Laurance - [Part 1]

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He knew she did not love him; but so long
As rivals were unknown to him, he dwelt
At ease, and did not find his love a pain.

He had much deference in his nature, need
To honor—­it became him; he was frank,
Fresh, hardy, of a joyous mind, and strong,—­
Looked all things straight in the face.  So when she came
Before him first, he looked at her, and looked
No more, but colored to his healthful brow,
And wished himself a better man, and thought
On certain things, and wished they were undone,
Because her girlish innocence, the grace
Of her unblemished pureness, wrought in him
A longing and aspiring, and a shame
To think how wicked was the world,—­that world
Which he must walk in,—­while from her (and such
As she was) it was hidden; there was made
A clean path, and the girl moved on like one
In some enchanted ring.

In his young heart
She reigned, with all the beauties that she had,
And all the virtues that he rightly took
For granted; there he set her with her crown,
And at her first enthronement he turned out
Much that was best away, for unaware
His thoughts grew noble.  She was always there
And knew it not, and he grew like to her
And like to what he thought her.
Now he dwelt
With kin that loved him well,—­two fine old folk,
A rich, right honest yeoman, and his dame,—­
Their only grandson he, their pride, their heir.

To these, one daughter had been born, one child,
And as she grew to woman, “Look,” they said,
“She must not leave us; let us build a wing,
With cheerful rooms and wide, to our old grange;
There may she dwell, with her good man, and all
God sends them.”  Then the girl in her first youth
Married a curate,—­handsome, poor in purse,
Of gentle blood and manners, and he lived
Under her father’s roof, as they had planned.

Full soon, for happy years are short, they filled
The house with children; four were born to them.
Then came a sickly season; fever spread
  Among the poor.  The curate, never slack
  In duty, praying by the sick, or worse,
Burying the dead, when all the air was clogged
With poisonous mist, was stricken; long he lay
Sick, almost to the death, and when his head
He lifted from the pillow, there was left
One only of that pretty flock:  his girls,
His three, were cold beneath the sod; his boy,
Their eldest born, remained.

The drooping wife
Bore her great sorrow in such quiet wise,
That first they marvelled at her, then they tried
To rouse her, showing her their bitter grief,
Lamenting, and not sparing; but she sighed,
“Let me alone, it will not be for long.”
Then did her mother tremble, murmuring out,
“Dear child, the best of comfort will be soon.
O, when you see this other little face,
You will, please God, be comforted.”

She said, “I shall not live to see it”; but she did,—­ little sickly face, a wan, thin face.  Then she grew eager, and her eyes were bright When she would plead with them:  “Take me away, Let me go south; it is the bitter blast That chills my tender babe; she cannot thrive Under the desolate, dull, mournful cloud.”  Then all they journeyed south together, mute With past and coming sorrow, till the sun, In gardens edging the blue tideless main, Warmed them and calmed the aching at their hearts, And all went better for a while; but not
For long.  They sitting by the orange-trees
Once rested, and the wife was very still:
One woman with narcissus flowers heaped up
Let down her basket from her head, but paused
With pitying gesture, and drew near and stooped,
Taking a white wild face upon her breast,—­
The little babe on its poor mother’s knees,
None marking it, none knowing else, had died.

The fading mother could not stay behind,
Her heart was broken; but it awed them most
To feel they must not, dared not, pray for life,
Seeing she longed to go, and went so gladly.

After, these three, who loved each other well,
Brought their one child away, and they were best
Together in the wide old grange.  Full oft
The father with the mother talked of her,
Their daughter, but the husband nevermore;
He looked for solace in his work, and gave
His mind to teach his boy.  And time went on,
Until the grandsire prayed those other two
“Now part with him; it must be; for his good:
He rules and knows it; choose for him a school,
Let him have all advantages, and all
Good training that should make a gentleman.”

With that they parted from their boy, and lived
Longing between his holidays, and time
Sped; he grew on till he had eighteen years.
His father loved him, wished to make of him
Another parson; but the farmer’s wife
Murmured at that:  “No, no, they learned bad ways,
They ran in debt at college; she had heard
That many rued the day they sent their boys
To college”; and between the two broke in
His grandsire:  “Find a sober, honest man,
A scholar, for our lad should see the world
While he is young, that he may marry young.
He will not settle and be satisfied
Till he has run about the world awhile.
Good lack, I longed to travel in my youth,
And had no chance to do it.  Send him off,
A sober man being found to trust him with,
One with the fear of God before his eyes.”
And he prevailed; the careful father chose
A tutor, young,—­the worthy matron thought,—­
In truth, not ten years older than her boy,
And glad as he to range, and keen for snows,
Desert, and ocean.  And they made strange choice
Of where to go, left the sweet day behind,
And pushed up north in whaling ships, to feel
What cold was, see the blowing whale come up,
And Arctic creatures, while a scarlet sun
Went round and round, crowd on the clear blue berg.

