Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE OLD MANOR HOUSE, by ADA CAMBRIDGE



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THE OLD MANOR HOUSE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: An old house, crumbling half away, all barnacled and lichen grown
Last Line: The thin hands folded on her breast, in peace at last, and perfect rest!
Alternate Author Name(s): Cross, George, Mrs.
Subject(s): Houses; Mortgages


AN old house, crumbling half away, all barnacled and lichen-grown,
Of saddest, mellowest, softest grey, -- with a grand history of its own --
Grand with the work and strife and tears of more than half a thousand years.

Such delicate, tender, russet tones of colour on its gables slept,
With streaks of gold betwixt the stones, where wind-sown flowers and mosses crept:
Wild grasses waved in sun and shade o'er terrace slab and balustrade.

Around the clustered chimneys clung the ivy's wreathed and braided threads,
And dappled lights and shadows flung across the sombre browns and reds;
Where'er the graver's hand had been, it spread its tendrils bright and green.

Far-stretching branches shadowed deep the blazoned windows and broad eaves,
And rocked the faithful rooks asleep, and strewed the terraces with leaves.
A broken dial marked the hours amid damp lawns and garden bowers.

An old house, silent, sad, forlorn, yet proud and stately to the last;
Of all its power and splendour shorn, but rich with memories of the past;
And pitying, from its own decay, the gilded piles of yesterday.


Pitying the new race that passed by, with slighting note of its grey walls, --
And entertaining tenderly the shades of dead knights in its halls,
Whose blood, that soaked these hallowed sods, came down from Scandinavian gods.

I saw it first in summer-time. The warm air hummed and buzzed with bees,
Where now the pale green hop-vines climb about the sere trunks of the trees,
And waves of roses on the ground scented the tangled glades around.

Some long fern-plumes drooped there -- below; the heaven above was still and blue;
Just here -- between the gloom and glow -- a cedar and an aged yew
Parted their dusky arms, to let the glory fall on Margaret.

She leaned on that old balustrade, her white dress tinged with golden air,
Her small hands loosely clasped, and laid amongst the moss and maidenhair:
I watched her, hearing, as I stood, a turtle cooing in the wood --

Hearing a mavis far away, piping his dreamy interludes,
While gusts of soft wind, sweet with hay, swept through those garden solitudes,
And thinking she was lovelier e-en than my young ideal love had been.

Tall, with that subtle, sensitive grace, which made so plainly manifest
That she was born of noble race, -- a cool, hushed presence, bringing rest,
Of one who felt and understood the dignity of womanhood.

Tall, with a slow, proud step and air; with skin half marble and half milk;
With twisted coils of raven hair, blue-tinged, and fine and soft as silk;
With haughty, clear-cut chin and cheek, and broad brows exquisitely Greek;

With still, calm mouth, whose dreamy smile possessed me like a haunting pain,
So rare, so sweet, so free from guile, with that slight accent of disdain;
With level, liquid tones that fell like chimings of a vesper bell;

With large, grave stag-eyes, soft, yet keen with slumbering passion, hazel-brown,
Long-lashed and dark, whose limpid sheen my thirsty spirit swallowed down; --
O poor, pale words, wherewith to paint my queen, my goddess, and my saint!

You see that oriel, ivy-grown, with the blurred sculpture underneath?
Her sweet head, like the Clytie's own, with a white stephanotis wreath
Inwoven with its coiling hair, first bent to me in greeting there.

I shall remember till I die that night when we were introduced!
The great Sir Hildebrand stood by -- her cousin -- scowling as he used
To scowl if e'en a poor dumb cur ventured to lift his eyes to her.

I cared not. Well I knew her grace was not for him. I watched them dance,
And knew it by her locked-up face, and her slow, haughty utterance.
I knew he chafed and raged to see how kind and sweet she was to me.

O dear old window! -- nevermore the red and purple lights, that stray
Through your dim panes upon the floor on sunny summer-night, will lay
Soft rainbows on her glossy hair and the white dress she used to wear!

Those panes the ivy used to scratch -- I hear it now when I'm alone!
A pair of martlets used to hatch their young ones in the sculptured stone;
Those warm slabs were the bloodhound's bed, with fine yew-needles carpeted.

The missel-thrushes used to search there for the berries as they fell;
On that high twig, at morn, would perch a shy and shivering locustelle, --
From yon low sweep of furzy brake, we used to watch it thrill and shake.

