Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg.” I. Her Death

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Thomas Hood 1799–1845

From “Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg.” I. Her Death



’T IS a stern and startling thing to think

How often mortality stands on the brink

Of its grave without any misgiving:

And yet in this slippery world of strife,

In the stir of human bustle so rife,

There are daily sounds to tell us that Life

Is dying, and Death is living!

Ay, Beauty the Girl, and Love the Boy,

Bright as they are with hope and joy,

How their souls would sadden instanter,

To remember that one of those wedding bells,

Which ring so merrily through the dells,

Is the same that knells

Our last farewells,

Only broken into a canter!

But breath and blood set doom at nought:

How little the wretched Countess thought,

When at night she unloos’d her sandal,

That the Fates had woven her burial cloth,

And that Death, in the shape of a Death’s Head Moth,

Was fluttering round her candle!

As she look’d at her clock of or-molu,

For the hours she had gone so wearily through

At the end of a day of trial,

How little she saw in her pride of prime

The dart of Death in the Hand of Time—

That hand which mov’d on the dial!

As she went with her taper up the stair,

How little her swollen eye was aware

That the Shadow which follow’d was double!

Or when she clos’d her chamber door,

It was shutting out, and for evermore,

The world—and its worldly trouble.

Little she dreamt, as she laid aside

Her jewels, after one glance of pride,

They were solemn bequests to Vanity;

Or when her robes she began to doff

That she stood so near to the putting off

Of the flesh that clothes humanity.

And when she quench’d the taper’s light,

How little she thought, as the smoke took flight,

That her day was done—and merged in a night

Of dreams and durations uncertain,

Or along with her own,

That a Hand of Bone

Was closing mortality’s curtain!

But life is sweet, and mortality blind,

And youth is hopeful, and Fate is kind

In concealing the day of sorrow;

And enough is the present tense of toil,

For this world is to all a stiffish soil,

And the mind flies back with a glad recoil

From the debts not due till to-morrow.

Wherefore else does the spirit fly

And bids its daily cares good-bye,

Along with its daily clothing?

Just as the felon condemn’d to die,

With a very natural loathing,

Leaving the Sheriff to dream of ropes,

From his gloomy cell in a vision elopes

To caper on sunny greens and slopes,

Instead of the dance upon nothing.

Thus, even thus, the Countess slept,

While Death still nearer and nearer crept,

Like the Thane who smote the sleeping;

But her mind was busy with early joys,

Her golden treasures and golden toys,

That flash’d a bright

And golden light

Under lids still red with weeping.

The golden doll that she used to hug!

Her coral of gold, and the golden mug!

Her godfather’s golden presents!

The golden service she had at her meals,

The golden watch, and chain, and seals,

The golden scissors, and thread, and reels,

And her golden fishes and pheasants!

The golden guineas in silken purse,

And the Golden Legends she heard from her nurse,

Of the Mayor in his gilded carriage,

And London streets that were pav’d with gold,

And the Golden Eggs that were laid of old,

With each golden thing

To the golden ring

At her own auriferous Marriage!

And still the golden light of the sun

Through her golden dream appear’d to run,

Though the night that roar’d without was one

To terrify seamen or gypsies,

While the moon, as if in malicious mirth,

Kept peeping down at the ruffled earth,

As though she enjoy’d the tempest’s birth,

In revenge of her old eclipses.

But vainly, vainly, the thunder fell,

For the soul of the Sleeper was under a spell

That time had lately embitter’d:

The Count, as once at her foot he knelt—

That foot which now he wanted to melt!

But—hush!—’t was a stir at her pillow she felt,

And some object before her glitter’d.

’T was the Golden Leg!—she knew its gleam!

And up she started, and tried to scream,—

But, ev’n in the moment she started,

Down came the limb with a frightful smash,

And, lost in the universal flash

That her eyeballs made at so mortal a crash,

The Spark, Call’d Vital, departed!

Gold, still gold! hard, yellow, and cold,

For gold she had liv’d, and she died for gold,

By a golden weapon—not oaken;

In the morning they found her all alone—

Stiff, and bloody, and cold as stone—

But her Leg, the Golden leg, was gone,

And the “Golden Bowl was broken!”

Gold—still gold! it haunted her yet:

At the Golden Lion the Inquest met—

Its foreman a carver and gilder,

And the Jury debated from twelve till there

What the Verdict ought to be,

And they brought it in as Felo-de-Se,

“Because her own Leg had kill’d her!”