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Wilson's Border Tales
Canto Second


Now, list thee, love, again, and I will tell
Of other scenes and changes which befel
The hero of our tale. A wanderer still,
Like a lost sheep upon a wintry hill-
Wild through his heart rush want and memory now--
Like whirlwinds meeting on a mountain's brow;
Slow in his veins the thin blood coldly creeps;
He starts, he dreams, and, as he walks-he sleeps!
He is a stranger-houseless, fainting poor,
Without the shelter of one friendly door;
The cold wind whistles through his garments bare,
And shakes the night-dew from his freezing hair,
You weep to hear his woes, and ask me why,
When sorrows gathered and no aid was nigh,
He sought not then the cottage of his birth,
The peace and comforts of his father's hearth?
That also thou shalt hear. Scarce had he left
His parent's home, ere ruthless fortune reft
His friend and father of his little all.
Crops failed, and friends proved false; but, worse than all,
The wife of his young love bowed down with grief
For her sole child, like an autumnal leaf
Nipped by the frosts of night, dropped day by day,
As a fair morning cloud dissolves away.
Her eyes were dimmed with tears; and o'er her cheek,
Like a faint rainbow, broke a fitful streak,
Coming and vanishing. She weaker grew,
And scarce the half of their misfortunes knew,
Until the law's stern minions, as their prey,
Rentless seized the bed on which she lay.
"My husband!-Oh, my son!" she faintly cried-
Sank on her pillow, and before them died!
Even they shed tears. The widowed husband there,
Stood like the stricken ghost of dumb despair;
Then sobbed aloud, and, sinking on the bed,
Kissed the cold forehead of his sainted dead.
Then went he forth, alone and ruined man;
But, ere three moons their circling journeys ran,
Pride, like a burning poison in his breast,
Scorched up his life, and gave the ruined rest;
Yet not till he, with tottering steps and slow,
Regained the vale where Tweed's fair waters flow
And there, where pines around the churchyard wave
He breathed his last upon his partner's grave!

II.

I may not tell what ills o'er Edmund passed-
Enough to say, that fortune smiled at last,
In the far land where the broad Ganges rolls,
Where Nature's bathed in glory-and the souls
Of men alone dwell in a starless night,
While all around them glows and lives in light-
There now we find him, honoured, trusted, loved
For, from the humblest stations, he had proved
Faithful in all; and trust on trust obtained,
Till, if not wealth, he independence gained--
Earth's noblest blessing, and the dearest given
To man beneath the sacred hope of heaven,
And still, as time on silent pinions flew,
Sealing the eye-lids up-unconscious, slow,
His fortunes flourished and his honours grew;
But as they grew, an anxious hope that long
Had in his bosom been but as the song
Of viewless echo, indistinct, and still
Receding from us, grew as doth a rill
Embraced by others and increasing ever,
Till distant plains confess the sweeping river,
And, need I say, that hope referred alone
To her who in his heart had fixed her throne,
And reigned within it still the sovereign queen.
Yet darkest visions oft would flit between
His fondest fancies, as the thought returned
That she for whom his soul still restless burned,
Would be another's now, while haply he,
Lost to her heart would to her memory be
As the remembrance of a pleasing dream,
Vague and forgotten half, but which we deem
Worthy no waking thought. Thus years rolled by-
Hope wilder glowed and brightened in his eye,
Nor knew he why he hoped; but through despair
The Enthusiast's heart may madly grasp, and glare
Even on his soul, it may not long remain
A dweller in his breast, for hope doth reign
There as o'er its inheritance; and he
Lives in fond visions of futurity.

III.

Twelve slow and chequered years had passed.-Again
A stately vessel ploughed the pathless main;
And waves, and days, together glided by,
Till as a cloud on the Enthusiast's eye,
His island-home rose from the ocean's breast-
A thing of strength, of glory, and of rest-
The giant of the deep!-while on his sight!
Burst the blue hills, and cliffs of dazzling white-
Stronger than death! and beautiful as strong!
Kissed by the sea, and worshipped with its song,
"Home of my fathers!" the Enthusiast cried;
"Their home-ay and their grave!" he said and sighed.
But gazing still upon its glorious strand,
Again he cried-"My own--my honoured land!
Fair freedom's home and mine! Britannia! hail!
Queen of the mighty seas; to whom each gale
From every point of heaven a tribute brings,
And on thy shores earth's farest treasure flings!
Land of my heart and birth! at sight of thee
My spirit boundeth, like a bird set free
From long captivity! Thy very air
Is fragrant with remembrance! Thou dost bear,
On thy Herculean cliffs, the rugged seal
Of god-like liberty! The slave might kneel
Upon thy shore, bending the willing knee,
To kiss the sacred earth that sets him free!
Even I feel freer as I reach thy shore,
And my soul mingles with the ocean's roar
That hymns around thee! Birth-place of the brave!
My own-my glorious home!-the very wave,
Rolling in strength and beauty, leaps on high,
As if rejoicing on thy beach to die!
My loved-my father-land! thy faults to me
Are as the specks which men at noon-tide see
Upon the blinding sun, and dwindle pale
Beneath by virtue's and thy glory's veil.
Land of my birth! where'er thy sons may roam,
Their pride-their boast-their passport-is their home!"

