Part 4 out of 4
Help! lest thou see me writhe and die."
She crouched beside the upheaved root,
The bubbling venom touched her foot;
Then with a sucking gasping sound
It ebbed back o'er the blighted ground.
Up then she rose and took his hand
And never a moment did they stand.
"Come, love," she cried, "the ways I know,
How thick soe'er the thickets grow.
O love, I love thee! O thine heart!
How mighty and how kind thou art!"
Therewith they saw the tree-dusk lit,
Bright grey the great boles gleamed on it.
"O flee," she said, "the sword is nought
Against the flickering fire-flaught."
"But this availeth yet," said he,
"That Hallows All our love may see."
He turned about and faced the glare:
"O Mother, help us, kind and fair!
Now help me, true St. Nicholas,
If ever truly thine I was!"
Therewith the wild-fire waned and paled
And in the wood the light nigh failed;
And all about 'twas as the night.
He said: "Now won is all our fight,
And now meseems all were but good
If thou mightst bring us from the wood."
She fawned upon him, face and breast;
She said: "It hangs 'twixt worst and best.
And yet, O love, if thou be true,
One thing alone thou hast to do."
Sweetly he kissed her, cheek and chin:
"What work thou biddest will I win."
"O love, my love, I needs must sleep;
Wilt thou my slumbering body keep,
And, toiling sorely, still bear on
The love thou seemest to have won?"
"O easy toil," he said, "to bless
Mine arms with all thy loveliness."
She smiled; "Yea, easy it may seem,
But harder is it than ye deem.
For hearken! Whatso thou mayst see,
Piteous as it may seem to thee,
Heed not nor hearken! bear me forth,
As though nought else were aught of worth,
For all earth's wealth that may be found
Lay me not sleeping on the ground,
To help, to hinder, or to save!
Or there for me thou diggest a grave."
He took her body on his arm,
Her slumbering head lay on his barm.
Then glad he bore her on the way,
And the wood grew lighter with the day.
All still it was, till suddenly
He heard a bitter wail near by.
Yet on he went until he heard
The cry become a shapen word:
"Help me, O help, thou passer by!
Turn from the path, let me not die!
I am a woman; bound and left
To perish; of all help bereft."
Then died the voice out in a moan;
He looked upon his love, his own,
And minding all she spake to him
Strode onward through the wild-wood dim.
But lighter grew the woodland green
Till clear the shapes of things were seen.
And therewith wild halloos he heard,
And shrieks, and cries of one afeard.
Nigher it grew and yet more nigh
Till burst from out a brake near by
A woman bare of breast and limb,
Who turned a piteous face to him
E'en as she ran: for hard at heel
Followed a man with brandished steel,
And yelling mouth. Then the swain stood
One moment in the glimmering wood
Trembling, ashamed: Yet now grown wise
Deemed all a snare for ears and eyes.
So onward swiftlier still he strode
And cast all thought on his fair load.
And yet in but a little space
Back came the yelling shrieking chase,
And well-nigh gripped now by the man,
Straight unto him the woman ran;
And underneath the gleaming steel
E'en at his very feet did kneel.
She looked up; sobs were all her speech,
Yet sorely did her face beseech.
While o'er her head the chaser stared,
Shaking aloft the edges bared.
Doubted the swain, and a while did stand
As she took his coat-lap in her hand.
Upon his hand he felt her breath
Hot with the dread of present death.
Sleek was her arm on his scarlet coat,
The sobbing passion rose in his throat.
But e'en therewith he looked aside
And saw the face of the sleeping bride.
Then he tore his coat from the woman's hand,
And never a moment there did stand.
But swiftly thence away he strode
Along the dusky forest road.
And there rose behind him laughter shrill,
And then was the windless wood all still,
He looked around o'er all the place,
But saw no image of the chase.
And as he looked the night-mirk now
O'er all the tangled wood 'gan flow.
Then stirred the sweetling that he bore,
And she slid adown from his arms once more.
Nought might he see her well-loved face;
But he felt her lips in the mirky place.
"'Tis night," she said, "and the false day's gone,
And we twain in the wild-wood all alone.
Night o'er the earth; so rest we here
Until to-morrow's sun is clear.
For overcome is every foe
And home to-morrow shall we go."
