Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

The Bothie of Tober-Na-Vuolich

A Long-Vacation Pastoral

Arthur Hugh Clough


Jam veniet virgo, jam dicetur hymenæus.

BUT a revulsion again came over the spirit of Elspie,
When she thought of his wealth, his birth and education:
Wealth indeed but small, though to her a difference truly;
Father nor mother had Philip, a thousand pounds his portion,
Somewhat impaired in a world where nothing is had for nothing;
Fortune indeed but small, and prospects plain and simple.
    But the many things that he knew, and the ease of a practised
Intellect’s motion, and all those indefinable graces
(Were they not hers, too, Philip?) to speech, and manner, and movement,
Lent by the knowledge of self, and wisely instructed feeling,—
When she thought of these, and these contemplated daily,
Daily appreciating more, and more exactly appraising,—
With these thoughts, and the terror withal of a thing she could not
Estimate, and of a step (such a step!) in the dark to be taken,
Terror nameless and ill-understood of deserting her station,—
Daily heavier, heavier upon her pressed the sorrow,
Daily distincter, distincter within her arose the conviction,
He was too high, too perfect, and she so unfit, so unworthy,
(Ah me! Philip, that ever a word such as that should be written!)
It would do neither for him nor for her; she also was something,
Not much indeed, it was true, yet not to be lightly extinguished.
Should hehe, she said, have a wife beneath him? herself be
An inferior there where only equality can be?
It would do neither for him nor for her.
                                                            Alas for Philip!
Many were tears and great was perplexity. Nor had availed then
All his prayer and all his device. But much was spoken
Now, between Adam and Elspie: companions were they hourly:
Much by Elspie to Adam, enquiring, anxiously seeking,
From his experience seeking impartial accurate statement
What it was to do this or do that, go hither or thither,
How in the after-life would seem what now seeming certain
Might so soon be reversed; in her quest and obscure exploring
Still from that quiet orb soliciting light to her footsteps;
Much by Elspie to Adam, enquiring, eagerly seeking:
Much by Adam to Elspie, informing, reassuring,
Much that was sweet to Elspie, by Adam heedfully speaking,
Quietly, indirectly, in general terms, of Philip,
Gravely, but indirectly, not as incognisant wholly,
But as suspending until she should seek it, direct intimation;
Much that was sweet in her heart of what he was and would be,
Much that was strength to her mind, confirming beliefs and insights
Pure and unfaltering, but young and mute and timid for action:
Much of relations of rich and poor, and of true education.
    It was on Saturday eve, in the gorgeous bright October,
Then when brackens are changed, and heather blooms are faded,
And amid russet of heather and fern green trees are bonnie;
Alders are green, and oaks; the rowan scarlet and yellow;
One great glory of broad gold pieces appears the aspen,
And the jewels of gold that were hung in the hair of the birch-tree,
Pendulous, here and there, her coronet, necklace, and ear-rings,
Cover her now, o’er and o’er; she is weary and scatters them from her.
There, upon Saturday-eve, in the gorgeous bright October,
Under the alders knitting, gave Elspie her troth to Philip,
For as they talked, anon she said,
                                                        It is well, Mr. Philip.
Yes, it is well: I have spoken, and learnt a deal with the teacher.
At the last I told him all, I could not help it;
And it came easier with him than could have been with my father;
And he calmly approved, as one that had fully considered.
Yes, it is well, I have hoped, though quite too great and sudden;
I am so fearful, I think it ought not to be for years yet.
I am afraid; but believe in you; and I trust to the teacher:
You have done all things gravely and temperate, not as in passion;
And the teacher is prudent, and surely can tell what is likely.
What my father will say, I know not; we will obey him
But for myself, I could dare to believe all well, and venture.
O Mr. Philip, may it never hereafter seem to be different!
And she hid her face—
                                        Oh, where, but in Philip’s bosom!

