Walter and Jane: or, the Poor Blacksmith: a Country Tale


BRIGHT was the summer sky, the Mornings gay,
And Jane was young and chearful as the Day.
Not yet to Love but Mirth she paid her vows;
And Echo mock’d her as she call’d her Cows.
Tufts of green Broom, that full in blossom vied, 5
And grac’d with spotted gold the upland side,
The level fogs o’erlook’d; too high to share;
So lovely Jane o’erlook’d the clouds of Care;
No meadow-flow’r rose fresher to the view,
That met her morning footsteps in the dew; 10
Where, if a nodding stranger ey’d her charms,
The blush of innocence was up in arms,
Love’s random glances struck the unguarded mind,
And Beauty’s magic made him look behind.
Duly as morning blush’d or twilight came,15
Secure of greeting smiles and Village fame,
She pass’d the Straw-roof’d Shed, in ranges where
Hung many a well-turn’d Shoe and glitt’ring Share;
Where Walter, as the charmer tripp’d along,
Would stop his roaring Bellows and his Song.— 20
Dawn of affection; Love’s delicious sigh!
Caught from the lightnings of a speaking eye,
That leads the heart to rapture or to woe,
’Twas Walter’s fate thy mad’ning power to know;
And scarce to know, ere in its infant twine, 25
As the Blast shakes the tendrils of the Vine,
The budding bliss that full of promise grew
The chilling blight of separation knew.
Scarce had he told his heart’s unquiet case,
And Jane to shun him ceas’d to mend her pace, 30
And learnt to listen trembling as he spoke,
And fondly judge his words beyond a joke;
When, at the Goal that bounds our prospects here,
Jane’s widow’d Mistress ended her career:
Blessings attended her divided store,35
The Mansion sold, (Jane’s peaceful home no more,)
A distant Village own’d her for its Queen,
Another service, and another scene;
But could another scene so pleasing prove,
Twelve weary miles from Walter and from Love?40
The Maid grew thoughtful: yet to Fate resign’d,
Knew not the worth of what she left behind.
He, when at Eve releas’d from toil and heat,
Soon miss’d the smiles that taught his heart to beat,
Each sabbath-day of late was wont to prove 45
Hope’s liberal feast, the holiday of Love:
But now, upon his spirit’s ebbing strength
Came each dull hour’s intolerable length.
The next had scarcely dawn’d when Walter hied
O’er hill and dale, Affection for his guide: 50
O’er the brown Heath his pathless journey lay,
Where screaming Lapwings hail’d the op’ning day.
High rose the Sun, the anxious Lover sigh’d;
His slipp’ry soles bespoke the dew was dried:
Her last farewell hung fondly on his tongue 55
As o’er the tufted Furze elate he sprung;
Trifling impediments; his heart was light,
For Love and Beauty glow’d in fancy’s sight;
And soon he gaz’d on Jane’s enchanting face,
Renew’d his passion,—but, destroy’d his peace. 60
Truth, at whose shrine he bow’d, inflicted pain;
And Conscience whisper’d, ‘never come again.
For now, his tide of gladness to oppose,
A clay-cold damp of doubts and fears arose;
Clouds, which involve, midst Love and Reason’s strife,65
The poor man’s prospect when he takes a wife.
Though gay his journeys in the Summer’s prime,
Each seem’d the repetition of a crime;
He never left her but with many a sigh,
When tears stole down his face, she knew not why.70
Severe his task those visits to forego,
And feed his heart with voluntary woe.
Yet this he did; the wan Moon circling found
His evenings cheerless, and his rest unsound;
And saw th’ unquenched flame his bosom swell:75
What were his doubts, thus let the Story tell.
A month’s sharp conflict only serv’d to prove
The pow’r, as well as truth, of Walter’s love.
Absence more strongly on his mind portray’d
His own sweet, injur’d, unoffending Maid.80
Once more he’d go; full resolute awhile,
But heard his native Bells on every stile;
The sound recall’d him with a pow’rful charm,
The Heath wide open’d, and the day was warm;
There, where a bed of tempting green he found, 85
Increasing anguish weigh’d him to the ground;
His well-grown limbs the scatter’d Daisies press’d,
While his clinch’d hand fell heavy on his breast.
