Truly her joys were limited and few, But they sufficed a life to satisfy, That neither fret nor dim foreboding knew, But breathed the air in a great harmony With its own place and part, and was at one With all it knew of earth and moon and sun.
For all of them were worked into the dream,— The husky sighs of wheat-fields in it wrought; All the land-miles belonged to it; the stream That fed the Mere ran through it like a thought. It was a passion of peace, and loved to wait 'Neath boughs with fair green light illuminate.
To wait with her alone; always alone: For any that drew near she heeded not, Wanting them little as the lily grown Apart from others in a shady plot, Wants fellow-lilies of like fair degree, In her still glen to bear her company.
Always alone: and yet, there was a child Who loved this child, and, from his turret towers, Across the lea would roam to where, in-isled And fenced in rapturous silence, went her hours, And, with slow footsteps drawn anear the place Where mute she sat, would ponder on her face,
And wonder at her with a childish awe, And come again to look, and yet again, Till the sweet rippling of the Mere would draw His longing to itself; while in her train The water-hen, come forth, would bring her brood From slumbering in the rushy solitude;
Or to their young would curlews call and clang Their homeless young that down the furrows creep; Or the wind-hover in the blue would hang, Still as a rock set in the watery deep. Then from her presence he would break away, Unmarked, ungreeted yet, from day to day.
But older grown, the Mere he haunted yet, And a strange joy from its sweet wildness caught; Whilst careless sat alone maid Margaret, And "shut the gates" of silence on her thought, All through spring mornings gemmed with melted rime, All through hay-harvest and through gleaning time.
O pleasure for itself that boyhood makes, O happiness to roam the sighing shore, Plough up with elfin craft the water-flakes, And track the nested rail with cautious oar; Then floating lie and look with wonder new Straight up in the great dome of light and blue.
O pleasure! yet they took him from the wold, The reedy Mere, and all his pastime there, The place where he was born, and would grow old If God his life so many years should spare; From the loved haunts of childhood and the plain And pasture-lands of his own broad domain.
And he came down when wheat was in the sheaf, And with her fruit the apple-branch bent low, While yet in August glory hung the leaf, And flowerless aftermath began to grow; He came from his gray turrets to the shore, And sought the maid beneath the sycamore.
He sought her, not because her tender eyes Would brighten at his coming, for he knew Full seldom any thought of him would rise In her fair breast when he had passed from view; But for his own love's sake, that unbeguiled Drew him in spirit to the silent child.
For boyhood in its better hour is prone To reverence what it hath not understood; And he had thought some heavenly meaning shone From her clear eyes, that made their watchings good: While a great peacefulness of shade was shed Like oil of consecration on her head.
A fishing wallet from his shoulder slung, With bounding foot he reached the mossy place, A little moment gently o'er her hung, Put back her hair and looked upon her face, Then fain from that deep dream to wake her yet, He "Margaret!" low murmured, "Margaret!
"Look at me once before I leave the land, For I am going,—going, Margaret." And then she sighed, and, lifting up her hand, Laid it along his young fresh cheek, and set Upon his face those blue twin-deeps, her eyes, And moved it back from her in troubled wise,
Because he came between her and her fate, The Mere. She sighed again as one oppressed; The waters, shining clear, with delicate Reflections wavered on her blameless breast; And through the branches dropt, like flickerings fair, And played upon her hands and on her hair.
And he, withdrawn a little space to see, Murmured in tender ruth that was not pain, "Farewell, I go; but sometimes think of me, Maid Margaret;" and there came by again A whispering in the reed-beds and the sway Of waters: then he turned and went his way.
And wilt thou think on him now he is gone? No; thou wilt gaze: though thy young eyes grow dim, And thy soft cheek become all pale and wan, Still thou wilt gaze, and spend no thought on him; There is no sweetness in his laugh for thee—No beauty in his fresh heart's gayety.
But wherefore linger in deserted haunts? Why of the past, as if yet present, sing? The yellow iris on the margin flaunts, With hyacinth the banks are blue in spring, And under dappled clouds the lark afloat Pours all the April-tide from her sweet throat.
But Margaret—ah! thou art there no more, And thick dank moss creeps over thy gray stone Thy path is lost that skirted the low shore, With willow-grass and speedwell overgrown; Thine eye has closed for ever, and thine ear Drinks in no more the music of the Mere.
The boy shall come—shall come again in spring, Well pleased that pastoral solitude to share, And some kind offering in his hand will bring To cast into thy lap, O maid most fair— Some clasping gem about thy neck to rest, Or heave and glimmer on thy guileless breast.
And he shall wonder why thou art not here The solitude with "smiles to entertain," And gaze along the reaches of the Mere; But he shall never see thy face again— Shall never see upon the reedy shore Maid Margaret beneath her sycamore.
MARGARET IN THE XEBEC.
["Concerning this man (Robert Delacour), little further is known than that he served in the king's army, and was wounded in the battle of Marston Moor, being then about twenty-seven years of age. After the battle of Nazeby, finding himself a marked man, he quitted the country, taking with him the child whom he had adopted; and he made many voyages between the different ports of the Mediterranean and Levant."]
Resting within his tent at turn of day, A wailing voice his scanty sleep beset: He started up—it did not flee away— 'Twas no part of his dream, but still did fret And pine into his heart, "Ah me! ah me!" Broken with heaving sobs right mournfully.
Then he arose, and, troubled at this thing, All wearily toward the voice he went Over the down-trod bracken and the ling, Until it brought him to a soldier's tent, Where, with the tears upon her face, he found A little maiden weeping on the ground;
And backward in the tent an aged crone Upbraided her full harshly more and more, But sunk her chiding to an undertone When she beheld him standing at the door, And calmed her voice, and dropped her lifted hand, And answered him with accent soft and bland.
No, the young child was none of hers, she said, But she had found her where the ash lay white About a smouldering tent; her infant head All shelterless, she through the dewy night Had slumbered on the field,—ungentle fate For a lone child so soft and delicate.
"And I," quoth she, "have tended her with care, And thought to be rewarded of her kin, For by her rich attire and features fair I know her birth is gentle: yet within The tent unclaimed she doth but pine and weep, A burden I would fain no longer keep."
Still while she spoke the little creature wept, Till painful pity touched him for the flow Of all those tears, and to his heart there crept A yearning as of fatherhood, and lo! Reaching his arms to her, "My sweet," quoth he, "Dear little madam, wilt thou come with me?"
Then she left off her crying, and a look Of wistful wonder stole into her eyes. The sullen frown her dimpled face forsook, She let him take her, and forgot her sighs, Contented in his alien arms to rest, And lay her baby head upon his breast.
Ah, sure a stranger trust was never sought By any soldier on a battle-plain. He brought her to his tent, and soothed his voice, Rough with command; and asked, but all in vain, Her story, while her prattling tongue rang sweet, She playing, as one at home, about his feet.
Of race, of country, or of parentage, Her lisping accents nothing could unfold;— No questioning could win to read the page Of her short life;—she left her tale untold, And home and kin thus early to forget, She only knew,—her name was—Margaret.
Then in the dusk upon his arm it chanced That night that suddenly she fell asleep; And he looked down on her like one entranced, And listened to her breathing still and deep, As if a little child, when daylight closed, With half-shut lids had ne'er before reposed.
Softly he laid her down from off his arm, With earnest care and new-born tenderness: Her infancy, a wonder-working charm, Laid hold upon his love; he stayed to bless The small sweet head, then went he forth that night And sought a nurse to tend this new delight.
And day by day his heart she wrought upon, And won her way into its inmost fold— A heart which, but for lack of that whereon To fix itself, would never have been cold; And, opening wide, now let her come to dwell Within its strong unguarded citadel.
She, like a dream, unlocked the hidden springs Of his past thoughts, and set their current free To talk with him of half-forgotten things— The pureness and the peace of infancy, "Thou also, thou," to sigh, "wert undefiled (O God, the change!) once, as this little child."
The baby-mistress of a soldier's heart, She had but friendlessness to stand her friend, And her own orphanhood to plead her part, When he, a wayfarer, did pause, and bend, And bear with him the starry blossom sweet Out of its jeopardy from trampling feet.
A gleam of light upon a rainy day, A new-tied knot that must be sever'd soon, At sunrise once before his tent at play, And hurried from the battle-field at noon, While face to face in hostile ranks they stood, Who should have dwelt in peace and brotherhood.
But ere the fight, when higher rose the sun, And yet were distant far the rebel bands, She heard at intervals a booming gun, And she was pleased, and laughing clapped her hands; Till he came in with troubled look and tone, Who chose her desolate to be his own.
And he said, "Little madam, now farewell, For there will be a battle fought ere night. God be thy shield, for He alone can tell Which way may fall the fortune of the fight. To fitter hands the care of thee pertain, My dear, if we two never meet again."
Then he gave money shortly to her nurse, And charged her straitly to depart in haste, And leave the plain, whereon the deadly curse Of war should light with ruin, death, and waste, And all the ills that must its presence blight, E'en if proud victory should bless the right.
"But if the rebel cause should prosper, then It were not good among the hills to wend; But journey through to Boston in the fen, And wait for peace, if peace our God shall send; And if my life is spared, I will essay," Quoth he, "to join you there as best I may."
