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Mathilde Blind (Матильда Блайнд)

The Teamster

    With slow and slouching gait Sam leads the team;
      He stoops i' the shoulders, worn with work not years;
    One only passion has he, it would seem--
      The passion for the horses which he rears:
    He names them as one would some household pet,
              May, Violet.

    He thinks them quite as sensible as men;
      As nice as women, but not near so skittish;
    He fondles, cossets, scolds them now and then,
      Nay, gravely talks as if they knew good British:
    You hear him call from dawn to set of sun,
              "Goo back! Com on!"

    Sam never seems depressed nor yet elate,
      Like Nature's self he goes his punctual round;
    On Sundays, smoking by his garden gate,
      For hours he'll stand, with eyes upon the ground,
    Like some tired cart-horse in a field alone,
              And still as stone.

    Yet, howsoever stolid he may seem,
      Sam has his tragic background, weird and wild
    Like some adventure in a drunkard's dream.
      Impossible, you'd swear, for one so mild:
    Yet village gossips dawdling o'er their ale
              Still tell the tale.

    In his young days Sam loved a servant-maid,
      A girl with happy eyes like hazel brooks
    That dance i' the sun, cheeks as if newly made
      Of pouting roses coyly hid in nooks,
    And warm brown hair that wantoned into curl:
              A fresh-blown girl.

    Sam came a-courting while the year was blithe,
      When wet browed mowers, stepping out in tune,
    With level stroke and rhythmic swing of scythe,
      Smote down the proud grass in the pomp of June,
    And wagons, half-tipped over, seemed to sway
              With loads of hay.

    The elder bush beside the orchard croft
      Brimmed over with its bloom like curds and cream;
    From out grey nests high in the granary loft
      Black clusters of small heads with callow scream
    Peered open-beaked, as swallows flashed along
              To feed their young.

    Ripening towards the harvest swelled the wheat,
      Lush cherries dangled 'gainst the latticed panes;
    The roads were baking in the windless heat,
      And dust had floured the glossy country lanes,
    One sun-hushed, light-flushed Sunday afternoon
              The last of June.

    When, with his thumping heart all out of joint,
      And pulses beating like a stroller's drum,
    Sam screwed his courage to the sticking point
      And asked his blushing sweetheart if she'd come
    To Titsey Fair; he meant to coax coy May
              To name the day.

    But her rich master snapped his thumb and swore
      The girl was not for him! Should not go out!
    And, whistling to his dogs, slammed-to the door
      Close in Sam's face, and left him dazed without
    In the fierce sunshine, blazing in his path
              Like fire of wrath.

    Unheeding, he went forth with hot wild eyes
      Past fields of feathery oats and wine-red clover;
    Unheeded, larks soared singing to the skies,
      Or rang the plaintive cry of rising plover;
    Unheeded, pheasants with a startled sound
              Whirred from the ground.

    On, on he went by acres full of grain,
      By trees and meadows reeling past his sight,
    As to a man whirled onwards in a train
      The land with spinning hedgerows seems in flight;
    At last he stopped and leant a long, long while
              Against a stile.

    Hours passed; the clock struck ten; a hush of night,
      In which even wind and water seemed at peace;
    But here and there a glimmering cottage light
      Shone like a glowworm through the slumberous trees;
    Or from some far-off homestead through the dark
              A watch-dog's bark.

    But all at once Sam gave a stifled cry:
      "There's fire," he muttered, "fire upon the hills!"
    No fire--but as the late moon rose on high
      Her light looked smoke-red as through belching mills:
    No fire--but moonlight turning in his path
              To fire of wrath.

    He looked abroad with eyes that gave the mist
      A lurid tinge above the breadths of grain
    Owned by May's master. Then he shook his fist,
      Still muttering, "Fire!" and measured o'er again
    The road he'd come, where, lapped in moonlight, lay
              Huge ricks of hay.

