Verse > Thomas Hardy > Wessex Poems and Other Verses
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Thomas Hardy (1840–1928).  Wessex Poems and Other Verses.  1898.
 
27. The Dance at the Phoenix
 
 
TO Jenny came a gentle youth
  From inland leazes lone;
His love was fresh as apple-blooth
  By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone.
And duly he entreated her        5
To be his tender minister,
  And call him aye her own.
 
Fair Jenny’s life had hardly been
  A life of modesty;
At Casterbridge experience keen        10
  Of many loves had she
From scarcely sixteen years above:
Among them sundry troopers of
  The King’s-Own Cavalry.
 
But each with charger, sword, and gun,        15
  Had bluffed the Biscay wave;
And Jenny prized her gentle one
  For all the love he gave.
She vowed to be, if they were wed,
His honest wife in heart and head        20
  From bride-ale hour to grave.
 
Wedded they were. Her husband’s trust
  In Jenny knew no bound,
And Jenny kept her pure and just,
  Till even malice found        25
No sin or sign of ill to be
In one who walked so decently
  The duteous helpmate’s round.
 
Two sons were born, and bloomed to men,
  And roamed, and were as not:        30
Alone was Jenny left again
  As ere her mind had sought
A solace in domestic joys,
And ere the vanished pair of boys
  Were sent to sun her cot.        35
 
She numbered near on sixty years,
  And passed as elderly,
When, in the street, with flush of fears,
  On day discovered she,
From shine of swords and thump of drum,        40
Her early loves from war had come,
  The King’s Own Cavalry.
 
She turned aside, and bowed her head
  Anigh Saint Peter’s door;
“Alas for chastened thoughts!” she said;        45
  “I’m faded now, and hoar,
And yet those notes—they thrill me through,
And those gay forms move me anew
  As in the years of yore!”…
 
—’Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn        50
  Was lit with tapers tall,
For thirty of the trooper men
  Had vowed to give a ball
As “Theirs” had done (fame handed down)
When lying in the self-same town        55
  Ere Buonaparté’s fall.
 
That night the throbbing “Soldier’s Joy,”
  The measured tread and sway
Of “Fancy-Lad” and “Maiden Coy,”
  Reached Jenny as she lay        60
Beside her spouse; till springtide blood
Seemed scouring through her like a flood
  That whisked the years away.
 
She rose, and rayed, and decked her head
  To hide her ringlets thin;        65
Upon her cap two bows of red
  She fixed with hasty pin;
Unheard descending to the street,
She trod the flags with tune-led feet,
  And stood before the Inn.        70
 
Save for the dancers’, not a sound
  Disturbed the icy air;
No watchman on his midnight round
  Or traveller was there;
But over All-Saints’, high and bright,        75
Pulsed to the music Sirius white,
  The Wain by Bullstake Square.
 
She knocked, but found her further stride
  Checked by a sergeant tall:
“Gay Granny, whence come you?” he cried;        80
  “This is a private ball.”
—“No one has more right here than me!
Ere you were born, man,” answered she,
  “I knew the regiment all!”
 
“Take not the lady’s visit ill!”        85
  Upspoke the steward free;
“We lack sufficient partners still,
  So, prithee let her be!”
They seized and whirled her ’mid the maze,
And Jenny felt as in the days        90
  Of her immodesty.
 
Hour chased each hour, and night advanced;
  She sped as shod with wings;
Each time and every time she danced—
  Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings:        95
They cheered her as she soared and swooped
(She’d learnt ere art in dancing drooped
  From hops to slothful swings).
 
The favorite Quick-step “Speed the Plough”—
  (Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)—        100
“The Triumph,” “Sylph,” “The Row-dow dow,”
  Famed “Major Malley’s Reel,”
“The Duke of York’s,” “The Fairy Dance,”
“The Bridge of Lodi” (brought from France),
  She beat out, toe and heel.        105
 
The “Fall of Paris” clanged its close,
  And Peter’s chime told four,
When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose
  To seek her silent door.
They tiptoed in escorting her,        110
Lest stroke of heel or chink of spur
  Should break her goodman’s snore.
 
The fire that late had burnt fell slack
  When lone at last stood she;
Her nine-and-fifty years came back;        115
  She sank upon her knee
Beside the durn, and like a dart
A something arrowed through her heart
  In shoots of agony.
 
Their footsteps died as she leant there,        120
  Lit by the morning star
Hanging above the moorland, where
  The aged elm-rows are;
And, as o’ernight, from Pummery Ridge
To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge        125
  No life stirred, near or far.
 
Though inner mischief worked amain,
  She reached her husband’s side;
Where, toil-weary, as he had lain
  Beneath the patchwork pied        130
When yestereve she’d forthward crept,
And as unwitting, still he slept
  Who did in her confide.
 
A tear sprang as she turned and viewed
  His features free from guile;        135
She kissed him long, as when, just wooed.
  She chose his domicile.
Death menaced now; yet less for life
She wished than that she were the wife
  That she had been erstwhile.        140
 
Time wore to six. Her husband rose
  And struck the steel and stone;
He glanced at Jenny, whose repose
  Seemed deeper than his own.
With dumb dismay, on closer sight,        145
He gathered sense that in the night,
  Or morn, her soul had flown.
 
When told that some too mighty strain
  For one so many-yeared
Had burst her bosom’s master-vein,        150
  His doubts remained unstirred.
His Jenny had not left his side
Betwixt the eve and morning-tide:
  —The King’s said not a word.
 
Well! times are not as times were then,        155
  Nor fair ones half so free;
And truly they were martial men,
  The King’s-Own Cavalry.
And when they went from Casterbridge
And vanished over Mellstock Ridge,        160
  ’Twas saddest morn to see.
 

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