The Mistress of the Manse
J. G. Holland
Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Al Haines
THE MISTRESS OF THE MANSE
J. G. HOLLAND
SCRIBNER, ARMSTRONG & CO
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by
SCRIBNER, ARMSTRONG & CO.,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
JOHN V. TROW & SON,
PRINTERS AND BOOKBINDERS,
205-213 East 12th St.,
A fluttering bevy left the gate
With hurried steps, and sped away;
And then a coach with drooping freight,
Wrapped in its film of dusty gray,
Stopped; and the pastor and his mate
Stepped forth, and passed the waiting door,
And closed it on the gazing street.
"Oh Philip!" She could say no more.
"Oh Mildred! You're at home, my sweet,--
The old life closed: the new before!"
"Dinah, the mistress!" And the maid,
Grown motherly with household care
And loving service, and arrayed
In homely neatness, took the pair
Of small gloved hands held out, and paid
Her low obeisance; then--"this way!"
And when she brought her forth at last,
To him who grudged the long delay,
He found the soil of travel cast,
And Mildred fresh and fair as May.
"This is our little Manse," he said.
"Now look with both your curious eyes
Around, above and overhead,
And seeing all things, realize
That they are ours, and we are wed!
"Walk through these freshly garnished rooms--
These halls of oak and tinted pearl--
And mark the cups of clover-blooms,
Cut fresh, to greet the stranger-girl,
By those whose kindliness illumes
The house beyond the grace of flowers!
They greet you, mantled by my name,
And rain their tenderness in showers,--
Responding to the double claim
Of love no longer mine, but ours.
"This is our parlor, plain and sweet:
Your hands shall make it half divine.
That wide, old-fashioned window-seat
Beneath your touch shall grow a shrine;
And every nooklet and retreat,
And every barren ledge and shelf,
Shall wear a charm beyond the boon
Of treasure-bearing drift, or delf,
Or dreams that flutter from the moon;
For it shall blossom with yourself.
"This is my study: here, alone,
Prayerful to Him whom I adore,
And gathering speech to make him known,
Your far, quick footsteps on the floor,
Your breezy robe, your cheerful tone,
As through our pretty home you speed
The busy ministries of life,
Will stir me swifter than my creed,
And be more musical, dear wife,
Than sweep of harp, or pipe of reed.
"Here is our fairy banquet hall!
See how it opens to the East,
And looks through elms! The board is small,
But what it bears shall be a feast
At morn, and noon, and evenfall.
"There will you sit in girlish grace,
And catch, the sunrise in your hair;
And looking at you, from my place,
I shall behold more sweet and fair
The morning in your smiling face.
"And guests shall come, and guests shall go,
And break with us our daily bread;
And sometime--sometime--do you know?
I hope that--dearest, lift your head;
And let me speak it, soft and low!
"The grass is sweeter than the ground:
Can love be better than its flowers?
Oh sometime--sometime--in the round
Of coming years, this board of ours
I hope may blossom and abound
With shining curls, and laughing eyes,
And pleasant jests and merry words,
And questions full of life's surprise,
And light and music, when the birds
Have left us to our gloomy skies.
"Now mount with me the old oak stair!
This is your chamber--pink and blue!
They asked the color of your hair,
And draped and fitted all for you,
My fine brunette, with tasteful care.
"The linen is as white as snow;
The flowers are set on every sconce;
And e'en the cushioned pin-heads show
Your formal "welcome," for the nonce,
To the sweet home their hands bestow.
"Declining to the river's marge,
See, from this window, how the turf
Runs with a thousand flowers in charge
To meet the silver feet of surf
That fly from every passing barge!
"Along that reach of liquid light
Flies Commerce with her countless keels;
There the chained Titan in his might
Turns slowly round the groaning wheels
That drag her burdens, day and night.
"And now the red sun flings his kiss
Across its waves from finger-tips
That pause, and grudgingly dismiss
The one he loves to closer lips,
And Moonlight's quiet hour of bliss.
"And here comes Dinah with the steam
Of evening cups and evening food,
And coal-red berries quenched with cream,
And ministry of homely good
That proves, my dear, we do not dream."
He heard the long-drawn organ-peal
Within his chapel call to prayer;
And, answering with ready zeal,
He breathed o'er Mildred's weary chair
These words, and sealed them with a seal:
"Only an hour: but comfort take;--
This home and I are wholly yours;
And many bosoms fondly ache
To tell you, that while life endures,
You shall be cherished for my sake.
"So throw your heart's door open wide,
And take in mine as well as me;
Let no poor creature be denied
The grace of tender courtesy
And kindness from the pastor's bride."
The moon came up the summer sky:
"Oh happy moon!" the lady said;
"Men love thee for thyself, but I
Am loved because my life is wed
To one whose message, pure and high,
Has spread the world's evangel far,
And thrown such radiance through the dark
That men behold him as a star,
And in his gracious coming mark
How beautiful his footsteps are.
"Oh Moon! dost thou take all thy light
From the great sun so lately gone?
Are there not shapes upon thy white,
That mould and make his sheen thy own,
And charms that soften to the sight
The ardor of his blinding blaze?
Who loves thee that thou art the sun's?
Who does not give thee sweetest praise
Among the troop of shining ones
That sweep along the heavenly ways?
"Yet still within the holy place
The altar sanctifies the gift!
Poor, precious gift, that begs for grace!
Oh towering altar! that doth lift
The gift so high, that, in its face,
It bears no beauty to the thought
Of those who round the altar stand!
Poor, precious gift, that goes for naught
From willing heart and ready hand,
And wins no favor unbesought!
"The stars are whiter for the blue;
The sky is deeper for the stars;
They give and take in commerce true,
And lend their beauty to the cars
Of downy dusk, that all night through,
Roll o'er the void on silver wheels;
Yet neither starry sky nor cloud
Is loved the less that it reveals
A beauty all its own, endowed
By all the wealth its beauty steals.
"Am I a dew-drop in a rose,
With no significance apart?
Must I but sparkle in repose
Close to its folded, fragrant, heart,
Its peerless beauty to disclose?
"Would I not toil to win his bread,
And give him all I have to give?
Would I not die in his sweet stead,
And die in joy? But I must live;
And, living, I must still be fed
On love that comes in love's own right.
They must not pet, or pamper me--
Those who rejoice beneath his light--
Or pity him, that I can be
So precious in his princely sight."
