The Mistress of the Manse
J. G. Holland
Part 2 out of 2
Rests from his fevers and fatigues,
And waits the recompense of noon,
For then the valleys, near and far,
The hillsides, fretted by the vine,
The glacier-drift and torrent-scar
Whose restless waters shoot and shine,
And many a tarn, that like a star
Trembles and flames with stress of light,
And many a hamlet and chalet
That dots with brown, or paints with white,
The landscape quivering in the day,
With beauty all his toil requite.
Mountains, from mountain altitudes
Are only hills, as bleak and bare;
And he whose daring step intrudes
Upon their grandeur, and the rare
Cold light or gloom that o'er them broods,
Finds that with even brow to stand
Among the heights that bade him climb,
Is loss of all that made them grand,
While all of lovely and sublime
Looks up to him from lake and land.
Great men are few, and stand apart;
And seem divinest when remote.
From brain to brain, and heart to heart,
No thoughts of genial commerce float;
Each holds his own exclusive mart.
And when we meet them, face to face,
And hand to hand their greatness greet,
Our steps we willingly retrace,
And gather humbly at their feet,
With those who live upon their grace.
And man and woman--mount and vale--
Have charms, each from the other seen,--
The robe of rose, the coat of mail:
The springing turf, the black ravine:
The tossing pines, the waving swale:
Which please the sight with constant joy.
Thus living, each has power to call
The other's thoughts with sweet decoy,
And one can rise and one can fall
But to distemper or destroy.
The dewy meadow breeds the cloud
That rises on ethereal wings,
And wraps the mountain in a shroud
From which the living lightning springs
And torrents pour, that, lithe and loud,
Leap down in service to the plains,
Or feed the fountains at their source;
And only thus the mountain gains
The vital fulness of the force
That fills the meadow's myriad veins.
In fair, reciprocal exchange
Of good which each appropriates,
The meadow and the mountain-range
Nourish their beautiful estates;
And lofty wild and lowly grange
Thrive on the commerce thus ordained;
And not a reek ascends the rock,
And not a drift of dew is rained,
But eyrie-brood and tended flock
By the sweet gift is entertained.
A meadow may be fair and broad,
And hold a river in its rest;
Or small, arid with the silver gaud
Of a lone lakelet on its breast,
Or but a patch, that, overawed,
Clings humbly to the mountain's hem:
It matters not: it is the charm
That cheers his life, and holds the stem
Of every flower that tempts his arm,
Or greets his snowy diadem.
Dolts talk of largest and of least,
And worse than dolts are they who prate
Of Beauty captive to the Beast;
For man in woman finds his mate,
And thrones her equal at his feast.
She matches meekness with his might,
And patience with his power to act,--
His judgment with her quicker sight;
And wins by subtlety and tact
The battles he can only fight.
And she who strives to take the van
In conflict, or the common way,
Does outrage to the heavenly plan,
And outrage to the finer clay
That makes her beautiful to man.
All this, and more than this, she saw
Who reigned in Philip's house and heart.
Far off, he seemed without a flaw;
Close by, her tasteless counterpart,
And slave to Nature's common law.
To climb with fierce, familiar stride
His dizzy paths of life and thought,
Would but degrade him from her pride,
And bring the majesty to naught
Which love and distance magnified.
If she should grow like him, she knew
He would admire and love her less;
The eagle's image might be true,
But eagle of the wilderness
Would find no consort in the view.
A woman, in her woman's sphere,
A loyal wife and worshipper,
She only thirsted to appear
As fair to him as he to her,
And fairer still, from year to year.
And he who quickly learned to purge
His fancy of the tender whim
That she was floating at the verge
Of womanhood, half hid to him,
Saw her with gracious mien emerge,
And stand full-robed upon the shore,
With faculties and charms unguessed;
With wondrous eyes that looked before,
And hands that helped and words that blessed--
The mistress of an alien lore
Beyond the wisdom of the schools
And all his manly power to win;
With handicraft of tricks and tools
That conjured marvels with a pin,
And miracles with skeins and spools!
She seemed to mock his dusty dearth
With flowers that sprang beneath his eyes;
Till all he was, seemed little worth,
And she he deemed so little wise,
Became the wisest of the earth.
In all the struggles of his soul,
And all the strifes his soul abhorred,
She shone before him like a goal--
A shady power of fresh reward--
A shallop riding in the mole,
That waited with obedient helm
To bear him over sparkling seas,
Into a new and fragrant realm,
Before the vigor of a breeze
That drove, but would not overwhelm.
The river of their life was one;
The shores, down which they passed were two;
One mirrored mountains, huge and dun,
The other crimped the green and blue,
And sparkled in the kindly sun!
Twin barks, with answering flags, they moved
With even canvas down the stream,
In smooth or ruffled waters grooved,
And found such islands in their dream
As rest and loving speech behooved.
Ah fair the goodly gardens smiled
On Philip at his rougher strand!
And grandly loomed the summits, isled
In seas of cloud, to her who scanned
From her far shore the lofty wild.
