The Ballad of the Madwoman and her Maid
'She was so lovely then,' said the old cook.
'She'd step out of her shoes on to her hair.
Red as a coxcomb. Yet her skin was fair
No-one could see a freckle. And they'd look.'
The new maid rose and brought the cook some tea
made thriftfully from the last two nights' leaves.
'The mistress gave her love to rogues and thieves
who broke her and her heart repeatedly.
She might have had a Baronet or Earl
Was rich enough she could have had a Prince
But suitors ceased to call on her long since.
She was a silly wicked wilful girl.
She's still the mistress and she's still as rich
though maggots go a-dancing through her brain.
You keep her safe. I'll die, and you'll remain;
she freed your pa, though he was black as pitch.
He loved your ma, the butler's youngest child.
Once he was free, they married, but she died
when she had you, and your dead twins beside.
He mourned, coughed, bled and died here, sad and mild.
She paid the funerals, walked by the hearse.
She's a good mistress, in her own strange way.
Don't listen to the trash the tradesmen say.
There is no pox, no taint, no spell, no curse.
She's sad and solitary. Out of town
She lives, who once lived just for masquerades
and cards and suppers. Once had sixteen maids
ten footmen, but she cut her servants down
She didn't want her friends to see her age
She's forty now, though you would never know.
Take up her chocolate now and don't be slow.
You do not want to see her in a rage.'
The kitchen maid took chocolate on a tray,
she knocked three times upon the bedroom door,
went in and curtsied, nearly to the floor.
'You'll do, I think. You started when? Today?
You know just what to do. Bring me a brush.
Let down my hair. Give it five hundred strokes.
And do it silently. I want no jokes.
Just quiet steady service. Please don't rush.
The young girl carried out every request.
That night, and every other, went to bed
with all her mistress' fancies in her head.
And how her long hair lay upon her breast
so beautiful, so lordly and so sad.
One day the maid woke, found the old cook dead
and told the mistress. And the mistress said
'you'll have to manage' proving she was mad
The maid, though, managed, rose before the dawn,
swept, cleaned the kitchen range, brought up a rose.
With morning tea. And darned her mistress' hose.
Ordered food from the inn. Stifled a yawn
when told her mistress could not rise that day,
her megrim was too bad, or ague shook
her frame. Or she just lay, reading a book.
She had the maid act her a Shakespeare play.
One sunday, when a rainstorm harshly beat
against the window. This went on for years.
The servant's pay was never in arrears.
The mistress smiled at her; her heart would beat
an extra time. And then he came to call
a second cousin, keen to be the heir,
thought that her mistress' long life was not fair,
had two mad doctors waiting in the hall.
Her mistress screamed 'they'll take me off to lie
to some dark room where madmen rot and scream
I saw myself there howling in a dream.
I will not go there. I would rather die.'
Her servant knew her mistress will, her task.
And brought her poppy in a long tall glass
to help her rest and sleep and gently pass
from life. 'My love, you didn't have to ask'.
She said, and pressed a pillow to her face.
'I did not kill her, I just set her free'
she said in court. 'Now do the same for me'.
And heard 'You will be taken from this place
and taken where they'll hang you' said some Lord
in wig robes and black cap. Her love was dead.
It really did not matter what he said.
Long service, and then death, was her reward.