My folks think I'm a serving maid
Each time I visit home;
They do not dream I ply a trade
As old as Greece or Rome;
For if they found I'd fouled their name
And was not white as snow,
I'm sure that they would die of shame . . .
Please, God, they'll never know.
I clean the paint from off my face,
In sober black I dress;
Of coquetry I leave no trace
To give them vague distress;
And though it causes me a pang
To play such sorry tricks,
About my neck I meekly hang
A silver crufix.
And so with humble step I go
Just like a child again,
To greet their Christmas candle-glow,
A soul without a stain;
So well I play my contrite part
I make myself believe
There's not a stain within my heart
On Holy Christmas Eve.
With double natures we are vext,
And what we feel, we are;
A saint one day, a sinner next,
A red light or a star;
A prostitute or proselyte,
And in each part sincere:
So I become a vestal white
One week in every year.
For this I say without demur
From out life's lurid lore,
Each righteous woman has in her
A tincture of the whore;
While every harpy of the night,
As I have learned too well;
Holds in her heart a heaven-light
To ransom her from hell.
So I'll go home and sweep and dust;
I'll make the kitchen fire,
And be a model of daughters just
The best they could desire;
I'll fondle them and cook their food,
And Mother dear will say:
“Thank God! my darling is as good
As when she went away.”
But after New Year's Day I'll fill
My bag and though they grieve,
I'll bid them both good-bye until
Another Christmas Eve;
And then . . . a knock upon the door:
I'll find them waiting there,
And angel-like I'll come once more
In answer to their prayer.
Then Lo! one night when candle-light
Gleams mystic on the snow,
And music swells of Christmas bells,
I'll come, no more to go:
The old folks need my love and care,
Their gold shall gild my dross,
And evermore my breast shall bear
My little silver cross.
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