So 'neath the trees they lay, those twain,
And to them the darksome night was gain.
But when the morrow's dawn was grey
They woke and kissed whereas they lay.
And when on their feet they came to stand
Swain Goldilocks stretched out his hand.
And he spake: "O love, my love indeed,
Where now is gone thy goodly weed?
For again thy naked feet I see,
And thy sweet sleek arms so kind to me.
Through thy rent kirtle once again
Thy shining shoulder showeth plain."
She blushed as red as the sun-sweet rose:
"My garments gay were e'en of those
That the false Queen dight to slay my heart;
And sore indeed was their fleshly smart.
Yet must I bear them, well-beloved,
Until thy truth and troth was proved.
And this tattered coat is now for a sign
That thou hast won me to be thine.
Now wilt thou lead along thy maid
To meet thy kindred unafraid."
As stoops the falcon on the dove
He cast himself about her love.
He kissed her over, cheek and chin,
He kissed the sweetness of her skin.
Then hand in hand they went their way
Till the wood grew light with the outer day.
At last behind them lies the wood,
And before are the Upland Acres good.
On the hill's brow awhile they stay
At midmorn of the merry day.
He sheareth a deal from his kirtle meet,
To make her sandals for her feet.
He windeth a wreath of the beechen tree,
Lest men her shining shoulders see.
And a wreath of woodbine sweet, to hide
The rended raiment of her side;
And a crown of poppies red as wine,
Lest on her head the hot sun shine.
She kissed her love withal and smiled:
"Lead forth, O love, the Woodland Child!
Most meet and right meseems it now
That I am clad with the woodland bough.
For betwixt the oak-tree and the thorn
Meseemeth erewhile was I born.
And if my mother aught I knew
It was of the woodland folk she grew.
And O that thou art well at ease
To wed the daughter of the trees!"
Now Goldilocks and Goldilocks
Go down amidst the wheaten shocks,
But when anigh to the town they come,
Lo there is the wain a-wending home,
And many a man and maid beside,
Who tossed the sickles up, and cried:
"O Goldilocks, now whither away?
And what wilt thou with the woodland may?"
"O this is Goldilocks my bride,
And we come adown from the wild-wood side,
And unto the Fathers' House we wend
To dwell therein till life shall end."
"Up then on the wain, that ye may see
From afar how thy mother bideth thee.
That ye may see how kith and kin
Abide thee, bridal brave to win."
So Goldilocks and Goldilocks
Sit high aloft on the wheaten shocks,
And fair maids sing before the wain,
For all of Goldilocks are fain.
But when they came to the Fathers' door,
There stood his mother old and hoar.
Yet was her hair with grey but blent,
When forth from the Upland Town he went.
There by the door his sisters stood;
Full fair they were and fresh of blood;
Little they were when he went away;
Now each is meet for a young man's may.
"O tell me, Goldilocks, my son,
What are the deeds that thou hast done?"
"I have wooed me a wife in the forest wild,
And home I bring the Woodland Child."
"A little deed to do, O son,
So long a while as thou wert gone."
"O mother, yet is the summer here
Now I bring aback my true-love dear.
And therewith an Evil Thing have I slain;
Yet I come with the first-come harvest-wain."
"O Goldilocks, my son, my son!
How good is the deed that thou hast done?
But how long the time that is worn away!
Lo! white is my hair that was but grey.
And lo these sisters here, thine own,
How tall, how meet for men-folk grown!
Come, see thy kin in the feasting-hall,
And tell me if thou knowest them all!
O son, O son, we are blithe and fain;
But the autumn drought, and the winter rain,
The frost and the snow, and St. David's wind,
All these that were, time out of mind,
All these a many times have been
Since thou the Upland Town hast seen."
Then never a word spake Goldilocks
Till they came adown from the wheaten shocks.
And there beside his love he stood
And he saw her body sweet and good.
Then round her love his arms he cast:
"The years are as a tale gone past.
But many the years that yet shall be
Of the merry tale of thee and me.
Come, love, and look on the Fathers' Hall,
And the folk of the kindred one and all!
For now the Fathers' House is kind,
And all the ill is left behind.
And Goldilocks and Goldilocks
Shall dwell in the land of the Wheaten Shocks."