By J. G. HOLLAND
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The Question Stated and Argued
The Question Illustrated by Nature
The Question Illustrated by Experience
The Question Illustrated by Story
The Question Illustrated by the Denouement
Winter's wild birthnight! In the fretful East The uneasy wind moans with its sense of cold, And sends its sighs through gloomy mountain gorge, Along the valley, up the whitening hill, To tease the sighing spirits of the pines, And waste in dismal woods their chilly life. The sky is dark, and on the huddled leaves— The restless, rustling leaves—sifts down its sleet, Till the sharp crystals pin them to the earth, And they grow still beneath the rising storm. The roofless bullock hugs the sheltering stack, With cringing head and closely gathered feet, And waits with dumb endurance for the morn. Deep in a gusty cavern of the barn The witless calf stands blatant at his chain; While the brute mother, pent within her stall, With the wild stress of instinct goes distraught, And frets her horns, and bellows through the night. The stream runs black; and the far waterfall That sang so sweetly through the summer eyes, And swelled and swayed to Zephyr's softest breath, Leaps with a sullen roar the dark abyss, And howls its hoarse responses to the wind. The mill is still. The distant factory, That swarmed yestreen with many-fingered life, And bridged the river with a hundred bars Of molten light, is dark, and lifts its bulk, With dim, uncertain angles, to the sky.
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Yet lower bows the storm. The leafless trees Lash their lithe limbs, and, with majestic voice, Call to each other through the deepening gloom; And slender trunks that lean on burly boughs Shriek with the sharp abrasion; and the oak, Mellowed in fiber by unnumbered frosts, Yields to the shoulder of the Titan Blast, Forsakes its poise, and, with a booming crash, Sweeps a fierce passage to the smothered rocks, And lies a shattered ruin.
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Other scene:— Across the swale, half up the pine-capped hill, Stands the old farmhouse with its clump of barns— The old red farmhouse—dim and dun to-night, Save where the ruddy firelights from the hearth Flap their bright wings against the window panes,— A billowy swarm that beat their slender bars, Or seek the night to leave their track of flame Upon the sleet, or sit, with shifting feet And restless plumes, among the poplar boughs— The spectral poplars, standing at the gate.
And now a man, erect, and tall, and strong, Whose thin white hair, and cheeks of furrowed bronze, And ancient dress, betray the patriarch, Stands at the window, listening to the storm; And as the fire leaps with a wilder flame— Moved by the wind—it wraps and glorifies His stalwart frame, until it flares and glows Like the old prophets, in transfigured guise, That shape the sunset for cathedral aisles. And now it passes, and a sweeter shape Stands in its place. O blest maternity! Hushed on her bosom, in a light embrace, Her baby sleeps, wrapped in its long white robe; And as the flame, with soft, auroral sweeps, Illuminates the pair, how like they seem, O Virgin Mother! to thyself and thine! Now Samuel comes with curls of burning gold To hearken to the voice of God without: "Speak, mighty One! Thy little servant hears!" And Miriam, maiden, from her household cares Comes to the window in her loosened robe,— Comes with the blazing timbrels in her hand,— And, as the noise of winds and waters swells, It shapes the song of triumph to her lips: "The horse and he who rode are overthrown!" And now a man of noble port and brow, And aspect of benignant majesty, Assumes the vacant niche, while either side Press the fair forms of children, and I hear: "Suffer the little ones to come to me!"
Here dwells the good old farmer, Israel, In his ancestral home—a Puritan Who reads his Bible daily, loves his God, And lives serenely in the faith of Christ. For threescore years and ten his life has run Through varied scenes of happiness and woe; But, constant through the wide vicissitude, He has confessed the Giver of his joys, And kissed the hand that took them; and whene'er Bereavement has oppressed his soul with grief, Or sharp misfortune stung his heart with pain, He has bowed down in childlike faith, and said, "Thy will, O God—Thy will be done, not mine!" His gentle wife, a dozen summers since, Passed from his faithful arms and went to heaven; And her best gift—a maiden sweetly named— His daughter Ruth—orders the ancient house, And fills her mother's place beside the board, And cheers his life with songs and industry. But who are these who crowd the house to-night— A happy throng? Wayfaring pilgrims, who, Grateful for shelter, charm the golden hours With the sweet jargon of a festival? Who are these fathers? who these mothers? who These pleasant children, rude with health and joy?
It is the Puritan's Thanksgiving Eve; And gathered home, from fresher homes around, The old man's children keep the holiday— In dear New England, since the fathers slept— The sweetest holiday of all the year. John comes with Prudence and her little girls, And Peter, matched with Patience, brings his boys— Fair boys and girls with good old Scripture names— Joseph, Rebekah, Paul, and Samuel; And Grace, young Ruth's companion in the house, Till wrested from her last Thanksgiving Day By the strong hand of Love, brings home her babe And the tall poet David, at whose side She went away. And seated in the midst, Mary, a foster-daughter of the house, Of alien blood—self-aliened many a year— Whose chastened face and melancholy eyes Bring all the wondering children to her knee, Weeps with the strange excess of happiness, And sighs with joy. What recks the driving storm Of such a scene as this? And what reck these Of such a storm? For every heavy gust That smites the windows with its cloud of sleet, And shakes the sashes with its ghostly hands, And rocks the mansion till the chimney's throat Through all its sooty caverns shrieks and howls, They give full bursts of careless merriment, Or songs that send it baffled on its way.
Doubt takes to wings on such a night as this; And while the traveler hugs her fluttering cloak, And staggers o'er the weary waste alone, Beneath a pitiless heaven, they flap his face, And wheel above, or hunt his fainting soul, As, with relentless greed, a vulture throng, With their lank shadows mock the glazing eyes Of the last camel of the caravan. And Faith takes forms and wings on such a night. Where love burns brightly at the household hearth, And from the altar of each peaceful heart Ascends the fragrant incense of its thanks, And every pulse with sympathetic throb Tells the true rhythm of trustfulest content, They flutter in and out, and touch to smiles The sleeping lips of infancy; and fan The blush that lights the modest maiden's cheeks; And toss the locks of children at their play.
Silence is vocal if we listen well; And Life and Being sing in dullest ears From morn to night, from night to morn again, With fine articulations; but when God Disturbs the soul with terror, or inspires With a great joy, the words of Doubt and Faith Sound quick and sharp like drops on forest leaves; And we look up to where the pleasant sky Kisses the thunder-caps, and drink the song.
A SONG OF DOUBT.
The day is quenched, and the sun is fled; God has forgotten the world! The moon is gone, and the stars are dead; God has forgotten the world!
Evil has won in the horrid feud Of ages with The Throne; Evil stands on the neck of Good, And rules the world alone.
There is no good; there is no God; And Faith is a heartless cheat Who bares the back for the Devil's rod, And scatters thorns for the feet.
What are prayers in the lips of death, Filling and chilling with hail? What are prayers but wasted breath Beaten back by the gale?
The day is quenched, and the sun is fled; God has forgotten the world! The moon is gone and the stars are dead; God has forgotten the world!
A SONG OF FAITH.
Day will return with a fresher boon; God will remember the world! Night will come with a newer moon; God will remember the world!
Evil is only the slave of Good; Sorrow the servant of Joy; And the soul is mad that refuses food Of the meanest in God's employ.
The fountain of joy is fed by tears, And love is lit by the breath of sighs; The deepest griefs and the wildest fears Have holiest ministries.
Strong grows the oak in the sweeping storm; Safely the flower sleeps under the snow; And the farmer's hearth is never warm Till the cold wind starts to blow.
Day will return with a fresher boon; God will remember the world! Night will come with a newer moon; God will remember the world!
LOCALITY—The square room of a New England farmhouse.
PRESENT—ISRAEL, head of the family; JOHN, PETER, DAVID, PATIENCE, PRUDENCE, GRACE, MARY, RUTH, and CHILDREN.
THE QUESTION STATED AND ARGUED.
Ruth, touch the cradle. Boys, you must be still! The baby cannot sleep in such a noise. Nay, Grace, stir not; she'll soothe him soon enough, And tell him more sweet stuff in half an hour Than you can dream, in dreaming half a year.
Ruth. [Kneeling and rocking the cradle.]
What is the little one thinking about? Very wonderful things, no doubt. Unwritten history! Unfathomed mystery! Yet he laughs and cries, and eats and drinks, And chuckles and crows, and nods and winks, As if his head were as full of kinks And curious riddles as any sphinx! Warped by colic, and wet by tears, Punctured by pins, and tortured by fears, Our little nephew will lose two years; And he'll never know Where the summers go;— He need not laugh, for he'll find it so!
Who can tell what a baby thinks? Who can follow the gossamer links By which the manikin feels his way Out from the shore of the great unknown, Blind, and wailing, and alone, Into the light of day?— Out from the shore of the unknown sea, Tossing in pitiful agony,— Of the unknown sea that reels and rolls, Specked with the barks of little souls— Barks that were launched on the other side, And slipped from Heaven on an ebbing tide! What does he think of his mother's eyes? What does he think of his mother's hair? What of the cradle-roof that flies Forward and backward through the air? What does he thinks of his mother's breast— Bare and beautiful, smooth and white, Seeking it ever with fresh delight— Cup of his life and couch of his rest? What does he think when her quick embrace Presses his hand and buries his face Deep where the heart-throbs sink and swell With a tenderness she can never tell, Though she murmur the words Of all the birds— Words she has learned to murmur well? Now he thinks he'll go to sleep! I can see the shadow creep Over his eyes, in soft eclipse, Over his brow, and over his lips, Out to his little finger-tips! Softly sinking, down he goes! Down he goes! Down he goes!
[Rising and carefully retreating to her seat.]
See! He is hushed in sweet repose!
Behold a miracle! Music transformed To morphine, and the drowsy god invoked By the poor prattle of a maiden's tongue! A moment more, and we should all have gone Down into dreamland with the babe! Ah, well! There is no end of wonders.
Ruth. None, indeed! When lazy poets who have gorged themselves, And cannot keep awake, make the attempt To shift the burden of their drowsiness, And charge a girl with what they owe to greed.
