Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: MRS. GREGORY WENNER, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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DOMESDAY BOOK: MRS. GREGORY WENNER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Gregory wenner's wife was by the sea
Last Line: To the coroner and the jury in these words: --
Subject(s): Death; Funerals; Love; Dead, The; Burials


Gregory Wenner's wife was by the sea
When Gregory Wenner killed himself, half sick
And half malingering, and otiose.
She wept, sent for a doctor to be braced,
Induced a friend to travel with her west
To bury Gregory Wenner; did not know
That Gregory Wenner was in money straits
Until she read the paper, or had lost
His building in the loop. The man had kept
His worries from her ailing ears, was glad
To keep her traveling, or taking cures.

She came and buried Gregory Wenner; found
His fortune just a shell, the building lost,
A little money in the bank, a store
Far out on Lake Street, forty worthless acres
In northern Indiana, twenty lots
In some Montana village. Here she was,
A widow, penniless, an invalid.
The crude reality of things awoke
A strength she did not dream was hers. And then
She went to Gregory Wenner's barren office
To collect the things he had, get in his safe
For papers and effects.

She had to pay
An expert to reveal the combination,
And throw the bolts. And there she sat a day,
And emptied pigeon holes and searched and read.
And in one pigeon hole she found a box,
And in the box a lock of hair wrapped up
In tissue paper, fragrant powder lying
Around the paper -- in the box a card
With woman's writing on it, just the words
"For my beloved"; but no name or date.
Who was this woman mused the widow there?
She did not know the name. She did not know
Her eyes had seen this Elenor Murray once
When Elenor Murray came with Gregory Wenner
To dinner at his home to face the wife.
For Elenor Murray in a mood of strength,
After her confirmation and communion,
Had said to Gregory Wenner: "Now the end
Has come to this, our love, I think it best
If she should ever learn I am the woman
Who in New York spent summer days with you,
And later in Chicago, in that summer,
She will remember what my eyes will show
When we stand face to face, and I give proof
That I am changed, repentant."

For the wife
Had listened to a friend who came to tell
She saw this Gregory Wenner in New York
From day to day in gardens and cafes,
And by the sea romancing with a girl.
And later Mrs. Wenner found a book,
Which Gregory Wenner cherished -- with the words
Beloved, and the date. And now she knew
The hand that wrote the card here in this box,
The hand that wrote the inscription in the book
Were one -- but still she did not know the woman.
No doubt the woman of that summer's flame,
Whom Gregory Wenner promised not to see
When she brought out the book and told him all
She learned of his philandering in New York.
And Elenor Murray's body was decaying
In darkness, under earth there at LeRoy
While Mrs. Wenner read, and did not know
The hand that wrote the card lay blue and green,
Half hidden in the foldings of the shroud,
And all that country stirred for Elenor Murray,
Of which the widow absent in the east
Had never heard.

And Mrs. Wenner found
Beside the box and lock of hair three letters,
And sat and read them. Through her eyes and brain
This meaning and this sound of blood and soul,
Like an old record with a diamond needle.
Passed music like: --

"The days go swiftly by
With study and with work. I am too tired
At night to think. I read anatomy,
Materia medica and other things,
And do the work an undergraduate
Is called upon to do. And every week
I spend three afternoons with the nuns and sew,
And care for children of the poor whose mothers
Are earning bread away. I go to church
And talk with Mother Janet. And I pray
At morning and at night for you, and ask
For strength to live without you and for light
To understand why love of you is mine,
And why you are not mine, and whether God
Will give you to me some day if I prove
My womanhood is worthy of you, dear.
And sometimes when our days of bliss come back
And flood me with their warmth and blinding light
I take my little crucifix and kiss it,
And plunge in work to take me out of self,
Some service to another. So it is,
This sewing and this caring for the children
Stills memory and gives me strength to live,
And pass the days, go on. I shall not draw
Upon your thought with letters, still I ask
Your thought of me sometimes. Would it be much
If once a year you sent me a bouquet
To prove to me that you remember, sweet,
Still cherish me a little, give me faith
That in this riddle world there is a hand,
Which spite of separation, thinks and touches
Blossoms that I touch afterward? Dear heart,
I have starved out and killed that reckless mood
Which would have taken you and run away.
Oh, if you knew that this means killing, too,
The child I want -- our child. You have a cross
No less than I, beloved, even if love
Of me has passed and eased the agony
I thought you knew -- your cross is heavy, dear,
Bound, but not wedded to her, never to know
The life of marriage with her. Yet be brave,
Be noble, dear, be always what God made you,
A great heart, patient, gentle, sacrificing,
Bring comfort to her tedious days, forbear
When she is petulant, for if you do,
I know God will reward you, give you peace.
I pray for strength for you, that never again
May you distress her as you did, I did
When she found there was someone. Lest she know
Destroy this letter, all I ever write,
So that her mind may never fix itself
Upon a definite person, on myself.
But still remaining vague may better pass
To lighter shadows, nothingness at last.
I try to think I sinned, have so confessed
To get forgiveness at my first communion.
And yet a vestige of a thought in me
Will not submit, confess the sin. Well, dear,
You can awake at midnight, at the pause
Of duty in the day, merry or sad,
Light hearted or discouraged, if you chance,
To think of me, remember I send prayers
To God for you each day -- oh may His light
Shine on your face!"

