Madison Julius Cawein Poems >>
The Moated Manse


 And now once more we stood within the walls
 Of her old manor near the riverside;
 Dead leaves lay rotting in its empty halls,
 And here and there the ivy could not hide
 The year-old scars, made by the Royalists' balls,
 Around the doorway, where so many died
 In that last effort to defend the stair,
 When Rupert, like a demon, entered there.


 The basest Cavalier who yet wore spurs
 Or drew a sword, I count him; with his grave
 Eyes 'neath his plumed hat like a wolf's whom curs
 Rouse, to their harm, within a forest cave;
 And hair like harvest; and a voice like verse
 For smoothness. Ay, a handsome man and brave!--
 Brave?--who would question it! although 't is true
 He warred with one weak woman and her few.


 Lady Isolda of the Moated Manse,
 Whom here, that very noon, it happened me
 To meet near her old home. A single glance
 Told me 't was she. I marveled much to see
 How lovely still she was! as fair, perchance,
 As when Red Rupert thrust her brutally,--
 Her long hair loosened,--down the shattered stair,
 And cast her, shrieking, 'mid his followers there.


 "She is for you! Take her! I promised it!
 She is for you!"--he shouted, as he flung
 Her in their midst. Then, on her poor hands (split,
 And beaten by his dagger when she clung
 Resisting him) and knees, she crept a bit
 Nearer his feet and begged for death. No tongue
 Can tell the way he turned from her and cursed,
 Then bade his men draw lots for which were first.


 I saw it all from that low parapet,
 Where, bullet-wounded in the hip and head,
 I lay face-upward in the whispering wet,
 Exhausted 'mid the dead and left for dead.
 We had held out two days without a let
 Against these bandits. You could trace with red,
 From room to room, how we resisted hard
 Since the great door crashed in to their petard.


 The rain revived me, and I leaned with pain
 And saw her lying there, all soiled and splashed
 And miserable; on her cheek a stain,
 A dull red bruise, made when his hand had dashed
 Her down upon the stones; the wretched rain
 Dripped from her dark hair; and her hands were gashed.--
 Oh, for a musket or a petronel
 With which to send his devil's soul to hell!


 But helpless there I lay, no weapon near,
 Only the useless sword I could not reach
 His traitor's heart with, while I chafed to hear
 The laugh, the insult and the villain speech
 Of him to her. Oh, God! could I but clear
 The height between and, hanging like a leech,
 My fingers at his throat, there tear his base
 Vile tongue out, yea, and lash it in his face!


 But, badly wounded, what could I but weep
 With rage and pity of my helplessness
 And her misfortune! Could I only creep
 A little nearer so that she might guess
 I was not dead; that I my life would keep
 But to avenge her!--Oh, the wild distress
 Of that last moment when, half-dead, I saw
 Them mount and bear her swooning through the shaw.


 Long time I lay unconscious. It befell
 Some woodsmen found me, having heard the sound
 Of fighting cease that, for two days, made dell
 And dingle echo; ventured on the ground
 For plunder; and it had not then gone well
 With me, I fear, had not their leader found
 That in some way I would repay his care;
 So bore me to his hut and nursed me there.


 How roughly kind he was. For weeks I hung
 'Twixt life and death; health, like a varying, sick,
 And fluttering pendulum, now this way swung,
 Now that, until at last its querulous tick
 Beat out life's usual time, and slowly rung
 The long loud hours that exclaimed, "Be quick!--
 Arise--Go forth!--Hear how her black wrongs call!--
 Make them the salve to cure thy wounds withal!"


 They were my balsam: for, ere autumn came,
 Weak still, but over eager to be gone,
 I took my leave of him. A little lame
 From that hip-wound, and somewhat thin and wan,
 I sought the village. Here I heard her name
 And shame's made one. How Rupert passed one dawn,
 And she among his troopers rode--astride
 Like any man--pale-faced and feverish-eyed.


 Which way these took they pointed, and I went
 Like fire after. Oh, the thought was good
 That they were on before! And much it meant
 To know she lived still; she, whose image stood
 Ever before me, making turbulent
 Each heart-beat with her wrongs, that were fierce food
 Unto my hate that, "Courage!" cried, "Rest not!
 Think of her there, and let thy haste be hot!"


