T h e   S t o r y   o f    a n   A f f i n i t y

Part I

Within the overlapping of two seas
There lies a golden land of fruit and flowers,
Stream-barriered, and in that sunny tract
I know a corner at a green hill’s foot
Where orchards cover up the spring-tide fields
Whitened with blossoms; and all summer long
The wind about the leafy mountain ridge
Purrs in the tops of forest hickories;
Where bees find richest harvest, and the peach
Puffs up its mellow juices till it cracks
Splitting the stone; where in September days
The robins storm the vineyards, and the wasp
Punctures the swollen grapes and drains and drains
Till he goes heavily with freighted wings.

On this broad inland terrace lay two farms

Not far apart, and in the midst of them
The white farm-houses, on whose lichened roofs
The towering pear-trees in October winds
Dropped golden fruit and whirling golden leaves.
The one was Jacob Hawthorne’s and the other
Was tilled by William Stahlberg and his sons.
The two were friends from boyhood, though unlike
In mood and aspect. The monotonous life
Of those whose only care is with the earth
Had knit them into close companionship
Through daily habit. They were next at hand.
Old Stahlberg had two sons, and Jacob Hawthorne
An only daughter; and the children played
Together, joining as their sires had done
Through all the mirthful years of early youth
In growing friendship. This had end at last,
When Hawthorne, who had pictured for his child,
The lily-cheeked and dimpled Margaret,
A larger future than the farm could give
Placed her at school; and thus another life
In the great city, other thoughts and ways
New friendships with their fruitful sympathies
Absorbed the eager spirit of the girl;
And only at midsummer, when the terms
Were over, she returned a month or two
To join her old-time playmates; but a change
Fell with each year between them; the two boys,
Whose ways grew over manful for the girl,
Heeded her visits less, till in the end
She came and went, her presence all unmarked.

Of William’s sons the elder, as he grew
From youth to manhood, both in mind and limb
Fulfilled his father’s utmost wish; a firm,
Fair lad; no hand in all the neighbouring farms
Could turn so straight a furrow through the field;
Loving the tillage, grave and apt to learn,
He toiled with honour at the old man’s side
A sinewy farmer, diligent and wise.
Not so the other. William’s heart had dreamed
A different life for Richard. He had hoped
To find in him the scholar of his house
Reared in some grave profession or skilled art;
And Richard in his lisping boyhood gave
Rare flashes of a strange intelligence;
But these with the full growth of years became
Less frequent, till his darkening mind took on
A sullen and impenetrable sloth.
He seemed like one whose brain at moments strove
For life and light, but could not pierce beyond
The swathing of dim flesh that cloaked it round.
Year after year while the child’s mind stood still,
Entangled in that strange infirmity,
In strength and stature he throve wondrously.
Vast-shouldered with a broad and mighty head—
The fairer for its shower of yellow curls—
He towered above his fellows like a king,
A king whom some slow magic had dethroned.

Often there was a mood upon him, one
That fell at intervals, seeming to mark
A settled period in his cloudy life.

His eyes, whose wont was to be darkly dull,
Or bent in an unmeaning fixedness,
Now with some trouble seemed possessed, as if
Disordered by an inly smouldering fire.
There was a fitful and ungoverned force
In his huge frame, a lawless energy
That yielded to no guidance, but stormed out
In passionate whim, and were it good or evil
Wrought each in desperate and titanic measure.
Some times a fiery eagerness of toil
Possessed him, and with silent diligence
He laboured with his brothers in the fields.
And whether through the sere November light
With guided handles and slow-running shares,
Keeping the glistening furrows all day long,
The ploughmen rolled the dark earth lair on lair;
Or whether in August in the fiercest heat
The yellow barley fell in toppling rows
Behind the clattering reapers, and the men
Following with red arms and dripping brows
Bound up the rustling sheaves; in either hour
Richard, a fitful giant, unperturbed,
Bent the wild vigor of his limbs to toil,
Labouring as no other three could labour
In all the friendly farms. No man could turn
Or check his course, for as he willed, he worked.
But some times, when the toil was at its height,
And every hand was straining to the end,
He would cease suddenly, and straightening up,
As if in wrath, with dark and ominous brow,
And eyes all strange with that disordered fire,
Hurl forth whatever thing was in his hand,
And stride away. The rest without surprise
Glanced after him, but neither called, nor dared
To follow, for no touch, nor any word
Had healing for his mood, or power to stem
The blind and witless passion of his soul.
Only his brother, whom perchance the toil
Pressed sore, or the white-haired and troubled man
His father, with a sorrowful glance exchanged
Bent them the sadlier to their task. By day,
And night, perchance for many days and nights
He would be gone, wandering from farm to farm,
From village unto village, at some hours
Sullen and uncompanionable, at others,
Mingled with wayside groups at tavern doors,
Or where the country lads with halted teams
Gathered at eve about a blacksmith’s forge,
Loudest in laughter, and when games were set
Supreme in his tremendous feats of strength.
He would return at last, perhaps at dawn
Coming fresh cheeked, or strolling in at dusk,
When hungry mouths were busy round the board;
And all would greet him smiling; but a voice,
His father’s, would call joyfully out and bid
The women bring him of the daintiest fare;
And yet their talk would flag, and they would sit
And watch him with mute kindness in their eyes,
Marking the mighty frame whose sinewy bulk
Seemed to have thriven in the soul’s despite,
And the fair clouded face.

