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The Three Friends

(From the French)

 

THE sword slew one in deadly strife ;

One perished by the bowl ;

The third lies self-slain by the knife ;

For three the bells may toll—

I loved her better than my life,

And better than my soul.

 

Aye, father ! hast thou come at last ?

'Tis somewhat late to pray ;

Life's crimson tides are ebbing fast,

They drain my soul away ;

Mine eyes with film are overcast,

The lights are waning grey.

 

This curl from her bright head I shore,

And this her hands gave mine ;

See, one is stained with purple gore,

And one with poison'd wine ;

Give these to her when all is o'er—

How serpent-like they twine !

 

We three were brethren in arms,

And sworn companions we ;

We held this motto, 'Whoso harms

The one shall harm the three !'

Till, matchless for her subtle charms,

Beloved of each was she.

 

(These two were slain that I might kiss

Her sweet mouth. I did well ;

I said, 'There is no greater bliss

For those in heaven that dwell' ;

I lost her ; then I said, 'There is

No fiercer pang in hell !')

 

We have upheld each other's rights,

Shared purse, and borrow'd blade ;

Have stricken side by side in fights ;

And side by side have prayed

In churches. We were Christian knights,

And she a Christian maid.

 

We met at sunrise, he and I,

My comrade—'twas agreed

The steel our quarrel first should try,

The poison should succeed ;

For two of three were doom'd to die,

And one was doomed to bleed.

 

We buckled to the doubtful fray,

At first, with some remorse ;

But he who must be slain—or slay,

Soon strikes with vengeful force.

He fell ; I left him where he lay,

Among the trampled gorse.

 

Did passion warp my heart and head

To madness ? And, if so,

Can madness palliate bloodshed ?—

It may be—I shall know

When God shall gather up the dead

From where the four winds blow.

 

We met at sunset, he and I—

My second comrade true ;

Two cups with wine were brimming high,

And one was drugg'd—we knew

Not which, nor sought we to descry ;

Our choice by lot we drew.

 

And there I sat with him to sup :

I heard him blithely speak

Of bygone days—the fatal cup

Forgotten seem'd—his cheek

Was ruddy : father, raise me up,

My voice is waxing weak.

 

We drank ; his lips turned livid white,

His cheeks grew leaden ash ;

He reel'd—I heard his temples smite

The threshold with a crash !

And from his hand, in shivers bright,

I saw the goblet flash.

 

The morrow dawn'd with fragrance rare,

The May-breeze, from the west,

Just fann'd the sleepy olives, where

She heard and I confess'd ;

My hair entangled with her hair,

Her breast strained to my breast.

 

On the dread verge of endless gloom

My soul recalls that hour ;

Skies languishing with balm of bloom,

And fields aflame with flower ;

And slow caresses that consume,

And kisses that devour.

 

Ah ! now with storm the day seems rife,

My dull ears catch the roll

Of thunder, and the far sea strife,

On beach and bar and shoal—

I loved her better than my life,

And better than my soul.

 

She fled ! I cannot prove her guilt,

Nor would I an I could ;

See, life for life is fairly spilt !

And blood is shed for blood ;

Her white hands neither touched the hilt,

Nor yet the potion brew'd.

 

Aye ! turn me from the sickly south,

Towards the gusty north ;

The fruits of sin are dust and drouth,

The end of crime is wrath—

The lips that pressed her rose-like mouth

Are choked with blood-red froth.

 

Then dig the grave-pit deep and wide,

Three graves thrown into one,

And lay three corpses side by side,

And tell their tale to none ;

But bring her back in all her pride

To see what she hath done.

 

Published in 'Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes' (1870).