He knew she did not love him; but so long
As rivals were unknown to him, he dwelt
At ease, and did not find his love a pain.
He had much deference in his nature, need
To honor - it became him; he was frank,
Fresh, hardy, of a joyous mind, and strong, -
Looked all things straight in the face. So when she came
Before him first, he looked at her, and looked
No more, but colored to his healthful brow,
And wished himself a better man, and thought
On certain things, and wished they were undone,
Because her girlish innocence, the grace
Of her unblemished pureness, wrought in him
A longing and aspiring, and a shame
To think how wicked was the world, - that world
Which he must walk in, - while from her (and such
As she was) it was hidden; there was made
A clean path, and the girl moved on like one
In some enchanted ring.
In his young heart
She reigned, with all the beauties that she had,
And all the virtues that he rightly took
For granted; there he set her with her crown,
And at her first enthronement he turned out
Much that was best away, for unaware
His thoughts grew noble. She was always there
And knew it not, and he grew like to her
And like to what he thought her.
Now he dwelt
With kin that loved him well, - two fine old folk,
A rich, right honest yeoman, and his dame, -
Their only grandson he, their pride, their heir.
To these, one daughter had been born, one child,
And as she grew to woman, "Look," they said,
"She must not leave us; let us build a wing,
With cheerful rooms and wide, to our old grange;
There may she dwell, with her good man, and all
God sends them." Then the girl in her first youth
Married a curate, - handsome, poor in purse,
Of gentle blood and manners, and he lived
Under her father's roof, as they had planned.
Full soon, for happy years are short, they filled
The house with children; four were born to them.
Then came a sickly season; fever spread
Among the poor. The curate, never slack
In duty, praying by the sick, or worse,
Burying the dead, when all the air was clogged
With poisonous mist, was stricken; long he lay
Sick, almost to the death, and when his head
He lifted from the pillow, there was left
One only of that pretty flock: his girls,
His three, were cold beneath the sod; his boy,
Their eldest born, remained.
The drooping wife
Bore her great sorrow in such quiet wise,
That first they marvelled at her, then they tried
To rouse her, showing her their bitter grief,
Lamenting, and not sparing; but she sighed,
"Let me alone, it will not be for long."
Then did her mother tremble, murmuring out,
"Dear child, the best of comfort will be soon.
O, when you see this other little face,
You will, please God, be comforted."
"I shall not live to see it"; but she did, -
little sickly face, a wan, thin face.
Then she grew eager, and her eyes were bright
When she would plead with them: "Take me away,
Let me go south; it is the bitter blast
That chills my tender babe; she cannot thrive
Under the desolate, dull, mournful cloud."
Then all they journeyed south together, mute
With past and coming sorrow, till the sun,
In gardens edging the blue tideless main,
Warmed them and calmed the aching at their hearts,
And all went better for a while; but not
For long. They sitting by the orange-trees
Once rested, and the wife was very still:
One woman with narcissus flowers heaped up
Let down her basket from her head, but paused
With pitying gesture, and drew near and stooped,
Taking a white wild face upon her breast, -
The little babe on its poor mother's knees,
None marking it, none knowing else, had died.
The fading mother could not stay behind,
Her heart was broken; but it awed them most
To feel they must not, dared not, pray for life,
Seeing she longed to go, and went so gladly.
After, these three, who loved each other well,
Brought their one child away, and they were best
Together in the wide old grange. Full oft
The father with the mother talked of her,
Their daughter, but the husband nevermore;
He looked for solace in his work, and gave
His mind to teach his boy. And time went on,
Until the grandsire prayed those other two
"Now part with him; it must be; for his good:
He rules and knows it; choose for him a school,
Let him have all advantages, and all
Good training that should make a gentleman."
With that they parted from their boy, and lived
Longing between his holidays, and time
Sped; he grew on till he had eighteen years.
His father loved him, wished to make of him
Another parson; but the farmer's wife
Murmured at that: "No, no, they learned bad ways,
They ran in debt at college; she had heard
That many rued the day they sent their boys
To college"; and between the two broke in
His grandsire: "Find a sober, honest man,
A scholar, for our lad should see the world
While he is young, that he may marry young.
He will not settle and be satisfied
Till he has run about the world awhile.
Good lack, I longed to travel in my youth,
And had no chance to do it. Send him off,
A sober man being found to trust him with,
One with the fear of God before his eyes."
And he prevailed; the careful father chose
A tutor, young, - the worthy matron thought, -
In truth, not ten years older than her boy,
And glad as he to range, and keen for snows,
Desert, and ocean. And they made strange choice
Of where to go, left the sweet day behind,
And pushed up north in whaling ships, to feel
What cold was, see the blowing whale come up,
And Arctic creatures, while a scarlet sun
Went round and round, crowd on the clear blue berg.
