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The Duke stepped rather aside than forward,
And welcomed her with his grandest smile ;
And, mind you, his mother all the while
Chilled in the rear, like a wind to Norward ;
And up, like a weary yawn, with its pullies
Went, in a shriek, the rusty portcullis ;
And, like a glad sky the north-wind sullies,
The lady's face stopped its play,
As if her first hair had grown grey ;
For such things must begin some one day.
In a day or two she was well again ;
As who should say, “You labour in vain !
This is all a jest against God, who meant “ I should ever be, as I am, content “ And glad in his sight; therefore, glad I will be.” So, smilirg as at first went she.
She was active, stirring, all fire-
Could not rest, could not tire-
To a stone she might have given life !
(I myself loved once, in my day)
- For a shepherd's, miner's, huntsman's wife,
(I had a wife, I know what I say)
Never in all the world such an one!
And here was plenty to be done,
And she that could do it, great or small,
She was to do nothing at all.
There was already this man in his post,
This in his station, and that in his office,
And the Duke's plan admitted a wife, at most,
To meet his eye with the other trophies,
Now outside the hall, now in it,
To sit thus, stand thus, see and be seen,
At the proper place in the proper minute,
And die away the life between.
And it was amusing enough, each infraction
Of rule—(but for after-sadness that came)
To hear the consummate self-satisfaction
With which the young Duke and the old dame
Would let her advise, and criticise,
And, being a fool, instruct the wise,
And, child-like, parcel out praise or blame..
They bore it all in complacent guise,
As though an artificer, after contriving
A wheel-work image as if it were living,
Should find with delight it could motion to strike him
So found the Duke, and his mother like him :
The lady hardly got a rebuff-
That had not been contemptuous enough,
With his cursed smirk, as he nodded applause,
And kept off the old mother-cat's claws.
So, the little lady grew silent and thin,
Paling and ever paling,
As the way is with a hid chagrin ;
And the Duke perceived that she was ailing,
And said. in his heart, “’T is done to spite me,
“ But I shall find in my power to right me!”
Don't swear, friend! The old one, many a year,
Is in hell, and the Duke's self . . . you shall hear. -
Well, early in autumn, at first winter-warning,
When the stag had to break with his foot, of a morning
A drinking-hole out of the fresh tender ice,
That covered the pond till the sun, in a trice,
Loosening it, let out a ripple of gold,
And another and another, and faster and faster,
Till, dimpling to blindness, the wide water rolled,
Then it so chanced that the Duke our master
Asked himself what were the pleasures in season,
And found, since the calendar bade him be hearty,
He should do the Middle Age no treason
In resolving on a hunting-party.
Always provided, old books showed the way of it!
What meant old poets by their strictures ?
And when old poets had said their say of it,
How taught old painters in their pictures ?
We must revert to the proper channels,
Workings in tapestry, paintings on panels,
And gather up woodcraft's authentic traditions.
Here was food for our various ambitions,
As on each case, exactly stated-
To encourage your dog, now, the properest chirrup,
Or best prayer to St. Hubert on mounting your stirrup-
We of the household took thought and debated.
Blessed was he whose back ached with the jerkin
His sire was wont to do forest-work in ;
Blesseder he who nobly sunk “ohs”.
And “ahs” while he tugged on his grandsire's trunk-hose ;
What signified hats if they had no rims on,
Each slouching before and behind like the scallop,
And able to serve at sea for a shallop,
Loaded with lacquer and looped with crimson ?
So that the deer now, to make a short rhyme on ’t,
What with our Venerers, Prickers and Verderers,
Might hope for real hunters at length and not murderers,
And oh the Duke's tailor, he had a hot time on 't !
Now you must know that when the first dizziness
Of flap-hats and buff-coats and jack-boots subsided,
The Duke put this question, “ The Duke's part provided,
“ Had not the Duchess some share in the business ? "
For out of the mouth of two or three witnesses
Did he establish all fit-or-unfitnesses :
And, after much laying of heads together,
Somebody's cap got a notable feather
By the announcement with proper unction
That he had discovered the lady's function ;
Since ancient authors gave this tenet,
“ When horns wind a mort and the deer is at siege,
“ Let the dame of the castle prick forth on her jennet,
" And with water to wash the hands of her liege
“ In a clean ewer with a fair toweling,
“ Let her preside at the disemboweling."
Now, my friend, if you had so little religion
As to catch a hawk, some falcon-lanner,
And thrust her broad wings like a banner
Into a coop for a vulgar pigeon ;
And if day by day and week by week
You cut her claws, and sealed her eyes,
And clipped her wings, and tied her beak,
Would it cause you any great surprise
If, when you decided to give her an airing,
You found she needed a little preparing ?
-I say, should you be such a curmudgeon,
If she clung to the perch, as to take it in dudgeon ?
Yet when the Duke to his lady signified,
Just a day before, as he judged most dignified,
In what a pleasure she was to participate,-
And, instead of leaping wide in flashes,
Her eyes just lifted their long lashes,
As if pressed by fatigue even he could not dissipate,
And duly acknowledged the Duke's forethought,
But spoke of her health, if her health were worth aught,
Of the weight by day and the watch by night,
And much wrong now that used to be right,
So, thanking him, declined the hunting,
Was conduct ever more affronting?
With all the ceremony settled
With the towel ready, and the sewer
Polishing up his oldest ewer,
And the jennet pitched upon, a pieballed,
Black-barred, cream-coated and pink eye-balled, -
No wonder if the Duke was nettled !
And when she persisted nevertheless, --
Well, I suppose here 's the time to confess
That there ran half round our lady's chamber
A balcony none of the hardest to clamber ;
And that Jacynth the tire-woman, ready in waiting,
Stayed in call outside, what need of relating ?
And since Jacynth was like a June rose, why, a fervent
Adorer of Jacynth of course was your servant ;
And if she had the habit to peep through the casement,
How could I keep at any vast distance ?
And so, as I say, on the lady's persistence,
The Duke, dumb stricken with amazement,
Stood for a while in a sultry smother,
And then, with a smile that partook of the awful,
Turned her over to his yellow mother
To learn what was decorous and lawful ;
And the mother smelt blood with a cat-like instinct,
As her cheek quick whitened thro' all its quince-tinct.
Oh, but the lady heard the whole truth at once !
What meant she ?-Who was she ?--Her duty and station.
The wisdom of age and the folly of youth, at once,
Its decent regard and its fitting relation-
In brief, my friends, set all the devils in hell free
And turn them out to carouse in a belfry
And treat the priests to a fifty-part canon,
And then you may guess how that tongue of hers ran on!
Well, somehow or other it ended at last,
And, licking her whiskers, out she passed ;
And after her,-making (he hoped) a face