Matilda Betham Poems >>
The Lay Of Marie - Canto Third

"Careless alike who went or came,
  I seldom ask'd the stranger's name,
  When such a being came in view
  As eagerly the question drew.
  'The Lady Osvalde,' some one cried,
  'Sir Eustace' late appointed bride,
  His richest ward the king's behest
  Gives to the bravest and the best.'

   "Enchantments, wrought by pride and fear,
  Made me, though mute, unmov'd appear.
  My eye was quiet, and the while
  My lip maintain'd a steady smile.
  It cost me much, alas! to feign;
  But while I struggled with the pain,
  With beauty stole upon my sight
  An inward feeling of delight.

   "Long did the silken lashes lie
  Upon a dark and brilliant eye;
  Bright the wild rose's finest hue
  O'er a pure cheek of ivory flew.
  Her smile, all plaintive and resign'd,
  Bespake a gentle, suffering mind;
  And e'en her voice, so clear and faint,
  Had something in it of complaint.
  Her delicate and slender form,
  Like a vale-lily from the storm,
  Seem'd pensively to shrink away,
  More timid in a crowd so gay.
  Large jewels glitter'd in her hair;
  And, on her neck, as marble fair,
  Lay precious pearls, in countless strings;
  Her small, white hands, emboss'd with rings,
  Announc'd high rank and amplest wealth,
  But neither freedom, power, nor health.

   "Near her Sir Eustace took his stand,
  With manner sad, yet soft and bland;
  Spoke oft, but her replies were tame;
  And soon less frequent both became.
  Their converse seem'd by labour wrought,
  Without one sweet, free-springing thought;
  Without those flashes of delight
  Which make it tender, deep, or bright!
  It was not thus upon the sea
  He us'd to look and talk with me!
  Not thus, when, lost to all around,
  His haughty kinsmen saw and frown'd!
  Then all unfelt the world's controul,--
  Its rein lay lightly o'er his soul;
  Far were its prides and cautions hurl'd,
  And Thought's wide banner flew unfurl'd.

   "Yet we should do fair Osvalde wrong
  To class her with the circling throng:
  Her mind was like a gentle sprite,
  Whose wings, though aptly form'd for flight,
  From cowardice are seldom spread;
  Who folds the arms, and droops the head;
  Stealing, in pilgrim guise along,
   With needless staff, and vestment grey,
  It scarcely trills a vesper song
   Monotonous at close of day.
  Cross but its path, demanding aught,
  E'en what its pensive mistress sought,
  Though forward welcoming she hied,
  And its quick footstep glanc'd aside.

   "Restraint, alarms, and solitude,
  Her early courage had subdu'd;
  Fetter'd her movements, looks, and tongue,
  While on her heart more weighty hung
  Each griev'd resentment, doubt, and pain,
  Each dread of anger or disdain.
  A deeper sorrow also lent
  The sharpen'd pang of discontent;
  For unconceal'd attachment prov'd
  Destructive to the man she lov'd.

   "Owning, like her, an orphan's doom,
  He had not that prescriptive home
  Which wealth and royal sanction buys;
  No powerful friends, nor tender ties;--
  No claims, save former promise given,
  Whose only witness was in heaven;
  And promise takes a slender hold,
  Where all is selfish, dull, and cold.

   "Slowly that bloomless favour grew,
  Before his stern protectors knew
  The secret which arous'd disdain.
  Declaring that he did but feign,
  They, in unpitying vengeance, hurl'd
  A sister's offspring on the world.
  Thus outrag'd, pride's corroding smart,
  The fever of a throbbing heart,
  Impell'd him first to wander round,
  And soon to leap that barrier ground,
  And seek the arch'd, embowering way,
  In which her steps were wont to stray.

