Page:Household Words - Volume 12.djvu/613

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Charles Dickens.]
Dec. 13, 1855.] 31
THE POOR PENSIONER.

The signal came, the horses plunged—
  Once more she smiled around:
The purple blossom in the dust
  Lay trampled on the ground.

Again the slow years fleeted,
  Their passage only known
By the height the Passion-dower
  Around the porch had grown;
And many a passing traveller
  Paused at the old inn-door,
But the bride, so fair and blooming
  Return'd there never more.

One winter morning, Maurice,
  Watching the branches bare,
Rustling and waving dimly
  In the grey and misty air,
Saw blazon'd on a carnage
  Once more the well-known shield,
The azure fleurs-de-lis and stars
  Upon a silver field.

He looked—was that pale woman,
  So grave, so worn, so sad,
The child, once young and smiling,
  The bride, once fair and glad?
What grief had dimm'd that glory
  And brought that dark eclipse
Upon her blue eyes' radiance,
  And paled those trembling lips?
 
What memory of past sorrow,
  What stab of present pain,
Brought that deep look of anguish,
  That watch'd the dismal rain,
That watch'd (with the absent spirit
  That looks, yet does not see)
The dead and leafless branches
  Upon the Judas Tree.
 
The slow dark months crept onward
  Upon their icy way,
'Till April broke in showers,
  And Spring smiled forth in May,
Upon the apple-blossoms
  The sun shone bright again,
When slowly up the highway
  Came a long funeral train.

The bells toll'd slowly, sadly,
  For a noble spirit fled;
Slowly, in pomp and honour,
  They bore the quiet dead.
Upon a black-plumed charger
  One rode, who held a shield,
Where azure fleurs-de-lis and stars
  Shone on a silver field.

'Mid all that homage given
  To a fluttering heart at rest,
Perhaps an honest sorrow
  Dwelt only in one breast.
One by the inn-door standing
  Watch'd with fast-dropping tear*
The long procession passing,
  And thought of bygone years.

The boyish, silent homage
  To child and bride unknown,
The pitying tender sorrow
  Kept in his heart alone,
Now laid upon on the coffin
  With a purple flower, might he
Teld to the cold dead sleeper;
  The rest could only see
A fragrant purple blossom
  Pluck'd from a Judas Tree.


THE POOR PENSIONER.


I met her in the corridor, walking to and fro, and muttering to herself with a down-looking aspect, and a severe economy of dress, the season considered. I wondered how she came there, and was, to say the least of it, decidedly startled when she stopped directly opposite me, and, lifting a pair of blank, brown eyes to my face, said, in a stern voice:

"He was not guilty, my lord judge. God will right him yet. It will all come out some day. I can wait: yes, I can wait. I am more patient than death: I am more patient than injustice."

I made a hasty and undignified retreat down stairs when she left the passage free, and, meeting the waiter, inquired who the woman was. The man touched his forehead significantly, and said that she was harmless (I was very glad to hear it); and that she lived on the broken victuals; and that his mistress always gave her a dinner on Christmas-day. While we were speaking together, she descended to where we stood, and repeated the exact formula of which she had made use before. She was a tall woman, strong-limbed, and thin to meagreness. She might be fifty, or perhaps fifty-five; her skin was withered, and tanned by exposure to all sorts of weather, and her uncovered hair was burnt to a rusty iron-grey. The waiter suggested to her to go to the kitchen fire; at which she broke into a scornful laugh, and reiterated, "I am more patient than death. I am more patient than injustice," and then walked out at the open door into the snow.

"I don't think she feels it, sir," said the waiter, opening my door for me to enter.

I do not think she did. I watched her from my window. She took up a handful of the newly-fallen snow and thrust it into her bosom, then hugged it close, as if it were a living thing, that could be warmed by that eager clasp; I saw also, as she turned her dark face up towards the sky, that the angry scowl left it. I should imagine that all sensation in her was dead, except in one corner of her heart, to which had gathered the memory of some miserable wrong, whose acuteness would bide with her to the day of her death.

Her name, as I learnt on further inquiry, was Hester. She had been born and bred in the Yorkshire dales; her parents were of the yeoman class, and poor through improvidence rather than misfortune. As a girl, Hester was remarkable for her pride and her beauty, of which no more relics remained than are left of the summer rose-garden in drear and misty November. She received the scant education ommon to her condition half-a--