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THE MAID OF THE MASK.
A TALE OF ROTHENBURG.
RAY PALMER BAKER
ENTERED according to Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year one thousand nine hundred and eight, by
RAY PALMER BAKER,
at the Department of Agriculture.
IN LOVING MEMORY
Alice Gray Baker
Is affectionately dedicated
“And yet, dear heart! remembering thee, Am I not richer than of old?”
—Whittier [unnumbered page]
IT was my ambition, at first, to produce an epic that might fittingly commemorate the struggles and achievements of the United Empire Loyalists. The following books form a kind of introduction to the real work, but are nevertheless complete in themselves. I have therefore decided to present them to the English-speaking people of America, with the earnest hope that they may not be entirely unacceptable to those interested in the literary possibilities of a great historical period.
R. P. B.[unnumbered page]
|THE MAID OF THE MASK||75|
|A TALE OF ROTHENBURG||93|
IN days romantic, high among the crags Of old colonial New Hampshire, lay The streets of Moringworth, a village tucked Beneath a ridge of moss-encrusted mould. For half a mile or so, the cottages Went straggling down the slope like browsing sheep That, fleecy-coated, crop the luscious sward. One stately home of nobler mien upreared Its walls more prosperously fair—a touch Of England, pine-like standing to the sky. It seemed a spot apart from Moringworth, Whose dwindled commerce, art and government Long since had passed to cities by the sea, Where ocean liners load their living freight For foreign lands. Half-hidden here, o’ertopped By listless-hanging spruce and chestnut trees, [unnumbered page] The village lived in isolated calm. It woke, perchance, when, ponderous and slow, The groaning stage rough-jolted to the coast Its weekly mail, with passengers more bent On bargaining than were the villagers, Who year by year lived out their little lives, Unthinking of the ways of Providence, So fitted to their little-cornered needs. The silent, sloping valleys and the streams Beneath the crested hills, that overlook The fertile fields and pastures of the south, In fief and kind their ancient tribute paid. At dusk, when April rains renewed the fields Of dew-enamelled green, each tinkling flock Filed gently through the lower lands, and cropped The meadow there in leisurely return. With noiseless feet the Summer slipped away. The waving grain and golden hung, and then No master-touch was wanting to the scene Where God creating held not back His hand From seed-time, harvest and the joy of hope. In old New England days, amongst these streams And rifted hills, lived Aubrey Vere de Vere, [page 14] The single son and promise of his race; And heir, by birth, to lands of rich estate That inly marked a nation’s gratitude For services of secret gallantry And diplomatic skill. Three lonely miles Below the town the spacious manor stood, Surrounded now by fields of golden maize And grassy meadows claimed by great-eyed kine And goodly flocks that drowsily the sun Surveyed till sleep-compelling Night appeared And clothed the corn-fields with her mantled gloom. So, like a pall, the gray-robed Evening trailed Her skirts o’er rock and rill and touched the streets Of Moringworth; no harsher sound betrayed The cooling breath of Life Inanimate. Her garments rustled in the misty air And chinked each blatant weathercock that ruled Supreme o’er gabled roofs and porticoes. The creeping twilight closed its open arms And kissed the lips of nearer-nestling Earth. A solitary night-hawk wheeled and shrilled And circled in the world-absorbing sky. From every cottage pane the lights flared out— [page 15] A myriad of sentinels, like stars In space; and beaconing above them rose The chandeliers of Reginald Design, A man of men, and not unloved, but cramped And straitened by his time to meet the need And essence of the hour. The elements Of hope could not his soul conduce, nor point A way of peace and happiness to him Who trod no paths where duty did not lead. The joy of youth, the love of living born With birth, revealed in him no counterpart Of years, no heritage of flesh unmatched By strength of intellect. He felt himself Above the limits of his place, but missed The nearer truths that lead to greater things. He scorned the pomp and heraldry of birth, And owned no rank save aristocracy Of mind. The pride of fortune, land and race Was stifled in his heart, yet in his soul He dreamed of noble deeds and bowed his head Before a brotherhood of blood, a shrine That dwindled every virtue of his day, But reared for him a monument of time When men are kings—and kings of mean estate. [page 16] Such, then, was Reginald Design, the friend And comrade close of Aubrey Vere de Vere, But adverse so, in life and sentiment, That each the other as a magnet drew, With poles dissimilar. They shaped their ways By distant stars, but drifted with the wind That drove them on in silent-slipping course. Full nineteen seasons they had seen the Spring O’erspread the purple hills of Moringworth. Together they had crossed the streams and tramped The gorges to the north in search of game To swell the larder’s store, or launched their boats Upon the river’s icy tide and swung Their prows far toward the crimson-setting sun, Returning in the Autumn, rich with furs And secrets of the wild. Oft they had passed The valleys sweet with eglantine, or reined Their horses in the bottoms flecked with flocks And guarded by the silent cottages That stretched before their half-discerning eyes. Thus they had climbed the winding roads that led To Croynan Hall and spurred their steeds to claim [page 17] Its hospitality; for well they knew That one its emblems held who still maintained Its old prerogatives and revelling At will. Its massy portals, half ensconced Beneath the mountain’s dizzy height, o’erlooked The fields below. A bramble-footed wood The manor screened from common view, but failed To hide the lofty aisle of poplar trees That narrowed to the mansion’s grassy close With rustic seat and vine-clad portico. Here would the traveller his journey stay And look upon that scene in distance lost And undulating haze. Before him lay The fertile, furrowed plains of Moringworth, All studded o’er with heavy-headed sheaves Of ripened grain and creaking wains of hay That still exhaled their summer-scented breath Beneath the colonnades of Croynan Hall. The Mecca of a country-side, and pride Of half the region round, it long maintained Its social state of marked pre-eminence. To-night its floors and stairways wide were thronged With eager feet; for once a year its doors [page 18] Were swung to cottager and kin. From day To day the village looked to this, the night Of nights, when, unabashed and fetterless, The village youths would village maidens meet In rustic games and pastimes filled with rounds, Festivities and legendary lore Long-hidden since in mists and memories Of time. Amongst his guests the master moved And pausing spake, or passing saw his halls And corridors usurped by couples bent On pleasures scarcely found amidst the noise And merriment. The fortune-yielding flames Upon the hearth their secrets gave to groups Of laughing girls who read their future there With little gasps of joy. The music made An echo in the night. The smiling host Reclaimed his rightful seat, and, rising, pledged The honor of his friends. He recognized, He said, the bonds that made them one, and hoped, Believed, that these would doubly strengthened be With each succeeding year. They could not know The fullest issue of the day, but now They saw its peace and rich prosperity. He strove to gain their closest confidence, [page 19] And wished them life and health and happiness; And not for self alone he sought their hearts, But prayed that she, his only child, who bore The honors of the house, might learn to fill Her mother’s place and know their joys and feel Their sorrows too. So Arthur Croynan spake, And through the night the merrymakers drew. The rooms were still. A favored few alone Remained to taste a quiet cheer through right Of birth or ancient friendship’s claim. Here, then, Stayed Aubrey Vere de Vere and Reginald— For where the one his entertainment sought The other was—and, lightly-speaking, hard Beside the fender sat and watched the logs Within the mantel’s close their castles rear In odd, fantastic shapes. Each falling brand Some scene romantic drew. The crackling corn Lay sizzling on the coals. The cider, sharp And crabbèd with old age, its quality Upheld, and red the ripened chestnuts glowed, Explosive in the flame. So willingly, Reluctant yet to leave, they paused to hear The voice of Ethel Croynan, tremulous, Some tale of rustic rivalry relate. [page 20] Her eighteen summers lingering foretold A richer grace and loveliness. The charm And beauty of her words eclipsed the hour And lateness of the night, and filled their hearts With golden dreams and pleasant memories, Until the pathos of her place usurped The maiden’s brighter mood and keyed her voice To sad, soft semi-tones. Whereat a smile Would light her face and linger on her lips, Subdued beneath a girlish wistfulness That vanished with each lighter pleasantry. Anon the hour of midnight parting came. Far through the hills the pleasure-seekers rode, And one by one the candles disappeared And left the Hall as sombre as the night. The sleeping plains in mist-endgendered clouds Were hidden quite; the peeping stars crept out Beneath the crescent’s fringe—and all was still.
