The Promise of May

Act II

Alfred Tennyson

Five years have elapsed between Acts I. and II.

SCENE.—A meadow. On one side a pathway going over a rustic bridge. At back the farmhouse among trees. In the distance a church spire.


So the owd uncle i’ Coomberland be deäd, Miss Dora, beänt he?

Yes, Mr. Dobson, I’ve been attending on his death-bed and his burial.

It be five year sin’ ye went afoor to him, and it seems to me nobbut t’other day. Hesn’t he left ye nowt?

No, Mr. Dobson.

But he were mighty fond o’ ye, warn’t he?

Fonder of poor Eva—like everybody else.

    DOBSON (handing DORA basket of roses).
Not like me, Miss Dora; and I ha’ browt these roses to ye—I forgits what they calls ’em, but I hallus gi’ed soom on ’em to Miss Eva at this time o’ year. Will ya taäke ’em? fur Miss Eva, she set the bush by my dairy winder afoor she went to school at Littlechester—so I allus browt soom on ’em to her; and now she be gone, will ye taäke ’em, Miss Dora?

I thank you. They tell me that yesterday you mentioned her name too suddenly before my father. See that you do not do so again!

Noä; I knaws a deal better now. I seed how the owd man wur vext.

I take them, then, for Eva’s sake.

[Takes basket, places some in her dress.

Eva’s saäke. Yeas. Poor gel, poor gel! I can’t abeär to think on ’er now, fur I’d ha’ done owt fur ’er mysen; an’ ony o’ Steer’s men, an’ ony o’ my men ’ud ha’ done owt fur ’er, an’ all the parish ’ud ha’ done owt fur ’er, fur we was all on us proud on ’er, an’ them theer be soom of her oän roses, an’ she wur as sweet as ony on ’em—the Lord bless ’er—’er oän sen; an’ weänt ye taäke ’em now, Miss Dora, fur ’er saäke an’ fur my saäke an’ all?

Do you want them back again?

Noä, noä! Keep ’em. But I hed a word to saäy to ye.

Why, Farmer, you should be in the hayfield looking after your men; you couldn’t have more splendid weather.

I be a going theer; but I thowt I’d bring tha them roses fust. The weather’s well anew, but the glass be a bit shaäky. S’iver we’ve led moäst on it.

Ay! but you must not be too sudden with it either, as you were last year, when you put it in green, and your stack caught fire.

I were insured, Miss, an’ I lost nowt by it. But I weänt be too sudden wi’ it; and I feel sewer, Miss Dora, that I ha’ been noän too sudden wi’ you, fur I ha’ sarved for ye well nigh as long as the man sarved for ’is sweet’art i’ Scriptur’. Weänt ye gi’e me a kind answer at last?

I have no thought of marriage, my friend. We have been in such grief these five years, not only on my sister’s account, but the ill success of the farm, and the debts, and my father’s breaking down, and his blindness. How could I think of leaving him?

Eh, but I be well to do; and if ye would nobbut hev me, I would taäke the owd blind man to my oän fireside. You should hev him allus wi’ ye.

You are generous, but it cannot be. I cannot love you; nay, I think I never can be brought to love any man. It seems to me that I hate men, ever since my sister left us. Oh, see here. (Pulls out a letter.) I wear it next my heart. Poor sister, I had it five years ago. ‘Dearest Dora,—I have lost myself, and am lost for ever to you and my poor father. I thought Mr. Edgar the best of men, and he has proved himself the worst. Seek not for me, or you may find me at the bottom of the river.—EVA.’

Be that my fault?

No; but how should I, with this grief still at my heart, take to the milking of your cows, the fatting of your calves, the making of your butter, and the managing of your poultry?

Naä’y, but I hev an owd woman as ’ud see to all that; and you should sit i’ your oän parlour quite like a laädy, ye should!

It cannot be.

And plaäy the pianner, if ye liked, all daäy long, like a laädy, ye should an’ all.

It cannot be.

And I would loove tha moor nor ony gentleman ’ud I loove tha.

No, no; it cannot be.

And p’raps ye hears ’at I soomtimes taäkes a drop too much; but that be all along o’ you, Miss, because ye weänt hev me; but, if ye would, I could put all that o’ one side eäsy anew.

Cannot you understand plain words, Mr. Dobson? I tell you, it cannot be.

Eh, lass! Thy feyther eddicated his darters to marry gentlefoälk, and see what’s coomed on it.

That is enough, Farmer Dobson. You have shown me that, though fortune had born you into the estate of a gentleman, you would still have been Farmer Dobson. You had better attend to your hayfield. Good afternoon.


