Two hours, two hours: God give me strength for it!
He who has given so much strength to me
And nothing to my child, must give to-day
What more I need to try and save my child
And get for him the life I owe to him.
To think that I may get it for him now,
Before he knows how much he might have missed
That other boys have got! The bitterest thought
Of all that plagued me when he came was this,
How some day he would see the difference,
And drag himself to me with puzzled eyes
To ask me why it was. He would have been
Cruel enough to do it, knowing not
That was the question my rebellious heart
Cried over and over one whole year to God,
And got no answer and no help at all.
If he had asked me, what could I have said?
What single word could I have found to say
To hide me from his searching, puzzled gaze?
Some coward thing at best, never the truth;
The truth I never could have told him. No,
I never could have said, "God gave you me
To fashion you a body, right and strong,
With sturdy little limbs and chest and neck
For fun and fighting with your little mates,
Great feats and voyages in the breathless world
Of out-of-doors,--He gave you me for this,
And I was such a bungler, that is all!"
O, the old lie--that thought was not the worst.
I never have been truthful with myself.
For by the door where lurked one ghostly thought
I stood with crazy hands to thrust it back
If it should dare to peep and whisper out
Unbearable things about me, hearing which
The women passing in the streets would turn
To pity me and scold me with their eyes,
Who was so bad a mother and so slow
To learn to help God do his wonder in her
That she--O my sweet baby! It was not
The fear that you would see the difference
Between you and the other boys and girls;
No, no, it was the dimmer, wilder fear,
That you might never see it, never look
Out of your tiny baby-house of mind,
But sit your life through, quiet in the dark,
Smiling and nodding at what was not there!
A foolish fear: God could not punish so.
Yet until yesterday I thought He would.
My soul was always cowering at the blow
I saw suspended, ready to be dealt
The moment that I showed my fear too much.
Therefore I hid it from Him all I could,
And only stole a shaking glance at it
Sometimes in the dead minutes before dawn
When He forgets to watch. Till yesterday.
For yesterday was wonderful and strange
From the beginning. When I wakened first
And looked out at the window, the last snow
Was gone from earth; about the apple-trees
Hung a faint mist of bloom; small sudden green
Had run and spread and rippled everywhere
Over the fields; and in the level sun
Walked something like a presence and a power,
Uttering hopes and loving-kindnesses
To all the world, but chiefly unto me.
It walked before me when I went to work,
And all day long the noises of the mill
Were spun upon a core of golden sound,
Half-spoken words and interrupted songs
Of blessed promise, meant for all the world,
But most for me, because I suffered most.
The shooting spindles, the smooth-humming wheels,
The rocking webs, seemed toiling to some end
Beneficent and human known to them,
And duly brought to pass in power and love.
The faces of the girls and men at work
Met mine with intense greeting, veiled at once,
As if they knew a secret they must keep
For fear the joy would harm me if they told
Before some inkling filtered to my mind
In roundabout ways. When the day's work was done
There lay a special silence on the fields;
And, as I passed, the bushes and the trees,
The very ruts and puddles of the road
Spoke to each other, saying it was she,
The happy woman, the elected one,
The vessel of strange mercy and the sign
Of many loving wonders done in Heaven
To help the piteous earth.
At last I stopped
And looked about me in sheer wonderment.
What did it mean? What did they want with me?
What was the matter with the evening now
That it was just as bound to make me glad
As morning and the live-long day had been?
Me, who had quite forgot what gladness was,
Who had no right to anything but toil,
And food and sleep for strength to toil again,
And that fierce frightened anguish of my love
For the poor little spirit I had wronged
With life that was no life. What had befallen
Since yesterday? No need to stop and ask!
Back there in the dark places of my mind
Where I had thrust it, fearing to believe
An unbelievable mercy, shone the news
Told by the village neighbors coming home
Last night from the great city, of a man
Arisen, like the first evangelists,
With power to heal the bodies of the sick,
In testimony of his master Christ,
Who heals the soul when it is sick with sin.
