The Miller's Maid: a Tale

THE MILLER’S MAID. A TALE

NEAR the High road upon a winding stream
An honest Miller rose to Wealth and Fame:
The noblest Virtues cheer’d his lengthen’d days,
And all the Country echo’d with his praise:
His Wife, the Doctress of the neighb’ring Poor, [1] 5
Drew constant pray’rs and blessings round his door.
One Summer’s night, (the hour of rest was come)
Darkness unusual overspread their home;
A chilling blast was felt; the foremost cloud
Sprinkl’d the bubbling Pool; and thunder loud,10
Though distant yet, menac’d the country round,
And fill’d the Heavens with its solemn sound.
Who can retire to rest when tempests lour?
Nor wait the issue of the coming hour?
Meekly resign’d she sat, in anxious pain;15
He fill’d his pipe, and listen’d to the rain
That batter’d furiously their strong abode,
Roar’d in the Damm, and lash’d the pebbled road:
When, mingling with the storm, confus’d and wild,
They heard, or thought they heard, a screaming Child:20
The voice approach’d; and ’midst the thunder’s roar,
Now loudly begg’d for Mercy at the door.
MERCY was there: the Miller heard the call;
His door he open’d; when a sudden squall
Drove in a wretched Girl; who weeping stood,25
Whilst the cold rain dripp’d from her in a flood.
With kind officiousness the tender Dame
Rous’d up the dying embers to a flame;
Dry cloaths procur’d, and cheer’d her shiv’ring guest,
And sooth’d the sorrows of her infant breast.30
But as she stript her shoulders, lily-white,
What marks of cruel usage shock’d their sight!
Weals, and blue wounds, most piteous to behold
Upon a Child yet scarcely Ten years old.
The Miller felt his indignation rise,35
Yet, as the weary stranger clos’d her eyes,
And seem’d fatigu’d beyond her strength and years,
‘Sleep, Child, (he said), and wipe away your tears.’
They watch’d her slumbers till the storm was done;
When thus the generous Man again begun:40
‘See, fluttering sighs that rise against her will,
And agitating dreams disturb her still!
Dame, we should know before we go to rest,
Whence comes this Girl, and how she came distrest.
Wake her, and ask; for she is sorely bruis’d:45
I long to know by whom she’s thus misus’d.’
‘Child, what’s your name? how came you in the storm?
Have you no home to keep you dry and warm?
Who gave you all those wounds your shoulders show?
Where are your Parents? Whither would you go?’50
The Stranger bursting into tears, look’d pale,
And this the purport of her artless tale.
‘I have no Parents; and no friends beside:
I well remember when my Mother died:
My Brother cried; and so did I that day:55
We had no Father;—he was gone away;
That night we left our home new cloaths to wear:
The Work-house found them; we were carried there.
We lov’d each other dearly; when we met
We always shar’d what trifles we could get.60
But George was older by a year than me:—
He parted from me and was sent to Sea.
“Good-bye, dear Phoebe,” the poor fellow said!
Perhaps he’ll come again; perhaps he’s dead.
When I grew strong enough I went to place,65
My Mistress had a sour ill-natured face;
And though I’ve been so often beat and chid,
I strove to please her, Sir; indeed, I did.
Weary and spiritless to bed I crept,
And always cried at night before I slept.70
This Morning I offended; and I bore
A cruel beating, worse than all before.
Unknown to all the House I ran away;
And thus far travell’d through the sultry day;
And, O don’t send me back! I dare not go—.’75
‘I send you back!’ (the Miller cried), ‘no, no.’
Th’ appeals of Wretchedness had weight with him,
And Sympathy would warm him every limb;
He mutter’d, glorying in the work begun,
‘Well done, my little Wench; ’twas nobly done!’80
Then said, with looks more cheering than the fire,
And feelings such as Pity can inspire,
‘My house has childless been this many a year;
While you deserve it you shall tarry here.’
The Orphan mark’d the ardor of his eye,85
Blest his kind words, and thank’d him with a sigh.
Thus was the sacred compact doubly seal’d;
Thus were her spirits rais’d, her bruises heal’d:
Thankful, and cheerful too, no more afraid,
Thus little Phoebe was the Miller’s Maid.90
Grateful they found her; patient of controul:
A most bewitching gentleness of soul
Made pleasure of what work she had to do:
She grew in stature, and in beauty too.
Five years she pass’d in this delightful home;95
Five happy years: but, when the sixth was come,
The Miller from a Market Town hard by,
Brought home a sturdy Youth his strength to try,
