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The Housewife, tempted by such slender gains
As might from that occasion be distilled,
Opened, as she before had done for me,
Her doors to admit this homeless Pensioner;
The portion gave of coarse but wholesome fare
Which appetite required—a blind dull nook
Such as she had the kennel of his rest!
This, in itself not ill, would yet have been
Ill borne in earlier life; but his was now
The still contentedness of seventy years.
Calm did he sit beneath the wide-spread tree
Of his old age ; and yet less calm and meek,
Winningly meek or venerably calm,
Than slow and torpid; paying in this wise
A penalty, if penalty it were,
For spendthrift feats, excesses of his prime.
I loved the Old Man, for I pitied him !
A task it was, I own, to hold discourse
With One so slow in gathering up his thoughts,
But he was a cheap pleasure to my eyes ;
Mild, inoffensive, ready in his way,
And useful to his utmost power: and there
Our Housewife knew full well what she possess'd !
He was her Vassal of all labour, tilled
Her garden, from the pasture fetched her Kine;
And, one among the orderly array
Of Hay-makers, beneath the burning sun
Maintained his place; or heedfully pursued
His course, on errands bound, to other vales,
Leading sometimes an inexperienced Child
any profitable task. So moved he like a Shadow that performed Substantial service. Mark me now, and learn For what reward! The Moon her monthly round Hath not completed since our Dame, the Queen Of this one cottage and this lonely dale, Into my
little sanctuary rushed, Voice to a rueful treble humanized, And features in deplorable dismay.I treat the matter lightly, but alas ! It is most serious : from mid-noon the rain Had fallen in torrents; all the mountain tops Were hidden, and black vapours coursed their sides ; This had I seen and saw; but, till she spake, Was wholly ignorant that my ancient Friend, Who at her bidding, early and alone,
Had clomb aloft to delve the mountain turf
For winter fuel, to his noontide meal
Came not, and now perchance upon the Heights
Lay at the mercy of this raging storm.
“ Inhuman!”—said I, “ was an Old Man's life
Not worth the trouble of a thought ?-alas!
This notice comes too late.” With joy I saw
Her Husband enter-from a distant Vale.
We sallied forth together; found the tools
Which the neglected Veteran had dropped,
But through all quarters looked for him in vain.
We shouted—but no answer! Darkness fell
Without remission of the blast or shower,
And fears for our own safety drove us home.
I, who weep little, did, I will confess,
The moment I was seated here alone,
Honour my little Cell with some few tears
Which anger or resentment could not dry.
All night the storm endured ; and, soon as help
Had been collected from the neighbouring Vale,
With morning we renewed our quest: the wind
Was fallen, the rain abated, but the hills
Lay shrouded in impenetrable mist;
And long and hopelessly we sought in vain.
Till, chancing by yon lofty ridge to pass
A heap of ruin, almost without walls
And wholly without roof (in ancient time
It was a Chapel, a small Edifice
In which the Peasants of these lonely Dells
For worship met upon that central height)-
Chancing to pass this wreck of stones, we there
Espied at last the Object of our search,
Couched in a nook, and seemingly alive.
It would have moved
had you seen the guise
In which he occupied his chosen bed,
Lying full three parts buried among tufts
Of heath-plant, under and above him strewn,
To baffle, as he might, the watery storm:
And there we found him breathing peaceably,
Snug as a Child that hides itself in sport
Mid a green hay-cock in a sunny field.
We spake—he made reply, but would not stir
At our entreaty; less from want of
Than apprehension and bewildering thoughts.
So was he lifted gently from the ground,
And with their freight the Shepherds homeward moved
Through the dull mist, I following-when a step,
A single step, that freed me from the skirts
Of the blind vapour, opened to my view
Glory beyond all glory ever seen
By waking sense or by the dreaming soul!!
—Though I am conscious that no power of words
Can body forth, no hues of speech can paint
That gorgeous spectacle--too bright and fair
Even for remembrance; yet the attempt may give
Collateral interest to this homely Tale. si
The Appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
Was of a mighty City-boldly say
A wilderness of building, sinking far
And self-withdrawn into a wondrous depth,
Far sinking into splendor without end !
Fabric it seemed of diamond and of gold,
With alabaster domes, and silver spires ;
And blazing terrace upon terrace high
Uplifted ; here, serene pavilions bright,
In avenues disposed ; there, towers begirt
With battlements that on their restless fronts
Bore stars-illumination of all gems !
By earthly nature had the effect been wrought