The Red Umbrella by Mabel Forrest

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Past the window-box and curtain.
Curtain blowing in the south wind,
Come the voices of the women
With their endless petty chatter
Where they hold exhaustive meeting --
Some important weekly meeting --
And they're talking -- talking -- talking --
O'er the tea the stout charwoman
Brings them to their caucus-stronghold.
Sometimes it's the new-got housemaid,
Who is subject for their gossip,
Sometimes someone's yearly baby
Or the vicar's evening party.
Mrs. Parson danced the tango,
And they think she shouldn't do it.
One explains she's near to forty,
And we lose our spring at forty,
Or we have no right to keep it.
So they chatter o'er their stitching,
Making woollen socks for soldiers
With their patriotic fingers,
And their thoughts on mundane matters.
Since the War 'tis somehow easier
To get parlor maids who suit you,
Though they will insist on Sundays
To walk out with different soldiers.
And, perhaps, out in the country
You'll get cooks without much trouble.
Mrs. Backblock got a good one --
And they think the Labor party
Will not now be quite as cocky
Since hard times for all are coming.
So they stitch and knit and chatter
And the south wind blows my curtain
O'er a straggling bulb, the summer
Tries to coax from its long slumber.

Talk moves on to lighter matters;
Someone has a red umbrella,
And they think that black were fitter,
Or a grey -- like a destroyer.
People should go somewhat downcast
For the sake of murdered Belgians;
And our own men in the trenches,
While my fancy limns her features --
The slim, young. unthinking woman
Who has bought a red umbrella
While the nation goes in mourning.

I feel she is pale and Spanish;
Sure her hair is dark and heavy,
And her eyes are pools of darkness,
And her lids are fringed with lashes
Like the charcoal black of timber
Where the bush fire swept across it.

And I know that men will like her,
For she seems not loved by women:
And I know hers is the temper
To send men hot-foot to battle,
Keeping up a sinking spirit,
Keeping up the snare of glory,
And down in the sodden trenches
Men will dream of splendid sorties
To the blare of many bugles,
And some foolish, noble action
Done to save a rag, the dyer
Marks with red and blue, to make it
Redder with the red life fluid --
Just because two brown eyes watched him
When he marched away in khaki;
Just because two small hands clapped him
Even though he could not trust her,
Even though. deep in his bosom,
Stirred a little snake that whispered:
"When you're gone some other fellow
Will try hard to count those lashes
Sheltered by that red umbrella;
And because you cross the ocean
He, perhaps. will count them closer."

Past the window-box and curtain,
Where I dawdle in my office
Come the voices of the women
Feeling very brave and ample,
Making kit-bags for the soldiers,
Knitting socks for battle treaders.
And discussing babes and servants.
She won't knit a sock -- I know it --
If she did she'd drop the stitches;
But she'll give the kind of glances
That make ramrods of the backbone;
And her face, across the battle,
Will come drifting like a challenge
Making spent men fight like devils
That the smoking surge may hurry
Up the bloody slope of Victory.
And they may return to find her
Smiling 'neath the red umbrella,
Saying she has not forgotten.
Whether they will quite believe it
Will not matter....when they're counting
Close again those long eyelashes.

Chatter on, O busy women!
Drink your tea without much sugar
(Somehow I am sure 'tis never
Strong and black. but pale and milky),
And say things about your servants
And run down the Labor party.
Really you don't make me angry
Till the wind brings in your comment
On the merry unknown woman,
And I feel inclined to lean out
From the window of my office,
Fling a glove into the circle,
While I shout in thundering accents
To your virtuous amazement:
"I, for one, am glad she bought it!"

First published in The Bulletin, 12 November 1914

Author reference sites: AustlitAustralian Dictionary of Biography

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 12, 2014 7:32 AM.

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