On the Esplanade

The autumnal gales had wreaked their will;
Now lipped the wave its idle stones;
And winter light lay grey and chill;
Snow-capped the town's one distant hill,
Snow-cloaked its churchyard bones.

Sole farers on the esplanade,
A mother with her daughter walked.
Across a sea of pallid jade
The air thin fretful music made
And whimpered while they talked: —

" It's not the present that I dread,
No vulgar talk of chances lost.
Your heart seems stranger to your head,
And time wears on, " the elder said;
" My only fear, the cost.

" Sheer habit numbs the mind, my dear;
And lips by lover never kissed
Taste only at last the bitter cheer
Repining memory brings near
Of sweetness they have missed.

" You frown. Ah, yes! But why forget
I too was once in youth astray?
If ghosts at noonday could be met
And suns have heat that long have set —
Well, well, I have had my day.

" And now for you alone I live.
Think not I speak to pry, or vex;
Mere cold advice not mine to give;
Be truth and love between us, if
We share one heart, one sex! "

Awhile these two in silence paced,
Vacant the windows shoreward set.
Thin-screened with cloud the west they faced,
No glint of sun their shadows traced
On the flat flags; and yet

A burning, proud, defiant flare
Gleamed in the younger's eyes, as she
'Neath louring brows, as cold as fair,
Gazed straightly through the wintry air
Over the restless sea.

" Yes, Mother, all you say is true. "
She shrugged her slender shoulders. " I —
Well, nothing I can say, or do
Has any meaning through and through;
What use to question, why?

" Infatuated bees may spend
Their silly lives of droning trance
In gathering nectar without end,
For other busy bees to blend,
And die in like mischance —

" The old, old tale. You say we share
One sex. It's that has gone askew.
The butterflies still dance on air
Without an instant's thought or care
And " sip the morning dew";

" As for the rest, they ape the Man,
And sacrifice their shapes and skin;
In freedom's blaze their faces tan;
Utopian revolutions plan;
Bemoan the Might-have-been.

" Not I. I loathe them both. I know
My very instincts are at war —
Another kind of neuter. So,
Whatever now may come or go,
There's nothing I deplore.

" Pity I laugh at. Flatterer
Flatters not twice the self-same way!
And when at last I come to where
Mere growing old brings solace — there!
I shall have had my day.

" A day as deadly black as night
For fatuous dream of a strange fate —
That long, long since has taken flight —
A lover not of sense or sight:
For him I used to wait.

" I ask you, Mother, how could a mind
Farced up with all I have learned and read —
The lies that curious fools have spread —
A vestige of him hope to find?
Enough of that! " she said.

Turned then the twain about to see
An East as rayless, grey, and bland,
Stretching into infinity,
And vacant windows glassily
Edging the pebbled strand;

While, poised in air, a bird of snow
Faltered on lifted wing — to glide
And glance at this strange to-and-fro,
That greying hair, that cheek's young glow —
And shrill, sad challenge cried.
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