What we might be, and still be Christian women:
And mothers too—I saw one, laid in childbed
These three cold weeks upon the black damp straw;
No nurses, cordials, or that nice parade
With which we try to balk the curse of Eve—
And yet she laughed, and showed her buxom boy,
And said, Another week, so please the Saints,
She’d be at work a-field. Look here—and here—
[Pointing round the room.]
I saw no such things there; and yet they lived.
Our wanton accidents take root, and grow
To vaunt themselves God’s laws, until our clothes,
Our gems, and gaudy books, and cushioned litters
Become ourselves, and we would fain forget
There live who need them not. [Guta offers to robe her.]
Let be, beloved—
I will taste somewhat this same poverty—
Try these temptations, grudges, gnawing shames,
For which ’tis blamed; how probe an unfelt evil?
Would’st be the poor man’s friend? Must freeze with him—
Test sleepless hunger—let thy crippled back
Ache o’er the endless furrow; how was He,
The blessed One, made perfect? Why, by grief—
The fellowship of voluntary grief—
He read the tear-stained book of poor men’s souls,
As I must learn to read it. Lady! lady!
Wear but one robe the less—forego one meal—
And thou shalt taste the core of many tales
Which now flit past thee, like a minstrel’s songs,
The sweeter for their sadness.
Lady. Heavenly wisdom!
Eliz. How? What wrong is mine, fair dame?
Lady. I thought you, to my shame—less
wise than holy.
But you have conquered: I will test these sorrows
On mine own person; I have toyed too long
In painted pinnace down the stream of life,
Witched with the landscape, while the weary rowers
Faint at the groaning oar: I’ll be thy pupil.
Farewell. Heaven bless thy labours and thy lesson.
Isen. We are alone. Now tell me, dearest
How came you in this plight?
Eliz. Oh! chide not, nurse—
My heart is full—and yet I went not far—
Even here, close by, where my own bower looks down
Upon that unknown sea of wavy roofs,
I turned into an alley ’neath the wall—
And stepped from earth to hell.—The light of heaven,
The common air, was narrow, gross, and dun;
The tiles did drop from the eaves; the unhinged doors
Tottered o’er inky pools, where reeked and curdled
The offal of a life; the gaunt-haunched swine
Growled at their christened playmates o’er the scraps.
Shrill mothers cursed; wan children wailed; sharp coughs
Rang through the crazy chambers; hungry eyes
Glared dumb reproach, and old perplexity,
Too stale for words; o’er still and webless looms
The listless craftsmen through their elf-locks scowled;
These were my people! all I had, I gave—