IT FELL upon a summer night
The village folk were soundly sleeping,
Unconscious of the glamour white
In which the moon all things was steeping;
One window only showed a light;
Behind it, silent vigil keeping,
Sat Margaret, as one in trance—
The dark-eyed daughter of the Manse.
A flood of strange, sweet thoughts was surging
Her passionate heart and brain within.
At last, some secret impulse urging,
She laid aside her garment thin,
And from its snowy folds emerging,
Like Lamia from the serpent-skin,
She stood before her mirror bright
Naked, and lovely as the night.
Her dark hair o’er her shoulders flowing
Might well have been a silken pall
O’er Galatea’s image glowing
To life and love: she was withal—
The lamplight o’er her radiance throwing—
With her high bosom virginal,
A woman made to madden men,
A Cleopatra born again.
Hers was the beauty dark and splendid,
Whose spell upon the heart of man
Falls swiftly as, when day is ended,
Night falls in lands Australian.
Her rich, ripe, scarlet lips, bow-bended,
Smiled as such ripe lips only can;
Her eyes, wherein strange lightnings shone,
Were deeper than Oblivion.
With round, white arms, whose warm caress
No lover knew, raised towards the ceiling,
She looked like some young Pythoness
The secrets dark of Fate revealing,
Or goddess in divine distress
To higher powers for help appealing.
This invocation, standing so,
She sang in clear, sweet tones, but low:
Soul, from this narrow,
Mean life we know,
Speed as an arrow
From bended bow!
Seek, and discover,
On land or sea,
My destined lover,
Where’er he be.
How shalt thou know him,
My heart’s desire?—
His mien will show him,
His glance of fire.
High is his bearing,
His pride is high,
His spirit daring
Burns in his eye.
Birds have done mating;
The Spring is past;
My arms are waiting,
My heart beats fast.
“Oh, why,” she sighed, “has Fate awarded
This lot to me whose heart is bold?
My days by trifles are recorded,
My suitors men whose God is gold.
Oh for the Heroes helmed and sworded,
The lovers of the days of old,
Who broke for ladies many a lance
In gallant days of old Romance!
“Would I had lived in that great time when
A lady’s love was knight’s best boon;
When sword with sword made ringing rhyme, when
Mailed sea-kings fought from noon to moon,
And thought the slaughter grim no crime, when
The prize was golden-haired Gudrun.
Then I might find swords, broad and bright
And keen as theirs, for me to fight.
“But narrow bounds my life environ,
And hold my eager spirit in.
The men I see no heart of fire in
Their bodies bear. My love to win
A man must have a will of iron,
A soul of flame. Then sweet were sin
Or Death for him!” With ardent glance
Thus spake the daughter of the Manse.
Then, with a smile, she fell asleep in
Her white and dainty maiden bed.
The chaste, cold moon alone could peep in,
And view her tresses dark outspread
Upon an arm whose clasp might keep in
The life of one given up for dead:
And, as she drifted down the stream
Of Slumber deep, she dreamt a dream.
. . . . .
It was a banquet rich and rare,
The wine of France was foaming madly;
The proud and great of earth were there,
And all were slaves to serve her gladly,
And yet on them with haughty air
She gazed, half-scornfully, half-sadly;
The Lady of the Feast was she—
So ran her strange dream-fantasy.
A Prince was at her fair right hand,
And at her left a famous leader
Of hosts, with look of high command,
And—blacker than the tents of Kedar—
An Eastern King, barbaric, grand,
Sat near—their Queen they had decreed her.
Below the proud, the brave, the wise,
Sat charmed by her mesmeric eyes.
Then thus she spake: “O Lords of Earth!
Than you I know none nobler, braver;
And yet your fame, and rank, and birth,
And wealth in my sight find small favour,
For all too well I know their worth—
Long since for me they lost their savour.
The Spirit, fit to mate with mine,
Must be demoniac—or divine.
“A toast!” she cried. The gallant throng
Sprang up, their foaming glasses clinking.
“Satan! The Spirit proud and strong!
The bravest lover to my thinking!
The Wine of Life I’ve drunk too long:
The Wine of death I now am drinking!” . . .
“Our Queen she was a moment since—
Bear forth the body!” said the Prince.
. . . . .
A ghostly wind arose, all wet
With tears, and full of cries and wailing,
And wringing hands, and faces set
In bitter anguish unavailing;
It bore the soul of Margaret
To where a voice, in tones of railing,
Cried, “Spirit proud, thou hast done well!
Thou art within the Gates of Hell!”
The soul of Margaret passed slowly,
Yet bravely, through the Hall of Dread,
The roof whereof was hidden wholly
By black clouds hanging overhead.
No sound disturbed the melancholy
Deep silence—which itself seemed dead.
No wailing of the damned was heard,
No voice the fearful stillness stirred.
But that deep silence held in keeping
The secret of Eternal Woe—
That yet seemed like a serpent creeping
Around the walls. It was as though
The cries of pain and hopeless weeping
Had died out ages long ago.
No face was seen, no figure dread. . . .
Were all the damned and devils dead?
No lustre known on earth was gleaming
In that dread Hall, but some weird light
Around the pillars vast was streaming,
And down the vistas infinite;
A light like that men see in dreaming,
And, waking, shudder with affright.
Its glare a baleful splendour shed
For ever through the Hall of Dread.
Then suddenly she was aware
That from the walls, and all around her,
In motionless and burning stare,
Millions of eyes glowed, that spellbound her:
The everlasting dumb despair
That spoke from them made Pity founder;
And, as she passed along the floor,
She trod on burning millions more.
For floor and pillar, roof and all,
Were full of eyes, for ever burning—
’Twas these that lit the Dreadful Hall,
These were the damned beyond returning,
Sealed up in pillar, floor, and wall,
Without a tongue to voice their yearning,
Or grief, or hate, so God might know:
Their eyes alone could speak their woe.
Her way lit by the weird light flowing
From those sad, awful eyes, she passed
To where—her terror ever growing—
Upon a Throne, in fire set fast,
And like a Rose of fire far-glowing,
She saw a Figure, Veiled and Vast.
She trembled, for she knew full well
She stood before the Lord of Hell.
And then, an instant courage taking,
She knelt before the burning throne,
And, all her hopes of heaven forsaking,
She cried, “O Lord, make me thine own!
For men, though they be of God’s making,
I love not. Thee I love alone.”
The figure veiled spake thus: “Arise,
O Spirit proud—and most unwise!”
And as It spake, unveiling slowly,
A brow of awful beauty shone
On Margaret’s soul—yet Melancholy
And Woe Eternal sat thereon.
But, lo! the form was woman wholly.
A faint smile played her lips upon,
As in a voice low, sweet, and level
She said: “My dear, I am the Devil!”
With one wild wail of bitter scorning
The stricken soul of Margaret fled,
Sore harrowed by that dreadful warning;
And, shrieking, through the Hall of Dread
She passed . . . and woke . . . and it was morning,
And she was in her own white bed.
. . . . .
Soon afterwards, the tale runs, she
Took veil within a nunnery.