With swifter wings, through heart and brain,
The little hour unheeded flew;
And when, behind the blazoned stain
Of saintly vestures, red and blue,
The lights on rose and window-pane
Within the chapel slowly died,
And figures muffled by the moon
Went shuffling home on either side--
One seeking her--she said: How soon!
And then the pastor kissed his bride.
The bright night brightened into dawn;
The shadows down the mountain passed;
And tree and shrub and sloping lawn,
With bending, beaded beauty glassed
In myriad suns the sun that shone!
The robin fed her nested young;
The swallows bickered 'neath the eaves;
The hang-bird in her hammock swung,
And, tilting high among the leaves,
Her red mate sang alone, or flung
The dew-drops on her lifted head;
While on the grasses, white and far,
The tents of fairy hosts were spread
That, scared before the morning star,
Had left their reeking camp, and fled.
The pigeon preened his opal breast;
And o'er the meads the bobolink,
With vexed perplexity confessed
His tinkling gutturals in a kink,
Or giggled round his secret nest.
With dizzy wings and dainty craft,
In green and gold, the humming-bird
Dashed here and there, and touched and quaffed
The honey-dew, then flashed and whirred,
And vanished like the feathered shaft
That glitters from a random bow.
The flies were buzzing in the sun,
The bees were busy in the snow
Of lilies, and the spider spun,
And waited for his prey below.
With sail aloft and sail adown,
And motion neither slow nor swift,
With dark-brown hull and shadow brown,
Half-way between two skies adrift,
The barque went dreaming toward the town.
'Twas Sunday in the silent street,
And Sunday in the silent sky.
The peace of God came down to meet
The throng that laid their labor by,
And rested, weary hands and feet.
Ah, sweet the scene which caught the glance
Of eyes that with the morning woke,
And, from their window in the manse,
Looked up through sprays of elm and oak
Into the sky's serene expanse,
And off upon the distant wood,
And down into the garden's close,
And over, where his chapel stood
In ivy, reaching to its rose,
Waiting the Sunday multitude!
A red rose in her raven hair
Whose curls forbade the plait and braid,
The bride slid down the oaken stair,
And mantled like a bashful maid,
As, seated in the waiting chair,
Behind the fragrant urn, she poured
The nectar of the morn's repast;
But fairer lady, fonder lord,
In happier hall ne'er broke their fast
With sweeter bread, at prouder board.
And then they rose with common will,
And sought the parlor, cool and dim.
"Sing, love!" he said. "The birds grow still,
And wait with me to hear your hymn."
She swept a low, preluding trill--
A spray of sound--across the keys
That felt her fingers for the first;
And then, from simplest cadences,
A reverent melody she nursed,
And gave it voice in words like these:
"From full forgetfulness of pain,
From joy to opening joy again,
With bird and flower, and hill and tree,
We lift our eyes and hands, to thee,
To greet thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth
"That thou dost bathe our souls anew
With balm and boon of heavenly dew,
And smilest in our upward eyes
From the far blue of smiling skies,
We bless thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth!
"For human love and love divine,
For love of ours and love of thine,
For heaven on earth and heaven above--
To thee and us twin homes of love--
We thank thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth!
"Oh dove-like wings, so wide unfurled
In brooding calm above the world!
Waft us your holy peace, and raise
The incense of our morning praise
Up to our Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth!"
Full fleetly sped the morning hours;
Then, wide upon the country round
A tumult of melodious powers
In tumult of melodious sound
Burst forth from all the village towers.
With blow on blow, and tone on tone,
And echoes answering everywhere--
Like bugles from the mountains blown--
Each sought to whelm the burdened air,
And make the silence all its own.
In broad, sonorous, silver swells
The air was billowed like the sea;
And listening ears were listening shells
That caught the Sabbath minstrelsy,
And sang it with the singing bells.
The billows heaved, the billows broke,
The first wild burst went down amain;
The music fell to slower stroke,
And in a rhythmic, bold refrain
The great bells to each other spoke.
Oh bravely bronze gave forth his word,
And sharply silver made reply,
And every tower and turret stirred
With sounding breath and converse high,
Or paused with waiting ear, and heard.
And long they talked, as friend to friend;
Then faltered to their closing toll,
Whose long, monotonous repetend,
From every music-burdened bowl
Poured the last drop, and brought the end!
The chapel's chime fell slow and soft,
And throngs slow-marching to its knoll
From village home and distant croft,
With careful feet and reverent soul
Pressed toward the open door, but oft
Turned curious and expectant eyes
Upon the Manse that stood apart.
There in her quiet, bridal guise
Fair Mildred sat with shrinking heart;
While Philip, bold and over wise,
And knowing naught of woman's ways,
Smiled at her fears, and could not guess
How one so armored in his praise,
And strong in native loveliness,
Could dread to meet his people's gaze.
He could not know her fine alarm
When at his manly side she stood,
And, leaning faintly on his arm--
A dainty slip of womanhood--
Walked forth where every girlish charm
Was scanned with prying gaze and glance,
Among the slowly moving crowd
That, greedy of the precious chance,
Read furtively, but half aloud,
The pages of their new romance.
"A child!" And Mildred caught the word.
"A plaything!" And, another voice:
"Fine feathers, and a Southern bird!"
And still one more; "A parson's choice!"
And trembling Mildred overheard.
These from the careless or the dull--
Gossips at best; at wisest, dolts;
And though her quickened ear might cull
From out their whispered thunderbolts
A "lovely!" and a "beautiful!"
And though sweet mother-faces smiled,
And bows were given with friendly grace,
And many a pleasant little child
Sought sympathy within her face,
Her aching heart was not beguiled.
She did not see--she only felt--
As up the staring aisle she walked--
The critic glances, coldly dealt,
By those who looked, and bent, and talked;
And, even, when at last she knelt
Alone within the pastor's pew,
And prayed for self-forgetfulness
With deep humility, she knew
She gave her figure and her dress
To careful eyes with closer view.
At length she raised her head, and tossed
A burden from her heart, and brain.
She would have love at any cost
Of weary toil and patient pain,
And rightful ease and pleasure lost!
They could not love her for his sake;
They would not, and her heart forgave.
Why should a woman stoop to take
The poor endowment of a slave,
And like a menial choose to make
Her master's mantle half her own?
