The Fifth Brother’s Tale

Miss Vardill

A dome stands on yon grassy steep,
Where west-winds sigh o’er Ocean’s sleep;
No guest invades its threshold green,
No sun beam in its hall is seen:
There dwells a pale and palsied man,
Whose brow the stranger fears to scan.
When midnight veils the silent hour
He lingers in his lonely bow’r,
And only when the stars are few,
His wand’ring steps disturb the dew.

If ye have felt the sullen haze
Which wraps the sun’s far-distant rays,
Those rays so coldly, dimly seen
Behind November’s frozen screen,
Ye well may guess the damp control
Of silent Bertram’s shrouded soul;
Remote from touch yet ever nigh,
It chill’d the heart, but mock’d the eye,
As mists the captive spirit chain
With slow, but unresisted reign.

But friendship once, when life was new,
Gave Bertram’s soul a brighter hue.
His mood was fierce, his fancy wild,
Yet sunk to peace if Edwin smil’d;
He lov’d the race if Edwin ran
His mirth with Edwin’s joy began:
How softly thro’ yon crevic’d rock
The well-remember’d streams distill!
How sweetly to his slumb’ring flock
Yon shepherd carols from the hill!
That hoary hind was blithe and young
When last the forest-lay he sung
To soothe his jocund master’s ear
While hound and huntsman slumber’d near.
But that forgotten master now
Has wrinkles on his silver’d brow,
And never more shall Fancy greet
His pillow with a dream so sweet
As when upon that rock reclined
He slumber’d in the summer-wind!

Yet there remains a secret prize
Remains his wither’d heart to bless,
A treasure hid from vulgar eyes
Deep in yon lonely dell’s recess.
Long-buried Edwin’s orphan-child
Grows shelter’d in the woodland wild — 
And see! — the fost’ring cottage still
Peeps far below the tufted hill — 
Its casement glimmers thro’ the trees — 
He scents the woodbine in the breeze
Which round its milk-white porch he twin’d
Ere hope of peace he left behind.
O haste! — the tardy gate unbar — 
A gentle guardian comes from far!
Alas! — no cherub’s smile is near
His worn and wasted heart to cheer:
A thief has found the precious flow’r
And torn it from its native bow’r!

 * * *

What now avails the golden hoard
By fortune’s lavish bounty pour’d
On him, whom none remain to bless
In life’s long wintry wilderness!
The wretch who digs this thankless soil,
Has yet a hope to soothe his toil,
Some babe his parting kiss to crave
Some pious hand to deck his grave,
But not one kindred tear shall fall
To gem his lonely master’s pall!

Why, vassal, with such lavish care
The desolated dome adorn?
Ah! — rather leave his image there
A mouldering ruin, cold and bare,
With nightshade and the barren thorn!
Why by these vagrant roses’ pride
The dark funereal cypress hide?
Thy lord has lost the latest rose
Which bloom’d to grace his wintry close!

Fond witless slaves! — with envious eyes
Ye gaze and wonder at his sighs — 
Ye guess not with how weak a voice
Pomp bids the ruined heart rejoice
Of him who withering to the core
Can hope, and trust, and love no more:
Condemn’d to live till life is cold,
While sapless hope itself grows old,
Till frozen into lethargy
The sleeping soul begins to die,
And death, the body’s welcome doom,
Scarce gives a deeper — darker tomb!

 * * *

At lonely Bertram’s silent gates
A wan and whitehair’d minstrel waits
With mountain-staff, and mantle green
Slung o’er a moaning mandoline;
Behind him smiles an urchin fair
Whose rosy hands the harp prepare.
“Lord Bertram! in they bounteous hall
We mountain-minstrels wait thy call
Now let soft melody’s control
In brief oblivion lap thy soul.”
It comes! thro’ moss-grown arches round
Swells the lone harp’s soul-stealing sound
Of youth and joy the minstrel sings
And light as love’s ambrosial wings
His fingers sweep the warbling strings.
Such sounds from lutes ethereal creep
When angels minister to sleep.
He sings! — a list’ning cherub near
Might pause that kindred voice to hear.

Ere yet that heav’n-taught sound departs
Sad Bertram from his pillow starts — 
Wrapp’d in a minstrel’s russet weeds
The gentle songster’s form recedes;
But from his brow, serene and bold,
He parts his locks of clust’ring gold:
Such blushes tinge his downy cheek
As morning’s milkwhite vapour streak;
While brightly gleam his azure eyes
Like Cupid’s hid in mortal guise.
“Fair boy! — thy mellow warblings seem
The whispers of a holy dream — 
But whence art thou whose magic hand
Pours on my ear this solace bland?”
“Chaldea’s lonely wilds among
I learn’d my sad and simple song:
Once as on Mosul’s silent bank
To slumber in its cave I sank
Methought the swelling sand beneath,
A plaintive minstrel seem’d to breathe
‘Tread softly! — ’midst this barren sand
Lie relics of a bounteous hand!
Revere this dust! — it once was part
Of buried Edwin’s trusting heart:
If yet with vital warmth it glow’d,
On thee its bounty would have flow’d!’
So spoke my dream: — by morning’s light
This ruby circlet met my sight,
Rich with his symbol and his name — 
Will Bertram’s hand the relic claim?”

Red glows the fire in Bertram’s eye — 
“Away! — ’tis false — he did not die — 
Could Mosul’s turban’d ruffians dare
To touch the head they vow’d to spare? — 
They vow’d — or I had never left
Lost Edwin in their cavern’s cleft — 
O no! — he died not; — ever here
He sits my lonely pillow near
And smiles, as once when life was young,
He smil’d when to the race he sprung.
Hence, mountain bandit! — hence and learn
What fires round scorpion-conscience burn!
Yet thou has tears — I feel them now
Drop balmy on my burning brow — 
Kind stranger! — keep that precious tear
To hallow my forsaken bier!
As bounteous eyes on thee shall shine
A tear as precious drop on thine.”

Lost Edwin’s ransom’d hand receive,
This voice, these eyes — this heart believe!
Fate yields me yet one germ of joy,
Our lov’d one’s pledge — this beauteous boy:
A father found the cherish’d flow’r
And led him to thy lonely bow’r.

“Live, Bertram! — to thy contrite breast
The pleading orphan once was prest;
I give thee back thy gracious tears
Thy pity gave his infant years:
When all the gems of life depart
That boon shall sparkle next thy heart.”

 * * *

Still Bertram lives, if life it is
To brood on wreck’d and wasted bliss
When ev’ry breathing is a sigh
And ev’ry thought is agony.
Fed on the deepest root of woe,
The shame of a forgiven foe!