The Witch’s Daughter
It was the pleasant harvest time,
When cellar-bins are closely stowed,
And garrets bend beneath their load,
And the old swallow-haunted barns -
Brown-gabled, long, and full of seams
Through which the moted sunlight streams,
And winds blow freshly in, to shake
The red plumes of the roosted cocks,
And the loose hay-mow’s scented locks -
Are filled with summer’s ripened stores,
Its odorous grass and barley sheaves,
From their low scaffolds to their eaves.
On Esek Harden’s oaken floor,
With many an autmn threshing worn,
Lay the heaped ears of unhusked corn.
And thither came young men and maids,
Beneath a moon that, large and low,
Lit that sweet eve of long ago.
They took their places; some by chance,
And others by a merry voice
Or sweet smile guided to their choice.
How pleasantly the rising moon,
Between the shadow of the mows,
Looked on them through the great elm-boughs! -
On sturdy boyhood sun-embrowned,
On girlhood with its solid curves
Of healthful strength and painless nerves!
And jests went round, and laughs that made
The house-dog answer with his howl,
And kept astir the barn-yard fowl;
And quaint old songs their fathers sung
In Derby dales and Yorkshire moors,
Ere Norman William trod their shores;
And tales, whose merry license shook
The fat sides of the Saxon thane,
Forgetful of the hovering Dane,—
Rude plays to Celt and Cimbri known,
The charms and riddles that beguiled
On Oxus’ banks the young world’s child,—
That primal picture-speech wherein
Have youth and maid the story told,
So new in each, so dateless old,
Recalling pastoral Ruth in her
Who waited, blushing and demure,
The red-ear’s kiss of forfeiture.
But still the sweetest voice was mute
That river-valley ever heard
From lips of maid or throat of bird;
For Mabel Martin sat apart,
And let the hay-mow’s shadow fall
Upon the loveliest face of all.
She sat apart, as one forbid,
Who knew that none would condescend
To own the Witch-wife’s child a friend.
The seasons scarce had gone their round,
Since curious thousands thronged to see
Her mother at the gallows-tree;
And mocked the prison-palsied limbs
That faltered on the fatal stairs,
And wan lip trembling with its prayers!
Few questioned of the sorrowing child,
Or, when they saw the mother die;
Dreamed of the daughter’s agony.
They went up to their homes that day,
As men and Christians justified
God willed it, and the wretch had died!
Dear God and Father of us all,
Forgive our faith in cruel lies,—
Forgive the blindness that denies!
Forgive thy creature when he takes,
For the all-perfect love Thou art,
Some grim creation of his heart.
Cast down our idols, overturn
Our bloody altars; let us see
Thyself in Thy humanity!
Poor Mabel from her mother’s grave
Crept to her desolate hearth-stone,
And wrestled with her fate alone;
With love, and anger, and despair,
The phantoms of disordered sense,
The awful doubts of Providence!
The school-boys jeered her as they passed,
And, when she sought the house of prayer,
Her mother’s curse pursued her there.
And still o’er many a neighboring door
She saw the horseshoe’s curved charm,
To guard against her mother’s harm; -
That mother, poor, and sick, and lame,
Who daily, by the old arm-chair,
Folded her withered hands in prayer; -
Who turned, in Salem’s dreary jail,
Her worn old Bible o’er and o’er,
When her dim eyes could read no more!
Sore tried and pained, the poor girl kept
Her faith, and trusted that her way,
So dark, would somewhere meet the day.
And still her weary wheel went round
Day after day, with no relief
Small leisure have the poor for grief.
So in the shadow Mabel sits;
Untouched by mirth she sees and hears,
Her smile is sadder than her tears.
But cruel eyes have found her out,
And cruel lips repeat her name,
And taunt her with her mother’s shame.
She answered not with railing words,
But drew her apron o’er her face,
And, sobbing, glided from the place.
