Champion Bissell.

The panic, as seen from Parnassus: and other poems online

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Each stone and shard in place, and o'er them all
He spread soft shawls, and all the party sat


At lunch ; and many stories of the fort

Passed round, perhaps enlarged by lapse of time —

Though scarce the walls were bloodless, and a

Turf-grown, upon the western side, disclosed
And honored the repose of six brave men.

And now and then a tale of the far East

Was told by Beckford ; moderation just

He showed, nor ever tired with traveler's talk ;

But tropic air, and dress of wild Malay,

Sped all his words, and while he talked, they saw

The minaret ; the Indian City ; sand

Of tawny desert fringed with spicy shore ;

Long swells, and surging waves of yellow sea ;

The wild fantastic piles that China builds

Of palace, house ; the wondrous Tartar wall.

Then the long voyage to the northern line

Of Eastern commerce, where the summer sun

At midnight on the horizon rolled, and rose

Through orange tints of morning ; on the shore

Far off they saw the huts of Samoieds,

And to the north the blink of endless ice.


But while they listened, started up Seborne,
And said : " I fear the march of yonder cloud
Low at the west — it grows apace, and see,
How frequent reft by lightning !" Up they rose,
And filled the homeward boats, and Beckford said,
" Come, let us try a race — perhaps our zeal
Will leave the storm behind." " But let the sheets
Lie in your hand," Seborne replied; " the flaws
Strike sudden on the river, and if fast,
The stubborn sail may bring you on your beam.
Or haply worse." But Beckford said : " Not I,
For I have sailed long wastes of stormy sea.
Beyond the sight of laud, in lesser craft.
Nor ever found my hand too slow to loose
The fastened ropes, when down the hissing gale
Swept from the darkened cloud." Then up the

They flew, the wind athwart ; from side to side
The sharp bows cut through ridgy rows of foam ,
And still the boat of Beckford led, till now.
When half across a tack, an angry flaw
Struck down from out the east, right in the brow
Of tlie black cloud that all the western skv


Defomied, and swept long leagues of dust and rain

Before its face. Scarce in the blinding spray

Was half the ruin seen, for all Sebome

Could spy amid the darkness on the lee

By which he swiftly drove, was a white waste

Of floating sail ; and in the windy roar,

He heard the mingled tongues of west and east,

Diverse, but like in tone — the cry for help,

That makes all voices kin. "Quick to the helm,"

He shouted, " George, and drive, nor try to turn.

But run the boat to shore ; a house is near."

Then leaped astern, while George the rudder took.

And shaped the flying madness of the boat,

'Mid spray and rain, till on the clayey shore

It sharply struck, and safe, with dripping haste,

They gained a farm-house.

But Seborne alone.
Amid the waters seemed, for looking round.
Far as he might, o'er swelling mounds of foam,
He nothing saw, but still swam boldly on.
Where last he saw the sails of Beckford's boat
Flat on the wave ; at last, through choking rain,


He dimly caught it ; then again more near,
And nearer still, till, clinging to the mast,
He spied the swart Malay, who londly shrieked.
And pointed out astern. There Beckford fought,
But feebly, with the w^aves that bore him down.
And once had all engulfed him ; but he rose
With final rouse of will, and now^ again
Was slowly sinking, and had risen no more ;
But ere he passed away, the sinewy arm
Stretched by Seborne, had clutched him, and the

And dragging lift of painful strength had raised
His head to life and air. Nor was there need
Of caution not to struggle ; helpless, he.
As infant, and his limbs relaxed and numb ;
Then with the current combating, Seborne
Watched for the drifting boat that slowly came.
But came at last, and on its welcome side
He fastened Beckford, faintly brought to life.
But he unshipped a thwart, and used as oar.
And slowly urged the wreck before the storm.
Until, at last, the shore appeared, and safe
They stepped on land ; and (?er the flooded fields


And miry ways, they reached the farm-house, where
The others had their welcome gained ; and now
The sturdy hinds were setting forth with George,
To try the watery search.

