PAST a dull, grey plain where a world-old grief seems to brood o’er the silent land,
When the orbéd moon turns her tense, white face on the ominous waste of sand,
And the wind that steals by the dreamer feels like the touch of a phantom hand,
Through the tall, still trees and the tangled scrub that has sprung on the old bush track,
In a clearing wide, where a willow broods and the cowering bush shrinks backs,
Stands a house alone that no dwellers own, yet unharmed by the storm’s attack.
’Tis a strange, sad place. On the shingle roof mosses gather and corn-blades spring,
And a stillness reigns in the air unstirred by the beat of a wild bird’s wing.
He who sees believes that the old house grieves with the grief of a sentient thing.
From the charmed gums that about the land in a reverent circle throng
Comes no parrot’s call, nor the wild cat’s cry, nor the magpie’s mellow song,
And their shadows chill with an icy thrill and the sense of an awful wrong.
And the creek winds by ’neath the twisted briar and the curling creepers here;
In the dusky depths of its bed it slips on it’s slime-green rocks in fear,
And it murmurs low to its stealthy flow in a monotone quaint and drear.
On a furrowed paddock that fronts the house grow the saplings straight and tall,
And noxious weeds in the garden ground on the desolate pathways crawl;
But the briar twists back with the supple-jack ’tween the rocks of the rubble wall.
On the rotting wall of the gloomy rooms bats gather with elfin wings,
And a snake is coiled by the shattered door where a giant lizard clings,
For this house of care is the fitting lair of a myriad voiceless things.
Once I camped alone on the clearing’s edge through the lapse of a livelong night,
When the wan moon flooded the house and land in a lake of her ghostly light,
And the silence dread of a world long dead filled my credulous soul with fright.
For no wind breathed by, but a nameless awe was abroad in the open there,
And the camp-fire burned with a pale, thin flame in the chill, translucent air,
And my dog lay prone, like a chiselled stone, with his opaline eyes a-stare.
In the trancéd air was an omen felt and the sway of a subtle spell,
And I waited long for I know not what, but the pale night augured well—
At a doleful hour, when the dead have power, lo! A hideous thing befell.
From the shadows flung by the far bush wall came a treacherous, phantom crew,
Like the smoke rack blown o’er the plain at morn when the bracken is wet with dew.
Not a sound they made, and their forms no shade on the moonlit surface threw.
And the night was changed to the quiet eve of a beautiful summer’s day,
And the old house warmed as with life and light, and was set in a garden gay,
And a babe that crawled by the doorway called to a kitten that leapt in play.
But the black fiends circled the peaceful home, and I fathomed their evil quest;
From the ground up-springing they hurled their spears, and danced with a demon zest,
And a girl lay dead ’neath the roses red with a wound in her fair, white breast.
Through the looped wall spat a rifle’s flame, and the devilish pack gave tongue,
For a lean form writhed in a torment dire, on the crimsoned stubble flung.
Many echoes spoke, and the sluggish smoke on the shingles rolled and clung.
Yet again and oft did the flame spring forth, and each shaft from the dwelling shore
Through a savage heart, but the band unawed at the walls of the homestead tore,
And a man and wife fought for love and life with the horde by the broken door.
Then ghostly and grey, from the dusky bush came a company riding fast.
Seven horses strode on the buoyant air, and I trembled and gazed aghast,
Such a deadly hate on the forehead sate of each rider racing past.
With a cry they leapt on the dusky crew, and swept them aside like corn
In the lusty stroke of the mower’s scythe, and distracted and overborne
Many demons fled, leaving many dead, by the hoofs of the horses torn.
Not in vain—not all—though a father lay with the light on his cold, grey face,
And a mother bled, with a murdered maid held close in a last embrace,
For the babe laughed back at a visage black death drawn to a foul grimace.
Came a soft wind swaying the pendent leaves, like the sigh of awakening day,
And the darkness fell on my tired eyes, for the phantoms had passed away;
And the breezes bore from a distant shore faint echoes of ocean’s play.
Past a dull, grey plain, through the tall, still trees, where the lingering days inspire
An unspoken woe in the heart of man, and the nights hold visions dire,
Stands a house alone that no dwellers own, yet unmarred by the storm or fire.