Mary Botham Howitt.

Ballads and other poems .. online

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And like the iron stone
Is sin ; red-hot as a burning share,
It scorchcth to the bone.

" Barest go with me ? Wilt try the path,
Now thou its pain dost know ?"
The motherless boy turned round and wept,
And said, " I dare not go."

The boy of heaven to a chamber came

Ere rosy day was peeping,
And marvelled if his sister 't were

Who on the ground lay sleeping.

She used to have a bed of down,

And silken curtains bright ;
But he knew her by her dainty foot,

And little liand so white ;

He knew her by tlic long fair hair

That on her shoulders lay,
Though the pleasant things about the room

Were taken all away.

And " Oh !" sighed he, " my sister dear,

Art thou left all alone ?"
Just then she spoke in troubled dreams.

And made a gentle moan.

" They have ta'en from me my bed of down,
And given me straw instead ;
They have ta'en from me the wheaten cakes,
And given me barley bread.


" The pearls which my dear mother wore
They have ta'en from me away,
And the little book with silver clasps
Where from I learned to pray.

" My heart is grown as heavy as lead,
And pale and thin my cheek ;
I sit in corners of the house,
And hardly dare to speak.

" For they are stern, and love me not ;
No gentle hearts are here.
I wish I were in heaven above,
With my own brother dear ! "

Then Willie bent down unto the ground.

And knelt upon his knee ;
He breathed heaven's breath upon her lips,

And gave her kisses three.

And tenderly he looked on her.

And yet he looked not long,
Ere he spoke three words into her ear,

Three awful words and strong.

Then Annie rose from her bed of straw

A joyful angel bright,
And the chamber, late so dark and drear,

Was full of heavenly light.

Amazed she looked one moment's space.

One moment made a stand ;
But she knew it all in a moment more,

And away to the heavenly land,
Like the morning lark when it rises up,

Went they two hand in hand.



A minstrel's tale for a CHRISTMAS NIGHT,

Noiv listen, all ye children dear,
To the tale that I shall tell,

A gentle tale of wondrous things
That once in France hefell.

The Brother and Sister.

The brother to the sister spake :
• " There are none who for us care,

Let us go out into the world,
And seek our fortunes there.

" The world is large, I've heard them say,
And wide as it can be ;
There must be room, my sister dear.
In it for thee and me."


The sister to the brother spake ;
" Oh ! brother dear ! " she cried,
*' We ne'er have known a happy day
Since our sweet mother died.

" Our father lies within the wood,
Beneath the elmen five ; —
'T was a noble life we led i' th' wood
When our father was alive.

" Our mother lies beneath the sod.
All under the white-rose tree ;
And in all the world there 's never a one
To care for thee and me."

Now they have neither house nor land,

Nor gold nor silver fair ;
And none will give a single groat

Unto the lonely pair.

Said one : " Your father lived i' th' wood.

He was a hunter wild ;
He shot the deer the while I delved ;

I shall not feed his child."

Said one : " Your mother pinned her hair

All with a golden pin ;
I wore a curch of linen cloth ;

You naught from me shall win."

All angry grew the brother's soul,

But never a word he said ;
He took his sister by the hand,

And to the wood they sped.


And many and many a day they went
Throughout the lonesome wood ;

And there were none to pity them,
Or give them counsel good.

There was no house that sheltered them,
No kindly hand that fed ;

They ate the forest berries crude,
Green mosses were their bed.

And weary, weary grew they both,
As hand in hand they went ;

Yet neither to the other told
How they were travel-spent.

At length they saw a noble hart
Fly past them like the wind,

Nor were aware that hunters strong
Were riding up behind.

Said the brother, with a merry laugh,

" I'll kill that noble deer,
And make a fire, as we were wont,

And dress the venison here."

With that he slung a forest stone,
Like a shaft sent from a bow ;

The flying deer he made a bound.
Then on the turf lay low.

With that uprose a furious cry

From the hunters fierce and brown ;

And each man from his panting steed
Leapt in a moment down.


They seized the brother by the arm,

The sister pale with fear,
And swore that he should die that day

For killing of the deer.

Then with their heavy bows of steel

The noble boy they beat,
And spurned the sister as she knelt

To pray for mercy sweet.

And up they took the bleeding deer

From the greensward where it lay,
Then, springing to their pawing steeds,

They galloped thence away.

The Hall of the Elmen Trees.

Upon a little bed of moss

The brother pale is sleeping ;
And o'er him bends his sister dear,

But she has done with weeping.

