The Tavern Tales: The Squire’s Tale

 

When all were settled to their own content
And gathered round the fire of blazing logs,
When new-trimmed lamp sent out its grateful glow
And gaily gleamed the burnished pots and pans,
The Squire, a portly man with brown round face
That found its mate in copper warming-pan,
Cleared his great throat with gruff important cough,
And all fell silent with expectancy.
“I had a dream, one well-remembered night”
Began the Squire, “wherein I saw great gates
“That reached unto the sky in iron scrolls,
And they were closed with padlocks and with chains.
On either side a column of white stone
Reared up its smooth and shining bulk aloft.
Between the bars I saw a garden fair,
With fountains splashing with a sound of bells,
And flowers great and small in compact beds,
And lawns all green and velvet. There one walked,
A lady gowned in white from head to toe,
Her face concealed within a heavy veil.
She wrung her hands and muttered in distress,
And often turned her head to look behind.
Then in the trees far off I seemed to see
A long low house with windows all agape.
But no-one issued forth, and still she looked.
There was an air of helplessness so dire
About her form and figure that I yearned
To learn of her distress and comfort her,
So to the heavy gates I pressed my face
And signalled, when she looked my way, that I
Would offer help if such were possible.
She saw my signal and did make reply
With her white hand which she did wave; and came
Nearer the gates, but looking back the whiles
Over her shoulder at the silent house,
As if expecting someone to emerge.
I pushed the gates and rattled them; at once
The chains fell off, the padlocks were unhooked,
The gates did open and I realised
That they had only seemed to be secured.
I walked to meet her, holding out my hands,
And she to meet me, with a wistful smile
About her lips and lurking in her eyes.
Our hands had almost touched and clasped, her mouth
Half open with a welcome cry – and then
I saw those eyes dilate with terror stark,
Her hands flew up to clasp her working throat,
And scream on scream she loosed into the air
As she gazed terrified at what was close
Behind me. Then, as I did turn my head
She backed away and from me shrieking fled.

February, 1927