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Title: Shadowed Victory

Date of first publication: 1943

Author: Arthur Stringer

Date first posted: August 16, 2015

Date last updated: August 16, 2015

Faded Page eBook #20150810

This ebook was produced by: Mardi Desjardins, Cindy Beyer & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

Shadowed Victory





Irish Poems, Out of Erin,

The Old Woman Remembers,

The King Who Loved Old Clothes, etc.







INDIANAPOLIS                    NEW YORK






First Edition






The harvests have been gathered,

  The plough’s good work is done;

Once more the umber furrows

  Drink in the autumn sun.


And dark the earth lies waiting

  For newer gifts to yield

Where sleep now turns to service

  In every patient field.


So even life lies fallow

  When tired hearts rest again

That seeds which sleep with silence

  May wave as ripened grain—


That they who found love fleeting

  And once too freely gave

May know some greener April

  Beyond the winter’s grave.

    The prairie faced the foothills, and the hills

Flowed westward to the Rockies, crystal white

In autumn air so clear it made the far

Snow-covered peaks seem neighbourly and close.

High in the azure arch of heaven wheeled

An eagle, indolently vigilant,

While through the lower air lanes drifts of teal

And mallard roved the wheatlands for the feed

A million heavy sheaves had left behind,

And as the day grew older, wavered off

And floated like a cloud above far sloughs

Where sedge and rush could screen their coming sleep.

    It seemed a world of opulence at rest,

And as Clyde Barlow tooled his tractor back

And forth across the dark-loamed prairie floor,

Where lonely as a ship on lonely waves

The gang-plough keeled the russet stubble-rows

And left wide swathes of umber in its wake,

He knew a sense of power combined with peace.

    Though denim-clad and stained with oil, he sat

High on his tractor seat as on a throne,

With something kinglike in the wolf-lean frame,

The lank hard-muscled shoulders that still held

The slackened posture of the prairie-born,

A careless sinewed strength the sledge of toil

Had hammered to the texture of tried steel

And fashioned to earth’s anviled fortitude.

Yet touched with pride he rode, with patience in

The prairie-squint about the mild brown eyes

That took the brooding hardness from the face

So saddle-brown, so tanned by wind and sun.

His brow was tranquil as he made his turn

And marked how straight each mile-long furrow lay,

How silver-bright each polished mouldboard shone,

How wide the darker landsides slowly grew,

How eagerly the earth drank in the sun,

And, having given much, now asked for rest.

    The prairie lay so placid that the sound

Made by an army truck that rocked along

The distant road seemed almost insolent,

Proclaiming to lone ploughmen that the peace

About them must be earned by bolder hands.

    The crowded truck stopped at Clyde’s furrow-ends

And blithe Hugh Bidwell clambered down to greet

His gang-plough friend so grey with floating dust.

    “We’re off at last!” cried Hugh, and happiness

Beamed from him as he stood so spick and span

In army cap and creaseless uniform.

“Tomorrow we entrain for Halifax,

So here’s good-bye, old top, and luck to you—

When you’ll be rounding up your bloody steers

And I’ll be busy rounding Adolf up!”

    Hugh laughed and took the other’s earth-stained hand

And heard Clyde answer: “Happy landing, Hugh.

And come back safe to brighten up our days,

And when you come, let’s hope you’re bringing back

A brand-new world to cheer sodbusters up!”

    Clyde watched the truck fade down the dusty road

And heard the soldiers singing as they went.

He turned back to his work and wondered why

The sun had lost a little of its warmth.

He should be happy, he contended, with

These patient acres that he ploughed and reaped.

He viewed that furrowed sea, remembering

This was the land he loved, the mother earth

That bared her breast to many a hungry mouth,

The waiting loam that took the scattered seed

And in its time grew big with ripened grain.

Its very dust left him of richer dust;

Its fibres reached and twined about his heart

And held him as a tree is held by roots

That creep down through the hidden depths of time.

It was the dim and luring Far-Away

His father, craving space, had sought and found,

The land to which his youthful mother came

From Kansas, on slow creaking wagon wheels,

Her milch cow at the tailboard as they went

Through dust and sun, with wonder in their eyes,

Outspanning in the lone cool northern dusk

And breaking camp at dawn and going on

With all their settlers’ little world made up

Of what they carried with them, axe and gun,

Side meat and meal sack, pot and frying-pan,

Tined fork and spade and pail, a weathered plough

Lashed proudly at the prairie schooner’s side,

And a hunger to inhale the breath of peace

About them as they toiled and built their home,

An island home amid a sea of grass,

A sod hut roofed with yellow clay, baked hard

As the hands that worked between its windswept walls.

    It was the land where, as a happy boy,

Clyde once rode herd, and with a straining team

Broke sod, and mowed the hay that fringed the sloughs,

And hauled his loads of poplar firewood home,

And saw the widening acres tamed and fenced

And a lordlier house supplant the hut of sod,

And a panting thing of steel and gas displace

The creaking harness and the plodding horse.

    Clyde stopped his engine and sat looking up

At a far-off flash of wings that drank the air

And showed themselves as not the wings of birds.

Above him in the sky, where puffs of cloud

Floated like languid swans in liquid blue,

An army plane came pulsing from the west,

A sheen of floating silver in the sun.

It banked and dipped and circled, roaring loud

Above his upturned face, came lower still

And dropped a shining something on the soil

A stone’s throw from the gang-plough where he sat.

    Clyde, puzzled, clambered from his throne of iron

And found half buried in the crumbled soil

A can of house paint, with the label “Yellow.”

    The dark face turned still darker as he read

“The tint for slackers,” written on its side.

He stood a moment, motionless as stone,

Then, breathing deeper, went with laggard steps

Back to the waiting tractor grey with dust

And slowly mounted to the seat of iron

That seemed no more a throne.

That seemed no more a throne.That taunt, he knew,

Had come from Buckshot Frome, who strode about

In his new sergeant’s uniform and stripes

And scoffed at craven souls who rustled corn

When all their world was threatened by the Hun.

There had been words beside the flying-field

Where Buckshot questioned if Clyde chose to stay

A husky with a cream puff for a heart.

“You’d best sign up and drop the hayseed rôle;

Clodhoppers don’t stack high in times like these.”

    Clyde knew he was no coward; he could fight

As well as any man. That had been proved

When with a caught-up bole of oak he faced

And drove away the berserk Durham bull

That would have killed his father. And again,

Last threshing-time, a lank spike-pitcher stood

High on his bundle-wagon forking sheaves

Down on the feeder where the steel jaws whined;

He slipped and fell along the loosened grain

The roaring cylinder was eating up.

Clyde heard a frantic shout, and quick as thought

Flung his full weight against the engine belt

And freed it from the wheel and stopped in time

The steel-fanged jaws that might have fed on flesh.

The impact flung him like a feather through

The startled group of watchers, till a voice

In the sudden silence brought his senses back:

“Takes guts and brains to throw a belt like that!”

    No, he was not a coward. But this war

Was not for him. His was the humbler task,

The world of toil where no torn banners waved,

The sterner path where no proud bugles shrilled.

He felt at times the tug, but not for him

The fields of glory crowned with blood and waste.

His lonely path lay on the patient land

That grew the bread of life. Yet even here

He found grim enemies in drought and frost

And hail and rust, in weeds and creeping pests

That made all crops uncertain, things to fight

Hard day by day as bitterly as Huns.

    His thoughts went to the near-by Nelson Ranch

With its last man enlisted and abroad,

Its fields grown wild with dock and tumbleweed,

Its rusted ploughs and barns with gaping doors,

Its homeless cattle scattered on the range

And two gaunt women eking out a life

Of loneliness made sharp with bitter want.

He thought of his own father hobbling round

The kitchen range and putting things to right,

A crippled gaunt old man with withered eyes

Who once had loved his land and mastered it,

Yet like an ailing eagle sat alone

And woke to peel the spuds and lay the cloth

And do the housework his dead wife had done.