But all night long,
In dreams Cyiilla shone upon Seborne,
A water-nymph on peaceful current : when
It dawned, she sank in storm ; and faces white
Of drowming men in inky depths of wave.
Flashed ghastly on his sight. A restless fear
Shook all his soul ; and, unrefreshed he rose,
And thoughts of peril chased across his mind ;
But at the early table, bright and fair
The maids appeared, and talked his praise, but he
Disowned the merit ; then the hearty form
Of Beckford, gorgeous as a June parterre.
Saluted him and thanked him ; but he bowed
The thanks away, and made a lighter thing
Of all the watery toil, than if with breeze
Of summer he had floated in his boat.
And rescued lady's scarf, blown on the wave.
But when said Geofge, " Good by, to-day we go,"


And Lucy and Cyrilla said, " Good by,"

He knew whence came the sadness that oppressed

His heart before its time : though but an hour

Cyrilla's face had lighted up his path ;

Though scarcely had he passed beyond the hedge

Of mere acquaintance, nor had earned the right

To think of her as friend ; nor might expect

To live within her memory a day ;

Yet she his life had changed ; and though he now

Might never see her more, yet he was not

As once he was, before the maid appeared ;

Nor when they parted, did his soul go back

To where it once reposed.

The peaceful farm,
And all the bright, green affluence of the meads.
And the fair river flowing to the sea.
Seemed to his eyes to-day a waste expanse
Of earth and water ; but to-morrow they
Might glow as if the heavens had fallen down.
And taken their place. For now Seborne was two
Distinct and separate souls : joyless the one,
With blank, dull eyes, and seeing in no place


The signs of life and hope ; its throbs were pain,
Itself a weight upon itself, and lone.
The other saw a radiance everywhere.
That lit up all the world : through cloudy skies
It saw the sun clear shining ; in the murk
Of night, the stars beyond : no earthly sound
But seemed a heavenly note ; the very air
Played, tremulous with delight, and but to live
Were pleasure, if the same bright sense might last.

But still his outward life moved on, as life

Must move, unless it utterly sink away.

Though nature shock with changes ; though the

Bring death of loved ones in the house ; or hearts,
Once faithful, slip away, and empty leave.
And broken, the fair shrines where once they dwelt.
To-day the haying ; then the harvest moon
Rose o'er the stubble-field his arm had reaped ;
And then in goodly rows the shocks of com
Told his industrious husbandry ; till came
The autumn nights, and sowed the ground with




Then in his labors pausing, more there hung

The cloud upon his soul ; and on the bank

Of the blue river, seaward flowing, he

Sat often, musing much ; and Beckford came

One day to give a parting greeting ; he

Had full outstaid the season ; and his chair

In dingy city office waited him.

He who had never dreamed of sentiment.

But lived a life like gorgeous tropic flower,

That drinks in all of light and air it can,

Had watched Seborne with curious eye, and seen

The warpings of his soul, and from the heights

Or depths he occupied, had pitied him ;

And finding him, to-day, upon the bank,

Said, as with random shot : " You miss the girls,

Who made the river fairer than itself.

When in your boat they sailed ?"

Then said Seborne :
" I know not what I miss ; or if I miss
The faces that I saw but for a day —
I think I only miss the fair content
Smiled by this stream upon me, fonnerly."


And Beckford said : " My logic teaches this —

There falls no loss without a cause : Content

May fly in thousand ways ; but if it fly,

You must pursue ; itself it turns not back.

But can a river always please a man ?

Or fields, or farms, however fair they be ?

And will you waste the unreturning years

Of Youth among the meadows and the hills ?

These give not knowledge : if they lend a sense

To see with clearer eye whence beauty springs,

This is their final use ; but you should rove.

And mix with busy life. The city street

Will more inform with, life and hope, than this

Dull picture of the meads — an office chair

Will teach you more of Man. But better still

Is travel ; and no matter where you rove.

The eye instructs the mind ; and though you talk

With Turk or Tartar, more the busy sense

Will learn, than if 'twere cooped among the shelves

Of library, or slept amid the vales

Of some such farm as this."

" A cure, indeed,
For listless or for wounded soul," Seborne


Replied. " Ulysses, in his wanderings, learned

The ways of many men, and ever since

The school has prospered ; but am I a king.

Who only needs to speak, to line the shore

With ships, and choose the stateliest ? If he go

With drift of fortune, all will follow fast ;

And if he sail around the weary globe

For very sport, his escort still will hold.

For travel is a liberal study. I

Lack most the wherewithal to join the school,

And with the stranger, there is only one

That can interpret well : the pocket god.

Who blesses only in his going. He

Is not, as yet, among the deities

Who rule my life."

But Beckford smiled, and said :
" No king am I, and yet I have a ship.
And more than one. The more unfortunate
Am I, amid such times as these, when ships
Lie still by dozens, rotting at the docks.
And in the summer sun the tarry seams
Start open, and the blistered cordage cracks.


