Percy's Reliques - Valentine and Ursine.

Valentine and Ursine.

            The old story-book of Valentine and Orson (which suggested the plan of this tale, but it is not strictly followed in it) was originally a translation from the French, being one of their earliest attempts at Romance. See "Le Bibliothèque de Romans," &c.

            The circumstance of the bridge of bells is taken from the old metrical legend of Sir Bevis, and has also been copied in the Seven Champions. The original lines are:

"Over the dyke a bridge there lay,
That man and beest might passe away:
Under the brydge were sixty belles;
Right as the Romans telles;
That there might no man passe in,
But all they rang with a gyn." -- Sign. E. iv.

                In the Editor's folio manuscript was an old poem on this subject, in a wretched corrupt state, unworthy the press: from which were taken such particulars as could be adopted.

PART THE FIRST

WHEN Flora 'gins to decke the fields
With colours fresh and fine,
Then holy clerkes their mattins sing
To good Saint Valentine!

The King of France that morning fair
He would a hunting ride;
To Artois forest prancing forth
In all his princelye pride.

To grace his sports a courtly train
Of gallant peers attend;
And with their loud and cheerful cryes
The hills and valleys rend.

Through the deep forest swift they pass,
Through woods and thickets wild;
When down within a lonely dell
They found a new-born child;

All in a scarlet kercher lay'd
Of silk so fine and thin;
A golden mantle wrapt him round,
Pinn'd with a silver pin.

The sudden sight surpriz'd them all;
The courtiers gather'd round;
They look, they call, the mother seek;
No mother could be found.

At length the king himself drew near,
And as he gazing stands,
The pretty babe look'd up and smil'd,
And stretch'd his little hands.

"Now, by the rood," King Pepin says,
"This child is passing fair;
I wot he is of gentle blood:
Perhaps some prince's heir.

"Goe bear him home unto my court
With all the care ye may.
Let him be christen'd Valentine,
In honour of this day;

"And look me out some cunning nurse;
Well nurtur'd let him bee;
Nor ought be wanting that becomes
A bairn of high degree."

They look'd him out a cunning nurse;
And nurtur'd well was hee;
Nor ought was wanting that became
A bairn of high degree.

Thus grewe the little Valentine,
Belov'd of king and peers,
And shew'd in all he spake or did
A wit beyond his years.

But chief in gallant feates of arms
He did himself advance,
That ere he grewe to man's estate
He had no peere in France.

And now the early downe began
To shade his youthful chin,
When Valentine was dubb'd a knight,
That he might glory win.

"A boon, a boon, my gracious liege,
I beg a boon of thee!
The first adventure that befalls,
May be reserv'd for mee."

"The first adventure shall be thine;"
The, king did smiling say:
Nor many days, when, lo! there came
Three palmers clad in graye.

"Help, gracious lord," they weeping say'd;
And knelt, as it was meet:
"From Artoys forest we be come,
With weak and wearye feet.

"Within those deep and drearye woods
There wends a savage boy;
Whose fierce and mortal rage doth yield
Thy subjects dire annoy.

"Mong ruthless beares he sure was bred;
He lurks within their den;
With beares he lives; with beares he feeds,
And drinks the blood of men.

"To more than savage strength he joins
A more than human skill;
For arms, ne cunning may suffice
His cruel rage to still."

Up then rose Sir Valentine,
And claim'd that arduous deed.
"Go forth and conquer, say'd the king,
And great shall be thy meed."

Well mounted on a milk-white steed,
His armour white as snow:
As well beseem'd a virgin knight,
Who ne'er had fought a foe.

To Artoys forest he repairs
With all the haste he may;
And soon he spies the savage youth
A rending of his prey.

His unkempt hair all matted hung
His shaggy shoulders round;
His eager eye all fiery glow'd;
His face with fury frown'd.

Like eagles' talons grew his nails;
His limbs were thick and strong;
And dreadful was the knotted oak
He bare with him along.

Soon as Sir Valentine approach'd,
He starts with sudden spring;
And yelling forth a hideous howl,
He made the forests ring.

As when a tyger fierce and fell
Hath spyed a passing roe,
And leaps at once upon his throat;
So sprung the savage foe;

So lightly leap'd with furious force
The gentle knight to seize,
But met his tall uplifted spear,
Which sunk him on his knees.

A second stroke so stiff and stern
Had laid the savage low;
But springing up, he rais'd his club,
And aim'd a dreadful blow.

