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Audley Court

    ‘The Bull, the Fleece are cramm’d, and not a room
    For love or money. Let us picnic there
    At Audley Court.’
            I spoke, while Audley feast
    Humm’d like a hive all round the narrow quay,
    To Francis, with a basket on his arm,
    To Francis just alighted from the boat,
    And breathing of the sea. ‘With all my heart,’
    Said Francis. Then we shoulder’d thro’ the swarm,
    And rounded by the stillness of the beach
    To where the bay runs up its latest horn.

       We left the dying ebb that faintly lipp’d
    The flat red granite; so by many a sweep
    Of meadow smooth from aftermath we reach’d
    The griffin-guarded gates, and pass’d thro’ all
    The pillar’d dusk of sounding sycamores,
    And cross’d the garden to the gardener’s lodge,
    With all its casements bedded, and its walls
    And chimneys muffled in the leafy vine.

       There, on a slope of orchard, Francis laid
    A damask napkin wrought with horse and hound,
    Brought out a dusky loaf that smelt of home,
    And, half-cut-down, a pasty costly-made,
    Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay,
    Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks
    Imbedded and injellied; last, with these,
    A flask of cider from his father’s vats,
    Prime, which I knew; and so we sat and eat
    And talk’d old matters over; who was dead,
    Who married, who was like to be, and how
    The races went, and who would rent the hall:
    Then touch’d upon the game, how scarce it was
    This season; glancing thence, discuss’d the farm,
    The four-field system, and the price of grain;
    And struck upon the corn-laws, where we split,
    And came again together on the king
    With heated faces; till he laugh’d aloud;
    And, while the blackbird on the pippin hung
    To hear him, clapt his hand in mine and sang–

       ‘Oh! who would fight and march and countermarch,
    Be shot for sixpence in a battle-field,
    And shovell’d up into some bloody trench
    Where no one knows? but let me live my life.
       ‘Oh! who would cast and balance at a desk,
    Perch’d like a crow upon a three-legg’d stool,
    Till all his juice is dried, and all his joints
    Are full of chalk? but let me live my life.
       ‘Who’d serve the state? for if I carved my name
    Upon the cliffs that guard my native land,
    I might as well have traced it in the sands;
    The sea wastes all: but let me live my life.
       ‘Oh! who would love? I woo’d a woman once,
    But she was sharper than an eastern wind,
    And all my heart turn’d from her, as a thorn
    Turns from the sea; but let me live my life.’

       He sang his song, and I replied with mine:
    I found it in a volume, all of songs,
    Knock’d down to me, when old Sir Robert’s pride,
    His books–the more the pity, so I said–
    Came to the hammer here in March–and this–
    I set the words, and added names I knew.

       ‘Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, sleep, and dream of me:
    Sleep, Ellen, folded in thy sister’s arm,
    And sleeping, haply dream her arm is mine.
       ‘Sleep, Ellen, folded in Emilia’s arm;
    Emilia, fairer than all else but thou,
    For thou art fairer than all else that is.
       ‘Sleep, breathing health and peace upon her breast:
    Sleep, breathing love and trust against her lip:
    I go to-night: I come to-morrow morn.
       ‘I go, but I return: I would I were
    The pilot of the darkness and the dream.
    Sleep, Ellen Aubrey, love, and dream of me.’

       So sang we each to either, Francis Hale,
    The farmer’s son, who lived across the bay,
    My friend; and I, that having wherewithal,
    And in the fallow leisure of my life
    A rolling stone of here and everywhere,
    Did what I would; but ere the night we rose
    And saunter’d home beneath a moon, that, just
    In crescent, dimly rain’d about the leaf
    Twilights of airy silver, till we reach’d
    The limit of the hills; and as we sank
    From rock to rock upon the glooming quay,
    The town was hush’d beneath us: lower down
    The bay was oily calm; the harbour-buoy,
    Sole star of phosphorescence in the calm,
    With one green sparkle ever and anon
    Dipt by itself, and we were glad at heart.

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