David Lewis Paget
Sir John Fitzalan's Ball - Poem by David Lewis Paget
The news came rustling through the trees
As I tethered the horse’s head,
It came with a gentle sigh on the breeze,
‘The Lady Mulcrave is dead!
She waits for you to attend her now, ’
I shook in a craven fear,
‘Her arms are crossed in eternal rest
As she lies on her oak wood bier.’
I stared in horror about me then
For the voice I heard in the glade,
Though nothing moved in the gloom out there
But the shadows the fire made.
‘You lie, ’ I cried, as I saddled the horse,
Buckled and fastened the bit,
Then spun around by the river’s course,
‘I’ll not hear a word of it! ’
We galloped over the rickety bridge
And the hoofbeats rang in the air,
They seemed to echo the one refrain
That desperate word, ‘Despair! ’
The moon hung over the distant hill
With the Motte and Bailey Hall,
Where I’d left Milady an hour before
At Sir John FitzAlan’s Ball.
She’d said, ‘Be certain to call for me
When it strikes the midnight hour,
I wouldn’t like to be left in there
Bereft, in FitzAlan’s power,
I’ve fended off the proposals that
He’s made, in the times before,
Be sure to wait at the Bailey’s gate
With my father’s coach and four.’
I’d left her there with a merry throng
In their masques and gowns and lace,
The gentlemen with their tricorn hats
And coats, cut high at the waist,
I’d ridden off to the distant wood
To sit out the time before
I’d ride alone to her father’s home
And collect the coach and four.
But now, I hurried on back in fear
That Milady was taken ill,
I prayed to God on my foam fleck’d ride
As we crested, over the hill.
The Motte and Bailey was dark outside,
Not a lantern at the door,
And not a guest to be seen out there
Where they’d thronged, an hour before.
I rode on into the courtyard where
The coaches had wedged in tight,
There wasn’t a single coach or horse
To be seen in the pale moonlight,
I called, ‘Is anyone left in there
I’ve come for Lady Mulcrave! ’
There wasn’t a sound in the silence there,
A silence, deep as the grave.
I beat on the heavy oaken door
It echoed on through the hall,
I thought that I heard some breathing, breathing
Whispering through the wall,
‘Open the door and let me in,
I know you were here before, ’
The hinges creaked and the door gave way,
Into an empty hall.
The air was rank and the walls were damp
And a moss grew on the floor,
There hadn’t been anyone living there
For fifty years or more,
And standing near the ancient hearth
Was a shape that brought a tear,
For stood in the gloom of that ancient room
The remains of an oak wood bier.
I sit in my cabin, deep in the woods
And avoid the world outside,
Something that happened late that night
Disturbed my time and tide,
The Lady Mulcrave died that day
In that Motte and Bailey Hall,
On the same day I was born, they say
As Sir John FitzAlan’s Ball.
David Lewis Paget
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