Lays of the ‘True North,’

AND

OTHER CANADIAN POEMS

BY

AGNES MAULE MACHAR


VI.

THE WINGED VICTORY: A DRAMATIC POEM.

—————

 


 

ACT I.
 

SCENE I.The high bank of a river, commanding an extensive      and charming view of wood and water, interspersed with              meadow and upland.  CLARA and GERTRUDE conversing.


CLARA.


Come to our cliff-seat, Gertrude, for a while;
Too lovely is the day to lose an hour,
Half sweet, half sad, while summer lingers thus,
As if she scarce could bear to say farewell,—
Fondling so gently, with such tender grace,

5

The flowers she nursed to beauty, loath to leave
Her darlings to the sharp, rude, autumn frosts,
That snap their tender lives when she is gone!
Come to our niche, deep carven in the rock
By Nature’s silent sappers, years agone,

10

Where we so oft have watched the golden day
Sink amid purple evening’s gorgeous folds
Of rose and violet, softly blent above,—
Still softer in the placid tide below—
A sea of glass mixed with celestial fire.

15

Those were sweet summer evenings when we still
Had many days together.  Now the few [Page 190]
Of you and summer left are dearer still.
I prize each hour as misers count their gold!

 

GERTRUDE.


Yes, dear, ’tis beautiful indeed!  See how

20

The calm, majestic river seems to woo
The rocky beach with such a gentle tide—
Such light, soft lapping, that the tiniest brook
Could scarce be gentler.  Far away it sweeps,
Pure as the blue above, ’mid shadowy hills,

25

That seem to blend the hues of sky and stream.
And there in front the river’s bright expanse
Lies quivering like a stretch of purple sea,
In which are woven ever new designs
O’er ground of softest violet, while the mass

30

Of woods shows touches of autumnal gold.
’Tis all so fair, and yet so subtly sad!
Ah me! when far away, how oft the scene
Shall greet mine inward vision, just as fair
As now it lies before mine outward gaze!

35

Close twined it is with golden memories
Of youth and holiday.  How oft our feet
In childish, aimless straying here and there
Have threaded those cool, hemlock-shaded ways,
Or forced our way through tangles of young beech,

40

Where the shy, frightened partridge startled us,
Swift whirring past us with her tender brood!
How oft we waded in those limpid waves
That glide o’er golden sand in yonder bay;
Or played at hiding in those wave-worn caves,

45

Crusted with lichen and soft velvet moss,
Round which we wove our fairy-tales of gnomes
And elfin creatures finding shelter there
From all the bustling world that loved them not!
We!—I should say you, Clara, for ’twas you,

50

You always who invented;—I enjoyed,
Just putting in a fancy here and there,
Which Philip wove so deftly into verse,
And read them to us, silent in amaze
That they in this new dress should seem so grand! [Page 191]

55

 

CLARA.


Ah, Gertrude! those were blessed days for us!
Scarce can I keep back tears while I recall
Their sweet, unconscious joy and budding hope
And trust in all things holy,—and in Him
Who, as our Father, seemed so close and near

60

And full of love,—even as the earthly one
Who cherished my young girlhood till he passed
To better life than ours, in that beyond,
Whither I oft have longed to follow him!

 

GERTRUDE.


My Clara!  Such faint heart is not for one

65

Who has, I trust, a long day’s work to do
Ere it is time to rest!  Yet ’tis not strange,
For dear to me your father’s memory is
As that of one ’twas blessing just to know,—
Whose loving presence was the crowning grace

70

That hallowed all the beauty here for me!
How much he taught us of that higher love
But dimly outlined through the misty veil
That men call Nature, often hiding more,—
Far more than it reveals; while through our souls

75

So often God speaks clear!  Your father’s life,
So penetrated with the love divine,
First drew me towards the Source of Love itself,
That ever since has been to me the spring
Of all true joy, true work, true life, true hope,

80

Still strengthening as the days and years went by!

 

CLARA.


Would I could say as much!  But many a cloud
Has passed between that sun of life and me
Since first it shone in childhood’s happy days,
As still it shines at times, and then,—indeed,

85

My only wonder is ’tis ever lost!

 

GERTRUDE.


And Philip!—what of him?  I heard that he
Was ranked by some with those who cast aside [Page 192]
Faith’s mystic light, and walk by sight alone!

 

CLARA.


I cannot say, but soon perchance may know.

90

Our paths have lain for years so far apart,
For I have led a quiet, home-bound life,
While he has wandered far by land and sea;
And little have I heard of him of late,
Save from your Ernest—how they chanced to meet,

95

And that he said he might be with us soon.—
And though I long for this,—almost I dread
To hear again the old familiar tone,
Stirring old founts of feeling, and perchance
With words that pain my inmost soul to hear!

100

For bitter ’tis to hear a voice you love
Give utterance to thoughts that wound and grieve—
And I have loved him since I knew myself,
Or what love was!  You well remember, dear,
What to my lonely childhood he became,—

105

The orphan cousin whom my father took
Into his home and heart, my playmate, guide,
Who, like an elder brother, ever near,
Helped me in all small straits, all childish needs,
At lessons or at play; teased me for whims,

110

Fostered my lonely childhood, told me tales
That fired his boyish fancy;—for you know
What gift he had of fancies and of words,
To give them apt expression.  You know, too,
How many things he showed us—that our eyes

115

Had scarcely seen without him—orioles’ nests,
The homes of squirrels, strange wild undergrowths,
The Indian pipe,—so waxen white and pure,
Though growing mid the muck of sodden leaves;—
The ruby moss-cups, downy chrysalis,

120

The tiny tree-frog’s human mimicry,
The humming-bird’s small nest on beechen bough;
How much it seemed to us he knew!  And yet
What kindly sympathy he ever felt
With all the humbler lives of bird and beast, [Page 193]

125

Holding some friendly converse with all those
That make a living nature for us here.

 

GERTRUDE.


Yes; Philip was to me, scarce less than you,
A loved and trusted brother.  Nay, even now
I can recall some lurking jealousy

130

When he would always bring you the first flower,
Or call you first when he would have us see
Some of his woodland wonders.  For I craved
For love! more love!  I could not be content,
And knew not then that giving was more blest

135

Than gathering even this best fruit of life;—
Since giving lifts us up to heaven itself.
And by degrees I came to see how right
It was that you should be the first with him,
As with the rest,—my Clara, fair and bright,

140

Always my fancy’s princess, for I knew
How you were gifted far beyond myself,
And all whom then I knew.  I wondered oft,
When you and Philip wove your stories, why
Such fancies came to you and not to me;

145

Yet I could always love you and admire!

 

CLARA.


Oh, Gertrude! and I always reverenced you;
And so did Philip,—for your gentleness
Seemed to my more impetuous, hasty self
Like some sweet heavenly spell.  Against my will

150

It oft subdued me, for I felt your soul
Had more of heaven in it—far more than mine,
That revelled in the beauty of the world,
And could not bear, in youth’s warm flush and glow
To think such joys could not endure for aye.

155

And still to me, though somewhat wiser grown,
That thought will come, like sombre funeral knell
That glooms the banquet!  Nay! perchance I feel,
Far more than then,—the awful mystery
That underlies the painted screen of life.

160

’Twas Philip first unveiled it, when he read, [Page 194]
From books he studied, of the Absolute,
Unconscious being, through long ages born
To wake to consciousness in us at last!
Such paths too arduous are for human feet,

165

Leading to rarer air than I could breathe;
And groping ’mid those heights, I lost my way,—
The way that leads straight from the heart to God,
And heaven, and faith, and hope, and love divine;
But all were swallowed up for me in mystery!

170

That time was sadder far than words can tell;
Yet, through the voiceless solitude, I held,
Somehow, half blindly, to the clue they put
Into my childish hands:—the simple prayer,
The daily reading of the words divine

175

That fall on our parched souls like morning dew,
Watering our souls’ roots, reaching our real selves,
Guiding their growth still upward to the light
Through all the fogs that pride and passion raise!

 

GERTRUDE.


Thank God for that, dear Clara!  You did well

180

Amid the darkness not to lose your hold
On the one thread that guides us safely through
A maze defying keenest human thought;—
Weakness admitted here is truest strength!
But see how yonder sails reflect the sun.

185

That boat seems wafted from enchanted lands,
Gliding swan-like across the distant blue.
Her course tends hitherward, it seems to me.

 

CLARA.


Perchance it might be Philip!  Ernest said
He might be here, ere long, and,—strange it seems,—

190

Almost I dread that meeting, long desired!
Will he be other than he was of old?
If not, shall I be strong enough to meet
The weapons he was wont to wield so well,
And, keenest of them all, the old home-love

195

That makes us weakest where we would be strong? [Page 195]

 

GERTRUDE.


Fear not, dear friend; you shall not stand alone,
But strong in ever-conquering strength divine!

 

CLARA.


Yes, dear, I think ’tis he.  I almost seem
His well-known face and figure to discern,

200

Even at this distance, through the spyglass.  Look,
Can you not see him too?  Come, let us take
The winding path that leads down to the beach,
And greet the wanderer as he steps ashore!

 

GERTRUDE.


Go you alone, dear!  It is better so;

205

After so long a parting, you should meet
With no intruder on your mutual joy.
I was but little to him, you so much,
That I at such a time were out of place.
Let me stay here alone and pray for you.

210

CLARA goes; and GERTRUDE remains alone, while from the water comes the sound of voices singing in the distance.

