« IndietroContinua »
They talk'd together; on his long-drawn sigh
Following their low-voiced, love-toned colloquy.
And all the while, intent upon her book,
The little maid sat still ; an upward look,
(As play'd her father's hand with her soft hair,)
Now and then glancing at the parent pair,
Her heart's contentment full, assured they both were there.
Loud burst the storm, that, fitfully suppress’d,
Had for a moment sobb'd itself to rest.
Creak'd doors and casements, clattering came the rain,
And the old wall's stout timbers groan'd again.
“ Would they were back-that I could hear their tread!"
List’ning anxiously, the mother said :
6 God help, this fearful night, the houseless poor!
One would not turn a dog out from one's door.”
“ No—not a dog.-And yet I had the heart,
To let him homeless from my home depart
On such another night. Full well I mind,
As the door open'd, how the rain and wind
Flash'd in his face, and wellnigh beat him back.
Then-had I stretched a hand out!- -What lone track,
Unfriended since, hath he been doom'd to tread ?
Where hath he found a shelter for his head-
In this hard world, or with the happy dead ?
« Nay, doubt it not, my husband !” said the wife,
“ He hath been long at rest, where care and strife,
And pain and sorrow enter not. We know
That when he left us, nineteen years ago,
He went a-shipboard straight, and cross'd the seas
To that far, fatal coast, where fell disease
Strikes down its thousands,—that he went ashore,
And up the country, and was seen no more.
Had he not perish'd early, we had heard
Tidings ere long by letter or by word;
For he too had a loving heart, that bore
No malice when the angry fit was o’er.
Be comforted, dear husband! he's at rest,
And let us humbly hope, for Christ's sake-bless'd.”
“ Hark, mother, hark ! I'm sure they're coming back!"
Cried little Helen—who with Valiant Jack
Had parted for the night—" That's Willy's call
To Hector, as they turn the garden wall.
Lizzy! come quick and help me let them in-
They must be wet, poor brothers, to the skin.”
The rosy maid, already at the door,
Lifted the latch ; and bounding on before,
(His rough coat scattering wide a plenteous shower,
Hector sprang in, his master close behind,
Half spent with buffeting the rain and wind;
Gasping for breath and words a moment's space,
eager soul all glowing in his face. " Where's Walter ?." cried the mother, pale as death“ What's happen'd ?" ask'd both parents in a breath. “ Safe, Mother dear! and sound- I tell you trueBut, Father! we can't manage without you; Walter and Joe are waiting there down-bye, At the old cart-house by the granary.
As we came back that way, a man we found
(Some shipwreck'd seaman) stretch'd upon the ground
In that cold shelter. Very worn and weak
He seem'd, poor soul! at first could hardly speak;
And, as we held the lantern where he lay,
Moan’d heavily, and turn'd his face away.
But we spoke kindly-bade him be of cheer,
And rise and come with us our home was near,
Whence our dear father never from his door
Sent weary traveller-weary, sick, or poor.
He listen'd, turn'd, and lifting up his head,
Look'd in our faces wistfully, and said-
• Ye are but lads—(kind lads—God bless you both!)
And I, a friendless stranger, should be loath,
Unbidden by himself, to make so free
As cross the rich man's threshold: this for me
Is shelter good enough ; for worse I've known-
What fitter bed than earth to die upon ?'
He spoke so sad, we almost wept; and fain
Would have persuaded him, but all in vain ;-
He will not move-I think he wants to die,
And so he will, if there all night he lie.”
or That shall he not,” the hearty yeoman said,
Donning his rough great coat ;“ a warmer bed
Shall pillow here tonight his weary head.
Off with us, Willy ! our joint luck we'll try,
And bring him home, or know the reason why."
Warm hearts make willing hands; and Helen Hay
Bestirr'd her, while those dear ones were away,
Among her maidens, comforts to provide
'Gainst their return : still bustling by her side
Her little daughter, with officious care,
(Sweet mimicry!) and many a matron air
Of serious purpose, helping to spread forth
Warm hose and vestments by the glowing hearth.
