Fragment of a " Gothic " Tale

*****

Along a precipice they wound their way,
And as the path conducted they must go
Where a loose plank across a torrent lay
Whose waves sent deafness from the chasm below;
His hand on the other's shoulder close applied
O'er the rude bridge the blind man tottered slow;
And when his fear was ended blessed his guide.
That passage thus accomplished, soon they gained
The platform of the cliff, for little space remained.

So pressing on to reach that ancient pile,
Forsaken now and subject to the sky,
Along the sable avenue they toil,
The wind still eddying round them fierce and high;
When, all unlooked for in that lonely place,
With furious steed a horseman galloped by
Come from the quarter which [ ]
[ ] and when he saw the day sink down
Into the burnished waters of the sea [ ].

And looking round [ ] on cliff he view[ed]
(The moon forth-darting then the darkness broke)
A castle hang, on either side a wood
Waved in the roaring wind's tempestuous shock;
It seemed, thus perched, a dim-discovered form!
Like some grim eagle on a native rock
Clapping its wings and wailing to the storm.
Forthwith our travellers to that Castle high
Reared their laborious steps, no better mansion nigh.

Advancing on he saw a sullen light
Red as a star, but star it could not be;
Its station scarcely seemed to reach the height
Of oak full-grown or any forest tree;
The bright moon severed the black clouds in twain,
And gave him on the gateway's side to see
A man who stepped along, a tower to gain;
Where but the keystone seemed to link the arch
Else broken, on he crept, a high an[d] perilous march.

When he had reached a tower on the other side
He turned and cast a short survey around,
And as he turned the youth a cutlass spied
As if to staunch the blood of recent wound;
The blind [man?] now impatiently inquired
If better covert might not there be found;
So leading him along, the youth retired
Behind a wall with trees secure and dark,
And stood of that strange sight the sequel there to mark.

By entrance through a broken window made
He saw that daring traveller disappear,
Nor single word of this discovery said
To his forlorn dependant standing near;
A full half hour the youth prolonged his watch,
But whether work it were whose after-fear
Must sleep upon the proof of sure dispatch,
Or that the lantern gave him to explore
Some other passage out, that man appeared no more.

" Troth", cried the boy, " well need some favourite girl
Were looked for, this attendance to requite;
Poor service 'tis while winds around us whirl
Thus scantly roofed to weather out the night;
My legs with standing ache to the very bone
And many hours must pass ere morning light.
Be cheerful, comrade, think thou'rt not alone;
'Tis time to search, if here we must sojourn,
Some more commodious spot where we may sleep till morn."

So saying, by the hand he led his charge
Through the dark passage of the ponderous keep,
That opened to a court of circuit large
Whose walls had scattered many a stony heap;
The unimaginable touch of time
Or shouldering rend had split with ruin deep
The towers that stately stood, as in their prime,
Though shattered stood of undiminished height,
And plumed their heads with trees that shook before the night.

Beyond a spacious gap, in distance seen,
A second court its battlements upreared,
And 'cross this ample area's midway green
The youth with his attendant thither steered;
The chasm scarce passed, he cast his eyes around
And underneath a corner tower, appeared
Amid the wreck that strewed the encumbered ground,
Two armed men, who 'cross the stones conveyed
A burden of such weight as asked their mutual aid.

" 'Tis not for me this business to gainsay",
Thus inly to himself the stripling spoke,
" To some close covert hence we must away,
For work is here which none may overlook."
So towards the shadow of the eastern wall
His backward course incontinent he took;
When all at once, as at a demon's call,
The pile was troubled by a fiercer blast
And with impervious clouds the moon was overcast.

Nor stayed the tempest here; the thunder stroke
Burst on the mountains with hell-rousing force,
And as the sulphurous bolt of terror broke
The blind man shuddered to life's inmost source;
For through the darkness of his brain the flash
With sudden apparition [halts?] its course.
Again the fleecy clouds together clash,
Revealing to the guide a short descent
That promised safe retreat, and thither down they went.

It was a spot where once a depth of stairs
Led to a dungeon far from any sound;
A den where feudal Lords of ancient years
The vassals of their will in durance bound;
But now filled up with earth, with grass o'ergrown,
Smooth was the passage to the vault profound.
" What change!" exclaimed the blind man guided down,
" How warm, how still! here, comrade, will we stay,
No better can betide till Morning bring the day.