After some silence, some tears too perchance, Philip laughed, and said to her,
    So, my own Elspie, at last you are clear that I’m bad enough for you.
Ah! but your father won’t make one half the question about it
You have—he’ll think me, I know, nor better nor worse than Donald,
Neither better nor worse for my gentlemanship and bookwork,
Worse, I fear, as he knows me an idle and vagabond fellow,
Though he allows, but he’ll think it was all for your sake, Elspie,
Though he allows I did some good at the end of the shearing.
But I had thought in Scotland you didn’t care for this folly.
How I wish, he said, you had lived all your days in the Highlands!
This is what comes of the year you spent in our foolish England.
You do not all of you feel these fancies.
                                                            No, she answered.
And in her spirit the freedom and ancient joy was reviving.
No, she said, and uplifted herself, and looked for her knitting,
No, nor do I, dear Philip, I don’t myself feel always
As I have felt, more sorrow for me, these four days lately,
Like the Peruvian Indians I read about last winter,
Out in America there, in somebody’s life of Pizarro;
Who were as good perhaps as the Spaniards; only weaker;
And that the one big tree might spread its root and branches,
All the lesser about it must even be felled and perish.
No, I feel much more as if I, as well as you, were,
Somewhere, a leaf on the one great tree, that, up from old time
Growing, contains in itself the whole of the virtue and life of
Bygone days, drawing now to itself all kindreds and nations
And must have for itself the whole world for its root and branches.
No, I belong to the tree, I shall not decay in the shadow;
Yes, and I feel the life-juices of all the world and the ages,
Coming to me as to you, more slowly no doubt and poorer
You are more near, but then you will help to convey them to me.
No, don’t smile, Philip, now, so scornfully! While you look so
Scornful and strong, I feel as if I were standing and trembling,
Fancying the burn in the dark a wide and rushing river;
And I feel coming unto me from you, or it may be from elsewhere,
Strong contemptuous resolve; I forget, and I bound as across it.
But after all, you know, it may be a dangerous river.
    Oh, if it were so, Elspie, he said, I can carry you over.
Nay, she replied, you would tire of having me for a burden.
    O sweet burden, he said, and are you not light as a feather?
But it is deep, very likely, she said, over head and ears too.
    O let us try, he answered, the waters themselves will support us,
Yea, very ripples and waves will form to a boat underneath us;
There is a boat, he said, and a name is written upon it,
Love, he said, and kissed her.—
                                    But I will read your books, though,
Said she: you’ll leave me some, Philip.
                                                Not I, replied he, a volume.
This is the way with you all, I perceive, high and low together.
Women must read, as if they didn’t know all beforehand
Weary of plying the pump, we turn to the running water,
And the running spring will needs have a pump built upon it.
Weary and sick of our books, we come to repose in your eyelight,
As to the woodland and water, the freshness and beauty of Nature.
Lo, you will talk, forsooth, of things we are sick to the death of.
    What, she said, and if I have let you become my sweetheart,
I am to read no books! but you may go your ways then,
And I will read, she said, with my father at home as I used to.
    If you must have it, he said, I myself will read them to you.
    Well, she said, but no, I will read to myself, when I choose it;
What, you suppose we never read anything here in our Highlands,
Bella and I with the father, in all our winter evenings!
But we must go, Mr. Philip—
                                                    I shall not go at all, said
He, if you call me Mr. Thank heaven! that’s over for ever.
    No, but it’s not, she said, it is not over, nor will be.
Was it not then, she asked, the name I called you first by?
No, Mr. Philip, no—you have kissed me enough for two nights;
No—come, Philip, come, or I’ll go myself without you.
    You never call me Philip, he answered, until I kiss you.
    As they went home by the moon that waning now rose later,
Stepping through mossy stones by the runnel under the alders,
Loitering unconsciously, Philip, she said, I will not be a lady;
We will do work together—you do not wish me a lady.
It is a weakness perhaps and a foolishness; still it is so;
I have been used all my life to help myself and others:
I could not bear to sit and be waited upon by footmen,
No, not even by women—
                                            And God forbid, he answered,
God forbid you should ever be aught but yourself, my Elspie!
As for service, I love it not, I; your weakness is mine too,
I am sure Adam told you as much as that about me.
    I am sure, she said, he called you wild and flighty.
    That was true, he said, till my wings were clipped. But, my Elspie,
You will at least just go and see my uncle and cousins,
Sister, and brother, and brother’s wife. You should go, if you liked it,
Just as you are; just what you are, at any rate, my Elspie.
Yes, we will go, and give the old solemn gentility stageplay
One little look, to leave it with all the more satisfaction.
    That may be, my Philip, she said; you are good to think of it.
But we are letting our fancies run on indeed; after all, it
May all come, you know, Mr. Philip, to nothing whatever,
There is so much that needs to be done, so much that may happen.
    All that needs to be done, said he, shall be done, and quickly.
    And on the morrow he took good heart, and spoke with David.
Not unwarned the father, nor had been unperceiving
Fearful much, but in all from the first reassured by the Tutor.
And he remembered how he had fancied the lad from the first; and
Then, too, the old man’s eye was much more for inner than outer,
And the natural tune of his heart without misgiving
Went to the noble words of that grand song of the Lowlands,
Rank is the guinea stamp, but the man’s a man for a’ that.
    Still he was doubtful, would hear nothing of it now, but insisted
Philip should go to his books: if he chose, he might write; if after
Chose to return, might come; he truly believed him honest.
But a year must elapse, and many things might happen.
Yet at the end he burst into tears, called Elspie, and blessed them;
Elspie, my bairn, he said, I thought not, when at the doorway
Standing with you, and telling the young man where he would find us,
I did not think he would one day be asking me here to surrender
What is to me more than wealth in my Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich.

The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich - IX

Poems and Prose Remains vol II - Contents

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