The Circle of Affection and Other Pieces in Prose and Verse

by Duncan Campbell Scott


 

VERONIQUE FRASER


 

IN THE TWILIGHT Veronique Fraser,
        Her hands hid in her sleeves,
Searches for something she never can find
        Rustling the autumn leaves.

Her hair has patches of silver,

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        Gaunt is her frame;
But in her eyes there flickers
        A quick, bright flame.

Once her beauty was dark and vivid,
        She was wild as a hawk in flight,

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Her eyes were as proud of her black hair
        As stars are proud of the night.

Now that pride has left her
        And passion has died,
Alone she walks with self-pity,—

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        The shadow of pride.

In haunting dreams and delusions
        As she wanders to and fro,
She mutters a querulous burden,—
        “How could I know?”

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It brings to her broken memory
        Flashes from the day
When she was the belle of the river,
        And the hours were dancing away.

Many there were that wooed her,

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        And as lovers came and went,
Her moods were ever swinging between
        The proud and petulant.

She was cruel to all her suitors,
        Ever scorned to decide,

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And never knew that a tender heart
        Can be ruined by pride.

She thought that love was nothing,
        Only a means to her will,
And of all her passing lovers

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        Two were faithful still.

Then one night in the quiet,
When the fiddler had stopped the dance,
Everyone heard her promise
        With a laugh and a reckless glance;

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“I’ll marry the man that brings me
        “First to the door,
“That shawl or a four-point blanket
        “From Thibault’s store.”

The blanket was coarse and common,

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        She coveted the shawl;
It was woven with brilliant yellow stripes
        On purple over all;

For she loved things that were patterned,
        Fringed and coloured high,

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Things that made the heart merry
        And proud the eye.

There was only one way to Thibault’s,—
        A portage steep and long,
For the river water was broken,

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        The rapids were strong.

One way of return from Thibault’s
        Was the swift river way;
It was the time of high-water
        In the month of May.

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The other,–the old worn portage,
        Beaten with many a load:
One dared the rapids,
        One took the road.

At evening Veronique Fraser

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        Was thoughtless and free of care;
Maples were dropping their ruby flowers
        Through the cool air.

Spring had come to the northland
        With a rush of leaf and wing;

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She carried her vivid beauty
        With all the power of spring.

Down she went to the rapids,
        Where the eddy is never at rest,
She had forgotten her lovers

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        And their quest.

She sat by the stormy water
        And let her hair fall down,
She plaited it close and piled it
        On her lovely head, like a crown.

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Her heart became simple and quiet,
        She put away her pride;
She thought as if in an idle dream,
        Would she be the bride,

Of Jacques, the jester and gossip,

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        First in the song and dance,
Of Narcisse with the wave of gold in his hair
        And the steady glance?

She saw him clear and brilliant—
        Her heart stopped dead!

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She would have unsaid the arrogant
        Words she had said.

For she knew in the instant passion
        That he was her mate;
She had the power of choosing

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        And had thrown it to Fate.

Then as she gazed at the river,
        Where the eddy swift as a wheel
Spins, and the ridges of water
        Look solid as steel,

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She saw in the rush of terror
        A gleam,— a flash of red,
From the fold of a floating blanket
        From the turn of a drowned head;

And wading deep in the current,—

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        Grasped the golden hair.
She drew her dead love from the water:
        They were alone there.

As the reef is shown to the sailor
        By the lightning stroke,

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She saw the dangerous future
        Before her heart broke.

But she took the gift that was offered,
        Too proud to break her word.
The shawl was woven with sorrow

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        But her will never stirred.

She fought the tempest of living,
        Its whirlwinds and shocks:—
Now her memories are broken like wreckage
        Strewn on the rocks.

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Where is the man she married?
        Stabbed in a drunken brawl,
He was a jester and dancer
        And that was all.

Where are the sons she bore him?

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        Roving the world when alive,
Lost in the barren northland,
        Drowned on the “drive.”

She wanders unregarded
        Of the river or the road;

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Her shack is under the pine-tree,
        She takes her meat from God.

Visions taunt or delude her,
        For Time, without ruth,
Has raised the ghost of the treasure

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        She lost in her youth.

Often she goes to the eddy
        When the water is high in May;
She watches the rush and whirling
        Like one distrait.

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But no red or gold in the torrent
        Turns with the flow;—
“How could I know?” she mutters,
        “How could I know?”

When she gathers the wild raspberries

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        In the sultry heat,
An appearance forms in the quivering haze
        Where the birches and poplars meet.

Something seems to signal
        Out of the silver blur,

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But when she waves her berry-pail
        Nothing answers her.

In the trance of a winter morning
        As she sets a rabbit-snare;
Look,—by the dark of the cedars,

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        Someone is there

Standing! Only the cedars.
        From the firs the frozen snow
Streams in a cloud of diamond:—
        “How could I know?”

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She buries her fire in ashes,
        Storm shoulders the door,
She covers her knees with a blanket,
        Snow drifts over the floor.