Tale Xvi - Poem by George Crabbe
Anna was young and lovely--in her eye
The glance of beauty, in her cheek the dye:
Her shape was slender, and her features small,
But graceful, easy, unaffected all:
The liveliest tints her youthful face disclosed;
There beauty sparkled, and there health reposed;
For the pure blood that flush'd that rosy cheek
Spoke what the heart forbade the tongue to speak,
And told the feelings of that heart as well,
Nay, with more candour than the tongue could tell.
Though this fair lass had with the wealthy dwelt,
Yet like the damsel of the cot she felt;
And, at the distant hint or dark surmise,
The blood into the mantling cheek would rise.
Now Anna's station frequent terrors wrought,
In one whose looks were with such meaning fraught,
For on a Lady, as an humble friend,
It was her painful office to attend.
Her duties here were of the usual kind -
And some the body harass'd, some the mind:
Billets she wrote, and tender stories read,
To make the Lady sleepy in her bed;
She play'd at whist, but with inferior skill,
And heard the summons as a call to drill;
Music was ever pleasant till she play'd
At a request that no request convey'd;
The Lady's tales with anxious looks she heard,
For she must witness what her Friend averr'd;
The Lady's taste she must in all approve,
Hate whom she hated, whom she lov'd must love;
These, with the various duties of her place,
With care she studied, and perform'd with grace:
She veil'd her troubles in a mask of ease,
And show'd her pleasure was a power to please.
Such were the damsel's duties: she was poor -
Above a servant, but with service more:
Men on her face with careless freedom gaz'd,
Nor thought how painful was the glow they raised.
A wealthy few to gain her favour tried,
But not the favour of a grateful bride;
They spoke their purpose with an easy air,
That shamed and frighten'd the dependent fair;
Past time she view'd, the passing time to cheat,
But nothing found to make the present sweet:
With pensive soul she read life's future page,
And saw dependent, poor, repining age.
But who shall dare t'assert what years may
When wonders from the passing hour may spring?
There dwelt a Yeoman in the place, whose mind
Was gentle, generous, cultivated, kind;
For thirty years he labour'd; fortune then
Placed the mild rustic with superior men:
A richer Stafford who had liv'd to save,
What he had treasured to the poorer gave;
Who with a sober mind that treasure view'd,
And the slight studies of his youth renew'd:
He not profoundly, but discreetly read,
And a fair mind with useful culture fed;
Then thought of marriage--'But the great,' said he
'I shall not suit, nor will the meaner me.'
Anna, he saw, admired her modest air;
He thought her virtuous, and he knew her fair;
Love raised his pity for her humble state,
And prompted wishes for her happier fate;
No pride in money would his feelings wound,
Nor vulgar manners hurt him and confound:
He then the Lady at the Hall address'd,
Sought her consent, and his regard expressed:
Yet if some cause his earnest wish denied,
He begg'd to know it, and he bow'd and sigh'd.
The Lady own'd that she was loth to part,
But praised the damsel for her gentle heart,
Her pleasing person, and her blooming health,
But ended thus, 'Her virtue is her wealth.'
'Then is she rich!' he cried with lively air;
'But whence, so please you, came a lass so fair?'
'A placeman's child was Anna, one who died
And left a widow by afflictions tried;
She to support her infant daughter strove,
But early left the object of her love:
Her youth, her beauty, and her orphan state
Gave a kind countess interest in her fate:
With her she dwelt and still might dwelling be,
When the earl's folly caused the lass to flee;
A second friend was she compell'd to shun,
By the rude offers of an uncheek'd son;
I found her then, and with a mother's love
Regard the gentle girl whom you approve;
Yet e'en with me protection is not peace,
Nor man's designs nor beauty's trials cease:
Like sordid boys by costly fruit they feel -
They will not purchase, but they try to steal.'
Now this good Lady, like a witness true,
Told but the truth, and all the truth she knew;
And 'tis our duty and our pain to show
Truth this good lady had not means to know.
Yes, there was lock'd within the damsel's breast
A fact important to be now confess'd;
Gently, my muse, th' afflicting tale relate,
And have some feeling for a sister's fate.
