A Wonderful Sinner
( Originally Published 1916 )
YOU have doubtless read that recent story of the woman who lived for seven years in the back office of a lawyer because she loved him and could only love him unlawfully; lived in her mean quarters as a prisoner in a cell, just to be near him, foregoing all the world for him, until one day he died suddenly in her arms, and all their secret joy perished in a moment of shame and death.
This news item lay like a red splash across the page. Among the other news, all of sordid interest, political self-seeking, the snarl of money-monsters, the yelp of taken criminals, the gestures of despair, the preening of society, the vanities of kings, the rumors of war, the long roll of accidents, among all this mud of the ordinary bloomed one morning this story of purple passion, through the coarse clay of events swept this sudden fire of unbelievable love.
I am not going to praise this woman, lest the army of the righteous sweep down on me, lest all the holy hands of those whose secret sins have never bloomed in public be raised to condemn me as a corrupter of public morals.
If they say her sin is great, and that her example is evil and in nowise to be commended or followed, and that it is all a disgraceful, pitiable tale, and one to be suppressed, hushed, and turned away from, and inimical to morals, I have nothing to answer, I cannot defend her.
The woman was a sinner. But I, for one, take off my hat and stand bowed with a great awe before her, for her sin was a love so mighty and strange and unbelievable that beside it most of the comfortable righteousness of the world looks shrunken and little.
When I think of those long days of loneliness gladly spent for a few words of affection, of those intolerable convict hours borne with transfiguring loyalty for the sake of being near the man she adored, I seem to be in the presence of the elemental woman heart, majestic as the high mountains, awful as Niagara or the roar of the storm-driven ocean.
She loved. Where in the pages of romance is to be found such love! Before it our smug conventions are shattered, our nice respectabilities are shrivelled away, our bitter words of condemnation dry upon our lips, and we go out from where she and her Judge stand face to face, as the Pharisees went out from the presence of the Master and the wayward woman when He said: "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more."
To how many who have read her story has there come an amazing revelation of the depth, the height, the length, the breadth of that most abysmal of things, a woman's heart ! And how many of us, while we talked lightly and carefully of the scandal of it, and said, "It was too bad," have felt in our hearts shamed and belittled, for that we knew that in us was capability of no such greatness, such towering self-sacrifice, no, not even in sin. For even in our sins we are so petty!