To raise the sluice-gates early every morn,
To heave his powder’d sacks and grind his corn:100
And meeting Phoebe, whom he lov’d so dear,
‘I’ve brought you home a Husband, Girl?—D’ye hear?
He begg’d for work; his money seem’d but scant:
Those that will work ’tis pity they should want. [2] 
So use him well, and we shall shortly see105
Whether he merits what I’ve done, like thee.’
Now throbb’d her heart,—a new sensation quite,—
Whene’er the comely Stranger was in sight:
For he at once assiduously strove
To please so sweet a Maid, and win her love.110
At every corner stopp’d her in her way;
And saw fresh beauties opening ev’ry day;
He took delight in tracing in her face
The mantling blush, and every nameless grace,
That Sensibility would bring to view,115
When Love he mention’d;—Love, and Honour true,
But Phoebe still was shy; and wish’d to know
More of the honest Youth, whose manly brow
She verily believ’d was Truth’s own throne,
And all his words as artless as her own;120
Most true she judg’d; yet, long the Youth forbore
Divulging where, and how, he liv’d before;
And seem’d to strive his History to hide,
Till fair Esteem enlisted on his side.
The Miller saw, and mention’d, in his praise,125
The prompt fidelity of all his ways:
Till in a vacant hour, the Dinner done,
One day he joking cried, ‘Come here, my Son!
’Tis pity that so good a Lad as you
Beneath my roof should bring disorders new!130
But here’s my Phoebe,—once so light and airy,
She’d trip along the passage like a Fairy,—
Has lost her swiftness quite, since here you came:—
And yet;. . . . I can’t perceive the Girl is lame!
The obstacles she meets with still fall thicker:135
Old as I am I’d turn a corner quicker.’—
The Youth blush’d deep; and Phoebe hung her head:
The good Man smil’d, and thus again he said:
‘Not that I deem it matter of surprise,
That you should love to gaze at Phoebe’s eyes;140
But be explicit, Boy; and deal with honour:
I feel my happiness depend upon her.
When here you came you’d sorrow on your brow;
And I’ve forborne to question you till now.
First, then, say what thou art.’ He instant bow’d,145
And thus, in Phoebe’s hearing, spoke aloud:
‘Thus far experienc’d, Sir, in you I find
All that is generous, fatherly, and kind;
And while you look for proofs of real worth,
You’ll not regard the meanness of my birth.150
When, pennyless and sad, you met with me,
I’d just escap’d the dangers of the Sea;
Resolv’d to try my fortune on the shore:
To get my bread; and trust the waves no more.
Having no Home, nor Parents, left behind,155
I’d all my fortune, all my Friends, to find.
Keen disappointment wounded me that morn:
For, trav’lling near the spot where I was born,
I at the well-known door where I was bred,
Inquir’d who still was living, who was dead:160
But first, and most, I sought with anxious fear
Tidings to gain of her who once was dear;
A Girl, with all the meekness of the dove,
The constant sharer of my childhood’s love;
She call’d me Brother:—which I heard with pride,165
Though now suspect we are not so allied.
Thus much I learnt; (no more the churls would say;)
She went to service, and she ran away.
And scandal added’—‘Hold!’ the Miller cried,
And, in an instant, stood at Phoebe’s side;170
For he observed, while list’ning to the tale,
Her spirits faulter’d, and her cheeks turn’d pale;
Whilst her clasp’d hands descended to her knee
She sinking whisper’d forth, ‘O God, ’tis he!
The good Man, though he guess’d the pleasing truth,175
Was far too busy to inform the Youth;
But stirr’d himself amain to aid his Wife,
Who soon restor’d the trembler back to life.
Awhile insensible she still appear’d;
But, ’O my Brother,’ was distinctly heard:180
The astonisht Youth now held her to his breast;
And tears and kisses soon explain’d the rest.
Past deeds now from each tongue alternate fell;
For news of dearest import both could tell.
Fondly, from childhood’s tears to youth’s full prime,185
They match’d the incidents of jogging time;
And prov’d, that when with Tyranny opprest,
Poor Phoebe groan’d with wounds and broken rest,
George felt no less: was harassed and forlorn;
A rope’s-end follow’d him both night and morn.190
And in that very storm when Phoebe fled,
When the rain drench’d her yet unshelter’d head;
That very Storm he on the Ocean brav’d,
The Vessel founder’d, and the Boy was sav’d!
Mysterious Heaven!—and O with what delight—195
She told the happy issue of her flight:
To his charm’d heart a living picture drew;
And gave to hospitality its due!
