As I lay awake at night-time
In an ancient country barrack known to ancient cannoneers,
And recalled the hopes that heralded each seeming brave and bright time
Of my primal purple years,
Much it haunted me that, nigh there,
I had borne my bitterest loss–when One who went, came not again;
In a joyless hour of discord, in a joyless-hued July there –
A July just such as then.
And as thus I brooded longer,
With my faint eyes on the feeble square of wan-lit window frame,
A quick conviction sprung within me, grew, and grew yet stronger,
That the month-night was the same,
Too, as that which saw her leave me
On the rugged ridge of Waterstone, the peewits plaining round;
And a lapsing twenty years had ruled that–as it were to grieve me –
I should near the once-loved ground.
Though but now a war-worn stranger
Chance had quartered here, I rose up and descended to the yard.
All was soundless, save the troopers’ horses tossing at the manger,
And the sentry keeping guard.
Through the gateway I betook me
Down the High Street and beyond the lamps, across the battered bridge,
Till the country darkness clasped me and the friendly shine forsook me,
And I bore towards the Ridge,
With a dim unowned emotion
Saying softly: “Small my reason, now at midnight, to be here . . .
Yet a sleepless swain of fifty with a brief romantic notion
May retrace a track so dear.”
Thus I walked with thoughts half-uttered
Up the lane I knew so well, the grey, gaunt, lonely Lane of Slyre;
And at whiles behind me, far at sea, a sullen thunder muttered
As I mounted high and higher.
Till, the upper roadway quitting,
I adventured on the open drouthy downland thinly grassed,
While the spry white scuts of conies flashed before me, earthward flitting,
And an arid wind went past.
Round about me bulged the barrows
As before, in antique silence–immemorial funeral piles –
Where the sleek herds trampled daily the remains of flint-tipt arrows
Mid the thyme and chamomiles;
And the Sarsen stone there, dateless,
On whose breast we had sat and told the zephyrs many a tender vow,
Held the heat of yester sun, as sank thereon one fated mateless
From those far fond hours till now.
Maybe flustered by my presence
Rose the peewits, just as all those years back, wailing soft and loud,
And revealing their pale pinions like a fitful phosphorescence
Up against the cope of cloud,
Where their dolesome exclamations
Seemed the voicings of the self-same throats I had heard when life was
Though since that day uncounted frail forgotten generations
Of their kind had flecked the scene. –
And so, living long and longer
In a past that lived no more, my eyes discerned there, suddenly,
That a figure broke the skyline–first in vague contour, then stronger,
And was crossing near to me.
Some long-missed familiar gesture,
Something wonted, struck me in the figure’s pause to list and heed,
Till I fancied from its handling of its loosely wrapping vesture
That it might be She indeed.
‘Twas not reasonless: below there
In the vale, had been her home; the nook might hold her even yet,
And the downlands were her father’s fief; she still might come and go there;
So I rose, and said, “Agnette!”
With a little leap, half-frightened,
She withdrew some steps; then letting intuition smother fear
In a place so long-accustomed, and as one whom thought enlightened,
She replied: “What–THAT voice?–here!”
“Yes, Agnette!–And did the occasion
Of our marching hither make you think I MIGHT walk where we two–‘
“O, I often come,” she murmured with a moment’s coy evasion,
“(‘Tis not far),–and–think of you.”