The banksia roses twined a wreath all round that ancient coat and crest,
And trailed the time-worn steps beneath, and almost touched the martin's nest;
The honey bees swarm in and out, and little lizards flashed about.

And when we flung the casement wide, the wind would play about her brow,
As she sat, etching, by my side, -- I see the bright locks lifted now!
And such a view would meet our eyes of crimson woods and azure skies!

'Twas there, when fell the twilight hush, I used to feed her wistful ears,
And make her cheek and forehead flush, and her dark eyes fill full of tears,
With tales of my wild, fighting life -- our bitter, brave Crimean strife.

We had, too, little concerts in that dear recess, -- I used to play
Accompaniments on my violin, and she would sing "Old Robin Gray,"
And simple, tender Scottish songs of loyal love and royal wrongs.

My violin is dead for me, the dust lies thick upon the case;
And she is dead, -- yet I can see e'en now the rapt and listening face;
And all about the garden floats the echo of those crying notes!

'Tis a sweet garden, is it not? So wild and tangled, nothing prim;
No quaint-cut bed, no shaven plot, no stunted bushes, stiff and trim;
Its flowers and shrubs all overblown, its long paths moss and lichen-grown.

'Twas on that terrace that we read the "Idylls," sauntering up and down
With gentle, musing, measured tread, while leaves kept falling, gold and brown,
And mists kept rising, silver-grey, one still and peaceful autumn-day.

In those long glades we roamed apart, and studied Spanish, and the tales
Of Chaucer, -- there we talked of art, and listened to the nightingales;
E'en now, when summer daylight dies, I hear their bubbling melodies.

You see that bower, half-hidden, made by the low-branching willow-tree?
We used to lounge there in the shade, and laugh, and gossip, and drink tea:
I wreathed her head with ferns, one night, and little rose-buds sweet and white.

It grew my habit, by-and-by, to gather all the flowers she wore;
She used to take them silently, or I would leave them at her door, --
And wait about till she was drest, to see them nestling on her breast.

In that green nook she used to sit, and I would watch her as she worked.
Her face had such a spell in it, and such a subtle glamour lurked
In even motion of her hand! -- why, I could never understand.

'Twas there I tied the little strap that held her netting down, one day,
And kissed the soft palm in her lap, which she so gently drew away.
Ay me, we held our tongues for hours! and I plucked off and ate the flowers.

She would not look at me at first -- I recollect it all so well!
Her delicate, downcast features, erst so pale, were tinted like a shell --
Then like the petals that enclose the inmost heart of a moss rose.

The others came and chatted round, but we could laugh and chat no more;
I propped my elbow on the ground, and watched her count her stitches o'er;
Their talk I did not comprehend, -- she was too busy to attend.

The days passed on, and still we sat in our old place; but things were changed.
We were so silent after that! -- so oddly formal -- so estranged!
No more we met to worship art, -- our little pathways branched apart.

All day I kept her face in view -- scarce one low tone I failed to hear;
And, though she would not see, I knew she felt when I was far or near.
Yet brief and seldom was the chance that gave me word, or smile, or glance.

One night I came home in the gloom. The other guests were mostly gone.
A light was burning in her room, and from the lawn it shone upon
I plucked a flower for her to wear -- a white rose, fringed with maidenhair.

I passed through that long corridor -- those are its windows, to the west --
That I might leave it at her door, -- and saw her cross her threshold, drest.
No lamps were lit, -- the twilight shed a grey mist on her shiny head.

Her garments swept the oaken stairs; I stood below her, hushed and dumb;
She started, seeing me unawares, and stopped. "Come down," I whispered; "come!"
She waited, but I waited too; -- and she had nothing else to do.

She came down, slowly, haughtily, with sweet pretence of carelessness.
I watched each step as she drew nigh, each brighter gleam on her white dress.
I did not speak, I did not stir, but all my heart went out to her.

She would have passed me, shy and still, -- she would not suffer herself to mark
That I was grown so bold, until I took her dear hands in the dark.
And then -- and then -- -- Well! she was good and patient, and she understood.

My arms were strong, and rude, and rough -- because my love was so intense;
She knew the reason well enough, and so she would not take offence;
Though 'twas by force I made her stay, she did not try to get away.

Ah, then we had some happy hours -- some blessed days of peace and rest!
This garden, full of shady bowers and lonely pathways, from whose breast
A thousand blending perfumes rise, became a very Paradise.

