Because of Her Father's Blood

Henry Lawson, 1908

      Sir William was gone to the Wars again,
      That went through the world at large,
      And he left the Keep with some forty men,
      And his aunt, Dame Ruth, in charge.
      The soldiers swore, and each knave looked grave,
      And the maids shed tears in a flood,
      For a fearsome mistress she was to serve,
      Because of her father's blood.

      There was never a smile on her grim old mouth,
      Nor a tear in her hard old eye,
      For her mincing days and her simpering days
      And her tearful days were by.
      There was never a siege-starved horse so gaunt,
      Nor a camel's face less fair;
      But no court ladye could gaze her down,
      And never a knight out-swear.

      She would cuff a maid till the maid saw sense,
      And a page till the page saw stars —
      Oh, she was a queen of the olden time,
      In spite of her sinister bars.
      'Twas a grim time then for the serving men,
      And the "maids" that we called the girls —
      'Twas hard to be cuffed by a bony fist,
      With the strength of a hundred earls.

      Sir William had been for a year away,
      And the land was a land of woe,
      When the outlaw Marr came down from afar
      With a hundred men or so.
      He cooped us up with the country folk —
      And he was a cur in truth —
      He knew that the knight was not there to fight —
      But he did not know Dame Ruth.

      He gathered the cattle and gathered the grain,
      And he promised to leave us be,
      But he'd heard of gold in the oak chest old,
      So he sent for his outlaw's fee.
      We gathered like sheep in a castle keep,
      And an angry old dame was there —
      Oh, we feared Dame Ruth with a tenfold fear
      On the days when she did not swear.

      For she felt too much. "Outnumbered?" she cried,
      "Ye slime, and the spawn of slime! —
      Would a Marr for a day in the Westland bide
      In my father's father's time?
      There are forked things left that can stand upright,
      But are no men left in the land?
      Must I carry you forth? Hold your blades in the fight
      As I'd hold a babe's spoon in its hand?"

      So we gat us out through the eastern gate,
      And down through the old oak trees,
      Till backward borne in the wintry morn
      We fought them by twos and threes.
      We'd gathered to win to the gate again —
      The gate of our grim despair —
      When Clarence, who fought on my right hand, cried,
      With a backward glance, "Look there!"

      Heels first in retreat — for they pressed us close —
      just time to glance back through the trees —
      And she sat on her horse on the top of the knoll
      With her ragged grey hair in the breeze.

      Her old house gown was the armour she wore,
      And her old grey hair the crest,
      And a long, tough whip on the pommel she bore,
      And — we did not look for the rest.
      Then Clarence drew sword when his shaft was sped
      (And he was a mettlesome youth),
      "I'll face them one to a dozen," he said,
      "But I will not face Dame Ruth."

      Her screech was heard in the startled land,
      And the outlaws paused in affright
      As she spurred her down to her gallant band,
      Crying "Fight! ye scullions! Fight!"
      The outlaws halted like stricken men
      Who stand ere they strike the sod —
      They believed in warlocks and witches then,
      Far more than they did in God.

      Their leader looked twice, and their leader looked thrice,
      And was first to gallop away,
      Or, in spite of his warlike gear, he'd been
      A well-whipped cur that day.
      We drove them clear and we chased them far,
      And we left a few in the mud,
      And we hanged a few in the old oak trees
      As a hint of her father's blood.

      There was never a tear in her hard old eyes,
      On her grim face never a smile;
      But she bound our wounds with her claw-like hands
      And she swore at the maids the while.
      But all of us knew, of her battered crew,
      And we grinned and we winked aside,
      For her bony old fingers they trembled at times,
      And the oaths were to hide her pride.

      Sir William is come from the wars again
      With his faith and his thick head whole;
      And Marr is gone to the Holy Land
      For the sake of his sinful soul.
      We think too often of women and wine —
      Too seldom of cause or creed;
      But we'd go with Dame Ruth to the gates of Hell,
      And never a whip she'd need.