You ask me for a tale of Halloween?
'Tis well. I lately read a treasure tome
Within whose legend-haunted lone demesne
The free, wild Fancy finds herself at home.
Now, while the night wind wings the starlit dome,
And while the dead leaves eerie converse hold,
Through the rich Conjurer's Kingdom with me roam;
And, wandering there, the story shall be told
Of what befell in Leinster in the days of old.
In Leinster in the days of old, I wis,
There was no maiden of the countryside
But on All Hallows (such a night as this!)
In Love's dim chancery her fortune tried.
The bursting nut upon the hearth she plied;
Or, while a lighted candle she would bear,
Gazed in her glass with eyes intent and wide;
Or, with weird mutterings, like a witch's prayer,
She sowed three rows of nothing on the empty air!
All rites had little Barbara performed,
Yet nothing did she see, and nothing hear;
Her busy thoughts soon into dreamland swarmed.
The rosy apple lay, untasted, near
For him who, ere another rounded year,
Should taste Love's feast with her. And now the wind
(As on this very night) with sighings drear,
Spake close beneath her latticed window-blind
Such dreamwise things as it hath spoke time out of mind.
Why moans our little sister? "Rest thee, rest!
Fear naught." Soon careful arms have clasp'd her round,
And a soft cheek against her own is pressed.
For thus, since childhood, Barbara hath found
In mother-love with sister's love upbound,
Swift respite from the terrors of the night.
But now, what sleep so restless, yet so sound,
That not for touch or tone will take its flight,
Or aught at all except the broadcast morning light!
"My precious one, such troubled dreams were thine;
Yet, though I strove, I could not waken thee."
"Dear mother-sister--dearest sister mine--
Methought an unknown guide did beckon me
Far, far from here. My will I could not free;
I needs must follow through weald and waste.
Outworn I reached a manor fair to see;
Outworn, alone, through a long hall I paced,
That was with many a speaking, stately portrait graced.
"Then, stilly as a spirit loosed from earth,
I climbed a stair, and to a chamber came,
Rich hung with broidered cloths. Upon the hearth
Dull embers held a little fitful flame.
A sudden trembling ran through all my frame,
When, from amidst those silken hangings rare,
A voice pronounced: 'Reveal thy face and name,
I conjure thee! At least, some token spare
That I may trace thee when thou goest I know not where!'
"It was a grievous and a sinful thing--
But over me was sovereign, stern command
I must obey. Thy gift, the birthday ring,
With my own name engraved within the band--
The ring, alas! I drew it from my hand,
And laid it on the marble mantel high.
Then died the flame from out the falling brand,
Then were the four walls darkling earth and sky;
And, once again, till dawn a wanderer was I.
"But, Agatha, thou art not vexed at me?
Thou dost not mourn the ring? 'Twas mine last eve,
This morning it is gone, as thou canst see!"
"Nay, darling, thou no reason hast to grieve:
I may not tell thee why, but I believe
That ere another wingèd year is flown
Some brightest threads for thee will Fortune weave."
So spake her sister, sage of look and tone,
And held the little, fevered hand within her own.
The Winter long is over in the land,
And mellow is the furrowed soil, and quick
With hopeful promise to the toiler's hand.
He, too, that toils not, leaning on his stick,
Is cheered to see the bean-flowers set so thick,
And thick the blossoms on the orchard bough.
How sweet the air! Hath any soul been sick?
Oh, let that soul drink health from beauty now;
Stand forth beneath the sky; unknit the careworn brow!
"Say, children, if ye guess, what aileth him--
The stranger who oft leans beyond the hedge
To see our budding roses? Yet so dim
His eye, he knows them not from ragged sedge!
The black ox's hoof hath trod on him, I pledge
My hopes beyond the grave, he seeketh aye
For that which flees him to the world's far edge!
Come, children, tell me what the gossips say:
Your grandsire nothing hears--the old at home must stay!"
Good Agatha replies with playful look:
"Let Barbara speak. And if she be the rose
(To us the sweetest flower in any nook--
Or tame or wild--that in our Leinster grows)
Hath drawn the stranger to our garden-close,
With what true eye hath he the best discerned."
(A blush-rose, on the moment, springs and blows!)
"Ay, sister, grandsire, all that I have learned,
I freely tell you; since deceit I always spurned.
"But twice have I had speech with him--no more,
First time he asked a rose, and spake me fair,
I gave it him, so sad a look he wore;
And on he passed, as one who doth not care.