But some are busy — one for China sails
Within a month. To-morrow I must go,
And be her slave : to invoice, manifest,
Devote my soul : and you shall sail in her.
And though you saved my life, I will not force
A favor on you, but as man with, man.
Will pay for service. You can count a gain
Or loss, as well as any, and can sell
A cargo. This is all the art you need,
' To get the highest, safely.' I wdll teach
Details in time. For you shall merchant turn.
Nor shall it less an honor prove, than if
You led New England \\4th a dreamy pen.
For once I read that wise Pythagoras,
When taunted by the Greeks, * philosopher '
And ' dreamer,' said in answer, * He could lise
To be a merchant ;' straightway sallied out.
And bought of figs a cargo — I suppose
On credit ; sailed to Egypt : there he sold
The venture at a profit, and returned
Rich and respected. Riches always make
Philosophy respectable, and I
Believe that naught else does : such sorry stuff


We get from paupers in the State — but now

I own myself beyond my depth, for I

Am only skilled in teas, and dyes, and wine.

But quit the stream, and if the maids remain

Within your fancy — who can drive them out ? —

Let fancy bear them forth upon the seas.

And they shall make you hopeful : you shall look

Through darkest stonn with courage, if they smile.

And may your chance be happier far than mine ;

For she who lit my life when on the sea,

Though I had never spoke of love, and she

Knew never of the peace her image brought

When rising to my soul in stormiest hours,

In one long absence died ; a story old

It is, and yet I never loved again —

Till now grown careless, every maid appears

Far different from the maids who shared my youth ;

Nor aught afraid, or shy, but free to say

Whate'er they wish, from which, though late, I

That I am past the hour that charms a maid.
But now good-by, and you shall surely come."


Then in the hasty twilight Beckford went ;
And slowly homeward walked Seborne, and mused
Upon the future, and it seemed to him
That all his soul enlarged, as to the East
His fancy called him ; then a vision came
Of power and wealth from distant Indies snatched,
And dear rewards at home, the complement
Of all his hopes ; but this as quickly fled
Before the trenchant sword of reason ; this
Held sway all night, and morning brought again
Fair hopes ; and thus his mind divided rule
Oppressed, until at last, he said : " 'Tis best
That I should go, and let what will be, be."

From home 'tis easy for the young to fly,

When Fortune calls them forth. Who does not

The pride of youth, that thinks the voice that calls
Has never called before, as now, to them ?
* Did yonder graybeard ever hear the cry.
Yet come to what he is ? The form I see.
That brightly leads me on, he coldly views.
Or sees it not at all : and why but that


To me is given a higher privilege —
To know the joys of Fortune ?' A decade
Shall pass, and dull his gaze — another race
Succeeds with equal hopes. Immortal she
Who fools them all !

Seborne the city, street
With unaccustomed footstep walked ; the crowd
Of eager faces filled him with, amaze,
And most, because unending, as a stream
By countless fountains fed ; their look was strange,
As if each soul were self-concentrated;
And quick their walk, and skillful trained to turn.
Nor jostle 'mid the sinuous rush. The roar
Undying through the night disturbed his dreams,
And roused to early waking ; and the airs
That through the window came, were not the airs
That o'er the meadows swept at morning : these
Were laden down with human histories.
And all their freshness had been snatched away.

Yet one fair thought made all the city peace.
That here Cyrilla dwelt ; but not in peace


The thought endured, for pains of sad despair

Made haste to follow ; and with troubled heart

He stood within her presence ; he sui-prised

To find her not surprised ; for conscious he,

And conscious overmuch, to that extent

That he might think her conscious too, who saw

His face with kindly eyes, but only kind ;

But still, that they were kind so soon, was much.

Cyrilla talked of blue Connecticut,

Asked of the household by the flowing stream,

And how was Beckford, and "She wished papa

But knew him ; but New York was large, and kept

So many always strangers ; much she liked

His large free talk, and gorgeous tropic air.

In him so natural, and wholly free

Of affectation. She had heard from George

But lately, and from Lucy ; Lucy, most

Of all the maidens, lovable by maids —

And this her rarest praise — a sweeter flower

Had never grown upon New England soil."

Through this they grew acquaint, and wandered off

To other talk, and thus the half-hour passed.


