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Sir Boris

As dank a night as ever man had seen
       On field and town and sullen sea-coast lay,
The waning moon, maligned with mist, looked green,
       The ship-lights flickered feebly from the bay,
       And all was still, save where, with head aslant,
       The white owl croaked his melancholy chant.
It was a night when fairies hied them home,
       Their kirtles wet, and clinging at the knee,
And eerie elves from caverns forth did roam
       With one-eyed dwarfs who kept them company,
       If haply they might meet with some poor wight
       And fill his head with visions of the night.
Townward Sir Boris held his joyful way,
       The mist hung on his hair, his eyes were wet,
And, as he passed along, one heard him say,
       As in a dream, -- "My little Margaret;" --
       And on his finger shone a single gem
       Rarer than aught in the King's diadem.
Onward he pressed, hard by the town he came,
       When suddenly a low, sweet, clear voice cried, --
"Sir Boris!" -- Marvelling thus to hear his name,
       The knight reined horse, and, standing at his side,
       Beheld a fair young girl, with naked feet,
       And long hair golden as Sicilian wheat.
She stood as in a hollow of the mist
       That curled away and from her breathing shrank;
Her eyes, more violet than the amethyst,
       Shot lovely light; adown o'er breast and flank
       Streamed the remorseless mantle of her hair,
       But left her arms uplifted, white and bare.
Elsewhere the mist was heavy, fold on fold
       It wrapped around the owlets in their nest;
Sir Boris shivered, smitten with the cold,
       Wherefore the maiden clasped him to her breast,
       And, grateful for the warmth, he closed his eyes,
       While soft she sang to him of Paradise.
She watched him sleep with eyes intent and glad,
       And from his finger drew the precious stone;
Sir Boris started, and as one gone mad
       Ran for the town -- but, nevermore alone,
       Behind him danced the maiden, and did sing, --
       "See how the mists to Mistress Moon do cling."
       *       *        *       *       *       *       *        *        
Meantime fair Margaret slept, and in a dream
       Dreamed of her knight and how he won the gem,
When suddenly through that sweet sleep a scream
       Rang, and a strong voice loudly shrieked her name;
       "Surely," she said, "it was a dream," and yet
       Again the voice, now faint, cried, "Margaret!"
And all was hushed -- arisen from her bed
       In chaste, cold fear, that shook her like a bride,
She crossed the room with swift, uncertain tread,
       And flung the lattice-window open wide --
       Only the mist she saw, that seemed to writhe
       In sickly serpent shapes, alert and lithe.
Nor of that night could any watcher say
       If from the coast a girl sang or a bell
Tolled for a good man's soul -- if from the bay
       The ship-lights flickered or the flames of hell --
       But nevermore on night or fine or wet
       Hastened Sir Boris to his Margaret.