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, Seventy vessels 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 Of Regnarock, 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 Heroic deeds 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, Eric's dragon-ship. 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, Beseeching, entreating 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, Beseeching, imploring, 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. These grains of gold are not grains of wheat; These bars of silver thou canst not eat; These jewels and pearls and precious stones Cannot cure the aches in thy bones, Nor keep the feet of Death one hour From climbing the stairways of thy tower!'
"Then into his dungeon I locked the drone, And left him to feed there all alone In the honey-cells of his golden hive: Never a prayer, nor a cry, nor a groan Was heard from those massive walls of stone, Nor again was the Kalif seen alive!
"When at last we unlocked the door, We found him dead upon the floor; The rings had dropped from his withered hands, His teeth were like bones in the desert sands: Still clutching his treasure he had died; And as he lay there, he appeared A statue of gold with a silver beard, His arms outstretched as if crucified."
This is the story, strange and true, That the great captain Alau Told to his brother the Tartar Khan, When he rode that day into Kambalu By the road that leadeth to Ispahan.
"I thought before your tale began," The Student murmured, "we should have Some legend written by Judah Rav In his Gemara of Babylon; Or something from the Gulistan,— The tale of the Cazy of Hamadan, Or of that King of Khorasan Who saw in dreams the eyes of one That had a hundred years been dead Still moving restless in his head, Undimmed, and gleaming with the lust Of power, though all the rest was dust.
"But lo! your glittering caravan On the road that leadeth to Ispahan Hath led us farther to the East Into the regions of Cathay. Spite of your Kalif and his gold, Pleasant has been the tale you told, And full of color; that at least No one will question or gainsay. And yet on such a dismal day We need a merrier tale to clear The dark and heavy atmosphere. So listen, Lordlings, while I tell, Without a preface, what befell A simple cobbler, in the year — No matter; it was long ago; And that is all we need to know."
THE STUDENT'S TALE
THE COBBLER OF HAGENAU
I trust that somewhere and somehow You all have heard of Hagenau, A quiet, quaint, and ancient town Among the green Alsatian hills, A place of valleys, streams, and mills, Where Barbarossa's castle, brown With rust of centuries, still looks down On the broad, drowsy land below,— On shadowy forests filled with game, And the blue river winding slow Through meadows, where the hedges grow That give this little town its name.
It happened in the good old times, While yet the Master-singers filled The noisy workshop and the guild With various melodies and rhymes, That here in Hagenau there dwelt A cobbler,—one who loved debate, And, arguing from a postulate, Would say what others only felt; A man of forecast and of thrift, And of a shrewd and careful mind In this world's business, but inclined Somewhat to let the next world drift.
Hans Sachs with vast delight he read, And Regenbogen's rhymes of love, For their poetic fame had spread Even to the town of Hagenau; And some Quick Melody of the Plough, Or Double Harmony of the Dove, Was always running in his head. He kept, moreover, at his side, Among his leathers and his tools, Reynard the Fox, the Ship of Fools, Or Eulenspiegel, open wide; With these he was much edified: He thought them wiser than the Schools.
His good wife, full of godly fear, Liked not these worldly themes to hear; The Psalter was her book of songs; The only music to her ear Was that which to the Church belongs, When the loud choir on Sunday chanted, And the two angels carved in wood, That by the windy organ stood, Blew on their trumpets loud and clear, And all the echoes, far and near, Gibbered as if the church were haunted. Outside his door, one afternoon, This humble votary of the muse Sat in the narrow strip of shade By a projecting cornice made, Mending the Burgomaster's shoes, And singing a familiar tune:—
"Our ingress into the world Was naked and bare; Our progress through the world Is trouble and care; Our egress from the world Will be nobody knows where; But if we do well here We shall do well there; And I could tell you no more, Should I preach a whole year!"
