David Lewis Paget
La Maitresse - Poem by David Lewis Paget
By the Convent of St. Mary
In the town of La Rochelle,
I would sit there, patient, waiting
'Til I heard the chapel bell,
Then I'd climb up on the ivy
That was clinging to the wall,
Hang on tight and peer on over
Breathless, hoping not to fall!
I was just a young subaltern
In the army of the crown,
Sent to seize all those heretics
Who sought refuge in the town,
And the daughters of those nobles
Who refused the marriage vow
When required to marry Catholics -
I had to hunt them down.
Then these girls were bound and taken
To the convent, where they lay,
Forced to take up holy orders
And then locked in cells away,
They'd be held 'til they recanted
And embraced the Holy See,
If these Protestants resisted
Then they'd have to deal with me!
So it was I met the woman
Who entranced me with her eyes,
She had such a sweet demeanor,
She had seemed so calm and wise,
But she said that she had trusted
In the Lord, his saving grace,
And abjured the Pope, his function,
To recant would mean disgrace.
Then I'd see her in her habit
Being led to Holy Mass,
They had bound her wrists together
They had chained her at the waist,
And the only time I saw her
When they led her from her cell,
Was when peering from the ivy
As they rang the chapel bell.
As a soldier then, my duty
Was to do as I was told,
But I cared for no religion
As I cared for Ann Moreau,
For her humble disposition, it
Had softened up my heart,
And the more I saw her suffer there,
The more I fell apart.
I knew the Father Grandier
Who ruled this den of Nuns,
His word was law within those halls,
His forté, arrogance!
He'd tour the cells, both day and night
And make them kneel, and pray!
The lime-pit by the chapel burned
The evidence away!
For months I spied on Ann Moreau,
Who hung her head in shame,
She had no-one to listen to her pleas,
No-one to blame.
I saw her swell with child as she
Was dragged by chain to Mass,
And there were times she faltered,
And she fell there, on the grass.
My heart, it almost burst in grief,
For Grandier was the man,
Each Nun had carried to full term
This rake's own contraband,
Each tiny corpse was set in lime,
Each Nun locked in her cell,
Until she'd sworn her penitence
Before this rake from hell.
In port there was an English ship,
The Captain craved for gold,
He'd long been known to carry folk
To freedom, in his hold,
He wanted fifty Louis
All I'd saved in seven years,
My love was brimming over
So I purchased her a berth.
At night I scaled the ivied wall,
Sought out her tiny cell,
The Abbess saw me wandering
And thought to ring her bell,
I quietened and I bribed her then,
I'd free her of the man
Who'd made her life a living hell,
I knew she'd understand!
She opened up the iron door
And called to Ann Moreau,
'You must be quick, you have a friend
Who wants to let you go! '
She struggled through the doorway
And she laughed in her surprise,
And my love settled deeply
In the pain around her eyes.
We made it to the ship within
An hour of hoisting sail,
So I hid her in a stowage, in
The bows, beneath a bale,
Then I bid her travel safely and
I walked back to the deck,
When a voice said: 'You'll look pretty
With a rope around your neck! '
It was Grandier, the Pastor
With the Abbess by his side,
He had threatened her with
Excommunication if she lied.
'So you'd better take me to her,
She's my mistress, as you know,
It would be a Christian folly
If I let my charges go! '
I shrugged, and led him to the hold,
It wasn't very deep,
'You'll have to crawl along the back,
She's probably asleep.'
He got into the hold and crawled
Between the bales and deck,
I nodded to the Abbess who
Stood silently, and wept.
A party of Dragoons rode up,
'To search the ship, ' they said,
'We hear a Protestant's aboard,
Stand back, or lose your head! '
I pointed to the stern, and said:
He's down there, getting cold! '
They drew their swords and thrust them
Through the planking to the hold.
We heard a shriek, then silence,
And a sword was dripping blood,
They dragged the body out, and cursed,
Then tossed it in the mud,
'Another cheats the hangman, let him rot, '
The Colonel said,
'It's enough he's a heretic,
Well he was... but now he's dead! '
I never saw my Ann again,
They sailed upon the tide,
I heard the ship had foundered
Off the beachhead, next to Hythe,
And every soul but one was lost...
I'd give my life to know,
Just who was washed ashore alive,
My guess is, Ann Moreau.
I'm just a young subaltern
In the army of the crown,
And still seize those heretics who
Seek refuge in the town,
I'm busy hanging protestants
Who won't recant, or fold,
But then, I'm just a soldier and
I do as I am told!
5 February 2010
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