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Long had they stood, locked in each other's arms,
Amid the gulfs that yawned to swallow them;
Each guarding each through many a freezing hour.
As on some temple's highest pinnacle,
From treacherous slumber. O, it was a sport
Dearer than life, and but with life relinquished !
“My sire, my grandsire died among these wilds.
As for myself," he cried, and he held forth
His wallet in his hand, this do I call
My winding-sheet - for I shall have no other !”
And he spoke truth. Within a little month
He lay among these awful solitudes
('T was on a glacier -- half-way up to heaven),
Taking his final rest. Long did his wife,
Suckling her babe, her only one, look out
The way he went at parting, — but he came not;
Long fear to close her eyes, from dusk till dawn
Plying her distaff through the silent hours,
Lest he appear before her - lest in sleep,
If sleep steal on, he come as all are wont,
Frozen and ghastly blue or black with gore,
To plead for the last rite.
Now the gray granite, starting through the snow,
Discovered many a variegated moss
That to the pilgrim resting on his staff
Shadows out capes and islands; and ere long
Numberless flowers, such as disdain to live
In lower regions, and delighted drink
The clouds before they fall, flowers of all hues,
With their diminutive leaves covered the ground.
There, turning by a venerable larch,
Shivered in two yet most majestical
With his long level branches, we observed
A human figure sitting on a stone
Far down by the way-side - just where the rock
Is riven asunder, and the Evil One
Has bridged the gulf, a wondrous monument?
Built in one night, from which the flood beneath,
Raging along, all foam, is seen, not heard,
And seen as motionless ! Nearer we drew;
And, lo! a woman young and delicate,
Wrapt in a russet cloak from head to foot,
Her eyes cast down, her cheek upon her hand,
In deepest thought. Over her tresses fair,
Young as she was, she wore the matron-cap:
And, as we judged, not many moons would change
Ere she became a mother. Pale she looked,
Yet cheerful; though, methought, once, if not twice,
She wiped away a tear that would be coming ;
And in those moments her small hat of straw,
Worn on one side, and glittering with a band
Of silk and gold, but ill concealed a-face
Not soon to be forgotten. Rising up
On our approach, she travelled slowly on;
And my companion, long before we met,
Knew, and ran down to greet her. She was born
(Such was her artless tale, told with fresh tears)
In VAL D'AOSTA; and an Alpine stream,
Leaping from crag to crag in its short course
To join the Dora, turned her father's mill.
There did she blossom, till a Valaisan,
A townsman of MARTIGNY, won her heart,
Much to the old man's grief. Long he refused,
Loth to be left; disconsolate at the thought.
She was his only one, his link to life ;
And in despair — year after year gone by
One summer-morn they stole a match and fled.
The act was sudden; and, when far away,
Her spirit had misgivings. Then, full oft,
She pictured to herself that aged face
Sickly and wan, in sorrow, not in wrath ;
And, when at last she heard his hour was near,
Went forth unseen, and, burdened as she was,
Crossed the high Alps on foot to ask forgiveness,
And hold him to her heart before he died.
Her task was done. She had fulfilled her wish,
And now was on her way, rejoicing, weeping.
A frame like hers had suffered; but her love
Was strong within her; and right on she went,
Fearing no ill. May all good angels guard her!
And should I once again, as once I may,
Visit MARTIGNY, I will not forget
Thy hospitable roof, MARGUERITE DE TOURS;
Thy sign the silver swan. Heaven prosper thee !
In the same hour the breath of life receiving,
They came together and were beautiful;
But, as they slumbered in their mother's lap,
How mournful was their beauty! She would sit,
And look and weep, and look and weep again;
For Nature had but half her work achieved,
Denying, like a step-dame, to the babes
Her noblest gifts ; denying speech to one,
And to the other -- reason.
But at length
(Seven years gone by, seven melancholy years)
Another came, as fair and fairer still ;
And then, how anxiously the mother watched
Till reason dawned and speech declared itself!
Reason and speech were his; and down she knelt,
Clasping her hands in silent ecstasy.
On the hill-side, where still their cottage stands
('T is near the upper falls in Lauterbrounn;
For there I sheltered now, their frugal hearth
Blazing with mountain-pine when I appeared,
And there, as round they sate, I heard their story),
On the hill-side, among the cataracts,
In happy ignorance the children played;
Alike unconscious, through their cloudless day,
Of what they had and had not; everywhere
Gathering rock-flowers; or, with their utmost might,
Loosening the fragment from the precipice,
And, as it tumbled, listening for the plunge ;
Yet, as by instinct, at the customed hour
Returning; the two eldest, step by step,
Lifting along, and with the tenderest care,
Their infant brother.
Once the hour was past; And, when she sought, she sought and could not find; And when she found -- where was the little one?
Alas! they answered not; yet still she asked,
Still in her grief forgetting.
With a scream,
Such as an eagle sends forth when he soars,
A scream that through the wild scatters dismay,
The idiot-boy looked up into the sky,
And leaped and laughed aloud and leaped again;
As if he wished to follow in its flight
Something just gone, and gone from earth to heaven:
While he, whose every gesture, every look,
Went to the heart, for from the heart it came,
He who nor spoke nor heard - all things to him,
Day after day, as silent as the grave
(To him unknown the melody of birds,
Of waters and the voice that should have soothed
His infant sorrows, singing him to sleep),
Fled to her mantle as for refuge there,
And, as at once o'ercome with fear and grief,
Covered his head and wept. A dreadful thought
Flashed through her brain. "Has not some bird of prey,
Thirsting to dip his beak in innocent blood -
It must, it must be so ! ” — And so it was.
There was an eagle that had long acquired
Absolute sway, the lord of a domain
Savage, sublime; nor from the hills alone
Gathering large tribute, but from every vale;
Making the ewe, whene'er he deigned to stoop,
Bleat for the lamb. Great was the recompense
Assured to him who laid the tyrant low
And near his nest in that eventful hour,
Calmly and patiently, a hunter stood,