J. G. Holland
Part 2 out of 3
His words, which wandered first as carelessly
As the free footsteps of a boy, were trained
To the stern paces of a sentinel
Guarding a prison door, and never tripped
With a suggestion.
I despaired at last
Of winning what I sought by wiles and prayers;
So, through long nights of sleeplessness I lay,
And held my ear beside his silent lips--
An eager cup--ready to catch the gush
Of the pent waters, if a dream-swung rod
Should smite his bosom. It was all in vain.
And thus months passed away, and all the while
Another heart was beating under mine.
May Heaven forgive me! but I grieved the charms
The unborn thing was stealing, for I felt
That in my insufficiency of power
I had no charm to lose.
And he did not,
In this most tender trial of your heart,
Turn in relenting?--give you sympathy?
No--yes! Perhaps he pitied me, and that
Indeed was very pitiful; for what
Has love to do with pity? When a wife
Has sunk so hopelessly in the regard
Of him she loves that he can pity her,--
Has sunk so low that she may only share
The tribute which a mute humanity
Bestows on those whom Providence has struck
With helpless poverty, or foul disease;
She may he pitied, both by earth and heaven,
Because he pities her. A pitied child
That begs its bread from door to door is blest;
A wife who begs for love and confidence,
And gets but alms from pity, is accurst.
Well, time passed on; and rumor came at last
To tell the story of my husband's shame
And my dishonor. He was seen at night,
Walking in lonely streets with one whose eyes
Were blacker than the night,--whose little hand
Was clinging to his arm. Both were absorbed
In the half-whispered converse of the time;
And both, as if accustomed to the path,
Turned down an alley, climbed a flight of steps,
Entered a door, and closed it after them--
A door of adamant 'twixt hope and me.
I had my secret; and I kept it, too.
I knew his haunt, and it was watched for me,
Till doubt and prayers for doubt,--pale flowers
I nourished with my tears--were crushed
By the relentless hand of Certainty.
Oh, Mary! Mary! Those were fearful days.
My wrongs and all their shameful history
Were opened to me daily, leaf by leaf,
Though he had only shown their title-page:
That page was his; the rest were in my heart.
I knew that he had left my home for hers;
I knew his nightly labor was to feed
Other than me;--that he was loaded down
With cares that were the price of sinful love.
Grace, in your heart do you believe all this?
I fear--I know--you do your husband wrong.
He is not competent for treachery.
He is too good, too noble, to desert
The woman whom he only loves too well.
You love him not!
I love him not? Alas!
I am more angry with myself than him
That, spite his falsehood to his marriage vows,
And spite my hate, I love the traitor still.
I love him not? Why am I here to-night--
Here where my girlhood's withered hopes are strewn
Through every room for him to trample on--
But in my pride to show him to you all,
With the dear child that publishes a love
That blessed me once, e'en if it curse me now?
You know I do my husband wrong! You think,
Because he can talk smoothly, and befool
A simple ear with pious sophistries,
He must be e'en the saintly man he seems.
We heard him talk to-night; it was done well.
I saw the triumph of his argument,
And I was proud, though full of spite the while.
His stuff was meant for me; and, with intent
For selfish purpose, or in irony,
He tossed me bitterness, and called it sweet.
My heart rebelled, and now you know the cause
Of my harsh words to him.
'Tis very sad!
Oh very--very sad! Pray you go on!
Who is this woman?
I have never learned.
I only know she stole my husband's heart,
And made me very wretched. I suppose
That at the time my little babe was born,
She went away; for David was at home
For many days. That pain was bliss to me--
I need no argument to teach me that--
Which caused neglect of her, and gave offense.
Since then, he has not where to go from me;
And, loving well his child, he stays at home.
So he lugs round his secret, and I mine.
I call him husband; and he calls me wife;
And I, who once was like an April day,
That finds quick tears in every cloud, have steeled
My heart against my fate, and now am calm.
I will live on; and though these simple folk
Who call me sister understand me not,
It matters little. There is one who does;
And he shall have no liberty of love
By any word of mine. 'Tis woman's lot,
And man's most weak and wicked wantonness.
Mine is like other husbands, I suppose;
No worse--no better.
Ask you sympathy
Of such as I? I cannot give it you,
For you have shut me from the privilege.
I asked it once; you gave me unbelief.
I had no choice but to grow hard again.
'Tis my misfortune and my misery
That every hand whose friendly ministry
My poor heart craves, is held--withheld--by him;
And I must freeze that I may stand alone.
And so, because one man is false, or you
Imagine him to be, all men are false;
Do I speak rightly?
Have it your own way.
Men fit to love, and fitted to be loved,
Are prone to falsehood. I will not gainsay
The common virtue of the common herd.
I prize it as I do the goodish men
Who hold the goodish stuff, and know it not.
These serve to fill an easy-going world,
And that to clothe it with complacency.
I had not thought misanthropy like this
Could lodge with you; so I must e'en confess
A tale which never passed my lips before,
Nor sent its flush to any cheek but mine.
In this, I'll prove my friendship, if I lose
The friendship which demands the sacrifice.
I have come back, a worse than widowed wife;
Yet I went out with dream as bright as yours,--
Nay, brighter,--for the birds were singing then,
And apple-blossoms drifted on the ground
Where snow-flakes fell and flew when you were wed.
The skies were soft; the roses budded full;
The meads and swelling uplands fresh and green;--
The very atmosphere was full of love.
It was no girlish carelessness of heart
That kept my eyes from tears, as I went forth
From this dear shelter of the orphan child.
I felt that God was smiling on my lot,
And made the airs his angels to convey
To every sense and sensibility
The message of his favor. Every sound
Was music to me; every sight was peace;
And breathing was the drinking of perfume.
I said, content, and full of gratitude,
"This is as God would have it; and he speaks
These pleasant languages to tell me so."
But I had no such honeymoon as yours.
A few brief days of happiness, and then
The dream was over. I had married one
Who was the sport of vagrant impulses.
We had not been a fortnight wed, when he
Came home to me with brandy in his brain--
A maudlin fool--for love like mine to hide
As if he were an unclean beast. O Grace!
I cannot paint the horrors of that night.
My heart, till then serene, and safely kept
In Trust's strong citadel, quaked all night long,
As tower and bastion fell before the rush
Of fierce convictions; and the tumbling walls
Boomed with dull throbs of ruin through my brain.
And there were palaces that leaned on this--
Castles of air, in long and glittering lines,
Which melted into air, and pierced the blue
That marks the star-strewn vault of heaven;--all fell,
With a faint crash like that which scares the soul
When dissolution shivers through a dream
Smitten by nightmare,--fell and faded all
To utter nothingness; and when the morn
Flamed up the East, and with its crimson wings
Brushed out the paling stars that all the night
In silent, slow procession, one by one,
Had gazed upon me through the open sash,
And passed along, it found me desolate.
The stupid dreamer at my side awoke,
And with such helpless anguish as they feel
Who know that they are weak as well as vile.
I saw, through all his forward promises,
Excuses, prayers, and pledges that were oaths
(What he, poor boaster, thought I could not see),
That he was shorn of will, and that his heart
Was as defenseless as a little child's;--
That underneath his fair good fellowship
He was debauched, and dead in love with sin;--
That love of me had made him what I loved,--
That I could only hold him till the wave
Of some overwhelming impulse should sweep in,
To lift his feet and bear him from my arms.
