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Rippling Water

THE maiden sat by the river side

(The rippling water murmurs by),

And sadly into the clear blue tide

The salt tear fell from her clear blue eye.

' 'Tis fixed for better, for worse,' she cried,

'And to-morrow the bridegroom claims the bride.

Oh ! wealth and power and rank and pride

Can surely peace and happiness buy.

I was merry, nathless, in my girlhood's hours,

'Mid the waving grass, when the bright sun shone.

Shall I be as merry in Marmaduke's towers ?'

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Stephen works for his daily bread

(The rippling water murmurs low),

Through the crazy thatch that covers his head

The rain-drops fall and the wind-gusts blow.

'I'll mend the old roof-tree,' so he said,

'And repair the cottage when we are wed.'

And my pulses throbb'd, and my cheek grew red,

When he kiss'd me—that was long ago.

Stephen and I, should we meet again,

Not as we've met in days that are gone,

Will my pulses throb with pleasure or pain ?

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Old Giles, the gardener, strok'd my curls

(The rippling water murmurs past),

Quoth he, 'In laces and silks and pearls

My child will see her reflection cast ;

Now I trust in my heart that your lord will be

Kinder to you than he was to me,

When I lay in the gaol, and my children three

With their sickly mother kept bitter fast.'

With Marmaduke now my will is law,

Marmaduke's will may be law anon ;

Does the sheath of velvet cover the claw ?

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Dame Martha patted me on the cheek

(The rippling water murmurs low),

Saying, 'There are words that I fain would speak—

Perhaps they were best spoken though ;

I can't persuade you to change your mind,

And useless warnings are scarcely kind,

And I may be foolish as well as blind,

But take my blessing whether or no.'

Dame Martha's wise, though her hair is white,

Her sense is good, though her sight is gone—

Can she really be gifted with second sight ?

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Brian of Hawksmede came to our cot

(The rippling water murmurs by),

Scatter'd the sods of our garden plot,

Riding his roan horse recklessly ;

Trinket and token and tress of hair,

He flung them down at the door-step there,

Said, 'Elsie ! ask your lord, if you dare,

Who gave him the blow as well as the lie.'

That evening I mentioned Brian's name,

And Marmaduke's face grew white and wan,

Am I pledged to one of a spirit so tame ?

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Brian is headstrong, rash, and vain

(The rippling water murmurs still),

Stephen is somewhat duller of brain,

Slower of speech and milder of will ;

Stephen must toil a living to gain,

Plough and harrow and gather the grain ;

Brian has little enough to maintain

The station in life which he needs must fill ;

Both are fearless and kind and frank,

But we can't win all gifts under the sun—

What have I won save riches and rank ?

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Riches and rank, and what beside

(The rippling water murmurs yet),

The mansion is stately, the manor is wide,

Their lord for a while may pamper and pet ;

Liveried lackeys may jeer aside,

Though the peasant girl is their master's bride,

At her shyness, mingled with with awkward pride,—

'Twere folly for trifles like these to fret ;

But the love of one that I cannot love,

Will it last when the gloss of his toy is gone ?

Is there naught beyond, below, or above ?

(The rippling water murmurs on.)

 

Published in 'Sea Spray and Smoke Drift' (1867).