So then he kissed the child, and went his way; But many troubles rolled above his head; The sun arose on many an evil day, And cruel deeds were done, and tears were shed; And hope was lost, and loyal hearts were fain In dust to hide,—ere they two met again.
So passed the little child from thought, from view— (The snowdrop blossoms, and then is not there, Forgotten till men welcome it anew), He found her in his heavy days of care, And with her dimples was again beguiled, As on her nurse's knee she sat and smiled.
And he became a voyager by sea, And took the child to share his wandering state; Since from his native land compelled to flee, And hopeless to avert her monarch's fate; For all was lost that might have made him pause, And, past a soldier's help, the royal cause.
And thus rolled on long days, long months and years, And Margaret within the Xebec sailed; The lulling wind made music in her ears, And nothing to her life's completeness failed. Her pastime 'twas to see the dolphins spring, And wonderful live rainbows glimmering.
The gay sea-plants familiar were to her, As daisies to the children of the land; Red wavy dulse the sunburnt mariner Raised from its bed to glisten in her hand; The vessel and the sea were her life's stage— Her house, her garden, and her hermitage.
Also she had a cabin of her own, For beauty like an elfin palace bright, With Venice glass adorned, and crystal stone That trembled with a many-colored light; And there with two caged ringdoves she did play, And feed them carefully from day to day.
Her bed with silken curtains was enclosed, White as the snowy rose of Guelderland; On Turkish pillows her young head reposed, And love had gathered with a careful hand Fair playthings to the little maiden's side, From distant ports, and cities parted wide.
She had two myrtle-plants that she did tend, And think all trees were like to them that grew; For things on land she did confuse and blend, And chiefly from the deck the land she knew, And in her heart she pitied more and more The steadfast dwellers on the changeless shore.
Green fields and inland meadows faded out Of mind, or with sea-images were linked; And yet she had her childish thoughts about The country she had left—though indistinct And faint as mist the mountain-head that shrouds, Or dim through distance as Magellan's clouds.
And when to frame a forest scene she tried, The ever-present sea would yet intrude, And all her towns were by the water's side, It murmured in all moorland solitude, Where rocks and the ribbed sand would intervene, And waves would edge her fancied village green;
Because her heart was like an ocean shell, That holds (men say) a message from the deep, And yet the land was strong, she knew its spell, And harbor lights could draw her in her sleep; And minster chimes from pierced towers that swim, Were the land-angels making God a hymn.
So she grew on, the idol of one heart, And the delight of many—and her face, Thus dwelling chiefly from her sex apart, Was touched with a most deep and tender grace— A look that never aught but nature gave, Artless, yet thoughtful; innocent, yet grave.
Strange her adornings were, and strangely blent: A golden net confined her nut-brown hair; Quaint were the robes that divers lands had lent, And quaint her aged nurse's skill and care; Yet did they well on the sea-maiden meet, Circle her neck, and grace her dimpled feet.
The sailor folk were glad because of her, And deemed good fortune followed in her wake; She was their guardian saint, they did aver— Prosperous winds were sent them for her sake; And strange rough vows, strange prayers, they nightly made, While, storm or calm, she slept, in nought afraid.
Clear were her eyes, that daughter of the sea, Sweet, when uplifted to her aged nurse, She sat, and communed what the world could be; And rambling stories caused her to rehearse How Yule was kept, how maidens tossed the hay, And how bells rang upon a wedding day.
But they grew brighter when the evening star First trembled over the still glowing wave, That bathed in ruddy light, mast, sail, and spar; For then, reclined in rest that twilight gave, With him who served for father, friend, and guide, She sat upon the deck at eventide.
Then turned towards the west, that on her hair And her young cheek shed down its tender glow, He taught her many things with earnest care That he thought fitting a young maid should know, Told of the good deeds of the worthy dead, And prayers devout, by faithful martyrs said.
And many psalms he caused her to repeat And sing them, at his knees reclined the while, And spoke with her of all things good and meet, And told the story of her native isle, Till at the end he made her tears to flow, Rehearsing of his royal master's woe.
And of the stars he taught her, and their names, And how the chartless mariner they guide; Of quivering light that in the zenith flames, Of monsters in the deep sea caves that hide; Then changed the theme to fairy records wild, Enchanted moor, elf dame, or changeling child.
To her the Eastern lands their strangeness spread, The dark-faced Arab in his long blue gown, The camel thrusting down a snake-like head To browse on thorns outside a walled white town. Where palmy clusters rank by rank upright Float as in quivering lakes of ribbed light.
And when the ship sat like a broad-winged bird Becalmed, lo, lions answered in the night Their fellows, all the hollow dark was stirred To echo on that tremulous thunder's flight, Dying in weird faint moans;—till look: the sun And night, and all the things of night, were done.
And they, toward the waste as morning brake, Turned, where, in-isled in his green watered land, The Lybian Zeus lay couched of old, and spake, Hemmed in with leagues of furrow-faced sand— Then saw the moon (like Joseph's golden cup Come back) behind some ruined roof swim up.
But blooming childhood will not always last, And storms will rise e'en on the tideless sea; His guardian love took fright, she grew so fast, And he began to think how sad 'twould be If he should die, and pirate hordes should get By sword or shipwreck his fair Margaret.
It was a sudden thought; but he gave way, For it assailed him with unwonted force; And, with no more than one short week's delay, For English shores he shaped the vessel's course; And ten years absent saw her landed now, With thirteen summers on her maiden brow.
And so he journeyed with her, far inland, Down quiet lanes, by hedges gemmed with dew, Where wonders met her eye on every hand, And all was beautiful and strange and new— All, from the forest trees in stately ranks, To yellow cowslips trembling on the banks.
All new—the long-drawn slope of evening shades, The sweet solemnities of waxing light, The white-haired boys, the blushing rustic maids, The ruddy gleam through cottage casements bright, The green of pastures, bloom of garden nooks, And endless bubbling of the water-brooks.
So far he took them on through this green land, The maiden and her nurse, till journeying They saw at last a peaceful city stand On a steep mount, and heard its clear bells ring. High were the towers and rich with ancient state, In its old wall enclosed and massive gate.
There dwelt a worthy matron whom he knew, To whom in time of war he gave good aid, Shielding her household from the plundering crew When neither law could bind nor worth persuade, And to her house he brought his care and pride, Aweary with the way and sleepy-eyed.
And he, the man whom she was fain to serve, Delayed not shortly his request to make, Which was, if aught of her he did deserve, To take the maid, and rear her for his sake, To guard her youth, and let her breeding be In womanly reserve and modesty.
And that same night into the house he brought The costly fruits of all his voyages— Rich Indian gems of wandering craftsmen wrought, Long ropes of pearls from Persian palaces, With ingots pure and coins of Venice mould, And silver bars and bags of Spanish gold;
And costly merchandise of far-off lands, And golden stuffs and shawls of Eastern dye, He gave them over to the matron's hands, With jewelled gauds, and toys of ivory, To be her dower on whom his love was set,— His dearest child, fair Madam Margaret.
Then he entreated, that if he should die, She would not cease her guardian mission mild. Awhile, as undecided, lingered nigh, Beside the pillow of the sleeping child, Severed one wandering lock of wavy hair, Took horse that night, and left her unaware.
And it was long before he came again— So long that Margaret was woman grown; And oft she wished for his return in vain, Calling him softly in an undertone; Repeating words that he had said the while, And striving to recall his look and smile.
If she had known—oh, if she could have known— The toils, the hardships of those absent years— How bitter thraldom forced the unwilling groan— How slavery wrung out subduing tears, Not calmly had she passed her hours away, Chiding half pettishly the long delay.
But she was spared. She knew no sense of harm, While the red flames ascended from the deck; Saw not the pirate band the crew disarm, Mourned not the floating spars, the smoking wreck. She did not dream, and there was none to tell, That fetters bound the hands she loved so well.
Sweet Margaret—withdrawn from human view, She spent long hours beneath the cedar shade, The stately trees that in the garden grew, And, overtwined, a towering shelter made; She mused among the flowers, and birds, and bees, In winding walks, and bowering canopies;
Or wandered slowly through the ancient rooms, Where oriel windows shed their rainbow gleams; And tapestried hangings, wrought in Flemish looms, Displayed the story of King Pharaoh's dreams; And, come at noon because the well was deep, Beautiful Rachel leading down her sheep.
At last she reached the bloom of womanhood, After five summers spent in growing fair; Her face betokened all things dear and good, The light of somewhat yet to come was there Asleep, and waiting for the opening day, When childish thoughts, like flowers, would drift away.
O! we are far too happy while they last; We have our good things first, and they cost naught; Then the new splendor comes unfathomed, vast, A costly trouble, ay, a sumptuous thought, And will not wait, and cannot be possessed, Though infinite yearnings fold it to the breast.
And time, that seemed so long, is fleeting by, And life is more than life; love more than love; We have not found the whole—and we must die— And still the unclasped glory floats above. The inmost and the utmost faint from sight, For ever secret in their veil of light.
