Part 3 out of 4
Though the ploughshare cut through the flowers of life to
Though it pass o'er the graves of the dead and the hearths
of the living,
It is the will of the Lord, and his mercy endureth forever!"
So he entered the house; and the hum of the wheel and the singing
Suddenly ceased; for Priscilla, aroused by his step
on the threshold, 250
Rose as he entered and gave him her hand, in signal of welcome,
Saying, "I knew it was you, when I heard your step in the passage;
For I was thinking of you, as I sat there singing and spinning."
Awkward and dumb with delight, that a thought of him had been mingled
Thus in the sacred psalm, that came from the heart of the maiden, 255
Silent before her he stood, and gave her the flowers for an answer,
Finding no words for his thought. He remembered that day
in the winter,
After the first great snow, when he broke a path from the village,
Reeling and plunging along through the drifts that encumbered
Stamping the snow from his feet as he entered the house,
and Priscilla 260
Laughed at his snowy locks, and gave him a seat by the fireside,
Grateful and pleased to know he had thought of her in the snow-storm.
Had he but spoken then! perhaps not in vain had he spoken;
Now it was all too late; the golden moment had vanished!
So he stood there abashed, and gave her the flowers for an answer. 265
Then they sat down and talked of the birds and the beautiful
Talked of their friends at home, and the Mayflower that sailed
on the morrow.
"I have been thinking all day," said gently the Puritan maiden,
"Dreaming all night, and thinking all day, of the hedge-rows
They are in blossom now, and the country is all like a garden; 270
Thinking of lanes and fields, and the song of the lark and the linnet,
Seeing the village street, and familiar faces of neighbors
Going about as of old, and stopping to gossip together,
And, at the end of the street, the village church, with the ivy
Climbing the old gray tower, and the quiet graves in the churchyard. 275
Kind are the people I live with, and dear to me my religion;
Still my heart is so sad, that I wish myself back in Old England.
You will say it is wrong, but I cannot help it: I almost
Wish myself back in Old England, I feel so lonely and wretched."
Thereupon answered the youth: "Indeed I do not condemn you; 280
Stouter hearts than a woman's have quailed in this terrible winter.
Yours is tender and trusting, and needs a stronger to lean on;
So I have come to you now, with an offer and proffer of marriage
Made by a good man and true, Miles Standish the Captain of Plymouth!"
Thus he delivered his message, the dexterous writer of letters,-- 285
Did not embellish the theme, nor array it in beautiful phrases,
But came straight to the point, and blurted it out like a school-boy;
Even the Captain himself could hardly have said it more bluntly.
Mute with amazement and sorrow, Priscilla the Puritan maiden
Looked into Alden's face, her eyes dilated with wonder, 290
Feeling his words like a blow, that stunned her and rendered
Till at length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence:
"If the great Captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me,
Why does he not come himself, and take the trouble to woo me?
If I am not worth the wooing, I surely am not worth the winning!" 295
Then John Alden began explaining and smoothing the matter,
Making it worse as he went, by saying the Captain was busy,--
Had no time for such things;--such things! the words grated harshly
Fell on the ear of Priscilla; and swift as a flash she made answer:
"Has he no time for such things, as you call it, before he
is married, 300
Would he be likely to find it, or make it, after the wedding?
That is the way with you men; you don't understand us, you cannot.
When you have made up your minds, after thinking of this one
and that one,
Choosing, selecting, rejecting, comparing one with another,
Then you make known your desire, with abrupt and sudden avowal, 305
And are offended and hurt, and indignant, perhaps, that a woman
Does not respond at once to a love that she never suspected,
Does not attain at a bound the height to which you have been climbing.
This is not right nor just, for surely a woman's affection
Is not a thing to be asked for, and had for only the asking. 310
When one is truly in love, one not only says it, but shows it
Had he but waited awhile, had he only showed that he loved me,
Even this Captain of yours--who knows?--at last might have won me,
Old and rough as he is, but now it never can happen."
Still John Alden went on, unheeding the words of Priscilla, 315
Urging the suit of his friend, explaining, persuading, expanding;
Spoke of his courage and skill, and of all his battles in Flanders,
How with the people of God he had chosen to suffer affliction,
How, in return for his zeal, they had made him Captain of Plymouth;
He was a gentleman born, could trace his pedigree plainly 320
Back to Hugh Standish of Duxbury Hall, in Lancashire, England,
Who was the son of Ralph; and the grandson of Thurston de Standish;
Heir unto vast estates, of which he was basely defrauded,
Still bore the family arms, and had for his crest a cock argent
Combed and wattled gules, and all the rest of the blazon. 325
He was a man of honor, of noble and generous nature;
Though he was rough, he was kindly; she knew how during the winter
He had attended the sick, with a hand as gentle as woman's;
Somewhat hasty and hot, he could not deny it, and headstrong,
Stern as a soldier might be, but hearty, and placable always, 330
Not to be laughed at and scorned, because he was little of stature;
For he was great of heart, magnanimous, courtly, courageous;
Any woman in Plymouth, nay, any woman in England,
Might be happy and proud to be called the wife of Miles Standish!
But as he warmed and glowed, in his simple and eloquent language, 335
Quite forgetful of self, and full of the praise of his rival,
Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes overrunning with laughter,
Said, in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"
Into the open air John Alden, perplexed and bewildered,
Rushed like a man insane, and wandered alone by the sea-side, 340
Paced up and down the sands, and bared his head to the east-wind,
Cooling his heated brow, and the fire and fever within him.
Slowly, as out of the heavens, with apocalyptical splendors,
Sank the City of God, in the vision of John the Apostle,
So, with its cloudy walls of chrysolite, jasper, and sapphire, 345
Sank the broad red sun, and over its turrets uplifted
Glimmered the golden reed of the angel who measured the city.
"Welcome, O wind of the East!" he exclaimed in his wild exultation,
"Welcome, O wind of the East, from the caves of the misty Atlantic!
Blowing o'er fields of dulse, and measureless meadows
of sea-grass, 350
Blowing o'er rocky wastes, and the grottos and gardens of ocean!
Lay thy cold, moist hand on my burning forehead, and wrap me
Close in thy garments of mist, to allay the fever within me!"
Like an awakened conscience, the sea was moaning and tossing,
Beating remorseful and loud the mutable sands of the sea-shore, 355
Fierce in his soul was the struggle and tumult of passions contending;
Love triumphant and crowned, and friendship wounded and bleeding,
Passionate cries of desire, and importunate pleadings of duty!
"Is it my fault," he said, "that the maiden has chosen between us?
Is it my fault that he failed,--my fault that I am the victor? 360
Then within him there thundered a voice, like the voice of the Prophet:
"It hath displeased the Lord!"--and he thought of David's
Bathsheba's beautiful face, and his friend in the front of the battle!
Shame and confusion of guilt, and abasement and self-condemnation,
Overwhelmed him at once; and he cried in the deepest contrition: 365
"It hath displeased the Lord! It is the temptation of Satan!"
Then, uplifting his head, he looked at the sea, and beheld there
Dimly the shadowy form of the Mayflower riding at anchor,
Rocked on the rising tide, and ready to sail on the morrow;
Heard the voices of men through the mist, the rattle of cordage 370
Thrown on the deck, the shouts of the mate, and the sailors'
"Ay, ay, Sir!"
Clear and distinct, but not loud, in the dripping air of the twilight.
Still for a moment he stood, and listened, and stared at the vessel,
Then went hurriedly on, as one who, seeing a phantom,
Stops, then quickens his pace, and follows the beckoning, shadow. 375
"Yes, it is plain, to me now," he murmured; "the hand of the Lord is
Leading me out of the land of darkness, the bondage of error,
Through the sea, that shall lift the walls of its waters around me,
Hiding me, cutting me off, from the cruel thoughts that pursue me.
Back will I go o'er the ocean, this dreary land will abandon, 380
Her whom I may not love, and him whom my heart has offended.
Better to be in my grave in the green old churchyard in England,
Close by my mother's side, and among the dust of my kindred;
Better be dead and forgotten, than living in shame and dishonor!
Sacred and safe and unseen, in the dark of the narrow chamber 385
With me my secret shall lie, like a buried jewel that glimmers
Bright on the hand that is dust, in the chambers of silence
Yes, as the marriage ring of the great espousal hereafter!"
Thus as he spake, he turned, in the strength of his strong resolution,
Leaving behind him the shore, and hurried along in the twilight, 390
Through the congenial gloom of the forest silent and sombre,
Till he beheld the lights in the seven houses of Plymouth,
Shining like seven stars in the dusk and mist of the evening.
Soon he entered his door, and found the redoubtable Captain
Sitting alone, and absorbed in the martial pages of Caesar, 395
Fighting some great campaign in Hainault or Brabant or Flanders.
"Long have you been on your errand," he said with a cheery demeanor,
Even as one who is waiting an answer, and fears not the issue.
"Not far off is the house, although the woods are between us;
But you have lingered so long, that while you were going
and coming 400
I have fought ten battles and sacked and demolished a city.
Come, sit down, and in order relate to me all that has happened."
Then John Alden spake, and related the wondrous adventure
From beginning to end, minutely, just as it happened;
How he had seen Priscilla, and how he had sped in his courtship, 405
Only smoothing a little, and softening down her refusal.
But when he came at length to the words Priscilla had spoken,
Words so tender and cruel, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"
Up leaped the Captain of Plymouth, and stamped on the floor,
till his armor
Clanged on the wall, where it hung, with a sound of sinister omen. 410
All his pent-up wrath burst forth in a sudden explosion,
E'en as a hand-grenade, that scatters destruction around it.
Wildly he shouted, and loud: "John Alden! you have betrayed me!
Me, Miles Standish, your friend! have supplanted, defrauded,
One of my ancestors ran his sword through the heart of
Wat Tyler; 415
Who shall prevent me from running my own through the heart
of a traitor?
Yours is the greater treason, for yours is a treason to friendship!
You, who lived under my roof, whom I cherished and loved as a brother;
You, who have fed at my board, and drunk at my cup, to whose keeping
I have intrusted my honor, my thoughts the most sacred
and secret,-- 420
You, too, Brutus! ah, woe to the name of friendship hereafter!
Brutus was Caesar's friend, and you were mine, but hence-forward
Let there be nothing between us save war, and implacable hatred!"
So spake the Captain of Plymouth, and strode about in the chamber,
Chafing and choking with rage, like cords were the veins
on his temples. 425
But in the midst of his anger a man appeared at the doorway,
Bringing in uttermost haste a message of urgent importance,
Rumors of danger and war and hostile incursions of Indians!
