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Three Women Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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Three Women

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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II.
  

The short-sighted minister preached at Bay Bend
His long-winded sermon quite through to the end,
Unmindful there sat in the Somerville pew
A stranger whose pale handsome countenance drew
All eyes from his own reverend self; nor suspected
What Ruth and her brother too plainly detected
That the stranger was bored.
"Though his gaze never stirred
From the face of the preacher, his heart has not heard,"
Ruth said to herself; and her soft mother-eye
Was fixed on his face with a look like a sigh
In its tremulous depths, as they rose to depart.
Then suddenly Roger, alert, seemed to start
And his dull, listless glance changed to one of surprise
And of pleasure. Ruth saw that the goal of his eyes
Was her friend Mabel Lee in the vestibule; fair
As a saint that is pictured with sun tangled hair
And orbs like the skies in October. She smiled,
And the saint disappeared in the innocent child
With an unconscious dower of beauty and youth
She paused in the vestibule waiting for Ruth
And seemed not to notice the warm eager gaze
Of two men fixed upon her in different ways.
One, the look which souls lift to a being above,
The other a look of unreasoning love
Born of fancy and destined to grow in an hour
To a full fledged emotion of mastering power.

   She spoke, and her voice disappointed the ear;
It lacked some deep chords that the heart hoped to hear.
It was sweet, but not vibrant; it came from the throat,
And one listened in vain for a full chested note.
While something at times like a petulant sound
Seemed in strange disaccord with the peace so profound
Of the eyes and the brow.
Though our sight is deceived
The ear is an organ that may be believed.
The faces of people are trained to conceal,
But their unruly voices are prone to reveal
What lies deep in their natures; a voice rarely lies,
But Mabel Lee's voice told one tale, while her eyes
Told another. Large, liquid, and peaceful as lakes
Where the azure dawn rests, ere the loud world awakes,
Were the beautiful eyes of the maiden. "A saint,
Without mortal blemish or weak human taint, "
Said Maurice to himself. To himself Roger said:
"The touch of her soft little hands on my head
Would convert me. What peace for a world weary breast
To just sit by her side and be soothed into rest. "

   Daring thoughts for a stranger. Maurice, who had known
Mabel Lee as a child, to himself would not own
Such bold longings as those were. He held her to be
Too sacred for even a thought that made free.
And the voice in his bosom was silenced and hushed
Lest the bloom from her soul by his words should be brushed.
There are men to whom love is religion; but woman
Is far better pleased with a homage more human.
Though she may not be able to love in like fashion,
She wants to be wooed with both ardor and passion.
Had Mabel Lee read Roger's thoughts of her, bold
Though they were, they had flattered and pleased her, I hold.

   The stranger was duly presented.

                   Roger:

                                          Miss Lee,
I am sure, has no least recollection of me,
But the pleasure is mine to have looked on her face
Once before this.

                   Mabel:

                      Indeed? May I ask where?

                   Roger:

                      The place
Was the train, and the time yesterday.

                   Mabel:

                       "Then I came
From my shopping excursion in town by the same
Fast express which brought you? Had I known that the friend
Of my friends, was so near me en route for Bay Bend,
I had waived all conventions and asked him to take
One-half of my parcels for sweet pity's sake.

                   Roger:

   You sadden me sorely. As long as I live
I shall mourn the great pleasure chance chose not to give.

                   Maurice:

   Take courage, mon ami. Our fair friend, Miss Lee,
Fills her time quite as full of sweet works as the bee;
Like the bee, too, she drives out the drones from her hive.
You must toil in her cause, in her favor to thrive.

                   Roger:

   She need but command me. To wait upon beauty
And goodness combined makes a pleasure of duty.

                   Maurice:

   Who serves Mabel Lee serves all Righteousness too.
Pray, then, that she gives you some labor to do.
The cure for the pessimist lies in good deeds.
Who toils for another forgets his own needs,
And mischief and misery never attend
On the man who is occupied fully.