Then did the trappers have them; and they heard
Nightly the whistling calls of forest-men
That mocked the forest wonners; and they saw
Over the open, raging up like doom,
The dangerous dust-cloud, that was full of eyes, -
The bisons. So were three years gone like one;
And the old cities drew them for a while,
Great mothers, by the Tiber and the Seine;
They have hid many sons hard by their seats,
But all the air is stirring with them still,
The waters murmur of them, skies at eve
Are stained with their rich blood, and every sound
At last, the fourth year running out,
The youth came home. And all the cheerful house
Was decked in fresher colors, and the dame
Was full of joy. But in the father's heart
Abode a painful doubt. "It is not well;
He cannot spend his life with dog and gun.
I do not care that my one son should sleep
Merely for keeping him in breath, and wake
Only to ride to cover."
Not the less
The grandsire pondered. "Ay, the boy must WORK
Or SPEND; and I must let him spend; just stay
Awhile with us, and then from time to time
Have leave to be away with those fine folk
With whom, these many years, at school, and now,
During his sojourn in the foreign towns,
He has been made familiar." Thus a month
Went by. They liked the stirring ways of youth,
The quick elastic step, and joyous mind,
Ever expectant of it knew not what,
But something higher than has e'er been born
Of easy slumber and sweet competence.
And as for him, - the while they thought and thought
A comfortable instinct let him know
How they had waited for him, to complete
And give a meaning to their lives; and still
At home, but with a sense of newness there,
And frank and fresh as in the school-boy days,
He oft - invading of his father's haunts,
The study where he passed the silent morn -
Would sit, devouring with a greedy joy
The piled-up books, uncut as yet; or wake
To guide with him by night the tube, and search,
Ay, think to find new stars; then risen betimes,
Would ride about the farm, and list the talk
Of his hale grandsire.
But a day came round,
When, after peering in his mother's room,
Shaded and shuttered from the light, he oped
A door, and found the rosy grandmother
Ensconced and happy in her special pride,
Her storeroom. She was corking syrups rare,
And fruits all sparkling in a crystal coat.
Here after choice of certain cates well known,
He, sitting on her bacon-chest at ease,
Sang as he watched her, till right suddenly,
As if a new thought came, "Goody," quoth he,
"What, think you, do they want to do with me?
What have they planned for me that I should do?"
"Do, laddie!" quoth she faltering, half in tears;
"Are you not happy with us, not content?
Why would ye go away? There is no need
That ye should DO at all. O, bide at home.
Have we not plenty?"
"Even so," he said;
"I did not wish to go."
"Nay, then," quoth she,
"Be idle; let me see your blessed face.
What, is the horse your father chose for you
Not to your mind? He is? Well, well, remain;
Do as you will, so you but do it here.
You shall not want for money."
But, his arms
Folding, he sat and twisted up his mouth
With comical discomfiture.
She sighed, "what is it, child, that you would like?"
"Why," said he, "farming."
And she looked at him,
Fond, foolish woman that she was, to find
Some fitness in the worker for the work,
And she found none. A certain grace there was
Of movement, and a beauty in the face,
Sun-browned and healthful beauty that had come
From his grave father; and she thought, "Good lack,
A farmer! he is fitter for a duke.
He walks; why, how he walks! if I should meet
One like him, whom I knew not, I should ask,
'And who may that be?'" So the foolish thought
Found words. Quoth she, half laughing, half ashamed,
"We planned to make of you - a gentleman."
And with engaging sweet audacity
She thought it nothing less, - he, looking up,
With a smile in his blue eyes, replied to her,
"And hav'n't you done it?" Quoth she, lovingly,
"I think we have, laddie; I think we have."
"Then," quoth he, "I may do what best I like;
It makes no matter. Goody, you were wise
To help me in it, and to let me farm;
I think of getting into mischief else!"
"No! do ye, laddie?" quoth the dame, and laughed.
"But ask my grandfather," the youth went on,
"To let me have the farm he bought last year,
The little one, to manage. I like land;
I want some." And she, womanlike, gave way
Convinced; and promised, and made good her word,
And that same night upon the matter spoke,
In presence of the father and the son.
"Roger," quoth she, "our Laurance wants to farm;
I think he might do worse." The father sat
Mute but right glad. The grandson breaking in
Set all his wish and his ambition forth;
But cunningly the old man hid his joy,
And made conditions with a faint demur.
Then pausing, "Let your father speak," quoth he;
"I am content if he is": at his word
The parson took him, ay, and, parson like,
Put a religious meaning in the work,
Man's earliest work, and wished his son God speed.
Thus all were satisfied, and day by day,
For two sweet years a happy course was theirs;
Happy, but yet the fortunate, the young
Loved, and much cared-for, entered on his strife, -
A stirring of the heart, a quickening keen
Of sight and hearing to the delicate
Beauty and music of an altered world;
Began to walk in that mysterious light
Which doth reveal and yet transform; which gives
Destiny, sorrow, youth, and death, and life,
Intenser meaning; in disquieting
Lifts up; a shining light: men call it Love.
