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The Sons of the Soil: a Poem. Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1812–1872.
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page: 154
page: 155

BOOK VIII.

  • 'TWAS not the waning year alone that threw
  • Its sombre shadow where the poplar grew,
  • page: 156
  • And leafy chesnut spread its branches wide,
  • And graceful ash, that stately ball beside.
  • But many an anxious thought had lately come
  • To cloud the sunshine of the farmer's home.
  • Not that calamity had fallen there,
  • But vague forebodings, with a secret fear
  • That though the present hour was gilded o'er,
  • The future held less smiling ones in store.
  • Nor was it on the father's brow alone
  • That care sat brooding; Henry, graver grown,
  • Partook the feeling in its deepest tone.
  • For his was disappointment—vain desire,
  • Of which weak hope is born, soon to expire;
  • With sense of wrong, as if his father could
  • Give him his rightful portion, if he would.
  • While his fair Emma, waiting for the bliss
  • Of blending all her happiness with his,
  • With childish murmuring oft provoked his spleen
  • Against a parent, who had ever been
  • page: 157
  • But too indulgent, and too proud of him,
  • Noting his faults with partial eyes, and dim.
  • Mean time had Helen happiness, beyond
  • These grovelling thoughts, that seemed too weak and fond,
  • And yet too much of calculation born,
  • To move her pity, or escape her scorn.
  • She had her store of happiness untold,
  • To her more precious far than hoarded gold—
  • Not tangible, alas! nor sure, nor real,
  • But more enjoyed, for being all ideal.
  • Autumn was past, and winter now had come,
  • With storm and tempest, round the farmer's home,
  • Yet brightly burned his cheerful hearth within,
  • As when our social evenings first begin;
  • When, in defiance of the blast without,
  • We stir the fire, and shut the darkness out.
  • page: 158
  • And while the night came on with gathering gloom,
  • The crimson glow that lighted up that room
  • Threw all around its mellow tints, and warm,
  • As if in mockery of the raging storm.
  • Then Helen struck the chords she loved so well,
  • And sung of many a lover's fond farewell,
  • Of mermaid's song where treacherous billows roar,
  • Of exile pining for his native shore,
  • Of battle-field, and “clarion wild and shrill,”
  • And hunter's horn loud echoing o'er the hill.
  • Then glowed her cheek with feelings warm and high,
  • That found no voice save in her minstrelsy;
  • Then flashed her eye with more than human light,
  • While rose some fabled heroine on the sight.
  • What form is that with high and courtly mien,
  • His hand upon the charmed pages seen,
  • Turning the leaves, yet with enraptured look
  • Watching the page of beauty's fairer book?
  • page: 159
  • Lord William Douglas, wearied with the chase,
  • By Helen's side assumes his wonted place,
  • Turns to depart, yet idly lingers still,
  • For loud the wintry blast howls on the hill.
  • Is it the storm that keeps him loitering there?f
  • Or that enchantress with her raven hair?
  • Sporting with chains that women love to throw
  • Around their captives, and then bid them go.
  • For Helen oft would answer his good-night
  • As if she cared not when he left her sight,
  • Then strike the notes of some wild mountain-air,
  • He could not choose but turn again to hear.
  • Thus sped those evening hours, so quickly gone
  • That Helen scarce believed the vision flown,
  • Ere some sweet morrow dawned upon her view,
  • With the same colouring-bright, but how untrue!
  • They know not half the beauties of the year,
  • Who say that summer days alone look fair.
  • page: 160
  • Give back the sunshine of a winter's morn
  • To nature's child with genuine feeling born.
  • The silent, breathless slumber of the breeze,
  • The glittering hoar-frost on the leafless trees,
  • The high blue vault of heaven without a cloud,
  • The clay-cold earth encircled in her shroud
  • Of silvery grey, concealment meet for death,
  • Hiding the secrets of decay beneath.
  • Oh, well-remembered mornings of delight!
  • Ere the white frost-work vanished from the sight,
  • To watch the fairy forest on the pane
  • Melt with the breath, then grow to life again.
  • With bounding step along the fields to go,
  • And hear the pent-up torrent's gurgling flow;
  • The crisp grass rustling underneath the tread,
  • Its fleecy carpet all around us spread;
  • The clear sharp air inhaling, fresh, and free;
  • While health's own rose, so beautiful to see,
  • Bloomed on each cheek, and made the lilies there
  • More purely white, more exquisitely fair.
page: 161
  • Helen admired, but did not seek from art
  • The purer joy that nature can impart.
