The Fleshly School Controversy
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Harriett Jay

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{London Poems 1866}






Clasping his knee with one soft lady-hand,
     The other fingering his glass of wine,
Black-raimented, white-hair’d, polite, and bland,
     With mellow voice discourses Doctor Vine:
He warms, with deep eyes stirr’d to thoughtful light,
     And round about his serious talk the while,
Kindly, yet pensive—worldly wise, yet bright,
     Like bloom upon the blackthorn, blows his smile.





AH, strong and mighty are we mortal men!
Braving the whirlwind on a ship at sea,
Facing the grim fort’s hundred tongues of fire,
Ay, and in England, ’neath the olive branch,
Pushing a stubborn elbow through the crowd,
To get among the heights that keep the gold;
But there is might and might,—and in the one
Our dames and daughters shame us. Come, my friend,
My man of sinew,—conscious of your strength,                                   [1:9]
Proud of your well-won wrestles with the world,—
Hear what a feeble nature can endure!

A little yellow woman, dress’d in black,
With weary crow’s-feet crawling round the eyes,
And solemn voice, that seem’d a call to prayer;                                  58
Another yellow woman, dress’d in black,
Sad, too, and solemn, yet with bitterness
Burn’d in upon the edges of her lips,
And sharper, thinner, less monotonous voice;
And last, a little woman auburn-hair’d,
Pensive a little, but not solemnised,
And pretty, with the open azure eyes,
The white soft cheek, the little mindless mouth,
The drooping childish languor. There they dwelt,
In a great dwelling of a smoky square
In Islington, named by their pious friends,
And the lean Calvinistic minister—
The Misses Lewson, and their sister Jane.

     Miss Sarah, in her twenty-seventh year,
Knew not the warmer passions of her sex,
But groan’d both day and night to save her soul;
Miss Susan, two years younger, had regrets
Her sister knew not, and a secret pain
Because her heart was withering—whence her tongue
Could peal full sharp at times, and show a sting;
But Jane was comely—might have cherish’d hopes,
Since she was only twenty, had her mind                                            59
Been hopefuller. The elders ruled the house.
Obedience and meekness to their will
Was a familiar habit Jane had learn’d
Full early, and had fitted to her life
So closely, ’twas a portion of her needs.
She gazed on them, as Eastern worshippers
Gaze on a rayless picture of the sun.
Her acts seem’d other than her own; her heart
Kept melancholy time to theirs; her eyes
Look’d ever unto them for help and light;
Her eyelids droop’d before them if they chid.
A woman weak and dull, yet fair of face!
Her mother, too, had been a comely thing—
A bright-hair’d child wed to an aged man,
A heart that broke because the man was hard,—
Not like the grim first wife, who brought the gold,
And yielded to his melancholy kiss
The melancholy virgins. Well, the three,
Alone in all the world, dwelt in the house
Their father left them, living by the rents
Of certain smaller houses of the poor.
And they were stern to wring their worldly dues—
Not charitable, since the world was base,
But cold to all men, save the minister,                                                  60
Who weekly cast the darkness of his blessing
Over their chilly table.

                                     All around
The life of London shifted like a cloud,
Men sinned, and women fell, and children cried,
And Want went ragged up and down the lanes;
While the two hueless sisters dragg’d their chain
Self-woven, pinch’d their lives complexionless,
Keeping their feelings quiet, hard, and pure.
But Jane felt lonesome in the world; and oft,
Pausing amid her work, gazed sadly forth
Upon the dismal square of wither’d trees,
The dusty grass that grew within the rails,
The garden-plots where here and there a flower
Grew up, and sicken’d in the smoke, and died;
And when the sun was on the square, and sounds                               [4:14]
Came from the children in the neighbouring streets,
She thought of happy homes among the fields,
And brighter faces. When she walk’d abroad,
The busy hum of life oppress’d her heart
And frighten’d her: she did not raise her eyes,
But stole along,—a sweet shape clad in black,
A pale and pretty face, at which the men                                             61
Stared vacant admiration. Far too dull
To blame her gloomy sisters for the shape
Her young days took, she merely knew the world
Was drear; and if at times she dared to dream
Of things that made her colour come and go,
And dared to hope for cheerier, sunnier days,
She grew the wanner afterwards, and felt
Sad and ashamed. The dull life that she wore,
Like to a gloomy garment, day by day,
Was a familiar life, the only life
She clearly understood. Coldly she heard
The daily tale of human sin and wrong,
And the small thunders of the Sunday nights
In chapel. All around her were the streets,
And frightful sounds, and gloomy sunless faces.
And thus with tacit dolour she resign’d
Her nature to the hue upon the cheeks
Of her cold sisters. Yet she could not pray
As they pray’d, could not wholly feel and know
The blackness of mankind, her own heart’s sin;
But when she tried to get to God, and yearn’d
For help not human, she could only cry,
Feeling a loveless and a useless thing,
Thinking of those sweet places in the fields,                                        62
Those homes whereon the sun shone pleasantly,
And happy mothers sat at cottage doors
Among their children.

