Anna Jane Vardill

COUNT BERTRAM

A PROVENÇAL TALE

A dome stands on yon grassy steep,
Where west-winds sigh o’er Ocean’s sleep;
No guest invades its threshold green,
No sun beam in its hall is seen:
There dwells a pale and palsied man,
Whose brow the stranger fears to scan.
When midnight veils the silent hour,
He lingers in his lonely bow’r,
And only when the stars are few,
His wand’ring steps disturb the dew.

 If ye have felt the sullen haze
Which wraps the sun’s far distant rays,
Ye well may guess the damp controul
Of silent Bertram’s shrouded soul:
Remote from touch, yet ever nigh,
It chill’d the heart but mock’d the eye;
As mists the captive spirit chain,
With slow, yet unresisted reign.
But friendship once, when life was new,
Gave Bertram’s soul a brighter hue;
His mood was fierce, his fancy wild,
Yet sunk to peace when Raymond smil’d;
He lov’d the race if Raymond ran,—
His mirth with Raymond’s joy began:
One star their kindred bosoms sway’d
To melt before one blue-ey’d maid.
But gentle Raymonds’ softer sighs,
From silent Bertram won the prize:
Yet still in friendship’s links they mov’d,—
Together mus’d,—together lov’d,
Together to a distant shore
They went,—but one return’d no more.
’Tis said, on dark Euphrates’ tide,
A lonely raft was seen to glide,
And savage hands in silence spread
The printless sand which hides the dead.
But there, as wand’ring Arabs tell,
A shadowy mourner loves to dwell;
For oft beneath that secret mound
Soft sighs and whisp’ring murmurs sound;
And once a spectre, wan and fair,
Sat in the yellow moonlight there.
They say such wand’ring spirits seek
The tears on widow’s beauty’s cheek.
And bring these holy drops to lave
The roses round a victim’s grave.

 But safe from Mosul’s desert sand
Lord Bertram sought his native land,
Lost Raymond’s mourning bride to claim,
And plead for love in friendship’s name.
Too late he sued!—her death-fixed eye
Gave to his hope a last reply—
And clos’d ere trembling lips could tell
How wretched Edwin fought and fell.
One hope, in life and death supreme,
Lent to her look its parting beam:—
But Bertram’s eye could never dare
To read the thought still written there!
He durst not lift his brow to meet
That look in silent peace so sweet;
It would have chill’d his soul too much,
Her damp and earthy hand to touch,—
To see, dissolved in senseless clay,
The prize which lured his soul astray;
His soul’s repose was stak’d too buy
The light of that extinguished eye!—
Now all has vanished!—what shall now
Redeem his friendship’s broken vow?
He fled,—and none have ever known,
Where Bertram hid his bitter groan.

 Sweet Garonelle! thy vine-clad plain,
Long-banish’d Bertram treads again,
And half-forgets what years are past
Since, rich in hope, he trod it last.
Not all forget him …. from the mead
His voice re-calls the time-worn steed;
The feeble greyhound, old and blind,
Starts at his step and snuffs the wind;
To man, unthankful man alone,
The wearied wand’rer is unknown!
Yon hoary hind was blithe and young,
When last the forest lay he sung
To soothe his jocund master’s ear,
While hound and huntsman slumber’d near:
But that forgotten master now
Has wrinkles on his silver’d brow,
And never more shall fancy greet
His pillow with a dream so sweet,
As when upon that rock reclined
He slumber’d in the summer wind!

 Yet in the deep and silent dell,
Wash’d by thy waters, Garonelle!
A treasure still remains to bless
His stony bosom’s drear recess.
Long-buried Raymond’s orphan child,
Blooms shelter’d in that woodland wild;—
A babe, the fairest heav’n could give,
To shew how cherubs look and live.
Pure as the vine-leaf just unfurled,—
Soft as the tendrill round it curl’d,—
That tender bud of beauty blows,
Unblighted by the parent’s woes;
And, see!—the fost’ring cottage still
Peeps far below the cavern’d hill!
Its casement glimmers through the trees—
He scents the woodbine in the breeze:
Which round its open porch he twin’d,
Ere hope and peace he left behind.
O haste! the tardy gate unbar!—
A gentle guardian comes from far.
Alas! no cherub’s smile is near,
His worn and wasted heart to cheer:
A thief has found the precious flow’r
And torn it from its native bow’r!