Be not too hasty in your flow, you rhymes, For Margaret is in her garden bower; Delay to ring, you soft cathedral chimes, And tell not out too soon the noontide hour: For one draws nearer to your ancient town, On the green mount down settled like a crown.
He journeyed on, and, as he neared the gate, He met with one to whom he named the maid, Inquiring of her welfare and her state. And of the matron in whose house she stayed. "The maiden dwelt there yet," the townsman said; "But, for the ancient lady,—she was dead."
He further said, she was but little known, Although reputed to be very fair, And little seen (so much she dwelt alone) But with her nurse at stated morning prayer; So seldom passed her sheltering garden wall, Or left the gate at quiet evening fall.
Flow softly, rhymes—his hand is on the door; Ring out, ye noonday bells, his welcoming— "He went out rich, but he returneth poor;" And strong—now something bowed with suffering. And on his brow are traced long furrowed lines, Earned in the fight with pirate Algerines.
Her aged nurse comes hobbling at his call; Lifts up her withered hand in dull surprise, And, tottering, leads him through the pillared hall; "What! come at last to bless my lady's eyes! Dear heart, sweet heart, she's grown a likesome maid— Go, seek her where she sitteth in the shade."
The noonday chime had ceased—she did not know Who watched her, while her ringdoves fluttered near: While, under the green boughs, in accents low She sang unto herself. She did not hear His footstep till she turned, then rose to meet Her guest with guileless blush and wonder sweet.
But soon she knew him, came with quickened pace, And put her gentle hands about his neck; And leaned her fair cheek to his sun-burned face, As long ago upon the vessel's deck: As long ago she did in twilight deep, When heaving waters lulled her infant sleep.
So then he kissed her, as men kiss their own, And, proudly parting her unbraided hair, He said: "I did not think to see thee grown So fair a woman,"—but a touch of care The deep-toned voice through its caressing kept, And, hearing it, she turned away and wept.
Wept,—for an impress on the face she viewed— The stamp of feelings she remembered not; His voice was calmer now, but more subdued, Not like the voice long loved and unforgot! She felt strange sorrow and delightful pain— Grief for the change, joy that he came again.
O pleasant days, that followed his return, That made his captive years pass out of mind; If life had yet new pains for him to learn, Not in the maid's clear eyes he saw it shrined; And three full weeks he stayed with her, content To find her beautiful and innocent.
It was all one in his contented sight As though she were a child, till suddenly, Waked of the chimes in the dead time of the night, He fell to thinking how the urgency Of Fate had dealt with him, and could but sigh For those best things wherein she passed him by.
Down the long river of life how, cast adrift, She urged him on, still on, to sink or swim; And all at once, as if a veil did lift, In the dead time of the night, and bare to him The want in his deep soul, he looked, was dumb, And knew himself, and knew his time was come.
In the dead time of the night his soul did sound The dark sea of a trouble unforeseen, For that one sweet that to his life was bound Had turned into a want—a misery keen: Was born, was grown, and wounded sorely cried All 'twixt the midnight and the morning tide.
He was a brave man, and he took this thing And cast it from him with a man's strong hand; And that next morn, with no sweet altering Of mien, beside the maid he took his stand, And copied his past self till ebbing day Paled its deep western blush, and died away.
And then he told her that he must depart Upon the morrow, with the earliest light; And it displeased and pained her at the heart, And she went out to hide her from his sight Aneath the cedar trees, where dusk was deep, And be apart from him awhile to weep
And to lament, till, suddenly aware Of steps, she started up as fain to flee, And met him in the moonlight pacing there, Who questioned with her why her tears might be, Till she did answer him, all red for shame, "Kind sir, I weep—the wanting of a name."
"A name!" quoth he, and sighed. "I never knew Thy father's name; but many a stalwart youth Would give thee his, dear child, and his love too, And count himself a happy man forsooth. Is there none here who thy kind thought hath won?" But she did falter, and made answer, "None."
Then, as in father-like and kindly mood, He said, "Dear daughter, it would please me well To see thee wed; for know it is not good That a fair woman thus alone should dwell." She said, "I am content it should be so, If when you journey I may with you go."
This when he heard, he thought, right sick at heart, Must I withstand myself, and also thee? Thou, also thou! must nobly do thy part; That honor leads thee on which holds back me. No, thou sweet woman; by love's great increase, I will reject thee for thy truer peace.
Then said he, "Lady!—look upon my face; Consider well this scar upon my brow; I have had all misfortune but disgrace; I do not look for marriage blessings now. Be not thy gratitude deceived. I know Thou think'st it is thy duty—I will go!
"I read thy meaning, and I go from hence, Skilled in the reason; though my heart be rude, I will not wrong thy gentle innocence, Nor take advantage of thy gratitude. But think, while yet the light these eyes shall bless, The more for thee—of woman's nobleness."
Faultless and fair, all in the moony light, As one ashamed, she looked upon the ground, And her white raiment glistened in his sight. And, hark! the vesper chimes began to sound, Then lower yet she drooped her young, pure cheek, And still was she ashamed, and could not speak.
A swarm of bells from that old tower o'erhead, They sent their message sifting through the boughs Of cedars; when they ceased his lady said, "Pray you forgive me," and her lovely brows She lifted, standing in her moonlit place, And one short moment looked him in the face.
Then straight he cried, "O sweetheart, think all one As no word yet were said between us twain, And know thou that in this I yield to none— love thee, sweetheart, love thee!" So full fain, While she did leave to silence all her part, He took the gleaming whiteness to his heart—
The white-robed maiden with the warm white throat, The sweet white brow, and locks of umber flow, Whose murmuring voice was soft as rock-dove's note, Entreating him, and saying, "Do not go!" "I will not, sweetheart; nay, not now," quoth he, "By faith and troth, I think thou art for me!"
And so she won a name that eventide, Which he gave gladly, but would ne'er bespeak, And she became the rough sea-captain's bride, Matching her dimples to his sunburnt cheek; And chasing from his voice the touch of care, That made her weep when first she heard it there.
One year there was, fulfilled of happiness, But O! it went so fast, too fast away. Then came that trouble which full oft doth bless— It was the evening of a sultry day, There was no wind the thread-hung flowers to stir, Or float abroad the filmy gossamer.
Toward the trees his steps the mariner bent, Pacing the grassy walks with restless feet: And he recalled, and pondered as he went, All her most duteous love and converse sweet, Till summer darkness settled deep and dim, And dew from bending leaves dropt down on him.
The flowers sent forth their nightly odors faint— Thick leaves shut out the starlight overhead; While he told over, as by strong constraint Drawn on, her childish life on shipboard led, And beauteous youth, since first low kneeling there, With folded hands she lisped her evening prayer.
Then he remembered how, beneath the shade, She wooed him to her with her lovely words, While flowers were closing, leaves in moonlight played, And in dark nooks withdrew the silent birds. So pondered he that night in twilight dim, While dew from bending leaves dropt down on him.
The flowers sent forth their nightly odors faint— When, in the darkness waiting, he saw one To whom he said—"How fareth my sweet saint?" Who answered—"She hath borne to you a son;" Then, turning, left him,—and the father said, "God rain down blessings on his welcome head!"
But Margaret!—she never saw the child, Nor heard about her bed love's mournful wails; But to the last, with ocean dreams beguiled, Murmured of troubled seas and swelling sails— Of weary voyages, and rocks unseen, And distant hills in sight, all calm and green....
Woe and alas!—the times of sorrow come, And make us doubt if we were ever glad! So utterly that inner voice is dumb, Whose music through our happy days we had! So, at the touch of grief, without our will, The sweet voice drops from us, and all is still.
Woe and alas! for the sea-captain's wife— That Margaret who in the Xebec played— She spent upon his knee her baby life; Her slumbering head upon his breast she laid. How shall he learn alone his years to pass? How in the empty house?—woe and alas!
She died, and in the aisle, the minster aisle, They made her grave; and there, with fond intent, Her husband raised, his sorrow to beguile, A very fair and stately monument: Her tomb (the careless vergers show it yet), The mariner's wife, his love, his Margaret.
A woman's figure, with the eyelids closed, The quiet head declined in slumber sweet; Upon an anchor one fair hand reposed, And a long ensign folded at her feet, And carved upon the bordering of her vest The motto of her house—"He giveth rest."
There is an ancient window richly fraught And fretted with all hues most rich, most bright, And in its upper tracery enwrought An olive-branch and dove wide-winged and white, An emblem meet for her, the tender dove, Her heavenly peace, her duteous earthly love.
Amid heraldic shields and banners set, In twisted knots and wildly-tangled bands, Crimson and green, and gold and violet, Fall softly on the snowy sculptured hands; And, when the sunshine comes, full sweetly rest The dove and olive-branch upon her breast.
A STORY OF DOOM.
Niloiya said to Noah, "What aileth thee, My master, unto whom is my desire, The father of my sons?" He answered her, "Mother of many children, I have heard The Voice again." "Ah, me!" she saith, "ah, me! What spake it?" and with that Niloiya sighed.
