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Old Songs

                                          I.—FAIR ROSAMUND

    HOW did you get in?” said Fair Rosamund indifferently.
Queen Eleanor held up the skein of silk, with a
compassionate smile.

    “Ah, yes, I might have known,” laughed Fair Rosamund;
“all spiders spin silk. . . . Will you be staying long?”

    “No; not very long,” answered Queen Eleanor regretfully.

    “I am very sorry for that,” sighed Rosamund; “the sight
of you makes me feel ten years younger.”

    “Never mind,” murmured Eleanor comfortingly; “I will
stay a little while—long enough to make you much younger than

    A sharp silence followed.

    “Will you not sit down?” cooed Rosamund absently. “O,
I forgot; pardon me; this is the only chair that has been given to
me, and it holds but one at once.”

    “Where does he sit?” said Eleanor, looking round aimlessly
at the great lime trees overhead.

    “On my knee,” whispered Rosamund.

    Eleanor resumed, ‘Why should I pardon you? Do not
yield me your chair—”

    “I had not thought of it,” said Rosamund, opening her eyes
very widely.

    Eleanor continued, not noticing the interruption, “I will sit
on the floor at your feet.”

    “That will be beautiful,” said Rosamund; then she went on
protectingly, “See, I will give you a little corner of the hem of my
skirt to sit upon.”

    “How good; I shall hide it completely,” said Eleanor.

    She seated herself, and again a long silence ensued. Then
she resumed, “This cannot go on for ever.”

    “I thought not,” said Rosamund sagely.

    Eleanor rose and drew from her gown-bosom a narrow
thin willowy knife and a vial of green copper. She cut off a short
piece from the skein of silk and knotted it about the neck of the
vial; with this she hung the vial on the tip of the knife and offered
them to Rosamund, saying “Which?”

    “Do you mean to kill me?” laughed Rosamund.

    “Eleanor nodded repeatedly and rapidly, with an expression
of vanity on her face.

    “You are most foolish,” said Fair Rosamund in tones of
grave reproof; “surely you see that my death by your hands will
make him think of me whenever he sees you, so that he will re-
member how much greater is my beauty than yours; then, too, he
will always hate you until he can watch you die, in payment for my
death—and that may make it possible even you will die before
your time. As for me, he will love me more surely than ever
when he has lost me; perchance he will even have me embalmed
and will cherish me in a painted chapel with jewelled windows.”

    “It all depends upon what there is to embalm,” lisped
Queen Eleanor contentedly. “I fear I can wait no longer; must
I choose or will you?”

    “O, not the knife . . . .” and Rosamund shivered daintily;
“the knife will hurt, I know it will; I once stabbed myself when I
was yet in the convent—it was purely pretence, you know, so that
I might get my own way. I took care that the stylet (it was a
stylet) should slip along a rib, but I can feel the glistening pain
whenever I think of it… .”

    “No, not the knife . . . .” she added hurriedly.

    “Then ….” and Eleanor held the vial still nearer
to her.

    Rosamund turned to her embroidery frame, saying calmly:
“You must wait a moment, just until I have put this stitch in.
There,” she went on presently, rolling up her ails, thrusting her
needles into them and shutting them into a ball of copper filagree
and violet enamel, “give me your nosegay.”

    She loosened the stopper and me the vial’s contents; her
nostrils curled. “How nasty,” she said. Then she rose suddenly,
took the Queen’s head in her hands and kissed her on the mouth.
Having done this she drank the contents of the vial hastily and
seated herself again, fearful lest Eleanor should spoil her of her
chair. “’Tis good,” she mused, “to know that I shall never have
anything so nasty again.”

    She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. Pre-
sently, with a slow, thin-lipped smile, she said: “He will neglect
you to kiss me often when I am dead; he would rather kiss my
cold blue lips than your warm red lips.”

                                             Old Songs

    “Will he?” asked Eleanor, Queen.

    Fair Rosamund laughed shrilly. Suddenly she sat upright,
shrieking, her eyes staring. She gripped her body with both

    “O….O! What can that be? How it did hurt,
There it is again. Help me…. it hurts….it hurts….
it hurts . . . You have given me a corrosive poison; how cruel of
you; you might have given me a narcotic poison….

    “Where is she? .. . she has gone. O God! O God! send
her back, so that I can die calmly and sweetly in her presence; I
can die so, God, if she is here; she will give me strength. But

    She gripped her body very tightly with her hands and rolled
on the floor.

    “….O, she has given me this eating draught to wring
all the beauty out of my face and to distort my limbs as I die, so
that he will despise me and think of me with horror….there
are blue blotches on my hands….will it be so all over my
body? I will lie long-stretched and hold myself very still, so that
I may be seemly for him to look on….”

    Her hands clutched her body again; she sat up, then dashed
herself on the ground again.

                                          II—PAOLO AND FRANCESCA

“WHERE do you suppose you are?” asked Francesca wonder-

    “In Hell,” faltered Dante between his sobs.