But leaving where she dwelt, through doubt and

He could not call himself unwelcome ; this
Took half the darkness from his soul — the rest
Remained, to 3deld a hiding-place to all
The uncouth shapes that vex a young man's heart,
When in the springing time of love he lives,
Not knowmg how he loves, or by whom loved.
Then found he Beckford, hid in rosy heaps
Of glowing scarfs, while at the vessel's side
He chode the captain for his long delay.
"And I am idler too," broke in Seborne ;
And Beckford greeted him, and said : "The ship
Must lie a fortnight yet, the captain says.
And after that, how long ! for never yet
Did captain keep a promised sailing day."
Thus Beckford growled ; but then the sailor said :
"The wind that's best is not yet hatched, and I
Will beat the ship that sails to-day, or else
Will forfeit all my share." Then said Seborne :
"The time is given to me that you should teach
The mysteries of the manifest, that I
May rightly learn the rare device of trade."


So all that day he bent with studious eye
O'er formulas of trade, until his brain
Grew cloudy vnth excess of learning ; then
To dine with Beckford, and an evening's stroll
Down the gay avenue, where the rushing crowd, ^
And roaring whirl of wheels, and miles of lamps,
Aroused him with delight. " To-night the lark
Of Italy sings," said Beckford ; "let us go."
They entered as the curtain rose ; the band
Of Druids thronged upon the stage, and sang
Of vengeance to the Roman, and they passed ;
But with the Priestess soon returned, and she
Sang Casta Diva. Like a bright parterre
In the dead calm of summer noon, before
The thunder breaks, the circled audience held
Itself in silence, till at last applause
In whirlwinds burst. With the sweet song entranced,
Seborne bent down his head, and mused awhile,

The noisy babble of the gay entr''acte
Aroused him to the world, and looking up
He saw Cp'illa; with her, Lucy. Then
Came George, fresh smiling, with them both shook



And said : "You'll join us in the box ?" Seborne
Chanced to Cyrilla's side. Between the scenes
They talked ; and when the martial trumpets blew,
And when the two fair women, like in love,
Alike in noble anger, and alike
In the sweet yearn toward innocent infancy.
Fell to each other with sad, passionate song.
Her kindling eye and glowing cheek aroused
His dawning soul ; another step his heart
Advanced toward courage ; For she feels as I,
He whispered to himself, and fearfully
He nursed the thought, and breathed the balmy

That jfloated from her, with a blameless mind.

But parting in the lobby, Lucy said :
"We came but hastily, but we stay awhile;
Come you and see us, and Cyrilla, too,
Our hostess, seconds our request. Full soon
You go to sea, and then who knows how long
Before we see you ? But before you go.
Charm not the ears of George with idle talk ;
Too well he loves to wander. Should he go.


The dreadful uncle of the story-book

Would clip his portion." Then a finger shook

At George, who laughed, and drew a closer arm.

But one day Beckford said : " The vessel sails

To-morrow, if I live ; the long delay ""

Hath but one compensation, that it keeps

You here, whom I shall miss ; but now the times

Brook not a longer stay ; the wind blows south

With steady purpose ; what the cargo lacks

Of fullness, let it lack ; to-night, good by

To your fair friends be said : if younger I,

And forced to leave such pleasant smiles, to sail

To the underworld, why then, since must is must,

I should create of it a comedy.

And with a smiling air take leave, as if

I were but going to the market-town.

And faith, the world is small, and every port

Is home, while you are there : needs not that you

Must ever go where other folk are not ;

Meat, drink, and shelter meet one everywhere ;

And I have never heard of any place

Where there was likelihood of tumbling oiF."


Perhaps a volume of philosophy

He might have uttered ; but upon the face

Of him who scarcely listened, he perceived

A blank regard, at which he said, " Well, well,

Come down to-morrow early," then wheeled round,

And plunged into a letter.

But Sebome
Went sadly in the evening to the house
Where late a brighter light had shone than all
The world beside could furnish. If the month
Had quickly flown, yet every night had been
Itself, and many of the evenings he
Had thickly planted with the memories
Of fair C3rrilla. She had fallen to him
Oftener than he had dared to hope, for George
Thought more than he should dare to think, and

Himself to Lucy most ; and she, in play
And earnest both, exacted countless dues.
Now they must part ; but more than parting pained
His heart this thought, that parting should be pain.
It seemed a wrong to her, who knew it not.


That even in his most unuttered soul,

He should in such a way associate

Herself with him, as make it pain to part.