Thus sang the cobbler at his work; And with his gestures marked the time Closing together with a jerk Of his waxed thread the stitch and rhyme. Meanwhile his quiet little dame Was leaning o'er the window-sill, Eager, excited, but mouse-still, Gazing impatiently to see What the great throng of folk might be That onward in procession came, Along the unfrequented street, With horns that blew, and drums that beat, And banners flying, and the flame Of tapers, and, at times, the sweet Voices of nuns; and as they sang Suddenly all the church-bells rang.
In a gay coach, above the crowd, There sat a monk in ample hood, Who with his right hand held aloft A red and ponderous cross of wood, To which at times he meekly bowed. In front three horsemen rode, and oft, With voice and air importunate, A boisterous herald cried aloud: "The grace of God is at your gate!" So onward to the church they passed.
The cobbler slowly tuned his last, And, wagging his sagacious head, Unto his kneeling housewife said: "'Tis the monk Tetzel. I have heard The cawings of that reverend bird. Don't let him cheat you of your gold; Indulgence is not bought and sold."
The church of Hagenau, that night, Was full of people, full of light; An odor of incense filled the air, The priest intoned, the organ groaned Its inarticulate despair; The candles on the altar blazed, And full in front of it upraised The red cross stood against the glare. Below, upon the altar-rail Indulgences were set to sale, Like ballads at a country fair. A heavy strong-box, iron-bound And carved with many a quaint device, Received, with a melodious sound, The coin that purchased Paradise.
Then from the pulpit overhead, Tetzel the monk, with fiery glow, Thundered upon the crowd below. "Good people all, draw near!" he said; "Purchase these letters, signed and sealed, By which all sins, though unrevealed And unrepented, are forgiven! Count but the gain, count not the loss Your gold and silver are but dross, And yet they pave the way to heaven. I hear your mothers and your sires Cry from their purgatorial fires, And will ye not their ransom pay? O senseless people! when the gate Of heaven is open, will ye wait? Will ye not enter in to-day? To-morrow it will be too late; I shall be gone upon my way. Make haste! bring money while ye may!'
The women shuddered, and turned pale; Allured by hope or driven by fear, With many a sob and many a tear, All crowded to the altar-rail. Pieces of silver and of gold Into the tinkling strong-box fell Like pebbles dropped into a well; And soon the ballads were all sold. The cobbler's wife among the rest Slipped into the capacious chest A golden florin; then withdrew, Hiding the paper in her breast; And homeward through the darkness went Comforted, quieted, content; She did not walk, she rather flew, A dove that settles to her nest, When some appalling bird of prey That scared her has been driven away.
The days went by, the monk was gone, The summer passed, the winter came; Though seasons changed, yet still the same The daily round of life went on; The daily round of household care, The narrow life of toil and prayer. But in her heart the cobbler's dame Had now a treasure beyond price, A secret joy without a name, The certainty of Paradise. Alas, alas! Dust unto dust! Before the winter wore away, Her body in the churchyard lay, Her patient soul was with the Just! After her death, among the things That even the poor preserve with care,— Some little trinkets and cheap rings, A locket with her mother's hair, Her wedding gown, the faded flowers She wore upon her wedding day,— Among these memories of past hours, That so much of the heart reveal, Carefully kept and put away, The Letter of Indulgence lay Folded, with signature and seal.
Meanwhile the Priest, aggrieved and pained, Waited and wondered that no word Of mass or requiem he heard, As by the Holy Church ordained; Then to the Magistrate complained, That as this woman had been dead A week or more, and no mass said, It was rank heresy, or at least Contempt of Church; thus said the Priest; And straight the cobbler was arraigned.
