Madge Morris Wagner Poems >>
Mystery Of Carmel

The Mission floor was with weeds o'ergrown,
And crumbling and shaky its walls of stone;
Its roof of tiles, in tiers and tiers,
Had stood the storms of a hundred years.
An olden, weird, medieval style
Clung to the mouldering, gloomy pile,
And the rhythmic voice of the breaking waves
Sang a lonesome dirge in its land of graves.
As I walked in the Mission old and gray--
  The Mission Carmel at Monterey.

An ancient owl went fluttering by,
Scared from his haunt. His mournful cry
Wakened the echoes, till roof and wall
Caught and re-echoed the dismal call
Again and again, till it seemed to me
Some Jesuit soul, in mockery--
Stripped of rosary, gown, and cowl--
Haunted the place, in this dreary owl.
Surely I shivered with fright that day,
Alone in the Mission, old and gray--
  The Mission Carmel at Monterey.

Near the chapel vault was a dungeon grim,
And they say that many a chanted hymn
Has rung a knell on the moldy air
For luckless errant prisoned there,
As kneeling monk and pious nun
Sang orison at set of sun.
A single window, dark and small,
Showed opening in the heavy wall,
Nor other entrance seemed attained
That erst had human footstep gained.
I paused before the uncanny place
And peered me into its darksome space.
Had it of secret aught to tell,
That locked up darkness kept it well.
I turned, and lo! by my side there stood
A being of strangest naturehood.
Startled, I glanced him o'er and o'er,
Wondering I noted him not before.
His form was stooped with the weight of years,
And on his cheek was a trace of tears;
Over all his face a shade of pain
That deepened and vanished, and came again.
Fixed he his woeful eyes on me--
Through my very soul they seemed to see.
And lightly he laid his hand on mine--
His hand was cold as the vestal shrine.
"'Tis haunted," he said, "haunted, and he
Who dares at night-noon go with me
To this cursed place, by phantoms trod,
Must fear not devil, man, nor God."
"Tell me the story," I cried, "tell me!"
And frightened was I at my bravery.
A curious smile his thin lips curved,
That well had my bravery unnerved.
And this is the story he told that day
To me in the Mission old and gray--
  The Mission Carmel at Monterey.

"Each midnight, since have seventy years
Begun their cycle around the spheres,
Two faces have looked from that window there.
One is a woman's, young and fair,
With tender eyes and floating hair.
Love, and regret, and dumb despair,
Are told in each tint of the fair sweet face.
The other is crowned with a courtly grace,
Gazing, with all a lover's pride,
On the beautiful woman by his side.
Anon! a change flits o'er his mien,
And baffled rage in his glance is seen.
Paler they grow as the hours go by,
With the pallor that comes with the summons to die.
Slowly fading, and shrinking away,
Clutched in the grasp of a gaunt decay,
Till the herald of morn on the sky is thrown;
Then a shriek, a curse, and a dying moan,
Comes from that death-black window there.
A mocking laugh rings out on the air,
From that darkful place, in the nascent dawn,
And the faces that looked from the window are gone.
Seventy years, when the Spanish flag
Floated above yon beetling crag,
And this dearthful mission place was rife
With the panoply of busy life;
Hard by, where yon canyon, deep and wide,
Sweeps it adown the mountain side,
A cavalier dwelt with his beautiful bride.
Oft to the priestal shrive went she;
As often, stealthily, followed he.
The padre Sanson absolved and blessed
The penitent, and the sin-distressed,
Nor ever before won devotee
So wondrous a reverence as he.
A-night, when the winds played wild and high,
And the ocean rocked it to the sky,
An earthquake trembled the shore along,
Hushing on lip of praise its song,
And jarred to its center this Mission strong.
When the morning broke with a summer sun,
The earth was at rest, the storm was done.
Still the Mission tower'd in its stately pride;
Still the cottage smiled by the canyon-side;
But never the priest was there to bless,
And the cottage roof was tenantless.
Vainly they sought for the padre, dead,
For the cottage dwellers; amazed, they said
'Twas a miracle; but since that day
There's a ghost in the Mission old and gray--
  The Mission Carmel of Monterey