Two lives, two loves--both self-forgot
In loving homage to their oath;
Two lives, two loves, but living not
By ministry that reached them both
In service of a common lot,
They sailed the stream, and every mile
Broadened with beauty as they passed;
And fruitful shore and trysting-isle,
And all love's intercourse were glassed
And blessed in Heaven's benignant smile.
To symmetry the oak is grown
Which all winds visit on the lea,
While that which lists the monotone
Of the long blast that sweeps the sea,
And answers to its breath alone,
Turns with aversion from the breeze,
And stretches all its stunted limbs
Landward and heavenward, toward the trees
That listen to a thousand hymns,
And grow to grander destinies.
Man may not live on whitest loaves,
With all of coarser good dismissed;
He pines and starves who never roves
Beyond the holy eucharist,
To gather of the fields and groves.
And he who seeks to fill his heart
With solace of a single friend,
Will find refreshment but in part,
Or, sadder still, will find the end
Of all his reach of thought and art.
They who love best need friendship most;
Hearts only thrive on varied good;
And he who gathers from a host
Of friendly hearts his daily food,
Is the best friend that we can boast.
She left her husband with his friends;
She called them round him at her board;
And found their culture made amends
For all the time that, from her hoard,
She spared him for these nobler ends.
He was her lover; that sufficed:
His home was in the Holy Place
With that of the Beloved Christ;
And friendship had no subtle grace
By which his love could be enticed.
Of all his friends, she was but one:
She held with them a common field.
Exclusive right, with love begun,
Ended with love, and stood repealed,
Leaving his friendship free to run
Toward man or woman, all unmissed.
She knew she had no right to bind
His friendship to her single wrist,
So long as love was true and kind,
And made her its monopolist,
No time was grudged with jealous greed
Which either books or friendship claimed.
He was her friend, and she had need
Of all--unhindered and unblamed
That he could win, through word or deed.
Her friend waxed great as grew the man;
Her temple swelled as rose her priest--
With power to bless and right to ban--
And all who served him, most or least,--
From chorister and sacristan
To those whose frankincense and myrrh
Perfumed the sacred courts with alms,--
Were gracious ministers to her,
Who found the largess in her palms,
And him the friendly almoner.
The summer passed, the autumn came;
The world swung over toward the night;
The forests robed themselves in flame,
Then faded slowly into white;
And set within a crystal frame
Of frozen streams, the shaggy boles
Of oak and elm, with leafless crowns,
Were painted stark upon the knolls;
And cots and villages and towns
On virgin canvas glowed like coals
In tawny-red, or strove in vain
To shame the white in which they stood.
The fairest tint was but a stain
Upon the snow, that quenched the wood,
And paved the street, and draped the plain!
Oh! Southern cheeks are quick to feel
The magic finger of the frost;
And Mildred heard but one long peal
From the fierce Arctic, which embossed
Her window-panes, and set the seal
Of cold on all her eye beheld,
When through her veins there swept new fire,
And, in her answering bosom, swelled
New purposes and new desire,
And force to higher deeds impelled.
Ah! well for her the languor cast
That followed from her Southern clime!
The time would come--was coming fast,--
Love's consummated, crowning time--
Of which her heart had antepast!
A strange new life was in her breast;
Her eyes were full of wondrous dreams;
She sailed all whiles from crest to crest
Of a broad ocean, through whose gleams
She saw an island wrapped in rest!
And as she drove across the sea,
Toward the fair port that fixed her gaze,
Her life was like a rosary,
Whose slowly counted beads were days
Of prayer for one that was to be!
Oh roses, roses! Who shall sing
The beauty of the flowers of God!
Or thank the angel from whose wing
The seeds are scattered on the sod
From which such bloom and perfume spring!
Sure they have heavenly genesis
Which make a heaven of every place;
Which company our bale and bliss,
And never to our sinning race
Speak aught unhallowed, or amiss!
When love is grieved, their buds atone;
When love is wed, their forms are near;
They blend their breathing with the moan
Of love when dying, and the bier
Is white with them in every zone.
No spot is mean that they begem;
No nosegay fair that holds them not;
They melt the pride and stir the phlegm
Of lord and churl, in court and cot,
And weave a common diadem
For human brows where'er they grow.
They write all languages of red,
They speak all dialects of snow,
And all the words of gold are said
With fragrant meanings where they blow!
Oh sweetest flowers! Oh flowers divine!
In which God comes so closely down,
We gather from his chosen sign
The tints that cluster in his crown--
The perfume of his breath benign!
Oh sweetest flowers! Oh flowers that hold
The fragrant life of Paradise
For a brief day, shut told in fold,
That we may drink it in a trice,
And drop the empty pink and gold!
Oh sweetest flowers, that have a breath
For every passion that we feel!
That tell us what the Master saith
Of blessing, in our woe and weal,
And all events of life and death!
The time of roses came again;
And one had bloomed within the manse,
Bloomed in a burst of midnight pain,
And plumed its life in fair expanse,
Beneath love's nursing sun and rain.