           Soft the sunset hues are glowing
                  Over wood and lea,
           And the purple river flowing
                  Onward to the sea.
           Bright the evening star is gleaming

215

                  In the golden west,
           While with wistful, hopeful dreaming,
                  Swells the wanderer’s breast!

           See, his rose-flushed sails are speeding
                  Homewards from afar;

220

           Still before him, calmly leading,
                  Shines the evening star.
           Waft him on!  There wait to meet him
                  Friends the true and tried;
           Love unfolds her arms to greet him

225

                  Home,—at eventide! [Page 196]

 


 

SCENE II.—Moonlight.  Terrace in front of country-house.                PHILIP, CLARA, and GERTRUDE conversing.

 

PHILIP.


Well, it is pleasant to be here again!
All is so dear and home-like—nay, ’tis home,
As no place else could e’er be home to me.
I seem a boy again!  My wanderings all
Seem blotted out as if they ne’er had been.

5

Youth holds me still!  The intervening years
Are nothing, surely, but a tangled dream.
That fringe of silver breaking on the shore
Of yonder bay;—that band of quivering sheen
Yon boat is crossing now—it seems to me

10

That last I saw it only yesternight.
Scarce longer seems it since we roamed,—we three,—
Through yonder distant wood, and found such store
Of nuts, we could not carry home the half;
And Gertrude, with those tender, pleading eyes

15

I never could resist, begged we should leave
The greater portion of our gathered spoil
To swell the busy squirrel’s harvest-home!

 

GETRUDE (smiling).


Your memory is good; mine scarcely kept
That incident, but I remember well

20

One day you went on a long fishing cruise,
And storm and wind and darkness followed fast,
And we poor children wandered up and down
Along the cliff, and scanned the tossing wave,
And wrung our hands, and wept because we feared

25

Your little boat might founder in the storm,
And we should never see your face again!

 

PHILIP.


Indeed!  I never knew I was so prized,
Or that my peril caused so much alarm. [Page 197]

 

GERTRUDE.


Oh no!  We would not for the world have told,—

30

When you returned, flushed with adventurous pride,
Scorning the thought of danger; for we feared
That you would laugh at us for foolish fears—
So Clara urged, at least.  I rather think
That I was less ambitious; yet I did

35

Too much desire the praise of those I loved!

 

PHILIP (turning towards her).


And was I one of these in that old time?

 

GERTRUDE (smiling).


You were, and are so still.  Our childhood’s friends
We can never forget, or cease to love,
As part of what now seem the happiest days,

40

Looked at through softening haze of memory.

 

CLARA (half reproachfully).


I scarcely should have thought that even those
You now could call your happiest days, dear friend!

 

GERTRUDE.


Ah! know you not?  It never is the present
That fairest to us seems!  Future or past

45

Smiles brightest to our gaze.  To me the past
Seems bathed in loveliest hues of Paradise.
I never could look forward much, but dwell
With lingering love upon the cherished past.
Yes, we so often see the pictured past

50

And future, too, through the soft mellowing haze
Of our own minds’ creating!  As that scene,
Bathed in the moonlight, wears such witching grace,—
Scarce can we realize that ’tis the same
Familiar landscape,—rocks and shore and stream,

55

That, seen by daylight,—this weird glamour lose,—
And wear a duller, more terrestrial guise. [Page 198]

 

CLARA.


And yet to me,—how lovely in all lights,
In all their varying phases dear to me;
For each is hung about with memories

60

As those tall hawthorns with their dropping fruit.
But here comes Ernest, dear; what will he say
To these fond lingering regrets of yours
For that old past wherein he had no share?

 

ERNEST (approaching).


Ah, Philip!  I am glad to see you here,

65

Safe brought through all your roamings to the home
Of which so often I have heard you speak
With such affection!

 

PHILIP.


                                    No less glad am I
To find you here amid my childhood’s scenes.
It makes this meeting of dear friends complete!

70

 

ERNEST (playfully).


But as I came, methought I heard my name
Linked with such words as,—‘What will Ernest say?’

 

GERTRUDE.


’Twas but some playful talk of Clara’s, dear,
Because I spoke of childhood’s happy days
As touched with glamour that none else might know;

75

She thought that scarcely should be!

 

ERNEST (smiling).


                                                     Oh, I see—
And I suppose ’tis natural; yet I know
My childhood does not look so bright to me;
And I rejoice that,—led from strength to strength
In endless progress,—life shall brighter grow!

80

 

CLARA.


Then, Gertrude, happiest days are yet to come! [Page 199]

 

ERNEST.


I trust so, but I know how tenderly
Her heart clings to the past and early friends;
And, knowing what a wrench before her lies,
’Tis good to feel she has an unseen Friend

85

Stronger than I—to stay her weakness on.
Philip, I long to hear how you have fared
Since you set sail from our dear island shore.
I will return here shortly.  Now, dear friends,
Will you spare to me Gertrude for a while?

90

There are some things we must discuss at once.
Awaiting your decision,—Gertrude dear!

ERNEST and GERTRUDE walk some distance           apart, and sit talking in low tones. PHILIP and           CLARA also converse apart.

PHILIP.


She scarcely seems to me like promised bride,
But rather vestal virgin, set apart
For some high task that fills her heart and soul,

95

And scarce leaves room for lesser human loves.

 

CLARA.


Nay, there you are mistaken, for her heart
Is full of love; it is her very life
To love and to be loved.  But life had been
Too sad for her without best love beyond!

100

 

PHILIP.


How true these words that we so seldom hear,
And heed so little—‘Blest the pure in heart,
For they shall see God’!  Would that I were such!
And Gertrude seems to me more like to go
Into that nearer vision, which they say

105

Comes not to this gross mortal life of ours,
Than to traverse wide seas to isles remote,
To win rough savages to gentler ways.
I see with pain her thin, transparent hands,
That delicate, too lovely, wild-rose tint, [Page 200]

110

The dove-like eyes, too large and luminous—
And then—that frequent cough!

 

CLARA.


                                                  Oh, that’s no more
Than she has had for years—no worse, I think!

 

PHILIP.


But years will tell, at last!  It seems to me
Her life hangs on a fine and slender thread.

115

 

CLARA.


Oh, Philip, say not that!  ’Tis hard enough
To part, without such auguries of ill.
Ernest is hopeful that the Southern clime
To which she goes, will prove a healing balm,
And nurse her fragile weakness back to strength.

120

’Tis this half reconciles me to her loss—
This—and the thought that she will happier be
Doing a noble work with one she loves,
To be her fellow-worker and her stay!

 

PHILIP.


Has she known Ernest long?

 

CLARA.


                                              Yes, for years;

125

Before he first went to his lonely toil.
I think he loved her then, and that he sought
To win her for his wife.  But in those days
She loved him not as one should love, to wed.
So, leaving home and friends, he went alone

130

To dwell amid those untamed savages.
There day by day her thoughts would follow him,
And month by month, as the rare letters came,
Glimpsing his lonely, uncomplaining life
And perils that beset him there,—she seemed

135

To grow more silent, more absorbed in thought,
And love grew in the silence, till one day
We heard that Ernest shortly would return, [Page 201]
And she at last would marry him, and go
To be his helper in that Southern isle,

140

Wherein, but late, fierce savages devoured
The helpless captives of the spear and bow.
I knew the need was great—the work divine;
But yet I grudged our Gertrude, fairest, best,
To waste her prime amid barbarians there,

145

Trying to teach them things beyond their ken!
But one day Ernest told the simple tale
Of a young widow, helpless, in despair,
Whom his hands rescued from the strangling cord
That waited every wife when thus bereft;

150

And how his gentle words of Christian hope
Had touched her heart and saved her from despair,
And waked her soul to live for evermore;
And how his earnest pleadings have availed
To end such cruel customs.  Then indeed

155

I dared to say no more, but since have sought
To bid her God-speed, though with sorrowing heart,
Too sure that we shall see her face no more
On this side heaven.  She seems too near it now!

(Breaks down, weeping.)

 

PHILIP.


Nay, dearest Clara, it may not be thus;

160

But even were it so, you have your faith
That death is but the gate of higher life,
And you could grudge your friend no gain,—I know.

 

CLARA.


But you,—you, Philip, could you speak of ‘gain’
Sincerely, as believing what you say?

165

 

PHILIP.


I scarcely could have spoken thus, indeed,
Had I not somewhat of that faith myself;
Not with such full, assured belief as you,
With whom it is the growth of all your years,
But in such measure as may come to one

170

Who long has wrestled, through the night of doubt, [Page 202]
With all the powers of darkness, and has won
With pain, a foothold on the rock at last!

 

CLARA.


Oh, Philip, you have made me glad indeed!
But—think you—I myself have never known

175

What means that struggle to keep fast the hold
On that same rock?  Some day you’ll tell me more
Of how the light at last dispelled the gloom!

 

PHILIP.


Some day I may; it is a long, sad tale
Of struggle with the fearsome shapes of hell,

180

Unmeet to shadow such a night as this,
To which belong bright thoughts and heavenly dreams!
                    (After a brief silence.)
And see our lovers slowly strolling back;
Mark how the moonlight lays on Gertrude’s hair
An aureole; methinks even now she seems

185

To wear the semblance of a sainted maid.
Poor Ernest!  Scarce I think he sees the truth.

 

GERTRUDE (returned with ERNEST).


Dear Clara, Ernest would fain hear you sing,
Before we part,—this magic, moonlight eve,—
One of the songs that you have sung to me

190

At eventide, when we have sat alone.
One specially I fain would hear you sing;
For Ernest, I am sure, would prize its tone
Of victory won at last o’er doubt and pain.