"A sequel there is to that tale," said he,
"Of the way and the truth I hold the key."
"Show me the way," I cried, "Show me
To the depth of this curious mystery!"
He waved me to follow; my heart stood still
Under the ban of a mightier will
Than mine. A terror of icy chill
O'er-shivered my being from hand to brain,
Freezing the blood in each pulsing vein,
As I followed this most mysterious guide
Through the solid floor at the chancel side,
Into a passage whose stifling breath
Reeked with the pestilence of death.
Down through a subterranean vault,
Over broken steps with never a halt,
Till we stood in the midst of a spacious room,
A charnel-house in its shroud of gloom.
Only a window, narrow and small,
Left in the build of the heavy wall,
Through which the flickering sunbeams died,
Showed passway to the world outside.
Slowly my eyes to the darkness grew,
And I saw in the gloom, or rather knew,
That my feet had touched two skeleton forms,
One closely clasped in the other's arms.
Recoiling, I shuddered and turned my face
From the fleshless mockery of embrace.
Again o'er a heap of rubbish and rust,
I stumbled and caught in the moth and dust
What hardly a sense of my soul believes--
A mold-stained package of parchment leaves!
A hideous bat flapped into my face!
O'ercome with horror, I fled the place,
And stood again with my curious guide
On the solid floor, at the chancel's side.
But, lo! in a moment the age-bowed seer
Was a darkly frowning cavalier,
Gazing no longer in woeful trance,
Vengeance blazed in his every glance.
Then a mocking laugh rang the Mission o'er,
And I stood alone by the chapel door;
And, save for the mold-stained parchment leaves,
I had thought it the vision that night-mare weaves.
Hardly a sense of my soul believes,
Yet I held in my hand the parchment leaves.
Careful I noted them, one by one,
Each was a letter in rhyming run,
Written over and over, in tenderest strain,
By fingers that never will write again.
I strung them together, a tale to tell,
And named it "The Mystery of Carmel."
And these are the letters I found that day,
In the mission ruin, old and gray--
  The Mission Carmel of Monterey:


Oh, holy father, list thee to my prayer!
 I may not kneel to thee as others kneel,
And tell my heart-aches with the suppliant's air,
 But fiercer burns the fire I must conceal.

My soul is groping in the mists of doubt,
 The sunlight and the shadows all are gone,
Only a cold, gray cloud my life's about,
 Nor ever vision of a fairer dawn.

A father ne'er my brow in loving smoothed,
 Nor taught my baby tongue to lisp his name;
No mother's voice my childish sorrows soothed,
 Nor sought my wild, imperious will to tame.

Yet ran my life, like some bright bubbling spring,
 Too full of thoughtless happiness to care
If that the future might more gladness bring,
 Or might its skies be clouded or be fair.

Afar upon the purple hills of Spain--
 Since waned the moons of half a year ago--
I sported, reckless as the laughing main,
 Nor dreamed in life a thought of grief to know.

To-day I pine here in a chain whose gall
 Is bitterer than drop of wormwood brought
From that salt sea where nothing lives, and all
 The recompense my willfulness has brought.

Oh, holy father, list thee to my prayer!
 And though I may not kneel as others kneel,
And tell my heart-aches with a suppliant air,
 I crave they grace a sickened soul to heal.

Here, close beside this sacred font of gold,
 My humble prayer, oh, father, I will lay,
With all its weight of misery untold;
 And wait impatient that which thou wilt say


When to the font, this morn, my lips I pressed,
 A fairy's gift my fingers trembled o'er;
A sweeter prayer ne'er smile of angel blessed,
 Nor gemmed a tiar that the priesthood wore.

The secret of they grief I may not know,
 Since that thy lips refuse the tale to tell;
Methinks, dear child, it was the sound of woe
 That woke an echo in my heart's deep well.

The wail of a spirit that a-yearning gropes
 In darkness for the sunlight that is fled;
A broken idol in secret wept, and hopes--
 Crushed hopes--that are to thee as are the dead.

