Page:Household Words - Volume 12.djvu/612

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30 [Dec. 15, 1855.]
[Conducted by
THE HOLLY-TREE INN.

and encouraging through the times of their difficulty and depression, and saying "Thank God for all this!" the pressure was as affectionately and gratefully returned. Then my brother and his wife rose up, and passed into the blaze of light which surrounded the gay and youthful company within.


THE BARMAID.


She was a pretty, gentle girl—a farmer's orphan daughter, and the landlord's niece—whom I strongly suspected of being engaged to be married very shortly, to the writer of the letter that I saw her reading at least twenty times, when I passed the bar, and which I more than believe I saw her kiss one night. She told me a tale of that country which went so pleasantly to the music of her voice, that I ought rather to say it turned itself into verse, than was turned into verse by me.

A little past the village
  The inn stood, low and white,
Green shady trees behind it,
  And an orchard on the right,
Where over the green paling
  The red-cheeked apples hung,
As if to watch how wearily
  The sign-board creaked and swung.

The heavy-laden branches
  Over the road hung low,
Reflecting fruit or blossom
  In the wayside well below;
Where children, drawing water,
  Looked up and paused to see,
Amid the apple branches,
  A purple Judas Tree.

The road stretch'd winding onward
  For many a weary mile—
So dusty footsore wanderers
  Would pause and rest awhile;
And panting horses halted,
  And travellers loved to tell
The quiet of the wayside inn,
  The orchard, and the well.

Here Maurice dwelt; and often
  The sunburnt boy would stand
Gazing upon the distance,
  And shading with his hand
His eyes, while watching vainly
  For travellers, who might need
His aid to loose the bridle,
  And tend the weary steed.
 
And once (the boy remember'd
  That morning many a day—
The dew lay on the hawthorn,
  The bird sang on the spray)
A train of horsemen, nobler
  Than he had seen before,
Up from the distance gallopp'd,
  And paused before the door.
 
Upon a milk-white pony,
  Fit for a faery queen,
Was the loveliest little damsel
  His eyes had ever seen;
A servant-man was holding
  The lending rein, to guide
The pony and its mistress
  Who cantered by his side.

Her sunny ringlets round her
  A golden cloud had made,
While her large hat was keeping
  Her calm blue eyes in shade;
One hand held firm the silken reins
  To keep her steed in check,
The other pulled his tangled mane,
  Or stroked his glossy neck.

And as the boy brought water,
  And loosed the rein, he heard
The sweetest voice, that thank'd him
  In one low gentle word;
She turned her blue eyes from him,
  Look'd up, and smiled to see
The hanging purple blossoms
  Upon the Judas Tree.

And show'd it with a gesture,
  Half pleading, half command,
Till he broke the fairest blossom,
  And laid it in her hand;
And she tied it to her saddle
  With a ribbon from her hair,
While her happy laugh rang gaily,
  Like silver on the air.
 
But the champing steeds were rested—
  The horsemen now spurr'd on,
And down the dusty highway
  They vanish'd and were gone.
Years pass'd, and many a traveller
  Paused at the old inn-door,
But the little milk-white pony
  And the child return'd no more.

Years pass'd, the apple branches
  A deeper shadow shed;
And many a time the Judas Tree,
  Blossom and leaf lay dead;
When on the loitering western breeze
  Came the bells' merry sound,
And flowery arches rose, and flags
  And banners waved around.

And Maurice stood expectant,
 The bridal train would stay
Some moments at the inn-door,
  The eager watchers say;
They come—the cloud of dust draws near—
  'Mid all the state and pride,
He only sees the golden hair
  And blue eyes of the bride.

The same, yet, ah! still fairer,
  He knew the face once more
That bent above the pony's neck
  Years past at the inn-door:
Her shy and smiling eyes look'd round,
  Unconscious of the place—
Unconscious of the eager gaze
  He fix'd upon her face.

He pluck'd a blossom from the tree—
  The Judas Tree—and cast
Its purple fragrance towards the bride,
  A message from the Past.