Part 4 out of 6
Aye, father! hast thou come at last?
'Tis somewhat late to pray;
Life's crimson tides are ebbing fast,
They drain my soul away;
Mine eyes with film are overcast,
The lights are waning grey.
This curl from her bright head I shore,
And this her hands gave mine;
See, one is stained with purple gore,
And one with poison'd wine;
Give these to her when all is o'er --
How serpent-like they twine!
We three were brethren in arms,
And sworn companions we;
We held this motto, "Whoso harms
The one shall harm the three!"
Till, matchless for her subtle charms,
Beloved of each was she.
(These two were slain that I might kiss
Her sweet mouth. I did well;
I said, "There is no greater bliss
For those in heaven that dwell;"
I lost her; then I said, "There is
No fiercer pang in hell!")
We have upheld each other's rights,
Shared purse, and borrow'd blade;
Have stricken side by side in fights;
And side by side have prayed
In churches. We were Christian knights,
And she a Christian maid.
We met at sunrise, he and I,
My comrade -- 'twas agreed
The steel our quarrel first should try,
The poison should succeed;
For two of three were doom'd to die,
And one was doom'd to bleed.
We buckled to the doubtful fray,
At first with some remorse;
But he who must be slain, or slay,
Soon strikes with vengeful force.
He fell; I left him where he lay,
Among the trampled gorse.
Did passion warp my heart and head
To madness? And, if so,
Can madness palliate bloodshed? --
It may be -- I shall know
When God shall gather up the dead
From where the four winds blow.
We met at sunset, he and I --
My second comrade true;
Two cups with wine were brimming high,
And one was drugg'd -- we knew
Not which, nor sought we to descry;
Our choice by lot we drew.
And there I sat with him to sup;
I heard him blithely speak
Of by-gone days -- the fatal cup
Forgotten seem'd -- his cheek
Was ruddy: father, raise me up,
My voice is waxing weak.
We drank; his lips turned livid white,
His cheeks grew leaden ash;
He reel'd -- I heard his temples smite
The threshold with a crash!
And from his hand, in shivers bright,
I saw the goblet flash.
The morrow dawn'd with fragrance rare,
The May breeze, from the west,
Just fann'd the sleepy olives, where
She heard and I confess'd;
My hair entangled with her hair,
Her breast strained to my breast.
On the dread verge of endless gloom
My soul recalls that hour;
Skies languishing with balm of bloom,
And fields aflame with flower;
And slow caresses that consume,
And kisses that devour.
Ah! now with storm the day seems rife,
My dull ears catch the roll
Of thunder, and the far sea strife,
On beach and bar and shoal --
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.
She fled! I cannot prove her guilt,
Nor would I an I could;
See, life for life is fairly spilt!
And blood is shed for blood;
Her white hands neither touched the hilt,
Nor yet the potion brew'd.
Aye! turn me from the sickly south,
Towards the gusty north;
The fruits of sin are dust and drouth,
The end of crime is wrath --
The lips that pressed her rose-like mouth
Are choked with blood-red froth.
Then dig the grave-pit deep and wide,
Three graves thrown into one,
And lay three corpses side by side,
And tell their tale to none;
But bring her back in all her pride
To see what she hath done.
A Song of Autumn
"Where shall we go for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year,
When the burnt-up banks are yellow and sad,
When the boughs are yellow and sere?
Where are the old ones that once we had,
And when are the new ones near?
What shall we do for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year?"
"Child! can I tell where the garlands go?
Can I say where the lost leaves veer
On the brown-burnt banks, when the wild winds blow,
When they drift through the dead-wood drear?
Girl! when the garlands of next year glow,
YOU may gather again, my dear --
But I go where the last year's lost leaves go
At the falling of the year."
The Romance of Britomarte
As related by Sergeant Leigh on the night he got his captaincy
at the Restoration.
I'll tell you a story; but pass the "jack",
And let us make merry to-night, my men.
Aye, those were the days when my beard was black --
I like to remember them now and then --
Then Miles was living, and Cuthbert there,
On his lip was never a sign of down;
But I carry about some braided hair,
That has not yet changed from the glossy brown
That it showed the day when I broke the heart
Of that bravest of destriers, "Britomarte".
Sir Hugh was slain (may his soul find grace!)
In the fray that was neither lost nor won
At Edgehill -- then to St. Hubert's Chase
Lord Goring despatched a garrison --
But men and horses were ill to spare,
And ere long the soldiers were shifted fast.
As for me, I never was quartered there
Till Marston Moor had been lost; at last,
As luck would have it, alone, and late
In the night, I rode to the northern gate.
I thought, as I passed through the moonlit park,
On the boyish days I used to spend
In the halls of the knight lying stiff and stark --
Thought on his lady, my father's friend
(Mine, too, in spite of my sinister bar,
But with that my story has naught to do) --
She died the winter before the war --
Died giving birth to the baby Hugh.
He pass'd ere the green leaves clothed the bough,
And the orphan girl was the heiress now.
When I was a rude and a reckless boy,
And she a brave and a beautiful child,
I was her page, her playmate, her toy --
I have crown'd her hair with the field-flowers wild,
Cowslip and crow-foot and colt's-foot bright --
I have carried her miles when the woods were wet,
I have read her romances of dame and knight;
She was my princess, my pride, my pet,
There was then this proverb us twain between,
For the glory of God and of Gwendoline.
She had grown to a maiden wonderful fair,
But for years I had scarcely seen her face.
Now, with troopers Holdsworth, Huntly, and Clare,
Old Miles kept guard at St. Hubert's Chase,
And the chatelaine was a Mistress Ruth,
Sir Hugh's half-sister, an ancient dame,
But a mettlesome soul had she forsooth,
As she show'd when the time of her trial came.
I bore despatches to Miles and to her,
To warn them against the bands of Kerr.
And mine would have been a perilous ride
With the rebel horsemen -- we knew not where
They were scattered over that country side, --
If it had not been for my brave brown mare.
She was iron-sinew'd and satin-skinn'd,
Ribb'd like a drum and limb'd like a deer,
Fierce as the fire and fleet as the wind --
There was nothing she couldn't climb or clear --
Rich lords had vex'd me, in vain, to part,
For their gold and silver, with Britomarte.
Next morn we muster'd scarce half a score,
With the serving men, who were poorly arm'd --
Five soldiers, counting myself, no more,
And a culverin, which might well have harm'd
Us, had we used it, but not our foes,
When, with horses and foot, to our doors they came,
And a psalm-singer summon'd us (through his nose),
And deliver'd -- "This, in the people's name,
Unto whoso holdeth this fortress here,
Surrender! or bide the siege -- John Kerr."
'Twas a mansion built in a style too new,
A castle by courtesy, he lied
Who called it a fortress -- yet, 'tis true,
It had been indifferently fortified --
We were well provided with bolt and bar --
And while I hurried to place our men,
Old Miles was call'd to a council of war
With Mistress Ruth and with HER, and when
They had argued loudly and long, those three,
They sent, as a last resource, for me.