In calyx fair of lilied lawn,
Wrapped in the mosses of the lamb,
Long days it lightened toward the dawn
Of the bright-blushing oriflamme,
That on two happy faces shone.
Such tendance ne'er had flower before!
Such beauty ne'er had flower returned!
Found on that distant island-shore,
Whose secret she at last had learned,
And made her own for evermore,
Mildred consigned it to her breast;
And though she knew it took its hue
From her, it seemed the Lord's bequest,--
Still sparkling with the heavenly dew,
And still with heavenly beauty dressed.
Oh roses! ye were wondrous fair
That summer by the river side!
For hearts were blooming everywhere,
In sympathy of love and pride,
With that which came to Mildred's care.
And rose as red as rose could be
Filled Philip's breast with largest bloom,
And cast its fragrance far and free,
And filled his lonely, silent room
With rapture of paternity!
The evening fell on field and street;
The glow-worm lit his phosphor lamp,
For fairy forms and fairy feet,
That gathered for their nightly tramp
Where grass was green and flowers were sweet.
In devious circles, round and round,
The night-hawk coursed the twilight sky,
Or shot like lightning the profound,
With breezy thunder in the cry
That marked his furious rebound!
The zephyrs breathed through elm and ash
From new-mown hay and heliotrope,
And came through Philip's open sash
With sheen of stars that lit the cope,
And twinkling of the fire-fly's flash.
He thought of Mildred and his boy;
And something moved him more than pride,
And purer than his manly joy;
For while these swelled with turbid tide,
His gratitude had no alloy.
He heard the baby's weary plaint;
He heard the mother's soothing words;
And sitting in his hushed restraint,
One voice was murmur of the birds,
And one the hymning of a saint!
And as he sat alone, immersed
In the fond fancies of the time,
Her voice in mellow music burst,
And by a rhythmic stair of rhyme
Led down to sleep the child she nursed.
"Rockaby, lullaby, bees in the clover!--
Crooning so drowsily, crying so low--
Rockaby, lullaby, dear little rover!
Down into wonderland--
Down to the under-land--
Go, oh go!
Down into wonderland go!
"Rockaby, lullaby, rain on the clover!
Tears on the eyelids that waver and weep!
Rockaby, lullaby--bending it over!
Down on the mother-world,
Down on the other world!
Sleep, oh sleep!
Down on the mother-world sleep!
"Rockaby, lullaby, dew on the clover!
Dew on the eyes that will sparkle at dawn!
Rockaby, lullaby, dear little rover!
Into the stilly world--
Into the lily world,
Gone! oh gone!
Into the lily-world, gone!"
They sprouted like the prophet's gourd;
They grew within a single night;
So swift his busy years were scored
That, ere he knew, his hope was white
With harvest bending round his board!
And eyes were black, and eyes were blue,
And blood of mother and of sire,
Each to its native humor true,
Blent Northern force with Southern fire
In strength and beauty, strange and new.
The Gallic brown, the Saxon snow,
The raven locks, the flaxen curls,
Were so commingled in the now
Of the new blood of boys and girls,
That Puritan and Huguenot
In love's alembic were advanced
To higher types and finer forms;
And ardent humors thrilled and danced
Through veins, that tempered all their storms,
Or held them in restraint entranced.
Oh! many times, as flew the years,
The dainty cradle-song was sung;
And bore its balm to restless ears,
As one by one the nested young
Slept in their willows and their tears.
To each within the reedy glade,
Hid from some tyrant's cruel schemes,
It was a princess, or her maid,
Who bore him to the realm of dreams,
And made him seer by accolade
Of flaming bush and parted deep,
Of gushing rocks and raining corn,
And fire and cloud, and lengthened sweep
Of thousands toward the promised morn,
Across the wilderness of sleep!
The years rolled on in grand routine
Of useful toil and chastening care,
Till Philip, grown to heights, serene
Of conscious power, and ripe with prayer,
Took on the strong and stately mien
Of one on whom had been conferred
The doing of a knightly deed;
And waited till it bade him gird
The harness on him and his steed,
For man and for his Master's word.
His name was spoken far and near,
And sounded sweet on every tongue;
Men knew him only to revere,
And those who knew him nearest, flung
Their hearts before his grand career,
And paved his way with loyal trust.
He was their strongest, noblest man,--
Sworn foe of every selfish lust,
And brave to do as wise to plan,
And swift to judge as pure and just.
Against such foil the mistress stood--
A pearl upon a cross of gold--
White with consistent womanhood,
And fixed with unrelaxing hold
Upon the centre of the rood!
Through all those years of loving thrift,
Nor blame nor discord marred their lot;
Each to the lover-life was gift;
And each was free from blur or blot
That called for silence or for shrift.
Each bore the burden that it held
With patient hands along the road;
And though, with passing years, it swelled
Until it grew a weary load,
Nor tongue complained, nor heart rebelled.
