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And he began to talk anon,
Of good Earl Francis,* dead and gone,
And of Earl Walter,f rest him God!
A braver ne'er to battle rode;
And how full many a tale he knew,
Of the old warriors of Buccleuch;
And, would the noble Duchess deign
To listen to an old man's strain,
Though stiff his hand, his voice though weak,
He thought even yet, the sooth to speak,
That, if she loved the harp to hear,
He could make music to her ear.
The humble boon was soon obtained;
* Francis Scott, Earl of Buccleuch, father of the Duchess, t Walter, Earl of Buccleuch, grandfather of the Duchess, and a celebrated warrior.
Perchance he wished his boon denied:For, when to tune his harp he tried, His trembling hand had lost the ease, Which marks security to please;And scenes, long past, of joy and pain, Came wildering o'er his aged brain— He tried to tune his harp in vain. The pitying Duchess praised its chime, And gave him heart, and gave him time, Till every string's according glee Was blended into harmony. And then, he said, he would full fain He could recal an ancient strain, He never thought to sing again. It was not framed for village churls,
But for high dames and mighty earls;He had played it to King Charles the Good, When he kept court in Holyrood;And much he wished, yet feared, to try The long-forgotten melody.
16 INTRODUCTION.Amid the strings his fingers strayed,
LAY OF THE LAST MINSTREL. CANTO FIRST.
The feast was over in Branksome tower, And the Ladye had gone to her secret bower;Her bower that was guarded by word and by spell, Deadly to hear, and deadly to tell— Jesu Maria, shield us well!No living wight, save the Ladye alone, Had dared to cross the threshold stone.
The tables were drawn, it was idlesse all;
Knight, and page, and household squire, Loitered through the lofty hall,
Or crowded round the ample fire: The stag-hounds, weary with the chace,
Lay stretched upon the rushy floor, And urged, in dreams, the forest-race,
From Teviot-stone to Eskdale-moor.
Nine-and-twenty knights of fame
Hung their shields in Branksome Hall;
Brought them their steeds from bower to stall;