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The Collected Poems of Dora Sigerson Shorter/Earl Roderick's Bride


It was the Black Earl Roderick
Who rode towards the south;
The frown was heavy on his brow,
The sneer upon his mouth.

Behind him rode a hundred men
All gay with plume and spear;
But not a one did lilt a song
His weary way to cheer.

So stern was Black Earl Roderick
Upon his wedding day,
To none spoke he a single word
Who met him on his way.

And when he reached the castle old,
Wherein his bride did wait,
He blew three blasts upon the horn
That hung beside the gate.

“Now who be you who blow so strong,
And all so gaily ride?”
“It is the Black Earl Roderick
Who comes to claim his bride.”

“Come in, come in, Earl Roderick,
Come in, the hour is late;
The priest is ready in his stole,
The wedding guests await.”

And then the stern Earl Roderick
From his fierce steed came down;
The sneer still curled upon his lip,
His eyes still held the frown.

He strode right haughtily and quick
Into the banquet hall,
And stood among the wedding guests,
The greatest of them all.

He gave scant greeting to the throng,
He waved the guests aside;
“Now haste, for I, Earl Roderick,
Will wait long for no bride.

“And I must in the saddle be
Before the night is grey;
So, quickly with the marriage lines,
And let us ride away.”

While spoke the great Earl Roderick
There came into the hall
His little bride, all trembling,
As though she soon must fall.

Her mother held her snow-white hand
And wept most bitterly;
She whispered, “If I had my will
This thing should never be.”

Her father muttered in his beard,
“Thus do the clans unite;
Yet were there other way, I vow,
This troth they should not plight.”

And when the two were wedded one,
He raised his hand and said,
“This is the link that binds the clans;
God's blessing on her head.”

But now the stern Earl Roderick
His presence did deny;
He mounted on his fretting steed
With but a scant goodbye.

His bride he set before him there,
And rode upon his way,
And all his sullen men at arms
With wedding favours gay.

And to his weary little bride
He spoke no gentle word;
She fluttered, weeping on his breast,
Like to some wounded bird.

For in his heart the gloomy Earl
Had spoke a bitter thing:
“Oh, 'tis not on your hand I love
To see my golden ring.

“I, wedding thus the stranger child,
Keep the clans united,
But set my own true love aside,—
Broke the troth I plighted.”

It chanced when Black Earl Roderick
Had but been wed a year,
There came to him a serving-lass,
Within her eye a tear.

“Alas,” she said “Earl Roderick,
'Tis well that you should know
That each grey eye, lone wandering,
My mistress dear doth go.

“She comes with sorrow in her eyes
Home in the dawning light.
My Lord, she is too weak and young
To travel in the night.”

Now stern grew Black Earl Roderick,
But answered not at all;
He took his hunting harness down
That hung upon the wall.

And quickly went he to the chase,
And slowly came he back,
And there he met his old sweetheart,
Who stood across his track,

And, “Oh, proud Earl Roderick,”
She said, “I bring to you
A tale to bow your naughty head—
Your mistress is untrue.

“She goes alone each night, they say,
And mounts Hy-brasil hill,
And there she lingers with her love
Until the dawn comes chill.”

At this the stern Earl Roderick
Grew paler than the dead,
And bowed upon his heaving breast
His proud and angry head.

“Till now,” he cried, “no stain has come
Upon my honoured name.
Lord, pity me, that in my time
Should rise the flush of shame.”

He struck the gold spur in his steed,
The wind behind him wailed;
He drove the beast through stream and briar
Until its strength nigh failed.

And when he reached Hy-brasil hill
He searched it high and low,
But ne'er a sight of his lost bride
Did all his seeking show.

But there he met an ancient crone.
To whom he spake his mind—
“And have you seen my lady here,
For her I cannot find?”

“I have not seen your lady here,”
The withered dame replied;
“But I have met a little lass,
Who wrung her hands and cried.

“She was not clad in silken robe,
Nor rode a palfrey white;
She had no maidens in her train,
Behind her rode no knight.

”But she crept weary up yon hill,
And crouched upon the sord,
I dare not think that she could be
Spouse to so great a Lord.“

Now darkly frowned Earl Roderick,
He turned his face away;
And shame and anger in his heart
Disturbed him with their sway,

For he had never cared to know
What his young bride would wear;
He gave her neither horse, nor hound,
Nor jewels for her hair.

“And whither went this little lass.
And who was by her side?
I vow his blood shall drench my blade,
And that before my bride.”

“There was no lover by her side;
She went sad and alone,
And when she reached the green hilltop
She there did make her moan.

“And once her father's name she'd cry,
And twice her mother's call,
And thrice on Black Earl Roderick
Who loved her not at all.

