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Poems from Storm-Beaten: or, Christmas Eve at the “Old Anchor” Inn


[The following poems were included in Storm-Beaten: or, Christmas Eve at the “Old Anchor” Inn, which was a collaboration between Robert Buchanan (then using his first pseudonym, ‘Williams Buchanan’) and Charles Gibbon, published in 1862. Some of the stories and poems had been published before in All The Year Round and Once A Week. There is no indication of who wrote what, but it is fair to assume that Buchanan was responsible for the four poems. ‘Forgiven’ was published in the 22nd December, 1860 edition of All The Year Round and I have noted the slight alterations in the Storm-Beaten version.]


[The Sickly Gentleman’s Story.]




I STAND on the bridge, while the river flows
     Under my feet in a dream;
While the faint yellow leaves of the sunset rose
     Close up with a silver gleam;
While the golden eyes of the summer night
     Are opening wide to see
The Twilight, sandal’d with moonbeams white,
     Move mistily over the lea.

The little river glides under my feet,
     With visions of sweet star-light,—
Why is the song so bitterly sweet
     That it sings as it flows to-night?
Does it mock this numbness of heart and brain,
     This sense of the sad and the strange,
This worn-out heart and its feverish pain,
     With a joy that can never change?

For it flows in an odour of blossoming limes
     Past the village, and on to the mill
Where the heart in my boyish breast made rhymes,
     As it seemed, at its own sweet will.
For slowly, with eddy, and song, and swirl,
     It silently, sighfully creeps
Past the green churchyard where the beautiful girl,
     Young Margaret Hathaway, sleeps.

The little green church, and the mill, and the stream,
     And the tremulous stars overhead,
Are part of the glamour in that sweet dream
     Which renders her doubly dead;
And the scent of the limes, which muskily bud
     Round the little bridge purpled and mossed,
Brings delicate faintness to cool the blood
     Which mourns for a love long lost.

I am looking back in the quiet night,
     From this well-remembered place,
Back to the year when the same sweet light
     Made gems on the river’s face;
When my heart was drenched with its own sweet joy
     As I went on my indolent way;
When she was a girl and I was a boy.
     Let me tell you the tale as I may.



We dwelt with our father, the miller, within
     The mill (you can see it lie
Yonder against the dim light of the linn),
     Edward, my brother, and I.
He was a man and I was a boy,
     But still we were brother and brother,
When we sundered, and, pent in a foolish annoy,
     Half fancied we hated each other.

We shared the feelings that children feel
     Together, at play or in school;
But he was the man with the sinew of steel,
     While I was the indolent fool.
We had grown at the self-same mother’s knee,
     And we shared the same blood to the core;
But I was the lad of nineteen, while he
     Was the yeoman of twenty-four.

And she was our cousin. Long years before
     The light of my life burnt high,
They brought the girl to my father’s door,
     Orphan’d, helpless, to live or die;
And my father, the miller, took the child,
     And petted her in her place,
And Margaret Hathaway thenceforth smiled
     With the sunshine of home on her face.

She was older than I by a year; she grew
     Healthily handsome in toil,
Like a flower catching colour from sun and dew
     While rooted in firmer soil;
For the heavens above her did tenderly brood,
     And her stars looked clear above,
While the timorous strength of her womanhood
     Kept her sacred to hopes of love.

To see her glide through the house with all
     Her delicate blushing beauty,
Leaning for rest from visions that fall
     Too richly on household duty;
To hear her voice and to feel her smile,
     To dream of what never might be,
Exalting my acts to her height all the while,
     Was heaven enough for me!

So, lad-like, I loitered, with thoughts so fair,
     That the clumsy old mill became
A honey-sweet garden of melody, where
     I ennobled by hope and aim;
I wandered in secret by wood and stream,
     I fostered a fanciful grief,
I grew sickly and pale in the moonlight of dream,—
     Well, I loved her, to be brief.

She was a woman, and I was a lad,
     When in silence my young heart bled;
But Ned was a man with an arm which had
     Done battle for daily bread;
A yeoman who gazed with no indolent fear
     On the heights to which strong men aspire,
And whose soul burnt no higher than does the clear
     Flame of the cottage-fire.

Not soulless, not base; but contented to wear
     His chains with a rustic grace,
And to leaven the plans which are born of air
     With the duties of time and place;
A man whose selfishness never outran
     His power to be noble and true.
Well, I was a boy, while Ned was a man,
     And he loved my cousin too.

Loved! Did he love as I loved? with love that absorbed
     My soul out of boyhood,—a clear
Love, with whose radiance my being was orbed,
     Like the ring around Saturn the sphere?
Did he love her, I say, till his daily life rang
     With a music unuttered and deep?
And would he have died to have saved her a pang?
     And did he adore her in sleep?

