by Ella Wheeler
Milwaukee: Cramer, Aikens & Cramer, 1876.
224 p. 19 cm
Part Third Table of Contents Part FifthPART FOURTH.
"Maurine, Maurine! 'tis ten o'clock! arise,
My pretty sluggard! open those dark eyes,
And see where yonder sun is! Do you know
I made my toilet just four hours ago?"
'Twas Helen's voice: and Helen's gentle
Fell on my cheek. As from a deep abyss,
I drew my weary self from that strange sleep
That rests not, nor refreshes. Scarce awake
Or conscious, yet there seemed a heavy weight
Bound on my breast, as by a cruel Fate.
I knew not why, and yet I longed to weep.
Some dark cloud seemed to hang upon the day;
And, for a moment, in that trance I lay,
When suddenly the truth did o'er me break,
Like some great wave upon a helpless child.
The dull pain in my breast grew like a knife--
The heavy throbbing of my heart grew wild,
And God gave back the burden of the life
He kept what time I slumbered.
"You are ill,"
Cried Helen, "with that blinding headache still!
You look so pale and weary. Now let me
Play nurse, Maurine, and care for you to-day!
And first I'll suit some dainty to your taste,
And bring it to you, with a cup of tea."
And off she ran, not waiting my reply.
But, wanting most the sunshine
and the light,
I left my couch, and clothed myself in haste,
And, kneeling, sent to God an earnest cry
For help and guidance.
"Show Thou me the way,
Where duty leads; for I am blind! my sight
Obscured by self. O, lead my steps aright!
Help me to see the path: and if it may,
Let this cup pass:--and yet Thou heavenly One
Thy will in all things, not mine own, be done."
Rising, I went upon my way, receiving
The strength prayer gives alway to hearts believing.
I felt that unseen hands were leading me,
And knew the end was peace.
"What! are you up?'
Cried Helen, coming with a tray, and cup,
Of tender toast, and fragrant smoking tea.
"You naughty girl! you should have stayed in bed
Until you ate your breakfast, and were better?
I've something hidden from you here--a letter.
But drink your tea before you read it, dear!
'Tis from some distant cousin, Auntie said
And so you need not hurry. Now be good,
And mind your Helen."
So, in passive mood,
I laid the still unopened letter near,
And nibbled at my breakfast more to please
My nurse, than any hunger to appease.
Then listlessly I broke the seal and read
The few lines written in a bold free hand:
"New London, Canada. Dear Coz. Maurine!
(In spite of generations stretched between
Our natural right to that most handy claim--
Of cousinship, we'll use it all the same)
I'm coming to see you! honestly, in truth!
I've threatened often--now I mean to act.
You'll find my coming is a stubborn fact.
Keep quiet though, and do not tell Aunt Ruth.
I wonder if she'll know her petted boy
In spite of changes. Look for me until
You see me coming. As of old I'm still
Your faithful friend, and loving cousin, Roy."
So Roy was coming! He and I had
As boy and girl, and later, youth and maid,
Full half our lives together. He had been,
Like me, an orphan; and the roof of kin
Gave both kind shelter. Swift years sped away
Ere change was felt: and then one summer day
A long lost uncle sailed from India's shore--
Made Roy his heir, and he was ours no more.
"He'd write us daily, and we'd
see his face
Once every year." Such was his promise given
The morn he left. But now the years were seven
Since last he looked upon the olden place.
He'd been through college, travelled in all lands,
Sailed over seas, and trod the desert sands.
Would write and plan a visit, then, ere long,
Would write again from Egypt or Hong-Kong--
Some mission called him thither unforeseen.
So years had passed, till seven lay between
His going, and the coming of this note,
Which I hid in my bosom, and replied
To Aunt Ruth's queries, "What the truant wrote?"
By saying he was still upon the wing,
And merely dropped a line, while journeying,
To say he lived: and she was satisfied.
Sometimes it happens, in this world
A human heart will pass through mortal strife,
And writhe in torture: while the old sweet life,
So full of hope, and beauty, bloom, and grace,
Is slowly strangled by remorseless Pain:
And one stern, cold, relentless, takes its place--
A ghastly, pallid spectre of the slain.
Yet those in daily converse see no change
Nor dream the heart has suffered.
So that day
I passed along toward the troubled way
Stern duty pointed, and no mortal guessed
A mighty conflict had disturbed my breast.
