'Tis an old dial, dark with many a stain;
In summer crowned with drifting orchard bloom,
Tricked in the autumn with the yellow rain,
And white in winter like a marble tomb.
And round about its gray, time-eaten brow
Lean letters speak,--a worn and shattered row:
=I am a Shade; a Shadowe too art thou:
I marke the Time: saye, Gossip, dost thou soe?=
Here would the ring-doves linger, head to head;
And here the snail a silver course would run,
Beating old Time; and here the peacock spread
His gold-green glory, shutting out the sun.
The tardy shade moved forward to the noon;
Betwixt the paths a dainty Beauty stept,
That swung a flower, and, smiling hummed a tune,--
Before whose feet a barking spaniel leapt.
O'er her blue dress an endless blossom strayed;
About her tendril-curls the sunlight shone;
And round her train the tiger-lilies swayed,
Like courtiers bowing till the queen be gone.
She leaned upon the slab a little while,
Then drew a jewelled pencil from her zone,
Scribbled a something with a frolic smile,
Folded, inscribed, and niched it in the stone.
The shade slipped on, no swifter than the snail;
There came a second lady to the place,
Dove-eyed, dove-robed, and something wan and pale,--
An inner beauty shining from her face.
She, as if listless with a lonely love,
Straying among the alleys with a book,--
Herrick or Herbert,--watched the circling dove,
And spied the tiny letter in the nook.
Then, like to one who confirmation found
Of some dread secret half-accounted true,--
Who knew what hearts and hands the letter bound,
And argued loving commerce 'twixt the two,--
She bent her fair young forehead on the stone;
The dark shade gloomed an instant on her head;
And 'twixt her taper fingers pearled and shone
The single tear that tear-worn eyes will shed.
The shade slipped onward to the falling gloom;
Then came a soldier gallant in her stead,
Swinging a beaver with a swaling plume,
A ribboned love-lock rippling from his head.
Blue-eyed, frank-faced, with clear and open brow,
Scar-seamed a little, as the women love;
So kindly fronted that you marvelled how
The frequent sword-hilt had so frayed his glove;
Who switched at Psyche plunging in the sun;
Uncrowned three lilies with a backward swinge;
And standing somewhat widely, like to one
More used to 'Boot and Saddle' than to cringe
As courtiers do, but gentleman withal,
Took out the note;--held it as one who feared
The fragile thing he held would slip and fall;
Read and re-read, pulling his tawny beard;
Kissed it, I think, and hid it in his breast;
Laughed softly in a flattered, happy way,
Arranged the broidered baldrick on his crest,
And sauntered past, singing a roundelay.
* * * * *
The shade crept forward through the dying glow;
There came no more nor dame nor cavalier;
But for a little time the brass will show
A small gray spot,--the record of a tear.