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John Freeman

(1880-1929 / England)

The Visit


I reached the cottage. I knew it from the card
He had given me--the low door heavily barred,
Steep roof, and two yews whispering on guard.

Dusk thickened as I came, but I could smell
First red wallflower and an early hyacinth bell,
And see dim primroses. 'O, I can tell,'

I thought, 'they love the flowers he loved.' The rain
Shook from fruit bushes in new showers again
As I brushed past, and gemmed the window pane.

Bare was the window yet, and the lamp bright.
I saw them sitting there, streamed with the light
That overflowed upon the enclosing night.

'Poor things, I wonder why they've lit up so,'
A voice said, passing on the road below.
'Who are they?' asked another. 'Don't you know?'

Their voices crept away. I heard no more
As I crossed the garden and knocked at the door.
I waited, then knocked louder than before,

And thrice, and still in vain. So on the grass
I stepped, and tap-tapped on the rainy glass.
Then did a girl without turning towards me pass

From the room. I heard the heavy barred door creak,
And a voice entreating from the doorway speak,
'Will you come this way?'--a voice childlike and quick.

The way was dark. I followed her white frock,
Past the now-chiming, sweet-tongued unseen clock,
Into the room. One figure like a rock

Draped in an unstarred night--his mother--bowed
Unrising and unspeaking. His aunt stood
And took my hand, murmuring, 'So good, so good!'

Never such quiet people had I known.
Voices they scarcely needed, they had grown
To talk less by the word than muted tone.

'We'll soon have tea,' the girl said. 'Please sit here.'
She pushed a heavy low deep-seated chair
I knew at once was his; and I sat there.

I could not look at them. It seemed I made
Noise in that quietness. I was afraid
To look or speak until the aunt's voice said,

'You were his friend.' And that 'You were!' awoke
My sense, and nervousness found voice and spoke
Of what he had been, until a bullet broke

A too-brief friendship. The rock-like mother kept
Night still around her. The aunt silently wept,
And the girl into the screen's low shadow stept.

'You were great friends,' said with calm voice the mother.
I answered, 'Never friend had such another.'
Then the girl's lips, 'Nor sister such a brother.'

Her words were like a sounding pebble cast
Into a hollow silence; but at last
She moved and bending to my low chair passed

Swift leaf-like fingers o'er my face and said,
'You are not like him.' And as she turned her head
Into full light beneath the lamp's green shade

I saw the sunken spaces of her eyes.
Then her face listening to my dumb surprise.
'Forgive,' she said, 'a blind girl's liberties.'

'You were his friend; I wanted so to see
The friends my brother had. Now let's have tea.'
She poured, and passed a cup and cakes to me.

'These are my cakes,' she smiled; and as I ate
She talked, and to the others cup and plate
Passed as they in their shadow and silence sat.

'Thanks, we are used to each other,' she said when I
Rose in the awkwardness of seeing, shy
Of helping and of watching helplessly.

And from the manner of their hands 'twas clear
They too were blind; but I knew they could hear
My pitiful thoughts as I sat aching there.

... I needs must talk, until the girl was gone
A while out of the room. The lamp shone on,
But the true light out of the room was gone.

'Rose loved him so!' her mother said, and sighed.
'He was our eyes, he was our joy and pride,
And all that's left is but to say he died.'

She ceased as Rose returned. Then as before
We talked and paused until, 'Tell me once more,
What was it he said?' And I told her once more.

She listened: in her face was pride and pain
As in her mind's eye near he stood and plain....
Then the thin leaves fell on my cheek again

And on my hands. 'He must have loved you well,'
She whispered, as her hands from my hands fell.
Silence flowed back with thoughts unspeakable.

It was a painful thing to leave them there
Within the useless light and stirless air.
'Let me show you the way. Mind, there's a stair

'Here, then another stair ten paces on....
Isn't there a moon? Good-bye.'
And she was gone.
Full moon upon the drenched fruit garden shone.

Submitted: Friday, September 24, 2010

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