Morning and evening Maids heard the goblins cry: 'Come buy our orchard fruits, Come buy, come buy: Apples and quinces, Lemons and oranges, Plump unpecked cherries, Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheeked peaches, Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries, Crab-apples, dewberries, Pine-apples, blackberries, Apricots, strawberries;— All ripe together In summer weather,— Morns that pass by, Fair eves that fly; Come buy, come buy: Our grapes fresh from the vine, Pomegranates full and fine, Dates and sharp bullaces, Rare pears and greengages, Damsons and bilberries, Taste them and try: Currants and gooseberries, Bright-fire-like barberries, Figs to fill your mouth, Citrons from the South, Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; Come buy, come buy.'
Evening by evening Among the brookside rushes, Laura bowed her head to hear, Lizzie veiled her blushes: Crouching close together In the cooling weather, With clasping arms and cautioning lips, With tingling cheeks and finger tips. 'Lie close,' Laura said, Pricking up her golden head: 'We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?' 'Come buy,' call the goblins Hobbling down the glen. 'Oh,' cried Lizzie, 'Laura, Laura, You should not peep at goblin men.' Lizzie covered up her eyes, Covered close lest they should look; Laura reared her glossy head, And whispered like the restless brook: 'Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie, Down the glen tramp little men. One hauls a basket, One bears a plate, One lugs a golden dish Of many pounds weight. How fair the vine must grow Whose grapes are so luscious; How warm the wind must blow Through those fruit bushes.' 'No,' said Lizzie, 'No, no, no; Their offers should not charm us, Their evil gifts would harm us.' She thrust a dimpled finger In each ear, shut eyes and ran: Curious Laura chose to linger Wondering at each merchant man. One had a cat's face, One whisked a tail, One tramped at a rat's pace, One crawled like a snail, One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry, One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry. She heard a voice like voice of doves Cooing all together: They sounded kind and full of loves In the pleasant weather.
Laura stretched her gleaming neck Like a rush-imbedded swan, Like a lily from the beck, Like a moonlit poplar branch, Like a vessel at the launch When its last restraint is gone.
Backwards up the mossy glen Turned and trooped the goblin men, With their shrill repeated cry, 'Come buy, come buy.' When they reached where Laura was They stood stock still upon the moss, Leering at each other, Brother with queer brother; Signalling each other, Brother with sly brother. One set his basket down, One reared his plate; One began to weave a crown Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown (Men sell not such in any town); One heaved the golden weight Of dish and fruit to offer her: 'Come buy, come buy,' was still their cry. Laura stared but did not stir, Longed but had no money: The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste In tones as smooth as honey, The cat-faced purr'd, The rat-faced spoke a word Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard; One parrot-voiced and jolly Cried 'Pretty Goblin' still for 'Pretty Polly;'— One whistled like a bird.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste: 'Good folk, I have no coin; To take were to purloin: I have no copper in my purse, I have no silver either, And all my gold is on the furze That shakes in windy weather Above the rusty heather.' 'You have much gold upon your head,' They answered all together: 'Buy from us with a golden curl.' She clipped a precious golden lock, She dropped a tear more rare than pearl, Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red: Sweeter than honey from the rock, Stronger than man-rejoicing wine, Clearer than water flowed that juice; She never tasted such before, How should it cloy with length of use? She sucked and sucked and sucked the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; She sucked until her lips were sore; Then flung the emptied rinds away But gathered up one kernel stone, And knew not was it night or day As she turned home alone.
Lizzie met her at the gate Full of wise upbraidings: 'Dear, you should not stay so late, Twilight is not good for maidens; Should not loiter in the glen In the haunts of goblin men. Do you not remember Jeanie, How she met them in the moonlight, Took their gifts both choice and many, Ate their fruits and wore their flowers Plucked from bowers Where summer ripens at all hours? But ever in the noonlight She pined and pined away; Sought them by night and day, Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey; Then fell with the first snow, While to this day no grass will grow Where she lies low: I planted daisies there a year ago That never blow. You should not loiter so.' 'Nay, hush,' said Laura: 'Nay, hush, my sister: I ate and ate my fill, Yet my mouth waters still; To-morrow night I will Buy more:' and kissed her: 'Have done with sorrow; I'll bring you plums to-morrow Fresh on their mother twigs, Cherries worth getting; You cannot think what figs My teeth have met in, What melons icy-cold Piled on a dish of gold Too huge for me to hold, What peaches with a velvet nap, Pellucid grapes without one seed: Odorous indeed must be the mead Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink With lilies at the brink, And sugar-sweet their sap.'
Golden head by golden head, Like two pigeons in one nest Folded in each other's wings, They lay down in their curtained bed: Like two blossoms on one stem, Like two flakes of new-fall'n snow, Like two wands of ivory Tipped with gold for awful kings. Moon and stars gazed in at them, Wind sang to them lullaby, Lumbering owls forbore to fly, Not a bat flapped to and fro Round their rest: Cheek to cheek and breast to breast Locked together in one nest.
