The Castle

THE Castle .

I N an ancient Lombard castle,
 Knightly castle, bravely held,
Was a book with golden letters,
 Treasured in the days of eld.

Hoary missal, silver-claspen,
 Yellow with the touch of age;
Dimly tracéd, the matin service
 Moulder'd on the parchment page.

None and compline dark and faded,
 Golden all the vesper prayer.
Hearken to the dainty legend
 How those lines transfigured were.

There's a censer full of odours
 On the sea of glass in Heaven;
Prayers and cries that God's good angel
 Carries upward, morn and even.

Ah! perchance some sighs he beareth,
 Voiceless, on the eternal stairs,
Some good work, in love's hot furnace,
 Molten into golden prayers.

From his castle by the forest
 Rides the princely Count to Rome,
And his bride, the fair Beata,
 Keeps her quiet state at home.

Noble, with a gentle presence,
 Moves the lady 'mid her train;
Knight, and dame, and old retainer,
 Fret not at her silken rein.

On the wall the warder paces,
 In the court the pages play,
And the small bell in the chapel
 Duly calls them forth to pray.

From her turret-chamber's lattice
 Looks the fair Beata forth,
Sees the sun-tinged white snow mountains
 Rosy in the distant north;

Sees below the peasant's cottage,
 In its smoke-wreath blue and grey,
And the sea of the great forest
 Creeping many a mile away.

All the rich Italian summers
 Darkly green it swell'd and roll'd,
Then the Autumn came and mark'd it
 With his brand of red and gold.

Full of song, and love, and gladness,
 Leaps her heart at every breeze,
Dances with the chequer'd sunlight,
 Laughs along the moving trees.

Yet it hath a downward yearning,
 And a woman's feeling true
For the cares that never touch'd her,
 For the pains she never knew.

Through those homes of painful serfdom,
 Like a charm she comes to move,
Tells them of a nobler freedom,
 Soothes them with a sweeter love.

In the stately castle chapel,
 Morn and eve, the prayers are said,
Where the rounded grey stone arches
 Stand about the mould'ring dead.

Rays of amethyst and purple
 Touch their tombstones on the floor,
And a sunset splendour floods them
 Through the open western door.

Morn and eve the lady Countess
 Kneels below the altar-stair,
On her fringèd crimson cushion,
 With a face as grave and fair

As that lady in the chancel,
 Kneeling ever, night and day,
With her parted lips of marble,
 Frozen into prayers for aye.

Till, perchance, a stream of music
 Sweepeth from the choir on high,
And her face grows bright a minute,
 And the light behind her eye

Kindles every carven feature
 With a flush of love and glory,
Like the sun in a stain'd window
 Touching out some grand old story.

But the bells are ringing vespers,
 And Beata is not there,—
Streams the sunlight down the arches,
 Missing much that presence fair.

And the angels on the columns
 Seem to listen for her tread,
With their white and eager faces,
 And their marble wings outspread.

“Lay aside thy hood, O Countess,
 And thy mantle's russet fold;
It were late now in the forest,”
 Saith the waiting-lady old.

“Take thy coif of pearls and velvet,
 Take thy veil of Flanders' lace,
All the bells are ringing vespers,
 And 'tis time we were in place.”

“Go to church, good Lady Bertha,
 Say thy prayers,” Beata said;
“But to-night I must say vespers
 By a dying sister's bed.

“From the blind old woodman's cottage
 Came a token that I know;
Sick to death his maiden lieth,
 On the forest verge below.

“We shall pray when she, forgotten,
 In her grave, grass-cover'd, lies;
But she must not pass unpitied—
 Love is more than sacrifice.

“We shall pray when she is singing
 At the foot of the great throne;
Should she tell our Lord in Heaven
 That we let her die alone?”

So the lady took her gospel,
 And she pinn'd the grey cloth hood,
And pass'd down the winding staircase,
 Through the postern, to the wood,

With a half regretful feeling;
 For her heart was lingering there—
On the fringèd crimson cushion
 Just below the altar-stair.

Now the priest is robed for service,
 And the choristers draw near,
And the bells are ringing—ringing
 In the Lady Bertha's ear.
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