Did he mingle her voice with the buzz of the mill,
     With the rattle and clatter of trade?
Did he dream by the stream, making pictures at will
     Of her face in the eddying shade?
Did he feel her breath in those blossoming limes?
     Did she haunt the dear old place,
Till the flame she rekindled a thousand times
     Burnt at white heat on his face?

But Ned was a voice in the household; while I
     Was simply an indolent lad,
An idler, whom work would make wise by and by,
     Spite his fanciful right to be sad:
They saw but the pale boyish face clear as truth,
     Not the worm that gnawed down in the bud;
They saw but the listless and petulant youth,
     Not the manhood that yearned in the blood.

For I boarded my love from unsanctified sight,
     And ’twas set in my soul as a shrine
Where I knelt, praying prayers, in the morn, in the night,
     And sacrificed feelings divine;
For with achings and pleadings the boy sought to reach
     Her womanhood whiter than snow;
While his acrid lips with their spoken speech
     Set on edge the hot heart below!

So my heart felt scorched and withered and dead,
     And I wept without control,
When I found that our father approved that Ned
     Should marry my other soul;
And I hated myself for my mute despair,
     And I hated all women and men:
The charm burned out in the frozen air,
     And the mill was a mill again!

The creaking floors and the groaning wheels
     Span round and round in my brain;
The mill-dam (yonder it rushes and reels)
     Grew full of my feverish pain ;
The river rushed with a deepening dread,
     And the wind had a weirder tune,
And the stars that were thickening overhead
     Swam dizzily round the moon.

With a bitter burning devil within,
     I watched them unaware,
And I hardened my heart in a selfish sin
     To rage that was not despair;
For I saw her womanhood blush like flame
     On her face when he was near, ‘
And, utterly pilfered of hope and aim,
     I saw that she held him dear.

On a night such as this we wandered together—
     Brother Ned, and my cousin, and I;—
The limes fainted warmth on the sweet calm weather,
     And the stars swung their lamps in the sky.
My heart was as sad as the season was glad,
     And my pulses throbbed thick in their fear,
When grasping my arm he cried, “Reuben, my lad,
     I’ve a secret to tell in your ear.”

He whispered, she blushed. On the balmy air
     The golden dream I had cherished
Died tenderly, thin as a breath, and where
     My hope had been born it perished.
They loved each other, the woman and man,
     And were blind in their new-found joy;
For they knew not the bitterest gall which began
     To mix in the veins of the boy.

With a horrid swimming of body and brain,
     But with limbs that trembled not,
I slipped from the side of the happy twain,
     And came to this very spot;
And I leant o’er the bridge as now I lean,
     And I hungered along the night,
And for hours I groaned, as I sought unseen
     To discern the wrong and the right.

How I hated the mill, with the clanging noise,
     Whose echoes within me were throbbing!
How I shuddered in fear at the river, whose voice
     On the keystone was sighfully sobbing!
How I yearned for the churchyard that lieth afar!
     The church, and the stream, and the mill
Were a part of my boyhood that night, and they are
     A part of my boyhood still.

The glory departed from yonder white village,
     And I saw what my man’s eyes see now—
A common green hamlet with tilth and with tillage,
     With clodhoppers driving the plough ;
And I hated the mill, and the murmur of trade,
     And I scorned the slow hours as they moved;
For the loss that fell over my heart like a shade
     Seemed a stain upon her that I loved.

So I wandered along to the mill, where I stood
     By the dam madly rushing and breathing,
While the stars bubbled down in the foamy flood
     With spangly frothing and seething—
My scalp swam round and my heart felt sick,
     And the stars yearned down in a dream,
As, mad with my anger, I leapt to the thick
     Wrath of the groaning stream.

Sharp fingers of iron tore at my tongue,
     As I shrieked in a quivering wonder;
Fire, with a thunder that groaned and rung,
     Bubbled around me and under;
The darkness thickened with crimson spray,
     As the fierce blood went and came—
Then, struggling upward, I faded away
     In a torrent of purple flame!



O flowers, sweet flowers! I could feel their scent
     As I lay on my bed of pain:
The scent of the beautiful flowers seemed blent
     With the blood in my throbbing brain;
And I raised dim eyes in the darkened room,
     Mid a dazzling and blissful calm,
And I languidly fainted along the gloom
     With the scent on my lids like balm.

Sweet flowers! With the coolness of rain and dew,
     They spread on the odorous air,
And my heart throbbed softly, for well I knew
     Whose fingers had placed them there;
And they told me the summer was breathing to bloom
     Round the river that ran by the door,
Round the little white honeyed rose of a room
     With one faint yellow beam on the floor.