    “I’m needed here,” said Clyde, as grim of brow

He turned the rippling furrows where in time

A sea of grain would greet the August sun

That the hunger of the world might be appeased.

    He scanned the wide horizon bathed in light

That seemed to melt in waves of empty space

And a sense of loneliness crept over him.

Then of a sudden all those dreary plains

Took on a warmer tone. For down the trail

That wound between the wheatlands and the sloughs

He saw a drifting figure. And he knew

That figure was the woman of his dreams.

He stopped his tractor at the road-allowance

And watched the loping pinto and the girl

Who seemed to ride as light as thistledown,

As though the woman and the horse were one.

He wondered, as he saw her wind-blown hair

And caught the budded contour of her lips,

If his resolve to cleave to prairie life

Depended on her being a part of it.

His sad eyes drank her beauty as she swung

So lightly from the saddle, smiled at him,

And tied her pinto to a willow post.

    “Oh, Clyde, I had to come!”

    “Oh, Clyde, I had to come!”And happiness

Welled through him at her words, then died away.

“Tomorrow Hugh must go. He must be off

To do his bit, and maybe give his life

To make that brave new world he dreams about.

This is his last night here, and he has asked

For me to drive him to the waiting train

And speed him on his way.”

And speed him on his way.”“Hugh talked with me,”

Said Clyde, “and seemed quite glad, of course, he’d soon

Be cannon fodder on the firing line.”

    “Oh, he’ll come back; I feel it in my bones.

But while he’s here we must be good to Hugh,

And the most that I can do is motor him

Through those last miles from home. You do not care?”

    They sat together where the sun-bleached grass

Was brown and tawny as a lion’s back.

Clyde’s musing, at the moment, was on Hugh,

Blue-eyed, lighthearted Hugh who laughed his way

Through life and with his hilltop diffidence

Accepted what was dark and what was sweet,

A rolling stone who gathered no remorse

And gave no thought to what might lie behind.

    “I do not care,” Clyde answered. But a stab,

A faint phantasmal stab akin to pain,

Went through his heart, remembering

How Hugh and this rapt woman that he loved

Would laugh and talk and be together through

The long-houred evening as the stars came out

And darkness settled on the prairie trail.

    “The thing I care about,” he quietly said,

“Is that you keep a little love for me.”

She smiled at that and let her softened eyes

Rest on him for a moment. Then she said:

“You work too hard; your face looks tired and thin.”

    He stared about the furrows in the sun.

“Clodhoppers have to keep their taxes paid,”

He answered, and his laugh held little mirth.

“I wish,” she murmured, “you were free to go.”

    He hid his wince, but in the brooding eyes,

Above his smile, there lurked a bitter light.

    “We can’t, Lynn, all be heroes, even though

You’d love to see me decked with stripes and stars

And that dull tractor turned an army tank.”

    Lynn laughed and said: “I love you as you are,

But I feel you’re missing something out of life.”

He turned and studied long that treasured face.

    “The only thing I’d never want to miss

Is you,” he answered as he took her hand.

Her smile, at that, was smothered in a sigh.

    “You are so different from footloose Hugh

Who eats the fruit and flings away the core.

Some men can live, I know, close to the land

And stay contented with their crops and cows,

But those meek stay-at-homes like me and you

Must surely miss a glow the others get.

Hugh may be danger-loving, yet I like

That strain of boyish wildness in his blood

That leaves him free to dare and laugh at death.

We must be kind to him. For all too soon

He’ll face cold steel and know the bark of guns

And give his body up to save the world.”

    “I hope,” Clyde said, as he observed her eyes

Assess the lowering sun, “that Hugh comes back

As sound in wind and limb as when he left,

With this old world made over and the days

Of humbler workers once more dignified.”

    He watched the rainbow-haloed figure as

It loped off down the trail and soon grew small

Along the tawny plain and passed away.

Then with a touch of grimness on his face

He turned back to his tractor and took up

His task of ploughing as the slanting light

Of sunset gave a glory to the land.

Wars came and went and empires passed away,

He told himself, as dark the riven loam

Rolled wavelike from each mouldboard’s drifting curve,

But this endured, this was the timeless thing

That never changed, and he was part of it.



“It will freeze tonight,” an aged voice said,

“So cut whatever comes into your head:

All flowers left facing this first black frost

When day breaks cold you can count as lost.”

So forth she went at the close of day

To save what winter might carry away;

And heavy the harvest she gathered in

As the air grew sharp and the light grew thin.


“Tomorrow,” her true love murmured low,

“It’s off to the front we fighting men go,

To die, if we must, where our betters have died—

And this is our last night side by side.”

When she thought of her true love cold in his grave

There seemed nothing to question, nothing to save,

And knowing the quick give naught to the dead,

“You may take what you like,” she quietly said.

    The Northern Lights showed green and rose along

The fading sky line where the far world stopped;

The stars were soft above the sleeping earth

And clear and winelike was the prairie air

With all its autumn keenness softened by

A warm chinook that crept down from the peaks

So dark against the slowly paling west.

It bathed the rolling plainlands in a peace

That seemed the breath of Eden. Side by side

The rose-lipped woman and the brooding man

Rode on in silence, feeling strangely near.

    Hugh was the first to speak.

    Hugh was the first to speak.“Good-bye, old world!

This time next month I’ll be in England, Lynn,

‘That precious stone set in a silver sea’—

With pea-soup fog and no clear air like this.

We’ll live in sheds and tents and curse the rain

And march through mud and toughen up on hikes

Where English hills are dark with winter gorse,

And sweat and grouse and learn to crawl and stab

And make our faces black for midnight raids.”

She searched his face and saw dour laughter there.

    “Don’t be too reckless, Hugh. We want you back

When all the bloodshed and the sound of bombs

Is just a broken dream, and life once more

Goes on as calmly as these sleeping homes.”

    “Perhaps,” said Hugh, “I’ll not be coming back.”

He sat a moment silenced by her gasp

Of protest touched with pain, then said to her:

“But if I stay a little pile of dust

Somewhere between the Channel and the Rhine

I’ll have the memory of this last night

With you. This last brief happiness will be

My bright and one remembered precious stone

Set in war’s foggy sea of frightfulness.”

    They stopped to watch the full moon coming up,

A disc of gold above the prairie’s rim.

    “Don’t talk of war,” Lynn said, and took his hand.

“There is so little time before you go.”

    “So little time,” said Hugh, “and people learn

How precious is the present when the hand

Of Death is at tomorrow’s door. It leaves

The living mad to drain the cup of life

And throw away the dregs. And here and now

I want the memory of your lips on mine

To light me through my hours of loneliness.

Kiss me,” he said.

Kiss me,” he said.“We must remember Clyde,”

She murmured with a flutter in her voice.

    “Why think of Clyde? This hour belongs to us,

And we are lost here in a sea of stars

And all the clocks of all the world have stopped.”

    He caught the tremor in her troubled throat,

The stifled sigh that seemed almost a sob,

The little moan of protest, touched with fear,

As though some last support were failing her.

He took her in his arms and held her close

And all their mad world crumbled to a mist.

The mild autumnal moon climbed higher in

The star-strewn arch, the arch that many a time

Looked down on mortals groping through their dreams

And reaping sorrow where they reached for joy.

And all the stars swung on, with unconcern,

It was so old a story, youth and love,

Weakness and rapture, man and woman tossed

Like rustling leaves along a windy world,

And Eden grown a garden of regret.


Lend me a red rose for her lips,

  A white rose for her breast,

And for her smile the saddened light

  That lures late suns to rest.


Lend me the white-throat’s mellow call

  Across the noonday heat,

The wine-glow from too distant peaks,

  The wind on ripened wheat.