 “Confessor! shun the hopeless bed
Which hides the guilty mourner’s head!
What now avails the golden hoard,
By fortune’s lavish bounty pour’d
On him, whom none remain to bless,
In life’s long wintry wilderness!
The wretch who digs this thankless soil,
Has yet a hope to gild his toil;
Some babe his parting kiss to crave,
Some pious hand to smooth his grave,
But not one kindred tear shall fall
To gem his lonely master’s pall!
Fond witless slaves!—with envious eyes
Ye gaze and wonder at the sighs;
Ye guess not with how weak a voice,
Pomp bids the ruined heart rejoice
Of him who, withering to the core,
Can hope, and trust, and love no more:
Condemn’d to live till life is cold,
While sapless hope itself grows old;
Till, frozen into lethargy,
The sleeping soul begins to die:
And death, the body’s welcome doom,
Scarce gives a deeper, darker tomb!”

“Peace, mourner, to thy parting hour!
Thy tears are precious as the show’r
Which gently drops at close of day,
And melts the ling’ring cloud away.
Now let soft Melody’s controul
In brief oblivion lap thy soul:
The minstrel in thy lonely hall
Awaits thy hospitable call—
A white-wing’d cherub hovers near
When Music breathes in Sorrow’s ear.”
 Soft thro’ the shadowy arches round
Swells a lone harp’s soul-stealing sound!
Such sounds from lyres ethereal creep,
When angels minister to Sleep.
Hark to that voice!—with dulcet trills
The pause a youthful songster fills:
Of Pleasure’s fleeting sway he sings,
And light as Love’s ambrosial wings
His fingers weep the warbling strings:
With low responses, soft and long,
Fond echo cadences the song.
Ere yet that heav’n-drawn sound departs,
Dark Bertram from his pillow starts—
Wrapp’d in a minstrel’s russet weeds,
The gentle songster’s form recedes;
But from his brow, serene and bold,
He parts his locks of clust’ring gold:
Such blushes tinge his downy cheek
As morning’s milkwhite vapour streak,
While brightly roll his azure eyes
Like Cupid’s, hid in mortal guise.
 “Fair boy!—thy mellow warblings seem
The whispers of a holy dream!
Thou has the voice which other days
Have heard imperial senates praise;—
Those days are past!—that envied tongue
Lies in the silent grave unstrung.
But whence art thou whose magic hand
Pours on my ear this solace bland?”
 “Chaldea’s lonely wilds among
I learnt my sad and simple song:
Once on Euphrates’ silent bank,
To slumber in its cave I sank;
Methought the swelling mound beneath,
A plaintive minstrel seem’d to breathe,—
‘Tread softly! ’midst this barren sand
Lie relics of a bounteous hand!
Revere this dust!—it once was part
Of noble Raymond’s trusting heart;
If yet with vital warmth it glow’d,
On thee its bounty would have flow’d!’
So spoke my dream—by morning’s light
This ruby circlet met my sight,
Rich with his symbol and his name—
Will Bertram’s hand the relic claim?”
 Red glows the fire in Bertram’s eye—
“Away!—’tis false—he did not die—
Could Mosul’s turban’d ruffians dare
To touch the head they vow’d to spare?—
They vow’d,—or I had never sold
Lost Raymond to their dungeon’s hold.
O no!—he died not;—ever here,
He sits my lonely pillow near,
And smiles at once, when life was young,
He smil’d when to the race he sprung.
Monk!—to they mould’ring cell return!
Thy frozen spirit cannot learn
What fires round scorpion Conscience burn!
 Yet thou has tears—I feel them now
Drop balmy on my blasted brow!
Kind father!—keep that precious tear
To hallow my forsaken bier—
Deep let me rest by Raymond’s side,
With his my nameless ashes hide;
His pitying soul shall vigils keep,
And wrap me in eternal sleep!”
 “Come to thy rest, forgiven son,
The meed of penitence is won!
Lost Raymond’s ransom’d hand receive,
These tears, this last embrace believe!
Fate yields me yet one germ of joy,
Our lov’d one’s pledge—this beauteous boy;
A father found the cherish’d flow’r,
And stole it from thy secret bow’r—
Live, Bertram!—to thy contrite breast
The pleading orphan once was prest;
I give thee back thy gracious tears
Thy pity gave his infant years:
His tuneful tongue shall plead for thee,
While Death unveils Eternity!”
 It is the pause—the pause of breath,
When life’s best beauty blends with death.
Dark Bertram dies—his frozen eye
Gleams with repentant ecstasy;
His lips are clay-cold, but the pray’r
Of bland Contrition trembles there.
Go, Priest of Mercy, to thy shrine!
A heritage of bliss is thine,
More than imperial victors know,—
The blessing of a pardon’d foe!

V.

The European Magazine, Vol. 67, March 1815, pp. 240-242