The watchful warrior bent his head,
And shun'd the coming stroke;
Upon his taper spear it fell,
And all to shivers broke.

Then lighting nimbly from his steed,
He drew his burnisht brand;
The savage quick as lightning flew
To wrest it from his hand.

Three times he grasp'd the silver hilt;
Three times he felt the blade;
Three times it fell with furious force;
Three ghastly wounds it made.

Now with redoubled rage he roar'd;
His eye-ball flash'd with fire;
Each hairy limb with fury shook;
And all his heart was ire.

Then closing fast with furious gripe
He clasp'd the champion round,
And with a strong and sudden twist
He laid him on the ground.

But soon the knight, with active spring,
O'erturn'd his hairy foe:
And now between their sturdy fists
Past many a bruising blow.

They roll'd and grappled on the ground,
And there they struggled long;
Skilful and active was the knight;
The savage he was strong.

But brutal force and savage strength
To art and skill must yield:
Sir Valentine at length prevail'd,
And won the well-fought field.

Then binding strait his conquer'd foe
Fast with an iron chain,
He tyes him to his horse's tail,
And leads him o'er the plain.

To court his hairy captive soon
Sir Valentine doth bring;
And kneeling down upon his knee,
Presents him to the king.

With loss of blood and loss of strength
The savage tamer grew;
And to Sir Valentine became
A servant try'd and true.

And 'cause with beares he erst was bred,
Ursine they call his name;
A name which unto future times
The Muses shall proclame.

PART THE SECOND.

IN high renown with prince and peere
Now liv'd Sir Valentine;
His high renown with prince and peere
Made envious hearts repine.

It chanc'd the king upon a day
Prepar'd a sumptuous feast,
And there came lords, and dainty dames,
And many a noble guest.

Amid their cups, that freely flow'd,
Their revelry, and mirth,
A youthful knight tax'd Valentine
Of base and doubtful birth.

The foul reproach, so grossly urg'd,
His generous heart did wound;
And strait he vow'd he ne'er would rest
Till he his parents found.

Then bidding king and peers adieu,
Early one summer's day,
With faithful Ursine by his side,
From court he took his way.

O'er hill and valley, moss and moor,
For many a day they pass;
At length, upon a moated lake,[ 1]
They found a bridge of brass.

Beyond it rose a castle fair,
Y-built of marble-stone;
The battlements were gilt with gold,
And glittred in the sun.

Beneath the bridge, with strange device,
A hundred bells were hung;
That man, nor beast, might pass thereon,
But straight their larum rung.

This quickly found the youthful pair,
Who boldly crossing o'er,
The jangling sound bedeaft their ears,
And rung from shore to shore.

Quick at the sound the castle gates
Unlock'd and opened wide,
And strait a gyant huge and grim
Stalk'd forth with stately pride.

"Now yield you, caytiffs, to my will;"
He cried with hideous roar;
"Or else the wolves shall eat your flesh,
And ravens drink your gore."

"Vain boaster," said the youthful knight,
"I scorn thy threats and thee;
I trust to force thy brazen gates,
And set thy captives free."

Then putting spurs unto his steed,
He aim'd a dreadful thrust;
The spear against the gyant glanc'd,
And caus'd the blood to burst.

Mad and outrageous with the pain,
He whirl'd his mace of steel;
The very wind of such a blow
Had made the champion reel.

It haply mist; and now the knight
His glittering sword display'd,
And riding round with whirlwind speed
Oft made him feel the blade.

As when a large and monstrous oak
Unceasing axes hew,
So fast around the gyant's limbs
The blows quick-darting flew.

As when the boughs with hideous fall
Some hapless woodman crush,
With such a force the enormous foe
Did on the champion rush.

A fearful blow, alas! there came;
Both horse and knight it took,
And laid them senseless in the dust;
So fatal was the stroke.

Then smiling forth a hideous grin,
The gyant strides in haste,
And, stooping, aims a second stroke:
"Now caytiff breathe thy last!"

But ere it fell, two thundering blows
Upon his scull descend;
From Ursine's knotty club they came,
Who ran to save his friend.

Down sunk the gyant gaping wide,
And rolling his grim eyes;
The hairy youth repeats his blows;
He gasps, he groans, he dies.

Quickly Sir Valentine reviv'd
With Ursine's timely care;
And now to search the castle walls
The venturous youths repair.

The blood and bones of murder'd knights
They found where'er they came;
At length within a lonely cell
They saw a mournful dame.

Her gentle eyes were dim'd with tears;
Her cheeks were pale with woe;
And long Sir Valentine besought
Her doleful tale to know.

