Poetical Works (5)

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THE DREAMS THAT CAME TRUE.


I SAW in a vision once, our mother-sphere
    The world, her fixed foredoomèd oval tracing,
        Rolling and rolling on and resting never,
    While like a phantom fell, behind her pacing
The unfurled flag of night, her shadow drear
        Fled as she fled and hung to her for ever.

Great Heaven! methought, how strange a doom to share.
    Would I may never bear
    Inevitable darkness after me
(Darkness endow'd with drawings strong,
    And shadowy hands that cling unendingly),
    Nor feel that phantom-wings behind me sweep,
As she feels night pursuing through the long
    Illimitable reaches of 'the vasty deep.'

God save you, gentlefolks.   There was a man
    Who lay awake at midnight on his bed,
Watching the spiral flame that feeding ran
    Among the logs upon his hearth, and shed
A comfortable glow both warm and dim
On crimson curtains that encompassed him.

Right stately was his chamber, soft and white
    The pillow, and his quilt was eider-down.
What mattered it to him though all that night
    The desolate driving cloud might lower and frown,
And winds were up the eddying sleet to chase,
That drave and drave and found no settling-place?


5.


What mattered it that leafless trees might rock,
    Or snow might drift athwart his window-pane?
He bare a charmed life against their shock,
    Secure from cold, hunger, and weather stain;
Fixed in his right, and born to good estate,
From common ills set by and separate.

From work and want and fear of want apart,
    This man (men called him Justice Wilvermore)—
This man had comforted his cheerful heart
    With all that it desired from every shore.
He had a right,—the right of gold is strong,—
He stood upon his right his whole life long.

Custom makes all things easy, and content
    Is careless; therefore on the storm and cold,
As he lay waking, never a thought he spent,
    Albeit across the vale beneath the wold,
Along a reedy mere that frozen lay,
A range of sordid hovels stretched away.

What cause had he to think on them, forsooth?
    What cause that night beyond another night?
He was familiar even from his youth
    With their long ruin and their evil plight.
The wintry wind would search them like a scout.
The water froze within as freely as without.

He think upon them?   No!   They were forlorn,
    So were the cowering inmates whom they held;
A thriftless tribe, to shifts and leanness born,
    Ever complaining: infancy or eld
Alike.   But there was rent, or long ago
Those cottage roofs had met with overthrow.


10.


For this they stood; and what his thoughts might be
    That winter night, I know not; but I know
That, while the creeping flame fed silently
    And cast upon his bed a crimson glow,
The Justice slept, and shortly in his sleep
He fell to dreaming, and his dream was deep,

He dreamed that over him a shadow came;
    And when he looked to find the cause, behold
Some person knelt between him and the flame:—
    A cowering figure of one frail and old—
A woman; and she prayed, as he descried,
And spread her feeble hands, and shook and sighed.

'Good Heaven!' the Justice cried, and being distraught
    He called not to her, but he looked again:
She wore a tattered cloak, but she had nought
    Upon her head; and she did quake amain,
And spread her wasted hands and poor attire
To gather in the brightness of his fire.

'I know you, woman!' then the Justice cried;
    'I know that woman well,' he cried aloud;
'The shepherd Aveland's widow: God me guide!
    A pauper kneeling on my hearth: and bowed,
The hag, like one at home, its warmth to share!
How dares she to intrude?   What does she there?

'Ho, woman, ho!'—but yet she did not stir,
    Though from her lips a fitful paining broke;
'I'll ring my people up to deal with her;
    I'll rouse the house,' he cried; but while he spoke
He turned, and saw, but distant from his bed,
Another form—a Darkness with a head.


15.


Then, in a rage, he shouted 'Who are you?'
    For little in the gloom he might discern.
'Speak out; speak now; or I will make you rue
    The hour!' but there was silence, and a stern,
Dark face from out the dusk appeared to lean,
And then again drew back, and was not seen.

'God!' cried the dreaming man, right impiously,
    'What have I done, that these my sleep affray?'
'God!' said the Phantom, 'I appeal to Thee,
    Appoint Thou me this man to be my prey.'
'God!' sighed the kneeling woman, frail and old,
'I pray Thee take me, for the world is cold.'

Then said the trembling justice, in affright,
    'Fiend, I adjure thee, speak thine errand here!'
And lo! it pointed in the failing light
    Toward the woman, answering, cold and clear,
'Thou art ordained an answer to thy prayer;
But first to tell her tale that kneeleth there.'

'Her tale!' the Justice cried.   'A pauper's tale!'
    And he took heart at this so low behest,
And let the stoutness of his will prevail,
    Demanding, 'Isn't for her you break my rest?
She went to gaol of late for stealing wood,
She will again for this night's hardihood.

'I sent her; and to-morrow, as I live,
    I will commit her for this trespass here.'
'Thou wilt not!' quoth the shadow, 'thou wilt give
    Her story words;' and then it stalked anear
And showed a lowering face, and, dread to see,
A countenance of angered majesty.


20.


