The Dominion Of Australia
She is not yet; but he whose ear
Thrills to that finer atmosphere
Where footfalls of appointed things,
Reverberant of days to be,
Are heard in forecast echoings,
Like wave-beats from a viewless sea—
Hears in the voiceful tremors of the sky
Auroral heralds whispering, “She is nigh.”
She is not yet; but he whose sight
Foreknows the advent of the light,
Whose soul to morning radiance turns
Ere night her curtain hath withdrawn,
And in its quivering folds discerns
The mute monitions of the dawn,
With urgent sense strained onward to descry
Her distant tokens, starts to find Her nigh.
Not yet her day. How long “not yet?” . . .
There comes the flush of violet!
And heavenward faces, all aflame
With sanguine imminence of morn,
Wait but the sun-kiss to proclaim
The Day of The Dominion born.
Prelusive baptism!—ere the natal hour
Named with the name and prophecy of power.
Already here to hearts intense,
A spirit-force, transcending sense,
In heights unscaled, in deeps unstirred,
Beneath the calm, above the storm,
She waits the incorporating word
To bid her tremble into form.
Already, like divining-rods, men's souls
Bend down to where the unseen river rolls;—
For even as, from sight concealed,
By never flush of dawn revealed,
Nor e'er illumed by golden noon,
Nor sunset-streaked with crimson bar,
Nor silver-spanned by wake of moon,
Nor visited of any star,
Beneath these lands a river waits to bless
(So men divine) our utmost wilderness,—
Rolls dark, but yet shall know our skies,
Soon as the wisdom of the wise
Conspires with nature to disclose
The blessing prisoned and unseen,
Till round our lessening wastes there glows
A perfect zone of broadening green,—
Till all our land, Australia Felix called,
Become one Continent-Isle of Emerald;
So flows beneath our good and ill
A viewless stream of Common Will,
A gathering force, a present might,
That from its silent depths of gloom
At Wisdom's voice shall leap to light,
And hide our barren feuds in bloom,
Till, all our sundering lines with love o'ergrown,
Our bounds shall be the girdling seas alone.
A Lost Chance
[It is stated that a shepherd, who had for many years grazed his flocks in
a district in which a rich tin-mining town in Queensland now stands, went
mad on learning of the great discoveries made there.]
Just to miss it by a hair's breadth! Nay, not miss it! To have held it
In my hand, and ofttimes through my fingers run the swarthy ore!
Minus only the poor trick of Art or Science that compelled it
To unveil for others' good the hidden value, and to pour
On a thousand hearts the light of Hope, that shines for me no more!
To have held it in my hand in vacant listlessness of wonder,
Taken with its dusky lustre, all incurious of its worth—
To have trod for years upon it, I above, and Fortune under—
To have scattered it a thousand times like seed upon the earth!
Who shall say I am not justified who curse my day of birth?
To have built my hovel o'er it—to have dreamed above it nightly—
Pillowed on the weal of thousand lives, and dead unto my own!
Planning paltry profits wrung from year-long toil, and holding lightly
What lay acres wide around me, naked-bright, or grass-o'ergrown—
Holding lightly—and for that I curse—no, not myself alone!
For a youth made vain with riot, for the golden graces squandered,
Home forsaken, dear ones alienated, Love itself aggrieved,
I had sworn a full atonement, to the ends of earth had wandered,
Drunk the dregs of expiation, unbelauded, unperceived—
Heav'n alone beheld, and—mocks me with what “might have been” achieved!
All the cold suspicion of the world I took for my demerit,
Its deceit my retribution, its malignity my meed:
When Misfortune smote, unmurmuring I bowed my head to bear it,
Driven to minister to brutes in my extremity of need—
Who shall say now it delights not Heaven to break the bruised reed?
In the round of conscious being, from the rising to the setting
Of Thine imaged self, Thy merciless, unsympathizing Sun,
Was there one from hard Disaster's hand so piteously shrinking
Whom this boon had more advantaged? God, I ask Thee, was there one?
In Thy passionless immunity, Thou knowest there was none!
To the wrongs the world hath wrought me, to its coldness and disfavour,
To the wreck of every venture, to enduring unsuccess,
To the sweat of cheerless toil, the bread made bitter with the savour
Of the leaven of regret and tears of unforgetfulness,
Hadst Thou need to add Thy mockery, to perfect my distress?
For I hold it cruel mockery in man, or God, or devil,
To assign the poor his blindfold lot from weary day to day,
In the very lap of Affluence, on Fortune's highest level,
Then, upon the brink of revelation, trick his steps away,
And flash the truth upon him when the chance is gone for aye!
I had soothed repulse with hope, matched disappointment with defiance,
Or opposed a pliant meekness to the driving storms of Fate:
But—the merely “coming short!” Oh, what remedial appliance,
What demeanour of resistance shall have virtue to abate
The nameless woe that trembles in the echo of Too Late!
Oh, the might have been! the might have been! the sting of it! the madness!
What a wave of the Inexorable chokes my fitful breath!
What a rush of olden echoes voiced with manysounding sadness!
What a throng of new despairs that drive me down the path of death!
Who is there in heaven who careth? Who on earth who comforteth?
They on earth but seek their own. In eager crowds they hasten thither
Where I trod so late unconscious on futurities untold.
And I! I, whose all is gone! The curse of desolation wither—
Whom? - Myself, who, year-worn, turn again unto the sin of old?
Or the fiends who sold me poison for my little all of gold?
Both! All men! Yea, Heaven! But chiefly those who prosper where I languished!
Those who reap the ripe occasion, where in many a wandering line
The old traces of my footsteps, worn in fevered moods and anguished,
Now are paths of rich expectancy for other feet than mine!
Can I breathe without upbraiding? Shall I die without a sign?
It was mine! Is mine, by Heaven! Consecrated to me only,
By the sacred right of service, by the pledge of weary years!
By the bond of silent witness, by communion dumb and lonely,
By the seal of many sorrows, by the sacrament of tears!
Mine!—The echoes laugh, and fiends of hell are answering with jeers.
* * * * *
Where am I? and who are these?—Nay, nay. Unhand me! Let me go, sirs!
I am very very rich! I've miles on miles of priceless ore!
I will make your fortunes—all of you!—and I would have you know, sirs—
There is not a single sheep amissing—Loose me, I implore!
It is only sleep that ails me—let me sleep—for evermore!
The Story Of A Soul
Who can say “Thus far, no farther,” to the tide of his own nature?
Who can mould the spirit's fashion to the counsel of his will?
Square his being by enactment—shape his soul to legislature—
Be himself his law of living, his own art of good and ill?
Who can sway the rhythm of breathing? Who can time his own heart beating?
Fix the pitch of all soul music, and imprison it in bars?
Who can pledge the immaterial affinities from meeting?
Who can make him his own orbit unrelated to the stars?
I had marked my path before me, not in flowery lane or by-way,
Unbeguiled of all bird-singing, by no voice of waters won;
And across life's silent glacier I had cut a clear cold highway,
Little recking of the avalanche, or all-dissolving sun.
I had said unto my soul, Be thou the lord of thine own Reason;
Get thee face to face and heart to heart with everlasting Truth;—
Thou art heir of all her beauty if thou dare the lofty treason
To clasp her and to kiss her with the valiant lips of youth.
Not in outer courts of worship, not by darkly-curtained portal,
But within her inmost chamber, in the glory of her shrine,
Shalt thou seek her and commune with her, a mortal made immortal
By the breathing of her presence, by her fervid hand in thine.
