Part 14 out of 32
In an attitude imploring,
Hands upon his bosom crossed,
Wondering, worshipping, adoring,
Knelt the Monk in rapture lost.
Lord, he thought, in heaven that reignest,
Who am I, that thus thou deignest
To reveal thyself to me?
Who am I, that from the centre
Of thy glory thou shouldst enter
This poor cell, my guest to be?
Then amid his exaltation,
Loud the convent bell appalling,
From its belfry calling, calling,
Rang through court and corridor
With persistent iteration
He had never heard before.
It was now the appointed hour
When alike in shine or shower,
Winter's cold or summer's heat,
To the convent portals came
All the blind and halt and lame,
All the beggars of the street,
For their daily dole of food
Dealt them by the brotherhood;
And their almoner was he
Who upon his bended knee,
Rapt in silent ecstasy
Of divinest self-surrender,
Saw the Vision and the Splendor.
Deep distress and hesitation
Mingled with his adoration;
Should he go, or should he stay?
Should he leave the poor to wait
Hungry at the convent gate,
Till the Vision passed away?
Should he slight his radiant guest,
Slight this visitant celestial,
For a crowd of ragged, bestial
Beggars at the convent gate?
Would the Vision there remain?
Would the Vision come again?
Then a voice within his breast
Whispered, audible and clear
As if to the outward ear:
"Do thy duty; that is best;
Leave unto thy Lord the rest!"
Straightway to his feet he started,
And with longing look intent
On the Blessed Vision bent,
Slowly from his cell departed,
Slowly on his errand went.
At the gate the poor were waiting,
Looking through the iron grating,
With that terror in the eye
That is only seen in those
Who amid their wants and woes
Hear the sound of doors that close,
And of feet that pass them by;
Grown familiar with disfavor,
Grown familiar with the savor
Of the bread by which men die!
But to-day, they knew not why,
Like the gate of Paradise
Seemed the convent sate to rise,
Like a sacrament divine
Seemed to them the bread and wine.
In his heart the Monk was praying,
Thinking of the homeless poor,
What they suffer and endure;
What we see not, what we see;
And the inward voice was saying:
"Whatsoever thing thou doest
To the least of mine and lowest,
That thou doest unto me!"
Unto me! but had the Vision
Come to him in beggar's clothing,
Come a mendicant imploring,
Would he then have knelt adoring,
Or have listened with derision,
And have turned away with loathing.
Thus his conscience put the question,
Full of troublesome suggestion,
As at length, with hurried pace,
Towards his cell he turned his face,
And beheld the convent bright
With a supernatural light,
Like a luminous cloud expanding
Over floor and wall and ceiling.
But he paused with awe-struck feeling
At the threshold of his door,
For the Vision still was standing
As he left it there before,
When the convent bell appalling,
From its belfry calling, calling,
Summoned him to feed the poor.
Through the long hour intervening
It had waited his return,
And he felt his bosom burn,
Comprehending all the meaning,
When the Blessed Vision said,
"Hadst thou stayed, I must have fled!"
All praised the Legend more or less;
Some liked the moral, some the verse;
Some thought it better, and some worse
Than other legends of the past;
Until, with ill-concealed distress
At all their cavilling, at last
The Theologian gravely said:
"The Spanish proverb, then, is right;
Consult your friends on what you do,
And one will say that it is white,
And others say that it is red."
And "Amen!" quoth the Spanish Jew.
"Six stories told! We must have seven,
A cluster like the Pleiades,
And lo! it happens, as with these,
That one is missing from our heaven.
Where is the Landlord? Bring him here;
Let the Lost Pleiad reappear."
Thus the Sicilian cried, and went
Forthwith to seek his missing star,
But did not find him in the bar,
A place that landlords most frequent,
Nor yet beside the kitchen fire,
Nor up the stairs, nor in the hall;
It was in vain to ask or call,
There were no tidings of the Squire.
So he came back with downcast head,
Exclaiming: "Well, our bashful host
Hath surely given up the ghost.
Another proverb says the dead
Can tell no tales; and that is true.
It follows, then, that one of you
Must tell a story in his stead.
You must," he to the Student said,
"Who know so many of the best,
And tell them better than the rest."
Straight by these flattering words beguiled,
The Student, happy as a child
When he is called a little man,
Assumed the double task imposed,
And without more ado unclosed
His smiling lips, and thus began.
THE STUDENT'S SECOND TALE
THE BARON OF ST. CASTINE
Baron Castine of St. Castine
Has left his chateau in the Pyrenees,
And sailed across the western seas.
When he went away from his fair demesne
The birds were building, the woods were green;
And now the winds of winter blow
Round the turrets of the old chateau,
The birds are silent and unseen,
The leaves lie dead in the ravine,
And the Pyrenees are white with snow.
His father, lonely, old, and gray,
Sits by the fireside day by day,
Thinking ever one thought of care;
Through the southern windows, narrow and tall,
The sun shines into the ancient hall,
And makes a glory round his hair.
The house-dog, stretched beneath his chair,
Groans in his sleep as if in pain
Then wakes, and yawns, and sleeps again,
So silent is it everywhere,--
So silent you can hear the mouse
Run and rummage along the beams
Behind the wainscot of the wall;
And the old man rouses from his dreams,
And wanders restless through the house,
As if he heard strange voices call.
His footsteps echo along the floor
Of a distant passage, and pause awhile;
He is standing by an open door
Looking long, with a sad, sweet smile,
Into the room of his absent son.
There is the bed on which he lay,
There are the pictures bright and gay,
Horses and hounds and sun-lit seas;
There are his powder-flask and gun,
And his hunting-knives in shape of a fan;
The chair by the window where he sat,
With the clouded tiger-skin for a mat,
Looking out on the Pyrenees,
Looking out on Mount Marbore
And the Seven Valleys of Lavedan.
Ah me! he turns away and sighs;
There is a mist before his eyes.
At night whatever the weather be,
Wind or rain or starry heaven,
Just as the clock is striking seven,
Those who look from the windows see
The village Curate, with lantern and maid,
Come through the gateway from the park
And cross the courtyard damp and dark,--
A ring of light in a ring of shade.
And now at the old man's side he stands,
His voice is cheery, his heart expands,
He gossips pleasantly, by the blaze
Of the fire of fagots, about old days,
And Cardinal Mazarin and the Fronde,
And the Cardinal's nieces fair and fond,
And what they did, and what they said,
When they heard his Eminence was dead.
And after a pause the old man says,
His mind still coming back again
To the one sad thought that haunts his brain,
"Are there any tidings from over sea?
Ah, why has that wild boy gone from me?"
And the Curate answers, looking down,
Harmless and docile as a lamb,
"Young blood! young blood! It must so be!"
And draws from the pocket of his gown
A handkerchief like an oriflamb,
And wipes his spectacles, and they play
Their little game of lansquenet
In silence for an hour or so,
Till the clock at nine strikes loud and clear
From the village lying asleep below,
And across the courtyard, into the dark
Of the winding pathway in the park,
Curate and lantern disappear,
And darkness reigns in the old chateau.
The ship has come back from over sea,
She has been signalled from below,
And into the harbor of Bordeaux
She sails with her gallant company.
But among them is nowhere seen
The brave young Baron of St. Castine;
He hath tarried behind, I ween,
In the beautiful land of Acadie!
And the father paces to and fro
Through the chambers of the old chateau,
Waiting, waiting to hear the hum
Of wheels on the road that runs below,
Of servants hurrying here and there,
The voice in the courtyard, the step on the stair,
Waiting for some one who doth not come!
But letters there are, which the old man reads
To the Curate, when he comes at night
Word by word, as an acolyte
Repeats his prayers and tells his beads;
Letters full of the rolling sea,
Full of a young man's joy to be
Abroad in the world, alone and free;
Full of adventures and wonderful scenes
Of hunting the deer through forests vast
In the royal grant of Pierre du Gast;
Of nights in the tents of the Tarratines;
Of Madocawando the Indian chief,
And his daughters, glorious as queens,
And beautiful beyond belief;
And so soft the tones of their native tongue,
The words are not spoken, they are sung!
