Ernest: The Rule Of Right - Book XII

Capel Lofft

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Union, if e'er thy name should mean a truth,
How happy were the nations in that name,
How free! I wonder much that in slave-lands
The censor's pen should leave the word in print
Uncancell'd: raising by its utterance
Such threatening thoughts--for if in thy full strength
As men invoke thee, so thou wouldst stand up,
By Heaven, ere thou wert risen half thy height
Tyrants would fling them prostrate on their face
Before thee--scared into a most sage fear
At sight so startling. Monarchy 'gainst thee
What is it but one straw standing aloof
Against the stack? Were I a king--nay, that
Is not all evil--but a wolf-king, as some,
Thy whisper'd name would fright me more than din
Of thunder in my ears; I should so shrink
To hear it, as at sight of a sudden knife
On upstart slumber gleaming at my throat.
But now thy name is all--a shadowy name,
No more--yet haply, while it lives, or seems--
That shadow may portend a substance too,
Idle portent unreal. Men play with words
As boys with bubbles; and so blowing out
A full round word, think it a glorious thing,
And are content with it: counters for coin:
But where those counters are, the coin is not;
And who wins most is the unluckiest;
Fool's wages--Union, thou art a fair word,
And rife in many mouths; but thou fill'st not
The manly hunger that craves other food
Than wind--away with it--perish the phrase,
When that were perished a clear void would be,
And then would men haply bestir themselves
To fill it up with deeds.
Why! what strange dolts
Are we all, we busy bodies of this earth
Struggling, yet overlooking our only means
To make us mighty! We are as elements
Each by itself foredoomed to barrenness
Till all be blent together--Union in them
Is fruitful nature, and in us no less.
Clay, sand, chalk, mixed with mould. But oh thou Man!
Thou fool! That what we endure of general grief
Each of us all should mutter his sense of it
In his own breast! when fellow-utterance
Would swell the fellow-outbreak to a storm,
Such storm as they who will not bow to it
Must break before it. Oh most froward choice!
Choosing to sigh despairingly alone
Than shout triumphantly as patriots should
A bold conspiring shout. But we, ah no--
The might of such an Union was ne'er ours,
Else had misrule been blown away by it
As cobwebs from the trumpet, when its breath
Is louded blasted: thoro' 'twas ne'er yet.
And till it come, our weal must wait for it,
Haply so long, till Manhood pine away
To that poor thing called Patience--a dull sheep
Sheared many times, and slaughter'd last of all
In silly sufferance.
Would they look round
The many might learn wisdom of the few
Truly to bind themselves for their own good
E'en as their rulers do; for 'tis that ring
Doth make these men within it drivers, and those
Without it burden-bearers: makes them so
And keeps them; when it fails, lordship fails too,
Signally. In such danger, then, were they
Those lordly leaders, there in Gilnau met,
How best boldly, yet wary, to win way
Out of their peril. Thither their best power
Was drawn together; and all little enough
If number were the only rate of worth
For such encounter--but the warrior-sword
Hath more decision than a score clown-scythes,
Cumbrous, tho' big, and wielded cumbrously:
E'en in such surety they stood hitherto
'Gainst their ungainly foes: no fear of the end
But only lest that end be far to seek
For lack of a clear issue, and fair field
To fight it out--but later tidings now
Weakened their trust. Seldorf and Falkenstein,
Arenberg, Altheim, Bruhl, and Geisingen
The chief 'mong many others of less note
Met there to raise the mouldering standard up
Of lordly Law, and selfish wilfulness;
To crush Rebellion's head, and drag in dust
Its senseless body at their cannon wheels;
And there they now held council. Not as late
With overweening wrath; but doubtfully,
In earnest doubt, for many flying clouds
Had gather'd to one body, thick and dark
O'ershadowing the late cheer of hopefulness
Most gloomily: and Fame's latest report
Of ill was overlaid, ere an hour gone,
With something worse. Who rubbed their hands in glee
May wring them in grief. Behoved them all their strength
In such a strait as this, and all their skill
To make strength sure. Fearfully were they met,
And Distrust crept, a haggard mutterer,
Thro' that old Justice Hall. Each man of them
Sought comfort from his neighbour's countenance
And found but fear. "How now? thy brow is dark,
Thine, and all others here: haggard thy gaze;
Sure some unearthly mischievous portent.
Look round--what anxious strange alarm is this
That like the stern sway of a thunder-cloud
O'erawes us?" a dark dream--and the truth of it
Yet darker. Thus they felt--nor knew their doom
So feeling it: for the stern spirit o'erhead,
Watching his hour, the avenger of Man's wrong,
They knew him not. Else, 'stead of dumb dismay,
They had shrieked out at the sight--for look on him,
His arm is bared, and but one moment more
From darkness he bursts forth in a hurricane
And they, all thunderstricken by his bolt,
In wild tumultuous maddening agony,
Where shall we hide us?
At last, in the eager throng
Dismay composed itself to audience
And Arenberg rose up. Governor late
Of this same province, till War snatched from him
His peaceful rule, o'erbearing Law with its will,
Making its sword the sceptre. "Sirs, we are here,"
So said the calm and worshipful old man,
"Upholders of our lawful authority
Against this uproar. Whether to keep off
Rebellion, at sword's length, till it be slain,
Or else vouchsafe them terms: now, what we would
If our wills wielded it offhand, none doubts
'Tis nothing short of flat submission first
And then the headsman and the hangman's work
To follow after. That is easy said,
And haply, many here will say no less
Many and brave men--I mistrust them not
But he's yet braver who in the hot field
Will vouch the saying--'tis a dangerous proof
I say it steadfastly: most dangerous
As full of danger as the bravest here
Is full of daring to encounter it
This outbreak is no bubble--a week's growth
And now already a giant. This, I trow
Is our third day abiding here on watch
And needs but such a fourth to end us all.
Tidings are traitors, and blow Treason abroad
Blasting us with each breath. Stolberg is kept
In rebel hold, despite our utmost strength
Shivered against it--our worst brunt they bore
And beat it back--six score men lost to us
Worse yet, the devil hath sown tares thro' our best
Wheat, our own hands and arms against us turned
Young Linsingen, beshrew the silliness
That left him with such means of mischief there
Only to help his rebel brother's ends
Ere the assault, he and a hundred more
Took Treason's side--frankly went o'er to them
And fought so madly against us as they fight
Who from defeat to death have but one step,
And knowing that, are fain rather to die
In wilful proud defiance of the Law
Than by its doom. Then what ye've heard, how one
Half-crazy cobbler, weapon'd but with knife
And pistols, slew seven soldiers, ere they took
His hut, with his life too--and this for proof
As he harangued his fellows ere the feat
That householder o'er soldier hath the odds,
If will to use them.
