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Poem by Mathilde Blind
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.
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