Midsummer Eve


In the lost Valley all is still
To-day: upon the stony hill
The heat of the late afternoon
Settles in coppery haze: and soon
A voice not known to me will call
Silent obedient cows to stall,
In the same immemorial cry
From century to century
Changing but by the uttering voice.
And in a while a little noise
(Hou! Hou!) far off near Newton Head
Will tell that at another stead
The browsing cattle pause and turn
Unwilling heads to seem to learn
That which they know, and move in train
Now milking-time has come again.

In Well Knowe garden now, I know,
Where the pale larkspur used to grow
In the far nook, a sound is heard
(If any is there to hear save bird
And field-mouse in the strawberries
Stirring like a local breeze,
Here, there, the low leaves soundlessly);
A glistening slender wasp-like fly
Is using will and wing to stand
Upon the air as though it spanned
A chasm with trembling outstretched arms,
And in the silence of heat-stilled farms
And heat-veiled wood that seems to shake
Dim clotted leaves yet does not break
By sigh or rustle the hush so dear
Its tiny sting of sound sings clear.

Oft have I heard that elfin horn
Sound suddenly, as cobweb torn
Must sound in startled elfin ears
Pricked and on edge with elfin fears;
And as I upward watched those spare
Twin shreds of silver like slit air,
Beating and shining, straight and tense,
Simulating impotence
Of motion, enviously I thought
"Had my half useless flesh been caught,
Upborn, and for all limit bound
Between such gossamers of sound,
Not thus, not thus would I deny
My spirit's reach and endlessly
Use all conception and all force
To limit my short vital course.
Had I such wings of urgent light
Insistent not alone on height
But stretched for sweep and latitude
I would not evade flight, I would
Employ my heat and power and sense
In realising difference,
And see my world's variety,
Restricted but by energy."

But Well Knowe garden only shines
In memory now, and its dear signs
Only persist and gleam again
In a shut chamber of my brain:
While in a distant place I brood
Upon lost things, and in a mood
Of longing and remembrance feel
The wisdom of that immobile
And senseless mote, and think "Were I
Carnate in a slim glistening fly,
I would flash back upon that fair
Laurel-walled rood, then drop in air
Till no translucent nerve should stir
From strained precision, nor wing should whir
But to maintain one changeless height,
Nor move nor waver from that sight;
And think the years have not gone by
When James and Clinton harboured nigh
And, working in another art
Than mine, yet peopled for my heart
The Valley with the very core
Of vital beauty for evermore,
So that when the air is still
I hear below the meadow-rill
Clinton singing softlier still
Entranced by his own moving brush
Among the stream-side bracken and rush,
Or James repeats with his long hand
The distant line of hills that stand
Between the Valley and the lake
And yet seem lovelier for his sake."

How many generations past
Should I be dead had I been cast
In that small rapid shape of light?
Though wings may stand, years move in flight;
And, while I dream, I know, I know
That it is useless I should go
To Well Knowe garden again to see
Things that cannot return to me,
James dead and Clinton gone away,
And one whose name I cannot say
Who built in Cyclopean sound
Other magic heights around
That little place, then turned apart,
Untrue to friendship and to art,
A man of nothing, vanished things,
Dead friends, dead hopes, that must remain
In a shut chamber of my brain;
While only Clinton far away
Will in these verses and this play
See that country of our youth
And our dead friend and our old troth
Of friendship fixed in amber light,
A timeless hour that holds no night.

Summer 1921, Spring 1922.


URSEL } Kitchen and Dairy Girls.
ROGER, a Carter.
MEASE, a Cowherd.


The scene is the interior of an old barn on a knoll, a long time ago. At the back the barn's doors are opened widely; outside, a road rises slightly from left to right in front of the barn; beyond this the knoll sinks softly yet swiftly to a great meadow, and thence to a wide rich valley of more meadows and ever more meadows with ancient large cherry and crab and sloe and bullace and damson trees in their hedges whence the white and pink thorn-blossom clots are not quite gone, and of pastures shaded by tall clustering trees. Afar the valley ceases in low, densely wooded hills.

A late June twilight is deepening; a faint moist heat-haze hides nothing, only distinguishing the planes of the distant trees with a cloudy delicacy. There is no wind, nor any movement; one blackbird sings somewhere for a little while, then it ceases and there is no sound in the fields.

The whole prospect is of a solitary, fruitfully overgrown valley shut in from everywhere.

Within the barn, to the left, is a high hay-mow with a ladder leaning against it; much hay has been tumbled at its foot in forking from the carts. To the right is a space of floor where the corn is to be heaped in the ending of summer: as yet, however, it is empty, save for a wooden plough, a homely rough wooden roller, wooden harrows, an uptilted, pleasantly shaped cart whence the hay-shelvings have not yet been removed. In the far corner of the bare walls of undressed stone at this side is an open door leading into a mistal. Presently a cow is heard moaning sickly beyond this door.

