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- The Legends of Saint Patrick - 5/30 -


Next day it chanced Women he heard in converse. Thus the first: "If true the news, good speed for him, my boy! Poor slaves by Milcho scourged on earth shall wear In heaven a monarch's crown! Good speed for her His little sister, not reserved like us To bend beneath these loads." To whom her mate: "Doubt not the Prophet's tidings! Not in vain The Power Unknown hath shaped us! Come He must, Or send, and help His people on their way. Good is He, or He ne'er had made these babes!" They passed, and Milcho said, "Through hate of me All men believe!" And straightway Milcho's face Grew bleaker than that crab-tree stem forlorn That hid him, wanner than that sea-sand wet That whitened round his foot down-pressed.

Time passed. One morn in bitter mockery Milcho mused: "What better laughter than when thief from thief Pilfers the pilfered goods? Our Druid thief Two thousand years hath milked and shorn this land; Now comes the thief outlandish that with him Would share milk-pail and fleece! O Bacrach old, To hear thee shout 'Impostor!'" Straight he went To Bacrach's cell hid in a skirt wind-shav'n Of low-grown wood, and met, departing thence, Three sailors sea-tanned from a ship late-beached. Within a corner huddled, on the floor, The Druid sat, cowering, and cold, and mazed: Sudden he rose, and cried, by conquering joy Clothed as with youth restored: "The God Unknown, That God who made the earth, hath walked the earth! This hour His Prophet treads the isle! Three men Have seen him; and their speech is true. To them That Prophet spake: 'Four hundred years ago, Sinless God's Son on earth for sinners died: Black grew the world, and graves gave up their dead.' Thus spake the Seer. Four hundred years ago! Mark well the time! Of Ulster's Druid race What man but yearly, those four hundred years, Trembled that tale recounting which with this Tallies as footprint with the foot of man? Four hundred years ago--that self-same day - Connor, the son of Nessa, Ulster's King, Sat throned, and judged his people. As he sat, Under clear skies, behold, o'er all the earth Swept a great shadow from the windless east; And darkness hung upon the air three hours; Dead fell the birds, and beasts astonied fled. Then to his Chief of Druids, Connor spake Whispering; and he, his oracles explored, Shivering made answer, 'From a land accursed, O King, that shadow sweeps; therein, this hour, By sinful men sinless God's Son is slain.' Then Ulster's king, down-dashing sceptre and crown, Rose, clamouring, 'Sinless! shall the sinless die?' And madness fell on him; and down that steep He rushed whereon the Emanian Palace stood, And reached the grove, Lambraidhe, with two swords, The sword of battle, and the sword of state, And hewed and hewed, crying, 'Were I but there Thus they should fall who slay that Sinless One;' And in that madness died. Old Erin's sons Beheld this thing; nor ever in the land Hath ceased the rumour, nor the tear for him Who, wroth at justice trampled, martyr died. And now we know that not for any dream He died, but for the truth: and whensoe'er The Prophet of that Son of God who died Sinless for sinners, standeth in this place, I, Bacrach, oldest Druid in this Isle, Will rise the first, and kiss his vesture's hem."

He spake; and Milcho heard, and without speech Departed from that house.

A later day When the wild March sunset, gone almost ere come, By glacial shower was hustled out of life, Under a blighted ash tree, near his house, Thus mused the man: "Believe, or Disbelieve! The will does both; Then idiot who would be For profitless belief to sell himself? Yet disbelief not less might work our bane! For, I remember, once a sickly slave Ill shepherded my flock: I spake him plain; 'When next, through fault of thine, the midnight wolf Worries my sheep, on yonder tree you hang:' The blear-eyed idiot looked into my face, And smiled his disbelief. On that day week Two lambs lay dead. I hanged him on a tree. What tree? this tree! Why, this is passing strange! For, three nights since, I saw him in a dream: Weakling as wont he stood beside my bed, And, clutching at his wrenched and livid throat, Spake thus, 'Belief is safest.'"