THE Winter passed, and slow-returning Spring Beheld the village filled with whisperings [page 21] Of warfare. Gossips stood in doorways wide And spake of parliament and people pressed To acts of base reproach by taunts devised For future law and precedent. Imbued With hate, their anger hung on insults keen And bitter deeds of arbitrary rule. Unguardedly they talked of strife, and told Of rioting within the city streets. They dinned their arguments upon the ears Of passers-by, and harped upon the right, Acquired by centuries of passive law, To hold their lives and liberties supreme In questions deemed by them of high account And close-concerning interest. Or now Some rustic Solon rose, and from his place Upon the village green proclaimed his views Of legislative skill, and showed the means Of force prepared for these indignities. Such wild harangues the people moved—or those Whom fortune’s frown had made dissatisfied— And tyrant-like, unreasoning, restrained The rights of speech in men of saner mind, Who, clearer-visioned, strove to check the strife And calm the frenzied populace. The joy [page 22] Of peace could not allure the restless hearts Of hungry agitators bent on gain And ultimate control. Their birth, at best, Was but a thing to ornament their words And further their designs. Each circumstance Of state, through chance and dark manoeuvring, Their object nearer brought, till every claim Was justified before the people tricked To ends and policies that they abhorred, And forced to never-ending bitterness. Anon the dreaded cry of battle came And, like a freshet’s energy released, The fiery tale of Lexington awoke The hamlet’s calm. From every tufted hill The files of musketeers came trooping down To join the squads of minute men who dressed Their ranks on quick command from Reginald, And, little-thinking, lightly marched away To fields of chance and carnage-dealing Death. Ah! sweet the breath of morning seemed and warm The April air, as fainter still their eyes Beheld the imaged hills of Moringworth. How calm, impervious, the village looked [page 23] That fair New England day, ere clank of steel And pulsing feet each hidden echo woke, And unrestrained the summons came that gave A nation birth! Far through the valleys gemmed With ledges, lakes and falling rivulets The volunteers advanced. The stealing hours Of twilight darkened down, and from the hils The sunset watched their silent bivouac. The Night crept on. The slanting moonbeams showed The ridges motionless a sentinels Who turned their hearts from home and happiness. The camp-fires crackled in the deeper gloom, And drowsing there amongst his men, with eyes Half-closed, did Reginald behold the face Of Ethel Croynan imaged in the dusk. A pleasing numbness seized his wearied limbs And mastered every dull, diminished sound, Till suddenly a comrade’s laugh recalled His thoughts and Night’s necessity. He felt The peace increscent in his soul, and checked The smile that lingered on his fevered lips; Then gave again his orders for the night, and drew his cloak about his arm—and slept. [page 24] Soon they had reached the southern height where lay The English regulars besieged, betimes, By lines of continental musketeers. The long night-watches softened into days That brought them hours of skirmishing. Again The summons came for volunteers; and corps On corps unending marched against the posts And fortresses beyond that still maintained Their British garrisons. With ready aid Importunate was Reginald Design, Inflamed, perchance with patriotic pride, But sick at heart with camps and drunken brawls Amongst the restless soldiery, and glad To have again the right to view the hills Of Moringworth. Along the village street He pricked his wearied horse, and smiled to see The life his coming brought, as one by one The people round him pressed and blocked his way, Whilst he, good-natured, laughed as best he might, And answer gave to every question raised About the war, and how their troopers fared, and what the prospects were for full success, [page 25] On early-coming settlement and peace For all concerned. At length the common mind Was satisfied and free to register Its views of military skill. Its pride Could claim no dearer-cherished privilege. To criticize the faults of those whom chance Had placed beyond the pale of its reproach And policy of unrequited hope Bespake its joy and natural design. Then presently the clamor ceased, and thus Did Reginald his way regain and turn His courser nearer home. How dear to him Each valley seemed, each scarlet-crested hill, Each lofty pine that marked his mountain home, Where, hard beside the mossy gate, he checked His charger’s course, and scanning carelessly The way, beheld a hand in greeting raised, And heard a voice he could not well mistake A right warm welcome give. Swift-galloping And white with dust, he saw his comrade ride, And, vaulting from his saddle-seat, express His heartiest delight. Each youthful look, [page 26] Each passing sign of mutual regard, Bespake a friendship deeper far than art Or show by subtle etiquette employed. With eager confidence ingenuous They talked of strange mutations, and the joy And loveliness of life; nor overlooked The sorrow and the sadness too—the pain Of parting and the long-delayed return. In lighter-colored tones they spake of friends And friendships sweet: the future that was theirs— The paths of pleasure that before them lay, The weeks of profit and of well-won ease. Then boy-like, too, they each by turn inquired Of every chance acquaintance, but forgot The name that, each withholding, hoped to hear And neither cared to speak, till Reginald— By chance, it seemed, and scarce of full intent— The mooted question asked: “How is our friend, The Lady of the Hall? You have not told Me yet.” But Aubrey laughed: “My honored Sir, The reason is not hard to find, and more, A better answer you shall have than mine.” Then, glancing up, they saw her rein her horse A rod away, and, bowing low, exclaim: [page 27] “How does my gallant cavalier? What! Tired So soon of glorious pursuits? Indeed, I must confess it grieves me sore to see Such craven-heartedness in one I hold So dear; but yet I fear such precepts fair And admonitions grave become me ill. I am too much engaged to stay me now, But come, I pray, to Croynan when you can; A ready welcome you will always find.” So winningly, with arching eyebrows raised, To Reginald her invitation gave; Who courteous, as needs he must, declined, Regretting most his hurried visiting And quick return upon his northward march. But ere he paused for breath the lady waved A signal of farewell and pricked her mount To unaccustomed speed; while thoughtfully The others watched her vanish from their sight, And soon their ways reluctantly resumed.