Fair, modest eyes had she, the girl he loved;
A silent creature, thoughtful, grave, sincere.
She never turned from him with sweet caprice,
Nor changing moved his soul to troublous hope,
Nor dropped for him her heavy lashes low,
But excellent in youthful grace came up;
And ere his words were ready, passing on,
Had left him all a-tremble; yet made sure
That by her own true will, and fixed intent,
She held him thus remote. Therefore, albeit
He knew she did not love him, yet so long
As of a rival unaware, he dwelt
All in the present, without fear, or hope,
Enthralled and whelmed in the deep sea of love,
And could not get his head above its wave
To reach the far horizon, or to mark
Whereto it drifted him.
So long, so long;
Then, on a sudden, came the ruthless fate,
Showed him a bitter truth, and brought him bale
All in the tolling out of noon.
Snow-time was come; it had been snowing hard;
Across the churchyard path he walked; the clock
Began to strike, and, as he passed the porch,
Half turning, through a sense that came to him
As of some presence in it, he beheld
His love, and she had come for shelter there;
And all her face was fair with rosy bloom,
The blush of happiness; and one held up
Her ungloved hand in both his own, and stooped
Toward it, sitting by her. O her eyes
Were full of peace and tender light: they looked
One moment in the ungraced lover's face
While he was passing in the snow; and he
Received the story, while he raised his hat
Retiring. Then the clock left off to strike,
And that was all. It snowed, and he walked on;
And in a certain way he marked the snow,
And walked, and came upon the open heath;
And in a certain way he marked the cold,
And walked as one that had no starting-place
Might walk, but not to any certain goal.
And he strode on toward a hollow part,
Where from the hillside gravel had been dug,
And he was conscious of a cry, and went
Dulled in his sense, as though he heard it not;
Till a small farmhouse drudge, a half-grown girl,
Rose from the shelter of a drift that lay
Against the bushes, crying, "God! O God,
O my good God, He sends us help at last."
Then looking hard upon her, came to him
The power to feel and to perceive. Her teeth
Chattered, and all her limbs with shuddering failed,
And in her threadbare shawl was wrapped a child
That looked on him with wondering, wistful eyes.
"I thought to freeze," the girl broke out with tears;
"Kind sir, kind sir," and she held out the child,
As praying him to take it; and he did;
And gave to her the shawl, and swathed his charge
In the foldings of his plaid; and when it thrust
Its small round face against his breast, and felt
With small red hands for warmth, - unbearable
Pains of great pity rent his straitened heart,
For the poor upland dwellers had been out
Since morning dawn, at early milking-time,
Wandering and stumbling in the drift. And now,
Lamed with a fall, half crippled by the cold,
Hardly prevailed his arm to drag her on,
That ill-clad child, who yet the younger child
Had motherly cared to shield. So toiling through
The great white storm coming, and coming yet.
And coming till the world confounded sat
With all her fair familiar features gone,
The mountains muffled in an eddying swirl,
He led or bore them, and the little one
Peered from her shelter, pleased; but oft would mourn
The elder, "They will beat me: O my can,
I left my can of milk upon the moor."
And he compared her trouble with his own,
And had no heart to speak. And yet 'twas keen;
It filled her to the putting down of pain
And hunger, - what could his do more?
The children to their home, and suddenly
Regained himself, and wondering at himself,
That he had borne, and yet been dumb so long,
The weary wailing of the girl: he paid
Money to buy her pardon; heard them say,
"Peace, we have feared for you; forget the milk,
It is no matter!" and went forth again
And waded in the snow, and quietly
Considered in his patience what to do
With all the dull remainder of his days.
With dusk he was at home, and felt it good
To hear his kindred talking, for it broke
A mocking, endless echo in his soul,
"It is no matter!" and he could not choose
But mutter, though the weariness o'ercame
His spirit, "Peace, it is no matter; peace,
It is no matter!" For he felt that all
Was as it had been, and his father's heart
Was easy, knowing not how that same day
Hope with her tender colors and delight
(He should not care to have him know) were dead;
Yea, to all these, his nearest and most dear,
It was no matter. And he heard them talk
Of timber felled, of certain fruitful fields,
And profitable markets.
All for him
Their plans, and yet the echoes swarmed and swam
About his head, whenever there was pause;
"It is no matter!" And his greater self
Arose in him and fought. "It matters much,
It matters all to these, that not to-day
Nor ever they should know it. I will hide
The wound; ay, hide it with a sleepless care.
What! shall I make these three to drink of rue,
Because my cup is bitter?" And he thrust
Himself in thought away, and made his ears
Hearken, and caused his voice, that yet did seem
Another, to make answer, when they spoke,
As there had been no snowstorm, and no porch,
And no despair.
So this went on awhile
Until the snow had melted from the wold,
And he, one noonday, wandering up a lane,
Met on a turn the woman whom he loved.
