BETA

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 ’s pecially8
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.”—12
Off the striplings ran,13
Proud happy boys ! forth rushing in their haste,14
Ere well the words their father’s lips had pass’d ;15
The elder’s arm, with loving roughness, thrown16
Round his young brother’s neck—the fair-hair’d one.17
God bless the lads ! and keep them ever so,18
Hand in hand brothers, wheresoe’er they go,”19
Eyeing them tenderly, the father said20
As the door closed upon them : Then his head,21
Sighing, let fall on his supporting palm,22
And, like the pausing tempest, all was calm.23
Facing her husband, sate a Matron fair,24
Plying her sempstress task. A shade of care25
Darken’d her soft blue eyes, as to his face26
(Drawn by that sigh) they wander’d, quick to trace27
The unseen, by sympathy’s unerring sight28
Reading his heart’s thoughts by her own heart’s light.29
Ten years twice told had pass’d, since Helen Græme30
For Walter Hay’s exchanged her virgin name.31
Of life’s viscissitudes they’d had their share,32
Sunshine and shade ; yet in his eyes as fair,33
And dearer far than the young blooming Bride34
Was she, the long-tried partner ; who espied35
No change in him, but such as gave a cast36
More tender to the love would time outlast.37
They had rejoiced together at the birth38
Of six fair infants : Sorrowing, to the earth39
(With mutual sorrow, but submissive heart)40
Committed three. Hard trial ’twas to part41
(Young parents !) with their first-born bud of bliss ;42
And they who follow’d !— with the last cold kiss43
Their hearts seem’d breaking, that on each they press’d.44
But He so will’d it “ who doth all things best.”45
Out of their sight they hid their early dead,46
And wept together—and were comforted.47
And of their loved ones, now a lovely three48
Were left, that well a parent’s boast might be.49
Those two bold, blithesome boys, of stature near,50
(Their ages differing only by a year,)51
Walter and William named in reminiscence dear,52
And a small sister, like a green-hill Fay,53
Younger by eight—a little Helen Hay,54
The household darling. To her father’s ear,55
’Twas ever music that sweet name to hear.56
And now she sate, as still as still could be,57
Her little stool drawn close beside his knee ;58
Her paly ringlets so profusely shed,59
In the warm hearth-glow gleaming golden red,60
As o’er the book upon her lap she bent,61
On Jack the Giant-killer’s feats intent.62
Fit subject for some limner’s skill had been63
That quiet, tender-toned, heart-soothing scene,64
All in fine keeping !  The old spacious room,65
Half hall, half kitchen, dark’ning into gloom,66
As it receded from that cavern vast67
The open hearth ; whence blazing oak logs cast68
Rich, ruddy beams on rafter, beam, and wall,69
’Twixt monstrous shadows that fantastic fall.70
And all around, in picturesque array,71
Hung rustic implements for use and play,72
For manly sport and boyish holiday.73
Basket, and net, and rifle, rod, and spear,74
Coil’d lines, and weather-season’d fishing gear,75
And bills and hedging gloves ; and, modell’d neat,76
A little schooner, ( Willy’s proudest feat,)77
Matching a mimic plough, with graver thought78
On improved principles,” by Walter wrought79
Proud folk the parents of those works, I wot !80
And tatter’d straw hats, plaited once so white81
And neat, in leisurely long winter night,82
By the boy brothers ; while their father read83
From one of those brown volumes overhead,84
(No mindless untaught churl was Walter Hay,)85
Some pleasant theme, instructive, grave, or gay :86
His list’ning household, men, and maids, and all,87
Assembled round him in his rustic hall ;88
Together closing the laborious day,89
As in the good old time, the good old way.90
There stood a spinning-wheel, whose humming sound91
Accompanied the reader’s voice, not drown’d.92
There hung a half-done cabbage-net ; and there,93
Nursing her kitten in the old stuff’d chair,94
Purr’d a grave Tabby ; while a faithful friend,95
A worn-out Sheep-Dog, to his long life’s end96
Fast hastening, slumber’d at his master’s feet.97
It was a pleasant picture !— very sweet98
To look upon, its beautiful repose99
One earthly scene, undimm’d by human woes.100
Alas ! was ever spot on earth so bless’d,101
Where human hearts in perfect peace might rest ?102
One bosom sorrow, one corroding thought,103
(The dark thread with his woof of life enwrought,)104
Help’d on the work of time with Walter Hay,105
Stole half the brightness of his smile away,106
And streak’d in manhood’s prime his dark curl’d locks with gray.107
A hasty quarrel—an intemperate cup,108
