Their Story Runneth Thus

A poem by Abram Joseph Ryan

Two little children played among the flowers,
Their mothers were of kin, tho' far apart;
The children's ages were the very same
E'en to an hour -- and Ethel was her name,
A fair, sweet girl, with great, brown, wond'ring eyes
That seemed to listen just as if they held
The gift of hearing with the power of sight.
Six summers slept upon her low white brow,
And dreamed amid the roses of her cheeks.
Her voice was sweetly low; and when she spoke
Her words were music; and her laughter rang
So like an altar-bell that, had you heard
Its silvery sound a-ringing, you would think
Of kneeling down and worshiping the pure.

They played among the roses -- it was May --
And "hide and seek", and "seek and hide", all eve
They played together till the sun went down.
Earth held no happier hearts than theirs that day:
And tired at last she plucked a crimson rose
And gave to him, her playmate, cousin-kin;
And he went thro' the garden till he found
The whitest rose of all the roses there,
And placed it in her long, brown, waving hair.
"I give you red -- and you -- you give me white:
What is the meaning?" said she, while a smile,
As radiant as the light of angels' wings,
Swept bright across her face; the while her eyes
Seemed infinite purities half asleep
In sweetest pearls; and he did make reply:
"Sweet Ethel! white dies first; you know, the snow,
(And it is not as white as thy pure face)
Melts soon away; but roses red as mine
Will bloom when all the snow hath passed away."

She sighed a little sigh, then laughed again,
And hand in hand they walked the winding ways
Of that fair garden till they reached her home.
A good-bye and a kiss -- and he was gone.

She leaned her head upon her mother's breast,
And ere she fell asleep she, sighing, called:
"Does white die first? my mother! and does red
Live longer?" And her mother wondered much
At such strange speech. She fell asleep
With murmurs on her lips of red and white.

Those children loved as only children can --
With nothing in their love save their whole selves.
When in their cradles they had been betroth'd;
They knew it in a manner vague and dim --
Unconscious yet of what betrothal meant.

The boy -- she called him Merlin -- a love name --
(And he -- he called her always Ullainee,
No matter why); the boy was full of moods.
Upon his soul and face the dark and bright
Were strangely intermingled. Hours would pass
Rippling with his bright prattle; and then, hours
Would come and go, and never hear a word
Fall from his lips, and never see a smile
Upon his face. He was so like a cloud
With ever-changeful hues, as she was like
A golden sunbeam shining on its face.

* * * * *

Ten years passed on. They parted and they met
Not often in each year; yet as they grew
In years, a consciousness unto them came
Of human love.
But it was sweet and pure.
There was no passion in it. Reverence,
Like Guardian-Angel, watched o'er Innocence.

One night in mid of May their faces met
As pure as all the stars that gazed on them.
They met to part from themselves and the world;
Their hearts just touched to separate and bleed;
Their eyes were linked in look, while saddest tears
Fell down, like rain, upon the cheeks of each:
They were to meet no more.
Their hands were clasped
To tear the clasp in twain; and all the stars
Looked proudly down on them, while shadows knelt,
Or seemed to kneel, around them with the awe
Evoked from any heart by sacrifice.
And in the heart of that last parting hour
Eternity was beating. And he said:
"We part to go to Calvary and to God --
This is our garden of Gethsemane;
And here we bow our heads and breathe His prayer
Whose heart was bleeding, while the angels heard:
Not my will, Father! but Thine own be done."
Raptures meet agonies in such heart-hours;
Gladness doth often fling her bright, warm arms
Around the cold, white neck of grief -- and thus
The while they parted -- sorrow swept their hearts
Like a great, dark stormy sea -- but sudden
A joy, like sunshine -- did it come from God? --

Flung over every wave that swept o'er them
A more than golden glory.
Merlin said:
"Our loves must soar aloft to spheres divine;
The human satisfies nor you nor me,
(No human love shall ever satisfy --
Or ever did -- the hearts that lean on it);
You sigh for something higher as do I,
So let our spirits be espoused in God,
And let our wedlock be as soul to soul;
And prayer shall be the golden marriage ring,
And God will bless us both."
She sweetly said:
"Your words are echoes of my own soul's thoughts;
Let God's own heart be our own holy home
And let us live as only angels live;
And let us love as our own angels love.
'Tis hard to part -- but it is better so --
God's will is ours, and -- Merlin! let us go."