' He will not die," she whispers low ;
" He looks not like our mother,
Nor like our father when he died :
I shall not lose my brother."

And then from off the bushes green,

Within the forest woody.
She gathered berries many a one,

All juicy, ripe, and ruddy.


And honey from the wild-bees' nest,
She knew he loved it dearest,

And roots that had a healing power,
And water of the clearest.

She twined the leafy branches round,
A greenwood chamber making ;

Then sate she down among the moss
To wait for his awaking.

All day he slept ; but with the eve
He woke and laughed outright,

His cruel pains had left him then,
And he was healed quite.

" Now," said the little sister dear,
" About this spot we'll bide ;
The savage hunters come not here
A-riding in their pride."

Her brotlier turned him round about,
And, " Sister dear," he said,
"I'll make those savage hunters yet
To stand of me in dread."

He took his sister by the hand,

And on by wood and wave
They went unto the elmen five.

That grew above the grave ;

They went unto the white-rose tree
Tliat blossomed all the year.

Then spoke the brother stern and strong
Unto the sister dear.


" Five wands from off the elmen trees,"
And he cut them as he spake,

" Five wands from off the ehnen trees
My forest home shall make.

" And a rose from off the white-rose tree,"
And he plucked, the while, a flower,

" One rose from off" the white-rose tree ^
Shall make for thee a bower.

" The duke is lord in Burgundy,

The king o'er France doth reign ;
But I'll be lord of the forest wide.
And lead a gallant train."

Then he took his sister by the hand.

And back again did go
Unto the quiet place that lay

Within the forest low.

And the five wands of the elmen trees

He stuck into the ground,
And the leaves from olT the white rose

He scattered all around ;

And aye they grew, and grew the more.

And a wonder 't was to see
The five dry wands of elmen wood

Each shoot into a tree.

And every leaf of that white rose

It sprang into a flower,
And the flowers all into trees did grow,

And made a lady's bower.


And the five tops of the elmen trees
He tied into a dome ;
" And this," the noble brother spake,
" Shall be our forest home."

The Forest Lord.

" Now wiio is he tlint rules this land ?"

A holy hermit cried ;
*' Who is the lord of this jrreenwood,

Where I would fain abide ?"

" 'Tis a noble youth," the people said,
" AVho now doth rule the wood ;
Thou mayst scoop thy cell, and bless thy well,
For he will do thee good."

" Now who is he tliat rules this land ?"

A peasant-man did cry,
" For our liege lord is stern and bad,

And hither I would fly."

" 'Tis a noble youth," the people spake ;
" Thou need'st not be afraid ;
For all oppressed and injured men
Fly unto him for aid.

" He hath a band of merry men,
Who under the branches fare ;
'T is a pleasant life that he and his men
Lead in the forest there."


" Now, where is one shall do me right ?"

A widow pale, she cried ;
" Oh, where is one to take my part

Against a man of pride ?"

" Come down with us to the ibrest green,
Where the elmen tops are twined ;
Come down with us," the people cried,
" A champion true to find."

The forest wilderness was cleared.

Was drained the forest fen.
And 'twas joy to see a hamlet rise

Where no man dwelt till then:

To see the women at their doors

Sit spinning in the sun,
And the brawny peasants wrestling

When daily work was done.

'T was joy to hear the hermit's hymn

Come from his mossy cell,
To see the fearless traveller

Drink at the wayside well.

'T was joy to hear the happy voice

Of children at their play,
Or the quiet low of peaceful herds

That in the forest stray.

But a greater joy it was to see

The sister's heavenly grace,
Who like an angel cast the light

Of love around the place. ^M^


But the greatest joy of all it was,

The noble youth to view,
Who was so just, and wise, and brave,

So steadfast and so true.

The savage hunters feared him sore,

Who were so fierce afore ;
For sternly thus he made decree,
" These men shall hunt no more."

" Now go ye down, my fellows brave,
And out these hunters seek ;
For I will not that the strong and bad
Shall lord it o'er the weak."

They took those hunters in their den,

Those cruel men of blood ;
And trembling, pale, and terrified.

Before the boy they stood.

" We did not know, indeed," said they,
" That thou wouldst be a king ;
We did not know, or else, be sure.
We had not done this thing."

The youth's stern brow grew darkly red
" Now shame upon you fall !"
Said he ; " for that ye would misuse
The feeble and the small.

" Ye shall be men of power no more.
Since power ye have abused ;
Ye shall be poor, and subject to
The weak whom you misused."




