‘The Bull, the Fleece are cramm’d, and not a room
For love or money. Let us picnic there
At Audley Court.’
I spoke, while Audley feast
Humm’d like a hive all round the narrow quay,
To Francis, with a basket on his arm,
To Francis just alighted from the boat,
And breathing of the sea. ‘With all my heart,’
Said Francis. Then we shoulder’d thro’ the swarm,
And rounded by the stillness of the beach
To where the bay runs up its latest horn.
We left the dying ebb that faintly lipp’d
The flat red granite; so by many a sweep
Of meadow smooth from aftermath we reach’d
The griffin-guarded gates, and pass’d thro’ all
The pillar’d dusk of sounding sycamores,
And cross’d the garden to the gardener’s lodge,
With all its casements bedded, and its walls
And chimneys muffled in the leafy vine.
There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid
A damask napkin wrought with horse and hound,
Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
And, half-cut-down, a pasty costly-made,
Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,
Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
Imbedded and injellied; last, with these,
A flask of cider from his father’s vats,
Prime, which I knew; and so we sat and eat
And talk’d old matters over; who was dead,
Who married, who was like to be, and how
The races went, and who would rent the hall:
Then touch’d upon the game, how scarce it was
This season; glancing thence, discuss’d the farm,
The four-field system, and the price of grain;
And struck upon the corn-laws, where we split,
And came again together on the king
With heated faces; till he laugh’d aloud;
And, while the blackbird on the pippin hung
To hear him, clapt his hand in mine and sang–
‘Oh! who would fight and march and countermarch,
Be shot for sixpence in a battle-field,
And shovell’d up into some bloody trench
Where no one knows? but let me live my life.
‘Oh! who would cast and balance at a desk,
Perch’d like a crow upon a three-legg’d stool,
Till all his juice is dried, and all his joints
Are full of chalk? but let me live my life.
‘Who’d serve the state? for if I carved my name
Upon the cliffs that guard my native land,
I might as well have traced it in the sands;
The sea wastes all: but let me live my life.
‘Oh! who would love? I woo’d a woman once,
But she was sharper than an eastern wind,
And all my heart turn’d from her, as a thorn
Turns from the sea; but let me live my life.’
He sang his song, and I replied with mine:
I found it in a volume, all of songs,
Knock’d down to me, when old Sir Robert’s pride,
His books–the more the pity, so I said–
Came to the hammer here in March–and this–
I set the words, and added names I knew.
‘Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, sleep, and dream of me:
Sleep, Ellen, folded in thy sister’s arm,
And sleeping, haply dream her arm is mine.
‘Sleep, Ellen, folded in Emilia’s arm;
Emilia, fairer than all else but thou,
For thou art fairer than all else that is.
‘Sleep, breathing health and peace upon her breast:
Sleep, breathing love and trust against her lip:
I go to-night: I come to-morrow morn.
‘I go, but I return: I would I were
The pilot of the darkness and the dream.
Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, love, and dream of me.’
So sang we each to either, Francis Hale,
The farmer’s son, who lived across the bay,
My friend; and I, that having wherewithal,
And in the fallow leisure of my life
A rolling stone of here and everywhere,
Did what I would; but ere the night we rose
And saunter’d home beneath a moon, that, just
In crescent, dimly rain’d about the leaf
Twilights of airy silver, till we reach’d
The limit of the hills; and as we sank
From rock to rock upon the glooming quay,
The town was hush’d beneath us: lower down
The bay was oily calm; the harbour-buoy,
Sole star of phosphorescence in the calm,
With one green sparkle ever and anon
Dipt by itself, and we were glad at heart.
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