I felt that morn, when he went trembling forth,
With bloodshot eyes and forehead hot with woe,
That henceforth strife would be 'twixt Hell and me--
The odds against me--for my husband's soul.
Poor dove! Poor Mary! Have you suffered thus?
You had not even pride to keep you up.
Were he my husband, I had left him then--
Not if you had loved as I;
Yet what you know is but a bitter drop
Of the full cup of gall that I have drained.
Had he left me unstained,--had I rebelled
Against the influence by which he sought
To bring me to a compromise with him,--
To make my shrinking soul meet his half way,
It had been better; but he had an art,
When appetite or passion moved in him,
That clothed his sins with fair apologies,
And smoothed the wrinkles of a haggard guilt
With the good-natured hand of charity.
He knew he was a fool, he said, and said again;
But human nature would be what it was,
And life had never zest enough to bear
Too much dilution; those who work like slaves
Must have their days of frolic and of fun.
He doubted whether God would punish sin;
God was, in fact, too good to punish sin;
For sin itself was a compounded thing,
With weakness for its prime ingredient.
And thus he fooled a heart that loved him well;
And it went toward his heart by slow degrees,
Till Virtue seemed a frigid anchorite,
And Vice, a jolly fellow--bad enough,
But not so bad as Christian people think.
This was the cunning work of months--nay, years;
And, meantime, Edward sank from bad to worse.
But he had conquered. Wine was on his board,
Without my protest--with a glass for me!
His boon companions came and went, and made
My home their rendezvous with my consent.
The doughty oath that shocked my ears at first,
The doubtful jest that meant, or might not mean,
That which should set a woman's brow aflame,
Became at last (oh, shame of womanhood!)
A thing to frown at with a covert smile;
Anything to smile at with a decent frown;
A thing to steal a grace from, as I feigned
The innocence of deaf unconsciousness.
And I became a jester. I could jest
In a wild way on sacred things and themes;
And I have thought that in his better moods
My husband shrank with horror from the work
Which he had wrought in me.
I do not know
If, during all these downward-tending years,
Edward kept well his faith with me. I know
He used to tell me, in his boastful way,
How he had broke the hearts of pretty maids.
And that if he were single--well-a-day!
The time was past for thinking upon that!
And I had heart to toss the badinage
Back in his teeth, with pay of kindred coin;
And tell him lies to stir his bestial mirth;
And make my boast of conquests; and pretend
That the true heart I had bestowed on him
Had flown, and left him but an empty hand.
I had some days of pain and penitence.
I saw where all must end. I saw, too well,
Edward was growing idle,--that his form
Was gathering disgustful corpulence,--
That he was going down, and dragging me
To shame and ruin, beggary and death.
But judgment came, and overshadowed us;
And one quick bolt shot from the awful cloud
Severed the tie that bound two worthless lives.
What God hath joined together, God may part:--
Grace, have you thought of that?
You scare me, Mary!
Nay! Do not turn on me with such a look!
Its dread suggestion gives my heart a pang
That stops its painful beating.
Let it pass!
One morn we woke with the first flush of light,
Our windows jarring with the cannonade
That ushered in the nation's festal day.
The village streets were full of men and boys,
And resonant with rattling mimicry
Of the black-throated monsters on the hill,--
A crashing, crepitating war of fire,--
And as we listened to the fitful feud,
Dull detonations came from far away,
Pulsing along the fretted atmosphere,
To tell that in the ruder villages
The day had noisy greeting, as in ours.
I know not why it was, but then, and there,
I felt a sinking sadness, passing tears--
A dark foreboding I could not dissolve,
Nor drive away. But when, next morn, I woke
In the sweet stillness of the Sabbath day,
And found myself alone, I knew that hearts
Which once have been God's temple, and in which
Something divine still lingers, feel the throb
Along the lines that bind them to the Throne
When judgment issues; and, though dumb and blind,
Shudder and faint with prophecies of ill.
How--by what cause--calamity should come,
I could not guess; that it was imminent
Seemed just as certain as the morning's dawn.
We were to have a gala day, indeed.
There were to be processions and parades;
A great oration in a mammoth tent,
With dinner following, and toast and speech
By all the wordy magnates of the town;
A grand balloon ascension afterwards;
And, in the evening, fireworks on the hill.
I knew that drink would flow from morn till night
In a wild maelstrom, circling slow around
The village rim, in bright careering waves,
But growing turbulent, and changed to ink
Around the village center, till, at last,
The whirling, gurgling vortex would engulf
A maddened multitude in drunkenness.
And this was in my thought (the while my heart
Was palpitating with its nameless fear),
As, wrapped in vaguest dreams, and purposeless,
I laced my shoe and gazed upon the sky.
Then strange determination stirred in me;
And, turning sharply on my chair, I said,
"Edward, where'er you go to-day, I go!"
If I had smitten him upon the face,
It had not tingled with a hotter flame.
He turned upon me with a look of hate--
A something worse than anger--and, with oaths,
Raved like a fiend, and cursed me for a fool.
But I was firm; he could not shake my will;
So, through the morning, until afternoon,
He stayed at home, and drank and drank again,
Watching the clock, and pacing up and down,
Until, at length, he came and sat by me,
To try his hackneyed tricks of blandishment.
He had not meant, he said, to give offense;
But women in a crowd were out of place.
He wished to see the aeronauts embark,
And meet some friends; but there would be a throng
Of boys and drunken boors around the car,
And I should not enjoy it; more than this,
The rise would be a finer spectacle
At home than on the ground. I gave assent,
And he went out. Of course, I followed him;
For I had learned to read him, and I knew
There was some precious scheme of sin on foot.
The crowd was heavy, and his form was lost
Quick as it touched the mass; but I pressed on,
Wild shouts and laughter punishing my ears,
Till I could see the bloated, breathing cone,
As if it were some monster of the sky
Caught by a net and fastened to the earth--
A butt for jeers to all the merry mob.
But I was distant still; and if a man
In mad impatience tore a passage from
The crowd that pressed upon him, or a girl,
Frightened or fainting, was allowed escape,
I slid like water to the vacant space,
And thus, by deftly won advances, gained
The stand I coveted.
We waited long;
And as the curious gazers stood and talked
About the diverse currents of the air,
And wondered where the daring voyagers
Would find a landing-place, a young man said,
In words intended for a spicy jest,
A man and woman living in the town
Had taken passage overland for hell!
Then at a distance rose a scattering shout
That fixed the vision of the multitude,
Standing on eager tiptoe, and afar
I saw the crowd give way, and make a path
For the pale heroes of the crazy hour.
Hats were tossed wildly as they struggled on,
And the gap closed behind them, till, at length,
They stood within the ring. Oh, damning sight!
The woman was a painted courtezan;
The man, my husband! I was dumb as death.
My teeth were clenched together like a vise,
And every heavy heart-throb was a chill.
But there I stood, and saw the shame go on.
They took their seats; the signal gun was fired;
The cords were loosed; and then the billowy bulk
Shot toward the zenith!