And the Curate listens, and smiling says:
"Ah yes, dear friend! in our young days
We should have liked to hunt the deer
All day amid those forest scenes,
And to sleep in the tents of the Tarratines;
But now it is better sitting here
Within four walls, and without the fear
Of losing our hearts to Indian queens;
For man is fire and woman is tow,
And the Somebody comes and begins to blow."
Then a gleam of distrust and vague surmise
Shines in the father's gentle eyes,
As fire-light on a window-pane
Glimmers and vanishes again;
But naught he answers; he only sighs,
And for a moment bows his head;
Then, as their custom is, they play
Their little gain of lansquenet,
And another day is with the dead.
Another day, and many a day
And many a week and month depart,
When a fatal letter wings its way
Across the sea, like a bird of prey,
And strikes and tears the old man's heart.
Lo! the young Baron of St. Castine,
Swift as the wind is, and as wild,
Has married a dusky Tarratine,
Has married Madocawando's child!
The letter drops from the father's hand;
Though the sinews of his heart are wrung,
He utters no cry, he breathes no prayer,
No malediction falls from his tongue;
But his stately figure, erect and grand,
Bends and sinks like a column of sand
In the whirlwind of his great despair.
Dying, yes, dying! His latest breath
Of parley at the door of death
Is a blessing on his wayward son.
Lower and lower on his breast
Sinks his gray head; he is at rest;
No longer he waits for any one;
For many a year the old chateau
Lies tenantless and desolate;
Rank grasses in the courtyard grow,
About its gables caws the crow;
Only the porter at the gate
Is left to guard it, and to wait
The coming of the rightful heir;
No other life or sound is there;
No more the Curate comes at night,
No more is seen the unsteady light,
Threading the alleys of the park;
The windows of the hall are dark,
The chambers dreary, cold, and bare!
At length, at last, when the winter is past,
And birds are building, and woods are green,
With flying skirts is the Curate seen
Speeding along the woodland way,
Humming gayly, "No day is so long
But it comes at last to vesper-song."
He stops at the porter's lodge to say
That at last the Baron of St. Castine
Is coming home with his Indian queen,
Is coming without a week's delay;
And all the house must be swept and clean,
And all things set in good array!
And the solemn porter shakes his head;
And the answer he makes is: "Lackaday!
We will see, as the blind man said!"
Alert since first the day began,
The cock upon the village church
Looks northward from his airy perch,
As if beyond the ken of man
To see the ships come sailing on,
And pass the isle of Oleron,
And pass the Tower of Cordouan.
In the church below is cold in clay
The heart that would have leaped for joy--
O tender heart of truth and trust!--
To see the coming of that day;
In the church below the lips are dust;
Dust are the hands, and dust the feet,
That would have been so swift to meet
The coming of that wayward boy.
At night the front of the old chateau
Is a blaze of light above and below;
There's a sound of wheels and hoofs in the street,
A cracking of whips, and scamper of feet,
Bells are ringing, and horns are blown,
And the Baron hath come again to his own.
The Curate is waiting in the hall,
Most eager and alive of all
To welcome the Baron and Baroness;
But his mind is full of vague distress,
For he hath read in Jesuit books
Of those children of the wilderness,
And now, good, simple man! he looks
To see a painted savage stride
Into the room, with shoulders bare,
And eagle feathers in her hair,
And around her a robe of panther's hide.
Instead, he beholds with secret shame
A form of beauty undefined,
A loveliness with out a name,
Not of degree, but more of kind;
Nor bold nor shy, nor short nor tall,
But a new mingling of them all.
Yes, beautiful beyond belief,
Transfigured and transfused, he sees
The lady of the Pyrenees,
The daughter of the Indian chief.
Beneath the shadow of her hair
The gold-bronze color of the skin
Seems lighted by a fire within,
As when a burst of sunlight shines
Beneath a sombre grove of pines,--
A dusky splendor in the air.
The two small hands, that now are pressed
In his, seem made to be caressed,
They lie so warm and soft and still,
Like birds half hidden in a nest,
Trustful, and innocent of ill.
And ah! he cannot believe his ears
When her melodious voice he hears
Speaking his native Gascon tongue;
The words she utters seem to be
Part of some poem of Goudouli,
They are not spoken, they are sung!
And the Baron smiles, and says, "You see,
I told you but the simple truth;
Ah, you may trust the eyes of youth!"
Down in the village day by day
The people gossip in their way,
And stare to see the Baroness pass
On Sunday morning to early Mass;
And when she kneeleth down to pray,
They wonder, and whisper together, and say,
"Surely this is no heathen lass!"
And in course of time they learn to bless
The Baron and the Baroness.
And in course of time the Curate learns
A secret so dreadful, that by turns
He is ice and fire, he freezes and burns.
The Baron at confession hath said,
That though this woman be his wife,
He bath wed her as the Indians wed,
He hath bought her for a gun and a knife!
And the Curate replies: "O profligate,
O Prodigal Son! return once more
To the open arms and the open door
Of the Church, or ever it be too late.
Thank God, thy father did not live
To see what he could not forgive;
On thee, so reckless and perverse,
He left his blessing, not his curse.
But the nearer the dawn the darker the night,
And by going wrong all things come right;
Things have been mended that were worse,
And the worse, the nearer they are to mend.
For the sake of the living and the dead,
Thou shalt be wed as Christians wed,
And all things come to a happy end."
O sun, that followest the night,
In yon blue sky, serene and pure,
And pourest thine impartial light
Alike on mountain and on moor,
Pause for a moment in thy course,
And bless the bridegroom and the bride!
O Gave, that from thy hidden source
In you mysterious mountain-side
Pursuest thy wandering way alone,
And leaping down its steps of stone,
Along the meadow-lands demure
Stealest away to the Adour,
Pause for a moment in thy course
To bless the bridegroom and the bride!
The choir is singing the matin song,
The doors of the church are opened wide,
The people crowd, and press, and throng
To see the bridegroom and the bride.
They enter and pass along the nave;
They stand upon the father's grave;
The bells are ringing soft and slow;
The living above and the dead below
Give their blessing on one and twain;
The warm wind blows from the hills of Spain,
The birds are building, the leaves are green,
And Baron Castine of St. Castine
Hath come at last to his own again.
"Nunc plaudite!" the Student cried,
When he had finished; "now applaud,
As Roman actors used to say
At the conclusion of a play";
And rose, and spread his hands abroad,
And smiling bowed from side to side,
As one who bears the palm away.
And generous was the applause and loud,
But less for him than for the sun,
That even as the tale was done
Burst from its canopy of cloud,
And lit the landscape with the blaze
Of afternoon on autumn days,
And filled the room with light, and made
The fire of logs a painted shade.
A sudden wind from out the west
Blew all its trumpets loud and shrill;
The windows rattled with the blast,
The oak-trees shouted as it passed,
And straight, as if by fear possessed,
The cloud encampment on the hill
Broke up, and fluttering flag and tent
Vanished into the firmament,
And down the valley fled amain
The rear of the retreating rain.
Only far up in the blue sky
A mass of clouds, like drifted snow
Suffused with a faint Alpine glow,
Was heaped together, vast and high,
On which a shattered rainbow hung,
Not rising like the ruined arch
Of some aerial aqueduct,
But like a roseate garland plucked
From an Olympian god, and flung
Aside in his triumphal march.
Like prisoners from their dungeon gloom,
Like birds escaping from a snare,
Like school-boys at the hour of play,
All left at once the pent-up room,
And rushed into the open air;
And no more tales were told that day.
The evening came; the golden vane
A moment in the sunset glanced,
Then darkened, and then gleamed again,
As from the east the moon advanced
And touched it with a softer light;
While underneath, with flowing mane,
Upon the sign the Red Horse pranced,
And galloped forth into the night.
