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Bitter-Sweet by J. G. Holland

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BITTER-SWEET

A Poem

By J. G. HOLLAND

CONTENTS.

* * * * *

PICTURE

PERSONS

PRELUDE

FIRST MOVEMENT--COLLOQUIAL.

The Question Stated and Argued

FIRST EPISODE.

The Question Illustrated by Nature

SECOND MOVEMENT--NARRATIVE.

The Question Illustrated by Experience

SECOND EPISODE.

The Question Illustrated by Story

THIRD MOVEMENT--DRAMATIC.

The Question Illustrated by the Denouement

L'ENVOY

PICTURE.

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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!"

PERSONS.

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.

PRELUDE.

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!

FIRST MOVEMENT.

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.

_Israel_.

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!

_David_.
[_Yawning_.]

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.

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

[_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!

_David_.

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!

_Ruth_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

I'm quite asleep.

_Israel_.

We'll all agree, then, to pronounce it quits.

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_.

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.

_Grace_.

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.

_David_.

Forfeit through woman.

_Grace_.

Forfeit through her power;--
A power not lost, as most men know, I think,
Beyond the knowledge of their trustful wives.

_Mary_.

[_Rising, and walking hurriedly to the window_.]

'Tis a wild night without.

_Ruth_.

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!

_Israel_.

And I consent.

_David_.

And the schoolmaster with the handsome face
Propose.

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_.

Those are sinful thoughts,
My daughter, and too surely indicate
A willful soul, unreconciled to God.

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_.

'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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_.

God will help you, Ruth.

_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.

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_.

My son,
Be careful of your words! 'Tis no light thing
To take the guidance of a straying soul.

_David_.

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?

_Israel_.

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?

_Ruth_.

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?

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

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.

_Israel_.

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.

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

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?

_Ruth_.

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.

_Israel_

And welcome sin?

_Ruth_.

Ah, David! welcome sin?

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

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?

_Ruth_.

Heaven grant you never note a sin of mine
Save of your own construction!

_Israel_.

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_.]

_Ruth_.

[_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?

_David_.

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?

_Israel_.

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.

THE HYMN.

[_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.

_Grace_.

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.

_David_.

Oh, Grace! Dear Grace!

_Ruth_.

You may well cry for grace,
If that's the company you have to keep.

_Grace_.

I thought you convert to his sophistry.
It makes no difference to him, you know,
Whether I plague or please.

_Ruth_.

It does to you.

_Israel_.

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!

_All_.

Father, good-night!

[ISRAEL _retires_.]

_Ruth_.

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_.]

_John_.

[_Rising and yawning_]

Isn't she the strangest girl you ever saw?

_Prudence_.

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.

_Patience_.

If he live long enough.

_John_.

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.

_Patience_.

Everybody says
He makes provision for his family,
Like a good husband.

_Peter_.

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.

_Patience_.

And I.

_John_.

I, too.

_Prudence_.

And I.

FIRST EPISODE.

LOCALITY--_The cellar stair and the cellar_.
PRESENT--DAVID _and_ RUTH.

THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY NATURE.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

Yet they have lived in a constant jar!
What remarkable sleepers they are!

_Ruth_.

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!

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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.

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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!"

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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."

_David_.

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.

_Ruth_.

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_.]

SECOND MOVEMENT.

LOCALITY--_A chamber_.

PRESENT--GRACE, MARY, _and the_ BABY.

* * * * *

THE QUESTION ILLUSTRATED BY EXPERIENCE.

_Grace_.

[_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!

_Mary_.

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!

_Grace_.

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!

_Mary_.

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.

_Grace_.

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.

_Mary_.

And you, a wedded wife-well wedded, too,
Can say all this, and say it bitterly!

_Grace_.

Perhaps because a wife; perhaps because--

_Mary_.

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.

_Grace_.

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!

_Mary_.

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.

_Grace_.

I am ashamed,--
In truth I am ashamed--to tell you all.
You will not laugh at me?

_Mary_.

I laugh at you?

_Grace_.

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!

_Mary_.

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?

_Grace_.

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.

_Mary_.

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.

_Grace_.

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!

_Mary_.

Mark it not.
Your words wake memories which you may guess,
And thoughts which you may sometime know--not now.

_Grace_.

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.

_Mary_.

But did your husband never tell the cause
Of this neglect?

_Grace_.

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.

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