Rokeby: Canto Vi. by Sir Walter Scott
The summer sun, whose early power
Was wont to gild Matilda’s bower,
And rouse her with his matin ray
Her duteous orisons to pay,
That morning sun has three times seen
The flowers unfold on Rokeby green,
But sees no more the slumbers fly
From fair Matilda’s hazel eye;
That morning sun has three times broke
On Rokeby’s glades of elm and oak,
But, rising from their sylvan screen,
Marks no grey turrets’ glance between.
A shapeless mass lie keep and tower,
That, hissing to the morning shower,
Can but with smouldering vapour pay
The early smile of summer day.
The peasant, to his labour bound,
Pauses to view the blacken’d mound,
Striving, amid the ruin’d space,
Each well-remember’d spot to trace.
That length of frail and fire-scorch’d wall
Once screen’d the hospitable hall;
When yonder broken arch was whole,
â€˜Twas there was dealt the weekly dole;
And where yon tottering columns nod,
The chapel sent the hymn to God.
So flits the world’s uncertain span
Nor zeal for God, nor love for man,
Gives mortal monuments a date
Beyond the power of Time and Fate.
The towers must share the builder’s doom;
Ruin is theirs, and his a tomb:
But better boon benignant Heaven
To Faith and Charity has given,
And bids the Christian hope sublime
Transcend the bounds of Fate and Time.
Now the third night of summer came,
Since that which witness’d Rokeby’s flame.
On Brignall cliffs and Scargill brake
The owlet’s homilies awake,
The bittern scream’d from rush and flag,
The raven slumber’d on his crag,
Forth from his den the otter drew,
Grayling and trout their tyrant knew,
As between reed and sedge he peers,
With fierce round snout and sharpen’d ears
Or, prowling by the moonbeam cool,
Watches the stream or swims the pool;-
Perch’d on his wonted eyrie high,
Sleep seal’d the tercelet’s wearied eye,
That all the day had watch’d so well
The cushat dart across the dell.
In dubious beam reflected shone
That lofty cliff of pale grey stone,
Beside whose base the secret cave
To rapine late a refuge gave.
The crag’s wild crest of copse and yew
On Greta’s breast dark shadows threw;
Shadows that met or shunn’d the sight,
With every change of fitful light;
As hope and fear alternate chase
Our course through life’s uncertain race.
Gliding by crag and copsewood green,
A solitary form was seen
To trace with stealthy pace the wold,
Like fox that seeks the midnight fold,
And pauses oft, and cowers dismay’d,
At every breath that stirs the shade.
He passes now the ivy bush,
The owl has seen him, and is hush;
He passes now the dodder’d oak,
Ye heard the startled raven croak;
Lower and lower he descends,
Rustle the leaves, the brushwood bends;
The otter hears him tread the shore,
And dives, and is beheld no more;
And by the cliff of pale grey stone
The midnight wanderer stands alone.
Methinks, that by the moon we trace
A well-remember’d form and face!
That stripling shape, that cheek so pale,
Combine to tell a rueful tale,
Of powers misused, of passion’s force,
Of guilt, of grief, and of remorse
‘Tis Edmund’s eye, at every sound
That flings that guilty glance around;
‘Tis Edmund’s trembling haste divides
The brushwood that the cavern hides;
And, when its narrow porch lies bare,
‘Tis Edmund’s form that enters there.
His flint and steel have sparkled bright,
A lamp hath lent the cavern light.
Fearful and quick his eye surveys
Each angle of the gloomy maze.
Since last he left that stern abode,
It seem’d as none its floor had trod;
Untouch’d appeared the various spoil,
The purchase of his comrades’ toil;
Masks and disguises grimed with mud,
Arms broken and defiled with blood,
And all the nameless tools that aid
Night-felons in their lawless trade,
Upon the gloomy walls were hung,
Or lay in nooks obscurely flung.
Still on the sordid board appear
The relics of the noontide cheer:
Flagons and emptied flasks were there,
And bench o’erthrown, and shatter’d chair;
And all around the semblance show’d,
As when the final revel glow’d,
When the red sun was setting fast,
And parting pledge Guy Denzil past.
‘To Rokeby treasure-vaults!’ they quaff’d,
And shouted loud and wildly laugh’d,
Pour’d maddening from the rocky door,
And parted-to return no more!
They found in Rokeby vaults their doom,
A bloody death, a burning tomb!
There his own peasant dress he spies,
Doff’d to assume that quaint disguise;
And shuddering thought upon his glee,
When prank’d in garb of minstrelsy.
‘0, be the fatal art accurst,’
He cried, ‘that moved my folly first;
Till, bribed by bandits’ base applause,
I burst through God’s and Nature’s laws!
