Saint Saviour's Church lies buried deep,
It stood on the land, it fell on the shore,
And buried the graves where the dead are asleep,—
The dead who were buried long years before;
And over the marble, and over the turf,
The sand is washed by the moaning surf.
And down beneath both surf and sand,
Over the buried bones of men,
Are labours of many a cunning hand
Passed with the labourer out of ken,—
Sculptured figures that seem to pray,
With up-turned eyes that look for the day.
And fisher-wives that dwell thereby,—
For a hamlet sits on the buried town,
(A town and a storm-beaten keep stood nigh
To the church when together they all went down),
These fisher-wives through the wild dark nights,
Will tell each other of eerie sights.
And telling each other of eerie sights,
Will pause to listen to eerie sounds;—
A sea-bird dazed with its short wild flights,
Flapping the casement, or over the mounds,
And down below in the hollow caves,
The sob of the surf o'er the buried graves.
But when there comes a sound of rapping,
The fisher-wives then hold their breath,
Or whisper: 'The goldsmith to-night is tapping
The silver image that lies beneath,
And covers the coffin that shuts in the wife
Was nearer and dearer to him than his life.'
Valery, Valery! thou hast come,—
A name that floats on the waves of time,—
A voice when the voices around thee are dumb,—
A wandering spirit when manhood's prime,
And knightly honour, and wealth and worth
Are buried beside thee in sand and earth.
Valery, Valery! what hast thou done,
What hast thou been that thy name should abide?
Thou hast lived and loved in the light of the sun,—
Lived a little, loved much, and died;—
But thou hast so suffered, that true hearts keep
The print of a sorrow that struck so deep.
In Saviour's Church of a Sabbath day,
Three souls were wont to kneel and pray,—
A woman, a youth, and a maid were they;
God rest those souls wherever they be!
They knelt and prayed among the crowd,
With downcast eyes, and faces bowed;
It was a proper sight to see.
The woman was old, was withered and worn,
And her bearing told of a low degree;
The youth had been stricken before he was born.
Crook'd and stunted and pale was he;
But the maiden glowed like a rosy morn;
Valery of the Vale hight she.
And near to where they knelt and prayed,
Two figures in carven stone were laid;
First came the dame, and then the knight,
Still and stony, rigid and white;
Then Valery with her hands upraised,
Her cheeks as summer blossoms clear,
Her lips more ripe than summer fruit,
Her eyelids dropped in holy fear
Over the eyes too bright to suit
The twilight place; her budding life
That shone so fair, so fresh and rife,
That some in praying there paused amazed,
And sighed unwittingly, 'God be praised!'
The ancient woman said in her prayer:
'Mother Mary! take to thy care
Two poor lambs and fold them well,—
Pasture them better than I can tell.
The keep it totters, is empty and cold,
We cling like ivy on a wall;
Remember the young, nor forget the old;—
Hast room enow in thy heart for all.'
The youth with the faded, restless eye,
Writhing, wringing, his long, lean hands,
Prayed thus: 'Ye powers of earth and sky,
I ask not a rood of my father's lands;
Never their goodly blood shall flow
In veins whose fountain my heart hath been,
Nor ever that heart may feel the glow
Of another's beating with nought between;
Living unloving, and dying alone,
The blighted shoot of a perishing tree,
Save me from living and dying unknown,
To lift up a name and to make it mine own;
A name so bright that the mole must see,
So high, that the scorner shall bend the knee!'
The blooming maid as she bent in prayer
Beneath her glory of red gold hair,
Had a saintly light on her face so fair.
She prayed as the rich and high should pray,
Giving her prayers like alms away;
She prayed like a fond and favoured child,
Whose winsome pleadings have ever beguiled.
'Maiden sweet, with the mother's heart,
Mary! flower of all the earth!
Canst thou, pitiful as thou art,
Count our sorrows for nothing worth?
Never, no! tho' I wist not well.
Wherefore my mother's son was hurled
Out so poor on the plenteous world,
I do know—thou hast heard me tell,—
Sitting still at his restless feet,—
That love it worketh like a spell;
And I do love thee, Maiden sweet!'
'Holy mother—the heart of a man—
A heart like his, so stormy and wild,—
Think of it, doomed by a cruel ban,
To beat in the feeble breast of a child!
Mother, I would not have thee weep—
Hast wept such tears in days long past—
And so thou see'st I strive to keep
Mine own from falling hot and fast;
But, oh! belike thine heart will bleed
In thinking on my mother's son,
And, flowing out in gracious deed,
Some bounty for his need be won.
And Jesu who hast crowns and thrones
Men cannot see for lust and pride,—
Who rainedst light when men rained stones
On Martyr Stephen ere he died,—
O Lord, if from thy holy place
Thou notest what we have or lack,
Pay Gerard with some inward grace,
Each outward good thou holdest back.'
Uprose the suppliants one and all;
The halting youth of stature small,
And the blooming maiden straight and tall,
Went linked together adown the aisle.
The maiden's hand was lightly pressed
On Gerard's arm, where, unconfessed,
It guided while it seemed to rest;
Oh maiden heart so full of guile!
The maiden's head, no longer bowed,
Was held on high; some called her proud,—
I wis she but defied the throng
To gaze too strangely, or too long.
Oh kindly beauty, to keep the eye
From dwelling on meaner sights near by;
When they passed together, that unmatched pair,
Men only said: 'Dear God, how fair!'
Her crispèd locks of ruddy gold
Over her stately shoulders rolled,
And surging downward, by the way
Scattered a mist of gleaming spray.
Her eyes had the tinct of Spanish wine,
Bright as mirror, and deep as mine;
Beneath her kirtle of faded silk,
Was a bosom as white as new-drawn milk;
Of sheen as fresh as the coming rose,
Over a virgin's bower that blows;
But a heart most womanly dwelt within.
God teach them better who count that sin.
A path adown the aisle was cleft,
Where the country folk stood right and left.
It fell on a day in the month of May,
There stood a man alone in the porch;
He was not like to any there,
Unless to the maiden, proud and fair,—
In soothe that twain had made a pair.
He might have looked over her golden head,
But his dark eye fed
On her face instead.
Such burning looks may fairly scorch
A maiden's cheek, if so they be
Not quenched in gentlest courtesy.
The man who stood in the porch alone,
He might have been a man of stone,
Wrought something larger than the life;
But waiting there in seeming rest,
One hand his cap of samite pressed;
Its fellow lay upon his breast
Firm clenched as if to quell its strife.
And e'en his eyes, those orbs of fire,
Now soft, but prone to sudden ire,
Obeyed a motion not their own,
For meeting her as she drew nigh,
She drew them on, and passing by
She left them gazing on the sky,—
Him, standing in the porch alone.
The blooming maiden past him by,
Nor turned on him her steadfast eye;
The youth looked up and his lip grew pale;
Such god-like bearing to him was bale.
The ancient woman muttered low:
'Ye wot that sun still melteth snow!'
So they all past on and out at the door
Meeting the new drawn breath of spring;
And right they saw the glistering shore,
And left they heard the copses ring;—
For sun and waves they shone of yore,
And brooding birds will ever sing.
And the three past on and out of the town,
Through the wicket gate which led to the mead,
Where Valery kilted her faded gown,
And none were near to mark or heed,
Save the humble day's-eye in the grass,
That opened wide to see her pass.
The ancient woman said that night,
Combing the maiden's locks so bright,
Whence many a spark flew out in the dark:
'The goldsmith, saw ye him to-day
As he stood in the porch, so gallant and gay?'
And the maiden coldly answered 'Nay.'
'The goldsmith is a man of mark,'
Quoth ancient Margery,—so she hight;—
'He has journeyed far, he has journeyed wide,
His fame is fair as his gold is bright;
He has climbed the mount which upheld the ark,
He has seen the land where Jesus died,
And a cross of stars—a wondrous sight—
Shines over the spot if men say right.'
Said Valery, 'Kiss me, and good night.'
Valery, proud and patient maid,
Half in sun and half in shade,
Sitting still in the morning hours,
Sorting, binding meadow flowers,
Laying them three, and two, and one,
On a grey stone slab in the eye of the sun.
The orchard grass was high and green,
The sea a breadth of quivering sheen;
The morning sky was deep and blue,
Where boughs and blossoms let it through;
The apple blooms hung white and red
Over the maiden's burnished head.
The shells lay hot upon the sand;
The cattle slumbered on the lea,
With scarce a sound upon the land,
And scarce a murmur from the sea—
Save where a little wave more rash,
Broke on the shore with a sudden plash;
Or titterels, nesting on the mere,
Quarrelled more loudly or more near.
Gerard stretched out as if asleep,
I' the grassy shade of the ruined keep;
Lying flat upon his breast,
Lying still, but not at rest;
His face uplifted in his palm,
Set and thoughtful, but not calm;
His lean right hand in rapid flight,
Lining a page but lately white;
His brow contracted to a frown,
His eyelids glancing up and down,
Now on the flowers, that three, two, one,
Lay on their shadows in the sun,
And now upon the vellum sheet
Where all those fading posies sweet
Had seemed to breathe their rainbow breath,
And so to conquer coming death.
