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Francis Bret Harte

(25 August 1836 - 6 May 1902 / Albany, New York)

An Idyl Of The Road

(SIERRAS, 1876)


First Tourist
Second Tourist
Yuba Bill, Driver
A Stranger


Look how the upland plunges into cover,
Green where the pines fade sullenly away.
Wonderful those olive depths! and wonderful, moreover--


The red dust that rises in a suffocating way.


Small is the soul that cannot soar above it,
Cannot but cling to its ever-kindred clay:
Better be yon bird, that seems to breathe and love it--


Doubtless a hawk or some other bird of prey.
Were we, like him, as sure of a dinner
That on our stomachs would comfortably stay;
Or were the fried ham a shade or two just thinner,
That must confront us at closing of the day:
Then might you sing like Theocritus or Virgil,
Then might we each make a metrical essay;
But verse just now--I must protest and urge--ill
Fits a digestion by travel led astray.


Speed, Yuba Bill! oh, speed us to our dinner!
Speed to the sunset that beckons far away.


William of Yuba, O Son of Nimshi, hearken!
Check thy profanity, but not thy chariot's play.
Tell us, O William, before the shadows darken,
Where, and, oh! how we shall dine? O William, say!


It ain't my fault, nor the Kumpeney's, I reckon,
Ye can't get ez square meal ez any on the Bay,
Up at you place, whar the senset 'pears to beckon--
Ez thet sharp allows in his airy sort o' way.
Thar woz a place wor yer hash ye might hev wrestled,
Kept by a woman ez chipper ez a jay--
Warm in her breast all the morning sunshine nestled;
Red on her cheeks all the evening's sunshine lay.


Praise is but breath, O chariot compeller!
Yet of that hash we would bid you farther say.


Thar woz a snipe--like you, a fancy tourist--
Kem to that ranch ez if to make a stay,
Ran off the gal, and ruined jist the purist
Critter that lived--

STRANGER (quietly)

You're a liar, driver!

YUBA BILL (reaching for his revolver).

Here take my lines, somebody--


Hush, boys! listen!
Inside there's a lady! Remember! No affray!


Ef that man lives, the fault ain't mine or his'n.


Wait for the sunset that beckons far away,
Then--as you will! But, meantime, friends, believe me,
Nowhere on earth lives a purer woman; nay,
If my perceptions do surely not deceive me,
She is the lady we have inside to-day.
As for the man--you see that blackened pine tree,
Up which the green vine creeps heavenward away!
He was that scarred trunk, and she the vine that sweetly
Clothed him with life again, and lifted--


Yes; but pray
How know you this?


She's my wife.


The h-ll you say!

Submitted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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