THE SNOW lies deep on hill and dale,|
In rocky gulch and grassy vale,
The tiny, trickling, tumbling falls
Are frozen ’twixt their rocky walls
That grey and brown look silent down
Upon Kiandra’s shrouded town.
The Eucumbene itself lies dead,
Fast frozen in its narrow bed,
And distant sounds ring out quite near,
The crystal air is froze so clear,
While to and fro the people go
In silent swiftness o’er the snow.
And, like a mighty gallows-frame,
The derrick in the New Chum claim
Hangs over where, despite the cold,
Strong miners seek the hidden gold,
And stiff and blue, half-frozen through,
The fickle dame of Fortune woo.
Far out, along a snow capped range,
There rose a sound which echoed strange,
Where snow-emburthen’d branches hang,
And flashing icicles, there rang
A gay refrain, as towards the plain
Sped swiftly downward Carl the Dane.
His long, lithe snow-shoes sped along
In easy rhythm to his song;
Now slowly circling round the hill,
Now speeding downward with a will;
The crystals crash and blaze and flash
As o’er the frozen crust they dash.
Among the hills the first he shone
Of all who buckled snow-shoe on,
For though the mountain lads were fleet,
But one bold rival dare compete,
To veer and steer, devoid of fear,
Beside this strong-limbed mountaineer.
’Twas Davy Eccleston who dared
To cast the challenge: If Carl cared
On shoes to try their mutual pace,
Then let him enter for the race,
Which might be run by anyone—
A would-be champion. Carl said “Done.”
But not alone in point of speed
They sought to gain an equal meed,
For in the narrow lists of love,
Dave Eccleston had cast the glove:
Though both had prayed, the blushing maid
As yet no preference betrayed.
But played them off, as women will,
One ’gainst the other one, until
A day when she was sorely pressed
To loving neither youth confessed,
But did exclaim—the wily dame,
“Who wins this race, I’ll bear his name!”
These words were running through Carl’s head
As o’er the frozen crust he sped,
But suddenly became aware
That not alone he travelled there,
He sudden spied, with swinging stride,
A stranger speeding by his side;
The breezes o’er each shoulder toss’d
His beard, bediamonded with frost,
His eyes flashed strangely, bushy browed.
His breath hung round him like a shroud.
He never spoke, nor silence broke,
But by the Dane sped stroke for stroke.
“Old man! I neither know your name,
Nor what you are, nor whence you came:
But this, if I but had your shoes
This championship I ne’er could lose.
To call them mine, those shoes divine,
I’ll gladly pay should you incline.
The stranger merely bowed his head—
“The shoes are yours,” he gruffly said;
“I change with you, though at a loss,
And in return I ask that cross
Which, while she sung, your mother hung
Around your neck when you were young.”
Carl hesitated when he heard
The price, but not for long demurred,
And gave the cross; the shoes were laced
Upon his feet in trembling haste,
So long and light, smooth polished, bright.
His heart beat gladly at the sight.
Now, on the morning of the race,
Expectancy on every face,
They come the programme to fulfil
Upon the slope of Township Hill;
With silent feet the people meet,
While youths and maidens laughing greet.
High-piled the flashing snowdrifts lie,
And laugh to scorn the sun’s dull eye.
That, glistening feebly, seems to say—
“When Summer comes you’ll melt away:
You’ll change your song when I grow strong,
I think so, though I may be wrong.”
The pistol flashed, and off they went
Like lightning on the steep descent,
Resistlessly down-swooping, swift
O’er the smooth face of polished drift
The racers strain with might and main.
But in the lead flies Carl the Dane.
Behind him Davy did his best,
With hopeless eye and lip compressed:
Beat by a snow-shoe length at most,
They flash and pass the winning-post.
The maiden said, “I’ll gladly wed
The youth who in this race has led.”
But where was he? still speeding fast,
Over the frozen stream he pass’d,
They watched his flying form until
They lost it over Sawyer’s Hill,
Nor saw it more, the people swore
The like they’d never seen before.
The way he scaled that steep ascent
Was quite against all precedent,
While others said he could but choose
To do it on those demon shoes;
They talked in vain, for Carl the Dane
Was never seen in flesh again.
But now the lonely diggers say
That sometimes at the close of day
They see a misty wraith flash by
With the faint echo of a cry,
It may be true; perhaps they do,
I doubt it much; but what say you?