[Frontispiece: Wm. Stephen Pryer]
In grateful remembrance of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria's unprecedentedly long, illustrious, and beneficent reign of sixty years (1837-97), and of fifty years of service (1847-97) in the cause of National Education by Her Majesty's most loyal and devoted servant,
ROWENA & HAROLD:
A Romance in Rhyme Of an Olden Time, Of Hastyngs and Normanhurst.
WM. STEPHEN PRYER,
Author of "Thought Crystals in Verse," Etc.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS & PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR.
WARD, LOCK & CO.
Forest Gate, E.:
THE ELECTRIC PUBLISHING CO.
Old Ragnor's Cliffs Sir Guy de Warre Sir Harold Wynn Sir Harold Spurned The Deserted Eyrie Sir Harold Sails Rowena's Lonely Vigil Rowena's Song Sir Harold at Acre The Saracen Maid's Secret The Secret Assassin The Light in the Turret Tower Death at Ragnor's Tower Rowena's Grief Rowena's Lament The Holy Friar's Consolation Rowena Enters a Convent Nigh unto Death The Demon Wrecker Old Ragnor's Dungeons Grim Eric Entombed The Rift in Hell Gate The Crucified One Eric Faithful unto Death Eric to be Crucified To Die or Live Eric Escapes The Smuggler's Den Rowena's Fiery Furnace The Dungeon's Angel Rediviva Convalescent Rowena's Te Deum The Lights of Home The Lamp of Death The Wreck of The "Holy Cross" Grief at Wynnwood Hall Saved Two Lives in One The Lost Missive Another Dungeon Tenant Nemesis The Demon Exorcised Father and Child Reconciliation A Royal Visitor The Royal Pardon The Deserted Brides Heart Chords Home, Sweet Home
Old Ragnor's Crypt . . . . . . . . . Cover Art
Wm. Stephen Pryer . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
The Castle, Hastyngs.
St. Hilda's Keep.
Old Ragnor's Cliffs.
Like some horrific Gorgon's mammoth skull, Thrown up by Titan spade, From out those caves Where saurians with mastodons had played, Before the sea had made their homes their graves, And scared their ghosts with screech of sea-born mew and gull,
Is Ragnor's beetling brow, the seaman's dread, That scowls by night and day On that same sea And with earth-shaking sound is heard to say,— Which sound the waves roll back with mocking glee— "What! Not enough of life ye must e'en have the dead?"
The ragged remnants of an ancient crown Adorn his kingly head: 'Tis Hastyngs' Tower. Here dwelt a maiden fair, so fair, 'tis said, That suitors rich and princely sought her bower, To sue in vain: whereat her father's haughty brow would frown.
Sir Guy de Warre.
Like Ragnor's rocks. He swore that she should wed Sir Ralph of Normanhurst, His sister's son. Would not the Holy Church deem her accursed, Dared she defy his will and marry one Of her own choice! Were't so, 'twere better she were dead!
"Dear father, mine," Rowena pleaded sore, On bended knee, "The heart Belongs to God. To wed where hallowed love can have no part Were sin, deserving His all-chastening rod, Whose blessing on such tie 'twere impious to implore."
"Sir Guy, my spouse, a mother's prayers, I too Would blend with hers. O yield, Our only child, Possession sweet of woman's holy field— Affection's glebe—a virgin soil denied When wedlock makes those one whose hearts can ne'er beat true."
Sir Harold Wynn.
Sir Guy de Warre, the fair Rowena's sire, Of haughty Norman birth, With pure descent, Held Saxon, high or low, as scum of earth; And deemed his name more worth and honour lent, Than line directly traced from Alfred could inspire.
Dark-visaged man, his countenance repelled; His restless eyes flashed fire; His voice sent dread Through every soul that felt his fearful ire. At its fell sound both beast and children fled. Rowena, with her mother, hid till it had quelled.
Sir Harold dared his daughter's hand to seek! No word the fierce knight spake But ope'd the door, And, scowling, said—"No Saxon churl shall make Rowena wife; and dare he woo her more, Upon him, would Sir Guy a direful vengeance wreak."
Sir Harold Spurned.
To sue and lose, his knightly soul might bear; But insult galled him sore. Should he imbrue His puissant sword in her own father's gore? That were to do a deed he e'er must rue; Unfit it for a place in his Walhalla there.
