Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  The Bees of Myddelton Manor

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

May Probyn

The Bees of Myddelton Manor

BUZZING, buzzing, buzzing, my golden-belted bees:

My little son was seven years old—the mint-flower touched his knees;

Yellow were his curly locks;

Yellow were his stocking-clocks;

His plaything of a sword had a diamond in its hilt;

Where the garden beds lay sunny,

And the bees were making honey,

“For God and the King—to arms! to arms!” the day long would he lilt.

Smock’d in lace and flowered brocade, my pretty son of seven

Wept sore because the kitten died, and left the charge uneven.

“I head one battalion, mother—

Kitty,” sobbed he, “led the other!

And when we reach’d the bee-hive bench

We used to halt and storm the trench:

If we could plant our standard here,

With all the bees a-buzzing near,

And fly the colors safe from sting,

The town was taken for the king!”

Flitting, flitting over the thyme, my bees with yellow band—

My little son of seven came close, and clipp’d me by the hand;

A wreath of mourning cloth was wound

His small left arm and sword-hilt round,

And on the thatch of every hive a wisp of black was bound.

“Sweet mother, we must tell the bees, or they will swarm away:

Ye little bees!” he called, “draw nigh, and hark to what I say,

And make us golden honey still for our white wheaten bread,

Though never more

We rush on war

With Kitty at our head:

Who ’ll give the toast

When swords are cross’d,

Now Kitty lieth dead?”

Buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, my bees of yellow girth:

My son of seven changed his mood, and clasp’d me in his mirth.

“Sweet mother, when I grow a man and fall on battle-field,”

He cried, and down in the daisied grass upon one knee he kneel’d,

“I charge thee, come and tell the bees how I for the king lie dead;

And thou shalt never lack fine honey for thy wheaten bread!”

Flitting, flitting, flitting, my busy bees, alas!

No footstep of my soldier son came clinking through the grass.

Thrice he kiss’d me for farewell,

And far on the stone his shadow fell;

He buckled spurs and sword-belt on, as the sun began to stoop,

Set foot in stirrup, and sprang to horse, and rode to join his troop.

To the west he rode, where the winds were at play,

And Monmouth’s army mustering lay;

Where Bridgewater flew her banner high,

And gave up her keys, when the Duke came by;

And the maids of Taunton paid him court

With colors their own white hands had wrought;

And red as a field, where blood doth run,

Sedgemoor blazed in the setting sun.

Broider’d sash and clasp of gold, my soldier son, alas!

The mint was all in flower, and the clover in the grass:

“With every bed

In bloom,” I said,

“What further lack the bees,

That they buzz so loud,

Like a restless cloud,

Among the orchard trees?”

No voice in the air, from Sedgemoor field,

Moan’d out how Grey and the horse had reel’d;

Met me no ghost, with haunting eyes,

That westward pointed ’mid its sighs,

And pull’d apart a bloody vest,

And show’d the sword-gash in its breast.

Empty hives, and flitting bees, and sunny morning hours:

I snipp’d the blossom’d lavender, and the pinks, and the gillyflowers;

No petal trembled in my hold—

I saw not the dead stretched stark and cold

On the trampled turf at the shepherd’s door,

In the cloak and the doublet Monmouth wore,

With Monmouth’s scarf and headgear on,

And the eyes, not clos’d, of my soldier son;

I knew not how, ere the cocks did crow, the fight was fought in the dark,

With naught for guide but the enemy’s guns, when the flint flash’d out a spark,

Till, routed at first sound of fire, the cavalry broke and fled,

And the hoofs struck dumb, where they spurn’d the slain, and the meadow stream ran red;

I saw not the handful of horsemen spur through the dusk, and out of sight,

My soldier son at the Duke’s left hand, and Grey that rode on his right.

Buzzing, buzzing, buzzing, my honey-making bees,

They left the musk, and the marigolds and the scented faint sweet-peas;

They gather’d in a darkening cloud, and sway’d, and rose to fly;

A blackness on the summer blue, they swept across the sky.

Gaunt and ghastly with gaping wounds—(my soldier son, alas!)

Footsore and faint, the messenger came halting through the grass.

The wind went by and shook the leaves—the mint-stalk shed its flower—

And I miss’d the murmuring round the hives, and my boding heart beat slower.

His soul we cheer’d with meat and wine;

With women’s craft and balsam fine

We bath’d his hurts, and bound them soft,

While west the wind played through the croft,

And the low sun dyed the pinks blood red,

And, straying near the mint-flower shed,

A wild bee wanton’d o’er the bed.

He told how my son, at the shepherd’s door, kept guard in Monmouth’s clothes,

While Monmouth donned the shepherd’s frock, in hope to cheat his foes.

A couple of troopers spied him stand,

And bade him yield to the King’s command:

“Surrender, thou rebel as good as dead,

A price is set on thy traitor head!”

My soldier son, with secret smile,

Held both at bay for a little while,

Dealt them such death-blow as he fell,

Neither was left the tale to tell;

With dying eyes, that asked no grace,

They stared on him for a minute’s space,

And felt that it was not Monmouth’s face.

Crimson’d through was Monmouth’s cloak, when the soldier dropped at their side—

“Those knaves will carry no word,” he said, and he smil’d in his pain, and died.

“Two days,” told the messenger, “did we lie

Hid in the field of peas and rye,

Hid in the ditch of brake and sedge,

With the enemy’s scouts down every hedge,

Till Grey was seized, and Monmouth seized, that under the fern did crouch,

Starved, and haggard, and all unshaved, with a few raw peas in his pouch.”

No music soundeth in my ears, but a passing bell that tolls

For gallant lords with head on block—sweet Heaven receive their souls!

And a mound, unnamed, in Sedgemoor grass,

That laps my soldier son, alas!

The bloom is shed—

The bees are fled—

Myddelton luck it ’s done and dead.