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Ballads of a Bohemian

by
Robert W. Service


Contents


Book Three

Late Summer

  I

                                        The Omnium Bar, near the Bourse,
                                          Late July 1914.

MacBean, before he settled down to the manufacture of mercantile fiction,
had ideas of a nobler sort, which bore their fruit in a slender book of poems.
In subject they are either erotic, mythologic, or descriptive of nature.
So polished are they that the mind seems to slide over them:
so faultless in form that the critics hailed them with highest praise,
and as many as a hundred copies were sold.

Saxon Dane, too, has published a book of poems, but he, on the other hand,
defies tradition to an eccentric degree. Originality is his sin.
He strains after it in every line. I must confess I think
much of the free verse he writes is really prose, and a good deal of it
blank verse chopped up into odd lengths. He talks of assonance and color,
of stress and pause and accent, and bewilders me with his theories.

He and MacBean represent two extremes, and at night, as we sit
in the Cafe du Do^me, they have the hottest of arguments.
As for me, I listen with awe, content that my medium is verse,
and that the fashions of Hood, Thackeray and Bret Harte
are the fashions of to-day.

Of late I have been doing light stuff, "fillers" for MacBean.
Here are three of my specimens:

The Philanderer


Oh, have you forgotten those afternoons
With riot of roses and amber skies,
When we thrilled to the joy of a million Junes,
And I sought for your soul in the deeps of your eyes?
I would love you, I promised, forever and aye,
And I meant it too; yet, oh, isn't it odd?
When we met in the Underground to-day
I addressed you as Mary instead of as Maude.

Oh, don't you remember that moonlit sea,
With us on a silver trail afloat,
When I gracefully sank on my bended knee
At the risk of upsetting our little boat?
Oh, I vowed that my life was blighted then,
As friendship you proffered with mournful mien;
But now as I think of your children ten,
I'm glad you refused me, Evangeline.

Oh, is that moment eternal still
When I breathed my love in your shell-like ear,
And you plucked at your fan as a maiden will,
And you blushed so charmingly, Guenivere?
Like a worshiper at your feet I sat;
For a year and a day you made me mad;
But now, alas! you are forty, fat,
And I think: What a lucky escape I had!

Oh, maidens I've set in a sacred shrine,
Oh, Rosamond, Molly and Mignonette,
I've deemed you in turn the most divine,
In turn you've broken my heart . . . and yet
It's easily mended. What's past is past.
To-day on Lucy I'm going to call;
For I'm sure that I know true love at last,
And She is the fairest girl of all.

The Petit Vieux


"Sow your wild oats in your youth," so we're always told;
But I say with deeper sooth: "Sow them when you're old."
I'll be wise till I'm about seventy or so:
Then, by Gad! I'll blossom out as an ancient beau.

I'll assume a dashing air, laugh with loud Ha! ha! . . .
How my grandchildren will stare at their grandpapa!
Their perfection aureoled I will scandalize:
Won't I be a hoary old sinner in their eyes!

Watch me, how I'll learn to chaff barmaids in a bar;
Scotches daily, gayly quaff, puff a fierce cigar.
I will haunt the Tango teas, at the stage-door stand;
Wait for Dolly Dimpleknees, bouquet in my hand.

Then at seventy I'll take flutters at roulette;
While at eighty hope I'll make good at poker yet;
And in fashionable togs to the races go,
Gayest of the gay old dogs, ninety years or so.

"Sow your wild oats while you're young," that's what you are told;
Don't believe the foolish tongue -- sow 'em when you're old.
Till you're threescore years and ten, take my humble tip,
Sow your nice tame oats and then . . . Hi, boys! Let 'er rip.

My Masterpiece


It's slim and trim and bound in blue;
Its leaves are crisp and edged with gold;
Its words are simple, stalwart too;
Its thoughts are tender, wise and bold.
Its pages scintillate with wit;
Its pathos clutches at my throat:
Oh, how I love each line of it!
That Little Book I Never Wrote.

In dreams I see it praised and prized
By all, from plowman unto peer;
It's pencil-marked and memorized,
It's loaned (and not returned, I fear);
It's worn and torn and travel-tossed,
And even dusky natives quote
That classic that the world has lost,
The Little Book I Never Wrote.

Poor ghost! For homes you've failed to cheer,
For grieving hearts uncomforted,
Don't haunt me now. . . . Alas! I fear
The fire of Inspiration's dead.
A humdrum way I go to-night,
From all I hoped and dreamed remote:
Too late . . . a better man must write
That Little Book I Never Wrote.

Talking about writing books, there is a queer character
who shuffles up and down the little streets that neighbor the Place Maubert,
and who, they say, has been engaged on one for years. Sometimes I see him
cowering in some cheap bouge, and his wild eyes gleam at me
through the tangle of his hair. But I do not think he ever sees me.
He mumbles to himself, and moves like a man in a dream.
His pockets are full of filthy paper on which he writes from time to time.
The students laugh at him and make him tipsy; the street boys
pelt him with ordure; the better cafes turn him from their doors.
But who knows? At least, this is how I see him:

My Book


Before I drink myself to death,
God, let me finish up my Book!
At night, I fear, I fight for breath,
And wake up whiter than a spook;
And crawl off to a bistro near,
And drink until my brain is clear.

Rare Absinthe! Oh, it gives me strength
To write and write; and so I spend
Day after day, until at length
With joy and pain I'll write The End:
Then let this carcase rot; I give
The world my Book -- my Book will live.

For every line is tense with truth,
There's hope and joy on every page;
A cheer, a clarion call to Youth,
A hymn, a comforter to Age:
All's there that I was meant to be,
My part divine, the God in me.

It's of my life the golden sum;
Ah! who that reads this Book of mine,
In stormy centuries to come,
Will dream I rooted with the swine?
Behold! I give mankind my best:
What does it matter, all the rest?

It's this that makes sublime my day;
It's this that makes me struggle on.
Oh, let them mock my mortal clay,
My spirit's deathless as the dawn;
Oh, let them shudder as they look . . .
I'll be immortal in my Book.

And so beside the sullen Seine
I fight with dogs for filthy food,
Yet know that from my sin and pain
Will soar serene a Something Good;
Exultantly from shame and wrong
A Right, a Glory and a Song.