Never bent the sky
With a more cloudless depth of blue than then;
And, as they rose, I saw his faithless arm
Slide o'er her shoulder, and her dizzy head
Drop on his breast. Then I became insane.
I felt that I was struggling with a dream--
A horrid phantasm I could not shake off.
The hollow sky was swinging like a bell;
The silken monster swinging like its tongue;
And as it reeled from side to side, the roar
Of voices round me rang, and rang again,
Tolling the dreadful knell of my despair.
At the last moment I could trace his form,
Edward leaned over from his giddy seat,
And tossed out something on the air. I saw
The little missive fluttering slowly down,
And stretched my hand to catch it, for I knew,
Or thought I knew, that it would come to me.
And it did come to me--as if it slid
Upon the cord that bound my heart to his--
Strained to its utmost tension--snapped at last.
I marked it as it fell. It was a rose.
I grasped it madly as it struck my hand,
And buried all its thorns within my palm;
But the fierce pain released my prisoned voice,
And, with a shriek, I staggered, swooned, and fell.
That night was brushed from life. A passing friend
Directed those who bore me rudely off;
And I was carried to my home, and laid
Entranced upon my bed. The Sabbath morn
That followed all this din and devilry
Swung noiseless wide its doors of yellow light,
And in the hallowed stillness I awoke.
My heart was still; I could not stir a hand.
I thought that I was dying, or was dead.--
That I had slipped through smooth unconsciousness
Into the everlasting silences.
I could not speak; but winning strength, at last,
I turned my eyes to seek for Edward's face,
And saw an unpressed pillow. He was gone!
I was oppressed with awful sense of loss;
And, as a mother, by a turbid sea
That has engulfed her fairest child, sits down
And moans over the waters, and looks out
With curious despair upon the waves,
Until she marks a lock of floating hair,
And by its threads of gold draws slowly in,
And clasps and presses to her frenzied breast
The form it has no power to warm again,
So I, beside the sea of memory,
Lay feebly moaning, yearning for a clew
By which to reach my own extinguished life.
It came. A burning pain shot through my palm,
And thorns awoke what thorns had put to sleep.
It all came back to me--the roar, the rush,
The upturned faces, the insane hurrahs,
The skyward-shooting spectacle, the shame--
And then I swooned again.
But was he killed?
Did his foolhardy venture end in wreck?
Or did it end in something worse than wreck?
Surely, he came again!
To me, no more.
He had his reasons, and I knew them soon;
But, first, the fire enkindled in my brain
Burnt through long weeks of fever--burnt my frame
Until it lay upon the sheet as white
As the pale ashes of a wasted coal.
Then, when strength came to me, and I could sit,
Braced by the double pillows that were mine,
A kind friend took my hand, and told me all.
The day that Edward left me was the last
He could have been my husband; for the next
Disclosed his infamy and my disgrace.
He was a thief, and had been one, for years,--
Defrauding those whose gold he held in trust;
And he was ruined--ruined utterly.
The very bed I sat on was not his,
Nor mine, except by tender charity.
A guilty secret menacing behind,
A guilty passion burning in his heart,
And, by his side, a guilty paramour,
He seized upon this reckless whim, and fled
From those he knew would curse him ere he slept.
My cup was filled with wormwood; and it grew
Bitter and still more bitter, day by day,
Changing from shame and hate, to stern revenge.
Life had no more for me. My home was lost;
My heart unfitted to return to this;
And, reckless of the future, I went forth--
A woman stricken, maddened, desperate.
I sought the city with as sure a scent
As vultures track a carcass through the air.
I knew him there, delivered up to sin,
And longed to taunt him with his infamy,--
To haunt his haunts; to sting his perjured soul
With sharp reproaches; and to scare his eyes--
With visions of his work upon my face.
But God had other means than my revenge
To humble him, and other thought for me.
I saw him only once; we did not meet;
There was a street between us; yet it seemed
Wide as the unbridged gulf that yawns between
The rich man and the beggar.
'Twas at dawn.
I had arisen from the sleepless bed
Which my scant means had purchased, and gone forth
To taste the air, and cool my burning brow.
I wandered on, not knowing where I went,
Nor caring whither. There were few astir;
The market wagons lumbered slowly in,
Piled high with carcasses of slaughtered lambs,
Baskets of unhusked corn, and mint, and all
The fresh, green things that grow in country fields.
I read the signs--the long and curious names--
And wondered who invented them, and if
Their owners knew how very strange they were.
A corps of weary firemen met me once,
Late home from service, with their gaudy car,
And loud with careless curses. Then I stopped,
And chatted with a frowsy-headed girl
Who knelt among her draggled skirts, and scrubbed
The heel-worn doorsteps of a faded house.
Then, as I left her, and resumed my walk,
I turned my eyes across the street, and saw
A sight which stopped my feet, my breath, my heart.
It was my husband. Oh, how sadly changed!
His bloodshot eyes stared from an anxious face;
His hat was battered, and his clothes were torn
And splashed with mud. His poisoned frame
Had shrunk away, until his garments hung
In folds about him. Then I knew it all:
His life had been a measureless debauch
Since his most shameless flight; and in his eye,
Eager and strained, and peering down the stairs
That tumbled to the anterooms of hell,
I saw the thirst which only death can quench.
He did not raise his eyes; I did not speak;
There was no work for me to do on him;
And when, at last, he tottered down the steps
Of a dark gin-shop, I was satisfied,
And half relentingly retraced my way.
I cannot tell the story of the months
That followed this. I toiled and toiled for bread,
And for the shelter of one stingy room.
Temptation, which the hand of poverty
Bears oft seductively to woman's lips,
To me came not. I hated men like beasts;
Their flattering words, and wicked, wanton leers,
Sickened me with ineffable disgust.
At length there came a change. One warm Spring eve,
As I sat idly dreaming of the past,
And questioning the future, my quick ear
Caught sound of feet upon the creaking stairs,
And a light rap delivered at my door.
I said, "Come in!" with half-defiant voice,
Although I longed to see a human face,
And needed labor for my idle hands.
But when the door was opened, and there stood
A man before me, with an eye as pure
And brow as fair as any little child's,
Matched with a form and carriage which combined
All manly beauty, dignity, and grace,
A quick blush overwhelmed my pallid cheeks,
And, ere I knew, and by no act of will,
I rose and gave him gentle courtesy.
He took a seat, and spoke with pleasant voice
Of many pleasant things--the pleasant sky,
The stars, the opening foliage in the park;
And then he came to business. He would have
A piece of exquisite embroidery;
My hand was cunning if report were true;
Would it oblige him? It would do, I said,
That which it could to satisfy his wish;
And when he took the delicate pattern out,
And spread the dainty fabric on his knees,
I knew he had a wife.
He went away
With kind "Good night," and said that, with my leave,
He'd call and watch the progress of the work.
I marked his careful steps adown the stairs,
And then, his brisk, firm tread upon the pave,
Till in the dull roar of the distant streets
It mingled and was lost. Then I was lost,--
Lost in a wild, wide-ranging reverie--
From which I roused not till the midnight hush
Was broken by the toll from twenty towers.
This is a man, I said; a man in truth;
My room has known the presence of a man,
And it has gathered dignity from him.
I felt my being flooded with new life.
