Quart Pot Creek

On an evening ramble lately, as I wandered on sedately,
Linking curious fancies, modern, mediaeval, and antique—
Suddenly the sun descended, and a radiance ruby-splendid,
With the gleam of water blended, thrilled my sensitive physique—
Thrilled me, filled me with emotion to the tips of my physique,
Fired my eye, and flushed my cheek.

Heeding not where I was going, I had wandered, all unknowing,
Where a river gently flowing caught the radiant ruby-streak;
And this new-found stream beguiling my sedateness into smiling,
Set me classically styling it with Latin names and Greek,
Names Idalian and Castalian, such as lovers of the Greek
Roll like quids within their cheek.

On its marge was many a burrow, many a mound, and many a furrow,
Where the fossickers of fortune play at Nature's hide-and-seek;
And instead of bridge to span it, there were stepping-stones of granite,
And where'er the river ran, it seemed of hidden wealth to speak.
Presently my soul grew stronger, and I, too, was fain to speak:—
I assumed a pose plastique.

“Stream,” said I, “I'll celebrate thee! Rhymes and rhythms galore await thee!
In the weekly ‘poet's corner’ I'll a niche for thee bespeak:
But, to aid my lucubration, thou must tell thine appellation,
Tell thy Naiad-designation—for the journal of next week—
Give thy sweet Pactolian title to my poem of next week.
Whisper, whisper it—in Greek!”

But the river gave no token, and the name remained unspoken,
Though I kept apostrophising till my voice became a shriek;—
When there hove in sight the figure of a homeward veering digger,
Looming big, and looming bigger, and ejecting clouds of reek—
In fuliginous advance emitting clouds of noisome reek
From a tube beneath his beak.

“Neighbour mine,” said I, “and miner,”—here I showed a silver shiner—
“For a moment, and for sixpence, take thy pipe from out thy cheek.
This the guerdon of thy fame is; very cheap indeed the same is;
Tell me only what the name is—('tis the stream whereof I speak)—
Name the Naiad-name Pactolian! Digger, I adjure thee, speak!”
Quoth the digger, “Quart Pot Creek.”

Oh, Pol! Edepol! Mecastor! Oh most luckless poetaster!
I went home a trifle faster in a twitter of a pique;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living rhyming being
Ever yet was cursed with seeing, in his poem for the week,

Brook or river made immortal in his poem for the week,
With such name as “Quart Pot Creek!”

* * * * *
But the river, never minding, still is winding, still is winding,
By the gardens where the Mongol tends the cabbage and the leek;
And the ruby radiance nightly touches it with farewell lightly,
But the name sticks to it tightly,—and this sensitive physique,
The already-mentioned (vide supra) sensitive physique,
Shudders still at “Quart Pot Creek!”

Progress In The Pacific

Lapp'd in blue Pacific waters lies an isle of green and gold,
A garden of enchantment such as Eden was of old;
And the innocent inhabitants, pure children of the sun,
Resembled those of Eden, too—in more respects than one.

But included in its list of charms this peaceful isle possessed
A feature that seemed rather out of keeping with the rest;
A huge volcano frowned above palm-grove and taropatch
That ev'n for Krakatoa might have proved an equal match.

“Might have proved,” I say advisèdly,—for ages now had past
Since this passion-worn volcano in a fit had breathed its last;
Now flowery vegetation draped its shoulders like a shawl—
Only the sullen cone stood unapparelled over all.

To this happy bower of innocence, this Island of the Blest,
Came two Melbourne Presbyterians—no matter on what quest—
Leading men in Church and Market, always found within the ring,
John McTaggart, William Wallace, Agents for—for everything.

How glowed their weary hearts before the beauty of the scene,
The palm-groves, the acacia-groves, and all the varied green!
How swelled their souls with sentiment when, swarming from their huts,
Oame the simple natives wooing them with pigs and cocoa-nuts!

“Eh, man, but this is sweet!” said John, and wiped away a tear.
“It is good for us (I say with the apostle) to be here.
The islands are God's handiwork, their beauties are His own—
And, Weelyum—man, there should be lots of sulphur in that cone!

