From the terrace here, where the hills indent,
You can see the uttermost battlement
Of the castle there; the Cliffords’ home;
Where the seasons go and the seasons come
And never a footstep else doth fall
Save the prowling fox’s; the ancient hall
Echoes no voice save the owlet’s call:
Its turret chambers are homes for the bat;
And its courts are tangled and wild to see;
And where in the cellar was once the rat,
The viper and toad move stealthily.
Long years have passed since the place was burned,
And he sailed to the wars in France and earned
The name that he bears of the bold and true
On his tomb. Long years, since my lord, Sir Hugh,
Lived; and I was his favorite page,
And the thing then happened; and he of an age
When a man will love and be loved again,
Or hie to the wars or a monastery,
Or toil till he conquer his heart’s sore pain,
Or drink and forget it and finally bury.
I was his page. And often we fared
Through the Clare demesnes, in autumn, hawking;
If the Baron had known, how they would have glared
‘Neath their bushy brows, those eyes of mocking!–
That last of the Strongbows, Richard, I mean–
And growling some six of his henchmen lean
To mount and after this Clifford and hang
With his crop-eared page to the nearest oak,
How he would have cursed us while he spoke!
For Clare and Clifford had ever a fang
In the other’s side … And I hear the clang
Of his rage in the hall when the hawker told–
If he told!–how we met on the autumn wold
His daughter, sweet Clara of Clare, the day
Her hooded tiercel its brails did burst,
And trailing its jesses, came flying our way–
An untrained haggard the falconer cursed
While he tried to secure:–as the eyas flew
Slant, low and heavily over us, Hugh,–
Who saw it coming, and had just then cast
His peregrine hawk at a heron quarry,–
In his saddle rising, so, as it passed,
By the jesses caught, and to her did carry,
Where she stood near the wood. Her face flushed rose
With the glad of the meeting. No two foes
Her eyes and my Lord’s, I swear, who saw
‘Twas love from the start. And I heard him speak
Some words; then he knelt; and the sombre shaw,
With the rust of the autumn waste and bleak,
Grew spring with her smile, as the hawk she took
On her lily wrist, where it pruned and shook
Its ragged wings. Then I saw him seize
The hand, that she reached to him, long and white,
As she smilingly bade him rise from his knees–
When he kissed its fingers, her eyes grew bright.
But her cheeks grew pallid when, lashing through
The woodland there, with a face a-flare
With the sting of the wind, and his gipsy hair
Flying, the falconer came, and two
Or three of the people of Castle Clare.
And the leaves of the autumn made a frame
For the picture there in the morning’s flame.
What was said in that moment, I do not know,
That moment of meeting, between those lovers;
But whatever it was, ‘t was whispered low,
And soft as a leaf that swings and hovers,
A twinkling gold, when the leaves are yellow.
And her face with the joy was still aglow,
When down through the wood that burly fellow
Came with his frown, and made a pause
In the pulse of their words. My lord, Sir Hugh,
Stood with the soil on his knee. No cause
Had he, but his hanger he partly drew,
Then clapped it sharp in its sheath again,
And bowed to my Lady, and strode away;
And mounting his horse, with a swinging rein
Rode with a song in his heart all day.
He loved and was loved, I knew; for, look!
All other sports for the chase he forsook.
And strange that he never went to hawk,
Or hunt, but Clara would meet him there
In the Strongbow forest! I know the rock,
With its fern-filled moss, by the bramble lair,
Were oft and again he met–by chance,
Shall I say?–the daughter of Clare; as fair
Of face as a queen in an old romance,
Who waits with her sweet face pale; her hair
Night-deep; and eyes dove-gray with dreams;–
By the fountain-side where the statue gleams
And the moonbeam lolls in the lily white,–
For the knightly lover who comes at night.
Heigho! they ceased, those meetings; I wot,
Betrayed to the Baron by some of his crew
Of menials who followed and saw and knew.
For she loved too well to have once forgot
The time and the place of their trysting true.
“Why and when?” would ask Sir Hugh
In the labored letters he used to lock–
The lovers’ post–in a coigne of that rock.
She used to answer, but now did not.
But nearing Yule, love got them again
A twilight tryst–through frowardness sure!–
They met. And that day was gray with rain,
Or snow: and the wind did ever endure
A long bleak moaning thorough the wood,
That chapped i’ the cheek and smarted the blood;
And a brook in the forest went throb and throb,
And over it all was the wild-beast sob
Of the rushing boughs like a thing pursued.
And then it was that he learned how she,
(God’s blood! how it makes my old limbs quiver
To think what a miserable tyrant he–
The Baron Richard–aye and ever
To his daughter was!) forsooth! must wed
With an eastern earl, a Lovell: to whom
(Would God o’ his mercy had struck him dead!)
Clara of Clare when only a child,–
With a face like a flower, that blooms in the wild
Of the hills, and a soul like its soft perfume,–
Was given; to seal, or strengthen, some ties
Of power and wealth–say bartered, then,
Like the merest chattel. With tearful eyes
And trembling lips she spoke; and when
Her lover, the Clifford, had learned and heard,–
He’d have had her flee with him then, ‘sdeath!
In spite of them all! Let her speak the word,
They would fly together; the Baron’s men
Might follow, and if … and he touched his sword,
It should answer! But she, while she seemed to stay,
With a hand on her bosom, her heart’s quick breath,
Replied to his heat, “They would take and slay
Thee who art life of me!–No! not thus
Shall we fly! there’s another way for us;
A way that is sure; an only way;
I have thought it out this many a day.”–
The words that she spoke, how well I remember!