                                     Save for household work,
She would have wasted soon. From week to week
The burthen lay on her,—the gloomy twain
Being too busy searching for their souls,
And begging God above to spare the same.
Yet she was quiet thus, content and glad
To silent drudgery, such as saved her heart
From wilder flutterings. The Sabbath day
Was drearest: drest in burial black, she sat
Those solemn hours in chapel, listening,
And scarcely heeding what she heard, but watching
The folk around, their faces and their dress,
Or gazing at the sunshine on the floor;
And service over, idly pined at home,
And, looking from the window at the square,
Long’d for the labour of the coming day.
Her sisters watch’d her warily, be sure;
And though their hearts were pure as pure could be,
They loved her none the better for her face.

     Love is as cunning as disease or death,                                           63
No doctor’s skill will ward him off or cure,
And soon he found this pale and weary girl,
Despite the cloud of melancholy life
That rain’d around her. In no beauteous shape,
In guise of passionate stripling iris-eyed,
Such as our poets picture in their songs,
Love came;—but in a gloomy garb of one
Whom men call’d pious, and whose holy talk
Disarm’d the dragons. ’Twere but idle, friend,
To count the wiles by which he won his way
Into her heart; how she vouchsafed him all
The passion of a nature not too strong;
How, when the first wild sunshine dazzled her,
The woman loved so blindly, that her thoughts
Became a secret trouble in the house;
And how at last, with white and frighten’d face,
She glided out into the dark one night,
And vanish’d with no utterance of farewell.

     The sisters gave a quick and scandall’d cry,
And sought a little for the poor flown bird;
Then, thinking awful things, composed their hearts
In silence, pinch’d their narrow natures more,
And waited. “This is something strange,” they thought,                         64
“Which God will clear; we will not think the worst,
Although she was a thing as light as straw.”
Nor did they cry their fear among their friends,
Hawking a secret shame, but calmly waited,
Trusting no stain would fall upon their chill
And frosty reputations. Weeks pass’d by;
They pray’d, they fasted, yellowing more and more,
They waited sternly for the end, and heard
The timid knock come to the door at last.

     It was a dark and rainy night; the streets
Were gleaming watery underneath the lamps,
The dismal wind scream’d fitfully without,
And made within a melancholy sound;
And the faint knock came to the door at last.
The sisters look’d in one another’s faces,
And knew the wanderer had return’d again,
But spoke not; and the younger sister rose,
Open’d the door, peer’d out into the rain,
And saw the weary figure shivering there,
Holding a burthen underneath her shawl.
And silently, with wan and timid look,
The wanderer slipt in. No word of greeting
Spake either of the sisters, but their eyes                                            65
Gleam’d sharply, and they waited. White and cold,
Her sweet face feebly begging for a word,
Her long hair dripping loose and wet, stood Jane
Before them, shivering, clasping tight her load,
In the dull parlour with the cheerless fire.
Till Susan, pointing, cried in a shrill voice,
“What are you carrying underneath your shawl,
Jane Lewson?” and the faint despairing voice,
While the rain murmur’d and the night-wind blew,
Moan’d, “It’s my Baby! ” and could say no more,
For the wild sisters scream’d and raised their hands,
And Jane fell quivering down upon her knees,
The old shawl opening show’d a child asleep,
And, trebling terror with a piteous cry,
The child awaken’d.