“These natives are a guileless folk, as we can well discern,
But how to make gunpowder is a thing they yet may learn.
Now, gunpowder leads to homicides, and other sinful scenes,
And I feel it is our duty to deprive them of the means.

“So lest some flagitious traders should come fossicking about,
This very day we'll purchase that volcano out and out.
Lest guilt should stain these blameless souls we'll form a Sulphur Co.”—
And, William, though a silent man, replied to him, “Juist so.”
Then they summoned their interpreter and made their wishes known,
And before the day was over that volcano was their own,
And the chiefs were paid the price in costly axes, hooks and knives,
While invaluable necklaces were showered upon their wives.

But not before McTaggart had impressed the native mind
With a solemn deed of transfer of a strictly legal kind,

Which Scripture, fraught, as was supposed, with threats and terrors dark,
Was attested by the signature of “Na-Galoo, His Mark.”

Then home they sailed, nor thought again for many and many a day
Of their potential riches in that island far away:
They had other fish to fry and other irons in the fire,
And success upon success but seemed to multiply desire.

But at length there came a season when their wealth developed wings,
And their hearts grew sad within them at the general look of things,
But most of all they sorrowed at the worldliness and pride
Of the smarter men who bested them and hustled them aside.

Said McTaggart, “Let us quit this sordid sphere, and for a while
Let us bathe our souls in innocence in yon sequestered isle;
The aims of men are vanity; life's but a fleeting show—
And the Argus says that sulphur's up.”—And William said “Juist so.”

So they raised, and raised with credit, all the necessary plant,
Nor forgot amid their haste that solemn league and covenant;
And thus and thus it came to pass ere many days had fled
That the island lay before them, and the grey cone towered o'erhead.

But where—where were the simple folk that greeted them of yore
And who were these red-shirted swells that met them on the shore,
And covered them with muskets of a fashion obsolete,
But possibly still lethal if discharged at twenty feet?

Alas, too soon they gathered from their semi-English speech
That the sixty three Kanaka bucks who blocked them on the beach
Were time-expired “Returns,” enlightened men, who not in vain
Had spent the intervening years in Queensland trashing cane.

“You come take solfa,” cried a Chief, who recognised the two,
“Flenchman Comp'ny buy him solfa. Solfa no belonga you
We sell him Comp'ny thing man call in Queensland mineral lease”—
And sixty-three Kanaka smiles broke up the evening peace.

Then McTaggart, white with godly ire, yet calm in sense of right,
Drew forth the sacred covenant and spread it to the light,—
“I bought your hill entire,” he said; “the whole volcano's mine!”
But the Chieftain took the document and read it line by line

Read it word by word and line by line, date, signature and all,
As one who fain would do the right although the heaven's should fall,
Then delivered this decision, “Hill belonga you all right.
But paper no say solfa. Flenchman buy him that. Goo' night.”

* * * * *
“Is this the land,” McTaggart cried, “where we had fondly thought

To bathe our souls in innocence and bag what we had bought!
Sawtan hath made this isle his own! Arise and let us go.
Weelyum, Progress is a curse! a curse!” And William said “Juist so.”

Born Before His Time

Brown was weeping; likewise cursing; and with amplitude of reason;
For a letter had been handed him that very afternoon
Which proved he had been cruelly begotten out of season,
That, in fact, he had been born a hundred centuries too soon.

From the day a friendly hint had told of coal on his selection,
In the house, the street, the office Brown had revelled in a dream,
Wherein himself and family and all the Brown connection
Figured floating in a golden barge adown a silver stream.

Now he wept; and little wonder; all his gorgeous hopes had faded
With the letter of the expert, lying crumpled at his feet,
Which reported, with a wealth of scientific terms paraded,
That the “coal” was hardly lignite, though a little more than peat.

“But some day,” so ran the missive, “it is bound to prove a treasure.”
(Here a moment's re-awakened hope had cheered the reader's soul)
“What with gas elimination and accumulated pressure,
“In ten thousand years or so it will be marketable coal.”

