The Menace

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

The hat he wore was full of holes,
And his battered shoes were worn to the soles.
His shirt was a rag, held together with pins,
And his trousers patched with outs and ins.
A negro tramp, a roustabout,
Less safe than a wild beast broken out:
And like to a beast, he slouched along
The lane which the birds made sweet with song:
Where the wild rose wooed with golden eyes
The honeybees and the butterflies.
But the bird's glad song and the scent of the rose
Meant nothing to him of the love man knows.
If he heard or heeded 't was but to curse
Love had no place in his universe.
And there in the lane one met with him
A girl of ten who was fair and slim:
A farmer's daughter, whose auburn hair
Shone bright as a sunbeam moving there:
And bare of head, as she was of foot,
She passed the tramp with a smiled salute.
She bore in her hand, that was dark with stain,
A pail of berries she'd picked I' the lane.
Without a word he let her pass
Like a wildrose nodding above the grass.
Innocent, trusting, free from guile,
She met his look with a friendly smile.
And he? He laughed when the child had passed,
And a furtive glance about him cast,
Then turned and followed. His chance was now
To serve the Whiteman out somehow.
He would get even for many a kick.
Now was his time to turn a trick.

Next day they found her, battered and torn,
Her small child's body hid under a thorn.
And, oh! I wonder, good brother of mine,
Why God in His Heaven gave never a sign.
Why she, the lovely, the young, the shy,
Like a beast of the field should have to die:
While he, the hideous, kin to the ape,
God, in His Heaven, should let escape.

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