Chapter IV.—Berthold’s Letter.

As, with sense of guilt, but stronger rage at oppression,1
One from sunshine steps into the air of a dungeon,2
Edith gained the parlour, and met the gaze of the rector.3
All his pent-up wrath rushed into words in a moment :—4
Have I seen so bold, so light and free with a stranger,5
Gentle Edith, my daughter ?  Is it a dream, a delusion ?6
Am I dizzy with fever ?  Does a spirit of evil7
Flit before my eyes ; one on the stage, or a dancer ?8
Was it such I gave my nephew, calling him happy ?”9
Let him claim his own,” said Edith, burning with anger.10
You,—so kind ! so good,—the gift, before it is given,11
Be assured is yours !  Is it so noble in England12
Thus to yield a woman, as a slave or a chattel ?13
Men with self-love blinded ;— it is truly a fever !14
Dare a woman venture from the sages to differ ?15
She is but a toy, and bandied one to another ;16
Fondled, laid away !" She went in scorn and defiance.17
Then the rector bow’d his head, and broke into weeping.18
There is not a God for the saint, and one for the sinner,19
Not a law for the priest, another law for the people.20
Still, ’tis well the priest, who is a guide and a father,21
Rule and lead his own to be to others a model,22
But, if strict himself, as one who yearns to be spotless,23
Gladly yielding tithe of mint and anise and cummin,24
He should still be tender to the failings of others ;25
Speaking words in season, not afraid of his duty,26
Yet not out of season speak a word, nor in anger.27
Good and kind was the rector, but he was formal and stately ;28
Just and blameless still, but often hard on his people.29
Him all held in honour, and yet the villagers rather30
Loved his sister’s foot within the door of a cottage.31
Children, when he pass’d, would often hide in the hedgerows.32
Edith loved him well, but she was wayward and wilful :33
Like a bird, new-fledged, with wings for soaring a-tremble :34
She despaird to please one ever chiding and scolding,35
Fear’d his watchful eye, and fretted under his anger.36
Then a woman’s will began to tremble within her ;37
But his plans were all to him, and child of his brother ;38
Loved and rear’d his own, the scholar, hope of the future.39
It is hard for the old, but the priest to-day was a learner.40
As the lightning’s flash reveals the road that we traverse,41
Makes the night like day, and us aware of a danger,42
So the past he read, and he remember’d the lesson.43
Gentle Mary Trevor, with accents tender with sorrow,44
Softly laid her hand upon the hand of her brother.45
Berthold, shamed, surprised, stung with the taunt unexpected,46
With a little pang of conscience writhing within him ;47
Mad for such sweet scorn, yet love more fondly than ever48
Grasping her he lost ;— O women, fairer in anger !—49
By the graves went, blind, to lull in roll of the organ50
All the restless storm and tossing pain of his anguish.51
Many a passer-by would linger, silent, to wonder.52
Crash and jar of sounds, like evil demons a-wrestle ;53
Sounds, subdued to fervour, as of a wild imprecation,—54
Lord, heal with Thy love the bitter wrong and the passion :”55
Sounds most sweet and glad, as with the joy of forgiveness.56
Long he dream’d and plann’d, but, scarcely daring to face her,57
Shielded round with night he penn’d the words of a letter :—58
Dear my friend, my sister,—I may call you a sister,—59
We were dear companions, we were playmates together :60
Was my love a dream, did I but dream you loved me ?61
I can hardly believe it: the awaking is bitter.62
It is only a cloud that passes, hiding the sunshine :63
Surely, I was awake, and it is now I am dreaming.64
You, my thought in the morning, ere my eyelids were open !65
You, my own good angel, ever near in the silence !66
At my books, alone, your face illumined the pages :67
Still the fame was yours that I was striving to compass,68
What are fame and learning to the love of a woman,69
Who is noble, as you are, who is winning and tender ?70
It were more, your hand upon my brow, that is throbbing,71
Than the greenest bays, and all the fame of the sages.72
Midnight folds me now, and yet a night that is deeper73
Shadows all my soul, and veils the dawn of the future.74
Once I dream’d you loved me : was it sighing and toying75
You would fain have had? I will not dare to believe it.76
Strangers’ arts ! ah, me !— and could I need them, to win you ?77
You I held above the tinsel words of a fawner ;78
Held you,—yea, you are : my faith can never be shaken :—79
One to woo with the wooing of a soul that is noble ;80
When a man is manly, and, ever loyal and faithful,81
Reads the little signs, and does the will of his mistress.82
With reward still ample in her silent approval ;83
Weeds his soul of lies, and scouts a sordid endeavour,84
Ever climbing higher, above the soil and the baseness ;85
Girds the sword of duty, to be worthy to win her,86
Taking self-respect for spotless robe of his raiment.87
Was it thus I lost you, my goddess, Edith, my sister ?88
Well I knew our father,—I will call him a father,—89
Toward the future looked, and will’d to join us together ;90
Scheming bonds more firm, and planning all that was happy91
For the child he loved, and for the child of his brother.92
He said this to me : I was aware that you knew it.93
But you wrong’d me, sweet, if you could deem for a moment,94
I knew all : yea, more,—to bind your soul with a promise,95
That was foolish-wise ; for if is needed a fetter,96
Love is fled before, who brooks but roses to bind him.97
Bound ? Nay, what means this? Love, I disown and disclaim you.98
You are free as a bird :— see, thus the compact is broken :99
Loosed, the bond unblest, by simple word of a letter.100
Now, come back ; come sweet ; come back, on wings of the longing :101
Dove, come back, and find the nest, forlorn for your cooing.102
I, why should I mourn, and be unheartened for ever ;103
Waste in youth, and pine as hapless flower in the winter ?104
With the storm still toss, no star to shine and to guide me ;105
Never love and know the children’s eyes and the prattle ?106
Like some exile here on earth awhile shall I wander,107
Till I claim you, sweet, until I claim you in heaven ?108
Nay, come back, come, bring the bliss and day of existence.”109
Tears were on his face, and dimm’d his eyes, as he ended.110
To the room he stole where often, hours, in the summer,111
She would lean and catch the jasmine scent at the lattice.112
Straight the shelf he gain’d on which she hoarded the singers ;113
Mid her sibyl’s leaves conceal’d his woe and his letter.114