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The Romance Of Britomarte
by [?]


As related by Sergeant Leigh on the night
he got his captaincy at the Restoration.

I’ll tell you a story; but pass the “jack”,
And let us make merry to-night, my men.
Aye, those were the days when my beard was black–
I like to remember them now and then–
Then Miles was living, and Cuthbert there,
On his lip was never a sign of down;
But I carry about some braided hair,
That has not yet changed from the glossy brown
That it showed the day when I broke the heart
Of that bravest of destriers, “Britomarte”.

Sir Hugh was slain (may his soul find grace!)
In the fray that was neither lost nor won
At Edgehill–then to St. Hubert’s Chase
Lord Goring despatched a garrison–
But men and horses were ill to spare,
And ere long the soldiers were shifted fast.
As for me, I never was quartered there
Till Marston Moor had been lost; at last,
As luck would have it, alone, and late
In the night, I rode to the northern gate.

I thought, as I passed through the moonlit park,
On the boyish days I used to spend
In the halls of the knight lying stiff and stark–
Thought on his lady, my father’s friend
(Mine, too, in spite of my sinister bar,
But with that my story has naught to do)–
She died the winter before the war–
Died giving birth to the baby Hugh.
He pass’d ere the green leaves clothed the bough,
And the orphan girl was the heiress now.

When I was a rude and a reckless boy,
And she a brave and a beautiful child,
I was her page, her playmate, her toy–
I have crown’d her hair with the field-flowers wild,
Cowslip and crow-foot and colt’s-foot bright–
I have carried her miles when the woods were wet,
I have read her romances of dame and knight;
She was my princess, my pride, my pet,
There was then this proverb us twain between,
For the glory of God and of Gwendoline.

She had grown to a maiden wonderful fair,
But for years I had scarcely seen her face.
Now, with troopers Holdsworth, Huntly, and Clare,
Old Miles kept guard at St. Hubert’s Chase,
And the chatelaine was a Mistress Ruth,
Sir Hugh’s half-sister, an ancient dame,
But a mettlesome soul had she forsooth,
As she show’d when the time of her trial came.
I bore despatches to Miles and to her,
To warn them against the bands of Kerr.

And mine would have been a perilous ride
With the rebel horsemen–we knew not where
They were scattered over that country side,–
If it had not been for my brave brown mare.
She was iron-sinew’d and satin-skinn’d,
Ribb’d like a drum and limb’d like a deer,
Fierce as the fire and fleet as the wind–
There was nothing she couldn’t climb or clear–
Rich lords had vex’d me, in vain, to part,
For their gold and silver, with Britomarte.

Next morn we muster’d scarce half a score,
With the serving men, who were poorly arm’d–
Five soldiers, counting myself, no more,
And a culverin, which might well have harm’d
Us, had we used it, but not our foes,
When, with horses and foot, to our doors they came,
And a psalm-singer summon’d us (through his nose),
And deliver’d–“This, in the people’s name,
Unto whoso holdeth this fortress here,
Surrender! or bide the siege–John Kerr.”

‘Twas a mansion built in a style too new,
A castle by courtesy, he lied
Who called it a fortress–yet, ’tis true,
It had been indifferently fortified–
We were well provided with bolt and bar–
And while I hurried to place our men,
Old Miles was call’d to a council of war
With Mistress Ruth and with HER, and when
They had argued loudly and long, those three,
They sent, as a last resource, for me.