  • She loved her music, and she loved the charm
  • That taste could blend even with a rustic farm;
  • But more she loved the rosy morning's dawn,
  • And traced with joyous step the grassy lawn.
  • For still she drank those draughts of natural joy
  • Which artificial wants so soon destroy.
  • 'Twas thus she wandered forth one winter's morn,
  • Say, could it be to hear the huntsman's horn?
  • No; for her heart was feminine, and kind?
  • In such rude sport what pastime could she find?
  • But, hark! they come. The murderous pack is near,
  • Their deep-mouthed yells loud echoing on the ear,
  • The clattering horsemen whooping, wild and hollow,
  • The furious steeds that tear the ground to follow,
  • The scarlet coats that blaze along the wood,
  • Where crashing boughs across the path obtrude.
  • Away! away! as swiftly as they came,
  • They speed, and vanish, like some meteor's flame.
  • page: 162
  • But Helen wears a blush upon her cheek,
  • And in her eyes' bright radiance, hopes that speak
  • Sweet promise for that day's departing light,
  • When from the field returns the wearied knight.
  • Now spreads along the landscape far and near
  • A shadow not of clouds, but something drear,
  • That seems to whisper to the listening ear
  • Of dark forebodings, and mysterious powers,
  • Ranging the earth through winter's stormy hours.
  • Now wakes the wind with melancholy tone
  • Among the topmost boughs, that creak, and moan,
  • And bow themselves before the gathering blast,
  • Till the first rush of giant strength has passed;
  • When, sweeping back, they meet the foe once more,
  • And all becomes one universal roar.
  • Then rise thick murky clouds before the sun,
  • And evening closes in with darkness dun;
  • While wends the peasant home his cheerless way,
  • Ere the last light expires of dying day.
  • page: 163
  • Sweet is it then to draw the curtains warm,
  • And hear the ceaseless fury of the storm
  • Howling around, without one thought of fear
  • That the fierce enemy can enter there.
  • Sweet is it then to stir the evening fire,
  • To add fresh fuel, watch the blaze burn higher,
  • Pity the sailors, and then look to see
  • How many bright eyes beam with hope and glee.
  • Sweet is it then to weave the social bond
  • With minds congenial, faithful hearts, and fond;
  • To feel the best beloved on earth are near,
  • In that blest hour of safety, more than dear,
  • Secure, and sheltered from the raging blast,
  • The robe of comfort that our love would cast
  • Around them ever, closely folded now,
  • Warmth at their heart, and peace upon their brow.
  • Love in the sunny hour is not like this,
  • It wants more deep intensity of bliss,
  • More contrast with a rude and stormy world,
  • Whose jarring elements are tossed and hurled
  • page: 164
  • Around the sacred precincts of that home,
  • Where safety reigns, and tempests never come.
  • And Douglas sate beside the farmer's hearth
  • With those bright smiles that waken thoughts of mirth.
  • Well pleased he seemed Matilda's tea to sip,
  • A soldier's story ever on his lip,
  • Chasing from William Herbert's brow of care
  • The sombre shade that sometimes darkened there,
  • Beguiling Henry to forget his love,
  • By tales of battle-field, the patriot heart that move.
  • This night more animated, more alive
  • To all the joy that social hour can give,
  • He sate amongst them, seeming happier far
  • Than wearing on his breast the knightly star.
  • Till Helen woke his favourite Highland strain,
  • When stood the soldier by her side again;
  • page: 165
  • While stooping low, as if to read the page
  • That seemed so oft his notice to engage,
  • He said in gentle accents, soft, and sad,
  • “May you ne'er sing with heart and voice less glad.
  • And think not, Helen, I am light or gay,
  • I only laugh to chase my grief away.”
  • “Grief?” Helen smiled; she ne'er had heard of woe
  • That all around such merriment could throw.
  • “Nay, smile not, Helen, cruel, heartless one,
  • Or, if you will, smile only when I'm gone.”
  • “Gone?”
  • “Yes, I soon shall cross the raging sea,
  • And you as soon will cease to think of me.
  • Yet take this wreath of pearls, and sometimes wear
  • The poor memorial in your raven-hair.”
page: 166
  • The maid was startled into helplessness.
