Pieces People Ask For/The Drummer's Betrothed

The Reading-Club.


"Douce est la morte qui vient en bien aimant."

Our liege lord, the Duc de Bretagne,
To deadly battle for the king
Summons sent from Nantes to Mortagne,
In the plain and on the mountain,
To warriors of his following.

Barons they are, whose gleaming arms
Adorn the moated castle's crest,
Proud knights, grown old midst war's alarms
Esquires, and footmen with their arms;
And my betrothed went with the rest.

He went to Aquitaine, and though
Among the drummers he's enrolled,
He seemed a captain, marching slow,
With haughty head, and eyes aglow,
And doublet glittering with gold.

Since then nor peace nor rest I know.
Joining his lot with mine, I've cried
To my St. Brigitte, bending low,
Watch well his guardian angel, so
That he shall never leave his side!

I said to our abbé one night,
Pray for our soldiers, messire, pray!
And since he loves to see their light,
I left three candles burning bright
Before St. Gildas' shrine next day.

And to Our Lady of Lorette
I promised in my cruel fright
To wear — and see, I wear it yet—
A ruff with pilgrim's cockles set,
Close hid from curious sight.

No loving letters has he penned
While far away where battles rage:
Though life and love be near their end.
The vassal has no squire to send,
The vassal's sweetheart has no page.

To-day the duke returns in state,
With him my love, a soldier tried,
No longer lowly in estate.
I lift my head, bowed down of late,
And my bliss blossoms into pride.

The duke brings home triumphantly,
Worn and soiled, the flag that's floated
O'er his camp. Come all with me
To the old gate, the troops to see,
And the prince and my betrothèd.

To see the horse, with trappings gay
Caparisoned, his lord to bear,
Advance, retreat, with conscious neigh,
Tossing his head till its array
Of plumes like flaming torches flare.

To see — O sisters, why so slow?—
The drums that lead my hero on,
The drums that in the sunlight glow,
That throb beneath his tireless blow
Till the heart throbs in unison.

And, best of all, to see his face!
I worked his cloak with broidery fair:
He'll look like one of princely race,
And with a more than princely grace
His plumed helm he'll wear.

The impious Egyptian bent
Close above me last night, hissing,
(God help us!) "You are confident!
Drums will sound till the air is rent,
But one drummer will be missing."

But I hope still, so much I've prayed!
Though, with her hand outstretched to where
Among the tombs her home she made,
Her snake's eyes gleaming through the shade,
She said: "We'll meet to-morrow there."

No more dark fancies! Hear how loud
The drums beat! Sisters, let us go.
See how the ladies fair and proud
The purple-hung pavilions crowd,
Where banners float and flowers glow.

The escort comes, by pikemen led,
Then, not to-day in armor tried,
In gleaming silken robes instead,
And velvet-capped each haughty head,
The barons, under flags flung wide.

And robed priests pass, chanting low,
And heralds, riding milk-white steeds,
Escutcheons on their corslets show
Their masters' rank, won long ago
By some ancestor's mighty deeds.

In Persian mail magnificent,
Feared of all hell, the Templars ride;
Then, all in buff, with bows unbent,
The long array of archers, sent
From far Lausanne, march side by side.

The duke is near; his banners fling
Their folds o'er squire and cavalier;
The captured ensigns seem to cling-
About their standards, sorrowing.
Look, the drummers are almost here!

Silent, smiling, she turned her head,
Scanned the close ranks with eager eye.
The crowd pressed close; no word she said,
But fell among them cold and dead—
The drummers had passed by.

By M. Cecile Brown, from the French of Victor Hugo.