MAURINE AND OTHER POEMS
ELLA WHEELER WILCOX
W. B. Conkey Company Chicago
Copyright, 1888 by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
I step across the mystic border-land, And look upon the wonder-world of Art. How beautiful, how beautiful its hills! And all its valleys, how surpassing fair!
The winding paths that lead up to the heights Are polished by the footsteps of the great. The mountain-peaks stand very near to God: The chosen few whose feet have trod thereon Have talked with Him, and with the angels walked.
Here are no sounds of discord—no profane Or senseless gossip of unworthy things— Only the songs of chisels and of pens. Of busy brushes, and ecstatic strains Of souls surcharged with music most divine. Here is no idle sorrow, no poor grief For any day or object left behind— For time is counted precious, and herein Is such complete abandonment of Self That tears turn into rainbows, and enhance The beauty of the land where all is fair.
Awed and afraid, I cross the border-land. Oh, who am I, that I dare enter here Where the great artists of the world have trod— The genius-crowned aristocrats of Earth? Only the singer of a little song; Yet loving Art with such a mighty love I hold it greater to have won a place Just on the fair land's edge, to make my grave, Than in the outer world of greed and gain To sit upon a royal throne and reign.
Maurine 9 Two Sunsets 122 Unrest 124 "Artist's Life" 125 Nothing but Stones 126 The Coquette 128 Inevitable 129 The Ocean of Song 130 "It Might Have Been" 132 If 132 Gethsemane 134 Dust-Sealed 135 "Advice" 136 Over the Banisters 137 Momus, God of Laughter 138 I Dream 140 The Past 141 The Sonnet 142 Secrets 142 A Dream 143 Uselessness 143 Will 144 Winter Rain 145 Applause 145 Life 146 Burdened 146 The Story 147 Let Them Go 148 The Engine 149 Nothing New 151 Dreams 152 Helena 153 Nothing Remains 155 Lean Down 156 Comrades 157 What Gain? 158 Life 159 To the West 160 The Land of Content 161 A Song of Life 163 Warning 164 The Christian's New Year Prayer 164 In the Night 166 God's Measure 167 A March Snow 167 After the Battles are Over 168 Noblesse Oblige 174 And They Are Dumb 175 Night 177 All for Me 178 Philosophy 179 "Carlos" 180 The Two Glasses 182 Through Tears 184 Into Space 185 Through Dim Eyes 187 La Mort d'Amour 188 The Punished 189 Half Fledged 190 Love's Sleep 191 True Culture 192 The Voluptuary 193 The Year 194 The Unattained 195 In the Crowd 196 Life and I 198 Guerdon 199 Snowed Under 200 Platonic 201 What We Need 203 "Leudemann's-on-the-River" 204 In the Long Run 206 Plea to Science 207 Love's Burial 208 Little Blue Hood 209 No Spring 211 Lippo 212 Midsummer 213 A Reminiscence 214 Respite 216 A Girl's Faith 217 Two 218 Slipping Away 219 Is it Done? 220 A Leaf 221 AEsthetic 222 Poems of the Week 224 Ghosts 226 Fleeing Away 227 All Mad 228 Hidden Gems 229 By-and-By 230 Over the May Hill 231 A Song 232 Foes 234 Friendship 235
I sat and sewed, and sang some tender tune, Oh, beauteous was that morn in early June! Mellow with sunlight, and with blossoms fair: The climbing rose-tree grew about me there, And checked with shade the sunny portico Where, morns like this, I came to read, or sew.
I heard the gate click, and a firm quick tread Upon the walk. No need to turn my head; I would mistake, and doubt my own voice sounding, Before his step upon the gravel bounding. In an unstudied attitude of grace, He stretched his comely form; and from his face He tossed the dark, damp curls; and at my knees, With his broad hat he fanned the lazy breeze, And turned his head, and lifted his large eyes, Of that strange hue we see in ocean dyes, And call it blue sometimes, and sometimes green And save in poet eyes, not elsewhere seen.
"Lest I should meet with my fair lady's scorning, For calling quite so early in the morning, I've brought a passport that can never fail," He said, and, laughing, laid the morning mail Upon my lap. "I'm welcome? so I thought! I'll figure by the letters that I brought How glad you are to see me. Only one? And that one from a lady? I'm undone! That, lightly skimmed, you'll think me such a bore, And wonder why I did not bring you four. It's ever thus: a woman cannot get So many letters that she will not fret O'er one that did not come." "I'll prove you wrong," I answered gayly, "here upon the spot! This little letter, precious if not long, Is just the one, of all you might have brought, To please me. You have heard me speak, I'm sure, Of Helen Trevor: she writes here to say She's coming out to see me; and will stay Till Autumn, maybe. She is, like her note, Petite and dainty, tender, loving, pure. You'd know her by a letter that she wrote, For a sweet tinted thing. 'Tis always so:— Letters all blots, though finely written, show A slovenly person. Letters stiff and white Bespeak a nature honest, plain, upright. And tissuey, tinted, perfumed notes, like this, Tell of a creature formed to pet and kiss."
My listener heard me with a slow, odd smile; Stretched in abandon at my feet, the while, He fanned me idly with his broad-brimmed hat. "Then all young ladies must be formed for that!" He laughed, and said. "Their letters read, and look, As like as twenty copies of one book. They're written in a dainty, spider scrawl, To 'darling, precious Kate,' or 'Fan,' or 'Moll.' The 'dearest, sweetest' friend they ever had. They say they 'want to see you, oh, so bad!' Vow they'll 'forget you, never, never, oh!' And then they tell about a splendid beau— A lovely hat—a charming dress, and send A little scrap of this to every friend. And then to close, for lack of something better, They beg you'll 'read and burn this horrid letter.'"
He watched me, smiling. He was prone to vex And hector me with flings upon my sex. He liked, he said, to have me flash and frown, So he could tease me, and then laugh me down. My storms of wrath amused him very much: He liked to see me go off at a touch; Anger became me—made my color rise, And gave an added luster to my eyes. So he would talk—and so he watched me now, To see the hot flush mantle cheek and brow.
Instead, I answered coolly, with a smile, Felling a seam with utmost care, meanwhile. "The caustic tongue of Vivian Dangerfield Is barbed as ever, for my sex, this morn. Still unconvinced, no smallest point I yield. Woman I love, and trust, despite your scorn. There is some truth in what you say? Well, yes! Your statements usually hold more or less. Some women write weak letters—(some men do;) Some make professions, knowing them untrue. And woman's friendship, in the time of need, I own, too often proves a broken reed. But I believe, and ever will contend, Woman can be a sister woman's friend, Giving from out her large heart's bounteous store A living love—claiming to do no more Than, through and by that love, she knows she can; And living by her professions, like a man. And such a tie, true friendship's silken tether, Binds Helen Trevor's heart and mine together. I love her for her beauty, meekness, grace; For her white lily soul and angel face. She loves me, for my greater strength, may be; Loves—and would give her heart's best blood for me And I, to save her from a pain, or cross, Would suffer any sacrifice or loss. Such can be woman's friendship for another. Could man give more, or ask more from a brother?"
I paused: and Vivian leaned his massive head Against the pillar of the portico, Smiled his slow, skeptic smile, then laughed, and said: "Nay, surely not—if what you say be so. You've made a statement, but no proof's at hand. Wait—do not flash your eyes so! Understand I think you quite sincere in what you say: You love your friend, and she loves you, to-day; But friendship is not friendship at the best Till circumstances put it to the test. Man's, less demonstrative, stands strain and tear, While woman's, half profession, fails to wear. Two women love each other passing well— Say Helen Trevor and Maurine La Pelle, Just for example. Let them daily meet At ball and concert, in the church and street, They kiss and coo, they visit, chat, caress; Their love increases, rather than grows less; And all goes well, till 'Helen dear' discovers That 'Maurine darling' wins too many lovers.
And then her 'precious friend,' her 'pet,' her 'sweet,' Becomes a 'minx,' a 'creature all deceit.' Let Helen smile too oft on Maurine's beaux, Or wear more stylish or becoming clothes, Or sport a hat that has a longer feather— And lo! the strain has broken 'friendship's tether.' Maurine's sweet smile becomes a frown or pout; 'She's just begun to find that Helen out' The breach grows wider—anger fills each heart; They drift asunder, whom 'but death could part.' You shake your head? Oh, well, we'll never know! It is not likely Fate will test you so. You'll live, and love; and, meeting twice a year, While life shall last, you'll hold each other dear. I pray it may be so; it were not best To shake your faith in woman by the test. Keep your belief, and nurse it while you can. I've faith in woman's friendship too—for man! They're true as steel, as mothers, friends, and wives: And that's enough to bless us all our lives. That man's a selfish fellow, and a bore, Who is unsatisfied, and asks for more."