They loved her least who loved him most:
They envied her her little throne!
He who was cherished by a host
Was hers by gift, and hers alone,
And she would prove her woman's right
To hold the throne to which the king
Had called her, clothing her with white;
And never would she show her ring
To win a loving proselyte!
These were the thoughts and this the strife
That through her kindling spirit swept,
And wrought her purposes of life;
And powers that waked and powers that slept
Within the sweet and girlish wife.
Sprang into energy intense,
At touch of an inspiring chrism
That fell on her, she knew not whence,
And lifted her to heroism
Which wrapped her wholly, soul and sense.
Meanwhile, through all the vaulted space
The organ sent its angels out;
And up and down the holy place
They fanned the cheeks of care and doubt,
And touched each worn and weary face
With beauty as their wings went by:
Then sailed afar with peaceful sweep,
And, calling heavenward every eye,
Evanished into silence deep--
The earth forgotten in the sky!
Then by the sunlight warmly kissed,
Far up, in rainbow glory set,
Rayed round with gold and amethyst,
She saw upon the great rosette
The Saviour's visage, pale and trist.
"Oh Crown of Thorns!" she softly breathed;
"Oh precious crown of love divine!
Oh brow with trickling life enwreathed!
Oh piercing thorns and crimson sign!
I hold you mine in love bequeathed.
"But not for sake of these or thee!
I must win love as thou hast won.
The thorns are mine, and all must see,
In sacrifice, and service done,
The loving Lord they love in me."
Then, through a large and golden hour
She listened to the golden speech
Of one who held the priceless dower
Of love and eloquence, that reach
And move the hearts of men with power.
Ah poor the music of the choir
That voiced the Psalter after him!
And strong the prayer that, touched with fire,
Flamed upward, past the seraphim,
And wrapped the throne of his desire!
She watched and heard as in a dream,
When, in the old, familiar ground
Of sacred truth, he found his theme,
And led it forth, until it wound
Through meadows broad--a swollen stream
That flashed and eddied in the light,
And fed the grasses at its edge,
Or thundered in its onward might
O'er interposing weir and ledge,
And left them hidden in the white;
While on it pressed, and, to the eye,
Grew broader, till its breadth became
A solemn river, sweeping by,
That, quick with ships and red with flame,
Reached far away and kissed the sky!
Strong men were moved as trees are bowed
Before a swift and sounding wind;
And sighs were long and sobs were loud,
Of those who loved and those who sinned,
Among the deeply listening crowd.
And Mildred, in the whelming tide
Of thought and feeling, quite forgot
That he who thus had magnified
His office, held a common lot
With her, and owned her as his bride.
But when, at length, the thought returned
That she was his in plighted truth,
And she with humbled soul discerned
That, though her youth was given to youth,
And love by love was fairly earned,
She could not match him wing-and-wing
Through all his broad and lofty range,
And feared what passing years might bring
No change for good, but only change
That would degrade her to a thing
Of homely use and household care,
And love by duty basely kept--
She bowed her head upon the bare
Cold rail that hid her face, and wept,
And poured her passion in a prayer.
"Oh Father, Father!" thus she prayed:
"Thou know'st the priceless boon I seek!
Before my life, abashed, dismayed,
I stand, with hopeless hands and weak,
Of him and of myself afraid!
"Teach me and lead me where to find,
Beyond the touch of hand and lip,
That vital charm of heart, and mind
Which, in a true companionship,
My feebler life to his shall bind!
"His ladder leans upon the sun:
I cannot climb it: give me wings!
Grant that my deeds, divinely done,
May be appraised divinest things,
Though they be little every one.
"His stride is strong; his steps are high
May not my deeds be little stairs
That, counted swift, shall keep me nigh,
Till at the summit, unawares,
We stand with equal foot and eye?
"If further down toward Nature's heart
His root is struck, commanding springs
In whose deep life I have no part,
Send me, on recompensing wings,
The rain that gathers where thou art!
"Oh give me vision to divine
What he with delving hand explores!
Feed me with flame that shall refine
To finest gold the rugged ores
His strong hands gather from the mine!
"O dearest Father! May no sloth,
Or weakness of my weaker soul,
Delay him in his kingly growth,
Or hold him meanly from the goal
That shines with guerdon for us both!"
Then all arose as if a spell
Had been dissolved for their release,
The while the benediction fell
Which breathed the gentle Master's peace
On all the souls that loved him well.
And Philip, coming from his place,
Like Moses from the mountain pyre,
Bore on his brow the shining grace
Of one who, in the cloud and fire,
Had met his Maker, face to face.
And men and women, young and old,
Pressed up to meet him as he came,
And children, by their love made bold,
Grasped both his hands and spoke his name,
And in their simple language told
Their joy to see his face once more;
While half in pleasure, half in pain,
His bride stood waiting at her door
The passage of the friendly train
That slowly swept the crowded floor.
Half-bows were tendered and returned;
And welcomes fell from lips and eyes;
But in her heart she meekly spurned
The love that came in love's disguise
Of sympathy--the love unearned.
Then out beneath the noon-day sun
Of the old Temple, cool and dim,
She walked beside her chosen one,
And lost her loneliness in him;
But hardly was her walk begun
When, straight before her in the street,
With tender shock her eye descried
A little child, with naked feet
And scanty dress, that, hollow-eyed,
Looked up and begged for bread to eat.
Nor pride of place nor dainty spleen
Felt with her heart the sickening shock.
She took the hand so soiled and lean;
And silken robe and ragged frock
Moved side by side across the green.
She looked for love, and, low and wild,
She found it--looking, too, for love!
So in each other's eyes they smiled,
As, dark brown hand in snowy glove,
The bride led home the hungry child.
And men and women in amaze
Paused in their homeward steps to see
The bride retreating from their gaze,
Clasped hand in hand with misery;
Then brushed their eyes, and went their ways.
When the long parley found a close,
And, clean and kempt, the little oaf--
Disburdened of her wants and woes,
And burdened with her wheaten loaf--
Went forth to minister to those
Who sent her on her bitter quest,
The bride stood smiling at her door,
And in her happiness confessed
That she had found a friend; nay, more--
Had entertained a heavenly guest.
And as she watched her down the street,
With brow grown bright with sunny thought,
And heart o'erfilled with something sweet,
She knew the vagrant child had brought
The blessing of the Paraclete.
