The Widowed Bride

by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens

The Morn awoke in Hindostan,
And blushing, left the couch of Night,
While soon her rosy smiles began,
To flood the dewy earth with light.
While yet the sultry day was young,
Came forth a happy bridal band,
With sunny smiles and English tongue,
Which spoke them of a distant land;
They gathered round an altar-stone,
Erected to the one Most High,
Standing in solitude alone,
Mid signs of dark idolatry.
Then two came slowly from the crowd;
He with a bearing bold and proud,
A haughty smile and flashing eye,
Darkling with love's intensity;
While she, the high-born English bride,
Drew closer to that one dear side;
Her eyelids drooped, her cheek grew pale
As snow, beneath the bridal veil,
As if the weight of her own bliss
Were all too much of happiness,
To thrill her heart and light her eye
Beneath another's scrutiny.
On crimson cushions dropped with gold
The youthful pair together bow;
Before that priest in surplice-fold
They clasp their trembling fingers now;
A prayer is heard—the oath is said—
That gentle creature lifts her head—
A voice has thrilled into her heart,
Like music breathed to it apart,—
To lie there an abiding spell,
To haunt forever memory's cell—
To mingle with her latest breath
And light the very wing of death.
Her vow was uttered timidly—
With half a murmur, half a sigh;
Yet the low faltering sound confessed
The love that brooded in her breast.
The golden ring is on her hand—
She is pronounced a wedded bride;
Oh say, why does she lingering stand
So long that altar-stone beside?
And whence the misty tears that dim
The sunny azure of her eye?
Why leans her slender form on him?
Why does she sob so bitterly?
Well may she weep, that fair young bride;
For up the Ganges' golden tide,
Mid jungles deep, where beasts of prey
With pestilence hold deadly sway,
Where the wild waters fiercest sweep,
And serpents in their venom sleep,
Beneath each dewy leaf and flower,
That gentle bride must build her bower.
In the cool shadow of the shore,
With snowy streamers floating wide,
To the light dipping of the oar,
The budgerow swept o'er the tide;
The soft breeze ling'ring at her prow,
Where many a garland graceful hung,
In hues of purple, gold and snow,
And on the rippling waters flung
An odor sweet and delicate,
As that which all imprisoned lies,
Unknown to man as his own fate,
Within the flowers of Paradise.
Beneath an awning's silken shade,
Where the light breeze its music made,
With woven fringe and silken cord,
Sat the young bride with her brave lord.
Her hand in his was ling'ring still,
And every throb of his full heart
Met her young pulses with a thrill,
And sent the blood up with a start,
To that round cheek but late so pale
And blanched beneath the bridal veil.
A tear still trembled in her eye,
Like dews that in the violet lie;
But breaking through its lovely sheen,
The brightness of her soul was seen,
Like light within the amethyst,
Which told how truly she was blest;
Though as she met his ardent gaze,
Like the veined petal of a flower
Her eyelids drooped, as from the blaze
Of some loved, high, but dreaded power.
As bound by some subduing spell,
In beauty at his side she bowed.
The bridal robe around her fell,
Like fragments of a summer cloud;
The loosened veil had backward swept,
And deeply in her glossy hair,
Like light, the orange blossoms slept,
As if they sought new beauty there;
And pearls lay softly on her neck,
Like hailstones melting over snow,
Save when the blood, that dyed her cheek.
Diffused abroad its rosy glow,
And playing on her bosom-swell,
With every heart-pulse rose or fell.
Up went the sun; his burning rays
Broke o'er the stream like sparkling fire,
Till the broad Ganges seemed a-blaze,
With gorgeous light, save where the spire
Of some lone slender minaret,
Threw its clear shadow on the stream,
Or grove-like banian firmly set,
Broke with its boughs the fiery gleam;
Or where a white pagoda shone
Like snow-drift through the shadowy trees;
Or ancient mosque stood out alone,
Where the wild creeper sought the breeze;
Or where some dark and gloomy rock
Shot o'er the deep its ragged cliffs,
Inhabited by many a flock
Of vultures, and its yawning rifts
Alive with lizards, glowing, bright,
As if a prism's changing light
Within the gloomy depths were flung,
Where like rich jewels newly strung,
The sleeping serpent stretched its length,
And nursed its venom into strength.