 But months passed by and still I had not found:
 Yet here and there, as wearily I sought,
 I caught some news: how he had held his ground
 Against the Roundhead troops; or how he'd fought
 Then fled, returned and conquered. Like a hound,
 Questing a boar, I followed; but was brought
 Never to see my quarry. Day by day
 It seemed that Satan kept him from my way.


 A woman rode beside him, so they said,
 A fair-faced wanton, mounted like a man--
 Isolda!--my Isolda!--better dead,
 Yea, dead and damned! than thus the courtesan,
 Bold, unreluctant, of such men! A dread,
 That such should be, unmanned me. Doubt began
 To whisper at my heart.--But I was mad,
 To insult her with such thoughts, whose love I had.


 At last one day I rested in a glade
 Near that same woodland which I lay in when
 Sore wounded; and, while sitting in the shade
 Of an old beech--what! did I dream, or men
 Like Rupert's own ride near me? and a maid--
 Isolda or her spirit!--Wildly then
 I rose and, shouting, leapt upon my horse;
 Unsheathed my sword and rode across their course.


 Mainly I looked for Rupert, and by name
 Challenged him forth:--"Dog! dost thou hide behind?--
 Insulter of women! Coward! save where shame
 And rapine call thee! God at last is kind,
 And my sword waits!"--Like an upbeating flame,
 My voice rose to a windy shout; and blind
 I seemed to sit, till, with an outstretched hand,
 Isolda rode before me from that band.


 "Gerald!" she cried; not as a heart surprised
 With gladness that the loved, deemed dead, still lives;
 But like the heart that long hath realized
 Only misfortune and to fortune gives
 No confidence, though it be recognized
 As good. She spoke: "Lo, we are fugitives.
 Rupert is slain. And I am going home."
 Then like a child asked simply, "Wilt thou come?...


 "Oh, I have suffered, Gerald, oh, my God!
 What shame, what vileness! Once my soul was clean--
 Stained and defiled behold it!--I have trod
 Sad ways of hell and horror. I have seen
 And lived all depths of lust. Yet, oh, my God!
 Blameless I hold myself of what hath been,
 Though through it all, yea, this thou too must know,
 I loved him! my betrayer and thy foe!"


 Sobbing she spoke as if but half awake,
 Her eyes far-fixed beyond me, far beyond
 All hope of mine.--So it was for his sake,
 His love, that she had suffered!... blind and fond,
 For what return!... And I to nurse a snake,
 And never dream its nature would respond
 With some such fang of venom! 'T was for this
 That I had ventured all, to find her his!


 At first half-stunned I stood; then blood and brain,
 Like two stern judges, who had slept, awoke,
 Rose up and thundered, "Slay her!" Every vein
 And nerve responded, "Slay her at a stroke!"--
 And I had done it, but my heart again,
 Like a strong captain in a tumult, spoke,
 And the fierce discord fell. And quietly
 I sheathed my sword and said, "I'll go with thee."


 But this was my reward for all I'd borne,
 My loyalty and love! To see her eyes
 Hollow from tears for him; her pale cheeks worn
 With grief for him; to know them all for lies,
 Her vows of faith to me; to come forlorn,
 Where I had hoped to come on Paradise,
 On Hell's black gulf; and, as if not enough,
 Soiled as she was and outcast, still to love!


 Then rode one ruffian from the rest, clay-flecked
 From spur to plume with hurry; seized my rein,
 And--"What art thou," demanded, "who hast checked
 Our way, and challenged?"--Then, with some disdain,
 Isolda, "Sir, my kinsman did expect
 Your captain here. What honor may remain
 To me I pledge for him. Hold off thy hands!
 He but attends me to the Moated Manse."


 We rode in silence. And at twilight came
 Into the Moated Manse.--Great clouds had grown
 Up in the West, on which the sunset's flame
 Lay like the hand of slaughter.--Very lone
 Its rooms and halls: a splintered door that, lame,
 Swung on one hinge; a cabinet o'erthrown;
 Or arras torn; or blood-stain turning wan,
 Showed us the way the battle once had gone.


 We reached the tower-chamber towards the West,
 In which on that dark day she thought to hide
 From Rupert when, at last, 't was manifest
 We could not hold the Manse. There was no pride
 In her deep eyes now; nor did scorn invest
 Her with such dignity as once defied
 Him bursting in to find her standing here
 Prepared to die like some dog-hunted deer.