'Twas fair as the first Eden, then; and Adam had no fairer mate!
Nor grieved he more than I grieved, when the angel drove him from the gate.
When God cursed him from His high throne, He did not cast him out alone!

'Twas on that broken step we sat, where the yew branch is fall'n and bent,
And read the Colonel's letter, that recalled me to my regiment.
'Twas there, on such a night as this, I stood to give my parting kiss.

'Twas there I hugged the small Greek head upon my bosom, damp with dew;
'Twas there she soothed my grief, and said, "But I shall still belong to you."
O my sweet Eve, with your pure eyes! -- you're mine now, in God's Paradise.

I sailed, you know, within a week, en route for Malta's heat and blaze;
And tender letters came, to speak of love, and comfort, and bright days.
I tried to think it was not hard -- of what was coming afterward.

I used to dream, and dream, and dream, from night till morn, from morn till night;
My future life just then did seem so full, so beautiful, so bright!
I could not see, I could not feel, the sorrow dogging at my heel.

At length it touched me. By-and-by the letters ceased. I looked in vain;
I roamed the streets dejectedly, and gnawed my long moustache in pain.
I wrote twice -- thrice; no answer still. Surely, I thought, she must be ill.

Until one evening Eyre came in, to lounge and gossip, drink and smoke,
I gave him leisure to begin; and, when his pipe was lit, he spoke,
Through curling vapour, soft and blue -- "Guy, I've a piece of news for you.

"One of the girls you met last year at that poor tumble-down old place --
The dark-haired one -- she with the clear white skin and sweet Madonna face, --
She's married now, I understand, to her rich cousin Hildebrand."

I felt my limbs grow stark and stiff; I felt my heart grow cold as lead;
I heard Eyre's quiet, musing whiff -- the noise swam round and round my head.
I veiled my eyes, lest he should see their passionate, mute misery.

"I only heard," he said, "to-day. It's out in all the papers, though.
She did not care for him, they say. But the old house was falling low --
Her father's name and fame at stake. She would do anything for his sake.

"Some mortgages foreclosed -- the price of years and centuries of debt;
The manor doomed for sacrifice -- or else the Lady Margaret.
Doubtless for Hildebrand's red gold the rare Madonna face was sold.

"I fancy that's the history," he ended, in a bitter tone.
"It's not a new one, by-the-bye." And when he went, I sat alone,
And tried to ease me with a prayer, but ground my teeth in despair.

Then I grew stupid, numb, and tired. A fever crept through all my veins,
And wearied out my heart, and fired my dazed, tumultuous, teeming brains.
I hung suspended by a breath, for weeks and months, 'twixt life and death.

Then I recovered, and had leave to go to England -- where she dwelt;
In my home climate to retrieve my broken health and strength. I felt
Twice ten years older than before. I knew I should come back no more.

Soon as I touched my native land, my feet turned toward the manor house.
They told me that Sir Hildebrand was in the Highlands, shooting grouse;
That she was in her father's care. That night I found her, sitting there,

On that third step, just where the trees cast down their greenest, coolest shade;
Her weary hands about her knees, her head against the balustrade;
And such dumb woe in her sweet eyes, uplifted to the fading skies.

She did not see me till I burst through the rose-thickets round about.
She sprang up with a cry at first -- and then her arms were half stretched out --
And then caught backward, for his sake. I felt as if my heart would break.

I knew the truth. I did not care. I did not think. I flung me down,
And kissed her hands, her wrists, her hair, the very fringes of her gown;
While she sat cowering in a heap, and moaned, and shook, but could not weep.

It was soon over. O good God, forgive me! -- I was sorely tried.
'Twas a dark pathway that I trod; I could not see Thee at my side.
It was soon over. "I shall die," she whispered, "if you stay here, Guy!

"O Guy! Guy! you were kind to me in our old days, -- be kinder now, --
Be kind, and go, and let me be!" And then I felt on my hot brow
The brush of her cold finger-tips -- the last soft contact of her lips.

And I obeyed her will and went, and vowed to tempt her nevermore.
I tried hard, too, to be content, and think of that which lay before.
I knew my dream of love was past, yet strove to serve her to the last.

I left my comrades -- I had lost all taste for glory and for mirth --
And, without hopes or aims, I cross'd the seas and wander'd o'er the earth.
Without a light, without a guide, I drifted with the wind and tide.