Early in the morning When the first cock crowed his warning, Neat like bees, as sweet and busy, Laura rose with Lizzie: Fetched in honey, milked the cows, Aired and set to rights the house, Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat, Cakes for dainty mouths to eat, Next churned butter, whipped up cream, Fed their poultry, sat and sewed; Talked as modest maidens should: Lizzie with an open heart, Laura in an absent dream, One content, one sick in part; One warbling for the mere bright day's delight, One longing for the night.
At length slow evening came: They went with pitchers to the reedy brook; Lizzie most placid in her look, Laura most like a leaping flame. They drew the gurgling water from its deep; Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags, Then turning homeward said: 'The sunset flushes Those furthest loftiest crags; Come, Laura, not another maiden lags, No wilful squirrel wags, The beasts and birds are fast asleep.' But Laura loitered still among the rushes And said the bank was steep.
And said the hour was early still The dew not fall'n, the wind not chill: Listening ever, but not catching The customary cry, 'Come buy, come buy,' With its iterated jingle Of sugar-baited words: Not for all her watching Once discerning even one goblin Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling; Let alone the herds That used to tramp along the glen, In groups or single, Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
Till Lizzie urged, 'O Laura, come; I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look: You should not loiter longer at this brook: Come with me home. The stars rise, the moon bends her arc, Each glowworm winks her spark, Let us get home before the night grows dark: For clouds may gather Though this is summer weather, Put out the lights and drench us through; Then if we lost our way what should we do?'
Laura turned cold as stone To find her sister heard that cry alone, That goblin cry, 'Come buy our fruits, come buy.' Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit? Must she no more such succous pasture find, Gone deaf and blind? Her tree of life drooped from the root: She said not one word in her heart's sore ache; But peering thro' the dimness, nought discerning, Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way; So crept to bed, and lay Silent till Lizzie slept; Then sat up in a passionate yearning, And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept As if her heart would break.
Day after day, night after night, Laura kept watch in vain In sullen silence of exceeding pain. She never caught again the goblin cry: 'Come buy, come buy;'— She never spied the goblin men Hawking their fruits along the glen: But when the noon waxed bright Her hair grew thin and grey; She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn To swift decay and burn Her fire away.
One day remembering her kernel-stone She set it by a wall that faced the south; Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root, Watched for a waxing shoot, But there came none; It never saw the sun, It never felt the trickling moisture run: While with sunk eyes and faded mouth She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees False waves in desert drouth With shade of leaf-crowned trees, And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
She no more swept the house, Tended the fowls or cows, Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat, Brought water from the brook: But sat down listless in the chimney-nook And would not eat.
Tender Lizzie could not bear To watch her sister's cankerous care Yet not to share. She night and morning Caught the goblins' cry: 'Come buy our orchard fruits, Come buy, come buy:'— Beside the brook, along the glen, She heard the tramp of goblin men, The voice and stir Poor Laura could not hear; Longed to buy fruit to comfort her, But feared to pay too dear. She thought of Jeanie in her grave, Who should have been a bride; But who for joys brides hope to have Fell sick and died In her gay prime, In earliest Winter time With the first glazing rime, With the first snow-fall of crisp Winter time.
Till Laura dwindling Seemed knocking at Death's door: Then Lizzie weighed no more Better and worse; But put a silver penny in her purse, Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze At twilight, halted by the brook: And for the first time in her life Began to listen and look.
Laughed every goblin When they spied her peeping: Came towards her hobbling, Flying, running, leaping, Puffing and blowing, Chuckling, clapping, crowing, Clucking and gobbling, Mopping and mowing, Full of airs and graces, Pulling wry faces, Demure grimaces, Cat-like and rat-like, Ratel- and wombat-like, Snail-paced in a hurry, Parrot-voiced and whistler, Helter skelter, hurry skurry, Chattering like magpies, Fluttering like pigeons, Gliding like fishes,— Hugged her and kissed her: Squeezed and caressed her: Stretched up their dishes, Panniers, and plates: 'Look at our apples Russet and dun, Bob at our cherries, Bite at our peaches, Citrons and dates, Grapes for the asking, Pears red with basking Out in the sun, Plums on their twigs; Pluck them and suck them, Pomegranates, figs.'—
'Good folk,' said Lizzie, Mindful of Jeanie: 'Give me much and many:'— Held out her apron, Tossed them her penny. 'Nay, take a seat with us, Honour and eat with us,' They answered grinning: 'Our feast is but beginning. Night yet is early, Warm and dew-pearly, Wakeful and starry: Such fruits as these No man can carry; Half their bloom would fly, Half their dew would dry, Half their flavour would pass by. Sit down and feast with us, Be welcome guest with us, Cheer you and rest with us.'— 'Thank you,' said Lizzie: 'But one waits At home alone for me: So without further parleying, If you will not sell me any Of your fruits though much and many, Give me back my silver penny I tossed you for a fee.'— They began to scratch their pates, No longer wagging, purring, But visibly demurring, Grunting and snarling. One called her proud, Cross-grained, uncivil; Their tones waxed loud, Their looks were evil. Lashing their tails They trod and hustled her, Elbowed and jostled her, Clawed with their nails, Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking, Tore her gown and soiled her stocking, Twitched her hair out by the roots, Stamped upon her tender feet, Held her hands and squeezed their fruits Against her mouth to make her eat.
