Thomas Aird

Fitte The Second

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Oh now the summer woods! Oh now the joy
To haunt their tangled depths, with curious eye
Watching the wild folk of the leafy world,
From beetledom below to the high flight
Of shooting doves that shave the liquid air!
Such pastime has been Frank's, since first, a boy,
When lit the rising sun with level rays
The light green glimmering of the barley braird,
Empearled with dew, till all the trembling drops
Like sapphires glowed, he wondered at the hare
Hirpling therein, and sitting oft on end
With strange suspicious gestures—can it be
Old Eppie Tait, the witch? and wondering saw
The horse-hair stirring in the shallow pool,
Left in the rut of the unmended road,
After warm rains by night—will it become
A lamprey, as they say? and wondering found
The shrew-mouse lying with itsentrails out,
On the green path, where late at eve he passed
And saw it not: what killed it?—was't the owl
By thing who pounced it for a common mouse,
And, out of temper at her own mistake,
Tore it to death, but scorned to taste a shrew?

Upspringing with the sun, Frank, every morn,
As every night, reads to his gathered house
The solemn service of the English Church,
Dear to his heart—a worship fitly framed
Betwixt the sensuous and emotional.
His stout old-fashioned breakfast o'er, he takes
His business room, and fits himself to speak
Of roads and bridges with his neighbour lairds;
Then forth into his garden, counsel there
To hold with the old gardener, or with ear
Patient attend his manifold complaints
Of birds unthinned, the bullfinch worst of all,
Whose cursèd beak—what can the fellow mean?
For worms he seeks not, nor one blossom eats—
Plays such wild havock with the apple buds.
“He's a bad boy,” says Frank, and whistles off
Along the broad green walk, close-shaven, and paved
With soft moss like a carpet; and the maze
Of pleachèd walks, and alleys green o'erarched,
By holly bowers, and dials old and quaint,
Pacing he threads—for all the place, unlike
Your modern garden cut to the bare quick,
Is kept unshorn, a place of coy retreat.
Up then he gets into the old ash-tree,
To see the hissing owlets in their hole,
And speak to them; or in his pendulous swing
High sitting, moving to and fro, enjoy
The visitations of the flitting birds,
And all the cool refreshment of the leaves,
Rustling and breathing, with a dewy smell,
And all the glimmerings of the greening light.

Then deep he dives into the pathless woods,
And holds communion with the creatures there,
A numerous people; for in all his bounds,
Protected by his humour or his love,
Easy they lead their unmolested lives.
So delicate his ear, he can detect
The faintest impulse that affects the tone
Of beast or bird, as circumstances change:
Has not the rook a harvest cry?—a slight
Percussive breathing through her usual note,
Somewhat analogous to the Irish brogue?—
A chuckle? that's too strong; we'll call it, then,
The halitus of a spirit crowding through
Her fuller voice, like thanks for God's good corn?
Is this a fancy, or is this a fact?

Frank's pencil catches, quick of comic gust,
Queer things where'er he goes—the curly imp
Cocked on the donkey's rump, or whirled right o'er
Its lowered ears into the attempted ford;
The camps of gipsies, and old beggars' heads.
Nor does he chuckle not when he has caught
A Latin scholar on unwonted steed;
His heels turned closely in, his toes wide out;
His trousers ruffled up unto his knees;
His coat-tails pinned before him, to escape
The dusty hair of Rosinante's ribs;
And, ever as he rises in his trot
With slow and solemn risings, the far-off
Horizon seen, a lucid interval,
Betwixt the saddle and his seat of honour.