And only pausing at the door,
Her sad eyes met the troubled gaze
Of one who, in her better days,
Had been her warm and steady friend,
Ere yet her mother’s doom had made
Even Esek Harden half afraid.
He felt that mute appeal of tears,
And, starting, with an angry frown,
Hushed all the wicked murmurs down.
‘Good neighbors mine,’ he sternly said,
‘This passes harmless mirth or jest;
I brook no insult to my guest.
‘She is indeed her mother’s child;
But God’s sweet pity ministers
Unto no whiter soul than hers.
‘Let Goody Martin rest in peace;
I never knew her harm a fly,
And witch or not, God knows – not I.
‘I know who swore her life away;
And as God lives, I’d not condemn
An Indian dog on word of them.’
The broadest lands in all the town,
The skill to guide, the power to awe,
Were Harden’s; and his word was law.
None dared withstand him to his face,
But one sly maiden spake aside
‘The little witch is evil-eyed!
‘Her mother only killed a cow,
Or witched a churn or dairy-pan;
But she, forsooth, must charm a man!’
Poor Mabel, in her lonely home,
Sat by the window’s narrow pane,
White in the moonlight’s silver rain.
The river, on its pebbled rim,
Made music such as childhood knew;
The door-yard tree was whispered through
By voices such as childhood’s ear
Had heard in moonlights long ago;
And through the willow-boughs below.
She saw the rippled waters shine;
Beyond, in waves of shade and light,
The hills rolled off into the night.
She saw and heard, but over all
A sense of some transforming spell,
The shadow of her sick heart fell.
And still across the wooded space
The harvest lights of Harden shone,
And song and jest and laugh went on.
And he, so gentle, true, and strong,
Of men the bravest and the best,
Had he, too, scorned her with the rest?
She strove to drown her sense of wrong,
And, in her old and simple way,
To teach her bitter heart to pray.
Poor child! the prayer, begun in faith,
Grew to a low, despairing cry
Of utter misery: ‘Let me die!
‘Oh! take me from the scornful eyes,
And hide me where the cruel speech
And mocking finger may not reach!
‘I dare not breathe my mother’s name
A daughter’s right I dare not crave
To weep above her unblest grave!
‘Let me not live until my heart,
With few to pity, and with none
To love me, hardens into stone.
‘O God! have mercy on Thy child,
Whose faith in Thee grows weak and small,
And take me ere I lose it all!’
A shadow on the moonlight fell,
And murmuring wind and wave became
A voice whose burden was her name.
Had then God heard her? Had He sent
His angel down? In flesh and blood,
Before her Esek Harden stood!
He laid his hand upon her arm
‘Dear Mabel, this no more shall be;
Who scoffs at you must scoff at me.
‘You know rough Esek Harden well;
And if he seems no suitor gay,
And if his hair is touched with gray,
‘The maiden grown shall never find
His heart less warm than when she smiled,
Upon his knees, a little child!’
Her tears of grief were tears of joy,
As, folded in his strong embrace,
She looked in Esek Harden’s face.
‘O truest friend of all” she said,
‘God bless you for your kindly thought,
And make me worthy of my lot!’
He led her through his dewy fields,
To where the swinging lanterns glowed,
And through the doors the huskers showed.
‘Good friends and neighbors!’ Esek said,
‘I’m weary of this lonely life;
In Mabel see my chosen wife!
‘She greets you kindly, one and all;
The past is past, and all offence
Falls harmless from her innocence.
‘Henceforth she stands no more alone;
You know what Esek Harden is: -
He brooks no wrong to him or his.’
Now let the merriest tales be told,
And let the sweetest songs be sung
That ever made the old heart young!
For now the lost has found a home;
And a lone hearth shall brighter burn,
As all the household joys return!
Oh, pleasantly the harvest-moon,
Between the shadow of the mows,
Looked on them through the great elm-boughs!
On Mabel’s curls of golden hair,
On Esek’s shaggy strength it fell;
And the wind whispered, ‘It is well!’