A HIGHLAND inn among the western hills,
A single parlour, single bed that fills
With fisher or with tourist, as may be;
A waiting-maid. as fair as you can see,
With hazel eyes, and frequent blushing face,
And ample brow, and with a rustic grace
In all her easy quiet motions seen,
Large of her age, which haply is nineteen,
Christian her name, in full a pleasant name,
Christian and Christie scarcely seem the same;—
A college fellow, who has sent away
The pupils he has taught for many a day,
And comes for fishing and for solitude,
Perhaps a little pensive in his mood,
An aspiration and a thought have failed,
Where he had hoped, another has prevailed,
But to the joys of hill and stream alive,
And in his boyhood yet, at twenty-five.
A merry dance, that made young people meet,
And set them moving, both with hands and feet;
A dance in which he danced, and nearer knew
The soft brown eyes, and found them tender too.
A dance that lit in two young hearts the fire,
The low soft flame, of loving sweet desire,
And made him feel that he could feel again;—
The preface this, what follows to explain.
That night he kissed, he held her in his arms,
And felt the subtle virtue of her charms;
Nor less bewildered on the following day,
He kissed, he found excuse near her to stay,—
Was it not love? And yet the truth to speak,
Playing the fool for haply half a week,
He yet had fled, so strong within him dwelt
The horror of the sin, and such he felt
The miseries to the woman that ensue.
He wearied long his brain with reasonings fine,
But when at evening dusk he came to dine,
In linsey petticoat and jacket blue
She stood, so radiant and so modest too,
All into air his strong conclusions flew.
Now should he go. But dim and drizzling too,
For a night march, to-night will hardly do,
A march of sixteen weary miles of way.
No, by the chances which our lives obey,
No, by the Heavens and this sweet face, he’ll stay.
A week he stayed, and still was loth to go,
But she grew anxious and would have it so.
Her time of service shortly would be o’er,
And she would leave; her mistress knew before.
Where would she go? To Glasgow, if she could;
Her father’s sister would be kind and good;
An only child she was, an orphan left,
Of all her kindred, save of this, bereft.
Said he, ‘Your guide to Glasgow let me be
You little know, you have not tried the sea,
Say, at the ferry when are we to meet?
Thither, I guess, you travel on your feet.’
She would ‘be there on Tuesday next at three;
‘O dear, how glad and thankful she would be;
But don’t,’ she said, ‘be troubled much for me.’
Punctual they met, a second class he took,
More naturally to her wants to look,
And from her side was seldom far away.
So quiet, so indifferent yet, were they,
As fellow-servants travelling south they seemed,
And no one of a love-relation dreamed.
At Oban, where the stormy darkness fell,
He got two chambers in a cheap hotel.
At Oban of discomfort one is sure,
Little the difference whether rich or poor.
Around the Mull the passage now to make,
They go aboard, and separate tickets take,
First-class for him, and second-class for her.
No other first-class passengers there were,
And with the captain walking soon alone,
This Highland girl, he said, to him was known.
He had engaged to take her to her kin;
Could she be put the ladies’ cabin in?
The difference gladly he himself would pay,
The weather seemed but menacing to-day.
She ne’er had travelled from her home before,
He wished to be at hand to hear about her more.
Curious it seemed, but he had such a tone,
And kept at first so carefully alone,
And she so quiet was, and so discreet,
So heedful ne’er to seek him or to meet,
The first small wonder quickly passed away.
And so from Oban’s little land-locked bay
Forth out to Jura—Jura pictured high
With lofty peaks against the western sky,
Jura, that far o’erlooks the Atlantic seas,
The loftiest of the Southern Hebrides.
Through the main sea to Jura;—when we reach
Jura, we turn to leftward to the breach,
And southward strain the narrow channel through,
And Colonsay we pass and Islay too;
Cantire is on the left, and all the day
A dull dead calm upon the waters lay.
Sitting below, after some length of while,
He sought her, and the tedium to beguile,
He ventured some experiments to make,
The measure of her intellect to take.
Upon the cabin table chanced to lie
A book of popular astronomy;
In this he tried her, and discoursed away
Of Winter, Summer, and of Night and Day.
Still to the task a reasoning power she brought,
And followed, slowly followed with the thought;
How beautiful it was to see the stir
Of natural wonder waking thus in her;
But loth was he to set on books to pore
An intellect so charming in the ore.
And she, perhaps, had comprehended soon
Even the nodes, so puzzling, of the moon;
But nearing now the Mull they met the gale
Right in their teeth: and should the fuel fail?
Thinking of her, he grew a little pale,
But bravely she the terrors, miseries, took:
And met him with a sweet courageous look:
Once, at the worst, unto his side she drew,
And said a little tremulously too,
‘If we must die, please let me come to you.’
