Walter and William.

Twill be a wild rough night upon the Moor :1
And hark ! though three miles off, the sullen roar2
Of that deep-booming surge. God’s mercy keep3
The wayfarer, and wanderer on the deep.4
The moon’s but young—she’ll give no help to-night :5
Look out, my boys ! if Beacon-head burns bright ;6
And, lads ! take Carter Joe with ye, and see7
All snug about the place ; more ’specially8
At the new Penfold—and dun Peggy, too,9
Give her and her sick foal a passing view10
Old Mark away, I’ve lost my right-hand man ;11
You must replace him.”—
Off the striplings ran,12
Proud happy boys ! forth rushing in their haste,13
Ere well the words their father’s lips had pass’d ;14
The elder’s arm, with loving roughness, thrown15
Round his young brother’s neck—the fair-hair’d one.16
God bless the lads ! and keep them ever so,17
Hand in hand brothers, wheresoe’er they go,”18
Eyeing them tenderly, the father said19
As the door closed upon them : Then his head,20
Sighing, let fall on his supporting palm,21
And, like the pausing tempest, all was calm.22
Facing her husband, sate a Matron fair,23
Plying her sempstress task. A shade of care24
Darken’d her soft blue eyes, as to his face25
(Drawn by that sigh) they wander’d, quick to trace26
The unseen, by sympathy’s unerring sight27
Reading his heart’s thoughts by her own heart’s light.28
Ten years twice told had pass’d, since Helen Græme29
For Walter Hay’s exchanged her virgin name.30
Of life’s viscissitudes they’d had their share,31
Sunshine and shade ; yet in his eyes as fair,32
And dearer far than the young blooming Bride33
Was she, the long-tried partner ; who espied34
No change in him, but such as gave a cast35
More tender to the love would time outlast.36
They had rejoiced together at the birth37
Of six fair infants : Sorrowing, to the earth38
(With mutual sorrow, but submissive heart)39
Committed three. Hard trial ’twas to part40
(Young parents !) with their first-born bud of bliss ;41
And they who follow’d !— with the last cold kiss42
Their hearts seem’d breaking, that on each they press’d.43
But He so will’d it “ who doth all things best.”44
Out of their sight they hid their early dead,45
And wept together—and were comforted.46
And of their loved ones, now a lovely three47
Were left, that well a parent’s boast might be.48
Those two bold, blithesome boys, of stature near,49
(Their ages differing only by a year,)50
Walter and William named in reminiscence dear,51
And a small sister, like a green-hill Fay,52
Younger by eight—a little Helen Hay,53
The household darling. To her father’s ear,54
’Twas ever music that sweet name to hear.55
And now she sate, as still as still could be,56
Her little stool drawn close beside his knee ;57
Her paly ringlets so profusely shed,58
In the warm hearth-glow gleaming golden red,59
As o’er the book upon her lap she bent,60
On Jack the Giant-killer’s feats intent.61
Fit subject for some limner’s skill had been62
That quiet, tender-toned, heart-soothing scene,63
All in fine keeping !  The old spacious room,64
Half hall, half kitchen, dark’ning into gloom,65
As it receded from that cavern vast66
The open hearth ; whence blazing oak logs cast67
Rich, ruddy beams on rafter, beam, and wall,68
’Twixt monstrous shadows that fantastic fall.69
And all around, in picturesque array,70
Hung rustic implements for use and play,71
For manly sport and boyish holiday.72
Basket, and net, and rifle, rod, and spear,73
Coil’d lines, and weather-season’d fishing gear,74
And bills and hedging gloves ; and, modell’d neat,75
A little schooner, ( Willy’s proudest feat,)76
Matching a mimic plough, with graver thought77
On improved principles,” by Walter wrought78
Proud folk the parents of those works, I wot !79
And tatter’d straw hats, plaited once so white80
And neat, in leisurely long winter night,81
By the boy brothers ; while their father read82
From one of those brown volumes overhead,83
(No mindless untaught churl was Walter Hay,)84
Some pleasant theme, instructive, grave, or gay :85
His list’ning household, men, and maids, and all,86
Assembled round him in his rustic hall ;87
Together closing the laborious day,88
As in the good old time, the good old way.89
There stood a spinning-wheel, whose humming sound90
Accompanied the reader’s voice, not drown’d.91
There hung a half-done cabbage-net ; and there,92
Nursing her kitten in the old stuff’d chair,93
