A Poem by Thomas Hardy
‘Man, you too, aren’t you, one of these rough followers of the criminal?
All hanging hereabout to gather how he’s going to bear
Examination in the hall.’ She flung disdainful glances on
The shabby figure standing at the fire with others there,
Who warmed them by its flare.
‘No indeed, my skipping maiden: I know nothing of the trial here,
Or criminal, if so he be. – I chanced to come this way,
And the fire shone out into the dawn, and morning airs are cold now;
I, too, was drawn in part by charms I see before me play,
That I see not every day.’
‘Ha, ha!’ then laughed the constables who also stood to warm themselves,
The while another maiden scrutinized his features hard,
As the blaze threw into contrast every line and knot that wrinkled them,
Exclaiming, ‘Why, last night when he was brought in by the guard,
You were with him in the yard!’
‘Nay, nay, you teasing wench, I say! You know you speak mistakenly.
Cannot a tired pedestrian who has footed it afar
Here on his way from northern parts, engrossed in humble marketings,
Come in and rest awhile, although judicial doings are
Moot by morning star?’
‘O, come, come!’ laughed the constables. ‘Why, man, you speak the dialect
He uses in his answers; you can hear him up the stairs. So own it.
We sha’n’t hurt ye. There he’s speaking His syllables
Are those you sound yourself when you are talking unawares,
As this pretty girl declares.’
‘And you shudder when his chain clinks!’ she rejoined. ‘O yes, I noticed it.
And you winced, too, when those cuffs they gave him echoed to us here.
They’ll soon be coming down, and you may then have to defend yourself
Unless you hold your tongue, or go away and keep you clear
When he’s led to judgment near!’
‘No! I’ll be damned in hell if I know anything about the man!
No single thing about him more than everybody knows!
Must not I even warm my hands but I am charged with blasphemies?’…
– His face convulses as the morning cock that moment crows,
And he stops, and turns, and goes.
In The Servants’ Quarters Thomas Hardy audiobook: