With much hard labour and some pleasure fraught,
The months rolled by me noiselessly, that taught
My hand to grow more skilful in its art,
Strengthened my daring dream of fame, and brought
Sweet hope and resignation to my heart.
Brief letters came from Helen, now and then:
She was quite well–oh yes! quite well, indeed!
But still so weak and nervous. By-and-by,
When baby, being older, should not need
Such constant care, she would grow strong again.
She was as happy as a soul could be;
No least cloud hovered in her azure sky;
She had not thought life held such depths of bliss.
Dear baby sent Maurine a loving kiss,
And said she was a naughty, naughty girl,
Not to come home and see ma’s little pearl.
No gift of costly jewels, or of gold,
Had been so precious or so dear to me,
As each brief line wherein her joy was told.
It lightened toil, and took the edge from pain,
Knowing my sacrifice was not in vain.
Roy purchased fine estates in Scotland, where
He built a pretty villa-like retreat.
And when the Roman Summer’s languid heat
Made work a punishment, I turned my face
Toward the Highlands, and with Roy and Grace
Found rest and freedom from all thought and care.
I was a willing worker. Not an hour
Passed idly by me: each, I would employ
To some good purpose, ere it glided on
To swell the tide of hours forever gone.
My first completed picture, known as “Joy,”
Won pleasant words of praise. “Possesses power,”
“Displays much talent,” “Very fairly done.”
So fell the comments on my grateful ear.
Swift in the wake of Joy, and always near,
Walks her sad sister Sorrow. So my brush
Began depicting Sorrow, heavy-eyed,
With pallid visage, ere the rosy flush
Upon the beaming face of Joy had dried.
The careful study of long months, it won
Golden opinions; even bringing forth
That certain sign of merit–a critique
Which set both pieces down as daubs, and weak
As empty heads that sang their praises–so
Proving conclusively the pictures’ worth.
These critics and reviewers do not use
Their precious ammunition to abuse
A worthless work. That, left alone, they know
Will find its proper level; and they aim
Their batteries at rising works which claim
Too much of public notice. But this shot
Resulted only in some noise, which brought
A dozen people, where one came before,
To view my pictures; and I had my hour
Of holding those frail baubles, Fame and Pow’r.
An English Baron who had lived two score
Of his allotted three score years and ten
Bought both the pieces. He was very kind,
And so attentive, I, not being blind,
Must understand his meaning.
“Sweet friend, whom I would make my wife,
The ‘Joy’ and ‘Sorrow’ this dear hand portrayed
I have in my possession: now resign
Into my careful keeping, and make mine,
The joy and sorrow of your future life,” –
I was prepared to answer, but delayed,
Grown undecided suddenly.
Argued the matter coolly pro and con,
And made resolve to speed his wooing on
And grant him favour. He was good and kind;
Not young, no doubt he would be quite content
With my respect, nor miss an ardent love;
Could give me ties of family and home;
And then, perhaps, my mind was not above
Setting some value on a titled name –
Ambitious woman’s weakness!
Then my art
Would be encouraged and pursued the same,
And I could spend my winters all in Rome.
Love never more could touch my wasteful heart
That all its wealth upon one object spent.
Existence would be very bleak and cold,
After long years, when I was gray and old,
With neither home nor children.
Once a wife,
I would forget the sorrow of my life,
And pile new sods upon the grave of pain.
My mind so argued; and my sad heart heard,
But made no comment.
Then the Baron spoke,
And waited for my answer. All in vain
I strove for strength to utter that one word
My mind dictated. Moments rolled away –
Until at last my torpid heart awoke,
And forced my trembling lips to say him nay.
And then my eyes with sudden tears o’erran,
In pity for myself and for this man
Who stood before me, lost in pained surprise.
“Dear friend,” I cried, “dear generous friend, forgive
A troubled woman’s weakness! As I live,
In truth I meant to answer otherwise.
From out its store, my heart can give you naught
But honour and respect; and yet methought
I would give willing answer, did you sue.
