HUGH FALCON learned this happy truth one day;
(‘Twas a fair noontide in the month of May)–
When, as the chaplain of the convicts’ jail,
He passed its glowering archway, sad and pale,
Bearing his tender daughter on his arm.
A five years’ darling she! The dewy charm
Of Eden star-dawns glistened in her eyes;
Her dimpled cheeks were rich with sunny dyes.
“Papa!” the child that morn while still abed,
Drawing him close toward her, shyly said:
“Papa! oh, won’t you let your Nellie go
To see those naughty men that plague you so,
Down in the ugly prison by the wood?
Papa, I’ll beg and pray them to be good.”
“What, you, my child?” he said, with half a sigh.
“Why not, papa? I’ll beg them so to try.”
The chaplain, with a father’s gentlest grace,
Kissed the small ruffled brow, the pleading face:
“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings still,
Praise is perfected,” thought he; thus, his will
Blended with hers, and through those gates of sin,
Black, even at noontide, sire and child passed in.
Fancy the foulness of a sulphurous lake,
Wherefrom a lily’s snow-white leaves should break,
Flushed by the shadow of an unseen rose!
So, at the iron gate’s loud clang and close,
Shone the drear twilight of that place defiled,
Touched by the flower-like sweetness of the child!
O’er many a, dismal vault, and stony floor,
The chaplain walked from ponderous door to door,
Till now beneath a stairway’s dizzy flight
He stood and looked up the far-circling height;
But risen of late from fever’s torture-bed,
How could he trust his faltering limbs and head?
Just then, he saw, next to the mildewed wall,
A man in prisoner’s raiment, gaunt and tall,
Of sullen aspect, and wan, downcast face,
Gloomed in the midnight of some deep disgrace;
He shrank as one who yearned to fade away,
Like a vague shadow on the stone-work gray,
Or die beyond it, like a viewless wind;
He seemed a spirit faithless, passionless, blind
To all fair hopes which light the hearts of men,–
A dull, dead soul, never to wake again!
The chaplain paused, half doubting what to do,
When little Nellie raised her eyes of blue,
And, no wise daunted by the downward stir
Of shaggy brows that glowered askance at her,
Said,–putting by her wealth of sunny hair,–
“Sir, will you kindly take me up the stair?
Papa is tired, and I’m too small to climb.”
Frankly her eyes in his gazed all the time;
And something to her childhood’s instinct known
So worked within her, that her arms were thrown
About his neck. She left her sire’s embrace
Near that sad convict-heart to take her place,
Sparkling and trustful–more she did not speak,
But her quick fingers patted his swart check
Caressingly,–in time to some old tune
Hummed by her nurse, in summer’s drowsy noon!
Perforce he turned his wild, uncertain gaze
Down on the child! Then stole a tremulous haze
Across his eyes, but rounded not to tears;
Wherethrough he saw faint glimmerings of lost years
And perished loves! A cabin by a rill
Rose through the twilight on a happy hill;
And there were lithe child-figures at their play
That flashed and faded in the dusky ray;
And near the porch a gracious wife who smiled,
Pure as young Eve in Eden, unbeguiled!
Subdued, yet thrilled, ’twas beautiful to see
With what deep reverence, and how tenderly,
He clasped the infant frame so slight and fair,
And safely bore her up the darkening stair!
The landing reached, in her arch, childish ease,
Our Nelly clasped his neck and whispered:
Won’t you be good, sir? For I like you so,
And you are such a big, strong man, you know–“
With pleading eyes, her sweet face, sidewise set.
Then suddenly his furrowed cheeks grew wet
With sacred tears–in whose divine eclipse
Upon her nestling head he pressed his lips
As softly as a dreamy west wind’s sigh,
What time a something, undefined but high,
As ’twere a new soul, struggled to the dawn
Through his raised eyelids. Thence, the gloom withdrawn
Of brooding vengeance and unholy pain,
He felt no more the captive’s galling chain;
But only knew a little child had come
To smite despair, his taunting demon, dumb;
A child whose marvellous innocence enticed
All white thoughts back, that from the heart of Christ
Fly dove-like earthward, past our clouded ken,
Child-life to bless, or lives of child-like men!
Thus he went his way,
An altered man from that thrice bless
(Paul Hamilton Hayne)
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Based on Keywords: foulness, unbeguiled, glimmerings, sucklings, glowered, stone-work, child-life