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                        NO breath of wind, within, without;
                        No stirring twig, no insect hum;
                        The very beehives dumb;
                        Till shrill and sharp, with shriek and shout,
                        The laughing sisters come.

                        Swarth, heavy-tressed runs Alison,
                        Not corn than Blanche more debonair,
                        They fill the voiceless air,
                        Scarcely a scant scarf bound upon
                        Their joyous, rebel hair.

                        “Here, sister, here.” “No, here i’ the shade.”
                        “Look, sister, gather up your skirt;
                        It trails upon the dirt.”
                        “Ah, malapert, now you have made
                        My hand bleed; I am hurt.”

                        “Sweet Alison, your hose is rent.”
                        “Sweet Blanche, but look you, do you this:
                        Loosen your girdle, sis,
                        And draw your gown through.” Indolent
                        Blanche laughs at her excess.

                        Their heart-shaped bats, bent, bound and strung
                        With ravelled bow-cord, light and stout
                        To drive the ball about,
                        Winged plaything from the soutar wrung
                        With supplicating pout.

                        Drum! Drum! How it spins! How straight it flies!
                        How blue ’tis! Bluer than the sky!
                        “Sister, you strike awry.”
                        Hither and thither, hands and eyes,
                        And never feet more spry.

                        The chatelaine creeps forth a space,
                        Down the strait stair, with looks askance
                        For peeping eyes. “Constance!”
                        The girls cry out, “come, take a place.”
                        Her eyes fixed, as in trance;

                        Thoughts flocking of Provençal fields,
                        Of her own youth, grown nigh and nigher,
                        Gathering her fine attire,
                        The weary Lady Constance yields
                        Unto a great desire.


                        Truth, she is little apt, although
                        She strive, and make a brave array
                        Of skill; the breathless day
                        Catches her throat for to and fro,
                        This way and that way. “Nay . . . . ”

                        One hand clasped on her face, and one
                        Against her waist, the frighted twain
                        Of girls, seeing her pain,
                        Shriek, cry: “Swift! water!” Alison
                        Wrings at her hands in vain.

                        “A little sickness, child; ’tis naught;
                        ’Tis well. Dear Christ! if’t be a wight,
                        Moris shall he be hight;
                        If’t be a lass, Ysold. For aught
                        I joy, ’t may be this night.”

                        “A little sickness, child; ’tis naught;
                        ’Tis well. Dear Christ! if’t be a wight,
                        Moris shall he be hight;
                        If’t be a lass, Ysold. For aught
                        I joy, ’t may be this night.”


                        The sheltered garden sleeps among the tall
                        Black poplars which grow round it, next the wall.
                        The wall is very high, green grown on red.
                        All is within, white convent, chapel, all.

                        Slight supper past, the evening office said,
                        Gardening tools locked up, the poultry fed,
                        Little is done but lazy chaplets told,
                        Weeds plucked, and garden calvaries visited.

                        Some pace and stitch; some read in little, old,
                        Worn, heavily bound missals, which they hold
                        With both red hands, where lawns are foiled with flowers,
                        Lily and Ladybell and Marygold.

                        This is the least unhushed of evening hours,
                        When blessed peace best wears its dearest dowers:
                        Quietly grouped are nuns and novices;
                        Two tiny ladies play with battledores.

                        Drunk with the blows, unsteady with the whizz
                        Of whirling flight, the shuttlecock seems, is
                        Alive and fluttering at each new shock.
                        Sisters are drawing close by twos and threes.

                        Asthmatic mother, as the shuttlecock
                        Flies straight at her, allows herself to knock
                        It onward with her leaf fan, muttering,
                        Half as excuse: ’Tis nearly nine o’clock.


                        What better warrant for a foolish thing:
                        With swift inventiveness the sisters bring
                        Whatever light thing strikes; old copybooks
                        Fulfil the purpose well. Such fluttering

                        Within the convent walls the sober rooks
                        Who live among the poplar branches—Sooks!—
                        Had seldom seen. Now all the place prevails
                        With cries and laughter to its furthest nooks.

                        The novices and nuns catch up their tails,
                        Better to bustle, darting till their veils
                        Float back and tangle in the merry fuss,
                        Till sombre weeds swell out like lusty sails….

                        Peace, croaks the mother, Peace, the angelus!

                                                                                                 JOHN GRAY.


MLA citation:

Gray, John. “Battledore.” The Dial, vol. 4, 1896, pp. 34-36. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020.