 

CLARA.


Almost too sad its theme for this fair night;—

195

’Twere fitter for some sunset that gleams forth
In golden promise through the dropping rain!

 

GERTRUDE.


Nay, dear, the sadness but accents the joy,
As those deep shadows make those silver gleams
Brighter by far than if the whole were light! [Page 203]

200

 

PHILIP.


Yes, sing, dear friend.  To hear your voice once more
Completes the charm that seems to make us live
Again in those bright days that are no more!

 

CLARA.


But this is scarcely like our songs of old,
That were as gleeful and as free from pain

205

As were the birds’ sweet carols overhead;
Yet better makes it with our graver thought.
So I will sing, for nothing Gertrude asks
In these last, precious days could I refuse!

Taking the mandolin brought to her by ERNEST,         she tunes it, and accompanies herself as she           sings.

           Weary,—so weary of living!—

210

                Weary of sorrow and tears,
           Weary of hopelessly looking
                On through the long, lonely years!
           Weary of conflict and darkness,
                Weary of shadow and night,

215

           Weary of looking and longing,
                Wistfully watching for light!

           Then comes the whisper of angels,
                Breathing an exquisite calm:
           ‘Lo, unto him that endureth

220

                Cometh the crown and the palm.’
           Then through the stillness of waiting
                Hope lifts her resonant voice:
           ‘Night shall endure but a moment;
                Soon thou shalt see and rejoice.’

225


           Light hath arisen in darkness,
                Shining at last o’er the way;
           Joy in the hope of His glory,
                Almost the breaking of day!
           In the glad sense of His presence,

230

                And in His promise secure,
           Now in a blessed assurance,
                Gladly the heart can endure! [Page 204]

 


 

SCENE III.   A calm, misty morning; the sun just beginning to         disperse the soft floating mists, and melt the rime on the         grass.  PHILIP and CLARA standing by the open window,         looking out while they converse.

 

CLARA.


It seems so soon to leave us; but you have,
At least, a lovely morning for your ride.
How exquisitely soft those folds of mist
That veil the river’s farther shore from view!
How mildly lustrous beams the morning sun,

5

Whose golden arrows pierce the rising fog,
And send it floating upwards, till at last
The white melts softly in the arching blue!
The pearly rime has almost left the grass,
Leaving it emerald.—Nature seems to smile,—

10

Like Faith,—through tears, as if she realized
How present loss prepares for spring-time gain!

 

PHILIP.


I see you have not lost your old delight
In reading parables from Nature’s page.
Why should we not, indeed, when, as we trust,

15

All life is one, and Nature but a name
For that wise love that breathes through every form
Of life and beauty in the universe,
Which are but syllables of that great Name?
Well, it is hard to leave you all so soon;

20

I seem scarce to have seen you!  Much unsaid
I must leave now, in hope of swift return;
For when this mission I have pledged myself
To carry promptly through, whene’er my steps
Should reach my native shore, has been discharged,

25

With all the speed I may, I’ll hasten back
All the more gladly, since more confident
To find home friends unchanged—home love the same!
Before we met again, with sinking heart
I almost feared the moment of return, [Page 205]

30

Lest it should smite my fondest hopes with death;
And more to me it is than you can guess,
To find you still the same true-hearted friend,
Only full-ripened by the changing years!
And Gertrude, too, still sweeter than the dream

35

That often shone upon my darkest hours,
Like angel visitant from higher spheres!
I grieve with you to lose her presence here;
Yet I am glad for Ernest, for I know
How,—in such isolation amid those

40

Who are but children at their very best,—
The heart and mind grow hungry with desire
For equal minds to mate with,—for the smile
Of comprehending womanhood!  You know
How strange our meeting on yon distant shore;—

45

How much he did for me, a sea-tossed waif,
Nigh unto death;—but this you cannot know!
And warm and strong my admiration grew,
The longer that I watched him at his work
Amid the child-like savages, and saw

50

How, day by day, he led them surely on
Towards the ideal shadowed in himself,—
The spiritual manhood of the race,
Full-orbed in One to whom he drew me, too,
Through my deep love and reverence for himself!

55

 

CLARA.


I hope to hear it all when you return.
Strange how our web of life is interwoven,
How thread is intertwined with thread, to make
The fair design complete.  Through all, dear friend,
God guard you, bring you safely back to us.

60

 

PHILIP.


Farewell!  I trust it will not be for long. [Page 206]

 


 

ACT II.

 

SCENE I.—A late autumn afternoon; the sun breaking through      clouds.  CLARA, in deep mourning, greeting PHILIP on his      return.

 

PHILIP (much moved).


Dear Clara, well I understand your grief!
How strangely sorrow overtakes our joy!

 

CLARA.


Ah, Philip! all too soon, the lurking ill
That you foretold for Gertrude, seized its prey.
Scarce had you left us for one little week,

5

When, sudden, like a bolt from azure sky,
There came a messenger for our sweet friend,—
His errand pressing,—and she knew at once
That he had come to take her to the King,
And smiled, content to go;—and even we,

10

To whom the shock came like a thunder-stroke
When a slight increase of the cough you marked,
Grew, through a fatal chill, until we saw
Death written surely on her marble face,—
As the end came sudden on us like a blow—

15

Even we, who forced back tears and signs of grief,
Lest they should break upon her perfect peace,
Could almost see the Shining Ones draw near;—
Could almost hear the fluttering of their wings,
And strains of welcoming music from the gates

20

Of the eternal city of her dreams!
And such a sweetness, as of heavenly airs,
Filled the sick chamber, that it raised our souls
From thoughts of death and dull mortality,
To dreams of quiet waters,—pastures green,

25

And trees of life, with all their golden fruit,
And all sweet parables, whereby to us
Come gleams of bliss transcending human thought!
Even Ernest was so calm, so undismayed, [Page 207]
That he could bid her God-speed on her way

30

To an abode, more fitting such a soul
Than any that his fondest dreams had framed,
Mid those fair isles that float on Southern seas.
And when at last she lay in marble calm,—
No lightest tremor ever to be stirred

35

By voice most tender or by need most sore
Of those she cherished with such faithful love—
And yet scarce death it seemed, but quiet sleep!—
Then did we look, dumb with a deep surprise
And awe, on Ernest, for indeed he seemed

40

Bathed in the light celestial that had burst
Through portals opened to admit the Bride!
Her perfect, blessed peace enfolded him
As with a still caress, and made him strong,
And changed the bitter loss to blessed gain,

45

So strong and close her spirit held him still!
And weeks have passed, and still that mystic peace
Seems wrapped about him.—We had looked with dread
For some reaction from the quietude
We could not comprehend—but still he seems

50

As one who sees what others do not see,
And seeing so, is fully satisfied;
And still, with steadfast heart, prepares to go
Back to his work alone—yet not alone,
For even my half-seeing eyes can trace

55

The brightness of the Presence by his side!

 

PHILIP.


I well believe it;—yet, if hearing this
Some years ago—I should have set it down
As dreamy fancies of a morbid grief.
But when one’s steps have in the valley trod,

60

’Mid fearsome shapes and terrors of the night;
And then hath seen the bliss of breaking day,—
The globe of gold set in a ruby cup,
Uplifted o’er the shoreless stretch of sea,—
He knows, as ne’er before, the bliss of light,

65

And so can go his way and do his work,
And wait for rest and sweet companionship [Page 208]
Till God’s own curfew sends its silver call
Through purpling eve, to bring the labourer home!

 

CLARA.


You told me, Philip, that fair moonlight eve,

70

When in its wondrous beauty we rejoiced,
Blessed,—too—in our reunion,—marred too soon,
That you would sometime tell me of yourself.
And how that dreary darkness turned to light?

 

PHILIP.


It is a long sad story, friend of mine!

75

Yet I have wished to tell it all to you,
Who ever seemed a portion of my life?
From those fair opening days that seem to wear
The roseate hues of morning, as we trace
With laggard steps the midway path of life!

80

Oh! well I know how, with a sister’s care,
You watched my course, grieving for perverse speech
And wayward courses that my restless mind
Would take,—far wandering from that safer way
In which you longed to help my wilful feet.

85

Yet I was made so;—all things I must try,
Accepting nothing till I saw the proof.
And as I older grew and more observed,—
Taking your honoured father’s daily walk
To measure others by,—too soon I saw

90

How few of all who bore the Christian name
Were true like him in thought and word and deed!
I heard some preachers, ever beating out
The same fine points of doctrine:—‘Thus and so
You must believe,—on peril of your soul!’

95

But as for Christlike spirit,—for such lives
As should have flowed from a true faith in Him,—
For righteousness and truth in daily round,—
In shop or mart, on platforms, at the polls,—
These seemed too oft forgotten; or, at best,

100

If grievous wrongs at times were spurned, condemned,
There seemed so little urgent zeal to drive
The accursed thing out from the Christian camp, [Page 209]
Lulling the conscience with assurance strange:—
‘Repent! ’twill be as if it ne’er had been.’