He made them plough the forest brown ;

The wood he made them fell ;
And for the feeble and the poor

Fetch water from the well.

The duke was lord of Burgundy ;

The King o'er France did reign ;
But the forest lord was called by all —

A second Charlemagne.





" Oh, where are you, ye three young men ?
Where, where on land or sea ?
My soul doth daily yearn for you ;
Oh, hasten back to me

" Oh, .lasten back, my best beloved,
My gentle, wise, and brave !
Or, be yc numbered with the dead,
Come back e'en from the grave.

" Ay, from the grave, if ye are there,
For once, my lost, come back ;
For once — so I may look on you,
May know your mortal track."

With that there blew a loud wind,

With that there blew a low ;
The barred door on its hinges turned.

Turned silently and slow.

And in there came the three young men,
From lands that lay not near ;

And all as still their footsteps fell
As dews that none can he'ar.


The first was pale, and cold, and thin,

As the living cannot be :
His robe was of the chill grey mist

That hangeth on the sea.

The second bore upon his brow

A Cain-like sign, severe and grim :
His mother shrieked and crossed herself,

Nor dared to look on him.

The third was as the morning fair.

Breathing forth odor sweet ;
A starry crown was on his head,

A rainbow at his feet.

" Where have ye been, ye three young men ?"

Outspoke their mother in fear ;
" Sit down, sit down on your own hearth,

'Tis long since ye were here.

" Sit down, sit down, ye three young men,
Take rest and break my bread :
Ye've travelled far this weary night : —
Woe's me, ye're of the dead .'"

" I may not break thy bread, mother,"

The eldest 'gan to say ;
" But I will sit on thy hearth, mother,

And warm me while I may.

For my bed is in the ocean-ice,

Bevond the northern shore :
There hath come no sunbeam to the place

For seven loner vears and more.





" And but the last, great judgment-call
Can set my body free ;
For the icy sea is my sepulchre,
And winter keeps the key.

" And it is because of evil deeds,
Because of a broken vow,
That my soul is in the dreary place
That holds my body now.

" When I left thy pleasant home, mother,

I took me to the sea,
And stately was the noble ship

That I had built for me.
Her masts were of the northern pine.

Her hull of the oaken tree ;

" Her sails were of the canvass stout
To face the fiercest wind ;
Her mariners were bold young men,
The bravest I could find.

" And off we sailed, through rough and smooth,
Off to the Indian Seas ;
We captured every ship we met.
And killed their companies.

" Our ship she carried seven ships' store,
From the deck unto the hold ;
And all we used within the ship
Was made of beaten gold.

" We had seven ships' freights within our ship.
And heavily she sailed and slow :
She sprang a leak ; like lead she sank,
When not a breath did blow.


" I woke as from a frightful dream,
In a bower, I knew not where.
And by me knelt an Indian maid,

Who cooled the burning air ;
With a sweet fan of Indian flowers
She cooled the burning air.

" 'Twas the kindest maid that ever loved,
A very child in truth ;
The meekest, though a king's first-born.
In the glory of her youth.

" She took me to her father's house,
A rich barbaric place ;
She won for me, her stranger-mate.
The love of all her race.

" They clothed me as they clothe a king,
They set me next the throne,
A.nd twenty snow-white elephants
They gave me for my own.

" Ah me ! how I requited them
It has been told in heaven ;
And mortal pangs must cleanse my soul
From that unholy leaven,

" And drearier woe and darker still.
Ere from my soul can fall
The burthen of my broken vows,
The heaviest guilt of all.

" I trampled on her true heart's love ;
The Indian stream ran red,
The sacred stream of her own land,
With pure blood which I shed.


" Once more I built myself a boat,
Of the teak-tree's choicest core ;
I took seven mariners on board,
And put to sea once more.

" My mast was made of Indian cane.
My sails of silken twine,
My ropes they were the tendrils strong
Pulled from the Indian vine.

" I laded my bark with all the wealth
Which guilt had made mine own ;
I took with me, for merchandise.
The pearl and diamond stone.

" 'Twas a heavy freight, a heavy freight,
That lay that bark within ;
But the heaviest weight was in my soul.
The load of seven years' sin !

" I ne'er again set foot on land,
It had no port for me ;
As Cain was a wanderer on the earth,
So was I on the sea.

*' My food was the fish that passed me by ;
My drink the gathered rain ;
I grew unsightly, dark, and fierce,
A spectre of the main.