    There he paused glaring. Then he turned and waned
      Like mist into the misty, moon-soaked night,
    Where the pale silvery fields were blotched and stained
      With strange fantastic shadows. But what light
    Is that which leaps up, flickering lithe and long,
              With licking tongue!

    Hungry it darts and hisses, twists and turns,
      And with each minute shoots up high and higher,
    Till, wrapped in flames, the mighty hayrick burns
      And sends its sparks on to a neighbouring byre,
    Where, frightened at the hot, tremendous glow,
              The cattle low.

    And rick on rick takes fire; and next a stye,
      Whence through the smoke the little pigs rush out;
    The house-dog barks; then, with a startled cry,
      The window is flung open, shout on shout
    Wakes the hard-sleeping farm where man and maid
              Start up dismayed.

    And with wild faces wavering in the glare,
      In nightcaps, bedgowns, clothes half huddled on
    Some to the pump, some to the duck-pond tear
      In frantic haste, while others splashing run
    With pails, or turn the hose with flame-scorched face
              Upon the blaze.

    At last, when some wan streaks began to show
      In the chill darkness of the sky, the fire
    Went out, subdued but for the sputtering glow
      Of sparks among wet ashes. Barn and byre
    Were safe, but swallowed all the summer math
              By fire of wrath.

    Still haggard from the night's wild work and pale,
      Farm-men and women stood in whispering knots,
    Regaled with foaming mugs of nut-brown ale;
      Firing his oaths about like vicious shots,
    The farmer hissed out now and then: "Gad damn!
              It's that black Sam."

    They had him up and taxed him with the crime;
      Denying naught, he sulked and held his peace;
    And so, a branded convict, in due time,
      Handcuffed and cropped, they shipped him over-seas:
    Seven years of shame sliced from his labourer's life
              As with a knife.

    But through it all the image of a girl
      With hazel eyes like pebbled waters clear,
    And warm brown hair that wantoned into curl,
      Kept his heart sweet through many a galling year,
    Like to a bit of lavender long pressed
              In some black chest.

    At last his time was up, and Sam returned
      To his dear village with its single street,
    Where, in the sooty forge, the fire still burned,
      As, hammering on the anvil, red with heat,
    The smith wrought at a shoe with tongues aglow,
              Blow upon blow.

    There stood the church, with peals for death and birth,
      Its ancient spire o'ertopping ancient trees,
    And there the graves and mounds of unknown earth,
      Gathered like little children round its knees;
    There was "The Bull," with sign above the door,
              And sanded floor.

    Unrecognized Sam took his glass of beer,
      And picked up gossip which the men let fall:
    How Farmer Clow had failed, and one named Steer
      Had taken on the land, repairs and all;
    And how the Kimber girl was to be wed
              To Betsy's Ned.

    Sam heard no more, flung down his pence, and took
      The way down to the well-remembered stile;
    There, in the gloaming by the trysting brook,
      He came upon his May--with just that smile
    For sheep-faced Ned, that light in happy eyes:
              Oh, sugared lies!

    He came upon them with black-knitted brows
      And clenched brown hands, and muttered huskily:
    "Oh, little May, are those your true love's vows
      You swore to keep while I was over-sea?"
    Then crying, turned upon the other one,
              "Com on, com on."

    Then they fell to with faces set for fight,
      And hit each other hard with rustic pride;
    But Sam, whose arm with iron force could smite,
      Knocked his cowed rival down, and won his bride.
    May wept and smiled, swayed like a wild red rose
              As the wind blows.

    She married Sam, who loved her with a wild
      Strong love he could not put to words--too deep
    For her to gauge; but with her first-born child
      May dropped off, flower-like, into the long sleep,
    And left him nothing but the memory of
              His little love.

    Since then the silent teamster lives alone,
      The trusted headman of his master Steer;
    One only passion seems he still to own--
      The passion for the foals he has to rear;
    And still the prettiest, full of life and play,
              Is little May.

Mathilde Blind's other poems:
  1. Delight
  2. Perfect Union
  3. A Fantasy
  4. Your Looks Have Touched My Soul
  5. Saving Love

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