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Francesca's Worship by Margaret J. Preston

In the deep afternoon, when westering calms

Brooded above the streets of Rome, and hushed

Their noisier clamor, at her orisons,

In San Domenico, Francesca knelt.

All day her charities had overflowed

For others. Husband, children, friends had claimed

Service ungrudged; the poor had gotten their dole,

Doubled by reason of her soothing hands;

Sick eyes had lifted at her coming, as lifts

The parcht Campagna grass at the cool kisses

Of winds that have been dallying with the snows

Of Alban mountain-tops. And now, released

From outward ministries, and free to turn

Inward, and up the solemn aisle of thought

Conduct her soul, she bowed with open page

Before the altar: "Tenuisti manum

Dexteram meam."

On her lips she held

The words caressingly, as she would taste

Each syllable and drain its separate sweetness,

When, breaking on her still seclusion, came

A messenger: "Sweet mistress, grace I pray!

But unaware our lord hath come again,

Bringing his gossips; and he bade me fetch

My lady, if only for a one half hour,

Saying the wine was flavorless without

Her hand to pour it."

At the word she rose,

And unreluctant followed. No undertow

Of hidden regret disturbed the azure calm

Of those clear eyes that still reflected heaven.

Then, when they all had drunk and been refreshed,

And forth had ridden, Francesca sought her place,

And pored again above the Psalter's leaf:

"In voluntate tua deduxisti,"

Conning it over with a tender joy,

As if she verily felt her human hand

Close claspt in God's, and heard Him guiding her

With audible counsel; when there fell a touch

Upon her arm: "The Sister Barbara

Comes seeking wherewithal to dress some wounds

Got in a brawl upon the Esquiline."

And now athwart the western windows streamed

Rainbows of shafted light, as thither again

Francesca came to read her "Offices."

A beam, that seemed a golden pencil held

Within the fingers of the Christ that glowed

In the great oriel, pointed to the words

Where she had paused to do the Sister's hest:

"Cum gloria suscepisti me." She kissed

The blazoned leaf, thanks nestling at her heart,

That now, at last, no duty disallowing,

Her loosened soul out through the sunset bars

Might float, and catch heaven's crystal shimmer. But scarce

Had meditation smoothed the wing of thought

Before the hangings of the door were parted

With yet a further summoning. From a Triton

That spouted in the court her three-year boy,

Who thither had climbed, had fallen, and naught would soothe

The bruised brow save the sweet mother-kiss.

"I come," she said, her forehead half divine

With saintly patience. "For Thou wouldst teach me, Lord,

That Thou art just as near me ministering

At home as in these consecrated aisles;

And 'tis true worship, pouring of the wine

For him I love, or holding 'twixt my hands

The little throbbing head; since where my duty

Calls is the altar where I serve Thee best."

When under the Campagna's purple rim

The sun had sunken so long that all was gray,

Softly across the dusky sacristy

Francesca glided back. The Psalter lay

Scarcely discernible amid the gloom;

But lo the marvel! On the darken'd page

The verse which thrice she had essayed to read

Now shone illuminate, silver-clear, as though

God's hand had written it with the flash of stars.