" My fame was a terror everywhere.
Like a spirit of the blast j
And, when a tall ship crossed my track.
Its people looked aghast.


" Thou couldst not have known thy son, mother,
Hadst thou beheld my face,
When, after seven years' voyaging,
I found my resting-place.

" In the North Sea, 'neath the billowy ice
I lie, while time shall be.
To all unknown, save God alone
Who made that grave for me.

" But the first cock crows, I must be gone ;
No more have I to tell :
The avenger must not find me thence ;
Dear mother, fare thee well !"

The second spake : — " Woe's me for sin !

My elder brother's pain is light ;
His place of bondage is the earth.

And there comes day and night.

" I left thy pleasant home, mother.
With thy blessing on my head.
Thy wisest son, as people deemed,
And to the towji I sped.

" I lived a life of rioting ;

To an ill course was I bent ;
The gold my careful father earned.
In wickedness I spent.

" I ran the round of low debauch.
Careless though all might see,
There was no goodness in my soul,
No human dignity.


" There was no kindness in my heart,
Save for one living thing,
A ciiild — 't was strange, that unto me
Auffht innocent could cliner.

" It was my child, my little son,
That in my heart had place ;
One lone affection, that in sin
Made a redeeming trace.

" I loved him, cursed him with my love ;
And, if there had been aught
Could save my soul, it had been he ;
And yet he saved me not.

" I dragged him with mc night and day.
Poor child ! through scorn and shame ;
I hid him with me in the haunts
Where but the wicked came.

" I never taught him holy things,
Yet was he pure and meek ;
And my blood raged, if any dared
To taunt him for my sake.

" I, and two other men like me,

Were bound to do a deed of blood ;
In a church of Christ we pledged ourselves
To that dark brotherhood.

" I took the little child with me,

In my affection desperate-hearted ;
1 bound him in my oath, that we
In any chance might not be parted.


" Nor were we parted : we were cast
Into a horrid dungeon-place ; -
I could not see my hand at noon,
Nor look upon my loved one's face.

" And yet I felt it mattered not,

While he was with me, where I lay ;
Nor had I grieved, but that he pined
For the sweet light of day.

" At length, when many weeks were gone.
And his complainings chafed my blood —
How shall I tell thee ! — day by day

Went on, and yet they brought no food.

*' I knew man's heart was hard and cold ;
I knew that Ugolin was slain
With pangs like these : the sudden thought
Kindled a frenzy in my brain !

<' I raved for help ; I clasped the child ;

I smote my breast, and fiercely cursed ;
And, in my madness of despair,
I strove my prison walls to burst.

" My pangs they were not for myself;
I bared my arm, and bade him eat :
Life was a boon I did not prize,

Save for the weak thing at my feet.

" Many days went on, many dreadful days,
And on the dungeon floor at length
I lay, as in a deadly dream ;

My rage had spent my strength.


" Mv utterest, hopeless misery
I knew not for a little space,
Until I felt his trembling hand
Passed lightly o'er my face :

" Then in a changed and feeble tone

I heard him whis[)cring j and he said
A little prayer, ' Father in heaven,
Give us our daily bread !'

" ' Where got you, child, that prayer V I cried ;

And he answered with a tranquil air,
• ' From a little child that went to school.

Oil ! fiithcr dear, I got that prayer.'

" This was the one pang that I lacked,
The crowning to my misery given ;
Wretch that I was ! fi)r one so pure
Could only have a place in heaven.

" I thought of all the priest had taught,
And at that time I tried to pray ;
But I was not a sinless child,
I could not find a word to say.

" Another frenzy seized my brain,
A twofold madness in me burned ;
And which died first I never knew.
For memory ne'er in life returned.

" My doom is not accomplished yet ;

But still one thought consoles my heart.
Where'er my blessed child abides.
With me he hath no longer part.


" But, hark ! the second cock doth crow ;
I feel the freshness of tlie day ;
I hear a call I dare not shun ;

Farewell, farewell ! I must not stay."

With this the widow clasped her hands.
And " Woe's me ! " in her grief she said,
" Woe's me, that I have been a mother !
That I have looked upon the dead !

" My sons ! my pride, my sinful boast,
My earliest thought each coming morn,
My latest joy each parting eve.

Would God that ye had ne'er been born !

" Was it for this ye grew in strength ?
For this to comely manhood grew ?
My loved, my lost ! — my lost ! woe's me !
Oh that I could have died for you ! "

" Peace ! peace ! " the youngest spake, " mother,
And let thy wailing ended be ;
If the third cock crow, I must away,
And I am come from heaven for thee.

