Elizabeth Stoddard



The Race

by Elizabeth Stoddard

The guests were gathered in the ancient park
Of my Lord Wynne, and he was now their mark
For wit and gossip --quite the usual way,
Where one bestows, and no one need repay.
A stumbling-block his pride; his heart 's in strife
Between two women, which to choose for wife.
He 's always hovering round that lovely girl,
His lawyer's daughter, who will never furl
Her flag of pride: she rivals Gilbert there.
Now watch their meeting; none more bravely wear
Their beauty, recognize a woman's own,
Than Clara Mercome. Gilbert Wynne has sown
His wild oats for her sake; yet he delays,
And with my Lady Bond divides his days.
Who bets on beauty, hedges in on age;
Which tries the flight to perch in Lord Wynne's cage?
Will Lady Bond or Clara be the queen?
For Lady Bond is certain of her lien.

He heard this talk while standing by a beech --
Hugh Wynne -- and planned how he might over reach
Gilbert and Clara, break the pride of both,
Part them for good, or make them plight their troth.
Now for a race, he cried, to Martin's Mill;
The boats are here; behold, the lake is still.
Here, Gilbert, take your oar; I'll follow soon,
Though sunset 's nigh -- to-night is harvest moon.
Let go the rope, the knot 's inside; take these,
Arrange a seat, adjust it at your ease.
She 's here. Miss Mercome, you will help him win
The race, and will not count my wager sin.

And he was gone; the pair were face to face.
I'll take the oars, he gasped; we'll win this race.
He never felt his heart so in his breast.
I hope you will forgive my cousin's jest?
A haughty murmur was her sole reply.
No rowers followed. Never did swallows fly
So swift, or dip the lake like Gilbert's oars.
He was watchful, careless she. There soars
A heron, quite a feature of your state:
Are gems and peacocks, tell me, still in date?
How deep the woods upon the water steal,
One to the other making soft appeal!

Not being human, wood and water meet
In their own speech, and soulless things are sweet
Together. So they are to me. I like
To watch the herons by the sedgy dike;
They keep me tranquil, and I love to feed
The pike in yon old pool; they help to lead --
Why, here is Martin's Bridge, and yet no boats!
Shall we return?
Said Clara then, There floats
A lily bed beyond; let's shoot beneath
The bridge, and lilies pull; I want a wreath.

He knew the channel narrow; it was dark;
But his heart leaped at this relenting mark.
He drew his oars up, pointed in the helm,
And shot in the cool gloom. He thought no realm
On which the sun had shone was half so bright.
And somehow Clara thought it nice as light.
The waters swirled so swift that in the noise
Clara grew dizzy; Gilbert lost his poise,
And lost an oar; with a confusing shock
The boat was grinding -- stopped against a rock.
Gilbert, my dear, are we not going down?
Dearest, my love, we were not born to drown.
Oh, kiss me; we are safe; and grant me now
Yourself. I'll gather lilies for your brow;
And Hugh will know that I have won the race,
And Clara, my dear wife, her rightful place.


Copyright 1895
Houghton, Mifflin And Company, Boston And New York