ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 5

 

MAID AVORAINE.

 

I.

SIR GAWAIN rode in fretful spleen
Thro’ yellow meadows of wheat and bean,
     And thro’ green wood and glade;
The balmy peace he found not then
Among the busy haunts of men,
     He sought in summer shade,
And all day long as thus he rode
Unrest within his heart abode.

 

II.

In sober samite he was drest,
No shining mail was on his breast,
    
Nor sword nor spear had he;
His heart within was heavy as lead,
And as he rode his helmless head
     He hung dejectedly,
And as he rode from place to place
The sun burnt blushes on his face.

 

III.

Sir Gawain said, “I leave behind
The fever of the warlike mind.
    
And seek a calm repose;
Unhelm’d upon my path I set,
Quitting those arts wherewith I met
     Mine honorable foes;
And far away across the plain
I go to woo Maid Avoraine.

 

IV.

“Within the palace of the king
The sweet-eyed syrens smile and sing,
    
Brittle and bright as glass;
Like clouds that part with softest airs,
A languid loveliness is theirs:
     So from the court I pass,
And, poor and pale, I go to gain
The country-bred Maid Avoraine.

 

V.

“She knows no lust of pomp or pelf,
And she will love me for myself,
    
And share my lowly lot;
For she is innocent and fair,
And wears within her yellow hair
     The blue forget-me-not
Myself did place there, in my pride,
When last we wandered side by side.

 

VI.

“Her heart is like a bird with wings,
That soars above the world and sings
    
For joy the spring is here;
And she will love me though I cast
Mine ancient honour to the blast,
     And break both sword and spear.
Her heart is humble. For the rest,
My strength shall put her to the test.

 

VII.

“What time I rode in mail like fire,
Close followed by my meek esquire,
    
Home from the tilt and fight,
And rode beside a running stream,
With golden helm that made a gleam
     Of noonday in the night,
I halted late upon the plain,
And saw the sweet Maid Avoraine.

 

VIII.

“Rude russet woof her peasant’s dress,
But all the rest was loveliness
    
As sweet and white as milk;
She gave me food, she brought me wine,
She sang me songs, and placed in mine
     A hand more soft than silk.
I spoke no word. At break of day,
Gloomy with doubt, I rode away.

 

IX.

“But morn and night, in peace or fight,
While I have dwelt, a warlike knight,
    
Where merry men carouse,
The memory of the country maid
Has darkened on me, like the shade
     Of trembling forest boughs
On waters where the sun doth fall
And twinkle in a golden ball.

 

X.

“So half ashamed, forlorn, and weak,
Doubting the joy I go to seek,
    
Moody I ride and slow;
The honours fallen from my head
Cling roundabout my feet like lead,
     And gall me as I go,
With fretful heart and questioning brain,
To country-bred Maid Avoraine.”

 

XI.

Sir Gawain rode thro’ sun and shade,
O’er yellow hill, thro’ gay green glade,
    
And by the river’s side;
He left King Arthur’s bright abode
Hemmed round with harvest. As he rode,
     Dark-browed and pensive-eyed,
Shades of the court behind his back
Grew darker in Sir Gawain’s track.

 

XII.

And once or twice he pulled the reign
As if to journey back again;
    
And, though his heart was firm,
Shame tingled on him as a whip,
And a thin scorn upon his lip
     Was writhing like a worm;
For he was thinking, more or less,
Of the sweet maiden’s lowliness.

 

XIII.

Then on the forehead of a hill
He halted, gazing on the still
    
Green vale that lay below,
Where thro’ wild banks of bush and brake
The river like a silver snake
     Drew glistening coils,—and lo!
Just underneath him in the plain,
The cottage of Maid Avoraine.

 

XIV.

With music in her ears, that crept
Into her blood and then outleapt
    
In joyful blushes bright,
Just at the threshold sat the maid,
Singing and spinning in the shade,
     And in her eyes was light;
For like a gem she wore the fair
Forget-me-not in her yellow hair.

 

XV.

Whereat the knight rode on, grown less
Proud of the meanness of his dress,
    
Half doubtful, half in shame,—
Saying, “She honoured me of old,
But 1 am poorer twentyfold
     And have a meaner name;
Perchance she will not know me now
Mine honours fall from off my brow.”

 

XVI.

