One Day Solitary

I AM all right! Good by, old chap !
Twenty-four hours, that won’t be long.
Nothing to do but take a nap,
And — say! can a fellow sing a song?
Will the light fantastic be in order, —
A pigeon-wing on your pantry floor ?
What are the rules for a regular boarder ?
Be quiet ? All right! — Cling clang goes the door !
Clang clink, the bolts ! and I am locked in.
Some pious reflection and repentance
Come next, I suppose, for I just begin
To perceive the sting in the tail of my sentence, ~
“ One day whereof shall be solitary.”
Here I am at the end of my journey,
And — well, it ain’t jolly, not so very! —
I ’d like to throttle that sharp attorney !
He took my money, the very last dollar, —
Did n’t leave me so much as a dime,
Not enough to buy me a paper collar
To wear at my trial ; — he knew all the time
’T was some that I got for the stolen silver !
Why hasn’t he been indicted too?
If he doesn’t exactly rob and pilfer,
He lives by the plunder of them that do.
Then did n’t it put me into a fury,
To see him step up, and laugh and chat
With the county attorney, and joke with the jury,
When all was over, — then go for his hat,—
While Sue was sobbing to break her heart,
And all I could do was to stand and stare !
He had pleaded my cause, — he had played his part
And got his fee, — and what more did he care?
It’s droll to think how, just out yonder,
The world goes jogging on the same !
Old men will save and boys will squander,
And fellows will play at the same old game
Of get-and-spend, — to-morrow, next year,—
And drink and carouse, — and who will there be
To remember a comrade buried here ?
I am nothing to them, they are nothing to me !
And Sue, — yes, she will forget me too!
I know ! already her tears are drying.
I believe there is nothing that girl can do
So easy as laughing and lying and crying.
She clung to me well while there was hope,
Then broke her heart in that last wild sob ; —
But she ain’t going to sit and mope
While I am at work on a five years’ job.
They ’ll set me to learning a trade, no doubt;
And I must forget to speak or smile.
I shall go marching in and out,
One of a silent, tramping file
Of felons, at morning and noon and night,—
Just down to the shops and back to the cells,—
And work with a thief at left and right,
And feed and sleep and — nothing else?
Was I born for this ? Will the old folks know ?
I can see them now on the old home-place :
His gait is feeble, his step is slow,
There’s a settled grief in his furrowed face ;
While she goes wearily groping about
In a sort of dream, so bent, so sad ! —
But this won’t do ! I must sing and shout,
And forget myself, or else go mad.
I won’t be foolish ; although, for a minute,
I was there in my little room once more.
What would n’t I give just now to be in it ?
The bed is yonder, and there is the door;
The Bible is here on the neat white stand :
The summer-sweets are ripening now ;
In the flickering light I reach my hand
From the window, and pluck them from the bough !
When I was a child (O, well for me
And them if I had never been older!)
When he told me stories on his knee,
And tossed me, and carried me on his shoulder ;
When she knelt down and heard my prayer,
And gave me in bed my good-night kiss,—
Did ever they think that all their care
For an only son could come to this ?
Foolish again ! No sense in tears
And gnashing the teeth ! And yet — somehow —
I have n’t thought of them so for years !
I never knew them, I think, till now.
How fondly, how blindly, they trusted me !
When I should have been in my bed asleep,
I slipped from the window, and down the tree,
And sowed for the harvest which now I reap.
And Jennie, — how could I bear to leave her?
If I had but wished —but I was a fool!
My heart was filled with a thirst and fever
Which no sweet airs of heaven could cool.
I can hear her asking,—“Have you heard?”
But mother falters, and shakes her head :
“O Jennie ! Jennie ! never a word !
What can it mean ? He must be dead ! ”
Light-hearted, a proud, ambitious lad,
I left my home that morning in May ;
What visions, what hopes, what plans I had !
And what have I — where are they all — to-day?
Wild fellows, and wine, and debts, and gaming,
Disgrace, and the loss of place and friend,—
And I was an outlaw, past reclaiming:
Arrest and sentence, and — this is the end!
Five years ! Shall ever I quit this prison ?
Homeless, an outcast, where shall I go ?
Return to them, like one arisen
From the grave, that was buried long ago ?
All is still, — it’s the close of the week;
I slink through the garden, I stop by the well —
I see him totter, I hear her shriek ! —
What sort of a tale will I have to tell?
But here I am ! What’s the use of grieving ?
Five years — will it be too late to begin?
Can sober thinking and honest living
Still make me the man I might have been ? —
I ’ll sleep ; — O, would I could wake to-morrow
In that old room, to find, at last,
That all my trouble and all their sorrow
Are only a dream of the night that is past!
J. T. Trowbridge.