"But there is need of more!" I here broke in. "I hold that woman guilty of a sin, Who would not cling to, and defend another, As nobly as she would stand by a brother. Who would not suffer for a sister's sake, And, were there need to prove her friendship, make 'Most any sacrifice, nor count the cost. Who would not do this for a friend is lost To every nobler principle." "Shame, shame!" Cried Vivian, laughing, "for you now defame The whole sweet sex; since there's not one would do The thing you name, nor would I want her to. I love the sex. My mother was a woman— I hope my wife will be, and wholly human. And if she wants to make some sacrifice, I'll think her far more sensible and wise To let her husband reap the benefit, Instead of some old maid or senseless chit. Selfish? Of course! I hold all love is so: And I shall love my wife right well, I know. Now there's a point regarding selfish love, You thirst to argue with me, and disprove. But since these cosy hours will soon be gone And all our meetings broken in upon, No more of these rare moments must be spent In vain discussions, or in argument. I wish Miss Trevor was in—Jericho! (You see the selfishness begins to show.) She wants to see you?—So do I: but she Will gain her wish, by taking you from me. 'Come all the same?' that means I'll be allowed To realize that 'three can make a crowd.' I do not like to feel myself de trop. With two girl cronies would I not be so? My ring would interrupt some private chat. You'd ask me in and take my cane and hat, And speak about the lovely summer day, And think—'The lout! I wish he'd kept away.' Miss Trevor'd smile, but just to hide a pout And count the moments till I was shown out. And, while I twirled my thumbs, I would sit wishing That I had gone off hunting birds, or fishing. No, thanks, Maurine! The iron hand of Fate, (Or otherwise Miss Trevor's dainty fingers,) Will bar my entrance into Eden's gate; And I shall be like some poor soul that lingers At heaven's portal, paying the price of sin, Yet hoping to be pardoned and let in."
He looked so melancholy sitting there, I laughed outright. "How well you act a part; You look the very picture of despair! You've missed your calling, sir! suppose you start Upon a starring tour, and carve your name With Booth's and Barrett's on the heights of Fame. But now, tabooing nonsense, I shall send For you to help me entertain my friend, Unless you come without it. 'Cronies?' True, Wanting our 'private chats' as cronies do And we'll take those, while you are reading Greek, Or writing 'Lines to Dora's brow' or 'cheek.' But when you have an hour or two of leisure, Call as you now do, and afford like pleasure. For never yet did heaven's sun shine on, Or stars discover, that phenomenon, In any country, or in any clime: Two maids so bound, by ties of mind and heart. They did not feel the heavy weight of time In weeks of scenes wherein no man took part. God made the sexes to associate: Nor law of man, nor stern decree of Fate, Can ever undo what His hand has done, And, quite alone, make happy either one. My Helen is an only child:—a pet Of loving parents: and she never yet Has been denied one boon for which she pleaded. A fragile thing, her lightest wish was heeded. Would she pluck roses? they must first be shorn, By careful hands, of every hateful thorn. And loving eyes must scan the pathway where Her feet may tread, to see no stones are there. She'll grow dull here, in this secluded nook, Unless you aid me in the pleasant task Of entertaining. Drop in with your book— Read, talk, sing for her sometimes. What I ask, Do once, to please me: then there'll be no need For me to state the case again, or plead. There's nothing like a woman's grace and beauty To waken mankind to a sense of duty."
"I bow before the mandate of my queen: Your slightest wish is law, Ma Belle Maurine," He answered smiling, "I'm at your command; Point but one lily finger, or your wand, And you will find a willing slave obeying. There goes my dinner bell! I hear it saying I've spent two hours here, lying at your feet, Not profitable, maybe—surely sweet. All time is money; now were I to measure The time I spend here by its solid pleasure, And that were coined in dollars, then I've laid Each day a fortune at your feet, fair maid. There goes that bell again! I'll say good-bye, Or clouds will shadow my domestic sky. I'll come again, as you would have me do, And see your friend, while she is seeing you. That's like by proxy being at a feast; Unsatisfactory, to say the least."
He drew his fine shape up, and trod the land With kingly grace. Passing the gate, his hand He lightly placed the garden wall upon, Leaped over like a leopard, and was gone.
And, going, took the brightness from the place, Yet left the June day with a sweeter grace, And my young soul so steeped in happy dreams, Heaven itself seemed shown to me in gleams. There is a time with lovers, when the heart First slowly rouses from its dreamless sleep, To all the tumult of a passion life, Ere yet have wakened jealousy and strife. Just as a young, untutored child will start Out of a long hour's slumber, sound and deep, And lie and smile with rosy lips, and cheeks, In a sweet, restful trance, before it speaks. A time when yet no word the spell has broken, Save what the heart unto the soul has spoken, In quickened throbs, and sighs but half suppressed. A time when that sweet truth, all unconfessed, Gives added fragrance to the summer flowers, A golden glory to the passing hours, A hopeful beauty to the plainest face, And lends to life a new and tender grace.
When the full heart has climbed the heights of bliss, And, smiling, looks back o'er the golden past, I think it finds no sweeter hour than this In all love-life. For, later, when the last Translucent drop o'erflows the cup of joy, And love, more mighty than the heart's control, Surges in words of passion from the soul, And vows are asked and given, shadows rise Like mists before the sun in noonday skies, Vague fears, that prove the brimming cup's alloy; A dread of change—the crowning moment's curse, Since what is perfect, change but renders worse: A vain desire to cripple Time, who goes Bearing our joys away, and bringing woes. And later, doubts and jealousies awaken. And plighted hearts are tempest-tossed, and shaken. Doubt sends a test, that goes a step too far, A wound is made, that, healing, leaves a scar, Or one heart, full with love's sweet satisfaction, Thinks truth once spoken always understood, While one is pining for the tender action And whispered word by which, of old, 'twas wooed.
But this blest hour, in love's glad, golden day, Is like the dawning, ere the radiant ray Of glowing Sol has burst upon the eye, But yet is heralded in earth and sky, Warm with its fervor, mellow with its light, While Care still slumbers in the arms of night. But Hope, awake, hears happy birdlings sing, And thinks of all a summer day may bring.
In this sweet calm, my young heart lay at rest, Filled with a blissful sense of peace; nor guessed That sullen clouds were gathering in the skies To hide the glorious sun, ere it should rise.
To little birds that never tire of humming About the garden, in the summer weather, Aunt Ruth compared us, after Helen's coming, As we two roamed, or sat and talked together. Twelve months apart, we had so much to say Of school days gone—and time since passed away; Of that old friend, and this; of what we'd done; Of how our separate paths in life had run; Of what we would do, in the coming years; Of plans and castles, hopes and dreams and fears. All these, and more, as soon as we found speech, We touched upon, and skimmed from this to that But at the first, each only gazed on each, And, dumb with joy, that did not need a voice Like lesser joys, to say, "Lo! I rejoice," With smiling eyes and clasping hands we sat Wrapped in that peace, felt but with those dear, Contented just to know each other near. But when this silent eloquence gave place To words, 'twas like the rising of a flood Above a dam. We sat there, face to face, And let our talk glide on where'er it would, Speech never halting in its speed or zest, Save when our rippling laughter let it rest; Just as a stream will sometimes pause and play About a bubbling spring, then dash away. No wonder, then, the third day's sun was nigh Up to the zenith when my friend and I Opened our eyes from slumber long and deep: Nature demanding recompense for hours Spent in the portico, among the flowers, Halves of two nights we should have spent in sleep.
So this third day, we breakfasted at one: Then walked about the garden in the sun, Hearing the thrushes and the robins sing, And looking to see what buds were opening.
The clock chimed three, and we yet strayed at will About the yard in morning dishabille, When Aunt Ruth came, with apron o'er her head, Holding a letter in her hand, and said, "Here is a note, from Vivian I opine; At least his servant brought it. And now, girls, You may think this is no concern of mine, But in my day young ladies did not go, Till almost bed-time roaming to and fro In morning wrappers, and with tangled curls, The very pictures of forlorn distress. 'Tis three o'clock, and time for you to dress. Come! read your note and hurry in, Maurine, And make yourself fit object to be seen."
Helen was bending o'er an almond bush, And ere she looked up I had read the note, And calmed my heart, that, bounding, sent a flush To brow and cheek, at sight of aught he wrote. "Ma Belle Maurine:" (so Vivian's billet ran,) "Is it not time I saw your cherished guest? 'Pity the sorrows of a poor young man,' Banished from all that makes existence blest. I'm dying to see—your friend; and I will come And pay respects, hoping you'll be at home To-night at eight. Expectantly, V. D."
Inside my belt I slipped the billet, saying, "Helen, go make yourself most fair to see: Quick! hurry now! no time for more delaying! In just five hours a caller will be here, And you must look your prettiest, my dear! Begin your toilet right away. I know How long it takes you to arrange each bow— To twist each curl, and loop your skirts aright. And you must prove you are au fait to-night, And make a perfect toilet: for our caller Is man, and critic, poet, artist, scholar, And views with eyes of all." "Oh, oh! Maurine," Cried Helen with a well-feigned look of fear, "You've frightened me so I shall not appear: I'll hide away, refusing to be seen By such an ogre. Woe is me! bereft Of all my friends, my peaceful home I've left, And strayed away into the dreadful wood To meet the fate of poor Red Riding Hood. No, Maurine, no! you've given me such a fright, I'll not go near your ugly wolf to-night."
