James Barron Hope Poems >>
A Story Of The Caracas Valley
High-perch'd upon the rocky way,
Stands a Posada stern and grey;
Which from the valley, seems as if,
A condor there had paus'd to 'light
And rest upon that lonely cliff,
From some stupendous flight;
But when the road you gain at length,
It seems a ruin'd hold of strength,
With archway dark, and bridge of stone,
By waving shrubs all overgrown,
Which clings 'round that ruin'd gate,
Making it look less desolate;
For here and there, a wild flower's bloom
With brilliant hue relieves the gloom,
Which clings 'round that Posada's wall--
A sort of misty funeral pall.
The gulf spann'd by that olden arch
Might stop an army's onward march,
For dark and dim--far down below--
'Tis lost amid a torrent's flow;
And blending with the eagle's scream
Sounds dismally that mountain-stream,
That rushes foaming down a fall
Which Chamois hunter might appal,
Nor shame his manhood, did he shrink
In treading on its dizzy brink.
In years long past, ere bridge or wall
Had spann'd that gulf and water-fall,
'Tis said--perhaps, an idle tale--
That on the road above the vale
Occurred as strange and wild a scene,
As ever ballad told, I ween.--
Yes, on this road which seems to be
Suspended o'er eternity;
So dim--so shadow-like--the vale
O'er which it hangs: but to my tale:
Once, 'tis well-known, this sunny land
Was ravag'd by full many a band
Of reckless buccaneers.
Cities were captur'd --old men slain;
Trampled the fields of waving cane;
Or scatter'd wide the garner'd grain;
An hour wrought wreck of years!
Where'er these stern freebooters trod,
In hacienda--church of God--
Or, on the green-enamell'd sod--
They left foot-prints so deep,
That but their simple names would start
The blood back to each Spanish heart,
And make the children weep.
E'en to this day, their many crimes
The peasants sing in drowsy rhymes--
On mountain, or on plain;
And as they sing, the plaintive song
Tells many a deed of guilt and wrong--
Each has a doleful strain!
* * * * *
One glorious morn, it so befell,
I heard the tale which I shall tell,
At that Posada dark and grey
Which stands upon the mountain way,
Between Caracas and the sea;
So grim--so dark--it seem'd to me
Fit place for deed of guilt or sin--
Tho' peaceful peasants dwelt therein.
At midnight we, (my friends and I,)
Beneath a tranquil tropic sky,
Bestrode our mules and onward rode,
Behind the guide who swiftly strode
Up the dark mountain side; while we
With many a jest and repartee--
With jingling swords, and spurs, and bits--
Made trial of our youthful wits.
Ah! we were gay, for we were young
And care had never on us flung--
But, to my tale: the purple sky
Was thick overlaid with burning stars,
And oft the breeze that murmur'd by,
Brought dreamy tones from soft guitars,
Until we sank in silence deep.
It was a night for thought not sleep--
It was a night for song and love--
The burning planets shone above--
The Southern Cross was all ablaze--
'Tis long since it then met my gaze!--
Above us, whisp'ring in the breeze,
Were many strange, gigantic trees,
And in their shadow, deep and dark,
Slept many a pile of mould'ring bones;
For tales of murder fell and stark,
Are told by monumental stones
Flung by the passer's hand, until
The place grows to a little hill.
Up through the shade we rode, nor spoke,
Till suddenly the morning broke.
Beneath we saw in purple shade
The mighty sea; above display'd,
A thousand gorgeous hues which met
In tints that I remember yet;
But which I may not paint, my skill,
Alas! would but depict it ill--
E'en Claude has never given hints
On canvas of such splendid tints!
The mountains, which ere dawn of day
I'd liken'd unto friars grey--
Gigantic friars clad in grey--
Stood now like kings, wrapp'd in the fold
_A Story of the Caracas Valley_.
Of gorgeous clouds around them roll'd--
Their lofty heads all crown'd with gold;
And many a painted bird went by
Strange to my unaccustom'd eye--
Their plumage mimicking the sky.