  • She felt his hand upon her forehead press,
  • Binding the silken cord around her brow,
  • While o'er her cheek there rushed a crimson glow,
  • And then a sudden dimness to her eyes—
  • Not tears of sorrow, only of surprise.
  • She spoke not; how could language have expressed
  • The mixed emotions struggling in her breast.
  • And he was gone forth on that stormy night,
  • To meet the winds, and battle with their might.
  • Yet ere he left, a promise had been made
  • To ride together through the beech-wood shade
  • For the last time! Oh! words of fearful sound!
  • Who has not felt your meaning, too profound,
  • Too potent in its melancholy power,
  • Ruling the destiny of some short hour
  • On which depends the fate of future years,
  • With all its wealth of joy, or waste of tears.
page: 167
  • Slowly and mournfully that morn awoke,
  • And dimly daylight on the landscape broke.
  • Yet Helen went at the appointed hour,
  • Unfelt, the chilly blast, or glancing shower.
  • Fresh beauty brightening in her cheek and eyes,
  • With the brisk gale, and healthy exercise.
  • The storm was hushed, but peace had not returned,
  • The solemn beech-wood seemed as if it mourned
  • The ruthless fury of the winter's blast,
  • That from its boughs their leafy garland cast.
  • While all around, beneath the horses' tread,
  • Thick beds of rustling leaves the feet betrayed.
  • Sad was the murmuring of that gale among
  • Those stately trees that stood so firm and strong,
  • With interwoven branches, cold and grey,
  • To guard the traveller on his silent way.
  • And meet that scene for love to say farewell,
  • The cloudy heaven its pall, the moaning wind its knell.
page: 168
  • Douglas was gone, and with him passed away
  • The golden light of many an autumn day.
  • Winter's dark hours, how weary were they grown!
  • Since that fair dream from Helen's heart had flown.
  • Yet was there promise of his quick return,
  • And memory's page on which her eye might turn;
  • And all the magic colouring hope could bring
  • To tinge life's picture with the hues of spring.
  • These still were left, and in her secret soul
  • Something that bade defiance to control—
  • Something that grew out of her own conceit,
  • Yet the dull lapse of many an hour would cheat,
  • Telling strange stories of congenial minds,
  • And that mysterious destiny that winds
  • Its secret chain around the faithful-hearted,
  • Though far away, by time and distance parted.
  • Robbed of this confidence, with promise rife,
  • Ill had she brooked the dull routine of life,
  • When the last weeks of winter wore that gloom
  • Well known to all within the farmer's home,
  • page: 169
  • Ere lengthening days enlivening sunshine bring,
  • With all the cheerful redolence of spring.
  • There is a time when nature seems to make
  • A stern determination not to wake;
  • When the snows melt, and swollen streams run deep,
  • And plashy pools the sere brown herbage steep;
  • When first the snowdrop dares the storm endure,
  • The only thing on earth which then looks pure;
  • When tempted forth, because the days are long,
  • Light only seems our misery to prolong,
  • By forcing out, from every dark recess,
  • The desolation, and the dreariness.
  • This, the least lovely season of the year,
  • Had now returned, with daylight cold and drear.
  • Yet Henry smiled, for youth was in his breast,
  • And hope, a still more animating guest,
  • page: 170
  • Now conjured up a world of pure delight,
  • Where scarce one cloud obscured his ardent sight.
  • His father, oft assailed, and sorely tried
  • With strange petitions, hard to be denied,
  • Yielded at last a full and free consent,
  • And Henry was, or seemed to be, content—
  • Content at least, his gentle bride should come
  • To share the comforts of his father's home;
  • For there was room enough for him and her,
  • And surely all her presence must prefer.
  • So kind, so fair, so lovely to his eye,
  • What envious caviller a fault could spy.
  • She had been taught by Martha too, and now,
  • Like other household dames, could sit and sew,
  • Could talk of management, and count the cost
  • Of some things, though not those she wanted most.
  • True, she was portionless, but he would toil
  • Oh, how unceasingly, to see her smile;
  • And deem all labour sweet, all suffering light,
  • That purchased her one moment of delight.
  • page: 171
  • Martha had warned him not to make the trial
  • Until the maid, more schooled in self-denial,
  • Should learn a few plain rules of common sense,
  • Her tears to check, and not with each pretence
  • Of pain, or grief, to human nature common,
  • To deem herself the most ill-fated woman.