Where the broad stream in shadow lay,
The bridal barque kept on her way,
While every breeze that swept them o'er,
Brought loads of incense from the shore;
Where each luxuriant jungle lay
A wilderness of tangled flowers,
And budding vines in wanton play
Fell from the trees in leafy showers,
Flinging their graceful garlands o'er
The rippling stream and reedy shore;
The lily bared its snowy breast,
Swayed its full anthers like a crest,
And softly from its pearly swell,
A shower of golden powder fell
Among the humbler flowers that lay
And blushed their fragrant lives away;
There oleanders lightly wreathed
Their blossoms in a coronal,
And the rich baubool softly breathed
A perfume from its golden bell;
There flower and shrub and spicy tree
Seemed struggling for sweet mastery;
And many a bird with gorgeous plume,
Fluttered along the flowery gloom,
Or on the spicy branches lay,
Uttering a sleepy roundelay;
While insects rushing out like gems,
Or showery sparks at random flung,
Through ripening fruit and slender stems
There to the breathing blossoms clung,
Studded the glowing boughs and threw
O'er the broad bank a brilliant hue.
On—on they went; a fanning breeze
Came sighing through the balmy trees,
And undulating o'er the stream
Rose tiny wavelets, like the gleam
Of molten gold, and crested all
With a bright trembling coronal,
Like that which Brahmins in their dream
Lavish upon the sacred stream.
Then all grew still. The sultry air
Lay stagnant in the jungles there—
The sun poured down his fervent heat;
The river lay a burnished sheet;
The floweret closed its withered bell;
From the parched leaf the insect fell;
The panting birds all tuneless clung
To the still boughs, where late they sung;
The dying blossoms felt the calm,
And the still air was thick with balm.
All things grew faint in that hot noon,
As Nature's self lay in a swoon.
And she, that gentle, loving fair,
How brooks her form the sultry air?
Most patiently—but see her now!
What fear convulses her pale brow?
And why that half-averted eye,
Watching his look so anxiously?
The scarlet burning in his cheek—
Those lips all parched and motionless?
Oh! do they fell disease bespeak?
Or only simple weariness?
One look! the dreadful certainty
Wrings from her heart a stifled cry;
And now half phrensied with despair,
She rends the blossoms from her hair,
And leaping to the vessel's side
She drenched them in the sluggish tide;
Then to the cushions where he lay,
Senseless and fevered with disease,
Panting his very life away,
She rushed, and sinking to her knees,
Raised softly up his throbbing head,
And pillowed it upon her breast—
Then on his burning forehead laid
The dripping flowers, and wildly pressed
Her pallid mouth upon his brow,
And drew him closer to her heart,
As if she thought each trembling throe
Could unto his, new life impart.
Wildly to his she laid her cheek,
And backward threw her loosened hair,
That not a glossy curl might break
From off his face the sluggish air.
The noon swept by, and there was she
Counting his pulses as they rose,
Striving with broken melody
To hush him to a short repose,
Bathing his brow and twining still
Her fingers in his burning hand,
Her heart's blood stopping with a chill
Whene'er he could not understand,
Nor answer to her gentle clasp;
But dashed that little hand away,
Or crushed it with delirious grasp,
Entreating tenderly her stay.
Father of heaven! and must he die?
She breathed in her heart's agony,
As up with every painful breath,
Came to his lips the foam of death,
And o'er his swollen forehead played,
Like serpents by the sun betrayed,
The corded veins whose purple swell,
With his hot pulses rose and fell.
Those drops upon his temple there,
The rolling eye, the gloomy hair,
The livid lip, the drooping chin,
And the death-rattle deep within,
That speechless one, so late thy pride—
There lies thy answer, widowed bride!
Half conscious of her misery,
Like something chiselled o'er a grave,
She placed her small hand anxiously
Upon the lifeless heart, and gave
One cry—but one—of such despair,
The jackall startled from his lair,
And answered back that fearful knell,
With a long, sharp and hungry yell.
A slow and solemn hour swept by,
And there, all still and motionless,
With rigid limb and stony eye,
The widow knelt in her distress.
With pitying looks the swarthy crew
Around the tearless mourner drew,
And trembling strove to force away
From her chill arms the senseless clay.
Slowly she raised her awful head;
A slight convulsion stirr'd her face;
Close to her heart she snatched the dead,
And held him in a strong embrace;
Then drawing o'er his brow her veil,
She turned her face as strangely wild,
As if a fiend had mocked her wail,
Parted her marble lips and smiled.
Twice she essayed to speak, and then
Her face drooped o'er the corpse again,
While forth from the disshevelled hair
A husky whisper stirred the air.
'Nay, bury him not here,' it said,
'I would have prayers above my dead;'
Then, one by one, the timid crew,
From the infected barge withdrew:
Helmsmen and servants, all were gone;
The wife was with her dead alone.
With no propelling arm to guide,
The barque turned slowly with the tide,
And on the heavy current swept
Its slow, funereal pathway back,
Where the expiring sunbeams slept,
Like gold along its morning track.