The list’ning Host observ’d the gentle Pair;
And ponder’d on the means that brought them there:200
Convinc’d, while unimpeach’d their Virtue stood,
’Twas Heav’n’s high Will that he should do them good.
But now the anxious Dame, impatient grown,
Demanded what the Youth had heard, or known,
Whereon to ground those doubts but just exprest;—205
Doubts, which must interest the feeling breast;
‘Her Brother wert thou, George?—how; prithee say:
Canst thou forego, or cast that name away?’
‘No living proofs have I,’ the Youth reply’d,
‘That we by closest ties are not allied;210
But in my memory live, and ever will,
A mother’s dying words……I hear them still:
She said, to one who watch’d her parting breath,
“Don’t separate the Children at my death;
They’re not both mine: But—” here the scene was clos’d,215
She died; and left us helpless and expos’d;
Nor Time hath thrown, nor Reason’s opening power,
One friendly ray on that benighted hour.’
Ne’er did the Chieftains of a Warring State
Hear from the Oracle their half-told fate220
With more religious fear, or more suspense,
Than Phoebe now endur’d:—for every sense
Became absorb’d in this unwelcome theme;
Nay every meditation, every dream,
Th’ inexplicable sentence held to view,225
‘They’re not both mine,’ was every morning new:
For, till this hour, the Maid had never prov’d
How far she was enthrall’d, how much she lov’d:
In that fond character he first appear’d;
His kindness charm’d her, and his smiles endear’d:230
This dubious mystery the passion crost;
Her peace was wounded, and her Lover lost.
For George, with all his resolution strove
To check the progress of his growing love;
Or, if he e’er indulg’d a tender kiss,235
Th’ unravell’d secret robb’d him of his bliss.
Health’s foe, Suspense, so irksome to be borne,
An ever-piercing and retreating thorn,
Hung on their Hearts, when Nature bade them rise,
And stole Content’s bright ensign from their eyes.240
The good folks saw the change, and griev’d to find
These troubles labouring in Phoebe’s mind;
They lov’d them both; and with one voice propos’d
The only means whence Truth might be disclos’d;
That, when the Summer Months should shrink the rill,245
And scarce its languid stream would turn the Mill,
When the Spring broods, and Pigs, and Lambs were rear’d,
(A time when George and Phoebe might be spar’d,)
Their birth-place they should visit once again,
To try with joint endeavours to obtain250
From Record, or Tradition, what might be
To chain, or set their chain’d affections free:
Affinity beyond all doubts to prove;
Or clear the road for Nature and for Love.
Never, till now, did Phoebe count the hours,255
Or think May long, or wish away its flowers;
With mutual sighs both fann’d the wings of Time;
As we climb Hills and gladden as we climb,
And reach at last the distant promis’d seat,
Casting the glowing landscape at our feet.260
Oft had the Morning Rose with dew been wet,
And oft the journeying Sun in glory set,
Beyond the willow’d meads of vigorous grass,
The steep green hill, and woods they were to pass;
When now: the day arriv’d: Impatience reign’d;265
And George,—by trifling obstacles detain’d,—
His bending Blackthorn on the threshold prest,
Survey’d the windward clouds, and hop’d the best.
Phoebe, attir’d with every modest grace,
While Health and Beauty revell’d in her face,270
Came forth; but soon evinc’d an absent mind,
For, back she turn’d for something left behind;
Again the same, till George grew tir’d of home,
And peevishly exclaim’d, ‘Come, Phoebe, come.’
Another hindrance yet he had to feel:275
As from the door they tripp’d with nimble heel,
A poor old Man, foot-founder’d and alone,
Thus urgent spoke, in Trouble’s genuine tone:
‘My pretty Maid, if happiness you seek,
May disappointment never fade your cheek!—280
Your’s be the joy;—yet, feel another’s woe;
O leave some little gift before you go.’
His words struck home; and back she turn’d again,
(The ready friend of indigence and pain,)
To banish hunger from his shatter’d frame;285
And close behind her, Lo, the Miller, came,
With Jug in hand, and cried, ‘George, why such haste?
Here, take a draught; and let that Soldier taste.’
‘Thanks for your bounty, Sir,’ the Veteran said;
Threw down his Wallet, and made bare his head;290
And straight began, though mix’d with doubts and fears,
Th’ unprefac’d History of his latter years,
‘I cross’d th’ Atlantic with our Regiment, brave,
Where Sickness sweeps whole Regiments to the grave;
Yet I’ve escap’d; and bear my arms no more;295