Three summer days are scantly past
Since I have trod this cavern last,
A thoughtless wretch, and prompt to err
But, 0, as yet no murderer!
Even now I list my comrades’ cheer,
That general laugh is in mine ear,
Which raised my pulse and steel’d my heart,
As I rehearsed my treacherous part
And would that all since then could seem
The phantom of a fever’s dream!
But fatal Memory notes too well
The horrors of the dying yell,
From my despairing mates that broke,
When flash’d the fire and roll’d the smoke;
When the avengers shouting came,
And hemm’d us ‘twixt the sword and flame!
My frantic flight,-the lifted brand,
That angel’s interposing hand!
If, for my life from slaughter freed,
I yet could pay some grateful meed!
Perchance this object of my quest
May aid’-he turn’d, nor spoke the rest.
Due northward from the rugged hearth,
With paces five he metes the earth,
Then toil’d with mattock to explore
The entrails of the cavern floor,
Nor paused till, deep beneath the ground,
His search a small steel casket found.
Just as he stoop’d to loose its hasp,
His shoulder felt a giant grasp;
He started, and look’d up aghast,
Then shriek’d!-‘Twas Bertram held him fast.
‘Fear not!’ he said; but who could hear
That deep stern voice, and cease to fear?
‘Fear not!-By heaven, he shakes as much
As partridge in the falcon’s clutch:’-
He raised him, and unloosed his hold,
While from the opening casket roll’d
A chain and reliquaire of gold.
Bertram beheld it with surprise,
Gazed on its fashion and device,
Then, cheering Edmund as he could,
Somewhat he smooth’d his rugged mood:
For still the youth’s half-lifted eye
Quiver’d with terror’s agony,
And sidelong glanced, as to explore,
In meditated flight, the door.
‘Sit,’ Bertram said, ‘from danger free:
Thou canst not, and thou shalt not, flee.
Chance brings me hither; hill and plain
I’ve sought for refuge-place in vain.
And tell me now, thou aguish boy,
What makest thou here? what means this toy?
Denzil and thou, I mark’d, were ta’en;
What lucky chance unbound your chain?
I deem’d, long since on Baliol’s tower,
Your heads were warp’d with sun and shower.
Tell me the whole-and, mark! nought e’er
Chafes me like falsehood, or like fear.’
Gathering his courage to his aid,
But trembling still, the youth obey’d.
‘Denzil and I two nights pass’d o’er
In fetters on the dungeon floor.
A guest the third sad morrow brought;
Our hold dark Oswald Wycliffe sought,
And eyed my comrade long askance,
With fix’d and penetrating glance.
‘Guy Denzil art thou call’d?’-‘The same.’-
‘At Court who served wild Buckinghame;
Thence banish’d, won a keeper’s place,
So Villiers will’d, in Marwood-chase;
That lost-I need not tell thee why
Thou madest thy wit thy wants supply,
Then fought for Rokeby:-Have I guess’d
My prisoner right?’-‘At thy behest.’-
He paused awhile, and then went on
With low and confidential tone;
Me, as I judge, not then he saw,
Close nestled in my couch of straw.
List to me, Guy. Thou know’st the great
Have frequent need of what they hate;
Hence, in their favour oft we see
Unscrupled, useful men like thee.
Were I disposed to bid thee live,
What pledge of faith hast thou to give?’
‘The ready Fiend, who never yet
Hath failed to sharpen Denzil’s wit,
Prompted his lie-‘His only child
Should rest his pledge.’-The Baron smiled,
And turn’d to me-‘Thou art his son?’
I bowed-our fetters were undone,
And we were led to hear apart
A dreadful lesson of his art.
Wilfrid, he said, his heir and son,
Had fair Matilda’s favour won;
And long since had their union been,
But for her father’s bigot spleen,
Whose brute and blindfold party-rage
Would, force per force, her hand engage
To a base kern of Irish earth,
Unknown his lineage and his birth,
Save that a dying ruffian bore
The infant brat to Rokeby door.
Gentle restraint, he said, would lead
Old Rokeby to enlarge his creed;
But fair occasion he must find
For such restraint well-meant and kind,
The Knight being render’d to his charge
But as a prisoner at large.
‘He school’d us in a well-forged tale,
Of scheme the Castle walls to scale,
To which was leagued each Cavalier
That dwells upon the Tyne and Wear;
That Rokeby, his parole forgot,
Had dealt with us to aid the plot.
Such was the charge, which Denzil’s zeal
Of hate to Rokeby and O’Neale
Proffer’d, as witness, to make good,
Even though the forfeit were their blood.