The youth swept down the vellum sheet,
And started sudden to his feet.
'What boots this puny toil?' quoth he,
'This book may live, but what of me?
My father's sword I cannot wield,
I scarce can lift my father's shield,
But—' pausing then, his hungry eye
Fastened as on some phantom nigh,
His breath came thick, his words fell fast:
'God's life! I could have found at last
That stone which men the wide world o'er
Are seeking, but our failing store
Withheld me;—for a spindle's cost,
Wealth, fame, and power—lost, all lost!'
Then Valery, she too rose upright,
And what if tears bedazed her sight,—
The vaguest vision is most bright:
'Now, holy Mary!'—she was bold,
Her voice it had a ringing tone,—
'I'll gage,' quoth she, 'to get the gold,
And haply you will find the stone.'
She gathered up the buds so fair
And bound them with a golden hair,
Then,—pitiful and gracious maid,—
She kissed, and set them in the shade.
He looked her in the tearful eyes
So wonder-deep, so wonder-wise;
Then in the shadow of the keep
He laid him down, and feel asleep.
Old Margery said, as she stood that night
Combing the maiden's locks so bright,
Whence many a spark flew out in the dark:
'The goldsmith will pass at peep of day
To join those gallants in proud array
Who meet to shoot at the Popinjay.'
The maiden's eyes in the dusk shone clear,—
Some eyes would almost seem to hear;—
'And where will they go the morrow?' said she,—
'To Bracklesham Chase,' quoth Margery;
And laughed to herself the while, as tho'
She wist the sun was at work on the snow.
The keep was tottering to its fall,
But ivy clamped the broken wall,—
Granite with amber lichen crusted,—
A tower of steel the damp had rusted.
And they who had dwelt in the ancient place
Had long been held for an unthrift race;
They loved the weak, nor feared the strong;
The rich they helped when in the right,
The poor they served in any case;
And, ready to aid them with their might,
Were eager to shield them with their grace;
And so they came to live in song,
And die from out their ancient place.
Three tall brothers lay in the crypt,
They had gone to fight in a far-off land;
Their bodies from over the sea were shipped,
While the tearless parents stood on the strand.
They held each other by the hand,
And kissed each son upon the cheek;
I wis they hardly looked more grand
As they followed them home within the week,
Borne at the head of a mourning train,
And never to come that way again.
The vane which pointed Saviour's spire
Was hardly tipped with sudden fire,
When Valery, from out the deep
Sweet silence of a maiden's sleep,
Broke, as the morning from the mist
Was breaking even now, and wist
Not well—half-dreaming as she lay,
While yet no nestling was astir—
If she had wakened up the day,
Or if the day had wakened her.
Belike she wakened to a thought
That lay in ambush through the night,
But with the lifted vane had caught
The first faint glimmer of the light,
For springing up as one in haste
No earliest span of time to waste,
She stepped from out her morning bath
And left upon the floor a path,
Such as had made her goings known
Wherever barefoot she had flown:
Two slender heels were printed there,
Ten little toes in order fair;
The arch between them had not pressed
The ground, but might be fondly guessed.
Her beauty then in russet gown
She sheathed, and kneeling humbly down,
Prayed that the Christ, whose crown of thorn
Was placed upon his head in scorn,
Who lowly lived and patient died,
With outcast men on either side,
Would smooth her brother's path of pride.
And then a sweet, grave face she bent
Over a coffer, and undid
The lock, and softly raised the lid;
And diving to its depths she sent
A pliant hand that deftly caught
Its prize, and to the surface brought
A jewel of a rare device,
Of craft most subtle, quaint, and nice;
A thing to clasp the throat and swathe
With broken gleams of light the breast,
With rain of quivering fringe to bathe
In shower of summer gold, the vest
Down to the zone. It might have been
The gorget of a fairy queen.
Alack, it was the only wealth,—
Barring her soul and body's health
And beauty,—of a noble maid
In homespun russet gown arrayed;
Her only wealth, and eke her dower,
All that a mother's love had power
To snatch and save from out the wave
That washed so bare the lonely tower.
And then,—her fortune in her hand,—
The maiden stood, and swept the land
Low-lying in the morning sun,
With eager glance in search of one
She held would now be on his way
To carry off the Popinjay.
And riding slowly from the town,
To tighten rein upon the down,
She spied the goldsmith, and stood still
To see him swiftly lift the hill.
And still, when on the topmost rise,
The firwood closed him from her eyes,
She watched the wood a little space,—
A smiling doubt upon her face.
Ah, little deemed she, smiling there—
That maiden with the lustrous hair—
Of summer sunshine that could smite
A burnished head with living light;
And gather glances from afar,
As surely as a guiding star!
The goldsmith pausing on the height,
Beheld his day-star burning bright,—
A little spark which lit a whole
Sweet perfect picture in his soul.
So gazing till the maiden went
Upon her unknown purpose bent,
He waited till his star glanced out
In darkness;—when he turned about.
Quoth he, 'I'd liefer die unshriven
Than have so pure an image driven
Out from my thoughts by churlish play.'
So home again he wore his way;—
Heard Saviour's bells for matins chime,
And breathed the fragrance of the thyme.
'Good luck,' cried he, 'to the Popinjay,—
It may shoot itself for me to-day!'
The goldsmith slowly paced the down,
The maiden hurried through the town;
And over the morning dew she flew,
To spurn the street with dainty feet.
When to the goldsmith's she came near,
Her heart so beat for haste and fear,
That lacking breath, she made a stand,
Still with her fortune in her hand;
And pausing, looked within before
She entered at the open door.
The overhanging gables made
A pregnant mystery of shade,
And over the goldsmith's ordered wealth
The daylight crept as if by stealth,—
Save where it broke upon the lid
Of cup, or chafing-dish, or slid
About a vase, or struck a blade
With lightning; or, where many-rayed
And quivering on a golden urn,
A mimic sun would seem to burn.
When Valery of the Vale stood there,
Unhooded by her rebel hair,
That sunbeam left the urn, to smite
Her golden head with dancing light.
The 'prentice lad, he was not one
To blink because he saw the sun;
A flippant answer he had given
Untroubled to the queen of heaven.
And lending half an eye and ear
The while she made her wishes clear,
He finished toying with his nails
To throw her necklet in the scales.
'Three ounces, seven grains,' quoth he,
'Of gold as pure as gold can be;
And you shall have its worth and weight
In ducats, and I will not bate
A denyer for its cranks and curls,
Its form so fashionless, with whorls,
Like empty sea-shells.' 'Let it be
A bargain, and have done,' quoth she.
And speaking thus, adown the street
They heard the clank of horse's feet,
That halted as the gold was flung
Into the scale; and as it rung
Smiting the counter, on the floor
There stole a shadow from the door,
Which darkened her from feet to breast,
But spared the glory of the rest.
And shrinkingly as Valery turned,
She saw the goldsmith's eyes that burned
Right on her through the dim half-light
In which he stood eclipsed; all bright
And glowing where he bore the brunt
Of summer sunshine, but in front
A darkened image, grandly tall,
And nobly beautiful withal.
He doffed his cap and entered in;
To wear it he had deemed a sin;
He thought—'This rare old shop of mine,
Gra'mercy, it has grown a shrine.'
He said: 'Bright lady, speak your will,
That knowing it, I may fulfil.'
Then straight she told him how she had
Her necklet to the 'prentice lad
Sold for its weight in coinéd gold.
Whereon he raised it fold on fold;
Its supple chains together caught
By quaintest fancies, deftly wrought,
He eyed an instant, and then glanced
Up at the lady, and stood tranced
One giddy moment in his place,—
So wrought on him that gracious face.
He pressed the vision from his eyes,
And to the 'prentice lad quoth he:
'You serve my customers this wise
When I am not at hand to see?
Lack you the grace that should discern
How dullards such as you might learn
Lessons from this that scarce could reach
The wisest through the port of speech?
See you no worth in loving thought?
As craftsman, do you count for nought
Such perfect craft? Go, ‘dust to dust’
Is still the word; you see the crust
Which life informs, the life you miss.
Begone, sir knave; I'll look to this.
By'r Lady, it is well I came
To free my dealing from such blame
As you had tarnished it withal.'
Again he let the necklet fall
Into the scale, and times twice ten
He weighted it up with gold, and then
He took it in his hands again,
And over it he closed the twain;
Trembling a little as he drew
It in and out, and through and through.
His ringing voice grew strangely soft—
'Say, lady, have you worn it oft?'
'Nay, never a time at all,' quoth she,
''Tis new as morning light for me.'
He laid it on the counter down
And bent his dazzled eyes above:
'I thought it worth a sovereign crown,—
I find it is not worth your glove.'
Oh, but her blood, a gradual flame,
Neck, cheek, and brow, in turns o'ercame;
All but her eyes, that were so bold
In maidenhood they could behold
With steadfast orb that noon-day light
Which beats upon the soul so bright,
That life's sweet morning in its beam
Shows pallid as a fading dream.
