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The pointed crystals! - Once, nor long before
(Thus did his tongue run on, fast as his feet,
And with an eloquence that Nature gives
To all her children-breaking off by starts
Into the harsh and rude, oft as the mule
Drew his displeasure), once, nor long before,
Alone at day-break on the Mettenberg
He slipped and fell; and, through a fearful cleft
Gliding insensibly from ledge to ledge,
From deep to deeper and to deeper still,
Went to the Under-world! Long while he lay
Upon his rugged bed-then waked like one
Wishing to sleep again and sleep forever!
For, looking round, he saw, or thought he saw,
Innumerable branches of a cave,
Winding beneath that solid crust of ice;
With here and there a rent that showed the stars!
What then, alas! was left him but to die?
What else in those immeasurable chambers,
Strewn with the bones of miserable men,
Lost like himself? Yet must he wander on,
Till cold and hunger set his spirit free!
And, rising, he began his dreary round;
When hark! the noise as of some mighty flood
Working its way to light! Back he withdrew,
But soon returned, and, fearless from despair,
Dashed down the dismal channel; and all day
If day could be where utter darkness was,
Travelled incessantly; the craggy roof
Just overhead, and the impetuous waves,
Nor broad nor deep, yet with a giant's strength,
Lashing him on. At last as in a pool
The water slept; a pool sullen, profound,
Where, if a billow chanced to heave and swell,
It broke not; and the roof, descending, lay
Flat on the surface. Statue-like he stood,
His journey ended; when a ray divine
Shot through his soul. Breathing a prayer to Her
Whose ears are never shut, the Blessed Virgin,
He plunged and swam - and in an instant rose,
The barrier passed, in sunshine! Through a vale,
Such as in ARCADY, where many a thatch
Gleams through the trees, half seen and half embowered, Glittering the river ran; and on the bank
The young were dancing ('t was a festival-day)
All in their best attire. There first he saw
His Madelaine. In the crowd she stood to hear,
When all drew round, inquiring; and her face,
Seen behind all and varying, as he spoke,
With hope and fear and generous sympathy,
Subdued him. From that very hour he loved.
The tale was long, but coming to a close,
When his wild eyes flashed fire; and, all forgot,
He listened and looked up. I looked up too;
And twice there came a hiss that through me thrilled! 'T was heard no more. A chamois on the cliff
Had roused his fellows with that cry of fear,
And all were gone. But now the theme was changed;
And he recounted his hair-breadth escapes,
When with his friend, Hubert of Bionnay
(His ancient carbine from his shoulder slung, His axe to hew a stair-way in the ice),
He tracked their wanderings. By a cloud surprised, Where the next step had plunged them into air,
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.
MARGUERITE DE TOURS.
Now the gray granite, starting through the snow, Discovered many a variegated moss 25
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 26
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.
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,