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"Tell us a story of these Isles," they said,
The daughters of the West, whose eyes had seen
For the first time the circling sea, instead
Of the blown prairie's waves of grassy green:
"Tell us of wreck and peril, storm and cold,
Wild as the wildest." Under summer stars
With the slow moonrise at our back, I told
The story of the young Norwegian, Lars.
That youth with the black eyebrows sharply drawn
In strong curves like some sea-bird's wings outspread
O'er his dark eyes, is Lars, and this fair dawn
Of womanhood, the maiden he will wed.
She loves him for the dangers he has past.
Her rosy beauty glowed before his stern
And vigilant regard, until at last
Her sweetness vanquished Lars the taciturn.
For he is ever quiet, strong, and wise;
Wastes nothing, not a gesture nor a breath;
Forgets not, gazing in the maiden's eyes,
A year ago it was not love, but death,
That clasped him, and can hardly learn as yet
How to be merry, haunted by that pain
And terror, and remembering with regret
The comrade he can never see again.
Out from the harbor on that winter day
Sailed the two men to set their trawl together.
Down swept the sudden snow-squall o'er the bay,
And hurled their slight boat onward like a feather.
They tossed they knew not whither, till at last,
Under the lighthouse cliff they found a lee,
And out the road-lines of the trawl they cast
To moor her, is so happy they might be.
But quick the slender road-lines snapt in twain
In the wild breakers, and once more they tossed
Adrift; and, watching from his misty pane,
The lighthouse keeper muttered, "They are lost!"
Lifted the snow: night fell; swift cleared the sky;
The air grew sharp as death with polar cold;
Raged the insensate gale, and flashing high
In starlight keen the hissing billows rolled.
Driven before the winds incessant scourge
All night they fled, -- one dead ere morning lay.
Lars saw his strange, drawn countenance emerge
In the fierce sunrise light of that drear day,
And thought, "A little space and I shall be
Even as he," and, gazing in despair
O'er the wide, weltering waste, no sign could see
Of hope, of help, or comfort, anywhere.
Two hundred miles before the hurricane
The dead and living drove across the sea.
The third day dawned. His dim eyes saw again
The vast green plain, breaking eternally
In ghastly waves. But in the early light,
On the horizon glittering like a star,
Fast growing, looming tall, with canvas white,
Sailed his salvation southward from afar!
Down she bore, rushing o'er the hills of brine,
Straight for his feeble signal. As she passed,
Out from the schooner's deck they flung a line,
And o'er his head the open noose was cast.
Clutching with both his hands the bowline knot
Caught at his throat, swift drawn through fire he seemed,
Whelmed in the icy sea, and he forgot
Life, death, and all things, -- yet he thought he dreamed
A dread voice cried, "We've lost him!" and a sting
Of anguish pierced his clouded senses through;
A moment more, and like a lifeless thing
He lay among the eager pitying crew.
Long time he swooned, while o'er the ocean vast
The dead man tossed alone, they knew not where:
But youth and health triumphant were at last,
And here is Lars, you see, and here the fair
Young snow-and-rose-bloom maiden he will wed.
His face is kindly, thought it seems so stern.
Death passed him by, and life begins instead,
For Thora sweet and Lars the taciturn.
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