This when the Master-builder heard, his heart Was sad in him, the while he sat at home And rested after toil. The steady rap O' the shipwright's hammer sounding up the vale Did seem to mock him; but her distaff down Niloiya laid, and to the doorplace went, Parted the purple covering seemly hung Before it, and let in the crimson light Of the descending sun. Then looked he forth,— Looked, and beheld the hollow where the ark Was a-preparing; where the dew distilled All night from leaves of old lign aloe-trees, Upon the gliding river; where the palm, The almug, and the gophir shot their heads Into the crimson brede that dyed the world: And lo! he marked—unwieldy, dark, and huge—The ship, his glory and his grief,—too vast For that still river's floating,—building far From mightier streams, amid the pastoral dells Of shepherd kings.
Niloiya spake again: "What said the Voice, thou well-beloved man?" He, laboring with his thought that troubled him, Spoke on behalf of God: "Behold," said he, "A little handful of unlovely dust He fashioned to a lordly grace, and when He laughed upon its beauty, it waxed warm, And with His breath awoke a living soul.
"Shall not the Fashioner command His work? And who am I, that, if He whisper, 'Rise, Go forth upon Mine errand,' should reply, 'Lord, God, I love the woman and her sons,—I love not scorning: I beseech Thee, God, Have me excused.'"
She answered him, "Tell on." And he continuing, reasoned with his soul: "What though I,—like some goodly lama sunk In meadow grass, eating her way at ease, Unseen of them that pass, and asking not A wider prospect than of yellow-flowers That nod above her head,—should lay me down, And willingly forget this high behest, There should be yet no tarrying. Furthermore, Though I went forth to cry against the doom, Earth crieth louder, and she draws it down: It hangeth balanced over us; she crieth, And it shall fall. O! as for me, my life Is bitter, looking onward, for I know That in the fulness of the time shall dawn That day: my preaching shall not bring forth fruit, Though for its sake I leave thee. I shall float Upon the abhorred sea, that mankind hate, With thee and thine." She answered: "God forbid! For, sir, though men be evil, yet the deep They dread, and at the last will surely turn To Him, and He long-suffering will forgive. And chide the waters back to their abyss, To cover the pits where doleful creatures feed. Sir, I am much afraid: I would not hear Of riding on the waters: look you, sir, Better it were to die with you by hand Of them that hate us, than to live, ah me! Rolling among the furrows of the unquiet, Unconsecrate, unfriendly, dreadful sea."
He saith again: "I pray thee, woman, peace, For thou wilt enter, when that day appears, The fateful ship."
"My lord," quoth she, "I will. But O, good sir, be sure of this, be sure The Master calleth; for the time is long That thou hast warned the world: thou art but here Three days; the song of welcoming but now Is ended. I behold thee, I am glad; And wilt thou go again? Husband, I say, Be sure who 't is that calleth; O, be sure, Be sure. My mother's ghost came up last night, Whilst I thy beard, held in my hands did kiss, Leaning anear thee, wakeful through my love, And watchful of thee till the moon went down.
"She never loved me since I went with thee To sacrifice among the hills: she smelt The holy smoke, and could no more divine Till the new moon. I saw her ghost come up; It had a snake with a red comb of fire Twisted about its waist,—the doggish head Lolled on its shoulder, and so leered at me. 'This woman might be wiser,' quoth the ghost; 'Shall there be husbands for her found below, When she comes down to us? O, fool! O, fool! She must not let her man go forth, to leave Her desolate, and reap the whole world's scorn, A harvest for himself.' With that they passed."
He said, "My crystal drop of perfectness, I pity thee; it was an evil ghost: Thou wilt not heed the counsel?" "I will not," Quoth she; "I am loyal to the Highest. Him I hold by even as thou, and deem Him best. Sir, am I fairer than when last we met?"
"God add," said he, "unto thy much yet more, As I do think thou art." "And think you, sir," Niloiya saith, "that I have reached the prime?" He answering, "Nay, not yet." "I would 't were so," She plaineth, "for the daughters mock at me: Her locks forbear to grow, they say, so sore She pineth for the master. Look you, sir, They reach but to the knee. But thou art come, And all goes merrier. Eat, my lord, of all My supper that I set, and afterward Tell me, I pray thee, somewhat of thy way; Else shall I be despised as Adam was, Who compassed not the learning of his sons, But, grave and silent, oft would lower his head And ponder, following of great Isha's feet, When she would walk with her fair brow upraised, Scorning the children that she bare to him."
"Ay," quoth the Master; "but they did amiss When they despised their father: knowest thou that?"
"Sure he was foolisher," Niloiya saith, "Than any that came after. Furthermore, He had not heart nor courage for to rule: He let the mastery fall from his slack hand. Had not our glorious mother still borne up His weakness, chid with him, and sat apart, And listened, when the fit came over him To talk on his lost garden, he had sunk Into the slave of slaves."
"Nay, thou must think How he had dwelt long, God's loved husbandman, And looked in hope among the tribes for one To be his fellow, ere great Isha, once Waking, he found at his left side, and knew The deep delight of speech." So Noah, and thus Added, "And therefore was his loss the more; For though the creatures he had singled out His favorites, dared for him the fiery sword And followed after him,—shall bleat of lamb Console one for the foregone talk of God? Or in the afternoon, his faithful dog, Fawning upon him, make his heart forget At such a time, and such a time, to have heard What he shall hear no more?
"O, as for him, It was for this that he full oft would stop, And, lost in thought, stand and revolve that deed, Sad muttering, Woman! we reproach thee not; Though thou didst eat mine immortality; Earth, be not sorry; I was free to choose. Wonder not, therefore, if he walked forlorn. Was not the helpmeet given to raise him up From his contentment with the lower things? Was she not somewhat that he could not rule Beyond the action, that he could not have By the mere holding, and that still aspired And drew him after her? So, when deceived She fell by great desire to rise, he fell By loss of upward drawing, when she took An evil tongue to be her counsellor: 'Death is not as the death of lower things, Rather a glorious change, begrudged of Heaven, A change to being as gods,'—he from her hand, Upon reflection, took of death that hour, And ate it (not the death that she had dared); He ate it knowing. Then divisions came. She, like a spirit strayed who lost the way, Too venturesome, among the farther stars, And hardly cares, because it hardly hopes To find the path to heaven; in bitter wise Did bear to him degenerate seed, and he, Once having felt her upward drawing, longed, And yet aspired, and yearned to be restored, Albeit she drew no more."
"Sir, ye speak well," Niloiya saith, "but yet the mother sits Higher than Adam. He did understand Discourse of birds and all four-footed things, But she had knowledge of the many tribes Of angels and their tongues; their playful ways And greetings when they met. Was she not wise? They say she knew much that she never told, And had a voice that called to her as thou."
"Nay," quoth the Master-shipwright, "who am I That I should answer? As for me, poor man, Here is my trouble: 'if there be a Voice,' At first I cried, 'let me behold the mouth That uttereth it,' Thereon it held its peace. But afterward, I, journeying up the hills, Did hear it hollower than an echo fallen Across some clear abyss; and I did stop, And ask of all my company, 'What cheer? If there be spirits abroad that call to us, Sirs, hold your peace and hear,' So they gave heed, And one man said, 'It is the small ground-doves That peck upon the stony hillocks': one, 'It is the mammoth in yon cedar swamp That cheweth in his dream': and one, 'My lord, It is the ghost of him that yesternight We slew, because he grudged to yield his wife To thy great father, when he peaceably Did send to take her,' Then I answered, 'Pass,' And they went on; and I did lay mine ear Close to the earth; but there came up therefrom No sound, nor any speech; I waited long. And in the saying, 'I will mount my beast And on,' I was as one that in a trance Beholdeth what is coming, and I saw Great waters and a ship; and somewhat spake, 'Lo, this shall be; let him that heareth it, And seeth it, go forth to warn his kind, For I will drown the world,'"
Niloiya saith, "Sir, was that all that ye went forth upon?" The master, he replieth, "Ay, at first, That same was all; but many days went by, While I did reason with my heart and hope For more, and struggle to remain, and think. 'Let me be certain'; and so think again, 'The counsel is but dark; would I had more! When I have more to guide me, I will go,' And afterward, when reasoned on too much, It seemed remoter, then I only said, 'O, would I had the same again'; and still I had it not.
"Then at the last I cried, 'If the unseen be silent, I will speak And certify my meaning to myself. Say that He spoke, then He will make that good Which He hath spoken. Therefore it were best To go, and do His bidding. All the earth Shall hear the judgment so, and none may cry When the doom falls, "Thou God art hard on us; We knew not Thou wert angry. O! we are lost, Only for lack of being warned."
"'But say That He spoke not, and merely it befell That I being weary had a dream. Why, so He could not suffer damage; when the time Was past, and that I threatened had not come, Men would cry out on me, haply me kill, For troubling their content. They would not swear, "God, that did send this man, is proved untrue," But rather, "Let him die; he lied to us; God never sent him." Only Thou, great King, Knowest if Thou didst speak or no. I leave The matter here. If Thou wilt speak again, I go in gladness; if Thou wilt not speak, Nay, if Thou never didst, I not the less Shall go, because I have believed, what time I seemed to hear Thee, and the going stands With memory of believing,' Then I washed, And did array me in the sacred gown, And take a lamb."
