A quaint old gabled cottage sleeps be-
tween the raving hills.
To right and left are livid strife, but on the
deep, wide sills
The purple pot-flowers swell and glow, and
o'er the walls and eaves
Prinked creeper steals caressing hands, the
poplar drips its leaves.
Within the garden hot and sweet
Fair form and woven color meet,
While down the clear, cool stones, 'tween
banks with branch and blossom gay,
A little, bridged, blind rivulet goes touching
out its way.
Peace lingers hidden from the knife, the tear-
ing blinding shell,
Where falls the spattered sunlight on a lichen-
No voice is here, no fall of feet, no smoke lifts
cool and grey,
But on the granite stoop a cat blinks vaguely
at the day.
From hill to hill across the vale
Storms man's terrific iron gale;
The cot roof on a brooding dove recks not the
A brown hen scolds her chickens chasing
midges in the sun.
Now down the eastward slope they come.
No call of life, no beat of drum,
But stealthily, and in the green,
Low hid, with rifle and machine,
Spit hate and death; and red blood flows
To shame the whiteness of the rose.
Crack followes crash; the bestial roar
Of gastly and insensate war
Breaks on the cot. A rending stoke,
The red roof springs, and in the smoke
And spume of shells the riven walls
Pile where the splintered elm-tree spawls.
From westward, streaming down hill,
Shot-ravaged, thinned, but urgent still,
The brown, fierce, blooded Anzacs sweep,
And Hell leaps a up. The lilies weep
Strange crimson tears. Tight-lipped and mute,
The grim, gaunt soldiers stab and shoot.
It passes. Frantic, fleeing death,
Wild-eyed, foam-flecked and every breath
A labored agony, like deer
That feel the hounds' keen teeth, appear
The Prussian men, and, wild to slay
The hunters press upon their prey.
Cries fade and fitful shots die down. The
Tumbled ruin now
Smoke faintly in the summer light, and lifts
The trodden bough.
A sigh stirs in the trampled green, and held
And tainted red
The rill creeps o'er a dead man's face and
steals along its bed.
One deep among the lilacs thrown
Shock all the stillness with a moan.
Peace like the snowflake lights again where
utter silence lies,
And softly with white finger-tips she seals a
Peter Simson's Farm
Simson settled in the timber when his arm was strong and true,
And his form was straight and limber; and he wrought the long day through
In a struggle, single-handed, and the trees fell slowly back,
Twenty thousand giants banded ’gainst a solitary jack.
Through the fiercest days of summer you might hear his keen axe ring
And re-echo in the ranges, hear his twanging crosscut sing;
There the great gums swayed and whispered, and the birds were skyward blown,
As the circling hills saluted o’er a bush king overthrown.
Clearing, grubbing, in the gloaming, strong in faith the man descried
Heifers sleek and horses roaming in his paddocks green and wide,
Heard a myriad corn-blades rustle in the breeze’s soft caress,
And in every thew and muscle felt a joyous mightiness.
So he felled the stubborn forest, hacked and hewed with tireless might,
And a conqueror’s peace went with him to his fern-strewn bunk at night:
Forth he strode next morn, delighting in the duty to be done,
Whistling shrilly to the magpies trilling carols to the sun.
Back the clustered scrub was driven, and the sun fell on the lands,
And the mighty stumps were riven ’tween his bare, brown, corded hands.
One time flooded, sometimes parching, still he did the work of ten,
And his dog-leg fence went marching up the hills and down again.
By the stony creek, whose tiny streams slid o’er the sunken boles
To their secret, silent meetings in the shaded waterholes,
Soon a garden flourished bravely, gemmed with flowers, and cool and green,
While about the hut a busy little wife was always seen.
Came a day at length when, gazing down the paddock from his door,
Simson saw his horses grazing where the bush was long before,
And he heard the joyous prattle of his children on the rocks,
And the lowing of the cattle, and the crowing of the cocks.
There was butter for the market, there was fruit upon the trees,
There were eggs, potatoes, bacon, and a tidy lot of cheese;
Still the struggle was not ended with the timber and the scrub,
For the mortgage is the toughest stump the settler has to grub.
But the boys grew big and bolder—one, a sturdy, brown-faced lad,
With his axe upon his shoulder, loved to go to work ‘like dad’,
And another in the saddle took a bush-bred native’s pride,
And he boasted he could straddle any nag his dad could ride.
Though the work went on and prospered there was still hard work to do;
There were floods, and droughts, and bush-fires, and a touch of pleuro too;
But they laboured, and the future held no prospect to alarm—
All the settlers said: ‘They’re stickers up at Peter Simson’s farm.’