Could such a thing be true in these hard days?
Was help still sent in such a way as that?
No, no! I did not dare to think of it,
Feeling what weakness and despair would come
After the crazy hope broke under me.
I turned and started homeward, faster now,
But never fast enough to leave behind
The voices and the troubled happiness
That still kept mounting, mounting like a sea,
And singing far-off like a rush of wings.
Far down the road a yellow spot of light
Shone from my cottage window, rayless yet,
Where the last sunset crimson caught the panes.
Alice had lit the lamp before she went;
Her day of pity and unmirthful play
Was over, and her young heart free to live
Until to-morrow brought her nursing-task
Again, and made her feel how dark and still
That life could be to others which to her
Was full of dreams that beckoned, reaching hands,
And thrilling invitations young girls hear.
My boy was sleeping, little mind and frame
More tired just lying there awake two hours
Than with a whole day's romp he should have been.
He would not know his mother had come home;
But after supper I would sit awhile
Beside his bed, and let my heart have time
For that worst love that stabs and breaks and kills.
This I thought over to myself by rote
And habit, but I could not feel my thoughts;
For still that dim unmeaning happiness
Kept mounting, mounting round me like a sea,
And singing inward like a wind of wings.
Before I lifted up the latch, I knew.
I felt no fear; the One who waited there
In the low lamplight by the bed, had come
Because I was his sister and in need.
My word had got to Him somehow at last,
And He had come to help me or to tell
Where help was to be found. It was not strange.
Strange only He had stayed away so long;
But that should be forgotten--He was here.
I pushed the door wide open and looked in.
He had been kneeling by the bed, and now,
Half-risen, kissed my boy upon the lips,
Then turned and smiled and pointed with his hand.
I must have fallen on the threshold stone,
For I remember that I felt, not saw,
The resurrection glory and the peace
Shed from his face and raiment as He went
Out by the door into the evening street.
But when I looked, the place about the bed
Was yet all bathed in light, and in the midst
My boy lay changed,--no longer clothed upon
With scraps and shreds of life, but like the child
Of some most fortunate mother. In a breath
The image faded. There he lay again
The same as always; and the light was gone.
I sank with moans and cries beside the bed.
The cruelty, O Christ, the cruelty!
To come at last and then to go like that,
Leaving the darkness deeper than before!
Then, though I heard no sound, I grew aware
Of some one standing by the open door
Among the dry vines rustling in the porch.
My heart laughed suddenly. He had come back!
He had come back to make the vision true.
He had not meant to mock me: God was God,
And Christ was Christ; there was no falsehood there.
I heard a quiet footstep cross the room
And felt a hand laid gently on my hair,--
A human hand, worn hard by daily toil,
Heavy with life-long struggle after bread.
Alice's father. The kind homely voice
Had in it such strange music that I dreamed
Perhaps it was the Other speaking in him,
Because His own bright form had made me swoon
With its too much of glory. What he brought
Was news as good as ever heavenly lips
Had the dear right to utter. He had been
All day among the crowds of curious folk
From the great city and the country-side
Gathered to watch the Healer do his work
Of mercy on the sick and halt and blind,
And with his very eyes had seen such things
As awestruck men had witnessed long ago
In Galilee, and writ of in the Book.
To-morrow morning he would take me there
If I had strength and courage to believe.
It might be there was hope; he could not say,
But knew what he had seen. When he was gone
I lay for hours, letting the solemn waves
Thundering joy go over and over me.
Just before midnight baby fretted, woke;
He never yet has slept a whole night through
Without his food and petting. As I sat
Feeding and petting him and singing soft,
I felt a jealousy begin to ache
And worry at my heartstrings, hushing down
The gladness. Jealousy of what or whom?
I hardly knew, or could not put in words;
At least it seemed too foolish and too wrong
When said, and so I shut the thought away.
Only, next minute, it came stealing back.
After the change, would my boy be the same
As this one? Would he be my boy at all,
And not another's--his who gave the life
I could not give, or did not anyhow?