"Ay, sir," Niloiya sighed, "I following, and I knew not anything Till, the young lamb asleep in thy two arms, We, moving up among the silent hills, Paused in a grove to rest; and many slaves Came near to make obeisance, and to bring Wood for the sacrifice, and turf and fire. Then in their hearing thou didst say to me, 'Behold, I know thy good fidelity, And theirs that are about us; they would guard The mountain passes, if it were my will Awhile to leave thee'; and the pygmies laughed For joy, that thou wouldst trust inferior things; And put their heads down, as their manner is, To touch our feet. They laughed, but sore I wept; Sir, I could weep now; ye did ill to go If that was all your bidding; I had thought God drave thee, and thou couldst not choose but go."
Then said the son of Lamech, "Afterward, When I had left thee, He whom I had served Met with me in the visions of the night, To comfort me for that I had withdrawn From thy dear company. He sware to me That no man should molest thee, no, nor touch The bordering of mine outmost field. I say, When I obeyed, He made His matters plain. With whom could I have left thee, but with them, Born in thy mother's house, and bound thy slaves?"
She said, "I love not pygmies; they are naught." And he, "Who made them pygmies?" Then she pushed Her veiling hair back from her round, soft eyes, And answered, wondering, "Sir, my mothers did, Ye know it." And he drew her near to sit Beside him on the settle, answering, "Ay." And they went on to talk as writ below, If any one shall read:
"Thy mother did, And they that went before her. Thinkest thou That they did well?"
"They had been overcome; And when the angered conquerors drave them out, Behoved them find some other way to rule,— They did but use their wits. Hath not man aye Been cunning in dominion, among beasts To breed for size or swiftness, or for sake Of the white wool he loveth, at his choice? What harm if coveting a race of men That could but serve, they sought among their thralls, Such as were low of stature, men and maids; Ay, and of feeble will and quiet mind? Did they not spend much gear to gather out Such as I tell of, and for matching them One with another for a thousand years? What harm, then, if there came of it a race, Inferior in their wits, and in their size, And well content to serve?"
"'What harm?' thou sayest. My wife doth ask, 'What harm? '"
"Your pardon, sir. I do remember that there came one day, Two of the grave old angels that God made, When first He invented life (right old they were, And plain, and venerable); and they said, Rebuking of my mother as with hers She sat, 'Ye do not well, you wives of men, To match your wit against the Maker's will, And for your benefit to lower the stamp Of His fair image, which He set at first Upon man's goodly frame; ye do not well To treat his likeness even as ye treat The bird and beast that perish.'"
"Said they aught To appease the ancients, or to speak them fair?"
"How know I? 'T was a slave that told it me. My mother was full old when I was born, And that was in her youth. What think you, sir? Did not the giants likewise ill?"
"To that I have no answer ready. If a man, When each one is against his fellow, rule, Or unmolested dwell, or unreproved, Because, for size and strength, he standeth first, He will thereof be glad; and if he say, 'I will to wife choose me a stately maid, And leave a goodly offspring'; 'sooth, I think, He sinneth not; for good to him and his He would be strong and great. Thy people's fault Was, that for ill to others, they did plot To make them weak and small."
"But yet they steal Or take in war the strongest maids, and such As are of highest stature; ay, and oft They fight among themselves for that same cause. And they are proud against the King of heaven: They hope in course of ages they shall come To be as strong as He."
The Master said, "I will not hear thee talk thereof; my heart Is sick for all this wicked world. Fair wife, I am right weary. Call thy slaves to thee, And bid that they prepare the sleeping place. O would that I might rest! I fain would rest, And, no more wandering, tell a thankless world My never-heeded tale!" With that she called. The moon was up, and some few stars were out, While heavy at the heart he walked abroad To meditate before his sleep. And yet Niloiya pondered, "Shall my master go? And will my master go? What 'vaileth it, That he doth spend himself, over the waste A wandering, till he reach outlandish folk, That mock his warning? O, what 'vaileth it, That he doth lavish wealth to build yon ark, Whereat the daughters, when they eat with me, Laugh? O my heart! I would the Voice were stilled. Is not he happy? Who, of all the earth, Obeyed like to me? Have not I learned From his dear mouth to utter seemly words, And lay the powers my mother gave me by? Have I made offerings to the dragon? Nay, And I am faithful, when he leaveth me Lonely betwixt the peaked mountain tops In this long valley, where no stranger foot Can come without my will. He shall not go. Not yet, not yet! But three days—only three— Beside me, and a muttering on the third, 'I have heard the Voice again.' Be dull, O dull, Mind and remembrance! Mother, ye did ill; 'T is hard unlawful knowledge not to use. Why, O dark mother! opened ye the way?" Yet when he entered, and did lay aside His costly robe of sacrifice, the robe Wherein he had been offering, ere the sun Went down; forgetful of her mother's craft, She lovely and submiss did mourn to him: "Thou wilt not go,—I pray thee, do not go, Till thou hast seen thy children." And he said, "I will not. I have cried, and have prevailed: To-morrow it is given me by the Voice Upon a four days' journey to proceed, And follow down the river, till its waves Are swallowed in the sand, where no flesh dwells.
"'There,' quoth the Unrevealed, 'we shall meet, And I will counsel thee; and thou shalt turn And rest thee with the mother, and with them She bare.' Now, therefore, when the morn appears, Thou fairest among women, call thy slaves, And bid them yoke the steers, and spread thy car With robes, the choicest work of cunning hands; Array thee in thy rich apparel, deck Thy locks with gold; and while the hollow vale I thread beside yon river, go thou forth Atween the mountains to my father's house, And let thy slaves make all obeisance due, And take and lay an offering at his feet. Then light, and cry to him, 'Great king, the son Of old Methuselah, thy son hath sent To fetch the growing maids, his children, home.'"
"Sir," quoth the woman, "I will do this thing, So thou keep faith with me, and yet return. But will the Voice, think you, forbear to chide, Nor that Unseen, who calleth, buffet thee, And drive thee on?" He saith, "It will keep faith. Fear not. I have prevailed, for I besought, And lovingly it answered. I shall rest, And dwell with thee till after my three sons Come from the chase." She said, "I let them forth In fear, for they are young. Their slaves are few. The giant elephants be cunning folk; They lie in ambush, and will draw men on To follow,—then will turn and tread them down." "Thy father's house unwisely planned," said he, "To drive them down upon the growing corn Of them that were their foes; for now, behold, They suffer while the unwieldy beasts delay Retirement to their lands, and, meanwhile, pound The damp, deep meadows, to a pulpy mash; Or wallowing in the waters foul them; nay, Tread down the banks, and let them forth to flood Their cities; or, assailed and falling, shake The walls, and taint the wind, ere thirty men, Over the hairy terror piling stones Or earth, prevail to cover it." She said, "Husband, I have been sorry, thinking oft I would my sons were home; but now so well Methinks it is with me, that I am fain To wish they might delay, for thou wilt dwell With me till after they return, and thou Hast set thine eyes upon them. Then,—ah, me! I must sit joyless in my place; bereft, As trees that suddenly have dropped their leaves, And dark as nights that have no moon." She spake: The hope o' the world did hearken, but reply Made none. He left his hand on her fair locks As she lay sobbing; and the quietness Of night began to comfort her, the fall Of far-off waters, and the winged wind That went among the trees. The patient hand, Moreover, that was steady, wrought with her, Until she said, "What wilt thou? Nay, I know. I therefore answer what thou utterest not. Thou lovest me well, and not for thine own will Consentest to depart. What more? Ay, this: I do avow that He which calleth thee, Hath right to call; and I do swear, the Voice Shall have no let of me, to do Its will."
Now ere the sunrise, while the morning star Hung yet behind the pine bough, woke and prayed The world's great shipwright, and his soul was glad Because the Voice was favorable. Now Began the tap o' the hammer, now ran forth The slaves preparing food. They therefore ate In peace together; then Niloiya forth Behind the milk-white steers went on her way; And the great Master-builder, down the course Of the long river, on his errand sped, And as he went, he thought: [They do not well Who, walking up a trodden path, all smooth With footsteps of their fellows, and made straight From town to town, will scorn at them that worm Under the covert of God's eldest trees (Such as He planted with His hand, and fed With dew before rain fell, till they stood close And awful; drank the light up as it dropt, And kept the dusk of ages at their roots); They do not well who mock at such, and cry, "We peaceably, without or fault or fear, Proceed, and miss not of our end; but these Are slow and fearful: with uncertain pace, And ever reasoning of the way, they oft, After all reasoning, choose the worser course, And plunged in swamp, or in the matted growth Nigh smothered struggle, all to reach a goal Not worth their pains." Nor do they well whose work Is still to feed and shelter them and theirs, Get gain, and gathered store it, to think scorn Of those who work for a world (no wages paid By a Master hid in light), and sent alone To face a laughing multitude, whose eyes Are full of damaging pity, that forbears To tell the harmless laborer, "Thou art mad."]
