Margaret In The Xebec.

A poem by Jean Ingelow

["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 pierc├Ęd 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.

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