                                        So time passed on,
Till nineteen years were gone of Richard’s life,
And the white locks that heaped his father’s head,
Clustering like snow about his ruddy ears,
Were grown the whiter for that vanished hope.

The nineteenth summer dawned with leaf and bloom,
With the light-springing grain in many fields,
And dewy evenings when the pale clear west
Grew cool and distant round one lustrous star.
From many a darkening garden plot, unseen,
The vesper sparrow, dreaming in the dusk,
Trilled forth his heart of love, his earth-pure song
Of passion and appealing tenderness;
And so the bountiful days at length brought on
That tenderest rosiest season of the year,
When roadsides whiten with anemones,
And the long grass, cool and waist-deep at noon,
Still flings the dew about the trudger’s feet,
When coneflowers gathering in neglected fields
Make all the wind-swayed spaces a surprise
With their bold gypsy splendour.

                                                 Now it chanced
One morning in that goodliest month of all
That Richard with blank eyes and dawdling feet
Passed on an errand to the neighbouring farm.
To-day the mood was on him, and his mind

By feverous yearnings and blind powers distraught
Seemed conscious of the weight that pressed it down.
He walked with sullen brow and earth-ward eyes,
Nor marked the Hebe-loveliness of leaf
And flower, the wind’s soft touch, nor overhead
The limpid and interminable blue.
The meadow with its braid of marguerites,
That ran like glittering water in the wind,
He passed unseen. The tireless bobolink,
Poised on the topmost spray of some young elm,
Or fluttering far above the flowerèd grass,
Showered gaily on an unobservant ear
His motley music of swift flutes and bells.
Through an old vineyard full of trellised shoots
And reaching tendrils and thick-twisted stems,
And tossing spaces, heaved with velvet leaves,
Grey-gleaming in the sudden gusts up-turned,
And past the bee-hives in the orchard plot,
A place to midday slumber consecrate,
With sultry shadow and soft-murmuring sound,
He strode and came into a narrow lane,
That ran far-forward hemmed with briar and bloom
Between the wheat fields and a towering wood.
And now a sudden frolic wind-rush came,
And smote the wood, and roared upon its tops,
And down across the level like a sea
Ran out in swift pale glimmering waves. The sound
And moving majesty of wind and wood
Broke even the dull clasp of Richard’s heart
And touched his spirit with a passionate thrill.
He started and stood still and stared abroad
A moment like one suddenly awake,
With spreading nostrils and uplifted head,
And from his widening eyes there leaped and shone,
Like the blue strip beyond the thunder-cloud,
A single gleam of wild intelligence.
He turned this way and that with grasping hands
And moving lips, as if the astonished soul
Sought to expend its momentary fire
In the sheer strength of some tremendous word
Or violent deed; and as the gust died off,
He bent low down and siezed in both his hands
The trunk of a young birch-tree, and with feet
And knees wide-planted, stretching to the full
The corded muscles of his mighty back,
Tore it, root, stem, and branches, from the earth
And, rising, hurled it, whirling, far apart
Into the centre of the wind-waved field.