"Alas! young knight," she weeping said,
"Condole my wretched fate;
A childless mother here you see;
A wife without a mate.

"These twenty winters here forlorn
I've drawn my hated breath;
Sole witness of a monster's crimes,
And wishing aye for death.

"Know, I am sister of a king,
And in my early years
Was married to a mighty prince,
The fairest of his peers.

"With him I sweetly liv'd in love
A twelvemonth and a day;
When, lo! a foul and treacherous priest
Y-wrought our loves' decay.

"His seeming goodness wan him pow'r,
He had his master's ear:
And long to me and all the world,
He did a saint appear.

"One day, when we were all alone;
He proffer'd odious love:
The wretch with horrour I repuls'd,
And from my presence drove.

"He feign'd remorse, and piteous beg'd
His crime I'd not reveal;
Which, for his seeming penitence,
I promis'd to conceal.

"With treason, villainy, and wrong,
My goodness he repay'd;
With jealous doubts he fill'd my lord,
And me to woe betray'd.

"He hid a slave within my bed,
Then rais'd a bitter cry.
My lord, possest with rage, condemn'd
Me, all unheard, to dye.

"But 'cause I then was great with child,
At length my life he spar'd;
But bade me instant quit the realme,
One trusty knight my guard.

"Forth on my journey I depart,
Opprest with grief and woe,
And tow'rds my brother's distant court,
With breaking heart, I goe.

"Long time thro' sundry foreign lands
We slowly pace along;
At length, within a forest wild,
I fell in labour strong;

"And while the knight for succour sought,
And left me there forlorn,
My childbed pains so fast increast
Two lovely boys were born.

"The eldest fair, and smooth, as snow
That tips the mountain hoar:
The younger's little body rough
With hairs was cover'd o'er.

"But here afresh begin my woes:
While tender care I took
To shield my eldest from the cold,
And wrap him in my cloak,

"A prowling bear burst from the wood,
And seiz'd my younger son;
Affection lent my weakness wings,
And after them I run.

"But all forewearied, weak and spent,
I quickly swoon'd away;
And there beneath the greenwood shade
Long time I lifeless lay.

"At length the knight brought me relief,
And rais'd me from the ground;
But neither of my pretty babes
Could ever more be found.

"And, while in search we wander'd far,
We met that gyant grim,
Who ruthless slew my trusty knight,
And bare me off with him.

"But charm'd by heav'n, or else my griefs,
He offer'd me no wrong;
Save that within these lonely walls
I've been immur'd so long."

"Now, surely," said the youthful knight,
"You are Lady Bellisance,
Wife to the Grecian Emperor;
Your brother's King of France.

"For in your royal brother's court
Myself my breeding had;
Where oft the story of your woes
Hath made my bosom sad.

If so, know your accuser's dead,
And dying own'd his crime;
And long your lord hath sought you out
Thro' every foreign clime.

"And when no tidings he could learn
Of his much-wronged wife,
He vow'd thenceforth within his court
To lead a hermit's life."

"Now heaven is kind!" the lady said;
And dropt a joyful tear:
"Shall I once more behold my lord?
That lord I love so dear?"

"But, Madam," said Sir Valentine,
And knelt upon his knee;
"Know you the cloak that wrapt your babe,
If you the same should see?"

And pulling forth the cloth of gold,
In which himself was found,
The lady gave a sudden shriek,
And fainted on the ground.

But by his pious care reviv'd,
His tale she heard anon;
And soon by other tokens found,
He was indeed her son.

"But who's this hairy youth?" she said;
"He much resembles thee:
The bear devour'd my younger son,
Or sure that son were he."

"Madam, this youth with bears was bred,
And rear'd within their den.
But recollect ye any mark
To know your son agen?"

"Upon his little side," quoth she,
"Was stampt a bloody rose."
"Here, lady, see the crimson mark
Upon his body grows!"

Then clasping both her new-found sons
She bath'd their cheeks with tears;
And soon towards her brother's court
Her joyful course she steers.

What pen can paint King Pepin's joy,
His sister thus restor'd!
And soon a messenger was sent
To chear her drooping lord,

Who came in haste with all his peers,
To fetch her home to Greece;
Where many happy years they reign'd
In perfect love and peace.

To them Sir Ursine did succeed,
And long the scepter bare.
Sir Valentine he stay'd in France,
And was his uncle's heir.

***

NOTES

1. i.e. a lake that served for a moat to a castle.

 

Previous Next