And then she sobbed as if her heart would break --
Perhaps it did; an awful minute passed,
Long as an age and briefer than a flash
Of lightning in the skies. No word was said --
Only a look which never was forgot.
Between them fell the shadows of the night.
Their faces went away into the dark,
And never met again; and yet their souls
Were twined together in the heart of Christ.

And Ethel went from earthland long ago;
But Merlin stays still hanging on his cross.
He would not move a nail that nails him there,
He would not pluck a thorn that crowns him there.
He hung himself upon the blessed cross
With Ethel; she has gone to wear the crown
That wreathes the brows of virgins who have kept
Their bodies with their souls from earthly taint.

And years and years, and weary years, passed on
Into the past. One Autumn afternoon,
When flowers were in their agony of death,
And winds sang "De Profundis" over them,
And skies were sad with shadows, he did walk
Where, in a resting place as calm as sweet,
The dead were lying down; the Autumn sun
Was half way down the west; the hour was three --
The holiest hour of all the twenty-four,
For Jesus leaned His head on it, and died.
He walked alone amid the virgin's graves
Where virgins slept; a convent stood near by,
And from the solitary cells of nuns
Unto the cells of death the way was short.
Low, simple stones and white watched o'er each grave,
While in the hollows 'tween them sweet flowers grew,
Entwining grave and grave. He read the names
Engraven on the stones, and "Rest in peace"
Was written 'neath them all, and o'er each name
A cross was graven on the lowly stone.
He passed each grave with reverential awe,
As if he passed an altar, where the Host
Had left a memory of its sacrifice.
And o'er the buried virgins' virgin dust
He walked as prayerfully as tho' he trod
The holy floor of fair Loretta's shrine.
He passed from grave to grave, and read the names
Of those whose own pure lips had changed the names
By which this world had known them into names
Of sacrifice known only to their God;
Veiling their faces they had veiled their names;
The very ones who played with them as girls,
Had they passed there, would know no more than he
Or any stranger where their playmates slept;
And then he wondered all about their lives, their hearts,
Their thoughts, their feelings, and their dreams,
Their joys and sorrows, and their smiles and tears.
He wondered at the stories that were hid
Forever down within those simple graves.
In a lone corner of that resting-place
Uprose a low white slab that marked a grave
Apart from all the others; long, sad grass
Drooped o'er the little mound, and mantled it
With veil of purest green; around the slab
The whitest of white roses 'twined their arms --
Roses cold as the snows and pure as songs
Of angels -- and the pale leaflets and thorns
Hid e'en the very name of her who slept
Beneath. He walked on to the grave, but when
He reached its side a spell fell on his heart
So suddenly -- he knew not why -- and tears
Went up into his eyes and trickled down
Upon the grass; he was so strangely moved
As if he met a long-gone face he loved.
I believe he prayed. He lifted then the leaves
That hid the name; but as he did, the thorns
Did pierce his hand, and lo! amazed, he read
The very word -- the very, very name
He gave the girl in golden days before --

"ULLAINEE".

He sat beside that lonely grave for long,
He took its grasses in his trembling hand,
He toyed with them and wet them with his tears,
He read the name again, and still again,
He thought a thousand thoughts, and then he thought
It all might be a dream -- then rubbed his eyes
And read the name again to be more sure;
Then wondered and then wept -- then asked himself:
"What means it all? Can this be Ethel's grave?
I dreamed her soul had fled.
Was she the white dove that I saw in dream
Fly o'er the sleeping sea so long ago?"

The convent bell
Rang sweet upon the breeze, and answered him
His question. And he rose and went his way
Unto the convent gate; long shadows marked
One hour before the sunset, and the birds
Were singing Vespers in the convent trees.
As silent as a star-gleam came a nun
In answer to his summons at the gate;
Her face was like the picture of a saint,
Or like an angel's smile; her downcast eyes
Were like a half-closed tabernacle, where
God's presence glowed; her lips were pale and worn
By ceaseless prayer; and when she sweetly spoke,
And bade him enter, 'twas in such a tone
As only voices own which day and night
Sing hymns to God.

She locked the massive gate.
He followed her along a flower-fringed walk
That, gently rising, led up to the home
Of virgin hearts. The very flowers that bloomed
Within the place, in beds of sacred shapes,
(For they had fashioned them with holy care,
Into all holy forms -- a chalice, a cross,
And sacred hearts -- and many saintly names,
That, when their eyes would fall upon the flowers,
Their souls might feast upon some mystic sign),
Were fairer far within the convent walls,
And purer in their fragrance and their bloom
Than all their sisters in the outer world.

