ויעמוד שמריהו בן חולק בכיכר העיר ויצעק, ואין שומע. ויאמר, כה אמר
Into our town the Hangman
came, smelling of gold and blood and flame. And he paced our bricks with a diffident
air and built his frame on the courthouse square.
The scaffold stood by the
courthouse side, only as wide as the door was wide; a frame as tall, or little
more, than the capping sill of the courthouse door.
And we wondered, whenever
we had the time, who the criminal, what the crime, that Hangman judged with the
yellow twist of knotted hemp in his busy fist.
And innocent though we
were, with dread we passed those eyes of buckshot lead; till one cried:
"Hangman, who is he for whom you raise the gallows-tree."
Then a twinkle grew in
the buckshot eye, and he gave us a riddle instead of reply: "He who serves
me best," said he, "shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree."
And he stepped down, and
laid his hand on a man who came from another land and we breathed again, for
another's grief at the Hangman's hand was our relief.
And the gallows-frame on
the courthouse lawn by tomorrow's sun would be struck and gone. So we gave him
way, and no one spoke, out of respect for his hangman's cloak.
The next day's sun looked
mildly down on roof and street in our quiet town and, stark and black in the
morning air, the gallows-tree on the courthouse square.
And the Hangman stood at
his usual stand with the yellow hemp in his busy hand; with his buckshot eye
and his jaw like a pike and his air so knowing and businesslike.
And we cried: "Hangman,
have you not done, yesterday, with the alien one?" Then we fell silent,
and stood amazed: "Oh, not for him was the gallows raised."
He laughed a laugh as he
looked at us: "Did you think I'd gone to all this fuss to hang one man?
That's a thing I do to stretch the rope when the rope is new."
Then one cried,
"Murderer!" One cried, "Shame!" And into our midst the
Hangman came to that man's place. "Do you hold," said he, "with
him that was meant for the gallows-tree?"
And he laid his hand on
that one's arm, and we shrank back in quick alarm, and we gave him way, and no
one spoke out of fear of his hangman's cloak.
That night we saw with
dread surprise the Hangman's scaffold had grown in size. Fed by the blood
beneath the chute the gallows-tree had taken root;
Now as wide, or a little
more, than the steps that led to the courthouse door, as tall as the writing,
or nearly as tall, halfway up on the courthouse wall.
The third he took — we
had all heard tell — was a usurer and infidel, and: "What," said the
Hangman, "have you to do with the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?"
And we cried out:
"Is this one he who has served you well and faithfully?" The Hangman
smiled: "It's a clever scheme to try the strength of the
The fourth man's dark,
accusing song had scratched out comfort hard and long; and "What
concern," he gave us back, "have you for the doomed - the doomed and
The fifth.The sixth. And
we cried again: "Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?" "It's a
trick," he said, "that we hangmen know for easing the trap when the
trap springs slow."
And so we ceased, and
asked no more, as the Hangman tallied his bloody score; and sun by sun, and
night by night, the gallows grew to monstrous height.
The wings of the scaffold
opened wide till they covered the square from side to side; and the monster
cross-beam, looking down, cast its shadow across the town.
Then through the town the
Hangman came and called in the empty streets my name - and I looked at the
gallows soaring tall and thought: "There is no one left at all for
hanging, and so he calls to me to help pull down the gallows-tree." And I
went out with right good hope to the Hangman's tree and the Hangman's rope.
He smiled at me as I came
down to the courthouse square through the silent town, and supple and stretched
in his busy hand was the yellow twist of the hempen strand.
And he whistled his tune
as he tried the trap and it sprang down with a ready snap— and then with a
smile of awful command he laid his hand upon my hand.
"You tricked me,
Hangman!" I shouted then. "That your scaffold was built for other
men. And I no henchman of yours," I cried, "you lied to me, Hangman,
Then a twinkle grew in
his buckshot eye: "Lied to you? Tricked you?" he said, "not I.
For I answered straight and I told you true: The scaffold was raised for none
"For who has served
me more faithfully than you with your coward's hope?" said he, "and
where are the others that might have stood side by your side in the common
whispered; and amiably "murdered," the Hangman corrected me;
"First the alien, then the Jew... I did no more than you let me do."
Beneath the beam that
blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me,
and no voice there cried "Stay" for me in the empty square.
ויבט שמריהו בן חולק סביב והכיכר ריקה מאדם. ויקרקשו העורבים ויצחקו
זה לזה. ויידום בן חולק ותשקע השמש.