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.
I gaily 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 neighbour, 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 favourite 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.
‘Twas 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 lustreless, 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 coloured 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 parlour, 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.
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 colours, 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 neighbourhood–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.
‘Twas 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,
Oh 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 a-weary, waiting here
For one who tarries long from me.
Oh! 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:
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.”