“The hills like giants at a hunting lay|
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay.” — Browning.
YOU’LL take my tale with a little salt,
But it needs none, nevertheless,
I was foil’d completely, fairly at fault,
Dishearten’d, too, I confess.
At the splitters’ tent I had seen the track
Of horse-hoofs fresh on the sward,
And though Darby Lynch and Donovan Jack
(Who could swear through a ten-inch board)
Solemnly swore he had not been there,
I was just as sure that they lied,
For to Darby all that is foul was fair,
And Jack for his life was tried.
We had run him for seven miles and more
As hard as our nags could split;
At the start they were all too weary and sore,
And his was quite fresh and fit.
Young Marsden’s pony had had enough
On the plain, where the chase was hot;
We breasted the swell of the Bittern’s Bluff,
And Mark couldn’t raise a trot;
When the sea, like a splendid silver shield,
To the south-west suddenly lay;
On the brow of the Beetle the chestnut reel’d,
And I bid good-bye to M’Crea—
And I was alone when the mare fell lame,
With a pointed flint in her shoe,
On the Stony Flats: I had lost the game,
And what was a man to do?
I turned away with no fixed intent
And headed for Hawthorndell;
I could neither eat in the splitters’ tent,
Nor drink at the splitters’ well;
I knew that they gloried in my mishap,
And I cursed them between my teeth—
A blood-red sunset through Brayton’s Gap
Flung a lurid fire on the heath.
Could I reach the Dell? I had little reck,
And with scarce a choice of my own
I threw the reins on Miladi’s neck—
I had freed her foot from the stone.
That season most of the swamps were dry,
And after so hard a burst,
In the sultry noon of so hot a sky,
She was keen to appease her thirst—
Or by instinct urged or impelled by fate—
I care not to solve these things—
Certain it is that she took me straight
To the Warrigal water springs.
I can shut my eyes and recall the ground
As though it were yesterday—
With a shelf of the low, grey rocks girt round,
The springs in their basin lay;
Woods to the east and wolds to the north
In the sundown sullenly bloom’d;
Dead black on a curtain of crimson cloth
Large peaks to the westward loomed.
I led Miladi through weed and sedge,
She leisurely drank her fill;
There was something close to the water’s edge,
And my heart with one leap stood still,
For a horse’s shoe and a rider’s boot
Had left clean prints on the clay;
Someone had watered his beast on foot.
’Twas he—he had gone. Which way?
Then the mouth of the cavern faced me fair,
As I turned and fronted the rocks;
So, at last, I had pressed the wolf to his lair,
I had run to his earth the fox.
I thought so. Perhaps he was resting. Perhaps
He was waiting, watching for me.
I examined all my revolver caps,
I hitched my mare to a tree—
I had sworn to have him, alive or dead,
And to give him a chance was loth.
He knew his life had been forfeited—
He had even heard of my oath.
In my stocking soles to the shelf I crept,
I crawl’d safe into the cave—
All silent—if he was there he slept
Not there. All dark as the grave.
Through the crack I could hear the leaden hiss!
See the livid face through the flame!
How strange it seems that a man should miss
When his life depends on his aim!
There couldn’t have been a better light
For him, nor a worse for me.
We were coop’d up, caged like beasts for a fight,
And dumb as dumb beasts were we.
Flash! flash! bang! bang! and we blazed away,
And the grey roof reddened and rang;
Flash! flash! and I felt his bullet flay
The tip of my ear. Flash! bang!
Bang! flash! and my pistol arm fell broke;
I struck with my left hand then—
Struck at a corpse through a cloud of smoke—
I had shot him dead in his den!