At length the time of trial came,
And they were tried as gold is tried.
Their peace of life went up in flame,
And what was good was vilified,
And what was blameless came to blame.
The Southern sky was dun with cloud;
And looming lurid o'er its edge
The brows of awful forms were bowed,
That forged in flame the fateful wedge
Which waited in the angry shroud
The banner of the storm unfurled,
And all the powers of death arrayed
In black battalions, to be hurled
Down through the rack--a blazing blade--
To cleave the realm, and shake the world!
The North was full of nameless dread;
Wild portents flamed from out the pole;
Old scars on Freedom's bosom bled,
And sick at heart and vexed of soul
She tossed in fever on her bed!
Pale Commerce hid her face and whined;
The arms of Toil were paralyzed;
The wise were of divided mind,
And those who counselled and advised
Were sightless leaders of the blind.
Men lost their faith in good and great;
No captain sprang, or prophet bard,
To win their trust, and save the state
From the wild storm that, like a pard,
On quivering haunches lay in wait!
The loyal only were not brave;
E'en peace became a cringing dog;
The patriot paltered like a knave,
And partisan anti demagogue
Quarrelled o'er Freedom's waiting grave.
Amid the turmoil and disgrace,
The voice was clear from first to last,
Of one who, in the desert place
Of barren counsels, held him fast
His shepherd's crook, and made it mace
To bear before the Great Event
Whose harbinger he chose to be,
And called on all men to repent,
And build a way from sea to sea,
For Freedom's full enfranchisement.
For Philip, to his conscience leal,
Conceived that God had chosen him
With Treason's sophistries to deal,
And grapple with the Anakim
Whose menace shook the common weal.
His pulpit smoked beneath his blows;
His voice was heard in hall and street;
A thousand friends became his foes,
And pews were empty or replete,
With passion's ebbs and overflows.
They trailed his good name in the mire;
They spat their venom in his eyes;
They taunted him with mad desire
For power, and gathered his replies
In braver words and fiercer fire,
He was a wolf, disguised in wool;
He was a viper in the breast;
He was a villain, or the tool
Of greater villains; at the best,
A blind enthusiast and fool!
As swelled the tempest, rose the man;
He turned to sport their brutal spleen;
And none could choose be slow to span
The difference that lay between
A Prospero and a Caliban!
She would not move him otherwise,
Although her heart was sad and sore.
That which was venal in his eyes
To her a lovely aspect wore,
And helped to weave the thousand ties
Which bound her to her youth, and all
The loves that she had left behind
When, from her father's stately hall,
She came, her Northern home to find,
With him who held her heart in thrall.
In the dark pictures which he drew
Of instituted shame and wrong,
She saw no figures that she knew,
But a confused and hateful throng
Of forms that in his fancy grew.
Her father's rule, benign and mild,
Was all of slavery she had known;
To her, an Afric was a child--
A charge in other ages thrown
On Christian honor, from the wild
Of savagery in which the Fates
Had given him birth and dwelling-place--
And so, descending through estates
Of gentle vassalage, his race
Had come to those of later dates.
Black hands her baby form had dressed;
Black hands her blacker hair had curled;
And she had found a dusky breast
The sweetest breast in all the world
When she was thirsty or at rest.
Her playmates, in her native bowers,
Were Darkest children of the sun,
Who built the palaces and towers
In which her reign, in love begun,
Gave foretaste of love's later hours.
Her memory was full of song
That she had learned in house and field,
From those whose days seemed never long,
And those who could not hold concealed
The consciousness of shame and wrong.
A loving ear heard their complaints;
A faithful tongue advised and warned;
And grave corrections and restraints
Were rendered by a heart adorned
By all the graces of the saints.
There was no touch of memory's chords--
No picture on her blooming wall,--
Of life upon the sunny swards
They reproduced,--but brought recall
Of happy slaves and gentle lords.
And Philip charged a deadly sin
Upon that beautiful domain,
Condemning all who dwelt therein,
And branding with the awful stain
Her friends, and all her dearest kin.
Yet still she knew his conscience clear,--
That he believed his voice was God's;
And listened with a voiceless fear
To the portentous periods
In which he preached the chosen year
Of expiation and release,
And prophesied that Slavery's power,
Grown great apace with crime's increase,
Before the front of Right should cower,
And bid God's people go in peace!
The fierce invectives of his tongue
Frayed every day her wounds afresh,
And with new pain her bosom wrung,
For they envenomed kindred flesh,
To which in sympathy she clung.
Yet not a finger did she lift
To hold him from his fateful task,
Though Satan oft essayed to sift
Her soul as wheat, and bade her ask
Somewhat from conscience as a gift.
And when a serpent in his slime
Crept to her ear with phrase polite,
Prating of duty to her time
And to her people, swift and white
She turned and cursed him for his crime!
She would have naught of all the brood
Of temporizing, driveling shows
Of men who Philip's words withstood:
Against them all her love uprose,
And all her pride of womanhood.
