Ballad of Jessie Carol by Alice Carey

I.
At her window, Jessie Carol,
As the twilight dew distils,
Pushes back her heavy tresses,
Listening toward the northern hills.
"I am happy, very happy,
None so much as I am blest;
None of all the many maidens
In the Valley of the West,"
Softly to herself she whispered;
Paused she then again to hear
If the step of Allen Archer,
That she waited for, were near.
"Ah, he knows I love him fondly!—
I have never told him so!—
Heart of mine be not so heavy,
He will come to-night, I know."
Brightly is the full moon filling
All the withered woods with light,
"He has not forgotten surely—
It was later yesternight!"
Shadows interlock with shadows—
Says the maiden, "Woe is me!"
In the blue the eve-star trembles
Like a lily in the sea.
Yet a good hour later sounded,—
But the northern woodlands sway!—
Quick a white hand from her casement
Thrust the heavy vines away.
Like the wings of restless swallows
That a moment brush the dew,
And again are up and upward,
Till we lose them in the blue,
Were the thoughts of Jessie Carol,—
For a moment dim with pain,
Then with pleasant waves of sunshine,
On the hills of hope again.
"Selfish am I, weak and selfish,"
Said she, "thus to sit and sigh;
Other friends and other pleasures
Claim his leisure well as I.
Haply, care or bitter sorrow
'Tis that keeps him from my side,
Else he surely would have hasted
Hither at the twilight tide.
Yet, sometimes I can but marvel
That his lips have never said,
When we talked about the future,
Then, or then, we shall be wed!
Much I fear me that my nature
Cannot measure half his pride,
And perchance he would not wed me
Though I pined of love and died.
To the aims of his ambition
I would bring nor wealth nor fame.
Well, there is a quiet valley
Where we both shall sleep the same!"
So, more eves than I can number,
Now despairing, and now blest,
Watched the gentle Jessie Carol
From the Valley of the West.
II.
Down along the dismal woodland
Blew October's yellow leaves,
And the day had waned and faded,
To the saddest of all eves.
Poison rods of scarlet berries
Still were standing here and there,
But the clover blooms were faded,
And the orchard boughs were bare.
From the stubble fields the cattle
Winding homeward, playful, slow,
With their slender horns of silver
Pushed each other to and fro.
Suddenly the hound upspringing
From his sheltering kennel, whined,
As the voice of Jessie Carol
Backward drifted on the wind,
Backward drifted from a pathway
Sloping down the upland wild,
Where she walked with Allan Archer,
Light of spirit as a child!
All her young heart wild with rapture
And the bliss that made it beat—
Not the golden wells of Hybla
Held a treasure half so sweet!
But as oft the shifting rose-cloud,
In the sunset light that lies,
Mournful makes us, feeling only
How much farther are the skies,—
So the mantling of her blushes,
And the trembling of her heart,
'Neath his steadfast eyes but made her
Feel how far they were apart.
"Allan," said she, "I will tell you
Of a vision that I had—
All the livelong night I dreamed it,
And it made me very sad.
We were walking slowly, seaward,
In the twilight—you and I—
Through a break of clearest azure
Shone the moon—as now—on high;
Though I nothing said to vex you,
O'er your forehead came a frown,
And I strove, but could not soothe you—
Something kept my full heart down;
When, before us, stood a lady
In the moonlight's pearly beam,
Very tall and proud and stately—
(Allan, this was in my dream!—)
Looking down, I thought, upon me,
Half in pity, half in scorn,
Till my soul grew sick with wishing
That I never had been born.
'Cover me from woe and madness!'
Cried I to the ocean flood,
As she locked her milk-white fingers
In between us where we stood,—
All her flood of midnight tresses
Softly gathered from their flow,
By her crown of bridal beauty,
Paler than the winter snow.
Striking then my hands together,
O'er the tumult of my breast,—
All the beauty waned and faded
From the Valley of the West!"
In the beard of Allan Archer
Twisted then his fingers white,
As he said, "My gentle Jessie,
You must not be sad to-night;
You must not be sad, my Jessie—
You are over kind and good,
And I fain would make you happy,
Very happy—if I could!"
Oft he kissed her cheek and forehead,
Called her darling oft, but said,
Never, that he loved her fondly,
Or that ever they should wed;
But that he was grieved that shadows
Should have chilled so dear a heart;
That the time foretold so often
Then was come—and they must part!