How charming it is, this Paris of the summer skies! Each morning
I leap up with joy in my heart, all eager to begin the day of work.
As I eat my breakfast and smoke my pipe, I ponder over my task.
Then in the golden sunshine that floods my little attic I pace up and down,
absorbed and forgetful of the world. As I compose I speak the words aloud.
There are difficulties to overcome; thoughts that will not fit their mold;
rebellious rhymes. Ah! those moments of despair and defeat.

Then suddenly the mind grows lucid, imagination glows, the snarl unravels.
In the end is always triumph and success. O delectable me/tier!
Who would not be a rhymesmith in Paris, in Bohemia, in the heart of youth!

I have now finished my twentieth ballad. Five more and they will be done.
In quiet corners of cafes, on benches of the Luxembourg, on the sunny Quays
I read them over one by one. Here is my latest:

My Hour


Day after day behold me plying
My pen within an office drear;
The dullest dog, till homeward hieing,
Then lo! I reign a king of cheer.
A throne have I of padded leather,
A little court of kiddies three,
A wife who smiles whate'er the weather,
A feast of muffins, jam and tea.

The table cleared, a romping battle,
A fairy tale, a "Children, bed,"
A kiss, a hug, a hush of prattle
(God save each little drowsy head!)
A cozy chat with wife a-sewing,
A silver lining clouds that low'r,
Then she too goes, and with her going,
I come again into my Hour.

I poke the fire, I snugly settle,
My pipe I prime with proper care;
The water's purring in the kettle,
Rum, lemon, sugar, all are there.
And now the honest grog is steaming,
And now the trusty briar's aglow:
Alas! in smoking, drinking, dreaming,
How sadly swift the moments go!

Oh, golden hour! 'twixt love and duty,
All others I to others give;
But you are mine to yield to Beauty,
To glean Romance, to greatly live.
For in my easy-chair reclining . . .
I feel the sting of ocean spray;
And yonder wondrously are shining
The Magic Isles of Far Away.

Beyond the comber's crashing thunder
Strange beaches flash into my ken;
On jetties heaped head-high with plunder
I dance and dice with sailor-men.
Strange stars swarm down to burn above me,
Strange shadows haunt, strange voices greet;
Strange women lure and laugh and love me,
And fling their bastards at my feet.

Oh, I would wish the wide world over,
In ports of passion and unrest,
To drink and drain, a tarry rover
With dragons tattooed on my chest,
With haunted eyes that hold red glories
Of foaming seas and crashing shores,
With lips that tell the strangest stories
Of sunken ships and gold moidores;

Till sick of storm and strife and slaughter,
Some ghostly night when hides the moon,
I slip into the milk-warm water
And softly swim the stale lagoon.
Then through some jungle python-haunted,
Or plumed morass, or woodland wild,
I win my way with heart undaunted,
And all the wonder of a child.

The pathless plains shall swoon around me,
The forests frown, the floods appall;
The mountains tiptoe to confound me,
The rivers roar to speed my fall.
Wild dooms shall daunt, and dawns be gory,
And Death shall sit beside my knee;
Till after terror, torment, glory,
I win again the sea, the sea. . . .

Oh, anguish sweet! Oh, triumph splendid!
Oh, dreams adieu! my pipe is dead.
My glass is dry, my Hour is ended,
It's time indeed I stole to bed.
How peacefully the house is sleeping!
Ah! why should I strange fortunes plan?
To guard the dear ones in my keeping --
That's task enough for any man.

So through dim seas I'll ne'er go spoiling;
The red Tortugas never roam;
Please God! I'll keep the pot a-boiling,
And make at least a happy home.
My children's path shall gleam with roses,
Their grace abound, their joy increase.
And so my Hour divinely closes
With tender thoughts of praise and peace.

  II

                                        The Garden of the Luxembourg,
                                          Late July 1914.

When on some scintillating summer morning I leap lightly
up to the seclusion of my garret, I often think of those lines:
"In the brave days when I was twenty-one."

True, I have no loving, kind Lisette to pin her petticoat across the pane,
yet I do live in hope. Am I not in Bohemia the Magical,
Bohemia of Murger, of de Musset, of Verlaine? Shades of Mimi Pinson,
of Trilby, of all that immortal line of laughterful grisettes,
do not tell me that the days of love and fun are forever at an end!

Yes, youth is golden, but what of age? Shall it too not testify
to the rhapsody of existence? Let the years between be those of struggle,
of sufferance -- of disillusion if you will; but let youth and age
affirm the ecstasy of being. Let us look forward all to a serene sunset,
and in the still skies "a late lark singing".

This thought comes to me as, sitting on a bench near the band-stand,
I see an old savant who talks to all the children. His clean-shaven face
is alive with kindliness; under his tall silk hat his white hair falls
to his shoulders. He wears a long black cape over a black frock-coat,
very neat linen, and a flowing tie of black silk. I call him
"Silvester Bonnard". As I look at him I truly think the best of life
are the years between sixty and seventy.

A Song of Sixty-Five


Brave Thackeray has trolled of days when he was twenty-one,
And bounded up five flights of stairs, a gallant garreteer;
And yet again in mellow vein when youth was gaily run,
Has dipped his nose in Gascon wine, and told of Forty Year.
But if I worthy were to sing a richer, rarer time,
I'd tune my pipes before the fire and merrily I'd strive
To praise that age when prose again has given way to rhyme,
The Indian Summer days of life when I'll be Sixty-five;

For then my work will all be done, my voyaging be past,
And I'll have earned the right to rest where folding hills are green;
So in some glassy anchorage I'll make my cable fast, --
Oh, let the seas show all their teeth, I'll sit and smile serene.
The storm may bellow round the roof, I'll bide beside the fire,
And many a scene of sail and trail within the flame I'll see;
For I'll have worn away the spur of passion and desire. . . .
Oh yes, when I am Sixty-five, what peace will come to me.

I'll take my breakfast in my bed, I'll rise at half-past ten,
When all the world is nicely groomed and full of golden song;
I'll smoke a bit and joke a bit, and read the news, and then
I'll potter round my peach-trees till I hear the luncheon gong.
And after that I think I'll doze an hour, well, maybe two,
And then I'll show some kindred soul how well my roses thrive;
I'll do the things I never yet have found the time to do. . . .
Oh, won't I be the busy man when I am Sixty-five.

