Duchess Agnes (4)

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AFTER WAR.

HE came when the war was ended,
From camp and battle-field,
Home, to be gently tended,
His heavy wound half-healed.
After the joy of meeting
With its mingled pain had passed,
Peace, with a holy greeting,
Kissed all our lips at last.

But when on her stay we reckoned,
A sad farewell she breathed,
And rose and softly beckoned
To him whose sword was sheathed.
He laid him down meek-hearted,
We filled his breast with flowers;
Our hero had departed
To a surer peace than ours.

___________________

 

 

MARCH VIOLETS.

IN all green places where ye blow,
Tenderest thoughts of God that grow,
    Violets!   March violets!
Hidden hearts that, lying low,
Sweeten all about you so,
    Violets!   March violets!

The love of youth is in your breath,
Love of youth more strong than death,
    Violets!   March violets!
Gathered in the greening glade,
And on lips of promise laid,
    Violets!   March violets!

Other sweetness too ye take,
Often keep for saddest sake—
    Kept for soft'ning old regrets—
To hearts throbbing ye are prest,
Ye are laid on hearts at rest,
    Violets!   March violets!

To the bride her foot who sets
On England with the violets,
    Violets!   March violets!
For her youth and for her love—
All her royalties above—
    A welcome with the violets.

Welcome! and as, year by year,
We hail thy time of coming here,
To England, with the violets,
May they bring thee no regrets
    Save for joy the heart forgets
In a deeper, tenderer bliss:
Bring thee no regret but this,
    Violets!   March violets!

 

 

ONE IN THE CROWD.

OVER the bridges and through the street,
By tens of thousands the people pour
Till like a sea in its surge and roar,
The crowd round column and statue meets;
Waiting through hours of the waning day,
To look upon one who must pass this way.

He comes, he comes! and the people press
Close to his side, for no guards are there;
A pale, worn face and a kingly air,
And hands held forth as if fain to bless,
They see, and the faces far and wide,
Turn, yearn toward him with love and pride.

"I have seen him," cried one in the crowd,
A youth who ran on with flashing eyes
And a look that no seeing satisfies,
To gaze again, and abashed yet proud,
To bask in the smiles from his hero won,
To deeds in his soul, as the ripening sun.

"I have touched him," said one in the crowd,
A faded woman, her face in a glow
That lighted the traces of wrong and woe,
"What is he to you?"   I had thought aloud,
But that face rebuked me: her faith was strong
In the good that triumphs o'er woe and wrong.

He fought for another land than theirs—
For a land they never saw—what then?
Shall they not love him, a man among men,
In whose nobleness each of them shares?
What things are dearest under the sky,
Here is a man who for these would die!

___________________

 

 

FOUND DEAD.

1864.


ONE day, twenty years ago, I died,
Who am living now—but then,
I cast off the life of living men—
Cast off love, hope, help, and all beside—
Cursed them and died.

That day all my life became a blank;
And no matter now what shades,
In grim revels and grotesque parades,
Passed and danced their spectral dance, and sank
Into the blank.

Then October, with her ruddy gold,
Out of rottenness made show
Of beauty; with a bright deceitful glow
Gilded decay; but then my heart would hold
The glister gold.

Even then of cheats I knew enough—
Oft from sweetest words had wrung,
Bitter salt of lies, until my tongue
Shrivelled—all life tasted of the stuff—
Enough! enough!

Lies! lies everywhere! yet not unmixed;
One was wholly true—was truth
Itself—redeemed the promise of my youth:
Upon her faithfulness my faith was fixed,
Her truth unmixed!

"One day more my heart, and she is thine
This true love," I said—"my wife!"
From to-morrow I shall date my life,
New nerved act and purpose shall be mine,
New life in fine.

That night summoned to her side—some care,
Had assailed my bride—I went,
Eager the intruder should be sent
Forthwith from my Eden—unaware
The serpent there.

With me, for her arm, I took that thing
Lying there untouched—the toy
A serpent too—I've fancied fiendish joy
In its emerald eyes green glittering,
The scaly thing.

Glitt'ring through the dust of twenty years,
It is lying now where flung
That night from my bosom; with its tongue
It might tell the tale, but it appears
Dust choked with years.

She—my bride!—we met alone that night—
When I sought her lips to kiss,
Shrank, and yet I might have seen amiss
Her eyes were bent—how could I read aright,
Without their light?