Straightway the Captain paused, and, without further question
Took from the nail on the wall his sword with its scabbard of iron, 430
Buckled the belt round his waist, and, frowning fiercely, departed.
Alden was left alone. He heard the clank of the scabbard
Growing fainter and fainter, and dying away in the distance.
Then he arose from his seat, and looked forth into the darkness,
Felt the cool air blow on his cheek, that was hot with the insult, 435
Lifted his eyes to the heavens, and, folding his hands as in childhood,
Prayed in the silence of night to the Father who seeth in secret.
Meanwhile the choleric Captain strode wrathful away to the council,
Found it already assembled, impatiently waiting his coming;
Men in the middle of life, austere and grave in deportment, 440
Only one of them old, the hill that was nearest to heaven,
Covered with snow, but erect, the excellent Elder of Plymouth.
God had sifted three kingdoms to find the wheat for this planning,
Then had sifted the wheat, as the living seed of a nation;
So say the chronicles' old, and such is the faith of the people! 445
Near them was standing an Indian, in attitude stern and defiant,
Naked down to the waist, and grim and ferocious in aspect;
While on the table before them was lying unopened a Bible,
Ponderous, bound in leather, brass-studded, printed in Holland,
And beside it outstretched the skin of a rattlesnake glittered, 450
Filled, like a quiver, with arrows: a signal and challenge of warfare,
Brought by the Indian, and speaking with arrowy tongues of defiance.
This Miles Standish beheld, as he entered, and heard them debating
What were an answer befitting the hostile message and menace,
Talking of tins and of that, contriving, suggesting, objecting; 455
One voice only for peace, and that the voice of the Elder,
Judging it wise and well that some at least were converted,
Rather than any were slain, for this was but Christian behavior!
Then out spake Miles Standish, the stalwart Captain of Plymouth,
Muttering deep in his throat, for his voice was husky with anger, 460
"What! do you mean to make war with milk and the water of roses?
Is it to shoot red squirrels you have your howitzer planted
There on the roof of the church, or is it to shoot red devils?
Truly the only tongue that is understood by a savage
Must be the tongue of fire that speaks from the mouth of
the cannon!" 465
Thereupon answered and said the excellent Elder of Plymouth,
Somewhat amazed and alarmed at this irreverent language:
"Not so thought Saint Paul, nor yet the other Apostles;
Not from the cannon's mouth were the tongues of fire they
But unheeded fell this mild rebuke on the Captain, 470
Who had advanced to the table, and thus continued discoursing:
"Leave this matter to me, for to me by right it pertaineth.
War is a terrible trade; but in the cause that is righteous,
Sweet is the smell of powder, and thus I answer the challenge!"
Then from the rattlesnake's skin, with a sudden, contemptuous
Jerking the Indian arrows, he filled it with powder and bullets
Full to the very jaws, and handed it back to the savage,
Saying, in thundering tones; "Here, take it! this is your answer!"
Silently out of the room then glided the glistening savage,
Bearing the serpent's skin, and seeming himself like a serpent, 480
Winding his sinuous way in the dark to the depths of the forest.
THE SAILING OF THE MAYFLOWER.
Just in the gray of the dawn, as the mists uprose from the meadows,
There was a stir and a sound in the slumbering village of Plymouth;
Clanging and clicking of arms, and the order imperative, "Forward!"
Given in tone suppressed, a tramp of feet, and then silence. 485
Figures ten, in the mist, marched slowly out of the village.
Standish the stalwart it was, with eight of his valorous army,
Led by their Indian guide, by Hobomok, friend of the white men,
Northward marching to quell the sudden revolt of the savage.
Giants they seemed in the mist, or the mighty men of King David; 490
Giants in heart they were, who believed in God and the Bible,--
Ay, who believed in the smiting of Midianites and Philistines,
Over them gleamed far off the crimson banners of morning;
Under them loud on the sands, the serried billows, advancing,
Fired along the line, and in regular order retreated. 495
Many a mile had they marched, when at length the village of Plymouth
Woke from its sleep, and arose, intent on its manifold labors.
Sweet was the air and soft; and slowly the smoke from the chimneys
Rose over roofs of thatch, and pointed steadily eastward;
Men came forth from the doors, and paused and talked of the weather, 500
Said that the wind had changed, and was blowing fair for the Mayflower;
Talked of their Captain's departure, and all the dangers that menaced,
He being gone, the town, and what should be done in his absence.
Merrily sang the birds, and the tender voices of women
Consecrated with hymns the common cares of the household. 505
Out of the sea rose the sun, and the billows rejoiced at his coming;
Beautiful were his feet on the purple tops of the mountains,
Beautiful on the sails of the Mayflower riding at anchor,
Battered and blackened and worn by all the storms of the winter.
Loosely against her masts was hanging and flapping her canvas, 510
Rent by so many gales, and patched by the hands of the sailors.
Suddenly from her side, as the sun rose over the ocean,
Darted a puff of smoke, and floated seaward; anon rang
Loud over field and forest the cannon's roar, and the echoes
Heard and repeated the sound, the signal-gun of departure! 515
Ah! but with louder echoes replied the hearts of the people!
Meekly, in voices subdued, the chapter was read from the Bible,
Meekly the prayer was begun, but ended in fervent entreaty!
Then from their houses in haste came forth the Pilgrims of Plymouth,
Men and women and children, all hurrying down to the seashore, 520
Eager, with tearful eyes, to say farewell to the Mayflower,
Homeward bound o'er the sea, and leaving them here in the
Foremost among them was Alden. All night he had lain without slumber,
Turning and tossing about in the heat and unrest of his fever.
He had beheld Miles Standish, who came back late from the council, 535
Stalking into the room, and heard him mutter and murmur,
Sometimes it seemed a prayer, and sometimes it sounded like swearing.
Once he had come to the bed, and stood there a moment in silence;
Then he had turned away, and said: "I will not awake him;
Let him sleep on, it is best; for what is the use of more talking!" 530
Then he extinguished the light, and threw himself down on his pallet,
Dressed as he was, and ready to start at the break of the morning,--
Covered himself with the cloak he had worn in his campaigns
Slept as a soldier sleeps in his bivouac, ready for action.
But with the dawn he arose; in the twilight Alden beheld him 535
Put on his corselet of steel, and all the rest of his armor,
Buckle about his waist his trusty blade of Damascus,
Take from the corner his musket, and so stride out of the chamber.
Often the heart of the youth had burned and yearned to embrace him,
Often his lips had essayed to speak, imploring for pardon; 540
All the old friendship came back with its tender and grateful emotions;
But his pride overmastered the nobler nature within him,--
Pride, and the sense of his wrong, and the burning fire of the insult.
So he beheld his friend departing in anger, but spake not,
Saw him go forth to danger, perhaps to death, and he spake not! 545
Then he arose from his bed, and heard what the people were saying,
Joined in the talk at the door, with Stephen and Richard and
Joined in the morning prayer, and in the reading of Scripture,
And, with the others, in haste went hurrying down to the sea-shore,
Down to the Plymouth Rock, that had been to their feet as
a doorstep 550
Into a world unknown,--the corner-stone of a nation!
There with his boat was the Master, already a little impatient
Lest he should lose the tide, or the wind might shift to the eastward,
Square-built, hearty, and strong, with an odor of ocean about him,
Speaking with this one and that, and cramming letters and parcels 555
Into his pockets capacious, and messages mingled together
Into his narrow brain, till at last he was wholly bewildered.
Nearer the boat stood Alden, with one foot placed on the gunwale,
One still firm on the rock, and talking at times with the sailors,
Seated erect on the thwarts, all ready and eager for starting, 560
He too was eager to go, and thus put an end to his anguish,
Thinking to fly from despair, that swifter than keel is or canvas,
Thinking to drown in the sea the ghost that would rise and pursue him.
But as he gazed on the crowd, he beheld the form of Priscilla
Standing dejected among them, unconscious of all that was passing. 565
Fixed were her eyes upon his, as if she divined his intention,
Fixed with a look so sad, so reproachful, imploring, and patient,
That with a sudden revulsion his heart recoiled from its purpose,
As from the verge of a crag, where one step more is destruction.
Strange is the heart of man, with its quick, mysterious instincts! 570
Strange is the life of man, and fatal or fated are moments,
Whereupon turn, as on hinges, the gates of the wall adamantine
"Here I remain!" he exclaimed, as he looked at the heavens above him,
Thanking the Lord whose breath had scattered the mist and the madness,
Wherein, blind and lost, to death he was staggering headlong. 575
"Yonder snow-white cloud, that floats in the ether above me,
Seems like a hand that is pointing, and beckoning over the ocean.
There is another hand, that is not so spectral and ghost-like,
Holding me, drawing me back, and clasping mine for protection.
Float, O hand of cloud, and vanish away in the ether! 580
Roll thyself up like a fist, to threaten, and daunt me; I heed not
Either your warning or menace, or any omen of evil!
There is no land so sacred, no air so pure and so wholesome,
As is the air she breathes, and the soil that is pressed
by her footsteps.
Here for her sake will I stay, and like an invisible presence 585
Hover around her forever, protecting, supporting her weakness;
Yes! as my foot was the first that stepped on this rock at the landing,
So, with the blessing of God, shall it be the last at the leaving!"
Meanwhile the Master alert, but with dignified air and important,
Scanning with watchful eye the tide and the wind and the weather, 590
Walked about on the sands, and the people crowded around him
Saying a few last words, and enforcing his careful remembrance.
Then, taking each by the hand, as if he were grasping a tiller,
Into the boat he sprang, and in haste shoved off to his vessel,
Glad in his heart to get rid of all this worry and flurry, 595
Glad to be gone from a land of sand and sickness and sorrow,
Short allowance of victual, and plenty of nothing but Gospel!
Lost in the sound of the oars was the last farewell of the Pilgrims.
O strong hearts and true! not one went back in the Mayflower!
No, not one looked back, who had set his hand to this ploughing! 600
Soon we heard on board the shouts and songs of the sailors
Heaving the windlass round, and hoisting the ponderous anchor.
Then the yards were braced, and all sails set to the west-wind,
Blowing steady and strong, and the Mayflower sailed from the harbor,
Rounded the point of the Gurnet, and leaving far to
the southward 605
Island and cape of sand, and the Field of the First Encounter,
Took the wind on her quarter, and stood for the open Atlantic,
Borne on the sand of the sea, and the swelling hearts of the Pilgrims.
