19th Century

The Lovers: A Legend of Guernsey | G.W.M. Reynolds

By George W.M. Reynolds

For more information about Guernsey in the Victorian era, head on over to William Denicher’s fascinating site containing a number of short articles and contemporary images.

On Sarnia’s shores the gales are soft,[1]

   And all the maids are passing fair,[2]

That wander in her gardens oft,

   To meet their own true lovers there:—

But none was fairer in that isle

Than Elgitha, whose very smile

   Might win an angel from his skies,

And heav’nly cherubim beguile

   To leave their native paradise.

And Albert owns the maiden’s love—

   Oh! he must be supremely blest ;

Less sweet the pleasures of above,

   Less enviable to be possess’d

Of boundless wealth and countless store,

   And Harems fill’d with women bright,

   That scarce endure their master’s sight,—

He craved not these, for she was more!

And they are wand’ring in the vale,

And she is list’ning to the tale

   Young Albert’s lips are breathing;

Less sweet to her the lovliest rose

That in her own fair garden grows,

   Less sweet the jasmine wreathing

Above the maiden’s fav’rite bow’r,

Than Albert’s syllables that hour.

They told of passion never ceasing,

   And she the object of that love;

Thou canst not wonder words so pleasing

   Might waft her senses to above,

As saints have been in slumbers deep,—

But those the dreams that fled with sleep,

   And this would never, never die;

   For while on earth ’twas her’s to stay,

Still would this one celestial ray

Gild ever radiantly her day,

And light th’ horizon of her sky!

Now the shades of night had begun to fall,

As they reach’d at length her father’s hall;

And they linger’d a moment in the grove

To utter their parting sounds of love,

And to witness the Moon in her virgin splendour,

As they breath’d their adieus and farewells tender.

At length they part, and the green-wood shade

Has veil’d from her lover’s eye the maid:

He hurried apace to the open plain,

And homeward has trac’d his steps again;

He saw the light from his turret gleaming,

Around on the plain was its lustre streaming,

Brighter by far than Cynthia’s beaming.

He turn’d to the joyful beacon straight,

But, ere he has reach’d his castle-gate,

A challenge arrested his eager pace,

And a brand has wav’d across his face,

And a figure stern in his pathway stood,

That haply had issu’d from the wood,

Which on the right for a mile was spread;

But the youth has betrayed no sign of dread.

Now Albert knew that the pirates there

Often ravag’d the island fair,

And bore in their barks, across the main,

The wealthy till they were ransom’d again.

He answered not, but he drew his blade,

And a furious stroke at the pirate made;

But the seaman blew a whistle loud,

And quickly was join’d by a ruffian crowd;

Till they came he diverted the blows that thickly

Young Albert dealt with his weapon quickly,

As patters the hail on the window pane,

Or as falls in torrents the deluging rain.

They have hemm’d the young warrior in around,

They have dash’d his weapon to the ground,

And have bound him strongly, foot and hand,

At the voice of their daring chief’s command.

Their work was done without blood or slaughter,

And they bore their prey along to the water,

Where their anchor’d barge, in a little bay,

Securely moor’d from the curious lay.

In Albert’s breast there was scarcely scope

To entertain e’en the smallest hope;

But in deepest sorrow may come relief,

And the glow of bliss may exterminate grief,

When despair has seized on the wretched mind,

And the soul to suffer its ills is resign’d.

So came it now, as the lightning’s glance

O’er the gloom of night will suddenly dance.

“Release your prey!” The sudden word

Clearly by all the crew was heard;

The pirates smil’d to think that one

Should bid them leave their booty, won

   By toil and danger—often dar’d!

But, oh! the interval for thought

Amid that pirate crew was short;

In vain might they till death have fought,

In vain a host of heroes brought,

   In vain their brands were bared!

A single warrior to the ground

Has borne the glaives of those around

   With one sweep of his own;

And on the ruffian-crew his eye,

Like angry meteor in the sky,

Glances so dread and fearfully,

   Their hearts grow cold as stone.

   As the snow melts away

   From the beam of the sun,

   So the glare of the ray

   From the eye of that one.

Dispers’d the crew; and now his hand

Unloos’d young Albert’s binding band.

’Twere vain to say how Albert gave

Meet thanks unto the stranger brave;

Or how upon his knees he fell,

   And to the Virgin there

Address’d himself; his beads did tell,

   And pour’d his fervent pray’r

To heav’n; but, ere his vows were done,

He chanced to gaze upon that one,

   And mark’d that stranger’s eye.

Great God! the boldest hero’s breast

That moment terror had confess’d,

   And sank all tremblingly.

There was indeed enough for fear

His lip wore a contemptuous sneer,

   His eye was far more bright

Than comet rushing in the heav’n,

Tow’rds Phoebus’ regal palace driv’n;

Or than the radiant beacon gleaming,

And high o’er Albert’s turrets beaming

   With far more pure a light!

“Albert!” exclaim’d the stranger then

“Yes—thou art like thy fellow-men;

For all must shudder when they see

A being in this world like me.

Yet, haply, to this hand of mine,

Which bears a power almost divine,

Your life to-night you owe;—some task

For this, then, in return I ask!

I wish a confidant, to hear

Secrets, that ne’er to mortal’s ear

By lips of mine were breath’d before

For this I sought your native shore,

As I have watch’d you from your birth

And you may live to scourge the earth.

Thou shalt inherit all my power

For that I sav’d thy life this hour!

Such is my hest—by few, O youth,

That were not quickly done, in sooth!

Hast thou ne’er heard of him whose life

Is not contingent on the strife,

Age, sickness, poison, or the knife

Him whose duration on this earth

Will reach to centuries from his birth?