He went into a wide and humble room --
The floor was painted, and upon the walls,
In humble frames, most holy paintings hung;
Jesus and Mary and many an olden saint
Were there. And she, the veil-clad Sister, spoke:
"I'll call the mother," and she bowed and went.

He waited in the wide and humble room,
The only room in that unworldly place
This world could enter; and the pictures looked
Upon his face and down into his soul,
And strangely stirred him. On the mantle stood
A crucifix, the figured Christ of which
Did seem to suffer; and he rose to look
More nearly on to it; but he shrank in awe
When he beheld a something in its face
Like his own face.
But more amazed he grew, when, at the foot
Of that strange crucifix he read the name --

"ULLAINEE".

A whirl of thought swept o'er his startled soul --
When to the door he heard a footstep come,
And then a voice -- the Mother of the nuns
Had entered -- and in calmest tone began:
"Forgive, kind sir, my stay; our Matin song
Had not yet ended when you came; our rule
Forbids our leaving choir; this my excuse."
She bent her head -- the rustle of her veil
Was like the trembling of an angel's wing,
Her voice's tone as sweet. She turned to him
And seemed to ask him with her still, calm look
What brought him there, and waited his reply.
"I am a stranger, Sister, hither come,"
He said, "upon an errand still more strange;
But thou wilt pardon me and bid me go
If what I crave you cannot rightly grant;
I would not dare intrude, nor claim your time,
Save that a friendship, deep as death, and strong
As life, has brought me to this holy place."

He paused. She looked at him an instant, bent
Her lustrous eyes upon the floor, but gave
Him no reply, save that her very look
Encouraged him to speak, and he went on:

He told her Ethel's story from the first,
He told her of the day amid the flowers,
When they were only six sweet summers old;
He told her of the night when all the flowers,
A-list'ning, heard the words of sacrifice --
He told her all; then said: "I saw a stone
In yonder graveyard where your Sisters sleep,
And writ on it, all hid by roses white,
I saw a name I never ought forget."

She wore a startled look, but soon repressed
The wonder that had come into her face.
"Whose name?" she calmly spoke. But when he said

"ULLAINEE",

She forward bent her face and pierced his own
With look intensest; and he thought he heard
The trembling of her veil, as if the brow
It mantled throbbed with many thrilling thoughts
But quickly rose she, and, in hurried tone,
Spoke thus: "'Tis hour of sunset, 'tis our rule
To close the gates to all till to-morrow's morn.
Return to-morrow; then, if so God wills,
I'll see you."

He gave many thanks, passed out
From that unworldly place into the world.
Straight to the lonely graveyard went his steps --
Swift to the "White-Rose-Grave", his heart: he knelt
Upon its grass and prayed that God might will
The mystery's solution; then he took,
Where it was drooping on the slab, a rose,
The whiteness of whose leaves was like the foam
Of summer waves upon a summer sea.

Then thro' the night he went
And reached his room, where, weary of his thoughts,
Sleep came, and coming found the dew of tears
Undried within his eyes, and flung her veil
Around him. Then he dreamt a strange, weird dream.
A rock, dark waves, white roses and a grave,
And cloistered flowers, and cloistered nuns, and tears
That shone like jewels on a diadem,
And two great angels with such shining wings --
All these and more were in most curious way
Blended in one dream or many dreams. Then
He woke wearier in his mind. Then slept
Again and had another dream.
His dream ran thus --
(He told me all of it many years ago,
But I forgot the most. I remember this):
A dove, whiter than whiteness' very self,
Fluttered thro' his sleep in vision or dream,
Bearing in its flight a spotless rose. It
Flew away across great, long distances,
Thro' forests where the trees were all in dream,
And over wastes where silences held reign,
And down pure valleys, till it reached a shore
By which blushed a sea in the ev'ning sun;
The dove rested there awhile, rose again
And flew across the sea into the sun;
And then from near or far (he could not say)
Came sound as faint as echo's own echo --
A low sweet hymn it seemed -- and now
And then he heard, or else he thought he heard,
As if it were the hymn's refrain, the words:
"White dies first!" "White dies first."

