At The "J. C."
None ever knew his name,
Honoured, or one of shame,
Highborn or lowly;
Only upon that tree
Two letters, J and C,
Carved by him, mark where he
Lay dying slowly.
Why came he to the West?
Had then the parent nest
Grown so distasteful?
What cause had he to shun
Life, ere ‘twas well begun?
Was he that youngest son,
Of substance wasteful?
Were Fate and he at War?
Was it a pennance, or
Is it a glad release?
Has he at length found peace,
Now Death hath bid him cease
Hands white, without a blot,
Told us that he was not
One of “the vulgar.”
What can those cyphers be?
Two only, J and C.
Carved in his agony
Deep in the mulga.
Was there no woman’s face
Whose sunny smile might chase
Clouds from above him?
No bosom white as snow?
No lips to whisper low,
“Why doth he seek to go?
Do I not love him.”
Haunted by flashing charms -
White bosoms, rounded arms,
Lips of fair ladies,
Striving to break some link,
Was ‘t that which made him sink,
Dragged by the curse of drink
Deeper than Hades?
Now, the wind across the grave,
Tuning a sultry stave,
Stirring those branches where
Two silent cyphers stare,
Two letters of a prayer,
God’s Son’s initials.
From The Far West
'Tis a song of the Never Never land—
Set to the tune of a scorching gale
On the sandhills red,
When the grasses dead
Loudly rustle, and bow the head
To the breath of its dusty hail:
Where the cattle trample a dusty pad
Across the never-ending plain,
And come and go
With muttering low
In the time when the rivers cease to flow,
And the Drought King holds his reign;
When the fiercest piker who ever turned
With lowered head in defiance proud,
Grown gaunt and weak,
Release doth seek
In vain from the depths of the slimy creek—
His sepulchre and his shroud;
His requiem sung by an insect host,
Born of the pestilential air,
That seethe and swarm
In hideous form
Where the stagnant waters lie thick and warm,
And Fever lurks in his lair:
Where a placid, thirst-provoking lake
Clear in the flashing sunlight lies—
But the stockman knows
No water flows
Where the shifting mirage comes and goes
Like a spectral paradise;
And, crouched in the saltbush' sickly shade,
Murmurs to Heaven a piteous prayer:
‘O God! must I
Prepare to die?'
And, gazing up at the brazen sky,
Reads his death-warrant there.
Gaunt, slinking dingoes snap and snarl,
Watching his slowly-ebbing breath;
Crows are flying,
Burial service o'er the dying—
Foul harbingers of Death.
Full many a man has perished there,
Whose bones gleam white from the waste of sand—
Who left no name
On the scroll of Fame,
Yet died in his tracks, as well became
A son of that desert land.
A Valentine The Bree was up; the floods were out
Around the hut of Culgo Jim:
The hand of God had broke the drought
And filled the channels to the brim:
The outline of the hut loomed dim
Among the shades of murmurous pine,
That eve of good Saint Valentine.
He watched, and to his sleepy gaze
The dying embers of the fire,
Its yellow reds and pearly greys,
Made pictures of his younger days.
Outside the waters mounted higher
Beneath a half-moon's sickly shine,
That eve of good Saint Valentine.
There, in the great slab fire-place
The oak log, burnt away to coal,
Showed him the semblance of a face
Framed in a golden aureole:
Eyes, the clear windows of a soul—
Soul of a maid, who used to sign
Herself, ‘Jim, dear, your Valentine.'
Lips, whose pink curves were made to bear
Love's kisses, not to be the mock
Of grave-worms . . . Suddenly a whirr,
And twelve loud strokes upon the clock;
Then at the door a gentle knock.
The collie dog began to whine
That morn of good Saint Valentine.
He opened; by his heels the hound
Sniffed at the night. ‘Who comes, and why?
What? no one! Hush! was that a sound?
Methought I heard a human cry.
Bah! 'twas a curlew passing by
Out where the lignum bushes twine,
This morn of good Saint Valentine.
‘What ails the dog? Down, Stumpy, down!
No? Well, lead on, perchance a
It is, poor brute, that fears to drown.
Heavens! how chill the waters creep!
Why, Stumpy, do you splash and leap?
'Tis but a foolish quest of thine,
This morn of good Saint Valentine.
‘Nay, not so foolish as I thought . . .
Hark! 'mid those reeds a feeble scream!
Mother of God! a cradle—brought
Down from some homestead up the stream!
A white-robed baby! Do I dream?
No, 'tis that dear dead love of mine
Who sends me thus a Valentine!'
Where The Dead Men Lie
Out on the wastes of the Never Never -
That's where the dead men lie!
There where the heat-waves dance forever -
That's where the dead men lie!
That's where the Earth's loved sons are keeping
Endless tryst: not the west wind sweeping
Feverish pinions can wake their sleeping -
Out where the dead men lie!
Where brown Summer and Death have mated -
That's where the dead men lie!
Loving with fiery lust unsated -
That's where the dead men lie!
Out where the grinning skulls bleach whitely
Under the saltbush sparkling brightly;
Out where the wild dogs chorus nightly -
That's where the dead men lie!
Deep in the yellow, flowing river -
That's where the dead men lie!
Under the banks where the shadows quiver -
That's where the dead men he!
Where the platypus twists and doubles,
Leaving a train of tiny bubbles.
Rid at last of their earthly troubles -
That's where the dead men lie!
East and backward pale faces turning -
That's how the dead men lie!
Gaunt arms stretched with a voiceless yearning -
That's how the dead men lie!
Oft in the fragrant hush of nooning
Hearing again their mother's crooning,
Wrapt for aye in a dreamful swooning -
That's how the dead men lie!
Only the hand of Night can free them -
That's when the dead men fly!
Only the frightened cattle see them -
See the dead men go by!
Cloven hoofs beating out one measure,
Bidding the stockmen know no leisure -
That's when the dead men take their pleasure!
That's when the dead men fly!
Ask, too, the never-sleeping drover:
He sees the dead pass by;
Hearing them call to their friends - the plover,
Hearing the dead men cry;
Seeing their faces stealing, stealing,
Hearing their laughter, pealing, pealing,
Watching their grey forms wheeling, wheeling
Round where the cattle lie!
Strangled by thirst and fierce privation -
That's how the dead men die!
Out on Moncygrub's farthest station -
That's how the dead men die!
Hard-faced greybeards, youngsters caflow;
Some mounds cared for, some left fallow;
Some deep down, yet others shallow.
Some having but the sky.
Moncygrub, as he sips his claret,
Looks with complacent eye
Down at his watch-chain, eighteen carat -
There, in his club, hard by:
Recks not that every link is stamped with
Names of the men whose limbs are cramped with
Too long lying in grave-mould, cramped with
Death where the dead men lie.
