, love, the city fadeth with its pain!
The old bright dream is drowsy on my brain!
And my life is flowing earthward fast and free,—
To the falling, falling, of the summer rain
Around a forest tree!
‘The Bachelor Dreams’ was published in The Argosy (No. 6, May 1866).
Hugo the Bastard.
BY ROBERT BUCHANAN.
I PICKED this quarrel, D’Avanne, with thee,
And I thank thee for giving that death-thrust sure.
Little, I swear, did it matter to me
Whether Blanche thy mistress was stained or pure;
All that I sought, when I picked this fight,
Was a knightly death by the hand of a knight.
Hold thy kerchief, De Loye, to my breast,
And stanch the red gap as well as you can—
Ugh! Jesu be praised, I shall soon be at rest—
A priest—no, by heaven! your hand, D’Avanne.
We’re friends, I trust? you forgive the lie?
Injure you, slander you, faith not I!
Thy Blanche is as pure as my sin is small;
I questioned her purity—only to die.
And I’ve proved she is pure with my blood, that’s all.
Ah, friend, all slander is most accurst,
But the slander of one’s own eyes is the worst.
Doubt not, doubt not, doubt not, D’Avanne,
By thy faith in thy mistress ever trust,
So walk erect the full height of a man,
When I am dust.
De Loye, you knew her? my wife that is dead?
Nay, man, never tremble and hang your head!
I know what I’m talking about, and moreover
The scandalmongers of dull Navarre
Have cropped the whole tale up, spawn that they are,
Chew’d the cud, too, as cattle eat succulent clover.
Let them! who hinders! not I, I swear,
I who am going to join her up there!
Hush—lift me, De Loye, prop my head on your knee—
Your hands, but come closer—and listen to me.
What was I but a sin in the night
Sprung up at last to a human height,
Hugo the Bastard, sans name, sans treasure,
The mortal scum of a monarch’s pleasure?
But I strode to the Court, with my sword on loin,
Rugged of feature, but scant of coin,
Till over his golden beard smiled Francis,
And gave me some little fighting to do;
So I rose in the world by the merest chances
And rose in my own opinion too.
But look at this head, like the head of an elf;
This beak of a nose, these eyeballs yellow;
I’ve looked in the mirror and hated myself—
I was ever the same—an ill-favoured fellow!
Base-born, moreover, of no degree!
God bless her, therefore, for smiling on me.
How they stared! Just as you, De Loye, stare now!
Even King Francis made a grimace!
None of the gad-flies could understand how
A lady so perfect of form and face
Should place her white little dove of a hand
In the great black palm of M’sieu Hugo—
She did it, though! and they tied the band
Snug enough in a town where few go.
From Paris we came to Navarre, and bade
Francis adieu and his gorgeous train—
How firm I felt on my legs! how glad!
The bright blood sparkled through every vein
With the beaded brilliance of bright champagne!
I was rich, pretty rich, as you guess, by this time—
I was never a man to waste money or miss time.
And here in Navarre, at Castle Blois—
A place to be proud of, though small, we led
Such a life! a summer dream of joy!
Till she lay in the darkness and bare me my boy,
Who caught but a glimpse of her beauty and fled.
Fled? Nay, I avow, De Loye, my friend,
His soul dwelt like light on her face till the end—
Just then came a line from the King: I must fain
Ride over the mountains and fight in Spain!
I have never forgot how she looked that night
When I showed her his Majesty’s mandate to leave—
While she rose on her pillow and strained me tight,
While her wild black hair in the dim lamp-light
Sparkled dark on a bosom too stony to grieve.
But she wept not, but gazed in a pale affright
With her great dark eyes. Ay, D’Avanne was right—
Women are nobler than men believe.
Off I rode! Shall I own it, not so unwilling
To return to the business of wounding and killing?
I was happy, most happy, though pleasure seemed tame,
I had feared any change, yet was pleased when it came.
Ah, we men! we male weathercocks! what are we,
That women should love us so utterly?
Off I rode, sword on hip; and was soon far away,
Tickling the Spaniard’s yellow gizzards,
Fighting, tramping, ’neath sun and star, away,
Till these cheeks of mine were as brown as lizards.