And as he went, he thought: "They counsel me, Ay, with a kind of reason in their talk, 'Consider; call thy soberer thought to aid; Why to but one man should a message come? And why, if but to one, to thee? Art thou Above us, greater, wiser? Had He sent, He had willed that we should heed. Then since He knoweth That such as thou, a wise man cannot heed, He did not send.' My answer, 'Great and wise, If He had sent with thunder, and a voice Leaping from heaven, ye must have heard; but so Ye had been robbed of choice, and, like the beasts, Yoked to obedience. God makes no men slaves,' They tell me, 'God is great above thy thought: He meddles not: and this small world is ours, These many hundred years we govern it; Old Adam, after Eden, saw Him not.' Then I, 'It may be He is gone to knead More clay. But look, my masters; one of you Going to warfare, layeth up his gown, His sickle, or his gold, and thinks no more Upon it, till young trees have waxen great; At last, when he returneth, he will seek His own. And God, shall He not do the like? And having set new worlds a-rolling, come And say, "I will betake Me to the earth That I did make": and having found it vile, Be sorry. Why should man be free, you wise, And not the Master?' Then they answer, 'Fool! A man shall cast a stone into the air For pastime, or for lack of heed,—but He! Will He come fingering of His ended work, Fright it with His approaching face, or snatch One day the rolling wonder from its ring, And hold it quivering, as a wanton child Might take a nestling from its downy bed, And having satisfied a careless wish, Go thrust it back into its place again?' To such I answer, and, that doubt once mine, I am assured that I do speak aright: 'Sirs, the significance of this your doubt Lies in the reason of it; ye do grudge That these your lands should have another Lord; Ye are not loyal, therefore ye would fain Your King would bide afar. But if ye looked For countenance and favor when He came, Knowing yourselves right worthy, would ye care, With cautious reasoning, deep and hard, to prove That He would never come, and would your wrath Be hot against a prophet? Nay, I wot That as a flatterer you would look on him,— Full of sweet words thy mouth is: if He come,— We think not that He will,—but if He come, Would it might be to-morrow, or to-night, Because we look for praise.'"
Now, as he went, The noontide heats came on, and he grew faint; But while he sat below an almug-tree, A slave approached with greeting. "Master, hail!" He answered, "Hail! what wilt thou?" Then she said, "The palace of thy fathers standeth nigh." "I know it," quoth he; and she said again, "The Elder, learning thou wouldst pass, hath sent To fetch thee"; then he rose and followed her. So first they walked beneath a lofty roof Of living bough and tendril, woven on high To let no drop of sunshine through, and hung With gold and purple fruitage, and the white Thick cups of scented blossom. Underneath, Soft grew the sward and delicate, and flocks Of egrets, ay, and many cranes, stood up. Fanning their wings, to agitate and cool The noonday air, as men with heed and pains Had taught them, marshalling and taming them To bear the wind in, on their moving wings. So long time as a nimble slave would spend In milking of her cow, they walked at ease; Then reached the palace, all of forest trunks, Brought whole, and set together, made. Therein Had dwelt old Adam, when his mighty sons Had finished it, and up to Eden gate Had journeyed for to fetch him. "Here," they said "Mother and father, ye may dwell, and here Forget the garden wholly." So he came Under the doorplace, and the women sat, Each with her finger on her lips; but he, Having been called, went on, until he reached The jewelled settle, wrought with cunning work Of gold and ivory, whereon they wont To set the Elder. All with sleekest skins, That striped and spotted creatures of the wood Had worn, the seat was covered, but thereon The Elder was not; by the steps thereof, Upon the floor, whereto his silver beard Did reach, he sat, and he was in his trance. Upon the settle many doves were perched, That set the air a going with their wings: These opposite, the world's great shipwright stood To wait the burden; and the Elder spake: "Will He forget me? Would He might forget! Old, old! The hope of old Methuselah Is all in His forgetfulness." With that, A slave-girl took a cup of wine, and crept Anear him, saying, "Taste"; and when his lips Had touched it, lo, he trembled, and he cried, "Behold, I prophesy." Then straight they fled That were about him, and did stand apart And stop their ears. For he, from time to time, Was plagued with that same fate to prophesy, And spake against himself, against his day And time, in words that all men did abhor. Therefore, he warning them what time the fit Came on him, saved them, that they heard it not So while they fled, he cried: "I saw the God Reach out of heaven His wonderful right hand. Lo, lo! He dipped it in the unquiet sea, And in its curved palm behold the ark, As in a vast calm lake, came floating on. Ay, then, His other hand—the cursing hand— He took and spread between us and the sun. And all was black; the day was blotted out, And horrible staggering took the frighted earth. I heard the water hiss, and then methinks The crack as of her splitting. Did she take Their palaces that are my brothers dear, And huddle them with all their ancientry Under into her breast? If it was black, How could this old man see? There was a noise I' the dark, and He drew back His hand again. I looked,—It was a dream,—let no man say It was aught else. There, so—the fit goes by. Sir, and my daughters, is it eventide?— Sooner than that, saith old Methuselah, Let the vulture lay his beak to my green limbs. What! art Thou envious?—are the sons of men Too wise to please Thee, and to do Thy will? Methuselah, he sitteth on the ground, Clad in his gown of age, the pale white gown, And goeth not forth to war; his wrinkled hands He claspeth round his knees: old, very old. Would he could steal from Thee one secret more— The secret of Thy youth! O, envious God! We die. The words of old Methuselah And his prophecy are ended."
Then the wives, Beholding how he trembled, and the maids And children, came anear, saying, "Who art thou That standest gazing on the Elder? Lo, Thou dost not well: withdraw; for it was thou Whose stranger presence troubled him, and brought The fit of prophecy." And he did turn To look upon them, and their majesty And glorious beauty took away his words; And being pure among the vile, he cast In his thought a veil of snow-white purity Over the beauteous throng. "Thou dost not well," They said. He answered: "Blossoms o' the world, Fruitful as fair, never in watered glade, Where in the youngest grass blue cups push forth, And the white lily reareth up her head, And purples cluster, and the saffron flower Clear as a flame of sacrifice breaks out, And every cedar bough, made delicate With climbing roses, drops in white and red,— Saw I (good angels keep you in their care) So beautiful a crowd."
With that, they stamped, Gnashed their white teeth, and turning, fled and spat Upon the floor. The Elder spake to him, Yet shaking with the burden, "Who art thou?" He answered, "I, the man whom thou didst send To fetch through this thy woodland, do forbear To tell my name; thou lovest it not, great sire,— No, nor mine errand. To thy house I spake, Touching their beauty." "Wherefore didst thou spite," Quoth he, "the daughters?" and it seemed he lost Count of that prophecy, for very age, And from his thin lips dropt a trembling laugh. "Wicked old man," quoth he, "this wise old man I see as 't were not I. Thou bad old man, What shall be done to thee? for thou didst burn Their babes, and strew the ashes all about, To rid the world of His white soldiers. Ay, Scenting of human sacrifice, they fled. Cowards! I heard them winnow their great wings: They went to tell Him; but they came no more. The women hate to hear of them, so sore They grudged their little ones; and yet no way There was but that. I took it; I did well."
With that he fell to weeping. "Son," said he, "Long have I hid mine eyes from stalwart men, For it is hard to lose the majesty And pride and power of manhood: but to-day, Stand forth into the light, that I may look Upon thy strength, and think, EVEN THUS DID I, IN THE GLORY OF MY YOUTH, MORE LIKE TO GOD THAN LIKE HIS SOLDIERS, FACE THE VASSAL WORLD."
Then Noah stood forward in his majesty, Shouldering the golden billhook, wherewithal He wont to cut his way, when tangled in The matted hayes. And down the opened roof Fell slanting beams upon his stately head, And streamed along his gown, and made to shine The jewelled sandals on his feet.
And, lo, The Elder cried aloud: "I prophesy. Behold, my son is as a fruitful field When all the lands are waste. The archers drew,— They drew the bow against him; they were fain To slay: but he shall live,—my son shall live, And I shall live by him in the other days. Behold the prophet of the Most High God: Hear him. Behold the hope o' the world, what time She lieth under. Hear him; he shall save A seed alive, and sow the earth with man. O, earth! earth! earth! a floating shell of wood Shall hold the remnant of thy mighty lords Will this old man be in it? Sir, and you My daughters, hear him! Lo, this white old man He sitteth on the ground. (Let be, let be: Why dost Thou trouble us to make our tongue Ring with abhorred words?) The prophecy Of the Elder, and the vision that he saw, They both are ended."
