The Collected Poems of Dora Sigerson Shorter/The Phantom Deer
THE PHANTOM DEER
“Do you hunt alone to-day, O Red Richard!
Pray you tell me, do you hunt all your lone?”
“Ay, I am for the chase, little cousin,
And wish no other spearing save my own.”
“And whither are you going, O Red Richard!
That I may from the terrace watch your way?”
“All deep within the magic woods of Toonagh,
It is there that my hunting is to-day.”
He vaulted to the saddle of his palfrey,
And laid across his arm the bridle-rein;
And he drew her to his knee, all fair and rosy,
Laughed—“A kiss, child, to bring me home again.”
Then he rode on all so gay, so forgetting,
His light kiss as a flame upon her cheek;
But she went back alone into her chamber,
There to weep like her tender heart would break.
“O my love! though you love me not, Red Richard,
As you ride with your heart all whole and gay”—
She drew from her breast a magic potion,
Saying, “Sweet will your hunting be to-day.”
“Three drops for you I drink, O Cousin Richard!
Three drops that you may have your heart's desire;
As a white deer I shall spring the glades before you.
Right merry shall you follow till you tire.”
Now came upon the pathway of Red Richard,
As he rode through the arbours of the wood,
A white doe, so beautiful and trembling
That all disarmed and wondering he stood.
“Very sweet you are and fair,” said Red Richard,
“Pretty doe, like a woman soft and white;
I could swear yours were the dark eyes of my cousin
That gaze with the sad mystery of night.”
Then he laughed, and the deer, all quickly turning,
Sprang before him through the glades deep and green;
Hot, he followed with his spear ever ready—
Oh, such hunting as this was never seen!
He followed her all fast by stream and valley,
He followed her all close through bog and briar;
Thrice she lured him round the woods by his castle,
But vanished ere he had his red desire.
And he rode home all slow and heavy-hearted,
And from his weary steed he flung him down;
There he saw on the terrace watching for him
A little maid all clad in snowy gown.
And he cried, “Come you hither, little cousin,
I swear that it was one as fair as you,
Clad in white, with her eyes as dark and splendid,
Who has fooled me so the glowing morning through.
“I promise to you, pretty,” laughed Red Richard,
“To-morrow I shall bring her to your feet”;
Then she said, smiling low, the little cousin,
“Oh, to-morrow may your hunting be as sweet!”
When the dawn was pale and young came Red Richard
Through his castle gate into the magic wood;
And there upon his path, aloof and trembling,
The slender doe all palpitating stood.
And he chased her then by rock and by river,
He chased her long by meadow and by hill:
Thrice she took him through the gardens of his castle,
But she vanished ere his spear had had its will.
And so home, foiled and furious, rode Red Richard;
He flung himself all weary in his chair,
And beside him came the white little maiden,
Saying, “Cousin, was your hunting very fair?”
Then he laughed. “But to-morrow I shall win her,
Though she go where no foot has ever been.
To your feet will I bring her, pretty cousin;
Oh, such hunting as mine was never seen!”
Up at dawn, glad and eager, rose Red Richard;
The quickest steed in all the land had he,
And he rode to the magic woods of Toonagh—
There the white doe was grazing peacefully.
And then upon the tender moss behind her,
So softly and so swiftly did he ride,
Then she bounded but a pace from her resting
Ere his hot spear was red within her side.
And he tracked her through the mist and through shadow,
He followed the wet crimson on his way;
And he vowed he would have her dead or living,
Or follow her until the Judgment Day.
All red was the pathway to his castle,
And all eager and full fierce was his quest,
Till he came upon the corpse of his cousin—
With his sharp spear deep buried in her breast.
So it is that the magic woods of Toonagh
Are haunted by the spirit of a deer:
She wanders by the castle of Red Richard—
Within her side the wounding of a spear.