                                   Pointing to the door,
With twitching lips of venom, Susan said—
“Go!” and the elder sister echo’d her
More sadly and more solemnly. But Jane,
Clinging to Sarah’s skirts, implored and moan’d,
“Don't turn me out! my little girl will die!
I have no home in all the world but here;
Kill me, but do not drive me from the house!”                                      66
“Jane Lewson,” Susan cried, as white as death,
“Where is the father of this child?” and Jane
Moan’d, “Gone, gone, gone;” and when she named his name,
And how, while she who spake in sickness lay,
He secretly had fled across the seas,
They shiver’d to the hair. Holding her hand
Upon her heart, the elder sister spake
In dull monotonous voice—“Look up! look up!
Perhaps ’tis not so ill as we believed.
Are you a wedded woman?” The reply
Was silentness and heavy drooping eyes,
Yet with no blush around the quivering lids;
And Sarah, freezing into ice, spake on
In dull monotonous voice—“Your sin has brought
Shame on us all, but they who make their beds
Must sleep upon them; go away, bad woman!
The third of what our father left is yours,
But you are not our sister any more.”
Still moaning, shuddering, the girl begg’d on,
Nor ceased to rock the babe and still its cries,
“Kill me, but do not drive me from the house!
Put any pain upon me that you please,
But do not, do not, drive me forth again                                               67
Into the dreadful world! I have no friends
On all the earth save you!” The sisters look’d
At one another, and without a word
Walk’d from the room.

                                       Jane sat upon the floor,
Soothing the child, and did not rise, but waited;
The agony and terror dried her tears,
And she could only listen, praying God
That He would soften them; and the little one
Look’d in her face and laugh’d.

                                                   A weary hour
Pass’d by, and then, still white, and stern, and cold,
The sisters enter’d, and the elder one
Spake without prelude: “We have talk’d it o’er,
Jane Lewson, and have settled how to act;
You have a claim upon us: will you take
The third of what our father left, and find
Another home?” But Jane cried, “Do not, do not,
Drive me away; I have no friends save you;
And I am sorry.” Trembling, for her heart
Was not all cold, the elder icicle
Resumed: “Take what is left you, and be gone,                                    68
And never see our faces any more;
Or if you will, stay with us here, but only
On these conditions: For the infant’s sake,
And for the sake of our good name, our friends
Must never know the miserable child
Is yours; but we will have it given out
That, being lonely and unwedded here,
We have adopted a poor tenant’s child,
With view to bring it up in godliness.”
Jane answer’d, with a feeble thrill of hope,
“Anything, anything,—only leave me not
Alone in the dark world.” “Peace!” Susan said,
“You do not understand: the child herself
Must never know Jane Lewson is her mother:
Neither by word nor look nor tender folly,
Must you reveal unto the child her shame,
And yours, and ours!” Then, with a bitter cry,
And a wild look, Jane cried, “And must my babe
Not know me?” “Never,” Sarah Lewson said:
“For the babe’s sake, for yours, for ours, the shame
Must not be utter’d. See, you have your choice:
Take what our father gave you, and depart,
Or stay on these conditions. We are firm.
We have decided kindly, not forgetting                                               69
You were our sister, nor that this poor child
Is blameless, save that all the flesh is sin,
But not forgetting, either, what we owe
To God above us.” Weeping o’er the child,
Not rising yet, Jane answer’d, “I will stay;
Yes, gladly, for the little baby’s sake,
That folk may never call it cruel names.”
And the stern sisters took from off the shelf
The great old Bible, placed it in her hands
And made her kiss it, swearing before God
Never to any one in all the world,
Not even to the child itself, to tell
She was its sinful mother. Wild and dazed,
She sware upon the Book. “That is enough,”
Said Sarah; “but, Jane Lewson, never again
Speak to us of the evil that has pass’d;
Live with us as you used to do, and ask
The grace of God, who has been kinder far
Than you deserved.”

                                   Thus, friend, these icicles                                [22:1]
Dealt their hard measure, deeming that they did
A virtuous and a righteous deed; and Jane,
The worn and mindless woman, sank again                                          70
Into submission and house-drudgery,
Comforted that she daily saw her child,
And that her shame was hidden from the world,
And that the child would never suffer scorn
Because a sinner bore it. But her heart
Was a bruised reed, the little sunny hue                                             [22:10]
Had gone from all things; and whene’er she pray’d,
She thought the great cold God above her head
Dwelt on a frosty throne and did not hear.





