The Wife: An Idyl of Bearcamp Water



A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.


A LONG the roadside, like the flowers of gold
That tawny Incas in their gardens grew,
Heavy with sunshine droops the golden-rod,
And the red pennons of the cardinal-flowers
Hang motionless upon their upright staves.
The sky is hot and hazy, and the wind,
Wing-weary with its long flight from the south,
Unfelt ; yet, closely scanned, yon maple leaf
With faintest motion, as one stirs in dreams,
Confesses it. The locust by the wall
Stabs the noon-silence with his sharp alarm.
A single hay-cart down the dusty road
Creaks slowly, with its driver fast asleep
On the load’s top. Against the neighboring hill,
Huddled along the stone wall’s shady side,
The sheep show white, as if a snow-drift still
Defied the dog-star. Through the open door
A drowsy smell of flowers —gray heliotrope,
And white sweet-clover, and shy mignonette —
Comes faintly in, and silent chorus lends
To the pervading symphony of peace.
No time is this for hands long overworn
To task their strength ; and (unto Him be praise
Who giveth quietness !) the stress and strain
Of years that did the work of centuries
Have ceased, and we can draw our breath once more
Freely and full. So, as yon harvesters
Make glad their nooning underneath the elms
With tale and riddle and old snatch of song,
I lay aside grave themes, and idly play
With fancies borrowed from remembered hills
That beckon to me from the cold blue North.
And yet not idly all. A farmer’s son,
Proud of field lore and harvest-craft, and feeling
All their fine possibilities, while yet
Knowing too well the hard necessities
Of labor and privation, and the bare ,
And colorless realities of life
Without an atmosphere, I fain would see
The rugged outlines touched and glorified
With mellowing haze and golden-tinted mist.
Our yeoman should be equal to his home
Set in these fair green valleys, purple-walled, —
A man to match his mountains, not a drudge
Dull as the clod he turns. I fain would teach
In this light way the blind eyes to discern,
And the cold hearts to feel, in common things,
Beatitudes of beauty; and, meanwhile,
Pay somewhat of the mighty debt I owe
To Nature for her ministry of love
And life-long benediction. With the rocks
And woods and mountain valleys which have been
Solace in suffering, and exceeding joy
In life’s best moments, I would leave some sign,
When I am but a name and memory,
That I have loved them. Haply, in the years
That wait to take the places of our own,
Whispered upon some breezy balcony
Fronting the hills, or where the lake in the moon
Sleeps dreaming of the mountains, fair as Ruth,
In the old Hebrew pastoral, at the feet
Of Boaz, even this little lay of mine
May lift some burden from a heavy heart,
Or make a light one lighter for its sake.