At your old tricks again! No sleep induced By song of yours, or any other bird's, Can linger long when you begin to talk. Grace, box your sister's ears for me, and save The trouble of my rising.
[Advancing and kneeling by the side of Grace.]
Sister mine. Now give the proof of your obedience To your imperious lord! Strike, if you dare! I'll wake your baby if you lift your hand. Ha! king; ha! poet; who is master now— Baby or husband? Pr'ythee, tell me that. Were I a man,—thank Heaven I am not!— And had a wife who cared not for my will More than your wife for yours, I'd hang myself, Or wear an [***]. See! she kisses me!
And answers to my will, though well she knows I'll spare to her so terrible a task, And take the awful burden on myself; Which I will do, in future, if she please!
Now have you conquered! Look! I am your slave. Denounce me, scourge me, anything but kiss; For life is sweet, and I alone am left To comfort an old man.
Israel. Ruth, that will do! Remember I'm a Justice of the Peace, And bide no quarrels; and if you and David Persist in strife, I'll place you under bonds For good behavior, or condemn you both To solitary durance for the night.
Father, you fail to understand the case, And do me wrong. David has threatened me With an assault that proves intent to kill; And here's my sister Grace, his wedded wife, Who'll take her oath, that just a year ago He entered into bonds to keep the peace Toward me and womankind.
I'm quite asleep.
We'll all agree, then, to pronounce it quits.
Till he awake again, of course. I trust I have sufficient gallantry to grant A nap between encounters, to a foe With odds against him.
Peace, my daughter, peace! You've had your full revenge, and we have had Enough of laughter since the day began. We must not squander all these precious hours In jest and merriment; for when the sun Shall rise to-morrow, we shall separate, Not knowing we shall ever meet again. Meetings like this are rare this side of Heaven, And seem to me the best mementoes left Of Eden's hours.
Most certainly the best, And quite the rarest, but, unluckily, The weakest, as we know; for sin and pain And evils multiform, that swarm the earth, And poison all our joys and all our hearts, Remind us most of Eden's forfeit bliss.
Forfeit through woman.
Forfeit through her power;— A power not lost, as most men know, I think, Beyond the knowledge of their trustful wives.
[Rising, and walking hurriedly to the window.]
'Tis a wild night without.
And getting wild Within. Now, Grace, I—all of us—protest Against a scene to-night. Look! You have driven One to the window blushing, and your lord, With lowering brow, is making stern essay To stare the fire-dogs out of countenance. These honest brothers, with their honest wives, Grow glum and solemn, too, as if they feared At the next gust to see the windows burst, Or a riven poplar crashing through the roof. And think of me!—a simple-hearted maid Who learned from Cowper only yesterday (Or a schoolmaster, with a handsome face, And a strange passion for the text), the fact, That wedded bliss alone survives the fall. I'm shocked; I'm frightened; and I'll never wed Unless I—change my mind!
And I consent.
And the schoolmaster with the handsome face Propose.
Your pardon, father, for the jest! But I have never patience with the ills That make intrusion on my happy hours. I know the world is full of evil things, And shudder with the consciousness. I know That care has iron crowns for many brows; That Calvaries are everywhere, whereon Virtue is crucified, and nails and spears Draw guiltless blood; that sorrow sits and drinks At sweetest hearts, till all their life is dry; That gentle spirits on the rack of pain Grow faint or fierce, and pray and curse by turns; That Hell's temptations, clad in Heavenly guise And armed with might, lie evermore in wait Along life's path, giving assault to all— Fatal to most; that Death stalks through the earth, Choosing his victims, sparing none at last; That in each shadow of a pleasant tree A grief sits sadly sobbing to its leaves; And that beside each fearful soul there walks The dim, gaunt phantom of uncertainty, Bidding it look before, where none may see, And all must go; but I forget it all— I thrust it from me always when I may; Else I should faint with fear, or drown myself In pity. God forgive me! but I've thought A thousand times that if I had His power. Or He my love, we'd have a different world From this we live in.
Those are sinful thoughts, My daughter, and too surely indicate A willful soul, unreconciled to God.
So you have told me often. You have said That God is just, and I have looked around To seek the proof in human lot, in vain. The rain falls kindly on the just man's fields, But on the unjust man's more kindly still; And I have never known the winter's blast, Or the quick lightning, or the pestilence, Make nice discriminations when let slip From God's right hand.
'Tis a great mystery; Yet God is just, and,—blessed be His name!— Is loving too. I know that I am weak, And that the pathway of His Providence Is on the hills where I may never climb. Therefore my reason yields her hand to Faith, And follows meekly where the angel leads. I see the rich man have his portion here, And Lazarus, in glorified repose, Sleep like a jewel on the breast of Faith In Heaven's broad light. I see that whom God loves He chastens sorely, but I ask not why. I only know that God is just and good: All else is mystery. Why evil lives Within His universe, I may not know. I know it lives, and taints the vital air; And that in ways inscrutable to me— Yet compromising not His soundless love And boundless power—it lives against His will.
I am not satisfied. If evil live Against God's will, evil is king of all, And they do well who worship Lucifer. I am not satisfied. My reason spurns Such prostitution to absurdities. I know that you are happy; but I shrink From your blind faith with loathing and with fear. And feel that I must win it, if I win, With the surrender, not of will alone, But of the noblest faculty that God Has crowned me with.
O blind and stubborn child! My light, my joy, my burden and my grief! How would I lead you to the wells of peace, And see you dip your fevered palms and drink! Gladly to purchase this would I lay down The precious remnant of my life, and sleep, Wrapped in the faith you spurn, till the archangel Sounds the last trump. But God's good will be done! I leave you with Him.
Father, talk not thus! Oh, do not blame me! I would do it all, If but to bless you with a single joy; But I am helpless.
God will help you, Ruth.
To quench my reason? Can I ask the boon? My lips would blister with the blasphemy. I cannot take your faith; and that is why I would forget that I am in a world Where evil lives, and why I guard my joys With such a jealous care.
There, Ruth, sit down! 'Tis the old question, with the old reply. You fly along the path, with bleeding feet, Where many feet have flown and bled before; And he who seeks to guide you to the goal Has (let me say it, father) stopped far short, And taken refuge at a wayside inn, Whose haunted halls and mazy passages Receive no light, save through the riddled roof, Pierced thick by pilgrim staves, that Faith may lie Upon its back, and only gaze on Heaven. I would not banish evil if I could; Nor would I be so deep in love with joy As to seek for it in forgetfulness, Through faith or fear.
Teach me the better way, And every expiration from my lips Shall be a grateful blessing on your head; And in the coming world I'll seek the side Of no more gracious angel than the man Who gives me brotherhood by leading me Home with himself to heaven.
My son, Be careful of your words! 'Tis no light thing To take the guidance of a straying soul.
I mark the burden well, and love it, too, Because I love the girl and love her Lord, And seek to vindicate His love to her And waken hers for Him. Be this my plea: God is almighty—all-benevolent; And naught exists save by His loving will. Evil, or what we reckon such, exists, And not against His will; else the Supreme Is subject, and we have in place of God A phantom nothing, with a phantom name. Therefore I care not whether He ordain That evil live, or whether He permit; Therefore I ask not why, in either case, As if He meant to curse me, but I ask What He would have this evil do for me? What is its mission? what its ministry? What golden fruit lies hidden in its husk? How shall it nurse my virtue, nerve my will, Chasten my passions, purify my love, And make me in some goodly sense like Him Who bore the cross of evil while He lived, Who hung and bled upon it when He died, And now, in glory, wears the victor's crown?
If evil, then, have privilege and part In the economy of holiness, Why came the Christ to save us from its power, And bring us restoration of the bliss Lost in the lapse of Eden?
David. And would you Or Ruth 'have restoration of that bliss, And welcome transplantation to the state Associate with it?
Would I? Would I not! Oh, I have dreamed of it a thousand times, Sleeping and waking, since the torch of thought Flashed into flame at Revelation's touch, And filled my spirit with its quenchless fire. Most envious dreams of innocence and joy Have haunted me,—dreams that were born in sin, Yet swathed in stainless snow. I've dreamed, and dreamed, Of wondrous trees, crowned with perennial green, Whose soft still shadows gleamed with golden lamps Of pensile fruitage, or were flushed with life Radiant and tuneful when broad flocks of birds Swept in and out like sheets of living flame. I've dreamed of aisles tufted with velvet grass, And bordered with the strange intelligence Of myriad loving eyes among the flowers, That watched me with a curious, calm delight, As rows of wayside cherubim may watch A new soul, walking into Paradise. I've dreamed of sunsets when the sun supine Lay rocking on the ocean like a god, And threw his weary arms far up the sky, And with vermilion-tinted fingers toyed With the long tresses of the evening star. I've dreamed of dreams more beautiful than all— Dreams that were music, perfume, vision, bliss,— Blent and sublimed, till I have stood inwrapped In the thick essence of an atmosphere That made me tremble to unclose my eyes Lest I should look on God. And I have dreamed Of sinless men and maids, mated in heaven, Ere yet their souls had sought for beauteous forms To give them human sense and residence, Moving through all this realm of choice delights For ever and for aye; with hands and hearts Immaculate as light; without a thought Of evil, and without a name for fear. Oh, when I wake from happy dreams like these, To the old consciousness that I must die, To the old presence of a guilty heart, To the old fear that haunts me night and day, Why should I not deplore the graceless fall That makes me what I am, and shuts me out From a condition and society As much above a sinful maiden's dreams As Eden blest surpasses Eden curst?
So you would be another Eve, and so— Fall with the first temptation, like herself! God seeks for virtue; you for innocence. You'll find it in the cradle—nowhere else— Save in your dreams, among the grown-up babes That dwelt in Eden—powerless, pulpy souls That showed a dimple for each touch of sin. God seeks for virtue, and, that it may live, It must resist, and that which it resists Must live. Believe me, God has other thought Than restoration of our fallen race To its primeval innocence and bliss. If Jesus Christ—as we are taught—was slain From the foundation of the world, it was Because our evil lived in essence then— Coeval with the great, mysterious fact. And He was slain that we might be transformed,— Not into Adam's sweet similitude— But the more glorious image of Himself, A resolution of our destiny As high transcending Eden's life and lot As He surpasses Eden's fallen lord.
