BROOKONG station lay half-asleep|
Dozed in the waning western glare
(’Twas before the run had stocked with sheep
And only cattle depastured there)
As the Bluccap mob reined up at the door
And loudly saluted Featherstonhaugh.
“My saintly preacher,” the leader cried,
“I stand no nonsense, as you’re aware,
I’ve a word for you if you’ll step outside,
Just drop that pistol and have a care;
I’ll trouble you, too, for the key of the store,
For we’re short of tucker, friend Featherstonhaugh.”
The muscular Christian showed no fear,
Though he handed the key with but small delay.
He never answered the ruffian’s jeer
Except by a look which seemed to say—
“Beware, my friend, and think twice before
You raise the devil in Featherstonhaugh.”
Two hours after he reined his horse
Up in Urana, and straightway went
To the barracks—the trooper was gone, of course,
Blindly nosing a week-old scent
Away in the scrub around Mount Galore.
“Confound the fellow!” quoth Featherstonhaugh.
“Will any man of you come with me
And give this Bluecap a dressing-down?”
They all regarded him silently
As he turned his horse, with a scornful frown.
“You’re curs, the lot of you, to the core—
I’ll go by myself,” said Featherstonhaugh.
The scrub was thick on Urangeline
As he followed the tracks that twisted through
The box and dogwood and scented pine
(One of their horses had cast a shoe).
Steeped from his youth in forest lore,
He could track like a nigger, could Featherstonhaugh.
He paused as he saw the thread of smoke
From the outlaw camp, and he marked the sound
Of a hobble-check, as it sharply broke
The silence that held the scrub-land bound.
There were their horses—two, three, four—
“It’s a risk, but I’ll chance it!” quoth Featherstonhaugh.
He loosened the first, and it walked away,
But his comrade’s silence could not be bought,
For he raised his head with a sudden neigh,
And plainly showed that he’d not be caught.
As a bullet sang from a rifle-bore—
“It’s time to be moving,” quoth Featherstonhaugh.
The brittle pine, as they broke away,
Crackled like ice in a winter’s ponds,
The strokes fell fast on the cones that lay
Buried beneath the withered fronds
That softly carpet the sandy floor—
Swept two on the tracks of Featherstonhaugh.
They struck that path that the stock had made,
A dustily-red, well-beaten track,
The leader opened a fusillade
Whose target was Featherston’s stooping back
But his luck was out, not a bullet tore
As much as a shred from Featherstonhaugh.
Rattle ’em, rattle ’em fast on the pad,
Where the sloping shades fell dusk and dim.
The manager’s heart beat high and glad
For he knew the creek was a mighty swim.
Already he heard a smothered roar—
“They’re done like a dinner!” quoth Featherstonhaugh.
It was almost dark as they neared the dam.
He struck the crossing as true as a hair;
For the space of a second the pony swam,
Then shook himself in the chill night air.
In a pine-tree shade on the further shore,
With his pistol cocked, stood Featherstonhaugh.
A splash—an oath—and a rearing horse,
A thread snapped short in the fateful loom,
The tide, unaltered, swept on its course
Though a fellow creature had met his doom:
Pale and trembling, and struck with awe,
Bluccap stood opposite Featherstonhaugh.
While the creek rolled muddily in between
The eddies played with the drowned man’s hat.
The stars peeped out in the summer sheen,
A night-bird chirruped across the flat—
Quoth Bluecap, “I owe you a heavy score,
And I’ll live to repay it, Featherstonhaugh.”
But he never did, for he ran his race
Before he had time to fulfil his oath.
I can’t think how, but, in any case,
He was hung, or drowned, or maybe both.
But whichever it was, he came no more
To trouble the peace of Featherstonhaugh.