The Encounter

THERE’S a wood-way winding high,
Roofed far up with light-green flicker,
Save one midmost star of sky.
Underfoot ’t is all pale brown
With the dead leaves matted down
One on other, thick and thicker;
Soft, but springing to the tread.
There a youth late met a maid
Running lightly, — oh, so fleetly !
“ Whence art thou ? ” the herd-boy said.
Either side her long hair swayed,
Half a tress and half a braid,
Colored like the soft dead leaf.
As she answered, laughing sweetly,
On she ran, as flies the swallow;
He could not choose but follow
Though it had been to his grief.
“ I have come up from the valley, —
From the valley!” Once he caught her,
Swerving down a sidelong alley,
For a moment by the hand.
“ Tell me, tell me,” he besought her,
“ Sweetest, I would understand
Why so cold thy palm, that slips
From me like the shy cold minnow?
The wood is warm, and smells of fern,
And below the meadows burn.
Hard to catch, and hard to win, oh !
Why are those brown finger tips
Crinkled as with lines of water ? ”
Laughing while she featly footed,
With the herd-boy hasting after,
Sprang she on a trunk uprooted,
Clung she by a roping vine;
Leaped behind a birch, and told,
Still eluding, through its fine,
Mocking, slender, leafy laughter,
Why her finger tips were cold:
I went down to tease the brook, With her fishes, there below;
She comes dancing, thou must know,
And the bushes arch above her;
But the seeking sunbeams look,
Dodging, through the wind-blown cover,
Find, and kiss her into stars.
Silvery veins entwine and crook
Where a stone her tripping bars;
There be smooth, clear sweeps, and swirls
Bubbling up crisp drops like pearls.
There I lie, along the rocks
Thick with greenest slippery moss,
And I have in hand a strip
Of gray, pliant, dappled bark;
And I comb her liquid locks
Till her tangling currents cross;
And I have delight to hark
To the chiding of her lip,
Taking on the talking stone
With each turn another tone.
Oh, to set her wavelets bickering!
Oh, to hear her laughter simple,
See her fret and flash and dimple!
Ha, ha, ha ! ” The woodland rang
With the rippling through the flickering.
At the birch the herd-boy sprang.
On a sudden something wound
Vine-like round his throbbing throat;
On a sudden something smote
Sharply on his longing lips,
Stung him as the birch bough whips:
Was it kiss or was it blow?
Never after could he know;
She was gone without a sound.
Never after could he see
In the wood or in the mead,
Or in any company
Of the rustic mortal maids,
Her with acorn-colored braids;
Never came she to his need.
Never more the lad was merry;
Strayed apart, and learned to dream,
Feeding on the tart wild berry;
Murmuring words none understood,—
Words with music of the wood,
And with music of the stream.
Helen Gray Cone.