My heart was warm; my poor, sore-footed thoughts
Sprang up full fledged through ether; and I felt
Like the sick woman who had touched the hem
Of Jesus' garment, when through all her veins
Leaped the swift tides of youth.
He had a wife!
Why, to a wrecked, forsaken thing like me
Did that thought bring a pang? I did not know;
But, truth to tell, it gave me stinging pain.
If he was noble, he was naught to me;
If he was great, it only made me less;
If he loved truly, I was not enriched.
So, in my selfishness, I almost cursed
The unknown woman, thought for whom had brought
Her loving husband to me. What was I
To him? Naught but a poor unfortunate,
Picking her bread up at a needle's point.
He'll come and criticise my handiwork,
I said, and when it is at last complete,
He'll draw his purse and give me so much gold;
And then, forgetting me for ever, go
And gather fragrant kisses for the boon,
From lips that do not know their privilege.
I could be nothing but the medium
Through which his love should pass to reach its shrine;
The glass through which the sun's electric beams
Kindles the rose's heart, and still remains
Chill and serene itself--without reward!
Then came to me the thought of my great wrong.
A man had spoiled my heart, degraded me;
A wanton woman had defrauded me;
I would get reparation how I could!
He must be something to me--I to him!
All men, however good, are weak, I thought;
And if I can arrest no beam of love
By right of nature or by leave of law,
I'll stain the glass! And the last words I said,
As I lay down upon my bed to dream,
Were those four words of sin: "I'll stain the glass!"
Mary, I cannot hear you more; your tale,
So bitter and so passing pitiful
I have forgotten tears, and feel my eyes
Burn dry and hot with looking at your face,
Now gathers blackness, and grows horrible.
Nay, you must hear me out; I cannot pause;
And have no worse to say than I have said--
Thank God, and him who put away my toils!
He came, and came again; and every charm
God had bestowed on me, or art could frame,
I used with keenest ingenuities
To fascinate the sensuous element
O'er which, mistrusted, and but half asleep,
His conscience and propriety stood guard.
I told with tears the story of my woe;
He listened to me with a thoughtful face,
And sadly sighed; and thus I won his ruth,
And then I told him how my life was lost;--
How earth had nothing more for me but pain;
Not e'en a friend. At this, he took my hand,
And said, out of his nobleness of heart,
That I should have an honest friend in him;
On which I bowed my head upon his arm,
And wept again, as if my heart would break
With the full pressure of his gratitude.
He put me gently off, and read my face:
I stood before him hopeless, helpless, his!
His swift soul gathered what I meant it should.
He sighed and trembled; then he crossed the floor,
And gazed with eye abstracted on the sky;
Then came and looked at me; then turned,
As if affrighted at his springing thoughts,
And, with abruptest movement, left the room.
This time he took with him the broidered thing
That I had wrought for him; and when I oped
The little purse that he rewarded me,
I found full golden payment five times told.
Given for pity? thought I,--that alone?
Is manly pity so munificent?
Pity has mixtures that it knows not of!
It was a cruel triumph, and I speak
Of it with utter penitence and shame.
I knew that he would come again; I knew
His feet would bring him, though his soul rebelled;
I knew that cheated heart of his would toy
With the seductive chains that gave it thrall,
And strive to reconcile its perjury
With its own conscience of the better way,
By fabrication of apologies
It knew were false.
And he did come again;
Confessing a strange interest in me,
And doing for me many kindly deeds.
I knew the nature of the sympathy
That drew him to my side, better than he;
Though I could see that solemn change in him
Which every face will wear, when Heaven and Hell
Are struggling in the heart for mastery.
He was unhappy; every sudden sound
Startled his apprehensions; from his heart
Rose heavy suspirations, charged with prayer,
Desire, and deprecation, and remorse;--
Sighs like volcanic breathings--sighs that scorched
His parching lips and spread his face with ashes,--
Sighs born in such convulsions of the soul
That his strong frame quaked like Vesuvius,
Burdened with restless lava.
Day by day
I marked this dalliance with sinful thought,
Without a throb of pity in my heart.
I took his gifts, which brought immunity
From toil and care, as if they were my right.
Day after day I saw my power increase,
Until that noble spirit was a slave--
A craven, helpless, self-suspected slave.
But this was not to last--thank God and him!
One night he came, and there had been a change.
My hand was kindly taken, but not held
In the way wonted. He was self-possessed;
The powers of darkness and his Christian heart
Had had a struggle--his the victory;
And on his manly brow the benison
Of a majestic peace had been imposed.
Was I to lose the guerdon of my guile?
He was my all, and by the only means
Left to a helpless, reckless thing, like me:
My heart made pledge the strife should be renewed.
I took no notice of his altered mood,
But strove, by all the tricks of tenderness,
To fan to life again the drooping flame
Within his heart;--with what success, at last,
The sequel shall reveal.
Strange fire came down
Responsive to my call, and the quick flash
That shriveled resolution, vanquished will,
And with a blood-red flame consumed the crown
Of peace upon his brow, taught him how weak--
How miserably imbecile--he had become,
Tampering with temptation. Such a groan,
Wrung from such agony, as then he breathed,
Pray Heaven my ears may never hear again!
He smote his forehead with his rigid palm,
And sank, as if the blow had stunned him, to his knees,
And there, with face pressed hard upon his hands
Gave utterance to frenzied sobs and prayers--
The wild articulations of despair.
I was confounded. He--a man--thought I,
Blind with remorse by simple look at sin!
And I--a woman--in the devil's hands,
Luring him Hellward with no blush of shame!
The thought came swift from God, and pierced my heart,
Like a barbed arrow; and it quivered there
Through whiles of tumult--quivered--and was fast.
Thus, while I stood and marked his kneeling form,
Still shocked by deep convulsions, such a light
Illumed my soul, and flooded all the room,
That, without thought, I said, "The Lord is here!"
Then straight my spirit heard these wondrous words:
"Tempted in all points like ourselves, was He--
Tempted, but sinless." Oh, what majesty
Of meaning did those precious words convey!
'Twas through temptation, thought I, that the Lord--
The mediator between God and men--
Reached down the hand of sympathetic love
To meet the grasp of lost Humanity;
And this man, kneeling, has the Lord in him,
And comes to mediate 'twixt Christ and me,
"Tempted, but sinless;"--one hand grasping mine,
The other Christ's.
Why had he suffered thus?
Why had his heart been led far down to mine,
To beat in sinful sympathy with mine,
But that my heart should cling to his and him,
And follow his withdrawal to the heights
From whence he had descended? Then I learned
Why Christ was tempted; and, as broad and full,
The heart of the great secret was revealed,
And I perceived God's dealings with my soul,
I knelt beside the tortured man and wept,
And cried to Heaven for mercy. As I prayed,
My soul cast off its shameful enterprise;
And when it fell, I saw my godless self--
My own degraded, tainted, guilty heart,
Which it had hidden from me. Oh, the pang--
The poignant throe of uttermost despair--
That followed the discovery! I felt
That I was lost beyond the grace of God;
And my heart turned with instinct sure and swift
To the strong struggler, praying at my side,
And begged his succor and his prayers. I felt
That he must lead me up to where the hand
Of Jesus could lay hold on me, or I was doomed.
Temptation's spell was past. He took my hand.
