BETA

CONSTANCE DE V——.

AN EPISODE IN THE EARLY LIFE OF CHARLES MAURICE, PRINCE DE TALLEYRAND.

Two figures in robes stand on the steps of an arched entryway. The man clasps the woman’s right hand. Three books lay on the ground to the left of the woman’s legs. 3/4 page.
Ye maidens of Old England !1
The joyous and the free,2
The loving and the loved of all,3
Wherever ye may be ;4
Who wander through the ferny dell,5
And o’er the breezy hill,6
And glide along the woodland path,7
All at your own sweet will ;8
Who know the many joys of home—9
The song, the smile, the mirth,10
The happy things which God hath given11
To bright this our earth ; —12
Comes there a sigh, a longing thought,13
In lonely, musing hours ?14
Deem ye there is a fairer realm,15
A purer faith than ours ?16
Oh, cast away the yearning dream,17
And listen, while I tell18
Of one who knew no other home19
Than her own convent-cell.20

I.

The rain comes down relentlessly,21
The sky is robed in gray,22
Oh, Paris is a dreary place23
On such a dreary day !24
But dreariest of the dark’ning streets,25
Where the cold rain doth fall,26
Is that where looms the convent-tower,27
Where frowns the convent-wall.28

II.

A boyish step is passing29
Beneath the dripping eaves,30
With monkish lore beladen,31
With musty Latin leaves.32
Ah, ’ tis Charles Maurice, the young ab!33
Thou art of princely birth ;34
For thee shall dawn a brighter day ;35
A strange high part be thine to play,36
With wond’rous tact to guide and sway37
The great ones of the earth !38

III.

But the still-increasing torrents39
Will spoil the ancient tomes,40
And woe betide Charles Maurice41
From the wrath of cowl’d gnomes !42
So he seeks a low-bent archway43
Within the grim old wall,44
Where never the laughing footstep45
Of a sunbeam dares to fall.46

IV.

Anon he wraps the volumes47
In the folds of his hooded gown ;48
Then starts to hear, though he knows no fear,49
A sound which tells him life is near50
That he is not alone.51
He turns—the passage is dark as night,52
He listens—but all is still,53
Save the raindrops in monotonous march,54
And the ceaseless drip from the mouldering arch,55
On the stone so damp and chill.56

V.

Qui vive ? ” he cries right gaily,57
Through the cavernous entry’s gloom ;58
But a low, faint cry is the sole reply,59
As the voice of one who is come to lie60
On the brink of a yawning tomb.61
Oh, where is the true-hearted lad,62
Who at the call of sorrow,63
But in his thoughtlessness is glad64
To help the weak and cheer the sad,65
And promise a brighter morrow ?66

VI.

The cry was one of weakness—67
Of weariness unblest ;68
And a pulse of gentle sympathy69
Makes music in his breast.70
Through the dark way he gropeth71
To the iron-studded door,72
Behind whose oaken grimness,73
Some dwell in cloistral dimness74
Who may pass out no more.75

VII.

There, in the glimmering darkness,76
He deems he can descry77
A small and sable-robèd form78
On the cold doorstep lie.79
The form is that of maidenhood ;80
And, in that boyish heart,81
It wakes a helpful tenderness,82
Like that which, hidden, yet doth bless83
Through a lov’d brother’s fond caress,84
Ere childhood’s hours depart.85

VIII.

What is it ? ” said Charles Maurice,86
In a softly-pitying tone ;87
What dost thou fear ? why art thou here ?88
And why that weary moan ? ”89
Then, lifting her with gentle arm,90
He bore her where the light91
Fell on a girlish face so fair,92
It seem’d a seraph light to wear,93
But for the sorrow mantling there,94
And the glance of wild affright.95

IX.

Why should I paint her beauty ?96
Have ye not often tried97
To tell of rosy lip and cheek,98
Of starlight eyes that shine and speak,99
Of cloudlike locks that vainly seek100
The snowy brow to hide ?101
And feel ye not, when all is said102
That words can ever say,103
The fount of beauty still is seal’d104
The loveliness is not reveal’d105
To those who list the lay.106

X.