‘Farmer Dobson’! Well, I be Farmer Dobson; but I thinks Farmer Dobson’s dog ’ud ha’ knaw’d better nor to cast her sister’s misfortin inter ’er teeth arter she’d been a-readin’ me the letter wi’ ’er voice a-shaäkin’, and the drop in ’er eye. Theer she goäs! Shall I foller ’er and ax ’er to maäke it up? Noä, not yet. Let ’er cool upon it; I likes ’er all the better fur taäkin’ me down, like a laädy, as she be. Farmer Dobson! I be Farmer Dobson, sewer anew; but if iver I cooms upo’ Gentleman Hedgar ageän, and doänt laäy my cartwhip athurt ’is shou’ders, why then I beänt Farmer Dobson, but summun else—blaäme’t if I beänt!

Enter HAYMAKERS with a load of hay.

The last on it, eh?


Hoäm wi’ it, then.

[Exit surlily.

Well, it be the last loäd hoäm.

Yeas, an’ owd Dobson should be glad on it. What maäkes ’im allus sa glum?

Glum! he be wus nor glum. He coom’d up to me yisterdaäy i’ the haäyfield, when meä and my sweet’art was a workin’ along o’ one side wi’ one another, and he sent ’im awaäy to t’other end o’ the field; and when I axed ’im why, he telled me ’at sweet’arts niver worked well togither; and I telled ’im ’at sweet’arts allus worked best togither; and then he called me a rude naäme, and I can’t abide ’im.

Why, lass, doänt tha knaw he be sweet upo’ Dora Steer, and she weänt sa much as look at ’im? And wheniver ’e sees two sweet’arts togither like thou and me, Sally, he be fit to bust hissen wi’ spites and jalousies.

Let ’im bust hissen, then, for owt I cares.

Well but, as I said afoor, it be the last loäd hoäm; do thou and thy sweet’art sing us hoäm to supper—‘The Last Loäd Hoäm.’

Ay! ‘The Last Loäd Hoäm.’


What did ye do, and what did ye saäy,
Wi’ the wild white rose, an’ the woodbine sa gaä’y,
An’ the midders all mow’d, an’ the sky sa blue—
What did ye saäy, and what did ye do,
When ye thowt there were nawbody watchin’ o’ you,
And you an’ your Sally was forkin’ the haäy,
        At the end of the daäy,
        For the last loäd hoäm?

What did we do, and what did we saäy,
Wi’ the briar sa green, an’ the willer sa graäy,
An’ the midders all mow’d, an’ the sky sa blue—
Do ye think I be gawin’ to tell it to you,
What we mowt saäy, and what we mowt do,
When me an’ my Sally was forkin’ the haäy,
        At the end of the daäy,
        For the last loäd hoäm?

But what did ye saäy, and what did ye do,
Wi’ the butterflies out, and the swallers at plaä’y,
An’ the midders all mow’d, an’ the sky sa blue?
Why, coom then, owd feller, I’ll tell it to you;
For me an’ my Sally we swear’d to be true,
To be true to each other, let ’appen what maäy,
        Till the end of the daäy
        And the last loäd hoäm.

Well sung!

Fanny be the naäme i’ the song, but I swopt it fur she.

[Pointing to SALLY.

Let ma aloän afoor foälk, wilt tha?

Ye shall sing that ageän to-night, fur owd Dobson’ll gi’e us a bit o’ supper.

I weänt goä to owd Dobson; he wur rude to me i’ tha haäyfield, and he’ll be rude to me ageän to-night. Owd Steer’s gotten all his grass down and wants a hand, and I’ll goä to him.

Owd Steer gi’es nubbut cowd tea to ’is men, and owd Dobson gi’es beer.

But I’d like owd Steer’s cowd tea better nor Dobson’s beer. Good-bye.


Gi’e us a buss fust, lass.

I tell’d tha to let ma aloän!

Why, wasn’t thou and me a-bussin’ o’ one another t’other side o’ the haäycock, when owd Dobson coom’d upo’ us? I can’t let tha aloän if I would, Sally.

[Offering to kiss her.

Git along wi’ ye, do!


[All laugh; exeunt singing.

‘To be true to each other, let ’appen what maäy,
        Till the end o’ the daä’y
        An’ the last loäd hoäm.’


Not Harold! ‘Philip Edgar, Philip Edgar!’
Her phantom call’d me by the name she loved.
I told her I should hear her from the grave.
Ay! yonder is her casement. I remember
Her bright face beaming starlike down upon me
Thro’ that rich cloud of blossom. Since I left her
Here weeping, I have ranged the world, and sat
Thro’ every sensual course of that full feast
That leaves but emptiness.