In the chair of state sat erect Dame Ruth;
She had cast aside her embroidery;
She had been a beauty, they say, in her youth,
There was much fierce fire in her bold black eye.
"Am I deceived in you both?" quoth she.
"If one spark of her father's spirit lives
In this girl here -- so, this Leigh, Ralph Leigh,
Let us hear what counsel the springald gives."
Then I stammer'd, somewhat taken aback --
(Simon, you ale-swiller, pass the "jack").
The dame wax'd hotter -- "Speak out, lad, say,
Must we fall in that canting caitiff's power?
Shall we yield to a knave and a turncoat? Nay,
I had liever leap from our topmost tower.
For a while we can surely await relief;
Our walls are high and our doors are strong."
This Kerr was indeed a canting thief --
I know not rightly, some private wrong
He had done Sir Hugh, but I know this much,
Traitor or turncoat, he suffer'd as such.
Quoth Miles -- "Enough! your will shall be done;
Relief may arrive by the merest chance,
But your house ere dusk will be lost and won;
They have got three pieces of ordnance."
Then I cried, "Lord Guy, with four troops of horse,
Even now is biding at Westbrooke town;
If a rider could break through the rebel force,
He would bring relief ere the sun goes down;
Through the postern door could I make one dart,
I could baffle them all upon Britomarte."
Miles mutter'd "Madness!" Dame Ruth look'd grave,
Said, "True, though we cannot keep one hour
The courtyard, no, nor the stables save,
They will have to batter piecemeal the tower,
And thus ----" But suddenly she halted there.
With a shining hand on my shoulder laid
Stood Gwendoline. She had left her chair,
And, "Nay, if it needs must be done," she said,
"Ralph Leigh will gladly do it, I ween,
For the glory of God and of Gwendoline."
I had undertaken a heavier task
For a lighter word. I saddled with care,
Nor cumber'd myself with corselet nor casque
(Being loth to burden the brave brown mare).
Young Clare kept watch on the wall -- he cried,
"Now, haste, Ralph! this is the time to seize;
The rebels are round us on every side,
But here they straggle by twos and threes."
Then out I led her, and up I sprung,
And the postern door on its hinges swung.
I had drawn this sword -- you may draw it and feel,
For this is the blade that I bore that day --
There's a notch even now on the long grey steel,
A nick that has never been rasp'd away.
I bow'd my head and I buried my spurs,
One bound brought the gliding green beneath;
I could tell by her back-flung, flatten'd ears,
She had fairly taken the bit in her teeth --
(What, Jack, have you drain'd your namesake dry,
Left nothing to quench the thirst of a fly?)
These things are done, and are done with, lad,
In far less time than your talker tells;
The sward with their hoof-strokes shook like mad,
And rang with their carbines and petronels;
And they shouted, "Cross him and cut him off,"
"Surround him," "Seize him," "Capture the clown,
Or kill him," "Shall he escape to scoff
In your faces?" "Shoot him or cut him down."
And their bullets whistled on every side;
Many were near us and more were wide.
Not a bullet told upon Britomarte;
Suddenly snorting, she launched along;
So the osprey dives where the seagulls dart,
So the falcon swoops where the kestrels throng.
And full in my front one pistol flash'd,
And right in my path their sergeant got.
How are jack-boots jarr'd, how are stirrups clash'd,
While the mare like a meteor past him shot;
But I clove his skull with a backstroke clean,
For the glory of God and of Gwendoline.
And as one whom the fierce wind storms in the face,
With spikes of hail and with splinters of rain,
I, while we fled through St. Hubert's Chase,
Bent till my cheek was amongst her mane.
To the north, full a league of the deer-park lay,
Smooth, springy turf, and she fairly flew,
And the sound of their hoof-strokes died away,
And their far shots faint in the distance grew.
Loudly I laughed, having won the start,
At the folly of following Britomarte.
They had posted a guard at the northern gate --
Some dozen of pikemen and musketeers.
To the tall park palings I turn'd her straight;
She veer'd in her flight as the swallow veers.
And some blew matches and some drew swords,
And one of them wildly hurl'd his pike,
But she clear'd by inches the oaken boards,
And she carried me yards beyond the dyke;
Then gaily over the long green down
We gallop'd, heading for Westbrooke town.
The green down slopes to the great grey moor,
The grey moor sinks to the gleaming Skelt --
Sudden and sullen, and swift and sure,
The whirling water was round my belt.
She breasted the bank with a savage snort,
And a backward glance of her bloodshot eye,
And "Our Lady of Andover's" flash'd like thought,
And flitted St. Agatha's nunnery,
And the firs at "The Ferngrove" fled on the right,
And "Falconer's Tower" on the left took flight.
And over "The Ravenswold" we raced --
We rounded the hill by "The Hermit's Well" --
We burst on the Westbrooke Bridge -- "What haste?
What errand?" shouted the sentinel.
"To Beelzebub with the Brewer's knave!"
"Carolus Rex and he of the Rhine!"
Galloping past him, I got and gave
In the gallop password and countersign,
All soak'd with water and soil'd with mud,
With the sleeve of my jerkin half drench'd in blood.
Now, Heaven be praised that I found him there --
Lord Guy. He said, having heard my tale,
"Leigh, let my own man look to your mare,
Rest and recruit with our wine and ale;
But first must our surgeon attend to you;
You are somewhat shrewdly stricken, no doubt."
Then he snatched a horn from the wall and blew,
Making "Boot and Saddle" ring sharply out.
"Have I done good service this day?" quoth I.
"Then I will ride back in your troop, Lord Guy."
In the street I heard how the trumpets peal'd,
And I caught the gleam of a morion
From the window -- then to the door I reel'd;
I had lost more blood than I reckon'd upon;
He eyed me calmly with keen grey eyes --
Stern grey eyes of a steel-blue grey --
Said, "The wilful man can never be wise,
Nathless, the wilful must have his way,"
And he pour'd from a flagon some fiery wine;
I drain'd it, and straightway strength was mine.
* * * * *
I was with them all the way on the brown --
"Guy to the rescue!" "God and the king!"
We were just in time, for the doors were down;
And didn't our sword-blades rasp and ring,
And didn't we hew and didn't we hack?
The sport scarce lasted minutes ten --
(Aye, those were the days when my beard was black;
I like to remember them now and then).
Though they fought like fiends, we were four to one,
And we captured those that refused to run.
We have not forgotten it, Cuthbert, boy!
That supper scene when the lamps were lit;
How the women (some of them) sobb'd for joy,
How the soldiers drank the deeper for it;
How the dame did honours, and Gwendoline,
How grandly she glided into the hall,
How she stoop'd with the grace of a girlish queen,
And kiss'd me gravely before them all;
And the stern Lord Guy, how gaily he laugh'd,
Till more of his cup was spilt than quaff'd.
Brown Britomarte lay dead in her straw
Next morn -- we buried her -- brave old girl!