Then said the Justice, all his thoughts astray,
    With that material Darkness chiding him,
'If this must be, then speak to her, I pray,
    And bid her move, for all the room is dim
By reason of the place she holds to-night:
She kneels between me and the warmth and light.'

'With adjurations deep and drawings strong,
    And with the power,' it said, 'unto me given,
I call upon thee, man, to tell thy wrong,
    Or look no more upon the face of Heaven.
Speak! though she kneel throughout the livelong night,
And yet shall kneel between thee and the light.'

This when the Justice heard, he raised his hands,
    And held them as the dead in effigy
Hold theirs, when carved upon a tomb.   The bands
    Of fate had bound him fast: no remedy
Was left: his voice unto himself was strange,
And that unearthly vision did not change.

He said, 'That woman dwells anear my door,
    Her life and mine began the selfsame day,
And I am hale and hearty: from my store
    I never spared her aught: she takes her way
Of me unheeded; pining, pinching care
Is all the portion that she has to share.

'She is a broken-down, poor, friendless wight,
    Through labour and through sorrow early old;
And I have known of this her evil plight,
    Her scanty earnings, and her lodgment cold;
A patienter poor soul shall ne'er be found;
She laboured on my land the long year round.


25.


'What wouldst thou have me say, thou fiend abhorred?
    Show me no more thine awful visage grim.
If thou obey'st a greater, tell thy lord
    That I have paid her wages.   Cry to him!
He has not much against me.   None can say
I have not paid her wages day by day.

'The spell!   It draws me.   I must speak again;
    And speak against myself; and speak aloud.
The woman once approached me to complain,—
    "My wages are so low."   I may be proud;
It is a fault.'   'Ay,' quoth the Phantom fell,
'Sinner! it is a fault: thou sayest well.'

'She made her moan, "My wages are so low." '
    'Tell on!'   'She said,' he answered, ' "My best days
Are ended, and the summer is but slow
    To come; and my good strength for work decays
By reason that I lived so hard, and lie
On winter nights so bare for poverty." '

'And you replied—,' began the lowering shade,
    'And I replied,' the Justice followed on,
'That wages like to mine my neighbour paid;
    And if I raised the wages of the one
Straight should the others murmur; furthermore,
The winter was as winters gone before,

'No colder and not longer.'   'Afterward?—'
    The Phantom questioned.   'Afterward,' he groaned,
She said my neighbour was a right good lord,
    Never a roof was broken that he owned;
He gave much coal and clothing.   "Doth he so?
Work for my neighbour, then," I answered.   "Go!


30.


' "You are full welcome."   Then she mumbled out
    She hoped I was not angry; hoped, forsooth,
I would forgive her: and I turned about,
    And said I should be angry in good truth
If this should be again, or ever more
She dared to stop me thus at the church door.'

'Then?' quoth the Shade; and he, constrained, said on,
    'Then she, reproved, curtseyed herself away.'
'Hast met her since?' it made demand anon;
    And after pause the justice answered, 'Ay;
Some wood was stolen; my people made a stir:
She was accused, and I did sentence her.'

But yet, and yet, the dreaded questions came:
    'And didst thou weigh the matter—taking thought
Upon her sober life and holiest fame?'
    'I gave it,' he replied, with gaze distraught;
'I gave it, Fiend, the usual care; I took,
The usual pains; I could not nearer look,

'Because—because their pilfering had got head.
    What wouldst thou more?   The neighbours pleaded
        hard,
'Tis true, and many tears the creature shed
    But I had vowed their prayers to disregard,
Heavily strike the first that robbed my land,
And put down thieving with a steady hand.

'She said she was not guilty.   Ay, 'tis true
    She said so, but the poor are liars all.
O thou fell Fiend, what wilt thou?   Must I view
    Thy darkness yet and must thy shadow fall
Upon me miserable?   I have done
No worse, no more than many a scathless one.'


35.


'Yet,' quoth the Shade, 'if ever to thine ears
    The knowledge of her blamelessness was brought,
Or others have confessed with dying tears
    The crime she suffered for, and thou hast wrought
All reparation in thy power, and told
Into her empty hand thy brightest gold:—

'If thou hast honoured her, and hast proclaimed
    Her innocence and thy deplorèd wrong,
Still thou art nought; for thou shalt yet be blamed
    In that she, feeble, came before thee strong,
And thou, in cruel haste to deal a blow,
Because thou hadst been angered, worked her woe.

'But didst thou right her?   Speak!'   The Justice sighed,
    And beaded drops stood out upon his brow.
'How could I humble me,' forlorn he cried,
    'To a base beggar?   Nay, I will avow
That I did ill.   I will reveal the whole;
I kept that knowledge in my secret soul.'

'Hear him!' the Phantom muttered; 'hear this man,
    O changeless God upon the judgment throne.'
With that, cold tremors through his pulses ran,
    And lamentably he did make his moan;
While, with its arms upraised above his head,
The dim dread visitor approached his bed.

