A red feather he wore in his riding hat, and pointed riding shoon,
And the gold-chased hilt of his riding sword caught light front he afternoon;
And he leaned from his high saddle bow, and he held out his knightly hand --
"Have you been to the Valley of Flowers, or strayed into Flower-land?"
Then she put her empty pitcher down, and she looked at the moss-brown well,
Where village swains to the village maid had a homelier tale to tell;
And boorish louts seemed the village swains in the glare of the afternoon,
No bonny red feathers in riding hats, and no russet pointed shoon.
She was dimpled and soft, her heart was young, and her face was bright with youth;
She had heard of the legend of Flower-land, she wanted to test its truth;
So he set his gantlet against her waist for his was a knightly hand,
And thus they went, with his jet-black steed, on the journey to Flower-land.
Oh, swift was the journey to Flower-land, and easy the road to ride;
They crossed a plain that was hemmed with blooms, and they splashed thro' a silver tide;
The little waves sang at his horse's knees,and the pebbles gleamed below;
"But nothing is half as fair," quoth he, "as the valley to which we go."
So they watched her pass from the village street, and the old dames shook their heads,
And talked of flowers that turned to thorns, and of lying on self-made beds;
The whirr of the shuttles was stayed a space, for the girls forgot to spin,
Till the old men turned from the ingle nook to silence the old wives' din.
And the children coming home from school, with their small, impatient feet,
Tripped over the empty pitcher that stood on the cobbles of the street;
And the maids took up their spinning again, tho' they seemed but ill at ease,
For there came over a scent of flowers, borne back on the western breeze.
And the days repeated their summer tale -- grey morn and gold afternoon -
But there never was gleam of sword-hilt bright, and there were no painted shoon;
And above the mists of the rolling downs, when the children were in bed,
And the sun was hiding behind he earth, no flash of feather red;
And sometimes a maid would stay her wheel, with an idle dreaming hand,
To wonder what they had found so fair to bind them to Flower-land.
One eve, when a storm hung black in the west, and the thunder muttered low,
And the peaks of the sea-girt far-off hills were red with the afterglow,
A will-o'-the-wisp came along the street from the mountains far and fair,
And a pale girl followed its wandering light with flowers in her hair.
So soft did she step thro' the grey storm dusk that they scarcely heard her feet,
Tho' she sought for an empty pitcher long in the narrow cobbled street;
And she paid no heed to the peering eyes, but she laughed and caught her breath
As she babbled of roses red as blood and of lilies white as Death.
And some said that she was a maid bewitched, and some spoke a bitter word;
And they jeered that she filled her pitcher now, but she neither went nor heard;
"She went a-weaving with flowers," they gibed, "and for fairy flax to spin;
Now she seeks for her shattered pitcher to set her rare dream-blossoms in!"
Then a white maid leaned from her lattice out, "Nay! jest not with the dead;
She has stayed too long in Flower-land," the wise white maiden said.
First published in The Australasian, 23 February 1907