Lend me the murmurous peace of pines,

  The slender grace of firs,

And I from these shall know again

  The beauty that was hers.


Lend me the sound of moon-lit waves

  That fringe some ghostly tide,

And she again will walk with me

  And whisper at my side.


For now she fares in other fields,

  And time forgets, forgives—

But oh, how in my empty heart

  Her vanished beauty lives!

    Clyde, out at dawn to round his cattle up,

Swerved from his course and found the Landsdale ranch

Still wrapped in sleep, and knew that Lynn was back.

Yet a vague uneasiness crept through his veins

And phantom shadows fell across his heart

As he scanned the walls that housed her slumbering head,

The garden paths her glad feet often pressed,

The climbing rose that he had given her

Now drooping lifeless in the morning light.

He turned away, and as he turned he saw

A dust-stained motor rocking hurriedly

Along the trail still blurred with early mists.

And then his heart stopped and his hardened eyes

Grew narrow.

Grew narrow.For the driver of the car

Was Lynn, a white-faced and rebellious Lynn

Who stopped the hurrying wheels and silently

Confronted the grim man who barred her way.

    Clyde did not speak at first. His steadying gaze

Took in the wearied lines about her lips

And on her barricaded face discerned

The trampled look that made him think of fields

Where wind and storm have beaten down the grain.

And still he did not speak. But in his blood

A creeping coldness made his eyes like ice.

He leaned still closer to her shadowed face

And looked deep in her eyes, demanding that

Which neither had the heart to put in words.

    She knew too well just what that question was.

And knew, as well, the answer. But no sound

Came from her mournful lips, though eloquent

As any low reluctant whisper seemed

The tears that washed the face she turned away.

Clyde shut his teeth and kept the mad cry in,

The cry “And so you gave this night to Hugh!”

He groped for something stable in a world

He scarcely knew; and all the bitterness

Of broken faith and hopes that fell apart,

Like banded sheaves too roughly thrown aside,

Crept slowly through his body, watching her.

    “Oh, you will hate me after this,” she said.

He drew away a wondering step or two,

And gazed at her as though a boundless gulf

Already lay between her face and his.

    “Hugh was my friend. And you were more than that,”

Was all he said across their widening gulf.

“The time for words is past.”

“The time for words is past.”Then tight of lip

He swung into the saddle and rode back

To his own land. And as he slowly crossed

Those acres gilded with the morning sun

He told himself that this was all he had,

The one thing now he could be loyal to,

The final thing to hold his broken faith,

The land that still could drink his manhood up.


What knew he of that bosom deep

  Whereof the hungry have been fed,

Where warm the waiting harvests sleep

  And broken men may turn for bread?


What knew he of that sun-bathed land

  Where soft the golden noondays bask?

Or of the quick ungrudging hand

  With which she gives to them who ask?


Knew he those summers long and sweet

  When on her hills the feeding droves

And on her plains the ripened wheat

  Made her our Lady of the Loaves?—


The lakes, the lordly rivers where

  The laden ships weave back and forth

That hungry countries grey with care

  Might drain the largesse of our North?


And if in white she deigns to sleep,

  Green floats her girdle in the Spring

Where warm her bosom is and deep

  And doubly dear her wakening.

    When an early freeze made all the prairie soil

As hard as stone Clyde teamed his wheat to town.

The yield, that year, was heavy. Granaries

Were crowded to the brim; field bins were gorged

And capped with straw, while sweating workers built

Rough-boarded sheds to hold the overflow

When cow-barns had been filled and unused shacks

Stood crowded to their sills with kernelled gold,

And even emptied house rooms were piled high

With precious pyramids whose Pharaohs were

Uncounted layers of tawny-crusted loaves

(While staring waifs amid the hills of Greece

Fought tiger-eyed about a mouldy crust).

On many a farm, so ample was the flood

Of that small nutlike fruit once fathered by

Wild grasses in forgotten Syria,

Great mounds of naked grain lay on the ground,

Exposed to wind and weather, hail and snow,

Kept dormant by the cold yet threatened with

The coming rains of spring that quickly touched

The sleeping slopes of yellow into life

And thatched each hillock with a film of green.

    Clyde on his grain box, with his two great teams

Hitched double-tandem, swung along the trail

And saw, high up, the wild geese heading south,

And saw, in time, the scattered prairie town

Of Buckhorn, like so many other towns—

The water tank, the threads of polished steel

Where high above the humbler huddled homes

The tall lone kingly elevators met

The morning light and sentineled the sky.

    He faced the clustered buyers, who knew wheat

As casually as farmers come to know

Their long-ploughed land. He sat in stoic calm

As samples made the rounds, then took his grade,

And slowly tooled his laden wagon up

The gangway to the scales above the pit

Where streams of gold were pumped to gaping bins.

And as he watched the fruit of weariness

And thought and planning sing into the pit

He knew a sense of power.

He knew a sense of power.This was his part,

This giving from his toil to hungry towers

That fed in turn the far-assembled trains

Of boxcars rolling to the plunging Lakes.

This was his part, this precious gift of wheat

That like a river of fresh-minted gold

Flowed eastward, ever eastward, to the sea

And still moved on, moved on, through fog and mist,

And, cannon-watched and convoy-herded, keeled

The grey Atlantic to grey English ports,

To ravaged Russia, to the war-torn towns

Where famished children snatched at fallen crusts,

To empty countries where the crawling tanks

And belching guns left hunger in their wake.

    There was scant glory in it. Yet he watched

A squad of khakied rookies swinging past,

Sun-tanned, quick-stepping, rifle-bearing youths

With eager eyes—and he half envied them.

    Yet someone, he affirmed, must stay behind

To keep their armies fed, and not for him

The bugles and the drums, but daily toil,

Toil that could claim a glory not of guns

And bombs and battleships and tattered flags.

His rôle would have to be the humbler rôle,

The unrecorded life behind the lines

Of hate and hunger and bewilderment.

    When, homeward bound, he passed the Landsdale ranch,

The thought of Lynn glowed in the ashes of

His solitary days. He felt it strange

He now saw nothing of her. And an ache

Of deprivation touched with sharper pain

Surged through him as he passed the willow gate

Where once the two of them had often leaned.

    His father told him, in the empty house,

That seemed more empty as the year grew old,

How Neighbour Landsdale had dropped in that day

And talked about the war, and, casual-voiced,

Explained his daughter Lynn had joined the CWACs

And with her class had just been bundled off

To take a boat for England and the front.

    “That girl can drive a truck or tool a cat

As deft as any hulk in denim could,

And like as not, before the fighting’s through,

You’ll hear she’s captain of a ten-ton tank

And headed for the castles on the Rhine.”

    Clyde pushed his plate away and absently

Gazed out across the prairie’s opal rim

And wondered if Lynn’s journey overseas

Was less to take her to the castled Rhine

Than to some camp where she’d be close to Hugh.


A land, for all its wounds, where roses blow

  And lawns are soft with summer rains,

A land of languid hours and ivied homes

  And old men walking older lanes.


An ordered land that broods on Yesterday,

  Of eyes that turn to earlier years,

Of haunted dusks and hills that harbour dreams,

  A country old in time and tears.


But oh! my heart goes, homesick, back today,

  Back to the wide free prairie’s sweep,

Back to the pines that brought the sunset near,

  Back where the great white Rockies sleep!


For I am tired of dusk and dream and rose,

  Of ghosts and glories dead and gone:

Give me the open trail, the upward sweep,

  The New World and the widening dawn!

    If Hugh kept in his heart some echo of

That last mad night amid the prairie gloom,

The throb of rapture and the thin regret

That threw a mist about brief happiness,

He had a hard new life to fill his days

And sponge the crowded slate of memory.

He even found a solace in long hours

Of drill and strenuous training, battle drill

And not the dull parade-square show of arms

That seemed so endless in his earlier camp.