I know not by what change of wind or tide,
Heading the Mull, they gained the eastern side,
But stiller now, and sunny e’en it grew;
Arran’s high peaks unmantled to the view;
While to the north, far seen from left to right,
The Highland range, extended snowy white.
Now in the Clyde, he asked, what would be thought,
In Glasgow, of the company she brought:
‘You know,’ he said, ‘how I desire to stay;
We’ve played at strangers for so long a day,
But for a while I yet would go away.’
She said, O no, indeed they must not part.
Her father’s sister had a kindly heart.
‘I’ll tell her all, and O, when you she sees,
I think she’ll not be difficult to please.’
Landed at Glasgow, quickly they espied
Macfarlane, grocer, by the river side:
To greet her niece the woman joyful ran,
But looked with wonder on the tall young man.
Into the house the women went and talked,
He with the grocer in the doorway walked.
He told him he was looking for a set
Of lodgings: had he any he could let?
The man was called to council with his wife;
They took the thing as what will be in life,
Half in a kind, half in a worldly way;
They said, the lassie might play out her play.
The gentleman should have the second floor,
At thirty shillings, for a week or more.
Some days in this obscurity he stayed,
Happy with her, and some inquiry made
(For friends he found) and did his best to see,
What hope of getting pupils there would be.
This must he do, ’twas evident, ’twas clear,
Marry and seek a humble maintenance here.
Himself he had a hundred pounds a year.
To this plain business he would bend his life,
And find his joy in children and in wife,
A wife so good, so tender, and so true,
Mother to be of glorious children too.
Half to excuse his present lawless way,
He to the grocer happened once to say
Marriage would cost him more than others dear;
Cost him, indeed, three hundred pounds a-year.
‘’Deed,’ said the man, ‘a heavy price, no doubt,
For a bit form that one can do without.’
And asked some questions, pertinent and plain,
Exacter information to obtain;
He took a little trouble to explain.
The College Audit now, to last at least
Three weeks, ere ending with the College Feast,
He must attend, a tedious, dull affair,
But he, as junior Bursar, must be there.
Three weeks, however, quickly would be fled,
And then he’d come,—he didn’t say to wed.
With plans of which he nothing yet would say,
Preoccupied upon the parting day,
He seemed a little absent and distrait;
But she, as knowing nothing was amiss,
Gave him her fondest smile, her sweetest kiss.
A fortnight after, or a little more,
As at the Audit, weary of the bore,
He sat, and of his future prospects thought,
A letter in an unknown hand was brought.
’Twas from Macfarlane, and to let him know
To South Australia they proposed to go.
‘Rich friends we have, who have advised us thus,
Occasion offers suitable for us;
Christie we take; whate’er she find of new,
She’ll ne’er forget the joy she’s had with you;
’Tis an expensive pilgrimage to make
You’ll like to send a trifle for her sake.’
Nothing he said of when the ship would sail.
That very night, by swift-returning mail,
Ten pounds he sent, for what he did not know;
And ‘In no case,’ he said, ‘let Christian go.’
He in three days would come, and for his life
Would claim her and declare her as his wife.
Swift the night-mail conveyed his missive on;
He followed in three days, and found them gone.
All three had sailed: he looked as though he dreamed
The money-order had been cashed, it seemed.
The Clergyman, ‘This story is mere pain,’
Exclaimed, ‘for if the women don’t sustain
The moral standard, all we do is vain.’
‘But what we want,’ the Yankee said, ‘to know,
Is if the girl went willingly or no.
Sufficient motive though one does not see,
’Tis clear the grocer used some trickery.’
He judged himself, so strong the clinging in
This kind of people is to kith and kin;
For if they went and she remained behind,
No one she had, if him she failed to find.
Alas, this lawless loving was the cause,
She did not dare to think how dear she was.
Justly his guilty tardiness he curst,
He should have owned her when he left her first.
And something added how upon the sea,
She perilled, too, a life that was to be;
A child that, born in far Australia, there
Would have no father and no father’s care.
So to the South a lonely man returned,
For other scenes and busier life he burned,—
College he left and settled soon in town,
Wrote in the journals, gained a swift renown.
Soon into high society he came,
And still where’er he went outdid his fame.
All the more liked and more esteemed, the less
He seemed to make an object of success.
An active literary life he spent,
Towards lofty points of public practice bent,
Was never man so carefully who read,
Whose plans so well were fashioned in his head,
Nor one who truths so luminously said.
Some years in various labours thus he passed,
A spotless course maintaining to the last.
Twice upon Government Commissions served
With honour; place, which he declined, deserved.