The goldsmith dared not lift his face,
But light of love filled all the place;
It crept from 'neath his sheathèd eyes,
And wrapt her in a golden cloud,
Wherein she could but breathe in sighs,
Wherein her heart beat strong and loud.
She was a maiden of high degree,
And so loved gentle courtesy;
She was a maiden of ancient race,
And so loved honour and knightly grace,
She had a heart to defend the right,
So loved all signs of lordly might;
She was a maiden young and fair,
And saw all courtesy stand there,
All honour, grace, and strength, well shown
Through favour that might match her own.
The goldsmith was a merchant wight,
Had fashioned you a chain or ring;
But his manners had not shamed a knight,
His mien had well become a king.
Oh, moments all too passing sweet,
Moments in passing all too fleet!
She turned to go for maidenhood
Who still for dear delight had stood.
With lowered lids, to hide the glow
Of eyes inept, she turned to go;
Dark was the space about the door,
The goldsmith had been there before,
And kneeling, barred the passage where
She else had met the sunlit air.
This moment from the stores of time
Was his,—he caught it in its prime,
To make of it a crown which he
Might wear through all eternity.
So strong and sweet the words he spake,
When first his passion's torrent brake
The bounds where it had chafed for years,—
So sweet, so strong, it drew sweet tears
From Valery's eyes which, as she bent
Above his face, his cheeks besprent.
He murmured: 'Were I black as night,
Such baptism had washed me white.'
He said: 'But I do bear a name
Knows no dishonour, nor much blame,
And hold a heart which high endeavour
Shall raise to be your throne for ever.
Of mortal presence—foul or fair—
The spot has been for ever bare,
And still for ever, if you hold
My pleading to be over bold,
'T will be a vision-haunted place,
Barren of every living grace.'
He was a man, and she a maid
To love's appeal first giving ear;
Count it not strange if she essayed
To speak, and failed for joy or fear.
One moment failed, for she was brave,
As brave as she was straight and true;
Her brother's need fresh courage gave,
The old love dared to face the new.
She said: 'I am no woman free
To entertain your courtesy,
For like a Nazarite of old
I have a vow upon me, strong
As love and death, which ere I wrong,
I'll lay me 'neath the churchyard mould.
My mother on her dying bed
Bound it upon me, heart and head,
And hand and foot, and limbs and life,
And I must keep it sooth,' she said,
'In single truth; I may not wed:
It is no dowry for a wife;
And I would keep it were I free
Of all but mine own heart,' wept she;
'It is my brother, warped and weak,
That God, no less than she, has laid
So naked on my hands, and bade
Me cover from a world so bleak.'
The goldsmith then he rose upright;
And filled the doorway with his height;
An army's champion so looked he.
'I too will bind me with an oath:
This heart, this hand shall hold ye both,
And hold him no less close than thee!
If aught through me thy brother fail,'
The goldsmith's cheek grew ashen pale,—
'Then may the thing I hold most dear—
Thy gracious self—be turned to stone,
And leave me maddened and alone—
Alone and maddened ever here.'
She raised her eyes and looked at him,—
Her eyes were bright, his eyes were dim,
And rested on her cheek, rose-red,
As though they gazed upon the dead.
She called him softly by his name,
And still no note of answer came;
She laid her hand upon his arm,
And yet he hardly owned the charm;
She bowed her head upon his breast,
And in the act her love confessed.
'Oh, manhood's noble might,' thought she,
'O'erwrought by love, and love of me!'
Then first the darker vision fled,
As back he turned her radiant head,
And in a flash of silent bliss,
Their souls encountered in a kiss.
Rare triumph of the golden gloom,
To witness in its freshest bloom
The flower of these two lives, which first
Thus into joyous being burst.
'God grant my brother like it well,'
She said, and broke the sweet love-spell,
Then murmured: 'Howsoe'er it be,
I'll be true wife to none but thee!'
She went, and he upon her track
Had followed, but she waved him back,
And left him in the golden gloom;—
Oh, life and love! Oh, love and doom!
Gerard on the grey door-stone
Waiting watching all alone;
Chafing hands whose trembling hold
Ached to close upon the gold.
Valery, who as she flew,
Scarcely shook the morning dew
Which filled the chalice of the rose
That her passage did oppose.
'Give to me thy hand, good brother,
So I fill it, and the other
Shall be even-weighted; truly
Did I flatter thee unduly?'
Gerard took the gold and weighed it,
Then upon the step he laid it,—
Laid it in a shining heap,
Scattered it with scornful sweep,
Showed it laughing to the day,
And hid it in his pouch away.
Never had she learned to prize
Gold, until in Gerard's eyes
She beheld its worth imputed
Into light of hope transmuted.
Then her face against his knee
She laid, and softly whispered she:
'The gold for you,—a gem for me.'
But e'en the gold as gold no more
In Gerard's thought a semblance bore;
Sublimed in crucible, or smelted,
In airy visions it had melted.
She took his hand so long and lean,
She lightly shook his gaberdine,
And a little louder whispered she:
'The gold for you,—a gem for me.'
But he neither said her yea nor nay,
His thoughts had floated far away.
Then up she starts and firm she stands,
And crowning him with two fair hands:
'Gerard, my brother, times now three—
The gold for you—a gem for me!
The proffer of a heart as great
As sunk and poor is our estate.'
She paused, then added, something loth,—
'A heart for me,—a home for both.'
Keen eyes, keen ears were now intent,
And keenly was the answer spent:
'It is the goldsmith, in his pride,
Would get himself a noble bride.'
'He is a king of men,' quoth she,
'And whatsoever her degree
Who weds with him, she'll count her state
The nobler that she is his mate!'
He turned towards her, warped and weak,
Pale eager lips, pale sunken check:
As she had learnt what gold might be
From Gerard's eyes, so Gerard, he
Saw all of love that he might know
From her's, that were with love a-glow.
His cheek waxed whiter as he gazed
With effluence of light bedazed;
And, as a sickly blossom grown
In twilight withers in the sun,—
Whose mid-day splendours will abase
The growths his early beams made proud,—
His spirit fell before her face,
More than his stricken body bowed.
Two angels fought for him amain,
And he was sore betwixt the twain.
He clutched her wrist; 'Whence came the gold!'
She showed him of the necklet sold.
He wept—'Your heart is gone from me.'
She said—'From twain we shall be three,
And stronger so the world to face.'
He moaned—'It is a weary place.'
He groaned: 'How happy are the dead,
O had the crypt but been our bed!'
Then laid his hand upon her hair
And blest, and called her good and fair;
When holding down his swelling heart,
He felt the treasure, with a start
He turned, and like a wayward child,
Flashed it before her face, and smiled:
'Here lies what shall our wrongs atone:
God's life! I all but hold the stone.'
The sun shed gold upon the sands,
Dropped jewels in the sea,
The morn that saw them join their hands,
It rose so royallie.
The goldsmith trained his eagle sight
To look upon the sun:
'Mine eyes, ye'll have to face the light
Before the day is done!'
He brought his palfrey to the gate:
'Ho, curve thy neck with pride,
Mine own good steed, for 'tis your fate
This day to bear the bride.
Ho, songs of thrush and nightingale,
Give notice to the skies,
And greet our Valery of the Vale
When she shall bless our eyes.'
The throstle and the nightingale
They raised a merry shout,
And greeted Valery of the Vale
When blushing she came out.
The throstle and the nightingale
They piped so loud and clear,
That no one heard the peewit's wail
That echoed from the mere.
Upon her head the fleur-de-lis
Was plaited for a crown,
And all about her, till her knee,
Her golden hair fell down.
A silken train was vain to seek
In presses old and bare,
So Margery combed, and combed so sleek,
Her lady's silken hair.
Then by the diamond-dancing sea
They go, and if there stir
A breath, deep-laden it will be
With incense from the fir.
And so to Saviour's Church they come,
And enter at the door,
Where the groom had waited sad and dumb
A little month before.
The sun might beat upon the shore,
But Saviour's Church was cold;
The spices float from copse and moor,—
It only smelt of mold.
The sun might break upon the glass,
But Saviour's Church was dim;
And brokenly the sunbeams pass
The carven cherubim.
Where on the altar-steps was split
A pool of purple light,
'Twas there the bride and bridegroom knelt
Their true-love troth to plight.
There on her breast, above her zone,—
He saw it with a start,—
Christ's robe as king and martyr shone
In gules upon her heart.
When hand in hand they stood, the three,
And gazed from out the door,
The rain fell leaden in the sea,
And leaden on the shore.
And silent were the singing birds,
But loud the taunting cry
Of sea-mews,—and, like warning words,
The wind went howling by.
The goldsmith led the frightened steed,
And caught the lily crown,
While dank and dark as water-weed
Her tangled hair fell down.
So stalwart groom, and beauteous bride,
And piteous brother,—three
Who issued forth in joy and pride,—
Returned in dread and dree.
The wind withstood them in the street,
'Gainst forward brow and knees it beat;
The goldsmith even felt its might,
It caught his breath, and blurred his sight,
That Gerard's scarf, which did constrain
His chin as with a curbing rein,
He hardly wrested from the storm
To wrap about him soft and warm.