‘Why do I go in cruel sport to say,
“I love thee, Jane; appoint the happy day?”90
Why seek her sweet ingenuous reply,
Then grasp her hand and proffer—poverty?
Why, if I love her and adore her name,
Why act like time and sickness on her frame?
Why should my scanty pittance nip her prime,95
And chace away the Rose before its time?
I’m young, ’tis true; the world beholds me free;
Labour ne’er show’d a frightful face to me;
Nature’s first wants hard labour should supply;
But should it fail, ’twill be too late to fly.100
Some Summers hence, if nought our loves annoy,
The image of my Jane may lisp her joy;
Or, blooming boys with imitative swing
May mock my arm, and make the Anvil ring;
Then if in rags.—But, O my heart, forbear,—105
I love the Girl, and why should I despair?
And that I love her all the village knows;
Oft from my pain the mirth of others flows;
As when a neighbour’s Steed with glancing eye
Saw his par’d hoof supported on my thigh:110
Jane pass’d that instant; mischief came of course;
I drove the nail awry and lam’d the Horse;
The poor beast limp’d: I bore a Master’s frown,
A thousand times I wish’d the wound my own.
When to these tangling thoughts I’ve been resign’d,115
Fury or languor has possess’d my mind,
All eyes have stared, I’ve blown a blast so strong;
Forgot to smite at all, or smote too long.
If at the Ale-house door, with careless glee
One drinks to Jane, and darts a look on me;120
I feel that blush which her dear name will bring,
I feel:—but, guilty Love, ’tis not thy sting!
Yet what are jeers? the bubbles of an hour;
Jane knows what Love can do, and feels its pow’r;
In her mild eye fair Truth her meaning tells;125
‘Tis not in looks like her’s that falsehood dwells.
As water shed upon a dusty way
I’ve seen midst downward pebbles devious stray;
If kindred drops an adverse channel keep,
The crystal friends toward each other creep;130
Near, and still nearer, rolls each little tide,
Th’ expanding mirror swells on either side:
They touch—’tis done—receding bound’ries fly,
An instantaneous union strikes the eye:
So ’tis with us: for Jane would be my bride; 135
Shall coward fears then turn the bliss aside?’
While thus he spoke he heard a gentle sound,
That seem’d a jarring footstep on the ground:
Asham’d of grief, he bade his eyes unclose,
And shook with agitation as he rose;140
All unprepared the sweet surprise to bear,
His heart beat high, for Jane herself was there.—
Flusht was her cheek; she seem’d the full-blown flower.
For warmth gave loveliness a double power;
Round her fair brow the deep confusion ran, 145
A waving handkerchief became her fan,
Her lips, where dwelt sweet love and smiling ease,
Puff’d gently back the warm assailing breeze.
‘I’ve travell’d all these weary miles with pain,
To see my native village once again;150
And show my true regard for neighbour Hind;
Not like you, Walter, she was always kind.’
’Twas thus, each soft sensation laid aside,
She buoy’d her spirits up with maiden pride;
Disclaim’d her love, e’en while she felt the sting;155
‘What, come for Walter’s sake!’ ’Twas no such thing.
But when astonishment his tongue releas’d,
Pride’s usurpation in an instant ceas’d:
By force he caught her hand as passing by,
And gaz’d upon her half averted eye;160
His heart’s distraction, and his boding fears
She heard, and answer’d with a flood of tears;
Precious relief; sure friends that forward press
To tell the mind’s unspeakable distress.
Ye Youths, whom crimson’d health and genuine fire165
Bear joyous on the wings of young desire,
Ye, who still bow to Love’s almighty sway,
What could true passion, what could Walter say?
Age, tell me true, nor shake your locks in vain,
Tread back your paths, and be in love again;170
In your young days did such a favouring hour
Show you the littleness of wealth and pow’r?
