One eve she stood upon a lonely lea
And watched the deep'ning shadows grim
That threw their forms athwart the restless sea,
Making the radiance of the West grow dim.
A glorious canopy appeared to rest
O'er changing sky and distant rocky caves,
While o'er some weary sea-bird's pure white breast,
A bright glow spread when dipping in the waves,
Her tired form found therein coolness; peace
Supremely reigned, and under Silence's wings
Vanished afar and near the waves' wide rings;
Still grander grew the heavy golden skies,
With gorgeous hues and airy snow-white fleece,
And dreamier grew the maiden's watching eyes,
As through and through her trembling soul and frame,
The thrill of nature's beauty softly came;
And while her eyes with love and rapture filled,
Of all that weird and strangely splendid scene,
All other thoughts within her soul were stilled,
While o'er her head fair spirits seemed to lean.
Around her grew a stillness unto death,
The waves their ever restless motion stayed;
All living nature seemed to hold its breath,
As if by some stupendous power o'erweighed;
And right athwart the sunset's fading glow,
A great black cloud, like some huge monstrous thing,
Threw round and round the sun's last dipping ring
The impress of its shadow drooping low;
And lower, lower fell that mighty cloud,
With menacing shape as in defiance proud,
Until at last all sky and earth and sea
Seemed filled with shadows from its darkening wings—-
That dreadful spell cast over waves once free,
Hushed into silence deep all living things.
And still the maiden's watching, eager eyes
Were fixed unmoved on black'ning sea and skies;
So motionless she stood with hands clasped close
And heart-beats growing few and fainter all this time,
That e'en it seemed as though the life-blood froze
Within her veins, like streams in frigid clime!
To-night she'd seen strange visions in the clouds,
Of cities great and busy murmuring crowds,
That called her on to some far different life,
'Mid active minds and noisy, changing strife.
With beating heart she saw the clouds unfold,
Within their depths there gleamed a crown of gold.
Too soon the scene had faded from the skies,
While o'er the earth the threat'ning cloud had spread
That rudely thrust itself before her eyes
And filled her with an overpowering dread;
Yet still she stood with proud, unbending form,
Though all the world seemed near some awful doom.
That dreary silence by foretold the storm
That soon would rage within the night's dark gloom;
A deathly hush o'er waiting land and sea,
And then with one loud clap the storm cloud burst.
Behold! the elements again set free,
As if with fearful spell they'd long been curst,
Now vented all the power of stifled birth
Upon the luckless unoffending earth.
The waves around the cliff's low base sprang high
And madly dashed their spray in furious rage;
The maid, howe'er, looked down with scornful eye,
As if she could their mighty power assuage.
She gloried in that strange, terrific storm,
The lightning's glare and hurried thunder peal
Awakened in her slight and girlish form
A hidden might that bade her trembling kneel
Upon that lonely, wave-encircled height
And pledge her life to fame, that she might win
The glory of the world's enthroning light,
Then give it back to God all freed from sin.
Long, long she knelt, her soul in prayer thrown,
Unheeding still the lightning's lurid glare;
For what were raging storms and nature's moan
To that mad strife within her bosom fair!
At last the lightnings ceased, the winds grew still;
All powers recognized God's mightier will;
Old ocean, like a child with passion spent,
Lay gently sobbing in its rocky bed;
Anon it sighed and to the dark waves lent,
A sad, sweet song; the storm indeed was dead.
Along the sable robes that veiled the sky,
The red stars glowed, yet paled each tiny fire
Before the yellow moon, who, throned on high,
Hung on her crescent bow a golden lyre.
From Hilda, too, the stormy grief had fled,
And with a strange, deep peace inspired, she rose
From off the rocks and lifted up her head.
The moon smiled on her upturned face, and close
Beneath her feet the waves swept to and fro.
A smile as that which lit the tide below,
Then dawned upon her lips, for god her prayer
Had heard; that harp of gold—these skies now fair,
Seemed but the emblem that her soul's dark strife
Should lead her soon unto a nobler life.