You're very bold, my brother, very bold. Did I not know you for an earnest man, When sacred themes move you to utterance, I'd chide you for those most irreverent words Which make essential to the Christian scheme That which the scheme was made to kill, or cure.
Yet they do save some very awkward words, That limp to make apology for God, And, while they justify Him, half confess The adverse verdict of appearances. I am ashamed that in this Christian age The pious throng still hug the fallacy That this dear world of ours was not ordained The theater of evil; for no law Declared of God from all eternity Can live a moment save by lease of pain. Law cannot live, e'en in God's inmost thought, Save by the side of evil. What were law But a weak jest without its penalty? Never a law was born that did not fly Forth from the bosom of Omnipotence Matched, wing-and-wing, with evil and with good, Avenger and rewarder—both of God.
I face your thought and give it audience; But I cannot embrace it till it come With some of truth's credentials in its hands— The fruits of gracious ministries.
Does he Who, driven to labor by the threatening weeds, And forced to give his acres light and air And traps for dew and reservoirs for rain, Till, in the smoky light of harvest time, The ragged husks reveal the golden corn, Ask truth's credentials of the weeds? Does he Who prunes the orchard boughs, or tills the field, Or fells the forests, or pursues their prey, Until the gnarly muscles of his limbs And the free blood that thrills in all his veins Betray the health that toil alone secures, Ask truth's credentials at the hand of toil? Do you ask truth's credentials of the storm Which, while we entertain communion here, Makes better music for our huddling hearts Than choirs of stars can sing in fairest nights? Yet weeds are evils—evils toil and storm. We may suspect the fair, smooth face of good; But evil, that assails us undisguised, Bears evermore God's warrant in its hands.
I fear these silver sophistries of yours. If my poor judgment gives them honest weight, Far less than thirty will betray your Lord. You call that evil which is good, and good That which is evil. You apologize For that which God must hate, and justify The life and perpetuity of that Which sets itself against His holiness, And sends its discords through the universe.
I sorrow if I shock you, for I seek To comfort and inspire. I see around A silent company of doubtful souls; But I may challenge any one of them To quote the meanest blessing of its life, And prove that evil did not make the gift, Or bear it from the giver to its hands. The great salvation wrought by Jesus Christ— That sank an Adam to reveal a God— Had never come, but at the call of sin. No risen Lord could eat the feast of love Here on the earth, or yonder in the sky, Had He not lain within the sepulcher. 'Tis not the lightly laden heart of man That loves the best the hand that blesses all; But that which, groaning with its weight of sin, Meets with the mercy that forgiveth much. God never fails in an experiment, Nor tries experiment upon a race But to educe its highest style of life, And sublimate its issues. Thus to me Evil is not a mystery, but a means Selected from the infinite resource To make the most of me.
Thank God for light! These truths are slowly dawning on my soul, And take position in the firmament That spans my thought, like stars that know their place. Dear Lord! what visions crowd before my eyes— Visions drawn forth from memory's mysteries By the sweet shining of these holy lights! I see a girl, once lightest in the dance, And maddest with the gayety of life, Grow pale and pulseless, wasting day by day, While death lies idly dreaming in her breast, Blighting her breath, and poisoning her blood. I see her frantic with a fearful thought That haunts and horrifies her shrinking soul, And bursts in sighs and sobs and feverish prayers; And now, at last, the awful struggle ends, A sweet smile sits upon her angel face, And peace, with downy bosom, nestles close Where her worn heart throbs faintly; closer still As the death shadows gather; closer still, As, on white wings, the outward-going soul Flies to a home it never would have sought, Had a great evil failed to point the way. I see a youth whom God has crowned with power, And cursed with poverty. With bravest heart He struggles with his lot, through toilsome years,— Kept to his task by daily want of bread, And kept to virtue by his daily task,— Till, gaining manhood in the manly strife,— The fire that fills him smitten from a flint— The strength that arms him wrested from a fiend— He stands, at last, a master of himself, And, in that grace, a master of his kind.
Familiar visions these, but ever full Of inspiration and significance. Now that your eyes are opened and you see, Your heart should take swift cognizance, and feel. How do these visions move you?
Like the hand Of a strong angel on my shoulder laid, Touching the secret of the spirit's wings. My heart grows brave. I'm ready now to work— To work with God, and suffer with His Christ; Adopt His measures, and abide His means. If, in the law that spans the universe (The law its maker may not disobey), Virtue may only grow from innocence Through a great struggle with opposing ill; If I must win my way to perfectness In the sad path of suffering, like Him The over-flowing river of whose life Touches the flood-mark of humanity On the white pillars of the heavenly throne, Then welcome evil! Welcome sickness, toil, Sorrow and pain, the fear and fact of death.
And welcome sin?
Ah, David! welcome sin?
The fact of sin—so much;—it must needs be Offenses come; if woe to him by whom, Then with good reason; but the fact of sin Unlocked the door to highest destiny, That Christ might enter in and lead the way. God loves not sin, nor I; but in the throng Of evils that assail us, there are none That yield their strength to Virtue's struggling arm With such munificent reward of power As great temptations. We may win by toil Endurance; saintly fortitude by pain; By sickness, patience; faith and trust by fear; But the great stimulus that spurs to life, And crowds to generous development Each chastened power and passion of the soul, Is the temptation of the soul to sin, Resisted, and re-conquered, evermore.
I am content; and now that I have caught Bright glimpses of the outlines of your scheme, As of a landscape, graded to the sky, And seen through trees while passing, I desire No vision further till I make survey In some good time when I may come alone, And drink its beauty and its blessedness. I've been forgetful in my earnestness, And wearied everyone with talk. These boys Are restive grown, or nodding in their chairs, And older heads are set, as if for sleep. I beg their pardon for my theft of time, And will offend no more.
Ruth, is it right To leave a brother in such a plight as this— Either to imitate your courtesy, Or by your act to be adjudged a boor?
Heaven grant you never note a sin of mine Save of your own construction!
Let it pass! I see the spell of thoughtfulness is gone, Or going swiftly. I will not complain; But ere these lads are fastened to their games, And thoughts arise discordant with our theme, Let us with gratitude approach the throne And worship God. I wish once more to lead Your hearts in prayer, and follow with my own The leading of your song of thankfulness. Then will I lease and leave you for the night To such divertisement as suits the time, And meets your humor.
[They all arise and the old man prays.]
[After a pause.]
David, let us see Whether your memory prove as true as mine. Do you recall the promise made by you This night one year ago,—to write a hymn For this occasion?
I recall, and keep. Here are the copies, written fairly out. Here,—father, Mary, Ruth, and all the rest; There's one for each. Now what shall be the tune?
The old One Hundredth—noblest tune of tunes! Old tunes are precious to me as old paths In which I wandered when a happy boy. In truth, they are the old paths of my soul, Oft trod, well worn, familiar, up to God.
[In which all unite to sing.]
For Summer's bloom and Autumn's blight, For bending wheat and blasted maize, For health and sickness, Lord of light, And Lord of darkness, hear our praise!
We trace to Thee our joys and woes— To Thee of causes still the cause,— We thank Thee that Thy hand bestows; We bless Thee that Thy love withdraws.
We bring no sorrows to Thy throne; We come to Thee with no complaint; In Providence Thy will is done, And that is sacred to the saint
Here on this blest Thanksgiving Night; We raise to Thee our grateful voice; For what Thou doest, Lord, is right; And thus believing, we rejoice.
A good old tune, indeed, and strongly sung; But, in my mind, the man who wrote the hymn Had seemed more modest, had he paused a while. Ere by a trick he furnished other tongues With words he only has the heart to sing.
Oh, Grace! Dear Grace!
You may well cry for grace, If that's the company you have to keep.
I thought you convert to his sophistry. It makes no difference to him, you know, Whether I plague or please.
It does to you.
There, children! No more bitter words like those! I do not understand them; they awake A sad uneasiness within my heart. I found but Christian meaning in the hymn; Aye, I could say amen to every line, As to the breathings of my own poor prayer. But let us talk no more. I'll to my bed. Good-night, my children! Happy thoughts be yours Till sleep arrive—then happy dreams till dawn!
There, little boys and girls— Off to the kitchen! Now there's fun for you. Play blind-man's-buff until you break your heads; And then sit down beside the roaring fire, And with wild stories scare yourselves to death. We'll all be out there, by and by. Meanwhile, I'll try the cellar; and if David, here, Will promise good behavior, he shall be My candle-bearer, basket-bearer, and— But no! The pitcher I will bear myself. I'll never trust a pitcher to a man Under this house, and—seventy years of age.
[The children rush out of the room with a shout, which wakes the baby.]
That noisy little youngster on the floor Slept through theology but wakes with mirth— Precocious little creature! He must go Up to his chamber. Come, Grace, take him off— Basket and all. Mary will lend a hand, And keep you company until he sleeps.
[GRACE _and_ MARY _remove the cradle to the chamber, and_ DAVID _and_ RUTH retire to the cellar_.]
[Rising and yawning]
Isn't she the strangest girl you ever saw?
Queer, rather, I should say. Grace, now, is strange. I think she treats her husband shamefully. I can't imagine what possesses her, Thus to toss taunts at him with every word. If in his doctrines there be truth enough, He'll be a saint.
If he live long enough.
Well, now I tell you, such wild men as he,— Men who have crazy crotchets in their heads,— Can't make a woman happy. Don't you see? He isn't settled. He has wandered off From the old landmarks, and has lost himself I may judge wrongly; but if truth were told There'd be excuse for Grace, I warrant ye. Grace is a right good girl, or was, before She married David.
Everybody says He makes provision for his family, Like a good husband.