But now I know ’twere cruel wrong I planned –
Taking a heart that beat with love most true,
And giving in exchange an empty hand.
Who weds for love alone, may not be wise:
Who weds without it, angels must despise.
Love and respect together must combine
To render marriage holy and divine;
And lack of either, sure as Fate, destroys
Continuation of the nuptial joys,
And brings regret, and gloomy discontent
To put to rout each tender sentiment.
Nay, nay! I will not burden all your life
By that possession–an unloving wife;
Nor will I take the sin upon my soul
Of wedding where my heart goes not in whole.
However bleak may be my single lot,
I will not stain my life with such a blot.
Dear friend, farewell! the earth is very wide;
It holds some fairer woman for your bride;
I would I had a heart to give to you,
But, lacking it, can only say–adieu!”
He whom temptation never has assailed,
Knows not that subtle sense of moral strength;
When sorely tried, we waver, but at length,
Rise up and turn away, not having failed.
* * *
The Autumn of the third year came and went;
The mild Italian winter was half spent,
When this brief message came across the sea:
“My darling! I am dying. Come to me.
Love, which so long the growing truth concealed,
Stands pale within its shadow. Oh, my sweet!
This heart of mine grows fainter with each beat –
Dying with very weight of bliss. Oh, come!
And take the legacy I leave to you,
Before these lips for evermore are dumb.
In life or death,–Yours, Helen Dangerfield.”
This plaintive letter bore a month old date;
And, wild with fears lest I had come too late,
I bade the old world and new friends adieu,
And with Aunt Ruth, who long had sighed for home,
I turned my back on glory, art, and Rome.
All selfish thoughts were merged in one wild fear
That she for whose dear sake my heart had bled,
Rather than her sweet eyes should know one tear,
Was passing from me; that she might be dead;
And, dying, had been sorely grieved with me,
Because I made no answer to her plea.
“O, ship, that sailest slowly, slowly on,
Make haste before a wasting life is gone!
Make haste that I may catch a fleeting breath!
And true in life, be true e’en unto death.
“O, ship, sail on! and bear me o’er the tide
To her for whom my woman’s heart once died.
Sail, sail, O, ship! for she hath need of me,
And I would know what her last wish may be!
I have been true, so true, through all the past.
Sail, sail, O, ship! I would not fail at last.”
So prayed my heart still o’er, and ever o’er,
Until the weary lagging ship reached shore.
All sad with fears that I had come too late,
By that strange source whence men communicate,
Though miles on miles of space between them lie,
I spoke with Vivian: “Does she live? Reply.”
The answer came. “She lives, but hasten, friend!
Her journey draweth swiftly to its end.”
Ah me! ah me! when each remembered spot,
My own dear home, the lane that led to his –
The fields, the woods, the lake, burst on my sight,
Oh! then, Self rose up in asserting might;
Oh, then, my bursting heart all else forgot,
But those sweet early years of lost delight,
Of hope, defeat, of anguish and of bliss.
I have a theory, vague, undefined,
That each emotion of the human mind,
Love, pain or passion, sorrow or despair,
Is a live spirit, dwelling in the air,
Until it takes possession of some breast;
And, when at length, grown weary of unrest,
We rise up strong and cast it from the heart,
And bid it leave us wholly, and depart,
It does not die, it cannot die; but goes
And mingles with some restless wind that blows
About the region where it had its birth.
And though we wander over all the earth,
That spirit waits, and lingers, year by year,
Invisible and clothed like the air,
Hoping that we may yet again draw near,
And it may haply take us unaware,
And once more find safe shelter in the breast
It stirred of old with pleasure or unrest.
Told by my heart, and wholly positive,
Some old emotion long had ceased to live;
That, were it called, it could not hear or come,
Because it was so voiceless and so dumb,
Yet, passing where it first sprang into life,
My very soul has suddenly been rife
With all the old intensity of feeling.
It seemed a living spirit, which came stealing
Into my heart from that departed day;
Exiled emotion, which I fancied clay.
