The Female Vagrant
My Father was a good and pious man,
An honest man by honest parents bred;
And I believe, that, soon as I began
To lisp, he made me kneel beside my bed,
And in his hearing there my prayers I said: 5
And afterwards, by my good Father taught,
I read, and loved the books in which I read;
For books in every neighbouring house I sought,
And nothing to my mind a sweeter pleasure brought.
The suns of twenty summers danced along,—10
Ah! little marked how fast they rolled away:
Then rose a stately Hall our woods among,
And cottage after cottage owned its sway.
No joy to see a neighbouring House, or stray
Through pastures not his own, the master took;15
My Father dared his greedy wish gainsay;
He loved his old hereditary nook,
And ill could I the thought of such sad parting brook.
But, when he had refused the proffered gold,
To cruel injuries he became a prey, 20
Sore traversed in whate’er he bought and sold:
His troubles grew upon him day by day,
And all his substance fell into decay.
They dealt most hardly with him, and he tried
To move their hearts—but it was vain—for they25
Seized all he had; and, weeping side by side,
We sought a home where we uninjured might abide.
It was in truth a lamentable hour,
When, from the last hill-top, my Sire surveyed,
Peering above the trees, the steeple tower30
That on his marriage-day sweet music made.
Till then he hoped his bones might there be laid,
Close by my Mother, in their native bowers;
Bidding me trust in God, he stood and prayed,—
I could not pray:—through tears that fell in showers35
I saw our own dear home, that was no longer ours.
There was a Youth, whom I had loved so long,
That when I loved him not I cannot say.
’Mid the green mountains many and many a song
We two had sung, like gladsome birds in May.40
When we began to tire of childish play
We seemed still more and more to prize each other;
We talked of marriage and our marriage day;
And I in truth did love him like a brother;
For never could I hope to meet with such another.45
Two years were pass’d, since to a distant Town
He had repair’d to ply the artist’s trade.
What tears of bitter grief till then unknown!
What tender vows our last sad kiss delayed!
To him we turned:—we had no other aid.50
Like one revived, upon his neck I wept:
And her whom he had loved in joy, he said
He well could love in grief: his faith he kept;
And in a quiet home once more my Father slept.
We lived in peace and comfort; and were blest55
With daily bread, by constant toil supplied.
Three lovely Infants lay upon my breast;
And often, viewing their sweet smiles, I sighed,
And knew not why. My happy Father died
When sad distress reduced the Children’s meal:60
Thrice happy! that from him the grave did hide
The empty loom, cold hearth, and silent wheel,
And tears that flowed for ills which patience could not heal.
’Twas a hard change, an evil time was come;
We had no hope, and no relief could gain.65
But soon, day after day, the noisy drum
Beat round, to sweep the streets of want and pain.
My husband’s arms now only served to strain
Me and his children hungering in his view:
In such dismay my prayers and tears were vain:70
To join those miserable men he flew:
And now to the sea-coast, with numbers more, we drew.
There, long were we neglected, and we bore
Much sorrow ere the fleet its anchor weigh’d;
Green fields before us and our native shore,75
We breath’d a pestilential air that made
Ravage for which no knell was heard. We pray’d
For our departure; wish’d and wish’d—nor knew
’Mid that long sickness, and those hopes delay’d,
That happier days we never more must view:80
The parting signal streamed, at last the land withdrew.
But the calm summer season now was past.
On as we drove, the equinoctial Deep
Ran mountains-high before the howling blast;
And many perished in the whirlwind’s sweep.85
We gazed with terror on their gloomy sleep,
Untaught that soon such anguish must ensue,
Our hopes such harvest of affliction reap,
That we the mercy of the waves should rue.
We reach’d the Western World, a poor, devoted crew.90
The pains and plagues that on our heads came down,
Disease and famine, agony and fear,
In wood or wilderness, in camp or town,
It would thy brain unsettle, even to hear.
All perished—all, in one remorseless year, 95
Husband and Children! one by one, by sword
And ravenous plague, all perished: every tear
Dried up, despairing, desolate, on board
A British ship I waked, as from a trance restored.
Peaceful as some immeasurable plain 100
By the first beams of dawning light impress’d,
In the calm sunshine slept the glittering main.
The very ocean has its hour of rest.
I too was calm, though heavily distress’d!
Oh me, how quiet sky and ocean were!105
My heart was healed within me, I was bless’d,
And looked, and looked along the silent air,
Until it seemed to bring a joy to my despair.
Ah! how unlike those late terrific sleeps!
And groans, that rage of racking famine spoke!110
The unburied dead that lay in festering heaps!
The breathing pestilence that rose like smoke!
The shriek that from the distant battle broke!
The mine’s dire earthquake, and the pallid host
Driven by the bomb’s incessant thunder-stroke115
To loathsome vaults, where heart-sick anguish toss’d,
Hope died, and fear itself in agony was lost!
