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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Lady Yeardley’s Guest

By Margaret Junkin Preston (1820–1897)


’TWAS a Saturday night, mid-winter,

And the snow with its sheeted pall

Had covered the stubbled clearings

That girdled the rude-built “Hall,”

But high in the deep-mouthed chimney,

’Mid laughter and shout and din,

The children were piling yule-logs

To welcome the Christmas in.

“Ah, so! We’ll be glad to-morrow,”

The mother half-musing said,

As she looked at the eager workers,

And laid on a sunny head

A touch as of benediction,—

“For Heaven is just as near

The father at far Patuxent

As if he were with us here.

“So choose ye the pine and holly,

And shake from their boughs the snow;

We’ll garland the rough-hewn rafters

As they garlanded long ago,—

Or ever Sir George went sailing

Away o’er the wild sea-foam,—

In my beautiful English Sussex,

The happy old walls at home.”

She sighed. As she paused, a whisper

Set quickly all eyes astrain:

“See! see!”—and the boy’s hand pointed—

“There’s a face at the window-pane!”

One instant a ghastly terror

Shot sudden her features o’er;

The next, and she rose unblenching,

And opened the fast-barred door.

“Who be ye that seek admission?

Who cometh for food and rest?

This night is a night above others

To shelter a straying guest.”

Deep out of the snowy silence

A guttural answer broke:

“I come from the great Three Rivers,

I am chief of the Roanoke.”

Straight in through the frightened children,

Unshrinking, the red man strode,

And loosed on the blazing hearthstone,

From his shoulder, a light-borne load;

And out of the pile of deer-skins,

With a look as serene and mild

As if it had been his cradle,

Stepped softly a four-year child.

As he chafed at the fire his fingers,

Close pressed to the brawny knee,

The gaze that the silent savage

Bent on him was strange to see;

And then, with a voice whose yearning

The father could scarcely stem,

He said, to the children pointing,

“I want him to be like them!

“They weep for the boy in the wigwam:

I bring him, a moon of days,

To learn of the speaking paper;

To hear of the wiser ways

Of the people beyond the water;

To break with the plough the sod;

To be kind to papoose and woman;

To pray to the white man’s God.”

“I give thee my hand!” And the lady

Pressed forward with sudden cheer;

“Thou shalt eat of my English pudding,

And drink of my Christmas beer.—

My darlings, this night, remember

All strangers are kith and kin,—

This night when the dear Lord’s Mother

Could find no room at the inn!”

Next morn from the colony belfry

Pealed gayly the Sunday chime,

And merrily forth the people

Flocked, keeping the Christmas time;

And the lady, with bright-eyed children

Behind her, their lips a-smile,

And the chief in his skins and wampum,

Came walking the narrow aisle.

Forthwith from the congregation

Broke fiercely a sullen cry,

“Out! out! with the crafty red-skin!

Have at him! A spy! A spy!”

And quickly from belts leaped daggers,

And swords from their sheaths flushed bare,

And men from their seats defiant

Sprang, ready to slay him there.

But facing the crowd with courage

As calm as a knight of yore,

Stepped bravely the fair-browed woman

The thrust of the steel before;

And spake with a queenly gesture,

Her hand on the chief’s brown breast;

“Ye dare not impeach my honor!

Ye dare not insult my guest!”

They dropped, at her word, their weapons,

Half-shamed as the lady smiled,

And told them the red man’s story,

And showed them the red man’s child;

And pledged them her broad plantations,

That never would such betray

The trust that a Christian woman

Had shown on a Christmas Day!