O flowers, sweet flowers! As I lay for hours
     Deliciously dreaming and dozing,
Feeling the scent, I could see the flowers,
     Though I closed my lids reposing;
And I felt them grow fresher and sweetlier fair,
     When the fingers of the rain
Thrilled coolness through every warm pulse of the air,
     And tapt at the window-pane.

So I listened, languidly husht and stilled,
     While the rain swam to and fro,
With fitful pauses delightfully filled
     By the ticking clock below;
And I heard the murmuring mill as I dreamed,
     And the mill with its softened strife
Mixed with the clock and the rain, and seemed
     Like a voice from a far-off life.

Mid a fanciful rustle of leaves I reclined,
     In a vision so drowsily sweet,
While the faint long light through the close-drawn blind
     Lay quietly down at my feet;
And the shadows of wings seemed to mingle afar
     O’er my delicate tranquil reposes—
When I saw her sweet face falter forth like a star
Through a glamour of sunshine and roses!

And the soft yearning face fluttered closely to mine,
     While I struggled all vainly to speak,
And the beautiful eyes shone with sweetness divine,
     And I felt the warm breath on my cheek;
And stretching out arms, with a heart softly tuned
     To the rain on the pane and the eaves,
I touched a warm bosom which faded and swooned
     To a trance of the roses and leaves!



The sky seethed above in a thickening glare,
     The darkness muttered and moaned,
Voices were shouting through heated air,
     And a deafening thunder groaned;
And a low wind stirred in the brightening gloom,
     And the bed swam higher and higher;
And I stirred with a shriek, for the rose of a room
     Had changed to a chamber of fire!

The fire without and the fire within,
     The fire above and around me,
As crimson as blood and as deadly as sin,
     In a timorous horror drowned me;
And I froze to stone on my couch, and, wrapt
     In a terrible wonder, listened,
While, hissing and groaning, the fire-fiend flapt
     His smoky pinions, and glistened!

Then I felt him crawl nearer and nearer, until
     He faced me with murmurs and cries,
And I felt myself robbed of all hope and will
     By his bright mesmeric eyes;
And he clutched at my limbs as I trembled there,
     As I shrunk on my pillow screaming,
And he drew o’er my throat as I lay unaware
     A finger red, scorching, and gleaming.

Closer and closer he crept to the place
     Where I lay with a ’wildered brain,
Till yielding myself to the spell of his face
     I fainted away without pain;
Then I lay in his arms mid a dazzling gleam,
     And he scorched me with burning breath—
When transfigured he stood in a trancèd dream,
     And I knew the angel Death.

A cry! and a tramp of hurrying feet!
     While I felt myself suddenly lifted,
And, helpless to move, through the thickening heat
     And sulphurous smoke I was drifted;
Then the angel faded, the fiend rose higher
     Again with a horrid laughter,
And I floated along through a torrent of fire,
     While the fiend ran screaming after.

Then I woke in pain ’neath the stars and moon
     Mid a silent crowd by night,
And the honeyed heart of the night of June
     Seemed full of an alien light;
And I lifted up hands, praying prayers, and said
     What made the swift life-blood stand still—
For I watched the fiend I had flown from draw
     His pinions around the mill.

The mill stood out from the further sky
     Mid a darkness of sable smoke,
Whence fit by fit, with a sob and a cry,
     The fire with its thunders broke;
And the stars grew pale in the sky, like flowers
     That sicken in heat of June,
And the sparks that seathed into lightning showers
     Put out the light of the moon.

Then, pale as the white scared morn, came Ned,
     With the shadow of fire on his face,
And, grasping my hand with a sob, he said,
     “God pity the dear old place!”
The old mill groaned in its crimson strife,
     And the flames clomb higher and higher,
And I knew whose fingers had snatched my life
     From the terrible fiend of Fire.

And I pressed that hand, without pain, without pride,
     And struggled what words to say,
And “Margaret, Margaret,” I faintly cried—
     But he turned his face away.
The rafters kindled to crimson cloud,
     And the flames gathered strength as they leapt,
And “Margaret, Margaret,” I cried; but he bowed
     His head on his breast and wept.

With sobs and moans to the flickering sky
     Leapt the fire on its feet of flame,
While they bore me along to a cottage hard by,
     Where I called on Margaret’s name;
Madly I called on her name, and Ned
     Came pale, and without a tear,
And sate him down on the side of my bed,
     And whispered in my ear:

“Six days have you sickened, Reuben, my lad,
     Since we plucked you from the stream,
And we know the grief at your heart by the sad
     Words that you muttered in dream;
And Margaret pitied the lost delights
     That darkened our new-born joy,
And we knelt by the side of your bed o’ nights,
     And prayed for you, my boy.