I scrupled, until o’er and o’er
His prisoners’ safety Wycliffe swore;
And then-alas! what needs there more?
I knew I should not live to say
The proffer I refused that day;
Ashamed to live, yet loath to die,
I soil’d me with their infamy!’
‘Poor youth,’ said Bertram, ‘wavering still,
Unfit alike for good or ill!
But what fell next?’-‘Soon as at large
Was scroll’d and sign’d our fatal charge,
There never yet, on tragic stage,
Was seen so well a painted rage
As Oswald’s show’d! With loud alarm
He call’d his garrison to arm;
From tower to tower, from post to post,
He hurried as if all were lost;
Consign’d to dungeon and to chain
The good old Knight and all his train;
Warn’d each suspected Cavalier,
Within his limits, to appear
To-morrow, at the hour of noon,
In the high church of Eglistone.’
‘Of Eglistone!-Even now I pass’d,’
Said Bertram, ‘as the night closed fast;
Torches and cressets gleam’d around,
I heard the saw and hammer sound,
And I could mark they toil’d to raise
A scaffold, hung with sable baize,
Which the grim headsman’s scene display’d,
Block, axe, and sawdust ready laid.
Some evil deed will there be done,
Unless Matilda wed his son;
She loves him not-’tis shrewdly guess’d
That Redmond rules the damsel’s breast.
This is a turn of Oswald’s skill;
But I may meet, and foil him still!
How camest thou to thy freedom?-‘
‘There Lies mystery more dark and rare.
In midst of Wycliffe’s well-feign’d rage,
A scroll was offer’d by a page,
Who told, a muffled horseman late
Had left it at the Castle-gate.
He broke the seal-his cheek show’d change,
Sudden, portentous, wild, and strange;
The mimic passion of his eye
Was turn’d to actual agony;
His hand like summer sapling shook,
Terror and guilt were in his look.
Denzil he judged, in time of need,
Fit counsellor for evil deed;
And thus apart his counsel broke,
While with a ghastly smile he spoke:
‘As in the pageants of the stage,
The dead awake in this wild age.
Mortham-whom all men deem’d decreed
In his own deadly snare to bleed,
Slain by a bravo, whom, o’er sea,
He train’d to aid in murdering me,
Mortham has ‘scaped! The coward shot
The steed, but harm’d the rider not.
‘Here, with an execration fell,
Bertram leap’d up, and paced the cell:
‘Thine own grey head, or bosom dark,’
He mutter’d, ‘may be surer mark!’
Then sat, and sign’d to Edmund, pale
With terror, to resume his tale.
‘Wycliffe went on:-‘Mark with what flights
Of wilder’d reverie he writes:
‘Ruler of Mortham’s destiny!
Though dead, thy victim lives to thee.’
Once had he all that binds to life,
A lovely child, a lovelier wife;
Wealth, fame, and friendship, were his own
Thou gavest the word, and they are flown.
Mark how he pays thee:-To thy hand
He yields his honours and his land,
One boon premised;-Restore his child!
And, from his native land exiled,
Mortham no more returns to claim
His lands, his honours, or his name;
Refuse him this, and from the slain
Thou shalt see Mortham rise again.
‘This billet while the Baron read,
His faltering accents show’d his dread;
He press’d his forehead with his palm,
Then took a scornful tone and calm;
Wild as the winds, as billows wild!
What wot I of his spouse or child?
Hither he brought a joyous dame,
Unknown her lineage or her name:
Her, in some frantic fit, he slew;
The nurse and child in fear withdrew.
Heaven be my witness! wist I where
To find this youth, my kinsman’s heir,
Unguerdon’d, I would give with joy
The father’s arms to fold his boy,
And Mortham’s lands and towers resign
To the just heirs of Mortham’s line.
Thou know’st that scarcely e’en his fear
Suppresses Denzil’s cynic sneer;-
Then happy is thy vassal’s part,
He said, to ease his patron’s heart!
In thine own jailor’s watchful care
Lies Mortham’s just and rightful heir;
Thy generous wish is fully won,
Redmond O’Neale is Mortham’s son.
‘Up starting with a frenzied look,
His clenched hand the Baron shook:
Is Hell at work? or dost thou rave,
Or darest thou palter with me, slave!
Perchance thou wot’st not, Barnard’s towers
Have racks, of strange and ghastly powers.
Denzil, who well his safety knew,
Firmly rejoin’d, ‘I tell thee true.
Thy racks, could give thee but to know
The proofs, which I, untortured, show.