“And every night she came and wept.
So long upon the hill,
And watched the lights in her lost home
Until the dawn grew chill.”

“What did you tell to her, old witch.
When weeping she passed by?”
“I took her pretty hand in mine
And bid her not to cry.

“I traced upon her slender palm
That luck was changing soon;
I swore that peace would come to her
Before another moon.

“I said that he who loved her well
Would robe her all in silk,
And bear her in a coach of gold
With palfreys white as milk.

“I told, before three suns had set
He'd kneel down by her side.
That he she loved would love her well
And she would be his bride.”

Now pallid grew Earl Roderick;
He turned his charger home;
Vowed in a tower he'd lock his bride.
So she no more could roam.

But when he reached the castle grey
He searched both high and low:
But none had seen his pale lady,
And none had seen her go.

There came to him a serving-maid,
And in her eye a tear:
“Oh, what has happened in the night?
A banshee I did hear!”

There came to him his sister grey,
And stern was her set face:
“A curse upon the wandering feet
That bring our house disgrace!”

But still the proud Earl Roderick
No answer did he make.
But locked his grief within his heart
Until it seemed to break.

He went into his own chamber.
And crouched within his chair.
And lo! when he did raise his head,
Behold I his bride was there!

She stood beside the open door,
Her sad eyes on his face;
But when he sprang to reach her side
He found but empty space.

He mounted up the marble stair
And went her chamber through.
And there he met a serving-lass
With face of deathly hue:

“Oh, I have seen a white ghost walk.
With dim eyes of the dead!
She wrung her hands most piteously
And wept at your bed-head.”

All silent Black Earl Roderick
Went to his room away.
All angry with his throbbing heart
And fitful fancies' play.

He sat him by the bright hearthside
And turned towards the door;
And there upon the threshold stood
His lady, weeping sore.

He chased her down the winding stair
And out into the night;
But only found a withered crone,
With long hair, loose and white.

“Come hither now, you sly-faced witch;
Come hither now to me.
Say, if a lady all so pale
Your evil eyes did see?”

“Oh, true, I saw a little lass,
She went all white as snow;
She crossed my hand with silver crown
Just two short hours ago.”

“What did you tell the foolish wench—
Who must my lady be?
The false tale you did tell to her
You now must tell to me.”

“I hate you. Black Earl Roderick;
You're cruel, hard, and cold;
Yet shall you grieve like a young child
Before the moon is old.

“This did I tell her: like a queen
She'd ride into the town;
And ev'ry man who met her there
Would on his knees go down.

“I said that he who followed none
Would walk behind her now.
And in his trembling hands the helm
From his uncovered brow.

“And he should walk, while she would ride,
Through all the town away;
And greater than Earl Roderick
She would become that day.”

Now scornful laughed Earl Roderick:
“I vow this could not be;
There is no lady in the land
Could make a slave of me.

“There has no woman yet been born
Who could more great become:
So get you hence, you evil hag,
Your tale grows wearisome.”

And home went Black Earl Roderick,
Right angry was he now;
He sat before the dying fire,
A frown was on his brow.

He looked across the empty room,
And once he saw again
His lady on the threshold stand,
With face of grievous pain.

“Come here, come here, my sad-faced bride;
Why do you come and go?
There is a question I must ask,
An answer I must know.”

Oh, stern was Black Earl Roderick,
He called her by her name;
But from the threshold of the room
She neither spoke nor came.

Now rose up Black Earl Roderick,
And strode the chamber through,
And said, “If you come not to me,
I fain must come to you.”

He followed her down hall and stair,
Out through the open door;
And every weary mile he went
The lady was before.

Through sleepy woods and singing streams
He followed all the night:
But never did he reach her side,
Or stopped she from her flight,

Until she reached Hy-brasil hill.
And by Hy-brasil lake.
And there she vanished from his eyes
Ere he could overtake.

He looked into the deep wood green,
But nothing there did see;
He looked into the still water,
Beneath, all white, lay she.

He drew her from her cold, cold bed.
And kissed her cheek and chin;
Loosed from his neck his silken cloak
To wrap her body in.

He took her up in his two arms—
His grief was deep and wild;
He knelt beside her on the sod
And sorrowed like a child.

He blew three blasts upon his horn,
His men did make reply,
And oame all quickly to his call
Through brake and briar so high.

They raised her up upon their shields,
Clad in her cloak of silk ;
Home brought her in a coach of gold
With palfreys white as milk.

And every man who saw her there
Went down upon his knee;
Behind her came Earl Roderick,
All pitiful to see,

And in his trembling hands the helm
From his uncovered brow;
And “Oh,” he said, “to love her well,
And know it only now!”

And he did walk, while she did ride,
Through all the town away;
For greater than Earl Roderick
She did become that day.