Baron's Yule Feast I.
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THE

BARON'S YULE FEAST.

A

CHRISTMAS RHYME.

__________

CANTO I.

__________

 

RIGHT beautiful is Torksey's hall, [1]
    Adown by meadowed Trent;
Right beautiful that mouldering wall,
And remnant of a turret tall,
    Shorn of its battlement.

For, while the children of the Spring
    Blush into life, and die;
And Summer's joy-birds take light wing
    When Autumn mists are nigh;
And soon the year ― a winterling ―
    With its fall'n leaves doth lie;
                    That ruin gray ―
                    Mirror'd, alway,
    Deep in the silver stream,
Doth summon weird-wrought visions vast,
That show the actors of the past
    Pictured, as in a dream.

Meseemeth, now, before mine eyes,
The pomp-clad phantoms dimly rise,
    Till the full pageant bright ―
A throng of warrior-barons bold,
Glittering in burnished steel and gold,
    Bursts on my glowing sight.

And, mingles with the martial train,
Full many a fair-tressed beauty vain,
    On palfrey and jennet ―
That proudly toss the tasselled rein,
    And daintily curvet;
                    And war-steeds prance,
                    And rich plumes glance
    On helm and burgonet;
                    And lances crash,
                    And falchions flash
    Of knights in tourney met.

Fast fades the joust! ― and fierce forms frown
    That man the leaguered tower, ―
Nor quail to scan the kingly crown
    That leads the leaguering power.

Trumpet and "rescue" ring! ― and, soon,
    He who began the strife
Is fain to crave one paltry boon: ―
    The thrall-king begs his life!

Our fathers and their throbbing toil
    Are hushed in pulseless death;
Hushed is the dire and deadly broil ―
    The tempest of their wrath; ―
Yet, of their deeds not all for spoil
    Is thine, O sateless Grave!
Songs of their brother-hours shall foil
    Thy triumph o'er the brave!

Their bravery take, and darkly hide
    Deep in thy inmost hold!
Take all their mailėd pomp and pride
    To deck thy mansions cold!
Plunderer! thou hast but purified
    Their memories from alloy:
Faults of the dead we scorn to chide ―
    Their virtues sing with joy.

Lord of our fathers' ashes! list
    A carol of their mirth;
Nor shake thy nieve, chill moralist!
    To check their sons' joy-birth: ―

It is the season when our sires
    Kept jocund holiday;
And, now, around our charier fires,
    Old Yule shall have a lay: ―
A prison-bard is once more free;
And, ere he yields his voice to thee,
His song a merry-song shall be!


_______

 


SIR WILFRED DE THOROLD [2] freely holds
    What his stout sires held before ―
Broad lands for plough, and fruitful folds, ―
    Though by gold he sets no store;
And he saith, from fen and woodland wolds,
    From marish, heath, and moor, ―
                    To feast in his hall,
                    Both free and thrall,
    Shall come as they came of yore.

"Let the merry bells ring out!" saith he
    To my lady of the Fosse; [3]
"We will keep the birth-eve joyfully
    "Of our Lord who bore the cross!"

"Let the merry bells ring loud!" he saith
    To saint Leonard's shaven prior; [4]
"Bid thy losel monks that patter of faith
    "Shew works, and never tire."
Saith the lord of saint Leonard's: "The brother-
            hood
    "Will ring and never tire
"For a beck or a nod of the Baron good;" ―
    Saith Sir Wilfrid: "They will ― for hire!"

Then, turning to his daughter fair,
Who leaned on her father's carven chair, ―
            He said, ― and smiled
            On his peerless child, ―
His jewel whose price no clerk could tell,
            Though the clerk had told
            Sea sands for gold; ―
For her dear mother's sake he loved her well, ―
But more for the balm her tenderness
Had poured on his widowed heart's distress; ―
    More, still more, for her own heart's grace
    That so lovelily shone in her lovely face,
    And drew all eyes its love to trace ―
Left all tongues languageless! ―

            He said, ― and smiled
            On his peerless child, ―
"Sweet bird! bid Hugh our seneschal
"Send to saint Leonard's, ere even-fall,
"A fat fed beeve, and a two-shear sheep,
"With a firkin of ale that a monk in his sleep
"May hear to hum, when it feels the broach,
"And wake up and swig, without reproach! ―
"And the nuns of the Fosse ― for wassail-bread ―
"Let them have wheat, both white and red;
"And a runlet of mead, with a jug of the wine
"Which the merchant-man vowed he brought
            from the Rhine;
"And bid Hugh say that their bells must ring
    "A peal loud and long,
    "While we chaunt heart-song,
"For the birth of our heavenly king!"

Now merrily ring the lady-bells
    Of the nunnery by the Fosse: ―
Say the hinds, "Their silver music swells
"Like the blessėd angels' syllables,
    "At his birth who bore the cross!"

And solemnly swells saint Leonard's chime
    And the great bell loud and deep: ―
Say the gossips, "Let's talk of the holy time
    "When the shepherds watched their sheep;
"And the Babe was born for all souls' crime
    "In the weakness of flesh to weep." ―
But, anon, shrills the pipe of the merry mime,
    And their simple hearts upleap.

"God save your souls, good Christian folk!
    "God save your souls from sin! ―
"Blythe Yule is come ― let us blythely joke!" ―
    Cry the mummers, ere they begin.

Then, plough-boy Jack, in kirtle gay, ―
    Though shod with clouted shoon, ―
Stands forth the wilful maid to play
Who ever saith to her lover "Nay" ―
    When he sues for a lover's boon.