A tender memory ling'ring yet of when
 Each bounding pulse beat faster with its joy;
A something that allured, and won, and then
 With waking fled, and years may not destroy

The impress which it left upon thy brain
 But seek thee, child, grief's ravaging to stay?
Thy tears might fall as falls the show'ring rain,
 They could not wash the heart's deep scars away.

Repine thee not; shroud not they faith in gloom;
 Shrink not to meet a disappointment's frown;
Away beyond the narrow bordered tomb,
 Who here have borne the cross may wear the crown.


Whisper to him, fairies, whisper--
 Whisper softly in his ear
That some one is waiting, waiting,
 Listening his step to hear.

Fairies, if he knew his presence
 Would a demon's spell allay,
Would he heed your timid whisperings?
 Would he--will he come to-day?


Fairies whisper, every whisper,
 In the silence of the night,
And he catches the soft murmurs
 Floating in the starry light.

And they tell him; yes, they tell him,
 All in accents sweet and clear,
Of the beautiful Hereafter
 That is ever drawing near.

There are loved ones, waiting, waiting,
 For his footfall on the shore;
They will welcome his appearing--
 They will greet him o'er and o'er.


Oh, would the fairies to her whisper
 The truths which they to him impart,
Teach her a beautiful hereafter,
 A Heaven to bless a tired heart.

Yet thinks she that the dear ones waiting
 Would envy not the boon she craves--
To rear fair friendship's sacred alter
 Where love and hope sleep in their graves.

She knows not that a loving welcome
 Will wait her in a realm of light,
Nought of a future meeting whispers,
 No faith illumes her soul's dark night.

But oh! she knows, has by experience,
 The saddest of all lessons learned;
Knows that she gathered dead-sea apples,
 Which in her hands to ashes turned.

She knows into a trammelled torrent,
 Is changed her life's free flowing tide;
Knows that her hand no oar is holding,
 With which her drifting bark to guide.

She knows, yes, knows that, like the mirage,
 Which for the thirsty traveler gleamed,
The sweet ideal she fondly cherished
 Was never there; it only seemed.

If what she knows is to her proven
 A false, deluding, fleeting show,
Can she, generous spirit, can she
 Trust blindly what she does not know?

But if for this he shuts against her
 The heart that's shining in his eyes,
She'll bring the gift that for the Peri
 Unbarred the gate of paradise.


If she'll left him be her teacher
 In the mysteries of life,
In the spirit's grand unfoldment
 Far beyond this world of strife,

A sacred altar he will build her,
 And dedicate to friendship true,
And this shall be their bond of union,
 More constant that all others knew.


Kind teacher, henceforth be it mine,
To kneel at friendship's sacred shrine,
And hope's bright budding flowers entwine
  Into a garland for they brow.
And thou shalt wait not for the hours
That gem creation's radiant towers,
To woo thee to elysian bowers,
  But wear it now.

Too long a dreamer have I been,
Too long life's dark side only seen;
And if thou canst, while thus I kneel,
The mystery of life reveal,
  Then gladly will I learn of thee.
For as on flowers the dewdrops fall,
As sunbeams break the storm-cloud's pall,
As pardon comes to lives which blame
Has crushed beneath its weight, so came
  Thy sympathy to me.


  Life is love, and only love,
  Love that had its source above.
It wreathes with flowers the chastening rod,
And diamond decks the throne of God.


If "life is love, and only love,"
 Then never have I lived before;
But for love's sack I'll sit me down
 And careful con the lesson o'er.

I fain would win the shining goal,
 So far away, so seeming fair,
But could not reach its hights alone;
 Then, teacher, take me, take me there.


Thy teacher, then, will take thee there,
 And ever watch with tender care,
To guard they way to loftiest aim,
 And his reward thy love shall claim.


O, inconsistent teacher,
 He'd knowledge give away;
Fill head and heart, from tome of art,
 Then take me for his pay.

He'd kindly lead me to the realm
 Where joyous freedom reigns,
He'd teach my soul love's sweet control,
 Then claim it for his pains.