As well as the mood o’ that day of December,
That bullied and blustered and seemed in league,
Like a spiteful shrew, with the wind and snow,
To drown the words of their sweet intrigue,
With the boom of the boughs tossed to and fro.
Her last words these, “By curfew sure,
On Christmas eve, at the postern door.”
And we were there; with a led horse too;
Armed for a journey I hardly knew
Whither, but why, you well can guess.
For often he whispered a certain name,
The talisman of his happiness,
That warmed his blood like a yule-log’s flame.
While we waited there, till its owner came,
We saw how the castle’s baronial girth,
Like a giant’s, loosed for reveling more,
Shone; and we heard the wassail and mirth
Where the mistletoe hung in the hearth’s red roar,
And the holly brightened the weaponed wall
Of ancient oak in the banqueting hall.
And the spits, I trow, by the scullions turned
O’er the snoring logs, rich steamed and burned,
While the whole wild-boar and the deer were roasted,
And the half of an ox and the roe-buck haunches;
While tuns of ale, that the cellars boasted,
And casks of sack, were broached for paunches
Of vassals who reveled in stable and hall.
The song of the minstrel; the yeomen’s quarrel
O’er the dice and the drink; and the huntsman’s bawl
In the baying kennels, its hounds a-snarl
O’er the bones of the banquet; now loud, now low,
We could hear where we crouched in the drifting snow.
Was she long? did she come?… By the postern we
Like shadows waited. My lord, Sir Hugh,
Spoke, pointing a tower, “That casement, see?
When a stealthy light in its slit burns blue
And signals thrice slowly, thus–‘t is she.”
And close to his breast his gaberdine drew,
For the wind it whipped and the snow beat through.
Did she come?–We had waited an hour or twain,
When the taper flashed in the central pane,
And flourished three times and vanished so.
And under the arch of the postern’s portal,
Holding the horses, we stood in the snow,
Stiff with the cold. Ah, me! immortal
Minutes we waited, breath-bated, and listened
Shivering there in the hiss of the gale:
The parapets whistled, the angles glistened,
And the night around seemed one black wail
Of death, whose ominous presence over
The stormy battlements seemed to hover.
Said my lord, Sir Hugh,–to himself he spoke,–
“She feels for the spring in the sliding panel
‘Neath the arras, hid in the carven oak.
It opens. The stair, like a well’s dark channel,
Yawns; and the draught makes her taper slope.
Wrapped deep in her mantle she stoops, now puts
One foot on the stair; now a listening pause
As nearer and nearer the mad search draws
Of the thwarted castle. No smallest hope
That they find her now that the panel shuts!…
If the wind, that howls like a tortured thing,
Would throttle itself with itself, then I
Might hear how her hurrying footsteps ring
Down the hollow … there! ‘t is her fingers try
The postern’s bolts that the rust makes cling.”–
But ever some whim of the storm that shook
A clanging ring or a creaking hook
In buttress or wall. And we waited, numb
With the cold, till dawn–but she did not come.
I must tell you why and have done: ‘T is said,
On the brink of the marriage she fled the side
Of the guests and the bridegroom there; she fled
With a mischievous laugh,–“I’ll hide! I’ll hide!
Seek! and be sure that you find!”–so led
A long search after her; but defied
All search for–a score and ten long years….
Well, the laughter of Yule was turned to tears
For them and for us. We saw the glare
Of torches that hurried from chamber to stair;
And we heard the castle re-echo her name,
But neither to them nor to us she came.
And that was the last of Clara of Clare.
That winter it was, a month thereafter,
That the home of the Cliffords, roof and rafter,
Burned.–I could swear ‘t was the Strongbow’s doing,
Were I sure that he knew of the Clifford’s wooing
His daughter; and so, by the Rood and Cross!
Had burned Hugh’s home to avenge his loss.–
So over the channel to France with his King,
The Black Prince, sailed to the wars–to deaden
The ache of the mystery–Hugh that spring,
And fell at Poitiers; for his loss made leaden
His heart; and his life was a weary sadness,
So he flung it away in a moment’s madness.
And the Baron died. And the bridegroom?–well,
Unlucky was he in truth!–to tell
Of him there is nothing. The Baron died,
The last of the Strongbows he–gramercy!
And the Clare estate with its wealth and pride
Devolved to the Bloets, Walter and Percy.
And years went by. And it happened that they
Ransacked the old castle; and so, one day,
In a lonesome tower uprummaged a chest,
From Flanders; of ebon, and wildly carved
All over with things: a sinister crest,
And evil faces, distorted and starved;
Fast-locked with a spring, which they forced and, lo!
When they opened it–Death, like a lady dressed,
Grinned up at their terror!–but no, not so!
A skeleton, jeweled and laced, and wreathed
With flowers of dust; and a miniver
Around it clasped, that the ruin sheathed
Of a once rich raiment of silk and fur.
I’d have given my life to hear him tell,
The courtly Clifford, how this befell!
He’d have known how it was: For, you see, in groping
For the secret spring of that panel, hoping
And fearing as nearer and nearer drew
The search of retainers, why, out she blew
The tell-tale taper; and, seeing this chest,
Would hide her a minute in it, mayhap,
Till the hurry had passed; but the death-lock, pressed
By the lid’s great weight, closed fast with a snap,
Ere her heart was aware of the fiendish trap.
(Madison Julius Cawein)
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Based on Keywords: ransacked, clifford, broached, lolls, thus-, baronial, bullied, menials, chattel, hawker, reveling