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Sarah Orne Jewett
It was a cloudy, dismal day, and I was all alone,
For early in the morning John Earl and Nathan Stone
Came riding up the lane to say - I saw they both looked pale -
That Anderson the murderer had broken out of jail.
They only stopped a minute, to tell my man that he
Must go to the four corners, where all the folks would be;
They were going to hunt the country, for he only had been gone
An hour or so when they missed him, that morning just at dawn.
John never finished his breakfast; he saddled the old white mare.
She seemed to know there was trouble, and galloped as free and fair
And even a gait as she ever struck when she was a five-year-old:
The knowingest beast we ever had, and worth her weight in gold.
He turned in the saddle and called to me - I watched him from the door.
"I sha'n't be home to dinner," says he, "but I'll be back by four.
I'd fasten the doors if I was you, and keep at home to-day;"
And a little chill come over me as I watched him ride away.
I went in and washed the dishes - I was sort of scary too.
We had 'ranged to go away that day. I hadn't much to do,
Though I always had some sewing work, and I got it and sat down;
But the old clock tick-tacked loud at me, and I put away the gown.
I thought the story over: how Anderson had been
A clever, steady fellow, so far 's they knew, till then.
Some said his wife had tried him, but he got to drinking hard,
Till last he struck her with an axe and killed her in the yard.
The only thing I heard he said was, he was most to blame;
But he fought the men that took him like a tiger. 'Twas a shame
He'd got away; he ought to swing: a man that killed his wife
And broke her skull in with an axe - he ought to lose his life!
Our house stood in a lonesome place, the woods were all around,
But I could see for quite a ways across the open ground;
I couldn't help, for the life o' me, a-looking now and then
All along the edge o' the growth, and listening for the men.
I thought they would find Anderson: he couldn't run till night,
For the farms were near together, and there must be a sight
Of men out hunting for him; but when the clock struck three,
A neighbor's boy came up with word that John had sent to me.
He would be home by five o'clock. They'd scour the woods till dark;
Some of the men would be off all night, but he and Andrew Clark
Would keep watch round his house and ours - I should not stay alone.
Poor John, he did the best he could, but what if he had known!
The boy could hardly stop to tell that the se-lec'men had said
They would pay fifty dollars for the man alive or dead,
And I felt another shiver go over me, for fear
That John might get that money, though we were pinched that year.
I felt a little easier then, and went to work again:
The sky was getting cloudier, 'twas coming on to rain.
Before I knew, the clock struck six, and John had not come back;
The rain began to spatter down, and all the sky was black.
I thought and thought, what shall I do if I'm alone all night!
I wa'n't so brave as I am now. I lit another light,
And I stirred round and got supper, but I ate it all alone.
The wind was blowing more and more - I hate to hear it moan.
I was cutting rags to braid a rug - I sat there by the fire;
I wished I'd kep' the dog at home; the gale was rising higher;
I own I had hard thoughts o' John; I said he had no right
To leave his wife in that lonesome place alone that dreadful night.
And then I thought of the murderer, afraid of God and man;
I seemed to follow him all the time, whether he hid or ran;
I saw him crawl on his hands and knees through the icy mud in the rain,
And I wondered if he didn't wish he was back in his home again.
I fell asleep for an hour or two, and then I woke with a start;
A feeling come across me that took and stopped my heart;
I was 'fraid to look behind me; then I felt my heart begin;
And I saw right at the window-pane two eyes a-looking in.
I couldn't look away from them - the face was white as clay.
Those eyes, they make me shudder when I think of them to-day.
I knew right off 'twas Anderson. I couldn't move nor speak;
I thought I'd slip down on the floor, I felt so light and weak.
"O Lord," I thought, "what shall I do!" Some words begun to come,
Like some one whispered to me: I set there, still and dumb:
"I was a stranger - took me in - in prison - visited me;"*
And I says, "O Lord, I couldn't; it's a murderer, you see!"
And those eyes they watched me all the time, in dreadful, still despair -
Most like the room looked warm and safe; he watched me setting there;
And what 'twas made me do it, I don't know to this day,
But I opened the door and let him in - a murderer at bay.
He laid him right down on the floor, close up beside the fire.
I never saw such a wretched sight: he was covered thick with mire;
His clothes were torn to his very skin, and his hands were bleeding fast.
I gave him something to tie 'em up, and all my fears were past.
I filled the fire-place up with wood to get the creature warm,
And I fetched him a bowl o' milk to drink - I couldn't do him harm;
And pretty soon he says, real low, "Do you know who I be?"
And I says, "You lay there by the fire; I know you won't hurt me."
I had been fierce as any one before I saw him there,
But I pitied him - a ruined man whose life had started fair.
I some how or 'nother never felt that I was doing wrong,
And I watched him laying there asleep almost the whole night long.
I thought once that I heard the men, and I was half afraid
That they might come and find him there; and so I went and staid
Close to the window, watching, and listening for a cry;
And he slept there like a little child - forgot his misery.
I almost hoped John wouldn't come till he could get away;
And I went to the door and harked awhile, and saw the dawn of day.
'Twas bad for him to have slept so long, but I couldn't make him go
From the City of Refuge* he had found; and he was glad, I know.
It was years and years ago, but still I never can forget
How gray it looked that morning; the air was cold and wet;
Only the wind would howl sometimes, or else the trees would creak -
All night I'd 'a given anything to hear somebody speak.
He heard me shut the door again, and started up so wild
And haggard that I 'most broke down. I wasn't reconciled
To have the poor thing run all day, chased like a wolf or bear;
But I knew he'd brought it on himself; his punishment was fair.
I gave him something more to eat; he couldn't touch it then.
"God pity you, poor soul!" says I. May I not see again
A face like his, as he stood in the door and looked which way to go!
I watched him making toward the swamps, dead-lame and moving slow.
He had hardly spoken a word to me, but as he went away
He thanked me, and gave me such a look! 'twill last to my dying day.
"May God have mercy on me, as you have had!" says he;
And I choked, and couldn't say a word, and he limped away from me.
John came home bright and early. He'd fell and hurt his head,
And he stopped up to his father's; but he'd sent word, he said,
And told the boy to fetch me there - my cousin, Johnny Black -
But he went off with some other folks, who thought they'd found the track.
Oh yes, they did catch Anderson, early that afternoon,
And carried him back to jail again, and tried and hung him soon.
Justice is justice; but I say, although they served him right,
I'm glad I harbored the murderer that stormy April night.
Some said I might have locked him up, and got the town reward;
But I couldn't have done it if I'd starved, and I do hope the Lord
Forgave it, if it was a sin; but I could never see
'Twas wrong to shelter a hunted man, trusting his life to me.
Sometimes I think - I'm getting old - that when I come to die
Out of the stormy night of life, sinful and tired, I
Shall be let in; and Anderson will meet me if he can,
For he repented, so they say, and died a Christian man.
"Sheltered" appeared in Harper's Monthly (63: 444-446), August 1881. Jewett's name appears in the contents, but not with the poem.
"I was a stranger - took me in - in prison - visited me": See Matthew 25:40-46.
City of Refuge: See Numbers 35:25-32; also Joshua 21 and 1 Chronicles 6.
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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