What made the porter stare so hard? what made the porter stare
And eye the tall young woman and the bundle that she bare?
What made the tall young woman flush, and strive to hide her face,
As the train slid past the platform and the guard swung in his place?
What made her look so stealthily both up and down the line,
And quickly give the infant suck to still its puny whine?
Why was the sawmill not at work? why were the men away?
They might have turned a woman from a woeful deed that day.
Why did the pine-scrub stand so thick? why was the place so lone
That nothing but the soldier-birds might hear a baby moan?
Why doth the woman tear the child? why doth the mother take
The infant from her breast, and weep as if her heart would break?
Why doth she moan, and grind her teeth, and weave an awful curse
To fall on him who made of her a harlot, ay, and worse?
Why should she fall upon her knees and, with a trembling hand,
Clear off the underbrush and scrape a cradle in the sand?
Why doth she shudder as she hears the buzz of eager flies,
And bind a handkerchief across the sleeping infant’s eyes?
Why doth she turn, but come again and feverishly twine,
To shield it from the burning sun, the fragrant fronds of pine?
Why, as she strides the platform, does she try hard not to think
That somewhere in the scrub a babe is calling her for drink?
Why, through the alleys of the pine, do languid breezes sigh
A low refrain that seems to mock her with a baby’s cry?
Seek not to know! but pray for her, and pity, as the train
Carries a white-faced woman back to face the world again.