I'll revel in my library; I'll read De Morgan's books;
I'll grow so garrulous I fear you'll write me down a bore;
I'll watch the ways of ants and bees in quiet sunny nooks,
I'll understand Creation as I never did before.
When gossips round the tea-cups talk I'll listen to it all;
On smiling days some kindly friend will take me for a drive:
I'll own a shaggy collie dog that dashes to my call:
I'll celebrate my second youth when I am Sixty-five.

Ah, though I've twenty years to go, I see myself quite plain,
A wrinkling, twinkling, rosy-cheeked, benevolent old chap;
I think I'll wear a tartan shawl and lean upon a cane.
I hope that I'll have silver hair beneath a velvet cap.
I see my little grandchildren a-romping round my knee;
So gay the scene, I almost wish 'twould hasten to arrive.
Let others sing of Youth and Spring, still will it seem to me
The golden time's the olden time, some time round Sixty-five.

From old men to children is but a step, and there too,
in the shadow of the Fontaine de Medicis, I spend much of my time
watching the little ones. Childhood, so innocent, so helpless, so trusting,
is somehow pathetic to me.

There was one jolly little chap who used to play with a large
white Teddy Bear. He was always with his mother, a sweet-faced woman,
who followed his every movement with delight. I used to watch them both,
and often spoke a few words.

Then one day I missed them, and it struck me I had not seen them for a week,
even a month, maybe. After that I looked for them a time or two
and soon forgot.

Then this morning I saw the mother in the rue D'Assas.
She was alone and in deep black. I wanted to ask after the boy,
but there was a look in her face that stopped me.

I do not think she will ever enter the garden of the Luxembourg again.

Teddy Bear


O Teddy Bear! with your head awry
And your comical twisted smile,
You rub your eyes -- do you wonder why
You've slept such a long, long while?
As you lay so still in the cupboard dim,
And you heard on the roof the rain,
Were you thinking . . . what has become of him?
And when will he play again?

Do you sometimes long for a chubby hand,
And a voice so sweetly shrill?
O Teddy Bear! don't you understand
Why the house is awf'ly still?
You sit with your muzzle propped on your paws,
And your whimsical face askew.
Don't wait, don't wait for your friend . . . because
He's sleeping and dreaming too.

Aye, sleeping long. . . . You remember how
He stabbed our hearts with his cries?
And oh, the dew of pain on his brow,
And the deeps of pain in his eyes!
And, Teddy Bear! you remember, too,
As he sighed and sank to his rest,
How all of a sudden he smiled to you,
And he clutched you close to his breast.

I'll put you away, little Teddy Bear,
In the cupboard far from my sight;
Maybe he'll come and he'll kiss you there,
A wee white ghost in the night.
But me, I'll live with my love and pain
A weariful lifetime through;
And my Hope: will I see him again, again?
Ah, God! If I only knew!

After old men and children I am greatly interested in dogs.
I will go out of my way to caress one who shows any desire to be friendly.
There is a very filthy fellow who collects cigarette stubs
on the Boul' Mich', and who is always followed by a starved yellow cur.
The other day I came across them in a little side street.
The man was stretched on the pavement brutishly drunk and dead to the world.
The dog, lying by his side, seemed to look at me with sad, imploring eyes.
Though all the world despise that man, I thought, this poor brute
loves him and will be faithful unto death.

From this incident I wrote the verses that follow:

The Outlaw


A wild and woeful race he ran
Of lust and sin by land and sea;
Until, abhorred of God and man,
They swung him from the gallows-tree.
And then he climbed the Starry Stair,
And dumb and naked and alone,
With head unbowed and brazen glare,
He stood before the Judgment Throne.

The Keeper of the Records spoke:
"This man, O Lord, has mocked Thy Name.
The weak have wept beneath his yoke,
The strong have fled before his flame.
The blood of babes is on his sword;
His life is evil to the brim:
Look down, decree his doom, O Lord!
Lo! there is none will speak for him."

The golden trumpets blew a blast
That echoed in the crypts of Hell,
For there was Judgment to be passed,
And lips were hushed and silence fell.
The man was mute; he made no stir,
Erect before the Judgment Seat . . .
When all at once a mongrel cur
Crept out and cowered and licked his feet.

It licked his feet with whining cry.
Come Heav'n, come Hell, what did it care?
It leapt, it tried to catch his eye;
Its master, yea, its God was there.
Then, as a thrill of wonder sped
Through throngs of shining seraphim,
The Judge of All looked down and said:
"Lo! here is ONE who pleads for him.

"And who shall love of these the least,
And who by word or look or deed
Shall pity show to bird or beast,
By Me shall have a friend in need.
Aye, though his sin be black as night,
And though he stand 'mid men alone,
He shall be softened in My sight,
And find a pleader by My Throne.

"So let this man to glory win;
From life to life salvation glean;
By pain and sacrifice and sin,
Until he stand before Me -- clean.
For he who loves the least of these
(And here I say and here repeat)
Shall win himself an angel's pleas
For Mercy at My Judgment Seat."

I take my exercise in the form of walking. It keeps me fit and leaves me
free to think. In this way I have come to know Paris like my pocket.
I have explored its large and little streets, its stateliness and its slums.

But most of all I love the Quays, between the leafage and the sunlit Seine.
Like shuttles the little steamers dart up and down, weaving the water
into patterns of foam. Cigar-shaped barges stream under
the lacework of the many bridges and make me think of tranquil days
and willow-fringed horizons.

But what I love most is the stealing in of night, when the sky takes on
that strange elusive purple; when eyes turn to the evening star
and marvel at its brightness; when the Eiffel Tower becomes
a strange, shadowy stairway yearning in impotent effort to the careless moon.

Here is my latest ballad, short if not very sweet:

The Walkers


    (He speaks.)

Walking, walking, oh, the joy of walking!
Swinging down the tawny lanes with head held high;
Striding up the green hills, through the heather stalking,
Swishing through the woodlands where the brown leaves lie;
Marveling at all things -- windmills gaily turning,
Apples for the cider-press, ruby-hued and gold;
Tails of rabbits twinkling, scarlet berries burning,
Wedge of geese high-flying in the sky's clear cold,
Light in little windows, field and furrow darkling;
Home again returning, hungry as a hawk;
Whistling up the garden, ruddy-cheeked and sparkling,
Oh, but I am happy as I walk, walk, walk!

