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His head upon his elbow propped,
Becoming less and less perplexed,
Sky-ward he looks — to rock and wood -
And then — upon the placid food
His wandering eye is fixed.
Thought he, that is the face of one
In his last sleep securely bound !
So toward the stream his head he bent,
And downward thrust his staff, intent
To reach the Man who there lay drowned. -
Now — like a tempest-shattered bark,
That overwhelmed and prostrate lies,
And in a moment to the verge
Is lifted of a foaming surge -
Full suddenly the Ass doth rise!
His staring bones all shake with joy -
And close by Peter's side he stands :
While Peter o'er the river bends,
The little Ass his neck extends,
And fondly licks his hands.
Such life is in the Ass's eyes — .
Such life is in his limbs and ears -
That Peter Bell, if he had been
Theʻveriest coward ever seen,
Must now have thrown aside his fears.
The Ass looks on--and to his work
Is Peter quietly resigned ;
He touches here--he touches there
And now among the dead man's hair
His sapling Peter has entwined.
He pulls-and looks —and pulls again ; And he whom the poor Ass had lost, The man who had been four days dead, Head foremost from the river’s bed Uprises — like a ghost !
And Peter draws him to dry land; And through the brain of Peter pass Some poignant twitches, fast and faster, “ No doubt,” quoth he, “he is the master Of this poor miserable Ass!"
The meagre Shadow all this while -
What aim is his? what is he doing ?
His sudden fit of joy is flown, -
He on his knees hath laid him down,
As if he were his grief renewing.
But no — his purpose and his wish
The Suppliant shews, well as he can; ·
Thought Peter whatsoe’er betide
I'll go, and he my way will guide
To the cottage of the drowned man.
This hoping, Peter mounts forthwith
Upon the pleased and thankful Ass;
And then, without a moment's stay,
The earnest creature turned away,
Leaving the body on the grass.
Intent upon his faithful watch
The beast four days and nights had passed ;
A sweeter meadow ne'er was seen,
And there the Ass four days had been, · Nor ever once did break his fast !
Yet firm his step, and stout his heart ;
The mead is crossed — the quarry's mouth
Is reached - but there the trusty guide
Into a thicket turns aside,
And takes his way towards the south.
When hark, a burst of doleful sound !
And Peter honestly might say,
The like came never to his ears,
Though he has been, full thirty years,
A rover — night and day!
'Tis not a plover of the moors, 'Tis not a bittern of the fen; Nor can it be a barking fox Nor night-bird chambered in the rocks -Nor wild-cat in a woody glen!
The Ass is startled and stops short
Right in the middle of the thicket;
And Peter wont to whistle loud
Whether alone or in a crowd,
Is silent as a silent cricket.
What ails you now, my little Bess ?
Well may you tremble and look grave !
This cry — that rings along the wood,
This cry—that floats adown the flood,
Comes from the entrance of a cave:
I see a blooming Wood-boy there,
And, if I had the power to say
How sorowful the wanderer is,
Your heart would be as sad as his
Till you had kissed his tears away!
Holding a hawthorn branch in hand,
All bright with berries ripe and red !
Into the cavern's mouth he peeps —
Thence back into the moonlight creeps ;
What seeks the boy ?-the silent dead!
His father !-- Him doth he require,
Whom he hath sought with fruitless pains,
Among the rocks, behind the trees,
Now creeping on his hands and knees,
Now running o'er the open plains.