Page images

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


find it in your heart to give, My poor, unhappy boy perchance 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 last To furnish forth this morning our repast." In mute contrition, 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 footsteps 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,

“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, halfway 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 stood
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."

ROBERT of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Apparelled in magnificent attire,
With retinue of many a knight and squire,
On St. John's Eve, at vespers, proudly sat
And heard the priests chant the Magnificat.
And as he listened, o'er and o'er again
Repeated, like a burden or refrain,

He caught the words, “Deposuit potentes
De sede, et exaltavit humiles;
And slowly lifting up his kingly head,
He to a learned clerk beside him said,
“What mean these words?” The clerk made answer meet,
“He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree.”
Thereat King Robert muttered scornfully,
“"Tis well that such seditious words are sung
Only by priests and in the Latin tongue:
For unto priests and people be it known,
There is no power can push me from my throne !"
And leaning back, he yawned and fell asleep,
Lulled by the chant monotonous and deep.
When he awoke, it was already night;
The church was empty, and there was no light,
Save where the lamps, that glimmered few and faint,
Lighted a little space before some saint.
He started from his seat and gazed around,
But saw no living thing and heard no sound.
He groped towards the door, but it was locked ;
He cried aloud, and listened, and then knocked,
And uttered awful threatenings and complaints,
And imprecations upon men and saints.
The sounds re-echoed from the roof and walls
As if dead priests were laughing in their stalls!
At length the sexton, hearing from without
The tumult of the knocking and the shout,
And thinking thieves were in the house of prayer,
Came with his lantern, asking, "Who is there?”
Half-choked with rage, King Robert fiercely said,
“Open: 'tis I, the King! Art thou afraid ?"
The frightened sexton, muttering, with a curse,
* This is some drunken vagabond, or worse !"

Turned the great key and flung the portal wide;
A man rushed by him at a single stride,
Haggard, half-naked, without hat or cloak,
Who neither turned, nor looked at him, nor spoke,
But leapt into the blackness of the night,
And vanished like a spectre from his sight.
Robert of Sicily, Brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Despoiled of his magnificent attire,
Bare-headed, breathless, and besprent with mire,
With sense of wrong and outrage desperate,
Strode on and thundered at the palace gate;
Rushed through the court-yard, thrusting in his rage
To right and left each seneschal and page,
And hurried up the broad and sounding stair,
His white face ghastly in the torches' glare.
From hall to hall he passed with breathless speed;
Voices and cries he heard, but did not heed,
Until at last he reached the banquet-room,
Blazing with light, and breathing with perfume,
There on the daïs sat another king,
Wearing his robes, his crown, his signet-ring,
King Robert's self in features, form, and height,
But all transfigured with angelic light!
It was an Angel; and his presence there
With a divine effulgence filled the air,
An exaltation, piercing the disguise,
Though none the hidden Angel recognise.
A moment speechless, motionless, amazed,
The throneless monarch on the Angel gazed,
Who met his looks of anger and surprise
With the divine compassion of his eyes;
Then said, “Who art thou? and why com'st thou here?"
To which King Robert answered, with a sneer,


I am the King, and come to claim my own From an impostor, who usurps my throne!” And suddenly, at these audacious words, Up sprang the angry guests, and drew their swords: The Angel answered, with unruffled brow, 'Nay, not the King, but the King's Jester; thou Henceforth shalt wear the bells and scalloped cape, And for thy counsellor shalt lead an ape; Thou shalt obey my servants when they call, And wait upon my henchmen in the hall!" Deaf to King Robert's threats and cries and prayers, They thrust him from the hall and down the stairs ; A group of tittering pages ran before, And as they opened wide the folding-door, His heart failed, for he heard, with strange alarms, The boisterous laughter of the men-at-arms, And all the vaulted chamber roar and ring With the mock plaudits of “Long live the King!” Next morning, waking with the day's first beam, He said within himself, “ It was a dream!” But the straw rustled as he turned his head, There were the cap and bells beside his bed, Around him rose the bare, discoloured walls, Close by, the steeds were champing in their stalls, And in the corner, a revolting shape, Shivering and chattering, sat the wretched ape. It was no dream; the world he loved so much Had turned to dust and ashes at his touch! Days came and went; and now returned again To Sicily the old Saturnian reign; Under the Angel's governance benign The happy island danced with corn and wine, And deep within the mountain's burning breast Enceladus, the giant, was at rest.

« PreviousContinue »