Then said Noah: "The life Of this my lord is low for very age: Why then, with bitter words upon thy tongue, Father-of Lamech, dost thou anger Him? Thou canst not strive against Him now." He said: "Thy feet are toward the valley, where lie bones Bleaching upon the desert. Did I love The lithe strong lizards that I yoked and set To draw my car? and were they not possessed? Yea, all of them were liars. I loved them well. What did the Enemy, but on a day When I behind my talking team went forth, They sweetly lying, so that all men praised Their flattering tongues and mild persuasive eyes,— What did the Enemy but send His slaves, Angels, to cast down stones upon their heads And break them? Nay, I could not stir abroad But havoc came; they never crept or flew Beyond the shelter that I builded here. But straight the crowns I had set upon their heads Were marks for myrmidons that in the clouds Kept watch to crush them. Can a man forgive That hath been warred on thus? I will not. Nay, I swear it,—I, the man Methuselah." The Master-shipwright, he replied, "'Tis true, Great loss was that; but they that stood thy friends, The wicked spirits, spoke upon their tongues, And cursed the God of heaven. What marvel, sir, If He was angered?" But the Elder cried, "They all are dead,—the toward beasts I loved; My goodly team, my joy, they all are dead; Their bones lie bleaching in the wilderness: And I will keep my wrath for evermore Against the Enemy that slew them. Go, Thou coward servant of a tyrant King, Go down the desert of the bones, and ask, 'My King, what bones are these? Methuselah, The white old man that sitteth on the ground, Sendeth a message, "Bid them that they live, And let my lizards run up every path They wont to take when out of silver pipes, The pipes that Tubal wrought into my roof, I blew a sweeter cry than song-bird's throat Hath ever formed; and while they laid their heads Submiss upon my threshold, poured away Music that welled by heartsful out, and made The throats of men that heard to swell, their breasts To heave with the joy of grief; yea, caused the lips To laugh of men asleep. Return to me The great wise lizards; ay, and them that flew My pursuivants before me. Let me yoke Again that multitude; and here I swear That they shall draw my car and me thereon Straight to the ship of doom. So men shall know My loyalty, that I submit, and Thou Shalt yet have honor. O mine Enemy, By me. The speech of old Methuselah."'" Then Noah made answer, "By the living God, That is no enemy to men, great sire, I will not take thy message; hear thou Him. 'Behold (He saith that suffereth thee), behold, The earth that I made green cries out to Me, Red with the costly blood of beauteous man. I am robbed, I am robbed (He saith); they sacrifice To evil demons of My blameless flocks, That I did fashion with My hand. Behold, How goodly was the world! I gave it thee Fresh from its finishing. What hast thou done? I will cry out to the waters, Cover it, And hide it from its Father. Lo, Mine eyes Turn from it shamed.'"
With that the old man laughed Full softly. "Ay," quoth he, "a goodly world, And we have done with it as we did list. Why did He give it us? Nay, look you, son: Five score they were that died in yonder waste; And if He crieth, 'Repent, be reconciled,' I answer, 'Nay, my lizards'; and again, If He will trouble me in this mine age, 'Why hast Thou slain my lizards?' Now my speech Is cut away from all my other words, Standing alone. The Elder sweareth it, The man of many days, Methuselah." Then answered Noah, "My Master, hear it not; But yet have patience"; and he turned himself, And down betwixt the ordered trees went forth, And in the light of evening made his way Into the waste to meet the Voice of God.
Above the head of great Methuselah There lay two demons in the opened roof Invisible, and gathered up his words; For when the Elder prophesied, it came About, that hidden things were shown to them, And burdens that he spake against his time.
(But never heard them, such as dwelt with him; Their ears they stopped, and willed to live at ease In all delight; and perfect in their youth, And strong, disport them in the perfect world.)
Now these were fettered that they could not fly, For a certain disobedience they had wrought Against the ruler of their host; but not The less they loved their cause; and when the feet O' the Master-builder were no longer heard, They, slipping to the sward, right painfully Did follow, for the one to the other said, "Behoves our master know of this; and us, Should he be favorable, he may loose From these our bonds."
And thus it came to pass, That while at dead of night the old dragon lay Coiled in the cavern where he dwelt, the watch Pacing before it saw in middle air A boat, that gleamed like fire, and on it came, And rocked as it drew near, and then it burst And went to pieces, and there fell therefrom, Close at the cavern's mouth, two glowing balls.
Now there was drawn a curtain nigh the mouth Of that deep cave, to testify of wrath. The dragon had been wroth with some that served, And chased them from him; and his oracles, That wont to drop from him, were stopped, and men Might only pray to him through that fell web That hung before him. Then did whisper low Some of the little spirits that bat-like clung And clustered round the opening. "Lo," they said, While gazed the watch upon those glowing balls, "These are like moons eclipsed; but let them lie Red on the moss, and sear its dewy spires, Until our lord give leave to draw the web, And quicken reverence by his presence dread, For he will know and call to them by name, And they will change. At present he is sick, And wills that none disturb him." So they lay, And there was silence, for the forest tribes Came never near that cave. Wiser than men, They fled the serpent hiss that oft by night Came forth of it, and feared the wan dusk forms That stalked among the trees, and in the dark Those whiffs of flame that wandered up the sky And made the moonlight sickly.
Now, the cave Was marvellous for beauty, wrought with tools Into the living rock, for there had worked All cunning men, to cut on it with signs And shows, yea, all the manner of mankind. The fateful apple-tree was there, a bough Bent with the weight of him that us beguiled; And lilies of the field did seem to blow And bud in the storied stone. There Tubal sat, Who from his harp delivered music, sweet As any in the spheres. Yea, more; Earth's latest wonder, on the walls appeared, Unfinished, workmen clustering on its ribs; And farther back, within the rock hewn out, Angelic figures stood, that impious hands Had fashioned; many golden lamps they held By golden chains depending, and their eyes All tended in a reverend quietude Toward the couch whereon the dragon lay. The floor was beaten gold; the curly lengths Of his last coils lay on it, hid from sight With a coverlet made stiff with crusting gems, Fire opals shooting, rubies, fierce bright eyes Of diamonds, or the pale green emerald, That changed their lustre when he breathed.
His head Feathered with crimson combs, and all his neck, And half-shut fans of his admired wings, That in their scaly splendor put to shame Or gold or stone, lay on his ivory couch And shivered; for the dragon suffered pain: He suffered and he feared. It was his doom, The tempter, that he never should depart From the bright creature that in Paradise He for his evil purpose erst possessed, Until it died. Thus only, spirit of might And chiefest spirit of ill, could he be free.
But with its nature wed, as souls of men Are wedded to their clay, he took the dread Of death and dying, and the coward heart Of the beast, and craven terrors of the end Sank him that habited within it to dread Disunion. He, a dark dominion erst Rebellious, lay and trembled, for the flesh Daunted his immaterial. He was sick And sorry. Great ones of the earth had sent Their chief musicians for to comfort him, Chanting his praise, the friend of man, the god That gave them knowledge, at so great a price And costly. Yea, the riches of the mine, And glorious broidered work, and woven gold, And all things wisely made, they at his feet Laid daily; for they said, "This mighty one, All the world wonders after him. He lieth Sick in his dwelling; he hath long foregone (To do us good) dominion, and a throne, And his brave warfare with the Enemy, So much he pitieth us that were denied The gain and gladness of this knowledge. Now Shall he be certified of gratitude, And smell the sacrifice that most he loves."
The night was dark, but every lamp gave forth A tender, lustrous beam. His beauteous wings The dragon fluttered, cursed awhile, then turned And moaned with lamentable voice, "I thirst, Give me to drink." Thereon stepped out in haste, From inner chambers, lovely ministrants, Young boys, with radiant locks and peaceful eyes, And poured out liquor from their cups, to cool His parched tongue, and kneeling held it nigh In jewelled basins sparkling; and he lapped, And was appeased, and said, "I will not hide Longer, my much desired face from men. Draw back the web of separation." Then With cries of gratulation ran they forth, And flung it wide, and all the watch fell low, Each on his face, as drunk with sudden joy. Thus marked he, glowing on the branched moss, Those red rare moons, and let his serpent eyes Consider them full subtly, "What be these?" Enquiring: and the little spirits said, "As we for thy protection (having heard That wrathful sons of darkness walk, to-night, Such as do oft ill use us), clustered here, We marked a boat a-fire that sailed the skies, And furrowed up like spray a billowy cloud, And, lo, it went to pieces, scattering down A rain of sparks and these two angry moons." Then said the dragon, "Let my guard, and you, Attendant hosts, recede"; and they went back, And formed about the cave a widening ring, Then halting, stood afar; and from the cave The snaky wonder spoke, with hissing tongue, "If ye were Tartis and Deleisonon, Be Tartis and Deleisonon once more."
Then egg-like cracked the glowing balls, and forth Started black angels, trampling hard to free Their fettered feet from out the smoking shell.
And he said, "Tartis and Deleisonon, Your lord I am: draw nigh." "Thou art our lord," They answered, and with fettered limbs full low They bent, and made obeisance. Furthermore, "O fiery flying serpent, after whom The nations go, let thy dominion last," They said, "forever." And the serpent said, "It shall: unfold your errand." They replied, One speaking for a space, and afterward His fellow taking up the word with fear And panting, "We were set to watch the mouth Of great Methuselah. There came to him The son of Lamech two days since. My lord, They prophesied, the Elder prophesied, Unwitting, of the flood of waters,—ay, A vision was before him, and the lands Lay under water drowned: he saw the ark,— It floated in the Enemy's right hand." Lord of the lost, the son of Lamech fled Into the wilderness to meet His voice That reigneth; and we, diligent to hear Aught that might serve thee, followed, but, forbid To enter, lay upon its boundary cliff, And wished for morning.
