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- Bitter-Sweet - 10/22 -


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. His words, which wandered first as carelessly As the free footsteps of a boy, were trained To the stern paces of a sentinel Guarding a prison door, and never tripped With a suggestion.

I despaired at last Of winning what I sought by wiles and prayers;


Bitter-Sweet - 10/22

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