'TO-DAY thou girdest up thy loins thyself,
And goest where thou wouldest: presently
Others shall gird thee,' said the Lord, 'to go
Where thou would'st not.' He spoke to Peter thus,
To signify the death which he should die
When crucified head downwards.
If He spoke
To Peter then, He speaks to us the same;
The word suits many different martyrdoms,
And signifies a multiform of death,
Although we scarcely die apostles, we,
And have mislaid the keys of heaven and earth.
For tis not in mere death that men die most;
And, after our first girding of the loins
In youth's fine linen and fair broidery,
To run up hill and meet the rising sun,
We are apt to sit tired, patient as a fool,
While others gird us with the violent bands
Of social figments, feints, and formalisms,
Reversing our straight nature, lifting up
Our base needs, keeping down our lofty thoughts,
Head downward on the cross-sticks of the world.
Yet He can pluck us from the shameful cross.
God, set our feet low and our forehead high,
And show us how a man was made to walk!
Leave the lamp, Susan, and go up to bed.
The room does very well; I have to write
Beyond the stroke of midnight. Get away;
Your steps, for ever buzzing in the room,
Tease me like gnats. Ah, letters! throw them down
At once, as I must have them, to be sure,
Whether I bid you never bring me such
At such an hour, or bid you. No excuse.
You choose to bring them, as I choose perhaps
To throw them in the fire. Now, get to bed,
And dream, if possible, I am not cross.
Why what a pettish, petty thing I grow,-
A mere, mere woman,-a mere flaccid nerve,-
A kerchief left out all night in the rain,
Turned soft so,-overtasked and overstrained
And overlived in this close London life!
And yet I should be stronger.
Your letters, poor Aurora! for they stare
With red seals from the table, saying each,
'Here's something that you know not.' Out alas,
'Tis scarcely that the world's more good and wise
Or even straighter and more consequent
Since yesterday at this time-yet, again,
If but one angel spoke from Ararat,
I should be very sorry not to hear:
So open all the letters! let me read.
Blanche Ord, the writer in the 'Lady's Fan,'
Requests my judgment on . . that, afterwards.
Kate Ward desires the model of my cloak,
And signs, 'Elisha to you.' Pringle Sharpe
Presents his work on 'Social Conduct,' . . craves
A little money for his pressing debts . .
From me, who scarce have money for my needs,-
Art's fiery chariot which we journey in
Being apt to singe our singing-robes to holes,
Although you ask me for my cloak, Kate Ward!
Here's Rudgely knows it,-editor and scribe-
He's 'forced to marry where his heart is not,
Because the purse lacks where he lost his heart.'
Ah,-lost it because no one picked it up!
That's really loss! (and passable impudence.)
My critic Hammond flatters prettily,
And wants another volume like the last.
My critic Belfair wants another book
Entirely different, which will sell, (and live?)
A striking book, yet not a startling book,
The public blames originalities.
(You must not pump spring-water unawares
Upon a gracious public, full of nerves-)
Good things, not subtle, new yet orthodox,
As easy reading as the dog-eared page
That's fingered by said public, fifty years,
Since first taught spelling by its grandmother,
And yet a revelation in some sort:
That's hard, my critic, Belfair! So-what next?
My critic Stokes objects to abstract thoughts;
'Call a man, John, a woman, Joan,' says he,
'And do not prate so of humanities:'
Whereat I call my critic, simply Stokes.
My critic Jobson recommends more mirth,
Because a cheerful genius suits the times,
And all true poets laugh unquenchably
Like Shakspeare and the gods. That's very hard,
The gods may laugh, and Shakspeare; Dante smiled
With such a needy heart on two pale lips,
We cry, 'Weep rather, Dante.' Poems are
Men, if true poems: and who dares exclaim
At any man's door, 'Here, 'tis probable
The thunder fell last week, and killed a wife,
And scared a sickly husband-what of that?
Get up, be merry, shout, and clap your hands,
Because a cheerful genius suits the times-'?
None says so to the man,-and why indeed
Should any to the poem ? A ninth seal;
The apocalypse is drawing to a close.
