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Take note, my lady, that your way
Lies backward to the Chatelet!”
She shook her head and gazed awhile
At her.cold hands with a rueful smile,
As though this thing had made her mad.

This was the parting that they had
Beside the haystack in the floods.

William Morris

16

RHYME OF THE DUCHESS MAY 1

B

ROAD the forests stood (I read) on the hills of

Linteged; And three hundred years had stood mute adown each hoary

wood, Like a full heart having prayed.

And the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang

west; And but little thought was theirs of the silent antique years,

In the building of their nest.

Down the sun dropt large and red on the towers of Linteged,Lance and spear upon the height, bristling strange in fiery

light, While the castle stood in shade.

There the castle stood up black with the red sun at its back, Like a sullen, smoldering pyre with a top that flickers fire And five hundred archers tall did besiege the castle wall, And the castle seethed in blood, fourteen days and nights

When the wind is on its track.

1 The prologue and epilogue of the poem, together with the parenthetical burden (“Toll slowly”), which appears between the first and second lines of every stanza, are here omitted.

had stood And to-night was near its fall.

Yet thereunto, blind to doom, three months since, a bride

did come,

One who proudly trod the floors, and softly whispered in the

doors, "May good angels bless our home.”

Oh, a bride of queenly eyes, with a front of constancies, Oh, a bride of cordial mouth where the untired smile of

youth Did light outward its own sighs!

'Twas a duke's fair orphan girl, and her uncle's ward

the earl,

Who betrothed her twelve years old, for the sake of dowry

gold, To his son Lord Leigh the churl.

But what time she had made good all her years of womanhood, Unto both these lords of Leigh spake she out right sovranly, “My will runneth as my blood.

"And while this same blood makes red this same right hand's

veins," she said, " 'Tis

my will as lady free, not to wed a lord of Leigh, But Sir Guy of Linteged.”

The old earl he smiled smooth, then he sighed for willful

youth,

“Good my niece, that hand withal looketh somewhat soft and

small For so large a will in sooth.”

She, too, smiled by that same sign; but her smile was cold

and fine. “Little hand clasps muckle gold, or it were not worth the

hold Of thy son, good uncle mine."

Then the young lord jerked his breath, and sware thickly in

his teeth,“He would wed his own betrothed, an she loved him an she

loathed, Let the life come, or the death.”

Up she rose with scornful eyes, as her father's child might

rise,“Thy hound's blood, my Lord of Leigh, stains thy knightly

heel,” quoth she, And he moans not where he lies;

“But a woman's will dies hard, in the hall or on the swardBy that grave, my lords, which made me orphaned girl and

dowered lady, I deny you wife and ward!”

Unto each she bowed her head, and swept past with lofty tread Ere the midnight bell had ceased, in the chapel had the pries

Blessed her, bride of Linteged.

Fast and fain the bridal train along the night storm rode amain Hard the steeds of lord and serf struck their hoofs out on th

turf, In the pauses of the rain.

Fast and fain the kinsmen's train along the storm pursued

amain, Steed on steed-track, dashing off,--thickening, doubling, hoof

on hoof, In the pauses of the rain.

And the bridegrcom led the flight on his red-roan steed of

might, And the bride lay on his arm, still, as if she feared no harm,

Smiling out into the night.

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"Dost thou fear?” he said at last. “Nay,” she answered him

in haste,“Not such death as we could find: only life with one behind.

Ride on fast as fear, ride fast!”

Up the mountain wheeled the steed, girth to ground, and fet

locks spread, Headlong bounds, and rocking flanks,--down he staggered,

down the banks, To the towers of Linteged.

High and low the serfs looked out, red the flambeaus tossed

about, In the courtyard rose the cry, “Live the duchess and Sir Guy!”

But she never heard them shout.

On the steed she dropped her cheek, kissed his mane, and kissed

his neck,“I had happier died by thee than lived on a Lady Leigh,”

Were the first words she did speak.

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But a three-months' joyaunce lay 'twixt that moment and

to-day, When five hundred archers tall stand beside the castle wall

To recapture Duchess May.

And the castle standeth black, with the red sun at its back; And a fortnight's siege is done; and, except the duchess, none

Can misdoubt the coming wrack.

Then the captain, young Lord Leigh, with his eyes so gray

of blee, And thin lips that scarcely sheath the cold white gnashing of

his teeth, Gnashed in smiling, absently,

Cried aloud, “So goes the day, bridegroom fair of Duchess

May!
Look thy last upon that sun! if thou seest to-morrow's one

'Twill be through a foot of clay.

“Ha, fair bride! dost hear no sound, save that moaning of the

hound? Thou and I have parted troth; yet I keep my vengeance-oath,

And the other may come round.

“Ha! thy will is brave to dare, and thy new love past com

pare; Yet thine old love's falchion brave is as strong a thing to have

As the will of lady fair.

“Peck on blindly, netted dove! If a wife's name thee behove, Thou shalt wear the same to-morrow, ere the grave has hid

the sorrow Of thy last ill-mated love.

“O'er his fixed and silent mouth thou and I will call back

troth; He shall altar be and priest; and he will not cry at least,

'I forbid you, I am loath!'

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