We can hardly tell. When men get loose in their theology The screws are started up in everything. Of course, I don't apologize for Grace. I think she might have done more prudently Than introduce her troubles here to-night, But, after all, we do not know the cause That stirs her fretfulness.
Well, let it go! What does the evening's talk amount to? Who Is wiser for the wisdom of the hour? The good old paths are good enough for me. The fathers walked to heaven in them, and we, By following mekly where they trod, may reach The home they found. There will be mysteries; Let those who like, bother their heads with them. If Ruth and David seek to fathom all, I wish them patience in their bootless quest. For one, I'm glad the misty talk is done, And we, alone.
LOCALITY—The cellar stair and the cellar. PRESENT—DAVID and RUTH.
THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY NATURE.
Look where you step, or you'll stumble! Care for your coat, or you'll crock it! Down with your crown, man! Be humble! Put your head into your pocket, Else something or other will knock it. Don't hit that jar of cucumbers Standing an the broad-stair! They have not waked from their slumbers Since they stood there.
Yet they have lived in a constant jar! What remarkable sleepers they are!
Turn to the left—shun the wall— One step more—that is all! Now we are safe on the ground, I will show you around.
Sixteen barrels of cider Ripening all in a row! Open the vent-channels wider! See the froth, drifted like snow. Blown by the tempest below! Those delectable juices Flowed through the sinuous sluices Of sweet springs under the orchard; Climbed into fountains that chained them; Dripped into cups that retained them, And swelled till they dropped, and we gained them. Then they were gathered and tortured By passage from hopper to vat, And fell-every apple crushed flat. Ah! how the bees gathered round them, And how delicious they found them! Oat-straw, as fragrant as clover, Was platted, and smoothly turned over, Weaving a neatly ribbed basket; And, as they built up the casket, In went the pulp by the scoop-full, Till the juice flowed by the stoup-full,— Filling the half of a puncheon While the men swallowed their luncheon. Pure grew the stream with the stress Of the lever and screw, Till the last drops from the press Were as bright as the dew. There were these juices spilled; There were these barrels filled; Sixteen barrels of cider— Ripening all in a row! Open the vent-channels wider! See the froth, drifted like snow, Blown by the tempest below!
Hearts, like apples, are hard and sour, Till crushed by Pain's resistless power; And yield their juices rich and bland To none but Sorrow's heavy hand. The purest streams of human love Flow naturally never, But gush by pressure from above With God's hand on the lever. The first are turbidest and meanest; The last are sweetest and serenest.
Sermon quite short for the text! What shall we hit upon next? Lift up the lid of that cask; See if the brine be abundant; Easy for me were the task To make it redundant With tears for my beautiful Zephyr— Pet of the pasture and stall— Whitest and comeliest heifer, Gentlest of all! Oh, it seemed cruel to slay her! But they insulted my prayer For her careless and innocent life, And the creature was brought to the knife With gratitude in her eye; For they patted her back, and chafed her head, And coaxed her with softest words, as they led Her up to the ring to die. Do you blame me for crying When my Zephyr was dying? I shut my room and my ears, And opened my heart and my tears, And wept for the half of a day; And I could not go To the rooms below Till the butcher went away.
Life evermore is fed by death, In earth and sea and sky; And, that a rose may breathe its breath, Something must die.
Earth is a sepulcher of flowers, Whose vitalizing mold Through boundless transmutation towers, In green and gold.
The oak tree, struggling with the blast, Devours its father tree, And sheds its leaves and drops its mast, That more may be.
The falcon preys upon the finch, The finch upon the fly, And nought will loose the hunger-pinch But death's wild cry.
The milk-haired heifer's life must pass That it may fill your own, As passed the sweet life of the grass She fed upon.
The power enslaved by yonder cask Shall many burdens bear; Shall nerve the toiler at his task, The soul at prayer.
From lowly woe springs lordly joy; From humbler good diviner; The greater life must aye destroy And drink the minor.
From hand to hand life's cup is passed Up Being's piled gradation, Till men to angels yield at last The rich collation.
Well, we are done with the brute; Now let us look at the fruit,— Every barrel, I'm told, From grafts half a dozen years old. That is a barrel of russets; But we can hardly discuss its Spheres of frost and flint, Till, smitten by thoughts of Spring, And the old tree blossoming, Their bronze takes a yellower tint, And the pulp grows mellower in't. But oh! when they're sick with the savors Of sweets that they dream of, Sure, all the toothsomest flavors They hold the cream of! You will be begging in May, In your irresistible way, For a peck of the apples in gray.
Those are the pearmains, I think,— Bland and insipid as eggs; They were too lazy to drink The light to its dregs, And left them upon the rind— A delicate film of blue— Leave them alone;—I can find Better apples for you.
Those are the Rhode Island greenings; Excellent apples for pies; There are no mystical meanings In fruit of that color and size. They are too coarse and too juiceful; They are too large and too useful. There are the Baldwins and Flyers, Wrapped in their beautiful fires! Color forks up from their stems As if painted by Flora, Or as out from the pole stream the flames Of the Northern Aurora.
Here shall our quest have a close; Fill up your basket with those; Bite through their vesture of flame, And then you will gather All that is meant by the name, "Seek-no-farther!"
The native orchard's fairest trees, Wild springing on the hill, Bear no such precious fruits as these, And never will;
Till ax and saw and pruning knife Cut from them every bough, And they receive a gentler life Than crowns them now.
And Nature's children, evermore, Though grown to stately stature, Must bear the fruit their fathers bore— The fruit of nature;
Till every thrifty vice is made The shoulder for a scion, Cut from the bending trees that shade The hills of Zion.
Sorrow must crop each passion-shoot, And pain each lust infernal, Or human life can bear no fruit To life eternal.
For angels wait on Providence; And mark the sundered places, To graft with gentlest instruments The heavenly graces.
Well, you're a curious creature! You should have been a preacher. But look at that bin of potatoes— Grown in all singular shapes— Red and in clusters, like grapes, Or more like tomatoes. Those are Merinoes, I guess; Very prolific and cheap; They make an excellent mess For a cow, or a sheep, And are good for the table, they say, When the winter has passed away.
Those are my beautiful Carters; Every one doomed to be martyrs To the eccentric desire Of Christian people to skin them,— Brought to the trial of fire For the good that is in them! Ivory tubers—divide one! Ivory all the way through! Never a hollow inside one; Never a core, black or blue! Ah, you should taste them when roasted! (Chestnuts are not half so good;) And you would find that I've boasted Less than I should. They make the meal for Sunday noon; And, if ever you eat one, let me beg You to manage it just as you do an egg. Take a pat of butter, a silver spoon, And wrap your napkin round the shell: Have you seen a humming-bird probe the bell Of a white-lipped morning-glory? Well, that's the rest of the story! But it's very singular, surely, They should produce so poorly. Father knows that I want them, So he continues to plant them; But, if I try to argue the question, He scoffs, as a thrifty farmer will; And puts me down with the stale suggestion— "Small potatoes, and few in a hill."
Thus is it over all the earth! That which we call the fairest, And prize for its surpassing worth, Is always rarest.
Iron is heaped in mountain piles, And gluts the laggard forges; But gold-flakes gleam in dim defiles And lonely gorges.
The snowy marble flecks the land With heaped and rounded ledges, But diamonds hide within the sand Their starry edges.
The finny armies clog the twine That sweeps the lazy river, But pearls come singly from the brine, With the pale diver.
God gives no value unto men Unmatched by meed of labor; And Cost of Worth has ever been The closest neighbor.
Wide is the gate and broad the way That opens to perdition, And countless multitudes are they Who seek admission.
But strait the gate, the path unkind, That lead to life immortal, And few the careful feet that find The hidden portal.
All common good has common price; Exceeding good, exceeding; Christ bought the keys of Paradise By cruel bleeding;
And every soul that wins a place Upon its hills of pleasure, Must give its all, and beg for grace To fill the measure.
Were every hill a precious mine, And golden all the mountains; Were all the rivers fed with wine By tireless fountains;
Life would be ravished of its zest, And shorn of its ambition, And sinks into the dreamless rest Of inanition.
Up the broad stairs that Value rears Stand motives beckoning earthward, To summon men to nobler spheres, And lead them worthward.
I'm afraid to show you anything more; For parsnips and art are so very long, That the passage back to the cellar-door Would be through a mile of song. But Truth owns me for an honest teller; And, if the honest truth be told, I am indebted to you and the cellar For a lesson and a cold. And one or the other cheats my sight; (O silly girl! for shame!) Barrels are hooped with rings of light, And stopped with tongues of flame. Apples have conquered original sin, Manna is pickled in brine, Philosophy fills the potato bin, And cider will soon be wine. So crown the basket with mellow fruit, And brim the pitcher with pearls; And we'll see how the old-time dainties suit The old-time boys and girls.
[They ascend the stairs.]
PRESENT—GRACE, MARY, and the BABY.
* * * * *
THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY EXPERIENCE.
[Sings.] Hither, Sleep! A mother wants thee! Come with velvet arms! Fold the baby that she grants thee To thy own soft charms!
Bear him into Dreamland lightly! Give him sight of flowers! Do not bring him back till brightly Break the morning hours!
Close his eyes with gentle fingers! Cross his hands of snow! Tell the angels where he lingers They must whisper low!
I will guard thy spell unbroken If thou hear my call; Come then, Sleep! I wait the token Of thy downy thrall.
Now I see his sweet lips moving; He is in thy keep; Other milk the babe is proving At the breast of sleep!
Sleep, babe, the honeyed sleep of innocence! Sleep like a bud; for soon the sun of life With ardors quick and passionate shall rise, And, with hot kisses part the fragrant lips— The folded petals of thy soul! Alas! What feverish winds shall tease and toss thee, then! What pride and pain, ambition and despair, Desire, satiety, and all that fill With misery life's fretful enterprise, Shall wrench and blanch thee, till thou fall at last, Joy after joy down fluttering to the earth, To be apportioned to the elements! I marvel, baby, whether it were ill That He who planted thee should pluck thee now, And save thee from the blight that comes on all. I marvel whether it would not be well That the frail bud should burst in Paradise, On the full throbbing of an angel's heart!
