BETA

A Story of Olden Time.

A woman lays lifeless on the ground outside, propped up by a man who holds his hand over his eyes in an expression of anguish. Several horses in the background. 3/4 page.
So spake the gentle Lady Maude :1
He loves me not ;” —he said,2
Nay wed me unto whom ye list3
Now Margaret is dead ;4
But dearer than the reddest rose5
In bride-bower blushing brave,6
Is the little daisy flower that grows7
Upon my true love’s grave.8
And on my lips the kiss I took9
So cold from hers, will cling10
For marriage-bell for priest and book,11
For spousal troth and ring.12
So if in kiss of loveless lip,13
In clasp of loveless hand14
There lie a spell, old feud to quell,15
And quench strife’s smouldering brand ;16
If loveless bonds can fetter hate,17
Be then this bridal sped,18
Yet in an evil fate ye mate19
The Living with the Dead.”20

So spake the Lady Maude, and fast her tears fell down like rain :21
Ten long, ten silent years, my breast hath striven with this pain22
And flung it off a while, then ta’en the weary load again ;23
Ten years, ten years that I have lived the noble Guilbert’s wife,24
Have crept uncheered by look of love, unmarked by word of strife ;25
Within the house an honoured dame, a lady unreproved ;26
Within the heart a slighted wife, a woman unbeloved.27
Long, long ago, I thought this woe would cease, or I should prove28
How patient grief wins quietness, how patient love wins love:29
Long, long ago, I thought this woe would cease, or I should be30
Love-lifted up to happy life, death-gathered to the free.31
The smile of love, the smile of death, oh ! wondrous sweet they be,32
The Brethren’s and the Father’s kiss, and neither were for me !33
The Brethren’s and the Father’s love ; oh ! Father, having Thine,34
And can we seek aught else for joy, or in our sadness pine35
To rest on one another’s breast ; oh ! Father, can it be36
That we can need each other still ?— each other—having Thee ?37
Yet even so hast Thou been pleased to weave us in one woof,38
To bind us in one golden sheaf, that none may stand aloof39
From these sweet sacred bands, and say, ‘ In having One above40
So have I all ;’ that none may scorn his human brother’s love41
That Thou art mindful of, and thus since Thou hast loved us, none42
That loves Thee best, may ever rest in loving Thee alone !”43
So spake she calmer : “ He who made best knoweth how we feel,44
So dare I show Him of the thoughts that never I unseal45
To human ear, in very fear lest censure should lie cold46
With our dead fathers in their graves heaped o’er them with the
mould,
47
Or follow on my living lord ; nay, rather let this blame48
Be mine that dared to give him more than he hath cared to claim.49
And yet small blame, for who e’er lived with him that loved him
not ?
50
And never sign or word of mine hath wearied him, I wot,51
For from the first my heart its lot accepted, understood ;52
I saw that of the things he had he gave me what he could,53
No lady in the Marches sees for pleasure or for state54
So fair a train of servitors upon her bidding wait ;55
I never lacked for page in bower, for minstrel in the hall,56
For gentle merlin on my wrist, or palfrey in the stall,57
Robe, gaud, and gem, each costly gift that on love’s altar lies, —58
Were mine, but never with them that which only sanctifies ;59
And he perhaps who gave them all did never guess or know60
(For loving hearts run fast, and eyes unloving read them slow),61
That I had cast them from me fain, so might I but have found62
The greeting that he gave to serf, the look he gave his hound,63
The smile and largesse he flung down unto a vassal old,64
Fain had I gathered up the one and doubled him the gold.65
I am not fair as Marg’ret was ; yet faces have grown bright66
That nature made not so, methinks, when seen by household light ;67
And in the heart a mirror set hath shown them forth approved68
In every look ; not only they, the lovely are the loved !69
For never hath my name been borne on tilt or tourney’s din,70
Nor minstrel ta’en it for his song, a sweeter praise to win ;71
Yet children leaving brighter dames have run in haste to press72
Their rosy cheeks against my own, yes, children ! they could bless73
With unsought tenderness ; methinks a child upon my knee74
Had been a pleader winning love both for itself and me,75
A child’s soft touch, perchance, had stirred the springs of feeling so76
That even to my lips had risen its strong, calm overflow.77
Yes, even so, yet well I know these thoughts but bring unrest,78
They strive, but may not better that by God marked out for best79
For me the best, for every path, the sun-lit and the dim,80
The flower-strown as the thorny Way alike have led to Him ;81
Yet finding Love’s sweet fountain closed, it even thus befell82
That searching farther on I found Life’s clear upspringing Well.”83
So spake she fervent: “I have learned by knocking at Heaven’s”
gate
84
The meaning of one golden word that shines above it, ‘ Wait !’85
For with the Master whom to serve is not to ride or run,86
But only to abide His Will, ‘ Well waited is well done.’87
So waiting, on my heart sweet words, like fragments of a song88
Down floated from a happy place, have whispered ‘ Not for long.’89
So be it ; yet before I go, if I might but require90
One boon, if God would answer me in this my heart’s desire,91
Then would I ask, through toil, through pain, through death itself,
to see
92
My husband’s eyes, before mine close, look once with love on me.93
Then with this arrow that hath long through strength of pain
upborne
94
The breast that hid it, would my soul be gently, gently drawn95
Forth by a loving hand, that so my spirit as it passed96
Might breathe one slow and soft and low ‘ At last, at last !”97