110

As if Christ owned repentance such as this!
Or if some heavenly-minded prophet rose,
Like those of old who feared not to denounce
Evil as evil, wheresoever wrought,
Beneath the purple, or the beggar’s rags,—

115

Too oft it seemed to me he had to share
The prophet’s meed of hate and bitter scorn;
He had ‘forgot his office, turned aside
From preaching the pure Gospel,’—as if Christ
Himself had not rebuked with scathing wrath

120

The ‘white-washed sepulchres’ his keen eye marked
Mid those who deemed themselves ‘elect’ of God!
And—seeing how observance blotted out
The charge to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself,’
The very test and proof of higher love,—

125

And how misguided men misread the truth,—
I came to think religion was a snare,
And would have none of it!  I know how oft
I grieved you by my rash and reckless words,
As if a full-orbed light of wisdom grew

130

In weak, one-sided mortals like myself.
I know,—too,—that you thought the trouble lay
In books and arguments I liked to bring
Into our talks, to show how science seemed
At war with what you held as truth divine,—

135

And I had come to question,—e’en to hate,
Because of many wrongs done in its name!
Then when my restless soul would wander wide
To see the changeful world and human life
In distant lands, ’mid peoples new and strange,

140

I watched how each its own religion held,—
Kept certain fixed observance;—for the rest,
Lived its own wayward, earth-bound life, the same
As if it feared no unseen, righteous Power,
Thinking by rite and worship to insure

145

Peace and immunity from final ill,
In spite of sinful, selfish, reckless lives,—
Just as so many ‘Christians’ did at home! [Page 210]
Thus I philosophized,—light-hearted,—then,
Until that happened,—altering life for me,

150

Which showed the barrenness of all my thought,
The impotence of all my fancied strength,
To meet one crisis that laid bare the heart
Into its inmost core.—I will not now
Further explain.  Our sorrow is too fresh

155

For that sweet saint whose presence haunts us still;—
It was so good to see her once again!
You never knew how, once, her smile could hold
My boyhood’s wayward fancy captured fast.
You were my friend and comrade,—shared my life;

160

But her I worshipped, as a pure bright star,
Though I would never have confessed it then!

 

CLARA.


How strange! For Gertrude——

 

PHILIP.


                                         What?  Why do you stop?

 

CLARA.


I think you were very dear to her
In those old days,—far dearer than you knew;

165

For love has always been her very life.



PHILIP.


I had not thought she honoured me so much;
And ’tis as well that neither of us knew
The other’s thought.  We were not meant for mates!
Mine was a boy’s first fancy,—upward cast,

170

Fading too soon in less ethereal dreams;
But when I saw her here, so little changed,
It seemed to bring before me long-lost years,
With all their fancies bright, and eager thoughts,
And unvoiced aspiration, crushed too soon

175

By contact with the hardening ways of life,
And low ideals, springing up like weeds,
That ever crowd and kill the fairest flowers!
But here comes Ernest.  I half dread for him
The meeting. [Page 211]

 

CLARA.


                      Nay, you need not.  He will be

180

Calmer than you.  But I must leave you now,
That you may talk more freely.  Stay!  He wished
That I should give you these imperfect lines,
Inspired by her calm beauty as she lay
Like marble chiselled by the noblest skill,

185

With peace expressed in every curve and line,
Hushing our sorrow to a reverent awe.
He wished that you should read them, ere you met,
That you might better know his thought of her.

She goes, and PHILIP reads the lines while      ERNEST is approaching.

‘SHE IS NOT DEAD, BUT SLEEPETH.’


Tread lightly, for she sleeps; we did not know

190

    That death could be so beautiful as this;—
Infinite peace on marble cheek and brow
    Lies, like an angel’s kiss!
In rapt repose, in sweet unconscious grace,
    She sleeps,—the fair hands lightly laid to rest;

195

A quiet not of earth is on her face,
    Pure as the snowy flowers upon her breast.

It is not she, but the fine counterpart
    Of all that she but yesterday did seem,
Fashioned and moulded by divinest art,

200

    Fair as a poet’s dream!—
Sacred as love,—though but the vacant shrine
    Whence love hath fled to seek a nobler goal,
Hallowed by touch of messengers divine,
    That bore to fairer realms the fairer soul!

205


And we who linger mid life’s toil and pain,
    Nor find the meaning of its mystery,
Shall keep within our hearts a tenderer strain
    For that sweet memory;
To lift our souls from this poor life below

210

    To that which far transcends the outward sight,
Whose peace, through tears, the sorrowing heart may know,
    Whose fullness dwells with God in life and light! [Page 212]

 


 

SCENE II.—PHILIP and ERNEST meeting.  PHILIP grasps his           friend’s hand, showing much emotion.

 

PHILIP.


My dear, dear friend!

 

ERNEST.


                                I know all you would say!—
Well, ’tis the end of many cherished hopes,
And therefore Faith must take their empty place,
And Hope look on to other life than this!

 

PHILIP.


Your faith, I hear, has nobly stood the test;

5

Nay, I can see it in your tranquil face,
In which I traced some anxious lines of care
When last I saw you.

 

ERNEST.


                                    Yes; a haunting fear
Oppressed me that my hopes were all too bright
To be fulfilled on earth—that such as she,

10

So pure, so sweet, of such ethereal mould,
Would not long linger in this lower sphere,
But soon must pass to fairer realms of love!
And so I treasured every look and tone,
E’en as a miser every glittering coin;

15

Each changing pulse and hue of her fair cheek
I marked with anxious care.  But when, one day,
She told me—she must leave me for a time,
Summoned by One whose voice she must obey,
Whose loving call she had so long obeyed;—

20

Oh, then I had mine hour of conflict sore,
Till I could give her willingly to Him,
Knowing that what He does is always well,
Seeing her peace,—the radiance of her face,
That seemed to feel the Love Invisible

25

With realizing force, that overpowered [Page 213]
Her tender, clinging love for all she held
So dear in this life.  Seeing this myself,
I could not,—loving her,—have grudged her then
The bliss that ‘passeth knowledge.’  So I closed

30

Her gentle eyes, and with them dearest hopes,
And turned to take once more the humble work
My Master gave:—to toil and wait and pray
Until He calls me, too, to that full joy
He hath prepared for all who love Him here.

35

Those stanzas of dear Clara’s well describe
Her beauty, even in death, and all we felt
That solemn peace said to us,—left behind!

 

PHILIP.


And have you, then, no shrinking from the thought
Of all the loneliness,—the craving heart,

40

Bereft of so much that enriches life,
Which you must henceforth miss,—the more alone
Because you dreamed of sweet sustaining love?

 

ERNEST.


I fear it not,—my friend!  What has sufficed
In sorest need will never fail in less;

45

And life for me has nothing left to dread!
Then, too, I love my simple islanders,
With all their perverseness and wilful ways;
And, loving them, will happier dwell with them
Than if I had to carve my life anew

50

To fit a world whose ways are foreign now
For one who long hath dwelt with simple souls,
Like little children, blunderers even in guile!
Scarce could I bear the chilling hollowness
That here, alas!  I see on every side:—

55

The Church, half-hearted, fettering her hands
With worldly love of luxury and show,
The splendour of the earthly temple, set
Above the unseen one of living stones,
Each severed part contending with the rest

60

In selfish rivalry of outward pomp, [Page 214]
While the fair spiritual temple lies
Shattered in fragments, each one vainly set
To hold itself the One,—alone complete;—
While all have nigh forgot the Great Command,—

65

The Lord’s last parting charge He left with men,—
That all His own should one another love,
Even as He loved them!  Yet, spurning this,
As if it ne’er had come from lips Divine,
They who profess to be most Christian stand

70

In proud aloofness from their brothers here,—
Nay, will not join with these in prayer or praise,
Because they differ on this point or that
In matters touching the mere outward rite,—
Not even the ‘weightier matters of the law,’

75

The righteousness and justice God demands;—
Far less precious fountain-spring of good,
The love to man that tests the love to God!
So, finding weakness, blindness,—everywhere,
I go again to my dear islanders,

80

Feeling that they at least desire to do
The things they know to be God’s will for them;
And,—spite their lingering, childish awkwardness,—
Are following onward in the way of faith,
Far, far more steadfastly than many here

85

Who look on them as mere barbarians still!

 

PHILIP.


Yes, yes!  I fully understand it all.
For many a day, you know, such things as these
You glance at now,—which I too clearly saw,—
The blind misreading of the lesson taught

90

By those who should have understood it well,—
Long kept me from the perfect Master’s feet,
Until I saw how our sin-darkened hearts
Obscure the purest rays of light Divine!
Yet still these things repel me, and I feel

95

A growing longing to join hands with you
And help you found, in that fair, palm-crowned isle,
A little Arcady of simple faith,—
Far from the jarring world of clashing creeds! [Page 215]

 

ERNEST.


Thrice welcome, friend of mine, your help would be;—

100

But you must count the cost!  I only fear
That you in time might find it banishment;
For you are many-sided.  Science,—life,—
All realms of thought—you love to wander through;
And much I fear that, ’mid such simple folk,

105

You’ll miss the stimulus of equal minds,
And chafe for lack of what you scorned before!

 

PHILIP.


Yes, I must well consider; for there are
More than myself to think of.  Much I owe
To Clara,—more than sister, more than friend!—

110

To cheer her solitary life must be
One of my duties, too long left undone,
Neglected through my wayward, wandering mood;
With her I must take counsel,—then—perchance
God may so order things that I may put

115

This wasted life to some true use at last!

 

ERNEST.


God grant it, Philip, as is best for you!
I have my wish, but I will say no more,
Till you can tell me all that I would know.
Farewell!  My thanks for your true sympathy;

120

’Tis Heaven’s immortal balm for sorrow here,
Growing in human hearts from root Divine,—
Infinite love, that suffers with our pain,
And by its tender comfort makes it joy!

 

TRANSFORMATION.


