Ella Wheeler Wilcox (5 November 1850 - 30 October 1919 / Johnstown Center / Rock County / Wisconsin)
A Man's Repentance
To-night when I came from the club at eleven,
Under the gaslight I saw a face-
A woman's face! and I swear to heaven
It looked like the ghastly ghost of-Grace!
And Grace? why, Grace was fair; and I tarried,
And loved her a season as we men do.
And then-but pshaw! why, of course, she is married,
Has a husband, and doubtless, a babe or two.
She was perfectly calm on the day we parted;
She spared me a scene, to my great surprise.
She wasn't the kind to be broken-hearted,
I remember she said, with a spark in her eyes.
I was tempted, I know, by her proud defiance,
To make good my promises there and then.
But the world would have called it a mésalliance!
I dreaded the comments and sneers of men.
So I left her to grieve for a faithless lover,
And to hide her heart from the cold world's sight
As women do hide them, the wide earth over;
My God! was it Grace that I saw to-night?
I thought of her married, and often with pity,
A poor man's wife in some dull place.
And now to know she is here in the city,
Under the gaslight, and with that face!
Yet I knew it at once, in spite of the daubing
Of paint and powder, and she knew me;
She drew a quick breath that was almost sobbing,
And shrank in the shade so I should not see.
There was hell in her eyes! She was worn and jaded;
Her soul is at war with the life she has led.
As I looked on that face so strangely faded,
I wonder God did not strike me dead.
While I have been happy and gay and jolly,
Received by the very best people in town,
That girl whom I led in the way to folly,
Has gone on recklessly down and down.
Two o'clock, and no sleep has found me.
That face I saw in the street-lamp's light
Peers everywhere out from the shadows around me-
I know how a murderer feels to-night!
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