Quoth he, 'No wind shall blow thee harm,'
And compassed Gerard with his arm.
And Valery saw, and Valery heard,—
Beheld the deed, and marked the word,
And through her passion's stately calm,
There broke the gladness of a psalm
Of praise to God, and him who stood
To her God-manifest in good.
And so their struggling way they win,—
All war without, all peace within;
And howling wind, or driving rain,
Now beat against their breasts in vain.
The wind withstood them at the door,
Where shrieking it had rushed before;
Held Valery backward by the hair,—
Laid Gerard helpless on the stair,—
And blinded with a fiercer shock
The goldsmith as he sought the lock;
Then furious turned and rang the bell,—
The turret bell that like a knell
Clanged out,—so wildly that it broke,
And all the slumbering ecohes woke,
Till man and maid came, white as death,
To hail the bride with struggling breath.
'From storm so rude, and sky so dark,
My dove, I bid thee to the ark,'
The goldsmith said, and on his breast
He laid the golden head to rest.
She smiled: 'For that your heart is large,
O love, you take a two-fold charge;
Two waifs you save
From out the wave,
Two souls to bless you on the marge.
So lordly strong, my heart's true mate,
He will not feel the double freight.'
Again she laid her head to rest,
Safe on the goldsmith's happy breast,
And—ere the act he could disown—
Drew Gerard's softly to her own.
'Twas ancient Margery, none but she,
Leant on her staff and watched the three
With rheumy eyes that danced with glee.
She laughed: 'We shall not freeze, I trow;
The flame, ho, ho! that thawed the snow,
Will keep our household fires a-glow.'
But Gerard frowned: 'Darkness and cold
Wait ever on the weak and old.'
Two stars that traverse one same sphere,
Never crossing, if alway near;
Two streams through a mountain chasm led,
Flowing unmixed in one same bed;
Two souls that claim to be friend and brother,
Viewless as phantoms, each for the other:
Two men who are living and working together,
Sharing the fair and the foul of the weather,
Meeting at board and joining in prayer,
Passing in passage and halting on stair,
Closely lodged in one woman's heart,—
For ever near, and for ever apart.
The goldsmith loved to work in the sun,
In the open day, and he worked with a will;
But he loved to laugh when his work was done,
Or he loved to breast a windy hill,
And to spread his thought from its summit hoary,
Over the world and review its story.
The goldsmith's mind was an open book,
And the goldsmith's eye kept a keen out-look,
And he fed his fancy from day to day
While nature and he were together at play.
The crested progress of the wave,
The dog that panting plunges in,
The set of gorget, or turn of glaive,
The dimples that ripple an infant's chin;
The bird that builds, the bird that broods,
And he that shakes with song the woods,
The bee so hot in quest of gain,
That he makes a mart of the lily's fane;
He marked them and he knew their way
So well, that his work was as bold as play.
But, better than all, of a summer eve,
Or by winter fire, he loved to weave
His kindling thought with the thought of one
Who was dearer to him than the world and its sun,—
Than spangled night, or various day,
Than joyous work, or careless play.
In an inner chamber, still and dusk,
Haunted with shadows, heavy with musk,
Gums and spices, and mold withal,
The flames of a furnace flicker and fall,
Flicker and fade on a wan, keen face,
That comes and goes in the ghostly place.
There Gerard bends to his smelting ores,
Feeds his furnace, and silent pores
Over his problems, or questions the sages,
Whose hopes loom large through the gloom of the ages,
For hints of that secret whose fitful gleam
Had baffled many a long day-dream;
The secret of secrets, whereby the length
Of a mortal's days to a mortal's strength
Should be no more timed, and a man might see
His life's fruit ripe on his own life tree.
There he bends when the dew-beads chill
Spangle the vine on his window-sill;
There he leans when its bronze young spray
Faints and falls in the hot noon-day;
There he droops when the day is done,
And all is told 'twixt the vine and the sun;—
Day or night he sees it all
Through the flames of the furnace that flicker and fall.
And many a time, as they sit at meat,
The household, head and hands complete,
And a word or jest will join the rest
For a moment, as beads of a rosary caught
Together and bound by a thread of thought,—
The thread will snap beside his seat.
And many a time would that body spare
Drop fainting in the gloom or glare,
If eyes to see, or ears to hear,
And hands to cherish were not near.
Rarely he tarried on breezy down,
Never he clomb to the windy hill;
Would all the glory on view from its crown,
Could song of bird, or murmur of rill,
Help weakling steps to some bluff of fame
Where the light might brighten a fading name?
A slight, pale thing, but hard to move,
Was Gerald buried in his groove;
Yet one soft voice still found its way
To soothe and hearten as he lay,—
One smile lit up his gruesome day;—
His sister reached him with her love.,
The Goldsmith took a lump of ore
And filed away some golden grains:
Quoth he: 'He'll want it all, and more,
And he shall have it: if my store
Grow less, I'll double it with pains.
I'll point my fancy subtle-fine,
And hand with thought shall so combine
To permeate a grain of earth,
That they shall multiply its worth.'
He gathered in his strong right hand
The fragments, to the last gold sand,
And pointing to the mass, the whole
Whence he had taken that slight toll:
'This for your brother, sweet my life,'
He said, and gave it to his wife.
Oh, happy goldsmith! had the work
You made yourself been toil and irk,
A man had done it for such prize,—
Such worship of a woman's eyes.
She took it, but she never stirred,
Her eyes that blessed him, still demurred;
'You wrong yourself,' she said aloud.
She loved her brother and was proud.
'She would deny him—he so near
Her heart, for I am still more dear!'
The goldsmith thought; and all day long
His hammer rung it out in song;
It rung so joyous and so clear,
The neighbours stopped their work to hear;
'So near to thee, my life, so dear;'
'So dear,' it echoed, 'and so near!'
When all the land lay dark around,
Extinguished at the curfew's sound,
And men would test what they had done
Within the compass of the sun,
The goldsmith thought: 'That goodly blade
Suits well the hilt that I have made,
And silver takes a light more fair,
And shows the artist's cunning where
It oft lies hidden in the gold—
Which of itself is over-bold.
Those twisted mermaids,—rounded-flesh
Subsiding into scale,—with mesh
Of woven or upon the tail,
Shine forth more precious, being pale.'
The goldsmith turned him to his rest,
No man on all that coast so blest;
Nor less so, for a sword-hilt planned
To guard and grace a hero's hand.
And Gerard at the turn of eve
His cloudy thoughts alone would weave.
'My smelting fire has served me well;
My tests have secrets still to tell;
Anon, if mine alembic hold,
That which a while ago was gold,
May pass from out the realm of sense;
What subtle thing will issue thence,—
How to be questioned, proved or caught,
I know not yet; nor, when its hold
Is loosed from grosser elements,
What awful form it may unfold;
But I do know that I am bold,
Nor likely shaken with portents.
Come I as victor from this strife,
I grasp the matter of all life!'
The goldsmith took a lump of ore
And filed as he had filed before.
Then gathered up his slender toll,
And straightway on a silver bowl
He fell to work—to wreathe the rim
With flowers; careless as a whim
Of infancy to eyes unskilled,
The twisted branches played around
The pouting lip their blossoms crowned;
But one who knew, had felt beneath
The softness of that flower wreath,
How strongly, with a purpose filled,
The artist thought, the man had willed.
And eyes that watched him turn about
The gold, and strike his meaning out,
With child-like eagerness were wide,
And tender with a woman's pride.
And catching of the breath, or word
Most like the cooing of a bird
Unconscious of itself, would tell
The goldsmith when he had done well.
'O love, that tendril—how it clings,—
How folds its neighbour in its rings!
Ah! limpet-flower, so frail, so fair,—
Limpet that sucks but sun and air.
Ay, so its leaflets lick the ground—
Poor cloven tongues that make no sound,
And cannot cry for loss or want;
I marvel, will ye ever teach
The little prince your golden speech?
(That silver basin was a font.)
Then, when the craftsman's eager touch
Had haply made a stroke too much;
'Love, stay thy hand, nor all impart
The secret of the rose's heart!'
When summoned thence by call or beck,
She hung a moment on his neck,
And looked him straightly in the eyes,—
She said; 'I hold you for a God
To summon creatures at your nod,—
Call them from nothing, and they rise!'
Her passion paled her cheek like flame,
But sombre in her eyes there came
A glow from out her deepest heart;
She said no more; but all her soul
Was dispossessed,—she laid the whole
Wealth of her love,—her woman's dower—
Low at his feet, and from that hour—
Love's pensioner—if she might live
Through ages she no more could give
The man beside her, for he held
Her wholly, and no thought rebelled;—
She kept no secret to impart.
She went out softly;—at the door
She turned and saw the lump of ore,
Which smiling in her hand she took:
'Jesu, forgive me, who have wealth
So great, with soul and body's health,
And still the poor can overlook!'