    (She speaks.)

Walking, walking, oh, the curse of walking!
Slouching round the grim square, shuffling up the street,
Slinking down the by-way, all my graces hawking,
Offering my body to each man I meet.
Peering in the gin-shop where the lads are drinking,
Trying to look gay-like, crazy with the blues;
Halting in a doorway, shuddering and shrinking
(Oh, my draggled feather and my thin, wet shoes).
Here's a drunken drover: "Hullo, there, old dearie!"
No, he only curses, can't be got to talk. . . .
On and on till daylight, famished, wet and weary,
God in Heaven help me as I walk, walk, walk!

  III

                                        The Cafe de la Source,
                                          Late in July 1914.

The other evening MacBean was in a pessimistic mood.

"Why do you write?" he asked me gloomily.

"Obviously," I said, "to avoid starving. To produce something
that will buy me food, shelter, raiment."

"If you were a millionaire, would you still write?"

"Yes," I said, after a moment's thought. "You get an idea. It haunts you.
It seems to clamor for expression. It begins to obsess you.
At last in desperation you embody it in a poem, an essay, a story.
There! it is disposed of. You are at rest. It troubles you no more.
Yes; if I were a millionaire I should write, if it were only to escape
from my ideas."

"You have given two reasons why men write," said MacBean: "for gain,
for self-expression. Then, again, some men write to amuse themselves,
some because they conceive they have a mission in the world;
some because they have real genius, and are conscious they can enrich
the literature of all time. I must say I don't know of any
belonging to the latter class. We are living in an age of mediocrity.
There is no writer of to-day who will be read twenty years after he is dead.
That's a truth that must come home to the best of them."

"I guess they're not losing much sleep over it," I said.

"Take novelists," continued MacBean. "The line of first-class novelists
ended with Dickens and Thackeray. Then followed some of the second class,
Stevenson, Meredith, Hardy. And to-day we have three novelists
of the third class, good, capable craftsmen. We can trust ourselves
comfortably in their hands. We read and enjoy them, but do you think
our children will?"

"Yours won't, anyway," I said.

"Don't be too sure. I may surprise you yet. I may get married
and turn bourgeois."

The best thing that could happen to MacBean would be that.
It might change his point of view. He is so painfully discouraging.
I have never mentioned my ballads to him. He would be sure
to throw cold water on them. And as it draws near to its end
the thought of my book grows more and more dear to me.
How I will get it published I know not; but I will.
Then even if it doesn't sell, even if nobody reads it, I will be content.
Out of this brief, perishable Me I will have made something concrete,
something that will preserve my thought within its dusty covers
long after I am dead and dust.

Here is one of my latest:

Poor Peter


Blind Peter Piper used to play
All up and down the city;
I'd often meet him on my way,
And throw a coin for pity.
But all amid his sparkling tones
His ear was quick as any
To catch upon the cobble-stones
The jingle of my penny.

And as upon a day that shone
He piped a merry measure:
"How well you play!" I chanced to say;
Poor Peter glowed with pleasure.
You'd think the words of praise I spoke
Were all the pay he needed;
The artist in the player woke,
The penny lay unheeded.

Now Winter's here; the wind is shrill,
His coat is thin and tattered;
Yet hark! he's playing trill on trill
As if his music mattered.
And somehow though the city looks
Soaked through and through with shadows,
He makes you think of singing brooks
And larks and sunny meadows.

Poor chap! he often starves, they say;
Well, well, I can believe it;
For when you chuck a coin his way
He'll let some street-boy thieve it.
I fear he freezes in the night;
My praise I've long repented,
Yet look! his face is all alight . . .
Blind Peter seems contented.

                                          A day later.

On the terrace of the Closerie de Lilas I came on Saxon Dane.
He was smoking his big briar and drinking a huge glass of brown beer.
The tree gave a pleasant shade, and he had thrown his sombrero on a chair.
I noted how his high brow was bronzed by the sun and there were golden lights
in his broad beard. There was something massive and imposing in the man
as he sat there in brooding thought.

MacBean, he told me, was sick and unable to leave his room.
Rheumatism. So I bought a cooked chicken and a bottle of Barsac,
and mounting to the apartment of the invalid, I made him eat and drink.
MacBean was very despondent, but cheered up greatly.

I think he rather dreads the future. He cannot save money,
and all he makes he spends. He has always been a rover,
often tried to settle down but could not. Now I think he wishes for security.
I fear, however, it is too late.

The Wistful One


I sought the trails of South and North,
I wandered East and West;
But pride and passion drove me forth
And would not let me rest.

And still I seek, as still I roam,
A snug roof overhead;
Four walls, my own; a quiet home. . . .
"You'll have it -- when you're dead."

MacBean is one of Bohemia's victims. It is a country of the young.
The old have no place in it. He will gradually lose his grip,
go down and down. I am sorry. He is my nearest approach to a friend.
I do not make them easily. I have deep reserves. I like solitude.
I am never so surrounded by boon companions as when I am all alone.

But though I am a solitary I realize the beauty of friendship,
and on looking through my note-book I find the following:

If You Had a Friend


If you had a friend strong, simple, true,
Who knew your faults and who understood;
Who believed in the very best of you,
And who cared for you as a father would;
Who would stick by you to the very end,
Who would smile however the world might frown:
I'm sure you would try to please your friend,
You never would think to throw him down.

And supposing your friend was high and great,
And he lived in a palace rich and tall,
And sat like a King in shining state,
And his praise was loud on the lips of all;
Well then, when he turned to you alone,
And he singled you out from all the crowd,
And he called you up to his golden throne,
Oh, wouldn't you just be jolly proud?

If you had a friend like this, I say,
So sweet and tender, so strong and true,
You'd try to please him in every way,
You'd live at your bravest -- now, wouldn't you?
His worth would shine in the words you penned;
You'd shout his praises . . . yet now it's odd!
You tell me you haven't got such a friend;
You haven't? I wonder . . . What of God?

To how few is granted the privilege of doing the work which lies
closest to the heart, the work for which one is best fitted.
The happy man is he who knows his limitations, yet bows to no false gods.

MacBean is not happy. He is overridden by his appetites,
and to satisfy them he writes stuff that in his heart he despises.