‘To be true to each other, let ’appen what maäy,
        To the end o’ the daä’y
        An’ the last loäd hoäm.’

Poor Eva! O my God, if man be only
A willy-nilly current of sensations—
Reaction needs must follow revel—yet—
Why feel remorse, he, knowing that he must have
Moved in the iron grooves of Destiny?
Remorse then is a part of Destiny,
Nature a liar, making us feel guilty
Of her own faults.
                        My grandfather—of him
They say, that women—
                                O this mortal house,
Which we are born into, is haunted by
The ghosts of the dead passions of dead men;
And these take flesh again with our own flesh,
And bring us to confusion.
                                        He was only
A poor philosopher who call’d the mind
Of children a blank page, a tabula rasa.
There, there, is written in invisible inks
‘Lust, Prodigality, Covetousness, Craft,
Cowardice, Murder’—and the heat and fire
Of life will bring them out, and black enough,
So the child grow to manhood: better death
With our first wail than life—

Song (further off).

‘Till the end o’ the daäy
An’ the last loäd hoäm,
        Load hoäm.’

This bridge again!        (Steps on the bridge.)
                How often have I stood
With Eva here! The brook among its flowers!
Forget-me-not, meadowsweet, willow-herb.
I had some smattering of science then,
Taught her the learned names, anatomized
The flowers for her—and now I only wish
This pool were deep enough, that I might plunge
And lose myself for ever.

Enter DAN SMITH (singing).

Gee oop! whoä! Gee oop! whoä!
Scizzars an’ Pumpy was good uns to goä
                Thruf slush an’ squad
                When roäds was bad,
But hallus ud stop at the Vine-an’-the-Hop,
    Fur boäth on ’em knaw’d as well as mysen
        That beer be as good fur ’erses as men.
            Gee oop! whoä! Gee oop! whoä!
        Scizzars an’ Pumpy was good uns to goä.

The beer’s gotten oop into my ’eäd. S’iver I mun git along back to the farm, fur she tell’d ma to taäke the cart to Littlechester.

Enter DORA.

Half an hour late! why are you loitering here? Away with you at once.

[Exit DAn Smith.

(Seeing HAROLD on bridge.)

                        Some madman, is it,
Gesticulating there upon the bridge?
I am half afraid to pass.

                        Sometimes I wonder,
When man has surely learnt at last that all
His old-world faith, the blossom of his youth,
Has faded, falling fruitless—whether then
All of us, all at once, may not be seized
With some fierce passion, not so much for Death
As against Life! all, all, into the dark—
No more!—and science now could drug and balm us
Back into nescience with as little pain
As it is to fall asleep.
                        This beggarly life,
This poor, flat, hedged-in field—no distance—this
Hollow Pandora-box,
With all the pleasures flown, not even Hope
Left at the bottom!
                        Superstitious fool,
What brought me here? To see her grave? her ghost?
Her ghost is everyway about me here.

    DORA (coming forward).
Allow me, sir, to pass you.



What are you? Where do you come from?

                        From the farm
Here, close at hand.

Are you—you are—that Dora,
The sister. I have heard of you. The likeness
Is very striking.

                You knew Eva, then?

Yes—I was thinking of her when—O yes,
Many years back, and never since have met
Her equal for pure innocence of nature,
And loveliness of feature.

                                No, nor I.

Except, indeed, I have found it once again
In your own self.

You flatter me. Dear Eva
Was always thought the prettier.

                        And her charm
Of voice is also yours; and I was brooding
Upon a great unhappiness when you spoke.

Indeed, you seem’d in trouble, sir.

                                And you
Seem my good angel who may help me from it.

    DORA (aside).
How worn he looks, poor man! who is it, I wonder.
How can I help him? (Aloud.) Might I ask your name?


I never heard her mention you.

I met her first at a farm in Cumberland—
Her uncle’s.

She was there six years ago.

And if she never mention’d me, perhaps
The painful circumstances which I heard—
I will not vex you by repeating them—
Only last week at Littlechester, drove me
From out her memory. She has disappear’d,
They told me, from the farm—and darker news.

She has disappear’d, poor darling, from the world—
Left but one dreadful line to say, that we
Should find her in the river; and we dragg’d
The Littlechester river all in vain:
Have sorrow’d for her all these years in vain.
And my poor father, utterly broken down
By losing her—she was his favourite child—
Has let his farm, all his affairs, I fear,
But for the slender help that I can give,
Fall into ruin. Ah! that villain, Edgar,
If he should ever show his face among us,
Our men and boys would hoot him, stone him, hunt him
With pitchforks off the farm, for all of them
Loved her, and she was worthy of all love.