Flashed the revelation through her eyes,
Ere she trembling spoke—the snake,
Stung my heart—"It was a huge mistake,
She loved me not."—I stood back in surprise,
And still those eyes.

Then I laughed, a loud and bitter laugh,
And her cheek grew pale—‘Twas dark
Richly flushed with crimson—I could mark
Its ghastliness of fear, of anger half,
At that wild laugh.

"It is better thus," she said, at last—
"For both better—than to lie
All my life long—hate you by-and-by,
As I hate myself—Forgive the past,"
She sobbed at last.

"Oh! if you knew all you would forgive,
Let me now go free, uncursed,
Let me yet be happy—at the worst
Set me free—you would have love—I live
With none to give."

And I did not answer you have lied,
You are lying now, I felt
The fierce pangs that harden—never melt:
"Be free! be happy!" mocking I replied:
I saw she knelt.

And I went and left her on her knees:
What her god might be I cannot guess,
What her life has been I know yet less—
Was she happy? did she live at ease?
Nothing of these

Know I—nothing of her lying race
Henceforth died to them and ceased to be,
Slew my soul that night delib'rately,
Not my body—that still keeps its place
In time and space.

For self-slaughter, of the common kind,
I prepared these weapons—rust
Is on them, and the universal dust
That buries all things—but this had consigned
My fate to mind.

I would perish still more utterly—
From that day to this, my tongue
Ceased from human speech; and nought hath wrung
An answer from me; to each living lie
Dead, utterly.

Never friendly foot my threshold passed
From that day to this, the door
Close as death's—at length they came no more,
Sooner even than I dreamed, at last
My mem'ry passed.

And yet dumbly through the show I moved;
Saw the people crowd on days
Of their civic mumming; saw the blaze
Of illumined nights, and proved
My mind unmoved.

Whether joy bells jangled, death peals pealed,
Strange processions passed—I guessed
Who it was they carried to his rest,
Through the mustered millions, cannon-wheel'd—
My heart was steeled.

Once I heard a strange and uncouth name
Pass from mouth to mouth—each face
Lighted at the tidings of the place
Fall'n it seemed: the fools were at their game
Of death and fame.

I have ceased for years their paths to cross—
From their sight have ceased—befall
What may now, unknown it passes all:
Sorrowing, rejoicing, gain or loss
No more I cross.

Have their tott'ring crowns been lost and won?
Are men hungry—dogs o'erfed?
Do they clamour yet for untaxed bread?
Die at doors with plenty that o'er run?
All one! all one!

Why thus brooding on the viper breed?
Have I vainly striven to shut
My soul quite from them, and to cut
Each cord that bound my life to theirs, by deed,
Or word, or need?

Is it madness all this hate of man?
The great river runs below
The Terrace, as I paced there to and fro,
To rear a mighty fabric they began;
I traced the plan:

Watched the builders build: along the west
Watched the fretted front extend;
And the growing towers to heaven ascend;
And forgot that, dead within my breast,
My heart should rest.

Eastward, early shines the cross of gold,
While I watch the river run,
Crawl and lick its mud hanks in the sun,
And the murky smoke wrap, fold on fold,
The blue and gold.

Thick November fogs will hide for days,
Dome and palace tower, bridge and boat,
Yet I watch the shapeless barges float,
With their lights distorted in the haze,
With hungry gaze.

Hate is but the other half of love—
How it pierces now this pain—
Thus my heart must needs be rent in twain.
Let us write this hater's heart above,
He died of Love!

___________________

 

 

PLEASANT PLACE.