Shook her bosom then with passion,
Hot her forehead burned with pain,
But her lips said only, "Allan,
Will you ever come again?"
And he answered, lightly dallying
With her tresses all the while,
Life had not a star to guide him
Like the beauty of her smile;
And that when the corn was ripened
And the vintage harvest prest,
She would see him home returning
To the Valley of the West.
When the moon had veiled her splendor,
And went lessening down the blue,
And along the eastern hill-tops
Burned the morning in the dew,
They had parted—each one feeling
That their lives had separate ends;
They had parted—neither happy—
Less than lovers—more than friends.
For as Jessie mused in silence,
She remembered that he said,
Never, that he loved her fondly,
Or that ever they should wed.
'Twas full many a nameless meaning
My poor words can never say,
Felt without the need of utterance,
That had won her heart away.
O the days were weary! weary!
And the eves were dull and long,
With the cricket's chirp of sorrow,
And the owlet's mournful song.
But in slumber oft she started
In the still and lonesome nights,
Hearing but the traveller's footstep
Hurrying toward the village lights.
So, moaned by the dreary winter—
All her household tasks fulfilled—
Till beneath the last year's rafters
Came the swallows back to build.
Meadow-pinks, like flakes of crimson,
Over all the valleys lay,
And again were oxen ploughing
Up and down the hills all day.
Thus the dim days dawned and faded
To the maid, forsaken, lorn,
 Till the freshening breeze of summer
Shook the tassels of the corn.
Ever now within her chamber
All night long the lamp-light shines,
But no white hand from her casement
Pushes back the heavy vines.
On her cheek a fire was feeding,
And her hand transparent grew—
Ah, the faithless Allan Archer!
More than she had dreamed was true.
No complaint was ever uttered,
Only to herself she sighed,—
As she read of wretched poets
Who had pined of love and died.
Once she crushed the sudden crying
From her trembling lips away,
When they said the vintage harvest
Had been gathered in that day
Often, when they kissed her, smiled she,
Saying that it soothed her pain,
And that they must not be saddened—
She would soon be well again!
Thus nor hoping nor yet fearing,
Meekly bore she all her pain.
Till the red leaves of the autumn
Withered from the woods again;
Till the bird had hushed its singing
In the silvery sycamore,
And the nest was left unsheltered
In the lilac by the door;
Saying, still, that she was happy—
None so much as she was blest—
None, of all the many maidens
In the Valley of the West.
III.
Down the heath and o'er the moorland
Blows the wild gust high and higher,
Suddenly the maiden pauses
Spinning at the cabin fire,
And quick from her taper fingers
Falls away the flaxen thread,
As some neighbor entering, whispers,
"Jessie Carol lieth dead."
Then, as pressing close her forehead
To the window-pane, she sees
Two stout men together digging
Underneath the church-yard trees.
And she asks in kindest accents,
"Was she happy when she died?"—
Sobbing all the while to see them
Void the heavy earth aside;
Or, upon their mattocks leaning,
Through their fingers numb to blow,
For the wintry air is chilly,
And the grave-mounds white with snow;
And the neighbor answers softly,
"Do not, dear one, do not cry:
At the break of day she asked us
If we thought that she must die;
And when I had told her, sadly,
That I feared it would be so,
Smiled she, saying, ''Twill be weary
Digging in the churchyard snow!'
'Earth,' I said, 'was very dreary—
That its paths at best were rough;
And she whispered, she was ready,
That her life was long enough.
So she lay serene and silent,
Till the wind, that wildly drove,
Soothed her from her mortal sorrow,
Like the lullaby of love."
Thus they talked, while one that loved her
Smoothed her tresses dark and long,
Wrapped her white shroud down, and simply
Wove her sorrow to this song:
IV.
Sweetly sleeps she: pain and passion
Burn no longer on her brow—
Weary watchers, ye may leave her—
She will never need you now!
While the wild spring bloomed and faded,
Till the autumn came and passed,
Calmly, patiently, she waited—
Rest has come to her at last!
Never have the blessed angels,
As they walked with her apart,
Kept pale Sorrow's battling armies
Half so softly from her heart
Therefore, think not, ye that loved her,
Of the pallor hushed and dread,
Where the winds, like heavy mourners,
Cry about her lonesome bed,
But of white hands softly reaching
As the shadow o'er her fell,
Downward from the golden bastion
Of the eternal citadel.