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The grave-stones, rudely sculptured o’er, Half sunk in earth, by time half wore, Were all the pavement of the floor; The mildew drops fell one by one, With tinkling plash, upon the stone. A cresset,* in an iron chain, Which served to light this drear domain, With damp and darkness seemed to strive, As if it scarce might keep alive ; And yet it dimly served to shew The awful conclave met below.
XIX. There, met to doom in secrecy, Were placed the heads of convents three : All servants of Saint Benedict, The statutes of whose order strict
On iron table lay;
In long black dress, on seats of stone,
Behind were these three judges shewn,
By the pale cresset's ray :
The Abbess of Saint Hilda's, there,
Sate for a space with visage bare,
Until, to hide her bosom's swell,
And tear-drops that for pity fell,
She closely drew her veil:
Yon shrouded figure, as I guess,
By her proud mien and flowing dress,
Is Tynemouth's haughty Prioress,
And she with awe looks pale:
And he, that Ancient Man, whose sight
Has long been quenched by age's night,
Upon whose wrinkled brow alone,
Nor ruth, nor mercy's trace is shown,
Whose look is hard and stern, Saint Cuthbert's Abbot is his stile ; For sanctity called, through the isle,
The Saint of Lindisfarn.
Before them stood a guilty pair;
But, though an equal fate they share,
Yet one alone deserves our care.
Her sex a page's dress belied;
The cloak and doublet, loosely tied,
Obscured her charms, but could not hide.
Her cap down o'er her face she drew;
And, on her doublet breast,
She tried to hide the badge of blue,
Lord Marmion's falcon crest.
But, at the Prioress' command,
A Monk undid the silken band,
That tied her tresses fair,
And raised the bonnet from her head,
And dow'n her slender form they spread,
In ringlets rich and rare. Constance de Beverley they know, Sister professed of Fontevraud,
Whom the church numbered with the dead, For broken vows, and convent fled.
When thus her face was given to view,
(Although so pallid was her hue,
It did a ghastly contrast bear,
To those bright ringlets glistering fair,)
Her look composed, and steady eye,
Bespoke a matchless constancy;
And there she stood so calm and pale,
That, but her breathing did not fail,
And motion slight of eye and head,
And of her bosom, warranted,
That neither sense nor pulse she lacks,
You might have thought a form of wax,
Wrought to the very life, was there;
So still she was, so pale, so fair.
Her comrade was a sordid soul,
Such as does murder for a meed;
Who, but of fear, knows no controul,
Because his conscience, seared and foul,
Feels not the import of his deed;
One, whose brute-feelings ne'er aspires
Beyond his own more brute desires.
Such tools the tempter ever needs,
To do the savagest of deeds;
For them no visioned terrors daunt,
Their nights no fancied spectres haunt ;
One fear with them, of all most base,
The fear of death,-alone finds place,
This wretch was clad in frock and cowl,
And shamed not loud to moan and howl,
His body on the floor to dash,
And crouch, like hound beneath the lash;
While his mute partner, standing near,
Waited her doom without a tear.