Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Ballads and Sonnets (1881), proof Signature K (Delaware Museum, final proof)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1881 June 2
Publisher: F. S. Ellis
Printer: Chiswick Press, C. Whittingham and Co.
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
Manuscript Addition: [Charles Whittingham's printer date stamp, 2 Jun. 81]
- And the King said: “The hour is late;
- To-morrow will serve, I ween.”
- Then he charged the usher strictly, and said:
- “No word of this to the Queen.”
- But the usher came again to the King.
410“Shall I call her back?” quoth he:
- “For as she went on her way, she cried,
- ‘Woe! Woe! then the thing must be!’”
- And the King paused, but he did not speak.
- Then he called for the Voidee-cup:
- And as we heard the twelfth hour strike,
- There by true lips and false lips alike
- Was the draught of trust drained up.
- So with reverence meet to King and Queen,
- To bed went all from the board;
420And the last to leave of the courtly train
- Was Robert Stuart the chamberlain
- Who had sold his sovereign lord.
- And all the locks of the chamber-door
- Had the traitor riven and brast;
- And that Fate might win sure way from afar,
- He had drawn out every bolt and bar
- That made the entrance fast.
- And now at midnight he stole his way
- To the moat of the outer wall,
430And laid strong hurdles closely across
- Where the traitors' tread should fall.
- But we that were the Queen's bower-maids
- Alone were left behind;
- And with heed we drew the curtains close
- Against the winter wind.
- And now that all was still through the hall,
- More clearly we heard the rain
- That clamoured ever against the glass
- And the boughs that beat on the pane.
440But the fire was bright in the ingle-nook,
- And through empty space around
- The shadows cast on the arras'd wall
- 'Mid the pictured kings stood sudden and tall
- Like spectres sprung from the ground.
- And the bed was dight in a deep alcove;
- And as he stood by the fire
- The King was still in talk with the Queen
- While he doffed his goodly attire.
- And the song had brought the image back
450Of many a bygone year;
- And many a loving word they said
- With hand in hand and head laid to head;
- And none of us went anear.
- But Love was weeping outside the house,
- A child in the piteous rain;
- And as he watched the arrow of Death,
- He wailed for his own shafts close in the sheath
- That never should fly again.
- And now beneath the window arose
460A wild voice suddenly:
- And the King reared straight, but the Queen fell back
- As for bitter dule to dree;
- And all of us knew the woman's voice
- Who spoke by the Scotish Sea.
- “O King,” she cried, “in an evil hour
- They drove me from thy gate;
- And yet my voice must rise to thine ears;
- But alas! it comes too late!
- “Last night at mid-watch, by Aberdour,
470When the moon was dead in the skies,
- O King, in a death-light of thine own
- I saw thy shape arise.
- ”And in full season, as erst I said,
- The doom had gained its growth;
- And the shroud had risen above thy neck
- And covered thine eyes and mouth.
- “And no moon woke, but the pale dawn broke,
- And still thy soul stood there;
- And I thought its silence cried to my soul
480As the first rays crowned its hair.
- “Since then have I journeyed fast and fain
- In very despite of Fate,
- Lest Hope might still be found in God's will:
- But they drove me from thy gate.
- “For every man on God's ground, O King,
- His death grows up from his birth
- In a shadow-plant perpetually;
- And thine towers high, a black yew-tree,
- O'er the Charterhouse of Perth!”
490That room was built far out from the house;
- And none but we in the room
- Might hear the voice that rose beneath,
- Nor the tread of the coming doom.
- For now there came a torchlight-glare,
- And a clang of arms there came;
- And not a soul in that space but thought
- Of the foe Sir Robert Græme.
- Yea, from the country of the Wild Scots,
- O'er mountain, valley, and glen,
500He had brought with him in murderous league
- Three hundred armèd men.
- The King knew all in an instant's flash;
- And like a King did he stand;
- But there was no armour in all the room,
- Nor weapon lay to his hand.
- And all we women flew to the door
- And thought to have made it fast;
- But the bolts were gone and the bars were gone
- And the locks were riven and brast.