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts

We held our sideling way above
The river’s whitening shallows,
By homesteads old, with wide-flung barns
Swept through and through by swallows,
By maple orchards, belts of pine
And larches climbing darkly
The mountain slopes, and, over all,
The great peaks rising starkly.
You should have seen that long hill-range
With gaps of brightness riven,—
How through each pass and hollow streamed
The purpling lights of heaven, —
Rivers of gold-mist flowing down
From far celestial fountains, —
The shorn sun dropping, large and low,
Behind the wall of mountains !
We drove before the farm-house door,
The farmer called to Mary;
Bare-armed, with Juno’s step, she came,
White-aproned, from her dairy.
Her air, her smile, her motions, told
Of womanly completeness ;
A music as of household songs
Was in her voice of sweetness ; —
An inborn grace that nothing lacked
Of culture or appliance, —
The warmth of genial courtesy,
The calm of self-reliance.
Before her queenly womanhood
How dared our landlord utter
The paltry errand of his need
To buy her fresh-churned butter ?
She led the way with housewife pride,
Her goodly store disclosing,
Full tenderly the golden balls
With snow-white hands disposing.
Then, while across the darkening hills
We watched the changeful glory
Of sunset, on our homeward way,
The landlord told her story.
From school and ball and rout she came,
The city’s fair, pale daughter,
To drink the wine of mountain air
Beside the Bearcamp Water.
Her step grew firmer on the hills
That watch our homesteads over ;
On cheek and lip, from summer fields,
She caught the bloom of clover.
For health comes sparkling in the streams
From cool Chocorua stealing,
There ’s iron in our Northern winds,
Our pines are trees of healing.
She sat beneath the broad-armed elms
That skirt the mowing-meadow,
And watched the gentle west-wind weave
The grass with shine and shadow.
Beside her, from the summer heat
To share her grateful screening,
With forehead bared, the farmer stood,
Upon his pitchfork leaning.
Framed in its damp, dark locks, his face
Had nothing mean or common,—-
Strong, manly, true, the tenderness
And pride beloved of woman.
She looked up, glowing with the health
The country air had brought her,
And, laughing, said : “ You lack a wife,
Your mother lacks a daughter.
“To mend your frock and bake your bread
You do not need a lady :
Be sure among these brown old homes
Is some one waiting ready,—
“ Some fair, sweet girl with skilful hand
And cheerful heart for treasure,
Who never played with ivory keys,
Or danced the polka’s measure.”
He bent his black brows to a frown,
He set his white teeth tightly.
“’T is well,” he said, “for one like you
To choose for me so lightly.
“You think, because my life is rude,
I take no note of sweetness ;
I tell you love has naught to do
With meetness or unmeetness.
“ Itself its best excuse, it asks
No leave of pride or fashion
When silken zone or homespun frock
It stirs with throbs of passion.
“You think me deaf and blind; you bring
Your winning graces hither
As free as if from cradle-time
We two had played together.
“You tempt me with your laughing eyes,
Your cheek of sundown’s blushes,
A motion as of waving grain,
A music as of thrushes.
“ The plaything of your summer sport,
The spells you weave around me,
You cannot at your will undo,
Nor leave me as you found me.
“ You go as lightly as you came,
Your life is well without me ;
What care you that these hills will close
Like prison-walls about me ?
“ No mood is mine to seek a wife,
Or daughter for my mother ;
Who loves you loses in that love
All power to love another !
“ I dare your pity or your scorn,
With pride your own exceeding;
I fling my heart into your lap
Without a word of pleading.”
She looked up from the waving grass
So archly, yet so tender :
“And if I lend you mine,” she said,
“Will you forgive the lender?
“ Nor frock nor tan can hide the man ;
And see you not, my farmer,
How weak and fond a woman waits
Behind this silken armor ?
“ I love you : on that love alone,
And not my worth, presuming,
Will you not trust for summer fruit
The tree in May-day blooming?”
Alone the hangbird overhead,
His hair-swung cradle straining,
Looked down to see love’s miracle, —
The giving that is gaining.
And so the farmer found a wife,
His mother found a daughter ;
There looks no happier home than hers
On pleasant Bearcamp Water.
Flowers spring to blossom where she walks
The careful ways of duty ;
Our hard, stiff lines of life with her
Are flowing curves of beauty.
Our homes are cheerier for her sake, Our door-yards brighter blooming, And all about the social air Is sweeter for her coming.
We send the squire to General Court; He takes his young wife thither : No prouder man Election-day Rides through the sweet June weather.
So spake our landlord as we drove Beneath the deep hill-shadows. Below us wreaths of white fog walked Like ghosts the haunted meadows.
Sounding the summer night, the stars Dropped down their golden plummets ; The pale arc of the Northern Lights Rose o’er the mountain summits, —
Until, at last, beneath its bridge, We heard the Bearcamp flowing, And saw across the mapled lawn The welcome inn-lights glowing; —
And, musing on the landlord’s tale, 'T were well, thought I, if often To rugged farm-life came the gift To harmonize and soften ; —
If more and more we found the troth Of fact and fancy plighted, And culture’s charm and labor’s strength In these hill-homes united,—
The simple life, the homely hearth, With beauty’s sphere surrounding, And blessing toil where toil abounds With graces more abounding.