Oh, speak not thus! The thought is terrible. He is my all; and yet, it sickens me To think that he will grow to be a man. If he were not a boy!
Were not a boy? That wakens other thoughts. Thank God for that! To be a man, if aught, is privilege Precious and peerless. While I bide content The modest lot of woman, all my soul Gives truest manhood humblest reverence. It is a great and god-like thing to do! 'Tis a great thing, I think, to be a man. Man fells the forests, plows and tills the fields, And heaps the granaries that feed the world. At his behest swift Commerce spreads her wings, And tires the sinewy sea-birds as she flies, Fanning the solitudes from clime to clime. Smoke-crested cities rise beneath his hand, And roar through ages with the din of trade. Steam is the fleet-winged herald of his will, Joining the angel of the Apocalypse 'Mid sound and smoke and wond'rous circumstance, And with one foot upon the conquered sea And one upon the subject land, proclaims That space shall be no more. The lightnings veil Their fiery forms to wait upon his thought, And give it wing, as unseen spirits pause To bear to God the burden of his prayer. God crowns him with the gift of eloquence, And puts a harp into his tuneful hands, And makes him both his prophet and his priest. 'Twas in his form the great Immanuel Revealed himself; the Apostolic Twelve, Like those who since have ministered the Word, Were men. 'Tis a great thing to be a man.
And fortunate to have an advocate Across whose memory convenient clouds Come floating at convenient intervals. The harvest fields that man has honored most Are those where human life is reaped like grain. There never rose a mart, nor shone a sail, Nor sprang a great invention into birth, By other motive than man's love of gold. It is for wrong that he is eloquent; For lust that he indites his sweetest songs. Christ was betrayed by treason of a man, And scourged and hung upon a tree by men; And the sad women who were at his cross, And sought him early at the sepulcher, And since that day, in gentle multitudes Have loved and followed him, have been man's slaves,— The victims of his power and his desire.
And you, a wedded wife-well wedded, too, Can say all this, and say it bitterly!
Perhaps because a wife; perhaps because—
Hush, Grace! No more! I beg you, say no more. Nay! I will leave you at another word; For I could listen to a blasphemy, Falling from bestial lips, with lighter chill Than to the mad complainings of a soul Which God has favored as he favors few. I dare not listen when a woman's voice, Which blessings strive to smother, flings them off In mad contempt. I dare not hear the words Whose utterance all the gentle loves dissuade By kisses which are reasons, while a throng Of friendships, comforts, and sweet charities— The almoners of the All-Bountiful— With folded wings stand sadly looking on. Believe me, Grace, the pioneer of judgment— Ordained, commissioned—is Ingratitude; For where it moves, good withers; blessings die; Till a clean path is left for Providence, Who never sows a good the second time Till the torn bosom of the graceless soil Is ready for the seed.
Oh, could you know The anguish of my heart, you would not chide! If I repine, it is because my lot Is not the blessed thing it seems to you. O Mary! Could you know! Could you but know!
Then why not tell me all? You know me, love. And know that secrets make their graves with me.
So, tell me all; for I do promise you Such sympathy as God through suffering Has given me power to grant to such as you. I bought it dearly, and its largess waits The opening of your heart.
I am ashamed,— In truth I am ashamed—to tell you all. You will not laugh at me?
I laugh at you?
Forgive me, Mary, for my heart is weak; Distrustful of itself and all the world. Ah, well! To what strange issues leads our life! It seems but yesterday that you were brought To this old house, an orphaned little girl, Whose large shy eyes, pale cheeks, and shrinking ways Filled all our hearts with wonder, as we stood And stared at you, until your heart o'erfilled With the oppressive strangeness, and you wept. Yes, I remember how I pitied you— I who had never wept, nor even sighed, Save on the bosom of my gentle mother; For my quick heart caught all your history When with a hurried step you sought the sun, And pressed your eyes against the windowpane That God's sweet light might dry them. Well I knew Though all untaught, that you were motherless. And I remember how I followed you,— Embraced and kissed you—kissed your tears away— Tears that came faster, till they bathed the lips That would have sealed their flooded fountain-heads; And then we wound our arms around each other, And passed out-out under the pleasant sky, And stood among the lilies at the door.
I gave no formal comfort; you, no thanks; For tears had been your language, kisses mine, And we were friends. We talked about our dolls, And all the pretty playthings we possessed. Then we revealed, with childish vanity, Our little stores of knowledge. I was full Of a sweet marvel when you pointed out The yellow thighs of bees that, half asleep, Plundered the secrets of the lily-bells, And called the golden pigment honeycomb. And your black eyes were opened very wide When I related how, one sunny day, I found a well, half covered, down the lane, That was so deep and clear that I could see Straight through the world, into another sky!
Do you remember how the Guinea hens Set up a scream upon the garden wall, That frightened me to running, when you screamed With laughter quite as loud?
Aye, very well; But better still the scene that followed all. Oh, that has lingered in my memory Like that divinest dream of Raphael— The Dresden virgin prisoned in a print— That watched with me in sickness through long weeks, And from its frame upon the chamber-wall Breathed constant benedictions, till I learned To love the presence like a Roman saint.
My mother called us in; and at her knee, Embracing still, we stood, and felt her smile Shine on our upturned faces like the light Of the soft summer moon. And then she stooped; And when she kissed us, I could see the tears Brimming her eyes. O sweet experiment! To try if love of Jesus and of me Could make our kisses equal to her lips! Then straight my prescient heart set up a song, And fluttered in my bosom like a bird.
I knew a blessing was about to fall, As robins know the coming of the rain, And bruit the joyous secret, ere its steps Are heard upon the mountain tops. I knew You were to be my sister; and my heart Was almost bursting with its love and pride. I could not wait to hear the kindly words Our mother spoke—her counsels and commands— For you were mine—my sister! So I tore Your clinging hand from hers with rude constraint, And took you to my chamber, where I played With you, in selfish sense of property, The whole bright afternoon.
And here again, Within this same old chamber we are met. We told our secrets to each other then; Thus let us tell them now; and you shall be To my grief-burdened soul what you have said, So many times that I have been to yours.
Alas! I never meant to tell my tale To other ear than God's; but you have claims Upon my confidence,—claims just rehearsed, And other claims which you have never known.
And other claims which I have never known! You speak in riddles, love. I only know You grew to womanhood, were beautiful, Were loved and wooed, were married and were blest;—
That after passage of mysterious years We heard sad stories of your misery, And rumors of desertion; but your pen Revealed no secrets of your altered life. Enough for me that you are here to-night, And have an ear for sorrow, and a heart Which disappointment has inhabited. My history you know. A twelvemonth since This fearful, festive night, and in this house, I gave my hand to one whom I believed To be the noblest man God ever made;— A man who seemed to my infatuate heart Heaven's chosen genius, through whose tuneful soul The choicest harmonies of life should flow, Growing articulate upon his lips In numbers to enchant a willing world. I cannot tell you of the pride that filled My bosom, as I marked his manly form, And read his soul through his effulgent eyes, And heard the wondrous music of his voice, That swept the chords of feeling in all hearts With such a divine persuasion as might grow Under the transit of an angel's hand. And, then, to think that I, a farmer's child, Should be the woman culled from all the world To be that man's companion,—to abide The nearest soul to such a soul—to sit Close by the fountain of his peerless life— The welling center of his loving thoughts— And drink, myself, the sweetest and the best,— To lay my head upon his breast, and feel That of all precious burdens it had borne That was most precious—Oh! my heart was wild With the delirium of happiness— But, Mary, you are weeping!
Mark it not. Your words wake memories which you may guess, And thoughts which you may sometime know—not now.
Well, we were married, as I said; and I Was not unthankful utterly, I think; Though, if the awful question had come then, And stood before me with a brow severe And steady finger, bidding me decide Which of the two I loved the more, the God Who gave my husband to me, or his gift, I know I should have groaned, and shut my eyes.
We passed a honeymoon whose atmosphere, Flooded with inspiration, and embraced By a wide sky set full of starry thoughts, And constellated visions of delight, Still wraps me in my dreams—itself a dream. The full moon waned at last, and in my sky, With horn inverted, gave its sign of tears; And then, when wasted to a skeleton, It sank into a heaving sea of tears That caught its tumult from my sighing soul. My husband, who had spent whole months with me, Till he was wedded to my every thought, Left me through dreary hours,—nay, days,—alone! He pleaded business—business day and night; Leaving me with a formal kiss at morn, And meeting me with strange reserve at eve; And I could mark the sea of tenderness Upon whose beach I had sat down for life, Hoping to feel for ever, as at first, The love-breeze from its billows, and to clasp With open arms the silver surf that ran To wreck itself upon my bosom, ebb, Day after day receding, till the sand Grew dry and hot, and the old hulls appeared Of hopes sent out upon that faithless main Since woman loved, and he she loved was false. Night after night I sat the evening out, And heard the clock tick on the mantel-tree Till it grew irksome to me, and I grudged The careless pleasures of the kitchen maids Whose distant laughter shocked the lapsing hours.
But did your husband never tell the cause Of this neglect?
Never an honest word. He told me he was writing; and, at home, Sat down with heart absorbed and absent look. I was offended, and upbraided him. I knew he had a secret, and that from The center of its closely coiling folds A cunning serpent's head, with forked tongue, Swayed with a double story—one for me, And one for whom I knew not—whom he knew. His words, which wandered first as carelessly As the free footsteps of a boy, were trained To the stern paces of a sentinel Guarding a prison door, and never tripped With a suggestion.
I despaired at last Of winning what I sought by wiles and prayers; So, through long nights of sleeplessness I lay, And held my ear beside his silent lips— An eager cup—ready to catch the gush Of the pent waters, if a dream-swung rod Should smite his bosom. It was all in vain. And thus months passed away, and all the while Another heart was beating under mine. May Heaven forgive me! but I grieved the charms The unborn thing was stealing, for I felt That in my insufficiency of power I had no charm to lose.