Saxon Dane is not happy. His dream exceeds his grasp.
His twisted, tortured phrases mock the vague grandiosity of his visions.

I am happy. My talent is proportioned to my ambition.
The things I like to write are the things I like to read.
I prefer the lesser poets to the greater, the cackle of the barnyard fowl
to the scream of the eagle. I lack the divinity of discontent.

True Contentment comes from within. It dominates circumstance.
It is resignation wedded to philosophy, a Christian quality seldom attained
except by the old.

There is such an one I sometimes see being wheeled about in the Luxembourg.
His face is beautiful in its thankfulness.

The Contented Man


"How good God is to me," he said;
"For have I not a mansion tall,
With trees and lawns of velvet tread,
And happy helpers at my call?
With beauty is my life abrim,
With tranquil hours and dreams apart;
You wonder that I yield to Him
That best of prayers, a grateful heart?"

"How good God is to me," he said;
"For look! though gone is all my wealth,
How sweet it is to earn one's bread
With brawny arms and brimming health.
Oh, now I know the joy of strife!
To sleep so sound, to wake so fit.
Ah yes, how glorious is life!
I thank Him for each day of it."

"How good God is to me," he said;
"Though health and wealth are gone, it's true;
Things might be worse, I might be dead,
And here I'm living, laughing too.
Serene beneath the evening sky
I wait, and every man's my friend;
God's most contented man am I . . .
He keeps me smiling to the End."

To-day the basin of the Luxembourg is bright with little boats.
Hundreds of happy children romp around it. Little ones everywhere;
yet there is no other city with so many childless homes.

The Spirit of the Unborn Babe


The Spirit of the Unborn Babe peered through the window-pane,
Peered through the window-pane that glowed like beacon in the night;
For, oh, the sky was desolate and wild with wind and rain;
And how the little room was crammed with coziness and light!
Except the flirting of the fire there was no sound at all;
The Woman sat beside the hearth, her knitting on her knee;
The shadow of her husband's head was dancing on the wall;
She looked with staring eyes at it, she looked yet did not see.
She only saw a childish face that topped the table rim,
A little wistful ghost that smiled and vanished quick away;
And then because her tender eyes were flooding to the brim,
She lowered her head. . . . "Don't sorrow, dear," she heard him softly say;
"It's over now. We'll try to be as happy as before
(Ah! they who little children have, grant hostages to pain).
We gave Life chance to wound us once, but never, never more. . . ."
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe fled through the night again.

The Spirit of the Unborn Babe went wildered in the dark;
Like termagants the winds tore down and whirled it with the snow.
And then amid the writhing storm it saw a tiny spark,
A window broad, a spacious room all goldenly aglow,
A woman slim and Paris-gowned and exquisitely fair,
Who smiled with rapture as she watched her jewels catch the blaze;
A man in faultless evening dress, young, handsome, debonnaire,
Who smoked his cigarette and looked with frank admiring gaze.
"Oh, we are happy, sweet," said he; "youth, health, and wealth are ours.
What if a thousand toil and sweat that we may live at ease!
What if the hands are worn and torn that strew our path with flowers!
Ah, well! we did not make the world; let us not think of these.
Let's seek the beauty-spots of earth, Dear Heart, just you and I;
Let other women bring forth life with sorrow and with pain.
Above our door we'll hang the sign: `No children need apply. . . .'"
The Spirit of the Unborn Babe sped through the night again.

The Spirit of the Unborn Babe went whirling on and on;
It soared above a city vast, it swept down to a slum;
It saw within a grimy house a light that dimly shone;
It peered in through a window-pane and lo! a voice said: "Come!"
And so a little girl was born amid the dirt and din,
And lived in spite of everything, for life is ordered so;
A child whose eyes first opened wide to swinishness and sin,
A child whose love and innocence met only curse and blow.
And so in due and proper course she took the path of shame,
And gladly died in hospital, quite old at twenty years;
And when God comes to weigh it all, ah! whose shall be the blame
For all her maimed and poisoned life, her torture and her tears?
For oh, it is not what we do, but what we have not done!
And on that day of reckoning, when all is plain and clear,
What if we stand before the Throne, blood-guilty every one? . . .
Maybe the blackest sins of all are Selfishness and Fear.

  IV

                                        The Cafe de la Paix,
                                          August 1, 1914.

Paris and I are out of tune. As I sit at this famous corner the faint breeze
is stale and weary; stale and weary too the faces that swirl around me;
while overhead the electric sign of Somebody's Chocolate appears and vanishes
with irritating insistency. The very trees seem artificial,
gleaming under the arc-lights with a raw virility that rasps my nerves.

"Poor little trees," I mutter, "growing in all this grime and glare,
your only dryads the loitering ladies with the complexions
of such brilliant certainty, your only Pipes of Pan
orchestral echoes from the clamorous cafes. Exiles of the forest!
what know you of full-blossomed winds, of red-embered sunsets,
of the gentle admonition of spring rain! Life, that would fain be a melody,
seems here almost a malady. I crave for the balm of Nature,
the anodyne of solitude, the breath of Mother Earth. Tell me,
O wistful trees, what shall I do?"

Then that stale and weary wind rustles the leaves of the nearest sycamore,
and I am sure it whispers: "Brittany."

So to-morrow I am off, off to the Land of Little Fields.

Finistere


Hurrah! I'm off to Finistere, to Finistere, to Finistere;
My satchel's swinging on my back, my staff is in my hand;
I've twenty louis in my purse, I know the sun and sea are there,
And so I'm starting out to-day to tramp the golden land.
I'll go alone and glorying, with on my lips a song of joy;
I'll leave behind the city with its canker and its care;
I'll swing along so sturdily -- oh, won't I be the happy boy!
A-singing on the rocky roads, the roads of Finistere.

Oh, have you been to Finistere, and do you know a whin-gray town
That echoes to the clatter of a thousand wooden shoes?
And have you seen the fisher-girls go gallivantin' up and down,
And watched the tawny boats go out, and heard the roaring crews?
Oh, would you sit with pipe and bowl, and dream upon some sunny quay,
Or would you walk the windy heath and drink the cooler air;
Oh, would you seek a cradled cove and tussle with the topaz sea! --
Pack up your kit to-morrow, lad, and haste to Finistere.