Meantime we'd left the garden; and I stood In Helen's room, where she had thrown herself Upon a couch, and lay, a winsome elf, Pouting and smiling, cheek upon her arm, Not in the least a portrait of alarm. "Now sweet!" I coaxed, and knelt by her, "be good! Go curl your hair; and please your own Maurine, By putting on that lovely grenadine. Not wolf, nor ogre, neither Caliban, Nor Mephistopheles, you'll meet to-night, But what the ladies call 'a nice young man'! Yet one worth knowing—strong with health and might Of perfect manhood; gifted, noble, wise; Moving among his kind with loving eyes, And helpful hand; progressive, brave, refined, After the image of his Maker's mind."
"Now, now, Maurine!" cried Helen, "I believe It is your lover coming here this eve. Why have you never written of him, pray? Is the day set?—and when? Say, Maurine, say!"
Had I betrayed by some too fervent word The secret love that all my being stirred? My lover? Ay! My heart proclaimed him so; But first his lips must win the sweet confession, Ere even Helen be allowed to know. I must straightway erase the slight impression Made by the words just uttered. "Foolish child!" I gayly cried, "your fancy's straying wild. Just let a girl of eighteen hear the name Of maid and youth uttered about one time, And off her fancy goes, at break-neck pace, Defying circumstances, reason, space— And straightway builds romances so sublime They put all Shakespeare's dramas to the shame. This Vivian Dangerfield is neighbor, friend And kind companion; bringing books and flowers. And, by his thoughtful actions without end, Helping me pass some otherwise long hours; But he has never breathed a word of love. If you still doubt me, listen while I prove My statement by the letter that he wrote. 'Dying to meet—my friend!' (she could not see The dash between that meant so much to me.) 'Will come this eve, at eight, and hopes we may Be in to greet him.' Now I think you'll say 'Tis not much like a lover's tender note."
We laugh, we jest, not meaning what we say; We hide our thoughts, by light words lightly spoken, And pass on heedless, till we find one day They've bruised our hearts, or left some other broken.
I sought my room, and trilling some blithe air, Opened my wardrobe, wondering what to wear. Momentous question! femininely human! More than all others, vexing mind of woman, Since that sad day, when in her discontent, To search for leaves, our fair first mother went. All undecided what I should put on, At length I made selection of a lawn— White, with a tiny pink vine overrun:— My simplest robe, but Vivian's favorite one. And placing a single flowret in my hair, I crossed the hall to Helen's chamber, where I found her with her fair locks all let down, Brushing the kinks out, with a pretty frown. 'T was like a picture, or a pleasing play, To watch her make her toilet. She would stand, And turn her head first this and then that way, Trying effect of ribbon, bow or band. Then she would pick up something else, and curve Her lovely neck, with cunning, bird-like grace, And watch the mirror while she put it on, With such a sweetly grave and thoughtful face; And then to view it all would sway, and swerve Her lithe young body, like a graceful swan.
Helen was over medium height, and slender Even to frailty. Her great, wistful eyes Were like the deep blue of autumnal skies; And through them looked her soul, large, loving, tender. Her long, light hair was lusterless, except Upon the ends, where burnished sunbeams slept, And on the earlocks; and she looped the curls Back with a shell comb, studded thick with pearls, Costly yet simple. Her pale loveliness, That night, was heightened by her rich, black dress, That trailed behind her, leaving half in sight Her taper arms, and shoulders marble white.
I was not tall as Helen, and my face Was shaped and colored like my grandsire's race; For through his veins my own received the warm, Red blood of southern France, which curved my form, And glowed upon my cheek in crimson dyes, And bronzed my hair, and darkled in my eyes. And as the morning trails the skirts of night, And dusky night puts on the garb of morn, And walk together when the day is born, So we two glided down the hall and stair, Arm clasping arm, into the parlor, where Sat Vivian, bathed in sunset's gorgeous light. He rose to greet us. Oh! his form was grand; And he possessed that power, strange, occult, Called magnetism, lacking better word, Which moves the world, achieving great result Where genius fails completely. Touch his hand, It thrilled through all your being—meet his eye, And you were moved, yet knew not how, or why. Let him but rise, you felt the air was stirred By an electric current.
This strange force Is mightier than genius. Rightly used, It leads to grand achievements; all things yield Before its mystic presence, and its field Is broad as earth and heaven. But abused, It sweeps like a poison simoon on its course Bearing miasma in its scorching breath, And leaving all it touches struck with death.
Far-reaching science shall yet tear away The mystic garb that hides it from the day, And drag it forth and bind it with its laws, And make it serve the purposes of men, Guided by common sense and reason. Then We'll hear no more of seance, table-rapping, And all that trash, o'er which the world is gaping, Lost in effect, while science seeks the cause.
Vivian was not conscious of his power: Or, if he was, knew not its full extent. He knew his glance would make a wild beast cower, And yet he knew not that his large eyes sent Into the heart of woman the same thrill That made the lion servant of his will. And even strong men felt it.
He arose, Reached forth his hand, and in it clasped my own, While I held Helen's; and he spoke some word Of pleasant greeting in his low, round tone, Unlike all other voices I have heard. Just as the white cloud, at the sunrise, glows With roseate colors, so the pallid hue Of Helen's cheek, like tinted sea-shells grew. Through mine, his hand caused hers to tremble; such Was the all-mast'ring magic of his touch.
Then we sat down, and talked about the weather, The neighborhood—some author's last new book. But, when I could, I left the two together To make acquaintance, saying I must look After the chickens—my especial care; And ran away, and left them, laughing, there.
Knee-deep, through clover, to the poplar grove, I waded, where my pets were wont to rove: And there I found the foolish mother hen Brooding her chickens underneath a tree, An easy prey for foxes. "Chick-a-dee," Quoth I, while reaching for the downy things That, chirping, peeped from out the mother-wings, "How very human is your folly! When There waits a haven, pleasant, bright, and warm, And one to lead you thither from the storm And lurking dangers, yet you turn away. And, thinking to be your own protector, stray Into the open jaws of death: for, see! An owl is sitting in this very tree You thought safe shelter. Go now to your pen." And, followed by the clucking, clamorous hen, So like the human mother here again, Moaning because a strong, protecting arm Would shield her little ones from cold and harm, I carried back my garden hat brimful Of chirping chickens, like white balls of wool, And snugly housed them. And just then I heard A sound like gentle winds among the trees, Or pleasant waters in the Summer, stirred And set in motion by a passing breeze. 'T was Helen singing: and, as I drew near, Another voice, a tenor full and clear, Mingled with hers, as murmuring streams unite, And flow on stronger in their wedded might. It was a way of Helen's, not to sing The songs that other people sang. She took Sometimes an extract from an ancient book; Again some floating, fragmentary thing And such she fitted to old melodies, Or else composed the music. One of these She sang that night; and Vivian caught the strain, And joined her in the chorus, or refrain,
O thou, mine other, stronger part! Whom yet I cannot hear, or see, Come thou, and take this loving heart, That longs to yield its all to thee, I call mine own—Oh, come to me! Love, answer back, I come to thee, I come to thee.
This hungry heart, so warm, so large, Is far too great a care for me. I have grown weary of the charge I keep so sacredly for thee. Come thou, and take my heart from me. Love, answer back, I come to thee, I come to thee.
I am aweary, waiting here For one who tarries long from me. O! art thou far, or art thou near? And must I still be sad for thee? Or wilt thou straightway come to me? Love, answer, I am near to thee, I come to thee.
The melody, so full of plaintive chords, Sobbed into silence—echoing down the strings Like voice of one who walks from us, and sings. Vivian had leaned upon the instrument The while they sang. But, as he spoke those words, "Love, I am near to thee, I come to thee," He turned his grand head slowly round, and bent His lustrous, soulful, speaking gaze on me. And my young heart, eager to own its king, Sent to my eyes a great, glad, trustful light Of love and faith, and hung upon my cheek Hope's rose-hued flag. There was no need to speak. I crossed the room, and knelt by Helen. "Sing That song you sang a fragment of one night, Out on the porch, beginning, 'Praise me not,'" I whispered: and her sweet and plaintive tone Rose, low and tender, as if she had caught From some sad passing breeze, and made her own, The echo of the wind-harp's sighing strain, Or the soft music of the falling rain.
O praise me not with your lips, dear one! Though your tender words I prize. But dearer by far is the soulful gaze Of your eyes, your beautiful eyes, Your tender, loving eyes.
O chide me not with your lips, dear one! Though I cause your bosom sighs. You can make repentance deeper far By your sad, reproving eyes, Your sorrowful, troubled eyes.
Words, at the best, are but hollow sounds; Above, in the beaming skies, The constant stars say never a word, But only smile with their eyes— Smile on with their lustrous eyes.
Then breathe no vow with your lips, dear one; On the winged wind speech flies. But I read the truth of your noble heart In your soulful, speaking eyes— In your deep and beautiful eyes.
The twilight darkened 'round us, in the room, While Helen sang; and, in the gathering gloom, Vivian reached out, and took my hand in his, And held it so; while Helen made the air Languid with music. Then a step drew near, And voice of Aunt Ruth broke the spell: "Dear! dear! Why Maurie, Helen, children! how is this? I hear you, but you have no light in there. Your room is dark as Egypt. What a way For folks to visit!—Maurie, go, I pray, And order lamps." And so there came a light, And all the sweet dreams hovering around The twilight shadows flitted in affright: And e'en the music had a harsher sound.