She loved her kindred none the less,
She loved her husband still the more,
For well she knew that with distress
He saw the heavy cross she bore
With steadfast faith and tenderness.
She kept her love intact, because
She would not be a partisan;
Not hers the voice that made the laws,
Nor hers prerogative to ban,
Or bolster them with her applause.
No strife of jarring policies,
No conflict of embittered states,
No chart, defining by degrees
Of latitude her country's hates,
Could change her friends to enemies.
The motives ranged on either hand,
Behind the war of word and will,
Were such as she could understand
And, with respect to all, fulfil
Love's broad and beautiful command.
So, with all questions hushed to sleep,
And all opinions put aside,
She gave her loved ones to the keep
Of God, whatever should betide,
To bear her joy or bid her weep!
Though Philip knew he wounded her,
His faith to God and faith to man
Bade him go forward, and incur
Such cost as, since the world began,
Has burdened Freedom's harbinger.
No heart or hand was his to flinch
From ease or reputation lost;
Nor waste of gold, nor hunger-pinch,
Nor e'en his home's black holocaust,
Could stay his arm, though inch by inch,
The maddened hosts of scorn and scath
Should crowd him backward to defeat.
He would but strive with sterner wrath,
And bless the hand that, soft and sweet,
Withheld its hinderance from his path!
Still darker loomed the Southern cloud,
While o'er its black and billowed face
In furrowed fire the lightning ploughed,
And ramping from its hiding-place
Roared the wild thunder, fierce and loud!
And still men chattered of their trade,
And strove to banish their alarms;
And some were puzzled, some afraid,
And some held up their feeble arms
In indignation while they prayed!
And others weakly talked of schism
As boon of God in place of war,
And bared their foreheads for its chrism!
While direr than the mace of Thor,
In mid-air hung the cataclysm
Which waited but some chance, or act,
To shiver the electric spell,
And pour in one fierce cataract
A rain of blood and fire of hell
On Freedom's temple spoiled and sacked.
The politician plied his craft;
The demagogue still schemed and lied;
The patriot wept, the traitor laughed;
The coward to his covert hied,
And statesmen went distract or daft.
Contention raged in Senate halls;
Confusion reigned in field and town;
High conclaves flattened into brawls,
And till and hammer, smock and gown,
Nor duty knew nor heard its calls!
At last, incontinent of fire,
The cloud of menace belched its brand;
And every state and every shire,
And town and hamlet in the land,
Shook with the smiting of its ire!
Men looked each other in the eyes,
And beat their burning breasts and cursed!
At last the silliest were wise;
And swift to flash and thunder-burst
Fashioned in anger their replies.
The smoke of Sumter filled the air.
Men breathed it in in one long breath;
And straight upspringing everywhere,
Life burgeoned on the mounds of death,
And bloomed in valleys of despair.
The fire of Sumter, fierce and hot,
Welded their purpose into one;
And discord hushed, and strife forgot,
They swore that what had thus begun
With sacrilegious cannon-shot,
Should find in analogue of flame
Such answer of the nation's host,
That the old flag, washed clean from shame
In blood, should wave from coast to coast,
Over one realm in heart and name!
Pale doubters, scourged by countless whips,
Fled to their refuge, or obeyed
The motives and the masterships
That time and circumstance betrayed
Through Patriotism's apocalypse,
And, sympathetic with the spasm
Of loyal life that thrilled the clime,
Lost in the swift enthusiasm
The loose intention of their crime,
And leaped in swarms the awful chasm
That held them parted from the mass.
The North was one in heart and thought;
And that which could not come to pass
Through loyal eloquence, was wrought
By one hot word from lips of brass!
The cry sprang upward and sped on:
"To arms! for freedom and the flag!"
And swift, from Maine to Oregon,
O'er glebe and lake and mountain-crag,
Hurtled the fierce Euroclydon,
Men dropped their mallets on the bench,
Forsook their ploughs on hill and plain,
And tore themselves, with piteous wrench
Of heart and hope, from love and gain,
And trooped in throngs to tent and trench.
"To arms!" and Philip heard the cry.
Not his the valor cheap and small
To bluster with brave phrase, and fly
When trumpet-blare and rifle-ball
Proclaimed the time for words gone by!
Men knew their chieftain. He had borne
Their insolence through struggling years,
And they---the dastards, the forsworn--
Who had ransacked the hemispheres
For instruments to wreak their scorn
On him and all of kindred speech,
Gathered around him with his friends,
And with stern plaudits heard him preach
A gospel whose stupendous ends
Their martyred blood could only reach.
They gave him honor far and wide,
As one who backed his word by deed;
And he whose task had been to guide,
Was chosen by reclaim to lead
The men who gathered at his side.
The crook was banished for the glave;
The churchman's black for soldier-blue;
The man of peace became a brave;
And, in the dawn of conflict, drew
His sword his country's life to save.
They came from mead and mountain-top;
They came from factory and forge;
And one by one, from farm and shop--
Still gravel to the Northman's gorge--
Followed the servile Ethiop.