Turn your face to the wall. Last night
     The fire, when the hearth was still,
Seized the cottage, and passed with a leap of light
     From the cottage on to the mill,
And Margaret slept in the mill. Our sire
     And the rest crept scathless away;
But (pray, with your face to the wall) the fire
     Burnt fierceliest where she lay.

Helpless to save her, but striving still,
     We fought in the fierce red glow,
Till we saw her standing above on the mill,
     With the river rushing below;
And the flames seethed higher around her frame,
     And hissing like snakes they caught her,
As plunging down to the thickening flame
     She leapt to the brightened water!”

I started up, while my pulses clenched
     On my heart like iron: “Dead?”
“Not dead” (and my bosom with tears was drenched),
     “But she lies on her death-bed;
Beautiful, Reuben, and holy-mien’d,
     She is laying her down to rest,
With only one finger-mark of the fiend,
     Like the stain of a rose, on her breast.”

Then I hated myself for my selfish woe,
     And my brain became sternly wise,
And I leapt to my feet with a cry, “I will go
     And see her before she dies.”
And I clothed myself, and he stayed me not,
     And I leant on his shoulder, crying,
And slowly we passed to the peasant’s cot
     Where the beautiful girl was dying.

Her hair lay wild on her bosom now,
     And her face was vacant-eyed;
A withered old grandam was bathing her brow,
     While the clergyman prayed at her side;
Then we passed to her side, and the white face turned
     With a smile I can never forget;
“Forgive me, if but for the lesson now learned,
     For I loved you, Margaret.

Forgive me the selfish love thus bereaven,
     My hate and its cruel hoard;
Forgive me, dear, on your way to heaven,
     For the sake of Christ our Lord!”
And she smiled, and moved her little white hand,
     While Ned stood silently by;
And she passed with a moan to the spirit-land,
     While I swooned away with a cry!



See! the night drops down like a nestling bird,
     And the stars grow silver and gray,
The nightingale sings till the leaves are stirred—
     Let me take my homeward way.
Yes; Ned (God bless him) and I, grown dear
     To each other, shook hands like men;
We had friends to help, and in less than a year
     The mill was a mill again.

And Margaret sleeps in a beautiful dream
     Down in the heart of the dale;
And the little green church and the mill and the stream
     Are instinct with her sorrowful tale.
Brother Ned has a family fresher than May,
     And a rough-handed woman to love him;
And I loiter through life, like a dreamer astray,
     With his eyes on some sweet star above him!



[The Cabin-Boy’s Story.]



WITH her face upon his bosom
     And her tears upon his cheek,
Too pitiful to utter
     All the comfort she would speak,
Stood the little English maiden
     Weak as tears and bright as dew,
Parting sadly from the lover
     Who was stanch as steel and true.

Then he said: “I go in mingled
     Joy and sorrow, pain and pride,
Seeking smiles from froward Fortune
     Far away from thy sweet side;
As my strength is, be thou steadfast;
     Let no weakness lovers part;
Live for me, dear, till, returning,
     I shall turn thy father’s heart.”

And she kiss’d him, saying, “Dearest,
     Friends may mock and fate may frown,
But a woman’s love is deathless;”
     And he left the English town.
Then she turned to household duties,
     In a resignation sweet,
Like a bird that sings from habit
     In its cage within the street.

But a thought of meaning, flashing
     Through her open eyes that night,
Struck the rain-drops on her eyelids
     Into joyful gems of light;
And the maiden, kneeling silent
     In the darkened chamber, prayed,
Like a little moveless moonbeam
     In a breathless place of shade!

For she said, “I love him! love him!
     Helpless in his strength he goes
To a wicked land of strangers,
     Where they fight for gold with blows;
With no household love to shield him
     As an angel’s shining arm,
No kiss that unto evil
     Shuts the eyelids like a charm.

And I hold it truer, better,
     That I follow him afar,
Lest I fade away through distance
     As a slowly fading star;
That I part with sire and country,
     To keep his young life sure
To the destined path of lilies
     Of a love that is so pure.”

So she fled from sire and country,
     Saying calmly o’er and o’er:
“I will sail unknown beside him
     To yonder distant shore;
I will watch him night and morning,
     Though my heart can never doubt him,
And at last, like magic armour,
     I will fling my love about him.”

Then in man’s attire she journeyed
     To the ship prepared to sail,
And she sought the worthy Master,
     And to him she told her tale;
And the Master muttered, “Cheerly!
     You shall even have your way,
And from utter harm and hardship
     I will shield you as I may.”

When the ship that bore the lover
     Swam away with wind and tide,
In a sailor-lad’s apparel
     She was standing at his side—
The blue and wrinkled ocean
     Curled its waters long and loud,
And the fresh green England faded
     To a thin black line of cloud.

