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IV the return of the ghost Not long Hugh let the lust of vengeance gnaw Upon him idling; though the tale he told And what report proclaimed him, were as gold To buy a winter’s comfort at the Post. “I can not rest; for I am but the ghost Of someone murdered by a friend,” he said, “So long as yonder traitor thinks me dead, Aye, buried in the bellies of the crows And kiotes!” Whereupon said one of those Who heard him, noting how the old man shook As with a chill: “God fend1 that one should look With such a blizzard of a face for me!” For he went grayer like a poplar tree That shivers, ruffling2 to the first faint breath Of storm, while yet the world is still as death Save where, far off, the kenneled thunders bay.3 So brooding, he grew stronger day by day, Until at last he laid the crutches by. And then one evening came a rousing cry From where the year’s last keelboat hove4 in view Around the bend, its swarthy, sweating crew Slant to the shouldered line.5 Men sang that night In Kiowa, and by the ruddy light Of leaping fires amid the wooden walls The cups went round; and there were merry brawls Of bearded lads no older for the beard; And laughing stories vied with tales of weird By stream and prairie trail and mountain pass, Until the tipsy Bourgeois6 bawled for Glass To ‘shame these with a man’s tale fit to hear.’ The graybeard, sitting where the light was blear, With little heart for revelry, began His story, told as of another man7 Who, loving late, loved much and was betrayed. He spoke unwitting how his passion played Upon them, how their eyes grew soft or hard With what he told; yet something of the bard He seemed, and his the purpose that is art’s, Whereby men make a vintage8 of their hearts And with the wine of beauty deaden pain. Low-toned, insistent as October rain, His voice beat on; and now and then would flit Across the melancholy gray of it A glimmer of cold fire that, like the flare Of soundless lightning, showed a world made bare, Green Summer slain and all its leafage stripped. And bronze jaws tightened, brawny hands were gripped, As though each hearer had a fickle friend. But when the old man might have made an end, Rounding the story to a peaceful close At Kiowa, songlike his voice arose, The grinning gray mask lifted and the eyes Burned as a bard’s who sees and prophesies, Conning the future as a time long gone. 181 The Return of the Ghost Swaying to rhythm the dizzy tale plunged on Even to the cutting of the traitor’s throat, And ceased—as though a bloody strangling smote The voice of that gray chanter, drunk with doom. And there was shuddering in the blue-smeared gloom Of fallen fires. It seemed the deed was done Before their eyes who heard. The morrow’s sun, Low over leagues of frost-enchanted plain, Saw Glass upon his pilgrimage again, Northbound as hunter for the keelboat’s crew. And many times the wide autumnal blue Burned out and darkened to a deep of stars; And still they toiled among the snags and bars— Those lean up-stream men, straining at the rope, Lashed by the doubt and strengthened by the hope Of backward winter—engines wrought of bone And muscle, panting for the Yellowstone, Bend after bend and yet more bends away. Now was the river like a sandy bay At ebb-tide, and the far-off cutbank’s9 boom Mocked them in shallows; now ’twas like a flume With which the toilers, barely creeping, strove. And bend by bend the selfsame poplar grove, Set on the selfsame headland,10 so it seemed, Confronted them, as though they merely dreamed Of passing one drear point. So on and up Past where the tawny Titan gulps the cup Of Cheyenne waters,11 past the Moreau’s mouth; And still wry league and stubborn league fell south, Becoming haze and weary memory. 182 the song of hugh glass Then past the empty lodges of the Ree That gaped at cornfields plundered by the Sioux; And there old times came mightily on Hugh, For much of him was born and buried there. Some troubled glory of that wind-tossed hair Was on...


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