« ПредишнаНапред »
As my own child. Oh, Sir! the good die first,
And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
Burn to the socket. Many a passenger
Hath blessed poor Margaret for her gentle looks,
When she upheld the cool refreshment drawn
From that forsaken spring; and no one came
But he was welcome; no one went away
But that it seemed she loved him. She is dead,
The light extinguished of her lonely hut,
The hut itself abandoned to decay,
And she forgotten in the quiet grave.
I speak,” continued he,“ of One whose stock
Of virtues bloomed beneath this lowly roof.
She was a Woman of a steady mind,
Tender and deep in her excess of love ;
Not speaking much, pleased rather with the joy
Of her own thoughts : by some especial care
Her temper had been framed, as if to make
A Being, who by adding love to peace
Might live on earth a life of happiness.
Her wedded Partner lacked not on his side
The humble worth that satisfied her heart :
Frugal, affectionate, sober, and withal
Keenly industrious. She with pride would tell
That he was often seated at his loom,
In summer, ere the mower was abroad
Among the dewy grass,-in early spring,
Ere the last star had vanished. They who passed
At evening, from behind the garden fence
Might hear his busy spade, which he would ply,
After his daily work, until the light
Had failed, and every leaf and flower were lost
In the dark hedges. So their days were spent
In peace and comfort ; and a pretty boy
Was their best hope, next to the God in heaven.
Not twenty years ago, but you I think
Can scarcely bear it now in mind, there came
Two blighting seasons, when the fields were left
With half a harvest. It pleased Heaven to add
A worse affliction in the plague of war :
This happy Land was stricken to the heart !
A Wanderer then among the cottages,
I, with my freight of winter raiment, saw
The hardships of that season : many rich
Sank down, as in a dream, among the poor;
And of the poor did many cease to be,
And their place knew them not. Meanwhile, abridged
Of daily comforts, gladly reconciled
To numerous self-denials, Margaret
Went struggling on through those calamitous years
With cheerful hope, until the second autumn,
When her life's Helpmate on a sick-bed lay,
Smitten with perilous fever. In disease
He lingered long; and, when his strength returned,
He found the little he had stored, to meet
The hour of accident or crippling age,
Was all consumed. A second infant now
Was added to the troubles of a time
Laden, for them and all of their degree,
With care and sorrow: shoals of artisans
From ill-requited labour turned adrift
Sought daily bread from public charity,
They, and their wives and children-happier far
Could they have lived as do the little birds
That peck along the hedge-rows, or the kite
That makes her dwelling on the mountain rocks !
A sad reverse it was for him who long
Had filled with plenty, and possessed in peace,
This lonely Cottage. At the door he stood,
And whistled many a snatch of merry tunes
That had no mirth in them; or with his knife
Carved uncouth figures on the heads of sticks-
Then, not less idly, sought, through every nook
In house or garden, any casual work
Of use or ornament; and with a strange,
Amusing, yet uneasy, novelty,
He mingled, where he might, the various tasks
Of summer, autumn, winter, and of spring.
But this endured not; his good humour soon
Became a weight in which no pleasure was :
And poverty brought on a petted mood
And a sore temper : day by day he drooped,
And he would leave his work-and to the town
Would turn without an errand his slack steps ;
Or wander here and there among the fields.
One while he would speak lightly of his babes,
And with a cruel tongue : at other times
He tossed them with a false unnatural joy :
And 'twas a rueful thing to see the looks
Of the poor innocent children. “Every smile,'
Said Margaret to me, here beneath these trees,
Made my heart bleed.'”
At this the Wanderer paused;
And, looking up to those enormous elms,
He said, “ "T'is now the hour of deepest noon.
At this still season of repose and peace,
This hour when all things which are not at rest
Are cheerful ; while this multitude of flies
With tuneful hum is filling all the air ;
Why should a tear be on an old Man's cheek?
Why should we thus, with an untoward mind,
And in the weakness of humanity,
From natural wisdom turn our hearts away ;
To natural comfort shut our eyes and ears;
And, feeding on disquiet, thus disturb
The calm of nature with our restless thoughts ?”
He spake with somewhat of a solemn tone :
But, when he ended, there was in his face
Such easy cheerfulness, a look so mild,
That for a little time it stole away
All recollection ; and that simple tale
Passed from my mind like a forgotten sound.
A while on trivial things we held discourse,
To me soon tasteless. In my own despite,
I thought of that poor Woman as of one
Whom I had known and loved. He had rehearsed
Her homely tale with such familiar power,
With such an active countenance, an eye
So busy, that the things of which he spake
Seemed present; and, attention now relaxed,
A heart-felt chillness crept along my veins.
I rose ; and, having left the breezy shade,
Stood drinking comfort from the warmer sun,
That had not cheered me long-ere, looking round
Upon that tranquil Ruin, I returned,
And begged of the old Man that, for my sake,
He would resume his story.
He replied, “ It were a wantonness, and would demand Severe reproof, if we were men whose hearts Could hold vain dalliance with the misery Even of the dead; contented thence to draw A momentary pleasure, never marked By reason, barren of all future good. But we have known that there is often found In mournful thoughts, and always might be found, A power to virtue friendly ; wer 't not so, I am a dreamer among men, indeed An idle dreamer! 'Tis a common tale, An ordinary sorrow of man's life, A tale of silent suffering, hardly clothed In bodily form.—But without further bidding I will proceed.
While thus it fared with them,
To whom this cottage, till those hapless years, Had been a blessed home, it was my chance To travel in a country far remote; And when these lofty elms once more appeared What pleasant expectations lured me on O’er the flat Common !- With quick step I reached The threshold, lifted with light hand the latch ; But, when I entered, Margaret looked at me A little while ; then turned her head away Speechless,--and, sitting down upon a chair, Wept bitterly. I wist not what to do, Nor how to speak to her. Poor Wretch! at last She rose from off her seat, and then,–0 Sir! I cannot tell how she pronounced my name:-With fervent love, and with a face of grief Unutterably helpless, and a look That seemed to cling upon me, she enquired If I had seen her husband. As she spake A strange surprise and fear came to my heart, Nor had I power to answer ere she told That he had disappeared—not two months gone. He left his house : two wretched days had past, And on the third, as wistfully she raised Her head from off her pillow, to look forth, Like one in trouble, for returning light, Within her chamber-casement she espied A folded paper, lying as if placed To meet her waking eyes. This tremblingly She opened-found no writing, but beheld Pieces of money carefully enclosed, Silver and gold. 'I shuddered at the sight,' Said Margaret, for I knew it was his hand That must have placed it there; and ere that day Was ended, that long anxious day, I learned, From one who by my husband had been sent With the sad news, that he had joined a troop Of soldiers, going to a distant land.