But as he rode Maid Avoraine
Ran out to meet him on the plain,
    
Full of soft joys and fears;
Then, starting back, she looked in dread
On his mean dress and helmless head,
     And her eyes filled with tears;
And shrinking from his kiss she gazed
Upon him, trembling and amazed.

 

XVII.

Then Gawain thought, “She loves me not;”
Adding aloud, “Hast thou forgot
    
The man, no longer knight,
Whom thou didst swear to love?—Behold,
Stript of my sword and coat of gold,
     In miserable plight,
I come unto thee seeking rest!”
She brightened, blushed, was on his breast.

 

XVIII.

“Nay, Avoraine,” Sir Gawain cried,
And thrust her roughly from his side,
    
“Say, dost thou love me still?”
“Ay.” “Art thou willing, sweet, to prove
That thou dost very truly love?”
     “With God’s good help, I will;
Say, Gawain, say, what shall I do
To prove my maiden love is true?”

 

XIX.

Sir Gawain hung the head awhile,
And gnawed his beard with crafty smile,
    
Then moodily he cried:
“Two summer days beneath the sun
In page’s dress I’d have thee run
     At my swift horse’s side,
Thro’ bush, thro’ brake, thro’ thorny woods,
And swimming over swollen floods.

 

XX.

“The ladies of the court I leave
Are false and fair,—their smiles deceive
    
The foolish and the mad;
But I would have thee prove thyself
Above that lust of pomp or pelf
     Which makes the proud dames glad.”
Maid Avoraine to the soul was stirred;
She blushed consent and spake no word.

 

XXI.

Then, blushing in her page’s dress
For shame of her own loveliness,
    
Across the tangled plain,
O’er bush, thro’ briar, thro’ thorny woods,
And swimming over swollen floods,
     Sped sweet Maid Avoraine,
Panting and falling in her speed,
Splashed by the hoofs of Gawain’s steed.

 

XXII.

They rested in the silent night,
Then bounded on at morning light
    
O’er wood and field and flood;
The sharp thorns made her rich veins flow
Like wine that drops in cups of snow,
     And her white limbs ran blood;
And evermore, with face like fire,
She blushed for shame of her attire.

 

XXIII.

Two summer days the mounted man
Rode dumbly, while the maiden ran
    
Panting behind his horse;
Thro’ thickest woods his way he took,
Thro’ many a deep and chilly brook,
     And foamy water-course,
Two summer days; then on the plain
He halted with Maid Avoraine.

 

XXIV.

When at the cottage door they stopt,
Down at his feet the maiden dropt,
    
Worn with the weary race;
But Gawain leapt to earth in bliss,
And caught her to him with a kiss
     That burned the tearful face,—
Saying aloud, “At last ’tis plain
Thou lovest me well, Maid Avoraine.

 

XXV.

“Yet, listen. From the court I fled,
Casting mine honours from my head,
    
The mail from off my breast,
I broke my sword, I broke my spear,
And, sore with doubt, I journeyed here
     To put thee to the test,
And prove if utter love for me
Would vindicate thy low degree.

 

XXVI.

“Truth dwells not in the court, nor love;
But, by yon stainless heaven above,
    
I swear that thou art true!
Thy beauty warms my blood like wine—
Lo, with this kiss I make thee mine!”
     But the white maiden drew
Aside, and hid her face in woe,
And slowly murmured “Nay, not so.”

 

XXVII.

“Dost thou not love me as before?”
Then she, “I love thee more and more
    
Because thou art unkind.”
“Nay, by mine honour”—but she cried,
“Swear not by that thou hast denied
     With heart as weak as wind,
And touch me not, for thus I tear
The blue forget-me-not from my hair.

 

XXVIII.

“I am a woman lowly born,
A thing they trample on and scorn,
    
But Love is blind as sleep;
And had you truly deemed me dear,
And loved with holy love, you ne’er
     Would hold my love so cheap,
As to have cast away thy worth
In pity for my lowly birth.

 

XXIX.

“You had been welcome stricken down
By wrath of man and fortune’s frown,
    
In scorn of pomp or pelf.
But further, for thy wisdom, hear—
Love hath no time to doubt or fear
     Its object or itself;
In faithful service Love can live,
Certain of what it has to give.

 

XXX.

“Nay, Gawain. Love must ever be
Blind in its own sufficiency,
    
Its creed is to aspire;
And hadst thou honoured my pure name
Thou wouldst have pardoned me the shame
     Of this forlorn attire:
Love cannot stoop so, to despise
The thing its nature magnifies.