There came a lonely Briton to the town,
A solitary Briton with a mission,
He’d vowed a vow to put all “shouting” down,
To relegate it to a low position.
Transcendently Britannic in his dress,
His manners were polite, and slightly formal;
And—this I mention with extreme distress—
His “put away” for liquid was abnormal.
He viewed this “shouting” mania with disgust,
As being generosity perverted,
When any of the “boys” went on the bust
He strove his best that they might be converted.
He wouldn’t take a liquor with a man,
Not if he was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered,
And yet, he drank—construe it as you can—
Unsweetened gin, most moderately watered.
And when the atmosphere was in a whirl,
And language metaphorical ran riot,
He’d calmly tender sixpence to the girl,
And drink his poison—solus—nice and quiet.
Whenever he was asked to breast the bar
He’d answer, with a touch of condescension:
“I much regret to disoblige so far
As to decline your delicate attention.
“That drink’s a curse that hangeth like a leech—
A sad but most indubitable fact is,
Mankind was meant to drink alone, I preach,
And what I preach invariably practise.
“I never pay for others, nor do I
Take drink from them, and never, never would, sir—
One man, one liquor! though I have to die
A martyr to my faith—that’s Jimmy Wood, sir.
“My friend, ’tis not a bit of use to raise
A hurricane of bluster and of banter:
I preach my humble gospel in the phrase,
Similia similibus curantur;
“Which means: by drinking how and when I like,
And sticking to the one unsweetened sample,
I hope in course of time that it will strike
All men to follow up my good example.”
In course of time it struck all men that Jim
Was fast developing into a soaker—
The breath of palsy on his every limb,
A bleary face touched up with crimson ochre.
Yet firmly stood he by the sinking ship,
Went down at last with all his colours flying;
No hand but his raised tumbler to his lip,
What time J. Woods, the Martyr, lay a-dying.
Misunderstood reformer! gallant heart!
He gave his path to Death—the great collector.
Now . . . in Elysian fields he sits apart
And sips his modest “Tommy Dodd” of nectar.
His signature is on the scroll of fame,
You cannot well forget him, though you would, sir,
The man is dead, not so his homely name,
Who drinks alone—drinks toast to Jimmy Wood, sir.
The Babes In The Bush
Dozens of damp little curls;
One little short upper lip;
Two rows of teeth like diminutive pearls;
Eyes clear and grey as the creek where it swirls
Over the ledges—that's Tip!
With a skip!—
A perfectly hopeless young nip!
Smudge on the tip of his nose;
Mischievous glance of a Puck;
Heart just as big as the rents in his clothes;
Lungs like a locust and cheeks like a rose;—
Total it!—there you have Tuck!
And bad luck
To the man who would question his pluck!
School is all over at last—
School with its pothooks and strokes:
Homeward they toddle, but who could go fast?—
So many wonderful things to be passed—
Froggie, for instance, who croaks
'Neath the oaks
By the creek where the watercress soaks.
Sandpipers dance on the bars;
Swallows, white-throated and fleet,
Dip thirsty beaks in the stream as they pass;
Smooth water-beetles that twinkle like stars
Watch the gay dragon-flies greet.
Hark how sweet
Is the pipe of the tiny pee-weet!
Near, too, the earth is all torn:
Strong, willing workers have thrown
Great heaps of tailings, smooth-polished and worn,
Round the mysterious caverns that yawn—
Stacks of the snowy quartz stone,
Piles of the Earth's dry bone.
Grasshoppers chirp on the brace;
Briars drop berries blood-red
Into the mouldering void of the race;
Green mosses flourish on cutting and face;
Children speak softly, with dread,
When they tread
In this desolate place of the dead.
‘Tum on!' said Tip, ‘here's a nest!'
Looking behind as he ran.
‘No,' said his brother, expanding his chest,
‘I like to play at pro'pectin' the best'—
Thumping a rusty old pan;
To wash up a dish like a man.
‘Tum on! here's four little eggs!
Do tum!'—he whimpers his lip:
A-tremble his eyes, wet by tears as he begs,
And sharp briars are scratching his legs.
A branch strikes his face like a whip;
Then a slip—
And a shaft swallows poor little Tip!
Peering and catching his breath,
Tuck felt his little heart swell:
Nothing at all could he see underneath—
P'r'aps poor old Tippy had gone to his death—
Would it hurt him if he fell?
Who could tell
The depth of that horrible well?
‘Tippy! oh, Tip! are you dead?' . . .
Never a sound or a sigh!
Tuck held his breath, his heart heavy as lead:
Then: ‘Tuck! where are you? I've hurted my head!'
Came up the quav'ring reply;
And a cry:
‘Oh, Tuck! don't go 'way, or I'll die!
‘Tuck! it's so dark; I'm afraid!' . . .
He drew down his eyebrows and frowned
Up the creek, down the creek, somewhat dismayed.
Miles to go home; but, again, if he stayed,
How would they ever be found Underground
In that cavern that swallowed all sound?
‘Tuck, I'm all covered with blood!
Sobbed the small voice without cess.
‘Why don't you help me up out of the mud?'
Tuck foraged out a long length of pine wood;
Stripped off his little print dress,
Rigged a white flag of distress!
Truly the depth was not great—
That, though, the babe did not know;
Lowering himself till the whole of his weight
Hung on the fingers that clutched the blue slate . . .
‘Please God!' . . . he let himself go;
And I trow
That angel hands caught him below.
Never a scratch or a mark!
No, and not even a tear!
Little hands feeling their way through the dark . . .
What if that other should be stiff and stark?
‘Here I am, Tippy! quite near—
Then came the answer: ‘I'm here!'
Crouched in the mouth of a drive,
Tippy sobbed out his delight—
Not so much hurt, after all—quite alive:
Almost convinced that no harm could arrive
Now that Tuck's arms clasped him tight.
Then the light
Died slowly, and lo! it was Night.
Above—the flag blows to the air:
Sad parents seek vainly and weep:
There are lights 'mid the thistles, and cries of despair:
A rifle cracks loudly, and bonfires glare . . .
Below—where the blind creatures creep,
Two pretty babes smile in their sleep.
KELLY the Ranger half opened an eye
To wink at the Army passing by,
While his hot breath, thick with the taint of beer,
Came forth from his lips in a drunken jeer.
Brown and bearded and long of limb
He lay, as the Army confronted him
And, clad in grey, one and all did pray
That his deadly sins might be washed away—
But Kelly stubbornly answered ‘Nay.'
Then the captain left him in mild despair,
But before the music took up its blare
A pale-faced lassie stepped out and spoke—
A little sad girl in a sad grey cloak—
‘Rise up, Kelly! your work's to do:
Kelly, the Saviour's a-calling you!'