Oh, I will go to Finistere, there's nothing that can hold me back.
I'll laugh with Yves and Le/on, and I'll chaff with Rose and Jeanne;
I'll seek the little, quaint buvette that's kept by Mother Merdrinac,
Who wears a cap of many frills, and swears just like a man.
I'll yarn with hearty, hairy chaps who dance and leap and crack their heels;
Who swallow cupfuls of cognac and never turn a hair;
I'll watch the nut-brown boats come in with mullet, plaice and conger eels,
The jeweled harvest of the sea they reap in Finistere.

Yes, I'll come back from Finistere with memories of shining days,
Of scaly nets and salty men in overalls of brown;
Of ancient women knitting as they watch the tethered cattle graze
By little nestling beaches where the gorse goes blazing down;
Of headlands silvering the sea, of Calvarys against the sky,
Of scorn of angry sunsets, and of Carnac grim and bare;
Oh, won't I have the leaping veins, and tawny cheek and sparkling eye,
When I come back to Montparnasse and dream of Finistere.

                                          Two days later.

Behold me with staff and scrip, footing it merrily in the Land of Pardons.
I have no goal. When I am weary I stop at some auberge;
when I am rested I go on again. Neither do I put any constraint
on my spirit. No subduing of the mind to the task of the moment.
I dream to heart's content.

My dreams stretch into the future. I see myself a singer of simple songs,
a laureate of the under-dog. I will write books, a score of them.
I will voyage far and wide. I will . . .

But there! Dreams are dangerous. They waste the time one should spend
in making them come true. Yet when we do make them come true,
we find the vision sweeter than the reality. How much of our happiness
do we owe to dreams? I have in mind one old chap who used to herd the sheep
on my uncle's farm.

Old David Smail


He dreamed away his hours in school;
He sat with such an absent air,
The master reckoned him a fool,
And gave him up in dull despair.

When other lads were making hay
You'd find him loafing by the stream;
He'd take a book and slip away,
And just pretend to fish . . . and dream.

His brothers passed him in the race;
They climbed the hill and clutched the prize.
He did not seem to heed, his face
Was tranquil as the evening skies.

He lived apart, he spoke with few;
Abstractedly through life he went;
Oh, what he dreamed of no one knew,
And yet he seemed to be content.

I see him now, so old and gray,
His eyes with inward vision dim;
And though he faltered on the way,
Somehow I almost envied him.

At last beside his bed I stood:
"And is Life done so soon?" he sighed;
"It's been so rich, so full, so good,
I've loved it all . . ." -- and so he died.

                                          Another day.

Framed in hedgerows of emerald, the wheat glows with a caloric fervor,
as if gorged with summer heat. In the vivid green of pastures
old women are herding cows. Calm and patient are their faces
as with gentle industry they bend over their knitting.
One feels that they are necessary to the landscape.

To gaze at me the field-workers suspend the magnificent lethargy
of their labors. The men with the reaping hooks improve the occasion
by another pull at the cider bottle under the stook;
the women raise apathetic brown faces from the sheaf they are tying;
every one is a study in deliberation, though the crop is russet ripe
and crying to be cut.

Then on I go again amid high banks overgrown with fern and honeysuckle.
Sometimes I come on an old mill that seems to have been constructed
by Constable, so charmingly does Nature imitate Art. By the deserted house,
half drowned in greenery, the velvety wheel, dipping in the crystal water,
seems to protest against this prolongation of its toil.

Then again I come on its brother, the Mill of the Wind, whirling its arms
so cheerily, as it turns its great white stones for its master,
the floury miller by the door.

These things delight me. I am in a land where Time has lagged,
where simple people timorously hug the Past. How far away now
seems the welter and swelter of the city, the hectic sophistication
of the streets. The sense of wonder is strong in me again,
the joy of looking at familiar things as if one were seeing them
for the first time.

The Wonderer


I wish that I could understand
The moving marvel of my Hand;
I watch my fingers turn and twist,
The supple bending of my wrist,
The dainty touch of finger-tip,
The steel intensity of grip;
A tool of exquisite design,
With pride I think: "It's mine! It's mine!"

Then there's the wonder of my Eyes,
Where hills and houses, seas and skies,
In waves of light converge and pass,
And print themselves as on a glass.
Line, form and color live in me;
I am the Beauty that I see;
Ah! I could write a book of size
About the wonder of my Eyes.

What of the wonder of my Heart,
That plays so faithfully its part?
I hear it running sound and sweet;
It does not seem to miss a beat;
Between the cradle and the grave
It never falters, stanch and brave.
Alas! I wish I had the art
To tell the wonder of my Heart.

Then oh! but how can I explain
The wondrous wonder of my Brain?
That marvelous machine that brings
All consciousness of wonderings;
That lets me from myself leap out
And watch my body walk about;
It's hopeless -- all my words are vain
To tell the wonder of my Brain.

But do not think, O patient friend,
Who reads these stanzas to the end,
That I myself would glorify. . . .
You're just as wonderful as I,
And all Creation in our view
Is quite as marvelous as you.
Come, let us on the sea-shore stand
And wonder at a grain of sand;
And then into the meadow pass
And marvel at a blade of grass;
Or cast our vision high and far
And thrill with wonder at a star;
A host of stars -- night's holy tent
Huge-glittering with wonderment.

If wonder is in great and small,
Then what of Him who made it all?
In eyes and brain and heart and limb
Let's see the wondrous work of Him.
In house and hill and sward and sea,
In bird and beast and flower and tree,
In everything from sun to sod,
The wonder and the awe of God.

                                          August 9, 1914.

For some time the way has been growing wilder. Thickset hedges
have yielded to dykes of stone, and there is every sign that I am approaching
the rugged region of the coast. At each point of vantage I can see a Cross,
often a relic of the early Christians, stumpy and corroded.
Then I come on a slab of gray stone upstanding about fifteen feet.
Like a sentinel on that solitary plain it overwhelms me
with a sense of mystery.

But as I go on through this desolate land these stones become
more and more familiar. Like soldiers they stand in rank,
extending over the moor. The sky is cowled with cloud,
save where a sullen sunset shoots blood-red rays across the plain.
Bathed in that sinister light stands my army of stone,
and a wind swooping down seems to wail amid its ranks. As in a glass darkly
I can see the skin-clad men, the women with their tangled hair,
the beast-like feast, the cowering terror of the night. Then the sunset
is cut off suddenly, and a clammy mist shrouds that silent army.
So it is almost with a shudder I take my last look at the Stones of Carnac.