'Into these doors,' it said, 'which thou hast closed,
    Daily this woman shall from henceforth come;
Her kneeling form shall yet be interposed
    Till all thy wretched hours have told their sum;
Shall yet be interposed by day, by night,
Between thee, sinner, and the warmth and light.


40.


'Remembrance of her want shall make thy meal
    Like ashes, and thy wrong thou shalt not right.
But what!   Nay, verily, nor wealth nor weal
    From henceforth shall afford thy soul delight.
Till men shall lay thy head beneath the sod,
There shall be no deliverance, saith my God.'

'Tell me thy name,' the dreaming Justice cried;
    'By what appointment dost thou doom me thus?'
' 'Tis well that thou shouldst know me,' it replied,
    'For mine thou art, and nought shall sever us;
From thine own lips and life I draw my force:
The name thy nation give me is REMORSE.'

This when he heard, the dreaming man cried out,
    And woke affrighted; and a crimson glow
The dying ember shed.   Within, without,
    In eddying rings the silence seemed to flow;
The wind had lulled, and on his forehead shone
The last low gleam; he was indeed alone.

'O, I have had a fearful dream,' said he;
    'I will take warning and for mercy trust;
The fiend Remorse shall never dwell with me:
    I will repair that wrong, I will be just,
I will be kind, I will my ways amend.'
Now the first dream is told unto its end.

Anigh the frozen mere a cottage stood,
    A piercing wind swept round and shook the door,
The shrunken door, and easy way made good,
    And drave long drifts of snow along the floor.
It sparkled there like diamonds, for the moon
Was shining in, and night was at the noon.


45.


Before her dying embers, bent and pale,
    A woman sat because her bed was cold;
She heard the wind, the driving sleet and hail,
    And she was hunger-bitten, weak and old;
Yet while she cowered, and while the casement shook,
Upon her trembling knees she held a book—

A comfortable book for them that mourn,
    And good to raise the courage of the poor;
It lifts the veil and shows, beyond the bourne,
    Their Elder Brother, from His home secure,
That for them desolate He died to win,
Repeating, 'Come, ye blessèd, enter in.'

What thought she on, this woman? on her days
    Of toil, or on the supperless night, forlorn?
I think not so; the heart but seldom weighs
    With conscious care a burden always borne;
And she was used to these things, had grown old
In fellowship with toil, hunger, and cold.

Then did she think how sad it was to live
    Of all the good this world can yield bereft?
No, her untutored thoughts she did not give
    To such a theme but in their warp and weft
She wove a prayer then in the midnight deep
Faintly and slow she fell away to sleep.

A strange, a marvellous sleep, which brought a dream,
    And it was this: that all at once she heard
The pleasant babbling of a little stream
    That ran beside her door, and then a bird
Broke out in songs.   She looked, and lo! the rime
And snow had melted; it was summer time!


50.


And all the cold was over, and the mere
    Full sweetly swayed the flags and rushes green;
The mellow sunlight poured right warm and clear
    Into her casement, and thereby were seen
Fair honeysuckle flowers, and wandering bees
Were hovering round the blossom-laden trees.

She said, 'I will betake me to my door,
    And will look out and see this wondrous sight,
How summer is come back, and frost is o'er,
    And all the air warm waxen in a night.'
With that she opened, but for fear she cried,
For lo! two Angels—one on either side.

And while she looked, with marvelling measureless,
    The Angels stood conversing face to face,
But neither spoke to her.   'The wilderness—'
    One Angel said, 'the solitary place—
Shall yet be glad for Him.'   And then full fain
The other Angel answered, 'He shall reign.'

And when the woman heard, in wondering wise,
    She whispered, 'They are speaking of my Lord.'
And straightway swept across the open skies
    Multitudes like to these.   They took the word,
That flock of angels, 'He shall come again,
My Lord, my Lord!' they sang, 'and He shall reign!'

Then they, drawn up into the blue o'erhead,
    Right happy, shining ones, made haste to flee;
And those before her one to other said,
    'Behold, He stands aneath yon almond tree.'
This when the woman heard, she fain had gazed,
But paused for reverence, and bowed down amazed.


55.


After she looked, for this her dream was deep;
    She looked, and there was nought beneath the tree;
Yet did her love and longing overleap
    The fear of Angels, awful though they be,
And she passed out between the blessèd things,
And brushed her mortal weeds against their wings.

O, all the happy world was in its best,
    The trees were covered thick with buds and flowers,
And these were dropping honey; for the rest,
    Sweetly the birds were piping in their bowers;
Across the grass did groups of Angels go,
And Saints in pairs were walking to and fro.

Then did she pass toward the almond tree,
    And none she saw beneath it: yet each Saint
Upon his coming meekly bent the knee,
    And all their glory as they gazed waxed faint.
And then a lighting Angel neared the place,
And folded his fair wings before his face.

She also knelt, and spread her agèd hands
    As feeling for the sacred human feet;
She said, 'Mine eyes are held, but if He stands
    Anear, I will not let Him hence retreat
Except He bless me.'   Then, O sweet! O fair!
Some words were spoken, but she knew not where.

