« AnteriorContinuar »
she muses on the past, and looks forward to the future with apprehension, she is awakened from her reverie by the distant sound of arms, and almost immediately afterwards perceives a knight approaching through the glade. It is Hengist, under the form of Arthur, and, deceived by the closeness of the resemblance, she receives him with joy. To her eager inquiries after her friends and the state of her country, the treacherous Saxon replies, that her father, no longer wishing to protract their union, had sent him to conduct her where the Britons, assembled in arms, were waiting impatiently to receive their prince and the fair object of his vows, having sworn that her approving smile should lead them on to conquest and to glory. She reluctantly refuses to accompany him, urging her father's commands not to leave the bower until she has permission to do so from his own lips. On this, the supposed Arthur bitterly complains of her unkind mistrust of his words, and exclaiming, in wellfeigned agony, that he is loved no more; the doubt, the anguish, and the terror, which in turns distract her bosom, receive a delicate yet vivid illustration from the following beautiful simile, which strikes me as possessing merit of no common kind:
As some pellucid current that divides
B. vi. p. 192.
As she is thus wavering between the conflicting emotions of love and duty, the knight, aware of the advantage he has already obtained, continues to press her with yet greater urgency, finally affirming, that Merlin had warned him of immediate danger; and that, in fact, if she does but look around her, she may see her foes approaching. She gazes with astonishment as she beholds the distant mountains crowned with armed men, and the Saxon banners floating in the breeze; and alarmed not only for her own fate, but for that of her lover, and hurt, at the same time, by his injurious suspicions, she resigns herself at length to his direction, and they hasten from the bower.
Fully confiding in him whom she deemed to be her faithful Arthur, they journey on together, be
guiling the way with interesting converse, when, as the evening approaches, they are met by Cador, a youth of great promise, and one of the confidential friends of the British prince; who, on first perceiving them at a distance, had assumed an attitude of defiance; but, as soon as he descries the wellknown armour of his beloved lord, he drops his spear, and hails him with rapture. He states, that having only lately heard, whilst on the farthest coast of North Wales, that Lancelot was preparing to lead the British forces against the enemy, he had resolved instantly to join them, and was, for this purpose, pressing forward, when, not many hours ago, as the morning dawned, he had encountered a Saxon knight who defied him to combat, and that, after a sharp contest, he had slain him. Hengist impatiently inquires the name of the warrior who had fallen, and being shown his buckler, immediately recognizes it as that of his brother. Filled with grief and fury, and forgetting the character which he had assumed, he bids Cador take the reward of his valour, and plunges his sword to the hilt in his bosom. Inogen, shocked and astonished at the deed, attempts to fly, but Hengist restrains her, and pushing forward his steed, they enter, as
night comes on, a dark and dismal forest, where nothing is heard save the screech of the nightowl, the croak of the toad, and the howl of the wolf. Overcome with terror, the unhappy maiden faints, and her stern companion, apprehensive that he is about to lose his prey when just within his grasp, tries every means to recover her. She revives, and makes another effort to escape; but, again detaining her, he endeavours to induce the belief that Cador had become a traitor to the British cause, that the buckler had belonged to a noble Briton, and that he had conspired to yield her charms a prey to the Saxon. She treats the tale with the utmost contempt; and on beholding himself, notwithstanding the form he bears, and all his wiles to excite compassion, an object of aversion and horror, he determines no longer to postpone the gratification of his purpose, and, throwing aside his armour, he attempts to get possession of her person by force. Fortunately the piercing shrieks which she now utters are heard by one ever ready to succour the distressed; for the forest happens to be that into which Valdemar had been carried from the pursuit of Arthur by the frenzy of his horse. The Dane, awakened by her cries, starts from his sleep, and perceiving, by the glimpses of the moon, which had by this time risen, the gleam of arms, and the well known lineaments of Arthur's face, he rushes on him with indignant fury, branding him, as he unsheaths his weapon, as a stain to knighthood and a dishonour to his country. Instantly a murky darkness shrouds the moon, the thunder rolls in dreadful peals, and the most vivid lightning traverses the gloom, whilst the spirits of the night, shrieking through the storm, endeavour to prevent the deadly feud, calling on them to forbear imbruing their hands in kindred blood, nor suffer the fates to forewarn them in vain. Heedless, however, of every thing but the gratification of their own mutual rage, they pierce each other, stript as they are of their defensive armour, with innumerable wounds; and the result, forming the hinge on which the destiny of the British hero turns, it would be injustice not to give in the animated language of the poet himself: The combat's o'er—the shrieks of death resound; The tempest rolls away; and on the ground Brave Valdemar lies breathless: by his side Stern Hengist sinking, thus in fury cried: