BETA

Edith.


Chapter VI.—Flight.

As a foe well-skill’d if he beleaguer a city,1
Climbs not yet the wall, but makes secure the approaches ;2
Seizes points of vantage, and finds the coin that is weakest ;3
So with skill and guile began the siege of the maiden.4
Now I speak,” he said, “but as a stranger to England :5
Yet ’twere hard to find in this your land, or in any,6
Such another spot to linger in and be happy.7
You have chosen it well, and with the eye of an artist.8
What do birds say to you, that sing for you in the branches ?9
Can the wood-doves utter all the joy and the longing ?10
Read me, now, the runes, writ on the ground by the sunbeams ;11
Still so fresh, so old, the mystic hieroglyphics.12
Nay, speak not, but listen, to the strange admonition,13
In the water dripping, to be unstain’d as the angels,14
Half she smiled, through tears. A touch of tenderest pity15
For herself stirr’d in her, and she remember’d the blisses16
Of the lost day-dreams, that seem’d a glory for ever.17
Fell his words like dew, or as the rain in the summer.18
Nay,” he said, “ you weep ?  What is it ?  Only the sadness19
Of a heart too happy, that loves with sorrow to dally.20
You have known no sorrow, and on the stream of existence21
Rest your days, as lilies on a meandering water.22
Weep not yet !— what, still !  Then love’s bewildering trouble23
Mixes sweet and bitter in your heart as a chalice.24
Is it so ?  Is it so ?  I touch the wound that was hidden.25
Then the sweet hill air, the laughing sheen of the summer ;26
Then the leaves, the birds, the rillet’s wandering babble ;27
Then the joys of home, the tender words of a brother ;28
Will help you no more, but be as straws in the balance,29
Till you clasp his neck who deems you more than a sister.”30
Edith, like a child, for she could bear it no longer,31
Sobb’d and pressed her face between her hands, for a moment :32
Then he touch’d her hands, and, sitting boldly beside her,33
Gently drew them down; nor did she feign to withhold them.34
Trust me, now,” he said,—and half he sigh’d, as he murmur’d,—35
Me, till death your friend ; there is not, Edith, another,36
Not in all the world, more glad to aid and to guard you.”37
Then one hand she loosed, to put the hair from her forehead ;38
Stay’d her tears, half smiling, looking tenderly on him ;39
Longing deep fell on her to rest her head on his bosom,40
So she told her wrong; the heartless ways of her cousin ;41
All the bitter shame of the unwilling betrothal ;42
All the old man spake in thoughtless spleen of his anger :43
Half a dream, half true : but not a word of the stranger.44
What !” he said,—his eyes flash’d with a feign’d indignation,—45
Given, unask’d, unglad, to one who fails of the courage46
Even to woo and win you, he is so mean and unmanly !47
Will you yield, be led, as victim bound, to the altar ?48
Do you dream your life with him could ever be happy ?49
You would be his slave ; yea, justly he would despise you,50
So unmeet to own the honour’d name of a woman.51
Flee away ! yea, flee ! what, will you stay ? will you bear it ?52
Would you ever dare endure the gaze of the people ?53
Could you brook their scorn, and whisper’d words of derision ?54
Flee away, to crown some other soul, that is noble,55
With the wreaths of love, that will not tarnish or wither !56
Flee away, begone, ere fate enchain you for ever.”57
Seem’d but one chance left to pluck the flower of existence ;58
Seem’d the old scheme, then, a cruel snare of the father.59
What ! return? ah, doom! then all were sorrow for ever !60
So, grown bold, grown blind, she plunged, to save from the eddy61
Love, to keep still glad the sunny days with his laughter.62
Nay,” she said, “ flee whither ?” Her look was tender, her fingers63
Softly moved in his, and still her eyes were upon him :64
Then she laid, half coy, and half confiding, beseeching,65
On his breast her head, that throbb’d and burn’d with its fancies,66
He had won : so, low he whisper’d, bending above her,67
Yes, I love you for ever : yes, you know that I love you.68
Shall I pray, beseech you, kneeling low for an answer ?69
I have known, I have seen: will you deny that you love me ?”70
She, deny ?  Nay, why ?  So simple, guileless, and happy !71
Red as fresh rose bud the lips she raised to his kisses.72
So the ripe fruit dropp’d with little stir of the branches :73
So she half woo’d him, and it was easy to win her.74
Two figures sit in an embrace. They are surrounded by vines and grasses. The woman looks up toward the man’s face. The man looks down toward the woman and obscures his own face. He places his foot on a rock in the foreground. A rifle is propped against the rock. The background features hills, trees, and bushes. Bright rays of sun shine down on the couple from the top-right. Full-page illustration.