Such the wherefore of the change from exultation to lamenting—
And he lifted up his voice and cursed the author of his birth,
Through whose rash precipitation, unconsulted, unconsenting,
He had thus been dumped ten thousand years too soon upon the earth.

Not alone his sire and mother he denounced and execrated,
On their parents and fore-parents his anathemas he hurled,
As one and all, in series, or in concert, implicated
In his premature appearance on this carboniferous world.

For a change he cursed himself, as the untimely culmination
Of the whole precocious family that bore the name of Brown;
Till, exhausted of ferocity, the rage of imprecation
Into unavailing optatives broke impotently down.

“Oh that things,” he raved, “had always been as in the early ages,
“Before the human race had lost the art of going slow,
“When the life of man proceeded at such very easy stages
That the proper age for wedlock was a hundred years or so!
“Would that each of my forefathers, like Methusalem, had waited,
“Who till nigh upon two hundred shirked the matrimonial rôle!
“Then I had not been ten thousand years unduly antedated,
“But would doubtless in the future be co-eval with my coal.

“Now not for me shall this potential wealth be resurrected;
“This bottled sunshine immature shall mellow not for me!

“Now another hand shall reap where I have—where I have selected,
“And another lap receive the fruit that ripens on my tree!

“Oh that I had been consulted ere the world was set in movement,
“When Providence was mapping out the future course of time,
“I had certainly suggested as a manifest improvement
“That a coal-seam and its owner should together reach their prime.

“I shall be a blessèd fossil when the land shall yield its treasure,
“I who registered the area and paid the money down—
“Paid the money, little recking of another's gain and pleasure—
“Oh that I could sleep ten thousand years and wake again John Brown!”

And the gods whom he had railed at in his petulant misprision
Heard the prayer and sent such answer as appeared to meet the case:
Heavy slumber fell upon him, and 'twas given him in a vision
At the date himself had named to re-awake to time and space.

On his treasure-ground he stood; for though his data were deficient,
The old land-marks being down, and every feature new and strange,
Yet, as dreamers are at moments unaccountably omniscient,
He was 'ware of his selection in despite of time and change.

And, behold, a crowd of workers, working leisurely and coolly,
Who with marvellous machinery were scooping up his coal,
Which an aeronautic vehicle received, and, freighted fully,
Soared away with at the touch of some invisible control.

Then within the soul of Brown did grievous sense of wrong awaken,
And on one who made to pass him he imposed a sudden hand—
“Tell me, tell me,” he demanded, “where my coal is being taken.
“At whose order has this trespass been committed on my land?”

To whom in turn, the other, when a moment he had pondered,
As if dubious how to grapple with an ignorance so great,
“From what planet in formation have you innocently wandered?
“‘My coal.’ ‘My land.’ . . . Poor waif, you've come ten thousand years too late.

“In this world where every man an altruistic democrat is,
“We avoid as much as possible the use of my's and thy's:
“Up in Saturn or in Neptune or where'er your habitat is
“I presume you still are wallowing in the stage of merchandise.

“You should have timed your visit for that earlier dispensation
“When the individual flourished, reaping where he did not sow,
“When he was counted wisest in his day and generation
“Who made the largest profit with the smallest quid pro quo.

“Now a man reaps what he sows, and when his measure overfloweth
“He who lacks may freely take, as each for each and all doth live,
“Here are neither rich nor poor, no man exacteth, no man oweth,
“And the zest of labour groweth with the vital need to give.

“And as touching this same mineral, whose multifarious uses
“By our prodigal progenitors were only half divined,
“Wheresoever to man's comfort or his pleasure it conduces,
“There—his want his only title—there the owner you will find.”

* * * * *
Brown awoke another man, the situation now surveying
In the light of such new knowledge as prophetic vision brings;
'Twas a chastened Brown who mopped his forehead, tremulously saying,
“By the Lord, I must anticipate that frightful state of things!”

So he went and squared the expert, who indited a voluminous
Report upon the merits of the hypothetic coal,
While relays of goodly samples most seductively bituminous,
Judiciously distributed, beguiled the public soul.