IV.

'Twas early spring; and winter lingered still
On the cold summit of the snow-capt hill;
Over the earth as sleep steals on the soul.
The day was closing, and slow darkness stole
Till sleep and darkness reign, and we but know,
On waking that we slept; but may not tell-
Nor marked we when sleep's darkness on us fell.
A lonely stranger then bent anxiously o'er
A rustic gate before the cottage door-
The snow-white cottage where the chestnuts grew,
And o'er its roof their arching branches threw,
It was young Edmund, gazing through his tears
On the now cheerless home of early years-
While as the grave of buried joys it stood,
Its white walls shadowed through the leafless wood
The once arched woodbine waving wild and bare,
The parterre, erst the object of his care,
With early weeds o'ergrown, and slow decay
Had changed or swept all else he loved away.
Upon the sacred threshold, once his own,
He silent stood, unwelcomed and unknown,
Gazed, sighed, and turned away; then sadly strayed
To the cold, dreamless churchyard, where were laid
His parents, side by side. A change had come
O'er all that he had loved ;-his home was dumb
And through the vale no accent met his ear
That he was wont in early days to hear;
While childhood's scenes fell dimly on his view,
As a dull picture of a spot we knew,
Where we but cold and lifeless forms can trace,
But no bold truth nor one familiar face.

V.

Night sat upon the graves like gloom to gloom
As silent treading o'er each lowly tomb,
Thoughtful and sad, he lonely strove to trace,
Amidst the graves his father's resting place.
And well the spot he knew, yea, it alone
Was all now left that he might call his own
Of all that was his kindred's, and although
He looked for no proud monument to show
The tomb he sought, yet mem'ry marked the spot
Where slept his ancestors; and had it not,
He deemed-he felt-that if his feet but trode
Upon his parent's dust, the voice of God,
As it of old, flashed through a prophet's breast
Would in his whisper-"Here they rest!"
'Twas an Enthusiast's thought;-but oh! to tread
With darkness round us, midst the voiceless dead,
With not an eye but Heaven's upon our face-
At such a moment, and in such a place,
Seeking the dead we love, who would not feel,
Yea, and believe as he did then, and kneel
On friend or father's grave, and kiss the sod
As in the presence of our father's God!

VI.

He reached the spot;-he startled-trembled-wept;
And through his bosom wildest feelings swept.
He sought a nameless grave, but o'er the place
Where slept the generations of his race,
A marble pillar rose!-"O Heaven!" he cried
"Has avaricious Ruin's hand denied
The parents of my heart a grave with those
Of their own kindred?-Have their ruthless foes
Grasped this last sacred spot we called our own
If but a weed upon that grave had grown
I would have honoured it!-have called it brother!
Even for my father's sake, and thine, my mother!
But that cold marble freezes up my heart
And seems to tell me that I have no part
With its proud dead; while through the veil of night,
The name it bears yet mocks my anxious sight."
Thus cried he bitterly, then trembling, placed
His fingers on the marble, while he traced
Its letters one by one, and o'er and o'er;-
Grew blind with eagerness, and shook the more,
As with each touch the feeling o'er him came-
The unseen letters formed his father's name!

VII.

While thus with beating heart, pursuing still
His anxious task slow o'er a neighbouring hill
The broad moon rose, by not a cloud concealed,
Lit up the valley, and the tomb revealed!-
His parent's tomb!-and now with wild surprise,
He saw the column burst upon his eyes-
Fair, chaste, and beautiful; and on it read
These lines in mem'ry of his honoured dead-
"Beneath repose the virtuous and the just,
Mingled in death, affection's hallowed dust.
In token of their worth, this simple stone,
Is, as a daughter's tribute, reared by one
Who loved them as such, and their names would save
As virtue's record o'er their lowly grave."
"Helen!" he fondly cried, "thy hand is here!"
And the cold grave received his burning tear;
Then knelt he o'er it-clasped his hands in prayer-
But, while yet lone and fervid kneeling there,
Before his eyes upon the grave appear
Primroses twain-the firstlings of the year,
And bursting forth between the blossomed two,
Twin open buds in simple beauty grew.
He gazed-he loved them as a living thing;
And wondrous thoughts and strange imagining
Those simple flowers spoke to his listening soul
In superstition's whispers; whose control
The wisest in their secret moments feel,
And blush at weakness they may not reveal.