With no garment-clinging vassalage, unawed of all tradition,
Alone, alone of mortals shalt thou gaze upon her face;
And the years shall pass unheeded in the wonder of the vision,
And her attributes unfolding make thee free of time and space.
So I left the dewy levels, and with upward-pointing finger
Marked my goal among the snowy peaks o'er pleasure and o'er pain;
And the shining arms of Aphrodité beckoning me to linger
By her side amid her rosy bowers were stretched for me in vain.
And I heard the world pass by me with a far-off dreamy cadence
Of an alien music uninformed with meaning to mine ears;
And all sweet melodious laughter in the voice of men and maidens
Came with distance-saddened undertone, a mockery of tears.
Till alike the throb of pleasure and alike the great o'erflowings
Of the springs of sorrow seemed to be forgotten things of yore;
Till the world passed from beneath me, and the rumour of its goings
Far diffused into the silent ethers reached my soul no more.
And the bodiless and shadowless mute ghosts of contemplation,
Charmed from spells of bookish lore, were my companions on my way;
And their flake-light footfalls cheered me to a dreamy exaltation
Where the soul sat with the godheads, unassailable as they.
I had lost the glow of Nature; and the pride of clearer seeing
Was to me for all elation, for the sunset and the flowers,
For the beauty and the music and the savour of all being,
For the starry thrills of midnight, for the joy of morning hours.
Down the slopes I left behind me fled the creeds of many races,
Fled the gnomes of superstition, fled rebuking fiends of fear,
And I smiled as I beheld them from the calm of my high places
Cast integument and substance, melt in mist and disappear.
So I held my way unwavering in dismal mountainpasses,
Though a voice within my soul was loud, “In vain, and all in vain!”
And I heard the unassuaging streams far down in deep crevasses,
And I stumbled snowblind 'mid the boulders of the long moraine.
Still I said, I will not falter, nor revisit earth for ever,
Who have breathed the breath of deity and lived Olympian hours!
——When the summer smote the glacier, and the ice became a river,
And I found me in the valley clinging wildly to the flowers!
Clinging wildly, clinging fondly, in a mad repentant fashion,
To the blossoms long forsaken, to the graces long foregone,
Paying lavishly in tears and sighs the long arrears of passion,
And re-wedded to the joy of earth by one fair thing thereon!
Fools and blind are we who think to soar beyond the reach of Nature!
Fools and blind who think to bid the tide of feeling from its flood!
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?
Or compel the summer fervours from the solstice of the blood?
Not “as gods.” Not yet. Our roots are in the earth that heaves beneath me:
With her rhythm we move and tremble, with her starry dance we whirl.
Lo, she laughs when I would fly to where her arms shall not enwreath me,
Draws me back with cords of golden hair, o'erthrows me with a girl!
What was I to deem it duty thus to sunder Truth and Beauty—
Thus to die among the living, and to live among the dead?
Ah, the hands of Truth are boonless, and the lips of Truth are tuneless,
When we sever her from Love, and throne her coldly overhead!
Now I know her drawing nearer in a fairer light and dearer
Than in wastes of icy solitude or page of weary tome—
In the gleam of golden tresses, in the eye that smiles and blesses,
In the glowing hand that presses Love's approved conviction home.
Truth is sphered in sweet communion. Truth is life and love in union.
Hand in hand from spiritual founts we catch the circling thrill.
We are not compact of reasons. There are changes in our seasons;
And the crescent orb of youth has many phases to fulfil.
The Chamber Of Faith
There's a room in my soul that has long been closed;
Many and many a year has passed
Since I stood at the door and looked my last
On the things within, all seemly disposed
In the curtained obscurity, nevermore
To be lit of the sun through window or door;—
Looked my last with a sense of crime,
On the smooth white bed where my dead had lain,
At the cross I had left on the counterpane,
Having kissed it twice and a long third time
Ere I laid it down where the head had been,
With a rose for the breast, and a lily between;
At her altar-table, where, side by side,
Lay her Bible, her Hymnal, her Book of Prayer;
At her silent harp, at her hallowed chair,
Where, ever at morning and eventide,
With her hand on my head, and my head on her knee,
I had knelt, that her blessing might rest on me;
At saint and angel on wall and screen,
Painted, and carven, and silken wrought,
At flower and bird, by her hand and thought
Moulded to meanings of things unseen;
At the sombre recess where, dimly descried,
Hung the shadowy form of the Crucified.
Looked my last with a sense of crime,
As one who, free of intent to slay,
Hath yet unwitting made wide the way
For death to enter before his time;
For, had I not strayed from her sheltering side,
Peradventure my mother had not died.
For this was the Chamber of Faith, my Mother,
Faith that was Mother, and Sister, and Wife,
Joy of my joy, and life of my life,
Fair as none else was fair, loved as no other,
Mother to nourish me, Sister to cheer,
Wife to be dearest of all held dear.
And all of her now was the void she had left,
And a stillness that even a sigh had profaned—
Gone, with her mysteries unexplained,
And all her tokens of purport reft,
Save the reproach I seemed to trace
In the dumb appeal of each angel face.
So I closed the door and departed—alone:
And all these years I have dwelt aloof,
In a turret chamber over the roof,
With undarkened outlook on all things known,
On horizons that ever enlarge and withdraw,
On the boundless realms of immutable law.
Bereft of Faith, but redeemed from fear,
With enfranchised vision, with reason free
From the bondage of ancient authority,
I say to myself it is good to be here,
High o'er all vain imaginings,
And face to face with the truth of things.
But at times, in the night, to the drowsing sense
The sound of a harp played long ago
Floats faintly up from a room below,
The old music of love and reverence,
And I wake, and, behold, all unaware,
I have left my bed, and am kneeling in prayer.
It is thus to-night, and with heart oppressed
By the heavy hand of the truth of things,
I am fain of the old imaginings,
And a hope arises within my breast,
That beyond the beyond and above the above
There yet may be things that I know not of.
I will go down to the Chamber of Faith;
Perchance in her symbols I yet may find
Some meaning missed, some drift undivined,
Some clue to a refuge this side of death,
Where Reason and Faith, where Man and Child,
Where Law and Love may be reconciled.
* * * * *
* * * * *
I stand in her precincts, alien, estranged,
A waking man in a place of dreams.
How ghostly the room in the lamplight seems!
Yet all is familiar, all is unchanged;
All that was fair, still fair to see,
Save the flowers, which have withered—for these were of me.
Frescoed seraph and carven saint
Gaze on me still with their wistful appeal,
Oh, Heavenly Ministries, would I could feel
Some thrill of response however faint,
Some touch, some grace of the olden days
That would quicken my heart to prayer and praise!
Lo, for a moment, I burn to accost
Your Lord of Love in the old sweet way;
I seize the harp and begin to play,
But the chords are loose and the key is lost,
And the sudden dissonance shatters the mood
Wherein the unseen is the understood—
Shatters the mood and arrests the thought,
The fluttering thought that essayed to soar
To the region where seraph and saint adore,
To the sphere where the wonders of Faith are wrought,
And her symbols decline to pigment and stone
As I lapse again to the seen and known.
Wherefore, then, should I linger here?
What is it I seek to understand?
I open her Scriptures with random hand,
And I chance on the words of the holy Seer
Which one of old in his chariot read,
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter is led.”
And I turn to the Christ. Though my lamp grows dim,
I can see the tortured arms outspread,
The broken body and drooping head,
And I would I could weep as I wept for Him,
And I cry as I bend the unwonted knee,
Quicken me Jesu! Quicken me!