Long in silence they watched, the receding sail of the vessel,
Much endeared to them all, as something living and human; 610
Then, as it filled with the spirit, and wrapped in a vision prophetic,
Baring his hoary head, the excellent Elder of Plymouth.
Said, "Let us pray!" and they prayed, and thanked the Lord and
Mournfully sobbed the waves at the base of the rock, and above them
Bowed and whispered the wheat on the hill of death, and
their kindred 615
Seemed to awake in their graves, and to join in the prayer that
Sun-illumined and white, on the eastern verge of the ocean
Gleamed the departing sail, like a marble slab in a graveyard;
Buried beneath it lay forever all hope of escaping,
Lo! as they turned to depart, they saw the form of an Indian, 620
Watching them from the hill; but while they spake with each other,
Pointing with outstretched hands, and saying, "Look!" he had vanished.
So they returned to their homes; but Alden lingered a little,
Musing alone on the shore, and watching the wash of the billows
Round the base of the rock, and the sparkle and flash
of the sunshine, 625
Like the spirit of God, moving visibly over the waters.
Thus for a while he stood, and mused by the shore of the ocean,
Thinking of many things, and most of all of Priscilla;
And as if thought had the power to draw to itself, like the loadstone,
Whatsoever it touches, by subtile laws of its nature, 630
Lo! as he turned to depart, Priscilla was standing beside him.
"Are you so much offended, you will not speak to me?" said she.
"Am I so much to blame, that yesterday, when you were pleading
Warmly the cause of another, my heart, impulsive and wayward,
Pleaded your own, and spake out, forgetful perhaps of decorum? 635
Certainly you can forgive me for speaking so frankly, for saying
What I ought not to have said, yet now I can never unsay it;
For there are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion,
That if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble
Drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret, 640
Spilt on the ground like water, can never be gathered together.
Yesterday I was shocked, when I heard you speak of Miles Standish,
Praising his virtues, transforming his very defects into virtues,
Praising his courage and strength, and even his fighting in Flanders,
As if by fighting alone you could win the heart of a woman, 645
Quite overlooking yourself and the rest, in exalting your hero.
Therefore I spake as I did, by an irresistible impulse.
You will forgive me, I hope, for the sake of the friendship between us,
Which is too true and too sacred to be so easily broken!"
Thereupon answered John Alden, the scholar, the friend
of Miles Standish: 650
"I was not angry with you, with myself alone I was angry,
Seeing how badly I managed the matter I had in my keeping."
"No!" interrupted the maiden, with answer prompt, and decisive;
"No; you were angry with me, for speaking so frankly and freely.
I was wrong, I acknowledge; for it is the fate of a woman 655
Long to be patient and silent, to wait like a ghost that is speechless,
Till some questioning voice dissolves the spell of its silence.
Hence is the inner life of so many suffering women
Sunless and silent and deep, like subterranean rivers
Running through caverns of darkness, unheard, unseen,
and unfruitful, 660
Chafing their channels of stone, with endless and profitless murmurs."
Thereupon answered John Alden, the young man, the lover of women:
"Heaven forbid it, Priscilla; and truly they seem to me always
More like the beautiful rivers that watered the garden of Eden,
More like the river Euphrates, through deserts of Havilah flowing, 665
Filling the land with delight, and memories sweet of the garden!"
"Ah, by these words, I can see," again interrupted the maiden,
"How very little you prize me, or care for what I am saying.
When from the depths of my heart, in pain and with secret misgiving,
Frankly I speak to you, asking for sympathy only and kindness, 670
Straightway you take up my words, that are plain and direct
and in earnest,
Turn them away from their meaning, and answer with flattering phrases.
This is not right, is not just, is not true to the best that is in you;
For I know and esteem you, and feel that your nature is noble,
Lifting mine up to a higher, a more ethereal level. 675
Therefore I value your friendship, and feel it perhaps the more keenly
If you say aught that implies I am only as one among many,
If you make use of those common and complimentary phrases
Most men think so fine, in dealing and speaking with women,
But which women reject as insipid, if not as insulting." 680
Mute and amazed was Alden; and listened and looked at Priscilla,
Thinking he never had seen her more fair, more divine in her beauty.
He who but yesterday pleaded so glibly the cause of another,
Stood there embarrassed and silent, and seeking in vain for an answer.
So the maiden went on, and little divined or imagined 685
What was at work in his heart, that made him so awkward and speechless.
"Let us, then, be what we are, and speak what we think, and
in all things
Keep ourselves loyal to truth, and the sacred professions
It is no secret I tell you, nor am I ashamed to declare it:
I have liked to be with you, to see you, to speak with you always. 690
So I was hurt at your words, and a little affronted to hear you
Urge me to marry your friend, though he were the Captain
For I must tell you the truth: much more to me is our friendship
Than all the love he could give, were he twice the hero you think him."
Then she extended her hand, and Alden, who eagerly grasped it, 695
Felt all the wounds in his heart, that were aching and bleeding
Healed by the touch of that hand, and he said, with a voice
full of feeling:
"Yes, we must ever be friends; and of all who offer you friendship
Let me be ever the first, the truest, the nearest and dearest!"
Casting a farewell look at the glimmering sail of the Mayflower 700
Distant, but still in sight, and sinking below the horizon,
Homeward together they walked, with a strange, indefinite feeling,
That all the rest had departed and left them alone in the desert.
But, as they went through the fields in the blessing and smile
of the sunshine,
Lighter grew their hearts, and Priscilla said very archly: 705
"Now that our terrible Captain has gone in pursuit of the Indians,
Where he is happier far than he would be commanding a household,
You may speak boldly, and tell me of all that happened between you,
When you returned last night, and said how ungrateful you found me."
Thereupon answered John Alden, and told her the whole
of the story,-- 710
Told her his own despair, and the direful wrath of Miles Standish.
Whereat the maiden smiled, and said between laughing and earnest,
"He is a little chimney, and heated hot in a moment!"
But as he gently rebuked her, and told her how he had suffered,--
How he had even determined to sail that day in the Mayflower, 715
And had remained for her sake, on hearing the dangers
All her manner was changed, and she said with a faltering accent,
"Truly I thank you for this: how good you have been to me always!"
Thus, as a pilgrim devout, who toward Jerusalem journeys,
Taking three steps in advance, and one reluctantly backward, 730
Urged by importunate zeal, and withheld by pangs of contrition;
Slowly but steadily onward, receding yet ever advancing,
Journeyed this Puritan youth to the Holy Land of his longings,
Urged by the fervor of love, and withheld by remorseful misgivings.
THE MARCH OF MILES STANDISH.
Meanwhile the stalwart Miles Standish was marching steadily
Winding through forest and swamp, and along the trend of the sea-shore,
All day long, with hardly a halt, the fire of his anger
Burning and crackling within, and the sulphurous odor of powder
Seeming more sweet to his nostrils than all the scents of the forest.
Silent and moody he went, and much he revolved his discomfort; 730
He who was used to success, and to easy victories always,
Thus to be flouted, rejected, and laughed to scorn by a maiden,
Thus to be mocked and betrayed by the friend whom most he had trusted!
Ah! 't was too much to be borne, and he fretted and chafed
in his armor!
"I alone am to blame," he muttered, "for mine was the folly. 735
What has a rough old soldier, grown grim and gray in the harness,
Used to the camp and its ways, to do with the wooing of maidens?
'T was but a dream,--let it pass,--let it vanish like so many others!
"What I thought was a flower, is only a weed, and is worthless;
Out of my heart will I pluck it, and throw it away, and
Be but a fighter of battles, a lover and wooer of dangers."
Thus he revolved in his mind his sorry defeat and discomfort,
While he was marching by day or lying at night in the forest,
Looking up at the trees and the constellations beyond them.
After a three days' march he came to an Indian encampment 745
Pitched on the edge of a meadow, between the sea and the forest;
Women at work by the tents, and warriors, horrid with war-paint,
Seated about a fire and smoking and talking together;
Who, when they saw from afar the sudden approach of the white men,
Saw the flash of the sun on breastplate and sabre and musket, 750
Straightway leaped to their feet, and two, from among them advancing,
Came to parley with Standish, and offer him furs as a present;
Friendship was in their looks, but in their hearts there was hatred.
Braves of the tribe were these, and brothers, gigantic in stature,
Huge as Goliath of Gath, or the terrible Og, king of Bashan; 755
One was Pecksuot named, and the other was called Wattawamat.
Round their necks were suspended their knives in scabbards
Two-edged, trenchant knives, with points as sharp as a needle.
Other arms had they none, for they were running and crafty.
"Welcome, English!" they said,--these words they had learned
from the traders 760
Touching at times on the coast, to barter, and chaffer
Then in their native tongue they began to parley with Standish,
Through his guide and interpreter, Hoborook, friend of the white man,
Begging for blankets and knives, but mostly for muskets and powder,
Kept by the white man, they said, concealed, with the plague,
in his cellars, 765
Ready to be let loose, and destroy his brother the red man!
But when Standish refused, and said he would give them the Bible,
Suddenly changing their tone, they began to boast and to bluster.
Then Wattawamat advanced with a stride in front of the other,
And, with a lofty demeanor, thus vauntingly spake to the Captain: 770
"Now Wattawamat can see, by the fiery eyes of the Captain,
Angry is he in his heart; but the heart of the brave Wattawamat
Is not afraid at the sight. He was not born of a woman
But on a mountain, at night, from an oak-tree riven by lightning,
Forth he sprang at a bound, with all his weapons about him, 775
Shouting, 'Who is there here to fight with the brave Wattawamat?'"
Then he unsheathed his knife, and, whetting the blade on his left hand,
Held it aloft and displayed a woman's face on the handle,
Saying, with bitter expression and look of sinister meaning:
"I have another at home, with the face of a man on the handle, 780
By and by they shall marry; and there will be plenty of children!"
Then stood Pecksuot forth, self-vaunting, insulting Miles Standish;
While with his fingers he patted the knife that hung at his bosom,
Drawing it half from his sheath, and plunging it back, as he muttered,
"By and by it shall see; it shall eat; ah, ha! but shall speak not! 785
This is the mighty Captain the white men have sent to destroy us!
He is a little man; let him go and work with the women!"
Meanwhile Standish had noted the faces and figures of Indians
Peeping and creeping about from bush to tree in the forest,
Feigning to look for game, with arrows set on their bowstrings, 790
Drawing about him still closer and closer the net of their ambush.
But undaunted he stood, and dissembled and treated them smoothly;
So the old chronicles say, that were writ in the days of the fathers.