The deed relieved him, and he turned and closed
His hands on the black fence-rails, with fixed gaze,

And stood with straightened neck and head thrown back.
So standing he seemed wrapt as if with thought.
The crimson flush ebbed slowly from his cheek,
And left a deathly pallor. In his eyes
The remnant of that wild and startled flame
Died gradually away as embers die,
Shrouding with ash. A little while he dreamed,
Then slowly turning down the sunny lane
Resumed his stride, but with a gentler tread
And brow less imminent and less disturbed.
Through a sagged gate, whose hinges rough with rust
Yelled and cried out at every ruthless turn,
He swung, and by a winding footway came
Into an orchard old with gnarled trees.
Now in the orchard’s midst on the warm grass
Under the goodliest of these fruitful trunks,
Close-bowered in wooing shadows, flitted o’er
With multitudes of golden gleams, there stood
An old and curious rustic bench, contrived
Of boughs of cedar, interwoven and joined,
Still with the rough soft-smelling bark upon them.
Thither already, ere the burning sun
Had robbed the shadowy dock-leaves of their pearls,
Old Hawthorne’s daughter, pale-browed Margaret,
Had come with happy, gravely gliding, feet,
Swinging her wide-brimmed hat in one pale hand,
And clasping in the other a small book
That pressed a slender finger shut between.
Across the humming orchard lawn she came,
Dappled with shadow and sharp light, a form
Tall with the noble slenderness of youth.
Her calm grey eyes, now earthward bent, and now
Fastened far off in unobservant gaze,
Seemed like clear fountains of divine content,
Fed by a crystal and perpetual stream
Of sunny meditation. With a smile
Upon soft-parted lips, a little pale,
She reached the rustic bench, and nestling back
Into its softest corner, propped her head—
That sunny head, with hair, thick-coiled, not curled,
But tawny and soft-textured, smoothe as silk—
On one white hand; and with the other turned
The slender pages of her book, and read.
Once and again she lifted her deep eyes,
And gazed before her long and absently,
Then pored on the white pages for a while,
With dropping lids, till they forgot to see;
And soon the warmth and luxury of the place,
And all the growing murmur of the noon,
Possessed her with their drowsy spell. The book
Slid from her loosened hand, and ere she knew
Her cheek had sunk against the cedarn rest,
Soft-pillowed on her bended arm, and there,
With all the myriad patterns interlaced
Of sun and shadow floating on her breast
And nestling in her lap, she lay asleep.

Long years had gone since Margaret, as a child,
Had stirred the homely quiet of the farm
With her bright ways. Her seasons had been spent
In schools and cities; and in all that time

She had seen much and studied more. Her mind,
A tireless gleaner in the field of books
Had skirted the world’s ways with curious eyes,
And gathered knowledge with serene delight.
Her father on some learned life at first
Had set his plans for her; then as he grew
Older, had changed, and, drifting to a sheer
Reversal of his former mind, resolved
To have her henceforth near him; for the dread
Of her long absences, and the delight
To feel her sun-like presence in the house
Daily increased upon his narrowing heart.
This was the first great bitterness that fell
On Margaret’s life; for she had built a dream
Of her own future, full of noble aims,
Traced out in many an ardour of bright thought,
A dream of onward and heroic toil,
Of growth and mind-enlargement for herself,
And generous labour for the common good.
At first she wept in anguish and plead hard
For her own way, but when the old man’s will
Grew only firmer with the lapse of time
Her smoothe and boyant spirit, as it bent,
Slowly inured to the inevitable,
Rebuilded in another lowlier shape
The ruined fabric of her hope. To tread
The circuit of her house-kept days content—
Its tasks and quiet duties interwoven
With study and the loved companionship
Of books,—or in the easeful intervals
Of labour with sweet ardour to cement
A loving friendship with all plants and birds
And creatures that inhabit earth or stream;
By gradual growth of knowledge and the gift
To others freely of her precious store,
By winsome bearing and persuasive speech,
To make her bountiful presence day by day
A help, a sweet refreshment, and a grace
To all about her: this was Margaret’s dream,
The old dream smiling in a lowlier guise.