John Kerr, we tried him by martial law,
And we twisted some hemp for the trait'rous churl;
And she -- I met her alone -- said she,
"You have risk'd your life, you have lost your mare,
And what can I give in return, Ralph Leigh?"
I replied, "One braid of that bright brown hair."
And with that she bow'd her beautiful head,
"You can take as much as you choose," she said.
And I took it -- it may be, more than enough --
And I shore it rudely, close to the roots.
The wine or wounds may have made me rough,
And men at the bottom are merely brutes.
Three weeks I slept at St. Hubert's Chase;
When I woke from the fever of wounds and wine,
I could scarce believe that the ghastly face
That the glass reflected was really mine.
I sought the hall -- where a wedding HAD BEEN --
The wedding of Guy and of Gwendoline.
The romance of a grizzled old trooper's life
May make you laugh in your sleeves: laugh out,
Lads; we have most of us seen some strife;
We have all of us had some sport, no doubt.
I have won some honour and gain'd some gold,
Now that our king returns to his own;
If the pulses beat slow, if the blood runs cold,
And if friends have faded and loves have flown,
Then the greater reason is ours to drink,
And the more we swallow the less we shall think.
At the battle of Naseby, Miles was slain,
And Huntly sank from his wounds that week;
We left young Clare upon Worcester plain --
How the "Ironside" gash'd his girlish cheek.
Aye, strut, and swagger, and ruffle anew,
Gay gallants, now that the war is done!
They fought like fiends (give the fiend his due) --
We fought like fops, it was thus they won.
Holdsworth is living for aught I know,
At least he was living two years ago,
And Guy -- Lord Guy -- so stately and stern,
He is changed, I met him at Winchester;
He has grown quite gloomy and taciturn.
Gwendoline! -- why do you ask for her?
Died as her mother had died before --
Died giving birth to the baby Guy!
Did my voice shake? Then am I fool the more.
Sooner or later we all must die;
But, at least, let us live while we live to-night.
The DAYS may be dark, but the LAMPS are bright.
For to me the sunlight seems worn and wan:
The sun, he is losing his splendour now --
He can never shine as of old he shone
On her glorious hair and glittering brow.
Ah! those DAYS THAT WERE, when my beard was black,
NOW I have only the NIGHTS THAT ARE.
What, landlord, ho! bring in haste burnt sack,
And a flask of your fiercest usquebaugh.
You, Cuthbert! surely you know by heart
The story of HER and of Britomarte.
The Lord shall slay or the Lord shall save!
He is righteous whether He save or slay --
Brother, give thanks for the gifts He gave,
Though the gifts He gave He hath taken away.
Shall we strive for that which is nothing? Nay.
Shall we hate each other for that which fled?
She is but a marvel of modelled clay,
And the smooth, clear white, and the soft, pure red,
That we coveted, shall endure no day.
Was it wise or well that I hated you
For the fruit that hung too high on the tree?
For the blossom out of our reach that grew,
Was it well or wise that you hated me? --
My hate has flown, and your hate shall flee.
Let us veil our faces like children chid --
Can that violet orb we swore by see
Through that violet-vein'd, transparent lid? --
Now the Lord forbid that this strife should be.
Would you knit the forehead or clench the fist,
For the curls that never were well caress'd --
For the red that never was fairly kiss'd --
For the white that never was fondly press'd?
Shall we nourish wrath while she lies at rest
Between us? Surely our wrath shall cease.
We would fain know better -- the Lord knows best --
Is there peace between us? Yea, there is peace,
In the soul's release she at least is blest.
Let us thank the Lord for His bounties all,
For the brave old days of pleasure and pain,
When the world for both of us seem'd too small --
Though the love was void and the hate was vain --
Though the word was bitter between us twain,
And the bitter word was kin to the blow,
For her gloss and ripple of rich gold rain,
For her velvet crimson and satin snow --
Though we never shall know the old days again.
The Lord! -- His mercy is great, men say;
His wrath, men say, is a burning brand --
Let us praise Him whether He save or slay,
And above her body let hand join hand.
We shall meet, my friend, in the spirit land --
Will our strife renew? Nay, I dare not trust,
For the grim, great gulf that cannot be spann'd
Will divide us from her. The Lord is just,
She shall not be thrust where our spirits stand.
A Basket of Flowers
from Dawn to Dusk
On skies still and starlit
White lustres take hold,
And grey flushes scarlet,
And red flashes gold.
And sun-glories cover
The rose shed above her,
Like lover and lover
They flame and unfold.
* * * * *
Still bloom in the garden
Green grass-plot, fresh lawn,
Though pasture lands harden
And drought fissures yawn.
While leaves not a few fall,
Let rose leaves for you fall,
Leaves pearl-strung with dew-fall,
And gold shot with dawn.
Does the grass-plot remember
The fall of your feet
In autumn's red ember,
When drought leagues with heat,
When the last of the roses
In the lull that reposes
Ere storm winds wax fleet?
Love's melodies languish
In "Chastelard's" strain,
And "Abelard's" anguish
Is love's pleasant pain!
And "Sappho" rehearses
Love's blessings and curses
In passionate verses
Again and again.
And I! -- I have heard of
All these long ago,
Yet never one word of
Their song-lore I know;
Not under my finger
In songs of the singer
Love's litanies linger,
Love's rhapsodies flow.
Fresh flowers in a basket --
An offering to you --
Though you did not ask it,
Unbidden I strew;
With heat and drought striving,
Some blossoms still living
May render thanksgiving
For dawn and for dew.
The garlands I gather,
The rhymes I string fast,
Are hurriedly rather
Than heedlessly cast.
Yon tree's shady awning
Is short'ning, and warning
Far spent is the morning,
And I must ride fast.
Songs empty, yet airy,
I've striven to write,
For failure, dear Mary!
Forgive me -- Good-night!
Songs and flowers may beset you,
I can only regret you,
While the soil where I met you
Recedes from my sight.
For the sake of past hours,
For the love of old times,
Take "A Basket of Flowers",
And a bundle of rhymes;
Though all the bloom perish
E'en YOUR hand can cherish,
While churlish and bearish
The verse-jingle chimes.
And Eastward by Nor'ward
Looms sadly MY track,
And I must ride forward,
And still I look back, --
Look back -- ah, how vainly!
For while I see plainly,
My hands on the reins lie
Uncertain and slack.
The warm wind breathes strong breath,
The dust dims mine eye,
And I draw one long breath,
And stifle one sigh.
Green slopes, softly shaded,
Have flitted and faded --
My dreams flit as they did --
Good-night! -- and -- Good-bye!
* * * * *
Lost rose! end my story!
Dead core and dry husk --
Departed thy glory
And tainted thy musk.
Night spreads her dark limbs on
The face of the dim sun,
So flame fades to crimson
And crimson to dusk.
They say that poison-sprinkled flowers
Are sweeter in perfume
Than when, untouched by deadly dew,
They glowed in early bloom.
