Ten Paces Off

A poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon

An open country.
LAURENCE RABY and FORREST, BRIAN AYLMER and PRESCOT.

Forrest:
I’ve won the two tosses from Prescot;
Now hear me, and hearken and heed,
And pull that vile flower from your waistcoat,
And throw down that beast of a weed;
I’m going to give you the signal
I gave Harry Hunt at Boulogne,
The morning he met Major Bignell,
And shot him as dead as a stone;
For he must look round on his right hand
To watch the white flutter, that stops
His aim, for it takes off his sight, and
I cough while the handkerchief drops.
And you keep both eyes on his figure,
Old fellow, and don’t take them off.
You’ve got the sawhandled hair trigger,
You sight him and shoot when I cough.

Laurence (aside):
Though God will never forgive me,
Though men make light of my name,
Though my sin and my shame outlive me,
I shall not outlast my shame.
The coward, does he mean to miss me?
His right hand shakes like a leaf;
Shall I live for my friends to hiss me,
Of fools and of knaves the chief?
Shall I live for my foes to twit me?
He has master’d his nerve again,
He is firm, he will surely hit me,
Will he reach the heart or the brain?
One long look eastward and northward,
One prayer, “Our Father which art”,
And the cough chimes in with the fourth word,
And I shoot skyward, the heart.

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