'Twixt The Wings Of The Yard
Hear the loud swell of it, mighty pell mell of it,
Thousands of voices all blent into one:
See “hell for leather” now trooping together, now
Down the long slope of the range at a run,
Dust in the wake of ‘em: see the wild break of ‘em,
Spear-horned and curly, red, spotted and starred:
See the lads bringing ‘em, blocking ‘em, ringing ‘em.
Fetching ‘em up to the wings of the yard.
Mark that red leader now: what a fine bleeder now,
Twelve hundred at least if he weighs half a pound,
None go ahead of him. Mark the proud tread of him,
See how he bellows and paws at the ground.
Watch the mad rush of ‘em, raging and crush of ‘em.
See when they struck how the corner post jarred.
What a mad chasing and wheeling and racing and
Turbulent talk ‘twixt the wings of the yard.
Harry and Teddy, there! let them go steady there!
Some of you youngsters will surely get pinned.
What am I saying? I’ve had my last day in
The saddle: I might as well talk to the wind.
Why should I grieve at all? soon I must leave it all -
Leave it for ever; and yet it seems hard
That I should be lingering here ‘stead of fingering
Handle of whip ‘twixt the wings of the yard.
Hear the loud crack of the whips on the back of the
Obstinate weaners who will not go in -
Sharp fusilade of it till, half afraid of it,
Echo herself shuts her ears at the din.
They’ll say when it’s over now that I’m in clover now -
Happy old pensioner, yet it seems hard,
E’en on the brink of the grave, when I think of the
Times out of mind that I rode to that yard.
Hark to the row at the rails, there’s a cow at the
Charge: how she laughs all their lashes to scorn.
Mark how she ran ag’in little Tom Flannagan.
Lucky for him that it wasn’t her horn:
He’d make no joke of it had he a poke of it.
There she comes back! but he’s put on his guard,
Greenhide descending now, sharp reports blending now,
Flogging her back up the wings of the yard.
The breeze brings their bellowing, soft’ning it, mellowing,
Till it sounds like a spent giant in pain -
Steals up the valley on, sounding a rally on
Sonorous hills that return it again.
Useless my whining now, useless repining now,
‘Twon’t make me any less battered and scarred;
Though I’ve grown grey at it - oh, for a day at it,
Oh, for an hour ‘twixt the wings of the yard.
Oh, how I yearn for those times, how I burn for those
Days when my weapons, the whip and the spur,
The double reigned bridle, were not hanging idle,
But I’m old, and as useless as Stupmy - that cur;
No good for heeling now, he has a feeling now
Not unlike mine - that it’s woefully hard
We should be lying here, groaning and sighing here
Watching the cattle come up to the yard.
Life has no salt in it. See how I halt in it -
I, who once rode with the first of the flight -
Watching and waiting now, feebly debating now
Whether the close will bring darkness or light;
Half my time pondering, back through life wandering,
Groaning to see how life has been marred -
Seeing the blots in it, all the bad spots in it,
Mustering, bringing past sins to the yard.
Shall I be able to show a clean waybill to
God, when he rounds up and drafts off his own -
When, at the mustering, millions of clustering
Souls come to judgement before the white throne?
Is the Lord’s hand on me? Have I his brand on me?
When I go up will the passage be barred?
Am I a chosen one? must the gates close on me?
Shall I be left ‘twixt the wings of the yard?
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.
On The Range
On Nungar the mists of the morning hung low,
The beetle-browed hills brooded silent and black,
Not yet warmed to life by the sun's loving glow,
As through the tall tussocks rode young Charlie Mac.
What cared he for mists at the dawning of day,
What cared he that over the valley stern “Jack,”
The Monarch of frost, held his pitiless sway? -
A bold mountaineer born and bred was young Mac.
A galloping son of a galloping sire -
Stiffest fence, roughest ground, never took him aback;
With his father's cool judgement, his dash, and his fire,
The pick of Manaro rode young Charlie Mac.
And the pick of the stable the mare he bestrode -
Arab-grey, built to stay, lithe of limb, deep of chest,
She seemed to be happy to bear such a load
As she tossed the soft forelock that curled on her
They crossed Nungar Creek where its span is but
At its head, where together spring two mountain rills,
When a mob of wild horses sprang up with a snort -
"By thunder!" quoth Mac, "there's the Lord of
Decoyed from her paddock, a Murray-bred mare
Had fled to the hills with a warrigal band;
A pretty bay foal had been born to her there,
Whose veins held the very best blood in the land -
"The Lord of the Hills" as the bold mountain men
Whose courage and skill he was wont to defy
Had named him, they yarded him once, but since
He held to the saying, "Once bitten, twice shy."
