Old Godfrey's Relic by Paul
A simple, upright man was he,
Of spirit undefiled,
Cheerful and hale at seventy-three,
As any blithesome child.
Old Godfrey's friends and neighbors felt
His due was honest praise;
Ofttimes how fervently they dwelt
On his brave words and ways!
He had no foeman in the land
Whose deeds or tongue would gall;
Of guileless heart, of liberal hand,
He smiled on one and all.
But most, I think, he smiled on me;
"Your eyes, dear boy," he said,
"Remind me, though not mournfully,
Of eyes whose light is dead."
How oft beneath his roof I've been
On eves of wintry blight,
And heard his magic violin
Make musical the night.
No consort by his board was set,
No child his hearth had known,
Yet of all souls I've ever met,
His seemed the least alone.
What stories in my eager ears
He poured of peace or strife;
Keen memories of the thrilling years
That thronged his ocean life.
And oh, he showed such marvellous things
From unknown sea and shore,
That, brimmed with strange imaginings,
My boy's brain bubbled o'er!
It wandered back o'er many a track
Of his old life-toil free;
The enchanted calm, the fiery wrack,
Far off, far off at sea!
For once he dared the watery world,
O'er wild or halcyon waves,
And saw his snow-white sails unfurled
Above a million graves.
Northward he went, thro' ice and sleet,
Where soon the sunbeams fail,
And followed with an armed fleet
The wide wake of the whale.
Southward he went through airs serene
Of soft Sicilian noon,
And sang, on level decks, between
The twilight and the moon.
But once—it was a tranquil time,
An evening half divine,
When the low breeze like murmurous rhyme
Sighed through the sunset fine.
Once, Godfrey from the secret place
Wherein his treasures lay,
Brought forth, with calmly museful face,
This relic to the day—
A soft tress with a silken tie,
A brightly shimmering curl;
Such as might shadow goldenly
The fair brow of a girl.
"Oh, lovelier," cried I, "than the dawn
Auroral mists enfold,
The long and luminous threadlets drawn
Through this rich curl of gold!
"Tell, tell me, o'er whose graceful head
You saw the ringlet shine?"
Thereon the old man coolly said,
"Why, lad, the tress is mine!
"Look not amazed, but come with me,
And let me tell you where
And how, one morning fearfully,
I lost that lock of hair."
He led me past his cottage screen
Of flowers, far down the wood
Where, towering o'er the landscape green,
A centuried oak-tree stood.
"Here is the place," he said, "whereon
Heaven helped me in sore strait,
And in a March morn's radiance wan
Turned back the edge of fate!
"My father a stout yeoman was,
And I, in childish pride,
That morning through the dew-drenched grass,
Walked gladly by his side,
"Till here he paused, with glittering steel,
A prostrate trunk to smite;
How the near woodland seemed to reel
Beneath his blows of might!
"And round about me viciously
The splinters flashed and flew;
Some sharply grazed the shuddering eye,
Some pattered down the dew.
"Childlike, I strove to pick them up,
But stumbling forward, sunk,
O'er the wild pea and buttercup,
Across the smitten trunk.
"Just then, with all its ponderous force
The axe was hurtling down;
What spell could stay its savage course?
What charm could save my crown?
"Too late, too late to stop the blow;
I shrieked to see it come;
My father's blood grew cold as snow;
My father's voice was dumb.
"He staggered back a moment's space,
Glaring on earth and skies;
Blank horror in his haggard face,
Dazed anguish in his eyes.
"He searched me close to find my wound;
He searched with sobbing breath;
But not the smallest gateway found
Opened to welcome death.
"He thanked his God in ardent wise,
Kneeling 'twixt shine and shade;
Then lowered his still half-moistened eyes
O'er the keen axe's blade.
"Two hairs clung to it!... thence, he turned
Where the huge log had rolled,
And there in tempered sunlight burned
A quivering curl of gold.
"The small thing looked alive!... it stirred
By breeze and sunbeam kissed,
And fluttered like an Orient bird,
Half-glimpsed through sunrise mist.
"Oh! keen and sheer the axe-edge smote
The perfect curl apart!
Even now, through tingling head and throat,
I feel the old terror dart.
"My father kept his treasure long,
'Mid seasons grave or gay,
Till to death's plaintive curfew-song,
Calmly he passed away.
"I, too, the token still so fair,
Have held with tendance true;
And dying, this memorial hair
I'll leave, dear lad, to you!"