Part 12 out of 31
But the Berserks evermore
Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor
The gleams of the fire-light dance
Upon helmet and hauberk and lance,
And laugh in the eyes of the King;
And he cries to Halfred the Scald,
Gray-bearded, wrinkled, and bald,
"Sing me a song divine,
With a sword in every line,
And this shall be thy reward."
And he loosened the belt at his waist,
And in front of the singer placed
"Quern-biter of Hakon the Good,
Wherewith at a stroke he hewed
The millstone through and through,
And Foot-breadth of Thoralf the Strong,
Were neither so broad nor so long,
Nor so true."
Then the Scald took his harp and sang,
And loud though the music rang
The sound of that shining word;
And the harp-strings a clangor made,
As if they were struck with the blade
Of a sword.
And the Berserks round about
Broke forth into a shout
That made the rafters ring:
They smote with their fists on the board,
And shouted, "Long live the Sword,
And the King!"
But the King said, "O my son,
I miss the bright word in one
Of thy measures and thy rhymes."
And Halfred the Scald replied,
"In another 't was multiplied
Then King Olaf raised the hilt
Of iron, cross-shaped and gilt,
And said, "Do not refuse;
Count well the gain and the loss,
Thor's hammer or Christ's cross:
And Halfred the Scald said, "This
In the name of the Lord I kiss,
Who on it was crucified!"
And a shout went round the board,
"In the name of Christ the Lord,
Then over the waste of snows
The noonday sun uprose,
Through the driving mists revealed,
Like the lifting of the Host,
By incense-clouds almost
On the shining wall a vast
And shadowy cross was cast
From the hilt of the lifted sword,
And in foaming cups of ale
The Berserks drank "Was-hael!
To the Lord!"
THE BUILDING OF THE LONG SERPENT
Thorberg Skafting, master-builder,
In his ship-yard by the sea,
Whistling, said, "It would bewilder
Any man but Thorberg Skafting,
Any man but me!"
Near him lay the Dragon stranded,
Built of old by Raud the Strong,
And King Olaf had commanded
He should build another Dragon,
Twice as large and long.
Therefore whistled Thorberg Skafting,
As he sat with half-closed eyes,
And his head turned sideways, drafting
That new vessel for King Olaf
Twice the Dragon's size.
Round him busily hewed and hammered
Mallet huge and heavy axe;
Workmen laughed and sang and clamored;
Whirred the wheels, that into rigging
Spun the shining flax!
All this tumult heard the master,--
It was music to his ear;
Fancy whispered all the faster,
"Men shall hear of Thorberg Skafting
For a hundred year!"
Workmen sweating at the forges
Fashioned iron bolt and bar,
Like a warlock's midnight orgies
Smoked and bubbled the black caldron
With the boiling tar.
Did the warlocks mingle in it,
Thorberg Skafting, any curse?
Could you not be gone a minute
But some mischief must be doing,
Turning bad to worse?
'T was an ill wind that came wafting,
From his homestead words of woe
To his farm went Thorberg Skafting,
Oft repeating to his workmen,
Build ye thus and so.
After long delays returning
Came the master back by night
To his ship-yard longing, yearning,
Hurried he, and did not leave it
Till the morning's light.
"Come and see my ship, my darling"
On the morrow said the King;
"Finished now from keel to carling;
Never yet was seen in Norway
Such a wondrous thing!"
In the ship-yard, idly talking,
At the ship the workmen stared:
Some one, all their labor balking,
Down her sides had cut deep gashes,
Not a plank was spared!
"Death be to the evil-doer!"
With an oath King Olaf spoke;
"But rewards to his pursuer
And with wrath his face grew redder
Than his scarlet cloak.
Straight the master-builder, smiling,
Answered thus the angry King:
"Cease blaspheming and reviling,
Olaf, it was Thorberg Skafting
Who has done this thing!"
Then he chipped and smoothed the planking,
Till the King, delighted, swore,
With much lauding and much thanking,
"Handsomer is now my Dragon
Than she was before!"
Seventy ells and four extended
On the grass the vessel's keel;
High above it, gilt and splendid,
Rose the figure-head ferocious
With its crest of steel.
Then they launched her from the tressels,
In the ship-yard by the sea;
She was the grandest of all vessels,
Never ship was built in Norway
Half so fine as she!
The Long Serpent was she christened,
'Mid the roar of cheer on cheer!
They who to the Saga listened
Heard the name of Thorberg Skafting
For a hundred year!
THE CREW OF THE LONG SERPENT
Safe at anchor in Drontheim bay
King Olaf's fleet assembled lay,
And, striped with white and blue,
Downward fluttered sail and banner,
As alights the screaming lanner;
Lustily cheered, in their wild manner,
The Long Serpent's crew
Her forecastle man was Ulf the Red,
Like a wolf's was his shaggy head,
His teeth as large and white;
His beard, of gray and russet blended,
Round as a swallow's nest descended;
As standard-bearer he defended
Olaf's flag in the fight.
Near him Kolbiorn had his place,
Like the King in garb and face,
So gallant and so hale;
Every cabin-boy and varlet
Wondered at his cloak of scarlet;
Like a river, frozen and star-lit,
Gleamed his coat of mail.
By the bulkhead, tall and dark,
Stood Thrand Rame of Thelemark,
A figure gaunt and grand;
On his hairy arm imprinted
Was an anchor, azure-tinted;
Like Thor's hammer, huge and dinted
Was his brawny hand.
Einar Tamberskelver, bare
To the winds his golden hair,
By the mainmast stood;
Graceful was his form, and slender,
And his eyes were deep and tender
As a woman's, in the splendor
Of her maidenhood.
In the fore-hold Biorn and Bork
Watched the sailors at their work:
Heavens! how they swore!
Thirty men they each commanded,
Shoulders broad, and chests expanded.
Tugging at the oar.
These, and many more like these,
With King Olaf sailed the seas,
Till the waters vast
Filled them with a vague devotion,
With the freedom and the motion,
With the roll and roar of ocean
And the sounding blast.
When they landed from the fleet,
How they roared through Drontheim's street,
Boisterous as the gale!
How they laughed and stamped and pounded,
Till the tavern roof resounded,
And the host looked on astounded
As they drank the ale!
Never saw the wild North Sea
Such a gallant company
Sail its billows blue!
Never, while they cruised and quarrelled,
Old King Gorm, or Blue-Tooth Harald,
Owned a ship so well apparelled,
Boasted such a crew!
A LITTLE BIRD IN THE AIR
A little bird in the air
Is singing of Thyri the fair,
The sister of Svend the Dane;
And the song of the garrulous bird
In the streets of the town is heard,
And repeated again and again.
Hoist up your sails of silk,
And flee away from each other.
To King Burislaf, it is said,
Was the beautiful Thyri wed,
And a sorrowful bride went she;
And after a week and a day,
She has fled away and away,
From his town by the stormy sea.
Hoist up your sails of silk,
And flee away from each other.
