I begged him to tell me how best I might aid him,
And urgently prayed him
Never to leave me, whatever betide;—
When I saw he was hurt—
Shot through the hands that were clasped in prayer!
Then as the dark drops gathered there
And fell in the dirt,
The wounds of my friend
Seemed to me such as no man might bear.
Those bullet-holes in the patient hands
Seemed to transcend
All horrors that ever these war-drenched lands
Had known or would know till the mad world’s end.
Then suddenly I was aware
That his feet had been wounded too;
And, dimming the white of his side,
A dull stain grew.
“You are hurt, White Comrade!” I cried.
His words I already foreknew:
“These are old wounds,” said he,
“But of late they have troubled me.”
You can hear them at night when the moon is hidden;
They sound like the rustle of winter leaves,
Or lone lost winds that arise, unbidden,
Or rain that drips from the forest eaves,
As they glide again from their silent crosses
To meet and talk of their final fight,
Where over the group some stark tree tosses
Its eerie shadow across the night.
If you’ll take some night with its moonless
I know you will reason beyond a doubt
That the rain and the wind and the leaves together
Are making the sounds you will hear about:
The wintry rustle of dead leaves falling,
The whispering wind through the matted glen;
But I can swear it’s a sergeant calling
The ghostly roll of his squad again.
They talk of war and its crimson glory,
And laugh at the trick which Fate has played;
And over and over they tell the story
Of their final charge through the Argonne glade;
But gathering in by hill and hollow
With their ghostly tramp on the rain-soaked loam,
There is one set rule which the clan must follow:
They never speak of returning home.
They whisper still of the rifles’ clatter,
The riveting racket machine guns gave,
Until dawn comes and the clan must scatter
As each one glides to his waiting grave;
But here at the end of their last endeavor
However their stark dreams leap the foam
There is one set rule they will keep forever:
“Death to the Phantom who speaks of home!”
It was three slim young wraiths that met in the heart
a great play-ground,
And two of them watched the shining sports in the fields
that ringed them round,
But one of them bent an earthward ear to follow a far-off
“Listen,” he cried, “they know,
down there! Oh! don’t
you hear the bells?”
“Not I,” said one, with a wise young smile, “I used
to hear the shells.
Not now; oh, not for ages now! I came from the Dardanelles.”