Thou in whom God and man are met—
(If indeed the twain in one can meet)—
Quicken me, Lord, as I kneel at Thy feet!
By Thine Agony and Bloody Sweat,
By Thy Cross and Passion, Thy Death, Thy Grave,
Save!—(if indeed Thou hast power to save).—
By Thy rising again—(if indeed Thou didst rise)—
Oh, if and if! Oh, doubt upon doubt!
I cannot pray. My light flickers out,
And the Christ is hid from my straining eyes,
And my groping hands, in the darkness drear
Clasp but an image. The Lord is not here.
Oh, ye who have taken away my Lord,
In these palsied lips that are powerless to pray,
In this fount run dry, in this life grown grey,
Behold your exceeding great reward!
Oh, gather the strong to your side if you will,
But leave to the weak our Saviour still!
Why shame myself thus with a witless plea?
There is none, there is none that hath taken away.
I alone did kiss and betray;
But with tears I did it; and, oh, it may be
That this way Renunciation lies
That Faith herself is my Sacrifice!
And who knows but beyond the narrow scope
Of these chamber walls, she lives again,
A transmuted force unnamed of men,
One wave whereof is this trembling hope,
That beyond the beyond and above the above,
There yet may be things that we know not of?
“Fulmina. . . . coelo nulla sereno.”
God speaks by silence. Voice-dividing man,
Who cannot triumph but he saith, Aha—
Who cannot suffer without Woe is me—
Who, ere obedience follow on the will,
Must say, Thou shalt—who, looking back, saith Then,
And forward, Then; and feebly nameth, Now,
His changing foothold 'twixt eternities;
Whose love is pain until it finds a voice—
Whose seething anger bubbles in a curse—
Who summarizes truth in party-cries,
And bounds the universe with category,—
This word-dividing, speech-preëminent man,
Deeming his Maker even as himself,
Must find Him in a voice ere he believe.
We fret at silence, and our turbulent hearts
Say, “If He be a God He will speak out.”
We rail at silence, and would fain disturb
The duly ordered course of signless years.
We moan at silence, till our quivering need
Becomes incarnate, and our sore desire
Passes into a voice. Then say we, “Lo,
He is, for He hath spoken; thus and thus
So ever radiating self,
Conditioning a God to our degree,
We make a word the top of argument—
Fond weaklings we, whose utmost scope and goal
Is but a pillared formula, whereon
To hang the garlands of our faith and love.
Well was it in the childhood of the world
To cry for open vision and a voice:
But in the riper time, when we have reached
The kindly heart of universal law,
And safe assurance of essential good,
Say, rather, now that had there been no God,
There had been many voices, freaks of sound,
Capricious thunders in unclouded skies,
Portentous utterance on the trembling hills
And Pythian antics in oracular caves—
Yea, signs and wonders had been multiplied,
And god succeeded god, the latest ever
Lord-paramount, until the crazèd world
Had lost its judgment 'mid contending claims.
O men! It is the child's heart in the man's
That will not rest without a lullaby—
That will not trust the everlasting arm
Unless it hear the voice in tale or song.
It is the child's heart in the man's that seeks,
In elements of old Semitic thought,
And wondrous syllables of Grecian tongue,
Recorded witness of another way
Of things than that which God hath willed to be
Our daily life. And if in times of old
The child-heart caught at wonder, and the charm
Of sundered system—if untutored faith
Found confirmation in arrested suns,
And gnomon-shadows of reverted hours,
And in the agonized Thus saith the Lord
Of mantled seers with fateful burden bowed—
We, children of a clearer, purer light
(Despising not the day of smaller things,
Nor calling out to kick the ladder foot
Because our finger-tips have verged on rest)—
We, youths, whose spring brings on the lawful hope
To loose the girdle of the maiden Truth,—
We, men, whose joyous summer morn hath heard
The marriage bell of Reason and of Faith—
We, turning from the windy ways of the world,
And gazing nearly on the silent march
Of love in law, and law in love, proclaim
“In that He works in silence He is God!”
So, from the very permanence of things,
And voiceless continuity of love,
Unmixed with human passion, fretted not
By jealousy, impatience, or revenge,
We gather courage, and confirm our faith.
So, casting back the scoffer's words, we say,
Even because there is no fitful sign,
And since our fathers fell asleep all things
Continue as at first—this wonder of no change
Reputes the God, to whom a thousand years
Are as one day. Yea, to the willing ear,
The dumb supremacy of patience speaks
Louder than Sinai. And if yet we lack
The witness and the voucher of a voice,
What hindereth that we who stand between
The living Nature and the living God,
Between them, yet in both—their ministers—
By noble life and converse pure, should be
Ourselves the very voice of God on earth,
Living epistles, known and read of all?
O Brothers! Were we wholly soul-possessed
With this Divine regard—would we but soar
Beyond the cloud, and centralize our faith
Upon the stable sun—would we reject
Kaleidoscopic views of broken truth
Distorted to the turn of perverse will—
Make daylight through traditionary ranks
Of intervening hells, and fix the eye
Upon the shining heart of Supreme Love,—
Would we . . . But why prolong the bootless “would”?—
I, who know all the weakness and the fear,
The weary ways of labyrinthine doubt,
The faintness on the dizzy height—who lack
The Gabriel-pinion wherewithal to range
The unsupporting medium of pure sky—
Who know the struggle of the natural soul,
Breathing a finer ether than its own—
Who, venturing on specular power too vast,
Scathed by my own reflector, fall down blind;
Who, at the least wind of calamity,
Drag shiftlessly the anchor of my hope,
And, shrieking from the waves, catch gladly at
A Name and Sake wherewith to close a prayer!
Yet though I faint and fail, I may not take
My weakness for the Truth, nor dare misread
The manual sign of God upon the heart,
The pledge, beyond the power of any voice,
Of sure advance unto the perfect whole;
Nor treat the tablet-tracing of His hand
As it were some old tombstone left apart
In grave-yard places for the years to hide
Deep in irrelevant and noxious growth.
Oh, Brothers! push the weeds aside, lay bare
The monument, and clear the earthy mould
From the Divine intaglio. Read thereon
The uncancelled charter of your native hope,
Nor crave articulate thunders any more,
Read there the universal law of good;
Unqualified evangel; blessedness,
The birthright of all being; peace, that lends
No weak subscription unto sin, and yet
Disarms despair. Read, and believe no more
In final triumph of concreted sin
In any soul that cometh forth from God,
And lives, and moves, and hath its being in Him.
Read thus, and pray the while that he who writes
Reck his own rede.
Oh, Sister, would I bruise
The snowy petals of thy prayerful faith,
Or chill the tendril-twinings of thy hope
With evil influence of wintry scorn?
Would God that any faith of mine could give
Such quiet stability unto my feet
As thine to thine! Oh, if thy kneeling wakes
A smile at all, 'tis Heaven that smiles because
Thou ask'st so little! God will o'erfulfil
Thy dreams of silver with unmeted gold.
Oh, Sister, though thou dost believe in wrath,
Though shapes of woe flit through thine imagery,
Though thou has ta'en the cloud into thy faith,
The little rift of blue that breaks thy dark
Brings thee more comfort and more fixèd hope
Than unto me this cloudless open vast
Wherein my soul floats weary and alone!