Beyond her, on the ledge, a dark form stood,
Regarding her with wistful, wondering eyes;
He seemed the type of all that's true and good
In man; down from the starry, moonlit skies
The radiance fell and crowned his youthful head,
While on his brow a dim, vague majesty
Seemed shadowed forth. Yet restless as the sea
His eyes that Hilda's fair young face had read.
With beating heart he'd watched her kneeling there
Upon the rocks; had listened to her prayer
In silence wondering; so strange it seemed
To see her there amid the storm, but still
He stood and powerless; a gladdening thrill
Ran through his veins to see that form alone,
And o'er his noble, Godlike face there gleamed
A pride to think this maid was all his own.
He loved—and love our hearts can ne'er repress—
In truth he gazed upon that face and form
As though upon her head each wet and gleaming tress
Were more than all the phantoms of the storm.
He loved as even the sun must love the flowers
That shyly glance to him 'neath leafy bowers,
Or as the river with its strong deep tide
Must love the willows nestling by its side.
She stood as one within a waking dream,
Nor looked upon the earth, nor in the sky;
But only far at sea whose amber gleam
Was as the light that in fair gems doth lie.
Entranced she stood—the mocking visions came—
But see! she starts; upon the air her name
Steals like a whisper of the wave's low song,
Borne by the zephyrs of the night along.
She turns—beside her on the rocks he stands
With questioning eyes and eager, outstretched hands;
She smiles, then starts back with a startled look,
As some wild fawn within its sheltered nook.
"Fair Hilda, tell me why with reckless feet
You braved the elements and dared to kneel
Here in the angry storm—it was not meet
That all this night's wild tempest you should feel."
She looked at him with almost haughty air,
To think that to reprove her he should dare;
Then fearlessly as some undaunted child
She met his eyes that searched her own for truth,
She who had scorned the tempest dark and wild,
Feared not the chidings of his hasty youth.
And undismayed she moved to where he stood,
With blushing, beauteous charms of maidenhood,
And there with rapt eyes looking up to him,
She told him of those visions never dim;
Of that wild spirit born amid the storm
Whose restless strength had swayed her fragile form.
Before his own she laid her very soul,
That he might there its inmost thoughts unroll.
Her pleading voice grew stronger with each word,
Until enthralled and hushed his spirit heard.
Upright she stood in girlish, thrilling grace,
The glancing moonlight falling o'er her face;
It seemed as though some heavenly, unknown power
Had come to her within that strange, short hour,
To make the listener feel the truth divine
That lingered in her words and true design.
Her rich young voice flowed on and on,
In silvery cadence earnest, clear and strong,
And still he stood with bowed head 'neath the skies
Bound by the fascination of her eyes
And winning voice—and manly thought he stood,
He humbly bowed before that womanhood
Which seemed with conscious might to grasp the power
Of fame, the world's alluring, phantom flower.
Amazed he stood, before her words struck dumb;
And startled gazed—the maid he loved had come
This night to teach him that her woman's soul
Had dared to seek, than his, a higher goal.
At last each thought was told; with eager eyes
That glowed with fire, as stars throughout the night,
She waited as some birdling ere it flies,
Awaits to poise itself for stronger flight.
But he, when that dear voice had ceased to flow,
Awoke as if from some entrancing spell;
He knew not what to say, but to and fro,
He paced awhile with restless step; too well
He knew her dauntless will, her fearless heart;
He dared not say her dreams, her plans were naught,
And yet to lose her—quickly came the thought—
It roused him with a sudden mad'ning start.
"Oh! Hilda unto me these things do seem
But burning traces of some ill-starred dream;
I grieve that e'er thy soul should long to claim
The thorny diadem of worldly fame.
Life's mystery to thee is yet unknown;
Why dost thou seek its misery to own?
With all a woman's power thou this night
Hast led me on by th' fascinating light
Of thy dear eyes and voice, till almost blind
To reason, I allowed my wandering mind
To follow as a willing captive thine;
I listened with a will not wholly mine.
But now when freed from th' witchery of thy voice
I see no wisdom in thy new made choice.