But brighter than the afternoon
That followed the dark day of rain,
And brighter than the golden vane
That glistened in the rising moon,
Within the ruddy fire-light gleamed;
And every separate window-pane,
Backed by the outer darkness, showed
A mirror, where the flamelets gleamed
And flickered to and fro, and seemed
A bonfire lighted in the road.
Amid the hospitable glow,
Like an old actor on the stage,
With the uncertain voice of age,
The singing chimney chanted low
The homely songs of long ago.
The voice that Ossian heard of yore,
When midnight winds were in his hall;
A ghostly and appealing call,
A sound of days that are no more!
And dark as Ossian sat the Jew,
And listened to the sound, and knew
The passing of the airy hosts,
The gray and misty cloud of ghosts
In their interminable flight;
And listening muttered in his beard,
With accent indistinct and weird,
"Who are ye, children of the Night?"
Beholding his mysterious face,
"Tell me," the gay Sicilian said,
"Why was it that in breaking bread
At supper, you bent down your head
And, musing, paused a little space,
As one who says a silent grace?"
The Jew replied, with solemn air,
"I said the Manichaean's prayer.
It was his faith,--perhaps is mine,--
That life in all its forms is one,
And that its secret conduits run
Unseen, but in unbroken line,
From the great fountain-head divine
Through man and beast, through grain and grass.
Howe'er we struggle, strive, and cry,
From death there can be no escape,
And no escape from life, alas
Because we cannot die, but pass
From one into another shape:
It is but into life we die.
"Therefore the Manichaean said
This simple prayer on breaking bread,
Lest he with hasty hand or knife
Might wound the incarcerated life,
The soul in things that we call dead:
'I did not reap thee, did not bind thee,
I did not thrash thee, did not grind thee,
Nor did I in the oven bake thee!
It was not I, it was another
Did these things unto thee, O brother;
I only have thee, hold thee, break thee!'"
"That birds have souls I can concede,"
The poet cried, with glowing cheeks;
"The flocks that from their beds of reed
Uprising north or southward fly,
And flying write upon the sky
The biforked letter of the Greeks,
As hath been said by Rucellai;
All birds that sing or chirp or cry,
Even those migratory bands,
The minor poets of the air,
The plover, peep, and sanderling,
That hardly can be said to sing,
But pipe along the barren sands,--
All these have souls akin to ours;
So hath the lovely race of flowers:
Thus much I grant, but nothing more.
The rusty hinges of a door
Are not alive because they creak;
This chimney, with its dreary roar,
These rattling windows, do not speak!"
"To me they speak," the Jew replied;
"And in the sounds that sink and soar,
I hear the voices of a tide
That breaks upon an unknown shore!"
Here the Sicilian interfered:
"That was your dream, then, as you dozed
A moment since, with eyes half-closed,
And murmured something in your beard."
The Hebrew smiled, and answered, "Nay;
Not that, but something very near;
Like, and yet not the same, may seem
The vision of my waking dream;
Before it wholly dies away,
Listen to me, and you shall hear."
THE SPANISH JEW'S TALE
King Solomon, before his palace gate
At evening, on the pavement tessellate
Was walking with a stranger from the East,
Arrayed in rich attire as for a feast,
The mighty Runjeet-Sing, a learned man,
And Rajah of the realms of Hindostan.
And as they walked the guest became aware
Of a white figure in the twilight air,
Gazing intent, as one who with surprise
His form and features seemed to recognize;
And in a whisper to the king he said:
"What is yon shape, that, pallid as the dead,
Is watching me, as if he sought to trace
In the dim light the features of my face?"
The king looked, and replied: "I know him well;
It is the Angel men call Azrael,
'T is the Death Angel; what hast thou to fear?"
And the guest answered: "Lest he should come near,
And speak to me, and take away my breath!
Save me from Azrael, save me from death!
O king, that hast dominion o'er the wind,
Bid it arise and bear me hence to Ind."
The king gazed upward at the cloudless sky,
Whispered a word, and raised his hand on high,
And lo! the signet-ring of chrysoprase
On his uplifted finger seemed to blaze
With hidden fire, and rushing from the west
There came a mighty wind, and seized the guest
And lifted him from earth, and on they passed,
His shining garments streaming in the blast,
A silken banner o'er the walls upreared,
A purple cloud, that gleamed and disappeared.
Then said the Angel, smiling: "If this man
Be Rajah Runjeet-Sing of Hindostan,
Thou hast done well in listening to his prayer;
I was upon my way to seek him there."
"O Edrehi, forbear to-night
Your ghostly legends of affright,
And let the Talmud rest in peace;
Spare us your dismal tales of death
That almost take away one's breath;
So doing, may your tribe increase."
Thus the Sicilian said; then went
And on the spinet's rattling keys
Played Marianina, like a breeze
From Naples and the Southern seas,
That brings us the delicious scent
Of citron and of orange trees,
And memories of soft days of ease
At Capri and Amalfi spent.
"Not so," the eager Poet said;
"At least, not so before I tell
The story of my Azrael,
An angel mortal as ourselves,
Which in an ancient tome I found
Upon a convent's dusty shelves,
Chained with an iron chain, and bound
In parchment, and with clasps of brass,
Lest from its prison, some dark day,
It might be stolen or steal away,
While the good friars were singing mass.
"It is a tale of Charlemagne,
When like a thunder-cloud, that lowers
And sweeps from mountain-crest to coast,
With lightning flaming through its showers,
He swept across the Lombard plain,
Beleaguering with his warlike train
Pavia, the country's pride and boast,
The City of the Hundred Towers."
Thus heralded the tale began,
And thus in sober measure ran.
THE POET'S TALE
Olger the Dane and Desiderio,
King of the Lombards, on a lofty tower
Stood gazing northward o'er the rolling plains,
League after league of harvests, to the foot
Of the snow-crested Alps, and saw approach
A mighty army, thronging all the roads
That led into the city. And the King
Said unto Olger, who had passed his youth
As hostage at the court of France, and knew
The Emperor's form and face "Is Charlemagne
Among that host?" And Olger answered: "No."
And still the innumerable multitude
Flowed onward and increased, until the King
Cried in amazement: "Surely Charlemagne
Is coming in the midst of all these knights!"
And Olger answered slowly: "No; not yet;
He will not come so soon." Then much disturbed
King Desiderio asked: "What shall we do,
if he approach with a still greater army!"
And Olger answered: "When he shall appear,
You will behold what manner of man he is;
But what will then befall us I know not."
Then came the guard that never knew repose,
The Paladins of France; and at the sight
The Lombard King o'ercome with terror cried:
"This must be Charlemagne!" and as before
Did Olger answer: "No; not yet, not yet."
And then appeared in panoply complete
The Bishops and the Abbots and the Priests
Of the imperial chapel, and the Counts
And Desiderio could no more endure
The light of day, nor yet encounter death,
But sobbed aloud and said: "Let us go down
And hide us in the bosom of the earth,
Far from the sight and anger of a foe
So terrible as this!" And Olger said:
"When you behold the harvests in the fields
Shaking with fear, the Po and the Ticino
Lashing the city walls with iron waves,
Then may you know that Charlemagne is come.
And even as he spake, in the northwest,
Lo! there uprose a black and threatening cloud,
Out of whose bosom flashed the light of arms
Upon the people pent up in the city;
A light more terrible than any darkness;
And Charlemagne appeared;--a Man of Iron!
His helmet was of iron, and his gloves
Of iron, and his breastplate and his greaves
And tassets were of iron, and his shield.
In his left hand he held an iron spear,
In his right hand his sword invincible.
The horse he rode on had the strength of iron,
And color of iron. All who went before him
Beside him and behind him, his whole host,
Were armed with iron, and their hearts within them
Were stronger than the armor that they wore.