No, better far to don the holy cross, As valiant knight became; Then if he fell, He would at least have saved his honoured name; Could say with life's last flitting breath—"'Tis well, For so to live or die, to me were gain, not loss."
Yet spite of all, one parting word and kiss, From dear Rowena's lips.— May be the last! God knows. That when his life felt death's eclipse, Her angel-presence would its brightness cast And dissipate its gloom. O thus to die were bliss!
The Deserted Eyrie.
But how and where they twain could meet unseen, Unknown! Love found the way, The place, the hour. Rowena with her page was wont to stray Along the topmost cliffs. Here was a bower Hemmed in by rocks, where once an eagle's nest had been.
By Eric's loyal hand a note was brought. Sir Harold scarce could bear To break the seal. "To-night at nine, be at the eagle's lair; Let Eric guide. Yours, aye, come woe, come weal." Too slowly moved the hours with love's dear issues fraught.
They met. No eye but Heaven's the secrets knew, That sad, sweet hour betrayed, Their hearts nigh burst 'Twixt hope and fear. Yet now, no more afraid To face the world and say "Yea, do your worst; For aye, come weal, come woe, each will to each be true."
Sir Harold Sails.
Sir Harold Wynn set sail for Holy Land With Richard, Lion-heart, Peerless, whose fame— There, if he might, to act a leal knight's part And add fresh lustre to his martial name, Wherewith to move Sir Guy and gain Rowena's hand.
Of Saxon race, Sir Harold Wynn was fair, Noble in mien and gait, Stalwart of frame; In powers of mind and heart a worthy mate For any lady. Few beside could claim Domains so large and rich, as could with his compare.
The first knight's sword hung high in hall, Had healed the feud of race, By val'rous deeds. Beneath it in the same proud resting place, The sons fixed theirs with other warlike meeds, To prove their martial line had known nor break nor fall.
Rowena's Lonely Vigil.
She sought her chamber in yon spectral keep With ivy wreaths now crowned; Whose casket rent By Time's grim hand and strewn by fragments round, Once held a jewel whose rare beauty lent Its light to cheer the sailors toiling on the deep.
Her vestal lamp she nightly trimmed and fed, A beacon light more true Than stars above; For darkness only made the light it threw More bright—bless'd, too, as emblem of her love For those who else might make Hell's caves their last lone bed.
"Hist! Hist!" They'd cry: and straight the plash of oar, And creak of sail were stilled; And every ear Was tent to catch the strains her sweet voice trilled. Avast to gloomy thoughts and boding fear! Alack the day when she should witch their hearts no more!
Sea, sea, Bounding and free, O soothe me to sleep with thy sweet lullaby! As when a child, Sportive and wild, Thy waves and I gamboll'd, thou gem-crested sea!
Sea, sea, Laugh on in glee; How dear to the sailor thy sweet monody! Soul-soothing calm, Soul-healing balm, For hearts beating fondly for hearts on the sea!
Sea, sea, Tempest-lashed sea! O spare in thy fury, smite not angrily Hearts true and brave, Breasting thy wave, Who love as they trust thee, thou beautiful sea!
Sea, sea, Bring back to me One that thou bearest to war's pageantry! Bear him my love, Life-lasting love, For him and him only, then speed him to me!
Sir Harold at Acre.
So sang Rowena, from her turret bower, Her plaintive notes each night, In seamen's ears. Their hearts sank deep. They long had watched her white And care-worn cheeks; but now they knew her fears And wept with her to see the darkling storm-clouds lower.
Meanwhile her red-cross knight was lying prone, Sore wounded, life nigh spent, On Acre's plains. He'd swooned and woke to find him 'neath a tent. With balm a maiden soothed his throbbing veins. No other soul came near save she a maid unknown.
Low whispers could he often hear without. Fresh unctions were applied; His wounds soon healed. Whene'er he groaned swift flew she to his side: At other times the maiden lay concealed. At last she brought the news of Saladin's great rout.
The Saracen Maid's Secret.
What secret spring had moved this maiden's heart To save her nation's fee, At risk of life? Far rather had he died than live to know That precious secret was to be his wife. Too well she knew that now 'twas death from him to part!
At length the lingering weeks of healing passed He e'en must quit for aye Her angel tent. "Take me, Sir knight, to be your slave alway! O leave me not, or my poor heart is rent!" She said, and at his feet her tender form she cast.