In pleasant converse passed an hour away: And Vivian planned a picnic for next day— A drive the next, and rambles without end, That he might help me entertain my friend. And then he rose, bowed low, and passed from sight, Like some great star that drops out from the night; And Helen watched him through the shadows go, And turned and said, her voice subdued and low, "How tall he is! in all my life, Maurine, A grander man I never yet have seen."
One golden twelfth-part of a checkered year; One summer month, of sunlight, moonlight, mirth With not a hint of shadows lurking near, Or storm-clouds brewing.
'T was a royal day: Voluptuous July held her lover, Earth, With her warm arms, upon her glowing breast, And twined herself about him, as he lay Smiling and panting in his dream-stirred rest. She bound him with her limbs of perfect grace, And hid him with her trailing robe of green, And wound him in her long hair's shimmering sheen, And rained her ardent kisses on his face.
Through the glad glory of the summer land Helen and I went wandering, hand in hand. In winding paths, hard by the ripe wheat-field, White with the promise of a bounteous yield, Across the late shorn meadow—down the hill, Red with the tiger-lily blossoms, till We stood upon the borders of the lake, That like a pretty, placid infant, slept Low at its base: and little ripples crept Along its surface, just as dimples chase Each other o'er an infant's sleeping face
Helen in idle hours had learned to make A thousand pretty, feminine knick-knacks: For brackets, ottomans, and toilet stands— Labor just suited to her dainty hands. That morning she had been at work in wax, Molding a wreath of flowers for my room,— Taking her patterns from the living blows, In all their dewy beauty and sweet bloom, Fresh from my garden. Fuchsia, tulip, rose, And trailing ivy, grew beneath her touch, Resembling the living plants as much As life is copied in the form of death: These lacking but the perfume, and that, breath.
And now the wreath was all completed, save The mermaid blossom of all flowerdom, A water-lily, dripping from the wave. And 'twas in search of it that we had come Down to the lake, and wandered on the beach, To see if any lilies grew in reach. Some broken stalks, where flowers late had been; Some buds, with all their beauties folded in, We found, but not the treasure that we sought And then we turned our footsteps to the spot Where, all impatient of its chain, my boat, "The Swan," rocked, asking to be set afloat It was a dainty row-boat—strong, yet light; Each side a swan was painted snowy white: A present from my uncle, just before He sailed, with Death, to that mysterious strand, Where freighted ships go sailing evermore, But none return to tell us of the land.
I freed the "Swan," and slowly rowed about, Wherever sea-weeds, grass, or green leaves lifted Their tips above the water. So we drifted, While Helen, opposite, leaned idly out And watched for lilies in the waves below, And softly crooned some sweet and dreamy air, That soothed me like a mother's lullabies. I dropped the oars, and closed my sun-kissed eyes, And let the boat go drifting here and there. Oh, happy day! the last of that brief time Of thoughtless youth, when all the world seems bright, Ere that disguised angel men call Woe Leads the sad heart through valleys dark as night, Up to the heights exalted and sublime. On each blest, happy moment, I am fain To linger long, ere I pass on to pain And sorrow that succeeded.
From day-dreams, As golden as the summer noontide's beams, I was awakened by a voice that cried: "Strange ship, ahoy! Fair frigate, whither bound?" And, starting up, I cast my gaze around, And saw a sail-boat o'er the water glide Close to the "Swan," like some live thing of grace; And from it looked the glowing, handsome face Of Vivian.
"Beauteous sirens of the sea, Come sail across the raging main with me!" He laughed; and leaning, drew our drifting boat Beside his own. "There, now! step in!" he said, "I'll land you anywhere you want to go— My boat is safer far than yours, I know: And much more pleasant with its sails all spread. The Swan? We'll take the oars, and let it float Ashore at leisure. You, Maurine, sit there— Miss Helen here. Ye gods and little fishes! I've reached the height of pleasure, and my wishes. Adieu despondency! farewell to care!"
'T was done so quickly: that was Vivian's way. He did not wait for either yea or nay. He gave commands, and left you with no choice But just to do the bidding of his voice. His rare, kind smile, low tones, and manly face Lent to his quick imperiousness a grace And winning charm, completely stripping it Of what might otherwise have seemed unfit. Leaving no trace of tyranny, but just That nameless force that seemed to say, "You must." Suiting its pretty title of "The Dawn," (So named, he said, that it might rhyme with "Swan,") Vivian's sail-boat, was carpeted with blue, While all its sails were of a pale rose hue. The daintiest craft that flirted with the breeze; A poet's fancy in an hour of ease.
Whatever Vivian had was of the best. His room was like some Sultan's in the East. His board was always spread as for a feast. Whereat, each meal, he was both host and guest. He would go hungry sooner than he'd dine At his own table if 'twere illy set. He so loved things artistic in design— Order and beauty, all about him. Yet So kind he was, if it befell his lot To dine within the humble peasant's cot, He made it seem his native soil to be, And thus displayed the true gentility.
Under the rosy banners of the "Dawn," Around the lake we drifted on, and on. It was a time for dreams, and not for speech. And so we floated on in silence, each Weaving the fancies suiting such a day. Helen leaned idly o'er the sail-boat's side, And dipped her rosy fingers in the tide; And I among the cushions half reclined, Half sat, and watched the fleecy clouds at play While Vivian with his blank-book, opposite, In which he seemed to either sketch or write Was lost in inspiration of some kind.
No time, no change, no scene, can e'er efface My mind's impression of that hour and place; It stands out like a picture. O'er the years, Black with their robes of sorrow—veiled with tears, Lying with all their lengthened shapes between, Untouched, undimmed, I still behold that scene. Just as the last of Indian-summer days, Replete with sunlight, crowned with amber haze, Followed by dark and desolate December, Through all the months of winter we remember.
The sun slipped westward. That peculiar change Which creeps into the air, and speaks of night While yet the day is full of golden light, We felt steal o'er us. Vivian broke the spell Of dream-fraught silence, throwing down his book: "Young ladies, please allow me to arrange These wraps about your shoulders. I know well The fickle nature of our atmosphere,— Her smile swift followed by a frown or tear,— And go prepared for changes. Now you look, Like—like—oh, where's a pretty simile? Had you a pocket mirror here you'd see How well my native talent is displayed In shawling you. Red on the brunette maid; Blue on the blonde—and quite without design (Oh, where is that comparison of mine?) Well—like a June rose and a violet blue In one bouquet! I fancy that will do. And now I crave your patience and a boon, Which is to listen, while I read my rhyme, A floating fancy of the summer time. 'Tis neither witty, wonderful, nor wise, So listen kindly—but don't criticise My maiden effort of the afternoon:
"If all the ships I have at sea Should come a-sailing home to me, Ah, well! the harbor could not hold So many sails as there would be If all my ships came in from sea.
"If half my ships came home from sea, And brought their precious freight to me, Ah, well! I should have wealth as great As any king who sits in state— So rich the treasures that would be In half my ships now out at sea.
"If just one ship I have at sea Should come a-sailing home to me, Ah, well! the storm-clouds then might frown: For if the others all went down Still rich and proud and glad I'd be, If that one ship came back to me.
"If that one ship went down at sea, And all the others came to me, Weighed down with gems and wealth untold, With glory, honor, riches, gold, The poorest soul on earth I'd be If that one ship came not to me.
"O skies be calm? O winds blow free— Blow all my ships safe home to me. But if thou sendest some a-wrack To never more come sailing back, Send any—all, that skim the sea, But bring my love-ship home to me."
Helen was leaning by me, and her head Rested against my shoulder: as he read, I stroked her hair, and watched the fleecy skies, And when he finished, did not turn my eyes. I felt too happy and too shy to meet His gaze just then. I said, "'Tis very sweet, And suits the day; does it not, Helen, dear?" But Helen, voiceless, did not seem to hear. "'Tis strange," I added, "how you poets sing So feelingly about the very thing You care not for! and dress up an ideal So well, it looks a living, breathing real! Now, to a listener, your love song seemed A heart's out-pouring; yet I've heard you say Almost the opposite; or that you deemed Position, honor, glory, power, fame, Gained without loss of conscience or good name, The things to live for." "Have you? Well you may," Laughed Vivian, "but 'twas years—or months ago! And Solomon says wise men change, you know! I now speak truth! if she I hold most dear Slipped from my life, and no least hope were left, My heart would find the years more lonely here. Than if I were of wealth, fame, friends, bereft, And sent an exile to a foreign land."
His voice was low, and measured: as he spoke, New, unknown chords of melody awoke Within my soul. I felt my heart expand With that sweet fullness born of love. I turned To hide the blushes on my cheek that burned, And leaning over Helen, breathed her name. She lay so motionless I thought she slept: But, as I spoke, I saw her eyes unclose, And o'er her face a sudden glory swept, And a slight tremor thrilled all through her frame. "Sweet friend," I said, "your face is full of light: What were the dreams that made your eyes so bright?"
She only smiled for answer, and arose From her reclining posture at my side, Threw back the clust'ring ringlets from her face With a quick gesture, full of easy grace, And, turning, spoke to Vivian. "Will you guide The boat up near that little clump of green Off to the right? There's where the lilies grow. We quite forgot our errand here, Maurine, And our few moments have grown into hours. What will Aunt Ruth think of our ling'ring so? There—that will do—now I can reach the flowers."