It chanced upon a winter night,
When early snow made Stanmore white,
That very night, when first of all
Redmond O’Neale saw Rokeby-hall,
It was my goodly lot to gain
A reliquary and a chain,
Twisted and chased of massive gold.
Demand not how the prize I hold!
It was not given, nor lent, nor sold.
Gilt tablets to the chain were hung,
With letters in the Irish tongue.
I hid my spoil, for there was need
That I should leave the land with speed;
Nor then I deem’d it safe to bear
On mine own person gems so rare.
Small heed I of the tablets took,
But since have spell’d them by the book,
When some sojourn in Erin’s land
Of their wild speech had given command.
But darkling was the sense; the phrase
And language those of other days,
Involved of purpose, as to foil
An interloper’s prying toil.
The words, but not the sense, I knew,
Till fortune gave the guiding clew.
‘Three days since, was that clew reveal’d,
In Thorsgill as I lay conceal’d,
And heard at full when Rokeby’s Maid
Her uncle’s history display’d;
And now I can interpret well
Each syllable the tablets tell.
Mark, then: Fair Edith was the joy
Of old O’Neale of Clandeboy;
But from her sire and country fled,
In secret Mortham’s Lord to wed.
O’Neale, his first resentment o’er,
Despatch’d his son to Greta’s shore,
Enjoining he should make him known
(Until his farther will were shown)
To Edith, but to her alone.
What of their ill-starr’d meeting fell,
Lord Wycliffe knows, and none so well.
‘O’Neale it was, who, in despair,
Robb’d Mortham of his infant heir;
He bred him in their nurture wild,
And call’d him murder’d Connel’s child.
Soon died the nurse; the Clan believed
What from their Chieftain they received.
His purpose was, that ne’er again
The boy should cross the Irish main;
But, like his mountain sires, enjoy
The woods and wastes of Clandeboy.
Then on the land wild troubles came,
And stronger Chieftains urged a claim,
And wrested from the old man’s hands
His native towers, his father’s lands.
Unable then, amid the strife,
To guard young Redmond’s rights or life,
Late and reluctant he restores
The infant to his native shores,
With goodly gifts and letters stored,
With many a deep conjuring word,
To Mortham and to Rokeby’s Lord.
Nought knew the clod of Irish earth,
Who was the guide, of Redmond’s birth;
But deem’d his Chief’s commands were laid
On both, by both to be obey’d.
How he was wounded by the way,
I need not, and I list not say.
”A wondrous tale! and, grant it true,
What,’ Wycliffe answer’d, ‘might I do?
Heaven knows, as willingly as now
I raise the bonnet from my brow,
Would I my kinsman’s manors fair
Restore to Mortham, or his heir;
But Mortham is distraught-O’Neale
Has drawn for tyranny his steel,
Malignant to our rightful cause,
And train’d in Rome’s delusive laws.
Hark thee apart!’-They whisper’d long,
Till Denzil’s voice grew bold and strong:-
‘My proofs! I never will,’ he said,
Show mortal man where they are laid.
Nor hope discovery to foreclose,
By giving me to feed the crows;
For I have mates at large, who know
Where I am wont such toys to stow.
Free me from peril and from band,
These tablets are at thy command;
N’or were it hard to form some train,
To wile old Mortham o’er the main.
Then, lunatic’s nor papist’s hand
Should wrest from thine the goodly land.’-
‘I like thy wit,’ said Wycliffe, ‘well;
But here in hostage shalt thou dwell.
Thy son, unless my purpose err,
May prove the trustier messenger.
A scroll to Mortham shall he bear
From me, and fetch these tokens rare.
Gold shalt thou have, and that good store,
And freedom, his commission o’er;
But if his faith should chance to fail,
The gibbet frees thee from the jail.’
‘Mesh’d in the net himself had twined,
What subterfuge could Denzil find?
He told me, with reluctant sigh,
That hidden here the tokens lie;
Conjured my swift return and aid,
By all he scoff’d and disobey’d,
And look’d as if the noose were tied,
And I the priest who left his side.
This scroll for Mortham Wycliffe gave,
Whom I must seek by Greta’s wave;
Or in the hut where chief he hides,
Where Thorsgill’s forester resides.
(Thence chanced it, wandering in the glade,
That he descried our ambuscade.)
I was dismiss’d as evening fell,
And reach’d but now this rocky cell.’
‘Give Oswald’s letter.’-Bertram read,
And tore it fiercely, shred by shred:
‘All lies and villany! to blind
His noble kinsman’s generous mind,
And train him on from day to day,
Till he can take his life away.
And now, declare thy purpose, youth,
Nor dare to answer, save the truth;
If aught, I mark of Denzil’s art,
I’ll tear the secret from thy heart!’