O'er many a league, and many a mile--
Crag--pinnacle--and lone defile--
All Nature woke!--woke with a smile--
As tho' the morning's golden gleam
Had broken some enchanting dream,
But left its soft impression still,
On lofty peak and dancing rill.
With many a halt and many a call,
At last we saw the rugged wall,
And gaz'd upon the ruin'd gate
Which even then look'd desolate,
For that Posada so forlorn
Seem'd sad e'en on so gay a morn!
The heavy gate at length unbarr'd,
We rode within the busy yard,
Well scatter'd o'er with many a pack;
For on that wild, romantic track,
The long and heavy-laden trains
Toil seaward from the valley's plains.
And often on its silence swells
The distant tinkle of the bells,
While muleteers' shrill, angry cries
From the dim road before you rise;
And such were group'd in circles round
Playing at monte on the ground;
Each swarthy face that met my eye
To thought of honesty gave lie.
In each fierce orb there was a spark
That few would care to see by dark--
And many a sash I saw gleam thro'
The keen _cuchillo_ into view.
Within; the place was rude enough--
The walls of clay--in color buff--
A pictur'd saint--a cross or so--
A hammock swinging to and fro--
A gittern by the window laid
Whereon the morning breezes play'd,
And its low tones and broken parts
Seem'd like some thoughtless minstrel's arts--
A rugged table in the floor--
Ran thro' this homely _comedor_.
Here, weary as you well may think,
An hour or so we made abode,
To give our mules both food and drink,
Before we took again the road;
And honestly, our own repast
Was that of monks from lenten fast.
The meal once o'er; our stores replaced;
We gather'd where the window fac'd
Upon the vale, and gaz'd below
Where mists from a mad torrent's flow
Were dimly waving to and fro.
Meanwhile, the old guitar replied
To the swift fingers of our guide:
His voice was deep, and rich, and strong,
And he himself a child of song.
At first the music's liquid flow
Was soft and plaintive--rich and low;
The murmur of a fountain's stream
Where sleeping water-lilies dream;
Or, like the breathing of love-vows
Beneath the shade of orange-boughs;
And then more stirring grew his song--
A strain which swept the blood along!
And as he sang, his eyes so sad--
Which lately wore the look of pain,
Danc'd with a gleam both proud and glad,
Awaken'd by his fervid strain--
His face now flush'd and now grew pale--
The song he sang, was this, my tale.
A fort above Laguayra stands,
Which all the town below commands.
The damp moss clings upon its walls--
The rotting drawbridge slowly falls--
Its dreary silentness appalls!
The iron bars are thick with rust
And slowly moulder into dust;
The roofless turrets show the sky,
The moats below are bare and dry--
No captain issues proud behest--
The guard-room echoes to no jest;
As I have said, within those walls
The very silentness appalls!
In other days it was not so--
The Spanish banner, long ago,
Above the turrets tall did flow.
And many a gallant soldier there
With musket or with gleaming spear,
Pac'd on the battlements that then
Were throng'd with tall and proper men.
But this was many a year ago--
A long shot back for mem'ry's bow!
The Governor here made his home
Beneath the great hall's gilded dome.
And here his lady-wife he brought
From Spain, across the sea;
And sumptuous festival was made,
Where now the tangled ivy's shade
Is hanging drearily.
The lady was both fair and young--
Fair as a poet ever sung;
And well they lov'd; so it is told;--
Had plighted troth in days gone by,
Ere he had won his spurs of gold,
Or, gain'd his station high.
And often from the martial keep
They'd sail together on the deep;
Or, wander many a weary mile
In lonely valley, or defile.
Well; once upon this road, a pair,
A lady and a cavalier,
Were riding side by side.
And she was young and "passing fair,"
With crimson lips and ebon hair--
She was the gallant's bride!
And he was cast in manly mould,
His port was high, and free, and bold--
Fitting a cavalier!
