Capel Lofft

Ernest: The Rule Of Right - Book VIII

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BOOK VIII.
Oh, mighty Man! lord of this goodly earth!
Thy lordship but shows forth thy littleness;
For thy low life dwarfs down even the huge
And stately globe that doth belong to it,
To the sand-grain, that's all in all to it--
Such as it is, against the Universe,
E'en such thou art, against what thou should'st be.
Oh! if angels could laugh, what merry shouts
Would shake the vault of heaven; to see this ball,
This wondrous ball, rolling in endless room,
With such a pigmy bragging from its perch,
This power and glory is mine--yet 'tis not that--
To be the dwindled body that thou art,
I scorn thee not: for greatness is in good,
Not good in great; but thou'rt a dwarf in soul,
'Fraid of thyself with a most silly fear:
Yes, truly, afraid of thy most silly self--
Nay--but thy shadow--for in very truth,
The world's Opinion, unsifted, is nought else--
A shadow, yet in dark o'erruling awe,
Most strong, although its substance is so weak.
Truly, when God gave Reason for thy gift
He knew thee well--a trimmer--a weathercock,
Unworthy of so high godly a grace;
And so withal He gave thee something else
Beside the Reason that thou could'st not rule,
And would'st not listen when it should rule thee--
Something might suit thee better, a half-thing,
Nay, unthing--nought but a name--Opinion--
Much liker truth to call it apishness;
However called, a grovelling slave in kind--
Slave of the Alazonocracy, self-styled
Aristocrat: yet crawling from slave bonds
As other eunuchs do, to sovereign sway.
Such is Opinion, also called the public:
Flimsy and fickle; yet by noodledom
Upcried for surety and substance--liar!--avaunt!
The public--what is that--the people! ah, no--
But floating o'er it, like a lazy scum
O'er the wholesome working stream: a flighty cloud
Of many hues, no shape--shifty and slight;
Begotten by light newsreadings on brains
Yet washier; idle and wayward, cowardly
And selfish, for so wealthy leisure is wont;
Sick of its own stagnation, and for lack
Of wholesome working channels to drive will's
Stream onward, craving like a froward child,
Ever some new strange and sense-stirring show;
Slander or ruin, earthquake, gossip-toy,
To draw its soul from its own sink: and hence
Tho' fearful, it loves war for excitement's sake,
And loathes, as mere stagnation, steady peace.
Would'st have a sample of its soul? look there,
On yonder crowd of helpless countrymen,
Untaught, yet teachable, kind-hearted, mild,
Most patient under most oppressive rule,
Summoned as wrongdoers, for their good work
Wrought on waste ground in faith of their full right;
They stand, unarmed, unware, thinking no ill,
Wayworn, in loose talk waiting the award:
But see--that sheet of fire, that storm of shot,
Those shrieks, those yells, this sudden slaughter strange,
What means it? it means nought but the coward hate
And outrage of bloodthirsty, rancorous hearts,
Madden'd by their own panic. Those who o'erlive
Flee wildly--find and seize weapons hard by.
Turn on the trampler and slay the slaughterer.
Was ever rage more righteous? but no--Rulers
Can ne'er be wrong; resistance never right.
Tho' a drunk soldier strike ye all down--who cares?
Must drown their manly spirit in their blood--
Up then, cries cowardly State-flunkeydom,
Up--play the devil in God's name--shoot, smite,
Burn all the country--homes--crops--havock all--
Spare none--whoe'er flees from ye shoot him down,
Guilty or not--no odds--only make one
Hell of the whole black country--turn not, ere
Ye've done that duty. Well, they did it--clean
And clear--wondrously well--glory to God!
There then Opinion! there thou Public! swill
Thy full--they have set running for thy thirst
Hogsheads of bloody excitement--at the news
Up they throng--noodles, doodles. The whole soft
Handed, hard hearted Alazonocracy,
With its flunkeys, clinging, draggling at its tail,
And proud to be so fouled by it. In they rush
Gloating on cheap thrilling bloodstir--"Ah, good,
Why this is talk indeed--stirs us right thro'.
Worth living for--they got it well, those slaves--
That dared kill back--but the heroes--hip-hurrah.
True Tories--scrunched the workmen--Tories true.
They've given us a week's sensation--a month's.
Crowns and white robes for them--make them knights, peers.
Spout, pray for them--shout, sing, subscribe for them.