But now my pilgrimage is drawing to an end. A painter friend
who lives by the sea has asked me to stay with him awhile.
Well, I have walked a hundred miles, singing on the way.
I have dreamed and dawdled, planned, exulted. I have drunk buckets of cider,
and eaten many an omelette that seemed like a golden glorification of its egg.
It has all been very sweet, but it will also be sweet to loaf awhile.

Oh, It Is Good


Oh, it is good to drink and sup,
And then beside the kindly fire
To smoke and heap the faggots up,
And rest and dream to heart's desire.

Oh, it is good to ride and run,
To roam the greenwood wild and free;
To hunt, to idle in the sun,
To leap into the laughing sea.

Oh, it is good with hand and brain
To gladly till the chosen soil,
And after honest sweat and strain
To see the harvest of one's toil.

Oh, it is good afar to roam,
And seek adventure in strange lands;
Yet oh, so good the coming home,
The velvet love of little hands.

So much is good. . . . We thank Thee, God,
For all the tokens Thou hast given,
That here on earth our feet have trod
Thy little shining trails of Heaven.

  V

                                          August 10, 1914.

I am living in a little house so near the sea that at high tide
I can see on my bedroom wall the reflected ripple of the water.
At night I waken to the melodious welter of waves; or maybe
there is a great stillness, and then I know that the sand and sea-grass
are lying naked to the moon. But soon the tide returns,
and once more I hear the roistering of the waves.

Calvert, my friend, is a lover as well as a painter of nature. He rises
with the dawn to see the morning mist kindle to coral and the sun's edge
clear the hill-crest. As he munches his coarse bread and sips his white wine,
what dreams are his beneath the magic changes of the sky!
He will paint the same scene under a dozen conditions of light.
He has looked so long for Beauty that he has come to see it everywhere.

I love this friendly home of his. A peace steals over my spirit,
and I feel as if I could stay here always. Some day I hope that I too
may have such an one, and that I may write like this:

I Have Some Friends


I have some friends, some worthy friends,
And worthy friends are rare:
These carpet slippers on my feet,
That padded leather chair;
This old and shabby dressing-gown,
So well the worse of wear.

I have some friends, some honest friends,
And honest friends are few;
My pipe of briar, my open fire,
A book that's not too new;
My bed so warm, the nights of storm
I love to listen to.

I have some friends, some good, good friends,
Who faithful are to me:
My wrestling partner when I rise,
The big and burly sea;
My little boat that's riding there
So saucy and so free.

I have some friends, some golden friends,
Whose worth will not decline:
A tawny Irish terrier, a purple shading pine,
A little red-roofed cottage that
So proudly I call mine.

All other friends may come and go,
All other friendships fail;
But these, the friends I've worked to win,
Oh, they will never stale;
And comfort me till Time shall write
The finish to my tale.

Calvert tries to paint more than the thing he sees; he tries
to paint behind it, to express its spirit. He believes that Beauty
is God made manifest, and that when we discover Him in Nature
we discover Him in ourselves.

But Calvert did not always see thus. At one time he was a Pagan, content to
paint the outward aspect of things. It was after his little child died
he gained in vision. Maybe the thought that the dead are lost to us
was too unbearable. He had to believe in a coming together again.

The Quest


I sought Him on the purple seas,
I sought Him on the peaks aflame;
Amid the gloom of giant trees
And canyons lone I called His name;
The wasted ways of earth I trod:
In vain! In vain! I found not God.

I sought Him in the hives of men,
The cities grand, the hamlets gray,
The temples old beyond my ken,
The tabernacles of to-day;
All life that is, from cloud to clod
I sought. . . . Alas! I found not God.

Then after roamings far and wide,
In streets and seas and deserts wild,
I came to stand at last beside
The death-bed of my little child.
Lo! as I bent beneath the rod
I raised my eyes . . . and there was God.

A golden mile of sand swings hammock-like between two tusks of rock.
The sea is sleeping sapphire that wakes to cream and crash upon the beach.
There is a majesty in the detachment of its lazy waves,
and it is good in the night to hear its friendly roar. Good, too,
to leap forth with the first sunshine and fall into its arms,
to let it pummel the body to living ecstasy and send one to breakfast
glad-eyed and glowing.

Behind the house the greensward slopes to a wheat-field
that is like a wall of gold. Here I lie and laze away the time,
or dip into a favorite book, Stevenson's Letters or Belloc's Path to Rome.
Bees drone in the wild thyme; a cuckoo keeps calling,
a lark spills jeweled melody. Then there is a seeming silence,
but it is the silence of a deeper sound.

After all, Silence is only man's confession of his deafness.
Like Death, like Eternity, it is a word that means nothing. So lying there
I hear the breathing of the trees, the crepitation of the growing grass,
the seething of the sap and the movements of innumerable insects.
Strange how I think with distaste of the spurious glitter of Paris,
of my garret, even of my poor little book.

I watch the wife of my friend gathering poppies in the wheat.
There is a sadness in her face, for it is only a year ago
they lost their little one. Often I see her steal away
to the village graveyard, sitting silent for long and long.

The Comforter


As I sat by my baby's bed
That's open to the sky,
There fluttered round and round my head
A radiant butterfly.

And as I wept -- of hearts that ache
The saddest in the land --
It left a lily for my sake,
And lighted on my hand.

I watched it, oh, so quietly,
And though it rose and flew,
As if it fain would comfort me
It came and came anew.

Now, where my darling lies at rest,
I do not dare to sigh,
For look! there gleams upon my breast
A snow-white butterfly.

My friends will have other children, and if some day they should read
this piece of verse, perhaps they will think of the city lad
who used to sit under the old fig-tree in the garden and watch the lizards
sun themselves on the time-worn wall.

The Other One


"Gather around me, children dear;
The wind is high and the night is cold;
Closer, little ones, snuggle near;
Let's seek a story of ages old;
A magic tale of a bygone day,
Of lovely ladies and dragons dread;
Come, for you're all so tired of play,
We'll read till it's time to go to bed."