Ah! Reyenita, do not charge
 To selfishness thy teacher's plea,
He seeks thine every wish to bless,
 His deepest fault is loving thee.
"Heaven's kingdom," said the Nazerene,
"Is in the heart;" sweet fairy queen
Thou rulest along this realm of mine,
Canst say I have no place in thine?


They boast of Ormuz's milk-white pearls,
 The ruby's magic art,
And proudly wear the crystal drop
 That fires the diamond's heart.

And these may admiration claim,
 And countless wealth may sway,
But rarer gem was given to me,
 One golden summer day.

Its wondrous tints, a brilliant glow,
 Emit in darkest gloom,
A sweeter fragrance 'round it clings,
 Than breath of eastern bloom.

Were all earth's costly jewels thrown
 In one great glittering heap,
They could not buy for ev'n a day
 The gem I'd selfish keep.

Yet 'twas not won from pearly depths,
 Nor gleaned from diamond mine,
Nor all the chemist's subtlety
 Its substance could define.

It ne'er was set in band of fold
 Some dainty hand to grace,
Ne'er shone in diadem to deck
 A brow of kingly race.

For me alone, a wizard spell
 Lies prisoned in its beams,
Hours of enchanted ecstacy
 And days of Eden dreams.

Wouldst know the precious gift with which
 For worlds I would not part?
The priceless jewel is they love,
 Its setting is my heart.


Oh, in the hush of midnight's hour,
 When darkness sleeps on land and sea,
How oft in dreams, sweet fragile flower,
 Thou'st come to bless and comfort me.

O, in the hush of midnight's hour,
 How oft from taunting dreams I start,
To find thee but a fancy flower--
 Thou cherished idol of my heart.


I've a beautiful home, where I live in my dreams,
So joyous and happy--an Eden it seems;
All beautiful things in nature and are
Are blending to rapture the mind and the heart;
No discords to jar, no dissensions arise,
'Tis calm as Italia's ever blue skies,
When kissed by the bright rosy blush of the morn;
And a voice of the spheres on the breezes is borne,
Soft as the murmur of sea-tinted shells,
Sweet as the chiming of far away bells;
And grief cannot enter, nor trouble nor care,
And the proud peerless prince of my soul, he is there.

In my beautiful home from the cold world apart,
He holds me so close to his fast beating heart;
More enchanting his voice than the syren-wrapt song,
O'er the wind-dimpled ocean soft floating along,
As he whispers his love in love's low passioned tone,
Such home, and such lover, no other has known.


O, let us leave this world behind--
Its gains, its loss, its praise, its blame--
Not seeking fame, nor fearing shame,
Some far secluded land we'll find,
And build thy dream-home, you and I,
And let this foolish world go by.

A paradise of love and bliss!
Delicious draughts in Eden bowers,
Of peace, and rest, and quiet hours,
We'll drink, for what we've missed in this.
The shafts of malice we'll defy,
And let this foolish world go by.


Life of my life, my soul's best part,
I could not live without thee now;
And yet this love must break my heart,
  Or break a sacred vow.

Which shall it be? an answer oft
From puzzling doubts I've sought to wake;
Must joy, or misery, hence be mine,
  Must heart or promise break?

Alone, Heaven's highest court would prove
A desolated land to me;
Earth's barest, barren desert wild,
  A paradise with thee.


Thou hast beamed on my pathway, a vision of light,
 To guide and to bless from afar;
To illume with thy smile the dead chill of night,
 My star, my bright, beautiful star.

The sun pales before thee, the moon is a blot
 On the sky where thine own splendors are;
And dark is the day where thy presence is not,
 My star, my bright, beautiful star.


O love, do not call me a star!
'Tis too cold and bright, and too far
Away from your arms; I would be,
The life drops that flow in your veins,
The pulses that throb in your heart.
My bosom should be the warm sea
Of forgetfulness, tinged with the stains
Of the sunset, when day-dreams depart;
You should drink at its fountain of kisses,
Drink mad of its fathomless deep;

Submerged in an ocean of blisses,
I'd be something to kiss and to keep.
Loving, and tender, and true,
I'd be nearer, oh! nearer to you
Than the glittering meteors are;
Then, love, do not call me a star.