Aye, well ye may, so doth the Devil too--
But God, o'erseeing all, overlooks none--
And when the day comes, as come surely it will,
And the black man in manhood shall uprise
Backed by his warrior brethren, conquerors
Of the south, to avenge sternly this hell-blotch;
Then will the noodle public look aghast;
Draw a faint, fearful breath, and each in the slouched
Ears of his brother; "that sensation of ours
So cheap, looks now as tho' it might come dear.
What, war, and soldiers among Christian men,
Bloodshed, and six-pence more of income-tax!
And those our heroes, now so unhero-like!
Ah horror! who'd have thought it?" Nay thy thoughts
Thou noble noodle, to sound deepest truths,
Are something shallow. Thine is no thought-brain:
Its emptiness but echoes noodledom
Needlessly.
To thy brethren then, away!
Doodle and Foodle, Poodle, Toodle and all--
We want the stage clear for the working-man--
We'll none of them, nor thee--nor of this same
Most puffy public, that now monkey-like
Oe'rrules the people: and thou, Noodledom,
For thy idols fear not--thou hast set them up--
We too--upset them--weep not; for thy mud
Heroes, mud-daubed with blood, are easy made.
But hence--avaunt--with thy fool trash--for now
'Tis Manhood's time--We must bethink us well--
Henceforth the people's Conscience, how unlike
Public Opinion, that old flaunting jade,
In true self-sure weal-working righteous Faith
Shall lead life onward. So God grant it, and so
Evermore speed it.
But for this we lack
Earnestness--shams to scout, needs to fulfil:
Sheer and straightforward the folks' work to do.
No fear, no favour--Such is not the world's
Wont, as Opinion sways it hitherto.
Therefore, ye lower kinds, matched against man,
Ye overpeer him: for that goodly gift
Of Mind, ye never owned nor wronged its worth:
Belying Truth by idle phantasies,
Eating the husk, flinging away the fruit
With froward wantonness--unreasoning
Reason, to set world-wisdom on her throne,
As man is wont--foregoing the sun's light,
To walk with smoky lamps--Yes, ye dumb things,
Ye're there our betters, and I bow to ye:
For your poor talent to the full ye avail;
While we, unheeding, sink our lofty one,
In our soul-slough.
'Tis no fond tale men tell
Of an Evil Angel that o'ersways this world;
And thou Opinion, art he. Ah! who can tell
How great a sum of good thou'st blown away
With thy fool's breath? How oft, when souls have yearned
To do some Truth, which Reason prompted them;
Opinion hath looked coldly on their warmth,
Blighting it in the bud: or else hath worn
So withering a devil in its sneer,
That Virtue hath shrunk back from manly choice
To silly childhood--fearing to do well,
Lest men should deem it ill: taking for judge
Fashion instead of Conscience. Thou mak'st Man
A huge machine, moved by some outer will,
Weening strange vanities--a monkey, an ape,
Looking unto his neighbour's to begin
And lend his soul its start. Yes, poverty
Of means and money, knowledge and of hope,
Hath chilled some hearts--hundreds--thousands may be--
Their lofty aspirations to forego,
But thou hast stifled many millions.
Stifled them with the drouthy high-way dust,
Flinging it in their eyes, and mouths, and ears
That they must neither see, nor hear, nor speak
Save thy own trash.
Yet is there not a thing
Men call Religion, lives it not and breathes,
And do not worshippers bow down to it?
Then wherefore? but to free us, once for all,
From the world to God. Set then Religion up,
And pull Opinion down: ruling new lines
From our new centre. What the heathen once
Upheld, for lack of higher worthiness
This silly law and sillier fear of the world,
Away with all that rubbish! In its stead
How goodly high a building shall arise,
One Christian temple, a worthy dwelling-place
For the Holy Spirit?
But for this, needs first
That every man look up to God's right rule,
Not to his crooked neighbour's; holding world
Wont for the blind child of its blind foredrift,
And parent of world-wisdom; mud and mire
And muck--such parentage, such progeny.
But then shall Truth ask boldly, is this good?
Careless of all skulking complacency
With foes of Right and Freedom. So shall Man
Become a being of high impulses,
And true self-searching will, as meant by God,
Unslaved from worldly sway! steering his course
By his own helm, not wildly blown adrift,
The waif of trivial wont. A man indeed,
And no machine. Then shall that fashion vain,
Misnamed Opinion fade from Reason's light,
E'en as a cloud dissolved in a blue sky.
