ON Dinan’s walls the morning sunlight plays,
Gilds the stern fortress with a crown of rays,
Shines on the children’s heads that troop to school,
Turns into beryl-brown the forest pool,
Sends diamond sparkles over gushing springs,
And showers down glory on the simplest things.
And many a young seigneur and damsel bold
See with delight those beams of reddening gold,
For they are bid to join the hunt to-day
By Claud Marot, the lord of La Garaye;
And merry is it in his spacious halls;
Cheerful the host, whatever sport befalls,
Cheerful and courteous, full of manly grace,
His heart’s frank welcome written in his face;
So eager, that his pleasure never cloys,
But glad to share whatever he enjoys;
Rich, liberal, gaily dressed, of noble mien,
Clear eyes,–full curving mouth,–and brow serene;
Master of speech in many a foreign tongue,
And famed for feats of arms, although so young;
Dexterous in fencing, skilled in horsemanship–
His voice and hand preferred to spur or whip;
Quick at a jest and smiling repartee,
With a sweet laugh that sounded frank and free,
But holding Satire an accursèd thing,
A poisoned javelin or a serpent’s sting;
Pitiful to the poor; of courage high;
A soul that could all turns of fate defy
Gentle to women: reverent to old age:
What more, young Claud, could men’s esteem engage?
What more be given to bless thine earthy state,
Save Love,–which still must crown the happiest fate!
Love, therefore, came. That sunbeam lit his life
And where he wooed, he won, a gentle wife
Born, like himself, of lineage brave and good;
And, like himself, of warm and eager mood;
Glad to share gladness, pleasure to impart,
With dancing spirits and a tender heart.
Pleased too to share the manlier sports which made
The joy of his young hours. No more afraid
Of danger, than the seabird, used to soar
From the high rocks above the ocean’s roar,
Which dips its slant wing in the wave’s white crest,
And deems the foamy undulations, rest.
Nor think the feminine beauty of her soul
Tarnished by yielding to such joy’s control;
Nor that the form which, like a flexile reed,
Swayed with the movements of her bounding steed,
Took from those graceful hours a rougher force,
Or left her nature masculine and coarse.
She was not bold from boldness, but from love;
Bold from gay frolic; glad with him to rove
In danger or in safety, weal or woe,
And where he ventured, still she yearned to go.
Bold with the courage of his bolder life,
At home a tender and submissive wife;
Abroad, a woman, modest,–ay, and proud;
Not seeking homage from the casual crowd.
She remained pure, that darling of his sight,
In spite of boyish feats, and rash delight;
Still the eyes fell before an insolent look,
Or flashed their bright and innocent rebuke;
Still the cheek kept its delicate youthful bloom,
And the blush reddened through the snow-white plume.
He that had seen her, with her courage high,
First in the chase where all dashed rapid by;
He that had watched her bright impetuous look
When she prepared to leap the silver brook,–
Fair in her Springtime as a branch of May,–
Had felt the dull sneer feebly die away,
And unused kindly smiles upon his cold lips play!
God made all pleasure innocent; but man
Turns them to shame, since first our earth began
To shudder ‘neath the stroke of delving tools
When Eve and Adam lost,–poor tempted fools,–
The sweet safe shelter of their Eden bowers,
Its easy wealth of sun-ripe fruits and flowers,
For some forbidden zest that was not given,
Some riotous hope to make a mimic heaven,
And sank,–from being wingless angels,–low
Into the depths of mean and abject woe.
Why should the sweet elastic sense of joy
Presage a fault? Why should the pleasure cloy,
Or turn to blame, which Heaven itself inspires,
Who gave us health and strength and all desires?
The children play, and sin not;–let the young
Still carol songs, as others too have sung;
Still urge the fiery courser o’er the plain,
Proud of his glossy sides and flowing mane;
Still, when they meet in careless hours of mirth,
Laugh, as if Sorrow were unknown to earth;
Prattling sweet nothings, which, like buds of flowers,
May turn to earnest thoughts and vigilant hours.
What boys can suffer, and weak women dare,
Let Indian and Crimean wastes declare:
Perchance in that gay group of laughers stand
Guides and defenders for our native land;–
Folly it is to see a wit in woe,
And hold youth sinful for the spirits’ flow.