At midnight once the storming Army came,
Yet do I see the miserable sight,
The Bayonet, the Soldier, and the Flame120
That followed us and faced us in our flight;
When Rape and Murder by the ghastly light
Seized their joint prey, the Mother and the Child!
But I must leave these thoughts.--From night to night,
From day to day, the air breathed soft and mild:125
And on the gliding vessel Heaven and Ocean smiled.
Some mighty gulph of separation past,
I seemed transported to another world:—
A thought resigned with pain, when from the mast
The impatient mariner the sail unfurl’d, 130
And, whistling, called the wind that hardly curled
The silent sea. From the sweet thoughts of home
And from all hope I was forever hurled.
For me—farthest from earthly port to roam
Was best, could I but shun the spot where man might come.135
And oft I thought (my fancy was so strong)
That I at last a resting-place had found;
“Here will I dwell,” said I, “my whole life-long,
Roaming the illimitable waters round:
Here will I live:— of every friend disown’d,140
Here will I roam about the ocean-flood.”—
To break my dream the vessel reached its bound:
And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
And near a thousand tables pin’d , and wanted food.
By grief enfeebled was I turned adrift, 145
Helpless as sailor cast on desert rock;
Nor morsel to my mouth that day did lift,
Nor dared my hand at any door to knock.
I lay where, with his drowsy Mates, the Cock
From the cross timber of an out-house hung;150
Dismally tolled, that night, the city clock!
At morn my sick heart hunger scarcely stung,
Nor to the beggar’s language could I frame my tongue.
So pass’d another day, and so the third;
Then did I try in vain the crowd’s resort. 155
—In deep despair by frightful wishes stirr’d,
Near the sea-side I reached a ruined Fort:
There, pains which nature could no more support,
With blindness link’d, did on my vitals fall,
And I had many interruptions short 160
Of hideous sense; I sank, nor step could crawl,
And thence was carried to a neighbouring Hospital.
Recovery came with food: but still, my brain
Was weak, nor of the past had memory.
I heard my neighbours, in their beds, complain165
Of many things which never troubled me;
Of feet still bustling round with busy glee;
Of looks where common kindness had no part;
Of service done with careless cruelty,
Fretting the fever round the languid heart;170
And groans, which, as they said, would make a dead man start.
These things just served to stir the torpid sense,
Nor pain nor pity in my bosom raised.
My memory and my strength returned; and thence
Dismissed, again on open day I gazed, 175
At houses, men, and common light, amazed.
The lanes I sought, and, as the sun retired,
Came where beneath the trees a faggot blazed;
The Travellers saw me weep, my fate inquired,
And gave me food,—and rest, more welcome, more desired.180
My heart is touched to think that men like these,
Wild houseless Wanderers, were my first relief:
How kindly did they paint their vagrant ease,
And their long holiday that feared not grief!
For all belonged to all, and each was chief.185
No plough their sinews strained; on grating road
No wain they drove; and yet the yellow sheaf
In every vale for their delight was stow’d;
In every field, with milk their dairy overflow’d.
They with their pannier’d Asses semblance made190
Of Potters wandering on from door to door:
But life of happier sort to me pourtray’d,
And other joys my fancy to allure;
The bag-pipe dinning on the midnight moor
In barn uplighted, and Companions boon195
Well met from far with revelry secure,
Among the forest glades, when jocund June
Rolled fast along the sky his warm and genial moon.
But ill they suited me; those journeys dark
O’er moor and mountain, midnight theft to hatch!200
To charm the surly House-dog’s faithful bark,
Or hang on tip-toe at the lifted latch;
The gloomy lantern, and the dim blue match,
The black disguise, the warning whistle shrill,
And ear still busy on its nightly watch, 205
Were not for me, brought up in nothing ill:
Besides, on griefs so fresh my thoughts were brooding still.
What could I do, unaided and unblest?
My Father! gone was every friend of thine:
And kindred of dead husband are at best 210
Small help; and, after marriage such as mine,
With little kindness would to me incline.
Ill was I then for toil or service fit:
With tears whose course no effort could confine,
By the road-side forgetful would I sit 215
Whole hours, my idle arms in moping sorrow knit.
I led a wandering life among the fields;
Contentedly, yet sometimes self-accused,
I lived upon what casual bounty yields,
Now coldly given, now utterly refused. 220
The ground I for my bed have often used:
But, what afflicts my peace with keenest ruth
Is, that I have my inner self abused,
Forgone the home delight of constant truth,
And clear and open soul, so prized in fearless youth.225
Three years thus wandering, often have I view’d,
In tears, the sun towards that country tend
Where my poor heart lost all its fortitude:
And now across this moor my steps I bend—
Oh! tell me whither——for no earthly friend230
Have I.”——She ceased, and weeping turned away,
As if because her tale was at an end
She wept;—because she had no more to say
Of that perpetual weight which on her spirit lay.