   "No sleep his heavy eyes could close,
  Nor restless memory find repose,
  Nor hope a plan on which to rest,
  In the wild tumult of a breast
  With warring passions deeply fraught.
  To see her was his only thought;
  Feel once again the tones that sprung
  So oft to that endearing tongue,
  Flow on his heart; desponding, faint,
  But too indignant for complaint;
  Say how completely he resign'd
  All former influence o'er her mind,
  Where it was better to destroy
  Each vestige of their days of joy.
  To breathe her name he would not dare,
  Except in solitude and prayer!
  'Beyond belief I love, adore,
  But never will behold thee more!'
  Thus thinking o'er each purpose high,
  Tears gather'd blinding in his eye;
  And bitter, uncontroul'd regret
  Exclaim'd, 'Why have we ever met?'

   "These conflicts and these hopes were fled;
  Alas! poor youth! his blood, was shed,
   Before the feet of Osvalde trod
   Again on the empurpled sod.
  No voice had dar'd to tell the tale;
   But she had many a boding thrill,
   For dumb observance watch'd her still;
   For laughter ceas'd whene'er she came,
   And none pronounc'd her lover's name!
   When wilfully she sought this spot,
   Shudderings prophetic mark'd his lot;
  She look'd! her maiden's cheek was pale!
   And from the hour did ne'er depart
   That deadly tremor from her heart.
   Pleasure and blandishment were vain;
   Deaf to persuasion's dulcet strain,
   It never reach'd her mind again.

  "Arise, lovely mourner! thy sorrows give o'er,
   Nor droop so forlornly that beautiful head!
  Thy sighs art unheard by the youth they deplore,
   And those warm-flowing tears all unfelt by the dead.

  "Then quit this despondence, sweet Osvalde! be gay!
   See open before thee the gates of delight!
  Where the Hours are now lingering on tiptoe, away!
   They view thee with smiles, and are loth to take flight.

  "See the damsels around thee, how joyous they are!
   How their eyes sparkle pleasure whenever they meet!
  What sweet flowers are entwin'd in their long, floating hair!
   How airy their movements, how nimble their feet!

  "O! bear her from hence! when she sees them rejoice,
   Still keener the pain of her agony burns;
  And when Joy carols by, with a rapturous voice,
   To hopeless Remembrance more poignantly turns.

    "Thus often has her bosom bled;
   Thus have I seen her fainting led
  From feasts intended to dispel
  The woeful thoughts she nurs'd so well.
  And must she, by the king's command,
  To Eustace plight that fever'd hand?
  Proud, loyal as he is, can he,
  A victim to the same decree,
  Receive it, while regretting me?
  For that poor, withering heart, resign
  The warm, devoted faith of mine!

   "Have I, too, an allotted task?
  What from the Minstrel do they ask?
  A nimble finger o'er the chords,
  A tongue replete with gracious words!
  Alas! the tribute they require,
  Truth, sudden impulse, should inspire;
  And from the senseless, subject lyre,
  Such fine and mellow music flow,
  The skill that forms it should not know
  Whence the delicious tones proceed;
  But, lost in rapture's grateful glow,
  Doubt its own power, and cry, 'Indeed,
  Some passing angel sweeps the strings,
  Wafting from his balsamic wings
  The sweetest breath of Eden bowers,
  Tones nurs'd and hovering there in flowers,
  Have left their haunts to wander free,
  Linger, alight, and dwell on thee!'

   "In Osvalde's porch, where, full in bloom,
  The jasmine spread its rich perfume;
  And, in thick clustering masses, strove
  To hide the arch of stone above;
  While many a long and drooping spray
  Wav'd up, and lash'd the air in play;
  Was I ordain'd my harp to place,
  The pair with bridal strains to grace.

   "The royal will,--and what beside?
  O! what I since have lost,--my pride,
  Forbade the wonted song to fail:
  I met him with a cheerful hail.
  I taught my looks, my lips, to feign
  I bade my hand its task sustain;
  And when he came to seek the bride,
  Her rival thus, unfaltering, cried:--

  "'Approach! approach, thou gallant knight!
  England's first champion in the fight,
  Of grace and courtesy the flower,
  Approach the high-born Osvalde's bower!
  And forth let manly valour bring
  Youth's timid meekness, beauty's spring!

