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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Thompson of Angel’s

By Bret Harte (1836–1902)

IT is the story of Thompson—of Thompson, the hero of Angel’s.

Frequently drunk was Thompson, but always polite to the stranger;

Light and free was the touch of Thompson upon his revolver;

Great the mortality incident on that lightness and freedom.

Yet not happy or gay was Thompson, the hero of Angel’s;

Often spoke to himself in accents of anguish and sorrow:—

“Why do I make the graves of the frivolous youth who in folly

Thoughtlessly pass my revolver, forgetting its lightness and freedom?

“Why in my daily walks does the surgeon drop his left eyelid,

The undertaker smile, and the sculptor of gravestone marbles

Lean on his chisel and gaze? I care not o’ermuch for attention;

Simple am I in my ways, save for this lightness and freedom.”

So spake that pensive man—this Thompson, the hero of Angel’s;

Bitterly smiled to himself, as he strode through the chapparal musing.

“Why, O why?” echoed the pines in the dark-olive depth far resounding.

“Why, indeed?” whispered the sage-brush that bent ’neath his feet non-elastic.

Pleasant indeed was that morn that dawned o’er the bar-room at Angel’s,

Where in their manhood’s prime was gathered the pride of the hamlet.

Six “took sugar in theirs,” and nine to the barkeeper lightly

Smiled as they said, “Well, Jim, you can give us our regular fusil.”

Suddenly as the gray hawk swoops down on the barn-yard, alighting

Where, pensively picking their corn, the favorite pullets are gathered,

So in that festive bar-room dropped Thompson, the hero of Angel’s,

Grasping his weapon dread with his pristine lightness and freedom.

Never a word he spoke; divesting himself of his garments,

Danced the war-dance of the playful yet truculent Modoc,

Uttered a single whoop, and then in the accents of challenge

Spake, “Oh, behold in me a Crested Jay Hawk of the mountain.”

Then rose a pallid man—a man sick with fever and ague;

Small was he, and his step was tremulous, weak, and uncertain;

Slowly a Derringer drew, and covered the person of Thompson;

Said in his feeblest pipe, “I’m a Bald-headed Snipe of the Valley.”

As on its native plains the kangaroo, startled by hunters,

Leaps with successive bounds, and hurries away to the thickets,

So leaped the Crested Hawk, and quietly hopping behind him

Ran, and occasionally shot, that Bald-headed Snipe of the Valley.

Vain at the festive bar still lingered the people of Angel’s,

Hearing afar in the woods the petulant pop of the pistol;

Never again returned the Crested Jay Hawk of the mountains,

Never again was seen the Bald-headed Snipe of the Valley.

Yet in the hamlet of Angel’s, when truculent speeches are uttered,

When bloodshed and life alone will atone for some trifling misstatement,

Maidens and men in their prime recall the last hero of Angel’s,

Think of and vainly regret the Bald-headed Snipe of the Valley!