Hugh, posted with the South Saskatchewans,

Took pride in being among those prairie-born

Tough-fibred lawless wildcats from the West

Forever raising Cain in English pubs

And grousing at the grub and at the mud

And singing “Wagon Wheels” and “Round-up Time”

But clamouring loudest to get at the Hun.

“There are no muckers in McNaughton’s men

And when we make the jump, look out for us!”

    But the jump was slow in coming. Week by week

And month by month they trained and sang and toiled.

They toiled with hand grenades and Tommy guns,

Sten guns, Bren guns, and belt-held mortar shells.

They learned to slink and hide and crawl like snakes

And give the quick garrotte and stab and slash

With bright long-bladed knives and clamber up

A web of landing rope and storm a wall

And man and beach a steel-lipped landing barge

With salt waves licking at their laughing chins,

And cut a path through tangles of barbed wire

And plant a mine and swarm across the sand

And kill and take ghost prisoners in the gloom,

Since these were picked Commandos hardening for

Some unknown tourney, when the time was ripe.

To Hugh it seemed like football tactics tried

And learned in lighter-hearted college days—

The huddles as platoon commanders told

Just what the play would be, the new surprise

Where cunning took the place of open pass

And ordered feint and ruse outwitted brawn.

    Hugh had, at first, no hatred for the Hun.

He had known German settlers in the West,

Hard-working frugal tillers of the soil

With happy sons and music in their homes,

And in his youth a blue-eyed German girl

Had made a summer rich with love for him.

But as he wandered through the blighted streets

Of London where the fury of the blitz

Had left its record of stark suffering,

And when he saw the wounded ferried back

From Channel sea fights where the dull guns barked,

And later when sleek Messerschmitts

Swooped low and swerved to spit their hail of hate

Along the sleeping camp, and Hugh could see

The telltale flash of orange at the tip

Of rattle-throated guns that vomited

Hot lead on helpless sleepers, and discerned

The flash of red that decked each cannon’s mouth,

He wakened to the fact that all his world

Had changed and darkened, as a field of wheat

Changes when thunderclouds shut out the sun.

It had gone back, abruptly, to the age

Of claw and fang, and brute opposing brute.

So at his target practice, from that hour,

The circled disc became a German heart,

The swinging sack through which his bayonet stabbed

Thereafter, in his fancy, was a Boche.

The bitter wine of hatred filled his blood

And made him want to kill and hunger for

The moment he could meet their steel with steel

And have it out with them.

And have it out with them.But day by day

The peaceful Devon town remained their home,

The grass between the tents was trodden thin,

The weathered tunics showed a trace of wear,

The guns were oiled, the knives honed razor-sharp,

While grapevine rumours spread and died away

And the sun-browned sons of Mars still moodily

Drank down their pints of bitter, smoked their fags

Through games of poker and chuck-wagon songs

And in the dusk walked out with village girls.

    But still those sons of Mars were hardened up

And still the hikes between the camp and coast

Continued, and mock battles still were fought

And newer plans of camouflage explored

And quicker modes for killing men devised,

While restless youth all ready to consign

Its frail and breathing body to the blast

Of sudden lead and sinew-tearing shell

Still irked and asked: “When do we go across?”

    The summer lengthened into autumn and

The soft-aired English autumn dark with rain

Merged into winter—not the winter Hugh

Had known and welcomed in his jocund North

Where blizzards threw their blankets of blown snow

Across the sleeping world, to die away

And leave the razor-keen subarctic air

A ghostly wine that made the body glow,

But more a winter of mild discontent,

Of mist and rain and sodden meadowland

To which the dawning spring came tardily

And brought the cuckoo and the primrose back—

And better weather for the winnowing planes

To sweep the coast and reap their sheaves of death.

    Those blossoming song-haunted days of spring

Were darkened by grim news that darker grew

As summer kept still green the hills and downs

Of England in her soft encircling seas

That stood no more a moat against the world.

A yellow tidal wave had seethed and swept

Across the startled East and tumbled on

To lap the outpost shores of India,

Bataan had fallen, then Corregidor,

El Alamein was lost, Sevastopol

Went down before the thundering German guns

That seemed to hold the startled world in pawn,

The towers of Coventry lay in the dust,

And even on the ice-capped Kiska hills

The banners of the Rising Sun flew high.

    But on a sultry August noon the word

The South Saskatchewans had waited for

Was quietly given, and a thrill of joy

Went through the camp, and armed and eager men

Sped off in lorries, singing lustily

And throwing kisses to the clustered girls

Who wondered what their mission, and what lads

Their empty arms would ever hold again.


Intent within the curtained room we wait

For echoes from that far-off world of hate

Where on the anvil of inexorable

And final force men shape their final will.

(All day vague whispers and wild rumours came

To put our ceremonial calm to shame.)

And now across the night that shuts us in

There breaks the brusque etheric bulletin

As, far afield, a phantom voice relates

The news for which a tensioned nation waits.


But having gleaned war’s tabulated woe,

I leave the garrulous listeners and go

Out to the star-strewn silence of the night,

Where, in the soft and unimpassioned light

Of a mounting golden moon against a sky

Of silvered tenderness, I wonder why

A world all black with blood and battle smoke

Should so forget the words a Herdsman spoke,

And, bombed and torn and spent and cannon-shocked,

Reel down a road where angels might have walked.

    Clyde, in a world that seemed at times remote

From all that outer world where fury reigned,

Was not quite happy on those lonely nights

When, with his milking and his stable chores

And the household work a woman should have done

All finished, he could sit and listen to

The war news on his wan-voiced radio.

The messages it carried from a world

Of pain and tumult and uncertainty

Still left him with the feeling that his days

Were given up to pale and paltry ends

When all that men could fight and perish for

Was threatened by the grim and godless Goth.

    He was not happy in that prairie home

Where the kettle simmered on the glowing stove

And the winter winds that whined about the eaves

Turned four strong walls into a place of peace.

Yet in that world of placid joylessness

He wrung contentment from his stabled stock,

His horses at their mangers munching hay,

His milch cows in their stalls, well bedded down,

His straw-floored sheds a place of shadowy warmth,

And his last labours of the day being done

By lantern light.

By lantern light.His thoughts at such a time

Would wander from his work, and often he

Would question why no word came back from Lynn

And under what far stars, that night, she fared.

He thought of Hugh, the Hugh he could not hate,

Yet through his heart a blade of pain would stab

And though he did his best to shut the door

On memories so tangled up with pain,

Still through his sleep the clouded thoughts would crowd

And leave him bitter-minded when he woke.

    But darker days awaited him. Before

The winter passed away his father died.

The ailing eagle left the earthly cage,

Yet struggling with his last breath, whispered low:

“Whatever happens, son, cleave to your land.”

    The pioneer, now bound for happier lands

Where new horizons called, was buried in

The white-fenced plot beside the poplar grove

Where his good wife so long awaited him.

And Clyde went back to that too empty house

Where silence filled the rooms.

Where silence filled the rooms.But when spring came

He had small time to think about how still

A house could be, how pained a heart could beat.

The greening prairie floor where gophers played,

The honk of wild geese in the green-blue sky,

Was a call to arms for him. The warmer sun

Meant the old round of labour on the soil

Impatient for its seed, the ancient race

Against that waiting foeman known as Time.

This was his battle, yet a battle fought

In long and silent hours of loneliness

With no reserves of manpower at his call.

The war had drained away all helping hands;

And when the struggle took a helpless turn

His door was darkened by a blonde Brunhild

Who said in broken English she could work

As well as any man.

As well as any man.The startled Clyde

Gazed at the calm-eyed goddess in rough clothes,

The young wide-shouldered Valkyr with brown hands

And brawny arms and eyes of brooding blue,

And took her in and from reluctant lips

Learned why she stood alone on foreign soil.

