To Jenny came a gentle youth From inland leazes lone; His love was fresh as apple-blooth By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone. And duly he entreated her To be his tender minister, And call him aye her own.
Fair Jenny's life had hardly been A life of modesty; At Casterbridge experience keen Of many loves had she From scarcely sixteen years above: Among them sundry troopers of The King's-Own Cavalry.
But each with charger, sword, and gun, Had bluffed the Biscay wave; And Jenny prized her gentle one For all the love he gave. She vowed to be, if they were wed, His honest wife in heart and head From bride-ale hour to grave.
Wedded they were. Her husband's trust In Jenny knew no bound, And Jenny kept her pure and just, Till even malice found No sin or sign of ill to be In one who walked so decently The duteous helpmate's round.
Two sons were born, and bloomed to men, And roamed, and were as not: Alone was Jenny left again As ere her mind had sought A solace in domestic joys, And ere the vanished pair of boys Were sent to sun her cot.
She numbered near on sixty years, And passed as elderly, When, in the street, with flush of fears, On day discovered she, From shine of swords and thump of drum, Her early loves from war had come, The King's Own Cavalry.
She turned aside, and bowed her head Anigh Saint Peter's door; "Alas for chastened thoughts!" she said; "I'm faded now, and hoar, And yet those notes--they thrill me through, And those gay forms move me anew As in the years of yore!"...
--'Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn Was lit with tapers tall, For thirty of the trooper men Had vowed to give a ball As "Theirs" had done (fame handed down) When lying in the self-same town Ere Buonaparté's fall.
That night the throbbing "Soldier's Joy," The measured tread and sway Of "Fancy-Lad" and "Maiden Coy," Reached Jenny as she lay Beside her spouse; till springtide blood Seemed scouring through her like a flood That whisked the years away.
She rose, and rayed, and decked her head To hide her ringlets thin; Upon her cap two bows of red She fixed with hasty pin; Unheard descending to the street, She trod the flags with tune-led feet, And stood before the Inn.
Save for the dancers', not a sound Disturbed the icy air; No watchman on his midnight round Or traveller was there; But over All-Saints', high and bright, Pulsed to the music Sirius white, The Wain by Bullstake Square.
She knocked, but found her further stride Checked by a sergeant tall: "Gay Granny, whence come you?" he cried; "This is a private ball." --"No one has more right here than me! Ere you were born, man," answered she, "I knew the regiment all!"
"Take not the lady's visit ill!" Upspoke the steward free; "We lack sufficient partners still, So, prithee let her be!" They seized and whirled her 'mid the maze, And Jenny felt as in the days Of her immodesty.
Hour chased each hour, and night advanced; She sped as shod with wings; Each time and every time she danced-- Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings: They cheered her as she soared and swooped (She'd learnt ere art in dancing drooped From hops to slothful swings).
The favorite Quick-step "Speed the Plough"-- (Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)-- "The Triumph," "Sylph," "The Row-dow dow," Famed "Major Malley's Reel," "The Duke of York's," "The Fairy Dance," "The Bridge of Lodi" (brought from France), She beat out, toe and heel.
The "Fall of Paris" clanged its close, And Peter's chime told four, When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose To seek her silent door. They tiptoed in escorting her, Lest stroke of heel or chink of spur Should break her goodman's snore.
The fire that late had burnt fell slack When lone at last stood she; Her nine-and-fifty years came back; She sank upon her knee Beside the durn, and like a dart A something arrowed through her heart In shoots of agony.
Their footsteps died as she leant there, Lit by the morning star Hanging above the moorland, where The aged elm-rows are; And, as o'ernight, from Pummery Ridge To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge No life stirred, near or far.
Though inner mischief worked amain, She reached her husband's side; Where, toil-weary, as he had lain Beneath the patchwork pied When yestereve she'd forthward crept, And as unwitting, still he slept Who did in her confide.
A tear sprang as she turned and viewed His features free from guile; She kissed him long, as when, just wooed. She chose his domicile. Death menaced now; yet less for life She wished than that she were the wife That she had been erstwhile.
Time wore to six. Her husband rose And struck the steel and stone; He glanced at Jenny, whose repose Seemed deeper than his own. With dumb dismay, on closer sight, He gathered sense that in the night, Or morn, her soul had flown.
When told that some too mighty strain For one so many-yeared Had burst her bosom's master-vein, His doubts remained unstirred. His Jenny had not left his side Betwixt the eve and morning-tide: --The King's said not a word.
Well! times are not as times were then, Nor fair ones half so free; And truly they were martial men, The King's-Own Cavalry. And when they went from Casterbridge And vanished over Mellstock Ridge, 'Twas saddest morn to see.