Then the lover, all unconscious
     Where she stood so mutely blest,
Breathed her name with tears of parting,
     Bowed his face upon his breast;
And the purple distance gathered
     Till the land was lost to view,
Till the Old lay dim behind them
     And they floated to the New.

When the starry eyes of midnight
     Widened thinly in the deep,
He would pace the deck in silence,
     Or would toss in troublous sleep,—
For the love that lingered near him,
     Like an odour in the air,
Had a magic that unmanned him
     Through his manhood, unaware.

So through changing calm and tempest,
     On the shifting waves of blue,
The ship, half flying, floating,
     Like a white gull onward flew,—
And the secret of the maiden
     Panted, hidden from his sight,
Like the language seen by dreamers
     In the throbbing star of night.

On the distant shore of strangers
     Men and women lightly leapt;
To the shore, with downcast glances,
     Side by side the lovers stept.
Then she knelt in man’s apparel,
     And she bowed her blushing head;
Trembling with ungiven kisses
     And with unshed tears, she said:

“Take me up, thine own beloved,
     Strong to bear and pure to aid,
Proven fit for toil and hardship,
     Though a simple English maid!”
And he took her up and kiss’d her,
     Gave her back the love she gave:
Joining wedded hands, they wandered
     Down the shadow of the grave.



[The Gold-Digger’s Story.]



FAST from the land of gold the good ship bore us,
While the blue distance ebbed in silver mist;
The sunset, like a dove’s neck, changed before us,
In hues of sapphire, gold, and amethyst,
That went and came,
Surged into shade, or melted into flame.

We had been wed three summers. I had ta’en
A helpmeet more for use than love or passion;
Our marriage days had passed in common fashion,
Nor sweet nor bitter, neither joy nor pain.
She was my wife, I knew, and nothing more,
A labourer hired to pick up coin, and toil:
Such wives were common on the young crude soil
We sailed from, hailing for an English shore.
And in the daily tumult, when my brain
Was busied in the earnest act of gain,
I simply saw she helped the household store
And did her duty, lending labour meet;
I had no time to find her incomplete.
But when the toil was ended, and my place
Was emptied in the wild imperfect land,
I would have had a gentler face,
A purer duty and a softer hand,
To hush the happy tumult in my breast
And beautify the sense of well-earned rest.
Then, worn with bitterness and sorely tried,
Grown old in head and heart at thirty-seven,
I thought the common woman at my side
Looked petty by a sweeter face in Heaven.

She saw it in my face as in a book,
And made me shudder at her silent look;
Our lives were wide apart,—
She was my wife, but not my other heart.
Her bitterness was silent as my pride,
Our words were calm, our hearts were hard and deep;
But once, as I lay waking at her side,
The common woman cursed me in her sleep!

Rich hours were mine, those happy days at sea,
Seasoned with pleasant talk of goodly minds;
Our vessel bravely took the driving winds,
Swift as a ship could be.
I loved to think of England, and the joy
Found in her pleasant places when a boy,
Her copsy villages, her streets and marts,
Her woodland nooks, her peaceful country cheer,
And some few friendly hearts
That beat with happy hopes as I drew near.
Then over all the pleasant dream there stole
Soft fancies of a churchyard still and lone,
A little hamlet, and a sweet lost soul
Mocked by an epitaph as cold as stone;
But when I thought of her, before the best
And very sweetest thought within my breast—
The patient wife I lost in other years,
Once a sweet memory interdicting pain—
A dark doubt startled out from happy tears
And stung along my brain.

But with us in the ship sailed one, a maid,
Whose sweetness pleased my humour calm and staid:
I think her pretty childish ways destroyed
The selfish demon in me, more or less;
For contrast made us friends, and I enjoyed
Her chiding tricks of sinless tenderness.
So, often in the calm and sunny weather,
We, sitting side by side, read books together;
And whispered in the twilight shadows dun
Of the green isle towards the setting sun.
She put a boyhood in my blood again,
In kindred with her girlish views; I caught
Her fireside warmth of tone, her innocent thought,
Taught by her clearer heart and giddier brain;
She gave my fancy wings,
And brought me closer unto humankind,
Giving new colour to my moody mind,
And sober estimate of men and things.
Yet, when I lay apart,
And communed in the darkness with my heart,
I shuddered—for this long-forgotten lore
Would seem to vindicate my grosser part,
And my thoughts wronged the sleeping woman more.

I was the sinner, and not she,
The woman with hard hands—’twas I alone;
I was the sinner, and my flesh and bone
Were sinned against by me.
I was the sinner—speak it out, O Heart!
What God has linked no man shall dare to part;
And marriage is no whim of boyish blindness
To change as fortune changes—we were one;
And a wife’s duty changes with our kindness,
As flowers take colour from the shade or sun.
She was no cultured woman, pure as snow
Through patience to resist;
She changed when I changed, and ’twas I, I know,
Who put the poison in the lips I kissed.