The barn is still more dim than the land, so that a stretch of soft brown darkness is all that is known of the far-off roof. Nearing footfalls are heard in the road, and a woman's singing grows clearer.

"HOU, Hou," went the neatherd moaning
Down along by the pasture's side;
He turned the cows at the midden-yard loaning,
The loitering cows in the brown owl-tide:
Pale rose the last one, munching, droning,
With wet grass stains on her udder and hide.

My lantern's rings to the low balks floated
As Whitey's tail shook the mistal-sneck;
When I laid my cheek to her belly spotted
I felt her honey-strong breath i' my neck,
For she turns her head does the curd-dark throated
To watch my mouth start her teats with a peck.

NAN, BET and URSEL ascend the road to the left and enter the barn as NAN ceases singing.

They are white-hooded, clumsily shod, gownless; in the right hand NAN carries a willow frail, the others stoneware greybeards; each holds several hay-rakes on her left shoulder.

September, O, September's in the song,
I will not have September in my heart,
The ending of so much deliciousness,
The year's sad luscious over-ripening.
Yet here's the haysel done with: how it hurt
To rake behind the last dim cart; and now
My soul creeps in me like the low pale night-mist
To know that in a moment past this moment
We shall not hear it slowly any more
Down in the lane where, wisping the close trees,
It follows us like a mournful sound of change.
Although the Summer is but newly kindled,
Tiptoe I over-reach the joy of it
(Ah, little perfect weeks of fruitfulness)
Because I tremble lest it be slipping past me
Before my eagerness will let me feel it.
Must joy for me be ever in things gone?...

NAN, as they set down their burdens to lean
the rakes against the wall, where four flails are
hung, on the left of the door.
Nay, there is comfort in the rainy nights,
The long moist twilights of the cider time
When girls hold fitful talk sat in the press-spot
Among the hid sweet apple heaps that gleam
In firelight to a humming out of doors
Of soddening water oozing down the soil;
And there is comfort too at Candlemas
From looking through the casement in the dark,
The last thing ere you chafe your toes in bed,
On the crisp quiet of the woods and fields,
Wondering if 'tis snow or all the moonlight,
Peering so anxiously along the wall
That shades still ewes and whiter first-dropped lambs....
Ay, but I'm tired, lasses, tired now
Because the haysel's over and 'twas fair
And the land's savour wears me with delight.
I'm for indoors and resting, and, beside,
I'm fainest of my supper o' baking days.

Let all times slip to haste the barley week,
For then our nearest dancing-time will ripen ...
But I'm for bed to get me doffed and stripped
To pick much grass seed from my smock and coats.

Listen, Bet; no cool sheets are yours to-night.
The milk-eyed goodies with grey loose-skinned throats,
Who maunder of rarer girlhoods none can prove,
Tell that at midnight on Midsummer-Eves
They waked in some lone shade far from all sleepers
To feel which should be wedded within the year;
For the year's unknown husbands' images
Come then like swoons from some where ... ay, from some where....
Thoughts shaping for their women's heedless souls,
And if a maid will watch she sees her own
And knows her own, seeing her own alone,
Peering unseen as breath is in June nights.
Surely such dainties rilled no cow-slow eyes;
But Nan and I mean watching and have bid
Maudlin at Grassgarth, Lib at Appletoft
Under our breath, and hither they steal this eve.
We knew we must not tell you ere the hour,
Or ... or ... too many hinds might creep to be
Their own drowsed leering loutish prophecies.

Am I so old or wistful to be ringed
That I must feign to be content with one?
Where is this moon-swayed peeping, then, to be,
This blest eavesdropping on a mood of fate?

Here in the barn, where we may crouch un-thought-of
By moon-estranged eyes in gradual darkness.
And lest we startle at o'er-expected footfalls
Or with night-carried voices rouse the farm,
Maudlin and Lib will warn us by dove-cooings,
Sometimes I hear a cooing up warm nights
From dove pairs far too wise to be asleep,
But mistress bides awake for no such music.

Dove-cooing Lib will be a thing to brood on,
I'll miss nought here, although you count me least.

All works with us; for at the forenoon drinking
I heard dame Stir-Wench mutter "These kesh-pithed lasses
Shall sleep no longer three-a-bed beneath
The dark damp closeness of the garret thatch,
That nigh their heads leans low upon the floor,
Until this heat is past; or they will grow
Yet more slob-cheeked and sodden and dough-limbed
I never saw maids look more like green sickness."
And then she bade Giles carry our gear and bedding
Into the empty meal-webbed granary.
Nought could have fallen better; now we have
No moaning ladder's and open doors' groped passing,
No stocking feet need pad the dairy flags;
Only a silverly weathered latchless board
Keeps out the bats that flap toward pale shapes,
And waits to let us into the large night
Throughout the holiest of the mothering year.

