As I placed those poppies in a box, on a bed of green moss, I heard them chuckle together, with some surprise and much glee. “What a kind fool he is,” said the first poppy, “to buy me, and take me away from those disagreeable roses, and other hateful blossoms in that damp, musty window.”
“I heard,” said the second poppy, “one sweet lily of the valley whisper to the others of its simple kind that we would die where we were unnoticed, undesired by any one—how little it knew!”
“How cool and green this bed of moss,” cried the third poppy; “it is a most excellent place to die upon. I am willing, I am happy.”
“Nay,” said the fourth poppy, “you may die on her breast if you will. She may take you up and put you into a jar of clear water. She may watch you slowly open your sleepy dark eye. She may lean over you; then let your passionate breath but touch her on the white brow, and she may tenderly thrust you into her whiter bosom, and quickly yield herself, and you, to an all-powerful forgetfulness. She may twine me into her dark hair, and I will calm the throb of her blue-veined temples, and bring upon her a sleep and a forgetting.”
The fifth poppy trembled with joyful expectation, but said not a word.
* * * * *
Toward the close of the next day I went to her, the woman that I knew, to whom I had sent the poppies.
I trod the stairway softly, oh, so softly, that led to her door. Shadows from out of the unlighted hall danced about me, and the sounds of music—harp music—pleased me with a strain of remembered chords.
She rose to greet me with provoking but delecious languor. She gave me the tips of her rosy fingers. Her lips moved as if in speech, but no words reached me; she barely smiled. In a priceless vase near the open window they held their heads in high disdain—those four red poppies who had gleefully chuckled and chatted together on the yesterday; but the fifth and silent poppy drooped upon her breast. I turned to go; she did not stay me; I stole to the door. “Take us away with you,” cried those four garrulous poppies; “we are willing to die, and at once if need be, but not here in her hateful presence. Take us away.” But the poppy on her breast only drooped and drooped the more and said not a word.
I opened the door. The shadows had fled—the hall was a blaze of light. The music had ceased—only the noise of street below broke the silence. “If thus you let me go, I will not return again,” I said.
The woman did not speak, neither did she stir. But the poppy on her breast with drooping head uplifted softly cried, “Go, quickly go, and—forget!”
* * * * *
I went down the broad stairway between a row of bright lights—a dazzling mockery—I went out into the night. I passed by a certain garden where red poppies grew. I leaned over the low wall. I buried my hot face among them. I crushed them in my hands and stained my temples with their quivering blooms. But all to no purpose; they did not, could not bring forgetfulness. I am thinking always of that woman, of those four red poppies, and of that one red poppy which drooped on her breast that night and said to me, “Go, quickly go, and—forget.”