Author Topic: The Lady of Charlotte  (Read 1061 times)

Offline noquiexis

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The Lady of Charlotte
« on: October 13, 2017, 06:11:15 PM »
The Lady of Charlotte
(pronounced shar-lot')
or "Out flew the web and floated wide"
written on Friday, the Thirteenth of October

     Note to the reader: This is a derivative work based on the poem "The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (both the 1832 (seen in blue) and 1842 versions). It also has lines from "The Last Rose of Summer" by Thomas Moore. This short story is not intended for sale, and therefore breaches no copyright law.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Lady of Shalott (poem)
WAG Screen video
     produced by the Washingborough Archaeology Group, Lincolnshire
Loreena McKennitt song video
The Lady of Shalott (painting)
The Lady of Shalott 1832 and 1842 comparison


Charlotte's Web
E. B. White

The Last Rose of Summer (poem)
Celtic Woman video
Thomas Moore

The Lady of Charlotte


     While reaching for a book on the high shelf, a flash of light caught Al's eye. He could not see the window from this part of the room, but the hallway mirror reflected an image of what lie just outside. Something else caught his attention. He stepped higher on the ladder to get a better look.

     A spider had woven a web between two of the four finials at the top of the bookcase. The finials bore a resemblance to a pair of towers, such as one might see on a castle. Coupled with the rosettes carved into the wood of the bookcase, they reminded him of "Four gray walls and four gray towers {that} Overlook a space of flowers".

     Light reflected by the mirror passed through the spider's web, making it glow slightly against the dark paneling of the wall. Al marveled that such a thing of beauty could mean life to the spider, but death to all else. Briefly, he wondered what the spider thought about in it's solitary existence. Al had his friends, his books, and many other diversions. The spider had nothing but the web.

     Some people fear spiders, and would kill them on sight. Al thought that they "keep down the other bugs", and therefore did serve a purpose. As long as this spider kept to it's web, he has happy to let it stay where it was. Curiously, the spider reminded him of a children's tale that he had read years before. Al greeted the spider, calling it "Charlotte", but the spider took no notice of him.


     A river gently flows between lush fields and on to pass through a great city not far away. There is an inn and village some short distance upstream. On both sides of the river, beaten paths serve as roads that run from the village to the city and beyond, where farmers market their crops. Horses on these roads would tow river barges along the river to and from the city and village. Sometimes a small boat with sail would ply the waterway, as gentle breezes would allow. The occasional farmhouse and barn can be seen along the length of the river.

     The King's knights, always riding in  pairs, patrol these roads to protect the people and the land. They frequently stop to speak with those toiling in the fields. This way they could learn what those people might have seen, catch up on the latest bawdy tales, and swap lies about their amorous conquests. For the most part, the workers in those fields enjoyed the small break from their work. There were always some few who took the opportunity to complain about things that the knights had no power to change.

     Henry fancied himself an amateur astronomer and naturalist. He had taken up residence in the loft of one of the farmhouses, mostly to be further away from the light and noise of the city. He helped around the farm to earn his keep. By day (when he could) he would train his modest telescope on the river and countryside. By night he would try to eke out the secrets of the heavens.

     In the midst of the river is a small island populated by willows, aspens, various flowers, and whatever wildlife that managed to cross the stream.  A wealthy businessman, a merchant by trade, had built a retreat for his family on the island. The retreat served as a refreshing getaway when the merchant had some time. He and his lovely wife planted gardens all around it. For reasons known only to him, he named the retreat "Shalott". People who knew that began to refer to the island by that name.

     The merchant had acquired a large fountain and some statues, which he placed in the meadow and gardens around the retreat. These statues all faced the retreat, but for a single pair. Those two were placed on either side of the path leading from the dock to the retreat. They were set facing toward the river.

     Henry often wondered what powered the fountain, but guessed that there might be a waterwheel on the far side of the island. There may be a windmill also, as there was almost always some breeze blowing. Windmills were popular inland, away from the river.

     There was no bridge to the island, but it could be easily accessed by boat or barge. A path led from the dock through some willows to the meadow before the retreat. Oft times the retreat bustled with the happy activities of life. At other times the island was silent but for the songbirds and geese.

     The merchant's lovely wife sold some of the island's flowers in a small shop in the city. The bulk of their earnings came from her husband's crops and other businesses. A young lady, equally beautiful and probably a daughter, worked at the woman's flower shop. The shop also sold cloths made for tables, an odd tapestry or two, and trinkets that the merchant acquired as barter for some of his goods.

     Those who worked the fields near the island knew the merchant's family name, but not the names of all of the family members. They could only see the family and hear their music and laughter from a little distance. The couple occasionally brought guests to the island, so the field workers never knew which of those were his brothers, sisters, sons or daughters.