She knew not if beneath the boughs they woke,
    Or dropt upon her from the realms above;
'What wilt thou, woman?' in the dream He spoke,
    'Thy sorrow moveth Me, thyself I love;
Long have I counted up thy mournful years,
Once I did weep to wipe away thy tears.'


60.


She said: 'My one Redeemer, only blest,
    I know Thy voice, and from my yearning heart
Draw out my deep desire, my great request,
    My prayer, that I might enter where Thou art.
Call me, O call from this world troublesome,
And let me see Thy face.'   He answered, 'Come.'

Here is the ending of the second dream.
    It is a frosty morning, keen and cold,
Fast locked are silent mere and frozen stream,
    And snow lies sparkling on the desert wold;
With savoury morning meats they spread the board
But Justice Wilvermore will walk abroad.

'Bring me my cloak,' quoth he, as one in haste.
    'Before you breakfast, sir?' his man replies.
'Ay,' quoth he quickly, and he will not taste
    Of aught before him, but in urgent wise
As he would fain some carking care allay,
Across the frozen field lie takes his way.

'A dream! how strange that it should move me so,
    'Twas but a dream,' quoth Justice Wilvermore:
'And yet I cannot peace nor pleasure know,
    For wrongs I have not heeded heretofore;
Silver and gear the crone shall have of me,
And dwell for life in yonder cottage free.

'For visions of the night are fearful things,
    Remorse is dread, though merely in a dream;
I will not subject me to visitings
    Of such a sort again.   I will esteem
My peace above my pride.   From natures rude
A little gold will buy me gratitude.


65.


'The woman shall have leave to gather wood,
    As much as she may need, the long year round;
She shall, I say—moreover, it were good
    Yon other cottage roofs to render sound.
Thus to my soul the ancient peace restore,
And sleep at ease,' quoth Justice Wilvermore.

With that he nears the door: a frosty rime
    Is branching over it, and drifts are deep
Against the wall.   He knocks, and there is time—
    (For none doth open)—time to list the sweep
And whistle of the wind along the mere
Through beds of stiffened reeds and rushes sere.

'If she be out, I have my pains for nought,'
    He saith, and knocks again, and yet once more,
But to his ear nor step nor stir is brought;
    And after pause, he doth unlatch the door
And enter.   No: she is not out, for see
She sits asleep 'mid frost-work winterly.

Asleep, asleep before her empty grate,
    Asleep, asleep, albeit the landlord call.
'What, dame,' he saith, and comes toward her straight,
    'Asleep so early!'  But whate'er befall,
She sleepeth; then he nears her, and behold
He lays a hand on hers, and it is cold.

Then doth the Justice to his home return;
    From that day forth he wears a sadder brow:
His hands are opened, and his heart doth learn
    The patience of the poor.   He made a vow
And keeps it, for the old and sick have shared
His gifts, their sordid homes he hath repaired.


70.


And some he hath made happy, but for him
    Is happiness no more.   He doth repent,
And now the light of joy is waxen dim,
    Are all his hopes toward the Highest sent,
He looks for mercy, and he waits release
Above, for this world doth not yield him peace.

Night after night, night after desolate night,
    Day after day, day after tedious day,
Stands by his fire, and dulls its gleamy light,
    Paceth behind or meets him in the way;
Or shares the path by hedgerow, mere, or stream,
The visitor that doomed him in his dream.


_________________


        Thy kingdom come.
I heard a Seer cry—'The wilderness,
        The solitary place,
Shall yet be glad for Him, and He shall bless
(Thy kingdom come!) with His revealèd face
The forests; they shall drop their precious gum,
And shed for Him their balm: and He shall yield
The grandeur of His speech to charm the field.

'Then all the soothèd winds shall drop to listen,
        (Thy kingdom come!),
Comforted waters waxen calm shall glisten
With bashful tremblement beneath His smile;
        And Echo ever the while
Shall take, and in her awful joy repeat,
The laughter of His lips—(Thy kingdom come):
And hills that sit apart shall be no longer dumb;
        No, they shall shout and shout,
Raining their lovely loyalty along the dewy plain:
        And valleys round about,

'And all the well-contented land, made sweet
        With flowers she opened at His feet,
Shall answer; shout and make the welkin ring
And tell it to the stars, shout, shout, and sing;
        Her cup being full to the brim,
        Her poverty made rich with Him,
Her yearning satisfied to its utmost sum—
Lift up thy voice, O earth, prepare thy song,
        It shall not yet be long,
Lift up, O earth, for He shall come again,
Thy Lord; and He shall reign, and He SHALL reign—
        Thy kingdom come.'


――――♦――――

 

SONGS ON THE VOICES OF BIRDS

INTRODUCTION.

CHILD AND BOATMAN.