Ha,-this from Vincent Carrington,-'Dear friend,
I want good counsel. Will you lend me wings
To raise me to the subject, in a sketch
I'll bring to-morrow-may I? at eleven?
A poet's only born to turn to use;
So save you! for the world . . and Carrington.'
Kind Vincent Carrington. I'll let him come.
He talks of Florence,-and may say a word
Of something as it chanced seven years ago,-
A hedgehog in the path, or a lame bird,
In those green country walks, in that good time,
When certainly I was so miserable . .
I seem to have missed a blessing ever since.
The music soars within the little lark,
And the lark soars. It is not thus with men.
We do not make our places with our strains,-
Content, while they rise, to remain behind,
Alone on earth instead of so in heaven.
No matter-I bear on my broken tale.
When Romney Leigh and I had parted thus,
I took a chamber up three flights of stairs
Not far from being as steep as some larks climb,
And, in a certain house in Kensington,
Three years I lived and worked. Get leave to work
In this world,-'tis the best you get at all;
For God, in cursing, gives us better gifts
Than men in benediction. God says, 'Sweat
For foreheads;' men say 'crowns;' and so we are crowned,
Ay, gashed by some tormenting circle of steel
Which snaps with a secret spring. Get work; get work;
Be sure 'tis better than what you work to get.
So, happy and unafraid of solitude,
I worked the short days out,-and watched the sun
On lurid morns or monstrous afternoons,
Like some Druidic idol's fiery brass,
With fixed unflickering outline of dead heat,
In which the blood of wretches pent inside
Seemed oozing forth to incarnadine the air,-
Push out through fog with his dilated disk,
And startle the slant roofs and chimney-pots
With splashes of fierce colour. Or I saw
Fog only, the great tawny weltering fog,
Involve the passive city, strangle it
Alive, and draw it off into the void,
Spires, bridges, streets, and squares, as if a sponge
Had wiped out London,-or as noon and night
Had clapped together and utterly struck out
The intermediate time, undoing themselves
In the act. Your city poets see such things,
Not despicable. Mountains of the south,
When, drunk and mad with elemental wines,
They rend the seamless mist and stand up bare,
Make fewer singers, haply. No one sings,
Descending Sinai; on Parnassus mount,
You take a mule to climb, and not a muse,
Except in fable and figure: forests chant
Their anthems to themselves, and leave you dumb.
But sit in London, at the day's decline,
And view the city perish in the mist
Like Pharaoh's armaments in the deep Red Sea,-
The chariots, horsemen, footmen, all the host,
Sucked down and choked to silence-then, surprised
By a sudden sense of vision and of tune,
You feel as conquerors though you did not fight,
And you and Israel's other singing girls,
Ay, Miriam with them, sing the song you choose.
I worked with patience which means almost power
I did some excellent things indifferently,
Some bad things excellently. Both were praised,
The latter loudest. And by such a time
That I myself had set them down as sins
Scarce worth the price of sackcloth, week by week,
Arrived some letter through the sedulous post,
Like these I've read, and yet dissimilar,
With pretty maiden seals,-initials twined
Of lilies, or a heart marked Emily,
(Convicting Emily of being all heart);
Or rarer tokens from young bachelors,
Who wrote from college (with the same goosequill,
Suppose, they had been just plucked of) and a snatch
From Horace, 'Collegisse juvat,' set
Upon the first page. Many a letter signed
Or unsigned, showing the writers at eighteen
Had lived too long, though every muse should help
The daylight, holding candles,-compliments,
To smile or sigh at. Such could pass with me
No more than coins from Moscow circulate
At Paris. Would ten rubles buy a tag
Of ribbon on the boulevard, worth a sou?
I smiled that all this youth should love me,-sighed
That such a love could scarcely raise them up
To love what was more worthy than myself;
Then sighed again, again, less generously,
To think the very love they lavished so,
Proved me inferior. The strong loved me not,
And he . . my cousin Romney . . did not write.
