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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Before the Gate

By William Dean Howells (1837–1920)

THEY gave the whole long day to idle laughter,

To fitful song and jest

To moods of soberness as idle, after,

And silences, as idle too as the rest.

But when at last upon their way returning,

Taciturn, late, and loath,

Through the broad meadow in the sunset burning,

They reached the gate, one fine spell hindered them both.

Her heart was troubled with a subtile anguish

Such as but women know

That wait, and lest love speak or speak not languish,

And what they would, would rather they would not so;

Till he said,—man-like nothing comprehending

Of all the wondrous guile

That women won win themselves with, and bending

Eyes of relentless asking on her the while,—

“Ah, if beyond this gate the path united

Our steps as far as death,

And I might open it!—” His voice, affrighted

At its own daring, faltered under his breath.

Then she—whom both his faith and fear enchanted

Far beyond words to tell,

Feeling her woman’s finest wit had wanted

The art he had that knew to blunder so well—

Shyly drew near, a little step, and mocking,

“Shall we not be too late

For tea?” she said. “I’m quite worn out with walking:

Yes, thanks, your arm. And will you—open the gate?”