But when he heard their defiance, the boast, the taunt and the insult,
All the hot blood of his race, of Sir Hugh and of Thurston
de Standish, 795
Boiled and beat in his heart, and swelled in the veins of his temples.
Headlong he leaped on the boaster, and, snatching his knife
from its scabbard,
Plunged it into his heart, and, reeling backward, the savage
Fell with his face to the sky, and a fiendlike fierceness upon it.
Straight there arose from the forest the awful sound of the
And, like a flurry of snow on the whistling wind of December,
Swift and sudden and keen came a flight of feathery arrows.
Then came a cloud of smoke, and out of the cloud came the lightning,
Out of the lightning thunder; and death unseen ran before it.
Frightened the savages fled for shelter in swamp and in thicket, 805
Hotly pursued and beset; but their sachem, the brave Wattawamat,
Fled not; he was dead. Unswerving and swift had a bullet
Passed through his brain, and he fell with both hands clutching
Seeming in death to hold back from his foe the land of his fathers.
There on the flowers of the meadow the warriors lay, and
above them, 810
Silent, with folded arms, stood Hobomok, friend of the white man.
Smiling at length he exclaimed to the stalwart Captain of Plymouth:
"Pecksuot bragged very loud, of his courage, his strength
and his stature,--
Mocked the great Captain, and called him a little man; but I see now
Big enough have you been to lay him speechless before you!" 815
Thus the first battle was fought, and won by the stalwart
When the tidings thereof were brought to the village of Plymouth,
And as a trophy of war the head of the brave Wattawamat
Scowled from the roof of the fort, which at once was a church
and a fortress,
All who beheld it rejoiced, and praised the Lord, and took courage. 820
Only Priscilla averted her face from this spectre of terror,
Thanking God in her heart that she had not married Miles Standish;
Shrinking, fearing almost, lest, coming home from his battles,
He should lay claim to her hand, as the prize and reward of his valor.
THE SPINNING WHEEL.
Month after month passed away, and in, autumn the ships
of the merchants 825
Game with kindred and friends, with cattle and corn for the Pilgrims.
All in the village was peace; the men were intent on their labors,
Busy with hewing and building, with garden-plot and with merestead,
Busy with breaking the glebe, and mowing the grass in the meadows,
Searching the sea for its fish, and hunting the deer in the forest. 830
All in the village was peace; but at times the rumor of warfare
Filled the air with alarm, and the apprehension of danger.
Bravely the stalwart Standish was scouring the land with his forces,
Waxing valiant in fight and defeating the alien armies,
Till his name had become a sound of fear to the nations. 835
Anger was still in his heart, but at times the remorse and contrition
Which in all noble natures succeed the passionate outbreak,
Came like a rising tide, that encounters the rush of a river,
Staying its current awhile, but making it bitter and brackish.
Meanwhile Alden at home had built him a new habitation, 840
Solid, substantial, of timber rough-hewn from the firs of the forest.
Wooden-barred was the door, and the roof was covered with rushes;
Latticed the windows were, and the window-panes were of paper,
Oiled to admit the light, while wind and rain were excluded.
There too he dug a well, and around it planted an orchard: 845
Still may be seen to this day some trace of the well and the orchard.
Close to the house was the stall, where, safe and secure
Raghorn, the snow-white bull, that had fallen to Alden's allotment
In the division of cattle, might ruminate in the night-time
Over the pastures he cropped, made fragrant by sweet pennyroyal. 850
Oft when his labor was finished, with eager feet would the dreamer
Follow the pathway that ran through the woods to the house
Led by illusions romantic and subtile deceptions of fancy,
Pleasure disguised as duty, and love in the semblance of friendship.
Ever of her he thought, when he fashioned the walls of his
Ever of her he thought, when he delved in the soil of his garden;
Ever of her he thought, when he read in his Bible on Sunday
Praise of the virtuous woman, as she is described in the Proverbs,--
How the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her always,
How all the days of her life she will do him good, and not evil, 860
How she seeketh the wool and the flax and worketh with gladness,
How she layeth her hand to the spindle and holdeth the distaff,
How she is not afraid of the snow for herself or her household,
Knowing her household are clothed with the scarlet cloth
of her weaving!
So as she sat at her wheel one afternoon in the Autumn, 865
Alden, who opposite sat, and was watching her dexterous fingers,
As if the thread she was spinning were that of his life
and his fortune,
After a pause in their talk, thus spake to the sound of the spindle.
"Truly, Priscilla," he said, "when I see you spinning and spinning,
Never idle a moment, but thrifty and thoughtful of others, 870
Suddenly you are transformed, are visibly changed in a moment;
You are no longer Priscilla, but Bertha the Beautiful Spinner."
Here the light foot on the treadle grew swifter and swifter;
Uttered an angry snarl, and the thread snapped short in her fingers;
While the impetuous speaker, not heeding the mischief, continued 875
"You are the beautiful Bertha; the spinner, the queen of Helvetia;
She whose story I read at a stall in the streets of Southampton,
Who, as she rode on her palfrey, o'er valley and meadow and mountain,
Ever was spinning her thread from a distaff fixed to her saddle.
She was so thrifty and good, that her name passed into a proverb. 880
So shall it be with your own, when the spinning-wheel shall no longer
Hum in the house of the farmer, and fill its chambers with music.
Then shall the mothers, reproving, relate how it was
in their childhood,
Praising the good old times, and the days of Priscilla the spinner!"
Straight uprose from her wheel the beautiful Puritan maiden, 885
Pleased with the praise of her thrift from him whose praise
was the sweetest,
Drew from the reel on the table a snowy skein of her spinning,
Thus making answer, meanwhile, to the flattering phrases of Alden:
"Come, you must not be idle; if I am a pattern for housewives,
Show yourself equally worthy of being the model of husbands. 890
Hold this skein on your hands, while I wind it, ready for knitting;
Then who knows but hereafter, when fashions have changed
and the manners,
Fathers may talk to their sons of the good old times of John Alden!"
Thus, with a jest and a laugh, the skein on his hands she adjusted,
He sitting awkwardly there, with his arms extended before him, 895
She standing graceful, erect, and winding the thread from his fingers,
Sometimes chiding a little his clumsy manner of holding,
Sometimes touching his hands, as she disentangled expertly
Twist or knot in the yarn, unawares--for how could she help it?--
Sending electrical thrills through every nerve in his body. 900
Lo! in the midst of this scene, a breathless messenger entered,
Bringing in hurry and heat the terrible news from the village.
Yes; Miles Standish was dead!--an Indian had brought them
Slain by a poisoned arrow, shot down in the front of the battle,
Into an ambush beguiled, cut off with the whole of his forces; 905
All the town would be burned, and all the people be murdered!
Such were the tidings of evil that burst on the hearts of the hearers.
Silent and statue-like stood Priscilla, her face looking backward
Still at the face of the speaker, her arms uplifted in horror;
But John Alden upstarting, as if the barb of the arrow 910
Piercing the heart of his friend had struck his own, and sundered
Once and forever the bonds that held him bound as a captive,
Wild with excess of sensation, the awful delight of his freedom,
Mingled with pain and regret, unconscious of what he was doing,
Clasped, almost with a groan, the motionless form of Priscilla, 915
Pressing her close to his heart, as forever his own, and exclaiming:
"Those whom the Lord hath united, let no man put them asunder!"
Even as rivulets twain, from distant and separate sources,
Seeing each other afar, as they leap from the rocks, and pursuing,
Each one its devious path, but drawing nearer and hearer, 930
Rush together at last, at their trysting-place in the forest;
So these lives that had run thus far in separate channels,
Coming in sight of each other, then swerving and flowing asunder,
Parted by barriers strong, but drawing nearer and nearer,
Rushed together at last, and one was lost in the other. 925
Forth from the curtain of clouds, from the tent of purple and scarlet,
Issued the sun, the great High-Priest, in his garments resplendent,
Holiness unto the Lord, in letters of light, on his forehead,
Round the hem of his robe the golden bells and pomegranates.
Blessing the world he came, and the bars of vapor beneath him 930
Gleamed like a grate of brass, and the sea at his feet was a laver!
This was the wedding morn of Priscilla the Puritan maiden.
Friends were assembled together; the Elder and Magistrate also
Graced the scene with their presence, and stood like the Law
and the Gospel,
One with the sanction of earth and one with the blessing of heaven. 935
Simple and brief was the wedding as that of Ruth and of Boaz.
Softly the youth and the maiden repeated the words of betrothal,
Taking each other for husband and wife in the Magistrate's presence,
After the Puritan way, and the laudable custom of Holland,
Fervently then and devoutly, the excellent Elder of Plymouth 940
Prayed for the hearth and the home, that were founded that day
Speaking of life and of death and imploring Divine benedictions.
Lo! when the service was ended, a form appeared on the threshold,
Clad in armor of steel, a sombre and sorrowful figure!
Why does the bridegroom start and stare at the strange apparition? 945
Why does the bride turn pale, and hide her face on his shoulder?
Is it a phantom of air,--a bodiless, spectral illusion?
Is it a ghost from the grave, that has come to forbid the betrothal?
Long had it stood there unseen, a guest uninvited, unwelcomed;
Over its clouded eyes there had passed at times an expression 950
Softening the gloom and revealing the warm heart hidden beneath them,
As when across the sky the driving rack of the rain cloud
Grows for a moment thin, and betrays the sun by its brightness.
Once it had lifted its hand, and moved its lips, but was silent,
As if an iron will had mastered the fleeting intention. 955
But when were ended the troth and the prayer and the last benediction,
Into the room it strode, and the people beheld, with amazement
Bodily there in his armor, Miles Standish, the Captain of Plymouth!
Grasping the bridegroom's hand, he said with emotion, "Forgive me!
I have been angry and hurt,--too long have I cherished the feeling; 960
I have been cruel and hard, but now, thank God! it is ended.
Mine is the same hot blood that leaped in the veins of Hugh Standish,
Sensitive, swift to resent, but as swift in atoning for error.
Never so much as now was Miles Standish the friend of John Alden."
Thereupon answered the bridegroom: "Let all be forgotten
between us,-- 965
All save the dear old friendship, and that shall grow older
Then the Captain advanced, and, bowing, saluted Priscilla,
Gravely, and after the manner of old-fashioned gentry in England,
Something of camp and of court, of town and of country, commingled,
Wishing her joy of her wedding, and loudly lauding her husband. 970
Then he said with a smile: "I should have remembered the adage,--
If you would be well served, you must serve yourself; and moreover,
No man can gather cherries in Kent at the season of Christmas!"