  • “Wait, Henry dear,” the prudent sister said,
  • “Till a few years have rolled above her head.
  • I cannot teach her all at once to know
  • That earthly happiness must ever flow
  • Back to ourselves, from bliss that we bestow.”
  • Henry believed not half that Martha told;
  • Possession was to him a mine of gold.
  • And, like his lordly brethren, he felt sure,
  • If there was evil, he himself could cure.
  • He was the safest guide, he knew the best,
  • Or, if be failed in ought, then love would do the rest.
page: 172
  • Thus came the orphan to her future home,
  • Decked, as she thought a lovely bride should come.
  • Nor spared her brother aught, nor Martha's hand
  • Withheld whate'er its bounty could command.
  • And Emma took their gifts with smiling brow,
  • As if it was their duty to bestow,
  • Hers to receive. Oh! ignorance of right!
  • How oft this poor dependence meets the sight,
  • And pains the heart, even in our favoured land,
  • Where women cannot—will not understand,
  • How they may lean on others, and depend,
  • Yet never know what constitutes a friend;
  • How they may be both gentle and refined,
  • Yet want the noblest attributes of mind;
  • How they may charm the ear, and please the eye,
  • Yet live unhonoured, and unmourned-for die.
  • And now with those bright bridal days of hope,
  • Spring came at last, and every woodland slope
  • page: 173
  • Lay smiling where the russet brown had been,
  • Adorned again in velvet robe of green.
  • Spring came at last, and with contented heart
  • Henry prepared himself for that stern part
  • Which duty prompted. To the fields he went
  • With step alert, nor did his heart relent,
  • Though Emma ofttimes would have lured his stay,
  • By playful chiding ere he turned away.
  • “Are we not bound by every claim,” said he,
  • “That most imperative and just can be,
  • To make my father feel, 'mid cares that goad,
  • We are at least not willingly a load?”
  • “A load? dear Henry, what a word to use!”
  • “This is no time more polished phrase to choose.
  • And let us soften as we will, the name,
  • The truth—the serious truth—remains the same.”
page: 174
  • Henry was changed even now, and Emma felt
  • Her tears had somewhat lost their power to melt.
  • One only purpose seemed to fill his mind,
  • It might be noble, but it scarce was kind
  • To leave her gentle charms, once loved so well,
  • For coarse rude men who came to buy and sell.
  • Thus Emma reasoned, while she sate and wept;
  • But Henry still his manly purpose kept.
  • For well he knew he must no longer dream:
  • His hand must labour, and his head must scheme,
  • If he, with name unstained, and conscience clear,
  • Would meet the trials of the coming year.
  • And William Herbert now his counsels shared
  • Gladly, with one who ever seemed prepared
  • With willing service, and with feeling heart,
  • To act an able and an upright part.
page: 175
  • Thus passed those summer months, while Lucv's care
  • Was called to scenes of solemn service, where
  • The reverend pastor bowed his hoary head,
  • And she kept watch beside his dying bed.
  • At length the scene was closed, and Eustace prayed
  • In seeming fervency beside the maid,
  • That he might catch that mantle as it fell,
  • And in that parting spirit's glory dwell.
  • It was a solemn scene, and Lucy felt
  • The sordid world before her vision melt,
  • With all its weariness, and all its strife,
  • Lost in the balance with eternal life.
  • Oh, could we linger by the bed of death,
  • How might we trample earthly scenes beneath!
  • But soon there comes a morrow less sublime,
  • And we return to grovelling things of time.
  • 'Twas thus with Lucy, though her faithful heart
  • Asked only with one treasure not to part.
  • page: 176
  • Yet that she hoarded with a miser's care,
  • Pure though it seemed, perchance it was her snare.
  • Eustace was pastor of that village now,
  • And oft with Lucy in her walks would go,
  • To hear the blessings of the needy poor
  • Welcome her step at every cottage door.
  • Why should they dwell apart? They long had known
  • And oft acknowledged that their hearts were one.
  • So Eustace won at last her free consent,
  • And on the embassy of hope he went.
  • It was one bright and smiling summer's day,
  • When all around, in heaven and earth, looked gay.
  • And Lucy sate within a cool alcove,
  • Sweet flowers beside her, and blue skies above.
  • Fair child of peace, with sunlight on her brow,
  • If there be real happiness below,
  • 'Twas hers in that bright golden hour to know.