My age discharg’d me when I came on shore.
My Wife, I’ve heard,’—and here he wip’d his eyes,—
‘In the cold corner of the Church-yard lies.
By her consent it was I left my home:
Employment fail’d, and poverty was come;300
The Bounty tempted me;—she had it all:
We parted; and I’ve seen my betters fall.
Yet, as I’m spar’d, though in this piteous case,
I’m trav’lling homeward to my native place;
Though should I reach that dear remember’d spot,305
Perhaps Old Grainger will be quite forgot.
All eyes beheld young George with wonder start:
Strong were the secret bodings of his heart;
Yet not indulg’d: for he with doubts survey’d
By turns the Stranger, and the lovely Maid.310
‘Had you no Children?’—‘Yes, young Man; I’d two:
A Boy, if still he lives, as old as you:
Yet not my own; but likely so to prove;
Though but the pledge of an unlawful Love:
I cherish’d him, to hide a Sister’s shame:315
He shar’d my best affections, and my name.
But why, young folks, should I detain you here?
Go; and may blessings wait upon your cheer:
I too will travel on;—perhaps to find
The only treasure that I left behind.320
Such kindly thoughts my fainting hopes revive!—
Phoebe, my Cherub, Art thou still alive?’
Could Nature hold!—Could youthful Love forbear!
George clasp’d the wond’ring Maid, and whisper’d, ‘There!
You’re mine for, ever!—O, sustain the rest;325
And hush the tumult of your throbbing breast.’
Then to the Soldier turn’d, with manly pride,
And fondly led his long-intended Bride:
‘Here see your Child; nor wish a sweeter flow’r.
’Tis George that speaks; thou’lt bless the happy hour!—330
Nay, be compos’d; for all will yet be well,
Though here our history’s too long to tell.’—
A long-lost Father found, the mystery clear’d,
What mingled transports in her face appear’d!
The gazing Veteran stood with hands uprais’d—335
‘Art thou indeed my Child! then, God be prais’d.’
O’er his rough cheeks the tears profusely spread:
Such as fools say become not Men to shed;
Past hours of bliss, regenerated charms,
Rose, when he felt his Daughter in his arms:340
So tender was the scene, the generous Dame
Wept, as she told of Phoebe’s virtuous fame,
And the good Host, with gestures passing strange,
Abstracted seem’d through fields of joy to range:
Rejoicing that his favour’d Roof should prove345
Virtue's asylum, and the nurse of Love;
Rejoicing that to him the task was given,
While his full Soul was mounting up to Heav’n.
But now, as from a dream, his Reason sprung,
And heartiest greetings dwelt upon his tongue:350
The sounding Kitchen floor at once receiv’d
The happy group, with all their fears reliev’d:
‘Soldier,’ he cried, ‘you’ve found your Girl; ’tis true:
But suffer me to be a Father too;
For, never Child that blest a Parent’s knee,355
Could show more duty than she has to me:
Strangely she came; Affliction chas’d her hard:
I pitied her;—and this is my reward!
Here sit you down; recount your perils o’er:
Henceforth be this your home; and grieve no more:360
Plenty hath shower’d her dewdrops on my head;
Care visits not my Table, nor my Bed.
My heart’s warm wishes thus then I fulfill:—
My Dame and I can live without the Mill:
George, take the whole; I’ll near you still remain,365
To guide your judgment in the choice of Grain:
In Virtue’s path commence your prosperous life;
And from my hand receive your worthy Wife.
Rise, Phoebe; rise, my Girl!—kneel not to me;
But to That Pow'r who interpos’d for thee.370
Integrity hath mark’d your favourite Youth;
Fair budding Honour, Constancy, and Truth:
Go to his arms;—and may unsullied joys
Bring smiling round me, rosy Girls and Boys!
I’ll love them for thy sake. And may your days375
Glide on, as glides the Stream that never stays;
Bright as whose shingled bed, till life’s decline,
May all your Worth, and all your Virtues shine!’ [3] 

Notes

[1] [All edns add note:] This village and the poor of this neighbourhood know what it is to have possest such a blessing, and feel at this moment what it is to lose it by death. C. L. Troston, 13th of September, 1801. BACK

[2] [All edns add note:] A Maxim which all ought to remember. C. L. BACK

[3] [1st edn, 1st state adds note:] I believe there has been no such Poem in its kind as the MILLER’S MAID, since the days of DRYDEN, for ease and beauty of language; clear and interesting narrative; sweet and full flow of verse; happy choice of the subject, and delightful execution of it. C. L.] omitted in 1st edn, 2nd state and later edns BACK

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