  "'Thou darling of a vassal host,
  Thy parents' stay, thy kinsman's boast;
  Thou favourite in a monarch's eyes,
  Whose gracious hand awards the prize;
  Thee does the brightest lot betide,
  The best domain, the fairest bride!'

   "Mine sunk beneath the mournful look
  Which glanc'd disdainful as I spoke;
  And, when his step past hurrying by,
  And when I heard his struggling sigh,
  A moment on my quailing tongue
  The speech constrain'd of welcome hung;
  But in the harp's continuous sound
  My wandering thoughts I quickly found.

   "'Haste on! and here thy duteous train
  In rapt expectance shall remain;
  Till, with thee, brilliant as a gem
  Set in a kingdom's diadem,
  Thy lovely mistress shall appear!
  O! hasten! we await thee here!'

   "Again did that upbraiding eye
  Check my false strain in passing by;
  And its concentred meaning fell
  Into my soul:--It was not well
  To triumph thus, though but in show;
   To chant the lay that joyance spoke,
   To wear the gay and careless look.--
  The ardent and the tender know
  What pain those self-reproaches brought,
  When conscience took the reins of thought
  Into her hand, avenging more
  All that she seem'd to prompt before.
  O tyrant! from whose stern command
   No act of mine was ever free,
  How oft wouldst thou a censor stand
   For what I did to pleasure thee!
  The well-propp'd courage of my look,
   The sportive language, airy tone,
  To wounded love and pride bespoke
   A selfish hardness not my own!
  And only lulling secret pain,
  I seem'd to fling around disdain.

   "To him, with warm affections crost,
  Who, owning happiness was lost,
  Had said, 'Dear maiden, were I free,
  They would not let me think of thee;
  The only one who on my sight
  Breaks lovely as the morning light;
  Whom my heart bounding springs to greet,
  Seeks not, but always hopes to meet;
  With eager joy unlocks its store,
  Yet ever pines to tell thee more!'
  To him, should feign'd indifference bring
  A killing scorn, a taunting sting?
  To Osvalde, drooping and forlorn,
   A flower fast fading on the stem,
  All exultation seem'd like scorn,
   For what was hope and joy to them?
  As with awakening judgment came
  These feelings of remorse and shame,
  With the throng'd crowd, the bustling scene,
  Did deep abstractions intervene,
  O'er yielding effort holding sway,
  As, humbled, I pursued my way.

   "The festive flowers, the incens'd air,
  The altar taper's reddening glare;
  The pausing, slow-advancing pair,
  Her fainter, his most watchful air;
  The vaulted pile, the solemn rite,
  Impress'd, then languish'd on my sight;
  And all my being was resign'd
  To that strong ordeal, where the mind,
  Summon'd before a heavenly throne,
  Howe'er surrounded, feels alone.
  When, bow'd in dust all earthly pride,
  All earthly power and threats defied,
  Mortal opinion stands as nought
  In the clear'd atmosphere of thought;
  And selfish care, and worldly thrall,
  And mean repining, vanish all.
  When prayers are pour'd to God above,
  His eyes send forth their beams of love;
  Darkness forsakes our mental sky,
  And, demon-like, our passions fly.
  The holy presence, by its stay
  Drives failings, fears, and woes away;
  Refines, exalts, our nature draws
  To share its own eternal laws
  Of pure benevolence and rest,
  The future portion of the blest--
  Their constant portion! Soon this flow
  Of life I lost--recall'd below:
  From prayers for them recall'd. Around,
  A sudden rush, of fearful sound,
  Smote on my ear; of voices crying,
  'The bride, the Lady Osvalde dying!
  Give place! make room!' the hurrying press
  Eustace alarm'd; and, in distress,
  Calling for air, and through the crowd
  Which an impeded way allow'd,
  Forcing slow progress; bearing on
  Her pallid form; when, wholly gone
  You might have deem'd her mortal breath,
  Cold, languid, motionless as death,
  I saw before my eyes advance,
  And 'woke, astounded, from my trance.

