FOR the fairest maid in Hampton
They needed not to search,
Who saw young Anna favor
Come walking into church,--
Or bringing from the meadows,
At set of harvest-day,
The frolic of the blackbirds,
The sweetness of the hay.
Now the weariest of all mothers,
The saddest two years' bride,
She scowls in the face of her husband,
And spurns her child aside.
"Rake out the red coals, goodman,--
For there the child shall lie,
Till the black witch comes to fetch her
And both up chimney fly.
"It's never my own little daughter,
It's never my own," she said;
"The witches have stolen my Anna,
And left me an imp instead.
"Oh, fair and sweet was my baby,
Blue eyes, and hair of gold;
But this is ugly and wrinkled,
Cross, and cunning, and old.
"I hate the touch of her fingers,
I hate the feel of her skin;
It's not the milk from my bosom,
But my blood, that she sucks in.
"My face grows sharp with the torment;
Look! my arms are skin and bone!
Rake open the red coals, goodman,
And the witch shall have her own.
"She'll come when she hears it crying,
In the shape of an owl or bat,
And she'll bring us our darling Anna
In place of her screeching brat."
Then the goodman, Ezra Dalton,
Laid his hand upon her head:
Thy sorrow is great, O woman!
I sorrow with thee," he said.
"The paths to trouble are many
And never but one sure way
Leads out to the light beyond it:
My poor wife, let us pray."
Then he said to the great All-Father,
"Thy daughter is weak and blind;
Let her sight come back, and clothe her
Once more in her right mind.
"Lead her out of this evil shadow,
Out of these fancies wild;
Let the holy love of the mother
Turn again to her child.
"Make her lips like the lips of Mary
Kissing her blessed Son;
Let her hands, like the hands of Jesus,
Rest on her little one.
"Comfort the soul of thy handmaid,
Open her prison-door,
And thine shall be all the glory
And praise forevermore."
Then into the face of its mother
The baby looked up and smiled;
And the cloud of her soul was lifted,
And she knew her little child.
A beam of the slant west sunshine
Made the wan face almost fair,
Lit the blue eyes' patient wonder
And the rings of pale gold hair.
She kissed it on lip and forehead,
She kissed it on cheek and chink
And she bared her snow-white bosom
To the lips so pale and thin.
Oh, fair on her bridal morning
Was the maid who blushed and smiled,
But fairer to Ezra Dalton
Looked the mother of his child.
With more than a lover's fondness
He stooped to her worn young face,
And the nursing child and the mother
He folded in one embrace.
"Blessed be God!" he murmured.
"Blessed be God!" she said;
"For I see, who once was blinded,--
I live, who once was dead.
"Now mount and ride, my goodman,
As thou lovest thy own soul!
Woe's me, if my wicked fancies
Be the death of Goody Cole!"
His horse he saddled and bridled,
And into the night rode he,
Now through the great black woodland,
Now by the white-beached sea.
He rode through the silent clearings,
He came to the ferry wide,
And thrice he called to the boatman
Asleep on the other side.
He set his horse to the river,
He swam to Newbury town,
And he called up Justice Sewall
In his nightcap and his gown.
And the grave and worshipful justice
(Upon whose soul be peace!)
Set his name to the jailer's warrant
For Goodwife Cole's release.
Then through the night the hoof-beats
Went sounding like a flail;
And Goody Cole at cockcrow
Came forth from Ipswich jail.