"When the dawn was red, We sought the man, we marked him; and he prayed,— Kneeling, he prayed in the valley, and he said—" "Nay," quoth the serpent, "spare me, what devout He fawning grovelled to the All-powerful; But if of what shall hap he aught let fall, Speak that." They answered, "He did pray as one That looketh to outlive mankind,—and more, We are certified by all his scattered words, That HE will take from men their length of days, And cut them off like grass in its first flower: From henceforth this shall be."
That when he heard, The dragon made to the night his moan.
"And more," They said, "that He above would have men know That He doth love them, whoso will repent, To that man he is favorable, yea, Will be his loving Lord."
The dragon cried, "The last is worse than all. O, man, thy heart Is stout against His wrath. But will He love? I heard it rumored in the heavens of old, (And doth He love?) Thou wilt not, canst not, stand Against the love of God. Dominion fails; I see it float from me, that long have worn Fetters of flesh to win it. Love of God! I cry against thee; thou art worse than all." They answered, "Be not moved, admired chief And trusted of mankind"; and they went on, And fed him with the prophecies that fell From the Master-shipwright in his prayer.
But prone He lay, for he was sick: at every word Prophetic cowering. As a bruising blow, It fell upon his head and daunted him, Until they ended, saying, "Prince, behold, Thy servants have revealed the whole."
Thereon He out of snaky lips did hiss forth thanks. Then said he, "Tartis and Deleisonon, Receive your wages." So their fetters fell; And they retiring, lauded him, and cried, "King, reign forever." Then he mourned, "Amen."
And he,—being left alone,—he said: "A light! I see a light,—a star among the trees,— An angel." And it drew toward the cave, But with its sacred feet touched not the grass, Nor lifted up the lids of its pure eyes, But hung a span's length from that ground pollute, At the opening of the cave.
And when he looked, The dragon cried, "Thou newly-fashioned thing, Of name unknown, thy scorn becomes thee not. Doth not thy Master suffer what thine eyes Thou countest all too clean to open on?" But still it hovered, and the quietness Of holy heaven was on the drooping lids; And not as one that answereth, it let fall The music from its mouth, but like to one That doth not hear, or, hearing, doth not heed.
"A message: 'I have heard thee, while remote I went My rounds among the unfinished stars.' A message: 'I have left thee to thy ways, And mastered all thy vileness, for thy hate I have made to serve the ends of My great love. Hereafter will I chain thee down. To-day One thing thou art forbidden; now thou knowest The name thereof: I told it thee in heaven, When thou wert sitting at My feet. Forbear To let that hidden thing be whispered forth: For man, ungrateful (and thy hope it was, That so ungrateful he might prove), would scorn, And not believe it, adding so fresh weight Of condemnation to the doomed world. Concerning that, thou art forbid to speak; Know thou didst count it, falling from My tongue, A lovely song, whose meaning was unknown, Unknowable, unbearable to thought, But sweeter in the hearing than all harps Toned in My holy hollow. Now thine ears Are opened, know it, and discern and fear, Forbearing speech of it for evermore.'"
So said, it turned, and with a cry of joy, As one released, went up: and it was dawn, And all boughs dropped with dew, and out of mist Came the red sun and looked into the cave.
But the dragon, left a-tremble, called to him, From the nether kingdom, certain of his friends,— Three whom he trusted, councillors accursed. A thunder-cloud stooped low and swathed the place In its black swirls, and out of it they rushed, And hid them in recesses of the cave, Because they could not look upon the sun, Sith light is pure. And Satan called to them,— All in the dark, in his great rage he spake: "Up," quoth the dragon; "it is time to work, Or we are all undone." And he did hiss, And there came shudderings over land and trees, A dimness after dawn. The earth threw out A blinding fog, that crept toward the cave, And rolled up blank before it like a veil,— curtain to conceal its habiters. Then did those spirits move upon the floor, Like pillars of darkness, and with eyes aglow. One had a helm for covering of the scars That seamed what rested of a goodly face; He wore his vizor up, and all his words Were hollower than an echo from the hills: He was hight Make. And, lo, his fellow-fiend Came after, holding down his dastard head, Like one ashamed: now this for craft was great; The dragon honored him. A third sat down Among them, covering with his wasted hand Somewhat that pained his breast.
And when the fit Of thunder, and the sobbings of the wind, Were lulled, the dragon spoke with wrath and rage, And told them of his matters: "Look to this, If ye be loyal"; adding, "Give your thoughts, And let me have your counsel in this need."
One spirit rose and spake, and all the cave Was full of sighs, "The words of Make the Prince, Of him once delegate in Betelgeux: Whereas of late the manner is to change, We know not where 't will end; and now my words Go thus: give way, be peaceable, lie still And strive not, else the world that we have won He may, to drive us out, reduce to naught.
"For while I stood in mine obedience yet, Steering of Betelgeux my sun, behold, A moon, that evil ones did fill, rolled up Astray, and suddenly the Master came, And while, a million strong, like rooks they rose, He took and broke it, flung it here and there, And called a blast to drive the powder forth; And it was fine as dust, and blurred the skies Farther than 'tis from hence to this young sun. Spirits that passed upon their work that day, Cried out, 'How dusty 'tis.' Behoves us, then, That we depart, as leaving unto Him This goodly world and goodly race of man. Not all are doomed; hereafter it may be That we find place on it again. But if, Too zealous to preserve it, and the men Our servants, we oppose Him, He may come And choosing rather to undo His work Than strive with it for aye, make so an end."
He sighing paused. Lo, then the serpent hissed In impotent rage, "Depart! and how depart! Can flesh be carried down where spirits wonn? Or I, most miserable, hold my life Over the airless, bottomless gulf, and bide The buffetings of yonder shoreless sea? O death, thou terrible doom: O death, thou dread Of all that breathe." A spirit rose and spake; "Whereas in Heaven is power, is much to fear; For this admired country we have marred. Whereas in Heaven is love (and there are days When yet I can recall what love was like), Is naught to fear. A threatening makes the whole, And clogged with strong conditions: 'O, repent, Man, and I turn,' He, therefore, powerful now, And more so, master, that ye bide in clay, Threateneth that He may save. They shall not die."
The dragon said, "I tremble, I am sick." He said with pain of heart, "How am I fallen! For I keep silence; yea, I have withdrawn From haunting of His gates, and shouting up Defiance. Wherefore doth He hunt me out From this small world, this little one, that I Have been content to take unto myself, I here being loved and worshipped? He knoweth How much I have foregone; and must He stoop To whelm the world, and heave the floors o' the deep, Of purpose to pursue me from my place? And since I gave men knowledge, must He take Their length of days whereby they perfect it? So shall He scatter all that I have stored, And get them by degrading them. I know That in the end it is appointed me To fade. I will not fade before the time."
A spirit rose, the third, a spirit ashamed And subtle, and his face he turned aside: "Whereas," said he, "we strive against both power And love, behoves us that we strive aright. Now some of old my comrades, yesterday I met, as they did journey to appear In the Presence; and I said, 'My master lieth Sick yonder, otherwise (for no decree There stands against it) he would also come And make obeisance with the sons of God.' They answered, naught denying. Therefore, lord, 'Tis certain that ye have admittance yet; And what doth hinder? Nothing but this breath. Were it not well to make an end, and die, And gain admittance to the King of kings? What if thy slaves by thy consent should take And bear thee on their wings above the earth, And suddenly let fall,—how soon 't were o'er! We should have fear and sinking at the heart; But in a little moment we should see, Rising majestic from a ruined heap, The stately spirit that we served of yore."
The serpent turned his subtle deadly eyes Upon the spirit, and hissed; and sick with shame, It bowed itself together, and went back With hidden face. "This counsel is not good," The other twain made answer; "look, my lord, Whereas 'tis evil in thine eyes, in ours 'Tis evil also; speak, for we perceive That on thy tongue the words of counsel sit, Ready to fly to our right greedy ears, That long for them." And Satan, flattered thus (Forever may the serpent kind be charmed, With soft sweet words, and music deftly played), Replied, "Whereas I surely rule the world, Behoves that ye prepare for me a path, And that I, putting of my pains aside, Go stir rebellion in the mighty hearts O' the giants; for He loveth them, and looks Full oft complacent on their glorious strength. He willeth that they yield, that He may spare; But, by the blackness of my loathed den, I say they shall not, no, they shall not yield; Go, therefore, take to you some harmless guise, And spread a rumor that I come. I, sick, Sorry, and aged, hasten. I have heard Whispers that out of heaven dropped unaware. I caught them up, and sith they bode men harm, I am ready for to comfort them; yea, more, To counsel, and I will that they drive forth The women, the abhorred of my soul; Let not a woman breathe where I shall pass, Lest the curse fall, and that she bruise my head. Friends, if it be their mind to send for me An army, and triumphant draw me on In the golden car ye wot of, and with shouts, I would not that ye hinder them. Ah, then Will I make hard their hearts, and grieve Him sore, That loves them, O, by much too well to wet Their stately heads, and soil those locks of strength Under the fateful brine. Then afterward, While He doth reason vainly with them, I Will offer Him a pact: 'Great King, a pact, And men shall worship Thee, I say they shall, For I will bid them do it, yea, and leave To sacrifice their kind, so Thou my name Wilt suffer to be worshipped after Thine.'"