Rokeby: Canto V. by Sir Walter Scott
The sultry summer day is done,
The western hills have hid the sun,
But mountain peak and village spire
Retain reflection of his fire.
Old Barnard’s towers are purple still,
To those that gaze from Toller-hill;
Distant and high, the tower of Bowes
Like steel upon the anvil glows;
And Stanmore’s ridge, behind that lay,
Rich with the spoils of parting day,
In crimson and in gold array’d,
Streaks yet awhile the closing shade,
Then slow resigns to darkening heaven
The tints which brighter hours had given.
Thus aged men, full loth and slow,
The vanities of life forego,
And count their youthful follies o’er,
Till Memory lends her light no more.
The eve, that slow on upland fades,
Has darker closed on Rokeby’s glades,
Where, sunk within their banks profound,
Her guardian streams to meeting wound.
The stately oaks, whose sombre frown
Of noontide made a twilight brown,
Impervious now to fainter light,
Of twilight make an early night.
Hoarse into middle air arose
The vespers of the roosting crows,
And with congenial, murmurs seem
To wake the Genii of the stream;
For louder clamour’d Greta’s tide,
And Tees in deeper voice replied,
And fitful waked the evening wind,
Fitful in sighs its breath resign’d.
Wilfrid, whose fancy-nurtured soul
Felt in the scene a soft control,
With lighter footstep press’d the ground,
And often paused to look around;
And, though his path was to his love,
Could not but linger in the grove,
To drink the thrilling interest dear,
Of awful pleasure check’d by fear.
Such inconsistent moods have we,
Even when our passions strike the key.
Now, through the wood’s dark mazes past,
The opening lawn he reach’d at last,
Where, silver’d by the moonlight ray,
The ancient Hall before him lay.
Those martial terrors long were fled,
That frown’d of old around its head:
The battlements, the turrets gray,
Seem’d half abandon’d to decay;
On barbican and keep of stone
Stern Time the foeman’s work had done.
Where banners the invader braved,
The harebell now and wallflower waved;
In the rude guard-room, where of yore
Their weary hours the warders wore,
Now, while the cheerful fagots blaze,
On the paved floor the spindle plays;
The flanking guns dismounted lie,
The moat is ruinous and dry,
The grim portcullis gone-and all
The fortress turn’d to peaceful Hall.
But yet precautions, lately ta’en,
Show’d danger’s day revived again;
The court-yard wall show’d marks of care,
The fall’n defences to repair,
Lending such strength as might withstand
The insult of marauding band.
The beams once more were taught to bear
The trembling drawbridge into air,
And not, till question’d o’er and o’er,
For Wilfrid oped the jealous door,
And when he entered, bolt and bar
Resumed their place with sullen jar;
Then, as he cross’d the vaulted porch,
The old grey porter raised his torch,
And view’d him o’er, from foot to head,
Ere to the hall his steps he led.
That huge old hall, of nightly state,
Dismantled seem’d and desolate.
The moon through transom-shafts of stone,
Which cross’d the latticed oriels, shone,
And by the mournful light she gave,
The Gothic vault seem’d funeral cave.
Pennon and banner waved no more
O’er beams of stag and tusks of boar,
Nor glimmering arms were marshall’d seen,
To glance those sylvan spoils between.
Those arms, those ensigns, borne away,
Accomplish’d Rokeby’s brave array,
But all were lost on Marston’s day!
Yet here and there the moonbeams fall
Where armour yet adorns the wall,
Cumbrous of size, uncouth to sight,
And useless in the modern fight!
Like veteran relic of the wars,
Known only by neglected scars.
Matilda soon to greet him came,
And bade them light the evening flame;
Said, all for parting was prepared,
And tarried but for Wilfrid’s guard.
But then reluctant to unfold
His father’s avarice of gold,
He hinted, that lest jealous eye
Should on their precious burden pry,
He judged it best the castle gate
To enter when the night wore late;
And therefore he had left command
With those he trusted of his band,
That they should be at Rokeby met,
What time the midnight-watch was set.
Now Redmond came, whose anxious care
Till then was busied to prepare
All needful, meetly to arrange
The mansion for its mournful change.
With Wilfrid’s care and kindness pleased,
His cold unready hand he seized,
And press’d it, till his kindly strain
The gentle youth return’d again.
Seem’d as between them this was said,
‘Awhile let jealousy be dead;
And let our contest be, whose care
Shall best assist this helpless fair.’
There was no speech the truce to bind,
It was a compact of the mind,
A generous thought, at once impress’d
On either rival’s generous breast.
