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HAROLD THE DAUNTLESS.

CANTO SIXTH.

I.

WELL do I hope that this my minstrel tale
Will tempt no traveller from southern fields,
Whether in tilbury, barouche, or mail,
To view the Castle of these Seven Proud Shields.
Small confirmation its condition yields
To Meneville's high lay,—No towers are seen
On the wild heath, but those that Fancy builds,
And, save a fosse that tracks the moor with

green, Is nought remains to tell of what may there have been.

And yet grave authors, with the no small waste
Of their grave time, have dignified the spot
By theories, to prove the fortress placed
By Roman bands, to curb the invading Scot.
Hutchinson, Horsley, Camden, I might quote,
But rather choose the theory less civil
Of boors, who, origin of things forgot,

Refer still to the origin of evil,
And for their master-mason choose that master-fiend

the Devil.

II. Therefore, I say, it was on fiend-built towers That stout Count Harold bent his wondering gaze,

When evening dew was on the heather flowers,
And the last sunbeams made the mountain blaze,
And tinged the battlements of other days
With the bright level light ere sinking down.-
Illumined thus, the dauntless Dane surveys

The Seven Proud Shields that o'er the portal frown, And on their blazons traced high marks of old renown.

A wolf North Wales had on his armour-coat,
And Rhys of Powis-land a couchant stag;
Strath-Clwyd's strange emblem was a stranded boat,
Donald of Galloway's a trotting nag;
A corn-sheaf gilt was fertile Lodon's brag;
A dudgeon-dagger was by Dunmail worn;
Northumbrian Adolf gave a sea-beat crag

Surmounted by a cross —such signs were borne Upon these antique shields, all wasted now and worn.

III. These scann'd, Count Harold sought the castle-door Whose ponderous bolts were rusted to decay; Yet till that hour adventurous knight forbore The unobstructed passage to essay. More strong than armed warders in array, And obstacle more sure than bolt or bar, Sate in the portal Terror and Dismay, While Superstition, who forbade to war

With foes of other mould than mortal clay, Cast spells across the gate, and barr'd the outward way

Vain now those spells; for soon with heavy clank
The feebly-fasten'd gate was inward push'd,
And, as it oped, through that emblazon'd rank,
of antique shields, the wind of evening rush'd

With sound most like a groan, and then was hush'd..
Is none who on such spot such sounds could hear
But to his heart the blood had faster rush'd;

Yet to bold Harold's breast that throb was dear
It spoke of danger nigh, but had no touch of fear.

IV. Yet Harold and his page no signs have traced Within the castle, that of danger show'd; For still the halls and courts were wild and waste, As through their precincts the adventurers trode. The seven huge towers rose stately, tall, and broad, Each tower presenting to their scrutiny

A hall in which a king might make abode; · And fast beside, garnish'd both proud and high, Was placed a bower for rest in which a king might lie.

As if a bridal there of late had been,
Deck'd stood the table in each gorgeous hall;
And yet it was two hundred years, I ween,
Since date of that unhallow'd festival.
Flagons, and ewers, and standing cups, were all
Of tarnish'd gold, or silver nothing clear,
With throne begilt, and canopy of pall,

And tapestry clothed the walls with fragments searFrail as the spider's mesh did that rich woof appear.

V.
In every bower, as round a hearse, was hung
A dusky crimson curtain o'er the bed,
And on each couch in ghastly wise were flung
The wasted relics of a monarch dead;
Barbaric ornaments around were spread,

Vests twined with gold, and chains of precious

stone, And golden circlets meet for monarch's head;

While grinn'd, as if in scorn among them thrown, The wearer's fleshless skull, alike with dust bestrown.

For these were they who, drunken with delight,
On pleasure's opiate pillow laid their head,
For whom the bride's shy footstep, slow and light,
Was changed ere morning to the murderer's tread.
For human bliss and woe in the frail thread
Of human life are all so closely twined,
That till the shears of Fate the texture shred,

The close succession cannot be disjoin'd;
Nor dare we, from one hour, judge that which comes

behind.

VI.

But where the work of vengeance had been done,
In that seventh chamber, was a sterner sight;
There of the witch-brides lay each skeleton,
Still in the posture as to death when dight.
For this lay prone, by one blow slain outright;
And that, as one who struggled long in dying ;
One bony hand held knife, as if to smite;

One bent on fleshless knees, as mercy crying ;
One lay across the door, as kill'd in act of flying.

The stern Dane smiled this charnel-house to see,
For his chafed thought return’d to Metelill;
And“Well,” he said, “ hath woman's perfidy,
Empty as air, as water volatile,
Been here avenged. The origin of ill

Through woman rose, the Christian doctrine saith; Nor deem I, Gunnar, that thy minstrel skill

Can show example where a woman's breath Hath made a true-love vow, and, tempted, kept her

faith."

VII.
The minstrel-boy half smiled, half sigh’d,
And bis half-filling eyes he dried,
And said, “ The theme I should but wrong,
Unless it were my dying song,
(Our Scalds have said, in dying hour
The Northern harp has treble power,)
Else could I tell of woman's faith,
Defying danger, scorn, and death.
Firm was that faith,- as diamond stone
Pure and unflaw'd, - her love unknown,
And unrequited ;- firm and pure,
Her stainless faith could all endure;
From clime to clime,- from place to place, -
Through want, and danger, and disgrace,
A wanderer's wayward steps could trace.-
All this she did, and guerdon none
Required, save that her burial-stone
Should make at length the secret known,
• Thus hath a faithful woman done.'
Not in each breast such truth is laid,
But Eivir was a Danish maid."-

VIII.
“Thou art a wild enthusiast," said
Count Harold, “for thy Danish maid;
And yet, young Gunnar, I will own
Hers were a faith to rest upon.

SS

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