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Her dark eyes moistened with the mists that roll
From the gulf-stream of passion in the soul;
The other with her hood thrown back, her hair
Making a golden glory in the air,
Her cheeks suffused with an auroral blush,
Her young heart singing louder than the thrush.
So walked, that morn, through mingled light and shade,
Each by the other's presence lovelier made,
Monna Giovanna and her bosom friend,
Intent upon their errand and its end.
They found Ser Federigo at his toil,
Like banished Adam, delving in the soil ;
And when he looked and these fair women spied,
The garden suddenly was glorified;
His long-lost Eden was restored again,
And the strange river winding through the plain
No longer was the Arno to his eyes,
But the Euphrates watering Paradise !
Monna Giovanna raised her stately head,
And with fair words of salutation said:
“Ser Federigo, we come here as friends,
Hoping in this to make some poor amends
For past unkindness. I who ne'er before
Would even cross the threshold of your door,
I who in happier days such pride maintained,
Refused your banquets, and your gifts disdained,
This morning come, a self-invited guest,
To put your generous nature to the test,
And breakfast with you under your own vine."
To which he answered: “Poor desert of mine,
Not your unkindness call it, for if aught
Is good in me of feeling or of thought,
From you it comes, and this last grace outweighs.
All sorrows, all regrets of other days."
And after further compliment and talk,
Among the dahlias in the garden walk
He left his guests; and to his cottage turned,
And as he entered for a moment yearned
For the lost splendours of the days of old,
The ruby glass, the silver and the gold,
And felt how piercing is the sting of pride,
By want embittered and intensified.
He looked about him for some means or way
To keep this unexpected holiday;
Searched every cupboard, and then searched again,
Summoned the maid, who came, but came in vain;
“The Signor did not hunt to-day,” she said,
There's nothing in the house but wine and bread."
Then suddenly the drowsy falcon shook His little bells, with that sagacious look, Which said, as plain as language to the ear, ** If anything is wanting, I am here!" Yes, everything is wanting, gallant bird ! The master seized thee without further word, Like thine own lure, he whirled thee round; ah me! The pomp and flutter of brave falconry, The bells, the jesses, the bright scarlet hood, The flight and the pursuit o'er field and wood, All these forevermore are ended now; No longer victor, but the victim thou ! Then on the board a snow-white cloth he spread, Laid on its wooden dish the loaf of bread, Brought purple grapes with autumn sunshine hot, The fragrant peach, the juicy bergamot; Then in the midst a flask of wine he placed, And with autumnal flowers the banquet graced. Ser Federigo, would not these suffice Without thy falcon stuffed with cloves and spice? When all was ready, and the courtly damo With her companion to the cottage came, Upon Ser Federigo's brain there fell The wild enchantment of a magic spell; The room they entered, mean and low and small, Was changed into a sumptuous banquet-hall, With fanfares by aerial trumpets blown; The rustic chair she sat on was a throne; He ate celestial food, and a divine Flavour was given to his country wine. And the poor falcon, fragrant with his spice, A peacock was, or bird of paradise ! When the repast was ended, they arose And passed again into the garden-close. Then said the lady, “ Far too well I know, Remembering still the days of long ago, Though you betray it not, with what surprise You see me here in this familiar wise. You have no children, and you cannot guess What anguish, what unspeakable distress A mother feels, whose child is lying ill, Nor how her heart anticipates his will. And yet for this, you see me lay aside All womanly reserve and check of pride, And ask the thing most precious in your sight, Your falcon, your sole comfort and delight, Which if you find it in your heart to give, My poor, unhappy boy.derchance may live."
Ser Federigo listens, and replies,
With tears of love and pity in his eyes:
“ Alas, dear lady! there can be no task
So sweet to me, as giving when you ask.
One little hour ago, if I had known
This wish of yours, it would have been my own.
But thinking in what manner I could best
Do honour to the presence of my guest,
I deemed that nothing worthier could be
Than what most dear and precious was to me,
And so my gallant falcon breathed his las';
To furnish forth this morning our repast.”
In mute contritiou, mingled with dismay,
The gentle lady turned her eyes away,
Grieving that he such sacrifice should make,
And kill his falcon for a woman's sake,
Yet feeling in her heart a woman's pride,
That nothing she could ask for was denied;
Then took her leave, and passed out at the gate
With footstep slow and soul disconsolate.