Then a Company was floated and . . . the rest needs no relating,
Brown, of course, sold out in time, nor have his riches taken wings.
Brown is happy and respected; and he doesn't mind narrating
How he managed to anticipate “that frightful state of things.”

“Dear Richard, come at once;”—so ran her letter;
The letter of a married female friend:
“She likes you both, and really knows no better
Than I myself do, how her choice will end.
Be sure of this, the first who pops will get her.
He's here for Chris——” Whatever else was penned
Dick never knew: nor knows he to this day
How he got drest, and mounted—and away!

Like arrow from the bow, like lightning-streak,
Including thunder following fierce and quick,
By ridge and flat, through scrub and foaming creek
Dick galloped like a very lunatic;
Whipped, jerked, and spurred, but never word did speak,
Although his thoughts rushed furious and thick,
Headed by one he strove in vain to wipe out,
The fear that this same “he” might put his pipe out.

And faster yet, and ever faster grew
The maddening music of the pace, until
The station-roofs gleamed suddenly in view,
Quivering in noon-heat on the vine-clad hill:
When all at once his bridle-rein he drew,
But not from craven fear or flagging will,—
Though, truth to tell, his heart a moment sank
To see the river nearly “bank and bank.”

For Bowstring was the choice of all his stud,
And he at least had no fair bride to win;
And wherefore should he risk him in the flood?—
A question Bowstring also asked within:
For though he was a squatter's horse by blood,
And held the grazing interest more than kin,
He eyed the huge logs wheeling, bobbing, bowling,
As if his soul objected to “log-rolling.”
And by that curious telegraphic force,
Outspeaking half-a-dozen formal speeches,
That works its quick inexplicable course
Through saddle-cloth, pigskin, and buckskin breeches,
Until the dumb opinion of a horse
Its sympathetic rider's spirit reaches—
Dick, feeling under him the strong flanks quiver,
Knew that his thoroughbred would funk the river

A moment more, Dick from his seat had leapt,
Ungirthed, uncurbed, unreined his trembling steed;
Who straightway vanished from his sight, nor kept
The high tradition of a loyal breed,
But quickened by no stimulus except
His own unbridled (and unsaddled) greed,
Before a man had time to reckon two,
Was gorging in fresh fields and pastures new.

Then Dick threw off his boots, undid his belt,
Doffed—here we shirk particulars. In brief,
When nought remained but his primeval pelt,
He tied his garments in his handkerchief;
Then feeling as “the grand old gardener” felt
(After the apple), crouching like a thief,
Down to the stream did this lorn lover slink,
And threw his bundle to the further brink.

Nor longer paused, but plunged him in the tide,
A hero and Leander both in one;
Struck the entangling boughs from either side,
And held his head up bravely to the sun;
Dodged the huge logs, the torrent's strength defied;—
To cut it short, did all that could be done;
Touched land, and uttering a fervent “Thank . . .
—Just then his bundle floated by, and sank.

Take Yarra-bend, take Bedlam, Colney Hatch,
And Woogaroo, and mix them weight for weight,
And stir them well about—you could not match
Dick's madness with the whole conglomerate.
If the Recording Angel did but catch
One half his ravings against Heaven and Fate,
And rising creeks and slippery banks, some day
Poor Dick will have a heavy bill to pay.

Was ever lover in so lorn a case?
Was ever lover in so wild a mood?
He nearly pulled the beard from off his face;
He would have rent his garments, if he could.
How could he woo a dame his suit to grace
Who had no suit, save that wherein he stood?
Oh! what were youth, wealth, station in society,
Without the textile adjuncts of propriety!

When oaths and half-an-hour were spent in vain,
It dawned on Dick that he might slyly crawl
From tree to tree across the wooded plain,
And gain “the hut,” that stood a mile from all

The other buildings—whence some labouring swain,
Unscared by nudity, might come at call,
And lend, for thanks or promissory payment,
Whatever he could spare of decent raiment.