I felt the silent finger of his scorn
Prick every bubble of my frivolous fame
As my breath blew it, and resolve it back
To the air it came from. Oh, I justified
The measure he had taken of my height:
The thing was plain-he was not wrong a line;
I played at art, made thrusts with a toy-sword,
Amused the lads and maidens.
Came a sigh
Deep, hoarse with resolution,-I would work
To better ends, or play in earnest. 'Heavens,
I think I should be almost popular
If this went on !'-I ripped my verses up,
And found no blood upon the rapier's point:
The heart in them was just an embryo's heart,
Which never yet had beat, that it should die:
Just gasps of make-believe galvanic life;
Mere tones, inorganised to any tune.
And yet I felt it in me where it burnt,
Like those hot fire-seeds of creation held
In Jove's clenched palm before the worlds were sown;
But I-I was not Juno even! my hand
Was shut in weak convulsion, woman's ill,
And when I yearned to loose a finger-lo,
The nerve revolted. 'Tis the same even now:
This hand may never, haply, open large,
Before the spark is quenched, or the palm charred,
To prove the power not else than by the pain.
It burns, it burnt-my whole life burnt with it,
And light, not sunlight and not torchlight, flashed
My steps out through the slow and difficult road.
I had grown distrustful of too forward Springs,
The season's books in drear significance
Of morals, dropping round me. Lively books?
The ash has livelier verdure than the yew;
And yet the yew's green longer, and alone
Found worthy of the holy Christmas time.
We'll plant more yews if possible, albeit
We plant the graveyards with them.
Day and night
I worked my rhythmic thought, and furrowed up
Both watch and slumber with long lines of life
Which did not suit their season. The rose fell
From either cheek, my eyes globed luminous
Through orbits of blue shadow, and my pulse
Would shudder along the purple-veined wrist
Like a shot bird. Youth's stern, set face to face
With youth's ideal: and when people came
And said, 'You work too much, you are looking ill,'
I smiled for pity of them who pitied me,
And thought I should be better soon perhaps
For those ill looks. Observe-' I,' means in youth
Just I . . the conscious and eternal soul
With all its ends,-and not the outside life,
The parcel-man, the doublet of the flesh,
The so much liver, lung, integument,
Which make the sum of 'I' hereafter, when
World-talkers talk of doing well or ill. I prosper, if I gain a step, although
A nail then pierced my foot: although my brain
Embracing any truth, froze paralysed, I prosper. I but change my instrument;
I break the spade off, digging deep for gold,
And catch the mattock up.
I worked on, on.
Through all the bristling fence of nights and days
Which hedges time in from the eternities,
I struggled, . . never stopped to note the stakes
Which hurt me in my course. The midnight oil
Would stink sometimes; there came some vulgar needs:
I had to live, that therefore I might work.
And, being but poor, I was constrained, for life,
To work with one hand for the booksellers,
While working with the other for myself
And art. You swim with feet as well as hands
Or make small way. I apprehended this,-
In England, no one lives by verse that lives;
And, apprehending, I resolved by prose
To make a space to sphere my living verse.
I wrote for cyclopædias, magazines,
And weekly papers, holding up my name
To keep it from the mud. I learnt the use
Of the editorial 'we' in a review,
As courtly ladies the fine trick of trains,
And swept it grandly through the open doors
As if one could not pass through doors at all
Save so encumbered. I wrote tales beside,
Carved many an article on cherry-stones
To suit light readers,-something in the lines
Revealing, it was said, the mallet-hand,
But that, I'll never vouch for. What you do
For bread, will taste of common grain, not grapes,
Although you have a vineyard in Champagne,-
Much less in Nephelococcygia,
As mine was, peradventure.
For just so many days, just breathing room
For body and verse, I stood up straight and worked
My veritable work. And as the soul
Which grows within a child, makes the child grow,-
Or as the fiery sap, the touch from God,
Careering through a tree, dilates the bark,
And roughs with scale and knob, before it strikes
The summer foliage out in a green flame-
So life, in deepening with me, deepened all
The course I took, the work I did. Indeed,
The academic law convinced of sin;
The critics cried out on the falling off
Regretting the first manner. But I felt
My heart's life throbbing in my verse to show
It lived, it also-certes incomplete,
Disordered with all Adam in the blood,
But even its very tumours, warts, and wens,
Still organised by, and implying life.