YET He, the Almighty Lord of this our breath,
Did see and hear, and surely pitied too,
If God can pity,—but He works as God,
Not man, and so we cannot understand.

     No whisper of reproach, no spoken word,
Troubled with memories of her sinfulness
The suffering woman; yet her daily life
Became a quiet sorrow. In the house
She labour’d with her hands from morn to night,
Seeing few faces save the pensive ones
Whose yellow holiness she bow’d before;
And tacitly they suffer’d her to sink
Into the household drudge,—with privilege
Upon the Sabbath day to dress in black,
Sit in the sunless house or go to prayer,—
So idle, that her thoughts could travel back                                         72
To shame and bitterness. Her only joy
Was when she gave her little girl the breast,
(They dared not rob her weary heart of that,)
When, seated all alone, she felt it suck,
And, as the little lips drew forth the milk,
Felt drowsily resign’d, and closed her eyes,
And trembled, and could feel the happy tears.

     There came a quiet gathering in the house,
And by the gloomy minister the child
Was christen’d; and the name he gave to her
Was “Margaret Lewson.” For the sisters said,
“Her mother being buried, as it were,
The girl shall take our name.” And Jane sat by,
And heard the pious lie with aching heart,
And ever after that her trouble grew.

     Soon, when the sound of little feet were heard
In the dull dwelling, and a baby-voice
Call’d at the mother’s heart, Jane thrill’d and heard,
But even as she listen’d the sweet sounds
Would seem to die into the cloud that hid
The great cold God above her. Margaret
Grew to a little wildling, quick and bright,                                           73
Black-eyed, black-hair’d, and passionate and quick,
Not like its mother; fierce and wild when chid,
So that the gloomy sisters often thought,
“There is a curse upon it;” yet they grew
To love the little wildling unaware,
Indulged it in their stern and solemn way,
More cheer’d than they believed by its shrill laugh
Within the dismal dwelling. But the child
Clung most to Jane, and though, when first it learn’d
To call her by her Christian name, the sound
Bruised the poor suffering heart, that wore away;
And all the little troubles of the child,
The pretty joys, the peevish fits, the bursts
Of passion, work’d upon her nature so,
That all her comfort was to snatch it up,
And cover it with kisses secretly.
Wilful and passionate, yet loving too,
Grew Margaret,—an echo in a cave
Of human life without; clinging to Jane,
Who never had the heart to fondle it
Before her sisters; not afraid at times
To pinch the thin, worn arms, or pull the hairs
Upon the aching head, but afterwards
Curing the pain with kisses and with tears.                                          74
So that as time wore on the mother’s heart
Grew tenderer to its trouble than before.

     Then later, when the little girl went forth
To school hard by, the motion and the light
Hied from the house; and all the morning hours
The thin face came and went against the panes,
Looking out townward,—till the little shape
Appear’d out of the cloud, and pale eyes grew
Dim to its coming. As the years went on,
The mother, with the agony in her heart
She could not utter, quietly subdued
Her nature to a listening watchfulness:
Her face grew settled to expectant calm,
Her vision penetrated things around
And gazed at something lying far beyond,
Her very foot linger’d about the house,
As if she loiter’d hearkening for a sound
Out of the world. For Margaret, as she grew,
Was wilder and more wilful, openly
Master’d the gloomy virgins, and escaped
The pious atmosphere they daily breathed
To gambol in a freër, fresher air;
And Jane would think, “’Twill kill me, if my child                                 75
Should turn out wicked.” Mindless though she was,
And feeble, yet the trouble made her sense
Quick, sharp, and subtle to perceive and watch.
A little word upon the girlish tongue
Could sting her,—nay, a light upon the face,
A kindling of the eye, a look the child
Wore when asleep, would trouble her for days,
Carrying strangest import. So she waited,
Watching and listening,—while the young new life
Drew in the air, and throve, absorbing hues
Out of a thousand trivial lights and shades
That hover’d lightly round it. Still to Jane
The habit of submission clung: she watch’d
The wiser sterner faces oftentimes,
Trembling for confirmation of her fears;
And nightly pray’d that God, who was so just,
So hard to those who went astray at all,
Would aid her sisters, helping them to make
The little Margaret better as she grew,—
Waking her secret trouble evermore
With countless, nameless acts of help and love,
And humble admonition,—comforted
By secret fondlings of the little arms,
Or kisses on the tiny, wilful mouth                                                      76
Apart in childish slumber.