‘It needs not. I renounce,’ he said,
‘My tutor and his deadly trade.
Fix’d was my purpose to declare
To Mortham, Redmond is his heir;
To tell him in what risk he stands,
And yield these tokens to his hands.
Fix’d was my purpose to atone,
Far as I may, the evil done;
And fix’d it rests-if I survive
This night, and leave this cave alive.’
‘And Denzil?’-‘Let them ply the rack,
Even till his joints and sinews crack!
If Oswald tear him limb from limb,
What ruth can Denzil claim from him,
Whose thoughtless youth he led astray,
And damn’d to this unhallowed way?
He school’d me, faith and vows were vain;
Now let my master reap his gain.’
‘True,’ answer’d Bertram, ”tis his meed;
There’s retribution in the deed.
But thou-thou art not for our course,
Hast fear, hast pity, hast remorse:
And he, with us the gale who braves,
Must heave such cargo to the waves,
Or lag with overloaded prore,
While barks unburden’d reach the shore.’
He paused, and, stretching him at length,
Seem’d to repose his bulky strength.
Communing with his secret mind,
As half he sat, and half reclined,
One ample hand his forehead press’d,
And one was dropp’d across his breast.
The shaggy eyebrows deeper came
Above his eyes of swarthy flame;
His lip of pride awhile forbore
The haughty curve till then it wore;
The unalter’d fierceness of his look
A shade of darken’d sadness took,-
For dark and sad a presage press’d
Resistlessly on Bertram’s breast,
And when he spoke, his wonted tone,
So fierce, abrupt, and brief, was gone.
His voice was steady, low, and deep,
Like distant waves when breezes sleep;
And sorrow mix’d with Edmund’s fear,
Its low unbroken depth to hear.
‘Edmund, in thy sad tale I find
The wo that warp’d my patron’s mind:
‘Twould wake the fountains of the eye
In other men, but mine are dry.
Mortham must never see the fool,
That sold himself base Wycliffe’s tool;
Yet less from thirst of sordid gain,
Than to avenge supposed disdain.
Say, Bertram rues his fault;-a word,
Till now, from Bertram never heard:
Say, too, that Mortham’s Lord he prays
To think but on their former days;
On Quariana’s beach and rock,
On Cayo’s bursting battle-shock,
On Darien’s sands and deadly dew,
And on the dart Tlatzeca threw;
Perchance my patron yet may hear
More that may grace his comrade’s bier.
My soul hath felt a secret weight,
A warning of approaching fate:
A priest had said, ‘Return, repent!’
As well to bid that rock be rent.
Firm as that flint I face mine end;
My heart may burst, but cannot bend.
‘The dawning of my youth, with awe
And prophecy, the Dalesmen saw;
For over Redesdale it came,
As bodeful as their beacon-flame.
Edmund, thy years were scarcely mine,
When, challenging the Clans of Tyne
To bring their best my brand to prove,
O’er Hexham’s altar hung my glove;
But Tynedale, nor in tower nor town,
Held champion meet to take it down.
My noontide, India may declare;
Like her fierce sun, I fired the air!
Like him, to wood and cave bade fly
Her natives, from mine angry eye.
Panama’s maids shall long look pale
When Risingham inspires the tale;
Chili’s dark matrons long shall tame
The forward child with Bertram’s name.
And now, my race of terror run,
Mine be the eve of tropic sun!
No pale gradations quench his ray,
No twilight dews his wrath allay;
With disk like battle-target red,
He rushes to his burning bed,
Dyes the wide wave with bloody light,
Then sinks at once-and all is night.
‘ Now to thy mission, Edmund. Fly,
Seek Mortham out, and bid him hie
To Richmond, where his troops are laid,
And lead his force to Redmond’s aid.
Say, till he reaches Eglistone,
A friend will watch to guard his son.
Now, fare-thee-well; for night draws on,
And I would rest me here alone.’
Despite his ill-dissembled fear,
There swam in Edmund’s eye a tear;
A tribute to the courage high,
Which stoop’d not in extremity,
But strove, irregularly great,
To triumph o’er approaching fate!
Bertram beheld the dewdrop start,
It almost touch’d his iron heart:
‘I did not think there lived,’ he said,
‘One, who would tear for Bertram shed.’
He loosen’d then his baldric’s hold,
A buckle broad of massive gold;
‘Of all the spoil that paid his pains,
But this with Risingham remains;
And this, dear Edmund, thou shalt take,
And wear it long for Bertram’s sake.
Once more-to Mortham speed amain;
Farewell! and turn thee not again.’
The night has yielded to the morn,
And far the hours of prime are worn.
