The Two Pictures, Fair bloomed the flowers

It was a bright and lovely summer's morn,
Fair bloomed the flowers, the birds sang softly sweet,
The air was redolent with perfumed balm,
And Nature scattered, with unsparing hand,
Her loveliest graces over hill and dale.
An artist, weary of his narrow room
Within the city's pent and heated walls,
Had wandered long amid the ripening fields,
Until, remembering his neglected themes,
He thought to turn his truant steps toward home.
These led him through a rustic, winding lane,
Lined with green hedge-rows spangled close with flowers,
And overarched by trees of noblest growth.
But when at last he reached the farther end
Of this sweet labyrinth, he there beheld
A vision of such pure, pathetic grace,
That weariness and haste were both obscured,
It was a child—a young and lovely child
With eyes of heavenly hue, bright golden hair,
And dimpled hands clasped in a morning prayer,
Kneeling beside its youthful mother's knee.
Upon that baby brow of spotless snow,
No single trace of guilt, or pain, or woe,
No line of bitter grief or dark despair,
Of envy, hatred, malice, worldly care,
Had ever yet been written. With bated breath,
And hand uplifted as in warning, swift,
The artist seized his pencil, and there traced
In soft and tender lines that image fair:
Then, when 'twas finished, wrote beneath one word,
A word of holiest import—Innocence.
 
Years fled and brought with them a subtle change,
Scattering Time's snow upon the artist's brow,
But leaving there the laurel wreath of fame,
While all men spake in words of praise his name;
For he had traced full many a noble work
Upon the canvas that had touched men's souls,
And drawn them from the baser things of earth,
Toward the light and purity of heaven.
One day, in tossing o'er his folio's leaves,
He chanced upon the picture of the child,
Which he had sketched that bright morn long before,
And then forgotten. Now, as he paused to gaze,
A ray of inspiration seemed to dart
Straight from those eyes to his. He took the sketch,
Placed it before his easel, and with care
That seemed but pleasure, painted a fair theme,
Touching and still re-touching each bright lineament,
Until all seemed to glow with life divine—
'Twas innocence personified. But still
The artist could not pause. He needs must have
A meet companion for his fairest theme;
And so he sought the wretched haunts of sin,
Through miry courts of misery and guilt,
Seeking a face which at the last was found.
Within a prison cell there crouched a man—
Nay, rather say a fiend—with countenance seamed
And marred by all the horrid lines of sin;
Each mark of degradation might be traced,
And every scene of horror he had known,
And every wicked deed that he had done,
Were visibly written on his lineaments;
Even the last, worst deed of all, that left him here,
A parricide within a murderer's cell.
 
Here then the artist found him; and with hand
Made skillful by its oft-repeated toil,
Transferred unto his canvas that vile face,
And also wrote beneath it just one word,
A word of darkest import—it was Vice.
Then with some inspiration not his own,
Thinking, perchance, to touch that guilty heart,
And wake it to repentance e'er too late,
The artist told the tale of that bright morn,
Placed the two pictured faces side by side,
And brought the wretch before them. With a shriek
That echoed through those vaulted corridors,
Like to the cries that issue from the lips
Of souls forever doomed to woe,
Prostrate upon the stony floor he fell,
And hid his face and groaned aloud in anguish.
"I was that child once—I, yes, even I—
In the gracious years forever fled,
That innocent and happy little child!
These very hands were raised to God in prayer,
That now are reddened with a mother's blood.
Great Heaven! can such things be? Almighty power,
Send forth Thy dart and strike me where I lie!"
He rose, laid hold upon the artist's arm
And grasped it with demoniac power,
The while he cried: "Go forth, I say, go forth
And tell my history to the tempted youth.
I looked upon the wine when it was red,
I heeded not my mother's piteous prayers,
I heeded not the warnings of my friends,
But tasted of the wine when it was red,
Until it left a demon in my heart
That led me onward, step by step, to this,
This horrible place from which my body goes
Unto the gallows, and my soul to hell!"
He ceased as last. The artist turned and fled;
But even as he went, unto his ears
Were borne the awful echoes of despair,
Which the lost wretch flung on the empty air,
Cursing the demon that had brought him there.