The Prophecy Of St. Oran Part III
'A CURSE is on this work!' Columba cried;
And with their dark robes flapping in the gale,
The frightened monks came hurrying to his side,
And looked at one another turning pale;
For every night the work done in the day
Strewn on the ground in wild confusion lay.
'A curse is on this work!' he cried again
As his keen glances swept each face in turn:
'Behold, God smites us in the hurricane,
And in the lightning doth His anger burn.
Brethren, some secret deadly sin there is
Known to the Lord for which we suffer this.
'Why is it that the elements combine
Against us, raging in relentless ire
Against our humble wave-encircled shrine?
That air, that water, that consuming fire
Inveterately war against this fane
Which we would build, but ever build in vain?
'Why is it that the billows of the deep
Rise in revolt against the rock-bound shore,
Lashing themselves to fury on each steep,
Till inland lakes, awakening at the roar,
Now roar in mad response, and swell amain,
Till broadening waters hide the drowning plain?
'One night, ye know, from out the imminent gloom,
Shrouding the firmament as in a pall,
The levin, like a spirit from the tomb,
Leaped with a ghastly glare, and in its fall
Struck the new roof-tree with reverberate crash,
And left a little heap of shrivelled ash.
'Another night--why need I tell the tale?--
The winds in legions thundered through the air,
Battering the walls with sudden gusts of hail,
They rushed with piercing shrieks and strident blare
Athwart the cloisters and the roofless hall,
Till stone by stone fell from the rocking wall.
'And then the very water turned our foe,
For in the dead of night it slowly crept,
Soft wave on wave, till in its overflow
It deluged all the basement while we slept;
And where the convent yesterday did stand,
There spreads the lake as level as my hand.
'And then, when slowly after many days
The waters had subsided to the main,
And through the toilsome hours we sought to raise
Our ever-shattered structure once again,
Behold! the earth herself with stone and block
Shudders convulsive and begins to rock.
'For lo, the fiends let loose at God's command
Burrow and delve in subterranean gloom,
Till like the troubled ocean all the land
Heaves to and fro as tottering to its doom:
The quiet graves themselves now bursting yawn,
God's holy house once more lies overthrown!
'And now hath come the hour of darkest need--
The people have abandoned us! They wail
That their dead fathers rage against our creed,
That in dark rushing cloud and roaring gale
The houseless spirits ride and fill the air
With lamentations for the gods that were!
'The Lord rebukes us in His wrath! I ask,
Again I ask, what man among you all
Living in deadly sin, yet wears the mask
Of sanctity? Yea, let him cleanse his soul,
Confessing all the crying guilt of it,
Or go for ever to the burning pit!'
Again his eagle glances swept each face,
While the assembled monks, with anxious sigh,
Asked with a thrill of horror and amaze,
'Was it indeed a judgment from on high?'
As with one voice then cried the saintly throng,
'Not I--not I--know of that hidden wrong.'
And with uplifted arms they loudly prayed,
'Oh Lord, if in our midst the traitor bides
Who breaks the sacramental vow he made,
And takes Thy name in vain, and basely hides
His wicked ways from every eye save Thine--
Let his dark sin stand forth, and make a sign.'
All day expectant, waiting on His will,
The monks in reverential silence stand
Beneath the rustling pine-trees of the hill,
Whence their eyes sweep across the level land:
Lo, from afar the vision of a maid
Comes o'er the shining pools the flood has made.
Swiftly she came across the devious track,
With glimmering waterways on either hand;
Against the luminous vapour at her back
Her dusky form looms mystically grand;
While in the liquid crystal by her side
The phantom of herself seems still to glide.
Was she a spirit risen from the grave
When its foul depths lay open to the sky,
Or ghost of Druid priestess wont to rave
Her blasphemous oracles in times gone by,
Who ventured thus upon the sacred isle
For ever barred against a woman's wile?
But no! as nearer and more near she draws,
They see a maiden with the wild deer's grace
Bounding from stone to stone, whose beauty awes
These Christian fathers, riveting their gaze;
For like the full moon framed in amber air
Her face shone mid the glory of her hair.
Then in their midst all breathless did she stand,
But paused bewildered and as one affrayed,--
Even as a swift wave making for the strand
With all its waters gathering to a head
Delays, suspended with back-fluttering locks,
Then breaks in showers of brine upon the rocks.
So for a moment motionless she stood,
From monk to monk her wildered glances stray;
Immovable, like figures carved in wood,
These waited what their master's lips would say,
But ever and anon, in mute appeal,
Her piteous eyes to Oran's face would steal.
Only for one brief moment she delayed,
Struck speechless at his cold averted mien,
Then with a long low moan she blindly swayed
With her fair arms towards him, and in keen
Unutterable anguish cried aghast--
'Is this a dream, or am I mad at last?