WHEN Hallowtide brought Hallowe’en, and hearths Were warm at Croynan Hall, then from the Grange [page 28] Along the narrow, winding river bank Impetuous rode Aubrey Vere de Vere. He chose the wooded way, and through the Drift And up the Glen his foam-flecked charger flew. Within the town the bandog gnarled his note Of fear; the shutters swung, and through the gloom The candles cast a lurid-lighting gleam Adown the street where hurried hoof-beats fell. So through the dark he, quicker-spurring, rode Until the lights of Croynan Hall were bright Embossed before. Slow ambling on, he passed The gate, and reached the barn whose bending roof And rafters rude enshrined the golden grain When sullen Winter came. Within the loft The heavy-headed sheaves lay intertwined In roughly heaped array. The yellow corn, In stately shocks, o’erlooked the fields below, Where stacks of straw and ricks of ripened hay Were carelessly outspread. Within the flod The sheep were safely penned, and gratefully The gentle kine were munching in their stalls. The portly swine lay grunting in content, And lustily at ease the horses rolled On beds of straw. The pullet leered, and churred [page 29] And blinking upon the creaking roost, and faint The cockerel exhaled his hoarse good-night. The hour oppressive seemed; the winds were dead; The last, faint note of twilight vanishing Returned and wavered down the valley-lands Amongst the cloudy sepulchres of day. A brooding silence overhung the bawn And permeated all his soul as soon Did Aubrey turn to meet the manor’s light Diffused in double gloom. The winds arose And waved the branches of the leafless trees. All silently the mists had crept afar Into the lucent solitudes of night. Sharp, then, and cold the biting north wind fell, And faint, as Aubrey crossed the corridor, He saw the first white flakes of early snow That fluttered to the ground, bejewelling The wintry air. He shook the clinging down From off his habit gray; re-stamped his feet And left the spacious hall; and entering The parlor’s curtained gloom, beheld the flames Upon the hearth a cheery twilight make Within the queer, old-fashioned room. He seemed [page 30] A gust whose welcome custom had assured, Who needed not the praise that Flattery Bestows when’er her favors fall on hearts Of lesser worth. With careless confidence, Of long association born, he drew A chair within the mantel’s changing light, New-stirred the coals, and chafing warmed his hands Above the gleeds that crackled to the sky In glorious career. Scarce he had marked The quicker flame ere Croynan’s lord aside The rustling curtain drew and, entering, With heavy tread and open, outstretched hand, His greeting gave with hearty English cheer; Spake of the crops and rumors of the war, And hoped that peaceful counsels might prevail— His interest were knit to either side. Meanwhile, his guest would entertainment find Until his daughter deemed herself prepared To meet a friend who dared a frosty night, A wintry ride, to keep a promise made. “But then, perhaps, the storm had not begun When you reined Steeple at the Grange?” he asked; And laughed to hear the stammering reply The youth returned—a vague apology: [page 31] He heeded not the purport of his words; His truant thoughts were otherwise engaged. The elder smiled: “Such truth no pardon needs”— Unconscious, Croynan neared the frieze and stood Before a massive portraiture whose gold Seemed gaudy by the face so fair portrayed. Can poet’s skill depict his reveries As there he saw the unforgotten face Whose girlish beauty claimed his errantry? What dreams of English hall and hedges green Enthralled his inmost soul; what vision dim Of one low grave beneath the hemlock trees; What image, too, of ever-sparkling eyes And merry, laughing lips; what tender thought Of her who lived—and died—to give them birth? But now adown the passage came the sound Of swiftly-tripping feet. Unheralded By stately from, or custom’s senseless pride That mars the wearer’s worth, the maiden left The winding stair and saw the mirror high Reflect her smiling-featured face. So sweet Her gleaming portrait glanced, the candles dim That decked the way her beauty seemed to know, [page 32] And paled in self-reproach. The very air Her presence owned and breathed its whisperings Remote; a freshness followed in her path Like odors in the Spring when Morning shows, To sate her pride, a scene ineffable. So like the dawn the maiden came and met Her father’s guest with girlish-pictured grace And womanly reserve. But tardily The evening closed. The hours crept slowly by, Whilst Aubrey and his host discussed the strife That foremost filled their minds, till hastily, On vain pretence of papers to be signed And letters writ to meet the morrow’s mail, The elder slipped away. His step was heard Upon the stair and ringing through the hall, Where deep in studious delight he sat Absorbed in poring o’er the legends traced In antique folios, long handed down By careful precedent, and thus become A part of household pride. [page 33] Meantime the storm Without the manor’s cheerful warmth had piled The windows high with banks of shifting snow. The falling flames, half-hesitant, had held Their beauty screened in virgin modesty, But for some solitary gust that fanned The embers into brighter blaze and flared Again each knotted tree that long had lain In winter forests far among the hills And valleys of the north. No jesting word The sleeping silence broke; for times there are Too sacred-souled for ordinary speech; And strange, indeed, two lives so nearly shaped, Two hearts so different! But fate will work Its fantasies at will. A spurting brand A sound of music made—a symphony Of things inanimate—and either breathed And fearful-moving turned; and, turning spake With studied care and feigned formality Of all that restless gossip had declared Of genuine account. No doubtful tale Could seem to them obscure when evidence Of certain truth was easily supplied By circumstantial skill. No bulky briefs [page 34] Unravelling could satisfy the court Of equity and right; for judge was clerk And jury—yea, and prosecutor, too. Within that fire of criticism stern No country house for miles around was spared Its part of scandal dished to suit the place And circumstance. So carpingly they talked Until the youth with laughing face bewailed The boasted depths of woman’s charity And disposition sweet. Whereat the maid With half a smile looked up and quickly said: “But you forget that man is still the cause Of all that we decry.” “And not your name Is proof against its dark reproach,” the youth Replied, and shortly stopped, as if he wished The words unsaid; for, angry-toned, consumed With passion half-repressed, the maiden rose And turned, and bit her lip and cried: “No good Can come from such a theme. So let it rest. You quite forget that truth is hardly sweet To those whom it condemns—that thought your mind Must give me credit for.” So running on, She glanced at every topic of the day, And touched on battle, dearth and pestilence; [page 35] And lightly spake of Reginald the stern, And, laughing, said: “Our captain terrible Of volunteers is following the moose By dreary Kennebec, or bartering His moccasins—a dish inebriant With cedar trimmed and maple. Fare as rich Could hardly tempt a Vere de Vere to brave The terrors of a winter wilderness. You love too well your level fields, your hearths And English ease; no higher thought than how To win the most of pleasure from the thing You call your life can claim your errantry. No! No! Be still, and let me have my say— Your gentlemanly birth cannot deny Me this—you must admit that I am right, That now your place had better been abroad Than sitting here and drowsing in your chair— The sport of half the countryside—a man, Indeed, but scarce a Vere de Vere!” Breathless She paused and, gasping, laughed; “Why do you start And stare as if you now beheld a ghost? The mantel seems attractive to your sight— And pray, what fields of honor do you see Within the flames upon the open hearth? [page 36] Some dream of love with kisses on the green— A worthy theme for Aubrey Vere de Vere When England’s flag lies trampled in the dust And on the wall his father’s sword is sheathed!” “Perhaps your words are true: I cannot well Deny that life to me is sweet and full Of every pleasantness. With you beside, The roughest island of a winter sea Might lure the great Ulysses to his doom. But breathe it not, nor think that noble thoughts Can find in me no customary place: I have not sunk so low, nor quite forget The honor of my name. That little part Of pride I, still retaining, hold unchanged Above the sordid trifles of to-day. So, in my heart, whilst hardly truth you traced, I almost thanked you for that bitter scene Of selfish indolence and gross regard. We seldom match ourselves in colors worse Than those which Nature forces us to own.” Thus, half in earnest, half in jest, he spake, And, rising, said: “Since my poor company Is now no longer welcomed here, I will No more upon your privacy intrude.” [page 37] Then noticing the look of vague alarm Upon the maiden’s face, resuming spake In milder tones, but roguish therewithal: “An honor won must bring some little pain; Such bitter change is but a soldier’s lot. I fear my new-found title suits me well In all that baser appertains. Come! Let Us say adieu in the true and proper style.” And suited to the word he downward bent And touched the maiden’s shrinking lips In one quick-stolen kiss. Then, smiling still Upon her sweet embarrassment, regained The massive threshold, white with fallen snow, And vanished in the gloom. His charger loosed And curveting did Aubrey homeward turn. Slow-riding through the biting cold, he saw The maiden standing in the misty light. Around her feet the fleckled moonbeams fell, And o’er her head the candles threw a ring Of crimson-mottled flame. The great hall-doors Incessant swung unnoticed in the wind That played the curls about her cheek. Her eyes [page 38] Were sweet and radiant with new-found hope, And every glance revealed the starting tears. One moment, then, stayed Aubrey Vere de Vere, And curbed the passion of his camping steed With boyish reverence he bowed his head In anxious wonderment and, soul-abashed, Loosed reign and hurried through the sifting snow That overcast the hills of Moringworth. All silently he rode, and once, by chance, He turned, but saw no trail or beaten drift To mark his way or point from whence he came.
