THE SIXTH LEGEND OF THE HERMITAGE
Soft sleeps the wanderer, while the snows
Of cloud-capp’d Cenis round him curl;
He heeds not how the death-wind blows,
Nor sees the icy torrent whirl:
Again, again the ’larum tolls!
Near, nearer yet the ice-bolt rolls!
He starts!—no beacon-light is near
The wintry wilderness to cheer.
No path—no home!—all, all is lost
In one wide shapeless world of frost
Blank, silent, dim, and desolate
As life, when life itself we hate!
Away!—away! the mountain-bell*
Has rung the hour of woe to tell!
The wolf-dog homeward o’er the plain,
Tolls thro’ assembled snows in vain.—
How from the swift descending surge
Shall faint and frozen feet emerge?
Thro’ yonder flinty chasm rent
’Midst rocks on rocks in ruin bent,
Those feet may narrow egress find
And round the shelving rampart wind—
Far, far beneath its frozen height
His long-sought valley cheers his sight.
Dimly thro’ distant shadows seen
Like blissful days that once have been!
Yon cottage in the clefted rock
Still braves the freezing whirlwind’s shock:
Its gleaming hearth and taper’s light
The midnight wand’r’s steps invite.—
Ah! who is she whose meagre hand
Uplifts the latch and lights the brand?
Faintly her hollow eyeballs scan
The visage of the muffled man,
Who stretch’d beside the faggot’s blaze
Shrinks, inly groaning, from her gaze.
“Ungentle Armand!—ever now
Must midnight darkness hide thy brow?
They say this frozen dell is drear,
These icy hills are rude and bare;
And when the storms of winter scowl
’Tis sad to hear the torrent’s howl:
Yet once I lov’d this rocky pile,
For here I look’d on Armand’s smile.—
’Twas sweet along the torrent’s side
To watch thy coming shadow glide:
Safe shelter’d from the mountain-storm
Our lamp was bright—our hearth was warm.
“When in this lonely cell I rest
And gaze upon the fading west;
’Tis not because in fancy’s eyes
My father’s castle-turrets rise—
It is because the wild weeds wave
Unheeded round my mother’s grave—
Because no daughter’s duteous tear
Drop’d balmy on her distant bier—
And mine amidst these rocks shall be,
Forgotten by my babe and thee!
“My noble brother bade me trust
To friendship ever firm and just;
But not for ruin’d wealth I mourn,
Not for the bonds of kindred torn—
O no!—I only weep to own
A softness to thy soul unknown.
Yet when a fonder kiss to claim
Thy image lisps a father’s name,
And trills these silent glens among
Our childhood’s oft-remember’d song,
I will not—dare not fear to find
Thy soul forgetful or unkind—
For well I know thou could’st not press
His cherub lips and love me less:
Thou could’st not hear his voice and prove
A traitor to thy wedded love!”
“Behold thy Brother!—to his heart
He holds thee now, its dearest part!
Shall these unfathom’d caverns hide
De Courcy’s sister, Armand’s Bride?
Thy lord is ransom’d—well I know
How vengeful hatred laid him low—
But smile, belov’d—ere morning’s beam
My voice shall Armand’s fame redeem:
Take now the warmth this heart bestows,
With thine it sprang—for thee it glows!”—
“Detested slave of harlot pow’r!
False minion of her abject hour,
Receive thy death!”
—With dying eyes
At Armand’s feet De Courcy lies—
“Mistaken murd’rer!—hence, and feel
Thy treason is thy ruin’s seal!
This bleeding breast thy shelter plann’d
Thy ransom fill’d this dying hand:
Hence, wither’d with the doom of Cain—
A Brother at thy feet lies slain!”
* * *
A knell is tolling—shun the grave
Where recent wreaths of cypress wave:
Stretch’d by that lonely grave unseen
A white-hair’d mourner loves to lean;
Sudden he smiles, and from its earth
Tears the fresh flower of early birth—
“Perish, vain emblem of their doom!”
He cries and stalks to deeper gloom.
Yon porch where famish’d ravens wait
While moss obstructs the useless gate,
Once with its mantling jasmines lin’d
The weary wand’rer lov’d to find.
Those casements dark with ivy wild
Once thro’ a bower of roses smil’d:
And yon grey clock with silver chime
Told the soft step of joyous time!—
Blest days!—but ye alone have wings!
Still Spring her balmy incense brings,
Still Summer crowns the laughing plain,
These vales—these golden meads remain—
Yon woods their songs of gladness pour—
But he who hears them feels no more!
Why with luxuriant pageants trim
The desolated dome for him?
Ah! rather leave his image there
A mould’ring ruin, cold and bare!
Why with these vagrant roses’ pride
The damp funereal cypress hide?
Their lord has lost the latest rose
Which bloom’d to grace his wintry close!