She said green sickness but she meant green apples.
The codlin tree that o'er each moonset stretches
A creeping spider-shadow on the gable
Fills out its fruit weeks earlier this year,
And the one bough with apples onion-roped
Is one the mended ladder will not reach;
It is weight-arched against our garret window,
So that the curled leaves finger on the panes
When midnight winds are sturdy enough to lift it;
Mam Pantry knows and fears bare orchard-shelves
And herds us to an outhouse. Girls, those apples
Will all be basketed before their time,
Ere threshing heaps the granary once more
And sharp nights make her yield our loft again
Because she finds us cuddled on its threshold.

Mam Patch-Waist counts more eggs than four, she knows
Spring wenches' whifts let loose to sniff the night;
So straightway to the granary Mease she sped
To oil the lock and drive a staple in.
Small is our chance of watching now....

NAN. Quick-Pattens
Even ere she rounded must have been a likely,
A very likely maid for her to know
Our scapemell moods howe'er we prim our mouths.

Mease for two kisses left the staple loose.

URSEL, laughing with NAN.
Ay, Bet's the market woman, to be sure.

Mouths, even as eyes, were made to earn our wills.

But how came Bet near Mease up in the corn-spot?
And if she knows the need o' the staple loose
Why will she care to watch with us to-night?

To learn which one it is, Nanikin sly.

Had it been Mease he'd not have chaffered kisses....
You know more now than you will learn to-night,
You will wed more than all we see to-night,
We shall win nought beyond a secret spice
Of unclipt gossip in a tasty hour....

A loitering dull sound is heard of cart-wheels and horse-hooves out in the lane.

Hush, Nan, here come the lads....

They lift their burdens, and stand aside for the cart to enter the barn; but as it comes in sight it passes along the road from the left to the right. It is piled with a roped load of hay; ROGER and MEASE, in long smocks and flapping hats, knee-breeches and ribbed stockings, accompany it, ROGER leading the horse, MEASE holding to the shelvings behind with one hand and with the other slanting several hay-forks and a scythe against his shoulder.

URSEL, continuing. What, Roger, Mease....
Why bring you not the cart and top the mow,
To feel in each limb's ebb hay harvest's spent?

ROGER, halting.
As we trailed up from Pear-tree Dale past Sheep-mires
Under a thick dew-breath we seemed to steal
As 'tween chill bed-clothes in December nights;
Into the load it soaked two fingers' length,
So now we needs must throw it off and spread it
To wait to-morrow's sun out in the yard
Ere it is ripe to top the sweating stack.

Moreover, we are wetter than the crop;
Wherefore be homing, russet-apple-faces,
To take our smocks and dry them off while we
Drink the mulled cider you are going to make.

ROGER and MEASE go forward with the horse and cart up the road to the right.

Come, maids, we'd best get in ere mistress seeks us,
Beside, the longer we do loiter here
The longer shall we hold the house from sleep;
There's bowl and bucket rinsing to be done,
And supper to set out if we would eat it.
Be neither meek nor eager in your toil,
Or Mother Dish-Clout in our gust will read
Some deed afoot; we'll wrangle sluggishly
Until she drives us off to bed unwashed.
Then, though we hear the lock shoot and her steps
Sink down the out-stair as she dips the key
Down the long pocket of her petticoat,
Do nought but cast your shoes, there's but one wall
Between her chamber and the granary,
Lie dim along the bed, and never whisper;
But, when we hear her bed-stocks creak and know
Her ears are well tied up beneath her night-cap,
Out slip Bet's staple and ourselves as well.
Seek the pale hollyhocks across the garden
(They glimmer a little in all Summer darkness),
And touch behind the hive-house shadow-hung....

And in the barn make happiness till dawn.

Dare we lie still, inside the dark, and wait
In such suppression for such unknown things?

As BET speaks they leave the barn to the right; NAN resumes her song faintly and more faintly.

Dusked seemed the eve as the cows trod in
Under the roof-drip each to her stalling;
Full udders crusht shagged thighs between
Were warm to my hands in the chill air's palling;
And through the wind's drifting of leaves yet green
"Hou, hou," neared the neatherd's calling....
The song ceases in the distance.

ROGER turns into the barn with MEASE'S bundle of hay-forks, and lays them in the empty cart as he sings.

I get no sleep in lambing nights,
My woman gets no sleep;
We fold the ewes if we sniff a thaw,
And when they yean as we crouch i' their straw
She takes the lambs by our horn-fogged lights
While I do handle the sheep.
Footsteps are heard within the neat-house.