A lady called upon me on such a day.
She had the low voice of your English dames,
Unused, it seems, to need rise half a note
To catch attention,-and their quiet mood,
As if they lived too high above the earth
For that to put them out in anything:
So gentle, because verily so proud;
So wary and afeared of hurting you,
By no means that you are not really vile,
But that they would not touch you with their foot
To push you to your place; so self-possessed
Yet gracious and conciliating, it takes
An effort in their presence to speak truth:
You know the sort of woman,-brilliant stuff,
And out of nature. 'Lady Waldemar.'
She said her name quite simply, as if it meant
Not much indeed, but something,-took my hands,
And smiled, as if her smile could help my case,
And dropped her eyes on me, and let them melt.
'Is this,' she said, 'the Muse?'
'No sibyl even,'
I answered, 'since she fails to guess the cause
Which taxed you with this visit, madam.'
She said, 'I like to be sincere at once;
Perhaps, if I had found a literal Muse,
The visit might have taxed me. As it is,
You wear your blue so chiefly in your eyes,
My fair Aurora, in a frank good way,
It comforts me entirely for your fame,
As well as for the trouble of my ascent
To this Olympus. '
There, a silver laugh
Ran rippling through her quickened little breaths
The steep stair somewhat justified.
Your ladyship has left me curious why
You dared the risk of finding the said Muse?'
'Ah,-keep me, notwithstanding, to the point
Like any pedant. Is the blue in eyes
As awful as in stockings, after all,
I wonder, that you'd have my business out
Before I breathe-exact the epic plunge
In spite of gasps? Well, naturally you think
I've come here, as the lion-hunters go
To deserts, to secure you, with a trap
For exhibition in my drawing-rooms
On zoologic soirées? Not in the least.
Roar softly at me; I am frivolous,
I dare say; I have played at lions, too
Like other women of my class,-but now
I meet my lion simply as Androcles
Met his . . when at his mercy.'
So, she bent
Her head, as queens may mock,-then lifting up
Her eyelids with a real grave queenly look,
Which ruled, and would not spare, not even herself,
'I think you have a cousin:-Romney Leigh.'
'You bring a word from him? '-my eyes leapt up
To the very height of hers,- 'a word from him? '
'I bring a word about him, actually.
But first,'-she pressed me with her urgent eyes-
'You do not love him,-you?'
'You're frank at least
In putting questions, madam,' I replied.
'I love my cousin cousinly-no more.'
'I guessed as much. I'm ready to be frank
In answering also, if you'll question me,
Or even with something less. You stand outside,
You artist women, of the common sex;
You share not with us, and exceed us so
Perhaps by what you're mulcted in, your hearts
Being starved to make your heads: so run the old
Traditions of you. I can therefore speak,
Without the natural shame which creatures feel
When speaking on their level, to their like.
There's many a papist she, would rather die
Than own to her maid she put a ribbon on
To catch the indifferent eye of such a man,-
Who yet would count adulteries on her beads
At holy Mary's shrine, and never blush;
Because the saints are so far off, we lose
All modesty before them. Thus, to-day.
'Tis I, love Romney Leigh.'
'Forbear,' I cried.
'If here's no muse, still less is any saint;
Nor even a friend, that Lady Waldemar
Should make confessions' . .
'That's unkindly said.
If no friend, what forbids to make a friend
To join to our confession ere we have done?
I love your cousin. If it seems unwise
To say so, it's still foolisher (we're frank)
To feel so. My first husband left me young,
And pretty enough, so please you, and rich enough,
To keep my booth in May-fair with the rest
To happy issues. There are marquises
Would serve seven years to call me wife, I know:
And, after seven, I might consider it,
For there's some comfort in a marquisate
When all's said,-yes, but after the seven years;
I, now, love Romney. You put up your lip,
So like a Leigh! so like him!-Pardon me,
I am well aware I do not derogate
In loving Romney Leigh. The name is good,
The means are excellent; but the man, the man-
Heaven help us both,-I am near as mad as he
In loving such an one.'