He bade her rise! then heard her fearful tale— An orphan doomed to be A lifelong slave And serve a tyrant's lust and infamy. From such, Sir Harold swore he would her save, Whate'er the cost the deed might to himself entail.
The Secret Assassin.
He smuggled her on board one darksome night. In deepest hold she lay, Till safe at sea. And when at last they found the stow-away The hearts of all rejoiced that she was free While midst the sick she moved a minist'ring sprite.
When, too, they heard she'd saved Sir Harold's life And why she wished to fly Her native land, They swore, as salt tears filled each manly eye, To be her knight till safe on England's strand; And happy would he be who won her then for wife!
On deck, one eve, she told Sir Harold, how, She'd seen an English knight, Sir Ralph by name, Deal him his wound, then rush into the fight And fall. He died; so never more could claim Rowena's hand. Now would her haughty sire relent his vow?
The Light in the Turret Tower.
Rowena sings. Burn bright, burn bright, Dear light, sweet light, To guide him back to me. My knight, own knight, Brave knight, true knight, My love sent o'er the sea.
O light, O light, Burn bright, burn bright, And keep strict watch for me; Some night, some night, My knight, own knight, Will come from o'er the sea.
Stars light, stars light, My knight, brave knight, Gone from me o'er the sea; Shine bright, shine bright, Each night, each night, Till he come back to me.
Death at Ragnor's Tower.
The flag on Ragnor's tower hung half-mast high Smote old and young with grief. A death it told. They long had watched her wither like a leaf; Her warm hands too had grown of late so cold. So young, so fair, so good. Alas! that she should die.
But no! It was her lady mother. She Full long had seen her child Slowly decay. Her father's temper, too, had grown more wild. She could but pray that ere she passed away, Rowena's knight would safe return from o'er the sea.
Her mother dead! Her one true guide and friend! Her heart seemed reft in twain. Would she had died! A year at least it meant ere yet again, She needs must list to suits to be denied. O death, or Harold, come and let there be an end!
She straightway sought the dim-lit chamber, where, Beside her mother's bier, Her heart might break. So frail her bark to stem life's sea so drear. She fain would die, yet live for his dear sake. But then "He might not live!" she cried in wild despair.
O mother, mine, no longer mine! My life for thine, yea twice for thine! O take it Death! Why not, O Death? Why is our breath, life's fleeting breath, Not ours to take, to give or take? Life's cord will break, life's cord must break. Why may we not, why dare we not, Clean cut its knot, its painful knot?
The Holy Friar's Consolation.
A voice she hears, a tender voice, Which says: No choice, my child, no choice Is left for thee, for me or thee. There's naught for thee, for thee or me, But bear the cross, the bitter cross. The cup of woe you now must drain, Will bring sweet gain, for you sweet gain. Pax vobiscum, my child; Pax vobiscum! Heaven's peace, dear maid, be thine, For evermore! Go seek its home at good St. Hilda's shrine; In holy mother's ears thy sorrows pour; Within those peaceful gates no earthly ill can come."
Rowena Enters a Convent.
'Twas thus the holy friar of Senlac spoke. His words the flood gates burst And tears like rain On land whose fissures stand agape with thirst, Now filled her soul with joy intense as pain Before. At length her whispered thanks the silence broke.
Within Old Ragnor's walls a chapel stood; And there, in crypt below, With Warre's proud race, His gentle wife they laid, while monks with slow And solemn steps, with incense filled the place. The stern knight's sob was heard throughout the holy rood.
Next night, while weary warders timely slept, And snow fell thickly round, Rowena fled; Nor stayed till she had peace and safety found, Where good St. Hilda's lights her footsteps led. Meanwhile the kindly snow her dreaded secret kept.
Nigh Unto Death.
The lady mother passed the live-long night Beside her bed whom sleep Deserted long. Delirium seized her, when she'd leap And clutch, as if she'd rend the bars so strong Which girt the windows round, and cry "More light!"
She wanted not more light herself, but he, Her knight, so true and brave, Filled all her soul. She thought she saw him drown yet none to save Him, bent an oar. Her brain burnt like a coal. She cried: "O let me go and plunge in yon dark sea!"
Weeks passed and still she only moaned and raved. Nor slept by night or day. One voice alone At last was found the fever's course to stay; 'Twas when she heard her faithful Eric's tone, When he in hot haste came and instant audience craved.
The Demon Wrecker.