Wisdom shall walk abroad and cry aloud,
And the unbelieving scoffer, assailing her,
Shall blunt his last shaft on her heavenly shield,
And chattering his vain rage shall flee Man's face--
Aye--good: go herd with apes. Thenceforth, no more
Shall Man fear Man, most wretched in his fear,
But, loving God, be happy in his love.
Happy to love, and happier yet to do
What loving Wisdom bids him. Then, tho' he stand
But one against a host, he will stand fast
And ne'er give back: as knowing that Highest One,
Stronger than all the millions of this world,
Who upholds him that hath a righteous cause,
And abides boldly by it. Such is he,
So main of might, who feels such faithfulness
In strength of Truth, and of his sturdy self
To meet the blind old giant, Prejudice.
And such were they, who then, on that hill-side
Reckless of fears and losses, smiles and frowns,
Of bayonets, swords, death; caring no straw
Of what men said, but only what God willed;
Set up the standard of Truth, Freedom and Love,
Sure stars for Faith to steer by. Which shall win,
The world or they? He who foresees afar,
He only knows: well, be it whiche'er may,
Only God speed the right: as surely He will,
And all the more, if righteousness 'gainst wrong
Struggling, shall need His aid for furtherance.
And they were in that stress: and that high hand
Came to their help. Their foes' discomfiture
They had wrought out boldly and manfully:
And next, that sorry and unseemly flight
They witnessed, as befitted Manhood best,
In calmness of disdain, no ruffian
Outbreak, nor boyish shout, nor laugh or jee ;
Rather with brow and lips sternly compressed
Against what next should come: knowing this bout
Was but a trial of fence with blunted foils,
Preluding pointed danger and bloody death
To some or all. Such upstir is hard to keep
Screwed to its pitch, from downfal. But being cheer'd
By those brave leaders, then came thoro' will
To comfort them--they stood, strong and high-manned
Beyond whate'er before their warmest Faith
Deemed itself possible. Conversion strange,
Yet sure to true souls--for their daring spirit
Outlives the daring deed; and the plunge made,
The glow comes after it--sleeping erewhile
At the heart, but now upspringing to the head,
And spreading vivid life thro' the whole frame.
So they, scatter'd in clumps, or crowding round
To hear some earnest speaker, held their rede,
What next they should essay. "We've lucked it here,
And will hereafter--but now--shall we push
Or wait the proof?" Must wait; for sudden, in sky
The hurrying clouds met, as forewarned to meet,
Each in its lightning instinct rushing on
To make one massy darkness overhead:
Else a clear blue all round--one thunder-stroke,
And then a profuse deluge bursting down,
In gush full spouted; as tho' all the air
Were turned to water. "Ha! friends! what may 't mean?
So shouted a strong voice amid the din:
One onset we stood out, and beat it off,
But here's a stronger yet and fiercer one.
Well, we're but men; and here 'tis Heaven itself
Proclaims we should be gone; therefore away,
Each to his home or shelter wheresoe'er:
For counsel speaks not in such storm as this,
Nor hears--where next we meet soon shall ye know."
'Twas Linsingen that spake--so spoken and done--
For all, with first one cheer for their good cause,
Went several ways; in clusters, ten or twelve,
Home-thronging: for the weaker soul stands not
In its own strength; but in the threatening hour
Must lean for comfort on some friend beside,
Or fall--but higher minds suffice themselves,
Needing no talkmates but their inward thoughts:
And the work they finish in society
They love to frame that work in solitude.
Hermann was such a soul; and in such wise,
While the other men, in noisy fellowship
Went each his homeward way; secret and still,
As the unquiet hare winds her shy stealth,
So did he wind his own round the hill's brow,
Threading the thickest heather, and gorse, and fern.
Where only some sheep-tracks left their faint show,
Wide of the vulgar.
Far as his eye could
Was wild, and ever wild, and wilder still,
As he were the last man: no hovel near,
No shed, nor sheltering tree--nor needed much.
For the head long rain, ere this, had spent itself,
Swift as a diver's plunge. And now from her sleep,
A living fairy spirit of fresh green,
Daughter of the giant storm, breathing like balm,
Jewelled with sundrops, looked out lovingly,
With soft yet sparkling smile. Hermann smiled too--
Despite his doom--and, as he gazed around,
Suddenly the bright beauty of that scene
Lit up with lustre his sad countenance
In like complacency. 'Tis a blest turn
Away from moody and turmoiling man
And from our selfish taskmistress the World,
To our mother and nurse--to thee, Nature, for thou
Art both those tendernesses in one word.
