East and West Poems

The Hawk’s Nest


Bret Harte

WE CHECKED our pace,—the red road sharply rounding;
        We heard the troubled flow
Of the dark olive depths of pines resounding
        A thousand feet below.

Above the tumult of the canyon lifted,
        The gray hawk breathless hung,
Or on the hill a winged shadow drifted
        Where furze and thorn-bush clung;

Or where half-way the mountain side was furrowed
        With many a seam and scar;
Or some abandoned tunnel dimly burrowed,—
        A mole-hill seen so far.

We looked in silence down across the distant
        Unfathomable reach:
A silence broken by the guide’s consistent
        And realistic speech.

“Walker of Murphy’s blew a hole through Peters
        For telling him he lied;
Then up and dusted out of South Hornitos
        Across the Long Divide.

“We ran him out of Strong’s, and up through Eden,
        And ’cross the ford below,
And up this canyon (Peters’ brother leadin’),
        And me and Clark and Joe.

“He fou’t us game: somehow I disremember
        Jest how the thing kem round;
Some say ’twas wadding, some a scattered ember
        From fires on the ground.

“But in one minute all the hill below him
        Was just one sheet of flame;
Guardin’ the crest, Sam Clark and I called to him,
        And,—well, the dog was game!

“He made no sign: the fires of hell were round him,
        The pit of hell below.
We sat and waited, but we never found him;
        And then we turned to go.

“And then—you see that rock that’s grown so bristly
        With chapparal and tan—
Suthin crep’ out: it might hev been a grizzly
It might hev been a man;

“Suthin that howled, and gnashed its teeth, and shouted
        In smoke and dust and flame;
Suthin that sprang into the depths about it,
        Grizzly or man,—but game!

“That’s all!    Well, yes, it does look rather risky,
        And kinder makes one queer
And dizzy looking down.    A drop of whiskey
        Ain’t a bad thing right here!”

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