So they all are glad, and they nestle in,
And squat on the rough old nursery rug,
And they nudge and hush as I begin,
And the fire leaps up and all's so snug;
And there I sit in the big arm-chair,
And how they are eager and sweet and wise,
And they cup their chins in their hands and stare
At the heart of the flame with thoughtful eyes.

And then, as I read by the ruddy glow
And the little ones sit entranced and still . . .
He's drawing near, ah! I know, I know
He's listening too, as he always will.
He's there -- he's standing beside my knee;
I see him so well, my wee, wee son. . . .
Oh, children dear, don't look at me --
I'm reading now for -- the Other One.

For the firelight glints in his golden hair,
And his wondering eyes are fixed on my face,
And he rests on the arm of my easy-chair,
And the book's a blur and I lose my place:
And I touch my lips to his shining head,
And my voice breaks down and -- the story's done. . . .
Oh, children, kiss me and go to bed:
Leave me to think of the Other One.

Of the One who will never grow up at all,
Who will always be just a child at play,
Tender and trusting and sweet and small,
Who will never leave me and go away;
Who will never hurt me and give me pain;
Who will comfort me when I'm all alone;
A heart of love that's without a stain,
Always and always my own, my own.

Yet a thought shines out from the dark of pain,
And it gives me hope to be reconciled:
That each of us must be born again,
And live and die as a little child;
So that with souls all shining white,
White as snow and without one sin,
We may come to the Gates of Eternal Light,
Where only children may enter in.

So, gentle mothers, don't ever grieve
Because you have lost, but kiss the rod;
From the depths of your woe be glad, believe
You've given an angel unto God.
Rejoice! You've a child whose youth endures,
Who comes to you when the day is done,
Wistful for love, oh, yours, just yours,
Dearest of all, the Other One.

Catastrophe


                                        Brittany,
                                          August 14, 1914.

And now I fear I must write in another strain. Up to this time
I have been too happy. I have existed in a magic Bohemia,
largely of my own making. Hope, faith, enthusiasm have been mine.
Each day has had its struggle, its failure, its triumph.
However, that is all ended. During the past week we have lived breathlessly.
For in spite of the exultant sunshine our spirits have been under a cloud,
a deepening shadow of horror and calamity. . . . WAR.

Even as I write, in our little village steeple the bells are ringing madly,
and in every little village steeple all over the land. As he hears it
the harvester checks his scythe on the swing; the clerk throws down his pen;
the shopkeeper puts up his shutters. Only in the cafes
there is a clamor of voices and a drowning of care.

For here every man must fight, every home give tribute.
There is no question, no appeal. By heredity and discipline
all minds are shaped to this great hour. So to-morrow each man
will seek his barracks and become a soldier as completely
as if he had never been anything else. With the same docility
as he dons his baggy red trousers will he let some muddle-headed General
hurl him to destruction for some dubious gain. To-day a father, a home-maker;
to-morrow fodder for cannon. So they all go without hesitation,
without bitterness; and the great military machine that knows not humanity
swings them to their fate. I marvel at the sense of duty, the resignation,
the sacrifice. It is magnificent, it is FRANCE.

And the Women. Those who wait and weep. Ah! to-day I have not seen one
who did not weep. Yes, one. She was very old, and she stood
by her garden gate with her hand on the uplifted latch. As I passed
she looked at me with eyes that did not see. She had no doubt
sons and grandsons who must fight, and she had good reason, perhaps,
to remember the war of soixante-dix. When I passed an hour later
she was still there, her hand on the uplifted latch.

                                          August 30th.

The men have gone. Only remain graybeards, women and children.
Calvert and I have been helping our neighbors to get in the harvest.
No doubt we aid; but there with the old men and children
a sense of uneasiness and even shame comes over me. I would like to return
to Paris, but the railway is mobilized. Each day I grow more discontented.
Up there in the red North great things are doing and I am out of it.
I am thoroughly unhappy.

Then Calvert comes to me with a plan. He has a Ford car. We will all three
go to Paris. He intends to offer himself and his car to the Red Cross.
His wife will nurse. So we are very happy at the solution,
and to-morrow we are off.

                                        Paris.

Back again. Closed shutters, deserted streets. How glum everything is!
Those who are not mobilized seem uncertain how to turn.
Every one buys the papers and reads grimly of disaster. No news is bad news.

I go to my garret as to a beloved friend. Everything is just as I left it,
so that it seems I have never been away. I sigh with relief and joy.
I will take up my work again. Serene above the storm I will watch and wait.
Although I have been brought up in England I am American born.
My country is not concerned.

So, going to the Do^me Cafe, I seek some of my comrades.
Strange! They have gone. MacBean, I am told, is in England.
By dyeing his hair and lying about his age he has managed to enlist
in the Seaforth Highlanders. Saxon Dane too. He has joined
the Foreign Legion, and even now may be fighting.

Well, let them go. I will keep out of the mess. But why did they go?
I wish I knew. War is murder. Criminal folly. Against Humanity.
Imperialism is at the root of it. We are fools and dupes.
Yes, I will think and write of other things. . . .

MacBean has enlisted.

I hate violence. I would not willingly cause pain to anything breathing.
I would rather be killed than kill. I will stand above the Battle
and watch it from afar.

Dane is in the Foreign Legion.

How disturbing it all is! One cannot settle down to anything.
Every day I meet men who tell the most wonderful stories
in the most casual way. I envy them. I too want to have experiences,
to live where life's beat is most intense. But that's a poor reason
for going to war.

And yet, though I shrink from the idea of fighting, I might in some way help
those who are. MacBean and Dane, for example. Sitting lonely in the Do^me,
I seem to see their ghosts in the corner. MacBean listening with his keen,
sarcastic smile, Saxon Dane banging his great hairy fist on the table
till the glasses jump. Where are they now? Living a life
that I will never know. When they come back, if they ever do,
shall I not feel shamed in their presence? Oh, this filthy war!
Things were going on so beautifully. We were all so happy,
so full of ambition, of hope; laughing and talking over pipe and bowl,
and in our garrets seeking to realize our dreams. Ah, these days
will never come again!

Then, as I sit there, Calvert seeks me out. He has joined an ambulance corps
that is going to the Front. Will I come in?

"Yes," I say; "I'll do anything."

So it is all settled. To-morrow I give up my freedom.



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