She watched me, day and night,
With a blanch’d bitterness upon her face;
A darkness veiled her in that marriage place
Which gave her privilege to hold me base
When it became unlovely in my sight;
For women, when their use is undiscerned,
Are spat upon and spurned.
She watched me in the darkness and the light,
With a scared anger like a wild affright.
I lied against the love for which I yearned;
I saw no mission, blind with wretchedness,
In her who held the right
To be my mistress—
Who claimed her share of all my woe or bliss.
I crushed all duty by ignoring this.

One night, when all was still, she stood beside me,
Pale as my thoughts, with eyes that looked away
The dying friendship of our marriage day,
And bitterly defied me.
Gross words were hers, that only hurt and soil
The mind from which they come:
Words of mind rough-hewn in petty toil,
Yet with a meaning in them. I was dumb.
But when she stained the name of that young maid,
That dwelling-place for sunshine where I played,
Like some glad boy, and pleased a heart grown cold,
I spake out fierce and bold,
With bitter phrases better left unsaid.
I was as innocent as Faith in this:
The pretty maiden, to my sober mind,
Was like a pleasant thought of buried bliss,
A memory of sweetness left behind,
A sense of something lovely gone before,
A gentle friend too soon to be forgot,
Who made me gay because I loved her not,
Nor dreamed of loving—this and nothing more.
So angry speech was mine, and swift as thought,
Words that stung back upon my lips and died,
Perchance more pitiless because I sought
To justify the bitterness of thought
Which came between the woman and my pride.
She laughed a homeless laugh without a tear,
And as she left my side
There was a list’ning malice in her sneer.

What demon urged me on to mock and dare her,
To wound the snake that then began to stir?
To coin a paltry show of scorn for her,
And love for one face fairer,
To taunt her with the bitterness I bare her?
My blood no longer flowed with pulses cool;
I gave the woman whose hard hands had been
Toiling to teach me how to think her mean,
The right to scorn me and to hate me. Fool!
And if I talked to that sweet friend, whenever
My wedded wife was near,
The selfish demon in me would rejoice,
And put a softer pathos in my voice
That she might vindicate her scorn, and hear.
She watched us, sitting silently apart,
With cruel eyes, and eyebrows knitted down;
The bright blood gushing upward from the heart
Blackened about her frown.

Fair winds of incense blew the good ship home,
Through green sea shades from many a pleasant clime,
And little snowy showers of ocean-foam;
And in the evening time
We home-sick voyagers would stand in knots,
And gaze towards the west with eager eyes,
While, one by one, the stars in quiet skies
Opened in light, like heaven’s forget-me-nots.
And sometimes, leaning downward o’er the waves,
Deep without end and blind to human sight,
I seemed to see the shipwreck’d in their graves
Of soundless purple shadows flaked with light;
Green gardens of the depths, so hush’d and fair,
Still as a heart-beat, dumb without a sound,
Where pipy sea-weeds scatter gems around
The faces of the drowned,
Cold, with the freezing ooze amid their hair.
We slept. It was a pleasant night of June;
The sea that sighed around, was still and sweet;
And leaning duskly down in heaven, the moon
Sucked the pale billows to her silver feet.
We slept, or seemed to sleep, for all was calm,
And in our slumbers heard the waters croon
With musical motion, like a village psalm
Heard when blue distance drowns the sober tune;
My wedded wife was in my visions deep,
A bitter stony face
That seemed to haunt me on from place to place;
And as I wandered in the dark of sleep,
Her fitful footsteps faltered on my track,
Through shadows where I heard the lost one weep,
And echoed at my back.

I started with a cry,
And strained towards the darkness eager-eyed;
A shudder at my side
Quickened my pulses, then a sobbing sigh.
My heart thronged hotly through the blood and brain,
Till silence seemed a portion of its pain.
I stretched out hands and gazed along the night;
I caught the glimmer of a fluttering gown,
Which as I touched it rustled out of sight,
When something, with a face as deadly white
As dead men's faces floating fathoms down,
Turned, trembling from me in a cold affright,
The wedded woman with her eyes of light
Frozen to terror in the act to frown!

Then, as I gazed and tried in vain to speak,
From some far corner of the ship I heard
A cry of wonder and a smothered shriek,
At which the brooding silence shook and stirred.
There came a busy hum of voices, then
The whispered words and heavy tramp of men,
And a low murmuring as from underground;
And as the moon crept in upon the place
The lips were parted on the ghastly face
That looked a list’ning horror at the sound.
The wondering sleepers stirred with waking sighs,
With terror-stricken eyes
Gazed askingly around.
The woman shuddered from me with a cry,
Blanched with the stifling sense of some despair,
With a wild look that lifted up my hair,
And, in a wild impalpable terror, I
Rushed upward to the air.
Oh, what a horror shut my pulses there!