My heart was broken when 'twas struck that bitter blow, and joy ran out!
Only a few stray treasures stuck -- a few gleams flickered round about.
My old art-love still lingered there, -- I think that kept me from despair.

With strange companions did I dwell, one scorching summer, on the heights
Of Tangiers' Moorish citadel, and mused away the days and nights.
With loose white garments and long gun, I roamed the deserts in the sun.

I painted Atlas, capped with snow, and lifted, cool, and still, and fair,
Out of the burning heat and glow, into the solemn upper air;
And Tetuan's gleaming walls I drew on fields of Mediterranean blue.

I haunted Cairo's crowded ways, and sketched carved doors and gilded grates,
Mosque-domes and minarets ablaze, and sweet dark heads with shining plaits;

And now a grave old Arab sheikh, and then a slim, straight-featured Greek.

In a swift wing-sailed boat I slid across the stream where Libya looms,
And from King Cheop's pyramid saw Pharaoh-cities, Pharaoh-tombs;
And, stretching off for many a mile, the sacred waters of the Nile.

I saw the graves of mighty states, -- I saw Thebes' temple, overturned --
The City of the Hundred Gates, where Moses and Greek sages learned,
Where hungry lions prowl at noon, and hyaenas snarl at the bright moon.

I roamed through Nubian desert flats, where vultures sailed o'er burning seas;
And forests where the yellow bats hung, cloaked and hooded, from the trees;
And marshy wastes, where crocodiles slept on the shores of sandy isles.

I followed, through long days and nights, where, with their little ones and flocks,
Had passed the wandering Israelites; I read the writing on the rocks;
And e'en these restless feet of mine tracked holy feet in Palestine.

Roaming through India's burning plains, I chased wild boars and antelopes;
Swam brawling nullahs in the rains, and haunted dew-wet mango-topes;
Shot bears and tigers in the gloom of the dense forests of Beerbhoom.

Through swathing-nets I watched at night the clear moon gild a palm-tree ledge;
And, through the flood of silver light, heard jackals at the compound-hedge;
While punkahs waved above my head, and faint airs hovered round my bed.

I mused by many a sacred tank, where lonely temples fell away,
Where the fat alligators drank, and scarlet lotus-flowers lay;
Smoked curling pipes 'neath roof and tree, the while dark nautch-girls danced to me.

I trod the creeper-netted ground of deadly, beautiful, bright woods,
Where birds and monkeys chattered round, and serpents reared their crimson hoods.
I dwelt 'neath breathless desert-glows, and Simla's Himalayan snows.

From the hot glades of garden reach, I wandered upward to Cabool --
From the bright Hooghly's flowering beach to the wild mountains, calm and cool.
I wept at Cawnpore's fatal well, and where our heroes fought and fell.

I roamed through Lucknow's battered gate -- thick-thronged with memories so intense!
And Delhi's ruins of wild state and old Mogul magnificence.
I pressed the rank, blood-nurtured grass that creeps along the Khyber Pass.

I sailed the Irrawaddy's stream, 'mid dense teak forests; saw the moon
Light up with broad and glittering gleam the golden Dagun of Rangoon --
The delicate, fretted temple-shells, whose roofs were rimmed with swaying bells.

In his gold palace, all alone, with square, hard face and eyes aslant,
I saw upon his royal throne the Lord of the White Elephant.
I mixed in wild, barbaric feasts with Buddha's yellow-robed priests.

I crept with curious feet within imperial China's sacred bounds;
I saw the Palace of Pekin, and all its fairy garden-grounds;
The green rice-fields, the tremulous rills, the white azaleas on the hills;

The tea-groves climbing mountain backs; the girls' rich robes of blue and white;
The cattle 'neath the paddy-stacks; the gilt pagodas, tall and bright; --
And in a merchant-junk I ran across the waters to Japan.

I saw, where silk-fringed mats were spread, within his laquered, bare saloon,
With his curled roofs above his head, on muffled heels, the great Tycoon.
Familiar things they were to me -- the pipes, and betel-nuts, and tea.

I dug in Californian ground, at Sacramento's golden brim,
With hunger, murder, all around, and fever shaking every limb;
Saw, in lush forests and rude sheds, the Dyaks roasting pirates' heads.

I shot white condors on the brows of snowy Andes; and I chased
Wild horses, and wild bulls and cows, o'er the wide Pampas' jungle-waste;
And saw, while wandering to and fro, the silver mines of Mexico.