'MARTIN, I wonder who makes all the songs.'
'You do, sir?'
                    'Yes, I wonder how they come.'
'Well, boy, I wonder what you'll wonder next!'
'But somebody must make them?'
                                                             'Sure enough.'
'Does your wife know?'
                                            'She never said she did.'
'You told me that she knew so many things.'
'I said she was a London woman, sir,
And a fine scholar, but I never said
She knew about the songs.'
                                                  'I wish she did.'
'And I wish no such thing; she knows enough,
She knows too much already.   Look you now,
This vessel's off the stocks, a tidy craft.'
'A schooner, Martin?'
                                              'No, boy, no; a brig
Only she's schooner-rigged—a lovely craft.'
'Is she for me?   O, thank you, Martin dear.
What shall I call her?'
                                        'Well, sir, what you please.'
'Then write on her "The Eagle." '
                                                         'Bless the child!
Eagle! why, you know nought of eagles, you.
When we lay off the coast, up Canada way,
And chanced to be ashore when twilight fell,
That was the place for eagles; bald they were,
With eyes as yellow as gold.'
                                                         'O, Martin dear,
Tell me about them.'
                                          'Tell! there 's nought to tell,
Only they snored o' nights and frighted us.'
'Snored?'
                 'Ay, I tell you, snored; they slept upright
In the great oaks by scores; as true as time,
If I'd had aught upon my mind just then,
I wouldn't have walked that wood for unknown gold;
It was most awful.   When the moon was full,
I've seen them fish at night, in the middle watch,
When she got low.   I've seen them plunge like
        stones,
And come up fighting with a fish as long,
Ay, longer than my arm; and they would sail—
When they had struck its life out—they would sail
Over the deck, and show their fell, fierce eyes,
And croon for pleasure, hug the prey, and speed
Grand as a frigate on a wind.'
                                                         'My ship,
She must be called "The Eagle" after these.
Martin, you'll ask your wife about the songs
When you go in at dinner-time?'
                                                                 'Not I.'


________________



THE NIGHTINGALE AND THE UNSATISFIED
HEART.


            WHEN in a May-day hush
            Chanteth the Missel-thrush,
The harp o' the heart makes answer with murmurous
    stirs;
            When Robin-redbreast sings,
            We think on budding springs,
And Culvers when they coo are love's remembrancers.

            But thou in the trance of light
            Stayest the feeding night,
And Echo makes sweet her lips with the utterance
    wise,
            And casts at our glad feet,
            In a wisp of fancies fleet,
Life's fair, life's unfulfilled, impassioned prophecies.

            Her central thought full well
            Thou hast the wit to tell,
To take the sense o' the dark and to yield it so;
            The moral of moon light
            To set in a cadence bright,
And sing our loftiest dream that we thought none did
    know.

            I have no nest as thou,
            Bird on the blossoming bough,
Yet over thy tongue outfloweth the song o' my soul,
            Chanting, 'Forego thy strife,
            The spirit out-acts the life,
But much is seldom theirs who can perceive the whole.

            'Thou drawest a perfect lot
            All thine, but holden not,
Lie low, at the feet of beauty that ever shall bide;
            There might be sorer smart
            Than thine, far-seeing heart,
Whose fate is still to yearn, and not be satisfied.'


________________

 


SAND MARTINS.


I PASSED an inland-cliff precipitate;
    From tiny caves peeped many a soot-black poll;
In each a mother-martin sat elate,
    And of the news delivered her small soul.

Fantastic chatter! hasty, glad, and gay,
    Whereof the meaning was not ill to tell:
'Gossip, how wags the world with you to-day?'
    'Gossip, the world wags well, the world wags well.'

And hearkening, I was sure their little ones
    Were in the bird-talk, and discourse was made
Concerning hot sea-bights and tropic suns,
    For a clear sultriness the tune conveyed;—

And visions of the sky as of a cup
    Hailing down light on pagan Pharaoh's sand,
And quivering air-waves trembling up and up,
    And blank stone faces marvellously bland.

'When should the young be fledged and with them
        hie
    Where costly day drops down in crimson light?
(Fortunate countries of the fire-fly
    Swarm with blue diamonds all the sultry night,

'And the immortal moon takes turn with them).
    When should they pass again by that red land,
Where lovely mirage works a broidered hem
    To fringe with phantom-palms a robe of sand?

'When should they dip their breasts again and play
    In slumberous azure pools clear as the air,
Where rosy-winged flamingos fish all day,
    Stalking amid the lotus blossom fair?

'Then, over podded tamarinds bear their flight,
    While cassias blossom in the zone of calms,
And so betake them to a south sea-bight
    To gossip in the crowns of cocoa-palms

'Whose roots are in the spray.   O, haply there
    Some dawn, white-wingèd they might chance to
        find
A frigate standing in to make more fair
    The loneliness unaltered of mankind.

'A frigate come to water: nuts would fall,
    And nimble feet would climb the flower-flashed
        strand,
While northern talk would ring, and therewithal
    The martins would desire the cool north land.