Jesu, forgive her, if she eyed
The treasure in her hand with pride;
Her conscious meekness when she bore
The lump to add to Gerard's store,
And fain with clinging hand had quelled
The heart that still too proudly swelled;
Forgive the woman who put trust
So deep in any child of dust.
'She loves him so that she would take
The mines of India for his sake,'
The goldsmith thought, and through the night
And in his sleep, in grim despite,
His hammer rung it: 'For his sake;'
And, did he sleep or did he wake,
Still echoed—'For his sake, his sake!'
The goldsmith took a lump of ore,
And filed as he had filed before,—
Only he longer filed, and more.
And gathering up the golden sands,
He laid them in her open hands.
'The larger share I shall use up
To-day, for I must shape a cup;
Since Jesus' blood it is to hold,
The cup will need to be of gold.'
And speaking slowly on this wise,
The goldsmith fixed her with his eyes.
She answered him: 'My brother's store
Is full, and when he needeth more
I'll come to thee, my life. I pray
This thing will proven be to-day—
'Twere best determined yea or nay;
The worst were that he still should grope
With marsh-fire light in lieu of hope.'
She paused; her eyes with tears were dim.
He thought: 'She suffers, and through him!'
And all that day in fear and doubt
His hammer slowly rang it out:
'The heart that I would guard from loss,
Hide,—might it be,—from Christ's own cross,
Must suffer for a weakling's whim,
Must bleed, and bleed for him,—for him!' '
And all that day a wan keen face
Whitened and sharpened in its place;
With eyes a-gaze as if to spring,
With still locked hands that fain would cling,
With chastened breath, and ears that heard
The falling of the lightest sherd,
Gerard bent watching,—all his soul
Turned guardian of an empty bowl,
Whence there exhaled a thin, white steam,—
The dying breath of Gerard's dream.
With risks and science manifold,
To this he had reduced the gold,—
And waited at this final hour
The further triumph of his power.
He waited while a breath went up
That would have dimmed a crystal cup,
The pupils of his hollow eyes
Contracting on the wished-for prize.
A moment more, and he will beat
Brute matter from its last retreat,—
Unhouse it wholly. Will it take
Some form unknown, or will it break
The stagnant silence with a word
By man in mortal shape unheard
Till now? The spirit of the gold
Thus driven from its latest hold—
Will it appear to him, reveal
A soul wherewith a man may deal,
Fall down to him and make appeal:
To him who holds, or blind, or seeing,
The secret of its homeless being?
The breath had failed,
The day had paled,
And Gerard in his white despair,
Still watched the place, now cold and bare,—
The ruthless spot
Where IT was not.
Night slowly falls; from Gerard's soul
The mists of proud delusion roll;
IT lingers mocking here and there,
IT comes, he breathes it in the air,
IT may his body's loss repair:—
But the freed captive, mute through all,
Will come no more at human call.
Still while thick darkness wrapped him round,
With silence whole of any sound,
And Gerard, fallen in the strife,
Lay all unconscious of his life,
The spirit's unknown tongue might break
Its patient silence for his sake:
Sharpening some inner sense to feel
A truth no tongue might yet reveal;
Some secret from the deep to bring,—
A germ of light for some day-spring
Remote from him, and yet by him
Fore-felt,—a phantom hovering dim
Athwart the pathless night the soul
Has still to traverse to its goal.
So might the dreamer, dreaming, hold
Communion with his vanished gold.
And Valery sought him in the night
And found him lying stark and white,
Where, through the lattice of the vine,
The moonbeams shake and hardly shine.
She was a woman strong and bold,
But night is drear, and night is cold;
And, as she raised him up and drew
Him near her heart, she shivered too.
What battle had he lonely waged,
In what forbidden arts engaged,
That she should find him stark and white,
Stricken and beaten in the fight,
Thus lying in the dead of night?
She was a woman strong and bold,
And closer still her arms enfold
The weakly form the powers defied
Could punish for its heart of pride.
She traced a circle all around,
She made four crosses on the ground;
Her heart might quake, but still she drew
The circle and the crosses true.
When on his brow she makes the sign,
The moonbeams shake no more, but shine
Clear on her hand, and on her face,
That seems to exorcise the place.
'Jesu, forgive him—hold him free
From hatred of Thy cross and Thee!
What strength has he wherewith to rob
Thee of Thy glory?'—then a sob
Took all her breath and closed her prayer.
A presence newly stirred the air;—
She looked, and saw the goldsmith there.
Alack, the goldsmith's brow was dark,
A gloomy fire that had no spark
Burned in his eye; his helpful hand
Seemed lifted with a stern command.
He carried Gerard up the stair,
He fetched him water, gave him air;
Then left him sleeping on his bed,
With not a word betwixt them said.
For days and days his hammer rung
Out loud and fierce; but what it sung
None could have told. Its angry beat
Seemed now to strike out only heat.
So daily as the goldsmith wrought,
His words of speech were few or nought;
While all he made his tongue withhold
Was poured out hotly on the gold.
And Gerard, like a wounded knight,
Valiant, if worsted in the fight,
Bided his time till strength came back,
To conquer on another tack.
Which-while the patient woman-heart
That lodged them both, was rent apart,—
Held in slow torture with the strain
That forced the rift betwixt the twain.
And ancient Margery, muttering low,
Went up and down, and to and fro,
And wandering in her restless woe,
Splashed holy water on each floor,
And signed a cross on every door.
'O weak and tempted one,' she sighed;
'And holy Wilfred!' still she cried;
'And Gestus, thou, the crucified,
Who rose in glory, being shriven
Of Christus' self—a thief forgiven—
Pray for his soul, that in its pride
For knowledge held from man has striven,—
Has turned a thief more black than thou,
And snatched the crown from Jesus' brow.'
And rising warely in the night
She blew the smouldering embers bright,
And melted wax and moulded it
As such poor cunning might befit,
Into the semblance of a man.
'Christus! Maria! be your ban
Upon this image that I make
In Gerard's likeness, and will take
To-morrow ere the world shall wake,
And set, or be it wet or fine,
With seven tall candles on thy shrine.'
And so she went at peep of day
To Saviour's shrine to kneel and pray,
That He who spares the smoking flax
Would sate His fury on the wax.
The sins that bar the gates of heaven
From erring mortals, number seven.
And cruel as the grave is lust,
Baser than hell is broken trust;
But blacker is the sin of pride
Than all the deadly seven beside.
And deadliest is the pride that dares
To filch a secret unawares,
Which God and holy mother Church
Have holden from their children's search.
And thus it was the faithful came
To cross themselves at Gerard's name;
And tongues which once in passing near
Were ready with a ribald jeer,
Now couched at rest in pious fear.
And men who met him at the fall
Of eve, would let him take the wall,
And women, nimbly facing round,
Leave him lone master of the ground;
While children at their wildest play
Would drop their toys and steal away.
And on the house there fell a weight
Of silence, so that any word
Spoken to lift it, only stirred
The gloom it could not dissipate.
And prying glances would, when found
In covert question, seek the ground,
And corner whisperings sudden cease,
Or settle in laborious peace,
What time the master's voice, or face,
Or presence came to clear the place.
For seven long days the goldsmith broke
His wrath in lifting stroke on stroke;
But daily thinking on his oath,
His heart waxed gentler towards them both;—
Though love is fire as fierce as hate;
And jealousy is stern as fate;
Still a man's will at work through all
Must save him, or must break his fall.
And so for seven long days he wrought
To strike out truer shapes of thought;
And on the seventh day at eve
He seemed his purpose to achieve;
And on the eighth he spoke his mind,—
His words were clear, his purpose kind,—
They ended, 'Brother, pray you cease
These arts which mar our household peace.'
The ocean that has churned the storm
May lie at ease when all is done,—
A burnished mirror, spreading warm,
And smooth, beneath the changeless sun;
But turbid waters that have caught
A trick of trouble at their source,
And still are pressed and overwrought
With stony griefs throughout their course,
Will fret and murmur, unallayed
By balmy sun, or cooling shade.
So Gerard, stricken at the source
Of life, retorted sharp and hoarse;
And rising, stood with eye more haught
Than had his brothers,—they who fought
The 'Standard of the King' to shield
From heathens on a bloody field.
'The light your voice would fain suppress
Is nature's truth,—no more, no less;—
The ‘arts which mar your household peace,’
Are strivings for the soul's release;
To ignorance and fabled fears
In durance she has lain long years.'
Quoth he; 'You bondsmen fain would bind
Your own gross fetters on the wind;
You herd with churls who fear the light,
With jealous guardians of the night,
And side with knaves who skulk and pry;
You live on other planes than I;—
Your thoughts are broad,—they are not high—
I think I hold them not too cheap
If I should say they are not deep.'
The hero-blood so proudly flowed
In Gerard's veins, its poor abode
Seemed lifted from its own disgrace
To meet the goldsmith face to face,
And make the man of might forget
That such unequal forces met.
He too held blood of fighting men
Within, to surge up hotly when,
As now, the steel of cutting words
Drew sparks more keen than angry swords.
