IN sky and wave the white clouds swam,
And the blue hills of Nottingham
Through gaps of leafy green
Across the lake were seen, —
When, in the shadow of the ash
That dreams its dream in Attitash,
In the warm summer weather,
Two maidens sat together.
They sat and watched in idle mood
The gleam and shade of lake and wood, —
The beach the keen light smote,
The white sail of a boat,—
Swan flocks of lilies shoreward lying,
In sweetness, not in music, dying, —
Hardhack and virgin’s-bower,
And white-spiked clethra-flower.
With careless ears they heard the plash
And breezy wash of Attitash,
The wood-bird’s plaintive cry,
The locust’s sharp reply.
And teased the while, with playful hand,
The shaggy dog of Newfoundland,
Whose uncouth frolic spilled
Their baskets berry-filled.
Then one, the beauty of whose eyes
Was evermore a great surprise,
Tossed back her queenly head,
And, lightly laughing, said, —
“ No bridegroom’s hand be mine to hold
That is not lined with yellow gold ;
I tread no cottage-floor ;
I own no lover poor.
“ My love must come on silken wings,
With bridal lights of diamond rings, —
Not foul with kitchen smirch,
With tallow-dip for torch.”
The other, on whose modest head
Was lesser dower of beauty shed,
With look for home-hearths meet,
And voice exceeding sweet,
Answered, — “We will not rivals be;
Take thou the gold, leave love to me ;
Mine be the cottage small,
And thine the rich man’s hall.
“I know, indeed, that wealth is good;
But lowly roof and simple food,
With love that hath no doubt,
Are more than gold without.”
Behind the wild grape’s tangled screen,
Beholding them, himself unseen,
A young man, straying near,
The maidens chanced to hear.
He saw the pride of beauty born,
He heard the red lips’ words of scorn ;
And, like a silver bell,
That sweet voice answering well.
“ Why trust,” he said, “ my foolish eyes ?
My ear has pierced the fair disguise ;
Who seeks my gold, not me,
My bride shall never be.”
The supreme hours unnoted come ;
Unfelt the turning tides of doom ;
And so the maids laughed on,
Nor dreamed what Fate had done:
Nor knew the step was Destiny’s
That rustled in the birchen trees,
As, with his life forecast
Anew, the listener passed.
Erelong by lake and rivulet side
The summer roses paled and died,
And Autumn’s fingers shed
The maple’s leaves of red.
Through the long gold-hazed afternoon,
Alone, but for the diving loon,
The partridge in the brake,
The black duck on the lake,
Beneath the shadow of the ash
Sat man and maid by Attitash ;
And earth and air made room
For human hearts to bloom.
Soft spread the carpets of the sod,
And scarlet-oak and golden-rod
With blushes and with smiles
Lit up the forest aisles.
The mellow light the lake aslant,
The pebbled margin’s ripple-chant
Attempered and low-toned,
The tender mystery owned.
And through the dream the lovers dreamed
Sweet sounds stole in and soft lights streamed ;
The sunshine seemed to bless,
The air was a caress.
Not she who lightly scoffed was there,
With jewels in her midnight hair,
Her dark, disdainful eyes,
And proud lips worldly-wise ;
But she who could for love dispense
With all its gilded accidents,
And trust her heart alone,
Found love and gold her own.