Matilda well the secret took,
From sudden change of mien and look;
And-for not small had been her fear
Of jealous ire and danger near-
Felt, even in her dejected state,
A joy beyond the reach of fate.
They closed beside the chimney’s blaze,
And talk’d, and hoped for happier days,
And lent their spirits’ rising glow
Awhile to gild impending woe;
High privilege of youthful time,
Worth all the pleasures of our prime!
The bickering fagot sparkled bright,
And gave the scene of love to sight,
Bade Wilfrid’s cheek more lively glow,
Play’d on Matilda’s neck of snow,
Her nut-brown curls and forehead high,
And laugh’d in Redmond’s azure eye.
Two lovers by the maiden sate,
Without a glance of jealous hate;
The maid her lovers sat between,
With open brow and equal mien;
It is a sight but rarely spied,
Thanks to man’s wrath and woman’s pride.
While thus in peaceful guise they sate,
A knock alarm’d the outer gate,
And ere the tardy porter stirr’d,
The tinkling of a harp was heard.
A manly voice of mellow swell,
Bore burden to the music well.
‘Summer eve is gone and past,
Summer dew is falling fast;
I have wander’d all the day,
Do not bid me farther stray!
Gentle hearts, of gentle kin,
Take the wandering harper in.’
But the stern porter answer gave,
With ‘Get thee hence, thou strolling knave!
The king wants soldiers; war, I trow,
Were meeter trade for such as thou.’
At this unkind reproof; again
Answer’d the ready Minstrel’s strain.
Bid not me, in battle-field,
Buckler lift, or broadsword wield!
All my strength and all my art
Is to touch the gentle heart,
With the wizard notes that ring
From the peaceful minstrel-string.’
The porter, all unmoved, replied,
‘Depart in peace, with Heaven to guide;
If longer by the gate thou dwell,
Trust me, thou shalt not part so well.’
With somewhat of appealing look,
The harper’s part young Wilfrid took:
‘These notes so wild and ready thrill.
They show no vulgar minstrel’s skill;
Hard were his task to seek a home
More distant, since the night is come;
And for his faith I dare engage
Your Harpool’s blood is sour’d by age;
His gate, once readily display’d,
To greet the friend, the poor to aid,
Now even to me, though known of old,
Did but reluctantly unfold.’
‘0 blame not, as poor Harpool’s crime,
An evil of this evil time.
He deems dependent on his care
The safety of his patron’s heir,
Nor judges meet to ope the tower
To guest unknown at parting hour,
Urging his duty to excess
Of rough and stubborn faithfulness.
For this poor harper, I would fain
He may relax:-Hark to his strain!’
‘I have song of war for knight,
Lay of love for lady bright,
Fairy tale to lull the heir,
Goblin grim the maids to scare.
Dark the night, and long till day,
Do not bid me farther stray!
‘Rokeby’s lords of martial fame,
I can count them name by name;
Legends of their line there be,
Known to few, but known to me;
If you honour Rokeby’s kin,
Take the wandering harper in!
‘Rokeby’s lords had fair regard
For the harp, and for the bard;
Baron’s race throve never well,
Where the curse of minstrel fell.
If you love that noble kin,
Take the weary harper in!’
‘Hark! Harpool parleys-there is hope,’
Said Redmond, ‘that the gate will ope.’-
‘For all thy brag and boast, I trow,
Nought know’st thou of the Felon Sow,’
Quoth Harpool, ‘nor how Greta-side
She roam’d, and Rokeby forest wide;
Nor how Ralph Rokeby gave the beast
To Richmond’s friars to make a feast.
Of Gilbert Griffinson the tale
Goes, and of gallant Peter Dale,
That well could strike with sword amain,
And of the valiant son of Spain,
Friar Middleton, and blithe Sir Ralph;
There were a jest to make us laugh!
If thou canst tell it, in yon shed
Thou’st won thy supper and thy bed.’
Matilda smiled; ‘Cold hope,’ said she,
‘From Harpool’s love of minstrelsy!
But, for this harper, may we dare,
Redmond, to mend his couch and fare?’-
‘O0, ask me not!-At minstrel-string
My heart from infancy would spring;
Nor can I hear its simplest strain,
But it brings Erin’s dream again,
When placed by Owen Lysagh’s knee,
(The Filea of O’Neale was he,
A blind and bearded man, whose eld
Was sacred as a prophet’s held,)
I’ve seen a ring of rugged kerne,
With aspects shaggy, wild, and stern,
Enchanted by the master’s lay,
Linger around the livelong day,
Shift from wild rage to wilder glee,
To love, to grief, to ecstasy,
And feel each varied change of soul
Obedient to the bard’s control.