They say that men condemned to die
Have quaffed the sweetened wine
With higher relish than the juice
Of the untampered vine.
They say that in the witch's song,
Though rude and harsh it be,
There blends a wild, mysterious strain
Of weirdest melody.
And I believe the devil's voice
Sinks deeper in our ear
Than any whisper sent from Heaven,
However sweet and clear.
[End of Bush Ballads.]
To My Sister
Lines written by the late A. L. Gordon
On 4th August, 1853,
Being three days before he sailed for Australia.
Across the trackless seas I go,
No matter when or where,
And few my future lot will know,
And fewer still will care.
My hopes are gone, my time is spent,
I little heed their loss,
And if I cannot feel content,
I cannot feel remorse.
My parents bid me cross the flood,
My kindred frowned at me;
They say I have belied my blood,
And stained my pedigree.
But I must turn from those who chide,
And laugh at those who frown;
I cannot quench my stubborn pride,
Nor keep my spirits down.
I once had talents fit to win
Success in life's career,
And if I chose a part of sin,
My choice has cost me dear.
But those who brand me with disgrace
Will scarcely dare to say
They spoke the taunt before my face,
And went unscathed away.
My friends will miss a comrade's face,
And pledge me on the seas,
Who shared the wine-cup or the chase,
Or follies worse than these.
A careless smile, a parting glass,
A hand that waves adieu,
And from my sight they soon will pass,
And from my memory too.
I loved a girl not long ago,
And, till my suit was told,
I thought her breast as fair as snow,
'Twas very near as cold;
And yet I spoke, with feelings more
Of recklessness than pain,
Those words I never spoke before,
Nor never shall again.
Her cheek grew pale, in her dark eye
I saw the tear-drop shine;
Her red lips faltered in reply,
And then were pressed to mine.
A quick pulsation of the heart!
A flutter of the breath!
A smothered sob -- and thus we part,
To meet no more till death.
And yet I may at times recall
Her memory with a sigh;
At times for me the tears may fall
And dim her sparkling eye.
But absent friends are soon forgot,
And in a year or less
'Twill doubtless be another's lot
Those very lips to press!
With adverse fate we best can cope
When all we prize has fled;
And where there's little left to hope,
There's little left to dread!
Oh, time glides ever quickly by!
Destroying all that's dear;
On earth there's little worth a sigh,
And nothing worth a tear!
What fears have I? What hopes in life?
What joys can I command?
A few short years of toil and strife
In a strange and distant land!
When green grass sprouts above this clay
(And that might be ere long),
Some friends may read these lines and say,
The world has judged him wrong.
There is a spot not far away
Where my young sister sleeps,
Who seems alive but yesterday,
So fresh her memory keeps;
For we have played in childhood there
Beneath the hawthorn's bough,
And bent our knee in childish prayer
I cannot utter now!
Of late so reckless and so wild,
That spot recalls to me
That I was once a laughing child,
As innocent as she;
And there, while August's wild flow'rs wave,
I wandered all alone,
Strewed blossoms on her little grave,
And knelt beside the stone.
I seem to have a load to bear,
A heavy, choking grief;
Could I have forced a single tear
I might have felt relief.
I think my hot and restless heart
Has scorched the channels dry,
From which those sighs of sorrow start
To moisten cheek and eye.
Sister, farewell! farewell once more
To every youthful tie!
Friends! parents! kinsmen! native shore!
To each and all good-bye!
And thoughts which for the moment seem
To bind me with a spell,
Ambitious hope! love's boyish dream!
To you a last farewell!
"The Old Leaven"
So, Maurice, you sail to-morrow, you say?
And you may or may not return?
Be sociable, man! for once in a way,
Unless you're too old to learn.
The shadows are cool by the water side
Where the willows grow by the pond,
And the yellow laburnum's drooping pride
Sheds a golden gleam beyond.
For the blended tints of the summer flowers,
For the scents of the summer air,
For all nature's charms in this world of ours,
'Tis little or naught you care.
Yet I know for certain you haven't stirred
Since noon from your chosen spot;
And you've hardly spoken a single word --
Are you tired, or cross, or what?
You're fretting about those shares you bought,
They were to have gone up fast;
But I heard how they fell to nothing -- in short,
They were given away at last.
No, Mark, I'm not so easily cross'd;
'Tis true that I've had a run
Of bad luck lately; indeed, I've lost;
Well! somebody else has won.
The glass has fallen, perhaps you fear
A return of your ancient stitch --
That souvenir of the Lady's Mere,
Park palings and double ditch.
You're wrong. I'm not in the least afraid
Of that. If the truth be told,
When the stiffness visits my shoulder-blade,
I think on the days of old;
It recalls the rush of the freshening wind,
The strain of the chestnut springing,
And the rolling thunder of hoofs behind,
Like the Rataplan chorus ringing.
Are you bound to borrow, or loth to lend?
Have you purchased another screw?
Or backed a bill for another friend?
Or had a bad night at loo?
Not one of those, you're all in the dark,
If you choose you can guess again;
But you'd better give over guessing, Mark,
It's only labour in vain.
I'll try once more; does it plague you still,
That trifle of lead you carry?
A guest that lingers against your will,
Unwelcome, yet bound to tarry.
Not so! That burden I'm used to bear,
'Tis seldom it gives me trouble;
And to earn it as I did then and there,
I'd carry a dead weight double.
A shock like that for a splintered rib
Can a thousand-fold repay --
As the swallow skims through the spider's web,
We rode through their ranks that day!
Come, Maurice, you sha'n't escape me so!
I'll hazard another guess:
That girl that jilted you long ago,
You're thinking of her, confess!
Tho' the blue lake flush'd with a rosy light,
Reflected from yonder sky,
Might conjure a vision of Aphrodite
To a poet's or painter's eye;
Tho' the golden drop, with its drooping curl,
Between the water and wood,
Hangs down like the tress of a wayward girl
In her dreamy maidenhood:
Such boyish fancies seem out of date
To one half inclined to censure
Their folly, and yet -- your shaft flew straight,
Though you drew your bow at a venture.
I saw my lady the other night
In the crowded opera hall,
When the boxes sparkled with faces bright,
I knew her amongst them all.
Tho' little for these things now I reck,
I singled her from the throng
By the queenly curves of her head and neck,
By the droop of her eyelash long.
Oh! passionless, placid, and calm, and cold,
Does the fire still lurk within
That lit her magnificent eyes of old,
And coloured her marble skin?
For a weary look on the proud face hung,
While the music clash'd and swell'd,
And the restless child to the silk skirt clung
Unnoticed tho' unrepelled.
They've paled, those rosebud lips that I kist,
That slim waist has thickened rather,
And the cub has the sprawling mutton fist,
And the great splay foot of the father.
May the blight ----
Mark: Hold hard there, Maurice, my son,
Let her rest, since her spell is broken;
We can neither recall deeds rashly done,
Nor retract words hastily spoken.
Time was when to pleasure her girlish whim,
In my blind infatuation,
I've freely endangered life and limb;
Aye, perilled my soul's salvation.