They say, we should forgive our enemies.

Ay, if the wretch were dead I might forgive him;
We know not whether he be dead or living.

    What Edgar?

        Philip Edgar of Toft Hall
In Somerset. Perhaps you know him?

(Aside.) Ay, for how slightly have I known myself.

This Edgar, then, is living?

                        Living?     well—
One Philip Edgar of Toft Hall in Somerset
Is lately dead.

Dead!—is there more than one?

Nay—now—not one, (aside) for I am Philip Harold.

That one, is he then—dead!

(Aside.) My father’s death,
Let her believe it mine; this, for the moment,
Will leave me a free field.

                Dead! and this world
Is brighter for his absence as that other
Is darker for his presence.

                                Is not this
To speak too pitilessly of the dead?

My five-years’ anger cannot die at once,
Not all at once with death and him. I trust
I shall forgive him—by-and-by—not now.
O sir, you seem to have a heart; if you
Had seen us that wild morning when we found
Her bed unslept in, storm and shower lashing
Her casement, her poor spaniel wailing for her,
That desolate letter, blotted with her tears,
Which told us we should never see her more—
Our old nurse crying as if for her own child,
My father stricken with his first paralysis,
And then with blindness—had you been one of us
And seen all this, then you would know it is not
So easy to forgive—even the dead.

But sure am I that of your gentleness
You will forgive him. She, you mourn for, seem’d
A miracle of gentleness—would not blur
A moth’s wing by the touching; would not crush
The fly that drew her blood; and, were she living,
Would not—if penitent—have denied him her
Forgiveness. And perhaps the man himself,
When hearing of that piteous death, has suffer’d
More than we know. But wherefore waste your heart
In looking on a chill and changeless Past?
Iron will fuse, and marble melt; the Past
Remains the Past. But you are young, and—pardon me—
As lovely as your sister. Who can tell
What golden hours, with what full hands, may be
Waiting you in the distance? Might I call
Upon your father—I have seen the world—
And cheer his blindness with a traveller’s tales?

Call if you will, and when you will. I cannot
Well answer for my father; but if you
Can tell me anything of our sweet Eva
When in her brighter girlhood, I at least
Will bid you welcome, and will listen to you.
Now I must go.

But give me first your hand:
I do not dare, like an old friend, to shake it.
I kiss it as a prelude to that privilege
When you shall know me better.

            (Aside.) How beautiful
His manners are, and how unlike the farmer’s!
You are staying here?

            Yes, at the wayside inn
Close by that alder-island in your brook,
‘The Angler’s Home.’

                        Are you one?

                                No, but I
Take some delight in sketching, and the country
Has many charms, altho’ the inhabitants
Seem semi-barbarous.

            I am glad it pleases you;
Yet I, born here, not only love the country,
But its inhabitants too; and you, I doubt not,
Would take to them as kindly, if you cared
To live some time among them.

                                        If I did,
Then one at least of its inhabitants
Might have more charm for me than all the country.

That one, then, should be grateful for your preference.

I cannot tell, tho’ standing in her presence.
(Aside.) She colours!


                Be not afraid of me,
For these are no conventional flourishes.
I do most earnestly assure you that
Your likeness—

[Shouts and cries without.

What was that? my poor blind father—


Miss Dora, Dan Smith’s cart hes runned ower a laädy i’ the holler laäne, and they ha’ ta’en the body up inter your chaumber, and they be all a-callin’ for ye.

The body!—Heavens! I come!

But you are trembling.
Allow me to go with you to the farm.



What feller wur it as ’a’ been a-talkin’ fur haäfe an hour wi’ my Dora? (Looking after him.) Seeäms I ommost knaws the back on ’im—drest like a gentleman, too. Damn all gentlemen, says I! I should ha’ thowt they’d hed anew o’ gentlefoälk, as I telled ’er to-daäy when she fell foul upo’ me.

Minds ma o’ summun. I could sweär to that; but that be all one, fur I haätes ’im afoor I knaws what ’e be. Theer! he turns round. Philip Hedgar o’ Soomerset! Philip Hedgar o’ Soomerset!—Noä—yeas—thaw the feller’s gone and maäde such a litter of his faäce.

Eh lad, if it be thou, I’ll Philip tha! a-plaäyin’ the saäme gaäme wi’ my Dora—I’ll Soomerset tha.

I’d like to drag ’im thruff the herse-pond, and she to be a-lookin’ at it. I’d like to leather ’im black and blue, and she to be a-laughin’ at it. I’d like to fell ’im as deäd as a bullock! (Clenching his fist.)

