St. Hubert’a Vigil
The Second Legend of the Hermitage
Speed, huntsman, in your blithe career!
The stag is up, the hounds are near!
Hark to the mellow clarion’s note,
Hark to the blood-hound’s pealing throat!
The forest-monarch starts, and now
He rushes from yon mountain’s brow,
Where pine, and oak, and laurels spread,
Like trophies round a warrior’s head.
Now foremost in the thicken’d throng
A hoary huntsman sweeps along—
(Count Otho, of Sclavonian race,
The noblest zealot in the chace!)
With arm erect and shriller shout
He urges on the madd’ning rout.—
Down, down he dives the deep ravine,
He thunders thro’ the waters sheen.—
Now, gallant hunter, seize thy own!
Thy victim draws his dying groan.—
One—one step more—thy arm shall launch
The death-dart thro’ his reeking haunch—
Deceitful hope!—’midst tangled sprays
The lurking swamp his steed betrays;
O’er crag and stream the victim bounds,
From hill to sky the scoff resounds.
Deep hid amidst that dingle green
A musing shepherd stood unseen:
Forth from his lattic’d hut he stray’d,
And gaz’d around the mossy glade.
Above he heard the bugle ring
Where the tir’d eagle prunes her wing;
While gasping on their pathless way
Dogs, steeds, and baffled hunters lay:
Back to his couch of woodbines wild
He turn’d his erring feet, and smil’d.
But on the pinnacle sublime,
Shap’d by the iron hand of Time
From that proud rock, whose awful arch
Hung o’er the dark waves’ silent march,
A castle spread its ample base,
Pride of imperial Otho’s race:
High on its cloud-capp’d battlement
A form of angel beauty leant!
The heiress of the royal pile
Smil’d on the buskin’d rival’s toil:
She saw her bold sire’s scatter’d train
O’er glen and heath, and torrent strain,
And on the mountain’s dizzy peak
The stag’s forsaken cover seek.
But he who gaz’d on Gertrude’s eyes
Could little mark the forest-prize?
He who had felt her beauty’s ray
Had scorn’d the hunter’s savage prey!
Such thoughts the shepherd’s bosom rais’d
As mute with upfix’d eye he gaz’d,
With such a sigh as prophets heave
When heav’n’s unmuffled light they leave.
But little knew the shepherd-boy
Why swell’d his soul with nameless joy;
Or why thro’ ev’ry throbbing vein
Ran the soft thrill of gentle pain;
For never yet had passion prest
Its burning signet on his breast,
Yet frequent on the glassy brook
His dark eye stole a wistful look:
Now high his sparkling glance he cast
And listen’d to the bugle’s blast—
“If Gertrude’s smiles the hunter cheer
To me the hunter’s prize is dear!”
Low in the deep and tangled glen
He sees the antler’d monarch’s den;
The dogs of blood are far away,
The weary hunters all astray:
He blows a blast so loud and shrill,
It echoes o’er the farthest hill;
But startled echo only wakes
The plumag’d tenants of the brakes.
Impatient of the sylvan prize
The peasant chides the darken’d skies.
He fords the stream—he climbs the crag,
Close covert to the hunted stag—
But pause and hark!—what hollow groan
Blends with the prison’d river’s moan?
He sees a hoary victim float,
Scarce gasping in Destruction’s throat—
Peasant!—thy bosom pants not now
For hunter’s prize or lover’s vow!
Bear thro’ the flood thy ample crest
The victim’s silver locks arrest—
O’er wave and rock undaunted toil
Tho’ caverns yawn and eddies boil—
Thy arm is firm, thy grasp is sure,
Thy toils a holy prize secure!
Safe, safe on earth the victim lies,
And lifts to heav’n his dewy eyes;
Those eyes are dim!—and many a year
Has bleach’d his brow and dull’d his ear,
Buy many a healthful day has dy’d
His brown cheek with the roses pride.
“Good speed, my son!” he cries—“thy arm
Has sav’d a sire from deadly harm!
This buskin’d suit of forest green
May tell thee what my sport has been;
My vassal grooms and yelling pack
Stray idly in the roebuck’s track;
The chace is past the falcon’s ken,
My steed lies breathless in the glen,
While my true bugle from my side
Fell mingled with the roaring tide.—
But who is he whose loyal hand
Safe lodg’d me on my native land?”
The peasant swell’d his glowing breast
(Firm pillow for the hoary guest!)
“An orphan I, of yeoman race,
New to the forest and the chace.”
The aged hunter sigh’d and scann’d
His smooth brow with a trembling hand,
And touch’d his downy lip and bid
A blessing wait the tongue it hid.
“Well has thou done!—Old Otho knows
The meed his hand to valour owes:
Thy arm my fault’ring feet shall guide,
Thy bowl shall sparkle by my side;—
On good St. Hubert’s jocund eve
My gates a princely guest receive;
With mystic pageant, blythe and quaint,
We greet the vigil of our saint;
And he who noblest led the chace
Beside him holds his envied place—
Be thine the meed!—ere morning’s light
Our chief shall bid thee rise a knight,
Then blest shall be the shining hour
Which led thee to old Otho’s tow’r!”
* * *
Now shone the purple vineyard’s pride,
Gay squires their gorgeous knights supply’d;
The goblets teem’d—till full and high
Ran the warm tide of revelry;
But ’midst the throng in lonely state
Imperial Leopold scowling sate;
Beneath his brow’s portentous shade
His eye the festal pomp survey’d,
With such a smile as moody mirth
Sends from the heart that gave it birth.
Yet oft he watch’d the brightness nigh
In the mild heav’n of Gertrude’s eye,
For often from its blue serene
Sprang forth a lightning swift and keen.