    “But why should you think that?” said Francesca in still
greater wonderment. “Tis so plain that we are in Heaven.”

    Dante’s voice seemed to be rilling through tears as he re-
turned: “The dreadful torments I have seen; the darkness and the
wailing; the sight of the twain of you driven helplessly down the
cold pitiless wind while little eager terrible flames assail you on

every side—nought save Hell could be thus potent over such
mighty lovers as you….”

    “Is it too dark for us to see each other?” interrupted

    “No,” said Dante more sadly than ever.

    “Then are we in Heaven,” answered Paolo. “This light is
the light of our choice; all lovers love the twilight. We must be
in Heaven when we can see each other. Does this wind of which
you speak (we cannot feel it, for we are at its heart; it seems cold
to you because we need and take all its warmth for ourselves),
does it seem to you to sunder us and send each of us adrift all

    Dante shook his head.

    “Then are we in Heaven,” continued Paolo. “We must
be in heaven when we are together. Our Heaven is to lie in each
other’s arms; and as we do so the wind of our passion drives us
whither it will, for it always blows us to happiness. We are quite
safe, because we love eternally. The wind of passion is the breath
of God. It must be that you carry Hell with you when you can
hear our cries of joy and think that we are wailing.”

    “But the dreadful torments I have seen?” doubted Dante

    “We know nothing of them,” laughed Paolo and Francesca
together merrily. “Yet torments are purgings everywhere; of
evil in Heaven, of good in Hell.”

    “But,” triumphed Dante, “my dead lady is not here, so it
must be Hell.”

    Francesca laughed a long time. At last she sang: “We
cannot help that. Heaven is where we are. If your lady is some-
where apart from you she must be in Hell; hasten to rescue her,
O swift to speak and laggard to do.”

    “Where we are, Heaven is,” chanted Paolo in antiphon.

    “O, Paolo,” joyously rippled Francesca, “he is so wicked:
see, he wants to put us into Hell that he may save his lady from
Hell. We shall never convince him; wicked people can never
believe what other people say. The little roses that fall from us
as we kiss whirl about us for ever; but they are no use to him;
he thinks they are flames of bygone earthly lust that God has
saved up to punish us with. Come, my heart’s Paolo, let us gather

                                             Old Songs

up all our little roses—armfuls, Paolo, armfuls—and with them
pelt him out of Paradise….”

    As Virgil and Dante turned away, Virgil said with a
pagan’s unintelligence: “Hell is not such a hateful place after
all, you see.”


“GRETCHEN? Ah, sir, I am inexpressibly weary of that wrinkled-
to-shrivelling falsehood. ’’Twas a Teuton-calumny, too; but our
German mind ever alternated tween philosophy and sentimentality,
incapable of understanding that a middle way exists—nay, ’tis
possible that other things exist also—I know not; I have the
German mind.

    “Simplicity, simplicity—that is our bane, and we know it;
we hide it under mountains of words, but we cannot hide our souls
so—we do no more than punctuate the obvious.

    “And sentimentality is a hypocrisy that comes of living to
a theory; as a nation we are martyred to the family; here it is—
positively grown to an instinct—and thus I am subjugated to
a round peach-face and two long plaits of yellow hair. Would
our poet were not so immortal.

    “Your own countryman Marlov (or is it Marlau you call
him?) divined me trulier. Some elusive neluctable inscrutable
stir o’ the animal in us sets every man toward the wenches sooner
or later; but he felt I had an ambition like his own, and that if the
accident o’ birth must drag me from my self’s high thoughts of
man’s divinity, I could yield to no less than the pick o’ the ages,
the envy of the best-mated fondlers; so he gave me the Lacedæ-
monian; I warrant he lusted after her himself.

    “‘St, ’st; nay, sir, softly, one moment; ’tis here that it cuts
—I have been made the apex of tragedies, the butt of farces, the
occasion for the high-noted one of the opera to after-the-syrup-of-
the-newest-Parisian-fashion out-caper his dusty triumphs of the

day before; but none thinks of my life-work, of what I rough-
hewed for the after-time; even your countryman makes me fear
Hell i’ the end, though he was wiser himself—but he must have a
tickling finale for his buskin-grinder, and crashes through my
fame to find one. Now, sir, cannot you adjust me with posterity,
give me the serious perpetuation which is my right?….

    “I hear your present patent of immortality is a biography
in two volumes with a supplement by an eminent authority….
Facts? I do not desire a record of facts, I seek a work of genius.
Facts, facts, facts—O, have all these hundreds of years gone by
since I lived and strove, and has humanity not yet passed its old
stone of stumbling? Sir, I have understood that yours is the age
of constructive anatomy; given the bone, you uprear its animal:
the age of evolution; given the product, you predicate its source
—and do not the traditions of me furnish bones and sources to
suffice a mastodon-biography? I require the instinct of the pro-
phet, not the gospel of the disciple’: you know the spirit of me and
what I must have been—invent, then, your facts accordingly,
one cosmic harmony to form. From the boasts I have overheard
I imagine your marvellous (he, he, he,….) century has accom-
plished much greater feats of sympathetic interpretation than this I
ask of you. Facts—what have I to do with facts? Facts—have
I then indeed lived in vain?