While Hob the smith with sturdy arm
    Circleth the feignėd maid;
And, spite of Jack's assumed alarm,
Busseth his lips, like a lover warm,
    And will not "Nay" be said.

Then loffe the gossips, as if wit
    Were mingled with the joke: ―
Gentles, they were with folly smit, ―
Natheless, their memories acquit
    Of crime ― these simple folk!

No harmful thoughts their revels blight, ―
Devoid of bitter hate and spite,
    They hold their merriment; ―
And, till the chimes tell noon at night,
    Their joy shall be unspent!

"Come haste ye to bold Thorold's hall,
    "And crowd his kitchen wide;
"For there, he saith, both free and thrall
    "Shall sport this good Yule-tide!

"Come hasten, gossips!" the mummers cry,
    Throughout old Torksey town;
"We'll hasten!" they answer, joyfully,
    The gossip and the clown.

Heigho! whence cometh that cheery shout?
'Tis the Yule-log troop, ― a merry rout!
The gray old ash that so bravely stood,
The pride of the Past, in Thorney wood, [5]
They have levelled for honour of welcome Yule;
And kirtled Jack is placed astride:
On the log to the grunsel [6] he shall ride!

"Losels, yoke all! yoke to, and pull!"
Cries Dick the wright, on long-eared steed;
                "He shall have thwack
                "On lazy back,
"That yoketh him not, in time of need!"
                A long wain-whip
                Dick doth equip,
And with beans in the bladder at end of thong,
It seemeth to threaten strokes sturdy and
        strong; ―
                Yet clown and maid
                Give eager aid, ―
And all, as they rattle the huge block along,
                Seem to court the joke
                Of Dick's wain-whip stroke, ―
Be it ever so smart, none thinks he hath wrong; ―
                Till with mirthsome glee,
                The old ash tree
Hath come to the threshold of Torksey hall, ―
                Where its brave old heart
                A glow shall impart
To the heart of each guest at the festival.

And through the porch, a jocund crowd,
They rush, with heart-born laughter loud;
And still the merry mimesters call,
With jest and gibe, "Laugh, losels all!"

Then in the laden sewers troop,
With plattered beef and foaming stoup: ―
"Make merry, neighbours!" cries good Hugh,
    The white-haired seneschal:
"Ye trow, bold Thorold welcomes you ―
    "Make merry, my masters, all!"

They pile the Yule-log on the hearth, ―
    Soak toasted crabs in ale;
And while they sip, their homely mirth
Is joyous as if all the earth
    For man were void of bale!

And why should fears for future years
Mix jolly ale with thoughts of tears
    When in the horn 'tis poured?
And why should ghost of sorrow fright
The bold heart of an English wight
    When beef is on the board?

De Thorold's guests are wiser than
    The men of mopish lore;
For round they push the smiling can,
    And slice the plattered store.

And round they thrust the ponderous cheese,
    And the loaves of wheat and rye:
None stinteth him for lack of ease ―
For each a stintless welcome sees,
    In the Baron's blythesome eye.

The Baron joineth the joyous feast ―
    But not in pomp or pride;
He smileth on the humblest guest
So gladsomely ― all feel that rest
    Of heart which doth abide
Where deeds of generousness attest
The welcome by the tongue professed,
    Is not within belied.

And the Baron's beauteous child is there,
    In her maiden peerlessness, ―
Her eyes diffusing heart-light rare,
And smiles so sweetly debonair,
    That all her presence bless. ―

But wherefore paleth, soon, her cheek?
And why, with trembling, doth she seek
    To shun her father's gaze?
And who is he for whom the crowd
Make ready room, and "Welcome" loud
    With gleeful voices raise?

"Right welcome!" though the revellers shout,
    They hail the minstrel "Stranger!"
And in the Baron's eye dwells doubt,
    And his daughter's look thrills "danger!"

Though he seemeth meek the youth is bold,
    And his speech is firm and free;
He saith he will carol a legend old,
Of a Norman lord of Torksey told:
    He learnt it o'er the sea;
And he will not sing for the Baron's gold,
    But for love of minstrelsy.

"Come, tune thy harp!" the Baron saith,
    "And tell thy minstrel tale:
"It is too late to harbour wrath
    "For the thieves in helm and mail:

"Our fathers' home again is ours! ―
    "Though Thorold is Saxon still,
"To a song of thy foreign troubadours
    "He can list with right good will!"

A shout of glee rings to the roof,
    And the revellers form a ring;
Then silent wait to mark what proof
    Of skill with voice and string
The youthful stranger will afford.

Full soon he tunes each quivering chord,
And, with preamble wildly sweet
He doth the wondering listeners greet; ―
Then strikes into a changeful chaunt
That fits his fanciful romaunt.


_______

 

 
THE DAUGHTER OF
 PLANTAGANET.

THE STRANGER MINSTRELS TALE.
______________


FYTTE THE FYRSTE.


    'TIS midnight, and the broad full moon
    Pours on the earth her silver noon;
    Sheeted in white, like spectres of fear,
    Their ghostly forms the towers uprear;
And their long dark shadows behind them are cast,
Like the frown of the cloud when the lightning
                    hath past.

    The warder sleeps on the battlement,
    And there is not a breeze to curl the Trent;
    The leaf is at rest, and the owl is mute ―
    But list! awaked is the woodland lute:
The nightingale warbles her omen sweet
On the hour when the ladye her lover shall meet.