They say, that through heat and through cold,
Through weald, they say, and through wold,
By day and by night, they say,
She has fled; and the gossips report
She has come to King Olaf's court,
And the town is all in dismay.
Hoist up your sails of silk,
And flee away from each other.
It is whispered King Olaf has seen,
Has talked with the beautiful Queen;
And they wonder how it will end;
For surely, if here she remain,
It is war with King Svend the Dane,
And King Burislaf the Vend!
Hoist up your sails of silk,
And flee away from each other.
O, greatest wonder of all!
It is published in hamlet and hall,
It roars like a flame that is fanned!
The King--yes, Olaf the King--
Has wedded her with his ring,
And Thyri is Queen in the land!
Hoist up your sails of silk,
And flee away from each other.
QUEEN THYRI AND THE ANGELICA STALKS
Northward over Drontheim,
Flew the clamorous sea-gulls,
Sang the lark and linnet
From the meadows green;
Weeping in her chamber,
Lonely and unhappy,
Sat the Drottning Thyri,
Sat King Olaf's Queen.
In at all the windows
Streamed the pleasant sunshine,
On the roof above her
Softly cooed the dove;
But the sound she heard not,
Nor the sunshine heeded,
For the thoughts of Thyri
Were not thoughts of love,
Then King Olaf entered,
Beautiful as morning,
Like the sun at Easter
Shone his happy face;
In his hand he carried
With delicious fragrance
Filling all the place.
Like a rainy midnight
Sat the Drottning Thyri,
Even the smile of Olaf
Could not cheer her gloom;
Nor the stalks he gave her
With a gracious gesture,
And with words as pleasant
As their own perfume.
In her hands he placed them,
And her jewelled fingers
Through the green leaves glistened
Like the dews of morn;
But she cast them from her,
Haughty and indignant,
On the floor she threw them
With a look of scorn.
"Richer presents," said she,
"Gave King Harald Gormson
To the Queen, my mother,
Than such worthless weeds;
"When he ravaged Norway,
Laying waste the kingdom,
Seizing scatt and treasure
For her royal needs.
"But thou darest not venture
Through the Sound to Vendland,
My domains to rescue
From King Burislaf;
"Lest King Svend of Denmark,
Forked Beard, my brother,
Scatter all thy vessels
As the wind the chaff."
Then up sprang King Olaf,
Like a reindeer bounding,
With an oath he answered
Thus the luckless Queen:
"Never yet did Olaf
Fear King Svend of Denmark;
This right hand shall hale him
By his forked chin!"
Then he left the chamber,
Thundering through the doorway,
Loud his steps resounded
Down the outer stair.
Smarting with the insult,
Through the streets of Drontheim
Strode he red and wrathful,
With his stately air.
All his ships he gathered,
Summoned all his forces,
Making his war levy
In the region round;
Down the coast of Norway,
Like a flock of sea-gulls,
Sailed the fleet of Olaf
Through the Danish Sound.
With his own hand fearless,
Steered he the Long Serpent,
Strained the creaking cordage,
Bent each boom and gaff;
Till in Venland landing,
The domains of Thyri
He redeemed and rescued
From King Burislaf.
Then said Olaf, laughing,
"Not ten yoke of oxen
Have the power to draw us
Like a woman's hair!
"Now will I confess it,
Better things are jewels
Than angelica stalks are
For a Queen to wear."
KING SVEND OF THE FORKED BEAR
Loudly the sailors cheered
Svend of the Forked Beard,
As with his fleet he steered
Southward to Vendland;
Where with their courses hauled
All were together called,
Under the Isle of Svald
Near to the mainland.
After Queen Gunhild's death,
So the old Saga saith,
Plighted King Svend his faith
To Sigrid the Haughty;
And to avenge his bride,
Soothing her wounded pride,
Over the waters wide
King Olaf sought he.
Still on her scornful face,
Blushing with deep disgrace,
Bore she the crimson trace
Of Olaf's gauntlet;
Like a malignant star,
Blazing in heaven afar,
Red shone the angry scar
Under her frontlet.
Oft to King Svend she spake,
"For thine own honor's sake
Shalt thou swift vengeance take
On the vile coward!"
Until the King at last,
Gusty and overcast,
Like a tempestuous blast
Threatened and lowered.
Soon as the Spring appeared,
Svend of the Forked Beard
High his red standard reared,
Eager for battle;
While every warlike Dane,
Seizing his arms again,
Left all unsown the grain,
Unhoused the cattle.
Likewise the Swedish King
Summoned in haste a Thing,
Weapons and men to bring
In aid of Denmark;
Erie the Norseman, too,
As the war-tidings flew,
Sailed with a chosen crew
From Lapland and Finmark.
So upon Easter day
Sailed the three kings away,
Out of the sheltered bay,
In the bright season;
With them Earl Sigvald came,
Eager for spoil and fame;
Pity that such a name
Stooped to such treason!
Safe under Svald at last,
Now were their anchors cast,
Safe from the sea and blast,
Plotted the three kings;
While, with a base intent,
Southward Earl Sigvald went,
On a foul errand bent,
Unto the Sea-kings.
Thence to hold on his course,
Unto King Olaf's force,
Lying within the hoarse
Mouths of Stet-haven;
Him to ensnare and bring,
Unto the Danish king,
Who his dead corse would fling
Forth to the raven!
KING OLAF AND EARL SIGVALD
On the gray sea-sands
King Olaf stands,
Northward and seaward
He points with his hands.
With eddy and whirl
The sea-tides curl,
Washing the sandals
Of Sigvald the Earl.
The mariners shout,
The ships swing about,
The yards are all hoisted,
The sails flutter out.
The war-horns are played,
The anchors are weighed,
Like moths in the distance
The sails flit and fade.
The sea is like lead
The harbor lies dead,
As a corse on the sea-shore,
Whose spirit has fled!
On that fatal day,
The histories say,
Sailed out of the bay.
But soon scattered wide
O'er the billows they ride,
While Sigvald and Olaf
Sail side by side.
Cried the Earl: "Follow me!
I your pilot will be,
For I know all the channels
Where flows the deep sea!"
So into the strait
Where his foes lie in wait,
Gallant King Olaf
Sails to his fate!
Then the sea-fog veils
The ships and their sails;
Queen Sigrid the Haughty,
Thy vengeance prevails!
KING OLAF'S WAR-HORNS
"Strike the sails!" King Olaf said;
"Never shall men of mine take flight;
Never away from battle I fled,
Never away from my foes!
Let God dispose
Of my life in the fight!"
"Sound the horns!" said Olaf the King;
And suddenly through the drifting brume
The blare of the horns began to ring,
Like the terrible trumpet shock
On the Day of Doom!
Louder and louder the war-horns sang
Over the level floor of the flood;
All the sails came down with a clang,
And there in the mist overhead
The sun hung red
As a drop of blood.
Drifting down on the Danish fleet
Three together the ships were lashed,
So that neither should turn and retreat;
In the midst, but in front of the rest
The burnished crest
Of the Serpent flashed.