ROGER, calling through the neat-house door.
Is the sick beast grown easier by now?

MEASE, entering from the neat-house.
Poor Dapple-Back, milk fever's bad on her.
'Twas her first calf and though 'twas smoothly dropped
She could not gather, but heaped a shapeless flank
Like a maid swooning; when the farrier came
"She'll die, she'll die," he said. "She'll not," said I:
But nothing served at first, her slackened fell
Dried hard and never any sweat would stir,
The udder turned a dull and shivering white;
Yet now her ears twitch up to greet my voice,
The hide-hair moistens and the udder shrinks.
There'll be no need to wake with her to-night,
I'll not unwrap her till an hour ere dawn.
Come through and look at her as we wend in....
When you got up the cider for the meadows
Was there a butt still left?

ROGER, as they go into the mistal together.
Surely there was;
But the girls say she'll make it wait till harvest.
I never hired to any stead before
Where last year's cider trickled into June....

All is soundless again save for the cow's moaning. The twilight deepens no farther, and presently its dead gold brownness becomes cooler in tone; the mist, which had been merged in the nightfall's dimness, imperceptibly becomes apparent again, being suffused by an oozing of silveriness through the pervading brownness; moon-rise is evident, although the moon is hidden by the permeating mist which it fills. Perhaps a crying of bats is heard, but this is not certain. An owl cries somewhere, probably from one of the gable-holes, for it sounds both inside and outside at once; after many tentative Tu-whits it launches a full Tu-whoo and swings out far and low across the valley: a chirping of frogs begins in the nearest ditches.

A closer sound stills all these, being evidently that of a woman's voice feigning dove-notes; it ceases, light cautious hurried steps are heard; it sounds again, Maudlin slips round the door corner to the left and enters the barn. She is white-capped, her gown skirt is bunched about her waist, her bodice sleeves are turned back beyond her elbows.

Nan ... Ursel ... Nan ... Lib ... Appletoft Lib, hast come?
There's no one here, I wish they might forget
And sleep, and let me feel a little lonely.
I need much loneliness wherein to suckle
The sadness that alone can bring content:
I am too burdened by long laughing days,
And as I wavered through this solemn vapour
Of the worn earth, the comfort-smelling earth,
Where unexpected trees rose wearily
And sank again like ashen-bosomed sighs,
I felt a new, delighting mournfulness
That made me know where I am sensitive
To the deep things of life; even the late Maybloom,
That stays the tiring Spring in this strange valley,
Loses its too self-conscious hope to-night,
The pink would fain be white, and the spent white
Still fog and sink to the moon and make an end.
I must be much alone in sorrowful nights.
I should have ease if Summer would but go,
Its green-lit glory fail; I am so eager
For overgrown too-mellowness loth to pass,
For dripping trees o'er soft decaying grass,
Bare orchards and shorn meadows and stripped gardens,
Brown cloudy woods that drooping mists make taller
About washed fields and muffled hills, subduing
All to a low remote romance and charm....
Yet soon with other maids I may behold
A change that comes to snirp these buds in me....

She lays herself on her back among the tumbled hay; soon she sings in a low voice.

Fetch the porridge pot hither to me,
The porridge pot and the dairy key,
And bring me a clout to wind my hair
Or the swarming bees will tangle there:
They drip from the hive in the orchard long,
And coil the green-cherried boughs among
As they follow the tanking tune I ring
Under the cherry leaves' shivering....
They settle, they knit, come Ailce with the skep,
Step along, Mistyhead, Smearycap, step,
Steady it while I draw the bough
Warily down and shake it.... Now....
After a little silence she resumes.
The maids went down to dip in the pool
When the mirrored moon had cooled the water;
But they never told the farmer's daughter,
For they knew she would tell her mother, the fool,
That the girls were out
And awaking the water,
With never a clout
Though the night was cool.

She hums the latter melody a little while.

Without premonition URSEL, NAN and BET enter singly and noiselessly from the right, each holding a hand of the one before her. They are hoodless, white-capped, and barelegged now.

URSEL, in a low voice.
I bade them hide until we came.... Lib ... Maudlin....

MAUDLIN, sitting up.
Lib is not here: there's no one nigh at all;
And in the lanes nought moves but squirrel whifts,
Save that long gazing into the green darkness
Seems to show boles half stirred by creeping light
Amid the darker dark of trees impending.

Was it not Lib who was dew-drenched last harvest,
Hid in a wheat stook till she fell asleep?

NAN, as they all seat themselves by MAUDLIN.
Could any watch you as you slipped away?

Our lambs and three fat beasts must take the road
Ere dawn to reach the morrow's far-off fair;
So I said I would sleep along the settle
And set the hinds their drinking ere they trudge.
None smelt me, but I must start home by three....
What is the moaning through that little door?