SOON had the rider reached his homeward goal. All night in troubled thought did Aubrey pace His chamber floor. The morning came, the storm Its fury ceased; the firelight fell, but still He heard the words that seared his soul with doubts And fears expressionless. Right well he knew The meaning of the hour—the secret pain And calumny of change; but clearer yet With kindled eyes he saw the future bright With hope and filled with every pleasantness [page 39] That life and health and happiness could bring. Within his reach the prize of fortune stood, And niggard Time his boasted plenty gave. Surpassing sweet the by-ways of his youth Appeared—the long-associated minds And friendships doubly dear. All, all were his; And yet, must he forget the name that once His father bore with such unconquered pride; For this must he forsake the land that heard From baby lips their first untutored want? And were it so, would he regret or plead It otherwise—for what had he to leave? A sickly sentiment, forsooth, a thing To flash and fade away, or be recalled At will; and England, what was England then? An island of the sea, no more; to him A recollection faint and undefined, A pleasing memory at most. But why Delay? Could he be aught than what he was And live at peace within? If that were all, ’Twere best to shape his ends for present use, To mock the hour and mastery of Time And drain the dregs of rich extravagance. But if, perchance this little sphere were formed [page 40]. For greater things; if this to-night were born Of Time to bring us endless day, in worlds Beyond our mortal ken could he recall His sordid self and meet with open heart And hand his father’s beckoning? Away The thought! Nay, better far that wealth should cease, And love and living pass, ere pain should dim Those flashing eyes that from their stationed frame Upon the chamber wall looked down unchanged, Immovable, upon his quandary. One moment, then, with hesitating feet Did Aubrey stand irresolute. The day Appeared, and soul-victorious he turned, Strong-girt with bold resolve, his manhood’s part Revealed and future possibilities Apparent in his step. Enfeebled, faint, But conquering, he laid him down to rest, And thus, at ease, his limbs relaxing stretched In sleep’s refreshing calm. When he arose The Sun his crescent course had scaled and sunk In silence down beneath his noonday throne. [page 41] The snow had disappeared, and here and there, Beneath some fringing hill, the stainless sky Reflected lay on the streams that, bubbling, oozed Across the sandy loam in courses strange And slow and tortuous. Short stay he made To count the freshened beauties of the day Or wait the coming hours of night. With mind Untrammelled, every thought was occupied With manners, means and needs immediate, And every carking care that inly claimed His first attention. Strong he seemed and full Of hope. He saw his plans encompassed crowned, And presently to servants, gathering In ill-concealed alarm, explaining showed His changing course and full direction gave Should his return be long delayed or checked By subtle, cheating Chance. Nor longer stayed Than hard necessity required. Behind The dark-lined manner loomed, and hurriedly He reined his horse along the trail that led To Croynan Hall. The mountain-twisted paths Were sentinelled by lofty chestnut trees That massive stood and tall beneath the tent Of silver-circled clouds that draped the sky [page 42] Where ragged hills appeared. Unconsciously At times did Aubrey turn and strain his eyes To catch the lights that faded with the hour Upon the meadow lands. The falling night Engulfed each sheltered plain, and through the cuts He quicker spurred until the colonnades Of Croynan Hall upshadowing arose Like phantoms grizzled, grim and motionless. Along the paths and withered lawns he urged His lagging charger’s speed, and carefully Implored a shelter for the night and saw The hostler at his task ere he himself In silence sought the portals of the Hall. Soon, strong and glad of heart, but filled with thought Presentiment of ill, did Aubrey speak The purpose of his mind, and to his host Explain his course and strong decision made, And crave indulgence of his friend. Perchance The elder caught some glimpses of his youth In Aubrey’s wild knight-errantry; perhaps His inmost heart was true; for pleased he seemed, Nor reticent, to grant or promise all That might be asked for old acquaintance sake; [page 43] Though, secretly amused, he held the thing A pleasing jest of little ill or good. As for himself, he said, he did not deem It wise to preach abroad his loyalty. “The situation ha peculiar been.” His life was not his own to use; the will Was his, but not the circumstance to do The thing his heart had pressed him to, and more; The cause was still indefinite and wronged By popular repute. To speak the truth— His interests were here, but not the ties That held his soul enthralled. He did not wish To compromise his dearest friends by acts Of open enmity to either side; And Aubrey, too, he hoped, would hesitate Ere forfeiting his own neutrality. But here the daughter came surprised, at least, To meet her visitor so quick returned And deep-engaged in conversation grave. To whom, in softened tones, the elder spake: “Can you persuade this gentleman to act As half becomes a man of sense? Perhaps Your words will be of more avail than mine.” Then, smiling, told of Aubrey’s errantry, [page 44] Determination made since yesternight. Whom answering, the maid at length replied: “Have I the right to change his will—and would I if I could? Who knows?” Thus, echo-like, Her answer gave and musingly approached. Around the grate, in careless circle formed, The trio sat, whilst father, daughter, guest, In turn discussed the dangers of the way, Explained the routes, and counsel gave of time And place, and whatsoever wisest seemed, Ere Aubrey rose to say good-night and make His last farewell. Remaining for a trice, As loth to leave, with shy confusion sweet The maiden paused and said: “Forgive me, pray; I did not mean half of what I said The other night.” But Aubrey cried: “So soon? And yet I did not say that you were wrong In what you did. The morrow judges all.” And hastily he turned, as men afraid, That bravely venture forth, lest presently Their bolstered courage fail. [page 45] When he awoke The rooms were still. With cautious tread he crept To rouse his host and leave his messages Of thanks. With ready courtesy embraced, His every want was satisfied by those Who heard his needs to have his wishes done. Now chill his charger whinnied at the door— And he was gone. A heavy mist o’erhung The plains and screened from view the lower hills As Aubrey spurred his freshened steed and left The trails that marked the boundaries of home. Anon the sun with fiery-featured face Above the mountains crept. The skies were clear. Far through a cut, as Aubrey cantered by, He saw the plains of Moringworth. The air Was crisp, and pleasant lay the meadow-lands. Above the manor’s roof the rising smoke About the chimneys curled, and lazily The cattle strolled along the wooded lanes In single file, or lashed with angry snorts The river’s placid calm. One moment more, And it was past, this fleeting glimpse of home; But burned in Aubrey’s soul indelibly, With every mile he made it seemed to grow Proportionate; and silently he rode. [page 46]
MEANTIME, through the wilds and rocks declivitous, Had Reginald o’ertrod the barren wastes Of Kennebee’s domain; and hunger known, And pain and sickness seen; and tempest, snow, And pestilence endured without complaint, Or base reproach. Far up the broad expanse The rough New England voyageurs propelled Their light canoes against the restless whirl Of waters in the chill autumnal rains; And touched the shore—to fire the brush in vain And lie by night upon the sodden ground; And early wake, and ever northward sail Until the portages were past and bright Before them lay the shining Chaudière. Beyond the barriers of old Quebec, The Standard flew above the citadel. The silent sentry paced his tireless way About the lower town. The Winter came And whirling rolled the drifted snow on hill Ad plain and valley-land; but undismayed By Nature’s wrath or grim embrasure’s frown, [page 47] The bold besiegers nearer drew their lines Of musketeers, and wearily maintained Their watch, and dreamed betimes of home. At length The night appointed came; the signals burned A livid red, and up their armies charged On Stadacona’s height. The blinding sleet In eddies shrilled and screamed on summits high; The dreaded sound of hurried feet awoke The city’s rest, and Montmorency’s Fall Retold the wakened cannon’t roar and roll Of musketry. In secret ambush trapped, Their leaders slain and half their comrades lost, The shattered troops in wild confusion quailed, And like a stream, its April ravage o’er, Half-sullenly recoiled. Ere long the Spring, In beauty clothed, the old St. Lawrence woke From his hibernal sleep. The English ships, With canvas squared, far up the river sailed. The blue Laurential hills their sombre garb Retook and still the Crimson Ensign flew Above the hills and valleys of the north. Returning thence did Reginald behold [page 48] The streets of Moringworth. A little group About the corner stood astonished, mute And open-mouthed. Upon their countenance Appeared surprise and wonder envy-turned With malice ill-concealed. There, questioning, Did Reginald delay, and, nearing, read In black, unchanging characters inscribed And undersealed. To Whom It May Concern— Take Heed that Aubrey Vere de Vere, unsought, Hath levied war against our Commonwealth And joined our enemies to waste our fields And lay our homesteads low. So Be It Known That all his lands are confiscated, he Himself by treason’s law unfaltering Proscribed, on pain of death forbidden these, Our boundaries. The creeping shadows fell; The looming letters passed before his eyes And all their subtle-figured meaning came. With nervous, knotted hands he screened his face As from Contagion’s sight. “Is this the end? [page 49] Is this the end?” he cried in agony, And staggered on his way; but still his heart In helpless terror moaned: “Is this the end?” And Arthur Croynan came and, like the rest, The proclamation read and read again; And beamed on those around, and quite approved The government’s resort to measures marked By such severity; then went his way To make his soul-destroying boast ehat he, At least, was free from honor-circled loss And suffering. So, first but scarcely seen, His face grew cold, his wealth became a part Of him; his better love was lost for love Of gain, and he, beholding sorrow, passed With lip of scorn, or, pausing, spake of lack Of thrift or waste of opportunity, Till every breath was hated by the poor Who dwelt upon his lands and saw his home And happiness. But Reginald pursued His journey’s end. One little glimpse of home Renewed the memories of old; and on [page 50] He rode with heavy heart, and in his soul A sense of loss and unrequited pain.