    She waves her hand from the loophole high,
    And watcheth, with many a struggling sigh,
    And hearkeneth in doubt, and paleth with fear,―
    Yet tremblingly trusts her true knight is near;―
And there skims o'er the river ― or doth her heart
                    doat? ―
As with wing of the night-hawk ― her lover's brave
                    boat.

    His noble form hath attained the strand,
    And she waves again her small white hand;
    And breathing to heaven, in haste, a prayer,
    Softly glides down the lonely stair;
And there stands by the portal, all watchful and
                    still,
Her own faithful damsel awaiting her will.

    The midnight lamp gleams dull and pale, ―
    The maidens twain are weak and frail, ―
    But Love doth aid his votaries true,
    While they the massive bolts undo, ―
And a moment hath flown, and the warrior knight
Embraceth his love in the meek moonlight.

The knight his love-prayer, tenderly,
    Thus breathed in his fair one's ear
"Oh! wilt thou not, my Agnes, flee? ―
    "And, quelling thy maiden fear,
"Away in the fleeting skiff with me,
    "And, for aye, this lone heart cheer?"

"O let not bold Romara [7] seek" ―
    Soft answered his ladye-love, ―
"A father's doating heart to break,
"For should I disdainful prove
"Of his high behests, his darling child
"Will thenceforth be counted a thing defiled;
"And the kindling eye of my martial sire
"Be robbed of its pride, and be quenched its fire:
"Nor long would true Romara deem
"The heart of his Agnes beat for him,
"And for him alone ― if that heart, he knew,
"To its holiest law could be thus untrue."

His plume-crowned helm the warrior bows
    Low o'er her shoulder fair,
And bursting sighs the grief disclose
    His lips can not declare;
And swiftly glide the tears of love
    Adown the ladye's cheek; ―
Their deep commingling sorrows prove
    The love they cannot speak!

The moon shines on them, as on things
    She loves to robe with gladness, ―
Bat all her light no radiance brings
    Unto their hearts' dark sadness:
Forlornly, 'neath her cheerless ray, ―
    Bosom to bosom beating, ―
In speechless agony they stay,
    With burning kisses greeting; ―
Nor reck they with what speed doth haste
The present hour to join the past.

    "Ho! lady Agnes, lady dear!"
        Her fearful damsel cries;
    "You reckon not, I deeply fear,
        "How swift the moontide flies!
    "The surly warder will awake,
        "The morning dawn, anon, ―
    "My heart beginneth sore to quake, ―
        "I fear we are undone!"

But Love is mightier than Fear:
    The ladye hasteth not:
The magnet of her heart is near,
    And peril is forgot!

She clingeth to her knight's brave breast
    Like a lorn turtle-dove,
And 'mid the peril feeleth rest, ―
    The full, rapt rest of Love!

"I charge thee, hie thee hence, sir knight!"
    The damsel shrilly cries;
"If this should meet her father's sight,
    "By Heaven! my lady dies."

The warrior rouseth all his pride,
    And looseth his love's caress, ―
Yet slowness of heart doth his strength betide
    As he looks on her loveliness: ―
But again the damsel their love-dream breaks, ―
    And, self-reproachingly,
The knight his resolve of its fetters shakes,
    And his spirit now standeth free.

Then, came the last, absorbing kiss,
    True Love can ne'er forego, ―
That dreamy plenitude of bliss
    Or antepast of woe, ―
That seeming child of Heaven, which at its birth
Briefly expires, and proves itself of earth.

The ladye hieth to her couch; ―
    And when the morn appears,
The changes of her cheek avouch,
    Full virginly her fears; ―
But her doating father can nought discern
    In the hues of the rose and the lily that chase
    Each other across her lovely face, ―
Save a sweetness that softens his visage stern.


___________________

 

 
FYTTE THE SECONDE.


ROMARA'S skiff is on the Trent,
    And the stream is in its strength, ―
For a surge, from its ocean-fountain sent,
    Pervades its giant length: [8]
Roars the hoarse heygre [9] in its course,
Lashing the banks with its wrathful force;
And dolefully echoes the wild-fowl's scream,
As the sallows are swept by the whelming stream;
And her callow young are hurled for a meal,
To the gorge of the barbel, the pike, and the eel:
The porpoise [10] heaves 'mid the rolling tide,
And, snorting in mirth, doth merrily ride, ―
For he hath forsaken his bed in the sea,
To sup on the salmon, right daintily!

In Romara's breast a tempest raves:
He heeds not the rage of the furrowy waves:
Supremely his hopes and fears are set
On the image of Agnes Plantagenet: [11]
And though from his vision fade Gainsburgh's
                    towers,
And the moon is beclouded, and darkness lours,
Yet the eye of his passion oft pierceth the gloom,
And beholds his Beloved in her virgin bloom ―
    Kneeling before the holy Rood, ―
        All clasped her hands, ―
    Beseeching the saints and angels good
        That their watchful bands
Her knight may preserve from a watery tomb!

What deathful scream rends Romara's heart? ―
    Is it the bittern that, flapping the air,
Doth shriek in madness, and downward dart,
    As if from the bosom of Death she would tear
Her perished brood, ― or a shroud would have
By their side, in the depths of their river-grave?

Hark! hark! again! 'tis a human cry,
Like the shriek of a man about to die!
And its desolateness doth fearfully pierce
The billowy boom of the torrent fierce;
        And, swift as a thought
        Glides the warrior's boat
Through the foaming surge to the river's bank,
Where, lo! by a branch of the osiers dank,
        Clingeth one in agony
        Uttering that doleful cry!