The sun had passed his noon and westward sloped;
He hurried to the cloister and was told
The Mother waited him. He entered in,
Into the wide and pictured room, and there
The Mother sat and gave him welcome twice.
"I prayed last night," she spoke, "to know God's will;
I prayed to Holy Mary and the saints
That they might pray for me, and I might know
My conduct in the matter. Now, kind sir,
What wouldst thou? Tell thy errand." He replied:
"It was not idle curiosity
That brought me hither or that prompts my lips
To ask the story of the `White-Rose-Grave',
To seek the story of the sleeper there
Whose name I knew so long and far away.
Who was she, pray? Dost deem it right to tell?"
There was a pause before the answer came,
As if there was a comfort in her heart,
There was a tremor in her voice when she
Unclosed two palest lips, and spoke in tone
Of whisper more than word:

"She was a child
Of lofty gift and grace who fills that grave,
And who has filled it long -- and yet it seems
To me but one short hour ago we laid
Her body there. Her mem'ry clings around
Our hearts, our cloisters, fresh, and fair, and sweet.
We often look for her in places where
Her face was wont to be: among the flowers,
In chapel, underneath those trees. Long years
Have passed and mouldered her pure face, and yet
It seems to hover here and haunt us all.
I cannot tell you all. It is enough
To see one ray of light for us to judge
The glory of the sun; it is enough
To catch one glimpse of heaven's blue
For us to know the beauty of the sky.
It is enough to tell a little part
Of her most holy life, that you may know
The hidden grace and splendor of the whole."

"Nay, nay," he interrupted her; "all! all!
Thou'lt tell me all, kind Mother."

She went on,
Unheeding his abruptness:
"One sweet day --
A feast of Holy Virgin, in the month
Of May, at early morn, ere yet the dew
Had passed from off the flowers and grass -- ere yet
Our nuns had come from holy Mass -- there came,
With summons quick, unto our convent gate
A fair young girl. Her feet were wet with dew --
Another dew was moist within her eyes --
Her large, brown, wond'ring eyes. She asked for me
And as I went she rushed into my arms --
Like weary bird into the leaf-roofed branch
That sheltered it from storm. She sobbed and sobbed
Until I thought her very soul would rush
From her frail body, in a sob, to God.
I let her sob her sorrow all away.
My words were waiting for a calm. Her sobs
Sank into sighs -- and they too sank and died
In faintest breath. I bore her to a seat
In this same room -- and gently spoke to her,
And held her hand in mine -- and soothed her
With words of sympathy, until she seemed
As tranquil as myself.

"And then I asked:
`What brought thee hither, child? and what wilt thou?'
`Mother!' she said, `wilt let me wear the veil?
Wilt let me serve my God as e'en you serve
Him in this cloistered place? I pray to be --
Unworthy tho' I be -- to be His spouse.
Nay, Mother -- say not nay -- 'twill break a heart
Already broken;' and she looked on me
With those brown, wond'ring eyes, which pleaded more,
More strongly and more sadly than her lips
That I might grant her sudden, strange request.
`Hast thou a mother?' questioned I. `I had,'
She said, `but heaven has her now; and thou
Wilt be my mother -- and the orphan girl
Will make her life her thanks.'
`Thy father, child?'
`Ere I was cradled he was in his grave.'
`And hast nor sister nor brother?' `No,' she said,
`God gave my mother only me; one year
This very day He parted us.' `Poor child,'
I murmured. `Nay, kind Sister,' she replied,
`I have much wealth -- they left me ample means --
I have true friends who love me and protect.
I was a minor until yesterday;
But yesterday all guardianship did cease,
And I am mistress of myself and all
My worldly means -- and, Sister, they are thine
If thou but take myself -- nay -- don't refuse.'
`Nay -- nay -- my child!' I said; `the only wealth
We wish for is the wealth of soul -- of grace.
Not all your gold could unlock yonder gate,
Or buy a single thread of Virgin's veil.
Not all the coins in coffers of a king
Could bribe an entrance here for any one.
God's voice alone can claim a cell -- a veil,
For any one He sends.
Who sent you here,
My child? Thyself? Or did some holy one
Direct thy steps? Or else some sudden grief?
Or, mayhap, disappointment? Or, perhaps,
A sickly weariness of that bright world
Hath cloyed thy spirit? Tell me, which is it.'
`Neither,' she quickly, almost proudly spoke.
`Who sent you, then?'
`A youthful Christ,' she said,
`Who, had he lived in those far days of Christ,
Would have been His belov'd Disciple, sure --
Would have been His own gentle John; and would
Have leaned on Thursday night upon His breast,
And stood on Friday eve beneath His cross
To take His Mother from Him when He died.
He sent me here -- he said the word last night
In my own garden; this the word he said --
Oh! had you heard him whisper: "Ethel, dear!
Your heart was born with veil of virgin on;
I hear it rustle every time we meet,
In all your words and smiles; and when you weep
I hear it rustle more. Go -- wear your veil --
And outward be what inwardly thou art,
And hast been from the first. And, Ethel, list:
My heart was born with priestly vestments on,
And at Dream-Altars I have ofttimes stood,
And said such sweet Dream-Masses in my sleep --
And when I lifted up a white Dream-Host,
A silver Dream-Bell rang -- and angels knelt,
Or seemed to kneel, in worship. Ethel say --
Thou wouldst not take the vestments from my heart
Nor more than I would tear the veil from thine.
My vested and thy veiled heart part to-night
To climb our Calvary and to meet in God;
And this, fair Ethel, is Gethsemane --
And He is here, who, in that other, bled;
And they are here who came to comfort Him --
His angels and our own; and His great prayer,
Ethel, is ours to-night -- let's say it, then:
Father! Thy will be done! Go find your veil
And I my vestments." He did send me here.'

