Oh fair Milly Brandon, a young maid, a fair maid!
All her curls are yellow and her eyes are blue,
And her cheeks were rosy red till a secret care made
Hollow whiteness of their brightness as a care will do.
Still she tends her flowers, but not as in the old days,
Still she sings her songs, but not the songs of old:
If now it be high Summer her days seem brief and cold days,
If now it be high Summer her nights are long and cold.
If you have a secret keep it, pure maid Milly;
Life is filled with troubles and the world with scorn;
And pity without love is at best times hard and chilly,
Chilling sore and stinging sore a heart forlorn.
Walter Brandon, do you guess Milly Brandon’s secret?
Many things you know, but not everything,
With your locks like raven’s plumage, and eyes like an egret,
And a laugh that is music, and such a voice to sing.
Nelly Knollys, she is fair, but she is not fairer
Than fairest Milly Brandon was before she turned so pale:
Oh, but Nelly’s dearer if she be not rarer,
She need not keep a secret or blush behind a veil.
Beyond the first green hills, beyond the nearest valleys,
Nelly dwells at home beneath her mother’s eyes:
Her home is neat and homely, not a cot and not a palace,
Just the home where love sets up his happiest memories.
Milly has no mother; and sad beyond another
Is she whose blessed mother is vanished out of call:
Truly comfort beyond comfort is stored up in a mother
Who bears with all, and hopes through all, and loves us all.
Where peacocks nod and flaunt up and down the terrace,
Furling and unfurling their scores of sightless eyes,
To and fro among the leaves and buds and flowers and berries
Maiden Milly strolls and pauses, smiles and sighs.
On the hedged-in terrace of her father’s palace
She may stroll and muse alone, may smile or sigh alone,
Letting thoughts and eyes go wandering over hills and valleys
To-day her father’s, and one day to be all her own.
If her thoughts go coursing down lowlands and up highlands,
It is because the startled game are leaping from their lair;
If her thoughts dart homeward to the reedy river islands,
It is because the waterfowl rise startled here or there.
At length a footfall on the steps: she turns, composed and steady,
All the long-descended greatness of her father’s house
Lifting up her head; and there stands Walter keen and ready
For hunting or for hawking, a flush upon his brows.
“Good-morrow, fair cousin.” “Good-morrow, fairest cousin:
The sun has started on his course, and I must start to-day.
If you have done me one good turn you’ve done me many a dozen,
And I shall often think of you, think of you away.”
“Over hill and hollow what quarry will you follow,
Or what fish will you angle for beside the river’s edge?
There’s cloud upon the hill-top and there ’s mist deep down the hollow,
And fog among the rushes and the rustling sedge.”
“I shall speed well enough be it hunting or hawking,
Or casting a bait towards the shyest daintiest fin.
But I kiss your hands, my cousin; I must not loiter talking,
For nothing comes of nothing, and I’m fain to seek and win.”
“Here’s a thorny rose: will you wear it an hour,
Till the petals drop apart still fresh and pink and sweet?
Till the petals drop from the drooping perished flower,
And only the graceless thorns are left of it.”
“Nay, I have another rose sprung in another garden,
Another rose which sweetens all the world for me.
Be you a tenderer mistress and be you a warier warden
Of your rose, as sweet as mine, and full as fair to see.”
“Nay, a bud once plucked there is no reviving,
Nor is it worth your wearing now, nor worth indeed my own;
The dead to the dead, and the living to the living.
It’s time I go within, for it’s time now you were gone.”
“Good-bye, Milly Brandon, I shall not forget you,
Though it be good-bye between us for ever from to-day;
I could almost wish to-day that I had never met you,
And I’m true to you in this one word that I say.”
“Good-bye, Walter. I can guess which thornless rose you covet;
Long may it bloom and prolong its sunny morn:
Yet as for my one thorny rose, I do not cease to love it,
And if it is no more a flower I love it as a thorn.”