Thou art a woman pure, whose noble heart
Would fain do, in this world, its earnest part;
But Hilda, with a girl's weak, erring hand,
Thy hopes are builded on the treacherous sand.
Give up this dream that in thy mind now lies
And be again my Hilda, glad and wise."
"No, no" the dark eyes flash with sudden fire,
"Of this bright dream I know I ne'er shall tire;
The busy world has called me, I will go
And take my station, be it high or low."
"Dear Hilda," then his voice grew low and sweet,
"I love thee; and my love has not been brief.
When thou wert young I led thy wand'ring feet,
And ever guarded thee from pain and grief.
Through all my life thou wert its hope and pride,
But now you turn from that true life aside,
And long to wander as a willful child,
In other paths, by luring dreams beguiled.
Not so my love for thee; though e'en the sun
Should disappear, his race of glory run,
And stars like lost souls wand'ring through the sky,
Should vanish as that sun; though worlds should die,
And all the purple clouds should come at eve
And for the earth a robe of mourning weave,
While to the very skies the seas should roll
In waves of grief to sweep the heavens' scroll,
It could not change my smallest thought of thee;
I count a man as naught if he's not free,
Yet willingly for thy dear sake I'd live
Where all the world my freedom could not give,
If that I knew could save thee from one tear.
Than werefore take from my thy presence dear?
If thou would'st wear a crown, why leave this scene?
But stay! I'll crown thee as my love—my queen."
She sadly drew away with troubled mien,
O'er bending face a heightened color spread,
"You cannot understand me yet," she said,
"I'd rather be a WOMAN than a QUEEN."
Then wistfully she looked out on the sea,
"I have a gift that God has given me,
I'd use it that the world should better grow;
I long for fame because I then should know
My power was felt and recognized—but stay,
My words are vain, you sadly turn away."
"Choose, Hilda," then once more he proudly cried;
Upon his face there gleamed a passionate pride;
"Between this love that I now offer thee
And that vain fame as faithless as the sea.
I give thee deepest love that man can feel,
Before thine own my heart in truth doth kneel.
Beware how you do mock your early love,
Lest it should die as some poor tortured dove;
If once 'tis dead your woman's heart my grieve
Itself to death; return it never will,
And like the sun, a shadow it may leave
Whose glory, dead and gone, will haunt you still."
Her eyes were filled with grief, her head bent low,
Upon the shore the waves crept to and fro,
Their moan was vaguely echoed in her breast
That vainly struggled with its great unrest.
Her heart was throbbing with the heavy pain
His words had caused; on each fair cheek a stain
Of crimson lay, as that which softly falls
From setting sun on gleaming marble walls.
It rose unto a glow, then died away
In fitful gleams; on drooping eyelids lay
A weight, yet 'neath those heavy veils of snow
The dark eyes quivered with a restless glow.
She could not speak, mute as the rocks that stand
In stony silence now and evermore,
She stood, while stars looked down from heaven's shore
And pitied her. Unto his proud command
Her heart had not yet dared to make reply
Lest in those words a deeper pain should lie.
Impatient grown, he paces to and fro
Upon the rocks, then on the tide below,
Looks down with troubled frowns and stifled sighs.
As quick as light across the calm, clear skies,
A meteor flashes down, a dazzling sight,
Then dies, and all the heavens seem as before.
"Look, Hilda, look! so dies this lamp of night
That once was placed upon god's starry floor
To give us light, while yet doth gleam each star
That calmly moves within its own allotted space.
Take warning, Hilda, fly not from thy place.
Nor seek to wander from thy realm too far,
Lest in a trackless waste thy soul shall stray,
And as this meteor, flash and fade away,
While all unmoved the world's calm eyes shall gaze,
Nor give one tear unto thy shortened days."
Back from her face the waves of crimson rolled,
And left it pale as death; as flowers unfold
Their dewy depths, to him her liquid eyes
Were gently raised: "Within that symbol lies
Perhaps a truth," she says, "I dare not say,
Yet, Adrian, it cannot matter now,
Determined is my heart; upon my brow
A crown will rest that will not fade away.