Great was the people's amazement, and greater yet their rejoicing,
Thus to behold once more the sunburnt face of their Captain, 975
Whom they had mourned as dead, and they gathered and crowded about him,
Eager to see him, and hear him, forgetful of bride and of bridegroom,
Questioning, answering, laughing, and each interrupting the other,
Till the good Captain declared, being quite overpowered and bewildered,
He had rather by far break into an Indian encampment, 980
Than come again to a wedding to which he had not been invited.
Meanwhile the bridegroom went forth and stood with the bride
at the doorway,
Breathing the perfumed air of that warm and beautiful morning.
Touched with autumnal tints, but lonely and sad in the sunshine,
Lay extended before them the land of toil and privation; 985
There were the graves of the dead, and the barren waste
of the sea-shore.
There the familiar fields, the groves of pine, and the meadows;
But to their eyes transfigured, it seemed as the Garden of Eden,
Filled with the presence of God, whose voice was the sound
of the ocean.
Soon was their vision disturbed by the noise and stir of departure, 990
Friends coming forth from the house, and impatient of longer delaying,
Each with his plan for the day, and the work that was left uncompleted.
Then from a stall near at hand, amid exclamations of wonder,
Alden the thoughtful, the careful, so happy, so proud of Priscilla,
Brought out his snow-white bull, obeying the hand of its master. 995
Led by a cord that was tied to an iron ring in its nostrils,
Covered with crimson cloth, and a cushion placed for a saddle.
She should not walk, he said, through the dust and heat of the noonday;
Nay, she should ride like a queen, not plod along like a peasant.
Somewhat alarmed at first, but reassured by the others, 1000
Placing her hand on the cushion, her foot in the hand of her husband,
Gayly, with joyous laugh, Priscilla mounted her palfrey.
"Nothing is wanting now," he said with a smile, "but the distaff;
Then you would be in truth my queen, my beautiful Bertha!"
Onward the bridal procession now moved to their new habitation, 1005
Happy husband and wife, and friends conversing together.
Pleasantly murmured the brook, as they crossed the ford in the forest,
Pleased with the image that passed, like a dream of love through
Tremulous, floating in air, o'er the depths of the azure abysses.
Down through the golden leaves the sun was pouring his splendors, 1010
Gleaming on purple grapes, that, from branches above them suspended,
Mingled their odorous breath with the balm of the pine and
Wild and sweet as the clusters that grew in the valley of Eshcol.
Like a picture it seemed of the primitive, pastoral ages,
Fresh with the youth of the world, and recalling Rebecca
and Isaac, 1015
Old and yet ever new, and simple and beautiful always,
Love immortal and young in the endless succession of lovers.
So through the Plymouth woods passed onward the bridal procession.
 Miles Standish was born about 1580, the son of a Lancashire
gentleman of a large estate. He entered the army of Queen
Elizabeth and served for some time in the Netherlands.
There he met the congregation of English Puritans with
their pastor, Robinson, and although he did not
become a member of their Church, he sailed with them
in the Mayflower
in 1620. He was entrusted with the defence of the new colony,
and held, besides, other offices of trust in the community.
In 1830 he removed from Plymouth and settled in Duxbury,
where he died in 1656.
 The Mayflower, in which the Pilgrim Fathers set sail
reached Cape Cod in November, 1620. Some weeks were spent
in exploring the coast, but finally, towards the end
of December, the Mayflower
anchored in Plymouth Harbour, and it was decided that
make a landing and found a settlement there. The name
Colony" was for a long time applied to the settlement
 doublet. A close-fitting garment for men, covering
the body from the neck to the waist.
 Cordovan leather. A goatskin leather, prepared
in Cordova, Spain.
 Cutlass. A short curved sword used by sailors.
corselet. Armour for the body; breastplate.
 Damascus. A city in Syria, famous for its steel blades.
 mystical. Obscure and mysterious in meaning.
 fowling-piece. A light gun used for shooting birds.
An old-fashioned gun, fired by means of a match. This
generally made of twisted cord which would hold the flame.
 John Alden had been taken aboard the vessel at
Southampton, as a
cooper. He was free to return to England on the Mayflower,
to share the fortunes of the Puritans.
 A monk named Gregory, in the sixth century, seeing
youths in the slave market at Rome, enquired as to
He was told that they were Angles. "Non Angli,
sed Angeli," said
Gregory. "They have the faces of Angels, not of Angles."
 Flanders, part of the Netherlands, in Europe.
 arcabucero. Literally, archer; here, musketeer,
 howitzer. A small cannon.
 The following is from an account
of Plymouth Colony in 1627:
"Upon the hill they have a large square house
with a flat roof stayed
with oak beams, upon the top of which they
have six cannons, commanding the surrounding country.
The lower part they use for their Church,
where they preach on Sundays and the usual holidays.
by beat of drum, each with his musket or firelock,
in front of the
Captain's door; they have their cloaks on
and place themselves in order
three abreast, and are led by a sergeant
without beat of drum. Behind
comes the Governor in a long robe;
beside him on the right hand comes
the preacher, and on the left hand the Captain,
and so they march in
good order, and each sets his arms down near him.
Thus they are constantly on their guard night and day."
 sagamore. An Indian chief of the second rank;
sachem, a chief
of the first rank; pow-wow, a conjurer or medicine-man.
 Goldinge. A well-known translator of the Elizabethan age.
 The Mayflower set sail for England on April 5, 1621.
 Priscilla Mullins (or Molines) was the daughter of William
Mullins, who died in the February following the landing of the
"In his journey, as he was crossing the Alps
and passing by a small
village of the barbarians with but few inhabitants,
and those wretchedly
poor, his companions asked the question
among themselves by way of
mockery if there were any canvassing for offices
there; any contention
which should be uppermost, or feuds of great men
one against another.
To which Caesar made answer seriously,
'For my part I had rather be
the first man among these fellows,
than the second man in Rome.'" Plutarch's _Life
of Caesar_, A. H. Clough's translation.
 Genesis, ii, 18.
 illusion. An illusion is a misleading or
deceptive appearance. The
happiness that he had looked forward to was turning out to be false and unreal.
 Baal and Astaroth were the two chief divinities
of the Phoenicians,
male and female respectively.
To worship Baal and Astaroth is to give
oneself up to worldly desires and pleasures.
 The Mayflower, in England, is the hawthorn;
in the New England States, the trailing arbutus.
 Ainsworth. A clergyman and scholar who was persecuted on
account of his religious belief, and sought refuge in Holland.
 Luke, ix, 62.
 Terms used in heraldry.
 See Revelation, xxi and xxii. An apocalypse
is a revelation, and the
term is generally applied to the Book of Revelation.
 dulse. Coarse red seaweed, sometimes used as food.
 II Samuel, xii, 3.
 Districts of the Netherlands.
 hand-grenade. A ball or shell filled with explosives,
and thrown by the hand.
 Wat Tyler. The leader of the peasant revolt
in England in 1381.
 Elder William Brewster.
 See Acts ii, 1-4.
 Stephen Hopkins, Richard Warren, Gilbert Winslow.
 gunwale. The upper edge of a boat's side.
 thwarts. Seats, crossing from one side of the boat
to the other.
 adamantine. That cannot be broken;
hence _fate_ is "the wall adamantine."
 yards. The spars supporting the sails.
 Gurnet. A headland near Plymouth.
 The place where the Pilgrims had their first
encounter with the Indians, December 8, 1620.
 See Genesis, i, 2.
 See Genesis, ii, 10-14.
 The account of the march of Miles Standish
is based on the New England chronicles.
 See I Samuel, xvii, and Numbers, xxi.
 wampum. Beads made of shells, and used
by the Indians both for money and for ornament.
 to chaffer for peltries. To trade in skins or furs.
 merestead. A bounded lot.
 brackish. saltish.
 The chief character in a German legend.
 Helvetia. Switzerland
 stall. A booth, or shop.
 distaff. The staff for holding the flax or wool
from which the thread is spun.
 See Exodus xxviii, for the references in this description.
 laver. A brazen vessel in the court or a Jewish
tabernacle, where the priests washed their hands and feet.
 Book of Ruth, chapter iv.
 rack. vapor.
 An English proverb.
 Eshcol. When Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan,
"they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence
a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it
between two upon a staff."
 See Genesis, xxiv.
SOHRAB AND RUSTUM.
The story of Sohrab and Rustum is based on an episode related in the
Shahnamah, or Book of Kings, by Firdusi, the epic poet of Persia.
The chief hero of the Shahnamah is Rustum, the Hercules of Persian
mythology. Rustum was the son of Zal, a renowned Persian warrior.
When a mere child, he performed many wonderful deeds requiring great
strength and valor. He became the champion of his people, restored
the Persian king to his throne, and defeated Afrasiab, the great
Turanian, or Tartar, leader, who had invaded Persia. During a
hunting expedition in Turan, his renowned horse Ruksh was stolen from
him, and in order to recover it, he was forced to call on the King of
Samangam, a neighbouring city. The king welcomed him, and gave him
his daughter Tahminah, in marriage. Before the birth of his child,
however, Rustum was called back to Persia, but he left with Tahminah
a charm, or amulet, by which he might be able to recognize his
offspring. When Sohrab, the son, was born, the mother, fearing that
Rustum would return and take him away from her to bring him up as a
soldier, sent word that a daughter had been born to him. Rustum,
accordingly, did not return to Samangam, but remained in ignorance of
Sohrab. In the meantime, as Sohrab grew, up he became a great
warrior, and having learned that the renowned Rustum was his father,
he longed to meet him, that he might fight for him and help to make
him king. At length the opportunity came. The army of Afrasiab,
under the command of Peran-Wisa, invaded Persia once more, and Sohrab
accompanied the host. The Persians prepared to meet the invaders,
and the two armies met at the river Oxus, which formed the boundary
between the two kingdoms. It is at this point that the story of
_Sohrab and Rustum_ begins.
[_Sohrab wakes in the early morning, and passes through the sleeping
army to the tent of old Peran-Wisa, his chief.]
And the first grey of morning fill'd the east,
And the fog rose out of the Oxus stream.
But all the Tartar camp along the stream
Was hush'd, and still the men were plunged in sleep:
Sohrab alone, he slept not: all night long 5
He had lain wakeful, tossing on his bed;
But when the grey dawn stole into his tent,
He rose, and clad himself, and girt his sword,
And took his horseman's cloak, and left his tent,
And went abroad into the cold wet fog, 10
Through the dim camp to Peran-Wisa's tent.