Oswald, who, since the dawn of day,
Had cursed his messenger’s delay,
Impatient question’d now his train,
‘Was Denzil’s son return’d again?’
It chanced there answer’d of the crew,
A menial, who young Edmund knew:
‘No son of Denzil this,’-he said;
‘A peasant boy from Winston glade,
For song and minstrelsy renown’d
And knavish pranks, the hamlets round.’
‘Not Denzil’s son!-From Winston vale!
Then it was false, that specious tale;
Or, worse-he hath despatch’d the youth
To show to Mortham’s Lord its truth.
Fool that I was!-but ’tis too late;
This is the very turn of fate!-
The tale, or true or false, relies
On Denzil’s evidence!-He dies!
Ho! Provost Marshal! instantly
Lead Denzil to the gallows-tree!
Allow him not a parting word;
Short be the shrift, and sure the cord!
Then let his gory head appal
Marauders from the Castle-wall.
Lead forth thy guard, that duty done,
With best despatch to Eglistone.
Basil, tell Wilfrid he must straight
Attend me at the Castle-gate.’
‘Alas!’ the old domestic said,
And shook his venerable head,
‘Alas, my Lord! full ill to-day
May my young master brook the way!
The leech has spoke with grave alarm,
Of unseen hurt, of secret harm,
Of sorrow lurking at the heart,
That mars and lets his healing art.’
‘Tush, tell not me!-Romantic boys
Pine themselves sick for airy toys,
I will find cure for Wilfrid soon;
Bid him for Eglistone be boune,
And quick!-I hear the dull death-drum
Tell Denzil’s hour of fate is come.’
He paused with scornful smile, and then
Resumed his train of thought agen.
‘Now comes my fortune’s crisis near!
Entreaty boots not-instant fear,
Nought else, can bend Matilda’s pride,
Or win her to be Wilfrid’s bride.
But when she sees the scaffold placed,
With axe and block and headsman graced,
And when she deems, that to deny
Dooms Redmond and her sire to die,
She must give way.-Then, were the line
Of Rokeby once combined with mine,
I gain the weather-gage of fate:
If Mortham come, he comes too late,
While I, allied thus and prepared,
Bid him defiance to his beard.-
If she prove stubborn, shall I dare
To drop the axe?-Soft! pause we there.
Mortham still lives-yon youth may tell
His tale-and Fairfax loves him well;
Else, wherefore should I now delay
To sweep this Redmond from my way?
But she to piety perforce
Must yield.-Without there! Sound to horse.’
‘Twas bustle in the court below,’
Mount, and march forward!’-Forth they go;
Steeds neigh and trample all around,
Steel rings, spears glimmer, trumpets sound.
Just then was sung his parting hymn;
And Denzil turn’d his eyeballs dim,
And, scarcely conscious what he sees,
Follows the horsemen down the Tees;
And scarcely conscious what he hears,
The trumpets tingle in his ears.
O’er the long bridge they’re sweeping now,
The van is hid by greenwood bough;
But ere the rearward had pass’d o’er,
Guy Denzil heard and saw no more!
One stroke, upon the Castle bell,
To Oswald rung his dying knell.
0, for that pencil, erst profuse
Of chivalry’s emblazon’d hues,
That traced of old, in Woodstock bower,
The pageant of the Leaf and Flower,
And bodied forth the tourney high,
Held for the hand of Emily!
Then might I paint the tumult broad,
That to the crowded abbey flow’d,
And pour’d, as with an ocean’s sound,
Into the church’s ample bound!
Then might I show each varying mien,
Exulting, woful, or serene;
Indifference, with his idiot stare,
And Sympathy, with anxious air,
Paint the dejected Cavalier,
Doubtful, disarm’d, and sad of cheer;
And his proud foe, whose formal eye
Claim’d conquest now and mastery;
And the brute crowd, whose envious zeal
Huzzas each turn of Fortune’s wheel,
And loudest shouts when lowest lie
Exalted worth and station high.
Yet what may such a wish avail?
Tis mine to tell an onward tale,
Hurrying, as best I can, along,
The hearers and the hasty song;
Like traveller when approaching home,
Who sees the shades of evening come,
And must not now his course delay,
Or choose the fair, but winding way;
Nay, scarcely may his pace suspend,
Where o’er his head the wildlings bend,
To bless the breeze that cools his brow,
Or snatch a blossom from the bough.
The reverend pile lay wild and waste,
Profaned, dishonour’d, and defaced.
Through storied lattices no more
In soften’d light the sunbeams pour,
Gilding the Gothic sculpture rich
Of shrine, and monument, and niche.