Oh! seek not in my sorely troubled breast
To rouse again its strength of dark unrest;
For better were my heart in torture wrung
Than linger here and leave its song unsung."
With sad, sad eyes he looked into her face,
Then turned aside with grand, unconscious grace,
And bravely stifled every wayward sigh,
Though in his voice his sorrow still did lie.
"Then as the sea that looks up to some star,
Reflecting its bright beauty from afar,
Thus shall I ever look on thy dear face
And from afar behold thy winning grace.
And as the star's light in the deep blue sea
Still mirrored in my life thy soul shall be.
Even as the ocean hears the star's glad song
Above its own sad, plaintive melody,
So to my heart thy music shall belong
And in my saddest hours will gladden me.
I give thee to that mocking world so vain,
Although it gives me much and weary pain,
And may its ruthless hand be laid on thee
With lighter touch than it has given me.
Remember, if thy spirit should grow weak,
To thee my aid will come if thou'lt but speak
And tell me if within thy troubled breast
A longing comes for loving care and rest.
For even now I love thee none the less
Because thou lov'st not me; each waving tress
Upon thy brow is still as dear to me
As sunlight to each flower and budding tree.
One look into those eyes I love so well,
And then, dear one—a sad, a last farewell."
With that he caught her small and trembling hand;
With simple royal grace and gesture grand,
He pressed it to his lips, then let it fall;—
His dream of love had passed beyond recall.
That touch awakened all her woman's love,
Her heart responded to his silent cry;
As flowers love the strong, brave sun above,
She loved this man nor ever questioned why.
Before this night no doubts had come between
To mar its trust or stir its depths serene.
Oh! blessed is that love and faith indeed,
Which knows no doubt but only feels its need;
That unsought love which comes and fills the breast
Because we cannot help—that is the best.
With soft caressing touch unto his own
She pressed her hand, then backward swept the hair
Whose shining wreath around her form was thrown;
Her darkened eyes with pleading, troubled air
Looked up into his own; she seemed a child
Beside his strength, yet through his form a shiver
Ran, and to his lips there came a painful quiver,
That told too well the stormy passion wild
This childlike girl had wakened this hour.
Its might swept o'er his soul with fearful power—
He dared not move—a silence strange and deep
Fell o'er them both, as some half-waking sleep.
To lose her! ah! the fearful, madd'ning thought,
Unto a wilder grief his soul it wrought;
With desperate pride he wrestled with his pain
Lest she should see it in his face again.
But ah! what slender chain of love is this
That can be broken with a last warm kiss!
With longing eyes she stood there by his side,
Her looks fixed on the ocean's tireless tide,
Then gazed down on the robes that swept her feet;
His searching eyes she dared not, could not meet;
And why? within her own the dark tears stood,
True signs of weak and loving womanhood.
At last she put aside her love's young dream,
And all the brighter did its glory seem
Because it must be banished from her heart.
They stood so near, and yet how far apart—
A gulf had come between them, vast and wide,
A gulf made by her longing, restless pride.
With low and trembling voice at last she said
With sadly falling tears and bended head:
"Oh! Adrian, my faint heart fain would dwell
Forever here beneath thy love's dear spell;
But ah! beyond the height where breaks the day,
There lives a charm that calls my soul away.
Afar the mountains glow in pale, blue mist,
By fleecy clouds and summer sunshine kissed.
And see! beyond them all I long to be,
Beyond this shore, beyond the trackless sea.
Ah! this is why, dear Adrian, we must part,
Although it rends my grieving, restless heart;
Forgive me if to-night I've caused thee pain—
If grief be thine, forgive me once again.
Farewell! when from thy life my love is fled,
Henceforth to thee let Hilda's name be dead."
And this was all—vague shadows crept around,
The waves sung in his ears their moaning sound;
He looked in vain for Hilda's dear, sweet face,
Forevermore was lost her loving grace
To him. In vain he called forth in despair;
His words returned upon the empty air.
Like some pale spirit she had stolen from him
And left him there 'mid shadows dark and grim.
Fannie Isabelle Sherrick
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