And he did not, In this most tender trial of your heart, Turn in relenting?—give you sympathy?
No—yes! Perhaps he pitied me, and that Indeed was very pitiful; for what Has love to do with pity? When a wife Has sunk so hopelessly in the regard Of him she loves that he can pity her,— Has sunk so low that she may only share The tribute which a mute humanity Bestows on those whom Providence has struck With helpless poverty, or foul disease; She may he pitied, both by earth and heaven, Because he pities her. A pitied child That begs its bread from door to door is blest; A wife who begs for love and confidence, And gets but alms from pity, is accurst.
Well, time passed on; and rumor came at last To tell the story of my husband's shame And my dishonor. He was seen at night, Walking in lonely streets with one whose eyes Were blacker than the night,—whose little hand Was clinging to his arm. Both were absorbed In the half-whispered converse of the time; And both, as if accustomed to the path, Turned down an alley, climbed a flight of steps, Entered a door, and closed it after them— A door of adamant 'twixt hope and me. I had my secret; and I kept it, too. I knew his haunt, and it was watched for me, Till doubt and prayers for doubt,—pale flowers I nourished with my tears—were crushed By the relentless hand of Certainty.
Oh, Mary! Mary! Those were fearful days. My wrongs and all their shameful history Were opened to me daily, leaf by leaf, Though he had only shown their title-page: That page was his; the rest were in my heart. I knew that he had left my home for hers; I knew his nightly labor was to feed Other than me;—that he was loaded down With cares that were the price of sinful love.
Grace, in your heart do you believe all this? I fear—I know—you do your husband wrong. He is not competent for treachery. He is too good, too noble, to desert The woman whom he only loves too well. You love him not!
I love him not? Alas! I am more angry with myself than him That, spite his falsehood to his marriage vows, And spite my hate, I love the traitor still. I love him not? Why am I here to-night— Here where my girlhood's withered hopes are strewn Through every room for him to trample on— But in my pride to show him to you all, With the dear child that publishes a love That blessed me once, e'en if it curse me now? You know I do my husband wrong! You think, Because he can talk smoothly, and befool A simple ear with pious sophistries, He must be e'en the saintly man he seems. We heard him talk to-night; it was done well. I saw the triumph of his argument, And I was proud, though full of spite the while. His stuff was meant for me; and, with intent For selfish purpose, or in irony, He tossed me bitterness, and called it sweet. My heart rebelled, and now you know the cause Of my harsh words to him.
'Tis very sad! Oh very—very sad! Pray you go on! Who is this woman?
I have never learned. I only know she stole my husband's heart, And made me very wretched. I suppose That at the time my little babe was born, She went away; for David was at home For many days. That pain was bliss to me— I need no argument to teach me that— Which caused neglect of her, and gave offense. Since then, he has not where to go from me; And, loving well his child, he stays at home.
So he lugs round his secret, and I mine. I call him husband; and he calls me wife; And I, who once was like an April day, That finds quick tears in every cloud, have steeled My heart against my fate, and now am calm. I will live on; and though these simple folk Who call me sister understand me not, It matters little. There is one who does; And he shall have no liberty of love By any word of mine. 'Tis woman's lot, And man's most weak and wicked wantonness. Mine is like other husbands, I suppose; No worse—no better.
Ask you sympathy Of such as I? I cannot give it you, For you have shut me from the privilege.
I asked it once; you gave me unbelief. I had no choice but to grow hard again. 'Tis my misfortune and my misery That every hand whose friendly ministry My poor heart craves, is held—withheld—by him; And I must freeze that I may stand alone.
And so, because one man is false, or you Imagine him to be, all men are false; Do I speak rightly?
Have it your own way. Men fit to love, and fitted to be loved, Are prone to falsehood. I will not gainsay The common virtue of the common herd. I prize it as I do the goodish men Who hold the goodish stuff, and know it not. These serve to fill an easy-going world, And that to clothe it with complacency.
I had not thought misanthropy like this Could lodge with you; so I must e'en confess A tale which never passed my lips before, Nor sent its flush to any cheek but mine. In this, I'll prove my friendship, if I lose The friendship which demands the sacrifice.
I have come back, a worse than widowed wife; Yet I went out with dream as bright as yours,— Nay, brighter,—for the birds were singing then, And apple-blossoms drifted on the ground Where snow-flakes fell and flew when you were wed. The skies were soft; the roses budded full; The meads and swelling uplands fresh and green;— The very atmosphere was full of love. It was no girlish carelessness of heart That kept my eyes from tears, as I went forth From this dear shelter of the orphan child. I felt that God was smiling on my lot, And made the airs his angels to convey To every sense and sensibility The message of his favor. Every sound Was music to me; every sight was peace; And breathing was the drinking of perfume. I said, content, and full of gratitude, "This is as God would have it; and he speaks These pleasant languages to tell me so."
But I had no such honeymoon as yours. A few brief days of happiness, and then The dream was over. I had married one Who was the sport of vagrant impulses. We had not been a fortnight wed, when he Came home to me with brandy in his brain— A maudlin fool—for love like mine to hide As if he were an unclean beast. O Grace! I cannot paint the horrors of that night. My heart, till then serene, and safely kept In Trust's strong citadel, quaked all night long, As tower and bastion fell before the rush Of fierce convictions; and the tumbling walls Boomed with dull throbs of ruin through my brain. And there were palaces that leaned on this— Castles of air, in long and glittering lines, Which melted into air, and pierced the blue That marks the star-strewn vault of heaven;—all fell, With a faint crash like that which scares the soul When dissolution shivers through a dream Smitten by nightmare,—fell and faded all To utter nothingness; and when the morn Flamed up the East, and with its crimson wings Brushed out the paling stars that all the night In silent, slow procession, one by one, Had gazed upon me through the open sash, And passed along, it found me desolate.
The stupid dreamer at my side awoke, And with such helpless anguish as they feel Who know that they are weak as well as vile. I saw, through all his forward promises, Excuses, prayers, and pledges that were oaths (What he, poor boaster, thought I could not see), That he was shorn of will, and that his heart Was as defenseless as a little child's;— That underneath his fair good fellowship He was debauched, and dead in love with sin;— That love of me had made him what I loved,— That I could only hold him till the wave Of some overwhelming impulse should sweep in, To lift his feet and bear him from my arms. I felt that morn, when he went trembling forth, With bloodshot eyes and forehead hot with woe, That henceforth strife would be 'twixt Hell and me— The odds against me—for my husband's soul.
Poor dove! Poor Mary! Have you suffered thus? You had not even pride to keep you up. Were he my husband, I had left him then— The ingrate!
Not if you had loved as I; Yet what you know is but a bitter drop Of the full cup of gall that I have drained. Had he left me unstained,—had I rebelled Against the influence by which he sought To bring me to a compromise with him,— To make my shrinking soul meet his half way, It had been better; but he had an art, When appetite or passion moved in him, That clothed his sins with fair apologies, And smoothed the wrinkles of a haggard guilt With the good-natured hand of charity. He knew he was a fool, he said, and said again; But human nature would be what it was, And life had never zest enough to bear Too much dilution; those who work like slaves Must have their days of frolic and of fun. He doubted whether God would punish sin; God was, in fact, too good to punish sin; For sin itself was a compounded thing, With weakness for its prime ingredient. And thus he fooled a heart that loved him well; And it went toward his heart by slow degrees, Till Virtue seemed a frigid anchorite, And Vice, a jolly fellow—bad enough, But not so bad as Christian people think.
This was the cunning work of months—nay, years; And, meantime, Edward sank from bad to worse. But he had conquered. Wine was on his board, Without my protest—with a glass for me! His boon companions came and went, and made My home their rendezvous with my consent. The doughty oath that shocked my ears at first, The doubtful jest that meant, or might not mean, That which should set a woman's brow aflame, Became at last (oh, shame of womanhood!) A thing to frown at with a covert smile; Anything to smile at with a decent frown; A thing to steal a grace from, as I feigned The innocence of deaf unconsciousness. And I became a jester. I could jest In a wild way on sacred things and themes; And I have thought that in his better moods My husband shrank with horror from the work Which he had wrought in me.
I do not know If, during all these downward-tending years, Edward kept well his faith with me. I know He used to tell me, in his boastful way, How he had broke the hearts of pretty maids. And that if he were single—well-a-day! The time was past for thinking upon that! And I had heart to toss the badinage Back in his teeth, with pay of kindred coin; And tell him lies to stir his bestial mirth; And make my boast of conquests; and pretend That the true heart I had bestowed on him Had flown, and left him but an empty hand.
I had some days of pain and penitence. I saw where all must end. I saw, too well, Edward was growing idle,—that his form Was gathering disgustful corpulence,— That he was going down, and dragging me To shame and ruin, beggary and death. But judgment came, and overshadowed us; And one quick bolt shot from the awful cloud Severed the tie that bound two worthless lives. What God hath joined together, God may part:— Grace, have you thought of that?
You scare me, Mary! Nay! Do not turn on me with such a look! Its dread suggestion gives my heart a pang That stops its painful beating.
Let it pass! One morn we woke with the first flush of light, Our windows jarring with the cannonade That ushered in the nation's festal day. The village streets were full of men and boys, And resonant with rattling mimicry Of the black-throated monsters on the hill,— A crashing, crepitating war of fire,— And as we listened to the fitful feud, Dull detonations came from far away, Pulsing along the fretted atmosphere, To tell that in the ruder villages The day had noisy greeting, as in ours.
