Song and Legend From the Middle Ages
There was but hope bore him along;
Even yet to hope he was full fain
That gold might help him back again
Thither whence God had cast him out.
Ah! weak to strive and little stout
'Gainst Heaven the strength that he possessed.
North and south and east and west,
Far and wide from every side,
Mediciners well proved and tried
Came to him at the voice of his woe;
But, mused and pondered they ever so,
They could but say, for all their care,
That he must be content to bear
The burthen of the anger of God;
For him there was no other road.
Already was his heart nigh down
When yet to him one chance was shown;
For in Salerno dwelt, folk said,
A leach who still might lend him aid,
Albeit unto his body's cure,
All such had been as nought before.
Earl Henry visits the leach in Salerno whom he implores to tell him the means by which he may be healed.
Quoth the leach, "Then know them what they are;
Yet still all hope must stand afar.
Truly if the cure for your care
Might be gotten anyway anywhere,
Did it hide in the furthest parts of earth,
This-wise I had not sent you forth.
But all my knowledge hath none avail;
There is but one thing would not fail:
An innocent virgin for to find,
Chaste, and modest, and pure in mind,
Who to save you from death might choose
Her own young body's life to lose;
The heart's blood of the excellent maid---
That and nought else can be your aid.
But there is none will be won thereby
For the love of another's life to die.
"'T was then poor Henry knew indeed
That from his ill he might not be freed,
Sith that no woman he might win
Of her own will to act herein.
Thus got he but an ill return
For the journey he made unto Salerne,
And the hope he had upon that day
Was snatched from him and rent away.
Homeward he hied him back: full fain
With limbs in the dust he would have lain.
Of his substance---lands and riches both---
He rid himself; even as one doth
Who the breath of the last life of his hope
Once and forever hath rendered up.
To his friends he gave and to the poor,
Unto God praying evermore
The spirit that was in him to save,
And make his bed soft in the grave.
What still remained aside he set
For Holy Church's benefit.
Of all that heretofore was his
Nought held he for himself, I wis,
Save one small house with byre and field;
There from the world he lived concealed,---
There lived he, and awaited Death,
Who being awaited, lingereth.
Pity and ruth his troubles found
Alway through all the country round.
Who heard him named, had sorrow deep
And for his piteous sake would weep.
The poor man who tilled Earl Henry's field had a daughter, a sweet and tender maiden who, out of love for Henry and a heart of Christ-like pity, at last offers herself to die for him. After a struggle Henry accepts the sacrifice. But when he knows it is about to be made his heart rises against it and he refuses to permit it. At this the maiden is much grieved. She takes it as a token that she is not pure enough to be offered for him. She prays for a sign that she may hope to become wholly cleansed. In answer to this prayer Earl Henry is one night cleansed of the leprosy. He then joyfully takes the maiden for his bride and leads her before his kinsman and nobles for their consent.
"Then," quoth the Earl, "hearken me this.
The damozel who standeth here,---
And whom I embrace, being most dear,---
She it is unto whom I owe
The grace it hath pleased God to bestow.
He saw the simple spirited
Earnestness of the holy maid,
And even in guerdon of her truth
Gave me back the joys of my youth,
Which seemed to be lost beyond all doubt,
And therefore I have chosen her out
To wed with me knowing her free.
I think that God will let this be.