King Olaf stood on the quarter-deck,
With bow of ash and arrows of oak,
His gilded shield was without a fleck,
His helmet inlaid with gold,
And in many a fold
Hung his crimson cloak.
On the forecastle Ulf the Red
Watched the lashing of the ships;
"If the Serpent lie so far ahead,
We shall have hard work of it here,
Said he with a sneer
On his bearded lips.
King Olaf laid an arrow on string,
"Have I a coward on board?" said he.
"Shoot it another way, O King!"
Sullenly answered Ulf,
The old sea-wolf;
"You have need of me!"
In front came Svend, the King of the Danes,
Sweeping down with his fifty rowers;
To the right, the Swedish king with his thanes;
And on board of the Iron Beard
Earl Eric steered
To the left with his oars.
"These soft Danes and Swedes," said the King,
"At home with their wives had better stay,
Than come within reach of my Serpent's sting:
But where Eric the Norseman leads
Will be done to-day!"
Then as together the vessels crashed,
Eric severed the cables of hide,
With which King Olaf's ships were lashed,
And left them to drive and drift
With the currents swift
Of the outward tide.
Louder the war-horns growl and snarl,
Sharper the dragons bite and sting!
Eric the son of Hakon Jarl
A death-drink salt as the sea
Pledges to thee,
Olaf the King!
It was Einar Tamberskelver
Stood beside the mast;
From his yew-bow, tipped with silver,
Flew the arrows fast;
Aimed at Eric unavailing,
As he sat concealed,
Half behind the quarter-railing,
Half behind his shield.
First an arrow struck the tiller,
Just above his head;
"Sing, O Eyvind Skaldaspiller,"
Then Earl Eric said.
"Sing the song of Hakon dying,
Sing his funeral wail!"
And another arrow flying
Grazed his coat of mail.
Turning to a Lapland yeoman,
As the arrow passed,
Said Earl Eric, "Shoot that bowman
Standing by the mast."
Sooner than the word was spoken
Flew the yeoman's shaft;
Einar's bow in twain was broken,
Einar only laughed.
"What was that?" said Olaf, standing
On the quarter-deck.
"Something heard I like the stranding
Of a shattered wreck."
Einar then, the arrow taking
From the loosened string,
Answered, "That was Norway breaking
From thy hand, O King!"
"Thou art but a poor diviner,"
Straightway Olaf said;
"Take my bow, and swifter, Einar,
Let thy shafts be sped."
Of his bows the fairest choosing,
Reached he from above;
Einar saw the blood-drops oozing
Through his iron glove.
But the bow was thin and narrow;
At the first assay,
O'er its head he drew the arrow,
Flung the bow away;
Said, with hot and angry temper
Flushing in his cheek,
"Olaf! for so great a Kamper
Are thy bows too weak!"
Then, with smile of joy defiant
On his beardless lip,
Scaled he, light and self-reliant,
Loose his golden locks were flowing,
Bright his armor gleamed;
Like Saint Michael overthrowing
Lucifer he seemed.
KING OLAF'S DEATH-DRINK
All day has the battle raged,
All day have the ships engaged,
But not yet is assuaged
The vengeance of Eric the Earl.
The decks with blood are red,
The arrows of death are sped,
The ships are filled with the dead,
And the spears the champions hurl.
They drift as wrecks on the tide,
The grappling-irons are plied,
The boarders climb up the side,
The shouts are feeble and few.
Ah! never shall Norway again
See her sailors come back o'er the main;
They all lie wounded or slain,
Or asleep in the billows blue!
On the deck stands Olaf the King,
Around him whistle and sing
The spears that the foemen fling,
And the stones they hurl with their hands.
In the midst of the stones and the spears,
Kolbiorn, the marshal, appears,
His shield in the air he uprears,
By the side of King Olaf he stands.
Over the slippery wreck
Of the Long Serpent's deck
Sweeps Eric with hardly a check,
His lips with anger are pale;
He hews with his axe at the mast,
Till it falls, with the sails overcast,
Like a snow-covered pine in the vast
Dim forests of Orkadale.
Seeking King Olaf then,
He rushes aft with his men,
As a hunter into the den
Of the bear, when he stands at bay.
"Remember Jarl Hakon!" he cries;
When lo! on his wondering eyes,
Two kingly figures arise,
Two Olaf's in warlike array!
Then Kolbiorn speaks in the ear
Of King Olaf a word of cheer,
In a whisper that none may hear,
With a smile on his tremulous lip;
Two shields raised high in the air,
Two flashes of golden hair,
Two scarlet meteors' glare,
And both have leaped from the ship.
Earl Eric's men in the boats
Seize Kolbiorn's shield as it floats,
And cry, from their hairy throats,
"See! it is Olaf the King!"
While far on the opposite side
Floats another shield on the tide,
Like a jewel set in the wide
Sea-current's eddying ring.
There is told a wonderful tale,
How the King stripped off his mail,
Like leaves of the brown sea-kale,
As he swam beneath the main;
But the young grew old and gray,
And never, by night or by day,
In his kingdom of Norroway
Was King Olaf seen again!
THE NUN OF NIDAROS
In the convent of Drontheim,
Alone in her chamber
Knelt Astrid the Abbess,
At midnight, adoring,
The Virgin and Mother.
She heard in the silence
The voice of one speaking,
Without in the darkness,
In gusts of the night-wind
Now louder, now nearer,
Now lost in the distance.
The voice of a stranger
It seemed as she listened,
Of some one who answered,
A cry from afar off
She could not distinguish.
The voice of Saint John,
The beloved disciple,
Who wandered and waited
The Master's appearance.
Alone in the darkness,
Unsheltered and friendless.
"It is accepted
The angry defiance
The challenge of battle!
It is accepted,
But not with the weapons
Of war that thou wieldest!
"Cross against corselet,
Love against hatred,
Peace-cry for war-cry!
Patience is powerful;
He that o'ercometh
Hath power o'er the nations!
"As torrents in summer,
Half dried in their channels,
Suddenly rise, though the
Sky is still cloudless,
For rain has been falling
Far off at their fountains;
So hearts that are fainting
Grow full to o'erflowing,
And they that behold it
Marvel, and know not
That God at their fountains
Far off has been raining!
"Stronger than steel
Is the sword of the Spirit;
Swifter than arrows
The light of the truth is,
Greater than anger
Is love, and subdueth!
"Thou art a phantom,
A shape of the sea-mist,
A shape of the brumal
Rain, and the darkness
Fearful and formless;
Day dawns and thou art not!
"The dawn is not distant,
Nor is the night starless;
Love is eternal!
God is still God, and
His faith shall not fail us
Christ is eternal!"
A strain of music closed the tale,
A low, monotonous, funeral wail,
That with its cadence, wild and sweet,
Made the long Saga more complete.
"Thank God," the Theologian said,
"The reign of violence is dead,
Or dying surely from the world;
While Love triumphant reigns instead,
And in a brighter sky o'erhead
His blessed banners are unfurled.
And most of all thank God for this:
The war and waste of clashing creeds
Now end in words, and not in deeds,
And no one suffers loss, or bleeds,
For thoughts that men call heresies.
