THE COUNTERSIGN Author UnknownAlas! the weary hours pass slow, The night is very dark and still; And in the marshes far below I hear the bearded whippoorwill; I scarce can see a yard ahead, My ears are strained to catch each sound; I hear the leaves about me shed, And the spring's bubbling through the ground. Along the beaten path I pace, Where white rags mark my sentry's track; In formless shrubs I seem to trace The foeman's form with bending back, I think I see him crouching low: I stop and list -- I stoop and peer, Until the neighboring hillocks grow To groups of soldiers far and near. With ready piece I wait and watch, Until my eyes, familiar grown, Detect each harmless earthen notch, And turn guerillas into stone; And then, amid the lonely gloom, Beneath the tall old chestnut trees, My silent marches I resume, And think of other times than these. Sweet visions through the silent night! The deep bay-windows fringed with vine. The room within, in softened light, The tender milk-white hand in mine; The timid pressure, and the pause That often overcame our speech -- That time when by mysterious laws We each felt all in all to each. And then that bitter, bitter day When came the final hour to part; When clad in soldier's honest gray, I pressed her weeping to my heart; Too proud of me to bid me stay, Too fond of me to let me go, -- I had to tear myself away, And left her, stolid in my woe. So rose the dream -- so passed the night -- When, distant in the darksome glen, Approaching up the sombre height I heard the solid march of men; Till over stubble, over sward, And fields where lay the golden sheaf, I saw the lantern of the guard Advancing with the night relief. "Halt! Who goes there?" My challenge cry, It rings along the watchful line; "Relief!" I hear a voice reply; "Advance and give the countersign!" With bayonet at the charge I wait -- The corporal gives the mystic spell; With arms aport I charge my mate, Then onward pass, and all is well. But in the tent that night awake, I ask, if in the fray I fall, Can I the mystic answer make When the angelic sentries call? And pray that Heaven may so ordain, Where'er I go, what fate be mine, Whether in pleasure or in pain, I still may have the countersign.
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Last modified 18-April-2001