Oh, words can never satisfy—107
They are too hard and real ;108
The subtle charm they cannot shew109
By which the beautiful we know110
The beautiful we feel.111
Perchance they speak the form, the mind,112
And draw the likeness well ;113
But at the closéd entrance-gate114
All reverently they bend and wait115
Where, ’ neath the marble-arching dome,116
In crystal-window’d palace-home,117
The soul itself doth dwell.118

XI.

And who may tell how lovely119
The gentle Constance seem’d,120
When through such clouds of sorrow121
Her meteor beauty gleam’d ?122
What wonder that all speechless,123
As in a trance of gladness,124
The young abbé stood wond’ringly125
Before such radiant sadness ?126

XII.

For the look of hopeless terror127
Was soften’d as she raised128
Those orbs of strange, quick brightness,129
And on Charles Maurice gazed,130
She saw the pledge of kindness131
Traced on that high fair brow ;132
Oh, no ! thou never wilt betray,133
But aid thou canst not ; say, oh say,134
Am I not lost? There is no way135
Of safe return, I know.”136

XIII.

Then the trembling hands she folded.137
Over the burning cheek,138
A wild and woe-born sobbing139
Forbade the lips to speak.140
Till quiet words of sympathy141
So softly breathed and low,142
And the touch of that young hand on hers,143
Soon bade her story flow.144

XIV.

I was a very little child,145
Not old enough to know,146
Perhaps kind looks had on me smiled,147
But I forget them now,148
When I was brought to live so coldly here,149
Where all goes on the same through weary month
and year.
150

XV.

I did not know how lovely all151
The world without must be ;152
The sunbeams on the convent wall153
Were quite enough for me ;154
But others came who knew, and then they told155
Of all that I had dreamt, but never might behold.156

XVI.

They told me of the mountains tall,157
Where they might freely roam ;158
They told me of the waterfall,159
With music in its foam ;160
They told me of wide fields and opening flowers,161
Of sloping, mossy banks and glowing autumn bowers.162

XVII.

Of other things they told me, too,163
More beautiful to them,164
Of gleaming halls where sparklets flew165
From many a radiant gem ;166
And then they told of mirth, and dance, and song.167
Would I had never heard, that I might never long !168

XVIII.

They said the sky was just as blue169
Above the convent towers,170
As where the arching forests threw171
A shade o’er summer flowers ;172
But I grew weary of that dazzling sky,173
And long’d to wander forth, e’en if it were to die174

XIX.

I did not want to change my lot,175
I knew it might not be,176
I only long’d to have one spot177
All bright with memory.178
To gaze just once upon the world I tried,179
And then I would return to be Heaven’s lonely bride.180

XX.

But, oh, I heard no sounds of mirth,181
No beauty I could see,182
I could not find the lovely earth,183
It was not made for me.184
And now my punishment indeed is sore,185
My only home hath closed on me its iron door.”186

XXI.

Yes !  in her fever’d restlessness187
She left her unwatch’d cell,188
When all around were summon’d189
By the deep-voiced matin-bell.190
And in the damp-stoned cloisters191
To rest a while she thought,192
Where cold, fresh air might round her play,193
The burning fever pass away,194
And coolness of the early day195
To her hot brow be brought.196

XXII.

Strange carelessness !  no massy bar197
Across the gate was thrown !198
She deem’d that world of beauty near ;199
She gazed around in haste and fear,200
Oh, none were there to see and hear201
The timid bird has flown !202
But the rain came down relentlessly,203
The sky was robed in gray ;204
All dreary seem’d the narrow street,205
And nothing bright or fair might meet206
Her of the white and trembling feet,207
No loveliness is there to greet208
That wandering star to-day.209

XXIII.

Then bow’d with shame and weakness,210
And disappointed hope,211
She only reach’d the heavy door212
To find it firmly closed once more ;213
Ah, who shall help, and who restore,214
And who that door shall ope ?215
The strong young arm of Charles Maurice216
Tries once and yet again,217
But the weighty portal baffles him,218
Ah ! is it all in vain ?219

XXIV.

But Constance darts one upward glance220
Of blent despair and trust ;221
There is no bolt, for daylight gleams222
Between the scarcely-meeting beams,223
Some unknown obstacle there seems,224
And conquer it he must.225
He strains his utmost strength, the sweat226
Ts beading on his brow ;227
It creaks—it yields ! O Constance, smile,228
The door is open now !229

XXV.

