The Lay Of The Lady Lorraine by Carolyn Wells

The Lady Lorraine was sweet and fair;
The Lady Lorraine was young;
She had wonderful eyes and glorious hair,
And a voice of a cadence rich and rare;
Oh, she was a lady beyond compare–
By all were her praises sung,
Till valley and plain
Took up the refrain,
And rang with the praise of the Lady Lorraine.

And besides all charms of form and face,
There were other attractions about Her Grace;
Besides her delicate, lily-white hands,
She had rolling acres and broad, rich lands;
Besides her patrician coat of arms,
She had far-reaching forests and fertile farms;
And of many an ancient and wide domain
The beautiful lady was chatelaine.
So of course at her door
There were suitors galore;
They came by the dozen, and came by the score.

They came in droves, and they came in hordes,
Titled nobility,–princes, lords,
Dukes and marquises, viscounts and peers,
Ambassadors, marshals, grandees, grenadiers,
Barons and baronets, earls, and esquires,
Illustrious sons of illustrious sires:
But ’twas ever in vain
They sought to attain
The heart and the hand of the Lady Lorraine.
And day after day
They turned sadly away;
For the Lady Lorraine continued to say,
Decidedly, certainly, stubbornly, “Nay!”
She cared not for wreaths of laurel or bay,
Their titles or rent rolls or uniforms gay,
Their medals or ribbons or gaudy display,
Their splendid equipment, demeanor, or bearing;
She observed not their manners, nor what they were wearing;
Their marvellous exploits for her had no charms:
Their prowess in tourney, their valor at arms;
Their wondrous achievements of brawn or of brain,–
All, all were as naught to the Lady Lorraine.
To each suitor she’d say, with her hand on her heart,
“Sir, I ask of you only that you will depart.”

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In vain they entreated, they begged and they plead,
They coaxed and besought, and they sullenly said
That she was hard-hearted, unfeeling, and cruel.
They challenged each other to many a duel;
They scowled and they scolded, they sulked and they sighed,
But they could not win Lady Lorraine for a bride.

Now the reason for this, as you may have divined,
Was because in her maidenly heart was enshrined
The image of one who was just to her mind:
Who was loving and kind,
To whose faults she was blind,–
The lord of her heart, and the love of her life,
To whom she had promised to be a fond wife.
Her Highness was happy, for even now he
Was hastening to her across the blue sea.
He had written to say he was then on the way,
And would greet his fair lady on Christmas day.

* * *

‘Twas Christmas eve. In the old oak hall
Preparations were made for the Christmas ball.
Gay garlands were hung from ceiling and wall;
The Yule log was laid, the tables arrayed,
And the Lady Lorraine and her whole cavalcade,
From the pompous old steward to the scullery-maid,
Were all in a fluster,
Excitement and bluster,
And everything shone with a marvellous lustre.
Such savory viands the larders presented;
Such wondrous confections the bakers invented:
Such pasties and cates of eccentric design;
Such sparkling decanters of rarest old wine;
And ready at hand was the great wassail-bowl,
And the jolly old boar’s head, with lemon, so droll.
The nook for musicians was carefully planned,
And carols and glees would be played by the band.

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At last all was ready. The workmen were done;
And awaiting the jollity, mirth, and frivolity,
The games and the dancing, the feasting and fun,
The old hall was empty,–save only for one,–
The Lady Lorraine, who surveyed it with pride,
And said, “It is worthy of Lord Cecil’s bride!”
Then a bright smile illumined her happy young face,
Her roguish eyes twinkled, and gayly Her Grace
Crossed the old polished floor with a step light and quick,
And her high slipper heels went clickety-click.
She looked cautiously round,–she was all by herself;
Like a mischievous elf,
She took from a shelf
A mistletoe spray with its berries like pearls;
Then tossing her head and shaking her curls,
In a manner half daring and yet half afraid,
The madcap maid, with a smile that betrayed
Expectant thoughts of her lover dear,
Fastened the spray to the chandelier.

