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Rhœcus's Bee.

The baked bank cracks—down the red ruins rattle,
Baring the cables of a sturdy oak
That long hath braved the fiercest blast to battle,
And mocked, secure, the woodman's ringing stroke;
But now it bows its wealth of golden leaves
And golden acorns o'er the golden sheaves.

The Hamadryad for her life is trembling,
But Rhœcus wanders in the harvest field,
And, swift from wain and shock his hinds assembling,
Props up the tree before the roots can yield;
Then lays him down to rest beneath its shade,
When, lo! before him stands the Sylvan Maid:

An oak-leaf chaplet round her sunny tresses,
A russet mantle o'er her breast of snow,—
The which the artful autumn breeze caresses,
Hungry to kiss the twins that heave below;
A sea-shell blush her cheek and forehead dyes,
A dewy light is in her violet eyes.

“Saviour!” she murmurs, whilst her silken lashes
Half veil the starry orbs that well beneath
With longing love that thrills and yet abashes,—
Plucking meanwhile, confused, her drooping wreath:
“Receive my thanks, receive—what more you will!—
Life is a gift that leaves me debtor still.”

“Oh, might I wed thee!” is his brief petition—
She clings like ivy to his lips and breast—
(Nymphs need not ask a cross papa's permission)—
The field is empty—they retire to rest,—
On sward soon silvered by the moon's soft light,
Meet Hymen's torch for that sweet nuptial night!

Too soon for both the roguish sun arises,
Silently smiling at their wakeful bliss;

  ― 167 ―
They part, in fear of less discreet surprises,
And thus she warns him with her farewell kiss:
“None other must he love who loveth me—
Come, darling, when I send yon forest Bee.”

Full oft the gold-streaked bee its swift way wingeth
To Rhœcus, waiting for its welcome hum;
And panting swain to glowing mistress bringeth
Within the spreading forest, dim and dumb:
October leaves fall on them from above,
But who read omens when they're blind with love?

Before a roaring hearth, with pine-logs laden,
There sit at draughts a maiden and a youth;
Wicked young Zoe is the winsome maiden,
The youth is Rhœcus—where is lover's truth?
She twits him with the bee, the while they play:
“If you know what should come, then would you stay?

“Do tell me what it is, you crazy Rhœcus,
That binds you to the bidding of a bee?—
Why, when the maidens meet, you never seek us?
And look as grim as Hades e'en at me?
Ah! you smile now, but if the bee should come,
Poor Zoe's voice must hush before its hum!”

False Rhœcus answers—throwing on a splinter:
“Tut! nonsense! one likes walks when days are fine,
But not in knee-deep snow—fireside for winter—
And where are eyes that can compete with thine?”
His traitor hands with Zoe's tresses play—
The bee flies in—he brushes it away.

They kiss across the board,—when, hark! a groaning
Is heard without in the o'ershadowing trees;
A blind man clasps a corpse, as sternly moaning
A voice sweeps by upon the midnight breeze:
“None other may he love who loveth me—
To Rhœcus comes no more the forest bee!”