Then, even to trembling he was moved: his speech
Faltered; but when the common kindly words
Of greeting were all said, and she passed on,
He could not bear her sweetness and his pain,
"Muriel!" he cried; and when she heard her name,
She turned. "You know I love you," he broke out:
She answered "Yes," and sighed.
"O pardon me.
Pardon me," quoth the lover; "let me rest
In certainty, and hear it from your mouth:
Is he with whom I saw you once of late
To call you wife?" "I hope so," she replied;
And over all her face the rose-bloom came,
As thinking on that other, unaware
Her eyes waxed tender. When he looked on her,
Standing to answer him, with lovely shame,
Submiss, and yet not his, a passionate,
A quickened sense of his great impotence
To drive away the doom got hold on him;
He set his teeth to force the unbearable
Misery back, his wide-awakened eyes
Flashed as with flame.
And she, all overawed
And mastered by his manhood, waited yet,
And trembled at the deep she could not sound;
A passionate nature in a storm; a heart
Wild with a mortal pain, and in the grasp
Of an immortal love.
"Farewell," he said,
Recovering words, and when she gave her hand,
"My thanks for your good candor; for I feel
That it has cost you something." Then, the blush
Yet on her face, she said: "It was your due:
But keep this matter from your friends and kin,
We would not have it known." Then cold and proud,
Because there leaped from under his straight lids,
And instantly was veiled, a keen surprise, -
"He wills it, and I therefore think it well."
Thereon they parted; but from that time forth,
Whether they met on festal eve, in field,
Or at the church, she ever bore herself
Proudly, for she had felt a certain pain,
The disapproval hastily betrayed
And quickly hidden hurt her. "'T was a grace,"
She thought, "to tell this man the thing he asked,
And he rewards me with surprise. I like
No one's surprise, and least of all bestowed
Where he bestowed it."
But the spring came on:
Looking to wed in April all her thoughts
Grew loving; she would fain the world had waxed
More happy with her happiness, and oft
Walking among the flowery woods she felt
Their loveliness reach down into her heart,
And knew with them the ecstasies of growth,
The rapture that was satisfied with light,
The pleasure of the leaf in exquisite
Expansion, through the lovely longed-for spring.
And as for him, - (Some narrow hearts there are
That suffer blight when that they fed upon
As something to complete their being fails,
And they retire into their holds and pine,
And long restrained grow stern. But some there are,
That in a sacred want and hunger rise,
And draw the misery home and live with it,
And excellent in honor wait, and will
That somewhat good should yet be found in it,
Else wherefore were they born?), - and as for him,
He loved her, but his peace and welfare made
The sunshine of three lives. The cheerful grange
Threw open wide its hospitable doors
And drew in guests for him. The garden flowers,
Sweet budding wonders, all were set for him.
In him the eyes at home were satisfied,
And if he did but laugh the ear approved.
What then? He dwelt among them as of old,
And taught his mouth to smile.
And time went on,
Till on a morning, when the perfect spring
Rested among her leaves, he journeying home
After short sojourn in a neighboring town,
Stopped at the little station on the line
That ran between his woods; a lonely place
And quiet, and a woman and a child
Got out. He noted them, but walking on
Quickly, went back into the wood, impelled
By hope, for, passing, he had seen his love,
And she was sitting on a rustic seat
That overlooked the line, and he desired
With longing indescribable to look
Upon her face again. And he drew near.
She was right happy; she was waiting there.
He felt that she was waiting for her lord.
She cared no whit if Laurance went or stayed,
But answered when he spoke, and dropped her cheek
In her fair hand.
And he, not able yet
To force himself away, and never more
Behold her, gathered blossom, primrose flowers,
And wild anemone, for many a clump
Grew all about him, and the hazel rods
Were nodding with their catkins. But he heard
The stopping train, and felt that he must go;
His time was come. There was nought else to do
Or hope for. With the blossom he drew near
And would have had her take it from his hand;
But she, half lost in thought, held out her own,
And then remembering him and his long love,
She said, "I thank you; pray you now forget,
Forget me, Laurance," and her lovely eyes
Softened; but he was dumb, till through the trees
Suddenly broke upon their quietude
The woman and her child. And Muriel said,
"What will you?" She made answer quick and keen,
"Your name, my lady; 'tis your name I want,
Tell me your name." Not startled, not displeased,
But with a musing sweetness on her mouth,
As if considering in how short a while
It would be changed, she lifted up her face
And gave it, and the little child drew near
And pulled her gown, and prayed her for the flowers.
Then Laurance, not content to leave them so,
Nor yet to wait the coming lover, spoke, -
"Your errand with this lady?" - "And your right
To ask it?" she broke out with sudden heat
And passion: "What is that to you! Poor child!
Madam!" And Muriel lifted up her face
And looked, - they looked into each other's eyes.