Three days went by, and lo! a passing-bell
Tolled from the little chapel in the dell;
Ten strokes Ser Federigo heard, and said,
Breathing a prayer,
6 Alas! her child is dead!"
Three months went by; and lo! a merrier chime
Rang from the chapel bells at Christmas time;
The cottage was deserted, and no more
Ser Federigo sat beside its door.
But now, with servitors to do his will,
In the grand villa, half-way up the hill,
Sat at the Christmas feast, and at his side
Monna Giovanna, his beloved bride,
Never so beautiful, so kind, so fair,
Enthroned once more in the old rustic chair,
High-perched upon the back of which there stool
The image of a falcon carved in wood,
And underneath the inscription, with a date,
“All things come round to him who will but wait.”
Soon as the story reached its end,
One, over eager to commend,
Crowned it with injudicious praise;
And then the voice of blame found vent,
And fanned the embers of dissent
Into a somewhat lively blaze.
The Theologian shook his head;
“These old Italian tales,” he said,
“From the much-praised Decameron down
Through all the rabble of the rest,
Are either trifling, dull, or lewd;
The gossip of a neighbourhood
In some remote provincial town,
A scandalous chronicle at best!
They seem to me a stagnant fen,
Grown rank with rushes and with reeds,
Where a white lily, now and then,
Blooms in the midst of noxious weeds
And deadly nightshade on its banks.”
To this the Student straight replied,
“For the white lily many thanks!
One should not say, with too much pride,
Fountain, I will not drink of thee!
Vor were it grateful to forget,
That from these reservoirs and tanks
Even imperial Shakspeare drew
His Moor of Venice and the Jew,
And Romeo and Juliet,
And many a famous comedy.”
Then a long pause; till some one said,
“ An Angel is flying overhead !"
At these words spake the Spanish Jew,
And murmured with an inward breath:
“God grant, if what you say is true,
It may not be the Angel of Death!"
And then another pause; and then,
Stroking his beard, he said again:
“ This brings back to my memory
A story in the Talmud told,
That book of gems, that book of gold,
Of wonders many and manifold,
A tale that often comes to me,
Avd fills my heart, and haunts my brain,
And never wearies nor grows old."
THE LEGEND OF RABBI BEN LEVI.
RABBI BEN LEVI, on the Sabbath, read
A volume of the Law, in which it said,
“No man shall look upon my face and live.”.
And as he read, he prayed that God would give
His faithful servant grace with mortal eyc
To look upon his face and yet not die.
Then fell a sudden shadow on the page,
And, lifting up his eyes, grown dim with age,
He saw the Angel of Death before him stand,
Holding a naked sword in his right hand.
Rabbi Ben Levi was a righteous man,
Yet through his veins a chill of horror ran.
With trembling voice he said, “What wilt thou here?"
The angel answered, “Lo! the time draws near
When thou must die; yet first, by God's decree,
Whate'er thou askest shall be granted thee.”
Replied the Rabbi, “Let these living eyes
First look upon my place in Paradise.
Then said the Angel, “Come with me and look.”
Rabbi Ben Levi closed the sacred book,
And rising, and uplifting his gray head,
“Give me thy sword,” he to the Angel said,
" Lest thou shouldst fall upon me by the way.”
The Angel smiled and hastened to obey,
Then led him forth to the Celestial Town,
And set him on the wall, whence, gazing down,
Rabbi Ben Levi, with his living eyes,
Might look upon his place in Paradise.
Then straight into the city of the Lord
The Rabbi leaped with the Death-Angel's sword,
And through the streets there swept a sudden breath
Of something there unknown, which men call death.
Meanwhile the Angel stayed without, and cried,
“Come back !" To which the Rabbi's voice replied,
“No! in the name of God, whom I adore,
I swear that hence I will depart no more !''
Then all the Angels cried, “O Holy One,
See what the son of Levi here has done!
The kingdom of Heaven he takes by violenco,
And in Thy name refuses to go
The Lord replied, “My Angels, be not wroth;
Did e'er the son of Levi break his oath?
Let him remain : for he with mortal eye
Shall look upon my face and yet not die.”
Beyond the outer wall the Angel of Death
Heard the great voice, and said, with panting breath,
“Give back the sword, and let me go my way.
Whereat the Rabbi paused, and answered, “Nay!
Anguish enough already has it caused
Among the sons of men. And while he paused