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III 



In Debtors' Yard the stones are hard,

  And the dripping wall is high,
So it was there he took the air

  Beneath the leaden sky,
And by each side a warder walked,

  For fear the man might die.


Or else he sat with those who watched

  His anguish night and day;
Who watched him when he rose to weep,

  And when he crouched to pray;
Who watched him lest himself should rob

  Their scaffold of its prey.


The Governor was strong upon

  The Regulations Act:
The Doctor said that Death was but

  A scientific fact:
And twice a day the Chaplain called,

  And left a little tract.


And twice a day he smoked his pipe,

  And drank his quart of beer:
His soul was resolute, and held

  No hiding-place for fear;
He often said that he was glad

  The hangman's day was near.


But why he said so strange a thing

  No warder dared to ask:
For he to whom a watcher's doom

  Is given as his task,
Must set a lock upon his lips,

  And make his face a mask.


Or else he might be moved, and try

  To comfort or console:
And what should Human Pity do

  Pent up in Murderers' Hole?
What word of grace in such a place

  Could help a brother's soul?


With slouch and swing around the ring

  We trod the Fools' Parade!
We did not care: we knew we were

  The Devils' Own Brigade:
And shaven head and feet of lead

  Make a merry masquerade.


We tore the tarry rope to shreds

  With blunt and bleeding nails;
We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,

  And cleaned the shining rails:
And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,

  And clattered with the pails.


We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,

  We turned the dusty drill:
We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,

  And sweated on the mill:
But in the heart of every man

  Terror was lying still.


So still it lay that every day

  Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:
And we forgot the bitter lot

  That waits for fool and knave,
Till once, as we tramped in from work,

  We passed an open grave.


With yawning mouth the horrid hole

  Gaped for a living thing;
The very mud cried out for blood

  To the thirsty asphalte ring:
And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair

  The fellow had to swing.


Right in we went, with soul intent

  On Death and Dread and Doom:
The hangman, with his little bag,

  Went shuffling through the gloom:
And I trembled as I groped my way

  Into my numbered tomb.


That night the empty corridors

  Were full of forms of Fear,
And up and down the iron town

  Stole feet we could not hear,
And through the bars that hide the stars

  White faces seemed to peer.


He lay as one who lies and dreams

  In a pleasant meadow-land,
The watchers watched him as he slept,

  And could not understand
How one could sleep so sweet a sleep

  With a hangman close at hand.


But there is no sleep when men must weep

  Who never yet have wept:
So we- the fool, the fraud, the knave-

  That endless vigil kept,
And through each brain on hands of pain

  Another's terror crept.


Alas! it is a fearful thing

  To feel another's guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin

  Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed

  For the blood we had not spilt.


The warders with their shoes of felt

  Crept by each padlocked door,
And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,

  Gray figures on the floor,
And wondered why men knelt to pray

  Who never prayed before.


All through the night we knelt and prayed,

  Mad mourners of a corse!
The troubled plumes of midnight shook

  Like the plumes upon a hearse:
And as bitter wine upon a sponge

  Was the savour of Remorse.


The gray cock crew, the red cock crew,

  But never came the day:
And crooked shapes of Terror crouched,

  In the corners where we lay:
And each evil sprite that walks by night

  Before us seemed to play.


They glided past, the glided fast,

  Like travellers through a mist:
They mocked the moon in a rigadoon

  Of delicate turn and twist,
And with formal pace and loathsome grace

  The phantoms kept their tryst.


With mop and mow, we saw them go,

  Slim shadows hand in hand:
About, about, in ghostly rout

  They trod a saraband:
And the damned grotesques made arabesques,

  Like the wind upon the sand!


With the pirouettes of marionettes,

  They tripped on pointed tread:
But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,

  As their grisly masque they led,
And loud they sang, and long they sang,

  For they sang to wake the dead.


"Oho!" they cried, "the world is wide,

  But fettered limbs go lame!
And once, or twice, to throw the dice

  Is a gentlemanly game,
But he does not win who plays with Sin

  In the secret House of Shame."


No things of air these antics were,

  That frolicked with such glee:
To men whose lives were held in gyves,

  And whose feet might not go free,
Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,

  Most terrible to see.


Around, around, they waltzed and wound;

  Some wheeled in smirking pairs;
With the mincing step of a demirep

  Some sidled up the stairs:
And with subtle sneer, and fawning leer,

  Each helped us at our prayers.


The morning wind began to moan,

  But still the night went on:
Through its giant loom the web of gloom

  Crept till each thread was spun:
And, as we prayed, we grew afraid

  Of the Justice of the Sun.


The moaning wind went wandering round

  The weeping prison wall:
Till like a wheel of turning steel

  We felt the minutes crawl:
O moaning wind! what had we done

  To have such a seneschal?


At last I saw the shadowed bars,

  Like a lattice wrought in lead,
Move right across the whitewashed wall

  That faced my three-plank bed,
And I knew that somewhere in the world

  God's dreadful dawn was red.


At six o'clock we cleaned our cells,

  At seven all was still,
But the sough and swing of a mighty wing

  The prison seemed to fill,
For the Lord of Death with icy breath

  Had entered in to kill.


He did not pass in purple pomp,

  Nor ride a moon-white steed.
Three yards of cord and a sliding board

  Are all the gallows' need:
So with rope of shame the Herald came

  To do the secret deed.


We were as men who through a fen

  Of filthy darkness grope:
We did not dare to breathe a prayer,

  Or to give our anguish scope:
Something was dead in each of us,

  And what was dead was Hope.


For Man's grim Justice goes its way

  And will not swerve aside:
It slays the weak, it slays the strong,

  It has a deadly stride:
With iron heel it slays the strong

  The monstrous parricide!


We waited for the stroke of eight:

  Each tongue was thick with thirst:
For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate

  That makes a man accursed,
And Fate will use a running noose

  For the best man and the worst.


We had no other thing to do,

  Save to wait for the sign to come:
So, like things of stone in a valley lone,

  Quiet we sat and dumb:
But each man's heart beat thick and quick,

  Like a madman on a drum!


With sudden shock the prison-clock

  Smote on the shivering air,
And from all the gaol rose up a wail

  Of impotent despair,
Like the sound the frightened marshes hear

  From some leper in his lair.


And as one sees most fearful things

  In the crystal of a dream,
We saw the greasy hempen rope

  Hooked to the blackened beam,
And heard the prayer the hangman's snare

  Strangled into a scream.


And all the woe that moved him so

  That he gave that bitter cry,
And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,

  None knew so well as I:
For he who lives more lives than one

  More deaths that one must die.

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