Thou'st made for me an atmosphere of life;
 The very air is brighter from thine eyes,
They are so soft and beautiful, and rife
 With all we can imagine of the skies.

O woman, where is they resistless power;
 I swore the livery of Heaven to grace,
Yet stand, to-day, a sacrilegious tower,
 Perjured by the witchery of thy face.


Then, love, I'll give thee back thy perjured vow;
 I would not hold thee with one pleading breath;
It may be best to leave the pathway now,
 That can but lead to death.
I'll crush the agonies that burning swell,
    And say farewell.


"Farewell?" No, not farewell, I'll worship ever
    Thy form divine.
No death's despair, no voice of doom shall sever
    My heart from thine.

Thou'st crowned me with they love and bade me wear it,
    I kiss the shrine.
I will not give thee up, nay, here I swear it,
    That thou art mine.
  * * * * *       * * * * *
A desecrated holiness is o'er me,
    I've held the Thyrsus cup;
I've dared the thunderbolts of Heaven for thee,
    I will not give up.

 World, farewell!
 And thou pale tape light, by whose fast-dying flame I write
these words--the last my hand shall pen--farewell! What is't to
die? To be shut in a dungeon's walls and starved to death? She
knows, and soon will I. She sought to learn of me, and I to teach
to her, the mystery of life. Ha, ha! Who claimed her by the
church's law has given us both to learn the mystery of death.
What was't I loved? The eyes that thrilled me through and through
with their magnetic subtlety? They're there, set on my face; but
where's their lifened light? What was't I loved? The mouth whose
coral redness I have buried in my own? 'Tis there, shrunk 'gainst
two rows of dead pale pearls, and cold and colorless as lip of
statue carved of marble. Was it the form whose perfect outline
stamped it with divinity? It's there, but 'reft of all its
winsome roundness, and stiffening in the chill of death. It makes
me cold to look upon its rigidness. But just this hour the breath
went out; was't that I loved? 'Twas this I clasped and kissed.
What is it that we've christened love, that glamours men to
madness, and stains with falsehood virgin purity? It made this
grewsome charnel vault a part of Heaven--the graves there of
those murdered knaves made rests of roses for our heads; it made
him spring the bolt and lock us in. Where is the creed's
foundation? I've shrived a thousand souls--I cannot now absolve
my own. To quench this awful thirst, I cut an artery in my arm
and sucked its blood. The thirstness did not cease. They lied.
'Twas not the vultures at Prometeus' heart, 'twas hunger at his
vitals gnawed. The salt drops that I swallowed from that vein
have set my brain on fire. What's that? The ground's a-tremble
'neath my feet as touched with life. Earth, rend your breast and
let me in! For anything but this dire darkness, made alive with
vengeful eye-balls--his eyes! They glare with hate at me. I heard
him laugh but now. For anything but this most loving corpse whose
head caressing rests it on my feet. Ah, no, I did not mean it
thus; I would not get away alone. I loved that corpse. It was the
sweetest bit of human frailty that to man e'er brought a blessing
or a curse. I turned from Dias' holy grail to taste its nectar.
Hell, throw a-wide your sulphur-blazoned gates, I'll grasp it in
my arms and make the plunge! Hist! what was that? I heard him
laugh again. Laugh, fiend, you cannot hurt me more. Ah! Reyenita,
mine in life you were, in death you shall be mine. When this
clogged blood has stopped the wheels of life, I'll put my arms
around your neck, I'll lay my face against your frozen one, and
thus I'll die. When this foul place has crumbled to the sunlight,
some relic-hunting lunatic will stumble o'er our bones, and
pitiless will weave a tale for eyes more pitiless to read. Back,
Stygian ghoul! Death's on me now. I feel his rattle in my throat!
My limbs are blocks of ice! My heart has tuned it with the
muffled dead-march drum! A jar of crashing worlds is in my ears!
A drowsy faintness creeps upon--

  *  *  *  *  *

  The seal is broken, the mystery tell;
  You have read the letters, what do they tell?
  Do they tell you the story they told that day
  To me, in the Mission old and gray--
    The Mission Carmel at Monterey?