"She paused -- a few stray tears had dropped upon
Her closing words and softened them to sighs.
I listened, inward moved, but outward calm and cold
To the girl's strange story. Then, smiling, said:
`I see it is a love-tale after all,
With much of folly and some of fact in it;
It is a heart affair, and in such things
There's little logic, and there's less of sense.
You brought your heart, dear child, but left your head
Outside the gates; nay, go, and find the head
You lost last night -- and then, I am quite sure,
You'll not be anxious to confine your heart
Within this cloistered place.'
She seemed to wince
Beneath my words one moment -- then replied:
`If e'en a wounded heart did bring me here,
Dost thou do well, Sister, to wound it more?
If merely warmth of feelings urged me here,
Dost thou do well to chill them into ice?
And were I disappointed in yon world,
Should that debar me from a purer place?
You say it is a love-tale -- so it is;
The vase was human -- but the flower divine;
And if I break the vase with my own hands,
Will you forbid that I should humbly ask
The heart of God to be my lily's vase?
I'd trust my lily to no heart on earth
Save his who yesternight did send me here
To dip it in the very blood of Christ,
And plant it here.'
And then she sobbed outright
A long, deep sob.
I gently said to her:
`Nay, child, I spoke to test thee -- do not weep.
If thou art called of God, thou yet shalt come
And find e'en here a home. But God is slow
In all His works and ways, and slower still
When He would deck a bride to grace His court.
Go, now, and in one year -- if thou dost come
Thy veil and cell shall be prepared for thee;
Nay -- urge me not -- it is our holy rule --
A year of trial! I must to choir, and thou
Into the world to watch and wait and pray
Until the Bridegroom comes.'
She rose and went
Without a word.

"And twelvemonth after came,
True to the very day and hour, and said:
`Wilt keep thy promise made one year ago?
Where is my cell -- and where my virgin's veil?
Wilt try me more? Wilt send me back again?
I came once with my wealth and was refused:
And now I come as poor as Holy Christ
Who had no place to rest His weary head --
My wealth is gone; I offered it to him
Who sent me here; he sent me speedy word
"Give all unto the poor in quiet way --
And hide the giving -- ere you give yourself
To God!" `Wilt take me now for my own sake?
I bring my soul -- 'tis little worth I ween,
And yet it cost sweet Christ a priceless price.'

"`My child,' I said, `thrice welcome -- enter here;
A few short days of silence and of prayer,
And thou shalt be the Holy Bridegroom's bride.'