'And all would be as it had been before;
    Again at eve there would be news to tell;
Who passed should hear them chant it o'er and o'er,
    "Gossip, how wags the world?"   "Well, gossip, well." '


________________

 

A POET IN HIS YOUTH, AND THE
CUCKOO-BIRD.


ONCE upon a time, I lay
Fast asleep at dawn of day;
Windows open to the south,
Fancy pouting her sweet mouth
To my ear.
                         She turned a globe
In her slender hand, her robe
Was all spangled; and she said,
As she sat at my bed's head,
'Poet, poet, what, asleep!
Look! the ray runs up the steep
To your roof.'   Then in the golden
Essence of romances olden,
Bathed she my entrancèd heart.
And she gave a hand to me,
Drew me onward, 'Come!' said she;
And she moved with me apart,
Down the lovely vale of Leisure.

Such its name was, I heard say,
For some Fairies trooped that way;
Common people of the place,
Taking their accustomed pleasure,
(All the clocks being stopped) to race
Down the slope on palfreys fleet.
Bridle bells made tinkling sweet;
And they said, 'What signified
Faring home till eventide:
There were pies on every shelf,
And the bread would bake itself.'
But for that I cared not, fed,
As it were, with angels' bread,
Sweet as honey; yet next day
All foredoomed to melt away;
Gone before the sun waxed hot,
Melted manna that was not.

Rock-doves' poetry of plaint,
Or the starling's courtship quaint,
Heart made much of; 'twas a boon
Won from silence, and too soon
Wasted in the ample air:
Building rooks far distant were.
Scarce at all would speak the rills,
And I saw the idle hills,
In their amber hazes deep,
Fold themselves and go to sleep,
Though it was not yet high noon.

Silence?   Rather music brought
From the spheres!   As if a thought,
Having taken wings, did fly
Through the reaches of the sky.
Silence?   No, a sumptuous sigh
That had found embodiment,
That had come across the deep
After months of wintry sleep,
And with tender heavings went
Floating up the firmament.

'O,' I mourned, half slumbering yet,
' 'Tis the voice of my regret
Mine!' and I awoke.   Full sweet
Saffron sunbeams did me greet;
And the voice it spake again,
Dropped from yon blue cup of light
Or some cloudlet swan's-down white
On my soul, that drank full fain
The sharp joy—the sweet pain—
Of its clear, right innocent,
Unreprovèd discontent.

How it came—where it went—
Who can tell?   The open blue
Quivered with it, and I, too,
Trembled.  I remembered me
Of the springs that used to be,
When a dimpled white-haired child,
Shy and tender and half wild,
In the meadows I had heard
Some way off the talking bird,
And had felt it marvellous sweet,
For it laughed: it did me greet,
Calling me: yet, hid away
In the woods, it would not play.
No.
           And all the world about,
While a man will work or sing,
Or a child pluck flowers of spring,
Thou wilt scatter music out,
Rouse him with thy wandering note,
Changeful fancies set afloat,
Almost tell with thy clear throat,
But not quite—the wonder-rife,
Most sweet riddle, dark and dim,
That he searcheth all his life,
Searcheth yet, and ne'er expoundeth;
And so winnowing of thy wings,
Touch and trouble his heart's strings,
That a certain music soundeth
In that wondrous instrument,
With a trembling upward sent,
That is reckoned sweet above
By the Greatness surnamed Love.

'O, I hear thee in the blue;
Would that I might wing it too!
O to have what hope hath seen!
O to be what might have been!

'O to set my life, sweet bird,
To a tune that oft I heard
When I used to stand alone
Listening to the lovely moan
Of the swaying pines o'erhead,
While, a-gathering of bee-bread
For their living, murmured round,
As the pollen dropped to ground,
All the nations from the hives;
And the little brooding wives
On each nest, brown dusky things,
Sat with gold-dust on their wings.
Then beyond (more sweet than all)
Talked the tumbling waterfall;
And there were, and there were not
(As might fall, and form anew
Bell-hung drops of honey-dew)
Echoes of—I know not what;
As if some right-joyous elf,
While about his own affairs,
Whistled softly otherwheres,
Nay, as if our mother dear,
Wrapped in sun-warm atmosphere,
Laughed a little to herself,
Laughed a little as she rolled,
Thinking on the days of old.

'Ah! there be some hearts, I wis,
To which nothing comes amiss.
Mine was one.   Much secret wealth
I was heir to: and by stealth,
When the moon was fully grown.
And she thought herself alone,
I have heard her, ay, right well,
Shoot a silver message down
To the unseen sentinel
Of a still, snow-thatchèd town.

'Once, awhile ago, I peered
In the nest where Spring was reared.
There, she, quivering her fair wings,
Flattered March with chirrupings;
And they fed her; nights and days
Fed her mouth with much sweet food,
And her heart with love and praise,
Till the wild thing rose and flew
Over woods and water-springs,
Shaking off the morning dew
In a rainbow from her wings.