I know not why it was, but then, and there, I felt a sinking sadness, passing tears— A dark foreboding I could not dissolve, Nor drive away. But when, next morn, I woke In the sweet stillness of the Sabbath day, And found myself alone, I knew that hearts Which once have been God's temple, and in which Something divine still lingers, feel the throb Along the lines that bind them to the Throne When judgment issues; and, though dumb and blind, Shudder and faint with prophecies of ill. How—by what cause—calamity should come, I could not guess; that it was imminent Seemed just as certain as the morning's dawn. We were to have a gala day, indeed. There were to be processions and parades; A great oration in a mammoth tent, With dinner following, and toast and speech By all the wordy magnates of the town; A grand balloon ascension afterwards; And, in the evening, fireworks on the hill. I knew that drink would flow from morn till night In a wild maelstrom, circling slow around The village rim, in bright careering waves, But growing turbulent, and changed to ink Around the village center, till, at last, The whirling, gurgling vortex would engulf A maddened multitude in drunkenness. And this was in my thought (the while my heart Was palpitating with its nameless fear), As, wrapped in vaguest dreams, and purposeless, I laced my shoe and gazed upon the sky. Then strange determination stirred in me; And, turning sharply on my chair, I said, "Edward, where'er you go to-day, I go!" If I had smitten him upon the face, It had not tingled with a hotter flame. He turned upon me with a look of hate— A something worse than anger—and, with oaths, Raved like a fiend, and cursed me for a fool. But I was firm; he could not shake my will; So, through the morning, until afternoon, He stayed at home, and drank and drank again, Watching the clock, and pacing up and down, Until, at length, he came and sat by me, To try his hackneyed tricks of blandishment. He had not meant, he said, to give offense; But women in a crowd were out of place. He wished to see the aeronauts embark, And meet some friends; but there would be a throng Of boys and drunken boors around the car, And I should not enjoy it; more than this, The rise would be a finer spectacle At home than on the ground. I gave assent, And he went out. Of course, I followed him; For I had learned to read him, and I knew There was some precious scheme of sin on foot.
The crowd was heavy, and his form was lost Quick as it touched the mass; but I pressed on, Wild shouts and laughter punishing my ears, Till I could see the bloated, breathing cone, As if it were some monster of the sky Caught by a net and fastened to the earth— A butt for jeers to all the merry mob. But I was distant still; and if a man In mad impatience tore a passage from The crowd that pressed upon him, or a girl, Frightened or fainting, was allowed escape, I slid like water to the vacant space, And thus, by deftly won advances, gained The stand I coveted.
We waited long; And as the curious gazers stood and talked About the diverse currents of the air, And wondered where the daring voyagers Would find a landing-place, a young man said, In words intended for a spicy jest, A man and woman living in the town Had taken passage overland for hell!
Then at a distance rose a scattering shout That fixed the vision of the multitude, Standing on eager tiptoe, and afar I saw the crowd give way, and make a path For the pale heroes of the crazy hour. Hats were tossed wildly as they struggled on, And the gap closed behind them, till, at length, They stood within the ring. Oh, damning sight! The woman was a painted courtezan; The man, my husband! I was dumb as death. My teeth were clenched together like a vise, And every heavy heart-throb was a chill. But there I stood, and saw the shame go on. They took their seats; the signal gun was fired; The cords were loosed; and then the billowy bulk Shot toward the zenith!
Never bent the sky With a more cloudless depth of blue than then; And, as they rose, I saw his faithless arm Slide o'er her shoulder, and her dizzy head Drop on his breast. Then I became insane. I felt that I was struggling with a dream— A horrid phantasm I could not shake off. The hollow sky was swinging like a bell; The silken monster swinging like its tongue; And as it reeled from side to side, the roar Of voices round me rang, and rang again, Tolling the dreadful knell of my despair.
At the last moment I could trace his form, Edward leaned over from his giddy seat, And tossed out something on the air. I saw The little missive fluttering slowly down, And stretched my hand to catch it, for I knew, Or thought I knew, that it would come to me. And it did come to me—as if it slid Upon the cord that bound my heart to his— Strained to its utmost tension—snapped at last. I marked it as it fell. It was a rose. I grasped it madly as it struck my hand, And buried all its thorns within my palm; But the fierce pain released my prisoned voice, And, with a shriek, I staggered, swooned, and fell.
That night was brushed from life. A passing friend Directed those who bore me rudely off; And I was carried to my home, and laid Entranced upon my bed. The Sabbath morn That followed all this din and devilry Swung noiseless wide its doors of yellow light, And in the hallowed stillness I awoke. My heart was still; I could not stir a hand. I thought that I was dying, or was dead.— That I had slipped through smooth unconsciousness Into the everlasting silences. I could not speak; but winning strength, at last, I turned my eyes to seek for Edward's face, And saw an unpressed pillow. He was gone!
I was oppressed with awful sense of loss; And, as a mother, by a turbid sea That has engulfed her fairest child, sits down And moans over the waters, and looks out With curious despair upon the waves, Until she marks a lock of floating hair, And by its threads of gold draws slowly in, And clasps and presses to her frenzied breast The form it has no power to warm again, So I, beside the sea of memory, Lay feebly moaning, yearning for a clew By which to reach my own extinguished life. It came. A burning pain shot through my palm, And thorns awoke what thorns had put to sleep. It all came back to me—the roar, the rush, The upturned faces, the insane hurrahs, The skyward-shooting spectacle, the shame— And then I swooned again.
But was he killed? Did his foolhardy venture end in wreck? Or did it end in something worse than wreck? Surely, he came again!
To me, no more. He had his reasons, and I knew them soon; But, first, the fire enkindled in my brain Burnt through long weeks of fever—burnt my frame Until it lay upon the sheet as white As the pale ashes of a wasted coal. Then, when strength came to me, and I could sit, Braced by the double pillows that were mine, A kind friend took my hand, and told me all.
The day that Edward left me was the last He could have been my husband; for the next Disclosed his infamy and my disgrace. He was a thief, and had been one, for years,— Defrauding those whose gold he held in trust; And he was ruined—ruined utterly. The very bed I sat on was not his, Nor mine, except by tender charity. A guilty secret menacing behind, A guilty passion burning in his heart, And, by his side, a guilty paramour, He seized upon this reckless whim, and fled From those he knew would curse him ere he slept.
My cup was filled with wormwood; and it grew Bitter and still more bitter, day by day, Changing from shame and hate, to stern revenge. Life had no more for me. My home was lost; My heart unfitted to return to this; And, reckless of the future, I went forth— A woman stricken, maddened, desperate. I sought the city with as sure a scent As vultures track a carcass through the air. I knew him there, delivered up to sin, And longed to taunt him with his infamy,— To haunt his haunts; to sting his perjured soul With sharp reproaches; and to scare his eyes— With visions of his work upon my face.
But God had other means than my revenge To humble him, and other thought for me. I saw him only once; we did not meet; There was a street between us; yet it seemed Wide as the unbridged gulf that yawns between The rich man and the beggar.
'Twas at dawn. I had arisen from the sleepless bed Which my scant means had purchased, and gone forth To taste the air, and cool my burning brow. I wandered on, not knowing where I went, Nor caring whither. There were few astir; The market wagons lumbered slowly in, Piled high with carcasses of slaughtered lambs, Baskets of unhusked corn, and mint, and all The fresh, green things that grow in country fields. I read the signs—the long and curious names— And wondered who invented them, and if Their owners knew how very strange they were. A corps of weary firemen met me once, Late home from service, with their gaudy car, And loud with careless curses. Then I stopped, And chatted with a frowsy-headed girl Who knelt among her draggled skirts, and scrubbed The heel-worn doorsteps of a faded house. Then, as I left her, and resumed my walk, I turned my eyes across the street, and saw A sight which stopped my feet, my breath, my heart. It was my husband. Oh, how sadly changed! His bloodshot eyes stared from an anxious face; His hat was battered, and his clothes were torn And splashed with mud. His poisoned frame Had shrunk away, until his garments hung In folds about him. Then I knew it all: His life had been a measureless debauch Since his most shameless flight; and in his eye, Eager and strained, and peering down the stairs That tumbled to the anterooms of hell, I saw the thirst which only death can quench. He did not raise his eyes; I did not speak; There was no work for me to do on him; And when, at last, he tottered down the steps Of a dark gin-shop, I was satisfied, And half relentingly retraced my way.
I cannot tell the story of the months That followed this. I toiled and toiled for bread, And for the shelter of one stingy room. Temptation, which the hand of poverty Bears oft seductively to woman's lips, To me came not. I hated men like beasts; Their flattering words, and wicked, wanton leers, Sickened me with ineffable disgust. At length there came a change. One warm Spring eve, As I sat idly dreaming of the past, And questioning the future, my quick ear Caught sound of feet upon the creaking stairs, And a light rap delivered at my door. I said, "Come in!" with half-defiant voice, Although I longed to see a human face, And needed labor for my idle hands. But when the door was opened, and there stood A man before me, with an eye as pure And brow as fair as any little child's, Matched with a form and carriage which combined All manly beauty, dignity, and grace, A quick blush overwhelmed my pallid cheeks, And, ere I knew, and by no act of will, I rose and gave him gentle courtesy.
He took a seat, and spoke with pleasant voice Of many pleasant things—the pleasant sky, The stars, the opening foliage in the park; And then he came to business. He would have A piece of exquisite embroidery; My hand was cunning if report were true; Would it oblige him? It would do, I said, That which it could to satisfy his wish; And when he took the delicate pattern out, And spread the dainty fabric on his knees, I knew he had a wife.
He went away With kind "Good night," and said that, with my leave, He'd call and watch the progress of the work. I marked his careful steps adown the stairs, And then, his brisk, firm tread upon the pave, Till in the dull roar of the distant streets It mingled and was lost. Then I was lost,— Lost in a wild, wide-ranging reverie— From which I roused not till the midnight hush Was broken by the toll from twenty towers. This is a man, I said; a man in truth; My room has known the presence of a man, And it has gathered dignity from him. I felt my being flooded with new life. My heart was warm; my poor, sore-footed thoughts Sprang up full fledged through ether; and I felt Like the sick woman who had touched the hem Of Jesus' garment, when through all her veins Leaped the swift tides of youth.