'Dost thou not know me, Oran--Oran mine?
Look on me; I am Mona, I am she
For whom thy soul so thirstily did pine!
Nay, turn not from me! Say, art thou not he
Whose mouth to my mouth yearningly was pressed,
Whose dearest head lay pillowed on my breast?
'Dear, be not wroth with me in that I came;
For our love's sake look not so stern and grave;
Ah, surely thou wilt think me free from blame
For having dared to break the word I gave,
When I have told thee what has brought me here,
How sore distraught I was with grief and fear.
Oh love, when night came swooping o'er the sea,
And on the poor folk's tired eyelids sleep
Fell like a seabird's feather, stealthily
I climbed the jagged overhanging steep
Whose giddy summit looks towards thy home,
Wondering if haply I might see thee come.
When, lo! the solid cliff began to shake
As in an ague fit, and while I stood
Trembling, methought the maddening sea would break
Its everlasting limits, for the flood
Came crashing in loud thunder o'er the land,
And swept our huts like seaweed from the sand.
Then a great horror seized me, and I reeled
And fell upon my face, and knew no more.
When from that trance I woke, the sun had wheeled
Far up the sky and shone upon the shore,
And there beneath the bright and cloudless sky
I saw a heap of mangled corpses lie.
Shrieking I fled, and paused not in my fright
Fleeing I knew not whither, but my feet
Flew swift as ever arrow in its flight
To thee, my love! Hast thou no smile to greet
Thy Mona with,--no kiss? For pity's sake,
Speak to me, Oran, or my heart will break.'
All held their breath when she had made her moan:
All eyes were fixed on that pale monk, who stood
Unnaturally quiet--like a stone
Whose flinty sides are fretted by the flood--
When St. Columba turned on him, and said,
'I bid thee speak,--man, knowest thou this maid?'
Then answered him the other, but his words
Rang hollow like the toll of funeral bell,
And on his humid brows like knotted cords
The livid veins and arteries seemed to swell,
Facing the accusation of his eyes,
'Master, I know her not--the woman lies!'
A hum of indignation, doubt, alarm,
Ran through their circle, but none durst to speak
Before the Master, who with lifted arm
And eyes whence fiery flashes seemed to break,
Cried very loudly, 'Is it even so,--
Then help me God but I will rout this foe!
'Look, brethren, on this lovely maiden, fair
As virginal white lilies newly blown,
Fresh as the first breath of the vernal air,
Pure as an incarnation of the dawn;
Look on that golden glory of her hair,--
It is a man-trap, Satan's deadliest snare.
'Brethren, let the two eldest of you seize
This fiend in angel's garb, this beast of prey
Which lies in wait behind that snowy fleece
Lusting to take our brother's name away,
And blast his fame for purest sanctity
With lies forged by our common enemy!
'Seize her, and bear her to that frightful steep
Where, bristling with huge pier and jagged spire,
The spectre rock which overhangs the deep
Pierces the ghastly clouds like frozen fire;
There standing, fling her from its giddiest cone--
Into the ocean fling her, like a stone.'
The sentence had gone forth; the monks obeyed;
Two venerable brothers, deep in years,
First crossed themselves, then seized the struggling maid
In their stout arms; despite her prayers and tears,
And wild appears on him she called her love,
They with their burden now began to move.
But he, whose human flesh seemed petrified
To marble, started from that rigid mood,
And blindly running after them, he cried,
'Hold! hold! stain not your hands with innocent blood;
I broke my vow, I am the sinner, I
Seduced the maid,--spare her, and let me die.'
They halted midway, marvelling, aghast,
When St. Columba thundered to them 'Stay!'
His voice was like a dreadful battle-blast,
And startled coveys rose and whirred away:
'He broke his vow, he is the sinner; aye
Do as he says--spare her, and let him die!
'Yea, well I saw the gnawing worm within,
But wished to tear the mask from off his soul,
That in the naked hideousness of sin
He might stand pilloried before you all:
This is a judgment on me from above
For loving him with more than woman's love.'
His voice here failed him and he hid his face;
And as before some imminent storm all sound
In earth, air, ocean ceases for a space,
There fell a breathless silence on that mound;
But when Columba raised his voice once more,
It seemed the muffled thunder's boding roar.
'Oh perjured one! oh breaker of thy vow!
Oh base, apostate monk, whose guilt abhorred
Weighed down our walls and laid our chapel low!
Thy life shall be an offering to the Lord,
And with thy blood we will cement the fane
Which for thy sin's sake still was built in vain.
'Seize him, and bear him to that dolorous site
Where mid our ruined cells the chapel stands
Whose holy walls and columns every night
Have fallen beneath the blow of dæmon hands;
There, living, bury him beneath its sod,
And so propitiate the Lord our God.'
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