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Anna Jane Vardill

Christobell *

A Gothic Tale

Whence comes the wavering light which falls
On Langdale’s lonely Chapel-walls?
The noble mother of Christobell
Lies in that lone and drear Chapelle;
And ev’ry dawn, ere the sun has shone,
A tear and a flow’r are on that stone:
But the tear is dry, the flower is dead,
And the night-wind blows on her silent bed.

A stranger treads o’er the holy mound:
Thrice it has breath’d a moaning sound!
He has lifted thrice his mighty wand;
He has touch’d the stone with his red-right hand;
The light which round the chapel streams,
Bright on his beard of silver gleams;
But shines not on his muffl’d brow,
Which mortal eye must never know!

 The noble mother of Christobell
 Is waken’d by the mighty spell;
  She seems but as if a wizard’s arms
 Awhile had wrapp’d her in his cell;
As if his cold and earthy touch
Had blighted her beauteous lips too much;
  But now returning beauty warms
 Her lips, and her kindling cheek so well,
 She looks like the lovely Christobell.

“Lady, lady! who was she,
That met thy child by the old oak-tree?
When not a breeze was heard to sigh,
And the yellow leaf wav’d not which hung so high?
She who told that men of blood
Lur’d her to the lonely wood?
She who slept by thy daughter’s side,
While the grey dog moan’d and the owlet cried?
Is that lady, of soft and sober mien,
Sir Roland’s true daughter Geraldine?”

The noble mother of Christobell
 Has open’d her dim and hollow eye:
And spirits are thronging from cave and dell
 To listen to her lips’ reply:—
“Merlin, Merlin! I know thee well!
 Tho’ a minstrel’s cloak is around thee flung,
 And a holy hood on thy brow is hung!
The dead and living obey thy spell;—
 But not till the moon has passed away,
 And the bell has toll’d on her bridal day,
Thou wilt know the foe of Christobell!”

* * *

The grey dog howls though the moon is bright,—
Why sits the lady alone to-night?
Why comes she not at her father’s call,
While the noble stranger is in his hall?
That stranger of soft and sober mien,
Sir Roland’s fair daughter, Geraldine.

But Christobell’s brow is cold and damp
As she sits alone by her silver lamp;—
(That lamp for a maiden’s spousal meet,
Which hangs from a smiling angel’s feet:)
But who comes near with steps so light?
And why is her cheek so lilly-white?
 For, glist’ring in his mail of gold,
 His azure scarf around him roll’d.
She sees her own true knight.

 “Christobell, my task is done
 Christobell, my prize is won!
The stars are smiling, the moon is bright,
The bell of our spousal shall toll to-night!”
 She does not smile,—she does not weep;
  Her cheek is like the parting snow
  When early roses bud below,
 But scarce a blush of crimson keep:
Yet she has taken her lover’s kiss,
And the touch of her melting hand is his.

But another eye is on her face,—
 Another form beside her stands;
  That form, so ghastly, lean, and tall,
  Is it Bracy the bard of Langdale Hall?
He has touch’d the lamp in its silver vase,
 And it brighter burns than a thousand brands;
  He calls on saints in their holy place,
  The spousal of Christobell to grace,
 Then joins the plighted lover’s hands.

 “Now follow me, Christobell, with speed!
  I go at thy lordly father’s call
  To strike the harp in his ancient hall,
 But thou the mirthful dance shall lead:
Thy own true knight shall be near thy side,
And the matin bell shall proclaim a bride.”

They follow,—but whence is the taper’s glare
That leads them down the lonely stair?
They look his shadowy face upon—
They look, but his silver beard is gone:
His cloak is chang’d to an azure dye,
And a mirthful gleam is in his eye.
But Christobell’s cheek is cold and pale,
For she sees not her lover’s shining mail;
He seems but a stripling soft and young,
With a minstrel’s harp behind him slung.

With mutter’d words of gramarye
The bard stalks foremost of the three:
At ev’ry soundless stride he takes,
The base of Langdale’s mountain shakes,—
The elf-dog starts as he passes by,
But closes again his shrinking eye:
The banner falls from the castle-wall
As he strikes the porch of its blazing hall!

* * *

Lord Leoline sat in chair of pride.—
The white-armed stranger by his side.
O bright was the glance she gave to view
When back her amaranth locks she threw!
It was like the moon’s on the fountain’s brim
When the amber clouds around her skim:
The rubies that on her bosom flam’d
Seem’d of her richer lips asham’d;
There never was lovely lady seen
Like the stranger-guest, fair Geraldine!

“Now, welcome, welcome, Bracy the bard!
Welcome the rites of song to guard!
Sit and waken thy warbling string,
The legend of love and beauty sing:—
Well hast thou sped since noontide’s hour
If thou comest from good Sir Roland’s tow’r.”

“Sir Roland greets thee, Lord Leoline!
He greets thee first for his Geraldine:
His heart thy bounty and love receives
Like dew that drops upon wither’d leaves;
But he asks one pledge thy faith to prove,
He asks for his son thy daughter’s love;
And he sends this goblet of crysolite
To grace the feast on their bridal night.”

Lord Leoline from his feast rose up
And fill’d to the brim the shining cup;
He wav’d it high with gesture bland,
Then gave it to Geraldine’s lily hand,
But the crysolite chang’d as she touch’d its brim—
And the gem on its sapphire edge grew dim;
The lamps are quench’d in their sockets of gold,
The hour is past, and the bell has toll’d!

Lord Leoline’s hall again is bright
With a thousand lamps of golden light;
And roses, by fairy fingers tied,
The banners and shields of knighthood hide;
While over the roof and over the walls
A curtain of painted vapour falls:
Now pillars of jasper seem to grow
From the green bright emerald floor below,
 With garlands of rubies bound;
The sky is purple with meteor fires.—
A thousand tongues, and a thousand lyres,
 Thro’ the lone Chapelle resound.

Where is the white-hair’d bard who spoke
With voice so meek, in his azure cloak?
The sage of eternal might is there,
A meteor wreath’d in his ebon hair!
And there in his youthful beauty’s pride,
The heir of Sir Roland is by his side.

Where is she with eyes so fair
Who sat and smil’d by the baron’s chair?
There sits a dame of royal mien,
But her lips are pearly, her locks are green;
The eyder-down hides her speckled breast,
The fangs of the sea-wolf clasp her vest;
And those orbs, once bluer than western skies,
Are shrunk to the rings of a serpent’s eyes!

 “Witch of the lake, I know thee now!
 Thrice three hundred years are gone
  Since beneath my cave,
  In the western wave,
 I doom’d thee to rue and weep alone,
And writ thy shame on thy breast and brow.”

“But thou and thy envious fiends in vain
Have risen to mock my power again:—
 The spell which in thy bosom worketh,
  No holy virgin’s lip can stain:
 The spell that in thy false eye lurketh,
  But for an hour can truth enchain:
Not ev’n thy serpent eye could keep
Its ire near guiltless beauty’s sleep;
The Spirit of Evil could not dare
To look on heav’n,—for heav’n is there.
 Thy hour is past—thy spells I sever,—
 Witch of the lake descend for ever!”

March, 1815


* Written as a sequel to a beautiful legend of a fair lady and her father, deceived by a witch in the guise of a noble knight's daughter.

The European Magazine, Vol. 67, April 1815, pp. 345-346