Methinks I could almost be happy now
To find us safe and warmly lodged at last,
And yet my soul within, I know not how,
Is sad to think upon the perils past.
Tonight and many other nights and days
I owe thee much, and wish thee better placed.
Good youth, my debt thy earning ill repays,
For twice this very evening, but for thee,
There had not been a hair betwixt my death and me.

On the loose plank which spanned that roaring flood
How had we fared alone, my dog and I
Or 'mid the darkness of the deafening wood
When at full speed the horseman galloped by.
In truth from thee it comes that now I live;
My recompense should with thy service vie;
But little recompense have I to give,
Yet something have I stored to meet the hour
When crippling Age shall bring the wanderer to his door.

Broken I am in health, and child have none,
And couldst thou be content our lot to share
Ere to the grave my wife and I be gone,
That store for thee might grow by thrifty care;
But on a stranded vessel thou wilt seem
To waste thy pains forlorn of inward cheer;
So oft I fancy, and myself I deem
A Burden to the earth whereon I tread
A poor and useless man and better with the dead."

His hopes the youth to fatal dreams had lent
And from that hour had laboured with the curse
Of evil thoughts, nor had the least event
Not owned a meaning monstrous and perverse;
And now these latter words were words of blood
And all the man had said but served to nurse
Purpose most foul with most unnatural food;
Each kindred object which, that night, had braced
His fluctuating mind, he busily retraced.

Up as they climbed, the precipice's ridge
Lessons of death at every step had given;
And at the crossing of the pendent bridge
With impulse horrible his heart had striven:
And now with black regret he cursed agen
The fragment which the winds had idly riven;
But chief that place and those mysterious men
Here seen, did for his bloody purpose plead,
Of every human fear disburdening the deed.

At length confirmed and to the work addressed
The youth broke silence; but the summons found
No answer; for betaken to his rest
The blind man sleeping lay upon the ground.
So nearer to his bed the stripling drew,
When in that ample dungeon's farthest bound
Dim sparks revealed a hand of fleshy hue,
And such the import which that phantom bore
That had it long endure[d] his heart had beat no more.

But that grim shape, as if it ne'er had been,
Soon vanished [ ] and anon
In place of those dull sparks a light was seen
That from the cavern's depth came gliding on;
And now the legs as of a human frame
Appeared; and with that light which dimly shone
Forthwith a gloomy figure nearer came,
And, stopping short, replaced a kerchief bound
About his arm, that bled as from a recent wound.

Glad respite did that black Appearance give
When every inward vessel gan dispart
With ghostly terrors never sent to live
Amid the weakness of a mortal heart;
The pendent cutlass and the belt, descried
By what faint glare the lantern could impart,
Marked out the shape which he before had spied.
His work arranged, the man at distance short
Passed through the dark recess and sought the upper court.

Glad respite did that black Appearance give
When every inward vessel gan dispart
With ghostly terrors never sent to live
Amid the weakness of a mortal heart;
The pendent cutlass and the belt, descried
By what faint glare the lantern could impart,
Marked out the shape which he before had spied.
His work arranged, the man at distance short
Passed through the dark recess and sought the upper court.

His ear, though often troubled, only felt
The low vault to the moaning gust reply;
His sight, though inly busy, only dealt
With darkness or the shapes of Phantasy;
At length he rose, by irksome thought impelled,
And looking up, in restless walk, on high
Above the dungeon's roof a star beheld
Whose sparkling lustre, through the crevice shed,
Sent to his fluttering heart a momentary dread.

At length, the open area to explore,
For in that vault no second foot appeared,
Up to the dungeon's mouth his course he bore.
The winds were passed away, the sky was cleared,
Nor did the court or silent walls present
Object or shape whose motion might be feared;
Only the crimson moon, her lustre spent,
With orb half-visible was seen to sink,
Leading the storm's remains along the horizon's brink.

So back he slunk and to the corner came
Where lay his friend devoted to the grave;
But as he gan to lift his murderous aim
A rumbling noise along the hollow cave
Was heard remote, succeeded by a sound
Of uncouth horror, to which echo gave
Such rending peal as made the vault rebound;
Nor whelming crash it seemed, or shriek or groan,
But painful outcry strange, to living ear unknown.

" Whence comes that uproar?" starting from his sleep
The sailor cried, nor could the other make
Reply, o'ercome with shock of horror deep;
And, when returning thought began to wake,
In bare remembrance of that sound there dwelt
Such power as made his joints with terror quake;
And all which he that night had seen or felt
Showed like the shapes delusion loves to deem
Sights that obey the dead or phantoms of a dream.
[ cetera desunt ]
Rate this poem: 

Reviews

No reviews yet.