He lay awake, with a harassed air,
And she, in her cloud of loose lank hair,
As the dawn drew in on their faces there.
The chamber looked far over the sea
From a white hotel on a white-stoned quay,
And stepping a stride
He parted the window-drapery.
Above the level horizon spread
The sunrise, firing them foot to head
From its smouldering lair,
And painting their pillows with dyes of red.
“What strange disquiets have stirred you, dear,
This dragging night, with starts in fear
Of me, as it were,
Or of something evil hovering near?”
“My husband, can I have fear of you?
What should one fear from a man whom few,
Or none, had matched
In that late long spell of delays undue!”
He watched her eyes in the heaving sun:
“Then what has kept, O reticent one,
Those lids unlatched –
Anything promised I’ve not yet done?”
“O it’s not a broken promise of yours
(For what quite lightly your lip assures
The due time brings)
That has troubled my sleep, and no waking cures!” . . .
“I have shaped my will; ’tis at hand,” said he;
“I subscribe it to-day, that no risk there be
In the hap of things
Of my leaving you menaced by poverty.”
“That a boon provision I’m safe to get,
Signed, sealed by my lord as it were a debt,
I cannot doubt,
Or ever this peering sun be set.”
“But you flung my arms away from your side,
And faced the wall. No month-old bride
Ere the tour be out
In an air so loth can be justified?
“Ah–had you a male friend once loved well,
Upon whose suit disaster fell
And frustrance swift?
Honest you are, and may care to tell.”
She lay impassive, and nothing broke
The stillness other than, stroke by stroke,
The lazy lift
Of the tide below them; till she spoke:
“I once had a friend–a Love, if you will –
Whose wife forsook him, and sank until
She was made a thrall
In a prison-cell for a deed of ill . . .
“He remained alone; and we met–to love,
But barring legitimate joy thereof
Stood a doorless wall,
Though we prized each other all else above.
“And this was why, though I’d touched my prime,
I put off suitors from time to time –
Yourself with the rest –
Till friends, who approved you, called it crime,
“And when misgivings weighed on me
In my lover’s absence, hurriedly,
And much distrest,
I took you . . . Ah, that such could be! . . .
“Now, saw you when crossing from yonder shore
At yesternoon, that the packet bore
On a white-wreathed bier
A coffined body towards the fore?
“Well, while you stood at the other end,
The loungers talked, and I could but lend
A listening ear,
For they named the dead. ‘Twas the wife of my friend.
“He was there, but did not note me, veiled,
Yet I saw that a joy, as of one unjailed,
Now shone in his gaze;
He knew not his hope of me just had failed!
“They had brought her home: she was born in this isle;
And he will return to his domicile,
And pass his days
Alone, and not as he dreamt erstwhile!”
“–So you’ve lost a sprucer spouse than I!”
She held her peace, as if fain deny
She would indeed
For his pleasure’s sake, but could lip no lie.
“One far less formal and plain and slow!”
She let the laconic assertion go
As if of need
She held the conviction that it was so.