Where Anna dwelt, a conquering hero came, -
An Irish captain, Sedley was his name;
And he too had that same prevailing art,
That gave soft wishes to the virgin's heart:
In years they differ'd; he had thirty seen
When this young beauty counted just fifteen;
But still they were a lovely lively pair,
And trod on earth as if they trod on air.
On love, delightful theme! the captain dwelt
With force still growing with the hopes he felt
But with some caution and reluctance told,
He had a father crafty, harsh, and old;
Who, as possessing much, would much expert,
Or both, for ever, from his love reject:
Why then offence to one so powerful give,
Who (for their comfort) had not long to live?
With this poor prospect the deluded maid,
In words confiding, was indeed betray'd;
And, soon as terrors in her bosom rose,
The hero fled; they hinder'd his repose.
Deprived of him, she to a parent's breast
Her secret trusted, and her pains impress'd;
Let her to town (so prudence urged) repair,
To shun disgrace, at least to hide it there;
But ere she went, the luckless damsel pray'd
A chosen friend might lend her timely aid:
'Yes! my soul's sister, my Eliza, come,
Hear her last sigh, and ease thy Anna's doom.'
''Tis a fool's wish,' the angry father cried,
But, lost in troubles of his own, complied;
And dear Eliza to her friend was sent,
T'indulge that wish, and be her punishment.
The time arrived, and brought a tenfold dread;
The time was past, and all the terror fled;
The infant died; the face resumed each charm,
And reason now brought trouble and alarm.
Should her Eliza--no! she was too just,
'Too good and kind--but ah! too young to trust.'
Anna return'd, her former place resumed,
And faded beauty with now grace re-bloom'd;
And if some whispers of the past were heard,
They died innoxious, as no cause appear'd;
But other cares on Anna's bosom press'd,
She saw her father gloomy and distress'd;
He died o'erwhelmed with debt, and soon was shed
The filial sorrow o'er a mother dead:
She sought Eliza's arms--that faithful friend was
Then was compassion by the countess shown,
And all th' adventures of her life are known.
And now, beyond her hopes--no longer tried
By slavish awe--she lived a Yoeman's bride;
Then bless'd her lot, and with a grateful mind
Was careful, cheerful, vigilant, and kind:
The gentle husband felt supreme delight,
Bless'd by her joy, and happy in her sight;
He saw with pride in every friend and guest
High admiration and regard express'd:
With greater pride, and with superior joy,
He look'd exulting on his first-born boy;
To her fond breast the wife her infant strain'd,
Some feelings utter'd, some were not explain'd;
And she enraptured with her treasure grew,
The sight familiar, but the pleasure new.
Yet there appear'd within that tranquil state
Some threat'ning prospect of uncertain fate;
Between the married when a secret lies,
It wakes suspicion from enforced disguise:
Still thought the Wife upon her absent friend,
With all that must upon her truth depend.
' There is no being in the world beside
Who can discover what that friend will hide:
Who knew the fact, knew not my name or state,
Who these can tell cannot the fact relate;
But thou, Eliza, canst the whole impart,
And all my safety is thy generous heart.'
Mix'd with these fears--but light and transient
Fled years of peace, prosperity, and ease;
So tranquil all, that scarce a gloomy day
For days of gloom unmix'd prepared the way:
One eve, the Wife, still happy in her state,
Sang gaily, thoughtless of approaching fate;
Then came a letter, that (received in dread
Not unobserved) she in confusion read;
The substance this--'Her friend rejoiced to find
That she had riches with a grateful mind;
While poor Eliza had, from place to place,
Been lured by hope to labour for disgrace;
That every scheme her wandering husband tried,
Pain'd while he lived, and perish'd when he died.'
She then of want in angry style complain'd,
Her child a burthen to her life remain'd,
Her kindred shunn'd her prayers, no friend her soul
'Yet why neglected? Dearest Anna knew
Her worth once tried, her friendship ever true;
She hoped, she trusted, though by wants oppress'd,
To lock the treasured secret in her breast;
Yet, vex'd by trouble, must apply to one,
For kindness due to her for kindness done.'
