A Visitor

By George Sterling

The winter twilight and the mournful rain
Were one, and on the pavements of the town
The lights fell wet. Berimes the darkness came,
And came a headlong wind from out the South,
That plucked upon the dripping wires, and fled,
Affrighted at its harping. Night and storm
Made drearier the solitary streets,
And whining cars cast clamors on the dark.

But warm within their home Elaine and John
Sat by their fire, that round the pleasant room
Threw wincing shadows, or with restless gleams
Lit up a vase or book or patient clock,
Those placid friends we gather with the years,
Nor which outgrow us. Stern without, the wind
Spoke in some tree, but they spoke not at all,
Because between their hearts was made that rift

Which, opening at times to most who love,
Ere long is closed, yet which perchance may gape,
And widen with the days, and deepen down,
Till some two gaze across a bridgeless gulf
At eyes grown strangers. So the unwearied wind
Moaned, and the rain was harsh upon the roof,
And John reread the news, till mute Elaine,
Her eyes grown tired with gazing at the fire,
Saw half its glowing temples fall to ash.

Then, on that bitter silence of their pride,
There came a knock, not timid. John arose
And lit their little hall, and turned the knob:
A man stood tall without, with haughty face,
And costly garments proof against the rain.
Then John: "Come in." At which the stranger shook
From all his height the silver of the storm,
And bared his head, and entered. Then, with mind
Grown curious, said John: "What can I do?"
"I only ask," their guest replied, "to walk
About your home." Thereat some parleying
Ensued, for tho' 'twas old—a rented roof,
A cottage mossed by many winters gone—
They cherished it, not wished remove therefrom.
But soon relenting, John arose, and lit
Their six small rooms, and at the stranger's side
Was usher, telling, needlessly perhaps,
The use of each. In one the light was low,
And gentlest breathing told of childhood's sleep—
Their guest paused longest there. But in each room
He paused, and said no word, while loud without
Echoed the storm, as hurrying from the South
The rain's grey army passed. Then hastily
He said: "I thank you," turned, a moment stood,
And went out silent to the cloven night.
But they two ran, re-opening the door
(Wistful to call him back), and saw his form
Descend the steps, and heard a grievous cry
From out the dark: "Here I was happy once!"
And they two turned, and kissed in sudden tears.

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