Not a scratch got I! The sharp steel shaved me
Closely as razors, and hissed as it fell—
What might have happened I cannot tell,
But on two occasions angels saved me—
Angels! Ah, I forgot: a boy—
(How I bleed!—press the kerchief closer, De Loye)—
An Italian boy, with great black eyes,
Tanned cheeks and an elfin head,
And a drooping underlip, berry-red,
Where the senses lighted like butterflies.
He turned up, pale, in the midst of the strife,
And brought me a letter from madam my wife—
Blessings, injunctions, protestations,
Kisses, prayers, asseverations;
Then: “The boy who brings you this, my Hugo,
A poor Italian, Angelo,
Craves that in battle he may with you go,
And learn what grown men, warriors, know;
Thy page, thy henchman, let him be—
I knew his mother in Italy.”
More blessings, injunctions, protestations,
Kisses, prayers, asseverations;
I kissed the letter, then turned me round
To the boy, who stood with his eyes on the ground,
With cheeks blushing ruddy as junipers,
And I liked him—because he had eyes like hers.
I made him my henchman, as she bade—
A capital henchman, too, he made,
Though once or twice, in the thick of the fight,
I fancied I saw his cheeks turn white;
Yet he bit his lips and upheld his head,
Struggled among the living and dead,
And saved my life three times, as I said.
Tanned and yellow’d, but full of fun,
Home we rode when the war was done;
Some dozen leagues from Castle Blois
I parted from Angelo, the boy,
Who promised to join me, his master, anon,
At home at the Castle. I galloped on.
And the rest was a dream, for my soul was astir,
And my heart was bounding to look on her—
Till she stood at the gate with her arms outheld,
And I slipt from the saddle and clasped her to me,
While the servants shouted, the mastiff yelled,
And a bliss like quicksilver sparkled through me!
The very next morning there came a billet
From Francis, compelling me, willy nilly,
On urgent affairs to the Court to repair straight;
Grumbling a little, I jumped on my mare straight;
Rode, entered Paris, saw Gold Beard again,
Who held out his hand with an air that delighted me—
Who praised me galore for my doings in Spain,
And, drawing his sword, with that grace of his, knighted me.
How glorious I felt when I mounted to ride
To Marie, in the pride of my honour new-gained!
How the hedges and fields whistled by, as I strained
Every nerve of the brute, hasting on to her side;
But lo! a tried servitor met me midway—
(Tried, mark you, and true—be he damned with my hate!)
Who whispered—(now mark how De Loye turns away—
You know what he whispered, De Loye—ay, but wait!)
That the dark-eyed Italian, Angelo,
The stripling whose face I had fancied so,
Had been watched one night as he quietly crept
Into the room where my lady slept.
I listened, dumb, then white as death,
Struck the grey fiend on the mouth, and he fell,
But followed, with all the devils of hell,
As I galloped onward, and scarce drew breath
Till I came to Castle Blois by night,
When the moon was up and the fields wore a light
Like the gleam of a lamp on a face that is dead.
(Higher—and grasp me under the shoulder;
There’s a hammering, clamouring, here in my head!
I’m growing weaker—I’m growing colder!)
Swiftly I sprang to my lady’s room,
The grey slave followed, and bore a lamp—
We rushed upstairs with a hasty tramp—
And, crouching back in the scatter’d gloom,
Without the door of her chamber, ho!—
His bright eyes sparkling, Angelo.
’Twas enough—by the throat I gripped him tight;
He could not speak—but his eyes were bright
With a beautiful horror, strange to see—
I hissed to the knave, “A death by steel
Were too sweet an end for such as he;
Help me to grip him neck and heel,
And place him in the great oaken chest
That lies in my chamber—for there he shall rest
Till he rot!” The grey knave, who was used to such work—
He had camped with the Arab, and smoked with the Turk—
Lent a hand, and ’twas done; and along the gloom,
The boy was borne to his living tomb:
And can I ever forget, De Loye,
That last despairing look of the boy,
Who strove in vain to utter a cry,
As we tomb’d him in silence, and left him to die?