The fields and all the roads were filled with iron,
And points of iron glistened in the sun
And shed a terror through the city streets.
This at a single glance Olger the Dane
Saw from the tower, and turning to the King
Exclaimed in haste: "Behold! this is the man
You looked for with such eagerness!" and then
Fell as one dead at Desiderio's feet.
Well pleased all listened to the tale,
That drew, the Student said, its pith
And marrow from the ancient myth
Of some one with an iron flail;
Or that portentous Man of Brass
Hephaestus made in days of yore,
Who stalked about the Cretan shore,
And saw the ships appear and pass,
And threw stones at the Argonauts,
Being filled with indiscriminate ire
That tangled and perplexed his thoughts;
But, like a hospitable host,
When strangers landed on the coast,
Heated himself red-hot with fire,
And hugged them in his arms, and pressed
Their bodies to his burning breast.
The Poet answered: "No, not thus
The legend rose; it sprang at first
Out of the hunger and the thirst
In all men for the marvellous.
And thus it filled and satisfied
The imagination of mankind,
And this ideal to the mind
Was truer than historic fact.
Fancy enlarged and multiplied
The tenors of the awful name
Of Charlemagne, till he became
Armipotent in every act,
And, clothed in mystery, appeared
Not what men saw, but what they feared.
Besides, unless my memory fail,
Your some one with an iron flail
Is not an ancient myth at all,
But comes much later on the scene
As Talus in the Faerie Queene,
The iron groom of Artegall,
Who threshed out falsehood and deceit,
And truth upheld, and righted wrong,
As was, as is the swallow, fleet,
And as the lion is, was strong."
The Theologian said: "Perchance
Your chronicler in writing this
Had in his mind the Anabasis,
Where Xenophon describes the advance
Of Artaxerxes to the fight;
At first the low gray cloud of dust,
And then a blackness o'er the fields
As of a passing thunder-gust,
Then flash of brazen armor bright,
And ranks of men, and spears up-thrust,
Bowmen and troops with wicker shields,
And cavalry equipped in white,
And chariots ranged in front of these
With scythes upon their axle-trees."
To this the Student answered: "Well,
I also have a tale to tell
Of Charlemagne; a tale that throws
A softer light, more tinged with rose,
Than your grim apparition cast
Upon the darkness of the past.
Listen, and hear in English rhyme
What the good Monk of Lauresheim
Gives as the gossip of his time,
In mediaeval Latin prose."
THE STUDENT'S TALE
EMMA AND EGINHARD
When Alcuin taught the sons of Charlemagne,
In the free schools of Aix, how kings should reign,
And with them taught the children of the poor
How subjects should be patient and endure,
He touched the lips of some, as best befit,
With honey from the hives of Holy Writ;
Others intoxicated with the wine
Of ancient history, sweet but less divine;
Some with the wholesome fruits of grammar fed;
Others with mysteries of the stars o'er-head,
That hang suspended in the vaulted sky
Like lamps in some fair palace vast and high.
In sooth, it was a pleasant sight to see
That Saxon monk, with hood and rosary,
With inkhorn at his belt, and pen and book,
And mingled lore and reverence in his look,
Or hear the cloister and the court repeat
The measured footfalls of his sandaled feet,
Or watch him with the pupils of his school,
Gentle of speech, but absolute of rule.
Among them, always earliest in his place.
Was Eginhard, a youth of Frankish race,
Whose face was bright with flashes that forerun
The splendors of a yet unrisen sun.
To him all things were possible, and seemed
Not what he had accomplished, but had dreamed,
And what were tasks to others were his play,
The pastime of an idle holiday.
Smaragdo, Abbot of St. Michael's, said,
With many a shrug and shaking of the head,
Surely some demon must possess the lad,
Who showed more wit than ever schoolboy had,
And learned his Trivium thus without the rod;
But Alcuin said it was the grace of God.
Thus he grew up, in Logic point-device,
Perfect in Grammar, and in Rhetoric nice;
Science of Numbers, Geometric art,
And lore of Stars, and Music knew by heart;
A Minnesinger, long before the times
Of those who sang their love in Suabian rhymes.
The Emperor, when he heard this good report
Of Eginhard much buzzed about the court,
Said to bimself, "This stripling seems to be
Purposely sent into the world for me;
He shall become my scribe, and shall be schooled
In all the arts whereby the world is ruled."
Thus did the gentle Eginhard attain
To honor in the court of Charlemagne;
Became the sovereign's favorite, his right hand,
So that his fame was great in all the land,
And all men loved him for his modest grace
And comeliness of figure and of face.
An inmate of the palace, yet recluse,
A man of books, yet sacred from abuse
Among the armed knights with spur on heel,
The tramp of horses and the clang of steel;
And as the Emperor promised he was schooled
In all the arts by which the world is ruled.
But the one art supreme, whose law is fate,
The Emperor never dreamed of till too late.
Home from her convent to the palace came
The lovely Princess Emma, whose sweet name,
Whispered by seneschal or sung by bard,
Had often touched the soul of Eginhard.
He saw her from his window, as in state
She came, by knights attended through the gate;
He saw her at the banquet of that day,
Fresh as the morn, and beautiful as May;
He saw her in the garden, as she strayed
Among the flowers of summer with her maid,
And said to him, "O Eginhard, disclose
The meaning and the mystery of the rose";
And trembling he made answer: "In good sooth,
Its mystery is love, its meaning youth!"
How can I tell the signals and the signs
By which one heart another heart divines?
How can I tell the many thousand ways
By which it keeps the secret it betrays?
O mystery of love! O strange romance!
Among the Peers and Paladins of France,
Shining in steel, and prancing on gay steeds,
Noble by birth, yet nobler by great deeds,
The Princess Emma had no words nor looks
But for this clerk, this man of thought and books.
The summer passed, the autumn came; the stalks
Of lilies blackened in the garden walks;
The leaves fell, russet-golden and blood-red,
Love-letters thought the poet fancy-led,
Or Jove descending in a shower of gold
Into the lap of Danae of old;
For poets cherish many a strange conceit,
And love transmutes all nature by its heat.
No more the garden lessons, nor the dark
And hurried meetings in the twilight park;
But now the studious lamp, and the delights
Of firesides in the silent winter nights,
And watching from his window hour by hour
The light that burned in Princess Emma's tower.
At length one night, while musing by the fire,
O'ercome at last by his insane desire,--
For what will reckless love not do and dare?--
He crossed the court, and climbed the winding stair,
With some feigned message in the Emperor's name;
But when he to the lady's presence came
He knelt down at her feet, until she laid
Her hand upon him, like a naked blade,
And whispered in his ear: "Arise, Sir Knight,
To my heart's level, O my heart's delight."
And there he lingered till the crowing cock,
The Alectryon of the farmyard and the flock,
Sang his aubade with lusty voice and clear,
To tell the sleeping world that dawn was near.
And then they parted; but at parting, lo!
They saw the palace courtyard white with snow,
And, placid as a nun, the moon on high
Gazing from cloudy cloisters of the sky.
"Alas!" he said, "how hide the fatal line
Of footprints leading from thy door to mine,
And none returning!" Ah, he little knew
What woman's wit, when put to proof, can do!
That night the Emperor, sleepless with the cares
And troubles that attend on state affairs,
Had risen before the dawn, and musing gazed
Into the silent night, as one amazed
To see the calm that reigned o'er all supreme,
When his own reign was but a troubled dream.
The moon lit up the gables capped with snow,
And the white roofs, and half the court below,
And he beheld a form, that seemed to cower
Beneath a burden, come from Emma's tower,--
A woman, who upon her shoulders bore
Clerk Eginhard to his own private door,
And then returned in haste, but still essayed
To tread the footprints she herself had made;
And as she passed across the lighted space,
The Emperor saw his daughter Emma's face!
