The Lost Earl

WITH his lariat coiled on the horn of his saddle,
Face bearded and bronzed, in the broad-shadowed hat;
High boot-tops, and stout leather leggings astraddle
His broncho’s brown sides ; pistol-belt, and all that ;
His shout ringing out, a bluff, resonant basso,
Above the herd’s bellowing ; hand that can hurl
At a gallop the long-looped and wide-swinging lasso, —
There rides — can you fancy ? — the son of an earl.
With the best and the worst a familiar companion ;
Who often in winter, at twenty below,
While guarding his cattle within the deep cañon,
Camps down in his blanket, rolled up on the snow ;
Bold rider and roper, to aid in a round-up,
Head off a stampede, run the ringleaders down :
In him — does he pause to remember ? — are bound up
The hopes of a race of old knightly renown.
The world’s pampered minion, he yet, in requital
Of all its proud favors, could fling them aside
As a swimmer his raiment, shed riches and title,
And plunge into life, breast the turbulent tide !
Some caprice, you infer, or a sudden declension
Of fortune, the cause ? Rather say, the revolt
Of a strong native soul against soulless convention,
And privilege shared by the roué and dolt.
He chafed at the gilded constraints of his station,
The bright ball-and-chain of the name that he bore;
Grew sick of the smiles of discreet adulation,
That worshiped, not worth, but the honors men wore.
With falsities stifled, with flatteries sated,
He loathed, as some player, his wearisome part,
The homage of lips where he righteously hated,
The rank that forbade him the choice of his heart.
(For that choice, it is told, fell to one far below him
In station, who yet was so loyal and true
In the love which he won, she could love and forego him,
And even his nobleness nobly outdo ;
Who scorned to climb up to a class that would scorn to
Receive her its peer; and refusing to dim
The coronet’s brightness her brow was not born to,
Lived maidenly faithful to love and to him.)
Was it then, in despair at the pitiful wrangle
His preference raised, he resolved to be free,
To escape from his toils, break the tyrannous tangle
Of custom and caste, of descent and degree ?
In this lot which he chose, has he sometimes repented
The impulse that urged him ? In scenes such as these,
Hard lodgment, hard fare, has he never lamented
The days of relinquished enjoyment and ease ?
Was that impulse a fault? Would he speak, would he tell us
His sober conclusion ! For good or for ill,
There are tides of the spirit which sometimes impel us,
Sub-currents, more potent than reason and will,
That out of our sordid conditions uplift us,
And make our poor common humanity great.
We toy with the helm, but they draw us, they drift us,
They shape the deep courses of life and of fate.
But then comes regret, when the ebb leaves us stranded
In doubt and disaster: was such his reward ?
How much we might gain would the fellow be candid,
This volunteer ranchman who might be a lord !
Could we think with his thoughts as he rides in the shadow
That falls from the foothills when, suddenly chill,
Far over the mesas of lone Colorado
The fast-creeping twilight spreads solemn and still.
From the rose-tinted, snow-covered peaks, the bright sources
Of torrents and rivers, the glow pales away ;
Through cañons and gulches the wild watercourses
Rush hurried and hoarse : just the time, you would say,
For our exile to fall into sombre reflection, —
The scion of earls, from the uppermost branch
Of the ancestral tree, in its cultured perfection,
Set here in the desolate life of the ranch !
Amid wastes of gray sagebrush, of grama and bunch-grass;
The comrade of cowboys, with souls scarce above
The level of driven dumb creatures that munch grass ;
Self-banished from paths of preferment and love,
An unreturned prodigal, mumbling his husk :
At least so your sapient soul has divined,
As he gallops far off and forlorn through the dusk.
But little men know of a man’s hidden mind.
In his jacket he carries a thumbed pocket Homer,
To con at odd spells as he watches his herd;
And at times, in his cottage, (but that’s a misnomer ;
A hut with one room !) you may hear, on my word,
These long summer twilights, (in moments not taken
For washing his dishes or darning his socks,)
On strings deftly thrummed a strange music aw aken,
Mazurka of Chopin’s, sonata of Bach’s.
As over the wide-shouldered Rockies the gleam
Of day yet illumines the vastness and distance
Of snow-hooded summits, so shines the still beam
Of high thought, high resolve, on his lonely existence.
(And a maiden, they say, of her own sweet accord,
Who to-night may be sailing the moonlighted sea,
To the ranchman brings what she denied to the lord.
Idle rumor, no doubt. But, however it be) —
Our knight of the lasso, long-lineaged Norman,
Now guiding his herd to good pasture and drink,
Now buying and selling, stock-owner and foreman,
Feels life fresh and strong ; well content, as I think
That the world of traditional leisure and sport
Without him should amble its indolent round.
Though lost to his title, to kindred and court,
Here first in rude labor his manhood is found.
His conclusion is this, or I sadly mistake it:
“ To each his own part; rugged action for me !
Be men, and not masks ; fill your sphere or forsake it.
Use power and wealth; but ’t is time to be free
When the trappings of life prove a burden and fetter.
The walls of my forefathers’ castle are stanch,
But a cabin, with liberty, shelters me better.
Be lord of your realm, be it earldom or ranch ! ”
J. T. Trowbridge.