On the dim deck I stood, as pale as snow.
From the dark centre of the ship there came
A blackened mist of smoke, and down below
A flood of hissing flame,
That like a living thing rushed to and fro,
And grasped the crackling wood with murmurs dire.
Shrieked one, in mingled horror and surprise;
And higher yet and higher
The demon surged towards the moonlit skies,
With fiery arms and eyes,
Grasping the deck with sobs, and shrieks, and sighs.
FIRE! Men and women rose in wild affright
To glut their stifled senses with the sight.
Pale mothers with their babes, and men, and boys,
As pale as phantoms from the drownèd dead,
While the calm master with his guiding voice
Led the pale seamen, as the waves were shed
Upon the demon’s head!
Blind with our terror, round the flames we stood,
In a pale cloud of smoke and hissing steam,
Like shapes in some dark dream,
With muttered prayers for good,
And faces icy pale;
A newly risen wind
Moaned mournfully behind,
Dragged up the shuddering demon by the hair,
Then crushed him backward to his smoky lair,
And shrieked in shroud and sail.
Higher, higher, higher, higher,
Panting and shrieking, clomb the fiend of Fire;
Until the radiance of the moon was drowned,
And the red light with breath of furnace heat
Now ghastlily illumed us head to feet,
Now with a smoky blackness wrapt us round.
Then ever and anon with smothered cries,
With waving arms and blood-red eyes,
The fiend fell fainting with a softer sound,
And in a pause as still and calm as death
We heard the ocean moan with quiet breath,
Until the demon-shape was up again,
Shrieking like one in pain,
And the quick heart seemed throbbing in the brain.
The waters struggled with its strength in vain!
Cried men and women, going to and fro;
But higher, higher, higher, higher, higher,
Panting on cheeks still pale amid the glow,
With clouds of flame that seemed to melt and grow—
The raving fiend surged upward from his pyre
At white heat down below.

Then, up and down the deck with shrieks and cries
Ran women wringing hands—
One, that sweet maid, whose eyes
Mixed dust of gold with my heart’s sinking sands;                              [14:4]
Some, leading little ones that sobbed in fright,
And calling them by tender piteous names;                                        [14:6]
While men rushed here and there with faces white,
And heaped the waves of ocean on the flames.
But climbing higher, higher, higher,
Panting in sobs and shrieks, and with a power
Increasing with the minutes of the hour,
The fiend of Fire
Scattered his sparks above us in a shower.

I had forgot the woman in my fear;
But now I saw her standing calmly near,
Watching the dim red shadow of the light,
Reflected up among the stars of night:
The radiance fell like blood upon her face,
And like a blood-red garment wrapt her frame,
And in her silent horror I could trace
The shadow of the sin I cannot name,
The sin of that red threat
Of death, whose mad remembrance haunts me yet,
A bitter sorrow and a cruel aim.
My limbs were struck to stone,
A freezing ice was in my blood and bone,
When on my terror struck a sudden cry
To man the boats, and fly!

Her eye flashed back on mine, and ere she wist,
I reached her side and took her by the wrist,
And with my breath upon her eyes and hair
I pointed, speechless, to the furnace-flare,
The radiant cavern where
Th’ unconquerable demon shrieked and hissed;
All then was silent, and she might have heard
My aching heart (although I spake no word)
Beat thick towards the lips I once had kissed.
Her sin was palpable in that huge dread
Which made her crouch before me,
And she was silent as a corse whose fled
Soul might be moaning in the brightness o’er me;
Yet gazing on her with a heart fall’n dead,
I seemed to pity her for the hate she bore me.

And thus we stood together, while the Fire
Seethed round about in jets of lurid light,
And ever climbing higher, higher, higher,
Ate at the heart of Night.
“Forward!” the Master cried:
The boats were tossing at the lost ship’s side,
Full of dark shapes of men and women frail,
With utter fear grown dumb,
And dread of something terrible to come,
With the red light upon their faces pale.

I started from my trance in pain and wonder.
And, dropping to a full frail boat, forgot
The sinful woman whom I pitied not,
What time a sound like groaning distant thunder
Threatened to rend the burning ship asunder.
“Off!” cried the master, and we swung away,
Rising and falling with the waves of ocean,
Surging from side to side with even motion,
Amid a slender mist of salt sea-spray.
We pulled with willing heart and willing mind,
While words of cheer passed on from lip to lip,
And every eye looked backward on the ship
Flaming along before a steady wind.
Then I again was ’ware
Of the pale woman, sitting by me there,
And gazing, as before, with quiet eyes
At the ship’s shadow flaming in the skies,
Blind to all other sorrow, hope, or care.

