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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 3

The great farm house of Malcolm Graem stood
Square shoulder’d and peak roof’d upon a hill,
With many windows looking everywhere;
So that no distant meadow might lie hid,
Nor corn-field hide its gold—nor lowing herd
Browse in far pastures, out of Malcolm’s ken.
He lov’d to sit, grim, grey, and somewhat stern,
And thro’ the smoke-clouds from his short clay pipe
Look out upon his riches; while his thoughts
Swung back and forth between the bleak, stern past, 
And the near future, for his life had come
To that close balance, when, a pendulum,
The memory swings between the “Then“ and “Now“;
His seldom speech ran thus two diff’rent ways:
“When I was but a laddie, thus I did“; 
Or, “Katie, in the fall I’ll see to build
“Such fences or such sheds about the place;
“And next year, please the Lord, another barn.”
Katie’s gay garden foam’d about the walls,
’Leagur’d the prim-cut modern sills, and rush’d 
Up the stone walls—and broke on the peak’d roof.
And Katie’s lawn was like a poet’s sward,
Velvet and sheer and di’monded with dew;
For such as win their wealth most aptly take
Smooth, urban ways and blend them with their own; 
And Katie’s dainty raiment was as fine
As the smooth, silken petals of the rose;
And her light feet, her nimble mind and voice,
In city schools had learn’d the city’s ways,
And grafts upon the healthy, lovely vine 
They shone, eternal blossoms ’mid the fruit.
For Katie had her sceptre in her hand
And wielded it right queenly there and here,
In dairy, store-room, kitchen—ev’ry spot
Where women’s ways were needed on the place. 
And Malcolm took her through his mighty fields,
And taught her lore about the change of crops;
And how to see a handsome furrow plough’d;
And how to choose the cattle for the mart;
And how to know a fair day’s work when done; 
And where to plant young orchards; for he said,
“God sent a lassie, but I need a son—
“Bethankit for His mercies all the same.”
And Katie, when he said it, thought of Max—
Who had been gone two winters and two springs, 
And sigh’d, and thought, “Would he not be your son?”
But all in silence, for she had too much
Of the firm will of Malcolm in her soul
To think of shaking that deep-rooted rock;
But hop’d the crystal current of his love 
For his one child, increasing day by day,
Might fret with silver lip until it wore
Such channels thro’ the rock that some slight stroke
Of circumstance might crumble down the stone.
The wooer, too, had come, Max prophesied; 
Reputed wealthy; with the azure eyes
And Saxon-gilded locks—the fair, clear face,
And stalwart form that most women love,
And with the jewels of some virtues set
On his broad brow. With fires within his soul 
He had the wizard skill to fetter down
To that mere pink, poetic, nameless glow,
That need not fright a flake of snow away—
But, if unloos’d, could melt an adverse rock
Marrow’d with iron, frowning in his way. 
And Malcolm balanc’d him by day and night;
And with his grey-ey’d shrewdness partly saw
He was not one for Kate; but let him come,
And in chance moments thought: “Well, let it be—
“They make a bonnie pair—he knows the ways 
“Of men and things: can hold the gear I give,
“And, if the lassie wills it, let it be.”
And then, upstarting from his midnight sleep,
With hair erect and sweat upon his brow
Such as no labor e’er had beaded there; 
Would cry aloud, wide-staring thro’ the dark—
“Nay, nay; she shall not wed him—rest in peace.”
Then fully waking, grimly laugh and say:
“Why did I speak and answer when none spake?”
But still lie staring, wakeful, through the shades; 
List’ning to the silence, and beating still
The ball of Alfred’s merits to and fro—
Saying, between the silent arguments:
“But would the mother like it, could she know?
“I would there was a way to ring a lad 
“Like a silver coin, and so find out the true;