Yet think not we are voyaging apart
To different havens. Truth is one. Yet One
Alone hath reached it in straight course. Each soul
Hath its own track, its currents, and its gales;
And each toward sequel of attainment must
Fetch many a compass. Some keep land in view—
The beacon-hills of old authority—
And draw assurance from a shore defined,
Though it be dire with cloud, and capes of wrath;
While some shoot boldly into perilous seas—
Pacific-seeming seas, yet not without
A weary loneliness of land forsook,
And fear of sudden cyclone, and still more
Deceitful calm. Or, if the metaphor
Be yet too cruel for a sister's heart,
Oh, think that in the common way of love
We are never out of hearing; but may each,
Whene'er we will, join hand with each, and say,
“God—Father—Love,” the triune sum of truth,
And Watchword of the universal Christ.
Sister, I think, and in the thought take heart,
That when the Day of Reconcilement comes,
As come it will, the all-transmuting Truth
May find affinities in things that seem
To us the very elements of war.
Dost thou remember how, in childhood's days,
One gave us with to recognize the south
By turning faceward to the mid-day sun;
And we believed, and took the facile plan
For unexceptioned law? But even now
I hear the chime of Austral noon, and, lo,
The sun is in the north? Yet 'tis the same
Bright sun that shone and shines upon us both,
On me the evil, and on thee the good;
Yea, more, it is the same, noon-glaring here,
That now with hints of orient twilight steals
Over the stillness of thy morning dreams.
Dost thou remember how in those old days,
The dear old days that ne'er may come again—
Though love, like history, repeats itself,
But with the larger feature, stronger hand,
And keener sense, evoked of common grief—
When we would scan the circling mountain-cope
That made our little valley all a world,
One taught our young unlearnèd lips to say,
“The Sensible Horizon;” then dissolved
Our bounded dream, and showed our widening minds
That this was not the limit of the truth,
But grew from our own petty finitude; and far
In unconceived remote another line,
Yet only in concession named a line,
“The Rational,” made space intelligible,
And gave relation to the stars. Yet not
The less our early mountain-narrowed sky
Was still the sky to us, cloud, storm, and all.
Oh take my parable, and fondly think
That though the years have brought me wider range,
And shifting zeniths been my law of life,
Did thou and I yet tread the native vale,
I not the less, beneath that homely sky,
Would point to it whene'er we spoke of heaven.
IT was the time when geese despond,
And turkeys make their wills;
The time when Christians, to a man,
Forgive each other's bills;
It was the time when Christmas glee
The heart of childhood fills.
Alas! that, when the changing year
Brings round the blessed day,
The hearts of little Queensland boys
Wax keen to hunt and slay—
As if the chime of Christmas time
Were but a call to prey.
Alas! that when our dwellings teem
With comfits and with toys—
When bat and ball and wicket call
To yet sublimer joys—
Whatever can't be caught and killed
Is stale to certain boys.
Strange that, with such instructive things
From which to pick and choose,
With moral books and puzzle maps
That “teach while they amuse,”
Some boys can find no pleasure save
In killing kangaroos.
Where Quart Pot Creek to Severn's stream
Its mighty tribute rolls,
There stands a town—the happiest town,
I think, betwixt the poles;
And all around is holy ground;
In fact, it's full of holes.
And there, or thereabouts, there dwelt
(Still dwells, for aught I know)
A little boy, whose moral tone
Was lamentably low;
A shocking scamp, with just a speck
Of good in embryo.
His name was Bill. To wallabies
He bore an evil will;
All things that hop on hinder legs
His function was to kill,
And from his show of scalps he won
The name, Marsupial Bill.
His face and form were pinched and lean,
And dim his youthful eye:
'Tis well that growing Queensland boys
Should know the reason why;—
My little lads, 'twas all along
Of smoking on the sly.
Through this was William small and lean,
Through this his eye was dim,
Nor biceps rose on nerveless arm,
Nor calf on nether limb;—
Ye growing boys and hobbledehoys,
Be warned by me—and him.
His elevated shoulders stood
But little way apart;
His elbow joints—Oh, poor avail
Of mere descriptive art!
I would I had an artist man
To show them William's “carte!”
And should you ask how such a one
A mighty hunter grew,
So many flying does outsped,
So many boomers slow—
Bill owned a canine mate, to which
His victories were due.
A brute so complex that he set
“The fancy” all agog;
Of breed that ne'er found name in ex-
Oh, would I had an artist man
To show them William's dog!
On Christmas-eve, at set of sun,
A hollow tree he sought;
A match, a scratch, a puff, and Bill
Was lost in smoke and thought,
And “all his battles o'er again”
In fervid fancy fought.
No ha'penny thing, no penny thing,
No thing of common clay
Such brilliant memories evoked,
With hopes as bright as they—
It was his father's Sunday pipe
That Bill had stolen away.
For many a time and oft had he
Admired the wondrous bowl,
The stem, the mouthpiece, and the tout
Ensemble of the whole,
Until desire of it had grown
A portion of his soul—
Until desire o'ergrew the fear
Of kick, or cuff, or stripe.
That eve, when Bill stepped forth from home
The guilty scheme was ripe—
His right-hand trouser-leg concealed
His father's Sunday pipe.
And now within a heaven of smoke
Against the tree he leant,
The while the mellow influence
Through all his vitals went,
And for the first time in his life
He knew what meerschaum meant.
So subtly stole the influence
His inmost being through,
He did not mark the sudden bark
That signalled kangaroo,
Nor noted that his constant mate
Had vanished from his view.
His mind and eye were on the pipe
And he had just begun
To count how many scalps would go
To purchase such a one,—
When turning round his head, he saw,
Against the setting sun,
A Boomer! . . . and, as when the waves
Close o'er a drowning head,
Sudden the whole forgotten past
Before the soul lies spread,
And all the charge-sheet of a life
In one brief glance is read—
Ev'n so in instant tumult thronged,
About his wildered mind,
A thousand shapes of wounded things,
Of every size and kind;
And some were scalped, and some were maimed
And some were docked behind.
The kangaroo, the wallaroo,
The wallaby was there;
The 'possum jabbered in its fright,
Sore wept the native bear;
The stricken paddamelon moaned
Its ineffectual prayer;
The battered 'guana fixed on him
Its dull remonstrant stare;
While tail-less lizards swarmed and crawled
About him everywhere;
And limbless frogs denounced him with
The croaking of despair;
And tortured bats with ghostly wings
Clung to his stiffened hair;—
But suddenly the vision passed,
And Bill became aware
That he was in the Boomer's arms,
And bounding through the air.
Hop, hop, they went, o'er broken wilds,
Where, stacked in many a mound,
The hoards of clay-embedded ore
Rose grimly all around:—
Unheeding miners' rights, they jumped
A claim at every bound.
Then on o'er wastes so very bare
That even “stripping” ceased;
And as they neared the hill countrie
The frightful pace increased;
Nor granite slope nor timbered ridge
Told on the tireless beast.
The sun went down, the full-orbed moon
Came swimming up the East,
Nor yet the “old man” slackened speed,
Nor yet his prey released.
Still on and on, till from a cliff
A sentry challenged near,—
Though what the challenge or reply
No mortal man may hear;
We only know that for a sign
Each drooped his dexter ear.
Whate'er it meant, the “old man” checked
His onward course thereat,
Dropped Bill, and dragged him by the wrists
A cross a wooded flat,
To where the KANGAROO-GEMOT
In full assembly sat.
Ringed by the fathers of the tribe,
Surrounded yet alone,
The Bossaroo superbly posed
Upon a granite throne—
A very old “old man” who had
Four generations known.