He married then,—a marriage fit and good,
That kept him where his worth was understood;
A widow, wealthy and of noble blood.
Mr. and Lady Mary are they styled,
One grief is theirs—to be without a child.
I did not tell you how he went before
To South Australia, vainly to explore.
The ship had come to Adelaide, no doubt;
Watching the papers he had made it out,
But of themselves, in country or in town,
Nothing discovered, travelling up and down.
Only an entry of uncertain sound,
In an imperfect register he found.
His son, he thought, but could not prove it true;
The surname of the girl it chanced he never knew.
But this uneasy feeling gathered strength
As years advanced, and it became at length
His secret torture and his secret joy
To think about his lost Australian boy.
Somewhere in wild colonial lands has grown
A child that is his true and very own.
This strong parental passion fills his mind,
To all the dubious chances makes him blind.
Still he will seek, and still he hopes to find.
Again will go.
Said I, ‘O let him stay,
And in a London drawing-room some day—
Rings on her fingers, brilliants in her hair,
The lady of the latest millionaire—
She’ll come, and with a gathering slow surprise
On Lady Mary’s husband turn her eyes:
The soft brown eyes that in a former day
From his discretion lured him all astray.
At home, six bouncing girls, who more or less
Are learning English of a governess,
Six boisterous boys, as like as pear to pear;
Only the eldest has a different air.’
‘You jest,’ he said, ‘indeed it happened so.’
From a great party just about to go,
He saw, he knew, and ere she saw him, said
Swift to his wife, as for the door he made,
‘My Highland bride! to escape a scene I go,
Stay, find her out—great God!—and let me know.’
The Lady Mary turned to scrutinise
The lovely brow, the beautiful brown eyes,
One moment, then performed her perfect part,
And did her spiriting with simplest art,
Was introduced, her former friends had known,
Say, might she call to-morrow afternoon
At three? O yes! At three she made her call,
And told her who she was and told her all.
Her lady manners all she laid aside;
Like women the two women kissed and cried.
Half overwhelmed sat Christian by her side,
While she, ‘You know he never knew the day
When you would sail, but he believed you’d stay
Because he wrote—you never knew, you say,—
Wrote that in three days’ time, they need not fear,
He’d come and then would marry you, my dear.
You never knew? And he had planned to live
At Glasgow, lessons had arranged to give.
Alas, then to Australia he went out,
All through the land to find you sought about,
And found a trace, which though it left a doubt,
Sufficed to make it still his grief, his joy,
To think he had a child, a living boy,
Whom you, my love—’
‘His child is six foot high,
I’ve kept him as the apple of my eye,’
Cried she, ‘he’s riding, or you’d see him here.
O joy, that he at last should see his father dear!
As soon as he comes in I’ll tell him all,
And on his father he shall go and call.’
‘And you,’ she said, ‘my husband will you see?’
‘O no, it is not possible for me.
The boy I’ll send this very afternoon.
O dear, I know he cannot go too soon;
And something I must write, to write will do.’
So they embraced and sadly bade adieu.
The boy came in, his father went and saw;
We will not wait this interview to draw;
Ere long returned, and to his mother ran:
His father was a wonderful fine man,
He said, and looked at her; the Lady, too,
Had done whatever it was kind to do.
He loved his mother more than he could say,
But if she wished, he’d with his father stay.
A little change she noticed in his face,
E’en now the father’s influence she could trace;
From her the slight, slight severance had begun,
But simply she rejoiced that it was done.
She smiled and kissed her boy, and ‘Long ago,
When I was young, I loved your father so.
Together now we had been living, too,
Only the ship went sooner than he knew.
In loving him you will be loving me:
Father and mother are as one you see.’
Her letter caught him on the following day
As to the club he started on his way.
From her he guessed, the hand indeed was new;
Back to his room he went and read it through.
‘I know not how to write and dare not see;
But it will take a load of grief from me—
O! what a load—that you at last should know
The way in which I was compelled to go.
Wretched, I know, and yet it seems ’twas more
Cruel and wretched than I knew before;
So many years to think how on your day
Joyful you’d come, and find me flown away.
What would you think of me, what would you say?
O love, this little let me call you so;
What other name to use I do not know.
O let me think that by your side I sit,
And tell it you, and weep a little bit,
And you too weep with me, for hearing it.
Alone so long I’ve borne this dreadful weight;
Such grief, at times it almost turned to hate.
O let me think you sit and listening long,
Comfort me still, and say I wasn’t wrong,
And pity me, and far, far hence again
Dismiss, if haply any yet remain,
Hard thoughts of me that in your heart have lain.
O love! to hear your voice I dare not go.
But let me trust that you will judge me so.