Only a day had gone since her return
When on the old warm-shadowed rustic seat—
Thus with her fair and delicate head, so full
Of glowing dreams and golden purposes,
Soft sunk upon her slender arm—she lay,
Fixed in the rounded grace of innocent sleep,
Unconscious of her spiritual loveliness.
And now came Richard o’er the orchard lawn,
With plodding gait and wasteful eyes, wherein
That mindless grief and impotent hunger burned.
Along the little beaten path he came,
And reached the sweeping shade of Margaret’s tree,
And saw the seat, and her whose beauty made
The warmth and shadowy sweetness of the place
Warmer and sweeter still. One wide swift look
He flung upon the scene. As if a blow
Had met him in the forehead from some hand
Invisible, he stopped and stood stone-still,
A statue of surprise with parted lips,
And eyes that for a moment only stared.
And then a wild light fluttered from them—joy
With terror mingled, and an eddying sense
Of power unlocked; for in a moment’s space—
No longer than that single rapturous glance—
A vision, rare and beautiful to him
As any by a Saint in Patmos seen,
Had slid beneath the cloud-bands of his soul,
And flooding all with one enchanted gleam
Had driven them far asunder. At one stroke
Life rose beneath him like a magic tower,
Whereon for the first time, naked and free,
He stood in the clear light, and felt, and saw.

A long while—he never knew how long—
Richard stood utterly still, while o’er his life
There came that change, which in the after days

He could but say was like the lifting up,
Snapping asunder and complete discharge
Of some great cloudy weight whose hideous wings
Were clasped like night about his struggling soul.
Thus did the stroke of noonday find the twain—
She all unconscious in her balmy sleep,
And Richard standing fixèd as a star;
But Margaret slept on, the noonday glow
Scattering with golden points her restful hair,
Pale forehead, and cheeks beautiful and pale;
As Richard stood it seemed to him that all
His life had lacked of insight and of power
Came gathering in a great and welling flood.
With ever-deepening pierce he saw the world
And his own life, and comprehended all.
And yet this light, so rapturous, so divine,
Was like the terror of revealing dawn
To one who in the midnight wild hath lost
The narrow path, and wandered far astray:
For as our primal father and fair Eve
In that old story of the first of things
When they had eat of the forbidden fruit
Grew conscious of their nakedness, so he
Now at a single stroke was made aware
Of his own ignorance, and how last and least
And wretchedest of all his kind he was.
For this fair creature, whose unconscious presence,
By its strange beauty and resistless grace,
Had burst the bolted prison of his soul
Betrayed in every subtlest tint and line
Of form and feature, garb and attitude,
The impress of a life remote from his—
A life bred in a loftier air, and steeped
In pleasures of a daintier sense, distilled
From studious search and fine experience.
Slowly like grasping poison the cold truth
Spread over Richard’s unresisting heart,
And filled him with a wild and helpless grief.
And now for the first time his wandering glance
Fell upon Margaret’s little book. It lay
Spread open in the grass, and almost touched
Her foot. A sweet immeasurable desire
Possessed him, and he made a daring step
Forward, and took it softly up, and pored
Upon its slender pages with moist eyes.
With the sharp crackle of the fluttered leaves,
As Richard turned them in unskilful hands,
Margaret awoke, and started lightly up,
Wide-eyed, a little frightened, and abashed,
But, as she looked at Richard, in a while
Returned the memory of him, and she rose,
And hastened toward him with delighted speed,
Smiling in welcome, and held forth her hand:
“Ah, Richard, it is you; and you know me?
Why, it is Margaret. You don’t forget
The games we had together in old days.
But you have grown so tall!” and Margaret stood
In all her subtle beauty and pale grace,
Arrested by a sudden bright surprise,
A radiant wonder at his splendid height.
And Richard looked in silence a long while
Into her fair grey eyes—he was too full
Of grief and hurrying thought to be abashed—
But murmured inarticulately. He held
Still in his hand the book. It was a work
Printed in curious words and unknown type,
And Richard turned and closed the little book
With a despairing tenderness, and said:
“You read this book before you fell asleep,
You, but a slight girl—so young—it seems
Only a fortnight since we played together,
And now you understand this print and thread
The mysteries of other tongues, while I
Whose idle body has grown great and tall,
For all the might and bigness of my flesh,
I cannot even read my own beyond
The simplest words. How miserable to be
As mean and dull and ignorant as a clod!”
Then it was Margaret that with gentle stare
And wondering eyes looked full in Richard’s face,
Discerning that the playmate, whom she knew
For his huge stature and unwilling mind,
Was changed, and with a lovely smile she said:
“Yes, it is bitter to look back and think
How many years have passed us, and we know
So very little; to be far behind,
When all the world is full of learned heads.
You think me a great scholar, but see
Many whose knowledge is a thousand times
More great than mine. I am more ignorant far
Compared with these than you compared with me.
But, courage, Richard! If you will to learn,
You may, for every port is possible
To him who stands unshaken at the helm,
And steers straight on!” So speaking in a voice
That deepened with a tender earnestness,
A fleeting rose bloomed up in both her cheeks,
Leaving their pallor lovelier than before.
And Richard shrank a little, as if bowed
By too great joy of that delicious word;
And as his eyes returned upon her face,
Enraptured to a passionate reverence,
A sweet and simple dignity possessed
His giant frame and fair large head upraised,
And his great face, and almost with a cry:
“I am resolved”, he said “to live my life anew
And follow manfully where your steps have gone,
Margaret; and this book shall be my guide—
The thing I prize beyond all else on earth—
If you will let me keep it for my own.”
Again in sudden wonder Margaret turned
Her fair pale brows and beautiful eyes, and fixed
Their light on Richard’s face, then let them fall,
As a bird veers before the wind, surprised
At his great earnestness, and half abashed;
Answering she told him he might have the book,
And some day in a future year they two
With wiser heads would read it through together.

