What am I doing, you say to me, ‘wasting the sweet summer hours’?
Haven’t you eyes? I am dressing the grave of a woman with flowers.
For a woman ruin’d the world, as God’s own scriptures tell,
And a man ruin’d mine, but a woman, God bless her, kept me from Hell.
Love me? O yes, no doubt—how long—till you threw me aside!
Dresses and laces and jewels and never a ring for the bride.
All very well just now to be calling me darling and sweet,
And after a while would it matter so much if I came on the street?
You when I met you first—when he brought you!—I turn’d away
And the hard blue eyes have it still, that stare of a beast of prey.
You were his friend—you—you—when he promised to make me his bride,
And you knew that he meant to betray me—you knew—you knew that he lied.
He married an heiress, an orphan with half a shire of estate,—
I sent him a desolate wail and a curse, when I learn’d my fate.
For I used to play with the knife, creep down to the river-shore,
Moan to myself ’one plunge-then quiet for evermore.’
Would the man have a touch of remorse when he heard what an end was mine?
Or brag to his fellow rakes of his conquest over their wine?
Money—my hire—his money—I sent him back what he gave,—
Will you move a little that way? your shadow falls on the grave.
Two trains clash’d: then and there he was crush’d in a moment and died,
But the new-wedded wife was unharm’d, tho’ sitting close at his side.
She found my letter upon him, my wail of reproach and scorn;
I had cursed the woman he married, and him, and the day I was born.
They put him aside for ever, and after a week—no more—
A stranger as welcome as Satan—a widow came to my door:
So I turn’d my face to the wall, I was mad, I was raving-wild,
I was close on that hour of dishonour, the birth of a baseborn child.
O you that can flatter your victims, and juggle, and lie and cajole,
Man, can you even guess at the love of a soul for a soul?
I had cursed her as woman and wife, and in wife and woman I found
The tenderest Christ-like creature that ever stept on the ground.
She watch’d me, she nursed me, she fed me, she sat day and night by my bed,
Till the joyless birthday came of a boy born happily dead.
And her name? what was it? I ask’d her. She said with a sudden glow
On her patient face ‘ My dear, I will tell you before I go.’
And I when I learnt it at last, I shriek’d, I sprang from my seat,
I wept, and I kiss’d her hands, I flung myself down at her feet,
And we pray’d together for him, for him who had given her the name.
She has left me enough to live on. I need no wages of shame.
She died of a fever caught when a nurse in a hospital ward.
She is high in the Heaven of Heavens, she is face to face with her Lord,
And He sees not her like anywhere in this pitiless world of ours!
I have told you my tale. Get you gone. I am dressing her grave with flowers.