 

XXXI.

“Love is not love when disallied
From the white amulet of pride,—
    
’Tis proud in its degree;
In pity to my lowly birth.
Thou wouldst have honoured thine own worth
     Hadst thou but honoured me;
And thus, thou loveet me not.” “O stay!”
But pale Maid Avoraine fled away.

avoraine

XXXII.

Gnawing his ragged beard in wrath,
Sir Gawain took the summer path
     Back to the haunts of men;
With stubborn heart and fretful spleen,
Thro’ yellow meadows of wheat and bean,
     He journeyed back again—
Sick with the world, for in his brain
Sharp conscience jangled like a chain.

 

XXXIII.

“Lo, I have put her to the test!
Her heart is hollow as the rest,
     And I am sadly wise;
I was a fool and I am chid,—
Her hollow falsehood lifts the lid
     Of folly from mine eyes—
Once more I in my sword shall find
A charm against all womankind.”

 

XXXIV.

But when Sir Gawain left the spot,
She put the pale forget-me-not
     Into her hair again:
“’Tis fading now, no matter why,
But I will wear it till I die,”
     Said pale Maid Avoraine—
And thus she wore it, hour by hour,
Till both were faded, maid and flower.

 

XXXV.

She said, “The love I bore and bear
Is like the pale flower in my hair,
     And hath as sad a dower;
For though it fade and in the spring
Become a miserable thing,
     The flower is still a flower;
It is a flower, though bloom hath fled,
And Love is Love, though hope be dead.”

                                                       R. WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

_____

 

’Maid Avoraine’ was published in Once A Week, 19th July, 1862, (Vol. VII, p. 96-98). The illustration is by John Everett Millais (colour version below).

avorainecol

 

THE GIFTS: AN ARAB PARAPHRASE.

 

FIRST SONG.

I.

IN an ancient Arab story
     Lies a meaning to my mind;
’Tis as pure as sweet snow-fairies,
     And as vagrant as the wind.
’Tis as pure as sweet snow-fairies,
     When they weave in silent hours,
O’er the tranced and dying winter,
     Strange, weird visions of the flowers.
And the story holds a moral,
     And a meaning fit for rhymes,
Soothly writ for fireside readers
     In the busy modern times.

 

II.

Years ago, there lived a maiden
     In whose sunshine-crimson’d blood
Dwelt a spirit, like the odour
     In the rose’s swelling bud.
On her face that tender spirit
     Was as tremulous for speech,
When the winds of feeling swept it,
     As the shivering silver beech;
And she long’d to set to kisses
     Such sweet songs as young souls sing,
’Till she grew too fair for any
     Save a lover or a king.

 

III.

Lo! her hair was black and fragrant,
     And it floated to the knee;
And her lips were riper, richer,
     Than the palace of the bee;
Slender was her form, and lovely
     As a cloud in summer skies,—
As a small white cloud by distance
     Shaped to grace for human eyes;
And her radiant eyes were troubled
     With sweet pictures manifold;
And she was a chieftain’s daughter
     In an Arab tribe of old.

 

IV.

For the nut-brown men and women,
     Of whose race the maid was one,
Faced the sunshine, and their faces
     Took the brightness of the sun.
And they wander’d eastward, westward,
     In a pastoral content;
And the chieftain, like his children,
     Pitch’d an ever-changing tent;
Ever changing, ever stirring,
     By the winds blown to and fro;
But the sun and stars went with them
     Wheresoever they might go.

 

V.

When the sun and stars, that follow’d
     Wheresoever they might ride,
Brought a bashful boy, Oneddah,
     To the Arab maiden’s side.
He was fair, and tall, and comely,
     And his heart was bravely meek;
And the moon that shines on lovers
     Met the sunshine on his cheek.
He was lowly born and humble,
     Of no mark, and no degree;
But she said, “I love Oneddah,
     For his face is fair to see.”

 

VI.

And in secret, when blue heaven
     Bared her starry-veinèd breast,
Met the maiden and Oneddah,
     In a love that lips confest.
Vows were spoken, and the token
     Made Oneddah sweetly proud;
While the maiden’s eyes were brighter,
     And her laughter was less loud.
Fondly meeting in the darkness,
     Though the clouds were in the skies,
They could glimpses catch of heaven
     Thro’ each other’s lovelorn eyes.

