ALONG the dusty highroad rolled two panting youths and hot;
The sweat streamed from each shining face, there iciness was not.
Each pedal-turn fetched out a groan; a heave groan, I wot,
And neither had a red cent to indulge in “just a spot”.
To Peel they kept their faces turned, for all care not one jot.
Strong resolution marked their “chivs”, they smiled, tho’ hard their lot,
And sang a bit, not much, of course. (No manners they forgot.)
Flew down the hills. Crawled up the hills; and ‘twas a merry trot,
Till out upon the morning air rang sharp a pistol shot –
“My back tyre’s flat!” cried one, “Oh, blank, etcetera, and blot!”
Up-turned the bike, spilled out the tools, the tyre whipped off and then
They pumped and spit and squeezed and stuck and poked with acumen,
Till, puncture fixed, they started on the winding road agen.
With bursts of speed they raced along, o’er moor and crag and fen,
Each milestone passed on less to pass to make the total ten.
They toiled and sped and cared not for the busy haunts of men,
And all was going merrily and joyously, ah – when
The fore most of these hardy youths struck full a flying hen;
And all but landed in a heap upon his jutting chin.
His language was fluent, much too fluent for my pen!
At last, at length, there hove in sight a turning to the left,
At which glad sight of human speech the lads were quite bereft.
They took that road and traced its course in manner cool and deft.
Although it twined and crossed and turned, as if it were a weft,
Until the leader cried out loud, “I see the mill, you eft!”
There sure it was, a gaunt old place, within a wooded cleft.
The bikes were quit, the gateway opened by its rusty heft, –
Alas, alas! As the result of someone’s wicked theft
No wheel they saw; by blank grey wall the old mill race did drift!
Mill number one was thus no good. Mill number two was worse.
In fact before all earth and heaven the lads quoth, “’Tis a curse!
“Let us go home, give up the ghost, and ride in great black hearse.
“We wish we’d never been brought forth, but couldn’t say No to nurse”
The reason for their downcast mood, the burden of this verse?
The wheel was hid inside this mill, to put the matter terse.
Again upon the road they went, and bravely cracked their jokes,
And ancient farmers plodding on said “Push-bikes. Lucky blokes!”
But in their hearts grew rancour sour, and enmity, that pokes
Its vulture-head in everything, and everywhere it croaks
Against man’s love for fellow-man, makes cross good-tempered folks;
It reached its height when cyclists two, on rounding three tall oaks
Saw number three’s mill-wheel was but a mass of rusty spokes!
And now upon their sturdy bikes in silence deep did ride
These erstwhile merry, merry youths to whom joy was denied;
Sorrow and bitterness their lot, hard road their only guide,
Till in the distance Sunset City’s gleaming towers they spied,
All decked in summer splendour like a rosy blushing bride.
The sun was shining brightly, the pastures green and wide,
The maidens looked expectant. “Stay with us!” they gaily cried.
And all looked fair and beckoned to the youths to come inside,
But no, they shook their heads and plied their feet and sadly sighed.
For sterner business was afoot. They turned from off the way
To where they knew yet one more mill in lonely grandeur lay.
Their spirits rose, each sombre youth became once more a ray
Of human sunshine. So they rode on singing a roundelay,
And reached the old mill by the stream with tuneful souls, and gay –
Oh, malediction! Clouds came thick and chased the sun away.
Its golden glory paled into a cold and biting grey,
And language strong came floating on the scent of new-mown hay,
And after that two dusty youths were seen to kneel and pray,
To no avail. Then up spake one, “We can no longer stay.
“This is no place for the likes of us; let’s go and have some tay!”
The other feebly acquiesced and murmured “Hip-hooray!”
In deepest gloom they left that mill, no other word did say,
And rode beyond the little hill to the tea-house on the quay,
While the sun came out again to shine upon that summer’s day,
And the two youths allowed their thoughts to other hunts to stray!
28. 8. 29