From the old walnut press, with kindly thought,
Stout home-spun linen, white and sweet, was brought
In a small decent chamber overhead,
To make what still was calld“ The Stranger's bed."
For many a lone wayfarer, old and poor,
Sick or sore wearied, on the dreary moor
Belated, at the hospitable door
Of the Old Farm ask'd shelter for the night,
Attracted by the far-seen, ruddy light
Of the piled hearth within.-"A bit of bread
And a night's shelter," was the prayer oft said,
Seldom in vain ;~for Walter would repeat,
With lowly reverence, that assurance sweet,
• How he the stranger's heart with food and rest
Who cheers, may entertain an angel guest;
Or, giving in Christ's name, for his dear sake be bless'd.
Oft they look'd out into the murky night
Tempestuous, for the streaming lantern light;
And hearken’d (facing bold the driving sleet)
For sound of nearing voices-coming feet-
And there it gleams--and there they come at last-
Fitfully sinking, swelling on the blast;
Till clustering forms from out the darkness grow,
Supporting one, with dragging steps and slow,
- Hold the lantern low
Courage, my friend ! we've but a step to go,"
The yeoman's cheerful voice was heard to say.
- Hillo! good folks there_here, my Helen Hay,
Little and great-I've brought you home a guest
Needs your good tending,- most of all needs rest;
Which he shall find this blessed night, please God,
On softer pallet than the cold bare sod."
As they the threshold pass'd, the cheerful light
Flash'd from within ; and shading quick his sight,
(Pain'd by the sudden glare,) upon his brow
The wayworn man his ragged hat pull'd low;
Bow'd down his head, and sigh'd in such a tone,
Deep drawn and heavy, 'twas almost a groan.
They help'd him on, (for he could hardly stand,)
And little Helen drew him by the hand,
Whispering –-“poor man!”- At that, a moment's space
Halting, he fix'd his eyes on the young face
('f her who spoke those pitying words so mild,
And tremulously said " God bless thee, child !”
The strong supporting arm— 'twas Walter Hay's Tighten'd its clasp, and with a searching gaze Quick turn’d, he peer'd in those strange features ;-then (For they were strange) drew back his head again, Shaking it gently with a sorrowful smile. The matron and her maids came round the while, Toward the high-back'd Settle's warmed nook To lead the weary man ; but with a look Still downcast and aside, he shrunk away, Articulating faintly, “Not to-dayNot there to-night. Rest only! only rest!” So to the allotted room they brought their guest, And laid him kindly down on the good bed, With a soft pillow for his old grey head. The long, thin, straggling locks, that hung adown His hollow cheeks, bad scarce a tinge of brown Streaking their wintry white; and sorely marr'd Was all his face: thick seam'd, and deeply scarr'd, As if in many battles he had fought Among the foremost.
• From the first, I thought," Said the young Walter, as he came below, 66 The fine old fellow had dealt many a blow For England's glory, on her wooden walls.' The father smiled. “ Not every one who falls In fight, my son! may fall in a good causeAs fiercely in resistance to the laws Men strive, as in upholding them"
66 But here
I'm sure we've a true sailor, father dear!
No lawless, wicked man. When you were gone,
Willy and I some little time stay'd on-
(Mother had sent us up with some warm drink,
Made comforting)—and then you cannot think
How pleasantly, though sadly, he look'd up,
And ask'd our names as he gave back the cup ;
And when we told them, took a hand of each,
While his lips moved as if in prayer-not speech,
" Ay, who indeed can say, boys ?- who can tell
The deep, deep thoughts, iv human hearts that dwell
Long buried, that some word of little weight
Will call up sudden from their slumbering state,
So quicken'd into life, that past things seem
Present again—the present but a dream.
Boys! in a book was lent me long agone,
I read what since I've often thought upon
With deepest awe. At the great Judgment-Day
Some learned scholars-wise and holy-say
That in a moment all our whole life past
Shall be spread out as in a picture vast-
Re-acted as it were, in open sight
Of God, and men, and angels; the strong light,
Indwelling conscience, serving to illume
The changeful All complete—from birth to doom.