VIII.

He left the place of death; and rapt in thought,
The trysting-tree of love's young years he sought;
And as its branches opened on his sight,
Bathing their young buds in the pale moonlight.
A whispered voice, melodious, soft, and low,
As if an angel mourned for mortal woe,
Borne on the ev'ning breeze, came o'er his ear;-
He knew the voice-his heart stood still to hear!
And each sense seemed a list'ner; but his eye
Sought the sad author of the wand'ring sigh;
And 'neath the tree he loved, a form as fair
As summer in its noon-tide, knelt in prayer.
He clasped his hands-his brow-his bosom burned-
He felt the past-the buried past returned!
Still, still he listened, till, like words of flame,
Through her low prayer he heard his whispered name!
"Helen!" he wildly cried-"my own-my blest!"
Then bounded forth.-I cannot tell the rest.
There was a shriek of joy;-heart throbbed on heart,
And hands were locked as though they ne'er might part
Wild words were spoken-bliss tumultuous rolled,
And all the anguish of the past was told.

IX.

Upon her love long had her father frowned,
Till tales of Edmund's rising fortunes found
Their way across the wilderness of sea,
And reached the valley of his birth. But she,
With truth unaltered, and with heart sincere,
Through the long midnight of each hopeless year
That marked his absence, shunned the proffered hand
Of wealth and rank; and met her sire's command
With tears and bended knees, until his breast
Again a father's tenderness confessed.

X.

'Twas May-bright May-bird, flower, and shrub, and tree,
Rejoiced in light; while, as a waveless sea
Of living music, glowed the clear blue sky
And every fleecy cloud that floated by
Appeared an isle of song!-as all around,
And all above them echoed with the sound
Of joyous birds, in concert loud and sweet,
Chanting their summer hymns. Beneath their feet
The daisy put its crimson livery on;
While from beneath each crag and mossy stone,
Some gentle flower looked forth; and love and life
Through the Creator's glorious works were rife,
As though his spirit in the sunbeams said-
"Let there be life and love!" and was obeyed.
Then in the valley danced a joyous throng,
And happy voices sang a bridal song;
Yea, tripping jocund on the sunny green,
The old and young in one glad dance were seen;
Loud o'er the plain their merry music rang
While cripple grandames smiling, sat and sang
The ballads of their youth; and need I say
'Twas Edmund's and fair Helen's wedding-day!
Then, as he led her forth in joy and pride,
A hundred voices blessed him and his bride.
Yet scarce he heard them; for his every sense,
Lost in delight and ecstacy intense,
Dwelt upon her; and made their blessings seem
As words breathed o'er us in a wand'ring dream.

XI.

Now months and years in quick succession flew,
And joys increased, and still affection grew.
For what is youth's first love to wedded joy?
Or what the transports of the ardent boy
To the fond husband's bliss which day by day,
Lights up his spirit with affection's ray?
Man knows not what love is, till all his cares
The partner of his bosom soothes and shares-
Until he find her studious to please-
Watching his wishes!-Oh, 'tis acts like these
That locks her love within his heart, and binds
In one their souls, and forms as one their minds.
Love flowed within their bosoms as a tide,
While the calm rapture of their own fireside
Each day grew holier, dearer; and esteem
Blended its radiance with the glowing beam
Of young affection till it seemed a sun
Melting their wishes and their thoughts as one.

XII.

Eight years passed o'er them in unclouded joy,
And now by Helen's side a lovely boy,
Looked up and called her-mother; and upon
The knee of Edmund climbed a little one-
A blue-eyed prattler-as her mother fair.
They were their parents' joy, their hope, their care,
But, while their cup with happiness ran o'er,
And the long future promised joys in store,
Death dropped its bitterness within the cup,
And its late pleasant waters mingled up
With wailing and with woe. Like early flowers,
Which the slow worm with venomed tooth devoure,
The roses left their two fair children's cheeks,
Or came and went like fitful hectic streaks,
As day by day they drooped;-their sunny eyes
Grew lustreless and sad; and yearning cries-
Such as wring life-drops from a parent's heart,
Their lisping tongues now uttered. The keen dart
Of the unerring archer, Death, had sunk
Deep in their bosoms, and their young blood drunk
Yet the affection of the children grew
As its dull, wasting poison wandered through
Their tender breasts, and still they ever lay
With their arms round each other. On the day
That ushered in the night on which they died,
The boy his mother kissed, and fondly cried-
"Weep not, dear mother!-mother, do not weep
You told me and my sister, death was sleep-
That the good Saviour who from heaven came down
And who for our sake wore a thorny crown-
You often told us how he came to save
Children like us, and conquered o'er the grave;
And I have read it in his blessed book,
How in his hand a little child he took,
And said that such in heaven should greatest be;
Then, weep not, mother-do not weep for me?
For, if I be an angel when I die,
I'll watch you, mother-I'll be ever nigh-
Where'er you go, I'll hover o'er your head;
Then, though I'm buried, do not think me dead!
But let my sister's grave and mine be one,
And lay us by the pretty marble stone,
To which our father dear was wont to go,
And where, in spring, the sweet primroses blow-.
Then, weep not, mother!"-But she wept the more;
While the sad father his affliction bore,
Like one in whom all consciousness was dead,
Save that he wrung his hands and rocked his head,
And murmured oft this short and troubled prayer-
"O God! look on me-and my children spare!"

