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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Bret Harte (1836–1902)

Her Letter

From “Complete Poetical Works”

I’M sitting alone by the fire,

Dressed just as I came from the dance,

In a robe even you would admire—

It cost a cool thousand in France;

I’m be-diamonded out of all reason,

My hair is done up in a cue:

In short, sir, “the belle of the season”

Is wasting an hour on you.

A dozen engagements I’ve broken;

I left in the midst of a set;

Likewise a proposal, half-spoken,

That waits—on the stairs—for me yet.

They say he’ll be rich—when he grows up—

And then he adores me indeed.

And you, sir, are turning your nose up,

Three thousand miles off, as you read.

“And how do I like my position?”

“And what do I think of New York?”

“And now, in my higher ambition,

With whom do I waltz, flirt, or talk?”

“And is n’t it nice to have riches,

And diamonds and silks, and all that?”

“And is n’t it a change to the ditches

And tunnels of Poverty Flat?”

Well, yes—if you saw us out driving

Each day in the Park, four-in-hand—

If you saw poor dear mama contriving

To look supernaturally grand—

If you saw papa’s picture, as taken

By Brady, and tinted at that—

You’d never suspect he sold bacon

And flour at Poverty Flat.

And yet, just this moment, when sitting

In the glare of the grand chandelier—

In the bustle and glitter befitting

The “finest soirée of the year”—

In the mists of a gaze de Chambéry,

And the hum of the smallest of talk—

Somehow, Joe, I thought of the “Ferry,”

And the dance that we had on “The Fork”;

Of Harrison’s barn, with its muster

Of flags festooned over the wall;

Of the candles that shed their soft luster

And tallow on head-dress and shawl;

Of the steps that we took to one fiddle;

Of the dress of my queer vis-à-vis,

And how I once went down the middle

With the man that shot Sandy McGee;

Of the moon that was quietly sleeping

On the hill, when the time came to go;

Of the few baby peaks that were peeping

From under their bedclothes of snow;

Of that ride—that to me was the rarest;

Of—the something you said at the gate.

Ah, Joe, then I was n’t an heiress

To “the best-paying lead in the State!”

Well, well, it’s all past; yet it’s funny

To think, as I stood in the glare

Of fashion and beauty and money,

That I should be thinking, right there,

Of some one who breasted high water,

And swam the North Fork, and all that,

Just to dance with old Folinsbee’s daughter,

The Lily of Poverty Flat.

But goodness! what nonsense I’m writing!

(Mama says my taste still is low),

Instead of my triumphs reciting,

I’m spooning on Joseph—heigh-ho!

And I’m to be “finished” by travel—

Whatever’s the meaning of that—

Oh! why did papa strike pay gravel

In drifting on Poverty Flat?

Good night—here’s the end of my paper;

Good night—if the longitude please—

For maybe, while wasting my taper,

Your sun’s climbing over the trees.

But know, if you haven’t got riches,

And are poor, dearest Joe, and all that,

That my heart’s somewhere there in the ditches,

And you’ve struck it—on Poverty Flat.