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.
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.
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.