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  ― 127 ―

Under the Rose.

OH, all you happy lovers! who may acknowledge one another before the world: have a pity for us the outcasts, who must meet and vow eternal constancy in secret, whose love prudence or morals forbids. Your path is so smooth; you sit in snug drawing-rooms, and discreet coughs announce the approach of intruders. Everyone smiles on you and approves of you. We must descend to artifice, stratagem, and ruse. We advertise in the “missing friends” column, or hide letters in a log or a tree. You run to meet the postman, and smile openly and happily over love's eloquence. You are artless, frank, sincere. We—well, never mind what we are; the words sound harsh.

“We loved, sir—used to meet:
How sad and bad and mad it was—
But, then, how it was sweet!”

We meet by the grass-grown banks of a swift little creek, and from the shelter of tall bracken and rushes glance guiltily now and again over our shoulders—at what? A cow or a horse. And we scarcely dare whisper as we presently approach the homestead, and part under the shelter of that kindly old white gum. Or away on some lonely road, with not a habitation in sight, where the acres of dim country seem to slip into the far horizon under the moon; the horses tied to the wire fence crop the grass, and the sheep, huddled together, bleat now and again, and we start, fearing someone.

Or down by a cliff near the sea, the stars tracking a pathway across the water, which rises and falls, and whispers a crooning song to the gleaming line of sand.

Or the city; poor lovers when it is the city! It is hard to find nooks for lovers in the city. In the big, kind country, when the


  ― 128 ―
night falls, we have the wide miles and each other. Yet even the busy streets become dear when we have trodden them side by side, and the glamour falls over all that is prosaic and humdrum. But the marvellous charms of those secret meetings, the hair-breadth escapes from discovery, the dear jeopardy into which Love leads us,—they are something you can never know, happy lovers! Does not the very openness and smoothness of your path render it commonplace! Do you value the prize so easily obtained? Do you really know what Love is? But what true lovers have not believed that to them alone has been revealed the length, depth, breadth, height and vastness of Love?

We used to think we knew it all; even though we might not confess to each other, there were times when we believed we had reached the perfect happiness. Life had been cruel, would continue cruel, but Love had given all, and you whispered, “If Death would come now!”

But he did not come, and it has all gone far into the past, and we are humdrum, middle-aged people, and have not seen one another for twenty years. If Death had come then, it would have been better. Poor lovers!

There was a row of pines away across the paddock, and one slipped with stockinged feet along the verandah where the boards creaked, and down the lane so quietly, then past the sheds where a tall poplar dropped leaves that crackled underfoot. If there was a moon one kept close to the straggling hawthorn hedge, pausing with rapid pulse to listen if anyone was near;—what miles it seemed when every step was fraught with danger, and each movement was made with deliberate caution! Then across the strip of open where white logs lay on the ground, and one lingered fearfully by stump and tree, past the clump of saplings where sometimes hung a grave native-bear; the tall, pale grass on each side stretching away in soft, indistinct waves. Then at last in the shelter of the pines, the dry ground beneath strewn with pine-needles, and the branches above murmuring a song they long ago taught ships to sing


  ― 129 ―
at sea. Perhaps the tall masts were stalwart pines in their youth, and can never forget the forest-song which sweeps through solemn chant, murmuring dirge, requiem, lullaby, then swells into sonorous peal and blast of mad triumph or despair.

One leaned against an old brown bole with its warm, resinous smell, listened and started at the falling of a twig; across the quiet night came the far bark of a dog, the whirring of a cricket, the womp! womp! of frogs in the dam, and blended with all the whisper and croon of the pines. At last you would come, your steps indistinct,—a moment of doubt,—then coming rapidly nearer. Then … well, you who are lovers know what then.

What a soft cushion pine-needles make! What a still, peaceful world we looked out on from the shadow while we talked of ourselves, and our love, and the risks we ran, or did not talk at all—and often that was best. The minutes that dragged in a very eternity of time while we were apart, were hurrying into an hour when we were together.

“I was afraid you could not come.”

“I could not have stayed; my heart was beating in a very madness of longing for you.”

“Do they suspect, do you think?”

“I daresay. I do not care now.

A light twinkles far off—it is the home of a newly-wed pair.

“Ah, my dear—shall we ever … What is to be the end of it all?”

“I dare n't think of it. I only live for the present, and from one meeting to another.”

“Did you hear my step?”

“Yes—far off. At first I thought it was only the pulse in my ears, but it came nearer, and you are here.”

Well, it is all past now; hot clasp, passionate kisses, clinging arms. Judge not too harshly, happy lovers! We break our hearts, you see, and must lie and play the hypocrite, and meet by stealth; and we try to do what is right very often, but, though you may not


  ― 130 ―
believe it, there are circumstances in which it is impossible to tell what is right. And Love is stronger than anything but Death, and perhaps it is stronger than Death also. Some day we shall know.

Meanwhile we meet by stealth, and some of us do our best in a hard place, and some of us don't; and when we suffer we wonder vaguely why Love and “morals” are so often opposed. Yet, if you are severe to those whom Love tempts too cruelly, you must also give credit to those—and they are not few—who withstand, and break their hearts. But, as they are probably broken either way, it does not matter much.

F. F. ELMES.

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