Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: JANE FISHER, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: JANE FISHER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Jane fisher says to susan hamilton / that coroner has no excuse to bring
Last Line: His talk with lawyer baker in these words: --
Subject(s): Death; Law & Lawyers; Life; Love; Dead, The; Attorneys


Jane Fisher says to Susan Hamilton,
That Coroner has no excuse to bring
You, me before him. There are many too
Who could throw light on Elenor Murray's life
Besides the witnesses he calls to tell
The cause of death: could he call us and hear
About the traits we know, he should have us.
What do we know of Elenor Murray's death?
Why, not a thing, unless her death began
With Simeon Strong and Gregory Wenner -- then
I could say something, for she told me much
About her plan to marry Simeon Strong,
And could have done so but for Gregory Wenner,
Whose fault of life combined with fault of hers
To break the faith of Simeon Strong in her.
And so what have we? Gregory Wenner's love
Poisons the love of Simeon Strong, from that
Poor Elenor Murray falls into decline;
From that, re-acts to nursing and religion,
Which leads her to the war; and from the war
Some other causes come, I know not what;
I wish I knew. And Elenor Murray dies,
Is killed or has a normal end of life.

But, Susan, Elenor Murray feasted richly
While life was with her, spite of all the pain.
If you could choose, be Elenor Murray or
Our schoolmate, Mary Marsh, which would you be?
Elenor Murray had imagination,
And courage to sustain it; Mary Marsh
Had no imagination, was afraid,
Could not envision life in Europe, married
And living there in England, threw her chance
Away to live in England, was content,
And otherwise not happy but to lift
Her habitation from the west of town
And settle on the south side, wed a man
Whose steadiness and business sense made sure
A prosperous uniformity of life.
Life does not enter at your door and seek you,
And pour her gifts into your lap. She drops
The chances and the riches here and there.
They find them who fly forth, as faring birds
Know northern marshes, rice fields in the south;
While the dull turtle waddles in his mud.
The bird is slain perhaps, the turtle lives,
But which has known the thrills?

Well, on a time
Elenor Murray, Janet Stearns, myself
Thought we would see Seattle and Vancouver,
We had saved money teaching school that year --
The plan was Elenor Murray's. So we sailed
To 'Frisco from Los Angeles, saw 'Frisco
By daylight, but to see the town by night
Was Elenor Murray's wish, and up to now
We had no men, had found none. Elenor said,
"Let's go to Palo Alto, find some men."
We landed in a blinding sun, and walked
About the desolate campus, but no men.
And Janet and myself were tired and hot;
But Elenor, who never knew fatigue,
Went searching here and there, and left us sitting
Under a palm tree waiting. Hours went by,
Two hours, I think, when she came down the walk
A man on either side. She brought them up
And introduced them. They were gay and young,
Students with money. Then the fun began:
We wished to see the place, must hurry back
To keep engagements in the city -- whew!
How Elenor Murray baited hooks for us
With words about the city and our plans;
What fun we three had had already there!
Until at last these fellows begged to come,
Return with us to 'Frisco, be allowed
To join our party. "Could we manage it?"
Asked Elenor Murray, "do you think we can?"
We fell into the play and talked it over,
Considered this and that, resolved the thing,
And said at last to come, and come they did. . . .
Well, such a time in 'Frisco. For you see
Our money had been figured down to cents
For what we planned to do. These fellows helped,
We scarcely had seen 'Frisco but for them.
They bought our dinners, paid our way about
Through China Town and so forth, but we kept
Our staterooms on the boat, slept on the boat.
And after three days' feasting sailed away
With bouquets for each one of us.

But this girl
Could never get enough, must on and on
See more, have more sensations, never tired.
And when we saw Vancouver then the dream
Of going to Alaska entered her.
I had no money, Janet had no money
To help her out, and Elenor was short.
We begged her not to try it -- what a will!
She set her jaw and said she meant to go.
And when we missed her for a day, behold
We find her, she's a cashier in a store,
And earning money there to take the trip.
Our boat was going back, we left her there.
I see her next when school commences, ruling
Her room of pupils at Los Angeles.
The summer after this she wandered east,
Was now engaged to Simeon Strong, but writing
To Gregory Wenner, saw him in Chicago.
She traveled to New York, he followed her.
She was a girl who had to live her life,
Could not live through another, found no man
Whose life sufficed for hers, must live herself,
Be individual.

And en route for France
She wrote me from New York, was seeing much
Of Margery, an aunt -- I never knew her,
But sensed an evil in her, and a mind
That used the will of Elenor Murray -- how
Or why, I knew not. But she wrote to me
This Margery had brought her lawyer in,
There in New York to draw a document,
And put some letters in a safety box.
Whose letters? Gregory Wenner's? I don't know.
She told me much of secrets, but of letters
That needed for their preciousness a box,
A lawyer to arrange the matter, nothing.
For if there was another man, she felt
Too shamed, no doubt, to tell me: -- "This is he,
The love I sought, the great reality,"
When she had said as much of Gregory Wenner.
But now a deeper matter: with this letter
She sent a formal writing giving me
Charge of these letters, if she died to give
The letters to the writer. I'm to know
The identity of the writer, so she planned
When I obtain them. How about this lawyer,
And Margery the aunt? What shall I do?
Write to this lawyer what my duty is
Appointed me of her, go to New York?
I must do something, for this lawyer has,
As I believe, no knowledge of my place
In this affair. Who has the box's key?
This lawyer, or the aunt -- I have no key --
And if they have the key, or one of them,
And enter, take the letters, look! our friend
Gets stains upon her memory; or the man
Who wrote the letters finds embarrassment.
Somehow, I think, these letters hold a secret,
The deepest of her life and cruelest,
And figured in her death. My dearest friend,
What if they brought me to the coroner,
If I should get these letters, and they learned
I had them, this relation to our Elenor!
Yet how can I neglect to write this lawyer
And tell him Elenor Murray gave to me
This power of disposition?

Come what may
I must write to this lawyer. Here I write
To get the letters, and obey the wish
Of our dear friend. Our friend who never could
Carry her ventures to success, but always
Just at the prosperous moment wrecked her hope.
She really wished to marry Simeon Strong.
Then why imperil such a wish by keeping
This Gregory Wenner friendship living, go
About with Gregory Wenner, fill the heart
Of Simeon Strong with doubt?

Oh well, my friend,
We wonder at each other, I at you,
And you at me, for doing this or that.
And yet I think no man or woman acts
Without a certain logic in the act
Of nature or of circumstance.

Look here,
This letter to the lawyer. Will it do?
I think so. If it brings the letters -- well!
If not, I'll get them somehow, it must be,
I loved her, faults and all, and so did you. . . .

So while Jane Fisher pondered on her duty,
But didn't write the letter to the lawyer,
Who had the charge of Elenor Murray's letters,
The lawyer, Henry Baker, in New York
Finds great perplexity. Sometimes a case
Walks in a lawyer's office, makes his future,
Or wrecks his health, or brings him face to face
With some one rising from the mass of things,
Faces and circumstance, that ends his life.
So Henry Baker took such chances, taking
The custody of these letters.

James Rex Hunter
Is partner of this Baker, sees at last
Merival and tells him how it was
With Baker at the last; he died because
Of Elenor Murray's letters, Hunter told
The coroner at the Waldorf. Dramatized
His talk with Lawyer Baker in these words: --





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