    She had escaped from Norway in a ketch

Of kindly fisher folk, and joined her kin

Already safe in England, then had sailed

With them to seek new life in that New World

Where stricken people might once more know peace.

But Fate, on her, still dealt a final blow,

For in a train-wreck east of Calgary

The crowded cars took fire and she alone

Of all that tragic family was saved.

Her name was Freya Earling, she explained,

And she was strong, and if he needed help

She’d labour in the fields or in the house

And milk and bake and keep things orderly.

    “There are no women here,” Clyde said to her,

“And you are young, and soon the neighbourhood

Would talk about a girl alone with me.”

    The mild eyes measured him. “I do not care,”

She answered with a shrug. “I need a home

As much as you must need a woman’s help.”

    He viewed the twisted braids of tawny gold,

The milk-white bosom screened by faded blue,

The full red lips and placid azure eyes,

And told her it was worth the trying out.

    He led her in, and showed her where to sleep,

And knew a surge of pity as he saw

The hempen sack that held her worldly goods.

Yet from the day she moulded her first loaf

In that disordered house, a change took place.

The walls of silence seemed to come to life

And Clyde’s bald evenings lost their solitude.

Out in the open fields she toiled with him

And, mounted on a double-seeder, made

Him think of some thick-torsoed goddess from

Old sagas and Norse songs, of Ceres on

A cloud of drifting dust and tumbleweed,

A blonde Persephone in cowhide boots.

    And when the day was over he would sit

And study her thick ropes of pallid gold,

Her full red lips that phrased their faltering words,

Her queenly rustic vigour touched with calm,

Her woman’s rounded throat that flowed away

Into the richness of the heaving breast,

And soon an Indian Summer sort of peace,

That in the end was anything but peace,

Crept through the troubled autumn of his days.

He liked to think of Freya’s opulent

Young body fast asleep beneath the roof

Where his tired body rested, near and yet

So far away. He even wondered at

The sense of something missing, something lost,

When for two days he went to Calgary

To clear the mortgage from the Barlow ranch

And found himself in sudden carnival

As that blithe city held its big “Stampede”

Where dust and tumult and the tossing flags,

The music and the marching and the crowds

Seemed of another planet to the son

Of earth and toil who walked in loneliness.

    Clyde watched the cowboys from the grass and sage,

The prairie schooners of another age,

The flags and bunting and the blaring bands,

The busy peddlers with their sidewalk stands,

The marching rookies with their steady tramp,

The young braves from the emptied Sarcee camp,

Then stood arrested as that marching throng

Grew thinner, and an old Chief rode along

The valley of white faces clustered where

His tribesmen once had hunted wolf and bear.

    Grim-lipped and lean and taciturn as stone,

He scorned the cheering crowds, and rode alone.

The shaggy-flanked cayuse he sat astride

Seemed but a frame of sullen bones and hide,

Yet kingly was the posture, kingly waved

The eagle feathers round a face engraved

With more than Time.

With more than Time.Majestical in rags,

He rode between the flapping alien flags,

The urban tumult and the towers of steel

And turbined power and hurrying shaft and wheel.

And silence like a blanket hung about

The face of bronze above the city’s rout

That left him thrice alone. Yet who could tell

What lurked behind those eyes inscrutable,

Where, seamed and gaunt, the old face stared ahead,

The dulled mind held communion with its dead,

As, spindrift of the past, he blew along

The bannered street between the pale-face throng

That seemed but ghosts to him?

That seemed but ghosts to him?Erect and stern

He rode, and saw the sunset glory burn

Along the Rockies, and the wine-glow pale

Above each far and unforgotten trail

Forever closed to him. From each blank wall

Of brick and stone he heard no frontier call.

He carried in his filmed and faded eye

No answer to the gaze of Verendrye.

Now all the aquiline old look was gone

That met the challenge of swart Radisson.

He merely scanned the mountains dark with pine,

The tawny plains, the pulsing hyaline,

The luring flash of rivers where his glance

Was clouded by the fleur-de-lis of France,

The covered wagon, and the rails of steel

Down which the white man’s thundering engines reel.

    Silent he rode, the sunset in his eyes,

Sadly resplendent in his foolish dyes,

Each bauble on his breast, each tawdry plume

Of nodding feathers, but a badge of doom;

A king in rags, still crowned with dignity,

An old wolf caged, yet pining to be free,

Grinding his worn fangs on the ghostly bars

That kept him from his kinship with the stars,

The curling rivers and the woodland camps

That through the mists of time went out like lamps,

The teepee clusters on the sun-washed range

That shrank and altered in a world of change,

The bellowing herd, the long sault’s happy roar,

The worn portages he would know no more.

    So out along the tumult and the crowd

He passed as slow and silent as a cloud;

Remote, aloof, alone, he faltered on

To ghostlier trails from which the light had gone.

Heedless of crazy drum and citied strife

And laughter, he went riding out of life.

    And Clyde, when that dulled waif of other days

Went drifting through the city’s evening haze,

Asked in a mood of sombre inner strife

If all his labour and his yeoman life,

The trivial grain his grinding toil amassed,

Was not a relic of man’s simpler past

Now that the reaping and the harvesting

Seemed peasantlike, and such a little thing.


Beyond the slough where one lone bittern wades,

The green and opal sky line slowly fades,

And at the world’s rim, miles and miles away,

The afterglow turns down the lamp of day.

The stars come out, and cool the breath of night

Steal through the prairie dusk, the dying light.

And on the meadowed floor of emptiness

No hurrying feet of harried mortals press,

Where star-lit space and silence lie so deep

The world and all it holds seems lost in sleep.

  And yet I know a city where on nights

Like this, its fevered anthills fringed with lights,

Its walls so like a gridiron from the sun,

The streets stand breathless when the day is done

And through them pant the heat-distracted crowds

Like throngs of tortured ghosts in flimsy shrouds

Who steal half-frenzied from each fetid room

And seek their straitened bed of grass and gloom

Where men and women floor a crowded park

And sleep, a tumbled army in the dark,

Sleep side by side, like scattered sheaves of wheat,

In August’s panting brotherhood of heat.

    The night was clear and mild, an August moon

Paved all the Channel with a path of gold

And on the curtained troopship creeping towards

The slowly paling East no lights were shown.

But men were there, men busy oiling guns

And fusing hand grenades and whetting knives

Or smoking under-deck and making jokes

To mask their inner tension, chuckling till

The bulky life belts round their shoulders shook—

Yet abruptly sober when the sound of guns

Came to them from the Channel darkness where

Commando Number Three was startled by

A German convoy creeping through the gloom.

    A frowning captain watched a telltale flare

Light up the drifting line and muttered low:

“We’ll not get Fritzie with his pants down now!”

If men fell silent as they drifted on

And watched the dark hills on the brightening East

Where break of day now meant their zero hour,

They still were full of banter as they manned

The landing craft the davits eased away

And headed for the strangely silent shore,

And when a raider with a boyish voice

Sang out, “We’ll knock von Runstedt for a loop!”

A laugh went round the forward-looking ranks.

    Hugh Bidwell, huddled in his steel-sheathed barge,

Watched close across the early morning mist

The shadowy coast of France. He knew by now

They were to land along that curving shore

And after taking Tourville, storm Dieppe,

Dieppe, the town of ease, the idling place

Of summer crowds who once could laugh and sing

Along their wide and sun-lit Esplanade.

The raiders were to blast a gateway for

The clumsy tanks, and then go edging on

Through park and square and hidden pill-box traps,

Destroying what they could, and feeling out

The German strength behind the wooded hills.

