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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘De Montfort’: A Tragedy

By Joanna Baillie (1762–1851)

  • Moonlight. A wild path in a wood, shaded with trees. Enter De Montfort, with a strong expression of disquiet, mixed with fear, upon his face, looking behind him, and bending his ear to the ground, as if he listened to something.

  • DE MONTFORT—How hollow groans the earth beneath my tread:

    Is there an echo here? Methinks it sounds

    As though some heavy footsteps followed me.

    I will advance no farther.

    Deep settled shadows rest across the path,

    And thickly-tangled boughs o’erhang this spot.

    O that a tenfold gloom did cover it,

    That ’mid the murky darkness I might strike!

    As in the wild confusion of a dream,

    Things horrid, bloody, terrible do pass,

    As though they passed not; nor impress the mind

    With the fixed clearness of reality.[An owl is heard screaming near him.

    [Starting.]What sound is that?[Listens, and the owl cries again.
    It is the screech-owl’s cry.

    Foul bird of night! What spirit guides thee here?

    Art thou instinctive drawn to scenes of horror?

    I’ve heard of this.[Pauses and listens.

    How those fallen leaves so rustle on the path,

    With whispering noise, as though the earth around me

    Did utter secret things.

    The distant river, too, bears to mine ear

    A dismal wailing. O mysterious night!

    Thou art not silent; many tongues hast thou.

    A distant gathering blast sounds through the wood,

    And dark clouds fleetly hasten o’er the sky;

    Oh that a storm would rise, a raging storm;

    Amidst the roar of warring elements

    I’d lift my hand and strike! but this pale light,

    The calm distinctness of each stilly thing,

    Is terrible.—[Starting.]Footsteps, and near me, too!

    He comes! he comes! I’ll watch him farther on—

    I cannot do it here.[Exit.]

    Enter Rezenvelt, and continues his way slowly from the bottom of the stage; as he advances to the front, the owl screams, he stops and listens, and the owl screams again.

    Rezenvelt—Ha! does the night-bird greet me on my way?

    How much his hooting is in harmony

    With such a scene as this! I like it well.

    Oft when a boy, at the still twilight hour,

    I’ve leant my back against some knotted oak,

    And loudly mimicked him, till to my call

    He answer would return, and through the gloom

    We friendly converse held.

    Between me and the star-bespangled sky,

    Those aged oaks their crossing branches wave,

    And through them looks the pale and placid moon.

    How like a crocodile, or winged snake,

    Yon sailing cloud bears on its dusky length!

    And now transformèd by the passing wind,

    Methinks it seems a flying Pegasus.

    Ay, but a shapeless band of blacker hue

    Comes swiftly after.—

    A hollow murm’ring wind sounds through the trees;

    I hear it from afar; this bodes a storm.

    I must not linger here—
    [A bell heard at some distance.]The convent bell.

    ’Tis distant still: it tells their hour of prayer.

    It sends a solemn sound upon the breeze,

    That, to a fearful, superstitious mind,

    In such a scene, would like a death-knell come.[Exit.]