Gaunt, grimy men, whose ways had been
Among the shadows and the slums,
With pedagogue and paladin,
Rushed, at the rolling of the drums,
To Philip, and were mustered in!
The beat of drum and scream of fife,
Commingling with the thundering tramp
Of trooping throngs, so changed the life
Of the calm village that the camp,
And what it prophesied of strife,
And hap of loss and hap of gain,
Became of every tongue the theme;
Till burning heart and throbbing brain
Could waking think, and sleeping dream,
Of naught but battles and the slain.
With eager eyes and helpful hands
The women met in solemn crowds,
And shred the linen into bands
That had been better saved for shrouds,
Or want's imperious demands.
And with them all sad Mildred walked,
The bearer of a heavy cross;
For at her side the phantom stalked--
Nor left her for an hour--of loss
Which by no fortune might be balked.
For one or all she loved must fall;
One cause must perish in defeat;
Success of either would appall,
And victory, however sweet
To others, would to her be gall.
To each, with equal heart allied,
Her love was like the love of God,
That wraps the country in its tide,
And o'er its hosts, benign and broad,
Broods with its pity and its pride!
A thousand chances of the feud
She wove and raveled one by one,--
Of hands in kindred blood imbrued,--
Of father, face to face with son,
And friends turned foemen fierce and rude.
And in her dreams two forms were met,
Of friends as leal as ever breathed---
Her husband and her brother--wet
With priceless blood from swords ensheathed
In hearts that loved each other yet!
But itching ears her language scanned,
And jealous eyes were on her steps;
And fancies into rumors fanned
By loyal shrews and demireps
Proclaimed her traitress to the land.
They knew her blood, but could not know
That mighty passion of her heart
Which, reaching widely in its woe,
Grasped all she loved on either part,
And could not, would not let it go!
The time of gathering came and went--
Of noisy zeal and hasty drill--
And every where, in field and tent,--
A constant presence,--Philip's will
Moulded the callow regiment.
And then there fell a gala day,
When all the mighty, motley swarm
Appeared in beautiful display
Of burnished arms and uniform,
And gloried in their brave array!--
And, later still, the hour of dread
To all the simple country round,
When forth, with Philip at their head,
They marched from the familiar ground,
And drained its life, and left it dead;--
Dead but for those who pined with grief;
Dead but for fears that could not die;
Dead as the world when flower and leaf
Are still beneath a gathering sky,
And ocean sleeps on reach and reef.
The weary waiting time had come,
When only apprehension waked;
And lonely wives sat chill and dumb
Among their broods, with hearts that ached
And echoed the retreating drum.
Teachers forgot to preach their creeds,
And trade forsook its merchandise;
The fallow fields grew rank with weeds,
And none had interest or eyes
For aught but war's ensanguined deeds.
As one who lingered by a bier
Where all she loved lay dead and cold,
Sad Mildred sat without a tear,
Living again the days of old,
Or, with the vision of a seer,
Forecasting the disastrous end.
Whatever might come, she did not dare
Believe that fortune would defend
The noble life she could not spare,
And save her lover and her friend.
Her blooming girls and stalwart boys
Could never comprehend the woe
Which dropped its measure of their joys,
And felt but horror in the show,
And heard but murder in the noise,
And dreamed of death when stillness fell
Behind the gay and shouting corps.
They saw her haunted by the spell
Of a great sorrow, and forebore
To question what they could not quell.
Small time she gave to vain regret;
Brief space to thought of that adieu
Which crushed her breast, when last they met,
And in love's baptism bathed anew
Cheeks, lips, and eyes, and left them wet!
In deeds of sympathy and grace,
She moved among the homes forlorn,
Alike to beautiful and base
And, to the stricken and the shorn,
The guardian angel of the place.
Oh piteous waste of hopes and fears!
Oh cruel stretch of long delay!
Oh homes bereft! Oh useless tears!
Oh war! that ravened on its prey
Through pain's immeasurable years!
The town was mourning for its dead;
The streets were black with widowhood;
While orphaned children begged for bread,
And Rachel, for the brave and good,
Mourned, and would not be comforted.
The regiment that, straight and crisp,
Shone like a wheat-field in the sun,
Its swift voice deafened to a lisp,
Fell, ere the war was well begun,
And waned and withered to a wisp.
And Philip, grown to higher rank,
Crowned with the bays of splendid deeds,
Of the full cup of glory drank,
And lived, though all his reeking steeds
In the red front of conflict sank.
The star of conquest waxed or waned,
Yet still the call came back for men;
Still the lamenting town was drained,
And still again, and still again,
Till only impotence remained!
There came at length an eve of gloom--
Dread Gettysburg's eventful eve--
When all the gathering clouds of doom
Hung low, the breathless air to cleave
With scream of shell and cannon-boom!
Man knew too well; and woman felt,
That when the next-wild morn should rise,
A blow of battle would, be dealt
Before whose fire ten thousand eyes--
As in a furnace flame--would melt.