He came, confiding in his cause, But rather doubtful of the laws. The Justice from his elbow-chair Gave him a look that seemed to say: "Thou standest before a Magistrate, Therefore do not prevaricate!" Then asked him in a business way, Kindly but cold: "Is thy wife dead?" The cobbler meekly bowed his head; "She is," came struggling from his throat Scarce audibly. The Justice wrote The words down in a book, and then Continued, as he raised his pen: "She is; and hath a mass been said For the salvation of her soul? Come, speak the truth! confess the whole!" The cobbler without pause replied: "Of mass or prayer there was no need; For at the moment when she died Her soul was with the glorified!" And from his pocket with all speed He drew the priestly title-deed, And prayed the Justice he would read.
The Justice read, amused, amazed; And as he read his mirth increased; At times his shaggy brows he raised, Now wondering at the cobbler gazed, Now archly at the angry Priest. "From all excesses, sins, and crimes Thou hast committed in past times Thee I absolve! And furthermore, Purified from all earthly taints, To the communion of the Saints And to the sacraments restore! All stains of weakness, and all trace Of shame and censure I efface; Remit the pains thou shouldst endure, And make thee innocent and pure, So that in dying, unto thee The gates of heaven shall open be! Though long thou livest, yet this grace Until the moment of thy death Unchangeable continueth!"
Then said he to the Priest: "I find This document is duly signed Brother John Tetzel, his own hand. At all tribunals in the land In evidence it may be used; Therefore acquitted is the accused." Then to the cobbler turned: "My friend, Pray tell me, didst thou ever read Reynard the Fox?"—"O yes, indeed!"— "I thought so. Don't forget the end."
"What was the end? I am ashamed Not to remember Reynard's fate; I have not read the book of late; Was he not hanged?" the Poet said. The Student gravely shook his head, And answered: "You exaggerate. There was a tournament proclaimed, And Reynard fought with Isegrim The Wolf, and having vanquished him, Rose to high honor in the State, And Keeper of the Seals was named!"
At this the gay Sicilian laughed: "Fight fire with fire, and craft with craft; Successful cunning seems to be The moral of your tale," said he. "Mine had a better, and the Jew's Had none at all, that I could see; His aim was only to amuse."
Meanwhile from out its ebon case His violin the Minstrel drew, And having tuned its strings anew, Now held it close in his embrace, And poising in his outstretched hand The bow, like a magician's wand, He paused, and said, with beaming face: "Last night my story was too long; To-day I give you but a song, An old tradition of the North; But first, to put you in the mood, I will a little while prelude, And from this instrument draw forth Something by way of overture."
He played; at first the tones were pure And tender as a summer night, The full moon climbing to her height, The sob and ripple of the seas, The flapping of an idle sail; And then by sudden and sharp degrees The multiplied, wild harmonies Freshened and burst into a gale; A tempest howling through the dark, A crash as of some shipwrecked bark. A loud and melancholy wail.
Such was the prelude to the tale Told by the Minstrel; and at times He paused amid its varying rhymes, And at each pause again broke in The music of his violin, With tones of sweetness or of fear, Movements of trouble or of calm, Creating their own atmosphere; As sitting in a church we hear Between the verses of the psalm The organ playing soft and clear, Or thundering on the startled ear.
THE MUSICIAN'S TALE
THE BALLAD OF CARMILHAN
At Stralsund, by the Baltic Sea, Within the sandy bar, At sunset of a summer's day, Ready for sea, at anchor lay The good ship Valdemar.
The sunbeams danced upon the waves, And played along her side; And through the cabin windows streamed In ripples of golden light, that seemed The ripple of the tide.
There sat the captain with his friends, Old skippers brown and hale, Who smoked and grumbled o'er their grog, And talked of iceberg and of fog, Of calm and storm and gale.
And one was spinning a sailor's yarn About Klaboterman, The Kobold of the sea; a spright Invisible to mortal sight, Who o'er the rigging ran.
Sometimes he hammered in the hold, Sometimes upon the mast, Sometimes abeam, sometimes abaft, Or at the bows he sang and laughed, And made all tight and fast.
He helped the sailors at their work, And toiled with jovial din; He helped them hoist and reef the sails, He helped them stow the casks and bales, And heave the anchor in.
