Once, when the summer lay on the hilltops,
And the sunshine fell like a golden flame,
Out from the city's dust and turmoil
A gallant, fair-faced stranger came---
Came to rest in our humble cottage
Till the winds of autumn should blow again,
To walk in the meadow and lie by the brooklet,
And woo back the strength, that the town had slain.
I was young, with the foolish heart of a maiden
That had never been wooed, and the stranger bland
Awoke that heart from its idle dreaming,
And swept the strings with a master-hand.
I remember the thrill, and the first wild tremor,
That stirred its depths with a sweet surprise,
When I glanced one day at the handsome stranger,
And caught the gaze of his deep, dark eyes.
My cheek grew red with its tell-tale blushes,
And the knitting dropped from my nerveless grasp;
He stooped, and then, as he gracefully gave it,
He held my hand in a loving clasp;
We said no word, but he knew my secret,
He read what lay in my maiden heart,
No vain concealing was needed longer
To hide the tremor his voice would start.
We walked in the meadow and by the brooklet,
My sun-browned hand in his snowy palm;
He said my blushes would shame the roses,
And my heart stood still in a blissful calm.
He stroked my tresses, my raven ringlets,
And twined them over his finger fair;
My eyes' dark splendor was full of danger,
He said, for Cupid was lurking there.
And once he held me close to his bosom,
And pressed on my lips a loving kiss;
Oh! how I tremble with shame and anger,
Even now, as I think of this---
But in that moment I thought that heaven
Had suddenly opened and drawn me in,
And kissed with passion the lips, so near me,
Nor dreamed I was staining my soul with sin.
But there came a letter one quiet evening
To the man who was dearer to me than life---
"A picture," he said, as he tore it open,
"Look, sweet friend, at my fair young wife."
A terrible anguish, a seething anger,
Heaved my bosom and blanched my cheek,
And he who stood there holding the letter,
He watched me smiling, but did not speak.
I took the picture and gazed upon it---
A sweet young creature with sunny hair
And eyes of blue. "May the good Lord keep you,"
I said aloud, "in his tender care---
You who are wedded and bound forever
Unto this man," and I met his eyes---
"This soulless villain, this shameless coward,
Whose heart is blackened with acted lies."
My heart swelled full of a terrible hatred,
And something of murder was burning there,
But a better feeling stole in behind it
As I looked on the picture sweet and fair;
I turned and left him, and never saw him---
Never looked on his face again,
And time has tempered my shame and sorrow,
And soothed and quieted down my pain.
But I always tremble, in awful anger,
That wears and worries my waning life,
When I think how he clasped me close to his bosom,
He---with a lawfully wedded wife.
When I think how I answered his fond caresses,
And clung to his neck in a trance of bliss,
And the tears of a life time and all my sorrow,
Can never remove the stain of his kiss.
Shells. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Milwaukee:Hauser & Storey, 1873.
|Back to Poem Index|