The Civil fury of the time
Made sport of sacrilegious crime;
For dark Fanaticism rent
Altar, and screen, and ornament,
And peasant hands the tombs o’erthrew
Of Bowes, of Rokeby, and Fitz-Hugh.
And now was seen, unwonted sight,
In holy walls a scaffold dight!
Where once the priest, of grace divine
Dealt to his flock the mystic sign;
There stood the block display’d, and there
The headsman grim his hatchet bare;
And for the word of Hope and Faith,
Resounded loud a doom of death.
Thrice the fierce trumpet’s breath was heard,
And echo’d thrice the herald’s word,
Dooming, for breach of martial laws,
And treason to the Commons’ cause,
The Knight of Rokeby and O’Neale
To stoop their heads to block and steel.
The trumpets flourish’d high and shrill,
Then was a silence dead and still;
And silent prayers to heaven were cast,
And stifled sobs were bursting fast,
Till from the crowd begun to rise
Murmurs of sorrow or surprise,
And from the distant aisles there came
Deep-mutter’d threats, with Wycliffe’s name.
But Oswald, guarded by his band,
Powerful in evil, waved his hand,
And bade Sedition’s voice be dead,
On peril of the murmurer’s head.
Then first his glance sought Rokeby’s Knight;
Who gazed on the tremendous sight,
As calm as if he came a guest
To kindred Baron’s feudal feast,
As calm as if that trumpet-call
Were summons to the banner’d hall;
Firm in his loyalty he stood,
And prompt to seal it with his blood.
With downcast look drew Oswald nigh,
He durst not cope with Rokeby’s eye!-
And said, with low and faltering breath,
‘Thou know’st the terms of life and death.’
The Knight then turn’d, and sternly smiled;
‘The maiden is mine only child,
Yet shall my blessing leave her head,
If with a traitor’s son she wed.’
Then Redmond spoke: ‘The life of one
Might thy malignity atone,
On me be flung a double guilt!
Spare Rokeby’s blood, let mine be spilt!’
Wycliffe had listen’d to his suit,
But dread prevail’d, and he was mute.
And now he pours his choice of fear
In secret on Matilda’s ear;
‘An union form’d with me and mine,
Ensures the faith of Rokeby’s line.
Consent, and all this dread array,
Like morning dream shall pass away;
Refuse, and, by my duty press’d,
I give the word-thou know’st the rest.’
Matilda, still and motionless,
With terror heard the dread address,
Pale as the sheeted maid who dies
To hopeless love a sacrifice;
Then wrung her hands in agony,
And round her cast bewilder’d eye.
Now on the scaffold glanced, and now
On Wycliffe’s unrelenting brow.
She veil’d her face, and, with a voice
Scarce audible,-‘I make my choice!
Spare but their lives!-for aught beside,
Let Wilfrid’s doom my fate decide.
He once was generous-‘As she spoke,
Dark Wycliffe’s joy in triumph broke:
‘Wilfrid, where loiter’d ye so late?
Why upon Basil rest thy weight?
Art spell-bound by enchanter’s wand?
Krieel, kneel, and take her yielded hand;
Thank her with raptures, simple boy!
Should tears and trembling speak thy joy?’-
‘0 hush, my sire! To prayer and tear
Of mine thou hast refused thine ear;
But now the awful hour draws on,
When truth must speak in loftier tone.’
He took Matilda’s hand: ‘Dear maid,
Couldst thou so injure me,’ he said,
‘Of thy poor friend so basely deem,
As blend with him this barbarous scheme?
Alas! My efforts made in vain,
Might well have saved this added pain.
But now, bear witness earth and heaven,
That ne’er was hope to mortal given,
So twisted with the strings of life,
As this-to call Matilda wife!
I bid it now forever part,
And with the effort bursts my heart.’
His feeble frame was worn so low,
With wounds, with watching, and with woe,
That nature could no more sustain
The agony of mental pain.
He kneel’d-his lip her hand had press’d,
Just then he felt the stern arrest.
Lower and lower sunk his head,
They raised him,-but the life was fled!
Then, first alarm’d, his sire and train
Tried every aid, but tried in vain.
The soul, too soft its ills to bear,
Had left our mortal hemisphere,
And sought in better world the meed,
To blameless life by Heaven decreed.
The wretched sire beheld, aghast,
With Wilfrid all his projects past,
All turn’d and centred on his son,
On Wilfiid all-and he was gone.
‘And I am childless now,’ he said;
‘Childless, through that relentless maid!
A lifetime’s arts, in vain essay’d,
Are bursting on their artist’s head!