He started not; he did not speak or moan,
But seemed as one who hath been turned to stone;
And stood there like a statue, nor awoke
Out of his trance of pain, till morning broke,
Till the stars faded, and the moon went down,
And o'er the towers and steeples of the town
Came the gray daylight; then the sun, who took
The empire of the world with sovereign look,
Suffusing with a soft and golden glow
All the dead landscape in its shroud of snow,
Touching with flame the tapering chapel spires,
Windows and roofs, and smoke of household fires,
And kindling park and palace as he came;
The stork's nest on the chimney seemed in flame.
And thus he stood till Eginhard appeared,
Demure and modest with his comely beard
And flowing flaxen tresses, come to ask,
As was his wont, the day's appointed task.
The Emperor looked upon him with a smile,
And gently said: "My son, wait yet awhile;
This hour my council meets upon some great
And very urgent business of the state.
Come back within the hour. On thy return
The work appointed for thee shalt thou learn.
Having dismissed this gallant Troubadour,
He summoned straight his council, and secure
And steadfast in his purpose, from the throne
All the adventure of the night made known;
Then asked for sentence; and with eager breath
Some answered banishment, and others death.
Then spake the king: "Your sentence is not mine;
Life is the gift of God, and is divine;
Nor from these palace walls shall one depart
Who carries such a secret in his heart;
My better judgment points another way.
Good Alcuin, I remember how one day
When my Pepino asked you, 'What are men?'
You wrote upon his tablets with your pen,
'Guests of the grave and travellers that pass!'
This being true of all men, we, alas!
Being all fashioned of the selfsame dust,
Let us be merciful as well as just;
This passing traveller, who hath stolen away
The brightest jewel of my crown to-day,
Shall of himself the precious gem restore;
By giving it, I make it mine once more.
Over those fatal footprints I will throw
My ermine mantle like another snow."
Then Eginhard was summoned to the hall,
And entered, and in presence of them all,
The Emperor said: "My son, for thou to me
Hast been a son, and evermore shalt be,
Long hast thou served thy sovereign, and thy zeal
Pleads to me with importunate appeal,
While I have been forgetful to requite
Thy service and affection as was right.
But now the hour is come, when I, thy Lord,
Will crown thy love with such supreme reward,
A gift so precious kings have striven in vain
To win it from the hands of Charlemagne."
Then sprang the portals of the chamber wide,
And Princess Emma entered, in the pride
Of birth and beauty, that in part o'er-came
The conscious terror and the blush of shame.
And the good Emperor rose up from his throne,
And taking her white hand within his own
Placed it in Eginhard's, and said: "My son
This is the gift thy constant zeal hath won;
Thus I repay the royal debt I owe,
And cover up the footprints in the snow."
Tnus ran the Student's pleasant rhyme
Of Eginhard and love and youth;
Some doubted its historic truth,
But while they doubted, ne'ertheless
Saw in it gleams of truthfulness,
And thanked the Monk of Lauresheim.
This they discussed in various mood;
Then in the silence that ensued
Was heard a sharp and sudden sound
As of a bowstring snapped in air;
And the Musician with a bound
Sprang up in terror from his chair,
And for a moment listening stood,
Then strode across the room, and found
His dear, his darling violin
Still lying safe asleep within
Its little cradle, like a child
That gives a sudden cry of pain,
And wakes to fall asleep again;
And as he looked at it and smiled,
By the uncertain light beguiled,
Despair! two strings were broken in twain.
While all lamented and made moan,
With many a sympathetic word
As if the loss had been their own,
Deeming the tones they might have heard
Sweeter than they had heard before,
They saw the Landlord at the door,
The missing man, the portly Squire!
He had not entered, but he stood
With both arms full of seasoned wood,
To feed the much-devouring fire,
That like a lion in a cage
Lashed its long tail and roared with rage.
The missing man! Ah, yes, they said,
Missing, but whither had he fled?
Where had he hidden himself away?
No farther than the barn or shed;
He had not hidden himself, nor fled;
How should he pass the rainy day
But in his barn with hens and hay,
Or mending harness, cart, or sled?
Now, having come, he needs must stay
And tell his tale as well as they.
The Landlord answered only: "These
Are logs from the dead apple-trees
Of the old orchard planted here
By the first Howe of Sudbury.
Nor oak nor maple has so clear
A flame, or burns so quietly,
Or leaves an ash so clean and white";
Thinking by this to put aside
The impending tale that terrified;
When suddenly, to his delight,
The Theologian interposed,
Saying that when the door was closed,
And they had stopped that draft of cold,
Unpleasant night air, he proposed
To tell a tale world-wide apart
From that the Student had just told;
World-wide apart, and yet akin,
As showing that the human heart
Beats on forever as of old,
As well beneath the snow-white fold
Of Quaker kerchief, as within
Sendal or silk or cloth of gold,
And without preface would begin.
And then the clamorous clock struck eight,
Deliberate, with sonorous chime
Slow measuring out the march of time,
Like some grave Consul of old Rome
In Jupiter's temple driving home
The nails that marked the year and date.
Thus interrupted in his rhyme,
The Theologian needs must wait;
But quoted Horace, where he sings
The dire Necessity of things,
That drives into the roofs sublime
Of new-built houses of the great
The adamantine nails of Fate.
When ceased the little carillon
To herald from its wooden tower
The important transit of the hour,
The Theologian hastened on,
Content to be all owed at last
To sing his Idyl of the Past.
THE THEOLOGIAN'S TALE
"Ah, how short are the days! How soon the night overtakes us!
In the old country the twilight is longer; but here in the forest
Suddenly comes the dark, with hardly a pause in its coming,
Hardly a moment between the two lights, the day and the
Yet how grand is the winter! How spotless the snow is, and
Thus spake Elizabeth Haddon at nightfall to Hannah the
As in the farm-house kitchen, that served for kitchen and parlor,
By the window she sat with her work, and looked on a landscape
White as the great white sheet that Peter saw in his vision,
By the four corners let down and descending out of the heavens.
Covered with snow were the forests of pine, and the fields and
Nothing was dark but the sky, and the distant Delaware flowing
Down from its native hills, a peaceful and bountiful river.
Then with a smile on her lips made answer Hannah the housemaid:
"Beautiful winter! yea, the winter is beautiful, surely,
If one could only walk like a fly with one's feet on the ceiling.
But the great Delaware River is not like the Thames, as we saw it
Out of our upper windows in Rotherhithe Street in the Borough,
Crowded with masts and sails of vessels coming and going;
Here there is nothing but pines, with patches of snow on their
There is snow in the air, and see! it is falling already;
All the roads will be blocked, and I pity Joseph to-morrow,
Breaking his way through the drifts, with his sled and oxen; and
How in all the world shall we get to Meeting on First-Day?"
But Elizabeth checked her, and answered, mildly reproving:
"Surely the Lord will provide; for unto the snow he sayeth,
Be thou on the earth, the good Lord sayeth; he is it
Giveth snow like wool, like ashes scatters the hoar-frost."
So she folded her work and laid it away in her basket.
Meanwhile Hannah the housemaid had closed and fastened the
Spread the cloth, and lighted the lamp on the table, and placed
Plates and cups from the dresser, the brown rye loaf, and the
Fresh from the dairy, and then, protecting her hand with a
Took from the crane in the chimney the steaming and simmering
Poised it aloft in the air, and filled up the earthen teapot,
Made in Delft, and adorned with quaint and wonderful figures.
Then Elizabeth said, "Lo! Joseph is long on his errand.
I have sent him away with a hamper of food and of clothing
For the poor in the village. A good lad and cheerful is Joseph;
In the right place is his heart, and his hand is ready and
Thus in praise of her servant she spake, and Hannah the
Laughed with her eyes, as she listened, but governed her tongue,
and was silent,
While her mistress went on: "The house is far from the village;
We should be lonely here, were it not for Friends that in passing
Sometimes tarry o'ernight, and make us glad by their coming."