                                           Thus the years
Pass’d over her like pensive clouds, and melted
Into that dewy glamour on the brain,                                                   [6:3]
Which men call Memory. Wherefore recount
The little joys and sorrows of the time:
The hours when sickness came, and thought itself
Tick’d like a death-watch,—all the daily hopes
And impulses and fears? Enough to tell,
That all went onward like a troubled stream,
Until the sisters, worn and growing old,
Felt the still angel coming nearer, nearer,
Scattering sleep-dust on uplooking eyes;
And Jane, though in her prime, was turning gray;
And Margaret was a maiden flower full-blown.

     A passion-flower!—a maiden whose rich heart
Burn’d with intensest fire that turn’d the light
Of the sweet eyes into a warm dark dew;
One of those shapes so marvellously made,
Strung so intensely, that a finger-press,
The dropping of a stray curl unaware
Upon the naked breast, a look, a tone,                                               77
Can vibrate to the very roots of life,
And draw from out the spirit light that seems
To scorch the tender cheeks it shines upon;
A nature running o’er with ecstasy
Of very being, an appalling splendour
Of animal sensation, loveliness
Like to the dazzling panther’s; yet, withal,
The gentle, wilful, clinging sense of love,
Which makes a virgin’s soul. It seem’d, indeed,
The gloomy dwelling and the dismal days,
Gloaming upon her heart, had lent this show
Of shining life a melancholy shade
That trebled it in beauty. Such a heart
Needed no busy world to make it beat:
It could throb burningly in solitude;
Since kindly Heaven gave it strength enough
To rock the languid blood into the brains
Of twenty smaller natures.

                                           Then the pain,
The wonder, deepen’d on the mother’s heart,—
Her mother, her worn mother, whom she knew not
To be her mother. As she might have watch’d
A wondrous spirit from another world,                                                78
Jane Lewson watch’d her child. Could this fair girl,—
This wild and dazzling life, be born of her?—
A lightning flash struck from a pensive cloud
The wan still moon is drinking? Like a woman
Who has been sick in darkness many days,
And steps into the sunshine, Jane beheld
Her daughter, and felt blind. A terror grew
Upon her, that the smother’d sense of pride
Lack’d power to kill. She pray’d, she wept, she dream’d,
And thought, if Margaret’s had been a face
More like the common faces of the streets,
’Twould have been better. With this feeling, grew
The sense of her own secret. Oftentimes
A look from Margaret brought the feeble blush
Into the bloodless cheek;—creeping away
Into her chamber, Jane would wring her hands,
Moaning in pain, “God help me! If she knew!
Ah, if she knew!” And then for many days
Would haunt the dwelling fearfully, afraid
To look on what she loved,—till once again,
Some little kindness, some sweet look or tone,
A happy kiss, would bring her courage back                                       79
And cheer her.

                           Nor had Margaret fail’d to win
The hard-won sisters; oft their frosty eyes
Enlarged themselves upon her and grew thaw’d—
In secret she was mistress over both—
And in their loveless way, they also felt
A frighten’d pleasure in the beauteous thing
That brighten’d the dull dwelling.

The fiery maiden-nature flashing forth
In wilful act or speech or evil looks,
Deepen’d Jane’s terror. Margaret heeded not
The sisters’ pious teachings, did not show
A godly inclination,—nay, at times
Mock’d openly. Ah, had she guess’d the pain,
The fear, the agony, such mockings gave
Her mother, her worn mother, whom she knew not
To be her mother! In her secret heart
Jane deem’d her own deep sorrows all had come
Because she had not, in her dreary youth,
Been godly; and as such flashes as she saw
Gleam from her girl, seem’d wicked things indeed;                              80
And at such times the weary woman’s eyes
Would seek the sunless faces, searching them
For cheer or warning.

                                     In its season came
That light which takes from others what it gives
To him or her who, standing glorified,
Awaits it. ’Tis the old, sad mystery:
No gift of love that comes upon a life
But means another’s loss. The new sweet joy,
That play’d in tender colours and mild fire
On Margaret’s cheek, upon the mother’s heart
Fell like a firebrand.

