Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GHOST-BEREFT; A SCENE FROM BOGLAND IN WAR-TIME, by JANE BARLOW



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GHOST-BEREFT; A SCENE FROM BOGLAND IN WAR-TIME, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I thought by now for sure the sun was down
Last Line: A shadowy form begins to move up the path from the river.
Subject(s): Death; Ghosts; Shadows; Soldiers; Supernatural; War; Dead, The


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

WIDOW BRENNAN.
LADY KATHLEEN MACNEILL.
NORAH FARRELL.
NELLIE CONNOR.

A little glen traversed by a path, running along the bank above a rocky
stream, and shut in on the side farthest from it by a thick screen of shrubs.
In
a recess among them a wooden seat stands facing the stream. On the extreme
left
the path ends at a small gate in a Gothic stone arch. On the right it
branches,
one path winding down, with wide steps here and there, to the water's edge, the

others running on under overarching boughs. The time is about sunset on a
showery evening in May. Along the path from the gate comes the WINDOW
BRENNA.
She wears a long black hooded cloak and a white frilled cap.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

I THOUGHT by now for sure the sun was down,
But still there are leaves of fire, like, flickering by
Along in the water. Ay, and there is himself
Red yonder through the trees: a handsbreadth clear
Of daylight yet; the lonesome days pass slow.
It seems a great while since the Angelus bell
Was ringing over at Moygort; and the house
Had grown so dark I scarce could see my hand—
The shower it must have been that made things black—
And so I am here too early. After dusk
Was fallen, they said. Indeed, and after dusk
He would oft be coming home this very way,
The time he worked about the gardens here,
Before I had ever a dread next year would bring
The 'listing and the war to break our hearts.
And here some nights he would stop awhile, he said,
To smoke his pipe; he linked the water's sound
That is twisted through the stones. Then only a step
Beyond the gates, and he would be stooping in
At the dark of our little low door—too low, in truth,
For him that stood a tall six foot and more
Or ever he turned seventeen. No bigger man
The Rangers had than Larry, I will go bail.
The easier maybe so their bullets found him,
That killed the little gossoon on me. Now
I will sit down here awhile; it won't be long
Till underneath these boughs 'tis dark enough;
And if the lad knew I was waiting for him,
He would come belike a bit the sooner—ay,
He would, I am thinking.

NORAH FARRELL, in a blue gown and white muslin apron and cap, runs after and
overtakes her.

NORAH FARRELL.

Oh! Mrs. Brennan, ma'am,
I have lost my breath with running—how is yourself?
Too late I am. They kept me talking on
Below there at the lodge, and 'twill be dusk
Ere I can slip through all these shrubbery paths.
Look, there's a cloud-bank building in the west
As black as a turf-stack; presently 'twill take
The last of the sun setting. That long yewwalk
Will be thick night. What shall I do at all?

WINDOW BRENAN.

Well, child of grace, what harm could happen you?
For ne'er a man or mortal will you meet,
Unless it was a rabbit over the lawn
Went scuttling white. Or maybe you would be scared
Because you saw a tuft of thistledown
Blow by on the wind. No need to mind the dark,
For sure, if that is all ails you.

NORAH FARRELL.

But, ma'am dear,
Some people say they have seen the Captain— Saints (blessing herself)
Between us and harm!—in these same paths, or else
'Twas Larry Brennan. Different ways they tell
The story, but 'tis since the two of them
Were killed, that is sure and certain.

WIDOW BRENNAN

Larry———

NORAH FARRELL.

There—
My tongue has gone wrong again; I never meant
To tell you there was talk of him; forby
'Tis likelier now a deal they saw the Captain.
Poor Larry, what should bring him waling here?
But the poor master had a great wish ever
For this glen-shrubbery. Many a day last Fall
He would come down with my lady, and watch the men
He had set to plant that barefaced bank below
With little flowery bushes. Off he went,
Off to the war before they had finished it all;
And after that may lady came alone
One time, old Murtagh told me, and she stood
Looking on awhile, just like as if, said he,
Some bit of growing thing was rooted up,
And left to droop its life out in its place.
They all were sorry at heart for her, he said.
The little bushes should be blossoming
By summer, all red and white and lilac—sure,
Is that a glimmering of them through the trees,
Down yonder towards the bridge? Ah! now, to think
The master will be ne'er lay eyes on them, nor maybe
My lady, for a foot she has never set
Outside the door since first we had the news.
In Lent that was, and here is nigh Whitsuntide.