“But Kate shall say him ‘Nay’ or say him ‘Yea’
“At her own will.” And Katie said him “Nay,”
In all the maiden, speechless, gentle ways
A woman has. But Alfred only laugh’d 
To his own soul, and said in his wall’d mind:
“O, Kate, were I a lover, I might feel
“Despair flap o’er my hopes with raven wings;
“Because thy love is giv’n to other love.
“And did I love—unless I gain’d thy love, 
“I would disdain the golden hair, sweet lips,
“Air-blown form and true violet eyes;
“Nor crave the beauteous lamp without the flame;
“Which in itself would light a charnel house.
“Unlov’d and loving, I would find the cure 
“Of Love’s despair in nursing Love’s disdain—
“Disdain of lesser treasure than the whole.
“One cares not much to place against the wheel
“A di’mond lacking flame—nor loves to pluck
“A rose with all its perfume cast abroad 
“To the bosom of the gale. Not I, in truth!
“If all man’s days are three-score years and ten,
“He needs must waste them not, but nimbly seize
“The bright, consummate blossom that his will
“Calls for most loudly. Gone, long gone the days 
“When Love within my soul for ever stretch’d
“Fierce hands of flame, and here and there I found
“A blossom fitted for him—all up-fill’d
“With love as with clear dew—they had their hour
“And burn’d to ashes with him, as he droop’d 
“In his own ruby fires. No Phœnix he,
“To rise again because of Katie’s eyes,
“On dewy wings, from ashes such as his!
“But now, another Passion bids me forth,
“To crown him with the fairest I can find, 
“And makes me lover—not of Katie’s face,
“But of her father’s riches! O, high fool,
“Who feels the faintest pulsing of a wish
“And fails to feed it into lordly life!
“So that, when stumbling back to Mother Earth, 
“His freezing lip may curl in cold disdain
“Of those poor, blighted fools who starward stare
“For that fruition, nipp’d and scanted here.
“And, while the clay o’ermasters all his blood—
“And he can feel the dust knit with his flesh— 
“He yet can say to them, ‘Be ye content;
“‘I tasted perfect fruitage thro’ my life,
“‘Lighted all lamps of passion, till the oil
“‘Fail’d from their wicks; and now, O now, I know
“‘There is no Immortality could give 
“‘Such boon as this—to simply cease to be!
“‘There lies your Heaven, O ye dreaming slaves,
“‘If ye would only live to make it so;
“‘Nor paint upon the blue skies lying shades
“‘Of—what is not. Wise, wise and strong the man 
“‘Who poisons that fond haunter of the mind,
“‘Craving for a hereafter with deep draughts
“‘Of wild delights—so fiery, fierce, and strong,
“‘That when their dregs are deeply, deeply drain’d,
“‘What once was blindly crav’d of purblind Chance, 
“‘Life, life eternal—throbbing thro’ all space,
“‘Is strongly loath’d—and with his face in dust,
“‘Man loves his only Heav’n—six feet of Earth!’
“So, Katie, tho’ your blue eyes say me ‘Nay,’
“My pangs of love for gold must needs be fed, 
“And shall be, Katie, if I know my mind.”
Events were winds close nestling in the sails
Of Alfred’s bark, all blowing him direct
To his wish’d harbour. On a certain day,
All set about with roses and with fire; 
One of three days of heat which frequent slip,
Like triple rubies, in between the sweet,
Mild, emerald days of summer, Katie went,
Drawn by a yearning for the ice-pale blooms,
Natant and shining—firing all the bay 
With angel fires built up of snow and gold.
She found the bay close pack’d with groaning logs,
Prison’d between great arms of close-hing’d wood,
All cut from Malcolm’s forests in the west,
And floated hither to his noisy mills; 
And all stamp’d with the potent “G.” and “M.,”
Which much he lov’d to see upon his goods,
The silent courtiers owning him their king.
Out clear beyond, the rustling ricebeds sang,
And the cool lilies starr’d the shadow’d wave. 
“This is a day for lily-love,” said Kate,
While she made bare the lilies of her feet,
And sang a lily-song that Max had made,
That spoke of lilies—always meaning Kate. 