"I stand without here in the porch,
I hear the bell's melodious din,
I hear the organ peal within,
I hear the prayer, with words that scorch
Like sparks from an inverted torch,
I hear the sermon upon sin,
With threatenings of the last account.
And all, translated in the air,
Reach me but as our dear Lord's Prayer,
And as the Sermon on the Mount.
"Must it be Calvin, and not Christ?
Must it be Athanasian creeds,
Or holy water, books, and beads?
Must struggling souls remain content
With councils and decrees of Trend?
And can it be enough for these
The Christian Church the year embalms
With evergreens and boughs of palms,
And fills the air with litanies?
"I know that yonder Pharisee
Thanks God that he is not like me;
In my humiliation dressed,
I only stand and beat my breast,
And pray for human charity.
"Not to one church alone, but seven,
The voice prophetic spake from heaven;
And unto each the promise came,
Diversified, but still the same;
For him that overcometh are
The new name written on the stone,
The raiment white, the crown, the throne,
And I will give him the Morning Star!
"Ah! to how many Faith has been
No evidence of things unseen,
But a dim shadow, that recasts
The creed of the Phantasiasts,
For whom no Man of Sorrows died,
For whom the Tragedy Divine
Was but a symbol and a sign,
And Christ a phantom crucified!
"For others a diviner creed
Is living in the life they lead.
The passing of their beautiful feet
Blesses the pavement of the street
And all their looks and words repeat
Old Fuller's saying, wise and sweet,
Not as a vulture, but a dove,
The Holy Ghost came from above.
"And this brings back to me a tale
So sad the hearer well may quail,
And question if such things can be;
Yet in the chronicles of Spain
Down the dark pages runs this stain,
And naught can wash them white again,
So fearful is the tragedy."
THE THEOLOGIAN'S TALE
In the heroic days when Ferdinand
And Isabella ruled the Spanish land,
And Torquemada, with his subtle brain,
Ruled them, as Grand Inquisitor of Spain,
In a great castle near Valladolid,
Moated and high and by fair woodlands hid,
There dwelt as from the chronicles we learn,
An old Hidalgo proud and taciturn,
Whose name has perished, with his towers of stone,
And all his actions save this one alone;
This one, so terrible, perhaps 't were best
If it, too, were forgotten with the rest;
Unless, perchance, our eyes can see therein
The martyrdom triumphant o'er the sin;
A double picture, with its gloom and glow,
The splendor overhead, the death below.
This sombre man counted each day as lost
On which his feet no sacred threshold crossed;
And when he chanced the passing Host to meet,
He knelt and prayed devoutly in the street;
Oft he confessed; and with each mutinous thought,
As with wild beasts at Ephesus, he fought.
In deep contrition scourged himself in Lent,
Walked in processions, with his head down bent,
At plays of Corpus Christi oft was seen,
And on Palm Sunday bore his bough of green.
His sole diversion was to hunt the boar
Through tangled thickets of the forest hoar,
Or with his jingling mules to hurry down
To some grand bull-fight in the neighboring town,
Or in the crowd with lighted taper stand,
When Jews were burned, or banished from the land.
Then stirred within him a tumultuous joy;
The demon whose delight is to destroy
Shook him, and shouted with a trumpet tone,
Kill! kill! and let the Lord find out his own!"
And now, in that old castle in the wood,
His daughters, in the dawn of womanhood,
Returning from their convent school, had made
Resplendent with their bloom the forest shade,
Reminding him of their dead mother's face,
When first she came into that gloomy place,--
A memory in his heart as dim and sweet
As moonlight in a solitary street,
Where the same rays, that lift the sea, are thrown
Lovely but powerless upon walls of stone.
These two fair daughters of a mother dead
Were all the dream had left him as it fled.
A joy at first, and then a growing care,
As if a voice within him cried, "Beware
A vague presentiment of impending doom,
Like ghostly footsteps in a vacant room,
Haunted him day and night; a formless fear
That death to some one of his house was near,
With dark surmises of a hidden crime,
Made life itself a death before its time.
Jealous, suspicious, with no sense of shame,
A spy upon his daughters he became;
With velvet slippers, noiseless on the floors,
He glided softly through half-open doors;
Now in the room, and now upon the stair,
He stood beside them ere they were aware;
He listened in the passage when they talked,
He watched them from the casement when they walked,
He saw the gypsy haunt the river's side,
He saw the monk among the cork-trees glide;
And, tortured by the mystery and the doubt
Of some dark secret, past his finding out,
Baffled he paused; then reassured again
Pursued the flying phantom of his brain.
He watched them even when they knelt in church;
And then, descending lower in his search,
Questioned the servants, and with eager eyes
Listened incredulous to their replies;
The gypsy? none had seen her in the wood!
The monk? a mendicant in search of food!
At length the awful revelation came,
Crushing at once his pride of birth and name;
The hopes his yearning bosom forward cast,
And the ancestral glories of the vast,
All fell together, crumbling in disgrace,
A turret rent from battlement to base.
His daughters talking in the dead of night
In their own chamber, and without a light,
Listening, as he was wont, he overheard,
And learned the dreadful secret, word by word;
And hurrying from his castle, with a cry
He raised his hands to the unpitying sky,
Repeating one dread word, till bush and tree
Caught it, and shuddering answered, "Heresy!"
Wrapped in his cloak, his hat drawn o'er his face,
Now hurrying forward, now with lingering pace,
He walked all night the alleys of his park,
With one unseen companion in the dark,
The Demon who within him lay in wait,
And by his presence turned his love to hate,
Forever muttering in an undertone,
"Kill! kill! and let the Lord find out his own!"
Upon the morrow, after early Mass,
While yet the dew was glistening on the grass,
And all the woods were musical with birds,
The old Hidalgo, uttering fearful words,
Walked homeward with the Priest, and in his room
Summoned his trembling daughters to their doom.
When questioned, with brief answers they replied,
Nor when accused evaded or denied;
Expostulations, passionate appeals,
All that the human heart most fears or feels,
In vain the Priest with earnest voice essayed;
In vain the father threatened, wept, and prayed;
Until at last he said, with haughty mien,
"The Holy Office, then, must intervene!"
And now the Grand Inquisitor of Spain,
With all the fifty horsemen of his train,
His awful name resounding, like the blast
Of funeral trumpets, as he onward passed,
Came to Valladolid, and there began
To harry the rich Jews with fire and ban.
To him the Hidalgo went, and at the gate
Demanded audience on affairs of state,
And in a secret chamber stood before
A venerable graybeard of fourscore,
Dressed in the hood and habit of a friar;
Out of his eyes flashed a consuming fire,
And in his hand the mystic horn he held,
Which poison and all noxious charms dispelled.
He heard in silence the Hidalgo's tale,
Then answered in a voice that made him quail:
"Son of the Church! when Abraham of old
To sacrifice his only son was told,
He did not pause to parley nor protest
But hastened to obey the Lord's behest.
