Roderic Quinn

(1867 - 1949 / Australia)

Arnold Rode Behind

WE galloped down the sodden track
Close buttoned 'gainst the wind;
I took the lead with whip and spur,
And Arnold rode behind.

The skies were wild; a rending gale
Ran roaring through the trees;
It sounded now like shouting hosts,
And now like angry seas.

'Spur on! Spur on!' I turned and cried,
'The fatal moments fly!'
I cursed him then-his trembling hand-
I cursed his bloodshot eye.

I cursed him for the lust of drink
That held his will a slave;
For skill to tend and mend was his
To succour and to save.

I thought of her, the golden girl,
My life, my love, nigh spent,
Nigh death, with fever clutching her,
And what his coming meant.

Through driving rain and tossing trees
I saw her pale with pain ;
And if my eyes grew wet, perchance
'Twas not the wet of rain.

I turned on Arnold, and I vowed
To pay with coin of hate
His ten-mile ride, his boasted skill,
If he should prove too late;

I mixed my words with searing scorn,
And turned and told him plain,
Of how I found him stupid, drugged,
With dull and sluggish brain.

And how the wasted hours went by-
I waiting by his side-
Till he should wake, and be himself,
And mount his horse and ride.

And 'Arnold, if she die'-I said-
'Be yours the lot accurst-
In life to thirst, to thirst in death,
In Hell to thirst and thirst.'

And so with black and bitter words,
Close-buttoned 'gainst the wind,
With whip and spur I galloped on,
And Arnold rode behind.

No word he said, no answer gave,
No bitter curse flung back,
But, sagging in the saddle, sank
A shamed thing in my track.

The skies were lead, and leaden rain-
A screen of sullen lead.
A wind-blown screen, a blinding screen-
Fell down from overhead.

Though cattle die, and pastures fade,
With drought on hill and plain,
'Fore God, I pray I may not see
The like of that blind rain!

The torn leaves swirled about my head;
The gum-trees tall and stout
Waved limbs and tossed tormented crests
As in a forest rout.

The wind was now like hounds a-hunt,
And now like hounds that whined.
Yet ever on and on I rode,
And Arnold rode behind.

And soon there rose a mighty noise;
Above the wind it roared;
And. bursting through the screen of rain,
We came to Kelvin's Ford.

I reined my horse in mute amaze,
A stunned and stricken man;
For 'twixt me and my heart's own love
A thwarting river ran.

I looked upon its maddened waste;
I drew a broken breath;
I said, ' Tis hopeless-ended all-
To dare the Ford were death.'

The wind was like a pack of hounds
Upon a forest-hunt- . . .
And then I heard a splash of hoofs-
And Arnold rode in front,

His face was lit-I vow 'twas lit
Like glorious evening skies;
And, as he turned and smiled, flashed out
The manhood from his eyes.

And then I knew that through his soul
A dauntless purpose ran
As, shaking shame and sin aside,
He rose once more a Man.

He fought the river inch by inch,
Set will against its might,
Gave way with it, and came again,
And conquered in the fight.

And saved Her . . . conquered Death as well.
0 Heart-so dull, so blind!-
Oft-times, denied his chance in life,
The hero rides behind.

Submitted: Friday, April 16, 2010

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