by Alfred Austin
``Tell me again; I did not hear: It was wailing so sadly. Nay,
Hush! little one, for mother wants to know what they have to say.
There! At my breast be good and still! What quiets you calms me too.
They say that the source is poisoned; still, it seems pure enough for you!
``I shall bring them to shame, aye one and all, my Father who loves me so,
Dear Mother, a little severe at times, but with story as white as snow,
And sister Effie, so trim and quick, so fair and betrothed so long,
Who will wait for her lover for years and years, but would die at the thought of wrong.
``O don't! For I know what my brother Ralph, if he knew it, would think and say.
He would drive me across the lonely moor, and would curse me all the way;
Would call on the cold wet winds to whip, and the sunshine to pass me by,
And vow that the ditch were too good a grave for a thing as foul as I.
``And then there is grand-dad, worn and white, who can scarcely speak or see,
But sits in the sun in his wicker chair, with the Bible upon his knee.
To him 'twould but sound like a buzzing hive if they talked to him of my fall:
Yet I almost think that I dread his face, turned heavenward, more than all.
``We have never been either rich or poor, but a proud, stiff yeoman stock.
And to think that I am the first to bring sin's scab on a cleanly flock!
The pet lamb, too, as they call me still, the dearest of all their dears!
Hush, little one! But you well may wail, suckled not upon milk, but tears.
``He never will marry me now, that's sure. Who takes a wife with a stain?
How we used to sit in the bluebell wood, and roam through the primrose lane!
And I was thinking of some one else, while the nightingale trilled above.
He alone, I think, will forgive me though, such a wonderful thing is Love.
``Do you think I do not foresee it all?-a mother and not a wife,
A babe but without a father still, and the lack and the shame for life,
The nudge and the sidelong sneer, in church, at market, year out, year in.
But what would you have me do to escape the wages of my sin?
``Give up the child? To whom? To what? To honest and kindly folk
Who have never a chit of their own and long for a wee thing to kiss and stroke,
Who will call it their own, will rear as such, will teach it to lisp and pray:
He will find the money for that and more. There is nothing he will not pay.
``Pay? Well, go on: I am listening hard, for the little one's now at rest.
Just look how it sucks and smiles in sleep on the pillow of mother's breast.
Though I never thought-does Love ever think?-that such was the end of all,
It is wicked, but still for a joy like this I would almost repeat my fall.
``Yes, I understand. He has done his best. O, you make it perfectly clear.
He is doing it all for me, no doubt; he has nothing to face or fear.
But 'tis strange that fathers with gold may pay for their guilt, and can then forget,
And that lasting shame and a broken heart are the share of the mother's debt.
``I have sometimes thought that Nature has against woman some lasting pique,
For she makes us weak where we should be strong, and strong where we might be weak,
Most good when a little badness pays, and bad when 'tis safe being good.
To be always good, and nothing but good, 's the one hope for womanhood.
``And I then should be good, or seem to be, which is pretty well much the same,
Should hold up my head with the straightest then, and be shocked at a sister's shame.
Be called by the Vicar his model maid, be kissed by the Vicar's wife,
And may-be marry an honest man, and be happy and loved for life.
``The hollyhocks now up the garden walk are flowering strong and straight,
The bees are out in the mignonette, and the mossrose lingers late;
The orchard reddens, the acorn cups are thick 'neath the pollard oak,
And up from the old red chimney-stack curls the first blue Autumn smoke.
The kine from the lowland are trailing home, and file betwixt shed and rick,
In the wide brown bowls on the dairy shelf the cream lies smooth and thick;
I can hear the geese in the farmyard pond, I can see the neat new thatch.
Now what if I went there brave and bold, and took courage to lift the latch?
``They never would know, they would cluster round, they would drag me in through the door,
Would fondle and cuddle, and hug and kiss, and pull me down to the floor;
And who should kiss first, and who kiss last, would be all they would think of then;
And at night we should all of us kneel and pray, and I too should say, ``Amen!''
``They never would know; but I should know, and, when they were all asleep,
I should lie awake through the long dark night, and wonder, and sob, and weep,
Through the dear sweet bitter detested past would my wavering fancy roam,
And at dawn I should learn to smile again, for at least I should be at home.
``And where would It be? I must not ask-for I'm to be strong and wise,-
If well or ailing, alive or dead, what colour its hair and eyes,
Never knit a sock for its little feet, to the end never know its name.
There's a shamelessness yet more shameful far than the worst abyss of shame!
``Well, you see I am going. And where? Why, home! Yes, straight unto Father's door,
With this tell-tale thing in my warm weak arms, right over the windy moor.
I shall tremble and stammer and halt, no doubt, and look like a thing accurst,
And so double my fault by my helplessness; and then I shall know the worst.
``If my Mother scolds, I will bow my head; if my sister shrinks, I will weep;
If my brother smites, I will let him smite, for a sin so dark and deep.
But what if my Father rises up, and drives from the door,-what then?
Well, then I will go to the Father of all Who pardoned Magdalen.''
Last updated January 14, 2019