She turned from out the blazing noon,
And sought her chamber's quiet shade,
Like one who had received a boon
She might not show, but which essayed
Expression in a happy croon.
And then, outleaping from the mesh
Of Memory's net, like bird or bee,
There thrilled her spirit and her flesh
This old half-song, half-rhapsody,
That sang, or said itself, afresh:
"Poor little wafer of silver!
More precious to me than its cost!
It was worn of both image and legend,
But priceless because it was lost.
My chamber I carefully swept;
I hunted, and wondered, and wept;
And I found it at last with a cry:
"Oh dear little jewel!" said I;
And I washed it with tears all the day;
Then I kissed it, and put it away.
"Poor little lamb of the sheepfold!
Unlovely and feeble it grew;
But it wandered away to the mountains,
And was fairer the further it flew.
I followed with hurrying feet
At the call of its pitiful bleat,
And precious, with wonderful charms,
I caught it at last in my arms,
And bore it far back to its keep,
And kissed it and put it to sleep.
"Poor little vagrant from Heaven!
It wandered away from the fold,
And its weakness and danger endowed it
With value more precious than gold.
Oh happy the day when it came,
And my heart learned its beautiful name!
Oh happy the hour when I fed
This waif of the angels with bread!
And the lamb that the Shepherd had missed
Was sheltered and nourished and kissed!"
To Philip, Mildred was a child,
Or a fair angel, to be kept
From all things earthly undenied,
One who upon his bosom slept,
And only waked to be beguiled
From loneliness and homely care
By love's unfailing ministry;
No toil of his was she to share,
No burden hers, that should not be
Left for his stronger hands to bear.
His love enwrapped her as a robe,
Which seemed, by its supernal charm,
To shield from every poisoned probe
Of earthly pain and earthly harm
This one choice creature of the globe.
The love he bore her lifted him
Into a bright, sweet atmosphere
That filled with beauty to the brim
The world beneath him, far and near,
And stained the clouds that draped its rim.
Toil was not toil, except in name;
Care was not care, but only means
To feed with holy oil the flame
That warmed her soul, and lit the scenes
Through which her figure went and came.
Her smile of welcome was his meed;
Her presence was his great reward;
He questioned sadly if, indeed,
He loved more loyally his Lord,
Or if his Lord felt greater need.
And Mildred, vexed, misunderstood,
Knew all his love, but might not tell
How in his thought, so large and good,
And in his heart, there did not dwell
The measure of her womanhood.
She knew the girlish charm would fade;
She knew the rapture would abate;
That years would follow when the maid,
Merged in the matron, and sedate
With change, and sitting in the shade
Of a great nature, would become
As poor and pitiful a thing
As an old idol, and as dumb,--
A clog upon an upward wing,--
A value stricken from the sum
Which a true woman's hand would raise
To mighty numbers, and endow
With kingly power and crowning praise.
She must be mate of his; but how?
And, dreaming of a thousand ways
Her hands would work, her feet would tread,
She thought to match him as a man!
His books should be her daily bread;
She would run swiftly where he ran,
And follow closely where he led.
Since time began, the perfect day
Has robbed the morrow of its wealth,
And squandered, in its lavish sway,
The balm and beauty of the stealth,
And left its golden throne in gray.
So when the Sunday light declined,
A cold wind sprang and shut the flowers
Then vagrant voices, undefined,
Grew louder through the evening hours,
Till the old chimney howled and whined
As if it were a frightened beast,
That witnessed from its dizzy post
The loathsome forms and grewsome feast
And hideous mirth of ghoul and ghost,
As on they crowded from the East.
The willow, gathered into sheaves
Of scorpions by spectral arms,
Swung to and fro, and whipped the eaves,
And filled the house with weird alarms
That hissed from all its tortured leaves.
And in the midnight came the rain;--
In spiteful needles at the first;
But soon on roof and window-pane
The slowly gathered fury burst
In floods that came, and came again,
And poured their roaring burden out.
They swept along the sounding street,
Then paused, and then with shriek and shout
Hurtled as if a myriad feet
Had joined the dread and deafening rout.
But ere the welcome morning broke,
The loud wind fell, though gray and chill
The drizzling rain and drifting smoke
Drove slowly toward the westward hill,
Half hidden in its phantom cloak.
And through the mist a clumsy smack,
Deep loaded with her clumsy freight,
With shifting boom and frequent tack,
Like a huge ghost that wandered late,
Reeled by upon her devious track.
So Mildred, with prophetic ken,
Saw in the long and rainy day
The dreaded host of friendly men
And friendly women, kept away,
And time for love, and book, and pen.
But while she looked, with dreaming eyes
And heart content, upon the scene,
She saw a stalwart man arise
Where the wild water lashed the green,
And pause a breath, to signalize
Some one beyond her stinted view;
Then turn with hurried feet, and straight
The deep, rain-burdened grasses through,
And through the manse's open gate,
Pass to her door. At once she knew
That some faint soul, in sad extreme,
Had sent for succor to the manse,
And knew its master would redeem
To sacred use the circumstance
That made such havoc of her dream.
She saw the quiet men depart,
She saw them leave the river-side,
She saw them brave with sturdy art
The surges of the angry tide,
And disappear; the while her heart
Sank down in dismal loneliness.
Then came her vexing thoughts again;
And quick, as if she broke duress
Of heavy weariness or pain,
She sought the study's dim recess,
Where rank on rank, against the wall,
The mighty men of every land
Stood mutely waiting for the call
Of him who, with his single hand,
Had bravely met and mastered all.
The gray old monarchs of the pen
Looked down with calm, benignant gaze,
And Augustine and Origen
And Ansel justified the ways--
The wondrous ways--of God with men.
Among the tall hierophants
Angelical Aquinas stood;
While Witsius held the "Covenants,"
And Irenaeus, wise and good,
Couched low his silver-bearded lance
For strife with heresy and schism,
And Turretin with lordly nod
Gave system to the dogmatism
That analyzed the thought of God
As light is painted by a prism.
