BETA

Elfrida.

The summer sun shines warm and bright1
Sweet Devon’s bowers among,2
Where slowly ’ neath the forest boughs3
A hunter paced along ;4
And yet the wanderer loitered not5
To list the wild bird’s song.6
The echo of the distant horn7
Swept faintly through the wood,—8
Not thine the foot, Earl Athelwold,9
To shun the chase for flood,10
Or mount, or briery brake ; yet now,11
Still, silently he stood.12
From the fresh flowers another step13
Hath brushed the morning dew ;14
Light was the sound, yet well, I ween,15
That fairy step he knew ;16
Yet shuddered he as near his side17
A lovely lady drew.18
A portrait of Elfrida in historical dress. Her right hand is gesturing out and is slightly raised; her left hand is clutching her dress. She wears a thin crown on her head. Her head is turned slightly to the right. Full-page illustration.
Fair was the face half raised to his,19
Bathed in the sunlit glow ;20
So fair the forehead, you might see21
The blue veins wand’ring through :22
But fades the bright cheek faded at his words,23
Till marble-like it grew.24
She listens, seated by his side,25
Yet turneth she from him26
That face, without whose light of Love27
E’en day itself is dim28
To his fond eyes, where tenderness29
In tears of anguish swim.30
Why lowly pleadeth he ?  Can Love31
Then blanch the cheek so pale ?32
Are gentle hearts so hard to woo,33
Or loath to list Love’s tale ?34
And lips that sue so earnestly,35
Oh, shall they not prevail ?36
Why do those whispered tidings make37
Her slight hands spurn thine hold ?38
Why do her blue eyes meet thine own39
With glance so stern and cold ?40
Who quaileth at a woman’s wrath,41
Oh, brave Earl Athelwold !42
By thine own vows first freely given,43
Elfrida, ’ t was for thee44
I did belie my peerless bride,”45
Thus wildly whispered he,—46
Let no rude gaze of lawless Love47
Upon thy beauty be.48
Veil thee, sweet wife, lest Edgar’s eyes49
Thy matchless beauty guess ;50
Shroud thy fair form in homely guise,51
Bind up each flowing tress ;52
How could I bear his ardent glance53
Upon thy loveliness ? ”54
Uprose the Lady ; with a smile55
She passed the suppliant by,56
And through the noontide silence broke57
Her low voice scornfully ;58
He might have deemed a mocking fiend,59
An angel, hovered nigh.60
Oh, noble Love, that bravely sought61
Earl Olgar’s heir to wed,62
And worthy faith to loyal vow63
And kingly friend,” she said ;64
’ Tis well ! Fear not, but I will learn65
Thy devious path to tread.”66
She gains her bower, and at her will67
Her maidens bring the gem,68
The costly robe, and mantle gay,69
(What need hath she of them ?70
Oh, Beauty ! thou thyself doth make71
Thine own bright diadem.)72
My maidens, deck me fair,” she cries,73
And smooths the gath’ring frown ;74
Come, let my prisoned hair fall free,75
The azure mantle, down ;76
And bind the circlet on my brow77
That might have worn a crown.78
Bring pearls,—rich pearls, and let them hide79
My slandered beauty’s sheen ;80
Lack I a veil ? Each loosened tress81
Shall form a glittering screen,82
A golden one—’tis better so,83
And fitting for a queen.”84

****

Sound the wild horn,—the cymbals clash,85
And wide the portals fling ;86
A hunter’s train comes sweeping by87
Like birds upon the wing.88
Now to thy knee, Earl Athelwold,89
Ho ! welcome to the King !90
Bring forth thy bride !  With measured steps91
She answers to the call.92
On one sad gaze her floating robe93
Trails like a spectral pall ;94
As death-knell echoing on his heart95
Is that scarce-heard foot-fall !96
A crimson flush is on her brow,97
And in her flashing eye98
Strange lights, that whelmed in its bright gleam99
All child-like purity,100
Merging the heart’s imaginings101
In dark reality.102
Blushed she with woman’s native pride103
To feel that she was fair ?104
Came there no memory of the past105
Her bosom’s swell to share ?106
The holy lamp of Love is quenched107
In the fierce tempest there !108
The pale stars cast a fitful light109
Sweet Devon’s bowers among ;110
No sound of horn or mettled steed111
Disturbed the owlet’s song,112
With a mournful sough the midnight wind113
The alder branches swung.114
One slept beneath, and a purple stain 115
On the crushed flowerets lay ;116
The dew may fall, but that purple stain117
Will never pass away ;118
Nor the lark’s blithe note bid the hunter there119
Arouse him with the day.120
Waketh thy peerless bride, young Earl,121
With ev’ry sound to start,122
And mark each streak of the coming day,123
As she wept the last depart,124
While the icy hand of a sleepless dread125
Falls heavy on her heart ?126
One leaves thee not, lest the ravening wolf127
The direful banquet know ;128
From her circling flight o’er his master’s head129
Hath he scared the hungry crow ;130
And through each pause of the moaning wind131
Is heard a wail of woe.132
Oh ! faithful hound, more true than she133
Who oft beneath that bough 134
Hath sworn the vow thou ne’er hast sworn135
To him who sleeps below.136
Yet not for a stranger’s false caress137
Wouldst thou leave the fallen now.138
She wakes,—she watches Elfrida fair,139
But, Hunter, not for thee ;140
In the banquet-hall hath the cup passed round,141
But the young Earl, where is he ?142
Thrice three days hath the sun gone down143
Since he slept ’ neath the forest tree.144
Yes, the bride doth watch; but she weepeth not,145
Though the morning comes again ;146
And forth through sweet Devon’s forest glades147
Rides forth a hunter’s train :148
One loitereth there from that gallant band,—149
And she hath not watched in vain.150
Low, tender tones, and whispered vows,151
The soft breeze beareth by ;152
’Tis a royal lip that hath pressed her own,153
And she answers smilingly :154
But scared from her cheek is the ready bloom155
By a crow from a dark flock nigh.156
Up through the brake wheels the boding bird157
O’er the lovers’ trysting seat,158
And the rush of wings in the sultry air159
’Mid the alder branches beat ;160
But what beareth she in her bloody beak,161
And drops at the lady’s feet ?162
Ah ! why doth she shrink ?  ’Tis a soft bright curl163
That oft on her breast was laid !164
And she knew that the crow had a fearful feast165
On the loved, and the lost, and betrayed.166
She knew that, unwept and unsepulchred,167
Rested that fair young head !168
Long years passed on, but that lady’s lip169
No smile of gladness wore,170
For ever the crow seemed to stoop below171
O’er that bright curl bathed in gore ;172
And vainly the priest did shrive the twain,173
Still the crow was there, and the shrive was vain,174
For it left her nevermore !175