Again, as I was searching everywhere
My bracelet that had fallen to the ground,
He leaped the hedge-row ere I was aware;
And he it was that, searching, quickly found
My bracelet. Surely, I to courtesy was bound."
"Ay, surely, child. Your grandsire taught you that,
What said you then?" "I bade him stay and rest;
And down upon the old oak bench we sat.
He spake of losses--how another's quest
'Twas ever his to aid, for he was blest
With wizard sight, save for the thing he sought--
A thing not lost, since never yet possessed;
He had but dreamed of it! I answered naught;
But much, in truth, since then of what he said have thought."
By this time closed are the ears of age,
And lid-fast are the eyes. And now, alone,
Spake carelessly good Agatha the sage:
"Great prudence, little Barbe, thou hast shown;
But I have heard the stranger well is known,
That gentle is his birth, and the estate
Is broad and fair, which singly he doth own.
'Tis said his health hath suffered much of late;
Wholesome this air; so he prolongs his visit's date."
Then subtly did fond Agatha contrive:
"Thou dost but a charitable deed,
If from his soul this withering gloom thou drive.
Lightly along the self-same channel lead
Thy talk. Say that thou gav'st his words good heed;
Since back to thee thy bracelet he could bring,
Thou would'st, once more, consult his wizard rede,
For thou hast lost a yet more precious thing--
Thy sister's gift to thee--the name, too, on the ring!"
"That dare I not--!" broke in the little maid;
"For well thou knowest how the ring was lost,
And all the tricks at Halloween I played.
Alas, those charms were wrought at heavy cost,
To be, as I have been, a homeless ghost--
A shadow of myself--of self bereft!"
"Then, child, tell only what importeth most--
A ring of thine was somewhere lost, or left;
And thou, once more, art fain to seek his counsel deft."
The Rose sends challenge to the flower-world all: What bloom like mint--at once both proud and sweet?
Unstored to the Rose's burning accents fall
Upon the twain within the garden-seat.
Yet, what can make the Rose's color fleet
From a young maiden's cheek--what sudden stress?
What words are these a young man may repeat,
While light springs up in eyes long lustreless?
But come, let us o'erhear--'twere idle, still to guess?
It thus had chanced: when came the moment fit,
Full simply little Barbara broached the theme
Directed by her sister's subtler wit:
Since he had found her bracelet, it would seem
A yet mor precious loss he might redeem:
A ring of hers had vanished--left no trace.
So great a wizard might some potent scheme
Devise, to bring it from its hiding-place."
She lightly spake. Intent, her comrade scanned her face.
"Speak thou the truth, no word from me withhold;
Lift up thine eyes, and they the truth shall speak,
For it must be that slender ring of gold
Bounds the whole world of happiness I seek.
Tell me when thou this ring didst lose, and eke
All circumstance that did the time attend."
'Twas then the Rose's color fled her cheek;
But since her tongue to guile she could not lend,
She told straightforwardly her story to the end.
"As thou hast spoken truth, and naught beside"
He said, "I'll speak the living truth to thee.
That night some charms of Halloween I tried,
Dared thus to do by a blithe company
In mine old hall, far in the West Country.
The charms performed, I thought of them no more;
Yet deemed it strange that sleep came not to me;
And as the rising wind shook blind and door,
I watched with half-shut eyes the firelight on the floor.
"Then glidingly, and noiseless as a dream,
A figure stoled in white, with floating hair,
Touched faintly by the embers' fitful gleam,
Approached the fireplace and stood wavering there--
Stood piteously, with tender feet all bare,
And tender palms reached out above the coals
(As they had borne too long the frosty air).
Then, I remembered me the time--All Souls,
When visions vanish as the hour of midnight tolls!
"Already was the clock upon the stroke,
Already had the vision turned to go
When, in a voice I scarcely knew, I spoke,
Desiring that the presence should bestow
Some sign, or constant pledge of truth, to show
When daylight should to disbelief incline.
The vision faded. On the mantel, lo!
This ring I found. And surely, it is thine,
And surely, maiden, both the ring and thou art mine!"
Needs not to say what afterwards befell--
How smiled the mother-sister sage and dear,
When came the fine confession, guessed full well;
Or how, before the rounding of the year,
She saw--through many a rainbow-lighted tear--
Her darling pace the aisle, a happy bride!
Nay!--rather must I counsel all who hear Leave juggling wiles of Halloween untried,
Lest no such powers benign your doubtful venture guide!