« PreviousContinue »
“Such a message as that, I am sure I should mangle and mar it;
If you would have it well done, -I am only repeating your maxim,-
You must do it yourself, you must not leave it to others !”
But with the air of a man whom nothing can turn from his purpose,
Gravely shaking his head, made answer the Captain of Plymouth :
“Truly the maxim is good, and I do not mean to gainsay it ;
But we must use it discreetly, and not waste powder for nothing.
Now, as I said before, I was never a maker of phrases.
I can march up to a fortress and summon the place to surrender,
But march up to a woman with such a proposal, I dare not.
I'm not afraid of bullets, nor shot from the mouth of a cannon,
But of a thundering “No!' point-blank from the mouth of a woman, —
That, I confess, I'm afraid of, nor am I ashamed to confess it!
So you must grant my request, for you are an elegant scholar,
Having the graces of speech, and skill in the turning of phrases.”
Taking the hand of his friend, who still was reluctant and doubtful,
Holding it long in his own, and pressing it kindly, he added :
“ Though I have spoken thus lightly, yet deep is the feeling that prompts
Surely you cannot refuse what I ask in the name of our friendship !”
Then made answer John Alden : “ The name of friendship is sacred :
What you demand in that name, I have not the power to deny you!”
So the strong will prevailed, subduing and moulding the gentler ;
Friendship prevailed over love, and Alden went on his errand.
So the strong will prevailed, and Alden went on his errand,
Out of the street of the village, and into the paths of the forest,
Into the tranquil woods, where blue-birds and robins were building
Towns in the populous trees, with hanging gardens of verdure,
Peaceful, aërial cities of joy and affection and freedom.
All around him was calm, but within him commotion and conflict,
Love contending with friendship, and self with each generous impulse.
To and fro in his breast his thoughts were heaving and dashing,
As in a foundering ship, with every roll of the vessel,
Washes the bitter sea, the merciless surge of the ocean !
“ Must I relinquish it all,” he cried with a wild lamentation,
“ Must I relinquish it all, the joy, the hope, the illusion ?
Was it for this I have loved, and waited, and worshipped in silence ?
Was it for this I have followed the flying feet and the shadow
Over the wintry sea, to the desolate shores of New England ?
Truly the heart is deceitful, and out of its depths of corruption
Rise, like an exhalation, the misty phantoms of passion :
Angels of light they seem, but are only delusions of Satan.
All is clear to me now ; I feel it, I see it distinctly!
This is the hand of the Lord ; it is laid upon me in anger,
For I have followed too much the heart's desires and devices,
Worshipping Astaroth blindly, and impious idols of Baal.
This is the cross I must bear; the sin and the swift retribution."
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand ; Crossing the brook at the ford, where it brawled over pebble and shallow, Gathering still, as he went, the May-flowers blooming around him, Fragrant, filling the air with a strange and wonderful sweetness, Children lost in the woods, and covered with leaves in their slumber. “ Puritan flowers,” he said, “ and the type of Puritan maidens, Modest and simple and sweet, the very type of Priscilla ! So I will take them to her; to Priscilla the May-flower of Plymouth, Modest and simple and sweet, as a parting gift will I take them ; Breathing their silent farewells, as they fade and wither and perish, Soon to be thrown away as is the heart of the giver.” So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand ; Came to an open space, and saw the disk of the ocean, Sailless, sombre and cold with the comfortless breath of the east wind; Saw the new-built house, and people at work in a meadow ; Heard, as he drew near the door, the musical voice of Priscilla Singing the hundredth Psalm, the grand old Puritan anthem, Music that Luther sang to the sacred words of the Psalmist,' Full of the breath of the Lord, consoling and comforting many. Then, as he opened the door, he beheld the form of the maiden Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle, While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion. Open wide on her lap lay the well-worn psalm-book of Ainsworth,
Printed in Amsterdam, the words and the music together,
Rough-hewn, angular notes, like stones in the wall of a churchyard,
Darkened and overhung by the running vine of the verses.
Such was the book from whose pages she sang the old Puritan anthem,