Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Nutting
Were less than lovers,—soAmoret and I
Were less than lovers,—something more than friends.
All through the summer, undesigned, our paths
Had crossed each other. In deep Surrey lanes,
Whose sandy banks the flitting martins drilled,
We chanced to meet. In pleasant garden walks,
At archery, and dance, and country fête
We met; made neighbours for the time. We met
Without constraint; conversed like ancient friends,
And when we parted, did so without sighs.
Then autumn came, in his sad, golden glory.
The birds flew southward to Egyptian homes;
Uplands looked hoary under stubble close;
And the soft stillness of ensuing days
Was as the tenderer manner in a home
Whose inmates sever.
Whose inmates sever.My long holiday,
By health enforced, was over; and I planned
Again to mingle in the din of life
’Mid a dark city. Amoret recalled,
Soon was returning to her northern home.
All things in cadence with the falling leaves
Seemed to breathe out Farewell.
To-morrow, then, the parting:—and to-day
We four, the relics of a group dispersed,
Edward and Grace, and Amoret and I,
Spend our last hours among the hazled lanes,
In purposeless but pleasant wanderings passed:
Our baskets filled with lunch, to be refilled
With nuts, and rarer ferns.
With nuts, and rarer ferns.The day was blent
Of sun-bright snatches, and fast-travelling clouds:
Not over gay, nor gloomy, but in tune
With our own hearts. In presence of The End
Our cheerful banter oft gave way to words
More true and earnest,—oft in silence died.
For sometimes we speak most by silent acts;
Averted eyes; the breaking short a flower;
A stifled sigh; the pressure of a hand,
Its warmth excused, as sign of absent mind.
And the heart hath an ear more swift to read
Such silent language, than if words precise
Were writ on parchment with the best nibbed pen.
We strolled, we sat, we listened to the lark,
Opened our sketch-books; put them up again;
Watched the grave dancings of the chequered light
On the dun, sandy floor—stilled suddenly
By thwarting clouds: talked of the pleasant past,
The possible future; hoped a thousand things;
Threw pebbles idly at a web-caught leaf,
Or gazed unspeaking in each other’s face.
Well: after lunching (for our pensive mood
Had not destroyed our appetite) we rose,
And girded up ourselves unto the stern
And half-forgotten business of the day,
The nutting. Grace, whose hazel eyes were quick
To find their namesakes, soon led Edward on
Through gaps, o’er stiles, and into copses close:
And oft we heard her merry ringing laugh,
As caught by briars she burst her daring way.
Amoret and I in safer, trodden paths
Kept on our course. Sometimes I bent a bough,
While she with ungloved fingers, shining white
’Mid green, translucent leaves, broke off the bunch
Of grey and glossy nuts: and if she leant,
So doing, on my arm her welcome weight,
She blushing begged a pardon for the wrong.
When the slant sun shot dazzling through the boughs,
We sought our lost companions,—out of reach
Of hearing, and of Amoret’s clear call.
A winding lane, that with circuitous steps
Led homeward, might perchance fall on the path
Of Grace and Edward. Beautiful it was
In lights and shadows; deep beneath the fields;
Famous for ferns, and largest, first-ripe nuts.
Our willing feet it won, and long we trod
Its snake-like wanderings: stopping now to cull
The azure bell-flowers, or a berry ripe:
Then moving on: and yet with more constraint,
More tongue-tied, than if opportunity,
Love’s step-mother, had never smiled on us.
We were more cold, more timid than at morn,
Walked more apart, buried in separate thought,
And almost wished an awkward walk were o’er.
Just then, a robin suddenly and clear,
Chirped out a song among the boughs o’erhead.
When Amoret looked up the song had ceased;
But at the spot, there hung a tempting prize,
A noble filbert cluster, all the nuts
Ready to leave their dry and russet sheaths.
Just out of reach it hung; and gained fresh price
From difficulty. “See!” cried Amoret,
All animation in her tones and face,
“I must have this! Ambition, avarice,
And love of fame, unite to make me dare
To take these filberts captive. Lend your hand,
Whilst I this perilous, deceitful bank
Scale, in the front of danger.”
Scale, in the front of danger.”Laughing loud
At so much zeal, I aided her emprise.
Firmly her delicate hand grasped mine; her eyes
Lifted above, intent. But still she slid
On the loose sandy bank! and still the nuts
Smiled calm defiance. More determined yet
By each repulse,—resolved with her own hand
To garner them, she mighty efforts made;
Ever her eyes uplifted, and her thoughts
Rapt from inferior objects. Still she slid.
Not Tantalus’ lips more nearly kissed the stream
Than came her fingers on the swaying branch,
Which yet escaped her. A quick glance she threw
Half eager, half despairing, all around
For something to upraise her;—a great stone,
A browsing ass astray,—but there was nought
To give her footing. Suddenly impelled,
Planting my boot firm in the sandy wall
I bent my knee, and made a level floor
For fairy feet upon my brawny limb.
Amoret took the advantage, and like light,
Stepped on the welcome platform, with her eyes
Still on their goal. To steady her I placed
One arm for balustrade ’neath her left hand;
The other gently threw around her waist
To save her falling. Thus we stood; the wind
Swaying with restless puffs the upper boughs.
She laughed; her heart was beating; and the breeze,
I think, was laughing too. I, not unpleased,
Bearing the precious burthen patiently:
Until, at last, she holding firm my arm,
I circling fast her round and belted waist,
The nuts were won and basketed.
The nuts were won and basketed.Just then
Edward and Grace came round the jutting bank
Full on the group. Quick, Amoret stepped down,
Laughing and blushing, holding still my hand.
Our conscious comrades reddened at the chance
Encounter,—their own steps being close, and arms
Methought entwined. No other nuts that day
We gathered: but all coldness vanished quite,
Nor kept we separate sides. That lane is long,—
Is long and winding. ’Tis the longest lane
Perhaps in Surrey; and the sun was low
Ere Amoret and I had found its end,
Our hospitable home.
Our hospitable home.Edward and Grace
Were whispering in the garden, just arrived:
What they had said we know not; but all eve
They sat together in the jasmined porch.
So I and Amoret,—because we lacked
Companionship from others; or were glad
Because we won those filberts; or were dull
Because to-morrow brought the parting hour,—
Paced the dim cloistered fir-walk which runs round
A dewy meadow, till the stars came forth.
And words were uttered that fair autumn eve,
Tremblingly uttered in the favouring dusk,
Words not repelled at once, nor answered quite,
But making echoes round the wondering heart:—
Words that may colour all the life-long fates
Of two who met in Surrey’s hazled lanes.