Only just in time.
The old gardener came muttering down the path,
And his shadow fell like a broad, black swath,
And covered Clotilde and the angry snake.
He bit her, but what difference did that make!
The Virgin should dress
In his loveliness.
The gardener was covering his new-set plants
For the night was chilly, and nothing daunts
Your lover of growing things. He spied
Something to do and turned aside,
And the moonlight streamed
On Clotilde, and gleamed.
His business finished the gardener rose.
He shook and swore, for the moonlight shows
A girl with a fire-tongued serpent, she
Grasping him, laughing, while quietly
Her eyes are weeping.
Is he sleeping?
He thinks it is some holy vision,
Brushes that aside and with decision
Jumps--and hits the snake with his stick,
Crushes his spine, and then with quick,
Takes her hand.
The gardener sucks the poison and spits,
Cursing and praying as befits
A poor old man half out of his wits.
"Whatever possessed you, Sister, it's
Hatched of a devil
And very evil.
It's one of them horrid basilisks
You read about. They say a man risks
His life to touch it, but I guess I've sucked it
Out by now. Lucky I chucked it
Away from you.
I guess you'll do."
"Oh, no, Francois, this beautiful beast
Was sent to me, to me the least
Worthy in all our convent, so I
Could finish my picture of the Most High
And Holy Queen,
In her dress of green.
He is dead now, but his colours won't fade
At once, and by noon I shall have made
The Virgin's robe. Oh, Francois, see
How kindly the moon shines down on me!
I can't die yet,
For the task was set."
"You won't die now, for I've sucked it away,"
Grumbled old Francois, "so have your play.
If the Virgin is set on snake's colours so strong,--"
"Francois, don't say things like that, it is wrong."
So Clotilde vented
Her creed. He repented.
"He can't do no more harm, Sister," said he.
"Paint as much as you like." And gingerly
He picked up the snake with his stick. Clotilde
Thanked him, and begged that he would shield
Her secret, though itching
To talk in the kitchen.
The gardener promised, not very pleased,
And Clotilde, with the strain of adventure eased,
Walked quickly home, while the half-high moon
Made her beautiful snake-skin sparkle, and soon
In her bed she lay
And waited for day.
At dawn's first saffron-spired warning
Clotilde was up. And all that morning,
Except when she went to the chapel to pray,
She painted, and when the April day
Was hot with sun,Download<<BackPagesMainNext>>