Frederick George Scott



The Penalty

The cold dawn wakes in pain
With mist and drizzling rain;
An ambulance draws nigh
Holding one doomed to die.

Heart-sick at such a death,

  His comrades hold their breath,
All ankle-deep in mud
Soon to be stained with blood.

Blindfold his eyes, lest he
The firing party see;

  Handcuff him to that stake,
Lest he some movement make.

His strength may fail the test,
Pin paper on his breast
To mark the fluttering heart

  Which shirked the nobler part.

Before the shells he quailed
And lamentably failed.
Death, which he fled from then,
Now comes from brother men.

His wild thoughts fiercely roam
To past years, past sins, home,
And mingle with the rain
He will not hear again.

A moment more and fate

  Will open some dark gate;
What will the quenchless mind
Beyond that portal find?

Somewhere he heard that God
The hill of darkness trod;

  But in this blinding night
He gropes in vain for light. [Page 60]

Though sweat breaks on his brow,
He will not weaken now;
His bearing gives no sign

  Of cowardice in the line.

Would God that he had shared
All that the others dared,
And braved the thunderous fire
Among the broken wire.

But on his bandaged face
No human eye can trace
The changes that are wrought
By agony of thought.

He sets his teeth and stands

  With twitching, handcuffed hands,
His marked heart well in view;
God grant their aim be true.

A shuffling in the mire,
“Ready, Present—Fire.”

  He falls, and one man more
Has vanished from the war. [Page 61]