And on this eve--her flock asleep--
Knelt Mildred at her lonely bed.
She could not pray, she did not weep,
But only moaned, and moaning, said:
"Oh God! he sows what I must reap!
"He will not live: he must not die!
But oh, my poor, prophetic heart!
It warns me that there lingers nigh
The hour when love and I must part!"
And then she startled with a cry,
For, from beneath her lattice, came
A low and once repeated call!
She knew the voice that spoke her name,
And swiftly, through the midnight hall
She fluttered noiseless as a flame,
And on its unresisting hinge
Threw wide her hospitable door,
To one whose spirit did not cringe
Though he was weak, and knew he bore
No right her freedom to infringe.
She wildly clasped his neck of bronze;
She rained her kisses; on his face,
Grown tawny with a thousand suns,
And holding him in her embrace,
She led him to her little ones,
Who, reckless of his coming, slept.
Then down the stair with silent feet,
And through the shadowy hall she swept,
And saw, between her and the street,
A form that into darkness crept.
She closed the door with speechless dread;
She fixed the bolt with trembling hand;
Then led the rebel to his bed,
Whom love and safety had unmanned,
And left him less alive than dead.
Through nights and days of fear and grief,
She kept her faithful watch and ward,
But love and rest brought no relief;
And all he begged for of his Lord
Was death, with passion faint and brief.
Around the house were prying eyes,
And gossips hiding under trees;
And Mildred heard the steps of spies
At midnight, when, upon her knees,
She sought the comfort of the skies.
Strange voices rose upon the night;
Strange errands entered at the gate;
Her hours were months of pale affright;
But still her prisoner of state
Was shielded from their eager sight.
They did not dare to force the lock
Of one whose deeds had been divine,
Or carry to her heart the shock
Of violence, although condign
Toward one who dared the laws to mock.
But there were hirelings in pursuit,
Who thirsted for his golden price;
And, swift allied with pimp and brute,
And quick to purchase and entice,
They found the tree that held their fruit.
The day of Gettysburg had set;
The smoke had drifted from the scene,
And burnished sword and bayonet
Lay rusting where, but yestere'en,
They dropped with life-blood red and wet!
The swift invader had retraced
His march, and left his fallen braves,
Covered at night in voiceless haste,
To, sleep, in memorable graves,
But knew that all his loss was waste.
The nation's legions, stretching wide,
Too sore to chase, too weak to cheer,
Gave sepulture to those who died,
And saw their foemen disappear
Without the loss of power or pride.
And then, swift-sweeping like a gale,
Through all the land, from end to end,
Grief poured its wild, untempered wail,
And father, mother, wife, and friend
Forgot their country in their bale.
And Philip, with his fatal wound,
Was borne beyond the battle's blaze,
Across the torn and quaking ground,--
His ear too dull to heed the praise,
That spoke him hero, robed and crowned.
They bent above his blackened face,
And questioned of his last desire;
And with his old, familiar grace,
And smiling mouth, and eye of fire,
He answered them: "My wife's embrace!"
They wiped his forehead of its stain,
They bore him tenderly away,
Through teeming mart and wide champaign,
Till on a twilighty cool and gray,
And wet with weeping of the rain,
They gave him to a silent crowd
That waited at the river's marge,
Of men with age and sorrow bowed,
Who raised and bore their precious charge,
Through groups that watched and wailed aloud.
The hounds of power were at her gate;
And at their heels, a yelping pack
Of graceless mongrels stood in wait,
To mark the issue of attack,
With lips that slavered with their hate.
With window raised and portal barred,
The mistress scanned the darkening space,
And with a visage hot and hard--
At bay before the cruel chase--
She held them in her fierce regard.
"What would ye--spies and hirelings--what?"
She asked with accent, stern and brave;
"Why come ye to this sacred spot,
Led by the counsel of a knave,
And flanked by slanderer and sot?
"You have my husband: has he earned
No meed of courtesy for me?
Is this the recompense returned,
That she he loved the best should be
Suspected, persecuted, spurned?
"My home is wrecked: what would ye more?
My life is ruined--what new boon?
My children's hearts are sad and sore
With weeping for the wounds that soon
Will plead for healing at my door!
"I hold your prisoner--stand assured:
Safe from his foes: aye, safe from you!
Safe in a sister's love immured,
And by a warden kept as true
As e'er the test of faith endured,
"Why, men, he was my brother born!
My hero, all my youthful years!
My counsellor, to guide and warn!
My shield alike from foes and fears!
And when he came to me, forlorn,
"What could I do but hail him guest,
And bind his cruel wounds with balm,
And give him on his sister's breast
That which he asked, the humble alm
Of a safe pillow where to rest?
"Come, then, and dare the wrath of fate!
Come, if you must, or if you will!
But know that I am desperate;
And shafts that wound, and wounds that kill
Your deed of dastardy await!"
