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“Oh, here he is!" cried little Bess-
She saw me at the garden door:
“We've waited anxiously and long,"
They cried, and all around me throng.
Full nine of them or more!
“Reproach me not-your fears be still-
Be thankful we again have met:
Resume, my friends, within the shade,
Your seats, and quickly shall be paid
The well-remembered debt."
I spake with faltering voice, like one
Not wholly rescued from the pale
Of a wild dream, or worse illusion;
But, straight to cover my confusion,
Began the promised tale.
PART FIRST. All by the moonlit river side Groaned the poor beast-alas! in vain; The staff was raised to loftier height, And the blows fell with heavier weight As Peter struck-and struck again. Like winds that lash the waves, or smite The woods, autumnal foliage thinning“ Hold!" said the squire, “ I pray you, hold! Who Peter was, let that be told, And start from the beginning." A potter, sir, he was by trade,Said I, becoming quite collectedAnd wheresoever he appeared, Full twenty times was Peter feared For once that Peter was respected.
He, two-and-thirty years or more,
Had been a wild and woodland rover;
Had heard the Atlantic surges roar
On farthest Cornwall's rocky shore,
And trod the cliffs of Dover,
And he had seen Caernarvon's towers,
And well he knew the spire of Sarum;
And he had been where Lincoln bell
Flings o'er the fen its ponderous knell,
Its far renowned alarum !
At Doncaster, at York, and Leeds,
And merry Carlisle had he been;
And all along the Lowlands fair,
All through the bonny shire of Ayr-
And far as Aberdeen.
And he had been at Inverness;
And Peter, by the mountain rills,
Had danced his round with Highland lasses ;
And he had lain beside his asses
On lofty Cheviot Hills:
And he had trudged through Yorkshire dales,
Among the rocks and winding scars;
Where deep and low the hamlets lie
Beneath their little patch of sky
And little lot of stars:
And all along the indented coast,
Bespattered with the salt-sea foam ;
Where'er a knot of houses lay
On headland, or in hollow bay;
Sure never man like him did roam!
As well might Peter, in the Fleet,
Have been fast bound, a begging debtor-
He travelled here, he travelled there-
But not the value of a hair
Was heart or head the better.
He roved among the vales and streams,
In the green wood and hollow dell;
They were his dwellings night and day,
But Nature ne'er could find the way
Into the heart of Peter Bell.
In vain, through every changeful year,
Did Nature lead him as before;
A primrose by a river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.
Small change it made in Peter's heart
To see his gentle panniered train
With more than vernal pleasure feeding,
Where'er the tender grass was leading
Its earliest green along the lane.
In vain, through water, earth, and air, . The soul of happy sound was spread, When Peter, on some April morn, Beneath the broom or budding thorn, Made the warm earth his lazy bed.
At noon, when by the forest's edge,
He lay beneath the branches high,
The soft blue sky did never melt
Into his heart-he never felt
The witchery of the soft blue sky!
On a fair prospect some have looked
And felt, as I have heard them say,
As if the moving time had been
A thing as steadfast as the scene
On which they gazed themselves away.
Within the breast of Peter Bell
These silent raptures found no place;
He was a carl as wild and rude
As ever hue-and-cry pursued,
As ever ran a felon's race.
Of all that lead a lawless life,
Of all that love their lawless lives,
In city or in village small,
He was the wildest far of all;
He had a dozen wedded wives.
Nay, start not !-wedded wives—and twelve!
But how one wife could e'er come near him,
In simple truth I cannot tell;
For be it said of Peter Bell,
To see him was to fear him.
Though Nature could not teach his heart
By lovely forms and silent weather,
And tender sounds, yet you might see
At once, that Peter Bell and she
Had often been together,
A savage wildness round him hung
As of a dweller out of doors;
In his whole figure and his mien
A savage character was seen,
Of mountains and of dreary moors.
To all the unshaped half-human thoughts Which solitary Nature feeds Mid summer storms or winter's ice, Had Peter joined whatever vice The cruel city breeds.
His face was keen as is the wind
That cuts along the hawthorn fence;
Of courage you saw little there.
But, in its stead, a medley air
Of cunning and of impudence.
He had a dark and sidelong walk,
And long and slouching was his gait;
Beneath his looks so bare and bold,
You might perceive, his spirit cold
Was playing with some inward bait.
His forehead wrinkled was and furred;
A work, one half of which was done
By thinking of his whens and hows;
And half, by knitting of his brows
Beneath the glaring sun.
There was a hardness in his cheek,
There was a hardness in his eye,
As if the man had fixed his face,
In many a solitary place,
Against the wind and open sky!
One night,-and now, my little Bess,
We've reached at last the promised tale;-
One beautiful November night.
When the full moon was shining bright
Upon the rapid river Swale.