Upon his mournful eye the woes
Of all his race were writ;
Yet age and sorrow had not dimmed
His majesty a whit;
And, oh, his metatarsal bones
Displayed the real grit!
Nor unattended sat the sires;
Behind them crouched their mates;
Nor kangaroos alone composed
The Congress of the States,
But all proscribed marsupial breeds
Had sent their delegates.
Lo, at a signal from the boss
The serried ring gave way,
And through an opening in the throng
The captor dragged his prey,
Bowed to the chair, then called to aid
A strapping M.L.A.
And thus, betwixt a double guard,
The prisoner found his place;
And all around were wrathful eyes
Without a gleam of grace;—
One wild concatenated scowl
Was focussed in his face.
Now hitherto poor Bill had been
As dumb as dumb could be,
But at that pandemoniac scowl
His struggling tongue got free;
He lifted up his voice and cried,
“Oh, please, it wasn't me!”
A tumult rose; but with a sign
The boss the riot checked,
Then cleared his throat and bade the guard
The prisoner's clothes inspect:—
“Ay, ay, Sir!” came the prompt reply,
Or words to that effect.
They spake the language that was heard
While yet the world was young;
And he who knows it knows all speech
That out of it hath sprung:—
(With compliments to Dr. Hearn,
It was the Aryan tongue).
And should you ask how Bill was up
To every word they said,
And how such antiquated lore
Had got into his head—
'Twas his pre-natal memory
That served him in such stead.
They searched the prisoner's clothes, and first
They brought the pipe to view,—
For though it is a mystery
To me as well as you,
It is a solemn fact that Bill
Had stuck to it all through.
Then one by one his poor effects
Were collared by his guards,—
Peach-stones, fig-chew, a catapult,
A greasy pack of cards,
A half-cut cake of cavendish
But when from out a leathern sheath
A blood-stained knife they drew,
All round the court, from hand to hand,
They passed it in review:
Each sniffed the blade in turn, and each
In turn said—“Kangaroo!”
And last, a printed document
Their simple souls perplexed:
Each eyed the paper learnedly,
And passed it to the next;
But not an Aryan of them all
Could even guess the text.
At length they summoned to their aid
An old and learnèd clerk,
Who, as tradition told, had been
With Noah in the ark—
Though possibly tradition here
Had overshot the mark.
And while a murmur of applause
Through all the Congress ran,
Bowed with the weight of many years
Hopped forth that gray “old man,”
Mounted his ancient spectacles,
Sneezed thrice, and thus began:—
“Whereas it is expedient to
Encourage the destruc-
tion of marsupial animals—
(Sensation and a ruc-
tion in the court, with groans and cries
From joey, doe, and buck)—
“Be it enacted therefore by
The Queen's most Excellènt
—er—Majesty—er—by and with
The advice and the consent
Of Council and Assembly of
Queensland in Parliamènt—
“In the construction of this Act—”
But here arose a sort
Of interruption from the Right,
Betwixt a cough and snort;
While from the less fastidious Left
Came cries of “Cut it short!”
Then clause on clause, with careless haste,
The learnèd clerk despatched;
But when he read, “The scalps when shown
Must have the ears attached,”
The whole assembly rushed the guard
And at the prisoner snatched.
But when the reader raised his voice,
And thus gave forth the sense,
“For kangaroo scalps ninepence each,
For wallabies' three pence,”
Division rose amongst his foes,
And stayed their violence.
For those at ninepence each, elate
At such a mark of fame,
Drew back, and left the threepenny mob
To do the deed of shame;
But the low-quoted wallabies,
Disgusted, dropped the game.
Bill strove to speak; his voice was drowned
With catcall, groan, and hiss,
Until the Bossaroo, with slow
What say you to all this?”
Then silence feel upon the peers,
And on the threepenny mob,
The while this wicked little boy
Said, snivelling through a sob,
“Oh please, I never done it, sir—
No, never; sepmebob!
“I am a gentle orphan boy,
Nor never jines no row:
My father is a tributer,
My mother keeps a cow:
We always lives respectable:
We tries it, anyhow:
The bill as that old bloke has read
I never seen till now;
And that 'ere blood 's on that 'ere knife
Since father killed the sow.”
Then spake the Boss:—“The quality
Of mercy is not strained;
Yet there is still a point or two
We'd like to have explained,
Ere we absolve you from the charge
Whereon you stand arraigned.
“But since the law is merciful,
And hastes not to condemn,
If witnesses to character
Exist, go, fetch us them:
The court will sit to-morrow night
At nine fifteen, p.m.
“And since without your father's pipe
You dare not home return,—
(Our ancient brother with the specs
Has twigged the whole concern;
And, truly, what he doesn't know
Ain't worth your while to learn):—
“And further, since the oath of man
Is but of scant avail,
And few like Regulus return
Spontaneously to jail—
(My fit is coming on; I feel
The symptoms in my tail)—
We will dispense with oaths, and keep
The meerschaum as your bail.
“To-morrow—(oh my vertebrae!)
To-morrow night at eight,
At the Wheal Edith, by the flume,
A corp'ral's guard will wait;
These shall escort your witnesses,
Blindfolded. Don't be late.
“And this remember—(oh my joints!)—
Not one of all the race
Whose leaders boss this scalping job
May stand before my face;
The witness of a Britisher
Will prejudice your case.
“Now he who brought you will reverse
The process—(oh my toe!)—
Your downward path is up above,
Your upward down below:
Stand not upon the order of
Your going, sir; but go.
“And take this for thy dowry, boy,
‘Existence is a sell,’
I once was bitten by a dog,
Since which I am not well.
Methinks my speech already shows
Symptoms of doggerel.”
King Billy's Skull.
THE scene is the Southern Hemisphere;
The time — oh, any time of the year
Will do as well as another; say June,
Put it down likewise as the full of the moon,
And midnight to boot, when churchyards, they say,
Yawn in a most unmannerly way;
And restless ghosts in winding-sheets
Go forth and gibber about the streets,
And rehearse old crimes that were better hid
In the darkness beneath the coffin-lid.
Observe, that I merely say, on dit;
But though it never happened to me
To encounter, either in-doors or out,
A posthumous gentleman walking about,
In regulation sepulchral guise,
Or in shirt, Crimean or otherwise,
Or in hat and boots and usual wear,
Or, save for a cloud, unbecomingly bare,
Or in gaseous form, with the stars shining through him,
Beckoning me to interview him —
On mission of solemnest import bound,
Or merely a constitutional round,
Beginning at twelve as books declare,
And ending at first sniff of morning air; —
Though all such things, you will understand,
Have reached me only at second-hand,
Or third, or fourth, as the case may be,
Yet there really did occur to me
Something which I perforce must call
In fact trans-ultra-super-preter-
Natural suits both truth and metre.
There is an Island, I won't say where,
For some yet live who mightn't care
To have the address too widely known;
Suffice it to say: South Temperate Zone.
In that same Isle, thus precisely set down,
There's a certain township, and also a town —
(For, to ears colonial, I need not state
That the two do not always homologate). —
And in that same town there's a certain street;
And in that same street, the locals to complete,
There's a certain Surgery, trim and neat,
Kept by —— well, perhaps it were rash
To call him other than Doctor Dash.
At midnight, then, in the month of June
(And don't forget the full of the moon),
I sat in that Surgery, writhing with pain,
Having waited fully two hours in vain
For Doctor Dash, who, I understood,
Was engaged in the questionable good
Of adding one to the sum of woe
That includes all creatures here below, —
Especially those whose particular dolour,
As mine was then, is a rotten molar!
