BETA

Edith.


Chapter III.—The Stranger.

Active, up betimes, the rector, proud of his garden,1
Bound the gadding rose, or set a nail to his peaches ;2
Wander’d round his lawn, and to the gardener near him3
Noted leaf or weed with watchful eye of a master.4
So, well-pleased, went in ; and while the steam of the kettle5
Sang, and grateful scent of the Arabian berry6
Fill’d the room, he read the solemn words of the Gospel.7
Low and grave his voice, and brief and able the comment.8
Then they knelt in prayer: the woman kneeled with the household,9
Quickly pass’d the meal, with talk of day and its duties.10
Edith rose and Berthold, as, in his bounty, the rector11
Gave his nephew gold to help the three on their journey.12
Said the good man, laughing, as he gave it with pleasure,13
Truly, when I ask, the land is bound to repay it.”14
So the three, light-hearted, in the charge of the cousins,15
Left the happy region, to them a Garden of Eden,16
Soon the carrier, waiting by the door of the Heron,17
In his van made room, and briskly drove to the station.18
Down the village street, the cousins wandered together.19
Many words they had at cottage doors by the wayside,20
Of the sick they thought, and of the old and the cripple ;21
Bade the wife good-morrow, and gave the labourer greeting,22
At the schools looked in, to cheer the soul of the mistress.23
Yet what danger frown’d beneath the smiles and the chatting !24
He, as shy as flowers, she as a bird by the sea-shore,25
Pluming wings to flee to bliss unknown in the dreamland.26
Deep as truth his love, his spirit noble and manly ;27
But in book-dreams lapp’d, and oversadden’d with study.28
Childish seem’d to him the craft and cooing of lovers,29
Him, in love unlearn’d, and all the ways of a maiden.30
Edith loved him well : she had been wholly contented,31
Had he had the will to grasp the prize and to win it.32
Now since yestermorn her heart had harden’d against him,33
Taking thus his own, thus, at the hand of another.34
She was shamed and vex’d that she had promised to wed him,35
All unask’d, unwoo’d, and she rebell’d in her anger.36
When will they be wed ?” the people said in a whisper.37
Yet as clouds unseen o’erhead will quickly mingle,38
Each at heart quick fire, and swiftly follows the thunder,39
So, ’neath talk, still calm, her subtle anger was hidden.40
As a wild thing rear’d, and pleased awhile to be fondled,41
By the warm fireside, lets peer a gleam of its nature,42
O’er the lawn she sprang, and through the door, which was open ;43
Long her scornful laugh rang in the ear of her father.44
Edith, child ! my child !” the rector cried in amazement :45
Now the damsel blush’d as sweetly fair as the morning :46
For the twain she met rose up and smiled as she enter’d.47
Viot’s hand she took, and with a bow to the stranger,48
Thus she spake, quick-witted in a moment to answer :—49
You will deem me child, indeed: I pray you to pardon50
One who has not learn’d to be so grave as a statue.”51
Thus she said, and shook her locks, and musical laughter52
Curved the little lips, and made the room as a garden,53
Hold it yet no crime,” he answered :— “ I was a gainer ;—54
Hold it yet no crime to be as birds on the branches :55
Nay, if it should chance that in the days that are shadows,56
We should meet again, may I again be so happy.57
Quickly Viot turn’d to meet the gaze of the rector.58
We would see your church: my friend, a stranger in England,59
Little knows our customs ; he loves the sight that is novel”60
Well the rector caught the Covert aim of his meaning.61
We shall feel a pleasure,” said he, smiling, “ to show him62
All we have of strange, or what is strange to another.”63
Low the Frenchman bow’d, with restless eyes on the maiden :64
It is good,” he said ; “ and you will go with us also.”65
Berthold brought the keys ; then went the four on their mission,66
Edith, Foulque Dubois, the Cousin, Paul, and the rector.67
So, through wicket small, hid in the green of the laurels,68
By the graves they went, the leaning stones, and the hillocks ;69
Marking quaint device men used of old to delight in,70
Toothless skull, or scythe, or seraph wing, or the crossbones.71
