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- Songs of Action - 3/12 -


A kite was shrilly calling.

A kite? Was THAT a kite? The yell That shrilly rose and faintly fell? No kite's, and yet the kite knows well The long-drawn wild halloo. And right athwart the evening sky The yellow sand-spray spurtled high, And shrill and shriller swelled the cry Of 'Allah! Allahu!'

The Corporal peered at the crimson West, Hid his pipe in his khaki vest. Growled out an oath and onward pressed, Still glancing over his shoulder. 'Bedouins, mate!' he curtly said; 'We'll find some work for steel and lead, And maybe sleep in a sandy bed, Before we're one hour older.

'But just one flutter before we're done. Stiffen your lip and stand, my son; We'll take this bloomin' circus on: Ball-cartridge load! Now, steady!' With a curse and a prayer the two faced round, Dogged and grim they stood their ground, And their breech-blocks snapped with a crisp clean sound As the rifles sprang to the 'ready.'

Alas for the Emir Ali Khan! A hundred paces before his clan, That ebony steed of the prophet's breed Is the foal of death and of danger. A spurt of fire, a gasp of pain, A blueish blurr on the yellow plain, The chief was down, and his bridle rein Was in the grip of the stranger.

With the light of hope on his rugged face, The Corporal sprang to the dead man's place, One prick with the steel, one thrust with the heel, And where was the man to outride him? A grip of his knees, a toss of his rein, He was settling her down to her gallop again, When he stopped, for he heard just one faltering word From the young recruit beside him.

One faltering word from pal to pal, But it found the heart of the Corporal. He had sprung to the sand, he had lent him a hand, 'Up, mate! They'll be 'ere in a minute; Off with you! No palaver! Go! I'll bide be'ind and run this show. Promotion has been cursed slow, And this is my chance to win it.'

Into the saddle he thrust him quick, Spurred the black mare with a bayonet prick. Watched her gallop with plunge and with kick Away o'er the desert careering. Then he turned with a softened face, And loosened the strap of his cartridge-case, While his thoughts flew back to the dear old place In the sunny Hampshire clearing.

The young boy-private, glancing back, Saw the Bedouins' wild attack, And heard the sharp Martini crack. But as he gazed, already The fierce fanatic Arab band Was closing in on every hand, Until one tawny swirl of sand, Concealed them in its eddy.

* * *

A squadron of British horse that night, Galloping hard in the shadowy light, Came on the scene of that last stern fight, And found the Corporal lying Silent and grim on the trampled sand, His rifle grasped in his stiffened hand, With the warrior pride of one who died 'Mid a ring of the dead and the dying.

And still when twilight shadows fall, After the evening bugle call, In bivouac or in barrack-hall, His comrades speak of the Corporal, His death and his devotion. And there are some who like to say That perhaps a hidden meaning lay In the words he spoke, and that the day When his rough bold spirit passed away WAS the day that he won promotion.

A FORGOTTEN TALE

[The scene of this ancient fight, recorded by Froissart, is still called 'Altura de los Inglesos.' Five hundred years later Wellington's soldiers were fighting on the same ground.]

'Say, what saw you on the hill, Campesino Garcia?' 'I saw my brindled heifer there, A trail of bowmen, spent and bare, And a little man on a sorrel mare Riding slow before them.'

'Say, what saw you in the vale, Campesino Garcia?' 'There I saw my lambing ewe And an army riding through, Thick and brave the pennons flew From the lances o'er them.'

'Then what saw you on the hill, Campesino Garcia?' 'I saw beside the milking byre, White with want and black with mire, The little man with eyes afire Marshalling his bowmen.'

'Then what saw you in the vale, Campesino Garcia?' 'There I saw my bullocks twain, And amid my uncut grain All the hardy men of Spain Spurring for their foemen.'

'Nay, but there is more to tell, Campesino Garcia!' 'I could not bide the end to view; I had graver things to do Tending on the lambing ewe Down among the clover.'

'Ah, but tell me what you heard, Campesino Garcia!' 'Shouting from the mountain-side, Shouting until eventide; But it dwindled and it died Ere milking time was over.'

'Nay, but saw you nothing more, Campesino Garcia?' 'Yes, I saw them lying there, The little man and sorrel mare; And in their ranks the bowmen fair, With their staves before them.'

'And the hardy men of Spain, Campesino Garcia?' 'Hush! but we are Spanish too; More I may not say to you: May God's benison, like dew, Gently settle o'er them.'

PENNARBY MINE

Pennarby shaft is dark and steep, Eight foot wide, eight hundred deep. Stout the bucket and tough the cord, Strong as the arm of Winchman Ford. 'Never look down! Stick to the line!' That was the saying at Pennarby mine.

A stranger came to Pennarby shaft. Lord, to see how the miners laughed! White in the collar and stiff in the hat, With his patent boots and his silk cravat, Picking his way, Dainty and fine, Stepping on tiptoe to Pennarby mine.

Touring from London, so he said. Was it copper they dug for? or gold? or lead? Where did they find it? How did it come? If he tried with a shovel might HE get some? Stooping so much Was bad for the spine; And wasn't it warmish in Pennarby mine?

'Twas like two worlds that met that day - The world of work and the world of play; And the grimy lads from the reeking shaft Nudged each other and grinned and chaffed. 'Got 'em all out!' 'A cousin of mine!' So ran the banter at Pennarby mine.


Songs of Action - 3/12

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