WINDOW BRENNAN.

The creature is to be pitied; left so young
And married scarce a twelvemonth yet. Last year
I would often see them both go riding by.
A handsome man he looked on horseback too,
And she as gay as a goldfinch. Ay, God knows
She is to be pitied.

NORAH FARRELL.

You might say that word
If you could see her these times, ma'am. All day
There is the musty old library she sits,
And in the darkest corner, by the shelves;
She keeps an open book upon her knee,
And when one comes she is quick to turn a leaf,
As if a breeze went by, but sorrow the line
She reads in it. Away and far away
She looks, and what she sees the Saints can tell.
The eyes of her are grown too wide for aught
They will find in the world to fill them, and her face
Is dwindled like a baby's when it pines.
Up at the House, ma'am, all of us are saying
Her people must be strange, that leave her alone
To mope and fret so long, and ne'er a one
Come next or night her.

WINDOW BRENNAN.

They misliked the match,
So I heard tell; and since her wedding-day
They broke with Lady Kathleen.

NORAH FARRELL.

Set them up!
Is one of the MacNeills not good enough
For e'er a lady in the land? It is much
If they have as fine a gentleman among them
As the poor master.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Ay, but he was not rich;
And wild a bit, some say, in his younger days,
As lads are. Sure they wanted some great lord
For Lady Kathleen. Wiser wish she had
To take the man she chose. God rest his soul.
He always had a pleasant word for Larry,
And Larry liked him well. Indeed, 'twas the talk
They had about his Honour and the war,
First put the 'listing into Larry's dead;
For if they had luck, he said, they might be sent
Together. Ochone, together 'tis far they have gone.
But now, belike, my lady would hate the thought
Of folks that would have parted him and her,
As if they were the war itself.

NORAH FARRELL.

True for you.
They would, maybe, only vex her talking. Sure,
I have done that same myself by foolishness,
With no harm meant at all. I mind one morning
Last winter, when she still had every day
Her heart set on his letter, old Murtagh bid me
Go tell her he had brought her naught that time
In the mail-bag. So I found her at the window,
Where she throws out the bread-crumbs to the birds,
That fluttered on the sill, frost-hungry—tits
And robins and sparrows—down they whirled like leaves,
With ever one the white crumb in his beak.
'Look, look', 'my lady, you might think
They had all got wee white letters.' So she looked,
And laughed, the creature. But next minute, ah,
She though I had gone, and: 'Ne'er a one,' says she,
Soft to herself, 'not one for me at all.'
I could have cried to hear her. And to-day
'Twas worse again; for like a fool I told her
I would take his message to the lodge myself,
Because Rose Flynn was scared with people's talk
Of how they had seen the Captain in the glen.
Woman dear! her shining eyes at that. And straight
She made me tell her every word I knew.
And then I tried my best, when the harm was done,
And said for sure the soldier walking there
Would just be Larry Brennan, if all the while
'Twas aught save some old body passing by,
That wore a scarlet 'kerchief, folk mistook
For a read coat through the trees in the darkening light.
May God forgive me; it was a great untruth
I told her, and I doubt she guessed as much.
Still, better it were to fool her if I could,
Than frighten her with letting her believe
His Honour walks. God rest him.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Very wrong
You did to disappoint her with a story
About the Captain. Yet she scarce would hope it.
For sure if e'er a soldier came the road
That is strange and darksome home to poor Rosbride,
The lad 'twould be who knows the old mother lost
Her life's light when he lift her in heart-sorrow
To fret her lone; herself that all this day
Is watching yon slow sun creep out of the sky,
And thinking of the chance a shadow only
Might fall across her patch.

NORAH FARRELL.

