The Fourth Brother’s Tale

Miss Vardill

Short is my tale and simple. One pale morn,
When the vex’d sun look’d sadly on the wreck
Made by the midnight storm, a sailor-boy
Lay gasping on the shore; his sunburnt hands
Twin’d in the ringlets of a famish’d child,
Which nestled in his bosom. An ag’d dame
Rais’d the poor nursling from his cold embrace,
While his faint dying eye again unclos’d,
To look a last farewell. In holy turf
She wrapp’d the stranger’s corse; but me she gave
To a Baronial Chieftain, whose proud heart
Had, like the stony region where he dwelt,
One rich and warm recess. He lodg’d me there,
For he was childless, and his coming age
Wanted a fount of joy. With him I liv’d,
In the green lap of a secluded vale,
Far from the haunts of men; and many a spring
The hoary Baron smil’d to see me bound
Wild as his own red deer among the cliffs,
Or startle echo with the clam’rous horn
Which urg’d his darling chase: but more I lov’d,
When the last purple ting’d the misty eve,
To seek the sailor-boy’s unshelter’d grave,
Or the white hut among the osiers hid
Of her who lov’d me first.
    Twelve summer suns
Had shone upon my boyhood when the hall
Of noble Howard rang with festive shouts
Hailing his new-born heir — a beauteous babe,
Such as heav’n lends to show how cherubs smile,
And promise love to Man! It grew and twin’d,
Like a sweet flow’r in kindly Autumn’s wane,
Round its half-wither’d parent, dropping sweets.
These were my days of bliss!—the gentle boy
Smil’d on his orphan playmate, and my heart
Grew rich when guided by my guardian arm
He climb’d the tow’ring crag and brought the spoils
Of the snar’d eaglet home. We rov’d together
Brothers in soul and love, but Joy’s own hand
Had shap’d Fitzhoward’s heart and touch’d the orb
Of his blue beaming eye. It was a gladness
To hear his voice: his lip was Laughter’s throne,
And sighing Age could scarce remember grief
When he was Pleasure’s minister.
    These days,
These golden days decay’d, as Autumn’s leaves
Fall when their tints are richest. One bright morn
The heathcock lur’d me to a distant glen
Where rocks on rocks a dim pavilion shap’d,
Green with the moss of ages: in the midst
A slumb’ring brook lay cradled among flow’rs.
There in the covert of far-spreading boughs
A low-roof’d mansion stood — its pillar’d porch
Lin’d with thick jasmines and the silver pride
Of myrtles in their bloom. A vagrant rose
Climb’d to the open casement where a cheek
As pure, and of far softer damask, lean’d
On one fair hand, while fost’ring water-drops
Were guided by the other. Never yet
Did young Aurora when she sheds her dew
Smile with a blush so gracious! That low roof
Shelter’d an ancient stranger whose best hope
Liv’d in his bud of beauty — I had youth,
Honour, and Hope’s bright star; but iron age
In noble Howard clos’d the genial springs
Of bounty and kind trust: he lov’d me well,
But like the tree whose top is moss’d by time,
His love gave tardy and reluctant fruit.
Yet Emma smil’d and heard me; and my hope
Found language to my friend, whose joyful eye
Shone ever like a sunbeam on the source
Of pleasure in my soul and made it bright.
“Be bold,” he said, “pursue thy love and smile!
My father’s av’rice shall not blight its bloom:
Go, woo thy bride’s grave sire, and bid him light
The faggot on his hearth with Christmas-cheer,
Old Howard shall be there!”
    The cottage hearth,
Shone thro’ a bow’r of holly, and the board,
White with the snowy web from Emma’s loom,
Her lavish hand enrich’d with ev’ry cate
Won from the dairy’s or the garden’s pride
By housewife Art, to greet her noble guest.
Smiles deck’d her cheek — such smiles as fairies wear
When on saints’ eve they lurk in village bow’rs
To mock a lover’s spell. Her ancient Sire
In glossy beechen chair full proudly sat,
Eying the crest still pictur’d on his wall
In heraldry’s dim hues. — The Baron comes!
Propp’d on his iv’ry staff — his forest-coat
Chang’d for a stiff brocade; his brow enshrin’d
In curls voluminous of fleecy white,
By time made rev’rend; his capacious vest
Emboss’d with wondrous flow’rs and gems and gold!
Thrice in kind greeting from his hand he drew
His broad-fring’d glove, and spoke. “Sir, well I deem
The son of my adoption has deserv’d
Your Daughter’s love, and blessings from our hands:
Be this his nuptial eve: the greenest fields
Of Borrodale and Skyrocks shall afford
A spacious glebe to grace his chapel-house:
And half my son’s fair birth-right shall be his
When I am gather’d to my ancestors.”

Slow bow’d the crafty sire — “What says my Lord?
Both Borrodale and Skyrocks?” — “Both, I vow,
My heir shall give the Brother of his heart,
And all that love can add!—”

    “Thou shalt do this
Degenerate boy!” a voice in thunder spoke,
“When I am sleeping with my forefathers!”
Then bursting from his covert in a nook,
Forth the grim Baron strode! False God of Love!
How look’d thy vassal when the fall’n peruke
Loose nose, and dropping eye-brow half-reveal’d
The Son’s fair visage to the Father’s eye!
“Mine, mine,” he cried; “this antic craft is mine,
In purpose sacred, tho’ in seeming base:
Be mine the penalty!” — “Impostor, hence!
Thy scarlet hose, gemm’d shoes, and broider’d coat,
(Stolen from thy grandsire’s chest) shall henceforth be
Thy sole inheritance. Avoid my roof
Thou and the traitor by my dotage rear’d!
But know his thriftless love is Emma’s mock —
Behold thy Father’s Bride!”
    Abhorr’d Remembrance!
It lingers at my heart — That fatal eve
The wily Syren, long to av’rice sold,
The hoary widower wedded — and we twain
A frantic Lover and forsaken Son,
Sought in the Hermit’s Dale a lone abode;
To Woman’s craft both victims and both foes,
Sworn foes for ever. A lone chapel stands
Beside our cloister, where when Twilight fades
And wither’d leaves make moan, I sit and muse
On love which fades like them. And oft I teach
Our pensive Brotherhood how ev’ry tribe
Is scourg’d by Woman’s: e’en the pannier’d ass
Slave to a rustic’s household — the tame goose
Robb’d of its down — the spider and the bee
Whose architecture by her touch is crush’d!
But blithe Fitzhoward in unmeasur’d bowls
Of the spic’d alder’s juice or amber ale
Steeps his sore wrongs. His mirth illumes my heart,
As aquafortis in a hollow shell
Streaks its pale milky coat with vivid hues
And changes chalk to silver. But at night
We circle round our board, and tell strange tales
Of stepdames cruel, and of hair-breadth scapes
From purseless spinsters, dowagers, and wives
Till even the Bottles weep!!!

Mr Editor,

As my history is included in Brother St Alme’s, he sends it early to give satisfaction. I thank the Ladies of you Attic Circle for their anxious curiosity respecting me, and am, while at a safe distance,

Their very humble servant

Fitz Howard

Dec 18th