Have you noted that midnight's final stroke
Has a way of solemnizing folk?
Though, goodness knows, in my special case,
With a cheek that was quite a three-quarter face,
There needed no solemnizing power,
No eerie vibration of midnight hour,
Chilling through heart, and thrilling through limb,
To put me en rapport with all things grim,
With all things dreary and dismal and dim,
The whole Night side of Nature (see Crow — not Jim).
Hardly was tolled the day's decease
From the ormolu clock on the mantelpiece,
When a running fire of perplexing knocks
Seemed to proceed from a rosewood box,
That stood on a table whereon were laid
The horrible tools of the surgical trade.
Somewhat slowly the notes began
With minims, and then into crotchets ran, —
From crotchets to quavers, then faster they grew,
Galloping, galloping, thirty-two
Beats to the semibreve — doubling once more
To a semibreve split into sixty-four,
Till failing to follow so rapid a rate,
I gave in at a hundred and twenty-eight.
I was scared, I confess, but the wish to know
Was stronger than terror of ghostly foe;
And stealthily, stealthily nearing the knocks,
I pressed my ear on the rosewood box,
And fancied I could discern beneath
The peculiar rattle of chattering teeth;
Which, as need hardly be said or penned,
Set each particular hair on end,
Froze all my young blood in a moment of time,
And curdled my bile, and my chyle, and my chyme!
But though terror undoubtedly gained the day,
Yet curiosity too had its way,
And the first had no sooner sung out Avaunt!
When the second cried Stay! what the deuce do you want?
Often as I have told the tale,
This particular part is so 'like a whale,'
That I always feel an apology due
For insisting upon it as perfectly true,
This is what followed, — a grinding noise,
A friction of bones that grew to a voice;
And I heard these words (on my honour, I did),
'Hi! . . . Cooey! . . . You fella . . . Open 'm lid!'
Trembling all over from foot to head,
'How shall I open it, Spirit?' I said;
'Lies there, oh lies there no key about?
For how can I open the coffer without?'
A kind of an audible ossified grin,
A gnashing of laughter, came from within,
And little by little I understood,
'You fella. . . . new chum. . . . You no good;
White fella. . . . crawler. . . . you no go,
Key in 'm lock. . . . my word. . . . 'tis so.'
It was so indeed. I opened, and lo!
An afrit? A goblin? A bottle-imp?. . . . No;
Simply a Human Skull, enshrined
In rosewood, padded and velvet-lined, —
A low type of skull, as one could see
From the brutish depression where forehead should be;
Yet surely precious in some degree
To judge from the case, not to mention the key
And the lock by a well-known patentee.
All was still for three minutes at least;
Knocks and voices alike had ceased;
There lay the skull as silent and dumb
As Lot's wife's salted cranium.
Had it been all a gross mistake
In the frenzy begotten of molar-ache?
Was the whole affair but a fancy freak,
Forged in the heat of a throbbing cheek?
Was it all — but rather than wait the event,
I determined to make the experiment.
So summoning courage a query to frame,
I boldly inquired, 'You there, what name?'
Which, to supply explanation due,
Is the Lingua-Nigra for 'Who are you?'
This is what followed — a grinding noise,
A friction of bones that grew to a voice;
And a slight elevation I certainly saw
Of the skull as if raised on the under jaw;
And this time beyond the chance of mistake,
My senses about me, and wide-awake,
No victim of frenzy, no fancy's gull,
I heard the words — 'Me King Billy's Skull!'
Alas, poor Billy, I knew him well,
In his full corporeal personnel,
But a man might give his own father the go-by,
Were there only his brain-pan left to know by.
And this was Billy! the last of his race!
That sightless mask was his regal face!
How oft from the cavity within
Those fangs now set in ghastly grin,
Had I seen the curling smoke proceed
Of the eleemosynary weed —
A cavity even now displayed
Through a gap for his pipe expressly made!
Here, where the Kingly glance shot through,
Two eyeless sockets appal the view;
And where flourished the fibre of Cocoa-nut
Is an utterly towless occiput! —
But scant was the time to moralize,
For soon a light in the place of the eyes,
A wild-looking, diabolical spark,
Like the eye of an angry cat in the dark,
Came and went, and went and came —
The spirit of Billy, perhaps, aflame:
And deeming it such, 'What would you, pray?'
I asked in a stammering, tremulous way;
'What is your will, oh, William, say?
William, rex dei gratia!'
This is what followed, — a grinding noise,
A friction of bones that grew to a voice;
'You take me out. . . . go long o'street. . . .
You come place where three road meet. . . .
S'pos'n keep middle till come to bridge. . . .
Cross over creek, an' go up ridge. . . .
Up on 'im top lie down hollow tree. . . .
Lift up big sheet o' bark. . . . you see
Bones of brother belongin' to me. . . .
Take 'im up head. . . . put mine fella down. . . .
You fetch 'im brother head back to town. . . .
Put 'im in box. . . . lock 'im up like o' here. . . .
Dash no do me!. . . . my oath!. . . . No fear!'
What COULD it all mean? — Three days ago
I had seen this monarch in earth laid low:
How had his fleshless skull returned
From the grave where I saw him so 'quietly inurned?'
And what upon earth was the drift of the dark
Allusion to Dash in his closing remark?
And what could import a mission so strange —
This visit to death, this mysterious exchange?
And wherefore of all men should I be selected
To. . . . pending an answer I did as directed,
And in less than an hour the exchange was effected.
King Billy supplanted, the box closed once more,
And myself fleeing forth from the surgery door!
Time and the hour, as Shakespeare says,
Run through the very roughest of days: —
(Forgive misquotation — the letter kills;
The spirit, at all events, is Will's)
Time and the hour having run their race,
I found myself back in the self-same place,
Dash standing by with a smiling face,
Wiping his weapon with dainty grace,
Myself no longer a surgical case,
But relieved (to the tune of twenty bo,
With the molar transferred to my trouser fob.
I could now look around me; the box was there,
Done up in canvas, and labelled 'with care;'
And Dash, beholding my steadfast stare,
Said with Mephistophelian grin,
That looked like the very triumph of Sin,
'Bet you twenty to one in gold,
You never will guess what that box doth hold . . .
Not bet? . . . Well, listen while I unfold
A neat little tale of a neat little prank,
Played by myself upon Doctor Blank,
The Hospital Surgeon, who, as you know,
Is my open friend, but my secret foe,
Well, to begin ab initio,
King Billy, whom we saw laid low
In his mother earth some days ago,
The last of the Aborigines,
Had long been dying of lung disease.
The melancholy fact was known
To Doctor Blank and myself alone,
And each of us watched with wary eye,
Patiently waiting till Billy should die.'
(Here I ventured to ask him the reason why.)
'Why? Don't you see? this man, as the last
Of a great island race of the perished past —
(Save one old gin, from whom can be
No further scion, as all can see)
Is a wonderful curiosity:
And Blank and myself had sworn an oath,
Secret from each, yet known to both,
To achieve some scientific note
In catalogue or anecdote,
By the munificent presentation
Of King Billy's Skull to the British Nation!
Fancy the honour, the kudos, the fame!
A whole museum athrill with one's name.
Fancy the thousands all crowding to see
‘Skull of the last Aborigine,
Presented by Asterisk Dash, M.D.’!!
A couple of men not sufficing to fix
The numbers on all the umbrellas and sticks,
And every voice in the eager crowd
Pronouncing the name of Dash aloud!
Fancy the honour, the kudos, the fame!