Ceased the hail To rattle on the ever barren boughs, And friendlier sound was heard. Beside his door Wayworn the messengers of Patrick stood, And showed the gifts, and held his missive forth. Then learned that lost one all the truth. That sage Confessed by miracles, that prophet vouched By warnings old, that seer by words of might Subduing all things to himself--that priest, None other was than the uncomplaining boy Five years his slave and swineherd! In him rage Burst forth, with fear commixed, as when a beast Strains in the toils. "Can I alone stand firm?" He mused; and next, "Shall I, in mine old age, Byword become--the vassal of my slave? Shall I not rather drive him from my door With wolf hounds and a curse?" As thus he stood He marked the gifts, and bade men bare them in, And homeward signed the messengers unfed.

But Milcho slept not all that night for thought, And, forth ere sunrise issuing, paced a moor Stone-roughened like the graveyard of dead hosts, Till noontide. Sudden then he stopt, and thus Discoursed within: "A plot from first to last, The fraudulent bondage, flight, and late return; For now I mind me of a foolish dream Chance-sent, yet drawn by him awry. One night Methought that boy from far hills drenched in rain Dashed through my halls, all fire. From hands and head, From hair and mouth, forth rushed a flaming fire White, like white light, and still that mighty flame Into itself took all. With hands outstretched I spurned it. On my cradled daughters twain It turned, and they were ashes. Then in burst The south wind through the portals of the house, Tempest rose-sweet, and blew those ashes forth Wide as the realm. At dawn I sought the knave; He glossed my vision thus: 'That fire is Faith - Faith in the God Triune, the God made Man, Sole light wherein I walk, and walking burn; And they that walk with me shall burn like me By Faith. But thou that radiance wilt repel, Housed through ill-will, in Error's endless night. Not less thy little daughters shall believe With glory and great joy; and, when they die, Report of them, like ashes blown abroad, Shall light far lands, and health to men of Faith Stream from their dust.' I drave the impostor forth: Perjured ere long he fled, and now returns To reap a harvest from his master's dream" - Thus mused he, while black shadow swept the moor. So day by day darker was Milcho's heart, Till, with the endless brooding on one thought, Began a little flaw within that brain Whose strength was still his boast. Was no friend nigh? Alas! what friend had he? All men he scorned; Knew truly none. In each, the best and sweetest Near him had ever pined, like stunted growth Dwarfed by some glacier nigh. The fifth day dawned: And inly thus he muttered, darkly pale: "Five days; in three the messengers returned: In three--in two--the Accursed will be here, Or blacken yonder Sleemish with his crew Descending. Then those idiots, kerne and slave - The mighty flame into itself takes all - Full swarm will fly to meet him! Fool! fool! fool! The man hath snared me with those gifts he sent; Else had I barred the mountains: now 'twere late, My people in revolt. Whole weeks his horde Will throng my courts, demanding board and bed, With hosts by Dichu sent to flout my pang, And sorer make my charge. My granaries sacked, My larder lean as ship six months ice-bound, The man I hate will rise, and open shake The invincible banner of his mad new Faith, Till all that hear him shout, like winds or waves, Belief; and I be left sole recusant; Or else perhaps that Fury who prevails At times o'er knee-joints of reluctant men, By magic imped, may crumble into dust By force my disbelief."

He raised his head, And lo, before him lay the sea far ebbed Sad with a sunset all but gone: the reeds Sighed in the wind, and sighed a sweeter voice Oft heard in childhood--now the last time heard: "Believe!" it whispered. Vain the voice! That hour, Stirred from the abyss, the sins of all his life Around him rose like night--not one, but all - That earliest sin which, like a dagger, pierced His mother's heart; that worst, when summer drouth Parched the brown vales, and infants thirsting died, While from full pail he gorged his swine with milk And flung the rest away. Sin-walled he stood: God's Angels could not pierce that cincture dread, Nor he look through it. Yet he dreamed he saw: His life he saw; its labours, and its gains Hard won, long-waited, wonder of his foes; The manifold conquests of a Will oft tried; Victory, Defeat, Retrieval; last, that scene


The Legends of Saint Patrick - 5/30

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