As thro’ the meadow lands clear rivers run,
Blue in the shadow–silver in the sun–
Till, rolling by some pestilential source,
Some factory work whose wheels with horrid force
Strike the pure waters with their dripping beams,
Send poison gushing to the crystal streams,
And leave the innocent things to whom God gave
A natural home in that translucent wave
Gasping strange death, and floating down to show
The evil working in the depths below,–
So man can poison pleasure at its source;
Clog the swift sparkle of its rapid course,
Mix muddy morbid thoughts in vicious strife,
Till to the surface floats the death of life;–
But not the less the stream itself was pure–
And not the less may blameless joy endure.
Careless,–but not impure,–the joyous days
Passed in a rapturous whirl; a giddy maze,
Where the young Count and lovely Countess drew
A new delight from every pleasure new.
They woke to gladness as the morning broke;
Their very voices kept, whene’er they spoke,
A ring of joy, a harmony of life,
That made you bless the husband and the wife.
And every day the careless festal throng,
And every night the dance and feast and song,
Shared with young boon companions, marked the time
As with a carillon’s exulting chime;
Where those two entered, gloom passed out of sight,
Chased by the glow of their intense delight.
So, till the day when over Dinan’s walls
The Autumn sunshine of my story falls;
And the guests bidden, gather for the chase,
And the smile brightens on the lovely face
That greets them in succession as they come
Into that high and hospitable home.
Like a sweet picture doth the Lady stand,
Still blushing as she bows; one tiny hand,
Hid by a pearl-embroidered gauntlet, holds
Her whip, and her long robe’s exuberant folds.
The other hand is bare, and from her eyes
Shades now and then the sun, or softly lies,
With a caressing touch, upon the neck
Of the dear glossy steed she loves to deck
With saddle-housings worked in golden thread,
And golden bands upon his noble head.
White is the little hand whose taper fingers
Smooth his fine coat,–and still the lady lingers,
Leaning against his side; nor lifts her head,
But gently turns as gathering footsteps tread;
Reminding you of doves with shifting throats,
Brooding in sunshine by their sheltering cotes.
Under her plumèd hat her wealth of curls
Falls down in golden links among her pearls,
And the rich purple of her velvet vest
Slims the young waist, and rounds the graceful breast.
So, till the latest joins the happy Meet;
Then springs she gladly to her eager feet;
And, while the white hand from her courser’s side
Slips like a snow-flake, stands prepared to ride.
Then lightly vaulting to her seat, she seems
Queen of some fair procession seen in dreams;
Queen of herself, and of the world; sweet Queen!
Her crown the plume above her brow serene,
Her jewelled whip a sceptre, and her dress
The regal mantle worn by loveliness.
And well she wears such mantle: swift the horse,
But firm her seat throughout the rapid course;
No rash unsteadiness, no shifting pose
Disturbs that line of beauty as she goes:
She wears her robe as some fair sloop her sails,
Which swell and flutter to the rising gales,
But never from the cordage taut and trim
Slacken or swerve away. The evening dim
Sees her return, unwearied and unbent,
The fair folds falling smooth as when she went;
The little foot no clasping buckle keeps,
She frees it, and to earth untrammelled leaps.
Alas! look well upon that picture fair!
The face–the form–the smile–the golden hair;
The agile beauty of each movement made,–
The loving softness of her eyes’ sweet shade,
The bloom and pliant grace of youthful days,
The gladness and the glory of her gaze.
If we knew when the last time was the last,
Visions so dear to straining eyes went past;
If we knew when the horror and the gloom
Should overcast the pride of beauty’s bloom;
If we knew when affection nursed in vain
Should grow to be but bitterness and pain;
It were a curse to blight all living hours
With a hot dust, like dark volcano showers.
Give thanks to God who blinded us with Hope;
Denied man skill to draw his horoscope;
And, to keep mortals of the present fond,
Forbid the keenest sight to pierce beyond!
Falsehood from those we trusted; cruel sneers
From those whose voice was music to our ears;
Lonely old age; oppressed and orphaned youth;
Yearning appeals to hearts that know no ruth;
Ruin, that starves pale mouths we loved to feed;
A friend’s forsaking in our utmost need;
These come,–and sting,–and madden; ay, and slay;
But not the less our joy hath had its day;
No little cloud first flecked our tranquil skies,
Presaging shipwreck to the prophet eyes;
No hand came forth upon the walls of home
With vanishing radiance writing darkest doom;
No child-soul called us in the dead of night,
Thrilled with a message from a God of might;
No shrouded Seer, by some enforcing spell,
Rose from Death’s rest, Life’s restless chance to tell;
The lightning smote us–shivering stem and bough:
All was so green: all lies so blighted now!