But woe unto the lazy louts, The idlers of the crew; Them to torment was his delight, And worry them by day and night, And pinch them black and blue.
And woe to him whose mortal eyes Klaboterman behold. It is a certain sign of death!— The cabin-boy here held his breath, He felt his blood run cold.
The jolly skipper paused awhile, And then again began; "There is a Spectre Ship," quoth he, "A ship of the Dead that sails the sea, And is called the Carmilhan.
"A ghostly ship, with a ghostly crew, In tempests she appears; And before the gale, or against the gale, She sails without a rag of sail, Without a helmsman steers.
"She haunts the Atlantic north and south, But mostly the mid-sea, Where three great rocks rise bleak and bare Like furnace-chimneys in the air, And are called the Chimneys Three.
"And ill betide the luckless ship That meets the Carmilhan; Over her decks the seas will leap, She must go down into the deep, And perish mouse and man."
The captain of the Valdemar Laughed loud with merry heart. "I should like to see this ship," said he; "I should like to find these Chimneys Three, That are marked down in the chart.
"I have sailed right over the spot," he said "With a good stiff breeze behind, When the sea was blue, and the sky was clear,— You can follow my course by these pinholes here,— And never a rock could find."
And then he swore a dreadful oath, He swore by the Kingdoms Three, That, should he meet the Carmilhan, He would run her down, although he ran Right into Eternity!
All this, while passing to and fro, The cabin-boy had heard; He lingered at the door to hear, And drank in all with greedy ear, And pondered every word.
He was a simple country lad, But of a roving mind. "O, it must be like heaven," thought he, "Those far-off foreign lands to see, And fortune seek and find!"
But in the fo'castle, when he heard The mariners blaspheme, He thought of home, he thought of God, And his mother under the churchyard sod, And wished it were a dream.
One friend on board that ship had he; 'T was the Klaboterman, Who saw the Bible in his chest, And made a sign upon his breast, All evil things to ban.
The cabin windows have grown blank As eyeballs of the dead; No more the glancing sunbeams burn On the gilt letters of the stern, But on the figure-head;
On Valdemar Victorious, Who looketh with disdain To see his image in the tide Dismembered float from side to side, And reunite again.
"It is the wind," those skippers said, "That swings the vessel so; It is the wind; it freshens fast, 'T is time to say farewell at last 'T is time for us to go."
They shook the captain by the hand, "Goodluck! goodluck!" they cried; Each face was like the setting sun, As, broad and red, they one by one Went o'er the vessel's side.
The sun went down, the full moon rose, Serene o'er field and flood; And all the winding creeks and bays And broad sea-meadows seemed ablaze, The sky was red as blood.
The southwest wind blew fresh and fair, As fair as wind could be; Bound for Odessa, o'er the bar, With all sail set, the Valdemar Went proudly out to sea.
The lovely moon climbs up the sky As one who walks in dreams; A tower of marble in her light, A wall of black, a wall of white, The stately vessel seems.
Low down upon the sandy coast The lights begin to burn; And now, uplifted high in air, They kindle with a fiercer glare, And now drop far astern.
The dawn appears, the land is gone, The sea is all around; Then on each hand low hills of sand Emerge and form another land; She steereth through the Sound.
Through Kattegat and Skager-rack She flitteth like a ghost; By day and night, by night and day, She bounds, she flies upon her way Along the English coast.
Cape Finisterre is drawing near, Cape Finisterre is past; Into the open ocean stream She floats, the vision of a dream Too beautiful to last.
Suns rise and set, and rise, and yet There is no land in sight; The liquid planets overhead Burn brighter now the moon is dead, And longer stays the night.
And now along the horizon's edge Mountains of cloud uprose, Black as with forests underneath, Above their sharp and jagged teeth Were white as drifted snows.