Hideous this, but true,
And what seems safe, stands in scarce better plight
Than that clear loss--so spreads the black blood-drop
From the heart thro'. For I have tidings sure
That the more half of those who bide behind
Stay but on tip-toe; and those upbreakers
Have better right than we to call them theirs
Having the heart and soul of the whole bulk
Upon their side. Thus is our keystone gone
Dragging our main dependence after it
Ruining down on us; and all that's left
A show, no surety. Now, Sirs what to do,
That must your wisdom settle and work out
But suddenly; for in such din, such crash
Thundering in our ears, a minute's loss
May become everlasting death to us,
Then let each shortly speak his seeming out,
And mine is this. For war, we're weaker far
Than warrants it. Our strength is rottenness,
Our army falling off from us like flesh
In a fever--to us hollow and hireling-like
But native in heart-yearning to our foes,
A wolf less true to its keeper than its kind
Wilder than safe: long reared and fed by us
But for a rank and idle outlay in peace
In war a deadly home-thrust treachery
Betrayed, by whose sworn faith we trusted most
This for our soldiery--a hope, by the wise
Long seen but for suspicion, and which now
The simplest is unfooled of it--what yet
Stands, tho' ill-propped, our power, wealth, patronage
These were strong means when all things else were ours
Before these broils begun, this devil loosed
But now--they're but the golden harvestage
Against the whirlwind flame; feeding its wild
Foe, whom withstand it cannot nor yet flee
My lords--this sudden onflash of rock-oil
How quell it? we must try, being so weak
Some other trial than War's bloody work
Lest so our weakness fail before their strength
And then we stand forlorn--bare poles in the boat
Hands ugly, rigging lost.
Now we've no means
But friendly composition and fair terms
To help us to that end. The world is gone
After them--old things past--all become new;
Therefore the proffered peace we flung from us
In scorn, when pride of power prompted us
As regret vails not to recover it
So neither will I now spite the old sore
Handling it o'er again: only mark this
If ye would treaty rather than sharp war,
Surety than utter downfal, then be warned:
Bid liberal and largely, gainliest so
Else cheapening and haggling ye but give
Time for the tide to o'erreach us, and betray
Alike our fears and niggard narrowness
Paltering them with shams--with a beggar's dole
From the high-heaped wealth, which in plain truth ye hold
As by their toil, so at their mercy too
Poor and precarious--aye, 'tis salt truth
But we must swallow it: and I be sure
As loathingly as any of ye all
But what needs must, why, 'tis best gulped at once
Sour medicine we but embitter more
With our sour looks--therefore our polity
Boldly and without drawback--hear me ye shall
Be it the scapegoat of our property
And let the people freely take their turn
To rule us, as they must, despite of us
And so shall Allman's will be Allman's law
Better and safer, whatsoe'er befal
Than Allman's violence. Our lordly sway
Of birthright, burdensome, but gainful, no
E'en as a mantle of state, we must fling off
And meet them hand with hand, and man with man
Lest if we strive to keep it, shirt and skin
Be torn away with it: and the harsh tax
Whereby we now dishearten toil's hard bread
Frankly we must forego it. Church and State
Must be reformed to such a rule of Right
As squares with Reason: and in sacred things
No charge imposed, pain nor privation
'Gainst conscious choice; but where each man approves
There let him pay. More I might show to ye
But this till then: and thus I see some hope
Foregoing much to save more that remains
Sleepening their fire with sunbeams--but let none
Mistake, that yielding thus, we yield to the axe
The handle, whence to smite us, root and branch,
Nay--my good friends--if they be minded so
They've means already to fulfil their mind
Being thousands to one. So, if they're bent
To rob us, why, 'tis sure we must be robbed
But to hold parley with them in such wise
Makes them no stronger robbers than before,
And I have trustworthy intelligence
That there are many 'mong them will fall off
For such fair promise: lessening their force
And swelling ours. Else if we stand for all
We hold, tho' much of it, like a yule-log
In Midsummer, a clumsy stumbling-block
Useless to us, to them a sore offence,
Then were we swept sheer off."
He ceased, for wrath
Ruffled his hearers, and unwilling spite
To hearken; as when Severn, eddying down
By towering Berkley, embrued with kingly blood
Suddenly, 'gainst south western wind and tide
Dashes itself to foam, and high uprears
Its billowy crest--so his mild wisdom chafed
Their reckless will. This Ludwig saw--a shrill
Sharp, most shrewd lawyer. "Sir, the Governor
Says to us, gulp my physic--a dose perhaps
Of salts--well that were not so much--but no
He'd have us drink the whole salt sea--that's hard
To do; were drowned downright, goods, lands, and all
Ere our first draught: but there are ways and means
We need not take the open broad high road
Nor show our game--far better throw some sham
Tub to the wallowing unwieldy whale
That tempests now our ocean--give 'em then
Their Universal Suffrage, the whole hog
Sow, pigs, and all: needs not much nicety
Men, women, children too: for all that can
Duly and solemnly prove the child's ripe
Discretion, pick the plums from the bread cake
And from 'mong marbles snatch the lollipop--
And give each workman too a double vote
One 'gainst himself and fellows, one for us
Nay--never fear--we'll give it, yet keep back,
Keep in our hands the ballot-box: receive
All votes with most religious reverence
And with full faith--in our judicious selves--
Report them, how we will: that's pleasant and fair,
They the vote-dreamers, we the interpreters;
Then throw them that big tub; some others too
Smaller ones--but to hold all--hope it not.
Ye know the boy's tale of some twenty men
Wrecked on a desert isle: two lords, the rest
Workmen. At break of day, 'work, said the two,
We cannot, ought not, will not. Now, as then,
You must work for us.' So they did--fed, lodged,
Clothed 'em--but needful livelihood thus foreseen,
Then all took council for the general rule.
But no--you workmen are no councillors:
'Tis ours to rule, yours to obey: so spake
The lordlings; but the craftsmen? no--and thence
So severed, the whole rope ran back--must start
All from one level line, each for himself,
Win bread or starve--they grasped o'ermuch, those two,
So will not we, if wise."
True--but these men
Are but self-wise--upstarted Falkenstein
Hasty and moody, in scornful lordliness;
Haughty of behaviour even as of soul;
Noble, yet abler than nobility's wont;
And deeming of that fond o'erweening dream
As of some high and holy mystery
Faithfully to be worshipped, and no word
Of whence or wherefore. Outwardly withal
Bounteous; scattering largess with free hand;
As feeling, that the giver is glorified
And he who takes beholden unto him
In bounden duty: and so all he gave
It was brought back and laid before his feet
In such a shape as truly his pride loved
More than its pelfish one: worshipful words,
And lowliness and whispered deference:
For gold to him was dirt; trade-stamped; shop-trash;
He scorned and therefore gave it. Long had he marked
And with high-towering fierce disdainfulness,
How sturdily the craftsmen challenged him
And his compeers to prove their privilege
In rightful warrant: setting the Truth up
Against fantastic old Idolatry;
Thronging in lewdly and with prying points
Proving the stately fabrication's self,
That none ahould search too close, but fall flat down
And worship it. A wrathful man was he
To hear their hopes, much more see their success
"Gentlemen," thus fiercely he spake,
"If yet distinction be 'tween gentle and churl,
Which some would seem to doubt: and in all faith
As they doubt us, frankly, I doubt them too
That they are bastard--for sure, noble blood
Would ne'er so shame itself--nobles in name,
Addelheads only. We have heard what I
Had sooner torn my tongue up by the roots
Than uttered it: and so I trust would ye
Whoe'er is not a traitor. Here's a flood
Of mire, of filthy muck scouring this land;
And we are asked, will we bestir ourselves
To keep it out, or must we give it room
To smother field and home, all that is ours,
E'en to our halls, our hearths, our very beds,
With swinish sewerage--yet more--shall we along
To swell its stream--we nobles! to float down
Upon it, lazy as scum, foul as dead dogs,
Till sunk low under it at last! Why, when
Did insolence, howe'er bloated of late,
Did it e'er dream foreafterly like this,
Which statemanship, oh shame to call it so,
Would now uphold for Truth. Oh yes--for Truth
Herself, once rabbled, becomes rabble-like,
Fouled with her handler's filth. To reason it
I will not: but would fling all reason away
Sooner than give the thought room in my mind,
Tho' but to prove it wicked as 'tis false,
Wilder, than needs wisdom to argue it.