Through the black Tartar tents he pass'd, which stood
Clustering like bee-hives on the low flat strand
Of Oxus, where the summer floods o'erflow
When the sun melts the snows in high Pamere: 15
Through the black tents he pass'd, o'er that low strand,
And to a hillock came a little back
From the stream's brink, the spot where first a boat,
Crossing the stream in summer, scrapes the land.
The men of former times had crown'd the top 20
With a clay fort: but that was fall'n; and now
The Tartars built there Peran-Wisa's tent,
A dome of laths, and o'er it felts were spread.
And Sohrab came there, and went in, and stood
Upon the thick-pil'd carpets in the tent, 25
And found the old man sleeping on his bed
Of rugs and felts, and near him lay his arms.
And Peran-Wisa heard him, though the step
Was dull'd; for he slept light, an old man's sleep;
And he rose quickly on one arm, and said:-- 30
[Peran-Wisa wakes and asks the reason of his coming. Sohrab proposes
to settle the battle by a duel with a champion selected by the
Persians. By this plan Rustum would hear of it, and father and son
meet at last.]
"Who art thou? for it is not yet clear dawn.
Speak! is there news, or any night alarm?"
But Sohrab came to the bedside and said:--
"Thou know'st me, Peran-Wisa: it is I.
The sun is not yet risen, and the foe 35
Sleep; but I sleep not, all night long I lie
Tossing and wakeful, and I come to thee.
For so did King Afrasiab bid me seek
Thy counsel, and to heed thee as thy son,
In Samarcand, before the army march'd, 40
And I will tell thee what my heart desires.
Thou knowest if, since from Ader-baijan first
I came among the Tartars, and bore arms,
I have still serv'd Afrasiab well, and shown,
At my boy's years, the courage of a man. 45
This too thou know'st, that, while I still bear on
The conquering Tartar ensigns through the world,
And beat the Persians back on every field,
I seek one man, one man, and one alone.
Rustum, my father; who, I hop'd should greet, 50
Should one day greet, upon some well-fought field
His not unworthy, not inglorious son.
So I long hop'd, but him I never find.
Come then, hear now, and grant me what I ask,
Let the two armies rest to-day: but I 55
Will challenge forth the bravest Persian lords
To meet me, man to man: if I prevail,
Rustum will surely hear it; if I fall--
Old man, the dead need no one, claim no kin.
Dim is the rumour of a common fight, 60
Where host meets host, and many names are sunk:
But of a single combat Fame speaks clear."
He spoke: and Peran-Wisa took the hand
Of the young man in his, and sigh'd, and said:--
"O Sohrab, an unquiet heart is thine! 65
Canst thou not rest among the Tartar chiefs,
And share the battle's common chance with us
Who love thee, but must press forever first,
In single fight incurring single risk,
To find a father thou hast never seen? 70
Or, if indeed this one desire rules all,
To seek out Rustum--seek him not through fight:
Seek him in peace, and carry to his arms,
O Sohrab, carry an unwounded son!
But far hence seek him, for he is not here. 75
For now it is not as when I was young,
When Rustum was in front of every fray:
But now he keeps apart, and sits at home,
In Seistan, with Zal, his father old.
Whether that his own mighty strength at last 80
Feels the abhorr'd approaches of old age;
Or in some quarrel with the Persian King.
There go:--Thou wilt not? Yet my heart forebodes
Danger or death awaits thee on this field.
Fain would I know thee safe and well, though lost 85
To us: fain therefore send thee hence, in peace
To seek thy father, not seek single fights
In vain:--but who can keep the lion's cub
From ravening? and who govern Rustum's son?
Go: I will grant thee what thy heart desires." 90
[_Peran-Wisa fails to dissuade Sohrab. The sun rises, the fog
clears, and the Tartar host gathers_.]
So said he, and dropp'd Sohrab's hand and left
His bed, and the warm rugs whereon he lay,
And o'er his chilly limbs his woollen coat
He pass'd, and tied his sandals on his feet,
And threw a white cloak round him, and he took 95
In his right hand a ruler's staff, no sword,
And on his head he plac'd his sheep-skin cap,
Black, glossy, curl'd the fleece of Kara-Kill;
And rais'd the curtain of his tent, and call'd
His herald to his side, and went abroad. 100
The sun, by this, had risen, and clear'd the fog
From the broad Oxus and the glittering sands:
And from their tents the Tartar horsemen fil'd,
Into the open plain; so Haman bade;
Haman, who next to Peran-Wisa rul'd 105
The host, and still was in his lusty prime.
From their black tents, long files of horse, they stream'd:
As when, some grey November morn, the files,
In marching order spread, of long-neck'd cranes,
Stream over Casbin, and the southern slopes 110
Of Elburz, from the Aralian estuaries,
Or some frore Caspian reed-bed, southward bound
For the warm Persian sea-board: so they stream'd.
The Tartars of the Oxus, the King's guard,
First with black sheep-skin caps and with long spears; 115
Large men, large steeds, who from Bokhara come
And Khiva, and ferment the milk of mares.
Next the more temperate Toorkmuns of the south,
The Tukas, and the lances of Salore,
And those from Attruck and the Caspian sands; 120
Light men, and on light steeds, who only drink
The acrid milk of camels, and their wells.
And then a swarm of wandering horse, who came
From far, and a more doubtful service own'd;
The Tartars of Ferghana, from the banks 125
Of the Jaxartes, men with scanty beards
And close-set skull-caps; and those wilder hordes
Who roam o'er Kipchak and the northern waste,
Kalmuks and unkemp'd Kuzzaks, tribes who stray
Nearest the Pole, and wandering Kirghizzes, 130
Who come on shaggy ponies from Pamere.
These all fil'd out from camp into the plain,
And on the other side the Persians form'd:
First a light cloud of horse, Tartars they seem'd,
The Ilyats of Khorassan: and behind, 135
The royal troops of Persia, horse and foot,
Marshall'd battalions bright in burnish'd steel.
But Peran-Wisa with his herald came
Threading the Tartar squadrons to the front,
And with his staff kept back the foremost ranks. 140
And when Ferood, who led the Persians, saw
That Peran-Wisa kept the Tartars back,
He took his spear, and to the front he came,
And check'd his ranks, and fix'd them where they stood.
And the old Tartar came upon the sand 145
Betwixt the silent hosts, and spake, and said:--
[_Peran-Wisa calls on the Persians to find a champion, and Gudurz
agrees to do so_.]
"Ferood, and ye, Persians and Tartars, hear!
Let there be truce between the hosts to-day.
But choose a champion from the Persian lords
To fight our champion Sohrab, man to man." 150
As, in the country, on a morn in June,
When the dew glistens on the pearled ears,
A shiver runs through the deep corn for Joy---
So, when they heard what Peran-Wisa said,
A thrill through all the Tartar squadrons ran 155
Of pride and hope for Sohrab, whom they lov'd.
But as a troop of pedlars, from Cabool,
Cross underneath the Indian Caucasus,
That vast sky-neighbouring mountain of milk snow;
Winding so high, that, as they mount, they pass 160
Long flocks of travelling birds dead on the snow,
Chok'd by the air, and scarce can they themselves
Slake their parch'd throats with sugar'd mulberries--
In single file they move, and stop their breath,
For fear they should dislodge the o'erhanging snows-- 165
So the pale Persians held their breath with fear.
And to Ferood his brother chiefs came up
To counsel: Gudurz and Zoarrah came,
And Feraburz, who rul'd the Persian host
Second, and was the uncle of the king: 170
These came and counsell'd; and then Gudarz said:--
"Ferood, shame bids us take their challenge up,
Yet champion have we none to match this youth.
He has the wild stag's foot, the lion's heart.
But Rustum came last night; aloof he sits 175
And sullen, and has pitch'd his tents apart:
Him will I seek, and carry to his ear
The Tartar challenge, and this young man's name
Haply he will forget his wrath, and fight.
Stand forth the while, and take their challenge up." 180
So spake he; and Ferood stood forth and said:--
"Old man, be it agreed as thou hast said.
Let Sohrab arm, and we will find a man."
[_Gudurz calls on Rustum in his tent. "Help us, Rustum, or we
He spoke; and Peran-Wisa turn'd, and strode
Back through the opening squadrons to his tent. 185
But through the anxious Persians Gudurz ran,
And cross'd the camp which lay behind, and reach'd,
Out on the sands beyond it, Rustum's tents.
Of scarlet cloth they were, and glittering gay,
Just pitch'd: the high pavilion in the midst 190
Was Rustum's, and his men lay camp'd around.
And Gudurz enter'd Rustum's tent, and found
Rustum: his morning meal was done, but still
The table stood beside him, charg'd with food;
A side of roasted sheep, and cakes of bread, 195
And dark green melons; and there Rustum sate
Listless, and held a falcon on his wrist,
And play'd with it; but Gudurz came and stood
Before him; and he look'd, and saw him stand,
And with a cry sprang up, and dropp'd the bird, 200
And greeted Gudurz with both hands, and said:--
"Welcome! these eyes could see no better sight.
What news! but sit down first, and eat and drink."
But Gudurz stood in the tent door, and said:--
"Not now: a time will come to eat and drink, 205
But not to-day: to-day has other needs.
The armies are drawn out, and stand at gaze:
For from the Tartars is a challenge brought
To pick a champion from the Persian lords
To fight their champion--and thou know'st his name-- 210
Sohrab men call him, but his birth is hid.
O Rustum, like thy might is this young man's!
He has the wild stag's foot, the lion's heart.
And he is young, and Iran's chiefs are old,
Or else too weak; and all eyes turn to thee. 215
Come down and help us, Rustum, or we lose."
[_Rustum at first declines, but stung by the taunt of Gudurz he
agrees to fight--to be unknown by name_.]
He spoke; but Rustum answer'd with a smile:--
"Go to! if Iran's Chiefs are old, then I
Am older: if the young are weak, the King
Errs strangely: for the King, for Kai Khosroo, 220
Himself is young, and honours younger men,
And lets the aged moulder to their graves.
Rustum he loves no more, but loves the young--
The young may rise at Sohrab's vaunts, not I.
For what care I, though all speak Sohrab's fame? 225
For would that I myself had such a son,
And not that one slight helpless girl I have,
A son so fam'd, so brave, to send to war,
And I to tarry with the snow-hair'd Zal,
My father, whom the robber Afghans vex, 230
And clip his borders short, and drive his herds,
And he has none to guard his weak old age.
There would I go, and hang my armour up,
And with my great name fence that weak old man,
And spend the goodly treasures I have got, 235
And rest my age, and hear of Sohrab's fame,
And leave to death the hosts of thankless kings,
And with these slaughterous hands draw sword no more."