Second Part

All night beneath a double weight, and followed by a track98
Of fire that flashed along the dark, the steed, with ears laid back99
As if he heard a cry behind, and was aware that death100
Or life was laid upon his speed, bore on with deep-drawn breath101
And nostrils quivering wide, until at length the stars withdrawn102
Had melted out into the dusk that comes before the dawn,103
Then cheerly to his steed outspoke the rider of the twain104
That bore the nobler, knightlier mien, and slackened girth and
rein :
105
Three rivers hast thou set between the foemen and our fight ;106
Now softly, gallant Roland, now, for soon by this good light,107
Slow-breaking pale o’er moor and dale, above the eastern hill,108
Soon shall I see my castle rise : art weary, Or art chill,109
Thou gentle youth, that tremblest so ? Nay, only with the cold110
I ween, for thou approved hast been for steadfast and for bold.111
Small speech has passed between us yet, small guerdon hast thou
shared
112
Of thanks as yet for all that thou for me hast done and dared ;113
But One shall thank thee, for I wot that on my lady’s ’hest114
(A gentle lady, true and kind !) thou camest on this quest.115
Yet tell me now, where foundest thou the strength, and where the
skill
116
To win at me, to set me free,—so young, so tender still ?”117
Then answered faint and low, the page, as one that strives to
speak
118
In spite of very feebleness : “ Thou seest I am weak ;119
So took I twain for counsellors that have been held from old120
More strong than any under heaven, and one of them was gold.”121
Long thoughtful paused the knight, put not above the page’s word122
That fell perchance upon his ear (so deep he mused) unheard,123
Then spake he: “ When at first I heard thy sweet, low-warbled
song,
124
That night by night came floating light around my dungeon strong125
Now far and faint, as if it woke and died among the stars ;126
Now nearer, like a friend’s kind voice beneath my prison bars127
I thought some spirit of the blest watched o’er me from above,128
And mourned for me, itself set free from all of earth but love.”129
But sudden spake the page, and clenched his hand, “ To thee it
seemed
130
That Love dwells only with the Dead ; yet have the living deemed131
That they could also love, I ween.” No further word he said,132
But ever fainter came his breath, and lower sank his head.133
Now rest on me, thou gentle youth, for thou art sorely spent ;134
So lean thy head upon my breast ;” and ever as they went135
Still firmer round his drooping form Lord Guilbert did enfold136
His stalwart arm, and strove to wrap and shield him from the cold,137
And whispered oft, “ How farest thou ?” and still the answer fell138
As from a soul that moaned in sleep, “ Yea, with me it is well.”139
So fared they on in silence, till at length as clearer broke140
A glimmer on the hill’s dusk edge, the boy, as one that woke141
Half roused from heavy dreams, spake slow,— “ This dawn to me
breaks dim ;
142
I pray thee lift me off from steed ere yet my senses swim,143
And bear me to the little well that springs beneath the hill,—144
Thou knowest it ?”  But then the knight spake soothingly
still,—
145
A little, little space, dear youth, yet bear thee up, be strong146
Thy gentle lady waits for us.” “Nay, she hath waited long,147
So may she tarry yet a while. O bear me to the place148
Where now I hear the waters flow—I ask it of thy grace.”149
Then kind as one with feebleness that will contend no more,150
The good knight lifted him from steed, and tenderly him bore,151
Light as an infant in his arms, and passive as the dead,152
Adown the grassy, woodland path, with firm and cautious tread ;153
And after them a sunbeam slid, a glitter struck all through154
The dell, thrid deep with gossamers and films besprent with dew ;155
On swift and silent sped the knight, yet at each step he trod156
He startled up the happy things beloved of Sleep and God157
And through the rustling grass and leaves a hum, a twitter broke,158
As if the Soul within them hid half-stirred before it woke,159
So gliding swift ’twixt heavy boughs that stooping seemed to sign160
With wet, cool finger on their brow a benison divine.161
They gained a rocky, moss-grown stair, and where the fountain
sprung,
162
One moment as above its deep, dark mirror, Guilbert hung,163
He saw each wild-wood flower and fern that grew around the
place,
164
And looking upward from its depths a white and deathly face !165
There smiled she on him in the light that never yet was cast166
By earthly dawn. “Thou knowest me ! thou knowest me, at
last !”
167
But all his soul grew wild, from lips as pale as were her own,168
He murmured, “ Blind as ever ; blind that only now have known169
Death, death !”  But with a quiet mien she spake, “ Not death,
but life,
170
The winning of a long-sought boon, the ending of a strife ;”171
And laid her head upon his breast, like one that wearied sore,172
Sighs deep, yet well content to know the struggle comes no more.173
He looked at her, he smote his hands together with a cry174
True heart and sweet, that hast not ae for one like me to
die !
175
O live for me !”  “Yea, would I fain, for what is death to prove176
What life bears feeble witness to—the steadfast strength of love ;”177
So spake she tenderly : “ Yet One above shall chose for me,178
That chooseth best, for each is blest, to live, to die—for thee.”179
O come unto thy place at last !” and to his heart smit through,180
With love and anguish Guilbert then the dying woman drew ;181
Two human hearts that Life had held apart with severance keen,182
Together met and mingled fast with only Death between.183
At length she raised a calm, glad face, and looking upward drew.184
Along, deep, blissful breath—again—again—for now she knew185
The token, it was Pain and Life together that withdrew.186
The sun broke solemn. “ There,” she spake, “ I see the golden
gate,
187
But not the word that shone for me so long above it— ‘ Wait.’188
Now with this sprinkling on my soul, this baptism, I go189
Where evermore from shore to shore the blissful waters flow ;190
I see them flash in sudden light, I hear them as they roll,191
The billows of the flood wherewith our God makes glad the soul ;192
There, by that river of delight, on goodly branches grow193
All fruits of pleasantness and peace, we failed to find below ;194
All blossoms withered in our heat, or blighted by our frost ;195
All things we missed and did not mourn ; all things we loved and
lost :
196
There, O my husband ! there this love of mine, that was not
given :
197
To bless thee on the earth, will bide, stored up for thee in heaven.”198