One fine evening Pete was resting in the hush of coming night,
When his boys came in from nesting with a clamorous delight;
Each displayed a tiny rabbit, and the farmer eyed them o’er,—
Then he stamped—it was his habit—and he smote his knee and swore.
Two years later Simson’s paddock showed dust-coloured, almost bare,
And too lean for hope of profit were the cows that pastured there;
And the man looked ten years older. Like the tracks about the place,
Made by half a million rabbits, were the lines on Simson’s face.
As he fought the bush when younger, Simson stripped and fought again,
Fought the devastating hunger of the plague with might and main,
Neither moping nor despairing, hoping still that times would mend,
Stubborn-browed and sternly facing all the trouble Fate could send.
One poor chicken to the acre Simson’s land will carry now.
Starved, the locusts have departed; rust is thick upon the plough;
It is vain to think of cattle, or to try to raise a crop,
For the farmer has gone under, and the rabbits are on top.
So the strong, true man who wrested from the bush a homestead fair
By the rabbits has been bested; yet he does not know despair—
Though begirt with desolation, though in trouble and in debt,
Though his foes pass numeration, Peter Simson’s fighting yet!
He is old too soon and failing, but he’s game to start anew,
And he tells his hopeless neighbours ‘what the Gov’mint’s goin’ to do’.
Both his girls are in the city, seeking places with the rest,
And his boys are tracking fortune in the melancholy West.
The Old Whim Horse
He's an old grey horse, with his head bowed sadly,
And with dim old eyes and a queer roll aft,
With the off-fore sprung and the hind screwed badly,
And he bears all over the brands of graft;
And he lifts his head from the grass to wonder
Why by night and day the whim is still,
Why the silence is, and the stampers' thunder
Sounds forth no more from the shattered mill.
In that whim he worked when the night winds bellowed
On the riven summit of Giant's Hand,
And by day when prodigal Spring had yellowed
All the wide, long sweep of enchanted land;
And he knew his shift, and the whistle's warning,
And he knew the calls of the boys below;
Through the years, unbidden, at night or morning,
He had taken his stand by the old whim bow.
But the whim stands still, and the wheeling swallow
In the silent shaft hangs her home of clay,
And the lizards flirt and the swift snakes follow
O'er the grass-grown brace in the summer day;
And the corn springs high in the cracks and corners
Of the forge, and down where the timber lies;
And the crows are perched like a band of mourners
On the broken hut on the Hermit's Rise.
All the hands have gone, for the rich reef paid out,
And the company waits till the calls come in;
But the old grey horse, like the claim, is played out,
And no market's near for his bones and skin.
So they let him live, and they left him grazing
By the creek, and oft in the evening dim
I have seen him stand on the rises, gazing
At the ruined brace and the rotting whim.
The floods rush high in the gully under,
And the lightnings lash at the shrinking trees,
Or the cattle down from the ranges blunder
As the fires drive by on the summer breeze.
Still the feeble horse at the right hour wanders
To the lonely ring, though the whistle's dumb,
And with hanging head by the bow he ponders
Where the whim boy's gone -- why the shifts don't come.
But there comes a night when he sees lights glowing
In the roofless huts and the ravaged mill,
When he hears again all the stampers going --
Though the huts are dark and the stampers still:
When he sees the steam to the black roof clinging
As its shadows roll on the silver sands,
And he knows the voice of his driver singing,
And the knocker's clang where the braceman stands.
See the old horse take, like a creature dreaming,
On the ring once more his accustomed place;
But the moonbeams full on the ruins streaming
Show the scattered timbers and grass-grown brace.
Yet HE hears the sled in the smithy falling,
And the empty truck as it rattles back,
And the boy who stands by the anvil, calling;
And he turns and backs, and he "takes up slack".
While the old drum creaks, and the shadows shiver
As the wind sweeps by, and the hut doors close,
And the bats dip down in the shaft or quiver
In the ghostly light, round the grey horse goes;
And he feels the strain on his untouched shoulder,
Hears again the voice that was dear to him,
Sees the form he knew -- and his heart grows bolder
As he works his shift by the broken whim.
He hears in the sluices the water rushing
As the buckets drain and the doors fall back;
When the early dawn in the east is blushing,
He is limping still round the old, old track.
Now he pricks his ears, with a neigh replying
To a call unspoken, with eyes aglow,
And he sways and sinks in the circle, dying;
From the ring no more will the grey horse go.
