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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Rosamund Marriott Watson b. 1860

Le Mauvais Larron

THE MOORLAND waste lay hushed in the dusk of the second day,

Till a shuddering wind and shrill moaned up through the twilight gray;

Like a wakening wraith it rose from the grave of the buried sun,

And it whirled the sand by the tree—(there was never a tree but one—)

But the tall bare bole stood fast, unswayed with the mad wind’s stress,

And a strong man hung thereon in his pain and his nakedness.

His feet were nailed to the wood, and his arm strained over his head;

’T was the dusk of the second day, and yet was the man not dead.

The cold blast lifted his hair, but his limbs were set and stark,

And under their heavy brows his eyes stared into the dark:

He looked out over the waste, and his eyes were as coals of fire,

Lit up with anguish and hate, and the flame of a strong desire.

The dark blood sprang from his wounds, the cold sweat stood on his face,

For over the darkening plain came a rider riding apace.

Her rags flapped loose in the wind; the last of the sunset glare

Flung dusky gold on her brow and her bosom broad and bare.

She was haggard with want and woe, on a jaded steed astride,

And still, as it staggered and strove, she smote on its heaving side,

Till she came to the limbless tree where the tortured man hung high—

A motionless crooked mass on a yellow streak in the sky.

“’T is I—I am here, Antoine—I have found thee at last,” she said;

“O the hours have been long, but long! and the minutes as drops of lead.

Have they trapped thee, the full-fed flock, thou wert wont to harry and spoil?

Do they laugh in their town secure o’er their measures of wine and oil?

Ah God! that these hands might reach where they loll in their rich array;

Ah God, that they were but mine, all mine, to mangle and slay!

How they shuddered and shrank, erewhile, at the sound of thy very name,

When we lived as the gray wolves live, whom torture nor want may tame:

And thou but a man! and still a scourge and a terror to men,

Yet only my lover to me, my dear, in the rare days then.

O years of revel and love! ye are gone as the wind goes by,

He is snared and shorn of his strength, and the anguish of hell have I—

I am here, O love, at thy feet; I have ridden far and fast

To gaze in thine eyes again, and to kiss thy lips at the last.”

She rose to her feet and stood upright on the gaunt mare’s back,

And she pressed her full red lips to his that were strained and black.

“Good-night, for the last time now—goodnight, beloved, and good-bye—”

And his soul fled into the waste between a kiss and a sigh.