                                   For to Jane, her friend,
Her dearest in the household from the first,
Her mother, her worn mother, whom she knew not
To be her mother, Margaret first told
The terror—how she loved and was beloved;
And seated at Jane’s feet, with eyes upturn’d,
Playing with the worn fingers, she exclaim’d,
“I love him, Jane! and you will love him too!
I will not marry any other man!”
And suddenly Jane felt as if the Lord                                                  81
Had come behind her in the dark and breathed
A burning fire upon her. For she thought,
“My child will go away, and I shall die!”
But only murmur’d, “Marry, Margaret?
You are too young to marry!”——and her face
Was like a murder’d woman’s.

                                                   And the pain,
The agony, deepen’d, when the lover’s face
Came smiling to the dwelling, young and bright
With pitiless gladness. Jane was still, and moan’d,
“My child will go away, and I shall die!”
And look’d upon her sisters, and could see
They pitied her; but their stern faces said,
“This is God’s will! the just God governs all!
How should we cross such love?” adding, “Beware,—
For our sakes, for your own, but chief of all
For her sake whom you love, remember now!
Pray, and be silent!” And the wounded heart
Cried up to God again, and from the sky
No answer came; when, crush’d beneath her pain,
The woman sicken’d, lay upon her bed,
And thought her time was come.

                                                     Most tenderly                              82
Her daughter nursed her; little fathoming
The meaning of the wild and yearning look
That made the white face sweet and beautiful;
For Jane was saying, “Lord, I want to die!
My child would leave me, or my useless life
Would turn a sorrow to her, if I stay’d:
Lord, let me die!” Yea, the dull nature clung
Still unto silence, with the still resolve                                                 [14:9]
Of mightier natures. Thinking she would die,
Jane lay as in a painless dream, and watch’d
The bright face stir around her, following
The shape about the room, and praying still
For strength—so happy in her drowsy dream,
That she went chill at times, and felt that thoughts
So tranquil were a sin. A darker hour
Gloam’d soon upon her brain. She could not see
The face she loved; murmur’d delirious words;
And in the weary watches of the night,
Moaning and wringing hands, with closèd eyes,
Cried “Margaret! Margaret!” Then the sisters sought
To lead the girl away, lest she should hear
The secret; but she conquer’d, and remain’d;
And one still evening, when the quiet fire                                             83
Was making ghosts that quiver’d on the floor
To the faint time-piece ticking, Jane awoke,
Gazed long and strangely at the shining face,
Waved her thin arms, cried, “Margaret! Margaret!
Where are you, Margaret? Have you gone away?
Come to your mother!” The wild cry of pain
Startled the maiden, but she only thought
The fever’d woman raved. Twining her arms
Around Jane’s neck, she murmur’d, “I am here!”
Weeping and kissing; but the woman sigh’d
And shiver’d, crying feebly, “Let me die!
My little girl has gone into the town,
And she has learn’d to call me wicked names,
And will not come again!”

                                           When, wearied out,
Jane sank to troubled sleep, her child sat still,
Thinking of those strange words; and though at last
She shut them from her thought as idle dream,
Their pain return’d upon her. The next day
She spake unto the sisters of the same,
Adding, in a low voice, “She talk’d of me,
And moan’d out loudly for a little child—
Has she a child?” The first quick flash of fear                                      84
Died from the yellow visages unseen,
And they were calm. “Delirium!” Sarah said;
“But you, my child, must watch her sick-bed less—
You are too young, too weak, to bear such things.”
And this time Margaret did not say a word,
But yielded, thinking, “It is very strange!—
There is a mystery, and I will watch:
Can Jane have had a child?”