With the best intentions we all must work
But little good and much harm;
Be a Christian for once, not a Pagan Turk,
Nursing wrath and keeping it warm.
If our best intentions pave the way
To a place that is somewhat hot,
Can our worst intentions lead us, say,
To a still more sultry spot?
'Tis said that charity makes amends
For a multitude of transgressions.
But our perjured loves and our faithless friends
Are entitled to no concessions.
Old man, these many years side by side
Our parallel paths have lain;
Now, in life's long journey, diverging wide,
They can scarcely unite again;
And tho', from all that I've seen and heard,
You're prone to chafe and to fret
At the least restraint, not one angry word
Have we two exchanged as yet.
We've shared our peril, we've shared our sport,
Our sunshine and gloomy weather,
Feasted and flirted, and fenced and fought,
Struggled and toiled together;
In happier moments lighter of heart,
Stouter of heart in sorrow;
We've met and we've parted, and now we part
For ever, perchance, to-morrow.
She's a matron now; when you knew her first
She was but a child, and your hate,
Fostered and cherished, nourished and nursed,
Will it never evaporate?
Your grievance is known to yourself alone,
But, Maurice, I say, for shame,
If in ten long years you haven't outgrown
Ill-will to an ancient flame.
Well, Mark, you're right; if I spoke in spite,
Let the shame and the blame be mine;
At the risk of a headache we'll drain this night
Her health in a flask of wine;
For a castle in Spain, tho' it never was built;
For a dream, tho' it never came true;
For a cup, just tasted, tho' rudely spilt,
At least she can hold me due.
Those hours of pleasure she dealt of yore,
As well as those hours of pain,
I ween they would flit as they flitted before,
If I had them over again.
Against her no word from my lips shall pass,
Betraying the grudge I've cherished,
Till the sand runs down in my hour-glass,
And the gift of my speech has perished.
Say! why is the spirit of peace so weak,
And the spirit of wrath so strong,
That the right we must steadily search and seek,
Tho' we readily find the wrong?
Our parents of old entailed the curse
Which must to our children cling;
Let us hope, at least, that we're not much worse
Than the founder from whom we spring.
Fit sire was he of a selfish race,
Who first to temptation yielded,
Then to mend his case tried to heap disgrace
On the woman he should have shielded.
Say! comrade mine, the forbidden fruit
We'd have plucked, that I well believe,
But I trust we'd rather have suffered mute
Than have laid the blame upon Eve.
Who knows? not I; I can hardly vouch
For the truth of what little I see;
And now, if you've any weed in your pouch,
Just hand it over to me.
An Exile's Farewell
The ocean heaves around us still
With long and measured swell,
The autumn gales our canvas fill,
Our ship rides smooth and well.
The broad Atlantic's bed of foam
Still breaks against our prow;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!
Against the bulwarks on the poop
I lean, and watch the sun
Behind the red horizon stoop --
His race is nearly run.
Those waves will never quench his light,
O'er which they seem to close,
To-morrow he will rise as bright
As he this morning rose.
How brightly gleams the orb of day
Across the trackless sea!
How lightly dance the waves that play
Like dolphins in our lee!
The restless waters seem to say,
In smothered tones to me,
How many thousand miles away
My native land must be!
Speak, Ocean! is my Home the same
Now all is new to me? --
The tropic sky's resplendent flame,
The vast expanse of sea?
Does all around her, yet unchanged,
The well-known aspect wear?
Oh! can the leagues that I have ranged
Have made no difference there?
How vivid Recollection's hand
Recalls the scene once more!
I see the same tall poplars stand
Beside the garden door;
I see the bird-cage hanging still;
And where my sister set
The flowers in the window-sill --
Can they be living yet?
Let woman's nature cherish grief,
I rarely heave a sigh
Before emotion takes relief
In listless apathy;
While from my pipe the vapours curl
Towards the evening sky,
And 'neath my feet the billows whirl
In dull monotony!
The sky still wears the crimson streak
Of Sol's departing ray,
Some briny drops are on my cheek,
'Tis but the salt sea spray!
Then let our barque the ocean roam,
Our keel the billows plough;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!
Adieu to kindred hearts and home,
To pleasure, joy, and mirth,
A fitter foot than mine to roam
Could scarcely tread the earth;
For they are now so few indeed
(Not more than three in all),
Who e'er will think of me or heed
What fate may me befall.
For I through pleasure's paths have run
My headlong goal to win,
Nor pleasure's snares have cared to shun
When pleasure sweetened sin.
Let those who will their failings mask,
To mine I frankly own;
But for them pardon will I ask
Of none -- save Heaven alone.
From carping friends I turn aside;
At foes defiance frown;
Yet time may tame my stubborn pride,
And break my spirit down.
Still, if to error I incline,
Truth whispers comfort strong,
That never reckless act of mine
E'er worked a comrade wrong.
My mother is a stately dame,
Who oft would chide with me;
She saith my riot bringeth shame,
And stains my pedigree.
I'd reck not what my friends might know,
Or what the world might say,
Did I but think some tears would flow
When I am far away.
Perchance my mother will recall
My mem'ry with a sigh;
My gentle sister's tears may fall,
And dim her laughing eye;
Perhaps a loving thought may gleam,
And fringe its saddened ray,
When, like a nightmare's troubled dream,
I, outcast, pass away.
Then once again farewell to those
Whoe'er for me have sighed;
For pleasures melt away like snows,
And hopes like shadows glide.
Adieu, my mother! if no more
Thy son's face thou may'st see,
At least those many cares are o'er
So ofttimes caused by me.
My lot is fixed! The die is cast!
For me home hath no joy!
Oh, pardon then all follies past,
And bless your wayward boy!
And thou, from whom for aye to part
Grieves more than tongue can tell,
May Heaven preserve thy guileless heart,
Sweet sister, fare thee well!
Thou, too, whose loving-kindness makes
My resolution less,
While from the bitter past it takes
One half its bitterness,
If e'er you held my mem'ry dear,
Grant this request, I pray --
Give to that mem'ry one bright tear,
And let it pass away.
A Hunting Song
Here's a health to every sportsman, be he stableman or lord,
If his heart be true, I care not what his pocket may afford;
And may he ever pleasantly each gallant sport pursue,
If he takes his liquor fairly, and his fences fairly, too.
He cares not for the bubbles of Fortune's fickle tide,
Who like Bendigo can battle, and like Olliver can ride.
He laughs at those who caution, at those who chide he'll frown,
As he clears a five-foot paling, or he knocks a peeler down.
The dull, cold world may blame us, boys! but what care we the while,
If coral lips will cheer us, and bright eyes on us smile?
For beauty's fond caresses can most tenderly repay
The weariness and trouble of many an anxious day.
Then fill your glass, and drain it, too, with all your heart and soul,
To the best of sports -- The Fox-hunt, The Fair Ones, and The Bowl,
To a stout heart in adversity through every ill to steer,
And when Fortune smiles a score of friends like those around us here.