A hard word spoken when the blood was up,109
A blow as madly dealt, but not in hate,110
Repented soon and sorely, but too late111
Too late !— Ah ! simple words of solemn sense,112
Avenging disregarded Providence !113
Remembrance of these things, and what ensued,114
It was, that clouded oft his sunniest mood,115
Casting a dark cold shadow o’er the life116
Perhaps too prosperous else. His gentle wife117
Whose wife-like tenderness could scarce descry118
A fault in him she honour’d, oft would try119
To pluck away the thorn he sternly press’d120
(Severe in self-infliction) to his breast.121
Not yours alone,” she soothingly would say,122
The blame of what befell that luckless day ;123
You had borne much, my husband ! well I know,124
Much before anger overcame you so :125
And both of you that night had made too free126
(Alas ! that youth should so unthinking be !)127
With the good ale in careless company.128
How could you bear such taunts before them all,129
As he—unjust and violent—let fall ?130
He knew your heart, to him so warm and kind,131
That passion could but for a moment blind ;132
Passion, that love as suddenly would check,133
And cast you, all-repentant, on his neck :134
But he was gone before a word could pass135
Gone in his furious mood, before the glass136
Ceased ringing, where he dash’d it on the floor137
With that rash oath—to see thy face no more !”138
But I—but I—that ever it should be139
Betwixt us so !— had told him bitterly140
I never more desired his face to see.141
I prosperous—He, a disappointed man142
Quick temper’d, spirit vex’d. Say what you can,143
Dear comforter ! you cannot take away144
The stinging mem’ry of that fatal day.”145
Thus soothingly, a thousand times before146
The loving wife had utter’d o’er and o’er147
Mild consolation ; on his heart that fell148
Balmy, though there no settled peace might dwell :149
And thus again, that night whereof I tell,150
They talk’d together ; on his long-drawn sigh151
Following their low-voiced, love-toned colloquy.152
And all the while, intent upon her book,153
The little maid sat still ; an upward look,154
(As play’d her father’s hand with her soft hair,)155
Now and then glancing at the parent pair,156
Her heart’s contentment full, assured they both were there.157
Loud burst the storm, that, fitfully suppress’d,158
Had for a moment sobb’d itself to rest.159
Creak’d doors and casements, clattering came the rain,160
And the old wall’s stout timbers groan’d again.161
Would they were back—that | could hear their tread !"162
List’ning anxiously, the mother said :163
God help, this fearful night, the houseless poor !164
One would not turn a dog out from one’s door.”165
No—not a dog.—And yet I had the heart,166
To let him homeless from my home depart167
On such another night. Full well I mind,168
As the door open’d, how the rain and wind169
Flash’d in his face, and wellnigh beat him back.170
Then—had I stretched a hand out !— —What lone track,171
Unfriended since, hath he been doom’d to tread ?172
Where hath he found a shelter for his head173
In this hard world, or with the happy dead ?”174
Nay, doubt it not, my husband !” said the wife,175
He hath been long at rest, where care and strife,176
And pain and sorrow enter not. We know177
That when he left us, nineteen years ago,178
He went a-shipboard straight, and cross’d the seas179
To that far, fatal coast, where fell disease180
Strikes down its thousands,—that he went ashore,181
And up the country, and was seen no more.182
Had he not perish’d early, we had heard183
Tidings ere long by letter or by word ;184
For he too had a loving heart, that bore185
No malice when the angry fit was o’er.186
Be comforted, dear husband ! he’s at rest.187
And let us humbly hope, for Christ’s sake—bless’d.”188
Hark, mother, hark ! I’m sure they’re coming back !”189
Cried little Helen—who with Valiant Jack190
Had parted for the night— “ That’s Willy’s call191
To Hector, as they turn the garden wall.192
Lizzy ! come quick and help me let them in193
They must be wet, poor brothers, to the skin.”194
The rosy maid, already at the door,195
Lifted the latch ; and bounding on before,196
(His rough coat scattering wide a plenteous shower,)197
Hector sprang in, his master close behind,198
Half spent with buffeting the rain and wind ;199
Gasping for breath and words a moment’s space,200
His eager soul all glowing in his face.201
Where’s Walter ?” cried the mother, pale as death202
What’s happen’d ?” ask’d both parents in a breath.203
Safe, Mother dear ! and sound—I tell you true204
But, Father ! we can’t manage without you ;205
