Thus all were satisfied, and day by day,
For two sweet years a happy course was theirs;
Happy, but yet the fortunate, the young
Loved, and much cared-for, entered on his strife,--
A stirring of the heart, a quickening keen
Of sight and hearing to the delicate
Beauty and music of an altered world;
Began to walk in that mysterious light
Which doth reveal and yet transform; which gives
Destiny, sorrow, youth, and death, and life,
Intenser meaning; in disquieting
Lifts up; a shining light: men call it Love.
Fair, modest eyes had she, the girl he loved;
A silent creature, thoughtful, grave, sincere.
She never turned from him with sweet caprice,
Nor changing moved his soul to troublous hope,
Nor dropped for him her heavy lashes low,
But excellent in youthful grace came up;
And ere his words were ready, passing on,
Had left him all a-tremble; yet made sure
That by her own true will, and fixed intent,
She held him thus remote. Therefore, albeit
He knew she did not love him, yet so long
As of a rival unaware, he dwelt
All in the present, without fear, or hope,
Enthralled and whelmed in the deep sea of love,
And could not get his head above its wave
To reach the far horizon, or to mark
Whereto it drifted him.
So long, so long;
Then, on a sudden, came the ruthless fate,
Showed him a bitter truth, and brought him bale
All in the tolling out of noon.
Snow-time was come; it had been snowing hard;
Across the churchyard path he walked; the clock
Began to strike, and, as he passed the porch,
Half turning, through a sense that came to him
As of some presence in it, he beheld
His love, and she had come for shelter there;
And all her face was fair with rosy bloom,
The blush of happiness; and one held up
Her ungloved hand in both his own, and stooped
Toward it, sitting by her. O her eyes
Were full of peace and tender light: they looked
One moment in the ungraced lover's face
While he was passing in the snow; and he
Received the story, while he raised his hat
Retiring. Then the clock left off to strike,
And that was all. It snowed, and he walked on;
And in a certain way he marked the snow,
And walked, and came upon the open heath;
And in a certain way he marked the cold,
And walked as one that had no starting-place
Might walk, but not to any certain goal.
And he strode on toward a hollow part,
Where from the hillside gravel had been dug,
And he was conscious of a cry, and went
Dulled in his sense, as though he heard it not;
Till a small farmhouse drudge, a half-grown girl,
Rose from the shelter of a drift that lay
Against the bushes, crying, "God! O God,
O my good God, He sends us help at last."
Then looking hard upon her, came to him
The power to feel and to perceive. Her teeth
Chattered, and all her limbs with shuddering failed,
And in her threadbare shawl was wrapped a child
That looked on him with wondering, wistful eyes.
"I thought to freeze," the girl broke out with tears;
"Kind sir, kind sir," and she held out the child,
As praying him to take it; and he did;
And gave to her the shawl, and swathed his charge
In the foldings of his plaid; and when it thrust
Its small round face against his breast, and felt
With small red hands for warmth,--unbearable
Pains of great pity rent his straitened heart,
For the poor upland dwellers had been out
Since morning dawn, at early milking-time,
Wandering and stumbling in the drift. And now,
Lamed with a fall, half crippled by the cold,
Hardly prevailed his arm to drag her on,
That ill-clad child, who yet the younger child
Had motherly cared to shield. So toiling through
The great white storm coming, and coming yet.
And coming till the world confounded sat
With all her fair familiar features gone,
The mountains muffled in an eddying swirl,
He led or bore them, and the little one
Peered from her shelter, pleased; but oft would mourn
The elder, "They will beat me: O my can,
I left my can of milk upon the moor."
And he compared her trouble with his own,
And had no heart to speak. And yet 'twas keen;
It filled her to the putting down of pain
And hunger,--what could his do more?
The children to their home, and suddenly
Regained himself, and wondering at himself,
That he had borne, and yet been dumb so long,
The weary wailing of the girl: he paid
Money to buy her pardon; heard them say,
"Peace, we have feared for you; forget the milk,
It is no matter!" and went forth again
And waded in the snow, and quietly
Considered in his patience what to do
With all the dull remainder of his days.
With dusk he was at home, and felt it good
To hear his kindred talking, for it broke
A mocking, endless echo in his soul,
"It is no matter!" and he could not choose
But mutter, though the weariness o'ercame
His spirit, "Peace, it is no matter; peace,
It is no matter!" For he felt that all
Was as it had been, and his father's heart
Was easy, knowing not how that same day
Hope with her tender colors and delight
(He should not care to have him know) were dead;
Yea, to all these, his nearest and most dear,
It was no matter. And he heard them talk
Of timber felled, of certain fruitful fields,
And profitable markets.
All for him
Their plans, and yet the echoes swarmed and swam
About his head, whenever there was pause;
"It is no matter!" And his greater self
Arose in him and fought. "It matters much,
It matters all to these, that not to-day
Nor ever they should know it. I will hide
The wound; ay, hide it with a sleepless care.