He strove to look wise; rubbed at his eyes;
Looked down at the ground, looked up at the skies;
And something that p'r'aps was his conscience stirred:
He seemed perplexed as again he heard
The girl with the garments of saddest hue
Say, ‘Kelly, the Saviour's a-calling you!'
He got on his knees and thence to his feet,
And stumbled away down the dusty street;
Contrived to cadge at the pub a drink,
But still in his ear the glasses chink
And jingle only the one refrain,
Clear as the lassie's voice again:
‘Kelly, Kelly, come here to me!
Kelly the Rager, I've work for thee!'
He trembled, and dropped the tumbler, and slopped
The beer on the counter: the barman stopped,
With a curious eye on his haggard face.
‘Kelly, old fellow! you're going the pace.
Don't you fancy it's time to take
A pull on yourself—put your foot on the brake?
You'll have the horrors, without a doubt,
This time next week, if you don't look out.'
But he didn't—he sobered himself that night:
‘That time next week' he was nearly right:
Yet still at the mill, though he'd stopped the grog,
As the saw bit into the green pine log,
The wood shrieked out to him in its pain
A fragment caught of the same refrain,
As the swift teeth cut and the sawdust flew—
‘Kelly, Kelly, I've work for you!'
Then the seasons fell and the floods came down
And laid the dust in the frightened town.
No more the beat of hoofs and feet
Was heard the length of the crooked street;
For, leaving counter and desk and till,
All had fled to the far sandhill;
But everywhere that a man might dare
Risk life to save it—Kelly was there!
No more the voice had a tale to tell:
He'd found his work and he did it well.
Who stripped leggings and hat and coat
To swim the lagoon to reach the boat?
Who pushed out in the dead of night
At the mute appeal of a beacon-light?
Who was blessed by the women then,
And who was cheered by the stalwart men,
As he shot the rapids above the town
With two pale Smiths and a weeping Brown,
Landing them safe from his cockle-shell,
Woefully frightened, but safe and well,
With their friends on the sandhill all secure?
Who but Kelly, you may be sure!
They reckoned the heads up, one by one,
And he sighed as he thought that the work was done;
But soon found out that 'twas not begun.
They counted away till it came to pass
They missed the little Salvation lass:
She'd been to pray with a man who lay
Sick on the river-shore, far away.
Men looked askance and the women smote
Their hands in grief, as he launched the boat.
He turned as he cast the painter loose:
‘Who'll make another? It's little use
My going alone; for I'm nearly done,
And from here to the point is a stiffish run.'
Then one stepped forward and took an oar,
And the boat shot out for the other shore.
To and fro where the gums hang low
And bar their passage, the comrades row;
Hard up stream where the waters race;
Steady, where floating branches lace;
Through many a danger and sharp escape
And catch of breath, as the timbers scrape
And thrill to the touch of some river shape;
Till at last the huts on the point draw near,
And over their shoulders the boatmen peer.
The flood was running from door to door—
Two-feet-six on the earthen floor;
Half-way up to the bed it ran,
Where two pale women and one sick man
Crouched, and looked at the water's rise
With horror set in their staring eyes;
While the children wept as the water crept.
But how the blood to their hearts high leapt
As over the threshold the rescuers stepped,
And, wrapped in blanket and shawl and coat,
Carried the saved to the crazy boat!
Then Kelly circled the little lass
With his strong right arm, and as in a glass
Saw himself in her eyes that shone
Sweet in a face that was drawn and wan:
And he felt that for her life he'd give his own.
Too short a moment her cheek was pressed
Close to the beat of his spray-wet breast;
While her hair just lay like a golden ray,
The last farewell of a passing day.
Gently he settled her down in the stern
With a tender smile, and had time to turn
To look to the others, and then he saw
That the craft was full and could hold no more.
He looked at the party—old, young, and sick—
While he had no tie, neither wife nor chick.
Then with a shove he sent out the boat
Far on the turbid stream afloat.
‘Pull!' said Kelly; ‘now pull!' said he;
‘Pull with your load and come back for me.
You may be late, but at any rate
I'm better able than you to wait.'
They pulled and, looking back, saw him stand
Shading his eyes with his big, rough hand—
Silent, patient, and smiling-faced,
With the water curling around his waist.
Return they did, but they found him not:
Nought but the chimney then marked the spot.
They found him not when the boat went back—
Never a trace of him, never a track;
Only the sigh and the dreary cry
Of the gums that had wept to see him die:
These alone had a tale to tell
Of a life that had ended passing well—
The sad refrain of a hero's fate
Tuned in a tongue we may not translate.
Facing Death with a stout, brave heart;
Choosing the nobler and better part;
Home to the land of eternal sun
Kelly had gone—for his work was done.
A Vision Out West
Far reaching down's a solid sea sunk everlastingly to rest,
And yet whose billows seem to be for ever heaving toward the west
The tiny fieldmice make their nests, the summer insects buzz and hum
Among the hollows and the crests of this wide ocean stricken dumb,
Whose rollers move for ever on, though sullenly, with fettered wills,
To break in voiceless wrath upon the crumbled bases of far hills,
Where rugged outposts meet the shock, stand fast, and hurl them back again,
An avalanche of earth and rock, in tumbled fragments on the plain;
But, never heeding the rebuff, to right and left they kiss the feet
Of hanging cliff and bouldered bluff till on the farther side they meet,
And once again resume their march to where the afternoon sun dips
Toward the west, and Heaven's arch salutes the Earth with ruddy lips.
Such is the scene that greets the eye: wide sweep of plain to left and right:
In front low hills that seem to lie wrapped in a veil of yellow light—
Low peaks that through the summer haze frown from their fancied altitude,
As some small potentate might gaze upon a ragged multitude.
Thus does the battlemented pile of high-built crags, all weather-scarred,
Where grass land stretches mile on mile, keep scornful solitary guard;
Where the sweet spell is not yet broke, while from her wind-swept, sun-kissed dream
Man's cruel touch has not yet woke this Land where silence reigns supreme:
Not the grim silence of a cave, some vaulted stalactited room,
Where feeble candle-shadows wave fantastically through the gloom—
But restful silence, calm repose: the spirit of these sky-bound plains
Tempers the restless blood that flows too fiery through the swelling veins;
Breathes a faint message in the ear, bringing the weary traveller peace;
Whispers, ‘Take heart and never fear, for soon the pilgrimage will cease!
Beat not thy wings against the cage! Seek not to burst the padlocked door
That leads to depths thou canst not gauge! Life is all thine: why seek for more?
Read in the slow sun's drooping disc an answer to the thoughts that vex:
Ponder it well, and never risk the substance for its dim reflex.'
Such is the silent sermon told to those who care to read this page
Where once a mighty ocean rolled in some dim, long-forgotten age.
