Dora Sigerson Shorter ( )


The Ballad of the Little Black Hound


Who knocks at the Geraldines door to-night
   In the black storm and the rain?
With the thunder crash and the shrieking wind
   Comes the moan of a creatures pain.

And once they knocked, yet never a stir
   To show that the Geraldine knew;
And twice they knocked, yet never a bolt
   The listening Geraldine drew.

And thrice they knocked ere he moved his chair,
   And said, Whoever it be,
I dare not open the door to-night
   For a fear that has come to me.

Three times he rises from out his chair,
   And three times he sits him down.
Now what has made faint this heart of mine?
   He says with a growing frown.

Now what has made me a coward to-night,
   Who never knew fear before?
But I swear that the hand of a little child
   Keeps pulling me from the door.

The Geraldine rose from his chair at last
   And opened the door full wide;
Whoever is out in the storm, said he,
   May in Gods name come inside!

He who was out in the storm and rain
   Drew back at the Geraldines call.
Now who comes not in the Holy Name
   Will never come in at all.

He looked to the right, he looked to the left,
   And never a one saw he;
But right in his path lay a coal black hound,
   A-moaning right piteously.

Come in, he cried, you little black hound,
   Come in, I will ease your pain;
My roof shall keep you to-night at least
   From the leash of wind and rain.

The Geraldine took up the little black hound,
   And put him down by the fire.
So sleep you there, poor wandering one,
   As long as your heart desire.

The Geraldine tossed on his bed that night,
   And never asleep went he
For the crowing of his little red cock,
   That did crow most woefully.

For the howling of his own wolf-hound,
   That cried at the gate all night.
He rose and went to the banquet hall
   At the first of morning light.

He looked to the right, he looked to the left,
   At the rug where the dog lay on;
But the reindeer skin was burnt in two,
   And the little black hound was gone.

And, traced in the ashes, these words he read:
   For the soul of your firstborn son,
I will make you rich as you once were rich
   Ere the glass of your luck was run.

The Geraldine went to the west window,
   And then he went to the east,
And saw his desolate pasture fields,
   And the stables without a beast.

So be it, as I love no woman,
   No son shall ever be mine;
I would that my stables were full of steeds,
   And my cellars were full of wine.

I swear it, as I love no woman,
   And never a son have I,
I would that my sheep and their little lambs
   Should flourish and multiply.

So yours be the soul of my firstborn son.
   Here the Geraldine slyly smiled,
But from the dark of the lonely room
   Came the cry of a little child.

The Geraldine went to the west window,
   He opened, and out did lean,
And lo! the pastures were full of kine,
   All chewing the grass so green.

And quickly he went to the east window,
   And his face was pale to see,
For lo! he saw to the empty stalls
   Brave steeds go three by three.

The Geraldine went to the great hall door,
   In wonder at what had been,
And there he saw the prettiest maid
   That ever his eyes had seen.

And long he looked at the pretty young maid,
   And swore there was none so fair;
And his heart went out of him like a hound,
   And hers like a timid hare.

Each day he followed her up and down,
   And each night he could not rest,
Until at last the pretty young maid
   Her love for him confessed.

They wooed and they wed, and the days went by
   As quick as such good days will,
And at last came the cry of his firstborn son
   The cup of his joy to fill.

And the summer passed, and the winter came;
   Right fair was the child to see,
And he laughed at the shriek of a bitter storm
   As he sat on his fathers knee.

Who rings so loud at the Geraldines gate?
   Who knocks so loud at the door?
Now rise you up, my pretty young wife,
   For twice they have knocked before.

Quickly she opened the great hall door,
   And Welcome you in, she cried,
But there only entered a little black hound,
   And he would not be denied.

When the Geraldine saw the little black dog,
   He rose with a fearful cry,
I sold my child to the Devils hound
   In forgotten days gone by.

He drew his sword on the little black hound,
   But it would not pierce its skin,
He tried to pray, but his lips were dumb
   Because of his grievous sin.

Then the fair young wife took the black hounds throat
   Both her small white hands between.
And he thought he saw one of Gods angels
   Where his sweet young wife had been.

Then he thought he saw from Gods spirit
   The hound go sore oppressed,
But he woke to find his own dead wife
   With her dead child on her breast.

Quickly he went to the west window,
   Quickly he went to the east;
No help in the desolate pasture fields,
   Or the stables that held no beast.

He flung himself at his white wifes side,
   And the dead lips moved and smiled,
Then came somewhere from the lonely room
   The laugh of a little child.



Dora Sigerson Shorter's other poems:
  1. A Ballad of Marjorie
  2. The Rape of the Barons Wine
  3. A Vagrant Heart
  4. I Have Been to Hy-Brasail
  5. The Fairy Changeling


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