Purr’d a grave Tabby ; while a faithful friend,94
A worn-out Sheep-Dog, to his long life’s end95
Fast hastening, slumber’d at his master’s feet.96
It was a pleasant picture !— very sweet97
To look upon, its beautiful repose98
One earthly scene, undimm’d by human woes.99
Alas ! was ever spot on earth so bless’d,100
Where human hearts in perfect peace might rest ?101
One bosom sorrow, one corroding thought,102
(The dark thread with his woof of life enwrought,)103
Help’d on the work of time with Walter Hay,104
Stole half the brightness of his smile away,105
And streak’d in manhood’s prime his dark curl’d locks with gray.106
A hasty quarrel—an intemperate cup,107
A hard word spoken when the blood was up,108
A blow as madly dealt, but not in hate,109
Repented soon and sorely, but too late110
Too late !— Ah ! simple words of solemn sense,111
Avenging disregarded Providence !112
Remembrance of these things, and what ensued,113
It was, that clouded oft his sunniest mood,114
Casting a dark cold shadow o’er the life115
Perhaps too prosperous else. His gentle wife116
Whose wife-like tenderness could scarce descry117
A fault in him she honour’d, oft would try118
To pluck away the thorn he sternly press’d119
(Severe in self-infliction) to his breast.120
Not yours alone,” she soothingly would say,121
The blame of what befell that luckless day ;122
You had borne much, my husband ! well I know,123
Much before anger overcame you so :124
And both of you that night had made too free125
(Alas ! that youth should so unthinking be !)126
With the good ale in careless company.127
How could you bear such taunts before them all,128
As he—unjust and violent—let fall ?129
He knew your heart, to him so warm and kind,130
That passion could but for a moment blind ;131
Passion, that love as suddenly would check,132
And cast you, all-repentant, on his neck :133
But he was gone before a word could pass134
Gone in his furious mood, before the glass135
Ceased ringing, where he dash’d it on the floor136
With that rash oath—to see thy face no more !”137
But I—but I—that ever it should be138
Betwixt us so !— had told him bitterly139
I never more desired his face to see.140
I prosperous—He, a disappointed man141
Quick temper’d, spirit vex’d. Say what you can,142
Dear comforter ! you cannot take away143
The stinging mem’ry of that fatal day.”144
Thus soothingly, a thousand times before145
The loving wife had utter’d o’er and o’er146
Mild consolation ; on his heart that fell147
Balmy, though there no settled peace might dwell :148
And thus again, that night whereof I tell,149
They talk’d together ; on his long-drawn sigh150
Following their low-voiced, love-toned colloquy.151
And all the while, intent upon her book,152
The little maid sat still ; an upward look,153
(As play’d her father’s hand with her soft hair,)154
Now and then glancing at the parent pair,155
Her heart’s contentment full, assured they both were there.156
Loud burst the storm, that, fitfully suppress’d,157
Had for a moment sobb’d itself to rest.158
Creak’d doors and casements, clattering came the rain,159
And the old wall’s stout timbers groan’d again.160
Would they were back—that | could hear their tread !"161
List’ning anxiously, the mother said :162
God help, this fearful night, the houseless poor !163
One would not turn a dog out from one’s door.”164
No—not a dog.—And yet I had the heart,165
To let him homeless from my home depart166
On such another night. Full well I mind,167
As the door open’d, how the rain and wind168
Flash’d in his face, and wellnigh beat him back.169
Then—had I stretched a hand out !— —What lone track,170
Unfriended since, hath he been doom’d to tread ?171
Where hath he found a shelter for his head172
In this hard world, or with the happy dead ?”173
Nay, doubt it not, my husband !” said the wife,174
He hath been long at rest, where care and strife,175
And pain and sorrow enter not. We know176
That when he left us, nineteen years ago,177
He went a-shipboard straight, and cross’d the seas178
To that far, fatal coast, where fell disease179
Strikes down its thousands,—that he went ashore,180
And up the country, and was seen no more.181
Had he not perish’d early, we had heard182
Tidings ere long by letter or by word ;183
For he too had a loving heart, that bore184
No malice when the angry fit was o’er.185
Be comforted, dear husband ! he’s at rest.186
