Jim of the Hills


C.J. Dennis

IT’S human nature for a bashful bloke
    To bottle up, an’ hesitate, an’ doubt
Till grinnin’ Fate plays him some low-down joke;
    Then, in excitement, he goes blurtin’ out
The tale his sane mind never would impart,
So all the near-by world knows it by heart.

Good luck for me, the near-by world that day,
    When I ran sobbin’ thro’ the scorchin’ fern,
Held few to hear the foolish things I say;
    No one was there my secret thought to learn,
As I went shoutin’ down the mountain spur,
Only the scared birds, an’ the trees, an’ Her.

In fancy, many men have been thro’ Hell,
    Tortured by fear, when hope has almost died;
But few have gone thro’ that, an’ fire as well
    To come on Heaven on the other side
With just one angel in it, safe an’ well—
A cool, calm angel by the name of Nell.

The day the fire came sweepin’ down the hill,
    Lickin’ the forest up like some mad beast,
We had our work cut out to save the mill;
    An’, when the wind swung round into the East,
An’ blew the roarin’ flames along the spur,
Straight for “The Height,” I gets quick fear for Her.

Flat out I was fightin’ all day long—
    (We saved the mill-shed, but the huts were done)—
When some bloke, weak with sprintin’ comes along—
    (Comic, it seemed, to me the way he run)—
Shoutin’ that someone’s missin’ from “The Height,”
An’ all the forest at the back’s alight.

I don’t what he thought, an’ never cared,
    When I grabs at his coat an’ starts to yell.
I only know that I was dreadful scared. . . . 
    In half a minute more, I guessed ’twas Nell.
He tell me when an’ where they thought she went,
An’ of the useless searchers they had sent.

I never waits for more; but turned an’ ran
    Straight for the spur, along the scorchin’ track.
Behind me, as I went, I hear some man—
    I think it’s Pike—bawlin’, “You fool! Come back!”
What plan was in my mind I cannot tell;
I only know I want to find my Nell.

Next thing I mind, I’ve left the track, an’ turned
    Into the blackened scrub—my eyes feel bad—
Above my head the messmate trees still burned.
    An’ Lord, them awful fancies that I had!
I seen her lyin’ there—her face—her hair. . . . 
Why, even now, them thoughts give me a scare.

I stumble on. Against a red-hot butt
    I burn my hand, but never even swear;
But keep on sayin’, “Make the splitter’s hut,
    The splitter’s hut! Get to the clearin’ there.
She’s at the splitter’s hut; an’ if she ain’t . . . ”
My heart turns over, an’ I feel dead faint.

An’ as I plug along, I hear some fool
    Repeatin’ words till they sound like a spell.
“I’m goin’ mad,” I thinks. “Keep cool! Keep cool!”
    But still the voice goes on” “My Nell! My Nell!”
I whips round quick to see who he can be,
This yappin’ fool—then realize it’s me.

They say I must have gone thro’ blazin’ ferns.
    Perhaps I did; but I don’t recollect.
My mind was blank, but, judgin’ by my burns,
    There’s something got to me that took effect.
But once, I know, I saw a flamin’ tree
Fall just behind me; but that don’t trouble me.

I don’t know how the reached the splitter’s hut,
    I only saw the ragin’ fire—an’ Nell.
My clothes were torn, my face an’ hands were cut,
    An’ half a dozen times, at least, I fell.
I burst into the clearin’ . . . an’ I look. . . . 
She’s sittin’ on a log there—with a book!

I seem to cross that clearin’ in a stride,
    Still sobbin’ like a kid: “My Nell! My nell!”
I was clean mad. But, as I reach her side,
    I sort of wake, an’ give that song a spell.
But, by her eyes, for all she seemed so cool,
I know she must have heard, an’ feel a fool.

“Why, Mister Jim? You do look hot,” says she.
    (But still her eyes says oceans more than that).
“Did you come all the way up here for me?”
    Coolness? I tell you straight, it knocked me flat.
By rights, she should fall sobbin’ in my arms;
But no; there weren’t no shrieks an’ no alarms.

I pulls myself together with a jerk.
    “Oh, just a stroll,” I says. “Don’t mention it.
The mill’s half burnt, an’ I am out of work;
    They missed you so I looked around a bit.”
“Now, that was good of you,” says she, reel bright.
“Wasn’t the bush-fire such a splendid sight?”

She looks me up and down. “Why, Mister Jim,”
    She says to me, “you do look hot, indeed.
If you go strollin’ that way for a whim
    Whatever would you do in case of need?”
That’s what she said. But with her eyes she sent
More than her thanks; an’ I was quite content.

I seen her home; or, rather, she seen me,
    For I was weak, an’ fumbled in my stride.
But, when we reached “The Height,” I seen that she
    Was just in breakin’; an’ she went inside. . . . 
I stumbles home. “Well, Jim, lad, anyway,”
I tells myself, “you’ve had a fine, full day.”

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