Littell's Living Age/Volume 137/Issue 1773/The Yeoman's Story
From Temple Bar.
THE YEOMAN'S STORY.
Is it you, old neighbor and friend? I'm here in the dark alone;
I wasn't noticing much how sombre the room had grown.
I know by the grasp of your hand the things that you want to say,
But I'd rather you shouldn't say them - at least till another day.
Yes, Will, he has gone at last. My darling is really dead;
All I had left in the world, and I haven't a tear to shed
Give me your arm - there's the moon there, full over the apple-trees,
Let us walk and talk for a little - maybe it'll give me ease.
Will, you remember his mother? You must often have heard it said
There was never a prettier woman, nor one that held higher her head;
Yet only a village beauty, with cheeks like the month of May,
And a mother to slave for her dress, and a father to give her her way …
Philip was comely and tall, but I was richer than he;
Sometimes she liked Philip the best, and sometimes she seemed to like me.
She played fast and loose with us both, as only these young things can
Who fancy no sport so well as to toy with the heart of a man.
Well, Will, without bonnet or shawl she came to my house one night,
Said she had broken with Philip, and if I would have her I might.
Shall I ever forget that moment, when, shaking in every limb,
I seemed to hear music about me more solemn and sweet than a hymn?
We were married within the month, and Philip had gone away -
A happier man than I never looked on the light of day!
I whistled from morning to night, and was blithe as a bird on the wing,
Ah, lad! that a strong man's soul should hang on so weak a thing!
I don't remember exactly when first I noticed the change,
But I know that soon something struck me as not like herself, and strange
Her dimples were not so deep, nor so round her little chin,
And her eyes grew brighter and brighter as her cheeks seemed hollowing in.
She watched my every turn with her large blue wistful eyes,
As though she had something to say - she was full of trouble and sighs;
I thought she was sick for a sight of the old folks down at the mill,
But she wouldn't go near her mother, and that made me uneasy, Will.
She fretted a deal at last, and the child when 'twas born wasn't strong;
But like the fool that I was, I didn't think what was wrong,
Till I came unawares upon her in the beech-copse yonder … she lay
In a heap … with a letter … from Philip … and sobbing her heart away.
It was well she died as she did; she was spared from a heavier fate,
For when he came home from sea, he came just a week too late:
The osiers were binding her bed, and the May rose had burst into bloom,
When I heard he was back in the village. 'Twas close on the evening gloom,
I had opened the churchyard gate, with an armful of lilac flowers
To deck out her grave a little (not green yet in spite of the showers),
When I paused without dropping the latch, for Philip was standing there
With his arms hanging down at his sides, and his lips on the work as in prayer.
I was sorry for him, right sorry - he was so stricken and wan;
His face when he lifted it up was the face of an aged man;
The look that he gave when he saw me will never pass out of my sight,
But I couldn't give him my hand, Will, I couldn't, try as I might!
So you see I was left with the baby. Could you think such a little boy
Could grow all the world to me, my all of sorrow or joy?
No hands touched him but mine - don't smile, lad - I washed him, and fed,
And watched till he fell asleep every night by his cradle-bed.
I carried him in my arms, and played with his curly hair,
His eyes, the picture of hers, were sometimes hard to bear,
But I grew a better man, Will, than ever before I had been,
With her baby boy to live for, and her grave to keep neat and green.
'Tis wonderful, Will, these children, how soon they come to know!
It didn't seem any time before he could laugh and crow,
And stretch out his little arms when he saw me coming nigh -
The best child ever born, and never the one to cry!
Sometimes I used to lift the hem of his baby-clothes
And nurse his tiny feet, pinkish-white, like a wild hedge-rose,
And wonder through what rough paths they would tread in the years to come -
I didn't think then they'd be taking the safest and surest home. …
Three years old when he died! and just beginning to talk,
To prattle to Rover and me, and toddle about in the walk!
It makes you sometimes doubt if things are so right after all,
When the weeds are left to flourish, and the blossoms are made to fall.
You've some of your own at home - you'd like to see him maybe?
It can only do you good, Will, to think upon him and me!
You'll feel the goodness of God as you never felt it before
When the young ones hear your footsteps, and rush to the cottage-door!
Do you hear that moaning noise? It's Rover down in the yard;
I'd a mind to shoot him the morn, and yet 'twould be rather hard;
The boy was fond o' the dog, and the poor brute seems to know -
Being old, and scarce able to crawl, he misses my darling so!
That's his hat on the peg, and yonder his poor little toys -
It grieves me above a bit that I've ever been vexed at the noise;
Now I'd give worlds to hear it, even though it were ten times more -
O Will! How my heart sinks down as we come near the bedroom door!
There he lies in his cot, so quiet and happy and still,
He looks more like his mother than ever I saw him, Will. …
What a selfish fool am I, to regret that he's gone from here,
For hasn't his face a smile, lad? and that's better sure than a tear!
Death is sweeter than life, and slumber is sweeter than pain.
'Tis such a hard fight, old man, and we have so little to gain!
Who knows what he might have come to had he lived to be old as we?
If life is a good thing, Will, 'tis a better thing not to be!
Those snowdrops he picked himself that he holds in his tiny hands,
Now he gathers the flowers of Paradise as clothed in white wings he stands
In the garden of God, looking upward to the throne of eternal grace,
With the light of ineffable love streaming down on the hush of his face.
Will, do you think he remembers? or has he forgotten it all?
The old dog crippled and blind, who always limped up at his call,
The pipe of the early thrushes, the bloom on the orchard-trees,
My face, that his eyes were fixed on when I took him to die on my knees?
O God! let him not forget me! Let him still remember, and wait,
And watch with a wistful longing when they open the golden gate;
Watch with a wistful longing till he sees me enter in,
Pure as a little child, and free forever from sin!
But the house, Will, the lonely acres, the poor little empty chair,
The picture-books unopened, the silence upon the stair?
How shall I listen o' nights to the moan of the winds on the hill?
And the rush of the rain from the skies? God! how I shall miss him, Will!
Florence K. Berger.