"That man who comes," the clear-voiced woman cried,
"That man with whom you think to wed so soon,
You must not heed him. What! the world is full
Of men, and some are good, and most, God knows,
Better than he, - that I should say it! - far
Better." And down her face the large tears ran,
And Muriel's wild dilated eyes looked up,
Taking a terrible meaning from her words;
And Laurance stared about him half in doubt
If this were real, for all things were so blithe,
And soft air tossed the little flowers about;
The child was singing, and the blackbirds piped,
Glad in fair sunshine. And the women both
Were quiet, gazing in each other's eyes.
He found his voice, and spoke: "This is not well,
Though whom you speak of should have done you wrong;
A man that could desert and plan to wed
Will not his purpose yield to God and right,
Only to law. You, whom I pity so much,
If you be come this day to urge a claim,
You will not tell me that your claim will hold;
'Tis only, if I read aright, the old,
Sorrowful, hateful story!"
With a dull patience that he marvelled at,
"Be plain with me. I know not what to think,
Unless you are his wife. Are you his wife?
Be plain with me." And all too quietly,
With running down of tears, the answer came,
"Ay, madam, ay! the worse for him and me."
Then Muriel heard her lover's foot anear,
And cried upon him with a bitter cry,
Sharp and despairing. And those two stood back,
With such affright, and violent anger stirred
He broke from out the thicket to her side,
Not knowing. But, her hands before her face,
She sat; and, stepping close, that woman came
And faced him. Then said Muriel, "O my heart,
Herbert!" - and he was dumb, and ground his teeth,
And lifted up his hand and looked at it,
And at the woman; but a man was there
Who whirled her from her place, and thrust himself
Between them; he was strong, - a stalwart man:
And Herbert thinking on it, knew his name.
"What good," quoth he, "though you and I should strive
And wrestle all this April day? A word,
And not a blow, is what these women want:
Master yourself, and say it." But he, weak
With passion and great anguish, flung himself
Upon the seat and cried, "O lost, my love!
O Muriel, Muriel!" And the woman spoke,
"Sir, 'twas an evil day you wed with me;
And you were young; I know it, sir, right well.
Sir, I have worked; I have not troubled you,
Not for myself, nor for your child. I know
We are not equal." "Hold!" he cried; "have done;
Your still, tame words are worse than hate or scorn.
Get from me! Ay, my wife, my wife, indeed!
All's done. You hear it, Muriel; if you can,
O sweet, forgive me."
Then the woman moved
Slowly away: her little singing child
Went in her wake: and Muriel dropped her hands,
And sat before these two that loved her so,
Mute and unheeding. There were angry words,
She knew, but yet she could not hear the words;
And afterwards the man she loved stooped down
And kissed her forehead once, and then withdrew
To look at her, and with a gesture pray
Her pardon. And she tried to speak, but failed,
And presently, and soon, O, - he was gone.
She heard him go, and Laurance, still as stone,
Remained beside her; and she put her hand
Before her face again, and afterward
She heard a voice, as if a long way off,
Some one entreated, but she could not heed.
Thereon he drew her hand away, and raised
Her passive from her seat. So then she knew
That he would have her go with him, go home, -
It was not far to go, - a dreary home.
A crippled aunt, of birth and lineage high,
Had in her youth, and for a place and home,
Married the stern old rector; and the girl
Dwelt with them: she was orphaned, - had no kin
Nearer than they. And Laurance brought her in,
And spared to her the telling of this woe.
He sought her kindred where they sat apart,
And laid before them all the cruel thing,
As he had seen it. After, he retired:
And restless, and not master of himself,
He day and night haunted the rectory lanes;
And all things, even to the spreading out
Of leaves, their flickering shadows on the ground,
Or sailing of the slow, white cloud, or peace
And glory and great light on mountain heads, -
All things were leagued against him, - ministered
By likeness or by contrast to his love.
But what was that to Muriel, though her peace
He would have purchased for her with all prayers,
And costly, passionate, despairing tears?
O what to her that he should find it worse
To bear her life's undoing than his own?
She let him see her, and she made no moan,
But talked full calmly of indifferent things,
Which when he heard, and marked the faded eyes
And lovely wasted cheek, he started up
With "This I cannot bear!" and shamed to feel
His manhood giving way, and utterly
Subdued by her sweet patience and his pain,
Made haste and from the window sprang, and paced,
Battling and chiding with himself, the maze.
She suffered, and he could not make her well
For all his loving; - he was naught to her.
And now his passionate nature, set astir,
Fought with the pain that could not be endured;
And like a wild thing suddenly aware
That it is caged, which flings and bruises all
Its body at the bars, he rose, and raged
Against the misery: then he made all worse
With tears. But when he came to her again,
Willing to talk as they had talked before,
She sighed, and said, with that strange quietness,
"I know you have been crying": and she bent
Her own fair head and wept.
She felt the cold -
The freezing cold that deadened all her life -
Give way a little; for this passionate
Sorrow, and all for her, relieved her heart,
And brought some natural warmth, some natural tears.