-I.-


SOME generations since, two college friends,
One held the living, and one owned the land,
Dwelt here in pleasant neighbourhood, and died;
And the old friendship passed, from sire to son,
With the old living, and the older Place,
Until it had the flavour of old wine,
Whole histories old.
                                         When the last Rector died,
Through all the scattered hamlets went a voice
Of lamentation; for the simple folk,
Had loved their pastor, the good gentleman
Who gave short sermons, in long, learned words,
They did not understand, but felt were good;
Who bless'd their little children fatherly,
Wedded and buried them, and knew them all,
And made them dimly feel that in his care,
God cared for them.
                                        The Sunday Herbert came
And stood among them, in his father's stead,
With a new heavenly message, his mere voice
Went nearer to their souls than any words
With meaning new and strange.   But when at length
He named his father, all the people looked
In trouble to Squire Aubrey, where he sat,
And down the squire's red checks the round tears
            rolled
And all the congregation wept at this.
The six old women from the almshouse wept,
And then the village mothers, and the girls,
And something—what, they did not seek to know
Made John and Giles soft-hearted, that they stept
Through the old churchyard, with their thick-nailed
            shoes,
Lightlier and gentlier at their hearths that night
Stroked down the little heads.
                                                       The advent this,
Of one who followed in his Master's steps,
Christ's faithful soldier.   But not thus are won
His daily victories; the spirit sword
The breath of some heroic soul may sweep
A space of heaven clear at a single stroke,
And set souls free to conquer; yet again
The powers of darkness rally; and the light
Pours upon eyes that see not, and the voice
Enters the ears that will not understand.
And so they murmured.   "In his father's days
We never heard such things.   If we were sick
He gave us physic, or mayhap good wine;
Now we are told that if we ache or ail
'Tis mostly our own fault.   'Tis blasphemy,
'Tis flying in the face of providence,
To say God sends no sickness save we sin;
And that all illness is a sign of ill,
Of something done against the will of God,
Or left undone that He would have us do.
He tells us too we may escape the sin,
But never can escape the punishment
His father preached another God, who said
'Repent and be forgiven.'"
                                                Thus they warped
The message from its meaning, straight and true;
For as the fathers, so the children lived
In the old forest hamlets, underneath
The cliff that walled the river, underneath
The long dank dripping of the rainy woods.
The houses looked like clusters of white nests,
Hanging mid foliage; but these human nests,
Damp and unwholesome, nursed the serpent pain
To gnaw the bones of age; and poison heaps
Festered without, and when the sun was hot
There you might see, like evil genii rise,
In smoke, fierce fevers, drinking up the blood
Of fathers and of children.
                                                  "Take away
Our plague," was still their cry, not take away
Our sloth, our ignorance, our unbelief—
Yet Herbert never falters in his work,
Nor ever slackens; grudges no high thought,
Brought down and meanly clad for common use
Thinks the thought highest which can lowest reach,
To raise the lowest, holds the highest task.

 


-II.-


Above a grove of elm, the square church tower
Raises its ivied walls—a leafy screen,
Crowned with grey battlements, and underneath,
Between "The Place" park, and the churchyard wall,
There runs the common road, where rumbling carts
Raise the thick summer dust, and labouring men
And toilworn women trudge, with brows bedewed
And burdens on their backs.   The low lych gate
Stands ever open, and the weary folk
Lay down their loads outside.   And open, too,
Stands a small wicket gate into the church;
And so the breeze bears in a stray rose leaf,
Or snowdrift; and sometimes a breeze of heaven
Wakes in some stiffled heart the need of prayer,
And brings the weary soul to kneel alone,
Above the dust of prostrate Auberys.

 


-III.-


Beside the church, the pretty parsonage
Peeps from its bower of laurel, Herbert's home,
Shared with his mother in her widowhood.
A widowhood not pensively resigned,
Or sadly sombre, as death-darkened days
To passionate, deep natures, may become.
Her nature was not deep nor passionate
But light and gay; with mind enough to play
Keenly upon the surfaces of things;
And heart enough to answer to the claims
Of wife to one true-hearted, tender man,
And mother to one truer tenderer still:
Not heavy claims, because they gave so much
Wherewith to pay them,—for the heart of love
Lives more on what it spends than what it gets
It is not for the love they might have had,
So much as for the love they long to give,
Hearts break with yearning—yet they left her nought
To spare beyond them.   Her chief virtue lay
In knowing she could never give enough
Love for their love.   And so in losing one
She gave the other all, and felt no lack.

 


-IV.-


Opening upon a breadth of level lawn
Stands the grey manor house of Pleasant Place
Looking across a broad and bowery plain.
Twice every year at least the house is full
Of a whole troop of cousins.   Children here
They played their Christmas games, or gathered
            flowers
For Easter posies, rioted at will
The freest, happiest race of boys and girls,
And, when too old for downright romping grown,
They read and rode and sang and danced away
Winter and summer holidays.   In truth
The race was fair and flourishing; but he
Whose knee the children climbed so gleefully,
Whose hand the youths with generous ardour pressed,
Whose silver hair such rose-leaf kisses strewed,
Was in the midst, like a heart smitten tree
That stands unblossomed in the orchard white.