XIII.

Their little arms still round each other clung
When their last sleep death's shadow o'er them flung,
And still they slept and fainter grew their breath-
Faint and more faint, until their sleep was death.
Deep, but unmurmured was the mother's grief,
For in her FAITH she sought and found relief;
Yea, while she mourned a daughter and a son.
She looked to Heaven, and cried-"Thy will be done!"
But oh! the father no such solace found-
Dark, cheerless anguish, wrapt his spirit round-
He was a stranger to the Christian's hope,
And in bereavement's hour, he sought a prop
On which his pierced and stricken soul might lean;
Yet, as he sought it, doubts would intervene-
Doubts which for years had clouded o'er his soul-.
Doubts that with prayers he struggled to control,
For, though no grounded faith he ne'er had known,
He was no prayerless man, but he had grown
To thinking manhood from his dreaming youth,
A seeker still-a seeker after truth!-
An earnest seeker, but his searching care
Sought more in books and nature than by prayer,
And vain he sought, nor books nor nature gave
The hope of hopes that animates the grave!
Though, to have felt that hope, he would have changed
His station with the mendicant who ranged
Homeless from door to door, and begged his bread,
While heaven hurled its tempest round his head.
For what is hunger, pain, and piercing wind,
To the eternal midnight of the mind?
Or what on earth a horror can impart,
Like his who feels engraven on his heart
The word-Annihilation! Often now
The sad Enthusiast would strike his brow,
And cry aloud with deep and bitter groans-
How have I sinned, that both my little ones-
The children of my heart-should be struck down
Oh! Thou Almighty Spirit! if thy frown
Is now upon me, turn aside thy wrath,
And guide me-lead, oh, lead me in the path
Of Heaven's own truth; direct my faith aright,
Teach me to hope, and lend thy Spirit's light."

XIV.

Thus, long his soul as a frail bark was tossed
On a dark sea, with helm and compass lost,
Till she who ever to his breast had been
The star of hope and love, with brow serene
As if no sorrow e'er her heart had riven,
But her eye calmly looked through time to heaven-
Soothed his sad spirit, and with anxious care
Used much of reason, and yet more of prayer;
Till bright'ning hope dawned gently o'er his soul,
Like the sun's shadow at the freezing pole,
Seen by the shiv'ring Greenlander or e'er
Its front of fire does its horizon cheer;
While brighter still that ardent hope became,
Till in his bosom glowed the living flame
Of Christian faith-faith in the Saviour sent,
By the Eternal God, to preach-"Repent
And be ye saved."-Then peace, as sunshine, fell
On the Enthusiast's bosom, and the swell
Of anguish died away, as o'er the deep
The waves lies down when winds and tempests sleep.

XV.

Time glided on, and wedded joys still grew
As beauty deepens on an autumn view
With tinges rich as heaven! and though less green,
More holy far than summer's fairest scene.
Now o'er the happy pair, at life's calm eve
Age like a shadow fell, and seemed to weave
So fair a twilight round each silvered brow,
That they ne'er felt so young, so blest as now;
Though threescore winters o'er their path had fled,
And left the snow of years on either head.
For age drew round them, but they knew it not-
The once bright face of youth was half forgot;
But still the young, the unchanged heart was there
And still his aged Helen seemed as fair
As when, with throbbing heart and giddy bliss,
He from her lips first snatched the virgin kiss!

XVI.

Last scene of all-an old and widowed man,
Whose years had reached life's farthest, frailest span,
And o'er whose head as every moment flew
Eternity its dark'ning twilight threw,
Lay in his silent chamber dull and lone,
Watching the midnight stars, as one by one
They as slow, voiceless spirits glided past
The window of his solitude, and cast
Their pale light on his brow; and thus he lay
Till the bright star that ushers in the day
Rose on his sight, and, with its cheering beams,
Lit in his bosom youth's delicious dreams;
Yea, while he gazed upon that golden star,
Rolling in light, like love's celestial car,
He deemed, he in its radiance read the while
His children's voices and his Helen's smile;
And as it passed and from his sight withdrew,
His longing spirit followed it! and flew
To heaven and deathless bliss-from earth and care
To meet his Helen and her children there!


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