Thereupon answered Hannah the housemaid, the thrifty, the
"Yea, they come and they tarry, as if thy house were a tavern;
Open to all are its doors, and they come and go like the pigeons
In and out of the holes of the pigeon-house over the hayloft,
Cooing and smoothing their feathers and basking themselves in the
But in meekness of spirit, and calmly, Elizabeth answered:
"All I have is the Lord's, not mine to give or withhold it;
I but distribute his gifts to the poor, and to those of his
Who in journeyings often surrender their lives to his service.
His, not mine, are the gifts, and only so far can I make them
Mine, as in giving I add my heart to whatever is given.
Therefore my excellent father first built this house in the
Though he came not himself, I came; for the Lord was my guidance,
Leading me here for this service. We must not grudge, then, to
Ever the cup of cold water, or crumbs that fall from our table."
Thus rebuked, for a season was silent the penitent housemaid;
And Elizabeth said in tones even sweeter and softer:
"Dost thou remember, Hannah, the great May-Meeting in London,
When I was still a child, how we sat in the silent assembly,
Waiting upon the Lord in patient and passive submission?
No one spake, till at length a young man, a stranger, John
Moved by the Spirit, rose, as if he were John the Apostle,
Speaking such words of power that they bowed our hearts, as a
Bends the grass of the fields, or grain that is ripe for the
Thoughts of him to-day have been oft borne inward upon me,
Wherefore I do not know; but strong is the feeling within me
That once more I shall see a face I have never forgotten."
E'en as she spake they heard the musical jangle of sleigh-bells,
First far off, with a dreamy sound and faint in the distance,
Then growing nearer and louder, and turning into the farmyard,
Till it stopped at the door, with sudden creaking of runners.
Then there were voices heard as of two men talking together,
And to herself, as she listened, upbraiding said Hannah the
"It is Joseph come back, and I wonder what stranger is with him?"
Down from its nail she took and lighted the great tin lantern
Pierced with holes, and round, and roofed like the top of a
And went forth to receive the coming guest at the doorway,
Casting into the dark a network of glimmer and shadow
Over the falling snow, the yellow sleigh, and the horses,
And the forms of men, snow-covered, looming gigantic.
Then giving Joseph the lantern, she entered the house with the
Youthful he was and tall, and his cheeks aglow with the night
And as he entered, Elizabeth rose, and, going to meet him,
As if an unseen power had announced and preceded his presence,
And he had come as one whose coming had long been expected,
Quietly gave him her hand, and said, "Thou art welcome, John
And the stranger replied, with staid and quiet behavior,
"Dost thou remember me still, Elizabeth? After so many
Years have passed, it seemeth a wonderful thing that I find thee.
Surely the hand of the Lord conducted me here to thy threshold.
For as I journeyed along, and pondered alone and in silence
On his ways, that are past finding out, I saw in the snow-mist,
Seemingly weary with travel, a wayfarer, who by the wayside
Paused and waited. Forthwith I remembered Queen Candace's
How on the way that goes down from Jerusalem unto Gaza,
Reading Esaias the Prophet, he journeyed, and spake unto Philip,
Praying him to come up and sit in his chariot with him.
So I greeted the man, and he mounted the sledge beside me,
And as we talked on the way he told me of thee and thy homestead,
How, being led by the light of the Spirit, that never deceiveth,
Full of zeal for the work of the Lord, thou hadst come to this
And I remembered thy name, and thy father and mother in England,
And on my journey have stopped to see thee, Elizabeth Haddon.
Wishing to strengthen thy hand in the labors of love thou art
And Elizabeth answered with confident voice, and serenely
Looking into his face with her innocent eyes as she answered,
"Surely the hand of the Lord is in it; his Spirit hath led thee
Out of the darkness and storm to the light and peace of my
Then, with stamping of feet, the door was opened, and Joseph
Entered, bearing the lantern, and, carefully blowing the light
Rung it up on its nail, and all sat down to their supper;
For underneath that roof was no distinction of persons,
But one family only, one heart, one hearth and one household.
When the supper was ended they drew their chairs to the
Spacious, open-hearted, profuse of flame and of firewood,
Lord of forests unfelled, and not a gleaner of fagots,
Spreading its arms to embrace with inexhaustible bounty
All who fled from the cold, exultant, laughing at winter!
Only Hannah the housemaid was busy in clearing the table,
Coming and going, and hustling about in closet and chamber.
Then Elizabeth told her story again to John Estaugh,
Going far back to the past, to the early days of her childhood;
How she had waited and watched, in all her doubts and besetments
Comforted with the extendings and holy, sweet inflowings
Of the spirit of love, till the voice imperative sounded,
And she obeyed the voice, and cast in her lot with her people
Here in the desert land, and God would provide for the issue.
Meanwhile Joseph sat with folded hands, and demurely
Listened, or seemed to listen, and in the silence that followed
Nothing was heard for a while but the step of Hannah the
Walking the floor overhead, and setting the chambers in order.
And Elizabeth said, with a smile of compassion, "The maiden
Hath a light heart in her breast, but her feet are heavy and
Inwardly Joseph laughed, but governed his tongue, and was silent.
Then came the hour of sleep, death's counterfeit, nightly
Of the great Silent Assembly, the Meeting of shadows, where no
Speaketh, but all are still, and the peace and rest are unbroken!
Silently over that house the blessing of slumber descended.
But when the morning dawned, and the sun uprose in his splendor,
Breaking his way through clouds that encumbered his path in the
Joseph was seen with his sled and oxen breaking a pathway
Through the drifts of snow; the horses already were harnessed,
And John Estaugh was standing and taking leave at the threshold,
Saying that he should return at the Meeting in May; while above
Hannah the housemaid, the homely, was looking out of the attic,
Laughing aloud at Joseph, then suddenly closing the casement,
As the bird in a cuckoo-clock peeps out of its window,
Then disappears again, and closes the shutter behind it.
Now was the winter gone, and the snow; and Robin the Redbreast,
Boasted on bush and tree it was he, it was he and no other
That had covered with leaves the Babes in the Wood, and blithely
All the birds sang with him, and little cared for his boasting,
Or for his Babes in the Wood, or the Cruel Uncle, and only
Sang for the mates they had chosen, and cared for the nests they
With them, but more sedately and meekly, Elizabeth Haddon
Sang in her inmost heart, but her lips were silent and songless.
Thus came the lovely spring with a rush of blossoms and music,
Flooding the earth with flowers, and the air with melodies
Then it came to pass, one pleasant morning, that slowly
Up the road there came a cavalcade, as of pilgrims
Men and women, wending their way to the Quarterly Meeting
In the neighboring town; and with them came riding John Estaugh.
At Elizabeth's door they stopped to rest, and alighting
Tasted the currant wine, and the bread of rye, and the honey
Brought from the hives, that stood by the sunny wall of the
Then remounted their horses, refreshed, and continued their
And Elizabeth with them, and Joseph, and Hannah the housemaid.
But, as they started, Elizabeth lingered a little, and leaning
Over her horse's neck, in a whisper said to John Estaugh
"Tarry awhile behind, for I have something to tell thee,
Not to be spoken lightly, nor in the presence of others;
Them it concerneth not, only thee and me it concerneth."
And they rode slowly along through the woods, conversing
It was a pleasure to breathe the fragrant air of the forest;
It was a pleasure to live on that bright and happy May morning!
Then Elizabeth said, though still with a certain reluctance,
As if impelled to reveal a secret she fain would have guarded:
"I will no longer conceal what is laid upon me to tell thee;
I have received from the Lord a charge to love thee, John
And John Estaugh made answer, surprised by the words she had
"Pleasant to me are thy converse, thy ways, thy meekness of
Pleasant thy frankness of speech, and thy soul's immaculate
Love without dissimulation, a holy and inward adorning.
But I have yet no light to lead me, no voice to direct me.
When the Lord's work is done, and the toil and the labor
He hath appointed to me, I will gather into the stillness
Of my own heart awhile, and listen and wait for his guidance."