Ah, Clandeboy! thy friendly floor
Slieve-Donard’s oak shall light no more;
Nor Owen’s harp, beside the blaze,
Tell maiden’s love, or hero’s praise!
The mantling brambles hide thy hearth,
Centre of hospitable mirth;
All undistinguish’d in the glade,
My sires’ glad home is prostrate laid,
Their vassals wander wide and far,
Serve foreign lords in distant war,
And now the stranger’s sons enjoy
The lovely woods of Clandeboy!
He spoke, and proudly turn’d aside,
The starting tear to dry and hide.
Matilda’s dark and soften’d eye
Was glistening ere O’Neale’s was dry.
Her hand upon his arm she laid,
‘It is the will of heaven,’ she said.
‘And think’st thou, Redmond, I can part
From this loved home with lightsome heart,
Leaving to wild neglect whate’er
Even from my infancy was dear?
For in this calm domestic bound
Were all Matilda’s pleasures found.
That hearth, my sire was wont to grace,
Full soon may be a stranger’s place;
This hall, in which a child I play’d,
Like thine, dear Redmond, lowly laid,
The bramble and the thorn may braid;
Or, pass’d for aye from me and mine,
It ne’er may shelter Rokeby’s line.
Yet is this consolation given,
My Redmond, ’tis the will of heaven.’
Her word, her action, and her phrase,
Were kindly as in early days;
For cold reserve had lost its power,
In sorrow’s sympathetic hour.
Young Redmond dared not trust his voice;
But rather had it been his choice
To share that melancholy hour,
Than, arm’d with all a chieftain’s power,
In full possession to enjoy
Slieve-Donard wide, and Clandeboy.
The blood left Wilfrid’s ashen cheek;
Matilda sees, and hastes to speak.
‘Happy in friendship’s ready aid,
Let all my murmurs here be staid!
And Rokeby’s Maiden will not part
From Rokeby’s hall with moody heart.
This night at least, for Rokeby’s fame,
The hospitable hearth shall flame,
And, ere its native heir retire,
Find for the wanderer rest and fire,
While this poor harper, by the blaze,
Recounts the tale of other days.
Bid Harpool ope the door with speed,
Admit him, and relieve each need.
Meantime, kind Wycliffe, wilt thou try
Thy minstrel skill?-Nay, no reply-
And look not sad!-I guess thy thought,
Thy verse with laurels would be bought;
And poor Matilda, landless now,
Has not a garland for thy brow.
True, I must leave sweet Rokeby’s glades,
Nor wander more in Greta’s shades;
But sure, no rigid jailer, thou
Wilt a short prison-walk allow,
Where summer flowers grow wild at will,
On Marwood-chase and Toller Hill;
Then holly green and lily gay
Shall twine in guerdon of thy lay.’
The mournful youth, a space aside,
To tune Matilda’s harp applied;
And then a low sad descant rung,
As prelude to the lay he sung.
XIII. THE CYPRESS WREATH.
0, Lady, twine no wreath for me,
Or twine it of the cypress-tree!
Too lively glow the lilies light,
The varnish’d holly’s all too bright,
The May-flower and the eglantine
May shade a brow less sad than mine;
But, Lady, weave no wreath for me,
Or weave it of the cypress-tree!
Let dimpled Mirth his temples twine
With tendrils of the laughing vine;
The manly oak, the pensive yew,
To patriot and to sage be due;
The myrtle bough bids lovers live,
But that Matilda will not give;
Then, Lady, twine no wreath for me,
Or twine it of the cypress-tree!
Let merry England proudly rear
Her blended roses, bought so dear;
Let Albin bind her bonnet blue
With heath and harebell dipp’d in dew;
On favour’d Erin’s crest be seen
The flower she loves of emerald green
But, Lady, twine no wreath for me,
Or twine it of the cypress-tree.
Strike the wild harp, while maids prepare
The ivy meet for minstrel’s hair;
And, while his crown of laurel-leaves,
With bloody hand the victor weaves,
Let the loud trump his triumph tell;
But when you hear the passing bell,
Then, Lady, twine a wreath for me,
And twine it of the cypress-tree.
Yes! twine for me the cypress bough;
But, 0 Matilda, twine not now!
Stay till a few brief months are past,
And I have look’d and loved my last!
When villagers my shroud bestrew
With pansies, rosemary, and rue,
Then, Lady, weave a wreath for me,
And weave it of the cypress-tree.