Then all the weary changes of true love

In heart ingenuous, rang within his breast —

Unworthy he of this bright soul's regard ;

Yet worthy, if she counted love of worth.

But did he truly love ? And if he loved

Most tiTily, had he right to love ? Or if

To love were right, were there from thence the

To give expression, even to that degree
Whence its expression might be faintly seen.
If Love's clear watchman looked from out her eyes,
Bat else quite unperceived? Such endless chimes
Pealed from the belfiy where his passion rocked.
And thrilled his fearful heart.

If happiness
Be found in love requited, yet the road
Is often thornier than the dim by-paths
That lead through crooked Folly. He who walks
In cynic armor clad, may laugh at thorns,


And brush aside the pains that strike the heart
Of him who, guileless, only looks to love
For his defense.

The happy hours Seborae
Had known of late, had each an underweight
Of sadness carried ; and now, flying off.
They left the burden, harder to be borne,
From tlie dark contrast.

Solace there was none
In love, that gave 'instead a deeper pang.
Had not he loved, he had been happy now.
Or not, at least, unhappy. Fair content
He could have been contented with ; but now
Her form had fled, and love, of hope bereft.
Remained, and only to affright and wound.

But all this passed, when now once more he stood
Within her presence, and her frank, sweet voice
Composed his soul. She at her music sat.
And sang a song of winter : how the lake
Lay, a long sheet of ice ; the snowy hills
Leaned back on either side, and echoed down


The ring of skaters ; till the northern stars
In bright auroras faded. Then she ceased,
And said: "But you are going to the land
Where winter never comes, and you wall miss
The frosty skies, and miss the ringing ice
Of cold Connecticut."

" Too soon I go,"
Seborne replied. " To-night I bid good-by ;
The vessel sails to-morrow." Then her cheek
Paled, as if something struck her at the heart,
But quick regained its color ; and she said :
" But you must wait for George and Lucy ; they
Will not forgive me if you go, good-by
Not said to them ; and they will soon be here."

And then she sang a song of Eastern life,

As far toward China as romance has flowed,

A lay of Cashmere ; sweet the words, though

Into a language not their own ; and sweet
The melody, which once a scholar heard.
And brought it home ; a simple pastoral tune,


Breathing of mountain air. A rustic maid
Mourned for her lover, to the Ganges gone,
And lost in myriad masses round the king ;
But either he will die, she said, or else
Return a prince ; for he will ne'er content
Himself to be a soldier in the throng.

This turned the talk awhile. Cyrilla most

The conversation held ; nor was Seborne

Unapt to silence, for he looked at all

That he must leave, and sorrow filled his heart ;

Nor ever had she looked so beautiful.

Nor ever seemed so near — and far away.

And while he vaguely talked, he wondered if
She felt in least degree the love that now
Consumed his soul, and yet so cheerful she.
And yet he answered, Not a word of love
Have I declared, or lived in any act,
Though full of love. But if she love the least,
How might she question if I loved at all ;
Who not disclose the passion of my heart,
As most becomes a man : but this I fear


More than all other ending, to disturb

The sphere wherein she sits. If I invade

Its crystal sanctity, what jarring wreck

Might I not make ? And this must make me dumb.

Till strength no longer can restrain. But this

Can never be, for soon I go, and leave

The hour and place of possible dismay

Forever far behind. Then with a start,

That brought a wondering blush to the fair cheek

Of her who looked, he woke from out his dream,

And gayly talked, till George and Lucy came.

And brought the hour of parting : then farewell

Came : dreary, commonplace, and profitless end

To friendship bright, that merited other close.

But in the night, the thought of what " farewell "
Might in its long uncertainty contain.
Oppressed him w^akeful ; and in dreams it stalked
The front of every vision. With the sun
He rose, and sought the ship. The laggard crew
Unwilling thronged ; but as the morning warmed.
Came Beckford, with the many short last words
Of business and of friendship. Then the ship


Heaved up her mighty anchor from the stream,
And sailed to sea. The winter sun went down,
Behind tlie heights of cloudy Neversink,
And when it rose, no more the Western w^orld
He saw,

Cyrilla, as the days went by,
The more when George and Lucy took away
Themselves, and that warm air of confidence
In which they lived, a strange and unknown w^ant
Perceived, which not diminished with the days.
But rather grew. Oft at the window she
Would stand, while spring's slow twilight faded out.

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Online LibraryChampion BissellThe panic, as seen from Parnassus: and other poems → online text (page 9 of 10)