    If Hugh, with dark-webbed helmet slung askew,

Was glad of action after idleness,

He reaped a greater joy in seeing that

The man beside him was Bateese Courteau,

Good old Bateese, who was not old in years,

Bateese the cool and eagle-eyed young Cree

With whom he often ranged the prairie sloughs

Where every gun-bark meant a canvasback,

And now the keenest marksman of the Corps,

A cougar in worn khaki, set to kill,

A lean and stealthy-footed mountain lion

Of muscled strength and métis craftiness,

Who gave a wolf-howl as the ramp came down

And was the first to cross the pebbled beach

And snake his way up through the coils of wire

And creep along the low-walled Esplanade

And crouch and wait and take his casual shot

At waiting foes that he alone could see.

    Hugh followed close behind, unconscious of

The chatter of machine guns from the cliffs.

For this, he murmured to himself, is life.

This is the thing they all had waited for.

He faced their bullets with no sense of fear,

Dodging from wall to wall and shooting when

A moving helmet showed between the leaves,

And flattening out beside his half-breed friend

When mortar shells made holes too close to him.

    And still Hugh had no fear. Others might die,

But a hidden voice in his exultant heart

Kept telling him that he was different,

A man apart, a lad who loved this world,

Who in some devious way would yet pull through

And see again the white-cliffed English shore,

The fog-draped Banks, the hills of Canada,

And know once more the faces and the friends

Who watched to see their heroes marching home.

    “You tak’ beeg chance,” Bateese called out to him;

But Hugh still faced the spitting guns and laughed.

    “The bullet with my name, Bateese, has not

Been made. Their bombs may blow these walls to bits,

But they can’t and won’t touch me. That much I know!”

    And during those hot hours of turbulence

His words were true enough. The German tanks

Rolled up in force and held the raiders back;

The Teuton planes came swarming through the sky

And scattered death along the wavering line;

And from their inland camps by truck and train

Reserves were hurried in and heavier guns

Came rumbling through the hills—and hell broke loose.

    The crouched Commandos, with their lighter arms,

Could not withstand that onslaught. Foot by foot

They fought their rear-guard action, draped in smoke

That misted sea and shore and shell-torn town.

    The order came to fall back to the boats,

But at the gun-swept beach no boats were there.

Yet still the raiders fought and frantically

Held back the grey-clad hordes surrounding them,

And waited for the boats, and gathered up

Their wounded, and still waited for the boats.

    “We’re going to face a second Dunkirk here,”

Growled out a colonel with a bandaged thigh,

“But give ’em hell, boys, to the bitter end!”

    If hell was given, hell was still received;

The sloping sand was darkened with the dead.

Bateese, behind a huddled barricade

Of bloodied bodies piled together, sniped

At every foolish Hun who showed his face

And Hugh beside him answered shot for shot,

Until a cheer went up and word went round

The boats were seen, the boats were on their way!

    But still the rain of lead beat back and forth.

Bateese, shot through the ankle, was caught up

In Hugh’s quick arms and carried to the beach

Where with his belt he strapped the broken bones

And puffed the cigarette Hugh gave to him.

The men swarmed out about the landing craft

And clung to drooping ropes or climbed aboard.

A group of prisoners were herded close

And ushered sullen through the opened ramps.

But from the hills still shrilled the flailing shells

And Focke-Wulfs swung low above the waves

And bombed the harried stragglers in the sea,

Until the rising tide was red with blood.

    Hugh waded out and struggled up the ropes

And tumbled panting on the sodden plates

Of the barge that moved so slowly out to sea

Where ghostlike in a drifting haze of smoke

Companion craft surged through the rain of shells

That withered with the slow-receding shore

And battle-wearied men could breathe again.

But as they breathed in that grim nonchalance

Of hope foregone and helpless weariness

The harrying planes weaved hawklike over them

And banked and rose and met the challenge of

The Spitfires swarming from the English coast.

The upper air became a shifting maze

Of engined anger and the tranquil blue

Blossomed from time to time with parachutes

That wafted down and met the deeper blue

Until the homeward riffling waves were buoyed

With tossing rubber dinghies, mile by mile,

As Kentish youth and comrade Rhenish youth,

Made kindred by their too Icarian wings,

Looked up at all the azure of the sky

And battled for the blessed right to breathe.

    “There’ll be no glory in this raid,” said Hugh

To stony-eyed Bateese, who squatted close

Beside him on blood-clotted plates of steel.

“We’ve lost three thousand men and only got

This bunch of German swine to pay for it!”

His laugh was mirthless as he looked at them.

“But what I said, Bateese, sure stands the truth:

These bastards couldn’t get me!”

These bastards couldn’t get me!”At those words

A grey-faced German captive, quick as thought,

Snatched up a pistol from a sergeant’s belt

And, gasping with blind hatred, levelled it

At Hugh—at Hugh whose laugh was smothered in

The louder sound that sent the bullet home

And left a wonder in his laughing eyes.

He staggered back and clutched his tunic, red

With gushing blood, and fell beside Bateese,

Who with a grunt whipped out his raider’s knife

And plunged it hilt-deep through the faded grey

That sheathed an emptying heart; then with a smile

Of snakelike Indian indifference

Drew out the blade, and wiped away the gore,

And as Hugh’s writhing body washed with red

Grew motionless and all his world went out,

Bateese caught up the grey-clad killer of

His boyhood friend, and with a second smile

Threw that blind shell of hatred overboard

And watched it float away, face downward, on the sea.


The green mounds left at the lone portage,

  The graves by the trekking wain,

Were strewn in the wake of their frontier fires

  Where their dead were sown like grain.


And the gloom was starred with glimmering homes,

  And the wastes with grain turned gold;

And it fell in time, as it ever was,

  That the New became the Old.


Its blood was that of the home-born sons,

  And its hope, and brawn, was theirs,

But the Old World turns to its yesterday

  While the New to the morrow fares.


Yet the child must age as the mother aged

  And in time of her best must give:

By her outward-bound shall the old House stand,

  By her lost shall the old Home live!

    There were so many wounded carried back,

So many mangled bodies under-deck,

As sleek destroyers and squat landing craft

Crept through the mine fields to the English coast

That in the early-wakened harbour-town

There was a call for ambulances when

The need could not be met.

The need could not be met.A quiet-voiced girl

Swung up with her grey lorry and agreed

To take a load of wounded from the wharf

And get them safely to the hospital.

    That promise and that hope were not fulfilled.

A Hunnish bomber, hanging on the heels

Of the harried ships that dodged and crept away

From the blood-stained sands and waters of Dieppe,

Swung lightly in above the cliffs of chalk

And dropped its egg and vanished in the blue

As the swinging ack-ack thundered back its thanks. . . .

    And two hours later, in a white-walled room,

The young Scotch doctor with the ether cap

Leaned closer as his senior swung away

The magnet from his patient’s sleeping face

And looked intently at a bit of steel

No bigger than his thumbnail.

No bigger than his thumbnail.“It’s too bad,”

He muttered as he held the splinter up,

Remembering it was the fragment of

The shell that struck their startled Channel town

And left a young CWAC’s crowded lorry-frame

A mass of twisted steel and ruddied flesh,

“Too bad a hell-sent little thing like that

Should do such mischief.” With a deeper breath

He said, “But isn’t that the way with war?”

    “Is vision gone?” The younger man inquired.

The other bent above the sleeper’s face

And shook his head. “It will be, son, before

We’re through with her. That much I know.”

The grave-faced Scot looked at the stricken girl,

Observing, “And she had such lovely eyes!”

Recalling at the moment that clear night

When he and she had talked of Canada

Beside the sea wall where the flak-guns stood.

    “It won’t, perhaps, make such a difference,”

Observed the man who saw too much of pain,

“Now that our whole mad planet has gone blind.

And she, I think, will take it in her stride,

For God knows she was brave in other things.”

    “Yes, she was of our best,” the other said,

“And that grave smile of hers will sure be missed

By us when she is invalided home.”

    “But where’s her home?” the busy surgeon asked,

His tired eye on his watch. “And what’s her name?”

    The younger man gazed at the pallid face

And answered, “It’s in western Canada.

