The Legend of Bregenz

Adelaide Anne Procter

GIRT round with rugged mountains

  The fair Lake Constance lies;

In her blue heart reflected,

  Shine back the starry skies;

And watching each white cloudlet

  Float silently and slow,

You think a piece of Heaven

  Lies on our earth below!


Midnight is there; and silence,

  Enthroned in heaven, looks down

Upon her own calm mirror,

  Upon a sleeping town:

For Bregenz, that quaint city

  Upon the Tyrol shore,

Has stood above Lake Constance

  A thousand years and more.


Her battlements and towers,

  Upon their rocky steep,

Have cast their trembling shadow

  For ages on the deep;

Mountain and lake and valley

  A sacred legend know,

Of how the town was saved one night

  Three hundred years ago.


Far from her home and kindred,

  A Tyrol maid had fled,

To serve in the Swiss valleys,

  And toil for daily bread;

And every year that fleeted

  So silently and fast

Seemed to bear farther from her

  The memory of the Past.

*        *        *        *        *

And so she dwelt: the valley

  More peaceful year by year;

When suddenly strange portents

  Of some great deed seemed near.

The golden corn was bending

  Upon its fragile stalk,

While farmers, heedless of their fields,

  Paced up and down in talk.

*        *        *        *        *


One day, out in the meadow

  With strangers from the town,

Some secret plan discussing,

  The men walked up and down.

Yet now and then seemed watching

  A strange uncertain gleam,

That looked like lances mid the trees

  That stood below the stream.


At eve they all assembled,

  All care and doubt were fled;

With jovial laugh they feasted,

  The board was nobly spread.

The elder of the village

  Rose up, his glass in hand,

And cried, “We drink the downfall

  Of an accursed land!


“The night is growing darker,

  Ere one more day is flown,

Bregenz, our foemen’s stronghold,

  Bregenz, shall be our own!”

The women shrank in terror

  (Yet Pride, too, had her part),

But one poor Tyrol maiden

  Felt death within her heart.

*        *        *        *        *

With trembling haste and breathless,

  With noiseless step she sped:

Horses and weary cattle

  Were standing in the shed;

She loosed the strong white charger,

  That fed from out her hand,

She mounted and she turned his head

  Towards her native land.


Out, out into the darkness,

  Faster, and still more fast;

The smooth grass flies behind her,

  The chestnut wood is past;

She looks up; clouds are heavy:

  Why is her steed so slow?

Scarcely the wind beside them

  Can pass them as they go.

“Faster!” she cries, “O, faster!”

  Eleven the church-bells chime;

“O God,” she cries, “help Bregenz,

  And bring me there in time!”

But louder than bells’ ringing,

  Or lowing of the kine,

Grows nearer in the midnight

  The rushing of the Rhine.


Shall not the roaring waters

  Their headlong gallop check?

The steed draws back in terror,

  She leans above his neck

To watch the flowing darkness,

  The bank is high and steep,

One pause,—he staggers forward,

  And plunges in the deep.


She strives to pierce the blackness,

  And looser throws the rein,

Her steed must breast the waters

  That dash above his mane.

How gallantly, how nobly,

  He struggles through the foam,

And see,—in the far distance,

  Shine out the lights of home!


Up the steep bank he bears her,

  And now they rush again

Towards the heights of Bregenz,

  That tower above the plain.

They reach the gate of Bregenz

  Just as the midnight rings,

And out come serf and soldier

  To meet the news she brings.


Bregenz is saved! Ere daylight

  Her battlements are manned;

Defiance greets the army

  That marches on the land.

And if to deeds heroic

  Should endless fame be paid,

Bregenz does well to honor

  The noble Tyrol maid.


Three hundred years are vanished,

  And yet upon the hill

An old stone gateway rises

  To do her honor still.

And there, when Bregenz women

  Sit spinning in the shade,

They see, in quaint old carving,

  The Charger and the Maid.


And when, to guard old Bregenz,

  By gateway, street, and tower,

The warder paces all night long,

  And calls each passing hour,

“Nine,” “ten,” “eleven,” he cries aloud,

  And then (O crown of Fame!)

When midnight pauses in the skies,

  He calls the maiden’s name!