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THE SHALLOWS OF THE FORD

 

    DID you ever wait for daylight when the stars along the river

    Floated thick and white as snowflakes in the water deep and strange,

    Till a whisper through the aspens made the current break and shiver

    As the frosty edge of morning seemed to melt and spread and change?

    Once I waited, almost wishing that the dawn would never find me;

    Saw the sun roll up the ranges like the glory of the Lord;

    Was about to wake my pardner who was sleeping close behind me,

    When I saw the man we wanted spur his pony to the ford.

    Saw the ripples of the shallows and the muddy streaks that followed,

    As the pony stumbled toward me in the narrows of the bend;

    Saw the face I used to welcome, wild and watchful, lined and hollowed;

    And God knows I wished to warn him, for I once had called him friend.

    But an oath had come between us--I was paid by Law and Order;

    He was outlaw, rustler, killer--so the border whisper ran;

    Left his word in Caliente that he'd cross the Rio border--

    Call me coward? But I hailed him--"Riding close to daylight, Dan!"

    Just a hair and he'd have got me, but my voice, and not the warning,

    Caught his hand and held him steady; then he nodded, spoke my name,

    Reined his pony round and fanned it in the bright and silent morning,

    Back across the sunlit Rio up the trail on which he came.

    He had passed his word to cross it--I had passed my word to get him--

    We broke even and we knew it; 'twas a case of give and take

    For old times. I could have killed him from the brush; instead, I let

        him

    Ride his trail--I turned--my pardner flung his arm and stretched

        awake;

    Saw me standing in the open; pulled his gun and came beside me;

    Asked a question with his shoulder as his left hand pointed toward

    Muddy streaks that thinned and vanished--not a word, but hard he

        eyed me

    As the water cleared and sparkled in the shallows of the ford.

                          _Henry Herbert Knibbs._