The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Frances S. Osgood/The Magic Lute
THE MAGIC LUTE.
My beauty! sing to me and make me glad!
On a low stool at the feet of the Count de Courcy sat his bride, the youthful Lady Loyaline. One delicate, dimpled hand hovered over the strings of her lute, like a snowy bird, about to take wing with a burst of melody. The other she was playfully trying to release from the clasp of his. At last, she desisted from the attempt, and said, as she gazed up into his proud “unfathomable eyes”—
“Dear De Courcy! how shall I thank you for this beautiful gift? How shall I prove to you my love, my gratitude, for all your generous devotion to my wishes?”
Loyaline was startled by the sudden light that dawned in those deep eyes; but it passed away and left them calmer, and prouder than before, and there was a touch of sadness in the tone of his reply—
“Sing to me, sweet, and thank me so!”
Loyaline sighed as she tuned the lute. It was ever thus when she alluded to her love. His face would lighten like a tempest-cloud, and then grow dark and still again, as if the fire of hope and joy were suddenly kindled in his soul to be as suddenly extinguished. What could it mean? Did he doubt her affection? A tear fell upon the lute, and she said, “I will sing
the lady’s lay.”
The deepest wrong that thou couldst do,
Nor feel my heart exulting beat
The tones of the Lady Loyaline’s voice were sweet and clear, yet so low, so daintily delicate, that the heart caught them rather than the ear. De Courcy felt his soul soften beneath those pleading accents, and his eyes, as he gazed upon her, were filled with unutterable love and sorrow.
How beautiful she was! With that faint colour, like the first blush of dawn, upon her cheek with those soft, black, glossy braids, and those deep blue eyes, so luminous with soul! Again the lady touched her lute—
For thee I braid and bind my hair
De Courcy, by nature proud, passionate, reserved, and exacting, had wooed and won, with some difficulty, the young and timid girl, whose tenderness for her noble lover was blent with a shrinking awe, that all his devotion could not for awhile overcome.
At the time my story commences, he was making preparations to join the Crusaders. He was to set out in a few days, and, brave and chivalric as he was, there were both fear and grief in his heart, when he thought of leaving his beautiful bride for years, perhaps for ever. Perfectly convinced of her guileless purity of purpose, thought and deed, he yet had, as he thought, reason to suppose that her heart was, perhaps unconsciously to herself, estranged from him, or rather that it never had been his. He remembered, with a thrill of passionate grief and indignation, her bashful reluctance to meet his gaze—her timid shrinking from his touch—and thus her very purity and modesty, the soul of true affection, were distorted by his jealous imagination into indifference for himself and fondness for another. Only two days before, upon suddenly entering her chamber, he had surprised her in tears, with a page’s cap in her hand, and on hearing his step, she had started up blushing and embarrassed, and hidden it beneath her mantle, which lay upon the couch. Poor De Courcy! This was indeed astounding; but while he had perfect faith in her honour, he was too proud to let her see his suspicions. That cap! that crimson cap! It was not the last time he was destined to behold it!
The hour of parting came, and De Courcy shuddered as he saw a smile—certainly an exulting smile—lighten through the tears in the dark eyes of his bride, as she bade him for the last time “farewell.”
A twelvemonth afterward, he was languishing in the dungeons of the East—a chained and hopeless captive.
“Ah! fleeter far than fleetest storm or steed,
The Sultan was weary; weary of his flowers and his fountains—of his dreams and his dancing-girls—of his harem and himself. The banquet lay untouched before him. The rich chibouque was cast aside. The cooling sherbet shone in vain.
The Almas tripped, with tinkling feet,
His slaves trembled at his presence; for a dark cloud hung lowering on the brows of the great Lord of the East, and they knew, from experience, that there were both thunder and lightning to come ere it dispersed.
But a sound of distant plaintive melody was heard. A sweet voice sighing to a lute. The Sultan listened. “Bring hither the minstrel,” he said in a subdued tone; and a lovely, fair-haired boy, in a page’s dress of pale-green silk, was led blushing into the presence.