O’Neale observed the starting tear,
And spoke with kind and blithesome cheer
‘No, noble Wilfrid! ere the day
When mourns the land thy silent lay,
Shall many a wreath be freely wove
By hand of friendship and of love.
I would not wish that rigid Fate
Had doom’d thee to a captive’s state,
Whose hands are bound by honour’s law,
Who wears a sword he must not draw;
But were it so, in minstrel pride
The land together would we ride,
On prancing steeds, like harpers old,
Bound for the halls of barons bold,
Each lover of the lyre we’d seek,
From Michael’s Mount to Skiddaw’s Peak,
Survey wild Albin’s mountain strand,
And roam green Erin’s lovely land,
While thou the gentler souls should move,
With lay of pity and of love,
And I, thy mate, in rougher strain,
Would sing of war and warriors slain.
Old England’s bards were vanquish’d then,
And Scotland’s vaunted Hawthornden,
And, silenced on Iernian shore,
M’Curtin’s harp should charm no more!’
In lively mood he spoke, to wile
From Wilfrid’s wo-worn cheek a smile.
‘But,’ said Matilda, ‘ere thy name,
Good Redmond, gain its destined fame,
Say, wilt thou kindly deign to call
Thy brother-minstrel to the hall?
Bid all the household, too, attend,
Each in his rank a humble friend;
I know their faithful hearts will grieve,
When their poor Mistress takes her leave;
So let the horn and beaker flow
To mitigate their parting wo.’
The harper came;-in youth’s first prime
Himself; in mode of olden time
His garb was fashion’d, to express
The ancient English minstrel’s dress,
A seemly gown of Kendal green,
With gorget closed of silver sheen;
His harp in silken scarf was slung,
And by his side an anlace hung.
It seem’d some masquer’s quaint array,
For revel or for holiday.
He made obeisance with a free
Yet studied air of courtesy.
Each look and accent, framed to please,
Seem’d to affect a playful ease;
His face was of that doubtful kind,
That wins the eye, but not the mind;
Yet harsh it seem’d to deem amiss
Of brow so young and smooth as this.
His was the subtle look and sly,
That, spying all, seems nought to spy;
Round all the group his glances stole,
Unmark’d themselves, to mark the whole.
Yet sunk beneath Matilda’s look,
Nor could the eye of Redmond brook.
To the suspicious, or the old,
Subtile and dangerous and bold
Had seem’d this self-invited guest;
But young our lovers,-and the rest,
Wrapt in their sorrow and their fear
At parting of their Mistress dear,
Tear-blinded to the Castle-hall,
Came as to bear her funeral pall.
All that expression base was gone,
When waked the guest his minstrel tone;
It fled at inspiration’s call,
As erst the demon fled from Saul.
More noble glance he cast around,
More free-drawn breath inspired the sound,
His pulse beat bolder and more high,
In all the pride of minstrelsy!
Alas! too soon that pride was o’er,
Sunk with the lay that bade it soar!
His soul resumed, with habit’s chain,
Its vices wild and follies vain,
And gave the talent, with him born,
To be a common curse and scorn.
Such was the youth whom Rokeby’s Maid,
With condescending kindness, pray’d
Here to renew the strains she loved,
At distance heard and well approved.
SONG. THE HARP.
I was a wild and wayward boy,
My childhood scorn’d each childish toy;
Retired from all, reserved and coy,
To musing prone,
I woo’d my solitary joy,
My Harp alone.
My youth, with bold Ambition’s mood,
Despised the humble stream and wood,
Where my poor father’s cottage stood,
To fame unknown;
What should my soaring views make good?
My Harp alone!
Love came with all his frantic fire,
And wild romance of vain desire:
The baron’s daughter heard my lyre,
And praised the tone;
What could presumptuous hope inspire?
My Harp alone!
At manhood’s touch the bubble burst,
And manhood’s pride the vision curst,
And all that had my folly nursed
Love’s sway to own;
Yet spared the spell that lull’d me first,
My Harp alone!
Wo came with war, and want with wo;
And it was mine to undergo
Each outrage of the rebel foe:
Can aught atone
My fields laid waste, my cot laid low?
My Harp alone
Ambition’s dreams I’ve seen depart,
Have rued of penury the smart,
Have felt of love the venom’d dart,
When hope was flown;
Yet rests one solace to my heart,-;
My Harp alone!
Then over mountain, moor, and hill,
My faithful Harp, I’ll bear thee still;
And when this life of want and ill
Is wellnigh gone,
Thy strings mine elegy shall thrill,
My Harp alone!