"Hark! just hear that!" and Vivian broke forth singing, "Row, brothers, row." "The six o'clock bell's ringing! Who ever knew three hours to go so fast In all the annals of the world, before? I could have sworn not over one had passed. Young ladies, I am forced to go ashore! I thank you for the pleasure you have given; This afternoon has been a glimpse of heaven. Good night—sweet dreams! and by your gracious leave, I'll pay my compliments to-morrow eve."
A smile, a bow, and he had gone his way: And, in the waning glory of the day, Down cool, green lanes, and through the length'ning shadows, Silent, we wandered back across the meadows. The wreath was finished, and adorned my room; Long afterward, the lilies' copied bloom Was like a horrid specter in my sight, Staring upon me morning, noon, and night.
The sun went down. The sad new moon rose up, And passed before me, like an empty cup, The Great Unseen brims full of pain or bliss, And gives His children, saying, "Drink of this."
A light wind, from the open casement, fanned My brow and Helen's, as we, hand in hand, Sat looking out upon the twilight scene, In dreamy silence. Helen's dark blue eyes, Like two lost stars that wandered from the skies Some night adown the meteor's shining track, And always had been grieving to go back, Now gazed up, wistfully, at heaven's dome, And seemed to recognize and long for home. Her sweet voice broke the silence: "Wish, Maurine, Before you speak! you know the moon is new, And anything you wish for will come true Before it wanes. I do believe the sign! Now tell me your wish, and I'll tell you mine."
I turned and looked up at the slim young moon; And, with an almost superstitious heart, I sighed, "Oh, new moon! help me, by thine art, To grow all grace and goodness, and to be Worthy the love a true heart proffers me." Then smiling down, I said, "Dear one! my boon, I fear, is quite too silly or too sweet For my repeating: so we'll let it stay Between the moon and me. But if I may I'll listen now to your wish. Tell me, please!"
All suddenly she nestled at my feet, And hid her blushing face upon my knees. Then drew my hand against her glowing cheek, And, leaning on my breast, began to speak, Half sighing out the words my tortured ear Reached down to catch, while striving not to hear.
"Can you not guess who 'twas about, Maurine? Oh, my sweet friend! you must ere this have seen The love I tried to cover from all eyes And from myself. Ah, foolish little heart! As well it might go seeking for some art Whereby to hide the sun in noonday skies. When first the strange sound of his voice I heard, Looked on his noble face, and touched his hand, My slumb'ring heart thrilled through and through, and stirred As if to say, 'I hear, and understand.' And day by day mine eyes were blest beholding The inner beauty of his life, unfolding In countless words and actions, that portrayed The noble stuff of which his soul was made. And more and more I felt my heart upreaching Toward the truth, drawn gently by his teaching, As flowers are drawn by sunlight. And there grew A strange, shy something in its depths, I knew At length was love, because it was so sad, And yet so sweet, and made my heart so glad,
Yet seemed to pain me. Then, for very shame, Lest all should read my secret and its name. I strove to hide it in my breast away, Where God could see it only. But each day It seemed to grow within me, and would rise, Like my own soul, and look forth from my eyes, Defying bonds of silence; and would speak, In its red-lettered language, on my cheek, If but his name was uttered. You were kind, My own Maurine! as you alone could be, So long the sharer of my heart and mind, While yet you saw, in seeming not to see. In all the years we have been friends, my own. And loved as women very rarely do, My heart no sorrow and no joy has known It has not shared at once, in full, with you And I so longed to speak to you of this, When first I felt its mingled pain and bliss; Yet dared not, lest you, knowing him, should say, In pity for my folly—'Lack-a-day! You are undone: because no mortal art Can win the love of such a lofty heart.' And so I waited, silent and in pain, Till I could know I did not love in vain. And now I know, beyond a doubt or fear. Did he not say, 'If she I hold most dear Slipped from my life, and no least hope were left, My heart would find the years more lonely here Than if I were of wealth, fame, friends, bereft, And sent, an exile, to a foreign land'? Oh, darling, you must love, to understand The joy that thrilled all through me at those words. It was as if a thousand singing birds Within my heart broke forth in notes of praise. I did not look up, but I knew his gaze Was on my face, and that his eyes must see The joy I felt almost transfigured me. He loves me—loves me! so the birds kept singing, And all my soul with that sweet strain is ringing. If there were added but one drop of bliss, No more my cup would hold: and so, this eve, I made a wish that I might feel his kiss Upon my lips, ere yon pale moon should leave The stars all lonely, having waned away, Too old and weak and bowed with care to stay."
Her voice sighed into silence. While she spoke My heart writhed in me, praying she would cease— Each word she uttered falling like a stroke On my bare soul. And now a hush like death, Save that 'twas broken by a quick-drawn breath, Fell 'round me, but brought not the hoped-for peace. For when the lash no longer leaves its blows, The flesh still quivers, and the blood still flows.
She nestled on my bosom like a child. And 'neath her head my tortured heart throbbed wild With pain and pity. She had told her tale— Her self-deceiving story to the end. How could I look down on her as she lay So fair, and sweet, and lily-like, and frail— A tender blossom on my breast, and say, "Nay, you are wrong—you do mistake, dear friend! 'Tis I am loved, not you"? Yet that were truth, And she must know it later. Should I speak, And spread a ghastly pallor o'er the cheek Flushed now with joy?—And while I, doubting, pondered, She spoke again. "Maurine! I oft have wondered Why you and Vivian were not lovers. He Is all a heart could ask its king to be; And you have beauty, intellect and youth. I think it strange you have not loved each other— Strange how he could pass by you for another Not half so fair or worthy. Yet I know A loving Father pre-arranged it so. I think my heart has known him all these years, And waited for him. And if when he came It had been as a lover of my friend, I should have recognized him, all the same, As my soul-mate, and loved him to the end, Hiding my grief, and forcing back my tears Till on my heart, slow dropping, day by day, Unseen they fell, and wore it all away. And so a tender Father kept him free, With all the largeness of his love, for me— For me, unworthy such a precious gift! Yet I will bend each effort of my life To grow in grace and goodness, and to lift My soul and spirit to his lofty height, So to deserve that holy name, his wife. Sweet friend, it fills my whole heart with delight To breathe its long hid secret in your ear. Speak, my Maurine, and say you love to hear!" The while she spoke, my active brain gave rise To one great thought of mighty sacrifice And self-denial. Oh! it blanched my cheek, And wrung my soul; and from my heart it drove All life and feeling. Coward-like, I strove To send it from me; but I felt it cling And hold fast on my mind like some live thing; And all the Self within me felt its touch And cried, "No, no! I cannot do so much— I am not strong enough—there is no call." And then the voice of Helen bade me speak, And with a calmness born of nerve, I said, Scarce knowing what I uttered, "Sweetheart, all Your joys and sorrows are with mine own wed. I thank you for your confidence, and pray I may deserve it always. But, dear one, Something—perhaps our boat-ride in the sun, Has set my head to aching. I must go To bed directly; and you will, I know, Grant me your pardon, and another day We'll talk of this together. Now good night And angels guard you with their wings of light."
I kissed her lips, and held her on my heart, And viewed her as I ne'er had done before. I gazed upon her features o'er and o'er; Marked her white, tender face—her fragile form, Like some frail plant that withers in the storm; Saw she was fairer in her new-found joy Than e'er before; and thought, "Can I destroy God's handiwork, or leave it at the best A broken harp, while I close clasp my bliss?" I bent my head and gave her one last kiss, And sought my room, and found there such relief As sad hearts feel when first alone with grief.
The moon went down, slow sailing from my sight, And left the stars to watch away the night. O stars, sweet stars, so changeless and serene! What depths of woe your pitying eyes have seen! The proud sun sets, and leaves us with our sorrow, To grope alone in darkness till the morrow. The languid moon, e'en if she deigns to rise, Soon seeks her couch, grown weary of our sighs; But from the early gloaming till the day Sends golden-liveried heralds forth to say He comes in might; the patient stars shine on, Steadfast and faithful, from twilight to dawn. And, as they shone upon Gethsemane, And watched the struggle of a God-like soul, Now from the same far height they shone on me, And saw the waves of anguish o'er me roll.
The storm had come upon me all unseen: No sound of thunder fell upon my ear; No cloud arose to tell me it was near; But under skies all sunlit, and serene, I floated with the current of the stream, And thought life all one golden-haloed dream. When lo! a hurricane, with awful force, Swept swift upon its devastating course, Wrecked my frail bark, and cast me on the wave Where all my hopes had found a sudden grave. Love makes us blind and selfish: otherwise I had seen Helen's secret in her eyes; So used I was to reading every look In her sweet face, as I would read a book. But now, made sightless by love's blinding rays, I had gone on unseeing, to the end Where Pain dispelled the mist of golden haze That walled me in, and lo! I found my friend Who journeyed with me—at my very side, Had been sore wounded to the heart, while I Both deaf and blind, saw not, nor heard her cry. And then I sobbed, "O God! I would have died To save her this." And as I cried in pain, There leaped forth from the still, white realm of Thought Where Conscience dwells, that unimpassioned spot As widely different from the heart's domain As north from south—the impulse felt before, And put away; but now it rose once more, In greater strength, and said, "Heart, would'st thou prove What lips have uttered? Then go lay thy love On Friendship's altar, as thy offering." "Nay!" cried my heart, "ask any other thing— Ask life itself—'twere easier sacrifice. But ask not love, for that I cannot give."
