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THE COTTAGE OF THE KINDLY LIGHT.
THERE is a valley of fir-woods in the West
That slopes between great mountains to the sea.
Once, at the valley's mouth, a cottage stood:
Its ruins remain, like boulders of a rock,
High on the hill, whose base is white with foam.
To its forsaken garden sometimes come
Lovers, who lean upon its grass-grown gate
And listen to the sea-song far below;
Or little children, with their baskets, trip
Merrily through the fir-woods and the fern,
And climb the crumbling thistle-empurpled wall
Around the tangled copse, and laugh to find
The hardy straggling raspberries all their own.
Round it the curlews wheel and cry all night;
And, with no other comfort than the stars
Can faintly shed from their familiar heights
It has been patient, while the world below
Has hidden itself in darkness and in clouds
Of terror from the landward-rushing storm.
Like a small gleam of quartz in a great rock,
A tiny beacon in the whirling gloom,
It stood and gathered sorrow from the world.
There, many years ago, a woman dwelt,
A sailor's widow with her only son;
And ever as she hugged him to her heart
In those glad days when he was but a child,
Her memories of one black eternal night
When she had watched and waited for the sail
That nevermore returned, filled her with one
Supreme, almost unbreathable, desire
That this her little one, her living bliss,
The last caress incarnate of her love,
Should never leave her side; or, if he left,
Never set forth upon the sea: her flesh
Shuddered as the sea shuddered in the sun
Over the cold grave of her first last love
Even to dream of it; yet she remained.
Silent and passive on her sea-washed hill,
Facing the sunset, in that lonely home,
Where everything bore witness to the sea,-
The shells her love had brought from foreign lands,
The model ship he built; yet she remained.
For her first kisses lingered in the scent
Of those rough wallflowers round the whitewashed walls,
And the first flush of love that touched her cheek
Lingered and lived and died and lived again
In the pink thrift that nodded by the gate.
As if these and her outlook o'er the sea
Were nought else but her soul's one atmosphere,
Wherein alone she lived and moved and breathed,
Having no other thought but This is home,
My part in God's eternity, she still
Remained. The lad grew; yet her fear was dumb.
The lad grew, and the white foam kissed his feet
Sporting upon the verge: the green waves laughed
And smote their hard bright kisses on his lips
As he swam out to meet them: the whole sea,
Like some strange symbol of the spiritual deeps
That hourly lure the soul of man in quest
Of beauty, pleasure, knowledge, summoned him out,
Out from the old faiths, the old fostering arms of home,
Called him with strange new voices evermore,
Called him with ringing names of high renown,
With white-armed sirens in its blossoming waves,
And heavenly cities in its westering suns;
Called him; and old adventures filled his heart,
And he forgot, as all of us forget,
The imperishable and infinite desire
Of the vacant arms and bosom that still yearn
For the little vanished children, still, still ache
To keep their children little! He grew wroth
At aught that savoured of such fostering care
As mothers long to lavish, aught that seemed
To rob him of his manhood, his free-will:
And she-she understood and she was dumb.
And so the lad grew up; and he was tall,
Supple, and sunburnt, and a flower of men.
His eyes had caught the blue of sea-washed skies,
And deepened with strange manhood, till, at last,
One eve in May his mother wandered down
The hill to await his coming, wistfully
Wandered, touching with vague and dreaming hands
The uncrumpling fronds of fern and budding roses
As if she thought them but the ghosts of spring.
From far below the golden breezes brought
A mellow music from the village church,
Which o'er the fragrant fir-wood she could see
Pointing a sky-blue spire to heaven: she knew
That music, her most heart-remembered song-
"Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear,
It is not night if Thou be near!"
And as the music made her one with all
That soft transfigured world of eventide,
One with the flame that sanctified the West,
One with the golden sabbath of the sea,
One with the sweet responses of the woods,
One with the kneeling mountains, there she saw
In a tangle of ferns and roses and wild light
Shot from the sunset through a glade of fir,
Her boy and some young rival in his arms,
A girl of seventeen summers, dusky-haired,
Grey-eyed, and breasted like a crescent moon,
Lifting her red lips in a dream of love
Up to the red lips of her only son.
Jealousy numbed the mother's lonely soul,
And, sickening at the heart, she stole away.
Yet she said nothing when her boy returned;
And, after supper, she took down the Book,
Her own dead grandsire's massive wedding-gift,
The large-print Bible, like a corner-stone
Hewn from the solemn fabric of his life-
An heirloom for the guidance of his sons.
And their sons' sons; and every night her boy
Read it aloud to her-a last fond link
Frayed and nigh snapt already, for she knew
It irked him. And he read, Abide with us,
For the day is far spent; and she looked at him
Shyly, furtively. With great tears she gazed
As on a stranger in her child's new face.
At last he told her all-told of his love,
And how he must grow wealthy now and make
A home for his young sweetheart, how he meant
To work upon a neighbour's fishing-boat
Till he could buy one for himself. He ceased;
Far off the sea sighed and a curlew wailed;
A soft breeze brought a puff of wallflower scent
Warm through the casement. He looked up and smiled
Into his mother's face, and saw the tears
Creep through the gnarled old hands that hid her eyes.
He saw the star-light glisten on her tears!
He could not understand: her lips were dumb.
Oh, dumb and patient as our mother Earth
Watching from age to age the silent, swift,
Light-hearted progress of her careless sons.
By new-old ways to one unaltering doom,
Through the long nights she waited as of old
Till in the dawn-and coloured like the dawn-
The tawny sails came home across the bar.
And every night she placed a little lamp
In the cottage window, that if e'er he gazed
Homeward by night across the heaving sea
He might be touched to memory. But she said
Nothing. The lamp was like the liquid light
In some dumb creature's eyes, that can but wait
Until its master chance to see its love
And deign to touch its brow.
Now in those days
There went a preacher through the country-side
Filling men's hearts with fire; and out at sea
The sailors sang great hymns to God; and one
Stood up one night, among the gleaming nets
Astream with silver herring in the moon,
And pointed to the lamp that burned afar
And said, "Such is that Kindly Light we sing!"
And ever afterwards the widow's house
Was called The Cottage of the Kindly Light.
One night there came a storm up from the wild
Atlantic, and a cry of fierce despair
Rang through the fishing village; and brave men
Launched the frail lifeboat through a shawl-clad crowd
Of weeping women. But, high o'er the storm,
High on the hill one lonely woman stood,
Amongst the thunders and the driving clouds,
Searching, at every world-wide lightning glare,
The sudden miles of white stampeding sea;
Searching for what she knew was lost, ay lost
For ever now; but some strange inward pride
Forbade her to go down and mix with those
Who could cry out their loss upon the quays.
High on the hill she stood and watched alone,
Confessing nothing, acknowledging nothing,
Without one moan, without one outward prayer,
Buffetted by the scornful universe,
Over the crash of seas that shook the world
She stood, one steadfast fragment of the night;
And the wind kissed her and the weeping rain.
But braver men than those who fought the sea
At dawn tramped up the hill, with aching hearts,
To break her loss to her who knew it all
Far better than the best of them. She stood
Still at her gate and watched them as they came,
Curiously noting in a strange dull dream
The gleaming colours, the little rainbow pools
The dawn made in their rough wet oilskin hats
And wrinkled coats, like patches of the sea.
"Lost? My boy lost?" she smiled. "Nay, he will come!
To-morrow, or the next day, or the next
The Kindly Light will bring him home again."