THE oft-recurring seasons grudgingly One miser’s glint of precious sunshine bore: Far from the distant clash of arms the deeds Of Reginald Design had cheered the streets Of Moringworth; but now no tidings came Of him who in that battle of the south His countrymen had led. Of Aubrey, too, At times the storm-staid traveller would speak; And like an echo from the forest came The story of his triumph, with the tale Of his adventures in the pleasant fields And meadows and the wigwams of the west. Now conquering and conquered, too, he turned Again to Moringworth. His hair unkempt Was streaked with lines of artificial gray, his face By wind and rain and varied fortunes tinged With deepest tan; his palsy-tottered steps [page 51] Unsteady, slow and painfully pursued. In deep disguise, with awkward-mannered mien, With quaking voice an clothes by travel stained, He neared the colonnades of CroynanHall. Its mistress, glancing from her garden-seat, Beheld his toilsome-shambled gait with looks Of interest and faint surprise expressed In every lighting motion of her face, That for a moment watched a sight so strange And unaccustomed in her cool retreat. Familiar seemed the listless, breaking voice That craved an evening’s rest; and like some dream Delusive, dim and phantom-like, the words Of muttered thanks some chord responsive woke That brimmed her eyes with hot, unbridled tears. That great red Sun, in autumn glory crowned, Beneath the far horizon sloping fell. The crimson-circled hill retained the hours Of slow-receding day. The cool night air, Amongst the maples, rustled every leaf That idly fluttered in the rising wind And sang the song of all mortality. Depressed by Nature’s storm-foreboding calm, A flood of questions, doubts and fears perplexed [page 52] Her mind as Ethel Croynan turned her steps In silence through the fast-approaching dusk. No happy, starting thought could solace bring To smooth the troubled courses of her soul. With ghostly tread the long, uncounted years In wild confusion trooped tumultuous— A panorama glistening with days Whose future prospect had no faculty To please. So half-unconsciously, it seemed, She neared the place where, unconcerned and lost In careless reverie, the stranger sat And blew the clouds that from his rusty pipe He drew at intervals; but courteous He turned to meet the lady’s step and hear Her words of kind solicitude expressed. Who presently the news inquired and spake Of Reginald Design: Had any seen His men of late? His whereabouts—perhaps The traveller could tell? Ah, yes! He knew The name—a man no pleasure ever turned From Duty’s hard command; no sacrifice He deemed too great for those he called his own— A nobleman indeed.And Aubrey, too? In truth he did not need the “Vere de Vere” [page 53] To recognize that pestilential curse And foulest blot upon their country’s fame; And would have stopped; but noticing the look Upon the lady’s face, indignantly Resumed: “You start? and yet I do but speak What little children prattle in their play. A ruthless man is Aubrey Vere de Vere, And one no tender impulse ever thrills. A traitor’s life he leads, and soon will meet A death deserved, when Time’s avenging hand Shall lay his blood-stained banners low. No stone, By loving fingers raised, shall mark his place Of rest; no stifled cries of parting pain Shall guide his soul upon its journey’s end; Bu o’er his grave the crumbled walls, that mark His wasted path, bespeak their enmity!” Reservedly he paused, whilst she, with eyes Wide-open, half-amused, her answer gave: “An actor are you? Aubrey Vere de Vere—“ The words in haunting echoes drifted down The avenues of youth—and he was glad; For she was his—and living sweet. Then twice He drew her to his side, and felt her breath Upon his cheek and knew their pulses beat [page 54] In unison; and happy with the love Of life, her features kissed; and laughing held Her close and saw the tears that filled her eyes; And touched her hair, and spake her name, and kissed Her once again farewell; then went his way, But little knew the misery and loss That like avenging fate would follow hard. For other ears had overheard those words Of sweet surprise, and other eyes had seen That figure’s rough attire, and gazed with looks Of curious concern upon a scene So strange. A common serving-man he was Who chanced to pass and see and understand; Then, burdened with the news, informed his friends, Who, nothing loth, received his confidence, And babbling tipped their fellows in carouse. So, ere the morrow came, an angry crowd, Onvengeance bent, about the portals swayed And surged, and louder cried their owner forth. Nor called in vain; for soon, with heavy tread And haughtier address, he came, and bowed And begged the meaning of that great surprise. Nor waited long. An angry shout their will [page 55] Proclaimed—and questions fierce: Was Aubrey there? A quick denial came; but useless words— Can reason prove to those who reason not? A sullen murmur rose. The curious In jostling circles closed; the shivered glass With noisy clatter fell. Whilst one might breathe The mob recoiled; then ruthless, rash, and filled With revelous desire inordinate, Across the oaken threshold, cursing, crushed In unavailing search; and finding not, In brute chagrin its fury loosed; depraved With long debauch, unsteadily the torch In angry mood applied, and shrieked with glee To see the flames amongst the timbers creep And jetty high on pinnacle designs Or warp the canvases of ages past, That hissed and curled amidst the crackling heat And seemed to mock their owner’s mute appeal. The weary night, in drunken orgy spent, Consumed itself away. The morning came; The leaden sky above the ruins black In heavy silence hung and lightened not. Hard pitiless and cold, the driving rain In drenching torrents fell; and homeless, sad And destitute, the wanderers went forth. [page 56]
THE still autumnal twilight tarrying Upon the Hudson lay; and cautiously Amongst its wooded ways, with eye alert And stealthy step, strode Aubrey Vere de Vere. His feet untiring moved, and cheerfully He trod each hidden trail. For hard beyond The ramparts owned the flag to England dear— The flag that still unsullied floats on sea And shore immensurate—The flag that yet A fortress finds in hearts of Englishmen! Ah! There a welcome would await; for crowns Unsought were his, and not a child but lisped His name and rode again each midnight raid In warlike mimicry. The falling night In settled gloom o’erspread each sheltered shore. The mists rolled westward with the rising sea And mingled with the darkness interlaced In shapes fantastic, vague and undefined— Protean forms illusive in the dusk That, hour by hour increasing, darkened down. [page 57] Soon, silent-slanting through the murky air, The waning crescent flamed beneath the clouds That overcast the sightless hours of day, And down the margined vapors floating slipt In molten imagery. Below it lay The plain-encircled forest and the clumps That stretched for miles beyond the city’s pale Like Druid shrines, or ornaments of Death, So clustered, still and altar-like they stood Upon the cool savannah’s grassy glebe. Here Aubrey came, and crossed with quickened care The intervening space from wood to wood. At times he halted, and a wild desire To break the murky stillness of the night Enveloped all his soul; for by some art Of subtle worth he felt another near. His ear was strained to every trifling sound; A leaflet fell, and thrice his musket came To rest, and sank in silence echoless. A step; and see—his eye is undeceived! The gleaming moonlight, glancing, flared a form Of continental gray; and carefully Deliberate he glided through the brake [page 58] And disappeared amongst the trees. Ensconced Behind the screening bulwark of an oak, He fixed his eyes upon the winding trail As if he fain would pierce the heavy mists That deepened in the gloom like cloud on cloud. With hunter’s craft he poised his rifled steel And forward leaned with eager, lifted hand. With savage skill imbued, he marked the course The rebel scout must take to reach the paths That led in safety from the British lines. His fingers twitched upon the burnished breech When suddenly, as if from danger freed, And thus the singer needs must show his joy, A ballad drifted down the clinging air And died amongst the echoes that it raised— A twilight tale from fair New Hampshire’s hills. Mute, conquered then stood Aubrey Vere de Vere. The musket, falling, clattered at his feet; The sweeping