I asked to see the dead man’s face,
As I gave the servant my well-filled basket;
And she deigned to lead me, a wondrous grace,
Where he lay asleep in his rosewood casket.
I was only the sewing-girl, and he the heir to this
Flowers, white flowers, everywhere,
In odorous cross, and anchor, and chalice.
The smallest leaf might touch his hair;
But I—my God! I must stand apart,
With my hands pressed silently on my heart,
I must not touch the least brown curl;
For I was only the sewing-girl.
If his stately mother knew what I know,
As she weeping stood by his side this morning,
Would she clasp me in motherly love and woe—
Or drive me out in the cold with scorning?
If she knew that I loved him better than life,
Better than death; since for him I gave
My hopes of rest, that I faced life’s strife,
And renounced the quiet and restful grave,
When his strong, true hand drew me back that day,
When woe, and want, and the want of pity
Drove me down where the cold waves lay
Like wolves round the walls of this cruel city.
“Not much?” would she say with her proud lip’s curl—
“Only the life of a sewing-girl?”
Now love for me in his heart did linger—
I saw the lady, his promised bride,
I saw his ring on her slender finger,
As she weeping stood by his mother’s side.
That same ring shone, as he lifted me
Dripping and cold from the sea-waves bitter.
I had thought Heaven’s light I next should see,
But earth’s sun shone in its ruby glitter;
I had thought when I looked in the Lord’s mild face,
That He would forgive my rashness and sin,
When He knew there was not a single place,
Not a place so small that I could creep in.
And I wanted a home, and I longed for love,
And God and mother were both above.
But he showed me my sin, and taught me to live,
Above this life of tumult and whirl,
Though I was only a sewing-girl.
What shall I do with the life he won,
From death that day, in a hard-won battle?
Shall I lay it down e’er the rising sun
Looks down on the city’s roar and rattle?
Shall I lay it down e’er the midnight dim
With horrible shadows is roofed and paved?
No, I will make it so pure and sweet,
That angels shall say with smiles to him,
When we meet above on the golden street:
“Behold the soul of her you saved.”
Maybe it shall add to his crown one pearl,
Though only the soul of a sewing-girl.
In his arm-chair, warmly cushioned,
In the quiet earned by labor,
Life’s reposeful Indian summer,
Grandpa sits; and lets the paper
Lie upon his knee unheeded.
Shine his cheeks like winter apples,
Gleams his smile like autumn sunshine,
As he looks on little Harry,
First-born of the house of Graham,
Bravely cutting teeth in silence,
Cutting teeth with looks heroic.
Some deep thought seems moving Grandpa,
Ponders he awhile in silence,
Then he turns, and says to Grandma,
“Nancy, do you think that ever
There was such a child before?”