The Bird Of Ellerslee - Canto Iv Poem by Timothy Thomas Fortune

The Bird Of Ellerslee - Canto Iv

Among the slaves Garcia did own
Was one in service aged grown,
The trusted mother of the place—
A part of Garcia's ancient race.
Nada she gave her Christian name,
And nursed her beauty into fame;
For she was present when the maid
First to earth's smile her tribute paid—
The baby nursed; she watched at play
The child through many a laggard day.
A mother she had joyed to be
To the sweet baby on her knee
And to the girl whose winsome smile
Even indulgence could not spoil,
And to the maiden—fair as morn,
When first the huntsman winds his horn,
Or when the slaves, their work begun,
Sing paeans to the rising sun—
A mentor she had been, and was—
Nada no other mother had, alas!
And many a Southern beauty fair
Rejoices in her 'mammy's' care—
The dear black face, the tender heart,
Untutored in Refinement's art—
Devotion's slave, a willing slave,
With soul as good as God e'er gave
The freest, noblest, of her kind,
Of generous heart, of subtle mind!

Through all of Garcia's vast estate
Her word was law. She held the fate
Of high and low within her hands;
None dared dispute her wise commands.
Not e'en the master's curb restrained
Aunt Sara's sway. E'en he complained,
Sometimes, against her tyranny,
And, laughing, swore he would be free;
He did but jest. Full well he knew
The value of her service true!
She came and went as fancy moved her;
All feared her and, forsooth, all loved her—
A contradiction, if you will,
And, yet, a truth that hedged her still.
And many called her 'Voudoo Queen'—
Perhaps their ignorance to screen.
She seldom spoke; but full of tact,
Deliberate in speech and act,
She easily controlled the strong,
And those who had committed wrong,
While timid mortals quaked with fear
Her stealthy step to even hear;
The urchins of the vast estate
Hung on her movements soon and late;
And, it is not too much to say,
Her eyes were on them night and day—
For boys are boys, or black or white—
Preferring darkness to the light,
Preferring evil to the good—
For mischief seems childhood's chief food!
No one could penetrate the source
From which Aunt Sara drew the force,
The nervous strength of soul and mind,
To rule her white and sable kind.
There was no mystery at all;
Her age and ready wit withal
Gave her the words and looks and acts—
The wit that grasps and controls facts—
That men respect and defer to,
In priests of Gentile and of Jew;
E'en as old age and clinging vines
Give to a tower its sharp-drawn lines,
That brave the flight of laggard years
And fury of the storm's mad tears!

None loved, none feared, Aunt Sara more
Than she whose life she had watched o'er,
The charming woman who had grown
From childhood as her pet, her own.
She loved, she feared, she knew not why,
This woman wrapt in mystery;
Or seemed to be, and that's the same
As being, since she had the name,
And disdained not to take the fame.
A strange freak, that, in all the race—
Earth's phantom power to love and chase,
To be distinguished from the mob,
With right of Might to rule and rob,
To grind to dust or starve and slay—
The tyrant right the fool to play.

Aunt Sara let th' ignorant think
That she could walk upon the brink
Of Life's abyss, and converse hold
With gri-gri dread of Afric old;
It gave her power and consequence
And satisfied her common sense;
If people wished to act the fool,
So well and good, was her safe rule;
If they were wise, and acted wise,
She simply sagely winked her eyes.

Nada's rich love and confidence
She gave Aunt Sara, whose good sense
Repaid her well; and, yet, with awe,
Aunt Sara's word with her was law;
She told her all her maiden woes
And joys—the hope that grows and grows
From childish joys to woman's fears,
From care-free smiles to heart-sore tears.
When Nada told Aunt Sara of
Ralph Bondly and her infant love,
She was so stunned she could not speak,
The crushing truth made her so weak.

'My dear,' she said, 'be not so mad!
'Forsooth, the Englishman is mad!
'A thing like that such noise would make
'That it would all our estates shake,
'Both here and in our Merry Spain!
'Indeed, we should not hear again
'The last of it! And, mark it well,
'Joy of my heart, yea, mark it well,
'Before the end, alive or dead,
'Thy father's curse upon thy head
'Would crush thee to th' unfeeling earth
'And all of thine that should have birth!
'No! No! Retrace the step, I pray,
'Retrace it, Nada, while you may!
'No error that we cannot mend,
'If we but listen to our friend,
'And with our stubborn wills contend!
'Take thou the wise, the better course,
'And save thyself lifelong remorse!
'The Fates decree,' Aunt Sara said,
'That, if thou shouldst this stranger wed,
'Misfortune—lynx-eyed, fierce, and gaunt—
'Through all the earth thy life will haunt,
'Thy cherished hopes to foil and blight,
'Turning thy brightest day to night!
'Thy cup of anguish and of woe
'With sighs and groans will overflow,
'Till death shall come, thy sorrows past,
'The saddest chapter still the last!
'Be warned! Rush not to such a life
'Of vain regrets and ceaseless strife.
''Tis written on the wall. Pause now!
'Retract thy foolish, hasty vow!
'Reflect whilst yet thou may'st, whilst yet
'The way is broad and free, nor let
'Thy evil genius of a day
'From the straight path lead thee astray!'

Young Nada shook as if a chill
Had griped her fragile form and will.
Where she had hoped for sympathy
To temper her sweet misery,
And counsel grave to do the right,
As God should give her Wisdom's light,
A warning found her hopes to blight!
The new-born woman in her cried
In anguish for the thing denied—
The wish to be Ralph Bondly's bride!

