Man and Dog
''Twill take some getting.' 'Sir, I think 'twill so.' The old man stared up at the mistletoe That hung too high in the poplar's crest for plunder Of any climber, though not for kissing under: Then he went on against the north-east wind--- Straight but lame, leaning on a staff new-skinned, Carrying a brolly, flag-basket, and old coat,--- Towards Alto, ten miles off. And he had not Done less from Chilgrove where he pulled up docks. 'Twere best, if he had had 'a money-box', To have waited there till the sheep cleared a field For what a half-week's flint-picking would yield. His mind was running on the work he had done Since he left Christchurch in the New Forest, one Spring in the 'seventies,---navvying on dock and line From Southampton to Newcastle-on-Tyne,--- In 'seventy-four a year of soldiering With the Berkshires,---hoeing and harvesting In half the shires where corn and couch will grow. His sons, three sons, were fighting, but the hoe And reap-hook he liked, or anything to do with trees. He fell once from a poplar tall as these: The Flying Man they called him in hospital. 'If I flew now, to another world I'd fall.' He laughed and whistled to the small brown bitch With spots of blue that hunted in the ditch. Her foxy Welsh grandfather must have paired Beneath him. He kept sheep in Wales and scared Strangers, I will warrant, with his pearl eye And trick of shrinking off as he were shy, Then following close in silence for---for what? 'No rabbit, never fear, she ever got, Yet always hunts. To-day she nearly had one: She would and she wouldn't. 'Twas like that. The bad one! She's not much use, but still she's company, Though I'm not. She goes everywhere with me. So Alton I must reach to-night somehow: I'll get no shakedown with that bedfellow From farmers. Many a man sleeps worse to-night Than I shall.' 'In the trenches.' 'Yes, that's right. But they'll be out of that---I hope they be--- This weather, marching after the enemy.' 'And so I hope. Good luck.' And there I nodded 'Good-night. You keep straight on,' Stiffly he plodded; And at his heels the crisp leaves scurried fast, And the leaf-coloured robin watched. They passed, The robin till next day, the man for good, Together in the twilight of the wood.
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