The Road to Avernus,
Scene XI 'Ten Paces Off'

An open country.
Laurence Raby and Forrest,
Brian Aylmer and Prescot.


I've won the two tosses from Prescot;
Now hear me, and hearken and heed,
And pull that vile flower from your waistcoat,
And throw down that beast of a weed;

I'm going to give you the signal
I gave Harry Hunt at Boulogne,
The morning he met Major Bignell,
And shot him as dead as a stone;

For he must look round on his right hand
To watch the white flutter--that stops
His aim, for it takes off his sight, and
I cough while the handerkerchief drops.

And you keep both eyes on his figure,
Old fellow, and don't take them off.
You've got the sawhandled hair trigger--
You sight him and shoot when I cough.

Though God will never forgive me,
Though men make light of my name,
Though my sin and my shame outlive me,
I shall not outlast my shame.

The coward, does he mean to miss me?
His right hand shakes like a leaf;
Shall I live for my friends to hiss me,
Of fools and of knaves the chief?

Shall I live for my foes to twit me?
He has mastered his nerve again--
He is firm, he will surely hit me--
Will he reach the heart or the brain?

One long look eastward and northward--
One prayer--'Our Father which art'--
And the cough chimes in with the fourth word,
And I shoot skyward--the heart.
Last Scene.--'Exeunt.'

Where the grave-deeps rot, where the grave-dews rust,
They dug, crying, 'Earth to earth'--
Crying, 'Ashes to ashes and dust to dust'--
And what are my poor prayers worth?
Upon whom shall I call, or in whom shall I trust,
Though death were indeed new birth?

And they bid me be glad for my baby's sake,
That she suffered sinless and young--
Would they have me be glad when my breasts still ache
Where that small, soft, sweet mouth clung?
I am glad that the heart will so surely break
That has been so bitterly wrung.

He was false, they tell me, and what if he were?
I can only shudder and pray,
Pouring out my soul in a passionate prayer
For the soul that he cast away;
Was there nothing that once was created fair
In the potter's perishing clay?

It it well for the sinner that souls endure?
For the sinless soul is it well?
Does the pure child lisp to the angels pure?
And where does the strong man dwell,
If the sad assurance of priests be sure,
Or the tale that our preachers tell?

The unclean has follow'd the undefiled,
And the ill may regain the good,
And the man may be even as the little child!
We are children lost in the wood--
Lord! lead us out of this tangled wild,
Where the wise and the prudent have been beguil'd,
And only the babes have stood.
                    Adam Lindsay Gordon