David Lewis Paget
The Duchess Of Faint Heart - Poem by David Lewis Paget
My mistress, Annabelle de la Plante
Was the Duchess of faint heart,
She was always prone to the vapours
And would faint at a passing cart,
The cruder odours brought on a fit
When they’d permeate the room,
So the fabric crepes and the window drapes
Were doused in a strong perfume.
She rarely ventured into the street
But would seek her own boudoir,
Where scents so strong had seemed to belong
Brought back from the Indian Raj,
I wore a mask to protect me then
From the essence of musk and fern,
Camphorous oils and sandalwood
That would choke my throat, and burn.
She bathed in essential oils and rubbed
Cologne well into her skin,
There wasn’t a day went by that she
Did not smell as sweet as sin,
But she grew suddenly weak and frail
And took to her sickness bed,
And lay for days in a sort of haze
Her eyes rolled up in her head.
The Lady Mirabelle often called
With a dress, or a hat and gloves,
And asked that Annabelle try them on
So she could adjust the cuffs,
But every time that she wore the gloves
She’d suffer a brief relapse,
And I caught the scent of peach in them
Before her sudden collapse.
Mirabelle long had been engaged
To my lady’s cousin, Tom,
He’d not been wise with his small stipend
And now it had nearly gone,
But he stood to inherit a fortune if
And when the Duchess died,
So I was more than suspicious then,
Stuck close to my lady’s side.
I took the gloves to a chemist who
Conducted some tests on them,
Told me the heart of the problem seemed
To be the peach blossom,
They yielded cyanic acid when
The kernels, wet, were squeezed,
And poison would leach into the skin…
So I went home, more than pleased.
The day that Mirabelle married, I
Was standing by the aisle,
Watching her slow approach, I
Caught her eye, and saw her smile,
But up at the altar, she collapsed
With anaphylactic shock,
And died with the scent of bitter almonds
Leaching from her frock.
My Duchess came to the country where
The air is clean and clear,
I managed to wean her from cologne
No need for perfume here,
I married her in a little church
And she’s found a strange delight,
To walk with me in the country lanes
And make love every night.
10 April 2013
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