The day threw out its dying gleam,
Imbuing with its tints the stream,
As if the mighty river rolled
O'er beds of ruby—sands of gold.
As if some seraph just had hung
In the blue west his coronet,
The timid moon came out and flung
Her pearly smiles about—then set,
As if she feared the stars would dim
The silvery brightness of her rim;
Then in the blue and deepening skies
The stars sprang out, like glowing eyes,
And on the stream reflected lay,
Like ingots down the watery way;
And softly streamed the starry light
Down to the wet and gloomy trees,
Where fiery flies were flashing bright,
Afloat upon the evening breeze,
Or like some fairy, tiny lamp,
Glow'd out among the stirring leaves,
And down among the rushes damp,
Where Pestilence her vapor weaves,
Till shrub and reed, and slender stems,
Seemed drooping with a shower of gems.
The Widow raised her head once more,
Turned her still look upon the sky,
The lighted stream and broken shore;
Oh, God! it was a mockery,
—The bridegroom—Death—upon her breast
For aye possessing and possessed!
With the deep calmness of despair,
The mourner raised his marble head,
And on the silken cushions there,
With icy hands, composed the dead;
Then tore her veil off for a shroud,
And in her voiceless mourning bowed.
That holy sorrow might have awed
The very wind—but mockingly
It flung his matted hair abroad,
As trifling with her agony,
And with a low and moaning wail
Bore on its wings the bridal veil;
Then came a cold and starry ray,
And on his marble forehead lay.
Father of heaven! she could not brook
That floating hair, that rigid look.
With one quick gasp she forward sprung,
And to the helm in frenzy clung,
Until the barque shot on its way
Where a dense shadow darkest lay;
And there, as shrouded with a pall,
The barge swept to the very shore;
The fell hyena's fiendish call
Rang wildly to her ear once more,
And from the deep dark solitude
She saw the hungry jackall creep,
And whimper for his nightly food,
Where many a monster lay asleep
Just in the margin of the flood,
As resting from a feast of blood.
Around the corpse the widow flung
Her snowy arms, and madly clung
To that cold bosom, whence a chill
Shot through her heart, and frantic still
Her eyes in horror turned to seek
That prowling beast, whose hungry jaws
Worked fiercely and began to reek
With eager foam, as with his paws
He tore the turf impatiently,
And howling snuffed the passing clay.
It was not that she feared to die;
In the deep stillness of her heart,
Her spirit prayed most fervently
There with the dead to hold its part.
The only boon she cared to crave,
Was for them both a christian grave;
But oh! the agonizing thought!
That in her madness she had brought
That loved and lost one, for a feast,
To vulture and to prowling beast,
Where all things fierce and wild had come
To howl a horrid requiem.
But soon a stronger current bore
The freight of death from off the shore;
Again the trembling starlight broke
Above the still and changing clay,
And with its pearly kisses woke
The widow from her trance, who lay
Convulsed and shivering with dread,
Her white arms clinging to the dead;
For yet the stilly night wind bore
The wild beasts' disappointed roar.
Within the far o'erhanging wood,
A bulbul listening to her heart,
Poured forth upon the air a flood
Of gushing love;—with lips apart
The widow clasped her trembling hands,
And bent her ear to catch the strain,
As if a seraph's low commands
Were breathed into her soul;—again,
That heavenly sound came gushing out,
Like waters in their leaping shout;
Over her heart's deep frozen spring
The gentle strain went lingering,
And touched each icy tear that slept
With sudden life, until she wept.

Again the lovely morn awoke
Upon that temple still and lone;
Its rosy bloom in gladness broke,
And to the holy altar-stone
Came down subduedly and dim,
Through painted glass, o'er sculptured limb:
Outstretched within that gorgeous gloom,
Shaded by pall and sable plume,
As chisseled from the very stone,
The Bridegroom lay. A broken moan
Rose up from where the Widow bowed,
Her forehead buried in the pall,
Her fingers grasping still the shroud,
And every limb betraying all
The agony that wrung her heart.
It was a sad and fearful sight,
That lifted head, those lips apart,
When through the dim and purplish light
Those who obeyed the bridal call
Now gathered for the funeral;
A soft and solemn strain awoke
The silence of that lofty dome,
And through the fretted arches broke
The music surging to its home;
Then with a firm and heavy tread
The bearers slowly raised the dead;
She followed close, her trembling hand
Still clenched upon the gloomy pall,
In snowy robes and pearly band,
As at her wedding festival;
And in her bright disshevelled hair
A broken orange-blossom lay,
Withered and all entangled there;
Fit relic of her bridal day;
Thus onward to the tomb she passed,
Her white robe swaying to the blast,
And mingling at each stirring breath
There with the drapery of death.