But what ’ud she saäy to that? She telled me once not to meddle wi’ ’im, and now she be fallen out wi’ ma, and I can’t coom at ’er.

It mun be him. Noä! Fur she’d niver ’a been talkin’ haäfe an hour wi’ the divil ’at killed her oän sister, or she beänt Dora Steer.

Yeas! Fur she niver knawed ’is faäce when ’e wur ’ere afoor; but I’ll maäke ’er knaw! I’ll maäke ’er knaw!


Naäy, but I mun git out on ’is waäy now, or I shall be the death on ’im.


How the clown glared at me! that Dobbins, is it,
With whom I used to jar? but can he trace me
Thro’ five years’ absence, and my change of name,
The tan of southern summers and the beard?
I may as well avoid him.
Lilylike in her stateliness and sweetness!
How came she by it?—a daughter of the fields,
This Dora!
She gave her hand, unask’d, at the farm-gate;
I almost think she half return’d the pressure
Of mine. What, I that held the orange blossom
Dark as the yew? but may not those, who march
Before their age, turn back at times, and make
Courtesy to custom? and now the stronger motive,
Misnamed free-will—the crowd would call it conscience—
Moves me—to what? I am dreaming; for the past
Look’d thro’ the present, Eva’s eyes thro’ her’s—
A spell upon me! Surely I loved Eva
More than I knew! or is it but the past
That brightens in retiring? Oh, last night,
Tired, pacing my new lands at Littlechester,
I dozed upon the bridge, and the black river
Flow’d thro’ my dreams—if dreams they were. She rose
From the foul flood and pointed toward the farm,
And her cry rang to me across the years,
‘I call you, Philip Edgar, Philip Edgar!
Come, you will set all right again, and father
Will not die miserable.’ I could make his age
A comfort to him—so be more at peace
With mine own self. Some of my former friends
Would find my logic faulty; let them. Colour
Flows thro’ my life again, and I have lighted
On a new pleasure. Anyhow we must
Move in the line of least resistance when
The stronger motive rules.
                        But she hates Edgar.
May not this Dobbins, or some other, spy
Edgar in Harold? Well then, I must make her
Love Harold first, and then she will forgive
Edgar for Harold’s sake. She said herself
She would forgive him, by-and-by, not now—
For her own sake then, if not for mine—not now—
But by-and-by.

Enter DOBSON behind.

By-and-by—eh, lad, dosta knaw this paäper? Ye dropt it upo’ the road. ‘Philip Edgar, Esq.’ Ay, you be a pretty squire. I ha’ fun’ ye out, I hev. Eh, lad, dosta knaw what tha meäns wi’ by-and-by? Fur if ye be goin’ to sarve our Dora as ye sarved our Eva—then, by-and-by, if she weänt listen to me when I be a-tryin’ to saäve ’er—if she weänt—look to thysen, for, by the Lord, I’d think na moor o’ maäkin’ an end o’ tha nor a carrion craw—noä—thaw they hanged ma at ’Size fur it.

Dobbins, I think!

I beänt Dobbins.

Nor am I Edgar, my good fellow.

Tha lies! What hasta been saäyin’ to my Dora?

I have been telling her of the death of one Philip Edgar of Toft Hall, Somerset.

Tha lies!

    HAROLD (pulling out a newspaper).
Well, my man, it seems that you can read. Look there—under the deaths.

‘O’ the 17th, Philip Edgar, o’ Toft Hall, Soomerset.’ How coom thou to be sa like ’im, then?

Naturally enough; for I am closely related to the dead man’s family.

An ’ow coom thou by the letter to ’im?

Naturally again; for as I used to transact all his business for him, I had to look over his letters. Now then, see these (takes out letters). Half a score of them, all directed to me—Harold.

’Arold! ’Arold! ’Arold, so they be.

My name is Harold! Good day, Dobbins!


’Arold! The feller’s cleän daäzed, an’ maäzed, an’ maäted, an’ muddled ma. Deäd! It mun be true, fur it wur i’ print as black as owt. Naäay, but ‘Good daäy, Dobbins.’ Why, that wur the very twang on ’im. Eh, lad, but whether thou be Hedgar, or Hedgar’s business man, thou hesn’t naw business ’ere wi’ my Dora, as I knaws on, an’ whether thou calls thysen Hedgar or Harold, if thou stick to she I’ll stick to thee—stick to tha like a weasel to a rabbit, I will. Ay! and I’d like to shoot tha like a rabbit an’ all. ‘Good daäy, Dobbins.’ Dang tha!

The Promise of May - Contents    |     Act III

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