Here lies my Wilfrid dead-and there
Comes hated Mortham for his heir,
Eager to knit in happy band
With Rokeby’s heiress Redmond’s hand.
And shall their triumph soar o’er all
The schemes deep-laid to work their fall?
No!-deeds, which prudence might not dare,
Appall not vengeance and despair.
The murdress weeps upon his bier
I’ll change to real that feigned tear!
They all shall share destruction’s shock;
Ho! lead the captives to the block!
‘But ill his Provost could divine
His feelings, and forbore the sign.
‘Slave! to the block!-or I, or they,
Shall face the judgment-seat this day!’
The outmost crowd have heard a sound,
Like horse’s hoof on harden’d ground;
Nearer it came, and yet more near,
The very deaths-men paused to hear.
‘Tis in the churchyard now-the tread
Hath waked the dwelling of the dead!
Fresh sod, and old sepulchral stone,
Return the tramp in varied tone.
All eyes upon the gateway hung,
When through the Gothic arch there sprung
A horseman arm’d, at headlong speed
Sable his cloak, his plume, his steed.
Fire from the flinty floor was spurn’d,
The vaults unwonted clang return’d!
One instant’s glance around he threw,
From saddlebow his pistol drew.
Grimly determined was his look!
His charger with the spurs he strook
All scatter’d backward as he came,
For all knew Bertram Risingham!
Three bounds that noble courser gave;
The first has reach’d the central nave,
The second clear’d the chancel wide,
The third-he was at Wycliffe’s side.
Full levell’d at the Baron’s head,
Rung the report-the bullet sped
And to his long account, and last,
Without a groan dark Oswald past!
All was so quick, that it might seem
A flash of lightning, or a dream.
While yet the smoke the deed conceals,
Bertram his ready charger wheels;
But flounder’d on the pavement-floor
The steed, and down the rider bore,
And, bursting in the headlong sway,
The faithless saddle-girths gave way.
‘Twas while he toil’d him to be freed,
And with the rein to raise the steed,
That from amazement’s iron trance
All Wycliffe’s soldiers waked at once.
Sword, halberd, musket-but, their blows
Hail’d upon Bertram as he rose;
A score of pikes, with each a wound,
Bore down and pinn’d him to the ground;
But still his struggling force he rears,
‘Gainst hacking brands and stabbing spears;
Thrice from assailants shook him free,
Once gain’d his feet, and twice his knee.
By tenfold odds oppress’d at length,
Despite his struggles and his strength,
He took a hundred mortal wounds,
As mute as fox â€˜mongst mangling hounds;
And when he died, his parting groan
Had more of laughter than of moan.
They gazed, as when a lion dies,
And hunters scarcely trust their eyes,
But bend their weapons on the slain,
Lest the grim king should rouse again!
Then blow and insult some renew’d,
And from the trunk, the head had hew’d,
But Basil’s voice the deed forbade;
A mantle o’er the corse he laid:
‘Fell as he was in act and mind,
He left no bolder heart behind:
Then give him, for a soldier meet,
A soldier’s cloak for winding sheet.’
No more of death and dying pang,
No more of trump and bugle clang,
Though through the sounding woods there come
Banner and bugle, trump and drum.
Arm’d with such powers as well had freed
Young Redmond at his utmost need,
And back’d with such a band of horse,
As might less ample powers enforce;
Possess’d of every proof and sign
That gave an heir to Mortham’s line,
And yielded to a father’s arms
An image of his Edith’s charms,-
Mortham is come, to hear and see
Of this strange morn the history.
What saw he?-not the church’s floor
Cumber’d with dead and stain’d with gore;
What heard lie?-not the clamorous crowd,
That shout their gratulations loud:
Redmond he saw and heard alone,
Clasp’d him, and sobb’d, ‘My son, my son!’
This chanced upon a summer morn,
When yellow waved the heavy corn:
But when brown August o’er the land
Call’d forth the reaper’s busy band,
A gladsome sight the sylvan road
From Eglistone to Mortham show’d.
Awhile the hardy rustic leaves
The task to bind and pile the sheaves,
And maids their sickles fling aside,
To gaze on bridegroom and on bride,
And childhood’s wondering group draws near,
And from the gleaner’s hands the ear
Drops, while she folds them for a prayer
And blessing on the lovely pair.
‘Twas then the Maid of Rokeby gave
Her plighted troth to Redmond brave;
And Teesdale can remember yet
How Fate to Virtue paid her debt,
And, for their troubles, bade them prove
A lengthen’d life of peace and love.
Time and Tide had thus their sway,
Yielding like an April day,
Smiling noon for sullen morrow,
Years of joy for hours of sorrow!