                   Ruth:

                     Our friend
Has the town on her shoulders. Whatever may be
The cause that is needy, we look to Miss Lee.
Have you gold? She will make you disgorge it ere long;
Are you poor? Well, perchance you can dance--sing a song--
Make a speech--tell a story, or plan a charade.
Whatever you have, gold or wits, sir, must aid
In her numerous charities.

                   Mabel:

                     Riches and brain
Are but loans from the Master. He meant them, 'tis plain,
To be used in His service; and people are kind,
When once you can set them to thinking. I find
It is lack of perception, not lack of good heart
Which makes the world selfish in seeming. My part
Is to call the attention of Plenty to need,
And to bid Pleasure pause for a moment and heed
The woes and the burdens of Labor.

                   Roger:

                     One plea
From the rosy and eloquent lips of Miss Lee
Would make Avarice pour out his coffers of gold
At her feet, I should fancy; would soften the cold,
Selfish heart of the world to compassionate sighs,
And bring tears of pity to vain Pleasure's eyes.

   As the sunset a color on lily leaves throws,
The words and the glances of Roger Montrose
O'er the listener's cheeks sent a pink tinted wave;
While Maurice seemed disturbed, and his sister grew grave.
The false chink of flattery's coin smites the ear
With an unpleasant ring when the heart is sincere.
Yet the man whose mind pockets are filled with this ore,
Though empty his brain cells, is never a bore
To the opposite sex.
While Maurice knew of old
Roger's wealth in that coin that does duty for gold
In Society dealings, it hurt him to see
The cheap metal offered to sweet Mabel Lee.

   (Yet, perchance, the hurt came, not so much that 'twas offered,
As in seeing her take, with a smile, what was proffered.)
They had walked, two by two, down the elm shaded street,
Which led to a cottage, vine hidden, and sweet
With the breath of the roses that covered it, where
Mabel paused in the gateway; a picture most fair.
"I would ask you to enter," she said, "ere you pass,
But in just twenty minutes my Sunday-school class
Claims my time and attention; and later I meet
A Committee on Plans for the boys of the street.
We seek to devise for these pupils in crime
Right methods of thought and wise uses of time.

                   Roger:

   I am but a vagrant, untutored and wild,
May I join your street class, and be taught like a child?

                   Mabel:

   If you come I will carefully study your case.

                   Maurice:

   I must go along, too, just to keep him in place.

                   Mabel:

   Then you think him unruly?

                   Maurice:

               Decidedly so.

                   Roger:

   I was, but am changed since one-half hour ago.

                   Mabel:

   The change is too sudden to be of much worth;
The deepest convictions are slowest of birth.
Conversion, I hold, to be earnest and lasting,
Begins with repentance and praying and fasting,
And (begging your pardon for such a bold speech),
You seem, sir, a stranger to all and to each
Of these ways of salvation.

                   Roger:

                    Since yesterday, miss,
When, unseen, I first saw you (believe me in this),
I have deeply repented my sins of the past.
To-night I will pray, and to-morrow will fast--
Or, make it next week, when my shore appetite
May be somewhat subdued in its ravenous might.

                   Maurice:

   That's the way of the orthodox sinner! He waits
Until time or indulgence or misery sates
All his appetites, then his repentance begins,
When his sins cease to please, then he gives up his sins
And grows pious. Now prove you are morally brave
By actually giving up something you crave!
We have fricasseed chicken and strawberry cake
For our dinner to-day.

                   Roger:

                    For dear principle's sake
I could easily do what you ask, were it not
Most unkind to Miss Ruth, who gave labor and thought
To that menu, preparing it quite to my taste.

                   Ruth:

   But the thought and the dinner will both go to waste,
If we linger here longer; and Mabel, I see,
Is impatient to go to her duties.

                    Roger:

                    The bee
Is reluctant to turn from the lily although
The lily may obviously wish he would go
And leave her to muse in the sunlight alone.
Yet when the rose calls him, his sorrow, I own,
Has its recompense. So from delight to delight
I fly with my wings honeyladen.
Good night.

 

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