“Sing to me, child,” said the Lord of the East. And the youth touched his lute, with grace and wondrous skill, and sang, in accents soft as the ripple of a rill,
the violet’s love.
Shall I tell what the violet said to the star,
Long ere the lay had ceased, the cloud in the Sultan’s eye had dissolved itself in tears. Never had music so moved his soul. “The lute was enchanted! The youth was a Peri, who had lost his way! Surely it must be so!”
“But sing me now a bolder strain!” And the beautiful child flung back his golden curls and swept the strings more proudly than before, and his voice took a clarion-tone, and his dark, steel-blue eyes flashed with heroic fire as he sang
the crimson plume.
Oh! know ye the knight of the red waving plume?
“By Allah! thou hast magic in thy voice! One more! and ask what thou wilt. Were it my signet-ring, 'tis granted!”
Tears of rapture sprung to the eyes of the minstrel-boy, as the Sultan spoke, and his young cheek flushed like a morning cloud. Bending over his lute to hide his emotion, he warbled once again—
the broken heart’s appeal.
Give me back my childhood’s truth!
Thou who wreath’st, with flattering art,
“Name thy wish, fair child. But tell me first what good genius has charmed thy lute for thee, that thus it sways the soul?”
“A child-angel, with large melancholy eyes and wings of lambent fire—we Franks have named him Love. He led me here and breathed upon my lute.”
“And where is he now?”
“I have hidden him in my heart,” said the boy, blushing as he replied.
“And what is the boon thou wouldst ask?”
The youthful stranger bent his knee, and said in faltering tones—“Thou hast a captive Christian knight; let him go free, and Love shall bless thy throne!”
“He is thine—thou shalt thyself release him. Here, take my signet with thee.”
And the fair boy glided like an angel of light through the guards at the dungeon-door. Bolts and bars fell before him—for he bore the talisman of Power—and he stood in his beauty and grace at the captive’s couch, and bade him rise and go forth, for he was free.
De Courcy, half-awake, gazed wistfully on the benign eyes that bent over him. He had just been dreaming of his guardian angel; and when he saw the beauteous stranger boy—with his locks of light—his heavenly smile—his pale, sweet face—he had no doubt that this was the celestial visitant of his dreams, and, following with love and reverence his spirit-guide, he scarcely wondered at his sudden disappearance when they reached the court.
“Pure as Aurora when she leaves her couch,
Safely the knight arrived at his castle-gate, and as he alighted from his steed, a lovely woman sprang through the gloomy archway, and lay in tears upon his breast.
“My wife! my sweet, true wife! Is it indeed thou! Thy cheek is paler than its wont. Hast mourned for me, my love?” And the knight put back the long black locks and gazed upon that sad, sweet face. Oh! the delicious joy of that dear meeting! Was it too dear, too bright to last?
At a banquet, given in honour of De Courcy’s return, some of the guests, flushed with wine, rashly let fall in his hearing an insinuation which awoke all his former doubts, and, upon inquiry, he found to his horror that during his absence the Lady Loyaline had left her home for months, and none knew whither or why she went, but all could guess, they hinted.
De Courcy sprang up, with his hand on the heft of his sword, and rushed toward the chamber of his wife. She met him in the anteroom, and listened calmly and patiently as he gave vent to all his jealous wrath, and bade her prepare to die. Her only reply was—“Let me go to my chamber; I would say one prayer; then do with me as you will.”
The chamber door closed on the graceful form and sweeping robes of the Lady de Courcy. But in a few moments it opened again, and forth came, with meekly folded arms, a stripling in a page’s dress and crimson cap!—the bold, bright boy with whom he had parted at his dungeon-gate! “Here! in her very chamber!” The knight sprang forward to cleave the daring intruder to the earth. But the stranger flung to the ground the cap and the golden locks, and De Courcy fell at the feet, not of a minstrel-boy, but of his own true-hearted wife, and begged her forgiveness, and blessed her for her heroic and beautiful devotion.