 She took my hand, and, as if naught of love
 Had ever been between us, said,--"All know
 The madness of that day when with his glove
 He struck then slew my brother, and brought woe
 On all our house; and thou, incensed above
 The rest, came here, and made my foe thy foe.
 But he had left. 'T was then I promised thee
 My hand, but, ah! my heart was gone from me.


 "Yea, he had won me, this same Rupert, when
 He was our guest.--Thou know'st how gallantry
 And beauty can make heroes of all men
 To us weak women!--And so secretly
 I vowed to be his wife. It happened then
 My brother found him in some villainy;
 The insult followed; he was killed ... and thou
 Dost still remember how I made a vow.


 "But still this man pursued me, and I held
 Firm to my vow, albeit I loved him still,
 Unknown to all, with all the love unquelled
 Of first impressions, and against my will.
 At last despair of winning me compelled
 Him to the oath he swore: He would not kill,
 But take me living and would make my life
 A living death. No man should make me wife.


 The war, that now consumes us, did, indeed,
 Give him occasion.--I had not been warned,
 When down he came against me in the lead
 Of his marauders. With thy help I scorned
 His mad attacks two days. I would not plead
 Nor parley with him, who came hoofed and horned,
 Like Satan's self in soul, and, with his aid,
 Took this strong house and kept the oath he made.


 "Months passed. Alas! it needs not here to tell
 What often thou hast heard--Of how he led
 His troopers here now there; nor what befell
 Me of dishonor. Oft I wished me dead,
 Loathing my life, than which the nether hell
 Hath less of horror ... So we fought or fled
 From place to place until a year had passed,
 And Parliament forces hemmed us in at last.


 "Yea, I had only lived for this--to right
 With death my wrongs sometime. And love and hate
 Contended in my bosom when, that night
 Before the fight that should decide our fate,
 I entered where he slept. There was no light
 Save of the stars to see by. Long and late
 I leaned above him there, yet could not kill--
 Hate raised the dagger but love held it still.


 "The woman in me conquered. What a slave
 To our emotions are we! To relent
 At this long-waited moment!--Wave on wave
 Of pitying weakness swept me, and I bent
 And kissed his face. Then prayed to God; and gave
 My trust to God; and left to God th' event.--
 I never looked on Rupert's face again,
 For in that morning's combat--he was slain.


 "Out of defeat escaped some scant three score
 Of all his followers. And night and day
 They fled; and while the Roundheads pressed them sore,
 And in their road, good as a fortress, lay
 The Moated Manse, where their three score or more
 Might well hold out, I pointed them the way.
 And they are come, amid its wrecks to end
 The crime begun here.--Thou must go, my friend!


 "Go quickly! For the time approaches when
 Destruction must arrive.--Oh, well I know
 All thou wouldst say to me.--What boots it then?--
 I tell thee thou must go, that thou must go!--
 Yea, dost thou think I'd have thee die 'mid men
 Like these, for such an one as I!--No! no!--
 Thy life is clean. Thou shalt not cast away
 Thy clean life for my soiled one. Go, I pray!"


 She ceased. I spoke--I know not what it was.
 Then took her hand and kissed it and so said--
 "Thou art my promised wife. Thou hast no cause
 That is not mine. I love thee. We will wed.
 I love thee. Come!"--A moment did she pause,
 Then shook her head and sighed, "My heart is dead.
 This can not be. Behold, that way is thine.
 I will not let thee share this way that's mine."


 Then turning from me ere I could prevent
 Passed like a shadow from the shadowy room,
 Leaving my soul in shadow ... Naught was meant
 By my sweet flower of love then! bloom by bloom
 I'd watched it wither; then its fragrance went,
 And naught was left now.--It was dark as doom,
 And bells were tolling far off through the rain,
 When from that house I turned my face again.


 Then in the night a trumpet; and the dull
 Close thud of horse and clash of Puritan arms;
 And glimmering helms swept by me. Sorrowful
 I stood and waited till upon the storm's
 Black breast, the Manse, a burning carbuncle,
 Blazed like a battle-beacon, and alarms
 Of onslaught clanged around it; then, like one
 Who bears with him God's curse, I galloped on.