He spoke, and smil'd; and Gudurz made reply:--
"What then, O Rustum, will men say to this, 240
When Sohrab dares our bravest forth, and seeks
Thee most of all, and thou, whom most he seeks,
Hidest thy face? Take heed, lest men should say
_Like some old miser, Rustum hoards his fame,
And shuns to peril it with younger men_." 245
And, greatly mov'd, then Rustum made reply:--
"O Gudurz, wherefore dost thou say such words?
Thou knowest better words than this to say.
What is one more, one less, obscure or fam'd,
Valiant or craven, young or old, to me? 250
Are not they mortal, am not I myself?
But who for men of nought would do great deeds?
Come, thou shalt see how Rustum hoards his fame.
But I will fight unknown, and in plain arms;
Let not men say of Rustum, he was match'd 255
In single fight with any mortal man."
[_Rustum arms; his appearance in the field brings joy to the
He spoke, and frown'd; and Gudurz turned, and ran
Back quickly through the camp in fear and joy,
Fear at his wrath, but joy that Rustum came,
But Rustum strode to his tent door, and call'd 260
His followers in, and bade them bring his arms,
And clad himself in steel: the arms he chose
Were plain, and on his shield was no device,
Only his helm was rich, inlaid with gold
And from the fluted spine atop a plume 265
Of horsehair wav'd, a scarlet horsehair plume.
So arm'd, he issued forth; and Ruksh, his horse,
Followed him, like a faithful hound, at heel,
Ruksh, whose renown was nois'd through all the earth,
The horse, whom Rustum on a foray once 270
Did in Bokhara by the river find,
A colt beneath its dam, and drove him home,
And rear'd him; a bright bay, with lofty crest;
Dight with a saddle-cloth of broider'd green
Crusted with gold, and on the ground were work'd 275
All beasts of chase, all beasts which hunters know:
So follow'd, Rustum left his tents, and cross'd
The camp, and to the Persian host appear'd.
And all the Persians knew him, and with shouts
Hail'd; but the Tartars knew not who he was. 280
And dear as the wet diver to the eyes
Of his pale wife who waits and weeps on shore,
By sandy Bahrein, in the Persian Gulf,
Plunging all day in the blue waves, at night,
Having made up his tale of precious pearls, 285
Rejoins her in their hut upon the sands---
So dear to the pale Persians Rustum came.
[_Rustum advances; warns Sohrab. Sohrab is young; why should he
court defeat and death_?]
And Rustum to the Persian front advanc'd,
And Sohrab arm'd in Haman's tent, and came.
And as afield the reapers cut a swathe 290
Down through the middle of a rich man's corn,
And on each side are squares of standing corn,
And in the midst a stubble, short and bare;
So on each side were squares of men, with spears
Bristling, and in the midst, the open sand. 295
And Rustum came upon the sand, and cast
His eyes towards the Tartar tents, and saw
Sohrab come forth, and ey'd him as he came.
As some rich woman, on a winter's morn,
Eyes through her silken curtains the poor drudge 300
Who with numb blacken'd fingers makes her fire--
At cock-crow, on a starlit winter's morn,
When the frost flowers the whiten'd window panes--
And wonders how she lives, and what the thoughts
Of that poor drudge may be; so Rustum ey'd 305
The unknown adventurous youth, who from afar
Came seeking Rustum, and defying forth
All the most valiant chiefs: long he perus'd
His spirited air, and wonder'd who he was.
For very young he seem'd, tenderly rear'd; 310
Like some young cypress, tall, and dark, and straight,
Which in a queen's secluded garden throws
Its slight dark shadow on the moonlit turf,
By midnight, to a bubbling fountain's sound--
So slender Sohrab seem'd, so softly rear'd. 315
And a deep pity enter'd Rustum's soul
As he beheld him coming; and he stood,
And beckon'd to him with his hand, and said:--
"O thou young man, the air of Heaven is soft,
And warm, and pleasant; but the grave is cold. 320
Heaven's air is better than the cold dead grave.
Behold me; I am vast, and clad in iron,
And tried; and I have stood on many a field
Of blood, and I have fought with many a foe:
Never was that field lost, or that foe sav'd. 325
O Sohrab, wherefore wilt thou rush on death?
Be govern'd: quit the Tartar host, and come
To Iran, and be as my son to me,
And fight beneath my banner till I die.
There are no youths in Iran brave as thou." 330
[_Sohrab has vague suspicions it is his father. Rustum, in
ignorance, coldly waives aside all overtures. They fight_.]
So he spake, mildly: Sohrab heard his voice,
The mighty voice of Rustum; and he saw
His giant figure planted on the sand,
Sole, like some single tower, which a chief
Has builded on the waste in former years 335
Against the robbers; and he saw that head,
Streak'd with its first grey hairs: hope fill'd his soul;
And he ran forwards and embrac'd his knees,
And clasp'd his hand within his own and said:--
"Oh, by thy father's head! by thine own soul! 340
Art thou not Rustum? Speak! art thou not he!"
But Rustum ey'd askance the kneeling youth,
And turn'd away, and spoke to his own soul:--
"Ah me, I muse what this young fox may mean,
False, wily, boastful, are these Tartar boys. 345
For if I now confess this thing he asks,
And hide it not, but say--_Rustum is here_--
He will not yield indeed, nor quit our foes,
But he will find some pretext not to fight,
And praise my fame, and proffer courteous gifts. 350
A belt or sword perhaps, and go his way.
And on a feast day, in Afrasiab's hall,
In Samarcand, he will arise and cry--
'I challeng'd once, when the two armies camp'd
Beside the Oxus, all the Persian lords 355
To cope with me in single fight; but they
Shrank; only Rustum dar'd: then he and I
Chang'd gifts, and went on equal terms away.'
So will he speak, perhaps, while men applaud.
Then were the chiefs of Iran sham'd through me." 360
And then he turn'd, and sternly spake aloud:--
"Rise! wherefore dost thou vainly question thus
Of Rustum? I am here, whom thou hast call'd
By challenge forth; make good thy vaunt, or yield.
Is it with Rustum only thou would'st fight? 365
Rash boy, men look on Rustum's face and flee.
For well I know, that did great Rustum stand
Before thy face this day, and were reveal'd,
There would be then no talk of fighting more.
But being what I am, I tell thee this; 370
Do thou record it in thine inmost soul,
Either thou shalt renounce thy vaunt, and yield;
Or else thy bones shall strew this sand, till winds
Bleach them, or Oxus with his summer floods,
Oxus in summer wash them all away." 375
He spoke; and Sohrab answer'd, on his feet:--
"Art thou so fierce? Thou wilt not fright me so.
I am no girl, to be made pale by words.
Yet this thou hast said well, did Rustum stand
Here on this field, there were no fighting then, 380
But Rustum is far hence, and we stand here.
Begin: thou art more vast, more dread than I,
And thou art prov'd, I know, and I am young,--
But yet success sways with the breath of heaven,
And though thou thinkest that thou knowest sure 385
Thy victory, yet thou canst not surely know.
For we are all, like swimmers in the sea,
Pois'd on the top of a huge wave of Fate,
Which hangs uncertain to which side to fall.
And whether it will heave us up to land, 390
Or whether it will roll us out to sea,
Back out to sea, to the deep waves of death,
We know not, and no search will make us know:
Only the event will teach us in its hour."
[_Sohrab avoids Rustum's blow. Rustum falls on the sand, and has his
life spared by his son_.]
He spoke, and Rustum answer'd not, but hurl'd 395
His spear: down from the shoulder, down it came,
As on some partridge in the corn a hawk
That long has tower'd in the airy clouds
Drops like a plummet; Sohrab saw it come,
And sprang aside, quick as a flash: the spear 400
Hiss'd, and went quivering down into the sand,
Which it sent flying wide: then Sohrab threw
In turn, and full struck Rustum's shield: sharp rang,
The iron plates rang sharp, but turn'd the spear.
And Rustum seiz'd his club, which none but he 405
Could wield; an unlopp'd trunk it was, and huge,
Still rough; like those which men in treeless plains
To build them boats fish from the flooded rivers,
Hyphasis or Hydaspes, when, high up
By their dark springs, the wind in winter-time 410
Has made in Himalayan forests wrack,
And strewn the channels with torn boughs; so huge
The club which Rustum lifted now, and struck
One stroke; but again Sohrab sprang aside
Lithe as the glancing snake, and the club came 415
Thundering to earth and leapt from Rustum's hand.
And Rustum follow'd his own blow and fell
To his knees, and with his fingers clutch'd the sand:
And now might Sohrab have unsheath'd his sword,
And pierc'd the mighty Rustum while he lay 420
Dizzy, and on his knees, and chok'd with sand:
But he look'd on, and smil'd, nor bar'd his sword,
But courteously drew back, and spoke, and said:--
"Thou strik'st too hard: that club of thine will float
Upon the summer floods, and not my bones, 425
But rise, and be not wroth: not wroth am I:
No, when I see thee, wrath forsakes my soul.
Thou say'st thou art not Rustum: be it so.
Who art thou then, that canst so touch my soul?
Boy as I am, I have seen battles too; 430
Have waded foremost in their bloody waves,
And heard their hollow roar of dying men;
But never was my heart thus touch'd before.
Are they from Heaven, these softenings of the heart?
O thou old warrior, let us yield to Heaven! 435
Come, plant we here in earth our angry spears,
And make a truce, and sit upon this sand,
And pledge each other in red wine, like friends,
And thou shalt talk to me of Rustum's deeds.
There are enough foes in the Persian host 440
Whom I may meet, and strike, and feel no pang,
Champions enough Afrasiab has, whom thou
Mayst fight, fight them, when they confront thy spear.
But oh, let there be peace 'twixt thee and me!"
He ceas'd: but while he spake, Rustum had risen, 445
And stood erect, trembling with rage: his club
He left to lie, but had regain'd his spear,
Whose fiery point now in his mail'd right hand
Blaz'd bright and baleful, like that autumn star,
The baleful sign of fevers: dust had soil'd 450
His stately crest, and dimm'd his glittering arms.
His breast heav'd; his lips foam'd; and twice his voice
Was chok'd with rage: at last these words broke away:--
[_Rustum in wounded pride returns furiously to the combat. He shouts
his cry of "Rustum!" Sohrab incautiously at the sound exposes his
side to a wound and falls_.]
"Girl! nimble with thy feet, not with thy hands!