Then strode I back, with a fiend in my soul,
These yellow eyes glaring, my face white as snow,
Firmly gripping the sword, free to settle the whole
Black account with the woman, my mistress. But no!
Her chamber was empty, the bird had fled,
I sat me down on the side of the bed,
Thought, trembled, and muttered “Let her go!”
[Raise me higher—prop my head!”
You know what the scandalmonger said.]
I kept my secret,—till now (I die!
De Loye, De Loye, bend down and hark!)
I fought, I swaggered, but by and by,
I rose one night, and groped in the dark,
Lit a lamp, and lifted the lid of the chest,
And saw HER . . . in her stripling’s raiment drest;
Her face shrivelled up, with her horror, dead eyes
Blankly staring on me—
Fair limbs twisted up in their agonies,
And . . . Marie!—Marie!
‘Hugo the Bastard’ was published in Temple Bar (October, 1866). Apparently Buchanan wished it to appear anonymously according to this item in The Patriot (1 November, 1866):
“Then it is said Mr. Robert Buchanan is going to try what the law will do for him. His last volume of poems he dedicated to Mr. Hepworth Dixon, of the Athenæum; whereupon a critic in the Westminster Review, reviewing the volume, and who, being a poet himself, has, perhaps, a right to devote himself to ‘the choking of singing birds,’ chose to fall foul of this dedication, and to attribute ‘sycophancy’ to the poet, whereat the great wrath and the threatened lawsuit. The same plaintiff will appear in another action against Mr. Bentley, the proprietor of Temple Bar, for publishing his name as that of the author of a poem called ‘Hugo the Bastard.’ Mr. Buchanan does not deny his paternity, but as the piece is not a favourable specimen of his style he thinks that he had a right to maintain his anonymity if he chose.”
Buchanan also wrote a letter to The Athenæum on 10th November, 1866 on the same matter.
Slip, yes, slip your skein, my Kitty,
O’er my hands, and wind, and wind,
All the while, with little pity,
Tangling, tangling, heart and mind:
Kitty! eyes upon the wool!
Not on me, my beautiful!
Now you droop your eyes completely,
Winding, winding, dreamilie;
Wherefore, wherefore smile so sweetly
On a thing that cannot see?
If you must smile, smile this way!
I will bear it as I may!
Ah! the rosebud fingers flitting
Swift about the colored ball!
How my heart beats time, while sitting;
Still, I try to bear it all:
Kitty, do you know or care
’Tis my heart you’re winding there?
Kitty, I am in a vision!
All the world to mist doth die;
Only, in an air Elysian,
Little fairy fingers fly:
Surely, if they flit too near,
I shall catch and kiss them, dear!
Tangled! pout not, frown not, Kitty!
Though I gladly bear the pain;
For your anger is so pretty,
It may make me sin again.
There! ’tis well! Now, wind, and wind,
Tangling further heart and mind!
Now, ’tis done! the last thread lingers
Sadly from me, slow to part;
Can’st thou see that in my fingers
I am holding up my heart?
Wind and wind! I do not care!
Smile or frown! and I will bear!
Ah! so fast and quick you wind it,
I no more can keep it mine;
Do you wonder that you find it
Throbbing now, close, close to thine:
Tangled, tangled are the twain;
Kiss, kiss, kiss them free again!
‘The Skein’ was published in the Broadway Magazine (No. 4, December 1867). It was reprinted in The New York Times, December 8th, 1867.
No. III.—A Fashionable Love Affair.
AND so we love our cousin James?
Trust the old woman for a seer!
Why, how the little lily flames,
The blue eyes open, and each ear
Hath turn’d into a rosebud, dear!
Ah! bless thee, Blanche, though I am old,
I guessed thy secret from the first,—
Though I am ugly, patch’d, and cold,
I’ve seen the world, its best and worst;
And ah! the world is cruel, bad, and rough;
Not that it calls me names—it is not that!
Life after twenty-five is sad enough,
At sixty-five, how dull and stale and flat!
Ah, child! though year on year in shame and woe
These feet have wander’d on through weary ways,
I never loved but once in all my days,—
Not wisely, ah! not wisely—but I know,
When all the light of all the world has passed,
That love will lift me up to God at last!