Now at the farmhouse in a shadowy niche
Cut deep above the white-washed kitchen door

Lay a great conch, a smooth and polished shell,
An echo at whose coilèd heart still cooled
Far off the listener’s wave-enamoured ear,
That ancient inextinguishable sigh
And murmuring surge of the eternal sea.
The founder of the homestead, he who first
Made his axe echo in these wilds, and hewed
A circle in the frowning woods, and joined
Trunk upon trunk to house his little ones,
Had brought it from its pristine resting place,
Some sand-nook of the sea; and thrice each day
Since then across the close tilled summer fields
Its booming thunder launched by knowing lips
Had warned the hungry farmer and his hands
Of meal-time and the steaming board prepared.

And now as Margaret ended and her speech
Subsided in the sunlight of a smile,
There came one running toward the garden gate,
A stout-armed girl, all ruddy from the fire,
And lifted the great shell with both her hands
And blew therein, till the slow roaring sound
Clave to the farthest limit of the fields,
And died in winding echoes on the hills.
And Margaret prayed Richard to return
With her and join them at the midday meal,
And he whose brain was like a turbid sea
Of passion and fantastic purposes,
Swept and illumined with a reckless joy,
Turned gladly and went with her. As they walked
A silence fell between them. Richard’s heart
Too busy with its stream of rapturous thought,
Encompassed with a wonder too divine,
A joy too sacred to be touched by speech;
And Margaret, as she glanced in Richard’s face,
Still studying with quick and curious eyes
His altered bearing and absorbèd mood,
Kept silence too, knowing not what to say.
So through the humming garden and between
The shadowy ranks of vines they took their way,
Margaret, bare headed, swaying in her hand
Her broad-brimmed bonnet; Richard at her side,
Wrapt in that cloud of towering fantasy;
And at the threshold of the house they found
The noise and hurry of the meal begun.
To-day the mouths were many, for some work
Was done in common by two neighbouring farms
And a great clattering rose and the food flew.
The men dined all together. At the head
Of the broad board, whose rough-hewn length of oak
Immaculate hands for a half a century
Had scoured and scraped and polished till it shone
Old Hawthorne sat, a figure quaintly made,
With sinewy shoulders and high-furrowed brows
And strong grey hair and thick and grizzled beard,
Lean cheeks and leaner hands, and eyes
That not unkindly peered abroad and gleamed
From deep-set hollows wrinkled round with care.
At first, for they were red with heat and tired,
The men ate heavily with scarce a word,
But quickly, as the steaming plates were cleared
There broke a clash of tongues, and the rough jokes
And boisterous laughter leaped from tongue to tongue,
And all the while the tireless women sped
With din of many dishes to and fro
’Twixt stove and board, that so the swiftlier
The feeders might have done and get them back
Into the fields again. So at the meal
Richard sat with them silent, but the food
He touched not, and the farmer in a while,
Marking his moody presence and strange gaze:
“What ails ye, Richard?” he cried out, “Ye look
As if ye saw something beyond the wall.
Silent ye always were, but never yet
I saw ye that ye could not eat,” and then
The others, each one in his turn, took up
The word, and cried, he was in love, and laughed,
And plied him with a thunderous round of jests;
But Richard only reddened, and looked up
At each and all of them with a strange smile,
And wondered in his heart, if it were so.

