The Abbess of Marlow.*


Marlow’s Abbess is fair to see,1
Marlow’s Abbess is young in years ;2
And she weeps in her chamber when none are by :3
But they are not penitential tears.4
She wears a relic against her heart—5
A relic that others never see ;6
’Tis a simple gem in a golden ring :7
No symbol that of sanctity.8
The abbey lands are wide and rich,9
Silver and gold its coffers fill ;10
Rich are the gifts that grace the shrine,11
But something the abbess sighs for still :12
Sighs for, but never utters her thought ;13
And her cheek grows pale and eye grows dim ;14
But the Lady Abbess is she through all,15
And her voice is sweet in the solemn hymn.16
Two by two, in the early dawn—17
The mist lies white where the stream doth flow,—18
Two by two, on their sleek-paced mules,19
From Marlow Abbey the sisters go.20
The mowers, mowing the field hard by,21
Stay the swish of the whetted scythe,22
As the passing train looms out through the mist,23
And they hear the mule-bells ringing blithe.24

* This story is told in Dr. Doran’s Court and
Society, from Elizabeth to Anne,” vol. i., p. 263.
Two by two, the sisterhood go,25
And the lark springs up from out the grass ;26
And browsing cattle their sleek heads turn,27
And solemnly gaze as the train doth pass.28
For Bisham the holy sisters are bound,29
For Bisham, where proud Earl Salisbury30
Holds solemn rite for the good success31
Of his journey into a far country ;32
And the Lady Abbess, his daughter fair,33
To join the pomp of her father’s rite,34
Has ridden forth with her sober train,35
From the abbey walls, in the morning light.36


Bisham Abbey was bright that day,37
With flash of armour and glow of gold,38
With gorgeous robes and glimmer of gems,39
As the solemn anthem swelled and rolled.40
The chant was sung, and the incense burnt,41
The knights’ swords blessed, and the rite was
done ;
Each made his vow, and the stately train,43
With its pride and pomp and glitter, was gone.44
The Lady Abbess was pale to see,45
As she came in at the chapel door ;46
But the Lady Abbess was burning red,47
As red as a rose, when the rite was o’er.48
She sits in her chamber and smiles to herself,49
And kisses the relic that she doth wear50
The little gem in the ring of gold,—51
And life seems not so hard to bear.52


The proud Earl sits at the table’s head,53
His heart grows warm with the red, red wine ;54
We’ll pledge a toast, on this night of nights,55
We’ll pledge a toast, O comrades mine !”56
He fills his goblet, and glances round57
At the row of faces to left and right :58
But where is Sir Guy, that he is not here,59
To hold the revel with us this night ?”60
They looked askance in each others’ eyes :61
Can no friend say why he is not here ?”62
Then one, who twisted his chain of gold,63
Arose and spake, but as though in fear :64
My Lord, there is one without, who says,65
In the moonlight, riding, he met the knight,66
And seated behind was a lady fair ;67
He says—but he may not say aright—”68
Her name ! her name ! speak forth her name ! ”69
My Lord, I cannot believe it truth ;70
But he says that the lady who rode behind71
Was the Lady Abbess, and more the ruth ! ”72
Ho ! boot and saddle ! ” the great Earl cried,73
Ho ! boot and saddle ! Spur fast, spur fast !74
By the rood, I swear, they shall both repent75
Before this summer night is past.”76
The horses are out, the swords girt on,77
The cup, half-filled, stands on the board !78
Fast, fast they ride, the Earl in front ;79
Fast, fast they ride, with never a word.80


The horse must be good that beareth two,81
And holdeth his own in that fierce race,82
That is not for life, but more than life—83
For love !  Oh ! that love should be disgrace !84
Push on ! push on ! I hear a sound,85
As though pursuers were on our track.”86
’Tis nought, dear love ; our courser’s tramp,87
By the distant echo, comes wafted back.”88
Push on ; push on ! I see dark forms,89
That cluster thick in the vale below !”90
’Tis only some herd returning home ;91
They have not missed us yet, I trow.”92
Hark !  ’tis no echo that now I hear !93
Push on ! they come with gathering speed.”94
Sir Guy spake never a word, but bent95
And thrust his sharp spurs in his steed.96
On ! on ! the night is dark and grim,97
The drifting clouds are o’er the moon ;98
If darkness lasts, they yet may chance99
To reach some friendly covert soon.100
On ! on ! brave steed, the pace is hard ;101
On ! on ! for love’s sake, faint not now !102
They see upon the hill behind103
The foe come clustering o’er the brow.104
The envious moon breaks from a cloud,105
A wild shout rises suddenly106
A shout that sounds as full of doom107
As doth the boding raven’s cry.108


In Marlow Abbey the Abbess sits,109
She weeps not now, as once she wept,110
But vacant gaze and hollow cheek111
Tell of some sorrow secret kept.112
Humble is she—such not her wont ;113
Humility is bred of shame ;114
No longer Lady Abbess she,115
As once she was, save in the name.116
In Bisham’s cloisters walks a monk,117
Rigid, austere, and grave is he ;118
Never a smile lights up his face,119
His hours are spent in sanctity.120
Deep are the lines upon his face,121
Deep are the lines upon his brow ;122
None know what was his former state—123
They call him Father Francis now.124