'Once (I will to you confide
More), O once in forest wide,
I, benighted, overheard
Marvellous mild echoes stirred,
And a calling half defined,
And an answering from afar;
Somewhat talkèd with a star,
And the talk was of mankind.

' "Cuckoo, cuckoo!"
Float anear in upper blue:
Art thou yet a prophet true?
Wilt thou say, "And having seen
Things that be, and have not been,
Thou art free o' the world, for nought
Can despoil thee of thy thought"?
Nay, but make me music yet,
Bird, as deep as my regret,
For a certain hope hath set,
Like a star; and left me heir
To a crying for its light,
An aspiring infinite,
And a beautiful despair!

'Ah! no more, no more, no more
I shall lie at thy shut door,
Mine ideal, my desired,
Dreaming thou wilt open it,
And step out, thou most admired,
By my side to fare, or sit,
Quenching hunger and all drouth
With the wit of thy fair mouth,
Showing me the wishèd prize
In the calm of thy dove's eyes,
Teaching me the wonder-rife
Majesties of human life,
All its fairest possible sum,
And the grace of its to come.

'What a difference!   Why of late
All sweet music used to say,
"She will come, and with thee stay
To-morrow, man, if not to-day."
Now it murmurs, "Wait, wait, wait!" '


________________

 

A RAVEN IN A WHITE CHINE.


I SAW when I looked up, on either hand,
    A pale high chalk-cliff, reared aloft in white;
A narrowing rent soon closed toward the land—
    Toward the sea, an open yawning bight.

The polished tide, with scarce a hint of blue,
    Washed in the bight; above with angry moan
A raven, that was robbed, sat up in view,
    Croaking and crying on a ledge alone.

'Stand on thy nest, spread out thy fateful wings,
    With sullen hungry love bemoan thy brood,
For boys have wrung their necks, those imp-like
        things,
    Whose beaks dripped crimson daily at their food.

'Cry, thou black prophetess! cry, and despair,
    None love thee, none!   Their father was thy foe,
Whose father in his youth did know thy lair,
    And steal thy little demons long ago.

'Thou madest many childless for their sake,
    And picked out many eyes that loved the light.
Cry, thou black prophetess! sit up, awake,
    Forebode; and ban them through the desolate
        night.'

Lo! while I spake it, with a crimson hue
    The dipping sun endowed that silver flood,
And all the cliffs flushed red, and up she flew,
    The bird, as mad to bathe in airy blood.

'Nay, thou may'st cry, the omen is not thine,
    Thou agèd priestess of fell doom, and fate.
It is not blood: thy gods are making wine,
    They spilt the must outside their city gate,

'And stained their azure pavement with the lees:
    They will not listen though thou cry aloud.
Old Chance, thy dame, sits mumbling at her ease,
    Nor hears; the fair hag, Luck, is in her shroud.

'They heed not, they withdraw the sky-hung sign;
    Thou hast no charm against the favourite race;
Thy gods pour out for it, not blood, but wine:
    There is no justice in their dwelling-place!

'Safe in their father's house the boys shall rest,
    Though thy fell brood doth stark and silent lie;
Their unborn sons may yet despoil thy nest:
    Cry, thou black prophetess! lift up! cry, cry.'


________________

 

THE WARBLING OF BLACKBIRDS.


        WHEN I hear the waters fretting,
        When I see the chestnut letting
All her lovely blossom falter down, I think, 'Alas the
                day!'
        Once with magical sweet singing,
        Blackbirds set the woodland ringing,
That awakes no more while April hours wear themselves
                away.

        In our hearts fair hope lay smiling,
        Sweet as air, and all beguiling;
And there hung a mist of bluebells on the slope and
                down the dell;
        And we talked of joy and splendour
        That the years unborn would render,
And the blackbirds helped us with the story, for they
                knew it well.

        Piping, fluting, 'Bees are humming,
        April 's here, and summer 's coming;
Don't forget us when you walk, a man with men, in
                pride and joy;
        Think on us in alleys shady,
        When you step a graceful lady;
For no fairer day have we to hope for, little girl and boy.

        'Laugh and play, O lisping waters,
        Lull our downy sons and daughters;
Come, O wind, and rock their leafy cradle in thy
                wanderings coy;
        When they wake we'll end the measure
        With a wild sweet cry of pleasure,
And a "Hey down derry, let's be merry! little girl and
                boy!" '


________________

 

SEA-MEWS IN WINTER TIME.


I WALKED beside a dark grey sea,
    And said, 'O world, how cold thou art!
Thou poor white world, I pity thee,
    For joy and warmth from thee depart.

'Yon rising wave licks off the snow,
    Winds on the crag each other chase,
In little powdery whirls they blow
    The misty fragments down its face.

'The sea is cold, and dark its rim,
    Winter sits cowering on the world,
And I beside this watery brim,
    Am also lonely, also cold.'

I spoke, and drew toward a rock,
    Where many mews made twittering sweet;
Their wings upreared, the clustering flock
    Did pat the sea-grass with their feet.

