I’ve opened a bottle of ‘54

A glass too much – then one glass more;

And borne along to a distant shore

I reach the brink of an ocean wide,

The hard, flat sands where I used to ride:

But no!  They are only the mystic sands

That bound an ocean, where happy lands

Lie far across on the other side.

 

To fathom its rosiest hue, I raise

The wine towards the light and gaze

Into a crimson glow where plays

A soft, effulgent ruby light,

Which tempts the fancy for a flight

Beyond the screaming planes that fly

And streak their writing on the sky,

To another world that is out of sight;

To a far-off world that we used to know,

Where the Danube Waltz was all the go,

Where the wicked went to a place below,

And the good reposed in an afterglow

On piled-up clouds in realms above,

And earthly souls believed in love,

And men drank port till all were blue …

Here is my story I’ll tell to you,

Which happened in Eighteen Sixty-Two

Of a diamond ring and a lady’s glove.

 

What distant memories do they bring.

A lady’s glove and a diamond ring!

A diamond ring – a glittering thing,

And a glove that was worn by the fair Lizette,

The best in the field – I can see her yet.

Those were the days when the thrusters met;

The days of the good old Hunting song,

When the fence was thick, and the ox-rail strong,

When some of the men could gallop along,

Taking the fences in their stride,

Clearing a brook that was ten yards wide,

Showing the others the way to ride.

But this was in Eighteen Seventy-Two,

When men drank port till all were blue!!

 

.          .          .          .          .

 

I took Suzanne to a Cottesmore Ball.

She was dark as a gipsy, lithe and tall;

Her eyes like stars! And I still recall

The gathering crowd at the ballroom door

As she made her debut upon the floor:

Seeing her there I know full well

That she alone must be the Belle,

That I was caught within her spell,

And yet, alas! Who could foretell?

Those eyes like stars were as false as hell.

 

Champagne and lights and a shiny floor;

Faint as the sound of a far-off shore,

Came the soft music of a waltz.

She looked me in the eyes and swore

To me she never would be false!

As we glided out in the moving flow

The strains of the waltz were soft and low,

Now loud and full as we whirled away

On the shiny floor, and faces gay

Were bright beneath the chandeliers.

Bright jewels shone from lovely ears,

And diamonds flashed across the years,

From velvet cases drawn again,

And worn once more to a different strain

Of music as the years go by.

 

Alas! The happiest moments fly –

Suzanne then gave the faintest sigh,

As the music ceased and we left the floor;

Then more champagne – then by the score,

Like moths around a candle-flame,

A mob of partners tried to claim

Suzanne, already now the Belle,

Holding them all in a magic spell, -

The Belle surrounded by a crowd,

And owing low to her, I vowed

Within my soul that I would forget

Those eyes like stars; I can see them yet.

 

Then a soft voice whispering, breathed my name;

And I turned and saw a long-lost flame:

There was I standing face to face

With a true Diana of the Chase.

A vision of grace I had loved in vain, -

Lizette, who had gone, and was back again;

And somewhere now inside my brain

Were memories of a distant Ball

In a distant place at an ancient hall; -

But as we talked she was swept away

For another dance, and I had to stay,

Lost in the thoughts of yesterday.

 

Then I looked around and saw Suzanne

Glancing out from behind her fan,

And blowing kisses through the air

To somebody waiting upon the stair!

She met his eyes with that heavenly smile,

That smile wherewith she could beguile

The veriest, coldest, bleakest soul,

To play the passionate lover’s role.

Alas! In wrath did I stoop to spy

Upon Suzanne and her captured fly,

And followed them like a lovesick swain

Through other rooms, where the distant strain

Of music fell upon the ear;

It was fainter now, and now more clear:

And seeing her arm in arm with him,

The blazing chandeliers grew dim …

The spell had gone and my dream of bliss;

And when I saw him clasp and kiss;

Suzanne, then blushing like a rose,

My heart and my soul within me froze.

 

Then more champagne and one glass more,

And I dashed away to the ballroom floor,

And there again was the fair Lizette,

Standing alone where last we met!

Her eyes shone out across the room,

And all of a sudden despair and gloom

Were gone and now the chance was sent.

To join her where I saw her stand,

And as I took her by the hand

The band began the Danube Waltz: -

Oblivious then to all the faults

Of other dancers on the floor,

Lizette entranced me more and more

With her perfections, whilst her feet

Were keeping time to the steady beat;

And so throughout that happy night

We gave no other partners right,

And one and all did she discard, -

Passing them by without regard.