 


-V.-


A lonely man since from his one-year wife
He parted, and the home that nestled safe
Among the woods on that wide English plain,
For strife and storm and battle on the seas.
In a sea fight he fell; and as he lay
Spent with his wound and tended by the hands
Of rough though kindly sailors, haunted him
The spirit eyes of his sweet girlish wife,
And a great longing seized his heart for home,
And for the tender healing of her hands.
He came—and for the light of loving eyes
He met the blank look of a new made grave,
And from its awful silence turned again
To strife and storm and battle on the seas.
Tidings had come to England of his fall—
Tidings that numbered him among the dead;
So when her hour of anguish came to her,
To a dead father bearing a dead child,
The mystery of death o'ershadow'd her,
And her life failing like an unfed lamp
She sunk into the darkness.
                                                   So he turned
And went upon his way, a lonely man,
Save for the haunting of those gentle eyes,
And the dim shadow of a cherub face.
Till, grey and worn, returning once again,
Far inland on that wild and wooded plain,
He fixed his home, and gathered to his heart
Kindred and friends.   And when surrounded thus
With happy faces, nearer to him drew
Those spirit eyes, and 'mong the little ones,
Hovered a shadowy form with cherub face.

 


-VI.-


And now the Squire, still called "The Admiral,"
Lived at "The Place"; and with him had their home
A single sister, and an orphan neice,
Both Alices—Aunt Alice at "The Place"
Had passed her girlhood, spent her womanhood,
And there would close her pale, sweet, patient life.
Her hair was grey, her eyes, her very dress—
All one soft silvery greyness: she was like
A tender neutral tint, that blent all hues
And harmonised them, good to rest upon,
For eye and heart.   Her life had all been given,
To filling up the many blanks of love
Around her; claiming none, all claimed of her,
And, fed from some full, deeply hidden spring
Her pure true sympathy unfailing flowed.

 


-VII.-


And "Little Alice," taller of the two,
Outgrown her name, is lady paramount—
Owns all the fairest things about "The Place ",
It seems—at least they call them always hers,
Her flowers, her swans, her island, and her doves
That on the Hall roof flutter silver wings:
Fair, with a touch of frailty on her bloom,
Her guarded girlhood is a gentle dream,
In which she dreams that she is well content,
And all about her blends into her dream.
There is a little chamber where she sleeps,
Mid whiteness, white as her own innocence:
An odour, as of happy sanctity,
Pervades the place, an atmosphere of love,
And truth and purity; upon the shelves
Stand the great songs of ages; sacred books
Lie on the little table; from the walls
The face of Christ looks peace, and something breathes
This maiden's secret place is holy ground.

 


-VIII.-


Ripe glanced the holly—Christmas was at hand,
With its accustomed gath'ring at "The Place;"
Accustomed, and yet changing year by year:
For change is ever working, slow and sure,
Beneath the surface of our lives, from whence
Sudden he brings some transformation scene.
And so last year he had brought, forth his plot
And linking new ties, had unlocked the old
And scattered half the circle.
                                                      Still from Rome
Came cousin Barbara, and brought with her
A stranger cousin, "Pleasant Court " by name,
The child of one held as the prodigal,
Though once the youngest, fairest, fondest loved,
Who mid harsh words, bewailings, and rebukes,
Had left her home to be a poor man's wife,
And held that she was richer in his heart
Than all their wealth could make her, and most strange
Perversely held this faith unto the end—
True to her artist husband, Robert Court.
She called her baby "Pleasant" e'er she died—
A name that strangely linked the memories
Of her fair home and of her faithful love—
It was the name her Robert's mother bore.
But in her early home the name drew tears
And late relentings, and they begged the child
Of Robert Court; and, for he was so poor,
They asked his richest treasure at his hands,
And hurt a proud heart tender with its grief.
And so the father with deserved despite
Returned no answer.
                                         Many years had pass'd
And many of the poor blind hearts were dust,
When at the Place the death of Robert Court
Stirred up old memories.   The Admiral
Thought of that sunny little sister, seen
So seldom in his intervals at home,
And banished in his absence—longed to see
Her daughter in her place among them there.
And Barbara and her husband, passing then
A year in Italy—the painter died
At Rome, not rich but famous and at ease—
Sought their young cousin, and prevailed on her
To come with them and see her mother's home
In England.
                         One who saw this meeting wrote
"After the first embrace they stood and leaned
Together, in the fig-tree-mantled porch:
Or Pleasant leaned, for Barbara stood erect,
She like a starry lily self-sustained;
The other like the white convolvulus
Clinging and bending, seeming lowlier
And frailer, yet the taller of the two.
Fronting the setting sun, they stood and felt
The hour's strange charm, when all familiar things
Grow unfamiliar, and to sense appear
Half disembodied; in the heavenly light
Transfigured, till the soul shines through and through.
Over the distant hills the depths of heaven
Lay, and the trembling trees against the light
Of amber and of amethyst were spread
While clearer grew the clearness of the lake,
Whiter the white robed statue on its brink,
Darker the ancient cedar's spreading gloom.
And these two shared the wonder of the hour
And stood revealed more clearly soul to soul,
When from the brightness Pleasant turned away—
Turned from the west, and all its lovely lights,
To see them burn in Barbara's golden hair
And shine reflected in her azure eyes.