In Anna's mind was tumult, in her face
Flushings of dread had momentary place:
'I must,' she judged, 'these cruel lines expose,
Or fears, or worse than fears, my crime disclose.'
The letter shown, he said, with sober smile, -
'Anna, your Friend has not a friendly style:
Say, where could you with this fair lady dwell,
Who boasts of secrets that she scorns to tell?'
'At school,' she answer'd: he 'At school!'
'Nay, then I know the secrets you would hide;
Some early longings these, without dispute,
Some youthful gaspings for forbidden fruit:
Why so disorder'd, love? are such the crimes
That give us sorrow in our graver times?
Come, take a present for your friend, and rest
In perfect peace--you find you are confess'd.'
This cloud, though past, alarm'd the conscious
Presaging gloom and sorrow for her life;
Who to her answer join'd a fervent prayer
That her Eliza would a sister spare:
If she again--but was there cause?--should send,
Let her direct--and then she named a friend:
A sad expedient untried friends to trust,
And still to fear the tried may be unjust:
Such is his pain, who, by his debt oppress'd,
Seeks by new bonds a temporary rest.
Few were her peaceful days till Anna read
The words she dreaded, and had cause to dread: -
'Did she believe, did she, unkind, suppose
That thus Eliza's friendship was to close?
No, though she tried, and her desire was plain,
To break the friendly bond, she strove in vain:
Ask'd she for silence? why so loud the call,
And yet the token of her love so small?
By means like these will you attempt to bind
And check the movements of an injured mind?
Poor as I am, I shall be proud to show
What dangerous secrets I may safely know:
Secrets to men of jealous minds convey'd
Have many a noble house in ruins laid;
Anna, I trust, although with wrongs beset,
And urged by want, I shall be faithful yet;
But what temptation may from these arrive,
To take a slighted woman by surprise,
Becomes a subject for your serious care -
For who offends, must for offence prepare.'
Perplex'd, dismay'd, the Wife foresaw her doom;
A day deferr'd was yet a day to come;
But still, though painful her suspended state,
She dreaded more the crisis of her fate;
Better to die than Stafford's scorn to meet,
And her strange friend perhaps would be discreet.
Presents she sent, and made a strong appeal
To woman's feelings, begging her to feel;
With too much force she wrote of jealous men,
And her tears falling spoke beyond the pen;
Eliza's silence she again implored,
And promised all that prudence could afford.
For looks composed and careless Anna tried;
She seem'd in trouble, and unconscious sigh'd:
The faithful Husband, who devoutly loved
His silent partner, with concern reproved:
'What secret sorrows on my Anna press,
That love may not partake, nor care redress?'
'None, none,' she answer'd, with a look so kind
That the fond man determined to be blind.
A few succeeding weeks of brief repose
In Anna's cheek revived the faded rose;
A hue like this the western sky displays,
That glows awhile, and withers as we gaze.
Again the Friend's tormenting letter came -
'The wants she suffer'd were affection's shame;
She with her child a life of terrors led,
Unhappy fruit, but of a lawful bed:
Her friend was tasting every bliss in life,
The joyful mother, and the wealthy wife;
While she was placed in doubt, in fear, in want,
To starve on trifles that the happy grant;
Poorly for all her faithful silence paid,
And tantalized by ineffectual aid:
She could not thus a beggar's lot endure;
She wanted something permanent and sure:
If they were friends, then equal be their lot,
And she were free to speak if they were not.'
Despair and terror seized the Wife, to find
The artful workings of a vulgar mind:
Money she had not, but the hint of dress
Taught her new bribes, new terrors to redress;
She with such feeling then described her woes
That envy's self might on the view repose;
Then to a mother's pains she made appeal,
And painted grief like one compell'd to feel.
Yes! so she felt, that in her air, her face,
In every purpose, and in every place,
In her slow motion, in her languid mien,
The grief, the sickness of her soul, was seen.