The scrubber, thus suddenly roused from his lair,
Struck straight for the timber with fear in his heart;
As Charlie rose up in his stirrups, the mare
Sprang forward, no need to tell Empress to start.
She laid to the chase just as soon as she felt
Her rider's skill’d touch, light, yet firm, on the rein;
Stride for stride, lengthened wide, for the green
The fastest half-mile ever done on the plain.
They reached the low sallee before he could wheel
The warrigal mob; up they dashed with a stir
Of low branches and undergrowth - Charlie could feel
His mare catch her breath on the side of the spur
That steeply slopes up till it meets the bald cone.
'Twas here on the range that the trouble began,
For a slip on the sidling, a loose rolling stone,
And the chase would be done; but the bay in the van
And the little grey mare were a sure-footed pair.
He looked once around as she crept to his heel,
And the swish that he gave his long tale in the air
Seemed to say, "Here's a foeman well worthy my
They raced to within half a mile of the bluff
That drops to the river, the squadron strung out -
"I wonder quoth Mac, "has the bay had enough,"
But he was not left very much longer in doubt,
For the Lord of the Hills struck a spur for the flat
And followed it, leaving his mob, mares and all,
While Empress, (brave heart, she could climb like a
Down the stony descent raced with never a fall.
Once down on the level 'twas galloping ground,
For a while Charlie thought he might yard the big bay
At his uncle's out-station, but no! He wheeled round
And down the sharp dip to the Gulf made his way,
Betwixt those twin portals, that, towering high
And backwardly sloping in watchfulness, lift
Their smooth grassy summits to the far sky,
The course of the clear Murrumbidgee runs swift;
No time then to seek where the crossing might be,
It was in at the one side and out where you could
But fear never dwelt in the hearts of those three
Who emerged from the shade of the low muzzle-wood.
Once more did the Lord of the Hills strike a line
Up the side of the range, and once more he looked
So close were they now he could see the sun shine
In the bold grey eyes flashing of young Charlie Mac.
He saw little Empress, stretched out like a hound
On the trail of its quarry, the pick of the pack,
With ne'er tiring stride, and his heart gave a bound,
As he saw the lithe stockwhip of young Charlie Mac
Showing snaky and black on the neck of the mare,
In three hanging coils, with a turn round the wrist;
And he heartily wished himself back in his lair
'Mid the tall tussocks beaded with chill morning mist.
Then he fancied the straight mountain-ashes, the
And the wattles, all mocked him and whispered,
The speed to avert cruel capture, that comes
To the warrigal fancied by young Charlie Mac,
For he'll yard you, and rope you, and then you'll be
In the crush, while his saddle is girthed to your back,
Then out in the open, and there you may buck
Till you break your bold heart, but you'll never
The Lord of the Hills at the thought felt the sweat
Break over the smooth summer gloss of his hide:
He spurted his utmost to leave her, but yet
The Empress crept up to him, stride upon stride.
No need to say Charlie was riding her now,
Yet still for all that he had something in hand,
With here a sharp stoop to avoid a low bough,
Or quick rise and fall, as a tree-trunk they spanned.
In his terror the brumby struck down the rough falls
T’wards Yiack, with fierce disregard for his neck -
"Tis useless, he finds, for the mare overhauls
Him slowly, no timber could keep her in check.
There's a narrow-beat pathway, that winds to and fro
Down the deeps of the gully, half hid from the day,
There's a turn in the track where the hop-bushes grow
And hide the grey granite that crosses the way;
While sharp swerves the path round the boulder's
And now the last scene in the drama is played;
As the Lord of the Hills, with the mare in full chase,
Swept t’wards it, but, ere his long stride could be
With a gathered momentum that gave not a chance
Of escape, and a shuddering, sickening shock,
He struck on the granite that barred his advance
And sobbed out his life a the foot of the rock;
While Charlie pulled off with a twitch of the rein,
And an answering spring from his surefooted mount,
One might say, unscathed, though a crimsoning stain
Marked the graze of the granite, but that would
With Charlie, who speedily sprang to the earth
To ease the mare's burden, his deft-fingered hand
Unslackened her surcingle, loosened tight girth,
And cleansed with a tussock the spurs' ruddy brand.
There he lay by the rock - drooping head, glazing eye,
Strong limbs stilled for ever; no more would he fear
The tread of a horseman; no more would he fly
Through the hills with his harem in rapid career.
The pick of the “Mountain Mob,” bays, greys, or roans,
He proved by his death that the pace 'tis that kills,
And a sun-shrunken hide o'er a few whitened bones
Marks the last resting-place of the Lord of the Hills.
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.