To sing her charms, the greatest bard

No earthly pen would have to wield;

Her diamonds flashed and my senses reeled …

 

The rest of the Ball was ours alone,

And I blessed the chandeliers that shone,

Lighting the jewels at her ears;

I can see her now beyond the years,

The flush on her cheek, the classic mould

Of her lovely neck – the burnished gold

Of her glossy hair, where, lying close

Behind her ear, was a crimson rose:

Lizette was a prize to win or lose:

So again I tried; the reply was “No”

At that Cottesmore Ball of long ago.

 

.         .         .          .         .

 

From then the weeks went slowly on,

With frost and snow, Lizette was gone.

Then came a galloping Cottesmore day;

Lizette was there on her favourite bay.

Beneath the knitted glove she wore

Was a diamond ring, which I never saw

Until that day, when side by side

We were cantering up the middle ride,

And brought our horses to a stand:

It sparkled out as she bared her hand.

But soon a whimper from a hound

Changed all my thoughts – a fox was found!

Away with sorrows of the heart!

Lizette was racing for the start: -

To keep her fleeing form in sight

I broke the top rail of a flight

Of post and rails upon a slope;

And then I knew there was no hope

Of catching her before a check,

I’d no desire to break my neck.

 

At what a pace do foxhounds run

When pallid rays of a wintry sun

Are fading out before a frost.

My hopes of catching her were lost!

Without a check for half an hour,

We galloped along until the tower

Of a steepled church upon a hill

Was left behind, and, running still,

The flying pack drew on ahead

Of the thinning hunt, now far outspread,

Whilst empty saddles told their tale,

And faltering steeds began to fail,

And were tailing off a mile behind.

 

Oh!  What a sight for a troubled mind, -

Lizette was leading all the way,

Her good bay horse was bred to stay.

The pace was fast, the fences strong,

And galloping on amidst the throng,

On a tired horse, which he pushed along,

Was a famous lovesick millionaire,

Who knew that the diamond ring was there!

 

But the pace was breaking the spells of love;

To hell with the ring and the knitted glove.

The fence ahead was strong and tall;

Whose turn would it be to take a fall?

We never can tell what the fates may yield;

And lying there in a Cottesmore field,

Where moments since the hounds had flown,

Three men were down, with their horses blown;

And one of the three, the millionaire,

Who knew that the diamond ring was there.

 

And still on the grass, where the chase had sped,

His ridden steed lay like the dead.

And those behind gave up the chase;

For the fence was strong, as was the pace.

Their luck was out, their lot was drawn,

And the plaintive sounds of the far-off horn,

Winding long through the frosty air,

Reminded those who had ended there

That hounds were on and were running still.

The frantic cry of the distant pack,

And the sounds of the chase, were echoed back

And forth again from hill to wood,

From miles away to where they stood.

Each one had hoped, when he’d begun,

To see the end of the Cottesmore run.

 

With a second horse I was hurrying on,

Following where the hunt had gone,

Till I reached the baying pack and found

The wily fox had gone to ground,

And the huntsman blowing a long last note,

Sounding afar until it smote

Against the opposing wood and hill,

Sharp and clear and loud and shrill;

And standing there at her horse’s side

Was the girl who had shown us the way to ride;

The fair Lizette, who had led the hunt

On her gallant horse, a field in front;

A field in front without a fault;

But any horse that was worth its salt

Was twice the horse if he should get

The chance to carry the fair Lizette.

 

.         .          .          .          .

 

Lizette was up on her horse again;

I watched them moving along the lane.

Jogging upon the grass-grown verge;

The horse, now feeling the homeward urge

Stirring within his horse’s soul,

Chaffing against her mild control,

Gave to Lizette that poise so rare,

That was her alone beyond compare.

The cut of her habit showed the line

Of the perfect female form divine,

And every line displayed her grace …

Throughout the run the foremost place

Being hers, there scarce was sign of dirt

Or splash of clay on her habit skirt;

No mark or speck on the black silk hat,

Her hair still smooth in a glossy plait …

Here was the girl who made the pace –

A true Diana of the Chase! …

 

And then I recalled the accursed thing,

Beneath her glove – the diamond ring!

Which I knew full well was hidden there;

And my hopes gave way to dark despair.

 

We had reached the brow of a hill that led

To a ford below, and blazing red,

Like a ball of fire, and sinking low,

The sun was lighting the running flow.

As I rode along I watched the gleam

Reflected there in the swollen stream,

Which slowly faded away until

The sun sank down behind the hill.

 

My hopes had flown like the vanished gleam:

And then we came to the flooded stream –

Where the overflow made a shallow sweep

From the midst of the current, fast and deep.

As the waters ran the twilight fell –

And then the strangest thing befell …

Lizette – resolved on a sudden course –

Rode into the flood and stayed, her horse

Midstream against the current’s force,

And with a hasty snatch she took

The ring, and flung it in the brook!

With a ghostly gleam and the faintest flash,

It sank in the stream without a splash!