Sweet are lovers’ ways, in youth’s bright May and his morning :75
Every gleam of light that glances, every shadow,76
Nestling soft, for foil, it is a pleasure to follow.77
Yet ’twould grieve our hearts with these a moment to linger.78
Swift the hours fled by: the plans were laid and completed.79
All seem’d strange, but well, as Edith pass’d through the village,80
Through the well-known street, and by the door of the hostel ;81
All estrang’d, with dreams ; like one who, silent, unconscious,82
Moves in sleep among the old familiar faces.83
Scarce remembering, changed, she to the rectory household,84
To the three she met, who sat in silence beside her,85
Speechless, when she came, nor raising eyes, that were heavy86
With tears shed and unshed, seem’d as one unforgotten,87
Who is dead, but roams, a pensive ghost, in the places88
Dear of old, well-known, till all are used to its presence ;89
Till it somehow fails to be a fear and a wonder.90
Speak not yet,” they said : “ let uncontrollable passion,91
Flood-like, spend its strength. She will be sane in the morning.”92
But that morning never broke with its dawn and its healing.93
In the hush of midnight all were silent and sleeping.94
Edith lit a lamp, nor made a sound in the chamber.95
She on tip-toe moved, and putting slowly together96
This and that, she chose what suited well for a journey.97
Not a book, ah, me ! She did not dream of the letter.98
Then she trod the stair, and loosed the door, in a flutter.99
With a little glance, a tearful glance at her lattice,100
Strange with vague regret to leave the chamber, so happy101
Once, in days now done, she fled away in the darkness.102
Night gleam’d fair with stars, and God was silent in Heaven.103
Many a winter eve, in little bar of the Heron,104
Worthies croon’d together about the story of Edith.105
When the North wind howl’d, and hail beat hard at the window,106
They would nod and wink, and love to hear it repeated.107
Roughish night, my lads !” would be the word of the landlord,108
Stirring back to flame the logs beginning to smoulder :109
Where is she, I wonder !” and no one needed to ask him,110
Who ?” for all remembered ; all the villagers loved her.111
She was wild :— nay, miller, never take me to mean it,112
She was bad : God help us !  I believe her an angel :113
Yet, I say it, too flighty.” Then the miller would answer :114
Parson kept her strict. Though it is well for a parson,115
You may do too much : girls cannot always be praying.116
Nephew shows, I think, but little now in the village.”117
Where is she ?”  said the landlord, knocking slowly the ashes118
From his pipe, and peering in the glow-of the embers.119
Often, as I linger at my door in a morning,120
I look up the street, and ask it over and over.”121
France,” a gruff voice growl’d. The landlord smiled, in his cunning.122
Aye, John, aye : we know. Now, you have mended a coulter :123
When you strike it hard, you know the ring of the metal.124
I have eyed that Frenchman: mark me, he was a scoundrel :125
Monkey-faced, cat-whisker’d. I ask only, where is she ?”126
Lives, they say, in Avlanches,” the doctor said : “ I remember127
Passing through it once, when I was only a student.128
Little town in Normandy, nestled high on a hill-top.129
Well I recollect the jingling bells of the horses,130
As we toil’d beside them up the road to the sum131
You look down on the sea: the place is airy and pleasant.”132
Each man sipped his glass, and all deferred to the doctor.133
But the landlord, ruffled,— “ She could tell us a story,134
Alice Dean, poor girl ! now I could swear it, her bantling135
Has his lips and eyes. All of us know what his lordship,136
In his quiet way, said, on the morning the rector137
Rode his lazy roan in’such a foam to the mansion.138
He is gone,’ he said : ‘ he came to us with a letter :139
Was my first wife’s cousin : I, I saw him but little.’140
I know what I know ; the man, I say, was a scoundrel.”141
So the landlord fill’d his pipe anew, and another142
Would tell how they found the little chamber so empty,143
Where she slept ; and how the rector bridled and saddled,144
All himself, his roan ; and how a woman at Dover,145
Whom he knew, a tramp, had seen them sail in the vessel :146
Then discuss the stranger, who, a friend of the rector,147
Kept the village straight, when he was ill with a fever :148
How his face was thinner, and all his manner more gentle,149
When, at last, he mended : and all the tales and the gossip ;150
Till the clock struck midnight, in the corner, to warn them.151
Winter thaw’d to spring, and autumn faded to winter,152
Still again, and again ; and still the story was fondled153
With the same old love ; but nothing heard of the lost one.154