If grief had wrung Sir Guy's stern heart that night, He stood among his dead; 'Twixt grief and ire, He now a maniac grew. Sleep from him fled; He passed the night with warders round their fire, While every turret-room was all ablaze with light.
Days, weeks, and months thus passed, but still, No sign Rowena gave. She's dead, he thought; Yon yawning sea no doubt conceals her grave. And then his rage a direful vengeance wrought, For him whose steadfast love had made her thwart his will.
No turret lights now burned at night, save one, And that a feeble speck, Straight o'er Hell Rock. On this a noble ship, one night, became a wreck; The cliffs resounded with the awful shock— The Demon-Wrecker thought too well his work was done!
Old Ragnor's Dungeons Grim.
Hewn out of solid rock, some fathoms deep Old Ragnor's dungeons lay. A massive chain Which two men scarce could move a foot away, Joined door above to door below. Its strain Upon the stone-cut stairs still makes the flesh to creep.
Here faithful Eric found himself immured To try if gloom and fear Of tortures dire Could wring from him a secret held more dear Than life itself. Nay! Famine, rack, and fire, Swift death or tortures slow—all, all should be endured
For his dear lady's sake. Though but a page He'd learn to value truth In word and deed From her whose noble love inspired his youth And taught him lessons from her living creed. Her foe had thrown the glove he dared take up the gage.
Entombed alive! A struggling streak of light Made visible the gloom,— His living shroud. He felt himself alive yet without room To live or breathe. He groaned, then cried aloud, "O God, while in this porch of hell, be Thou my light!"
Next morn—if morn, it were—no count of hours, The dungeon-tenant kept,— A silver ray Woke hope afresh, as down a cord there crept A basket full of meats, while 'neath them lay A lamp and tools, with hints where he might try their powers.
Henceforth work's pulses guaged his night and day, As sandstone rock he bored. His ear supplied, By sound of sea, how much his axe had gored, As clearer came the welcome rush of tide. Hope made his feeble lamp effulgent as sun's ray!
The Rift in Hell Gate.
The first hole pierced, his head grew sick and faint. To pray he tried; no word Escaped his lips. Yet sure he felt his spirit's groanings heard, As prone he lay and gasped the air by sips; For that he'd breathed so long, was foul with dead men's taint.
His strength now grew with every stroke he plied. At sound of sea and men, Death's clammy sweat Was changed for drops that told of health again, While through his languid frame life's current swept, It only made him feel how nearly he had died.
At last his living tomb of rock was rent; Though but a narrow rift He yet had made Enough; it did a horrid monster lift, That clutched him close and held aloft a blade; He felt himself undone, when, lo! God had deliv'rance sent.
The Crucified One.
So wildly beat his heart and throbbed his veins, As morn's first struggling gleam. His rift net caught, He e'en must follow its meandering beam, Till something on the walls his footsteps brought To rest. He shuddered as he saw the death-throe stains
Of some whose hands and ankles, staple-bound, Had graved thereon the sign Of crucified. "My God!" he cried, "such fate may yet be mine!" He turned and lo! close at his feet he spied A note. A piercing wail then woke the echoes round.
"To-morrow, Eric, will decide your fate. Confess and you are free; Else will you die A death of torture, marks of which you'll see Upon the walls around. Fly, Eric, fly, This night, this very night, or it will be too late!"
Eric Faithful Unto Death.
When Eric woke to thought, the light had flown, With Hope upon its wing And left Despair. One thought alone could light and comfort bring— His secret—This, not death should from him tear. Rowena's safe retreat, he never would make known!
The rasp of grating chains and rush of air Awoke the sleeping page From frightful dreams. A voice he heard. Alas! 'twas fierce with rage, While on his sight there flashed the fitful gleams Of warders' arms. In haste they clangour down the stair.
"Come forth, young man! Sir Guy awaits above. We dare not tarry long; He's mad this morn. Keep up your heart, my son! Be firm, be strong! A page, yet truer knight was never born! Betray her not, brave youth, as you esteem her love!"
Eric to be Crucified.
"Have rats and goblins eaten up your pride And will you tell me now What well you know? The holy father, here, can loose your vow. Still silent!" roared Sir Guy, "O there! Below With him, and if rack fail, let him be crucified."
"I fear not crucifixion, master mine, As oath forsworn from fear Of death. No pangs Shall ever make me breathe to mortal ear Her safe retreat. Transfix me with your fangs With speed; my life for hers I freely will resign."