" They sinned, alas ! they darkly sinned,
The angels of bliss shed tears for them ;
Their place in heaven is empty yet.
And they have dimmed their diadem.

" But of the end f may not speak.
The purpose of God is never ill ;
And though thou mourn, yet murmur not ;
Confide in the all-righteous will.


" For me, when I left uiy pleasant home,
To the city 1 too sped,
And with the young, for many a year,
An idle life I led.

" We lived with the world's most beautiful ;
We raised the wine-cup high ;
We crowned ourselves with the summer's rose,
And let no flower pass by.

" We lived in sumptuous palaces,
Death seemed an idle tale ;
And to a sweet philosophy
We spread our silken sail.

" I thought not that the loved could die,
Nor that the fair could fade ;
And I bound myself with a holy vow
To a young Athenian maid.

" We loved, we lived or seven short years
III a dream of gay delight ;
And beautiful young creatures grew,
Like sweet flowers, in our sight.

" I dreamed not that the fair could fade,
Nor that the loved could die ;
But the whirlwind came when day was calm,
And swept in fury by.

" My children, those fair, tender things,
Faded like summer snow ;
I buried them 'neath a flowery sod.
In a wild amaze of woe.


" I had not seen the pallid face
Of awful death before,
And back I went to my stately house
With new and solemn lore.

" The pestilence had done its work,
The glory of my life was gone.
And my young, sweet Athenian wife
Lay dead before the set of sun.

" I was a man, and so I mourned ;

And, when they preached philosophy
In my great grief, I drove them forth ;
And, tired of life, lay down to die.

" Body and soul they both were weak ;
And it was in the city said,
That, like a madman or a fool,

I made my mourning for the dead.

" The young, the happy shunned my door ;
I sate alone from morn till night ;
And at my lean and drooping form
Men gazed as at a fearful sight.

" At length, by chance, I met a man.
Old and despised, and very poor;
A man of most religious life.

Who yet asked alms from door to door.

" He was my comforter : from him

I leai-ned a fahh that saved my soul ;
The blessings of the Christian's hope
He gave me, and my mind grew whole.


I saw that in God's righteous will
I had been smitten, and I bent

My knee at length, and even gave thanks
To him for that great chastisement.

•' From that good time I spent my days
Among the afflicted of men's race ;
To dungeons and to battle fields
I passed, a minister of grace.

" The blessings of the Holy One

Went with me to each distant land ;
And amid shipwrecks, strife, and foes,
My soul was strengthened by his hand.

" But ere my noon of life was o'er,
The Merciful saw meet to bless
His servant with a peaceful death,
In the far Syrian wilderness.

" Near a small church, that from the days
Of the apostles had stood pure ;
Among their dead they laid my bones,
With all old rites of sepulture.

" But, hark ! the third cock crows aloud ;
Mother, thy race is well nigh run,
The palm in heaven grows green for thee,
Farewell ! we meet at set of sun."




She still was young ; but guilt and tears
Had done on her the work of years.
In a lone house of penitence

She dwelt ; and saving unto one,
A sorrowing woman meek and kind,

Words spake she unto none.

It was' about the close of May,

When they two sate apart
In the warm light of parting day.

That she unsealed her xburdened heart.

' 'They married me when I was young,
A very child in years ;
They married me at the dagger's point,
Amid my prayers and tears.

" To Count Lamberti I was wed,

He to the pope was brother.
They made me pledge my faith to him

The while I loved another :
Ay, while I loved to such excess,
My love than madness scarce was less !



" I would have died for him, and he

Loved me with equal warmth and truth.
Lamberti's age was thrice mine own,
And he had long outlived his youth.

" His brow was scarred by many \\ounds ;

His eye was stern, and cold, and grave ;
He was a soldier from his youth.

And all confessed him brave ;
He had been much in foreign lands.

And once among the Moors a slave.

" I thought of him like Charlemagne,
Or any knight of old :
When I was a child upon the knee
His deeds to me they told.

" 1 knew the songs they made of him,
I sang them when a child :
Giuseppe sang them too with me,
He loved all tales of peril wild.

" 1 tell thee, he was stern and grey ;
His years were thrice mine own.
That I was to Giuseppe pledged,
To all my kin was known.

" My heart was to Giuseppe vowed ;
Love was our childhood's lot ;
1 loved him ever ; never knew
The time I loved him not.

" He was an orphan, and the last

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