Methinks—with humble reverence I speak-
I've been led sometimes to conception weak
Of that deep meaning, when a sudden ray
Has call’d, as 'twere from darkness into day,
Long past, forgotten things.-Oh! children dear
Lay it to heart, and keep the record clear
That all unveil'd, that day, must certainly appear."
Thus, as was oft his wont, religious truth
The pious father taught their tender youth,
As apposite occasion led the way ;
No formal teacher stern. Nor only they,
The filial listeners, fix'd attention gave
To his wise talk-with earnest looks and grave
His rustic household, at the supper
Assembled all, gave heed to every word
Utter'd instructive ; and when down he took
And open'd reverently the blessed Book ;
With hearts prepared, on its great message dwelt:
And when around, in after prayer they knelt,
Forgot not, e'er they rose, for him to pray
Master and Teacher,-Father, they might say,
Who led them like his own, the happy, heavenward way.
“ Did you take notice, wife"-the husband said,
Their busy, well-spent day thus finished-
When all except themselves were gone to rest-
“ Did you take notice, when our stranger guest
Spoke those few words to Helen, of his tone ?
It thrill'd my very heart through: so like one
These nineteen years unheard."
I scarce gave heed
To any thing,” she said, “ but his great need
Of help, poor soul! so faint he seem'd and low."
“*Well, well,” rejoin'd her husband, “ even now
I seem to hear it :- Then, into my brain,
Wild thoughts came crowding ; quickly gone again,
When I look'd hard, but not a line could trace
Familiar, in that weatherbeaten face.
That lost one, were he living now, would be
Younger a year and many months than me-
Than this time-stricken man, by many a year.
But, oh! these thoughts will haunt me, Helen, dear!
These sudden fancies, though so oft before
I've proved them vain, and felt all hope was o'er."
“ Only for this world, husband mine!" she said,
• They live in Heaven, whom here we count as dead,
And there we all shall meet, when all is finished."
« God grant it!" fervently he said ; " and so
To bed, good wife! I must be up, you know,
And off by daybreak, on my townward way,
When, business done, be sure I shall not stay
A needless minute. Yet I guess 'twill be
Dark night before my own snug home I see.
Mind a low chair and cushion in the cart
Be set for Mark. God bless his poor old heart !
Though from the hospital they send him back
Blind and incurable, he shall not lack
Comfort or kindness here; his service done,
Of sixty years wellnigh, to sire and son.
I miss him every where; but most of all,
Methinks, at prayer-time, the deep solemn fall,
Tremblingly fervent, of his long • Amen!'
'Twill glad my heart to hear that sound again.”
The Supper-board was spread—the hearth piled high-
All at the Farm look'd bright expectancy
Of him who ever seem'd too long away,
If absent from his dear ones but a day:
Old Mark, too, coming home! what joy to all!
Ye know not, worldlings, what glad festival
re hearts of simplest elements can make-
Ye, whose pallid sense poor pleasure scarce can take
At feasts, where lips may smile, but hearts so often ache.
There was a sudden rush from the old hall,
Children, and men, and maids, and dogs, and all,
Save her, who, with a deeper gladness, stay'd
Quietly busied; and far back in shade
(Forgotten there awhile) the stranger guest.
But quiet though she seemeth, with the rest
Be sure her heart went forth those wheels to meet ;.
And now they stop: and loving voices greet,
Mingling confusedly; yet every one
She hears distinct: as harmonist each tone
Of his full chord, distinct as if alone.
And there he comes, (sight gladdening every eye,) The darling young one in his arms throned high, Her warm cheek to his cold one closely press'd. And there those two blithe boys, and all the rest, So crowd about old Mark with loving zeal. The blind man weeps, and fondly tries to feel Those fair young faces he no more must see. “ Give us warm welcome, Dame !" cried cheerily Her husband, as their greeting glances met; “ We're cold enough, I warrant, and sharp setBut here's a sight would warm the dead to life, Clean hearth, bright blaze, heap'd board, and smiling wife!"
Lightly he spaken-but with a loving look Went to her heart, who all its meaning took :