I had resolved to yield up to my
The man I loved. Since she, too, loved him so
I saw no other way in honor left.
She was so weak and fragile, once bereft
Of this great hope, that held her with such power,
She would wilt down, like some frost-bitten flower,
And swift, untimely death would be the end.
But I was strong: and hardy plants, which grow
In out-door soil, can bear bleak winds that blow
From Arctic lands, whereof a single breath
Would lay the hot-house blossom low in death.
The hours went by, too slow, and
yet too fast.
All day I argued with my foolish heart
That bade me play the shrinking coward's part
And hide from pain. And when the day had past
And time for Vivian's call drew near and nearer,
It pleaded, "Wait, until the way seems clearer:
Say you are ill--or busy: keep away
Until you gather strength enough to play
The part you have resolved on."
"Nay, not so,"
Made answer clear-eyed Reason, "Do you go
And put your resolution to the test.
Resolve, however nobly formed, at best
Is but a still-born babe of Thought, until
It proves existence of its life and will
By sound or action."
So when Helen came
And knelt by me, her fair face all aflame
With sudden blushes, whispering, "My sweet!
My heart can hear the music of his feet--
Go down with me to meet him." I arose,
And went with her all calmly, as one goes
To look upon the dear face of the dead.
That eve, I know not what I did,
I was not cold--my manner was not strange:
Perchance I talked more freely than my wont,
But in my speech was naught could give affront;
Yet I conveyed, as only woman can,
That nameless something, which bespeaks a change.
'Tis in the power of woman, if
Whole-souled and noble, free from coquetry--
Her motives all unselfish, worthy, good,
To make herself and feelings understood
By nameless acts--thus sparing what to man,
However gently answered, causes pain,
The off'ring of his hand and heart in vain.
She can be friendly, unrestrained,
Assume no airs of pride or arrogance;
But in her voice, her manner, and her glance,
Convey that mystic something, undefined,
Which men fail not to understand and read,
And, when not blind with egotism, heed.
My task was harder. 'Twas the slow undoing
Of long sweet months of unimpeded wooing.
It was to hide and cover and conceal
The truth--assuming, what I did not feel.
It was to dam love's happy singing tide
That blessed me with its hopeful, tuneful tone,
By feigned indiff'rence, till it turned aside,
And changed its channel, leaving me alone
To walk parched plains, and thirst for that sweet
My lips had tasted, but another quaffed.
It could be done. For no words
yet were spoken--
None to recall--no pledges to be broken.
"He will be grieved, then angry, cold, then cross,"
I reasoned, thinking what would be his part
In this strange drama. "Then, because his heart
Feels something lacking, to make good his loss,
He'll turn to Helen: and her gentle grace
And loving acts will win her soon the place
I hold to-day: and like a troubled dream
At length, our past, when he looks back, will seem."
That evening passed with music,
chat, and song:
But hours that once had flown on airy wings
Now limped on weary, aching limbs along,
Each moment like some dreaded step that brings
A twinge of pain.
As Vivian rose to go,
Slow bending to me, from his greater height,
He took my hand, and, looking in my eyes,
With tender questioning and pained surprise,
Said "Maurine, you are not yourself to-night!
What is it? Are you ailing?"
I answered laughing lightly, "I am not:
Just see my cheek, sir! is it thin, or pale?
Now tell me, am I looking very frail?"
"Nay, nay!" he answered, "it cannot be seen,
The change I speak of--'twas more in your mien:
Preoccupation, or--I know not what!
Miss Helen, am I wrong, or does Maurine
Seem to have something on her mind this eve?"
"She does," laughed Helen, "and
I do believe
I know what 'tis! A letter came to-day
Which she read slyly, and then hid away
Close to her heart, not knowing I was near:
And since she's been as you have seen her here.
See how she blushes! so my random shot,
We must believe has struck a tender spot."
Her rippling laughter floated through
And redder yet I felt the hot blood rise,
Then surge away to leave me pale as death,
Under the dark and swiftly gath'ring gloom
Of Vivian's questioning, accusing eyes,
That searched my soul. I almost shrieked beneath
That stern, fixed gaze; and stood spell-bound until
He turned with sudden movement, gave his hand
To each in turn, saying "You must not stand
Longer, young ladies, in this open door.
The air is heavy with a cold damp chill.
We shall have rain to-morrow, or before.