In him it was accounted righteousness;
The Holy Church expects of thee no less!"
A sacred frenzy seized the father's brain,
And Mercy from that hour implored in vain.
Ah! who will e'er believe the words I say?
His daughters he accused, and the same day
They both were cast into the dungeon's gloom,
That dismal antechamber of the tomb,
Arraigned, condemned, and sentenced to the flame,
The secret torture and the public shame.
Then to the Grand Inquisitor once more
The Hidalgo went, more eager than before,
And said: "When Abraham offered up his son,
He clave the wood wherewith it might be done.
By his example taught, let me too bring
Wood from the forest for my offering!"
And the deep voice, without a pause, replied:
"Son of the Church! by faith now justified,
Complete thy sacrifice, even as thou wilt;
The Church absolves thy conscience from all guilt!"
Then this most wretched father went his way
Into the woods, that round his castle lay,
Where once his daughters in their childhood played
With their young mother in the sun and shade.
Now all the leaves had fallen; the branches bare
Made a perpetual moaning in the air,
And screaming from their eyries overhead
The ravens sailed athwart the sky of lead.
With his own hands he lopped the boughs and bound
Fagots, that crackled with foreboding sound,
And on his mules, caparisoned and gay
With bells and tassels, sent them on their way.
Then with his mind on one dark purpose bent,
Again to the Inquisitor he went,
And said: "Behold, the fagots I have brought,
And now, lest my atonement be as naught,
Grant me one more request, one last desire,--
With my own hand to light the funeral fire!"
And Torquemada answered from his seat,
"Son of the Church! Thine offering is complete;
Her servants through all ages shall not cease
To magnify thy deed. Depart in peace!"
Upon the market-place, builded of stone
The scaffold rose, whereon Death claimed his own.
At the four corners, in stern attitude,
Four statues of the Hebrew Prophets stood,
Gazing with calm indifference in their eyes
Upon this place of human sacrifice,
Round which was gathering fast the eager crowd,
With clamor of voices dissonant and loud,
And every roof and window was alive
With restless gazers, swarming like a hive.
The church-bells tolled, the chant of monks drew near,
Loud trumpets stammered forth their notes of fear,
A line of torches smoked along the street,
There was a stir, a rush, a tramp of feet,
And, with its banners floating in the air,
Slowly the long procession crossed the square,
And, to the statues of the Prophets bound,
The victims stood, with fagots piled around.
Then all the air a blast of trumpets shook,
And louder sang the monks with bell and book,
And the Hidalgo, lofty, stern, and proud,
Lifted his torch, and, bursting through the crowd,
Lighted in haste the fagots, and then fled,
Lest those imploring eyes should strike him dead!
O pitiless skies! why did your clouds retain
For peasants' fields their floods of hoarded rain?
O pitiless earth! why open no abyss
To bury in its chasm a crime like this?
That night a mingled column of fire and smoke
Prom the dark thickets of the forest broke,
And, glaring o'er the landscape leagues away,
Made all the fields and hamlets bright as day.
Wrapped in a sheet of flame the castle blazed,
And as the villagers in terror gazed,
They saw the figure of that cruel knight
Lean from a window in the turret's height,
His ghastly face illumined with the glare,
His hands upraised above his head in prayer,
Till the floor sank beneath him, and he fell
Down the black hollow of that burning well.
Three centuries and more above his bones
Have piled the oblivious years like funeral stones;
His name has perished with him, and no trace
Remains on earth of his afflicted race;
But Torquemada's name, with clouds o'ercast,
Looms in the distant landscape of the Past,
Like a burnt tower upon a blackened heath,
Lit by the fires of burning woods beneath!
Thus closed the tale of guilt and gloom,
That cast upon each listener's face
Its shadow, and for some brief space
Unbroken silence filled the room.
The Jew was thoughtful and distressed;
Upon his memory thronged and pressed
The persecution of his race,
Their wrongs and sufferings and disgrace;
His head was sunk upon his breast,
And from his eyes alternate came
Flashes of wrath and tears of shame.
The student first the silence broke,
As one who long has lain in wait
With purpose to retaliate,
And thus he dealt the avenging stroke.
"In such a company as this,
A tale so tragic seems amiss,
That by its terrible control
O'ermasters and drags down the soul
Into a fathomless abyss.
The Italian Tales that you disdain,
Some merry Night of Straparole,
Or Machiavelli's Belphagor,
Would cheer us and delight us more,
Give greater pleasure and less pain
Than your grim tragedies of Spain!"
And here the Poet raised his hand,
With such entreaty and command,
It stopped discussion at its birth,
And said: "The story I shall tell
Has meaning in it, if not mirth;
Listen, and hear what once befell
The merry birds of Killingworth!"
THE POET'S TALE
THE BIRDS OF KILLINGWORTH
It was the season, when through all the land
The merle and mavis build, and building sing
Those lovely lyrics, written by His hand,
Whom Saxon Caedmon calls the Blitheheart King;
When on the boughs the purple buds expand,
The banners of the vanguard of the Spring,
And rivulets, rejoicing, rush and leap,
And wave their fluttering signals from the steep.
The robin and the bluebird, piping loud,
Filled all the blossoming orchards with their glee;
The sparrows chirped as if they still were proud
Their race in Holy Writ should mentioned be;
And hungry crows assembled in a crowd,
Clamored their piteous prayer incessantly,
Knowing who hears the ravens cry, and said:
"Give us, O Lord, this day our daily bread!"
Across the Sound the birds of passage sailed,
Speaking some unknown language strange and sweet
Of tropic isle remote, and passing hailed
The village with the cheers of all their fleet;
Or quarrelling together, laughed and railed
Like foreign sailors, landed in the street
Of seaport town, and with outlandish noise
Of oaths and gibberish frightening girls and boys.
Thus came the jocund Spring in Killingworth,
In fabulous day; some hundred years ago;
And thrifty farmers, as they tilled the earth,
Heard with alarm the cawing of the crow,
That mingled with the universal mirth,
Cassandra-like, prognosticating woe;
They shook their heads, and doomed with dreadful words
To swift destruction the whole race of birds.
And a town-meeting was convened straightway
To set a price upon the guilty heads
Of these marauders, who, in lieu of pay,
Levied black-mail upon the garden beds
And cornfields, and beheld without dismay
The awful scarecrow, with his fluttering shreds;
The skeleton that waited at their feast,
Whereby their sinful pleasure was increased.
Then from his house, a temple painted white,
With fluted columns, and a roof of red,
The Squire came forth, august and splendid sight!
Slowly descending, with majestic tread,
Three flights of steps, nor looking left nor right,
Down the long street he walked, as one who said,
"A town that boasts inhabitants like me
Can have no lack of good society!"
The Parson, too, appeared, a man austere,
The instinct of whose nature was to kill;
The wrath of God he preached from year to year,
And read, with fervor, Edwards on the Will;
His favorite pastime was to slay the deer
In Summer on some Adirondac hill;
E'en now, while walking down the rural lane,
He lopped the wayside lilies with his cane.
