Page images
PDF
EPUB

The loss of thee is what I only fear.

“Consider then, my lady and my wife, The solid comforts of a virtuous life. As first, the love of Christ himself you gain; Next, your own honour undefiled maintain; And lastly, that which sure your mind must move, My whole estate shall gratify your love: Make your own terms, and ere to- morrow's sun Displays his light, by heav'n it shall be done. I seal the contract with a holy kiss, And will perform, by this—my dear, and thisHave comfort, spouse, nor think thy lord unkind; 'Tis love, not jealousy, that fires my mind. For when thy charms my sober thoughts engage, And joined to them my own unequal age, · From thy dear side I have no pow'r to part, Such secret transports warm my melting heart. For who that once possess those heav'nly charms, Could live one moment absent from thy arms?”.

He ceased, and May with modest grace replied; (Weak was her voice, as while she spoke she cried :) “Heaven knows” (with that a tender sigh she drew) “I have a soul to save as well as you; And, what no less you to my charge commend, My dearest honour, will to death defend. To you in holy church I gave my hand, And joined my heart in wedlock's sacred band: Yet after this, if you distrust my care, Then hear, my lord, and witness what I swear:

"First, may the yawning earth her bosom rend And let me hence to hell alive descend: Or die the death I dread no less than hell, Sewed in a sack, and plunged into a well: Ere I my fame by one lewd act disgrace, Or once renounce the honour of my race. For know, Sir Knight, of gentle blood, I came, I loathe a w- and startle at the name. But jealous men on their own crimes reflect, And learn from thence their ladies to suspect: Else why these needless cautions, sir, to me? These doubts and fears of female constancy! This chime still rings in ev'ry lady's ear, The only strain a wife must hope to hear.”

Thus while she spoke a sidelong glance she cast,

Where Damian kneeling, worshipped as she past.
She saw him watch the motions of her eye,
And singled out a pear-tree planted nigh:
'Twas charged with fruit that made a goodly show,
And hung with dangling pears was every bough.
Thither th' obsequious squire addressed his pace,
And climbing, in the summit took his place:
The knight and lady walked beneath in view,
Where let us leave them, and our tale pursue.

'Twas now the season when the glorious sun
His heav'nly progress through the Twins had run ;
And Jove, exalted, his mild influence yields,
To glad the glebe, and paint the flow'ry fields:
Clear was the day, and Phoebus rising bright,
Had streaked the azure firmament with light;
He pierced the glitt'ring clouds with golden streams,
And warmed the womb of earth with genial beams.

It so befell, in that fair morning-tide,
The fairies sported on the garden side,
And in the midst their monarch and his bride.
So featly tripped the light-foot ladies round,
The knights so nimbly o’er the green sward bound,
That scarce they bent the flow’rs, or touched the
The dances ended, all the fairy train [ground.
For pinks and daisies searched the flow’ry plain;
While on a bank reclined of rising green,
Thus, with a frown, the king bespoke his queen:

“'Tis too apparent, argue what you can,
The treachery you women use to man:
A thousand authors have this truth made out,
And sad experience leaves no room for doubt.

“Heav'n rest thy spirit, noble Solomon,
A wiser monarch never saw the sun:
All wealth, all honours, the supreme degree
Of earthly bliss was well bestowed on thee!
For sagely hast thou said: Of all mankind,
One only just, and righteous, hope to find:
But shouldst thou search the spacious world around,
Yet one good woman is not to be found.

“Thus says the king who knew your wickedness; The son of Sirach testifies no less. So may some wildfire on your bodies fall, Or some devouring plague consume you all; As well you view the lecher in the tree,

Aid well this honourable knight you see :
But since he's blind and old (a helpless case)
His squire shall cuckold him before your face.

“Now by my own dreal majesty I swear,
And by this awful sceptre which I bear,
No impious wretch shall 'scape unpunished long,
That in my presence offers such a wrong.
I will this instant undeceive the knight,
And, in the very act restore his sight:
And set the strumpet here in open view,
A warning to these ladies, and to you,
And all the faithless sex, for ever to be true.”

“And will you so," replied the queen, “indeed ? Now, by my mother's soul it is decreed, She shall not want an answer at her need. For her, and for her daughters, I'll engage, And all the sex in each succeeding age; Art shall be theirs to varnish an offence, And fortify their crimes with confidence. Nay, were they taken in a strict embrace, Seen with both eyes, and pinioned on the place; All they shall need is to protest and swear, Breathe a soft sigh, and drop a tender tear; Till their wise husbands, gulled by arts like ühe'so, Grow gentle, tractable, and tame-as geese.