In Caffre waggons I was drawn up lone Cape gorges, green and steep,
And camped by river-grove and lawn, where nightly tryst the wild things keep;
Where glaring eyes without the line of circling watch-fires used to shine.

I chased o'er sandy plains and shot the ostrich, -- at the reedy brink
Of pools, the lion, on the slot of antelopes that came to drink;
Giraffes, that held their heads aloof 'neath the mimosa's matted roof;

And brindled gnus, and cowardly, striped shard-wolves, and 'mid water-plants
And flags, black hippopotami, and snakes, and shrieking elephants.
From courted sickness, hunger, strife, God spared my weary, reckless life.

In the bright South Seas did I toss through wild blue nights and fainting days,
With the snow-plumaged albatross. I saw Tahiti's peaks ablaze;
And still, palm-fringed lagoons asleep o'er coral grottoes, cool and deep.

I built an Australian hut of logs, and lived alone -- with just a noose,
A trap, a gun, my horse and dogs; I hunted long-legged kangaroos;
And oft I spent the calm night-hours beneath the gum-trees' forest-bowers.

I threaded miles and miles and miles, where Lena's sad, slow waters flow,
'Mid silent rocks, and woods, and isles, and drear Siberian steppes of snow;
Where pines and larches, set alight, blaze in the dark and windless night.

I shot a wild fowl on the shore of a still, lonely mountain lake,
And, o'er the sheer white torrents' roar, heard long-drawn, plaintive echoes wake;
Caught squirrels in their leafy huts, munching the little cedar-nuts.

I trapped the small, soft sables, stripped the bloomy fur from off their backs,
And hunted grey wolves as they slipped and snuffed and snarled down reindeer tracks;
I brought the brown, bald eagle down from the white sea-hill's rugged crown.

I saw the oil-lamp shining through the small and dim ice window-pane;
And the near sky, so deeply blue, spangled with sparks, like golden rain;
While dogs lay tethered, left and right, howling across the arctic night.

I saw when, in my flying sledge, I swept the frozen tundra-slopes,
The white bears on some craggy ledge, far-off, where ocean blindly gropes
In her dim caves -- where bones lie furled, the tokens of a vanished world.

I saw across the dread blue sky, spanning blue ice and bluer mist
(That shows where open waters lie), the bright Aurora keep her tryst, --
That arch of tinted flame -- so fair! lighting the crystals in the air.

Then, all at once -- I know not why -- I felt I could no longer roam;
A voice seemed calling to my heart -- Return to England and thy home;
I found my thoughts were yearning yet, for one more glimpse of Margaret.

So on a sudden I returned. I reached the village in the night.
At one small inn a candle burned with feeble, pale, unsteady light:
The hostess curtseyed, grave and strange. She did not know me for the change.

My broad white brows were bronzed, and scarred with lines of trouble, thought, and care;
My young bright eyes were dim and hard -- the sunshine was no longer there;
My brown moustache was hid away in a great beard of iron-grey.

"The Manor House is habited," to my brief question she replied.
"To-night my lady lies there dead. She's long been ailing, and she died
At noon. A happy thing for her! Were you acquainted with her, sir?

"A sweeter lady never walked! So kind and good to all the poor!
She ne'er disdained us when she talked -- ne'er turned a beggar from her door.
Ah, sir, but we may look in vain; we ne'er shall see her likes again.

"I heard the squire's great bloodhound's bark; I woke, and shook, and held my breath.
My man, he stirred too in the dark. Said he to me, 'My lady's death
Is not far off. Another night she'll never see.' And he was right.

"'Twas over in twelve hours or less. She lies there, on the golden bed,
In her old confirmation dress, with the small white cap on her head
Which bore the bishop's blessing hand, -- she asked that of Sir Hildebrand."

You see that window in the shade of those old beeches? 'Twas that room
Wherein my dear dead love was laid. I climbed the ivy in the gloom
And silence -- just once more to see the face that had belonged to me.

I stood beside her. No one heard. On the great rajah's bed, alone
She lay. The night-breeze softly stirred the Cashmere curtains, and the moan
Of my wild kisses seemed to thrill the solitude. All else was still.

In the pale yellow taper light, I gazed upon her till the morn.
I see her now -- so sweet and white! the fair, pure face so trouble-worn!
The thin hands folded on her breast, in peace at last, and perfect rest!





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