To a Proud Beauty
Though I have loved you well, I ween,
And you, too, fancied me,
Your heart hath too divided been
A constant heart to be.
And like the gay and youthful knight,
Who loved and rode away,
Your fleeting fancy takes a flight
With every fleeting day.
So let it be as you propose,
Tho' hard the struggle be;
'Tis fitter far -- that goodness knows! --
Since we cannot agree.
Let's quarrel once for all, my sweet,
Forget the past -- and then
I'll kiss each pretty girl I meet,
While you'll flirt with the men.
I've something of the bull-dog in my breed,
The spaniel is developed somewhat less;
While life is in me I can fight and bleed,
But never the chastising hand caress.
You say the stroke was well intended. "True."
You mention "It was meant to do me good."
"That may be." "You deserve it." "Granted, too."
"Then take it kindly." "No -- I never could."
* * * * *
How many a resolution to amend
Is made, and broken, as the years run round!
And how can others on your word depend,
When faithless to ourselves we're often found?
I've often swore -- "Henceforward I'll reform,
And bid my vices, follies, all take wing."
To keep my promise, 'mid temptation's storm,
I've always found was quite another thing.
* * * * *
I saw a donkey going down the road
The other day; a boy was on his back,
Who on the long-eared quadruped bestowed,
With a stout cudgel, many a hearty thwack;
But lazier and lazier grew the beast,
Until he dwindled to a step so slow
That I felt sure 'twould take him, at the least,
Full half-an-hour one blessed mile to go.
Soliloquising on this state of things,
"That moke's like me," I muttered, with a sigh;
"He might go faster if he'd got some wings,
But Nature's made him better off than I;
For though I've all his obstinacy -- aye! all --
His sullen spirit, and his dogged ways,
I've not one particle, however small,
Of that praiseworthy patience he displays."
A man is independent of the world,
And little recks of strife or angry brawl,
If 'gainst a host his banner be unfurled,
Be his heart stout, it matters not at all.
With woman 'tis not so; for she seems hurled
From hand to hand, as is a tennis ball.
How queer that such a difference should be
Between a human he and human she.
'Tis a wicked world we live in;
Wrong in reason, wrong in rhyme;
But no matter: we'll not give in
While we still can come to time.
Strength's a shadow; Hope is madness,
Love, delusion; Friendship, sham;
Pleasure fades away to sadness,
None of these are worth a d----n.
There is naught on earth to please us;
All things at the crisis fail.
Friends desert us, bailiffs tease us --
(To such foes we give leg-bail).
But a stout heart still maintaining,
Quells the ills we all must meet,
And a spirit fear disdaining
Lays our troubles at our feet.
So we'll ne'er surrender tamely
To the ills that throng us fast.
If we must die, let's die gamely;
Luck may take a turn at last.
[End of Miscellaneous Poems.]
Ashtaroth: A Dramatic Lyric
HUGO, a Norman Baron and a Scholar.
ERIC, a friend of Hugo's.
RALPH, | Followers of Hugo.
HENRY, a Page.
HUBERT, | Monks living in a Norman Chapel.
BASIL, Abbot of a Convent on the Rhine.
CYRIL, a Monk of the same Convent.
OSRIC, a Norwegian Adventurer, and formerly a Corsair.
RUDOLPH, an Outlawed Count, and the Captain of a Band of Robbers.
DAGOBERT, the Captain of some predatory Soldiers called "Free Lances".
HAROLD, a Danish Knight.
ELSPETH, a Nurse of Thora's, |
URSULA, Abbess of the Convent on the Rhine, |
NUNS, etc. | Women.
Men-at-arms, Soldiers, and Robbers; Monks, Friars, and Churchmen, Spirits,
Ashtaroth: A Dramatic Lyric
SCENE -- A Castle in Normandy.
A Study in a Tower; HUGO seated at a table covered with maps and charts
of the heavens, astronomical instruments, books, manuscripts, &c.
Enter HENRY, a Page.
Well, boy, what is it?
Henry: The feast is spread.
Why tarry the guests for me?
Let Eric sit at the table's head;
Alone I desire to be. [Henry goes out.]
What share have I at their festive board?
Their mirth I can only mar;
To me no pleasure their cups afford,
Their songs on my silence jar.
With an aching eye and a throbbing brain,
And yet with a hopeful heart,
I must toil and strain with the planets again
When the rays of the sun depart;
He who must needs with the topers tope,
And the feasters feast in the hall,
How can he hope with a matter to cope
That is immaterial?
He who his appetite stints and curbs,
Shut up in the northern wing,
With his rye-bread flavoured with bitter herbs,
And his draught from the tasteless spring,
Good sooth, he is but a sorry clown.
There are some good things upon earth --
Pleasure and power and fair renown,
And wisdom of worldly worth!
There is wisdom in follies that charm the sense,
In follies that light the eyes,
But the folly to wisdom that makes pretence
Is alone by the fool termed wise.
Thy speech, Orion, is somewhat rude;
Perchance, having jeer'd and scoff'd
To thy fill, thou wilt curb thy jeering mood;
I wot thou hast served me oft.
This plan of the skies seems fairly traced;
What errors canst thou detect?
Nay, the constellations are misplaced,
And the satellites incorrect;
Leave the plan to me; you have time to seek
An hour of needful rest,
The night is young and the planets are weak;
See, the sun still reddens the west.
I fear I shall sleep too long.
Orion: If you do
It matters not much; the sky
Is cloudy, the stars will be faint and few;
Now, list to my lullaby.
[Hugo reclines on a couch.]
Still the darkling skies are red,
Though the day-god's course is run;
Heavenly night-lamps overhead
Flash and twinkle one by one.
Idle dreamer -- earth-born elf!
Vainly grasping heavenly things,
Wherefore weariest thou thyself
With thy vain imaginings?
From the tree of knowledge first,
Since his parents pluck'd the fruit,
Man, with partial knowledge curs'd,
Of the tree still seeks the root;
Musty volumes crowd thy shelf --
Which of these true knowledge brings?
Wherefore weariest thou thyself
With thy vain imaginings?
Will the stars from heaven descend?
Can the earth-worm soar and rise?
Can the mortal comprehend
Heaven's own hallow'd mysteries?
Greed and glory, power and pelf --
These are won by clowns and kings;
Wherefore weariest thou thyself
With thy vain imaginings?
Sow and reap, and toil and spin;
Eat and drink, and dream and die;
Man may strive, yet never win,
And I laugh the while and cry --
Idle dreamer, earth-born elf!
Vainly grasping heavenly things,
Wherefore weariest thou thyself
With thy vain imaginings?
He sleeps, and his sleep appears serene,
Whatever dreams it has brought him --
[Looks at the plans.]
If he knows what those hieroglyphics mean,
He's wiser than one who taught him.
Why does he number the Pole-star thus?
Or the Pleiades why combine?
And what is he doing with Sirius,
In the devil's name or in mine?