A rock but half submerged, the sea
    Ran up and washed it while they fed;
Their fond and foolish ecstasy
    A wondering in my fancy bred.

Joy companied with every cry,
    Joy in their food, in that keen wind,
That heaving sea, that shaded sky,
    And in themselves, and in their kind.

The phantoms of the deep at play!
    What idlers graced the twittering things
Luxurious paddlings in the spray,
    And delicate lifting up of wings.

Then all at once a flight, and fast
    The lovely crowd flew out to sea;
If mine own life had been recast,
    Earth had not looked more changed to me.

'Where is the cold?   Yon clouded skies
    Have only dropt their curtains low
To shade the old mother where she lies
    Sleeping a little, 'neath the snow.

'The cold is not in crag, nor scar,
    Not in the snows that lap the lea,
Not in yon wings that beat afar,
    Delighting, on the crested sea;

'No, nor in yon exultant wind
    That shakes the oak and bends the pine.
Look near, look in, and thou shalt find
    No sense of cold, fond fool, but thine!'

With that I felt the gloom depart,
    And thoughts within me did unfold,
Whose sunshine warmed me to the heart—
    I walked in joy, and was not cold.


――――♦――――


 

LAURENCE.

-I-


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 honour—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 coloured 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.


2.


                                                              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.


3.


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.


4.


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.'
                                                                She said,
'I shall not live to see it;' but she did—
A 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:
A 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.


5.


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.


6.


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 never more;
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.'


7.


With that they parted from their boy, and lived
Longing between his holidays, and time
Sped; be 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.


8.


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
Means men.
                          At last, the fourth year running out,
The youth came home.   And all the cheerful house
Was decked in fresher colours, 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 health, and wake
Only to ride to cover.'
                                          Not the less
The grandsire ponder'd.   '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 schoolboy 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 store-room.   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?'


9.


'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.
                                                 'What, then,'
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.'


10.


'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 Laurence 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.



-II-

11.


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.


12.


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 whelped in the deep sea of love,
And could not get his head above its wave
To search 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.
                                                      'Twas thus:
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.


13.


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.'


14.


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.


15.


'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?
                                                                          He brought
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.


16.


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 colours 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 void,
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 candour; 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.   ' 'Twas 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.


17.


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 honour 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.


18.


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 neighbouring 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 Laurence 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, Laurence,' 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 Laurence, 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.


19.


'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 Laurence 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.


20.


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!'
                                                 Muriel sighed,
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, Oh,—he was gone.


21.


She heard him go, and Laurence, 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 Laurence 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.


22.


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?


23.


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.


24.


She suffered, and he could not make her well
For all his loving;—he was nought 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.



-III-

25.


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 be might see her ere she died.


26.


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 befal.


27.


    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.


28.


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.
                                                                      And now
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, went 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
'Laurence!'   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!
Oh, 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.
Forget me!'
                           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 for evermore,
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.


29.


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!'
                                                                    But yet
He sought a lower level, for he wrote
Telling the story with a different line,
Telling of freedom.   He desired to come,
'For now,' said he, 'A 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.


30.


She, when she saw his face, considered him
Full quietly, let all excuses pass
Not answered, and considered yet again.


40.


'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.
                                                               'Remain,'
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, Laurence, how white it is;
Look at my hand—my beauty is all gone.'
And Laurence 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?


41.


He answered her with eager, faltering words,
'I choose—my heart is yours—die in my arms.'


42.


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 blessèd lot
For both,—a blessèd thing for him, and me.'


43.


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 for evermore.
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, Laurence, 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.


44.


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 learnèd 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.
                                                                   The wife,
Considering it with deep and strange delight,
Forgot for once her babe, and looked and learned.


45.


    A mouth for mastery and manful work,
A certain brooding sweetness in the eyes,
A brow the harbour 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.


46.


But Muriel did not send the picture back;
She kept it; while her beauty and her babe
Flourished together, and in health and peace
She lived.
                       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
Respected.
                          Muriel grew more brave in time,
And talked at ease, and felt disquietude
Fade.   And another child was given to her.


47.


'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.'


48.


But Laurence 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.


49.


But unaware, the wife betrayed a wish
That she had known why Laurence left her thus.
'Ay, love,' the dame made answer; 'for he said,
"Goody," before he left, "if Muriel ask
No question, tell her nought; 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 Laurence 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 Laurence does not wish it?'
                                                              'Nay, now, nay,'
Quoth the good dame.
                                          'I cannot,' Muriel cried;
'He does not, surely, think I should.'
                                                                          'Not he,'
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." '


50.


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.   'Oh, 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?'
                                                                 Muriel said,
'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 he 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.
                                                            He said,
"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 Laurence went, you see,'
The soft voice added, 'to take down that child.
Laurence 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 Laurence went
And took the child, and took the money down
To pay.'
                  And Muriel found her talking sweet,
And asked once more, the rather that she longed
To speak again of Laurence, '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.   Laurence is the same.
He knows you love him; but he will not speak;
No, never.   Some men are such gentlemen!'


――――♦――――


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