The Lapidary's Daughter

" Up at Septmonçel in the Jura, where
The lapidaries work, the damsel dwells. "
Mine host made answer, standing by the bridge
Over the Sa├┤ne at Chalons: " When her sire
Comes here to seek the jewels for his trade,
She bears him company, to show us all
How fair a flower can blossom in the snow. "
" Is it far hence, this village? " said the youth.
" A thousand kilometres, sir, and more
Above the sea; full ten beyond St. Claude
By the new road, albeit but two, they say,
As a bird flies. " Whereat the traveller
Bade him " Good day, " and loiter'd from the inn.

Beyond the land of vines, beyond the heights
Where the last chestnuts wave their giant arms,
And flowers still smile in upland valleys deep; —
Beyond the nether ridge where the land slopes
Back to its centre, and one hears the voice
Of Brienne roaring in his narrow walls,
And filling all the low Jurassian chain
With noise of torrents; — far beyond St. Claude,
That still old city lying in the gorge,
Mitred and crosier'd, like an abbot dead
Cut out in stone upon a tomb; — far up
On the high Jura, where the great brown pines
Clasp the scant earth, and lean from cliff to cliff,
Septmonçel lies, a village in the clouds.

Strange how the footsteps of man's luxury
Climb into God's wild nature: 'mid the pines,
The snow-peaks, and the torrents dwell a race
Cunning of hand to carve the jewel out
Of the blank stone — topaz, or chrysolite,
Or the green emerald, or from Orient brought,
Kept for the bishop's finger, that rare gem,
The delicate-tinted purple amethyst.
In the low chamber lined with rough-hewn wood,
Where day by day the lapidary sees
His frugal fare, rye bread and thin blue milk
Strain'd from the cheese that seldom decks his board,
Are gems to set a monarch's crown ablaze,
Or glitter on the bodice of his queen.
And while the poor man sitting at his wheel
Cuts scantly out the pittance that supplies
His modest needs, he holds within his hand
The worth of millions. Outside his poor home
Are snow, and clouds, and freezing winds; within
His poverty, his labour, and the gems.
The civilized drives out the natural.
Taste, luxury, art burn out material night,
As light burns out the darkness by itself.
The red man cannot live beside the white;
His glory dwindles, and his race decays.
And so the softening touch of some great art,
Though it but graze the border of his state,
Shall drive the coarser nature out of man,
And teach him taste, and lead to thought refined.
He cannot hold a jewel in his hand
But something of the better mind of courts
Shall fill his soul with untaught courtesy;
A sound of rustling silks, and ermine trail'd,
Shall seem to hang about his rugged home;
And in his heart a sense of costly trust,
Of proud possession that yet is not his,
And fills his mind with thoughts above himself.

So the Septmonçelais is kind and grave;
Meek, but not cringing; full of self-respect,
As one that works with God's most precious gifts
And most esteem'd of man in every age,
And knows himself more noble than his craft
For not for him the influences work
That harden and demoralize; his heart
Is pure and simple, tender as a child's,
Full of all generous pity for the weak,
And comfort for the injured. 'Tis his faith
To help the suppliant, of his mountain home
To make a shelter for the fugitive,
And then defy the world to drag him forth.
Nor worthy trust alone in things without,
But more within, good father, faithful spouse;
For him no factory opens, calling men
To herd together o'er a hundred looms,
Forgetful of their children and their wives.
He works at home, and loves his simple hearth
And makes it blest; he is the gem unset,
The tender purple of the amethyst,
The ruby's glory, with no factious aid
Of sycophant gold to show the jewel off.
Such was Lamenais, father of Clemence;
Clemence, whose innocent beauty looking out
From eyes as bright and shy as are a fawn's,
Had so beguiled, at Chalons by the Sa├┤ne,
The traveller, that he turn'd, and climb'd the Jura.