A burning beacon on the sighing sea,
The ship swept on, beneath the stars and moon,
That quiet night of June;
And when the light itself was lost to me,
And the sweet stars were seen again, like Love,
I followed those despairing eyes with mine,
And saw the moving shadow duskly shine
Still in the mists of moonlight up above.
Then o’er the long sea-wave
A sudden murmur came,
The shade died out in one bright jet of flame—
The ship had fallen to its homeless grave.
But still my wedded wife was at my side,
Gazing on heaven, pale and eager-eyed,
Lost to the sense of hope no love could save.
I murmured in my heart:
“If Heaven shall spare my life, so I her shame:
But she shall part for ever with my name,
And we will dwell apart.”
And, looking on her woe, I said again:
“The punishment is God’s, and ours the pain;
The sin is hers and mine, though hers the deed
That choked our dreams of heaven while we slept;
This tongue which made her love me in my need
Shall never sting her bosom till it bleed—
For I have sinned against her.” And I wept.

The orange dawn broke in the east at last,
And kindling into wider crimson shone
On faces blanched with danger not yet passed,
And two frail boats upon the sea alone;
And scarce a word was spoken;
But though our tongues were silent we were praying:
Each knew the prayer his neighbour’s heart was saying,
And in the calm unbroken
Each sought another’s glances as a token.
Then spake the master words of hearty cheer,
That Spanish ground, or else he erred, was near,
And with a pause of joy
We travellers, woman, man, and boy,
Then prayed aloud with many a thankful tear.
And thus the boats sailed swiftly on together,
Straining with sail and oar
Towards the Spanish shore,
Asleep in sunny folds of summer weather.

Then came the quiet eve,
And stars stole out again like thoughts of home;
Rising and falling, wet with flying foam,
We almost ceased to grieve.
The silver twilight came like quiet rest,
And I was thinking of the buried wreck,
When Wife came creeping up against my breast,
And twined her long warm arms about my neck,
And laid her cheek to mine with love unblest.
And thrice I thrust her from me, but in vain;
She panted trembling to my arms again,
With kisses that seemed burning in my brain;
And so at last I yielded, and she clung
About me, breathing breath that scorched and stung;
My heart was hard and pitiless with pain.
Then as she watched me with her piteous eyes,
Robbed of her scorn and hate, and full of sighs,
While I was thinking of the marriage vow,
That still would chide the blackness on my brow,
“See!” cried a seaman—“comrade, see—she dies!”
I gazed upon her, as she trembled there
Upon my bosom, with a heart that bled;
Her toil-worn-hand was smoothing back my hair,
And the old scorn seemed fled.
Then she, with cheek and hands grown cold as snow,
Crept closer to me, murmuring soft and low,
Half to herself, her breath on eyes and head,
In her new friendship looking very fair,
“Forgive me!” and “Forgive me!”—and I said,
“May God forgive thee, woman!” unaware.
Then one cried out aloud, that she was dead.

My tale is almost told.
Enough to know, all touched the shore, worn out
With bitter fear and agonising doubt,
Bearing one dead—a woman, stiff and cold.
And when I laid her underneath the sod,
Close by the singing sea,
I half believed that I had loved her.—God
Forgive the wounded wife, and pardon me!
She was the sinner and the punished too;
And now that I am old and gray, I find
That she, and not the shallow maiden, drew
My footsteps closer unto humankind.
Perchance she perished, as she sinned, to win
Some gleams of better wisdom to my sight;
Perchance her love was greater than the sin
Which threatened death that night!                                                     [22:16]


[Alterations to the original version in All The Year Round:
v. 14, l. 4: Mixed dust of gold with my heart’s sinking sand—
v. 14, l. 6: And called them by tender piteous names;
v. 22, l. 16: That threatened death that night! ]



[The Waits.]



1st Voice.

Now, country lads and lasses,
Stand up and fill your glasses,
To welcome in the jolly
King of Mistletoe and Holly,
     With his poll of snow.



         To welcome in, to welcome in,
The King of Holly and of Mistletoe.
                                             Fa, la.


2d Voice.

Hearken, in a manger
Was born a sainted stranger,
The holy child this morning
Far Bethlehem was born in,—
     Dropt like a starry gem.



         The holy child, the holy child,
This morn was born in distant Bethlehem.
                                             Fa, la.


1st Voice.

Drain your glasses quicker,
Drown the devil in the liquor,
And cast away your sorrow
And your hate on Christmas morrow—
     Care will crack a pate.



         So cast away, so cast away,
Once in a year your sorrow and your hate.
                                             Fa, la.


Final Chorus.

Now, country lads and lasses,
Stand up and fill your glasses,
To welcome in the jolly
King of Mistletoe and Holly.
                                   Fa, la.



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