Then in a merry, fanciful mood,
Inspired by the time and the solitude,
The Lady Lorraine,
In whimsical vein,
Said, “On Christmas eve, ‘neath this mistletoe bough,
I’ll solemnly make an immutable vow.”
With a glance at the portraits that hung on the wall,
She said, “I adjure ye to witness, all:
I vow by the names that I’ve long revered,–
By my great-great-grandfather’s great gray beard,
By my father’s sword, by my uncle’s hat,
By my spinster aunt’s Angora cat,
By my ancient grandame’s buckled shoes,
By my uncle Gregory’s marvellous brews,
By Sir Sydney’s wig,
And his ruff so big,–
Indeed, by his whole preposterous rig,–
By the scutcheon and crest, and all the rest
Of the signs of my house, I vow this vow:
That whoever beneath this mistletoe bough
Shall first kiss me, he–none but he–
My partner for life shall henceforth be.”

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She had scarcely ceased when she heard a sound.
She looked around,
And, startled, found
From the old oak chimney place it came.
For there, as if in an old oak frame,
A figure quaint, yet familiar too,
Met her astonished, bewildered view.
Of aspect merry, yet something weird,
With kind blue eyes and a long white beard,
Fur-trimmed cloak, and a peaked cap,
Rosy cheeks,–a jolly old chap;
And, though surprised, she recognized
St. Nicholas, dear to her childhood days,
And she met his smile with a welcome gaze.

The jolly old man beheld Her Grace,
With her laughing eyes and her winsome face;
He couldn’t resist her,–
Indeed, who could?–
And he heartily kissed her
Where she stood!
And exultingly cried, “I heard your vow;
And Lady Lorraine shall be my bride now!”

The lady trembled, as in a daze;
With a startled gaze of blank amaze,
She looked at the figure who stood by her side
And audaciously claimed her for his bride.

Then she bowed her head
And the color fled
From the cheeks that his kiss had flushed rosy red.
Her heart was filled with a sad despair
As she thought of her lover, Lord Cecil Clare,
And his dire dismay
When on Christmas day
He should ride up gayly in brave array,
And find his sweetheart stolen away.

But the honor and pride of her race were at stake;
And for conscience’ sake
She dared not break
Her solemn vow, though her heart might ache.
To be true to her word, her sire had taught her,
And she was a loyal, obedient daughter.
She appealed to the portraits of squires and dames,
Who looked sternly down from their gilded frames;
But they seemed to say, “There must ne’er be broken
A promise or vow a Lorraine has spoken.”

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With stifled sighs, and with tears in her eyes,
Though she tried to assume a cheerful guise,
She turned to the suitor who stood apart,
Awaiting the gift of her hand and heart;
And she said with a gentle, dignified air:
“My heart belongs to Lord Cecil Clare;
But my fatal vow,
Though I rue it now,
I dare not break. So, at your command,
I fulfil it! On you I bestow my hand.”

“O noble lady!” her suitor cried,
“‘Twas only a merry test I tried.
Full well I knew
That your heart was true.
Behold your lover, my bonny bride!
I assumed this guise for a Christmas joke.”
And as he spoke,
He threw off his cloak,
He flung to the floor his peaked hood,
And a gallant knight before her stood!

He doffed his wig and his long white beard;
All signs of St. Nicholas disappeared;
And smiling there, in the firelight’s glare,
Was the gay and noble Lord Cecil Clare!

The lady marvelled–a glad surprise
Betokened itself in her lovely eyes;
And with her merriment quite restored,
She said, “You are welcome home, my lord;
And I’m thankful, now,
That I kept my vow.”

Lord Cecil raised her hand to his lips,
And gallantly kissed her finger tips;
While the squires and dames
Looked down from their frames,
And “Bless you, my children!” they seemed to say.
Then the band appeared, and began to play;
The guests arrived, and without delay
The fun commenced, and the old oak hall
Never had known such a Christmas ball!
The feast was spread,
And the dance was led
By the knight and the lady, and every one said,
With a shout that rent the midnight air,
“Long live Lord Cecil and Lady Clare!”

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