Walter and Joe are waiting there down-bye,206
At the old cart-house by the granary.207
As we came back that way, a man we found208
(Some shipwreck’d seaman) stretch’d upon the ground209
In that cold shelter. Very worn and weak210
He seem’d, poor soul ! at first could hardly speak ;211
And, as we held the lantern where he lay,212
Moan’d heavily, and turn’d his face away.213
But we spoke kindly—bade him be of cheer,214
And rise and come with us—our home was near,215
Whence our dear father never from his door216
Sent weary traveller—weary, sick, or poor.217
He listen’d, turn’d, and lifting up his head,218
Look’d in our faces wistfully, and said219
Ye are but lads—(kind lads—God bless you both !)220
And I, a friendless stranger, should be loath,221
Unbidden by himself, to make so free222
As cross the rich man’s threshold : this for me223
Is shelter good enough ; for worse I’ve known224
What fitter bed than earth to die upon ?’225
He spoke so sad, we almost wept ; and fain226
Would have persuaded him, but all in vain ;—227
He will not move—I think he wants to die,228
And so he will, if there all night he lie.”229
That shall he not,” the hearty yeoman said,230
Donning his rough great-coat ; “ a warmer bed231
Shall pillow here to-night his weary head.232
Off with us, Willy ! our joint luck we’ll try,233
And bring him home, or know the reason why.”234
Warm hearts make willing hands ; and Helen Hay235
Bestirr’d her, while those dear ones were away,236
Among her maidens, comforts to provide237
’Gainst their return : still bustling by her side238
Her little daughter, with officious care,239
(Sweet mimicry !) and many a matron air240
Of serious purpose, helping to spread forth241
Warm hose and vestments by the glowing hearth,242
From the old walnut press, with kindly thought,243
Stout home-spun linen, white and sweet, was brought244
In a small decent chamber overhead,245
To make what still was call’d “ The Stranger’s bed.”246
For many a lone wayfarer, old and poor,247
Sick or sore wearied, on the dreary moor248
Belated, at the hospitable door249
Of the Old Farm ask’d shelter for the night,250
Attracted by the far-seen, ruddy light251
Of the piled hearth within.— “ A bit of bread252
And a night’s shelter,” was the prayer oft said,253
Seldom in vain ;— for Walter would repeat,254
With lowly reverence, that assurance sweet255
How he the stranger’s heart with food and rest256
Who cheers, may entertain an angel guest ;”257
Or, giving in Christ’s name, for his dear sake be bless’d.258
Oft they look’d out into the murky night259
Tempestuous, for the streaming lantern light ;260
And hearken‘d (facing bold the driving sleet)261
For sound of nearing voices—coming feet262
And there it gleams—and there they come at last263
Fitfully sinking, swelling on the blast ;264
Till clustering forms from out the darkness grow,265
Supporting one, with dragging steps and slow,266
Feebly approaching.—267
Hold the lantern low268
Courage, my friend ! we’ve but a step to go,”269
The yeoman’s cheerful voice was heard to say.270
Hillo ! good folks there—here, my Helen Hay,271
Little and great—l’ve brought you home a guest272
Needs your good tending,—most of all needs rest ;273
Which he shall find this blessed night, please God,274
On softer pallet than the cold bare sod.”275
As they the threshold pass’d, the cheerful light276
Flash’d from within ; and shading quick his sight,277
(Pain’d by the sudden glare,) upon his brow278
The wayworn man his ragged hat pull’d low ;279
Bow’d down his head, and sigh’d in such a tone,280
Deep drawn and heavy, ’twas almost a groan.281
They help’d him on, (for he could hardly stand,).282
And little Helen drew him by the hand,283
Whispering.— “ poor man!”—At that, a moment’s space284
Halting, he fix’d his eyes on the young face285
Of her who spoke those pitying words so mild,286
And tremulously said— “ God bless thee, child !”287
The strong supporting arm—’twas Walter Hay’s288
Tighten’d its clasp, and with a searching gaze289
Quick turn’d, he peer’d in those strange features ;—then290
(For they were strange) drew back his head again,291
Shaking it gently with a sorrowful smile.292
The matron and her maids came round the while,293
Toward the high-back’d Settle’s warmed nook294
To lead the weary man ; but with a look295
Still downcast and aside, he shrunk away,296
Articulating faintly, “ Not to-day297
Not there to-night. Rest only ! only rest !”298
So to the allotted room they brought their guest,299
And laid him kindly down on the good bed,300
With a soft pillow for his old grey head.301
The long, thin, straggling locks, that hung adown302