Unseen behind them sank the sun, But flushed each snowy peak A little while with rosy light That faded slowly from the sight As blushes from the cheek.
Black grew the sky,—all black, all black; The clouds were everywhere; There was a feeling of suspense In nature, a mysterious sense Of terror in the air.
And all on board the Valdemar Was still as still could be; Save when the dismal ship-bell tolled, As ever and anon she rolled, And lurched into the sea.
The captain up and down the deck Went striding to and fro; Now watched the compass at the wheel, Now lifted up his hand to feel Which way the wind might blow.
And now he looked up at the sails, And now upon the deep; In every fibre of his frame He felt the storm before it came, He had no thought of sleep.
Eight bells! and suddenly abaft, With a great rush of rain, Making the ocean white with spume, In darkness like the day of doom, On came the hurricane.
The lightning flashed from cloud to cloud, And rent the sky in two; A jagged flame, a single jet Of white fire, like a bayonet That pierced the eyeballs through.
Then all around was dark again, And blacker than before; But in that single flash of light He had beheld a fearful sight, And thought of the oath he swore.
For right ahead lay the Ship of the Dead, The ghostly Carmilhan! Her masts were stripped, her yards were bare, And on her bowsprit, poised in air, Sat the Klaboterman.
Her crew of ghosts was all on deck Or clambering up the shrouds; The boatswain's whistle, the captain's hail, Were like the piping of the gale, And thunder in the clouds.
And close behind the Carmilhan There rose up from the sea, As from a foundered ship of stone, Three bare and splintered masts alone: They were the Chimneys Three.
And onward dashed the Valdemar And leaped into the dark; A denser mist, a colder blast, A little shudder, and she had passed Right through the Phantom Bark.
She cleft in twain the shadowy hulk, But cleft it unaware; As when, careering to her nest, The sea-gull severs with her breast The unresisting air.
Again the lightning flashed; again They saw the Carmilhan, Whole as before in hull and spar; But now on board of the Valdemar Stood the Klaboterman.
And they all knew their doom was sealed; They knew that death was near; Some prayed who never prayed before, And some they wept, and some they swore, And some were mute with fear.
Then suddenly there came a shock, And louder than wind or sea A cry burst from the crew on deck, As she dashed and crashed, a hopeless wreck, Upon the Chimneys Three.
The storm and night were passed, the light To streak the east began; The cabin-boy, picked up at sea, Survived the wreck, and only he, To tell of the Carmilhan.
When the long murmur of applause That greeted the Musician's lay Had slowly buzzed itself away, And the long talk of Spectre Ships That followed died upon their lips And came unto a natural pause, "These tales you tell are one and all Of the Old World," the Poet said, "Flowers gathered from a crumbling wall, Dead leaves that rustle as they fall; Let me present you in their stead Something of our New England earth, A tale which, though of no great worth, Has still this merit, that it yields A certain freshness of the fields, A sweetness as of home-made bread."
The Student answered: "Be discreet; For if the flour be fresh and sound, And if the bread be light and sweet, Who careth in what mill 't was ground, Or of what oven felt the heat, Unless, as old Cervantes said, You are looking after better bread Than any that is made of wheat? You know that people nowadays To what is old give little praise; All must be new in prose and verse: They want hot bread, or something worse, Fresh every morning, and half baked; The wholesome bread of yesterday, Too stale for them, is thrown away, Nor is their thirst with water slaked.
As oft we see the sky in May Threaten to rain, and yet not rain, The Poet's face, before so gay, Was clouded with a look of pain, But suddenly brightened up again; And without further let or stay He told his tale of yesterday.