She slowly wrung
Her heavy ringlets till they touched her smile,
As reasonably sorry for herself;
And thus continued,-
'Of a truth, Miss Leigh,
I have not, without a struggle, come to this.
I took a master in the German tongue,
I gamed a little, went to Paris twice;
But, after all, this love! . . . you eat of love,
And do as vile a thing as if you ate
Of garlic-which, whatever else you eat,
Tastes uniformly acrid, till your peach
Reminds you of your onion! Am I coarse?
Well, love's coarse, nature's coarse-ah there's the rub!
We fair fine ladies, who park out our lives
From common sheep-paths, cannot help the crows
From flying over,-we're as natural still
As Blowsalinda. Drape us perfectly
In Lyons' velvet,-we are not, for that,
Lay-figures, like you! we have hearts within,
Warm, live, improvident, indecent hearts,
As ready for distracted ends and acts
As any distressed sempstress of them all
That Romney groans and toils for. We catch love
And other fevers, in the vulgar way.
Love will not be outwitted by our wit,
Nor outrun by our equipages:-mine
Persisted, spite of efforts. All my cards
Turned up but Romney Leigh; my German stopped
At germane Wertherism; my Paris rounds
Returned me from the Champs Elysées just
A ghost, and sighing like Dido's. I came home
Uncured,-convicted rather to myself
Of being in love . . in love! That's coarse you'll say
I'm talking garlic.'
Coldly I replied.
'Apologise for atheism, not love!
For, me, I do believe in love, and God.
I know my cousin: Lady Waldemar
I know not: yet I say as much as this-
Whoever loves him, let her not excuse
But cleanse herself; that, loving such a man,
She may not do it with such unworthy love
He cannot stoop and take it.'
'That is said
Austerely, like a youthful prophetess,
Who knits her brows across her pretty eyes
To keep them back from following the grey flight
Of doves between the temple-columns. Dear,
Be kinder with me. Let us two be friends.
I'm a mere woman-the more weak perhaps
Through being so proud; you're better; as for him,
He's best. Indeed he builds his goodness up
So high, it topples down to the other side,
And makes a sort of badness; there's the worst
I have to say against your cousin's best!
And so be mild, Aurora, with my worst,
For his sake, if not mine.'
'I own myself
Incredulous of confidence like this
Availing him or you.'
'I, worthy of him ?
In your sense I am not so-let it pass.
And yet I save him if I marry him;
Let that pass too.'
'Pass, pass, we play police
Upon my cousin's life, to indicate
What may or may not pass?' I cried. 'He knows
what's worthy of him; the choice remains with him;
And what he chooses, act or wife, I think
I shall not call unworthy, I, for one.'
'Tis somewhat rashly said,' she answered slow.
Now let's talk reason, though we talk of love.
Your cousin Romney Leigh's a monster! there,
The word's out fairly; let me prove the fact.
We'll take, say, that most perfect of antiques,
They call the Genius of the Vatican,
Which seems too beauteous to endure itself
In this mixed world, and fasten it for once
Upon the torso of the Drunken Fawn,
(Who might limp surely, if he did not dance,)
Instead of Buonarroti's mask: what then?
We show the sort of monster Romney is,
With god-like virtue and heroic aims
Subjoined to limping possibilities
Of mismade human nature. Grant the man
Twice godlike, twice heroic,-still he limps,
And here's the point we come to.'
But, Lady Waldemar, the point's the thing
We never come to.'
At need! I like you'-(there, she took my hands)
'And now my lioness, help Androcles,
For all your roaring. Help me! for myself
I would not say so-but for him. He limps
So certainly, he'll fall into the pit
A week hence,-so I lose him-so he is lost!
