Ballads

Page 07

III. RAHERO

Rahero was there in the hall asleep: beside him his wife, Comely, a mirthful woman, one that delighted in life; And a girl that was ripe for marriage, shy and sly as a mouse; And a boy, a climber of trees: all the hopes of his house. Unwary, with open hands, he slept in the midst of his folk, And dreamed that he heard a voice crying without, and awoke, Leaping blindly afoot like one from a dream that he fears. A hellish glow and clouds were about him;--it roared in his ears Like the sound of the cataract fall that plunges sudden and steep; And Rahero swayed as he stood, and his reason was still asleep. Now the flame struck hard on the house, wind-wielded, a fracturing blow, And the end of the roof was burst and fell on the sleepers below; And the lofty hall, and the feast, and the prostrate bodies of folk, Shone red in his eyes a moment, and then were swallowed of smoke. In the mind of Rahero clearness came; and he opened his throat; And as when a squall comes sudden, the straining sail of a boat Thunders aloud and bursts, so thundered the voice of the man. - "The wind and the rain!" he shouted, the mustering word of the clan, {1n} And "up!" and "to arms men of Vaiau!" But silence replied, Or only the voice of the gusts of the fire, and nothing beside.

Rahero stooped and groped. He handled his womankind, But the fumes of the fire and the kava had quenched the life of their mind, And they lay like pillars prone; and his hand encountered the boy, And there sprang in the gloom of his soul a sudden lightning of joy. "Him can I save!" he thought, "if I were speedy enough." And he loosened the cloth from his loins, and swaddled the child in the stuff; And about the strength of his neck he knotted the burden well.

There where the roof had fallen, it roared like the mouth of hell. Thither Rahero went, stumbling on senseless folk, And grappled a post of the house, and began to climb in the smoke: The last alive of Vaiau; and the son borne by the sire. The post glowed in the grain with ulcers of eating fire, And the fire bit to the blood and mangled his hands and thighs; And the fumes sang in his head like wine and stung in his eyes; And still he climbed, and came to the top, the place of proof, And thrust a hand through the flame, and clambered alive on the roof. But even as he did so, the wind, in a garment of flames and pain, Wrapped him from head to heel; and the waistcloth parted in twain; And the living fruit of his loins dropped in the fire below.

About the blazing feast-house clustered the eyes of the foe, Watching, hand upon weapon, lest ever a soul should flee, Shading the brow from the glare, straining the neck to see Only, to leeward, the flames in the wind swept far and wide, And the forest sputtered on fire; and there might no man abide. Thither Rahero crept, and dropped from the burning eaves, And crouching low to the ground, in a treble covert of leaves And fire and volleying smoke, ran for the life of his soul Unseen; and behind him under a furnace of ardent coal, Cairned with a wonder of flame, and blotting the night with smoke, Blazed and were smelted together the bones of all his folk.

He fled unguided at first; but hearing the breakers roar, Thitherward shaped his way, and came at length to the shore. Sound-limbed he was: dry-eyed; but smarted in every part; And the mighty cage of his ribs heaved on his straining heart With sorrow and rage. And "Fools!" he cried, "fools of Vaiau, Heads of swine--gluttons--Alas! and where are they now? Those that I played with, those that nursed me, those that I nursed? God, and I outliving them! I, the least and the worst - I, that thought myself crafty, snared by this herd of swine, In the tortures of hell and desolate, stripped of all that was mine: All!--my friends and my fathers--the silver heads of yore That trooped to the council, the children that ran to the open door Crying with innocent voices and clasping a father's knees! And mine, my wife--my daughter--my sturdy climber of trees Ah, never to climb again!"

Thus in the dusk of the night, (For clouds rolled in the sky and the moon was swallowed from sight,) Pacing and gnawing his fists, Rahero raged by the shore. Vengeance: that must be his.

Ballads Page 08

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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