David Lewis Paget
The Man with Tales in his Hair
When the sun sank low in the midday sky
And the clouds came in from the south,
He knew that the winter was coming in
And it made him down in the mouth.
With a hint of rain in the morning dew
The breeze cut in like a knife,
And he went to fetch the firewood in
For the sake of his invalid wife.
She sat and shivered before the hearth
When he opened the outer door,
As the wind whipped icily round her legs
A trail of leaves on the floor,
‘My love, be still, I’m lighting the fire
And you’ll soon be warm by the hearth.’
‘I fear it’s settling into my bones
And I’ll soon be deep in the earth.’
‘You’ll not get away so easily, ’
He said, and gave her a smile,
‘We’ll settle this ague with bark and tea,
I’ll heat your bath in a while.’
‘I’d rather not leave the fireplace
While my thoughts are making me brood,
So put your spill to the wood fire, Will,
Then sit, and lighten my mood.’
He lit the fire and he made it roar
And he checked each draught, at last,
Jammed the rug right under the door
And he made the windows fast,
Then he sat and held his Helen’s hand
That was freezing to the touch,
And said, ‘Now winter’s sat on the land
I needn’t go out so much! ’
She smiled, and ran a hand through his hair
And said that she loved him so,
‘Tell me a tale of foreign lands,
It will help the time to go.’
So he plucked a single hair from his head
And he said, ‘Each hair’s a tale! ’
Then he told of sailors swinging the lead,
Of mariners under sail.
He told of pirates, walking the plank
Of treasure chests in the deep,
And saw that she was slumbering there,
Was slowly going to sleep,
He sat beside her all through the night,
Was piling wood on the fire,
And nodded off in the broad daylight
Right next to his heart’s desire.
The squalls came in, it began to rain
And the rain then turned to snow,
He only went out to chop some wood
And to make the cabin glow.
Each night he’d sit there, holding her hand
And he’d pluck a hair from his head,
‘Now here’s a tale from a northern land
Where the snow lies deep, ’ he said.
He thought that she’d get better in time
And he brought her gruel and soup,
Fed her a tincture of laudanum
Made from the opium group.
But she still sat listless, pale and wan
And she slept more than she woke,
Though he plucked a hair from his head each night
And he whispered as he spoke.
He spoke of the place that lovers go
Away from the world of cares,
Of bubbling springs, and diamond rings
And a love that everyone shares,
But the snow outside was packed in a drift
Right up and over the door,
He couldn’t get out for the firewood
But shivered, asleep on the floor.
He woke next day when the sky was grey
With the cold set deep in his bones,
And looked at his wife in a mute dismay
For he knew that he was alone.
The undertaker was there by ten
With a coffin as cold as ice,
And he wept as he plucked a hair from his head
And wished her in paradise.
They buried her down in the cemetery
Not far from their cabin home,
And every day he would make his way
To her headstone, on his own.
The snow had finally melted when
They found he was there, stone dead,
Draped all over her headstone, but
There wasn’t a hair on his head.
19 October 2013
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(27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)
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