They ride together all that sunny day,
Claud and the lovely Lady of Garaye;
O’er hill and dale,–through fields of late reaped corn,
Through woods,–wherever sounds the hunting horn,
Wherever scour the fleet hounds, fast they follow,
Through tufted thickets and the leaf-strewn hollow;
And thrice,–the game secured,–they rest awhile,
And slacken bridle with a breathless smile:
And thrice, with joyous speed, off, off they go,–
Like a fresh arrow from a new-strung bow!
But now the ground is rough with boulder stones,
Where, wild beneath, the prisoned streamlet moans,
The prisoned streamlet strugggling to be free,
Baring the roots of many a toppling tree,
Breaking the line where smooth-barked saplings rank,
And undermining all the creviced bank;
Till gushing out at length to open space,
Mad with the effort of its desperate race,
It pauses, swelling o’er the narrow ridge
Where fallen branches make a natural bridge,
Leaps to the next desent, and, balked no more,
Foams to a waterfall, whose ceaseless roar
Echoes far down the banks, and through the forest hoar!
Across the water full of peakèd stones–
Across the water where it chafes and moans–
Across the water at its widest part–
Which wilt thou leap,–oh, lady of brave heart?
Their smiling eyes have met–those eager two:
She looks at Claud, as questioning which to do:
He rides–reins in –looks down the torrent’s course,–
Pats the sleek neck of his sure-footed horse,–
Stops,–measures spaces with his eagle eye,
Tries a new track, and yet returns to try.
Sudden, while pausing at the very brink,
The damp leaf-covered ground appears to sink,
And the keen instinct of the wise dumb brute
Escapes the yielding earth, the slippery root;
With a wild effort as if taking wing
The monstrous gap he clears with one safe spring;
Reaches–(and barely reaches)–past the roar
Of the wild stream, the further lower shore,–
Scrambles–recovers,–rears–and panting stands
Safe ‘neath his master’s nerveless trembling hands.
Oh! even while he leapt, his horrid thought
Was of the peril to that lady brought;
Oh! even while he leapt, her Claud looked back,
And shook his hand to warn her from the track.
In vain: the pleasant voice she loved so well
Feebly re-echoed through that dreadful dell,
The voice that was the music of her home
Shouted in vain across that torrent’s foam.
He saw her, pausing on the bank above;
Saw,–like a dreadful vision of his love,–
That dazzling dream stand on the edge of death:
Saw it–and stared–and prayed–and held his breath.
Bright shone the Autumn sun on wood and plain;
On the steed’s glossy flanks and flowing mane;
On the wild silver of the rushing brook;
On his wife’s smiling and triumphant look;
Bright waved against the sky her wind-tost plume,
Bright on her freshened cheek the healthy bloom,–
Oh! all bright things, how could ye end in doom?
Forward they leaped! They leaped–a coloured flash
Of life and beauty. Hark! a sudden crash,–
Blent with that dreadful sound, a man’s sharp cry,–
Prone,–‘neath the crumbling bank,–the horse and lady lie!
The heart grows humble in an awe-struck grief;
Claud thinks not, dreams not, plans not her relief.
Strengthen him but, O God! to reach the place,
And let him look upon her dying face!
Let him but say farewell! farewell, sweet love!
And once more hear her speak, and see her move,–
And ask her if she suffers where she lies,–
And kiss the lids down on her closing eyes,–
And he will be content.
He climbs and strives:
The strength is in his heart of twenty lives;
Across the leaf-strewn gaps he madly springs;
From branch to branch like some wild ape he swings;
Breasts, with hot effort, that cold rushing source
Of death and danger. With a giant’s force
His bleeding hands and broken nails have clung
Round the gnarled slippery roots above him hung,
And now he’s near,–he sees her through the leaves;
But a new horrid fear his mind receives:
The steed! his hoofs may crush that angel head!
No, Claud,–her favourite is already dead,
One shivering gasp thro’ limbs that now stretch out like lead.