His silvery head of age upborne
    Appeared above the wave;
So nearly was his strength outworn,
    That all too late to save
Had been the knight, if another billow
    Its force on his fainting frame, had bent, ―
Nay, his feeble grasp by the drooping willow
    The beat of a pulse might have fatally spent.

With eager pounce did Romara take
    From the yawning wave its prey, ―
But nought to his deliverer spake
    The man with the head of gray:
And the warrior stripped, with needful haste,
The helpless one of his drenchėd vest,
And wrapt his own warm mantle round
The chill one in his deathly swound.

The sea-born strength of the stream is spent,
    And Romara's boat outstrips its speed, ―
For his stalwart arm to the oar is bent,
    And swiftly the ebbing waves recede.

Divinely streaketh the morning-star
    With a wavy light the rippling waters;
And the moon looks on from the west, afar,
    And palely smiles, with her waning daughters.
The thin-strown stars, which their vigil keep
Till the orient sun shall awake from sleep.

The sun hath awoke; and in garments of gold
The turrets of Torksey are livingly rolled;
Afar, on Trent's margin, the flowery lea
Exhales her dewy fragrancy;
And gaily carols the matin lark,
As the warrior hastes to moor his bark.

Two menials hastened to the beach,
    For signal none need they;
On the towers they kept a heedful watch
    As the skiff glode on its way:

With silent step and breathless care
The rescued one they softly bear,
And bring him, at their lord's behest,
To a couch of silken pillowed rest.

The serfs could scarce avert their eye
    From his manly form and mien,
As, with closed lids, all reverendly,
    He lay in peace, serene.

And Romara thought, as he gazing leant
    O'er the slumberer's form, that so pure a trace
Of the spirit of Heaven with the earthly blent
    Dwelt only there, and in Agnes' face.

The leech comes forth at the hour of noon,
And saith, that the sick from his deathly swoon
Will awake anon; and Romara's eye,
Uplit, betokens his heartfelt joy;
And again o'er the slumberer's couch he bows
Till, slowly, those peaceful lids unclose, ―
When, long, with heavenward-fixėd gaze,
With lowly prayer and grateful praise,
The aged man, from death reprieved,
His bosom of its joy relieved. ―

Then did Romara thus address
His gray guest, in his reverendness:

"Now, man of prayer come tell to me
"Some spell of thy holy mystery!
"Some vision hast had of the Virgin bright, ―
"Or message, conveyed from the world of light,
"By the angels of love who in purity stand
" 'Fore the throne of our Lord in the heavenly land?

"I hope, when I die, to see them there:
"For I love the angels so holy and fair:
"And often, I trust, my prayer they greet
"With smiles, when I kneel and kiss their feet
"In the missal, my mother her weeping child gave,
"But a day or two ere she was laid in the grave.

"Sage man of prayer, come tell to me
"What holy shapes in sleep they see
"Who love the blest saints and serve them well!
"I pray thee, sage man, to Romara tell,
"For a guerdon, thy dreams, sith, to me thou
                hast said
"No thanks that I rescued thy soul from the dead."

But, when the aged man arose
    And met Romara's wistful eye, ―
What accents shall the change disclose
    That marked his visage, fearfully? ―
From joy to grief and deepest dole,
    From radiant hope to dark presage
Of future ills beyond control ―
    Hath passed, the visage of the sage.

"Son of an honoured line, I grieve,"
    Outspake the reverend seer,
"That I no guerdon thee can give
    "But words of woe and fear!
"Thy sun is setting! and thy race,
    "In thee, their goodly heir,
"Shall perish, nor a feeble trace
    "Their fated name declare!
" Thy love is fatal: fatal, too,
    "This act of rescue brave
"For, him who from destruction drew
    "My life, no arm can save!"

He said, and took his lonely way
    Far from Romara's towers. ―
His fateful end from that sad day
    O'er Torksey's chieftain lowers: ―
Yet, vainly, in his heart a shrine
    Hope builds for love, ― with faith; ―
Alas! for him with frown malign
    "Waiteth the grim king Death!


___________________

 

 
FYTTE THE THYRDE.


PLANTAGENET hath dungeons deep
    Beneath his castled halls; ―
Plantagenet awakes from sleep
    To count his dungeoned thralls.

Alone, with the torch of blood-red flame,
    The man of blood descends;
And the fettered captives curse his name,
    As through the vaults he wends. ―

His caverns are visited, all, save one,
    The deepest, and direst in gloom, ―
Where his father, doomed by a demon son,
    Abode in a living tomb. ―

"I bring thee bread and water, sire!
    "Brave usury for thy gold!
"I fear my filial zeal will tire
    "To visit, soon, thy hold!"

Thus spake the fiendish-hearted lord,
    And wildly laughed, in scorn:
Like thunder round the cell each word
    By echoing fiends is borne, ―
But not a human heart is there
The baron's scorn or hate to fear!

And the captives tell, as he passeth again, ―
    That tyrant, in his rage, ―
How an angel hath led the aged man
    To his heavenly heritage!

The wrathful baron little recked
    That angel was his darling child;
Or knew his dark ambition checked
    By her who oft his rage beguiled, ―
    By her on whom he ever smiled: ―
This had he known, from that dread hour,
His darling's smile had lost its power, ―
And his own hand, without remorse,
Had laid her at his feet a corse! ―

Platagenet's banners in pride are borne
    To the sound of pipe and drum!
And his mailėd bands, with the dawn of morn,
    To Romara's walls are come.
"We come not as foes," the herald saith, ―
"But we bring Plantagenet's shriven faith
"That thou, Romara, in thine arms
"Shall soon enfold thy true love's charms:
"Let no delay thy joy betide! ―
"Thy Agnes soon shall be thy bride!"