And after that, though oft he sought her door,
He might not see her. First they said to him,
"She is not well"; and afterwards, "Her wish
Is ever to be quiet." Then in haste
They took her from the place, because so fast
She faded. As for him, though youth and strength
Can bear the weight as of a world, at last
The burden of it tells, - he heard it said,
When autumn came, "The poor sweet thing will die:
That shock was mortal." And he cared no more
To hide, if yet he could have hidden, the blight
That was laying waste his heart. He journeyed south
To Devon, where she dwelt with other kin,
Good, kindly women; and he wrote to them,
Praying that he might see her ere she died.
So in her patience she permitted him
To be about her, for it eased his heart;
And as for her that was to die so soon,
What did it signify? She let him weep
Some passionate tears beside her couch, she spoke
Pitying words, and then they made him go,
It was enough they said, her time was short,
And he had seen her. He HAD seen, and felt
The bitterness of death; but he went home,
Being satisfied in that great longing now,
And able to endure what might befall.
And Muriel lay, and faded with the year;
She lay at the door of death, that opened not
To take her in; for when the days once more
Began a little to increase, she felt, -
And it was sweet to her, she was so young, -
She felt a longing for the time of flowers,
And dreamed that she was walking in that wood
With her two feet among the primroses.
Then when the violet opened, she rose up
And walked: the tender leaf and tender light
Did solace her; but she was white and wan,
The shadow of that Muriel, in the wood
Who listened to those deadly words.
Empurpled seas began to blush and bloom,
Doves made sweet moaning, and the guelder rose
In a great stillness dropped, and ever dropped,
Her wealth about her feet, and there it lay,
And drifted not at all. The lilac spread
Odorous essence round her; and full oft,
When Muriel felt the warmth her pulses cheer,
She, faded, sat among the Maytide bloom,
And with a reverent quiet in her soul,
Took back - it was His will - her time, and sat
Learning again to live.
Thus as she sat
Upon a day, she was aware of one
Who at a distance marked her. This again
Another day, and she was vexed, for yet
She longed for quiet; but she heard a foot
Pass once again, and beckoned through the trees.
"Laurance!" And all impatient of unrest
And strife, ay, even of the sight of them,
When he drew near, with tired, tired lips,
As if her soul upbraided him, she said,
"Why have you done this thing?" He answered her,
"I am not always master in the fight:
I could not help it."
"What!" she sighed, "not yet!
O, I am sorry"; and she talked to him
As one who looked to live, imploring him, -
"Try to forget me. Let your fancy dwell
Elsewhere, nor me enrich with it so long;
It wearies me to think of this your love.
He made answer, "I will try:
The task will take me all my life to learn,
Or were it learned, I know not how to live;
This pain is part of life and being now, -
It is myself; but yet - but I will try."
Then she spoke friendly to him, - of his home,
His father, and the old, brave, loving folk;
She bade him think of them. And not her words,
But having seen her, satisfied his heart.
He left her, and went home to live his life,
And all the summer heard it said of her,
"Yet, she grows stronger"; but when autumn came
Again she drooped.
A bitter thing it is
To lose at once the lover and the love;
For who receiveth not may yet keep life
In the spirit with bestowal. But for her,
This Muriel, all was gone. The man she loved,
Not only from her present had withdrawn,
But from her past, and there was no such man,
There never had been.
He was not as one
Who takes love in, like some sweet bird, and holds
The winged fluttering stranger to his breast,
Till, after transient stay, all unaware
It leaves him: it has flown. No; this may live
In memory, - loved till death. He was not vile;
For who by choice would part with that pure bird,
And lose the exaltation of its song?
He had not strength of will to keep it fast,
Nor warmth of heart to keep it warm, nor life
Of thought to make the echo sound for him
After the song was done. Pity that man:
His music is all flown, and he forgets
The sweetness of it, till at last he thinks
'Twas no great matter. But he was not vile,
Only a thing to pity most in man,
Weak, - only poor, and, if he knew it, undone.
But Herbert! When she mused on it, her soul
Would fain have hidden him forevermore,
Even from herself: so pure of speech, so frank,
So full of household kindness. Ah, so good
And true! A little, she had sometimes thought,
Despondent for himself, but strong of faith
In God, and faith in her, this man had seemed.
Ay, he was gone! and she whom he had wed,
As Muriel learned, was sick, was poor, was sad.
And Muriel wrote to comfort her, and send,
From her small store, money to help her need,
With, "Pray you keep it secret." Then the whole
Of the cruel tale was told.
What more? She died.
Her kin, profuse of thanks, not bitterly,
Wrote of the end. "Our sister fain had seen
Her husband; prayed him sore to come. But no.
And then she prayed him that he would forgive,
Madam, her breaking of the truth to you.
Dear madam, he was angry, yet we think
He might have let her see, before she died,
The words she wanted, but he did not write
Till she was gone - 'I neither can forgive,
Nor would I if I could.'"
"Patience, my heart!
And this, then, is the man I loved!"