And so he thrust again; 'The truth
You seek, is centred in a youth,—
Gerard de Tyldesley, by your leave;—
Vain-glorious, and of stomach high,
He lacks the seer's—the single eye—
Which can discover or achieve.
He would refine a mine of gold
Only his image to behold
Clear at its heart; when that was done,
He'd count the battle nobly won
With nature, and proclaim a truce;
But, lest the gold should fall to use
Less worthy, he by some weird art
Which men call black, must rend apart
Its elements, till that which stood
Among us as the type of good,—
Which might have taken shape as fair
As dream of Solomon,—waxed rare
And rarer till it lapsed in air.'
And speaking thus, each from his place
Could hear a voice, could see a face,
But neither through the fleshly sheath
Reached the high-tempered soul beneath.
Nor did the goldsmith dream how pale
Waxed Gerard, or how near to fail,
The while his voice was ringing still,
O'ermastered by his valiant will.
'I said your thoughts were broad, I find
Them straitened as might fit a hind;
I see that if they had been deep,
You lack the courage for a leap
Sheer to the unknown heart of things;—
Your spirit it hath hands,—not wings,—
So cannot soar, but climbs and clings.
You have no faith to tempt the hell
Of failure, and survive to tell
How still in failure—all is well.'
He hardly spoke the words, but sighed
Them from his lips; was it mere pride
That sped them, or some inner light
Of vision flashed upon his sight?
Oh, goldsmith! did no accent here
Strike as a warning on thine ear?
Those boyish words, all flame and fire,
Did ye not hear them sink, expire
On lips that quivered with a throe
Half mortal weakness, and half woe?
No, no! the voice through all the years
That beats the time like falling tears,—
The sad refain that sounds again
For each new ear, and sounds in vain,—
Words sure as death's unyielding gate,—
'Too late'—we answer still—'Too late.'
And if upon a soil unkind
Ye drop some words, ye sow the wind—
To reap, full-bearded on your path,
The whirlwind of concentred wrath.
And windy words enough had blown
Between them ere he stood alone,—
The goldsmith,—master of the field;
Nay, rather knight who had been thrown,
And worsted,—had been forced to yield
That which in honour he had kept.
Heroes in such a strait have wept.
Gerard was gone. Proud to the last,
He gathered up each misty dream,
Each dreamy hope in faith supreme,
To nurture and to see them cast
New wreaths of glory, where the past
Had mouldered from the lonely tower
Which once had been a place of power.
Quoth he; 'Such blazon was not meant
To grace your portal.' So he went.
The man who left the goldsmith's side,
Was quick with ire, and stiff with pride;
The form that snatched a moment's rest,
Held to a wildly beating breast,
Was feeble as an infant's hurled
In painful struggle on the world;
The shape that from the goldsmith's went
For good and aye, was shrunk and bent;
God give that they who would beguile
Life's weary uplands with a smile,
May never meet upon its way
A look like that which Valery sent
On Gerard's lonely path that day!
To Saviour's Church two hearts forlorn
Went forth to pray on a Christmas morn;
'Neath the beetling houses, out of the town,
By the windy shore, o'er the windy down,
Kirtle of russet, and cloak of grey,
Blown of the breeze, dashed by the spray,
Sparsely set as with jewels of snow,
The old limbs stiffened, the young a-glow,—
Dumb by the loud-voiced sea they go.
The snow-stars on the wintry hair
Shone crystal-cold as they lighted there,
But they lost themselves in the sunny mesh
Of Valery's tangled curl and braid,
And, melting to tears on her cheek so fresh,
Struck into the track which her tears had made.
So they gained the harbour of Saviour's door,
And, as wind-worn mariners kneel on the shore,
They knelt in the aisle, leaving empty and lone
To the knight and the lady who prayed in stone,
The silent place, where the very moth
Had left for a season to fret the cloth,
Where the dust lay white
In the pallid light
And the spider's-web forbad the way,
Where many a Tyldesley, now no more,
Had bent his pride in the days of yore,
And three sad souls on a morn of May
Had prayed vain prayers each one in his way.
The old wife holding by book and bead,
Told of her Paters and Aves a score;
Then paused in the pang of a newer need,
Started and told off a dozen more;
Craved God's grace for a heart too sore;
And maundered again in her dull despair,
Nor dreamed that her bleatings went up as prayer.
But Valery set her fair young face
Keen with sorrow, to front the place;
And she thought as she looked on the vacant spot,
Of him who was, and of those who were not;
And she seemed to see where, five of a row,
The coffins lay in the crypt below,
With a space betwixt them for just that other:
And 'Patience,' she said in her heart, 'good mother!'
Then fell upon Saviour's stones again
And poured out to heaven the heart of her pain.
'O Thou who boundest souls of men
In walls of clay, with word divine!
Who lookest through the darkest den,
And seëst where Thou canst not shine:
Thou who canst quicken with the heat
Of living love, the dullest parts
Of earth, until we see thee beat,
And feel thee glow in human hearts:
O light that smilest over all—
O sun that warmest great and small—
O Love still watching evermore
With Jesu at each sinner's door—
I—mortal woman—love but twain;
And the, O God of Love, in vain!'
'I love in vain, and worse than vain,
My love hath been a froward fate,
My love hath let in strife and pain,
My love hath op'd the door to hate:
O Lord, what sorrowful employ
For love that would be dealing joy!'
'What hast Thou seen in me to chide,
Or is it pity, lord, or pride?
One love,—a mother's dying gift,—
Was nursed of sorrow, was it ill
If faint of heart, I sought to lift
A weight which bent him to Thy will?'
'One love broke forth,—a sudden flower
Clear through the mystery of life;
God! first I knew Thee in that hour
He held me to his heart—his wife!
I saw the flower, I judged the fruit,
I said ‘great love is at the root!’
I sought the end of life no more,
I knew Thy love was at its core;
But still mine own was glorified.
And haply I have err'd through pride.'
'He was too rich for pity,—he,—
And I too poor for lowly love;
My spirit yearned to bend the knee,
My downcast eyes to look above;
I never questioned of the state
Of one who in himself was great;
A crown had seemed a sorry sheath
For that great brow to rise beneath;—
The prouder I that could divine
The worth that had no counter-sign.'
'Mother not straightened, no, nor cold
The heart that melts mine own with love!
But only, cast in mightier mould,
He looks beyond us, or above:
And, centred in a soul so fair,
The freëst thought would hardly care
To wander forth on idle wings,
Or fit itself to meaner things.
Sweet Christ! whatever be my state,
So hold him high,—so keep him great!'
Her folded hands fell faint and meek,
Her knees on foot-worn stones were bowed,—
Tears dried unheeded on her cheek,—
And still the woman's heart was proud.
She pressed the stones but prayed no more,
Her lapsëd thought was fluttering o'er
That grove of paradise where glows
The lamp of flowers, the wilding rose,
Whose vermeil skreen though shyly furled
Reveals the flame that lights the world.
But when there past a mouldy breath,—
A summons as from life to death,—
Before her face,—she turned again
O'ertaken by a ghostly pain.
'Can mothers taste of heaven's peace?
From love can death afford release?
I seek thee with the ransomed dead,—
I find thee in thy narrow bed!
The hands so fain to linger still
About his brow, or work his will,
Lie idle in the crypt below
While mine I ring in helpless woe!
The heart beneath their weight opprest,
That so we thought must sink to rest,
I see it bleeding in the grave,—
Its love all-powerless to save!
The hymns which tell of Jesus' birth
Send up their jubilant 'All hail!'
But through the quires of heaven and earth
I hear but one despairing wail;
I seek to end thy work in vain,
Love cleaves my stedfast heart in twain;
Dear Christ assoil me of my oath,
Help Thou the son and mother both!'
As old and young returned from mass
The goldsmith stood to see them pass;
But he set his ear to the turn in the street
For the measured cadence of Valery's feet.
'For all the prayers you have prayed, you three,
Hath any one prayed a prayer for me?'
These words as light as the ocean froth
Seemed borne to the ear on a blast from the north.
'Sweetheart we were but twain, not three,
If I bore not thy spirit along with me;
And never,' she faltered, 'O nevermore
Will the three ye wot of see Saviour's door.'
Doubting and angered he turned man-wise,
From the pleading sorrow of Valery's eyes:—
For more than death if love is strong,
So more than death it may us wrong,
And shadows of its morning light
Are blacker than the dunnest night.
A golden missal-cover lay
Nigh finished 'neath the goldsmith's hand;
His thoughts had drifted far away;
His latest touch was on the brand—
The fiery sword the angel held
Before the gates of paradise—
Blinding with utter light the eyes
Of two lone wanderers, sin-expelled.
A touch dropped tender as the breast
Of brooding bird upon its nest
Into the goldsmith's palm; his cheek
Was fanned by one who bent to speak:
'Man's passion is a sword as dire
As this, God's awful love, such fire.'
The goldsmith put the touch aside,
And scarcely checked a rising oath;—
'She loves him so that she would chide
Me only for the sin of both.'
And thinking thus, the goldsmith broke
With work, nor made another stroke.
A bitter, moody man was he
Who leant against the tulip tree,
Or in the twilight round and round
Still paced the narrow garden bound.