High was her nest: a moan of murmuring winds
Through peaks snow-laden, sighing as they came;
The far off howl of wolves, and further still
The roar of Flumen thundering to his mills,
Had lull'd her childhood many a long cold night,
When on the frozen street the moonbeam play'd
And on blank casements, and the church stood white,
Laying the shadow of her wooden cross
Over the sleeping town. On summer days
A visit to the valleys where the flowers
The latest linger'd in some high deep cleft,
Hemm'd in by guardian rocks from wind and frost,
Like a sick child that cannot die for care;
Or from the slippery platform, won with fear,
A venturous peep at Flumen's wall of waves
Tumbling sheer over their tremendous ledge;
Sometimes to wander 'mid the great brown stems
Of pines that clasp the rocks with crooked roots,
Or to sit looking through their windy tops:
These were her childhood's pleasures; or perchance
A place in the procession winding slow
Up the uneven street, with simple pomp
And chant, on some high Feast-day of the Church.
When older grown, she sat beside the wheel
Cutting the stone, that from its polish'd face
Gave forth no tint, and shot no shade of light,
Deep as her glance, or radiant as her smile.

The little brother slumber'd in his crib,
The gay clock tick'd against the wainscoting
Carved out of mountain pine; the noon was hot,
And all the narrow casements were ajar,
No breath to move the curtain — lazily
A creeping sunbeam touch'd the secretaire
Of polish'd chestnut-wood, and linger'd round
The two rough wheels that, for the daily toil,
Stood in its light, and drew a sudden flash
From the blue sapphire fix'd into the wand
That lay in Clemence' hand. Sweet Clemence sang,
Soothing her labour's long monotony.
Alone she sat, save for the slumbering child.
That day the unfrequent factor to St. Claude
Had brought the rude material, the brute form
Their patience must make costly: father, son,
And mother went, and sisters in their teens,
They climb'd the downward path; and Clemence sang —
Turn, turn, O wheel, and cut the stone,
Form glorious sapphire while I sing;
Turn, wheel of trial, wheel of life,
And form the jewels for our king.
Blaze, blaze, bright jewel, in mine hand,
A precious thing in rugged spot,
Burn hope, and faith, and noble deed,
The jewels of our lowly lot.
Turn, turn, O wheel, and form the gems
For robe, or ring, or coronet;
Turn, wheel of trouble, wheel of toil,
And fashion jewels fairer yet.
Wait, wait, bright sapphire, till thou flash,
The pride of some imperial town;
Wait, living gems, wait, human hearts,
Till Christ shall set you in His crown.

She paused — a shadow fell into the room,
A shadow that she knew, and her heart beat,
And her hand stay'd, still poising the blue stone,
But never touching now the biting steel.
For was not this the stranger that had come
Up to Septmonçel many days agone?
And linger'd as the bee in springtime hangs
Over a clover bed, and singles out
One special honey-flower? Many times
Had he not danced with her, and press'd her hand,
And walk'd with her from church, and heard her sing,
And told her of his home in that bright isle,
Whose sons are nobles? Had he not alone
Breathed in her ear of that delightful land,
And of the long rich flats, and golden hollows,
Golden with grain, and orchards red with fruit,
And stately rivers with an even tread
Going 'twixt grassy banks; and forest trees
More graceful than her pines, with drooping boughs
That laid aside their burning Autumn garb
And donn'd a delicate green in early Spring;
And flowers that bloom'd in sunny garden grounds
And look'd a very little while on snow?
Had he not whisper'd how 'twere sweet to break
Away from winds and mountains, and white peaks
(Herself the only nightingale that sang
In that cold wood, a wood without a tree),
Into a calm of woodlands, and green bowers
Broken with music; sweet to live and love
Where life should need but love, and love should live
While their hearts beat.

And she had heard him speak,
Not knowing half the evil of his words.
Nor he meaning it all, perchance; but blind
With passion, cheating partly his own soul,
And saying inly, she should meet no harm.
But as the small bird when the storm is nigh
Sets all his little ruffled feathers up,
And angrily awaits, a round rough ball,
The pelting of the rain-cloud; some quick sense
Of danger to the innocent maiden came;
And as he spake she gather'd up her thoughts
She had much need; with a few plausible words
Of careless preparation he reveal'd
How by the presbytere beyond the church
The horses waited that should bear them down,
With clanging hoofs and clattering of bells,
Into the valley, whence the snorting train
That mocks at time and space, should carry them
From vain pursuit, from mountains and from bonds,
Even to the borders of that wide salt sea
That held his white-cliff'd island in her lap —
Him happiest of men, and her set free,
Too beautiful a bird for such a cage,
Narrow, and coarse, and full of sordid cares,
And thankless toil; but in that other world
She should move nobly among trees and flowers,
And never soil her dainty fingers more,
Nor vex her soul with thinking of to-morrow,
And be the fairest of a lordly line,
And wear upon her slender neck such gems
As now she moulded with her hand, and have
No care, but love and pleasure all her days,
And he would be all ties on earth to her,
Father and brother, and a dearer name.