     We planted the bare brown stems one day,

125

          When the autumn winds blew cold,
     And the dying leaves fell mournfully,
          In their tarnished red and gold. [Page 216]

     And you wondered how they could ever grow,
          Those stems so brown and bare,

130

     With never a leaf or a bud to show
          That a touch of life was there.

     Yet when spring, returning, has blessed the earth,
          And summer is gay with bloom,
     Their glory of roses shall wake to birth,

135

          And pour forth their rich perfume.

     Thus we gently lay in their lowly bed
          The dear ones we cherished so,
     Dull sight would tell us that they are dead,
          And more we may not know!

140


     But Faith looks on to the glorious spring
          That she whispers shall yet be ours,
     And the new life’s nobler blossoming
          Into fair eternal flowers.

     Then well may we wait with patience here,

145

          Nor weep o’er the churchyard sod;
     We shall find the lost whom we held so dear
          In the glorious garden of God!

     And Love breaks out in triumphant cry
          As she soars on her tireless wing:

150

      ‘Now, where, O Grave, is thy victory?
          And where, O Death, thy sting?’

 


 

SCENE III.—PHILIP and CLARA in a flower-garden, where             CLARA is busily engaged.

 

PHILIP.


Careful as ever of your plants, I see.
You are as tender of these fragile things
As many a mother, of her infant flock!

 

CLARA (smiling).


Yes! ’tis the instinct born within us all,
To nurse, protect and shelter human flowers,— [Page 217]

5

Dumb animals,—or these poor passive plants,
Helpless to save themselves from coming ills,
Yet ready to reward our care with smiles!

 

PHILIP.


Well, can you spare an hour from them to me?
I have so much to tell you,—much to ask

10

Of counsel for myself, my future life.

 

CLARA.


Fain would I hear whate’er you have to say,
For not so many are the things that claim
My care,—that I should grudge an hour to you,
The sole friend left to me from childhood’s days!

15

 

PHILIP.


I wished to tell you somewhat of myself,
My inner self, that I have told to none,
Yet would that you should know, dear friend,—to whom
I owe a brother’s confidence, at least,
And to whose judgment I would now refer

20

For counsel that must shape my future course.

 

CLARA.


Come, then, to our beloved cliff-side nook,
Where Gertrude watched with me your homing sail
So lately.  Ah! it seems a year ago
Since Death has come, and cut so wide a swath

25

Between the days that were and those that are!
I know it is not long,—for even then
A stray bough here and there was tinged with gold,—
First touch of Autumn’s finger lightly laid;
And now the red leaves flutter slowly down

30

From those great boughs that scarcely hide the blue,
While all the forest gold has turned to dross
Beneath the lashing of October winds
And dreary gusts of chill and sobbing rain,
That seemed to weep and moan o’er Gertrude’s grave!

35

[Page 218]

PHILIP.


Nay, let your thoughts not linger mid the gloom;
Your faith must look beyond the autumn’s death
To that new-budding life that silent flows
Into the tiny, growing bud,—and swelling,—drives
The dying leaflet from the parent bough;—

40

So think of that great glorious living tide
That flows for ever from the boundless sea
Of life and love, that bathes the throne of God!

 

CLARA.


Strangely yet sweetly fall upon mine ear
From you—such all unlooked-for words of faith,

45

So sweet, so solacing to my sad heart!
But now pray tell me of yourself,—and all
You vaguely hinted, when we talked before;
I long to hear all that befell your life
When distance parted us, and we could know

50

So little of you in your wandering ways,
And all you saw, and thought and hoped and felt!
Often we thought of you, and wondered oft
What scenes, what pleasures, held your roaming feet!

 

PHILIP.


And I, for my part, oft have blamed myself

55

That I so long could leave my home and you;
And, most of all, when your great sorrow came,
Taking your loving father from your side,
And leaving you to meet new cares alone,
I was not there to take a brother’s place!

60

But, then, the roving instinct was too strong,
And still it ever mastered my resolve
Of turning homeward;—for I ever hoped
To gain new light from the new skies I sought.
Still disappointment dogged me,—drove me on,

65

Unheeding the still, small voice in my heart,
Which yet must be our surest guide to truth!

 

CLARA.


I found that truth at home, and you abroad! [Page 219]

 

PHILIP.


Well,—it were long to tell of all I marked
In foreign lands, ’neath familiar skies:

70

The ever-changing types of life and man,
Yet, with the heart at centre still the same,
’Neath all diversities of form and hue;
And still I found that strange implanted sense
That we call Conscience could be reached at last,

75

Teaching that right is right, and should be done,
However strangely that might be misread,
And teaching, too, that something more than earth
Can give—is needed to complete our good!
And so I roamed in philosophic calm,

80

Yet treasuring old home memories,—like the dream
Of early youth, as sweet and sacred things
In store for some fair season yet to come;
Till one long cruise I made in Southern seas,
At Eastern cities touching here and there.

85

A dreamy, lotus-eating time it was,
And drowsily the long, still days slipped by,
’Neath sultry skies, and languorous, fragrant air,
Lulling disturbing thought to sleep and dreams,
Yet waking vague, half-understood desire

90

For something that should fill an empty heart.
Then,—ah!—how yet the memory burns and stings!
A woman’s face enthralled my wayward will!
It haunts me still in many a fevered dream,
Though long the passion hath been quenched and cold,

95

That drew me to her with resistless spell,
And held me by her charm of glance and tone.
It was her nature,—instinct,—what you will!
Her lustrous eyes in their mysterious depths
Seemed to enshrine unfathomed store of love

100

And thought and passion; and her witching smile,
The soft, low, languid, half-caressing tones,
And silvery accents of her Southern voice,
All held me hers with a magnetic force,
That crept so stealthily and unawares

105

About my inner life, before I knew. [Page 220]
I could not cast the sweet enchantment off,
Nor would have wished to do it if I could!
I thought of naught, and dreamed of naught but her,—
Content to win the guerdon of a smile,

110

Counting all else but loss,—so I could live
In my fool’s paradise of lovely dreams,
Too bright and fair for earthly life of ours;
For all too soon came rude awakening!
She told me, one still night, when a full moon

115

Touched with her silver wand the heaving sea,
That she was long betrothed to one who soon
Would board the ship and join her onward way,
And,—reaching port,—become her wedded lord.
She told it with a sad, dejected air,

120

As an impending fate that must be faced;
Her troth was plighted, and her lot was sealed!
Then she would sigh, as if her heart would break
For sorrow that our lives had crossed so late,—
That we,—who seemed to fit each other’s needs

125

As closely as the calyx fits the flower,—
Must yet by Fate be parted evermore!
In vain I pled that marriage so enforced
Were sin against her truest self and soul:
No words could move her; and I vainly thought

130

’Twas but her reading of the true and good,
So often blindly twisted into wrong;
And ceased to urge her into mine, instead!
Each night I walked the deck in inward strife,
Powerless to lull the passion-waves that surged

135

Through all mine inner being, stirring strong
All that was in me,—depths I ne’er had known!
That I could lose her scarce I could believe,
Who seemed become a portion of myself;—
That she should wed another—was despair!

140

Yet towards herself my anger could not live,
For look and tone and gesture seemed so sweet,
That I could only long and pine for them.
Yet,—present within me,—how they maddened me
To think they were another’s!  So they passed,—

145

Those bitter, sweet, fair, feverish tropic days; [Page 221]
And then he came,—the man I feared to see,
Yet loathed and hated more, when I beheld
His coarse yet comely presence,—heard his voice,
So satisfied, so confident was he,

150

In his own power to compass all his ends!
I writhed at his calm air of ownership;
In her I scarce could join with him in thought,—
Whose garment’s hem I could have knelt to kiss,
Till,—maddened by his bold, complacent leer,—

155

I think I could have killed him willingly,
But for the inner voice of stern rebuke,—
The better self that saved me from the worse!
How many days I spent in passion’s hell
I counted not!  ’Twas one dread feverish dream,

160

From which I could not rouse my spell-bound soul.

At length there came one charmèd eventide,
Buried in memory deep for evermore;
We talked together, as the sunset passed
Into the early moonlight;—glassy calm

165

The sea lay, like a pond that scarcely knew
A ripple trembling o’er its smooth expanse,
And mirrored back the crimson-purple glow
In softer, richer radiance than above;
While one palm-crested islet rose afar,

170

With silver fringe that marked its circling reef.
It was an eve for lovers, and my dream
Of passion throbbing woke, in pristine power,
As we stood there, and her dark, wistful eyes
Sought mine, it seemed to me, in mute appeal,

175

As if she asked for pardon,—help;—and then
There broke from me some words I could not keep.
And he, not far away, divined, perchance,
How the case stood, and breaking on our talk,
He led her off with sharp, imperious air,

180

That plainly spoke his wish, if not command,
That she should hold herself aloof from me.

That night, like one distraught, I paced the deck,
And even prayed for help in my despair [Page 222]
Against this man who robbed me of the prize

185

I set above all else in earth or heaven!
Ah! how the strange, hushed stillness of that hour
Seems to enfold me still!—a hush like death,
Save for the vessel’s heavy, throbbing pulse,
And now and then a seaman’s muffled call,

190

Or plash of fish, that glanced with silver sheen.
Sleep was far distant from me, so I paced
The lonely deck, absorbed in bitter thoughts,
Whose tumult seemed to rend my inmost soul!
Nor noted I the mounting wraiths of cloud,

195

That swiftly overspread the purple sky,
Till suddenly the darkness of the night
Was torn asunder, and a mighty wind
Rushed o’er the hissing sea;—the clouds above
Broke in red darting fire and thunder-peal.