   "The air reviv'd her--but again
  She left not, for the social train,
  The stillness of her chamber;--ne'er
  Its threshold pass'd, but on her bier:
  Spoke but to one who seem'd to stand
  Anear, and took his viewless hand,
  To promise, let whate'er betide,
  She would not be another's bride.
  Then, pleading as for past offence,
  Cried out aloud, 'They bore me hence!
  My feet, my lips, refus'd to move,
  To violate the vows of love!
  My sense recoil'd, my vision flew,
  Almost before I met thy view!
  Almost before I heard thee cry
  Perfidious Osvalde! look and die!

   "'Oppose them? No! I did not dare!
  I am not as a many are,
  Ruling themselves: my spirits fly,
  My force expires before reply.
  Instinctively a coward, free
  In speech, in act, I could not be
  With any in my life, but thee!
  Nor strength, nor power do I possess,
  Except, indeed, to bear distress!
  Except to pour the aching sigh,
   Which only can my pain relieve;
  Inhuman ye who ask me why,
   And pause, to wonder that I grieve:
  Mine are the wounds which never close,
   Mine is a deep, untiring care;
  A horror flying from repose,
   A weight the sickening soul must bear.
  The tears that from these eyelids flow,
   The sad confusion of my brain,
  All waking phantoms of its woe,
   Your anger, and the world's disdain,--
  Seek not to sooth me!--they are sent
   This feeble frame and heart to try!
  It is establish'd, be content!
   They never leave me till I die!'

   "So little here is understood,
  So little known the great and good,
  The deep regret that Eustace prov'd,
  Brought home conviction that he lov'd
  To many: others thought, her dower,
  The loss of lordships, wealth, and power,
  Full cause for sorrow; and the king
  Hop'd he might consolation bring,
  And bind a wavering servant o'er,
  (Not found too loyal heretofore,)
  By linking his sole daughter's fate
  In wedlock with an English mate--
  His favourite too! whose own domain
  Spread over valley, hill, and plain;
  Whose far-trac'd lineage did evince
  A birth-right worthy of a prince;
  Whose feats of arms, whose honour, worth,
  Were even nobler than his birth;
  Who, in his own bright self, did bring
  A presence worthy of a king--
  A form to catch and charm the eye,
  Make proud men gracious, ladies sigh;
  The boldest, wisest, and the best,
  Greater than each presuming guest;--
  I speak from judgment, not from love,--
  In all endowments far above
  Who tastes this day of festal cheer,
  And whom his death assembles here!

   "That he is known those look avow,
  The mantling cheek, the knitting brow:
  I could not hope it did he live,
  But now, O! now, ye must forgive!
  Most recreant they who dare offend
  One who has lost her only friend!
  De Stafford's widow here appears--
  For him, my Eustace, flow these tears!
  Ye may not blame me! ye have wives,
  Who yet may sorrow for your lives!
  Who, in the outset of their grief,
   Upon a father's neck may spring;
  Or find in innocence relief,
   And to a cherish'd infant cling;
  Or thus, like me, forlornly shed
  Their lonely wailing o'er the dead!

  "Can eyes that briny torrents steep,
  Others in strong subjection keep?
  Yes! here are some that mine obey,
  And, self-indignant at the sway
  I hold upon them, turn away!
  Some, too, who have no cause for shame,
  Whom even the injur'd cannot blame,
  Now here, now there, above, below,
  Their looks of wild avoidance throw!
  Nay, gentle cousin, blush not so!
  And do not, pray thee, rise to go!
  I am bewilder'd with my woe;
  But hear me fairly to the end,
  I will not pain thee, nor offend.
  O no! I would thy favour win;
  For, when I die, as next of kin,
  So 'reft am I of human ties,
  It is thy place to close my eyes!