Oh, Mother of Mercy! (Blessing herself.)
Is it waiting here you are to meet him? Indeed,
I know you are. And there is the sun gone down.
Will he be coming now? I heard a step.
Don't leave me, woman dear. Where shall I run?
Don't leave me!

WINDOW BRENNAN.

Whist, girl, whist! (Listening.)
No, I hear naught.
'Tis just the shower that's pattering by again.
What ails you, Norah? Half the sun is up yet
Behind the cloud. Well, well, I will go with you
As far as the first sunk fence, and there the House
Stands straight before you all the way. God knows
I know of naught to harm you. Afraid of Larry!
(They go down a path to right.)

Enter LADY KATHLEEN along a path on the right. She wears a black gown
and
window's cap.

LADY KATHLEEN.

Last time I came here frost lay on the grass
Along the borders, and the air was cold,
So cold, I thought how it would be warm and bright
Where Gerald was; and then I seemed to hear
The bullets shrieking in it. And now all day
It is warm and bright. I only hear the birds
That wake me singing. It will be a long, long time
Before the days are quiet and dark again.
They are happy girls who hear the bullets still,
And still, as if they dared to face and touch
Fierce lightning, read the printed, terrible lists,
And every day expect a letter still,
And cry their eyes out nearly every night
Because none came. Half glad he was, I know,
Half glad to go, even when he said good-bye,
And said: 'Don't let those rhododendrons blossom
Till I come back to see them.' There they are (standing still),
The white ones glimmering low upon the edge,
Too steady to be foam. They are early. Yet
The hawthorns and laburnums on the lawn
Have pearl and golden shadows where they stand,
And all the jewelled tags are strewn below
The sycamore, and drifts of amber dust
And powdery floss beneath the firs and pines:
The Fall of Spring it is; these well may blossom.
And has he come to see them now? Poor Norah
Made up some other story when she feared
She had frightened me; but what she told me first
In her belief was truth. This path grows dark. (Walking on.)
How loud the river rustles, like a wind
Among the branches, always blowing by.
Was that a step? (Listens.) I think the raindrops gather
And splash down suddenly large and heavy. I'd hear
No step. 'Twould be a shadow stealing by
Without a sound—or could a shadow speak
A word—one word? I am near the shrubbery's end,
For now the gate is in sight. I will sit awhile
Here, where the laurels let the drops glance through
As seldom as falling stars. (Sits down on the seat.)

Enter WIDOW BRENNAN on the right.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

No sign of him.
I made what I could, but she would not let me
Turn back and leave her. She was all a-tremble
For fear of seeing Larry. Sure the girl
Is foolish in her mind. You might come yet.
The moon will soon be rising, and till then
I will watch for you as many a time I have watched
In the old days; and you always came at last,
Though never, avic, 'twas by so long a road. (Goes up to the Seat.)

LADY KATHLEEN.

Was that a step? I hear—it is a step.
Who is there? who is there? (Starting up.)

WIDOW BREENAN.

My lady! Can it be
Yourself this night?

LADY KATHLEEN.

The evening looked so fine,
I came out—I came out to watch the sunset.
It has been a long while setting.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Praised be God,
'Tis pleasant weather; only now and again
I feel a mist and softness on the air.
Good-night, my lady, and I ask your pardon
For so disturbing you. (Going.)

LADY KATHLEEN.

No, no; you meant
To wait until this shower went by. Sit here,
Or I will not stay. (They sit down.) I know your face so well;
I used to see you, surely?

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Ay, my lady.
The Widow Brennan I am; my little house
Is but a stone's-throw up the road beyond
The gate-lodge there; and often riding by
I have seen yourself, my lady, with his Honour.
Just where the bog-boreen turns off it is,
With sallies by it, and a big fuchsia-bush
Against the wall, and reaching up the thatch:
You might remember.

LADY KATHLEEN.

I remember, indeed.
And sometimes grazing there a small white goat
Poor Minnehaha shied at.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Sure, my lady,
I have the wee goat yet, and all I have
She is since Larry is gone.