And, as he prayed that we might be forgiven,
And pledged our future loyalty to God
And His white throne within our hearts, I gave
Responses to each promise; then I crowned
His closing utterance with such Amen
As weak hearts, conscious of their weakness, give
When, bowed to dust, and clinging to the robes
Of outraged mercy, they devote themselves
Once and for ever to the pitying Christ.
Then we arose and stood upon our feet.
He gave me no reproaches, but with voice
Attempered to his altered mood, confessed
His own blameworthiness, and pressed the prayer
That I would pardon him, as he believed
That God had pardoned; but my heart was full,--
So full of its sore sense of wrong to him,
Of the deep guilt of shameful purposes
And treachery to worthy womanhood,
That I could not repeat his Christian words,
Asking forbearance on my own behalf.
He sat before me for a golden hour;
And gave me counsel and encouragement,
Till, like broad gates, the possibilities
Of a serener and a higher life
Were thrown wide open to my eager feet,
And I resolved that I would enter in,
And, with God's gracious help, go no more out.
For weeks he watched me with stern carefulness,
Nourished my resolution, prayed with me,
And led me, step by step, to higher ground,
Till, gathering impulse in the upward walk,
And strength in purer air, and keener sight
In the sweet light that dawned upon my soul,
I grasped the arm of Jesus, and was safe.
And now, when I look back upon my life,
It seems as if that noble man were sent
To give me rescue from the pit of death.
But from his distant height he could not reach
And act upon my soul; so Heaven allowed
Temptation's ladder 'twixt his soul and mine
That they might meet and yield his mission thrift.
I doubt not in my grateful soul to-night
That had he stayed within his higher world,
And tried to call me to him, I had spurned
Alike his mission and his ministry.
That he was tempted, was at once my sin
And my salvation. That he sinned in thought,
And fiercely wrestled with temptation, won
For his own spirit that humility
Which God had sought to clothe him with in vain,
By other measures, and that strength which springs
From a great conflict and a victory.
We talked of this; and on our bended knees
We blessed the Great Dispenser for the means
By which we both had learned our sinful selves,
And found the way to a diviner life.
So, with my chastened heart and life, I come
Back to my home, to live--perhaps to die.
God's love has been in all this discipline;
God's love has used those awful sins of mine
To make me good and happy. I can mourn
Over my husband; I can pray for him,
Nay, I forgive him; for I know the power
With which temptation comes to stronger men.
I know the power with which it came to me.
And now, dear Grace, my story is complete.
You have received it with dumb wonderment,
And it has been too long. Tell me what thought
Stirs in your face, and waits for utterance.
That I have suffered little--trusted less;
That I have failed in charity, and been
Unjust to all men--specially to one.
I did not think there lived a man on earth
Who had such virtue as this friend of yours,--
Weak, and yet strong. 'Twas but humanity
To give him pity in his awful strife;
To stint the meed of reverence and praise
For his triumphant conquest of himself,
Were infamy. I love and honor him;
And if I knew my husband were as strong,
I could fall down before, and worship him;
I could fall down, and wet his feet with tears--
Tears penitential for the grievous wrong
That I have done him. But alas! alas!
The thought comes back again. O God in heaven!
Help me with patience to await the hour
When the great purpose of thy discipline
Shall be revealed, and, like this chastened one,
I can behold it, and be satisfied.
Hark! They are calling us below, I think.
We must go down. We'll talk of this again
When we have leisure. Kiss the little one,
And thank his weary brain it sleeps so well.
* * * * *
PRESENT--JOSEPH, SAMUEL, REBEKAH, _and other_
* * * * *
THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY STORY.
Have we not had "Button-Button" enough,
And "Forfeits," and all such silly stuff?
Well, we were playing "Blind-Man's-Buff"
Until you fell, and rose in a huff,
And declared the game was too rude and rough.
Poor boy! What a pity he isn't tough!
Ha! ha! ha! what a pretty boy!
Papa's delight, and mamma's joy!
Wouldn't he like to go to bed,
And have a cabbage-leaf on his head?
Laugh, if you like to! Laugh till you're gray;
But I guess you'd laugh another way
If you'd hit your toe, and fallen like me,
And cut a bloody gash in your knee,
And bumped your nose and bruised your shin,
Tumbling over the rolling-pin
That rolled to the floor in the awful din
That followed the fall of the row of tin
That stood upon the dresser.
Guess again--dear little guesser!
You wouldn't catch this boy lopping his wing,
Or whining over anything.
So stir your stumps,
Forget your bumps,
Get out of your dumps,
And up and at it again;
For the clock is striking ten,
And Ruth will come pretty soon and say,
"Go to your beds
You sleepy heads!"
So--quick! What shall we play?
I wouldn't play any more,
For Joseph is tired and sore
With his fall upon the floor.
Then he shall tell a story.
About old Mother Morey?
No! Tell us another.
About my brother?
Now, Joseph, you shall be good,
And do as you'd be done by;
We didn't mean to be rude
When you fell and began to cry:
We wanted to make you forget your pain;
But it frets you, and we'll not laugh again.
Well, if you'll all sit still,
And not be frisking about,
Nor utter a whisper till
You've heard my story out,
I'll tell you a tale as weird
As ever you heard in your lives,
Of a man with a long blue beard,
And the way he treated his wives.
Oh, that will be nice!
We'll be still as mice.
[_Relates the old story of Blue Beard, and_
DAVID, _and_ RUTH _enter from the cellar
Centuries since there flourished a man,
(A cruel old Tartar as rich as the Khan),
Whose castle was built on a splendid plan,
With gardens and groves and plantations;
But his shaggy beard was as blue as the sky,
And he lived alone, for his neighbors were shy.
And had heard hard stories, by the by,
About his domestic relations.
Just on the opposite side of the plain
A widow abode, with her daughters twain;
And one of them--neither cross nor vain--
Was a beautiful little treasure;
So he sent them an invitation to tea,
And having a natural wish to see
His wonderful castle and gardens, all three
Said they'd do themselves the pleasure.
As soon as there happened a pleasant day,
They dressed themselves in a sumptuous way,
And rode to the castle as proud and gay
As silks and jewels could make them;
And they were received in the finest style,
And saw everything that was worth their while,
In the halls of Blue Beard's grand old pile,
Where he was so kind as to take them.
The ladies were all enchanted quite;
For they found old Blue Beard so polite
That they did not suffer at all from fright,
And frequently called thereafter;
Then he offered to marry the younger one,
And as she was willing the thing was done,
And celebrated by all the ton
With feasting and with laughter.
As kind a husband as ever was seen
Was Blue Beard then, for a month, I ween;
And she was as proud as any queen,
And as happy as she could be, too;
But her husband called her to him one day,
And said, "My dear, I am going away;
It will not be long that I shall stay;
There is business for me to see to.
"The keys of my castle I leave with you;
But if you value my love, be true,
And forbear to enter the Chamber of Blue!
Farewell, Fatima! Remember!"
Fatima promised him; then she ran
To visit the rooms with her sister Ann;
But when she had finished the tour, she began
To think about the Blue Chamber.
Well, the woman was curiously inclined,
So she left her sister and prudence behind,
(With a little excuse) and started to find
The mystery forbidden.
She paused at the door;--all was still as night!
