The sun rode high in a cloudless sky
Of a perfect summer morn.
She stood and gazed out into the street,
And wondered why she was born.
On the topmost branch of a maple-tree
That close by the window grew,
A robin called to his mate enthralled:
“I love but you, but you, but you.”
A soft look came in her hardened face–
She had not wept for years;
But the robin’s trill, as some sounds will,
Jarred open the door of tears.
She thought of the old home far away;
She heard the whr-r-r of the mill;
She heard the turtle’s wild, sweet call,
And the wail of the whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will.
She saw again that dusty road
Whence he came riding down;
She smelled once more the flower she wore
In the breast of her simple gown.
Out on the new-mown meadow she heard
Two blue-jays quarrel and fret,
And the warning cry of a Phoebe bird
“More wet, more wet, more wet.”
With a blithe “Hello” to the men below
Who were spreading the new-mown hay,
The rider drew rein at her window-pane–
How it all came back to-day!
How young she was, and how fair she was;
What innocence crowned her brow!
The future seemed fair, for Love was there–
And now–and now–and now.
In a dingy glass on the wall near by
She gazed on her faded face.
“Well, Meg, I declare, what a beauty you are!
She sneered, “What an angel of grace!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
What a thing of beauty and grace!”
She reached out her arms with a moaning sob:
“Oh, if I could go back!”
Then, swift and strange, came a sudden change;
Her brow grew hard and black.
“A curse on the day and a curse on that man,
And on all who are his,” she cried;
“May he starve and be cold, may he live to be old
When all who loved him have died.”
Her wild voice frightened the robin away
From the branch by the window-sill;
And little he knew as away he flew,
Of the memories stirred by his trill.
He called to his mate on the grass below,
“Follow me,” as he soared on high;
And as mates have done since the world begun
She followed, and asked not why.
The dingy room seemed curtained with gloom;
Meg shivered with nameless dread.
The ghost of her youth and her murdered truth
Seemed risen up from the dead.
She hurried out into the noisy street,
For the silence made her afraid;
To flee from thought was all she sought,
She cared not whither she strayed.
Still on she pressed in her wild unrest
Up avenues skirting the park,
Where fashion’s throng moved gayly along
In Vanity Fair–when hark!
A clatter of hoofs down the stony street,
The snort of a frightened horse
That was running wild, and a laughing child
At play in its very course.
With one swift glance Meg saw it all.
“His child–my God! his child!”
She cried aloud, as she rushed through the crowd
Like one grown suddenly wild.
There, almost under the iron feet,
Hemmed in by a passing cart,
Stood the baby boy–the pride and joy
Of the man who had broken her heart.
Past swooning women and shouting men
She fled like a flash of light;
With her slender arm she gathered from harm
The form of the laughing sprite.
The death-shod feet of the mad horse beat
Her down on the pavings grey;
But the baby laughed out with a merry shout,
And thought it splendid play.
He pulled her gown and called to her: “Say,
Dit up and do dat some more,
Das jus’ ze way my papa play
Wiz me on ze nursery floor.”
When the frightened father reached the scene,
His boy looked up and smiled
From the stiffening fold of the arm, death-cold,
Of Meg, who had died for his child.
Oh! idle words are a woman’s curse
Who loves as woman can;
For put to the test, she will bare her breast
And die for the sake of the man.