True Honours by Adelaide Anne Procter

Is my darling tired already,
Tired of her day of play?
Draw your little stool beside me,
Smooth this tangled hair away.
Can she put the logs together,
Till they make a cheerful blaze?
Shall her blind old Uncle tell her
Something of his youthful days?

Hark! The wind among the cedars
Waves their white arms to and fro;
I remember how I watched them
Sixty Christmas Days ago:
Then I dreamt a glorious vision
Of great deeds to crown each year–
Sixty Christmas Days have found me
Useless, helpless, blind–and here!

Yes, I feel my darling stealing
Warm soft fingers into mine–
Shall I tell her what I fancied
In that strange old dream of mine?
I was kneeling by the window,
Reading how a noble band,
With the red cross on their breast-plates,
Went to gain the Holy Land.

While with eager eyes of wonder
Over the dark page I bent,
Slowly twilight shadows gathered
Till the letters came and went;
Slowly, till the night was round me;
Then my heart beat loud and fast,
For I felt before I saw it
That a spirit near me passed.

Then I raised my eyes, and shining
Where the moon’s first ray was bright
Stood a winged Angel-warrior
Clothed and panoplied in light:
So, with Heaven’s love upon him,
Stern in calm and resolute will,
Looked St. Michael–does the picture
Hang in the old cloister still?

Threefold were the dreams of honour
That absorbed my heart and brain;
Threefold crowns the Angel promised,
Each one to be bought by pain:
While he spoke, a threefold blessing
Fell upon my soul like rain.
HELPER OF THE POOR AND SUFFERING;
VICTOR IN A GLORIOUS STRIFE;
SINGER OF A NOBLE POEM:
Such the honours of my life.

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Ah, that dream! Long years that gave me
Joy and grief as real things
Never touched the tender memory
Sweet and solemn that it brings–
Never quite effaced the feeling
Of those white and shadowing wings.

Do those blue eyes open wider?
Does my faith too foolish seem?
Yes, my darling, years have taught me
It was nothing but a dream.
Soon, too soon, the bitter knowledge
Of a fearful trial rose,
Rose to crush my heart, and sternly
Bade my young ambition close.

More and more my eyes were clouded,
Till at last God’s glorious light
Passed away from me for ever,
And I lived and live in night.
Dear, I will not dim your pleasure,
Christmas should be only gay–
In my night the stars have risen,
And I wait the dawn of day.

Spite of all I could be happy;
For my brothers’ tender care
In their boyish pastimes ever
Made me take, or feel a share.
Philip, even then so thoughtful,
Max so noble, brave and tall,
And your father, little Godfrey,
The most loving of them all.

Philip reasoned down my sorrow,
Max would laugh my gloom away,
Godfrey’s little arms put round me,
Helped me through my dreariest day;
While the promise of my Angel,
Like a star, now bright, now pale,
Hung in blackest night above me,
And I felt it could not fail.

Years passed on, my brothers left me,
Each went out to take his share
In the struggle of life; my portion
Was a humble one–to bear.
Here I dwelt, and learnt to wander
Through the woods and fields alone,
Every cottage in the village
Had a corner called my own.

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Old and young, all brought their troubles,
Great or small, for me to hear;
I have often blessed my sorrow
That drew others’ grief so near.
Ah, the people needed helping–
Needed love–(for Love and Heaven
Are the only gifts not bartered,
They alone are freely given)–

And I gave it. Philip’s bounty,
(We were orphans, dear,) made toil
Prosper, and want never fastened
On the tenants of the soil.
Philip’s name (Oh, how I gloried,
He so young, to see it rise!)
Soon grew noted among statesmen
As a patriot true and wise.

And his people all felt honoured
To be ruled by such a name;
I was proud too that they loved me;
Through their pride in him it came.
He had gained what I had longed for,
I meanwhile grew glad and gay,
‘Mid his people, to be serving
Him and them, in some poor way.

How his noble earnest speeches,
With untiring fervour came;
HELPER OF THE POOR AND SUFFERING;
Truly he deserved the name!
Had my Angel’s promise failed me?
Had that word of hope grown dim?
Why, my Philip had fulfilled it,
And I loved it best in him!