  • page: 177
  • Yes, she was happy—happy even here,
  • For she had much to hope, and nought to fear;
  • With the whole world, and with herself at rest,
  • No anxious tumult thrilled her youthful breast.
  • Nothing to envy, nothing to forgive,
  • Was it not bliss enough to feel, and live?
  • Yes; and the birds sang o'er her with delight,
  • And the gay flowers sprang sweetly to her sight,
  • While the whole voice of nature seemed to pour
  • Praise and thanksgiving through that sunny hour.
  • At length she heard a footstep on the grass,
  • And saw a shadow o'er the threshold pass.
  • She raised her eyes. What could there be to chase
  • The smile of gladness from her lover's face?
  • Yet so it seemed; but he began to speak,
  • And she looked down to hide her blushing cheek.
page: 178
  • “Lucy, I know not how to act a part.
  • Grieved, disappointed, you shall know my heart.
  • I told vour father of our plighted love,
  • And much he seemed our union to approve,
  • Called you, as oft he does, his favourite child,
  • And while he sighed to part with you, still smiled,
  • To think a home—a surer home, he said,
  • Than he could offer, soon would shield your head.
  • I know not why, but something struck my mind
  • Strange in his manner, though it seemed so kind;
  • At length the truth was told—would you believe,
  • Your father can no marriage portion give!”
  • “And is that all?” said Lucy. “Heed it not.
  • We can be happy in the poorest cot!”
  • “Poetic visions, Lucy, charm not me.
  • Have I not lived such happiness to see?”
page: 179
  • “Then what remains?” she asked, with timid voice.
  • “ Can we not wait? or has your heart a choice?”
  • “Yes, we could wait, if there was ought to cheer,
  • Or brighter promise for the coming year.”
  • “Then what remains?” asked Lucy once again,
  • Her pale lip quivering with a thrill of pain.
  • “I scarcely know,” said Eustace, “but I think
  • 'Twere madness thus to venture on the brink
  • Of hopeless poverty, with no pretence
  • But creature-love, for tempting Providence.
  • You know my yearly stipend is but small:”—
  • He should have seen her turning to the wall
  • As if the stones could pity; and the blush
  • That grew upon her face, the burning gush
  • Of woman's feeling, o'er her brow and cheek,
  • And flashing eye that used to be so meek—
  • page: 180
  • It passed—and never marble looked more pale
  • Than Lucy, while she listened to his tale.
  • He marked her not, his eye was cold, and clear,
  • Fixed on a bed of withering roses there;
  • He marked her not, for different thoughts possessed
  • His anxious mind, and laboured in his breast
  • At length he spoke—
  • “The more I view the case,
  • The more I see that misery and disgrace
  • Await our union; yet it seems not well
  • That our decision I alone should tell.”
  • Lucy looked up, sheiid not quite perceive
  • His real meaning, or could not believe.
  • At length, however, it was made more clear;
  • She heard—and understood—and shed no tear.
  • He took her hand, she drew it not away,
  • 'Twas cold as marble, and she let it stay.
page: 181
  • “You comprehend my meaning?”
  • “Yes, I do.”
  • “I thought you must, for all I say is true.
  • And I am pleased we can so well agree.
  • It makes the trial easier far to me.
  • And you will say it was your own desire,
  • Not mine, that our engagement should expire?”
  • “I will.”
  • “Farewell then, Lucy, ever dear;
  • I'm glad your judgment is so cool and clear.
  • True, I can ne'er be happy as with you,
  • But something to my station still is due;
  • And I, to give that office more respect,
  • A portion with my partner must expect.”
  • “Enough,” said Lucy; “I can understand.”
  • And coldly she withdrew her captive hand.
  • “Farewell!” he said, and left her standing there,
  • Like some mute sculptured image of despair.
  • page: 182
  • The birds sang o'er her as with fresh delight,
  • The flowers looked up as if to meet her sight,
  • The sun smiled high in cloudless light above,
  • And the soft gale sighed with the breath of love.
  • The birds sang o'er her, and she heard their song;
  • Why should they now their melody prolong?
  • The blooming flowers her care was wont to tend,
  • Was there not one to droop like sorrowing friend?
  • Great glorious orb of day, blest source of light!
  • Thy noontide radiance mocks the mourner's sight;
  • And thou soft breeze, with perfume-laden wing,
  • To the seared heart, what healing canst thou bring?
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