‘A’ pleasing lay!’ Matilda said;
But Harpool shook his old grey head,
And took his baton and his torch,
To seek his guard-room in the porch.
Edmund observed-with sudden change,
Among the strings his fingers range,
Until they waked a bolder glee
Of military melody;
Then paused amid the martial sound,
And look’d with well-feign’d fear around;-
‘None to this noble house belong,’
He said, ‘that would a Minstrel wrong,
Whose fate has been, through good and ill,
To love his Royal Master still;
And, with your honour’d leave, would fain
Rejoice you with a loyal strain.’
Then, as assured by sign and look,
The warlike tone again he took;
And Harpool stopp’d, and turn’d to hear
A ditty of the Cavalier.
SONG. THE CAVALIER.
While the dawn on the mountain was misty and gray,
My true love has mounted his steed and away,
Over hill, over valley, o’er dale, and o’er down;
Heaven shield the brave Gallant that fights for the Crown!
He has doff’d the silk doublet the breast-plate to bear,
He has placed the steel-cap o’er his long flowing hair,
From his belt to his stirrup his broadsword hangs down,
Heaven shield the brave Gallant that fights for the Crown!
For the rights of fair England that broadsword he draws,
Her King is his leader, her Church is his cause;
His watchword is honour, his pay is renown,
GoD strike with the Gallant that strikes for the Crown!
They may boast of their Fairfax, their Waller, and all
The roundheaded rebels of Westminster Hall;
But tell these bold traitors of London’s proud town,
That the spears of the North have encircled the Crown.
There’s Derby and Cavendish, dread of their foes;
There’s Erin’s high Ormond, and Scotland’s Montrose!
Would you match the base Skippon, and Massey, and Brown,
With the Barons of England, that fight for the Crown?
Now joy to the crest of the brave Cavalier!
Be his banner unconquer’d, resistless his spear,
Till in peace and in triumph his toils he may drown,
In a pledge to fair England, her Church, and her Crown.
Alas!’ Matilda said, ‘that strain,
Good harper, now is heard in vain!
The time has been, at such a sound,
When Rokeby’s vassals gather’d round,
An hundred manly hearts would bound;
But now, the stirring verse we hear,
Like trump in dying soldier’s ear!
Listless and sad the notes we own,
The power to answer them is flown.
Yet not without his meet applause
Be he that sings the rightful cause,
Even when the crisis of its fate
To human eye seems desperate.
While Rokeby’s Heir such power retains,
Let this slight guerdon pay thy pains:
And, lend thy harp; I fain would try,
If my poor skill can ought supply,
Ere yet I leave my fathers’ hall,
To mourn the cause in which we fall.’
The harper, with a downcast look,
And trembling hand, her bounty took.
As yet, the conscious pride of art
Had steel’d him in his treacherous part;
A powerful spring, of force unguess’d,
That hath each gentler mood suppress’d,
And reign’d in many a human breast;
From his that plans the red campaign,
To his that wastes the woodland reign.
The failing wing, the blood-shot eye,-
The sportsman marks with apathy,
Each feeling of his victim’s ill
Drown’d in his own successful skill.
The veteran, too, who now no more
Aspires to head the battle’s roar,
Loves still the triumph of his art,
And traces on the pencill’d chart
Some stern invader’s destined way,
Through blood and ruin, to his prey;
Patriots to death, and towns to flame,
He dooms, to raise another’s name,
And shares the guilt, though not the tame.
What pays him for his span of time
Spent in premeditating crime?
What against pity arms his heart?
It is the conscious pride of art.
But principles in Edmund’s mind
Were baseless, vague, and undefined.
His soul, like bark with rudder lost,
On Passion’s changeful tide was tost;
Nor Vice nor Virtue had the power
Beyond the impression of the hour;
And, O! when Passion rules, how rare
The hours that fall to Virtue’s share!
Yet now she roused her-for the pride,
That lack of sterner guilt supplied,
Could scarce support him when arose
The lay that mourn’d Matilda’s woes.
SONG. THE FAREWELL.
The sound of Rokeby’s woods I hear,
They mingle with the song:
Dark Greta’s voice is in mine ear,
I must not hear them long.
From every loved and native haunt
The native Heir must stray,
And, like a ghost whom sunbeams daunt,
Must part before the day.
Soon from the halls my fathers rear’d,
Their scutcheons may descend,
A line so long beloved and fear’d
May soon obscurely end.
No longer here Matilda’s tone
Shall bid those echoes swell;
Yet shall they hear her proudly own
The cause in which we fell.
