The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 5: The Barmaid
Introductory Note: “The Holly-Tree Inn” is a portmanteau story, or a story written by several authors. The portmanteau story lends itself well to the medium of weekly publications. It allows for authors to work together to compile a single plot rather quickly. Such stories increased in popularity during the Victorian era. Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and others all contributed to write this special Christmas extra.
Adelaide Proctor's contribution to the series of tales, told in verse, highlights an inn as a place of transit, marking the significant epochs of an individual's life.
This entry was published as the fifth of seven parts:
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 1: The Guest (1855)
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 2: The Ostler (1855)
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 3: The Boots (1855)
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 4: The Landlord (1855)
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 5: The Barmaid (1855)
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 6: The Poor Pensioner (1855)
- The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 7: The Bill (1855)
SHE was a pretty, gentle girl—a farmer’s orphan daughter, and the landlord’s niece—whom I strongly suspected of being engaged to be married very shortly, to the writer of the letter that I saw her reading at least twenty times, when I passed the bar, and which I more than believe I saw her kiss one night. She told me a tale of that country which went so pleasantly to the music of her voice, that I ought rather to say it turned itself into verse, than was turned into verse by me.
A little past the village The inn stood, low and white, Green shady trees behind it, And an orchard on the right, Where over the green paling The red-cheeked apples hung, As if to watch how wearily The sign-board creaked and swung. The heavy-laden branches Over the road hung low, Reflecting fruit or blossom In the wayside well below; Where children, drawing water, Looked up and paused to see, Amid the apple branches, A purple Judas Tree. The road stretch’d winding onward For many a weary mile— So dusty footsore wanderers Would pause and rest awhile; And panting horses halted, And travellers loved to tell The quiet of the wayside inn, The orchard, and the well. Here Maurice dwelt; and often The sunburnt boy would stand Gazing upon the distance, And shading with his hand His eyes, while watching vainly For travellers, who might need His aid to loose the bridle, And tend the weary steed. And once (the boy remember’d That morning many a day— The dew lay on the hawthorn, The bird sang on the spray) A train of horsemen, nobler Than he had seen before, Up from the distance gallopp’d, And paused before the door. Upon a milk-white pony, Fit for a faery queen, Was the loveliest little damsel His eyes had ever seen; A servant-man was holding The leading rein, to guide The pony and its mistress Who cantered by his side. Her sunny ringlets round her A golden cloud had made, While her large hat was keeping Her calm blue eyes in shade; One hand held firm the silken reins To keep her steed in check, The other pulled his tangled mane, Or stroked his glossy neck. And as the boy brought water, And loosed the rein, he heard The sweetest voice, that thank’d him In one low gentle word; She turned her blue eyes from him, Look’d up, and smiled to see The hanging purple blossoms Upon the Judas Tree. And show’d it with a gesture, Half pleading, half command, Till he broke the fairest blossom, And laid it in her hand; And she tied it to her saddle With a ribbon from her hair, While her happy laugh rang gaily, Like silver on the air. But the champing steeds were rested— The horsemen now spurr’d on, And down the dusty highway They vanish’d and were gone. Years pass’d, and many a traveller Paused at the old inn-door, But the little milk-white pony And the child return’d no more. Years pass’d, the apple branches A deeper shadow shed; And many a time the Judas Tree, Blossom and leaf lay dead; When on the loitering western breeze Came the bells’ merry sound, And flowery arches rose, and flags And banners waved around. And Maurice stood expectant, The bridal train would stay Some moments at the inn-door, The eager watchers say; They come—the cloud of dust draws near— ‘Mid all the state and pride, He only sees the golden hair And blue eyes of the bride. The same, yet, ah! still fairer, He knew the face once more That bent above the pony’s neck Years past at the inn-door: Her shy and smiling eyes look’d round, Unconscious of the place— Unconscious of the eager gaze He fix’d upon her face. He pluck’d a blossom from the tree— The Judas Tree—and cast Its purple fragrance towards the bride, A message from the Past. The signal came, the horses plunged— Once more she smiled around: The purple blossom in the dust Lay trampled on the ground. Again the slow years fleeted, Their passage only known By the height the Passion-flower Around the porch had grown; And many a passing traveller Paused at the old inn-door, But the bride, so fair and blooming Return’d there never more. One winter morning, Maurice, Watching the branches bare, Rustling and waving dimly In the grey and misty air, Saw blazon’d on a carriage Once more the well-known shield, The azure fleurs-de-lis and stars Upon a silver field. He looked—was that pale woman, So grave, so worn, so sad, The child, once young and smiling, The bride, once fair and glad? What grief had dimm’d that glory And brought that dark eclipse Upon her blue eyes’ radiance, And paled those trembling lips? What memory of past sorrow, What stab of present pain, Brought that deep look of anguish, That watch’d the dismal rain, That watch’d (with the absent spirit That looks, yet does not see) The dead and leafless branches Upon the Judas Tree. The slow dark months crept onward Upon their icy way, ‘Till April broke in showers, And Spring smiled forth in May, Upon the apple-blossoms The sun shone bright again, When slowly up the highway Came a long funeral train. The bells toll’d slowly, sadly, For a noble spirit fled; Slowly, in pomp and honour, They bore the quiet dead. Upon a black-plumed charger One rode, who held a shield, Where azure fleurs-de-lis and stars Shone on a silver field. ‘Mid all that homage given To a fluttering heart at rest, Perhaps an honest sorrow Dwelt only in one breast. One by the inn-door standing Watch’d with fast-dropping tears The long procession passing, And thought of bygone years. The boyish, silent homage To child and bride unknown, The pitying tender sorrow Kept in his heart alone, Now laid upon the coffin With a purple flower, might be Told to the cold dead sleeper; The rest could only see A fragrant purple blossom Pluck’d from a Judas Tree.
This story is continued in The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 6: The Poor Pensioner.
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How To Cite (MLA Format)
Procter, Adelaide. "The Holly-Tree Inn, Part 5: The Barmaid." Household Words: A Weekly Journal, vol. 12, 1855, pp. 30-1. Edited by Leslee Thorne-Murphy. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 5 February 2023, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/the-holly-tree-inn-part-5-the-barmaid/.
10 December 2020
1 February 2023