But let it pass—behold him here—

Ah! well thy heart may sink with fear,

As thus these sounds so strange you hear!”

‘Thou wretched mortal!’ Albert cried—

“Of what avail’s thine earthly pride,

Since heav’n and immortality

Of future bliss are lost to thee?”

“Ah!” cried the other,—“what! dar’st thou

Revile the one who sav’d ere now

Thy life endanger’d.—But you fear

To ponder on the unborn year,

Because, amid the mists of time,

You see some penalty for crime,

And a small chance of doubtful bliss?

Oh! have I sav’d such heart as this?—

Go, recreant, go—worm of to-day—

I would not crush thee in my way:

Too insignificant for wrath,

I would not tread thee in my path!”

“Then take the life thou deign’st to save

This moment from the pirate’s glaive.

Deem’st thou my heart so weak, that taunts,

And all thy base alluring vaunts

Of earthly grandeur and of power,

Have force to make me wish the hour

That’s mine on earth—although so short—

Were long as thine? I spurn the thought,

And would not link with one like thee—

No, not for immortality!”

Stern was the glance that stranger gave—

“Then blindly rush into thy grave!

Not by my hand to-night—Oh! no—

This weapon shall not deal the blow:

My vengeance must have other sort

Of agony to make me sport!”

He paus’d an instant—then again

   Resum’d his converse stern:

“You love young Elgitha! how vain

Is mortal’s dream! a sullen train

Of woes, his happiness to pain,

   Will in a moment turn!

Speed on the bridal—haste the cheer—

Proclaim the hour of marriage near:

Hence—hence unto thy maiden dear,

And tell her whom thou hast met here!

Say that upon the bridal night

Will he join the assembly bright,

   And make her sport so rare,

That Sarnia’s island long shall ring

Of him that could perform such thing

   As I will show her there.

Farewell—farewell! Forget not thou

The message I have told thee now;

But haste thine Elgitha to tell—

Speed on the hour—till then, farewell!”

The night has pass’d—another day,

   Another, and another gone;

And many a week was whil’d away

   Since Albert saw that mystic one.

He told not Elgitha the tale,

   But kept it in his breast;

To sadden her, of what avail?

   Why need it be confess’d?


Her father’s halls with lamps are bright,

   And Elgitha is smiling there;

And Albert’s heart is gay and light—

   His love has never seem’d more fair!

That evening to his longing arms

Would give the maiden’s blushing charms;

   That eve would crown his bliss!

His days had been a scene of joy—

Since first he was an infant boy,

Those days had pass’d without alloy,

   But, oh! how blest was this!

The music seemed to breathe more sweet

   Than e’er before his ears did greet:

He felt more free—his heart more light

   Than e’er himself had known;

For, oh! it was the bridal night,

   And she is now his own!

Yes—Elgitha is Albert’s bride—

And there are gather’d Sarnia’s pride

   To welcome beauty’s fav’rite daughter:

Her eyes could scarce their raptures hide,—

   Those eyes, that, blue as ocean’s water

Around the island deeply flowing,

With perfect happiness were glowing.

By Elgitha so sweetly blushing,

   Young Albert’s standing now;

And while his very veins are flushing—

Those veins with liquid ardour gushing,

   And pleasure’s in his breast below,

To think how soon clasp’d in his arms,

Shall languish all those blooming charms—

He whispers tender things, and she

Fondly attends—but timidly.

“O Elgitha, this is reward

“For all the moments we have shar’d

    “Together faithfully—

“How bright our views of future bliss,

“For ev’ry day, as fair as this,

   “Changeless appears to be!

“And when—great God!”—why sinks he there

In agony of wild despair?

   Why groans his sorrowing breast!

And why is fix’d his glance upon,

Amid the crowd, a single One,

   That stands among the rest?

But, oh! that One—his very breath

Seems laden with the shafts of Death!

All look’d upon the object near,

That seem’d the cause of Albert’s fear;

None knew his person, nor his name,

Whence he had come, with whom he came;—

All shudder’d, as they each address’d

His neighbour, £who might be that guest?”

And he, with glance of eye so bright

As to outvie the torches’ light,

Was gazing on the luckless swain,

Who ne’er on earth shall breathe again!

Yes—he has fall’n, and breath’d his last,

His latest sigh is giv’n and past:

From bliss to sudden woe the turn

Came on so rapid and so stern,

His heart, too much elate with joy,

Broke ’neath that glance, which could destroy,

For ne’er was such unearthly light—

And this was Albert’s wedding night!

“ ‘Tis the IMMORTAL!” one and all

Cri’d out together in that hall!—

“It is th’Immortal!” he replied,”

“By whom this night has Albert died.

“Is not the scene a sport full rare?

“Go—gaze upon the body there,

“And learn that he, who dares my wrath,

“Shall thus be cut off in his path!—

“And you, young maiden, and your sire,

“That thus have mark’d your friend expire,

“Record in letters bright the thing,

“That Sarnia’s island long may ring

“With mem’ry of a deed so fell—

“Gentles, and lovely dames, farewell!”

None mov’d—and scatheless ‘mid them all

Has he departed from the hall;

Leaving behind him hearts too sad,

That but an hour before were glad.

— And what of Elgitha?—She liv’d—

But how that shock has she surviv’d?

Oh! frenzy seiz’d upon her brain,

And reason ne’er return’d again.

Still does her melancholy sprite

Ramble on Sarnia’s plains by night,

And breathe unto the list’ning gale

The sad adventures of her tale!

[1] ‘Sarnia’—The ancient name of Guernsey.

[2] G.W.M. Reynolds, The Lovers’, The Monthly Magazine, August 1837, pp. 175–80.