Prelude - The Wayside Inn - Part First


    One Autumn night, in Sudbury town,
    Across the meadows bare and brown,
    The windows of the wayside inn
    Gleamed red with fire-light through the leaves
    Of woodbine, hanging from the eaves
    Their crimson curtains rent and thin.

    As ancient is this hostelry
    As any in the land may be,
    Built in the old Colonial day,
    When men lived in a grander way,
    With ampler hospitality;
    A kind of old Hobgoblin Hall,
    Now somewhat fallen to decay,
    With weather-stains upon the wall,
    And stairways worn, and crazy doors,
    And creaking and uneven floors,
    And chimneys huge, and tiled and tall.

    A region of repose it seems,
    A place of slumber and of dreams,
    Remote among the wooded hills!
    For there no noisy railway speeds,
    Its torch-race scattering smoke and gleeds;
    But noon and night, the panting teams
    Stop under the great oaks, that throw
    Tangles of light and shade below,
    On roofs and doors and window-sills.
    Across the road the barns display
    Their lines of stalls, their mows of hay,
    Through the wide doors the breezes blow,
    The wattled cocks strut to and fro,
    And, half effaced by rain and shine,
    The Red Horse prances on the sign.
    Round this old-fashioned, quaint abode
    Deep silence reigned, save when a gust
    Went rushing down the county road,
    And skeletons of leaves, and dust,
    A moment quickened by its breath,
    Shuddered and danced their dance of death,
    And through the ancient oaks o'erhead
    Mysterious voices moaned and fled.

    But from the parlor of the inn
    A pleasant murmur smote the ear,
    Like water rushing through a weir:
    Oft interrupted by the din
    Of laughter and of loud applause,
    And, in each intervening pause,
    The music of a violin.
    The fire-light, shedding over all
    The splendor of its ruddy glow,
    Filled the whole parlor large and low;
    It gleamed on wainscot and on wall,
    It touched with more than wonted grace
    Fair Princess Mary's pictured face;
    It bronzed the rafters overhead,
    On the old spinet's ivory keys
    It played inaudible melodies,
    It crowned the sombre clock with flame,
    The hands, the hours, the maker's name,
    And painted with a livelier red
    The Landlord's coat-of-arms again;
    And, flashing on the window-pane,
    Emblazoned with its light and shade
    The jovial rhymes, that still remain,
    Writ near a century ago,
    By the great Major Molineaux,
    Whom Hawthorne has immortal made.

    Before the blazing fire of wood
    Erect the rapt musician stood;
    And ever and anon he bent
    His head upon his instrument,
    And seemed to listen, till he caught
    Confessions of its secret thought,--
    The joy, the triumph, the lament,
    The exultation and the pain;
    Then, by the magic of his art,
    He soothed the throbbings of its heart,
    And lulled it into peace again.

    Around the fireside at their ease
    There sat a group of friends, entranced
    With the delicious melodies
    Who from the far-off noisy town
    Had to the wayside inn come down,
    To rest beneath its old oak-trees.
    The fire-light on their faces glanced,
    Their shadows on the wainscot danced,
    And, though of different lands and speech,
    Each had his tale to tell, and each
    Was anxious to be pleased and please.
    And while the sweet musician plays,
    Let me in outline sketch them all,
    Perchance uncouthly as the blaze
    With its uncertain touch portrays
    Their shadowy semblance on the wall.

    But first the Landlord will I trace;
    Grave in his aspect and attire;
    A man of ancient pedigree,
    A Justice of the Peace was he,
    Known in all Sudbury as "The Squire."
    Proud was he of his name and race,
    Of old Sir William and Sir Hugh,
    And in the parlor, full in view,
    His coat-of-arms, well framed and glazed,
    Upon the wall in colors blazed;
    He beareth gules upon his shield,
    A chevron argent in the field,
    With three wolf's heads, and for the crest
    A Wyvern part-per-pale addressed
    Upon a helmet barred; below
    The scroll reads, "By the name of Howe."
    And over this, no longer bright,
    Though glimmering with a latent light,
    Was hung the sword his grandsire bore
    In the rebellious days of yore,
    Down there at Concord in the fight.

    A youth was there, of quiet ways,
    A Student of old books and days,
    To whom all tongues and lands were known
    And yet a lover of his own;
    With many a social virtue graced,
    And yet a friend of solitude;
    A man of such a genial mood
    The heart of all things he embraced,
    And yet of such fastidious taste,
    He never found the best too good.
    Books were his passion and delight,
    And in his upper room at home
    Stood many a rare and sumptuous tome,
    In vellum bound, with gold bedight,
    Great volumes garmented in white,
    Recalling Florence, Pisa, Rome.
    He loved the twilight that surrounds
    The border-land of old romance;
    Where glitter hauberk, helm, and lance,
    And banner waves, and trumpet sounds,
    And ladies ride with hawk on wrist,
    And mighty warriors sweep along,
    Magnified by the purple mist,
    The dusk of centuries and of song.
    The chronicles of Charlemagne,
    Of Merlin and the Mort d'Arthure,
    Mingled together in his brain
    With tales of Flores and Blanchefleur,
    Sir Ferumbras, Sir Eglamour,
    Sir Launcelot, Sir Morgadour,
    Sir Guy, Sir Bevis, Sir Gawain.