URSEL, in alarm.
I had forgot the beast; will Mease sleep with her?

When I came in to milk soon after seven
He said the deathly loosening was pinched
And we should keep her without more sitting up....
Yet, the other cows pushed in and nosed her
As cows will do to helpless dying things....
A heifer has milk fever.

MAUDLIN, rising eagerly. Let me look,
I have not touched milk fever once, nor seen it;
I want to know what sense it can be like,
I am made to know with what sick thought it takes them,
To watch it wane and learn to handle it.
Ah, let me feel her, Nan, dear Nannie....

NAN. Nay.
The neat-house door is open on her stall
And hints the pool out in the yard beyond
Dreaming a dew-dull wash of unborn moonlight
In darkness sinkingly close as a bat's coat,
And the large stillness of her weary eyes
Might image that ... although we should not see her....

I know, I know.... But we can shut our eyes,
Nay, fear would lift them, let us enter blindfold;
My fingers know just what they ought to do.

Nay, she might die ... I saw a cow die once:
She tried to turn her head across her shoulder
And looked at me as if 'twas all my doing,
Then laid it down again with a straight throat ...
I fear for that old wrong I never did....

A deep-voiced woman is heard making low dove-sounds.

Comes Lib....

They rise to meet the newcomer, but draw back half in laughter, half in uneasy amazement as she appears to the left. She is stockinged and shod, but her topmost apparel is nightgown and nightcap.

BET, continuing.
Lib ... Lib ... is she asleep or dead?

LIB, entering the barn.
Do I not seem the shadow of a husband?
Am I too late? I could not choose my coming:
'Tis churning day to-morrow, and nought would serve
The old one but that we must scald the churn
And wipe the cream-pots' lips and set them nigh
Before we slept, she was so cross because
One cow had broken, one cast before its time,
Some hens had laid away, farmer had blamed her
For standing over us to make us strip
The cows too hard; so she was queer with us.
That kept us late from bed, and when at last
Our fallen skirts were cooling on the floor
I had to lay me down beside Ruth
Until she slept; for Candle-Face tells tales,
'Twas she who lost us the low garden-chamber
Where hang the dry sweet herbs, and earned instead
One with a lattice up against the stars,
By peaching of my clambering through the casement
'Mid dropping plums that night I went somewhere;
But when I heard her wet mouth on the pillow
I left her, stuffed my coats within my arm
And out along the landing. As I neared
The old one's chamber-door a warped board chirped,
My limbs went loose and motionless with fear;
On I slid again and down the stairs,
And in the kitchen found I had no raiment.
I dared not grope for it nor make a light;
So two unmended stockings on the settle,
My shoes upon the hearth, were all I had:
But in the warm night it was comforting
To feel myself half indistinguishable
From the grey, stirless oats I stood among,
Or the evasive gleams and thinner places
Of mist-lit woodlands, or from slim birch boles;
And when a woman met me by the brook
I was so pale and slow she ran from me.

The others laugh as they lead her to crouch with them in the hay.

Why is there moaning through that little door?

A heifer has milk fever. There is a silence.

LIB, in a low voice. Women have that....
Why are we thankful for a deal of trouble?...
My sister Jen was pleased and proud with herself;
And when her second obedience came to her
She was well eased, but goody Slippy-Stockings,
Who went for wisdom-dame, bore the hot jug
Too brimmed when it was time to draw the milk....
They had to dry the milk, and it, being eager,
Went the wrong way and oozed into her head:
The little one died so soon. She lay there
Sooing the oldest milking-croon of all,
"Baby calf-lips nuzzle not nigh you,
'Tis my fingers firm that try you Knowingly;
Patch-Eye, Teaty, I'll not wry you,
Let your warm milk down to me...."
Then she would wear her wedding gown all night,
And in the orchard we could hear her sing
Mall, go, gather a Posy, Lasses turn Grey,
Wander, Wonder, and, Peg was clouting her Nightcaps;
She sank heavily to uneasy stillness,
Then mooed a baby-noise; till, the fourth dawn,
She hollowed her arms gently across her body,
"Cold, cold," she said, and then "Cover us up"....
And she grew colder....

MAUDLIN. Much strangeness comes in it:
I've wondered what there is in me to gather
So secretly, why life can leak such whiteness,
And if we feel it change, and how in it
We sow hid things that never were in us,
Can it be that our thoughts go into it,
And all we feel and see must alter it
From white to white that seems but white to us?
I knew a woman and her daughter once
Who went together.... The young one's died; she cried,
O she did cry, until the mother said
"Here, lass, have mine; I know, and you shall know."
Girls, she did that quite calmly: ere he would take,
Mab had to cover his eyes with a warm cloth,
And even o' nights to wear her mother's clothes.
'Tis grave to suckle across the brood like that,
It threads the mind....