 

VII.

But the maiden wept in secret,
     Wholly helpless and forlorn,
O’er the gulf that hung between her
     And Oneddah, lowly born;
And to bridge the gulf with flowers
     Well she knew was all in vain,
Though whene’er they met she labour’d
     At the bridge of flowers again.
Till at last the dark cloud gather’d
     O’er the white tent of her life,—
For the chieftain, Abd-el-Azig,
     Came to woo her for a wife.

 

VIII.

Quoth her sire, “The Abd-el-Azig
     Bringeth wedding gifts in store;
And for every gift he bringeth,
     Child, he loveth thee the more.
He is noble, he is gentle,
     And his house is like a king’s;
And his courser on the desert
     Flieth like a bird with wings;
And his words are truly spoken,
     And his vows are truly said,—
So array thee white and saintly
     For the Abd-el-Azig’s bed.”

 

IX.

Then the life-blood of the maiden
     Curdled icy as it ran;
But a father’s will was gospel
     In that rude, untutor’d clan.
Deaf to hope, and blind to sorrow,
     Low the maiden bent her head;
And she dress’d her white and saintly
     For the Abd-el-Azig’s bed.
Then the Abd-el-Azig raised her
     To his saddle by the hands,
And amid a mist of lances
     Bore her swiftly o’er the sands.

 

SECOND SONG.

I.

Then the Abd-el-Azig gave her,
     As the custom went, a place
Deck’d to be her own to dwell in,
     With a veil upon her face.
He was white with fifty summers;
     On his cheeks his age did burn;
And his snowy beard before him
     Swept his heart, and kept it stern.
So he gave her food and raiment,
     Silent maids to wait upon her;
And from eyes of all, save maidens,
     She was vineyarded by honour.

 

II.

And the woman—maid no longer,
     Very patient in her place,
Felt the shadow of Oneddah
     Dark upon her marriage face;
But her thoughts were calm and steadfast,
     And her heart could think at last
Of Oneddah, as of something
     Very holy in the past.
If a sympathy unhallow’d,
     Looking on her, seem’d to doubt her,
Lo! she rose her height, and calmly
     Drew her marriage veil about her.

 

III.

Came a knave from Abd-el-Azig:—
     “Lo, my master sends thee these
Gifts of raiment rich, enclosed in
     Costly boxes made of trees.
They are pure and perfect pledges
     That he loves thee next to Heaven;
And my master bids me greet thee
     With the gifts that he has given.”
Veil’d, and chastely proud, not deigning
     To unveil her matron face,
Said the woman, “Tell thy master
     That I thank him for his grace.”

 

IV.

So they set them in her chamber,—
     Gifts a matron’s heart to please;
Gifts of raiment rich, enclosed in
     Cumbrous boxes made of trees;
And they spread them out in secret—
     Being vineyarded by honour,—
And the dress that seemed the purest
     Took she forth and put upon her.
From the rustling dress there floated
     Clouds of perfume through the room,
And the boxes savour’d sweetly
     Of the barks of trees in bloom.

 

V.

Came a maiden, briefly saying,—
     “Lo! there standeth at the gate,
Very footsore, pale, and weary,
     One—a man of poor estate;
And his lips are parch’d and hungry,
     From the thirsting desert ways;
Hither, o’er the yellow desert,
     He has journey’d many days.
Burning tears are on his eyelids
     Where he standeth at the door;
He is named, he saith, Oneddah,
     And he craves to see thee sore.”

 

VI.

Then began a bitter struggle
     In the matron’s heart and brain;
For her heart, with bitter longing,
     Craved to see him once again;
And she murmur’d, “I will see him,
     Very pure in sight of Heaven,
Like a matron, and array’d in
     This, the gift my lord has given.”
Veil’d she murmur’d, “Bid him enter!”
     And he shone upon the place,
Mean and ragged, with the radiance
     Of the past upon his face.

 

VII.

Came Oneddah, like a famish’d
     Pilgrim to a saintly shrine;
And she set rich meats before him,
     With a fountain for his wine.
Him she greeted, not unveiling,
     In a calm and measured phrase,
While around her pure heart coiling,
     Stirr’d the snake of other days;
And with wistful tender gazes
     Young Oneddah look’d upon her,
But his sorrow seem’d the sweeter
     For her wifehood and her honour.