He who hath aught of feeling must feel this--
And he who feels it not--no more of him--
That soul is dead.
So in his buoyancy
Hermann strode on, touched by the seraph fire
In heart, not tongue: storing the golden gifts
Nature poured in--staying anon to look
With lingering Love; as one who lived the fair
Landscape--he drew, that eve, a deep, pure draft
From the bosom of the mother that he loved:
A draught that did refresh his inmost soul
Sick of its daily trash: and his soul grew
With that good diet an expansive growth,
Swelling as it would burst its bars of flesh
And so be free: living a heavenly life;
Communing with its Maker there aloft,
Above the world of men: heeding them not,
Neither their promises nor puny threats,
As being in higher presence. Who would rise
Above his fellows in his spirit's height,
And do great deeds in lofty daringness;
Let him go leave awhile their fellowship,
Betake him to the mountain or lone wood,
And sitting soothly there at Nature's feet
Feel her great truths: look upward unto her,
Then down upon the world. Thus Hermann then:
And whatsoe'er doubt had misgiven him,
It vanished from his soul like to a mist
In the sun's radiance.
So he wound his way
Thoughtful--until he came to a lone tree--
A kingly oak, so deeply rooted in Eld,
That who would trace it back to its acorn birth
Was lost in unknown years. Men paid to it
Weird reverence, and fancy deepen'd the awe
That Nature had enveloped it withal,
As with a prophet's mantle. On that wild ridge
It stood, standard of Eld; springing alone
From its own shade, that seemed to shadow forth
Its dark Druidic birth: one left of all:
All that wild mystic worshipful old wood
That once bore sway of the hills; its brethren's pride
Erewhile, but now their mournful monument,
Left in its lone bereavement but for note
Of boorish bounds. He saw it, and he sighed:
For yet, tho' rugged, it brought back to him
Not unrefreshfully his child-like mood;
Reliving those gay far-off holidays,
When clownish revelry 'neath these wide boughs
Was wont to celebrate its summer wake;
And he among the throng of revellers
A laughing boy. That old tree spake to him
Soothingly, as some fairy tale first told
To the boy, and heard again after grey years
By the careworn man. E'en so it spoke to his heart;
And his heart answered it: he turned aside
From the pathway, and sat him underneath
On a huge bole forth bulging from its stem,
There to ponder the past.
'Tis a sad thing
To retrace step by step our mazy life,
And find, what should have been a forward track
Straight as an arrow started from the string
To be a wild self-cross'd perplexity,
A hurry without speed: and at the end
Farther from its mark than the beginning was:
Farthest of all from its good. To see it, Hope
Sickens, and Faith is fool'd. Therefore we're blind
Wilfully: none looks home within--but on--
Doggedly on; never bethinking him
Whither and why, but ever round and round
Narrowly reeling in the self-same ring,
As wise as any other whirligig.
Such is our folly; and to reframe his life
By rule of righteousness from man to God,
That were our wisdom--but, oh--Wisdom and Man--
Who yokes ye both together, he is a fool,
For ye're no yoke-fellows--but why more words?
Alas! our folly speaks itself too plain.
And Hermann's thoughts were dark--deeply he mused
So deeply, that desire o'erflowed in tears,
Dreaming those days--wishfully breathed his spirit
And wildly, more than words can utter it.
Lone old Oak, and how is it with thee?
Tell me--for thou
Years ago did'st overshadow me--
Dost mind me now?
Mind me--no--thou'st shelter'd and forgotten
Far better men:
Better far than I are dead and rotten,
To dust agen.
But thou! in my heart thy memory
Hath deeper root:
Manhood kneels before thy majesty
With homage mute.
Dear old Oak--I love and worship thee--
For on thy rugged bark
Thousand years lost in eternity
Have left their mark.
Here thou standest, while they fleeted o'er:
Then in thy prime
Heeding not the whetting tusk of boar:
Nor now the scythe of Time.
Would I had thy arms of giant-might
To embrace thee now--
I--the dwarf--can but uplift my sight
To thy dark brow.
Prithee, say; tho' thou regardest not
Such things as I,
Where are all the hours that on this spot
I idled by?
