Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Alice du Clos; or, The Forked Tongue

A Ballad

'One word with two meanings is the traitor's shield and shaft: 
and a slit tongue be his blazon!'

                        Caucasian Proverb

'The Sun is not yet risen,
But the dawn lies red on the dew:
Lord Julian has stolen from the hunters away,
Is seeking, Lady! for you.
Put on your dress of green,
        Your buskins and your quiver:
Lord Julian is a hasty man,
        Long waiting brook'd he never.
I dare not doubt him, that he means
        To wed you on a day,
Your lord and master for to be,
        And you his lady gay.
O Lady! throw your book aside!
I would not that my Lord should chide.'

Thus spake Sir Hugh the vassal knight
        To Alice, child of old Du Clos,
As spotless fair, as airy light
        As that moon-shiny doe,
The gold star on its brow, her sire's ancestral crest!
For ere the lark had left his nest,
        She in the garden bower below
Sate loosely wrapt in maiden white,
Her face half drooping from the sight,
        A snow-drop on a tuft of snow!

O close your eyes, and strive to see
The studious maid, with book on knee,—
        Ah! earliest-open'd flower;
While yet with keen unblunted light
The morning star shone opposite
        The lattice of her bower—
Alone of all the starry host,
        As if in prideful scorn
Of flight and fear he stay'd behind,
        To brave th' advancing morn.

O! Alice could read passing well,
        And she was conning then
Dan Ovid's mazy tale of loves,
        And gods, and beasts, and men.

The vassal's speech, his taunting vein,
It thrill'd like venom thro' her brain;
        Yet never from the book
She rais'd her head, nor did she deign
        The knight a single look.

'Off, traitor friend! how dar'st thou fix
        Thy wanton gaze on me?
And why, against my earnest suit,
        Does Julian send by thee?
'Go, tell thy Lord, that slow is sure:
        Fair speed his shafts to-day!
I follow here a stronger lure,
        And chase a gentler prey.'

She said: and with a baleful smile
        The vassal knight reel'd off—
Like a huge billow from a bark
        Toil'd in the deep sea-trough,
That shouldering sideways in mid plunge,
        Is travers'd by a flash.
And staggering onward, leaves the ear
        With dull and distant crash.

And Alice sate with troubled mien
A moment; for the scoff was keen,
        And thro' her veins did shiver!
Then rose and donn'd her dress of green,
        Her buskins and her quiver.

There stands the flow'ring may-thorn tree!
From thro' the veiling mist you see
        The black and shadowy stem;—
Smit by the sun the mist in glee
Dissolves to lightsome jewelry—
        Each blossom hath its gem!

With tear-drop glittering to a smile,
The gay maid on the garden-stile
        Mimics the hunter's shout.
'Hip! Florian, hip! To horse, to horse!
        Go, bring the palfrey out.

'My Julian's out with all his clan.
        And, bonny boy, you wis,
Lord Julian is a hasty man,
        Who comes late, comes amiss.'

Now Florian was a stripling squire,
        A gallant boy of Spain,
That toss'd his head in joy and pride,
Behind his Lady fair to ride,
        But blush'd to hold her train.

The huntress is in her dress of green,—
And forth they go; she with her bow,
        Her buskins and her quiver!—
The squire—no younger e'er was seen—
        With restless arm and laughing een,
He makes his javelin quiver.

And had not Ellen stay'd the race,
And stopp'd to see, a moment's space,
        The whole great globe of light
Give the last parting kiss-like touch
To the eastern ridge, it lack'd not much,
        They had o'erta'en the knight.

It chanced that up the covert lane,
        Where Julian waiting stood,
A neighbour knight prick'd on to join
T        he huntsmen in the wood.

And with him must Lord Julian go,
Tho' with an anger'd mind:
        Betroth'd not wedded to his bride,
In vain he sought, 'twixt shame and pride,
        Excuse to stay behind.

He bit his lip, he wrung his glove,
He look'd around, he look'd above,
But pretext none could find or frame.
        Alas! alas! and well-a-day!
It grieves me sore to think, to say,
That names so seldom meet with Love,
        Yet Love wants courage without a name!

Straight from the forest's skirt the trees
        O'er-branching, made an aisle,
Where hermit old might pace and chaunt
        As in a minster's pile.

From underneath its leafy screen,
        And from the twilight shade,
You pass at once into a green,
        A green and lightsome glade.

And there Lord Julian sate on steed;
Behind him, in a round,
        Stood knight and squire, and menial train;
Against the leash the greyhounds strain;
        The horses paw'd the ground.

When up the alley green, Sir Hugh
        Spurr'd in upon the sward,
And mute, without a word, did he
        Fall in behind his lord.

Lord Julian turn'd his steed half round,—
'What! doth not Alice deign
        To accept your loving convoy, knight?
Or doth she fear our woodland sleight,
        And join us on the plain?'

With stifled tones the knight replied,
And look'd askance on either side,—
'        Nay, let the hunt proceed!—
The Lady's message that I bear,
I guess would scantly please your ear,
        And less deserves your heed.

'You sent betimes. Not yet unbarr'd
        I found the middle door;—
Two stirrers only met my eyes,
        Fair Alice, and one more.

'I came unlook'd for; and, it seem'd,
        In an unwelcome hour;
And found the daughter of Du Clos
        Within the lattic'd bower.

'But hush! the rest may wait. If lost,
        No great loss, I divine;
And idle words will better suit
        A fair maid's lips than mine.'

'God's wrath! speak out, man,' Julian cried,
        O'ermaster'd by the sudden smart;—
And feigning wrath, sharp, blunt, and rude,
The knight his subtle shift pursued.—
'Scowl not at me; command my skill,
To lure your hawk back, if you will,
        But not a woman's heart.

'"Go! (said she) tell him,—slow is sure;
        Fair speed his shafts to-day!
I follow here a stronger lure,
        And chase a gentler prey."

'The game, pardie, was full in sight,
That then did, if I saw aright,
        The fair dame's eyes engage;
For turning, as I took my ways,
I saw them fix'd with steadfast gaze
        Full on her wanton page.'

The last word of the traitor knight
It had but entered Julian's ear,—
        From two o'erarching oaks between,
With glist'ning helm-like cap is seen,
        Borne on in giddy cheer,

A youth, that ill his steed can guide;
Yet with reverted face doth ride,
        As answering to a voice,
That seems at once to laugh and chide—
'Not mine, dear mistress,' still he cried,
        ''Tis this mad filly's choice.'

With sudden bound, beyond the boy,
See! see! that face of hope and joy,
        That regal front! those cheeks aglow!
Thou needed'st but the crescent sheen,
A quiver'd Dian to have been,
        Thou lovely child of old Du Clos!

Dark as a dream Lord Julian stood,
Swift as a dream, from forth the wood,
Sprang on the plighted Maid!
        With fatal aim, and frantic force,
The shaft was hurl'd!—a lifeless corse,
Fair Alice from her vaulting horse,
        Lies bleeding on the glade

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