So now into my troubled heart, above
The present’s pain and sorrow, crept the love
And strife and passion of a bygone hour,
Possessed of all their olden might and power.
‘Twas but a moment, and the spell was broken
By pleasant words of greeting, gently spoken,
And Vivian stood before us.
But I saw
In him the husband of my friend alone.
The old emotions might at times return,
And smould’ring fires leap up an hour and burn;
But never yet had I transgressed God’s law,
By looking on the man I had resigned,
With any hidden feeling in my mind,
Which she, his wife, my friend, might not have known
He was but little altered. From his face
The nonchalant and almost haughty grace,
The lurking laughter waiting in his eyes,
The years had stolen, leaving in their place
A settled sadness, which was not despair,
Nor was it gloom, nor weariness, nor care,
But something like the vapour o’er the skies
Of Indian summer, beautiful to see,
But spoke of frosts, which had been and would be.
There was that in his face which cometh not,
Save when the soul has many a battle fought,
And conquered self by constant sacrifice.
There are two sculptors, who, with chisels fine,
Render the plainest features half divine.
All other artists strive and strive in vain,
To picture beauty perfect and complete.
Their statues only crumble at their feet,
Without the master touch of Faith and Pain.
And now his face, that perfect seemed before,
Chiselled by these two careful artists, wore
A look exalted, which the spirit gives
When soul has conquered, and the body lives
Subservient to its bidding.
In a room
Which curtained out the February gloom,
And, redolent with perfume, bright with flowers,
Rested the eye like one of Summer’s bowers,
I found my Helen, who was less mine now
Than Death’s; for on the marble of her brow
His seal was stamped indelibly.
Was like the slender willow, when some storm
Has stripped it bare of foliage. Her face,
Pale always, now was ghastly in its hue:
And, like two lamps, in some dark, hollow place,
Burned her large eyes, grown more intensely blue.
Her fragile hands displayed each cord and vein,
And on her mouth was that drawn look, of pain
Which is not uttered. Yet an inward light
Shone through and made her wasted features bright
With an unearthly beauty; and an awe
Crept o’er me, gazing on her, for I saw
She was so near to Heaven that I seemed
To look upon the face of one redeemed.
She turned the brilliant lustre of her eyes
Upon me. She had passed beyond surprise,
Or any strong emotion linked with clay.
But as I glided to her where she lay,
A smile, celestial in its sweetness, wreathed
Her pallid features. “Welcome home!” she breathed
“Dear hands! dear lips! I touch you and rejoice.”
And like the dying echo of a voice
Were her faint tones that thrilled upon my ear.
I fell upon my knees beside her bed;
All agonies within my heart were wed,
While to the aching numbness of my grief,
Mine eyes refused the solace of a tear, –
The tortured soul’s most merciful relief.
Her wasted hand caressed my bended head
For one sad, sacred moment. Then she said,
In that low tone so like the wind’s refrain,
“Maurine, my own! give not away to pain;
The time is precious. Ere another dawn
My soul may hear the summons and pass on.
Arise, sweet sister! rest a little while,
And when refreshed, come hither. I grow weak
With every hour that passes. I must speak
And make my dying wishes known to-night.
Go now.” And in the halo of her smile,
Which seemed to fill the room with golden light,
I turned and left her.
Later, in the gloom
Of coming night, I entered that dim room,
And sat down by her. Vivian held her hand:
And on the pillow at her side there smiled
The beauteous count’nance of a sleeping child.
“Maurine,” spoke Helen, “for three blissful years,
My heart has dwelt in an enchanted land;
And I have drank the sweetened cup of joy,
Without one drop of anguish or alloy.
And so, ere Pain embitters it with gall,
Or sad-eyed Sorrow fills it full of tears,
And bids me quaff, which is the Fate of all
Who linger long upon this troubled way,
God takes me to the realm of Endless Day,
To mingle with His angels, who alone
Can understand such bliss as I have known.
I do not murmur. God has heaped my measure,
In three short years, full to the brim with pleasure;
And, from the fulness of an earthly love,
I pass to th’ Immortal Arms above,
Before I even brush the skirts of Woe.
