The Noble Lady’s Tale

I

     “We moved with pensive paces,
             I and he,
     And bent our faded faces
             Wistfully,
For something troubled him, and troubled me.

     “The lanthorn feebly lightened
             Our grey hall,
     Where ancient brands had brightened
             Hearth and wall,
And shapes long vanished whither vanish all.

     “‘O why, Love, nightly, daily,’
             I had said,
     ‘Dost sigh, and smile so palely,
             As if shed
Were all Life’s blossoms, all its dear things dead?’

     “‘Since silence sets thee grieving,’
             He replied,
     ‘And I abhor deceiving
             One so tried,
Why, Love, I’ll speak, ere time us twain divide.’

     “He held me, I remember,
             Just as when
     Our life was June — (September
             It was then);
And we walked on, until he spoke again.

     “‘Susie, an Irish mummer,
             Loud-acclaimed
     Through the gay London summer,
             Was I; named
A master in my art, who would be famed.

     “‘But lo, there beamed before me
             Lady Su;
     God’s altar-vow she swore me
             When none knew,
And for her sake I bade the sock adieu.

     “‘My Lord your father’s pardon
             Thus I won:
     He let his heart unharden
             Towards his son,
And honourably condoned what we had done;

     “‘But said — recall you, dearest? —
             As for Su,
     I’d see her — ay, though nearest
             Me unto —
Sooner entombed than in a stage purlieu!

     “‘Just so. — And here he housed us,
             In this nook,
     Where Love like balm has drowsed us:
             Robin, rook,
Our chief familiars, next to string and book.

     “‘Our days here, peace-enshrouded,
             Followed strange
     The old stage-joyance, crowded,
             Rich in range;
But never did my soul desire a change,

     “‘Till now, when far uncertain
             Lips of yore
     Call, call me to the curtain,
             There once more,
But once, to tread the boards I trod before.

     “‘A night — the last and single
             Ere I die —
     To face the lights, to mingle
             As did I
Once in the game, and rivet every eye!’

     “‘To something drear, distressing
             As the knell
     Of all hopes worth possessing!’ . . .
            — What befell
Seemed linked with me, but how I could not tell.

     “Hours passed; till I implored him,
             As he knew
     How faith and frankness toward him
             Ruled me through,
To say what ill I had done, and could undo.

     “‘FaithFrankness. Ah! Heaven save such!’
             Murmured he,
     ‘They are wedded wealth! gave such
             Liberally,
But you, Dear, not. For you suspected me.’

     “I was about beseeching
             In hurt haste
     More meaning, when he, reaching
             To my waist,
Led me to pace the hall as once we paced.

     “‘I never meant to draw you
             To own all,’
     Declared he. ‘But — I saw you —
             By the wall,
Half-hid. And that was why I failed withal!’

     “‘Where? when?’ said I — ‘Why, nigh me,
             At the play
     That night. That you should spy me,
             Doubt my fay,
And follow, furtive, took my heart away!’

     “That I had never been there,
             But had gone
     To my locked room — unseen there,
             Curtains drawn,
Long days abiding — told I, wonder-wan.

     “‘Nay, ’twas your form and vesture,
             Cloak and gown,
     Your hooded features — gesture
             Half in frown,
That faced me, pale,’ he urged, ‘that night in town.

     “‘And when, outside, I handed
             To her chair
     (As courtesy demanded
             Of me there)
The leading lady, you peeped from the stair.

     “Straight pleaded I: ‘Forsooth, Love,
             Had I gone,
     I must have been in truth, Love,
             Mad to don
Such well-known raiment.’ But he still went on

     “That he was not mistaken
             Nor misled. —
     I felt like one forsaken,
             Wished me dead,
That he could think thus of the wife he had wed!

     “His going seemed to waste him
             Like a curse,
     To wreck what once had graced him;
             And, averse
To my approach, he mused, and moped, and worse.

     “Till, what no words effected
             Thought achieved:
     It was my wraith — projected,
             He conceived,
Thither, by my tense brain at home aggrieved.

     “Thereon his credence centred
             Till he died;
     And, no more tempted, entered
             Sanctified,
The little vault with room for one beside.”

III

     Thus far the lady’s story. —
             Now she, too,
     Reclines within that hoary
             Last dark mew
In Mellstock Quire with him she loved so true.

     A yellowing marble, placed there
             Tablet-wise,
     And two joined hearts enchased there
             Meet the eyes;
And reading their twin names we moralize:

     Did she, we wonder, follow
             Jealously?
     And were those protests hollow? —
             Or saw he
Some semblant dame? Or can wraiths really be?

     Were it she went, her honour,
             All may hold,
     Pressed truth at last upon her
             Till she told —
(Him only — others as these lines unfold.)

     Riddle death-sealed for ever,
             Let it rest! . . .
     One’s heart could blame her never
             If one guessed
That go she did. She knew her actor best.

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