The raven croaks as Torksey's lord
    Attends that bannered host;
But the lover is deaf to the omen-bird ―
    The fatal moat is crossed!

"Ride, ride;" saith the baron, ― "thy ladye fain
    "And the priest ― by the altar wait!" ―
And the spearmen seize his bridle-rein,
    And hurry him to his fate.

"A marriage by torchlight!" the baron said;
    "This stair to the altar leads!
"We patter our prayers, 'mong the mouldering
                dead, ―
    "And there we tell our beads!"

Along the caverned dungeon's gloom
    The tyrant strides in haste;
And, powerless, to his dreadful doom
    The victim followeth fast.
The dazėd captives quake and stare
At the sullen torch's blood-red glare,
    And the lover starts aghast
At the deathlike forms they wear!

Too late, the truth upon him breaks! ―
    Romara's heart is faint! ―
"Behold thy bride!" the baron shrieks ―
    "Wilt hear the wedding chaunt?
"This chain once bound my father here,
    "Who would have found his grave ―
    "The cursed dotard! ― 'neath the wave, ―
"Had not thy hateful hand been near. ―
"Be this the bride thou now shalt wed!
"This dungeon dank thy bridal bed! ―
"And when thy youthful blood shall freeze
"In death, ― may fiends thy spirit seize!" ―

Plantagenet hath minions fell
Who do their master's bidding well: ―
Few days Romara pines in dread: ―
His soul is with the sainted dead! ―

Plantagenet hath reached his bourne!
What terrors meet his soul forlorn
And full of stain, ― I may not say: ―
Reveal them shall the Judgment Day! ―

Her orisons at matin hour,
    At noon, and eve, and midnight toll,
For him, doth tearful Agnes pour! ―
    Jesu Maria! sain his soul!

 


___________________


 

THE

BARON'S YULE FEAST.

A

CHRISTMAS RHYME.

__________

CANTO II.

__________
 


SYMPHONIOUS notes of dulcet plaint
Followed the stranger minstrel's chaunt;
And, when his sounding harp was dumb,
The crowd, with loud applausive hum,
Gave hearty guerdon for his strain;
While some with sighs expressed what pain
Had pierced their simple bosoms thorow
To hear his song of death and sorrow.

"Come bear the mead-cup to our guest,"
    Said Thorold to his daughter;
"We thought to hear, at our Yule feast,
    "A lay of mirth and laughter;
"But, to thy harp, thou well hast sung
    "A song that may impart,
"For future hours, to old and young,
    "Deep lessons to the heart.
"Yet, should not life be all a sigh!
"Good Snell, do thou a burthen try
"Shall change our sadness into joy:
"Such as thou trollest in blythe mood,
"On days of sunshine in the wood.
"Tell out thy heart withouten fear ―
"For none shall stifle free thoughts here!
"But, bear the mead-cup, Edith sweet!
"We crave our stranger guest will greet
"All hearts, again, with minstrelsy,
"When Snell hath trolled his mirth-notes free!

Fairer than fairest flower that blows, ―
Sweeter than breath of sweetest rose, ―
Still on her cheek, in lustre left,
The tear the minstrel's tale had reft
From its pearl-treasure in the brain ―
The limbec where, by mystic vein,
From the heart's fountains are distilled
Those crystals, when 'tis overfilled, ―
With downcast eye, and trembling hands,
Edith before the stranger stands ―
    Stranger to all but her!
Though well the baron notes his brow,
While the young minstrel kneeleth low ―
    Love's grateful worshipper! ―
And doth with lips devout impress
The hand of his fair ministress!

Yet, was the deed so meekly done, ―
His guerdon seemed so fairly won, ―
The tribute he to beauty paid
    So deeply all believed deserved, ―
That nought of blame Sir Wilfrid said,
    Though much his thoughts from meekness
                swerved.

Impatience, soon, their faces tell
To hear the song of woodman Snell,
    Among the festive crew;
And, soon, their old and honest frere,
Elated by the good Yule cheer,
In untaught notes, but full and clear,
    Thus told his heart-thoughts true: ―

 
 

THE WOODSMAN'S SONG.


I WOULD not be a crownėd king,
    For all his gaudy gear;
I would not be that pampered thing,
    His gew-gaw gold to wear:
But I would be where I can sing
    Right merrily, all the year;
                Where forest treen,
                All gay and green,
    Full blythely do me cheer.

I would not be a gentleman,
    For all his hawks and hounds, ―
For fear the hungry poor should ban
    My halls and wide-parked grounds:
But I would be a merry man,
    Among the wild wood sounds, ―
                Where free birds sing,
                And echoes ring
    While my axe from the oak rebounds.

I would not be a shaven priest,
    For all his sloth-won tythe:
But while to me this breath is leased,
    And these old limbs are lithe, ―
Ere Death hath marked me for his feast,
    And felled me with his scythe, ―
                I'll troll my song,
                The leaves among,
    All in the forest blythe.


______________________



"Well done, well done!" bold Thorold cried,
    When the woodman ceased to sing;
"By'r Lady! it warms the Saxon tide
    "In our veins to hear thee bring
"These English thoughts so freely out!
"Thy health, good Snell!" ― and a merry shout
For honest boldness, truth, and worth,
The baron's grateful guests sent forth.