Ah, that falling leaf whispers--they're on--
They might not bide--
On and upward I too should have gone
Upon their tide.
Thither, for the haven of God's bliss,
Far, far away--
Their report of me is only this;
Here would he stay--
Lingering here behind them listlessly--
Ever 'mong these
Hills and woods loitering in dreamery--
Like a vague summer breeze;
Sighing here, and sinking there to sleep;
And then again
Waking up, and 'mid the woodlands deep
Shouting amain.
Nature, all I had I gave it thee.
Tell me, wilt thou
As I gave it freely, even as free
Requite me now?
Vainly else this world do I defy
If in the end
'Gainst so fierce a foe thou dost deny
To be my friend.
Vainly else I've haunted wood and hill
Wandering far:
If I must be poor in spirit still
As others are.
Other worldlings who drag wearily,
Yet hug their chain:
All unfeeling of Faith, Love and thee
And call it gain.
Gold and silver, all that men do prize
I left behind:
So thro' thy communion I might rise
To height of mind.
Height of mind above the worldly man,
And worldly aim:
I've fulfilled my promise and my plan.
Do thou the same.
Give the proof of this thy discipline:
That men may see
All their thoughts are dwarfish things to thine,
As they to thee.
What I am ten thousand purple forms
Glorious and free,
Sunshine, thoughtful shade, and sea, and storms
Are summed in me.
In each hopeful dawn, each high noon sway
I saw my sign.
In the dying glory of the day
I welcom'd mine.
They are gone--but their deep memories
Ever remain;
Blent thro' all my heart in harmonies
Of soul-like strain.
For I gazed upon thy glory and strength
Treasuring it so,
Till I deemed it all my own at length--
Is it or no?
'Mong thy lonely hills I wrought me steel,
And a sword I made.
A strange potency thou did'st reveal
To bless that blade.
Now I go to prove that potency,
If it be true:
Thou hast taught me, wilt thou strengthen me,
And guide me through?
Yes--thou wilt--for lo! I look around
Thy lofty range--
Still thou art, as ever thou wert found--
Brooking no change.
Still thy mountains are as towering high,
Thy woods as green:
Still thy soul thro' river, moor, and sky
Is felt and seen.
And that same high spirit I then knew
Doth comfort me:
Man is false, but thou art ever true--
I trust in thee.
He spoke those words, and rose, in their glad spirit;
And rising, heard a sound borne on the air
So still and sunny gentle until then,
As of a wind in woods. "So spoke the Lord
To David--holy token--hail to thee
Thou dost bespeak me fair." The sound grew on--
And, as it grew, clearness grew out of it,
To mark its meaning: a faint sough in the air,
At first, and then a rush as of chafed waves,
Lastly, the distinct clattering certainty
Of horses gallop. He looked forth, and his eye
Affirmed his ear: e'en up his track they came
Some three-score men, spurring on eagerly,
Loose-reined, careless of soldierly array,
'Mid panting steam of lather'd bloody horse flanks,
As speed to them were surety--of their foes
No reckoning, but forward--on they rode,
Reckless, out-galloping the hearing first,
And then the sight--Hermann gazed after them
From 'neath his sheltering oak, a stone's-throw wide,
And saw their meaning clear as the men selves:
"Lord, in thy hands we're safe: all thanks to thee.
Thou didst come down to us in that sharp storm,
Scattering our strength--betokening favour there,
Wherein some fainter spirits foreboded fear--
And so those men sent forth to hew us down,
Or bind us, chains and death, baffled of blood
Must back. May we, as surely, under Thee,
Speed forward to our hope. Thou'st willed it, and I
Worship thy will."
He knelt and prayed; then on
Calm in his conscious faith--a godly calm--
To his destined end; the cottage, whither Love
Led him, for her dear sake who dwelt in it:
Nor only Love, but his most fearful need
For her sire's counsel. For where danger is great
And strength but small; behoves shrewd skill, to quit
The odds--and truly, Danger frowned on them
So deadly, seemed not Danger now, but Death
Outright; with his self-shadow, dark Despair,
To the chilled soul foreboding him--but God's
Trust is so sure and thoro' in self-proof,
That whoso feels it, reckons all alike
Danger and devils and the mumbling witch
With her cross-straws. Such trust Hermann then felt
And well behoved him to be strong in it,
His only strength--
He went, ever along
O'er vale and wood, moorlands and craggy heights,
Where years ago his childish wonderment
Would gaze itself to visionary awe,
Hour after hour, spell-bound: but Nature shows
A mirror to reflect upon the soul
Its changeful self: and Mind, the maker, hath power
To give to what it will, what shape it will,
After its likeness and own mood within,
From God's creation--So, walking those hills
In lofty gait and stateliness of soul,
They did seem changed from what his childhood deemed;
Changed in his spirit's change o'er-towering them;
Dwarfed down as vassalage to majesty
Beneath the wide projection of his thoughts.
