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Close by a brake of flowering furze
(Above it shivering aspens play)
He sees an unsubstantial creature,
His very self in form and feature,
Not four yards from the broad highway:
And stretched beneath the furze he sees
The Highland girl-it is no other;
And hears her crying, as she cried,
The very moment that she died,
“My mother! oh, my mother!”
The sweat pours down from Peter's face,
So grievous is his heart's contrition ;
With agony his eye-balls ache
While he beholds by the furze-brake
This miserable vision !
Calm is the well-deserving brute,
His peace hath no offence betrayed ;
But now, while down that slope he wends,
A voice to Peter's ear ascends,
Resounding from the woody glade:
Though clamorous as a hunter's horn
Re-echoed from a naked rock,
'Tis from the tabernacle-List!
Within, a fervent Methodist
Is preaching to no heedless flock !
“Repent! repent!” he cries aloud,
“While yet ye may find mercy; strive
To love the Lord with all your might,
Turn to him, seek him day and night!
And save your souls alive.
“Repent! repent! though ye have gone
Through paths of wickedness and woe,
After the Babylonian harlot,
And though your sins be red as scarlet,
They shall be white as snow!”
Even as he passed the door, these words
Did plainly come to Peter's ears :
And they such joyful tidings were,
The joy was more than he could bear!
He melted into tears.
Sweet tears of hope and tenderness!
And fast they fell, a plenteous shower!
His nerves, his sinews seemed to melt :
Through all his iron frame was felt
A gentle, a relaxing power!
Each fibre of his frame was weak;
Weak all the animal within ;
But, in its helplessness, grew mild
And gentle as an infant child,
An infant that has known no sin.
Meanwhile the persevering ass,
Towards a gate in open view,
Turns up a narrow lane; his chest
Against the yielding gate he pressed,
And quietly passed through.
And up the stony lane he goes;
No ghost more softly ever trod;
Among the stones and pebbles, he
Sets down his hoofs inaudibly,
As if with felt his hoofs were shod.
Along the lane the trusty ass
Had gone two hundred yards, not more;
When to a lonely house he came,
He turned aside towards the same,
And stopped before the door.
Thought Peter, 'tis the poor man's home!
He listens-not a sound is heard
Save from the trickling household rill,
But, stepping o'er the cottage-sill,
Forthwith a little girl appeared.
She to the meeting-house was bound
In hope some tidings there to gather!
No glimpse it is no doubtful gleam-
She saw--and uttered with a scream,
“My father! here's my father!”
The very word was plainly heard,
Heard plainly by the wretched mother-
Her joy was like a deep affright;
And forth she rushed into the light,
And saw it was another!
And instantly, upon the earth,
Beneath the full moon shining bright,
Close to the ass's feet she fell;
At the same moment Peter Bell
Dismounts in most unhappy plight.
What could he do? The woman lay
Breathless and motionless; the mind
Of Peter sadly was confused;
But, though to such demands unused,
And helpless also as the blind,
He raised her up, and while he held
Her body propped against his knee,
The woman waked-and when she spied
The poor ass standing by her side
She moaned most bitterly.
“Oh! God be praised-my heart's at ease-
For he is dead-I know it well!”
At this she wept a bitter flood;
And, in the best way that he could,
His tale did Peter tell.
He trembles-he is pale as death,
His voice is weak with perturbation
He turns aside his head-he pauses;
Poor Peter from a thousand causes
Is crippled sore in his narration.
At length she learned how he espied
The ass in that small meadow ground;
And that her husband now lay dead,
Beside that luckless river's bed
In which he had been drowned.
A piercing look the sufferer cast
Upon the beast that near her stands;
She sees 'tis he, that 'tis the same;
She calls the poor ass by his name,
And wrings, and wrings her hands.
“Oh, wretched loss-untimely stroke !
If he had died upon his bed !
He knew not one forewarning pain-
He never will come home again-
Is dead-for ever dead!”
Beside the woman Peter stands:
His heart is opening more and more;
A holy sense pervades his mind;
He feels what he for human kind
Had never felt before.
At length, by Peter's arm sustained,
The woman rises from the ground-
“Oh, mercy! something must be done,
My little Rachel, you must run,
Some willing neighbour must be found.
“Make haste--my little Rachel-do,
The first you meet with--bid him come-
Ask him to lend his horse to night-
And this good man, whom heaven requite,
Will help to bring the body home."
Away goes Rachel, weeping loud;
An infant, waked by her distress,
Makes in the house a piteous cry,
And Peter hears the mother sigh,
"Seven are they, and all fatherless !"
And now is Peter taught to feel
That man's heart is a holy thing;
And Nature, through a world of death.
Breathes into him a second breath,
More searching ihan the breath of spring.
Upon a stone the woman sits
In agony of silent grief-
From his own thoughts did Peter start;
He longs to press her to his heart,
From love that cannot find relief.