“I leave my aged parents here below,
With none to comfort them. Maurine, sweet friend!
Be kind to them, and love them to the end,
Which may not be far distant.
And I leave
A soul immortal in your charge, Maurine.
From this most holy, sad and sacred eve,
Till God shall claim her, she is yours to keep,
To love and shelter, to protect and guide.”
She touched the slumb’ring cherub at her side,
And Vivian gently bore her, still asleep,
And laid the precious burden on my breast.
A solemn silence fell upon the scene.
And when the sleeping infant smiled, and pressed
My yielding bosom with her waxen cheek,
I felt it would be sacrilege to speak,
Such wordless joy possessed me.
Oh! at last
This infant, who, in that tear-blotted past,
Had caused my soul such travail, was my own:
Through all the lonely coming years to be
Mine own to cherish–wholly mine alone.
And what I mourned so hopelessly as lost
Was now restored, and given back to me.
The dying voice continued:
“In this child
You yet have me, whose mortal life she cost.
But all that was most pure and undefiled,
And good within me, lives in her again.
Maurine, my husband loves me; yet I know,
Moving about the wide world, to and fro,
And through, and in the busy haunts of men,
Not always will his heart be dumb with woe,
But sometime waken to a later love.
Nay, Vivian, hush! my soul has passed above
All selfish feelings! I would have it so.
While I am with the angels, blest and glad,
I would not have you sorrowing and sad,
In loneliness go mourning to the end.
But, love! I could not trust to any other
The sacred office of a foster-mother
To this sweet cherub, save my own heart-friend.
“Teach her to love her father’s name, Maurine,
Where’er he wanders. Keep my memory green
In her young heart, and lead her in her youth,
To drink from th’ eternal fount of Truth;
Vex her not with sectarian discourse,
Nor strive to teach her piety by force;
Ply not her mind with harsh and narrow creeds,
Nor frighten her with an avenging God,
Who rules His subjects with a burning rod;
But teach her that each mortal simply needs
To grow in hate of hate and love of love,
To gain a kingdom in the courts above.
“Let her be free and natural as the flowers,
That smile and nod throughout the summer hours.
Let her rejoice in all the joys of youth,
But first impress upon her mind this truth:
No lasting happiness is e’er attained
Save when the heart some OTHER seeks to please.
The cup of selfish pleasures soon is drained,
And full of gall and bitterness the lees.
Next to her God, teach her to love her land;
In her young bosom light the patriot’s flame
Until the heart within her shall expand
With love and fervour at her country’s name.
“No coward-mother bears a valiant son.
And this, my last wish, is an earnest one.
“Maurine, my o’er-taxed strength is waning; you
Have heard my wishes, and you will be true
In death as you have been in life, my own!
Now leave me for a little while alone
With him–my husband. Dear love! I shall rest
So sweetly with no care upon my breast.
Good-night, Maurine, come to me in the morning.”
But lo! the Bridegroom with no further warning
Came for her at the dawning of the day.
She heard His voice, and smiled, and passed away
Without a struggle.
Leaning o’er her bed
To give her greeting, I found but her clay,
And Vivian bowed beside it.
And I said,
“Dear friend! my soul shall treasure thy request,
And when the night of fever and unrest
Melts in the morning of Eternity,
Like a freed bird, then I will come to thee.
“I will come to thee in the morning, sweet!
I have been true; and soul with soul shall meet
Before God’s throne, and shall not be afraid.
Thou gav’st me trust, and it was not betrayed.
“I will come to thee in the morning, dear!
The night is dark. I do not know how near
The morn may be of that Eternal Day;
I can but keep my faithful watch and pray.
“I will come to thee in the morning, love!
Wait for me on the Eternal Heights above.
The way is troubled where my feet must climb,
Ere I shall tread the mountain-top sublime.
“I will come in the morning, O mine own;
But for a time must grope my way alone,
Through tears and sorrow, till the Day shall dawn,
And I shall hear the summons, and pass on.
“I will come in the morning. Rest secure!