What, shall we do any the dirtiest deed
That e'er polluted earth? Eat our own sires
Rather than bury them? give to the arms
Of some strong hilding churl for his strength's sake
Our dainty daughters? These and the like things
Doubtless keen wits, scornful of the wiser world
Might quibble us why: for waive Nature away,
Nature by knaves and dolts called prejudice,
With pale Philosophy outwrangling her,
They may be holden useful--yet the man
Were a cur, an ape, to trust them--for all talk
Where inborn feeling loathes and starts from it
Is shame confess'd. Therefore to argue this
Were baser than to measure swords with a thief
In question of our honour.
What! is here
Any so craven of heart, but his blood boils,
Tho' but to think such terms? for my own, Sirs,
I'll spill it on the dust to the last drop
Ere I will hearken them. Rather a dog
Than such a nobleman. Then what needs more?
Say this king Lud and his brutish followers
Have Reason--well--their own is good for them:
Like their mud-huts--may dabble both alike
With dirty craft. But we--we'll keep to ours,
In theirs we enter not. Pride, say ye so?
Well then--we'll show cause: that stiff underclay
You'd turn it uppermost. No--as subsoil,
It gives our tillage a strong wholesome stand.
But the land's life and growth you stifle at once,
Bringing it on the surface. Howe'er, for us,
Gentlemen, all we would is hold our own:
And that we can and will. When I must yield
My castle and broad lands, my ancestral
Vessels, silver and gold, my shield, my coat,
The very shirt I wear for boorish backs,
To prank them just so sagely as the ape
Its pilfer'd garment; then, too, will I bate
The slightest tittle of my privilege.
No bugbear till such time shall fright me so
But I will hold them fast as my soul's faith;
And they who'd take them must fight hard for them,
To outfight me. Why, Sirs, our forefathers
Had scorned to back a foot, tho' for their lives,
From such a rabble; at the first onset
Had broken them, and then bruised them to bits,
For rotten stuff; and all they doubted of
Had been but this; the lustre of our swords,
Shall we so stoop to dim it with base blood
Instead of rope and cudgel? Oh let us
But dare so much as manfully do that
Which they did scornfully--to arm and fight,
Unless they flee us first, as like they will
Halfway; however, down with them I say,
Down with the bristling upstarts: as I rend,
Scatter and trample in dust this their broadsheet
So will we them as surely."
Boldly he spoke,
A boldness that caught many hearts beside,
Doubtful and cold before: and their new warmth
Grew next to fiery heat; for, while he spoke
All travel-toiled a messenger came in
Bearing glad news. Rebellion had been checked:
The tower of Mittenwald with arms full stored,
Had Weyer, hottest head of the rebel host,
And bloodiest hand, with a band tumultuous
Stirred by himself to the feat, attacked and won;
Won and then lost it with his own life too,
Slain there outright: and other men of mark
His fellows in that plot had rued it alike,
Sharing his death. Needs but a child's hand-shove
To shift the floating vessel; and their minds
Erewhile reeling unsteady to and fro
Caught that light breath and spread all sail to it,
So by the fickle favour of its hope
Steering amain further than eye could see
Across the unfathom'd ocean. Strong emprize,
Feeble assurance! but Hope soars or sinks
Bursting into a blaze, or dying away
From slightest kindling cause, if fuel it find:
And they from any catchword would take fire
As straws from a spark. Then hurried eagerness
Was rife, and greetings glad, and hasty scorn
Foresnatching the main upshot of the wheel
From one slight turn. Swiftly the word went forth
To strike at once home to Rebellion's heart,
Stunned, as likely it would, or much dismayed
By such strong blow. With trumpet then and drum
Was Peace noised off, from pleading her mild prayer;
Then loud and ceaseless stirring was the din
Of bloody preparation: revelry
Swilling the streets--banners aflaunt in air,
All scamps, shacks, blackguards, noble warriors now,
Outrageous license beckoned to come in,
And fill with uproar the scant time between,
Lest Conscience should grow cool, and thoughtfulness
E'en in those reckless souls turn into doubt
Which side were better, challenging free choice
Instead of helpless blindfold slavery.
Then all was soldiership, e'en to the games
Of aping children--and the heavy huge
Unwieldy bulk of war framed in array,
To move at instant need: nor only here
Did the hurtling Giant rise, and blow his blast
And bare his murderous arm. Treason and War
Are many-handed monsters, and their works
Manifold--striking with their thunder-stroke
Countries, and seas, and cities far between,
And all at once.
While here hurry was rife,
And Hermann afar off, on the wild coast
Stirred up the dwellers there, desperate men,
To a venture yet more desperate than their wont;
While so he fared, his father sate the while
In depth of a dark night; fearfully sate,
Brow bent toward brow, with Seldorf, that proud Count:
Of all the country around, and of that huge
Grey abbey-pile wherein they met, the lord
And landowner. 'Twas a confessional,
Where they held conclave; or had been--now books
Did the priest's duty and fulfilled his room,
Shelved round the walls, dark wainscoted and carved
With quaintest skill: and the huge oaken-door
Slow creaking, opened thence into a high
Arched hall; the Abbey Chapel aforetime
For the old Faith. They had outwatched the stars:
And the dark low-toned danger of their talk
With shadow of the doom awaiting them
Deepened the midnight gloom. Sure, such a cause,
Whether to stand or fall, and by what means,
Is deep deliberation: and the old man
Being a traitor, would seem something else,
And therefore needed many a round of words
To cloak his purposes: fold upon fold
As on a deep-coiled mummy, and nought at last
But filth and stench within. Long glozing he spake
Ere thus he ended. "Sir, what I have said
Be sure of it; much mischief hath he wrought;
And will much more; 'less he be timely stopp'd,
Nay, clean cut off: 'Twas he in Salfeld there
Having by night thither adventured him,
Stirred up his brother to take traitor arms
Himself, and his men with him, one and all,
Whence Stolberg, you well know, was lost. Now, Sir,
To rid him off outright, him your worst fear,
Hearken me how. The bridal is this morn,
This very morn; for look, by yonder clock
We are past midnight, and the way he comes
Is alike sure as his coming certainty.
But for myself, my tidings too, tho' high
Their worth, I ask no hire--only thus much--
The game I start, to see ye hunt it thro'.
So shall Rebellion stagger, and one stroke
Smiting it as it reels, shall smite it down:
And the State, shaken by this wild earthquake,
Shall stand thence steadfast--for me, Conscience alone
Is here concerned. If so atone I may
Truly and well, what I've been ill beguiled
That is my richest hope. For the rest, Sir,
E'en to your hands I do commit myself
To weigh my present worth against my past,
And then--if this my zeal seem worthy of thanks
Or free forgiveness, or yet further grace,
To give it." So he spake, and parted so
Homeward; in tremulous hurry traversing
The night: as who hopes to escape his cares
Out-speeding them--fond hope--for the hell-hounds
Track not their game behind, but ravin the heart
Within. He hasted on--still on--vain haste!
Then stopp'd. That moment from his brooding thoughts
Upgrew a monstrous horror, awful, huge--
Beyond the boldest Manhood its huge awe.
His Conscience--in fiend-shape confess'd to him,
Leering and jeering--harrowing his soul
Hellishly--front to front, as at doomsday
Bodily. To dissemble then was not:
But in the shade of its dark presence, down
He fell, bowed down, a deadly agony,
Speechless confession: such as Sin needs must
Arraigned to final doom. Oh! then all worlds
Millions and millions he would give them all,
Unhappy man, of his remorse late rued!