   "With state and wealth to thee I part,
  But could not with De Stafford's heart!
  Nor could I mute and prudent be
  When all at once I found 'twas thee,
  Doom'd ever, in thy own despite,
  To take my rank, usurp my right!
  I told, alas! my father's name,
  The noble stock from which I came:--
  'Marie de Brehan, sounds as well,
  Perhaps,' I cried, 'as Isabel!
  And were the elder branch restor'd,
  (My grandsire was the rightful lord,)
  I, in my injur'd father's place,
  Those large domains, that name would grace.'

   "I never saw a joy so bright,
  So full, so fledg'd with sparkling light,
  As that which on the instant flew
  To his quick eye, when Eustace knew
  He had not yielded to a yoke
  Which prudence blam'd, or reason broke.
  'O! trebly blest this hour,' he cried;
  'I take not now another bride!
  I bow'd to duty and to pride;
  But, here I pledge my solemn vow,
  To wealth alone I will not bow!
  The only offspring of a race
  No misalliance did disgrace;
  Nurtur'd, school'd, fashion'd by their laws,
  Not wishing an exceptive clause,
  Till thee, my only choice, I met;
  And then, with useless, deep regret,
  I found in birth, and that alone,
  Thou wert unworthy of a throne!
  My ancestors appear'd too nice;
  Their grandeur bore too high a price,
  If, with it, on the altar laid,
  Freedom and happiness were paid!
  Yet, could I give my father pain,
  Or treat those lessons with disdain,
  I heard a child upon his knee;
  And, at the present, knew to be
  Entwin'd with every vital part?
  To scorn them were to break his heart!
  My mother too, though meek and kind,
  Possessing such a stately mind,
  That once perceiving what was fit,
  If 'twere to die, must still submit;
  Knowing no question in the right,
  Would not have borne me in her sight;
  Though quick her sands of life would run,
  Deserting, angry with her son!
  Yet noble both, by honour bound,
  To take no other vantage ground,
  They will not use a meaner plea,
  Nor sordid reasons urge to me!
  Good and high-minded, they will yield:
  I shall be victor in that field;
  And for my sovereign, we shall find
  Some inlet to his eager mind;
  At once not rashly all disclose,
  His plans or bidding to oppose,--
  That his quick temper would not brook;
  But I will watch a gracious look,
  And foster an auspicious hour,
  To try both love and reason's power.
  Zealous I cannot fail to be,
  Thou canst not guess to what degree,
  Dear Marie, when I plead for thee!'

   "That the result was plain, I knew,
  For I had often heard him sue,
  And never known a boon denied.
  In secret I became his bride:
  But heaven the union disapprov'd--
  The father he so truly lov'd,
  Before this first offence was told,
  Though neither sick, infirm, or old,
  Without a moment's warning, died!

   "This seal'd his silence for awhile;
  For, till he saw his mother smile,
  Till time the cloud of woe should chace
  From her pale, venerable face,
  He felt the tale he dar'd not break,--
  He could not on the subject speak!
  And oh! the gentle mourn so long,
  The faint lament outlasts the strong!

  "Her waning health was fair pretence
  To keep his voyage in suspence;
  But still the king, averse or mute,
  Heard coldly his dejected suit,
  To give the lingering treaty o'er;
  And once exclaim'd, 'Persuade no more!
  This measure 'tis resolv'd to try!
  We must that veering subject buy;
  Else, let the enemy advance,
  De Brehan surely sides with France!'"

   The harp again was silent; still
  No fiat of the general will
  Bade her to cease or to proceed:
  Oft an inquiring eye, indeed,
  The strangers rais'd; but instant check'd,
  Lest the new vassals should suspect
  They thought the monarch's reasons just,
  And faith so varying brought mistrust.
  De Brehan, with a bitter smile,
  Eyes closing, lips compress'd the while,
  Although Remorse, with keenest dart,
  And disappointment wrung his heart;
  Although he long'd to thunder--"Cease!"
  Restrain'd his fury, kept his peace.