White and golden Lizzie stood, Like a lily in a flood,— Like a rock of blue-veined stone Lashed by tides obstreperously,— Like a beacon left alone In a hoary roaring sea, Sending up a golden fire,— Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree White with blossoms honey-sweet Sore beset by wasp and bee,— Like a royal virgin town Topped with gilded dome and spire Close beleaguered by a fleet Mad to tug her standard down.
One may lead a horse to water, Twenty cannot make him drink. Though the goblins cuffed and caught her, Coaxed and fought her, Bullied and besought her, Scratched her, pinched her black as ink, Kicked and knocked her, Mauled and mocked her, Lizzie uttered not a word; Would not open lip from lip Lest they should cram a mouthful in: But laughed in heart to feel the drip Of juice that syrupped all her face, And lodged in dimples of her chin, And streaked her neck which quaked like curd. At last the evil people, Worn out by her resistance, Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit Along whichever road they took, Not leaving root or stone or shoot; Some writhed into the ground, Some dived into the brook With ring and ripple, Some scudded on the gale without a sound, Some vanished in the distance.
In a smart, ache, tingle, Lizzie went her way; Knew not was it night or day; Sprang up the bank, tore thro' the furze, Threaded copse and dingle, And heard her penny jingle Bouncing in her purse,— Its bounce was music to her ear. She ran and ran As if she feared some goblin man Dogged her with gibe or curse Or something worse: But not one goblin skurried after, Nor was she pricked by fear; The kind heart made her windy-paced That urged her home quite out of breath with haste And inward laughter.
She cried 'Laura,' up the garden, 'Did you miss me? Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises, Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. Eat me, drink me, love me; Laura, make much of me: For your sake I have braved the glen And had to do with goblin merchant men.'
Laura started from her chair, Flung her arms up in the air, Clutched her hair: 'Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted For my sake the fruit forbidden? Must your light like mine be hidden, Your young life like mine be wasted, Undone in mine undoing, And ruined in my ruin, Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?'— She clung about her sister, Kissed and kissed and kissed her: Tears once again Refreshed her shrunken eyes, Dropping like rain After long sultry drouth; Shaking with aguish fear, and pain, She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.
Her lips began to scorch, That juice was wormwood to her tongue, She loathed the feast: Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung, Rent all her robe, and wrung Her hands in lamentable haste, And beat her breast. Her locks streamed like the torch Borne by a racer at full speed, Or like the mane of horses in their flight, Or like an eagle when she stems the light Straight toward the sun, Or like a caged thing freed, Or like a flying flag when armies run.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart, Met the fire smouldering there And overbore its lesser flame; She gorged on bitterness without a name: Ah! fool, to choose such part Of soul-consuming care! Sense failed in the mortal strife: Like the watch-tower of a town Which an earthquake shatters down, Like a lightning-stricken mast, Like a wind-uprooted tree Spun about, Like a foam-topped waterspout Cast down headlong in the sea, She fell at last; Pleasure past and anguish past, Is it death or is it life?
Life out of death. That night long Lizzie watched by her, Counted her pulse's flagging stir, Felt for her breath, Held water to her lips, and cooled her face With tears and fanning leaves: But when the first birds chirped about their eaves, And early reapers plodded to the place Of golden sheaves, And dew-wet grass Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass, And new buds with new day Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream, Laura awoke as from a dream, Laughed in the innocent old way, Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice; Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey, Her breath was sweet as May And light danced in her eyes.
Days, weeks, months, years Afterwards, when both were wives With children of their own; Their mother-hearts beset with fears, Their lives bound up in tender lives; Laura would call the little ones And tell them of her early prime, Those pleasant days long gone Of not-returning time: Would talk about the haunted glen, The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men, Their fruits like honey to the throat But poison in the blood; (Men sell not such in any town:) Would tell them how her sister stood In deadly peril to do her good, And win the fiery antidote: Then joining hands to little hands Would bid them cling together, 'For there is no friend like a sister In calm or stormy weather; To cheer one on the tedious way, To fetch one if one goes astray, To lift one if one totters down, To strengthen whilst one stands.'