King Edward and Fair Agnes

Miss Vardill

The Last Legend

Lord Patrick from his home lies far
And the death-bird screams over old Dunbar;
His hound has forgotten his native land
His war-horse stoops to another hand;
No traveller treads that lonely way
But the Palmer from Cheviot’s mountain grey.
And that pale musing wand’rer sighs
With blighted cheek and hollow eyes
 As on his pilgrim-staff reposed,
He leans beside the church-yard bound
Gazing on many a mossy mound
 O’er gentle hearts for ever clos’d.
He loves upon that turf to rest
Yet there is in his lonely breast
No relic of love-hallow’d days,
Such as in sweet remembrance stays
Like autumn-flow’rs that softly breathe
Tho’ time has shrunk the rosy wreath.
The fountain of his joy is dried
And the rich channel it supplied
Is now a chasm dark and deep
Where weeds and baleful serpents creep.

A mourner sits in the roofless aisle
Of old Dunbar’s forsaken pile,
Where, stretch’d upon his shield of pride
A warrior’s form lies sanctified
With uprais’d palms together prest,
Signing his hope of holy rest.

“Lady!” the Palmer said and frown’d,
“Thy locks are smooth and jet-black yet,
Thine eyes for lovers’ lamps are fit
Why sitt’st thou on this lonely mound?”
On that fair lady’s face awhile
Dwelt such a chill and changeless smile
As parts the pale lips of the dead
When life, but not its look, is fled.
“I have seen royal banners bow’d — 
And now the wild fox hides her young
Where noble Patrick’s trophies hung
While wine-cups cheer’d his vassal croud.
But, Palmer, thou has hoary hair,
And many a year of brooding care
Has sunk thy cheek and dimm’d thine eye;
Tell then if ought beneath the sky
Is happiness which man may share!”

Lowly the Palmer bent his knee—
“Thy thoughts are earthly things above;
Yet happiness on earth may be
And ag’d men teach the mystery—
It has the eye and voice of Love,
But walks and dwells with Charity.
For Charity from mortal sight
Retires its busy glance to shun;
She walks in shadow, but has light
From him whose eye is in the Sun.
She loves the valley, and her rest
Is the gentle heart’s recess — 
And once — when man was Eden’s guest,
He knew, and call’d her Happiness.”—

Smiling, the Lady stoop’d to fill
Her maple cup at Deva’s rill — 
“Palmer!” — she cried — “the widow’s cruse
Yields not the spicy purple juice,
Yet take this draught—a boon so small
She weeps to give, but gives thee all.”
Softly she smiled, and meekly spoke.
Why shook the Palmer as he quaff’d
From hands so fair the gentle draught
With lifted eye and loosen’d cloak
Back from his shining armour thrown?
The red light of the fading west
Seem’d on his shrivell’d brow to rest
Like glory on a broken throne.
“Fair Agnes! thou hast taught me well
How happiness on earth may dwell;
 It is when bending by the grave
Of him who stung my trusting heart,
And rent away its dearest part,
I learn to bless, forgive, and save!
“Thou know’st me now! but never yet
Did hate the cup of peace repay — 
A dagger’s hilt would ill befit
The hand which thus on thine I lay.
Thy husband wrong’d me—I am he
Whose vengeance laid thy banners low
But never to a nobler foe
Did holy earth give sepulchre;
And thus upon his pardon’d head
Balm from thy bounteous cup I shed;
Thus with the drops thy pity gave
I consecrate thy warrior’s grave.
Lady! yon pale round moon shall wane,
Ere with his pilgrim-staff again
A palmer at thy gate shall stand;
Then fill the goblet to the brim
The taper and the hearth-fire trim — 
Thy boon may bless a monarch’s hand!
Turn, mourner, to thy home, and prove
Kings vanquish noble foes by love.”

Ere the new moon’s silver horn was bow’d
Fair Agnes sat in her castle proud:
High in her hall a goblet shone
Of the onyx pale and purple stone
And its base was a gem so pure and bright
It seem’d an orb of golden light.
The heart-worn pilgrim’s sorrows sank
Whene’r of that precious cup he drank
But none its balmy pow’r can prove
None can its magic lustre see
Till his eye and tongue are true to love,
And his hand and heart to Charity.