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The Collected Poems of Dora Sigerson Shorter/My Lady's Slipper

MY LADY'S SLIPPER

A TRUE STORY

I

I am a man who hath known trouble,
O'Ruarc of the Lake.
On my life's glass joy rose as a bubble
To glitter and break.

She laid in mine her hands long and slender,
So softly sweet,
Little curls on her head tasselled like tender
Gold autumn wheat.

Brown leaves around her whirling and falling,
Blown to her cheek.
I, with my heart for her loud in its calling,
Still could not speak!

Wife of my foe thus pleading before me,
There seemed no wrong:
With my mad passions that stifled and tore me
Who could be strong?

What had she shown me there in her weeping,
On her white arm?
Black, cruel bruises vividly keeping
Tales of alarm.

What had she begged me there in the morning,
God judge me well?
What had she said, that I without warning
Struggled in Hell?


“Take me and save me, be my defender,
Hide me away.”
She from my old foe bid me befriend her.
How could I stay?

Here was revenge for the old bitter wronging,
Here to my hand;
Here was the love of my life—of my longing,
Could I withstand?

Thrice did I turn to fly from my danger,
God judge me true,
Vowed that my love to her love was a stranger.
This did I do.

But when I looked on her, heard her calling,
Kneeling so low,
There the sun's sheen on golden locks falling.
How could I go?

“Dearly beloved, shaken with sorrow,
Branded with blows.
Which way does honour lie? think! for to-morrow
Only God knows!”

One man should use her so: he in whose keeping
Broken she lay;
One man should love her so, see her there weeping.
And turn away.

He were inhuman. Riding behind me
Home did she speed.
Which way did honour lie? Love did so blind me,
Great was her need.

There at my door did I linger awhile
Tending my horse,
Saw her flit up the long steps, and her smile
Bore no remorse.

On her pale brow was a look of soft peace.
Upward she went;
Never a glance in her welcome release
Backward she bent.

Red was her cloak, and her face like a flower
Dear to behold;
Little red slippers she wore in that hour
Buckled with gold.

Up the white steps like a flash of red flame,
In through the door;
Quick did I follow to tremble her name—
Saw her no more.

Saw her no more from that hour—she had gone,
Vanished away,
Like a bright light on my lone path that shone,
Then let me stray.


II

I had a neighbour—he was my friend,
Since in the wood
Lone our two houses were, each gable-end
United stood.

This was a manor once built for a knight
In days of old.
But with the centuries love and their fight
Squandered the gold.

So for my friend, when inheritance came
Coffers were bare.
Just the old keep and the weight of a name,
This was his share.


Then he divided the house into two—
I took a part.
Now in my grief for his guidance I flew,
Knowing his heart.

“At dawn he departed,” the little page said.—
Time without end.
Oh, on what broken wings laggard hours fled!
He was my friend.

So the years passed me and shed in their flight
Dust and decay;
Ruin and rust on the old manor clings,
Crumbling away.

Only my desolate chambers remain,
Racked by the wind;
All down the years go I seeking in vain—
Never to find.

Vanished my love—my friend—not a cry!
Leaving life's race,
Like the bright meteors that slip in the sky.
Leap into space.


III

The shadows are long, I crouch by the fire,
Bitter with years,
See all the shades of my former desire
Ghostly through tears.

Down the long hall to me, weary of play,
Comes my young hound;
At my feet, tumbled, his dusty toy lay—
What had he found?


There in the firelight glitter of gold,
God make me strong!
A little red slipper I tremulous hold.
Lost for so long.

So musty and faded, mouldy with years,
Where hidden and how!
Here, after searching, much passion and tears.
Come to me now.

“What is in hiding? Oh, track me the way—
Find her, my hound!”
Up the steep stairs he goes, eager for play,
Gambolling around.

Up to the turret room, close to the wall,
Barking he goes;
Tears till the wainscoting crumbling falls
Under his blows.

Rotten with age, here a panel unseen
Slips 'neath my hand;
Into the silence of love that has been,
I shuddering stand.

This is the secret hidden away.
Built in the wall—
Between the two houses a room cold and gray,
Gloomy and small.

Huddled and crumbling, stretched on the ground,
Mould and decay;
Dust to dust mingled, the secret is found.
So here they lay.

In one embrace down the desolate years
Over my head
Did they lie smiling and know of my tears,
Cruel and dead.


Here the grey spider had circled them o'er,
Hand to hand tied,
In their clasped fingers lay hidden his store,
There, too, he spied.

I was the fool then who linked in that clasp
Each skeleton hand;
Thus!—will I be he who loosens the grasp,
How was it planned?

Here is a phial: was death then so sweet,
Honour or life?
This was the only way lovers could meet—
She was a wife.

Wrapped in death's silence, safe from my scorn;
He was my friend:
It was his love whom I bore home that mom,
His to the end!

Was it the woman who plotted and spied,
Using my heart
Just for a stone there to step where the tide
Kept them apart?

Was he a coward, lying lowly to wait,
Giving me blame?
Vain do I strike him, avenging my fate.
Cursed be his name!

She was my love: did she bid him believe
I for his sake
Cast away honour to stoop and deceive.
Bore him the stake?

He was my friend: dare I doubt him and know?
What if it be
Nothing he knew of her coming—the blow
That fell on me?


Knowing his honour, it might be she came,
Since he was still.
What did she care for my torture or shame?—
I served her will.

Knowing his weakness under her eyes,
Boldly she flew
Into his arms, hushed his blame and surprise,
If this be true.

Speak to me once, for God's sake, till I know
What was the worst!
My friend, my beloved, did you both plan the blow
Made me accurst?

Speak to me once. O dear voices, for!
Wait to forgive!
Tell me your secret: the echoes reply—
I alone live.

Only the bark of my dog in the tower.
Glad in his play;
“Red was her cloak, and her face like a flower”;
Hide it away!