Now when the men had finished, and were gone
Back to their labour, tramping leisurely
Through the fresh fields, there woke in Richard’s soul
A passionate eagerness to grasp at once
The clear beginnings of his altered life.
The dream lay wrapt in luminous mist as yet,
Confused, about his heart; but this he knew,
The plan, whatever in the end its shape,
Would bear him into a long and distant toil
Far from his home and far from Margaret’s face;
And so he rose, and with a few soft words
Parted from all the kind and busy folk,
And Margaret went with him to the gate.
Then Richard turned and lifted his great eyes,
Striving for manful utterance, and said:
“You do not know, nor have I words to tell
The good that you have done me, Margaret;
But you have changed me, given me strength and will,
For you are beautiful, and wise, and good,
And one may not be near you and not learn
To be a man. I leave you. I am going
Far off, perhaps, to work and learn; but now,
While I am gone, this one thing more I ask,
That you will sometimes in your idle hours
Give me the priceless blessing of your thoughts.
They shall be borne to me, unseen, unheard,
And nerve me with fresh courage, when I fail.”
But Richard spoke no more, for like a mist
His own unworthiness rose up, and filled
At the last moment all his doubting heart,
With a great choking grief. He siezed her hands
And pressed them in his own, and turned away;
And Margaret with down-dropped and troubled eyes,
Shrinking in wonder from the sudden storm
Of passion that she could not understand,
Murmured she knew not what of gentle speech,
Scared and surprised, yet fain to comfort him.

But Richard, ere he reached the homeward path,
Halted and turned aside into the fields,
Wandering he cared not whither, for a touch

Of his old truant mood was on him, not
The impulse of blind passion as of old,
But a great need to be alone for thought.
Now perfect noon with not a single cloud,
A measureless kingdom of content, shone down
On the still meadows and heat-drowsèd fields.
All the dividing woods ’twixt farm and farm
Stood motionless with pale and gleaming tops,
And distant banks of shadow, brushed with bloom.
By field and fallow Richard wandered on;
Now wading among timothy, waist-high;
By fences in whose murmurous tangles shone
That symbol of the blazing heart of June,
The golden target of the coneflower, bossed
With purple, and lean stems of succory
Stretched, pale and shrunken, all their drooped rosettes,
Hungering for midnight and its wreathe of star;
By silent copses in whose fragrant gloom
The quiet-eyed cattle knelt on folded knees;
And hayfields where the reapers wheeled and spun
Their drowsy clatter through the windless glare,
While the stooped labourers with dripping brows
And dusty hands, spread out the new-mown hay;
Or halting by some deep and dreamy edge
Of restful woods, he heard the oven-bird
Assault the brooding fervour of the hour
With his increasing and accentuate note.
These things although indeed he marked them not
Distinctly, yet upon his spirit breathed
A gentle influence, and the quieted will
Shaped gradually the tumult of his thoughts
Into an ordered counsel, bringing forth
A single stream of purpose large and clear.

And now the night had fallen, and the moon
Rose large and golden in the sultry East,