And on goes Frank, and sees from many a point
The trees he planted in his youth fulfil
The picturesque design—the Scotch firs high
On gravelly ridge (best soil for them) to show
Their flaky foliage on the Eastern light,
Or in the embosomed wood with dark relief
Set off the lightness of the general green;
And sycamores far off, a depth, a world
Of sultry languor in their summer heads.
But here the river bounds his woodland realm.
Steep his own banks of trees, yet steeper far
The opposing hill high up with hanging woods.
The cushat, startled from her ivied tree,
Comes clapping out above him, down right o'er
The river takes, and, folding her smooth wings,
Shoots like an arrow up the woody face
Of yon high steep, and o'er it bears away,—
The loveliest feat in all the flight of birds.
But oh the rarer charm, when yon green face
Is all astir with winds unheard so high,
Waving and swaying all, this way and that,
Opening and closing, intertwined, evolved,
With gestures all of love, low bowings, risings,
Kissings, slow courtesies, and tufted nods,
All flexible graces multitudinous!
Oh many a time, and long hours at a time,
Has Sylvan lain upon his sunny shore,
Rapt, more than gazing on the pictured show,
Silent though all in motion, till his soul,
Drowsed with the very fulness of the beauty,
Slumbered and saw not through the glimmering eye.

The farthest walk in his domain has brought
Frank to “The Plague Mount.” Gray Tradition tells
That here the last struck of the spotted pest
Was buried far from men. Upon its top
Are sombre trees, and in the trees a seat;
And on the seat aye Sylvan rests a while,
With changeful musings o'er life's darker things.
A half-sunk boulder on the Mount is called
“The Siller Stone.” In popular legend, lies
A hoard of gold beneath it. Daring men
Have tried to dig it out; but aye a storm
Of lightning red, and thunder black with wrath,
Bursts, scares and drives them from the unfinished work.
Deepening the awe of the enchanted Mount,
A burn comes down a low and lonely glen,
And sleeps into a pool at its green feet,
Silent, profound, and black, “The Fairy Pool.”
Seven boys, once bathing in the twilight there,
Were spirited away, and ne'er again
Came back to earth. Seven girls once playing there,
As home they passed from school, on the frail ice,
Went down together in the charmèd pool:
But they were found, and, on a weeping day,
Their virgin bodies in one grave were laid.
Here grows the earth-nut, with its slim green stalk,
Flat crowned with flowery white. The Mount's one side
Is soft with moss and broken earth, and there
Bare digging fingers may achieve its nuts.
But, tempted though he be, the schoolboy ne'er
Invades the Genius of the awe-guarded ground,
Alone. In knots the imps have sometimes dared
The desperate deed; but terror all the while
Disturbs their trembling fingers, as they trace
The tender white of the descending stalk
Down through the ground, which hardens as they dig,
And breaks the thread that guides them to the prize:
And so they lose it. If by chance they reach
The knobbèd nut, they break with their thumb-nail,
And peel the foul brown film of rind away
To the pure white, and taste it soft and frush.

They chew—they swallow not—they spit it out
With sputtering haste: 'tis earthy! 'tis the rank
And rotten flavour of the buried Plague!
Awe has them still—they gather close—they look
Into each other's faces—they behold
Strange meanings there—one fear infects the whole—
Breathless they break away, nor dare to turn
And look behind them to the ghostly Mount.

Homeward by other paths, Frank never fails,
With hat in hand, and reverence as of love,
To drink and rest at sweet St Mary's Well.
Cold, still, and glassy deep, a grassy brow
O'ershading it, here lies the virgin well.
Frost never films it, ne'er the Dog-star drinks
Its liquid brimming lower. Self-relieved,
By soft green dimples in its yielding lip,
The trembling fulness breaks, and, slipping o'er,
Cold bubbles through the grass; the infant spilth
Assumes a voice, and, gathering as it goes,
A runnel makes: how beautiful the green
Translucent lymph, crisp curling, purling o'er
The floating duckweed, lapsingly away!

His woodland walk accomplished, Sylvan lays
His right leg o'er his shelty, for a round
Of friendly visits of a summer day.
Thigh, leg, and toe turned round and in, the big
Toe-ball just resting on the stirrup, the heel
Depressed, and almost reaching to the ground,
Erect he sits on Donald; shaggy he,
Long-tailed, long-maned, and tossing, as he moves,
The hair redundant o'er his fairy face,
Whence fitfully his glowing eyes look out.
And many a little dog, and many a large,
With sleek-licked swirls upon their glossy coats,
Attend the march, and round the master play.