"Ye proud snow-peaks, ye're but a footstool--a base--
For pride like mine to fly from."
So he spake,
Rebuking his own o'erweening hopes,
With show of self-scorn: scoffing his soul's deep
Earnestness--Danger thou art drear for who
But looks on thee--Yet he--the patriot man
Who boldly handles thee, and breathes thy breath,
Thrilling throughout him, blent in thy embrace,
For him that drearness becomes dour: he makes thee,
(Yes, e'en of the foul incubus thou wert
To those who lay supine beneath thy weight),
A fiery winged-horse, to carry him
High o'er the heads of men, upturned to gaze
On his career in wonder from below--
Aye--and tho' he fall short of the topmost height
To be a glory and guide star there above
Fixed as the firmament in deathless fame--
Well--and what then? He fails not, tho' he fall--
Danger, thou'rt ice unto the shivering skin
But a doughty dram to the heart. Hermann drank deep,
And so found comfort where erst faintness was--
'Twas evening; and Nature languidly
As tired by steep toil of the summer day
Sank down--the sloping sun was seen, as the ghost
Of one about to die by Highland Seer,
His winding sheet outstretched e'en to his throat,
Soon to foreclose the whole. So but an are
Of the fire-globe shone yet--the rest cut sheer
Away by the sharp edge of the sky line;
When Hermann, late to come, came there at last,
Whither his heart forewinged him all the way,
To his dear Lucy's home. 'Twas a blest time
For such a soul as heretofore was he,
Full of sweet silent thoughts, and feeling soothly
In summer eve their fond congenial flow:
There was a graciousness in th' air, might soothe
Any stray devil to forget himself,
And feel an angel's joy: joy in his God
And in the sight of others' blessedness
By fellow-feeling adopted for its own.
It seemed, as tho' all light, colour and shape
Had then been fresh created for that show
They shone so bright. Hermann looked up to Heaven,
And round on Earth's sun-glowing loveliness;
"And all this happiness, so peaceful and fair,
That an angel messenger, his duty done,
Might gladly tarry here, and oft look back
Wishful, tho' heavenward winged, why should my rash
Unruliness upstir it?"
Sagely he asked;
But froward Will ne'er starved for lack of words:
And whate'er Reason asks, that froward Will
Hath answer ready on its own behalf,
Self-wise, self-warranted. "Aye, true 'tis good
And wondrous fair, this world wherein we live,
And therefore is more need to raise Man up
To a height worthy of his dwelling-place;
Lest like the Egyptian ape, the grovelling god
Shame his great temple. Manhood to uplift,
That is my work--on with it"--
There is a state
Wherein the lover of Nature often lives,
Oftenest in the evening dream-light:
Confounding sense with soul: each blent in each,
Neither wholly itself--no soul, no sense,
But a calm joy made of their confluence;
Receiving on its surface many hues,
And back reflecting then as it receives,
Taking none to its depth. Then doth the eye
Communicate its office with the mind,
The mind with the eye; and sense and thoughtfulness
Are mingled in one spiritual being;
And all is feeling. So did Hermann's soul,
Floating in airy rapture, deeply drink
Those evening forms and colours, like some cloud
Dyed with the crimson sun; long-lingered he,
Or e'er he broke the bonds of that sweet dream,
For still something of doubt o'erruled the love
That led him onward: so he sate awhile
Wavering like the breezy grass around,
O'erlooking that dear home: till a quick step
Startled him from behind, and turning round,
Old Walter's greeting startled him yet more
With a fear, tho' fanciful, not wholly false.
For Fancy, shooting many a random shaft,
Doth sometimes hit the truth; and where Love is
Thither doth Fear still haunt him like a shade,
Darkening his brightness.