Here, where the Mitchell grass waves green, the never-weary ebb and flow
Of glassy surges once was seen a thousand thousand years ago:
To such a sum those dead years mount that Time has grown too weary for
The keeping of an endless count, and long ago forgot their score.
But now—when, hustled by the wind, fast-flying, fleecy cloud-banks drift
Across the sky where, silver-skinned, the pale moon shines whene'er they lift,
And throws broad patches in strange shapes of light and shade, that seem to meet
In dusky coastline where sharp capes jut far into a winding-sheet
Of ghostly, glimmering, silver rays that struggle 'neath an inky ledge
Of driving cloud, and fill deep bays rent in the shadow's ragged edge—
Sprung from the gloomy depths of Time, faint shapes patrol the spectral sea,
Primeval phantom-forms that climb the lifeless billows silently,
Trailing along their slimy length in thirst for one another's blood,
Writhing in ponderous trials of strength, as once they did before the flood.
They sink, as, driven from the North by straining oar and favouring gale,
A misty barge repels the froth which hides her with a sparkling veil:
High-curled the sharpened beak doth stand, slicing the waters in the lead;
The low hull follows, thickly manned by dim, dead men of Asian breed:
Swift is her passage, short the view the wan moon's restless rays reveal
Of dusky, fierce-eyed warrior crew, of fluttering cloth and flashing steel;
Of forms that mouldered ages past, ere from recesses of the sea,
With earthquake throes this land was cast in Nature's writhing agony.
As the warm airs of Spring-time chase reluctant snows from off the range,
And plant fresh verdure in their place, so the dimvisioned shadows change;
And glimpses of what yet shall be bid the past fly beyond all ken,
While rising from futurity appear vast colonies of men
Who from the sea-coast hills have brought far-quarried spoils to build proud homes
Of high-piled palaces, all wrought in sloping roofs and arching domes,
Smooth-pillared hall, or cool arcade, and slenderest sky-piercing spire,
Where the late-sinking moon has laid her tender tints of mellow fire,
And golden paves the spacious ways where, o'er the smoothen granite flags,
The lightning-driven car conveys its freight with force that never lags.
A goodly city! where no stain of engine-smoke or factory grime
Blemishes walls that will retain their pristine pureness for all time:
Lying as one might take a gem and set it in some strange device
Of precious metal, and might hem it round with stones of lesser price—
So from encircling fields doth spring this city where, in emerald sheen,
Man hath taught Nature how to bring a mantle of perennial green—
Hewing canals whose banks are fringed by willows bending deeply down
To waters flowing yellow-tinged beneath the moon toward the town—
Filling from mighty reservoirs, sunk in the hollows of the plain,
That flood the fields without a pause though Summer should withhold her rain.
Labour is but an empty name to those who dwell within this land,
For they have boldly learnt to tame the lightning's flash with iron hand:
That Force, the dartings from whose eyes not even gods might brave and live,
The blasting essence of the skies, proud Jupiter's prerogative—
His flashing pinions closely clipt, pent in a cunning-fashioned cage,
Of all his flaming glory stript—these men direct his tempered rage:
A bondman, at their idlest breath with silent energy he speeds,
From dawn of life to hour of death, to execute their slightest needs.
Slow to her couch the moon doth creep, but, going, melts in sparkling tears
Of dew, because we may not keep this vision of the future years:
Swiftly, before the sunrise gleam, I watch it melting in the morn—
The snowy city of my dream, the home of nations yet unborn!
Kitty Mccrae - A Galloping Rhyme
The Western sun, ere he sought his lair,
Skimm’d the treetops, and glancing thence,
Rested awhile on the curling hair
Of Kitty McCrae, by the boundary fence;
Her eyes looked anxious, her cheeks were pale,
For father was two hours late with the mail.
Never before had he been so late,
And Kitty wondered and wished him back,
Leaning athwart the big swing gate
That opens out on the bridle-track,
A tortuous path that sidled down
From the single street of a mining town.
With her raven curls and her saucy smile,
Brown eyes that glow with a changeful light,
Tenderly trembling all the while
Like a brace of stars on the breast of night,
Where could you find in the light of day
A bonnier lassie than Kitty McCrae?
Born in the saddle, this girl could ride
Like the fearless queen of the silver bow;
And nothing that ever was lapped in hide
Could frighten Kitty McCrae, I trow.
She would wheel a mob in the hour of need
If the Devil himself were in the lead.
But now, in the shadows’ deepening
When the last sun-spark had ceas’d to burn,
Afar she catches the sullen ring
Of horse-hoofs swinging around the turn,
Then painfully down the narrow trail
Comes Alex McCrae with the Greytown mail.
"The fever-and-ague, my girl," he said,
"'Twas all I got on that northern trip,
When it left me then I was well-nigh dead,
Has got me fast in its iron grip;
And I'd rather rot in the nearest gaol
Than ride to-night with the Greytown mail.
"At Golden Gully they heard to-day -
'Twas a common topic about the town -
That the Mulligan gang were around this way,
So they wouldn't despatch the gold-dust down,
And Brown, the manager, said he thought
'Twere wise to wait for a strong escort.
"I rode the leaders, the other nags
I left with the coach at the “Travellers' Rest”.
Kitty, my lass, you must take the bags -
Postboy, I reckon's about the best;
'Tis dark, I know, but he'll never fail
To take you down with the Greytown mail."
It needed no further voice to urge
This dutiful daughter to eager haste;
She donned the habit, of rough blue serge,
That hung in folds from her slender waist,
And Postboy stood by the stockyard rail,
While she mounted behind the Greytown mail.
Dark points, the rest of him iron-grey,
Boasting no strain of expensive blood,
Down steepest hill he could pick his way,
And never was baulked by a winter flood -
Strong as a lion, hard as a nail,
Was the horse that carried the Greytown mail;
A nag that really seemed to be
Fit for a hundred miles at a push,
With the old Manaro pedigree,
By “Furious Rising,” out of “The Bush,”
Run in when a colt from a mountain mob
By Brian O'Flynn and Dusty Bob.
And Postboy's bosom was filled with pride
As he felt the form of his mistress sway,
In its easy grace, to his swinging stride
As he dashed along down the narrow way.
No prettier Mercury, I'll go bail,
Than Kitty ere carried a Guv’nment mail.
Leaving the edge of O'Connor's Hill,
They merrily scattered the drops of dew
In the spanning of many a tiny rill,
Whose bubbling waters were hid from view:
In quick-step time to the curlew's wail
Rode Kitty McCrae, with the Greytown mail.
Sidling the Range, by a narrow path
Where towering mountain ash-trees grow,
And a slip meant more than an icy bath
In the tumbling waters that foamed below;
Through the white fog, filling each silent vale,
Rode Kitty McCrae, with the Greytown mail.