She opened it: then through the dim, blue light
There blistered her vision the horrible sight
That was in that chamber hidden.
The room was gloomy and damp and wide,
And the floor was red with the bloody tide
From headless women, laid side by side,
The wives of her lord and master!
Frightened and fainting, she dropped the key,
But seized it and lifted it quickly; then she
Hurried as swiftly as she could flee
From the scene of the disaster.
She tried to forget the terrible dead,
But shrieked when she saw that the key was red,
And sickened and shook with an awful dread
When she heard Blue Beard was coming.
He did not appear to notice her pain;
But he took his keys, and seeing the stain,
He stopped in the middle of the refrain
That he had been quietly humming.
"Mighty well, madam!" said he, "mighty well!
What does this little bloodstain tell?
You've broken your promise; prepare to dwell
With the wives I've had before you!
You've broken your promise, and you shall die."
Then Fatima, supposing her death was nigh,
Fell on her knees and began to cry,
"Have mercy, I implore you!"
"No!" shouted Blue Beard, drawing his sword;
"You shall die this very minute," he roared.
"Grant me time to prepare to meet my Lord,"
The terrified woman entreated.
"Only ten minutes," he roared again;
And holding his watch by its great gold chain,
He marked on the dial the fatal ten,
And retired till they were completed.
"Sister, oh, sister, fly up to the tower!
Look for release from this murderer's power!
Our brothers should be here this very hour;--
Speak! Does there come assistance?"
"No. I see nothing but sheep on the hill."
"Look again, sister!" "I'm looking still,
But naught can I see, whether good or ill,
Save a flurry of dust in the distance."
"Time's up!" shouted Blue Beard, out from his room;
"This moment shall witness your terrible doom,
And give you a dwelling within the room
Whose secrets you have invaded."
"Comes there no help for my terrible need?"
"There are horsemen twain riding hither with speed."
"Oh! tell them to ride very fast indeed,
Or I must meet death unaided."
"Time's fully up! Now have done with your prayer,"
Shouted Blue Beard, swinging his sword on the stair;
Then he entered, and grasping her beautiful hair,
Swung his glittering weapon around him;
But a loud knock rang at the castle gate,
And Fatima was saved from her horrible fate,
For, shocked with surprise, he paused too late;
And then the two soldiers found him.
They were her brothers, and quick as they knew
What the fiend was doing, their swords they drew,
And attacked him fiercely, and ran him through,
So that soon he was mortally wounded.
With a wild remorse was his conscience filled
When he thought of the hapless wives he had killed;
But quickly the last of his blood was spilled,
And his dying groan was sounded.
As soon as Fatima recovered from fright,
She embraced her brothers with great delight;
And they were as glad and as grateful quite
As she was glad and grateful.
Then they all went out from that scene of pain,
And sought in quietude to regain
Their minds, which had come to be quite insane,
In a place so horrid and hateful.
'Twas a private funeral Blue Beard had;
For the people knew he was very bad,
And, though they said nothing, they all were glad
For the fall of the evil-doer;
But Fatima first ordered some graves to be made,
And there the unfortunate ladies were laid,
And after some painful months, with the aid
Of her friends, her spirits came to her.
Then she cheered the hearts of the suffering poor,
And an acre of land around each door
And a cow and a couple of sheep, or more,
To her tenantry she granted.
So all of them had enough to eat,
And their love for her was so complete
They would kiss the dust from her little feet,
Or do anything she wanted.
Capital! Capital! Wasn't it good!
I should like to have been her brother;
If I had been one, you may guess there would
Have been little work for the other.
I'd have run him right through the heart, just so;
And cut off his head at a single blow,
And killed him so quickly he'd never know
What it was that struck him, wouldn't I, Joe?
You are very brave with your bragging tongue;
But if you had been there, you'd have sung
A very different tune
Poor Blue Beard! He would have been afraid
Of a little boy with a penknife blade,
Or a tiny pewter spoon!
It makes no difference what you say
(Pretty little boy, afraid to play!)
But it served him rightly any way,
And gave him just his due.
And wasn't it good that his little wife
Should live in his castle the rest of her life,
And have all his money, too?
I'm thinking of the ladies who
Were lying in the Chamber Blue,
With all their small necks cut in two.
I see them lying, half a score,
In a long row upon the floor,
Their cold, white bosoms marked with gore.
I know the sweet Fatima would
Have put their heads on if she could;
And made them live--she was so good;
And washed their faces at the sink;
But Blue Beard was not sane, I think:
I wonder if he did not drink!
For no man in his proper mind
Would be so cruelly inclined
As to kill ladies who were kind.
[_Stepping forward with_ DAVID.]
Story and comment alike are bad;
These little fellows are raving mad
With thinking what they should do,
Supposing their sunny-eyed sister had
Given her heart--and her head--to a lad
Like the man with the Beard of Blue.
Each little jacket
Is now a packet
Of murderous thoughts and fancies;
Oh, the gentle trade
By which fiends are made
With the ready aid
Of these bloody old romances!
And the little girl takes the woman's turn,
And thinks that the old curmudgeon
Who owned the castle, and rolled in gold
Over fields and gardens manifold,
And kept in his house a family tomb,
With his bowling course and his billiard-room,
Where he could preserve his precious dead,
Who took the kiss of the bridal bed
From one who straightway took their head,
And threw it away with the pair of gloves
In which he wedded his hapless loves,
Had some excuse for his dudgeon.
We learn by contrast to admire
The beauty that enchains us;
And know the object of desire
By that which pains us.
The roses blushing at the door,
The lapse of leafy June,
The singing birds, the sunny shore,
The summer moon;--
All these entrance the eye or ear
By innate grace and charm;
But o'er them, reaching through the year,
Hangs Winter's arm.
To give to memory the sign,
The index of our bliss,
And show by contrast how divine
The Summer is.
From chilling blasts and stormy skies,
Bare hills and icy streams,
Touched into fairest life arise
Our summer dreams.
And virtue never seems so fair
As when we lift our gaze
From the red eyes and bloody hair
That vice displays.
We are too low,--our eyes too dark
Love's height to estimate,
Save as we note the sunken mark
Of brutal Hate.
So this ensanguined tale shall move
Aright each little dreamer,
And Blue Beard teach them how to love
The sweet Fatima.
They hate his crimes, and it is well;
They pity those who died;
Their sense of justice when he fell
No fierce revenges are the fruit
Of their just indignation;
They sit in judgment on the brute,
And turn to her, his rescued wife,
Her deeds so kind and human,
And love the beauty of her life,
And bless the woman.
That is the way I supposed you would twist it;
And now that the boys are disposed of,
And the moral so handsomely closed off,
What do you say of the girl? That she missed
When she thought of old Blue Beard as some do of Judas,
Who with this notion essay to delude us:
That when he relented,
And fiercely repented,
He was hardly so bad
As he commonly had
The fortune to be represented?
The noblest pity in the earth
Is that bestowed on sin.
The Great Salvation had its birth
That ruth within.
The girl is nearest God, in fact;
The boy gives crime its due;
She blames the author of the act,
And pities too.
Thus, from this strange excess of wrong
Her tender heart has caught
The noblest truth, the sweetest song,
The Saviour taught.