THE POET'S TALE
One hundred years ago, and something more, In Queen Street, Portsmouth, at her tavern door, Neat as a pin, and blooming as a rose, Stood Mistress Stavers in her furbelows, Just as her cuckoo-clock was striking nine. Above her head, resplendent on the sign, The portrait of the Earl of Halifax, In scarlet coat and periwig of flax, Surveyed at leisure all her varied charms, Her cap, her bodice, her white folded arms, And half resolved, though he was past his prime, And rather damaged by the lapse of time, To fall down at her feet and to declare The passion that had driven him to despair. For from his lofty station he had seen Stavers, her husband, dressed in bottle-green, Drive his new Flying Stage-coach, four in hand, Down the long lane, and out into the land, And knew that he was far upon the way To Ipswich and to Boston on the Bay!
Just then the meditations of the Earl Were interrupted by a little girl, Barefooted, ragged, with neglected hair, Eyes full of laughter, neck and shoulders bare, A thin slip of a girl, like a new moon, Sure to be rounded into beauty soon, A creature men would worship and adore, Though now in mean habiliments she bore A pail of water, dripping, through the street And bathing, as she went her naked feet.
It was a pretty picture, full of grace,— The slender form, the delicate, thin face; The swaying motion, as she hurried by; The shining feet, the laughter in her eye, That o'er her face in ripples gleamed and glanced, As in her pail the shifting sunbeam danced: And with uncommon feelings of delight The Earl of Halifax beheld the sight. Not so Dame Stavers, for he heard her say These words, or thought he did, as plain as day: "O Martha Hilton! Fie! how dare you go About the town half dressed, and looking so!" At which the gypsy laughed, and straight replied: "No matter how I look; I yet shall ride In my own chariot, ma'am." And on the child The Earl of Halifax benignly smiled, As with her heavy burden she passed on, Looked back, then turned the corner, and was gone.
What next, upon that memorable day, Arrested his attention was a gay And brilliant equipage, that flashed and spun, The silver harness glittering in the sun, Outriders with red jackets, lithe and lank, Pounding the saddles as they rose and sank, While all alone within the chariot sat A portly person with three-cornered hat, A crimson velvet coat, head high in air, Gold-headed cane, and nicely powdered hair, And diamond buckles sparkling at his knees, Dignified, stately, florid, much at ease. Onward the pageant swept, and as it passed, Fair Mistress Stavers courtesied low and fast; For this was Governor Wentworth, driving down To Little Harbor, just beyond the town, Where his Great House stood looking out to sea, A goodly place, where it was good to be.
It was a pleasant mansion, an abode Near and yet hidden from the great high-road, Sequestered among trees, a noble pile, Baronial and colonial in its style; Gables and dormer-windows everywhere, And stacks of chimneys rising high in air,— Pandaean pipes, on which all winds that blew Made mournful music the whole winter through. Within, unwonted splendors met the eye, Panels, and floors of oak, and tapestry; Carved chimney-pieces, where on brazen dogs Revelled and roared the Christmas fires of logs; Doors opening into darkness unawares, Mysterious passages, and flights of stairs; And on the walls, in heavy gilded frames, The ancestral Wentworths with Old-Scripture names.
Such was the mansion where the great man dwelt. A widower and childless; and he felt The loneliness, the uncongenial gloom, That like a presence haunted ever room; For though not given to weakness, he could feel The pain of wounds, that ache because they heal.
The years came and the years went,—seven in all, And passed in cloud and sunshine o'er the Hall; The dawns their splendor through its chambers shed, The sunsets flushed its western windows red; The snow was on its roofs, the wind, the rain; Its woodlands were in leaf and bare again; Moons waxed and waned, the lilacs bloomed and died, In the broad river ebbed and flowed the tide, Ships went to sea, and ships came home from sea, And the slow years sailed by and ceased to be.
And all these years had Martha Hilton served In the Great House, not wholly unobserved: By day, by night, the silver crescent grew, Though hidden by clouds, her light still shining through; A maid of all work, whether coarse or fine, A servant who made service seem divine! Through her each room was fair to look upon; The mirrors glistened, and the brasses shone, The very knocker on the outer door, If she but passed, was brighter than before.