Then Elizabeth said, not troubled nor wounded in spirit,
"So is it best, John Estaugh. We will not speak of it further.
It hath been laid upon me to tell thee this, for to-morrow
Thou art going away, across the sea, and I know not
When I shall see thee more; but if the Lord hath decreed it,
Thou wilt return again to seek me here and to find me."
And they rode onward in silence, and entered the town with the
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
Now went on as of old the quiet life of the homestead.
Patient and unrepining Elizabeth labored, in all things
Mindful not of herself, but bearing the burdens of others,
Always thoughtful and kind and untroubled; and Hannah the
Diligent early and late, and rosy with washing and scouring,
Still as of old disparaged the eminent merits of Joseph,
And was at times reproved for her light and frothy behavior,
For her shy looks, and her careless words, and her evil
Being pressed down somewhat like a cart with sheaves overladen,
As she would sometimes say to Joseph, quoting the Scriptures.
Meanwhile John Estaugh departed across the sea, and departing
Carried hid in his heart a secret sacred and precious,
Filling its chambers with fragrance, and seeming to him in its
Mary's ointment of spikenard, that filled all the house with its
O lost days of delight, that are wasted in doubting and waiting!
O lost hours and days in which we might have been happy!
But the light shone at last, and guided his wavering footsteps,
And at last came the voice, imperative, questionless, certain.
Then John Estaugh came back o'er the sea for the gift that was
Better than houses and lands, the gift of a woman's affection.
And on the First-Day that followed, he rose in the Silent
Holding in his strong hand a hand that trembled a little,
Promising to be kind and true and faithful in all things.
Such were the marriage-rites of John and Elizabeth Estaugh.
And not otherwise Joseph, the honest, the diligent servant,
Sped in his bashful wooing with homely Hannah the housemaid;
For when he asked her the question, she answered, "Nay"; and then
"But thee may make believe, and see what will come of it,
"A pleasant and a winsome tale,"
The Student said, "though somewhat pale
And quiet in its coloring,
As if it caught its tone and air
From the gray suits that Quakers wear;
Yet worthy of some German bard,
Hebel, or Voss, or Eberhard,
Who love of humble themes to sing,
In humble verse; but no more true
Than was the tale I told to you."
The Theologian made reply,
And with some warmth, "That I deny;
'T is no invention of my own,
But something well and widely known
To readers of a riper age,
Writ by the skilful hand that wrote
The Indian tale of Hobomok,
And Philothea's classic page.
I found it like a waif afloat
Or dulse uprooted from its rock,
On the swift tides that ebb and flow
In daily papers, and at flood
Bear freighted vessels to and fro,
But later, when the ebb is low,
Leave a long waste of sand and mud."
"It matters little," quoth the Jew;
"The cloak of truth is lined with lies,
Sayeth some proverb old and wise;
And Love is master of all arts,
And puts it into human hearts
The strangest things to say and do."
And here the controversy closed
Abruptly, ere 't was well begun;
For the Sicilian interposed
With, "Lordlings, listen, every one
That listen may, unto a tale
That 's merrier than the nightingale;
A tale that cannot boast, forsooth,
A single rag or shred of truth;
That does not leave the mind in doubt
As to the with it or without;
A naked falsehood and absurd
As mortal ever told or heard.
Therefore I tell it; or, maybe,
Simply because it pleases me."
THE SICILIAN'S TALE
THE MONK OF CASAL-MAGGIORE
Once on a time, some centuries ago,
In the hot sunshine two Franciscan friars
Wended their weary way with footsteps slow
Back to their convent, whose white walls and spires
Gleamed on the hillside like a patch of snow;
Covered with dust they were, and torn by briers,
And bore like sumpter-mules upon their backs
The badge of poverty, their beggar's sacks.
The first was Brother Anthony, a spare
And silent man, with pallid cheeks and thin,
Much given to vigils, penance, fasting, prayer,
Solemn and gray, and worn with discipline,
As if his body but white ashes were,
Heaped on the living coals that glowed within;
A simple monk, like many of his day,
Whose instinct was to listen and obey.
A different man was Brother Timothy,.
Of larger mould and of a coarser paste;
A rubicund and stalwart monk was he,
Broad in the shoulders, broader in the waist,
Who often filled the dull refectory
With noise by which the convent was disgraced,
But to the mass-book gave but little heed,
By reason he had never learned to read.
Now, as they passed the outskirts of a wood,
They saw, with mingled pleasure and surprise,
Fast tethered to a tree an ass, that stood
Lazily winking his large, limpid eyes.
The farmer Gilbert of that neighborhood
His owner was, who, looking for supplies
Of fagots, deeper in the wood had strayed,
Leaving his beast to ponder in the shade.
As soon as Brother Timothy espied
The patient animal, he said: "Good-lack!
Thus for our needs doth Providence provide;
We'll lay our wallets on the creature's back."
This being done, he leisurely untied
From head and neck the halter of the jack,
And put it round his own, and to the tree
Stood tethered fast as if the ass were he.
And, bursting forth into a merry laugh,
He cried to Brother Anthony: "Away!
And drive the ass before you with your staff;
And when you reach the convent you may say
You left me at a farm, half tired and half
Ill with a fever, for a night and day,
And that the farmer lent this ass to bear
Our wallets, that are heavy with good fare."
Now Brother Anthony, who knew the pranks
Of Brother Timothy, would not persuade
Or reason with him on his quirks and cranks,
But, being obedient, silently obeyed;
And, smiting with his staff the ass's flanks,
Drove him before him over hill and glade,
Safe with his provend to the convent gate,
Leaving poor Brother Timothy to his fate.
Then Gilbert, laden with fagots for his fire,
Forth issued from the wood, and stood aghast
To see the ponderous body of the friar
Standing where he had left his donkey last.
Trembling he stood, and dared not venture nigher,
But stared, and gaped, and crossed himself full fast;
For, being credulous and of little wit,
He thought it was some demon from the pit.
While speechless and bewildered thus he gazed,
And dropped his load of fagots on the ground,
Quoth Brother Timothy: "Be not amazed
That where you left a donkey should be found
A poor Franciscan friar, half-starved and crazed,
Standing demure and with a halter bound;
But set me free, and hear the piteous story
Of Brother Timothy of Casal-Maggiore.
"I am a sinful man, although you see
I wear the consecrated cowl and cape;
You never owned an ass, but you owned me,
Changed and transformed from my own natural shape
All for the deadly sin of gluttony,
From which I could not otherwise escape,
Than by this penance, dieting on grass,
And being worked and beaten as an ass.
"Think of the ignominy I endured;
Think of the miserable life I led,
The toil and blows to which I was inured,
My wretched lodging in a windy shed,
My scanty fare so grudgingly procured,
The damp and musty straw that formed my bed!
But, having done this penance for my sins,
My life as man and monk again begins."
The simple Gilbert, hearing words like these,
Was conscience-stricken, and fell down apace
Before the friar upon his bended knees,
And with a suppliant voice implored his grace;
And the good monk, now very much at ease,
Granted him pardon with a smiling face,
Nor could refuse to be that night his guest,
It being late, and he in need of rest.
Upon a hillside, where the olive thrives,
With figures painted on its white-washed walls,
The cottage stood; and near the humming hives
Made murmurs as of far-off waterfalls;
A place where those who love secluded lives
Might live content, and, free from noise and brawls,
Like Claudian's Old Man of Verona here
Measure by fruits the slow-revolving year.
And, coming to this cottage of content
They found his children, and the buxom wench
His wife, Dame Cicely, and his father, bent
With years and labor, seated on a bench,
Repeating over some obscure event
In the old wars of Milanese and French;
All welcomed the Franciscan, with a sense
Of sacred awe and humble reverence.
When Gilbert told them what had come to pass,
How beyond question, cavil, or surmise,
Good Brother Timothy had been their ass,
You should have seen the wonder in their eyes;
You should have heard them cry, "Alas! alas!