"Fear not, brave youth, Sir Guy doth go This night to meet Prince John, Who claims the crown. But we do hear our king will come anon; Then woe to all who have incurred his frown! For sure he'll vengeance take on John and every foe."
To Die or Live?
At least he knew his fate—Condemned to die! He bade farewell to all, Then went below. The darkness closed around him like a pall The dead. Yet drain the bitter cup of woe For her, e'en to the dregs, he would without a sigh.
Yet did he not despair. Athwart the gloom A gleam of hope there stole. As clothed in light, He saw the form that could his fears control, And which the darkness only made more bright— It was her angel presence lit his rock-hewn tomb!
It beckoned him; he boldly followed till, Beside the narrow cleft, His axe had wrought, It stood. He saw the fissure wider reft. To challenge death then fly—ignoble thought!— He knelt and prayed: "O God, but show me now Thy will!"
He rose and turned a quick retreat to make, When lo! that presence bright Still barred his way, And stood with hand stretched towards the rift's pale light— A sign which Eric felt in words would say— "What God, in mercy sends, dare you refuse to take?"
As Cherubim with flaming sword it kept The gates of death. How could He pass them now? Enough, that she would know his will was good, From, what he'd suffered for his loyal vow. "Heaven's will be done!" he cried, and through the portal crept.
The sudden call to life from out the tomb; Death's bands thus swiftly rent, Life's tidal force Undammed, had rushed with too impetuous vent, Did not a tortuous cave arrest its course, Ere he at length emerged beneath night's starless gloom.
The Smuggler's Den.
Along the shore he sped nor stopped his flight Until a burly voice, His fleet foot stayed. That voice he knew full well. He had no choice But one—to yield himself—nor felt afraid, Within the smuggler's den to rest at least, the night.
So sweetly sound his sleep, without a dream To shorten his repose; The watcher's eye Could scarce perceive he breathed save as arose And fell his manly chest with deep-drawn sigh; Which sign the smuggler caught beneath his lantern's gleam.
His story told, young Eric found a friend And guide in one he feared; Who bade him stay Until he'd seen the coast of foes was cleared, Then to St. Hilda's shrine he'd lead the way, Those saintly walls to him would peace and succour lend.
Rowena's Fiery Furnace.
Now all this while Rowena struggled still, Bound fast by fever's chain. There seemed no hope! No leech nor nurse could ease her tortured brain, Or help her frail and sinking frame to cope With all the fiery imps that sported there at will.
She sank at last in stupor so profound They deemed her dead indeed, And forthwith sent A messenger to Ragnor's Tower with speed. But as the heavens no light propitious lent, The morn beheld the rider horseless on the ground.
Him bleeding sore, the smuggler found; his steed Was grazing close at hand. His master groaned, And begged with tears, as one by fear unmanned To die, for then his life will have atoned For what may hap unless his note were sent with speed!
The Dungeon's Angel.
The smuggler promised, but when Eric read The note, he knew Sir Guy Was far away. No need of guide, the horse did homewards fly And at St. Hilda's gate alone made stay. This was the night young Eric stood beside Rowena's bed.
Soon after midnight, life once more returned; Her pulse beat full and fast. The fever's power, Some mystic spell had bound but not to last, Save for one long more dead than living hour; And now with force renewed, it once more raged and burned.
"Fly, Eric, fly," she cried, and pointed where The morn's sweet dawning gleamed. And as upright She stood, the living counterpart she seemed Of her whose presence made Hell's dungeons bright, O God! his angel guide now raved in madness there!
"Dear mistress mine," young Eric cried and rose; Then took and kissed her hand, As he had done, That night he had received her last command— To make her place of refuge known to none. O blessed charm which brought her life and sweet repose!
When she awoke next morn she gazed on all Around with look so calm And smile so sweet, As fell upon each soul like holy balm Of healing. Yet their eyes could only greet Her look of grateful love with tears unbidd'n to fall.
"That voice I heard last night," she weakly said, "Whose tones familiar sent A magic thrill Through all my veins and fever's fetters rent, Was Eric's, faithful youth, whom they would kill In Ragnor's deadly vaults! O say he is not dead?"
"He'll come anon," the holy mother said, And kissed her death-white cheek. "Now sleep! and while We swiftly send your gallant page to seek, Let holy thoughts and dreams the time beguile!" She woke and lo! he stood 'mong those beside her bed.