For when did ever the fiend quit his prey
Once seized?--sudden he fell--for the evil ghost
So with the thundering terror of his voice
Smote him, that all his senses darkly reeled,
Whirled his wild eye-balls--then, with lightning stroke
Branded him thro' the forehead to the brain
Deep blasted. He shrieked out and started away
Wringing his hands, and laughing as he ran
Yet crazier than his shrieks--hedge o'er, ditch thro'
Straight to his door. His daughter open'd it
And saw a maniac gnashing his teeth.
"Father, is't thou? what's this?" Nay, ask not him:
'Tis vain.
That night pass'd off, and the sun rose
Early, to climb his high midsummer hill;
But Linsingen in loving earnestness
Made him a laggard--springing up himself
The brighter and more gladsome of the two:
Ere yet that fiery eyeball overpeered
Above the sky-line. Whither he would go
He told to none, lest some should construe him
More softly than befitted that stern time:
Mistrusting him, lest his red warlike star
Should fade in Love's faint lustre. As he rose,
Loud howled the warning wind. "Aye, howl away
And drive the cowering sheep for shelter there
Beneath yon ridge. I like the augury:
To those who now are drooping, our dear foes,
Foreboding dread; to us, the Conquerors,
A glad heart-glow: for we will sweep this land
With a strength mighty as thine." So he went on,
Stout in self-will, a bridegroom, hopeful and bright,
Saying no word, taking no friendly leave,
As minding to return thither that day
A faithful husband--so insuring her
Ere he outrisked himself. 'Twas a weary length
Of walk, twelve mountain miles over the moors
That lay before him: but his heart was there
Earlier than himself, and drew him on,
By threads unseen, yet strong as adamant,
No sense of toil. But foemen were abroad:
And tho' his blood were hot, and his spirit high,
He deemed them, that day, better left aside
Than to confront them. In that thought he left
The beaten road, and o'er the hills away
To others all unwonted, but to him
Ranging for game, tho' trackless, often tried:
No fear of ambush there, but open and clear
As ocean. In that trust forward he went
Like a brave boat in storm, up the ascent
Down the steep fall--forward so far, until
From a lone crag, oh, welcome! 'tis the Church,
Where he should be a bridegroom that same morn,
And Lucy a bride. He stood and gazed on it
As on Heaven's gates: rested refreshfully,
Still gazing--then arose, and looking round,
"By Heaven, that very moor I tried for game
Some three years since: and but for walking it
And shooting one poor hare, they robbed me at Law,
More than the land's worth: but now times are changed:
And there I'll range, and none shall hinder me.
The Freedom that I fight for, its first fruits
I challenge--can thence take the road--no fear
For that short distance." Hold, thou rashness, hold,
Act not thy deadly words.
Meanwhile that house
In bridal hope, yet not quite fearlessly,
Awaited him, and filled the growing gap
With dismal pale forebodings--felt the more
At the heart, since driven thither from the face
Which, with semblance of ease and gladsome show
Would fain belie it. Still as the hours waned
So waxed their gloom within; till doubt on doubt
Grew unto darkness: then a flash of light
Showing that darkness deeper than before,
And dreader. Hurried in their trusty old
Walter, would draw his master thence aside:
But as he entered, and each eager eye
Inquired of him, his faculty fell short
To answer falsely what too truly he knew:
And so, missing his purpose he looked round
Wildly, till e'en that wildness lost itself
Confounded wholly in tears. "Why, what is this?
Walter, how now? something befallen ill?
But hither, come this way." So the sire spake,
But she, his earnest daughter, undismay'd
Whate'er it be, speak out, evil or good,
I will know all.
"Aye, truly, so you must:
For such a mischief, hide it we can not
As one would smother a spark--yes, you must know,
But not from me--so kind as thou hast been--
Would sooner die than tell thee. And Sir, indeed,"
Thus he half said, half sobbed in her father's ear,
"'Tis death--they've taken him--there's one killed dead,
But the rest took him there by the moor-side,
And so away with him. Hans saw it all.
But we--how yet to help him?"
To the tongue
Wormwood, and evil tidings to the ear
Are of sharp proof; swift striking on the sense
And biding there. Lucy heard all, tho' meant
Aloof from her. She heard and swooned away,
A deadly swoon: for she had nerved herself
To encounter all of Fate she could foresee
Standing abreast against her; but this chance
Befel her so, with onset so athwart,
It shocked her from her stand. When thence again
Being raised, and in her chamber sadly laid,
She gathered up her soul from that surprise;
Then all her mourning friends, mother and all,
She prayed them to go forth, and leave her awhile
Alone in sorrow: they, tho' doubtfully,
Their bidding did: speechless and shadowy
Passing away from her: then in their place
Her thoughts thronged in, a visionary train.
"Yes, the blow is stricken--the death-blow--
Noble lovers ye are both laid low:
No hope for ye.
I alone, the traitress, yes e'en I,
Who suborned ye most unwomanly,
Why spare they me?
Thou art powerful, but just, oh no
Thou high Providence that orderest so!
Nay--peace, vain fool--
Worse than thousand deaths from headsman's steel
Is the lifelong anguish I shall feel,
And righteous is God's rule.
I shall rue it in sore penitence,
Yet 'twas done in truthful innocence
And holiness.
Work more pure was never wrought by men,
So I thought and felt and knew it then
And now no less.
Aye and sure this is no punishment,
But a trial of my true intent
To stand or fall;
Welcome thou strong trial! all I see
Of thy terrors shall but strengthen me
To brave them all.
Hence weak pillow, hence despondency,
'Tis not weeping will avail with me,
I must away.
Thus I rise never again to rest
Till his deadly danger be redress'd,
My Faith--be thou my stay."
Behind the hills of Engthal the sun sank
Like some old empire, with more gorgeousness
Cloaking his dwindled glory, "He looks on thee
Yes, sure he does, with his pale death-doomed look,
And still thou shinest, heedless of the woe
That thou dost witness. Thou art high and great
But hast no feeling. Oh, go down, go down,
I hate thee for thy brightness. Dost shine yet?
Well, if thou wilt, I'll shut my eyes and weep
Let others look on thee." It was the voice
Of a lone wandering girl, of Lucy Hess,
Lone but for strength of soul: sore travelled, sad,
Sitting on that heath-rock. For when she rose
From the bed where they had left her, sobbing alone,
So she went forth, unheeded of all there,
Leaving no sign behind but a scant scrawl
To show her meaning. Boldly she sped on,
Bold in the surety of her faithfulness
And purposed good. From an old crone, crutch-propp'd,
Homewending with her burden of dry wood
She learnt them, whither away: for Engthal straight:
And having learnt so much, thither she too
Hasted her weary walk--beyond such girl
To win so far--but will is might. It braced
Her slight soft frame harder and stronger'n steel,
More careless of rough ways and thorns and stones
Than the gipsy's horny foot. So, ere nightfall
She stood, with an old higgler by her side
Before the prison gate. "This maiden here,"
So spake her guide, as the wicket at his peal
Was opened, "She comes hither from afar:
And she's betrothed to him ye have in hold--
To Linsingen--fain would she speak with him
Unless such sad leave be forbidden ye--
For me--I know her, and warrant what she says,
My word--life too, if needed."