Silence like grave-yard air, again,
    Pervades the festive space:
All list for another minstrel strain;
    And the youth, with merrier face,
But tender notes, thus half-divulged
The passion which his heart indulged: ―


 

THE MINSTREL'S SONG.


O CHOOSE thou the maid with the gentle blue
                    eye,
That speaketh so softly, and looketh so shy;
                Who weepeth for pity,
                To hear a love ditty,
And marketh the end with a sigh.

If thou weddest a maid with a wide staring look,
Who babbleth as loud as the rain-swollen brook,
                Each day for the morrow
                Will nurture more sorrow, ―
Each sun paint thy shadow a-crook.

The maid that is gentle will make a kind wife;
The magpie that prateth will stir thee to strife:
                'Twere better to tarry,
                Unless thou canst marry
To sweeten the bitters of life!


______________


What fires the youthful minstrel's lay
    Lit in De Thorold's eyes,
It needs not, now, I soothly say:
Sweet Edith had softly stolen away, ―
    And 'mid his own surprise,
Blent with the boisterous applause
That, instant, to the rafters rose,
The baron his jealous thought forgot.
Quickly, sithence a jocund note
Was fairly struck in every mind,
And jolly ale its power combined
To fill all hearts with deeper glee, ―
All wished for gleeful minstrelsy;
And every eye was shrewdly bent
On one whose caustic merriment
At many a blythe Yule-tide had bin
Compelling cause of mirthful grin
To ancient Torksey's rustic folk.

Full soon this sturdy summons broke
From sire and son, and maid and mother: ―
"Ho, ho! saint Leonard's fat lay brother!
"Why dost thou in the corner peep,
"And sipple as if half asleep
"Thou wert with this good nappy ale?
"Come, rouse thee! for thy sly old tale
"Of the Miller of Roche and the hornless devil,
"We'll hear, or we leave our Yule-night revel!
"Thy folded cloak come cast aside!
"Beneath it thou dost thy rebeck hide ―
"It is thy old trick ― we know it well ―
"Pledge all! and thy ditty begin to tell!"
"Pledge all, pledge all!" the baron cried;
"Let mirth be free at good Yule-tide!"

Then, forth the lay brother his rebeck drew,
    And athwart the triple string
The bow in gamesome mood he threw, ―
    His joke-song preluding; ―
Soon, with sly look, the burly man,
In burly tones his tale began.

 

 
THE MILLER OF ROCHE.
[12]

THE LAY BROTHER OF SAINT LEONARD'S TALE.


        O THE Prior of Roche
        Was without reproach
While with saintly monks he chanted;
        But when from the mass
        He had turned his face,
The prior his saintship scanted.

        O the Miller of Roche, ―
        I swear and avouch, ―
Had a wife of nut-brown beauty;
        And to shrive her, ― they say, ―
        The prior, each day,
Came with zeal to his ghostly duty.

        But the neighbouring wives,
        Who ne'er shrove in their lives, ―
Such wickedness Sathanas whispers! ―
        Said the black-cloaked prior
        By the miller's log fire,
Oft tarried too late for vespers!

        O the thunder was loud,
        And the sky wore a shroud,
And the lightning blue was gleaming;
        And the foaming flood,
        Where the good mill stood,
Pell-mell o'er the dam was teeming.

        O the Miller, that night,
        Toiled on in a fright, ―
Though, through terror, few bushels he
                grinded!
        Yet, although he'd stayed long,
        The storm was so strong
That full loath to depart was he minded.

        Lo! at midnight a jolt,
        As loud as the bolt
Of the thunder on high that still rumbled,
        Assailed the mill-doors,
        And burst them, perforce, ―
And in a drenched beggar-lad stumbled!

        "Saint Luke and saint John
        "Save the ground we stand on" ―
Cried the Miller, ― "but ye come in a hurry;"
        While the lad, turning pale,
        'Gan to weep and to wail,
And to patter this pitiful story:

        "Goodman Miller, I pray,
        "Believe what I say, ―
"For, as surely as thou art a sinner,
        "Since the break of the morn
        "I have wandered forlorn,
"And have neither had breakfast nor dinner!"

        O the Miller looked sad,
        And cried, "Good lack, my lad!
"But ye tell me a dolorous ditty!
        "And ye seem in sad plight
        "To travel to-night: ―
"The sight o' ye stirs up one's pity!

        "Go straight to my cot,
        "And beg something that's hot, ―
"For ye look very haggard and hollow: ―
        "The storm's nearly o'er;
        "I will not grind much more, ―
"And when I have done, I will follow.

        "Keep by the brook-side!
        "The path is not wide ―
"But ye cannot soon stray, if ye mind it; ―
        "At the foot of the hill,
        "Half a mile from the mill,
"Stands my cottage: ― ye can't fail to find it."

        Then out the lad set,
        All dripping with wet, ―
But the skies around him seemed brighter;
        And he went gaily on, ―
        For his burthen was gone, ―
And his heart in his bosom danced lighter.

        Adown by the brook
        His travel he took,
And soon raught the Miller's snug dwelling; ―
        But, what he saw ere
        He was admitted there ―
By Saint Bridget! ― I must not be telling!

        Thus much I may say ―
        That the cot was of clay,
And the light was through wind-cracks
                ejected;
        And he placed close his eye,
        And peeped in, so sly, ―
And saw what he never expected!