Max meanwhile–ah, you, my darling,
Can his loving words recall–
‘Mid the bravest and the noblest,
Braver, nobler, than them all.
How I loved him! how my heart thrilled
When his sword clanked by his side.
When I touched his gold embroidery,
Almost saw him in his pride!

So we parted; he all eager
To uphold the name he bore,
Leaving in my charge–he loved me–
Some one whom he loved still more:
I must tend this gentle flower,
I must speak to her of him,
For he feared–Love still is fearful–
That his memory might grow dim.

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I must guard her from all sorrow,
I must play a brother’s part,
Shield all grief and trial from her,
If it need be, with my heart.
Years passed, and his name grew famous;
We were proud, both she and I;
And we lived upon his letters,
While the slow days fleeted by.

Then at last–you know the story,
How a fearful rumour spread,
Till all hope had slowly faded,
And we heard that he was dead.
Dead! Oh, those were bitter hours;
Yet within my soul there dwelt
A warning, and while others mourned him,
Something like a hope I felt.

His was no weak life as mine was,
But a life, so full and strong–
No, I could not think he perished
Nameless, ‘mid a conquered throng.
How she drooped! Years passed; no tidings
Came, and yet that little flame
Of strange hope within my spirit
Still burnt on, and lived the same.

Ah! my child, our hearts will fail us,
When to us they strongest seem;
I can look back on those hours
As a fearful, evil dream.
She had long despaired; what wonder
That her heart had turned to mine?
Earthly loves are deep and tender,
Not eternal and divine!

Can I say how bright a future
Rose before my soul that day?
Oh, so strange, so sweet, so tender–
And I had to turn away.
Hard and terrible the struggle,
For the pain not mine alone;
I called back my Brother’s spirit,
And I bade him claim his own.

Told her–now I dared to do it–
That I felt the day would rise
When he would return to gladden
My weak heart and her bright eyes.
And I pleaded–pleaded sternly–
In his name, and for his sake:
Now, I can speak calmly of it,
Then, I thought my heart would break.

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Soon–ah, Love had not deceived me,
(Love’s true instincts never err,)
Wounded, weak, escaped from prison,
He returned to me; to her.
I could thank God that bright morning,
When I felt my Brother’s gaze,
That my heart was true and loyal,
As in our old boyish days.

Bought by wounds and deeds of daring,
Honours he had brought away;
Glory crowned his name–my Brother’s;
Mine too!–we were one that day.
Since the crown on him had fallen,
“VICTOR IN A NOBLE STRIFE,”
I could live and die contented
With my poor ignoble life.

Well, my darling, almost weary
Of my story? Wait awhile;
For the rest is only joyful;
I can tell it with a smile.
One bright promise still was left me,
Wound so close about my soul,
That, as one by one had failed me,
This dream now absorbed the whole.

“SINGER OF A NOBLE POEM,”–
Ah, my darling, few and rare
Burn the glorious names of Poets,
Like stars in the purple air.
That too, and I glory in it,
That great gift my Godfrey won;
I have my dear share of honour,
Gained by that beloved one.

One day shall my darling read it;
Now she cannot understand
All the noble thoughts, that lighten
Through the genius of the land.
I am proud to be his brother,
Proud to think that hope was true;
Though I longed and strove so vainly,
What I failed in, he could do.

I was long before I knew it,
Longer ere I felt it so;
Then I strung my rhymes together
Only for the poor and low.
And, it pleases me to know it,
(For I love them well indeed,)
They care for my humble verses,
Fitted for their humble need.

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And, it cheers my heart to bear it,
Where the far-off settlers roam,
My poor words are sung and cherished,
Just because they speak of Home.
And the little children sing them,
(That, I think, has pleased me best,)
Often, too, the dying love them,
For they tell of Heaven and rest.

So my last vain dream has faded;
(Such as I to think of fame!)
Yet I will not say it failed me,
For it crowned my Godfrey’s name.
No; my Angel did not cheat me,
For my long life has been blest;
He did give me Love and Sorrow,
He will bring me Light and Rest.

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