                                               That very day
The dark mists roll’d from the sick woman’s brain,
And she awoke, remembering nought, and saw
The sisters watching her. Two days they watch’d;
And spake but very little, though they saw
The wan eyes wander with a hungry look,
Seeking the face they loved. Then Sarah took
Jane’s hand, and spake more gently, sisterly,
(Such natures, friend, grow kinder as they age,)
Than she had done for many years, and told
Of those wild words utter’d while she was ill;
Jane moan’d and hid her face; but Sarah said,
“We do not blame you, and perchance the Lord
Spake through you! We have thought it o’er, and pray’d:                    85
Now listen, Jane. Since that unhappy night,
We have not spoken of your shame, yet know
You have repented.” With her face still hid,
Jane falter’d, “Let me die!” but Sarah said,
“We do not think, Jane Lewson, you will live;
So mark me well. If, ere you go away,
You feel that you could go more cheerfully,
If you are certain that it is not sin,
Poor Margaret shall know she is your child;
We will not, now you die, deny you this;
And Margaret will be silent of the shame,—
And, lest you break your oath upon the Word,
Our lips shall tell her.” Still Jane Lewson hid
Her face; and all was quiet in the room,
Save for a shivering sound and feeble crying.
But suddenly Jane lifted up her face,
Beauteous beyond all beauty given to joy,
And quickly whispering, press’d the chilly hand—
“I will not speak! I will not hurt my child
So cruelly!—the child shall never know!
And I will go in silence to my grave,
Leaving her happy,—and perhaps the Lord
Will pardon me!” Then, for the first last time,                                      86
The sisters look’d on Jane with different eyes,
Admiring sternly, with no words of praise,
Her they had scorn’d for feebleness so long.

     Even then the watchers in the chamber heard
A sound that thrill’d them through,—a rustling dress,
A deep hard breathing as of one in pain;
And pointing with her hand Jane scream’d aloud;
And turning suddenly the sisters saw
A face as white as marble, yet illumed
By great eyes flashing with a terrible flame
That made them quail. And in a dangerous voice,
As low as a snake’s hissing, Margaret said,
“I have heard all!” Then the great eyes were turn’d
On Jane, and for a moment they were cold;
But all at once the breathless agony
Of recognition struck upon her heart,
The bosom heaved and moan’d, the bright tears burst,
And Margaret flung herself upon the bed,
Clasping her shivering mother; and at first
Jane shrank away,—but soon the wondrous love
Master’d her,—she could smile and kiss and cry—
And hear the dear wild voice cry, “Mother, mother!”                          87
And see the bright face through her tears, and feel
That Love was there.

                                     After the first strange bliss
Of meeting, both were stiller. Jane could weep,
And bear to feel so happy. Margaret
Clang to her mother, breathed her bliss upon her,
Fondling the silver’d tresses, covering
The thin hard hand with kisses and with tears,
Trying to say a thousand merry things
That died in sobs and tears, and only saying,
For all the utterance of her speechful heart,
“Mother! my mother!” Suddenly her shame
Came back upon the woman, and she turn’d
To seek her sisters’ faces piteously,
But they had stolen from the happy room;
Whereon again she murmur’d, “Let me die!
I am a wicked woman, Margaret!
Why did you listen?” But a second burst
Of love and blissful pain, and bitter things
Hurl’d at the cruel sisters, answer’d her;
And more tears flow’d, and more fond kisses brush’d
The tears away,—until at last Jane cried,
“Dear, I could go away not weeping now—                                        88
God is so gentle with me!”

                                           But He, who drew
Thus from His cloud at last and look’d so kind,
Will’d that Jane Lewson should not die so soon.
The agony did not kill her, and the joy
Sent a fresh life into her languid blood
And saved her. So that soon she rose from bed,
To see the sunshine on her daughter’s face,
To see the sunless sisters, who again
Look’d cold as ever.

                                   But a burning fire
From Margaret scorch’d them to the heart, because
They loved the girl; she heap’d upon their heads
Rage and reproaches, mockery and scorn,
Until they cried, “You are a wicked girl!
Jane Lewson’s shame is on you. After this
We cannot dwell together any more.”
And Margaret would have answer’d fiercelier still,
But that her feeble mother, piteously
Gazing at them to whom in spite of all
Her heart was humble, begg’d her on her knees
For silence; and, thus conquer’d, Margaret                                         89
Answer’d her aunts with kisses and with tears
Shower’d on her mother’s face.