He sought a lower level, for he wrote
Telling the story with a different hue,
Telling of freedom. He desired to come,
"For now," said he, "O love, may all be well."
And she rose up against it in her soul,
For she despised him. And with passionate tears
Of shame, she wrote, and only wrote these words, -
"Herbert, I will not see you."
Then she drooped
Again; it is so bitter to despise;
And all her strength, when autumn leaves down dropped,
Fell from her. "Ah!" she thought, "I rose up once,
I cannot rise up now; here is the end."
And all her kinsfolk thought, "It is the end."
But when that other heard, "It is the end,"
His heart was sick, and he, as by a power
Far stronger than himself, was driven to her.
Reason rebelled against it, but his will
Required it of him with a craving strong
As life, and passionate though hopeless pain.
She, when she saw his face, considered him
Full quietly, let all excuses pass
Not answered, and considered yet again.
"He had heard that she was sick; what could he do
But come, and ask her pardon that he came?"
What could he do, indeed? - a weak white girl
Held all his heartstrings in her small white hand;
His youth, and power, and majesty were hers,
And not his own.
She looked, and pitied him.
Then spoke: "He loves me with a love that lasts.
Ah, me! that I might get away from it,
Or, better, hear it said that love IS NOT,
And then I could have rest. My time is short,
I think, so short." And roused against himself
In stormy wrath, that it should be his doom
Her to disquiet whom he loved; ay, her
For whom he would have given all his rest,
If there were any left to give; he took
Her words up bravely, promising once more
Absence, and praying pardon; but some tears
Dropped quietly upon her cheek.
She said, "for there is something to be told,
Some words that you must hear.
"And first hear this:
God has been good to me; you must not think
That I despair. There is a quiet time
Like evening in my soul. I have no heart,
For cruel Herbert killed it long ago,
And death strides on. Sit, then, and give your mind
To listen, and your eyes to look at me.
Look at my face, Laurance, how white it is;
Look at my hand, - my beauty is all gone."
And Laurance lifted up his eyes; he looked,
But answered, from their deeps that held no doubt,
Far otherwise than she had willed, - they said,
"Lovelier than ever."
Yet her words went on,
Cold and so quiet, "I have suffered much,
And I would fain that none who care for me
Should suffer a like pang that I can spare.
Therefore," said she, and not at all could blush,
"I have brought my mind of late to think of this:
That since your life is spoilt (not willingly,
My God, not willingly by me), 'twere well
To give you choice of griefs.
"Were it not best
To weep for a dead love, and afterwards
Be comforted the sooner, that she died
Remote, and left not in your house and life
Aught to remind you? That indeed were best.
But were it best to weep for a dead wife,
And let the sorrow spend and satisfy
Itself with all expression, and so end?
I think not so; but if for you 'tis best,
Then, - do not answer with too sudden words:
It matters much to you; not much, not much
To me, - then truly I will die your wife;
I will marry you."
What was he like to say,
But, overcome with love and tears, to choose
The keener sorrow, - take it to his heart,
Cherish it, make it part of him, and watch
Those eyes that were his light till they should close?
He answered her with eager, faltering words,
"I choose, - my heart is yours, - die in my arms."
But was it well? Truly, at first, for him
It was not well: he saw her fade, and cried,
"When may this be?" She answered, "When you will,"
And cared not much, for very faint she grew,
Tired and cold. Oft in her soul she thought,
"If I could slip away before the ring
Is on my hand, it were a blessed lot
For both, - a blessed thing for him, and me."
But it was not so; for the day had come, -
Was over: days and months had come, and Death, -
Within whose shadow she had lain, which made
Earth and its loves, and even its bitterness,
Indifferent, - Death withdrew himself, and life
Woke up, and found that it was folded fast,
Drawn to another life forevermore.
O, what a waking! After it there came
Great silence. She got up once more, in spring,
And walked, but not alone, among the flowers.
She thought within herself, "What have I done?
How shall I do the rest?" And he, who felt
Her inmost thought, was silent even as she.
"What have we done?" she thought. But as for him,
When she began to look him in the face,
Considering, "Thus and thus his features are,"
For she had never thought on them before,
She read their grave repose aright. She knew
That in the stronghold of his heart, held back,
Hidden reserves of measureless content
Kept house with happy thought, for her sake mute.
Most patient Muriel! when he brought her home,
She took the place they gave her, - strove to please
His kin, and did not fail; but yet thought on,
"What have I done? how shall I do the rest?
Ah! so contented, Laurance, with this wife
That loves you not, for all the stateliness
And grandeur of your manhood, and the deeps
In your blue eyes." And after that awhile
She rested from such thinking, put it by
And waited. She had thought on death before:
But no, this Muriel was not yet to die;
And when she saw her little tender babe,
She felt how much the happy days of life
Outweigh the sorrowful. A tiny thing,
Whom when it slept the lovely mother nursed
With reverent love, whom when it woke she fed
And wondered at, and lost herself in long
Rapture of watching, and contentment deep.