Great Luther, with his great disputes,
And Calvin, with his finished scheme,
And Charnock, with his "Attributes,"
And Taylor with his poet's dream
Of theologic flowers and flutes,
And Thomas Fuller, old and quaint,
And Cudworth, dry with dust of gold,
And South, the sharp and witty saint,
With Howe and Owen--broad and bold--
And Leighton still without the taint
Of earth upon his robe of white,
Stood side by side with Hobbes and Locke,
And, braced by many an acolyte,
With Edwards standing on his rock,
And all New England's men of might,
Whose gifts and offices divine
Had crowned her with a kingly crown,
And solemn doctors from the Rhine,
With Fichte, Kant, and Hegel, down
Through all the long and stately line!
As Mildred saw the awful host,
She felt within no motive stir
To realize her girlish boast,
And knew they held no more for her
Than if each volume were a ghost.
She sat in Philip's vacant chair,
And pondered long her doubtful way;
And, in her impotent despair,
Lifted her longing eyes to pray,
When on a shelf, far up, and bare,
She saw an ancient volume lie;
And straight her rising thought was checked.
What were its dubious treasures? Why
Had it been banished from respect,
And from its owner's hand and eye?
The more she gazed, the stronger grew
The wish to hold it in her hand.
Strange fancies round the volume flew,
And changed the dust their pinions fanned
To atmospheres of red and blue,
That blent in purple aureole,--
As if a lymph of sweetest life
Stood warm within a golden bowl,
Crowned with its odor-cloud, and rife
With strength and solace for her soul!
And there it lay beyond her arm,
And wrought its fine and wondrous spell,
With all its hoard of good or harm,
Till curious Mildred, struggling well,
Surrendered to the mighty charm.
The steps were scaled for boon or bale,
The book was lifted from its place,
And, bowing to the fragrant grail,
She drank with pleased and eager face
This draught from off an Eastern tale:
Selim, the haughty Jehangir, the Conqueror of the Earth,
With royal pomps and pageantries and rites of festal mirth
Was set to celebrate the day--the white day--of his birth.
His red pavilions, stretching wide, crowned all with globes of gold,
And tipped with pinnacles of fire and streamers manifold,
Flamed with such splendor that the sun at noon looked pale and cold!
And right and left, along, the plain, far as the eye could gaze,
His nobles and retainers who were tented in the blaze,
Kept revel high in honor of that day of all the days.
The earth was spread, the walls were hung, with silken fabrics fine,
And arabesque and lotus-flower bore each the broidered sign
Of jewels plucked from land and sea, and red gold from the mine.
Upon his throne he sat alone, half buried in the gems
That strewed his tapestries like stars, and tipped their tawny hems,
And glittered with the glory of a hundred diadems.
He saw from his pavilion door the nodding heron plumes
His nobles wore upon their brows, while, from the rosy glooms
Which hid his harem, came low songs, on wings of rare perfumes!
The elephants, a thousand strong, had passed his dreaming eye,
Caparisoned with golden plates on head and breast and thigh,
And a hundred flashing troops of horse unmarked had thundered by.
He sat upon old Akbar's throne, the heir of power and fame,
But all his glory was as dust, and dust his wondrous name--
Swept into air, and scattered far, by one consuming flame!
For on that day of all the days, and in that festal hour,
He sickened with his glory and grew weary of his power,
And pined to bind upon his breast his harem's choicest flower,
"Oh Nourmahal! oh Nourmahal! why sit I here," he cried,--
"The victim of these gaudy shows, and of my haughty pride,
When thou art dearer to my soul than all the world beside!
"Thy eyes are brighter than the gems piled round gilded seat;
Thy cheeks are softer than the silks that shimmer at my feet,
And purer heart than thine in woman's breast hath never beat!
"My first love--and my only love--Oh babe of Candahar!
Torn from my boyish arms at first, and, like a silver star
Shining within another heaven, and worshipped from afar,
"Thou art my own at last, my own! I pine to see thy face;
Come to me, Nourmahal! Oh come, and hallow with thy grace
The glories that without thy love are meaningless and base!"
He spoke a word, and, quick as light, before him lying prone
A dark-eyed page, with gilded vest and crimson-belted zone,
Looked up with waiting ear to mark the message from the throne.
"Go summon Nourmahal, my queen; and when her radiance comes,
Bear my command of silence to the vinas and the drums,
And for your guerdon take your choice of all these gilded crumbs."
He tossed a handful of the gems down where his minion lay,
Who snatched a jewel from the drift, and swiftly sped away
With his command to Nourmahal, who waited to obey.
But needlessly the mandate fell of silence on the crowd,
For when the Empress swept the path, ten thousand heads were bowed,
And drum and vina ceased their din, and no one spoke aloud.
As comes the moon from out the sea with her attendant breeze,
As sweeps the morning up the hills and blossoms in the trees,
So Nourmahal to Selim came: then fell upon her knees!
The envious jewels looked at her with chill, barbaric stare,
The cloth-of-gold she knelt upon grew lusterless and bare,
And all the place was cooler in the darkness of her hair.
And while she knelt in queenly pride and beauty strange and wild,
And held her breast with both her palms and looked on him and smiled,
She seemed no more of common earth, but Casyapa's child.
He bent to her as thus she smiled; he kissed her lifted cheek;
"Oh Nourmahal," he murmured low, "more dear than I can speak,
I'm weary of my lonely life: give me the rest I seek."
She rose and paced the silken floor, as if in mad caprice,
Then paused, and from the Empress changed to improvisatrice,
And wove this song--a golden chain--that led him into peace:
Lovely children of the light,
Draped in radiant locks and pinions,--
Red and purple, blue and white--
In their beautiful dominions,
On the earth and in the spheres,
Dwell the little glendoveers.
And the red can know no change,
And the blue are blue forever,
And the yellow wings may range
Toward the white or purple never.
But they mingle free from strife,
For their color is their life.
When their color dies, they die,--
Blent with earth or ether slowly--
Leaving where their spirits lie,
Not a stain, so pure and holy
Is the essence and the thought
Which their fading brings to naught!
Each contented with the hue
Which indues his wings of beauty,
Red or yellow, white or blue,
Sings the measure of his duty
Through the summer clouds in peace,
And delights that never cease.
Not with envy love they more
Locks and pinions purple-tinted,
Nor with jealousy adore
Those whose pleasures are unstinted,
And whose purple hair and wings
Give them place with queens and kings.
When a purple glendoveer
Flits along the mute expanses,
They surround him, far and near,
With their glancing wings and dances,
And do honor to the hue
Loved by all and worn by few.
In the days long gone, alas!
Two upon a cloud, low-seated,
Saw their pinions in the glass
Of a silver lake repeated.