Her face was flushed and her eye was bright

As she saw the ring sink out of sight:

And the good bay horse stood still as death

In the running stream, and his steaming breath

Arose above the current’s flow,

All swollen with the melting snow.

As she rode him across to the other side

I followed them through the torrent wide;

And then she turned to me and said,

“I think I shall marry you instead!! …”

My spirits soared and Lizette was gay.

A glorious end to a glorious day!

Lizette was mine! She had thrown away

The diamond ring: and its cursed gleam

Was blotted out in the flooded stream.

And I thought of the lovesick millionaire

Who never would know that his ring lay there,

Swept away in the streaming flood

Buried forever in the mud!

 

Lizette broke out with a merry laugh,

Said she, “I am now your better half!”

At the top of the hill we trotted along;

Lizette was singing the latest song,

Something about a day of days;

And then we came to the four crossways.

Her way was the left and mine the right;

“And here,” said she, “we must say good night.”

Her good bay horse refused to wait,

He had miles to go and the hour was late.

A long farewell in the fading light,

And soon in the dark she was out of sight.

Whilst I stood listening on the spot

To the lonely sound of a horse’s trot

As it died away and away until

No sound came back and all was still.

 

.          .          .          .          .

 

Ending number one

 

Since then we have ridden side by side;

Gone are the days when we used to ride

Taking the fences in our stride:

And sitting at peace in the firelit hall

Watching the flames that rise and fall,

Watching the sparks from the blazing logs,

Hearing the snores of the sleeping dogs,

Our shadows behind us upon the wall,

We sit and we dream of the Cottesmore Ball.

 

.          .          .          .        .

 

Alternative ending to the story for readers with realistic minds

 

All that was still, - in the twilit sleep

That wrapped the fields in a silence deep;

And the frost and gloom came on apace,

And farms and woodlands in the space

Of all that rolling grassland shire

Betwixt me and the furtherest spire

That pointed up towards the sky,

Were steeped in darkened mystery.

And lights from many a farmhouse shone,

And all familiar landmarks gone –

Even that lonely distant spire,

Which like some hopeless, vain desire

Possessed by those who see ahead,

Becomes all blotted out and dead.

 

But loth to go and thinking yet

Of the vanished form of the fair Lizette,

There came once more the distant sound

Of her horse’s hooves upon the ground.

My horse stood still and I sat still

As we heard the sound from the further hill,

Until once more they died away.

Still at the crossroads, lingering yet

In the gathering night now black as jet

I swore I’d marry the fair Lizette.

 

.          .          .          .         .

 

I’d many an acre, many a farm,

And a mansion vast, with none to charm

Its soul and its treasures back to life.

Only a virtuous, loving wife

Could make the place a living thing

As the lawn outside, where the blackbirds sing.

 

On that lawn is a mighty cedar tree,

As old as the family pedigree …

On fleeting feet with her dogs at play,

A young Lizette – her curls astray –

Goes flashing across its solemn shade …

Alas! How far had my fancy strayed

At distant sound of her trotting horse!

When fancies had reached their wildest course

The frosty night gave forth the time

From a village church, and its distant chime

Was striking clear – once, twice, and thrice –

And I dreamed of a foolish paradise.

But those visions alas!  Were fleet and false:

And the Cottesmore Ball and the Danube Waltz

Come back again across the years,

With all the love, the hopes and fears;

And the lost Lizette, and the famous horse,

And the distant trot of its homeward course.

I can hear it fainter and fainter now …

I see the form divine – the brow, -

Serene beneath the black silk hat,

The smooth, bright hair in the smoothest plait …

 

.          .          .          .          .

 

And someone is knocking at the door!

It’s dear old William – he’s seventy-four –

Who comes with something hot to drink;

And wakes and saves me from the brink

Of a brooding gulf that is deep and wide,

Where another world, on the other side,

Lies far away in a different light.

 

“Oh William, bring me the port tonight.”

And he sets it near me – a blissful sight.

“Good night then Sir,” says my oldest friend.

“Good night, dear William,” and thus we end

Our day, and he leaves me there to spend

Another evening with the dogs,

And my wandering thoughts, and the burning logs;

And I watch the leaping flames that shine

And glow in the rosy glass of wine,

And the strains of the Danube Waltz are there,

And the shining floor and the crowded stair,

And the diamonds flash, and I see Suzanne,

The Belle of the ball, with her feathered fan,

Coming towards the folding door …

Is that Lizette across the floor,

Laughing there in the blazing light?

And her lovely ghost may come tonight! *

And thus with the sleeping snoring dogs,

Hearing the sound of the burning logs,

The shadows behind me on the wall

I am there again at the Cottesmore Ball.

 

Alfred Munnings

 

*The famous Lizette was killed in the hunting field.

 

 

 

 

 

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