Have heard their lamentations and their sighs!
For all believed the story, and began
To see a saint in this afflicted man.
Forthwith there was prepared a grand repast,
To satisfy the craving of the friar
After so rigid and prolonged a fast;
The bustling housewife stirred the kitchen fire;
Then her two barnyard fowls, her best and last,
Were put to death, at her express desire,
And served up with a salad in a bowl,
And flasks of country wine to crown the whole.
It would not be believed should I repeat
How hungry Brother Timothy appeared;
It was a pleasure but to see him eat,
His white teeth flashing through his russet beard,
His face aglow and flushed with wine and meat,
His roguish eyes that rolled and laughed and leered!
Lord! how he drank the blood-red country wine
As if the village vintage were divine!
And all the while he talked without surcease,
And told his merry tales with jovial glee
That never flagged, but rather did increase,
And laughed aloud as if insane were he,
And wagged his red beard, matted like a fleece,
And cast such glances at Dame Cicely
That Gilbert now grew angry with his guest,
And thus in words his rising wrath expressed.
"Good father," said he, "easily we see
How needful in some persons, and how right,
Mortification of the flesh may be.
The indulgence you have given it to-night,
After long penance, clearly proves to me
Your strength against temptation is but slight,
And shows the dreadful peril you are in
Of a relapse into your deadly sin.
"To-morrow morning, with the rising sun,
Go back unto your convent, nor refrain
From fasting and from scourging, for you run
Great danger to become an ass again,
Since monkish flesh and asinine are one;
Therefore be wise, nor longer here remain,
Unless you wish the scourge should be applied
By other hands, that will not spare your hide."
When this the monk had heard, his color fled
And then returned, like lightning in the air,
Till he was all one blush from foot to head,
And even the bald spot in his russet hair
Turned from its usual pallor to bright red!
The old man was asleep upon his chair.
Then all retired, and sank into the deep
And helpless imbecility of sleep.
They slept until the dawn of day drew near,
Till the cock should have crowed, but did not crow,
For they had slain the shining chanticleer
And eaten him for supper, as you know.
The monk was up betimes and of good cheer,
And, having breakfasted, made haste to go,
As if he heard the distant matin bell,
And had but little time to say farewell.
Fresh was the morning as the breath of kine;
Odors of herbs commingled with the sweet
Balsamic exhalations of the pine;
A haze was in the air presaging heat;
Uprose the sun above the Apennine,
And all the misty valleys at its feet
Were full of the delirious song of birds,
Voices of men, and bells, and low of herds.
All this to Brother Timothy was naught;
He did not care for scenery, nor here
His busy fancy found the thing it sought;
But when he saw the convent walls appear,
And smoke from kitchen chimneys upward caught
And whirled aloft into the atmosphere,
He quickened his slow footsteps, like a beast
That scents the stable a league off at least.
And as he entered though the convent gate
He saw there in the court the ass, who stood
Twirling his ears about, and seemed to wait,
Just as he found him waiting in the wood;
And told the Prior that, to alleviate
The daily labors of the brotherhood,
The owner, being a man of means and thrift,
Bestowed him on the convent as a gift.
And thereupon the Prior for many days
Revolved this serious matter in his mind,
And turned it over many different ways,
Hoping that some safe issue he might find;
But stood in fear of what the world would say,
If he accepted presents of this kind,
Employing beasts of burden for the packs,
That lazy monks should carry on their backs.
Then, to avoid all scandal of the sort,
And stop the mouth of cavil, he decreed
That he would cut the tedious matter short,
And sell the ass with all convenient speed,
Thus saving the expense of his support,
And hoarding something for a time of need.
So he despatched him to the neighboring Fair,
And freed himself from cumber and from care.
It happened now by chance, as some might say,
Others perhaps would call it destiny,
Gilbert was at the Fair; and heard a bray,
And nearer came, and saw that it was he,
And whispered in his ear, "Ah, lackaday!
Good father, the rebellious flesh, I see,
Has changed you back into an ass again,
And all my admonitions were in vain."
The ass, who felt this breathing in his ear,
Did not turn round to look, but shook his head,
As if he were not pleased these words to hear,
And contradicted all that had been said.
And this made Gilbert cry in voice more clear,
"I know you well; your hair is russet-red;
Do not deny it; for you are the same
Franciscan friar, and Timothy by name."
The ass, though now the secret had come out,
Was obstinate, and shook his head again;
Until a crowd was gathered round about
To hear this dialogue between the twain;
And raised their voices in a noisy shout
When Gilbert tried to make the matter plain,
And flouted him and mocked him all day long
With laughter and with jibes and scraps of song.
"If this be Brother Timothy," they cried,
"Buy him, and feed him on the tenderest grass;
Thou canst not do too much for one so tried
As to be twice transformed into an ass."
So simple Gilbert bought him, and untied
His halter, and o'er mountain and morass
He led him homeward, talking as he went
Of good behavior and a mind content.
The children saw them coming, and advanced,
Shouting with joy, and hung about his neck,--
Not Gilbert's, but the ass's,--round him danced,
And wove green garlands where-withal to deck
His sacred person; for again it chanced
Their childish feelings, without rein or check,
Could not discriminate in any way
A donkey from a friar of Orders Gray.
"O Brother Timothy," the children said,
"You have come back to us just as before;
We were afraid, and thought that you were dead,
And we should never see you any more."
And then they kissed the white star on his head,
That like a birth-mark or a badge he wore,
And patted him upon the neck and face,
And said a thousand things with childish grace.
Thenceforward and forever he was known
As Brother Timothy, and led alway
A life of luxury, till he had grown
Ungrateful being stuffed with corn and hay,
And very vicious. Then in angry tone,
Rousing himself, poor Gilbert said one day
"When simple kindness is misunderstood
A little flagellation may do good."
His many vices need not here be told;
Among them was a habit that he had
Of flinging up his heels at young and old,
Breaking his halter, running off like mad
O'er pasture-lands and meadow, wood and wold,
And other misdemeanors quite as bad;
But worst of all was breaking from his shed
At night, and ravaging the cabbage-bed.
So Brother Timothy went back once more
To his old life of labor and distress;
Was beaten worse than he had been before.
And now, instead of comfort and caress,
Came labors manifold and trials sore;
And as his toils increased his food grew less,
Until at last the great consoler, Death,
Ended his many sufferings with his breath.
Great was the lamentation when he died;
And mainly that he died impenitent;
Dame Cicely bewailed, the children cried,
The old man still remembered the event
In the French war, and Gilbert magnified
His many virtues, as he came and went,
And said: "Heaven pardon Brother Timothy,
And keep us from the sin of gluttony."
"Signor Luigi," said the Jew,
When the Sicilian's tale was told,
"The were-wolf is a legend old,
But the were-ass is something new,
And yet for one I think it true.
The days of wonder have not ceased
If there are beasts in forms of men,
As sure it happens now and then,
Why may not man become a beast,
In way of punishment at least?
"But this I will not now discuss,
I leave the theme, that we may thus
Remain within the realm of song.
The story that I told before,
Though not acceptable to all,
At least you did not find too long.
I beg you, let me try again,
With something in a different vein,
Before you bid the curtain fall.
Meanwhile keep watch upon the door,
Nor let the Landlord leave his chair,
Lest he should vanish into air,
And thus elude our search once more.
Thus saying, from his lips he blew
A little cloud of perfumed breath,
And then, as if it were a clew
To lead his footsteps safely through,
Began his tale as followeth.
THE SPANISH JEW'S SECOND TALE
The battle is fought and won
By King Ladislaus the Hun,
In fire of hell and death's frost,
On the day of Pentecost.
And in rout before his path
From the field of battle red
Flee all that are not dead
Of the army of Amurath.
In the darkness of the night
Iskander, the pride and boast
Of that mighty Othman host,
With his routed Turks, takes flight
From the battle fought and lost
On the day of Pentecost;