From the Academy, whose belfry crowned
The hill of Science with its vane of brass,
Came the Preceptor, gazing idly round,
Now at the clouds, and now at the green grass,
And all absorbed in reveries profound
Of fair Almira in the upper class,
Who was, as in a sonnet he had said,
As pure as water, and as good as bread.
And next the Deacon issued from his door,
In his voluminous neck-cloth, white as snow;
A suit of sable bombazine he wore;
His form was ponderous, and his step was slow;
There never was so wise a man before;
He seemed the incarnate "Well, I told you so!"
And to perpetuate his great renown
There was a street named after him in town.
These came together in the new town-hall,
With sundry farmers from the region round.
The Squirt presided, dignified and tall,
His air impressive and his reasoning sound;
Ill fared it with the birds, both great and small;
Hardly a friend in all that crowd they found,
But enemies enough, who every one
Charged them with all the crimes beneath the sun.
When they had ended, from his place apart,
Rose the Preceptor, to redress the wrong,
And, trembling like a steed before the start,
Looked round bewildered on the expectant throng;
Then thought of fair Almira, and took heart
To speak out what was in him, clear and strong,
Alike regardless of their smile or frown,
And quite determined not to be laughed down.
"Plato, anticipating the Reviewers,
From his Republic banished without pity
The Poets; in this little town of yours,
You put to death, by means of a Committee,
The ballad-singers and the Troubadours,
The street-musicians of the heavenly city,
The birds, who make sweet music for us all
In our dark hours, as David did for Saul.
"The thrush that carols at the dawn of day
From the green steeples of the piny wood;
The oriole in the elm; the noisy jay,
Jargoning like a foreigner at his food;
The bluebird balanced on some topmost spray,
Flooding with melody the neighborhood;
Linnet and meadow-lark, and all the throng
That dwell in nests, and have the gift of song.
"You slay them all! and wherefore! for the gain
Of a scant handful more or less of wheat,
Or rye, or barley, or some other grain,
Scratched up at random by industrious feet,
Searching for worm or weevil after rain!
Or a few cherries, that are not so sweet
As are the songs these uninvited guests,
Sing at their feast with comfortable breasts.
"Do you ne'er think what wondrous beings these?
Do you ne'er think who made them and who taught
The dialect they speak, where melodies
Alone are the interpreters of thought?
Whose household words are songs in many keys,
Sweeter than instrument of man e'er caught!
Whose habitations in the tree-tops even
Are half-way houses on the road to heaven!
"Think, every morning when the sun peeps through
The dim, leaf-latticed windows of the grove,
How jubilant the happy birds renew
Their old, melodious madrigals of love!
And when you think of this, remember too
'T is always morning somewhere, and above
The awakening continent; from shore to shore,
Somewhere the birds are singing evermore.
"Think of your woods and orchards without birds!
Of empty nests that cling to boughs and beams
As in an idiot's brain remembered words
Hang empty 'mid the cobwebs of his dreams!
Will bleat of flocks or bellowing of herds
Make up for the lost music, when your teams
Drag home the stingy harvest, and no more
The feathered gleaners follow to your door?
"What! would you rather see the incessant stir
Of insects in the windrows of the hay,
And hear the locust and the grasshopper
Their melancholy hurdy-gurdies play?
Is this more pleasant to you than the whir
Of meadow-lark, and her sweet roundelay,
Or twitter of little field-fares, as you take
Your nooning in the shade of bush and brake?
"You call them thieves and pillagers; but know,
They are the winged wardens of your farms,
Who from the cornfields drive the insidious foe,
And from your harvests keep a hundred harms;
Even the blackest of them all, the crow,
Renders good service as your man-at-arms,
Crushing the beetle in his coat of mail,
And crying havoc on the slug and snail.
"How can I teach your children gentleness,
And mercy to the weak, and reverence
For Life, which, in its weakness or excess,
Is still a gleam of God's omnipotence,
Or Death, which, seeming darkness, is no less
The selfsame light, although averted hence,
When by your laws, your actions, and your speech,
You contradict the very things I teach?"
With this he closed; and through the audience went
A murmur, like the rustle of dead leaves;
The farmers laughed and nodded, and some bent
Their yellow heads together like their sheaves;
Men have no faith in fine-spun sentiment
Who put their trust in bullocks and in beeves.
The birds were doomed; and, as the record shows,
A bounty offered for the heads of crows.
There was another audience out of reach,
Who had no voice nor vote in making laws,
But in the papers read his little speech,
And crowned his modest temples with applause;
They made him conscious, each one more than each,
He still was victor, vanquished in their cause.
Sweetest of all the applause he won from thee,
O fair Almira at the Academy!
And so the dreadful massacre began;
O'er fields and orchards, and o'er woodland crests,
The ceaseless fusillade of terror ran.
Dead fell the birds, with blood-stains on their breasts,
Or wounded crept away from sight of man,
While the young died of famine in their nests;
A slaughter to be told in groans, not words,
The very St. Bartholomew of Birds!
The Summer came, and all the birds were dead;
The days were like hot coals; the very ground
Was burned to ashes; in the orchards fed
Myriads of caterpillars, and around
The cultivated fields and garden beds
Hosts of devouring insects crawled, and found
No foe to check their march, till they had made
The land a desert without leaf or shade.
Devoured by worms, like Herod, was the town,
Because, like Herod, it had ruthlessly
Slaughtered the Innocents. From the trees spun down
The canker-worms upon the passers-by,
Upon each woman's bonnet, shawl, and gown,
Who shook them off with just a little cry
They were the terror of each favorite walk,
The endless theme of all the village talk.
The farmers grew impatient but a few
Confessed their error, and would not complain,
For after all, the best thing one can do
When it is raining, is to let it rain.
Then they repealed the law, although they knew
It would not call the dead to life again;
As school-boys, finding their mistake too late,
Draw a wet sponge across the accusing slate.
That year in Killingworth the Autumn came
Without the light of his majestic look,
The wonder of the falling tongues of flame,
The illumined pages of his Doom's-Day book.
A few lost leaves blushed crimson with their shame,
And drowned themselves despairing in the brook,
While the wild wind went moaning everywhere,
Lamenting the dead children of the air!
But the next Spring a stranger sight was seen,
A sight that never yet by bard was sung,
As great a wonder as it would have been
If some dumb animal had found a tongue!
A wagon, overarched with evergreen,
Upon whose boughs were wicker cages hung,
All full of singing birds, came down the street,
Filling the air with music wild and sweet.
From all the country round these birds were brought,
By order of the town, with anxious quest,
And, loosened from their wicker prisons, sought
In woods and fields the places they loved best,
Singing loud canticles, which many thought
Were satires to the authorities addressed,
While others, listening in green lanes, averred
Such lovely music never had been heard!
But blither still and louder carolled they
Upon the morrow, for they seemed to know
It was the fair Almira's wedding-day,
And everywhere, around, above, below,
When the Preceptor bore his bride away,
Their songs burst forth in joyous overflow,
And a new heaven bent over a new earth
Amid the sunny farms of Killingworth.
