In the farmhouse kitchen were Nan and John,
With only the sunflowers looking on.
A farmhouse kitchen is scarce the place
For knight or lady of courtly grace.
But this is just an everyday pair
That hold the kitchen this morning fair.
A saucy, persistent thorn-tree limb
Had sacrificed a part of the brim
Of the youth's straw hat. His face was brown,
And his well-shaped forehead wore a frown.
His boots were splashed with mud and clay
From marshland pasture over the way,
Where alderbushes and spicewood grew,
And frogs croaked noisily all night through.
'Neath muslin curtains, snowy and thin,
The homely sunflowers nodded in.
Nan was a picture. Her muslin gown
Had maybe a bit old-fashioned grown,
But fitted the slender shape so well.
In its low-cut neck the soft lace fell.
Sleeves, it had none from the elbows down;
In length-well, you see, the maid had grown.
A labor of love her homely task-
To share it none need hope nor ask,
For Nan was washing each trace of dirt
From fluted bodice and ruffled skirt.
Now, few that will, and fewer that can,
Bend over a tub like pretty Nan.
The frail soap bubbles sailed high in air
As she drew each piece from frothy lair,
And rubbed with cruel yet tender hand
As only a woman could, understand.
Then wrung with twist of the wrist so strong,
Examined with care, shook well and long,
Flung in clear water to lie in state-
Each dainty piece met the same hard fate.
''Tis done!' with a look of conscious pride
At the rinsing bucket deep and wide.
Wiping the suds from each rounded arm,
She turned to John with a smile so warm:
'I've kept you waiting-excuse me, please,
The soapsuds ruin such goods as these.'
'You're over fond of finery, Nan,
Dresses and furbelows,' he began.
'Maybe I am, of a truth,' she said.
Each sunflower nodded its yellow head.
'Ned Brown's growing rich'-John's words came slow-
'That he loves you well you doubtless know.
'My house and acres, I held them fast,
Was stubborn over them to the last,
'For when my father was carried forth,
And men were asking 'What was he worth?'
'I saw them look and nod and smile
As they whispered together all the while,
''A fine old homestead, but mortgaged so,
A foolish thing for a man to do!'
'I said, 'My father's dead and gone,
But he's left behind a strong-armed son.'
'My heart was hot with a purpose set
To clear that mortgage, to pay that debt.
'I've worked, heaven knows, like any slave,
I've learned the lesson of scrimp and save,
'Kept a good horse, but dressed like a clown-
And I've not a dollar to call my own.
'I'm beaten-well beaten; yesterday
Everything went to Ned Brown from me.
'My woods, my meadows, my tasseled corn,
The orchard planted when I was born,
'The old rose garden my mother loved,
My chestnut mare-can't help feeling moved,
'For I'm a beggar, Nan, you see-
Don't think me begging for sympathy.
'The world is wide, I don't care-much.
Thank God, health's a thing the law can't touch.
'The happiest man I ever knew
Was born a beggar, and died one, too.'
Each sunflower, nodding its yellow head,
Listened to every word that was said,
As Nan in her slow and easy way,
In the farmhouse kitchen that summer day,
Set a great and weighty problem forth,
One that no scholar on this green earth
Has been able to solve since things began
With Adam-a lone and lonesome man.
Yet very coolly she set it forth:
'Tell me the truth, how much am I worth?'
The sunbeams kissing her golden hair,
Her cheeks, her round arms dimpled and bare,
Seemed stamping value of mighty wealth
On youth, and love, and the bloom of health.
John looked and looked till his eyes grew dim,
Then tilted the hat with worthless brim
To hide what he would not have her see-
'You are worth the whole world, Nan,' said he.
'Then you're no beggar,' said sweet, bold Nan,
'You're the whole world richer than any man.'
A girl queen wearing a crown of gold
Set a precedent, the tale is told,
But no royal prince this world has seen
Ever felt so proud as John, I ween,
As he clasped her hands in new-born hope-
And never noticed they smelt of soap.
Only the sunflowers looking on,
So he kissed the maid-oh, foolish John!
As he went out through the garden gate
Ned Brown was coming to learn his fate.
He was riding John's own chestnut mare,
But, somehow, John didn't seem to care.
The two men met at top of the hill,
And eyed each other as rivals will.
Ned thought of the home he'd won from John,
'Poor beggar!' he said, as he rode on.
John thought of all he had won from Ned,
'You poor, poor beggar!' was what he said.
Why? Under the heavens clear and blue
Only our John and the sunflowers knew.