Three Hours; Or, The Vigil Of Love: Second Hour Poem by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale

Three Hours; Or, The Vigil Of Love: Second Hour

Many, many years ago,
When all the world moved very slow;
Before the light of Science broke,
Or Freedom's eagle glance awoke,
Many a fantasy was rife,
Linked with the mystery of life:--
Portents strange were on the air,
Shadowing forth the wrath of heaven;
And prodigies were everywhere,
For an humbler warning given.
Dreams and omens came to all,
And held the strongest minds in thrall;
And even the wisest wore the chain,
Forged by these phantoms of the brain.

'Ten o'clock!'--it strikes the hour--
On her knees the Lady bows;
She believes her prayers have power
To keep the foul fiend from the house;
So when young her mother told her,--
Few there be can change when older
Creeds received in childhood's days--
The girl believed--the woman prays.

It was the story of a Knight,
Prisoner in a haunted castle,
Where, from eve till morning light,
Evil spirits held their wassail;
He was pious, and his prayer
Kept the demon from his bed,--
But he heard it everywhere--
Heard its whisper, heard its tread;
Sometimes, with a stealthy brushing,
Like a cat it crept around;
Sometimes like a strong wing's rushing
Came the heart-appalling sound;--
Sometimes underneath his feet,
Like a slimy serpent twining,--
Once he turned his foe to meet,
And saw its eyes like hot coals shining,--
But it vanished with a growl,
Short and fierce like stifled howl!
Then the mother told her child,
While she listened, wonder wild,--
How at length the Knight was taught,
By an angel from above,
That if he would fix his thought,
In a prayer of faith and love,
At the close of every hour,
Till the clock had ceased its sound,
Never a demon would have the power
Even to enter the castle's bound.
'And,' her mother said, 'he breathed the prayer,
And never again was the demon there.
So, Grace, would you conquer the Evil power,
Be sure and pray at each passing hour.'

Such strange wild tales, with withering blight,
Came over her mind this long, lone night;
And as she prayed, and the clock struck ten,
It seemed to echo her low 'Amen!'
Its last vibration thrilled her ear,
As some sweet, soothing whisper near,--
She thought--'My husband will be here!
Even now, perchance, he's almost home--
I'll open the window and see him come:'
The door was barred where the Indian trod,
And she opened the shutter and looked abroad.

It was an early autumn night,
The moon should be above the trees;
But gathering clouds obscured the light,
And heavy from the neighbouring seas
The ghost-like mist in masses crept,
As though to crush the rising breeze,
And shroud the dying plants it wept.
And cold and clammy was the mist,
As its lips the Lady kissed,
While she leaned far out to see
What a moving shape might be!
'Ah!'--she sighed--'it is not he!'
'Twas a bush that shook in the rising blast,
As the wind, in strength, came rushing past--
Tearing the mist, and tossing it high,
The foam of night, in the face of the sky,
Till the stars were veiled by the rolling rack,
And her hope in heaven seemed beaten back!

She drew within, the shutter closed,
And wished her child would wake;
And yet so sound the boy reposed,
It seemed a sin to break
His slumbers--'Ah! he has no fear--
His guardian angel must be near,--
And like a child I, too, will trust;'
As she spoke a furious gust
Tore open the shutter, and trampled the room,
Howling around like a voice of doom,
And left its breath of chill and gloom!

Then came another mournful tale,
Syllabled by the wind's deep wail
Like words, to her awakened thought,--
How a cruel King was brought
Into an abbey to 'scape his doom;
The fiend couldn't enter the holy room,--
The door was blessed by a fasting friar--
The hearth was red with a palm-wood fire;--
But the window was weak, and the fiend burst in,
As he bursts a storm--with dreadful din!
The cruel King he breathed his last
Ere the storm was o'er, or the window fast.

And while such fearful visions rose,
Loud and louder the tempest blows!
It shook the door with a strong man's might,
--She thought she heard her husband there--
The sound, it died in the arms of night,
And all was still as grave-yards are!
She rose to unbar the cottage door,
But paused until the gust was o'er,--
Her husband's voice was heard no more.
And tears gushed as she turned away,
By her lone hearth to watch and pray.