The Lady paused, and then again
Resumed the lay in loftier strain.
Let our halls and towers decay,
Be our name and line forgot,
Lands and manors pass away,
We but share our Monarch’s lot.
If no more our annals show
Battles won and banners taken,
Still in death, defeat, and wo,
Ours be loyalty unshaken!
Constant still in danger’s hour,
Princes own’d our fathers’ aid;
Lands and honours, wealth and power,
Well their loyalty repaid.
Perish wealth, and power, and pride!
Mortal boons by mortals given;
But let Constancy abide,
Constancy’s the gift of Heaven.
While thus Matilda; lay was heard,
A thousand thoughts in Edmund stirr’d.
In peasant life he might have known
As fair a face, as sweet a tone;
But village notes could ne’er supply
That rich and varied melody;
And ne’er in cottage-maid was seen
The easy dignity of mien,
Claiming respect, yet waving state,
That marks the daughters of the great.
Yet not, perchance, had these alone
His scheme of purposed guilt o’erthrown;
But while her energy of mind
Superior rose to griefs combined,
Lending its kindling to her eye,
Giving her form new majesty,
To Edmund’s thought Matilda seem’d
The very object he had dream’d;
When, long ere guilt his soul had known,
In Winston bowers he mused alone,
Taxing his fancy to combine
The face, the air, the voice divine,
Of princess fair, by cruel fate
Reft of her honours, power, and state,
Till to her rightful realm restored
By destined hero’s conquering sword.
‘Such was my vision!’ Edmund thought;
‘And have I, then, the ruin wrought
Of such a maid, that fancy ne’er
In fairest vision form’d her peer?
Was it my hand that could unclose
The postern to her ruthless foes?
Foes, lost to honour, law, and faith,
Their kindest mercy sudden death!
Have I done this? I! who have swore,
That if the globe such angel bore,
I would have traced its circle broad,
To kiss the ground on which she trode!
And now-O! would that earth would rive,
And close upon me while alive!
Is there no hope? Is all then lost?
Bertram’s already on his post!
Even now, beside the Hall’s arch’d door,
I saw his shadow cross the floor!
He was to wait my signal strain
A little respite thus we gain:
By what I heard the menials say,
Young Wycliffe’s troop are on their way
Alarm precipitates the crime!
My harp must wear away the time.’
And then, in accents faint and low,
He falter’d forth a tale of wo.
‘And whither would you lead me then?’
Quoth the Friar of orders-gray;
And the Ruffians twain replied again,
‘By a dying woman to pray.’
‘I see,’ he said, ‘a lovely sight,
A sight bodes little harm,
A lady as a lily bright,
With an infant on her arm.’
‘Then do thine office, Friar gray,
And see thou shrive her free!
Else shall the sprite, that parts to-night,
Fling all its guilt on thee.
‘Let mass be said, and trentrals read,
When thou’rt to convent gone,
And bid the bell of St Benedict
Toll out its deepest tone.’
The shrift is done, the Friar is gone,
Blindfolded as he came
Next morning all, in Littlecot Hall
Were weeping for their dame.
Wild Darrell is an alter’d man,
The village crones can tell;
He looks pale as clay, and strives to pray,
If he hears the convent bell.
If prince or peer cross Darrell’s way,
He’ll beard him in his pride-
If he meet a Friar of orders gray,
He droops and turns aside.
‘Harper! methinks thy magic lays,’
Matilda said, ‘can goblins raise!
Wellnigh my fancy can discern,
Near the dark porch, a visage stern;
E’en now, in yonder shadowy nook,
I see it!-Redmond, Wilfrid, look!
A human form distinct and clear
God, for thy mercy!-it draws near!’
She saw too true. Stride after stride,
The centre of that chamber wide
Fierce Bertram gain’d; then made a stand,
And, proudly waving with his hand,
Thunder’d-‘Be still, upon your lives!-
He bleeds who speaks, he dies who strives.’
Behind their chief, the robber crew
Forth from the darken’d portal drew,
In silence-save that echo dread
Return’d their heavy measured tread.
The lamp’s uncertain lustre gave
Their arms to gleam, their plumes to wave;
File after file in order pass,
Like forms on Banquo’s mystic glass.
Then, halting at their leader’s sign,
At once they form’d and curved their line,
Hemming within its crescent drear
Their victims, like a herd of deer.
Another sign, and to the aim
Levell’d at once their muskets came,
As waiting but their chieftain’s word,
To make their fatal volley heard.
