A Trampwoman’s Tragedy


From Wynyard’s Gap the livelong day,
          The livelong day,
We beat afoot the northward way
       We had travelled times before.
The sun-blaze burning on our backs,
Our shoulders sticking to our packs,
By fosseway, fields, and turnpike tracks
       We skirted sad Sedge-Moor.


Full twenty miles we jaunted on,
          We jaunted on, —
My fancy-man, and jeering John,
       And Mother Lee, and I.
And, as the sun drew down to west,
We climbed the toilsome Polden crest,
And saw, of landskip sights the best,
       The inn that beamed thereby.


Ay, side by side
          Through the Great Forest, Blackmoor wide,
And where the Parret ran.
       We’d faced the gusts on Mendip ridge,
Had crossed the Yeo unhelped by bridge,
Been stung by every Marshwood midge,
       I and my fancy-man.


Lone inns we loved, my man and I,
          My man and I;
‘King’s Stag’, ‘Windwhistle’ high and dry,
       ‘The Horse’ on Hintock Green,
The cosy house at Wynyard’s Gap,
‘The Hut’, renowned on Bredy Knap,
And many another wayside tap
       Where folk might sit unseen.


O deadly day,
          O deadly day! —
I teased my fancy man in play
       And wanton idleness.
I walked alongside jeering John,
I laid his hand my waist upon;
I would not bend my glances on
       My lover’s dark distress.


Thus Poldon top at last we won,
          At last we won,
And gained the inn at sink of sun
       Far-famed as ‘Marshal’s Elm’.
Beneath us figured tor and lea,
From Mendip to the western sea —
I doubt if any finer sight there be
       Within this royal realm.


Inside the settle all a-row —
          All four a-row
We sat, I next to John, to show
       That he had wooed and won.
And then he took me on his knee,
And swore it was his turn to be
My favoured mate, and Mother Lee
       Passed to my former one.


Then in a voice I had never heard,
          I had never heard,
My only love to me: ‘One word,
       My lady, if you please!
Whose is the child you are like to bear? —
His? After all my months o’ care?’
Gods knows ’twas not! But, O despair!
       I nodded — still to tease.


Then he sprung, and with his knife —
          And with his knife,
He let out jeering Johnny’s life,
       Yes; there at set of sun.
The slant ray through the window nigh
Gilded John’s blood and glazing eye,
Ere scarcely Mother Lee and I
       Knew that the deed was done.


The taverns tell the gloomy tale,
          The gloomy tale,
How that at Ivel-Chester jail
       My love, my sweetheart swung;
Though stained till now by no misdeed
Save one horse ta’en in time of need;
(Blue Jimmy stole right many a steed
       Ere his last fling he flung.)


Thereaft I walked the world alone
          Alone, alone!
On his death-day I gave my groan
       And dropt his dead-born child.
‘Twas nigh the jail, beneath a tree,
None tending me; for Mother Lee
Had died at Glaston, leaving me
       Unfriended on the wild.


And in the night as I lay weak,
          As I lay weak,
The leaves a-falling on my cheek,
       The red moon low declined —
The ghost of him I’d die to kiss
Rose up and said: ‘Ah, tell me this!
Was the child mine, or was it his?
       Speak, that I my rest may find!’


O doubt but I told him then,
          I told him then,
That I had kept me from all men
       Since we joined lips and swore.
Whereat he smiled, and thinned away
As the wind stirred to call up day . . .
— ‘Tis past! And here alone I stray
       Haunting the Western Moor.

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