Such as in summer’s softest day,
Thro’ skies of liquid azure play.
Tho’ with her jet-black tresses wreath’d
The flow’r of love its incense breath’d,
Its crimson blossoms could not vie
With conscious beauty’s living dye,
That pure and changing flush which tells
Where Nature’s holiest spirit dwells:
As smiling by her white-hair’d sire
She fed the censer’s fragrant fire,
Half hiding, with uplifted hand
The flame her sweeter breathings fann’d.
Still frown’d the monarch—yet a thought
Came to his breast with sweetness fraught,
That thought a passing smile supplied—
His angry eye the smile denied;
Cold as the weight of gather’d snows
His frown the mirthful banquet froze.
“Count Otho!—years on years are gone
Since to thy loyal hand I gave
The rebel chief that mock’d my throne—
Ulric the faithless, yet the brave.
I doom’d his envied face to fade
Beneath a golden vizor’s shade
Fit emblem of the falser mind,
Which only varnish’d ore could bind!
If—but I scorn the whisper’d tale
That bids me think thee base and frail!
Hast thou thy captive yet?—askance
Thy shrinking eye has shunn’d my glance—
If for an instant thou hast dar’d
To leave his baleful visage bar’d,
If but one prying look thine eyes
Have thieved beneath his mask—he dies!
Bring forth thy captive!”
“Lo, he stands
Submissive to thy regal hands!”
The silent throng recedes—amaze
Speaks in their kindling eye-balls’ gaze;
A form in manhood’s ripest pride
Stands at imperial Leopold’s side:
Frowning he starts—his hands unbind
The face in sculptur’d gold enshrin’d.—
Whom sees he now?—the roseate glow
Of youth in beauty’s prime is there;
Time has not bruis’d the polish’d brow,
Nor strewn with grey this amber hair!
It is not Ulric! yet this face
Befits the pride of Ulric’s race;
Thus once his limbs of giant mold
In other days their vigour told,
And thus he smil’d, ere guilt and shame
Quench’d in his eye its lambent flame.
“Receive thy hostage, prince!—my guile
Freed Ulric from his dungeon vile;
Hid in a rustic hunter’s guise
I mock’d misjudging Otho’s eyes—
But he is guiltless—Ulric scorn’d
Ev’n freedom won from faith suborn’d:
On me bestow thy hate’s decree
If truth to him is wrong to thee!”
His doubting eye the monarch rais’d
Where kingly pride and anger blaz’d.—
“Otho! behold a monarch’s fate,
How frail—how impotently great!
A wretch—a recreant traitor finds
More than imperial bounty binds!
He finds one faithful heart!—while I
For faith and friendship vainly sigh!
But Leopold’s arm can yet bestow
Fit vengeance on a traitor-foe.”
He spoke and turn’d—a sullen sound
Rose from his gazing vassals round,
Such as when ocean’s waves repose
Ere yet the dire tornado blows.
But Otho kneels—his silver hair
He rends, and shews his bosom bare—
“O spare the youth!—he tempts thy rage
To screen from wreck my feeble age!
By holy love—by honour led
He yields for mine his fenceless head!
Behold thy gift!—this cincture blue,
Thy hand round valiant Ulric threw
First in the dark and bloody field,
Where Ulric’s arm was Leopold’s shield:
Forget it not—thou canst not wound
The breast this holy scarf has bound!”
Who comes?—a spectre wan and grim
Strides thro’ the broad hall’s portal dim—
Dark Ulric’s self!—his front sublime
Tow’rs like the cedar sear’d by time;
Still in his eye a ling’ring light
Tells that his wasted noon was bright:
Such lights when autumn’s eve decays
Shew through a cloud their fitful blaze;
“Spare, Leopold, spare my son!—I throw
Low at thy feet thy prostrate foe!
Thy vassal Otho’s abject chain
Bound this unconquer’d arm in vain:
I—I alone with soul unbent
The bond of tyrant vengeance rent—
Unknown I fled—and rocks and caves
Have hid me from thy prowling slaves.
Thy scarf in nobler combats won
My banish’d hand bequeath’d my son.
O join us now!—I kneel to crave
My portion of the glorious grave!
The monarch wav’d the sparkling bowl,
Capacious as his regal soul—
“Ulric! our ancient ire resign!
This hour of joy is mine and thine!
At Otho’s board—at Hubert’s feast
Thy penance and my hate has ceas’d.
“A soul of adamant and fire
Reveals thy son’s unconquer’d sire!
Once to the noblest of the brave
My hand this azure trophy gave,
And never yet did cincture blue
Rest on a heart more firm and true!
Gertrude! thy snowy hand shall deck
This scarf to bind my warrior’s neck;
Thy love the wounds of hate shall heal
Thy lip shall holy concord seal;
Give to thy sires the sparkling wine,
But lend the balm of peace from thine!”
O blest was youthful Ulric’s meed,
For blue-eye’d Gertrude blest his deed!
The pang was long—the peril rude,
But Gertrude’s eye the peril view’d!
And cloudless seem’d the shining hour
That lur’d her to old Otho’s tow’r.
But, in a frozen island’s gloom,
Self-banish’d Ulric sought his doom:
With hermit-staff, and scrip, and shell
He lov’d to lurk in cloister’d cell:
There still he lives—if life it is
To muse on wreck’d and wasted bliss,
When every breathing is a sigh,
And ev’ry thought an agony;
Fed on the deepest root of shame,
A pardon’d traitor’s fallen fame;
With stings unutter’d and unguess’d,
Known only to the noble breast,
When pride from bounty’s beam retires,
And vanquish’d hate in grief expires.