In a gully green, where a dam lies gleaming,
And the bush creeps back on a worked-out claim,
And the sleepy crows in the sun sit dreaming
On the timbers grey and a charred hut frame,
Where the legs slant down, and the hare is squatting
In the high rank grass by the dried-up course,
Nigh a shattered drum and a king-post rotting
Are the bleaching bones of the old grey horse.
The Deserted Homestead
PAST a dull, grey plain where a world-old grief seems to brood o’er the silent land,
When the orbéd moon turns her tense, white face on the ominous waste of sand,
And the wind that steals by the dreamer feels like the touch of a phantom hand,
Through the tall, still trees and the tangled scrub that has sprung on the old bush track,
In a clearing wide, where a willow broods and the cowering bush shrinks backs,
Stands a house alone that no dwellers own, yet unharmed by the storm’s attack.
’Tis a strange, sad place. On the shingle roof mosses gather and corn-blades spring,
And a stillness reigns in the air unstirred by the beat of a wild bird’s wing.
He who sees believes that the old house grieves with the grief of a sentient thing.
From the charmed gums that about the land in a reverent circle throng
Comes no parrot’s call, nor the wild cat’s cry, nor the magpie’s mellow song,
And their shadows chill with an icy thrill and the sense of an awful wrong.
And the creek winds by ’neath the twisted briar and the curling creepers here;
In the dusky depths of its bed it slips on it’s slime-green rocks in fear,
And it murmurs low to its stealthy flow in a monotone quaint and drear.
On a furrowed paddock that fronts the house grow the saplings straight and tall,
And noxious weeds in the garden ground on the desolate pathways crawl;
But the briar twists back with the supple-jack ’tween the rocks of the rubble wall.
On the rotting wall of the gloomy rooms bats gather with elfin wings,
And a snake is coiled by the shattered door where a giant lizard clings,
For this house of care is the fitting lair of a myriad voiceless things.
Once I camped alone on the clearing’s edge through the lapse of a livelong night,
When the wan moon flooded the house and land in a lake of her ghostly light,
And the silence dread of a world long dead filled my credulous soul with fright.
For no wind breathed by, but a nameless awe was abroad in the open there,
And the camp-fire burned with a pale, thin flame in the chill, translucent air,
And my dog lay prone, like a chiselled stone, with his opaline eyes a-stare.
In the trancéd air was an omen felt and the sway of a subtle spell,
And I waited long for I know not what, but the pale night augured well—
At a doleful hour, when the dead have power, lo! A hideous thing befell.
From the shadows flung by the far bush wall came a treacherous, phantom crew,
Like the smoke rack blown o’er the plain at morn when the bracken is wet with dew.
Not a sound they made, and their forms no shade on the moonlit surface threw.
And the night was changed to the quiet eve of a beautiful summer’s day,
And the old house warmed as with life and light, and was set in a garden gay,
And a babe that crawled by the doorway called to a kitten that leapt in play.
But the black fiends circled the peaceful home, and I fathomed their evil quest;
From the ground up-springing they hurled their spears, and danced with a demon zest,
And a girl lay dead ’neath the roses red with a wound in her fair, white breast.
Through the looped wall spat a rifle’s flame, and the devilish pack gave tongue,
For a lean form writhed in a torment dire, on the crimsoned stubble flung.
Many echoes spoke, and the sluggish smoke on the shingles rolled and clung.
Yet again and oft did the flame spring forth, and each shaft from the dwelling shore
Through a savage heart, but the band unawed at the walls of the homestead tore,
And a man and wife fought for love and life with the horde by the broken door.
Then ghostly and grey, from the dusky bush came a company riding fast.
Seven horses strode on the buoyant air, and I trembled and gazed aghast,
Such a deadly hate on the forehead sate of each rider racing past.
With a cry they leapt on the dusky crew, and swept them aside like corn
In the lusty stroke of the mower’s scythe, and distracted and overborne
Many demons fled, leaving many dead, by the hoofs of the horses torn.
Not in vain—not all—though a father lay with the light on his cold, grey face,
And a mother bled, with a murdered maid held close in a last embrace,
For the babe laughed back at a visage black death drawn to a foul grimace.
Came a soft wind swaying the pendent leaves, like the sigh of awakening day,
And the darkness fell on my tired eyes, for the phantoms had passed away;
And the breezes bore from a distant shore faint echoes of ocean’s play.
Past a dull, grey plain, through the tall, still trees, where the lingering days inspire
An unspoken woe in the heart of man, and the nights hold visions dire,
Stands a house alone that no dwellers own, yet unmarred by the storm or fire.