The forest shadows became less dense,
They fairly flew down the river fall,
As out from the shade of an old brush-fence
Stepped three armed men with a sudden call,
Sharp and stern came the well-known hail:
"Stand! for we want the Greytown mail!"
Postboy swerved with a mighty bound,
As an outlaw clung to his bridle rein,
A hoof-stroke flattened him on the ground
With a curse that was half a cry of pain,
While Kitty, trembling and rather pale,
Rode for life and the Greytown mail.
To save the bags was her only thought
As she bent ‘fore the whistle of angry lead
That follow’d the flash and the sharp report;
But,"Oh, you cowards!" was all she said.
Fast as fast as the leaden hail -
Kitty rode on with the Greytown mail.
Safe? ah, no, for a tiny stream
On Postboy's coat left its crimson mark.
Still she rode on, but t'was in a dream,
Through lands where shadows fell drear and dark,
Like a wounded sea-bird before the gale
Fled Kitty McCrae with the Greytown mail.
And ever the crimson life-stream drips,
For every hoof-stroke a drop of blood,
From feeble fingers the bridle slips
As down the Warrigal Flat they scud,
And just where the Redbank workings lie,
She reels and falls with a feeble cry.
The old horse slacken’d his racing pace
When he found the saddle his only load,
And nervously sniffed at the still, pure face
That lay upturned in the dusty road;
Like a gathered rose in the heat of day,
She droop’d and faded, Kitty McCrae.
Did Postboy stay by the dead girl's side?
Not he. Relieved of her feather-weight,
He woke the echoes with measured stride,
Galloping up to the postal gate -
Blood, dust, and sweat from head to tail,
A riderless horse with the Greytown mail!
And now a river-oak, drooping, weeps
In ceaseless sorrow above the grave
On the lush-green flat where Kitty sleeps,
Hush’d by the river's lapping wave -
That ever tells to the trees the tale
Of how she rode with the Greytown mail.
How Polly Paid For Her Keep
Do I know Polly Brown? Do I know her? Why,
You might as well ask if I know my own name?
It's a wonder you never heard tell of old Sammy,
Her father, my mate in the Crackenback claim.
He asks if I know little Poll! Why, I nursed her
As often, I reckon as old Mother Brown
When they lived at the “Flats,” and old Sam
went a burster
In Chinaman's Gully, and dropped every crown.
My golden-haired mate, ever brimful of folly
And childish conceit, and yet ready to rest
Contented beside me, 'twas I who taught Polly
To handle four horses along with the best.
"Twas funny to hear the small fairy discoursing
Of horses and drivers! I'll swear that she knew
Every one of the nags that I drove to the “Crossing,”
Their vices, and paces, and pedigrees too.
She got a strange whim in her golden-haired noodle
That a driver's high seat was a kind of a throne,
I've taken her up there before she could toddle,
And she'd talk to the nags in a tongue of her own.
Then old Mother Brown got the horrors around her:
(I think it was pineapple-rum drove her daft)
She cleared out one night, and the next morning they
A mummified mass, in a forty foot shaft.
And Sammy? Well, Sammy was wailing and weeping,
And raving, and raising the devil's own row;
He was only too glad to give into our keeping
His motherless babe - we'd have kept her till now
But Jimmy Maloney thought proper to court her,
Among all the lasses he loved but this one:
She's no longer Polly, our golden-haired daughter,
She's Mrs Maloney, of Paddlesack Run.
Our little girl Polly's no end of a swell (you
Must know Jimmy shears fifty thousand odd sheep) -
But I'm clean off the track, I was going to tell you
The way in which Polly paid us for her keep.
It was this way: My wife's living in Tumbarumba,
And I'm down at Germanton yards, for a sale,
Inspecting coach-horses (I wanted a number),
When they flashed down a message that made me
"Twas from Polly, to say the old wife had fallen
Down-stairs, and in falling had fractured a bone -
There was no doctor nearer than Tumut to call on,
So she and the blacksmith had set it alone.
They'd have to come down by the coach in the
As one of the two buggy ponies was lame,
Would I see the old doctor, and give him fair warning
To keep himself decently straight till they came?
I was making good money those times, and a fiver
Per week was the wages my deputy got,
A good, honest worker, and out-and-out driver,
But, like all the rest, a most terrible sot.
So, just on this morning - which made it more sinful,
With my women on board, the unprincipled skunk
Hung round all the bars till he loaded a skinful
Of grog, and then started his journey, dead drunk.
Drunk! with my loved ones on board, drunk as Chloe,
He might have got right by the end of the trip
Had he rested contented and quiet, but no, he
Must pull up at Rosewood, for one other nip.
That finished him off, quick, and there he sat, dozing
Like an owl on his perch, half-awake, half-asleep.
Till a lurch of the coach came, when, suddenly losing
His balance, he fell to the earth all of a heap,
While the coach, with its four frightened horses,
Downhill to perdition and Carabost “break,”
Four galloping devils, with reins loosely trailing,
And passengers falling all roads in their wake.
Two bagmen, who sat on the box, jumped together
And found a soft bed in the mud of the drain;
The barmaid from Murphy's fell light as a feather -
I think she got off with a bit of a sprain;
While the jock, with his nerves most decidedly
Made straight for the door, never wasting his
In farewell apologies; basely forsaken,
My wife and Poll Brown sat alone with grim
While the coach thundered downward, my wife fell
But Poll in a fix, now, is dashed hard to beat:
She picked up her skirts, scrambled over the swaying
High roof of the coach, till she lit on the seat,
And there looked around. In her hand was a pretty,
Frail thing made of laces, with which a girl strives
To save her complexion when down in the city -
A lace parasol! yet it saved both their lives.
Oh, Polly was game, you may bet your last dollar -
She leans on the splashboard, and stretches and
With her parasol, down by the off-sider's collar,
Until she contrives to catch hold of the reins.
They lay quite secure in the crook of the handle,
She clutched them - the parasol fell underneath.
I tell you no girl ever could hold a candle
To Poll, as she hung back and clenched her white
The bolters sped downward, with nostrils distended,
She must get a pull on them ere they should reach
The fence on the hill, where the road had been
The blocks bit the wheels with a “sroope” and a
The little blue veins in her arms swelled and
The reins were like fiddle-strings stretched in her grip;
When the “break” hove in sight, the mad gallop
She had done it, my word, they were under the whip.
They still had the pace on, but Polly was able
To steer 'twixt the fences with never a graze,
They flashed past the “Change” where the groom at
Just stood with his mouth open, dumb with amaze.
On the level she turned them, the best bit of driving
That was ever done on this side of the range,
And trotted them back up the hill-side, arriving
With not a strap broken in front of the “Change.”