 


-IX.-


And she, with those clear eyes of azure fixed
Upon the splendour, deep'ning e'er it died,
Seemed to dilate and thrill with life intense,
And all the steadfast clearness of her soul
And all the noble purpose of her life
Shone in her face.   Her hair was like a crown
Of plaited gold, above her gleaming brow
White as a marble temple's lifted front;
Love on her lips, firmly and closely sweet,
And bounty in her mien; and fused through all,
And reigning over love and bounteous grace,
There sat the love of justice and of truth.
Such white-robed women well may wield the sword
Of judgment; often with indignant flash
Of those clear eyes, from that keen quivering lip
And nostril wide with scorn, the false and base,
Malignant, mean, found sentence merciless.
And the full sunshine of a happy life
Ripens to perfect sweetness all her strength.

 


-X.-


Dark robed, dark haired, and somewhat sadly pale
Was she who clung to Barbara, and seemed
Like shadow to her sunshine.   Ah, I thought,
This child of too much love, and too much grief,
Has missed her lovely mother's dangerous dower
Of beauty, so perhaps her father's soul
Of keen nerved artist passion.   But just then
The girl's heart opened; on her face there broke
A look, a light so lovely, so intense,
It seemed as if the closed and curtained door
Of some strange palace hall a moment threw
Its portals wide, and gave a glimpse within,
Of unimagined dazzling glow.   Her eyes
Lit up like wondrous lamps.   Upon her cheek
A radiant rose had blossomed.   Then she turned
And shrank to plainness, as my eyes met hers,
Like that live flower the sea anemone,
Scarce seen upon the grey and weedy rock,
Till touched, o'erflowed, surrounded once again
With its clear element, it blossoms out
Alive with gemlike colours.   And to her
That very native element is love."

 


-XI.-


She came the night before their Christmas eve,
By storm belated.   From the dark and cold
And blank of snow without, led sudden in
Where the expectant circle waited bright
And warm and cheerful.   The room's atmosphere
Was genial richness, satisfied repose;
'Twas easier to be gracious, to be good
In such a place, but barely possible
To feel the heart heave to life's heaving tides,
Or dream the changeful dreams that change the world.

 


-XII.-


Aunt Alice went to meet her in the hall
And there upon the threshold welcomed her;
And when she entered, "Little Alice" came
And kissed her calmly; and there was no lack
Of kindly greetings front the gathered group
Who claimed her kindred.   Herbert too was there
But with his mother sat apart the while.
And numb, and dumb, and dark, and sad, still seemed
The stranger.   In the midst the Admiral
Stood still and gazed a moment, then advanced
And stretched out both his arms as eagerly
As father for his firstborn.   Something stirred
The strong protective instinct of the man.
He named her name—a pleasant name he said,
And she was welcome to her proper place—
A feeble play upon the words to hide
The falter in his voice.   And then she broke
The silence with a little sobbing cry,
And sheltered in his arms.   And afterwards
She told how she had felt a wild desire
To flee into the cold, into the night,
From the unpitying strangeness, and escape.
Aunt Alice with her tender thoughtfulness
Led her away—showed her a little room,
Dim lighted, pure and peaceful; telling her
It was her mother's—left her with a kiss
Half dreaming that her mother kissed her there.

 


-XIII.-


Not much they spoke of her—that little sob
Strange-sounding, somehow chilled the brightness there.
Poor child, said Herbert's mother.   "She is ill.
"Looks ill, broke down perhaps with weariness:"
The slightest hint of blame the tone convey'd
As if the guilt of some ungraciousness
Lay in her grief.