"Her novice days went on; much sickness fell
Upon her. Oft she lay for weary weeks
In awful agonies, and no one heard
A murmur from her lips. She oft would smile
A sunny, playful smile, that she might hide
Her sufferings from us all. When she was well
She was the first to meet the hour of prayer --
The last to leave it -- and they named her well:
The `Angel of the Cloister'. Once I heard
The Father of our souls say when she passed
`Beneath that veil of sacrificial black
She wears the white robe of her innocence.'
And we -- we believed it. There are sisters here
Of three-score years of service who would say:
`Within our memory never moved a veil
That hid so saintly and so pure a heart.'
And we -- we felt it, and we loved her so,
We treated her as angel and as child.
I never heard her speak about the past,
I never heard her mention e'en a name
Of any in the world. She little spake;
She seemed to have rapt moments -- then she grew
Absent-minded, and would come and ask me
To walk alone and say her Rosary
Beneath the trees. She had a voice divine;
And when she sang for us, in truth it seemed
The very heart of song was breaking on her lips.
The dower of her mind as of her heart,
Was of the richest, and she mastered art
By instinct more than study. Her weak hands
Moved ceaselessly amid the beautiful.
There is a picture hanging in our choir
She painted. I remember well the morn
She came to me and told me she had dreamt
A dream; then asked me would I let her paint
Her dream. I gave permission. Weeks and weeks
Went by, and ev'ry spare hour of the day
She kept her cell all busy with her work.
At last 'twas finished, and she brought it forth --
A picture my poor words may not portray.
But you must gaze on it with your own eyes,
And drink its magic and its meanings in;
I'll show it thee, kind sir, before you go.

"In every May for two whole days she kept
Her cell. We humored her in that; but when
The days had passed, and she came forth again,
Her face was tender as a lily's leaf,
With God's smile on it; and for days and days
Thereafter, she would scarcely ope her lips
Save when in prayer, and then her every look
Was rapt, as if her soul did hold with God
Strange converse. And, who knows? mayhap she did.

"I half forgot -- on yonder mantlepiece
You see that wondrous crucifix; one year
She spent on it, and begged to put beneath
That most mysterious word -- `Ullainee'.