Man thinks, discarding the beaten track,
That the sins of his youth are slain,
When he seeks fresh sins, but he soon comes back
To his old pet sins again.
SCENE -- The Same.
HUGO waking, ORION seated near him. Daybreak.
Oh, weary spirit! oh, cloudy eyes!
Oh, heavy and misty brain!
Yon riddle that lies 'twixt earth and skies,
Ye seek to explore in vain!
See, the east is grey; put those scrolls away,
And hide them far from my sight;
I will toil and study no more by day,
I will watch no longer by night;
I have labour'd and long'd, and now I seem
No nearer the mystic goal;
Orion, I fain would devise some scheme
To quiet this restless soul;
To distant climes I would fain depart --
I would travel by sea or land.
Nay, I warn'd you of this, "Short life, long art",
The proverb, though stale, will stand;
Full many a sage from youth to age
Has toil'd to obtain what you
Would master at once. In a pilgrimage,
Forsooth, there is nothing new;
Though virtue, I ween, in change of scene,
And vigour in change of air,
Will always be, and has always been,
And travel is a tonic rare.
Still, the restless, discontented mood
For the time alone is eased;
It will soon return with hunger renew'd,
And appetite unappeased.
Nathless I could teach a shorter plan
To win that wisdom you crave,
That lore that is seldom attain'd by man
From the cradle down to the grave.
Such lore I had rather do without,
It hath nothing mystic nor awful
In my eye. Nay, I despise and doubt
The arts that are term'd unlawful;
'Twixt science and magic the line lies plain,
I shall never wittingly pass it;
There is now no compact between us twain.
Orion: But an understanding tacit.
You have prospered much since the day we met;
You were then a landless knight;
You now have honour and wealth, and yet
I never can serve you right.
Enough; we will start this very day,
Thurston, Eric, and I,
And the baffled visions will pass away,
And the restless fires will die.
Till the fuel expires that feeds those fires
They smoulder and live unspent;
Give a mortal all that his heart desires,
He is less than ever content.
SCENE -- A Cliff on the Breton Coast, Overhanging the Sea.
Down drops the red sun; through the gloaming
They burst -- raging waves of the sea,
Foaming out their own shame -- ever foaming
Their leprosy up with fierce glee;
Flung back from the stone, snowy fountains
Of feathery flakes, scarcely flag
Where, shock after shock, the green mountains
Explode on the iron-grey crag.
The salt spray with ceaseless commotion
Leaps round me. I sit on the verge
Of the cliff -- 'twixt the earth and the ocean --
With feet overhanging the surge.
In thy grandeur, oh, sea! we acknowledge,
In thy fairness, oh, earth! we confess,
Hidden truths that are taught in no college,
Hidden songs that no parchments express.
Were they wise in their own generations,
Those sages and sagas of old?
They have pass'd; o'er their names and their nations
Time's billows have silently roll'd;
They have pass'd, leaving little to their children,
Save histories of a truth far from strict;
Or theories more vague and bewildering,
Since three out of four contradict.
Lost labour! vain bookworms have sat in
The halls of dull pedants who teach
Strange tongues, the dead lore of the Latin,
The scroll that is god-like and Greek:
Have wasted life's springtide in learning
Things long ago learnt all in vain;
They are slow, very slow, in discerning
That book lore and wisdom are twain.
Pale shades of a creed that was mythic,
By time or by truth overcome,
Your Delphian temples and Pythic
Are ruins deserted and dumb;
Your Muses are hush'd, and your Graces
Are bruised and defaced; and your gods,
Enshrin'd and enthron'd in high places
No longer, are powerless as clods;
By forest and streamlet, where glisten'd
Fair feet of the Naiads that skimm'd
The shallows; where the Oreads listen'd,
Rose-lipp'd, amber-hair'd, marble-limb'd,
No lithe forms disport in the river,
No sweet faces peer through the boughs,
Elms and beeches wave silent for ever,
Ever silent the bright water flows.
(Were they duller or wiser than we are,
Those heathens of old? Who shall say?
Worse or better? Thy wisdom, O "Thea
Glaucopis", was wise in thy day;
And the false gods alluring to evil,
That sway'd reckless votaries then,
Were slain to no purpose; they revel
Re-crowned in the hearts of us men.)
Dead priests of Osiris and Isis,
And Apis! that mystical lore,
Like a nightmare, conceived in a crisis
Of fever, is studied no more;
Dead Magian! yon star-troop that spangles
The arch of yon firmament vast
Looks calm, like a host of white angels,
On dry dust of votaries past.
On seas unexplored can the ship shun
Sunk rocks? Can man fathom life's links,
Past or future, unsolved by Egyptian
Or Theban, unspoken by Sphinx?
The riddle remains still unravell'd
By students consuming night oil.
Oh, earth! we have toil'd, we have travail'd,
How long shall we travail and toil?
How long? The short life that fools reckon
So sweet, by how much is it higher
Than brute life? -- the false gods still beckon,
And man, through the dust and the mire,
Toils onward, as toils the dull bullock,
Unreasoning, brutish, and blind,
With Ashtaroth, Mammon, and Moloch
In front, and Alecto behind.
The wise one of earth, the Chaldean,
Serves folly in wisdom's disguise;
And the sensual Epicurean,
Though grosser, is hardly less wise;
'Twixt the former, half pedant, half pagan,
And the latter, half sow and half sloth,
We halt, choose Astarte or Dagon,
Or sacrifice freely to both.
With our reason that seeks to disparage,
Brute instinct it fails to subdue;
With our false illegitimate courage,
Our sophistry, vain and untrue;
Our hopes that ascend so and fall so,
Our passions, fierce hates and hot loves,
We are wise (aye, the snake is wise also) --
Wise as serpents, NOT harmless as doves.
Some flashes, like faint sparks from heaven,
Come rarely with rushing of wings;
We are conscious at times we have striven,
Though seldom, to grasp better things;
These pass, leaving hearts that have falter'd,
Good angels with faces estranged,
And the skin of the Ethiop unalter'd,
And the spots of the leopard unchanged.
Oh, earth! pleasant earth! have we hanker'd
To gather thy flowers and thy fruits?
The roses are wither'd, and canker'd
The lilies, and barren the roots
Of the fig-tree, the vine, the wild olive,
Sharp thorns and sad thistles that yield
Fierce harvest -- so WE live, and SO live
The perishing beasts of the field.
And withal we are conscious of evil
And good -- of the spirit and the clod,
Of the power in our hearts of a devil,
Of the power in our souls of a God,
Whose commandments are graven in no cypher,
But clear as His sun -- from our youth
One at least we have cherished -- "An eye for
An eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
Oh, man! of thy Maker the image;
To passion, to pride, or to wealth,
Sworn bondsman, from dull youth to dim age,
Thy portion the fire or the filth,
Dross seeking, dead pleasure's death rattle
Thy memories' happiest song,
And thy highest hope -- scarce a drawn battle
With dark desperation. How long?
