Ballads

Page 14

And then, in the blink of an eye, A scream caught in with the breath, a whirling packet of limbs, A lump that dived in the gulph, more swift than a dolphin swims; And there was the lump at his feet, and eyes were alive in the lump. Sick was the soul of Rua, ambushed close in a clump; Sick of soul he drew near, making his courage stout; And he looked in the face of the thing, and the life of the thing went out. And he gazed on the tattooed limbs, and, behold, he knew the man: Hoka, a chief of the Vais, the truculent foe of his clan: Hoka a moment since that stepped in the loop of the rope, Filled with the lust of war, and alive with courage and hope.

Again to the giddy cornice Rua lifted his eyes, And again beheld men passing in the armpit of the skies. "Foes of my race!" cried Rua, "the mouth of Rua is true: Never a shark in the deep is nobler of soul than you. There was never a nobler foray, never a bolder plan; Never a dizzier path was trod by the children of man; And Rua, your evil-dealer through all the days of his years, "Counts it honour to hate you, honour to fall by your spears." And Rua straightened his back. "O Vais, a scheme for a scheme!" Cried Rua and turned and descended the turbulent stair of the stream, Leaping from rock to rock as the water-wagtail at home Flits through resonant valleys and skims by boulder and foam. And Rua burst from the glen and leaped on the shore of the brook, And straight for the roofs of the clan his vigorous way he took. Swift were the heels of his flight, and loud behind as he went Rattled the leaping stones on the line of his long descent. And ever he thought as he ran, and caught at his gasping breath, "O the fool of a Rua, Rua that runs to his death! But the right is the right," thought Rua, and ran like the wind on the foam, "The right is the right for ever, and home for ever home. For what though the oven smoke? And what though I die ere morn? There was I nourished and tended, and there was Taheia born." Noon was high on the High-place, the second noon of the feast; And heat and shameful slumber weighed on people and priest; And the heart drudged slow in bodies heavy with monstrous meals; And the senseless limbs were scattered abroad like spokes of wheels; And crapulous women sat and stared at the stones anigh With a bestial droop of the lip and a swinish rheum in the eye. As about the dome of the bees in the time for the drones to fall, The dead and the maimed are scattered, and lie, and stagger, and crawl; So on the grades of the terrace, in the ardent eye of the day, The half-awake and the sleepers clustered and crawled and lay; And loud as the dome of the bees, in the time of a swarming horde, A horror of many insects hung in the air and roared.

Rua looked and wondered; he said to himself in his heart: "Poor are the pleasures of life, and death is the better part." But lo! on the higher benches a cluster of tranquil folk Sat by themselves, nor raised their serious eyes, nor spoke: Women with robes unruffled and garlands duly arranged, Gazing far from the feast with faces of people estranged; And quiet amongst the quiet, and fairer than all the fair, Taheia, the well-descended, Taheia, heavy of hair. And the soul of Rua awoke, courage enlightened his eyes, And he uttered a summoning shout and called on the clan to rise. Over against him at once, in the spotted shade of the trees, Owlish and blinking creatures scrambled to hands and knees; On the grades of the sacred terrace, the driveller woke to fear, And the hand of the ham-drooped warrior brandished a wavering spear. And Rua folded his arms, and scorn discovered his teeth; Above the war-crowd gibbered, and Rua stood smiling beneath. Thick, like leaves in the autumn, faint, like April sleet, Missiles from tremulous hands quivered around his feet; And Taheia leaped from her place; and the priest, the ruby-eyed, Ran to the front of the terrace, and brandished his arms, and cried: "Hold, O fools, he brings tidings!" and "Hold, 'tis the love of my heart!" Till lo! in front of the terrace, Rua pierced with a dart.

Ballads Page 15

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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