“ON board the Petrel, in St. Lucia's bay,
Of yellow fever—agèd twenty-nine.”
“Who did you say, my lady?” drawled the Earl.
“The duke—what duke?”
“I did not speak of dukes,”
Replied the Countess slowly, white and grim,
Pressing the rustling sheet between her palms,
The while her diamonds heaved upon her breast,
And sank and heaved, and glitter'd like her eyes—
Hungry, pathetic eyes,—“'Tis only Dick,
Only a sailor-lad I used to know.”
“Humph! A West Indian friend?” he softly sneer'd,
And bow'd and gave his arm. “The carriage waits—
My lady loses time.”
Then pass'd they out,
Through silky servants,—he, the great Earl, stark
In plume and crest and linked mediaeval steel,
The Countess en bergère, in white and red,
With roses, diamond dew-dropped, in her hat
And in her queenly bosom;—pass'd they out,
And, through clear gaslight and the avenue
Of silent Champs-Elysées, to the fête.
Her restless eyes were blind to all the blaze
And motley splendour of the throng'd saloons;
The flowers, the cool cascades, the magic wand
Of Strauss, the vine-draped balustrades, the gaze
Of wistful admiration meeting hers
At every step. The Empress smiled and bow'd,
The Emperor praised the beauty and the taste
Of her mock-rustic costume, princes begged
Her fair hand for the dance, and her grim lord
Scowl'd, wrathful, on her when she pass'd him by.
She cared for none,—she look'd beyond them all.
She saw another night—a hot, bright night—
A night of years ago—danced out in joy
'Neath the low roof-tree of a planter's house
In fair Antigua's bosom;—saw the stars,
Large, liquid, golden, swimming in the blue,
Shining through open doors and jalousies,
And the green sparkles of the fire-flies, thick
About the forest, fringing all the dark;
The crimson creepers swaying in the air
From white verandah pillars—swaying soft;
The small nest of a humming-bird; the stems,
Brown-ring'd, of feathery palm-trees,—plaintains bow'd
With broad, thick leaves, and clustering fruit, and seeds
In scarlet vessels—orange-groves, white-flower'd
And sweet, with hanging balls of green and gold—
All vaguely outlined in the mellow night.
And nearer still a brave, brown English face,
Bent low, with clear grey eyes and faithful lips
That whisper'd, “Reine, I love you,” meeting hers.
The drowsy sound of laughter and light feet
Behind them she could hear—but the quick throb
Of poor Dick's English heart upon her breast
She felt to suffocation. “Reine, my sweet,
I love you—Reine, I love you; kiss me, child.”
And her soft hands stray'd softly round his neck,
And softer still she kiss'd him.
Then she saw
A morning, hot and stormy—saw the Earl,
Drunk with her wondrous beauty, standing there
Where Dick had stood. She saw his cultured ways,
His high-bred, stately courtesy and grace;
She heard his subtle flatteries, his tales
Of the great world, of court and city life,
With gaping ears and speculating brain.
The voice of the arch-tempter, low and soft,
Spoke in his polished accents, “Reine, 'tis sin,
'Tis sin and shame, that such a face as yours
Should waste its sweetness in these heathen isles.
There's not a fairer face in Europe, Reine;
'Tis worth a coronet. Come back with me
As a great earl's wife; in his diamonds dress'd,
You would have homage like a crownèd queen.”
She shudder'd now,—his diamonds gall'd her worse
Than felon's chains.
Anon she saw a bay—
Blue, limpid water, fringed with dipping palms,
A green rock-gateway opening on the sea,
Green cane-fields stretching upward, woods and hills
Lying entangled in the summer clouds;
An English ship at anchor—burning noon—
A thin, brown, fever'd face, with hungry eyes
Roaming from side to side, in dumb appeal,
Which none could understand,—and dying lips
Muttering to vacant air and heedless ears,
“I love you, Reine, I love you!”
“O my love—
O Dick—my Dick—would I could sleep with thee
In thy last happy sleep among the palms,
With my dead hands clasp'd tight about thy neck!
O Dick, I did not mean it—did not think—
And now my heart is broken!
“Take me home.
The rooms are hot, my lord, and I am faint—
The music makes me giddy. Take me home!”
Ada Cambridge's Other Poems
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