He ceased; there burn'd a light behind her eye,
A little tremble flutter'd in her throat.
" Nay; but I cannot go with you, " she said;
" These mountains would reproach me, and the eyes
Of all the children with regretful gaze
Would follow me for ever; most of all
My mother's and my father's, he whose cares
I share and lighten, sitting at his knee,
Hearing him tell old tales of the good men,
Good men and true, who sought our mountain hold
Out of Franche-Comte from the Spanish yoke;
— No yoke would they, for conscience or for neck —
Hearing him tell me, too, the law of God.
Of truth, and peace, and filial piety;
And of the Christ upon His golden Throne,
Who shall come back for us at trump of doom,
Lying due east, with faces towards His coming,
Up in the graveyard yonder; when the toil
And stir of life is over, and its joys:
For life hath many joys, not sad my lot.
If I should burst the little subtle webs
That bind me to this hut, each broken thread
Would rend away a pleasure from my heart.
And if you call my life a weary life,
'Tis wrapt into its future, like yon ruby
That flashes a new shade with every cut;
For some queen's finger ground in this poor place.
And souls, perchance, may wear bright tints in Heaven
From graces wrought by poverty and toil.
And if you say that far-off land is rich
Where you would take me, and a place to love;
Ah! but 'tis not the Jura: there's no seam,
No chasm upon the face of that peak'd hill
That fronts this window pane, but is my friend.
No land on earth could ever be to me
What this land is. What are your trees and flowers
To this vast nature of the snow and pine,
And the eternal glacier? dear to home,
To patience, and to labour, dear to me?
And if you say that other home is fair,
And I shall be a queen among your kin,
(Too soon a queen, and long before my time,)
For what am I to change my social place
By one rash move, and step upon a stage
Superior, and with different delights
And different duties all unknown to me?
I am not train'd to be a noble's wife,
To sit in idlesse in a painted room;
(Should I not miss the whirring of my wheel?)
I am not train'd to meet the sea of thought
That sets about your island; where, they say,
The tide of civilized life is ever up,
Even to high-water mark, and hath no ebbs,
No low flat sands, where ignorant poor souls
Like mine may wander, picking up small shells,
As I do now — mean little pleasures scorn'd
Of higher intellects.
" And if you say
That I shall some day want another love
Than father-love, for so God's law has said,
Well, sir, it must be here, among these walls,
In this old town, where poor men chisel gems
And die, and live content beside their wheels.
I have no yearning for that higher place,
No fire within me fusing in one mass
Child loves and home, a thousand golden links.
Here, where my mother to her father's hearth.
Came back a wedded wife, and dwelt in peace
And kindly interchange of common love,
And heard her children lisp in her own tongue
The gabbled nothings that a mother loves; —
Oh, sir, I pray you, do not tempt me more;
There are wild echoes out about these cliffs
That never seem to rest, but rise, and rise,
If but a herdsman wind his horn, or shrill
The woodman calls his comrades home at eve.
And such an echo many times a day,
Roused by a hundred passing thoughts, would ring
For ever and for ever in her heart,
The false Septmonçelaise, who could forsake
Home, and true love, and her appointed place
Without a father's blessing. "
Thus answer'd she. The gilded clock tick'd on,
The little brother sat up in his bed,
With great round eyes that wander'd round the room,
Seeking for her whose face was turn'd away.
A shadow fell on the rough narrow street,
Fell quickly, pass'd as quickly, nevermore
To linger by that lattice, nevermore
Seen on the plateau up by Septmonçel.
And Clemence, with a tear, not of regret,
But pitiful, and womanly, and kind,
Look'd through her casement into the hot noon.
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