Once while she sat, this babe upon her knee,
Her husband and his father standing nigh,
About to ride, the grandmother, all pride
And consequence, so deep in learned talk
Of infants, and their little ways and wiles,
Broke off to say, "I never saw a babe
So like its father." And the thought was new
To Muriel; she looked up, and when she looked,
Her husband smiled. And she, the lovely bloom
Flushing her face, would fain he had not known,
Nor noticed her surprise. But he did know;
Yet there was pleasure in his smile, and love
Tender and strong. He kissed her, kissed his babe,
With "Goody, you are left in charge, take care " -
"As if I needed telling," quoth the dame;
And they were gone.
Then Muriel, lost in thought,
Gazed; and the grandmother, with open pride,
Tended the lovely pair; till Muriel said,
"Is she so like? Dear granny, get me now
The picture that his father has"; and soon
The old woman put it in her hand.
Considering it with deep and strange delight,
Forgot for once her babe, and looked and learned.
A mouth for mastery and manful work,
A certain brooding sweetness in the eyes,
A brow the harbor of grave thought, and hair
Saxon of hue. She conned; then blushed again,
Remembering now, when she had looked on him,
The sudden radiance of her husband's smile.
But Muriel did not send the picture back;
She kept it; while her beauty and her babe
Flourished together, and in health and peace
Her husband never said to her,
"Love, are you happy?" never said to her,
"Sweet, do you love me?" and at first, whene'er
They rode together in the lanes, and paused,
Stopping their horses, when the day was hot,
In the shadow of a tree, to watch the clouds,
Ruffled in drifting on the jagged rocks
That topped the mountains, - when she sat by him,
Withdrawn at even while the summer stars
Came starting out of nothing, as new made,
She felt a little trouble, and a wish
That he would yet keep silence, and he did.
That one reserve he would not touch, but still
Muriel grew more brave in time,
And talked at ease, and felt disquietude
Fade. And another child was given to her.
"Now we shall do," the old great-grandsire cried,
"For this is the right sort, a boy." "Fie, fie,"
Quoth the good dame; "but never heed you, love,
He thinks them both as right as right can be."
But Laurance went from home, ere yet the boy
Was three weeks old. It fretted him to go,
But still he said, "I must": and she was left
Much with the kindly dame, whose gentle care
Was like a mother's; and the two could talk
Sweetly, for all the difference in their years.
But unaware, the wife betrayed a wish
That she had known why Laurance left her thus.
"Ay, love," the dame made answer; "for he said,
'Goody,' before he left, 'if Muriel ask
No question, tell her naught; but if she let
Any disquietude appear to you,
Say what you know.'" "What?" Muriel said, and laughed,
"I ask, then."
"Child, it is that your old love,
Some two months past, was here. Nay, never start:
He's gone. He came, our Laurance met him near;
He said that he was going over seas,
'And might I see your wife this only once,
And get her pardon?'"
"Mercy!" Muriel cried,
"But Laurance does not wish it?"
"Nay, now, nay,"
Quoth the good dame.
"I cannot," Muriel cried;
"He does not, surely, think I should."
The kind old woman said, right soothingly.
"Does not he ever know, love, ever do
What you like best?"
And Muriel, trembling yet,
Agreed. "I heard him say," the dame went on,
"For I was with him when they met that day,
'It would not be agreeable to my wife.'"
Then Muriel, pondering, - "And he said no more?
You think he did not add, 'nor to myself?'"
And with her soft, calm, inward voice, the dame
Unruffled answered, "No, sweet heart, not he:
What need he care?" "And why not?" Muriel cried,
Longing to hear the answer. "O, he knows,
He knows, love, very well": with that she smiled.
"Bless your fair face, you have not really thought
He did not know you loved him?"
"He never told me, goody, that he knew."
"Well," quoth the dame, "but it may chance, my dear,
That he thinks best to let old troubles sleep:
Why need to rouse them? You are happy, sure?
But if one asks, 'Art happy?' why, it sets
The thoughts a-working. No, say I, let love,
Let peace and happy folk alone.
'It would not be agreeable to my wife.'
And he went on to add, in course of time
That he would ask you, when it suited you,
To write a few kind words."
"Yes," Muriel said,
"I can do that."
"So Laurance went, you see,"
The soft voice added, "to take down that child.
Laurance had written oft about the child,
And now, at last, the father made it known
He could not take him. He has lost, they say,
His money, with much gambling; now he wants
To lead a good, true, working life. He wrote,
And let this so be seen, that Laurance went
And took the child, and took the money down
And Muriel found her talking sweet,
And asked once more, the rather that she longed
To speak again of Laurance, "And you think
He knows I love him?"
"Ay, good sooth, he knows
No fear; but he is like his father, love.
His father never asked my pretty child
One prying question; took her as she was;
Trusted her; she has told me so: he knew
A woman's nature. Laurance is the same.
He knows you love him; but he will not speak;
No, never. Some men are such gentlemen!"