Briar Rose by Jalmar Hjorth Boyesen









Briar Rose

by Jalmar Hjorth Boyesen


Said Brier-Rose's mother to the naughty Brier-Rose:
"What will become of you, my child, the Lord Almighty knows.
You will not scrub the kettles, and you will not touch the broom;
You never sit a minute still at spinning-wheel or loom."


Thus grumbled in the morning, and grumbled late at eve,
The good-wife as she bustled with pot and tray and sieve;
But Brier-Rose, she laughed and she cocked her dainty head:
"Why, I shall marry, mother dear," full merrily she said.


"You marry; saucy Brier-Rose! The man, he is not found
To marry such a worthless wench, these seven leagues around."
But Brier-Rose, she laughed and she trilled a merry lay:
"Perhaps he'll come, my mother dear, from eight leagues away."


The good-wife with a "humph" and a sigh forsook the battle,
And flung her pots and pails about with much vindictive rattle;
"O Lord, what sin did I commit in youthful days, and wild,
That thou hast punished me in age with such a wayward child?"


Up stole the girl on tiptoe, so that none her step could hear,
And laughing pressed an airy kiss behind the good-wife's ear.
And she, as e'er relenting, sighed: "Oh, Heaven only knows
Whatever will become of you, my naughty Brier-Rose!"


The sun was high and summer sounds were teeming in the air;
The clank of scythes, the cricket's whir, and swelling woodnotes rare,
From fields and copse and meadow; and through the open door
Sweet, fragrant whiffs of new-mown hay the idle breezes bore.


Then Brier-Rose grew pensive, like a bird of thoughtful mien,
Whose little life has problems among the branches green.
She heard the river brawling where the tide was swift and strong,
She heard the summer singing its strange, alluring song.


And out she skipped the meadows o'er and gazed into the sky;
Her heart o'erbrimmed with gladness, she scarce herself knew why,
And to a merry tune she hummed, "Oh, Heaven only knows
Whatever will become of the naughty Brier-Rose!"


Whene'er a thrifty matron this idle maid espied,
She shook her head in warning, and scarce her wrath could hide;
For girls were made for housewives, for spinning-wheel and loom,
And not to drink the sunshine and wild flower's sweet perfume.


And oft the maidens cried, when the Brier-Rose went by,
"You cannot knit a stocking, and you cannot make a pie."
But Brier-Rose, as was her wont, she cocked her curly head:
"But I can sing a pretty song," full merrily she said.


And oft the young lads shouted, when they saw the maid at play:
"Ho, good-for-nothing Brier-Rose, how do you do to-day?"
Then she shook her tiny fist; to her cheeks the color flew:
"However much you coax me, I'll never dance with you."


The dawn just pierced the pallid east with spears of gold and red.
As we, with boat-hooks in our hands, toward the narrows sped.
And terror smote us; for we heard the mighty tree-tops sway,
And thunder, as of chariots, and hissing showers of spray.


"Now, lads," the sheriff shouted, "you are strong, like Norway's rock:
A hundred crowns I give to him who breaks the lumber lock!
For if another hour go by, the angry waters' spoil
Our homes will be, and fields, and our weary years of toil."


We looked each at the other; each hoped his neighbor would
Brave death and danger for his home, as valiant Norsemen should.
But at our feet the brawling tide expanded like a lake,
And whirling beams came shooting on, and made the firm rock quake.


"Two hundred crowns!" the sheriff cried, and breathless stood the crowd.
"Two hundred crowns, my bonny lads!" in anxious tones and loud.
But not a man came forward, and no one spoke or stirred,
And nothing save the thunder of the cataract was heard.


But as with trembling hands and with fainting hearts we stood,
We spied a little curly head emerging from the wood.
We heard a little snatch of a merry little song,
And saw the dainty Brier-Rose come dancing through the throng.


An angry murmur rose from the people round about.
"Fling her into the river," we heard the matrons shout;
"Chase her away, the silly thing; for God himself scarce knows
Why ever he created that worthless Brier-Rose."


Sweet Brier-Rose, she heard their cries; a little pensive smile
Across her fair face flitted that might a stone beguile;
And then she gave her pretty head a roguish little cock:
"Hand me a boat-hook, lads," she said; "I think I'll break the lock."


Derisive shouts of laughter broke from throats of young and old:
"Ho! good-for-nothing Brier-Rose, your tongue was ever bold."
And, mockingly, a boat-hook into her hands was flung,
When, lo! into the river's midst with daring leaps she sprung!


We saw her dimly through a mist of dense and blinding spray;
From beam to beam she skipped, like a water-sprite at play.
And now and then faint gleams we caught of color through the mist:
A crimson waist, a golden head, a little dainty wrist.


In terror pressed the people to the margin of the hill,
A hundred breaths were bated, a hundred hearts stood still.
For, hark! from out the rapids came a strange and creaking sound,
And then a crash of thunder which shook the very ground.


The waters hurled the lumber mass down o'er the rocky steep.
We heard a muffled rumbling and a rolling in the deep;
We saw a tiny form which the torrent swiftly bore
And flung into the wild abyss, where it was seen no more.


Ah, little naughty Brier-Rose, thou couldst not weave nor spin;
Yet thou couldst do a nobler deed than all thy mocking kin;
For thou hadst courage e'en to die, and by thy death to save
A thousand farms and lives from the fury of the wave.


And yet the adage lives, in the valley of thy birth,
When wayward children spend their days in heedless play and mirth,
Oft mothers say, half smiling, half sighing, "Heaven knows
Whatever will become of the naughty Brier-Rose!"