And the wife? - well she prayed to the Lord till
I reckon He answered her prayers all the same -
He must have helped Polly, it's curious now, ain't it,
To see a thin slip of a girl be so game?
Did I summons the driver? I had no occasion -
The coroner came with his jury instead,
Who found that he died from a serious abrasion -
Both wheels of the coach had gone over his head.
Skeeta ( An Old Servant's Tale )
Our Skeeta was married, our Skeeta! the tomboy
and pet of the place,
No more as a maiden we'd greet her, no more
would her pert little face
Light up the chill gloom of the parlour; no more
would her deft little hands
Serve drinks to the travel-stained caller on his way
to more southerly lands;
No more would she chaff the rough drovers and
send them away with a smile,
No more would she madden her lovers, demurely,
with womanish guile -
The "prince" from the great Never-Never, with
light touch of lips and of hand
Had come, and enslaved her for ever - a potentate
bearded and tanned
From the land where the white mirage dances its
dance of death over the plains,
With the glow of the sun in his glances, the lust of
the West in his veins;
His talk of long drought-stricken stretches when the
tongue rattled dry on the lips;
Of his fights with the niggers, poor wretches, as
he sped on his perilous trips.
A supple-thewed, desert-bred rover, with naught to
commend him but this,
That he was her idol, her lover, who'd fettered her
heart with a kiss.
They were wed, and he took her to Warren, where
she with his love was content;
But town-life to him was too foreign, so back to the
droving he went:
A man away down on the border of “Vic.” bought
some cattle from “Cobb,”
And gave Harry Parker the order to go to “the
Gulf” for the mob:
And he went, for he held her love cheaper than his
wish to re-live the old life,
Or his reason might have been deeper - I called it
deserting his wife.
Then one morning his horses were mustered, the
start on the journey was made -
A clatter, an oath through the dust heard, was the
last of the long cavalcade.
As we stood by the stockyard assembled, poor child,
how she strove to be brave!
But yet I could see how she trembled at the careless
farewell that he gave.
We brought her back home on the morrow, but none
of us ever may learn
Of the fight that she fought to keep sorrow at bay
till her husband's return.
He had gone, but the way of his going, ‘twas that
which she dwelt on with pain -
Careless kiss, though there sure was no knowing,
when or where he might kiss her again.
He had ridden away and had left her a woman,
in all but in years,
Of her girlhood’s gay hopes had bereft her, and
left in their place nought but tears.
Yet still, as the months passed, a treasure was
brought her by Love, ere he fled,
And garments of infantile measure she fashioned
with needle and thread;
She fashioned with linen and laces and ribbons a
nest for her bird,
While colour returned to her face as the bud of
It blossomed and died; we arrayed it in all its soft
splendour of white,
And sorrowing took it and laid it in the earth
whence it sprung, out of sight.
She wept not at all, only whitened, as Death, in
his pitiless quest,
Leant over her pillow and tightened the throat of the
child at her breast.
She wept not, her soul was too tired, for waiting is
And then I bethought me and wired away to the
agents in Bourke;
'Twas little enough I could glean there; 'twas little
enough that they knew -
They answered he hadn't been seen there, but might
in a week, perchance two.
She wept not at all, only whitened with staring too
long at the night:
There was only one time when she brightened, that
time when red dust hove in sight,
And settled and hung on the backs of the cattle, and
altered their spots,
While the horses swept up, with their packs of blue
blankets and jingling pots.
She always was set upon meeting those boisterous
Her husband had sent her a greeting by one of them,
in from the West.
Not one of them ever owned to him, or seemed to
remember the name
(The truth was they all of them knew him, but
wouldn't tell her of his shame)
But never, though long time she waited, did her faith
in the faithless grow weak,
And each time the outer door grated, an eager flush
sprang to her cheek –
'Twasn't he, and it died with a flicker, and then
what I had long dreaded came:
I was serving two drovers with liquor when one of
them mentioned his name.
"Oh, yes!" said the other one, winking, "on the
Paroo I saw him, he'd been
In Eulo a fortnight then, drinking, and driving
about with "The Queen"
While the bullocks were going to glory, and his
billet was not worth a G --- d --- ;”
I told him to cut short the story, as I pulled-to the
door with a slam -
Too late! for the words were loud-spoken, and Skeeta
was out in the hall,
Then I knew that a girl's heart was broken, as I
heard a low cry and a fall.
And then came a day when the doctor went home,
for the truth was avowed;
And I knew that my hands, which had rocked her in
childhood, would fashion her shroud,
I knew we should tenderly carry and lay her where
many more lie,
Ah, why will the girls love and marry, when men are
not worthy, ah, why?
She lay there a-dying, our Skeeta; not e'en did she
stir at my kiss,
In the next world perchance we may greet her, but
never, ah, never, in this.
Like the last breath of air in a gully, that sighs as
the sun slowly dips,
To the knell of a heart beating dully, her soul
struggled out on her lips.
But she lifted great eyelids and pallid, while once
more beneath them there glowed
The fire of Love, as she rallied at sound of hoofs
out on the road;
They rang sharp and clear on the metal, they ceased
at the gate in the lane,
A pause, and we heard the beats settle in long,
swinging cadence again;
With a rattle, a rush, and a clatter the rider came
down by the store,
And neared us, but what did it matter? he never
pulled rein at the door,
But over the brow of the hill he sped on with a
low muffled roll,
"Twas only young Smith on his filly; he passed, and
so too did her soul.
Weeks after, I went down one morning to trim the
white rose that had grown
And clasped, with its tender adorning, the plain
little cross of white stone.
In the lane dusty drovers were wheeling dull cattle,
with turbulent sound,
But I paused as I saw a man kneeling, with his
forehead pressed low on the mound;
Already he'd heard me approaching, and slowly I
saw him up-rise
And move away, sullenly slouching his “cabbage-
tree” over his eyes,
I never said anything to him, as he mounted his horse
at the gate,
He didn't know me, but I knew him, the husband
who came back too late.
"It's my shout this time, boys, so come along and
breast the bar,
And kindly mention what you're going to take;
I don't feel extra thirsty, so I'll sample that
Now, lad! come, look alive, for goodness sake."
So spake he, as he raised the brimming glass towards
So spake “Long Jack,” the boldest mountaineer
Who ever down from Nungar raced a “brumby” mob
Or laid a stockwhip on a stubborn steer.
From Jindabyne to Providence along the Eucumbene
The kindest-hearted fellow to be found;
And when he crossed the saddle not a horse was ever
That could make Jack quit his hold to seek the
The women smiled with pleasure, the children laughed
The very dogs came barking at his feet,
While outside the “Squatter's Arms” the men came
forward in a crowd
To welcome Jack when he rode up the street.