He had a wife! Why, to a wrecked, forsaken thing like me Did that thought bring a pang? I did not know; But, truth to tell, it gave me stinging pain. If he was noble, he was naught to me; If he was great, it only made me less; If he loved truly, I was not enriched. So, in my selfishness, I almost cursed The unknown woman, thought for whom had brought Her loving husband to me. What was I To him? Naught but a poor unfortunate, Picking her bread up at a needle's point. He'll come and criticise my handiwork, I said, and when it is at last complete, He'll draw his purse and give me so much gold; And then, forgetting me for ever, go And gather fragrant kisses for the boon, From lips that do not know their privilege. I could be nothing but the medium Through which his love should pass to reach its shrine; The glass through which the sun's electric beams Kindles the rose's heart, and still remains Chill and serene itself—without reward! Then came to me the thought of my great wrong. A man had spoiled my heart, degraded me; A wanton woman had defrauded me; I would get reparation how I could! He must be something to me—I to him! All men, however good, are weak, I thought; And if I can arrest no beam of love By right of nature or by leave of law, I'll stain the glass! And the last words I said, As I lay down upon my bed to dream, Were those four words of sin: "I'll stain the glass!"
Mary, I cannot hear you more; your tale, So bitter and so passing pitiful I have forgotten tears, and feel my eyes Burn dry and hot with looking at your face, Now gathers blackness, and grows horrible.
Nay, you must hear me out; I cannot pause; And have no worse to say than I have said— Thank God, and him who put away my toils! He came, and came again; and every charm God had bestowed on me, or art could frame, I used with keenest ingenuities To fascinate the sensuous element O'er which, mistrusted, and but half asleep, His conscience and propriety stood guard. I told with tears the story of my woe; He listened to me with a thoughtful face, And sadly sighed; and thus I won his ruth, And then I told him how my life was lost;— How earth had nothing more for me but pain; Not e'en a friend. At this, he took my hand, And said, out of his nobleness of heart, That I should have an honest friend in him; On which I bowed my head upon his arm, And wept again, as if my heart would break With the full pressure of his gratitude. He put me gently off, and read my face: I stood before him hopeless, helpless, his! His swift soul gathered what I meant it should. He sighed and trembled; then he crossed the floor, And gazed with eye abstracted on the sky; Then came and looked at me; then turned, As if affrighted at his springing thoughts, And, with abruptest movement, left the room.
This time he took with him the broidered thing That I had wrought for him; and when I oped The little purse that he rewarded me, I found full golden payment five times told. Given for pity? thought I,—that alone? Is manly pity so munificent? Pity has mixtures that it knows not of!
It was a cruel triumph, and I speak Of it with utter penitence and shame. I knew that he would come again; I knew His feet would bring him, though his soul rebelled; I knew that cheated heart of his would toy With the seductive chains that gave it thrall, And strive to reconcile its perjury With its own conscience of the better way, By fabrication of apologies It knew were false.
And he did come again; Confessing a strange interest in me, And doing for me many kindly deeds. I knew the nature of the sympathy That drew him to my side, better than he; Though I could see that solemn change in him Which every face will wear, when Heaven and Hell Are struggling in the heart for mastery. He was unhappy; every sudden sound Startled his apprehensions; from his heart Rose heavy suspirations, charged with prayer, Desire, and deprecation, and remorse;— Sighs like volcanic breathings—sighs that scorched His parching lips and spread his face with ashes,— Sighs born in such convulsions of the soul That his strong frame quaked like Vesuvius, Burdened with restless lava.
Day by day I marked this dalliance with sinful thought, Without a throb of pity in my heart. I took his gifts, which brought immunity From toil and care, as if they were my right. Day after day I saw my power increase, Until that noble spirit was a slave— A craven, helpless, self-suspected slave.
But this was not to last—thank God and him! One night he came, and there had been a change. My hand was kindly taken, but not held In the way wonted. He was self-possessed; The powers of darkness and his Christian heart Had had a struggle—his the victory; And on his manly brow the benison Of a majestic peace had been imposed. Was I to lose the guerdon of my guile? He was my all, and by the only means Left to a helpless, reckless thing, like me: My heart made pledge the strife should be renewed. I took no notice of his altered mood, But strove, by all the tricks of tenderness, To fan to life again the drooping flame Within his heart;—with what success, at last, The sequel shall reveal.
Strange fire came down Responsive to my call, and the quick flash That shriveled resolution, vanquished will, And with a blood-red flame consumed the crown Of peace upon his brow, taught him how weak— How miserably imbecile—he had become, Tampering with temptation. Such a groan, Wrung from such agony, as then he breathed, Pray Heaven my ears may never hear again! He smote his forehead with his rigid palm, And sank, as if the blow had stunned him, to his knees, And there, with face pressed hard upon his hands Gave utterance to frenzied sobs and prayers— The wild articulations of despair. I was confounded. He—a man—thought I, Blind with remorse by simple look at sin! And I—a woman—in the devil's hands, Luring him Hellward with no blush of shame! The thought came swift from God, and pierced my heart, Like a barbed arrow; and it quivered there Through whiles of tumult—quivered—and was fast. Thus, while I stood and marked his kneeling form, Still shocked by deep convulsions, such a light Illumed my soul, and flooded all the room, That, without thought, I said, "The Lord is here!" Then straight my spirit heard these wondrous words: "Tempted in all points like ourselves, was He— Tempted, but sinless." Oh, what majesty Of meaning did those precious words convey! 'Twas through temptation, thought I, that the Lord— The mediator between God and men— Reached down the hand of sympathetic love To meet the grasp of lost Humanity; And this man, kneeling, has the Lord in him, And comes to mediate 'twixt Christ and me, "Tempted, but sinless;"—one hand grasping mine, The other Christ's.
Why had he suffered thus? Why had his heart been led far down to mine, To beat in sinful sympathy with mine, But that my heart should cling to his and him, And follow his withdrawal to the heights From whence he had descended? Then I learned Why Christ was tempted; and, as broad and full, The heart of the great secret was revealed, And I perceived God's dealings with my soul, I knelt beside the tortured man and wept, And cried to Heaven for mercy. As I prayed, My soul cast off its shameful enterprise; And when it fell, I saw my godless self— My own degraded, tainted, guilty heart, Which it had hidden from me. Oh, the pang— The poignant throe of uttermost despair— That followed the discovery! I felt That I was lost beyond the grace of God; And my heart turned with instinct sure and swift To the strong struggler, praying at my side, And begged his succor and his prayers. I felt That he must lead me up to where the hand Of Jesus could lay hold on me, or I was doomed. Temptation's spell was past. He took my hand. And, as he prayed that we might be forgiven, And pledged our future loyalty to God And His white throne within our hearts, I gave Responses to each promise; then I crowned His closing utterance with such Amen As weak hearts, conscious of their weakness, give When, bowed to dust, and clinging to the robes Of outraged mercy, they devote themselves Once and for ever to the pitying Christ.
Then we arose and stood upon our feet. He gave me no reproaches, but with voice Attempered to his altered mood, confessed His own blameworthiness, and pressed the prayer That I would pardon him, as he believed That God had pardoned; but my heart was full,— So full of its sore sense of wrong to him, Of the deep guilt of shameful purposes And treachery to worthy womanhood, That I could not repeat his Christian words, Asking forbearance on my own behalf.
He sat before me for a golden hour; And gave me counsel and encouragement, Till, like broad gates, the possibilities Of a serener and a higher life Were thrown wide open to my eager feet, And I resolved that I would enter in, And, with God's gracious help, go no more out.
For weeks he watched me with stern carefulness, Nourished my resolution, prayed with me, And led me, step by step, to higher ground, Till, gathering impulse in the upward walk, And strength in purer air, and keener sight In the sweet light that dawned upon my soul, I grasped the arm of Jesus, and was safe. And now, when I look back upon my life, It seems as if that noble man were sent To give me rescue from the pit of death. But from his distant height he could not reach And act upon my soul; so Heaven allowed Temptation's ladder 'twixt his soul and mine That they might meet and yield his mission thrift. I doubt not in my grateful soul to-night That had he stayed within his higher world, And tried to call me to him, I had spurned Alike his mission and his ministry. That he was tempted, was at once my sin And my salvation. That he sinned in thought, And fiercely wrestled with temptation, won For his own spirit that humility Which God had sought to clothe him with in vain, By other measures, and that strength which springs From a great conflict and a victory. We talked of this; and on our bended knees We blessed the Great Dispenser for the means By which we both had learned our sinful selves, And found the way to a diviner life. So, with my chastened heart and life, I come Back to my home, to live—perhaps to die. God's love has been in all this discipline; God's love has used those awful sins of mine To make me good and happy. I can mourn Over my husband; I can pray for him, Nay, I forgive him; for I know the power With which temptation comes to stronger men. I know the power with which it came to me.
And now, dear Grace, my story is complete. You have received it with dumb wonderment, And it has been too long. Tell me what thought Stirs in your face, and waits for utterance.
That I have suffered little—trusted less; That I have failed in charity, and been Unjust to all men—specially to one. I did not think there lived a man on earth Who had such virtue as this friend of yours,— Weak, and yet strong. 'Twas but humanity To give him pity in his awful strife; To stint the meed of reverence and praise For his triumphant conquest of himself, Were infamy. I love and honor him; And if I knew my husband were as strong, I could fall down before, and worship him; I could fall down, and wet his feet with tears— Tears penitential for the grievous wrong That I have done him. But alas! alas! The thought comes back again. O God in heaven! Help me with patience to await the hour When the great purpose of thy discipline Shall be revealed, and, like this chastened one, I can behold it, and be satisfied.
Hark! They are calling us below, I think. We must go down. We'll talk of this again When we have leisure. Kiss the little one, And thank his weary brain it sleeps so well.
* * * * *
PRESENT—JOSEPH, SAMUEL, REBEKAH, and other CHILDREN.
* * * * *
THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY STORY.
Have we not had "Button-Button" enough, And "Forfeits," and all such silly stuff?
Well, we were playing "Blind-Man's-Buff" Until you fell, and rose in a huff, And declared the game was too rude and rough. Poor boy! What a pity he isn't tough!
Ha! ha! ha! what a pretty boy! Papa's delight, and mamma's joy! Wouldn't he like to go to bed, And have a cabbage-leaf on his head?