forest swayed before his eyes, Tear-dimmed with pleasant memories of home; For often he had heard those siren strains Around the crackling hearths of Croynan Hall, And well he knew the voice of Reginald. [page 59] In silence then stood Aubrey Vere de Vere, Half-hesitating still to breathe the name He yearned to speak; for many things were plain That hitherto had been obscured and thrilled In mystery and doubt. Full well he knew The years had brooked no sluggard in their flight, And heeded not the landmarks of the past. E’en there he paused, and shuddered at the thought Of change; the old life conquered—and he spake. Thus, friends unfriendly, near at hand they stood, While Reginald, recounting, told the tale Of his retreat; the treachery that marked His doom on Camden’s fatal field, where he Alone had ranked his troops and sought to stay The rout; how, broken by the craven crowd, That crushed his ordered line, he strove in vain To form his men and turn the British flank Where, flashing in the morning-silvered sun, The sabres shone o’er bright accoutrements Of war, and wheeling on his shattered wing The snaffle-clanking squadrons overthrew His cringing cavalry. Companionless, He saw the early comrades of his youth [page 60] Engulfed in panic-stricken regiments That fled defenceless in their coward flight. In vain he strove to check that wild retreat; Alone he faced the terror-driven throng, But found no kindred spirit there, as down Beneath a dastard-given stroke he sank Amongst the piles of slain. Another year Had rolled the cryptic circle of its course; Again the Autumn crowned his sceptred sway As Reginald, with bated breath, recalled The sultry days upon the livid hulks That reeked with misery and with misery and death. Unmoved, He looked on life and liberty; so much His spirit’s pride was broken in its fall That sweet security could bring no words To light his speech with thoughts despondent framed. Meanwhile they reached the deeper wood, and high Upon a brambled ness reclining leaned, Beneath the breaking clouds that half-revealed The bosky labyrinth below. Far-off The city showed resurgent through the night, And faint the water’s rippling wash was heard Upon the yellow sands that girt the shore Where, massive-limned, an English frigate lay, With spars outlined against the drifting tide. [page 61] Arm-propped against a moss-encircled oak, As Aubrey next of varied fortunes spake, His soul was saddened by the thought that he To these dear scenes was lost forevermore; That ne’er again his eyes would look with pride On furrowed fields that now were tenantless; That nevermore their lips should fill the night With happy airs or tales of daring deeds By boyish confidence endowed with life And attributes of time. With labored breath, As if the words were new to speech, he told How, succorless, the British stood at bay, Their armies broken and their leaders slain By dint of overwhelming odds supplied, Through hate of ancient feud, by alien tongues That feared alone to face their foe. At most, A year would mark a continental corps Beyond those heavy-ranging hills where then They trod on English earth and overlooked Her battlements. Ah! who can know the thoughts That filled the soul of Reginald Design As there he made the sacrifice that marks [page 62] A man of nobler worth than reeking shard Or blood-red panoply of dark revenge. The master’s mind of hero’s part was his, Who then would turn the bitterness of strife Aside, and reap no glory from renown, Lest thus his hand, too proud, might undermine The slender pinnacle of peace that far Before him loomed—a lofty minaret Erected o’er the crumbled hopes of Time. Nor these could friendship’s cherished rights restrain; With eager words and love-enkindled eye, Unreckoning of anger, calumny And change, did Reginald recall the hours When secretly their lips had plighted faith. Their lives, unlinked, had drifted far apart. The years had brought no echoes of the past, And other face, other aims, had filled Their aching hearts. But now, if Peace regained Her battled sway, their lives should know the friends Of old; for generously great, the strength Of Liberty enthroned invoked no curse On those of other mould, who once had mocked Her rising power. Aubrey, smiling, spake: A glimpse of boyhood crossed his rugged face [page 63] And lingered on his trembling lips—a ghost Of careless, happy days swift-vanishing: “The Nemesis of hope is in its loss And gradual decay; and Liberty, In wild excess confirmed, will quaff the full Of Fate’s extravagance.” And scarce had paused Ere Reginald with flashing eye returned: “The memories of home can conquer pride, The life—“ But Aubrey, interrupting, cried: “Enough! Here tempt me no again; I am But weak as others are, and yet may fail Where now I stand in fortitude secure. Think not to win a bruised and bleeding heart With empty words or promises of gain; Where honor leads and once the sword is drawn, The world must mark no turning back through fear Of baneful consequence. Nay, Reginald, The sum of love doth sordid folly prove, If, loving thus, we lost our nobler aims In smaller things. Let us not build a hope But doomed to death; our ways are far apart And meet not in their time-appointed course. To me your life is but a name, and mine To you no more than rumors of the wood, [page 64] That chance hath brought unkindly to your ear. We are but echoes of our former selves: Soul-centred in one all-absorbing aim, We play our parts and live our lives unheard Save in the cosmic blending of the whole, As mingled notes in legends of the spheres Are traced by gods and men divinely born. Oft have our arms in deadly conflict crossed Whilst those once friends have one another slain In fratricidal strife, and dying thus, Have then a heritage of hate bequeathed To us, their followers. But, Reginald— For still that name its early charm retains— If aught of ancient friendship can avail To hid the faults that love would fain have mad A monument sublime; if pleasant hours, Long hidden in the half-remembered past, Can resurrect a tear to eyes that know But strength and manliness; if love is blind To things it should not look upon—again The old life here may find itsel enthroned; And we may feel as we have felt before, And clasp our hands—and breathe a last farewell.” [page 65] So saying, they had reached a sheltered cove Where, all but hidden, lay a light canoe Beneath a droopy canopy of fern. With fingers skilled by long-accustomed use, The birchen bark did Aubrey designate As voyaging on peaceful errand bent; And warnings gave of channels to avoid And guarded paths beyond the British lines Where cowboys form the south did congregate In devastating bands. Soon they had gained The pebbled beach beneath the fringing wood Whose willowed pale upholds the fringing wood In seething snows and ravages of Spring. With scarce a sound, the waters breaking lapped Their feet in long, receding swells. Half-launched, With prow afloat, soft-swayed the light canoe With every rippling wave, as birds, new-fledged, That fain would fly, widespread each timid wing And flutter to their wind-tossed nests again In momentary peace. Their hearts were full, And neither spake; for either knew that now They stood above the brink of life’s abyss, And from that hour their parting should be made. For one should live a traitor in the land he loved, [page 66] Or die an exile on some distant shore, In crowded streets or trackless solitudes Remote from fair New Hampshire’s huddled hills. No limpid phrases passed between theme there, Nor garnished words that hide but cold disdain. Silent did Reginald depart, and thus, Unthanked, did Aubrey pay his manhood’s due. Long stood he in the starlight glimmering And watched the paddle break above the trail That lay like silver on the moonlit stream. There, swaying at the great untrod divide, No kindred hand to beckon or sustain If thus his feet should falter in the way, Before him loomed, as in a mirror dim, With mists arising from a summer sea, The things that were and now could be no more— The pleasures gone and hopes forever dead With lives that now no longer life should know. So passed the night. The cold, gray morning fell And faint and fainter grew the silver path Beyond the river’s verge. The west winds breathed Amongst the overhanging trees; but still Upon the beach stood Aubrey Vere de Vere And all the treasured lines of one sweet face [page 67] A happy peace about his being drew, And o’er him rolled the fullness of desire.