His hollow cheeks, had scarce a tinge of brown303
Streaking their wintry white ; and sorely marr’d304
Was all his face : thick seam’d, and deeply scarr’d,305
As if in many battles he had fought306
Among the foremost.—307
From the first, I thought,”308
Said the young Walter, as he came below,309
The fine old fellow had dealt many a blow310
For England’s glory, on her wooden walls.”311
The father smiled.  “ Not every one who falls312
In fight, my son ! may fall in a good cause313
As fiercely in resistance to the laws314
Men strive, as in upholding them”—315
But here 316
I’m sure we’ve a true sailor, father dear !317
No lawless, wicked man. When you were gone,318
Willy and I some little time stay’d on319
(Mother had sent us up with some warm drink,320
Made comforting)—and then you cannot think321
How pleasantly, though sadly, he look’d up,322
And ask’d our names as he gave back the cup ;323
And when we told them, took a hand of each,324
While his lips moved as if in prayer—not speech,325
With eyes so fix’d on us, and full of tears.”326
Perhaps,” said William, “ lads about our years327
He might be thinking of—far, far away,328
Or dead ;— his own dear children. Who can say ?”329
Ay, who indeed can say, boys ?— who can tell330
The deep, deep thoughts, in human hearts that dwell331
Long buried, that some word of little weight332
Will call up sudden from their slumbering state,333
So quicken’d into life, that past things seem334
Present again—the present but a dream.335
Boys ! in a book was lent me long agone,336
I read what since I’ve often thought upon337
With deepest awe. At the great Judgment-Day338
Some learned scholars—wise and holy—say339
That in a moment all our whole life past340
Shall be spread out as in a picture vast341
Re-acted as it were, in open sight342
Of God, and men, and angels ; the strong light,343
Indwelling conscience, serving to illume344
The changeful All complete—from birth to doom.345
Methinks—with humble reverence I speak346
I’ve been led sometimes to conception weak347
Of that deep meaning, when a sudden ray348
Has call’d, as ’twere from darkness into day,349
Long past, forgotten things.—Oh ! children dear !350
Lay it to heart, and keep the record clear351
That all unveil’d, that day, must certainly appear.”352
Thus, as was oft his wont, religious truth353
The pious father taught their tender youth,354
As apposite occasion led the way ;355
No formal teacher stern. Nor only they,356
The filial listeners, fix’d attention gave357
To his wise talk—with earnest looks and grave358
His rustic household, at the supper board359
Assembled all, gave heed to every word360
Utter’d instructive ; and when down he took361
And open’d reverently the blessed Book ;362
With hearts prepared, on its great message dwelt :363
And when around, in after prayer they knelt,364
Forgot not, e’er they rose; for him to pray365
Master and Teacher,—Father, they might say,366
Who led them like his own, the happy, heavenward way.367
Did you take notice, wife”—the husband said,368
Their busy, well-spent day thus finished369
When all except themselves were gone to rest370
Did you take notice, when our stranger guest371
Spoke those few words to Helen, of his tone ?372
It thrill’d my very heart through : so like one373
These nineteen years unheard.”374
I scarce gave heed375
To any thing,” she said, “ but his great need376
Of help, poor soul ! so faint he seem’d and low.”377
Well, well,” rejoin’d her husband, “ even now378
I seem to hear it :—Then, into my brain,379
Wild thoughts came crowding ; quickly gone again,380
When I look’d hard, but not a line could trace381
Familiar, in that weatherbeaten face.382
That lost one, were he living now, would be383
Younger a year and many months than me384
Than this time-stricken man, by many a year.385
But, oh ! these thoughts will haunt me, Helen, dear !386
These sudden fancies, though so oft before387
I’ve proved them vain, and felt all hope was o’er.”388
Only for this world, husband-mine !” she said,389
They live in Heaven, whom here we count as dead,390
And there we all shall meet, when all is finished.”391
God grant it !” fervently he said ; “ and so392
To bed, good wife ! I must be up, you know,393
And off by daybreak, on my townward way,394
When, business done, be sure I shall not stay395
A needless minute. Yet I guess ’twill be396
Dark night before my own snug home I see.397
Mind a low chair and cushion in the cart398
Be set for Mark. God bless his poor old heart !399
Though from the hospital they send him back400
Blind and incurable, he shall not lack401
Comfort or kindness here ; his service done,402