Nature, she grows here half sad and strange, with the meanings72
We have wrapp’d around her mystic forms of expression :73
Grass and short-lived flowers, and fading wreaths of the mourners,74
Told of grief and joy, of one that dies as the other.75
We,” the rector said, and linger’d proudly to show it,76
Boast a cross, you see, and you must pause and admire it,77
Beautiful it is, though ruthless hands have defaced it !78
Beautiful it is, with daisies round, and the eyebright !79
It is gray and old, of other days: it is broken.80
Symbol once of faith, now it is rather an emblem81
Of the zeal and rancour that are the bane of religion.82
Truth is hard to fix, and if it fall that we differ,83
We should still forbear: so much we learn of the Master.”84
In the porch they paused, with ivy climbing about it ;85
Four figures gather in a church. They look downward toward a plaque on the floor. In the centre, a woman bends over and points her umbrella toward the plaque. On the right, a man holds a hat and cane behind his back and gestures toward the woman with his right hand. Two additional men observe the scene. There is an elaborate font to the left of the scene and a series of desks to the right. From outside, two children peek out from behind a arched doorway bordered by vines. Full-page illustration.
Saw the rustic church, which had an air that was olden ;86
Pews and desks of oak, and sculptured font by the doorway ;87
Benches near the desk for old ones, eager to gather88
Smallest crumb of the Word ; and a tablet over the altar.89
We,” said Foulque Dubois, “ We love the daubs of the artists :90
Some are good, no doubt, but most are vile as an inn-sign.91
Priests go to and fro in gold and scarlet and crimson,92
Though it well may hap that I may err in the colour,93
Soft the incense curls, and candles flame on the altar.94
We have toy-shop shrines, and crosses, banners, processions ;95
Gilded saint or two, and not unseldom a dozen ;96
Bones and curious scraps of folk forlorn and forgotten,97
I should miss at first the vain display of my country.98
I will call it vain :— I do not say, in the minsters,99
If a king be crown’d or holy day be to honour :100
But how much of plaster, how much art and imposture !101
What a power of paint, how little power of religion !102
In the minsters sits some woman weird, in a corner,103
With her wares spread out, as huckster vile by her basket ;104
You but risk the coin, she sets you burning a taper,105
Cheers your comrade’s soul, deep in the regions infernal.106
Too much trash, I say it ; and, of the Saints and Apostles,107
Half the gems are paste, the bones are those of a mummy.”108
So spake Foulque Dubois, with careless twirl of his whisker :109
Still his tone rang false, and it offended the rector.110
Vex’d and grieved he walked, as back they sauntered together.111
Laugh’d the Frenchman, then, and in the eyes of the maiden112
Look’d as one that sees the sudden gleam of a treasure.113
Shafts of crafty praise but little able to parry,114
She was all too gay, held in the snare of his glances.115
Still she heard his talk, as thirsty ground in the summer116
Drinks the welcome rain, and chatted on, and was happy.117
Easily she read the sullen anger of Berthold,118
Easily she read the grief and rage of the father :119
Yet was inly glad, and still a devil within her120
Made her eye more bright, and added art to her laughter.121
Foulque Alphonse divined the mischief born of his presence ;122
Shaped his subtle speech to be as oil to the burning.123
She was sad as Viot and the stranger departed.124
Here at least was one who deem’d her worthy of honour.125
How would he despise her, yielding tamely to Berthold126
Love’s sweet flower unask’d, too little prized to be gather’d !127
Ah, the dreams of youth, the simple dreams of a damsel !128
Sweet to her his words and looks, the heralds of passion.129
Fresh, the drops of rain, that set the lilies aripple130
On the tranquil lake, that fall in van of the thunder :131
Bright the little spark, that fires the silent Savannah,132
Soon to rage as a fury, leaving round it a desert.133