A murmur swept through all the mob;
The base informer slunk afar;
And lusty cheer and stifled sob
Rose to her at the window-bar,
While those whose hands were come to rob
Her dwelling of its treasure, cursed;
For round their heads the menace flew
That he who dared adventure first,
Or first an arm of murder drew,
Should taste of vengeance at its worst.
A heavy tramp, a murmuring sound,
Low mingling with the murmuring rain,--
Heard in the wind and in the ground,--
Came up the street--a tide of pain,
In which the angry din was drowned.
The leaders of the tumult fled;
The door flew open with a crash;
And down the street wild Mildred sped,
Piercing the darkness like a flash,
And walked beside her husband's bed.
Slowly the solemn train advanced;
The crowd fell back with parted ranks;
And like a giant, half entranced,
Sailing between strange, spectral banks,
From side to side the soldier glanced.
The sobbing rain, the evening dim,
The dusky forms that pushed and peered,
The swaying couch, the aching limb,
The lights and shadows, sharp and weird,
Were but a troubled dream to him.
He knew his love--all else unknown,
Or seen through reason's sad eclipse--
And with her, hand within his own,
Or fondly pressed upon his lips,
He clung to it, as if alone
It had the power to stay, his feet
Still longer on the verge of life;
And thus they vanished from the street--
The shepherd-warrior and his wife--
Within the manse's closed retreat.
Embraced by home, his soul grew light;
And though he moaned: "My head! my head!"
His life turned back its outward flight,
Like his, who, from the prophet's bed,
Startled the wondering Shunammite.
He greeted all with tender speech;
He told his children he should die;
He gave his fond farewell to each,
With messages, and fond good-by
To all he loved beyond his reach.
And then he spoke her brother's name:
"Tell him," he said, "that, in my death,
I cherished his untarnished fame,
And, to my life's expiring breath,
Held his brave spirit free from blame.
"We strove alike for truth's behoof,
With honest faith and love sincere,--
For God and-country, right and roof,
And issues that do not appear;
But wait with Heaven the awful proof."
A tottering figure reached the door;
The brother fell upon the bed,
And, in each other's arms once more,
With breast to breast, and head to head,--
Twin barks, they drifted from the shore;
And backward on the sobbing air
Came the same words from warring lips:
"God save my country!" and the prayer
Still wailing from the drifting ships,
Returned in measures of despair;
Till far, at the horizon's verge,
They passed beyond the tearful eyes
That could not know if in the surge
They sank at last, or in the skies
Forgot the burden of their dirge!
In Northern blue and Southern brown,
Twin coffins and a single grave,
They laid the weary warriors down;
And hands that strove to slay and save
Had equal rest and like renown.
For in the graveyard's hallowed close
A woman's love made neutral soil,
Where it might lay the forms of those
Who, resting from their fateful broil,
Had ceased forever to be foes.
To her and those who clung to her--
From manly eldest down to least--
The obsequies, the sepulchre,
The chanting choir, the weeping priest,
And all the throng and all the stir
Of sympathetic country-folk,
And all the signs of death and dole,
Were but a dream that beat and broke
In chilling waves on heart and soul,
Till in the silence they awoke.
She was a widow, and she wept;
She was a mother, and she smiled;
Her faith with those she loved was kept,
Though still the war-cry, fierce and wild,
Around the harried country swept.
No more with this had she to do;
God and her little ones were left;
And unto these, serene and true,
She gave the life so soon bereft
Of its first gifts, and rose anew
At duty's call to make amends
For all her loss of loves and lands;
And found, to speed her noble ends,
The succor of uplifting hands,
And solace of a thousand friends.
And o'er her precious graves she built
A stone whereon the yellow boss
Of sword on sword with naked hilt
Lay as the symbol of her cross,
In mournful meaning, carved and gilt.
And underneath were graved the lines:--
"THEY DID THE DUTY THAT THEY SAW;
BOTH WROUGHT AT GOD'S SUPREME DESIGNS
AND, UNDER LOVE'S ETERNAL LAW,
EACH LIFE WITH EQUAL BEAUTY SHINES."
Peace, with its large and lilied calms,
Like moonlight sleeps on land and lake,
With healing in its dewy balms,
For pride that pines and hearts that ache,
From Huron to the land of palms!
From rock-bound Massachusetts Bay
To San Francisco's Golden Gate;
From where Itasca's waters play,
To those which plunge or palpitate
A thousand happy leagues away,
And drink, among her dunes and bars,
The Mississippi's boiling tide,
Still floating from a million spars,
The nation's ensign, undefied,
Blazons its galaxy of stars.
No more to party strife the slave,
And freed from Hate's infernal spells,
Love pays her tribute to the brave,
And snows her holy immortelles
O'er friend and foe, where'er his grave.
On every Decoration Day
The white-haired Mildred finds her mounds
Decked with the garnered bloom of May--
Flowers planted first within her wounds,
And fed by love as white as they.
And Philip's first-born, strong and sage,
Through Heaven's design or happy chance
Finds the old church his heritage,
And still, The Mistress of the Manse,
Sits Mildred, in her silver age!
Back to Full Books