Of sixty years wellnigh, to sire and son.403
I miss him every where ; but most of all,404
Methinks, at prayer-time, the deep solemn fall,405
Tremblingly fervent, of his long ‘ Amen !’406
'Twill glad my heart to hear that sound again.”407
The Supper-board was spread—the hearth piled high408
All at the Farm look’d bright expectancy409
Of him who ever seem’d too long away,410
If absent from his dear ones but a day :411
Old Mark, too, coming home ! what joy to all !—412
Ye know not, worldlings, what glad festival413
Pure hearts of simplest elements can make414
Ye, whose pall’d sense poor pleasure scarce can take415
At feasts, where lips may smile, but hearts so often ache.416
There was a sudden rush from the old hall,417
Children, and men, and maids, and dogs, and all,418
Save her, who, with a deeper gladness, stay’d419
Quietly busied ; and far back in shade420
(Forgotten there awhile) the stranger guest.421
But quiet though she seemeth, with the rest422
Be sure her heart went forth those wheels to meet ;423
And now they stop : and loving voices greet,424
Mingling confusedly ; yet every one425
She hears distinct : as harmonist each tone426
Of his full chord,—distinct as if alone.427
And there he comes, (sight gladdening every eye,)428
The darling young one in his arms throned high,429
Her warm cheek to his cold one closely press’d.430
And there those two blithe boys, and all the rest,431
So crowd about old Mark with loving zeal.432
The blind man weeps, and fondly tries to feel433
Those fair young faces he no more must see.434
Give us warm welcome, Dame !” cried cheerily435
Her husband, as their greeting glances met ;436
We’re cold enough, I warrant, and sharp set437
But here’s a sight would warm the dead to life,438
Clean hearth, bright blaze, heap’d board, and smiling wife !”439
Lightly he spake,—but with a loving look440
Went to her heart, who all its meaning took :441
And briskly she bestirr’d herself about,442
And with her merry maids, heap’d smoking out443
The savoury messes. With unneeded care444
Set nearer still the goodman’s ready chair :445
Then help’d uncase him from his rough great-coat,446
Then gave a glance that all was right to note :447
Welcomed old Mark to his accustom’d seat448
With that heart-welcoming, so silver sweet ;449
And, all at last completed to her mind,450
Call’d to the board with cheerful bidding kind ;451
Where all stood round in serious quietness,452
Till God’s good gifts the master’s voice should bless.453
But, with a sudden thought, as glancing round,454
I thought,” he said, “ another to have found455
Among us here to-night.”  “ And he is here,”456
Exclaim’d the wife— “ forgotten though so near !”457
Then turning where the stranger sat far back,458
She said— “ Forgive us friend ! our seeming lack459
Of Christian courtesy : Draw near, and share460
With hearty welcome, of our wholesome fare.”461
Silent and slow, the bashful guest obey’d,462
Still shrinkingly, as to presume afraid ;463
And when his host with kindly greeting press’d,464
Bow’d down his head—deep down upon his breast,465
Answering in words so low you scarce could hear466
But the quick sense of blindness caught them clear ;467
And in a tone which thrill’d through every heart,468
The sightless man, with a convulsive start,469
Call’d out— As God’s in heaven, (His will be done,)470
That was the voice of my dead master’s son !”471
Mark ! Mark ! what say’st, old man ?” cried sharply out472
His Master, as he rose and turn’d about473
(Trembling exceedingly) his guest to face ;474
Who at that outery, staggering back a pace,475
(He also trembled, and look’d like to fall,)476
Leant back—a heavy weight—against the wall.477
One might have heard a pin fall on the ground,478
There was such deep and sudden silence round :479
Except that two or three breathed audibly,480
(Those wondering boys, whose eager hearts beat high,)481
And little Helen sobb’d, she knew not why.482
There fixed, foot to foot, and breast to breast,483
And face to face, stood Walter and his Guest484
And neither stirr’d a limb, nor wink’d an eye,485
(The stranger’s sought the ground still droopingly,)486
Nor spoke, till many minutes had gone by ;487
Then, as if life upon his utterance hung,488
In low, deep accents, loosen’d first his tongue,489
Upon the other’s shoulder as he laid490
His right hand slowly, Walter softly said491
Dear brother William !”  An electric start492
Answer’d that touch, deep-thrilling to the heart,493
And that soft whisper’d word. Their meeting eyes,494
Full of fond yearnings, tender memories,495
All in a moment told—explain’d—confess’d496
Absolved,—And Walter fell on William’s breast.497