And Lynn, Lynn Landsdale, is her name.”


They showed us their ivied towers

  And their tombs so grey with time,

Their storied walls where the lichens creep

  And the stately roses climb.


But under their roses lay

  Lost names that backward led,

Where under the sod so soft with rain

  Reposed their statelier dead.


And we of that newer race

  That never has learned to reap

And barter and toil above the graves

  Where our scattered fathers sleep—


We longed for our own far home

  Where few dead heroes rest

And the long road laughs to the high white sun

  And the glad hills greet the West—


And the carefree heart outspans

  Where the camp-fired coulees wind

And the questing son of the open trail

  Leaves all his dead behind.

    Clyde liked to watch the greening wheat grow tall

And the clean-floored earth between the shading stalks

Drink in the summer rain. He liked to watch

That sea of russet heads when lazy winds

Sent waves of shadow through the deepening gold.

But even better, when the grain was cut,

He liked to scan the crowded avenues

Of yellow mounds that meant a heavy yield.

    And heavy was his yield, that arduous year

Of toil and sweat, with only Freya’s hands

To stook the sheaves his binder left behind.

But her bright figure made the widest field

A garden of contentment as they worked.

He loved the music that the binder made,

The singing of the drive-chains as the reel

Bent so persuasively the serried stems

Against the shuttling knives, the pale gold stream

That flowed along its slatted riverbed,

The banded sheaves that filled the carrier

And tumbled out, to lie like shell-torn men

Mowed down and moveless on a battlefield—

For Clyde could not forget how overseas

His brother-men on cannon-blasted hills

Were mowing down the ranks of war-doomed men

As madly as his own four-horsed machine

Was cutting down its destined ranks of grain—

And the Four Horses of that darker field

Were trampling with apocalyptic hooves

The hope and happiness of half the world.

    But when Clyde’s sombre gaze was fastened on

Blonde Freya toiling with the sheaves, less blonde

Than her own sun-bleached hair, a sense of peace,

And something more than peace, stole through his heart.

She was so sure, so strong, so competent,

As with quick hands she caught the bundles up,

Swung heads together, wider butts apart,

And with a downward movement anchored them

Firm on the earth in steepled tents of straw

Round which the leaning sister-tents were placed

And crowned with flattened sheaves to turn the rain,

And, slowly curing in the autumn sun,

Stand ready for the nomad threshing gang.

    And Clyde, impatient for a reckoning

Of all his season’s work, contrived to have

The threshers come as early as they could.

The lurching engine and the water tank,

The separator and the red caboose

Came crawling in before the break of day,

To turn the quiet fields into a place

Of tumult, while a placid Freya baked

And fried and roasted and made ready for

The hungry men with hillocks of hot food.

The mounting sun looked down on busy groups

About the steaming engine gorged with straw,

The swaying belt that shimmered as it went,

The bundle-teams that loomed like moving towers

Across the morning light, and lumbered in

Along the stubbled fields and circled close

Beside the separator with its jaws

Of whirring steel that drank the thick sheaves down

And made an arching waterfall of chaff

And straw blown from the stacker’s throat

Where dust and clamour reigned.

Where dust and clamour reigned.But from the dust

And roar and rattle of machinery

Emerged the final glad reward of toil

And thought and struggle with the patient earth,

Emerged the ceaseless flow of kernelled gold

Into the waiting bins.

Into the waiting bins.The outfit boss

Caught up a handful of the running wheat

And studied it with narrowed expert eyes.

“You’ve got a yield of Northern Number One

That’ll leave those Buckhorn buyers sitting up!”

A swart spike-pitcher from his wagon said:

“What’s more, my friend, as I’ve just figured it

She’s running over fifty bushels to

The acre, or I’ll eat this hat o’ mine!”

    Those words were wine to Clyde. And later, when

The threshing gang moved on to other farms

And the star-hung prairie rim was beaconed with

The fires of burning straw, Clyde figured up

His season’s crop and what it ought to bring,

While Freya sat beside him, busy with

Her sewing where the lamplight fell across

The braided yellow hair that crowned her head.

He told her of his yield. And she looked up

With her moon-misty placid smile and said:

“Someday, I think, you will be what they call

The Wheat King of this country.”

The Wheat King of this country.”And he smiled

And answered: “Far, my Freya, from a king;

But all the waste and carnage overseas

And all the blindness in that older world

You left behind has sent the price of wheat

So high that lank clodhopper oafs like us

Can hold our heads above the water now.

And if the cards fall as they ought to fall

I’d like, next season, to extend my line

And swing a section of that Nelson ranch

Where everything,” he said, “is going to seed.”

    He saw how Freya put her sewing down

And stared off into space. And when he asked

Just what she might be thinking, heard her say:

“I wonder where poor Freya will be then?”

He saw the sadness in her fading smile,

The sadness in the eyes that met his own,

Then turned away.

Then turned away.And suddenly he cried:

“You are my partner, Freya, on this farm

That without you would be an empty waste,

And we’ll go on as partners to the end.”

    “We may be partners in the fields,” she said,

“But that is all. And even it must end.

There is that girl in England has your heart

And someday she’ll be coming back for you.”

    She saw the look that crept into his face,

The hardened lines about his mouth, and knew

She had in some way probed an open wound.

    “That girl,” he said, “is nothing in my life,

And we’ll not talk of her.”

And we’ll not talk of her.”“I’m sorry,” said

The cherried lips that quickly lost their smile.

And Freya turned and took her sewing up,

While Clyde, for clouded reasons all his own,

Felt suddenly alone in time and space,

Alone in mist and dust and treadmill days

With little left to fight and struggle for.

When his dour eyes fell on the flaxen hair

Of Freya, half in shadow, half in light,

It seemed the only softness in his life.

    And Freya, at his silence, turned and saw

The anguish on his face, and quietly crossed

To where he sat and placed a pitying hand

On his tensed shoulder as her own mild eyes

Grew softer with a look of sympathy

That seemed quite new to them.

That seemed quite new to them.And there she groped

For words that were beyond her Norse-trained tongue,

For all she murmured was: “I think I know.”

Clyde felt her rough and hardened hand stroke back

His sun-crisped mat of hair, remembering

It was the first small sign of tenderness

That he had ever known to come from her,

While she reminded him, “You have your wheat——”

As though a crop was everything in life.

    “What good are bins of wheat, when better things

Are blown away like prairie dust?” he said.

    “You have your land,” the stubborn lips maintained,

“The land that brings the grain that makes the bread

That feeds the world.”

That feeds the world.”Her smiling face grew hard.

“And we who have gone hungry, day by day,

Long month by month, know what mere eating means.”

    He looked at her in wonder, conscious that

This was the first time all the hidden bars

Went down between his lonely heart and hers.

He long had felt secure behind the thought

That she had always been so like a man,

So hard and strong and patient in her work;

Yet under that grim shell was womanhood,

Warm womanhood, abundant and alive

And made for loving.

And made for loving.Sudden hunger brought

His arms about her and he drew her down

And held her close, and pressed unhappy lips

Upon the lips that were so red and warm

And felt the softness of a rounded breast

Against his heart—and knew a sense of loss

When Freya so abruptly drew away.

    “No; if you have not love for me we must

Not do these things,” she said in quiet reproof.

    “But we are here together, man and woman,

And life still owes us something,” Clyde replied.

But Freya moved her head half sorrowfully

From side to side and, smiling, answered him:

“You do not love me.”

“You do not love me.”Clyde then turned to her

And once more caught her in his arms and said:

“But that is something I can learn to do,

For you are wonderful, and we are lost

Here on the lonely frontier of the world

And that warm mouth of yours both sets my blood

On fire and brings a peace about my heart.”

    “Then it is best,” the full red lips replied,

“That I go off to other farms before

We do some foolish thing that is not right.”

And she went out into the star-lit night and leaned

Against the timbers of the dark corral,

And the room without her seemed an empty place.