Advent’rous climbers of the Mountain’s brow,
While Love, their master, spreads his couch below—
‘My dearest Jane,’ the untaught Walter cried, 175
As half repell’d he pleaded by her side;
‘My dearest Jane, think of me as you may’—
Thus—still unutter’d what he strove to say,
They breath’d in sighs the anguish of their minds,
And took the path that led to neighbour Hind’s.180
A secret joy the well-known roof inspir’d,
Small was its store, and little they desir’d;
Jane dried her tears; while Walter forward flew
To aid the Dame; who to the brink updrew
The pond’rous Bucket as they reach’d the well, 185
And scarcely with exhausted breath could tell
How welcome to her Cot the blooming Pair,
O’er whom she watch’d with a maternal care.
‘What ails thee, Jane?’ the wary Matron cried;
With heaving breast the modest Maid reply’d, 190
Now gently moving back her wooden Chair
To shun the current of the cooling air;
‘Not much, good Dame; I’m weary by the way;
Perhaps, anon, I’ve something else to say.’
Now, while the Seed-cake crumbled on her knee, 195
And Snowy Jasmine peeped in to see;
And the transparent Lilac at the door,
Full to the Sun its purple honors bore,
The clam’rous Hen her fearless brood display’d,
And march’d around; while thus the Matron said: 200
‘Jane has been weeping, Walter;—prithee why?
I’ve seen her laugh, and dance, but never cry.
But I can guess; with her you should have been,
When late I saw you loit’ring on the green;
I’m an old Woman, and the truth may tell: 205
I say then, Boy, you have not us’d her well.’
Jane felt for Walter; felt his cruel pain,
While Pity’s voice brought forth her tears again.
‘Don’t scold him, Neighbour, he has much to say,
Indeed he came and met me by the way.’ 210
The Dame resum’d—‘Why then, my Children, why
Do such young bosoms heave the piteous sigh?
The ills of Life to you are yet unknown;
Death’s sev’ring shaft, and Poverty’s cold frown:
I’ve felt them both, by turns:—but as they pass’d, 215
Strong was my trust, and here I am at last.
When I dwelt young and cheerful down the Lane
(And, though I say it, I was much like Jane,)
O’er flow’ry fields with Hind, I lov’d to stray,
And talk, and laugh, and fool the time away:220
And Care defied; who not one pain could give,
Till the thought came of how we were to live;
And then Love plied his arrows thicker still:
And prove! victorious;—as he always will.
We brav’d Life’s storm together; while that Drone,225
Your poor old Uncle, Walter, liv’d alone.
He died the other day: when round his bed
No tender soothing tear Affection shed—
Affection! ’twas a plant he never knew;—
Why should he feast on fruits he never grew?’230
Walter caught fire: nor was he charm’d alone
With conscious Truth’s firm elevated tone;
Jane from her seat sprang forward, half afraid,
Attesting with a blush what Goody said.
Her Lover took a more decided part:— 235
(O! ’twas the very Chord that touch’d his heart,)—
Alive to the best feelings man can prize,
A Bridegroom’s transport sparkled in his eyes;
Love, conquering power, with unrestricted range
Silenc’d the arguments of Time and Change; 240
And led his vot’ry on, and bade him view,
And prize the light-wing’d moments as they flew:
All doubts gave way, all retrospective lore,
Whence cooler Reason tortur’d him before;
Comparison of times, the Lab’rer’s hire, 245
And many a truth Reflection might inspire,
Sunk powerless. ‘Dame, I am a fool,’ he cried;
‘Alone I might have reason’d till I died.
I caus’d those tears of Jane’s:—but as they fell
How much I felt none but ourselves can tell. 250
While dastard fears withheld me from her sight,
Sighs reign’d by day and hideous dreams by night;
’Twas then the Soldier’s plume and rolling Drum
Seem’d for a while to strike my sorrows dumb;
To fly from Care then half resolv’d I stood,255
And without horror mus’d on fields of blood,
But Hope prevail’d.—Be then the sword resign’d;
And I’ll make Shares for those that stay behind,
And you, sweet Girl,’—
He would have added more,260
Had not a glancing shadow at the door
Announc’d a guest, who bore with winning grace
His well-tim’d errand pictur’d in his face.