                                                   That evening,
Margaret held her mother round the neck,
And led her to her lover in the house,
And with her lips set firm together, saying,
“This is my dear, dear mother,” told him all,
Concealing nothing. For a time, the man
Look’d startled and appall’d; but being made
Of clay not base, he smiling spake at last,
And stooping softly, kiss’d the thin worn hand—
“She is my mother, too,—and we will dwell

                   And they dwelt together,—leaving
The dismal dwelling in the smoky square,
To dwell within a cottage close to town;
But Jane lived with them only for a year,
And then, because the heart that had been used
To suffering so long could not endure
To be so happy, died; worn out and tired,
Kissing her child; and as her dying thoughts
Went back along the years, the suffering seem’d                                  90
Not such a thankless suffering after all,
But like a faded garment one has learn’d
To love through habit;—and the woman cried
On her stern sisters with her dying breath.


Alterations in the 1874 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
The following subtitle is added: ‘A Tale Of Repression’.
The first verse is omitted.
v. 4, l. 14: And when the sun was on the square, the sounds
v. 22, l. 1: Thus did these icicles
v. 22, l. 10: Was a bruised reed, the little sunny gleam
Part II: v. 6, l. 3: Into that dewy glimmer on the brain,

Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 1, l. 9: My man of sinews,—conscious of your strength,
Part II: v. 6, l. 3: Into that dewy glimmer on the brain,
v. 14, l. 9: Still into silence, with the still resolve ]





A Love Poem.





IN all the land, range up, range down,
     Is there ever a place so pleasant and sweet,
As Langley Lane, in London town,
     Just out of the bustle of square and street?
Little white cottages, all in a row,
Gardens, where bachelors’-buttons grow,
     Swallows’ nests in roof and wall,
And up above the still blue sky,
Where the woolly-white clouds go sailing by,—
     I seem to be able to see it all!

For now, in summer, I take my chair,
     And sit outside in the sun, and hear
The distant murmur of street and square,
     And the swallows and sparrows chirping near;
And Fanny, who lives just over the way,                                            94
Comes running many a time each day,
     With her little hand’s-touch so warm and kind;
And I smile and talk, with the sun on my cheek,
And the little live hand seems to stir and speak,—
     For Fanny is dumb and I am blind.

Fanny is sweet thirteen, and she
     Has fine black ringlets, and dark eyes clear,
And I am older by summers three,—
     Why should we hold one another so dear?
Because she cannot utter a word,
Nor hear the music of bee or bird,
     The water-cart’s splash, or the milkman’s call.
Because I have never seen the sky,
Nor the little singers that hum and fly,—
     Yet know she is gazing upon them all.

For the sun is shining, the swallows fly,
     The bees and the blue-flies murmur low,
And I hear the water-cart go by,
     With its cool splash-splash down the dusty row;
And the little one, close at my side, perceives
Mine eyes upraised to the cottage eaves,
     Where birds are chirping in summer shine,                                     95
And I hear, though I cannot look, and she,
Though she cannot hear, can the singers see,—
     And the little soft fingers flutter in mine.

Hath not the dear little hand a tongue,
     When it stirs on my palm for the love of me?
Do I not know she is pretty and young?
     Hath not my soul an eye to see?
’Tis pleasure to make one’s bosom stir,
To wonder how things appear to her,
     That I only hear as they pass around;
And as long as we sit in the music and light,
She is happy to keep God’s sight,
     And I am happy to keep God’s sound.

Why, I know her face, though I am blind—
     I made it of music long ago:
Strange large eyes, and dark hair twined
     Round the pensive light of a brow of snow;
And when I sit by my little one,
And hold her hand, and talk in the sun,
     And hear the music that haunts the place,
I know she is raising her eyes to me,
And guessing how gentle my voice must be,                                        96
     And seeing the music upon my face.

Though, if ever Lord God should grant me a prayer,
     (I know the fancy is only vain,)
I should pray: Just once, when the weather is fair,
     To see little Fanny and Langley Lane;
Though Fanny, perhaps, would pray to hear
The voice of the friend that she holds so dear,
     The song of the birds, the hum of the street,—
It is better to be as we have been,—
Each keeping up something, unheard, unseen,
     To make God’s heaven more strange and sweet.

Ah! life is pleasant in Langley Lane!
     There is always something sweet to hear;
Chirping of birds, or patter of rain;
     And Fanny, my little one, always near;
And though I am weak, and cannot live long,
And Fanny, my darling, is far from strong,
     And though we can never married be,—
What then?—since we hold one another so dear,
For the sake of the pleasure one cannot hear,
     And the pleasure that only one can see?



London Poems continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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