 

VIII.

Then the gift of Abd-el-Azig,
     Round her wrapt rich fold on fold,
Kept her master’s form before her,
     Press’d her heart, and kept it cold.
But a footstep sounding thither
     Startled thro’ her firm repose,
And her breath was like the odour
     Frozen in a winter rose.
Fearing taint of chiding voices,
     “Hide,” she said, “in one of these
(Quickly, for the foot draws nearer)
     Cumbrous boxes made of trees.”

 

IX.

Quickly flew the pale Oneddah,
     In the cumbrous box he hid
Whence she took the dress that clothed her,
     And she closed the heavy lid.
Came the knave behind her, greeting,
     “Lo! my master craves to know
If those eyes, or bright or weary,
     Will behold his face, or no?”
Scarcely knowing that she utter’d,
     In her sinless fear half dumb,
Veil’d and trembling said the matron,
     “Certes, bid my master come.”

 

X.

Fearful of the words thus spoken,
     In her stainless wifely fear,
Fearful for the young Oneddah,
     Made by very honour dear,
Sat the veilèd Arab woman
     Stately, waiting for her master.
Flew the knave to Abd-el-Azig
     Than the wingless ostrich faster:
“In thy lady’s scented chamber,
     Underneath the cumbrous lid
Of the gift thy servant gave her,
     One, a stranger youth, lies hid.”

 

XI.

Abd-el-Azig, wroth and angry,
     Smote the knave upon the cheek,
Gnaw’d his beard, and spat it from him,
     Ere he moved his tongue to speak:
“Knave!” he cried, “I know thou liest!
     Tell me, did thy mistress say
If, thy master’s greeting given,
     She would welcome me to-day?”
Being answer’d, Abd-el-Azig
     Bade the trembling knave unfold
Where amid the rest was lying
     That one box of which he told.

 

XII.

In the scented room the chieftain
     Kiss’d the cold and trembling wife,
Where she sat, all veil’d and stately,
     With the white sin of her life.
Then he sat him down, with greetings,
     On the box made of a tree;
Stooping downward, smiling, lock’d it;
     Rising, cast away the key.
Then he sought again, with kisses,
     That one gift that he had given,
Whence she took the dress that clothed her
     Purely then in sight of Heaven.

 

XIII.

Trembling, fearful to refuse him,
     Robb’d of all that made her brave
By her sinless pride, the matron
     Gave him back the gift he gave.
Calling five strong men, he bade them
     Bear it to the sandy plain,
Thinking gladly, “She refused not,
     She is white without a stain.”
Then he follow’d that great burthen,
     Borne with pain in ten strong hands:
“Dig me here a pit, I pray ye,
     Deep among the desert sands.”

 

XIV.

Deep they dug, while Abd-el-Azig
     Close beside them smiling paced.
Two short hours, and in the bottom
     Of the pit the box was placed.
Then the chieftain bade the toilers
     Leave the pit unfill’d, and go;
And they left him in the desert,
     Gravely pacing to and fro.
Leaping quickly to the bottom,
     Abd-el-Azig bent his head,
Put his proud lips to the keyhole,
     Though they scorn’d himself, and said:

 

XV.

“If so be that flesh of living
     Man in this broad box doth lie,
Let him pay the debt he owes me;
     He has wrong’d me—let him die!”
Fearful lest a voice might answer,
     Upward leapt he, stauncher, stouter;—
“I believe her pure and holy,
     Act of mine shall never doubt her;
If, as I believe most duly,
     In the box there lieth none,
Let the gift earth gave be given
     Back to earth—no wrong is done.”

 

XVI.

Then with strengthen’d hands he labour’d,
     Heaping down the solid sands:
“Meet it is a matron’s wrongs be
     Buried by her master’s hands.”
Then the box was cover’d over
     With a crust of solid soil,
And the smiling chieftain rested
     From his fears and from his toil.
Calling then his knaves unto him—
     “Sacred as your father’s bones
Be this spot, and, best to show it,
     Pile me here a cairn of stones.”

 

THIRD SONG.

I.

In the early desert morning,
     With the desert for a bed,
Pillow’d by the cairn, they found her,
     Calmly smiling, cold and dead;
Often had she linger’d near it,
     Shaking parting hands with life,
Sad and calm, but ne’er forgetting
     Patient duties of a wife.
Veil’d her face, as veil’d when living,
     There the matron slumber’d—drest
In the gift her master gave her,
     With his baby on her breast.