The man heard
Dangling his heavy keys, and eyed her askance
Doubtfully, as she stood contemplating
With deep heart-shudder there before the gate
A ghastly stiff death-boding skeleton,
The scaffold. But the speaker with those words
Slipp'd silver in his hand, a fair broad crown,
To pay their passage home. "What I can do
I will--I'm but an underling. All's one--
Must get the order. Wait outside awhile--
I will go see." He went, and came again,
"Come in; no other warrant than your word
Is needed." She stepp'd inward--all was dark
As 'twere a hundred fathom underground:
Still as earth's centre, and seemed all as hard
To win the outway. Clung the chilly damp
About her cloak, and every breath she drew
Seemed a choke fog--onward and onward, thro'
Round within round of walls; such as but one
Looked a more bulky barrier than need was:
And still the little lamp they brought with them
Showed slighter as they threaded each dim door
Booming behind; till at the mid-hold stopp'd--
Each at the other sadly looked her thoughts,
Too sad for speech. "'Tis here--is it not here?"
"Aye, sure. Well then--you see me what I am,
And know what I would have--a poor lone girl:
And now vouchsafe me with him a short while
Alone--thanks for thy kindness"--with her speech
For oversway she threw a small gold coin
Into the balance. "Well, if so it must--
Lovers--'twere hard--to grudge them their last hope:
There is your way, but mark me, time is short,
I'll wait outside." The door opened and closed;
And she pass'd on, treading so noiselessly
That of her footfall the stones whispered not
No more than of her thoughts--sudden she stood
And looked and saw--in the far corner there
A light, and by that light a musing man:
Deep musing, careless of whate'er might come
As know ng well to-morrow must end all.
And so he sate, his limbs and body cramped
With his sore wounds, his head weighed on his hand
Despondingly. She stood and gazed on him;
For a still shiver crept upon her soul
And speech. Then in hoarse catches, "Linsingen,
Thy light is flaring out, it wastes apace,
Look to it." He sprang up at that sweet voice
And in her arms. "Lucy, dear love, is't thou?
Oh, yes, none other than so kind a soul
Had come to see me--a traitor--a rebel--yet thine,
Thine own--if but these chains. Well, is't not sad?
There, in sight of the church, to be so met
When I looked only for thy own sweet smile
And such a meeting. And thou too so near
And yet know nothing. Nay, thou hast heard all:
And thy poor mother who shall comfort her?
Oh, 'tis a selfish joy to see thee here
At her worst need."
"True, 'tis indeed most sad--
My husband, yes my husband, thou'rt no less.
For 'tis no sudden chance that can bereave
Our holy purpose of its holiness.
And I'm thy wife; thy own true earnest wife:
And being so, fain would I grieve for thee
As a wife should--so withering a grief
My heart shrinks in with it. But I must not,
Now is no time for tears--Frank, I am here
Not to weep with thee, but to rescue thee:
Unless thy heart be weaker than a girl
To strike for it. Thou knowest well, our hope
Rests wholly upon thee; and in thy death--
(Ah me! forgive me, uttering that word,
But I feel something gives my soul the strength)
Were all undone. But a minute--we've no more--
Yet time enough. Strip thy apparel off
See, 'tis soon sped. Mark me, I've done't e'en now;
Thy coat and hat, and whate'er needs beside,
And take this cloak of mine and my head-gear
And what thou can'st wear else--oh doubt not now
But do it. A moment's doubt is death to thee
An everlasting death." "Lucy, art mad?
Sure 'tis dreadful to die, so young, so rich,
So bless'd in all of worldly blessedness,
But such a hope as this--why, e'en despair
Is better and more manlier; do but think:
Wer't only I, yet there's more dignity
In Treason--yes--it is too lofty a thing
To ape the harlequin: to play such tricks
As an urchin school-boy, being caught in them
Must cry for shame. But thou! what would'st thou? Oh Heaven!
The traitor flown, and thou found in his stead
Must pay for him. They'll make a show of thee;
Prick thee to death with pins--hawl thee about
For a mannish strumpet most unmaidenly:
Fling filth upon thy face, and drown thee at last
Down in the sewer--do but think of it!
Worse than the hangman's self were such a shame
I from my flaunting banner now to flee,
And leave thee here at upshot of the game
To bide the loss of it. Then, if 'twere not
Beyond the utmost patience of Man's pride
To think of it, 'tis hopeless quite to do:
So prithee, be content, my dearest soul:
I have done boldly, and as luck falls ill
Boldly will suffer." "Aye, when need shall be
But why before? So would'st thou do, what most
Thy bloodiest enemies would thank thee done.
And, what thou said'st of late, think not of me:
For neither came I here for thee alone
But for the holy cause. Say then, is't I?
Is it my respect that blinds thee from all else,
And in this hindrance is thy daring stayed--
The fear to leave me?"
"Lucy 'tis e'en so,
'Tis e'en that fear--and then the little hope
I have to 'scape in such attire as thine.
What, is there aught of witchcraft in that cloak?
If there be none, then all I see of it
Is but a mummery, and no disguise,
No, not to cheat a babe. What, talk ye of hope?
Despair is the best comforter. Pass only
A few fleet hours, and then--" Stay, Linsingen,
Hark! 'tis the turnkey's call, oh yes, I come,
Yes, I'll go beg a moment's biding more,
'Tis all we need--for the rest, it is our own
If only we've the heart to stretch our hands
And take it." Saying so, she glided off
Like to a ghost, both for her shadowy shape
And sudden vanishment: but Linsingen
Gazed after her, uncertain of himself:
For all that show did seem so strange to him,
That he 'gan hope his capture, prison, and all,
And bloody imagination of his death
Was but a dream--"Away, ye glamouring fiends,
The dawn shall scatter ye." So in that hope
He stamped his foot against the heartless stone
In proof of it. "Alas! 'tis indeed I,
A dreamer's stamp is unsubstantial
Nor makes no echo--and his shackles--ah,
He feels them not--not quite so gallingly
As these wring me. I am no dreamer--no--
Behoves me then the proof that I am none.
By Heaven I'll give it, and fight the fiend himself
To break my way from Hell." As thus he spoke
His spirit outdared his speech: swelling his tide
Of blood, that on his forehead each light vein
Was swollen to a snake. Oh! such fierce mood
Snatches ten years of life, and flings them in
To feed a minute's fire. He waited her
That gentle maid, eagerly, but not long
Else had he been distraught.
She turned to him
And how she looked, who had beholden her
Had ne'er dared tell the terror of her looks!
Haggarder than e'er woman, hurrying back,
And deadly pale: as she had gazed on a ghost
And caught its ghastly gleaming: fearfully
She looked behind as blasted by the breath
Of an evil spirit. "See, he's leagued with us!
Hold there--his cloak--take it--he lends it thee
And here his hat and shoes--what doubtest thou?
Oh take them, or I slay myself outright,
Thou need'st them more than he." Truly she speaks:
Nay, stay not, all thy life is crowded here,
Each minute tolls thy doom. "Oh brave, most brave,"
Linsingen answered, rash and recklessly,
"Whoever said that gaoler's hearts were flint,
Ha, Lucy?" "What! dost ask me? 'twas not I--
His a flint heart! 'twere well for him if 'twere.
Whoever said it, I have made that man
A liar--yes--I've done it--but the deed
Was all for thee--therefore--if blood be shed
What lookest thou so wild? if blood be shed
'Tis not thy right to dab it in my face.
Nay--start not. What? did'st ne'er see it flow before?
Men have been butchers ere now many times
And many thanks to them: yet, 'twixt ourselves,
Fah! 'tis a nasty trade. Who does its work
Needs not white linen. I'll go get me a gown
Of blue, but that--blue--'tis the badge of Heaven!
