Autumn went faintly flying o'er the land,
Trailing her golden hair along the West,
Weeping to find her waving fields despoil'd,
Her yellow leaves all floating on the wind:
And Winter grim came stalking from the North.
Around the coast rough blasts began to blow,
And toss the seas about in giant sport,
Lurking without to catch unwary sails,
And snap their bellying seams against the mast.
So Guy lay idly waiting in the port,
Gazing out eastward through the stormy mist,
Gazing out eastward morn and closing eve,
Seeking some break amid the hurtling clouds.
But many days the same wind strongly blew,
Keeping his bark close moor'd within the bay,
Jerking the cable, like a restive steed.
And waiting thus impatient to be gone,
Looking out seaward from the dripping wharf,
Strange rumours fill'd his ears, from inland come,
How all the land around his native place
Was devastated by a mighty Beast,
Most terrible to see, and passing strong.
They told him how it slew both man and brute,
Destroying every living thing around,
And laying waste the land for many a mile;
And how 'twas thought no blade, by mortal wrought,
Could cleave its way into the monster's heart;
And then they told him how his lord the King
Had late proclaim'd through all the country round,
That whosoe'er should slay the noisome Beast,
Should straight be knighted by his kingly sword,
And honour'd greatly in the rescued land.
Yet none was found so stout of heart and limb,
To venture in this perilous emprize;
"But ah!" they said, supposing him far off,
"If famous Guy were here, there were a man
Would rid us of this monster presently.
But as for him, he speeds away through France,
Bearing to other lands his strength, that, faith,
Were better spent at home amongst his kin."
And still the East wind bluster'd to the shore.
Now Guy, whose ears still tingled all the day
With these strange murmurs of the troubled land,
Began to feel his heart with pity move;
And, for his soul still fretted at delay,
Like a leash'd hound that scents the flying game,
He straight resolved to take this quarrel up,
And for his country's weal to slay the Beast.
So he arose, girt on his trusty sword,
And with his bow and quiver slung behind,
And at his belt his mighty battle-axe,
Rode calmly forth to slay the hurtful Beast.
And no man knew that he was Guy, for all
Believed him far away on foreign shores;
Which pleased him passing well, "Because," he said,
"I do this thing for Phoelice and the King,
And none shall know but Heaven that sees the deed.
But when the country feels returning joy,
Her heart will flutter with a secret thought."
And all the land was desolate and waste;
The fields stood rotting 'neath the Autumn rains,
And no man pluckt the sodden corn that lay,
Dead ripe, along the furrows 'mid the weeds;
No cattle browsed upon the long rank grass,
Or paused to gaze upon him as he rode;
The cottages, deserted all in haste,
Stood open-door'd and rifted by the winds,
With cold grey ashes scatter'd o'er the hearth.
Here he beheld the homely meal spread forth,
Which no man ate; and there, upon the floor,
An o'erturn'd cradle, whence a mother late
Had snatch'd her babe up with a cry, and fled.
And all his heart was sore with what he saw,
For he met none to wish him once "God speed;"
So he spurr'd onward swifter to the place
Where lurk'd the monster that thus spoil'd the land;
And long the road seem'd to him in his wrath.
At last he came unto the fearful spot,
Mark'd with the blanching bones of man and beast;
A thicket planted by a lonely heath,
O'ergrown with brambles and unwholesome weeds,
That clasping trees around with witch-like arms,
Poison'd their life out, and still held them dead.
And at one side there stretch'd a stagnant pool,
Unstirr'd by any grateful breeze, but thick
With slimy leaves, and rushes all forlorn,
And every footstep on the spongy bank
Fill'd straightway with the oozing of decay.
The Beast hid in the bosom of this wood;
And as Guy went he saw two eyes of fire
Burn through the darkness of the wood, like blasts
Sent from a smith's forge suddenly at night.
But, nought dismay'd, he bent his bow of steel,
And sent an arrow whirring through the leaves.
He heard the shaft ring on the monster's ribs,
And backward leap, as when a falchion strikes
Full on a warrior's casque with fiery force;
Whereat with roaring horrible to hear,
Like storm-winds belching through a cavern's mouth,
Forth rush'd the monster, furious and grim,
With open jaws and reeking breath at Guy;
Who, leaping nimbly back, put forth his strength,
And struck her full between the eyes a blow
That made the stout axe quiver in his hand.
But, nothing hurt, the madden'd Beast rush'd on,
And nigh o'erwhelm'd him in her headlong course,
Denting his breastplate, wrought of temper'd steel,
With the close home-thrust of her pointed horns.
But Guy, swift wheeling round his snorting steed,
Thought on his Phoelice, and, with mighty strength,
Launch'd forth a stroke that made the thick blood flow
In loathsome torrents from a gaping wound.
So, cheer'd at heart, he thunder'd blow on blow,
Till, with a bellow of despair and pain,
The monster tore the earth, and, writhing, died.
And when Guy saw that he had slain the Beast,
He was right glad, and full of sweet content.
And so he wiped his blood-stain'd battle-axe,
And rode with lighten'd heart in haste away
To bear the welcome tidings to the town.
And as he pass'd, or that he dreamt, or saw,
It seem'd as though the land bloom'd up again,
And sunshine fill'd the air with hope and life.
And so he bore the tidings to the town--
And when the people heard the Beast was dead,
They gather'd round with tears and cries of joy,
And scarce found words to thank and honour him.
And one brought forth her babe, and held him up,
And cried, "Look, child upon him, that your soul
May know the fashion of a noble man!"
But still he told no man that he was Guy.
And all desired to lead him to the King,
But he would not, and turn'd another way--
"Nay! friends," said he, "I need no recompense.
For in the doing of a worthy deed
Lies all the honour that a man should seek."
And thus he turn'd away unto the sea,
And would not tarry, or for prayers, or tears;
And when he came unto the quiet port,
He said no word unto his waiting men,
But gazed out seaward; and the waves were down,
The clouds fast breaking, and the West wind blew;
And many a sail sped swiftly o'er the main,
White in the sunshine as a sea-gull's wing--
And so he went on ship-board cheerily,
And they hove anchor with a right good-will,
And spreading canvas to the welcome breeze,
Bore swiftly out into the open sea;
And Guy stood silent in the dipping bows,
Gazing out seaward with a strange still smile.