Around with silent reverence they stood;
A blameless reverence—the man was good. 265
Wealth he had some, a match for his desires,
First on the list of active Country ’Squires.
Seeing the youthful pair with downcast eyes,
Unmov’d by Summer-flowers and cloudless skies,
Pass slowly by his Gate; his book resign’d,270
He watch’d their steps and follow’d far behind,
Bearing with inward joy, and honest pride,
A trust of Walter’s kinsman ere he died,
A hard-earn’d mite, deposited with care,
And with a miser’s spirit worshipt there.275
He found what oft the generous bosom seeks,
In the Dame’s court’seys and Jane’S blushing cheeks,
That consciousness of Worth, that freeborn Grace,
Which waits on Virtue in the meanest place.
‘Young Man, I’ll not apologize to you,280
Nor name intrusion, for my news is true;
’Tis duty brings me here: your wants I’ve heard,
And can relieve: yet be the dead rever’d.
Here, in this Purse, (what should have cheer’d a Wife,)
Lies, half the savings of your Uncle’s life! 285
I know your history, and your wishes know;
And love to see the seeds of Virtue grow.
I’ve a spare Shed that fronts the public road;
Make that your Shop; I’ll make it your abode.
Thus much from me,—the rest is but your due.’290
That instant twenty pieces sprung to view.
Goody, her dim eyes wiping, rais’d her brow,
And saw the young pair look they knew not how;
Perils and Power while humble minds forego,
Who gives them half a Kingdom gives them woe; 295
Comforts may be procur’d and want defied,
Heav’ns! with how small a Sum, when right applied!
Give Love and honest Industry their way,
Clear but the Sun-rise of Life’s little day,
Those we term poor shall oft that wealth obtain,300
For which th’ ambitious sigh, but sigh in vain:
Wealth that still brightens, as its stores increase;
The calm of Conscience, and the reign of Peace.
Walter’s enamour’d Soul, from news like this,
Now felt the dawnings of his future bliss; 305
E’en as the Red-breast shelt’ring in a bower,
Mourns the short darkness of a passing Shower,
Then, while the azure sky extends around,
Darts on a worm that breaks the moisten’d ground,
And mounts the dripping fence, with joy elate,310
And shares the prize triumphant with his mate;
So did the Youth;—the treasure straight became
An humble servant to Love’s sacred flame;
Glorious subjection!—Thus his silence broke:
Joy gave him words; still quick’ning as he spoke. 315
‘Want was my dread, my wishes were but few;
Others might doubt, but Jane those wishes knew:
This Gold may rid my heart of pains and sighs;
But her true love is still my greatest prize.
Long as I live, when this bright day comes round,320
Beneath my Roof your noble deeds shall sound;
But, first, to make my gratitude appear,
I’ll shoe your Honour’s Horses for a Year;
If clouds should threaten when your Corn is down,
I’ll lend a hand, and summon half the town; 325
If good betide, I’ll sound it in my songs,
And be the first avenger of your wrongs:
Though rude in manners, free I hope to live:
This Ale’s not mine, no Ale have I to give;
Yet, Sir, though Fortune frown’d when I was born,330
Let’s drink eternal friendship from this Horn.
How much our present joy to you we owe,
Soon our three Bells shall let the Neighbours know;
The sound shall raise e’en stooping Age awhile,
And every Maid shall meet you with a smile; 335
Long may you live’—the wish like lightning flew;
By each repeated as the ’Squire withdrew.
‘Long may you live,’ his feeling heart rejoin’d;
Leaving well-pleas’d such happy Souls behind.
Hope promis’d fair to cheer them to the end;340
With Love their guide, and Goody for their friend. [1] 


[1] [1st edn, 1st state adds note:] I think this tale, and especially the beginning and middle of it, has much of the clear, animated, easy narrative, the familiar but graceful diction, and the change of numbers so interesting in DRYDEN. In the following poem these excellencies are still greater. C. L.] omitted in 1st edn, 2nd state and later edns BACK