And let us humbly hope, for Christ’s sake—bless’d.”187
Hark, mother, hark ! I’m sure they’re coming back !”188
Cried little Helen—who with Valiant Jack189
Had parted for the night— “ That’s Willy’s call190
To Hector, as they turn the garden wall.191
Lizzy ! come quick and help me let them in192
They must be wet, poor brothers, to the skin.”193
The rosy maid, already at the door,194
Lifted the latch ; and bounding on before,195
(His rough coat scattering wide a plenteous shower,)196
Hector sprang in, his master close behind,197
Half spent with buffeting the rain and wind ;198
Gasping for breath and words a moment’s space,199
His eager soul all glowing in his face.200
Where’s Walter ?” cried the mother, pale as death201
What’s happen’d ?” ask’d both parents in a breath.202
Safe, Mother dear ! and sound—I tell you true203
But, Father ! we can’t manage without you ;204
Walter and Joe are waiting there down-bye,205
At the old cart-house by the granary.206
As we came back that way, a man we found207
(Some shipwreck’d seaman) stretch’d upon the ground208
In that cold shelter. Very worn and weak209
He seem’d, poor soul ! at first could hardly speak ;210
And, as we held the lantern where he lay,211
Moan’d heavily, and turn’d his face away.212
But we spoke kindly—bade him be of cheer,213
And rise and come with us—our home was near,214
Whence our dear father never from his door215
Sent weary traveller—weary, sick, or poor.216
He listen’d, turn’d, and lifting up his head,217
Look’d in our faces wistfully, and said218
Ye are but lads—(kind lads—God bless you both !)219
And I, a friendless stranger, should be loath,220
Unbidden by himself, to make so free221
As cross the rich man’s threshold : this for me222
Is shelter good enough ; for worse I’ve known223
What fitter bed than earth to die upon ?’224
He spoke so sad, we almost wept ; and fain225
Would have persuaded him, but all in vain ;—226
He will not move—I think he wants to die,227
And so he will, if there all night he lie.”228
That shall he not,” the hearty yeoman said,229
Donning his rough great-coat ; “ a warmer bed230
Shall pillow here to-night his weary head.231
Off with us, Willy ! our joint luck we’ll try,232
And bring him home, or know the reason why.”233
Warm hearts make willing hands ; and Helen Hay234
Bestirr’d her, while those dear ones were away,235
Among her maidens, comforts to provide236
’Gainst their return : still bustling by her side237
Her little daughter, with officious care,238
(Sweet mimicry !) and many a matron air239
Of serious purpose, helping to spread forth240
Warm hose and vestments by the glowing hearth,241
From the old walnut press, with kindly thought,242
Stout home-spun linen, white and sweet, was brought243
In a small decent chamber overhead,244
To make what still was call’d “ The Stranger’s bed.”245
For many a lone wayfarer, old and poor,246
Sick or sore wearied, on the dreary moor247
Belated, at the hospitable door248
Of the Old Farm ask’d shelter for the night,249
Attracted by the far-seen, ruddy light250
Of the piled hearth within.— “ A bit of bread251
And a night’s shelter,” was the prayer oft said,252
Seldom in vain ;— for Walter would repeat,253
With lowly reverence, that assurance sweet254
How he the stranger’s heart with food and rest255
Who cheers, may entertain an angel guest ;”256
Or, giving in Christ’s name, for his dear sake be bless’d.257
Oft they look’d out into the murky night258
Tempestuous, for the streaming lantern light ;259
And hearken‘d (facing bold the driving sleet)260
For sound of nearing voices—coming feet261
And there it gleams—and there they come at last262
Fitfully sinking, swelling on the blast ;263
Till clustering forms from out the darkness grow,264
Supporting one, with dragging steps and slow,265
Feebly approaching.—
Hold the lantern low266
Courage, my friend ! we’ve but a step to go,”267
The yeoman’s cheerful voice was heard to say.268
Hillo ! good folks there—here, my Helen Hay,269
Little and great—l’ve brought you home a guest270
Needs your good tending,—most of all needs rest ;271
Which he shall find this blessed night, please God,272
On softer pallet than the cold bare sod.”273
As they the threshold pass’d, the cheerful light274
Flash’d from within ; and shading quick his sight,275
(Pain’d by the sudden glare,) upon his brow276
The wayworn man his ragged hat pull’d low ;277