Curl'd minion, dancer, coiner of sweet words! 455
Fight; let me hear thy hateful voice no more!
Thou art not in Afrasiab's gardens now
With Tartar girls, with whom thou art wont to dance;
But on the Oxus sands, and in the dance
Of battle, and with me, who make no play 460
Of war: I fight it out, and hand to hand.
Speak not to me of truce, and pledge, and wine!
Remember all thy valour: try thy feints
And cunning: all the pity I had is gone:
Because thou hast sham'd me before both the hosts 465
With thy light skipping tricks, and thy girl's wiles."
He spoke; and Sohrab kindled at his taunts,
And he too drew his sword: at once they rush'd
Together, as two eagles on one prey
Come rushing down together from the clouds, 470
One from the east, one from the west: their shields
Dash'd with a clang together, and a din
Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters
Make often, in the forest's heart at morn,
Of hewing axes, crashing trees: such blows 475
Rustum and Sohrab on each other hail'd.
And you would say that sun and stars took part
In that unnatural conflict; for a cloud
Grew suddenly in heaven, and dark'd the sun
Over the fighters' heads; and a wind rose 480
Under their feet, and moaning swept the plain,
And in a sandy whirlwind wrapp'd the pair.
In gloom they twain were wrapp'd, and they alone;
For both the on-looking hosts on either hand
Stood in broad daylight, and the sky was pure, 485
And the sun sparkled on the Oxus stream.
But in the gloom they fought, with bloodshot eyes
And labouring breath; first Rustum struck the shield
Which Sohrab held stiff out: the steel-spik'd spear
Rent the tough plates, but failed to reach the skin, 490
And Rustum pluck'd it back with angry groan.
Then Sohrab with his sword smote Rustum's helm,
Nor clove its steel quite through; but all the crest
He shore away, and that proud horsehair plume,
Never till now defil'd, sunk to the dust; 495
And Rustum bow'd his bead; but then the gloom
Grew blacker: thunder rumbled in the air,
And lightnings rent the cloud; and Ruksh, the horse,
Who stood at hand, utter'd a dreadful cry:
No horse's cry was that, most like the roar 500
Of some pain'd desert lion, who all day
Has trail'd the hunter's javelin in his side,
And comes at night to die upon the sand:--
The two hosts heard that cry, and quak'd for fear,
And Oxus curdled as it cross'd his stream. 505
But Sohrab heard, and quail'd not, but rush'd on,
And struck again; and again Rustum bow'd
His head; but this time all the blade, like glass,
Sprang in a thousand shivers on the helm,
And in his hand the hilt remain'd alone. 510
Then, Rustum rais'd his head: his dreadful eyes
Glar'd, and he shook on high his menacing spear,
And shouted, Rustum! Sohrab heard that shout,
And shrank amaz'd: back he recoil'd one step,
And scann'd with blinking eyes the advancing form; 515
And then he stood bewilder'd; and he dropp'd
His covering shield, and the spear pierc'd his side.
He reel'd, and staggering back, sunk to the ground.
And then the gloom dispers'd, and the wind fell,
And the bright sun broke forth, and melted all 520
The cloud; and the two armies saw the pair;
Saw Rustum standing, safe upon his feet,
And Sohrab, wounded, on the bloody sand.
[_Sohrab says his fall will be avenged by Rustum_.]
Then, with a bitter smile, Rustum began;--
"Sohrab, thou thoughtest in thy mind to kill 525
A Persian lord this day, and strip his corpse,
And bear thy trophies to Afrasiab's tent.
Or else that the great Rustum would come down
Himself to fight, and that thy wiles would move
His heart to take a gift, and let thee go. 530
And then that all the Tartar host would praise
Thy courage or thy craft, and spread thy fame,
To glad thy father in his weak old age.
Fool! thou art slain, and by an unknown man!
Dearer to the red jackals shall thou be, 535
Than to thy friends, and to thy father old."
And with a fearless mien Sohrab replied:--
"Unknown thou art; yet thy fierce vaunt is vain.
Thou dost not slay me, proud and boastful man!
No! Rustum slays me, and this filial heart. 540
For were I match'd with ten such men as thou,
And I were he who till to-day I was,
They should be lying here, I standing there.
But that beloved name unnerv'd my arm--
That name, and something, I confess, in thee, 545
Which troubles all my heart, and made my shield
Fall; and thy spear transfix'd an unarm'd foe.
And now thou boastest, and insult'st my fate.
But hear thou this, fierce man, tremble to hear!
The mighty Rustum shall avenge my death! 550
My father, whom I seek through all the world,
He shall avenge my death, and punish thee!"
As when some hunter in the spring hath found
A breeding eagle sitting on her nest,
Upon the craggy isle of a hill lake, 555
And pierc'd her with an arrow as she rose,
And follow'd her to find her where she fell
Far off;--anon her mate comes winging back
From hunting, and a great way off descries
His huddling young left sole; at that, he checks 560
His pinion, and with short uneasy sweeps
Circles above his eyry, with loud screams
Chiding his mate back to her nest; but she
Lies dying, with the arrow in her side,
In some far stony gorge out of his ken, 565
A heap of fluttering feathers: never more
Shall the lake glass her, flying over it;
Never the black and dripping precipices
Echo her stormy scream as she sails by:--
As that poor bird flies home, nor knows his loss, 570
So Rustum knew not his own loss, but stood
Over his dying son, and knew him not.
[_Rustum anxiously says he never had a son, but only a daughter_.]
But with a cold, incredulous voice, he said:--
"What prate is this of fathers and revenge?
The mighty Rustum never had a son." 575
And, with a failing voice, Sohrab replied:--
"Ah yes, he had! and that lost son am I.
Surely the news will one day reach his ear,
Reach Rustum, where he sits, and tarries long,
Somewhere, I know not where, but far from here; 580
And pierce him like a stab, and make him leap
To arms, and cry for vengeance upon thee.
Fierce man, bethink thee, for an only son!
What will that grief, what will that vengeance be!
Oh, could I live, till I that grief had seen! 585
Yet him I pity not so much, but her,
My mother, who in Ader-baijan dwells
With that old king, her father, who grows grey
With age, and rules over the valiant Koords.
Her most I pity, who no more will see 590
Sohrab returning from the Tartar camp,
With spoils and honour, when the war is done.
But a dark rumour will be bruited up,
From tribe to tribe, until it reach her ear;
And then will that defenceless woman learn 595
That Sohrab will rejoice her sight no more,
But that in battle with a nameless foe,
By the far distant Oxus, he is slain."
[_The truth breaks in upon Rustum. Again he charges Sohrab with a
He spoke; and as he ceas'd he wept aloud,
Thinking of her he left, and his own death. 600
He spoke; but Rustum listen'd, plung'd in thought.
Nor did he yet believe it was his son
Who spoke, although he call'd back names he knew
For he had had sure tidings that the babe,
Which was in Ader-baijan born to him, 605
Had been a puny girl, no boy at all:
So that sad mother sent him word, for fear
Rustum should take the boy, to train in arms;
And so he deem'd that either Sohrab took,
By a false boast, the style of Rustum's son; 610
Or that men gave it him, to swell his fame.
So deem'd he; yet he listen'd, plung'd in thought;
And his soul set to grief, as the vast tide
Of the bright rocking ocean sets to shore
At the full moon: tears gathered in his eyes; 615
For he remembered his own early youth,
And all its bounding rapture; as, at dawn,
The shepherd from his mountain lodge descries
A far bright city, smitten by the sun,
Through many rolling clouds;--so Rustum saw 620
His youth; saw Sohrab's mother, in her bloom;
And that old king, her father, who lov'd well
His wandering guest, and gave him his fair child
With joy; and all the pleasant life they led,
They three, in that long-distant summer-time-- 625
The castle, and the dewy woods, and hunt
And hound, and morn on those delightful hills
In Ader-baijan. And he saw that youth,
Of age and looks to be his own dear son,
Piteous and lovely, lying on the sand, 630
Like some rich hyacinth, which by the scythe
Of an unskilful gardener has been cut,
Mowing the garden grass-plots near its bed,
And lies, a fragrant tower of purple bloom,
On the mown, dying grass;--so Sohrab lay, 635
Lovely in death, upon the common sand.
And Rustum gaz'd on him with grief, and said:--
"O Sohrab, thou indeed art such a son
Whom Rustum, wert thou his, might well have lov'd!
Yet here thou errest, Sohrab, or else men 640
Have told thee false;--thou art not Rustum's son.
For Rustum had no son: one child he had--
But one--a girl; who with her mother now
Plies some light female task, nor dreams of us--
Of us she dreams not, nor of wounds, nor war." 645
But Sohrab answer'd him in wrath; for now
The anguish of the deep-fix'd spear grew fierce,
And he desired to draw forth the steel,
And let the blood flow free, and so to die,
But first he would convince his stubborn foe-- 650
And, rising sternly on one arm, he said:--
[_Sohrab discloses the mark by which he was to be known. "O boy--thy
"Man, who art thou who dost deny my words?
Truth sits upon the lips of dying men,
And Falsehood, while I liv'd, was far from mine.
I tell thee, prick'd upon this arm I bear 655
That seal which Rustum to my mother gave,
That she might prick it on the babe she bore."
He spoke: and all the blood left Rustum's cheeks;
And his knees totter'd, and he smote his hand,
Against his breast, his heavy mailed hand, 660
That the hard iron corslet clank'd aloud;
And to his heart he press'd the other hand,
And in a hollow voice he spake, and said:--
"Sohrab, that were a proof which could not lie.
If thou shew this, then art thou Rustum's son." 665
Then, with weak hasty fingers, Sohrab loos'd
His belt, and near the shoulder bar'd his arm,
And shew'd a sign in faint vermilion points
Prick'd: as a cunning workman, in Pekin,
Pricks with vermilion some clear porcelain vase, 670
An emperor's gift--at early morn he paints,
And all day long, and, when night comes, the lamp
Lights up his studious forehead and thin hands:--
So delicately prick'd the sign appear'd
On Sohrab's arm, the sign of Rustum's seal. 675
It was that griffin, which of old rear'd Zal,
Rustum's great father, whom they left to die,
A helpless babe, among the mountain rocks.
Him that kind creature found, and rear'd and lov'd--
Then Rustum took it for his glorious sign. 680
And Sohrab bar'd that figure on his arm,
And himself scann'd it long with mournful eyes,
And then he touch'd it with his hand and said:--
"How say'st thou? Is that sign the proper sign
Of Rustum's son, or of some other man's?" 685
He spoke: but Rustum gaz'd, and gaz'd, and stood