Back in a heap the menials drew;
Yet, even in mortal terror, true,
Their pale and startled group oppose
Between Matilda and the foes.
0, haste thee, Wilfrid!’ Redmond cried;
‘Undo that wicket by thy side!
Bear hence Matilda-gain the wood
The pass may be awhile made good
Thy band, ere this, must sure be nigh-
0 speak not-dally not-but fly!
‘While yet the crowd their motions hide,
Through the low wicket door they glide.
Through vaulted passages they wind,
In Gothic intricacy twined;
Wilfrid half led, and half he bore,
Matilda to the postern-door,
And safe beneath the forest tree,
The Lady stands at liberty.
The moonbeams, the fresh gale’s caress,
Renew’d suspended consciousness;
‘Where’s Redmond?’ eagerly she cries:
‘Thou answer’st not-he dies! he dies!
And thou hast left him, all bereft
Of mortal aid-with murderers left!
I know it well-he would not yield
His sword to man-his doom is seal’d!
For my scorn’d life, which thou hast bought
At price of his, I thank thee not.’
The unjust reproach, the angry look,
The heart of Wilfrid could not brook.
‘Lady,’ he said, ‘my band so near,
In safety thou mayst rest thee here.
For Redmond’s death thou shalt not mourn,
If mine can buy his safe return.’
He turn’d away-his heart throbb’d high,
The tear was bursting from his eye;
The sense of her injustice press’d
Upon the Maid’s distracted breast,-
Stay, Wilfrid, stay! all aid is vain!’
He heard, but turn’d him not again;
He reaches now the postern-door,
Now enters-and is seen no more.
With all the agony that e’er
Was gender’d’twixt suspense and fear,
She watch’d the line of windows tall,
Whose Gothic lattice lights the Hall,
Distinguish’d by the paly red
The lamps in dim reflection shed,
While all beside in wan moonlight
Each grated casement glimmer’d white.
No sight of harm, no sound of ill,
It is a deep and midnight still.
Who look’d upon the scene, had guess’d
All in the Castle were at rest:
When sudden on the windows shone
A lightning flash, just seen and gone!
A shot is heard-Again the flame
Flash’d thick and fast-a volley came!
Then echo’d wildly, from within,
Of shout and scream the mingled din,
And weapon-clash and maddening cry,
Of those who kill, and those who die!
As fill’d the Hall with sulphurous smoke,
More red, more dark, the death-flash broke
And forms were on the lattice cast,
That struck, or struggled, as they past.
What sounds upon the midnight wind
Approach so rapidly behind?
It is, it is, the tramp of steeds,
Matilda hears the sound, she speeds,
Seizes upon the leader’s rein
‘O, haste to aid, ere aid be vain!
Fly to the postern-gain the Hall!’
From saddle spring the troopers all;
Their gallant steeds, at liberty,
Run wild along the moonlight lea.
But, ere they burst upon the scene,
Full stubborn had the conflict been.
When Bertram mark’d Matilda’s flight,
It gave the signal for the fight;
And Rokeby’s veterans, seam’d with scars
Of Scotland’s and of Erin’s wars,
Their momentary panic o’er,
Stood to the arms which then they bore;
(For they were weapon’d, and prepared
Their Mistress on her way to guard.)
Then cheer’d them to the fight O’Neale,
Then peal’d the shot, and clash’d the steel;
The war-smoke soon with sable breath
Darken’d the scene of blood and death,
While on the few defenders close
The Bandits, with redoubled blows,
And, twice driven back, yet fierce and fell
Renew the charge with frantic yell.
Wilfrid has fall’n-but o’er him stood
Young Redmond, soil’d with smoke and blood,
Cheering his mates with heart and hand
Still to make good their desperate stand.
‘Up, comrades, up! In Rokeby halls
Ne’er be it said our courage falls.
What! faint ye for their savage cry,
Or do the smoke-wreaths daunt your eye?
These rafters have return’d a shout
As loud at Rokeby’s wassail rout,
As thick a smoke these hearths have given
At Hallow-tide or Christmas-even.
Stand to it yet! renew the fight,
For Rokeby’s and Matilda’s right!
These slaves! they dare not, hand to hand,
Bide buffet from a true man’s brand.’
Impetuous, active, fierce, and young,
Upon the advancing foes he sprung.
Wo to the wretch at whom is bent
His brandish’d falchion’s sheer descent!
Backward they scatter’d as he came,
Like wolves before the levin flame,
When, mid their howling conclave driven,
Hath glanced the thunderbolt of heaven.