She clasped his hand and whispered low. He bent Once more to hear that voice He must obey, E'en though 'twixt life and death, no choice It might him leave. She only bade him stay Nor leave her more. The lady mother gave assent.
As flowers to sun respond with blushing hues And grateful scents distil Their voiceless praise; So now as through her veins life's pulses thrill Amid the breath of flowers and wood-choirs' lays, She could, no more than they, her hymn of thanks refuse.
Rowena's Te Deum.
"O flowers," she sang, "sweet flowers, Where beauty hath her throne, Yea, smile away life's hours; For you they'll soon be flown! Then nursed awhile in womb of mother earth, Ye'll rise, to taste with me, the joys of second birth!
O birds of happy wing! With flowers' sweet incense blend Your joyous notes and sing; For soon your songs will end! When summer's warmth again awakes your trills, Ye too may know the joy which now my bosom fills!
The world seems one great heart, Whose pulses move my soul. I feel a feeble part Of some mysterious whole! Thy mighty heart, O God, 'tis thine alone, That makes all things now breathe, responsive to mine own!"
The Lights of Home.
With sails full set to catch the western breeze, The stout ship, Holy Cross, The Channel ploughed; Nor dreamt those noble hearts on board of loss; Or that those silvered waves might prove their shroud; As o'er her staunch bulwarks they pictured home and ease.
"What light is that which glimmers on yon height?" The gallant captain cried, "'Tis Ragnor's Tower," Sir Harold said, "where dwells my lady bride. That light she vowed should never quit her bower. Haste, captain, haste, I pray, and land me there this night."
"Steer straight for yonder light on Ragnor's crown!" The captain made reply. They set the helm; And now with wings outstretched they swiftly fly, Where demons will with mocking laugh o'erwhelm And dance with fiendish glee to see them sink and drown.
The Lamp of Death.
Sir Guy had heard afar the tidings fell Of Harold Wynn's return From Holy Land. The news more fiercely made his wrath to burn. Hence hot with hate he sought Old Ragnor's strand, Whose peaceful haunts became again a very hell.
By Eric fed, the beacon lamp once more Shone o'er the treach'rous sea Which hid Death's maw. Rowena had a secret gate whose key, Her page had used. Her light, Sir Guy first saw. O madd'ning sight! "If saved, Rowena dies," he swore.
The light of life, he quenched, and straightway hung A lamp to lure to death. His eyes shot fire As straight he saw her come. He held his breath, At length he heard the crash. No Nero's lyre Across his work of death such yells of triumph flung!
The Wreck of the "Holy Cross."
The noble ship had freight of nobler men, Whose crosses bore the stain Of deadly strife With Turc and Saracen, on Acre's plain And wounded sore had scarce escaped with life. How beat their hearts with joy at sight of home again.
At home, alas! did foes more deadly wait Than Saladin's fierce crew. The lamp of love Was changed for one of hate, which threw Its false and fatal skein of light above. A shuddering shock, a fearful crash, foretold the vessel's fate.
For many nights before, two lonely men Stood ready, boat at hand. God speed them now! As swift they row and quick return to land, Bearing a lifeless form with sword-cleft brow, Whose arms fast clutch a maid. They bore them to their den.
Grief at Wynnwood Hall.
The news soon spread from coast to country round That lost was every soul. At Wynnwood Hall, Sir Harold's home, their grief knew no control. That he should be the first Wynn not to fall In battle's heated fray; but should be basely drowned!
His helmet, cloak, and sword he'd cast aside, To save the girl who clung Around his neck. These relics dear were found and silent hung Beneath the rest. None sought grief's tears to check To see the blood-stained cross for which he'd fought and died.
Alack! The ill-starred news had reach the shrine Where sat mid birds and flowers, His new-born bride. To her the lead-winged moments seemed as hours; And yet her bounding hope her baleful fears belied. What tidings would morn bring. O could she but divine!
The smuggler's patient skill soon fanned life's spark Into a feeble flame. Sir Harold first The solemn quiet broke to breathe the name Of Ruth, the Saracene who had him nurs'd And hid with all a sister's love and care within her ark.
"She's saved? Thanks be to God," he said, and wept. "And she, my lady bride! O can you say She too doth live? Or better yonder tide Now held this hopeless wreck of life its prey!" "She lives, brave knight," they said. He smiled his thanks and slept.
