Valeria dropt the wooden beam that barred the way;
Once again he hefted th’ unyielding bale of hay –
Stumbling as he stept, he carried it within
And dropt it as a man would drop a load of sin.
He winced as he bent to pull the sheaves apart –
(And still there were three more bales on the cart) –
With groanings and with questions running through his mind
He thought about the treasures he had left behind.
Promises of fame and fortune lay before,
But not in his hometown or on the closer shore.
Maybelle was still sleeping when he left her side,
The baby in the rocker stirred but never cried.
He passed his father’s house with averted face,
The candle in the window quickening his pace.
When he returned ‘twould be with fame,
The glory of his deeds writ beside his name.
He found the city streets were mud, not glist’ning gold,
His shattered hopes fell round him in winter’s growing cold.
He took the shilling of the Queen for shelter and for food,
He marched beside his fellow men, became a soldier rude.
Footsore, wounded, weary, he was left behind
Perchance to die, perchance to heal; or mayhap he would find
A saviour on the foreign soil to minister him aid
And work him as a labourer until the debt as paid.
He worked and he toiled in the field and the sty
And scarcely did he notice the years as they slid by
Until the day the stranger stopped to share a crust with him
And he listened to a tale as the stranger wagged his chin.
He told it was a prodigal had left his father’s home,
Taking his inheritance he started off to roam,
But scalawags and scoundrels could smell the youngsters wealth,
And partying and borrowing converted it by stealth.
Valeria heard the story and he gave the boy his name;
He saw the story written in his search for wealth and fame;
And when he heard the stranger tell of how the boy returned
To the welcome of his Father, he knew for what he yearned.
From the master he’d served he begged for a release,
He worked as he walked and he prayed without cease
For the pardon of his father, of his wife and of his son
When he came to the end of the road that he’d begun.
His footsteps were falt’ring as he walked along the way,
O’er the hedge he could spy two men among the hay:
An older man was holding the sickle in his hand,
A younger one was stopping him, making him to stand.
“I beg of you, Grandfather, will you let me do it now,
I can do it well, you know, because you taught me how.”
His fingers flexed upon the tool, the old man turned to go,
Saw Valeria standing at the end of the cut row.
“And who are you?” the old man asked, screwing up his eyes.
Valeria fumbled with his cap, wished for better guise.
“I wondered, sir,” his voice was soft, “if I might reap your hay.
I am a wanderer come home – my keep would be my pay.”
The old man looked him in the eye, his face grew stern and sad,
He turned aside impatiently, and then called to the lad,
“Come here, my boy, we’ve other work. This vagrant came today.
He says he’ll reap the field for us – we’ll let him earn his pay.”
He took the sickle in his hand, bent, cut, and laid the sheaves aside;
He wondered if his father knew; then saw him justified:
Valeria was a stranger now, he was no more a son
He worked along, row by row, the hay was eas’ly won.
“Valeria, come!” He lifted up to white-haired Maybelle’s eyes,
Wordlessly he followed her to two graves on a rise.
“Your mother died, our daughter was still-born;
We buried them together here with hopes of you forlorn.”
“What do you want of us?” It was an angry-voiced demand.
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” His twisted cap in hand.
“I had such dreams, visions, and great hopes,” was all he said,
“And now my greatest expectations all are dead, are dead, are dead.”
The door was shut. He turned back to the field of hay.
A wanderer come home – a vagrant – he must work his way.
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