But fancy the everlasting shame,
If in place of Dash the name should be Blank!
The Quack! the Charlatan! Mountebank!
'But to proceed. To daily view
Weaker and weaker His Majesty grew.
I tended him kindly, went out of my way
To see how he fared from day to day:
But all my kindness, in pill or potion,
Showed small by the side of Blank's devotion;
All my kindness in potion and pill
Only made Blank show kinder still.
Well, one dark day (which ill betide)
Returning home from a country ride,
I found, to my sore astonishment,
That Blank had had the patient sent
To the Hospital Nigger-ward — to die
Beneath my antagonist's very eye!
(Knew you ever such treachery?) —
I owe him one, to myself I said;
Let him have the body, I'll have the head,
By hook or by crook, let what will come —
By fair or by foul, I'll have my thumb
On that potentate's caput mortuum!
I bribed a wardsman to let me know
When the patient should be in articulo;
And, accordingly, one afternoon I got
A letter to say King Billy was not.
I suddenly found I had been remiss
In my social duties to Blank, and this
Induced me to write him to give us to tea
The pleasure of his company.
Blank took the bait, came, found — not me,
But himself alone with Mrs. D.,
Who very much regretted to say
How the Doctor was suddenly called away,
Much, to be sure, against his will,
But Mrs. . . a . . Harris was very ill: —
In an hour or so he would return: —
Edith, tell Mary to bring the urn.
'Ere Blank sat down with my woman-kind,
I had slit Billy's head above and behind.
When Blank was requested to say a grace,
There was no skull behind Billy's face.
When Blank was just about to begin,
One skull was out and another skull in.
Ere Blank had buttered a morsel of toast,
The job was three-quarters through almost.
Ere Blank had sipped of his second cup,
The flesh was spliced, and the head tied up:
And before he had drunk it to the dregs,
I had done him, as sure as eggs are eggs!
'And he knows it too; but, all the same,
He hasn't blown it as yet for shame.
Let him publish it now as soon as he may,
He will find himself rather late in the day,
For this very night the treasure will be
Severed from Blank by leagues of sea.
Think of it, Sir, and congratulate me —
‘Skull of the last Aborigine,
Presented by Asterisk Dash, M.D.’!!'
* * * * *
In a certain Museum, I won't say where,
But it's not very far from Russell Square,
Should the gentle Reader e'er happen to see
'Skull of the last Aborigine,' —
And find, perchance, some poetical gull
Crooning the theme of a Monarch's skull,
Tell him to lay his theme on a shelf,
On peril of being a numskull himself;
Or to modulate his Parnassian whim
To the tune of 'Brother belongin' to him'!!
The Midnight Axe
The red day sank as the Sergeant rode
Through the woods grown dim and brown,
One farewell flush on his carbine glowed,
And the veil of the dusk drew down.
No sound of life save the hoof-beats broke
The hush of the lonely place,
Or the short, sharp words that the Sergeant spoke
When his good horse slackened pace,
Or hungrily caught at the ti-tree shoots,
Or in tangled brushwood tripped
Faltered amid disrupted roots,
Or on porphyry outcrop slipped.
The woods closed in; through the vaulted dark
No ray of starlight shone,
But still o'er the crashing litter of bark
Trooper and steed tore on.
Night in the bush, and the bearings lost;
But the Sergeant took no heed,
For Fate that morn his will had crossed,
And his wrath was hot indeed.
The captured prey that his hands had gripped
Ere the dawn in his lone bush lair
The bonds from his pinioned wrists had slipped,
And was gone he knew not where.
Therefore the wrath of Sergeant Hume
Burned fiercely as on he fared,
And whither he rode through the perilous gloom
He neither knew nor cared,
But still, as the dense brush checked the pace,
Would drive the sharp spurs in,
Though the pendent parasites smote his face,
Or caught him beneath the chin.
The woodland dipped, or upward bent,
But he recked not of hollow or hill,
Till right on the brink of a sheer descent
His trembling horse stood still.
And when, in despite of word and oath,
He swerved from the darksome edge,
The unconscious man, dismounting loth,
Set foot on a yielding ledge.
A sudden strain on a treacherous rein,
And a clutch at the empty air,
A cry in the dark, with no ear to mark
Its accent of despair—
And the slender stream in the gloom below,
That in mossy channel ran,
Was checked a space in its feeble flow,
By the limbs of a senseless man.
A change had passed o'er the face of night,
When, waking as from a dream,
The Sergeant gazed aghast at the sight
Of moonlit cliff and stream.
From the shallow wherein his limbs had lain
He crawled to higher ground,
And, numb of heart and dizzy of brain,
Dreamily gazed around.
From aisle to aisle of the solemn wood
A misty radiance spread,
And like pillars seen through incense stood
The gaunt boles, gray or red.
Slow vapours, touched with a mystic sheen,
Round the sombre branches curled,
Or floated the haggard trunks between,
Like ghosts in a spectral world.
No voice was heard of beast or bird,
Nor whirr of insect wing;
Nor crepitant bark the silence stirred,
Nor dead nor living thing.
So still that, but for his labouring breath,
And the blood on his head and hand,
He might have deemed his swoon was death,
And this the Silent Land.
Anon, close by, at the water's edge,
His helmet he espied,
Half-buried among the reedy sedge,
And drew it to his side.
And ev'n as he dipped it in the brook,
And drank as from a cup,
Suddenly, with affrighted look,
The Sergeant started up.
For the sound of an axe—a single stroke—
Through the ghostly woods rang clear;
And a cold sweat on his forehead broke,
And he shook in deadly fear.
Why should the sound that on lonely tracks
Had gladdened him many a day—
Why should the ring of the friendly axe
Bring boding and dismay?
And why should his steed down the slope hard by,
With fierce and frantic stride—
Why should his steed with unearthly cry
Rush trembling to his side?
Strange, too—and the Sergeant marked it well,
Nor doubted he marked aright—
When the thunder of hoofs on the silence fell,
And the cry rang through the night,
A thousand answering echoes woke,
Reverberant far and wide;
But to the unseen woodman's stroke
No echo had replied.
And while he questioned with his fear
And summoned his pride to aid,
A second stroke fell sharp and clear,
Nor echo answer made.
A third stroke, and aloud he cried,
As one who hails his kind;
But nought save his own voice multiplied
His straining sense divined.
He bound the ends of his broken rein,
He recked not his carbine gone,
He mounted his steed with a groan of pain,
And tow'rd the sound spurred on.
For now the blows fell thick and fast,
And he noted with added dread
That ever as woods on woods flew past
The sound moved on ahead.
But his courage rose with the quickening pace,
And mocked his boding gloom;
For fear had no abiding-place
In the soul of Sergeant Hume.
Where the woods thinned out and the sparser trees
Their separate shadows cast,
Waxing fainter by slow degrees
The sounds died out at last.
The Sergeant paused, and peered about
O'er all the stirless scene,
Half in amaze, and half in doubt
If such a thing had been.
Nor vainly in search of clue or guide
From trunk to trunk he gazed,
For, lo! the giant stem at his side
By the hand of man was blazed.
And again and again he found the sign,
Till, after a weary way,
Before him, asleep in the calm moonshine,
A little clearing lay;
And in it a red slab hut that glowed
As 'twere of jasper made.
The Sergeant into the clearing rode,
And passed through the rude stockade.
He bound his horse to the fence, and soon
He stood by the open door.
With pallid face upturned to the moon
A man slept on the floor.