What! shall I make these three to drink of rue,
Because my cup is bitter?" And he thrust
Himself in thought away, and made his ears
Hearken, and caused his voice, that yet did seem
Another, to make answer, when they spoke,
As there had been no snowstorm, and no porch,
And no despair.
So this went on awhile
Until the snow had melted from the wold,
And he, one noonday, wandering up a lane,
Met on a turn the woman whom he loved.
Then, even to trembling he was moved: his speech
Faltered; but when the common kindly words
Of greeting were all said, and she passed on,
He could not bear her sweetness and his pain,
"Muriel!" he cried; and when she heard her name,
She turned. "You know I love you," he broke out:
She answered "Yes," and sighed.
"O pardon me.
Pardon me," quoth the lover; "let me rest
In certainty, and hear it from your mouth:
Is he with whom I saw you once of late
To call you wife?" "I hope so," she replied;
And over all her face the rose-bloom came,
As thinking on that other, unaware
Her eyes waxed tender. When he looked on her,
Standing to answer him, with lovely shame,
Submiss, and yet not his, a passionate,
A quickened sense of his great impotence
To drive away the doom got hold on him;
He set his teeth to force the unbearable
Misery back, his wide-awakened eyes
Flashed as with flame.
And she, all overawed
And mastered by his manhood, waited yet,
And trembled at the deep she could not sound;
A passionate nature in a storm; a heart
Wild with a mortal pain, and in the grasp
Of an immortal love.
"Farewell," he said,
Recovering words, and when she gave her hand,
"My thanks for your good candor; for I feel
That it has cost you something." Then, the blush
Yet on her face, she said: "It was your due:
But keep this matter from your friends and kin,
We would not have it known." Then cold and proud,
Because there leaped from under his straight lids,
And instantly was veiled, a keen surprise,--
"He wills it, and I therefore think it well."
Thereon they parted; but from that time forth,
Whether they met on festal eve, in field,
Or at the church, she ever bore herself
Proudly, for she had felt a certain pain,
The disapproval hastily betrayed
And quickly hidden hurt her. "'T was a grace,"
She thought, "to tell this man the thing he asked,
And he rewards me with surprise. I like
No one's surprise, and least of all bestowed
Where he bestowed it."
But the spring came on:
Looking to wed in April all her thoughts
Grew loving; she would fain the world had waxed
More happy with her happiness, and oft
Walking among the flowery woods she felt
Their loveliness reach down into her heart,
And knew with them the ecstasies of growth,
The rapture that was satisfied with light,
The pleasure of the leaf in exquisite
Expansion, through the lovely longed-for spring.
And as for him,--(Some narrow hearts there are
That suffer blight when that they fed upon
As something to complete their being fails,
And they retire into their holds and pine,
And long restrained grow stern. But some there are,
That in a sacred want and hunger rise,
And draw the misery home and live with it,
And excellent in honor wait, and will
That somewhat good should yet be found in it,
Else wherefore were they born?),--and as for him,
He loved her, but his peace and welfare made
The sunshine of three lives. The cheerful grange
Threw open wide its hospitable doors
And drew in guests for him. The garden flowers,
Sweet budding wonders, all were set for him.
In him the eyes at home were satisfied,
And if he did but laugh the ear approved.
What then? He dwelt among them as of old,
And taught his mouth to smile.
And time went on,
Till on a morning, when the perfect spring
Rested among her leaves, he journeying home
After short sojourn in a neighboring town,
Stopped at the little station on the line
That ran between his woods; a lonely place
And quiet, and a woman and a child
Got out. He noted them, but walking on
Quickly, went back into the wood, impelled
By hope, for, passing, he had seen his love,
And she was sitting on a rustic seat
That overlooked the line, and he desired
With longing indescribable to look
Upon her face again. And he drew near.
She was right happy; she was waiting there.
He felt that she was waiting for her lord.
She cared no whit if Laurance went or stayed,
But answered when he spoke, and dropped her cheek
In her fair hand.
And he, not able yet
To force himself away, and never more
Behold her, gathered blossom, primrose flowers,
And wild anemone, for many a clump
Grew all about him, and the hazel rods
Were nodding with their catkins. But he heard
The stopping train, and felt that he must go;
His time was come. There was nought else to do
Or hope for. With the blossom he drew near
And would have had her take it from his hand;
But she, half lost in thought, held out her own,
And then remembering him and his long love,
She said, "I thank you; pray you now forget,
Forget me, Laurance," and her lovely eyes
Softened; but he was dumb, till through the trees
Suddenly broke upon their quietude
The woman and her child. And Muriel said,
"What will you?" She made answer quick and keen,
"Your name, my lady; 'tis your name I want,
Tell me your name." Not startled, not displeased,
But with a musing sweetness on her mouth,
As if considering in how short a while
It would be changed, she lifted up her face
And gave it, and the little child drew near
And pulled her gown, and prayed her for the flowers.
Then Laurance, not content to leave them so,
Nor yet to wait the coming lover, spoke,--
"Your errand with this lady?"--"And your right
To ask it?" she broke out with sudden heat
And passion: "What is that to you! Poor child!
Madam!" And Muriel lifted up her face
And looked,--they looked into each other's eyes.
