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,

Urgent command

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,

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