Of some mysterious ill, the Husband sure,
Desired to trace it, for he hoped to cure;
Something he knew obscurely, and had seen
His wife attend a cottage on the green;
Love, loth to wound, endured conjecture long,
Till fear would speak, and spoke in language
'All I must know, my Anna--truly know
Whence these emotions, terrors, trouble flow:
Give me thy grief, and I will fairly prove
Mine is no selfish, no ungenerous love.'
Now Anna's soul the seat of strife became,
Fear with respect contended, love with shame:
But fear prevailing was the ruling guide,
Prescribing what to show and what to hide.
'It is my friend,' she said--'but why disclose
A woman's weakness struggling with her woes?
Yes, she has grieved me by her fond complaints,
The wrongs she suffers, the distress she paints:
Something we do--but she afflicts me still,
And says, with power to help, I want the will;
This plaintive style I pity and excuse,
Help when I can, and grieve when I refuse;
But here my useless sorrows I resign,
And will be happy in a love like thine.'
The Husband doubted: he was kind but cool: -
''Tis a strong friendship to arise at school;
Once more then, love, once more the sufferer aid, -
I too can pity, but I must upbraid:
Of these vain feelings then thy bosom free,
Nor be o'erwhelm'd by useless sympathy.'
The Wife again despatch'd the useless bribe,
Again essay'd her terrors to describe;
Again with kindest words entreated peace,
And begg'd her offerings for a time might cease.
A calm succeeded, but too like the one
That causes terror ere the storm comes on:
A secret sorrow lived in Anna's heart,
In Stafford's mind a secret fear of art;
Not long they lasted--this determined foe
Knew all her claims, and nothing would forego.
Again her letter came, where Anna read,
'My child, one cause of my distress, is dead:
Heav'n has my infant.'--'Heartless wretch!' she
'Is this thy joy?'--'I am no longer tied:
Now will I, hast'ning to my friend, partake
Her cares and comforts, and no more forsake;
Now shall we both in equal station move,
Save that my friend enjoys a husband's love.'
Complaint and threats so strong the Wife amazed,
Who wildly on her cottage-neighbour gazed;
Her tones, her trembling, first betray'd her grief,
When floods of tears gave anguish its relief.
She fear'd that Stafford would refuse assent,
And knew her selfish Friend would not relent;
She must petition, yet delay'd the task,
Ashamed, afraid, and yet compell'd to ask;
Unknown to him some object fill'd her mind,
And, once suspicious, he became unkind:
They sat one evening, each absorb'd in gloom,
When, hark! a noise; and, rushing to the room,
The Friend tripp'd lightly in, and laughing said,
Anna received her with an anxious mind,
And meeting whisper'd, 'Is Eliza kind?'
Reserved and cool the Husband sought to prove
The depth and force of this mysterious love.
To nought that pass'd between the Stranger-friend
And his meek partner seem'd he to attend;
But, anxious, listened to the lightest word
That might some knowledge of his guest afford,
And learn the reason one to him so dear
Should feel such fondness, yet betray such fear.
Soon he perceived this uninvited guest,
Unwelcome too, a sovereign power possess'd;
Lofty she was and careless, while the meek
And humbled Anna was afraid to speak:
As mute she listen'd with a painful smile,
Her friend sat laughing, and at ease the while,
Telling her idle tales with all the glee
Of careless and unfeeling levity.
With calm good sense he knew his Wife endued,
And now with wounded pride her conduct view'd;
Her speech was low, her every look convey'd -
'I am a slave, subservient and afraid.'
All trace of comfort vanish'd; if she spoke,
The noisy friend upon her purpose broke;
To her remarks with insolence replied,
And her assertions doubted or denied:
While the meek Anna like an infant shook,
Woe-struck and trembling at the serpent's look.
'There is,' said Stafford, 'yes, there is a
This creature frights her, overpowers, and awes.'
Six weeks had pass'd--'In truth, my love, this
Has liberal notions; what does she intend?
Without a hint she came, and will she stay
Till she receives the hint to go away?'
Confused the Wife replied, in spite of truth,
'I love the dear companion of my youth.'
''Tis well,' said Stafford; 'then your loves renew:
Trust me, your rivals, Anna, will be few.'
