How Polly Paid For Her Keep

Barcroft Boake

DO I know Polly Brown? Do I know her? Why, damme,
    You might as well ask if I know my own name?
It’s a wonder you never heard tell of old Sammy,
    Her father, my mate in the Crackenback claim.

He asks if I know little Poll! Why, I nursed her
    As often, I reckon as old Mother Brown
When they lived at the “Flats,” and old Sam went a burster
    In Chinaman’s Gully, and dropped every crown.

My golden-haired mate, ever brimful of folly
    And childish conceit, and yet ready to rest
Contented beside me, ’Twas I who taught Polly
    To handle four horses along with the best.

’Twas funny to hear the small fairy discoursing
    Of horses and drivers! I’ll swear that she knew
Every one of the nags that I drove to the “Crossing,”
    Their vices, and paces, and pedigrees too.

She got a strange whim in her golden-haired noodle
    That a driver’s high seat was a kind of a throne,
I’ve taken her up there before she could toddle,
    And she’d talk to the nags in a tongue of her own.

Then old Mother Brown got the horrors around her:
    (I think it was pineapple-rum drove her daft)
She cleared out one night, and the next morning they found her,
    A mummified mass, in a forty foot shaft.

And Sammy? Well, Sammy was wailing and weeping,
    And raving, and raising the devil’s own row;
He was only too glad to give into our keeping
    His motherless babe—we’d have kept her till now

But Jimmy Maloney thought proper to court her,
    Among all the lasses he loved but this one:
She’s no longer Polly, our golden-haired daughter,
    She’s Mrs Maloney, of Paddlesack Run.

Our little girl Polly’s no end of a swell (you
    Must know Jimmy shears fifty thousand odd sheep)—
But I’m clean off the track, I was going to tell you
    The way in which Polly paid us for her keep.

It was this way: My wife’s living in Tumbarumba,
    And I’m down at Germanton yards, for a sale,
Inspecting coach-horses (I wanted a number),
    When they flashed down a message that made me turn pale.

’Twas from Polly, to say the old wife had fallen
    Down-stairs, and in falling had fractured a bone—
There was no doctor nearer than Tumut to call on,
    So she and the blacksmith had set it alone.

They’d have to come down by the coach in the morning,
    As one of the two buggy ponies was lame,
Would I see the old doctor, and give him fair warning
    To keep himself decently straight till they came?

I was making good money those times, and a fiver
    Per week was the wages my deputy got,
A good, honest worker, and out-and-out driver,
    But, like all the rest, a most terrible sot.

So, just on this morning—which made it more sinful,
    With my women on board, the unprincipled skunk
Hung round all the bars till he loaded a skinful
    Of grog, and then started his journey, dead drunk.

Drunk! with my loved ones on board, drunk as Chloe,
    He might have got right by the end of the trip
Had he rested contented and quiet, but no, he
    Must pull up at Rosewood, for one other nip.

That finished him off, quick, and there he sat, dozing
    Like an owl on his perch, half-awake, half-asleep.
Till a lurch of the coach came, when, suddenly losing
    His balance, he fell to the earth all of a heap,

While the coach, with its four frightened horses, went sailing
    Downhill to perdition and Carabost “break,”
Four galloping devils, with reins loosely trailing,
    And passengers falling all roads in their wake.

Two bagmen, who sat on the box, jumped together
    And found a soft bed in the mud of the drain;
The barmaid from Murphy’s fell light as a feather—
    I think she got off with a bit of a sprain;

While the jock, with his nerves most decidedly shaken,
    Made straight for the door, never wasting his breath
In farewell apologies; basely forsaken,
    My wife and Poll Brown sat alone with grim Death.

While the coach thundered downward, my wife fell a-praying;
    But Poll in a fix, now, is dashed hard to beat:
She picked up her skirts, scrambled over the swaying
    High roof of the coach, till she lit on the seat,

And there looked around. In her hand was a pretty,
    Frail thing made of laces, with which a girl strives
To save her complexion when down in the city—
    A lace parasol! yet it saved both their lives.

Oh, Polly was game, you may bet your last dollar—
    She leans on the splashboard, and stretches and strains
With her parasol, down by the off-sider’s collar,
    Until she contrives to catch hold of the reins.

They lay quite secure in the crook of the handle,
    She clutched them—the parasol fell underneath.
I tell you no girl ever could hold a candle
    To Poll, as she hung back and clenched her white teeth.

The bolters sped downward, with nostrils distended,
    She must get a pull on them ere they should reach
The fence on the hill, where the road had been mended;
    The blocks bit the wheels with a “sroope” and a screech;

The little blue veins in her arms swelled and blackened;
    The reins were like fiddle-strings stretched in her grip;
When the “break” hove in sight, the mad gallop had slackened,
    She had done it, my word, they were under the whip.

They still had the pace on, but Polly was able
    To steer ’twixt the fences with never a graze,
They flashed past the “Change” where the groom at the stable
    Just stood with his mouth open, dumb with amaze.

On the level she turned them, the best bit of driving
    That was ever done on this side of the range,
And trotted them back up the hill-side, arriving
    With not a strap broken in front of the “Change.”

And the wife?—well she prayed to the Lord till she fainted;
    I reckon He answered her prayers all the same—
He must have helped Polly, it’s curious now, ain’t it,
    To see a thin slip of a girl be so game?

Did I summons the driver? I had no occasion—
    The coroner came with his jury instead,
Who found that he died from a serious abrasion—
    Both wheels of the coach had gone over his head.

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