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The Old Manor House

Ada Cambridge 1844 (St Germans, Norfolk) – 1926 (Melbourne)



AN old house, crumbling half away, all barnacled and lichen-grown,
Of saddest, mellowest, softest grey,—with a grand history of its own—
Grand with the work and strife and tears of more than half a thousand years.

Such delicate, tender, russet tones of colour on its gables slept,
With streaks of gold betwixt the stones, where wind-sown flowers and mosses crept:
Wild grasses waved in sun and shade o'er terrace slab and balustrade.

Around the clustered chimneys clung the ivy's wreathed and braided threads,
And dappled lights and shadows flung across the sombre browns and reds;
Where'er the graver's hand had been, it spread its tendrils bright and green.

Far-stretching branches shadowed deep the blazoned windows and broad eaves,
And rocked the faithful rooks asleep, and strewed the terraces with leaves.
A broken dial marked the hours amid damp lawns and garden bowers.

An old house, silent, sad, forlorn, yet proud and stately to the last;
Of all its power and splendour shorn, but rich with memories of the past;
And pitying, from its own decay, the gilded piles of yesterday.

Pitying the new race that passed by, with slighting note of its grey walls,—
And entertaining tenderly the shades of dead knights in its halls,
Whose blood, that soaked these hallowed sods, came down from Scandinavian gods.

I saw it first in summer-time. The warm air hummed and buzzed with bees,
Where now the pale green hop-vines climb about the sere trunks of the trees,
And waves of roses on the ground scented the tangled glades around.

Some long fern-plumes drooped there—below; the heaven above was still and blue;
Just here—between the gloom and glow—a cedar and an aged yew
Parted their dusky arms, to let the glory fall on Margaret.

She leaned on that old balustrade, her white dress tinged with golden air,
Her small hands loosely clasped, and laid amongst the moss and maidenhair:
I watched her, hearing, as I stood, a turtle cooing in the wood—

Hearing a mavis far away, piping his dreamy interludes,
While gusts of soft wind, sweet with hay, swept through those garden solitudes,—
And thinking she was lovelier e'en than my young ideal love had been.

Tall, with that subtle, sensitive grace, which made so plainly manifest
That she was born of noble race,—a cool, hushed presence, bringing rest,
Of one who felt and understood the dignity of womanhood.

Tall, with a slow, proud step and air; with skin half marble and half milk;
With twisted coils of raven hair, blue-tinged, and fine and soft as silk;
With haughty, clear-cut chin and cheek, and broad brows exquisitely Greek;

With still, calm mouth, whose dreamy smile possessed me like a haunting pain,
So rare, so sweet, so free from guile, with that slight accent of disdain;
With level, liquid tones that fell like chimings of a vesper bell;

With large, grave stag-eyes, soft, yet keen with slumbering passion, hazel-brown,
Long-lashed and dark, whose limpid sheen my thirsty spirit swallowed down;—
O poor, pale words, wherewith to paint my queen, my goddess, and my saint!

You see that oriel, ivy-grown, with the blurred sculpture underneath?
Her sweet head, like the Clytie's own, with a white stephanotis wreath
Inwoven with its coiling hair, first bent to me in greeting there.

I shall remember till I die that night when we were introduced!
The great Sir Hildebrand stood by—her cousin— scowling as he used
To scowl if e'en a poor dumb cur ventured to lift his eyes to her.

I cared not. Well I knew her grace was not for him. I watched them dance,
And knew it by her locked-up face, and her slow, haughty utterance.
I knew he chafed and raged to see how kind and sweet she was to me.

O dear old window!—nevermore the red and purple lights, that stray
Through your dim panes upon the floor on sunny summer-night, will lay
Soft rainbows on her glossy hair and the white dress she used to wear!

Those panes the ivy used to scratch—I hear it now when I'm alone!
A pair of martlets used to hatch their young ones in the sculptured stone;
Those warm slabs were the bloodhound's bed, with fine yew-needles carpeted.

The missel-thrushes used to search there for the berries as they fell;
On that high twig, at morn, would perch a shy and shivering locustelle,—
From yon low sweep of furzy brake, we used to watch it thrill and shake.

The banksia roses twined a wreath all round that ancient coat and crest,
And trailed the time-worn steps beneath, and almost touched the martin's nest;
The honey bees swam in and out, and little lizards flashed about.

And when we flung the casement wide, the wind would
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:02 min read
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Ada Cambridge

Ada Cambridge, later known as Ada Cross, was an English-born Australian writer. She wrote more than 25 works of fiction, three volumes of poetry and two autobiographical works. Many of her novels were serialised in Australian newspapers but never published in book form. While she was known to friends and family by her married name, Ada Cross, her newspaper readers knew her as A. C.. She later reverted to her maiden name, Ada Cambridge, and that is how she is known today.  more…

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