"But," spoke the voice, "the meanest insect dies, And is no hero! heroes dare to live When all that makes life sweet is snatched away." So with my heart, in converse, till the day In gold and crimson billows, rose and broke, The voice of Conscience, all unwearied, spoke. Love warred with Friendship: heart with Conscience fought, Hours rolled away, and yet the end was not. And wily Self, tricked out like tenderness, Sighed, "Think how one, whose life thou wert to bless, Will be cast down, and grope in doubt and fear! Wouldst thou wound him, to give thy friend relief? Can wrong make right?" "Nay!" Conscience said, "but Pride And Time can heal the saddest hurts of Love. While Friendship's wounds gape wide and yet more wide, And bitter fountains of the spirit prove."
At length, exhausted with the wearing strife, I cast the new-found burden of my life On God's broad breast, and sought that deep repose That only he who watched with sorrow knows.
"Maurine, Maurine! 'tis ten o'clock! arise, My pretty sluggard! open those dark eyes, And see where yonder sun is! Do you know I made my toilet just four hours ago?"
'T was Helen's voice: and Helen's gentle kiss Fell on my cheek. As from a deep abyss, I drew my weary self from that strange sleep That rests not, nor refreshes. Scarce awake Or conscious, yet there seemed a heavy weight Bound on my breast, as by a cruel Fate. I knew not why, and yet I longed to weep. Some dark cloud seemed to hang upon the day; And, for a moment, in that trance I lay, When suddenly the truth did o'er me break, Like some great wave upon a helpless child. The dull pain in my breast grew like a knife— The heavy throbbing of my heart grew wild, And God gave back the burden of the life He kept what time I slumbered. "You are ill," Cried Helen, "with that blinding headache still! You look so pale and weary. Now let me Play nurse, Maurine, and care for you to-day! And first I'll suit some dainty to your taste, And bring it to you, with a cup of tea." And off she ran, not waiting my reply. But, wanting most the sunshine and the light, I left my couch, and clothed myself in haste, And, kneeling, sent to God an earnest cry For help and guidance. "Show Thou me the way, Where duty leads; for I am blind! my sight Obscured by self. Oh, lead my steps aright! Help me see the path: and if it may, Let this cup pass:—and yet Thou heavenly One Thy will in all things, not mine own, be done." Rising, I went upon my way, receiving The strength prayer gives alway to hearts believing. I felt that unseen hands were leading me, And knew the end was peace. "What! are you up?" Cried Helen, coming with a tray, and cup, Of tender toast, and fragrant smoking tea. "You naughty girl! you should have stayed in bed Until you ate your breakfast, and were better I've something hidden for you here—a letter. But drink your tea before you read it, dear! 'Tis from some distant cousin, Auntie said, And so you need not hurry. Now be good, And mind your Helen." So, in passive mood, I laid the still unopened letter near, And loitered at my breakfast more to please My nurse, than any hunger to appease. Then listlessly I broke the seal and read The few lines written in a bold free hand: "New London, Canada. Dear Coz. Maurine! (In spite of generations stretched between Our natural right to that most handy claim Of cousinship, we'll use it all the same) I'm coming to see you! honestly, in truth! I've threatened often—now I mean to act. You'll find my coming is a stubborn fact. Keep quiet though, and do not tell Aunt Ruth I wonder if she'll know her petted boy In spite of changes. Look for me until You see me coming. As of old I'm still Your faithful friend, and loving cousin, Roy."
So Roy was coming! He and I had played As boy and girl, and later, youth and maid, Full half our lives together. He had been, Like me, an orphan; and the roof of kin Gave both kind shelter. Swift years sped away Ere change was felt: and then one summer day A long lost uncle sailed from India's shore— Made Roy his heir, and he was ours no more.
"He'd write us daily, and we'd see his face Once every year." Such was his promise given The morn he left. But now the years were seven Since last he looked upon the olden place. He'd been through college, traveled in all lands, Sailed over seas, and trod the desert sands. Would write and plan a visit, then, ere long, Would write again from Egypt or Hong Kong— Some fancy called him thither unforeseen. So years had passed, till seven lay between His going and the coming of this note, Which I hid in my bosom, and replied To Aunt Ruth's queries, "What the truant wrote?" By saying he was still upon the wing, And merely dropped a line, while journeying, To say he lived: and she was satisfied.
Sometimes it happens, in this world so strange, A human heart will pass through mortal strife, And writhe in torture: while the old sweet life So full of hope, and beauty, bloom and grace, Is slowly strangled by remorseless Pain: And one stern, cold, relentless, takes its place— A ghastly, pallid specter of the slain. Yet those in daily converse see no change Nor dream the heart has suffered. So that day I passed along toward the troubled way Stern duty pointed, and no mortal guessed A mighty conflict had disturbed my breast.
I had resolved to yield up to my friend The man I loved. Since she, too, loved him so I saw no other way in honor left. She was so weak and fragile, once bereft Of this great hope, that held her with such power She would wilt down, like some frost-bitten flower And swift untimely death would be the end. But I was strong: and hardy plants, which grow In out-door soil, can bear bleak winds that blow From Arctic lands, whereof a single breath Would lay the hot-house blossom low in death.
The hours went by, too slow, and yet too fast. All day I argued with my foolish heart That bade me play the shrinking coward's part And hide from pain. And when the day had past And time for Vivian's call drew near and nearer, It pleaded. "Wait, until the way seems clearer: Say you are ill—or busy: keep away Until you gather strength enough to play The part you have resolved on."
"Nay, not so," Made answer clear-eyed Reason, "Do you go And put your resolution to the test. Resolve, however nobly formed, at best Is but a still born babe of Thought, until It proves existence of its life and will By sound or action." So when Helen came And knelt by me, her fair face all aflame With sudden blushes, whispering, "My sweet! My heart can hear the music of his feet— Go down with me to meet him," I arose, And went with her all calmly, as one goes To look upon the dear face of the dead.
That eve, I know not what I did or said. I was not cold—my manner was not strange: Perchance I talked more freely than my wont, But in my speech was naught could give affront; Yet I conveyed, as only woman can, That nameless something, which bespeaks a change.
'Tis in the power of woman, if she be Whole-souled and noble, free from coquetry— Her motives all unselfish, worthy, good, To make herself and feelings understood By nameless acts—thus sparing what to man, However gently answered, causes pain, The offering of his hand and heart in vain.
She can be friendly, unrestrained, and kind, Assume no airs of pride or arrogance; But in her voice, her manner, and her glance, Convey that mystic something, undefined, Which men fail not to understand and read, And, when not blind with egoism, heed. My task was harder. 'T was the slow undoing Of long sweet months of unimpeded wooing. It was to hide and cover and conceal The truth—assuming, what I did not feel. It was to dam love's happy singing tide That blessed me with its hopeful, tuneful tone, By feigned indiff'rence, till it turned aside, And changed its channel, leaving me alone To walk parched plains, and thirst for that sweet draught My lips had tasted, but another quaffed. It could be done. For no words yet were spoken— None to recall—no pledges to be broken. "He will be grieved, then angry, cold, then cross," I reasoned, thinking what would be his part In this strange drama. "Then, because his he Feels something lacking, to make good his loss, He'll turn to Helen: and her gentle grace And loving acts will win her soon the place I hold to-day: and like a troubled dream At length, our past, when he looks back, will seem." That evening passed with music, chat and song: But hours that once had flown on airy wings Now limped on weary, aching limbs along, Each moment like some dreaded step that brings A twinge of pain. As Vivian rose to go, Slow bending to me, from his greater height, He took my hand, and, looking in my eyes, With tender questioning and pained surprise, Said, "Maurine, you are not yourself to-night! What is it? Are you ailing?" "Ailing? no," I answered, laughing lightly, "I am not: Just see my cheek, sir! is it thin, or pale? Now tell me, am I looking very frail?" "Nay, nay!" he answered, "it can not be seen, The change I speak of—'twas more in your mien: Preoccupation, or—I know not what! Miss Helen, am I wrong, or does Maurine Seem to have something on her mind this eve?" "She does!" laughed Helen, "and I do believe I know what 'tis! A letter came to-day Which she read slyly, and then hid away Close to her heart, not knowing I was near: And since she's been as you have seen her here. See how she blushes! so my random shot We must believe has struck a tender spot."
Her rippling laughter floated through the room, And redder yet I felt the hot blood rise, Then surge away to leave me pale as death, Under the dark and swiftly gathering gloom Of Vivian's questioning, accusing eyes, That searched my soul. I almost shrieked beneath That stern, fixed gaze; and stood spellbound until He turned with sudden movement, gave his hand To each in turn, and said, "You must not stand Longer, young ladies, in this open door. The air is heavy with a cold damp chill. We shall have rain to-morrow, or before. Good night." He vanished in the darkling shade; And so the dreaded evening found an end, That saw me grasp the conscience-whetted blade, And strike a blow for honor and for friend.