510And he caught the pale pale Queen in his arms
- As the iron footsteps fell,—
- Then loosed her, standing alone, and said,
- “Our bliss was our farewell!”
- And 'twixt his lips he murmured a prayer,
- And he crossed his brow and breast;
- And proudly in royal hardihood
- Even so with folded arms he stood,—
- The prize of the bloody quest.
- Then on me leaped the Queen like a deer:—
520“O Catherine, help!” she cried.
- And low at his feet we clasped his knees
- Together side by side.
- “Oh! even a King, for his people's sake,
- From treasonous death must hide!”
her sake most!” I
cried, and I marked
- The pang that my words could wring.
- And the iron tongs from the chimney-nook
- I snatched and held to the King:—
- “Wrench up the plank! and the vault beneath
530Shall yield safe harbouring.”
- With brows low-bent, from my eager hand
- The heavy heft did he take;
- And the plank at his feet he wrenched and tore;
- And as he frowned through the open floor,
- Again I said, “For her sake!”
- Then he cried to the Queen, “God's will be done!“
- For her hands were clasped in prayer.
- And down he sprang to the inner crypt;
- And straight we closed the plank he had ripp'd
540And toiled to smoothe it fair.
- (Alas! in that vault a gap once was
- Wherethro' the King might have fled:
- But three days since close-walled had it been
- By his will; for the ball would roll therein
- When without at the palm he play'd.)
- Then the Queen cried, “Catherine, keep the door,
- And I to this will suffice!”
- At her word I rose all dazed to my feet,
- And my heart was fire and ice.
550And louder ever the voices grew,
- And the tramp of men in mail;
- Until to my brain it seemed to be
- As though I tossed on a ship at sea
- In the teeth of a crashing gale.
- Then back I flew to the rest; and hard
- We strove with sinews knit
- To force the table against the door;
- But we might not compass it.
- Then my wild gaze sped far down the hall
560To the place of the hearthstone-sill;
- And the Queen bent ever above the floor,
- For the plank was rising still.
- And now the rush was heard on the stair,
- And “God, what help?” was our cry.
- And was I frenzied or was I bold?
- I looked at each empty stanchion-hold,
- And no bar but my arm had I!
- Like iron felt my arm, as through
- The staple I made it pass:—
570Alack! it was flesh and bone—no more!
- 'Twas Catherine Douglas sprang to the door,
- But I fell back Kate Barlass.
- With that they all thronged into the hall,
- Half dim to my failing ken;
- And the space that was but a void before
- Was a crowd of wrathful men.
- Behind the door I had fall'n and lay,
- Yet my sense was wildly aware,
- And for all the pain of my shattered arm
580I never fainted there.
- Even as I fell, my eyes were cast
- Where the King leaped down to the pit;
- And lo! the plank was smooth in its place,
- And the Queen stood far from it.
- And under the litters and through the bed
- And within the presses all
- The traitors sought for the King, and pierced
- The arras around the wall.
- And through the chamber they ramped and stormed
590Like lions loose in the lair,
- And scarce could trust to their very eyes,—
- For behold! no King was there.
- Then one of them seized the Queen, and cried,—
- “Now tell us, where is thy lord?”
- And he held the sharp point over her heart:
- She drooped not her eyes nor did she start,
- But she answered never a word.
- Then the sword half pierced the true true breast:
- But it was the Græme's own son
600Cried, “This is a woman,—we seek a man!”
- And away from her girdle-zone
- He struck the point of the murderous steel;
- And that foul deed was not done.
- And forth flowed all the throng like a sea,
- And 'twas empty space once more;
- And my eyes sought out the wounded Queen
- As I lay behind the door.
- And I said: “Dear Lady, leave me here,
- For I cannot help you now;
610But fly while you may, and none shall reck
- Of my place here lying low.”
- And she said, “My Catherine, God help thee!”
- Then she looked to the distant floor,
- And clasping her hands, “O God help
- She sobbed, “for we can no more!”
- But God He knows what help may mean,
- If it mean to live or to die;
- And what sore sorrow and mighty moan
- On earth it may cost ere yet a throne
620Be filled in His house on high.
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