BET. Mothering, mothering, mothering,
Cannot we find our lives except that way?

The moon seems to be high over the mist now, for there is light everywhere outside; so that, on peering into the night, it is with surprise all is found obscure and not easily definable or detachable amid the faint daze of light that feigns to illumine the valley. The women have become only black shapes upon the square litten patch which is the doorway surrounded by the blackness of the barn. A dog howls somewhere far away.

That dog sounds from some low-set roadside farm;
What does it hear? There is a short silence.

MAUDLIN. Women, what does it see?
They say dogs howl when someone's fetch goes by.

Mayhap it is the husband-shapes a-coming.

We shall see nought but what is in our thoughts.
Yet I'd be very fain to see my man....
When Gib at Hornbeam-Shallows lost his wife
He had to hire a wench for the first time
And at next Martimas hiring came to me
And offered me four pounds for the half year,
Saying he'd give me his wife's milking coats
To make it up, ay, and her two best shawls,
One darned across the neck-place, one loom-new;
I told him I would liefer have her shoes,
That frightened him so well he stammered off.
But Sib had heard; she drew him with her eyes,
And said she'd go for three pounds and the shawls
If he would let her use a gown sometimes.
Then at each hiring she stayed on for less,
Till in the third year's end he wedded her;
And so she's gotten shawls and shoes as well.
I missed a savoury chance, for he is old
And childless; both stock and land are his:
Ay, if I had gone quietly to him
Ere now I might have had him for myself.

I should not wait three years for any man....
When Sib would hire a lass Gib said his other
Had done without for seven and thirty years,
And he had ringed her but to save her wage:
At first he sent the hind to milk for her,
But stopped him soon, saying that men's hands
Made cow-teats horny; then at Whitsun hiring
He let him go, grutching it was waste
With such a goodly woman in the yard;
So now she has to herd and fork and winnow,
To drive the cart and take a side of thatch....
Gib says young wives are better worth their fodder
Than worn ones. Truly she has a gown sometimes,
For she goes ever in an old woman's wear,
He says the other's gear will last her days.
Nan must surely see more than that to-night.

Ah, but Sib knows him: he does so fondle her;
He lets her hair down every eve to spread it
And feel the pleasure of the comb's sleek goings,
Bidding her "Stand over" as when a cow
Rubs up against the boust at milking-time;
While, when they gleaned their harvest fields by moonlight
To stint the widows, he would bend down as she
Bobbed up a mouth all blackberry-stains to kiss ...
Before she is fit for kitchen toil again
He will so wonder how she has grown the mistress....
BET laughs.

URSEL, shivering.
Hush, do not laugh; it creeps up in the roof,
And drips on us again like the thick water
Through the black pulpy thatch-leak in November....
That laugh sounded as lonely as one flail....
There is a silence.

The heifer ceased to moan a moment past,
It seems as if it holds its breath to listen....
There is a long silence.

I need to speak, but what I have forgotten....

Lass, do not make us speak, or we may miss it....

O, do not speak to us, or we may miss it....

We could not hear you for this listening....

I look so deeply that I cannot see...
I cannot listen for it for listening....

There is a long silence which pulses slowly with half-caught heavy breaths and slight restless rustlings of the hay in which the women seem motionless.

Do I feel something? Do we feel something growing?...

Quiet steps are heard to shift the lane's pebbles. The women look sharply at each other, start soundlessly to their feet and lean toward the door; they move forward half eagerly, yet each seeks to put the others before her, so that as they near the door> NAN poises unwillingly foremost; when the light catches their faces they seem about to laugh.

Nay, I'll not meet it, perhaps it is not mine ...
I will not know aforetime to despoil
The gradual joy of waking to a man,
I will not lose one feeling of dear change,
Or slur it by being conscious of the next....
Yet even then love should be marvellous
As the surprise of secret lights expected ...
O, if I meet some one I do not want....
Come, maids, join hands and let us go together,
Still, we might make too sure....

When NAN is across the threshold the others huddle back. The steps come nearer. In the road beyond NAN a woman appears quietly from the left; so far as it is possible to see, her features and array are the counterpart of NAN'S.

NAN, continuing. Hey, here's a woman ...
Lib, did you tell the slatterns at Cherry-Close mill?
Nay, 'tis some rag-bag sleeper under hedges....

BET, in an undertone of wonder.
Why are their coats alike?

NAN, turning her head and calling.
Ursel, Ursel,
She's from the farm, our granary has been searched;
For see, she wears my old plum petticoat,
Come, let us strip her and pen her in a sty ...
But ... I have on my old plum petticoat ...
And how can she come from the farm when she goes to the farm?...