Crimson were best. Crimson, if ye be wise
So were your colour and your works akin,
And neither belie th' other: but look here;
That is too glaring red--oh, much too fierce!
It cries out murder. She who painted it
By Heaven, I would not have her conscience
For all her skill. Who was it, Linsingen,
That should have married her? Tell me, was't thou?
Faith, a bold bridegroom."
He saw and started back
Gazing upon her: was she that fair girl
So suddenly, by some curs'd wizard's art
Ungirled to a fury?--then outbroke her clasp,
And like a maniac, groping toward the door
Clanking his helpless chains. "Nay, go not there
Unless thou would'st fain die of laughter fit
For the merry sight thou'lt see." He heard her not
In his wild haste: heard nothing, nor yet saw;
But rushing blindly onward unaware
Stumbled on what was late a living man:
But now, dead as the stones whereon he lay
The cold damp stones. The lamp fell from his hand
And all was darkness. "Lucy, I know it well,
Thou art an angel--else sure none but a fiend
Had wrought this work--but oh! thou dear lost thing
Thy hands are crimson drenched, while yet thy soul
'Tis like thy cheeks, bloodless as they. Come then
Come hither to my arms, and let us forth:
Here are his keys, and there's a light outside--
Must flee, in spite of chains, if hence we can,
With the hangman at our heels. What dost thou there
Dear love, what would'st?" "Nay, prithee, whither away?
Dost know of any better cheer than this?
Show me as good--else I stay here the night--
A gay guest-house. Aye, is it--or if you will
A ghost-house--gayer yet, but for the gloom
And ghastlier. We'd seen it better if thou
Had'st not put out the light--why, what could'st mean?
Ah--well I ween--'twas all for the ghost's sake
He loves not lamps: but we'll make merry now
All three of us--a ghost, a shackled man,
And I--how droll! but they chain monkeys, sure,
Not men--a monkey, and so sullen and sad!
Well, if thou wo'nt, he shall make love to me--
A ghost, you know--need not be jealous." "Heaven,
Madness on the heap of all our miseries,"
Said Linsingen, with frenzy muttering
As he rushed towards her. "Come, take my hand
And from this curs'd place--" "Off from me, off hands
Thou'rt an ice-devil. Why, thy clutch is cold,
Away with thee--oh help me, Linsingen,
Here's a chill devil here would drag me away
And swing me by the hair into hell-flames
And all for thee--murdered thee--dost thou say?
Aye, sure I did; but why, thou silly fool,
Why so superfluous to cry out now?
Then was the time when the knife was at thy throat:
But being dead, thou wert more mannerly
To hold thy peace." Linsingen stoop'd and kiss'd
Her clammy forehead and her cold white cheek,
Then raised her up, and as she fell again
Huddled her drooping burden o'er his chains
And hurried her away. "Better I too
Were mad--so turn my woe to merriment,
And murder's self to mockery."
While those
Distressful two, were struggling against hope,
Rescue was near, if timely. On that coast
Hermann so fiercely had stirred the multitude
That they rose up amain, in surge as stormy
As their own sea. Munitions, weapons, men
One on another gathering he had sent
To Stolberg; where their power held chief state
And gave its ordinance. In that turmoil
E'en in the hurry and 'mid storm of it
There came a floating rumour to his ears
And speedily took shape unto his sight
In tokens ever dear to him, but such
As he scarce hoped to see so soon again
Written by Lucy's hand. "Linsingen here
Is prisoner in Engthal, and death-doomed:
And this, forgive me, by thy father's means
Betraying him--haste--help us--he dies else
Ere yet another day." He read that scroll
Delivered to his hand by a strange lad,
And what he read, swiftly he did, as tho'
Her wish had winged him forward. Forth on that
So sudden spur he and some sixty more
Forth galloped as the race were for their lives
To save or lose them all. Soon their hot speed
Had reached a band marching on slacker foot
For Stolberg--"No, cried Hermann, no my friends
Another way and to another end
Is now our need." They heard his tale, as a clap
Of thunder in their ears, and hastily
Sorrow striving with rage, hope with despair,
And hurried eagerness confounding all,
They shifted, van with rearward, wide away
Whither the danger was. Thick rose the dust
And ever thicker, from their hastier march;
And every man they met, tho' nought he knew
But hearsay, yet his idlest breath heaved up
Their hopes and fears in cross bewilderment
They were so fitful. Last there met them one
A woman. She had seen their friendly approach
And ran to hasten it: "Oh, Sirs, more speed
Or ye lose all. 'Tis but ten minutes' back
There pass'd a many soldiers, a score men
Into the prison: and the neighbours said
Their business was to drag him poor soul forth
And shoot him there outright. Each word she said
Goaded their eagerness to a mad haste,
Their march to a race--all order broken and lost,
And forward, as each could, like a wild herd
Driven agad. So scurrying the mid-way
They burst into the town; the horsemen first,
All with their hottest speed; such an uproar
As in some firewrapt wealthy city's sack
After its storm. So they careered their course,
Those horsemen, wildly, to the market-place,
With shouts and brandished swords. There, the first sight--
A guard, quick tramping, with the shackled clank
Of prisoners within--they hailed the hope--
He may yet live; as seen, so pealed at once,
Recklessly from their hot unwitting hands,
A murderous volley. Fled the affrighted foe,
Flinging their arms away. "Hold, stay your fire!"
Hermann had cried to them; but 'twas too late;
Fearfully he rode up, and what he saw
It turned his fear to frenzy. 'Mid a heap
Of wounded soldiers, lay on her father's corse,
Who had so risked himself to rescue her,
Death-stricken, his life, his Lucy.
He raised up
Her drooping head, and faintly breathed her name,
Faintly, for fear she might not answer him.
Fain had she spoken, but her life-blood gushed
Forth with her words, drowning all utterance.
He gazed on her, pale as her deadly self,
So blanched with horror--and while yet heart-stunned,
"Sir," said a soldier, dying with his words,
"Ye are too late, would ye were earlier come:
For we were loath to do on your friend there,
On Linsingen, the deed we've done perforce,
Shooting him, oh that shot! for our bitterest foe,
Whom his life proved him truly our best friend.
Black minutes were those few--those ye delayed,
Else ye'd been welcome to us soldiers too
As to all else--we'd joined you, heart and hand,
'Stead of this carnage." Hermann, while he spake,
And Lucy in his arms sobbed her death-sob,
Noted, nor cared nor felt, nothing beside:
But yet one startled glance he looked from her
To that man's tale. Then, as she gurgled away,
He bore her draggling, to a house hard by,
But ere he reached it--Ah! what means that hush?
She sobs no more. Wouldst know her, whither flown?
'Tis not in that clay thou beholdest her,
Raise up thine eyes to Heaven.
He sate there
By the bed-side, brooking no presence else,
A lonely hour; for comfort would he none,
Rather some thundering stroke to end him out
He would have welcomed it. He prayed that hour
Fervently, as they said who watched the door:
Then rising sternly from his speechless woe,
To those without--"Friends, forward, before long
I'll follow ye!" So bidden, they obeyed.
