Lady Wyndham's Return

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Lady Wyndham's Return (c. 19th century)
by Lewis H. Court
1962235Lady Wyndham's Returnc. 19th centuryLewis H. Court

On Watchet town the night had closed
Down by the Severn strand.
And from the grey embattled tower
The bells had chimed the vesper hour.
Far echoing o’er the land.

Saint Decuman’s upon the hill
Kept ward above the town.
And through the silence of the night
The stars like lamps of silver bright
Their magic rays flashed down.

The vale that slept below the shrine.
With many an elm tree tall.
A stillness held with nothing broke.
Save where_from Warren’s stunted oak
An owl its mate did call.

But ‘neath the manor’s ancient roof
By Kentsford’s murmuring wave.
The noble house of Wyndham kept
A mournful vigil, and they wept
As round a new-made grave

And well indeed they might, for late
Their fair lady had died:
And in the proud ancestral hall
She slept beneath her snow white pall
With the lilies by her side.

She was of gentle lineage born
And to her lord most dear.
A scion he_of an ancien clan.
Who now_a broken-hearted man
Long lingered by her bier.

He thought him of those golden hours
When he the maiden wooed,
The wedding morn, the nuptial feast.
The blessing of the ancient priest,
The chancel where they stood.

Now all had vanished as a dream,
His fondest hopes were gone.
No more those lovely eyes for him
Would shine; his own with tears grew dim
There in that desolate dawn.

At length the day of burial came.
And through the leafy lane
Along by Snailholt's silent bourne
They bore her body that sad morn
Up to the ancient fane.

And there in a grim and mouldy vault.
Where many a Wyndham lay,
They left her for the long, long rest,
Her white hands crossed upon her breast.
And went their homeward way.

Again the gathering shades of night
The little town obscured:
The old church on the breezy mound
Stood silent in its holy ground,
Its dim vault well secured.

At hour of midnight not a soul
In Watchet town kept ward,
And while the simple town folk slept
A stealthy figure slowly crept
Across the sacred sward.

And down the stone steps to the vault
With furtive glance he made:
Into the lock his rusty key
He ventured, noiseless as could be,
And startled, half afraid.

The great door yielded: in went he.
Awhile alarmed he hid;
Then lit his lantern for the quest,
Seized on the leaden burial chest
And wrenched away the lid.

For well he knew a wealth of gems
Those dainty fingers wore:
And one. a ring a ransom worth,
Too rich to moulder in the earth,
Which she would want no more.

And those were days of dire distress
For men of low estate:
And glittering gold and sparkling gem
Could have no further use for them
Whom death had dealt their fate.

With thoughts like these his wavering will
The guilty sexton steeled.
And resolute followed yet the quest
Till, flashing from that peaceful breast.
The gems were clear revealed.

He seized the slender fingers white
And stiff in their repose.
Then sought to file the circlet through:
When, to his horror, blood he drew.
And the fair sleeper rose.

She sat a moment, gazed around.
Then. great was her surprise.
And sexton, startled, saw at a glance
This was not death, but a deep trance,
And madness leapt to his eyes.

The stagnant life stream in her veins
Again began to flow:
She felt the sudden quickening.
For her it was a joyous thing,
For him a fearsome woe.

He sprang, and like a madman fled
From the accusing vault,
And made his way among the tombs
As one chased by a hundred dooms.
Who dared not call a halt.

The lady beckoned him in vain.
He was too scared to heed.
She would have given him his price;
He cleared'the churchyard in a trice.
Spurred by his desperate deed.

And never came he back again.
Nor could the people tell
His whereabout; but legend tells
He followed the pathway up Five Bells
And leapt into a well.

The lady Wyndham left her bier,
And by the lantern's aid
She scaled the damp stone steps and found
Her way across the holy ground
And straightway homeward made.

All down by Snailholt's silent meads
The ghostly figure passed,
And through the list'ning grove below:
The startled kine that watched her go
Sprang up with fear aghast.

She reached the Manor lawn at length.
Paused at the porchway hatch;
And then. as one held in a dream.
Her face as pale in the lantern's beam.
She lifted clear the latch.

But bolts and bars were safely set:
She gave a gentle knock:
Then louder; and at length she heard
A sound, as though someone had stirred.
And it was one o' the clock.

Now sleep that lonesome night forsook
The sorrowing husband there:
He heard the river murmuring by,
And marked the mute stars in the sky
That seemed to mock his prayer.

Hour after hour he wakeful lay
And all disconsolate,
When, suddenly, he heard a sound.
Then the baying of his faithful hound
And the click of the court-house gate.

Then knockings at the great hall door
And a most plaintiff call:
He rose and oped the casement wide,
And through the darkness he descried
A ghostly figure tall.

The lantern in her hand she held,
Her robe was spectral white:
Here surely one had come from the dead!
His heart it thumped with a great dread:
It was an awesome sight.

What wonder such a vision made
His knees together knock!
Yet fear should not his soul unman,
So down the oaken stairs he ran
And seized his old flint-lock.

Some rustic knave or fool, thought he.
Is playing me this prank:
And if he is not soon away
Begad! I'll make short work of his play:
Yet half in fear he shrank.

He threw the parvise casement wide
And rang the challenge down,
"Who art thou? Answer, or I'll shoot!"
The figure stood a moment mute.
And fearful of his frown.

Then eagerly she made reply,
"Shoot not! I am you wife.
Come down, I pray you. let me in!
For the night is chill and my garb is thin.
And God gives me back my life."

The voice was hers beyond all doubt:
His wife it was who spake.
Ah! That the dead should come again
To haunt the ways of troubled men
And other troubles make.

"Death held me not: it was a trance."
She cried. "Oh. tarry not!
This winding sheet about my breast
Yet wears the embroidered Wyndham crest:
Pity my helpless lot."

He bounded down the great hall stairs
And opened wide the door:
Clasping her in a fond embrace.
He wiped the tears from that sweet face
He had thought to see no more.

She told him all the ghostly tale
Of the vault, the sexton's flight,
The file that made her finger bleed,
The venture down the lonesome mead,
The grim and terrible night.

So there was joy that early dawn
in the Squire of Kentsford's hall.
Joy as of hearts all newly wed
For one who has risen from the dead
To bear him sons withal.

And sons she after bore him, twain.
To keep the Wyndham name:
And many a year she lived to grace
His board and hearth, and all the place
Resounded with her fame.

And still in old St. Decuman's
The tablet may be seen,
Which bears the name of the lady fair
And her two children sculptured there.
To keep her memory green.