The Bridal Eve
A Hermit’s Legend
Short is my tale and simple—One pale morn,
When the vex’d sun look’d sadly on the wreck
Made by the midnight storm, a sailor-boy
Lay gasping on the shore; his sun-burnt hands
Twin’d in the ringlets of a famish’d babe,
Which nested in his bosom. An ag’d dame
Rais’d the poor nursling from the cold embrace,
While his faint dying eye again unclos’d,
To look a last farewell. In holy turf
She wrapp’d the stranger’s corse; but me she gave
To a Baronial Chieftain, whose proud heart
Had, like the stony region where he dwelt,
One rich and warm recess:—he lodg’d me there,
For he was childless, and his coming age
Wanted a fount of joy. With him I dwelt,
In the green lap of a secluded vale,
Far from the haunts of men; and many a spring
The hoary Baron smil’d to see me bound,
Wild as his own red deer, among the cliffs,
Or startle echo with the clam’rous horn
Which urg’d his darling chase: but more I lov’d,
When the last purple ting’d the misty eve,
To seek the sailor-boy’s unhonour’d grave;
Or the white hut, among the osiers hid,
Of her who lov’d me first.
Twelve summer suns
Had shone upon my boyhood, when the hall
Of noble Howard rang with festive shouts,
Hailing his new-born heir;—a beauteous babe,
Such as heav’n sends to show how seraphs smile,
And promise love to man!—It grew and twin’d,
Like a sweet bud in kindly Autumn’s wane,
Round its half-wither’d parent, dropping sweets.
These were my days of bliss!—the gentle boy
Smil’d on his orphan playmate, and my heart
Grew rich while guided by my guardian arm
He climb’d the tow’ring crag, or brought the spoils
Of the snar’d eaglet home. We grew together,
Brothers in soul and love, but joy’s own hand
Had shap’d Fitzhoward’s heart, and touch’d the orb
Of his blue beaming eye. It was a gladness
To hear his voice; his lip was laughter’s throne,
And sighing age could scarce remember grief
When he was pleasure’s minister.
These golden days decay’d, as Autumn leaves
Fall when their tints are richest.—In ill hour
The heath-cock lur’d me to a distant glen;
Where rocks on rocks, a dim pavilion built,
Green with the moss of ages; in the midst,
A slumb’ring brook lay cradled among flow’rs.
Here in the covert of far-spreading boughs,
A white-walled mansion stood; its pillar’d porch
Lin’d with thick jasmines, and the silver pride
Of myrtles in their bloom:—a tow’ring rose
Climb’d to the open casement, where a cheek
As pure, and of far softer damask, lean’d
On one fair hand, while fost’ring water-drops
Were guided by the other.—Never yet
Did young Aurora when she sheds her dew,
Smile with a blush so beauteous. That low roof
Shelter’d an ancient stranger, whose last hope
Liv’d in his bud of beauty.—I had youth,
Honour, and hope’s bright star; but iron age,
In noble Howard, clos’d the genial springs
Of bounty and kind trust: he lov’d me well,
But like the tree whose top is moss’d by time,
His love bore tardy and reluctant fruit.
Yet Emma smil’d and heard me; and my heart
Found language to my friend, whose joyful eye
Shone ever like a sunbeam on the source
Of pleasure in my soul, and made it bright.
“Be bold, (he said) pursue thy love and smile;
My father’s avarice shall not blight its bloom.
Go, woo thy bride’s grave sire, and bid him light
The yule-fire on his hearth with Christmas cheer,
Old Howard shall be there!”
Shone thro’ a bow’r of holly, and the board,
White with the snowy web from Emma’s loom,
Her lavish hand enrich’d with ev’ry cate
Won from the dairy’s or the garden’s pride,
By housewife art, to greet her noble guest.
Smiles deck’d her cheek—such smiles as fairies wear
When on saints’ eve they lurk in village bow’rs,
To mock a lover’s pray’r. Her ancient sire,
In glossy beechen chair full proudly sat,
Eying the crest still pictur’d on the wall,
In heraldry’s dim hues.—The Baron comes!
Propp’d on his iv’ry staff;—his forest-suit
Chang’d for a stiff brocade: his brow enshrin’d
In curls voluminous of fleecy white,
By time made rev’rend; his capacious vest
Emboss’d with wondrous flow’rs, and gems, and gold.
Thrice, in kind greeting, from his hand he drew
His broad-fring’d glove and spake.—“Sir, well I deem
The son of my adoption has deserv’d
Your daughter’s love, and blessings from our hands.
Be this his bridal eve!—the greenest fields
Of Borrodale and Skyrocks shall afford
A spacious glebe to grace his chapelry,
And half my son’s fair birth-right shall be his
When I am gather’d to my ancestors.”
Low bow’d the crafty sire;—“What says my Lord?
Both Borrodale and Skyrocks?”—“Both,” he cried,
“My heir will give the brother of his heart,
And all that love can add—”—“Thou shalt do this
Degenerate boy!” a voice in thunder cried,
“When I am sleeping with my fore-fathers!”
Then bursting from his covert in a nook,
Forth the grim Baron strode.—False God of Love!
How look’d thy vassal when the fall’n peruke,
Loose nose, and dropping eye-brow, half-reveal’d
The son’s fair visage to his father’s eye!
“Mine, mine,” he said, “this antic craft is mine!
In purpose holy tho’ in seeming base—
Be mine the penalty!”—“Impostor, hence!
Thy scarlet hose, gemm’d shoes, and broider’d coat,
Stolen from thy grandsire’s chest, shall henceforth be
Thy sole inheritance.—Avoid my roof
Thou and the traitor by my dotage rear’d;
But know his thriftless love is Emma’s scorn—
Behold thy father’s bride!”
It lingers at my heart—that baneful eve,
The wily syren, long to av’rice sold,
The hoary widower wedded; and we twain,
A frantic lover and forsaken son,
Sought in the hermit’s dale, a lone abode,
To woman’s craft both victims and both foes,
Sworn foes for ever. A lone chapel stands
Beside our cloister; where, when evening weeps,
And winds make music with these yellow leaves,
I sit and muse beneath its ivied arch,
On love which fades as soon.—And oft I teach
Our pensive brotherhood*, how ev’ry tribe
Is scourg’d by woman’s sway—the pannier’d ass,
Slave to a housewife’s dairy—the tame bird
Robb’d of its tender down—the bee—the spider
Whose architecture by her touch is wreck’d!
But blithe Fitzhoward in unmeasur’d bowl
Of the spic’d alder’s juice, or amber ale,
Steeps his sore wrongs. His mirth illumes my heart,
As fiery spirit in a hollow shell,
Streaks its pale milky coat with vivid hues,
And changes chalk to silver.—But at night,
We circle round our board, and tell strange tales,
Till ev’n the bottles weep!
Is respectfully informed, that a Continuation of the Legends of the Hermitage, would be very acceptable.—Editor.
* In a most secluded dell near the northern coast, are the ruins of a hermitage, whose central apartment contains a septagon table, and seven doors, which confirm the tradition of its having been once inhabited by seven brothers, who maintained the exactest equality. Perhaps, as the writer of the above, seems a modern sentimentalist, the Hermitage has been lately rebuilt. ↩