 

II.

Abd-el-Azig, grave and solemn,
     Gnaw’d his snowy beard, and said:
“Be she buried where ye found her,
     With these stones above her head;
Place the child upon her bosom,
     Wrap them in the gift I gave,
Let her slumber as a matron
     Very holy, in this grave;
Dig to the box of price, and in it
     Lay her down; but on your oath
Hold it sacred, look not near it—
     Pile the solid sands on both!”*

                                                 R. WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

___________

*The rude outline of this story—which was capable of the subtle poetic interpretation which I have tried to give it—is to be found in some French MSS. The whole beauty of the idea is to be measured by the limits of primitive ethics.—R. W. B.

_____

 

‘The Gifts. An Arab Paraphrase’ was published in The St. James's Magazine (September, 1862).

_____

 

IN THE CAMP.

 

               COMRADE Ned,
               This wine is as red
(Though sweet to the taste) as the blood we shed;
               When yesternight,
               On the dead-strewn height,
We put the Frenchmen by scores to bed;
Sung them to sleep with our cannon by hordes,
And tuck’d them up with our English swords!
So it puts me in mind of the fight again,
The boiling and seething of blood and brain,
When the trumpet, awaking with urging breath,
Blew us together in mists of death,
And our corselets rattled like wind and rain;
               It reminds me, too,
               Of a foe I slew,
Of a ghastly face that I cleft in twain.

Last night the work of a life was done;
Whether Providence did it, or Chance, all’s one;—
But before I return to my primitive mud,
     I’ve a tale to tell in your ears, old friend.
(I’m glad that this wine has the colour of blood—
     ’Twill keep me in patience to get to the end!)

               Well, Ned, you must know
               That, eight summers ago,
My heart, like a rose just beginning to blow,
Caught the sweet sunny light of a young girl’s smile,
That hung like a butterfly on it the while;
And my heart began throbbing, and sounding, and burning,
And my blood began glowing, and aching, and yearning;
And, bewilder’d in sunshine, my head began turning.
Pshaw! I had fallen in love, to be brief just here.
     Delight pour’d upon me, old friend, in a flood;
And I hoped—what I hoped for is perfectly clear—
She was weak, though, in spite of her face,—weak as dust;
Too lovely to doubt, and too fragile to trust:
               And I knew it, in spite
               Of the tender love-light
                   That absorb’d me
                   And orb’d me,
               Both morning and night,
With a fanciful brightness of hope and of home;
     And I felt that her will, if permitted to dash on
     The fatal rock of some treacherous passion,
Would break, leave her naked, and fly like the foam!
In the quiet depth of her azure eyes
     Slept a fire which the angels would deem undivine,
But the halt and the blind, comrade Ned, are more wise
     And keen-vision’d than I in this love-dream of mine.
     (Well, the fire has been quench’d in that blood and this wine!)

         I doubt if she loved me at all, though her scorning
         Was buried by inches away till the morning
         When the radiant and beautiful dream of my life
         Was merged in completion;—I made her my wife.

I doubt if she loved me, I said. Do I doubt?
     Nay, she loved me much less than some pence that I had:
That’s the English of love, if the truth must out,
     As you’ll find by-and-bye to your cost, my lad.
For Cupid, when young and just trying to speak,
Uses a sort of bewildering Greek;
But after the moon is exhausted of honey,
He takes to good English, and prattles of money.

So we dwelt in our joy for a summer or more,—
     The honey remain’d, though the moon shone no longer;
     And I fancy my manhood grew prouder and stronger,
And something more tender than thithertofore.
     But oh, comrade Ned, the proud hope and the joy
     When she lay in the darkness and bare me my boy!
When the little stranger oped eyes and smiled,
     Till the wine in our veins was rubied as this is,
               When with blind, proud kisses,
We peer’d into heaven through the eyes of our child,
     And saw the white angels in beautiful calm,
     And heard not, but felt, they were singing a psalm;
               While, fresh from the shadow of death,
               We could feel their breath
     Blow cool on our kissing lips through his mouth of balm!
We? Did she see as I saw the vision of wonder,
The glory above us, within us, and under?
Can that breath out of heaven have blown us asunder?
               Or should we again
               Have been wedded by pain,
When the woman’s grand agony dazzled and stunn’d her?