Bow’d down his head, and sigh’d in such a tone,278
Deep drawn and heavy, ’twas almost a groan.279
They help’d him on, (for he could hardly stand,).280
And little Helen drew him by the hand,281
Whispering.— “ poor man!”—At that, a moment’s space282
Halting, he fix’d his eyes on the young face283
Of her who spoke those pitying words so mild,284
And tremulously said— “ God bless thee, child !”285
The strong supporting arm—’twas Walter Hay’s286
Tighten’d its clasp, and with a searching gaze287
Quick turn’d, he peer’d in those strange features ;—then288
(For they were strange) drew back his head again,289
Shaking it gently with a sorrowful smile.290
The matron and her maids came round the while,291
Toward the high-back’d Settle’s warmed nook292
To lead the weary man ; but with a look293
Still downcast and aside, he shrunk away,294
Articulating faintly, “ Not to-day295
Not there to-night. Rest only ! only rest !”296
So to the allotted room they brought their guest,297
And laid him kindly down on the good bed,298
With a soft pillow for his old grey head.299
The long, thin, straggling locks, that hung adown300
His hollow cheeks, had scarce a tinge of brown301
Streaking their wintry white ; and sorely marr’d302
Was all his face : thick seam’d, and deeply scarr’d,303
As if in many battles he had fought304
Among the foremost.—
From the first, I thought,”305
Said the young Walter, as he came below,306
The fine old fellow had dealt many a blow307
For England’s glory, on her wooden walls.”308
The father smiled.  “ Not every one who falls309
In fight, my son ! may fall in a good cause310
As fiercely in resistance to the laws311
Men strive, as in upholding them”—
But here 312
I’m sure we’ve a true sailor, father dear !313
No lawless, wicked man. When you were gone,314
Willy and I some little time stay’d on315
(Mother had sent us up with some warm drink,316
Made comforting)—and then you cannot think317
How pleasantly, though sadly, he look’d up,318
And ask’d our names as he gave back the cup ;319
And when we told them, took a hand of each,320
While his lips moved as if in prayer—not speech,321
With eyes so fix’d on us, and full of tears.”322
Perhaps,” said William, “ lads about our years323
He might be thinking of—far, far away,324
Or dead ;— his own dear children. Who can say ?”325
Ay, who indeed can say, boys ?— who can tell326
The deep, deep thoughts, in human hearts that dwell327
Long buried, that some word of little weight328
Will call up sudden from their slumbering state,329
So quicken’d into life, that past things seem330
Present again—the present but a dream.331
Boys ! in a book was lent me long agone,332
I read what since I’ve often thought upon333
With deepest awe. At the great Judgment-Day334
Some learned scholars—wise and holy—say335
That in a moment all our whole life past336
Shall be spread out as in a picture vast337
Re-acted as it were, in open sight338
Of God, and men, and angels ; the strong light,339
Indwelling conscience, serving to illume340
The changeful All complete—from birth to doom.341
Methinks—with humble reverence I speak342
I’ve been led sometimes to conception weak343
Of that deep meaning, when a sudden ray344
Has call’d, as ’twere from darkness into day,345
Long past, forgotten things.—Oh ! children dear !346
Lay it to heart, and keep the record clear347
That all unveil’d, that day, must certainly appear.”348
Thus, as was oft his wont, religious truth349
The pious father taught their tender youth,350
As apposite occasion led the way ;351
No formal teacher stern. Nor only they,352
The filial listeners, fix’d attention gave353
To his wise talk—with earnest looks and grave354
His rustic household, at the supper board355
Assembled all, gave heed to every word356
Utter’d instructive ; and when down he took357
And open’d reverently the blessed Book ;358
With hearts prepared, on its great message dwelt :359
And when around, in after prayer they knelt,360
Forgot not, e’er they rose; for him to pray361
Master and Teacher,—Father, they might say,362
Who led them like his own, the happy, heavenward way.363
Did you take notice, wife”—the husband said,364
Their busy, well-spent day thus finished365
When all except themselves were gone to rest366
Did you take notice, when our stranger guest367
Spoke those few words to Helen, of his tone ?368
It thrill’d my very heart through : so like one369
These nineteen years unheard.”