200

The mighty vessel quivered like a reed,
Then fled before the storm, like hunted prey,
Beneath the lashing of the hurricane,
That tossed the crests of waves about her spars,
In blinding showers of spray and hissing streams

205

That fell like water-spouts upon the deck.

Then rose another storm of groans and cries,
And anguished prayers from lips that seldom prayed!
Till with a crash the straining vessel struck,
Impaled upon the circling coral reef

210

That girt the palm-crowned isle;—and swift the waves
Leaped up to seize their prey.  And all the time
One only thought I had,—sought one alone.
Chance brought me near her as the vessel swerved,
Shuddering,—to make her fatal, headlong plunge.

215

Alone she stood, her lovely fear-blanched face
Upraised to mine in agonized appeal.—
Her soft hand clasped my own with frantic grip,
As of the dying, while with choking sobs
She begged I would not leave her there to die,

220

As he had done,—the craven-hearted wretch,
Who pressed into the boats to save himself,
Leaving her to a swift impending fate, [Page 223]
Rather than risk his safety seeking hers.
I held her trembling form with fierce delight

225

That this sharp stress of Fate had made her mine;
I tried to soothe her terror with fond words,
Bidding her trust to me, for nothing now
Should part us—nay, not even death itself!
Then, while she, sobbing, cried aloud for life,

230

The vessel lurched and settled slowly down.
Within the reef I knew the sea was calm
And shallow,—and I hoped to reach the shore!
I seized a spar, and bade her grasp it tight;
Then clasping her, and half astride the spar,

235

Caught a great wave that bore us o’er the reef
To smoother water;—then, with all my strength
I struck out for the land that seemed so near,
Hoping to set her living on the shore
Of that fair isle that seemed our haven now.

240

But,—cumbered by my charge,—my strength failed fast,
And in despair I felt ’twas almost gone,
When suddenly I touched a rocky ledge
And braced the spar against a jagged seam,
While with a desperate effort, still I held

245

The limp, unconscious form that lay so still,
Motionless, unresponsive, silent now;
And, crouching there, exhausted, watched for day.
But when, at last, I saw in the gray dawn
The face I loved, so deadly white and cold,—

250

Heart failed and strength o’ertaxed gave way at last;
I sank down senseless,—and I thought—to death!

Thence memory is a blank!  I could not tell
How long a time had passed,—when all at once—
My sleeping consciousness at last awoke.

255

I thought I was a boy at home once more,
Listening to you and Gertrude as you sang
At eventide, your simple childish hymns;
I heard the chiming of the evening bell,—
I saw the river flowing softly blue,—

260

The dusky, weather-beaten pines and oaks
That crest the rough gray crags and verdant slopes; [Page 224]
I saw your father’s smile and silver hair,
And a strange peace through all my being flowed.
But voices strange in tone broke on mine ear,

265

And when at last I opened languid eyes,
My glance took in a thatch of reeds and palm,
And woven walls of matting curtained round
My couch of palm-leaves, soft and loosely piled;
On floor of coral, fine as powdery snow;

270

And tall lithe forms, that seemed of living bronze,
Passed and repassed like phantoms in a dream,
And strange, uncomprehended words and tones
Broke gently on my scarce attending ear;
And still I lay like one in peaceful dream

275

Who fears to break and face the world again!

But when at last my fast returning strength
Compelled a fuller life to flow once more
Through my half-torpid being,—looking up,
My wistful glance encountered eyes that since

280

I’ve learned to love as I have loved but few;
And Ernest’s tones, with tender pity soft,
Fell soothing on my ear, and, bit by bit,
I pieced out life again.  Ah! then awoke
The throbbing pain—weakness had lolled to sleep!

285

With sharp misgiving, I inquired for her
Whose cold, white face I carried in my heart,—
As I had seen it in the gray of dawn.
Alive or dead I claimed her—she was mine
By every sacred right!  But Ernest brought

290

Such love and wisdom to his arduous task
As somewhat calmed the tempest in my breast,—
Preparing me to hear the bitter truth,
That earthly love could never claim her now,
Since Death himself had seized her for his own;

295

For when the waves had washed us to the shore,
That was so close,—and strong and eager hands
Had drawn us out and laid us on the beach,—
The cares that brought me slowly back to life
Had left her still in that relentless grasp

300

Whence no despair of love could call her back! [Page 225]

 

CLARA (after a long pause).


And what of all the rest?—that wretched man?

 

PHILIP.


They said a sandal-trader passed that day,
Lay by, and took some men from open boats;
I know no more, and scarcely cared to ask.

305

My heart seemed dead within me for a time;
Life had no charm to win me back, to bear
A burden far too heavy for my strength!
Fain had I closed my wearied eyes for aye,
Till Ernest’s generous love at last won mine,

310

His strange, lone life, the simple, child-like souls
Who gathered round him as their prophet there,
Slowly aroused my slumbering sympathy,
While torturing memories, with the passing weeks
Grew fainter, less absorbing, day by day.

315

I walked with Ernest on his daily rounds,
And saw the wondrous change his work had wrought
In winning fierce barbarians as these were
From cruel savagery to Christian love;
For, as they often told me, had it chanced

320

To any shipwrecked stranger as to me
In the old time, he quickly had been slain
For gruesome feast.  But they, instead, had been
The faithful guardians of my helpless days,
Nursing me back to life, rejoicing much

325

At my returning strength, and saying, oft,
In their strange, child-like broken English speech,
How glad they are for ‘Missi’s’* life come back!
I sat beside them in their palm-roofed church,
And listened to the child-like hymns they sang

330

That had so sweetly struck my waking ear,
And heard again in Ernest’s winning tones
The old familiar story of the Cross,
Which melted some of those poor souls to tears,
That Love Divine should suffer for their sake;

335

And the old simple faith that I had thought [Page 226]

Was gone from me for ever stirred again;—
And from the blankness of a dull despair
My heart and life came back again to me,
And my dark soul found light and God at last!

 

CLARA.


At last! thank God for that!

 

PHILIP.


                                           ’Tis passing strange

340

How far His ways outrun our conscious ken,
That I, who held my powers in such esteem,
Impatient of all limits to my thought,
Should, blind with passion, wreck my nobler life,
And there in that lone island of the sea,

345

’Mid men I counted barbarous, awake
With inward vision cleared to catch the light!
You love a parable—my story’s one.

 

CLARA.


I cannot tell you what a joy to me
The ending of your parable has brought.

350

 

PHILIP.


Then will you wonder that I hold that isle
Sacred beyond all other spots of earth,
Where my old life died with her, and the new
Sprang up to live for ever?  You know now
Why Ernest seems the friend of friends to me,

355

Unconscious still of half his blessed work.

 

CLARA.


Nay! ’tis most fitting you should hold him thus.

 

PHILIP.


And yet I said not he was first of all
Within my heart;—for there is one I loved
From earliest boyhood,—playmate,—comrade true,

360

The sister friend on whom I used to lean,
Scarce conscious that I did, till I had lost
That dear familiar presence for a time! [Page 227]
I had my boyish dream,—my fever fit
Of wild, impetuous passion, ending so

365

As I have told you.  Nay, not all is told;
For when in talk with Ernest once I spoke
Briefly of her,—beside her island grave,
And of the man whom I had hated so,
He told me that he knew him but too well

370

For one of his worst enemies—a man
Without a trace of conscience or of truth,
Set on one enterprise,—to gather in
The precious sandal-wood that brought him wealth.
Murder and robbery were naught to him,

375

So he could grasp the treasure that he sought.
He told me of his cruelty and lust,
His fiendish plots to spread disease and death
Among the natives, and so make it seem
That Ernest’s presence brought them endless ill,

380

That they might kill or drive him from their isle!
And then I felt what nature hers had been
To plight her troth to such an one as this—
For love of his vile lucre,—not himself,
For she had told me that she loved him not.

385

And so that spell was broken, and I knew
How false the gleam that I had taken for light,
The siren’s voice that lured me to despair;
And yet I often think that, in her way,
She loved me in such fashion as she could!

390

 

CLARA.


Poor girl!  Poor shipwrecked life!  And yet, perchance,
Swift death were better than the lot she chose.

 

PHILIP.


Yes!  I have thought that coward act of his,
That base desertion in his abject fright,
Saved her from far worse fate than that she met.

395

That thought, and that alone, assuaged the pain
And ruth I felt for her untimely end!
Since then, with heaven-purged sight, my heart discerns [228]
The truer charm that blessed my early days—
Clara! true lode-star of my soul and life!

400

And though long silence oft has tried you sore,
’Twas not that I forgot you.  Always home
And you were the twin stars that marked my goal;
And what were home without its household light?
Now, having told you all I had to tell,

405

And kept naught back from you, I fain would ask
If you could trust your future life with mine,
So long your friend and brother,—lover now,
In love’s true sense,—as I would dare to hope!
Could you, dear Clara, after these lost years

410

Of fruitless roving,—could you overlook
With love forgiving,—all the waywardness,
The seeming carelessness of the old ties,
The wandering fancy, and the misplaced love,
That wrought its own sore punishment?  Can you

415

Forgive me,—trust me,—lay your hand in mine
With the old faith of childhood’s happy years?

 

CLARA.


Naught have I to forgive!  I had no claim
Save that—I think—I loved you from the day
My father brought you, orphaned, to our home.