     To see her sit with the child on her knee,
         And the first soft light of its love awake,
         Morning and eve, was a sight to make
     The heart grow big, and the blood feel free!
                   (More wine, friend Ned:
                   I’m glad ’tis red
                   As the blood we shed;
     For the child and the woman were heaven to me!)

     I had a friend, but his soul was vile,—
     I had a friend, with a lie in his smile;
     I had a friend, and a wife who defiled
     The blood that ran red in the veins of our child.

They fled together, the woman and man,—
     The foul French slime and the English wife;
But swift as they, flew, Ned, they never outran
     The purpose that goaded me on like a knife,
     When the fiends had still left me the hate of my life.
               They fled in their shame,
     With the babe, whose smile was a curse upon her;
     They fled with the jewels of my good name.
     (But this wine is less bright than the life-blood of honour!)

With my blood at white heat, without pain, without pity,
I hounded them onward from city to city;
From place to place, o’er hill and vale,
     O’er snowy ridges and waters blue,
They fled in their fear, and my face was pale
     In their track as they flew!
And I was unconscious of sun and moon,
Of stars that glide to a spheric tune,
Of rain and snow, and the flying wind,
Which I quickly outstripp’d and left behind;
Conscious only by day and night
     Of some strange devil within my mind,
Who pointed me on with a finger of light,
     Though his eyes were blind!

               ’Neath the snow scalps
               Of the giant Alps,
The woman and I came face to face,
     While the man flew onward in fear alone;
And she dropp’d at my feet in a lonely place,
               But my heart was stone.
O Ned, friend Ned, to stand and gaze
     In the eyes she had given to the little child;
To grasp her wrist in a dumb amaze,
     While the stern lips clench’d, and the heart went wild;
To look upon her, and have no words,
     While the hot face swoon’d to a scorn snow-white,
Was worse than a million of Frenchmen’s swords,
     And all the red horror of yesternight!

But while with her face at my knee she wept,
I lifted the child from her hold as it slept,
And, behold, it open’d its eyes from sleep,
     And stirr’d in my grasp with a sweet unrest,
Smiling, and stretching out arms to leap
               Back to her breast.
Whereat she heard its pleadings and cries.
               And lifting her eyes,
Yearn’d to the child, with no power to speak,
And hid her face again with a shriek.
Then I said, “The smile of the innocent
     Little child is my deepest revenge on thee;
But the sin with his innermost life is so blent,
     The shame clings to him so bitterly,
That nought can free the sweet boy from the stains
     Ye have cast upon him, till he can be
Baptized with the blood of your paramour’s veins!”

               (Drink, comrade Ned,
Nor look upon me with awe-struck eyes:—
               This wine is red,
Like the blood wherewith I swore to baptize
               The innocent urchin’s head!)

               Well, well, well!
               Comrade, I’ve little more to tell.
               We met and parted,
               And I turn’d bewilder’d, but stony-hearted,
With a heart stone-stubborn, but ready to break,
To the oath I swore for the little one’s sake.
Years, long years, without care or joy,
     I have been haunted by one dark thought;
     Years, long years, I have sought and sought
The living baptismal font of my boy,
     Till lately Queen Fortune invented these wars,
As a means of ridding the world of scamps,
And hither, thither, o’er fens and swamps,
     Under the sun, and under the stars,
I have fought for a time by your side, old friend,
     With a consciousness, undefined and dark,
That I somehow was reaching my purposed end.
               Now, mark!

               When yesternight,
               In the dim starlight,
We horsemen rode up the rocky height,
     And struggled onward o’er living and dead,
     With horses’ hoofs that were stain’d blood-red,
In the very midst of the panting fight,
               At length—we met!
     And without the light of the garish day,
         I knew the face I can never forget;
And I whisper’d my name, and pale and white
     As the foam of ocean he turn’d away;
But I gripp’d him back . . . and then—and then . . .
’Mid the roaring of cannon and shouting of men,
The groans of the brave as they died in their strength,
     ’Mid the crimson smoke as it roll’d to and fro,
I baptized my innocent boy at length,
     In the blood of my country’s foe!

Hark! The drum is beating to arms below—
There’ll be bloodshed again to-night, I know—
We’ve finish’d the bottle.—Let us go!

                                                                 R. WILLIAMS BUCHANAN.

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‘In The Camp’ was published in The St. James's Magazine (March, 1863).

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