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CONSTANCE.

WHILE round the fire such legends go,
Far different was the scene of woe,
Where in a secret aisle beneath,
Council was held of life and death.
It was more dark and lone, that vault,

Than the worst dungeon cell;
Old Colwulf built it, for his fault,

In penitence to dwell,
When he, for cowl and beads laid down
The Saxon battle-axe and crown.
This den, which, chilling every sense

Of feeling, hearing, sight,
Was called the Vault of Penitence,

Excluding air and light,
Was, by the prelate Sexhelm, made
A place of burial, for such dead
As, having died in mortal sin,
Might not be laid the church within.
'Twas now a place of punishment;
Whence if so loud a shriek were sent,

As reached the upper air,
The hearers blessed themselves, and said,
The spirits of the sinful dead

Bemoaned their torments there.

But though, in the monastic pile
Did of this penitential aisle

Some vague tradition go,
Few only, save the Abbot, knew

Where the place lay; and still more few
Were those who had from him the clew

To that dread vault to go.
Victim and executioner
Were blind-fold when transported there.
In low dark rounds the arches hung,
From the rude rock the side-walls sprung;
The gravestones rudely sculptured o'er,
Half sunk in earth, by time half wore,
Were all the pavement of the floor;
The mildew drops fell one by one,
With tinkling plash upon the stone.
A cresset, in an iron chain,
Which served to light this drear domain,
With damp and darkness seemed to strive,
As if it scarce might keep alive;
And yet it dimly served to show
The awful conclave met below.

There, met to doom in secrecy,
Were placed the heads of convents three :
All servants of Saint Benedict,
The statutes of whose order strict

On iron table lay;
In long black dress, on seats of stone,
Behind were these three judges shown,

By the pale cresset's ray:
The Abbess of St. Hilda's there,
Sate for a space with visage bare,
Until, to hide her bosom's swell,
And tear drops that for pity fell,

She closely drew her veil:
Yon shrouded figure, as I guess,
By her prond mien and flowing dress,
Is Tynemouth's haughty Prioress,

And she with awe looks pale:

And he, that Ancient Man, whose sight
Has long been quenched by age's night,
Upon whose wrinkled brow alone
Nor ruth nor mercy's trace is shown,

Whose look is hard and stern,-
Saint Cuthbert's Abbot is his style :
For sanctity, called through the isle,

The saint of Lindisfarn.

Before them stood a guilty pair ;
But, though an equal fate they share,
Yet one alone deserves our care.
Her sex a page's dress belied;
The cloak and doublet, loosely tied,
Obscured her charms, but could not hide.
Her
cap

down o'er her face she drew;
And, on her doublet breast,
She tried to hide the badge of blue,

Lord Marmion's falcon crest.
But, at the Prioress' command,
A Monk undid the silken band,

That tied her tresses fair,
And raised the bonnet from her head,
And down her slender form they spread,

In ringlets rich and rare.
Constance de Beverly they know,
Sister professed of Fontevraud,
Whom the church numbered with the dead,
For broken vows, and convent fled.

When thus her face was given to view,
(Although so pallid was her hue,
It did a ghastly contrast bear
To those bright ringlets, glistering fair,)
Her look composed, and steady eye,
Bespoke a matchless constancy;

And there she stood, so calm and pale,
That, but her breathing did not fail,
And motion slight of eye and head,
And of her bosom, warranted
That neither sense nor pulse she lacks,
You might have thought a form of wax,
Wrought to the very life, was there;
So still she was, so pale, so fair.

Her comrade was a sordid soul,

Such as does murder for a meed; Who, but of fear, knows no control, Because his conscience, seared and foul,

Feels not the import of his deed; One whose brute feeling ne'er aspires Beyond his own more brute desires. Such tools the tempter ever needs, To do the savagest of deeds ; For them no visioned terrors daunt, Their nights no fancied spectres haunt: One fear with them, of all most base, The fear of death,-alone finds place. This wretch was clad in frock and cowl, And shamed not loud to moan and howl, His body on the floor to dash, And crouch, like hound beneath the lash; While his mute partner standing near, Waited her doom without a tear. Yet well the luckless wretch might shriek, Well might her paleness terror speak! For there, was seen, in that dark wall, Two niches, narrow, deep, and tall. Who enters at such griesly door, Shall ne'er, I ween, find exit more. In each a slender meal was laid, Of roots, of water, and of bread:

By each, in Benedictine dress,
Two haggard monks stood motionless;
Who, holding high a blazing torch,
Showed the grim entrance of the porch :
Reflecting back the smoky beam,
The dark-red walls and arches' gleam.
Hewn stones and cement were displayed,
And building tools in order laid.

These executioners were chose,
As men who were with mankind foes,
And, with despite and envy fired,
Into the cloister had retired;

Or who, in desperate doubt of grace,
Strove by deep penance to efface

Of some foul crime the stain ;
For, as the vassals of her will,
Such men the Church selected still,
As either joyed in doing ill,

Or thought more grace to gain,
If, in her cause, they wrestled down
Feelings their nature strove to own.
By strange device were they brought there,
They knew not how, and knew not where.

And now that blind old Abbot rose,

To speak the Chapter's doom,
On those the wall was to enclose,

Alive, within the tomb :
But stopped, because that woeful maid,
Gathering her powers, to speak essayed.
Twice she essayed, and twice in vain;
Her accents might no utterance gain;
Nought but imperfect murmurs slip
From her convulsed and quivering lip.

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