The hour was late; the fire burned low,
The Landlord's eyes were closed in sleep,
And near the story's end a deep
Sonorous sound at times was heard,
As when the distant bagpipes blow.
At this all laughed; the Landlord stirred,
As one awaking from a swound,
And, gazing anxiously around,
Protested that he had not slept,
But only shut his eyes, and kept
His ears attentive to each word.
Then all arose, and said "Good Night."
Alone remained the drowsy Squire
To rake the embers of the fire,
And quench the waning parlor light.
While from the windows, here and there,
The scattered lamps a moment gleamed,
And the illumined hostel seemed
The constellation of the Bear,
Downward, athwart the misty air,
Sinking and setting toward the sun,
Far off the village clock struck one.
A cold, uninterrupted rain,
That washed each southern window-pane,
And made a river of the road;
A sea of mist that overflowed
The house, the barns, the gilded vane,
And drowned the upland and the plain,
Through which the oak-trees, broad and high,
Like phantom ships went drifting by;
And, hidden behind a watery screen,
The sun unseen, or only seen
As a faint pallor in the sky;--
Thus cold and colorless and gray,
The morn of that autumnal day,
As if reluctant to begin,
Dawned on the silent Sudbury Inn,
And all the guests that in it lay.
Full late they slept. They did not hear
The challenge of Sir Chanticleer,
Who on the empty threshing-floor,
Disdainful of the rain outside,
Was strutting with a martial stride,
As if upon his thigh he wore
The famous broadsword of the Squire,
And said, "Behold me, and admire!"
Only the Poet seemed to hear,
In drowse or dream, more near and near
Across the border-land of sleep
The blowing of a blithesome horn,
That laughed the dismal day to scorn;
A splash of hoofs and rush of wheels
Through sand and mire like stranding keels,
As from the road with sudden sweep
The Mail drove up the little steep,
And stopped beside the tavern door;
A moment stopped, and then again
With crack of whip and bark of dog
Plunged forward through the sea of fog,
And all was silent as before,--
All silent save the dripping rain.
Then one by one the guests came down,
And greeted with a smile the Squire,
Who sat before the parlor fire,
Reading the paper fresh from town.
First the Sicilian, like a bird,
Before his form appeared, was heard
Whistling and singing down the stair;
Then came the Student, with a look
As placid as a meadow-brook;
The Theologian, still perplexed
With thoughts of this world and the next;
The Poet then, as one who seems
Walking in visions and in dreams;
Then the Musician, like a fair
Hyperion from whose golden hair
The radiance of the morning streams;
And last the aromatic Jew
Of Alicant, who, as he threw
The door wide open, on the air
Breathed round about him a perfume
Of damask roses in full bloom,
Making a garden of the room.
The breakfast ended, each pursued
The promptings of his various mood;
Beside the fire in silence smoked
The taciturn, impassive Jew,
Lost in a pleasant revery;
While, by his gravity provoked,
His portrait the Sicilian drew,
And wrote beneath it "Edrehi,
At the Red Horse in Sudbury."
By far the busiest of them all,
The Theologian in the hall
Was feeding robins in a cage,--
Two corpulent and lazy birds,
Vagrants and pilferers at best,
If one might trust the hostler's words,
Chief instrument of their arrest;
Two poets of the Golden Age,
Heirs of a boundless heritage
Of fields and orchards, east and west,
And sunshine of long summer days,
Though outlawed now and dispossessed!--
Such was the Theologian's phrase.
Meanwhile the Student held discourse
With the Musician, on the source
Of all the legendary lore
Among the nations, scattered wide
Like silt and seaweed by the force
And fluctuation of the tide;
The tale repeated o'er and o'er,
With change of place and change of name,
Disguised, transformed, and yet the same
We've heard a hundred times before.
The Poet at the window mused,
And saw, as in a dream confused,
The countenance of the Sun, discrowned,
And haggard with a pale despair,
And saw the cloud-rack trail and drift
Before it, and the trees uplift
Their leafless branches, and the air
Filled with the arrows of the rain,
And heard amid the mist below,
Like voices of distress and pain,
That haunt the thoughts of men insane,
The fateful cawings of the crow.
Then down the road, with mud besprent,
And drenched with rain from head to hoof,
The rain-drops dripping from his mane
And tail as from a pent-house roof,
A jaded horse, his head down bent,
Passed slowly, limping as he went.
The young Sicilian--who had grown
Impatient longer to abide
A prisoner, greatly mortified
To see completely overthrown
His plans for angling in the brook,
And, leaning o'er the bridge of stone,
To watch the speckled trout glide by,
And float through the inverted sky,
Still round and round the baited hook--
Now paced the room with rapid stride,
And, pausing at the Poet's side,
Looked forth, and saw the wretched steed,
And said: "Alas for human greed,
That with cold hand and stony eye
Thus turns an old friend out to die,
Or beg his food from gate to gate!
This brings a tale into my mind,
Which, if you are not disinclined
To listen, I will now relate."
All gave assent; all wished to hear,
Not without many a jest and jeer,
The story of a spavined steed;
And even the Student with the rest
Put in his pleasant little jest
Out of Malherbe, that Pegasus
Is but a horse that with all speed
Bears poets to the hospital;
While the Sicilian, self-possessed,
After a moment's interval
Began his simple story thus.
THE SICILIAN'S TALE
THE BELL OF ATRI
At Atri in Abruzzo, a small town
Of ancient Roman date, but scant renown,
One of those little places that have run
Half up the hill, beneath a blazing sun,
And then sat down to rest, as if to say,
"I climb no farther upward, come what may,"--
The Re Giovanni, now unknown to fame,
So many monarchs since have borne the name,
Had a great bell hung in the market-place
Beneath a roof, projecting some small space,
By way of shelter from the sun and rain.
Then rode he through the streets with all his train,
And, with the blast of trumpets loud and long,
Made proclamation, that whenever wrong
Was done to any man, he should but ring
The great bell in the square, and he, the King,
Would cause the Syndic to decide thereon.
Such was the proclamation of King John.
How swift the happy days in Atri sped,
What wrongs were righted, need not here be said.
Suffice it that, as all things must decay,
The hempen rope at length was worn away,
Unravelled at the end, and, strand by strand,
Loosened and wasted in the ringer's hand,
Till one, who noted this in passing by,
Mended the rope with braids of briony,
So that the leaves and tendrils of the vine
Hung like a votive garland at a shrine.
By chance it happened that in Atri dwelt
A knight, with spur on heel and sword in belt,
Who loved to hunt the wild-boar in the woods,
Who loved his falcons with their crimson hoods,
Who loved his hounds and horses, and all sports
And prodigalities of camps and courts;--
Loved, or had loved them; for at last, grown old,
His only passion was the love of gold.
He sold his horses, sold his hawks and hounds,
Rented his vineyards and his garden-grounds,
Kept but one steed, his favorite steed of all,
To starve and shiver in a naked stall,
And day by day sat brooding in his chair,
Devising plans how best to hoard and spare.