One was blue and one was red,
And the lovely pair were wed.
"Purple wings are very fine,"
Spoke the voice of Ruby, gently:
"Ay" said Sapphire, "they're divine!"--
Looking at his blue intently.
"But we're blest," said Ruby, then,
"And we'll not complain like men."
Sapphire stretched his loving arms,
And she nestled on his bosom,
While his heart inhaled her charms
As the sense inhales a blossom;--
Drank her wholly, tint and tone,
Blent her being with his own.
Rapture passed, they raised their eyes,
But were startled into clamor
Of a marvellous surprise!
Was it color! was it glamour!
Purple-tinted, sweet and warm,
Was each wing and folded form!
Who had wrought it--how it came--
These were what the twain disputed.
How were mingled smoke and flame
Into royal hue transmuted?
Each was right, the other wrong:
But their quarrel was not long,
For the moment that their speech
Differed o'er their little story,
Swiftly faded off from each
Every trace of purple glory,
Blue was bluer than before,
And the red was red once more.
Then they knew that both were wrong,
And in sympathy of sorrow
Learned that each was only strong
In the power to lend and borrow,--
That the purple never grew
But by grace of red to blue.
So, embracing in content,
Hearts and wings again united,
Red and blue in purple blent,
And their holy troth replighted,
Both, as happy as the day,
Kissed, and rose, and flew away!
And for twice a thousand years,
Floating through the radiant ether,
Lived the happy glendoveers,
Of the other, jealous neither,--
Sapphire naught without the red,
Ruby still by blue bested.
But when weary of their life,
They came down to earth at even--
Purple husband, purple wife--
From the upper deeps of heaven,
And reclined upon the grass,
That their little lives might pass.
Wing to wing and arms enwreathed,
Sank they from their life's long dreaming;--
Into earth their souls they breathed;
But when morning's light was streaming,
All their joys and sweet regrets
Bloomed in banks of violets!
As from its dimpled fountain, at its own capricious will,
Each step a note of music, and each fall and flash a thrill,
The rill goes singing to the meadow levels and is still,
So fell from Nourmahal her song upon the captive sense;
It dashed in spray against the throne, it tinkled through the tents,
And died at last among the flowery banks of recompense;
For when great Selim marked her fire, and read her riddle well,
And watched her from the flushing to the fading of the spell,
He sprang forgetful, from his seat, and caught her as she fell.
He raised her in his tender arms; he bore her to his throne:
"No more, oh! Nourmahal, my wife, no more I sit alone;
And the future for the dreary past shall royally atone!"
He called to him the princes and the nobles of the land,
Then took the signet-ring from his, and placed it on her hand,
And bade them honor as his own, fair Nourmahal's command.
And on the minted silver that his largess scattered wide,
And on the gold of commerce, till the mighty Selim died,
Her name and his in shining boss stood equal, side by side.
The opening of the wondrous tome
Was like the opening of a door
Into a vast and pictured dome,
Crowded, from vaulted roof to floor,
With secrets of her life and home.
To be like Philip was to be
Another Philip--only less!
To win his wit in full degree
Would bear to him but nothingness,
From one no wiser grown than he!
If blue and red in Hindostan
Were blue and red at home, she knew
That she--a woman, he--a man,
Could never wear the royal hue
Till blue and red together ran
In complement of each to each;
She might not tint his life at all
By learning wisdom he could teach;
So what she gave, though poor and small,
Should be of that beyond his reach.
Where Philip fed, she would not feed;
Where Philip walked, she would not go;
The books he read she would not read,
But live her separate life, and, so,
Have sole supplies to meet his need.
He held his mission and his range;
His way and work were all his own;
And she would give him in exchange
What she could win and she alone,
Of life and learning, fresh and strange.
While thus she sat in musing mood,
Determining her life's emprise,
The sunlight flushed the distant wood,
Then, coming closer, filled her eyes,
And glorified her solitude.
The clouds were shivered by the lance
Sped downward by the morning sun,
And from her heart, in swift advance,
The shadows vanished, one by one,
Till more than sunlight filled the manse.
She closed the volume with a gust
That sprent the light with powdered gold;
Then placed it high to hide and rust
Where, curious and over-bold
She found it, lying in its dust.
Her soul was light, her path was plain;
One shadow only drooped above,--
The shadow of a heart and brain
So charged with overwhelming love
That it oppressed and gave her pain.
The modest comb that kept her hair;
To Philip was a golden crown;
And every ringlet was a snare,
And every hat, and every gown
And slipper, something more than fair.
His love had glorified her grace,
And she was his, and not her own,--
So wholly his she had no place
Beside him on his lonely throne,
Or share in love's divine embrace.
And knowing that the coming days
Would strip her features of their mask,
That duty then would speak her praise,
And love become a loyal task,
Save he should find beneath the glaze
His fiery love of her had spread,
Diviner things he had not seen,
She feared her woman's heart and head
Were armed with charms and powers too mean
To win the boon she coveted.
But still she saw and held her plan,
And fear made way for springing hope.
If she was man's, then hers was man:
Both held their own in even scope;
And then and there her life began.
A wife is like an unknown sea;--
Least known to him who thinks he knows
Where all the shores of promise be,
Where lie the islands of repose,
And where the rocks that he must flee.
Capricious winds, uncertain tides,
Drive the young sailor on and on,
Till all his charts and all his guides
Prove false, and vain conceit is gone,
And only docile love abides.
Where lay the shallows of the maid,
No plummet line the wife may sound;
Where round the sunny islands played
The pulses of the great profound,
Lies low the treacherous everglade.
And sailing, he becomes, perforce,
Discoverer of a lovely world;
And finds, whate'er may be his course,
Green lands within white seas impearled,
And streams of unsuspected source
Which feed with gold delicious fruits,
Kept by unguessed Hesperides,
Or cool the lips of gentle brutes
That breed and browse among the trees
Whose wind-tossed limbs and leaves are lutes,
The maiden free, the maiden wed,
Can never, never be the same.
A new life springs from out the dead,
And, with the speaking of a name,
A breath upon the marriage-bed,
She finds herself a something new--
(Which he learns later, but no less);
And good and evil, false and true,
May change their features--who can guess?--
Seen close, or from another view.
For maiden life, with all its fire,
Is hid within a grated cell,
Where every fancy and desire
And graceless passion, guarded well,
Sits dumb behind the woven wire.