A darkened spirit, vexed and sore
Had he who nightly at the door
Eyed Valery, perchance to win
Some tidings as she entered in.
And still her answer was the same
At mention of her brother's name:
'Gerard is sick;' at which reply
He muttered, 'So would God were I.'
The keep was tottering to its fall,
But Ivy clamped the failing wall;
And on the side that faced the down
The ivy had a berry crown;
And where the ocean's bitter breath
Had caught it, still it clung in death,
And over cracks and weather-stains
It started out like swollen veins.
And every day at the turn of the tide,
The ancient tower had grown to be
More and more a thing of the sea.
For every day the sea would hide
Some ocean gift in the dinted side
Of the rock whereon it grew, and take
Some earthly product for keep-sake.
And every day at the set of the sun
The earth had lost and the ocean won
By the soft exchange, and had grown to be
More and more the prize of the sea.
And every day at early dawn,
When Gerard looked from his turret high,
A little more of light had gone
From land, and sea, and sky.
And every day his tale of work
Was rendered under greater irk;
And every eve the twilight stole
A little sooner o'er the whole;
And every night he lay awake
And thought the day would never break,
And heard the sobbing of the waves
At work within the lonely caves
That mined the turret where he lay
Wishing like Paulus, for the day.
And sometimes forth the moon would come
And gaze upon him white and dumb;
And sometimes he would choose a star
And send his curious thought afar
To meet it at its awful source,
Or follow on its lonely course.
But oft to him his kinsfolk came
From out the past and stood around;
He knew each one by sight and name,
He knew their voices' various sound,
And stalwart warriors, armour clad,
Would look on him with eyes so sad,
That his, which had been dry for years,
Were wetted with self-pitying tears.
And sometimes when his sister came
Bringing the morning in her hair,
And in her eyes the pure soft flame
Of human love, and cleared the air
Of thick night-fancies with her breath,
And with her hands' cool pressure chased
The vagrant thoughts which burn to waste,—
So with quick life abashing death,—
Those tears of lonely anguish yet
On Gerard's wasted cheek were wet.
And Gerard, risen in his bed,
Would sit and wander with his eyes
About her brows, her cheek, her head,
And hold her hand on such a wise
As they who drown will clutch and clasp
The one thing steady to their grasp.
And loosing of his hold at length,
When he had won a little strength,
Gerard would say: 'Now let us put
The time to profit; hand and foot
We two must work to mark the place
Where I was baffled in the chase;
Great God! if any step were lost
Of those I conquered at such cost!
Through issues that were blind to me,
Some future thought may wander free,
And men will bless me when they say:
'So far he came upon the way.'
And then they noted in a book,
Step upon step, the path he took,
To lose at last in empty air
All shows however strong or fair;
Leaving for souls unborn to find
The hidden path beyond the wind.
And when the day was half-way done,
And she from household tasks had won
Some further salvage, she would come
Again, and would resume the sum
Of work, that finished, should release
A spirit to its final peace.
The sun was sinking, round and red,
When Valery to Gerard said:
'Beseech you, brother, now give o'er.'
And Gerard thought awhile, and took
A deeper breath; then closed the book,
Smiling: 'I've measured work and strength,
And find them fairly of a length;
The record is so nearly done,
To-night I may behold the sun.'
So Gerard Tyldesley worked no more.
He worked no more, but for a space
Sat gazing westward from his place,
His hand upon her lifted head,
She sitting at his feet; so fled
The moments with the flitting sun;
But there are moments, dearly won
From time, so precious with the deep
Things of the soul, that they will keep
Fresh amid chance, and change, and strife;
Pure samples of our vanished life.
And such an hour was this; had they
Two lingered earth-bound till to-day,
They could at will have felt again
That rare keen breath of bliss and pain
That held them silent, with their eyes
Drinking in light from other skies,
The while they watched the orb descend,
And waited for the seeming end.
The sun was dropping, red and round,
And still with rays of glory crowned,
Into a royal purple cloud,
A fringéd mantle, or a shroud;
And dotterels circling down to land
Upon the barren isles of sand,
With dusky backs and breasts of snow
Seemed in mid-air to come and go;
While on the bosom of the beach,
That soon they might no longer reach,
The little wavelets broke in plaint
O'ertaken by the soft constraint,
Which, howsoever they might chide,
Still drew them with the ebbing tide.
A step upon the turret stair,—
No wandering of the prisoned air,—
A wafting step which seemed to bring
A man before you, as the wing
Will bear the bird where it would be:
It was the goldsmith,—none but he.
He paused a moment, for the hour
Was weighted with an unseen power.
He paused, and sobbing on the beach
They three could hear the waves beseech
The steadfast shore to hold them back,
Or else to follow on their track.
Of all the mighty warrior band
That nightly at his couch would stand,
Gerard had seen no form, no face,
More noble or of manlier grace
Than that which rose before him then,—
From head to heel a man of men.
The faded walls, the sunken floor,
The broken pictures in the glass,
Seemed each to shrink and pale before
The goldsmith as they saw him pass.
So bright upon him was the sheen
Of youth, so rich the flush of health,
That low things grew to look more mean,
And poor things poorer for his wealth.
He spoke: 'I come not here as one
Claiming a wife who fain would shun
His presence, but as faithful groom
To guard a lady through the gloom.'
And Gerard answered, keen and shrill:
'Be husband, groom, or what you will;
My need is sorest now, and she
Will stay and watch this hour with me.'
Whereon his sister bent her head:
'Gerard is sick,' was all she said.
'I would that I had such a hold
Upon your love; but I am bold
To think your brother somewhat strains
The means that are so rich in gains.'
'It is the sun that burns so red,
For he is ashen pale,' she said.
And he was pale as pale could be;
But paler than the pale was she.
The goldsmith gauging of her fears,
Grew mad, and madder at her tears.
'I call to wit the God above,
You wrong him by your too-much love!
With mien so fierce, so bright of eye,
How think you that a man should die?'
'That light,' she moaned beneath her breath,
'Is wrath, and wrath for him means death.'
A man encircled in his ire
Is closed as in a wall of fire,—
An inner hell beyond the reach
Of woman's tears, or woman's speech.
For all he knew of spoken word,
For all he felt of touch, or tone,
For all he heard of sigh, or moan,—
The goldsmith might have stood alone.
And words of passion, long-repressed,
Now fell like blows upon a breast
So soft with pity, and dismay,
That as they smote they seemed to slay.
He charged them with his broken oath,
His honest purpose, wronged by both;
His fury like a tempest drave
His thought before it; as the wave
Is breasted by the straining bark,
So Valery in the loveless dark
Wrestled for more than life, wailed, wept,
Clung to his hands, then desperate swept
Her tears away and knelt distraught,
Abjured him by their love, besought
His ear in many a word or tone
Coined, tuned for him, and him alone.
In vain; she beat against the wind
Which thundered at her deaf and blind;
He cast her off; his soul at strife
Thronged all the issues of his life.
Then Gerard rose with sobbing breath,
Wrath wrestling hand to hand with death;
Hard, struggling words of pride and scorn
Pressed to his lips, and fell still-born;
The shadows of the final ill,
The last defeat, were on him, still
With crippled frame and stature low
Upreared to meet his stalwart foe,
One faint protecting hand he spread
Before his sister's prostrate head.
O wall of fire! O burning night
Of sin, that blinds with lying light!
The goldsmith felt his wrath defied
By those sad eyes from which there shone,
High in unconquerable pride,
A spirit tameless as his own,
And saw a man who forced a shield
Betwixt two hearts by love annealed.
'No more,' he thundered, 'hold your hand!
The thing you seem to claim is mine;
But death or hell I will withstand
The greed that overleaps that line!
I grudge you not my wasted store,
Glut your fell fires, then beg for more,—
But I defy you and the arts
Would lure from me, or rive in parts,
My proper prize, my treasure-trove,—
My whole, my perfect pearl of love!'
His voice, which like a trumpet stirred
The shuddering air, was felt as heard;
As Gerald reeled before the blast
Back in his place to gasp his last,
The frail, offending hand, swept down,
Lit on his sister's golden crown.
The goldsmith turned and made a stand,
Faced round, and saw the lingering hand,
And met the soul which seemed to rise
In flaming scorn from Gerard's eyes.
His madness spoke: 'You fret in vain,
This chafing can but clinch your chain;
Fume as you may, writhe as you will,—
A debtor is a bondman still?'
Brute passion in its fierce revolt
Mastered him wholly. As a bolt
Is thrown from out a cloud, so fell
These words to break like light from hell
On Valery's heart. Base words which told
Her brother of the chain of gold
Which bound him; light accurst which shone
Upon an image overthrown,—
The god-like image of her knight,—
The man who overmatching men
Had spared to gild his name in fight
Because no dragon had been found
That dared dispute with him the ground.
That image, flawless, undefiled,
Virgin of fame,—which won the child
Of dead Crusaders from her dream
Of maidenhood,—showed in that gleam
A craven foe, with arm unknown
To knighthood, striking at the lone
And fallen. So her god was hurled
From heaven, and falling, shook the world.
