The Witch of York

  by: George Houghton (1850-1891)

 

 

 

 

Up o'er the hill and broken wall
There stole a weird form, bent but tall;
And softly through our unlatched door
She crept unbidden, and before
The hearth-fire crouching, gazed upon us all.

 

All looked, none spake; the chimney sighed;
The cat mewed drearily and tried
To go but could not; close and dim
The room became, and ghastly grim
The ghosts that fell on us and multiplied.

 

We heard the gusts ride through the pines,
We heard them twist from the trellised vines
The bean-blows; and the scowling west
Sent up a growl of hoarse unrest,
As of some hungry beast that frets and whines.

 

Lean spectres seemed to spur the wind,
Weird doubts and fancies stormed the mind,
And doubt is fear, and what is fear
But anguish!--"Say! what lurketh near?
Shall our tomorrow cruel prove, or kind?"

 

Then from her breast the creature drew
Her fate-pack; moodily she blew
And deftly shuffled black with red;
Till Esther gaped and whispering said
To Robert, "One would think she thought she knew."

 

Whereat, the eyes of the woman-witch
First sparkled, then grew black as pitch;
We shivered at her evil look,
Her ear-rings in the glamour shook,
And we could see her neck-cords writhe and twitch.

 

The low clouds huddled overhead
In black disorder; on the shed
We watched the sunshine, charging, beat
Them back, then struggle and retreat:
"Come, woman, come! 't will soon be time for bed!"

 

She passed the pack; the maiden broke
It into three; then Robert spoke:
"Tell, mother, this my sister's fate."
The woman only muttered, "Wait!"
And silent, fanned the embers into smoke.

 

The dim light lit the topmost card,
She looked upon it long and hard,
Then peering through her grisly brow
Glared upward at the girl--"Now, now,
Will I unlock my lips; mind you each card!

 

"Ace hearts: sole child, and of love's bed;
A spade twice next: both parents dead;
Black tenners twice in turn--beware!
Though comely shaped, thy features fair,
Thy feet in snares I see, webs round thy head.

 

"No sister thou!--black seven: no kin;
Aha! queen clover, treacherous then!
Well may thy pouting mouth turn pale,
Within a deuce, beneath swollen sail
Thou fliest from some sorrow or some sin.

 

"The second deal holds more. Still pain!
Within a trés behold thy stain
A smoke to blur and blind the skies,
A fire kindled, that thine eyes
May quench not though they should dissolve as rain.

 

"Black still and clover: in a one
A coffin; now third deal, and done.
Hearts six, and dabbled o'er with red:
Within that space thy wooer dead;
Spades seven: to thee are left seven years to run."

 

Aghast we stood; she spake no more,
But flung the cards across the floor,
And up the yawning chimney's throat,
With wind-rush and one thunder note,
She swept.--We looked, and saw the buttoned door.

 

We heard the swallows cry and call,
Then late, the storm's long looked-for brawl;
And louder, shriller than the last,
Up through the cavernous flue one blast
Sucked flame and fuel, cat and cards,--and all!


   More poems by George Houghton