The Lady's Rock

A poem by John Campbell

A brother's eye had seen the grief
That Duart's lady bore;
His boat with sail half-raised flies down
The sound by green Lismore.
Ahaladah, Ahaladah!
Why speeds your boat so fast?
No scene of joy shall light your track
Adown the spray-strewn blast.

The very trees upon the isle
Rock to and fro, and wail;
The very birds cry sad and shrill,
Storm driven, where you sail;
O when for yon dim mainland shore
You launched your keel to start
You knew not of the load 'twill bear,
The heavier load your heart.

See what is that, which yonder gleams,
Where skarts alone make home;
Is that but one oft-breaking sea,
Some frequent fount of foam?
The morn is dark and indistinct,
Is all through drift and cloud;
Around the rock white waters toss,
As flaps in wind a shroud.

It cannot be a leaping jet,
Nor form of rock or wave
There stands some being saved by God
In mercy from the grave!
"Down with the sail, out oars! the boat
Can reach the leeward side:
Mother of Heaven! look you, men,
Where breaks that roaring tide."

"A living woman, do I dream
Or stands my sister there,
Where only at the middle ebb
The shelving ledge is bare?"
O white as surf that sweeps her knee,
She falls, but not to die;
Ahaladah is at her side,
He bears her up on high.

Away from Duart now he steers;
Why curses he its lord;
Why flee to Inveraray's strength,
As though he feared his sword?
Proud triumph's notes were often heard
Where Aray's waters sing,
And mourners there have often wept
The slain for faith and king.

But never would that lady's lips
There speak her grievous woe,
Though in her chamber in the night
Her frequent tears would flow.
She dreamt of wrong where love was sought,
Of crafty cruel eyes,
Of one steep stair, of grasping hands
That stifled piteous cries;

Of wind which tore the hissing waves,
And howled o'er mountains bare;
Where swollen burns in feathery clouds
Were dashed into the air.
Of one wet rock, of horror wild,
When she was left alone,
Till madness seemed to whelm her thought
And, with a shuddering moan,

Again she heard the surges rush,
And, where she shrinking turned,
The seaweed there, like woman's hair,
The murderous billows spurned.
Again the night and wind were joined
To mock her hope of aid,
Till shrieking, she awoke, where once
She slept a happy maid.

But none would she accuse, and dumb
Rebuked the vengeance call,
Till one dark eve at supper-time
Within the old dim hall,
She heard some whisper, and she saw
Her brother leave his place,
Go forth, and entering, beckon out
A band, with stern set face.

Again he came, and o'er her bent,
And whispered "Sister dear,
Let fall your veil about your head,
Nor tremble when you hear
That Duart comes in mourner's guise!
Lo, there he takes his seat.
Chief, tell us why your mien is sad,
When friends and kinsmen meet?"

"My woes are great, my wife lies dead,
But yester week these hands
Closed her sweet eyes, and now I bring
Her body to your lands."
Then was the arras drawn aside
And girt with wake lights drear,
Beneath the archway's carven vault,
Was borne a white-crossed bier.

And Duart rose; his shifting eye
Moved like a marsh-fire pale,
But circling back, still restless scanned
The lady of the veil.
Then through the silence broke a voice,
"Know you that lady, chief?
She too, a guest with us, like you,
Well knows the pangs of grief.

"You come from far, bring wine." To each
The ruddy goblet passed.
The lady raised her hand, and back
The heavy veil she cast.
Strong Duart reeled as from a stroke;
He stared as at the dead:
How could her glance o'er that dark face
Such deathly palor spread?

"Your play is out, ah cursed fiend!"
Ahaladah cried loud;
"Your death shall be no phantom false,
No empty mask your shroud:
If hospitality's high law
Here shields your life awhile,
By all the saints you yet shall feel
The vengeance of Argyll."

* * * * *

In Edinburgh Duart's Lord
Strides down the shadowed town;
The white moon glints on roofs o'erhead,
And on St Giles's crown.
Another step is on the street,
The watchmen hear no cry;
But drenched in blood lies Duart, where
Ahaladah passed by.

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