UNFALTERING did Aubrey make his way Along the winding reaches of the shore. Before him lay the city, half-engulfed In crimson-arrowed mist; behind him stretched The valleys of New York, and far beyond, In shadowy embrace, the hills enshrined The sanctuary of his soul, the Light And Heaven of his hope. But little time Remained for future plans, or vain regrets; For safe the drowsy sentinels were past, And, sick at heart, he trod the noisy street And saw the gaping rabble close, and heard His praises sung by those who little thought Him near; then hurried on through avenues Deserted, hard by the thistle-tufted lawns And lines of drifting furze, and thus the news Of close investment brought to him who held The city in command. So there enforced, His soldier quarters took; but ill at ease, [page 68] And tired of inactivity, he sought A band of kindred souls, and ranging rode In midnight cavalcades. The Autumn passed. And soon the surly-visagedWinter brought, Enveloping the hills in mantled grey, Imprisoning the streams with icy hands; And still no tidings half-expected came From Moringworth. Ere long appeared the first Faint tokens of returning Spring. The air Was sweet with odors of the day; the wind Blew softly from the south; each early bud Its tinselled keeper cast; the songsterscood And carolled in the wood; the waters rose And fell, and sounds innumerable lent Their harmony divine. The white-winged ships, With exiles crowded, bound for distant lands, In endless train across the harbor drew. Upon the dock half crumbled in decay Stood Aubrey Vere de Vere. Around him surged The throng of heavy-hearted travellers [page 69] Whose words dejected reminiscent grew. The latest vessel seaward straining groaned And battled with the deep. High in the shrouds He heard the sailors shouting at their tasks, And, little-thinking, down the gangway stepped. Unmanacled, the ship reluctant lay; A tremor through the timbers crept. The creak Of cordage came—a sound of rising wind, The noise of cables swishing on the quay. One moment, leaning by the rail, he watched The silver-crested waters slip away. The lapping wavelets rippled down below, The canvas bulged above, and, tremulous In every beam, the vessel gathered speed And shook her spars as Arab coursers sniff The scent of battle, eager for the fray. A common grayness glimmered round; the sun Made half a circle in the night, and pale As Death the moon went sailing overhead. No burning thought of bitter parting came A sleep-compelling silence covered all: The sea, the ship, the city fading seemed A dream and something gone before. He felt Himself at rest and trustful as a child. [page 70] There seemed to be an end of time; of that To come he hardly paused to think. He saw The writhing shadows sweep across the waves, And slow, expectant turning, recognized The one sweet face that through the vanished years His memory unfaltering retained. Beside the mast the maiden stood and smiled A happy welcoming. As natural Her presence seemed as though through centuries For this all-consummating hour decreed The tangled threads of their existence drew. Upon the deck they sat, beneath the roof Of Night’s gray canopy, illumined yet With orange-tinted shafts still glimmering. A pleasing peace the rising south-wind blew. Soft-whispering, the maiden told of all That chanced at Moringworth: how, driven forth, From friend to friend importunate they came Till, last-delaying, thither Reginald Had brought them news of Aubrey Vere de Vere And generously restitution made For all her father’s loss; who, turning, lived His former life unthinking of his place, But she—had trod the path that brought her hope. [page 71] Around the ship the sea recumbent lay, And fair before the twain united stretched The future clear and cloudless as the sky. And still the vessel quickened with the wind, And in the north its pilot star proclaimed A land of new endeavor, full of hope, And bright with promises of rich reward. [page 72]
THE MAID OF THE MASK
THE MAID OF THE MASK
THREE centuries and more ago, (So long the time, I hardly know In what old town or tumbled burg The incident, forsooth, occurred), The Dona Sieta, proud of name, With prancing steed attended came To renovate the sculptured pile, Of ancient build and classic style, That crowned the city’s topmost height, Like Vesper flashing through the night, With pillared stair and garden-sweet, By lofty wall and terrace bound From common sight and vulgar sound. The Baron Sieta, so they say, A crabbèd man, but in his way [unnumbered page] A gallant knight, excelling oft In courtly words and whispers soft, And ever quick to draw the sword For love and glory of the Lord, Had travelled far in foreign lands And seen the sunset bathe the sands Upon the shores of Galilee; And hard beside the sacred sea, Had dwelt a hermit in his cell, Enduring much and dying well. Before the knight the world forsook, Renounced the sword for pilgrim’s crook. He placed his daughter, passing nine, With saintly nuns of Ursuline. And orders gave that she should fare As well became her father’s heir. The pious charge the sister kept When she awoke and when she slept. Her slightest wish, whene’er expressed, Was quickly filled at her behest; And waiting-women, falsely kind, Ransacked the house, in hopes to find [page 76] Some newer trinket or surprise To lure the languor from her eyes. Her gentle soul with dread eschewed The tales of hate and endless feud That filled the pages of her time With empty prose and florid rhyme. The world was wrapped in love and praise That made the long Italian days A golden Paradise, and best— A dream of sin-absorbing rest. The maiden’s face was sweet and fair, Her eyes expressive, soft her hair; Her voice was resonant and clear, A sound elusive, far and near. She seemed perfection ’mid the dress Of medieval cowl and cross That girt her round on every side With empty sham and hollow pride. A spotless robe her limbs embraced; Exponent of its wearer’s taste, Its clinging folds her form expressed And half-revealed each budding breast That every secret charm foretold In silken settings rich with gold. [page 77] The worthy Bishop of Milan (So commonly the story ran) Had felt his shrivelled soul expand When saying masses in the land Where she had walked and left an air Of modest sanctity and prayer. When womanhood its freedom brought, Reluctantly the lady sought The antique house upon the hill, That long had brooded, cold and still, Above the cottages and halls Encircles by the city walls. There masquerades and revels past; Their pleasures came and flitted fast, While through the land with noiseless tread Destruction stalked and left his dead. A famine on the people came; With wasted flesh and fevered frame They knelt upon the burning street And begged their governors for meat. So full of pity was the scene, A miser’s heart, methinks, would lean [page 78] Too generous in its resolve From biting hunger to absolve The cringing crowd that cried for bread. The priest, alone, the faithful fed, But soon, exhausted their supply, A proclamation placed on high: “That every house with hoarded food Should yield it for the common good, And scanty live in equal part With peaceful mind an humble heart.” Obedient, the people bore Their treasured wealth and cellared store To one great abbey in the town, Where martyred saints and fathers frown; But in the mansion on the hill Was happiness and plenty still. Its youthful queen, with merry laugh, Besought her friends the wine and quaff, Whilst little ones on every side Unnourished for their mothers cried Thus, openly, and void of fear, The tables groaned with fragrant cheer. [page 79] Each lighted taper threw a ray Athwart the shadows of the day, And o’er the city cast its light As distant beacons in the night Bespeak a haven of retreat For homeless hearts and weary feet. The sad violas sobbed their song With plaintive slide and cadence long, And smiling dancers caught their breath Forgetful of corroding Death, While subtle flutes their tale prolonged Of Innocence and Beauty wronged. Of these delights the rumors ran, Increasing, too, from man to man, Till angrily a murmur grew Against this viper that withdrew Her treasures from the common weal And seemed no tenderness to feel. So, firm-resolved, with strong behest The people cried for her arrest. The lady came with smiling face; For so bewitching was her grace [page 80] The surly churls could scarce approach Nor on her liberty encroach. Her charms, forsooth, were hard to stand. And hardest most when least she planned. So pure her glance, the slightest look The strongest charges lightly shook. In truth, it seemed an evil thing That men should accusation bring Against a woman, young and fair, Who lacked from birth a mother’s care, And now recoiled with open eyes Of troubled pain and sad surprise. Thus no accusing voice appeared To urge the fate the people feared. At length, by judge and justice freed, They brought them forth her finest steed, And led her home in rich estate, With cavalcades and trappings great. In course of time ten suitors came From families of note and name, And laid their honors at her feet. Each played the lover—took his seat— [page 81] And sought his cherished hopes to press With courtly words and warm caress To such as pleased she bade them stay, And heart their wooings, day by day, Till, tired at last of endless talk, She begged them go—and take a walk Beneath some cool, sequestered nook Where sombre owls their vigils took And creaking bats their sallies made From secret crannies in the shade. But why relate and thus prolong The common tale of such a song? Each troubadour was inly pleased, Fro honey words his doubtings eased; But lulled to rest by drooping eyes, He woke to find his wished-for prize Above the circle of his charms, Beyond the haven of his arms. So who will wonder when we tell The dire misfortunes that befell The suitors of this lady fair? How portly abbots tore their hair And cursed