Thirst by R.W.S.

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Dedicated to W., in remembrance of a dry time.

No water! none! Great God, can it be true?
Is this the waterhole he said he knew,
That never failed, no matter what the drought?
His certain knowledge left me with no doubt ---
Witnesses silent! In the clear moonlight
The plains ahead, and scrub upon the right!
By Heaven! but 'tis too true; the grateful drink,
Of which for weary miles 'twas sweet to think,
Is not! But lo! The something in its place
Is, that King Death and I meet face to face!
As stops the heart, and curdles in the veins
(At some dread scene) the blood, so those broad plains
Struck to my heart a cold and dark despair! A
h! well I knew Death would await me there.
Now! Shall I turn? Go back the way I came? ---
Full well I feel that none would deem it shame.
Rest us awhile, and make the best, old horse?   
And in an hour pursue a backward course?
We should get back for certain, and the worst
Some little suffering from toil and thirst --
Never! so help me now the God above!
Adieu, my little ones, and those I love.
So far my work is done; and none shall say
That Death himself hath power or fear to stay
That course I fixed so surely when I said,
"You'll find I'll do it, or --- you'll find me dead;"
No power exists to alter my resolve!
I care not what the future may involve!---
Then through the silent hours of the night
Together --- horse and man --- we fought that fight.
I thought about the battle on the heights
Of Alma, and of all the Russian fights;
I thought about the splendid Light Brigade,
And of the famous headlong charge they made;
I thought of battles both on land and sea;
Oh, God! I longed, as each occurred to me,
That I'd been there, and numbered with the slain,
Instead of dying on this weary plain
Alone, unheeded --- of all deaths the worst,
Dying a maddening death of raging thirst!
Poor horse! --- poor tottering limbs and staring eyes!
My God! it seems a cruel sacrifice.
Stop here! Enough. Something within me warns
The end is near! See where the morning dawns.
I laid my head against a leaning tree;
Slowly in sleep a dream came over me.
Magical change! What radiant lovely sight!
Is this an angel? Do I see aright?
What wondrous flowers! --- and fragrance all around!
And green as loveliest emeralds the ground!   
While through the peerless flowers I see the gleam,
And hear the ripple, of a sparkling stream.
Speak! Who art thou, of form so fair and bright?
Fair as the flowers, brighter than the light!
With heavenly smile the Angel-face looked down:
"Brother, behold--brother, accept -- thy crown!
Truly and well has thy hard task been done ---
Nobly the battle fought, and victory won;
Acceptable is thy self-sacriflce
To Duty's stern demand. Behold! arise!"
Slowly I wakened --- slow the Vision passed:
Water! By Heaven! --- there it is at last!

Though the life that was nearly gone is vouchsafed yet,
For better or worse, I feel I shall never forget
All that I suffered from thirst in a few short hours,
And the dream of the Angel Form, the stream, and the flowers.

First published in The Queenslander, 18 March 1882

Author reference site: Austlit

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 18, 2012 9:35 AM.

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