“What though this sland'rous Jew, this Solopiony, Called women fools, and knew full many a one ; The wiser wits of later times declare, How constant, chaste, and virtuous women are: Witness the martys, who resigned their breath, Serene in torments, unconcerned in death; And witness next what Roman authors tell, Liow Arria,' Portia," and Lucretia : fell.

“ ut since the sacred leaves to all are free, And men interpret texts, why should not we? By this no more was meant, than to have show

hat sov’reign goodness dwells in Him alone Who only Is, and is but only One.

1 Aria, when her husband hesitated to obey the mandate 10 die, plunged the dagger into her own heart, and drawing it lack, said, "My Patus, it is not painful.”

2 Portia, the wife of Brutus, died for love of him, and anxiety on his account.

3 Lucretia, after bidding her husband and father avenge her wrong done by Tarquin, stabboil herself,

But grant the worst ; shall women then be weighed
By ev'ry word that Solomon has said ?
What though this king (as ancient story boasts)
Built a fair temple to the Lord of hosts;
He ceased at last his Maker to adore,
And did as much for idol gods, or more.
Beware what lavish praises you confer
On a rank lecher and idolater;
Whose reign indulgent God, says Holy Writ,
Did but for David's righteous sake permit;
David, the monarch after heav'n's own mind,
Who loved our sex, and honoured all our kind.

“Well, I'm a woman, and as such must speak; Silence would swell me, and my heart would break. Know, then, I scorn your dull authorities, Your idle wits, and all their learned lies. By heav'n, those authors are our sex's foes, Whom, in our right, I must and will oppose.” “Nay,” (quoth the king), “ dear madam, be not

wroth;
I yield it up; but since I gave my oath,
That this much-injured knight again should see;
It must be done-I am a king," said he,
“.And one, whose faith has ever sacred been.”

“And so has mine” (she said)—I am a queen:
Her answer she shall have, I undertake;
And thus an end of all dispute I make.
Try when you list; and you shall find, my lord,
It is not in our sex to break our word.”

We leave them here in this heroic strain,
And to the knight our story turns again,
Who in the garden, with his lovely May,
Sung merrier than the cuckoo or the jay:
This was his song; “Oh, kind and constant be,
Constant and kind I'll ever prove to thee.”

Thus singing as he went, at last he drew
By easy steps, to where the pear-tree grew:
The longing dame looked up, and spied her love
Full fairly perched among the boughs above.
She stopped, and sighing: “Oh, good gods,” she

cried.

“What pangs, what sudden shoots distend my side! O for that tempting fruit, so fresh, so green! Help, for the love of heaven's immortal queen!

Help, dearest lord, and save at once the life
Of thy poor infant, and thy longing wife!”.

Sore sighed the knight to hear his lady's cry,
But could not climb, and had no servant nigh:
Old as he was, and void of eyesight too,
What could, alas! a helpless husband do?
“ And must I languish, then,” she said, “and die,
Yet view the lovely fruit before my eye?
At least, kind sir, for charity's sweet sake,
Vouchsafe the trunk between your arms to take;
Then from your back I might ascend the tree;
Do you but stoop, and leave the rest to me.”

“With all my soul,” he thus replied again,
“I'd spend my dearest blood to eas thy pain.”
With that, his back against the trunk he bent,
She seized a twig, and up the tree she went.

Now prove your patience, gentle ladies all!
Nor let on me your heavy anger fall:
'Tis truth I tell, though not in phrase refined;
Though blunt my tale, yet honest is my mind.
What feats the lady in the tree might do,
I pass, as gambols never known to you;
But sure it was a merrier fit, she swore,
Than in her life she ever felt before.

In that nice moment, lo! the wond'ring knight
Looked out, and stood restored to sudden sight.
Straight on the tree his eager eyes he bent,
As one whose thoughts were on his spouse intent;
But when he saw his bosom-wife so dressed,
His rage was such as cannot be expressed:
Not frantic mothers when their infants die,
With louder clamours rend the vaulted sky;
He cried, he roared, he stormed, he tore his hair;
.“ Death! hell! and furies! what dost thou do there?"

“Wha'c ails my lord ?” the trembling dame replied; “I thought your patience had been better tried: Is this your love, ungrateful and unkind, This my reward for having cured the blind ? Why was I taught to make my husband see, By struggling with a man upon a tree? Did I for this the power of magic prove? Unhappy wife, whose crime was too much love!”

“If this be struggling, by this holy light, 'Tis struggling with a vengeance,” (quoth the knight),

« PreviousContinue »