LIB, hastily and below her breath.
Fetches and wraiths ... fetches and wraiths ... fetches and wraiths
... Peering about her.
Is there no way from here?

MAUDLIN, under her breath.
My mother's grandmam
Saw her own fetch a week before she died....

BET, in a low tone.
Come through the neat-house ere we too see ours,
Ursel, come ... come....

URSEL, in a hushed voice.
If all your days are used
Your fetch can meet you at the neat-house door,
Ah, stay, for Nan will need us when ... that goes....

BET, LIB, and MAUDLIN hurry and crowd into the mistal unheedingly. Meanwhile the woman has passed from left to right along the road, turning always to NAN and holding out her arms to her.

NAN, leaning out toward her with her hands pressed over her heart.
Her unapparent features make me feel
How others must feel my face.... The droop of her skirt
Is creeping on my hips.... I have watched my feet
Draw sideways so.... Her shadow is long like mine
About the bosom ... I wish I could touch her hair,
I know so well the tingle and smell of my hair ...
Is this a fetch?

She reaches forward as if she would follow, until she is in the middle of the road; the woman passes from, sight to the right. NAN'S body loosens; she turns confusedly to the barn and sees URSEL'S face pale in the shade.

NAN, continuing. O, Ursly, where have I gone?
I have lost myself, for I was here but now....
She remembers and shakes.
Dear soul, what did you see?

URSEL, taking her in her arms.
I saw what you saw.

Was it my fetch?

URSEL. I think it was a fetch.

NAN, numbly.
I must be going to die.... I cannot feel so ...
There's nought I want to do when I am dead ...

She is silent a moment, then seems startled into sobbing.

O, Ursel, Ursel, I cannot let me die....

Folk say a fetch is seen at its departing
From a cold house whence it shall lead a soul;
But this comes like a child-birth closing in,
And so perchance it does but signify
The consciousness of death that breaks in all.
We stand outside the process of the earth
And watch it as immortals; and consider
Death, which we think a deeply moving thing
(Observing eagerly its fine emotions,
The impressive strangeness of its mean romance,
Its strong-tanged character and accidents,
And all the keen new chances it affords
For sympathy and for imagination),
But think not to connect it with ourselves,
So sure we are all's possible to us.
Then a near comprehension that is love
Of trees or sheep, songs or some man or woman,
Shakes us one day and nothing is the same,
Because we grow aware that we must leave
The very joy that lights ourselves for us
And shows where we may greaten for its sake.
'Tis life's beginning; we perceive the earth
And go down into it and nestle to it
Defeatedly before its larger thought:
Numbly we measure ourselves by all we see,
We feel uneasily yet willingly
Each thing that happens may happen to us too,
And we are cheated by each grief unsuffered,
Yea, ever we interrogate decay
To know our own duration; we must touch
Each lovesome thing lest it or we should fade,
Until the searching quiver of contact reaches
And makes us conscious where we can be lovesome;
We find ourselves in others and thus learn
How others are in us, and so we creep
To large experiences we could not think,
Effectual perfection of ripe life;
The earth and all the darling ways of it
Are ours by love, for all that we must leave
Comes into us and makes us live it swiftly
Lest we should miss some thing. So that one love
Insists that every love in earth shall feed it,
To keep it from the unsafety of ignorance
And let our brief days yield their sweetness up.
Such is the consciousness of death, ah, such
Must be made yours; mayhap this is the way.

The consciousness of death.... Though that be all,
It is too much: even if this fetch abides
Unnumbered years ere I see it depart,
Yet all is made unsure and I may sink
Before I have felt half I need to feel.
I must make every passion in myself,
Have each emotion of my wilful sowing,
The pain of sap, the pain of bud and bloom,
Of hard green fruit sun-bruised to thick gold juice,
The pain of the sharp kernel in the pulp
(Transmuter of sweet to inmost bitterness),
The pain of orderly corruption too,
Of the withdrawing sap, of the sick falling
Into long grass beneath the rain-soaked boughs,
Of gentle decomposing for small roots;
So that if death's the end, the true completion,
I could believe myself fulfilled and ripe,
A sufferer of the topmost joy and grief,
And past the need of any eternity ...
O, I desire old age, because old age
Has more capacity, more ways of joy....

Her sobs hide her words. URSEL leads her to the hay and seats her among it again and herself by her, putting her arms about her and drawing her head down upon her bosom.