Blanche, little Blanche! how shall I phrase to thee
The truth—the shame—of him I cherished so?—
A wild gallant, such as there used to be
When I was young—’tis fifty years ago.
A ne’er-do-well, degraded, worn, and wild,
A knight, yet fallen from his knightly state,
Brought down by wine and wicked women, child;
But these were things I only knew too late;
And we, we Osbornes, were a race of fire—
No lily ladies sighing over fashions—
The blood of soldiers filled me, and my sire
Gave me quick humours and eternal passions!
And when I loved that man of evil fame—
Ere I knew all, love grew without control—
Child, I was his for ever—pride nor shame
Could come between our spirits—he became
A fearful part of my immortal soul.
They put stone walls between us—it was just!
But money opens doors—we met alone—
And I besought him, on my knees, to thrust
His evil fiend behind him, and atone!
Atone! atone! O the wild vows he swore!
I listen’d and believed; yet he sinned on—
Then, on the threshold of my father’s door,
One moonless night, I cried, ‘I love no more!
Thy shame has come between us—get thee gone!’
And fled into the sleeping house, and crept
Up the dark stairs, and felt along the gloom,
And found my mother waiting in my room,
And fell on that hard woman’s heart, and wept;
And ere I knew the terror, little one,
Ere I awoke from that dark, vague distress,
The world had grown all dark, the wrong was done,
And I was withering in a bridal dress.
Then came my folly—sin—it matters naught
What name they give to their unhallow’d thought!
One night—I was alone in my cold dwelling—
My lord was heaven knows where—at rout or ball—
There came the cackle of a gossip, telling
That he—that man—had fallen in a brawl—
Hurt unto death—and in a lodging lay
A street or two away.
Blanche, little Blanche! ere I could understand,
I sat by his bedside, and held his hand!
Ah! pity, pity me! All, all, was lost;
The world had gone and all the world can gain,
All, all, save him and his sick agony,
And those wild eyes that rolled in fever’d pain!
O God, forgive me! for I prayed and cried:
‘My place is here—here, here,—by this bedside!
Nothing is left me in the world but this—
This life that flutters o’er its opening grave—
These eyes that see not, lips that cannot kiss—
And this is all I crave!’
But he—that man I name not—raving lay,
Knowing me not, but dreaming of his crimes—
And—ah, the horror!—shrieking loud at times,
In blasphemies to make the hair turn gray—
Words, Blanche, to wither up the heart and chill
The weary love that listens on the ground;
But mine was love more piteous, more profound,
And ’mid the red-hot shame I loved him still—
Loved on with awfuller, intenser fire,
Loved on with Horror for my only friend,
Loved blindly on as mighty men aspire!
And, Blanche, there came reward before the end.
It was a sombre sunset; at his side
I kept my vigil, breathing soft and deep,
Watching his slumber, while the eventide
Scatter’d its dusky silver on his sleep.
And, Blanche, just then he woke, and look’d at me!
A wild, long look, bitter, without a breath!
And knew me, knew me, sinking wearily
As if to close his eyes in angry death;
Then look’d again, and moan’d upon his bed,
And that soft silver soften’d o’er his face;
And when, snow-pale, I bent above his head,
The lines of shame, and sorrow, and disgrace
Faded away, and left his features wan
As placid as a little one’s at prayer:
The great, pure soul that hides in every man
Came up into his eyes and trembled there;
And while as gently as a mother might,
I answered that sweet light,
And moved his head upon my arm, he smiled
And kissed me, like a child;
And fainter, fainter, grew his human heart,
And colder, colder, grew the tired bad clay,
While his diviner part
Sweeten’d and slipt away.
And thou art pale—so pale.
Kiss me, and pardon the old woman’s tale.
There was a separation, as you’ve heard—
My lord hush’d up the truth he never knew:
We parted quietly, without a word—
And here I am alive at sixty-two.
What the world said, who knows? this heart of mine
Broke not, but grew a little harder, colder,—
I lived, played cards, made gossip over wine;
I did not grieve—the loss was too divine—
I grieve still less, my dear, now I am older.
