Lady Olivia Gossamer’s Prize Essay

Miss Vardill


I found the enclosed — no matter where, or how — and considering the Attic Chest as the best repository of all the waifs and strays from the Fount of Helicon, I consign it to your care, and should its former Fair Proprietor be displeasured at my doing so, it will teach her to be more careful of her Pockets!



A Fragment


Whence comes that wavering light which falls
On Langdale’s ruin’d chapel walls?
The noble mother of Christabelle
Lies in that lone and drear chapelle,
And every dawn ere the sun has shone
A tear and a flow’r are on that stone;
But the tear is dry, the flow’r is dead,
And the night wind blows on her silent bed.


A stranger walks o’er that holy mound!
Thrice it has breathed a moaning sound;
He has lifted thrice his mighty wand,
He has touch’d the stone with his red-right hand;
And the light which round the chapel streams
Bright on his beard of silver gleams,
But shines not on his hooded brow
Which mortal eye must never know.


The noble mother of Christobelle
Is waken’d by the stranger’s spell;
She seems but as if a hermit’s arms
Awhile had wrapp’d her in his cell,
As if his cold and earthy touch
Had frozen her beauteous lips too much — 
But now returning beauty warms
Her lip and her dimpling cheek so well
She looks like the lovely Christobelle.


“Lady, lady! who is she
That met thy child by the old oak tree,
When not a breeze was heard to sigh
And the yellow leaf mov’d not which hung so high?
She who told that men of blood
Lur’d her to the lonely wood;
She who slept by thy daughter’s side
While the grey dog moan’d and the owlets cried?
Is that lady of soft and sober mien,
Sir Roland’s true daughter Geraldine?”


The noble mother of Cristobelle
Has open’d her dim and hollow eye;
And spirits are thronging from cave and dell
To listen to her lips’ reply — 
“Merlin, Merlin! I know thee well!
Tho’ a minstrel’s cloak is around thee flung
And a holy hood on thy brow is hung!
The dead and living obey thy spell,
But not till the moon has pass’d away
And the bell has toll’d on her bridal day
Thou wilt know the foe of Christobelle!”


The grey dog howls tho’ the moon is bright — 
Why sits the lady alone to-night?
Why comes she not at her father’s call,
While the noble stranger is in his hall?
That stranger of soft and sober mien,
Sir Roland’s fair daughter Geraldine.

But Cristobell’s brow is cold and damp
As she sits alone by her silver lamp — 
(That lamp for a maiden’s chamber meet,
Which hangs from a smiling angel’s feet.)
But who comes near with steps so light,
And why is her brow so cold,
While Cristobell shakes her ringlets bright
Back from her cheek of lily-white?
For there in his glist’ring in his mail of gold,
His azure scarf around him roll’d,
She sees her own true knight!


“Christabell! my task is done!
Christabell, my prize is won!
The stars are smiling, the moon is bright,
The bell of our spousal shall toll to-night!”
She does not smile, she does not weep;
Her cheek is like the parting snow
When alpine roses bud below
But scarce a blush of crimson keep:
Yet she has taken her lover’s kiss,
And the touch of her melting hand is his.


But another eye is on her face
Another form beside her stands — 
That form, so ghostly, lean, and tall,
Is it Bracy the Bard of Langdale Hall?
He has touch’d the lamp in the silver vase
And it brighter burns than a thousand brands;
He calls on saints in their holy place
The spousal of Christobell to grace,
Then joins the plighted lovers’ hands.


“Now follow me, Christobell, with speed!
I go at thy knightly Father’s call
To strike the harp in his ancient hall,
But thou the mirthful dance shalt lead:
Thy own true knight shall be near thy side,
And the matin bell shall proclaim a bride.”

 * * *

They follow — but whence is the taper’s glare
That leads them down the lonely stair?
They look his shadowy face upon,
They look — but his silver beard is gone:
His cloak is chang’d to a russet dye,
And a mirthful gleam is in his eye:
But Christobelle’s cheek is shrunk and pale
For she sees not her lover’s shining mail;
He seems but a stripling soft and young
With the minstrel’s harp behind him slung.


With mutter’d words of gramarye
The Bard stalks foremost of the three:
At ev’ry soundless stride he takes
The base of Langdale’s castle shakes — 
The elf-dog starts as he passes by
But closes again his shrinking eye;
The banner falls from the castle-wall
As he strikes the porch of its blazing hall!

Lord Leoline sat in chair of pride
The white-arm’d stranger by his side;
O! bright was the glance she gave to view
When back her amaranth locks she threw;
It was like the moon’s on the fountain’s brim
When the amber clouds around her skim.
The rubies which on her bosom flam’d
Might be of her brighter lips asham’d — 
There never was lovely lady seen
Like the stranger-guest, fair Geraldine.


“Now, welcome, welcome, Bracy the Bard!
Welcome the rites of song to guard!
Sit and waken thy golden string,
The legend of love and beauty sing; — 
Well hast thou sped since noontide’s hour
If thou comest from good Sir Roland’s tow’r.”

 * * *

“Sir Roland greets thee, Lord Leoline!
He greets thee first for his Geraldine;
His heart thy pardon and love receives
Like dew which drops upon wither’d leaves:
But he asks one boon thy truth to prove
He asks for his son thy daughter’s love:
And he sends this goblet of chrysolite
To grace the feast of their bridal night.”


Sir Leoline from his feast rose up
And fill’d to the brim the shining cup:
He kiss’d its edge with gesture bland
Then gave it to Geraldine’s lily hand:
The grey dog yell’d as her lips again
Said “Health to the Bride of Triermain!”
But the crysolite chang’d as she touch’d its brim
And the gem on its sapphire edge grew dim:
The lamps are quench’d in their sockets of gold,
The hour is past, and the bell has toll’d!


Lord Leoline’s hall again is bright
With a thousand lamps of golden light,
And roses, by fairy fingers tied
The banners and shields of knighthood hide;
And over the roof and over the walls
A curtain of painted vapour falls.
Now pillars of jasper seem to grow
From the green bright emerald floor below
 With garlands of rubies bound;
The sky is crimson with meteor-fires,
A thousand tongues and a thousand lyres
Thro’ the lone chapelle resound.


Where is the white-hair’d Bard who spoke
With voice so meek in his russet cloak?
The sage of eternal might is there
A meteor wreath’d in his ebon hair;
And there, in his youthful beauty’s pride,
The heir of Sir Roland is by his side!

Where is she with eyes so fair
Who sat and smil’d by the Baron’s chair?
There sits a dame of royal mien
But her lips are pearly, her locks are green;
The eyder-down covers her speckled breast
The scales of the sea-wolf clasp her vest;
And those orbs, once bluer than western skies
Are shrunk to the rings of a serpent’s eyes.

“Witch of the lake, I know thee now!
Thrice three hundred years are gone
Since beneath my cave,
In the western wave,
I doom’d thee to weep and wail alone
And writ thy shame on thy breast and brow.
But Glendolen and thee in vain
Have striven to mock my pow’r again!
The spell which in thy bosom worketh
No holy virgin’s heart can stain;
The spell that in thy false eye lurketh
But for an hour can truth enchain.
Thy hour is past! — thy spells I sever — 
Witch of the lake descend for ever!”

The shadows vanish — the witch has fled,
The grey elf-dog at his feet lies dead;
Sir Leoline sits in his chair of pride
And Christobell is Sir Roland’s bride;
But a voice said — “Merlin, we meet again
At another Bridal of Triermain!”