     A room high in the retreat often rang with the sound of a woman singing or reciting poetry. While working the fields, Henry and his co-workers would enjoy the silken voice and song wafting through a large window of that room. Back at his telescope, he tried to spy the lady who owned that voice, but he could never see her.

     The high room where that angelic voice originated was quite small. A large mirror was either standing near or mounted on the far wall. From his perch in the farmhouse loft, Henry could see a spinning wheel and a loom in that secluded hideaway. The loom was angled so that the weaver could see the other side of the work in the mirror, and beyond that the reflection of the outside world. Henry surmised that the mirror was angled to bring in light for the lady weaving with the loom. The spinning wheel sat near the mirror, and a small table next to that.


     A certain young lady, modest and very shy, had occasion to do work in the great city. She had at many times the task of delivering flowers and other goods to the King's castle. In the near distance she would by chance catch a glimpse of the lords, ladies, knights, and burghers as they attended to their various affairs. She became enraptured with a knight, although she knew in her mind that she could never hope to be courted by this Adonis. It was rumored that he had been seen alone in the company of the Queen, but this could have been attributed to his normal duties.

     The young lady never missed a jousting tournament. She loved seeing this brave knight clad in his polished armor, mounted on his steady steed, and working his charms on all who watched. She laughed to see other young girls swoon, knowing full well that she herself could have done the same. She learned the shape of the knight's every feature, his speaking and singing voice, every sound of his armor, and the sound of his steed's bridle bells. Before she could see him approaching, she could tell that it was him just from the collection of sounds that she gathered.

     A kindly matron, herself the mother of three grown boys, saw how the young lady yearned for the knight. As gently as she could, the matron pleaded with the young woman to discontinue dreams of winning his favor. Even before she began, the matron realized that her efforts would be in vain. The human heart is often at war with reason and logic.


     Months later, a time of distress came upon this brave knight. The young lady knew not of his trouble, but did see it in his face and in the slowness of his movements. She approached the knight to offer comfort, but he dismissed her curtly. He never even looked upon her face. If he had, he would have seen how his dismissal of her pained her so deeply. She did reason that his rudeness was not his natural character, but the slight still wounded her. She finished her tasks quietly, thinking that she should leave as quickly as she was able.

     Another woman, known to be stern and rigid, had seen this exchange and sorely berated the young lady. As the young lady began to weep, the older woman piled shame upon shame against the younger girl, who fled the castle in blinding tears. She ran to the river with the intent of throwing herself in.

     A fisherman was by the river mending his nets. He heard the young lady wailing loudly before he saw her. He watched in horror as this beautiful girl ran headlong toward the water. Diving after her, he caught her before she reached the end of the dock. Himself a father, he had some experience with a heartbroken daughter.

     The fisherman took her back to his nets where he offered her bread and wine, but she took neither. He listened patiently to her tale, then advised her as best he could. He asked her to come meet his own daughter, but she would not. Lastly he suggested that she try to get away for a few days to sort out her thoughts. In addition to his fishing boat, he had a small skiff, which he invited her to borrow.


     On a day in late Autumn, harvesters reaping the fields took notice of a small boat at the island dock. This was not unusual, as the merchant or a hireling occasionally stopped in to check on the property, or to prepare the retreat for a family visit. Toward evening of that day, the reapers saw a single light in a high room of the retreat. All of the other rooms were dark.

     A harvester close to the river thought that he heard the faint sound of sobbing, but no one else could hear it. He peered up at the casement, but could see no one there. The harvester shared his observation with his fellows at the pub that evening. Henry vowed to look in on the room when he had the chance.

     Upon returning to his rented loft, Henry could see that someone had been working at the loom, but the light was too dim to make out the pattern in the cloth. He would try to catch a glimpse the next morning when the sun made it's return. He wished that he had a better telescope.

     A damsel sat at the spinning wheel spinning yarn from fresh cut wool. She had combed and carded the wool on previous visits, and colored the finished threads for her project. She had several shuttles loaded with these colors, and placed them on a small table within easy reach of the loom seat. Over the space of a few days, she would work these colors into the image formed in her tapestry.

     Her singing had lessened as of late, but was beginning to grow stronger as the days progressed. Life along the river and in the great city went on as usual. Harvest season was a busy time for everyone, as the crops were coming in and people began preparations for the coming winter.

     The merchant who owned the island in the river had no time to spend there, and likely would not until after the harvest was done. Even then he would remain busy buying and selling or bartering his wares. If the river should freeze over, he would be unable to safely navigate to the island until springtime. The lone light continued to glow in the high room of the retreat, and those below in the fields of gold wondered who had been left there.

