The Holly-Tree Inn/The Bar-maid


She was a pretty, gentle girl—a farmer's orphan daughter, and the landlord's niece—whom I strongly suspected of being engaged to be married very shortly, to the writer of the letter that I saw her reading at least twenty times, when I passed the bar, and which I more than believe I saw her kiss one night. She told me a tale of that country which went so pleasantly to the music of her voice, that I ought rather to say it turned itself into verse, than was turned into verse by me.

A little past the village
The inn stood, low and white,
Green shady trees behind it,
And an orchard on the right,
Where, over the green paling
The red-cheeked apples hung,
As if to watch how wearily
The sign-board creaked and swung.

The heavy-laden branches
Over the road hung low,
Reflecting fruit or blossom
In the wayside well below;
Where children, drawing water,
Looked up and paused to see,
Amid the apple branches
A purple Judas Tree.

The road stretch' d winding onward
For many a weary mile—
So dusty footsore wanderers
Would pause and rest awhile;
And panting horses halted,
And travellers loved to tell
The quiet of the wayside inn.
The orchard, and the well.

Here Maurice dwelt; and often
The sunburned boy would stand
Gazing upon the distance.
And shading with his hand
His eyes, while watching vainly
For travellers, who might need
His aid to loose the bridle,
And tend the weary steed.
}} And once (the boy remember'd
That morning many a day—
The dew lay on the hawthorn,
The bird sang on the spray)
A train of horsemen, nobler
Than he had seen before,
Up from the distance gallop' d,
And paused before the door.

Upon the milk-white pony,
Fit for a fairy queen,
Was the loveliest little damsel
His eyes had ever seen;
A servant-man was holding
The leading rein, to guide
The pony and its mistress
Who cantered by his side.

Her sunny ringlets round her
A golden cloud had made,
While her large hat was keeping
Her calm blue eyes in shade;
One hand held firm the silken reins
To keep her steed in check,
The other pulled his tangled mane,
Or stroked his glossy neck.

And as the boy brought water,
And loosed the rein, he heard
The sweetest voice, that thanked him
In one low, gentle word;
She turned her blue eyes from him,
Look'd up and smiled to see
The hanging purple blossoms
Upon the Judas Tree.

And show'd it with a gesture,
Half pleading, half command,
Till he broke the fairest blossom,
And laid it in her hand;
And she tied it to her saddle,
With a ribbon from her hair,
While her happy laugh rang gayly,
Like silver on the air.

But the champing steeds were rested—
The horsemen now spurr'd on,
And down the dusty highway
They vanished and were gone.
Years pass'd, and many a traveller
Paused at the old inn-door.
But the little milk-white pony
And the child return' d no more. Years passed, the apple branches
A deeper shadow shed;
And many a time the Jndas Tree,
Blossom and leaf lay dead;
When on the loitering western breeze
Came the bells' merry sonnd,
And flowery arches rose, and flags
And banners waved around,

And Maurice stood expectant,
The bridal train would stay
Some moments at the inn-door,
The eager watchers say;
They come—the cloud of dust draws near—
Mid all the state and pride.
He only sees the golden hair
And blue eyes of the bride.

The same, yet, ah! still fairer.
He knew the face once more
That bent above the pony's neck
Years past at the inn-door;
Her shy and smiling eyes look'd round,
Unconscious of the place—
Unconscious of the eager gaze
He fixed upon her face.

He pluck' d a blossom from the tree—
The Judas Tree—and cast
Its purple fragrance toward the bride,
A message from the past.
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-flower
Around the had grown;
And many a passing traveller
Paused at the old inn-door,
But the bride so fair and blooming,
Returned there never more.

One winter morning, Maurice,
Watching the branches bare.
Hustling and waving dimly
In the gray and misty air.
Saw blazoned on a carriage
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 dimmed 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 watched the dismal rain?
That watched (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 smiles forth in May,
Upon the apple-blossoms
The sun shone bright again,
When slowly up the highway
Came a long funeral train.

The bells tolled slowly, sadly,
For a noble spirit fled:
Slowly, in pomp and honor,
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
Watched with fast-dropping tears
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 the coffin
With a purple flower, might be
Told to the cold (load sleeper;
The rest could only see
A fragrant purple blossom
Plucked from a Judas Tree.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.