Poems, now first collected/Hebe
See, what a beauty! Half-shut eyes,—
Hide all buff, and without a break
To the tail's brown tuft that mostly lies
So quiet one thinks her scarce awake;
But pass too near, one step too free,
You find her slumber a devil's truce:
Up comes that paw,—all plush, you see,—
Out four claws, fit for Satan's use.
'Ware! Just a sleeve's breadth closer then,
And your last appearance on any stage!
Loll, if you like, by Daniel's Den,
But clear and away from Hebe's cage:—
That 's Hebe! listen to that purr,
Rumbling as from the ground below:
Strange, when the ring begins to stir,
The fleshings always vex her so.
You think 't were a rougher task by far
To tame her mate with the sooty mane?
A splendid bronze for a showman's car,
And listless enough for bit and rein.
But Hebe is—just like all her sex—
Not good, then bad,—be sure of that:
In either case 't would a sage perplex
To make them out, both woman and cat.
A curious record, Hebe's. Reared
In Italy; age,—that's hard to fix;
Trained from a cub, until she feared
The lash, and learned her round of tricks;
Always a traveller,—one of two
A woman-tamer took in hand,
Whipped them, coaxed them,—and so they grew
To fawn or cower at her command.
None but Florina—that was her name
And this the story of Hebe here—
Entered their cage; the brutes were tame
As kittens, though, their mistress near.
A tall, proud wench as ever was seen,
Supple and handsome, full of grace:
The world would bow to a real queen
That had Florina's form and face.
Her lover—for one she had, of course—
Was Marco, acrobat, circus-star,
The lightest foot on a running horse,
The surest leap from a swinging bar;
And she,—so jealous he dared not touch
A woman's hand, and, truth to say,
He had no humor to tease her much
Till a girl in spangles crossed their way.
'T was at Marseilles, the final scene:
This pretty rider joined the ring,
Ma'am'selle Celeste or Victorine,
And captured him under Florina's wing.
They hid their meetings, but when, you see,
Doubt holds the candle, love will show,
And in love's division the one of three,
Whose share is lessened, needs must know.
One night, then, after the throng outpoured
From the show, and the lions my Lady's power
Had been made to feel, with lash that scored
And eye that cowed them, a snarling hour;—
(They were just in the mood for pleasantry
Of those holidays when saints were thrown
To beasts, and the Romans, entrance-free,
Clapped hands;)—that night, as she stood alone,
Florina, Queen of the Lions, called
Sir Marco toward her, while her hand
Still touched the spring of a door that walled
Her subjects safe within Lion-land.
He came there panting, hot from the ring,
So brave a figure that one might know
Among all his tribe he must be king,—
If in some wild tract you met him so.
"Do you love me still," she asked, "as when
You swore it first?" "Have never a doubt!"
"But I have a fancy—men are men,
And one whim drives another out,"—
"What fancy? Is this all? Have done:
You tire me." "Look you, Marco! oh,
I should die if another woman won
Your love,—but would kill you first, you know!"
"Kill me? and how,—with a jealous tongue?"
"Thus!" quoth Florina, and slipped the bolt
Of the cage's door, and headlong flung
Sir Marco, ere he could breathe, the dolt!
Plump on the lion he bounced, and fell
Beyond, and Hebe leapt for him there,—
No need for their lady's voice to tell
The work in hand for that ready pair.
They say one would n't have cared to see
The group commingled, man and beast,
Or to hear the shrieks and roars,—all three
One red, the feasters and the feast!
Guns, pistols, blazed, till the lion sprawled,
Shot dead, but Hebe held to her prey
And drank his blood, while keepers bawled
And their hot irons made yon scars that day.
But the woman? True, I had forgot:
She never flinched at the havoc made,
Nor gave one cry, but there on the spot
Drove to the heart her poniard-blade,
Straight, like a man, and fell, nor stirred
Again;—so that fine pair were dead;
One lied, and the other kept her word,—
And death pays debts, when all is said.
So they hustled Hebe out of France,
To Spain, or may be to England first.
Then hitherward over seas, by chance,
She came as you see her, always athirst,—
As if, like the tigresses that slink
In the village canes of Hindostan,
Of one rare draught she loves to think,
And ever to get it must plan and plan.