A Newport Romance

A poem by Francis Bret Harte

They say that she died of a broken heart
(I tell the tale as ’twas told to me);
But her spirit lives, and her soul is part
Of this sad old house by the sea.

Her lover was fickle and fine and French:
It was nearly a hundred years ago
When he sailed away from her arms poor wench!
With the Admiral Rochambeau.

I marvel much what periwigged phrase
Won the heart of this sentimental Quaker,
At what gold-laced speech of those modish days
She listened the mischief take her!

But she kept the posies of mignonette
That he gave; and ever as their bloom failed
And faded (though with her tears still wet)
Her youth with their own exhaled.

Till one night, when the sea-fog wrapped a shroud
Round spar and spire and tarn and tree,
Her soul went up on that lifted cloud
From this sad old house by the sea.

And ever since then, when the clock strikes two,
She walks unbidden from room to room,
And the air is filled that she passes through
With a subtle, sad perfume.

The delicate odor of mignonette,
The ghost of a dead-and-gone bouquet,
Is all that tells of her story; yet
Could she think of a sweeter way?

I sit in the sad old house to-night,
Myself a ghost from a farther sea;
And I trust that this Quaker woman might,
In courtesy, visit me.

For the laugh is fled from porch and lawn,
And the bugle died from the fort on the hill,
And the twitter of girls on the stairs is gone,
And the grand piano is still.

Somewhere in the darkness a clock strikes two:
And there is no sound in the sad old house,
But the long veranda dripping with dew,
And in the wainscot a mouse.

The light of my study-lamp streams out
From the library door, but has gone astray
In the depths of the darkened hall. Small doubt
But the Quakeress knows the way.

Was it the trick of a sense o’erwrought
With outward watching and inward fret?
But I swear that the air just now was fraught
With the odor of mignonette!

I open the window, and seem almost
So still lies the ocean to hear the beat
Of its Great Gulf artery off the coast,
And to bask in its tropic heat.

In my neighbor’s windows the gas-lights flare,
As the dancers swing in a waltz of Strauss;
And I wonder now could I fit that air
To the song of this sad old house.

And no odor of mignonette there is,
But the breath of morn on the dewy lawn;
And mayhap from causes as slight as this
The quaint old legend is born.

But the soul of that subtle, sad perfume,
As the spiced embalmings, they say, outlast
The mummy laid in his rocky tomb,
Awakens my buried past.

And I think of the passion that shook my youth,
Of its aimless loves and its idle pains,
And am thankful now for the certain truth
That only the sweet remains.

And I hear no rustle of stiff brocade,
And I see no face at my library door;
For now that the ghosts of my heart are laid,
She is viewless for evermore.

But whether she came as a faint perfume,
Or whether a spirit in stole of white,
I feel, as I pass from the darkened room,
She has been with my soul to-night!

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