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- Bitter-Sweet - 3/22 -


_Ruth_.

[_Advancing and kneeling by the side of Grace_.]

Sister mine. Now give the proof of your obedience To your imperious lord! Strike, if you dare! I'll wake your baby if you lift your hand. Ha! king; ha! poet; who is master now-- Baby or husband? Pr'ythee, tell me that. Were I a man,--thank Heaven I am not!-- And had a wife who cared not for my will More than your wife for yours, I'd hang myself, Or wear an [***]. See! she kisses me!

_David_.

And answers to my will, though well she knows I'll spare to her so terrible a task, And take the awful burden on myself; Which I will do, in future, if she please!

_Ruth_.

Now have you conquered! Look! I am your slave. Denounce me, scourge me, anything but kiss; For life is sweet, and I alone am left To comfort an old man.

_Israel_. Ruth, that will do! Remember I'm a Justice of the Peace, And bide no quarrels; and if you and David Persist in strife, I'll place you under bonds For good behavior, or condemn you both To solitary durance for the night.

_Ruth_.

Father, you fail to understand the case, And do me wrong. David has threatened me With an assault that proves intent to kill; And here's my sister Grace, his wedded wife, Who'll take her oath, that just a year ago He entered into bonds to keep the peace Toward me and womankind.

_David_.

I'm quite asleep.

_Israel_.

We'll all agree, then, to pronounce it quits.

_Ruth_.

Till he awake again, of course. I trust I have sufficient gallantry to grant A nap between encounters, to a foe With odds against him.

_Israel_.

Peace, my daughter, peace! You've had your full revenge, and we have had Enough of laughter since the day began. We must not squander all these precious hours In jest and merriment; for when the sun Shall rise to-morrow, we shall separate, Not knowing we shall ever meet again. Meetings like this are rare this side of Heaven, And seem to me the best mementoes left Of Eden's hours.

_Grace_.

Most certainly the best, And quite the rarest, but, unluckily, The weakest, as we know; for sin and pain And evils multiform, that swarm the earth, And poison all our joys and all our hearts, Remind us most of Eden's forfeit bliss.

_David_.

Forfeit through woman.

_Grace_.

Forfeit through her power;-- A power not lost, as most men know, I think, Beyond the knowledge of their trustful wives.

_Mary_.

[_Rising, and walking hurriedly to the window_.]

'Tis a wild night without.

_Ruth_.

And getting wild Within. Now, Grace, I--all of us--protest Against a scene to-night. Look! You have driven One to the window blushing, and your lord, With lowering brow, is making stern essay To stare the fire-dogs out of countenance. These honest brothers, with their honest wives, Grow glum and solemn, too, as if they feared At the next gust to see the windows burst, Or a riven poplar crashing through the roof. And think of me!--a simple-hearted maid Who learned from Cowper only yesterday (Or a schoolmaster, with a handsome face, And a strange passion for the text), the fact, That wedded bliss alone survives the fall. I'm shocked; I'm frightened; and I'll never wed Unless I--change my mind!

_Israel_.

And I consent.

_David_.

And the schoolmaster with the handsome face Propose.

_Ruth_.

Your pardon, father, for the jest! But I have never patience with the ills That make intrusion on my happy hours. I know the world is full of evil things, And shudder with the consciousness. I know That care has iron crowns for many brows; That Calvaries are everywhere, whereon Virtue is crucified, and nails and spears Draw guiltless blood; that sorrow sits and drinks At sweetest hearts, till all their life is dry; That gentle spirits on the rack of pain Grow faint or fierce, and pray and curse by turns; That Hell's temptations, clad in Heavenly guise And armed with might, lie evermore in wait Along life's path, giving assault to all-- Fatal to most; that Death stalks through the earth, Choosing his victims, sparing none at last; That in each shadow of a pleasant tree A grief sits sadly sobbing to its leaves; And that beside each fearful soul there walks The dim, gaunt phantom of uncertainty, Bidding it look before, where none may see, And all must go; but I forget it all-- I thrust it from me always when I may; Else I should faint with fear, or drown myself In pity. God forgive me! but I've thought A thousand times that if I had His power. Or He my love, we'd have a different world From this we live in.

_Israel_.

Those are sinful thoughts, My daughter, and too surely indicate A willful soul, unreconciled to God.

_Ruth_.

So you have told me often. You have said That God is just, and I have looked around To seek the proof in human lot, in vain. The rain falls kindly on the just man's fields, But on the unjust man's more kindly still; And I have never known the winter's blast, Or the quick lightning, or the pestilence, Make nice discriminations when let slip From God's right hand.

_Israel_.

'Tis a great mystery; Yet God is just, and,--blessed be His name!-- Is loving too. I know that I am weak, And that the pathway of His Providence Is on the hills where I may never climb. Therefore my reason yields her hand to Faith, And follows meekly where the angel leads. I see the rich man have his portion here, And Lazarus, in glorified repose, Sleep like a jewel on the breast of Faith In Heaven's broad light. I see that whom God loves He chastens sorely, but I ask not why. I only know that God is just and good: All else is mystery. Why evil lives Within His universe, I may not know. I know it lives, and taints the vital air; And that in ways inscrutable to me-- Yet compromising not His soundless love And boundless power--it lives against His will.


Bitter-Sweet - 3/22

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