'Godfrey!' She wailed the goldsmith's name,
As from her heart there leaped the flame
And sentence of a fiery shame:
Shame, ruthless shame, that wastes and sears,
Shame, hot incendiary, that clears
Love's vernal groves, and quells its tears.
The cry that broke from Valery's lips
Was heard on board the out-bound ships,
Where hearts of men who scoffed at fear
Stopped beating for their ears to hear.
Yet none of all those sails in sight
But safely came to port again;
If wreck there were that summer night
It was not on the summer main.
But wreck there was; o'er one white soul
The billows of the tempest roll;
With that wild cry, that voice of doom,
A life had foundered in the gloom,—
Gone down and down amongst the waves
That yawned as in a hundred graves
Around her, and lay buried there
Past rescue in her love's despair.
When Valery rose again, she rose
As rise the fragments of a wreck,
Moved in new courses by the throes
Of a past passion, but no more
To put to sea, or steer to shore
With new-born purpose strong or weak.
So, guided as a body dead
By impulse of a spirit fled,
She—gathering in one glance the two
Before her—to the goldsmith threw
A gesture of the hand:
More lorn than wildest words could tell.
And then she turned from him and knelt
Again, and then the goldsmith felt
The deepening silence of the room,—
And lonely in the gathering gloom;
And weary eyes, no longer bright,
Were hardly lifted to the height
Of his; and then a voice which still
Bore witness to a tyrant will,
Pierced through the silence: 'I must go,—
My work unfinished,—but I trow
This graceless body, frail and bent,
Will lie beneath a monument
More rich and fair
Than any in the chapel there;
And I shall owe it to your hand,
Good Goldsmith!' So the weird command
Died out on Gerard's dying breath,—
And then the silence was of death.
And Valery knelt, the while a soul
Took stormy passage to its goal.
And then she knelt beside the dead,
And loud the 'Miserere' said;
Turning a blank white face above,
That caught no light from heaven or love.
His fiery wrath had passed as smoke;
To outward sense the goldsmith woke;
And saw the ruins of his life,—
The silent corpse,—the praying wife.
That kneeling woman—from his stand
He could have touched her with the hand
But she was gone from him, as he
One while from her; the moaning sea,
Had lain between them, and less far
Had they been sundered. As a star
Removed to coldest depths of space,
He yearned towards her from his place
In utter loss; for she was fled—
Her spirit following with the dead.
He wept and called upon her name;
She held on praying all the same.
He tried to win her to his heart—
Her chosen home;—but wide apart
From him, and severed from his love,
She set her stony eyes above.
At last she rose up in her place,
And turned to meet him face to face.
The goldsmith was a man to win
A woman in the teeth of sin;
And in his eyes were love and shame
Enough to burn out foulest blame;
But now upon this woman's sight
His beauty fell a thing to blight;
She turned from it in haste, and spread
A face-cloth to shut off the dead.
For days and nights she sat alone,
And listened dumbly to the moan
Of winds and waves, beside a bier;—
And sat and never shed a tear,
But kept the candles burning clear;
And 'twixt the day and candlelight—
The watching angels saw the sight—
Her face that waked, and his that slept
Became so like, the angels wept.
And so she followed, as they bore
The body all along the shore
To Saviour's Church with chaunt and prayer,
And left it in the chapel there.
And so she came and took her place
At table, and pronounced the grace,
And carved the meat, and never said
A word to mind them of the dead.
But pining as the days grew long,
And dwindling as she sat and spun,
And growing sadder in the sun,
And waxing whiter in the breeze,
And stiller 'neath the happy trees
That opened to a burst of song,
No mortal ever saw her weep,
No angel ever watched her sleep.
Oh, Jesu! she that was so bright,
How came she now to wax so white?—
The gold from out her hair to fail,—
Her tearless eyes to grow so pale?
And she who used to grandly sweep,
About the house to feebly creep?
Howl through the woods, when days are dark
And cold, ye stormy winds at will!
Break the dry boughs, and lash the bark,
Your wintry angers will not kill:
The blossom's withered,—stored the fruit,—
The fallen leaves renew the root.
But when the year's fresh fountain rises,
And every branch with sap is rife,
When nature trembles into crises,
And every twig is quick with life,—
'Ware winds of March! your cruel sting
Can blast the promise of a spring.
The goldsmith in these eerie days
Would steal behind, and stand a-gaze
Upon his waning wife, or he
Would serve her on his bended knee,
Or seek with arts of moving speech
The frozen source of tears to reach;—
Or pray her to appoint some pain,
Some mighty strain for heart and brain,
Some penance that would hold a dim,
Faint hope that she would smile again,
Though haply never more for him.
She was compliant, soft, and meek,
She let his kisses press her cheek;
But still in answer to his moan,
She said: 'My heart is turned to stone.'
But sometimes when she little wist
Would come sweet kisses still unkist,
Left over from the plenteous past—
To die upon her lips unblest,
To mock them from their marble rest.—
Mock them for they had kissed their last.
Then she alone would make her moan:
'Oh God, my heart is turned to stone!'
And then, his arm with fever strung,
Quick through the house his hammer rung
With nervous beat that did convulse
Its silence like a throbbing pulse.
And so a silver coffin rose
To sight,—a shrine that should enclose
A wasted body, wildly rent
Asunder from a soul that went
Unshriven to a doubtful goal.
And thus was Gerard's monument
Upreared in penitence and dole.
The goldsmith was not one to count
His work too costly, or to mount
The worth of gems or precious ores
With purpose to enlarge his stores;
But working on the monument,
He reckoned every moment spent;
And working on it for a year,
He prized each hour, and prized it dear.
He measured and he sounded it:
''T is solid silver every whit,—
Of fashion and device most rare,—
And I have sought to make it fair.'
But still he added work and stuff,
Nor ever felt it fair enough.
Yet when that silver coffer went
To Saviour's Church, beyond compare,
It was the fairest monument
Of any in the chapel there.
And there were masses daily said
In church for the unshriven dead;
But one there was who never wept,
Who seldom spoke, nor ever slept;
Who never had been seen to pray
For soul or body since that day
When she had knelt in direst need,
Nor God nor man had seemed to heed.
The goldsmith woke one night alone,—
He sought his love, but she was flown.
He sought her through the house and town,
And out upon the dreary down.
The snow lay like a winding-sheet
Upon the down; the sea was black;
And on the snow two naked feet,
Two little feet, had left a track,—
A line that inwards from the shore
Converged towards St Saviour's door.
Two slender heels were printed there,
Ten little toes in order fair;
The arch between them had not pressed
The sheeted earth, but all was guessed.
The snow lay like a winding-sheet,
The sea looked like a maiden's pall;
The goldsmith tracked those naked feet;
The stars looked coldly down on all.
The wind through bones and body blew;
The clock of Saviour's Church struck two.
It was a star and moon-lit night,
And Saviour's Church lay black and white
Betwixt the shadow and the shine;
The shadow fell on Saviour's shrine
And Tyldesley Chapel, but the tomb
Of Gerard rose from out the gloom,—
A burnished pyre whereon there lay
A saintly form that seemed to pray.
Oh, Christ! it was a moving sight,
That face so beautiful, and white
Of its own pallor, and the beam
That smote it with a silvery gleam!
The lids half closed upon the eyes,
The orbs uplifted to the skies
As in an ecstasy of prayer,—
But on the lips a dumb despair.
The linen flutings of her gown
From breast to frozen feet swept down;
The slender hands that joined in prayer
Rose upward from the bosom bare.
Her perfect limbs the coffer prest,
As in an agony of rest.
There Valery lay all cold and meek,
With icy tear-drops on her cheek;
So having learnt to pray and weep,
She may attain to holy sleep.
Fair as she left the goldsmith's bed,
She lay on Gerard's tomb—stone dead.
The goldsmith sat and watched that white
Still loveliness throughout the night.
And when the monks came in with morn
For matins, still he gazed forlorn.
And when they chaunted noon-day prayer,
The silent worshipper was there.
So,—when in trembling awe they said
The solemn masses for the dead;
And when they wailed the vespers out,
That broke in undertones about,—
They left him there; no heart, no hand
Had strength his purpose to withstand.
But when they came one murky night,
And hid his love away from sight,
He spoke: 'Good people, I have spent
My heart upon this monument,
And I do think that none will dare
Deny me that my work is fair.'
He watched that night; and when the dawn
Crept in, he found his treasure gone.
The monument stood hard and bare,
And blank and dull, as his despair;
Till, to ling through the lonely years,
With touches tender as his tears,
He shaped an image of his love,
And laid it in her place above.
And still he works—the fishers say—
At that fair likeness to this day.
And so beneath the restless waves,
That murmur through the hollow caves,
Where Saviour's Church and Tyldesley town
Strangled by sand and sea went down,
You hear that dull persistent sound,
By wildest tempest hardly drowned,—
The goldsmith perfecting some grace
Of memory on the imaged face.
Pray that such weary work may cease;
God give all vexëd spirits peace!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010