Old age must sit and wait as we must wait ...
We can grow old so quickly in our souls....
One utters a love-call and no answer comes,
One suffers motherhood within one's heart
Of cold unconscious children who can render
A tolerance of affection more remote
Than strait denial; and such maternity
Waits not for any bearing through the body,
When love has come maternity must follow,
And if the body may not be made fruitful
The spirit chooses its own fruitfulness:
All that we miss is happening in others,
Others are feeling all we yearn to feel,
And if we will not let ourselves forget
How love has wrung us we pass through it with them....
Ah, wonder, joy, of contact that enlarges
Our bodies' possibilities and times,
And gathers life for us to nourish....

A stifled cry from BET is heard from the neat-house.

BET. Aa, h....

NAN, sinking back faintly in URSEL'S arms.
Does ... it return and ... call?...

URSEL. Hush, 'tis Bet's voice....

After a brief interval filled with slight sounds, BET appears in the neat-house doorway; she peeps before her until she sees the two women in the hay.

BET, in a low eager tone.
Ursel, Ursel....
URSEL rises and goes toward her.
The cow has died ... in the dark....
When I returned but now by the yard door
I missed the boust and groped into her stall,
And did not know until I heaved and spread
Up a flat softness that went sick beneath me
With long stiff shakings, while her unearned wind
Broke far within, then slid against my cheek ...
I could have borne it if she had been cold;
But she was nearly cold, so that I felt
A thread-thin warmth I could not stay nor make ...

NAN, approaching BET swiftly from behind and
grasping her shoulder.
Is the cow dead?

BET, shrinking from her touch.
Nannie, the cow is dead.

I milked her last of all, and now my fetch
Has milked her too; will ... it ... take all from me
I own through love?
(To BET.) Why did you shrink from me?

I did not shrink from you; what need is there?

NAN holds out her arms to her; again she draws away from NAN.

Nannie, I cannot help it ... I cannot help it....
There's more than this world in you, and I know not
What you might do to me past your own will:
You have seen your fetch and are not one of us,
For we know not your being's dim half-conditions ...
And maybe if you touch ought that has life
You make it that your fetch can take it too,
So died the heifer.... Or maybe your least touch
Draws life from others to win you a few hours;
Or you are of the dead, and call folk to them
Through sympathy of the senses' understanding....
Poor Nannie ... O, poor Nannie ... O, poor Nannie....

She sobs loudly, stooping to wipe her eyes with her petticoat-hem.

URSEL, while seeking to still her.
Let us turn home to bed: we shall not sleep;
But once we're stripped we can relax our bodies,
Lying past thought for misery till insight
Returns again and brings us the proportion
Of all ... and us....

NAN. I shall bide here till dawn
To see if ... I return and go out ... out....
(To BET.)
Have you left Lib and Maudlin hiding somewhere;
Or do they home by now?

BET, overcoming her tears gradually.
We fled from here
When ... when ... and reached the neat-yard ere we knew;
We climbed the knoll and passed behind the barn;
Then through the corn land, dew-wet to our hearts,
We beat the thick rye down that choked our feet
Amid its shaggy sighing stilly weight,
Until the cottages at Damson-Closes
Hung o'er us like a dark broody-winged hen
We shunned the watcher's light where the old woman
Waits for her death, and dripped into the lane
Soft as cast shadows.... Ever all feared to speak:
Yet I went with the others through lost fields,
Straining to see the thing we prayed to miss,
Because I knew I dared not near the homestead;
Until I felt that neither should I dare
A more remote returning by myself,
When, loitering unnoticed by those trances,
I sought even you rather than be alone.

NAN, rigidly, her head having been long averted to the barn's doorway.
I hear my feet.

URSEL, in alarm. Nan, do not go....

NAN. I must.

BET, wildly.
Again.... Wherever shall I go alone?...

She tugs her cap-strings loose and her cap over her eyes; she breathes so deeply that her trembling is heard by her breath as she fumbles her way into the mistal. The quiet steps are heard again; as NAN approaches the threshold the woman reappears to the right and passes down the lane to the left, always holding out her arms to NAN, whose arms hang tensely at her sides while her fingers twitch at her petticoat as she holds back and back from meeting the embrace. URSEL tries to go to NAN, but she cannot trail her feet after her nor draw down her hands that cover her face.

How have I parted?... Where am I in deed?...
What of me is unseen?... Go....

The woman having disappeared to the left, still opening her arms to NAN, NAN turns and totters to the door's edge on that side; thence she feels her way supportedly along the door, but when she comes to its end she slides to her knees; after moving a little farther so, she sinks forward on her face and crawls blindly toward URSEL'S feet. At the fall URSEL'S hands drop; she reaches to NAN, kneels by her, feels her heart and hands, holds her own hand before NAN'S mouth and nostrils; then with one swift movement she loosens her own raiment nearly to her waist, and, lying against NAN, clasps her in her arms and gathers her into her bosom.

URSEL. Nan.... O, Nan....

The two lie quite still; the stirred dust settles on them slowly and greyly in the moonlight.