From one variety of Eucalypt
Unto another, blue gum, spotted gum,
Black-butt, etcetera, Dick crawled or skipped,
Bitten and blistered like the newest chum;
Till, marking where the open level dipped,
Distracted with mosquito-martyrdom,
He rushed and plunged—and not a bit too soon—
Into the coolness of a quiet lagoon.

No, not a bit too soon; for something white,
Topped by a parasol of lustrous pink,
At this same perilous moment hove in sight,
And glided gently to the water-brink;
The while in thickest sedge the rueful wight
Hid his diminished head, and scarce did wink—
No more a gallant daringly erotic,
But consciously absurd and idiotic.

'Twas she—his love; and never had he thought
Her face so beautiful, her form so stately;
Ophelia-like she moved, absorbed, distraught;
'Twas plain to Dick she had been weeping lately;
And now and then a weary sigh he caught,
And once a whisper that disturbed him greatly,
Which said, unless his ears played him a trick,
“What in the world can have come over Dick?”

And presently, through his aquatic screen,
His hated rival he beheld advance,
With airy grace and captivating mien,
And all the victor in his countenance:
And too, too late he learned what might have been,
When at her watch he saw the lady glance,
And heard her say, “Here's Fred. The die is cast!
I gave poor Dick till two; 'tis now half-past.”

And then Dick closed his eyes, his ears he stopped;
Yet somehow saw and heard no whit the less,—
Saw that the lover on his knees had dropped,
And heard him all his tale of love confess;
And when the question had been duly popped,
He heard the kiss that sealed the answering “Yes!”—
'Twas rough on Dick: ah me! 'twas mighty rough:
But he remained true blue (though all in buff),—

And never winced, nor uttered word or groan,
But gazed upon the treasure he had lost,
In agony of soul, yet still as stone,
The saddest man since first true love was crossed:
And when at length the mated birds had flown,
He waited yet another hour, then tossed
His modesty unto the winds, and ran
Right for the hut, and found—thank Heaven!—a man.

* * * * *
On that same evening, in his rival's coat,
Waistcoat, and things, Dick sat among the rest
And though he could have cut their owner's throat,
He kept his feelings underneath his vest,
And proved by some mendacious anecdote
That he was there by chance—a passing guest.
One boon at least stern Fate could not refuse:
He stood that evening in his rival's shoes.

Universally Respected

Biggs was missing: Biggs had vanished; all the town was in a ferment;
For if ever man was looked to for an edifying end,
With due mortuary outfit, and a popular interment,
It was Biggs, the universal guide, philosopher, and friend.

But the man had simply vanished; speculation wove no tissue
That would hold a drop of water; each new theoryfell flat.
It was most unsatisfactory, and hanging on the issue
Were a thousand wagers, ranging from a “pony” to a hat.

Not a trace could search discover in the township or without it,
And the river had been dragged from morn till night with no avail.
His continuity had ceased, and that was all about it,
And there wasn't even a grease-spot left behind to tell the tale.
That so staid a man as Biggs was should be swallowed up in mystery
Lent an increment to wonder—he who trod no doubtful paths,
But stood square to his surroundings, with no cloud upon his history,
As the much-respected lessee of the Corporation Baths.

His affairs were all in order: since the year the alligator
With a startled river bather made attempt to coalesce,
The resulting wave of decency had greater grown and greater,
And the Corporation Baths had been a marvellous success.

Nor could trouble in the household solve the riddle of his clearance,
For his bride was now in heaven, and the issue of the match
Was a patient drudge whose virtues were as plain as her appearance—
Just the sort whereto no scandal could conceivably attach.

So the Whither and the Why alike mysterious were counted;
And as Faith steps in to aid where baffled Reason must retire,
There were those averred so good a man as Biggs might well have mounted
Up to glory like Elijah in a chariot of fire!

For indeed he was a good man; when he sat beside the portal
Of the Bath-house at his pigeon-hole, a saint within a frame,
We used to think his face was as the face of an immortal,
As he handed us our tickets, and took payment for the same.