    “I know what you say—sir, sir, go not yet—I beseech you
listen to me one little minute—nay, sir, if you will persist in
going you will infallibly make me tear your sleeve—I admit rue-
fully that a biography may be most dull; but I had lieferbea-

                                             Old Songs

                                          IV—JULIET AND ROMEO

NOWADAYS every one knows that only a few short moments
(so few, so short) had dropped on the string where Death counted
his rosary whose prayers are always granted—only some fleet
rose-petal moments had dropped after Romeo had sipped that
merciful merciless milk from the breast of the old mother, when
Juliet crept to earth again as thoughtlessly as she had done that
first time not many—ah, God, not very many—years before.

    As she awakened, the chill humid dead-leaf odour of the
place where she lay was the first thing she knew; then, as she
yet held her eyes lightly closed, this sensation swiftly dropped a
chain of thoughts in her mind to bind her to all earth again—
but she cared not, for the chain was all gold as she was. In a
little space she opened her eyes most gently, as if she was so tired
of sleep; they met Romeo’s dazzling stare fixed there for the last
of earth. “True heart,” she murmured.

    He never answered her, and his face softened into a shadow
of unhoping happiness and long expected wonder which she did
not understand, feeling that it was meant for something within her
which it was too blind to reach.

    “Romeo,” said Juliet.

    “Juliet,” said Romeo.

    His courage became winged, “Am I, then, indeed dead?”
he went on; “I knew you would be quite near to me, and that
your greeting would be in the first light; but you have ie off your
new glory that you may not humble me; great soul, know—
but may you truly take me with you?”

    She thought the vaporous scent of the place had fumed
him in dreams. “Nay, we are not dead,” she laughed; “but the
opiate is spent, and you are come. Haste, make haste, lest one
should hear us—nay, but I am a ghost to fright all such—and
ghost-cold, truly—Come, there are many heavens we must
undergo ere we enter that last one.”

    “Not dead” thrilled Romeo in a very rapture of a forgetful-
ness. Suddenly he snatched her from the bier and clasped her to
a helplessness more stringent than that of a winding sheet, where-
upon there slipped utterly out of time a little space of kisses and of
words which none will repeat who has whispered such for himself.

But through that chasm in time they both fell into eternity;
for presently Romeo, who could not think for joy, caught with the
drowner’s instinct at a word he seemed to have heard once in an
imperfect life. “Opiate,” he muttered dazedly; “what of an

    “Love,” cooed Juliet, soothingly, “’twas how I cheated them
until you could come to me; was it not all in the monk’s letter?”

    “I know no letter,” he answered slowly, like one wakening,
“save my sister’s of your death.” Then he knew, and, in a reeling
sweat, moaned, “Ere you lived again, I had opened the door to
go to you; O God; O God.”

    “What is it? How?” she sobbed, clinging to him in terror.
“Poison,” he said with a dull carelessness, showing her the half
empty phial.

    Loosening her hold, she answered with a calm smiling glad-
ness, “Is that all? Give me some too, and then it will not
matter.” She held out her hand.

    “Nay,” he replied in a deep hushed voice, withdrawing the
phial, “there shall be no sin in you; I know we must be together
….there…. afterward, so love will set you among the
sinners without that; but you shall not suffer—I must have all
the suffering to myself—I am greedy for suffering, now that
I have learned its delight…. Let the burden be mine…. ”

    He put his arm round her neck, and, laying his hand on her
brow, drew her head back upon his shoulder; then he loosened
her lips with a kiss, and steadily poured the draught into her
mouth—she swallowed the poison as he shed the empty phial.

    Steadying her with his arm, he led her to the bier, going as
gently as though they trod roses.

    Lifting her, he laid her on the bier, and stretched himself
beside her as softly as a benediction.

    While she nestled to him she whispered, “Clasp me in your
arms so that I cannot move, and I will grip your feet with mine
so that you cannot move….”

    After a long time she said very drowsily, “My hands are so
cold, Romeo; open your doublet and shirt and put my hands
within to your bosom.” He did as she asked, dead birds to his
heart, although he was almost numb; then he drew her to him
again as if he were a saint saving a tangible, visible soul.

                                             Old Songs

    The moon had set and it was dark, dark, dark, when she
muttered in a palsy: “Romeo….was I going to speak….
ah, Romeo….what did I say….Romeo…. I cannot
feel your mouth crush mine…. Is your mouth on mine….
be so sure that your mouth….”

                                                              GORDON BOTTOMLEY.

MLA citation:

Bottomley, Gordon. “Old Songs.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 165-175. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022,