        O the lad 'gan to fear
        That the Miller would appear, ―
And, to him, this strange sight would be vexing;
        So he, first, sharply coughed,
        And, then, knocked very soft, ―
Lest his summons should be too perplexing.

        But, I scorn to think harm! ―
        So pass by all alarm,
And trembling, and bustle, and terror,
        Occasioned within:
        The first stone at sin
Let him cast who, himself, hath no error!

        In inquisitive mood,
        The eaves-dropper stood,
By the wind-cracks still keeping his station;
        Till, half-choked with fear,
        A voice cried, "Who's there?" ―
Cried the beggar, "Mary grant ye salvation! ―

        "I'm a poor beggar-lad,
        "Very hungry and sad,
"Who have travelled in rain and in thunder;
        "I am soaked, through and through" ―
        Cried the voice, "Perhaps 'tis true ―
"But who's likely to help thee, I wonder?

        "Here's a strange time of night
        "To put folk in a fright,
"By waking them up from their bolsters! ―
        "Honest folk, by Saint Paul!
        "Abroad never crawl,
"At the gloom-hour of night ― when the
                 owl stirs!"

        But the Miller now came,
        And, hearing his dame
So sharply the beggar-lad scolding,
        Said, "Open, sweet Joan!
        "And I'll tell thee, anon, ―
"When thy brown cheek, once more, I'm
                beholding,

        "Why this poor lad is found
        "So late on our ground ―
Haste, my pigeon! ― for here there's hard
                bedding!" ―
        So the door was unbarred; ―
        But the wife she frowned hard,
As the lad, by the door, thrust his head in.

        And she looked very cold
        While her lord the tale told;
And then she made oath, by our Lady, ―
        Such wandering elves
        Might provide for themselves ―
For she would get no supper ready!

        O the Miller waxed wroth,
        And vowed, by his troth, ―
While the beggar slunk into a corner, ―
        If his termagant wife
        Did not end her ill strife,
He would change words for blows, he'd
                forewarn her!

        O the lad he looked sly,
        And with mischievous eye,
Cried, "Bridle your wrath, Goodman
                Grinder! ―
        "Don't be in a pet,
        "For I don't care a fret! ―
"Your wife, in a trice, will be kinder!

        "In the stars I have skill,
        "And their powers, at my will,
"I can summon, with food to provide us:
        "Say, what d'ye choose?
        "I pray, don't refuse: ―
"Neither hunger nor thirst shall betide us!"

        O the Miller he frowned,
        And rolled his eyes round,
And seemed not the joke to be liking;
        But the lad did not heed:
        He was at his strange deed,
And the table was chalking and striking!

        With scrawls straight and crookt,
        And with signs square and hookt,
With the lord of each house, or the lady,
        The table he filled,
        Like a clerk 'ith' stars skilled, ―
And, striking, cried "Presto! be ready!

        "A jug of spiced wine
        " 'S in the box, ― I divine!
"Ask thy wife for the key, and unlock it! ―
        "Nay, stop!" the lad said;
        "We shall want meat and bread;"
And the chalk took again from his pocket.

        O the lad he looked wise,
        And, in scholarly guise,
Completed his horary question: ―
        "A brace of roast ducks
        "Thou wilt find in the box,
"With the wine ― sure as I am a Christian! ―

        "And a white wheaten loaf; ―
        "Quick! proceed to the proof!" ―
Cried the beggar, ― while Grist stood stark
                staring; ―
        Though the lad's weasel eyes
        Shone so wondrously wise,
That to doubt him seemed sin over-daring!

        O the Miller's wife, Joan,
        Turning pale, 'gan to groan;
But the Miller, arousing his spirits,
        Said, "Hand me the key,
        And our luck we will see ―
"A faint heart no fortune inherits."

        But, ― Gramercy! ― his looks ―
        When he opened the box,
And at what he saw in it stood wondering!
        How his sturdy arm shook,
        While the wine-jug he took,
And feared he would break it with blundering!

        Faith and troth! at the last,
        On the table Grist placed
The wine and the ducks ― hot and smoking!
        Yet he felt grievous shy
        His stomach to try
With cates of a wizard's own cooking!

        But, with hunger grown fell,
        The lad sped so well,
That Grist was soon tempted to join in;
        While Joan sat apart,
        And looked sad at heart,
And some fearful mishap seemed divining!

        O the lad chopped away,
        And smiling so gay,
Told stories to make his host merry: ―
        How the Moon kittened stars, ―
        And how Venus loved Mars,
And often went to see him in a wherry!

        O the Miller he laughed,
        And the liquor he quaffed;
But the beggar new marvels was hatching: ―
        Quoth he "I'm a clerk,
        "And I swear, by saint Mark,
"That the Devil from hell I'll be fetching!" ―

        O the wife she looked scared,
        And wildly Grist stared,
And cried, "Nay, my lad, nay, thou'rt not able!"
        But the lad plied his chalk,
        And muttered strange talk ―
Till Grist drew his stool from the table!

        Then the lad quenched the rush,
        And cried, "Bring a gorse-bush,
"And under the caldron now kindle!" ―
        But the Miller cried, "Nay!
        "Give over, I pray!" ―
For his courage began fast to dwindle.

        Quoth the lad, "I must on
        "Till my conjuring's done;
"To break off just now would be ruin:
        "So fetch me the thorns, ―
        "And a devil without horns,
"In the copper I soon will be brewing!" ―

        O the Miller he shook
        For fear his strange cook
Should, indeed and in truth, prove successful;
        But feeling ashamed
        That his pluck should be blamed,
Strove to smother his heart-quake distressful.