•      •      •
“White Lady of the silver’d lakes,
Chaste Goddess of the sweet, still shrines,
      The jocund river fitful makes,
By sudden, deep gloom’d brakes,
Close shelter’d by close weft and woof of vine, 
Spilling a shadow gloomy-rich as wine,
Into the silver throne where thou dost sit,
Thy silken leaves all dusky round thee knit! 

•      •      •
“Mild soul of the unsalted wave!
   White bosom holding golden fire!
Deep as some ocean-hidden cave 
   Are fix’d the roots of thy desire,
Thro’ limpid currents stealing up,
And rounding to the pearly cup.
      Thou dost desire,
With all thy trembling heart of sinless fire, 
      But to be fill’d
      With dew distill’d
From clear, fond skies that in their gloom
Hold, floating high, thy sister moon.
Pale chalice of a sweet perfume, 
Whiter-breasted than a dove—
To thee the dew is—love!” 

•      •      •
Kate bared her little feet, and pois’d herself
On the first log close grating on the shore;
And with bright eyes of laughter, and wild hair—
A flying wind of gold—from log to log
Sped, laughing as they wallow’d in her track,
Like brown-scal’d monsters rolling, as her foot
Spurn’d each in turn with its rose-white sole.
A little island, out in middle wave,
With its green shoulder held the great drive brac’d
Between it and the mainland; here it was
The silver lilies drew her with white smiles;
And as she touch’d the last great log of all,
It reel’d, upstarting, like a column brac’d 
A second on the wave—and when it plung’d
Rolling upon the froth and sudden foam,
Katie had vanish’d, and with angry grind
The vast logs roll’d together,—nor a lock
Of drifting, yellow hair—an upflung hand, 
Told where the rich man’s chiefest treasure sank
Under his wooden wealth. But Alfred, laid
With pipe and book upon the shady marge
Of the cool isle, saw all, and seeing hurl’d
Himself, and hardly knew it, on the logs. 
By happy chance a shallow lapp’d the isle
On this green bank; and when his iron arms
Dash’d the bark’d monsters, as frail stems of rice,
A little space apart, the soft, slow tide
But reach’d his chest, and in a flash he saw 
Kate’s yellow hair, and by it drew her up,
And lifting her aloft, cried out, “O, Kate!”
And once again said, “Katie! is she dead?”
For like the lilies broken by the rough
And sudden riot of the armor’d logs, 
Kate lay upon his hands; and now the logs
Clos’d in upon him, nipping his great chest,
Nor could he move to push them off again
For Katie in his arms. “And now,” he said,
“If none should come, and any wind arise 
“To weld these woody monsters ’gainst the isle,
“I shall be crack’d like any broken twig;
“And as it is, I know not if I die,
“For I am hurt—aye, sorely, sorely hurt!”
Then look’d on Katie’s lily face, and said, 
“Dead, dead or living? Why, an even chance.
“O lovely bubble on a troubl’d sea,
“I would not thou shouldst lose thyself again
“In the black ocean whence thy life emerg’d,
“But skyward steal on gales as soft as love, 
“And hang in some bright rainbow overhead,
“If only such bright rainbow spann’d the earth.”
Then shouted loudly, till the silent air
Rous’d like a frighten’d bird, and on its wings
Caught up his cry and bore it to the farm. 
There Malcolm, leaping from his noontide sleep,
Upstarted as at midnight, crying out,
“She shall not wed him—rest you, wife, in peace!”
They found him, Alfred, haggard-ey’d and faint,
But holding Katie ever towards the sun, 
Unhurt, and waking in the fervent heat.
And now it came that Alfred, being sick
Of his sharp hurts and tended by them both,
With what was like to love, being born of thanks,
Had choice of hours most politic to woo, 
And used his deed as one might use the sun,
To ripen unmellow’d fruit; and from the core
Of Katie’s gratitude hop’d yet to nurse
A flow’r all to his liking—Katie’s love.
But Katie’s mind was like the plain, broad shield 
Of a table di’mond, nor had a score of sides;
And in its shield, so precious and so plain,
Was cut, thro’ all its clear depths—Max’s name.
And so she said him “Nay“ at last, in words
Of such true-sounding silver that he knew 
He might not win her at the present hour,
But smil’d and thought—“I go, and come again!
“Then shall we see. Our three-score years and ten
“Are mines of treasure, if we hew them deep,
“Nor stop too long in choosing out our tools!”

Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Late Loved - Well Loved
  4. Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 1
  5. Said the Wind

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