Sir Walter returned from the far Holy Land,
And a blood-tinctured falchion he bore;
But such precious blood as now darkened his sword
Had never distained it before.
Fast fluttered his heart as his own castle towers
He saw on the mountain’s green height;
“My wife, and my son!” he exclaimed, while his tears
Obscured for some moments his sight.
For terror now whispered, the wife he had left
Full fifteen long twelvemonths before,
The child he had clasp’t in his farewell embrace,
Might both, then, alas! be no more.
Then, sighing, he thought of his Editha’s tears
As his steed bore him far from her sight,
And her accents of love, while she fervently cried,
“Great God! guard his life in the fight!”
And then he remembered, in language half formed
How his child strove to bid him adieu;
While scarcely he now can believe, as a man,
That infant may soon meet his view.
But should he not live!….To escape from that fear,
He eagerly spurred his bold steed:
Nor stopped he again, till his own castle moat
Forbade on the way to proceed.
‘T was day-break: yet still past the windows he saw
Busy forms lightly trip to and fro:
Blest sight! that she lives,” he exclaimed with smile,
“Those symptoms of housewifery show:
“For, stranger to sloth, and on business intent,
The dawn calls her forth from her bed;
And see, through the castle, all busy appear,
By her to their duty still led.”
That instant the knight by the warder was seen,
For far flamed the cross on his breast;
And while loud blew the horn, now a smile, now a tear,
Sir Walter’s mix’t feelings expressed.
‘Tis I, my loved vassals!” the warrior exclaimed,….
The voice reached his Editha’s ears;
Who, breathless and speechless, soon rushed to his arms,
Her transport betraying by tears.
“And dost thou still love me?” he uttered, when first
A silence so rapturous he broke;
She tried to reply, but in vain….while her sobs
A volume of tenderness spoke.
Behold how I’m changed! how I’m scarred!” he exclaimed,
“Each charm that I boasted is o’er:”….
“Thou hast bled for THY GOD ,” she replied, “and each scar
Endears thee, my warrior, the more.”
“But where is my child?” he cried, pale with alarm,
“Thou namest not my Alfred….my boy!”……..
“And comes he not with you?” she said;….”then some woe
Embitters our beverage of joy.”
“What meanest thou, my love?”…….”When to manhood he grew,
And heard of his father’s great name,
‘O let me’, he cried, ‘to the Holy Land go,
To share my sire’s dangers, and fame.
“‘Perchance my young arm, by the cause nerved with strength,
May lower the Pagan’s proud crest:
And the brave Christian knights, in reward of my zeal,
May bind the red cross on my breast,’….
“‘And think’st thou,’ I said, ‘with the son I can part,
Till the father be safe in my arms?
No….hope not I’ll add to the fears of the wife
The mother’s as poignant alarms.’
“I ceased….and his head on my bosom reclined,
While his golden hair shaded his cheek;
When, parting his ringlets, I saw the big tears
His heart’s disappointment bespeak.
The sight overcame me: ‘Most loved,’ I exclaimed,
‘Go, share in thy father’s renown!
Thy mother will gladly, to dry up thy tears,
Endure an increase of her own .’
“He kissed me…he thanked me….I armed him myself,
And girt his pure sword on his side;
So lovely he looked, that the mother’s fond fears
Were lost in the mother’s fond pride.”
“He went then?…How long has my warrior been gone?”
“A twelvemonth, my Walter, and more.”
Indeed!….then he scarcely could reach the far land
Until the last battle was o’er.”
“I told him, my Walter, what armour was yours,
And what the device on your shield,
In hopes of your meeting.”….”Alas!” he returned:
“My armour I changed on the field!
“A friend whom I loved from the dawning of youth,
For conquest and courage renowned,
Fell, fighting beside me, and thus he exclaimed,
While life issued fast from the wound:
“‘And must I then die ere the flag of the Cross
Waves proudly o’er Saracen towers?
But grant me, loved Walter, this dying request,
For victory must surely be ours:
“‘My armour well tried, and my falchion, my shield,
In memory of me deign to wear!
‘T would sooth me to know, when the victory comes on,
That something of mine will be there!’
“I granted his wish, and his arms I assumed,
While yet he the action could see,
And marked with delight that his last closing look
Was fix’t with fond pleasure on me.
“Yet now, this remembrance so dear to my heart
Is clouded by anxious regret;
Since, but for this change on the field of the fight,
The father and son would have met!”
But if he has fought, and has fallen, my love!”….
“Suppress,” cried the knight with a frown,
“A fear so ill-founded;….if Alfred had died,
He’d have fallen a child of renown .”
Yet vainly he strove by the father’s proud hopes
To conquer the father’s fond fears;
He feared for the life of his boy, though with smiles
He answered his Editha’s tears.
And more and more forced grew the smile on his lip,
His brow more o’erclouded with thought;
At length he exclaimed, “From the field of renown
One mournful memorial I’ve brought.
“I grieve that I won it!….A Saracen chief
Fell bleeding before me in fight,
When lo! as I claimed him my prisoner and prize,
A warrior disputed my right.
“‘I’m new to the battle,’ he cried, ‘and this prize
Will wreathe my young brow with renown,
Nor will I the conquest resign but with life:….
That chief by this arm was o’erthrown.’
“His daring enraged me,…for mine seemed the stroke
Which laid the proud Saracen low;….
Besides, from his bosom depended no cross,
His right to such daring to show.”
“But surely, my Walter, the daring bespoke
A soul nobly eager for fame:
So many your laurels, that one you could spare,….
O tell me you granted his claim !”
“No, Editha, no!….martial pride steeled my heart,
The youth I to combat defied;
He fought like a hero! but vainly he fought,…
Beneath my strong falchion he died.”
“O ill-fated youth! how I bleed for his fate!
Perhaps that his mother, like me
Had armed him, and blest him, and prays for his life,
As I pray, my Alfred, for thee!….
“But never again shall he gladden her eyes,
And haste her fond blessing to crave!
O Walter! I tremble lest you in return
Be doomed to the sorrow you gave!
“Say, did not the cross, when your victim he fell,
Lie heavy and cold on your breast;….
That symbol of him full of meekness and love,
Whose deeds mercy only expressed?”
Yes….pity, shame, penitence seized on my soul;
So sweet too his voice was in tone!
Methought as he lay, and in agony groaned,
His accents resembled thine own.
“His casque I unlaced, and I chafed his cold brow,
And fain every wound would have healed;
So young, and so lovely he seemed, that I wept
As by him I tenderly kneeled.
He saw my distress, and his last dying grasp
Forgiveness and kindness expressed;
And then, with a look I shall never forget,
He breathed his last sigh on my breast.”
“But what’s this memorial?” with cheek deadly pale
His Editha falteringly cried:…
“This scarf from his bosom!”….he uttered no more,
For Editha sunk by his side.
Ah then in her danger, her pale look of death,
He forgot all the laurels he’d won.
O father accurst!” she exclaimed, “in that youth
You slaughtered your Alfred….your son!”