And when he's fairly married, he a Leigh,
To a girl of doubtful life, undoubtful birth,
Starved out in London, till her coarse-grained hands
Are whiter than her morals,-you, for one,
May call his choice most worthy.'
He, . . . Romney!'
'Ah, you're moved at last,' she said.
'These monsters, set out in the open sun,
Of course throw monstrous shadows: those who think
Awry, will scarce act straightly. Who but he?
And who but you can wonder? He has been mad,
The whole world knows, since first, a nominal man,
He soured the proctors, tried the gownsmen's wits,
With equal scorn of triangles and wine,
And took no honours, yet was honourable.
They'll tell you he lost count of Homer's ships
In Melbourne's poor-bills, Ashley's factory bills,-
Ignored the Aspasia we all dared to praise,
For other women, dear, we could not name
Because we're decent. Well, he had some right
On his side probably; men always have,
Who go absurdly wrong. The living boor
Who brews your ale, exceeds in vital worth
Dead Caesar who 'stops bungholes' in the cask;
And also, to do good is excellent,
For persons of his income, even to boors:
I sympathise with all such things. But he
Went mad upon them . . madder and more mad,
From college times to these,-as, going down hill,
The faster still, the farther! you must know
Your Leigh by heart; he has sown his black young curls
With bleaching cares of half a million men
Already. If you do not starve, or sin,
You're nothing to him. Pay the income-tax,
And break your heart upon't . . . he'll scarce be touched;
But come upon the parish, qualified
For the parish stocks, and Romney will be there
To call you brother, sister, or perhaps
A tenderer name still. Had I any chance
With Mister Leigh, who am Lady Waldemar,
And never committed felony?'
Too bitterly,' I said, 'for the literal truth.'
'The truth is bitter. Here's a man who looks
For ever on the ground! you must be low;
Or else a pictured ceiling overhead,
Good painting thrown away. For me, I've done
What women may, (we're somewhat limited,
We modest women) but I've done my best.
-How men are perjured when they swear our eyes
Have meaning in them! they're just blue or brown,-
They just can drop their lids a little. In fact,
Mine did more, for I read half Fourier through,
Proudhon, Considerant, and Louis Blanc
With various other of his socialists;
And if I had been a fathom less in love,
Had cured myself with gaping. As it was,
I quoted from them prettily enough,
Perhaps, to make them sound half rational
To a saner man than he, whene'er we talked,
(For which I dodged occasion)-learnt by heart
His speeches in the Commons and elsewhere
Upon the social question; heaped reports
Of wicked women and penitentiaries,
On all my tables, with a place for Sue;
And gave my name to swell subscription-lists
Toward keeping up the sun at nights in heaven,
And other possible ends. All things I did,
Except the impossible . . such as wearing gowns
Provided by the Ten Hours' movement! there,
I stopped-we must stop somewhere. He, meanwhile,
Unmoved as the Indian tortoise 'neath the world
Let all that noise go on upon his back;
He would not disconcert or throw me out;
To so much love as makes the form of love
And courtesy of manners. Delicate drinks
And rare white bread, to which some dying eyes
Were turned in observation. O my God,
How sick we must be, ere we make men just!
I think it frets the saints in heaven to see
How many Desolate creatures on the earth
Have learnt the simple dues of fellowship
And social comfort, in a hospital,
As Marian did. She lay there, stunned, half tranced,
And wished, at intervals of growing sense,
She might be sicker yet, if sickness made
The world so marvellous kind, the air so hushed,
And all her wake-time quiet as a sleep;
For now she understood, (as such things were)
How sickness ended very oft in heaven,
Among the unspoken raptures. Yet more sick,
And surelier happy. Then she dropped her lids,
And, folding up her hands as flowers at night,
Would lose no moment of the blessed time.
She lay and seethed in fever many weeks;
But youth was strong and overcame the test;
Revolted soul and flesh were reconciled
And fetched back to the necessary day
And daylight duties. She could creep about
The long bare rooms, and stare out drearily
From any narrow window on the street,
Till some one, who had nursed her as a friend,
Said coldly to her, as an enemy,
'She had leave to go next week, being well enough,'
While only her heart ached. 'Go next week,' thought she,
'Next week! how would it be with her next week,
Let out into that terrible street alone
Among the pushing people, . . to go . . where?'