The good old Scottish Gentlewoman, first,
Who, faithful to the good old way, still spins,
And speaks the good old Scotch, the classic tongue,
Not of a province, but an ancient realm,
Frank visits. Next, the rough old Commodore,
Who from his castellated cabin high
Telegraphs, with the system of his flags,
The valley far; of many a tough old fight
The tough old remnant he, shattered and worn,
White “at the main:” but o'er a sea of grog
Ascending, reigns the Dog-star in his nose.

Next comes the Manse: And forth with Sylvan walks
The good old Pastor, shaking oft the head
Over the changes of our modern day.
The railway most he fears, spoiling our green
Sequestered valleys with its raw red scaurs,
And long dry banks of rubbish, spoiling more
Our picturesque simplicities of life,
Old points of character, old points of faith,
With social innovations manifold.
“Beautiful vale! Vale of my Flock!” he sighs,
“Fear not the Winter, thou; fear rather, thou,
The Mammon who would drive his railway train,
With whistle shrieking in its lust of gold,
Through the sweet music of thy Sabbath bells!
Let him not in; oh keep the Demon out,
For there's no reverence in his golden hoof!
Give him but gradients to his mind, he'd drive
His trading rail right o'er the inhibited top
Of Sinai, through its awful sanctities,
As if they were the cheap amenities
Of some suburban villa: Keep him out!”

Frank takes the Nabob next: Him oft he finds
Standing beneath a tree: hours at a time,
With sour mahogany face against the day,
There will he stand. Cross-grained to all his folk,
They hold his conscience, not his liver, wrong:
An Indian prince he murdered for his gold—
So runs the whisper—horror-haunted thus,
Dark are his days, by night he dares not sleep
Without seven lighted candles round his bed.
Old Frank, of course, at all such nonsense laughs;
And him the Nabob loves, flinging himself
With full abandonment, as if for help,
On the broad nature of the healthy man:
And Sylvan cheers him up, and he is cheered;
But sinks relapsing when his friend is gone.

Thus hairy Donald, with short dibbling trot,
Bears his blithe master round from place to place.
Old Grayford last he visits: Him he finds
A-field; his right hand with a hedgebill armed;
His left laid down upon his swelling loin,
The palm turned out, the curved arm forming thus
The handle of the Lairdly Dignity.
Gray spats, white stockings, and a long gray coat,
Invest old Nimrod; on his head is set
His small black hunting-cap of many a field—
Beneath its front his keen eye twinkles out,
Behind descends his venerable queue:
Tall, thin, and gray, walks the old man erect.
Due greetings o'er, Laird Grayford lays his hand
On Donald's mane, and by our hero stalks,
And has him round to look at hedge and drain,
And all his plantings:—“Here's a clump—this way—
Put in last Autumn, it seems getting up?
What think you, eh? In thirty years or so,
'Twill be a nice thing; and by then I'll be
Pretty well buffed.”—Old Nimrod's seventy now!
And much he growls of beggars, much of boys,

And tinkers, in defiance of the Act,
Pasturing their donkeys by the sides of roads;
And aye he sniffs, with nostril scornful thin,
At self-dubbed captains with their fishing-rods,
Who summer-haunt the village by the Hall,
And rob the ancient lordship of respect.
“Whom have we next?” keen looking out, demands
The jealous Laird, as o'er the knoll he spies
A waving rod: “One o' your captains, eh?
Of course: A man can't toss his glove up now,
But down it comes on a captain—Let's this way.”

But Frank must home, and dine, and be prepared
Service to do with Moll; for old and young,
His neighbours round, from village and from farm
Invited, hold this night upon the lawn
The Annual Strawberry Feast of Sylvan Lodge.

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Thomas Aird