LADY KATHLEEN.

Your son?

WIDOW BRENNAN.

My son,
And the only son I have; a fine tall lad;
No one to match him in the parish, unless
The Captain maybe. And his Honour thought
A deal of Larry. Making sure I was
He had come safe through the battle, when one night
A boy below at Kavanagh's spelled out
Upon the paper: Add to killed—God help me—
Add to killed Private Lawrence Brennan.

LADY KATHLEEN.

Ah,
Then you are all alone too, all the day.
They are very long days in the empty house,
When nobody is ever coming home,
And nothing more can happen.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Ay, and the nights—
They are cruelly long. But you are so young, my lady,
You should be sleeping sound. As folks grow old,
The soft sleep withers off them, like the blossom
That is blowing off the hedge at ever breath
Because we are nigh in June.

LADY KATHLEEN.

I Sometimes think
We pay too dear for dreams, when we awaken
In the grey morning, half forgetting; and yet
'Tis only in dreams we see—unless—they say
Strange things are seen here in the glen these times.
Have you heard?

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Strange, my lady?

LADY KATHLEEN.

Yes, for at dusk
A soldier comes and walks along this way,
And by the river. Yesterday the boys
From Laraghmena, after the hurley match,
Met him close by; and other people often.
But nowhere in Rosbride, nor round about it,
Is any soldier staying—so is it not strange?

WIDOW BRENNAN.

I would scarcely think it very strange, my lady,
If some poor lad, who lift his heart at home,
And bore a wishful one overseas with him,
To break if harm befell him far away,
Should strive against the black and bitter door
Clapped in a sudden instant there between us,
Till by some chink or chance he should slip back
Once more among the old places, like a dream
Strayed out of sleep, to did them all good - bye,
And say a longer road he would have to go
To find forgetting. Larry would try, for sure,
That knows I miss this world with missing him.

LADY KATHLEEN.

But if it was he—if it was your son come back,
Straight home to you he would have gone; not stayed
To wander here. Why should he stand and look
At the shrubs we planted? Norah told me———

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Larry
Was fond, my lady, of this little glen.
I mind how many a time he has said to me
The pleasant place it was. But none the more
He would e'er make free to set his foot in it, save
Of early mornings maybe, or evenings late,
Lest he might chance on some one from the House.
Sure, if he knows, he will never come this night.
To annoy your ladyship.

LADY KATHLEEN.

Ah no, ah no,
I only meant I thought he would go wherever
He would sureliest meet his mother.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Ay, he would.
So here I am. That was the wind went by,
And shook the raindrops out of the wet leaves.
Dear heart, dear heart, my lady, you look so white.
You are not afraid?

LADY KATHLEEN.

Why should I be afraid?

WIDOW BRENNAN.

That would be hard to say. And yet but now
I had Norah Farrell holding by my cloak,
And bidding me stay near her, like a child
That is frightened with some goblin in the dark,
And ready to have run three ways at once.
Troth, she set off the straight road to the door,
As if a flood's foam-waves were coursing her,
In dread of meeting Larry.

LADY KATHLEEN.

It was not Larry
She feared this morning.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Folk that fear the like
Know little what they need fear. They have never looked
Down all a life, and seen it stretching lone,
Lone, lone, away to its end that lies far off.
If only a shadow moved there, you would pray
To reach it, for its company; and even
But once to see it pass the way you go
Would seem heart's comfort.

LADY KATHLEEN.

Is there an end far off?
I see none far or near. And now you say
Not even the shadow comes to me. And yet
My way is longer maybe.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Ah, mavrone,
All lonesome roads are long. I am not so old
That days count each one like a rosary bead
In prayers you scarce will finish or e'er you sleep.
Reckon as I will, no such great age at all
Can I put upon myself: last year my hair
Was dark as yours, my lady, every thread.
It is the burning sorrows make white heads
Of black ones, as the burning flame strews over
The black peat-sods with flakes of snowy ashes.

LADY KATHLEEN.

What would you do if you were only twenty,
With never a white hair yet, no ashes yet,
But always burning grief?