 


-XIV.-


The morrow came, and the old world appeared
Fresh robed in white, as for a festival,
And happy morning faces greeted it,
And greeted Pleasant.   And her first faint smiles
Kindled so brightly that some little ones
Drew near, and soon were lisping love to her.
A noisy knot of schoolboys followed these
And made friends shyly.   Eager to be out
On the new snow, at length they sallied forth;—
It wanted an hour to service time—
And Herbert joining at the rectory gate
Walked last with Alice.   Pleasant passing on
With Barbara and the boys.   Her footprint small
Mingled with theirs upon the muffled path
Amid the marvel of a world of snow.
And soon amid their laughter loud and clear,
There ran a clearer laugh, that seemed to match
The light quick footfalls, like the rhyme of verse
Amid its rythmic measure, Herbert thought,
And found himself now tracing out the steps,
Now listening for the laugh, and all the while
Talking to Alice moving by his side.
"Turn now," he shouted playfully at length,
And stood and waited till the boys came up.
And Pleasant, glowing, sparkling with the glow
And sparkle of keen life, came up with them
And said, "I am so happy in the snow,
It seems to turn the hard world all at once
To a great playground."   Alice, who seemed chill,
Said with a shiver, "It is more like death
And blots things out, and makes a dreadful blank:
Like death and distance is the dismal snow."
Then though the glow on Pleasant's face died out
In a swift flash of pain, if human eyes
Can look immortal, hers had in them then
Immortal light.   She murmured softly, "No,
'Tis such a playground as the dead might make
For us their children standing while we played
With pure and silent feet and blessing us."
Newness of life, a sense of newness thrilled,
With the old words, through every listening soul
That hung on Herbert's words that Christmas day;
With a new power proclaiming that they were
Meet for the day—the birthday of the life!
Of the new life that came with every birth
He spoke, till each who owned a little child
Felt as if Christ had come to him or her.
On Nature's life so never-ending now
He dwelt, until no old or weary thing
Seemed in the world, the old and weary things,
The vanities of vanities were dead.
In the new life there was no weariness,
No vanity—this life, that all might lead,
The Christ-life, not the world-life, had the power
Of making all things new.   New thoughts, new hearts
New men, new kings, new nations, a new world.

 


-XV.-


When evening came the inmates of "The Place,"
Both young and old, were gathered; and a change
Wrought in the stately order of the room
With garlands and with lights, but most of all
With the fresh atmosphere of youthful hearts,
Made it seem scarce the same; and Pleasant now
At home amid the brightness and the joy,
Appeared, and round her drew a deepening charm.
When Alice sang, with soft and silvery voice,
A bird-like warble, Herbert, list'ning, thought
'Twas strange that he had often heard the song
And missed its meaning.   No, it was not strange:
He read the meaning in those melting eyes—
The meaning both of music and of voice
In Pleasant's eyes.   For her, she could not sing;—
She knew no art, except her father's art—
She drew, then she must come and draw for them
The children clamoured, and they bore her off
And tasked her skill in houses, horses, trees,
Turks, elephants, an angel; whispering
"Please, draw an angel?" said a little one
With soft bright eyes; and Herbert had drawn near
And watched the rapid touches light and free
By which the child's own face, serene and fair,
Grew to his young companions visible;
Not to the child himself, who asked for wings
And she made answer, "Yet they have not grown,
'Tis a child angel."   And more gaily then,
Her happy pencil ran into grotesque
Which children love; and then in gleeful game
With Herbert and with Alice joining too,
She led them, till, the young ones sent away,
Left the grown children only.
                                                        Round one fire
The elders gathered as the evening wore,
The younger round the other.   Barbara
Went over to the last, but said she knew
She had no place there, she should stand between
In the mid distance, while the old were full
Of memories and the young of eager hopes.
Then as they talked they touched on solemn things,
As ever human talk will touch, when hearts
Are open; and the hearts assembled there
Were open to the whole sad world that night
In their good-will the wealth of all the world
Had gone to cure the poverty, the strength
To help the weakness, and the morrow brought
The year of earth's release from wrong and ill.
                                    And whether then,
In this warm glow of universal love,
Two hearts were fused, or 'twas the glow of these
Reflected outward, that we felt that night—
We all were conscious of an atmosphere
Sweeter and rarer than the common hour's
And that round these it rayed,—round Pleasant Court
And Herbert; yet no word or sign of love,
In trembling tone or sudden flush conveyed,
Sent the electric message to the heart
Of either; unaware they sat, and seemed
Untouched by mute intelligence that spread,
Among us, half unconscious how it spread,
Until it swayed our motions, set the two
As 'twere apart amidst us.
                                                Alice there—
Sweet Alice, always still and seldom gay—
Drew most apart.   Her silence in some eyes
Who knew what lay beneath the drooping lids,
Was more than maidenly reserve might claim,
Indeed, was almost sad.   At length she rose
And went to see if any stars were out,
Into the furthest window's deep recess;
And one there followed, who but little reeked
How he might break a maiden's reverie—
A big and boisterous cousin, lately classed
Among the boys, yet every inch a man;
With a man's thews and sinews for life's work,
And with a man's heart heaving in his breast.
Now on the eve of parting for the west
To vest his scanty patrimonial wealth
In wide Australian acres was this George
Who went to look with Alice for the stars;
Then upon Herbert, eager and absorbed,
Uneasy looks his lady mother cast;
At length she idly called him to her side,
And broke our magic circle suddenly.

