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So the strong will prevailed, and Alden went on his errand,
Out of the street of the village, and into the paths of the forest,
Into the tranquil woods, where blue-birds and robins were building
Towns in the populous trees, with hanging gardens of verdure,
Peaceful, aerial cities of joy and affection and freedom.
All around him was calm, but within him commotion and conflict,
Love contending with friendship, and self with each generous impulse.
To and fro in his breast his thoughts were heaving and dashing,
As in a foundering ship, with every roll of the vessel,
Washes the bitter sea, the merciless surge of the ocean !
"Must I relinquish it all," he cried with a wild lamentation,
'Must I relinquish it all, the joy, the hope, the illusion ?
Was it for this I have loved, and waited, and worshipped in silence ?
Was it for this I have followed the flying feet and the shadow
Over the wintry sea, to the desolate shores of New England ?
Truly the heart is deceitful, and out of its depths of corruption
Rise, like an exhalation, the misty phantoms of passion ;
Angels of light they seem, but are only delusions of Satan.
All is clear to me now; I feel it, I see it distinctly!
This is the hand of the Lord; it is laid upon me in anger,
For I have followed too much the heart's desires and devices,
Worshipping Astaroth blindly, and impious idols of Baal.
This is the cross I must bear; the sin and the swift retribution.”
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand; Crossing the brook at the ford, where it brawled over pebble and
shallow, Gathering still, as he went, the May-flowers blooming around him, Fragrant, filling the air with a strange and wonderful sweetness, Children lost in the woods, and covered with leaves in their slumber. “Puritan flowers," he said, “and the type of Puritan maidens,
Modest and simple and sweet, the very type of Priscilla !
So I will take them to her; to Priscilla the May-flower of Plymouth,
Modest and simple and sweet, as a parting gift will I take them ;
Breathing their silent farewells, as they fade and wither and perish,
Soon to be thrown away as is the heart of the giver.”
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand;
Came to an open space, and saw the disk of the ocean,
Sail-less, sombre and cold with the comfortless breath of the east wind;
Saw the new-built house, and people at work in a meadow ;
Heard, as he drew near the door, the musical voice of Priscilla
Singing the hundredth Psalm, the grand old Puritan anthem,
Music that Luther sang to the sacred words of the Psalmist,
Full of the breath of the Lord, consoling and comforting many.
Then, as he opened the door, he beheld the form of the maiden
Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift
Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle,
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion,
Open wide on her lap lay the well-worn psalm-book of Ainsworth,
Printed in Amsterdam, the words and the music together,
Rough-hewn, angular notes, like stones in the wall of a churchyard,
Darkened and overhung by the running vine of the verses.
Such was the book from whose pages she sang the old Puritan
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of homespun
Beautiful with her beauty, and rich with the wealth of her being !
Over him rushed, like a wind that is keen and cold and relentless,
Thoughts of what might have been, and the weight and woe of his
errand ; All the dreams that had faded, and all the hopes that had vanished, All his life henceforth a dreary and tenantless mansion, Haunted by vain regrets, and pallid, sorrowful faces. Still he said to himself, and almost fiercely he said it, “ Let not him that putteth his hand to the plough look backwards; Though the ploughshare cut through the flowers of life to its fountains, Though it pass o'er the graves of the dead and the hearths of the
living, It is the will of the Lord; and his mercy endureth for ever!"
So he entered the house: and the hum of the wheel and the singing Suddenly ceased; for Priscilla, aroused by his step on the threshold,
Rose as he entered, and gave him her hand, in signal of welcome,
Saying, “I knew it was you, when I heard your step in the passage;
For I was thinking of you, as I sat there singing and spinning.”
Awkward and dumb with delight, that a thought of him had been
Thus in the sacred psalm, that came from the heart of the maiden,
Silent before her he stood, and gave her the flowers for an answer,
Finding no words for his thought. He remembered that day in the