Then a fierce crash shook the roof,
Like a giant's arm descending,--
Heart of man would scarce be proof
To the danger thus impending:
Craunching on, it seemed to tear
Downward to the cottage eaves--
Then leaped madly through the air,
Scattering wide the fallen leaves!

Upward gazed the Lady pale,--
And then another awful tale,
By unhallowed witchcraft wrought,
So freshly to her mind was brought,
--A story in her childhood heard,
When she believed it every word--
The weird-like drama seemed to ride
Even then before her straining eyes!
Or as our morning visions pass,
Or figures o'er a magic glass,
So came that old, unearthly tale,
--No marvel she was deathly pale.

Once a holy man was set
Watching where the witches met!
Open Bible, naked sword,--
And three candles on the board,--
There the godly man was set
Watching where the witches met;
Knowing well his dreadful doom,
Should they drive him from the room.
The candles three were burning bright,
The sword was flashing back the light,
As it struck the deep midnight;
While the holy Book he read,
And all was still as are the dead.
Suddenly there came a roar
Like breakers on a rocky shore,
When the ocean's thundering boom
Knells the mariner to his tomb!
The good man felt the struggling strife,
As the ship went down with its load of life!
His seat was shaken by the roar,
And upward seemed to rise the floor!
While round and round, as eddies hurl,
The room and table seemed to whirl!
Yet still the holy Book read he,
And prayed for those who sail the sea.
Then came a shrieking, wild and high,
As when flames are bursting nigh,
And their blood has stained the sky!
'Fly! fly! fly!' in a strangling cry,
Was hoarsely rattled on his ear--
While the crackling flames came near!
And still the holy Book read he,
And prayed for those where fires might be.
And then appeared a sight of dread;
The roof was opened above his head--
He saw, in the far-off, dusky view,
A bloody hand--and an arm--come through!
The Lady seemed to see them too.
Downward, pointing towards his head,
That long, bare arm, and hand blood-red,
Came slowly, like a thought of dread!
The Lady seemed to see them come--
That arm of might, and hand of doom--
Slowly coming!--coming!--come!
Ah, the sword is in his hand!
Man of God, be valiant now;
In the name of Jesus, stand--
Strike! strike the blow!
'Tis done;--the chill of death came o'er her,
The bloody hand seems rolled before her!

We may smile, or coldly sneer,
The while such ghostly tales we hear;
And marvel why they were believed,
And how wise men could be deceived:--
--Bathing our renovated sight
In the free Gospel's glorious light,
We wonder it was ever night!
'Tis Christian Science makes our day,
And Freedom lends her gladdening ray;
And we forget, 'neath our fair skies,
The world that yet in shadow lies;--
That India bows to Juggernaut;
And China worships gods of clay;
And healing amulets are bought,
Even where our Saviour's body lay;
And holy miracles are wrought
Beneath St. Peter's cross-crowned sway;
And over Afric's wide domain
The powers of Death and Darkness reign!

Then marvel not, while thus was brought
Tales long believed, to her lone thought,
The Lady's heart was faint with fear--
That twice she thought the fiend was near,
And pressed so close he shook her chair--
She started--looked--and nothing there!
And twice she seemed to hear a sigh
As when the soul and body part,--
And then a chilling breath stole by
That checked the pulses of her heart,
And froze the current of her blood--
While on her brow the cold pearls stood.
--How could she gain the strength and power
To bear her through this long, lone Hour?
She cast her burden on the Lord;
She trusted and believed the Word:
The Bible in her hand she kept,
And watched her infant as he slept;
'And oh! my son,' she firmly said,
'Never shall such tales of dread
Be told to you as I have heard,--
And never shall your soul be stirred,
While faith is warm, and reason slow,
With scenes of fear and thoughts of wo;--
I will teach you God is love,
And then such blesséd hopes instil,
That, through life, your joy 'twill prove
To read His word, and do His will.'

And thus when Freedom's advent came,
Brave souls appeared to hail her light;
The mothers--they had lit the flame
That gave the People hope and might;
For trust in God must ever be
The Power that makes and keeps man free!

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