He vanished in the darkling shade;
And so the dreaded evening found an end,
That saw me grasp the conscience-whetted blade,
And strike a blow for honour and for friend.
"How swiftly passed the evening!"
"How long the hours!" my tortured heart replied.
Joy, like a child, with lightsome steps doth glide
By Father Time, and, looking in his face,
Cries, snatching blossoms from the fair road side
"I could pluck more, but for my hurried pace."
The while her elder brother Pain, man grown,
Whose feet are hurt by many a thorn and stone,
Looks to some distant hill top, high and calm,
Where he shall find not only rest, but balm
For all his wounds, and cries in tones of woe,
"O Father Time! why is thy pace so slow?"
Two days, all sad with lonely wind
Went sobbing by, repeating o'er and o'er
The miserere, desolate and drear,
Which every human heart must sometime bear.
Pain is but little varied. Its refrain,
Whate'er the words are, is for aye the same.
The third day brought a change: for with it came
Not only sunny smiles to Nature's face,
But Roy--our Roy came back to us. Once more
We looked into his laughing, handsome eyes,
Which, while they gave Aunt Ruth a glad surprise
In no way puzzled her: for one glance told
What each succeeding one confirmed, that he
Who bent above her with the lissome grace
Of his fine form, though grown so tall, could be
No other than the Roy Montaine of old.
It was a sweet reunion: and he brought
So much of sunshine with him, that I caught,
Just from his smile alone, enough of gladness
To make my heart forget a time its sadness.
We talked together of the dear old days:
Leaving the present, with its depths and heights
Of life's maturer sorrows and delights,
I turned back to my childhood's level land,
And Roy and I, dear playmates, hand in hand,
Wandered in mem'ry, through the olden ways.
It was the second evening of his
Helen was playing dreamily, and humming
Some wordless melody of white-souled thought,
While Roy and I sat by the open door,
Re-living childish incidents of yore.
My eyes were glowing, and my cheeks were hot
With warm young blood, excitement, joy, or pain
Alike would send swift coursing through each vein.
Roy, always eloquent, was waxing fine,
And bringing vividly before my gaze
Some old adventure of those halcyon days,
When, suddenly, in pauses of the talk,
I heard a well-known step upon the walk,
And looked up quickly to meet full in mine
The eyes of Vivian Dangerfield. A flash
Shot from their depths:--a sudden blaze of light
Like that swift followed by the thunder's crash,
Which said, "Suspicion is confirmed by sight,"
As they fell on the pleasant doorway scene.
Then o'er his clear cut face a cold white look
Crept, like the pallid moonlight o'er a brook,
And, with a slight, proud bending of the head,
He stepped toward us haughtily and said,
"Please pardon my intrusion, Miss Maurine:
I called to ask Miss Trevor for a book
She spoke of lending me: nay, sit you still!
And I, by grant of your permission, will
Pass by to where I hear her playing."
I said, "one moment, Vivian, if you please;"
And suddenly bereft of all my ease,
And scarcely knowing what to do, or say,
Confused as any school girl, I arose,
And some way made each to the other known.
They bowed, shook hands: then Vivian turned away,
And sought out Helen, leaving us alone.
(Men always shake hands--strangers, friends or foes,
While women only courtesy and bow,
Needing that space between them to allow
A fair inspection of each other's clothes.)
"One of Miss Trevor's, or of Maurine's
Which may he be, who cometh like a Prince
With haughty bearing, and an eagle eye?"
Roy queried, laughing: and I answered, "Since
You saw him pass me for Miss Trevor's side,
I leave your own good judgment to reply."
And straightway caused the tide of talk to glide
In other channels, striving to dispel
The sudden gloom that o'er my spirit fell.
We mortals are such hypocrites
When Conscience tries our courage with a test,
And points to some steep pathway, we set out
Boldly, denying any fear or doubt;
But pause before the first rock in the way,
And, looking back, with tears, at Conscience, say,
"We are so sad dear Conscience! for we would
Most gladly do what to thee seemeth good;
But lo! this rock! we cannot climb it, so
Thou must point out some other way to go."
Yet secretly we are rejoicing: and,
When right before our faces, as we stand
In seeming grief, the rock is cleft in twain,
Leaving the pathway clear, we shrink in pain!
And loth to go, by every act reveal
What we so tried from Conscience to conceal.
I saw that hour, the way made plain,
With scarce an effort, what had seemed a strife
That would require the strength of my whole life.