I am half-sick of shadows (Wikipedia)

          Or when the moon was overhead,
          Came two young lovers lately wed;
          "I am half-sick of shadows," said
               The Lady of Shalott.

     On a sunny and unclouded day, the knight who had won all of the tournaments rode by on his way to the great city. He was adorned in his best armor and had a large plume for his helmet. Apparently there was to be some celebration in the city. The knight was singing a spritely tune as he rode, and greeted those who were reaping the barley and the rye. All saluted him and some cheered as he rode by.

     When other knights pass by, the damsel at the loom would pause her work long enough to watch them in the mirror. When she heard this knight's melodious tune, she recognized him and his horse from the other sounds lilting up to her window. She jumped up to see her handsome hero directly.

          She left the web, she left the loom,
          She made three paces thro' the room,
          She saw the water-lily bloom,
          She saw the helmet and the plume:
             She look'd down to Camelot.

The Lady of Shalott looks down at Lancelot (Wikipedia)

     In her haste to see her favorite knight, the damsel knocked a heavy chair against the mirror, cracking it from one side to the other. She had always believed that breaking any mirror would bring bad luck or a curse. The bigger the mirror, the worse would be the curse. Without even thinking, she cut the web from the loom and threw it out the window. The field workers, bent over at their tasks, had not seen it float to the ground.

          Out flew the web and floated wide;
          The mirror crack'd from side to side;
          "The curse is come upon me," cried
             The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (Wikipedia)

     Believing herself cursed, the damsel saw dark clouds in the far distance. She convinced herself that they were coming for her. She sat in the heavy chair before the broken mirror for a time, contemplating the possibilities of her curse.

     By chance, Henry and some others were working near the road when the knight passed. Henry remarked that the elfen song from the island had stopped, but the others had been too interested in the knight to pay him any mind. Now that he mentioned it, they too realized that the singing had stopped. Henry stood upright to look in on the island, but the others chided him back to work.


     In the late afternoon, the Autumn weather turned decidedly chilly with a cold, heavy rain. The harvest was nearly done and the fields were largely empty. Henry turned his telescope to the roses that climbed the low fence around the retreat. Rain on the window pane made viewing difficult, but he was bored and had little else to do. Thomas Moore's poem "The Last Rose of Summer" came to his memory.

          'Tis the last rose of summer,
           Left blooming alone;
           All her lovely companions
           Are faded and gone;

          Down she came and found a boat
          Beneath a willow left afloat,
          And round about the prow she wrote
               The Lady of Shalott.

          A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight.
          All raimented in snowy white
          That loosely flew, (her zone in sight,
          Clasped with one blinding diamond bright,)
               Her wide eyes fixed on Camelot


     Henry saw a new statue by a willow near the dock. He thought it was odd that he had not seen it while working in the field. Odder still, none of the other statues were erected that far from the retreat. All but two of the other statues stood facing toward the retreat, but this one was positioned facing toward the great city.

          Though the squally east-wind keenly
          Blew, with folded arms serenely
          By the water stood the queenly
               Lady of Shalott.


     The work appeared as a young woman in flowing robes; her arms crossed as if in deep contemplation. Henry decided that the workers who brought the statue got caught in the rain and left it there. Still, he thought, one should have seen the barge that brought this statue, or the horse and cart that would have carried it. Surely no one carried the heavy marble by hand.

          I'll not leave thee, thou lone one!
           To pine on the stem;
           Since the lovely are sleeping,
           Go, sleep thou with them.

     The wind looked to be blowing the garments of the statue left and right, but this could not be true. Henry wished that he could wipe away the rivulets of water running down the glass. They must have been responsible for this illusion.

          So soon may I follow,
           When friendships decay,
           And from Love's shining circle
           The gems drop away.

     A pang of sorrow gripped Henry as he recalled those lines of the poem. He had known the pain of lost love and friendships gone sallow. With the darkening sky, he almost missed seeing the small boat moored to the willow. With this rain, there should have been a canvas over the boat to keep out the water. Instead there looked to be a brightly colored cloth in the boat. He thought this most curious.

           When true hearts lie withered,
           And fond ones are flown,
           Oh! who would inhabit
           This bleak world alone?

     Henry could not shake the pervading sense of doom. He knew that something was out of place, but did not know what. The darkening skies and Thomas Moore's poem deepened his anxiety. Against the protests of the farmer and his wife, Henry donned a heavy coat to brave the chill weather. He had to get a closer look at what was on that island in the river. The farmer did persuade Henry to fetch up his heavy boots, lest the lad catch his death of the cold. The boots were a bit large for the lad, but the farmer's wife arranged a pair of suspenders through the bootstraps. She also tied the tops of the boots to keep water from running down inside them.