420

Your boyish daring charmed me, won my heart;
I sought your aid in all my childish needs,
And no one wiser, save my father, deemed.
I need not tell you what bewilderment
Your growing unbelief awoke in me,

425

Shaking my faith for many a troubled year,
Perchance to find it stronger in the end!
Your life with mine has been so closely twined,
That scarce in thought I could divide them now,
Nor more could break the bond knit by the years,

430

Than kindred ties that linked our lives at first!
Whate’er you do, your lot seems part of mine;
Where’er you go, my heart still goes with you.
But are you sure you know yourself aright,
And that in future years no newer love

435

Might yet again be more than mine to you? [Page 229]

 

PHILIP.


My faithful friend, ‘my sister, and my love!’
How the sweet words of that old sacred song
Fit into all our deepest truest love!
How doubly strong the old familiar tie,

440

Close interwoven in our web of life!
And yet I wonder not that you should ask,—
Since I have told you all the bitter past,—
If I am sure that ne’er again my heart
Could drift from its safe anchorage in you?

445

Yes!  I am sure, because that anchor holds
Deep in the very bed-rock of my life!
But now, how shall I ask if you could make
For me a sacrifice I dare not claim—
Nay, hardly dare suggest it:—Could you leave

450

Your cherished home, so hallowed in your heart
By memories of your happy childhood life,
And sacred hours here passed with those we see
With our dull, earthly vision here no more?
Yet now, with all the wasted years behind me set,

455

One worthy aim before me seems to rise,
For which my scarce used powers might yet avail.
You know the old ambitions of my youth,
O’er-topping all the possible in me.
Dreams of the morning—they have passed as soon!

460

Yet is the vagrant mood still strong in me.
The old impatience of conventions dull,
In which my spirit scarce could breathe and live.
But Ernest’s life woke a new world for me,—
A world of possibilities untold,

465

Turning romantic dreams to higher use;
A virgin soil to work,—a plastic race
To mould into a higher, nobler type
Than this old, outworn one of ours at home;—
Such is the work that Ernest has begun;

470

But much he needs a helper, and I think,
Sharing his aims and, in degree, his faith,
My hands could strengthen his, and carry on
His work in ways he scarcely dreams of; yet, [Page 230]
For looking on, it oft has seemed to me

475

That it were worthy of the highest powers
God hath vouchsafed to man in such a spot
To work with Him in moulding noble men
To match the nature He has set them in!
The task the bold Prometheus once essayed,

480

As runs the legend, we may now fulfil,
With that mysterious aid that God bestows
So freely on the faithful, seeking soul,
That watches, while it strives for sacred fire.
These child-like men and women need to grow

485

In mind as well as life of heart and soul.
And so, while Ernest,—having vanquished now
The dark, wild fancies that so blinded them
Against the entrance of the light of life,—
Builds on the true foundation he has laid,

490

I, in my way, may lead their opened minds
To truth of lower rank, yet not less truth;—
My teach them those great laws that God has writ
In the earth’s ribs of rock, in leaf and flower,
And in the sparkling vault of heaven they see,—

495

As yet unseeing,—and in their own selves
Formed for the noblest and the happiest ends
That living creatures know beneath the sun,
If but they keep the guiding outline traced
To shape these living stones and human shrines,—

500

As much His law divine, as if His hand
Had traced them carven on a slab of stone.
Think you not it a fair emprise ’twould be,
To till a human garden such as this,—
To crown one fairest spot of this fair world,

505

So far as human hands the task may dare,
With richer beauty of the noblest life
High thought and living faith can nourish there?

 

CLARA.


Scarce could a higher mission be bestowed
On any life of mortal here below.—

510

A noble thought, indeed!  But what of dreams [Page 231]
You had of other laurels to be won—
Your love of science?

 

PHILIP.


                                        Nay, it is not dead;
Good work for science still I love to do—
This, too, a part of God’s eternal truth,—

515

Through study of the myriad-featured life
That bursts to life beneath a tropic sun.
My years of preparation will avail
For reading Nature there and planting thoughts
In the new soil of those untutored minds

520

As yet undreamed of,—thus enriching them
By sharing with them my long-garnered store,
And doubly blessed in thus imparting it!
While you, my love, should have your fitting place,
No less beneficent, for you could lead

525

Those simple, gentle, lowly woman-souls,
Not knowing yet what dignity may crown
The lot of women,—into all that gives
Grace, power, and winning charm to her who rules
By right divine the kingdom of sweet home!

530

You could mould mothers for the future years,
And wives to mate with nobler, wiser men;
Your music, dear, would win their simple hearts,
And teach them sweeter melodies to sing
Than those wild, plaintive, wavering chords that seem

535

The outcome of their half-developed souls,
Seeking for fuller life as yet unknown.
Then, think you, dearest, you could leave your home,
Cherished and dear, with all its sacred links
With our departed, for a task like this?

540

 

CLARA.


Indeed, I think I could not happier be;
For helping you in such a task as this
Would be the highest good my heart could ask.

 

PHILIP.


Worth leaving all you love—for? [Page 232]

 

CLARA.


                                                   Nay,—you know
What I love best would be most fully mine!

545

And more than any smaller, pettier boon,
True womanhood desires to help and heal
First,—the lives nearest, closest to her heart,—
Then other lives that lack what she can give,
And what she prizes most when others need!

550

 

PHILIP.


’Tis like you, Clara. Would more women were
Akin to you in heart; then would there be
More happy homes and fewer shipwrecked lives,
For lack of higher aims and nobler love.

 

CLARA.


Scarce do you know me, if you think that this

555

Were hard for me,—to go with one I love
More than all else on earth—to life so rich
In love and happy work!  If this dear spot
Were dearer than I hold it, though ’tis linked
With all the happy past, and dearly loved,

560

And hard to leave,—perchance, for aught save this,—
’Tis no unwelcome call that bids me hence
With one I love, to lifelong task of love!

 

PHILIP.


Then, if your heart and judgment thus agree
To do so wonderful a thing as this,

565

To go to share with me and sweeten toil,
And be my inspiration, helpmeet, friend,
Let us go tell to Ernest this good news;
’Twill be the gladdest—now—that he can hear,—
That you, her dearest friend, so closely knit

570

With her whom God hath taken from his side,
Should be inclined, by ordering Divine,
To take, yourself, the task her hands resigned,
At higher call, no doubt for higher work. [Page 233]

 

CLARA.


Yes, let us cheer him with our happiness;

575

’Twill lighten somewhat the deep sense of loss
To hear of our united earnest hope,
To be to him what we conjoined can be,
And no one else beside!  Our reverent love
Shall make her memory a blessing still

580

To cheer and strengthen all his life to come.

 


 

ACT III.

 

SCENE I.—A moonlight night at sea.  PHILIP and CLARA      pacing the deck of PHILIP’S yacht, the ‘Winged Victory.’

 

CLARA.


Oh, what a glorious night!  I marvel not
At all the rapturous praises I have heard
Of nights in Southern climes; for pale and dim
Seems our most lovely moonlight, when compared
With this effulgent splendour on the sea,

5

And all about us,—almost too intense,
Too great a glory for our mortal sight!
Through the enchanted air we seem to float
On these great snowy wings that bear us on—
The Winged Victory!  How aptly named

10

Our vessel seems, a symbol of the faith
That is the inward life and moving power
Of Ernest’s course, and ours—I hope—as well.

 

PHILIP.


Yes; as I think I’ve said to you before,
That grand old figure, born of noble dreams,

15

Which, struggling through the dimness of the dawn,
Has ever seemed to me to shadow forth
The victory of faith that soars aloft,
Where straining, panting Thought can never climb, [Page 234]
And safely crosses on triumphant wings

20

The gulf before which Reason shrinking stands,
Scarce daring farther.—

 

CLARA.


                                      Ah! how well I know
Our souls must needs have heavenly wings to reach
That pure empyrean of light Divine,
Which our poor human eyes can scarcely bear!

25

And yet,—how steadfast Ernest ever walks
By faith, with powers unseen!  I notice oft
It seems an effort for him to inweave
Our small concerns into the inner life
That lightly moves within a higher sphere.

30

 

PHILIP.


Yes; it is well that he has gained the power
To realize the life invisible,
Which holds so much for him—his Saviour Friend,
And her who lives in Christ for evermore!
I often mark with anxious, troubled heart,

35

His face, that daily grows more pure and sweet—
But here he comes, and that rare smile of his
Transfigured in the moonlight splendour seems.

 

CLARA.


Oh, how like our dear Gertrude, as she looked
At home, one night that I remember well!

40

 

ERNEST.


How fair a night, my friends!  Does it not seem
That heaven has come to earth to rest awhile—
So radiant is the scene, so full of peace?
And soon I hope we shall behold again
Our palm-crowned islands, with their silver fringe,

45

Like emeralds set in sapphire, touched with light.
But see that tiny bark that crosses now
Yon bar of rippling silver on the sea;
Strange that so small a craft should venture out
So far from land!  The captain on the bridge [Page 235]

50

And I have watched it from a tiny speck
That nearer draws.  Perchance a castaway,
That seeks a rescuing vessel, scanning now
Our sails with eager eyes.

 

PHILIP (starting).


                                           Look!  Did you see?
I’m sure I caught a sudden flash of light,

55

As if they made a signal, hard to catch
’Mid this magnificence of silver sheen.

 

ERNEST.


Yes, there it is again, and clearer now.
No doubt it is a signal of distress.

 

CLARA.


Oh, then let us go forward.  I should like

60

To watch its progress.  See! the sailors crowd
Already to the bow, with ropes in hand,
And slacken sail to meet the little craft.