Hermann stayed there: and now as that mishap
Cleared of its smoke and stunning din, showed forth
The ruin it had wrought, turning surprise
Of such a sudden strange calamity
To a sad surety: now being alone
Left with her, his one joy in all the world
And that one dead--forlorn quite, half unmanned
He flung himself, recklessly, in the flood
Of his despair, as he would 'scape from the world
In its dark depth. Dismally was he whelmed
Beneath the bitterness that evermore
Broke over him; and he, helpless the while,
Stirring no whit against it: praying not
Nor pondering, but pacing wildly about,
Wild anguish. Suddenly, as thus he fared,
Fell from his bosom a small book to the ground,
A Bible. Stooping to recover it
Some spirit whisper'd him "Open its leaves,"
And there he read--"Flee, save your life, and be
As the heath in the lone wilderness." Those words,
Many have read them, but none ever felt
As he did then. Straight was restored to him
What grief had troubled, his clear consciousness.
He knew his danger, and with a few drear words
Commending that loved relict to the shroud,
Mounted his horse, and on his fellows' track
Swiftly away; but for a breathing time,
Drew rein upon the brow of the first hill
And backward looked: but dwelt not on that view;
For 'twas a troop of eager yeomanry
Fast spurring up to the death-house he left
To search it thro'. That hint needed no more
So on he hurried: till, ere a mile gone
He met a messenger, riding at speed
As earnest as his own. "Sir, we're well met;
For I had thought rather to hear of ye
Waylaid and taken, than to see ye here
So happily; but Sir, no matter of that;
I've much to tell of weightiest worth for you.
Scarce three hours back, (ye've heard Linsingen's death
And how our hopes were well nigh dead with him)
Well, there was question 'mong the main of us
In our full meeting, whether to leave all
For lost; or else who were the worthiest
To fill his room. Then many names were rung
But none agreed: till haply one called out,
(I said it first, and others after me)
"What doubt ye? surely Hermann is the man,
Young Ernest Hermann." Then was silence there
Each waiting each; till to the hustings front
Suddenly, like one mad, the old Harper rushed;
And such a peal he raised as none e'er heard,
Howyou had earned us; had wrought, first to last,
Faithfully, a most hard and hopeless work;
O'erruling danger with your master skill,
Spiriting skill with boldness. Last of all
He smote a string that thrilled them wondrously,
That you alone are the one man of the world,
The very Ernest of the olden time,
Looked for by their and their forefathers' hope,
Waiting him long in patience, and at last
In joy and triumph welcoming him now:
Whom that old Hermann falsely father'd thee.
Oh, Sir, it told upon them like a spell
Beyond all power of will; that they seemed mad,
Their wits clean gone. Would ye had heard their shout,
Yet better here, out of their over-throng
Crowding to greet their king--for thou'rt no less--
They've made thee king, sure as I make this mark,
No whisper heard against it. 'Tis e'en so,
That is the sum and upshot of it all:
Was ne'er such wonder. "Sir, I bro't the news,
And my poor horse so jaded, had dropp'd else,
But he knew what he was bringing. Sir, if a king
Can think on a poor man like me, then, Sir,
Vouchsafe me." Hermann scanned him, through and through:
"If true, thy tidings are most strange; if false--
But no--hearts up and forward--I'll go see,
Follow me thither." He rode silently
But swift, as the eagle, stooping on his prey,
'Till from a height of forelook wide--there stood
Each host 'gainst each, glimmering with war's steel gleam.
He viewed them both with watchful wariness,
For strange the sight; and needed warranty
Whether were friend or foe: nor needed long,
For on the spur up galloped, hat in hand
A spatter'd heated horseman.
"Pardon, Sir,
My haste, and deign my faithful short intent,
For circumstance stands not on this sharp point.
Our foes, with their best men, squires, yeomen, lords
Chiefly, since none beside they can now trust
Are here upon us. Well are they aware
How the whole country's up in our behalf,
And therefore would they crush our growing strength
Ere it be stronger--'tis their only hope,
And failing that, they must fail utterly--
The ground from under them--there's our array,
You see it, Sir, stretching along the ridge
Backed with a bigger but half-weaponed bulk,
Fronting to Gilnau: whence the foe comes on
Straight on us--their van--dust and banner--I saw
Far off, but nearer now, e'en while we speak;
And sure, if we haste not, our folk will lack
The comfort of their king. Oh, Sir, 'tis here,
'Tis hard at hand our sharp trial of war.
God speed us thro' it!" Hermann heard not all
Nor waited not to hear; so sharp a spur
Prompted his utmost speed. Thither he rode
To a high ridge, where, as that horseman said,
Their chiefs held council. Respect, ere he reached,
Of eager looks and earnest deference
Fore-welcomed him; heads bare, all stilled; each one
Waived his own will. What had been done, and what
Was there to do, and how the likeliest,
He hearkened, and took counsel, and gave command
Coldly, as chilled with his foreshadowing doom,
Whom death, whene'er, were welcome--careless how,
Since it must soon.
Other dispatch being sped,
"Sirs," he address'd them, "We're a fellowship
As faithful as our cause is righteous,
And they a hireling crew; far fewer men
And damper hearts--then, for their drill, 'tis but
A semblance, their skill too. What, have we a man
So girlish, but can hold and handle a gun?
As any urchin will, who hath scared crows:
No need of hairbreadth cunning; and for our pikes,
We're not so palsied but can thrust 'em home
As sharp as they their clumsy bayonets;
'Tis will, not skill: for other discipline
We need it not--only withstand them here
Stirring no inch. Such stand with our strong ground
And God's help for us, is a better ward
Than their best onset. We have learned full well
That lesson, long inured; we'll prove it now.
But this one charge I do commend to ye
All that I've here but hinted, all these hopes
And vantages, go spread the trust of them
Thro' our whole host; cheerfully colouring
This my cold phrase: so shall fresh comfort spring
To all their hearts. Then, for our ordinance
Behoves us to push forth our sharpshooters,
No scanty show of them, but a full swarm
To infest their march--besetting them, all round,
At every vantage of hedge, mound, or dyke
With hot distraction--but mind warn them well:
To fire from shelter, with cool aim, low, near,
Covering well their mark; but far off shot
Is only for picked marksmen--repeat this,
And send them with the warning in their ears
To give the proof of it. Given, 'twere worth
No more nor less than victory itself,
Else rout and ruin. And now, one word more.
If, as he surely will, the enemy
Being so galled, should send his skirmishers
To sweep them from his side, then let them fall
Wide of him, when o'ermatched, only not back
Upon our host--and ever, as they see
Their vantage, so return, and ply him again,
Still with fresh fire and bitterer eagerness
Venging the check. Do but this thoro'ly,
Needs nothing more." He ended, and they did
As he ordained. Himself, galloping down
Along the array of his armed people rode
From end to end. Then such a shout arose
So loud and long, that a peal of musketry
From twice as many men were faint as a sigh
Against it--sure the applause of myriads
Bestowed so warmly on one, should swell his heart
That heart, so glowing hitherto--but now--
Brightness is none to the film-clouded eye
Where e'en the sun shows dimly. And when grief
Hath made its mourning chapel of the heart,
What profits it that splendour is outside
Promising gorgeousness of kingly pomp,
Wooing the soul of young ambition
With such high hopes that e'en the dullest clay
Might grow to spirit and aspire with them?
Alas! that Man should live on outwardly
When dead at heart; cramped by his sorrow down
With death's lead-cerements. And yet, tho' self-doomed,
Yet he spoke calmly, and that deep stern mood
Strengthened his men far more than hurry and heat
To trust in him.
"I thank ye, my brave friends,
I thank ye from my heart. Ye've chosen me
To be your leader, and ye see me here
Devoted to make good that choice thro' life
And unto death. For the instant brunt of war
How ye should bear it, and how beat it off,
Your chiefs and officers skilled in that kind
Have warned ye: warning needless to report
But now to do it. There's the enemy
Disheartened with sharp checks ere this main brunt,
And many rushing or skulking o'er to us.