 


-XVI.-


So for the night we parted.   O'er the snow,
Went Herbert and his mother to their home,
She chatting as they went quite carelessly
In tone, but with an anxious scrutiny
Which quite belied the tone.   How had he liked
The new-come cousin?   Did she not contrast
With Alice?   Was not Alice very fair?
So stately in her perfect ladyhood;
So modest maidenly in her retreat
From admiration?   Was not this Miss Court
A little foreign in her manners too?
A little eager in her look and speech?
To all of which at random he assents,
Stumbling beneath the stars, yet steadying
His arm for her who leant there tenderly.

 


-XVII.-


And Alice in her chamber wept that night
The tears that, in life's wondrous alchemy,
Work change, that change of very being seems;
When, gliding in, Aunt Alice came to her,
And seemed to read the story at a glance.
Her darling's peace was broken; and the love
That had been hers, but for this stranger, gone.
As in a mirror was reflected here
The story of her youth; and in her heart
The pity rose to passion, as she drew,
Her nursling's head upon her knee, and sobbed,
"How shall I comfort you my child, my own?
I knew not it was thus.   O Alice, love,
I know it all too well.   Here to my home
Came one I lightly knew, and little loved,
A passing guest, and suddenly I saw
My life's whole treasure in her careless hands;
Her golden head, with pride and pleasure wreathed,
Shone in his eyes, the symbol and the sign
Of God's most beautiful—a spirit fair.
I saw her win his heart to play with it,
And treat it as a toy.   Too rich for that
Her new possession fed her girlish pride,—
For she was wise enough to know its worth,—
And so she grew to love him, and through love
Became herself more worthy of his love.
Alas! my Alice 'twill not comfort you
To tell you all the torture of the time;
The worst his claim of old companionship
To dwell upon the image in his heart,
Her face—with his ideal for a soul—
And he was Herbert's father."
                                                      While she spoke
Her list'ner murmured little mournful words
Mingled with fond caresses, at her feet.
But at the whispered close a little burst
Of silvery laughter, shivering into tears,
Shook Alice, and amazed her gentle aunt,
Not more than words that followed, as the face
That laughed and wept was hidden in her lap.
"It is not Herbert."
                                   Then she shyly owned
That she was ready, for that cousin George,
They thought so rough and grim and all the rest,
To leave her home, and all its shelt'ring love
For wilds upon the other side the world—
To leave them all; as he must leave her now
Till he could come again.
                                               For such a life,
She was unfit, too tender, did they plead,
Those gentle guardians; but she answered still,
That nothing was too hard to bear with him;
And he, that nothing hard should be for her
To bear; and both, that they would willing wait
But were resolved; so it was yielded them
To mould their lives as they had willed by love.
All this upon the morrow was made known,
Amid much marvel.
                                        When the parting came;
Upon the cheerful threshold of the year,
Diverging different ways, went one and all
Of that last Christmas gathering at "The Place,"
And all the ways were pleasant; and for once
Not one had missed his own peculiar bliss
And lighted on another's, none to him.
Then Pleasant went to visit some old Courts
Who held a farm upon the Kentish Coast,
Allowed reluctant, charged to hasten home
Home to "The Place."   And yet another home
Awaited her, with all its wealth of love;
Even Herbert's mother yielded up a share
Since she was Herbert's.   Barbara laughing said,
We learn as much love in one little week
Here at the Place, as in the world outside
In a whole lifetime.

_________________

BRADBURY AND EVANS, PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.

 

 



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