For now I see the past with clearer eyes,
Though people think me bad, and think aright:
The world is much amiss, but love is wise,
And what is pure one moment, I surmise,
Is pure for ever, in the world’s despite.
‘A Fashionable Love Affair’ was published in London Society (March, 1868).
A Drawing-Room Ballad.
IN the dawn of a golden morrow
May Marguerite went away;
Nought of sin or sorrow
Had touched that perfumed clay.
Each morning sweeter and whiter,
In the city dark she grew;
Here, as in places brighter,
The clouds rain down such dew.
The splendour and power of Nature
Rank’d little in her sight;
She was a city creature,
Smiling by candlelight.
The nooks where Love might meet her,
Fashion from sunshine shrouds;
Yet her hue than roses was sweeter,
Her motion was like a cloud’s.
Wherever the gas glared brightly,
May Marguerite tript and flew,
O’er the flower’d carpet as lightly
As if it blossom’d and blew.
Under her gentle seeing,
In her delicate little hand,
They placed the Book of Being,
To read and understand.
The Book was mighty and olden,
Yea, worn and eaten with age;
Though the letters looked great and golden,
She could not read a page.
The letters flutter’d before her,
And all look’d sweetly wild:
Death saw her, and bent o’er her,
As she pouted her lips and smiled.
And weary a little with tracing
The Book, she look’d aside,
And lightly smiling, and placing
A flower in its leaves, she died.
She died—but her sweetness fled not,
As fly the things of power,—
For the Book wherein she read not
Is the sweeter for the flower.
‘A Drawing-Room Ballad’ was published in London Society (July, 1868). The last five verses were published in the 1874 King edition of the Poetical Works as ‘On A Young Poetess’s Grave’.
A TERROR is in the city,
By night and by day,
And whenever that terror passes
I tremble and pray,
And the eye of my soul closes swiftly
To shut it away.
Not the sneer of the worldling,
The smirk of the saint,
Not the poor lost women
With their smile of paint,
But faces, and ever faces,
With a warning faint.
Faces, and ever faces,
They pass on the stream,—
Piteous human faces,
Like things in a dream;
Morning and night, and most awful
In the gaslight gleam.
Faces, terrible faces,
With a tale unsaid,
Fixed human faces
Whence the light has fled,
Faces, and ever faces,
Where the soul is dead.
Faces, lost pale faces,
Of the rich or the poor,
Faces of hearts where meanness
Hath eat to the core,
Faces—the signs of spirits
That muse no more.
The sadness of these faces
Is sad beyond belief,
Meaner than the shrill sorrow
Of the harlot or the thief;
The gladness of these faces
Is sadder than their grief.
Oh, there seems hope for evil,
Though bloodiest crime befall,—
But life that hath neither beauty
Nor foulness—it is so small!
Alas, for the frozen spirits
That do not stir at all!
They gather the gold and raiment,
They buy and they pay;
But, ah! at the glimpse of their faces
I tremble and pray,
And the eye of my soul closes quickly
To shut them away.
‘The Faces’ was published in London Society (October, 1868).
SUSPIRIA DE PROFUNDIS
BY ROBERT BUCHANAN.
(ILLUSTRATED BY J. D. WATSON.)
TO-NIGHT there is no moon—
How dark and still the sky looks overhead!
I think that we shall have a snow-fall soon,
Walk quicker? Nelly Blair’s your name, you said?
Have you been long in London?
I hate it! hate the town, and all its ways!
And I! An ugly place! all bad, all bad!
Hardhearted as a flint, and dull and dark!
Drink is the only comfort to be had;
But drink gets me in trouble always. Hark!
That’s twelve o’clock. Let’s stop a minute, do!
Here, down this quiet street—there’s no one nigh—
Sit on my shawl—I live in Lambeth too,—
We can go home together by-and-by.
How bad your cough is! It will kill you quite
This being out at night.
Kill me? It’s Death who doesn’t hear me call—
’Tis killing my ownself I fear to do!
If I’d the heart I’d leap off Waterloo
This night, and end it all.
Ah, how you cough! You’d best go home to bed!
Are you in pain? Rise up, and let us go!