‘I think no sooner were you gone away,
My aunt began to tell me of some pay,
More than three hundred pounds a-year ’twould be,
Which you, she said, would lose by marrying me.
Was this a thing a man of sense would do?
Was I a fool, to look for it from you?
You were a handsome gentleman and kind,
And to do right were every way inclined,
But to this truth I must submit my mind,
You would not marry. “Speak, and tell me true,
Say, has he ever said one word to you
That meant as much?” O, love, I knew you would.
I’ve read it in your eyes so kind and good,
Although you did not speak, I understood.
Though for myself, indeed, I sought it not,
It seemed so high, so undeserved a lot,
But for the child, when it should come, I knew—
O, I was certain what you meant to do.
She said, “We quit the land, will it be right
Or kind to leave you for a single night,
Just on the chance that he will come down here,
And sacrifice three hundred pounds a-year,
And all his hopes and prospects fling away,
And has already had his will, as one may say?
Go you with us, and find beyond the seas,
Men by the score to choose from, if you please.”
I said my will and duty was to stay,
Would they not help me to some decent way
To wait, and surely near was now the day?
Quite they refused; had they to let you know
Written, I asked, to say we were to go?
They told me yes; they showed a letter, too,
Post-office order that had come from you.
Alas, I could not read or write, they knew.
I think they meant me, though they did not say,
To think you wanted me to go away;
O, love, I’m thankful nothing of the kind
Ever so much as came into my mind.
‘To-morrow was the day that would not fail;
For Adelaide the vessel was to sail.
All night I hoped some dreadful wind would rise.
And lift the seas and rend the very skies.
All night I lay and listened hard for you.
Twice to the door I went, the bolt I drew,
And called to you; scarce what I did I knew.
‘Morning grew light, the house was emptied clear;
The ship would go, the boat was lying near.
They had my money, how was I to stay?
Who could I go to, when they went away?
Out in the streets I could not lie, you know.
O dear, but it was terrible to go.
Yet, yet I looked; I do not know what passed,
I think they took and carried me at last.
Twelve hours I lay, and sobbed in my distress;
But in the night, let be this idleness,
I said, I’ll bear it for my baby’s sake,
Lest of my going mischief it should take,
Advice will seek, and every caution use;
My love I’ve lost—his child I must not lose.
‘How oft I thought, when sailing on the seas,
Of our dear journey through the Hebrides,
When you the kindest were and best of men:
O, love, I did not love you right till then.
O, and myself how willingly I blamed,
So simple who had been, and was ashamed,
So mindful only of the present joy,
When you had anxious cares your busy mind to employ.
Ah, well, I said, but now at least he’s free,
He will not have to lower himself for me.
He will not lose three hundred pounds a-year,
In many ways my love has cost him dear.
‘Upon the passage, great was my delight,
A lady taught me how to read and write.
She saw me much, and fond of me she grew,
Only I durst not talk to her of you.
‘We had a quiet time upon the seas,
And reached our port of Adelaide with ease.
At Adelaide my lovely baby came.
Philip, he took his father’s Christian name,
And my poor maiden surname, to my shame.
O, but I little cared, I loved him so,
’Twas such a joy to watch and see him grow.
At Adelaide we made no length of stay;
Our friends to Melbourne just had gone away.
We followed shortly where they led before,
To Melbourne went, and flourished more and more.
My aunt and uncle both are buried there;
I closed their eyes, and I was left their heir.
They meant me well, I loved them for their care.
‘Ten years ago I married Robert; dear
And well he loved, and waited many a year.
Selfish it seemed to turn from one so true,
And I of course was desperate of you.
I’ve borne him children six; we’ve left behind
Three little ones, whom soon I hope to find.
To my dear boy he ever has been kind.
‘Next week we sail, and I should be so glad
Only to leave my boy will make me sad.
But yours he is by right—the grief I’ll bear,
And at his age, more easy he can spare,
Perhaps, a mother’s than a father’s care.
Indeed I think him like his father, too;
He will be happier, probably, with you.
’Tis best, I know, nor will he quite forget,
Some day he’ll come perhaps and see his mother yet.
O heaven! farewell—perhaps I’ve been to blame
To write as if it all were still the same.
Farewell, write not.—I will not seek to know
Whether you ever think of me or no.’
O love, love, love, too late! the tears fell down.
He dried them up—and slowly walked to town.
To bed with busy thoughts; the following day
Bore us expectant into Boston Bay;
With dome and steeple on the yellow skies,
Upon the left we watched with curious eyes
The Puritan great Mother City rise.
Among the islets, winding in and round,
The great ship moved to her appointed ground.
We bade adieu, shook hands and went ashore:
I and my friend have seen our friends no more.