    A young Sicilian, too, was there;
    In sight of Etna born and bred,
    Some breath of its volcanic air
    Was glowing in his heart and brain,
    And, being rebellious to his liege,
    After Palermo's fatal siege,
    Across the western seas he fled,
    In good King Bomba's happy reign.
    His face was like a summer night,
    All flooded with a dusky light;
    His hands were small; his teeth shone white
    As sea-shells, when he smiled or spoke;
    His sinews supple and strong as oak;
    Clean shaven was he as a priest,
    Who at the mass on Sunday sings,
    Save that upon his upper lip
    His beard, a good palm's length least,
    Level and pointed at the tip,
    Shot sideways, like a swallow's wings.
    The poets read he o'er and o'er,
    And most of all the Immortal Four
    Of Italy; and next to those,
    The story-telling bard of prose,
    Who wrote the joyous Tuscan tales
    Of the Decameron, that make
    Fiesole's green hills and vales
    Remembered for Boccaccio's sake.
    Much too of music was his thought;
    The melodies and measures fraught
    With sunshine and the open air,
    Of vineyards and the singing sea
    Of his beloved Sicily;
    And much it pleased him to peruse
    The songs of the Sicilian muse,--
    Bucolic songs by Meli sung
    In the familiar peasant tongue,
    That made men say, "Behold! once more
    The pitying gods to earth restore
    Theocritus of Syracuse!"

    A Spanish Jew from Alicant
    With aspect grand and grave was there;
    Vender of silks and fabrics rare,
    And attar of rose from the Levant.
    Like an old Patriarch he appeared,
    Abraham or Isaac, or at least
    Some later Prophet or High-Priest;
    With lustrous eyes, and olive skin,
    And, wildly tossed from cheeks and chin,
    The tumbling cataract of his beard.
    His garments breathed a spicy scent
    Of cinnamon and sandal blent,
    Like the soft aromatic gales
    That meet the mariner, who sails
    Through the Moluccas, and the seas
    That wash the shores of Celebes.
    All stories that recorded are
    By Pierre Alphonse he knew by heart,
    And it was rumored he could say
    The Parables of Sandabar,
    And all the Fables of Pilpay,
    Or if not all, the greater part!
    Well versed was he in Hebrew books,
    Talmud and Targum, and the lore
    Of Kabala; and evermore
    There was a mystery in his looks;
    His eyes seemed gazing far away,
    As if in vision or in trance
    He heard the solemn sackbut play,
    And saw the Jewish maidens dance.

    A Theologian, from the school
    Of Cambridge on the Charles, was there;
    Skilful alike with tongue and pen,
    He preached to all men everywhere
    The Gospel of the Golden Rule,
    The New Commandment given to men,
    Thinking the deed, and not the creed,
    Would help us in our utmost need.
    With reverent feet the earth he trod,
    Nor banished nature from his plan,
    But studied still with deep research
    To build the Universal Church,
    Lofty as in the love of God,
    And ample as the wants of man.

    A Poet, too, was there, whose verse
    Was tender, musical, and terse;
    The inspiration, the delight,
    The gleam, the glory, the swift flight,
    Of thoughts so sudden, that they seem
    The revelations of a dream,
    All these were his; but with them came
    No envy of another's fame;
    He did not find his sleep less sweet
    For music in some neighboring street,
    Nor rustling hear in every breeze
    The laurels of Miltiades.
    Honor and blessings on his head
    While living, good report when dead,
    Who, not too eager for renown,
    Accepts, but does not clutch, the crown!

    Last the Musician, as he stood
    Illumined by that fire of wood;
    Fair-haired, blue-eyed, his aspect blithe.
    His figure tall and straight and lithe,
    And every feature of his face
    Revealing his Norwegian race;
    A radiance, streaming from within,
    Around his eyes and forehead beamed,
    The Angel with the violin,
    Painted by Raphael, he seemed.
    He lived in that ideal world
    Whose language is not speech, but song;
    Around him evermore the throng
    Of elves and sprites their dances whirled;
    The Stromkarl sang, the cataract hurled
    Its headlong waters from the height;
    And mingled in the wild delight
    The scream of sea-birds in their flight,
    The rumor of the forest trees,
    The plunge of the implacable seas,
    The tumult of the wind at night,
    Voices of eld, like trumpets blowing,
    Old ballads, and wild melodies
    Through mist and darkness pouring forth,
    Like Elivagar's river flowing
    Out of the glaciers of the North.

    The instrument on which he played
    Was in Cremona's workshops made,
    By a great master of the past,
    Ere yet was lost the art divine;
    Fashioned of maple and of pine,
    That in Tyrolian forests vast
    Had rocked and wrestled with the blast;
    Exquisite was it in design,
    Perfect in each minutest part.
    A marvel of the lutist's art;
    And in its hollow chamber, thus,
    The maker from whose hands it came
    Had written his unrivalled name,--
    "Antonius Stradivarius."

    And when he played, the atmosphere
    Was filled with magic, and the ear
    Caught echoes of that Harp of Gold,
    Whose music had so weird a sound,
    The hunted stag forgot to bound,
    The leaping rivulet backward rolled,
    The birds came down from bush and tree,
    The dead came from beneath the sea,
    The maiden to the harper's knee!

    The music ceased; the applause was loud,
    The pleased musician smiled and bowed;
    The wood-fire clapped its hands of flame,
    The shadows on the wainscot stirred,
    And from the harpsichord there came
    A ghostly murmur of acclaim,
    A sound like that sent down at night
    By birds of passage in their flight,
    From the remotest distance heard.

    Then silence followed; then began
    A clamor for the Landlord's tale,--
    The story promised them of old,
    They said, but always left untold;
    And he, although a bashful man,
    And all his courage seemed to fail,
    Finding excuse of no avail,
    Yielded; and thus the story ran.


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