Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part Second. The Student’s Second Tale: The Baron of St. Castine

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Second. The Student’s Second Tale: The Baron of St. Castine

BARON CASTINE of St. Castine

Has left his château in the Pyrenees,

And sailed across the western seas.

When he went away from his fair demesne

The birds were building, the woods were green;

And now the winds of winter blow

Round the turrets of the old château,

The birds are silent and unseen,

The leaves lie dead in the ravine,

And the Pyrenees are white with snow.

His father, lonely, old, and gray,

Sits by the fireside day by day,

Thinking ever one thought of care;

Through the southern windows, narrow and tall,

The sun shines into the ancient hall,

And makes a glory round his hair.

The house-dog, stretched beneath his chair,

Groans in his sleep, as if in pain,

Then wakes, and yawns, and sleeps again,

So silent is it everywhere,—

So silent you can hear the mouse

Run and rummage along the beams

Behind the wainscot of the wall;

And the old man rouses from his dreams,

And wanders restless through the house,

As if he heard strange voices call.

His footsteps echo along the floor

Of a distant passage, and pause awhile;

He is standing by an open door

Looking long, with a sad, sweet smile,

Into the room of his absent son.

There is the bed on which he lay,

There are the pictures bright and gray,

Horses and hounds and sun-lit seas;

There are his powder-flask and gun,

And his hunting-knives in shape of a fan;

The chair by the window where he sat,

With the clouded tiger-skin for a mat,

Looking out on the Pyrenees,

Looking out on Mount Marboré

And the Seven Valleys of Lavedan.

Ah me! he turns away and sighs;

There is a mist before his eyes.

At night, whatever the weather be,

Wind or rain or starry heaven,

Just as the clock is striking seven,

Those who look from the windows see

The village Curate, with lantern and maid,

Come through the gateway from the park

And cross the courtyard damp and dark,—

A ring of light in a ring of shade.

And now at the old man’s side he stands,

His voice is cheery, his heart expands,

He gossips pleasantly, by the blaze

Of the fire of fagots, about old days,

And Cardinal Mazarin and the Fronde,

And the Cardinal’s nieces fair and fond,

And what they did, and what they said,

When they heard his Eminence was dead.

And after a pause the old man says,

His mind still coming back again

To the one sad thought that haunts his brain,

“Are there any tidings from over sea?

Ah, why has that wild boy gone from me?”

And the Curate answers, looking down,

Harmless and docile as a lamb,

“Young blood! young blood! It must so be!”

And draws from the pocket of his gown

A handkerchief like an oriflamb,

And wipes his spectacles, and they play

Their little game of lansquenet

In silence for an hour or so,

Till the clock at nine strikes loud and clear

From the village lying asleep below,

And across the courtyard, into the dark

of the winding pathway in the park,

Curate and lantern disappear,

And darkness reigns in the old château.

The ship has come back from over sea,

She has been signalled from below,

And into the harbor of Bordeaux

She sails with her gallant company.

But among them is nowhere seen

The brave young Baron of St. Castine;

He hath tarried behind, I ween,

In the beautiful land of Acadie!

And the father paces to and fro

Through the chambers of the old château,

Waiting, waiting to hear the hum

Of wheels on the road that runs below,

Of servants hurrying here and there,

The voice in the courtyard, the step on the stair,

Waiting for some one who doth not come!

But letters there are, which the old man reads

To the Curate, when he comes at night,

Word by word, as an acolyte

Repeats his prayers and tells his beads;

Letters full of the rolling sea,

Full of a young man’s joy to be

Abroad in the world, alone and free;

Full of adventures and wonderful scenes

Of hunting the deer through forests vast

In the royal grant of Pierre du Gast;

Of nights in the tents of the Tarratines;

Of Madocawando the Indian chief,

And his daughters, glorious as queens,

And beautiful beyond belief;

And so soft the tones of their native tongue,

The words are not spoken, they are sung!

And the Curate listens, and smiling says:

“Ah yes, dear friend! in our young days

We should have liked to hunt the deer

All day amid those forest scenes,

And to sleep in the tents of the Tarratines;

But now it is better sitting here

Within four walls, and without the fear

Of losing our hearts to Indian queens;

For man is fire and woman is tow,

And the Somebody comes and begins to blow.”

Then a gleam of distrust and vague surmise

Shines in the father’s gentle eyes,

As fire-light on a window-pane

Glimmers and vanishes again;

But naught he answers; he only sighs,

And for a moment bows his head;

Then, as their custom is, they play

Their little game of lansquenet,

And another day is with the dead.

Another day, and many a day

And many a week and month depart,

When a fatal letter wings its way

Across the sea, like a bird of prey,

And strikes and tears the old man’s heart.

Lo! the young Baron of St. Castine,

Swift as the wind is, and as wild,

Has married a dusky Tarratine,

Has married Madocawando’s child!

The letter drops from the father’s hand;

Though the sinews of his heart are wrung,

He utters no cry, he breathes no prayer,

No malediction falls from his tongue;

But his stately figure, erect and grand,

Bends and sinks like a column of sand

In the whirlwind of his great despair.

