Flowers are on the mantle; in the grate
A new fire crackles; there's a table bright
With a bride's new best--silver and spotless white,
Candles rose shaded; for herself a plate
And one for him--no more. A door swings to,
A rush of savory odors in its wake.
She mends some imperceptible mistake
In the board's laying, and checks off anew
"Celery--olives--nuts." The clock's hands crawl.
The child cries faintly in a distant room.
She runs; a mirrored, shy glimpse of her bloom
Runs with her. Then the bell rings in the hall.
At first there is no need of words--caress
Stifles what speech or silence might have been.
And then there is the baby to be seen--
"We'll wake him just this once. Here, Blessedness,
Your Daddy's come. It's not polite to yawn
When formal introduction's taking place.
Well--go to sleep then. Hasn't he a face
To make a cherub jealous? But let's run
Or all our party dinner will be cold."
The first meal in their own home! Gusts of speech,
Gay with inconsequent laughter burst from each,
A thousand trifles to be heard and told.
There is a grateful tribute in his eyes
To her fresh beauty. This hour was his dream
Through many horrors--why then should it seem
A thousand miles between them? Dull surprise
Appalls him--unease at her eager gaze
Seeking him with that bright expectant look
A child gives an unopened fairy book.
Then he is lost again in her quaint ways.
The dishes are all wiped, and every knife
Laid neatly in it's case. His pipe is lit.
The candles have winked softly out. They sit
Before the fire--as any man and wife.
This is the hour for deeper words, but each
Is more than silent, and between them creep
Fears, chill and dark; for in the silence leap
No thoughts that touch and take the place of speech.
Each has gone back to whirlwind brevity
Of wooing and wedding. How unreal
The mad adventure, and the brave ideal
That would not look beyond itself to see
Two strangers in the firelight, side by side:
"What carefree, wilful children we were then!
And has she changed--or is she still the same?
I wonder if she'll grumble, or be game
When I come home like ordinary men,
Grouchy and tired? Or if I don't provide
The way she likes--and no one waves the flag,
And pulls the good old-fashioned 'hero' gag
That caught her in the first place. Oh, if I'd
Known that all I know now! But it's no go.
There's the boy now to think of. If I'd come
Crippled, or blind, or shell-shocked deaf and dumb
It wouldn't be so hard. At least she'd know
How little I have left in me to give--
But when it's only that my mind's a hell
Of bloody pictures that I couldn't tell
And can't forget.--They shouldn't let men live
With things like that behind. Or if I must--
And if my brokenness must have a mate--
Then one of those wrecked girls of France that wait
In shamed despair for lovers that are dust.
At least, while we sat silent, hand in hand
Our dark thoughts could go stumbling. But this child
Who never saw pain--she is half defiled
By my mere thought. She'll never understand.
Why--it's a wonder that she hasn't yet
Plucked at my sleeve and gaily prompted me
To 'tell her all about it'--that will be
The worst of all.--If I could just forget!"
She touches him, "It's come!" He sets his jaw
Before he can look down to her. Her look
No longer seeks him as a fairy book.
There is a hope there that he never saw
In any eyes--a light that cleanses him.
"When the boy came, death was so near that pain
And I were friends, since pain meant life again.
You have been nearer death, known hours more grim,
Braved greater things, but some day--if you can--
Tell me--and I will understand, I think.
And if I share it with you and don't shrink
Then it might help a little. There's no man
Strong enough to remember all alone."
The great sobs wrack him, and the fear and care
Slide from him--with light hands she smooths his hair,
And the room glows--though all the fire is gone.