Marriage is freedom: only when
The husband turns the prison-key
Knows she herself; nor even then
Knows she more wisely well than he,
Who finds himself least wise of men.
New duties bring new powers to birth,
And new relations, new surprise
Of depths of weakness or of worth,
Until he doubt if her disguise
Mask more of heaven, or more of earth.
Tears spring beneath a careless touch;
Endurance hardens with a word;
She holds a trifle with a clutch
So strangely, childishly absurd,
That he who loves and pardons much
Doubts if her wayward wit be sane,
When straight beyond his manly power
She stiffens to the awful strain
Of some supreme or crucial hour,
And stands unblanched in fiercest pain!
A jealous thought, a petty pique,
Enwraps in gloom, or bursts in storm;
She questions all that love may speak,
And weighs its tone, and marks its form,
Or yields her frailty to a freak
That vexes him or breeds disgust;
Then rises in heroic flame,
And treads a danger into dust,
Or puts his doubting soul to shame
With love unfeigned and perfect trust.
Still seas unknown the husband sails;
Life-long the lovely marvel lasts;
In golden calms or driving gales,
With silent prow, or reeling masts,
Each hour a fresh surprise unveils.
The brooding, threatening bank of mist
Grows into groups of virid isles,
By sea embraced and sunlight kissed,
Or breaks into resplendent smiles
Of cinnabar and amethyst!
No day so bright but scuds may fall,
No day so still but winds may blow;
No morn so dismal with the pall
Of wintry storm, but stars may glow
When evening gathers, over all!
And so thought Philip, when, in haste
Returning from his lengthened stay--
The river and the lawn retraced--
He found his Mildred blithe and gay,
And all his anxious care a waste.
To be half vexed that she could thrive
Without him through a morning's span,
Upon the honey in her hive,
Was but to prove himself a man,
And show that he was quite alive!
A sympathetic word or kiss,
(Mildred had insight to discern,)
Though grateful quite, is quite amiss,
In leading to the life etern
The soul that has no bread in this.
The present want must aye be fed,
And first relieved the present care:
"Give us this day our daily bread"
Must be recited in our prayer
Before "forgive us" may be said.
And he who lifts a soul from vice,
And leads the way to better lands;
Must part his raiment, share his slice,
And oft with weary, bleeding hands,
Pave the long path with sacrifice.
So on a pleasant summer morn,
Wrapped in her motive, sweet and safe,
She sought the homes of sin and scorn,
And found her little Sunday waif
Ragged, and hungry, and forlorn.
She called her quickly to her knee;
And with her came a motley troop
Of children, poor and foul as she,
Who gathered in a curious group,
And ceased their play, to hear and see.
Tanned brown by all the summer suns,
With brutish brows and vacant eyes,
They drank her speech and ate her buns,
While she behind their sad disguise
Beheld her dear Lord's "little ones."
She stood like Ruth amid the wheat,
With ready hand and sickle keen,
And looked on all with aspect sweet;
For where she only thought to glean,
She found a harvest round her feet.
Ah! little need the tale to write
Of garments begged from door to door,
Of needles plying in the night,
And money gathered from the store
Alike of screw and Sybarite,
With which to clothe the little flock.
She went like one sent forth of God
To loose the bolts of heart and lock,
And with the smiting of her rod
To call a flood from every rock.
And little need the tale to tell
How, when the Sunday came again,
A wondrous change the group befell,
And how from every noisome den,
Responding to the chapel bell,
They issued forth with shout and call,
And Mildred walking at their head,
Who, with her silken parasol,
Bannered the army that she led,
And with low words commanded all.
The little army walked through smiles
That hung like lamps above their march,
And lit their swart and straggling files,
While bending elm and plumy larch
Shaped into broad cathedral aisles
The paths that led with devious trend
To where the ivied chapel stood,
There their long passage found its end,
And there they gathered in a brood
Of gentle clamor round their friend.
A score pressed in on either side
To share the burden of her care,
And hearts and house gave entrance wide
To those to whom the words of prayer
Were stranger than the curse of pride.
And Mildred who, without a thought
Of glory in her week's long task,
This marvel of the week had wrought,
Had earned the boon she would not ask,
And won more love than she had sought.
As two who walk through forest aisles,
Lit all the way by forest flowers,
Divide at morn through twin defiles
To meet again in distant hours,
With plunder plucked from all the miles,
So Philip and his Mildred went
Into their walks of daily life,--
Parting at morn with sweet consent,
And--tireless husband, busy wife--
Together when the day was spent,
Bringing the treasures they had won
From sundered tracks of enterprise,
To learn from each what each had done,
And prove each other grown more wise
Than when the morning was begun.
He strengthened her with manly thought
And learning, gathered from the great;
And she, whose quicker eye had caught
The treasures of the broad estate
Of common life and learning, brought
Her gleanings from the level field,
And gave them gladly to his hands,
Who had not dreamed that they could yield
Such sheaves, or hold within their bands
Such wealth of lovely flowers concealed.
His grave discourse, his judgment sure,
Gave tone and temper to her soul,
While her swift thoughts and vision pure,
And mirth that would not brook control,
And wit that kept him insecure
Within his dignified repose,
Refreshed and quickened him like wine.
No tender word or dainty gloze
Could give him pleasure half so fine
As that which tingled to her blows.
He gave her food for heart and mind,
And raised her toward his higher plane;
She showed him that his eyes were blind;
She proved his lofty wisdom vain,
And held him humbly with his kind.
Oh blessed sleep! in which exempt
From our tired selves long hours we lie,
Our vapid worthlessness undreamt,
And our poor spirits saved thereby
From perishing of self-contempt!
We weary of our petty aims;
We sicken with our selfish deeds;
We shrink and shrivel, in the flames
That low desire ignites and feeds,
And grudge the debt that duty claims.
Oh sweet forgetfulness of sleep!
Oh bliss, to drop the pride of dress,
And all the shams o'er which we weep,
And, toward our native nothingness,
To drop ten thousand fathoms deep!
At morning only--strong, erect--
We face our mirrors not ashamed;
For then alone we meet unflecked
The image we at evening blamed,
And find refreshed our self-respect.
Ah! little wonderment that those,
Who see us most and love us best,
Find that a true affection grows
The more when, in its parted nest,
It spends long hours in lone repose!