Though playful this, she felt too much
T'admit the consolation of a jest.
Ill she reposed, and in her dreams would sigh,
And, murmuring forth her anguish, beg to die;
With sunken eye, slow pace, and pallid cheek,
She look'd confusion, and she fear'd to speak.
All this the Friend beheld, for, quick of sight,
She knew the husband eager for her flight;
And that by force alone she could retain
The lasting comforts she had hope to gain.
She now perceived, to win her post for life,
She must infuse fresh terrors in the wife;
Must bid to friendship's feebler ties adieu,
And boldly claim the object in her view:
She saw the husband's love, and knew the power
Her friend might use in some propitious hour.
Meantime the anxious Wife, from pure distress
Assuming courage, said, 'I will confess;'
But with her children felt a parent's pride,
And sought once more the hated truth to hide.
Offended, grieved, impatient, Stafford bore
The odious change, till he could bear no more:
A friend to truth, in speech and action plain,
He held all fraud and cunning in disdain;
But fraud to find, and falsehood to detect,
For once he fled to measures indirect.
One day the Friends were seated in that room
The Guest with care adorn'd, and named her home.
To please the eye, there curious prints were
And some light volumes to amuse the taste;
Letters and music on a table laid,
The favourite studies of the fair betray'd;
Beneath the window was the toilet spread,
And the fire gleam'd upon a crimson bed.
In Anna's looks and falling tears were seen
How interesting had their subjects been:
'Oh! then,' resumed the Friend, 'I plainly find
That you and Stafford know each other's mind;
I must depart, must on the world be thrown,
Like one discarded, worthless, and unknown;
But, shall I carry, and to please a foe,
A painful secret in my bosom? No!
Think not your Friend a reptile you may tread
Beneath your feet, and say, the worm is dead;
I have some feeling, and will not be made
The scorn of her whom love cannot persuade:
Would not your word, your slightest wish, effect
All that I hope, petition, or expect?
The power you have, but you the use decline -
Proof that you feel not, or you fear not mine.
There was a time when I, a tender maid,
Flew at a call, and your desires obey'd;
A very mother to the child became,
Consoled your sorrow, and conceal'd your shame;
But now, grown rich and happy, from the door
You thrust a bosom-friend, despised and poor;
That child alive, its mother might have known
The hard, ungrateful spirit she had shown.'
Here paused the Guest, and Anna cried at length
'You try me, cruel friend! beyond my strength;
Would I had been beside my infant laid,
Where none would vex me, threaten, or upbraid!'
In Anna's looks the Friend beheld despair;
Her speech she soften'd, and composed her air;
Yet, while professing love, she answer'd still -
'You can befriend me, but you want the will.'
They parted thus, and Anna went her way,
To shed her secret sorrows, and to pray.
Stafford, amused with books, and fond of home,
By reading oft dispell'd the evening gloom;
History or tale--all heard him with delight,
And thus was pass'd this memorable night.
The listening Friend bestow'd a flattering
A sleeping boy the mother held the while;
And ere she fondly bore him to his bed,
On his fair face the tear of anguish shed.
And now his task resumed, 'My tale,' said he,
'Is short and sad, short may our sadness be!'
'The Caliph Harun, as historians tell,
Ruled, for a tyrant, admirably well;
Where his own pleasures were not touch'd, to men
He was humane, and sometimes even then.
Harun was fond of fruits and gardens fair,
And woe to all whom he found poaching there:
Among his pages was a lively Boy,
Eager in search of every trifling joy;
His feelings vivid, and his fancy strong,
He sigh'd for pleasure while he shrank from wrong:
When by the Caliph in the garden placed,
He saw the treasures which he long'd to taste;
And oft alone he ventured to behold
Rich hanging fruits with rind of glowing gold;
Too long he stay'd forbidden bliss to view,
His virtue failing as his longings grew;
Athirst and wearied with the noontide heat,
Fate to the garden led his luckless feet;
With eager eyes and open mouth he stood,
Smelt the sweet breath, and touch'd the fragrant
The tempting beauty sparkling in the sun
Charm'd his young sense--he ate, and was undone;
When the fond glutton paused, his eyes around
He turn'd, and eyes upon him turning found;
Pleased he beheld the spy, a brother-page.
