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How swift the happy days in Atri sped,
What wrongs were righted, need not here be said.
Suffice it that, as all things must decay,
The hempen rope at length was worn away,
Unravelled at the end, and, strand by strand,
Loosened and wasted in the ringer's hand,
Till one, who noted this in passing by,
Mended the rope with braids of briony,
So that the leaves and tendrils of the vine
Hung like a votive garland at a shrine.
By chance it happened that in Atri dwelt
A knight, with spur on heel and sword in belt,
Who loved to hunt the wild-boar in the woods,
Who loved his falcons with their crimson hoods,
Who loved his hounds and horses, and all sports
And prodigalities of camps and courts ;
Loved, or had loved them ; for at last, grown old,
His only passion was the love of gold.
He sold his horses, sold his hawks and hounds,
Rented his vineyards and his garden-grounds,
Kept but one steed, his favorite steed of all,
To starve and shiver in a naked stall,
And day by day sat brooding in his chair,
Devising plans how best to hoard and spare.
At length he said: “What is the use or need
To keep at my own cost this lazy steed,
Eating his head off in my stables here,
When rents are low and provender is dear ?
Let him go feed upon the public ways;
I want him only for the holidays."
So the old steed was turned into the heat
Of the long, lonely, silent, shadeless street;
And wandered in suburban lanes forlorn,
Barked at by dogs, and torn by brier and thorn.
One afternoon, as in that sultry clime It is the custom in the summer time, With bolted doors and window-shutters closed, The inhabitants of Atri slept or dozed ; When suddenly upon their senses fell The loud alarum of the accusing bell ! The Syndic started from his deep repose, Turned on his co ch, and listened, and then rose And donned his robes, and with reluctant pace Went panting forth into the market-place, Where the great bell upon its cross-beam swung Reiterating with persistent tongue, In half-articulate jargon, the old song: “ Some one hath done a wrong, hath done a wrong!”
But ere he reached the belfry's light arcade
He saw, or thought he saw, beneath its shade,
No shape of human form of woman born,
But a poor steed dejected and forlorn,
Who with uplifted head and eager eye
Was tugging at the vines of briony.
“Domeneddio!” cried the Syndic straight,
“ This is the Knight of Atri's steed of state !
He calls for justice, being sore distressed,
And pleads his cause as loudly as the best.”
Meanwhile from street and lane a noisy crowd
Had rolled together like a summer cloud,
And told the story of the wretched beast
In five-and-twenty different ways at least,
With much gesticulation and appeal
To heathen gods, in their excessive zeal.
The Knight was called and questioned ; in reply
Did not confess the fact, did not deny ;
Treated the matter as a pleasant jest,
And set at naught the Syndic and the rest,
Maintaining, in an angry undertone,
That he should do what pleased him with his own.
And thereupon the Syndic gravely read
The proclamation of the King ; then said : “Pride goeth forth on horseback grand and gay, But cometh back on foot, and begs its way ; Fame is the fragrance of heroic deeds, Of flowers of chivalry and not of weeds ! These are familiar proverbs ; but I fear They never yet have reached your knightly ear. What fair renown, what honor, what repute Can come to you from starving this poor brute ? He who serves well and speaks not, merits more Than they who clamor loudest at the door. Therefore the law decrees that as this steed Served you in youth, henceforth you shall take heed To comfort his old age, and to provide Shelter in stall, and food and field beside.”
The Knight withdrew abashed; the people all
Led home the steed in triumph to his stall.
The King heard and approved, and laughed in glee,
And cried aloud : “ Right well it pleaseth me!
Church-bells at best but ring us to the door ;
But go not in to mass ; my bell doth more:
It cometh into court and pleads the cause
Of creatures dumb and unknown to the laws;
And this shall make, in every Christian clime,
The Bell of Atri famous for all time.”
THE POET'S (SECOND) TALE.
One hundred years ago, and something more,
In Queen Street, Portsmouth, at her tavern door,
Neat as a pin, and blooming as a rose,
Stood Mistress Stavers in her furbelows,
Just as her cuckoo-clock was striking nine.
Above her head, resplendent on the sign,
The portrait of the Earl of Halifax,
In scarlet coat and periwig of flax,
Surveyed at leisure all her varied charms,
сар, her bodice, her white folded arms,
And half resolved, though he was past his prime,
And rather damaged by the lapse of time,
To fall down at her feet, and to declare
The passion that had driven him to despair.
For from his lofty station he had seen
Stavers, her husband, dressed in bottle-green,
Drive his new Flying Stage-coach, four in hand,
Down the long lane, and out into the land,
And knew that he was far upon the way
To Ipswich and to Boston on the Bay!
Just then the meditations of the Earl
Were interrupted by a little girl,
Barefooted, ragged, with neglected hair,
Eyes full of laughter, neck and shoulders bare,
A thin slip of a girl, like a new moon,
Sure to be rounded into beauty soon,
A creature men would worship and adore,
Though now in mean habiliments she bore
A pail of water, dripping, through the street,
And bathing, as she went, her naked feet.
It was a pretty picture, full of grace,
The slender forin, the delicate, thin face;
The swaying motion, as she hurried by ;
The shining feet, the laughter in her eye,
Thai o'er her face in ripples gleamed and glanced,
As in her pail the shifting sunbeam danced :
And with uncommon feelings of delight
The Earl of Halifax beheld the sight.
Not so Dame Stavers, for he heard her say
These words, or thought he did, as plain as day : •• 0 Martha Hilton! Fie! how dare you go
About the town half dressed, and looking so !” At which the gypsy laughed, and straight replied: 66 No niatter how I look ; I yet shall ride In my own chariot, ma'am.” And on the child The Earl of Halifax benignly smiled, As with her heavy burden she passed on, Looked back, then turned the corner, and was gone.
What next, upon that memorable day,
Arrested his attention was a gay
And brilliant equipage, that flashed and spun,
The silver harness glittering in the sun,
Outriders with red jackets, lithe and lank,