So, more than measured homily,
Of sage, or priest, or preacher,
Is this wild tale of cruelty
Love's gentle teacher.
It tells of sin, its deep remorse,
Its fitting recompense,
And vindicates the tardy course
These boyish bosoms are on fire
With chivalric possession,
And burn with just and manly ire
The glory and the grace of life,
And Love's surpassing sweetness,
Rise from the monster to the wife
In high completeness;
And thence look down with mercy's eye
On sin's accurst abuses,
And seek to wrest from charity
Some fair excuses.
These greedy mouths are watering
For the fruit within the basket;
And, although they will not ask it,
Their jack-knives all are burning
And their eager hands are yearning
For the peeling and the quartering.
So let us have done with our talk;
For they are too tired to say their prayers,
And the time is come they should walk
From the story below to the story upstairs.
THE THIRD MOVEMENT.
PRESENT.-DAVID, RUTH, JOHN, PETER, PRUDENCE,
THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY THE
Since the old gentleman retired to bed,
Things have gone strangely. David, here, and Ruth,
Have wasted thirty minutes underground
In explorations. One would think the house
Covered the entrance of the Mammoth Cave,
And they had lost themselves. Mary and Grace
Still hold their chamber and their conference,
And pour into each other's greedy ears
Their stream of talk, whose low monotonous hum,
Would lull to slumber any storm but this.
The children are play-tired and gone to bed;
And one may know by looking round the room
Their place of sport was here. And we, plain folk,
Who have no gift of speech, especially
On themes which we and none may understand,
Have yawned and nodded in the great square room,
And wondered if the parted family
Would ever meet again.
John, do you see
The apples and the cider on the hearth?
If I remember rightly, you discuss
Such themes as these with noticeable zest
And pleasant tokens of intelligence;
Rather preferring scanty company
To the full circle. So, sir, take the lead,
And help yourself.
Aye! That I will, and give
Your welcome invitation currency,
In the old-fashioned way. Come! Help yourselves!
[_Looking out from the window_.]
The ground is thick with sleet, and still it falls!
The atmosphere is plunging like the sea
Against the woods, and pouring on the night
The roar of breakers, while the blinding spray
O'erleaps the barrier, and comes drifting on
In lines as level as the window-bars.
What curious visions, in a night like this,
Will the eye conjure from the rocks and trees
And zigzag fences! I was almost sure
I saw a man staggering along the road
A moment since; but instantly the shape
Dropped from my sight. Hark! Was not that a call--
A human voice? There's a conspiracy
Between my eyes and ears to play me tricks,
Else wanders there abroad some hapless soul
Who needs assistance. There he stands again,
And with unsteady essay strives to breast
The tempest. Hush! Did you not hear that cry?
Quick, brothers! We must out, and give our aid.
None but a dying and despairing man
Ever gave utterance to a cry like that.
Nay, wait for nothing. Follow me!
Who can he be, who on a night like this,
And on this night, of all nights in the year,
Holds to the highway, homeless?
Some neighbor, started from his home in quest
Of a physician; or, more likely still,
Some poor inebriate, sadly overcome
By his sad keeping of the holiday.
I hope they'll give him quarters in the barn;
If he sleep here, there'll be no sleep for me.
I'll not believe it was a man at all;
David and Ruth are always seeing things
That no one else sees.
I see plainly now
What we shall all see plainly, soon enough.
The man is dead, and they are bearing him
As if he were a log. Quick! Stir the fire,
And clear the settle! We must lay him there.
I will bring cordials, and flannel stuffs
With which to chafe him; open wide the door.
[_The men enter bearing a body apparently
lifeless, which they lay upon the settle.]
Now do my bidding, orderly and swift;
And we may save from death a fellow-man.
Peter, relieve him of those frozen shoes,
And wrap his feet in flannel. This way, Ruth!
Administer that cordial yourself.
John, you are strong, and that rough hand of yours
Will chafe him well. Work with a will, I say!
* * * * *
My hand is on his heart, and I can feel
Both warmth and motion. If we persevere,
He will be saved. Work with a will, I say!
* * * * *
A groan? Ha! That is good. Another groan?
Better and better!
It is down at last!--
A spoonful of the cordial. His breath
Comes feebly, but is warm upon my hand.
Give him brisk treatment, and persistent, too;
And we shall be rewarded presently,
For there is life in him.
* * * * *
He moves his lips
And tries to speak.
* * * * *
And now he opes his eyes.
What eyes! How wandering and wild they are!
[_To the stranger_.]
We are your friends. We found you overcome
By the cold storm without, and brought you in.
We are your friends, I say; so be at ease,
And let us do according to your need.
What is your wish?
My friends? O God in Heaven!
They've cheated me! I'm in the hospital.
Oh, it was cruel to deceive me thus!
No, you are not my friends. What bitter pain
Racks my poor body!
Poor man, how he raves!
Let us be silent while the warmth and wine
Provoke his sluggish blood to steady flow,
And each dead sense comes back to life again,
O'er the same path of torture which it trod
When it went out from him. He'll slumber soon,
And, when he wakens, we may talk with him.
Shall I not call the family? I think
Mary and Grace must both be very cold;
And they know nothing of this strange affair.
I'll wait them at the landing, and secure
Their silent entrance.
If it please you--well.
[PRUDENCE _retires, and returns with_
GRACE _and_ MARY.]
Why! We heard nothing of it--Grace and I:--
What a cadaverous hand! How blue and thin!
At his first wild awaking he bemoaned
His fancied durance in a hospital;
And since he spoke so strangely, I have thought
He may have fled a mad-house. Matters not!
We've done our duty, and preserved his life.
Shall I disturb him if I look at him?
I'm strangely curious to see his face.
Go. Move you carefully, and bring us word
Whether he sleeps.
[MARY _rises, goes to the settle, and sinks
back fainting _]
Why! What ails the girl?
I thought her nerves were iron. Dash her brow,
And bathe her temples!
There--there,--that will do.
'Tis over now.
The man is speaking. Hush!
Oh, what a heavenly dream! But it is past,
Like all my heavenly dreams, for never more
Shall dream entrance me. Death has never dreams,
But everlasting wakefulness. The eye
Of the quick spirit that has dropped the flesh
May close no more in slumber.
* * * * *
I must die!
This painless spell which binds my weary limbs--
This peace ineffable of soul and sense--
Is dissolution's herald, and gives note
That life is conquered and the struggle o'er.
But I had hoped to see her ere I died;
To kneel for pardon, and implore one kiss,
Pledge to my soul that in the coming heaven
We should not meet as strangers, but rejoin
Our hearts and lives so madly sundered here,
Through fault and freak of mine. But it is well!
God's will be done!
* * * * *
I dreamed that I had reached
The old red farmhouse,--that I saw the light
Flaming as brightly as in other times
It flushed the kitchen windows; and that forms
Were sliding to and fro in joyous life,
Restless to give me welcome. Then I dreamed
Of the dear woman who went out with me
One sweet spring morning, in her own sweet spring,
To--wretchedness and ruin. Oh, forgive--
Dear, pitying Christ, forgive this cruel wrong,
And let me die! Oh let me--let me die!
Mary! my Mary! Could you only know
How I have suffered since I fled from you.--
How I have sorrowed through long months of pain,
And prayed for pardon,--you would pardon me.