A friend allied in office and in age;
Who promised much that secret he would be,
But high the price he fix'd in secrecy:
''Were you suspected, my unhappy friend,'
Began the boy, 'where would your sorrows end?
In all the palace there is not a page
The Caliph would not torture in his rage:
I think I see thee now impaled alive,
Writhing in pangs--but come, my friend! revive;
Had some beheld you, all your purse contains
Could not have saved you from terrific pains;
I scorn such meanness; and, if not in debt,
Would not an asper on your folly set.'
'The hint was strong; young Osmyn search'd his
For bribes, and found he soon could bribe no more;
That time arrived, for Osmyn's stock was small,
And the young tyrant now possess'd it all;
The cruel youth, with his companions near,
Gave the broad hint that raised the sudden fear;
Th' ungenerous insult now was daily shown,
And Osmyn's peace and honest pride were flown;
Then came augmenting woes, and fancy strong
Drew forms of suffering, a tormenting throng;
He felt degraded, and the struggling mind
Dared not be free, and could not be resign'd;
And all his pains and fervent prayers obtain'd
Was truce from insult, while the fears remain'd.
'One day it chanced that this degraded Boy
And tyrant-friend were fixed at their employ;
Who now had thrown restraint and form aside,
And for his bribe in plainer speech applied:
'Long have I waited, and the last supply
Was but a pittance, yet how patient I!
But give me now what thy first terrors gave,
My speech shall praise thee, and my silence save.'
'Osmyn had found, in many a dreadful day,
The tyrant fiercer when he seem'd in play:
He begg'd forbearance: 'I have not to give;
Spare me awhile, although 'tis pain to live:
Oh! had that stolen fruit the power possess'd
To war with life, I now had been at rest.'
''So fond of death,' replied the Boy, ''tis
Thou hast no certain notion of the pain;
But to the Caliph were a secret shown,
Death has no pain that would be then unknown.'
'Now,' says the story, 'in a closet near,
The monarch seated, chanced the boys to hear;
There oft he came, when wearied on his throne,
To read, sleep, listen, pray, or be alone.
'The tale proceeds, when first the Caliph found
That he was robb'd, although alone, he frown'd;
And swore in wrath that he would send the boy
Far from his notice, favour, or employ;
But gentler movements soothed his ruffled mind,
And his own failings taught him to be kind.
'Relenting thoughts then painted Osmyn young,
His passion urgent, and temptation strong;
And that he suffer'd from that villain-Spy
Pains worse than death, till he desired to die;
Then if his morals had received a stain,
His bitter sorrows made him pure again:
To reason, pity lent her powerful aid,
For one so tempted, troubled, and betray'd:
And a free pardon the glad Boy restored
To the kind presence of a gentle lord;
Who from his office and his country drove
That traitor-Friend, whom pains nor pray'rs could
Who raised the fears no mortal could endure,
And then with cruel av'rice sold the cure.
'My tale is ended; but, to be applied,
I must describe the place where Caliphs hide.'
Here both the females look'd alarm'd,
With hurried passions hard to be express'd.
'It was a closet by a chamber placed,
Where slept a lady of no vulgar taste;
Her friend attended in that chosen room
That she had honour'd and proclaim'd her home;
To please the eye were chosen pictures placed;
And some light volumes to amuse the taste;
Letters and music on a table laid,
For much the lady wrote, and often play'd:
Beneath the window was a toilet spread,
And a fire gleamed upon a crimson bed.'
He paused, he rose; with troubled joy the Wife
Felt the new era of her changeful life;
Frankness and love appear'd in Stafford's face,
And all her trouble to delight gave place.
Twice made the Guest an effort to sustain
Her feelings, twice resumed her seat in vain,
Nor could suppress her shame, nor could support her
Quick she retired, and all the dismal night
Thought of her guilt, her folly, and her flight;
Then sought unseen her miserable home,
To think of comforts lost, and brood on wants to
Comments about Tale Xvi by George Crabbe
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