BETA

The Bell.


When legends of Judæan hills1
Began to haunt the German rills,2
Nigh where the Marg, to join the Rhine,3
Flows down by Castle Eberstein,4
An old man dwelt, a hermit grey,5
Ere yet the fear had passed away6
Of Hertha from the haunts of men :7
Still many a grim and hidden glen8
Flared with her stealthy altar-fires.9
Sometimes a touch of old desires10
Burn’d in the bosom of the man :11
For he had been, ere he began12
To serve the Christ, a libertine.13
Then, kneeling on the rushes green14
That strew’d his cell, be aloud,15
His head with bitter grief was bow’d16
Before the image of God’s woe,17
Until the fend was fain to go.18
It fell upon a winter eve,19
Strange fantasies he ’ gan to weave,20
While raindrops splutter’d in his fire,21
And round his hut the wind rose higher,22
And roar’d and whistled in the pines :23
And deeper grew the deep-set lines24
Of age and sorrow in his face,25
Lo, when the storm was still apace,26
He seem’d to hear a piteous cry,27
Come from some place his hut anigh.28
The wind, as he drew back the door,29
Blew wide the rushes on the floor,30
And drove the log-fire’s ashes wide.31
Then he beheld, close at his side,32
A woman stand his hut within,33
With chattering teeth and raiment thin.34
Now, Christ ! ” he muttered, “ me befriend ! 35
She is an angel or a fiend,36
Or she had perish’d in this storm.”37
But she began her hands to warm,38
And, kneeling near the woodlogs’ blaze,39
She seem’d to see the better days40
That once befel ; nor spake a word ;41
Till beating of his heart he heard.42
She had blue eyes and yellow hair,43
And every lineament was fair.44
And suddenly each curve and limb,45
Half-bidden, was a joy to him.46
Her beauty made him glad, as one47
Who, when the long day’s work is done,48
Feels water lap his weary feet,49
And soothe him with its influence sweet.50
Then, angry with himself, he cried,51
What seek you on this bleak hill side,52
On such a night ? or are you dead ? 53
Then, looking round the hut, he said,54
What ! I have slept ! How strange a dream ! ”55
But still he saw the golden gleam56
Of fair hair reaching to the floor.57
And, seeking to be fool’d no more,58
He touch’d the shoulder fair and white ;59
But only knew a wild delight60
Thrill’d him to marrow of the bone,61
As softly, with a dovelike moan,62
But neither bashful nor afraid,63
Upon his knees her head she laid.64
Then, fearfully, he raised his eyes65
Athwart the lattice, with surmise66
Some one benighted, wandering,67
Should per and sees strange a thing.68
But she, in accents musical69
As bells that at the sunset call70
The folk to prayer, said, “ Dost thou fear ?71
Though I should stay with thee a year,72
It were no hurt ; still I should be73
Invisible to all save thee.”74
What fancy made him tremble so,75
With dread, with joy, such truth to know ?76
But gently lifting in his hand77
The hair, as yellow as the sand78
In lonely weedless sea-reaches,79
He said, “ Fair child, what locks are these,80
To have the rough wind beat among ? "81
But she, now crooning a low song,82
Wrote on the ground a mystic rune :83
And he remember’d well the tune84
Which oft, in youth the priestesses85
Sang ’ neath the haggard old yew trees.86
What fears within his soul arise !87
He knew the saga’s withering eyes :88
He knew the clutches of the fiend89
Have those that love her in the end.90
But each breast’s tender areole91
With beauty had ensnared his soul.92
Wilt thou,” he said, “ the Christ confess ? 93
But, gazing on her loveliness,94
The words upon his lips seemed vain :95
And all the days grew fresh again96
Of his lost manhood ; and the days97
In which he follow’d holy ways98
Grew into phantoms lean and wan.99
The vex’d blood in his veins began100
To beat like floods whose gates are shut ;101
And lonely seem’d his mountain hut.102
Soon, tremblingly, his hands begin103
To stroke the cheek and little chin,104
He gently raised the sweet-shaped head,105
And drew her on his knees, and laid106
Her breast against his rougher breast ;107
And placed the soft round arms, to rest108
One on each shoulder : then, I wis,109
The white and lissome neck to kiss110
Stay, love ! " he cried, “ stay here awhile ! ”111
She answering, with a subtle smile,112
And skill in heathen artifice,113
Raised to the crucifix her eyes :114
Nay, love,” she said, “ nay, love,” she said,115
With that wild sorrow overhead ? ”116
Then, hastily, with brain afire117
Blind with the passion and desire,118
As one, who, in foolhardiness,119
Too near a steep clif’s brow will press,120
Must leap, he stagger’d to the wall,121
To hurl from its poor pedestal122
The image of the oft-slain One.123
But, ere his hand was laid upon124
The well-carved wood, he heard a sound,125
That to the floor his feet fast bound,126
The tinkling of a little bell :127
Then, with a bitter shriek, he fell.128
And, in the morn, when storms were still,129
And sun and shadow clothed the hill ;130
And all was peace, and deep woods rang131
With axe-strokes, and the woodmen sang ;132
The hermit good, whose old grey head133
The peasant loved, lay stark and dead.134
One hand a little cross clasp’d round,135
The while the other clench’d the ground.136
Two figures meet in an open doorway. A woman dressed in white stands at the door’s threshold and looks toward an old man who stands inside. The man is dressed in black robes. He gestures hesitantly toward the woman. The two figures are in a wooden interior. An axe and a log lie on the floor and a crucifix hangs on the wall. Outside, it is dark and rainy. Full-page illustration.