Then did the trappers have them; and they heard
Nightly the whistling calls of forest-men
That mocked the forest wonners; and they saw
Over the open, raging up like doom,
The dangerous dust-cloud, that was full of eyes,—­
The bisons.  So were three years gone like one;
And the old cities drew them for a while,
Great mothers, by the Tiber and the Seine;
They have hid many sons hard by their seats,
But all the air is stirring with them still,
The waters murmur of them, skies at eve
Are stained with their rich blood, and every sound
Means men.
  At last, the fourth year running out,
The youth came home.  And all the cheerful house
Was decked in fresher colors, and the dame
Was full of joy.  But in the father’s heart
Abode a painful doubt.  “It is not well;
He cannot spend his life with dog and gun.
I do not care that my one son should sleep
Merely for keeping him in breath, and wake
Only to ride to cover.”
  Not the less
The grandsire pondered.  “Ay, the boy must WORK
Or SPEND; and I must let him spend; just stay
Awhile with us, and then from time to time
Have leave to be away with those fine folk
With whom, these many years, at school, and now,
During his sojourn in the foreign towns,
He has been made familiar.”  Thus a month
Went by.  They liked the stirring ways of youth,
The quick elastic step, and joyous mind,
Ever expectant of it knew not what,
But something higher than has e’er been born
Of easy slumber and sweet competence.
And as for him,—­the while they thought and thought
A comfortable instinct let him know
How they had waited for him, to complete
And give a meaning to their lives; and still
At home, but with a sense of newness there,
And frank and fresh as in the school-boy days,
He oft—­invading of his father’s haunts,
The study where he passed the silent morn—­
Would sit, devouring with a greedy joy
The piled-up books, uncut as yet; or wake
To guide with him by night the tube, and search,
Ay, think to find new stars; then risen betimes,
Would ride about the farm, and list the talk
Of his hale grandsire.
  But a day came round,
When, after peering in his mother’s room,
Shaded and shuttered from the light, he oped
A door, and found the rosy grandmother
Ensconced and happy in her special pride,
Her storeroom.  She was corking syrups rare,
And fruits all sparkling in a crystal coat.
Here after choice of certain cates well known,
He, sitting on her bacon-chest at ease,
Sang as he watched her, till right suddenly,
As if a new thought came, “Goody,” quoth he,
“What, think you, do they want to do with me?
What have they planned for me that I should do?”

“Do, laddie!” quoth she faltering, half in tears;
“Are you not happy with us, not content?
Why would ye go away?  There is no need
That ye should DO at all.  O, bide at home.
Have we not plenty?”
  “Even so,” he said;
“I did not wish to go.”
  “Nay, then,” quoth she,
“Be idle; let me see your blessed face.
What, is the horse your father chose for you
Not to your mind?  He is?  Well, well, remain;
Do as you will, so you but do it here.
You shall not want for money.”
  But, his arms
Folding, he sat and twisted up his mouth
With comical discomfiture.
  “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.”

“Then,” quoth he, “I may do what best I like;
It makes no matter.  Goody, you were wise
To help me in it, and to let me farm;
I think of getting into mischief else!”
“No! do ye, laddie?” quoth the dame, and laughed.
“But ask my grandfather,” the youth went on,
“To let me have the farm he bought last year,
The little one, to manage.  I like land;
I want some.”  And she, womanlike, gave way
Convinced; and promised, and made good her word,
And that same night upon the matter spoke,
In presence of the father and the son.

“Roger,” quoth she, “our Laurance wants to farm;
I think he might do worse.”  The father sat
Mute but right glad.  The grandson breaking in
Set all his wish and his ambition forth;
But cunningly the old man hid his joy,
And made conditions with a faint demur.
Then pausing, “Let your father speak,” quoth he;
“I am content if he is”:  at his word
The parson took him, ay, and, parson like,
Put a religious meaning in the work,
Man’s earliest work, and wished his son God speed.

© Jean Ingelow