Foxdale Camp: Canto 2: Sunday

 

1. Slowly, oh slowly, opened I my eyes
To gaze in drowsy wonder at the mass,
The grey translucent mass, with some surprise.
It stretched above our heads, the taut canvas,
Shaken and warped as gust of wind did pass
With driving rain above it. Then I nosed
Back in my blankets laid upon the grass
With but a groundsheet underneath, and closed
My heavy eyes again, and into slumber dozed.

2. A cry from Harry! Up in fear I sprang,
Wide-eyed and staring at the tilted pole
And the slack canvas, and voice out-rang,
“Good heavens! The tent-poles sunken in the hole!”
“What’s happened?” Frank’s all-drowsy murmuring stole
Through the tense silence following, to break
Loose our pent tongues again; then Charles did roll
Over on side his own wild cries to make,
Arthur sat up and bellowed. We were all awake.

3. Slowly our ceiling down the tent-pole crept
Under its load of rain. Our heads grew wet
With water from the leaks where we had slept
Beneath, and only Frankie did not get
Up in his blankets. “Have a cigarette?”
This from our Charlie. We accepted one,
And over smoke arising (none moved yet)
We pondered o’er the best thing to be done,
While lower crept the canvas, and the rain did drone.

4. At length one cried, “Come, I am going out!”
And clad in but a macintosh, all bold,
I wriggled through the tent-flap and a shout
Burst from my lips, the morning was piercing cold,
And the rain soaked the covering that did fold
My shiv’ring body. Hal and Charles came next
In bathing costumes only, and we rolled
Trembling and wet around the tent. Sore vexed
Were we, but what we said must be cut from the text.

5. Arthur and Frank lay in, we were the fools,
But we were not long out, soon in we came.
I looked at Frank, his blanket-folds were pools,
The look upon his face I cannot name.
Aloft upon the pole – oh, fie for shame! –
My love enamel mug was quickly hoist.
That mug will know an everlasting fame!
Once more the tent was tight and we rejoiced,
Dried bodies, lit our fags; all quite, no thought was voiced!

6. As ship-wrecked mariners we sat around
The new-erected pole, the only place
Dry in the tent, our blankets on the ground
Piled in a heap with little or no grace,
And looks were glum and drawn was every face,
Till our cook Arthur – blessings be on him! –
Made the old Primus flare and snort and race.
Frank found his shoes enjoying a long swim,
So dried them. They were full of water to the brim!

7. Anon we all grew conscious of a void
Inside, so Frank and Arthur to their task
Of cooking turned; that breakfast we enjoyed
As never meal before. We soon did bask,
Replete with good things, each a well-filled cask,
In the stove’s radiant heat. But what a day!
Later the sun burst forth, we did not mask
Our feelings then, but let our thoughts have sway,
Cheered loud and long, then sang a merry roundelay.

8. Marshall, our fled comrade of yesterday,
Came up again with Frederick the Swift;
We told them both of all the morning fray,
How almost on the streamlet we did drift,
How in the end our canvas we did lift
Once more upon the pole; and there we lay
On the warm grass and in the sweet air sniffed,
With over us a sky of blue. But, stay!
Harry and I were not contented so away

9. We hied to doff our clothes, then in the stream
We plashed, two water nymphs, with boist’rous calls;
As the cold water nipped; down waterfalls
We slipped, o’er moss, between high dripping walls;
At last emerged and clothed. And not too soon
Did we desist in our wil Bacchanals,
For on the farther bank, ‘mid flowers strewn,
Appeared two ladies in that blazing afternoon.

10. We knew them well, for one was Haidee’s aunt,
And many a joke between us crossed the brook
While Hal and I e’en yet did quickly pant
With all our energy; at length they took
Themselves away, and each unto his book
Returned upon the sun-kissed fragrant sod,
With now and then a thoughtful glancing look
Around for other forms that may have trod
Into our privacy, upon the grass light-shod.

11. Marshall and Frederick left at last. Full loth
Were they to go, to quit this peaceful dell
Where only happiness and sleep, these both
In alternating periods did dwell;
Slowly they want as rang the village bell
Calling the folk to worship. We did climb
With them the Quarry Wee, the precipitous fell,
For we were lured to chapel by the chime
Of bells. There Haidee saw, our meeting was sublime.

12. “Goodbye!” Our guests left at the chapel gate;
I marked them not, they faded out of mind
As I gazed into hazel eyes. Worlds did wait
And planets stopped. From fellows and my kind
Drowned in those eyes. What did I search to find
In all their umbrous depths? She covered them
With lily lids and silken brown-lashed blind
All of a sudden. Hidden was the gem,
She flushed, and I strove fierce my passion’s flow to stem.

13. She sat upon the choir seats, we the front
Pew of the chapel chose whence I could fill
My eyes with looking whilst the preacher blunt
Expounded on the wayward prodigal.
His golden words on me at least did fall
In a long empty rattle void of sense;
Afterwards Arthur too could not recall
A single word of all his eloquence;
He had been sleeping and his had had travelled hence.

14. Charlie was very quiet at his end
Of the stiff pew. Slept he? I do not know.
But Harry seemed continually to bend
As if to some idol was bending low,
Or as if indigestion caused him woe;
Frank’s eyes and ears were both fixed upon him
Who thundered from the pulpit. Doth that show
Him to have listened? Not a whit. Last hymn
Was sung. We sauntered from the Wesleyan Chapel dim.

15. Spent some hours at the Captain’s, thence to Parr’s,
The Post Office, mainly to see Kathleen.
There purchased pipes, tobacco and cigars,
White cigarettes, with sly looks in between.
A fair wench, yea, but over-young, I ween.
That was the burden of each backward glance,
And soon we took our leave and left good-e’en,
Yet not without a hurricane lamp, to dance
In the Sabbath night peace upon the road, and prance

16. By the dark chapel-house with many a twirl
And toss and shake of leg and turn of heel.
La, la, but is she not a lovely girl?
But soon our spirits sobered, we did feel
The reverence of the night, past the old wheel
In silence walked we arm in arm abreast,
Nor did we sing nor call to sleeping Shiel
Where in the farmhouse she lay in her nest.
Soon were we also couched and seeking welcome rest.