Robert Kirkland Kernighan
My Brother Tom - Poem by Robert Kirkland Kernighan
The old man was reading by the chimney place ;
My eldest sister Jane was getting tea ;
The baby, the dog an a tame coon we had,
Were playin in the corner long with me,
When we heard a great rumpus in the front yard,
Which round our place was an unusual din ;
And a man knocking on the door and shouting out :
'Hullo, within there, folks, hullo, within!'
Now this was long ago, before the railroads
When people went from place to place by stage,
For, mind you all, this country round was forest
When I was shoeless thirteen years of age ;
Wolves and robbers offen caught the travelers,
If they no friendly sheltered place could win :
All this I thought as I sat there a-thinkin,
And he without cried, ' Ho, there, folks within !'
The old man oped the door with shaking fingers ;
A high, slouched, dark-eyed stranger stood revealed ;
And when he saw the blood that stained his features,
My father quaked with sudden fear and reeled.
The stranger slouched him onward to the fire-place ;
His first words fell amid us like a bomb ;
He struck the blood drops from his matted whiskers,
And sullen asked, ' Where is your son called Tom?'
We all stood silent, sick at heart, and dizzy :
The room swam round and round before my eyes ;
The old man crouched him over baby Lizzie
His tongue was tied, he had no power to rise.
Out-side the door I heard poor Roxy Hamill,
Our Tom's young sweet-heart, moaning faint and low :
u It can't be Tom my own, my love, my darling
say it is not Tom I loved him so.'
Then there was speaking 't was the slouched intruder ;
His words were sullen, ominous and brief :
' Our stage was stopped by some one in the gully :
No harm was done, for I I killed the thief !
We brought his body with us. It lies yonder ;
1 took this club his iron fingers from :
His hair is auburn and his eyes are hazel
Old man, come, tell me, Where 's your son called Tom ?'
Then wailed my sister, weak and broken hearted,
As father, dizzied, staggered thro' the night ;
Behind him strode the dark-eyed stranger, bearing,
High o'er his head, the red exultant light.
There, near the wood pile, on Roxy Hamill's bosom,
My brother Tom's dead face was pillowed near ;
She rained her kisses on his cold, white forehead :
She poured her love words in his heedless ear.
' The bridge was down,' she cried, ' in Franklin's gully ;
' He ran to stop the stage ere harm befell.'
' Revenge him, God !' my father screamed, back starting,
' And sink his slayer down to deepest hell !'
' Yes, down to hell!' the neighbors clamored madly,
As fled the slayer from the friendly light ;
And all gave chase, save Jane and Roxy Hamill,
Who mourned their dead alone that awful night.
A blow was struck far in the secret forest,
And who that struck it none will ever tell ;
But thro' the darkness rose an old man's crying :
' My curse upon thee down to deepest hell !'
And that is she you saw in Franklin's gully
The blighted, hopeless, helpless, mad and gray-
She waits the stage, to meet with Tom, my brother,
And God is good to such as she, they say.
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