From her cheek the flush hath faded,230
As fades the evening glow,231
In pristine whiteness leaving232
The rosy Alpine snow.233
And like a breeze of twilight234
The aspen-leaves among,235
A whisper falls upon his ear236
From quivering lip and tongue :237

XXVIL.

Farewell !  Oh, thou hast saved me ! ”238
And the hand so white and cold,239
With lingering clasp of gratitude,240
Her wordless thanks hath told.241
One moment on that small, fair hand242
His youthful lips are press’d ;243
There is a reverence in his eye,244
For grief and beauty both are nigh ;245
She passes like a spirit by,246
To seek her cheerless rest.247

XXVII.

They are parted, like the dewdrops248
That linger in the smile249
Of a storm-begotten rainbow,250
But for a little while.251
Then one in lonely dimness252
To earth may soon descend ;253
And one with the bright sky above,254
Though all unseen, may blend.255

XXVIII.

The young abbé hath paused in vain256
To hear her footstep pass ;257
T’was lighter than the noiseless fall258
Of rose-leaf on the grass.259
No sound is heard but the pattering rain,260
And he slowly turns away,261
With the brown old books beneath his gown,262
To meet his abbot’s gathering frown,263
For loitering on the way.264

XXIX.

Think you he conn’d the loveless lore265
Without a thoughtful sigh,266
For the loveliness in sorrow,267
Which pass’d so trance-like by ?268
Among the missal borders269
Was no such angel face ;270
And such, once seen, fade not away ;271
Their image shines without decay,272
When on the canvas of the heart,273
With untaught skill, yet mystic art,274
Each line of light we trace.275

XX.

The wing of Time seems broken now,276
So tardy is his flight ;277
He deems by day that she is dead,278
He dreams she lives, by night.279
Till quick anxiety hath found280
A messenger to bear281
The tidings, that he strove to frame282
From woven hope and fear.283

XXXI.

What wonder that he heard not284
Her footfall on the stone !285
She sank beneath the cloister wall,286
Unheeded and alone.287
And ere Charles Maurice stood again288
Beneath the open sky,289
For ever on the things of earth290
She closed her weary eye.291

XXXII.

Constance, the beautiful, hath left292
Her dismal convent cell ;293
She hath not known one hope fulfill’d,294
One granted joy, one longing still’d.295
For her the melody of life,296
Was but one chord of inward strife,297
Was but one ruthless knell.298
Her heart bedimm’d with sameness,299
Her only wish denied,300
Oh, what a mockery it were,301
Her lot should such a title bear,302
Heaven’s own appointed bride ! ”303

XXXII.

Why should her early spring-time304
Be quench’d in wintry gloom ?305
Was it not merciful and wise306
To call her spirit to the skies307
From such a living tomb ?308
How might that gentle maiden309
Have scatter’d joy around,310
And made the earth a brighter place,311
For all her radiance and grace !312
But now, unsorrow’d and unknown,313
Her only memory is a stone314
Within the convent bound.315

XXXIV.

Is she the only blighted life316
And frozen fount of love ?317
Go, ask the sigh-beladen walls,318
The tear-stain’d pavements, and the halls319
Of tyranny, that loudly calls320
For vengeance from above !321
Nay, ask them not ; for ever mute,322
Their secret they will keep ;323
Of rusted hearts they will not tell ;324
The sorrows of the lonely cell ;325
Not yet, in characters of flame326
Blaze forth, and tell their legion name327
Who only lived to weep.328

XXXV.

O ye who speak of what as yet329
Ye do not, will not know330
Of sacred solitude, and life331
Devoted, far from worldly strife,332
To saintly rest below333
Go, search the fiction-passing truths334
Of history’s dark page335
And mark the tides of hidden woe336
That ’ neath the glittering icebergs flow,337
In grimly-surging rage.338

XXXVI.

Spake he in vain who said long since,339
Shew piety at home ? ”340
And shall the Word of God give way341
To dark deceits of Rome ?342
Take heed ! unknowingly ye stand343
Upon the flower-fringed brink344
Of caves which hope and joy entomb ;345
Ye fathom not their depths of gloom,346
Till, hopelessly, ye sink !347