        So the fuel he brought,
        And said he feared nought
Of the Devil being brewed in his copper:
        He'd as quickly believe
        Nick would sit in his sieve,
Or dance 'mong the wheat in his hopper: ―

        And yet, lest strange ill,
        From such conjuring skill,
Should arise, and their souls be in danger, ―
        He would have his crab-stick,
        And would show my lord Nick
Some tricks to which he was a stranger!

        O the lad 'gan to raise
        'Neath the caldron a blaze, ―
While the Miller, his crab-cudgel grasping,
        Stood on watch, for his life! ―
        But his terrified wife
Her hands ― in devotion ― was clasping!

        When the copper grew warm,
        Quoth the lad, "Lest some harm
"From the visit of Nick be betiding, ―
        "Set open the door,
        "And not long on the floor
"Will the Goblin of Hell be abiding!"

        Quickly so did the host,
        And returned to his post, ―
Uplifting his cudgel with trembling: ―
        His strength was soon proved, ―
        For the copper-lid moved! ―
When Grist's fears grew too big for
                dissembling.

        Turning white as the wall,
        His staff he let fall, ―
While the Devil from the caldron
                ascended, ―
        And, all on a heap, ―
        With a flying leap,
On the fear-stricken Miller descended!

        In dread lest his soul,
        In the Devil's foul goal,
Should be burnt to a spiritual cinder, ―
        Grist grabbed the Fiend's throat,
        And his grisly eyes smote, ―
Till Nick's face seemed a platter of tinder!

        Yea, with many a thwack,
        Grist battered Nick's back, ―
Nor spared Satan's portly abdomen!
        Hot Nick had lain cold
        By this time ― but his hold
Grist lost, through the screams of his woman!

        While up from the floor,
        And out, at the door,
Went the Fiend, with the skip of a dancer!
        He seemed panic-struck, ―
        Or, doubted his luck, ―
For he neither staid question nor answer!

        "Grist!" the beggar-lad cried,
        "Lay your trembling aside,
"And tell me, my man, how ye like him.
        " 'Twas well ye were cool:
        "He'd have proved ye a fool, ―
"Had ye dar'd with the cudgel to strike him!"

        "By saint Martin!" Grist said,
        And, scratching his head,
Seemed pondering between good and evil, ―
        "I could swear and avouch
        " 'Twas the Prior of Roche, ―
"If thou hadst not said 'twas the Devil!"

        And, in deed and in sooth, ―
        Though a marvellous truth, ―
Yet such was the Fiend's revelation! ―
        But think it not strange
        He should choose such a change: ―
Tis much after his old occupation: ―

        An angel of light,
        'Tis his darling delight
To be reckoned ― 'tis very well tested: ―
        I argue, therefore,
        'Twas not sinning much more,
In the garb of a Prior to be vested.

        Though, with wink, nod, and smile ―
        O the world's very vile! ―
Grist's neighbours told tales unbelieving, ―
        How the beggar, so shrewd,
        Monk and supper had viewed,
And produced 'em! ― the Miller deceiving!

        But I do not belong
        To that heretic throng
Who measure their faith with their eyesight: ―
        Thus much I may say ―
        Grist's cottage of clay
Never, now, doth the Prior of Roche visit: ―

        But, the sly beggar-lad,
        Be he hungry or sad,
A remedy finds for each evil
        In the Miller's good cheer,
        Any day of the year; ―
And though Joan looketh shy ― she is civil!


____________________


The tale was rude, but pleased rude men;
And clamorous many a clown grew, when
        The rebeck ceased to thrill:
Ploughboy and neatherd, shepherd swain,
Gosherd and swineherd, ― all were fain
        To prove their tuneful skill.

But, now, Sir Wilfrid waved his hand,
And gently stilled the jarring band:
"What ho!" he cried, "what ails your throats?
"Be these your most melodious notes?
"Forget ye that to-morrow morn
"Old Yule-day and its sports return, ―
"And that your freres, from scrogg and carr, [13]
"From heath and wold, and I'm, afar.
"Will come to join ye in your glee?
"Husband your mirth and minstrelsy,
"And let some goodly portion be
"Kept for their entertainment meet.
"Meanwhile, let frolic guide your feet,
        "And warm your winter blood!
"Good night to all! ― For His dear sake
"Who bore our sin, if well we wake,
"We'll join to banish care and sorrow
"With mirth and sport again to-morrow!"
        And forth the Baron good
Passed from his chair, midst looks of love
That showed how truly was enwove
Full, free, and heartfelt gratitude
For kindly deeds, in bosoms rude.

The broad hall-doors were open cast,
And, smiling, forth De Thorold passed.
Yet, was the crowning hour unflown ―
        Enjoyment's crowning hour! ―
A signal note the pipe hath blown,
        And a maiden at the door
Craves curtsied leave, with roseate blush,
To bring the sacred missel-bush.
Gaily a younker leads the fair,
Proud of his dimpled, blushing care:
All clap their hands, both old and young,
And soon the misseltoe is hung
In the mid-rafters, overhead;
And, while the agile dance they thread,
Such honey do the plough-lads seize
From lips of lasses as the bees
Ne'er sip from sweetest flowers of May.

All in the rapture of their play, ―
While shrilly swells the mirthsome pipe,
And merrily their light feet trip, ―
Leave we the simple happy throng
Their mirth and rapture to prolong.



[Canto III.]

 



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