On the Landing.
It was such a trifle, how could he guess
Such issues were in it? A moment, or less,
He loitered to chat with Mackenzie and Hall,
And time passes quickly, you know, at a ball.
She had said, “I will be ready at ten,”
And he had stayed gossiping there with the men.
Flame was not fit for the hurdles, they said,
And he had a right to make sure on that head.
Seeing that Flame was his pick of the lot,
And stood in to win him a nice little pot.
If Flame had gone limping when on his last spin,
’Twas time that he started to draw his horns in;
So he just stopped to listen a moment, no more,
And forgot altogether to wait at the door.
She stood on the landing; the shadows were deep,
Some great yellow roses had fallen asleep,
And drooped in their vases; the lights were all low,
Why was he late when she wanted to go?
The music came faintly the silence along,
Now rising, now falling, now soft, and now strong.
Outside lay the starlight mysteriously fair,
And someone was mounting the carpeted stair.
Someone who would not have left her to wait
Alone on a landing because he was late;
Someone whose will had once moulded her own,
Who sweet vanished dreams of her dead past had known,
But mists had arisen and blinded love’s eyes,
And now she had woven new bonds and new ties,
For life must be lived though its sweetness is fled,
“To-morrow my vows will be spoken,” she said.
“Oh! why has he come to rewaken the past?
Why has he sought me, and found me at last ?”
She trembled, a sudden, rich flush overspread
The soft oval cheek, then as suddenly fled.
She shrank into shadow, perhaps he would pass,
He might not have seen her — perhaps he — alas!
His strong stride was leaping the stairs at a bound,
She felt his glance on her, she did not turn round.
She pulled her soft bernouse close up round her face,
He surely would pass such a shadowy place !
But no, he was standing beside her; a pause,
And silence. She felt as one sinking, because
The firm earth was slipping away from her feet,
In the hush and the stillness she heard her heart beat;
She cried, with a voiceless but passionate prayer,
For help and deliverance, the soft, languid air
Came back to her empty, her desperate need
Shone out in the eyes she had lifted to plead,
They met his impassioned and masterful glance
That silenced her conscience as if by a trance.
His arm was about her, he bent his head low
“With a gesture she knew — ay — and loved long ago;
And his voice was a spell. “Come, sweetheart!” Ah, me!
The slender hands made one attempt to be free,
The sweet, grey eyes lifted protested in vain —
Poor, sweet eyes! that cannot leave his eyes again.
Soft steps on the staircase — two shadows that pass,
Scarce ruffling the dewdrops that lie on the grass;
A white bernouse lying forlorn on the stair,
A sad, little idyl thus improvised there.
And Flame was a moral — ah ! doubtless; but then
’Twas a pity he stayed there to talk with the men.
He won all his wagers, he hated to lose,
But somehow the sight of a soft, white bernouse
Had power to unnerve him and stab him with pain,
And set his strong fingers aquake on the rein;
And even when Flame passed the post by a head,
He hadn’t a smile — at least, so the men said.
Agnes L. Storrie. Poems, J. W. Kettlewell, Sydney, 1909, pages 88-91
bernouse = a hooded cloak worn by women, from the similar style of garment worn by Arabs; a variant spelling of “burnoose”