But though the boldest horseman who by midnight
or by day
E'er held a mob of cattle on a camp,
There were squatters on Monaro, who had yet been
known to say
That Jack was an unmitigated scamp.
And true it is Jack Corrigan possessed a serious fault
Which caused his gentle, blue-eyed wife much grief,
And many were the bitter tears she mingled with the
With which she cured their neighbours' tend'rest beef.
And often would she tearful take her smiling spouse
Who'd answer, as her pretty face he kissed,
That a beast lost all identity when pickled in the
And a bullock more or less would ne'er be missed.
But now as Jack stood all prepared to toss his
A softly-murmured whisper met his ear -
"I just saw Trooper Fraser get a warrant up the town,
He's after you, old man: you'd better clear!"
Jack never thanked the donor of this excellent advice,
As the glass fell through his fingers with a crash.
With a bound across the footpath, he was mounted
in a trice
And speeding down the roadway like a flash,
While Trooper William Fraser wore a very gloomy face,
As he watched his prey go flying down the road.
But he settled in the saddle and prepared to give him
As Jack struck out a line for his abode.
On the road toward the Show Ground, then, there
hung a big swing-gate,
Jack's filly cleared its bars in glorious style,
But he held her well together, for he knew the
Would give him distance in each mile;
For Jack rode twelve stone fully, while Bill Fraser
rode but nine,
Sweetbriar's strength must surely soon be spent,
Being grass-fed, while the trooper's chestnut horse
could always dine
Off oats and barley to his heart's content.
And all aloud Jack cursed the day he'd ever killed a
Or branded calf he couldn't call his own,
While the hoof-strokes on the road beat out a song
that never ceased
To echo in his ears with mocking tone.
"Three years in gaol, in gaol three years," the
jeering echoes sang;
The granite boulders caught the wild refrain.
"A broken life, a weeping wife," 'twas thus the
"And a baby boy you'll never see again" –
He groaned, and then, to dull the sound, spoke
loudly to the mare,
And bade her never slacken in her speed.
"For God's sake take me home, lass, with a little
time to spare;
Five minutes, at the most, is all I need -
Just time to catch old Dandy, where he's munching
Of hay; just time to leap upon his back,
And then the smartest trap who ever swore a
Could never foot me down the River track."
Sweetbriar pricked her ears, and shook a foam flake
from her bit,
As she heard his words, and doubtless caught their
And the rotten granite pebbles rattled round her as
On the homeward side the Rosedale bound'ry fence –
As they scrambled round by Locker's-Hill, Jack
Corrigan looked round,
And as he looked was filled with stern delight,
For he saw the baldfaced chestnut struggling fiercely
on the ground,
Though the hill shut out the sequel from his sight;
His triumph was but short, for, as he stemmed the
Where floods had muddied waters once so clear,
And left the giant tussocks tangled tightly in a mass,
The trooper still kept drawing on his rear;
The Murrumbidgee's icy stream was widened out by
They swam it at the willow-shaded ford,
As they passed the station buildings his long spurs
were red with blood,
Sweetbriar's heaving flanks were deeply scored.
Her stride grew more uneven, though she answered
No jockey rode a better race than Jack
As he eased her up the hills and pressed her onward
down the fall,
Round the sidlings of the Billylingra track.
They left O'Rourke's behind them, where it fronts the
big bald hill,
At the Flat Rock Jack was riding all he knew -
With all the dash and judgement of the famed Monaro
Yet he couldn't keep the trooper out of view;
He spied his tiny homestead as Bill Fraser gained
And loudly warned the fugitive to yield,
Who turned half round but saw no sign of pity in his
As they swept across the cultivation field;
Their hoofs’ dull thunder brought the wife in wonder
to the gate,
She waved her hand in answer to his shout;
While Dandy from his paddock whinnied loudly to
To know what all the trouble was about.
"God help us now - the end has come!" the wretched
And leant against the gate to catch her breath;
While the tiny, blue-eyed toddler cheered his father
on his ride
Towards the ghastly winning-post of Death.
"The filly's failing fast," thought Jack; "she's
nothing but a weed,
It’s a certainty she can't keep long in front.
I'll make a splendid target, if he likes to draw a
As I try to cross the river on the punt."
He left the mare and scrambled through the ti-tree
Deep rooted in its bed of yellow clay,
But when he reached the river, stood and trembled
on the bank -
"My God!" he hoarsely said, "it's swept away!"
The punt was gone, the rope of wire still stretched from
shore to shore,
Jack paused but half a moment to decide,
And as he scrambled down the bank the wond'ring
Him struggling half across the rushing tide,
The angry waters swept him down, and every nerve
To keep his hold upon the frail support,
Though icy numbness seized him, yet his courage
The hope of freedom filled his every thought.
The rope swayed low beneath his weight and bellied
to the stream,
Around his head the flying ripples curled,
While high above the river's roar rang out the awful
Of a soul that flies in terror from the world.
A mighty log, borne swiftly on the bosom of the
Resistless swept him 'neath the eager wave,
And sucked him down to river depths, and there
beneath the foam,
Jack Corrigan sought out a nameless grave -
"Good-bye to life, good-bye to life," the mocking
The towering cliffs took up the wild refrain,
"A broken life, a weeping wife," 'twas thus the
"And a baby boy he'll never see again."
The Box-Tree's Love
Long time beside the squatter's gate
A great grey Box-Tree, early, late,
Or shine or rain, in silence there
Had stood and watched the seasons fare:
Had seen the wind upon the plain
Caress the amber ears of grain;
The river burst its banks and come
Far past its belt of mighty gum:
Had seen the scarlet months of drought
Scourging the land with fiery knout;
And seasons ill and seasons good
Had alternated as they would.
The years were born, had grown and gone,
While suns had set and suns had shone;
Fierce flames had swept; chill waters drenched;—
That sturdy yeoman never blenched.
The Tree had watched the station grow—
The buildings rising row on row;
And from that point of vantage green,
Peering athwart its leafy screen,
The wondering soldier-birds had seen
The lumbering bullock-dray draw near,
Led by that swarthy pioneer
Who, gazing at the pleasant shade,
Was tempted, dropped his whip and stayed;
Brought there his wanderings to a close;
Unloosed the polished yokes and bows.
The bullocks, thankful for the boon,
Rang on their bells a merry tune:
The hobbles clinked; the horses grazed;
The snowy calico was raised;
The fire was lit; the fragrant tea
Drunk to a sunset melody
Tuned by the day before it died
To waken on Earth's other side.
There 'twas, beneath that Box-Tree's shade,
Fortune's foundation-stone was laid;
Cemented fast with toil and thrift,
Stone upon stone was laid to lift
A mighty arch, commemorate
Of one who reached the goal too late.