Ye see his van, flashing with spiteful shot
'Gainst our true fellows? What shall I say more?
Only, quit ye like men. How! can it be
That those your foemen, soulless, hireling slaves
Have staked their life but for their slavery's sake
That they may live in it? and shall not ye
Armed with Truth, Freedom, Right and Godliness,
Shall ye not fight eager as fire itself
As keen and fierce? Now is your proof, e'en now,
To prove your worth. One cheer before I go,
Ah? good--this shout is valiancy, the next
Victory--such clear visions have I seen,
Such surety of God: and for God's sake, thro' whom
Ye conquer, be not ruthless conquerors
But merciful. Once vanquished, all enough
Is then avenged. Meanwhile, stand by your stake--
One hour, and all is yours. ------"
By this, the foe
Slowly and with much loss, more than his gain
Of ground, had won toward the Patriots
Within a cannon's range. His mighty mass
Lay all as open to their showering shot
As a huge bulky ox to the sharp sting
Of hornets on each side assailing him;
Spite of his rage, and what as little avails
His uncouth strength. Many fell slain, yet more
Wounded, and all were sore dismayed at heart
To see what they ne'er looked for: bloody strife
Instead of easy slaughter. There was a ridge
Whereon the rebel host made their main stand,
And yet a lower one, three furlongs forth,
Sea strands of yore; one later, one earlier,
With level ground between. There did the foe
Beneath the shelter of that nether ridge
Stretch out his shattered force: so to redeem
Their disarray to a sound order again,
And in that pause to breathe, and with free breath
Renew their spirit. Then, being so refreshed,
With sudden onset storm the upper range
Forthright to victory. So they devised:
Scattering first their skirmishers abroad
For safety of their rear. Safety! ah no,
She shrinks from such a neighbourhood. Those swarms
Deadly as swift, beset them round again,
Ever if driven here whizzing there back
From truce, yet keener and thirstier of blood.
Till Falkenstein at last, that haughty lord,
Thus to his company. "Comrades, what now,
Are we turned popinjays, that we stand thus
To make them sport? No, let us first go clear
Yon harvest from the field, then will we back
To glean these scatterlings. And, hearken me,
No more child's play--no more such silly waste
Of shot and powder; but upon them straight
With the bayonet." He spoke, and the word ran
Like lightning thro' the line, the bayonet.
Upstarted one and all, some daringly,
Others in frenzy of bewildered fear,
Rushing like sheep to a gate, where but one leads
All following. So they hurtled on, and so
Were slaughtered: for their foes, strong in that stand,
And stronger in their stern surety of aim,
Met them with such a crashing storm of shot
As broke that living wall to a score gaps,
Ruinous carnage. Yet were warm hearts there,
High blood and manly pride. What they failed once
Framing their force anew, they dared again,
And see--their daring wins. Scarce their gun's length
Severed them from their foes: if they break in
They conquer--yes--if death be victory:
They'll know none else--as the foremost drew their arms
Back for the thrust, came such another crash
Deadlier than the first. Oh, hold your hands,
Is life a worthless bubble, idly blown,
To be crushed so recklessly? Then, as they stood
Brokenly, wondering each to stand alone
'Mong his fallen fellows." "See, they waver; oh, see"
Cried Hermann, "now is time to try our steel!
One rush, they're swept before us as yon smoke
Before the whirling wind." He spoke, and matched
The saying with the deed; forward they burst
Fierce as mastiffs unchained. But who can tell
The encounter? shouts and groans, and pealing shot
Are the only words to speak it: as doomed sprites
Fleeing before their devilish torturers,
So fled those soldiers: and their conquerors!
Ask not if they pursued, if bayonets
Wantoned in blood, if savageness for all
Answer to supplication smote it down
In the act of prayer? No, rather ask of war
What he e'er did of direst memory?
And then be sure thousand such deeds were done
Upon that field.
Slowly the sun sank down,
And murky red, as with rank vapour of blood,
And ever he betokens with the like
Some say, that yearly eve--Vengeance looked back
Smiling a grim smile at the gory sight,
Cursing the night that hindered it to slay
While yet were men for slaughter. Last their way
They wended back, those conquerors, in stern joy,
Great gain, small loss: a few score comrades missed
And the world won. But Hermann, where is he?
Where is the king? Come forth and show thyself,
That loyalty may do thee liege-like due,
And crown thee with a free crown, laurel-wreathed
By Victory. Oh come, they call for thee
Thy faithful people. Shine in their glad eyes,
And be so kingly in thy grace, as they
Are loyal in their love. All ask of thee
Wildly and darkly, in tumultuous wise,
But none may answer them. Why, 'tis most strange,
Strange as the trunk and limbs to stand alone
And the head gone. When was it heard before
A king was lost and no more known of him
More than a beggar's brat? Treason, speak out.
Hast slain him? If thou hast, thou'lt answer it
Fearfully, to such wrath as ne'er raged yet,
The wrath of maddened freemen. But who last
Beheld him--when and where? What circumstance,
What proof? Then many spake, but only one
Was minded, for his grey sadness of speech
Outweighed the worth of other witnesses.
'Twas he, the trusty shepherd, then came forth
And said. "I loved him much and honoured him,
And therefore thro' the danger of the day
I watched him close. When we broke out at last
He was ahead of us, cheering us on:
Fearless I followed him, for something he showed
More than belongs to man. He rode foreright
O'er rough and level, hill, brushwood, and bog,
Thro' the wild panic of the enemy,
In midst of danger; as one meaning death
For himself, not others: striking never a stroke,
Firing no shot at all, but with sword hung
Heavily from his hand by his horse flank
As tho' his arm were shattered. So he rode,
And so I followed him--up to the stream,
Or hard upon--when, as he neared the bank,
Down fell my horse, stumbling in the thick furze,
I under him--and there, senseless and stunned,
I was no more; but rising, after awhile,
Looked round, and nought was there in front of me
But the swift river flowing silently:
Behind, and on each side, the din of war
Roaring, as sure ye heard it. I've said all.
Heaven grant us better certainly than this
That I can show."
Then was much murmuring;
Since that trustworthy tale showed them no light,
But darker doubt--so strange a sudden eclipse,
So awful, as befals no lesser star,
Only the sun. Then was the river, too,
Questioned with drags and with all likely search
To tell the truth. Vainly, for beggar or king
Alike he reckons, and keeps all he can.
And so perplexity, all means being spent,
Stood there with folded arms--but Time past on
Indifferent; and days were heaped on days
To a full month; till, in that while, the folk
Confess'd the hand of God fulfilling all
The olden free faith of their forefathers,
And grew to cheerful calm. Then as they met
Duly, for statement of their ordinance;
And there was question who for their lost king
Should rule them in his stead. "No, we'll have none,"
Cried the conspiring universal will,
"No other ruler, only his fatherly
Mind, and the wisdom of his latest words.
But in his empty throne none else shall sit
Till he return. For he but bides his time
As Providence on high hath so ordained:
And as of late he did, no less again
He will revisit us at pinch of need,
Watchful whene'er. Meanwhile we'll honour him,
Our patriot hero, in honour next to God,
With ceremonious due, festal and full,
Thro' yearly celebration of set days;
And with heart-worship, holier than all
And deeper: that the welfare of this land
May ne'er forget the trial whence she rose,
Nor him, the leader and headspring of all.
But hallow evermore

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