Page images

And he, that Ancient Man, whose sight
Has long been quenched by age's night,
Upon whose wrinkled brow alone

Nor ruth nor mercy's trace is shown,
Whose look is hard and stern,-
Saint Cuthbert's Abbot is his style:
For sanctity called, through the isle,
The Saint of Lindisfarn.

Before them stood a guilty pair;
But, though an equal fate they share,
Yet one alone deserves our care.
Her sex a page's dress belied;
The cloak and doublet, loosely tied,
Obscured her charms, but could not hide.
Her cap down o'er her face she drew;
And, on her doublet breast,
She tried to hide the badge of blue,
Lord Marmion's falcon crest.
But, at the Prioress' command,
A Monk undid the silken band,
That tied her tresses fair,
And raised the bonnet from her head,
And down her slender form they spread,
In ringlets rich and rare.
Constance de Beverly they know,
Sister professed of Fontevraud,

Whom the church numbered with the dead,
For broken vows, and convent fled.

When thus her face was given to view,
(Although so pallid was her hue,
It did a ghastly contrast bear
To those bright ringlets, glistering fair,)
Her look composed, and steady eye,
Bespoke a matchless constancy;

And there she stood so calm and pale,
That, but her breathing did not fail,
And motion slight of eye and head,
And of her bosom, warranted
That neither sense nor pulse she lacks,
You might have thought a form of wax,
Wrought to the very life, was there ;
So still she was, so pale, so fair.

Her comrade was a sordid soul,

Such as does murder for a meed; Who, but of fear, knows no control, Because his conscience, seared and foul,

Feels not the import of his deed;
One, whose brute feeling ne'er aspires
Beyond his own more brute desires.
Such tools the tempter ever needs,
To do the savagest of deeds;
For them no visioned terrors daunt,
Their nights no fancied spectres haunt:
One fear with them, of all most base,-
The fear of death,-alone finds place.
This wretch was clad in frock and cowl,
And shamed not loud to moan and howl,
His body on the floor to dash,

And crouch, like hound beneath the lash;
While his mute partner, standing near,
Waited her doom without a tear.
Yet well the luckless wretch might shriek,
Well might her paleness terror speak!
For there was seen, in that dark wall,
Two niches, narrow, deep, and tall.
Who enters at such griesly door,
Shall ne'er, I ween, find exit more.
In each a slender meal was laid,
Of roots, of water, and of bread :

By each, in Benedictine dress,
Two haggard monks stood motionless;
Who, holding high a blazing torch,
Showed the grim entrance of the porch :
Reflecting back the smoky beam,
The dark-red walls and arches' gleam.
Hewn stones and cement were displayed,
And building tools in order laid.

These executioners were chose,
As men who were with mankind foes,
And, with despite and envy fired,
Into the cloister had retired;

Or who, in desperate doubt of grace,
Strove by deep penance to efface

Of some foul crime the stain ;
For, as the vassals of her will,
Such men the church selected still,
As either joyed in doing ill,

Or thought more grace to gain,
If, in her cause, they wrestled down
Feelings their nature strove to own.
By strange device were they brought there,
They knew not how, and knew not where.

And now that blind old Abbot rose,
To speak the Chapter's doom,
On those the wall was to enclose,
Alive, within the tomb:

But stopped, because that woeful maid,
Gathering her powers, to speak essayed.
Twice she essayed, and twice in vain ;
Her accents might no utterance gain;
Nought but imperfect murmurs slip
From her convulsed and quivering lip:

'Twixt each attempt all was so still,
You seemed to hear a distant rill-

'T was ocean's swells and falls;
For though this vault of sin and fear
Was to the sounding surge so near,
A tempest there you scarce could hear,
So massive were the walls.

At length, an effort sent apart
The blood that curdled to her heart,
And light came to her eye,
And colour dawned upon her cheek,
A hectic and a fluttered streak,
Like that left on the Cheviot peak
By Autumn's stormy sky;

And when her silence broke at length, Still as she spoke, she gathered strength, And armed herself to bear.

It was a fearful sight to see
Such high resolve and constancy,
In form so soft and fair.

"I speak not to implore your grace; Well know I, for one minute's space Successless might I sue:

Nor do I speak your prayers to gain;
For if a death of lingering pain,
To cleanse my sins, be penance vain,
Vain are your masses too.

I listened to a traitor's tale,

I left the convent and the veil,
For three long years I bowed my pride,

A horse-boy in his train to ride;
And well my folly's meed he gave,
Who forfeited, to be his slave,
All here, and all beyond the grave.-

He saw young Clara's face more fair,
He knew her of broad lands the heir,
Forgot his vows, his faith forswore,
And Constance was beloved no more.—
'T is an old tale, and often told;

But, did my fate and wish agree,
Ne'er had been read, in story old,
Of maiden true betrayed for gold,
That loved, or was avenged, like me!

* * * *


And now my tongue the secret tells
Not that remorse my bosom swells,
But to assure my soul, that none
Shall ever wed with Marmion.
Had fortune my last hope betrayed,
This packet, to the king conveyed,
Had given him to the headsman's stroke,
Although my heart that instant broke.-
Now, men of death, work forth your will,
For I can suffer, and be still;

And come he slow, or come he fast,
It is but death who comes at last.


"Yet dread me, from my living tomb,
Ye vassal slaves of bloody Rome!
If Marmion's late remorse should wake,
Full soon such vengeance will he take,
That you shall wish the fiery Dane
Had rather been your guest again.
Behind, a darker hour ascends!
The altars quake, the crosier bends,
The ire of a despotic king
Rides forth upon destruction's wing;
Then shall these vaults, so strong and deep,
Burst open to the sea-wind's sweep;

« EelmineJätka »