Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
Wesselenyi

A HUNGARIAN TALE


When madly raged religious war
 O'er all the Magyar land
And royal archer and hussar
 Met foemen hand to hand,
A princess fair in castle strong
 The royal troops defied
And bravely held her fortress long
 Though help was all denied.

Princess Maria was her name--
 Brave daughter nobly sired;
She caught her father's trusty sword
 When bleeding he expired,
And bravely rallied warders all
 To meet the storming foe,
And hurled them from the rampart-wall
 Upon the crags below.

Prince Casimir--her father--built
 Murana high and wide;
It sat among the mountain cliffs--
 The Magyars' boast and pride.
Bold Wesselenyi--stalwart knight,
 Young, famed and wondrous fair,
With a thousand men besieged the height,
 And led the bravest there.

And long he tried the arts of war
 To take that castle-hold,
Till many a proud and plumed hussar
 Was lying stiff and cold;
And still the frowning castle stood
 A grim, unbroken wall,
Like some lone rock in stormy seas
 That braves the billows all.

Bold Wesselenyi's cheeks grew thin;
 A solemn oath he sware
That if he failed the prize to win
 His bones should molder there.
Two toilsome months had worn away,
 Two hundred men were slain,
His bold assaults were baffled still,
 And all his arts were vain.

But love is mightier than the sword,
 He clad him in disguise--
In the dress of an inferior lord--
 To win the noble prize.
He bade his armed men to wait,
 To cease the battle-blare
And sought alone the castle-gate
 To hold a parley there.

Aloft a flag of truce he bore:
 Her warders bade him pass;
Within he met the princess fair
 All clad in steel and brass.
Her bright, black eyes and queenly art,
 Sweet lips and raven hair,
Smote bold young Wesselenyi's heart
 While he held parley there.

Cunning he talked of great reward
 And royal favor, too,
If she would yield her father's sword;
 She sternly answered "No."
But even while they parleyed there
 Maria's lustrous eyes
Looked tenderly and lovingly
 On the chieftain in disguise.

"Go tell your gallant chief," she said,
 "To keep his paltry pelf;
The knight who would my castle win,
 Must dare to come himself."
And forth she sternly bade him go,
 But followed with her eyes.
I ween she knew the brave knight well
 Through all his fair disguise.

But when had dawned another morn,
 He bade his bugleman
To sound again the parley-horn
 Ere yet the fray began.
And forth he sent a trusty knight
 To seek the castle-gate
And to the princess privately
 His message to relate;--

That he it was who in disguise
 Her warders bade to pass,
And while he parleyed there her eyes
 Had pierced his plates of brass.
His heart he offered and his hand,
 And pledged a signet-ring
If she would yield her brave command
 Unto his gracious king.

"Go tell your chief," Maria cried--
 "Audacious as he is--
If he be worthy such a bride
 My castle and hand are his.
But he should know that lady fair
 By faint heart ne'er was won;
So let your gallant chieftain, sir,
 Come undisguised alone.

"And he may see in the northern tower,
 Over yonder precipice,
A lone, dim light at the midnight hour
 Shine down the dark abyss.
And over the chasm's dungeon-gloom
 Shall a slender ladder hang;
And if alone he dare to come,--
 Unarmed--without a clang,

"More of his suit your chief shall hear
 Perhaps may win the prize;
Tell him the way is hedged with fear,--
 One misstep and he dies.
Nor will I pledge him safe retreat
 From out yon guarded tower;
My watchful warders all to cheat
 May be beyond my power."

At midnight's dark and silent hour
 The tall and gallant knight
Sought on the cliff the northern tower,
 And saw the promised light.
With toil he climbed the cragged cliff,
 And there the ladder found;
And o'er the yawning gulf he clomb
 The ladder round by round.

And as he climbed the ladder bent
 Above the yawning deep,
But bravely to the port he went
 And entered at a leap
Full twenty warders thronged the hall
 Each with his blade in hand;
They caught the brave knight like a thrall
 And bound him foot and hand.

They tied him fast to an iron ring,
 At Maria's stern command,
And then they jeered--"God save the king
 And all his knightly band!"
They bound a bandage o'er his eyes,
 Then the haughty princess said:
"Audacious knight, I hold a prize,--
 My castle or your head!

"Now, mark!--desert the king's command,
 And join your sword with mine,
And thine shall be my heart and hand,
 This castle shall be thine.
I grant one hour for thee to choose,
 My bold and gallant lord;
And if my offer you refuse
 You perish by the sword!"

He spoke not a word, but his face was pale
 And he prayed a silent prayer;
But his heart was oak and it could not quail,
 And a secret oath he sware.
And grim stood the warders armed all,
 In the torches' flicker and flare,
As they watch for an hour in the gloomy hall
 The brave knight pinioned there.

The short--the flying hour is past,
 The warders have bared his breast;
The bugler bugles a doleful blast;
 Will the pale knight stand the test?
He has made his choice--he will do his part,
 He has sworn and he cannot lie,
And he cries with the sword at his beating heart,--
 "_Betray?--nay--better to die!_"

Suddenly fell from his blue eyes
 The silken, blinding bands,
And while he looked in sheer surprise
 They freed his feet and hands.
"I give thee my castle," Maria cried,
 "And I give thee my heart and hand,
And Maria will be the proudest bride
 In all this Magyar land.

"Grant heaven that thou be true to me
 As thou art to the king,
And I'll bless the day I gave to thee
 My castle for a ring."
The red blood flushed to the brave knight's face
 As he looked on the lady fair;
He sprang to her arms in a fond embrace,
 And he married her then and there.

So the little blind elf with his feathered shaft
 Did more than the sword could do,
For he conquered and took with his magical craft
 Her heart and her castle, too.