Our fruit grows dead in pulp and rind
When seen and handled overmuch;
The roses fade, our fingers bind;
And with familiar kiss and touch
The graces wither from our kind.
Man lives on love, at love's expense,
And woman, so her love be sweet;
Best honey palls upon the sense
When it is tempted to repeat
Too oft its fine experience.
And Mildred, with instinctive skill,
And loving neither most nor least,
Stood out from Philip's grasping will,
And gave, where he desired a feast,
The taste that left him hungry still.
She hid her heart behind a mask,
And held him to his manly course;
One hour in love she bade him bask,
And then she drove, with playful force,
The laggard to his daily task.
They went their way and kept their care,
And met again their toil complete,
Like angels on a heavenly stair,
Or pilgrims in a golden street,
Grown stronger one, and one more fair!
As one worn down by petty pains,
With fevered head and restless limb,
Flies from the toil that stings and stains,
And all the cares that wearied him,
And same far, silent summit gains;
And in its strong, sweet atmosphere,
Or in the blue, or in the green,
Finds his discomforts disappear,
And loses in the pure serene
The garnered humors of a year;
And sees not how and knows not when
The old vexations leave their seat,
So Philip, happiest of men,
Saw all his petty cares retreat,
And vanish, not to come again.
Where he had thought to shield and serve,
Himself had ministry instead,
He heard no vexing call to swerve
From larger toil, for labors sped
By smaller hand and finer nerve.
In deft and deferential ways
She took the house by silent siege;
And Dinah, warmest in her praise,
Grew, unaware, her loyal liege,
And served her truly all her days.
And many a sad and stricken maid,
And many a lorn and widowed life
That came for counsel or for aid
To Philip, met the pastor's wife,
And on her heart their burden laid.
He gave her what she took--her will;
And made it space for life full-orbed.
He learned at last that every rill
Loses its freshness, when absorbed
By the great stream that turns the mill.
With hand ungrasping for her dower,
He found its royal income his;
And every swiftly kindling power--
Self-moved in its activities--
Becoming brighter every hour.
The air is sweet which we inspire
When it is free to come and go;
And sound of brook and scent of briar
Rise freshest where the breezes blow,
That feed our breath and fan our fire.
That love is weak which is too strong;
A man may be a woman's grave;
The right of love swells oft to wrong,
And silken bonds may bind a slave
As truly as a leathern thong.
We may not dine upon the bird
That fills our home with minstrelsy;
The living vine may never gird
Too firm and close the living tree,
Without sad sacrifice incurred.
The crystal goblet that we drain
Will be forever after dry;
But he who sips, and sips again,
And leaves it to the open sky,
Will find it filled with dew and rain.
The lilies burst, the roses blow
Into divinest balm and bloom,
When free above and free below;
And life and love must have large room,
That life and love may largest grow.
So Philip learned (what Mildred saw),
That love was like a well profound,
From which two souls had right to draw,
And in whose waters would be drowned
The one who took the other's law.
Ambition was an alien word,
Which Mildred faintly understood;
Its poisoned breathing had not blurred
The whiteness of her womanhood,
Nor had its blatant trumpet stirred
To quicker pulse her heart content.
In social tasks and home employ,
She did not question what it meant;
But bore her woman's lot with joy
And sweetness, wheresoe'er she went.
If ever with unconscious thrill
It touched her, in some vagrant dream,
She only wished that God would fill
With larger tide the goodly stream
That flowed beside her, strong and still.
She knew that love was more than fame,
And happy conscience more than love;--
Far off and wild, the wings of flame!
Close by, the pinions of the dove
That hovered white above her name!
She honored Philip as a man,
And joyed in his supreme estate;
But never dreamed that under ban
She lives who never can be great,
Or chieftain of a crowd or clan.
The public eye was like a knife
That pierced and plagued her shrinking heart.
To be a woman, and a wife,
With privilege to dwell apart,
And hold unseen her modest life--
Alike from praise and blame aloof,
And free to live and move in peace
Beneath love's consecrated roof--
Was boon so great she could not cease
Her thanks for the divine behoof.
Black turns to brown and blue to blight
Beneath the blemish of the sun;
And e'en the spotless robe of white,
Worn overlong, grows dim and dun
Through the strange alchemy of light.
Nor wives nor maidens, weak or brave,
Can stand and face the public stare,
And win the plaudits that they crave,
And stem the hisses that they dare,
And modest truth and beauty save.
No woman, in her soul, is she
Who longs to poise above the roar
Of motley multitudes, and be
The idol at whose feet they pour
The wine of their idolatry.
Coarse labor makes its doer coarse;
Great burdens harden softest hands;
A gentle voice grows harsh and hoarse
That warns and threatens and commands
Beyond the measure of its force.
Oh sweet, beyond all speech, to feel
Within no answer to the drum,
Or echo to the bugle-peal,
That calls to duties which benumb
In service of the commonweal!
Oh sweet to feel, beyond all speech,
That most and best of human kind
Have leave to live beyond the reach
Of toil that tarnishes, and find
No tongue but Envy's to impeach!
Oh sweet, that most unnoticed deeds
Give play to fine, heroic blood!--
That hid from light, and shut from weeds,
The rose is fairer in its bud
Than in the blossom that succeeds!
He is the helpless slave who must;
And she enfranchised who may sit
Unblamed above the din and dust,
Where stronger hands and coarser wit
Strive equally for crown and crust.
So ran her thought, and broader yet,
Who scanned her own by Philip's pace;
And never did the wife forget
Her grateful tribute for the grace
That charged her with so sweet a debt.
So ran her thought; and in her breast
Her wifely pride to pity grew,
That Philip, by his Lord's behest--
To duty and to nature true--
Must do his bravest and his best.
Through winter's cold and summer's heat,
Where all might praise and all might blame,
And thus be topic of the street,
And see his fair and honest name
A football, kicked by careless feet.
She loved her creed, and doubting not
She read it well from Nature's scroll,
She found no line or word to blot;
But, from her woman's modest soul,
Thanked her Creator for her lot.
He who, upon an Alpine peak,
Stands, when the sunrise lifts the East,
And gilds the crown and lights the cheek
Of largest monarch down to least,
Of all the summits cold and bleak,
Finds sadly that it brings no boon
For all his long and toilsome leagues,
And chill at once and weary soon,
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