When Richard to the tranquil farm returned.
There was a murmurous noise about the yard
Where the men stalled the cattle, and made fast
The pens and silent stables for the night,
But in the busy kitchen there was glow
And clatter, for the board was cleared away,
And the air full of the din of dish-washing,
And the crumbs lay upon the snow-white cloth.
And Richard with a sudden tread appeared
Out of the half-illumined dark, and stood
In the broad doorway; and his mother heard,
And drawing instantly forth her powerful arms,
All red and steamy from the washing pan,
Met him with fixèd and enquiring eyes.
So was she wont to do, when he returned,
After long absence. ’Twas a lingering look,
Half of regret and pity for the past,
And half of expectation; for she said
Sometimes to her husband in their quiet talk
Together: “I can never see the lad
Without a haunting sense that I shall yet
Look upon Richard’s face and see it changed.”
When she had kept him for a moment thus
There came a wonder in her shrewd blue eyes,
And a bright smile upon her gentle lips,
And drawing near she laid her ruddy hands
On his great shoulders, and looked up, and cried:
“What is it, Richard? You are not the same!”
And Richard answered gravely, on her eyes
Fixing his own that now were deep with thought:
“Yes, I am changed, mother; for something strange
And wonderful has happened to my soul.
I think I am a man now, but before
I was a brute; and I have got my mind,
And I can think and learn; I’m going forth
To make a new beginning of my life,
Where men are many, and I may prove myself.”
His mother, still regarding him with eyes,
As gladly tranquil as the pale broad brow
Within its wavy arch of whitening hair,
Divined his heart, and saw that he spoke true.

Now when the labour of the night was done
In stall and kitchen, and the men came in,
Tired-eyed and heavy booted, nigh asleep,
With the day’s weight of gathered weariness,

And the quiet women took their seats about,
Silent, with the smoothed aprons still upon them,
Old Stahlberg, rising slowly from his chair
Took from a shelf beside the ticking clock
The bible and a slender book of prayer,
Whose parted covers and leaves browned and frayed
Spoke of the ancient custom of the house.
All rose and knelt, and then the old man read
With a great voice that slowly rose and fell,
In rugged cadence, stumbling now and then,
As daunted by some strange and difficult word,
Or plagued by slumber that unhinged his tongue.
Then prayers were said with many soft “amens”,
The “Lord’s Prayer” last with murmurous consonance
Of all together; and this duty done
They rose, and with a few quiet words each passed
To his own bed, but Richard yet remained
Beside his mother, while the old man sat,
His forehead sinking heavier at each nod
On his tired hands, forgetful now of rain,
And withering drought, and everything but sleep.
But Rachel roused him, and with a slow start
He lifted up his snow-white head, and stared,
Astonished at the look in Richard’s eyes;
And Richard said: “My father, you wished once
To make a scholar of me, and you found
Your purpose vain. I could not do your will;
My brain was crushed and fettered; but to-day
A change has come upon me; I am free.
I know that I have power to think and learn.
It is not yet too late, and I have planned
To make a new beginning of my life;
To go to the great city, where the minds
Of men are busiest, and most alive.
There I will stay till I have proved my strength
And found my bent, and made myself a man.”

Old Stahlberg gazed in silence on his son
For a long while, the wonder at his heart
Too great for any sign, too great ror speech;
But slowly, as he understood, the glow

Of a great gratitude suffused his race,
And he rose trembling to his feet, and cried:
“My son, an hour ago I would have given
My life and all I had to hear those words
And see you as I see you now. ’Tis fit
That we should thank Almighty God tonight
For this great mercy he hath shewn to us!”
Then they began to talk of Richard’s plan;
And the old man opposed it. He would fain
Have kept him with him at the farm awhile,
And sent him to the neighouring country school.
He feared the treacherous city, and its snares,
Its evils and temptations; but to this
Richard replied with softly kindling eyes:
“You need not fear for me, rather; my way
Is watched and governed by a beautiful spirit,
Whose word shall be a surer guide to me
Than wisdom and the teaching of a life.
This beautiful guide has bidden me gain knowledge
And in the city, where the great and wise
Are drawn together, I shall best succeed.”

Only to hear the deep voice of his son,
Wondrous and sweet with resolute utterance,
Was joy enough to fill the old man’s heart.
With a shrewd look and a contented smile

He gave consent. Then for a little space
They sat communing with their own bright thoughts,
Till finally some mutual movement touched
All three together, and they rose; and then
His mother went apart with tender haste,
And brought a lighted candle for her son,
And as she held it high before his brows,
Peered into his bright eyes and questioned thus:
“Whom saw you, Richard, at the farm to-day?
Did you see Margaret?” and Richard looked
Back into his mother’s kind and curious eyes,
Flushed and tongue-tied with tenderness and fear:
And so the loving woman read his heart,
And murmuring, “God bless you, Richard!” touched
His lips with hers, and when their eager hands
Had locked a moment, the two happy ones,
And Richard scarce less happy in that hour
Took up their several ways and passed to sleep.