His Rubies: Told by Valgovind

A poem by Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Cory Nicolson)

Along the hot and endless road,
Calm and erect, with haggard eyes,
The prisoner bore his fetters' load
Beneath the scorching, azure skies.

Serene and tall, with brows unbent,
Without a hope, without a friend,
He, under escort, onward went,
With death to meet him at the end.

The Poppy fields were pink and gay
On either side, and in the heat
Their drowsy scent exhaled all day
A dream-like fragrance almost sweet.

And when the cool of evening fell
And tender colours touched the sky,
He still felt youth within him dwell
And half forgot he had to die.

Sometimes at night, the Camp-fires lit
And casting fitful light around,
His guard would, friend-like, let him sit
And talk awhile with them, unbound.

Thus they, the night before the last,
Were resting, when a group of girls
Across the small encampment passed,
With laughing lips and scented curls.

Then in the Prisoner's weary eyes
A sudden light lit up once more,
The women saw him with surprise,
And pity for the chains he bore.

For little women reck of Crime
If young and fair the criminal be
Here in this tropic, amorous clime
Where love is still untamed and free.

And one there was, she walked less fast,
Behind the rest, perhaps beguiled
By his lithe form, who, as she passed,
Waited a little while, and smiled.

The guard, in kindly Eastern fashion,
Smiled to themselves, and let her stay.
So tolerant of human passion,
"To love he has but one more day."

Yet when (the soft and scented gloom
Scarce lighted by the dying fire)
His arms caressed her youth and bloom,
With him it was not all desire.

"For me," he whispered, as he lay,
"But little life remains to live.
One thing I crave to take away:
You have the gift; but will you give?

"If I could know some child of mine
Would live his life, and see the sun
Across these fields of poppies shine,
What should I care that mine is done?

"To die would not be dying quite,
Leaving a little life behind,
You, were you kind to me to-night,
Could grant me this; but - are you kind?

"See, I have something here for you
For you and It, if It there be."
Soft in the gloom her glances grew,
With gentle tears he could not see.

He took the chain from off his neck,
Hid in the silver chain there lay
Three rubies, without flaw or fleck.
She answered softly "I will stay."

He drew her close; the moonless skies
Shed little light; the fire was dead.
Soft pity filled her youthful eyes,
And many tender things she said.

Throughout the hot and silent night
All that he asked of her she gave.
And, left alone ere morning light,
He went serenely to the grave,

Happy; for even when the rope
Confined his neck, his thoughts were free,
And centered round his Secret Hope
The little life that was to be.

When Poppies bloomed again, she bore
His child who gaily laughed and crowed,
While round his tiny neck he wore
The rubies given on the road.

For his small sake she wished to wait,
But vainly to forget she tried,
And grieving for the Prisoner's fate,
She broke her gentle heart and died.

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