I scarce gave heed370
To any thing,” she said, “ but his great need371
Of help, poor soul ! so faint he seem’d and low.”372
Well, well,” rejoin’d her husband, “ even now373
I seem to hear it :—Then, into my brain,374
Wild thoughts came crowding ; quickly gone again,375
When I look’d hard, but not a line could trace376
Familiar, in that weatherbeaten face.377
That lost one, were he living now, would be378
Younger a year and many months than me379
Than this time-stricken man, by many a year.380
But, oh ! these thoughts will haunt me, Helen, dear !381
These sudden fancies, though so oft before382
I’ve proved them vain, and felt all hope was o’er.”383
Only for this world, husband-mine !” she said,384
They live in Heaven, whom here we count as dead,385
And there we all shall meet, when all is finished.”386
God grant it !” fervently he said ; “ and so387
To bed, good wife ! I must be up, you know,388
And off by daybreak, on my townward way,389
When, business done, be sure I shall not stay390
A needless minute. Yet I guess ’twill be391
Dark night before my own snug home I see.392
Mind a low chair and cushion in the cart393
Be set for Mark. God bless his poor old heart !394
Though from the hospital they send him back395
Blind and incurable, he shall not lack396
Comfort or kindness here ; his service done,397
Of sixty years wellnigh, to sire and son.398
I miss him every where ; but most of all,399
Methinks, at prayer-time, the deep solemn fall,400
Tremblingly fervent, of his long ‘ Amen !’401
'Twill glad my heart to hear that sound again.”402
The Supper-board was spread—the hearth piled high403
All at the Farm look’d bright expectancy404
Of him who ever seem’d too long away,405
If absent from his dear ones but a day :406
Old Mark, too, coming home ! what joy to all !—407
Ye know not, worldlings, what glad festival408
Pure hearts of simplest elements can make409
Ye, whose pall’d sense poor pleasure scarce can take410
At feasts, where lips may smile, but hearts so often ache.411
There was a sudden rush from the old hall,412
Children, and men, and maids, and dogs, and all,413
Save her, who, with a deeper gladness, stay’d414
Quietly busied ; and far back in shade415
(Forgotten there awhile) the stranger guest.416
But quiet though she seemeth, with the rest417
Be sure her heart went forth those wheels to meet ;418
And now they stop : and loving voices greet,419
Mingling confusedly ; yet every one420
She hears distinct : as harmonist each tone421
Of his full chord,—distinct as if alone.422
And there he comes, (sight gladdening every eye,)423
The darling young one in his arms throned high,424
Her warm cheek to his cold one closely press’d.425
And there those two blithe boys, and all the rest,426
So crowd about old Mark with loving zeal.427
The blind man weeps, and fondly tries to feel428
Those fair young faces he no more must see.429
Give us warm welcome, Dame !” cried cheerily430
Her husband, as their greeting glances met ;431
We’re cold enough, I warrant, and sharp set432
But here’s a sight would warm the dead to life,433
Clean hearth, bright blaze, heap’d board, and smiling wife !”434
Lightly he spake,—but with a loving look435
Went to her heart, who all its meaning took :436
And briskly she bestirr’d herself about,437
And with her merry maids, heap’d smoking out438
The savoury messes. With unneeded care439
Set nearer still the goodman’s ready chair :440
Then help’d uncase him from his rough great-coat,441
Then gave a glance that all was right to note :442
Welcomed old Mark to his accustom’d seat443
With that heart-welcoming, so silver sweet ;444
And, all at last completed to her mind,445
Call’d to the board with cheerful bidding kind ;446
Where all stood round in serious quietness,447
Till God’s good gifts the master’s voice should bless.448
But, with a sudden thought, as glancing round,449
I thought,” he said, “ another to have found450
Among us here to-night.”  “ And he is here,”451
Exclaim’d the wife— “ forgotten though so near !”452
Then turning where the stranger sat far back,453
She said— “ Forgive us friend ! our seeming lack454
Of Christian courtesy : Draw near, and share455
With hearty welcome, of our wholesome fare.”456
Silent and slow, the bashful guest obey’d,457
Still shrinkingly, as to presume afraid ;458
And when his host with kindly greeting press’d,459
Bow’d down his head—deep down upon his breast,460
Answering in words so low you scarce could hear461
But the quick sense of blindness caught them clear ;462
And in a tone which thrill’d through every heart,463
The sightless man, with a convulsive start,464
Call’d out— As God’s in heaven, (His will be done,)465
That was the voice of my dead master’s son !”466
Mark ! Mark ! what say’st, old man ?” cried sharply out467
His Master, as he rose and turn’d about468
(Trembling exceedingly) his guest to face ;469
Who at that outery, staggering back a pace,470
(He also trembled, and look’d like to fall,)471
Leant back—a heavy weight—against the wall.472
One might have heard a pin fall on the ground,473
There was such deep and sudden silence round :474
Except that two or three breathed audibly,475
(Those wondering boys, whose eager hearts beat high,)476
And little Helen sobb’d, she knew not why.477
There fixed, foot to foot, and breast to breast,478
And face to face, stood Walter and his Guest479
And neither stirr’d a limb, nor wink’d an eye,480
(The stranger’s sought the ground still droopingly,)481
Nor spoke, till many minutes had gone by ;482
Then, as if life upon his utterance hung,483
In low, deep accents, loosen’d first his tongue,484
Upon the other’s shoulder as he laid485
His right hand slowly, Walter softly said486
Dear brother William !”  An electric start487
Answer’d that touch, deep-thrilling to the heart,488
And that soft whisper’d word. Their meeting eyes,489
Full of fond yearnings, tender memories,490
All in a moment told—explain’d—confess’d491
Absolved,—And Walter fell on William’s breast.492