One day, the last before the dreaded last,
Among the convalescents, like herself
Prepared to go next morning, she sate dumb,
And heard half absently the women talk,
How one was famished for her baby's cheeks-
'The little wretch would know her! a year old,
And lively, like his father!' one was keen
To get to work, and fill some clamorous mouths;
And one was tender for her dear goodman
Who had missed her sorely,-and one, querulous . .
'Would pay those scandalous neighbours who had dared
To talk about her as already dead,'-
And one was proud . . 'and if her sweetheart Luke
Had left her for a ruddier face than hers,
(The gossip would be seen through at a glance)
Sweet riddance of such sweethearts-let him hang!
'Twere good to have been as sick for such an end.'
And while they talked, and Marian felt the worse
For having missed the worst of all their wrongs,
A visitor was ushered through the wards
And paused among the talkers. 'When he looked,
It was as if he spoke, and when he spoke
He sang perhaps,' said Marian; 'could she tell?
She only knew' (so much she had chronicled,
As seraphs might, the making of the sun)
'That he who came and spake was Romney Leigh,
And then, and there, she saw and heard him first.'
And when it was her turn to have the face
Upon her,-all those buzzing pallid lips
Being satisfied with comfort-when he changed
To Marian, saying, 'And you? You're going, where?'-
She, moveless as a worm beneath a stone
Which some one's stumbling foot has spurned aside,
Writhed suddenly, astonished with the light,
And breaking into sobs cried, 'Where I go?
None asked me till this moment. Can I say
Where I go? When it has not seemed worth while
To God himself, who thinks of every one,
To think of me, and fix where I shall go?'
'So young,' he gently asked her, 'you have lost
Your father and your mother?'
'Both' she said,
'Both lost! My father was burnt up with gin
Or ever I sucked milk, and so is lost.
My mother sold me to a man last month,
And so my mother's lost, 'tis manifest.
And I, who fled from her for miles and miles,
As if I had caught sight of the fires of hell
Through some wild gap, (she was my mother, sir)
It seems I shall be lost too, presently,
And so we end, all three of us.'
He said,-with such a pity in his voice,
It soothed her more than her own tears,-'poor child!
'Tis simple that betrayal by mother's love
Should bring despair of God's too. Yet be taught
He's better to us than many mothers are,
And children cannot wander beyond reach
Of the sweep of his white raiment. Touch and hold'
And if you weep still, weep where John was laid
While Jesus loved him.'
'She could say the words,'
She told me, 'exactly as he uttered them
A year back, . . since in any doubt or dark,
They came out like the stars, and shone on her
With just their comfort. Common words, perhaps;
The ministers in church might say the same;
But he, he made the church with what he spoke,-
The difference was the miracle,' said she.
Then catching up her smile to ravishment,
She added quickly, 'I repeat his words,
But not his tones: can any one repeat
The music of an organ, out of church?
And when he said 'poor child,' I shut my eyes
To feel how tenderly his voice broke through,
As the ointment-box broke on the Holy feet
To let out the rich medicative nard.'
She told me how he had raised and rescued her
With reverent pity, as, in touching grief,
He touched the wounds of Christ,-and made her feel
More self-respecting. Hope, he called, belief
In God,-work, worship . . therefore let us pray!
And thus, to snatch her soul from atheism,
And keep it stainless from her mother's face,
He sent her to a famous sempstress-house
Far off in London, there to work and hope.
With that they parted. She kept sight of Heaven,
But not of Romney. He had good to do
To others: through the days and through the nights,
She sewed and sewed and sewed. She drooped sometimes,
And wondered, while, along the tawny light,
She struck the new thread into her needle's eye,
How people without mothers on the hills,
Could choose the town to live in!-then she drew
The stitch, and mused how Romney's face would look,
And if 'twere likely he'd remember hers,
When they two had their meeting after death.