A messenger of life, young Eric sped And death's fell courier caught At Hilda's gate. The sisters' tears foretold the mischief wrought, "She's swoon'd," they said. He curs'd his cruel fate. They led him to her couch whereon she lay as dead.
Two Lives in One.
"Sir Harold saved!" Like drops of heavenly balm, With healing quickening power, The tidings thrilled Her soul with joy intense as in that hour, The rush of new-found life her pulses filled. Her anxious fears allayed, she felt a holy calm.
Two lives in one, although they dwelt apart. A sympathetic glow, Each seemed to feel, To pass from soul to soul; a constant flow Of thought and feeling made their wounds to heal; As though betwixt the two there beat one common heart.
Who nightly scared the darkness-loving owl And made the hills resound With watch-dogs' bark? But he who faithful unto death was found; Who'd buried been in Ragnor's dungeons dark, While round him Death's grim shades pursued their midnight prowl.
The Lost Missive.
One night as Eric rode, a bolt whizzed by, With well-nigh fatal aim. He faster flew, Until, alack! his faithful steed fell lame. He leapt aground and o'er his arm he drew The reins. What joy to find the smuggler's den was nigh!
For Eric's belt then held in close embrace, As erst long months ago, A precious note. 'Twas gone! and its contents would clearly show His lurking place and hers—Alas! who wrote To beg she soon might see her Harold face to face.
The smuggler begged young Eric show the road He'd come. Then armed they go; But without need; For where Rowena's page alighted, lo! The missive lay. They hasten back with speed; And as they give God thanks, more eyes than one o'erflowed.
Another Dungeon Tenant.
"We e'en must quit, dear Mike, thy safe retreat; 'Tis clear, they're on our track. Of this be sure, That you henceforth in life shall nothing lack That heart can wish or wealth of mine procure. Swift send to Wynnwood Hall, a trusty man and fleet!"
"I'll go myself, Sir knight," old Michael said; "For Eric here must stay And hide awhile. You'll see me back again by break of day; With talk and sleep you can the hours beguile; But one at least much [Transcriber's note: must?] watch, for mischief broods o'erhead!"
When Mike returned, his den indeed was there But tenants only one Who bound him fast And bade him take his leave of yonder sun, For sure enough this look would be his last; In Ragnor's gloomy vaults he'd find nor light nor air.
Sir Guy's dire act of awful vengeance ta'en A ravenous brood of prey, To make their nest, Seemed gnawing at his heart-strings night and day; With croaks like drowning cries they filled his breast And raised with fluttering wing the ghosts of those he'd slain.
No dove of peace on wings of morn returned. He watched with eager eyes Day's amber birth And saw, or thought he saw, a form arise; 'Twas his—Sir Harold's—just as when on earth He came to plead his suit and was with insult spurned.
"O God, have mercy! Grant it may be true That he indeed doth live! Oh! warders, fly, Proclaim—a thousand livres I will give To know the Knight of Wynnwood did not die In that night's fearful wreck. If found, I'll make it two!"
The Demon Exorcised.
As beasts and lands welcome the rain they craved And ope their parch-ed lips To drink their fill; So felt Sir Guy the demons loose their grips, As warders, one by one, the news distil, To quench their hell-lit fires—'that all on board were saved'!
Like savage beasts when bite and roar grow weak, Seek out some lonely nook Wherein to die; So now Sir Guy, whose thunderous voice once shook Old Ragnor's walls and made the bravest fly, Would feebly cry: "My child!" then, death-like, swoon away.
Full ten days passed ere conscious life again Illum'd those once stern eyes, With rays serene, Now mildly placid as the azure skies, On which one grateful turns from sun's fierce sheen; Refreshing, too, his milder tones as summer rain.
Father and Child.
"Rowena, Harold, Eric, friends, forgive! And could I hear her say 'Dear father mine, We all forgive'—I would no longer pray For life; but to atone my all resign To those I've wronged: for this alone I fain would live."
"They live, Sir Guy, and ere the sun has set Will hither come!" they said. He crossed his hands While o'er his face a smile complacent spread And docile as a child to their commands To sleep he yields his eyes with gracious tear-drops wet.
Rowena's kiss, yet sweeter far the sound She breathed of 'Father mine' The knight awoke; Another moment and their arms entwine. She checked the word ere from his lips it broke 'Forgive'! Father and child long-lost, again were found.