Women have quick perceptions: and I knew
That Vivian's heart was full of jealous pain,
Suspecting--nay believing Roy Montaine
To be my lover. First my altered mien--
And next the letter--then the doorway scene--
My flushed face gazing in the one above
That bent so near me, and my strange confusion
When Vivian came, all led to one conclusion:
That I had but been playing with his love,
As women sometimes cruelly do play
With hearts what time their lovers are away.
There could be nothing easier,
To let him linger on in this belief
Till hourly-fed Suspicion and Distrust
Should turn to scorn and anger all his grief.
Compared with me, so doubly sweet and pure
Would Helen seem, my purpose would be sure,
And certain of completion in the end.
But now, the way was made so straight and clear,
My coward heart shrank back in guilty fear,
Till Conscience whispered with her "still small voice,"
"The precious time is passing--make thy choice--
Resign thy love, or slay thy trusting friend."
The growing moon, watched by the
Of countless stars, went sailing through the skies,
Like some young Prince, rising to rule a nation,
To whom all eyes are turned in expectation.
A woman who possesses tact and art
And strength of will can take the hand of doom,
And walk on, smiling sweetly as she goes,
With rosy lips, and rounded cheek of bloom,
Cheating a loud-tongued world that never knows
The pain and sorrow of her hidden heart.
And so I joined in Roy's bright changing chat;
Answered his sallies--talked of this and that,
My brow unruffled as the calm still wave
That tells not of the wrecked ship, and the grave
Beneath its surface.
Then we heard, ere long,
The sound of Helen's gentle voice in song,
And, rising, entered where the subtle power
Of Vivian's eyes, forgiving while accusing,
Finding me weak, had won me, in that hour;
But Roy, alway polite and debonair
Where ladies were, now hung about my chair
With nameless delicate attentions, using
That air devotional, and those small arts
Acquaintance with society imparts
To men gallant by nature.
'Twas my sex
And not myself he bowed to. Had my place
Been filled that evening by a dowager,
Twice his own age, he would have given her
The same attentions. But they served to vex
Whatever hope in Vivian's heart remained.
The cold, white look crept back upon his face,
Which told how deeply he was hurt and pained.
Little by little, all things had
To bring events I dreaded, yet desired.
We were in constant intercourse: walks, rides,
Picnics and sails, filled weeks of golden weather,
And almost hourly we were thrown together.
No words were spoken of rebuke or scorn:
Good friends we seemed. But as a gulf divides
This land and that--though lying side by side,
So rolled a gulf between us--deep and wide--
The gulf of doubt, which widened slowly morn
And noon and night.
Free and informal were
These picnics and excursions. Yet, although
Helen and I would sometimes choose to go
Without our escorts, leaving them quite free,
It happened alway, Roy would seek out me
Ere passed the day, while Vivian walked with her.
I had no thought of flirting. Roy was just
Like some dear brother, and I quite forgot
The kinship was so distant it was not
Safe to rely upon in perfect trust,
Without reserve or caution. Many a time
When there was some steep mountain side to climb,
And I grew weary, he would say, "Maurine,
Come rest you here." And I would go and lean
My head upon his shoulder, or would stand
And let him hold in his my willing hand,
The while he stroked it gently with his own.
Or I would let him clasp me with his arm,
Nor entertained a thought of any harm!
Nor once supposed but Vivian was alone
In his suspicions. But ere long the truth
I learned in consternation! both Aunt Ruth
And Helen, honestly, in faith believed
That Roy and I were lovers.
Some careless words might open Vivian's eyes
And spoil my plans. So, reasoning in this wise,
To all their sallies I in jest replied,
To naught assented, and yet naught denied,
With Roy unchanged remaining, confident
Each understood just what the other meant.
If I grew weary of this double
And self-imposed deception caused my heart
Sometimes to shrink, I needed but to gaze
On Helen's face: that wore a look ethereal,
As if she dwelt above the things material
And held communion with the angels. So
I fed my strength and courage through the days.
What time the harvest moon rose
full and clear
And cast its ling'ring radiance on the earth,
We made a feast; and called, from far and near,
Our friends, who came to share the scene of mirth.
Fair forms and faces flitted too and fro;
But none more sweet than Helen's. Robed in white,
She floated like a vision through the dance.
So frailly fragile and so phantom fair,
She seemed like some stray spirit of the air,
And was pursued by many an anxious glance
That looked to see her fading from the sight
Like figures that a dreamer sees at night.