And, oh, the sweet advice with which he made of such occasion
A duplicate detergent for our morals and our limbs—
For he taught us that decorum was the essence of salvation,
And that cleanliness and godliness were merely synonyms;

But that open-air ablution in the river was a treason
To the purer instincts, fit for dogs and aborigines,
And that wrath at such misconduct was the providential reason
For the jaws of alligators and the tails of stingarees.

But, alas, our friend was gone, our guide, philosopher, and tutor,
And we doubled our potations, just to clear the inner view;
But we only saw the darklier through the bottom of the pewter,
And the mystery seemed likewise to be multiplied by two.

And the worst was that our failure to unriddle the enigma
In the “rags” of rival towns was made a by-word and a scoff,
Till each soul in the community felt branded with the stigma
Of the unexplained damnation of poor Biggs's taking off.

So a dozen of us rose and swore this thing should be no longer:
Though the means that Nature furnished had been tried without result,
There were forces supersensual that higher were and stronger,
And with consentaneous clamour we pronounced for the occult.

Then Joe Thomson slung a tenner, and Jack Robinson a tanner,
And each according to his means respectively disbursed;
And a letter in your humble servant's most seductive manner
Was despatched to Sludge the Medium, recently of Darlinghurst.

“I am Biggs,” the spirit said ('t was through the medium's lips he said it;
But the voice that spoke, the accent, too, were Biggs's very own,
Be it, therefore, not set down to our unmerited discredit
That collectively we sickened as we recognized the tone).
“From a saurian interior, Christian friends, I now address you”—
(And “Oh heaven!” or its correlative, groaned shudderingly we)—
“While there yet remains a scrap of my identity, for, bless you,
This ungodly alligator's fast assimilating me.

“For although through nine abysmal days I've fought with his digestion,
Being hostile to his processes and loth to pulpify,
It is rapidly becoming a most complicated question
How much of me is crocodile, how much of him is I.

“And, oh, my friends, 'tis sorrow's crown of sorrow to remember
That this sacrilegious reptile owed me nought but gratitude,
For I bought him from a showman twenty years since come November,
And I dropped him in the river for his own and others' good.

“It had grieved me that the spouses of our townsmen, and their daughters,
Should be shocked by river bathers and their indecorous ways
So I cast my bread—that is, my alligator—on the waters,

And I found it, in a credit balance, after many days.

“Years I waited, but at last there came the rumour long expected,
And the out-of-door ablutionists forsook their wicked paths,
And the issues of my handiwork divinely were directed
In a constant flow of custom to the Corporation Baths.

‘'Twas a weakling when I bought it; 'twas so young that you could pet it;
But with all its disadvantages I reckoned it would do;
And it did: Oh, lay the moral well to heart and don't forget it—
Put decorum first, and all things shall be added unto you.

“Lies! all lies! I've done with virtue. Why should I be interested
In the cause of moral progress that I served so long in vain,
When the fifteen hundred odd I've so judiciously invested
Will but go to pay the debts of some young rip who marries Jane?

“But the reptile overcomes me; my identity is sinking;
Let me hasten to the finish; let my words be few and fit.
I was walking by the river in the starry silence, thinking
Of what Providence had done for me, and I had done for it;

“I had reached the saurian's rumoured haunt, where oft in fatal folly
I had dropped garotted dogs to keep his carnal craving up”
(Said Joe Thomson, in a whisper, “That explains my Highland collie!”
Said Bob Williams, sotto voce, “That explains my Dandy pup!”)

“I had passed to moral questions, and found comfort in the notion
That fools are none the worse for things not being what they seem,
When, behold, a seeming log became instinct with life and motion,
And with sudden curvature of tail upset me in the stream.

“Then my leg, as in a vice”—But here the revelation faltered,
And the medium rose and shook himself, remarking with a smile
That the requisite conditions were irrevocably altered,
For the personality of Biggs was lost in crocodile.

* * * * *
Now, whether Sludge's story would succeed in holding water
Is more, perhaps, than one has any business to expect;
But I know that on the strength of it I married Biggs's daughter,
And I found a certain portion of the narrative correct.