So Widow Wenner read,
And wondered of the writer, since no name
Was signed; and wept a little, dried her eyes
And flushed with anger, said, "adulteress,
Adulteress who played the game of pity,
And wove about my husband's heart the spell
Of masculine sympathy for a sorrowing woman,
A trick as old as Eden. And who knows
But all the money went here in the end?
For if a woman plunges from her aim
To piety, devotion such as this,
She will plunge back to sin, unstable heart,
That swings from self-denial to indulgence
And spends itself in both."

Then Widow Wenner
Took up the second letter:

"I have signed
To go to France to-day. I wrote you once
I planned to take the veil, become a nun.
But now the war has changed my thought. I see
In service for my country fuller life,
More useful sacrifice and greater work
Than ever I could have, being a nun.
The cause is so momentous. Think, my dear,
This woman who still thinks of you will be
A factor in this war for liberty,
A soldier serving soldiers, giving strength,
Health, hope and spirit to the soldier boys
Who fall, must be restored to fight again.
I've thrown my soul in this, am all aflame.
You should have seen me when I took the oath,
And raised my hand and pledged my word to serve,
Support the law. I want to think of you
As proud of me for doing this -- be proud,
Be grateful, too, that I have strength and will
To give myself to this. And if it chance,
As almost I am hoping, that the work
Should break me, sweep me under, think of me
As one who died for country, as I shall
As truly as the soldiers slain in battle.
I leave to-morrow, will be at a camp
Some weeks before I sail. I telephoned you
This morning twice, they said you would return
By two-o'clock at least. I write instead.
But I shall come to see you, if I can
Sometime this afternoon, and if I don't,
This letter then must answer. Peace be with you.
To-day I'm very happy. Write to me,
Or if you do not think it best, all right,
I'll understand. Before I sail I'll send
A message to you -- for the time farewell."

Then Widow Wenner read the telegram
The third and last communication: "Sail
To-day, to-morrow, very soon, I know.
My memories of you are happy ones.
A fond adieu." This telegram was signed
By Elenor Murray. Widow Wenner knew
The name at last, sat petrified to think
This was the girl who brazened through the dinner
Some years ago when Gregory Wenner brought
This woman to his home -- "the shameless trull,"
Said Mrs. Wenner, "harlot, impudent jade,
To think my husband is dead, would she were dead --
I could be happy if I knew a bomb
Or vile disease had got her." Then she looked
In other pigeon holes, and found in one
A photograph of Elenor Murray, knew
The face that looked across the dinner table.
And in the pigeon hole she found some verses
Clipped from a magazine, and tucked away
The letters, verses, telegram in her bag,
Closed up the safe and left.

Next day at breakfast
She scanned the morning Times, her eyes were wide
For reading of the Elenor Murray inquest.
"Well, God is just," she murmured, "God is just."

All this was learned of Gregory Wenner. Even
If Gregory Wenner killed the girl, the man
Was dead now. Could he kill her and return
And kill himself? The coroner had gone,
The jury too, to view the spot where lay
Elenor Murray's body. It was clear
A man had walked here. Was it Gregory Wenner?
The hunter who came up and found the body?
This hunter was a harmless, honest soul
Could not have killed her, passed the grill of questions
From David Borrow, skilled examiner,
The coroner, the jurors. But meantime
If Gregory Wenner killed this Elenor Murray
How did he do it? Dr. Trace has made
His autopsy and comes and makes report
To the coroner and the jury in these words: --





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