At length he said: "What is the use or need
To keep at my own cost this lazy steed,
Eating his head off in my stables here,
When rents are low and provender is dear?
Let him go feed upon the public ways;
I want him only for the holidays."
So the old steed was turned into the heat
Of the long, lonely, silent, shadeless street;
And wandered in suburban lanes forlorn,
Barked at by dogs, and torn by brier and thorn.
One afternoon, as in that sultry clime
It is the custom in the summer time,
With bolted doors and window-shutters closed,
The inhabitants of Atri slept or dozed;
When suddenly upon their senses fell
The loud alarum of the accusing bell!
The Syndic started from his deep repose,
Turned on his couch, and listened, and then rose
And donned his robes, and with reluctant pace
Went panting forth into the market-place,
Where the great bell upon its cross-beam swung
Reiterating with persistent tongue,
In half-articulate jargon, the old song:
"Some one hath done a wrong, hath done a wrong!"
But ere he reached the belfry's light arcade
He saw, or thought he saw, beneath its shade,
No shape of human form of woman born,
But a poor steed dejected and forlorn,
Who with uplifted head and eager eye
Was tugging at the vines of briony.
"Domeneddio!" cried the Syndie straight,
"This is the Knight of Atri's steed of state!
He calls for justice, being sore distressed,
And pleads his cause as loudly as the best."
Meanwhile from street and lane a noisy crowd
Had rolled together like a summer cloud,
And told the story of the wretched beast
In five-and-twenty different ways at least,
With much gesticulation and appeal
To heathen gods, in their excessive zeal.
The Knight was called and questioned; in reply
Did not confess the fact, did not deny;
Treated the matter as a pleasant jest,
And set at naught the Syndic and the rest,
Maintaining, in an angry undertone,
That he should do what pleased him with his own.
And thereupon the Syndic gravely read
The proclamation of the King; then said:
"Pride goeth forth on horseback grand and gay,
But cometh back on foot, and begs its way;
Fame is the fragrance of heroic deeds,
Of flowers of chivalry and not of weeds!
These are familiar proverbs; but I fear
They never yet have reached your knightly ear.
What fair renown, what honor, what repute
Can come to you from starving this poor brute?
He who serves well and speaks not, merits more
Than they who clamor loudest at the door.
Therefore the law decrees that as this steed
Served you in youth, henceforth you shall take heed
To comfort his old age, and to provide
Shelter in stall an food and field beside."
The Knight withdrew abashed; the people all
Led home the steed in triumph to his stall.
The King heard and approved, and laughed in glee
And cried aloud: "Right well it pleaseth me!
Church-bells at best but ring us to the door;
But go not in to mass; my bell doth more:
It cometh into court and pleads the cause
Of creatures dumb and unknown to the laws;
And this shall make, in every Christian clime,
The Bell of Atri famous for all time."
"Yes, well your story pleads the cause
Of those dumb mouths that have no speech,
Only a cry from each to each
In its own kind, with its own laws;
Something that is beyond the reach
Of human power to learn or teach,--
An inarticulate moan of pain,
Like the immeasurable main
Breaking upon an unknown beach."
Thus spake the Poet with a sigh;
Then added, with impassioned cry,
As one who feels the words he speaks,
The color flushing in his cheeks,
The fervor burning in his eye:
"Among the noblest in the land,
Though he may count himself the least,
That man I honor and revere
Who without favor, without fear,
In the great city dares to stand
The friend of every friendless beast,
And tames with his unflinching hand
The brutes that wear our form and face,
The were-wolves of the human race!"
Then paused, and waited with a frown,
Like some old champion of romance,
Who, having thrown his gauntlet down,
Expectant leans upon his lance;
But neither Knight nor Squire is found
To raise the gauntlet from the ground,
And try with him the battle's chance.
"Wake from your dreams, O Edrehi!
Or dreaming speak to us, and make
A feint of being half awake,
And tell us what your dreams may be.
Out of the hazy atmosphere
Of cloud-land deign to reappear
Among us in this Wayside Inn;
Tell us what visions and what scenes
Illuminate the dark ravines
In which you grope your way. Begin!"
Thus the Sicilian spake. The Jew
Made no reply, but only smiled,
As men unto a wayward child,
Not knowing what to answer, do.
As from a cavern's mouth, o'ergrown
With moss and intertangled vines,
A streamlet leaps into the light
And murmurs over root and stone
In a melodious undertone;
Or as amid the noonday night
Of sombre and wind-haunted pines,
There runs a sound as of the sea;
So from his bearded lips there came
A melody without a name,
A song, a tale, a history,
Or whatsoever it may be,
Writ and recorded in these lines.
THE SPANISH JEW'S TALE
Into the city of Kambalu,
By the road that leadeth to Ispahan,
At the head of his dusty caravan,
Laden with treasure from realms afar,
Baldacca and Kelat and Kandahar,
Rode the great captain Alau.
The Khan from his palace-window gazed,
And saw in the thronging street beneath,
In the light of the setting sun, that blazed
Through the clouds of dust by the caravan raised,
The flash of harness and jewelled sheath,
And the shining scymitars of the guard,
And the weary camels that bared their teeth,
As they passed and passed through the gates unbarred
Into the shade of the palace-yard.
Thus into the city of Kambalu
Rode the great captain Alau;
And he stood before the Khan, and said:
"The enemies of my lord are dead;
All the Kalifs of all the West
Bow and obey thy least behest;
The plains are dark with the mulberry-trees,
The weavers are busy in Samarcand,
The miners are sifting the golden sand,
The divers plunging for pearls in the seas,
And peace and plenty are in the land.
"Baldacca's Kalif, and he alone,
Rose in revolt against thy throne:
His treasures are at thy palace-door,
With the swords and the shawls and the jewels he wore;
His body is dust o'er the desert blown.
"A mile outside of Baldacca's gate
I left my forces to lie in wait,
Concealed by forests and hillocks of sand,
And forward dashed with a handful of men,
To lure the old tiger from his den
Into the ambush I had planned.
Ere we reached the town the alarm was spread,
For we heard the sound of gongs from within;
And with clash of cymbals and warlike din
The gates swung wide; and we turned and fled;
And the garrison sallied forth and pursued,
With the gray old Kalif at their head,
And above them the banner of Mohammed:
So we snared them all, and the town was subdued.
"As in at the gate we rode, behold,
A tower that is called the Tower of Gold!
For there the Kalif had hidden his wealth,
Heaped and hoarded and piled on high,
Like sacks of wheat in a granary;
And thither the miser crept by stealth
To feel of the gold that gave him health,
And to gaze and gloat with his hungry eye
On jewels that gleamed like a glow-worm's spark,
Or the eyes of a panther in the dark.
"I said to the Kalif: 'Thou art old,
Thou hast no need of so much gold.
Thou shouldst not have heaped and hidden it here,
Till the breath of battle was hot and near,
But have sown through the land these useless hoards
To spring into shining blades of swords,
And keep thine honor sweet and clear.