Mary, what means this? Does he dream alone,
Or are we dreaming?
Edward, I am here!
I am your Mary! Know you not my face?
My husband, speak to me! Oh, speak once more!
This is no dream, but kind reality.
[_Raising himself, and looking wildly around_.]
You, Mary? Is this heaven, and am I dead?
I did not know you died: when did you die?
And John and Peter, Grace and little Ruth
Grown to a woman; are they all with you?
'Tis very strange! O pity me, my friends!
For God has pitied me, and pardoned, too;
Else I should not be here. Nay, you seem cold,
And look on me with sad severity.
Have you no pardoning word--no smile for me?
This is not Heaven's, but Earth's reality;
This is the farm-house--these your wife and friends.
I hold your hand, and I forgive you all.
Pray you recline! You are not strong enough
To bear this yet.
O toiling heart! O sick and sinking heart!
Give me one hour of service, ere I die!
This is no dream. This hand is precious flesh,
And I am here where I have prayed to be.
My God, I thank thee! Thou hast heard my prayer,
And, in its answer, given me a pledge
Of the acceptance of my penitence.
How have I yearned for this one priceless hour!
Cling to me, dearest, while my feet go down
Into the silent stream; nor loose your hold,
Till angels grasp me on the other side.
Edward, you are not dying--must not die;
For only now are we prepared to live.
You must have quiet, and a night of rest.
Be silent, if you love me!
If I love?
Ah, Mary! never till this blessed hour,
When power and passion, lust and pride are gone,
Have I perceived what wedded love may be;--
Unutterable fondness, soul for soul;
Profoundest tenderness between two hearts
Allied by nature, interlocked by life.
I know that I shall die; but the low clouds
That closed my mental vision have retired,
And left a sky as clear and calm as Heaven.
I must talk now, or never more on earth;
So do not hinder me.
Have you a wish
That I can gratify? Have you any words
To send to other friends?
I have no friends
But you and these, and only wish to leave
My worthless name and memory redeemed
Within your hearts to pitying respect.
I have no strength, and it becomes me not,
To tell the story of my life of sin.
I was a drunkard, thief, adulterer;
And fled from shame, with shame, to find remorse.
I had but few months of debauchery,
Pursued with mad intent to damp or drown
The flames of a consuming conscience, when
My body, poisoned, crippled with disease,
Refused the guilty service of my soul,
And at midday fell prone upon the street.
Thence I was carried to a hospital,
And there I woke to that delirium
Which none but drunkards this side of the pit
May even dream of.
But at last there came,
With abstinence and kindly medicines,
Release from pain and peaceful sanity;
And then Christ found me, ready for His hand.
I was not ready for Him when He came
And asked me for my youth; and when He knocked
At my heart's door in manhood's early prime
With tenderest monitions, I debarred
His waiting feet with promise and excuse;
And when, in after years, absorbed in sin,
The gentle summons swelled to thunderings
That echoed through the chambers of my soul
With threats of vengeance, I shut up my ears;
And then He went away, and let me rush
Without arrest, or protest, toward the pit.
I made swift passage downward, till, at length,
I had become a miserable wreck--
Pleasure behind me; only pain before;
My life lived out; the fires of passion dead,
Without a friend; no pride, no power, no hope;
No motive in me e'en to wish for life.
Then, as I said, Christ came, with stern and sad
Reminders of His mercy and my guilt,
And the door fell before Him.
I went out,
And trod the wildernesses of remorse
For many days. Then from their outer verge,
Tortured and blinded, I plunged madly down
Into the sullen bosom of despair;
But strength from Heaven was given me, and preserved
Breath in my bosom, till a light streamed up
Upon the other shore, and I struck out
On the cold waters, struggling for my life.
Fainting I reached the beach, and on my knees
Climbed up the thorny hill of penitence,
Till I could see, upon its distant brow,
The Saviour beck'ning. Then I ran--I flew--
And grasped His outstretched hand. It lifted me
High on the everlasting rock, and then
It folded me, with all my griefs and tears,
My sin-sick body and my guilt-stained soul,
To the great heart that throbs for all the world.
Dear Lord, I bless Thee! Thou hast heard my prayer,
And saved the wanderer! Hear it once again,
And lengthen out the life Thou hast redeemed!
Mary, my wife, forbear! I may not give
Response to such petition. I have prayed
That I may die. When first the love Divine
Received me on its bosom, and in mine
I felt the springing of another life,
I begged the Lord to grant me two requests:
The first that I might die, and in that world
Where passion sleeps, and only influence
From Him and those who cluster at His throne
Breathes on the soul, the germ of His great life,
Bursting within me, might be perfected.
The second, that your life, my love, and mine
Might be once more united on the earth
In holy marriage, and that mine might be
Breathed out at last within your loving arms.
One prayer is granted, and the other waits
But a brief space for its accomplishment.
But why this prayer to die? Still loving me,--
With the great motive for desiring life
And the deep secret of enjoyment won,--
Why pray for death?
Do you not know me, Mary?
I am afraid to live, for I am weak.
I've found a treasure only life can steal;
I've won a jewel only death will keep.
In such a heart as mine, the priceless pearl
Would not be safe. That which I would not take
When health was with me,--which I spurned away
So long as I had power to sin, I fear
Would be surrendered with that power's return
And the temptation to its exercise.
For soul like mine, diseased in every part,
There is but one condition in which grace
May give it service. For my malady
The Great Physician draws the blood away
That only flows to feed its baleful fires;
For only thus the balsam and the balm
May touch the springs of healing.
So I pray
To be delivered from myself,--to be
Delivered from necessity of ill,--
To be secured from bringing harm to you.
Oh, what a boon is death to the sick soul!
I greet it with a joy that passes speech.
Were the whole world to come before me now,--
Wealth with its treasures; Pleasure with its cup;
Power robed in purple; Beauty in its pride,
And with Love's sweetest blossoms garlanded;
Fame with its bays, and Glory with its crown,--
To tempt me lifeward, I would turn away,
And stretch my hands with utter eagerness
Toward the pale angel waiting for me now,
And give my hand to him, to be led out,
Serenely singing, to the land of shade.
Edward, I yield you. I would not retain
One who has strayed so long from God and heaven,
When his weak feet have found the only path
Open for such as he.
My strength recedes;
But ere it fail, tell me how fares your life.
You have seen sorrow; but it comforts me
To hear the language of a chastened soul
From one perverted by my guilty hand.
You speak the dialect of the redeemed--
The Heaven-accepted. Tell me it is so,
And you are happy.
With sweet hope and trust
I may reply, 'tis as you think and wish.
I have seen sorrow, surely, and the more
That I have seen what was far worse; but God
Sent His own servant to me to restore
My sadly straying feet to the sure path;
And in my soul I have the pledge of grace
Which shall suffice to keep them there.
You found a friend; and my o'erflowing heart,
Welling with gratitude, pours out to him
For his kind ministry its fitting meed.
Oh, breathe his name to me, that my poor lips
May bind it to a benison, and that,
While dying, I may whisper it with those--
Jesus and Mary--which I love the best.
Name him, I pray you.
You would ask of me
To bear your thanks to him, and to rehearse
Your dying words?
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