That white-haired pioneer with pride
Fitted the keystone; then he died:
His toil, his thrift, all to what boot?
He gave his life for Dead Sea fruit:
What did it boot his wide domain
Of feathered pine and sweeping plain,
Sand-ridge and turf? for he lay dead—
Another reigning in his stead.
His sons forgot him; but that Tree
Mourned for him long and silently,
And o'er the old man's lonely bier
Would, if he could, have dropped a tear.
One other being only shared
His grief: one other only cared:
And she was but a six years' maid—
His grandchild, who had watched him fade
In childish ignorance; and wept
Because the poor old grand-dad slept
So long a sleep, and never came
To smile upon her at her game,
Or tell her stories of the fays
And giants of the olden days.
She cared; and, as the seasons sped,
Linked by the memory of the dead,
They two, the Box-Tree and the Child,
Grew old in friendship; and she smiled,
Clapping her chubby hands with glee,
When for her pleasure that old Tree
Would shake his limbs, and let the light
Glance in a million sparkles bright
From off his polished olive cloak.
Then would the infant gently stroke
His massive bole, and laughing try
To count the patches of blue sky
Betwixt his leaves, or in the shades
That trembled on the grassy blades
Trace curious faces, till her head
Of gold grew heavy; then he'd spread
His leaves to shield her, while he droned
A lullaby, so softly toned
It seemed but as the gentle sigh
Of Summer as she floated by;
While bird and beast grew humble-voiced,
Seeing those golden ringlets moist
With dew of sleep. With one small hand
Grasping a grass-stem for a wand,
Titania slept. Nature nor spoke,
Nor dared to breathe, until she woke.
The years passed onward; and perchance
The Tree had shot his tufted lance
Up to the sky a few slow feet;
But one great limb grew down to greet
His mistress, who had ne'er declined
In love for him, though far behind
Her child-life lay, and now she stood
Waiting to welcome womanhood.
She loved him always as of old;
Yet would his great roots grasp the mould,
And knotted branches grind and groan
To see her seek him not alone;
For lovers came, and 'neath those boughs
With suave conversing sought to rouse
The slumbering passion in a breast
Whose coldness gave an added zest
To the pursuit;—but all in vain:
They spoke the once, nor came again—
Save one alone, who pressed his suit
(Man-like, he loved forbidden fruit)
And strove to change her Nay to Yea,
Until it fell upon a day
Once more he put his fate to proof
Standing beneath that olive roof;
And though her answer still was ‘No'
He, half-incensed, refused to go,
Asking her, Had she heart for none
Because there was some other one
Who claimed it all? Whereon the maid
Slipped off her ring and laughing said:
‘Look you, my friend! here now I prove
The truth of it, and pledge my love!'—
And, poised on tiptoe, touched a limb
That bent to gratify her whim.
She slipped the golden circle on
A tiny branchlet, whence it shone
Mocking the suitor with its gleam—
A quaint dispersal of his dream.
She left the trinket there; but when
She came to take it back again
She found it not; nor—though she knelt
Upon the scented grass and felt
Among its roots, or parted sheaves
And peered among the shining leaves—
Could it be found. The Box-Tree held
Her troth for aye: his great form swelled
Until the bitter sap swept through
His veins and gave him youth anew.
With busy fingers, lank and thin,
The fatal Sisters sit and spin
Life's web, in gloomy musings wrapt,
Caring not, when a thread is snapt,
What harm its severance may do—
Whether it strangleth one or two.
Alas! there came an awful space
Of time wherein that sweet young face
Grew pale, its sharpened outline pressed
Deep in the pillow; for a guest,
Unsought, unbidden, forced his way
Into the chamber where she lay.
'Twas Death! . . . Outside the Box-Tree kept
Sad vigil, and at times he swept
His branches softly, as a thrill
Shot through his framework, boding ill
To her he loved; and so he bade
A bird fly ask her why she stayed.
The messenger, with glistening eye,
Returned, and said, ‘The maid doth lie
Asleep. I tapped upon the pane:
She stirred not, so I tapped again.
She rests so silent on the bed,
Friend, that I fear the maid is dead;
For they have cut great sprays of bloom
And laid them all about the room.
The scent of roses fills the air:
They nestle in her breast and hair—
Like snowy mourners, scented, sweet,
Around her pillow and her feet.'
‘Ah, me!' the Box-Tree, sighing, said;
‘My love is dead! my love is dead!'
And shook his branches till each leaf
Chorused his agony of grief.
They bore the maiden forth, and laid
Her down to rest where she had played
Amid her piles of forest-spoil
In childhood: now the sun-caked soil
Closed over her. ‘Ah!' sighed the Tree,
‘Mark how my love doth come to me!'
He pushed brown rootlets down, and slid
Between the casket and its lid;
And bade them very gently creep
And wake the maiden from her sleep.
The tiny filaments slipped down
And plucked the lace upon her gown.
She stirred not when they ventured near
And softly whispered in her ear.
The silken fibres gently press
Upon her lips a chill caress:
They wreathe her waist: they brush her hair:
Under her pallid eyelids stare:
Yet all in vain; she will not wake—
Not even for her lover's sake.
The Box-Tree groaned aloud and cried:
‘Ah, me! grim Death hath stole my bride.
Where is she hidden? Where hath flown
Her soul? I cannot bide alone;
But fain would follow.'
Then he called
And whispered to an ant that crawled
Upon a bough; and bade it seek
The white-ant colony and speak
A message where, beneath a dome
Of earth, the white queen hath her home.
She sent a mighty army forth
That fall upon the tree in wrath,
And, entering by a tiny hole,
Fill all the hollow of his bole;
Through all its pipes and crannies pour;
Sharp at his aching heart-strings tore;
Along his branches built a maze
Of sinuous, earthen-covered ways.
His smooth leaves shrunk, his sap ran dry:
The sunbeams laughing from the sky
Helped the ant workers at their toil,
Sucking all moisture from the soil.
Then on a night the wind swept down
And rustled 'mid the foliage brown.
The mighty framework creaked and groaned
In giant agony, and moaned—
Its wind-swept branches growing numb—
‘I come, my love! my love, I come!'
A gust more furious than the rest
Struck the great Box-Tree's shivering crest:
The great bole snapped across its girth;
The forest monarch fell to earth
With such a mighty rush of sound
The settlers heard it miles around,
While upward through the windy night
That faithful lover's soul took flight.
The squatter smiled to see it fall:
He sent his men with wedge and maul,
Who split the tree; but found it good
For nothing more than kindling-wood.
They marvelled much to find a ring—
Asking themselves what chanced to bring
The golden circlet which they found
Clasping a branchlet firmly round.
Foolish and blind! they could not see
The faithfulness of that dead Tree.