Little he thought to have found him here,
By such strange portent led—
His sister's son, whom for many a year
His own had mourned as dead;
Who had chosen the sundering seas to roam,
After a youth misspent,
And to those who wept in his far-off home
Token nor word had sent.
The face looked grim, and haggard, and old,
Yet not from the touch of time;—
Too well the Sergeant knew the mould
And lineaments of crime.
And “Better,” he said, “she should mourn him dead
Than know him changed to this!”
Yet he kneeled, and touched the slumbering head,
For her, with a gentle kiss.
Whereat the eyelids parted wide,
But no light in the dull eye gleamed:
The man turned slowly on his side
And muttered as one who dreamed;
He stared at the Sergeant as in a trance,
And the listener's blood ran cold
As he pieced the broken utterance,
That a tale of horror told;
For he heard him rave of murder done,
Of an axe and a hollow tree,
And “Oh, God!” he cried, “must my sister's son
Be led to his death by me!”
He seized him roughly by the arm,
He called him by his name;
The man leaped up in mazed alarm,
And terror shook his frame.
Then a sudden knife flashed out from his hip,
And they closed in struggle wild;
But soon in the Sergeant's iron grip
The man was as a child.
A wind had arisen that shook the hut;
The moonbeams dimmed apace;
The lamp was lit; the door was shut;
And the twain sat face to face.
In question put and answer flung
A weary space had passed,
But the secret of the soul was wrung
From the stubborn lips at last.
As one who resistless doom obeyed
The younger told his sin,
Nor any prayer for mercy made,
Nor appeal to the bond of kin.
“ ‘The quarrel? Oh, 'twas an idle thing—
Too idle almost to name;
He turned up an ace and killed my king,
And I lost the cursèd game.
“And he triumphed and jeered, and his stinging chaff,
By heaven, how it maddened me then!
And he left me there with a scornful laugh—
But he never laughed again.
“We had long been mates, through good and ill;
Together we owned this land;
But his was ever the stronger will,
And his was the stronger hand.
“But I would be done with his lordly airs;
I was weary of them and him;
So I stole upon him unawares
In the forest lone and dim.
“The ring of his axe had drowned my tread;
But a rod from me he stood
When he paused to fix the iron head
That had loosened as he hewed.
“Then I too made a sudden halt,
And watched him as he turned
To a charred stump, in whose gaping vault
A fire of branches burned.
“He had left the axe by the half-hewn bole,
As whistling he turned away;
From my covert with wary foot I stole,
And caught it where it lay.
“He stooped; he stirred the fire to flame;
I could feel its scorching breath,
As behind him with the axe I came,
And struck the stroke of death.
‘Dead at a blow, without a groan,
The sapling still in his hands,
The man fell forward like a stone
Amid the burning brands.
“The stark limbs lay without, but those
I thrust in the fiery tomb——”
With shuddering groan the Sergeant rose,
And paced the narrow room,
And cried aloud, “Oh, task of hell,
That I should his captor be!
My God! if it be possible,
Let this cup pass from me!”
The spent light flickered and died; and, lo,
The dawn about them lay;
And each face a ghastlier shade of woe
Took on in the dismal gray.
Around the hut the changeful gale
Seemed now to sob and moan,
And mingled with the doleful tale
A dreary undertone.
“I piled dry wood in the hollow trunk,”
The unsparing shrift went on,
“And watched till the tedious corse had shrunk
To ashes, and was gone.
“That night I knew my soul was dead;
For neither joy nor grief
The numbness stirred of heart and head,
Nor tears came for relief.
“And when morning dawned, with no surprise
I awoke to my solitude,
Nor blood-clouds flared before mine eyes,
As men had writ they should;
“Nor fancy feigned dumb things would prate
Of what no man could prove!—
Only, a heavy, heavy weight,
That would not, would not move—
“Only a burden ever the same
Asleep or awake I bore,
A dead soul in a living frame
That would quicken nevermore.
“Three nights had passed since the deed was done,
And all was calm and still—
(You'll say 'tis a lie; I say 'tis none;
I'll swear to it, if you will)—
“Three nights—and, mark me, that very day
I had stood by the ashy cave,
And the toppling shell had snapped, and lay
Like a lid on my comrade's grave—
“And yet, I tell you, the man lived on!
Though the ashes o'er and o'er
I had sifted till every trace was gone
Of what he was, or wore:—
“Three nights had passed; in a quiet unstirred
By wind or living thing,
As I lay upon my bed I heard
His axe in the timber ring!
“He hewed; he paused; he hewed again.
Each stroke was like a knell!
And I heard the fibres wrench, and then
The crash of a tree as it fell.
“And I fled; a hundred leagues I fled—
In the crowded haunts of a town
I would hide me from the irksome dead,
And would crush remembrance down.
“But in all that life and ceaseless stir
Nor part nor lot I found;
For men to me as shadows were,
And their speech had a far-off sound.
“For I had lost the touch of souls;
Men's lives and mine betwixt,
Wide as the space that parts the poles
There was a great gulf fixed.
“Sorrow and joy to me but seemed;
As one from an alien sphere
I lived and saw, or as one who dreamed.—
I was lonelier there than here.
“To the sense of all life's daily round
I had lost the living key,
And I grew to long for the only sound
That had meaning on earth for me.
“Again o'er the weary forest-tracks
My burden hither I bore;
And I heard the measured ring of the axe
In the midnight as before.
“And as ever he hewed the long nights through,
Nor harmed me in my bed,
A feeble sense within me grew
Of friendship with the dead.
“And believe me, I could have lived, lived long,
With this poor stay of mine,
But the faithless dead has done me wrong:
Three nights and never a sign,
“Though I've thrice out-watched the stars!—Last night,
Seeing he came no more,
Despair anew was whispering flight,
When I sank as dead on the floor.
“Take me away from this curs'd abode!
Not a jot for life I care;
He has left me alone, and my weary load
Is greater than I can bear.
“But I say if my mate had walked about
I had never told you the tale!”
As he spoke the sound of an axe rang out,
In a lull of the fitful gale.
He sprang to his feet: a cunning smile
O'er all his visage spread;
“Why, man, I lied to you all the while!
It was all a lie!” he said.
“Leave go!”—for the trooper dragged him out
Under the angry sky.
“The man's alive!—you can hear him about!—
Would you hang me for a lie? . . .
“Not that way! No, not that!” he hissed,
And shook in all his frame;
But the Sergeant drew him by the wrist
To whence the sounds yet came,
Moaning ever, “What have I done
That I should his captor be?
Oh, God! to think that my sister's son
Should be led to his death by me!”
The tempest swelled; and, caught by the blast
In wanton revel of wrath,
Tumultuous boughs flew whirling past,
Or thundered across their path:
Yet ever above the roar of the storm,
Louder and louder yet
The axe-strokes rang, but no human form
Their wildered vision met.
When they reached a spot where a charred stump prone
On an ashy hollow lay,
The doomed man writhed with piteous moan,
And well-nigh swooned away.
When they came to a tree on whose gaping trunk
Some woodman's axe had plied,
The struggling captive backward shrunk,
And broke from the trooper's side.
“To left!—for your life! To left, I say!”
Was the Sergeant's warning call:
For he saw the tree in the tempest sway,
He marked the threatening fall.
But the vengeful wreck its victim found;
It seized him as he fled;
Between one giant limb and the ground
The man lay crushed and dead.
The Sergeant gazed on the corpse aghast,
Yet he cried, as he bent the knee,
“Father! I thank Thee that Thou hast
Let this cup pass from me!”