And noble men and gallants graced
Yet none more noble or more grand of mien
Than Vivian--broad of chest and shoulder, tall
And finely formed, as any Grecian god
Whose high-arched foot on Mount Olympus trod.
His clear cut face was beardless; and, like those
Same Grecian statues, when in calm repose,
Was it in hue and feature. Framed in hair
Dark and abundant; lighted by large eyes
That could be cold as steel in winter air,
Or warm and sunny as Italian skies.
Weary of mirth and music, and the
Of tripping feet, I sought a moment's rest
Within the lib'ry, where a group I found
Of guests, discussing with apparent zest
Some theme of interest--Vivian, near the while,
Leaning and listening with his slow odd smile.
"Now Miss La Pelle, we will appeal
Cried young Guy Semple, as I entered. "We
Have been discussing right before his face,
All unrebuked by him as you may see,
A poem lately published by our friend:
And we are quite divided. I contend
The poem is a libel and untrue.
I hold the fickle women are but few,
Compared with those who are like yon fair moon
That, ever faithful, rises in her place
Whether she's greeted by the flowers of June,
Or cold and dreary stretches of white space."
"Oh!" cried another, "Mr. Dangerfield
Look to your laurels! or you needs must yield
The crown to Semple, who, 'tis very plain,
Has mounted Pegasus and grasped his mane."
All laughed: and then, as Guy appealed
I answered lightly, "My young friend, I fear
You chose a most unlucky simile
To prove the truth of woman. To her place
The moon does rise--but with a different face
Each time she comes. But now I needs must hear
The poem read, before I can consent
To pass my judgment on the sentiment."
All clamored that the author was
To read the poem: and, with tones that said
More than the cutting, scornful words he read,
Taking the book Guy gave him, he began:
The sands upon the ocean side
That change about with every tide,
And never true to one abide,
A woman's love I liken to.
The summer zephyrs, light and vain,
That sing the same alluring strain
To every grass blade on the plain--
A woman's love is nothing more.
The sunshine of an April day
That comes to warm you with its ray,
But while you smile has flown away--
A woman's love is like to this.
God made poor woman with no heart,
But gave her skill, and tact, and art,
And so she lives, and plays her part.
We must not blame, but pity her.
She leans to man--but just to hear
The praise he whispers in her ear.
Herself, not him, she holdeth dear--
O fool! to be deceived by her.
To sate her selfish thirst she quaffs
The love of strong hearts in sweet draughts,
Then throws them lightly by and laughs,
Too weak to understand their pain.
As changeful as the winds that blow
From every region, to and fro,
Devoid of heart, she cannot know
The suffering of a human heart.
I knew the cold, fixed gaze of Vivian's eyes
Saw the slow color to my forehead rise;
But lightly answered, toying with my fan,
"That sentiment is very like a man!
Men call us fickle, but they do us wrong;
We're only frail and helpless, men are strong;
And when love dies, they take the poor dead thing
And make a shroud out of their suffering,
And carry the corpse about with them for years.
But we?--we mourn it for a day with tears!
And then we robe it for its last long rest,
And being women, feeble things at best,
We cannot dig the grave ourselves. And so
We call strong limbed New Love to lay it low:
Immortal sexton he! whom Venus sends
To do this service for her earthly friends.
The trusty fellow digs the grave so deep
Nothing disturbs the dead laid there to sleep."
The laugh that followed had not
Ere Roy Montaine came seeking me, to say
The band was tuning for our waltz, and so
Back to the ball room bore me. In the glow
And heat and whirl, my strength ere long was spent,
And I grew faint and dizzy, and we went
Out on the cool moonlighted portico,
And, sitting there, Roy drew my languid head
Upon the shelter of his breast, and bent
His smiling eyes upon me, as he said,
"I'll try the mesmerism of my touch
To work a cure: be very quiet now,
And let me make some passes o'er your brow.
Why, how it throbs! you've exercised too much!
I shall not let you dance again to-night."
Just then before us, in the broad
Two forms were mirrored: and I turned my face
To catch the teasing and mischievous glance
Of Helen's eyes, as, heated by the dance,
Leaning on Vivian's arm, she sought this place.
"I beg your pardon," came in that
Of his low voice. "I think we do intrude."
Bowing, they turned, and left us quite alone
Ere I could speak, or change my attitude.