Bertram rush’d on-but Harpool clasp’d
His knees, although in death he gasped,
His falling corpse before him flung,
And round the trammell’d ruffian clung.
Just then, the soldiers fill’d the dome,
And, shouting, charged the felons home
So fiercely, that, in panic dread,
They broke, they yielded, fell, or fled,
Bertram’s stern voice they heed no more,
Though heard above the battle’s roar;
While trampling down the dying man,
He strove, with volley’d threat and ban,
In scorn of odds, in fate’s despite,
To rally up the desperate fight.
Soon murkier clouds the Hall enfold,
Than e’er from battle-thunders roll’d;
So dense, the combatants scarce know
To aim or to avoid the blow.
Smothering and blindfold grows the fight
But soon shall dawn a dismal light!
Mid cries, and clashing arms, there came
The hollow sound of rushing flame;
New horrors on the tumult dire
Arise-the Castle is on fire!
Doubtful, if chance had cast the brand,
Or frantic Bertram’s desperate hand.
Matilda saw-for frequent broke
From the dim casements gusts of smoke.
Yon tower, which late so clear defined
On the fair hemisphere reclined,
That, pencill’d on its azure pure,
The eye could count each embrazure,
Now, swath’d within the sweeping cloud,
Seems giant-spectre in his shroud;
Till, from each loop-hole flashing light,
A spout of fire shines ruddy bright,
And, gathering to united glare,
Streams high into the midnight air;
A dismal beacon, far and wide
That waken’d Greta’s slumbering side.
Soon all beneath, through gallery long,
And pendant arch, the fire flash’d strong,
Snatching whatever could maintain,
Raise, or extend, its furious reign;
Startling, with closer cause of dread,
The females who the conflict fled,
And now rush’d forth upon the plain,
Filling the air with clamours vain.
But, ceased not yet, the Hall within,
The shriek, the shout, the carnage-din,
Till bursting lattices give proof
The flames have caught the rafter’d roof.
What! wait they till its beams amain
Crash on the slayers and the slain?
The alarm is caught-the drawbridge falls,
The warriors hurry from the walls,
But, by the conflagration’s light,
Upon the lawn renew the fight.
Each straggling felon down was hew’d,
Not one could gain the sheltering wood;
But forth the affrighted harper sprung,
And to Matilda’s robe he clung.
Her shriek, entreaty, and command,
Stopp’d the pursuer’s lifted hand.
Denzil and he alive were ta’en;
The rest, save Bertram, all are slain.
And where is Bertram?-soaring high,
The general flame ascends the sky;
In gather’d group the soldiers gaze
Upon the broad and roaring blaze,
When, like infernal demon, sent
Red from his penal element,
To plague and to pollute the air,
His face all gore, on fire his hair,
Forth from the central mass of smoke
The giant form of Bertram broke!
His brandish’d sword on high lie rears,
Then plunged among opposing spears;
Round his left arm his mantle truss’d,
Received and foil’d three lances’ thrust;
Nor these his headlong course withstood,
Like reeds he snapp’d the tough ash-wood.
In vain his foes around him clung;
With matchless force aside he flung
Their boldest,-as the bull, at bay,
Tosses the ban-dogs from his way,
Through forty foes his path he made,
And safely gain’d the forest glade.
Scarce was this final conflict o’er,
When from the postern Redmond bore
Wilfrid, who, as of life bereft,
Had in the fatal Hall been left,
Deserted there by all his train;
But Redmond saw, and turn’d again.
Beneath an oak he laid him down,
That in the blaze gleam’d ruddy brown,
And then his mantle’s clasp undid;
Matilda held his drooping head,
Till, given to breathe the freer air,
Returning life repaid their care.
He gazed on them with heavy sigh,-
I could have wish’d even thus to die!’
No more he said-for now with speed
Each trooper had regain’d his steed;
The ready palfreys stood array’d,
For Redmond and for Rokeby’s Maid;
Two Wilfrid on his horse sustain,
One leads his charger by the rein.
But oft Matilda look’d behind,
As up the Vale of Tees they wind,
Where far the mansion of her sires
Beacon’d the dale with midnight fires.
In gloomy arch above them spread,
The clouded heaven lower’d bloody red;
Beneath, in sombre light, the flood
Appear’d to roll in waves of blood.
Then, one by one, was heard to fall
The tower, the donjon-keep, the hall.
Each rushing down with thunder sound,
A space the conflagration drown’d;
Till, gathering strength, again it rose,
Announced its triumph in its close,
Shook wide its light the landscape o’er,
Then sunk-and Rokeby was no more!