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In a Castle

Over the yawning chimney hangs the fog.
Drip -- hiss -- drip -- hiss -- fall the raindrops on the oaken log which burns, and steams, and smokes the ceiling beams.
Drip -- hiss -- the rain never stops.
The wide, state bed shivers beneath its velvet coverlet.
Above, dim, in the smoke, a tarnished coronet gleams dully.
Overhead hammers and chinks the rain.
Fearfully wails the wind down distant corridors, and there comes the swish and sigh of rushes lifted off the floors.
The arras blows sidewise out from the wall, and then falls back again.
It is my lady's key, confided with much nice cunning, whisperingly.
He enters on a sob of wind, which gutters the candles almost to swaling.
The fire flutters and drops.
Drip -- hiss -- the rain never stops.
He shuts the door.
The rushes fall again to stillness along the floor.
Outside, the wind goes wailing.
The velvet coverlet of the wide bed is smooth and cold.
Above, in the firelight, winks the coronet of tarnished gold.
The knight shivers in his coat of fur, and holds out his hands to the withering flame.
She is always the same, a sweet coquette.
He will wait for her.
How the log hisses and drips! How warm and satisfying will be her lips! It is wide and cold, the state bed; but when her head lies under the coronet, and her eyes are full and wet with love, and when she holds out her arms, and the velvet counterpane half slips from her, and alarms her trembling modesty, how eagerly he will leap to cover her, and blot himself beneath the quilt, making her laugh and tremble.
Is it guilt to free a lady from her palsied lord, absent and fighting, terribly abhorred? He stirs a booted heel and kicks a rolling coal.
His spur clinks on the hearth.
Overhead, the rain hammers and chinks.
She is so pure and whole.
Only because he has her soul will she resign herself to him, for where the soul has gone, the body must be given as a sign.
He takes her by the divine right of the only lover.
He has sworn to fight her lord, and wed her after.
Should he be overborne, she will die adoring him, forlorn, shriven by her great love.
Above, the coronet winks in the darkness.
Drip -- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
The arras blows out from the wall, and a door bangs in a far-off hall.
The candles swale.
In the gale the moat below plunges and spatters.
Will the lady lose courage and not come? The rain claps on a loosened rafter.
Is that laughter? The room is filled with lisps and whispers.
Something mutters.
One candle drowns and the other gutters.
Is that the rain which pads and patters, is it the wind through the winding entries which chatters? The state bed is very cold and he is alone.
How far from the wall the arras is blown! Christ's Death! It is no storm which makes these little chuckling sounds.
By the Great Wounds of Holy Jesus, it is his dear lady, kissing and clasping someone! Through the sobbing storm he hears her love take form and flutter out in words.
They prick into his ears and stun his desire, which lies within him, hard and dead, like frozen fire.
And the little noise never stops.
Drip -- hiss -- the rain drops.
He tears down the arras from before an inner chamber's bolted door.
II The state bed shivers in the watery dawn.
Drip -- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
For the storm never stops.
On the velvet coverlet lie two bodies, stripped and fair in the cold, grey air.
Drip -- hiss -- fall the blood-drops, for the bleeding never stops.
The bodies lie quietly.
At each side of the bed, on the floor, is a head.
A man's on this side, a woman's on that, and the red blood oozes along the rush mat.
A wisp of paper is twisted carefully into the strands of the dead man's hair.
It says, "My Lord: Your wife's paramour has paid with his life for the high favour.
" Through the lady's silver fillet is wound another paper.
It reads, "Most noble Lord: Your wife's misdeeds are as a double-stranded necklace of beads.
But I have engaged that, on your return, she shall welcome you here.
She will not spurn your love as before, you have still the best part of her.
Her blood was red, her body white, they will both be here for your delight.
The soul inside was a lump of dirt, I have rid you of that with a spurt of my sword point.
Good luck to your pleasure.
She will be quite complaisant, my friend, I wager.
" The end was a splashed flourish of ink.
Hark! In the passage is heard the clink of armour, the tread of a heavy man.
The door bursts open and standing there, his thin hair wavering in the glare of steely daylight, is my Lord of Clair.
Over the yawning chimney hangs the fog.
Drip -- hiss -- drip -- hiss -- fall the raindrops.
Overhead hammers and chinks the rain which never stops.
The velvet coverlet is sodden and wet, yet the roof beams are tight.
Overhead, the coronet gleams with its blackened gold, winking and blinking.
Among the rushes three corpses are growing cold.
III In the castle church you may see them stand, Two sumptuous tombs on either hand Of the choir, my Lord's and my Lady's, grand In sculptured filigrees.
And where the transepts of the church expand, A crusader, come from the Holy Land, Lies with crossed legs and embroidered band.
The page's name became a brand For shame.
He was buried in crawling sand, After having been burnt by royal command.

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