"At last the cloister's angel disappeared;
Her face was missed at choir, her voice was missed --
Her words were missed where every day we met
In recreation's hour. And those who passed
The angel's cell would lightly tread, and breathe
A prayer that death might pass the angel by
And let her longer stay, for she lay ill --
Her frail, pure life was ebbing fast away.
Ah! many were the orisons that rose
From all our hearts that God might spare her still;
At Benediction and at holy Mass
Our hands were lifted, and strong pleadings went
To heaven for her; we did love her so --
Perhaps too much we loved her, and perhaps
Our love was far too human. Slow and slow
She faded like a flower. And slow and slow
Her pale cheeks whitened more. And slow and slow
Her large, brown, wondering eyes sank deep and dim.
Hope died on all our faces; but on her's
Another and a different hope did shine,
And from her wasted lips sweet prayers arose
That made her watchers weep. Fast came the end.
Never such silence o'er the cloister hung --
We walked more softly, and, whene'er we spoke,
Our voices fell to whispers, lest a sound
Might jar upon her ear. The sisters watched
In turns beside her couch; to each she gave
A gentle word, a smile, a thankful look.
At times her mind did wander; no wild words
Escaped her lips -- she seemed to float away
To far-gone days, and live again in scenes
Whose hours were bright and happy. In her sleep
She ofttimes spoke low, gentle, holy words
About her mother; and sometimes she sang
The fragments of sweet olden songs -- and when
She woke again, she timidly would ask
If she had spoken in her sleep, and what
She said, as if, indeed, her heart did fear
That sleep might open there some long-closed gate
She would keep locked. And softly as a cloud,
A golden cloud upon a summer's day,
Floats from the heart of land out o'er the sea,
So her sweet life was passing. One bright eve,
The fourteenth day of August, when the sun
Was wrapping, like a king, a purple cloud
Around him on descending day's bright throne,
She sent for me and bade me come in haste.
I went into her cell. There was a light
Upon her face, unearthly; and it shone
Like gleam of star upon a dying rose.
I sat beside her couch, and took her hand
In mine -- a fair, frail hand that scarcely seem'd
Of flesh -- so wasted, white and wan it was.
Her great, brown, wond'ring eyes had sunk away
Deep in their sockets -- and their light shone dim
As tapers dying on an altar. Soft
As a dream of beauty on me fell low,
Last words.
`Mother, the tide is ebbing fast;
But ere it leaves this shore to cross the deep
And seek another, calmer, I would say
A few last words -- and, Mother, I would ask
One favor more, which thou wilt not refuse.
Thou wert a mother to the orphan girl,
Thou gav'st her heart a home, her love a vase,
Her weariness a rest, her sacrifice a shrine --
And thou didst love me, Mother, as she loved
Whom I shall meet to-morrow, far away --
But no, it is not far -- that other heaven
Touches this, Mother; I have felt its touch,
And now I feel its clasp upon my soul.
I'm going from this heaven into that,
To-morrow, Mother. Yes, I dreamt it all.
It was the sunset of Our Lady's feast.
My soul passed upwards thro' the golden clouds
To sing the second Vespers of the day
With all the angels. Mother, ere I go,
Thou'lt listen, Mother sweet, to my last words,
Which, like all last words, tell whate'er was first
In life or tenderest in heart. I came
Unto my convent cell and virgin veil,
Sent by a spirit that had touched my own
As wings of angels touch -- to fly apart
Upon their missions -- till they meet again
In heaven, heart to heart, wing to wing.
The "Angel of the Cloister" you called me --
Unworthy sure of such a beauteous name --
My mission's over -- and your angel goes
To-morrow home. This earthly part which stays
You'll lay away within a simple grave --
But, Mother, on its slab thou'lt grave this name,
"Ullainee!" (she spelt the letters out),
Nor ask me why -- tho' if thou wilt I'll tell;
It is my soul name, given long ago
By one who found it in some Eastern book,
Or dreamt it in a dream, and gave it me --
Nor ever told the meaning of the name;
And, Mother, should he ever come and read
That name upon my grave, and come to thee
And ask the tidings of "Ullainee",
Thou'lt tell him all -- and watch him if he weeps,
Show him the crucifix my poor hands carved --
Show him the picture in the chapel choir --
And watch him if he weeps; and then
There are three humble scrolls in yonder drawer;'
(She pointed to the table in her room);
`Some words of mine and words of his are there.
And keep these simple scrolls until he comes,
And put them in his hands; and, Mother, watch --
Watch him if he weeps; and tell him this:
I tasted all the sweets of sacrifice,
I kissed my cross a thousand times a day,
I hung and bled upon it in my dreams,
I lived on it -- I loved it to the last.' And then
A low, soft sigh crept thro' the virgin's cell;
I looked upon her face, and death was there."
There was a pause -- and in the pause one wave
Of shining tears swept thro' the Mother's eyes.
"And thus," she said, "our angel passed away.
We buried her, and at her last request
We wrote upon the slab, `Ullainee'.
And I -- (for she asked me one day thus,
The day she hung her picture in the choir) --
I planted o'er her grave a white rose tree.
The roses crept around the slab and hid
The graven name -- and still we sometimes cull
Her sweet, white roses, and we place them on
Our Chapel-Altar."
Then the Mother rose,
Without another word, and led him thro'
A long, vast hall, then up a flight of stairs
Unto an oaken door, which turned upon its hinge
Noiselessly -- then into a Chapel dim,
On gospel side of which there was a gate
From ceiling down to floor, and back of that
A long and narrow choir, with many stalls,
Brown-oaken; all along the walls were hung
Saint-pictures, whose sweet faces looked upon
The faces of the Sisters in their prayers.
Beside a "Mater Dolorosa" hung
The picture of the "Angel of the Choir".
He sees it now thro' vista of the years,
Which stretch between him and that long-gone day,
It hangs within his memory as fresh
In tint and touch and look as long ago.
There was a power in it, as if the soul
Of her who painted it had shrined in it
Its very self; there was a spell in it
That fell upon his spirit thro' his eyes,
And made him dream of God's own holy heart.
The shadow of the picture, in weak words,
Was this, or something very like to this:
---- A wild, weird wold,
Just like the desolation of a heart,
Stretched far away into infinity;
Above it low, gray skies drooped sadly down,
As if they fain would weep, and all was bare
As bleakness' own bleak self; a mountain stood
All mantled with the glory of a light
That flashed from out the heavens, and a cross
With such a pale Christ hanging in its arms
Did crown the mount; and either side the cross
There were two crosses lying on the rocks --
One of the whitest roses -- ULLAINEE
Was woven into it with buds of Red;
And one of reddest roses -- Merlin's name
Was woven into it with buds of white.
Below the cross and crosses and the mount
The earth-place lay so dark and bleak and drear;
Above, a golden glory seemed to hang
Like God's own benediction o'er the names.
I saw the picture once; it moved me so
I ne'er forgot its beauty or its truth;
But words as weak as mine can never paint
That Crucifixion's picture.
Merlin said to me:
"Some day -- some far-off day -- when I am dead,
You have the simple rhymings of two hearts,
And if you think it best, the world may know
A love-tale crowned by purest SACRIFICE."

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