"Sir," said the old man,
"Five minutes earlier here and ye were lost--
E'en now, scarce saved: there have been yeomen here,
Have ransacked all this house, cellar to roof,
For search of you--but for God's providence
That led you round to take the wilder way,
Sure they had met you, as they skurried hence
Ten minutes back. The dust they raised in the house
Flies yet--their oaths are tingling in my ears.
Well, we're well quit of them for this one turn:
For the rest--hence away--one twinkling here
May hold within it your whole life to loss--
May gar you caught and shortened by the head--
Or--but where best, you should best know--for me,
That harm should come to you, 'twere a sore grief:
And there is one whose grief were worse for you.
Aye, you have guessed me right. 'Tis even she--
My dear young mistress--well--if you must meet--
Be it a minute only; there she is--
I left her in the garden even now,
By the brook-side: but mark me, 'tis not I
Would tell love-tales--You guessed it first yourself;
And whate'er fall, the praise or blame is yours
You two--not mine--well--be what may; we're men:
Heaven guide it for the best: give me your hand--
A happier meeting when we meet again--
And so--God bless you."
These were earnest words.
And stirred the hearer, as sound of rushing shot,
The danger past, yet dreadful: but when Hope
Showed him the end his love so fondly yearned,
The sight which but to see was to be blest,
Her presence, and the pressure of her hand:
Then was his trouble turned into bright joy,
Running afresh. He sped, swift as Love's shaft,
Thither, to that untoward lonely spot;
And found it, lone still, save her lovely self.
"Lucy, how happy! thus to find thee here--
My prayer hath place:
And what chance gives, oh, be not so severe,
To gainsay its grace.
'Tis but a minute's stay, danger is near,
And I must far away.
Nay, speak me kind, and smile on me while here,
'Tis but a minute's stay.
Yet a small light will gleam thro' a far space--
And such a smile
Would cheer me thro' all danger and disgrace
A weary while."
"Oh doubt it not--most glad am I
That thou art safe and free,
'Scaped from each evil enemy,
But what were this to me?
For thou art fallen off from us,
I heard it but this day:
And wert thou then so treacherous?
And is it as men say?
Oh yes, my mother told it me,
She told me all she knew;
But then these troopers seeking thee--
Say, is it false or true?"
"Treacherous and fallen off and false or true!
What are these words to me?
I who have dared the worst, and will dare through;
Lucy--who told it thee?"
"Ah then--above all trickery
I trust one look of thine--
They did thee wrong, and so did I,
The misery be mine.
And thy good name from that foul blot
Is brighter than before;
But my lost peace returneth not--
'Tis gone for evermore.
Forgive their fault and my belief--
Alas! I may not tell--
And yet the tale would soothe my grief--
Farewell--and oh! farewell."
She spoke and kissed his hand, and gliding away
Left him in spell-bound gaze. Strange things befal,
Ghosts have been seen, and mountebank feats done,
And witches proven and burnt: and people have stared
As tho' the wide expansion of their eyes
Would make the wonder less. So wise is the world.
But when since wonderment belonged to it,
Did wondrous chance e'er strike on witlessness
With such a stunning and astounding stroke
As then on Hermann? He had hoped--but Hope--
Why prate of her? had hoped and now despaired
And his despair was wiser than his hope--
Man's surest wisdom. There he stood, stock-still,
As tho' her touch had frozen him to ice,
His blood stiff as his bones--but a girl's will
Is not God's doom, stedfast, unstriveable;
And who is driven amain by its wilfulness
Haply he needs but wait the tide's return
To waft him back again in graciousness.
For earthly Love hath a boy's waywardness,
Gaming at high and low--else, were all flat,
So were he too--smooth paths are not for him:
To walk belies his wings. Hermann thought not
One whit of these sound truths, but he acted them.
His scattered wits first gathering, then to the house,
As an engineer, after a startling burst,
What it might mean.
But other wills, meanwhile,
Were there at work and counter to his own:
And where he would fain go and search it thro'
Prevention barred his way. As he strode up,
There met him one, forthright, tho' cripple and halt,
Yet brisk, the goodman's mother of that home--
A careful soul--much did he owe to her
Of reverence, and duly rendered it;
But what he owed her of Love, let us e'en hope
'Twas little; else if great, 'twas greatly more
Than e'er he paid. Yet 'twas well done of her,
Courteously well, to meet her guest half-way:
A gracious show--and that rare grace from her
And toward him, commended it the more--
Alas! 'twere well for the world if show would tell:
Wages were then earned cheaply--our beads, pearls,
Our bosom vices become virtuous:
Good deeds plenty as dirt. Why in Heaven's name,
Why hath not Man the trick of Government,
To make his paper gold? How wealthy of soul
He were! how many million millons then
The devil his debtor! yet what needs for pay
E'en paper? Lo! our ghostly ministers
Quit them in words--they read from out a book
And their task's done. Well then, if words will clear
The score as well, they clear it better too--
Better and cheaper by the paper's worth:
Wherefore such waste? Look to it, financiers.