He’s with her! is he dying too? his blood
Beats no more to and fro; his abstract mood
Weighs like a nightmare; something, well he knows,
Is horrible,–and still the horror grows;
But what it is, or how it came to pass,
Or why he lies half fainting on the grass,
Or what he strove to clutch at in his fall,
Or why he had no power for help to call,
This is confused and lost.
But Claud has heard
A sound like breathings from a sleeping bird
New-caged that day,–a weak distrubing sigh,
The whisper of a grief that cannot cry,–
Repeated, and then still; and then again
Repeated,–and a long low moan of pain.
The hunt is passing; through the arching glade
The hounds sweep on in flickering light and shade,
The cheery huntsman winds his rallying horn,
And voices shouting from his guests that morn
Keep calling, calling, ‘Claud, the hunt is o’er,
Return we to the merry halls once more!’
Claud hears not; heeds not;–all is like a dream
Except that lady lying by the stream;
Above all tumult of uproarious sound
Comes the faint sigh that breathes along the ground,
Where pale as death in her returning life
Writhes the sweet angel whom he still calls wife.
He parts the masses of her golden hair,
He lifts her, helpless, with a shudderng care,
He looks into her face with awe-struck eyes;–
She dies–the darling of his soul–she dies!
You might have heard, through that thought’s fearful shock,
The beating of his heart like some huge clock;
And then the strong pulse falter and stand still,
When lifted from that fear with sudden thrill
He bent to catch faint murmurs of his name,
Which from those blanched lips low and trembling came:
‘Oh! Claud!’ she said: no more–
But never yet,
Through all the loving days since first they met,
Leaped his heart’s blood with such a yearning vow
That she was all in all to him, as now.
‘Oh! Claud–the pain!’
‘Oh! Gertrude, my beloved!’
Then faintly o’er her lips a wan smile moved,
Which dumbly spoke of comfort from his tone,
As though she felt half saved, not so to die alone.
Ah! happy they who in their grief or pain
Yearn not for some familiar face in vain;
Who in the sheltering arms of love can lie
Till human passion breathes its latest sigh;
Who, when words fail to enter the dull ear,
And when eyes cease from seeing forms most dear,
Still the fond clasping touch can understand,–
And sink to death from that detaining hand!
He sits and watches; and she lies and moans;
The wild stream rushes over broken stones;
The dead leaves flutter to the mossy earth;
Far-away echoes bring the hunters’ mirth;
And the long hour creeps by–too long–too long;
Till the chance music of a peasant’ song
Breaks the hard silence with a human hope,
And Claud starts up and gazes down the slope;
And from a wandering herdsman he obtains
The help whose want has chilled his anxious veins.
Into a simple litter then they bind
Thin cradling branches deftly intertwined;
And there they lay the lady as they found her,
With all her bright hair streaming sadly round her;
Her white lips parted o’er the pearly teeth
Like pictured saints’, who die a martyr’s death,–
And slowly bear her, like a corse of clay,
Back to the home she left so blithe to-day.
The starry lights shine forth from tower and hall,
Stream through the gateway, glimmer on the wall,
And the loud pleasant stir of busy men
In courtyard and in stable sounds again.
And through the windows, as that death-bier passes,
They see the shining of the ruby glasses
Set at brief intervals for many a guest
Prepared to share the laugh, the song, the jest;
Prepared to drink, with many a courtly phrase,
Their host and hostess–‘Health to the Garayes!’
Health to the slender, lithe, yet stalwart frame
Of Claud Marot–Count of that noble name;
Health to his lovely Countess: health–to her!
Scarce seems she now with faintest breath to stir:
Oh! half-shut eyes–oh! brow with torture damp,–
Will life’s oil rise in that expiring lamp?
Are there yet days to come, or does he bend
Over a hope of which this is the end?
He shivers, and hot tears shut out the sight
Of that dear home for feasting made so bright;
The golden evening light is round him dying,
The dark rooks to their nests are slowly flying,
As underneath the portal, faint with fear,
He sees her carried, now so doubly dear;
‘Save her!’ is written in his anxious glances,
As the quick-summoned leech in haste advances.
‘Save her!’–and through the gloom of midnight hours,
And through the hot noon, shut from air and flowers,
Young Claud sits patient–waiting day by day
For health for that sweet lady of Garaye.