Smiting The Rock

Author Unknown

The stern old judge, in relentless mood,
Glanced at the two who before him stood –
She was bowed and haggard and old,
He was young and defiant and bold –
Mother and son; and to gaze at the pair,
Their different attitudes, look and air,
One would believe, ere the truth were won,
The mother convicted and not the son,
There was the mother, the boy stood nigh,
With a shameless look, and his head held high,
Age had come over her, sorrow and care,
These mattered but little so he was there,
A prop to her years and a light to her eyes,
And a prize as only a mother can prize;
But what for him could a mother say.
Waiting his doom on the sentence day,
Her husband had died in his shame and sin;
And she a widow, her living to win,
Had toiled and struggled from morn to night,
Making with want a wearisome flight,
Beat over her work with resolute zeal,
Till she felt her old frame totter and reel,
Her weak limbs tremble, her eyes grow dim,
But she had her boy and she toiled for him,
And he – he stood in the criminal dock,
With a heart as hard as a flinty rock,
An impudent glance and a reckless air,
Braving the scorn of the gazers there;
Dipped in crime and encompassed round,
With proofs of his guilt by captors found,
Ready to stand, as he phrased it, “game,”
Holding not crime, but penitence, shame.
Poured in a flood o’er the mother’s cheek
The moistening tears where the tongue was weak,
And she saw through the mist of those bitter tears
Only a child in his innocent years,
She remembered him pure, as a child might be,
The guilt of the present she could not see;
And for mercy her wistful looks made prayer
To the stern old judge in his cushioned chair,
“Woman,” the old judge crabbedly said –
“Your boy is the neighborhood’s plague and dread;
Or a gang of reprobates chosen chief;
An idler and rioter, ruffian and thief,
The jury did right, for the pacts were plain;
Denial is idle, excuses are vain –
The sentence the court imposes is one – ”
“Your Honor,” she cried, “he’s my only son,”
The tipstaves grinned at the words she spoke,
And the ripple of fun through the courtroom broke;
But over the face of the culprit came
An angry look and a shadow of shame,
“Don’t laugh at my mother,” loud cries he;
“You got me fast and can deal with me;
But she’s too good for you coward jeers,
And I’ll -” then his utterance choked with tears.
The judge for a moment bent his head
And looked at him keenly, and then he said;
“We suspend the sentence – the boy can go”;
And the words were tremulous, forced and low;
“But stay!” and he raised his finger then –
“Don’t let them bring you hither again;
There is something good in you yet, I know;
I’ll give you a chance – make the most of it – Go!”

The twain went forth, and the old judge said;
“I meant to have given him a year instead,
And perhaps tis a difficult thing to tell,
If clemency here be ill or well,
But a rock was struck in that callous heart,
From which a fountain of good may start,
for one on the ocean of crime long tossed,
Who loves his mother, in not quite lost.”


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