My hope is certain and my faith is sure.
After the gloom and darkness of the night
I will come to thee with the morning light.”
* * *
Three peaceful years slipped silently away.
We dwelt together in my childhood’s home,
Aunt Ruth and I, and sunny-hearted May.
She was a fair and most exquisite child;
Her pensive face was delicate and mild
Like her dead mother’s; but through her dear eyes
Her father smiled upon me, day by day.
Afar in foreign countries did he roam,
Now resting under Italy’s blue skies,
And now with Roy in Scotland.
And he sent
Brief, friendly letters, telling where he went
And what he saw, addressed to May or me.
And I would write and tell him how she grew –
And how she talked about him o’er the sea
In her sweet baby fashion; how she knew
His picture in the album; how each day
She knelt and prayed the blessed Lord would bring
Her own papa back to his little May.
It was a warm bright morning in the Spring.
I sat in that same sunny portico,
Where I was sitting seven years ago
When Vivian came. My eyes were full of tears,
As I looked back across the checkered years.
How many were the changes they had brought!
Pain, death, and sorrow! but the lesson taught
To my young heart had been of untold worth.
I had learned how to “suffer and grow strong” –
That knowledge which best serves us here on earth,
And brings reward in Heaven.
Oh! how long
The years had been since that June morning when
I heard his step upon the walk, and yet
I seemed to hear its echo still.
Down that same path I turned my eyes, tear-wet,
And lo! the wanderer from a foreign land
Stood there before me!–holding out his hand
And smiling with those wond’rous eyes of old.
To hide my tears, I ran and brought his child;
But she was shy, and clung to me, when told
This was papa, for whom her prayers were said.
She dropped her eyes and shook her little head,
And would not by his coaxing be beguiled,
Or go to him.
Aunt Ruth was not at home,
And we two sat and talked, as strangers might,
Of distant countries which we both had seen.
But once I thought I saw his large eyes light
With sudden passion, when there came a pause
In our chit-chat, and then he spoke:
I saw a number of your friends in Rome.
We talked of you. They seemed surprised, because
You were not ‘mong the seekers for a name.
They thought your whole ambition was for fame.”
“It might have been,” I answered, “when my heart
Had nothing else to fill it. Now my art
Is but a recreation. I have THIS
To love and live for, which I had not then.”
And, leaning down, I pressed a tender kiss
Upon my child’s fair brow.
“And yet,” he said,
The old light leaping to his eyes again,
“And yet, Maurine, they say you might have wed
A noble Baron! one of many men
Who laid their hearts and fortunes at your feet.
Why won the bravest of them no return?”
I bowed my head, nor dared his gaze to meet.
On cheek and brow I felt the red blood burn,
And strong emotion strangled speech.
And came and knelt beside me.
“Sweet, my sweet!”
He murmured softly, “God in Heaven knows
How well I loved you seven years ago.
He only knows my anguish, and my grief,
When your own acts forced on me the belief
That I had been your plaything and your toy.
Yet from his lips I since have learned that Roy
Held no place nearer than a friend and brother.
And then a faint suspicion, undefined,
Of what had been–was–might be, stirred my mind,
And that great love, I thought died at a blow,
Rose up within me, strong with hope and life.
“Before all heaven and the angel mother
Of this sweet child that slumbers on your heart,
Maurine, Maurine, I claim you for my wife –
Mine own, forever, until death shall part!”
Through happy mists of upward welling tears,
I leaned, and looked into his beauteous eyes.
“Dear heart,” I said, “if she who dwells above
Looks down upon us, from yon azure skies,
She can but bless us, knowing all these years
My soul had yearned in silence for the love
That crowned her life, and left mine own so bleak.
I turned you from me for her fair, frail sake.
For her sweet child’s, and for my own, I take
You back to be all mine, for evermore.”
Just then the child upon my breast awoke
From her light sleep, and laid her downy cheek
Against her father as he knelt by me.
And this unconscious action seemed to be
A silent blessing, which the mother spoke
Gazing upon us from the mystic shore.