How could I look in his new eyes to claim
The whole of him, the body and the breath,
When some one not his mother, a strange man,
Had clothed him in that beauty of the flesh--
Perhaps (for who could know?), perhaps, by some
Hateful disfiguring miracle, had even
Transformed his spirit to a better one,
Better, but not the same I prayed for him
Down out of Heaven through the sleepless nights,--
The best that God would send to such as me.
I tried to strangle back the wicked pain;
Fancied him changed and tried to love him so.
No use; it was another, not my child,
Not my frail, broken, priceless little one,
My cup of anguish, and my trembling star
Hung small and sad and sweet above the earth,
So sure to fall but for my cherishing!
When he had dropped asleep again, I rose
And wrestled with the sinful selfishness,
The dark injustice, the unnatural pain.
Fevered at last with pacing to and fro,
I raised the bedroom window and leaned out.
The white moon, low behind the sycamores,
Silvered the silent country; not a voice
Of all the myriads summer moves to sing
Had yet awakened; in the level moon
Walked that same presence I had heard at dawn
Uttering hopes and loving-kindnesses,
But now, dispirited and reticent,
It walked the moonlight like a homeless thing.
O, how to cleanse me of the cowardice!
How to be just! Was I a mother, then,
A mother, and not love her child as well
As her own covetous and morbid love?
Was it for this the Comforter had come,
Smiling at me and pointing with His hand?
--What had He meant to have me think or do,
Smiling and pointing?
All at once I saw
A way to save my darling from myself
And make atonement for my grudging love!
Under the sycamores and up the hill
And down across the river, the wet road
Went stretching cityward, silvered in the moon.
I who had shrunk from sacrifice, even I,
Who had refused God's blessing for my boy,
Would take him in my arms and carry him
Up to the altar of the miracle.
I would not wait for daylight, nor the help
Of any human friendship; I alone,
Through the still miles of country, I alone,
Only my arms to shield him and my feet
To bear him: he should have no one to thank
But me for that. I knew the way was long,
But knew strength would be given. So I came.
Soon the stars failed; the late moon faded too:
I think my heart had sucked their beams from them
To build more blue amid the murky night
Its own miraculous day. From creeks and fields
The fog climbed slowly, blotted out the road;
And hid the signposts telling of the town;
After a while rain fell, with sleet and snow.
What did I care? Baby was snug and dry.
Some day, when I was telling him of this,
He would but hug me closer, hearing how
The night conspired against us. Better hard
Than easy, then: I almost felt regret
My body was so capable and strong
To do its errand. Honeyed drop by drop,
The ghostly jealousy, loosening at my breast,
Distilled into a dew of quiet tears
And fell with splash of music in the wells
And on the hidden rivers of my soul.
The hardest part was coming through the town.
The country, even when it hindered most,
Seemed conscious of the thing I went to find.
The rocks and bushes looming through the mist
Questioned and acquiesced and understood;
The trees and streams believed; the wind and rain,
Even they, for all their temper, had some words
Of faith and comfort. But the glaring streets,
The dizzy traffic, the piled merchandise,
The giant buildings swarming with fierce life--
Cared nothing for me. They had never heard
Of me nor of my business. When I asked
My way, a shade of pity or contempt
Showed through men's kindness--for they all were kind.
Daunted and chilled and very sick at heart,
I walked the endless pavements. But at last
The streets grew quieter; the houses seemed
As if they might be homes where people lived;
Then came the factories and cottages,
And all was well again. Much more than well,
For many sick and broken went my way,
Alone or helped along by loving hands;
And from a thousand eyes the famished hope
Looked out at mine--wild, patient, querulous,
But always hope and hope, a thousand tongues
Speaking one word in many languages.
In two hours He will come, they say, will stand
There on the steps, above the waiting crowd,
And touch with healing hands whoever asks
Believingly, in spirit and in truth.
Can such a mercy be, in these hard days?
Is help still sent in such a way as that?
Christ, I believe; pity my unbelief!