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.
(Madison Julius Cawein)
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Based on Keywords: vileness, marveled, manse, bandits, courtesan, unreluctant, marauders, unquelled, brutally, fair-faced, carbuncle