She leaned o'er her latticed casement,
The Flower of Wensleydale;
'Twas St Agnes Eve at midnight,
Through the mist the stars burnt pale.
In her hand she held twelve sage-leaves,
Plucked in her garden at noon;
And over them she had whispered thrice
The spell of a mystic rune.
For many had come a-wooing
The maid with the sloe-blue eyes;
Fain would she learn of St Agnes
To whom should fall the prize.
They said she must drop a sage-leaf
At each stroke of the midnight hour;
Then should the knight of her father's choice
Obey the summons of her voice,
And appear 'neath her oriel'd bowwer.
To the holy virgin-martyr
She lifted her hands in prayer;
Then she watched the rooks that perched asleep
In the chestnut branches bare.
At last on the frosty silence
There rang out the midnight chime;
And the hills gave back in echoes
The knell of the dying time.
She held her breath as she counted
The beats of the chapel bell;
At every stroke of the hammer
A sage-leaf fluttered and fell,
Slowly fluttered and fell.
Her heart stood still a moment,
As the last leaf touched the ground;
And her hand went swift to her maiden breast,
For she heard a far-off sound;
'Twas the sound of a horseman spurring
His steed through the woodland glade;
And ever the sound drew nearer,
And the footfalls echoed clearer,
Till before her bower they stayed.
She strained her eyes to discover,
By the light of a ghostly moon,
Who was the knight had heard and obeyed
The hest of the mystic rune.
But naught could she see from her casement,
Save a man on a coal-black steed;
For his mantle was muffled about him,
His blazon she could not read.
She crossed herself and she whispered--
Her voice was faint but clear--
"Oh! Who art thou that darest ride,
Through the aspen glade, by the river's side,
My chamber window near?
"Say, art thou the lord of Bainbridge,
Or Gervase of Bolton Hall,
That comest so late on St Agnes Eve
Within my manor wall?"
"I am not the lord of Bainbridge,
Nor Gervase of Bolton Hall,
But I marked the light in thy casement,
And I saw the sage-leaves fall,
Flutter awhile and fall."
"Camest thou over the moorlands,
Or camest thou through the dale?
Speak no guile to a witless maid,
But tell me a soothfast tale."
"I came not over the moorlands,
Nor along the dale did ride;
But thou seeest thy plighted lover,
That has come to claim his bride."
"Say, art thou knight or yeoman,
Of noble or simple birth?
Fain would I know thy lineage,
Thy prowess and thy worth."
"Nor knight nor lowly yeoman,
But a mighty king am I;
Bold vassals do my bidding,
And on mine errands hie.
"They come to court and castle,
They climb the palace stairs;
Nor pope nor king may entrance bar
To him my livery wears."
"But why should a king so mighty
Pay court to a simple maid?
My father's a knight of low degree,
No princely realm he holds in fee,
No proud-foot damsels wait on me:
Thy steps have surely strayed."
"No step of mine hath wandered
From the goal of my desires;
'Tis on thee my hopes are centred,
'Tis to thee my heart aspires.
"I love thee for thy beauty,
I love thee for thy grace,
I love thee for the dancing lights
That gleam in thy moon-lit face:
And these I deem a peerless dower
To win a king's embrace."
"One boon, O royal lover,
I ask on St Agnes Day;
I fain would gaze on thy visage fair
Ere with thee I steal away.
"Unmuffle thou the mantle
That hides thee like a pall;
And let the purple trappings
From off thy shoulders fall."
Slowly he loosed the mantle,
And showed his face beneath.
The lights went out in the maiden's eyes;
One swooning word she breathed to the skies:
The gaunt hills echoed "Death."