"How swiftly passed the evening!" Helen sighed. "How long the hours!" my tortured heart replied. Joy, like a child, with lightsome steps doth glide By Father Time, and, looking in his face, Cries, snatching blossoms from the fair road-side, "I could pluck more, but for thy hurried pace." The while her elder brother Pain, man grown, Whose feet are hurt by many a thorn and stone, Looks to some distant hill-top, high and calm, Where he shall find not only rest, but balm For all his wounds, and cries in tones of woe, "O Father Time! why is thy pace so slow?"
Two days, all sad with lonely wind and rain, Went sobbing by, repeating o'er and o'er The miserere, desolate and drear, Which every human heart must sometime hear. Pain is but little varied. Its refrain, Whate'er the words are, is for aye the same. The third day brought a change: for with it came Not only sunny smiles to Nature's face, But Roy, our Roy came back to us. Once more We looked into his laughing, handsome eyes, Which, while they gave Aunt Ruth a glad surprise In no way puzzled her: for one glance told What each succeeding one confirmed, that he Who bent above her with the lissome grace Of his fine form, though grown so tall, could be No other than the Roy Montaine of old.
It was a sweet reunion: and he brought So much of sunshine with him, that I caught, Just from his smile alone, enough of gladness To make my heart forget a time its sadness. We talked together of the dear old days: Leaving the present, with its depths and heights Of life's maturer sorrows and delights, I turned back to my childhood's level land, And Roy and I, dear playmates, hand in hand, Wandered in mem'ry, through the olden ways.
It was the second evening of his coming. Helen was playing dreamily, and humming Some wordless melody of white-souled thought, While Roy and I sat by the open door, Re-living childish incidents of yore. My eyes were glowing, and my cheeks were hot With warm young blood; excitement, joy, or pain Alike would send swift coursing through each vein. Roy, always eloquent, was waxing fine, And bringing vividly before my gaze Some old adventure of those halcyon days, When suddenly in pauses of the talk, I heard a well-known step upon the walk, And looked up quickly to meet full in mine The eyes of Vivian Dangerfield. A flash Shot from their depths:—a sudden blaze of light Like that swift followed by the thunder's crash, Which said, "Suspicion is confirmed by sight," As they fell on the pleasant door-way scene. Then o'er his clear-cut face, a cold white look Crept, like the pallid moonlight o'er a brook, And, with a slight, proud bending of the head, He stepped toward us haughtily and said, "Please pardon my intrusion, Miss Maurine: I called to ask Miss Trevor for a book She spoke of lending me: nay, sit you still! And I, by grant of your permission, will Pass by to where I hear her playing." "Stay!" I said, "one moment, Vivian, if you please;" And suddenly bereft of all my ease, And scarcely knowing what to do, or say, Confused as any school-girl, I arose, And some way made each to the other known They bowed, shook hands: then Vivian turned away And sought out Helen, leaving us alone.
"One of Miss Trevor's, or of Maurine's beaux? Which may he be, who cometh like a prince With haughty bearing, and an eagle eye?" Roy queried, laughing: and I answered, "Since You saw him pass me for Miss Trevor's side, I leave your own good judgment to reply."
And straightway caused the tide of talk to glide In other channels, striving to dispel The sudden gloom that o'er my spirit fell.
We mortals are such hypocrites at best! When Conscience tries our courage with a test, And points to some steep pathway, we set out Boldly, denying any fear or doubt; But pause before the first rock in the way, And, looking back, with tears, at Conscience, say "We are so sad, dear Conscience! for we would Most gladly do what to thee seemeth good; But lo! this rock! we cannot climb it, so Thou must point out some other way to go." Yet secretly we are rejoicing: and, When right before our faces, as we stand In seeming grief, the rock is cleft in twain, Leaving the pathway clear, we shrink in pain! And loth to go, by every act reveal What we so tried from Conscience to conceal.
I saw that hour, the way made plain, to do With scarce an effort, what had seemed a strife That would require the strength of my whole life.
Women have quick perceptions: and I knew That Vivian's heart was full of jealous pain, Suspecting—nay believing Roy Montaine To be my lover.—First my altered mien— And next the letter—then the door-way scene— My flushed face gazing in the one above That bent so near me, and my strange confusion When Vivian came, all led to one conclusion: That I had but been playing with his love, As women sometimes cruelly do play With hearts when their true lovers are away.
There could be nothing easier, than just To let him linger on in this belief Till hourly-fed Suspicion and Distrust Should turn to scorn and anger all his grief. Compared with me, so doubly sweet and pure Would Helen seem, my purpose would be sure, And certain of completion in the end. But now, the way was made so straight and clear, My coward heart shrank back in guilty fear, Till Conscience whispered with her "still small voice," "The precious time is passing—make thy choice— Resign thy love, or slay thy trusting friend."
The growing moon, watched by the myriad eyes Of countless stars, went sailing through the skies, Like some young prince, rising to rule a nation, To whom all eyes are turned in expectation. A woman who possesses tact and art And strength of will can take the hand of doom, And walk on, smiling sweetly as she goes, With rosy lips, and rounded cheeks of bloom, Cheating a loud-tongued world that never knows The pain and sorrow of her hidden heart. And so I joined in Roy's bright changing chat; Answered his sallies—talked of this and that, My brow unruffled as the calm still wave That tells not of the wrecked ship, and the grave Beneath its surface. Then we heard, ere long, The sound of Helen's gentle voice in song, And, rising, entered where the subtle power Of Vivian's eyes, forgiving while accusing, Finding me weak, had won me, in that hour; But Roy, alway polite and debonair Where ladies were, now hung about my chair With nameless delicate attentions, using That air devotional, and those small arts Acquaintance with society imparts To men gallant by nature. 'T was my sex And not myself he bowed to. Had my place Been filled that evening by a dowager, Twice his own age, he would have given her The same attentions. But they served to vex Whatever hope in Vivian's heart remained. The cold, white look crept back upon his face, Which told how deeply he was hurt and pained.
Little by little all things had conspired, To bring events I dreaded, yet desired. We were in constant intercourse: walks, rides, Picnics and sails, filled weeks of golden weather, And almost hourly we were thrown together. No words were spoken of rebuke or scorn: Good friends we seemed. But as a gulf divides This land and that, though lying side by side, So rolled a gulf between us—deep and wide— The gulf of doubt, which widened slowly morn And noon and night. Free and informal were These picnics and excursions. Yet, although Helen and I would sometimes choose to go Without our escorts, leaving them quite free. It happened alway Roy would seek out me Ere passed the day, while Vivian walked with her. I had no thought of flirting. Roy was just Like some dear brother, and I quite forgot The kinship was so distant it was not Safe to rely upon in perfect trust, Without reserve or caution. Many a time When there was some steep mountain side to climb, And I grew weary, he would say, "Maurine, Come rest you here." And I would go and lean My head upon his shoulder, or would stand And let him hold in his my willing hand. The while he stroked it gently with his own. Or I would let him clasp me with his arm, Nor entertained a thought of any harm, Nor once supposed but Vivian was alone In his suspicions. But ere long the truth I learned in consternation! both Aunt Ruth And Helen, honestly, in faith believed That Roy and I were lovers. Undeceived, Some careless words might open Vivian's eyes And spoil my plans. So reasoning in this wise, To all their sallies I in jest replied, To naught assented, and yet naught denied, With Roy unchanged remaining, confident Each understood just what the other meant.
If I grew weary of this double part, And self-imposed deception caused my heart Sometimes to shrink, I needed but to gaze On Helen's face: that wore a look ethereal, As if she dwelt above the things material And held communion with the angels. So I fed my strength and courage through the days. What time the harvest moon rose full and clear And cast its ling'ring radiance on the earth, We made a feast; and called from far and near, Our friends, who came to share the scene of mirth. Fair forms and faces flitted to and fro; But none more sweet than Helen's. Robed in white, She floated like a vision through the dance. So frailly fragile and so phantom fair, She seemed like some stray spirit of the air, And was pursued by many an anxious glance That looked to see her fading from the sight Like figures that a dreamer sees at night.
And noble men and gallants graced the scene: Yet none more noble or more grand of mien Than Vivian—broad of chest and shoulder, tall And finely formed, as any Grecian god Whose high-arched foot on Mount Olympus trod. His clear-cut face was beardless; and, like those Same Grecian statues, when in calm repose, Was it in hue and feature. Framed in hair Dark and abundant; lighted by large eyes That could be cold as steel in winter air, Or warm and sunny as Italian skies.
Weary of mirth and music, and the sound Of tripping feet, I sought a moment's rest Within the lib'ry, where a group I found Of guests, discussing with apparent zest Some theme of interest—Vivian, near the while, Leaning and listening with his slow odd smile. "Now Miss La Pelle, we will appeal to you," Cried young Guy Semple, as I entered. "We Have been discussing right before his face, All unrebuked by him, as you may see, A poem lately published by our friend: And we are quite divided. I contend The poem is a libel and untrue I hold the fickle women are but few, Compared with those who are like yon fair moon That, ever faithful, rises in her place Whether she's greeted by the flowers of June, Or cold and dreary stretches of white space."
"Oh!" cried another, "Mr. Dangerfield, Look to your laurels! or you needs must yield The crown to Semple, who, 'tis very plain, Has mounted Pegasus and grasped his mane."
