From buckwheat fields the summer sun
Drew honeyed breezes over
The lanes where happy children run
With bare feet in the clover.
The schoolhouse stood with pines about
Upon the hill, and ever
A creek, where hid the speckled trout,
Ran past it to the river.
And rosy faces gathered there,
With rustic good around them;
With breath of balm blown everywhere,
Pure, ere the world had found them.
Behind sweet purple ambuscades
Of lilacs, laws were broken;
And here a desk with knives was frayed,
There passed forbidden token.
One slipped a butternut between
His pearly teeth; a maiden
Dove-eyed, caressed her cheek; 'twas e'en
With maple sugar laden—
A flock that caught at wiles, because
The shepherd's hand that drove them,
Reached little toward wise human laws,
And less to God above them.
With eyebrows bent and surly look
He only saw before him,
The rule, the lesson, and the book,
Not nature brooding o'er him.
One day through drone of locusts fell
The wood-bird's fitful tapping,
And in his chair at "dinner-spell,"
The teacher grim sat napping.
An urchin creeping in beholds
The tyrant slumber-smitten,
And in his pocket's ample folds
He thrusts the school-yard kitten.
At length the master waked, and clanged
His bell with anger fitting;
His sleep had made it double-fanged,
And crossed like needles knitting.
Slow to their seats the children file,
And wait "Prepare for classes,"
A score of lads across the aisle
From twice a score of lasses.
But two within the throng betray
A mirth suppressed; the sinner,
And Rafe Ridall, the chief at play,
At books the easy winner:
The wildest boy in all the school,
In mischief first and ever,
His daily seat the penance-stool,
Disgraced for weeks together.
Just sound of bone and strong of heart,
Staunch friend and noble foeman;
In life to play the kingly part,
True both to man and woman.
Joe's secret now he holds; a deed
With just enough of danger,
To win his—ah, what's that? 'Tis freed,
The pocket-prisoned stranger!
A moment's riot laughter-filled,
Then fear, white-visaged, follows;
And through the silence there is trilled
The shrill note of the swallows.
And now a fierce form fronts them all,
Two fierce eyes search their faces,
Then flash their fire on Rafe Ridall,
Whose mirth no peril chases.
"You did it, sir!" "Not I!" "You did!"
"No!" "You've one chance for showing
Who in my coat the kitten hid,
Or be well thrashed for knowing."
The master paused, the birch he grasped
Against his trousers flicking;
Rafe said, with hands behind him clasped,
"I'd rather take the licking."
Full many a year has passed since then,
The lilacs still are blooming,
Awaiting childish hands again,
But they are long in coming.
Now wandering swallows build their nests
Where doors and roofs decaying,
No more shut in the master's zest,
Nor out the children's playing.
All, all are gone who gathered there;
Some toil among the masses,
Some, overworn with pain and care,
Wait Death's "Prepare for classes."
And some—the sighing pines sway on
Above them, dreamless lying;
And 'mong them sleeps the master, gone
His anger and their crying.
And Rafe Ridall, brave then, brave now,
Amid the jarring courses
Of man's misrule, still takes the blow
For those of weaker forces.