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Whist, honey, whist.
Now God be good to you, and God forgive me.
Too much I make of Larry and myself;
Ay, ay, and you so young. Well, if this night
His Honour comes, not Larry, in my heart
I will not begrudge you—it will be very strange
If any come, and my lad bides away—
But in my heart I will not begrudge you him.

NELLIE CONNOR darts out of the shrubs on the right, and is stealing
across the
path in front of the seat in the direction of the gale. She wears a
while shawl
and a crimson skirt. WIDOW BRENNAN starts up and grasps her arm.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Is that you, Nellie Connor? In God's name
What brought you here? Whom have you come to meet?

NELLIE CONNOR.

Ah, Mrs. Brennan, ma'am, you frightened me
Out of my senses. Let me go, ma'am dear,
And never tell a word, or I will be killed.
Mick Tierney is waiting for me at the gate.
'Tis he that 'listed at Glenmoyle last year,
And he and I were speaking long before,
But unbeknownst, for if my father knew
He would rage like fire.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

What has he against the boy?

NEELIE CONNOR.

Against him? 'Twould be hard for any man
To say Mick had his better in this country;
But sure they have set their hearts on making up
A match for me with old John Gahan, that is rich.
Faith, they might spare their pains, for if he built
His peat-stack high with sods of shining gold,
I would never look at him nor them. And now
There is no one knows that Mick is come home on leave,
And staying awhile up yonder at his brother's,
Beyond Lisconnel. So across the bog
Mick steps at sunset, and I watch my chance
To slip out after supper, and meet him here.
The folk at home would kill me if they guessed,
And I heard tell, indeed, some lads one night
Caught sight of Mick, but by the lest good luck
They took him for a ghost. The morrow morn
Away he is. He is ordered to the war.

WIDOW BRENNAN.

God help you both.

NELLIE CONNOR.

By Christmas he will be home,
A corporal or a sergeant—who can tell?—
With leave to marry at Shrove. And Mick has asked
The sister he has living in the south
To let me bide with her till he comes back,
Lest while he was away my father would give me
To old John Gahan. He will bring me news from her
This night. Ah, don't delay me, woman dear,
And speak you never a word. (A whistle from the gate.) There, that's his
whistle. (She runs off to the left.)

WIDOW BRENNAN.

And that was all. It seems as if a door
Shut in the dark.

LADY KATHLEEN.

There was no door, I think,
Or none that ever was opened. Now it is late,
And here we look for nothing any more;
And so I will say good-night. (Going.)

WIDOW BRENNAN.

Good-night, lady.
Indeed it is cold and dark, and all the boughs
Are dripping with the rain-mists. She might get
Her death, God pity her.

LADY KATHLEEN (going).

Oh! afraid, afraid.
I was afraid to see him. I am glad
To think I shall not see him. Now I know
Some horrible thing has happened us. My hope
Is only fear. Afraid I am this minute
Of every rustling leaf. In the whole world
What wish is left me but to shut my eyes
On all its light, and open them nevermore?
Since if we meet it must be far beyond
This cold and dark and past the Fear—the Fear. (Exit.)

WIDOW BRENNAN.

God help the creatures: she that is at The end,
And she that is at the beginning with no thought
An end will come. Mayhap none comes but brings
After it a new beginning, here or there.

Mick Tierney? Sure my Larry is twice the man
Mick Tierney ever will be, if he lives
Till all the crows that build are young to him.
Who could mistake the two? I disbelieve
'Twas Mick folk saw here. But, please God, I will come
To-morrow after dusk and watch again. (Going.)
So tall a lad there is none in all the town.
It is high the heart in me leaped up with pride,
As often as I say him stoop his head
To clear our little dark door. 'Tis low enough,
Too low it lies this night, asthore machree.
And old Theresa Joyce, says she: ''Tis higher
The heart of you would leap, if you beheld
The grandeur and the gladness in the place
Where Larry bides this day.' But sure God knows
'Tis easy for Theresa to be talking;
I'll see him stooping in to me no more.
(Exit.)

A shadowy form begins to move up the path from the river.






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