The Mother.

A poem by Walter R. Cassels

There is a land whereon the sun's warm gaze,
God-like, all-seeing, falls right down through space,
And the weak Earth, quite smitten by its rays,
Lies scorch'd and powerless with mute silent face,
Like a tranced body, where no changing glow
Tells that the life-streams through its channels flow.

Peopled it is by nations scant and few,
Set far apart among the trackless sands,
Unlearn'd, uncultured, wild and swart of hue,
Roaming the deserts in divided bands,
Where the green pastures call them, and the deer
Troop yet within the range of bow and spear.

Unhappy Afric! can thy boundless plains,
Where the royal lion snuffs the free pure air,
And every breeze laughs at the tyrant's chains,
Be but the nest of slavery and despair,
Rearing a brood whose craven souls can be
Robb'd of the very dream of Liberty?

But, as the shore of this vast sea of sand,
Stretches afar a country rich and green,
With waving foliage shading all the land,
And flowing waters bright with sunny sheen;
And here browse countless herds of dappled deer,
Blesboks and antelopes, remote from fear.

Amid it mighty mountains proudly rise,
Great monarchs of a boundless continent,
Rearing their hoary summits to the skies,
As claiming empire of the firmament;
Gaunt silent majesties of sea and earth,
Stern-featured children of Titanic birth.

Within their shadows many peoples dwell;
Divided kingdoms gather'd round some chief,
With lodges cluster'd by some stream or well,
To yield their cattle ever cool relief
From the fierce scorching of the burning sun,
And slake their hot thirst when the toil is done.

It chanced that war, which still doth enter in
Where men are most or fewest, small or great,
Here of a sudden raised its hellish din,
And woke to fury, lust, and bloody hate;
So that with battles, forays, murders, thefts,
Rang oft the echoes of the mountain clefts.

There was one tribe that in unconscious ease
Slumber'd and thought of danger but in dreams,
Heard not the tramp of men upon the breeze,
While the stars, watching with faint trembling beams,
Saw noiseless spectres round the village creep,
Like apparitions of unquiet sleep.

Then, silence-murder'd, what a yell arose!
And the scared sleepers, rushing forth in fear,
Met death without the portals from dim foes,
Or e'er the warrior could grasp his spear,
Or fit the arrow to his unstrung bow,
Or ward the fatal stroke that laid him low.

So, with the plunder, and a captured band
Of hapless women, ere the morning light
Flitted the victors swiftly through the land,
Red with the trophies of their deadly fight,
Leaving the lion and his hungry crew
To clear the morning of this bloody dew.

To meet them joyous forth their women came,
And led them back in triumph to the fold;
Taunting their foes with many a bitter shame,
Though now they lay in Death's aims stark and cold:
Whilst the poor captives, rack'd with fear and woe,
Cower'd close together from Fate's hapless blow.

Soon there came traders from the coast, and then
The weeping captives all were marshall'd out,
And barter'd singly with the heartless men,
Each bosom trembling still with fear and doubt;
But when the truth burst on them, a hoarse cry
Of wild despair ascended to the sky.

There was one there who from the Tree of Life
Pluck'd yet the blossoms with the fruit of years;
Scarce yet a woman, though a meek-soul'd wife,
And with a babe to claim her prayers and tears,
A tender bud of early summer time
Ere breezy woods are in their verdant prime.

Her 'mongst the rest they barter'd, and the child,
Too young to sever from its mother's breast,
Left they unnoticed, whilst she, poor one, wild
'Twixt hope and fear, still held it closely prest
Unto her heart, whose throbbings, loud and deep,
Beat an alarum through the infant's sleep.

But soon her master, as he hasten'd off
With his new purchases, the infant caught,
And bid the mother, with a heartless scoff,
Fling it away: said he, "'Tis good for nought;
None of this lumber can we have, the road
Is long enough to tread without a load."

The mother clasp'd her babe with bitter cry,
But a rude hand enforced it from her arms,
And the rough steward held it up on high,
Laughing aloud the while at her alarms;
Said he unto his master; "This shall be
A bait to draw her on with willingly."

He bound around the infant's waist a line,
That fasten'd to his crupper, and then gave
The babe back to her, laughing,--"That end's thine--
The other stays with me;" "A witty slave!"
The master chuckled, and they moved away,
She following with anguish and dismay.

They journey'd o'er the desert, 'neath a sky
Scorch'd by the fiery footsteps of the sun,
Without a shade to bless the wistful eye;
And soon her fellow slaves droop'd, one by one,
Callous to blows that harshly drove them on,
Strength, hope, and love of life all seeming gone.

But she went onward with no word or plaint,

Clasping the child unto her bosom still,
Unflagging when all else began to faint,
Intent to save her little one from ill;
And they look'd on her as she sped along,
Wond'ring what made so frail a creature strong.

At eve she bent above her sleeping treasure,
With eyes that wept for pity and for love,
Filling its cup of life in richer measure,
With the blest care that watches us above;
And in the morn they bound the babe again,
And so drew on the mother in their train.

Her tender feet soon wounded were, and sore
With the rough travel, and the weary way,
And her slight limbs, o'ertask'd and loaded, bore
Less lightly up their burden day by day;
But, nature failing, Love imparted power
To bear her steps up to the resting hour.

Alas! the mother gazed with aching eyes
Upon the life-spring in her little child,
As one laid by a fountain while it dries;
Daily she watch'd it ebb, till she grew wild
With anguish at the Angel drawing near,
And bared her own breast for his fatal spear.

She lost all sense of weariness and pain,
And with hot tearless eyes still hurried on,
Bearing the child girt by its cruel chain,
All thought save of her cherish'd burden gone,
Fearful alone lest other eyes should guess
The feeble thing her longing arms did press.

At last they saw the babe was weaker growing,
That soon the little spark of life must fade,
So, spite of all her prayers, and wild tears flowing,
Beside a spring the sleeping child they laid,
And bid her onward, heedless of her woe
But on the earth she fell, and would not go.

They raised her up, and bound her on a steed,
And so march'd onward on their weary way--
For there was none to help her in her need,
And thus they travell'd eastward all the day,
But when they rested, and on each bow'd head
Sleep heavy lay, the mother rose and fled.

And speeding swiftly with a lapwing's flight,
Backward she hurried to the little spring,
Led by a power that knoweth not the night,
But flies through darkness with unerring wing;
And so e'er morning shimmer'd in the East,
She clasp'd her dead babe to her panting breast.

At morn they miss'd her, and the women said,
"She seeks her babe beside the distant well,
There wilt thou find her, if she be not dead,
For O! the love of mother who can tell."
And so the steward gallop'd back in haste,
To seek the lost one in the desert waste.

At last the spring rose in the distant sand,
With its close verdure pleasant to the eye,
And there, as, nearing it, the place he scann'd,
He saw the mother with her infant lie,
Quiet and stilly on each other's breast,
Folded together in unbroken rest;

Her arms around it thrown, that e'en in sleep
Still press'd the infant to her stricken heart,
No rest so perfect, no repose so deep,
From her sweet babe the mother's love to part.
Before him loud and bitter curses sped--
Who heard him?--for the mother too lay dead.

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