     The heavy rains caused the river to swell in it's banks, and the gentle current became stronger. A few geese braved the storm and were gliding with the stream, but most had taken refuge on the land. A surlier day Henry had not known, and he doubted his wisdom of braving this weather.

     Plodding over field stubble, he thought the rain was easing up a bit. The path to the road by the river would have been easier, but longer. Henry did not know what drove him on with such determination. Surely the statue and boat were not going anywhere this day. The brim of his slouch hat helped a little to keep the rain out of his face, but he trekked forward with his face downturned regardless.

          Down she came and found a boat
          Beneath a willow left afloat,
          And round about the prow she wrote
               The Lady of Shalott.

     The approaching darkness made visibility harder. By the time he reached the road and drew closer to where he could see the dock, both the boat and the statue were gone. Extreme fear and grief shook him as he realized that this must have been a real woman. Her garments would have to have been snowy white to appear as marble, and her face very pale.

     The rain was indeed lessening and would stop soon, but a cold wind continued to blow toward the great city. In the distance, Henry could hear a carol playing over the fields. He recognized the voice from the high room in the retreat, and knew it was the lady who worked the loom at Shalott.

     The muddy road and the too-big boots made land travel slower than usual, but Henry walked as quickly as he could. He dared not run on the slippery path, lest he lose his footing altogether. Twice he caught sight of the skiff, but could not see the damsel. She must have

laid down upon the cloth that he had seen from his room. That cloth would have to be wet and cold, and doubtless provided no comfort to her.

     Her carol continued, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly. It reminded him of a story that sailors would tell of a dying swan's last song. He could not believe such a thing possible, but the image stuck in his mind. The great city was still a ways off, but Henry set his thoughts on walking the entire distance, if need be. He had hoped to catch the boat at one of the gentle curves of the river, and possibly bring the lady to safety.

     At one such curve, the skiff did come close to the river bank, but the current was stronger here. It whisked the small craft away before Henry could reach it, and he dared not swim the tide. He thought to himself that he should have brought a rope. With this he might have been able to snag the prow of the skiff.

     He did catch a glimpse of the lady, lying in her robe of white. Her eyes were closed and her face dead-pale. Some leaves had fallen on her, but their dark forms only accented the starkness of her appearance. Moonlight breaking through the clouds gave her an overall ghostly appearance. Henry called to her, but she gave no response. Her song stopped before the boat reached the first house by the water. Henry would have been the only living person to have heard it.

     He knew instinctively that he was too late to save her. The cold would have frozen her blood and taken her breath. Profound regret seized Henry, and he walked dumbfounded following the lady. The clouds parted enough to allow moonlight to spill over the scene. There was an inscription on the prow, but Henry could not make it out.

     Those windows that were closed and shuttered against the storm were beginning to open. Some people saw the boat drift by, and the dead form inside. Muddy Henry came upon them shortly thereafter. The boat drifted slowly through the noises of the night.

     As he drew nigh to the King's castle, Henry heard the jubilant sounds of celebration. The king may be entertaining guests at banquet. Henry did see that the boat came to rest against a piling, and he would be able to draw it closer to the wharf.

     He sat on the planking near lady for a time, then stumbled up to speak to a palace guard. His voice had left him, and all he could do was point. The guard dutifully investigated, then returned ashen-faced. He reported his finding to his superior, who passed the word along to a knight.

          Out upon the wharfs they came,
          Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
          And round the prow they read her name,
             The Lady of Shalott.

     As the guests and staff moved out to see the trouble, the knight that had captured this lady's heart pushed through to the front. Even now he did not recognize her from among those who served at the castle, but he did exclaim that she had a lovely face. For a moment, he thought of his own misdeeds. He uttered a prayer that she find grace.

     No one there could put a name to the young lady. They tried to question Henry, but he was anguished and inconsolable. A soldier led him to a warm and dry room in the barracks. He offered food and drink, but Henry would have neither. The soldier laid him on a small cot, stripped off his too-large boots, and covered him with a blanket. Henry did not sleep, but stared blankly across the room.



     Some days later, Al returned the book that he had been studying. He remembered "Charlotte", but she and her web were gone. He thought it possible that someone removed the web while dusting. There seemed to be nothing else that could have disturbed it. He thought to the absent spider, that at least someone had taken note of her existence.

"Like a bolt out of the blue
 Fate steps in and sees you through
 When you wish upon a star
 Your dreams come true"

   Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket 1940
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