 

LOVE AND DEATH.


Once Love and Death were wrestling for a prize,—
     The tender maid each sought to claim his own.

65

Death tore her from Love’s arms, and tears and cries;
     But straight he found the lovely maid was gone.
     An empty victory his, he stood alone,
While Love cried out, with shining, tearful eyes,
                          ‘On to the skies!’

70


Then Death sank mateless through the yawning ground,
     While Love unfurled his wings of stainless white,—
On to the golden gates of sunset bound,—
     While Faith and Hope upheld him in his flight,
Until there dropped from those pure realms of light

75

     In tones of music,—the triumphant sound,
                           ‘My love is found!’ [Page 236]

 


 

SCENE II.—PHILIP and CLARA in a remote corner of the deck      at twilight.

 

CLARA.


Is that you, Philip?

 

PHILIP.


                               Darling, yes, and here
In quiet I would talk apart with you,
While evening’s purple curtain softly falls
To screen our privacy;—for I would speak
Of things best closely kept between ourselves.

5

You know the sudden shock it was to me
When,—rising from the deep,—for so it seemed,
I saw the hateful visage of that man,
Last seen on one too well-remembered night,
Of which I told you once, when life to me

10

Seemed swallowed up in death for evermore—
The man of all men hateful to my soul,
More for his baseness than from jealousy!
And yet, now that I know the deadly wrong
Of hatred cherished towards a fellow-man

15

By those to whom so much has been forgiven,
I would not, if I could, have dared refuse
Our help and succour to the castaways
Who in extremity besought our aid.
And yet I much misdoubt that we have here

20

A heartless viper, ready to destroy
The hand that rescued, if occasion serve.

 

CLARA.


I do not like his face or trust his words.
Even when,—to gain our favour,—he speaks fair,
A look of furtive evil lurks behind

25

The outward semblance of a feigned esteem;
And Ernest, I can see, distrusts him too.
Think you he recognised you here? [Page 237]

 

PHILIP.


                                                     Nay, that
I cannot tell.  His look eludes my glance;
Not once his eyes have fairly met my own.

30

He and the fellows with him are a band
As evil-looking as I ever saw,
Methinks, in all my many wanderings.
And much I doubt their story of the wreck,
And think that probably their own misdeeds

35

Had brought about a fate too well deserved.
From certain signs, we think a mutinous crew
Had turned them out adrift upon the sea
To meet what fate they might; for in the boat
Their store of food and water was not low,

40

And other things they had which scarcely seemed
Like hasty salvage from a sinking ship.
But who comes here?

 

ERNEST (softly).


                                   Oh, did I startle you?

 

PHILIP.


Nay, but I feared some other ears might hear
The subject of our talk, which you can guess.

45

You know I think these men have weapons here
Concealed from us, and yet I hardly dare
To have them searched, lest this should only serve
To rouse at once their anger and revenge.

 

ERNEST.


Nay, rather let us watch them night and day!

50

Your captain tells me he will henceforth keep
A double watch on deck, and you and I
Can share the same between us.  You can take
The daylight hours, and I will watch at night.

 

PHILIP.


No.  We will share the night and daylight too.

55

To-night we’ll keep together; for I fear
Something,—I know not what,—may happen soon. [Page 238]

 

ERNEST.


I’ll go to rest awhile.  When Clara seeks
Her berth below, I’ll come and watch with you.

 

LOVE AND FAITH.


Up from the gloom and shadows of the night

60

     Faith spreads her wings to seek the realms of day,
     Through depths unfathomed speeding in her flight
With pinions strong she cleft the azure way,
     Yet still the unmeasured distance stretched afar,
Outreaching seraph’s wing and eagle’s sight,

65

And each remotest, faintly gleaming star.
     Her heart grew faint, her wings drooped wearily.
Vain seemed the quest, and endless seemed the way!

Then Love cried out, with voice that pierced the night,
‘Lo, I am here!’ And straight all space was light;

70

Darkness had vanished and the weary way,
And Faith had reached the glorious gates of day!

 


 

SCENE III.—The shore of a tropical island, encircled by a reef on which the surf breaks in a silver fringe.  A white coral beach, above which the ground rises, dotted with groves of palm and bread-fruit trees, etc.  Under their shade ERNEST is reclining on a couch of palm-leaves, and a group of natives, gathered round him, are talking and eagerly gesticulating.  PHILIP and CLARA converse apart, while some women and girls eagerly scan CLARA’S face and dress from a distance.

 

PHILIP.


Well, dear, here’s peace and rest and love and home
Or such I trust you soon will feel it here!—
I know, with me, you’re glad to reach our goal
On our fair Winged Victory’s pinions white;—
Glad also to forget the tragic scene

5

’Mid which our voyage closed! [Page 239]

 

CLARA.


                                               Ah, fain would I
Forget that fearful night,—the clash of arms,
The oaths and groans, the cries of rage and pain,
And sound of bodies falling on the deck,
While I, as you desired, remained below

10

In helpless dread and anguish,—knowing not
What fate was yours, nor what might soon be mine!

 

PHILIP.


It was an ugly scene, but ended soon,
And might have ended worse, but for the watch
We kept so closely on those wretched men,

15

Who thought to crush us by a sudden blow,
And madly did they fight in desperate stress!
It was their chance, they thought, to grasp a prize
That might retrieve their losses, serve their need;
But happily our arms were ready too,

20

And we—to meet them!

 

CLARA.


                                        Yes.  Thank God for that!
Yet wicked,—heartless,—as we knew that man,
The painful memory of his evil face,
His haggard look of hopeless, dull despair,
As he lay panting out his ebbing life,

25

Still haunts me like a spectre, night and day.
He seemed already to endure the pangs
Of a lost soul that realized its doom!

 

PHILIP.


Yes; ’twas a sight to make us sharply feel
The dread, mysterious issues of our lives,

30

To see how,—making its own misery,—
That cruel selfish soul that forced its will
At any bitter cost to other lives,
Without compunction, pity, or regret,
So passed despairing to the dark beyond!

35

We may not judge; let Him—who knows him best! [Page 240]
But even I must pity this poor wretch
Who thus had sold his life to fiends of hell,
And more still the young lad who shared his death,
Whom he had carried off while yet a boy

40

And taught him wickedness,—as others good.
What chance had he,—poor lad?  I thought his eyes
Shone with a softer light as death drew near,
And seemed to hold a wistful depth of thought,
Brooding o’er wasted years and shipwrecked youth!

45

The others, wounded, tended by your hands,
And softened somewhat by your gentle care,
Have told me more than I could ever tell
To you,—or any,—of the fiendish deeds
Their master wrought, and of the mutiny,

50

When the down-trodden, goaded crew rebelled,
And drove them from the ship, and cut adrift
The boat in which we found them—to our cost.

 

CLARA.


In our dear Ernest’s wounding?

 

PHILIP.


                                                   Yes; it was
His self-forgetting, ever trustful heart

55

That made him risk too much, in the vain hope
That he might save blood-shedding.  I had fain
Sent him below until the fight was done—
It jarred his soul to see; but that base wretch,
In his malignant fury, shot at him.

60

That fired my blood,—and swift he was avenged!

 

CLARA.


But now his wound is healing fast; and here
The soft sweet air,—the calm surrounding peace,—
The love shown by those artless, childlike folk
That throng about him with such kindly cares,

65

Will soon restore him, I believe and hope,
To wonted health and that belovèd work
In which his faithful heart finds all its joy.
So much awaits him here!  How I rejoice [Page 241]
In being set to such a task as this,— 

70

A task to fill us with the glorious thought
Of being fellow-workers with our Lord,
To hasten on His ends for such as these.
How often,—reading in my lonely past
The wondrous story of our Christian faith,

75

How, like the mustard-seed, it grew and grew
Till its great branches, spreading far and wide,
Threw grateful shadow o’er the whole round world,—
I’ve felt that we who live in these last times,
Sharing the fruitage of that tree of life,

80

Should follow in the steps of those who toil
Nourished and fostered its first tender years,
And I felt guilty that I simply lived
To gather in the fruits of others’ toil!

 

PHILIP.

 

Yes, love, it is the seal our God hath set

85

On our united life, most nobly crowned
In being linked to such a high behest
As this,—to help to mould His image here,
Raising these blindly-groping, childlike hearts
Towards that true Light they half unconscious seek,

90

Whose rays shall wake in them the budding germs
Of pure and high ideals, such as we
Have learned to love in Christ’s own human life,—
Our heritage through centuries of faith!
The seeds we sow take ages for their growth—

95

Ages of light and heat and heavenly dew,
Nor may we see their rich maturity,
But only tend their growth as God may please,
In the soul-garden He hath given to us,
Wherein to toil for Him till evensong!

100

 

CLARA.


Yes; and perchance our Gertrude knows it all,
From those calm heights where Passion’s voice is still!
I wonder if her cup of bliss might be
The sweeter for our work with Ernest here;
For scarcely seem we severed,—she above, [Page 242]

105

And we below, each in the appointed sphere,
Working and waiting towards the selfsame goal,
When Faith, victorious, everywhere shall spread
Her wings above the nations, ransomed all
From evil, brought to that most glorious end

110

Wherein all good that sweetens human life—
Science and Art and Poesy—all strains
That voice the music of the human soul,
Shall blend in one majestic, full-voiced chord
Of faith and hope and love, for man and God.

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THE END. [Page 243]

 

 


 

 

* ‘Missi,’ the native term for missionary. [back]

 

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