''Tis false!' young Nada Garcia cried,
Touched in her love and in her pride;
''Tis false! Ralph Bondly is not mad!
'And, if he be, am I not mad?
'Or sane or mad, I vow, we wed!
'I'll not recall my vow! 'Tis said!
'If that be death, to live apart
'Is crucifixion of the heart!
'Between the two my course is plain;
'Be mine the joy, be mine the pain;
'And, if I die, I'll be content,
'If all my life in woe be spent!'

Aunt Sara raised her hand. 'Sweet one,
'The very ground thou treadst upon
'Trembles beneath thy feet. Beware,
'For woe and death are in the air!
'An hour of bliss for years of woe
'Is idle talk, as you well know.
'To die? For what? The thought is wild,
'And ill beseems my gentle child.
'Thou used not always thus to speak;
'Thou wast not always thus so weak.
'Life's sweetest roses grow for thee,
'And all the winds blow fair and free;
'With health and happiness they groan,
'Sweeping afar from zone to zone—
'For thee they ladened are, my own.
'Banish the idle thought of death—
''Tis poison to thy queenly breath!—
'And conquer love, if love but lead
'To death—fair Eden's worst of seed!—
'For life is sweet; yes, life is sweet,
'While love is oft a spurious cheat.
'The wounds of disappointed love
'Will heal, my dear, as time will prove,'

'And what is life when love is gone?
'What?' cried she. 'Love and life are one.
'We cannot separate the twain;
'As one they will for ay remain!
'When my sweet love—sweet love!—is dead,
'When my fond dream of love has fled,
'No more for me the royal sun
'His daily, stately course will run;
'No more the queenly moon will ride
'Triumphant through the milky tide;
'My life will go from whence it came,
'And vanish all of Garcia's name!
'Why should I live when love is dead
'And gloom through all the earth is spread?
'O, loyal, faithful, friend of mine,
'Thou ne'er hast felt the flame divine,
'Or thou wouldst plainly with me see
'That what thou wish'st can never be!
'When naught remains of all the hope
'That makes me no more blindly grope,
'But lifts my soul to Paradise,
'Where dwell alone the good and wise,
'But ashes, then, this earth would be
'A prison house, indeed, for me.
'O, let me love, or let me die,
'And, dreamless, in the cold earth lie!
'Say not he's mad! Or say I'm mad!
'It well may be we both are mad!
'Is love but madness—saneness—both?
'Is cursed or blessed love's binding oath!
'I do not know. I only know
'I love; and joy to have it so!'

Aunt Sara grieved, sincerely grieved,
To see that love such spell had weaved;
But firm in her position still,
She strove to bend the maiden's will.
'My dear,' she said, 'thou canst not know
'How much I share thy joy and woe;
'Thy every thought appeals to me,
'Just as it must appeal to thee;
'No hope thy gentle soul can move
'That does not rouse my constant love;
'I'd give my life to save thee pain,
'To know thee free from care again—
'The joyous, trusting child at play
'About my knee the long, long day—
'The days before Ralph Bondly came
'And fanned to fire love's smouldering flame.
'O, woe is me, in mine old age,
'With thee such angry war to wage,
'To plead with thee, in vain to plead,
'Thou wouldst preserve the Garcia seed;
'For, mark my words, thou wilt destroy
'Thy peace of earth and heaven's great joy,
'If thou shalt still persist, perforce,
'In thy unholy, fatal course!

'O, let my words persuade thee, dear,
'And swerve thee from the danger near!
'I would not have thee wreck thy life,
'Unwarned to plunge into the strife,
'For one whose mind thou canst not know,
'A changing mind as th' winds that blow!
'Remain with those whose love hath made
'Thy life all sunshine, and no shade,
'Sweet years to thee of peace and joy,
'Which one false step may now destroy.
'Remain with us! No evil wind,
'E'en from the Arctic unconfined,
'Shall fan thy face that we can ward
'By valiant act or loving word!
'Between thee and the world we'll stand,
'With love as our magician's wand,
'With tenderness to smooth thy brow—
'Where sadness hovers even now!'

All pleading was, alas! in vain—
But magnified her sense of pain—
Her isolation from the hearts
That practiced not Deception's arts,
The faithful, honest, loyal few
Who to her always had been true—
The narrow domain of the home,
We reap our chiefest pleasures from!
Her mind was set—set as the oak
Which braved the storm and lightning stroke
Of ages in their mystic flight
Into the Past's confusing night!
For, when a woman will, she will,
Or be it good or be it ill!
Persuasive words nor ugly threats
Have ever cancelled love's just debts,
Or won o'er love's young dream, forsooth,
A victory—for love is truth
And truth is love! So strangely are
The victims bound, they do not care,
They do not heed, but follow where
They hope to find a haven fair!
No warning voice, no danger feared,
Have e'er two loving souls deterred;
Still constant, true, young hearts remain—
An hour of bliss! an age of pain!
The fearful cost! The little gain!
And yet, as 'twere a fashion's fad,
The whole world seems to be love mad.
The courtship ended, life they face,
And Romance drops to commonplace;
The skies grow black, the path grows long,
The strong grow weak, the weak grow strong,
And hearts once young too soon grow old,
And hearts once warm too soon grow cold,
And beauty fades and backs are bent
And all the fires of Hope are spent;
For dreams are dreams, the real is real—
'For better or for worse'—for woe or weal!

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