« PreviousContinue »
* * * * They were a gentle pair, whose love began They knew not when—they knew not of a time When they loved not. In the mere sentient life Of unremember'd infancy, whose speech, Like secret love's, is only smiles and tears, The baby Leonard clapp'd his little hands, Leapt in his nurse's arms, and crow'd aloud When Susan was in sight, and utter'd sounds Most strange and strangely sweet, that nothing meant But merely joy, as in the green-wood tree The merry merle awakes his thrilling song, Soon as the cool breath of the vernal dawn Stirs the light leaflets on the motionless boughs. Mute as the shadow of a passing bird On glassy lake, the gentle Susan lay, Hush'd in her meek delight. A dimpled smile Curl'd round her tiny, rosy mouth, and seem'd To sink, as light, into her soft full eyesA quiet smile, that told of happiness Her infant soul investing, as the bud Infolds the petals of the nascent rose.
Born in one week, and in one font baptized, On the same festal day—they grew together,
And their first tottering steps were hand in hand,
While the two fathers, in half-earnest sport,
Betroth'd them to each other. Then 'twas sweet
For mother's ears, to hear them lisp and try
At the same words, each imitating each ;
But Leonard was the babe of nimbler tongue,
And Sister Susan' was the first plain phrase
His utterance master'd-by that dear kind name
He call’d the maid, supplying so a place
Which Nature had left void. An only child
Of a proud mother and a high-born sire,
Full soon he learn’d to mount a palfrey small,
Of that dwarf race that prance unclaim'd and free
O’er the bleak pastures of the Shetland Isles.
And who may tell his glory or his pride
When Susan, by her mother's arms upheld,
Sat, glad though fearful, on the courser's rear,
While he, exulting in his dauntless skill,
Rein'd its short testy neck, and froward mouth,
Taming its wilful movement to the pace
That palfrey suits of wandering lady fair.
Bold were his looks, his speech was bold and shrill,
His smooth round cheeks glow'd with a ruddy brown,
And dark the curls that cluster'd o'er his head,
Knotty and close. In every pliant limb
A noble boy's ambitious manliness
Elastic sprung. Yet child more loving, fond,
Ne'er sought the refuge of a parent's side.
But Susan was not one of many words,
Nor loud of laughter; and she moved as soft
As modest Nymphs, in work of artist rare,
Seem moving ever. In her delicate eye
And damask cheek there dwelt a grace retired,
A prophecy of pensive womanhood.
And yet, in sooth, she was a happy child ;
And, though the single treasure of her house,
She neither miss'd a brother's love, nor lack’d
The blest emotions of a sister's soul.
She thought no sister loved a brother more
Than she her brother Leonard-him who show'd
The strawberry lurking in the mossy shade,
The nest, in leafy thicket dark embower'd,
The squirrel's airy bound. No bliss he knew,
No toy had he-no pretty property-
No dog—no bird—no fit of childish wrath,
That was not hers. The wild and terrible tales
His garrulous old nurse o'ernight had told,
He duly in the morning told to her,
With comments manifold ; and when seven years
Made him a student of learn’d Lilly's page,
With simple, earnest, kindly vanity,
He fill’d her wondering ear with all his lore
Of tense, and conjugation, noun, and verb;
Searching the word-book for all pretty names,
All dainty, doating, dear diminutives
Which the old Romans used to woo withal.
So pass'd those happy seasons, when no law Of jealous custom, no suspected harm Bids fresh virginity beware of man ; And, like two sexless bees, from flower to flower, They wander'd unreproved. But soon an age Of fearful wishes found the spotless pair, And Susan felt, unprompted, that the name
Of sister was not hers by right of kind.
Reserv'd she grew, and though she thought no ill,
She sigh’d in fear, and strove to frame her speech
To formal phrase of maiden courtesy.
Sore wonder'd Leonard at her mien constrain’d,
Her flitting blush, her intermitted words,
That seem'd unwelcome strangers to her lips,
And to her thought unknown. Why thus withdrawn
Her trembling hand, that wont in his to lie,
Still as the brooding warbler in her nest,
Close as the soft leaves of the rose unblown ?-
Why shrinks she from his kiss, his watchful gaze,
With such a faint and half-reproachful smile-
Nor longer may permit her flowing hair
To seek the pillow of his breast ? Ah! why
Is he no more her brother ? But, ere long,
New passion budding in his vernal soul,
Filld him with joy to think no kindred tie,
No common blood forbade the current free
Of his warm wistful sighs.
The tale is old
Of “passionate first love ” with all its dreams
Sleeping and waking—all its cherish'd pains,
Uneasy raptures, quarrels, fantasies,
Quaint wiles, and riddles read by lovers' eyes,
And bland deceptions meant not to deceive.
Though wooing well might seem a useless toil,
When Love, a goodly plant, in cradle sown,
Shot forth its leaves spontaneous to the warmth
Of genial youth, yet Leonard duly paid
The appointed duty of an amorous swain,
“ With adorations and with fertile tears,"
And “ loyal cantos of contemned love,”
As if in truth his Susan were a dame
Haughty and fierce, as Lady of Romance,
That must be woo'd with blows, and won with scars
And homicide. Sometimes a shepherd he,
And soft and silly as his fancied flock:
Anon an arm’d and errant Paladin,
He talk'd of forests dark, and deserts drear,
And foes defied, and giants huge o’erthrown,-
And all for Susan's sake. Young love is still,
Like Eastern sages, parabolical ;
And bliss, unearn'd, scarce knows itself to be,
But by the contrast of imagined woe.
What more of patient suit and coy delay,
Or passion paid, or maiden pride required,
I pause not to relate ; nor how, at last,
The seemly ceremonial courtship done,
With interchange of braided locks and rings,
And holy kiss, they seald their plighted troth,
In their glad parents' sight. Unskill'd am I
Such scenes to paint—to me, alas! unknown.
Unmeet historian of a golden time,
I cannot give the charm of life renew'd
To pleasures long forgot; for happy days,
Unvaried save by sun, or sunny shower,
Are bare of incident as dreamless sleep,
Or sweet existence of a flower unseen.
Suffice to say, that Leonard and his maid
Grew up to man's estate and womanhood.
Their pure affection, ripening with their years,
Like a bright angel's broad o’ershadowing wings,