Page images

Along the river's winding banks
Peter was travelling all alone;
Whether to buy or sell, or led
By pleasure running in his head,
To me was never known.

He trudged along through copse and brake,
He trudged along o'er hill and dale :
Nor for the moon cared he a tittle,
And for the stars he cared as little,
And for the murmuring river Swale.

But, chancing to espy a path
That promised to cut short the way,
As many a wiser man hath done,
He left a trusty guide for one
That might his steps betray.

To a thick wood he soon is brought, Where cheerfully his course he weaves, And whistling loud may yet be heard, Though often buried, like a bird Darkling among the boughs and leaves.

But quickly Peter's mood is changed,
And on he drives with cheeks that burn
In downright fury and in wrath-
There's little sign the treacherous path
Will to the road return !

The path grows dim, and dimmer still;
Now up-now down the rover wends
With all the sail that he can carry,
Till brought to a deserted quarry;
And there the pathway ends.

He paused--for shadows of strange shape,
Massy and black; before him lay;
But through the dark, and through the cold,
And through the yawning fissures old,
Did Peter boldly press his way

Right through the quarry; and behold
A scene of soft and lovely hue!
Where blue and gray, and tender green,
Together make as sweet a scene
As ever human eye did view.

Beneath the clear blue sky he saw
A little field of meadow ground;
But field or meadow name it not;
Call it of earth a small green plot,
With rocks encompassed round.

The Swale flowed under the gray rocks,
But he flowed quiet and unseen;
You need a strong and stormy gale
To bring the noises of the Swale
To that green spot, so calm and green!

And is there no one dwelling here,
No hermit with his beads and glass?
And does no little cottage look
Upon this soft and fertile nook?
Does no one live near this green grass?

Across the deep and quiet spot
Is Peter driving through the grass-
And now he is among the trees;
When, turning round his head, he sees
A solitary ass.

“A prize!” cried Peter, stepping back
To spy about him far and near;
There's not a single house in sight,
No woodman's hut, no cottage light,
Peter, you need not fear!

There's nothing to be seen but woods, And rocks that spread a hoary gleam, And this one beast, that from the bed Of the green meadow hangs his head Over the silent stream.

His head is with a haller bound;
The halter seizing, Peter leapt
Upon the creature's back, and plied
With ready heel his shaggy side;
But still the ass his station kept.

“What's this !” cried Peter, brandishing
A new-peeled sapling ;-though I deem
This threat was understood full well,
Firm, as before, the sentinel
Stood by the silent stream.

Then Peter gave a sudden jerk,
A jerk that from a dungeon floor
Would have pulled up an iron ring;
But still the heavy-headed thing
Stood just as he had stood before !

Quoth Peter, leaping from his seat,
"There is some plot against me laid;”
Once more the little meadow ground
And all the hoary cliffs around
He cautiously surveyed.

All, all is silent-rocks and woods,
All still and silent-far and near!
Only the ass, with motion dull,
Upon the pivot of his skull
Turns round his long left ear.

Thought Peter, “What can mean all this?
Some ugly witchcraft must be here!”
Once more the ass, with motion dull,
Upon the pivot of his skull
Turned round his long left ear.

Suspicion ripened into dread;
Yet with deliberate action slow,
His staff high-raising, in the pride
Of skill, upon the sounding hide,
He dealt a sturdy blow.

What followed ?-yielding to the shock,
The ass, as if to take his ease,
In quiet uncomplaining mood,
Upon the spot where he had stood,
Dropped gently down upon his knees;

And then upon his side he fell,
And by the river's brink did lie;
And, as he lay like one that mourned,
The beast on his tormentor turned
A shining hazel eye.

'Twas but one mild, reproachful look,
A look more tender than severe;
And straight in sorrow, not in dread,
He turned the eye-ball in his head
Towards the river deep and clear,

Upon the beast the sapling rings-
Heaved his lank sides, his limbs they stirred;
He gave a groan, and then another,
Of that which went before the brother,
And then he gave a third.

And Peter halts to gather breath,
And, while he halts, was clearly shown
(What he before in part had seen)
How gaunt the creature was, and lean,
Yea, wasted to a skeleton !

With legs stretched out and stiff he lay:
No word of kind commiseration
Fell at the sight from Peter's tongue;
With hard contempt his heart was wrung,
With hatred and vexation.

The meagre beast lay still as death-
And Peter's lips with fury quiver-
Quoth he, “You little mulish dog,
I'll fing your carcase like a log
Head-foremost down the river!"

An impious oath confirmed the threat-
That instant, while outstretched he lay,
To all the echoes, south and north,
And east and west, the ass sent forth
A loud and piteous bray!

This outcry, on the heart of Peter,
Seems like a note of joy to strike-
Joy at the heart of Peter knocks;
But in the echo of the rocks
Was something Peter did not like.

« PreviousContinue »