And make cheap cheaper; save your paper, and pay
In words, as do those holy devout men
Who've studied the truth most, and must know best.
"Sir, said that Dame, belike 'tis strange to you
To see me thus--strange and unneighbourly;
Sure you must feel it so--but where need is
To meet an old friend with new countenance,
'Tis better at the threshold than the hearth.
And Sir, it grieves me much to tell you so,
But grief is an ill thing to keep at heart,
And I've no secret but may well be said:
So, in plain truth, we have been friends awhile;
And, if it be your will, friends will we part.
Lest else our friendship, as my father 'd say,
Poor soul, he's dead and gone, far e'er your time.
Lest friendship, rubbing as 'twere thus--cross-wise,
And not too smoothly, should soon wear away.
'Tis better so, good Sir, much better so--
Much gainlier, tho' it were the dearest limb,
Cut clear away, thou hang but by the skin.
'Twill smart us some, yet off, rather 'n half on.
Sir, ye are loremen, both of ye, book-learned,
Both you and my good son; and I, please God,
Am a plain homely wife: yet such a one
May tell a plain tale--nay, let me say out,
For the least hinder'd is the soonest done.
'Tis not for me you're here, I know it well;
But for a dearer sake--forbear me then
Awhile--it burns me till I utter all.
Well then--Count Linsingen hath been with us:
And what he might chance say to Lucy, and how
She answered, is no gossip's tale for us--
Only thus much--enough too--They're betrothed
For man and wife--Now, Sir, I warrant ye,
And ye've more wit than needs to be so told;
When once the trinket's bought, the buyer forthwith
Takes it from the shop-window and broad gaze,
And treasures it away to his heart. Is that
Enough? or must I tell ye, our dear good girl,
For she is mine too, and but once removed,
She is that darling jewel: and once 'gaged,
It suits not with good manners and good grace,
That other friends than the one, lovers mayhap,
Tho' of good likelihood, should haunt her so
As when in freer"--
"Oh my worthy Dame,
Why so much more, when so much less would serve.
I do beseech thee, give me grace of it--
And tell me, art thou thine own counsellor,
Or hath another prompted thee thus far?
Her father, haply?"
"Yes, for I'm not else
So meddlesome, to take o'ermuch on me.
Tho' truly Reason were that my advice
Were asked and had, ere aught were stirr'd in it:
Yes, it is they so willed it--and, poor souls,
They would fain hide their hand from you, and leave
Untold, tho' meaning you right well; lest you
Take it amiss--So, what was theirs to do,
I've made it mine: there is my say said out:
And since my days of school and copybook,
And that is threescore since, I've left all use
Of flourish at beginning and at end,
Writing or speaking; and 'twere now full late
To try the trick again. So all I've said,
I've said it in all kindliness and faith,
And you, Sir, take it home as kindly too:
Or if offence must come--why--come it must;
But not of me--Why, plague of my old head,
I had well nigh forgot--see--here they are,
The letters from them both--the kind soft souls;
Look if you will; tho' yet there is no word,
But I have said it more outspokenly
Than they, poor hearts, could bring themselves to write."
As she ended, so she held the letters forth;
And Hermann looked on them--he could no more--
But looked and looked, till to his ghostly sight
They seemed like living things with spectral eyes
Gazing upon him. She, in purblind sense,
Unwitting, thrust them on his half-clenched hand.
He took and opened, but read not at all.
Tho' he seemed to read--only a word or two
Seared his dull eyeballs, as 'twere written in fire,
And his sight shrank from it. "Yes, you are right--
Right, said I, right? Oh no, 'tis a foul wrong;
They know it, who plotted, and shall answer it:
But no, God bless them all--her most--and me--
Sure never man needed His blessing more."
He said, and turned, and slow walked his sad way.
While back she hobbled, in hurry of mumbling joy.

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Capel Lofft