But now bent reverently low
His crest's unsullied plume of snow
Play'd 'mid the lady's hair.
This knight with orders on his breast,
The Governor, as you have guess'd--
The lady was his wife, and they,
Alone were on the road that day;--
Their horses moving at a walk,
And they engaged in earnest talk,
Low words and sweet they spoke;
The lady smil'd, and blush'd, and then,
Smiling and blushing, spoke again;
When sleeping echo woke--
Woke with the shouts of a wild band
Who urg'd with spur and heavy hand
Their steeds along the way.
Gave but one look the cavalier--
Murmur'd a vow the lady fair--
His right arm is around her thrown
Her form close-gather'd to his own;
While his brave steed, white as the snow,
Darts like an arrow from the bow;
His hoofs fall fast as tempest rain
Spurning the road that rings again.
Onward the race!--now fainter sounds
The yell and whoop; but still like hounds
The pirate band behind him rush
Breaking the mountains solemn hush.
On speeds he now--his steed so white
Far in advance, proclaims his flight;
God speed him and his bride!
But ah! that chasm's fearful gape
Seems to forbid hope of escape,
He _cannot_ turn aside.
He bends his head; is it in pray'r?
Is it to shed a bitter tear?
Or utter craven vow?
No; 'tis to gaze into those eyes
Which are to him love-litten skies--
To kiss his lady's brow.
And must he on? full well he knew
That none were spar'd by that wild crew--
Never a lady fair.
And now a shout, a fierce halloo,
Told that they were again in view--
Close to his ear a bullet sings,
And then the distant carbine rings.
Why pales the cavalier?
And why does he now set his teeth
And draw his dagger from its sheath?
He breasts his charger at the leap--
He pricketh him full sharp and deep:
He leaps, and then with heaving flank
Gains footing on the other bank:
A moment--'mid the pass's gloom,
Vanish both veil and dancing plume--
It seems a dream. No! there is proof,
The clatter of a flying hoof,
And too, the lady's steed remains,
With empty seat, and flying reins;
And then is borne to that wild rout,
A long and proud triumphant shout.
And he who led the pirate band,
Urg'd on his horse, with spur and hand;
The long locks drifted from his brow,
Like midnight waves from storm-vexed prow;
And darkly flashed his eyes of jet
Beneath the brows which almost met.
Stern was his face; but war and crime,
--For he had sinn'd in many a clime--
Had plough'd it deeper far than time.
He was their chief: will he draw rein?
Will he the yawning rift refrain?
And with his halting band remain?
He rais'd up in his stirrups, high,
Better the chasm to descry,
And measure with his hawk-like eye,
While his dark steed begrim'd with toil,
Tried madly, vainly, to recoil!
A mutter'd curse--a sabre goad--
Full at the leap the robber rode:
Great God! his horse near dead and spent,
Scarce halfway o'er the chasm went.
That fearful rush, and daring bound,
Was followed by a crashing sound--
A sudden, awful knell!
For down, more than a thousand feet,
Where mist and mountain torrent meet,
That reckless rider fell.
His band drew up:--they could not speak,
For long, and loud his charger's shriek
Was heard in an unearthly scream,
Above that roaring mountain stream--
Like fancied sound in fever'd dream,
When the sick brain with crazy skill
Weaves fantasies of woe and ill.
Some said: no steed gave forth that yell,
And hinted solemnly of--hell!
And others said, that from his vest
A miniature with haughty crest
And features like the lady's 'pressed,
Fell on the rugged bank:
But who he was, none knew or tell;
They simply point out where he fell
When horse and horseman sank.
Like Ravenswood he left no trace--
Tradition only points the place.
Rude is my hand, and rude my lay--
Rude as the Inn, time-worn and grey,
Where resting, on the mountain-way,
I heard the tale which I have tried
To tell to thee; and saw the wide
Deep rift--ten yards from side to side--
Great God! it was a fearful ride
The robber took that day.
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