Dying, yes, dying! His latest breath

Of parley at the door of death

Is a blessing on his wayward son.

Lower and lower on his breast

Sinks his gray head; he is at rest;

No longer he waits for any one.

For many a year the old château

Lies tenantless and desolate;

Rank grasses in the courtyard grow,

About its gables caws the crow;

Only the porter at the gate

Is left to guard it, and to wait

The coming of the rightful heir;

No other life or sound is there;

No more the Curate comes at night,

No more is seen the unsteady light,

Threading the alleys of the park;

The windows of the hall are dark,

The chambers dreary, cold, and bare!

At length, at last, when the winter is past,

And birds are building, and woods are green,

With flying skirts is the Curate seen

Speeding along the woodland way,

Humming gayly, “No day is so long

But it comes at last to vesper-song.”

He stops at the porter’s lodge to say

That at last the Baron of St. Castine

Is coming home with his Indian queen,

Is coming without a week’s delay;

And all the house must be swept and clean,

And all things set in good array!

And the solemn porter shakes his head;

And the answer he makes is: “Lackaday!

We will see, as the blind man said!”

Alert since first the day began,

The cock upon the village church

Looks northward from his airy perch,

As if beyond the ken of man

To see the ships come sailing on,

And pass the Isle of Oléron,

And pass the Tower of Cordouan.

In the church below is cold in clay

The heart that would have leaped for joy—

O tender heart of truth and trust!—

To see the coming of that day;

In the church below the lips are dust;

Dust are the hands, and dust the feet

That would have been so swift to meet

The coming of that wayward boy.

At night the front of the old château

Is a blaze of light above and below;

There’s a sound of wheels and hoofs in the street,

A cracking of whips, and scamper of feet,

Bells are ringing, and horns are blown,

And the Baron hath come again to his own.

The Curate is waiting in the hall,

Most eager and alive of all

To welcome the Baron and Baroness;

But his mind is full of vague distress,

For he hath read in Jesuit books

Of those children of the wilderness,

And now, good, simple man! he looks

To see a painted savage stride

Into the room, with shoulders bare,

And eagle feathers in her hair,

And around her a robe of panther’s hide.

Instead, he beholds with secret shame

A form of beauty undefined,

A loveliness without a name,

Not of degree, but more of kind;

Nor bold nor shy, nor short nor tall,

But a new mingling of them all.

Yes, beautiful beyond belief,

Transfigured and transfused, he sees

The lady of the Pyrenees,

The daughter of the Indian chief.

Beneath the shadow of her hair

The gold-bronze color of the skin

Seems lighted by a fire within,

As when a burst of sunlight shines

Beneath a sombre grove of pines,—

A dusky splendor in the air.

The two small hands, that now are pressed

In his, seem made to be caressed,

They lie so warm and soft and still,

Like birds half hidden in a nest,

Trustful, and innocent of ill.

And ah! he cannot believe his ears

When her melodious voice he hears

Speaking his native Gascon tongue;

The words she utters seem to be

Part of some poem of Goudouli,

They are not spoken, they are sung!

And the Baron smiles, and says, “You see,

I told you but the simple truth;

Ah, you may trust the eyes of youth!”

Down in the village day by day

The people gossip in their way,

And stared to see the Baroness pass

On Sunday morning to early mass;

And when she kneeleth down to pray,

They wonder, and whisper together, and say

“Surely this is no heathen lass!”

And in course of time they learn to bless

The Baron and the Baroness.

And in course of time the Curate learns

A secret so dreadful, that by turns

He is ice and fire, he freezes and burns.

The Baron at confession hath said,

That though this woman be his wife,

He hath wed her as the Indians wed,

He hath bought her for a gun and a knife!

And the Curate replies: “O profligate,

O Prodigal Son! return once more

To the open arms and the open door

Of the Church, or ever it be too late.

Thank God, thy father did not live

To see what he could not forgive;

On thee, so reckless and perverse,

He left his blessing, not his curse.

But the nearer the dawn the darker the night,

And by going wrong all things come right;

Things have been mended that were worse,

And the worse, the nearer they are to mend.

For the sake of the living and the dead,

Thou shalt be wed as Christians wed,

And all things come to a happy end.”

O sun, that followest the night,

In you blue sky, serene and pure,

And pourest thine impartial light

Alike on mountain and on moor,

Pause for a moment in thy course,

And bless the bridegroom and the bride!

O Gave, that from thy hidden source

In you mysterious mountain-side

Pursuest thy wandering way alone,

And leaping down its steps of stone,

Along the meadow-lands demure

Stealest away to the Adour,

Pause for a moment in thy course

To bless the bridegroom and the bride!

The choir is singing the matin song,

The doors of the church are opened wide,

The people crowd, and press, and throng

To see the bridegroom and the bride.

They enter and pass along the nave;

They stand upon the father’s grave;

The bells are ringing soft and slow;

The living above and the dead below

Give their blessing on one and twain;

The warm wind blows from the hills of Spain,

The birds are building, the leaves are green,

And Baron Castine of St. Castine

Hath come at last to his own again.