All laughed: and then, as Guy appealed to me I answered lightly, "My young friend, I fear You chose a most unlucky simile To prove the truth of woman. To her place The moon does rise—but with a different face Each time she comes. But now I needs must hear The poem read, before I can consent To pass my judgment on the sentiment."
All clamored that the author was the man To read the poem: and, with tones that said More than the cutting, scornful words he read, Taking the book Guy gave him, he began:
The sands upon the ocean side That change about with every tide, And never true to one abide, A woman's love I liken to.
The summer zephyrs, light and vain, That sing the same alluring strain To every grass blade on the plain— A woman's love is nothing more.
The sunshine of an April day That comes to warm you with its ray, But while you smile has flown away— A woman's love is like to this.
God made poor woman with no heart, But gave her skill, and tact, and art, And so she lives, and plays her part. We must not blame, but pity her.
She leans to man—but just to hear The praise he whispers in her ear, Herself, not him, she holdeth dear— O fool! to be deceived by her.
To sate her selfish thirst she quaffs The love of strong hearts in sweet draughts Then throws them lightly by and laughs, Too weak to understand their pain.
As changeful as the winds that blow From every region, to and fro, Devoid of heart, she cannot know The suffering of a human heart.
I knew the cold, fixed gaze of Vivian's eyes Saw the slow color to my forehead rise; But lightly answered, toying with my fan, "That sentiment is very like a man! Men call us fickle, but they do us wrong; We're only frail and helpless, men are strong; And when love dies, they take the poor dead thing And make a shroud out of their suffering, And drag the corpse about with them for years. But we?—we mourn it for a day with tears! And then we robe it for its last long rest, And being women, feeble things at best, We cannot dig the grave ourselves. And so We call strong-limbed New Love to lay it low: Immortal sexton he! whom Venus sends To do this service for her earthly friends, The trusty fellow digs the grave so deep Nothing disturbs the dead laid there to sleep."
The laugh that followed had not died away Ere Roy Montaine came seeking me, to say The band was tuning for our waltz, and so Back to the ball-room bore me. In the glow And heat and whirl, my strength ere long was spent, And I grew faint and dizzy, and we went Out on the cool moonlighted portico, And, sitting there, Roy drew my languid head Upon the shelter of his breast, and bent His smiling eyes upon me, as he said, "I'll try the mesmerism of my touch To work a cure: be very quiet now, And let me make some passes o'er your brow. Why, how it throbs! you've exercised too much! I shall not let you dance again to-night."
Just then before us, in the broad moonlight, Two forms were mirrored: and I turned my face To catch the teasing and mischievous glance Of Helen's eyes, as, heated by the dance, Leaning on Vivian's arm, she sought this place.
"I beg your pardon," came in that round tone Of his low voice. "I think we do intrude." Bowing, they turned, and left us quite alone Ere I could speak, or change my attitude.
A visit to a cave some miles away Was next in order. So, one sunny day, Four prancing steeds conveyed a laughing load Of merry pleasure-seekers o'er the road. A basket picnic, music and croquet Were in the programme. Skies were blue and clear, And cool winds whispered of the Autumn near. The merry-makers filled the time with pleasure: Some floated to the music's rhythmic measure, Some played, some promenaded on the green.
Ticked off by happy hearts, the moments passed. The afternoon, all glow and glimmer, came. Helen and Roy were leaders of some game, And Vivian was not visible. "Maurine, I challenge you to climb yon cliff with me! And who shall tire, or reach the summit last Must pay a forfeit," cried a romping maid. "Come! start at once, or own you are afraid." So challenged I made ready for the race, Deciding first the forfeit was to be A handsome pair of bootees to replace The victor's loss who made the rough ascent. The cliff was steep and stony. On we went As eagerly as if the path was Fame, And what we climbed for, glory and a name. My hands were bruised; my garments sadly rent, But on I clambered. Soon I heard a cry, "Maurine! Maurine! my strength is wholly spent! You've won the boots! I'm going back—good bye!" And back she turned, in spite of laugh and jeer.
I reached the summit: and its solitude, Wherein no living creature did intrude, Save some sad birds that wheeled and circled near, I found far sweeter than the scene below. Alone with One who knew my hidden woe, I did not feel so much alone as when I mixed with th' unthinking throngs of men.
Some flowers that decked the barren, sterile place I plucked, and read the lesson they conveyed, That in our lives, albeit dark with shade And rough and hard with labor, yet may grow The flowers of Patience, Sympathy, and Grace.
As I walked on in meditative thought, A serpent writhed across my pathway; not A large or deadly serpent; yet the sight Filled me with ghastly terror and affright. I shrieked aloud: a darkness veiled my eyes— And I fell fainting 'neath the watchful skies.
I was no coward. Country-bred and born, I had no feeling but the keenest scorn For those fine lady "ah's" and "oh's" of fear So much assumed (when any man is near). But God implanted in each human heart A natural horror, and a sickly dread Of that accursed, slimy, creeping thing That squirms a limbless carcass o'er the ground. And where that inborn loathing is not found You'll find the serpent qualities instead. Who fears it not, himself is next of kin, And in his bosom holds some treacherous art Whereby to counteract its venomed sting. And all are sired by Satan—Chief of Sin.
Who loathes not that foul creature of the dust, However fair in seeming, I distrust.
I woke from my unconsciousness, to know I leaned upon a broad and manly breast, And Vivian's voice was speaking, soft and low, Sweet whispered words of passion, o'er and o'er. I dared not breathe. Had I found Eden's shore? Was this a foretaste of eternal bliss? "My love," he sighed, his voice like winds that moan Before a rain in Summer time, "My own, For one sweet stolen moment, lie and rest Upon this heart that loves and hates you both! O fair false face! Why were you made so fair! O mouth of Southern sweetness! that ripe kiss That hangs upon you, I do take an oath His lips shall never gather. There!—and there! I steal it from him. Are you his—all his? Nay you are mine, this moment, as I dreamed— Blind fool—believing you were what you seemed— You would be mine in all the years to come. Fair fiend! I love and hate you in a breath. O God! if this white pallor were but death, And I were stretched beside you, cold and dumb, My arms about you, so—in fond embrace! My lips pressed, so—upon your dying face!"
"Woman, how dare you bring me to such shame! How dare you drive me to an act like this, To steal from your unconscious lips the kiss You lured me on to think my rightful claim! O frail and puny woman! could you know The devil that you waken in the hearts You snare and bind in your enticing arts, The thin, pale stuff that in your veins doth flow Would freeze in terror. Strange you have such power To please, or pain us, poor, weak, soulless things— Devoid of passion as a senseless flower! Like butterflies, your only boast, your wings. There, now, I scorn you—scorn you from this hour, And hate myself for having talked of love!"
He pushed me from him. And I felt as those Doomed angels must, when pearly gates above Are closed against them. With a feigned surprise I started up and opened wide my eyes, And looked about. Then in confusion rose And stood before him.
"Pardon me, I pray!" He said quite coldly. "Half an hour ago I left you with the company below, And sought this cliff. A moment since you cried, It seemed, in sudden terror and alarm. I came in time to see you swoon away. You'll need assistance down the rugged side Of this steep cliff. I pray you take my arm."
So, formal and constrained, we passed along, Rejoined our friends, and mingled with the throng To have no further speech again that day.
Next morn there came a bulky document, The legal firm of Blank & Blank had sent, Containing news unlooked for. An estate Which proved a cosy fortune—no-wise great Or princely—had in France been left to me, My grandsire's last descendant. And it brought A sense of joy and freedom in the thought Of foreign travel, which I hoped would be A panacea for my troubled mind, That longed to leave the olden scenes behind With all their recollections, and to flee To some strange country. I was in such haste To put between me and my native land The briny ocean's desolating waste, I gave Aunt Ruth no peace, until she planned To sail that week, two months: though she was fain To wait until the Springtime. Roy Montaine Would be our guide and escort. No one dreamed The cause of my strange hurry, but all seemed To think good fortune had quite turned my brain. One bright October morning, when the woods Had donned their purple mantles and red hoods In honor of the Frost King, Vivian came, Bringing some green leaves, tipped with crimson flame,— First trophies of the Autumn time. And Roy Made a proposal that we all should go And ramble in the forest for a while. But Helen said she was not well—and so Must stay at home. Then Vivian, with a smile, Responded, "I will stay and talk to you, And they may go;" at which her two cheeks grew Like twin blush roses;—dyed with love's red wave, Her fair face shone transfigured with great joy.
And Vivian saw—and suddenly was grave.
Roy took my arm in that protecting way Peculiar to some men, which seems to say, "I shield my own," a manner pleasing, e'en When we are conscious that it does not mean More than a simple courtesy. A woman Whose heart is wholly feminine and human, And not unsexed by hobbies, likes to be The object of that tender chivalry, That guardianship which man bestows on her, Yet mixed with deference; as if she were Half child, half angel. Though she may be strong, Noble and self-reliant, not afraid To raise her hand and voice against all wrong And all oppression, yet if she be made, With all the independence of her thought, A woman womanly, as God designed, Albeit she may have as great a mind As man, her brother, yet his strength of arm His muscle and his boldness she has not, And cannot have without she loses what Is far more precious, modesty and grace. So, walking on in her appointed place, She does not strive to ape him, nor pretend But that she needs him for a guide and friend, To shield her with his greater strength from harm.