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Love’s Ordeal
by [?]

“Look on this hand, beloved; thou didst see
The horse that broke from many, it did hold:
Two hours shall pass away, and it will be
All withered up and dry, wrinkled and old,
Big-veined, and skinny to extremity.”
Calmly upon him looked the maiden bold;
The stag-hounds rose, and gazed on him, and then,
With a low whine, laid themselves down again.

A minute’s silence, and the youth spake on:
“Dearest, I have a fearful thing to bear”
(A pain-cloud crossed his face, and then was gone)
“At midnight, when the moon sets; wilt thou dare
To go with me, or must I go alone
To meet an agony that will not spare?”
She spoke not, rose, and towards her mantle went;
His eyes did thank her–she was well content.

“Not yet, not yet; it is not time; for see
The hands have far to travel to the hour;
Yet time is scarcely left for telling thee
The past and present, and the coming power
Of the great darkness that will fall on me:
Roses and jasmine twine the bridal bower–
If ever bower and bridal joy be mine,
Horror and darkness must that bower entwine.”

Under his head the maiden put her arm,
And knelt beside, half leaning on his breast;
As, soul and body, she would shield all harm
From him whose love had made her being blest;
And well the healing of her eyes might charm
His doubting thoughts again to trusting rest.
He drew and hid her face his heart upon,
Then spoke with low voice sounding changeless on.

Strange words they were, and fearful, that he spake;
The maiden moved not once, nor once replied;
And ever as he spoke, the wind did make
A feebler moan until away it died;
Then the rain ceased, and not a movement brake
The silence, save the clock that did divide
The hours into quick moments, sparks of time
Scorching the soul that watcheth for the chime.

He spoke of sins that pride had caused in him;
Of sufferings merciful, and wanderings wild;
Of fainting noontides, and of oceans dim;
Of earthly beauty that had oft beguiled;
And then the sudden storm and contest grim;
From each emerging new-born, more a child;
Wandering again throughout the teaching earth,
No rest attaining, only a new birth.

“But when I find a heart that’s like to mine,
With love to live through the unloving hour,
Folded in faith, like violets that have lien
Folded in warm earth, till the sunny shower
Calleth them forth; thoughts with my thoughts to twine,
Weaving around us both a fragrant bower,
Where we within may sleep, together drawn,
Folded in love until the morning dawn;

“Then shall I rest, my weary day’s work o’er,
A deep sleep bathing, steeping all my soul,
Dissolving out the earth-stains evermore.
Thou too shalt sleep with me, and be made whole.
All, all time’s billows over us shall pour,
Then ebb away, and far beneath us roll:
We shall behold them like a stormy lake,
‘Neath the clear height of peace where we awake.”

Her face on his, her lips on his lips pressed,
Was the sole answer that the maiden made.
With both his arms he held her to his breast;
‘Twas but a moment; yet, before he said
One other word, of power to strengthen, lest
She should give way amid the trial dread,
The clock gave out the warning to the hour,
And on the thatch fell sounds as of a shower.

One long kiss, and the maiden rose. A fear
Fell like a shadow dim upon her heart,
A trembling as at something ghostly near;
But she was bold, for they were not to part.
Then the youth rose, his cheek pale, his eyes clear;
And helped the maid, whose trembling hands did thwart
Her haste to tie her gathered mantle’s fold;
Then forth they went into the midnight cold.