His outstretched hands did next forgiveness seek Of one who long had prayed This hour to see. With hands close clasp'd, no words the knight essayed; In tears he quenched a life-long enmity. Thus did the Saxon's love triumphant vengeance wreak!
Then last, though not the least who'd borne the cross And bravely gone to die In flower of youth, Young Eric caught the knight's atoning sigh, Who joined his hands with those of faithful Ruth Thus triumphed faith and love o'er pain and death and loss.
And what of him whose kind and skilful care Had saved the life of three? Forget they him? Not so! a gracious pardon, full and free, With thankful joy they bear to dungeons grim; And one more doomed to die from death's fierce grip they tear.
A Royal Visitor.
Unfurl the banner, let it court the breeze Once more, on Ragnor's Towers. A wedding peal Now ring. Come virgins, strew with flowers Their bridal path, whose woes this day will heal! Look bright, ye frowning cliffs and laugh ye moaning seas!
What means that wild commotion an the strand? A stately vessel nears Old Ragnor's port! "King Richard comes!" Sir Guy with terror hears. "Haste, Harold, pay our sovereign royal court; Crave pardon for me! Say, I lie at death's command!"
"Welcome, my liege!" "Sir Harold, welcome, too, Is sight of thee, brave knight! But where is he. Sir Guy de Hastyngs,—flies he now my sight?" "Nay, nay, my liege! his sponsor will I be; His heart for thee, his king, doth bear allegiance true!"
The Royal Pardon.
"Your gracious pardon grant, my liege, I pray; He has atonement made For all he's done: And nature's last great debt will soon be paid; His life may even set with yonder sun!" "Lead on, Sir Knight, I'd see him, ere he pass away."
"Farewell," King Richard said, "Heaven's peace be thine! And you, Sir Harold, kneel! Hand me your sword! Now rise, for valiant deeds and service leal, Of Hastyngs' lands and Normanhurst the Lord! Till on young Eric's heels the spurs of knighthood shine!"
Once more old Ragnor's rocks resound with cries, Of grief? Nay—joy and pride! For on the sea, A noble, full-rigged ship doth stately ride— The Orient Pearl—her white cross streaming free; Whose captain Mike and crew now laugh at frowning skies!
The Deserted Brides.
Hearts bound so late by love's sweet hallowed chain By war's fierce edicts rent, Lie bleeding sore; And scan with eyes from weeping well-nigh spent, Love's waning signals till they see no more. Heaven grant them soon to see those signals once again!
By Bertram's arrow pierced with fatal aim, The Lion-heart was torn. Beside him lay, Of strength, by pain and bleeding torn, One Eric whom the king had dubbed that day A knight—no worthier yet—adorned the roll of fame!
* * * * * *
Once more on Ragnor's brow the beacons blaze, The Orient Pearl to greet, On her return. Two brides wait mid a throng of friends to meet Their war-proof knights. The shades of rank they spurn; They'd vowed for each a sister's love for aye and aye.
Sweet harpings break the stilly night's repose. The seamen list once more, As from her bower, There fall those witching sounds they've heard before, In days long gone, from Ragnor's lofty tower. When hearts with voices blend what heavenly music flows!
Breathe fair, ye winds, breathe fair; My true love's on the sea. God, hear the lone one's prayer, And bring him back to me! God guide the helm, God fill the sails And waft him with propitious gales!
Breathe fair, ye winds, breathe fair, And bear my true love home! Love's bonds shall hold him there, No more, no more to roam. God guide the helm, God fill the sails, And speed him home propitious gales!
She flies the holy cross That talisman divine Shall shield from loss and harm. Her faithful knight and mine. "O Christ, bid thou the storm to cease And fill our hearts with joy and peace!"
Home, Sweet Home!
They light the beacon fires the hills around. All eyes are eager bent Across the sea, To cheer the night, a hundred voices blent To chase the gloomy hours with mirthful glee; Till shouts of "ship ahoy!" made every heart rebound.
* * * * * *
And now for many days round Ragnor's Towers, Life flowed in mirth away. "Let feast and song," Sir Harold said, "have free unbounded sway; For grief and gloom have lorded here too long. Let joy now rule the day and strew her path with flowers!"
And yet a year, the joy-bells ring again; For sons are born to sires Of knightly fame. Once more the swains, light up the beacon fires; Old Hastyngs flashed to Normanhurst the flame; For Harold had to Eric given Ruth's hand and Ralph's domain.