themselves in black despair— How leaner brothers felt the snare [page 82] Of this magician’s guiltless guile, Would make a modern heathen smile. The Duke himself, if fame be true, Had sought her hand as lovers do Amidst the glamor of the dance In gilded pages of romance; And on the field of mortal fight Full oft some gallant lord or knight Had cause to rue the subtle spell She wrought so sweetly and so well. Why needs be told how shameful death Salon and court had left bereft Of those who led the merry chase Adown the slopes of Arno Place— How one dark night the Regent’s son To softly-secret death wsa done By noble rivals in the game Where red-lipped Venus plied the flame? From her alone dissension came To wreck the fortune and the fame Of half the houses in the place. Consumed with sorrow and disgrace, The people, crying, cursed the thing That like a serpent left its sting [page 83] Where it displayed its evil charm Of future pain and deadly harm; But, wiser now than e’er before, Their counsel took with bolted door, And long and lout maintained their case As ancient rulers of their race. Three trusty slaves, at stroke of two, With secret stealth the deed should do; Upon her face impressing hold An iron mask of hateful mould; And weld it there with metal bands, With well-prepared and hasty hands, Lest by some chance, yet unforeseen, A flashing light should make her queen And them retainers at her feet, Engaged in reverences meet. But all was well. At dead of night, With noiseless step and ruthless might, They tore the lady from her bed And quickly from her chamber sped. Enveloped in a cloak of brown, They haled her through the sleeping town— [page 84] The siren with the magic spell— And cast her in a prison cell, Some twenty feet beneath the ground, Where waiting ears no sweeter sound Than drops of falling water caught, That trickled through the channels wrought By centuries of sunless cold And weary years of wasting mould. Now, cursed by some unyielding fate, Deserted, chill and desolate, The castle frowned upon the hill. Its bubbling fountains all were still, Its pillars crumbled in decay; And formerly where gardens lay, The tall, rank grasses thickly grew And from their haunts the ravens drew, That glided o’er each weedy path Like silent messengers of wrath. Of secret ill so dark a cloud The place oppressed that, inly cowed, The traveller would hurry by, With quickened step and fearful eye, [page 85] And freer breathe to see at length The fallen symbols of its strength. When eighteen years had hurried past, And times had changed, and kings at last The lesson learned that women’s tears Are mightier than swords and spears, Another ruler took his place As lord and leader of his race. From cell to cell he strode and saw His prisons filled; and by a law, From ancient custom wrought, decreed His hostages and convicts freed, That every soul within the state Might unreservingcelebrate The glad accession of a king Who loved this happiness to bring. Then forthwith came the magistrate, With men-at-arms and pompous state, To see the royal orders done. The burly warders, one by one, Their prisoners released that they Might greet their king and pardon pray [page 86] For all their unforgiving wrong; At length they hobbled them along, Both young and old, and stark and lame; Benumbed with age and bent with shame, They begged their boon and stumbled past— Unmanacled—and free at last. But one there came of nobler mien, Whose face, enshrouded and unseen, Was languid bent’ yet by her side, With some faint sign of former pride, Outstretched her hand, as if to show The homage she was wont to know. The veil aside a servant brushed; The crowd was stilled, its gossip hushed; For there, o’erwroght upon her face, The metal mask retained its place; Which, strait removed, her features left Contorted, seared and thus bereft Of every charm that fortune lent To her who myriads had sent To regions of deserted day. The people shuddered in dismay, Recoiled in fear and watched the eyes That flashed with hatred and surprise [page 87] Amidst the features formed to take The outlines that the maskings make, And evermore impressed to show The devil-moulded domino. The crowd refrained from nearer view, Or, finer-feeling, backward drew. Then slowly spake the magistrate, His mien important and sedate; With utterance austere and sage, Distinctive of a sterner age, He eulogized the matchless grace Of her, the fairest of her race; Concluding: “This, her mean estate, Bespeaks the Hand that men call fate. Let chivalry and commons hear; Bow down, ye wise, and learn to fear The great decrees of God, our King, Who workethgood from everything. In each, though mean, some talent lies, Some rare design, some perfect prize In form and face, in soul and mind, That marks him from his kindred kind; This, rightly used for others’ gain, Nor spent for pleasure fraught with pain [page 88] To those he jostles on the way, Will prove his comfort and his stay Amidst the turmoil and the strife That permeate our lower life; But wrought by him to nothing good, Or left unaltered where it stood, Though pure, unspotted as when sent And first to him by Heaven lent, Can little aid the time of need; For He, who ruleth, hat decreed That blameless life cannot atone For him who lives for self alone; But yielding increase none or small, The Lord, who giveth, taketh all; And lest, of every race the best, Our blood alone should be at rest, Let every age and nation know The justice that His judgement show; And lest our children doubting ask, We leave them her this iron mask, That, warped and worn and red with rust, It may proclaim that God is just.” [page 89]
A TALE OF ROTHENBURG.
A TALE OF ROTHENBURG
IN Rothenburg the Ancient, In mediaeval days, Of all the goodly taverns, That cheered the thirsty ways, The Rother Hahn the coolest And goodliest was held By every dougty drinker That Bacchus-like excelled. For centuries it slumbered, And none disturbed its rest; And every tippler taste The wine he loved the best; And first of all the worthies, Who drank the Tauberwell, Was Nusch, the Rother-keeper; And here is what befell. [unnumbered page] The land is all commotion, The country red with war; And men are zealous Christians Who never prayed before. For Frederick and Luther The flag is floating high, And gloomily the watchers Behold the crimson sky Where sweep the Roman armies, With Tilly at their head, And fetid lie the cities With corpses of the dead. Right gallant are the burghers And gallantly they fall; But who can conquer Tilly Or hold the city wall? On, on they come unflinching, These bulldogs of the Rhine, These men who courted danger And marched with Wallenstein. [page 94] Behold! The fort is flying A signal spotless white, And through the gates are pouring The winners of the fight. On, on they roll unnumbered, And Tilly rides before Where brazen clang the trumpets Before the Rathhaus door. The senators are seated, In sombre-suited state, But forth they step undaunted To hear the city’s fate. “Come, hang these dogs of Luther,” The angry marshal cries— “A stretch of German tether Will choke their pious lies.” But tears and lamentations Make terror in the street— The noise of women weeping And wailing at his feet. [page 95] There, wan and weary-hearted, He looks with troubled eye, And bids them cease their brawling, And choose them four to die. But gallantly the leaders The ancient answer give— “In Rothenburg the fathers Together die—or live.” “Then die, and stop your croaking, And purge your city’s sin; But bring a glass of Tauber To drown this cursèd din.” So speaks the haughty Tilly, With lightning in his eyes; And swift to do his bidding The Burghermeisterhies. And timidly the maidens A mighty beaker bring, With gold and jewels glittered, And soft with silvering. [page 96] The falling lights and shadows Athwart the rubies play, And dreamily the dusking Bespeaks the close of day. There, worn with heat and battle, The marshal sips the wine; Far, faint across the valleys, The yellow torches shine. O sweet the Muskateller, And red the fatal Est— But richer glows the Tauber, The drink he loves the best! Deep-drowned are all his troubles; The wine is soft and clear, And round his hardy riders He hands the foaming cheer. But none the goblet empties, Though scores the Tauber test, And laughing cries the marshal, With mirth-provoking jest: [page 97] “Come, fill me here the flagon, Up, fill it to the brim— Hath Rothenburg no hero To take a soldier’s whim? “Let any drain the goblet, Let not a drop remain, And naught but ruddy Tauber Shall any gullet stain.” But wilder wail the women, And loud the children cry; And gloomy stand the fathers, And gloomily they sigh. But Nusch the challenge hearkens; He feels his neighbor’s sword, Then down he kneels, beseeching A blessing of the Lord. “Most Holy One and Mighty, Whom Thine own people know, Remember yet They servant And Thine own mercy show. [page 98] “Whatever road we travel, The pleasantest is best; And sweet it were to totter And stumble into rest; “And sweet to die for honor, For faith and fellow-men— But he who drains the beaker May live to drink again. “In Thine own time appointed Must knight and burgher die, But God can cheat the Devil, And man a least can try.” So prays the worthy keeper, And holds the tankard high (And let no modern scoffer This noble deed decry). But drink, O loyal burgher; Let not your courage fail, For wine has conquered women And warriors in mail. [page 99] Down, down he drains the Tauber, The blackest dregs he drinks, Then fainting falls exhausted, And back unconscious sinks. But saw you e’er a German Of good and pious girth, Whom one attack of Tauber Could bring to Mother Earth? So hale he lived and hearty For fourscore years or more— And dying then, his body The hoary elders bore. And to this day the burghers The traveller will tell How Nusch the city rescued By drinking then so well. [page 100]
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