The low’ring night begins to reign,
Dim mists are gath’ring o’er the plain—
From ev’ry grot and shrouded den
Forth rush the robbers of the glen—
“On, Brothers, on!—our task is done!
On, heroes, and our prize is won!
Our foe stands weaponless and lone—
A Chieftain’s ransom is our own!”
They shout—but with a with’ring look
His cloak a giant stranger shook:
Back from a brow where noble rage
Shone thro’ the timeless wreck of age—
“Off, Bandit! or my trusty brand
Shall stretch thee breathless on the strand!
Advance, my chief! yon shallop trim
Glides smoothly o’er the current’s brim—
This staff from oaken sapling torn
May steer us till the blush of morn;
My arm thy wand’ring steps shall guide
While this true falchion girds my side!”
High on the prow erect he stood
And launch’d his light bark to the flood;—
Thick as the sea-spray show’rs the shore
Stones, darts, and jav’lins round him pour;
Till thro’ the dark gulf’s shaggy jaws
His oar the faithful pilot draws.
“Now, stranger, if thy home is far
Avail thee of yon bounteous star;
But leave thy blessing to illume
The darkness of an exile’s doom—
Farewell!—thy noble soul requires
No beacon but its native fires!”
“Kind guardian of a fenceless breast
Be thou my lonely mansion’s guest!
A daughter fair as morning’s ray
Once shone upon my closing day;—
In far—far distant earth she lies
To demon-wiles a sacrifice!
Woe to the felon-hand that stole
The gem—the day-star of my soul!
Yet one remain’d—a precious one!
My hope—my pride—my valiant son—
O let me not his doom record
Till guilt has felt my vengeful sword!
But be thou mine!—thy hand shall weave
A pillow for affliction’s eve!
Ere life’s decaying fires depart
One ray returns to warm my heart!”
Now ever in that lonely dome
The nameless stranger seeks his home;
He guards the white-hair’d mourner’s bed
His hands the silent banquet spread:
But purple evening’s painted light
He shuns, and loves the noon of night.
His lurking eye ’tis vain to seek,
No banquet warms his hollow cheek;
He looks not on the sparkling stream
He fears the moon’s triumphant beam—
And when thro’ groves and vallies dim
Wild warblers swell their choral hymn
He starts, and with a giant’s stride,
Hastes from the shadowy forest’s pride.
His lean right hand beneath his vest
Seems in entangled folds to rest—
The secrets of that blighted hand
No mortal eye has ever scann’d.
Deep graven on a moss-grown stone
A nameless cross lies low and lone;
The moss around its reliques spread
Grows with mysterious blood-stains red,
And many a summer’s dews in vain
Have wash’d away that scarlet stain.
There pausing with uplifted eyes
The white-hair’d mourner kneels and sighs;
His silent guest with fearful tread
Shrinks from the sabbath of the dead!—
“Seest thou this ruin?—’twas a skull
Once of ethereal spirit full!
This narrow cell was life’s retreat,
This space was thought’s mysterious seat!
What beauteous pictures fill’d this spot!
What dreams of rapture long forgot!
Nor hope, nor joy, nor love, nor fear
Has left one trace or record here!—
“Beneath this mould’ring canopy
Once shone the bright and busy eye—
Yett start not at the dismal void! —
If social love that eye employ'd,
If with no lawless fire it gleam'd
But thro’ the dew of kindness beam'd;
That eye shall be for ever bright,
When sun and stars have lost their light!—
“Here in this silent cavern hung
The ready, swift and tuneful tongue—
If falsehood’s honey it disdain'd,
But where it could not praise, was chain'd—
If firm in virtue’s cause it spoke
Yet gentle concord never broke;
That tongue shall kindred seraphs greet
When death is chain’d at mercy’s feet!—
“Say, did these fingers delve the mine
Or with its cluster’d rubies shine?
To hew the rock or wear the gem
Can nothing now avail to them!
But if the page of truth they sought,
And comfort to the mourner brought;
These hands a richer meed shall claim
Than all that waits on wealth or fame!
“Avails it whether bare or shod
These feet the path of duty trod?
If from the bowr's of joy they fled
To cheer the ag’d man’s friendless bed,
If guilt’s triumphant mask they spurn'd
And home to mercy's lap return'd,
These feet with angel-wings shall vie,
And tread the palace of the sky!”
The sinner kneels—“De Courcy’s grave
No more shall tardy vengeance crave!
His blood, in erring frenzy shed
Too long has stain’d my forfeit head—
But by they son’s untimely shroud
And by this with’ring hand I vow’d,
To guard the winter of thy age
And share its joyless pilgrimage!
O!—it had softer anguish been
On asps and serpent’s teeth to lean,
Than thus to envy—thus to know
The balsam of they guiltless woe—
I wither with the doom of Cain,
De Courcy, by my hand lies slain!”