"That man who comes," the clear-voiced woman cried,
"That man with whom you think to wed so soon,
You must not heed him. What! the world is full
Of men, and some are good, and most, God knows,
Better than he,--that I should say it!--far
Better." And down her face the large tears ran,
And Muriel's wild dilated eyes looked up,
Taking a terrible meaning from her words;
And Laurance stared about him half in doubt
If this were real, for all things were so blithe,
And soft air tossed the little flowers about;
The child was singing, and the blackbirds piped,
Glad in fair sunshine. And the women both
Were quiet, gazing in each other's eyes.
He found his voice, and spoke: "This is not well,
Though whom you speak of should have done you wrong;
A man that could desert and plan to wed
Will not his purpose yield to God and right,
Only to law. You, whom I pity so much,
If you be come this day to urge a claim,
You will not tell me that your claim will hold;
'Tis only, if I read aright, the old,
Sorrowful, hateful story!"
With a dull patience that he marvelled at,
"Be plain with me. I know not what to think,
Unless you are his wife. Are you his wife?
Be plain with me." And all too quietly,
With running down of tears, the answer came,
"Ay, madam, ay! the worse for him and me."
Then Muriel heard her lover's foot anear,
And cried upon him with a bitter cry,
Sharp and despairing. And those two stood back,
With such affright, and violent anger stirred
He broke from out the thicket to her side,
Not knowing. But, her hands before her face,
She sat; and, stepping close, that woman came
And faced him. Then said Muriel, "O my heart,
Herbert!"--and he was dumb, and ground his teeth,
And lifted up his hand and looked at it,
And at the woman; but a man was there
Who whirled her from her place, and thrust himself
Between them; he was strong,--a stalwart man:
And Herbert thinking on it, knew his name.
"What good," quoth he, "though you and I should strive
And wrestle all this April day? A word,
And not a blow, is what these women want:
Master yourself, and say it." But he, weak
With passion and great anguish, flung himself
Upon the seat and cried, "O lost, my love!
O Muriel, Muriel!" And the woman spoke,
"Sir, 'twas an evil day you wed with me;
And you were young; I know it, sir, right well.
Sir, I have worked; I have not troubled you,
Not for myself, nor for your child. I know
We are not equal." "Hold!" he cried; "have done;
Your still, tame words are worse than hate or scorn.
Get from me! Ay, my wife, my wife, indeed!
All's done. You hear it, Muriel; if you can,
O sweet, forgive me."
Then the woman moved
Slowly away: her little singing child
Went in her wake: and Muriel dropped her hands,
And sat before these two that loved her so,
Mute and unheeding. There were angry words,
She knew, but yet she could not hear the words;
And afterwards the man she loved stooped down
And kissed her forehead once, and then withdrew
To look at her, and with a gesture pray
Her pardon. And she tried to speak, but failed,
And presently, and soon, O,--he was gone.
She heard him go, and Laurance, still as stone,
Remained beside her; and she put her hand
Before her face again, and afterward
She heard a voice, as if a long way off,
Some one entreated, but she could not heed.
Thereon he drew her hand away, and raised
Her passive from her seat. So then she knew
That he would have her go with him, go home,--
It was not far to go,--a dreary home.
A crippled aunt, of birth and lineage high,
Had in her youth, and for a place and home,
Married the stern old rector; and the girl
Dwelt with them: she was orphaned,--had no kin
Nearer than they. And Laurance brought her in,
And spared to her the telling of this woe.
He sought her kindred where they sat apart,
And laid before them all the cruel thing,
As he had seen it. After, he retired:
And restless, and not master of himself,
He day and night haunted the rectory lanes;
And all things, even to the spreading out
Of leaves, their flickering shadows on the ground,
Or sailing of the slow, white cloud, or peace
And glory and great light on mountain heads,--
All things were leagued against him,--ministered
By likeness or by contrast to his love.
But what was that to Muriel, though her peace
He would have purchased for her with all prayers,
And costly, passionate, despairing tears?
O what to her that he should find it worse
To bear her life's undoing than his own?
She let him see her, and she made no moan,
But talked full calmly of indifferent things,
Which when he heard, and marked the faded eyes
And lovely wasted cheek, he started up
With "This I cannot bear!" and shamed to feel
His manhood giving way, and utterly
Subdued by her sweet patience and his pain,
Made haste and from the window sprang, and paced,
Battling and chiding with himself, the maze.
She suffered, and he could not make her well
For all his loving;--he was naught to her.
And now his passionate nature, set astir,
Fought with the pain that could not be endured;
And like a wild thing suddenly aware
That it is caged, which flings and bruises all
Its body at the bars, he rose, and raged
Against the misery: then he made all worse
With tears. But when he came to her again,
Willing to talk as they had talked before,
She sighed, and said, with that strange quietness,
"I know you have been crying": and she bent
Her own fair head and wept.
She felt the cold--
The freezing cold that deadened all her life--
Give way a little; for this passionate
Sorrow, and all for her, relieved her heart,
And brought some natural warmth, some natural tears.