    Clyde in the lamp-lit silence paced the floor

And tried to picture life with Freya gone.

She was not of his race, or of his kind,

And the words that passed between them would be few,

But that superbness of blonde flesh and bone

And bodily magnificence should be

Enough for any man.

Enough for any man.The mounting thought

Of empty days and nights without her sent

A darker pang of desolation through

His love-starved heart.

His love-starved heart.That surge of solitude

Was like a wave that swept him through the door,

Across the trodden yard, and past the pens,

To Freya standing by the dark corral.

    “You must not leave me, Freya!” he cried out

As he took her hand and drew her body close.

“I need you here. And if it must be done,

We may as well live on as man and wife.”

    “That means you marry me?” she quietly asked,

And in the starlight when he said it did

A woman’s smile of triumph played about

The full red lips he found and kissed again.

    “I think someday I’ll maybe make you learn

To love me just a little,” Freya said,

And held him closer in her ample arms

And wondered why no answer came from him.

    Before the week was over, side by side,

They drove to Buckhorn on a load of grain

And there were married in the parsonage

Beside the wooden church. And as they dined

In Buckhorn’s unresplendent eating place

The radio above the bar announced:

“At Stalingrad the German troops advanced

In hand-to-hand encounters in the street. . . .

And at Bordeaux one hundred patriots

Were executed in reprisal for

Their anti-Nazi acts. . . . The Government

Regretfully discloses that the troops

From Canada that landed at Dieppe,

While fighting bravely, suffered heavy loss;

Almost four thousand of our stalwart sons

Must now be written down as casualties. . . .”

    Clyde’s face grew shadowed as the voice droned on.

“I think,” he said, “we should be trekking home.”

    And homeward in the paling autumn light

They drove in mingled happiness and gloom

And milked their wakened cows and fed their stock;

And with their devious farm chores finished up

Clyde put the lantern out, and wound the clock,

And, peering into Freya’s placid eyes,

Explained, with quickened pulse beats, how they two

Would sleep together in the double bed

No one had slept in since his mother died.


For only a day it bloomed,

  And at dusk lay dead;

Through the night that its breath perfumed

  Its spirit fled.


Yet the rock by the rose’s side

  Through the long years lay,

While the rose swung bright and died

  In a single day.


And loved was the withering rose,

  But the flawless stone,

Round which no grave could close,

  No love had known.

    The clock that ticked away his crowded hours,

His harried days, his overlonely nights

That were, at last, to lose their loneliness,

Was still in Clyde’s brown hand when suddenly

A sound broke through the silence.

A sound broke through the silence.And the sound

Was that of someone knocking at his door.

He knew that Freya and her lamp had gone

Up to the room that held the double bed,

And a thin impatience touched him as he groped

His dark way to the door, and opened it—

To find Lynn’s mother standing there alone.

And when he led her to the lighted room

He saw, with sudden coldness in his blood,

How tense and trouble-laden was the face

Of his late visitor.

Of his late visitor.“I had to come,”

She cried out brokenly, confronting him.

“I had to come, Clyde, for I know how close

You were to Lynn, how you have loved my girl,

My poor lost girl!”

My poor lost girl!”The sound of that bleak voice

Brought a sudden tightness close about his heart.

“She is not dead?” he questioned, standing back

And staring at the face so touched with pain.

    “No, no—she is not dead. But all her days

My girl will never see again.”

My girl will never see again.”Those words

Were muffled in the mother’s faltering sob.

“She has been blinded by a German shell,

And when they send her back she’ll never see

Her kith and kin, or how the roses hang

About that bush you gave her long ago,

Or how the sunlight falls across the wheat

Or how the prairie lilies star the sod.”

    The white-faced woman’s voice took on

A note of protest when she spoke again.

“That is not all. This war brings bitter news

To us who wait at home. . . . Hugh has been killed,

Killed in the fighting at the Dieppe Raid.

He died, the chaplain of his corps writes back,

Confronting frightful odds and fighting on

Until his strength was gone, then forth to God

He went a hero, a hero to the end.”

    Clyde crossed the room and at the window sill

Stood staring out across the star-lit land

That had engrossed his thoughts while other lives

Were being mowed down like sheaves, for freedom’s sake.

Lynn blind! Lynn blind! And Hugh killed at the front!

    He heard, as through a mist, the mother’s voice

Proclaiming how the Red Cross was to make

Inquiries as to where Lynn had been sent

And when she could be coming home again.

And through the fog that seemed to fill the room

He heard the broken mother murmur: “Now

I must go back!”

I must go back!”He found and took her hand

And led her slowly to the waiting car

Where all the stumbling words of sympathy

He spoke seemed more than wasted on the air.

    And with a heavy heart he wandered back

To his own waiting roof, the waiting bed,

And in the midnight silence thought about

The past, and how life’s threads were tangled up

By Fate, who, being blind, so blindly weaves.


It stands unwon though proudly wooed,

  A pale star in the night

That through the dusk and solitude

  Still lures and leads to light.


But baffled, bruised, and torn of soul,

  We learn through time and tears

It was the struggle, not the goal,

  Made rich our emptier years.


For as we win, we strangely lose,

  And as we lose, we win,

And white the temple stands for those

  Who have not entered in.

    Clyde knew that Lynn was home.

    Clyde knew that Lynn was home.Yet day by day

He wondered at his strange unwillingness

To meet her face to face. When finally

She showed herself the braver of the two

And sent for him, he crossed the fields on foot

And swung the too-familiar willow gate

And crossed the garden where the poplars stood

In towers of gold, and Lynn sat reading Braille

With the slanting autumn sunlight on her hair.

    She smiled a little when she heard his voice

And turned and groped for his toil-hardened hand

And held it for a moment, though the words

That passed between them seemed quite meaningless

To the far from happy Clyde. He saw the cloud

That crept across her half-averted face,

And knew too well there were so many things

That must be left behind the doors of Time,

So many graves that overcareless feet

Must not be treading on.

Must not be treading on.“I hope,” Lynn said

As a leaf of gold fell on her open book,

“That you are happy, Clyde.”

“That you are happy, Clyde.”A silence grew

Between them as he groped for tempering words

To answer, when the answer was not truth.

He could not tell her how his empty heart

Still ached for her, accepting in its need

The second-best where she had long stood first,

How star and moon and all earth’s wonderment

Still lay in that soft face where blindness dwelt.

    “Oh yes, I am quite happy,” he replied

With his amending laugh. “As happy as

The gods allow in this war-troubled world.

And as a man gets on he learns to ask

For less than when he walked with April dreams.”

    She gave some thought to that and quietly said:

“But you still have your land, the land you love;

And I’ve just heard you’ve got a section more

To break and seed and bring you happiness.”

    She waited, smiling, for some word from him,

But his gaze was on the Rockies tinged with rose.

A cold wind stirred the poplars where the sun

Threw longer shadows on the faded turf.

    “These autumn days grow chilly,” Lynn observed,

“And now I must go in.”

“And now I must go in.”And Clyde went back

To his own acres sad with autumn light,

And from an umber furrow lifted up

A handful of dark soil.

A handful of dark soil.He stared at it

And wondered why the love of woman still

Should trouble men who had their land to love

And pondered why a world that ached for peace

Should stumble down the blood-soaked paths of hate

And blindly seek their shadowed victories.


Over the farmlands sweet with grain,

  Where once the shells plunged deep,

How blithe the poppies blow again,

  How well the orchards sleep.


Over the gleaners floats and sings

  The lark to the falling sun,

Over the graves of far-off things

  And old wars lost and won.


And over the hills where long ago

  Now-mouldering warriors met

How green the peaceful vineyards grow,

  How well the fields forget!



Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in punctuation have been maintained.

A cover was created for this eBook.


[The end of Shadowed Victory, by Arthur Stringer.]