* * * * *
Roar louder! leap higher! ye surf-beds,
And sprinkle your foam on the furze;
Bring the dreams that brought sleep to our turf-beds,
To camps of our long ago years,
With the flashing and sparkling of broadswords,
With the tossing of banners and spears,
With the trampling of hard hoofs on hard swards,
With the mingling of trumpets and cheers.
* * * * *
The gale has gone down; yet outlasting
The gale, raging waves of the sea,
Casting up their own foam, ever casting
Their leprosy up with wild glee,
Still storm; so in rashness and rudeness
Man storms through the days of his grace;
Yet man cannot fathom God's goodness,
Exceeding God's infinite space.
And coldly and calmly and purely
Grey rock and green hillock lie white
In star-shine dream-laden -- so surely
Night cometh -- so cometh the night
When we, too, at peace with our neighbour,
May sleep where God's hillocks are piled,
Thanking HIM for a rest from day's labour,
And a sleep like the sleep of a child!
SCENE -- The Castle in Normandy.
THORA working at embroidery, ELSPETH spinning.
We severed in autumn early,
Ere the earth was torn by the plough;
The wheat and the oats and the barley
Are ripe for the harvest now.
We sunder'd one misty morning,
Ere the hills were dimm'd by the rain,
Through the flowers those hills adorning --
Thou comest not back again.
My heart is heavy and weary
With the weight of a weary soul;
The mid-day glare grows dreary,
And dreary the midnight scroll.
The corn-stalks sigh for the sickle,
'Neath the load of the golden grain;
I sigh for a mate more fickle --
Thou comest not back again.
The warm sun riseth and setteth,
The night bringeth moistening dew,
But the soul that longeth forgetteth
The warmth and the moisture too;
In the hot sun rising and setting
There is naught save feverish pain;
There are tears in the night-dews wetting --
Thou comest not back again.
Thy voice in mine ear still mingles
With the voices of whisp'ring trees;
Thy kiss on my cheek still tingles
At each kiss of the summer breeze;
While dreams of the past are thronging
For substance of shades in vain,
I am waiting, watching, and longing --
Thou comest not back again.
Waiting and watching ever,
Longing and lingering yet,
Leaves rustle and corn-stalks quiver,
Winds murmur and waters fret;
No answer they bring, no greeting,
No speech save that sad refrain,
Nor voice, save an echo repeating --
He cometh not back again.
Thine eldest sister is wedded to Max;
With Biorn, Hilda hath cast her lot.
If the husbands vanish'd, and left no tracks,
Would the wives have cause for sorrow, I wot?
How well I remember that dreary ride;
How I sigh'd for the lands of ice and snow,
In the trackless wastes of the desert wide,
With the sun o'erhead and the sand below;
'Neath the scanty shades of the feathery palms,
How I sigh'd for the forest of sheltering firs,
Whose shadows environ'd the Danish farms,
Where I sang and sported in childish years.
On the fourteenth day of our pilgrimage
We stayed at the foot of a sandhill high;
Our fever'd thirst we could scarce assuage
At the brackish well that was nearly dry,
And the hot sun rose, and the hot sun set,
And we rode all the day through a desert land,
And we camp'd where the lake and the river met,
On sedge and shingle and shining sand:
Enfolded in Hugo's cloak I slept,
Or watch'd the stars while I lay awake;
And close to our feet the staghound crept,
And the horses were grazing beside the lake;
Now we own castles and serving men,
Lands and revenues. What of that?
Hugo the Norman was kinder then,
And happier was Thora of Armorat.
Nay, I warn'd thee, with Norman sails unfurl'd
Above our heads, when we wished thee joy,
That men are the same all over the world,
They will worship only the newest toy;
Yet Hugo is kind and constant too,
Though somewhat given to studies of late;
Biorn is sottish, and Max untrue,
And worse than thine is thy sisters' fate.
But a shadow darkens the chamber door.
'Tis I, Lady Thora; our lord is near.
My horse being fresher, I rode before;
Both he and Eric will soon be here.
Good Thurston, give me your hand. You are
Most welcome. What has delayed you thus?
Both by sea and land we have travell'd far,
Yet little of note has happened to us --
We were wreck'd on the shores of Brittany,
Near the coast of Morbihan iron-bound;
The rocks were steep and the surf ran high,
Thy kinsman, Eric, was well-nigh drown'd.
By a swarm of knaves we were next beset,
Who took us for corsairs; then released
By a Breton count, whose name I forget.
Now I go, by your leave, to tend my beast.
[He goes out.]
That man is rude and froward of speech:
My ears are good, though my sight grows dim.
Thurston is faithful. Thou canst not teach
Courtly nor servile manners to him.
SCENE -- The Castle Hall.
THURSTON, RALPH, EUSTACE, and other followers of HUGO,
seated at a long table. HAROLD seated apart.
Who is that stranger, dark and tall,
On the wooden settle next to the wall --
Mountebank, pilgrim, or wandering bard?
To define his calling is somewhat hard;
Lady Thora has taken him by the hand
Because he has come from the Holy Land.
Pilgrims and palmers are all the rage
With her, since she shared in that pilgrimage
With Hugo. The stranger came yesterday,
And would have gone on, but she bade him stay.
Besides, he sings in the Danish tongue
The songs she has heard in her childhood sung.
That's all I know of him, good or bad;
In my own opinion he's somewhat mad.
You must raise your voice if you speak with him,
And he answers as though his senses were dim.
Thurston (to Harold):
Good-morrow, sir stranger.
Harold: Good-morrow, friend.
Where do you come from? and whither wend?
I have travelled of late with the setting sun
At my back; and as soon as my task is done
I purpose to turn my face to the north --
Yet we know not what a day may bring forth.
Indeed we don't.
(To Eustace, aside): Nay, I know him now
By that ugly scar that crosses his brow;
And the less we say to him the better.
Your judgment is right to the very letter --
The man is mad.
Eustace: But harmless, I think;
He eats but little, eschews strong drink,
And only speaks when spoken to first.
Harmless or not, he was once the worst
And bitterest foe Lord Hugo had;
And yet his story is somewhat sad.
May I hear it?
Thurston: Nay, I never reveal
What concerns me not. Our lord may conceal
Or divulge at pleasure his own affairs, --
Not even his comrade Eric shares
His secrets; though Eric thinks him wise,
Which is more than I do, for I despise
That foolish science he learnt in Rome.
He dreams and mopes when he sits at home,
And now he's not much better abroad;
'Tis hard to follow so tame a lord.
'Twixt us two, he won't be worth a rush
If he will persist in his studies ----
Ralph has persuaded our guest to sing.
I have known the day when his voice would ring
Till the rafters echoed.
Eustace: 'Tis pleasant still,
Though far too feeble this hall to fill.
On the current, where the wide
Windings of the river
Eddy to the North Sea tide,
Shall I in my shallop glide,
As I have done at her side?
Never! never! never!
In the forest, where the firs,
Pines, and larches quiver