And now the ceaseless turning of the mill Of Time, that never for an hour stands still, Ground out the Governor's sixtieth birthday, And powdered his brown hair with silver-gray. The robin, the forerunner of the spring, The bluebird with his jocund carolling, The restless swallows building in the eaves, The golden buttercups, the grass, the leaves, The lilacs tossing in the winds of May, All welcomed this majestic holiday! He gave a splendid banquet served on plate, Such as became the Governor of the State, Who represented England and the King, And was magnificent in everything. He had invited all his friends and peers,— The Pepperels, the Langdons, and the Lears, The Sparhawks, the Penhallows, and the rest; For why repeat the name of every guest? But I must mention one, in bands and gown, The rector there, the Reverend Arthur Brown Of the Established Church; with smiling face He sat beside the Governor and said grace; And then the feast went on, as others do, But ended as none other I e'er knew.
When they had drunk the King, with many a cheer, The Governor whispered in a servant's ear, Who disappeared and presently there stood Within the room, in perfect womanhood, A maiden, modest and yet self-possessed, Youthful and beautiful, and simply dressed. Can this be Martha Hilton? It must be! Yes, Martha Hilton, and no other she! Dowered with the beauty of her twenty years, How ladylike, how queenlike she appears; The pale, thin crescent of the days gone by Is Dian now in all her majesty! Yet scarce a guest perceived that she was there, Until the Governor, rising from his chair, Played slightly with his ruffles, then looked down, And said unto the Reverend Arthur Brown: "This is my birthday: it shall likewise be My wedding-day; and you shall marry me!"
The listening guests were greatly mystified, None more so than the rector, who replied: "Marry you? Yes, that were a pleasant task, Your Excellency; but to whom? I ask." The Governor answered: "To this lady here" And beckoned Martha Hilton to draw near. She came and stood, all blushes, at his side. The rector paused. The impatient Governor cried: "This is the lady; do you hesitate? Then I command you as Chief Magistrate." The rector read the service loud and clear: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here," And so on to the end. At his command On the fourth finger of her fair left hand The Governor placed the ring; and that was all: Martha was Lady Wentworth of the Hall!
Well pleased the audience heard the tale. The Theologian said: "Indeed, To praise you there is little need; One almost hears the farmers flail Thresh out your wheat, nor does there fail A certain freshness, as you said, And sweetness as of home-made bread. But not less sweet and not less fresh Are many legends that I know, Writ by the monks of long-ago, Who loved to mortify the flesh, So that the soul might purer grow, And rise to a diviner state; And one of these—perhaps of all Most beautiful—I now recall, And with permission will narrate; Hoping thereby to make amends For that grim tragedy of mine, As strong and black as Spanish wine, I told last night, and wish almost It had remained untold, my friends; For Torquemada's awful ghost Came to me in the dreams I dreamed, And in the darkness glared and gleamed Like a great lighthouse on the coast."
The Student laughing said: "Far more Like to some dismal fire of bale Flaring portentous on a hill; Or torches lighted on a shore By wreckers in a midnight gale. No matter; be it as you will, Only go forward with your tale."
THE THEOLOGIAN'S TALE
THE LEGEND BEAUTIFUL
"Hads't thou stayed, I must have fled!" That is what the Vision said.
In his chamber all alone, Kneeling on the floor of stone, Prayed the Monk in deep contrition For his sins of indecision, Prayed for greater self-denial In temptation and in trial; It was noonday by the dial, And the Monk was all alone.
Suddenly, as if it lightened, An unwonted splendor brightened All within him and without him In that narrow cell of stone; And he saw the Blessed Vision Of our Lord, with light Elysian Like a vesture wrapped about him, Like a garment round him thrown.
Not as crucified and slain, Not in agonies of pain, Not with bleeding hands and feet, Did the Monk his Master see; But as in the village street, In the house or harvest-field, Halt and lame and blind he healed, When he walked in Galilee.
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?"