A Night-Picture

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A GROAN from a dim-lit upper room —
A stealthy step on the stairs in the gloom —
A hurried glance to left, to right
In the court below — then out in the night
There creeps a man through an alley dim,
Till lost in the crowd. Let us follow him.
The night is black as he hurries along;
The streets are filled with a jostling throng;
The sidewalks soak in the misty rain.
He dares not look behind again —
For every stranger eye he caught
Was sure to know his inmost thought.
The darkened casements looking down
From tall grim houses seemed to frown.
The globes in the druggists' windows shone
Like fiery eyes on him alone,
And dashed great spots of bloody red
On the wet pavements as he fled.
And as he passed the gas-lamps tall,
He saw his lengthening shadow fall
Before his feet, till it grew and grew
To a giant self of a darker hue.
But turning down some lampless street
He left behind the trampling feet,
And on through wind and rain he strode,
Where far along on the miry road
The unwindowed shanties darkening stood —
A beggarly and outlawed brood,
'Mid half-hewn rocks and piles of dirt —
The ragged fringe of the city's skirt.
Then on, still on through the starless night,
Shrinking from every distant light,
Starting at every roadside bush,
Or swollen stream in its turbid rush —
On, still on, till he gained the wood
In whose rank depths his dwelling stood.
Then over his head the billows of wind
Rocked and roared before and behind;
And all of a sudden the clouds let out
Their pale white moon-shafts all about
A dreary patch where the trees were dead,
By a rocky swamp and a ruined shed;
And a path through the tangled woods appeared
Between two oaks where the briers were cleared.
And under the gloom he reaches at last
His door — creeps in and locks it fast;
Then strikes a match and lights a lamp,
And draws from his pocket heavy and damp
A wallet of leather thick and brown.
Then at a table sitting down,
To count the — Hark, what noise was that!
A rattling shutter? A rasping rat
Under the floor? He turns to the door,
And sees that his windows are all secure.
Then kindles a fire, and dries his clothes,
And eats and drinks, and tries to doze.
But down the chimney loud and fast
Like distant cannon roars the blast,
And on the wind come cries and calls
And voices of awful waterfalls,
And winding horns and ringing bells,
And smothered sobs and groans and yells.
And though he turns into his bed
And wraps his blanket around his head,
Sleep will not come, or only sleep
That slides him down on an unknown deep,
From which he starts — and then it seemed
He had not done the deed, but dreamed.
Ah, would it were a dream, the wild
Wet night, and he once more a child!
On a flying train, in the dawning day
And the fragrant morn, he is far away.
But secret eyes have pierced the night,
And lightning words outstripped his flight.
And far in the north, where none could know,
The law's long arm has reached its foe.

© Christopher Pearse Cranch